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Bahrain

Executive Summary

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

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

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

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

Section 1. Respect for the Integrity of the Person

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

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

b. Disappearance

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Prison and Detention Center Conditions

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

d. Arbitrary Arrest or Detention

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

Arrest Procedures and Treatment of Detainees

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

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

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

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

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

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

e. Denial of Fair Public Trial

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

Trial Procedures

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Political Prisoners and Detainees

There were reports of political prisoners or detainees.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Civil Judicial Procedures and Remedies

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

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

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

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

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

Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

b. Freedoms of Peaceful Assembly and Association

The government restricted freedoms of peaceful assembly and association.

Freedom of Peaceful Assembly

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Freedom of Association

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

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

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

c. Freedom of Religion

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

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

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

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

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

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

e. Status and Treatment of Internally Displaced Persons

Not applicable.

f. Protection of Refugees

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

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

g. Stateless Persons

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

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

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

Section 3. Freedom to Participate in the Political Process

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

Elections and Political Participation

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Section 6. Discrimination and Societal Abuses

Women

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Systemic Racial or Ethnic Violence and Discrimination

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

Children

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

International Child Abductions: The country is not a party to the 1980 Hague Convention on the Civil Aspects of International Child Abduction. See the Department of State’s Annual Report on International Parental Child Abduction at https://travel.state.gov/content/travel/en/International-Parental-Child-Abduction/for-providers/legal-reports-and-data/reported-cases.html.

Anti-Semitism

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

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

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

Trafficking in Persons

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

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

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

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

Section 7. Worker Rights

a. Freedom of Association and the Right to Collective Bargaining

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

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

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

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

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

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

b. Prohibition of Forced or Compulsory Labor

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

c. Prohibition of Child Labor and Minimum Age for Employment

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

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

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

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

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

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

e. Acceptable Conditions of Work

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Kuwait

Executive Summary

Kuwait is a constitutional, hereditary emirate ruled by the al-Sabah family. While there is also a democratically elected parliament, the amir holds ultimate authority over most government decisions. The most recent parliamentary general election, considered generally free and fair, was held in December 2020. Members of the opposition won a majority of seats while no women candidates won a seat.

Police have sole responsibility for the enforcement of laws not related to national security, while the Kuwait State Security oversees national security matters. Both police and Kuwait State Security personnel report to the Ministry of Interior, as does the Coast Guard. The Kuwait National Guard is independent of the Ministry of Interior and the Ministry of Defense. The Kuwait National Guard reports to the prime minister and the amir. The Kuwait National Guard is responsible for critical infrastructure protection, support for the Ministries of Interior and Defense, and the maintenance of national readiness. Civilian authorities maintained effective control over the security forces. There were credible reports that members of the security forces committed some abuses.

Significant human rights issues included credible reports of: torture or cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment or punishment by government agents; arbitrary arrest; political prisoners; serious restrictions on free expression and media, including censorship and the existence of criminal libel laws; serious restrictions on internet freedom; substantial interference with the freedom of peaceful assembly and freedom of association, including overly restrictive laws on the organization, funding, or operation of NGOs and civil society organizations; restrictions on freedom of movement including the right to leave the country; government corruption; crimes involving violence or threats of violence targeting lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, or intersex persons; and the existence and use of laws criminalizing consensual same-sex sexual conduct between adults.

The government took significant steps in some cases to prosecute and punish officials who committed abuses, whether in the security services or elsewhere in the government. Impunity was a problem in corruption cases.

Section 1. Respect for the Integrity of the Person

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

There were no reports that 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 torture and other cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment or punishment, but there continued to be reports of torture and mistreatment by police and security forces against detained members of minority groups and noncitizens.

Several noncitizens claimed police or Kuwaiti State Security (KSS) force members beat them at police checkpoints or in detention. During the reporting period at least eight foreign nationals reported credible cases of abuse or mistreatment during arrest or interrogation by law enforcement, including the Ministry of Interior’s Drug Enforcement General Directorate (DEGD). In their initial meeting with prisoners, public prosecutors must ask whether the prisoner is injured; it is the prisoner’s responsibility to raise the subject of abuse. Prosecutors also look for visible injuries. If a prisoner states they are injured or if injuries are visible, prosecutors must ask how the injury happened and refer the prisoner to medical professionals.

Numerous activists representing stateless persons of Arab heritage – known in Arabic as bidoon jinsiya (without nationality) or colloquially as Bidoon – reported mistreatment at the hands of authorities while in detention. There continued to be allegations from individuals that they were subjected to unlawful detention and physical and verbal abuse in police centers and State Security detention centers. There are credible indications that police, KSS force members, and the DEGD abused prisoners during arrest or interrogation. Multiple transgender individuals have reported cases of rape and physical and verbal abuse by police and prison officials.

The government investigated complaints against police and took disciplinary action when the government determined it was warranted. As of November the Department of Oversight and Inspection at the Ministry of Interior received 591 complaints against ministry employees for abuse of power, the arbitrary application of the law, excessive use of force, and verbal or physical abuse of citizens and noncitizens. The Ministry of Interior applied disciplinary actions, including fines, detention, and removal or termination from professional postings. In more serious cases, however, individuals can bring their cases against a ministry employee to the courts, or the ministry can refer the complaint to the courts through its legal department. Of the 591 complaints received, as of November the ministry reviewed 413, 71 of which resulted in disciplinary actions and 96 of which were referred to the courts. The government did not make public the findings of its investigations or administrative punishments. The current number of complaints of sexual or physical violence reported by prisoners was unavailable, as was data on how many, if any, were terminated.

Although government investigations do not often lead to compensation for victims, the victim can utilize government reports and results of internal disciplinary actions to seek compensation via civil courts.

Prison and Detention Center Conditions

Prison conditions were harsh due to overcrowding.

Physical Conditions: Prison overcrowding continued to be a significant problem during the pandemic. Authorities hold men and women in separate prisons. Juveniles are held in separate wards within the adult prisons. Pretrial prisoners are held in the central prison, and convicted prisoners are held in the public prison. According to the Ministry of Interior, the capacity of the central prison is 2,390 inmates, and there were 3,037 inmates as of November. In a November visit to the central prison, however, the National Council for Human Rights (Diwan Huquq al-Insan or the Human Rights Diwan) stated there were 4,500 inmates. According to the Ministry of Interior, there was overcrowding at the public prison but not at the women’s prison. If a woman gives birth while imprisoned, she has the right to decide to keep her child with her in the women’s prison. As of November there were three children in the women’s prison with their mothers.

In January security officials reported to local media that there was extensive overcrowding at the deportation center because of limited flights available to return prisoners to their home countries. At the time 800 persons were detained pending deportation – mostly from Sri Lanka, Vietnam, and Madagascar – including families with women and children. Some individuals were held for up to nine months awaiting deportation in either police station holding cells, the deportation prison, residency violators’ holding cells, and the DEGD. The Ministry of Interior reported no overcrowding at the deportation center as of November. Press reports, however, indicated that the Ministry of Interior and the Public Authority for Manpower (PAM) stopped efforts to identify and arrest illegal residents due to overcrowding at the center from October to December.

Access to and quality of food, potable water, sanitation, heating, ventilation, lighting, and medical care were adequate. The Ministry of Interior reported there was a hospital and several specialized clinics in the prison complex run by the Ministry of Health. More serious medical cases were referred to hospitals outside of the prison complex. The Ministry of Interior imposed various measures to prevent the spread of COVID-19 inside the prisons. Only Muslims and Christians are permitted to pray and possess religious literature while detained. According to the government, prisoners were allowed to make one domestic telephone call per day and one international call per month. International observers confirmed that prisoners were able to make domestic calls via a landline for approximately 10 minutes each day. There were no reports of deaths in prisons, jails, pretrial detention, or other detentions centers attributed to prison conditions.

Administration: There were some reports of corruption and lack of supervision by the administration of the prison and detention center system. While inmates lodged complaints against prison officials and other inmates, no information was available on the resolution of these complaints. Authorities allowed Muslim imams and Christian clergy access to prisoners and detainees for religious observance, but other religions did not have this privilege.

Independent Monitoring: The Ministry of Interior permitted independent monitoring of prison conditions by some nongovernmental observers and international human rights groups, although required written approval for visits by local nongovernmental organizations (NGOs). Authorities permitted staff from the National Assembly’s Human Rights Committee, Kuwait Red Crescent Society, the International Committee of the Red Cross, the UN High Commission for Refugees (UNHCR), the Evangelical Church, the Kuwait Bar Association, and Human Rights Diwan to visit prisons and detention centers during the year.

Improvements: Efforts by the government to decrease the prison population to mitigate the spread of COVID-19 substantially reduced overcrowding in the prisons. In January, Amir Sheikh Nawaf al-Ahmad al-Jaber al-Sabah issued a decree pardoning 600 prisoners. Of those pardoned, 120 prisoners were released early in February, and the others were given a penalty reduction or fine exemption. In May a second decree provided amnesty and commuted the prison terms of 459 additional convicts.

Observers indicated that sanitation and facilities maintenance had generally improved from previous years, particularly due to the government’s early release of approximately 1,000 prisoners who had committed minor offenses or served most of their time. In September the Ministry of Interior launched a new electronic monitoring system for citizens on bail or probation, which will allow those sentenced to less than three years to serve their sentences at home wearing monitoring devices. This tracking system is available only to citizens for traffic violations and criminal offenses.

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. The government generally observed these requirements.

Arrest Procedures and Treatment of Detainees

A police officer generally must obtain an arrest warrant from a state prosecutor or a judge before making an arrest, except in cases of hot pursuit or observing the commission of a crime. There were numerous reports of police arresting and detaining noncitizens without a warrant, apparently as part of the government’s effort against unlawful residents. Authorities generally informed detainees promptly of the charges against them and allowed access to family members and a lawyer of their choice. For defendants without a lawyer, one is provided by the state. The courts usually do not accept cases without warrants issued prior to arrests. In some detention cases, authorities permitted lawyers to attend legal proceedings, but did not allow direct contact with their clients. Some defendants were sentenced in absentia. Detainees facing “state security” charges were routinely denied access to their lawyers, interpreters, and document translators in advance of hearings. Police investigated most misdemeanor cases, and suspects were released within 48 hours after paying bail or a fine. For more serious misdemeanors and felonies, police can hold a suspect a maximum of four days on their own authority before they must refer the case to prosecution. Nonetheless, some detainees, especially those held for drug and state security crimes, were detained for periods of one to two weeks without notification of the specific charges against them. They were also not allowed to make telephone calls or contact lawyers and family members.

If authorities file charges, a prosecutor may remand a suspect to detention for an additional 10 days for a serious misdemeanor, and three weeks for a felony, in order to question the suspect and investigate the case. Prosecutors also may obtain court orders to extend detention for another 15 days, up to a maximum of four months’ detention pending trial. There is a functioning bail system for defendants awaiting trial.

e. Denial of Fair Public Trial

The law and the constitution provide for an independent judiciary, and the government generally respected judicial independence and impartiality. The Supreme Judicial Council nominates all prosecutors and judges and submits nominations to the amir for approval. Judges who were citizens received lifetime appointments until they reached mandatory retirement age. Noncitizen judges held one- to three-year renewable contracts. The Supreme Judicial Council may remove judges for cause. In September the Chief of the Supreme Judicial Council and Chairman of the Court of Cassation Council began implementing the “Kuwaitization plan” for the judiciary, as part of a government initiative to recruit more of its own citizens for public sector employment. The chief said the council agreed to admit graduates of the faculties of law and sharia to the Public Prosecutor’s Office. Generally, the judiciary was independent; however, noncitizen residents involved in legal disputes with citizens frequently alleged the courts showed bias in favor of citizens. In some cases legal residency holders – principally migrant workers – were detained and deported without recourse to the courts.

Trial Procedures

The constitution provides for the right to a fair and public trial, and the independent judiciary generally enforced this right. The law forbids physical and psychological abuse of the accused. Defendants enjoy the right to a presumption of innocence, to be present at their trial, and to receive prompt, detailed information on the charges against them. The Ministry of Justice is required to pay for and provide defendants with an interpreter for the entire judicial process, but this did not always occur. In some cases, defendants who did not speak or understand Arabic learned of charges against them after their trial began, because an interpreter was not provided when charges were presented.

Criminal trials are public unless a court decides the “maintenance of public order” or the “preservation of public morals” necessitates closed proceedings. During the first half of the year judges exercised wide discretion in closing their courtroom or limiting members of the public in court proceedings due to COVID-19 guidelines, but limits were eased during the second half of the year. Defendants generally have the right to communicate with an attorney of their choice. The bar association is obligated upon court request to appoint an attorney without charge for indigent defendants in civil, commercial, and criminal cases, and defendants used these services. Defendants have the right to adequate time and facilities to prepare a defense. Most court documents were not publicly accessible.

Defendants have the right to confront their accusers, to confront witnesses against them, and to present their own witnesses, although these rights were not always respected. Defendants cannot be compelled to testify or confess guilt. Defendants have the right to appeal verdicts to a higher court, and many exercised this right.

Under the domestic labor law, domestic workers are exempted from litigation fees. If foreign workers had no legal representation, the public prosecutor sometimes arranged for it on their behalf, but with little or no involvement by the workers or their families. When workers received third-party assistance to bring a case, the cases were often resolved when the employer paid a monetary settlement to avoid a trial.

Political Prisoners and Detainees

There were many reports of persons detained for expressing their political views. These individuals were given the same protections as other detainees and the government permitted human rights groups to visit them. Throughout the year the government continued to arrest individuals on charges such as insulting the amir, leaders of neighboring countries, or the judiciary; spreading false news; or undermining the state’s efforts to control the spread of COVID-19. The courts issued verdicts for 21 cases of individuals charged with insulting the amir; some defendants were acquitted, while others received jail sentences from one to 10 years. Sentences for organizing public demonstrations amongst the Bidoon, participating in unlicensed or illegal demonstrations against the country’s ruling system, spreading false news, or criticizing the amir or other leaders on social media ranged from six months in prison to 10 years plus fines for multiple offenses.

The government actively monitored social media and incarcerated bloggers and political activists for expressing opinions and ideas critical of the government. Media reported between two and four such convictions per month.

In September authorities released Abdullah Fayrouz, a human rights activist and Bidoon rights advocate, after he served eight years in prison pending deportation for insulting the amir on Twitter. Fayrouz, who claimed to be a citizen but has been designated by the government as Bidoon, had been sentenced to exile but was never deported because no other country was willing to accept him.

Amnesty: In November the amir pardoned 11 former opposition members of parliament and activists self-exiled in Turkey who were convicted of storming the National Assembly in 2011. Additionally, the amir pardoned 24 Shia citizens from the al-Abdali Cell who were linked to Hizballah and Iran and convicted in a 2017 state security case. The pardons were part of a National Dialogue aimed at resolving Arab Spring-era tensions between the government and opposition.

Civil Judicial Procedures and Remedies

The law provides for an independent and impartial judiciary and trial for individuals or organizations in civil matters regarding human rights abuses, but authorities occasionally did not enforce such requirements for political reasons. Authorities frequently used administrative punishments, such as travel bans or deportation in civil matters. As of November there were 36,761 travel bans issued during the year for citizens and noncitizens for various reasons, including pending court cases, personal status cases, and outstanding financial claims. In most cases of human rights or labor law abuses, victims can go to PAM or the Domestic Workers Employment Department (DWED) to reach a negotiated civil settlement outside of court, except for cases of physical or sexual abuse. In these cases workers can file criminal complaints at police stations or through the Public Prosecutor’s Office. For other labor related complaints, workers can file complaints with PAM or the DWED, and if this is unsuccessful, these workers can pursue their cases in labor courts.

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

The constitution and the law prohibit such actions, and there were no reports that the government failed to respect these prohibitions. Cybercrime agents within the Ministry of Interior regularly monitored publicly accessible social media sites, however, and sought information regarding owners of accounts, although foreign-owned social media companies denied most requests for information.

Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties

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

The constitution provides for freedom of expression, including for members of the press and other media, although these rights were routinely violated. The law also imposes penalties on persons who create or send “immoral” messages, spread false news, and gives unspecified authorities the power to suspend communication services to individuals on national security grounds. The number of individuals convicted for expressing their opinions was not available at year’s end.

Freedom of Expression: The law bans certain issues for publication and public discussion. Topics banned for publication include insulting religion, in particular Islam; criticizing the amir; endangering relations between Kuwait and friendly countries; insulting members of the judiciary or displaying disdain for the constitution; compromising classified information; sorcery; and publishing information that could lead to a devaluation of the currency or false economic worries. The Public Prosecutor investigated COVID-19-related cases concerning the dissemination of allegedly false news. In general, local activists, academics, journalists, and opposition political figures reported they were regularly contacted by KSS, Ministry of Information, and Public Prosecutor’s Office officials after they published opinions deemed contrary to government positions. Government authorities did not always take immediate action in the cases of social media posts made by citizens while overseas to which the authorities objected, but under the law, the government may take action once the author returns to the country. There was broad latitude in the interpretation of what constitutes a crime when voicing dissent against the amir or the government, and activists can face up to seven years in prison for each count of the offense. A lawyer said in July that the Publicity, Information, and Publication Affairs Prosecution prosecuted approximately 9,000 cases related to social media or traditional media publications over the past three years.

The courts continued to sentence political activists to harsh prison sentences for charges of speaking out against the amir, the government, religion, or neighboring states.

In January the Court of Cassation refused bail for social media influencer Jamal al-Najada who was sentenced to three months in prison for insulting the Public Prosecutor’s Office in a leaked audio recording.

In 2020 the Court of Appeals and Cassation determined a 2014 conviction against outspoken opposition member of parliament Bader al-Dahoum for insulting the amir did not disqualify him for running for parliament. In March, however, the Constitutional Court reversed that decision and al-Dahoum was removed from the National Assembly.

Freedom of Expression for Members of the Press and Other Media, Including Online Media: Independent media were active and expressed a variety of views within legally permissible limits. All print media were privately owned, although their independence was limited by law and self-censorship based on fear of prosecution. The government did not permit non-Islamic religious publishing companies, although several churches published religious materials solely for their congregations’ use. The law allows for large fines and up to 10 years in prison for persons who use any means (including media) to subvert the state. The Ministry of Information may request that the Ministry of Commerce and Industry ban any media organization; media organizations can challenge media bans in the administrative courts. Newspaper publishers must obtain an operating license from the Ministry of Information. Both government and privately owned broadcast media are subject to the same laws as print media. According to the Ministry of Justice, there were 22 cases involving violations of the electronic media law.

Censorship or Content Restrictions: In January amendments to the Press and Publications Law came into effect that dismantled the Ministry of Information’s oversight committee for imported publications (mainly books). Publishers importing books are no longer required to obtain prior permission from the Ministry of Information to import books, and they are only expected to provide the book title, the author’s name, the number of copies to be imported, and a copy of the book to the Ministry of Information. They remain liable to legal action if the courts receive an official complaint from the public. Other amendments to the Press and Publications Law prohibited publishing any content that “stirs up sectarianism or tribal strife” or racist ideas. According to the Ministry of Information, the Ministry of Awqaf and Islamic Affairs (awqaf means endowment) reviewed books of a religious nature.

Media outlets exhibited a range of opinions on topics relating to social problems, but all apparently self-censored, avoiding critical discussion on topics such as the amir, foreign policy, and religion, to avoid criminal charges or fines or to keep their licenses. Discussions of certain sensitive topics, such as sex, were also self-censored. Authorities censored most English-language educational materials that mentioned the Holocaust and required educational material either to refer to Israel as “Occupied Palestine” or to remove such references entirely, although authorities did not censor these topics in news media. Widely available satellite dishes and virtual private networks allowed unfiltered media access.

Libel/Slander Laws: The law mandates jail terms for anyone who “defames religion,” and any Muslim citizen or resident may file criminal charges against a person the complainant believes has defamed Islam. Any citizen may file a complaint with authorities against anyone the citizen believes harmed public morals. The constitution states the amir is “immune and inviolable” and the penal code and press and publications law criminalize defamation and criticism of the amir.

National Security:The law forbids the publication or transmission of any information deemed subversive to the constitutional system on national security grounds. The government prosecuted online bloggers, political activists, and social media outlets under the Cybercrime Law, the Printing and Publications Law, and the National Security Law. The government generally restricted freedom of speech in instances purportedly related to national security, including the glorification of Saddam Hussein and references to the “Arabian Gulf” as the “Persian Gulf.”

Authorities arrested prominent human rights defender and lawyer Hani Hussein in 2020 and charged him with “broadcasting false news about the Saudi-Kuwait Neutral Zone” and violating the national unity law. Hussein was released on bail and was found innocent by the Court of First Instance, but the government appealed the decision. In September the Court of Cassation acquitted Hussein of all charges.

Internet Freedom

The law criminalizes certain online activities, including unauthorized access to information technology systems and confidential information; blackmail; use of the internet for terrorist activity; money laundering; and utilizing the internet for human trafficking. The cybercrime department at the Ministry of Interior received 2,023 cybercrime related complaints during the year.

The government’s E-Licensing program requires bloggers and websites that provide news in the country to register with the Ministry of Information and apply for a license or face a fine. Information on the number of new registration applications, rejected applications, existing registered sites, and fines issued were unavailable.

The government continued to monitor internet communications, such as blogs and discussion groups, for defamation and general security reasons. The Ministry of Communications blocked websites considered to “incite terrorism and instability” and required internet service providers to block websites that “violate [the country’s] customs and traditions.” The government prosecuted and punished individuals for the expression of political or religious views via the internet, including by email and social media, based on laws related to libel, national unity, and national security. The government prosecuted some online bloggers under the Printing and Publications Law and the National Security Law.

In June an Egyptian resident was arrested and deported by security forces for “insulting the country” in a social media post in which he criticized the weather. In November local media reported a citizen who was sentenced in 2017 for criticizing Saudi Arabia on Twitter went on a hunger strike after the central prison transferred him to a cell occupied by convicted terrorists; he remained imprisoned at the end of year.

The government filtered the internet primarily to block pornography and lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer, or intersex (LGBTQI+) material (to include health, advocacy, and legal information) as well as sites critical of Islam. The Communication and Information Technology Regulatory Authority (CITRA) blocked 82 websites during the year and unblocked 13. CITRA reported that the blocked websites included content considered offensive to the state and harmful to public morals. According to CITRA websites are blocked upon receipt of a request from the Public Prosecutor’s Office or KSS.

Academic Freedom and Cultural Events

The law provides for the freedoms of opinion and research, but self-censorship limited academic freedom, and the law prohibits academics from criticizing the current and previous amirs or Islam. The government censored academic curricula for topics relating to the Holocaust, sex, and other sensitive subjects. The government restricted artistic presentations and theatrical performances if they were perceived to damage public morals.

The Ministry of Interior reserved the right to approve or reject public events it considered politically or morally inappropriate.

b. Freedoms of Peaceful Assembly and Association

The government limited freedoms of peaceful assembly and association.

Freedom of Peaceful Assembly

Noncitizens and Bidoon are prohibited from demonstrating. The government requires citizens to obtain permits for public gatherings of more than 20 persons. Bidoon activists reported that if they tried to assemble peacefully or organize campaigns to gain equal rights, authorities regularly harassed them. Some Bidoon activists indicated they were detained for questioning by authorities each time they planned campaigns or protests.

In July the Ministry of Interior deported a Jordanian resident for taking part in a gathering to protest the government’s decision barring unvaccinated individuals from entering malls. During the gathering he spoke to local television stations and criticized the ban.

Freedom of Association

The constitution provides for freedom of association, but the government placed restrictions on this right. The law prohibits officially registered organizations from engaging in political activities.

The government used its power to register associations as a means of political influence and to limit public engagement on controversial topics or proscribed activities. The Ministry of Social Affairs can reject an NGO’s application if it deems the NGO does not provide a public service. Most instances in which the government closed a charity resulted from the charity not properly reporting fundraising activities, including failing to obtain permission from the ministry to fundraise or failing to submit annual financial reports. Dozens of unlicensed civic groups, clubs, and unofficial NGOs had no legal status, and many of those chose not to register due to bureaucratic inconvenience, including inability to meet the minimum 50-member threshold. The Ministry of Social Affairs continued to reject some new license requests, contending established NGOs already provided services like those the petitioners proposed. Members of licensed NGOs must obtain permission from the ministry to attend international conferences as official representatives of their organization.

Following the submission of a large number of applications from inactive NGOs to take part in activities abroad, the Ministry of Social Affairs’ NGOs Department in 2019 set regulations for NGO members to take part in conferences, lectures, and seminars held outside the country, including limiting the maximum number of participants to two per NGO, ensuring the conference theme is part of the goals of the concerned organization’s establishment, and notifying the ministry at least one month in advance.

c. Freedom of Religion

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

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

The constitution generally provides for freedom of internal movement, but numerous laws constrain foreign travel.

With limited paths to citizenship, all legal noncitizen workers are considered foreign workers rather than migrants.

Foreign Travel: Bidoon residents and foreign workers faced problems with, or restrictions on, foreign travel. The government restricted the ability of many Bidoon residents to travel abroad by not issuing them travel documents, although it permitted some Bidoon residents to travel overseas for medical treatment and education, and to visit Saudi Arabia for the annual Hajj. The Ministry of Interior issued Article 17 passports (temporary documents that do not confer nationality) to some Bidoon for these purposes, if they held valid identification documents issued by the Central Agency for Illegal Residents and did not have security restrictions placed on their file. Migrant workers who obtain emergency travel documents from their home country embassy are required to obtain permission from the PAM and the Ministry of Interior to exit the country. The Ministry of Interior announced that domestic workers would lose their residencies if they remained outside of the country for more than six months starting on December 1.

The law also permits travel bans on citizens and noncitizens accused or suspected of violating the law, including nonpayment of debts, and it allows citizens to petition authorities to impose a travel ban on others. This provision was sometimes imposed arbitrarily and resulted in delays and difficulties for citizens and foreigners leaving the country. Human rights activists reported being banned from travel to prevent them from participating in overseas events. They claim the government told them they were put under a travel ban for failing to pay parking tickets or other small fines.

Citizenship: By law the government is prohibited from revoking the citizenship of an individual who was born a citizen unless that individual has taken a second nationality. The government can revoke the citizenship of naturalized citizens for cause and can subsequently deport them. The justifications for such revocations include felony conviction for “honor-related and honesty-related crimes,” obtaining citizenship dishonestly, and threatening to “undermine the economic or social structure of the country.” In 2018 the Court of Cassation, the country’s highest court, affirmed that it is not permissible to withdraw citizenship from any citizen without a legitimate reason, stressing that a final court ruling must justify any withdrawal of citizenship.

On occasion the government revokes citizenships. In August media reported the Supreme Committee for Nationality Verification revoked the citizenship of 54 citizens, mostly women with dual nationalities. The Supreme Committee, however, reported that it revoked the citizenship of 10 citizens during the reporting period. If a person loses citizenship, all family members whose status was derived from that person also lose their citizenship and all associated rights. Absent holding another nationality, those impacted would become stateless. Authorities can seize the passports and civil identification cards of persons who lose their citizenship and enter a “block” on their names in government databases. This “block” prevents former citizens from traveling with the country’s passports or accessing free health care and other government services reserved for citizens.

The law prohibits the granting of citizenship to non-Muslims, but it allows non-Muslim male citizens to transmit citizenship to their descendants.

The government may deny a citizenship application by a resident based on security or criminal violations committed by the individual’s family members.

e. Status and Treatment of Internally Displaced Persons

Not applicable.

f. Protection of Refugees

The government generally cooperated with UNHCR and other humanitarian organizations in providing protection and assistance to refugees, returning refugees, or asylum seekers, as well as other persons of concern.

Access to Asylum: The law does not provide for granting asylum or refugee status, and the government has not established a system for providing protections to refugees. The country is not a party to the 1951 Refugee Convention or the 1967 protocols. While the government did not grant refugee status or asylum during the year, as of October, UNHCR officially recognized 2,047 persons of concern in the country. These persons of concern were legally in the country under employment contracts and were seeking resettlement in a third country. Of these individuals, 1,126 were Iraqi, 196 were Syrian, and 725 were other nationalities.  The constitution prohibits the extradition of political refugees.

Employment: Most asylum seekers and refugees were from Iraq, Somalia, and Syria, and many were assisted by nongovernmental organizations pending determination of their refugee status and resettlement applications by UNHCR. Many reported being increasingly fearful of losing their job, residence status, or both. With COVID-19 many lost their jobs and associated residence permits, putting them at risk of deportation.

Access to Basic Services: Government policies made public health care more expensive for foreign workers but placed a cap on education fees. UNHCR received feedback from persons of concern that healthcare expenses were beyond their reach. They also had challenges enrolling their children in schools, particularly those who did not have valid residency permits. Support for children with disabilities was limited and often inaccessible for foreigners.

g. Stateless Persons

UNHCR estimated there were 92,000 stateless persons in the country in 2020. UNHCR’s estimate included Bidoon residents who are stateless Arabs considered illegal residents by authorities and not granted citizenship. Human Rights Watch, Amnesty International, and press, however, estimated the Bidoon resident population at more than 100,000. Data from the Central Agency for Illegal Residents on the number of Bidoon residents in country was not available. The law does not provide stateless persons, including Bidoon persons, a clear path to acquire citizenship. The judicial system’s lack of authority to rule on the status of Bidoon residents further complicated the process for obtaining citizenship, leaving Bidoon with no access to the judiciary to present evidence and plead their case for citizenship.

The government contributed to statelessness through discrimination against women in nationality laws. Citizen women are not allowed to transmit nationality to their child or spouse. If a citizen woman marries a Bidoon man, their children become stateless and likely will have difficulty accessing basic education and medical services.

The Central Agency for Illegal Residents oversees Bidoon resident affairs. In August the Council of Ministers issued two resolutions that extended the agency’s expired term by two additional years and reappointed the head of the agency. Bidoon residents, Bidoon rights advocates, members of parliament, and human rights activists protested the decision, arguing that the agency had not been effective in resolving matters pertaining to the Bidoon, and that conditions for Bidoon residents had dramatically deteriorated under the agency’s leadership. They pointed to several Bidoon community members who had died by suicide in recent years due to dire social and economic conditions, including a 12-year-old boy in February. The agency received tens of thousands of citizenship requests by Bidoon residents for review since its establishment in 2010. Data on the number of requests accepted by the Central Agency was unavailable. In August the Ministry of Interior summoned 19 Bidoon activists for organizing an unauthorized weekly gathering and for insulting the Central Agency on the audio based social media platform Club House.

According to Bidoon advocates and government officials, many Bidoon residents were unable to provide documentation proving ties to the country sufficient to qualify for citizenship. Since the government considers Bidoon illegal residents, many lacked identification cards, which impeded access to education, prevented them from engaging in legal employment, or obtaining travel documents.

Security cards provide Bidoon residents with access to basic services. In January the Ministry of Defense requested more than 600 of its Bidoon employees renew their expired security cards to amend their legal working status. Some did not, however, receive renewed security cards from the agency because they were required to declare a different nationality. In August a Bidoon resident attempted to set himself on fire after the agency refused to renew his security card.

Although Bidoon residents are by law entitled to government benefits – including free healthcare, education, and ration cards – community members have alleged it was often difficult for them to access those services due to bureaucratic red tape. Some Bidoon residents and international NGOs reported that the government did not uniformly provide government services and benefits to Bidoon residents. In a November incident widely discussed on social media, reports stated a Bidoon child was reportedly unable to receive necessary medical treatment, and the government refused to provide him with travel documents to receive treatment abroad. In response to negative media coverage, the Ministry of Interior granted travel documents to the child and his parents in December so that he could receive treatment in Saudi Arabia. Like other noncitizens Bidoon do not have the right to own real estate. Children of citizen women married to noncitizen men, such as Bidoon, likewise cannot inherit their mother’s property, including the family home. They are forced to sell their home upon their mother’s death, or otherwise be disinherited.

Since citizen children were given priority to attend public school, a small minority of Bidoon children whose families could afford it enrolled in substandard private schools. In December the Central Agency announced in a press statement that there were 33,700 Bidoon students enrolled in public and private school for the 2020-21 academic year whose expenses were paid through a government charitable fund. Some activists alleged that they or their family members have been deprived of access to education, healthcare, and jobs for advocating on behalf of the Bidoon. In October local media reported that the Ministry of Awqaf and Islamic Affairs repeatedly suspended the salaries of Bidoon employees for various periods of time, including more than a month due to budgetary issues and auditing. Citizen mothers married to Bidoon husbands, and Bidoon mothers alike, report that they are unable to access medical care easily or reliably for their children. Local media reported a government school barred a first-grade Bidoon student from attending school in November for not having a valid residence permit or passport. The student’s guardian claimed the student was registered with the school since the beginning of the academic year and had a valid security card. Local media reported that the Ministry of Education permitted the girl to reenter the school after the story was published in the news.

The government alleged that most Bidoon residents concealed their “true” nationalities and were not actually stateless. Agency officials have extended incentive benefits to Bidoon who disclose an alternate nationality, including priority employment and the ability to obtain a driver’s license. According to the Central Agency, approximately 12,700 Bidoon admitted having a claim on another nationality in 2018. Bidoon leaders, however, alleged that when some members of the Bidoon community attempted to obtain government services from the Central Agency, officials required Bidoon individuals to sign a blank piece of paper to receive the necessary paperwork. Later, Bidoon reported, the agency would write a letter on the signed paper purportedly stating they held another nationality. The Court of Cassation ruled that decisions issued by the Central Agency for Illegal Residents fall under the jurisdiction of the judiciary and as a result, are challengeable in the courts, excluding those related to citizenship status. The Central Agency was tasked with granting or revoking government identification, birth, death, or marriage certificates, recommendations for employment, and other official documentation, whereas the Supreme Committee for the Verification of Citizenship at the Ministry of Interior managed all citizenship revocations and naturalizations. Nonetheless, many Bidoon and activists on their behalf continued to accuse the Agency of not complying with the law and failing to implement court rulings requiring it to register Bidoon residents and issue them required documents.

According to international observers, some Bidoon residents underwent DNA testing purportedly to “prove” their Kuwaiti nationality by virtue of blood relation to a citizen. Bidoon residents are required to submit DNA samples confirming paternity to become naturalized, a practice critics said leaves them vulnerable to denial of citizenship based on DNA testing.

The government allowed the Bidoon sons of soldiers who were either killed, missing in action, or served in the military for 30 years to be eligible to join the military. No information was available on the number of enlisted Bidoon; however, according to a 2019 statement from the head of the Interior and Defense Parliamentary Committee, as a result more than 27,000 Bidoons were awaiting enlistment.

There were reports of violence against Bidoon residents. In November the Criminal Court sentenced a former assistant undersecretary in Ministry of Information to 10 years in prison with hard labor for kidnapping and attempting to assault a Bidoon resident.

Section 3. Freedom to Participate in the Political Process

The constitution stipulates the country is a hereditary emirate. The 50 elected members of the National Assembly (plus government-appointed ministers) must approve the amir’s choice of crown prince by majority vote conducted by secret ballot. According to the Succession Law, the crown prince must be a male descendant of Sheikh Mubarak al-Sabah and have attained the age of 30, possess a sound mind, and be a legitimate son of Muslim parents. The National Assembly may remove the amir from power by a two-thirds majority vote if it finds that any of these three conditions was not met.

Elections and Political Participation

Recent Elections: Observers generally considered the December 2020 parliamentary election free and fair, and reported no serious procedural problems. In November 2020 the Interior Ministry announced that 34 of the 395 candidates had been disqualified without explanation, although 20 were later reinstated. One of these candidates was elected to the Parliament. Due to COVID-19 health concerns, the campaign period prior to the election was shorter than normal, and in-person events were not allowed.

Opposition MPs took 24 of the National Assembly’s 50 seats, an increase of 16 seats from the last parliament. Thirty candidates younger than age 45 were elected, while none of the 33 women candidates won seats. In May a by-election was held to fill the seat by Bader al-Dahoum’s judicial disqualification (see section 2, Freedom of Expression). In the May election, which local observers considered free and fair, 15 candidates, including one woman, ran. Opposition figure Obaid al-Wasmi won the seat.

Political Parties and Political Participation: The government did not recognize political parties or allow their formation, although no law formally bans political parties. National Assembly candidates must nominate themselves as individuals. Well organized, unofficial blocs operated as political groupings inside the National Assembly, and members of parliament formed loose alliances. Those convicted of insulting the amir and Islam are banned from running for elected office. In 2019 the Court of Cassation issued a verdict that found citizens convicted of calling for or participating in unregistered demonstrations and protest rallies or resisting security operatives could not vote or stand for public office. Voters may register to vote every February upon reaching the voting age of 21 and having citizenship for 20 years. Prosecutors and judges from the Ministry of Justice supervise election stations. Women prosecutors served as supervisors for the first time during the 2016 elections. Annually the Ministries of Interior and Justice work together to purge from voter registration lists the names of those convicted of insulting the amir; cases must reach a final verdict before names can be removed. The election law criminalizes tribal primary elections for member of parliament candidates that take place informally before the official election date. In September, one former and one current member of parliament were sentenced to two years’ imprisonment for holding illegal tribal elections.

Participation of Women and Members of Minority Groups: No laws limit participation of women or members of minority groups in the political process, and they did participate. Religious minority groups can freely participate in the political process, vote, and run for the National Assembly. LGBTQI+ individuals do not openly participate in the political process due to legal discrimination (see section 6, Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity). Although women gained the right to vote in 2005, they faced cultural and social barriers to political participation. For example, some tribal leaders excluded women from running for office or choosing preliminary candidates by banning them from being considered or attending unofficial tribal primaries. Cultural norms often excluded women from attending local gatherings, called diwaniyas, which candidates attend to lobby for support from influential leaders and voters. The one appointed woman cabinet member can vote within the country’s 50-seat parliament. Although 33 female candidates ran in the December 2020 parliamentary election, no women were elected. Analysts attributed this outcome to widespread discomfort with women in leadership roles and an electoral system that minimized the likelihood of voters allocating their one vote per slate of 10 district candidates to a female candidate. In September, three women were appointed as deputy directors of prosecution for the first time in the country. In October the Ministry of Justice announced that seven female judges assumed leadership roles overseeing misdemeanor court circuits. In November the government appointed 14 new female prosecutors to the Public Prosecutor’s Office, increasing the total number of female prosecutors to 64. As of November the Ministry of Justice had appointed a total of 15 female judges. According to the Ministry of Justice, there were a total of 1,380 prosecutors and judges. As of December 19, the Ministry of Defense permitted women to enlist in the military. Within the first two days, the ministry reported 260 women signed up to join the military.

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

The government imposed limits on the operations of domestic and international human rights groups, although government officials were somewhat cooperative and responsive to their views. The law permits the existence of NGOs, but the government continued to deny registration to some. To be registered NGOs are required to demonstrate that their existence is in the public interest, conduct business beneficial to the country, have at least 50 citizen members and a board comprised entirely of citizens, and not undermine cultural values and norms as defined by the government. NGOs may not engage in political activity or encourage sectarianism.

Major local NGOs dedicated specifically to human rights included the Kuwait Society for Human Rights and the Kuwaiti Association of the Basic Evaluators of Human Rights. Most local registered NGOs were devoted to the rights or welfare of specific groups, such as women, children, prisoners, and persons with disabilities. These organizations operated with little government interference, and some suffered from a lack of government cooperation. A few dozen local unregistered human rights groups also operated discreetly but ran the risk of sanction if they were too vocal in calling out abuses. The government and various national assembly committees met occasionally with local NGOs and generally responded to their inquiries.

In May the Public Prosecutor’s Office dismissed the charges against human rights defender Hadeel Buqrais, officially closing her case, according to the Gulf Centre for Human Rights. Frontline Defenders reported the Cybercrimes State Security Agency interrogated Buqrais in November 2020 over a tweet critical of discrimination against and mistreatment of the Bidoon community. Frontline Defenders reported that authorities questioned her regarding her human rights work and advocacy for the Bidoon community without the presence of her lawyer.

Government Human Rights Bodies: The National Assembly’s Human Rights Committee, which operates independently of the government, is a parliamentary body that primarily hears individual complaints of human rights abuses and worked with plaintiffs and relevant stakeholders to reach a mutual settlement. The committee had adequate resources and was considered effective. The number of grievances received by the committee was unavailable.

Section 6. Discrimination and Societal Abuses

Women

Rape and Domestic Violence: The law criminalizes rape, but not spousal rape. The law covers rape for men and women. Rape carries a maximum penalty of death, which the courts occasionally imposed for the crime. The courts issued verdicts for 198 cases of sexual assault including rape. Some defendants were acquitted, while others received jail sentences from five to 20 years. Authorities did not effectively enforce laws against rape. The law allows a rapist to avoid punishment on the condition that he marry his victim and that her male guardian consents that the perpetrator not be punished. Violence against women continued to be a problem, and the law does not include separate criminal penalties for domestic violence. There were reports alleging that some police stations did not take seriously reports by both citizens and noncitizens of sexual assault and domestic violence, which service providers stated contributes to a culture of underreporting by rape and domestic violence survivors.

When reported, police typically arrested perpetrators and investigated allegations of rape, and in a limited number of cases, prosecuted the accused. In July the Public Prosecutor’s Office ordered the arrest of a former government official for kidnapping and raping a Bidoon child. As of November the alleged perpetrator was in pretrial detention. In September the Criminal Court sentenced a male citizen to 15 years in prison for raping an expatriate woman.

Although the government does not regularly publish statistics on domestic violence, cases of domestic violence against women were regularly reported by local NGOs. These NGOs noted an increase in cases during the COVID-19 pandemic. The courts issued verdicts for 991 domestic violence cases, including 662 cases of violence against women. Some defendants were acquitted, while others received jail sentences from six months to 20 years, and some were sentenced to the death penalty. Service providers observed that domestic violence was significantly underreported to authorities, but press publicized some high-profile cases.

In April a citizen man stabbed to death a citizen woman after he crashed his car into her sister’s car and kidnapped her and her daughter. She had previously filed two police complaints against the perpetrator for harassing and threatening her for more than a year after her family had refused his marriage proposal. In July the Criminal Court charged the perpetrator with first degree murder and sentenced him to death by hanging. In September the Criminal Court referred a citizen man responsible for the September 2020 killing of his sister for examination by mental health experts. Press reports indicated that the accused man killed his sister while she was recovering in the hospital from an initial attempt on her life by another brother. Media asserted the men attacked their sister because they did not approve of her marriage.

In February activists launched a countrywide social media campaign under the name Lan Asket (“I will not be silenced”) to raise awareness and end violence against women. The campaign encouraged women to submit their experiences online and documented numerous reports of women facing violence and harassment. Women’s rights activists also documented numerous stories of citizen and female foreign workers seeking help to leave an abusive situation who faced significant obstacles or were forced to remain in life-threatening situations because government has not yet opened a shelter for victims of domestic violence. As of December the Ministry of Social Affairs assigned a building for a domestic violence shelter with capacity for up to 100 women and hired at least six staff to work at the shelter and operate the domestic violence hotline.

A woman may petition for divorce based on injury from spousal abuse, but the law does not provide a clear legal standard regarding what constitutes injury. In domestic violence cases, a woman must produce a report from a government hospital to document her injuries, in addition to having at least two male witnesses (or a male witness and two female witnesses) who can attest to the abuse. Advocates reported that women who reach out to police rarely get help because officers are not adequately trained to deal with domestic violence cases. Victims were generally sent back to their male guardians, who in some instances were also their abusers. Information on the number of cases and final and appealable sentences issued for rape and domestic violence was unavailable.

Female Genital Mutilation/Cutting (FGM/C): While FGM/C is illegal, it is not specifically criminalized by law outside of the penal code provisions prohibiting physical violence and abuse. NGOs have reported its practice in some expatriate communities. Parents and doctors found to be participating in FGM/C can be fined.

Other Harmful Traditional Practices: The law provided reduced penalties for a man who murders a woman who allegedly engaged in an adulterous act, which NGOs have asserted legalizes honor killings. The government does not track honor killings or publish data on honor killings.

Sexual Harassment: Human rights groups characterized sexual harassment in the workplace as a pervasive and mostly unreported problem. The penal code criminalizes sexual harassment, but many activists, legal experts, and members of parliament have stated they are not satisfied with the penal code and called for a separate law to criminalize sexual harassment in February. In reference to the penal code, in September the government announced that sexual harassment is prohibited in the private sector workplace and that PAM is responsible for referring cases of sexual harassment and discrimination to the Ministry of Interior and Public Prosecutor’s Office. The prohibition also includes “all forms and means of harassment and discrimination,” including online and discrimination based on gender, age, pregnancy, or social status. PAM, however, has not announced the implementation of any procedures to report violations of the prohibition. The law criminalizes “encroachment on honor,” which encompasses everything from touching persons against their will to rape, but police inconsistently enforced this law. The government deployed female police officers specifically to combat sexual harassment in shopping malls and other public spaces. Perpetrators of sexual harassment and sexual assault faced fines and imprisonment.

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

There were no reports of government interference in the right of married couples to decide freely the number, spacing, and timing of children. There were no reports of government interference in the ability to access information on reproductive health. Social and cultural attitudes, however, prevented unmarried women from seeking out this information and some physicians were reluctant to administer certain procedures, such as pap smears, to unmarried women despite there being no law against it. The information and means to make decisions, as well as skilled attendance during prenatal care, essential obstetric care, childbirth, and postpartum care were freely available to citizens and foreign residents with valid identification documents. Many stateless Bidoon and unmarried women reportedly had difficulty accessing nonemergency reproductive medical care.

While the government did not provide any formal family planning programs, contraceptives were available without prescription regardless of nationality, age, or marital status. Clinics were prohibited from providing any advice on contraceptives to unmarried women, however. Cultural stigmas discouraged unmarried women from accessing contraceptives. According to UN Population Fund 2021 estimates, 34 percent of women ages 15-49 used a modern type of contraceptives. It is illegal to give birth out of wedlock, and a mother who gives birth out of wedlock can be imprisoned along with her child. Fathers of children born out of wedlock can also be imprisoned. If an unmarried woman was pregnant, authorities have at times summoned her partner for interviewing, requested the suspected father submit to a paternity test, and asked for a marriage certificate backdated nine months for the mother and father to avoid arrest. Mothers giving birth out of wedlock in public or government-run hospitals often faced issues getting documentation for their children. NGOs and medical professionals reported families pressured unmarried pregnant women to claim falsely they have been raped to avoid jail time and the stigma associated with sexual relations prior to marriage.

The government provided some access to sexual and reproductive health services for survivors of sexual violence, but these services were largely inadequate. Emergency contraception was available. A large percentage of survivors of sexual violence had little access to health services. NGOs reported that hospitals do not have rape kits available; rape survivors are required to go to the Ministry of Interior’s forensic medical department to request a rape kit. Publicly available information was limited on the required procedures needed to request a rape kit. Expatriate survivors of sexual violence often had even less access to such services, particularly if they were illegal residents or their employer did not provide adequate medical coverage.

Discrimination: The law does not provide women the same legal status, rights, and inheritance provisions as men. Women experienced discrimination in most aspects of family law, including divorce and child custody, as well as in the basic rights of citizenship, the workplace, and in certain circumstances, the value of their testimony in court. Sharia (Islamic law) courts have jurisdiction over personal status and family law cases for Sunni and Shia Muslims. As implemented in the country, sharia discriminates against women in judicial proceedings, marriage, child custody, and inheritance. There were no reported cases of official or private sector discrimination in accessing credit, owning or managing a business, or securing housing, but no official government system exists to track this.

Discrimination in employment and occupation occurred with respect to both citizen and noncitizen women (see section 7.d.). Secular courts allow any person to testify and consider the testimony of men and women equally, but in sharia courts the testimony of a women equals half that of a man. A study released by the Kuwait Society for Human Rights in 2020 found that, while the constitution provides for equal rights for women, implementation often fell short and many laws contradicted its equal protection provisions.

The law allows marriage between Muslim men and non-Muslim women (of Abrahamic religious groups only) but it prohibits marriage between Muslim women and non-Muslim men. The law does not require a non-Muslim woman to convert to Islam to marry a Muslim man, but many non-Muslim women faced strong economic and societal pressure to convert. In the event of a divorce between a Muslim father and non-Muslim mother who did not convert to Islam, the law grants the father or his family sole custody of the children. A non-Muslim woman married to a Muslim citizen man is also ineligible for naturalization and cannot inherit her husband’s property unless specified as a beneficiary in his will.

Inheritance is also governed by sharia, which varies according to the specific school of Islamic jurisprudence. In the absence of a direct male heir, a Shia woman may inherit all property, while a Sunni woman inherits only a portion, with the balance divided among brothers, uncles, and male cousins of the deceased.

Women do not enjoy equal citizenship rights as men. Female citizens are unable to transmit citizenship to their noncitizen husbands or to children. Failure to provide equal citizenship rights to women subjects their children to statelessness when a woman is married to a stateless Bidoon resident. In exceptional cases some children of widowed or divorced female citizens were granted citizenship by amiri decree, although this was a discretionary act. In March the Ministry of Interior announced female citizens could sponsor residency permits for their noncitizen husbands and children only if the husband and children were unemployed and not naturalized citizens.

Male citizens married to female noncitizens do not face such discrimination and their children are accorded the full legal protections of citizenship. In February, however, the Legislative and Legal Affairs Committee rejected a proposal to grant citizenship to widows of male citizens even if the couple had children. Individuals can petition the Ministry of Interior to include their name on a list of proposed naturalizations, to be reviewed by the Council of Ministers. If approved the names go to the amir for signature and are published in the national gazette. The law requires segregation by gender of classes at all public universities and secondary schools, although it was not always enforced.

Systemic Racial or Ethnic Violence and Discrimination

The law states that all forms of expression that promote hatred against any category of society, incite sectarian strife, or call for the supremacy of any one ethnic or religious group are prohibited. In September the Ministry of Commerce and the PAM issued a decision to prohibit employers from discriminating based on gender, age, pregnancy, or social status in the oil and private sectors (see section 7.d.). Approximately 70 percent of residents are noncitizens, many originating from other parts of the Middle East, the Indian subcontinent, and South and Southeast Asia. Societal discrimination against noncitizens was prevalent and occurred in most areas of daily life, including employment, education, housing, social interaction, and health care (see sections 2.g, and 7.d.). The Ministry of Interior used administrative deportation, which is not subject to judicial review, to deport noncitizens for minor offenses, such as operating a taxi without a license.

There were credible indications of unequal treatment of persons based on race, religion, and citizenship during arrest procedures and investigations by the Ministry of Interior.

Children

Birth Registration: Birth registration is generally available to all citizens and foreign residents as long as the parents have a recognized marriage certificate dated at least seven months prior to the birth date of their child. Citizenship is transmitted exclusively by the father (see section 6, Discrimination). The government designates the father’s religious group on birth certificates as either Muslim, Christian, or other. The government often granted citizenship to orphaned or abandoned infants, including Bidoon infants. Bidoon parents, and in a few cases citizen women married to Bidoon or foreigners, were sometimes unable to obtain birth certificates for their children even after completing extensive administrative procedures. The lack of a birth certificate prevented Bidoon children from obtaining identification papers and accessing public services such as education and health care.

Education: Education for citizens is free through the university level and compulsory through the secondary level. Education is neither free nor compulsory for noncitizens. Credible reports estimate hundreds of children are unable to attend school as a result. The 2011 Council of Ministers decree which extended public education to Bidoon residents has still not been implemented fully. Lack of identification documents sometimes prevented Bidoon resident access to education even at private schools. The Education Ministry sets annual quotas for the number of Bidoon residents who can attend public schools, most of whom have citizen mothers. The others must attend private schools and pay fees. Charitable organizations offer tuition support to some but not all of these students.

Medical Care: Citizen boys and girls have equal access to state-provided medical care. Lack of identification papers restricted Bidoon residents’ access to free medical care.

Child, Early, and Forced Marriage: The legal marriage age is 17 for boys and 15 for girls, but tradition and family expectations sometimes resulted in girls marrying at a younger age within some tribal groups.

Child Abuse: The law establishes protections for abused children, including noncitizen children.  The Child Protection Office of the Ministry of Health, established in 2014, has made significant efforts in monitoring and following cases of child abuse. The office manages a child abuse hotline, which received 474 reports of abuse as of November. Most abuses occurred within the family, and cases were approximately split evenly among boys and girls. In instances of reported child abuse, children are admitted to a hospital and assessed by medical professionals pending legal proceedings. There is no shelter for abused children.

Sexual Exploitation of Children: There is no minimum age for consensual sex. There are no laws specific to child pornography because all pornography is illegal. There is no statutory rape law; premarital sexual relations are illegal. The law prohibits commercial sexual exploitation, sale, grooming, and offering or procuring children for prostitution. The authorities generally enforced the law.

A Child Protection Office policy holds families of children 13 years old or younger responsible for the use of social media applications that might be unsuitable for young children or could expose them to sexual predators.

International Child Abductions: The country is not a party to the 1980 Hague Convention on the Civil Aspects of International Child Abduction. See the Department of State’s Annual Report on International Parental Child Abduction at https://travel.state.gov/content/travel/en/International-Parental-Child-Abduction/for-providers/legal-reports-and-data/reported-cases.html.

Anti-Semitism

There were no known Jewish citizens and an estimated few dozen Jewish foreign resident workers. Anti-Semitic rhetoric generally originated from self-proclaimed Islamists or conservative opinion writers. There were reported cases of clerics and others making statements that perpetuated negative stereotypes of Jews. Columnists often conflated Israeli government actions or views with those of Jews more broadly. Reflecting the government’s nonrecognition of Israel, there are longstanding official instructions to teachers to expunge any references to Israel or the Holocaust from English-language textbooks. The law prohibits local companies from conducting business with Israeli citizens, included transporting Israeli passport holders on the country’s national airline.

Trafficking in Persons

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

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

Police incited, perpetrated, condoned, and tolerated violence against LGBTQI+ individuals. Transgender persons reported cases of repeated harassment, detention, abuse, and rape by police, who blackmailed and raped them without fear of reprisal. Consensual same-sex sexual conduct between men and imitating the appearance of a member of the opposite sex are illegal. The law criminalizes consensual same-sex sexual activity between men older than age 21 with imprisonment of up of to seven years; those engaging in consensual same-sex sexual activity with men younger than age 21 may be imprisoned for up to 10 years. No laws criminalize same-sex sexual activity between women. The law criminalizes and imposes a fine and imprisonment for one-to-three years for persons imitating the appearance of the opposite sex in public. These penalties were enforced.

The Criminal Court sentenced a transgender woman, Maha al-Mutairi, to prison for two years and fined her 1,000 dinars ($3,315) in October for “imitating the opposite sex” in her online activities and for “misusing phone communication.” In June 2020 al-Mutairi asserted on social media that she was targeted by police based on her gender identity and she was sexually assaulted and raped by police officers. Authorities held al-Mutairi in solitary confinement at the central prison for men. In late November the Court of Appeals issued an amended verdict sentencing al-Mutairi to one month in prison and a fine of approximately 500 dinars ($1,650). Since al-Mutairi had been imprisoned since October, she was released for completing the one-month sentence in late November. Societal discrimination and harassment based on sexual orientation and gender identity occurred. Officials practiced such discrimination, usually upon discovering that a person stopped for a traffic violation did not appear to be the gender indicated on the identification card.

No registered NGOs focused on LGBTQI+ matters, although unregistered ones existed. Due to social convention and potential repression, LGBTQI+ organizations neither operated openly nor held LGBTQI+ human rights advocacy events or Pride marches.

Section 7. Worker Rights

a. Freedom of Association and the Right to Collective Bargaining

The law provides for the right of citizen workers to form and join trade unions, bargain collectively, and conduct legal strikes, with significant restrictions. The law prohibits trade unions from conducting any political activities. Foreign workers, who constituted more than 80 percent of the workforce, may join unions only as nonvoting members after five years of work in the sector the union represents, provided they obtain a certificate of good conduct and moral standing from the government. They cannot run for seats or vote in board elections. Migrant workers have the right to bargain collectively at their respective workplace but are not permitted to form trade unions. Migrant workers can participate in trade unions and share grievances but are not permitted to vote or run for office. The government generally enforced applicable laws with some exceptions, which were commensurate with those for other laws involving denial of civil rights, such as discrimination. Complaint proceedings were generally not subjected to lengthy delays or appeals for Kuwaitis. The time it takes to resolve complaints for migrant workers depends on the nature of the complaint but is generally longer for migrants than for citizens.

The labor law does not apply to domestic workers or maritime employees. Discrete labor laws set work conditions in the public and private sectors, with the oil industry treated separately. The law permits limited trade union pluralism at the local level. Public sector employees are permitted to unionize, but the government authorized only one federation, the Kuwait Trade Union Federation. The law also stipulates any new union must include at least 100 workers and that at least 15 must be citizens.

The law provides workers, except for domestic workers, maritime workers, and public sector employees, a limited right to collective bargaining. There is no minimum number of workers needed to conclude such agreements. The government did not effectively enforce the law. Public-sector workers do not have the right to strike. Citizens in the private sector have the right to strike, although cumbersome provisions calling for compulsory negotiation and arbitration in the case of disputes limit that right. The law does not prohibit retaliation against striking workers or prevent the government from interfering in union activities, including the right to strike.

As of July the Ministry of Interior arrested 95 employers for issuing residency permits in exchange for money and deported 4,896 residents whose legal status had lapsed. The Ministry of Interior reported that it closed 44 fake domestic worker employment offices.

The International Labor Organization and the International Trade Union Confederation criticized the citizenship requirement for discouraging unions in sectors that employ few citizens, including most private sector employment, such as construction. The government treated worker actions by citizens and migrant workers differently. While citizens and public sector union leaders and workers faced no government repercussions for their roles in union or strike activities, companies directly threatened migrant workers calling for strikes with termination and deportation.

The law prohibits antiunion discrimination and employer interference with union functions. The law provides for reinstatement of workers fired for union activity. Nevertheless, the law empowers the courts to dissolve any union for violating labor laws or for threatening “public order and morals,” although a union can appeal such a court decision. The Ministry of State for Economic Affairs can request the Court of First Instance to dissolve a union. Additionally, the amir may dissolve a union by decree.

b. Prohibition of Forced or Compulsory Labor

The law does not prohibit and criminalize all forms of forced or compulsory labor. There are exceptions to the law in cases related to “national emergency and with just remuneration.” The law allows for forced prison labor as a punishment. Penalties were not commensurate with those for other analogous serious crimes, such as kidnapping.

In April security guards at the Ministry of Education posted on social media that they had not received their salaries for five months. In response PAM required their employer to pay their salaries. As of June hundreds of security guards and cleaners working for private companies with government contracts had not received their salaries since February. Some incidents of forced labor and conditions indicative of forced labor occurred, especially among foreign domestic and agricultural workers. Such practices were usually a result of employer abuse of the sponsorship system (kafala) for foreign workers. Employers frequently illegally withheld salaries from domestic workers and minimum-wage laborers. Employers confined some domestic and agricultural workers to their workspaces by retaining their passports and, in the case of some domestic workers, locked them in their work locations. The government did not make consistent efforts to educate households regarding the legal prohibition on seizing domestic employees’ passports. Some employers did not allow workers to take their weekly day of rest or leave their work location. Workers who fled abusive employers had difficulty retrieving their passports, and authorities deported them in almost all cases.

Domestic servitude was the most common type of forced labor, principally involving foreign domestic workers employed under kafala, but reports of forced labor in the construction and sanitation sectors also existed. Forced labor conditions for migrant workers included nonpayment of wages, long working hours, deprivation of food, threats, physical and sexual abuse, and restrictions on movement, such as withholding passports or confinement to the workplace.

Numerous domestic workers who escaped from abusive employers reported waiting several months to regain their passports, which employers had illegally confiscated when they began their employment. There were numerous media reports throughout the year of sponsors abusing domestic workers or injuring them when they tried to escape. Some reports alleged that abuse resulted in workers’ deaths. Female domestic workers were particularly vulnerable to sexual abuse. Police and courts were reluctant to prosecute citizens for abuse in private residences but prosecuted some serious cases of abuse when reported, particularly when the cases were raised by the source country embassies. According to a high-level government official, authorities prosecuted several cases of domestic worker abuse. PAM operated a shelter for female domestic workers, victims of abuses, or persons who were otherwise unwilling to continue to work for their employers and preferred to leave the country. The shelter had a capacity of 500, and PAM reported the shelter accommodated a total of 160 occupants during the reporting period. In August a Filipina domestic worker posted a video on social media claiming abuse by her sponsor. According to PAM, the Ministry of Interior and PAM found her and moved her to the women’s domestic worker shelter in Jleeb al-Shuyoukh.

A government-owned recruiting company designed to mitigate abuses against domestic workers (Al-Durra) officially launched its services in 2017 and initially planned to bring 120 domestic workers a month from the Philippines and approximately 100 male workers from India. Al-Durra reported it had not recruited any new domestic workers since the end of the first quarter of 2020 due to COVID-19. Al-Durra’s services included worker insurance, a 24/7 abuse hotline, and follow-up on allegations of labor rights violations. The target recruitment fee depends on domestic workers’ experience and skillset. The government regularly conducted information awareness campaigns in Arabic and English via media outlets and public events and otherwise informed employers to encourage compliance by public and private recruiting companies with the law.

Numerous media reports highlighted the problem of residence permit or “visa trading,” wherein companies and recruitment agencies collude to “sell visas” fraudulently to prospective workers. Often the jobs and companies attached to these visas do not exist, and workers are vulnerable to exploitation in the black market where they are forced to earn a living and repay the cost of their fake “visa.” Arrests of traffickers and illegal labor rings occurred almost weekly. Since workers cannot freely or easily change jobs under the country’s kafala system, many workers were unwilling to leave their initial job, even if visa traders had misled them regarding the position, or their position existed only on paper. Workers who left their employers due to abusive treatment, nonpayment or late payment of wages, or unacceptable working conditions risked the Ministry of Interior charging them with falling into illegal residency status, absconding, and being deported. In 2020 PAM established an emergency hotline to track “visa trading” and labor infraction allegations. Through the hotline, online applications, social media platforms, and the PAM website, PAM received 53 complaints as of November. In October the Anti-Trafficking Department at the Ministry of Interior established a 24/7 hotline in Arabic and English to receive reports of human trafficking. Since its establishment the hotline received 95 complaints, none of which the Ministry of Interior qualified as a trafficking in persons violation.

The COVID-19 pandemic brought increased public and press attention to “visa trading.” Civil society groups, press outlets, and MPs called for the government to increase its efforts to protect victims and punish traders and their enablers.

In May the Court of Cassation sentenced a Ministry of Interior colonel and two Egyptian nationals to three years in prison for visa trading and violating the residency law. In September the Public Prosecutor’s Office ordered the arrest of three citizens for running a human trafficking operation, after the Immigration Investigations Department found that 400 expatriates were falsely told they would be working at hotels, which the workers later discovered did not exist. Some expatriates from various countries reportedly indicated to the Public Prosecutor’s Office they paid approximately 1,500 dinars ($5,000) each to be brought to the country for work.

In March the rapporteur of the National Assembly’s human rights committee stated that the Ministry of Interior and Ministry of Social Affairs and Labor, among other ministries, were involved in human trafficking, and government contracts are a large source for trafficking.

In November the Court of Cassation rejected the appeals of Bangladeshi member of parliament Kazi Shahidul Papul, two Kuwaiti government officials, and a Kuwaiti former member of parliament who were convicted of bribery and human trafficking in April. The court upheld Papul’s seven-year prison sentence, his fine of approximately 270,000 dinars ($900,000), and his deportation after serving his sentence.

The court also upheld the appeal ruling for the former PAM chief, who was sentenced to seven years in prison and a fine of almost 180,000 dinars ($600,000) The police officers involved were sentenced to seven years in prison and a fine of approximately 1.97 million dinars ($6.5 million).

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

c. Prohibition of Child Labor and Minimum Age for Employment

The law prohibits all of the worst forms of child labor. The government did not effectively enforce the child labor law. Penalties were not commensurate with those for other analogous serious crimes, such as kidnapping. The legal minimum age for employment is 18, although employers may obtain permits from the Ministry of State for Economic Affairs to employ juveniles ages 15 to 18 in some nonhazardous trades. Juveniles may work a maximum of six hours a day with no more than four consecutive hours followed by a one-hour rest period. Juveniles cannot work overtime or between 7 p.m. and 6 a.m.

Although not extensive there were credible reports that children of South Asian origin worked as domestic laborers. Some underage workers entered the country on travel documents with falsified birth dates.

PAM labor and occupational safety inspectors routinely monitored private firms for labor law compliance. Noncompliant employers faced fines or a forced suspension of their company operations. Nevertheless, the government did not consistently enforce child labor laws in the informal sector, such as in street vending.

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

d. Discrimination with Respect to Employment and Occupation

The law prohibits discrimination in employment based on race, gender, and disability in the public and private sectors. Penalties for violations were not commensurate to other laws on civil rights, such as election interference.

The government immediately deported HIV-positive foreign workers, and there was no protection for workers based on sexual orientation. No laws prohibit labor discrimination based on non-HIV communicable diseases, or social status; there were no reported cases of discrimination in these areas. Discrimination in employment and occupation occurred with respect to both citizen and noncitizen women. Female domestic workers were at particular risk of discrimination or abuse due to the isolated home environment in which they worked.

The law states that a woman should receive “remuneration equal to that of a man provided she does the same work,” although it prohibits women from working in “dangerous industries” in trades “harmful” to health, or in those that “violate public morals,” such as professions that provide services exclusively to men. The law does not allow women to work the same hours as men and restricts women from working in certain industries, such as mining, oil drilling, construction, factories, and agriculture.

In September the Ministry of Commerce and PAM issued a decision banning sexual harassment and discrimination in the private sector workplace. The decision prohibits employers from discriminating on the basis of gender, age, pregnancy, or social status in the oil and private sectors.

The Supreme Council for Planning and Development reported that women make up 56 percent of the labor market in the public sector and 11 percent in the private sector. The Supreme Council for Planning and Development reported that women make up 18 percent of leadership positions.

The law prohibits discrimination against persons with permanent physical, sensory, intellectual, and mental disabilities in employment, and it imposes penalties on employers who refrain without reasonable cause from hiring persons with disabilities. The government generally enforced these provisions. Noncitizens with disabilities had no access to government-operated facilities that covered job training, and the government has not fully implemented social and workplace aides for persons with physical and, in particular, vision disabilities.

In July, PAM approved a proposal to prohibit the issuance of new work permits for expatriate workers at the age of 60 years and above, and those who hold only high school diplomas, unless the employer paid a 2000 dinar ($6,555) fee. In October the Department of Fatwa and Legislation determined that the prohibition was illegal and that the fee would be removed. In November, PAM proposed a new decision stipulating that this category of expatriate residents could renew their visas if their employers were to pay for private health insurance, amounting to approximately 900 dinars ($3,000) and an annual visa fee of 510 dinars ($1,680). Though this fee was for the employer, most employees paid the fees. The Fatwa and Legislation Department must approve PAM’s new decision before it can be implemented. As of December no visas have been renewed and the suspension was still in place.

Shia continued to report government discrimination based on their religion. Shia held no leadership positions in the security forces. Some Shia continued to allege that a glass ceiling prevented them from obtaining leadership positions in public sector organizations, including the security services. In the private sector Shia were generally represented at all levels in proportion to their percentage of the population.

e. Acceptable Conditions of Work

Wage and Hour Laws: The law does not provide for a national minimum wage for all sectors of the economy. It sets a national monthly minimum wage in the oil sector, and the private sector, and a minimum monthly wage for domestic workers. The minimum monthly salary for the private sector is approximately 75 dinars ($250) whereas the approximate lowest monthly salary for the public sector is 600 dinars ($2,000). Domestic workers earn a minimum monthly salary of approximately 60 dinars ($200).

The law limits the standard workweek to 48 hours (40 hours for the petroleum industry) and gives private-sector workers 30 days of annual leave. The law also forbids requiring employees to work more than 60 hours per week or 10 hours per day. The law provides for 13 designated national holidays annually. Workers are entitled to 125 percent of base pay for working overtime and 150 percent of base pay for working on their designated weekly day off. The government effectively enforced the law in most cases, but there were gaps in enforcement with respect to low-skilled migrant workers. Penalties were commensurate with those for similar crimes, such as fraud.

Occupational Safety and Health: The government issued occupational health and safety standards that were up-to-date and appropriate for the main industries. The law provides that all outdoor work stops between 11 a.m. and 4 p.m. during June, July, and August, or when the temperature rises to more than 120 degrees Fahrenheit in the shade. A worker could file a complaint against an employer with PAM if the worker believed his or her safety and health were at risk. As of November, PAM conducted 2,773 inspections; between June and August, PAM recorded 1,045 companies in violation of the work ban.

PAM was responsible for enforcement of wages, hours, overtime, and occupational safety and health regulations of workers. Labor and occupational safety inspectors monitored private firms. The government periodically inspected enterprises to raise awareness among workers and employers and to assure that they abided by existing safety rules, controlled pollution in certain industries, trained workers to use machines safely, and reported violations.

The government did not effectively enforce all occupational safety and health laws. Penalties for violations of the law were commensurate with those for crimes like negligence. Workers were responsible for identifying and reporting unsafe situations to PAM. Occupational safety and health inspectors were required to actively monitor conditions and take appropriate actions when violations occur. PAM monitored work sites to inspect for compliance with rules banning summer work and recorded hundreds of violations during the year. Workers could also report these violations to their embassies, the Kuwait Trade Union Federation, Kuwait Society for Human Rights, or the Labor Disputes Department. Noncompliant employers faced warnings, fines, or forced suspensions of company operations. The law does not provide domestic workers the right to remove themselves from a hazardous workplace without jeopardizing their employment.

Informal Sector: The law does not provide for occupational health and safety standards for workers in the informal economy. PAM has jurisdiction over domestic worker matters and enforces domestic labor working standards.

At times PAM intervened to resolve labor disputes between foreign workers and their employers. The authority’s labor arbitration panel sometimes ruled in favor of foreign laborers who claimed violations of work contracts by their employers. The government was more effective in resolving unpaid salary disputes involving private sector laborers than those involving domestic workers.

Domestic workers and other low-skilled foreign workers in the private sector frequently worked in excess of 48 hours a week, with no day of rest. The law required workers to earn an established monthly wage in order to sponsor their family to live in the country, although certain professions were exempted. As a result, most low-wage employees were not able to bring their families to the country.

Although the law prohibits withholding of workers’ passports, the practice remained common among sponsors and employers of foreign workers, particularly domestic employees in the home, and the government demonstrated no consistent efforts to enforce this prohibition. Domestic workers had little recourse when employers violated their rights except to seek admittance to the domestic workers’ shelter where the government mediated between sponsors and workers either to assist the worker in finding an alternate sponsor, or to assist in voluntary repatriation.

There were no inspections of private residences, where most of the country’s domestic workers were employed. Reports indicated employers forced domestic workers to work overtime without additional compensation. In 2020 PAM began implementing a “blacklist” system that would prevent the sponsorship of domestic workers by recruitment offices or employers that violate workers’ rights. The government usually limited punishment for abusive employers to administrative actions such as assessing fines, shutting employment firms, issuing orders for employers to return withheld passports, or requiring employers to pay back wages. In September 2020 PAM, the Supreme Council for Planning and Development, the United Nations Development Program and the International Organization for Migration launched the Tamkeen Initiative to implement the International Recruitment Integrity System to promote ethical recruitment of migrant workers. As of November, PAM stated that the first phase of the Tamkeen Initiative, which included training for its own staff and recruitment agencies, was complete.

Some domestic workers did not have the ability to remove themselves from an unhealthy or unsafe situation without endangering their employment. There were reports of domestic workers’ dying or attempting to die by suicide due to desperation over abuse, including sexual violence or poor working conditions. The law provides legal protections for domestic workers, including a formal grievance process managed by PAM. A worker who was not satisfied with the department’s arbitration decision has the right to file a legal case via the labor court.

Several embassies with large domestic worker populations in the country met with varying degrees of success in pressing the government to prosecute serious cases of domestic worker abuse. Severe cases included those where there were significant, life-threatening injuries or death.

In July, PAM imposed a ban on residence permits for laborers in the country working in the industrial, agricultural, and fishing industries. In September, PAM implemented a decision to permit expatriates to transfer commercial visit visas to a work permits due to widespread labor shortages.

Oman

Executive Summary

The Sultanate of Oman is a hereditary monarchy ruled since January 2020 by Sultan Haitham bin Tarik Al Said. The sultan has sole authority to enact laws through royal decree, although ministries and the bicameral Majlis Oman (parliament) can draft laws on non-security-related matters, and citizens may provide input through their elected representatives. The Majlis Oman is composed of the Majlis al-Dawla (upper house or State Council), whose 85 members are appointed by the sultan, and the elected 86-member Majlis al-Shura (lower house or Consultative Council). In 2019 nearly 350,000 citizens participated in the Majlis al-Shura elections for the Consultative Council; there were no significant claims of improper government interference.

The Royal Office, Royal Oman Police Internal Security Service, and Ministry of Defense comprise the security apparatus. The Royal Office is responsible for matters of foreign intelligence and security. The Royal Oman Police, which includes Civil Defense, Immigration, Customs, and the Coast Guard, performs regular police duties as well as many administrative functions similar to a Ministry of Interior in other countries. An inspector general serves as the head of the Royal Oman Police, which is a ministerial-level position that reports directly to the sultan. An official with ministerial-level rank heads the Internal Security Service, which investigates matters related to domestic security. Sultan Haitham’s brother – Shihab bin Tarik Al Said – serves as deputy prime minister for defense affairs, although the sultan remains the supreme commander of the armed forces. The sultan, as well as the senior civilian and military authorities who reported to him, maintained effective control over the security forces.

Significant human rights issues included credible reports of: arbitrary arrest or detention; serious restrictions on free expression and media, including censorship and criminal libel laws; serious restrictions on the internet, including site blocking; substantial interference with the rights of peaceful assembly and freedom of association; serious restrictions on political participation; criminalization of consensual lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer, and intersex conduct; and labor exploitation of foreign migrants.

The government had mechanisms in place to identify and punish officials who may commit human rights abuses, and authorities generally held security personnel and other government officials accountable for their actions.

Section 1. Respect for the Integrity of the Person

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

There were no reports that 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. The Gulf Center for Human Rights (GCHR), an organization based in Beirut that relies heavily on social media, reported Sultan Ambo Saeedi’s claims that the Internal Security Service (ISS) subjected him to nail removal, electric shocks, and tear gas exposure while he was in custody in 2017. During the year Saeedi also indicated that his torture complaint, filed in 2017, had not been addressed. Saeedi claimed he was forced to leave the country after successive summonses. On March 26, the government-funded Oman Human Rights Commission (OHRC) said that it would “coordinate with the competent authorities to find the truth and take the necessary actions in accordance with the law,” and the Royal Oman Police (ROP) said in a separate statement it would clarify the facts of this case and noted “all its procedures are in accordance with laws and regulations,” but no case updates were available by year’s end.

Prison and Detention Center Conditions

There was no current information available regarding prison or detention center conditions.

Physical Conditions: There have been no prison condition reports since a 2019 report from Amnesty International that described the conditions in Samail Central Prison as “poor.” During the COVID-19 outbreak, there were reports of infections among inmates in some of the country’s prisons. The OHRC reported that prison and detention center officials worked to protect inmates and prevent the spread of COVID-19 by isolating and monitoring new prisoners for 14 days in separate areas before transferring them to their cells. Inmates also received educational briefings on health and infection-prevention best practices.

Administration: There was no established prison authority to which prisoners could bring grievances concerning prison conditions. The OHRC conducted prison and detention center site visits and reviewed written complaints in conjunction with prison administrators. There was no ombudsman to serve on behalf of prisoners and detainees; this responsibility fell under the jurisdiction of the public prosecution, which maintained an office in Samail Central Prison. Prisoners and detainees did not always have regular access to visitors or legal representation.

Independent Monitoring: The law permits visits by international human rights observers. The president of the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) visited the country in July; however, ICRC is not believed to have conducted any independent monitoring visits in the country during the year. The OHRC reported on human rights conditions to the sultan via the State Council. The OHRC investigated claims of abuse, conducted prison and detention center site visits, and published a summary of its activities in an annual report. Consular officers from some diplomatic missions reported difficulties in meeting with prisoners or delayed notification regarding detained citizens.

d. Arbitrary Arrest or Detention

The law prohibits arbitrary arrest and detention. The government generally observed these requirements, but there were reports the government arbitrarily arrested several peaceful activists who publicly criticized the government. Persons arrested or detained are entitled to challenge in court the legal basis of their detention although there were reports that those arrested were not always able to access legal representation in a timely manner.

Arrest Procedures and Treatment of Detainees

The law does not allow the ROP to arrest or detain a person “without an order to this effect from a concerned legal authority.” The law stipulates that police must either release the person or refer the matter to the public prosecution within 48 hours. For most crimes the public prosecution must then order the person’s “preventive detention” or release the person within 24 hours; preventive detention is warranted if “the incident is an offense or an act of misdemeanor punishable by imprisonment.” A preventive detention order shall not exceed 30 days, or 45 days in offenses involving public funds, narcotics, and psychoactive drugs. A prosecutor may request extensions – 15 days in special circumstances, but the request cannot exceed 60 days. The law requires those arrested be informed immediately of the charges against them. The government generally observed these requirements unless charges were related to peaceful activism challenging the government’s authority in which case the government prevented activists from promptly accessing legal representatives. There was a functioning bail system. Detainees generally had prompt access to a lawyer of their choice although there are reports individuals detained for political reasons were not always given prompt access to a lawyer. The state usually provided public attorneys to indigent detainees, as required by law. In cases involving foreign citizens, police sometimes failed to notify the detainee’s local sponsor or the citizen’s embassy.

Arbitrary Arrest: The law prohibits arbitrary arrest and detention. The government generally observed these requirements.

According to GCHR on February 23, security authorities in Dhofar Governorate arrested environmental rights activist Ahmed Issa Qatan. On February 28, authorities arrested internet activists Salem Ali al-Maashani and Amer Muslim Bait Saeed (Amr al-Hkli) for acts relating to environmental activism online, according to human rights organizations and social media posts calling for their release. A court in Salalah acquitted one of the activists, and released the other two on bail, the same sources said in March.

On July 23, security forces arrested internet activist Ghaith al-Shibli at his home in Sohar, according to GCHR and social media. Al-Shibli’s arrest was followed by the arrest of several internet activists who participated in dialogues that al-Shibli organized on religious freedom and other topics. Other activists reportedly detained in the same crackdown included Maryam al-Nuaimi and Abdullah Hassan. Both of their Twitter accounts were suspended following their arrests. No further updates were available. On August 9, police arrested Talal bin Ahmed al-Salmani after he submitted a request to the director of Bousher Police Station in Muscat Governorate requesting permission to organize a peaceful rally on August 11 calling for liquor shops to be shut down, according to human rights observers based outside the country. He was released in October, according to the state-run Oman News Agency.

e. Denial of Fair Public Trial

Although the law provides for an independent judiciary, the sultan may act as a court of final appeal and exercise his power of pardon as chairman of the Supreme Judicial Council, the country’s highest legal body, which is empowered to review all judicial decisions. The country has civil courts though principles of sharia (Islamic law) inform the civil, commercial, and criminal codes. There is no article in the law that prohibits or allows women to serve as judges, but no women are known to have served. Civilian or military courts try all cases. There were no reports judicial officials, prosecutors, and defense attorneys faced intimidation or engaged in corruption.

Trial Procedures

The law provides for the right to a fair trial and stipulates the presumption of innocence until proven guilty. Citizens and legally resident noncitizens have the right to a public trial, except when the court decides to hold a session in private in the interest of public order or morals; the judiciary generally enforced this right. The government reserved the right to close sensitive cases to the public. The government did not uniformly provide language interpretation or document translation for non-Arabic speakers.

Defendants have the right to consult with an attorney; however, there were reports that some activists were denied prompt access to legal representation. The law provides defendants the right to be informed promptly of charges. There is no provision for adequate time for defense attorneys to prepare, but in practice most court dates provide ample time. The law states that an interpreter shall assist litigants and witnesses who do not know Arabic to submit their statements, but there is no provision for free interpretation. Courts provide public attorneys to indigent detainees and offer legal defense for defendants facing prison terms of three years or more. The prosecution and defense counsel direct questions to witnesses through the judge. Defendants have the right to be present, submit evidence, and confront witnesses at their trials. There is no known systemic use of forced confession or compulsion to self-incriminate during trial proceedings in the country. Those convicted in any court have one opportunity to appeal a jail sentence longer than three months and fines of more than 480 rials ($1,250) to the appellate courts. The judiciary enforced these rights for citizens, except in some cases involving activists; some foreign embassies claimed these rights were not always uniformly enforced for noncitizens, particularly migrant workers.

Political Prisoners and Detainees

The number of political prisoners was unknown. Political prisoners are not denied any prisoner rights under the law, and they may ask to speak with representatives from the OHRC or the ICRC. Some activists were denied prompt access to legal representation, Freedom House reported.

Civil Judicial Procedures and Remedies

Civil laws govern civil cases. Citizens and foreign residents could file cases, including lawsuits seeking damages for human rights violations, but no known filings occurred during the year.

The Administrative Court reviews complaints regarding the misuse of governmental authority. It has the power to reverse decisions by government bodies and to award compensation. Appointments to this court are subject to the approval of the Administrative Affairs Council. The court’s president and deputy president are appointed by royal decree based on the council’s nomination. Citizens and foreign workers may file complaints regarding working conditions with the Ministry of Labor for alternative dispute resolution. The ministry may refer cases to the courts if it is unable to negotiate a solution.

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

The law does not allow public officials to enter a private home without first obtaining a warrant from the public prosecution. The government monitored private communications, including cell phone, email, and social media exchanges. The government blocked most voice over internet protocol (VoIP) sites.

Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties

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

The law provides for limited freedom of expression for members of the press and other media, but authorities did not always respect these rights. Journalists, high profile figures, and writers reportedly exercised self-censorship.

Freedom of Expression: The law prohibits criticism of the sultan in any form or medium, as well as any “provocative propaganda to undermine the prestige of the state,” electronic communication that “might prejudice the public order or religious values,” and “defamation of character.” It is illegal to insult any public official or private citizen. Authorities prosecuted individuals for writing on the sultan in a way the government perceived to be negative. International human rights organizations expressed concern that the penal code contains vaguely defined articles that the security services could use to target activists and further restrict freedom of expression, including online.

In February a court charged an individual with a misdemeanor and sentenced him to two months’ imprisonment and a fine of 300 rials ($780) for the “indecent act” of showing contempt for the national currency, local press reported. According to the report, the man posted a video to social media in which he was dancing while wearing a necklace of currency bills.

On August 13, security forces arrested internet activist Khamis al-Hatali after he published a video on his Twitter account where he addressed Sultan Haitham, saying, “We are the nation talking…You are an unjust person.” No update was available.

There were no updates available on the status of Musallam al-Ma’ashani’s indefinitely delayed trial related to his arrest in 2019 at the Sarfait border crossing for printing a book documenting tribal activities in Dhofar.

Freedom of Expression for Members of the Press and Other Media, Including Online Media: Media did not operate freely. Authorities tolerated limited criticism in privately owned newspapers and magazines; however, editorials generally were consistent with the government’s views. Although mainstream social debate occurred in traditional and social media (especially on Twitter), the government and privately owned radio and television stations did not generally broadcast political material criticizing the government. Authorities required journalists to obtain a license to work; freelance journalists were ineligible for a license.

Violence and Harassment: Some journalists reported harassment by high-level government officials for printing stories perceived as critical of their ministries.

Censorship or Content Restrictions: Headlines in both public and private media print outlets were subject to an official nontransparent review and approval process before publication. Journalists and writers exercised self-censorship. The law permits the Ministry of Information to review all media products including books produced within or imported into the country. The ministry occasionally prohibited or censored material from domestic and imported publications viewed as politically, culturally, or sexually offensive. There was only one major publishing house in the country, and publication of books remained limited. The government required religious groups to notify the Ministry of Endowments and Religious Affairs before importing any religious materials.

Authorities blocked the import without the necessary permit of certain publications, for example, religious texts. Importing pornography also was blocked. Shipping companies claimed customs officials sometimes confiscated these materials. According to Human Rights Watch (HRW), authorities censored 51 literary works from the 2020 Muscat International Book Fair, which was cancelled in 2021 due to COVID-19.

Libel/Slander Laws: Libel is a criminal offense, which allows for up to one year’s imprisonment.

National Security: The government prohibited publication of any material that “undermines the prestige of the state.”

Internet Freedom

The law restricts free speech exercised via the internet, and the government enforced these restrictions. The law allows authorities to prosecute individuals for any message that “violates public order and morals” sent via any medium. The law details crimes that take place on the internet that “might prejudice public order or religious values” and specifies a penalty of between one month and a year in prison. Authorities could apply the law against bloggers and social media users who insult the sultan. Authorities placed individuals who abused social media in custody for up to two weeks and provided them with “advice and guidance,” according to the OHRC.

In March the Telecommunications Regulatory Authority (TRA) blocked domestic access to the drop-in audio chat platform Clubhouse, according to social media and local press outlet that confirmed the block with TRA. Some social media users, media outlets, and human rights observers described the block as censorship and inconsistent with the principle of freedom of expression.

In March a court sentenced two citizens to one year in prison and a fine of 500 rials ($1,300) and confiscated their cell phones for using information technology to violate public morals, local press reported. According to the report, the men posted video clips to social media that contained indecent signs, phrases, and actions. No additional details were available.

On July 23, security forces arrested Internet activists Ghaith al-Shibli, Maryam al-Nuaimi, and Abdullah Hassan, according to GCHR and social media reports (see section 2.d.).

According to HRW and Amnesty International, activist and blogger Awadh al-Sawafi was arrested in June for tweets critical of government institutions. On June 16, he was sentenced to a suspended one-year prison sentence and banned from using social media for one year for violating the Cyber Crime Law by “publishing information harming public order.” On June 10, the Court of First Instance in Muscat sentenced former Shura Council member Salem al-Awfi and journalist Adel al-Kasbi each to one year in prison for “using information technology to spread harm to public order” under the Cyber Crime Law. Both of their charges relate to posts that criticized government figures and the Shura Council.

Some informal civil society and advocacy organizations also were targeted for social media posts, according to HRW. Notably, the women behind the “Nasawiyat Omaniyat” (Omani Feminists) Twitter account were reportedly summoned for questioning by authorities and forced to suspend their activity on the account, seemingly in retaliation for their work and public advocacy on women’s rights.

Authorities monitored the activities of telecommunications service providers and obliged them to block access to numerous websites considered pornographic, or culturally or politically sensitive. Authorities sometimes blocked blogs as well as most VoIP technologies.

Social media users exercised self-censorship and shared warnings exhorting users to follow local laws and regulations.

Academic Freedom and Cultural Events

The government restricted academic freedom and cultural events. Academics largely practiced self-censorship. Colleges and universities were required to receive permission from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and the Ministry of Higher Education before meeting with foreign diplomatic missions or accepting money for programs or speakers.

The government censored publicly shown films, primarily for sexual content and nudity, and placed restrictions on performances in public venues. The law also forbids dancing in restaurants and entertainment venues without a permit.

b. Freedoms of Peaceful Assembly and Association

The government restricted freedoms of peaceful assembly and association. Human rights organizations expressed concern that overly broad provisions in the penal code could further restrict the work of human rights activists and limit freedoms of peaceful assembly and association.

Freedom of Peaceful Assembly

The law provides for limited freedom of assembly, but the government restricted this right. Gatherings of 10 or more persons in a public place are unlawful if they “endangered the public security or order” or “influenced the function of authorities.”

During a series of nationwide demonstrations against unemployment in May, the ROP reportedly arrested individuals engaged in peaceful protest, according to some social media users and human rights observers. The ROP arrested “dozens” of protesters, most of whom the authorities released after they signed pledges to refrain from participating in future demonstrations, GCHR said in June. According to this organization, authorities released five peaceful protestors in July after charging them with participating in a gathering of more than 10 persons without a permit and detaining them for several weeks. Human rights defender Ibrahim al-Balushi was among those reportedly arrested. He went on a hunger strike while in solitary confinement and was released on June 2, according to GCHR.

Freedom of Association

The law provides for freedom of association for undefined “legitimate objectives and in a proper manner.” Examples of such associations include registered labor unions and social groups for foreign nationalities.

The government limited freedom of association by prohibiting associations whose activities it deemed “inimical to the social order” or otherwise inappropriate. Citizens joining groups deemed “harmful to national interests” could be subject to revocation of citizenship.

Associations must register with their corresponding ministries, which must approve all associations’ bylaws and have the power to determine whether a group serves the interest of the country. The time required to register an association ranged from two months to two years. Approval time varied based on the level of preparedness of the applying organization, the subject matter of the organization, its leadership, and the organization’s mission. The law limits formal registration of nationality-based associations to one association for each nationality and restricts activities of such associations. The government sometimes denied permission for associations to form.

The law forbids associations from conducting any kind of fundraising without government approval, including for charitable causes. Individuals convicted of accepting unlawful funding for an association may receive up to one year in jail. Foreign diplomatic missions are required to request meetings with nongovernmental associations through the Ministry of Foreign Affairs by diplomatic note. Associations may not meet with foreign diplomatic missions and foreign organizations without prior approval from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. The government enforced this law, and all foreign-funded educational and public diplomacy programs required prior government review.

c. Freedom of Religion

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

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

The law provides for freedom of internal movement and repatriation, and the government generally respected these rights. Citizens could generally travel freely outside the country, although this right is not codified; however, there were reports that migrant workers were not always able to depart the country freely.

In-country Movement: There are no official government restrictions on internal travel for any citizen. The government must approve on a case-by-case basis official travel by foreign diplomats to the Dhofar and Musandam regions. There were reports many foreign domestic workers had their passports confiscated by employers, who sponsor the foreign workers, even though the law prohibited this practice.

Foreign Travel: The government reported that expatriate workers could depart the country without permission at any time, but a worker’s ability to do so was contingent on physically possessing a passport and not facing any charges, including “absconding” charges. Some potential human trafficking victims who experienced passport confiscation or were subject to spurious charges filed by their employers may have been unable to leave the country freely.

e. Status and Treatment of Internally Displaced Persons

Not applicable.

f. Protection of Refugees

The government generally did not allow asylum seekers to remain in the country. Office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) personnel occasionally visited the country but did not maintain an office locally. The Committee for International Humanitarian Law considers matters of refugees and displaced persons, according to the OHRC.

Access to Asylum: The law provides for the granting of asylum or refuge for displaced persons, and the government has established a system for providing protection. The ROP’s system for granting asylum and resettlement was not transparent, and the law does not specify a timeframe in which the ROP must adjudicate an asylum application. It was policy not to recognize refugees from conflict zones such as Yemen, although Yemenis travel to Oman regularly, and the government provided temporary medical care to certain Yemeni citizens. In practice there were no substantive legal protections for asylum seekers in the country.

Refoulement: The government did not provide comprehensive protection to asylum seekers from involuntary returns to countries where their lives or freedom could be threatened, subjecting them to the possibility of refoulement. Tight control over the entry of foreigners effectively limited access to protection for asylum seekers.

Abuse of Migrants, Refugees, and Stateless Persons: The country has many female migrant workers from Bangladesh, India, Nepal, Nigeria, Pakistan, the Philippines, Sri Lanka, Tanzania, and Uganda employed as domestic workers. Nongovernmental organizations based outside the country, international media reports, and embassies of labor-sending countries alleged that domestic workers faced maltreatment, to include physical, sexual, and psychological abuse. The law criminalizes slavery and trafficking, and the government has made efforts to combat trafficking. Labor violations are punishable under the labor law. Domestic workers are excluded, however, from the labor law’s protections and instead are covered by a 2004 Ministerial Decision, which does not provide effective rights protections or adequate complaint mechanisms for this population. In 2020 courts convicted two individuals for human trafficking crimes.

Temporary Protection: The government provided emergency medical care to certain Yemeni citizens who demonstrated they could not receive adequate care in Yemen. These Yemenis and one accompanying family member per patient were offered temporary resident status in Oman during the treatment period on an ad hoc basis.

g. Stateless Persons

Under the law citizenship is passed only through the father. Therefore, children born to foreign fathers and citizen mothers in Oman were at risk of statelessness.

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 based on universal and equal suffrage. The sultan retains ultimate authority on all foreign and domestic matters. Except for the military and other security forces, all citizens who have reached 21 years of age have the right to vote for candidates for the Majlis al-Shura and the municipal councils.

Elections and Political Participation

Recent Elections: In 2019 nearly 350,000 citizens participated in the Majlis al-Shura elections for the Consultative Council, or lower house of parliament. Electoral commissions reviewed potential candidates against a set of objective educational and character criteria (at least a high school education and no criminal history or mental illness) before they allowed candidates’ names on the ballot. The Ministry of Interior administered and closely monitored campaign materials and events. There were no notable or widespread allegations of fraud or improper government interference in the voting process. The government did not allow independent monitoring of the elections, but it invited some international journalists to the country to report on election day events. The OHRC said it was a member of the Main Elections Committee and a key partner in overseeing the electoral process.

Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, in May 2020 the sultan postponed the quadrennial municipal council elections, last held in 2016. The government did not set a date for when these elections would take place.

Political Parties and Political Participation: The law does not allow political parties, and citizens did not attempt to form them.

Participation of Women and Members of Minority Groups: No laws limit participation of women or members of minority groups in the political process, and they did participate. During the Majlis al-Shura elections in 2019, voters elected two women as representatives. The sultan appointed 15 women to the Majlis al-Dawla in 2019. Three women serve as ministers, four as undersecretaries, and one as Chair of the Small and Medium Enterprise Authority.

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

No independent, officially sanctioned human rights organizations existed in the country. There were civil society groups that advocated for persons protected under human rights conventions, particularly women and persons with disabilities. These groups were required to register with the Ministry of Social Development.

The law permits domestic and international actors to request permission to engage in human rights work, but none did because they believed the government was not likely to grant permission.

Government Human Rights Bodies: The OHRC, a government-funded commission made up of members from the public, private, and academic sectors, reported on human rights to the sultan via the State Council. The OHRC also published an annual report summarizing the types of complaints it received and how it handled those complaints. OHRC functions semi-independently with moderate effectiveness in protecting human rights in the country, based on limited public information.

Section 6. Discrimination and Societal Abuses

Women

Rape and Domestic Violence: The law criminalizes rape with penalties of up to 15 years in prison. The law does not criminalize spousal rape explicitly, but it does criminalize all “sex without consent.” According to diplomatic observers, police investigations resulted in few rape convictions. Foreign nationals working as domestic employees occasionally reported that their sponsors had sexually assaulted them.

The law does not specifically address domestic violence, and judicial protection orders prohibiting domestic violence do not exist. Charges could be brought, however, under existing statutes outlawing assault, battery, and aggravated assault, which can carry a maximum sentence of three years in prison. Allegations of spousal abuse in civil courts handling family law cases reportedly were common. Victims of domestic violence may file a complaint with police, and reports suggested that police responded promptly and professionally. The government operated a hotline for reporting incidents of domestic violence and a shelter for victims.

Female Genital Mutilation/Cutting (FGM/C): The law prohibits health practitioners from conducting “traditional practices,” including FGM/C, that are harmful to a child’s health. The 2019 Executive Regulations for the Child Law include “disfiguring female genital organs” as one of these harmful practices. There are no national statistics on the prevalence of FGM/C, although anecdotal reports indicated some ongoing practice of FGM/C.

Sexual Harassment: Harassing a woman by word or conduct is punishable by imprisonment up to a year.

Reproductive Rights: There were no reports of coerced abortion or involuntary sterilization on the part of government authorities. Married couples have access to family planning and information, free from discrimination, coercion, or violence. Health clinics disseminated information on family planning under the guidance of the Ministry of Health. Some forms of birth control, including condoms, were available at pharmacies and supermarkets, although medically prescribed contraceptives were generally not available for unmarried women. Menstrual healthcare was available for citizens and menstrual care products were readily available in pharmacies and grocery stores. The government provided free childbirth services to citizens within the framework of universal health care. Prenatal and postnatal care was readily available and used. While survivors of sexual violence could seek medical treatment at public healthcare facilities, the government did not provide emergency contraception or dedicated sexual and reproductive health services to survivors.

Discrimination: The law prohibits gender-based discrimination against citizens, but the government did not appear to enforce the law effectively. Local interpretations of Islamic law and practice of cultural traditions in social and legal institutions discriminated against women. In some personal status cases, such as divorce, a woman’s testimony is equal to half that of a man. The law favors male heirs in adjudicating inheritance.

The Ministry of Interior requires both male and female citizens to obtain permission to marry foreigners, except nationals of Gulf Cooperation Council countries, whom citizens may marry without restriction; authorities do not automatically grant permission, which is particularly difficult for women to obtain. Citizen marriage to a foreigner abroad without ministry approval may result in denial of entry for the foreign spouse at the border and preclude children from claiming citizenship and residency rights. It also may result in a bar from government employment.

Despite legal protections for women from forced marriage, deeply embedded tribal practices ultimately compel most citizen women towards or away from a choice of spouse.

The law provides for transmission of citizenship at birth if the father is a citizen, if the mother is a citizen and the father is unknown, or if a child of unknown parents is found in the country. Women married to noncitizens may not transmit citizenship to their children (who are thereby at risk of statelessness) and cannot sponsor their noncitizen husband’s or children’s presence in the country.

The law provides that any adult, male or female, may become a citizen by applying for citizenship and subsequently residing legally in the country for 20 years or 10 years for a woman if married to a male citizen. Women citizens cannot confer expedited citizenship to their foreign male spouses in the same manner. The approval or rejection of the citizenship application is subject to the Ministry of Interior’s final decision.

Government policy provided women with equal opportunities for education, and this policy effectively eliminated the gender gap in educational attainment. Although some educated women held positions of authority in government, business, and media, many women faced job discrimination based on cultural norms. The law entitles women to paid maternity leave and equal pay for equal work. The government, the largest employer of women, observed such regulations, as did many private sector employers.

The Ministry of Social Development is the umbrella organization for women’s concerns. The ministry provided support for women’s economic development through the Oman Women’s Association and local community development centers.

Systemic Racial or Ethnic Violence and Discrimination

The law states that all citizens are equal and prohibits discrimination based on race, ethnic origin, language, religion, sect, domicile, or social status. The law equally protects Omanis and foreigners present in Oman.

The country is an ethnically diverse society. There were no reports of racial or ethnic violence. The government’s “Omanization” policy favors Omani citizens over foreigners for employment in some sectors of the economy, and some expatriate workers reported that Omanis were favored in the workplace.

Children

Birth Registration: Citizenship is derived from the father. Women married to noncitizens may not transmit citizenship to their children. Children of unknown parents are automatically eligible for citizenship. Government employees raised abandoned children in an orphanage. Such children receive free education through the university level and a job following graduation. Citizen marriage to a foreigner abroad without ministry approval may preclude children from claiming citizenship rights.

Child Abuse: According to the law, any concerned citizen must report child abuse, and each governorate had an interagency committee that would meet to discuss the allegations and possibly take the child out of the parent’s custody until the allegations were investigated. The government operated a child abuse hotline.

Child, Early, and Forced Marriage: The age of legal marriage for men and women is 18, although a judge may permit a person to marry younger when the judge or family deemed the marriage is in the minor’s interest. Child marriage occurred in rural communities as a traditional practice.

Sexual Exploitation of Children: Commercial sexual exploitation of children and child pornography are punishable by no fewer than five years’ imprisonment. The penal code stipulates a punishment of life imprisonment for rape of a child younger than 15 years. The minimum age of consensual sex is 18. All sex outside of marriage is illegal, but sex with a minor younger than 15 carries a heavier penalty (up to 15 years’ imprisonment). Authorities do not charge minors. There were no known reports of children in commercial sex; soliciting a child for commercial sex is prohibited.

International Child Abductions: The country is not a party to the 1980 Hague Convention on the Civil Aspects of International Child Abduction. See the Department of State’s Annual Report on International Parental Child Abduction at https://travel.state.gov/content/travel/en/International-Parental-Child-Abduction/for-providers/legal-reports-and-data/reported-cases.html.

Anti-Semitism

There was no indigenous Jewish population. One Arabic-language newspaper featured multiple cartoons critical of the Israeli government in which a man representing stereotypical anti-Semitic tropes of Jews along with wearing the Star of David represented the state of Israel.

Trafficking in Persons

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

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

The law criminalizes consensual same-sex sexual conduct and consensual heterosexual sex outside of marriage with a jail term of six months to three years, but it requires a spouse or guardian complaint to initiate prosecution, independent of gender. The government did not actively enforce this provision, and there were no public records of potential prosecutions.

The law identifies “crossdressing” (defined as males dressing in female clothing) as a criminal act punishable by up to one year’s imprisonment, a fine of 100 to 300 rial (approximately $260 to $780), or both.

Public discussion of sexual orientation and gender identity remained a social taboo. There were no known lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer, or intersex (LGBTQI+) organizations active in the country, although regional human rights organizations focused on the human rights of LGBTQI+ citizens. Authorities took steps to block LGBTQI+-related internet content as well as international films that featured LGBTQI+ characters.

Information was not available on official or private discrimination in employment, occupation, housing, statelessness, or access to education or health care based on sexual orientation and gender identity. There were no government efforts to address discrimination against LGBTQI+ persons.

Section 7. Worker Rights

a. Freedom of Association and the Right to Collective Bargaining

The law provides for the right of workers to form and join unions, as well as conduct legal strikes and bargain collectively, but with significant restrictions. The law provides for one general federation, to which all unions must affiliate, and which represents unions in regional and international fora. The law requires a minimum of 25 workers to form a union, regardless of company size. The law requires an absolute majority of an enterprise’s employees to approve a strike, and notice must be given to employers three weeks in advance of the intended strike date. The law allows for collective bargaining; regulations require employers to engage in collective bargaining on the terms and conditions of employment, including wages and hours of work. Where there is no trade union, collective bargaining may take place between the employer and five representatives selected by workers. The employer may not reject any of the representatives selected. While negotiation is underway, the employer may not act on decisions related to problems under discussion. The law prohibits employers from firing or imposing other penalties on employees for union activity, although it does not require reinstatement for workers fired for union activity.

No independent organized labor unions existed. Worker rights continued to be administered and directed by the General Federation of Oman Workers (GFOW).

The GFOW responded to reports of labor rights violations, some precipitated by the COVID-19-related economic downturn. During the COVID-19 outbreak in the country, the GFOW received and adjudicated complaints that employers reduced or failed to pay wages, forced workers to take unpaid leave, and deducted time in quarantine from workers’ leave banks.

Government-approved unions are open to all legal workers regardless of nationality, though the law prohibits members of the armed forces, other public security institutions, government employees, domestic workers, as well as individuals convicted of criminal activity or acts against the security of the country or national unity from forming or joining such unions. In addition, labor laws apply only to workers who perform work under a formal employment agreement and excludes domestic workers.

The law prohibits unions from accepting grants or financial assistance from any source without the Ministry of Labor’s prior approval. All unions are subject to the regulations of the government federation and may be shut down or have their boards dismissed by the federation.

The government generally enforced applicable laws effectively and respected the rights to collectively bargain and conduct strikes, although strikes in the oil and gas industries are forbidden. Penalties were commensurate with those for other laws involving denials of civil rights, such as discrimination. The government provided an alternative dispute resolution mechanism through the Ministry of Labor, which acted as mediator between the employer and employee for minor disputes such as disagreement over wages. If not resolved to the employee’s satisfaction, the employee could, and often did, resort to the courts for relief. The country lacked dedicated labor courts, and observers noted the mandatory grievance procedures were confusing to many workers, especially foreign workers. The Ministry of Labor had sufficient resources to act in dispute resolution.

Freedom of association in union matters and the right to collective bargaining existed, but the threat of a strike can prompt company action or government intervention. Strikes rarely occurred and were generally resolved quickly, sometimes through government mediation.

b. Prohibition of Forced or Compulsory Labor

The law prohibits all forced or compulsory labor but explicitly excludes domestic workers. Penalties for violations were commensurate with those for other analogous serious crimes, such as kidnapping.

By law all expatriate workers, who constituted approximately 80 percent of the workforce, must be sponsored by a citizen employer or accredited diplomatic mission. Some migrant workers employed as domestic workers or as low-skilled workers in the construction, agriculture, and service sectors, faced working conditions indicative of forced labor, including withholding of passports, restrictions on movement, usurious recruitment fees, nonpayment of wages, long working hours without food or rest, threats, and physical or sexual abuse. These situations were generally considered civil or contract matters by authorities, who encouraged dispute resolution rather than criminal action. Authorities generally relied on victims to identify themselves and report abuses, rather than proactively investigating trafficking among vulnerable populations. In 2020 the government created and disseminated a formal screening questionnaire for officials to use in identifying potential trafficking victims among those arrested for alleged labor violations and fleeing their employer. Police officials underwent training on how to identify victims of trafficking and cases of forced or compulsory labor. Training was temporarily paused during the pandemic but resumed by the end of the year.

Employer-based, visa sponsorship known as kafala left foreign workers vulnerable to exploitative and abusive conditions and made it difficult for them to change employers (see section 2.d.). Some sponsors allow their employees to work for other employers, sometimes in return for a fee. This practice is illegal, but enforcement was weak, and such arrangements diminished workers’ agency and increased their vulnerability. Some employers of domestic workers, contrary to law, withheld passports and other documents, complicating workers’ release from unfavorable contracts and preventing workers’ departure after their work contracts expired. The ROP issued a decision in May 2020 that all expatriates will no longer require a “no objection certificate” (NOC) from their employers to secure new work upon completion or termination of their employment contracts, which went into effect January 1. The implementation of this decision is ambiguous. Before the ROP removed the NOC requirement, some employers exploited it to demand exorbitant release fees before permitting workers to change employers. There were reports that sponsors were reluctant to provide NOCs, which would result in loss of the foreign labor certificate for that position.

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

c. Prohibition of Child Labor and Minimum Age for Employment

The minimum age for employment is 16, or 18 for certain hazardous occupations. Employees younger than 18 may work only between the hours of 6 a.m. and 6 p.m. and are prohibited from working for more than six hours per day, on weekends, or on holidays. The law allows exceptions to the age requirement in agricultural works, fishing, industrial works, handicrafts, sales, and administrative jobs, under the conditions that it is a one-family business and does not hinder the juvenile’s education or affect health or growth.

The Ministry of Labor and ROP are responsible for enforcing laws with respect to child labor. The law provides for fines for minor violations and imprisonment for repeat violations. Employers are given time to correct practices that may be deemed child labor. The government does not publish information on the enforcement of child labor laws; no information was available to determine whether penalties were commensurate with those for other analogous serious crimes, such as kidnapping.

In 2020 the country made a moderate advance in eliminating the worst forms of child labor, and there is evidence that small numbers of children in the country engaged in child labor, including in fishing and selling items in kiosks.

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

d. Discrimination with Respect to Employment and Occupation

Labor laws and regulations do not address discrimination based on race, sex, gender, nationality, political views, disability, language, sexual orientation or gender identity, HIV-positive status or having other communicable diseases, or social status. It is unclear, therefore, whether any penalties existed for violations that were commensurate to laws related to civil rights, such as election interference. While labor laws generally do not allow women to work in jobs deemed hazardous or arduous, there no industry-specific occupations were closed to women.

Discrimination occurred based on gender, sexual orientation, nationality, disability, and gender identity. Foreign workers were required to take HIV/AIDS tests and could only obtain or renew work visas if the results were negative. This practice was suspended during COVID-19, according to local sources.

Although some educated women held positions of authority in government, business, and media, many women faced job discrimination based on cultural norms. The law entitles women to paid maternity leave and equal pay for equal work. The government, the largest employer of women, observed such regulations, as did many private sector employers. The percentage of women working in the government sector increased from 41 percent of the total number of workers in 2014 to 59 percent in 2018, according to official government statistics.

The law provides persons with disabilities the same rights as other citizens in employment, and the provision of other state services. Persons with disabilities, however, continued to face discrimination. The law mandates access to public transportation and buildings for persons with disabilities, but many older buildings, including government buildings and schools, did not conform to the law. The law also requires government agencies and private enterprises employing more than 50 persons to reserve a certain percentage of positions for persons with disabilities. This percentage was 2 percent for the private sector; the Civil Service Council was responsible for determining the percentage for the public sector, which was set at 5 percent. Authorities did not systematically enforce this regulation.

e. Acceptable Conditions of Work

Wage and Hour Laws: The country has a minimum monthly wage for citizens that does not apply to noncitizens in any occupation. Minimum wage regulations do not apply to a variety of occupations and businesses, including small businesses employing fewer than five persons, dependent family members working for a family firm, or some categories of manual laborers. Most citizens who lived in poverty were engaged in traditional subsistence agriculture, herding, or fishing, and generally did not benefit from the minimum wage. The private sector workweek is 45 hours and includes a two-day rest period following five consecutive days of work. Government workers have a 35-hour workweek. The law mandates paid overtime for hours of more than 45 per week.

The Ministry of Labor effectively enforced the minimum wage for citizens. In wage cases the Ministry of Labor processed complaints and acted as mediator. In most cases the plaintiff prevailed, gaining compensation, the opportunity to seek alternative employment, or return to their country of origin in the case of foreign laborers. The ministry was generally effective in cases regarding minor labor disputes. Penalties for violations were commensurate with those for similar crimes, such as fraud.

Occupational Safety and Health: The government sets occupational health and safety standards. Occupational safety and health (OSH) standards were appropriate for the main industries in the country. There were reports that the government did not enforce them for poor foreign workers according to an International Organization for Migration representative. Responsibility for identifying unsafe situations remains with OSH experts and not the worker based on hazards inherent to the nature of work. The law states an employee may leave dangerous work conditions without jeopardy to employment if the employer was aware of the danger and did not implement corrective measures. Employees covered under the labor law may receive compensation for job-related injury or illness through employer-provided medical insurance. Neither wage and hour nor occupational safety and health regulations apply to domestic workers.

The Ministry of Labor is responsible for enforcing labor laws, and it employed inspectors in Muscat and around the country. It generally enforced the law effectively with respect to citizens; however, it did not always effectively enforce regulations regarding hours of employment and working conditions for foreign workers. Penalties for violations of occupational, safety, and health laws were commensurate with those for similar crimes like negligence.

Labor inspectors performed random checks of worksites to verify compliance with all labor laws. Inspectors from the Department of Health and Safety of the Labor Care Directorate are responsible for enforcement of health and safety codes. Limited inspections of private sector worksites are required by law to deter or redress unsafe working conditions in the most dangerous sectors.

Informal Sector: The law does not provide for occupational health and safety standards for workers in the informal economy. Foreign workers were vulnerable to poor, dangerous, or exploitative working conditions. There were reports that migrant laborers in some firms and households worked more than 12 hours a day without a day off for below-market wages. Employers often cancelled the employment contracts of seriously sick or injured foreign workers, forcing them to return to their countries of origin or remain in the country illegally. Some labor inspections focused on enforcing visa violations and deporting those in an irregular work visa status rather than verifying safe and adequate work conditions.

Employers have a great deal of control over these workers, particularly domestic workers who are not covered by existing labor laws. The country’s visa-sponsorship system (kafala) ties migrant workers to their employers, who can have a worker’s visa canceled arbitrarily. Workers who leave their jobs without the consent of their employer can be punished with fines, deportation, or reentry bans. As of January 1, expatriates were no longer required to obtain a “no-objection certificate” to secure new work upon completion or termination of their employment contracts. There are no maximum workhour limits for domestic workers nor any mandatory rest periods, although the contract between the employer and worker can specify such requirements. There were some reports that domestic workers were forced to work with inadequate rest periods. Separate domestic employment regulations obligate the employer to provide domestic workers with free local medical treatment throughout the contract period. Penalties for noncompliance with health regulations were insufficient to deter violations. Some domestic workers were subjected to abusive conditions.

There was no data available on workplace fatalities or safety.

Qatar

Executive Summary

Qatar is a constitutional monarchy in which Amir Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad Al Thani exercises full executive power. The constitution provides for hereditary rule by men in the amir’s branch of the Al Thani family. Qatar held elections in October for the Shura (Consultative) Council, Qatar’s legislative body with limited authorities, which were the first such elections in the country’s history. Voters chose 30 representatives of the 45-member body, with the amir appointing the other 15 members. Observers considered these elections free and fair with 63 percent turnout, but with election laws that disenfranchised some tribal groups. The amir appoints all cabinet members, including the prime minister.

The national police and Ministry of Interior forces maintain internal security and are responsible, among other matters, for preventing terrorism, cyberattacks, and espionage. The national police oversee general law enforcement. Civilian authorities maintained effective control over security forces. There were infrequent reports of abuses committed by security forces.

Significant human rights issues included credible reports of: restrictions on free expression, including the existence of criminal libel laws; substantial interference with the freedom of peaceful assembly and freedom of association, including overly restrictive laws on the organization, funding, or operation of nongovernmental organizations and civil society organizations; restrictions on migrant workers’ freedom of movement; inability of citizens to change their government peacefully in free and fair elections; serious and unreasonable restrictions on political participation, including prohibitions on political parties; lack of investigation of and accountability for gender-based violence; existence of laws criminalizing consensual same-sex sexual conduct; and prohibitions on independent trade unions.

The government took limited steps to prosecute those suspected of committing human rights abuses or engaging in corruption. The government took steps to address forced labor.

Section 1. Respect for the Integrity of the Person

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

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

b. Disappearance

In August security forces arrested Haza bin Ali, a local lawyer belonging to the al-Murra tribe, after he posted a series of videos expressing dissatisfaction with the elections law. In one of the videos, bin Ali addressed the amir in a challenging tone. Following the release of this video, hundreds of al-Murra tribe members staged a sit-in at bin Ali’s house, where he announced that the tribe would hold peaceful protests and not clash with security forces unless attacked. Security forces consequently arrested bin Ali’s two brothers and dozens of tribesmen and put them in solitary confinement for expressing their rejection of the elections law. As of December the Ministry of Interior has not commented on the incident or disclosed the whereabouts of any detainees.

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

The constitution and law prohibit torture and other inhuman or degrading treatment and punishment. There were no reports of torture during the year.

The government interprets sharia as allowing corporal punishment such as court-ordered flogging for certain criminal offenses, including alcohol consumption and extramarital sex. No statistics were available regarding rates of corporal punishment during the year.

Prison and Detention Center Conditions

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

Physical Conditions: The National Human Rights Committee (NHRC) reported that the prisons were overcrowded and lacked the appropriate environment to prevent the spread of COVID-19 among prisoners.

Administration: Authorities conducted investigations into credible allegations of mistreatment. No statute allows ombudsmen to advocate for prisoners and detainees.

Independent Monitoring: The government permitted monitoring visits by independent human rights observers and international bodies to all facilities except the state security prison. The government routinely provided foreign diplomats access to state security prisoners. The NHRC reported conducting 82 field visits to detention and interrogation facilities in 2020, down from 96 in 2019. More recent statistics were unavailable at year’s end.

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. The government usually observed these requirements. The NHRC received four complaints of arbitrary arrests in 2020 (the most recent figures available by year’s end). The committee reported that the four defendants were arrested pending investigation by the State Security Prosecution, had access to legal representation, were allowed to contact their families, and were subsequently released.

Arrest Procedures and Treatment of Detainees

The law requires that persons be apprehended with warrants based on sufficient evidence and issued by an authorized official. By law all suspects except those detained under the Protection of Society Law or the Combating Terrorism Law must be presented before the public prosecutor within 24 hours of arrest. If the public prosecutor finds sufficient evidence for further investigation, authorities may detain a suspect for up to 15 days with the approval of a judge, renewable for similar periods not to exceed 45 days, before charges must be filed in the courts. Judges may also extend pretrial detention for one month, renewable for one-month periods not to exceed one-half the maximum punishment for the accused crime. Authorities typically followed these procedures differently for citizens than for noncitizens. The law does not specify a time limit on preventive detention; the government has not acted on a 2019 recommendation by the NHRC to set such a time limit.

The law permits the prime minister to extend detention indefinitely in cases of threats to national security and to adjudicate complaints involving such detentions. The state security service may arrest and detain suspects for up to 30 days without referring them to the public prosecutor.

In most cases a judge may order a suspect released, remanded to custody to await trial, held in pretrial detention pending investigation, or released on bail. Although suspects are entitled to bail (except in cases of violent crimes), release on bail was infrequent.

Authorities were more likely to grant bail to citizens than to noncitizens. Noncitizens charged with minor crimes may be released to their employer (or a family member for minors), although they may not leave the country until the case is resolved.

By law in non-security-related cases, the accused is entitled to legal representation throughout the process and prompt access to family members. There are provisions for government-funded legal counsel for indigent prisoners in criminal cases, and authorities generally honored this requirement. There were no new reported cases invoking either the Protection of Society Law or the Combating Terrorism Law.

e. Denial of Fair Public Trial

Although the constitution provides for an independent judiciary, the amir, based on recommendations from the Supreme Judicial Council, appoints all judges, who retain their positions at his discretion. Foreign detainees had access to the legal system, although some complained of opaque legal procedures and complications, mostly stemming from language barriers. Foreign nationals did not uniformly receive translations of legal proceedings, although interpretation was generally provided within courtrooms. The government established the Labor Dispute Settlement Committees in 2018 to increase the efficiency and speed of decision making in the overloaded labor courts and included court translators at all hearings. The existence of these committees reportedly has not shortened the time from complaint to resolution, nor has the Supreme Judicial Council’s 2020 establishment of a branch of the Enforcement Court to facilitate implementation of the committees’ verdicts. Some employers facing lawsuits from non-Qatari employees were able to have plaintiffs deported before a trial could take place.

Trial Procedures

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

The law provides defendants the presumption of innocence, and authorities generally inform defendants promptly of the charges brought against them, except for suspects held under the Protection of Society Law and Combating Terrorism Law. The defendant may be present at his or her trial.

Defendants are entitled to choose their legal representation or accept it at public expense throughout the pretrial and trial process. In matters involving family law, Shia and Sunni judges may apply their interpretations of sharia for their religious groups. The law approves implementing the Shia interpretation of sharia upon the agreement and request of the parties involved in the dispute. In family law matters, a woman’s testimony is deemed one-half of a man’s testimony.

Defendants usually have free language interpretation as necessary from the moment charged through all appeals, while court documents are provided only in Arabic. Defendants have access to government-held evidence, have the right to confront prosecution or plaintiff witnesses and present one’s own witnesses and evidence, and have the opportunity to give a statement at the end of their trial. Defendants have the right to appeal a decision within 15 days; use of the appellate process was common.

The Court of Cassation requires a fee to initiate the appeals process. In some cases courts waived fees if an appellant demonstrated financial hardship.

Political Prisoners and Detainees

There were no reports of political prisoners or detainees.

Civil Judicial Procedures and Remedies

Civil remedies are available for those seeking damages for, or cessation of, human rights abuses, but no cases were reported during the year. The law specifies circumstances that necessitate a judge’s removal from a case for conflict of interest, and authorities generally observed this provision. Individuals and organizations may not appeal adverse domestic decisions to regional human rights bodies.

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

The constitution and the criminal procedures code prohibit such actions. Police and security forces, however, reportedly monitored telephone calls, emails, and social media posts.

Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties

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

The constitution provides for freedom of expression, including for members of the press and other media, in accordance with the law, but the government limited these rights. Self-censorship was prevalent.

Freedom of Expression: Citizens did not regularly discuss sensitive political and religious matters in public forums, but they did so in private and on social media. The law prohibits criticism of the amir. Members of the majority foreign population exercised self-censorship on sensitive topics. The law penalizes by up to three years in prison damaging, removing, or expressing hatred and contempt toward the country’s flag, the Gulf Cooperation Council flag, or the flag of any international organization or authority. The use of the national flag without formal permission from authorities, displaying a damaged or discolored flag, or changing the flag by adding photographs, text, or designs to it are also criminalized.

Freedom of Expression for Members of the Press and Other Media, Including Online Media: The law includes restrictive procedures on the establishment of newspapers, their closure, and the confiscation of assets of a publication. Members of the ruling family or proprietors who enjoyed close ties to government officials owned all print media. Both private and government-owned television and radio reflected government views, although call-in shows allowed for some citizen criticism of government ministries and policies. While broadcast media generally did not criticize authorities or the country’s policies, specific ministries and even individual ministers were regular targets of criticism in print media. The government owned and partially funded the Doha-based al-Jazeera satellite television network, which carried regional, international, and theme-based programming. It also partially funded other media outlets operating in the country. Some observers and former al-Jazeera employees alleged the government influenced the content produced by that news outlet.

Censorship or Content Restrictions: The Qatar Media Corporation, the Ministry of Culture and Sports, and customs officials censored material. The government reviewed, censored, or banned foreign newspapers, magazines, films, and books for objectionable sexual, religious, and political content. Journalists and publishers continued to self-censor due to political and economic pressures when reporting on government policies or material deemed denigrating to Islam, the ruling family, and relations with neighboring states.

Libel/Slander Laws: The law criminalizes libel and slander, including “insult to dignity.” A journalist may be fined and imprisoned for up to five years for defamation or reporting “false news.” The law restricts the publication of information deemed insulting to the amir or heir apparent; blasphemous or defamatory to the Abrahamic faiths; harmful to the national currency or the economic situation; or infringing upon the dignity of persons, the proceedings of investigations, and prosecutions in relation to family status, and it punishes violators with up to seven years’ imprisonment.

National Security: The law restricts the publication of information that could defame the state or endanger its safety, incite the overthrow of the government or harm supreme state interests, report official secret agreements, offend heads of state, or disturb foreign relations.

In May authorities arrested Malcolm Bidali, a Kenyan labor rights activist working as a security guard for a private company and took him to an unknown location for 15 days. Authorities then disclosed his whereabouts and officially charged him with receiving funds from a foreign entity to spread misinformation regarding the country. Bidali was kept in solitary confinement prior to his release in early June pending trial. In July the criminal court sentenced him to a fine of 25,000 riyals ($6,800) and had his mobile phone and social media accounts on Twitter and Instagram seized by authorities. The International Trade Union Confederation paid Bidali’s fine, and he departed the country.

In November the Norwegian Broadcasting Company reported that two of its journalists were detained and questioned regarding their investigation of working and living conditions of migrant laborers constructing venues for the 2022 World Cup. The journalists, who maintained that they had obtained the permits necessary to film, were permitted to leave the country after approximately 36 hours in custody but were required to delete their footage.

Internet Freedom

The maximum punishments for infractions of the cybercrime law are up to three years in prison and a substantial fine. The law prohibits any online activity that threatens the safety of the state, its general order, or local or international peace. It also criminalizes the spread of “false news,” forces internet providers to block objectionable content, and bans third-party publication of personal or family information.

The law requires internet service providers to block objectionable content upon request from judicial authorities. Internet providers also are obligated to maintain long-term electronic records and traffic data, which must be furnished to the government upon request. The government-controlled internet service provider, Ooredoo, censored political, religious, and pornographic internet content through a proxy server, which monitored and blocked websites, email, and voice over internet protocol (VoIP) platforms, including Skype and FaceTime. Users who believed authorities had mistakenly censored a site could request that the site be reviewed by the Ministry of Transportation and Communication for suitability; there were no reports that any websites were unblocked based on this procedure.

Academic Freedom and Cultural Events

The constitution provides for freedom of expression and scientific research. Instructors at Qatar University noted they sometimes exercised self-censorship. Instructors at foreign-based universities operating in the country, however, reported they generally enjoyed academic freedom. There were occasional government restrictions on cultural events, including denial of permits without explanation, and some groups organizing cultural events reported they exercised self-censorship. Authorities censored books, films, and internet sites for political, religious, and sexual content and for vulgar and obscene language.

b. Freedoms of Peaceful Assembly and Association

The government limited freedoms of peaceful assembly and association.

Freedom of Peaceful Assembly

The constitution provides for freedom of assembly, but this right is restricted by law, including the Public Meetings and Demonstrations Law and the Associations and Private Institutions Law. Noncitizens are exempt from the constitutional protections on freedom of assembly. Organizers of public meetings must obtain approval from the Ministry of Interior to acquire a permit.

Freedom of Association

The constitution provides for the right to form groups, defined by the law as professional associations and private institutions, but the government significantly limited this right. Noncitizens are exempt from the constitutional protections on freedom of association. There were no reports of attempts to organize politically. There were no organized political parties, and authorities prohibited politically oriented associations. The government prohibited professional associations and private institutions from engaging in political matters or affiliating internationally. Civil society organizations must obtain approval from the Ministry of Social Development and Family, which may deny their establishment if it deems them a threat to the public interest. Informal organizations, such as community support groups and activity clubs, operated without registration, but they may not engage in activities deemed political.

c. Freedom of Religion

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

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

The constitution provides for freedom of movement within the country, foreign travel, emigration, and repatriation, but the government did not fully respect these rights.

In-country Movement: Restrictions on in-country movement for citizens concerned sensitive military, oil, and industrial installations. Although the practice of setting and enforcing “family-only” times at entertainment areas in Doha was no longer common, several local malls and markets continued to restrict access to certain areas by foreign workers on weekends and by those dressed “immodestly.”

Foreign Travel: The government prevented the travel of its citizens only when they were involved in pending court cases. Single women younger than age 25 require the permission of their male guardian to travel outside the country, although the requirement was rarely enforced. Male relatives may prevent married or single adult female family members from leaving the country by seeking and securing a court order.

Citizenship: The law allows for the revocation of citizenship, such as when a citizen acquires another nationality.

e. Status and Treatment of Internally Displaced Persons

Not applicable.

f. Protection of Refugees

The government cooperated with the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees to assist refugees in other countries.

Access to Asylum: The law governs granting of political asylum status to asylum seekers. A committee within the Ministry of Interior handles asylum requests. According to the NHRC, the ministry granted one asylum request in 2020 and rejected 24 others. Once granted political asylum, an individual and his or her family have access to a range of free services provided by the government, including travel documents, jobs, monthly allowances, medical and educational services, and housing. Previously the government accepted such individuals as “guests” on a temporary basis. The government legally classified the small number of persons granted residence on humanitarian grounds as visitors.

g. Stateless Persons

Bidoon, a stateless minority in the Gulf states, are individuals born in the country but whose families were not included as citizens at the time of the country’s independence or shortly thereafter. The Bidoon, who numbered approximately 2,500 in the country, were able to register for public services such as education and health care. They are unable to own property, however, and cannot travel without a visa to other Gulf Cooperation Council countries. Official documents do not recognize the term Bidoon but rather “individuals with temporary Qatari identification documents.”

The law allows long-term residents to apply for citizenship after living in the country for 25 consecutive years, but the government rarely approved citizenship applications, which were by law capped at 50 per year. Restrictions and inconsistent application of the law prevented stateless persons from acquiring citizenship. Permanent residents have the right to own property, open businesses without local partners, and receive free education and health services. Generally, the government did not approve marriage requests between Qatari women and stateless men.

Section 3. Freedom to Participate in the Political Process

The constitution 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. The government did not allow the formation of political parties or opposition groups. The amir exercises full executive powers, including the appointment of cabinet members. The law categorizes Qataris into “genuine” citizens who obtained their nationality before 1930 and “naturalized” citizens who became citizens after 1930. Only “genuine” citizens have the right to run and vote in Shura Council elections. There were no official statistics publicly available on the number of “genuine” and “naturalized” citizens.

Elections and Political Participation

Recent Elections: In October citizens voted to choose 30 members in the first-ever partially elected Shura Council, while the amir appointed the remaining 15 in the 45-member consultative body. Approximately 63 percent of eligible voters cast ballots in the election.

Political Parties and Political Participation: The government did not permit the organization of political parties, and there were no attempts to form them during the year. Voting is open only to citizens at least 18 years old who can prove that their family resided in Qatar before 1930 or that their grandfather was born in Qatar.

Participation of Women and Members of Minority Groups: Although traditional attitudes and societal roles continued to limit women’s participation in politics, women served in various roles in public office. In October the amir appointed women as the minister of social development and family and the minister of education and higher education. Including the minister of public health, the cabinet has three female members – the highest number in the country’s history. Women also occupied top positions such as the deputy foreign minister, chair of the Qatar Foundation, head of the Qatar Museum Authority, chairwoman of the National Human Rights Committee, and ambassadorships. In October the amir appointed two women to the Shura Council, one of whom was elected vice speaker. Noncitizen residents are banned from voting or otherwise participating in political affairs, although they served as judges and staffers at government ministries.

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

Researchers from international nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) such as Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch and international unions such as the Building and Wood Workers’ International and the International Trade Union Confederation continued to visit and report on the country without interference from authorities. The government was often responsive to requests for meetings and jointly participated in public events hosted by human rights groups, including on sensitive topics such as labor rights.

Several quasi-governmental organizations were under a single entity, the Qatar Foundation, led by Sheikha Hind Al Thani, the sister of the amir. These organizations cooperated with the government, rarely criticized it, and did not engage in political activity. Some international NGOs had offices in the country and focused on labor rights with the permission of the government.

Government Human Rights Bodies: Under a mandate from the cabinet, the Human Rights Department at the Ministry of Interior and the Human Rights Department at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs are to observe, report, and handle human rights matters. The cabinet mandates the NHRC, whose members by law have immunity and operate as an independent body, to issue an annual report on human rights conditions in the country. The 2021 NHRC report provided a list of recommendations including amending the Penal Code’s articles on freedom of expressions, improving prison conditions, and signing the International Convention for the Protection of All Persons from Enforced Disappearance. The NHRC typically handled petitions by liaising with government institutions to ensure timely resolution of disputes.

Section 6. Discrimination and Societal Abuses

Women

Rape and Domestic Violence: The law criminalizes rape but does not specifically recognize rape of men. Spousal rape is not illegal. Sexual assault and other gender-based crimes were rarely reported, mostly due to social taboo. The penalty for rape is life imprisonment, regardless of the age or gender of the survivor. If the perpetrator is a nonspousal relative, teacher, guardian, or caregiver of the survivor, the penalty is death. The government enforced the law against rape.

No specific law criminalizes domestic violence, whether against spouses or against any member of a household, including children and domestic workers. According to the NHRC, authorities may prosecute spousal violence as “general” violence under the criminal law.

Extramarital sex is punishable by up to seven years in prison, flogging (for unmarried persons), or the death penalty (for married persons). A woman who gives birth out of wedlock receives a 12-month jail sentence, on average, and may also be subject to corporal punishment (lashings) or, in the case of foreign residents, deportation. Press reports indicated jail sentences and flogging were rare in such cases, however.

Sexual Harassment: Sexual harassment is illegal and carries penalties of imprisonment or fines. In some cases sponsors sexually harassed and mistreated foreign domestic workers. The government prosecuted nearly 100 trafficking-related cases, of which 13 involved instances of violence against domestic workers; in three of those cases it issued verdicts under the penal code.

Reproductive Rights: There were no reports of coerced abortion or involuntary sterilization on the part of government authorities. There were no reports of government interference in the rights of married couples to decide the number, spacing, and timing of their children. It is illegal to have children out of wedlock, and unmarried female foreign residents may risk jail time and deportation if they do. Due to the legal prohibitions and social stigma surrounding sex outside of marriage, obtaining documentation for children born out of wedlock was typically not possible.

Women were routinely asked for marriage certificates when seeking prenatal care. Unmarried individuals who reported pregnancies risked prosecution for extramarital sexual relations. Emergency contraception, in the form of pills, IUDs, condoms, and contraceptive injections, was available in public and private health centers. Birth control pills and condoms were available at pharmacies without a prescription. The government provided access to sexual and reproductive health services for survivors of sexual violence. In rape cases with pregnancy, authorities provided all the required services to the victims.

Discrimination: The constitution asserts equality between citizens in rights and responsibilities, but social and legal discrimination against women persisted. Sharia, as implemented in the country, discriminates against women in judicial proceedings, freedom of movement, marriage, child custody, and inheritance.

In line with local social norms, male relatives generally represented female relatives in court, although women have the legal right to attend court proceedings and represent themselves. Judges have discretion to consider a woman’s testimony one-half that of a man’s.

Under the Nationality Law, female citizens face legal discrimination, since they, unlike men, are not permitted to transmit citizenship to their noncitizen spouses or to children born from marriage to a noncitizen. Female citizens are unable to pass citizenship to their offspring. The law allows children of citizen mothers to gain permanent status in country, even if the father is not a Qatari national. Citizens must obtain government permission to marry foreigners, which is sometimes not granted for female citizens. Male citizens may apply for residency permits and citizenship for their foreign wives, but female citizens may apply only for residency for their foreign husbands and children, not citizenship. A non-Muslim wife does not have the automatic right to inherit from her Muslim husband. She receives an inheritance only if her husband wills her a portion of his estate, and even then, she is eligible to receive only one-third of the total estate. A female heir generally receives one-half the amount of a male heir; for example, a sister would inherit one-half as much as her brother. In cases of divorce, children generally remain with the mother until age 13 for boys and 15 for girls, at which time custody reverts to the father’s family, regardless of the mother’s religion.

To receive maternity care, a woman is required to present a marriage certificate, although hospitals generally assist in the birth of children of unwed mothers regardless. There were cases of hospitals reporting unwed mothers to authorities.

The housing law, which pertains to the government housing system, also discriminates against divorced women and women married to noncitizen men.

A non-Muslim woman is not required to convert to Islam upon marriage to a Muslim, but many do so. The government documents children born to a Muslim father as Muslims, regardless of the religion of the mother.

Single women younger than age 25 require the permission of their male guardian to travel outside the country, although the requirement was rarely enforced. There were sporadic reports via social media that airport authorities prevented women older than 25 from traveling abroad without the approval of the male guardian, although the law allows women older than 25 to travel without a guardian’s permission. Male relatives may prevent married or single adult female family members from leaving the country by seeking and securing a court order.

Adult women were customarily not allowed to leave home without a guardian’s approval. This included a need to obtain their male guardian’s permission to work outside the home, although the requirement was rarely enforced.

There was no specialized government office devoted to women’s equality.

Systemic Racial or Ethnic Violence and Discrimination

The constitution stipulates that “all persons are equal before the law and there shall be no discrimination whatsoever on grounds of sex, race, language, or religion,” although the 2005 electoral law restricts eligibility to vote in Shura Council elections (see section 3). The government enforced the law effectively. There were no reports of violence stemming from tribal, racial, or ethnic discrimination.

Children

Birth Registration: Children derive citizenship only from the father. Citizen mothers are unable to transmit citizenship to their children. The government generally registered all births immediately.

Education: Education is free and compulsory for all citizens through age 18 or nine years of education, whichever comes first. Education is compulsory for noncitizen children, but they pay a nominal fee. Islamic instruction is compulsory for Muslims and non-Muslims attending state-sponsored schools.

Child Abuse: The law criminalizes child abuse. There were limited cases of reported child abuse, family violence, and sexual abuse of children.

Child, Early, and Forced Marriage: By law the minimum age for marriage is 18 for boys and 16 for girls. The law does not permit marriage of persons younger than these ages except with consent from the legal guardian and with permission from a judge. Underage marriage was rare.

Sexual Exploitation of Children: No specific law sets a minimum age for consensual sex. The law prohibits sex outside of marriage. In the criminal law, the penalty for sexual relations with a person younger than 16 is life imprisonment. If the individual is the nonspousal relative, guardian, caretaker, or servant of the victim, the penalty is death; there were no reports this sentence was implemented. No specific law prohibits child pornography because all pornography is prohibited, but the law specifically criminalizes the commercial sexual exploitation of children.

International Child Abductions: The country is not a party to the 1980 Hague Convention on the Civil Aspects of International Child Abduction. See the Department of State’s Annual Report on International Parental Child Abduction at https://travel.state.gov/content/travel/en/International-Parental-Child-Abduction/for-providers/legal-reports-and-data/reported-cases.html.

Anti-Semitism

The country does not have an indigenous Jewish community, and there were no official data on the number of Jewish foreign residents in the country. Cartoons and opinion articles in local newspapers periodically carried anti-Semitic messages.

Trafficking in Persons

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

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

Lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer, and intersex (LGBTQI+) persons faced discrimination under the law and in practice. The law prohibits consensual same-sex sexual conduct between men but does not explicitly prohibit same-sex sexual relations between women. Under the law a man convicted of having sexual relations with a boy younger than age 16 is subject to a sentence of life in prison. A man convicted of having same-sex sexual relations with a male 16 years of age or older may receive a sentence of seven years in prison. Under sharia law homosexuality is punishable by death; there were no reports of any executions for this reason.

In addition to banning sex outside marriage for all persons, the law provides penalties for any male, Muslim or not, who “instigates” or “entices” another male to commit an act of sodomy or immorality. Under the penal code, “leading, instigating, or seducing a male by any means for sodomy or dissipation” and “inducing or seducing a male or a female by any means to commit illegal or immoral actions” is punishable by up to three years’ imprisonment.

There were no public reports of violence against LGBTQI+ persons, who largely hid their sexual orientation, gender identity, or gender expression due to an underlying pattern of discrimination toward LGBTQI+ persons. There were no government efforts to address potential discrimination, nor are there antidiscrimination laws to protect LGBTQI+ individuals on the basis of sexual orientation, gender identity or expression, or gender expression.

Due to social and religious conventions, there were no LGBTQI+ organizations, pride marches, or LGBTQI+ rights advocacy events. Information was not available on official or private discrimination in employment, occupation, housing, statelessness, or access to education or health care based on sexual orientation and gender identity.

Section 7. Worker Rights

a. Freedom of Association and the Right to Collective Bargaining

The law does not provide for the right of workers to form and join independent unions, conduct legal strikes, and bargain collectively, which made the exercise of these rights difficult. The law provides local citizen workers in private-sector enterprises that have 100 citizen workers age 18 and older a limited right to organize, strike, and bargain collectively. The law does not prohibit antiunion discrimination or provide for reinstatement of workers fired for union activity.

The law excludes government employees, noncitizens, domestic workers, drivers, nurses, cooks, gardeners, casual workers, workers employed at sea, and most workers employed in agriculture and grazing from the right to join worker committees or the national union, effectively banning these workers from organizing, bargaining collectively, or striking.

The law permits the establishment of “joint committees” with an equal number of worker and management representatives to deal with a limited number of workplace problems. Foreign workers may be members of joint labor-management committees. The law offers a means to file collective disputes. If disputes are not settled internally between the employees and employer, the Ministry of Labor may mediate a solution. A 2017 agreement between the ministry and the International Labor Organization (ILO) includes provisions to create these committees with ILO supervision and assistance. Under the umbrella of this agreement and as of August, at least five joint committees initiated operations and held elections to choose employee representatives. Following the formation of “joint committees,” the ILO provided extensive training to the committee members on how to manage committees, establish open channels of communications with workers and management, and submit complaints to the competent authorities.

The law requires approval by the Ministry of Labor for worker organizations to affiliate with groups outside the country. The government did not respect freedom of association and the right to collective bargaining outside of the joint committees.

The government did not effectively enforce applicable laws or impose penalties commensurate with those for other laws involving denials of civil rights, such as discrimination. For those few workers covered by the law protecting the right to collective bargaining, the government circumscribed the right through its control over the rules and procedures of the bargaining and agreement processes. The labor code allows for only one trade union, the General Union of Workers of Qatar (General Union), which was composed of general committees for workers in various trades or industries. Trade or industry committees were composed of worker committees at the individual firm level. The General Union was not a functioning entity.

Employees could not freely practice collective bargaining, and there were no workers under collective bargaining contracts. While rare, when labor unrest occurred, mostly involving the country’s overwhelmingly migrant workforce, the government reportedly responded by dispatching large numbers of police to the work sites or labor camps involved; the government also requested the assistance of the embassies for the nationals involved. Strikes generally ended after these shows of force and the involvement of embassies to resolve disputes. In many cases the government summarily deported the migrant workers’ leaders and organizers.

Although the law recognizes the right to strike for some workers, restrictive conditions made the likelihood of a legal strike extremely remote. The law requires approval for a strike by three-fourths of the General Committee of the workers in the trade or the industry, and potential strikers also must exhaust a lengthy dispute resolution procedure before a lawful strike may be called. Civil servants and domestic workers do not have the right to strike; the law also prohibits strikes at public utilities and health or security service facilities, including the gas, petroleum, and transportation sectors. The Complaint Department of the Ministry of Labor, in coordination with the Ministry of Interior, must preauthorize all strikes, including approval of the time and place. In May several hundred migrant workers staged a protest regarding unpaid salaries. Security forces surrounded the location of the protest but did not disperse the protesters. The Ministry of Labor released a statement the following day assuring that the ministry would pay salaries in full.

b. Prohibition of Forced or Compulsory Labor

The law prohibits and criminalizes all forms of forced or compulsory labor, but penalties were not commensurate with those for analogous serious crimes, such as kidnapping. International media and human rights organizations alleged numerous abuses against foreign workers, including withheld wages, unsafe working conditions, poor living accommodations, and employers who routinely confiscated workers’ passports under an employer-based sponsorship system known as kafala that gave employers inordinate control over foreign workers. The government made efforts to prevent and eliminate forced labor but did not in all cases effectively enforce the law; the kafala system left migrant workers vulnerable to exploitation.

The law allows employees in the private sector to switch employers at the end of their contract, which can be up to five years, without the permission of their employer. Employees may also switch employers in cases of failure to pay, breach of contract, mutual agreement, filing of a legal case in court, and bankruptcy or death of employer. A change to the law in 2020 extended the elimination of exit visa requirements to 95 percent of government workers and all domestic workers. In 2020 the country abolished restrictions on migrant workers changing jobs without their employer’s permission and introduced a monthly minimum wage as a basic salary. The abolishment of the no-objection certificate was effective immediately; however, media sources and NGOs reported several instances of employers retaliating against employees who initiated a transfer by canceling their visa or filing an absconding charge, rendering the worker illegal and at increased risk of exploitation, detention, or deportation. The implementation of the minimum wage provision came into force in March. These reforms have not yet been fully implemented and enforced, exposing migrant workers, especially domestic workers, to potential abuse.

Workers who are still required to seek their employers’ permission to leave the country may request an exemption from a grievance committee jointly operated by the Ministry of Interior and the Ministry of Labor in cases where an employer refuses to grant permission. In 2020 the committee received 228 requests, of which it approved 218, the latest data available at year’s end.

The government arrested and prosecuted individuals for suspected labor law infractions. The Ministry of Labor, the Ministry of Interior, and the National Human Rights Commission conducted training sessions and distributed multilingual, written explanations of migrant workers’ rights under local labor and sponsorship laws. To combat late and unpaid wages, the government mandated that employers pay wages electronically to all employees covered by the labor law, through a system subject to audits by an inspection division at the Ministry of Labor. Employers who failed to pay their workers faced penalties, but enforcement was inconsistent.

There were continuing indications of forced labor, especially among migrant workers in the construction and domestic labor sectors. Exorbitant recruitment fees incurred abroad entrapped many workers in long-term debt, making them more vulnerable to exploitation. Some foreign workers who voluntarily entered the country had their passports, ATM cards, and pay withheld and worked under conditions to which they had not agreed. One migrant worker told an NGO that his employer threatened him and approximately 1,000 other employees with deportation if they refused to sign new contracts with substantially lower wages. Another migrant worker said his company had not paid its workers in five months. Contract substitution remained a problem, according to representatives of the migrant worker community; however, to help eliminate the practice, a government electronic contracting system existed in several foreign countries where workers are hired. Embassies of labor-sending countries reported this system helped significantly reduce contract substitution and the number of workers who arrived in Doha without contracts.

Construction of FIFA World Cup-related facilities continued despite crowded worksites and the high risk of COVID-19 transmission. Human rights groups and international media condemned the exemption of World Cup projects from precautionary countermeasures.

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

c. Prohibition of Child Labor and Minimum Age for Employment

The law prohibits and criminalizes all the worst forms of child labor and provides for the protection of children from exploitation in the workplace, including limitations on working hours, occupational safety, and health restrictions. The law sets the minimum age for employment at 16 years and stipulates minors between the ages of 16 and 18 may work with parental or guardian permission. Minors may not work more than six hours a day or more than 36 hours a week. Employers must provide the Ministry of Labor with the names and occupations of their minor employees and obtain permission from the Ministry of Education and Higher Education to hire a minor. The education ministry may prohibit the employment of minors in jobs judged dangerous to their health, safety, or morals. The government generally enforced the applicable law, but penalties for violations were not commensurate with those for analogous serious crimes, such as kidnapping.

d. Discrimination with Respect to Employment and Occupation

The constitution prohibits discrimination based on race, color, sex, language, ethnicity, and religion, but not political opinion, national origin, social origin, disability, sexual orientation, age, or HIV-positive status. Local custom, however, outweighed government enforcement of nondiscrimination laws. Penalties were not commensurate with laws related to civil rights, such as election interference.

Legal, cultural, and institutional discrimination existed against women, noncitizens, and foreign workers. The labor law does not allow women to work in jobs deemed hazardous, dangerous, or morally inappropriate, or in jobs specified by a decision of the Ministry of Labor.

By law women are entitled to equal pay for equal work but did not always receive it, and they often lacked access to decision-making positions in management of private companies and in the public sector. Gender-based violence or harassment occurred in the workplace. The government prohibited lower-paid male workers from residing in specific “family” residential zones throughout the country. The government discriminated against noncitizens in employment, education, housing, and health services (see section 6). Other forms of discrimination targeted certain nationalities in the country such as Egyptians working for private security companies who were deported from the country in June 2020. The law prohibits employers from withholding workers’ passports and penalizes employers who do so, but noncitizen community leaders and officials from labor-exporting countries stated that passport confiscation remained a widespread problem. The law requires reserving 2 percent of jobs in government agencies and public institutions for persons with disabilities, and most government entities appeared to conform to this law. Private-sector businesses employing a minimum of 25 persons are also required to hire persons with disabilities as two percent of their staff. Employers who violate these employment provisions are subject to moderate fines. There were no reports of infractions of the hiring quota requirement during the year.

e. Acceptable Conditions of Work

Wage and Hour Laws: The labor law provides for a 48-hour workweek with a 24-hour rest period and paid annual leave days. The labor law and provisions for acceptable conditions of work, including overtime pay provisions, do not apply to workers in the public sector or agriculture, or to domestic workers. Some employers did not pay workers for overtime or annual leave. Penalties for abuses were not commensurate with those for similar crimes, such as fraud.

Occupational Safety and Health: Occupational safety and health (OSH) standards were appropriate for the main industries in the country, such as construction, but the government generally did not enforce them. Responsibility for laws related to acceptable conditions of work fell primarily to the Ministry of Labor as well as to the Ministry of Municipality and the Ministry of Public Health. In November the ILO published a detailed report regarding OSH conditions in the country and urged the government to exert more efforts in collaboration with employers to meet OSH standards and develop mechanisms to collect data on work injuries and fatalities. The report stated that occupational injuries in 2020 included 50 fatalities, 506 severe injuries, and 37,601 mild or moderate injuries. The law does not provide workers the right to remove themselves from a hazardous workplace without jeopardizing their employment, with the exception of a 2020 ministerial decision allowing workers to leave worksites in case of heat stress. Authorities did not effectively provide protection to employees exercising this right.

The government did not effectively enforce standards in all sectors. Working conditions for citizens were generally adequate because government agencies and the major private-sector companies employing them generally followed the relevant laws. The government sets restrictions on working during the hottest hours of the day during the summer and general restrictions related to temperature during the rest of the day as well. Employers often ignored working-hour restrictions and other laws with respect to domestic workers and unskilled laborers, the majority of whom were migrants. Penalties for violations of occupational safety and health laws were not commensurate with those for crimes like negligence.

The government took limited action to prevent abuse. If a company had not brought conditions up to standard within one month of being notified of the need for action, the Ministry of Labor imposed fines, blacklisted the company, and on occasion referred the matter to the public prosecutor for action. Fear of penalties such as blacklisting appeared to have had some effect as a deterrent to some labor law infractions. Blacklisting is an administrative hold freezing government services such as processing new visa applications from a company or individual. Firms must pay a moderate fine to be removed from the list, even if the dispute is resolved, and the ministry reserves the right to keep companies on the list as a punitive measure after the fine is paid.

Ministry of Labor personnel continued to conduct inspection visits to work and labor housing sites. Officials from the ILO joined labor inspectors on several inspections. A strategic plan for strengthening the Labor Inspections Unit, developed with ILO assistance, went into effect in 2020 and focuses on upgrading inspectors’ skills in evaluating living accommodations and raising awareness regarding heat stress. Employers must pay their employees electronically to provide a digital audit trail for the Ministry Labor. Employers who failed to pay their workers faced penalties.

The government did not effectively enforce these laws, and penalties were not commensurate with those for similar crimes. Infractions of wage, overtime, and safety and health standards were relatively common, especially in sectors employing foreign workers in which working conditions were often poor. The government continued to serve eviction notices to property owners whose buildings were not up to code. Throughout the year international media reported the existence of abusive working conditions, including work-related deaths of young foreign workers, particularly in the construction sector.

Informal Sector: The law prohibits employers from withholding workers’ passports and penalizes employers who do so, but noncitizen community leaders and officials from labor-exporting countries stated that passport confiscation remained a widespread problem with insufficient enforcement of penalties. Employers housed many unskilled foreign laborers in cramped, dirty, and hazardous conditions, often without running water, electricity, or adequate food. Domestic workers often faced unacceptable working conditions. Many such workers frequently worked seven days a week and more than 12 hours a day with few or no holidays, no overtime pay, and limited means to redress grievances. Despite partial exit permit reform, domestic workers were required to obtain permission from employers to leave the country. Some employers denied domestic workers food or access to a telephone, including their own cellphones, according to news reports and foreign embassy officials. NGOs found that foreign workers faced legal obstacles and lengthy legal processes that prevented them from seeking redress for abuses and exploitative conditions. Noncitizen community leaders also highlighted migrant workers’ continued hesitation to report their plight due to fear of reprisals.

Saudi Arabia

Executive Summary

The Kingdom of Saudi Arabia is a monarchy ruled by King Salman bin Abdulaziz Al Saud, who is both head of state and head of government. The 1992 Basic Law sets out the system of governance, rights of citizens, and powers and duties of the government, and it provides that the Quran and Sunna (the traditions of the Prophet Muhammad) serve as the country’s constitution. It specifies that the rulers of the country shall be male descendants of the founder, King Abdulaziz (Ibn Saud).

The State Security Presidency, National Guard, and Ministries of Defense and Interior, all of which report to the king, are responsible for law enforcement and maintenance of order. The State Security Presidency includes the General Directorate of Investigation (mabahith), Special Security Forces, and Special Emergency Forces; police are under the Ministry of Interior. Civilian authorities generally maintained effective control over the security forces. There were credible reports that members of the security forces committed some abuses.

Significant human rights issues included credible reports of: executions for nonviolent offenses; forced disappearances; torture and cases of cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment of prisoners and detainees by government agents; harsh and life-threatening prison conditions; arbitrary arrest and detention; political prisoners or detainees; harassment and intimidation against Saudi dissidents living abroad; arbitrary or unlawful interference with privacy; collective punishment of family members for offenses allegedly committed by an individual; serious abuses in a conflict, including civilian casualties and damage to civilian infrastructure as a result of airstrikes in Yemen; serious restrictions on free expression and media, including unjustified arrests or prosecutions against journalists and others, and censorship; serious restrictions on internet freedom; substantial interference with the freedom of peaceful assembly and freedom of association, including overly restrictive laws on the organization, funding, or operation of nongovernmental organizations and civil society organizations; severe restrictions of religious freedom; restrictions on freedom of movement; inability of citizens to choose their government peacefully through free and fair elections; serious and unreasonable restrictions on political participation; serious government restrictions on domestic and international human rights organizations; lack of investigation of and accountability for gender-based violence, including but not limited to domestic and intimate partner violence; criminalization of consensual same-sex sexual activity; and restrictions on workers’ freedom of association, the role of trade unions, and labor committees.

In several cases the government did not investigate, prosecute, or punish officials accused of committing human rights abuses, contributing to an environment of impunity. The government prosecuted some officials for corruption, although there were allegations of significant due process violations and other human rights abuses, including allegations of torture, in these cases.

Houthi militant attacks from Yemen caused civilian casualties and damage to infrastructure.

Section 1. Respect for the Integrity of the Person

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

There were no reports that the government or its agents committed arbitrary or unlawful killings. The Public Prosecutor’s Office, which reports to the king, is responsible for investigating whether security force actions were justifiable and pursuing prosecutions. 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 usually reduced on appeal.

On December 30, media reported that at least three of the individuals convicted in connection with the killing of Jamal Khashoggi, including Salah al-Tubaigy, Mustafa al-Madani, and Mansour Abahussein, were seen living in luxury villas in a government compound near Riyadh. There was no further action on the case during the year.

In September 2020 the Public Prosecutor’s Office announced a final verdict in the murder trial of journalist Jamal Khashoggi, killed at the Saudi consulate in Istanbul, Turkey, in 2018.

In January the Saudi Human Rights Commission (HRC) announced a moratorium on the death penalty for drug-related offenses, but as of November the government had not published the relevant changes.

Discretionary (tazir) death penalty sentences for those who committed crimes as minors are forbidden, and minors’ prison sentences are capped at 10 years under an April 2020 royal decree. (The 2018 Juvenile Law sets the legal age of adulthood at 18 based on the Hijri calendar.) Minor offenders, however, who are convicted in qisas, a category of crimes that includes various types of murder, or hudud, crimes that carry specific penalties under the country’s interpretation of Islamic law, still face the death penalty.

On February 8, Human Rights Watch (HRW) reported prosecutors were seeking 10-year prison sentences, rather than the death penalty originally sought, for four men convicted of crimes committed as minors: Ahmad al-Faraj, Ali al-Batti, Ali al-Faraj, and Mohammed al-Faraj. They were arrested in 2017 and 2018 on protest-related charges.

On June 15, the government executed Mustafa Hashem al-Darwish, a 26-year-old Shia citizen convicted of terrorism charges. According to human rights organizations, he was detained in 2015 for alleged participation in riots between 2011 and 2012. The official charge sheet did not specify the dates his alleged crimes took place, making it unclear whether he had turned 18 by that time. Government officials claimed he was executed for other crimes committed as an adult but provided no further information.

On November 10, the Supreme Court overturned the death sentence conviction against Abdullah al-Huwaiti, arrested at age 14 and sentenced to death three years later on murder and armed robbery charges. Although no longer at risk of imminent execution, al-Huwaiti could still be sentenced to death at a later stage, since the case remained open, according to the European-Saudi Organization for Human Rights (ESOHR).

On October 27 and November 16, authorities released Shia prisoners Ali al-Nimr and Abdullah al-Zaher following completion of their 10-year prison sentences. Al-Nimr and al-Zaher, along with Dawood al-Marhoun who remained imprisoned, were arrested in 2012 as minors when they participated in political protests in 2011. In February all three had their death sentences commuted to 10 years in prison with credit for time served.

On November 10, the Supreme Court overturned the death sentence conviction against Abdullah al-Huwaiti, arrested at age 14 and sentenced to death three years later on murder and armed robbery charges.

On November 11, the ESOHR said at least four individuals accused of crimes committed as minors continued to face the possibility of capital punishment, including Sajjad al-Yassin, Jalal al-Labbad, Yusuf al-Manasif, and Hasan Zaki al-Faraj.

b. Disappearance

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

According to the human rights organization al-Qst (ALQST) and Prisoners of Conscience, the whereabouts of physician and internet activist Lina al-Sharif were unknown since her arrest in May. The groups claimed al-Sharif was arrested for comments on social media regarding national politics and human rights issues.

There were no updates during the year regarding the whereabouts of several members of the royal family detained in March 2020, including the former crown prince Mohammed bin Nayef Al Saud, Prince Ahmed bin Abdulaziz Al Saud, and Prince Nayef bin Ahmed Al Saud, a former head of army intelligence. The government did not announce their detentions, but Reuters reported that the princes were accused of “contact with foreign powers to carry out a coup d’etat.” In June NBC News reported the former crown prince was being held at a government compound in Riyadh, but there was no subsequent confirmation. According to the report, he had lost significant weight, could no longer walk unaided due to serious injuries from beatings, and was deprived of pain medication needed for previous injuries.

There was also no information during the year regarding the whereabouts of Prince Faisal bin Abdullah Al Saud, former head of the Saudi Red Crescent Society, also detained by security forces in March 2020.

On April 5, the Specialized Criminal Court sentenced Abdulrahman al-Sadhan to 20 years’ imprisonment, followed by a 20-year travel ban, on terrorism financing and facilitation charges. After his arrest in 2018, al-Sadhan was detained incommunicado for two years before being allowed to speak with his family. Legal proceedings against him began on March 3 in a process that Amnesty International said was marred by rights violations. Al-Sadhan reportedly tweeted comments critical of the government and sympathetic to ISIS, which family members claimed were satirical in nature. Family members alleged that al-Sadhan was physically abused during his detention and that he was unable to present a proper legal defense during his trial.

In July representatives of the family of Princess Basmah bint Saud reportedly filed an appeal to the Special Procedures experts at the UN Human Rights Council requesting their intervention to demand that authorities provide proof that she was alive. Detained since 2019, media and rights groups reported the princess had health problems, including heart issues and osteoporosis. On May 29, Forbes reported she had a brief telephone call with a relative.

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 states that public investigators shall not subject accused persons to coercive measures to influence their testimony. There were, however, reports by human rights organizations, the United Nations, and independent third parties of torture and other cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment or punishment.

Officials from the Ministry of Interior, Public Prosecutor’s Office, and HRC, which is responsible for coordinating with other government entities to investigate and respond to alleged human rights violations (see section 5), claimed that rules prohibiting torture prevented such practices from occurring in the penal system, but human rights organizations, the United Nations, and independent third parties said there were reports of torture and mistreatment of detainees by law enforcement officers. Amnesty International assessed in August that the Specialized Criminal Court “routinely condemns defendants to lengthy prison terms and even death sentences following convictions based on ‘confessions’ extracted through torture.” It alleged that Mustafa al-Darwish’s June execution resulted from confessions obtained by torture (see section 1.a.). Amnesty International reported that former detainees in Mabahith-run facilities alleged abuse, including beatings, sleep deprivation, and long periods of solitary confinement for nonviolent detainees.

On January 15, three UN special rapporteurs sent a letter to the government regarding Ali Hassan al-Rabea, expressing concern at the alleged use of torture and mistreatment to extract confessions and other evidence. In December 2020 the Supreme Court sentenced al-Rabea to death in a final ruling, not subject to appeal. As of year’s end, the sentence was pending King Salman’s approval. Al-Rabea was arrested in 2013, charged with participating in demonstrations, chanting antigovernment slogans, and possessing weapons. The primary evidence reportedly presented against him was the confession allegedly made after being subjected to torture and mistreatment.

In July HRW reported anonymous accounts from prison guards alleging torture of political detainees, including of prominent activists Loujain al-Hathloul and Mohammed al-Rabea. They alleged women’s rights activists and others were subjected to electric shocks, beatings, whippings, and sexual abuse. In February, following her sentencing and conditional release, al-Hathloul’s family reported that an appeals court rejected a lawsuit regarding her claims of torture. In December 2020 the Riyadh Criminal Court had previously dismissed her claim, citing a lack of evidence.

On July 28, the Washington Post reported that former interior ministry official Salem al-Muzaini was whipped, starved, beaten with iron bars, and subjected to electric shocks while held at two Saudi prisons and the Ritz-Carlton hotel from September 2017 until January 2018. He was originally detained in Dubai in 2017 and transferred to Saudi Arabia. Following his release in 2018, al-Muzaini allegedly disappeared in August 2020 after visiting a senior Saudi security official. Al-Muzaini was married to Hissah al-Muzaini, the daughter of Saad al-Jabri, a former high-ranking intelligence official who fled the country in 2016 (see sections 1.e. and 1.f.).

Courts continued to sentence individuals to corporal punishment. In March the Supreme Court clarified that the April 2020 royal decree that effectively eliminated flogging in most cases could be applied retroactively to sentences predating the decree. While flogging may no longer be used as a discretionary ta’zir sentence, it can still be used for three hudud crimes: drunkenness, sexual conduct between unmarried persons, and false accusations of adultery.

In March local media reported that the appeals court in Jeddah issued a final decision to overturn a sentence of 5,000 lashes for an individual convicted on drug trafficking charges. Reportedly the man instead received five years in prison, a five-year travel ban, and a large fine.

No additional information was available whether the remainder of the discretionary flogging element of activist Raif Badawi’s sentence had been dropped. Badawi was sentenced to 1,000 lashes, 10 years in prison, and a 10-year travel ban in 2014 for insulting Islam, among other charges. He received 50 lashes in 2015, but further floggings were delayed due to health concerns.

Impunity was a problem in the security forces. Activists questioned the impartiality of procedures to investigate detainees’ complaints of torture and maltreatment. The Ministry of Interior stated it installed surveillance cameras to record interrogations of suspects in some criminal investigation offices, police stations, and prisons where such interrogations occur. The government provided human rights training to security forces, but HRW continued to highlight concerns regarding abuse and deplorable conditions in detention centers.

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: A July 7 ALQST report alleged that detention and deportation facilities suffered from overcrowding, poor hygiene and sanitation, and medical and administrative neglect. On August 14, the ESOHR estimated that at least 20 persons had died due to prison conditions since 2010, adding that some of them appeared to have been tortured. The years of individual deaths were not provided.

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

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

Authorities differentiated between violent and nonviolent prisoners, sometimes pardoning nonviolent prisoners to reduce the prison population. Shia inmates were in some cases held in separate wings of prisons and reportedly faced worse conditions than Sunnis.

Prisoners convicted on terrorism-related charges were often required to participate in government-sponsored rehabilitation programs before consideration of their release.

In February Attorney General Saud bin al-Mu’jab issued directives to prevent the spread of COVID-19 among prisoners and detainees. On April 22, local media reported that approximately 68 percent of detainees in state security prisons were vaccinated against COVID-19. Rights organizations said Zaheer Ali contracted COVID-19 during a prison outbreak in April and died, which they attributed to medical negligence by prison authorities. Allegedly arrested for his writings in 2017, Ali died on May 8 in al-Ha’ir Prison, the United Kingdom-based rights groups Sanad and ALQST reported.

On October 12, ALQST reported academic and activist Musa al-Qarni, who was arrested in 2007 along with several other activists and charged with forming a secret organization and spreading anarchy, was beaten to death by fellow inmates. No information was available whether any inmates were charged in connection with his killing.

Online activists reported that at least five members of an outlawed human rights organization, the Saudi Civil and Political Rights Association (ACPRA), along with 25 other detainees in al-Ha’ir Prison, participated in a hunger strike between March 7 and March 14, reportedly to protest denied family contact, poor food quality, and attacks by prisoners suffering from mental illness. ACPRA members Mohammed al-Qahtani, Fawza al-Harbi, Issa al-Nukhaifi, Fahad al-Arani, and Mohammed al-Hudaif participated, with Abdulaziz al-Sunaidi joining from Onayza Prison in al-Qassim. On March 14, Prisoners of Conscience announced that the strike was suspended after prison administrators agreed to meet their demands. On August 15, al-Qahtani restarted his hunger strike to protest prison administrators’ alleged reneging on the March agreement.

Administration: There was no information available on whether prisoners were able to submit allegations of mistreatment to prison or prosecutorial authorities without censorship or whether authorities responded or acted upon complaints. 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 Mabahith administered approximately 20 regional prisons and detention centers for security prisoners. The law gives the Public Prosecutor’s Office 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.”

The law 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 [now the Public Prosecutor’s Office].” Prisoners submitted complaints to the HRC, which had offices in a number of prisons, and to the quasi-governmental National Society for Human Rights (NSHR) for follow-up. Inmates, however, required approval from prison authorities to submit complaints to an HRC office.

The Public Prosecutor’s Office announced in July the launch of the Ma’akom system, which allows citizens and residents to submit complaints directly regarding illegal detention or violations of detainee rights, using the online platform Absher, a hotline telephone number, or in person. The Ministry of Interior-run website (Nafetha) provided detainees and their relatives access to a database containing information regarding the legal status of the detainee, including any scheduled trial dates.

Authorities generally permitted relatives and friends to visit prisoners twice a week, although certain prisons limited visitation to once or twice a month. Prisoners were typically granted at least one telephone call per week. There were reports that prison, security, or law enforcement officials denied this privilege in some instances, often during pretrial 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). Starting on October 31, families of detainees who received two doses of an approved coronavirus vaccine could apply for prison visits. Family members of detained persons under investigation or in pretrial detention said family visits were typically not allowed, while others said visits or calls were extremely brief (less than five minutes). Authorities at times reportedly denied some detainees their weekly call for several months or years. Some family members of prisoners complained authorities canceled scheduled visits with relatives without reason.

Independent Monitoring: Independent institutions were not permitted to conduct regular, unannounced visits to places of detention, according to the UN Committee against Torture. Foreign diplomats regularly requested to attend non-consular trials of high-profile detainees but were not admitted into courtrooms. In a limited number of cases, foreign diplomats were granted consular visits to individuals in detention, but the visits took place in a separate visitors’ center where conditions may differ from those in the detention facilities holding the prisoners.

The government permitted the HRC and quasi-governmental NSHR to monitor prison conditions. The organizations stated they visited prisons throughout the country and reported on prison conditions. On July 7, local media reported the HRC conducted 1,538 prison visits during the fiscal year 2020-21, including visits to public prisons, security prisons, and various detention centers as well as “social observation centers” and girls’ welfare institutions.

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, but the Ministry of Interior and the State Security Presidency, to which the majority of forces with arrest powers reported, maintained and exercised broad authority to arrest and detain persons indefinitely without judicial oversight, notification of charges, or effective access to legal counsel or family, according to human rights groups.

Arrest Procedures and Treatment of Detainees

The law gives the Public Prosecutor’s Office “complete and independent powers” to identify major crimes that require detention, according to local media. In August 2020 the public prosecutor issued a list of 25 major crimes that mandate arrest and pretrial detention, including certain border crimes, corruption, homicide, and offenses against national security, among others.

According to the law, “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, which 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.

The law specifies procedures required for extending the detention period of an accused person beyond the initial five days. There is a functioning bail system for less serious criminal charges. Authorities may approve detentions in excess of six months in “exceptional circumstances,” effectively allowing individuals to be held in pretrial detention indefinitely in cases involving terrorism or “violations of state security.” The Public Prosecutor’s Office may order the detention of any person accused of a crime under the counterterrorism law for up to 30 days, renewable up to 12 months, and in state security cases up to 24 months with a judge’s approval.

By law defendants accused of any crime cited in the law are entitled to hire a lawyer to defend themselves before the court “within an adequate period of time to be decided by the investigatory body.” The government provided lawyers to defendants who made a formal application to the Ministry of Justice to receive a court-appointed lawyer and proved their inability to pay for their legal representation. In cases involving terrorism or state security charges, detainees generally did not have the right to obtain a lawyer of their choice.

There were reports authorities did not always allow legal counsel access to detainees who were under investigation in pretrial detention. Authorities indicated a suspect could be held up to 12 months in investigative detention without access to legal counsel if authorized by prosecutors. Judicial proceedings begin after authorities complete a full investigation.

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

Authorities commuted the sentences of some who had received prison terms. The counterterrorism law allows the Public Prosecutor’s Office to stop proceedings against an individual who cooperates with investigations or cooperates in thwarting a planned terrorist attack. The law authorizes the State Security Presidency to release individuals already convicted in such cases.

Arbitrary Arrest: Rights groups received reports from families claiming authorities held their relatives arbitrarily or without notification of charges. During the year authorities detained without charge security suspects, persons who publicly criticized the government, Shia religious leaders, individuals with links to rights activists, and persons accused of violating religious standards.

On May 6, Prisoners of Conscience reported that dozens of journalists and bloggers remained under arbitrary arrest. In November Prisoners of Conscience reported that authorities had detained blogger Zainab al-Hashemi and university student Asmaa al-Subaie since May without charge. The two were reportedly arrested with other online activists. As of year’s end, their whereabouts were unknown.

Pretrial Detention: In August 2020 ALQST and the Geneva-based MENA Rights Group lodged a complaint with the UN Working Group on Arbitrary Detention and the Special Procedures of the UN Human Rights Council in Geneva regarding the “arbitrary” detention of Prince Salman bin Abdulaziz bin Salman Al Saud and his father. In February international media reported that the two were moved from a house in Riyadh to “an undisclosed location” at the end of November 2020. In 2018 Prince Salman was detained with 11 other princes after they staged what the prosecutor called a “sit-in” at a royal palace in Riyadh to demand the state continue to pay their electricity and water bills. Sources told Agence France Presse that the prince and his father had never been formally interrogated or charged.

Incommunicado detention occurred (see section 1.b.). 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 (or longer) without access to family members or legal counsel. Security and 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.

During July and August, family members of Muslim scholar Salman al-Odah and Mohammed al-Qahtani (see section 1.c.) claimed authorities had denied them contact with their family members and lawyers for months. According to his wife, al-Qahtani was able to call her on August 19 following a four-day hunger strike and after almost four months of incommunicado detention. In September al-Odah’s family reportedly said his eyesight had deteriorated during his solitary confinement.

Detainee’s Ability to Challenge Lawfulness of Detention before a Court: By 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.

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. 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 Specialized Criminal Court, which rarely acquitted suspects. The Specialized Criminal Court and the Public Prosecutor’s Office were not independent entities, as they reportedly were required to coordinate their decisions with executive authorities, including the king and crown prince. Human rights activists claimed that the court’s 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.

On March 8, local media reported that the Supreme Court eliminated the use of oaths (al-qisama) as evidence in murder or manslaughter cases. Under Islamic law, the victim’s family is allowed to take up to 50 oaths to officially confirm that the suspect was guilty if there was no direct evidence or if eyewitness testimony was invalid under Islamic law, as in the case of child witnesses.

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 then unanimously affirm. Appellate courts may recommend changes to a sentence, including increasing the severity of a lesser sentence (up to the death penalty), if the trial court convicted the defendant of a crime for which capital punishment is permitted.

Defendants possess the right to seek commutation of a death sentence for some crimes and may receive a royal pardon under specific circumstances (see section 1.d.). In some prescribed cases (qisas), the families of the deceased may accept compensation from the family of the person convicted in an unlawful death, sparing the convicted from execution.

On August 3, Amnesty International assessed that trials before the Specialized Criminal Court were “intrinsically unfair, with defendants subjected to flawed procedures that violate both Saudi and international laws.” Amnesty accused authorities of using the court to crack down on freedom of expression through the prosecution, sentencing, and resentencing processes, as well as bans on public speaking, human rights work, use of social media, and travel. Among others, Amnesty cited the trial and conviction of activist Israa al-Ghomgham, who was sentenced to eight years in prison and an eight-year travel ban in February for charges related to her peaceful activism and participation in antigovernment protests.

On August 16, the court of appeals increased the sentence of activist Khalid al-Omair from seven to nine years without explanation, according to ALQST.

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. In February the crown prince announced forthcoming legal reforms that would impact the personal status law, civil transactions law, evidence law, and discretionary sentencing, aiming to increase predictability and transparency in the legal system and expand protections for women (see section 6, Women). On December 28, the Council of Ministers enacted the evidence law.

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 provide sentencing requirements for crimes, including terrorism, cybercrimes, trafficking in persons, and domestic abuse.

The Justice Ministry continued to expand a project started in 2007 to distribute model judicial decisions to ensure more uniformity of legal application, and the ministry published judicial decisions on its website. The law states that defendants should be treated equally in accordance with sharia. The Council of Senior Scholars, or the ulema, an autonomous advisory body, issues religious opinions (fatwas) that guide how judges interpret sharia. In 2016 the Ministry of Justice issued a 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 of innocence or guilt; they are limited to affirming judgments, modifying sentences, 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 were represented in the Council of Senior Scholars, the Hanbali School predominated and formed the basis for the country’s law and legal interpretations of sharia. Shia citizens used 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. The Ministry of Foreign Affairs continued to not approve foreign diplomatic missions to attend court proceedings at the Specialized Criminal Court as well as trials related to security and human rights issues. Diplomatic personnel were generally allowed to attend consular proceedings of their own citizens. Some family members of prisoners complained that neither they nor the legal representatives of the accused were permitted access to trials or notified of the status of trial proceedings. In a number of cases, family members were given only 24 hours’ notice before a trial hearing.

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. HRC representatives sometimes attended trials at the Specialized Criminal Court.

By law authorities must offer defendants a lawyer at government expense. In 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 alleged that many political prisoners 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. Activists reported, however, that Specialized Criminal Court judges could decide to restrict this right in “the interests of the case.” The law provides that a prosecutor-appointed investigator may question 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 for free interpretation services, although services were often provided in practice. The law 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 Muslims, Shia Muslims, and persons of other religions. In certain circumstances, the testimony of a woman equals one-half that of a man. Judges have discretion to 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 Muslims.

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.” Reporting by advocacy groups and press suggested authorities detained persons for peaceful activism or political opposition, including nonviolent religious figures, women’s rights defenders, and human rights activists, and those who the government claimed posted offensive or antigovernment comments on social media sites.

In many cases it was impossible to determine the legal basis for incarceration and whether the detention complied with international norms and standards. During the year the Specialized Criminal Court tried political and human rights activists for nonviolent actions unrelated to terrorism, violence, or espionage against the state, and authorities restricted attorneys’ access to detainees on trial.

International nongovernmental organizations (NGOs), the United Nations, and others criticized the government for abusing its antiterrorism legal authorities to detain or arrest on security-related grounds some dissidents or critics of the government or royal family who had not espoused or committed violence. According to the NGOs Prisoner of Conscience and EOHSR, more than 100 persons remained in detention for activism, criticism of government leaders or policies, impugning Islam or religious leaders, or “offensive” internet postings, including prominent activists such as Raif Badawi, Mohammed al-Qahtani, Naimah Abdullah al-Matrod, Maha al-Rafidi, Eman al-Nafjan, and Waleed Abu al-Khair; clerics including former grand mosque imam Salih al-Talib; and Sahwa movement figures Safar al-Hawali, Nasser al-Omar, and others.

Between February and June, several women’s rights activists, who had been arrested in 2018 and convicted on charges related to their human rights work and their contact with international organizations, foreign media, and other activists, were released after having their sentences suspended or reduced to time served, although they reportedly continued to be subject to travel bans. Sentenced by the Specialized Criminal Court in December 2020 to five years and eight months in prison, with credit for time served, Loujain al-Hathloul and Mayaa al-Zahrani were released in February and March, respectively. Prisoners of Conscience also reported the release of Nouf Abdelaziz al-Jerawi in February. Rights organizations reported that Nassima al-Sadah and Samar Badawi, who were sentenced to five years in prison with half suspended in 2018, were released on June 27 at the conclusion of their remaining sentences. Al-Hathloul appealed her sentence, but on May 9, she was informed by state security officials that the Supreme Court upheld her conviction on terrorism charges. While rights organizations welcomed the releases, they criticized the imposition of travel bans, as well as reports that the released rights activists were instructed not to make public statements regarding their sentences.

In October the Specialized Criminal Court of Appeals upheld the six-year prison sentence of women’s rights activist Mohammed al-Rabea. In April the court had sentenced al-Rabea under the country’s counterterrorism law to six years’ imprisonment, with credit for time served, and a travel ban. Detained in 2018 along with al-Hathloul and Aziza al-Yousef, al-Rabea’s arrest was also tied to his activism for women’s right to drive and against the guardianship system.

On September 23, authorities released human rights defender Abdulrahman al-Shumiri following completion of his 15-year prison sentence, according to ALQST and Prisoners of Conscience. He remained subject to a travel ban for 15 years following his release. Al-Shumiri, a retired academic, was arrested in 2007 and sentenced on charges including disobeying the ruler.

In April the Specialized Criminal Court sentenced activist Yasser al-Ayyaf to two years in prison, according to Prisoners of Conscience. Al-Ayyaf was arrested in 2018, reportedly for his activism and participation in peaceful sit-ins, marches, and protests between 2011 and 2013. He spoke out in support of detainees held without trial and those who were detained after completing their sentences, including his father, whom he claimed was incarcerated beyond the end of his 10-year sentence. Al-Ayyaf was released in September.

Politically Motivated Reprisal against Individuals Located Outside the Country

Extraterritorial Killing, Kidnapping, Forced Returns, or Other Violence or Threats of Violence: There were reports that authorities attempted to intimidate critics living abroad, pressured their relatives in the country, and in certain instances abducted or pressured dissidents and repatriated them to the country. A Freedom House report on transnational repression released in February reported 10 cases of Saudi transnational repression carried out in recent years against former government officials and activists living abroad.

Threats, Harassment, Surveillance, and Coercion: In July the New York Times reported that since 2018, Saudi Arabia had used Israeli cybersurveillance firms’ spyware to monitor dissidents and political opponents at home and abroad. A July 18 Amnesty International report alleged that an investigation into the Israeli cybersurveillance firm NSO Group revealed evidence that the Saudi government used its Pegasus software against Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi and his family members, including his fiancee, former wife, and son. Other media reported that Khashoggi’s associates Yahya Assiri, Omar Abdulaziz, and Ghanem al-Masari were also targeted by the software.

On February 27, the Washington Post reported that Saudi dissident Ahmed Abdullah al-Harbi disappeared while visiting the Saudi embassy in Ottawa in January and later reappeared in Saudi Arabia. Activists alleged his return was coerced. After his visit to the embassy in Ottawa, al-Harbi reportedly called two friends and stated he had been pressured during interrogation to reveal the names of activists and believed his family in Saudi Arabia was being threatened. Al-Harbi had received asylum in Canada in 2019 after making statements critical of the Saudi government during his studies in the United States and was cooperating with activists critical of the government. Al-Harbi’s whereabouts following his return to Saudi Arabia remained unknown as of December.

In February media reported that Saad al-Jabri, a former high-ranking Saudi intelligence official who fled the country in 2016, filed a second lawsuit in the United States alleging that Saudi officials tried to lure his daughter, Hissah al-Muzaini, to the Saudi consulate in Istanbul in 2019 (see section 1.c.). The Wall Street Journal reported on January 27 that 10 Saudi state-owned companies filed a civil suit in Canada against Saad al-Jabri, alleging embezzlement. Activists and al-Jabri’s family claimed that the Canadian lawsuit against him was politically motivated. In an October 23 interview on 60 Minutes, al-Jabri reiterated claims that a hit squad had been sent to kill him in 2018 and asserted that his son Omar and daughter Sarah had been imprisoned in Saudi Arabia to force his return to the country (see section 2.b.). The two were arrested in March 2020 and held in incommunicado detention, according to HRW. In November 2020 a court sentenced Omar and Sarah al-Jabri to, respectively, nine and six and one-half years in prison for money laundering and attempting escape. HRW reported an appeals court upheld their sentences in December 2020.

Misuse of International Law-enforcement Tools: There were reports that the government attempted to misuse international law enforcement tools for politically motivated purposes as reprisal against specific individuals located outside the country.

Activists claimed that Saudi Arabia misused an INTERPOL notice to secure the February arrest in Morocco of a government critic, Osama al-Hasani, a citizen of Saudi Arabia and Australia. He was deported to Saudi Arabia in March. HRW claimed that court documents showed Saudi authorities had previously cleared him of the charge of auto theft that was the basis for the Saudi INTERPOL notice. On March 12, the UN Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights sent Moroccan authorities a letter urging them not to deport al-Hasani due to fears that he could face torture in Saudi Arabia. A Moroccan court approved al-Hasani’s extradition to Saudi Arabia on March 13, according to press reports. On September 3, Prisoners of Conscience reported that the Specialized Criminal Court sentenced al-Hasani to four years’ imprisonment.

Civil Judicial Procedures and Remedies

Complainants claiming human rights violations generally sought assistance from the HRC or the NSHR, which sometimes advocated on their behalf or provided courts with opinions on their cases. The HRC generally responded to complaints and can refer cases to the Public Prosecutor’s Office; 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 Specialized Criminal Court handles remediation. The counterterrorism law contains a provision allowing detainees in Mabahith-run prisons to request financial compensation from the Ministry of Interior, State Security Presidency, or both 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.

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 the law to monitor activities legally and intervene where it deemed necessary. Authorities targeted family members of activists and critics of the government.

In June dissident Abdullah al-Odah, son of prominent detained cleric Salman al-Odah (see section 1.d., Pretrial Detention), alleged that 17 of his family members were banned from travel and that his uncle, Khalid al-Odah, was arrested for tweeting about the cleric’s arrest.

There were reports from human rights activists of governmental monitoring or blocking of mobile phone or internet usage. (See section 1.e., Threats, Harassment, Surveillance, and Coercion, for reporting regarding the government’s purported use of Pegasus software to monitor activists and their families and friends.) 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 or publicly criticizing senior members of the royal family by name (see section 2.a.). Customs officials reportedly routinely opened mail and shipments to search for contraband. Informants allegedly reported “seditious ideas,” “antigovernment activity,” or “behavior contrary to Islam” in their neighborhoods.

Use of encrypted communications by private citizens was banned, and authorities frequently attempted to identify and detain anonymous or pseudonymous users and writers who made critical or controversial remarks. Government authorities regularly surveilled websites, blogs, chat rooms, social media sites, emails, and text messages. Media outlets reported that authorities gained access to critics’ and activists’ Twitter and other social media accounts and in some cases questioned, detained, or prosecuted individuals for comments made online. The counterterrorism law allows the government to access a terrorism suspect’s private communications and banking information in a manner inconsistent with the legal protections provided by the law of criminal procedure.

The Committee for the Promotion of Virtue and the Prevention of Vice (CPVPV) is charged with monitoring and regulating public interaction between members of the opposite sex, although in practice CPVPV authorities were greatly curtailed compared with past years.

g. Conflict-related Abuses

Saudi Arabia continued to conduct military operations in support of the UN-recognized government of Yemen against the Houthi militants.

The United Nations, NGOs, media outlets, as well as humanitarian and international organizations, reported what they characterized as disproportionate and indiscriminate use of force by all parties to the continuing conflict, causing civilian casualties and damage to infrastructure from shelling and airstrikes. The UN Group of Eminent International and Regional Experts (GEE) concluded in September that the government of Yemen, Houthis, the Saudi-led coalition, and the Southern Transitional Council were “responsible for human rights violations including arbitrary deprivation of life, enforced disappearances, arbitrary detention, gender-based violence, including sexual violence, torture and other forms of cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment, the recruitment and use in hostilities of children, the denial of fair trial rights, violations of fundamental freedoms, and economic, social and cultural rights.” Additionally, the GEE specifically noted, “individuals in the [Saudi-led] coalition, in particular from Saudi Arabia, may have conducted airstrikes in violation of the principles of distinction, proportionality, and precaution, acts that may amount to war crimes.”

In 2016 the government of Saudi Arabia and other governments participating in the Saudi-led coalition established the Joint Incident Assessment Team (JIAT), which consisted of military and civilian personnel from coalition countries, to investigate claims of civilian casualties linked to coalition air strikes or other coalition operations inside Yemen and coalition adherence to international humanitarian law. The JIAT held press conferences to explain the results of its investigations to the public. The GEE’s September report expressed concerns regarding the Saudi-led coalition’s investigation and prosecution efforts. The GEE also stated the JIAT did not provide detailed case summary information or supporting evidence.

On numerous occasions, Saudi civilians were injured and killed and civilian objects and critical infrastructure were damaged or destroyed by missile, rocket, drone, artillery, and maritime cross-border attacks by Houthi militants in Yemen aimed at Saudi territory.

Saudi-led coalition airstrikes in Yemen reportedly resulted in civilian casualties and damage to civilian infrastructure on multiple occasions. A report by the NGO Mwatana for Human Rights alleged that all parties to the conflict, including the Saudi-led coalition, “likely violated prohibitions under international humanitarian law and international humanitarian law “ by depriving civilians of objects essential to their survival by targeting farms, water facilities, and artisanal fishing boats and equipment that destroyed, damaged or rendered useless objects essential to survival, namely agricultural areas, irrigation works, livestock, foodstuff, water infrastructure, fishing boats, and fishing equipment. According to the UN’s Civilian Impact Monitoring Project, Saudi-led coalition airstrikes accounted for 55 civilian casualty allegations in the first nine months of the year. Casualties linked to airstrikes were down 75 percent compared with the same period in 2020. The nonprofit organization Yemen Data Project, affiliated with the Armed Conflict Location and Event Data Project, assessed civilian casualties linked to airstrikes in the first half of the year were the lowest of any six-month period since the start of the conflict. In June the UN secretary-general noted a “sustained, significant decrease in killing and maiming due to air strikes” and delisted the Saudi-led coalition from the list of parties responsible for grave violations against children in armed conflict. During the last three months of the year, the Saudi-led coalition increased airstrikes in and around more-populated areas in response to increased Houthi cross-border attacks and Houthi ground offensive operations in Ma’rib and Shabwah, which resulted in an increase in civilian casualties.

Mwatana for Human Rights alleged that groups aligned with the Saudi-led coalition were responsible for the disappearance of seven civilians in Yemen from September 2020 to September 2021.

Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties

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

The law does not provide for or protect freedom of expression, including for members of the press and other media. The 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. 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 what 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 counterterrorism law’s definition of terrorism 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 law for its overly broad and vague definitions of terrorism and criticized the government for using it to prosecute peaceful expression and dissent.

Freedom of Expression: The government monitored public expressions of opinion and used legal controls to impede the free expression of opinion and restrict individuals from engaging in public criticism of the government. 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.

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

Prisoners of Conscience reported that authorities arrested journalist Fahid al-Shammari on March 3 for publishing videos with “false information” regarding food products. Prisoners of Conscience claimed that the true reason for al-Shammari’s arrest was a video mocking General Entertainment Authority chairman Turki Al al-Sheikh. Al-Samara first published the video in 2019, but it recirculated on social media early in the year.

On October 27 and again on October 30, police in Mecca detained and released with a warning a foreign national for wearing a T-shirt reading, “Pray for the end of China’s genocide & occupation in East Turkistan.” He was released three days later and departed the country.

Between May and June, multiple rights groups reported blogger Abdullah Jilan and two Twitter pseudonymous users, Ladon and Lioness, were arrested for tweets regarding social justice, equitable distribution of wealth, and job creation in the country. The groups stated the three were affiliated with Canada-based dissident Omar Abdulaziz and murdered journalist Jamal Khashoggi.

On November 17, Reporters Without Borders called for the immediate release of Yemeni journalist Ali Aboluhom, who received a 15-year prison sentence for tweets that, according to the Saudi authorities, promoted apostasy, atheism, and blasphemy. According to the Gulf Center for Human Rights, on October 26, the criminal court in Najran sentenced Aboluhom to 10 years in prison after convicting him of apostasy and atheism and another five years in prison for publishing his writings on social media networks that “would prejudice public order, religious values, and morals.”

Freedom of Expression for Members of the Press and Other Media, Including Online Media: The 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 Media. 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.

Government policy guidance instructs journalists in the country to uphold Islam, oppose atheism, promote Arab interests, and preserve cultural heritage. The press law requires all online newspapers and bloggers to obtain a license from the ministry. The law 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 substantial fines for each violation of the law, which doubles if the violation is repeated. Other penalties include banning individuals from writing banned material. While the Violations Considerations Committee in the Ministry of Media has formal responsibility for implementing the law, the Ministry of Interior, the CPVPV, and judges considered these issues regularly and exercised wide discretion in interpreting the law. It was unclear which of these institutional processes accords with the law.

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 and some privately owned satellite networks headquartered outside the country maintained local offices; they were subject to licensing requirements from the Ministry of Media and could not operate freely.

Violence and Harassment: Authorities subjected journalists, writers, and bloggers to arrest, imprisonment, and harassment during the year (see section 1.c., Prison and Detention Center Conditions). NGOs, academics, and the press claimed the government targeted dissidents using automated social media accounts to ensure that progovernment messages dominated social media trend lists and effectively silenced dissenting voices. Automated account activity was reportedly accompanied by online harassment by progovernment accounts in some instances.

The Jeddah Criminal Court sentenced Ahmad Ali Abdelkader, a Sudanese media personality and journalist, to four years’ imprisonment on June 8 for criticizing in tweets and media interviews Saudi actions in Sudan and Yemen.

On March 1, Reporters Without Borders filed a criminal complaint in Germany against the Saudi crown prince for his alleged role in the 2018 killing of journalist Jamal Khashoggi in Turkey and the arbitrary detention of 34 journalists in Saudi Arabia. According to the complaint, 33 journalists, including blogger Raif Badawi, continued in detention.

In July Prisoners of Conscience reported the release of journalist Aql al-Bahili and writer Abdulaziz al-Dukhail without charges. The two were arrested in April 2020, along with activist Sultan al-Ajmi, reportedly for tweeting condolences on the death of imprisoned reformer and rights activist Abdullah al-Hamid. As of November, there were no updates on the status of al-Ajmi.

Censorship or Content Restrictions: The government reportedly penalized those who published items counter to government guidelines and directly or indirectly censored 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 Media 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 online and print material it considered blasphemous, extremist, racist, offensive, or inciting chaos, violence, sectarianism, or harm to the public order, as well as criticism of the royal family or its allies among the Gulf Arab states.

In May the Public Prosecutor’s Office warned against producing, sending, or storing materials in information networks and computers that might “affect public order and go against religious values and morals.” Local media reported in July the office issued an arrest warrant against an individual who shared on social media parts of a television program that allegedly spread tribal intolerance and hatred. Following the arrest, the office stressed that hatred and intolerance disturb public order and that related actions are punishable by five-year sentences and substantial fines.

Online self-censorship was reportedly pervasive, as social media users were extremely cautious regarding what they posted, shared, or “liked” due to the threat of harassment or prosecution under broadly worded antiterrorism and other laws. The government closely monitored and often targeted users who expressed support for minority rights or political reform, in addition to those who exposed human rights violations. Social media users were reportedly reluctant to express support for outspoken activists who were detained or received prison sentences. Questioning religious doctrine was strictly taboo, particularly content related to the Prophet Muhammad.

In some cases, however, individuals criticized specific government bodies or actions publicly without repercussions.

Libel/Slander Laws: The 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,” including social media and social networks.

National Security: Authorities used the 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. On April 25, ALQST reported that activist Khaled al-Omair was sentenced to seven years’ imprisonment for charges that included launching a hashtag on Twitter titled “the people want a new constitution.”

On October 18, local media reported that authorities arrested a Palestinian national in Riyadh after he appeared in a video clip insulting Saudi Arabia and its leaders. Authorities deemed these comments as aimed to harm the country’s national security and public order.

b. Freedoms of Peaceful Assembly and Association

The law provides for limited freedom of assembly and association, but the government restricted these rights.

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 November 9, Amnesty International called upon authorities to immediately release and drop all charges against 10 Egyptian men detained without charge for 16 months after attempting to organize a remembrance event marking the 1973 Arab-Israeli war. On November 10, the Specialized Criminal Court postponed their first hearing until January 2022.

Freedom of Association

The law provided for limited freedom of association, but the government strictly restricted this right. The law provides a comprehensive legal framework to govern the establishment, operation, and supervision of associations and foundations. The government prohibited the establishment of political parties. All associations must be licensed by the Ministry of Human Resources and Social Development and comply with its regulations. 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. The government also harassed and detained Saudi-based family members and associates of Saudi citizens living abroad who were outspoken critics of the government (see sections 1.b., Disappearances; 1.e., Threats, Harassment, Surveillance, and Coercion; and 1.f., Arbitrary or Unlawful Interference with Privacy, Family, Home, or Correspondence).

On April 7, ALQST reported that authorities increased the prison sentence of activist Mohammed al-Otaibi, founder of the NGO Union for Human Rights, from 14 to 17 years for unknown reasons. From 2013 to 2017, the NGO worked to abolish the death penalty and strengthen women’s role in society, until al-Otaibi’s arrest in 2017.

Government-chartered associations limited membership only to citizens.

c. Freedom of Religion

See the Department of State’s International Religious Freedom Report at https://www.state.gov/international-religious-freedom-reports/.

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

The law does not prohibit internal movement, emigration, or repatriation. The government imposed some restrictions on foreign travel.

In-country Movement: The government generally did not restrict the free movement of male citizens within the country. The guardianship system no longer requires 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 (see section 6, Women). Following a July 2020 court ruling in favor of women’s right to live independently, judicial authorities amended the absenteeism law, or taghayyub, to allow all unmarried, divorced, or widowed women to live alone without the consent of a male guardian. Previously, the law granted guardians the right to report the “unapproved absence” of anyone under their guardianship (see section 6, Women).

Authorities respected the right of citizens to change residence or workplace, provided they held a national identification card.

Foreign Travel: There are restrictions on foreign travel. In March the government implemented reforms allowing most private-sector expatriate workers to obtain exit or reentry visas at the end of their work contract without their employer’s permission. Expatriate domestic workers, however, still require employer approval to travel or depart the country. Saudi citizens of both genders younger than 21 and foreign citizen workers under sponsorship require a guardian’s consent to travel abroad. 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. Courts regularly applied travel bans as part of sentencing, restricting the ability to leave the country after release from prison. Travel bans reportedly involved individuals in court cases relating to state security, corruption, labor, financial, or real estate disputes, in addition to other crimes.

On April 9, the Specialized Criminal Court sentenced media worker Khalid al-Muhawish to 10 years’ imprisonment and a 10-year travel ban for expressing support for the Muslim Brotherhood, the Syrian uprising, and the Palestinian cause, according to local media and rights organizations.

Activists, media, and rights groups alleged the government used travel bans as part of a broader effort to suppress dissent. Activists estimated thousands of citizens were under travel restrictions, including released activists, relatives of citizens detained in the government’s anticorruption campaign, and relatives of detained clerics and human rights activists.

e. Status and Treatment of Internally Displaced Persons

Not applicable.

f. Protection of Refugees

Access to Asylum: The government cooperated with the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) and other humanitarian organizations in providing protection and assistance to refugees, returning refugees, or asylum seekers, as well as other persons of concern. The law provides that the “state will grant political asylum if public interest so dictates.” Generally, there is not a codified asylum system for those fleeing persecution, and the country is not a party to the 1951 Refugee Convention. The government permitted refugees recognized by UNHCR to stay in the country temporarily, pending identification of a durable solution, including third-country resettlement or voluntary repatriation. The government generally did not grant asylum or accept refugees for resettlement from third countries, however. Government policy is to refuse refugee status to persons in the country illegally, including those who overstayed a pilgrimage visa. The government strongly encouraged persons without residency to leave, and it threatened or imposed deportation. Access to naturalization was difficult for refugees.

In January and April, the government reiterated that Yemeni and Syrian visitors could extend their visit visas beyond the 180-day maximum validity. On November 28, the government announced an automatic extension until January 31, 2022, of expiring residency permits and visitor visas of expatriates from countries where travel was restricted due to COVID-19 prevention measures.

Multiple media sources claimed the government had increased activities to arrest and deport undocumented migrants since June. The Khaleej Times reported that authorities had arrested nearly 16,000 migrants, primarily from Ethiopia and Yemen, on August 8-12 for residency violations. Some were deported, but others remained in detention due to Ethiopia’s lack of capacity to absorb those that return.

On June 8, CNN reported that the government between 2018 and 2020 detained and deported to the People’s Republic of China (PRC) at least one Uyghur Muslim after he performed the Umrah pilgrimage. Another was arrested and reportedly still faced deportation as of December. It was unclear whether the report referred to Hemdullah Abduweli (or Aimidoula Waili on his PRC passport) or Nurmemet Rozi (or Nuermaimaiti on his PRC passport), whom HRW reported in November 2020 were arrested and potentially faced deportation to China. Both were residents in Turkey. Abduweli had been in hiding since February 2020. In a November 2020 interview with Middle East Eye, Abduweli was quoted saying the PRC government wanted him deported back to the PRC.

The government did not recognize the right of Saudi citizens to petition for access to asylum or refugee status in foreign countries. The law penalizes Saudi citizens who seek asylum in foreign countries, and on at least one occasion Saudi officials allegedly coerced the return to Saudi Arabia of a Saudi citizen who had sought asylum in Canada.

Abuse of Migrants or Refugees: On January 28, four UN special rapporteurs and the UN Working Group on Arbitrary Detention sent a letter to the government addressing reports that hundreds of migrants were stranded in overcrowded detention centers for prolonged and indefinite periods, in unsanitary conditions, and without adequate access to health care and protections. The letter expressed concern regarding potential deportation of hundreds of migrants without individual assessment. In January media outlets reported the government agreed to repatriate 1,000 Ethiopian migrants per week to address overcrowding; a first group of 296 detainees were flown to Addis Ababa on January 27. On June 21, the Middle East Eye alleged a police crackdown that reportedly began on June 11 targeted majority-migrant neighborhoods and led to the arrest of thousands of documented and undocumented Ethiopians.

Employment: Refugees and asylum seekers were generally unable to work legally, although Syrian and Yemeni citizens who possessed a temporary visa could obtain a visitor card from the Ministry of Interior, which reportedly allows them to work. The renewable permits are valid for up to six months and tied to the validity period of their temporary visas; men between the ages of 18 and 60 were eligible to apply.

On August 31, HRW reported that starting in July authorities began to terminate or refused to renew contracts of Yemenis employed in the country, potentially forcing their return to Yemen. Local media reported in July that the Ministry of Human Resources and Social Development issued a statement on new regulations requiring businesses to limit the percentage of their workers from certain nationalities, including an upper limit of 25 percent for Yemeni nationals.

Access to Basic Services: The government provides preferential access to education, health care, public housing, and other social services to citizens and certain legal residents. The UNHCR office in Riyadh provided a subsistence allowance covering basic services to a limited number of vulnerable families, based on a needs assessment. Authorities worked with the local UNHCR office to provide medical treatment, also following a needs assessment. The government provided COVID-19 vaccines at no cost to all citizens and residents, regardless of legal status.

g. Stateless Persons

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

Citizenship is generally derived only from the father. The law approves acquisition of the original nationality by way of descent through the mother, as an exception, when the mother is a Saudi at the time of birth of the baby, as well as when a baby is born to a father of unknown nationality or no nationality. 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. If the government did not authorize the marriage of a citizen father and a noncitizen mother prior to birth of the children, they may also be considered stateless.

The nationality laws do not allow Saudi women married to foreign citizens to pass their nationality to their children, except in certain circumstances as noted above. Children of Saudi women married to foreign spouses receive permanent residency, but their residency status is revocable in the event of the death of the Saudi mother. 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 can obtain permanent residency in the country without needing a sponsor, and they can receive free government education and medical benefits, although in general they cannot apply for citizenship on the basis of their marriage and residence. These spouses are also included in the quota of Saudis employed in private companies under the labor quota system, which improves their employment prospects.

Female citizens must be between the ages of 30 and 50 to marry a non-Saudi man. Male citizens must be between the ages of 40 and 65 to marry a non-Saudi woman. The extent to which those laws were enforced was unclear.

In past years the United Nations 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 during the reign of the country’s founder, King Abdulaziz, such as descendants of nomadic tribes not counted among the native tribes, 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 Bidoon children 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.

Some Baloch, West African, and Rohingya Muslims resident in Saudi Arabia were stateless. Some Rohingya had expired passports that Burma refused to renew; others had entered the country with fraudulent travel documents. Many of them had been held in detention for years following their entry into the country under fake passports. UNHCR estimated there were 280,000 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. In March Bangladeshi State Minister for Foreign Affairs Shahriar Alam stated the government would not send Rohingya back to Bangladesh, and that Bangladesh would provide or renew Bangladeshi passports to some Rohingya living in Saudi Arabia, enabling them to continue residing legally in Saudi Arabia.

There were also between 300,000 and 400,000 Palestinians living in Saudi Arabia who were not registered as refugees.

Section 3. Freedom to Participate in the Political Process

The law does not provide citizens the ability to choose their national 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 any male citizen or noncitizen may express an opinion or a grievance without an appointment. Senior leaders were typically unavailable to the public, but their representatives or lower-level officials continued this traditional practice. Officials may also be reached through written petitions, such as an appeal of decisions from the legal system.

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 until the next election – nominally for four-year terms – but there was no public announcement of conducting municipal elections during the year. Women were allowed to vote and run as candidates for the first time in 2015. The voting age was also lowered to 18. 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 and specifically bans a number of organizations with political wings, including the Muslim Brotherhood, as terrorist groups. The government continued to regard human rights organizations, such as the Saudi Civil and Political Rights Association (ACPRA), as illegal political movements and treated them accordingly.

Participation of Women and Members of Minority Groups: The law permits women and men to engage in political activities on an equally limited basis. Women may vote and run for office in municipal elections and serve on the Shura council. Women served in a small number of senior positions within government ministries. On April 18, Inas al-Shahwan became the country’s third female ambassador. In August local media reported the appointment of two women, Al-Anoud al-Aboud and Fatima al-Rashoud, to top senior leadership positions at the General Presidency for the Affairs of the Two Holy Mosques. Women expanded participation in the military, security forces, and other major institutions. On July 13, soldier Abeer al-Rashed became the first woman to conduct the security forces briefing for Hajj, in September the first class of female soldiers graduated from the Armed Forces Women’s Training Center, and in October the first 30 Saudi female pilots received their licenses from OxfordSaudia Flight Academy.

There were no women on the High Court or Supreme Judicial Council and no female judges or public prosecutors. In January the undersecretary for women’s empowerment at the Ministry of Human Resources and Social Development claimed in an interview that the appointment of female judges was forthcoming, but by year’s end no women had been appointed and no specific plans to do so had been released.

No laws prevent male citizens from minority groups from participating in political life on the same basis as other male citizens. Societal discrimination, however, marginalized the Shia Saudi population, and tribal factors and long-standing traditions continued to dictate many individual appointments to positions. Government authorities were unlikely to appoint a Bedouin tribesman to a high-ranking ministerial-level position or the senior-most positions in the armed forces. All Council of Ministers members from tribal communities were members of urbanized “Hamael” tribes, rather than Bedouin tribes. While the religious affiliation of Shura Council members was not known publicly, the council included an estimated seven or eight Shia members. The Council of Ministers contained one religious minority member, Mohammad bin Faisal Abu Saq, a Shia Ismaili, who had held the position of minister of state for Shura affairs since 2014. Multiple municipal councils in the Eastern Province, where most Shia Saudis resided, had large proportions of Shia Saudis as members to reflect the local population, including a majority in Qatif and 50 percent in al-Hassa. Eastern Province Shia judges dealing with intra-Shia personal status and family laws operated specialized courts.

Section 5. Governmental Posture Towards International and Nongovernmental Investigation of Alleged Abuses 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 often cooperated with and sometimes accepted the recommendations of the NSHR, the sole government-licensed domestic human rights civil society organization. The NSHR accepted requests for assistance and complaints regarding government actions affecting human rights. The government blocked websites of unlicensed local human rights groups and charged their founders with founding and operating unlicensed organizations (see 2.b., Freedom of Association).

The government did not allow international human rights NGOs to be based in the country and restricted their access to the country for visits; there were no transparent standards governing visits by international NGO representatives. International human rights and humanitarian NGOs reported 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.

The United Nations or Other International Bodies: In March the Guardian reported that a senior Saudi official in Geneva was accused of threatening to “take care of” UN special rapporteur on extrajudicial, summary, and arbitrary executions Agnes Callamard during her investigation into the 2018 murder of Jamal Khashoggi. The Washington Post later reported the unnamed official was Saudi Human Rights Commission president Awad al-Awad. He stated publicly that he had been present at the meeting but denied making any threatening remarks.

Government Human Rights Bodies: The government had mechanisms to investigate and punish abuse, but their effectiveness was limited. 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 HRC worked directly with the Royal Court and the Council of Ministers, with a committee composed of representatives of the Shura Council and the Ministries of Labor and Social Development and Interior, and with the Shura 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, and trafficking in persons. While they avoided topics such as protests or cases of political activists that would require directly confronting government authorities, they inquired into complaints of mistreatment by some high-profile political prisoners. The 18 full-time members of the HRC board included nine women and at least three Shia members; they received and responded to individual complaints, including those related to persons with disabilities, religious freedom, and women’s rights.

The Shura Council’s Human Rights Committee also actively followed cases and included women and Shia among its members.

The HRC and NSHR maintained records of complaints and outcomes, but privacy laws protect information concerning individual cases, and information was not publicly available. On June 29, the HRC stated it handled 4,593 complaints in 2020, a 9 percent increase over 2019.

The Board of Grievances, 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. 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. Military and security courts investigated an unknown number of abuses of authority and security force killings. 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.

Citizens may report abuses by security forces at any police station or to the HRC or NSHR. The Public Prosecutor’s Office announced in July the launch of the Ma’akom system, which allows citizens and residents to submit complaints directly regarding illegal detention or violations of detainee rights, using the online platform Absher, a hotline telephone number, or in person (see Administration in section 1.c., Prison and Detention Center Conditions).

Section 6. Discrimination and Societal Abuses

Women

Rape and Domestic Violence: Rape is a criminal offense under sharia with a wide range of penalties, from flogging to execution. The law does not recognize spousal rape as a crime. The government enforced the law based on its interpretation of sharia, and in some cases courts punished victims as well as perpetrators for illegal “mixing of genders,” even when there was no conviction for rape. Survivors must prove that a rape was committed, and a woman’s testimony in court was not always accepted.

Due to these legal and social obstacles, authorities brought few cases to trial. Statistics on incidents of, and prosecutions, convictions, or punishments for rape were not available. Most rape cases were likely unreported because survivors faced societal and familial reprisal, including diminished marriage opportunities, criminal sanctions up to imprisonment, or accusations of adultery or sexual relations outside of marriage, which are punishable under sharia. There were reports that domestic abuse in the form of incest occurred but was seldom reported to authorities due to fears of societal repercussions, according to local sources.

The law against domestic violence defines domestic abuse broadly and criminalizes domestic abuse with penalties of one month to one year of imprisonment or a fine unless a court provides a harsher sentence.

Researchers stated it was difficult to gauge the magnitude of domestic abuse, which they believed to be widespread. Recent studies varied widely, finding the rate of domestic abuse among women to be anywhere between 15 to 60 percent. In July, referencing a Ministry of Health report, local media reported authorities were investigating more than 2,700 domestic violence cases, in which 75 percent of the alleged survivors were female. The National Family Safety Program, a quasi-governmental organization under the Ministry of National Guard, is charged with spreading awareness of and combatting domestic violence, including child abuse, and continued to report abuse cases.

Officials stated the government did not clearly define domestic violence and procedures concerning cases, including thresholds for investigation or prosecution, and thus enforcement varied from one government body to another. Some women’s rights advocates were critical of investigations of domestic violence, claiming investigators were hesitant to enter a home without permission from the male head of household, who may also be the perpetrator of violence. Activists reported the situation had improved in recent years, with greater awareness of resources for domestic violence survivors, such as the domestic violence hotline managed by the Ministry of Human Resources and Social Development. They also noted a continued increase in authorities’ willingness to investigate and prosecute domestic violence perpetrators, but they expressed concern that some police departments continued to neglect domestic violence cases.

On January 27, Prisoners of Conscience reported that a woman known only as Manal was arrested after publishing details on the disappearance and death of her 26-year-old sister, Qamar, allegedly at the hands of their two brothers. Manal stated on Twitter that her two brothers killed Qamar for setting up a public Snapchat account. Authorities in al-Kharj stated they arrested two individuals in connection with the murder on January 21. As of November, Manal’s whereabouts were unknown.

The government made some efforts to reduce domestic violence. The Ministry of Human Resources and Social Development administered government-supported family-protection shelters, although women reported that remaining in the shelters was not always voluntary. On March 29, the HRC and the Mawaddah Charitable Association signed a memorandum of understanding to increase coordination and antidomestic violence awareness efforts. It would establish an independent body to research domestic violence, propose changes to the legal framework, and develop specialized centers for survivors, local media reported. No additional information on implementation of the memorandum was available as of December.

Female Genital Mutilation/Cutting (FGM/C): The official government interpretation of sharia prohibits the practice; however, some studies indicated up to 18 percent of women reported having undergone some type of FGM/C.

Sexual Harassment: The extent of sexual harassment was difficult to measure, with little media reporting and no official government data. No statistics were available on the incidence of sexual harassment due to reluctance to report violations.

On January 12, the Council of Ministers approved an amendment to the antiharassment law that allows for the public release of names of those convicted for harassment, as a deterrent and to prevent offenders’ employment in certain jobs. The law criminalizing sexual harassment carries a maximum penalty of five years in prison and a substantial fine. The HRC stated that a legal punishment against sexual harassment is irreversible, even if the victim renounced his or her own rights or did not file a legal complaint.

Local media reported a number of incidents of harassment during the year. In March the Public Prosecutor’s Office ordered the arrest of a man seen in a video insulting and assaulting two young women in the streets of Riyadh and filed a criminal suit against him. On February 22, local media reported that former shura council member Iqbal Dandari won a case against a man for cyberharassment. Details regarding the case were unknown. On September 26, local media reported a number of sexual harassment incidents during National Day celebrations. Security authorities arrested and referred to the Public Prosecutor’s Office three Saudi citizens in Medina, a Saudi and an Egyptian resident in Riyadh, and a Saudi citizen in Taif for harassing women.

In April the HRC launched a specialized group for confidential support of victims of sexual harassment and their families with psychological counseling and educational, social, and legal guidance.

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

Premarital sex is illegal under sharia law, and hospitals and health centers may report extramarital pregnancies to police. Access to most contraceptives required a prescription, but condoms were available at pharmacies and supermarkets for over-the-counter purchase. According to 2020 estimates by the UN Population Fund, 15 percent of all women and 23 percent of married women between the ages of 15 and 49 used a modern method of contraception.

In some cases women may be discouraged from making certain reproductive health decisions due to cultural and religious beliefs, social pressure, and lack of awareness of their rights.

Almost all women had access to skilled health attendants during pregnancy and childbirth. The most recent UN Population Fund estimates reported that skilled health personnel attended 99 percent of births between 2010 and 2019. While some women in rural areas had to travel to the closest medical facility to receive treatment, others received health services from Ministry of Health-sponsored mobile health clinics. According to the government, women are entitled to medical assistance during pregnancy and delivery; the right to decide the details of their deliveries; and obtain maternity care in a language she understands and is appropriate to her cultural and religious beliefs. Adult women also have the right to consent to any medical procedures.

Governmental and quasi-governmental agencies provided medical care to sexual violence survivors as well as psychological and social support. The Ministry of Human Resources and Social Development’s Center for Protection Against Abuse runs a 24-hour hotline and shelters across the country with access to medical care for victims of sexual violence, while the quasi-governmental National Family Safety Program agency provided medical support to sexual abuse victims. (See sections 2.g. and 6, Children, for issues related to legal status for children born outside of marriage.)

Discrimination: Women continued to face discrimination under law and custom. A series of regulations issued from 2019 through year’s end, however, granted women many of the same rights enjoyed by men pertaining to travel abroad, civil status, and employment.

Most restrictions under the guardianship system, which had required women to have permission from close male relatives to conduct certain actions, were eliminated. There were reports, however, that government and nongovernment entities, primarily in rural areas, continued to require women to obtain guardian permission prior to providing services.

Women older than 18 have the right to perform several actions pertaining to civil status that were previously limited to men. These included registering the birth of a child; registering the death of a spouse or close relative; registering a marriage or divorce (whether initiated by the husband or wife); and being designated “head of household,” thereby allowing women to serve as the guardian of their minor children. Women can also obtain from the Civil Status Administration a “family registry,” which is official documentation of a family’s vital records that verifies the relationship between parents and children. This reform allows mothers to perform administrative transactions for their children, such as registering them for school or obtaining services at a hospital.

In June judicial authorities amended the absenteeism law, or taghayyub, to allow all unmarried, divorced, or widowed women to live alone without the consent of a male guardian. The amendment followed a July 2020 court decision in which a court ruled in favor of Maryam al-Otaibi, a Saudi woman who lived independently in Riyadh, despite prosecutors’ attempt to convict her for absenteeism. Under the previous absenteeism law, guardians could report the unauthorized absence of anyone under their guardianship, which could lead to the arrest, detention, or forcible return of the individual.

In advance of Hajj in July, authorities ended the male guardian requirement for women to participate in the annual pilgrimage.

Adult women may legally own property and are entitled to financial support from their husbands or ex-husbands. They can make their own determinations concerning hospital care and no longer need a male guardian’s permission to start a business.

By law women have equal rights to employment. On January 14, the Ministry of Human Resources and Social Development banned employee discrimination on the basis of race, color, gender, age, or disability, citing reforms to human resources laws. Commenting on a job advertisement that contained gender discriminatory language, the ministry stated it violated the labor law, stressing that citizens have equal employment rights without any form of discrimination, including gender.

On February 21, the Ministry of Defense began allowing women to serve in the army, air defense, navy, strategic missile force, and armed forces medical services as enlisted personnel, but not as officers. In November data from the Ministry of Human Resources and Social Development’s National Labor Observatory showed women constituted 60 percent of Saudi youth who joined the local employment market during the first nine months of the year.

Women no longer require a guardian’s permission to exit prisons after completing their terms.

The law permits women to transmit citizenship to their children under certain circumstances (see section 2.g. and section 6, Children). The country’s interpretation of sharia prohibits Muslim women from marrying non-Muslims, but Muslim men may marry non-Muslim women. Women require government permission to marry noncitizens; men must obtain government permission if they intend to marry citizens from countries other than Gulf Cooperation Council-member states (Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, Kuwait, Oman, Qatar, and the United Arab Emirates). Regulations prohibit men from marrying women from Bangladesh, Burma, Chad, and Pakistan. The government additionally requires Saudi men wishing to marry a second wife who is a foreigner to submit documentation attesting to the fact that his first wife was disabled, had a chronic disease, or was sterile.

Few businesses still required or pressured women to sit in separate, specially designated family sections in public places.

Cultural norms selectively enforced by state institutions require women to wear an abaya (a loose-fitting, full-length cloak) in public. Female foreigners, like males, were only required to dress “modestly.”

Women faced discrimination in courts, where in some cases the testimony of a woman equals one-half that of a man. Women have begun practicing law, but all judges are male. In divorce proceedings, women must demonstrate legally specified grounds for divorce, but men may divorce without giving cause, citing “irreconcilable differences.” In doing so, men must pay immediately an amount of money agreed at the time of the marriage that serves as a one-time alimony payment. Men may be forced, however, to make subsequent alimony payments by court order. The government began implementing an identification system based on fingerprints, designed to provide women more access to courts, even if they chose to cover their faces with the niqab covering.

In February 2020 the Justice Ministry ended the so-called secret divorce, whereby men could divorce their wives without the woman’s consent or knowledge. The ministry also canceled an article in the marriage law that gave a husband the right to force his wife to return to her home against her will.

A woman needs a guardian’s permission to marry or must seek a court order in the case of adhl (male guardians refusing to approve the marriage of women under their charge). In such cases the judge assumes the role of the guardian and may approve the marriage. During the year courts executed marriage contracts for women whose male guardians refused to approve their marriage, according to informed judicial sources quoted by local media. According to local media in 2020, courts considered an average of 750 marriage contract cases annually.

In February the crown prince announced forthcoming legal reforms that would impact the personal status law and expand protections for women. On October 24, Minister of Justice Walid al-Samaani stated the personal status draft law would address a woman’s agreement to marriage, preserving her and her children’s financial and alimony rights, as well as other issues related to divorce requests. Additional details regarding these reforms were not made public by year’s end.

Courts routinely awarded custody of children when they attain a specified age (seven years for boys and nine years for girls) to the divorced husband or the deceased husband’s family. In some cases former husbands reportedly prevented divorced noncitizen women from visiting their children.

Sharia-based inheritance laws discriminate against women, giving daughters one-half the inheritance awarded to their brothers.

According to recent surveys, women constituted 52 percent of public education and higher education students. Segregated education through the university level was standard. Some private universities, such as -Faisal University, offered partially segregated classes with students receiving instruction from the same teacher and able to participate together in class discussion, but with the women and men physically separated by dividers. A few other government universities offered coeducation in selected programs, largely in the sciences. Private international and national schools may offer coeducation at any grade; most private international schools are coeducational, while most private national schools are segregated. Primary public schools offered mixed-gender education up to the third grade.

Systemic Racial or Ethnic Violence and Discrimination

Although racial discrimination is illegal, societal discrimination against members of national, racial, and ethnic minorities was a problem. Descendants of former slaves in the country, who have African lineage, faced discrimination in both employment and society. There was formal and informal discrimination, especially racial discrimination, against foreign workers from Africa and Asia. There was also discrimination based on tribal or nontribal lineage. A tolerance campaign by the King Abdulaziz Center for National Dialogue sought to address discrimination, and it provided training during the year to combat discrimination against national, racial, or ethnic groups.

Children

Birth Registration: Citizenship generally derives from the father, and both the father and mother may register a birth. There were cases of authorities denying public services to children of citizen parents, including education and health care, because the government failed to register the birth entirely or had not registered it immediately, sometimes because the father failed to report the birth or did not receive authorization to marry a foreigner. Children of women who were married to foreign spouses receive permanent residency, but their residency status is revocable in the event of the death of the Saudi mother (see section 2.g., Stateless Persons). On June 25, the social security administration announced children from foreign fathers and Saudi mothers will be allowed to benefit from their mother’s pension, as long as she is widowed or divorced. In January the HRC stated that a child born in the country to unknown parents would be considered a Saudi citizen.

Child Abuse: Abuse of children occurred. The National Family Safety Program operated a helpline dedicated to assisting children in matters ranging from bullying to abuse, providing counseling, tracking, and referrals to social services. The Ministry of Human Resources and Social Development had 17 social protection units across the country providing social protection to children younger than 18 as well as other vulnerable populations suffering domestic violence and abuse. Child abuse is a crime punishable by one year’s imprisonment, a maximum fine of 50,000 riyals ($13,300), or both.

On January 30, local media reported that the family protection unit in Jizan investigated the case of a 15-year-old girl abused by her father, stating that legal actions would be taken against him. There were no updates as of November.

Child, Early, and Forced Marriage: The minimum age for marriage is 18; those younger than that age may marry only with court approval. According to local media, the court ensures several conditions are met before approving a marriage contract for a bride or groom younger than 18, including assessing their psychosocial development and hearing statements from the potential bride, groom, and guardians to determine consent. The HRC and NSHR monitored cases of child marriages, which they reported were rare or at least rarely reported, and took steps to prevent consummation of such marriages. The application for a marriage license must record the bride’s age, and registration of the marriage is a legal prerequisite for consummation.

Sexual Exploitation of Children: The cybercrimes law stipulates that punishment for such crimes, including the preparation, publication, and promotion of material for pornographic sites, may be no less than two and one-half years’ imprisonment or a substantial fine if the crime includes the exploitation of minors. The law does not define a minimum age for consensual sex. In February a woman was arrested for sexually abusing a girl in Riyadh. The woman allegedly filmed herself and the girl and posted the footage on social media. In the same month, Mecca police arrested a man for sexually harassing a child. He reportedly posted a video of the harassment on social media.

International Child Abductions: The country is not a party to the 1980 Hague Convention on the Civil Aspects of International Child Abduction. See the Department of State’s Annual Report on International Parental Child Abduction at https://travel.state.gov/content/travel/en/International-Parental-Child-Abduction/for-providers/legal-reports-and-data/reported-cases.html.

Anti-Semitism

There were no known data on Jewish citizens and no statistics available concerning the religious denominations of foreigners.

Cases of government-employed imams using anti-Semitic language in their sermons were generally rare but occurred more frequently during the May conflict in Gaza. The law requires government-employed imams to deliver all sermons in mosques in the country. The Ministry of Islamic Affairs vets all sermons. During the year the ministry issued periodic circulars to clerics and imams in mosques directing them to include messages on the principles of justice, equality, and tolerance and to encourage rejection of bigotry and all forms of racial discrimination in their sermons.

On January 30, a Washington Post article cited expert assessments that anti-Semitic references and language in Saudi textbooks had been removed or tempered, including calls to “fight the Jews.” Nonetheless, some concerns remained regarding anti-Semitic themes in textbooks; for example, a textbook’s passage refers to a Quranic text that suggests God changed a group of Israelites into “monkeys.”

A report by the Anti-Defamation League (ADL) stated that the October Riyadh International Book Fair included exhibitors selling more than two dozen notoriously anti-Semitic books. The ADL noted that the presence of these anti-Semitic books at the largest book fair in the country “seem[s] at odds with some positive Saudi trends.”

In January a group of Israeli drivers traveled to Saudi Arabia to compete in the Dakar Rally, despite a ban on Israeli travelers to the country. On February 2, the English-language newspaper Arab News ran an op-ed by two Israeli writers, Hay Eyta Cohen Yanarocak and Jonathan Spyer, believed to be the first time a Saudi newspaper knowingly published Israeli writers.

Trafficking in Persons

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

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

Under sharia, as interpreted in the country, consensual same-sex sexual conduct is punishable by death or flogging, depending on the perceived seriousness of the case. It is illegal for men “to behave like women” or to wear women’s clothes, and vice versa. Due to social conventions and potential persecution, lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer, and intersex (LGBTQI+) organizations did not operate openly, nor were there LGBTQI+ rights advocacy events of any kind. There were reports of official and societal discrimination, physical violence, and harassment based on sexual orientation or gender identity in employment, housing, access to education, and health care. Clerics condemned homosexuality during government-approved Friday sermons at some mosques.

During the year local newspapers featured opinion pieces condemning homosexuality and calling on authorities to punish harshly individuals engaging in same-sex relations.

On October 24, local media reported that Northern Borders Province police arrested and referred for prosecution five men who appeared in public in women’s clothing. The men filmed themselves and posted the video on social media in an apparent attempt to attract more social media followers. A police spokesman described their conduct as “inconsistent with the public morals of society.”

Observers at the December MDLBeast Soundstorm music festival reported that it included the public display of LGBTQI+ culture.

Section 7. Worker Rights

a. Freedom of Association and the Right to Collective Bargaining

The law does not provide for the right of workers to form and join independent unions; however, trade unions and labor committees existed. The law does not provide for the right to collective bargaining or the right to conduct legal strikes. Workers faced potential dismissal, imprisonment, or, in the case of migrant workers, deportation for unsanctioned union activities.

The government allowed citizen-only labor committees in workplaces with more than 100 employees, but it placed undue limitations on freedom of association and was heavily involved in the formation and activities of these committees. For example, the Ministry of Human Resources and Social Development approves the committee members and authorizes ministry and employer representatives to attend committee meetings. Committee members must submit the minutes of meetings to management and then transmit them to the minister; the ministry can dissolve committees if they violate regulations or are deemed to threaten public security. Regulations limit committees to making recommendations to company management that are limited to improvements to working conditions, health and safety, productivity, and training programs.

The law does not prohibit antiunion discrimination or require reinstatement of workers fired for union activity. There was little information on government efforts to enforce applicable laws and whether penalties were commensurate with those for other laws involving denials of civil rights, such as discrimination.

b. Prohibition of Forced or Compulsory Labor

The law does not prohibit or criminalize all forms of forced or compulsory labor, and forced labor occurred, especially among migrant workers, notably domestic workers. Conditions indicative of forced labor experienced by foreign workers reportedly included withholding of passports, nonpayment of wages, restrictions on movement, and verbal, physical, and sexual abuse. The law prohibits the confiscation of passports and nonpayment of wages. Penalties for violations of labor laws were not commensurate with those for other analogous serious crimes, such as kidnapping. The government improved enforcement of the law, including electronic systems to monitor and ensure compliance. On March 14, the government announced the Labor Reform Initiative, which eliminated the need for many private-sector workers to obtain their employer’s permission to obtain an exit and re-entry visa, obtain a final exit visa, or change employers at the conclusion of their contract or after one year. This provided increased freedom of movement and lessened the risks of forced labor for seven million private-sector workers. According to the Human Resources Ministry, as of November, 65,000 workers had successfully changed employers. The Labor Reform Initiative does not apply to domestic workers (see section 2.d.).

Many migrant workers, particularly female domestic workers, who are not covered under the labor law, were unable to exercise the right to terminate their employment contract, change employers, or leave the country without undue restrictions. Employers may require a trainee to work for them upon completion of training for a period not to exceed twice the duration of the training or one year, whichever is longer.

The government expanded to all private-sector companies the implementation of the Wage Protection System, which requires employers to pay foreign workers by electronic transfer through a Saudi bank. The government also implemented a mandatory e-contract system that includes type of work, salary, duration of contract, working hours, and annual leave. Contracts were verified by both the employer and employee. The government reported it used the Mudad platform to track Wage Protection System and e-contract compliance in real-time and imposed penalties for any firm that failed to maintain at least 80 percent compliance on a monthly basis.

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

c. Prohibition of Child Labor and Minimum Age for Employment

The law prohibits and criminalizes all the worst forms of child labor and provides for a minimum age of employment. The law provides that no person younger than 15 may legally work unless that person is the sole source of support for the family. Children between the ages of 13 and 15 may work if the job is not harmful to health or growth and does not interfere with schooling. A ministerial decree provides that hazardous operations, such as use of power-operated machinery, or harmful industries, such as mines and quarries, may not employ legal minors. Children younger than 18 may not be employed for shifts exceeding six hours a day. There is no minimum age for workers employed in family-owned businesses or other areas considered extensions of the household, such as farming, herding, and domestic service.

The HRC and NSHR are responsible for monitoring enforcement of child labor laws. There was little information on government efforts to enforce applicable laws and whether penalties were commensurate with those for other analogous serious crimes, such as kidnapping. Authorities mostly enforced the law in response to complaints regarding children begging on the streets.

Most child labor involved children from other countries, including Yemen and Ethiopia, forced into begging rings, street vending, and working in family businesses.

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

d. Discrimination with Respect to Employment and Occupation

The labor law in general prohibits discrimination in the terms of recruitment as well as during employment. The law mandates that employers treat all workers equally and barred discrimination on the basis of gender, disability, age, or any other forms of discrimination, whether in work, employment, or advertising a vacancy. No regulations prohibit discrimination on the basis of religion, political opinion, national origin or citizenship, sexual orientation or gender identity, language, or HIV-positive status. Gender-based violence and harassment occurred in the workplace (see section 6, Women). Discrimination with respect to employment and occupation occurred in all these categories. There are no effective complaint resolution mechanisms to determine whether any existing penalties were commensurate with other laws on civil rights, such as election interference.

Women may work without their guardian’s permission, but some employers required applicants to submit proof of it, even though the law prohibits the practice. A 2019 decree expanded previous regulations barring employers from firing female workers on maternity leave and includes protection from dismissal for pregnancy-related illness if the absence is less than 180 days per year. Employers who violate the antidiscrimination law can be fined. The antidiscrimination law only applies to citizens and does not protect the rights of expatriates. There was widespread societal discrimination against African and Asian expatriate workers.

In recent years women’s labor participation increased significantly, including in sectors traditionally dominated by men (see section 6, Women). Prohibitions on employment of women in some hazardous jobs and night shifts were lifted. The Ministry of Human Resources and Social Development explicitly approved and encouraged employment of women in specific sectors, particularly in government and retail, but women continued to face societal discrimination, and gender segregation continued in the workplace. In medical settings and the energy industry, women and men worked together, and in some instances, women supervised male employees. There were no women working as judges or as members of the Council of Senior Religious Scholars.

The first-quarter Labor Market Report by the General Authority for Statistics found the labor force participation rate of the total female working-age population was 33.6 percent. Most non-Saudi women were employed as domestic workers.

No regulation requires equal pay for equal work. In the private sector, the average monthly wage of Saudi women workers was 64 percent of the average monthly wage of Saudi men. Labor dispute settlement bodies did not register any cases of discrimination against women.

The law grants women the right to obtain business licenses without the approval of their guardians, and women frequently obtained licenses in fields that might require them to supervise foreign workers, interact with male clients, or deal with government officials. Women who work in establishments with 50 or more female employees have the right to maternity leave and childcare. 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 those wearing niqabs, for law enforcement purposes. In 2020 the military chief of general staff inaugurated the first women’s wing in the armed forces, and on April 25, the Ministry of Defense created a joint admissions portal for upcoming military positions open to both women and men. In September the first class of women graduated from the Saudi Armed Forces Training Academy.

Discrimination with respect to religious beliefs occurred in the workplace. Members of the Shia community complained of discrimination based on their religion and had difficulty securing or being promoted in government positions. They were significantly underrepresented in national security-related positions, including the Ministries of Defense and Interior and the National Guard. In predominantly Shia areas, Shia representation was higher in the ranks of traffic police and employees of municipalities and public schools. A small number of Shia occupied high-level positions in government-owned companies and government agencies. Shia were also underrepresented in employment in primary, secondary, and higher education.

e. Acceptable Conditions of Work

Wage and Hour Laws: The monthly minimum wage for public-sector employees was above the estimated poverty-income level. There was no private-sector minimum wage for foreign workers.

By law a standard workday is eight hours. A standard workweek is 48 hours but can extend to 60 hours, subject to payment of overtime, which is 50 percent more than the basic wage. The law requires employers to provide paid holidays on Eid al-Fitr, Eid al-Adha, and Saudi National Day but does not apply to domestic workers sponsored by individuals rather than companies.

An estimated 10.2 million foreign workers, including approximately 1.4 million women, made up approximately 75 percent of the labor force, according to the General Authority for Statistics’ labor market survey for the first quarter. Legal workers generally negotiated and agreed to work conditions prior to their arrival in the country, in accordance with the contract requirements contained in the law.

The law provides penalties for bringing foreigners into the country to work in any service, including domestic service, without following the required procedures and obtaining a permit. Penalties, however, were not commensurate with those for similar crimes, such as fraud.

Occupational Safety and Health: The government issued occupational safety and health standards that were up-to-date and appropriate for the main industries. The law provides for regular safety inspections and enables ministry-appointed inspectors to make unannounced inspections, initiate sanctions, examine materials used or handled in industrial and other operations, and submit samples of suspected hazardous materials or substances to government laboratories. The government effectively enforced the law.

The Ministry of Health’s Occupational Health Service Directorate worked with the Ministry of Human Resources and Social Development on health and safety matters. Responsibility for identifying unsafe situations remains with occupational safety and health experts and not the worker. By law employers are obligated to safeguard safety and health requirements in the workplace to protect employees from harm and disease. Regulations require employers to protect some workers from job-related hazards and disease, although some violations occurred. Penalties for violations of occupational safety and health laws were not commensurate with those for crimes such as negligence. Punishment for labor violations involved a range of fines and the possible temporary or permanent closure of a business. The law does not provide workers the right to remove themselves from a hazardous workplace without jeopardizing their employment.

Informal Sector: The law requires that a citizen or business must sponsor foreign workers for them to obtain legal work and residency status, although the requirement exempts Syrian and Yemeni citizens who overstayed their visas. The Ministry of Human Resources and Social Development implemented measures allowing noncitizen workers to switch their employer to a new employer or company that employed a sufficient quota of Saudi citizens. Some workers were unaware of the new regulations and were forced to remain with their sponsor until completion of their contract or seek the assistance of their embassy to return home. There were also instances in which sponsors bringing foreign workers into the country failed to provide them with a residency permit, which undermined the workers’ ability to access government services or navigate the court system in the event of grievances. Sponsors with commercial or labor disputes with foreign employees also could ask authorities to prohibit employees from departing the country until the dispute was resolved. Authorities, however, would not jail or forcibly return fleeing workers who sought to exit the country within a 72-hour period or coordinate with their embassy for repatriation, provided the employees did not have criminal charges or outstanding fines pending against them.

Bilateral labor agreements set conditions on foreign workers’ minimum wage, housing, benefits including leave and medical care, and other topics. Those provisions were not drafted in line with international standards and varied depending on the bargaining power of the foreign workers’ country. There were reports that some migrant workers were employed on terms to which they had not agreed and experienced problems, such as delays in the payment of wages, changes in employer, or changed working hours and conditions. Migrant workers, especially domestic workers, were vulnerable to abuse, exploitation, and conditions contravening labor laws, including nonpayment of wages, working for periods in excess of the 48-hour workweek, working for periods longer than the prescribed eight-hour workday without due compensation, and restrictions on movement due to passport confiscation. There were also reports of physical, psychological, sexual, and verbal abuse.

There were reports that some migrant workers, particularly domestic employees, were unable to remove themselves from dangerous situations. Some employers physically prevented workers from leaving or threatened them with nonpayment of wages if they left. Sponsoring employers, who controlled foreign workers’ ability to remain employed in the country, usually held foreign workers’ passports, a practice prohibited by law. In some contract disputes, in order to prevent the employee from leaving the country until resolution of the dispute, sponsors asked authorities to coerce the employee into accepting a disadvantageous settlement or risking deportation without any settlement.

While some foreign workers were able to contact the labor offices of their embassies for assistance, domestic workers faced challenges when attempting to gain access to their embassies, including restrictions on their freedom of movement and telephone access, confiscation of their passports, and being subjected to threats and verbal and physical abuse. During the year several dozen (primarily) female domestic workers sought shelter at their embassies’ safehouses to escape physical and sexual abuse by their employers. Those workers usually sought legal assistance from their embassies and government agencies to obtain end-of-service benefits and exit visas. In addition to their embassies, some domestic servants could contact the NSHR, HRC, Interministerial General Secretariat to Combat Human Trafficking, and Migrant Workers’ Welfare Department, which provided services to safeguard migrant workers’ rights and protect them from abuse. Some were able to apply to the offices of regional governors and lodge an appeal with the Board of Grievances against decisions by those authorities.

Occupational safety and health regulations do not cover farmers, herdsmen, domestic servants, or workers in family-operated businesses. Although the Ministry of Human Resources and Social Development employed nearly 1,000 labor inspectors, foreign workers privately reported frequent failures to enforce health and safety standards. Although statistics were unavailable, examples of major industrial accidents during the year that caused the death or serious injury to workers included local media reports from February 15 that at least six Bangladeshi migrant workers were killed in a fire at a furniture factory in Medina.

United Arab Emirates

Executive Summary

The United Arab Emirates is a federation of seven semiautonomous emirates with a resident population of approximately 9.8 million, of whom an estimated 11 percent are citizens. The rulers of the seven emirates constitute the Federal Supreme Council, the country’s highest legislative and executive body. The council selects a president and a vice president from its membership, and the president appoints the prime minister and cabinet. Sheikh Khalifa bin Zayed Al Nahyan, ruler of Abu Dhabi emirate, is president, although Crown Prince Mohammed bin Zayed Al Nahyan of Abu Dhabi exercises most executive authority. The emirates are under patriarchal rule with political allegiance defined by loyalty to tribal leaders, leaders of the individual emirates, and leaders of the federation. A limited, appointed electorate participates in periodic elections for the partially elected Federal National Council, a consultative body that examines, reviews, and recommends changes to legislation and may discuss topics for legislation. The last election was in 2019, when appointed voters elected 20 Federal National Council members. Citizens may express their concerns directly to their leaders through traditional consultative mechanisms such as the open majlis (forum), but they do not have the right to choose their government in free and fair elections.

Each emirate maintains a local police force called a general directorate, which is officially a branch of the federal Ministry of Interior. All emirate-level general directorates of police enforce their respective emirate’s laws autonomously. They also enforce federal laws within their emirate in coordination with one another under the federal ministry. Civilian authorities maintained effective control over the security forces. There were reports that members of the security forces committed some abuses.

Significant human rights issues included credible reports of: torture in detention; arbitrary arrest and detention, including incommunicado detention, by government agents; political prisoners; government interference with privacy rights; serious restrictions on free expression and media, including censorship and the existence of criminal libel laws; serious restrictions on internet freedom; substantial interference with the freedom of peaceful assembly and freedom of association, including very restrictive laws on the organization, funding, or operation of nongovernmental organizations and civil society organizations; inability of citizens to change their government peacefully in free and fair elections; serious and unreasonable restrictions on political participation; serious government restrictions or harassment of domestic and international human rights organizations; existence or use of laws criminalizing consensual same-sex sexual activity between adults; and outlawing of independent trade unions or significant restrictions on workers’ freedom of association.

The government investigated, prosecuted, and punished some officials who committed abuses, primarily official financial crimes. There was no publicly available information on whether authorities investigated complaints of other abuses, including prison conditions and mistreatment, or prosecuted and punished officials in connection with these complaints.

Section 1. Respect for the Integrity of the Person

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

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

b. Disappearance

Human rights organizations reported instances of enforced disappearances by government authorities. Abdul Rahman al-Nahhas, a Syrian human rights activist sentenced in September to 10 years in prison on charges of terrorism and insulting the prestige of the state, reportedly was forcibly disappeared, threatened, tortured, held incommunicado, and denied access to his legal representative; he remained in prison at year’s end.

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

The constitution prohibits such practices, but there were some reports of occurrences during the year. Based on reports from released prisoners and their family members, diplomatic observers, and human rights organizations, UN human rights experts found that some individuals imprisoned for suspected state security and criminal offenses were subjected to torture or mistreatment. In June the UN special rapporteur for the situation of human rights defenders stated that five of the approximately 60 imprisoned members of the UAE 94, a group of Emirati scholars, activists, lawyers, and doctors who were sentenced to 10 years’ imprisonment in 2013 for signing a petition two years earlier calling for greater democratic reforms, faced prison conditions that could constitute torture. She cited allegations that the men were held for long periods in solitary confinement, left without air conditioning as outside temperatures rose above 105 degrees Fahrenheit, and prevented from seeing sunlight.

Although legal reforms in 2020 made it illegal for authorities to use evidence obtained through torture or degrading treatment, human rights groups alleged that abuses took place during interrogations and as inducement for signed confessions.

Reforms to the legal code in 2020 and 2021 removed flogging as a permissible form of punishment under the federal penal code; however, sharia (Islamic) courts, which adjudicate criminal and family law cases, still impose flogging as punishment for adultery, prostitution, consensual premarital sex, pregnancy outside marriage, defamation of character, and drug or alcohol charges.

Prison and Detention Center Conditions

Prison conditions varied widely among the individual emirates and between regular prisons (which hold those accused of nonpolitical crimes such as drug trafficking, money laundering, and killings) and state security detention facilities (which hold political activists or those the government defines to be terrorists). There continued to be allegations of overcrowding, long waits for health-care access, and poor sanitary conditions.

Physical Conditions: The government did not release statistics on prison demographics and capacity. Diplomatic observers and UN human rights experts reported that in Abu Dhabi, some prisoners reported overcrowding, particularly in drug units, poor temperature control, retaliation for raising complaints to their embassies, and inadequate sanitary conditions and medical care.

There were reports that individuals in state security detention facilities were mistreated, abused, and tortured. Prisoners complained to embassy representatives that they witnessed routine abuse of fellow prisoners, including long periods of solitary confinement and imprisonment in noncooled spaces where temperatures could reach upwards of 100 degrees Fahrenheit for most months of the year.

In February Human Rights Watch reported that government authorities had denied a British national access to critical medication and adequate health care throughout his 10-year detention on a six-year criminal sentence, ignoring his 2014 pardon.

According to diplomatic observers, overcrowding was periodically a problem in prisons in Dubai and the northern emirates. In particular, prisoners awaiting transfer to Abu Dhabi for federal prosecution experienced long stays in police holding cells equipped only for short-term incarceration. In June the minister of interior reported that the COVID-19 pandemic led to a reduction in serious crimes and a decrease of more than 20 percent in the country’s prison population compared with 2020. The minister stated that 4 percent of the country’s prison population tested positive for COVID-19. Prevention measures in prisons included mandatory vaccination, careful sanitization of facilities, a 15-day quarantine for new inmates, and awareness-raising sessions in different languages.

Some prisoners were not permitted exercise or reading materials. There were reports that some prisoners did not have access to outside areas and exposure to sunlight. According to human rights organizations, imprisoned activist Abdelsalam al-Marzooqi was held in solitary confinement in a secret location for eight months and denied visiting and contact rights for more than a year. In Abu Dhabi there also were reports of dangerously hot conditions when air conditioners broke during periods of extreme high temperatures.

While medical care was generally adequate in regular prisons, HIV-positive noncitizen detainees reported not being given regular and uninterrupted access to antiretroviral treatment and experiencing other forms of discrimination, such as being held in segregated units or solitary confinement. Other prisoners reported prolonged delays in receiving medical treatment and difficulty obtaining necessary medication, including insulin for diabetics.

The Gulf Centre for Human Rights blamed the death in February of Jordanian journalist and writer Tayseer al-Najjar, two years after his release from prison, on health complications caused by the conditions during his confinement, which al-Najjar’s wife supported. His sentence ended in December 2018, but he remained imprisoned until February 2019 due to his inability to pay a large fine, which local authorities eventually waived at the time of his release.

Prisons attempted to accommodate persons with disabilities based on their specific needs, such as placing wheelchair users on a lower floor. Some reports alleged inconsistencies in providing support for prisoners with mental disabilities. In Dubai and to some extent in Abu Dhabi, prison officials worked with mental-health professionals to provide support and administer needed medication. Training and facilities to accommodate prisoners with mental disabilities were allegedly less well developed in the other emirates. It reportedly was common for authorities to grant a humanitarian pardon in cases where a person with a disability had been convicted of a minor offense.

Administration: Some state security detainees were not permitted access to visitors or had more limited access than other prisoners. Although prisoners had a right to submit complaints to judicial authorities, details about whether any investigations into complaints took place were not publicly available, and there were no independent authorities to investigate allegations of poor conditions. Inmates reported retaliation from authorities after raising issues regarding prison conditions with diplomatic missions.

There were standard weekly visiting hours in regular prisons, but unmarried and unrelated visitors of the opposite sex had to receive permission from a prosecutor. As a result of COVID-19, some prisons throughout the country used teleconferencing measures in lieu of in-person visitations. Dubai police adopted a remote visual communication service between inmates in Dubai prisons and their families inside and outside the country.

Prison authorities required Muslims to attend weekly Islamic services, and non-Muslims reported some pressure to attend ostensibly nonmandatory lectures and classes regarding Islam. Some Christian clergy raised concerns regarding lack of worship space for incarcerated Christians. In several emirates Christian clergy were not able to visit Christian prisoners.

Independent Monitoring: The government permitted charitable nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) to visit prisons and provide material support on a limited basis. Authorities did not grant access to independent human rights groups, media, or international monitoring bodies, and prohibited regular consular access for State Security Department detainees.

d. Arbitrary Arrest or Detention

The constitution prohibits arbitrary arrest and detention. The government, however, reportedly often held persons in custody for extended periods without charge or a preliminary judicial hearing. The law allows state security officers to hold detainees for up to 106 days, but indefinite detention for such cases has been reported.

Arrest Procedures and Treatment of Detainees

The law prohibits arrest or search of citizens without probable cause. Legal reforms implemented in November 2020 provide the right to remain silent and require arresting officers to inform the accused of this right and the alleged charges upon arrest or detention. While awaiting a decision on official charges at a police station or the prosecutor’s office, a detainee is not entitled to legal counsel. Police usually adhered to the requirement that they report an arrest to the public prosecutor within 48 hours. The public prosecutor must question the accused within 24 hours of notification of arrest.

Police investigations regularly take up to three months, during which time detainees were often held incommunicado and without public knowledge of their whereabouts. In some cases authorities did not allow detainees contact with attorneys, family members, or others for indefinite or unspecified periods. Some detainees reported being monitored during meetings with family members and consular officials, as well as being prevented from discussing their cases or detention conditions.

Authorities often did not notify the appropriate diplomatic officials when a foreign national was detained. For state security detainees, notification was exceptionally rare, and information regarding the status of these detainees was very limited.

The law requires prosecutors to submit charges to a court within 14 days of the police report. Judges may not extend a detention beyond 30 days without charges; however, once charges are brought, judges may renew 30-day extensions indefinitely. Multiple detainees complained that authorities did not inform them of the charges or other details of their case for months at a time. There were also reports of authorities pressuring or forcing detainees to sign documents before having access to attorneys.

The 2020 legal reforms require police to furnish a translator when an individual does not understand Arabic. Noncitizen detainees reported that when the prosecutor presented the charges, they were written in Arabic and translation services were often inadequate.

Authorities treated prisoners arrested for political or security reasons differently from other prisoners, including placing them in separate sections of a prison. The State Security Department handled these cases and, in some instances, held prisoners and detainees in separate undisclosed locations for extended periods prior to their transfer to a regular prison.

Public prosecutors may hold suspects in terrorism-related cases without charge for six months. Once authorities charge a suspect with terrorism, the Federal Supreme Court may extend the detention indefinitely. The counterterrorism law provides for the establishment of rehabilitation centers under the Munassaha program, which aims to use psychosocial techniques to reform persons deemed to pose a terrorist threat or those convicted of terrorist offenses. The law stipulates that program administrators provide reports on detainees’ status every three months and that the public prosecutor submit a final opinion on the outcome of rehabilitation to inform the court’s decision on whether to release the individual.

Authorities may temporarily release detainees who deposit money, a passport, or an unsecured personal promissory statement signed by a third party. Abu Dhabi and Dubai utilize an electronic travel ban system, which allows authorities to prevent individuals involved in pending legal proceedings from departing the country without physically confiscating their passport. Nonetheless, officials routinely held detainees’ passports until sentencing. Authorities may deny pretrial release to defendants in cases involving loss of life, including involuntary manslaughter. Authorities released some prisoners detained on charges related to a person’s death after the prisoners completed diya (blood money) payments. Once an accused is found criminally liable for a death, judges may grant diya payments as compensation to the victim’s family in an amount determined to be in accordance with sharia. For example, in June an Abu Dhabi court awarded 283,000 dirhams (AED) ($77,100) in diya to the family of a woman killed in a hit-and-run car accident.

A defendant is legally entitled to an attorney after authorities complete their investigation and file formal charges. There were allegations that authorities sometimes questioned the accused for weeks without permitting access to an attorney. The government may provide counsel at its discretion to indigent defendants charged with felonies punishable by imprisonment. The law requires the government to provide counsel in cases in which indigent defendants face punishments of life imprisonment or the death penalty.

Authorities held some persons incommunicado, particularly in cases involving state security.

Arbitrary Arrest: There were reports the government carried out arrests without informing the individual of the charge, notably in cases of alleged violations of state security regulations. In these cases authorities did not give notice to the individual or to family members regarding the subject of the inquiry or arrest.

Pretrial Detention: Lengthy pretrial detention occurred, especially in cases involving state security. Diplomatic observers noted cases where the time defendants spent waiting for a court date surpassed the maximum sentence for the crime. The speed with which these cases were brought to trial increased, as it did in the previous year, with a lower number of State Security Court acquittals and convictions in comparison with recent years. As a result of COVID-19, the government increased its use of video teleconferencing measures for litigation procedures.

In February international media reported that the government released eight Lebanese nationals who were detained in 2014 due to alleged links to Hezbollah. Fifteen other Lebanese nationals are reportedly still being held pending trial under the same charges.

Detainee’s Ability to Challenge Lawfulness of Detention before a Court: There were reports authorities delayed or limited an individual’s access to an attorney and did not give prompt court appearances or afford consular notification, both for ordinary prisoners and in state security cases. Diplomatic observers reported this was a particular problem for foreign residents who were vulnerable to loss of job, home, and accrual of debt due to unlawful detention. There were no known reports of courts finding individuals eligible for compensation on the basis of unlawful detention.

According to human rights organizations, Amina al-Abdouli and Maryam al-Balushi – women who were arrested in 2016 and 2015, respectively, for alleged state security crimes – remained detained despite completing their sentences. Al-Abdouli made a recording in 2020 stating that the public prosecutor had filed a new case against her and al-Balushi in reprisal for their previous recordings regarding prison conditions. In January the UN Working Group on Arbitrary Detention issued an opinion urging authorities to release al-Balushi and al-Abdouli, citing concerns that they were in poor health.

e. Denial of Fair Public Trial

The constitution provides for an independent judiciary; however, court decisions remained subject to review by the political leadership. Authorities often treated noncitizens differently from citizens. The judiciary consisted largely of contracted foreign nationals subject to potential deportation, further compromising its independence from the government.

Trial Procedures

The constitution provides for the right to a fair and public trial, and the judiciary generally enforced this right. Abu Dhabi and other emirates expanded the implementation of virtual court systems, which allowed detainees and prisoners to participate in hearings and trials remotely and afforded continued access to the justice system despite pandemic-related government office closures. Dubai maintained a website where individuals could obtain basic information concerning pending legal cases, including formal charges and upcoming court dates. Diplomatic observers noted that in many instances a similar website in Abu Dhabi did not function effectively.

The law presumes all defendants are innocent until proven guilty. By law a defendant enjoys the right to be informed promptly and in detail of the charges. The 2020 legal reforms established the right to remain silent, the right to be informed of one’s alleged crime at the time of arrest, and the inadmissibility of evidence obtained through torture or degrading treatment. The law requires all court proceedings to be conducted in Arabic but now mandates that an interpreter be provided when the individual being questioned does not speak Arabic. Despite the defendant’s procedural right to an interpreter, there were reports authorities did not always provide one or provided poor-quality interpreting services.

Defendants have the right to be present at their trials and to have legal counsel in court for cases that carry punishment other than a fine. The defendant has a right to government-provided counsel after charges have been filed only in cases involving a capital crime or possible life imprisonment. The government may also provide counsel, at its discretion, to indigent defendants charged with felonies punishable by provisional imprisonment. The law provides prosecutors discretion to bar defense counsel from any investigation. Defendants and their attorneys may present witnesses and question witnesses against them. Defendants may not be compelled to testify or confess. Some defendants said they did not have adequate time to prepare a defense, sometimes due to limited telephone access. Verdicts were announced in open court, even if the case was heard in a closed session.

Both local and federal courts have an appeals process. Appeals are first heard by each emirate’s court of appeals and can be escalated to a higher court if necessary. In Abu Dhabi, Dubai, and Ras al-Khaimah, appeals are escalated to the respective emirate’s court of cassation. For those emirates that lack a court of cassation (Ajman, Sharjah, Umm al-Quwain, and Fujairah), appeals are escalated to the Federal Supreme Court in Abu Dhabi. Convicted defendants may also appeal death sentences to the ruler of the emirate in which the offense was committed or to the president of the federation. In homicide cases the victim’s family must consent to commute a death sentence. The government normally negotiated with victims’ families for the defendant to offer diya payments, in accordance with sharia, in exchange for forgiveness and a commuted death sentence. The prosecutor may appeal acquittals and provide new or additional evidence to a higher court. An appellate court must reach unanimous agreement to overturn an acquittal. In July an Emirati national convicted of homicide was executed after the victim’s family refused to accept a blood money payment and insisted on the death penalty.

In state security cases, the Federal Court of Appeals serves as a court of first instance. State security cases may be appealed to the Federal Supreme Court.

When authorities suspected a foreigner of crimes of “moral turpitude,” authorities sometimes deported the individual without recourse to the criminal justice system. At the judge’s discretion, foreigners charged with such crimes may be granted bail and allowed to remain in the country to defend themselves if they so request. This provision does not apply to foreign residents charged with a national security-related crime. Changes to the penal code announced in November mandated deportation for noncitizens accused of crimes, with limited exceptions.

Women continued to face legal discrimination because of the government’s interpretation of sharia (see section 6, Women ).

Political Prisoners and Detainees

During the year there were reports of persons held incommunicado and without charge because of their political views or affiliations, which often involved alleged links to Islamist organizations. Since 2011 the government has restricted the activities of organizations and individuals allegedly associated with al-Islah, a Muslim Brotherhood affiliate and government-designated terrorist organization, and others critical of the government.

In a July report, Human Rights Watch (HRW) stated that Ahmed Mansoor, a human rights activist convicted in 2018 under the cybercrime law of insulting the “status and prestige of the United Arab Emirates and its symbols” and of seeking to damage the country’s relationship with its neighbors by publishing information critical of those governments on social media, was held in solitary confinement for nearly four years without access to a mattress or other necessities. He also was reportedly denied access to lawyers, granted only a limited number of family visits, and subjected to death threats, physical assault, government surveillance, and inhuman treatment while in custody. Mansoor remained in prison at year’s end.

During the year human rights organizations continued to call for the government to release Mohammed al-Roken and Nasser bin Ghaith. Al-Roken is a lawyer, academic, and human rights defender whom authorities allegedly arbitrarily detained in 2012 for “plotting against the government.” Bin Ghaith is an economist, professor, and activist who was allegedly held incommunicado for 18 months after being arrested in 2015 for harming the reputation of the country in tweets that criticized local officials and the Egyptian government. Al-Roken and bin Ghaith were sentenced to 10 years in prison in 2013 and 2017, respectively.

In April human rights organizations confirmed the release of four Emirati political activists under the president’s annual Ramadan pardon. The four were convicted in 2011 of belonging to the banned Islah group and seeking to overthrow the government. They had been held beyond their jail terms in state security-run counseling centers for individuals deemed to be terrorist threats.

Politically Motivated Reprisal against Individuals Located Outside the Country

Threats, Harassment, Surveillance, and Coercion: According to human rights groups, government authorities continued to target relatives of political prisoners detained in the country and dissidents living abroad, allegedly subjecting them to harassment in reprisal for their relatives’ activism.

International media reporting in August alleged that the government used surveillance software to spy on Emirati human rights figures located outside the country such as Alaa al-Siddiq, executive director of the London-based Emirati human rights organization ALQST, until her death in June.

In September the government designated as terrorists Hamad al-Shamsi, Ahmed al-Nuaimi, Mohammed al-Zaabi, and Saeed al-Tenaiji. These individuals resided outside the country and belonged to the UAE 94. They also were alleged to be members of al-Islah.

Civil Judicial Procedures and Remedies

Citizens and noncitizens had access to the courts to seek damages for, or cessation of, human rights abuses. Courts lacked full independence, often delaying proceedings.

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

The constitution prohibits entry into a home without the owner’s permission, except when police present a lawful warrant. Officers’ actions in searching premises were subject to review by the Ministry of Interior, and officers were subject to disciplinary action if authorities judged their actions irresponsible.

The constitution provides for free and confidential correspondence by mail, telegram, and all other means of communication. There were reports, however, that the government monitored and occasionally censored incoming international mail, wiretapped telephones, and monitored outgoing mail and electronic forms of communication without following appropriate legal procedures. According to media reports, the government engaged in systematic campaigns to target journalists and activists using spyware and hackers. In July a series of investigations by 17 global media organizations, known as the Pegasus Project, accused the government of using NSO Group-developed spyware to target journalists and activists in the country and abroad, including Financial Times editor Roula Khalaf and human rights defender Alaa al-Siddiq.

g. Conflict-related Abuses

The government continued to support partner forces in Yemen that NGOs have previously alleged committed human rights abuses including arbitrary detention and torture. For further information see the Department’s Country Reports on Human Rights Practices for Yemen, section 2, Respect for Civil Liberties.

Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties

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

The constitution provides for freedom of expression, including for members of the press and other media, but the law prohibits criticism of national rulers and speech that may create or encourage social unrest. The government regularly restricted freedom of speech and the press, and human rights organizations reported that the government continues to detain political activists and human rights defenders. Media outlets conformed to unpublished government guidelines. Editors and journalists were aware of government “red lines” for acceptable media content, stipulated in federal libel and slander laws. On other socially sensitive topics, they commonly practiced self-censorship. In January the government introduced the National Policy for the Quality of Digital Life aimed at encouraging positive digital citizenship by promoting “tolerance, coexistence, and pluralism” in the curriculum of government schools.

Freedom of Expression: After the onset of widespread regional popular uprisings in 2011, authorities severely restricted freedom of expression by prohibiting any public criticism of the government and individual ministers. The government continued to make arrests or impose other restrictions for speech related to and in support of Islamist political activities, calls for democratic reforms, criticism of or perceived insults against the government and government institutions, and, in rarer cases, criticism of individuals. Both verbal and written insults online are a prosecutable offense.

In other cases authorities brought individuals to trial for posting material on social media platforms that was considered a violation of privacy or personally insulting to acquaintances, colleagues, employers, or religions.

Freedom of Expression for Members of the Press and Media, Including Online Media: International NGOs categorized the press, both in print and online, as not free. Except for regional media outlets located in Dubai and Abu Dhabi’s free-trade zones, the government owned and controlled most newspapers, television stations, and radio stations. Journalists reported the government maintained unpublished guidelines for acceptable media content. Regulations for electronic media, including rules for publishing and selling advertising, print, video, and audio material, require those benefitting monetarily from social media advertising to purchase a license from the National Media Council (NMC).

Censorship or Content Restrictions: By law the NMC, whose chair the president appoints, licenses, and censors all publications, including private association publications. Domestic and foreign publications were censored to remove any criticism of the government, ruling families, or friendly governments. Online content was often removed without transparency or judicial oversight. Domain hosts or administrators are liable if their websites are used to “prompt riot, hatred, racism, sectarianism, or damage the national unity or social peace or prejudice the public order and public morals.” Censorship also extends to statements that “threaten social stability” and materials considered pornographic or excessively violent. The government in December introduced a new “21+” rating for films with mature content, allowing “international versions” of films to be screened in the country. Prior to the announcement of the new rating system, authorities reportedly banned or edited films for “mature” content, which it considered to include representations of lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer, and intersex (LGBTQI+) individuals.

Government and private institutions must obtain a license before publishing or broadcasting media or advertising content, or face penalties. This requirement applies to any media or advertising activity and to any person or entity that issues any type of publication, including clubs, associations, diplomatic missions, foreign centers, and movie theaters.

Government officials allegedly warned journalists who published or broadcast material deemed politically or culturally sensitive. Editors and journalists commonly practiced self-censorship due to fear of government retribution, particularly since most journalists were foreign nationals and could be deported. Authorities did not allow importation or publication of some books they viewed as critical of the government, Islam, and local culture, as well as books that supported the Muslim Brotherhood or its ideology.

Internet and television providers continued to block Qatari-funded al-Jazeera’s website and most Qatari broadcasting channels at the direction of government authorities.

Libel/Slander Laws: The government used libel and slander laws to suppress criticism of its leaders and institutions. The law criminalizes acts that defame others online or through information technology, including communication applications such as WhatsApp; punishment is either imprisonment or a fine. In July a Ras al-Khaimah court ordered a woman to pay a former Federal National Council member AED 20,000 ($5,450) as compensation after she allegedly insulted him and damaged his reputation on social media.

Those convicted of libel face up to two years in prison. The maximum penalty for libel against the family of a public official is three years in prison.

The law also criminalizes any form of expression the government interprets as blasphemous or offensive toward “divine recognized religions,” inciting religious hatred or insulting religious convictions.

National Security: Authorities often cited the need to protect national security as the basis for laws that prohibit and punish criticism of the government or expression of dissenting political views. For example, the country’s cybercrime laws include broad limitations on using electronic means to promote disorder or “damage national unity.” Human rights groups criticized these laws for excessively restricting freedom of expression.

Internet Freedom

The Ministry of Interior lists 10 broad categories of online activities it considers illegal under the cybercrime law: defaming or disrespecting others, violating privacy, filming persons or places and posting these videos without permission, spreading false news and rumors, manipulating personal information, engaging in blackmail and threats, establishing websites or accounts that violate local regulations, inciting immoral acts, posting work-related confidential information, and establishing or managing websites or accounts to coordinate with terrorist groups. The law imposes fines and sentences up to life imprisonment depending on the nature of the alleged offense. In February HRW contended that the Abu Dhabi Court of Appeals’ October 2020 sentencing of a Jordanian national to 10 years’ imprisonment was based solely on “peaceful” Facebook posts critical of the Jordanian government. Prosecutors had asserted that the posts could endanger national security, harm the social order, and damage relations with Jordan.

The government restricted access to some websites and conducted widespread surveillance of social media, instant messaging services, and blogs with little to no judicial oversight. Virtual private networks (VPNs) are permitted for use by companies, institutions, and banks for internal purposes only; use by private individuals is forbidden. The usage of VPN technology for illegal means is considered a serious offense under the law. Authorities threatened to imprison individuals for misusing the internet. Self-censorship was apparent on social media. There were reports the Ministry of Interior monitored internet use, and access to the Clubhouse social media application was allegedly deliberately interrupted by telecom operators, although the Telecommunications Regulatory Authority denied these claims to an international media outlet. There were numerous documented instances of online surveillance used to track dissidents in the country and abroad. This included reports the government had purchased spyware, including NSO Group’s Pegasus spyware, and employed foreign cyber-experts to bolster its own hacking capabilities. NGOs and media outlets reported that activists, journalists, politicians, and dissidents were targeted in systematic hacking campaigns.

The country’s two internet service providers, both majority owned by the government’s sovereign wealth fund, used a proxy server to block materials deemed inconsistent with the country’s values, as defined by the Ministry of Interior and overseen by the Telecommunications Regulatory Authority. Blocked material included sites with LGBTQI+ content; atheism; negative critiques of Islam; testimonies of former Muslims who converted to Christianity; gambling; promotion of illegal drug use; pornography; and postings that explained how to circumvent the proxy servers. International media sites, accessed using the country’s internet providers, contained filtered content. The government also blocked some sites containing content critical of the government or laws of the country, and other states in the region.

The Telecommunications Regulatory Authority operated with no oversight or transparency in identifying which sites it blocked. Service providers did not have the authority to unblock sites without government approval. The government also blocked most voice-over-internet-protocol (VoIP) applications and the use of VoIPs through VPNs. Convictions for unauthorized use of VoIPs can lead to significant fines, imprisonment, or both. With the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic the Telecommunications Regulatory Authority temporarily approved a set of VoIP applications to support teleworking and distance learning.

The Federal Public Prosecution for Information Technology Crimes investigated criminal cases involving use of information technology, including the use of the internet with the intent to “damage public morals,” the promotion of “sinful behavior,” illegal collections of donations, trafficking in persons, calling for or abetting the breach of laws, and the organization of demonstrations.

The NMC requires social media influencers who accept payment in money or high-value goods and services in return for endorsing products to join a social media management agency or obtain an e-commerce license for a small fee and a trade license, for which the price varies by emirate. Unlicensed paid social media influencers face a moderate fine.

Academic Freedom and Cultural Events

The government restricted academic freedom, including speech both inside and outside the classroom by educators, and censored academic materials for schools. The government required official permission for conferences and submission of detailed information on proposed speakers and topics of discussion. The same procedure applied to on-campus events at private schools. Some organizations found it difficult to secure meeting space for public events that dealt with contentious topics.

b. Freedoms of Peaceful Assembly and Association

The constitution provides for the freedoms of assembly and association, but the government did not always respect these rights.

Freedom of Peaceful Assembly

The law provides limited freedom of assembly, although the government imposed significant restrictions on freedom of assembly in practice.

The law requires a government-issued permit for organized public gatherings. While there was no uniform standard for the number of persons who could gather without a permit, some residents reported authorities ask groups of four or more to disperse if they did not have a permit. The government did not interfere routinely with informal, nonpolitical gatherings held without a government permit in public places unless there were complaints. The government generally permitted political gatherings that supported government policies. Hotels, citing government regulations, sometimes denied permission for groups such as unregistered religious organizations to rent space for meetings or religious services.

Freedom of Association

The law provides limited freedom of association. The government imposed significant restrictions on freedom of association in practice.

Political organizations, political parties, and trade unions are illegal. All associations and NGOs are required to register with the Ministry of Community Development, and many that did so received government subsidies. Domestic NGOs registered with the ministry were mostly citizens’ associations for economic, religious, social, cultural, athletic, and other purposes.

Registration rules require that all voting organizational members, as well as boards of directors, must be citizens. This requirement excluded almost 90 percent of the population from fully participating in such organizations. In Dubai volunteer organizations were required to register with the Community Development Authority (CDA) and obtain its approval before conducting fundraising activities. In April the president issued a federal law requiring a license from the CDA for individuals and entities to engage in fundraising activities or collecting donations, which they may do no more than four times a year. Penalties under the law may include substantial fines and deportation of noncitizens.

Associations must follow the government’s censorship guidelines and receive prior government approval before publishing any material. In Abu Dhabi all exhibitions, conferences, and meetings require a permit from the Tourism and Culture Authority. To obtain a permit, the event organizer must submit identification documents for speakers along with speaker topics.

LGBTQI+ individuals could not openly engage in advocacy for LGBTQI+ rights due to social norms and possible prosecution or reprisal (see section 6).

c. Freedom of Religion

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

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

The law generally provided for freedom of internal movement, emigration, and repatriation. In September the Abu Dhabi Emergency, Crisis, and Disaster Committee for the COVID-19 pandemic ended internal movement restrictions following a sharp drop in COVID-19 cases.

While the government generally respected the right to freedom of internal movement, emigration, and repatriation, it imposed certain legal restrictions on foreign travel. The lack of passports or other identity documents restricted the movement of stateless persons, both within the country and internationally.

Foreign Travel: Authorities generally did not permit citizens and residents involved in legal disputes under adjudication and noncitizens under investigation to travel abroad. In addition, authorities sometimes arrested individuals with outstanding debts or legal cases while in transit through an international airport. Abu Dhabi and Dubai maintain a system that allows individuals to verify if they are subject to a travel ban related to unsettled debts or pending legal action. In some cases travelers can settle debts directly at the airport and have their travel ban lifted. Debtors also may challenge travel bans in court.

Emirate-level prosecutors have the discretion to seize the passports of foreign citizens and restrict foreign travel during criminal or civil investigations. These measures posed particular problems for noncitizen debtors who, in addition to being unable to leave the country, were usually unable to find work without a passport and valid residence permit, making it impossible to repay their debts or maintain legal residency. In some cases family, friends, local religious organizations, or other concerned individuals helped pay the debt and enabled the indebted foreign national to depart the country. In February Dubai authorities released a number of prisoners after a group of charities and individual donors paid their debts. In September a charity in Sharjah paid the debts of 805 persons including an unspecified number of inmates.

Citizens targeted for reasons of state security, including former political prisoners, encountered difficulties renewing official documents, resulting in implicit travel bans.

Custom dictates that a husband may prevent his wife, minor children, or adult unmarried daughters from leaving the country by taking custody of their passports.

Citizenship: The government may revoke naturalized citizens’ passports and citizenship status for criminal or “politically provocative” actions.

e. Status and Treatment of Internally Displaced Persons

Not applicable.

f. Protection of Refugees

The government allowed the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) and other humanitarian organizations to provide protection and assistance to refugees, asylum seekers, stateless persons, and other persons of concern.

UNHCR lacked formal legal status in the country separate from the UN Development Program. The government nevertheless worked with UNHCR on a case-by-case basis to address refugee issues. The government informally granted refugee status or asylum to aliens seeking protection and allowed some asylum seekers to remain in the country temporarily on an individual basis. This nonpermanent status often presented administrative, financial, and social hardships, including the need frequently to renew visas and the inability to access basic services such as health care and education.

Access to Asylum: The law does not provide for the granting of asylum or refugee status, and the government has not established a transparent, codified system for providing protection to refugees. While the government extended informal protection from return to refugees in some cases, any persons lacking legal residency status were technically subject to local laws on illegal immigrants, and authorities could detain them. In some cases authorities confined individuals seeking protection at an airport to a specific section of the airport while they awaited resettlement in another country. Since August the government has supported the evacuation from Afghanistan of more than 10,000 individuals, including American citizens, third-country nationals, and at-risk Afghans. As of December the non-U.S. citizen individuals were being evaluated for resettlement or relocation to other countries.

Employment: Access to employment was based on an individual’s status as a legal resident, and persons with a claim to refugee status but who lacked legal residency status, including those with either short-term visitor visas or expired visas, were generally not eligible for employment.

Access to Basic Services: Access to education and other public services, including health care, is based on an individual’s status as a legal resident. As a result, some families, particularly from Iraq and Syria, reportedly did not have access to health care or schools. The government provided or allowed access to some services on a case-by-case basis, often after the intervention of UNHCR representatives. Some hospitals were willing to see patients without the mandatory insurance but required full payment up front.

g. Stateless Persons

Informal estimates suggested 20,000 to 100,000 Bidoon, or persons without citizenship, resided in the country. The government estimated the population at 10,000. Most Bidoon lacked citizenship because they did not belong to one of the tribes granted citizenship when the country was established. Others entered the country legally or illegally in search of employment. Because children derive citizenship generally from the father, Bidoon children born within the country’s territory remained stateless. Without passports or other forms of identification, Bidoon find their movement restricted, both within the country and internationally. In previous years the government purchased a number of passports from Comoros and issued them to Bidoon. The documents conferred economic Comorian citizenship on the recipients and legalized their status in the country but did not extend citizenship or the right to residency in Comoros. In 2018 the Comoros government reportedly halted issuance of new passports under its economic citizenship program, but there were reports of Bidoon individuals receiving Comoros passports issued after 2018.

The committee that reviews mothers’ citizenship applications for their children also reviews citizenship applications from Bidoon who could satisfy certain legal conditions to be eligible for naturalization and subsequently could gain access to education, health care, and other public services. There were few reports of stateless persons receiving Emirati citizenship.

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 based on universal and equal suffrage. Federal executive and legislative power is in the hands of the Federal Supreme Council, a body composed of the hereditary rulers of the seven emirates. It selects from its members the country’s president and vice president. Decisions at the federal level generally are by consensus among the rulers, their families, and other leading families. The ruling families, in consultation with other prominent tribal figures, also choose rulers of the emirates.

Citizens may express their concerns directly to their leaders through an open majlis, a traditional consultative mechanism. On occasion, women were permitted to attend a majlis. If a majlis was closed to women, men sometimes expressed concerns as proxies on behalf of women. In addition, authorities sometimes held a women-only majlis or a majlis focused specifically on women’s issues.

Elections and Political Participation

Recent Elections: In 2019 an appointed electorate of more than 330,000, representing just under one-quarter of the total citizen population, elected 20 members of the Federal National Council (FNC), a 40-member consultative body with some legislative authority. Approximately 35 percent of eligible voters participated. The size of the appointed electorate increased by approximately 50 percent from the 2015 election. Each emirate receives seats in the FNC based on population. In a nontransparent process, each emirate ruler appoints that emirate’s portion of the other 20 FNC members. As mandated by a 2018 decree, female representation in the FNC stands at 50 percent, to include both directly elected and appointed members.

Political Parties and Political Participation: Citizens did not have the right to form political parties, which are prohibited by law.

Participation of Women and Members of Minority Groups: No laws limit participation of women or members of minority groups in the political process, although cultural practices and norms discouraged women from engaging in political life. The government prioritized women’s participation in government. There were nine female ministers in the 31-member cabinet and 20 women in the FNC (seven elected).

Except in the judiciary and military, members of non-Muslim and racial minority groups did not serve in senior federal positions. Many judges were contracted foreign nationals.

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

The government generally did not permit domestic or international organizations to focus on domestic political or human rights issues.

The government directed, regulated, and subsidized participation by all NGO members in events outside the country. All participants were required to obtain government permission before attending such events. The government also restricted entry to the country by members of international NGOs. There were no transparent standards governing visits from international NGO representatives. The antidiscrimination law, which prohibits multiple forms of discrimination and criminalizes acts or expression the government interprets as provoking religious hatred or insulting religion, was used as a legal basis for restricting events such as conferences and seminars. The law also criminalizes the broadcasting, publication, and transmission of such material by any means, including audiovisual or print media, or via the internet, and prohibits conferences or meetings the government deems promote discrimination, discord, or hatred.

Government Human Rights Bodies: The National Human Rights Committee acts as the main liaison between human rights bodies in the country and supervises the implementation of a comprehensive national human rights plan. In December 2020 the committee launched the first stage of the consultative process for developing the National Human Rights Action Plan, covering matters such as women’s empowerment, humanitarian aid, interfaith acceptance and tolerance, labor rights, and workers’ welfare. That same month the government approved the formation of the National Human Rights Authority to advance the country’s efforts to protect human rights and safeguard the rights of women, children, workers, older persons, persons with disabilities, and the vulnerable, on the regional and international level. In August the country established the National Human Rights Institution, which aims to “promote and protect” human rights and “fundamental freedoms” in accordance with the constitution, federal laws and legislation, and relevant international conventions; in December the government announced the appointment of its secretary general and 12-member board of trustees.

Two recognized local human rights organizations existed: the quasi-governmental Emirates Human Rights Association (EHRA), which focused on human rights problems and complaints on matters such as labor conditions, stateless persons’ rights, and prisoners’ well-being and treatment; and the Emirates Center for Human Rights Studies, which focused on human rights education for lawyers and legal consultants. The EHRA claimed it operated independently without government interference, apart from requirements that apply to all associations in the country, although several EHRA members worked in the government, and the organization received government funding.

Section 6. Discrimination and Societal Abuses

Women

Rape and Domestic Violence: The law criminalizes rape, which is defined as coerced sexual intercourse with a woman or sodomy with a man. Rape is punishable by death under the penal code. Changes to the penal code announced in November made rape of women generally punishable by life imprisonment but still punishable by death in certain cases. The penal code does not prohibit spousal rape. In sharia courts, which are primarily responsible for civil matters between Muslims, the extremely high burden of proof for a rape case contributed to a low conviction rate. There were reports employers raped or sexually assaulted foreign domestic workers. The government rarely prosecuted these cases, and those that did led to few convictions.

In November 2020 the government decriminalized consensual extramarital sex. Changes to the penal code announced in November, however, stipulated that consensual extramarital sex is punishable by six months’ imprisonment if a complaint is filed by a husband or guardian of either of the parties. Updates to the penal code also criminalized indecent assault by coercion, threat, or deceit, and cover instances where the victim is incapable of providing consent due to mental incapacity. Sexual relations with a person younger than the age of consent, 14 years old, is punishable as indecent assault. Changes to the penal code announced in November raised the age of consent to 18. If the perpetrator is related to the victim, responsible for their upbringing or care, or has authority over them, the punishment may be up to life imprisonment.

In February the Ras al-Khaimah Criminal Court of Appeal upheld the life sentence of two Gulf nationals convicted of kidnapping and raping an unidentified person described only as “a youth.” Also in February the Abu Dhabi Criminal Court sentenced three male nationals of a Gulf country to life imprisonment on charges including attempted rape. In April the Dubai Court of Appeals upheld a life sentence against an Indian salesman for raping a housewife inside her home and threatening her with a knife.

The penal code outlaws multiple forms of domestic abuse, including mental, sexual, and financial abuse. Public prosecutors may issue protective orders for victims, and abusers may be subject to prison or monetary fines. In June a criminal court in Dubai sentenced a man to life in prison for killing his wife.

Victims of domestic abuse may file complaints with police units stationed in major public hospitals. Social workers and counselors, usually female, also maintained offices in public hospitals and police stations. There are domestic abuse centers in Abu Dhabi, Dubai, Ras al-Khaimah, and Sharjah.

While the government has not yet fully implemented the Family Protection Policy, adopted in 2019, it did coordinate with social organizations to increase awareness of domestic violence, conduct seminars, educational programs, symposiums, and conferences. The Dubai Foundation for Women and Children sought to increase awareness of domestic violence through social media, television, radio programming, and advertising; by hosting workshops; and by sponsoring a hotline. In light of the COVID-19 pandemic, the Foundation, which operated a shelter, also launched a project with the L’Oreal Fund for Women to construct a medical screening and quarantine facility for domestic abuse survivors. The Aman Shelter for Women and Children in Ras al-Khaimah also maintains a hotline for domestic abuse survivors.

Female Genital Mutilation/Cutting (FGM/C): The law does not prohibit FGM/C, and although the Ministry of Health prohibits hospitals and clinics from performing the procedure, private clinics and ritual/traditional circumcisers continued to carry it out. The type of FGM/C most prevalent in the country was performed during infancy and childhood. FGM/C was practiced by some tribal groups and was reportedly declining as a traditional custom, although little information was available. Foreign residents from countries where FGM/C is prevalent undertook the practice.

Other Harmful Traditional Practices: In November 2020 the government repealed an article in the penal code allowing men to receive lighter sentences for killing a female relative found in the act of extramarital sex. The country employs judicial supervision for individuals considered at risk from relatives threatening to commit honor crimes against or otherwise harming them. Judicial supervision typically included providing housing to individuals for their safety and well-being and family mediation and reconciliation.

Sexual Harassment: The government has prosecuted sexual harassment. The legal definition of sexual harassment includes repetitive harassment through action, words, or signs, and acknowledges that men can be victims of sexual harassment. The penal code stipulates punishment by a prison term of at least one year, a fine of 100,000 AED ($27,250), or both. If a criminal judgement is rendered against a foreigner, it is to include a prison term followed by deportation.

Conviction of “disgracing or dishonoring” a person in public is punishable by a minimum of one year and up to 15 years in prison if the victim is younger than age 14. Conviction for “infamous” acts against the rules of decency is punishable by a penalty of six months in prison, and “dishonoring a woman by word or deed on a public roadway” is also a punishable offense. The government generally enforced this law.

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

According to changes to the penal code announced in November, pregnancy outside marriage is punishable by two years’ imprisonment unless the parents marry or one or both acknowledge the child and obtain identification papers and travel documents in accordance with the laws of the country of which either parent is a national. Unmarried noncitizen women who become pregnant have faced difficulties registering births and obtaining identity documents for children, complicating the ability for such children to remain in the country.

While reproductive health care is available, it was more challenging to access for unmarried and noncitizen women, who represented a significant majority of the female population. Additionally, there were restrictions to health-care access based on health insurance. Although the government provides free health care to citizens, including access to contraception, obstetric and gynecologic services, prenatal care, and delivery care to married female citizens, insurance plans for unskilled laborers often did not offer prenatal or postnatal care, and the government did not provide free postnatal care for noncitizen pregnant women. Foreign residents with no health insurance benefits may use public hospitals for a fee and sometimes relied on charity to cover these costs. Access to limited pharmacological contraception options was available only through medical prescription. Oral contraceptive prescriptions are legal for single women as treatment for menstrual issues. Most health insurance plans did not cover insertion and removal of intrauterine devices and contraceptive implants.

Abortion is generally illegal. It is permitted only when the pregnancy endangers the woman’s life, or when there is evidence that the baby will be born with deformities and will not survive.

There were no reports that virginity tests were practiced in the country. Hospitals must report rape cases to police, and rape victims were usually provided with medical care. Emergency contraception was reportedly available with a doctor’s prescription and in some cases required spousal consent.

Discrimination: Women in general faced legal and economic discrimination, with noncitizen women at a particular disadvantage. In November Abu Dhabi passed a new personal status law for non-Muslims related to marriage, divorce, custody of children, and inheritance that would limit discrimination against non-Muslim women.

The government’s interpretation of sharia applies in personal status cases and family law. Muslim women must have the consent of their guardians to marry. Local interpretation of sharia prohibits Muslim women from marrying non-Muslims and Muslim men from marrying women “not of the book,” generally meaning adherents of religions other than Islam, Christianity, and Judaism. In addition, the law permits a man to have as many as four wives. Non-Muslim women normally inherit less than men, and a son’s inheritance may be double that of a daughter under sharia law. The reforms announced in November in Abu Dhabi would entitle non-Muslim women to larger inheritances than previously. Legal reforms in 2019 allow women to apply for a passport without the written consent of her husband. In 2019 the government began allowing women to be head of household.

To obtain a divorce with a financial settlement, a woman must prove her husband inflicted physical or moral harm upon her, abandoned her for at least three months, or did not provide for her or their children’s upkeep. Physical abuse claims require medical reports and two male witnesses. It is up to the judge’s discretion to consider women as full witnesses or half witnesses. Alternatively, women may divorce by paying compensation or surrendering their dowry to their husbands. In April, Sharjah passed a decree providing female citizens additional protections against eviction from their marital home in cases of divorce. According to the decree, a divorced citizen woman cannot be evicted if the home was given as government aid or if she has children.

The strict interpretation of sharia does not apply to child custody cases, and courts applied the “the best interests of the child” standard. According to federal law, a divorced woman may lose custody of her children to their father once daughters reach age 13 and sons age 11. are permitted to file for continued custody until a daughter is married or a son finishes his education. Under federal law, fathers are permitted to seek custody of a son younger than age 11 if they believe the child has become “too soft.” The new family law for non-Muslims in Abu Dhabi, issued in November, grants parents joint custody, unless a parent waives their right or submits a request to deny the other parent custody on grounds of “ineligibility,” potential danger to the child, or failure to perform parental duties.

In March a criminal case against a resident who gave birth out of wedlock in 2020 was dismissed on the grounds that the decriminalization of consensual premarital sex rendered the act “unpunishable.” The legal reforms did not address the civil status of births out of wedlock, however, and many residents were not able to register their children without a marriage certificate.

Despite these changes to federal laws, local laws may still penalize adultery or consensual premarital sex. In August the Supreme Federal Court rejected the appeal of a woman from Sharjah accused of consensual premarital sex, finding that local laws remained applicable despite the absence of a federal penalty.

While the law mandates equal access to education for all, federal law prohibits coeducation in public universities, except in the United Arab Emirates University’s executive MBA program and in certain graduate programs at Zayed University. Many private schools, private universities, and institutions, however, were coeducational. According to officials, local women represented more than 70 percent of national higher education students.

The government excluded women from certain social and economic benefits, including land grants for building houses, because tribal family law often designates men as the heads of families.

The government has a Gender Balance Council to promote a greater role for female citizens, but not noncitizens, working outside the home. In 2020 the president issued a law stipulating equal wages for women and men in the private sector.

Systemic Racial or Ethnic Violence and Discrimination

Racial discrimination is illegal, but the government did not effectively enforce these protections and discrimination remains common in areas such as employment. In September the Euro-Mediterranean Human Rights Monitor and ImpACT International for Human Rights Policies accused the government of arresting individuals based on their race and national origin and deporting them without charge. Job postings may list ethnic preferences, and the government has taken no action to mitigate such discrimination in the workplace.

Children

Birth Registration: Children generally derive citizenship from their parents. The children of citizen mothers married to foreigners do not receive citizenship automatically. The government registered noncitizen births, including of Bidoon. Despite recent legal reforms, women reportedly faced difficulty registering births, and thus obtaining residency and travel documents for their children, without a marriage certificate, or if they were unable to pay hospital debts.

Education: Education is compulsory through the 12th grade or until the age of 18, whichever occurs first; however, the law was not enforced, and some children did not attend school, especially children of noncitizens. The government provided free primary education only to citizens. Noncitizen children could enroll in public schools only if they scored more than 90 percent on entrance examinations, which authorities administered in Arabic, and if one of the parents worked in a government entity, among other criteria. In 2018 the Ministry of Education made all public schools coeducational from the first to fifth grades, starting with that year’s first-grade class.

Child Abuse: The law prohibits child abuse, and the government took steps to increase awareness of the issue, including the Child Safety Campaign, which reinforced the role of media in protecting the rights of children. In March the Fujairah Appeals Court fined an Emirati man AED 1,100 ($300) for assaulting and injuring his 11-year-old son, as confirmed in two videos by the victim’s mother. In August the Dubai police announced they had handled 103 child abuse cases, including 17 instances of children deprived of identity documents and 14 of their education rights, thus far in the year.

Child, Early, and Forced Marriage: The legal age of marriage for both men and women is 18, unless a judge gives approval for an earlier marriage.

Sexual Exploitation of Children: The law criminalizes the sexual exploitation of children, with a minimum penalty for conviction of 10 years in prison. The penalty for conviction of sex with children younger than 14 is life imprisonment. Distribution and consumption of child pornography is illegal.

International Child Abductions: The country is not a party to the 1980 Hague Convention on the Civil Aspects of International Child Abduction. See the Department of State’s Annual Report on International Parental Child Abduction at https://travel.state.gov/content/travel/en/International-Parental-Child-Abduction/for-providers/legal-reports-and-data/reported-cases.html.

Anti-Semitism

There is no indigenous Jewish community. There were no synagogues, but Abu Dhabi was constructing the country’s first purpose-built synagogue as part of the larger government-sponsored Abrahamic Family House, scheduled to open in 2022. The small foreign Jewish population conducted regular and holiday prayer services in rented space. In February the Jewish community living in the country formally incorporated the Association of Gulf Jewish Communities, the country’s first Jewish court of law, to adjudicate personal disputes. Dubai’s Jewish community was able to obtain its first official license from the CDA under the name “Gates of the East,” conferring among other privileges the ability to seek religious worker visas. Anti-Semitic remarks decreased on social media, and government officials demonstrated inclusivity by broadcasting greetings on Jewish holidays through social media and highlighting the normalization of UAE-Israel relations under the Abraham Accords to promote interfaith understanding and combat anti-Semitism.

Trafficking in Persons

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

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

Both civil law and sharia criminalize consensual same-sex sexual conduct between adults. Under sharia individuals who engage in consensual same-sex sexual conduct could be subject to the death penalty. Dubai’s penal code allows for up to a 10-year prison sentence for conviction of such activity, while Abu Dhabi’s penal code allows for up to a 14-year prison sentence. There were no known reports of arrests or prosecutions for consensual same-sex conduct.

The law does not extend antidiscrimination protections to LGBTQI+ individuals on the basis of their sexual orientation, gender identity or expression, or sex characteristics. There were no government efforts to address potential discrimination.

In November 2020 the penal code dropped a clause criminalizing wearing clothing deemed inappropriate for one’s sex. The law now criminalizes only men who enter a place designated for women while disguised as a woman. The punishment for this infraction is up to one year in jail and a fine of up to AED 100,000 ($27,250).

The law permits doctors to conduct sex reassignment surgery when there are “psychological” and “physiological” signs of gender and sex disparity. The penalty for performing an unwarranted “sex correction” surgery is three to 10 years in prison.

Due to social conventions and potential repression, LGBTQI+ organizations did not operate openly, nor were gay pride marches or gay rights advocacy events held.

Section 7. Worker Rights

a. Freedom of Association and the Right to Collective Bargaining

The law neither provides for the right to organize, strike, or bargain collectively nor permits workers to form or join unions. The labor law forbids strikes by public-sector employees, security guards, and migrant workers. The law does not entirely prohibit strikes in the private sector but allows an employer to suspend an employee for striking. The government generally enforced labor laws, but penalties were not commensurate with those for other laws involving denials of civil rights, such as discrimination.

In the private sector, the Ministry of Human Resources and Emiratization must approve and register individual employment contracts. The labor law does not apply to public-sector employees, agricultural workers, or most workers in export-processing zones. Domestic workers fall under a separate labor law but are regulated by the Ministry of Human Resources and Emiratization. Persons with a claim to refugee status but who lacked legal residency status, including those with either short-term visitor visas or expired visas, were generally not eligible for employment.

Private-sector employees may file collective employment dispute complaints with the Ministry of Human Resources and Emiratization, which by law acts as mediator between the parties. Employees may then file unresolved disputes within the labor court system, which forwards disputes to a conciliation council. Public-sector employees may file an administrative grievance or a case in a civil court to address a labor-related dispute or complaint. Administrative remedies are available for labor complaints, and authorities commonly applied them to resolve issues such as delayed wage payments, unpaid overtime, or substandard housing.

All foreign workers have the right to file labor-related grievances with the Ministry of Human Resources and Emiratization. Reports on the length of administrative procedures varied, with workers citing both speedy and delayed processes. The ministry sometimes intervened in foreign workers’ disputes with employers and helped negotiate private settlements. The law allows employers to request the government to cancel the work permit of, and deport for up to one year, any foreign worker on a work-sponsored residency visa for unexcused absences of more than seven consecutive days or for participating in a strike. The law prohibits unauthorized demonstrations or the expression of opinions deemed “false, or hurtful to the country’s public image.” Changes to the penal code announced in November mandated deportation of noncitizen workers inciting or participating in a strike. In June Abu Dhabi set up a fast-track court to handle labor disputes and cases concerning unpaid wages for claims of less than AED 500,000 ($136,000). Plaintiffs must register their cases with the Abu Dhabi Judicial Department, and the courts are obligated to hear cases and issue rulings within 15 days. Rulings on claims less than AED 50,000 ($13,600) may not be appealed.

Abu Dhabi police directed private security personnel at several camps for laborers to surveil gatherings of laborers and report if they discussed security, social, and religious-related concerns.

Professional associations were not independent, and authorities had broad powers to interfere in their activities. For example, the Ministry of Human Resources and Emiratization had to license and approve professional associations, which were required to receive government approval for international affiliations and travel by members. The government granted some professional associations with majority citizen membership a limited ability to raise work-related matters, petition the government for redress, and file grievances with the government.

Foreign workers may belong to local professional associations; however, they do not have voting rights and may not serve on association boards. Apart from these professional associations, in a few instances some foreign workers came together to negotiate with their employers on issues such as housing conditions, nonpayment of wages, and working conditions.

The threat of deportation discouraged noncitizens from expressing work-related grievances. Nonetheless, occasional protests and strikes took place. The government did not always punish workers for nonviolent protests or strikes, but it dispersed such protests and sometimes deported noncitizen participants. Following the mandatory closure of many businesses in response to the COVID-19 pandemic, the government gave employers the ability to reduce wages or place workers on unpaid leave with the workers’ consent. There were instances of employers exploiting these changes illegally to reduce salaries or furlough workers without their consent.

In Dubai the CDA regulates and provides licensing services to nonprofit civil society organizations and associations that organize ongoing social, cultural, artistic, or entertainment activities. All voluntary organizations and individual volunteers are required to register with the CDA within six months. In addition, all voluntary activities require a CDA permit, but there are no prescribed penalties for noncompliance.

b. Prohibition of Forced or Compulsory Labor

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

The government took steps to prevent forced labor through continued implementation of the Wages Protection System (WPS) (see section 7.e.). In April the Ministry of Human Resources and Emiratization increased the penalty for private-sector companies that do not pay salaries on time. Upon recruiting a new employee, the employer has the option either to submit a bank guarantee on behalf of the employee or to insure them for two years. In case of a company’s bankruptcy or failure to pay benefits, employees receive insurance coverage of end-of-service benefits, vacation allowance, overtime allowance, unpaid wages, return air tickets, and compensation for any work injuries certified by a court ruling. Some employers subjected migrant domestic workers, and to a lesser degree construction and other manual labor workers, to conditions indicative of forced labor. Contract substitution remained a problem. Workers experienced nonpayment of wages, unpaid overtime, failure to grant legally required time off, withholding of passports, threats, and in some cases psychological, physical, or sexual abuse.

Contrary to the law, employers routinely withheld employees’ passports, thus restricting their freedom of movement and ability to leave the country or change jobs. There were media reports that employees were coerced to surrender their passports for “safekeeping” and sign documentation that the surrender was voluntary. In most cases individuals reported they were able to obtain their travel documents without difficulty when needed, but this was not always the case. With domestic workers, passport withholding frequently occurred, and enforcement against this practice was weak. In labor camps it was common practice for passports to be kept in a central secure location, accessible with 24 to 48 hours’ notice. In June a group of Indian migrant workers became stranded without jobs after they were reportedly duped by an agent who confiscated their passports.

Some employers forced migrant workers in the domestic and agricultural sectors to compensate them for hiring expenses such as visa fees, health exams, and insurance, which the law requires employers to pay, by withholding wages or having these costs deducted from their contracted salary. Some employers did not pay their employees contracted wages even after they satisfied these “debts.”

There were reports from community leaders that employers refused to apply for a residency visa for their domestic workers, rendering them undocumented and thus more vulnerable to exploitative labor practices.

Although charging workers recruitment fees was illegal, workers in both the corporate and domestic sectors often borrowed money to pay recruiting fees in their home countries, and as a result they spent most of their salaries trying to repay home-country labor recruiters or lenders. These debts limited workers’ options to leave a job, sometimes trapped them in exploitive work conditions, and increased their vulnerability to labor trafficking through debt-based coercion. The Ministry of Human Resources and Emiratization oversees recruitment of domestic workers through one-stop Tadbeer Centers at which recruitment agencies register their services, workers undergo interviews and receive training, and visas and identification documents are distributed.

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

c. Prohibition of Child Labor and Minimum Age for Employment

The law prohibits and criminalizes all the worst forms of child labor, but penalties were not commensurate with those for analogous serious crimes, such as kidnapping. The law prohibits employment of persons younger than 15 and includes special provisions regarding children ages 15 to 18. Under the labor law, teenagers are not allowed to work at night in industrial enterprises, be hired to do hazardous or strenuous jobs, or work overtime or on holidays. The law excludes agricultural work, leaving underage workers in these sectors unprotected. Under the law governing domestic workers, 18 is the minimum age for legal work. The Ministry of Human Resources and Emiratization is responsible for enforcing the regulations and generally did so effectively.

In September the government announced a juvenile work permit, issued by the Ministry of Human Resources and Emiratization, allowing individuals aged 15 to 18 to apply for a part-time permit provided they receive approval from their parents, hold valid residency, and continue their education. The permit allows youth to work six hours a day, with a one-hour break, for up to six months, or for a few hours during a year. A training permit allows those older than 12 to work in the private sector as summer hires.

d. Discrimination with Respect to Employment and Occupation

In November the government announced a new labor law that specifically prohibits discrimination based on race, color, sex, religion, nationality, ethnicity, or disability. The government also reformed laws that prohibited women from working during certain hours, or in certain occupations, eliminating legal restrictions. A national decree introduced new rules to the labor laws to promote equal opportunities and access to the labor market, prohibit discrimination based on gender in the workplace, and repeal articles prohibiting women from working during the hours of 10 p.m. to 7 a.m. and in hazardous, strenuous, or physically harmful jobs. The decree prohibits discrimination in jobs with the same functions and prohibits an employer from discriminating against or terminating an employee based on pregnancy. In 2020 the UAE offered paid parental leave, granting private-sector employees five days and public-sector employees three days of parental leave.

Various departments within the Ministries of Human Resources and Emiratization, Education, and Community Development are responsible for protecting the rights of persons with disabilities, and the government enforced these rights in employment, housing, and entitlement programs. Enforcement was effective for jobs in the public sector, and the government made efforts to encourage private-sector hiring of persons with disabilities. Some emirates and the federal government included statements in their human resources regulations emphasizing priority for hiring citizens with disabilities in the public sector and actively encouraged the hiring of all persons with disabilities.

A presidential decree grants women equal pay for “work of equal value” in the private sector. Work of “equal value” is to be determined by rules and regulations approved by the cabinet based on recommendations from the Ministry of Human Resources and Emiratization. Women who worked in the private sector, and especially nonnationals, however, regularly did not receive equal benefits and reportedly faced discrimination in promotions and equality of wages. The domestic worker law also prohibits discrimination based on race, color, gender, religion, political opinion, national, or social origin. Nevertheless, job advertisements requesting applications only from certain nationalities were common and not regulated. In free-trade zones individualized laws govern employment requirements.

e. Acceptable Conditions of Work

Wage and Hour Laws: There is no national minimum wage. The government announced in November, however, that a new labor law would set a minimum wage for employees in the private sector to be determined by the cabinet. There was very limited information on average domestic, agricultural, or construction worker salaries or on public-sector salaries. In some sectors minimum wages were determined by workers’ nationality and years of experience. The law prescribes a 48-hour workweek and paid annual holidays. The law states daily working hours must not exceed eight hours in day or night shifts and provides for overtime pay to employees working more than eight hours in a 24-hour period, apart from those employed in trade, hotels, cafeterias, security, domestic work, and other jobs as decided by the Ministry of Human Resources and Emiratization.

The government took action, including site visits, to address wage payment issues. Its implementation of the WPS and fines for noncompliance discouraged employers from withholding salaries to foreign workers under the jurisdiction of the Ministry of Human Resources and Emiratization. The WPS requires private institutions employing more than 100 employees to pay workers electronically via approved banks, exchange bureaus, and other financial institutions, to assure timely and full payment of agreed wages and overtime within 10 days of payment due date. After 16 days of nonpayment, an employer becomes ineligible for new work permits from the ministry. If the nonpayment persists past 29 days, the ministry refers the case to the labor courts; after 60 days, the employer faces a fine for each unpaid worker. For companies employing fewer than 100 employees, the freezes, fines, and court referrals apply only after 60 days of nonpayment. The government enforced fines for employers who entered incorrect information into the WPS or made workers sign documents falsely attesting to receipt of benefits. Media and diplomatic sources continued to report that some companies retained foreign workers’ bank cards or accompanied them to withdraw cash, coercively shortchanging the employees even though the WPS showed the proper amount paid. Such cases were difficult to prove in labor courts. The WPS payment requirement did not apply to foreign workers under the authority of the Ministry of Interior, such as agricultural workers, or to domestic laborers.

In July a judge from a Dubai labor court affirmed that under the federal labor law there is no minimum wage, noting that the law stipulates that “both parties who sign a work contract can agree to include a specified salary to the contract.” He added that certain jobs related to private security under the supervision of the Dubai police do have a monthly minimum wage. According to TAMM, an online government services platform, Tadbeer Centers charged higher recruitment and sponsorship transfer fees for domestic workers of certain nationalities, including those from Indonesia and the Philippines.

Occupational Safety and Health: Occupational safety and health standards were appropriate for the main industries in the country, such as construction. Penalties for violations of occupational safety and health laws were commensurate with those for crimes like negligence. Responsibility for identifying unsafe situations remains with occupational safety and health experts and not the worker. The Ministry of Human Resources and Emiratization was responsible for enforcing laws governing acceptable conditions of work for workers in professional and semiskilled job categories but did not do so in all sectors, including the informal sector. To monitor the private sector, the ministry had active departments for inspection, occupational safety, and wage protection. Workplace inspection is permissible but not required under the law.

Government occupational health and safety standards require that employers provide employees with a safe work and living environment, including minimum rest periods and limits on the number of hours worked, depending on the nature of the work. For example, the law mandates a two-and-one-half-hour midday work break between June 15 and September 15 for laborers who work in exposed open areas, such as construction sites. Companies are required to make water, vitamins, supplements, and shelter available to all outdoor workers during the summer months to meet health and safety requirements. Employers who do not comply are subject to fines and suspension of operations. The government may exempt companies from the midday work break if the company cannot postpone the project for emergency or technical reasons. Such projects included laying asphalt or concrete and repairing damaged water pipes, gas lines, or electrical lines. Employers with 50 or more employees must provide low-salaried workers with accommodations.

The Ministry of Human Resources and Emiratization conducted inspections of labor camps and workplaces such as construction sites, routinely fined employers for violating the midday break rule, and published compliance statistics. The penalties were not commensurate with those for crimes like fraud, which carried larger fines and imprisonment. The ministry stated that it issued written documentation on health and safety problems needing correction and reviewed them in subsequent inspections. Nevertheless, some low-wage foreign workers faced substandard living conditions, including overcrowded apartments or unsafe and unhygienic lodging in labor camps. In some cases the ministry cancelled hiring permits for companies that failed to provide adequate housing.

During some inspections of labor camps, the ministry employed interpreters to assist foreign workers in understanding employment guidelines. The ministry operated a toll-free hotline in several languages spoken by foreign residents through which workers were able to report delayed wage payments or other abuses. The ministry’s mobile van units visited some labor camps to inform workers of their rights. The Abu Dhabi Judicial Department and Dubai courts also employed buses as mobile courts, which traveled to labor camps to allow workers to register legal complaints. Abu Dhabi’s mobile courtroom was used for cases involving large groups or those who encountered difficulties attending court.

Emirate-level officials across the country developed programs aimed at verifying the protection of workers’ rights, security, and safety during the COVID-19 pandemic. In Abu Dhabi workers residing in labor camps and industrial cities received free COVID-19 testing. Quarantine facilities and free health care were provided to those who tested positive. The Dubai Municipality and the Dubai Health Authority instituted regulations, including thermal screening and capacity limitations on shared transportation to and from work sites, to limit the spread of COVID-19 within labor camps, and engaged in a systematic inspection campaign to verify compliance.

The government-supported NGO EHRA promoted worker rights. It conducted unannounced visits to labor camps and work sites to monitor conditions and reported problems to the Ministry of Human Resources and Emiratization.

There were cases in which workers were injured or killed on job sites; however, authorities typically did not disclose details of workplace injuries and deaths or discuss the adequacy of safety measures despite a Ministry of Human Resources and Emiratization requirement that companies with more than 15 employees submit labor injuries reports. A government resolution requires private companies that employ more than 500 workers to hire at least one citizen as an occupational health and safety officer; companies with more than 1,000 employees must hire two such officers. In addition, Dubai required construction companies and industrial firms to appoint safety officers accredited by authorized entities to promote greater site safety. In August the Abu Dhabi Court of Appeal ordered a company to compensate a worker after he fell into a ditch during work, sustaining multiple injuries. Reports of vehicle-accident deaths of delivery workers in Dubai highlighted the lack of protections for migrant laborers, who have been in particular demand due to the pandemic.

There were no reports of migrant worker suicides and limited stories of attempted suicides, which observers linked attributed to personal problems possibly linked to problems in the workplace. Dubai police and the Dubai Foundation for Women and Children, a quasi-governmental organization, conducted training programs aimed at decreasing suicidal behavior.

Sailors faced particular difficulty remedying grievances against employers. Although ship owners operating in the country’s ports must carry insurance contracts covering repatriation of noncitizen employees, owners often declared bankruptcy but refused to sell their ships, leaving their crews aboard under substandard conditions without pay or regular resupply. In January media reports called attention to the five-man crew of the MT Iba, a merchant tanker that ran aground after anchoring offshore for several years due to its owner’s financial problems. The crew survived on limited food rations until the ship was sold in March, whereupon they received 80 percent of the salaries they had been owed for more than two years.

To provide for the continuity of ship crews complicated by COVID-19, in August the Federal Transport Authority permitted crew changes in all ports across the country. Previously, crew changes were possible only in Dubai. The decision sought to relieve crews whose time aboard exceeded the limits delineated under maritime conventions.

Informal Sector: There was no official information available on the informal economy, legal enforcement within this sector, or an estimate of its size; however, anecdotal reports indicated it was common for individuals to enter the country on a nonwork visa and join the informal job sector, subjecting them to exploitative conditions. The Ministry of Human Resources and Emiratization requires that residents sponsoring a domestic worker meet an income standard sufficient to pay the employee a living wage. Workers in agriculture and other categories overseen by the Ministry of Interior come under a different regulatory regime. These workers are not covered by private- and public-sector labor law, but have some legal protections regarding working hours, overtime, timeliness of wage payments, paid leave, health care, and the provision of adequate housing. Enforcement of these rules was often weak, however. As a result, these workers were more vulnerable to substandard work conditions.

Domestic workers often faced unacceptable working conditions. Many such workers frequently worked seven days a week and more than 12 hours a day with few or no holidays, no overtime pay, and limited means to redress grievances. The law prohibits employers from withholding foreign workers’ passports and penalizes employers who do so, but noncitizen community leaders and officials from labor-exporting countries stated that passport confiscation remained a widespread problem with insufficient enforcement of penalties. Despite partial exit-permit reform, domestic workers were required to obtain permission from employers to leave the country. Some employers denied domestic workers food or access to a telephone although such actions were illegal.

Despite a government-mandated contract for domestic workers spelling out requirements for working hours, time off, overtime, health care, and housing, some originating countries contended that they were unable to review and approve their citizens’ labor contracts. As a result, some countries attempted to halt their citizens’ travel to the UAE to assume domestic labor positions. In April the Philippines lifted its 2014 ban on domestic worker recruitment to the UAE after agreeing with the Ministry of Human Resources and Emiratization on additional contract protections to provide domestic workers access to a personal mobile phone, private sleeping quarters, and a bank account in the worker’s name for salary deposits. Liability for exploitation was extended to cover recruiters, and any contract extensions or transfers to other employers would need to be approved by the Philippine Embassy.

Although domestic worker salaries were not required to be paid via the WPS, the government continued a 2020 pilot program to incorporate domestic workers into the WPS through an agreement between the Ministry of Human Resources and Emiratization and First Abu Dhabi Bank. The National Committee to Combat Human Trafficking reported that the pilot program integrated 423 individuals during the year, a figure representing less than 1 percent of the estimated number of domestic workers nationally.

The government allowed foreign workers to switch jobs without a letter of permission from their employer. Labor regulations provide foreign employees the option to work without an employment contract or, in cases in which a contract was in force, to change employer sponsors after two years, as well as within the first two years within the terms of the contract. The government designed this regulation to improve job mobility and reduce the vulnerability of foreign workers to abuse. To mitigate against potential labor abuse under the employer-based sponsorship system known as kafala, domestic workers have the right to terminate their employment if an employer fails to meet contractual obligations or if the employee is subject to sexual harassment or physical or verbal abuse by the employer. Despite legal measures allowing workers to change sponsors or terminate their employment, regulatory enforcement remained a problem.

West Bank and Gaza

Read A Section: West Bank And Gaza

Israel

EXECUTIVE SUMMARY

The Palestinian Authority Basic Law provides for an elected president and legislative council. There have been no elections in the West Bank and Gaza for those positions since 2006, and President Mahmoud Abbas has remained in office despite the expiration of his four-year term in 2009. The Palestinian Legislative Council has not functioned since 2007, and in 2018 the Palestinian Authority dissolved the Constitutional Court. In 2019 and again in September 2020, President Abbas called for the Palestinian Authority to organize elections for the Palestinian Legislative Council within six months. President Abbas indefinitely postponed national elections on April 30, stating the reason was that Israel had not agreed to allow Palestinians in East Jerusalem to participate in voting. The Palestinian Authority head of government is Prime Minister Mohammad Shtayyeh. President Abbas is also chairman of the Palestine Liberation Organization and general commander of the Fatah movement.

Six Palestinian Authority security forces agencies operated in parts of the West Bank. Several are under Palestinian Authority Ministry of Interior operational control and follow the prime minister’s guidance. The Palestinian Civil Police has 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 Palestinian Authority security forces personnel, including accusations of abuse and corruption. The General Intelligence Service is responsible for external intelligence gathering and operations and internal criminal investigations and arrests. The Preventive Security Organization is responsible for internal intelligence gathering and investigations related to internal security cases, which was interpreted to include political dissent. The Palestinian Authority used the Preventative Security Organization at times to crack down on dissent it considered threatening to political stability. The Presidential Guard protects facilities and provides dignitary protection. Palestinian Authority civilian authorities maintained effective control of security forces. There were credible reports that members of the Palestinian Authority security forces committed abuses.

In the Gaza Strip, the designated terrorist organization Hamas exercised authority. The security apparatus of Hamas in the Gaza Strip largely mirrored that in the West Bank. Internal security included civil police, guards, and protection security; an internal intelligence-gathering and investigative entity (similar to the Preventive Security Organization in the West Bank); and civil defense. National security included the national security forces, military justice, military police, medical services, and the prison authority. Hamas maintained a large military wing in Gaza, the Izz ad-din al-Qassam Brigades. In some instances Hamas utilized its military wing to crack down on internal dissent. Public sector employees sometimes believed there was pressure to show loyalty to Hamas and its military wing. There were credible reports that Hamas security forces committed numerous abuses.

The government of Israel occupies the West Bank and has maintained a West Bank security presence through the Israel Defense Forces, the Israeli Security Agency (Shin Bet), the Israel National Police, and the Border Guard. Israel maintained effective civilian control of its security forces throughout the West Bank. Palestinian residents and Israeli and Palestinian nongovernmental organizations accused Israeli security forces of abuses during the year. The Israeli military and civilian justice systems on occasion investigated and found members of Israeli security forces to have committed abuses.

The Palestinian Authority exercised varying degrees of authority in restricted areas of the West Bank due to the Israel Defense Forces’ continuing presence, and none over Palestinian residents of East Jerusalem due to Israel’s extension of Israeli law and authority to East Jerusalem in 1967 and an Israeli prohibition on any Palestinian Authority activity anywhere in Jerusalem. Oslo Accords-era agreements divide the West Bank into Areas A, B, and C. West Bank Palestinian population centers mostly fall into Areas A and B, with Palestinian agricultural lands and rural communities in Area C. The Palestinian Authority has formal responsibility for security in Area A, but Israeli security forces frequently conducted security operations there. The Palestinian Authority maintains administrative control, and Israel maintains security control of Area B in the West Bank. Israel retains full security control of Area C and has designated most Area C land as either closed military zones or settlement zoning areas. The Palestinian Authority maintained security coordination with Israel during the year.

Significant human rights issues included:

1) With respect to the Palestinian Authority: credible reports of unlawful or arbitrary killings by Palestinian Authority officials; torture or cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment or punishment by Palestinian Authority officials; arbitrary arrest or detention; political prisoners and detainees; significant problems with the independence of the judiciary; arbitrary or unlawful interference with privacy; serious restrictions on free expression and media, including violence, threats of violence, unjustified arrests and prosecutions against journalists, and censorship; serious restrictions on internet freedom; substantial interference with the freedom of peaceful assembly and freedom of association, including harassment of nongovernmental organizations; serious and unreasonable restrictions on political participation, since the Palestinian Authority has not held a national election since 2006; serious government corruption; lack of investigation of and accountability for gender-based violence; crimes, violence, and threats of violence motivated by anti-Semitism; crimes involving violence and threats of violence targeting lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer, or intersex persons; and reports of the worst forms of child labor.

2) With respect to Hamas: credible reports of unlawful or arbitrary killings by Hamas personnel; torture or cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment or punishment by Hamas personnel; unjust detention; political prisoners or detainees; serious problems with the independence of the judiciary; arbitrary or unlawful interference with privacy; serious restrictions on free expression and media, including violence, threats of violence, unjustified arrests and prosecutions against journalists, censorship, and the existence of criminal libel and slander laws; serious restrictions on internet freedom; substantial interference with the freedom of peaceful assembly and freedom of association; serious and unreasonable restrictions on political participation because there has been no national election since 2006; serious government corruption; lack of investigation of and accountability for gender-based violence; crimes, violence, and threats of violence motivated by anti-Semitism; unlawful recruitment and use of child soldiers; crimes involving violence and threats of violence targeting lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer, or intersex persons; and the worst forms of child labor.

3) With respect to Israeli security forces in the West Bank: credible reports of unlawful or arbitrary killings due to unnecessary or disproportionate use of force by Israeli officials; torture or cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment or punishment by Israeli officials; arbitrary arrest or detention; arbitrary or unlawful interference with privacy; restrictions on free expression and media, including violence, threats of violence, unjustified arrests and prosecutions against journalists, and censorship; restrictions on internet freedom; restrictions on Palestinians residing in Jerusalem, including arbitrary or unlawful interference with privacy, family, and home; substantial interference with the rights of peaceful assembly and freedom of association, including harassment of nongovernmental organizations; and restrictions on freedom of movement and residence.

4) With respect to Palestinian civilians threatening Israeli citizens: credible reports of unlawful or arbitrary killings and credible reports of injuries to Israeli citizens.

5) With respect to Israeli civilians threatening Palestinian citizens: credible reports of unlawful or arbitrary killings, and credible reports of injuries to Palestinians.

There were criticisms that senior Palestinian Authority officials made comments glorifying violence in some cases and inappropriately influencing investigations and disciplinary actions related to abuses. Israeli authorities operating in the West Bank took some steps to address impunity or reduce abuses, but human rights groups frequently asserted they did not adequately pursue investigations and disciplinary actions related to abuses against Palestinians, including actions to stop or punish violence by Israeli settlers in the West Bank. There were no legal or independent institutions capable of holding Hamas in Gaza accountable, and impunity was widespread. Several militant groups with access to heavy weaponry, including Palestinian Islamic Jihad, also operated with impunity in and from Gaza. Israeli authorities rarely acted against Israelis who threw stones in the West Bank, and there were no known reports during the year of the Israel Defense Forces shooting Israeli attackers.

This section of the report covers the West Bank and Gaza Strip, and East Jerusalem territories that Israel occupied during the June 1967 war. In 2017 the United States recognized Jerusalem as the capital of Israel and Israel’s sovereignty over the Golan Heights in 2019. Language in this report is not meant to convey a position on any final status issues to be negotiated between the parties to the conflict, including the specific boundaries of Israeli sovereignty in Jerusalem or the borders between Israel and any future Palestinian state.

Section 1. Respect for the Integrity of the Person

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

There were reports that Israeli and Palestinian governmental forces or their agents committed arbitrary or unlawful killings. Palestinian security forces were accused of using excessive force against the Palestinian Authority’s (PA’s) political opponents. On June 24, Palestinian Authority Security Forces (PASF) entered the Israeli-controlled H2 area of Hebron, raided the house where Palestinian dissident Nizar Banat was hiding, and severely beat him. According to video and eyewitness testimony, Banat was still alive when PASF carried him out of the house but was declared dead shortly thereafter upon his arrival at the Hebron public hospital. An autopsy found he had been beaten on the head, chest, neck, legs, and hands, with less than an hour elapsing between his arrest and his death. The PA detained 14 PASF officers belonging to the Preventive Security Organization (PSO) that they claim carried out the botched arrest, and an internal PA investigation continued at year’s end. On August 28, Banat’s family requested a foreign government to open an investigation under the principle of universal jurisdiction, claiming they had no confidence in the PA’s capacity to deliver justice.

According to the Ministry of Public Security, 39 terror attacks or terror attack attempts were carried out during the year in the West Bank and 15 in Jerusalem; two persons were killed in these attacks. The PA continued to make payments to persons convicted of terrorism in Israeli courts serving prison sentences, former prisoners, and the families of those who died committing terrorist attacks. Israel considered these payments to incentivize, encourage, and reward terrorism, with higher monthly payments for lengthier prison sentences tied to more severe crimes. The PA considered these payments provided economic support to families who had lost their primary breadwinner.

Israeli security forces killed 73 Palestinians in the West Bank as of December 13, including 11 on May 14, the highest number of Palestinian fatalities recorded in a single day in the West Bank, including East Jerusalem, since the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs in the Occupied Palestinian Territories (UNOCHA) began recording fatalities in 2005. With respect to Palestinian civilians threatening Israeli citizens, there were four credible reports of unlawful or arbitrary killings and 150 credible reports of injuries to Israeli citizens as of December 20. With respect to Israeli civilians threatening Palestinian citizens, there were four credible reports of unlawful or arbitrary killings and 174 credible reports of injuries to Palestinians as of December 20.

An outbreak of violence in the ongoing Israeli-Palestinian conflict began on May 10, although disturbances took place earlier, and continued until a ceasefire came into effect on May 21. During the May escalation, 261 Palestinians were killed, including 67 children. Israeli strikes killed at least 241 persons and the rest were due to rockets falling short and other circumstances. An estimated 130 of the fatalities were civilians and 77 were members of armed groups, while the status of the remaining 54 had not been determined, according to UNOCHA. According to the human rights nongovernmental organization (NGO) B’Tselem, 20 Palestinians in Gaza, including seven minors, were killed by Palestinian rocket fire during the May conflict. B’Tselem was unable to ascertain who killed eight other Palestinians, six of them minors. According to UNOCHA, in Israel, 13 persons, including two children, were killed, and 710 others were injured. A member of the Israeli security forces was killed by an antitank missile fired by a Gaza-based Palestinian organization during the May conflict.

Throughout the year, Israeli security forces killed Palestinian protesters who B’Tselem and other rights groups asserted did not pose a mortal threat to ISF personnel. For example on May 14, approximately 200 residents of Ya’bad and the surrounding area participated in demonstrations, with some waving Palestinian flags while others burned tires and used boulders to block the road leading to the settlement of Mevo Dotan. Some of them also threw stones at several dozen Israeli soldiers who were standing on the road and in nearby olive groves. The Israeli soldiers used stun grenades and fired tear gas canisters and rubber-coated metal bullets in response. The soldiers also fired two live rounds at the protesters. One protester was injured in the leg and another, Yusef a-Nawasrah from the village of Fahmah, was hit in the waist and died soon afterwards, according to B’Tselem.

Also on May 14, several dozen young men from the area of Tulkarem came to an agricultural gate in the separation barrier, north of the village of Shuweika. Some of them waved Palestinian flags and threw stones at Israeli soldiers standing on the other side of the nearby barrier. The Israeli soldiers used stun grenades and fired tear gas canisters and rubber-coated metal bullets in response. One of the soldiers fired a live round, hitting Nizar Abu Zeinah, a resident of Tulkarem Refugee Camp, in the chest. Abu Zeinah was pronounced dead a short while later at a Tulkarem hospital, according to B’Tselem.

On May 15, near al-Birah in the West Bank, Israel Defense Force (IDF) soldiers fired tear gas canisters, rubber bullets, and live rounds at protesters from 70 to 100 yards away, severely injuring Fadi Washahah. He died two weeks later of brain injuries, according to B’Tselem.

On May 18 in the village of Tura al-Gharbiyah, soldiers on the roof of Samer Kabaha’s house threw stun grenades and fired tear gas canisters and rubber-coated metal bullets at dozens of men who had spread out around the house and in nearby alleys and were throwing stones at the soldiers. After participating, Muntasser Zidan was walking towards a grocery store with a friend away from the area of the clashes when a soldier opened fire with live rounds from the rooftop of the house and hit Zidan in the head. Zidan died of his wounds two days later, according to B’Tselem.

On July 21, Israeli police detained Abdo Yusuf al-Khatib al-Tamimi for a traffic violation. Police took him to the Moskabiya Detention Center in Jerusalem where he died on July 23. According to press reports, his family, and human rights groups, he was beaten and tortured in custody before he died. Photos published by Palestinian and international press after his death show a stitched gash on his forehead, a wound on his knee, and extensive bruising on other parts of his body. The Israeli Prison Services (IPS) announced that he had been “found dead” in his cell three days after his arrest. Al-Tamimi’s body reportedly was taken to the Abu Kabir Forensic Institute in East Jerusalem for an autopsy performed by Israeli authorities in the presence of a Palestinian doctor. Authorities have not yet made the autopsy results public.

Palestinians in Gaza protested multiple times at the fence between the Gaza Strip and Israel in August to make political and humanitarian demands, including reconstruction and reopening of border crossings. Hundreds participated in protests on August 21 and August 25, including armed militants and unarmed protesters. The Israeli military killed three persons during the protests, according to media reports: one al-Quds Brigade (AQB) militant, a 12-year-old boy, and another man. An Israeli border police officer also was killed.

In April the NGO Yesh Din released a report on the Military Advocate General’s (MAG’s) Fact Finding Assessment (FFA) Mechanism that was implemented to investigate incidents, including injuries and fatalities, during the “March of Return” protests that started in 2018 and continued through late 2019. Yesh Din found that of 231 incidents forwarded to the FFA, 59 percent, covering 140 fatalities, remained under FFA review. The FFA examines the details of a case and provides all relevant information to the MAG, who determines whether a criminal investigation is warranted. Yesh Din stated it was skeptical of the Israeli military’s ability to conduct thorough and effective investigations of the incidents so long after they occurred. Most of these fatalities were still undergoing the FFA Mechanism’s “quick” assessment three years later, according to Yesh Din.

A November 30 B’Tselem report entitled, Unwilling and Unable: Israels Whitewashed Investigations of the Great March of Return Protests concluded that the Israeli government had not seriously investigated killings of Palestinians or held IDF members accountable, despite announcing in 2018 that it would open investigations of its use of lethal force, which B’Tselem in part attributed to a desire to deflect international criticism and investigation at the International Criminal Court.

Some human rights groups alleged the ISF used excessive force while detaining and arresting some Palestinians accused of committing crimes. On December 4, Israeli border police shot and killed Muhammad Salima, a Palestinian from the West Bank town of Salfit, as he lay on the ground outside the Damascus Gate in Jerusalem. Salima had stabbed and injured an ultra-Orthodox Israeli man before running toward the officers, who shot him. Israel’s State Prosecutor’s Office briefly opened and then closed an investigation into the officers’ conduct, finding they had done nothing wrong. On May 25, in Um a-Sharayet in the West Bank, an Israeli Special Police Unit vehicle blocked Ahmad Abdu’s car after he got into it. According to video footage published by B’Tselem, officers were seen getting out of the vehicle and immediately firing several shots at the car at the apparently injured Abdu as he opened the righthand door, at which point the officers surrounded the car and dragged Abdu out, then left the scene without providing him first aid. An Israeli Border Police statement stated Abdu had been killed as part of an “arrest operation” but offered no explanation for the lethal shooting. B’Tselem stated that opening live fire at a person sitting in his car, without first trying to arrest him, is not an “attempted arrest” but rather is a targeted killing.

In Gaza, Hamas sentenced 21 individuals to death during the year, although it did not carry out any executions, according to the Democracy and Media Center (SHAMS). Among those sentenced to death, eight allegedly collaborated with Israel and one was sentenced for drug offenses. According to SHAMS, there is no law, decree, or legislation in the West Bank or Gaza Strip that punishes drug offenses with a death sentence. The Palestinian Center for Human Rights (PCHR) previously noted a significant increase in the death penalty in Gaza since 2007, with Hamas sentencing 130 persons to death and executing 25 during that period, despite significant concerns that Hamas courts did not meet minimum fair trial standards. By law the PA president must ratify each death penalty sentence. Hamas in previous years proceeded with executions without the PA president’s approval.

b. Disappearance

In the West Bank, there were no reports of disappearances by or on behalf of government authorities during the year. There was no new information on the disappearances in 2014 and 2015 of two Israeli citizens, Avraham Abera Mengistu and Hisham al-Sayed, who crossed into Gaza and whom Hamas reportedly apprehended and held incommunicado. Additionally, there was no new information on the status of two IDF soldiers that Hamas captured during the 2014 war, Hadar Goldin and Oron Shaul.

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. The PA has yet to establish a protocol for preventing torture. The quasi-governmental Independent Commission for Human Rights (ICHR) reported receiving 176 complaints of torture or mistreatment against the PA and 115 complaints against Hamas during the year. Some human rights groups reported that during the year Palestinian police took a more direct role in the mistreatment of Palestinian protesters than in previous years.

Between January and September 2020, 40 West Bank Palestinians and 50 Gaza Palestinians complained of torture and mistreatment by Palestinian security forces, according to Human Rights Watch (HRW). According to a 2019 update to a 2018 HRW report, torture regularly occurred in detention centers in both Gaza and the West Bank by Hamas and PA security services, respectively. HRW reported systematic and routine abuse in PA prisons, particularly in the PA’s Intelligence, Preventive Security, and Joint Security Committee detention facilities in Jericho. HRW reported practices that included forcing detainees to hold painful stress positions for long periods, beating, punching, and flogging. Victims also reported being cut, forced to stand on broken glass, and being sexually assaulted while in custody. A Palestinian accused of collaborating with Israel due to his political beliefs alleged to foreign diplomatic officials that he was tortured in a prison in Jericho.

Palestinian detainees held by the PASF registered complaints of abuse and torture with the ICHR. The PA Corrections and Rehabilitation Centers Department, under the authority of the Ministry of Interior, continued to maintain a mechanism for reviewing complaints of prisoner abuse in civil prisons. There was a box in the common area of the prison where prisoners could submit complaints, which a warden then reviewed. The UN Office on Drugs and Crime provided support to this system, including ensuring there were posters in every prison with the prisoners’ rights explained in English and Arabic.

In 2019 HRW stated, “there have been no serious efforts to hold wrongdoers to account or any apparent change in policy or practice” by the PA or Hamas. During the year courts in Gaza had not convicted any prison employees for mistreatment of prisoners, and courts in the West Bank had convicted only one employee of mistreatment of prisoners and sentenced him to 10 days in prison, according to HRW. On July 3, the PA arrested 14 Palestinian low-level security personnel in connection with the June 24 killing of dissident Nizar Banat (see section 1.a.). On September 5, the PA’s Security Forces Justice Commission completed its investigation into Banat’s killing and announced it would indict 14 PASF officers of beating Banat to death under the penal martial code of 1979. The first hearing took place on September 27, and weekly hearings continued. The Banat family’s lawyer walked out of a November 2 hearing in protest of verbal attacks against the family and himself by the defense counsel but resumed attending hearings in early December. Since Banat’s death, Preventative Security Organization (PSO) officers raided Banat family homes on multiple occasions and detained family members – including key witnesses present at the time of Banat’s death – purportedly as part of investigating retribution incidents related to the killing. Local security chiefs said this was necessary to prevent a spiraling cycle of violence, but Banat family members and activists alleged the PSO actions constituted witness intimidation and harassment. The trial continued at the end of the year, and the 14 defendants remained detained.

An Israeli news article reported on “serious violent behavior” by Israeli police towards Palestinian residents of East Jerusalem on December 27. Among complaints reportedly filed with the Police Internal Investigations Department, the article quoted a 16-year-old boy’s allegations that Israeli police stripped and beat him in a public bathroom; stated that Israeli police handcuffed and dragged a Palestinian woman across the floor; cited a female journalist’s complaint of sexist comments during an interrogation; and reported another child was dragged out of bed in the middle of the night, falsely identified as someone else, and his family members beaten. Jerusalem police described the report as “distorted and one-sided” but did not specifically dispute any of the details reported. Palestinians criticized Israeli police for devoting fewer resources on a per capita basis to regular crime and community policing in Palestinian neighborhoods in Jerusalem. Israeli police did not maintain a permanent presence in areas of Jerusalem outside the barrier and only entered to conduct raids, according to NGOs.

The attorney general announced January 24 that “no sufficient evidence was found to justify an indictment” of security officials in the case of Samer al-Arbid, a Palestinian suspect in the 2019 killing of Rina Shnerb near the settlement of Dolev in the West Bank. The NGO Public Committee against Torture in Israel (PCATI) alleged the ISA used “exceptional measures” in interrogating al-Arbid, who was admitted to a hospital unconscious and with serious injuries following an interrogation.

PCATI reported that “exceptional measures” 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, 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 were only two investigations into 1,300 complaints made since 2001; both cases were closed with no indictment. The average time it took the Inspector of Interrogee Complaints (IIC) to conclude the preliminary examination of a complaint filed by PCATI increased from 44 months in 2020 to 56 months during the year.

The NGO HaMoked alleged that Israeli detention practices in the West Bank 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 other acts of violence. According to the government of Israel, detainees receive the rights to which they are entitled in accordance with Israeli law and international treaties to which Israel is a party, and all allegations of abuse and mistreatment are taken seriously and investigated.

The MCW stated that more than 73 percent of Palestinian minors detained in the West Bank reported being subjected to various forms of physical abuse during arrest, transfer, or interrogation by Israeli authorities. The MCW reported that most minors were arrested in night raids and reported ISF used physical abuse, strip searches, threats of violence, hand ties, and blindfolds. In 2019, in response to a petition to the Supreme Court regarding the blindfolding of detainees, the state prosecution clarified that “military orders and regulations forbid the blindfolding of detainees, and action to clarify the rules to the troops acting in the region has been taken and will continue to be taken on a continuous basis.” The government of Israel stated this policy applies to all detainees and blindfolds are only to be used as a rare exception. As of October the MCW reported that more than 94 percent of minors arrested during the year reported being blindfolded or hooded upon arrest. Israeli military prosecutors most commonly charged Palestinian minors with stone throwing, according to the MCW.

Prison and Detention Center Conditions

Conditions in PA prisons and detention centers in the West Bank reportedly were poor, largely due to overcrowding and structural problems. Conditions of Hamas prisons in Gaza also were poor, with overcrowding cited as a major problem. NGOs reported all prisons in the West Bank and Gaza lacked adequate facilities and specialized medical care for detainees and prisoners with disabilities.

Physical Conditions: PA prisons were crowded and lacked ventilation, heating, cooling, and lighting systems conforming to international standards. Authorities at times held male juveniles with adult male prisoners and held political dissidents with violent criminals, although in some cases involving foreign citizens, male juveniles were held in a separate juvenile detention facility in Ramallah. Security services used separate detention facilities. Conditions for women were like those for men. The PA used several refurbished structures and buildings as prisons, some of which lacked necessary security accommodations.

There were periodic deaths in PA and Hamas prisons and limited remedial action to prevent them. In one example, Ayman al-Qadi died in September 2020 after an apparent suicide in a PA police station in Bethlehem while in pretrial detention for issuing bad checks. According to media reports, his family had requested he be released due to mental disabilities, but a state-ordered psychiatric examination had determined al-Qadi was not a risk to himself or others.

Administration: According to HRW, procedures designed to hold employees and administrators accountable in both PA and Hamas detention facilities rarely, if ever, led to consequences for serious abuses. Some prisons restricted access to visitors (see Independent Monitoring below). Human rights groups such as the PCHR reported families of imprisoned Palestinians, particularly Gazans, had limited ability to visit prisoners detained inside Israel due to the difficulty of obtaining permits to enter Israel, COVID-19 restrictions since March 2020, or having their request denied on “security grounds.”

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, 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 the 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 practices, as in previous years. Human rights organizations conducted monitoring visits with some prisoners in Gaza, but Hamas denied permission for representatives of these organizations to visit high-profile detainees and prisoners.

The Israeli government permitted visits by independent human rights observers to detention facilities it operated in the West Bank. NGOs sent representatives to meet with Palestinian prisoners, including those on hunger strikes, and inspect conditions in Israeli prisons, detention centers, and some Israeli security forces’ 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. During the COVID-19 pandemic, human rights groups reported that lawyers were at times barred from seeing their clients and families were prevented from seeing their incarcerated relatives in Israeli military prisons due to coronavirus prevention measures.

For further information on the treatment of Palestinians in Israeli prisons as well as prison conditions in Israel, see Country Reports on Human Rights Practices for Israel.

d. Arbitrary Arrest or Detention

The Palestinian Basic Law, operable in the West Bank and Gaza, 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. There were reports the PA in the West Bank and Hamas in Gaza did not observe these requirements and instead applied Jordanian law or used tribal courts, which do not provide the same protections.

Israel prosecutes Palestinian residents of the West Bank under military law and Israeli settlers in the West Bank under criminal and civil law. Israeli military 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 military court, with broad exceptions for security-related offenses. There were reports the IDF did not observe these requirements and employed administrative detention excessively. Israeli authorities also did not always apply the same laws to all residents of Jerusalem, regardless of their Israeli citizenship status. NGOs and Palestinian residents of East Jerusalem alleged Israeli security forces disproportionally devoted enforcement actions to Palestinian neighborhoods, particularly Issawiya and Sheikh Jarrah, with higher numbers of temporary checkpoints and raids than in West Jerusalem. For example, the IDF detained Sheikh Jarrah resident and activist Murad Ateah on August 10 and subsequently extended his detention multiple times before charging him with organizing activities that disturbed the peace in the neighborhood. His first hearing was scheduled for September 30, and his detention was subsequently extended 12 times.

Israel prosecuted Palestinian residents of the West Bank under military law and Israeli settlers in the West Bank under Israeli criminal and civil law. Israeli military law has broad exceptions for security-related offenses that limit the ability of any person to challenge the lawfulness of their arbitrary arrest and detention in military court.

In the West Bank, Israeli security forces routinely detained Palestinians for several hours and subjected them to interrogations, according to human rights groups.

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 arrests by the PA 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 of the arrest or authorities must release the detainee. 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. Amnesty International and other NGOs reported that the PASF isolated some detainees from outside monitors, legal counsel, and family throughout the duration of interrogation, effectively holding them incommunicado. There were reports that prison administrators denied some detainees visits from family members. The Palestinian Authority does not have the power to convict Israelis who commit crimes in Palestinian-controlled areas. Israeli citizens who commit crimes within the West Bank are subject to Israeli law and tried in courts within Israel.

The PA’s Military Intelligence organization (PASF/MI) investigated and arrested PA security force personnel from all PASF branches and civilians suspected of “security offenses,” such as terrorism.

In the Gaza Strip, Hamas detained many persons during the year without giving them recourse to legal counsel, judicial review, or bail. Hamas regularly referred cases to the Hamas-run military judiciary in violation of the Palestinian Basic Law. There were also instances in which Hamas retroactively issued arrest warrants for Gaza residents already in custody.

Israel applies Israeli military law to Palestinians in the West Bank, although NGOs criticized this practice as permitted under international humanitarian law only on a temporary basis. Israel has used military courts to prosecute Palestinians from the West Bank since 1967, and 95 percent of cases tried in military courts ended in conviction, according to the MCW. Approximately 800,000 Palestinian men, women, and children have been detained since 1967, according to the MCW. More than 80 percent of Palestinian prisoners arrested by the ISF in the West Bank were detained inside of Israel by Israeli authorities.

According to the MCW, 65 percent of Palestinian child detainees continued to be forcibly transferred or unlawfully detained in prisons located outside the West Bank, which the MCW stated was in violation of international law. Under Israeli law, children as young as 12 can be prosecuted in Israeli military courts. According to IPS figures obtained by the MCW, as of September the average number of Palestinian minors in Israeli detention during the year was down 11 percent from 2020. The monthly average of 147 was the lowest since the MCW began keeping records in 2008.

Israeli authorities generally provided Palestinians held in military custody with access to counsel, but detainees often obtained lawyers only after initial interrogations, according to NGOs. According to the MCW, many Palestinian detainees saw their lawyer for the first time when they appeared before an Israeli military court. The MCW also reported that many children were arrested in night-time military raids on their homes; tied and blindfolded; transferred to an interrogation center on the floor of military vehicles; experienced some physical and verbal abuse as well as threats; and continued to be questioned without prior access to a lawyer or being informed of their right to silence as required under Israeli military law. In 2020 the NGO HaMoked petitioned the Israeli Supreme Court to compel the ISF to end the practice of night-time raids and rely on summons issued to the parents as a first recourse. In response to the petition, the government of Israel initially argued there was no international law prohibiting the practice but subsequently clarified that a new, classified procedure went into force on August 1, eliminating the practice except in certain circumstances. The Supreme Court left the petition pending but ordered the state to submit an updated notice by February 1, 2022. HaMoked reported that since August 1 when the military order apparently went into effect, it has received calls from more than 50 parents asking for help with locating children in Israeli detention. Only two parents reported to HaMoked that they had received a summons prior to the detention. According to testimonies collected by the MCW, only 23 percent of detained Palestinian minors saw a lawyer prior to interrogation, a slight increase from 2020. In many cases, the MCW reported, minors spoke with a lawyer very briefly by telephone; in some cases, the telephone speaker was on with the interrogator in the room, preventing confidential attorney-client communications.

Israeli authorities stated their policy was to post notification of minors’ arrests within 48 hours, but senior officers could delay notification for up to 12 days. An Israeli military commander may request that a judge extend this period. The MCW reported that Israeli authorities did not always inform Palestinian detainees of the reasons for arrest at the time of arrest.

Israeli authorities stated their policy was to provide written notification concerning the arrest to parents when they arrested a child at home; however, NGOs claimed this occurred only in 47 percent of cases. Israeli military law does not require the presence of a parent or guardian during interrogations, according to Parents against Child Detention, while Israeli juvenile law does. According to HaMoked and media outlets, the IPS prohibited Palestinian minors from calling their parents for months upon their initial detention. In 2019 the IPS began a program to increase telephone access, but the lack of regular access persisted, according to HaMoked, the MCW, and Parents against Child Detention.

Israeli military law defines security offenses to include any offense committed under circumstances that might raise a suspicion of harm to Israel’s security and that ISF believes may be linked to terrorist activity. Under military law the IPS may hold adults suspected of a security offense for four days prior to bringing them before a judge, with 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. Suspects between the ages of 12 and 14 may be held up to one day, with a possible one-day extension. Those between ages 14 and 16 may be held up to two days, with a possible two-day extension. Those between ages 16 and 18 may be held up to three days, with a possible three-day extension. The law mandates audiovisual recording of interrogations of minors in the West Bank for non-security-related offenses only.

Under military law, an Israeli Military Judge may hold adults suspected of a security offense for 20 days prior to an indictment, with the possibility of additional 15-day extensions up to 75 days. An Israeli military appeals court may then extend the detention up to 90 days at a time. Prior to an indictment on a security offense, authorities may hold minors for 15 days, with the possibility of 10-day extensions up to 40 days. An Israeli military appeals court may then extend the detention up to 45 days at a time. Israeli authorities granted or denied bail to Palestinians detained for security offenses 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, but in most cases, bail was denied.

The 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.

The law allows the Israeli Ministry of Defense to detain persons administratively without charge for up to six months, renewable indefinitely. There has been criticism of misuse of administrative detention, including by the United Nations.

Arbitrary Arrest: According to the ICHR and HRW, the PA in the West Bank and Hamas in Gaza made arbitrary arrests based on political affiliation. After the PA postponed the PLC elections in April, the PASF arrested dozens of persons from areas known to support PA President Abbas’s exiled Fatah rival, Muhammad Dahlan, according to press reports. During protests in early July following Nizar Banat’s death, the PA also arrested dozens of peaceful protesters, along with lawyers who subsequently represented them. In many cases detainees were held without formal charges or proper procedures in poor conditions. Hamas claimed 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. Regarding the PA, the ICHR reported receiving 281 complaints of arbitrary arrest and detention without trial or charges in the West Bank. Regarding Hamas, the ICHR reported receiving 144 complaints of unjust arrest and detention in Gaza.

As of mid-June, press reports indicated that the PASF had arrested 49 supporters of Mohammad Dahlan, the former Fatah security chief whom many saw as President Abbas’s main rival for the presidency. Another 150 Dahlan supporters were briefly detained or summoned for interrogation for having been associated with the Dahlan-affiliated al-Mustaqbal list for the parliamentary election which Abbas canceled in April. Among those arrested were Mohammad Nazzal and Wesam Ghuneim, both candidates on al-Mustaqbal’s electoral list. A spokesperson for the Democratic Reformist Current party headed by Dahlan said the PASF arrested dozens of its members for political reasons.

There were numerous reports that the PA and Hamas improperly detained Palestinian journalists and arrested Palestinians who posted online criticism of the PA (in the West Bank) or Hamas (in Gaza) (see section 2.a., Freedom of Expression).

Hamas practiced widespread unjust detention in Gaza, particularly of civil society activists, Fatah members, journalists, and those accused of criticizing Hamas. Hamas also targeted persons suspected of ties to Israel for unjust detention.

In December 2020 local media reported that Hamas Internal Security forces arrested Majdi al-Maghribi, a Salafist sheikh, for tearing down a poster of former Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps commander Qassem Suleimani. Media reported the arrest took place hours after videos were posted on social media showing al-Maghribi tearing down the poster, which was displayed in the center of Gaza City.

On February 25, the Hamas de facto Ministry of Interior said in a statement the military judiciary and security forces released 45 Fatah affiliates in advance of elections scheduled for May. PA prime minister Mohammed Shtayyeh had stated during a February 21 cabinet meeting that Hamas held 85 political prisoners detained on grounds of freedom of expression and political affiliation.

According to human rights NGOs, including B’Tselem and HaMoked, throughout the year there were reports that Israeli security forces in the West Bank arbitrarily arrested and detained Palestinian protesters and activists, particularly those participating in demonstrations against demolitions or killings of Palestinians. Israeli forces also detained journalists covering protests against settlement activity. According to press reports and an IDF statement, on August 27, the IDF arrested seven journalists covering settler clashes with local Palestinian residents in Masafer Yatta, south of Hebron. The journalists were documenting the arrest of a Palestinian protesting a nearby unauthorized settlement when the IDF arrested them as well. The IDF confiscated the journalists’ cameras and charged them with being in a military zone.

Pretrial Detention: It was unclear how many Palestinians were held in pretrial detention in West Bank and Gaza prisons, but there were widespread reports of PA and Hamas detentions without charge or trial. 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.

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 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.

Palestinians held by Israeli military authorities in administrative detention have no right to trial and may 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 members of the Israeli Knesset continued to criticize the Israeli government for using administrative detention excessively, adding that the practice was undemocratic since there was no due process. Israeli authorities reported they were holding 501 individuals in administrative detention at the end of the year. Two were Arab Israeli citizens, nine were residents of East Jerusalem, and 490 were Palestinians from the West Bank; none were Israeli Jews. During a Knesset hearing concerning the arrest of Palestinian children on November 24, Meretz member Gabi Laski said, “Between 150-250 Palestinian children are being held in detention or imprisonment at any time.” For example, Israeli authorities detained 17-year-old Amal Nakhleh in January and extended his administrative detention three times since his arrest. According to press reporting, Nakhleh had a tumor removed from his lung in 2020 and suffered from a nerve disorder that requires regular hospital visits, and his health deteriorated throughout his detention.

In its 2017 submission regarding compliance with the UN Convention against Torture, Israel asserted 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 may be addressed by other legal alternatives, especially criminal prosecution.” The government further emphasized the role of military judges in reviewing administrative detention orders.

Palestinian administrative detainees regularly engaged in hunger strikes as a means of drawing attention to their cases and bargaining for release or improved detention conditions. In October 2020 Israeli security forces arrested Kayed al-Fasfous and held him in administrative detention, prompting him to begin a hunger strike on July 15. He was transferred to a hospital in mid-September and ended his hunger strike on November 22 after reaching a release agreement with Israeli authorities. On November 11, Palestinian prisoner Miqdad al-Qawasmi ended a hunger strike after Israeli prison authorities agreed to release him in February 2022. Three other Palestinian detainees, Hisham Ismail, Abu Hawash, Louay al-Ashkar, and Jawad Bolus, continued an extended hunger strike at the end of the year. As of December 31, Abu Hawash had gone without food for 137 days and reportedly was close to death.

e. Denial of Fair Public Trial

The PA basic law provides for an independent judiciary. According to the 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.

In 2019 President Abbas issued a decree dissolving the existing High Judicial Council (HJC). In January President Abbas appointed Issa Abu Sharar as chief justice of the newly reconstituted HJC. According to the new judicial law, the president has the power to appoint the chief justice from a list of names submitted by the HJC and the president can dismiss judges during a three-year probationary period. The council consisted of seven members, with the president appointing the chief justice and the deputy. The Palestinian Bar Association critiqued this arrangement as undue executive influence over the judiciary. The transitional council also included the attorney general and the undersecretary of the Ministry of Justice. The council oversaw the judicial system and nominated judges for positions throughout the PA judiciary for approval by the president. In December 2020 Abbas removed the Supreme Court’s power to carry out judicial review over the executive branch by entrusting this mission to a separate system of Administrative Courts, which had not been formed by the end of the year.

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 the Gaza Strip, Hamas did not respect fair trial provisions or provide access to family and legal counsel to many detainees. Prosecutors and judges appointed by Hamas operated de facto courts, which the PA considered illegal.

The Israeli government tried Palestinian residents of the West Bank accused of security offenses in Israeli military courts, which had dramatically higher conviction rates and imposed far longer sentences than civilian courts in Israel. Amnesty International asserted that at least some Israeli military courts did not meet international fair trial standards. The MCW stated 95 percent of cases tried in military courts ended in conviction.

Trial Procedures

PA law provides for the right to a fair and public trial, and the 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’s right to privacy, protection of a victim of a sexual offense, or an alleged “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 did not adhere to basic due process rights, including failing to promptly charge suspects or failing to dismiss cases when prosecution witnesses did not appear at hearings. 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, defendants only have the right to observe, although their lawyer can object to specific questions and raise arguments with the prosecutor’s approval. 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. They have the right to appeal. PA authorities generally observed these rights.

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

Israeli authorities applied different legal regimes to prosecutions in the West Bank, based on the nationality of the defendant. Israeli authorities tried Israelis living in West Bank settlements under Israeli civilian law in the nearest Israeli district court. Israeli authorities tried Palestinians in the West Bank under military law in Israeli military courts. The same evidentiary rules used in Israeli criminal cases apply in both Israeli military and civilian proceedings. For example, Israeli authorities may not base convictions solely on confessions. In military courts the defendants or defendants’ lawyers do not have the right to see all evidence against them. IDF actions are not subject to judicial review of administrative actions by Israeli military courts, whereas in criminal courts they are. 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 are conducted in Hebrew, but Palestinian defendants have the right to simultaneous interpretation at every hearing. Human rights organizations claimed the availability and quality of Arabic interpretation was insufficient. The MCW claimed that most detained Palestinian minors were shown or made to sign confession documents written in Hebrew, a language most Palestinian minors could not read, at the conclusion of their interrogation. In some cases, confession documents written in Hebrew differed from the Arabic transcript of the defendant’s interrogation. Israeli authorities stated interrogations of Palestinians took place only in Arabic and that authorities submitted no indictments based solely on a confession written in Hebrew. Defendants may appeal through the Military Court of Appeals and petition Israel’s Supreme Court. According to NGO reports, Israeli military courts rarely acquitted Palestinians charged with security offenses although they occasionally reduced sentences on appeal.

Some lawyers who defended Palestinians in Israeli courts 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.

In November 2020, four UN Human Rights Council special rapporteurs expressed concern that Israeli authorities continued to hold World Vision employee Mohammed Halabi on charges of providing material support to Hamas and had still not issued a verdict despite a five-year investigation and a completed trial. According to press reports, on November 17, an Israeli civil court extended Halabi’s detention for 90 more days, following 167 court hearings. According to the Palestinian Prisoners Society, Halabi, who was first detained in 2016, underwent “severe” interrogation for 52 straight days following his arrest and was tortured to coerce him to confess to charges of transferring World Vision funds to Hamas, which Halabi has consistently denied. Halabi’s detention continued at year’s end, with no indication from Israeli authorities of when a verdict might be issued.

Political Prisoners and Detainees

Press and NGOs reported the PASF arrested Palestinians for political reasons in the West Bank. There was no reliable estimate of the number of political prisoners the PA held in the West Bank. Some of these individuals, labeled “collaborators” for allegedly working with or engaging with Israelis on political initiatives the PA did not support, reported direct and indirect threats of violence from Palestinian political parties, affinity organizations, and militant groups, some with possible ties to the PA. They reported damage to personal property and businesses. There were reports that the families of those targeted were pressured to disown them, which would decrease risks for attackers to injure or kill them, and that they and their family members were denied medical treatment in PA health facilities, which allegedly contributed to greater health complications including death.

In Gaza, Hamas detained an unknown number of Palestinians due to political affiliation, public criticism of Hamas, or suspected collaboration with Israel and held them for varying periods, according to rights groups. Hamas alleged that it arrested Fatah members on criminal, rather than political charges, although many of the arrests occurred after Fatah anniversary celebrations in Gaza that Hamas did not sanction. Hamas released 45 detainees in February, but Fatah alleged that Hamas still held 80 Fatah members in custody. Observers reported numerous allegations of denial of due process with these detentions. NGOs had limited access to these prisoners.

Some human rights organizations claimed Palestinian “security prisoners” held in Israel were political prisoners and a result of Israel’s permissive administrative detention laws. 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 may file suit against the PA, including on alleged abuses of human rights, but this was uncommon.

A Palestinian resident of Gaza may file suit against Hamas, including on alleged abuses of human rights, but this was also uncommon. Rights groups reported Hamas internal security agencies regularly tried civil cases in military courts.

Palestinian residents of the West Bank may file suit against the government of Israel. 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 Israeli law.

Israel has an independent and impartial judiciary that adjudicated lawsuits seeking damages for, or cessation of, human rights abuses. Administrative remedies exist, and court orders usually were enforced. Palestinian residents of Jerusalem may file suit against the government of Israel under the same rules that govern access to judicial and administrative remedies by Israel citizens. By law nonresident Palestinians may file suit in civil courts to obtain compensation in some cases, even when a criminal suit is unsuccessful and the actions against them are considered legal.

Property Seizure and Restitution

The Israeli government conducted hundreds of demolitions of Palestinian property in the West Bank, including in Areas A and B, for lack of Israeli-issued permits, construction in areas designated for Israeli military use, location of structures within the barrier’s buffer zone, and as collective punishment of family members for terrorist attacks. Several Israeli and Palestinian human rights groups and the United Nations claimed punitive demolitions were a form of collective punishment that violated the Fourth Geneva Convention and were part of Israel’s efforts to forcibly dislocate communities on pretexts of “military training” and “law enforcement.” Together with other policies and practices, the threat of destruction of homes and sources of livelihood created a coercive environment pressuring people to leave their areas of residence and restricting freedom of movement and access, according to UNOCHA and the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR). Some human rights NGOs claimed Israeli authorities often placed insurmountable obstacles against Palestinian applicants for construction permits in Israeli-controlled Area C. Obstacles include the requirement that Palestinian applicants document land ownership despite the absence of a uniform post-1967 land registration process, high application fees, and requirements to connect housing to often unavailable municipal infrastructure. Israeli authorities charged demolition fees for demolishing a home, according to the United Nations, which at times prompted Palestinians to destroy their own homes to avoid the higher costs associated with Israeli demolition.

In most West Bank demolitions, the Civil Administration, a part of Israel’s Ministry of Defense, initially presented a stop-work order, which gives the property owner 30 days to submit an appeal to the Civil Administration and apply for a retroactive construction permit. If neither is successful, the Civil Administration will issue a demolition order to be executed within two to four weeks, during which time the property owner may petition an Israeli court for an injunction to stop the demolition.

In the West Bank, Israeli authorities, including the Civil Administration and the Ministry of the Interior, demolished 902 Palestinian structures as of the end of the year, compared to 854 in 2020, according to UNOCHA. The demolitions resulted in the displacement of 1,203 persons, compared to 1,001 displaced in 2020. The demolished structures included homes, water cisterns, farm buildings, storehouses, and other structures, more than 98 percent of which were demolished on the basis that they lacked construction permits. Several rights groups, including B’Tselem and HRW, and the United Nations stated that the Israeli government rarely approved Palestinian construction permit requests. Between 2016 and 2020, fewer than 1 percent of Palestinian requests for construction permits in Area C were granted, Bimkom reported. During the year the Civil Administration began the process of approving 900 housing units for Palestinians in Area C and 2,200 housing units for Israeli settlements. In 2020 the Civil Administration issued 1,179 stop-work orders and 797 demolition orders for Palestinian structures in Area C, according to Bimkom.

According to B’Tselem, on February 8, Israel demolished the Palestinian community of Khirbet Humsah for the fourth time. B’Tselem reported that Israel’s Civil Administration dismantled and confiscated nine tents that were home to 61 persons, including 33 minors, as well as 12 other structures. They also demolished five livestock enclosures. United Nations monitors confirmed this was the largest such demolition in years. Israel’s military liaison agency with the Palestinians, Coordinator of Government Activities in the Territories (COGAT), confirmed that a demolition had been carried out against what it said were illegal structures in an IDF firing zone. COGAT issued a statement following the demolition saying that an “enforcement activity” had been carried out by Israeli forces “against seven tents and eight pens which were illegally constructed, in a firing range located in the Jordan Valley.” Israel often cited a lack of building permits in demolishing Palestinian structures in the West Bank. In addition, their forces confiscated three vehicles that did not belong to the community (a tractor belonging to the local council, a Palestinian Broadcasting Corporation car, and a vehicle belonging to the Palestinian Authority’s Commission against the Wall and the Settlements). On February 1 and 3, Israel confiscated most of the community’s residential structures and livestock enclosures in two operations. On February 1, B’Tselem reported that the Civil Administration dismantled and confiscated 13 tents that were home to 11 families numbering 74 persons, including 41 minors. The Civil Administration also dismantled and confiscated five shacks, one not yet built, and eight tents, all used for livestock. On February 3, the Civil Administration personnel returned and dismantled and confiscated seven tents that were home to nine families numbering 61 persons, including 33 minors (the same families whose tents were demolished again on February 8). The Civil Administration also dismantled and confiscated five tents and two shacks that served as livestock enclosures as well as three livestock pens; confiscated four portable outhouses and demolished two others; confiscated three disassembled tents and demolished two tents used for tabun ovens; confiscated a vehicle belonging to a Palestinian human rights activist and another vehicle belonging to the Palestinian Authority’s Commission against the Wall and the Settlements. On the evening of February 3, IDF arrived at Khirbet Humsah, declared it a closed military zone, and tried to prevent reconstruction of the demolished structures.

According to UNOCHA, on July 14, the Civil Administration demolished 49 structures in Ras at-Tin, displacing 84 persons, including 53 children. On July 7, 30 structures were demolished in the Bedouin community of Humsa al-Bqai’a (Tubas), displacing 42 persons. This community was in an area designated by the Israeli authorities for military training purposes and had recorded seven demolition incidents since the beginning of the year.

The Palestinian Bedouin community Khan al-Ahmar, slated for Israeli demolition since 2009 due to a lack of building permits and proof of land ownership, remained standing at year’s end. On September 5, the Israeli government filed a request with the Israeli Supreme Court to delay by six months the planned demolition of Khan al-Ahmar. Approximately 180 residents lived in the community, in an area adjacent to a highway, with unpermitted, makeshift electrical and water connections. In 2018 after nearly 10 years of litigation, the HJC ruled that the Civil Administration’s demolition orders against the structures in Khan al-Ahmar were valid, which provided the Civil Administration legal justification to demolish the village. Residents were not able to receive permits, because the Israeli government had not approved a master plan for the area.

While all West Bank demolitions were formally authorized under Israeli military orders, the Civil Administration used two particular military orders to impede Palestinians’ ability to challenge demolitions, according to the United Nations, several Israeli and Palestinian rights groups, and Israeli and Palestinian lawyers familiar with cases in which the orders were used. Under one of the orders the Civil Administration is authorized to demolish a newly built structure as soon as 96 hours after issuing a demolition order. During the year Israeli authorities confiscated 318 structures in Area C, nearly one-third of which were inhabited residential structures seized with little or no prior notice, preventing affected persons from objecting in advance, according to the United Nations.

In August 2020 the Israeli government amended a second military order, which allows for the immediate demolition or confiscation of any mobile structures to include any structures built within 90 days. The order originally allowed for the immediate removal of mobile structures within 30 days of construction. Rights groups stated the Civil Administration broadly interpreted the order as authorizing the demolition of animal pens and other structures and the confiscation of building materials and vehicles.

Several rights groups, including Bimkom and St. Yves, stated the Israeli government was increasingly utilizing these broader military orders as the legal basis for demolitions. According to the Israeli government, all land ownership cases were assessed individually by an administrative committee, which is subject to judicial review, and decisions are made according to the evidence provided.

Israel’s Civil Administration conducted punitive demolitions on structures belonging to Palestinians who carried out or allegedly carried out attacks on Israelis, according to human rights groups and media reports. The Israeli government stated such demolitions had a deterrent effect on potential assailants. NGOs, such as Amnesty International, HRW, and several Palestinian and Israeli NGOs, widely criticized punitive demolitions and stated the actions sometimes also rendered nearby structures uninhabitable.

During the year Israeli authorities executed two punitive demolitions on three residences displacing three families comprising 15 persons, including seven children, according to the United Nations. Some punitive demolitions and sealings of rooms occurred before or during the trial of the alleged attacker, not waiting for a verdict to be reached, according to media reports. On December 27, the Israeli press reported that Israeli authorities informed Fadi Abu Shkheidam’s family in the Shuafat Refugee Camp of East Jerusalem that it intended to demolish their house, noting the family could file an appeal against the decision. Abu Shkheidam allegedly carried out a shooting attack in the Old City of Jerusalem on November 21, killing one Israeli and injuring several others before Israeli police shot and killed him.

On July 7, the IDF destroyed the home of Muntasser Shalaby in the village of Turmus’ayya near Ramallah, displacing his wife and three children. Shalaby at the time was accused, and only later convicted, of killing Yehuda Guetta and wounding two others in an attack at a bus stop at the Tapuach settlement junction on May 2. Shalaby was reportedly estranged from his wife and family and had not lived in the home for years. Shalaby’s family appealed the demolition, but on June 23, the Israeli Supreme Court rejected the appeal.

On February 3, the Israeli Supreme Court approved the IDF’s proposal to demolish the top two floors of Muhammad Marwah Kabha’s home, denying a petition by Kabha’s family to halt the order. Kabha’s wife, three minor children, and parents resided in the home. Authorities demolished the home on February 10, six months before Kabha was convicted.

Israeli civil authorities ordered demolition of some private property in East Jerusalem, stating the structures were built without permits. B’Tselem reported that authorities demolished 121 housing units in East Jerusalem, and owners had demolished 81 units to avoid additional government-imposed fines by the end of the year. This represented a decrease of 28 percent and an increase of 92 percent, respectively, with the number of owner-initiated demolitions the highest since B’Tselem began recording data in 2008. Legal experts pointed to a law, which reduced administrative processing times for demolitions, blocked courts from intervening in many cases, and increased administrative fines for those failing to demolish their own buildings, as a key factor in the increased number of demolitions in East Jerusalem. The number of home demolitions in 2020 was nearly 75 percent higher than the annual average prior to the enactment of the relevant law and almost 40 percent higher than in 2019, which was the first year the law was fully applied, according to NGOs tracking the issue.

There were credible claims that municipal authorities in Jerusalem often placed insurmountable obstacles against Palestinian residents who applied for construction permits, including failure to incorporate community needs into zoning decisions, the requirement that they document land ownership despite the absence of a uniform post-1967 land registration process, the imposition of high application fees, and requirements to connect housing to municipal infrastructure that was often unavailable.

NGOs asserted there was a continuing policy intended to limit construction to prevent the creation or maintenance of contiguous neighborhoods between the West Bank and Jerusalem. Israeli official policy was to maintain an ethnic balance between Jews and non-Jews in Jerusalem, according to civil society. The Israeli Ministry of Foreign Affairs stated that the Jerusalem Municipality did not have any such policy. Israeli law does not prevent non-Jews from purchasing housing units, although cultural, religious, and economic barriers as well as segregated homeowners’ associations remained obstacles to integrating existing neighborhoods or establishing new integrated neighborhoods, according to civil society representatives.

According to the Israeli government, all land ownership cases were assessed individually by an administrative committee, which is subject to judicial review.

According to Ir Amim and B’Tselem, ethnic discrimination was a factor in resolving disputes regarding land titles acquired before 1948. The law facilitates the resolution of claims by Jewish owners to land owned in East Jerusalem prior to 1948 but does not provide an equal opportunity for Palestinian claimants to land they owned in West Jerusalem or elsewhere in the British Mandate. Additionally, some Jewish and Palestinian landowners in Jerusalem were offered compensation by Israel for property lost prior to 1948. Civil society reports noted that many Palestinian landowners were deemed ineligible for compensation because they were not residents of Jerusalem as of 1973. Other Palestinian landowners refused to accept compensation because they deemed it to be inadequate or in principle due to their rejection of Israeli administration.

Between 1948 and 1967, Jordanian authorities housed Palestinians in some property that Jewish owners reclaimed after Israel occupied East Jerusalem in 1967. Legal disputes continued regarding many of these properties involving Palestinian residents, who had limited protection as tenants under Israeli law. Landlords can request permission to evict tenants or demolish their homes if they receive permission to rezone the property.

The Department of State’s Justice for Uncompensated Survivors today (JUST) Act report to Congress, released publicly in July 2020, can be found on the Department’s website at https://www.state.gov/reports/just-act-report-to-congress.

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

The PA law generally requires the PA attorney general to issue warrants for entry into 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. Although the Oslo Accords restrict the PASF to operations only in Area A of the West Bank, at times they operated in Areas B, C, and H2 without official Israeli permission, including to harass individuals sought for political activity or search their homes.

In the Gaza Strip, Hamas frequently interfered arbitrarily with personal privacy, family, and home, according to reporting from local media and NGO sources. There were reports Hamas searched homes and seized property without warrants and took control of hotels to use as quarantine facilities unlawfully and without compensation to the owners. They targeted critics of their policies, 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 under PA security control by Oslo Accords-era agreements, according to media and PA officials. These raids often took place at night, which the ISF stated was due to operational necessity. ISF officers of lieutenant colonel rank and above may authorize entry into Palestinian private homes and institutions in the West Bank even without a warrant, based upon military necessity.

Israel’s Settlement Affairs Ministry published criteria in December 2020 for regional councils of Israeli settlers in the West Bank to apply for Israeli government funding for private drones and patrol units to monitor Palestinian building efforts, according to media reports. It was unclear, however, if any settlers received state funding for this purpose during the year. In 2020 Palestinians reported the use of drones by Israeli settlers to observe residents in neighboring villages for security purposes, including to identify the source of noise complaints. NGOs also noted incidents of settlers at agricultural outposts using drones to monitor grazing areas used by Palestinian farmers and shepherds in order to report them to Israeli security forces and further deny them access to pastoral lands.

According to B’Tselem and the United Nations, the Israeli military compelled various communities throughout the Jordan Valley to vacate their homes in areas Israel had declared firing zones during times when the IDF was conducting military exercises.

A 2003 Israeli law that was renewed annually until July when the Knesset did not extend it, prohibited Palestinians from the West Bank or Gaza, Iranians, Iraqis, Syrians, and Lebanese, including those who are Palestinian spouses of Israeli residents or citizens, from obtaining resident status unless the Ministry of the Interior made a special determination, usually on humanitarian grounds. The government had extended the law annually due to government reports that Palestinian family reunification allowed entry to a disproportionate number of persons who were later involved in acts of terrorism. Following the Knesset’s decision in July not to extend the law, Israeli Ministry of Foreign Affairs officials stated that the Ministry of Interior instructed the Population and Immigration Authority to continue to examine cases that were not covered by the limiting circumstances under the expired temporary order, such as humanitarian reasons. Applications that were covered by the expired order could be resubmitted for review, but they will not be adjudicated until a new implementing policy is in place, according to the Israeli Ministry of Foreign Affairs.

The NGO HaMoked asserted that statistics from government documents obtained through Freedom of Information Act requests contradicted allegations of terrorism, and that the denial of residency to Palestinians from the West Bank or Gaza for the purposes of family reunification led to cases of family separation. As of July the Population and Immigration Authority had received 774 family unification requests. By year’s end, no request was acted on.

HaMoked reported that, of the more than 2,000 requests filed in the previous two years, most were for West Bank Palestinians married to Israelis or East Jerusalemites. On September 14, HaMoked, the Association for Civil Rights in Israel (ACRI), and Physicians for Human Rights filed a petition demanding the Ministry of Interior respect the law and process the requests. On October 6, the head of the Population and Immigration Authority, Tomer Moskowitz, stated that the Ministry of Interior was continuing to implement the prior law as if it had not expired. Israeli authorities confirmed at the end of the year that in accordance with the Israeli government’s decision from 2008 regarding the extension of the Citizenship and Entry into Israel Law (Temporary Order), the minister of the interior was instructed not to approve any requests for family reunification received from Gaza. This decision was made due to Israeli security authorities’ assessment that Gaza was an area where activities were carried out that may threaten the security of the State of Israel and its citizens, according to Israeli Ministry of Foreign Affairs officials.

According to press reports, as of 2020 there were approximately 13,000 Palestinians from the West Bank or Gaza living in Israel, including Jerusalem, on temporary stay permits because of the Citizenship and Entry Law, with no legal provision that they would be able to continue living with their families. There were also cases of Palestinian spouses living in East Jerusalem without legal status. Authorities did not permit Palestinians who were abroad during the 1967 war or whose residency permits the government subsequently withdrew to reside permanently in Jerusalem. Amnesty International and other human rights organizations called on the government to repeal this law and resume processing family unification applications. The law allows the entry of spouses of Israelis on a “staying permit” if the male spouse is age 35 or older and the female spouse is age 25 or older, for children up to age 14, and a special permit to children ages 14 to 18, but they may not receive residency and have no path to citizenship. This law applies to Palestinians from the West Bank or Gaza, Iranians, Iraqis, Syrians, and Lebanese, including those who are Palestinian spouses of Israeli residents or citizens, unless the Ministry of the Interior makes a special determination, usually on humanitarian grounds.

Israeli authorities froze family unification proceedings for Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza in 2000. On August 30, Israeli defense minister Benny Gantz and Palestinian general authority for civil affairs Hussein al-Sheikh announced that Israel had agreed to approve 5,000 family reunification requests filed by Palestinians. Both undocumented foreign nationals married to Palestinians and former residents of Gaza who during the year lived in the West Bank were eligible to apply to adjust their residency status under the agreement. In late December al-Sheikh announced that Israel would approve 9,500 additional requests: 6,000 from the West Bank and 3,500 from Gaza. In 2020 individuals from the occupied territories submitted 1,191 family unification applications, 340 of which were approved and 740 of which were pending, according to the Israeli government.

HaMoked stated in 2020 there were likely thousands of foreign spouses living in the West Bank with their Palestinian partners, and often children, with only temporary tourist visas, a living situation that became more complicated under COVID-19 with the frequent closures of Allenby Bridge. HaMoked stated that because these individuals used the Allenby Bridge to enter and depart the West Bank from Jordan, the bridge’s closure left them with the choice of either potentially overstaying their visa or attempting to travel through Ben Gurion Airport, which they are not permitted to do without special Israeli permission. HaMoked claimed the military’s prior refusal to review requests of foreign citizens for family unification was contrary to Israeli law and to Israeli-Palestinian interim Oslo Accords-era agreements. HaMoked stated the IDF rejected family unification requests based on a broad policy and not on the facts of the individual cases brought before it. As such, HaMoked stated, the practice did not appropriately balance relevant security needs and the right of Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza, whom HaMoked stated were 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.

g. Conflict-related Abuses

Killings: During a conflict from May 10 to 21, Palestinian militants in Gaza launched 4,400 rockets and mortar shells toward Israel. According to the IDF, 680 of these rockets misfired and landed in Gaza, causing Palestinian casualties. The IDF launched 1,500 airstrikes against targets in Gaza during the conflict. According to the Israeli government, NGOs, and media, Gaza-based militants fired rockets from civilian locations toward civilian targets in Israel, including large salvos towards dense population centers. Israeli airstrikes destroyed 1,800 homes, including five residential towers. According to UNOCHA, during the May escalation, 261 Palestinians were killed, including 67 children. At least 241 of the fatalities were by Israeli forces, and the rest due to rockets falling short and other circumstances. An estimated 130 of all fatalities were civilians and 77 were members of armed groups, while the status of the remaining 54 fatalities was not determined. More than 2,200 Palestinians were injured, including 685 children and 480 women, some of whom may suffer a long-term disability requiring rehabilitation. In Israel, 13 persons, including two children, were killed and 710 others were injured. According to B’Tselem, 20 Palestinians, including seven minors, were killed by Palestinian rocket fire. A member of the Israeli security forces was killed by an antitank missile fired by a Palestinian organization. At the height of the fighting, 113,000 internally displaced persons (IDPs) sought shelter and protection at the UN Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA) schools or with hosting families. According to the UN’s Shelter Cluster, which is responsible for tracking and assisting with provision of housing and shelter, there remained approximately 8,250 IDPs, primarily those whose houses were destroyed or severely damaged.

Human rights groups condemned Hamas’s and Palestinian Islamic Jihad’s targeting of civilians as well as Israel’s targeting of civilian infrastructure. The Israeli government stated that Hamas and others were using this civilian infrastructure for cover, including offices within the buildings and tunnel infrastructure beneath them. A Hamas tunnel was found under an UNRWA school in Gaza, for example, and Hamas temporarily turned away bomb disposal experts brought in by the UN Mine Action Service and UNRWA to ensure the school was safe to open, delaying the work being undertaken to remove two deeply buried bombs that had struck the school during the airstrikes. The IDF also destroyed a building which contained the headquarters for several international media organizations, such as the Associated Press (AP) and al-Jazeera. The IDF stated that intelligence showed Hamas was also using the building and noted that it had warned building occupants to vacate the building, with the result that there were no casualties attributed to the strike. The AP and others continued to call for an investigation, and Israel did not make public the intelligence information that led to the strike. Prior to and following the May conflict, Gaza-based militants routinely launched rockets, released incendiary balloons, and organized protests at the Gaza fence, drawing airstrikes from the IDF. These activities killed three Palestinians and one Israeli border police officer since the May conflict.

Other Conflict-Related Abuse: Israeli, Palestinian, and international human rights groups condemned the closure of Israeli-controlled crossings for pedestrians and goods in and out of Gaza following the May 10-21 conflict, with multiple human rights organizations describing the closures as a collective punishment of civilians living in Gaza. Following the escalation, Israeli closures included: limiting entry of goods into Gaza from Israel to basic humanitarian goods, such as food and medicine, in the months following the conflict; cutting fuel imports from Qatar into Gaza from Israel for five weeks following the conflict; reducing electricity in Gaza to six hours per day; preventing Gazans with permits, including workers and medical patients, from leaving Gaza during and in the seven weeks following the conflict; preventing humanitarian workers from accessing Gaza for five days following the end of the conflict; preventing the reconstruction of destroyed Gazan infrastructure, including electricity, water, and housing, for three months following the conflict by blocking the entry of construction materials including rebar, cement, and fiberglass into Gaza; and reducing the fishing zone for Gazan fishers from 15 to six miles in the month following the conflict. By October Israel lifted most of the newly imposed restrictions.

Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties

b. Freedoms of Peaceful Assembly and Association

Authorities in the West Bank, Gaza, and East Jerusalem limited and restricted Palestinian residents’ freedoms of peaceful assembly and association. The Israeli military issued an order in 1967 which requires Palestinians in the West Bank to obtain a permit for any protest involving 10 or more persons; during the year there were no known instances in which Israeli authorities granted permission for such a protest. The Palestinian Basic Law requires PA permission for protests of 50 persons or more.

Freedom of Peaceful Assembly

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

The PASF arrested dozens of protesters in the summer following Nizar Banat’s killing on June 24 (see section 1.a., Arbitrary or Unlawful Killings, and section 1.d., Arbitrary Arrests or Detention).

Some NGOs claimed the PASF used emergency COVID-19 measures as a pretext to crack down on dissent. Palestinian activists and the family of Nizar Banat asserted that emergency orders put in place to address COVID-19 were abused by the PASF to prevent protests and a memorial service for Banat on September 18. A trial in the July 2020 case of 22 anticorruption activists arrested after gathering for protests despite their permit request being denied under coronavirus emergency regulations continued at year’s end. One activist’s case was thrown out on December 19 due to a witness’ failure to appear in court; the other 21 remained free while the trial proceeded.

On November 30, the Ramallah Court dropped charges against seven activists accused of illegally gathering in July during protests following Banat’s death, citing lack of evidence.

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

A 1967 Israeli military order covering the West Bank and Gaza 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 conviction of a breach of the order is up to 10 years’ imprisonment or a fine. The IDF Central Command declared areas of the West Bank to be “closed military zones” in which the IDF prohibited public assembly by Palestinians. Israeli military law prohibits Palestinians from insulting a soldier, participating in an unpermitted demonstration or march consisting of more than 10 persons, and “incitement” (encouraging others to engage in civil disobedience).

There were reports that Israeli authorities used excessive force against protesters in East Jerusalem. Between April and June, hundreds of Palestinian and Jewish Israeli protesters from across Israel and East Jerusalem came to Sheikh Jarrah to show their support for families at risk of eviction and to protest the dispossession of Palestinians from their homes, according to the HRDF. Police and media characterized the protest as violent; the HRDF reported that Israeli police used aggressive and disproportionate force to disperse the demonstrations, injuring hundreds of protesters. Israeli security forces reportedly deployed stun grenades and tear gas canisters, sprayed “skunk water,” and fired sponge grenades, according to the HRDF. Between April 29 and May 21, the HRDF provided legal aid to 42 Palestinian and Israeli peaceful protesters arrested in Sheikh Jarrah, some of whom the HRDF alleged were hospitalized after being attacked by police. Most of the protesters were released after one or two court hearings on bail with 30- to 60-day bans from Sheikh Jarrah, while others were released at the police station with 15-day bans from Sheikh Jarrah.

On August 21-22, the PASF arrested approximately 30 protesters during a series of protests memorializing well-known PA critic Nizar Banat, including Ubay al-Aboudi, director of the Bisan Center for Research and Development. The PA charged protesters with participating in an unauthorized protest and more dubious charges of disparaging government institutions, insulting civil servants, and inciting sectarian hatred. Following international and diplomatic pressure, protesters were released within days; their first hearing was scheduled for November.

According to Amnesty International, on the evening of July 5, Palestinian security forces detained at least 15 persons, including protesters, journalists, and a lawyer, after violently dispersing a peaceful gathering in front of the Ballou’ police station in Ramallah. According to Amnesty International, police in riot gear holding shields dispersed the gathering with “wanton force,” beating protesters, dragging them on the ground, spraying them with pepper spray and pulling their hair. Several female protesters also alleged sexual harassment by police, including groping.

During the Sheikh Jarrah protests, the HRDF alleged Israeli settlers repeatedly attacked Salah Diab, a local human rights activist, and police detained him numerous times throughout May. On May 3, the HRDF alleged that Israeli police pepper sprayed and attacked Diab, injuring his leg. On May 6, the HRDF reported that 21 Israeli Jewish attackers pepper-sprayed Palestinians who were breaking their fast during Ramadan in front of Diab’s house. The attackers allegedly came from the newly established “office” across the street from extreme-right Knesset member Itamar Ben-Gvir. The incident escalated as the two groups threw plastic chairs and stools at each other. Following the attack, four Palestinians including Diab, were arrested for “racially motivated” attacks, while one of the Jewish attackers was detained and released the same evening, according to the HRDF. On July 11, Diab was summoned to a termination of employment hearing from his work at Israel’s Mega Supermarket Chain. In the letter sent to Diab, Mega accused him of violating company values and policies and harming its reputation due to his activism and participation in the Sheikh Jarrah protest. Local Israeli officials, including a deputy mayor of Jerusalem, reportedly campaigned for termination of Diab’s employment.

According to the HRDF, Jerusalem police forces regularly confiscated, attacked, and arrested peaceful protesters who waved the Palestinian flag, despite Public Security Minister Omer Bar-Lev’s explicit order to the police commissioner and high-ranking officers that the Palestinian flag may only be confiscated during demonstrations under exceptional circumstances.

Palestinian human rights activist Issa Amro faced 16 charges in a trial in an Israeli military court that began in 2016. On January 6, an Israeli judge at the Ofer Military Court convicted Amro on six counts, including participating in a rally without a permit, obstructing a soldier, and assault. On January 26, the UN special rapporteurs on the situation of human rights defenders and on the situation of human rights in the Palestinian Territory occupied since 1967 issued a statement condemning Amro’s conviction. On March 22, the Military Court sentenced Amro to a three-month suspended prison sentence with two years’ probation. According to the HRDF, the activity for which Amro was indicted was entirely peaceful, and he was in turn assaulted by soldiers, police officers and settlers. According to the HRDF, this created a chilling effect on other human rights defenders who might fear facing similar criminal proceedings. Amro appealed the conviction. Haaretz reported the IDF has detained Amro at least 20 times 2018.

Freedom of Association

PA law allows freedom of association. PA authorities sometimes imposed limitations on the freedom of association in the West Bank, including on labor organizations (see section 7.a.). NGOs stated a regulation subjecting “nonprofit companies” to PA approval of their projects and activities prior to receiving funds from donors 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. This included some organizations Hamas 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. Hamas claimed supervisory authority over all NGOs, and Hamas representatives regularly harassed NGO employees and requested information on staff, salaries, and activities.

According to the PCHR, on September 21, de facto authorities’ police entered al-Azhar University campus in Gaza and ordered students to take off their Palestinian kufiyah, claiming there were orders to ban wearing kufiyahs. The center added that police detained and abused all those who refused to obey the orders, subjecting them to degrading treatment.

Human rights NGOs alleged that Israeli authorities cited laws against terrorism or protecting national security to arrest or punish critics of the government or deter criticism of government policies or officials. On October 22, Israeli minister of defense Benny Gantz announced that Israel was designating six Palestinian NGOs (al-Haq, Addameer, Defense for Children International-Palestine, the Bisan Center for Research and Development, the Union of Palestinian Women’s Committees, and the Union of Agricultural Work Committees) as terrorist organizations, alleging connections to the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP) terrorist organization. Local and international human rights groups strongly criticized the designation, alleging that overly broad use of terrorism laws created a chilling effect on civil society groups conducting legitimate human rights work. The designated groups are based in the West Bank, but the designation applies both within the West Bank under IDF military order, and in Israel under the law.

The UN special rapporteur on counterterrorism and human rights criticized the designation as a blatant misuse of counterterrorism legislation designed to ban human rights activities and silence voices advocating for respect for human rights. On October 25, 22 Israeli NGOs released a joint statement of support and solidarity with the designated NGOs, calling on the Israeli government and international community to oppose the decision and alleging the designation was done to criminalize and prevent documentation of human rights abuses and prevent legal advocacy and aid for human rights work.

c. Freedom of Religion

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

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

PA law provides for freedom of internal movement, foreign travel, emigration, and repatriation, and the government generally respected these rights, with some exceptions. The PA maintained security coordination with Israel throughout the year. IDF checkpoints and settlements constrained Palestinians’ movement throughout the West Bank, including access to their farmlands, according to NGOs and the PA. This was particularly true during the olive harvest, when Palestinian farmers who coordinated access to their olive groves with Israel’s Civil Administration and the PA sometimes had difficulty accessing their land, according to human rights groups.

Citing security concerns and frequent attempted terrorist attacks, Israel imposed significant restrictions on Palestinian movement in the West Bank and between the West Bank and Jerusalem.

In-Country Movement: In an effort to combat the spread of COVID-19, Hamas occasionally enforced restrictions on internal movement in Gaza. Pressure to conform to Hamas’s interpretation of Islamic norms generally restricted movement by women, who often had to travel in groups when visiting certain public areas such as the beach. There were sporadic reports of security officers requiring men to prove a woman with them in a public space was their spouse.

Israeli authorities often deployed temporary checkpoints that prohibited travel between some or all Palestinian West Bank towns. Palestinians who lived in affected villages stated that “internal closures” continued to have negative economic effects, lowering their employment prospects, wages, days worked per month, and their children’s ability to commute to school. 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.

Israel placed restrictions on Palestinian farmers accessing their land in the so-called seam zone west of the barrier and east of the Green Line, according to human rights groups, and there were some reports that soldiers operating the checkpoints at seam-zone access points did not allow farmers to move farming implements and machinery, including trucks for transporting olive harvests, into the area.

The Israeli travel permit system restricted Palestinians’ ability to travel from Gaza to the West Bank. Palestinian higher education contacts reported that permits for Gazans to attend West Bank universities were seldom granted. According to the NGO HaMoked, Israeli authorities required Palestinians from the West Bank who are married to a Palestinian in Gaza and reside in Gaza to sign a “Gaza resettlement form” and permanently forego their right to move back to the West Bank.

Israel has declared access-restricted areas (ARAs) on both the coastal and land borders around Gaza, citing evidence that Hamas exploited these areas at times to conduct attacks or to smuggle weapons and goods into Gaza. The lack of clear information regarding the ARAs created risks for Palestinians in Gaza who lived or worked either on the Mediterranean coast or near the perimeter fence. No official signage exists for the line of demarcation, and official policy changed frequently. Hamas’s use of certain technologies for rockets, drones, other weapons, and surveillance systems led Israel to restrict importation of dual-use equipment into Gaza including Global Positioning System (GPS) devices.

The lack of GPS devices made it more difficult for fishermen to locate and avoid restricted maritime activity areas. In addition, the permitted maritime activity area for Palestinians along the coastal region of Gaza changed between zero and 15 nautical miles multiple times throughout the year, according to Gisha, an Israeli organization that focuses on Palestinian freedom of movement. Gisha called the changes a form of collective punishment. Human rights NGOs asserted that confusion regarding permitted activity areas led to multiple instances of Israeli forces firing upon farmers and fishermen. According to the Israeli government, Hamas attempted to conduct terrorist activities by sea. According to the United Nations, regular electrical outages often made it necessary for Gazan farmers to work their fields after dark. In some instances, IDF soldiers shot at farmers near the ARA when farmers irrigated their fields at night. UNOCHA reported Palestinians in Gaza considered areas up to 1,000 feet from the perimeter fence to be a “no-go” area, and up to 3,300 feet to be “high risk,” which discouraged farmers from cultivating their fields. UNOCHA estimated nearly 35 percent of Gaza’s cultivable land was in these areas. On September 2, Israeli naval forces shot at multiple Palestinian fishing vessels near Abasan al-Khabira, a town close to an Israeli security fence, injuring one fisherman in the leg.

Major checkpoints, such as Container and Za’tara, caused disruptions in the West Bank when closed, according to media reports. When Container (near Bethlehem) was closed, it cut off one-third of the West Bank population living in the south, including Bethlehem and Hebron, from Ramallah and the north. Similarly, Za’tara checkpoint blocks traffic in and out of the entire northern part of the West Bank, including Nablus, Tulkarem, and Jenin, according to media reports. UNOCHA reported in its 2020 biennial survey that there were 593 permanent obstacles throughout the West Bank. Israeli restrictions on movement affected virtually all aspects of Palestinian life, including attendance at weddings and funerals, access to places of worship, employment, access to agricultural lands, schools, and hospitals, as well as the conduct of journalism and humanitarian and NGO activities. There were also reports of patients dying in traffic before reaching hospitals and ambulances on the way to accidents or scenes of attacks being stopped by the IDF for hours at a time.

Israeli authorities allegedly damaged Palestinian property in the West Bank during raids, sealed off entries and exits to homes and other buildings, and confiscated vehicles and boats. 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. IDF veterans working at Israeli NGOs, however, described such operations as often being arbitrary.

Israeli authorities restricted or prohibited Palestinian travel on 29 roads and sections of roads (totaling approximately 36 miles) throughout the West Bank, including many of the main traffic arteries, according to B’Tselem. Israeli security forces also imposed temporary curfews confining Palestinians to their homes during arrest operations. Israel continued to restrict movement and development near the barrier, including access by some international organizations.

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 rendered inaccessible by the barrier or settlements. A complicated Israeli permit regime (requiring more than 10 different permits) prevented these Palestinians from fully using their lands. The Israeli NGO HaMoked reported that government of Israel data showed a marked reduction in approvals of permits to cross the barrier compared with previous years. According to HaMoked, the IDF denied 73 percent of farmer permits in 2020, compared with 63 percent in 2019. Only 1 percent of these permits were denied for security reasons, according to the IDF. The vast majority of permits were denied due to difficulties navigating the military bureaucracy and failure to meet increasingly restrictive criteria, according to HaMoked. HaMoked also reported that Israeli authorities did not open gates to these areas early enough in the morning, which reduced the time Palestinian farmers had each day to cultivate their land.

PA-affiliated prosecutors and judges claimed 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.

Israeli restrictions on the importation of dual-use items, including wires, motors, and fiberglass that could be used for the production of weaponry or explosives, prevented some fisherman from being able to repair their boats.

In the West Bank, Israeli military authorities continued to restrict Palestinian vehicular and foot traffic and access to homes and businesses in the downtown H2 sector of Hebron, where approximately 22,000 Palestinians resided. This included a ban on Palestinians walking, driving, or exiting the front door of their homes on Shuhada Street and most of al-Sahleh Street. Israeli security forces cited a need to protect several hundred Israeli settlers resident in the city center. Israeli security forces continued to occupy rooftops of private Palestinian homes in the H2 sector 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.

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. Israeli officials cited security concerns when imposing travel restrictions, including limiting access to Jerusalem during major Jewish holidays as well as continuing construction of Israel’s barrier, which impeded the movements of Palestinian Muslims and Christians in the West Bank.

Foreign Travel: Hamas 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. Palestinians returning to Gaza were regularly subject to Hamas interrogations regarding their activities in Israel, the West Bank, and abroad.

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

On February 14, Gaza’s Supreme Judicial Council issued a notice allowing male guardians to restrict unmarried women’s travel. Following significant public backlash, the notice was revised to allow a male guardian (i.e., a father, brother, or grandfather) to apply for a court order preventing an unmarried woman from traveling if they assess the travel will cause “absolute harm.” She could also be prevented from traveling if the guardian had a pending lawsuit against her that requires a travel ban. The notice also allows parents and the paternal grandfather to apply for travel bans on their adult children and grandchildren if they can show travel could result in similar harm. According to HRW, on September 21, Palestinian border officials at the Rafah Crossing between Gaza and Egypt blocked Afaf al-Najar from traveling to Turkey, where she had received a scholarship to study media and communications, because her father had applied for a judicial travel ban. At an October 3 court hearing, a judge told al-Najar she could study for her degree in Gaza, suggesting he expected her to remain there. The case continued at year’s end.

Hamas restricts the entry of foreigners into Gaza unless a recognized local entity applies for their entrance prior to arrival. Hamas prohibited several international journalists from entering due to a lack of local agencies or persons applying for permits on their behalf.

During the conflict in May, Gazans were not able to get advanced medical care outside of Gaza for several weeks. The Palestinian Center for Human Rights and the ICRC filled the gap temporarily, then ceded the coordination role to the World Health Organization until coordination resumed.

Israeli authorities often denied or did not respond to Palestinian applications for travel permits through the Erez Crossing, including for patients seeking medical care unavailable inside Gaza, citing security concerns. On December 23, Israel granted 500 permits for Christians in Gaza to attend Christmas celebrations in the West Bank, although Israeli authorities largely limited entry and exit from Gaza at the Erez Crossing to humanitarian cases and limited permits to businesspersons and day laborers working in Israel. These limitations prevented some Palestinians from transiting to Jerusalem for visa interviews; to Jordan (often for onward travel) via the Allenby Bridge; and to the West Bank for work or education. There were reports from Gazans that Israeli authorities had imposed additional restrictions on items that could be brought through Erez into Israel, including not being allowed to carry cell phone chargers or more than one pair of shoes. The Israeli Ministry of Foreign Affairs stated there were no such new restrictions.

The barrier that divides the majority of the West Bank from Israel, including communities within Jerusalem, and some parts of the West Bank, significantly impeded Palestinian movement. Israeli authorities stated they constructed the barrier to prevent attacks by Palestinian terrorists. In some areas the barrier divided Palestinian communities in the West Bank and Jerusalem and neighborhoods within Jerusalem. At its widest points the barrier extended 11 miles into the West Bank. OCHA estimated that more than 11,000 Palestinians, excluding East Jerusalem residents, resided in communities west of the barrier who were required to travel through Israeli security checkpoints to reach the remainder of the West Bank.

In Jerusalem the barrier affected residents’ access to their extended families, places of worship, employment, agricultural lands, schools, and hospitals, as well as the conduct of journalism and humanitarian and NGO activities. For example, restrictions on access in Jerusalem, including delays at checkpoints lasting up to two hours, made it difficult for Palestinian patients and medical staff trying to reach the six Palestinian hospitals in East Jerusalem that offer specialized care. Authorities sometimes restricted internal movement in Palestinian neighborhoods of Jerusalem and Jerusalem’s Old City and periodically blocked entrances to the East Jerusalem neighborhoods of Issawiya, Silwan, and Jabal Mukabber. The government stated that the barrier was needed for security reasons and restrictions on movement in Jerusalem were temporary and implemented only when necessary for investigative operations, public safety, public order, and when there was no viable alternative.

Israeli officials imposed restrictions on movement of materials, goods, and persons into and out of Gaza based on security and economic concerns (see also section 3, Recent Elections, Gheith case). 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 permits to their employees to enter Gaza from Israel. The United Nations and several international NGOs reported that the Israeli government denied permits to UN and NGO local Gazan staff to exit Gaza into Israel. The Israeli government stated all Gaza exit requests are reviewed on a case-by-case basis in accordance with security considerations arising from Hamas’s de facto control of Gaza.

UNRWA reported staff movement continued to be restricted and unpredictable at several checkpoints, notably those controlling access to East Jerusalem or through the barrier. UNRWA reported that, as of the end of November, movement restrictions in the West Bank, including East Jerusalem, had resulted in the loss of at least 241 staff days. With a few exceptions, senior officials and staff of UNRWA and other humanitarian organizations were unable to leave or enter Gaza during the May conflict because of closures of the crossings between Israel and Gaza.

The Israeli government continued selective revocations of residency permits of some Palestinian residents of Jerusalem. This meant those residents could not return to reside in Jerusalem. Reasons for revocation included holding residency or citizenship of another country; living in another country, the West Bank, or Gaza for more than seven years; or, most commonly, being unable to prove a “center of life” (interpreted as full-time residency) in Jerusalem. The Israeli Ministry of Foreign Affairs reported that as of October, Israeli authorities revoked 22 residency permits in Jerusalem on the grounds of a regulation that allows revocation for individuals who stayed outside of Israel for more than seven years or acquired citizenship or permanent residence status elsewhere. Some Palestinians who were born in Jerusalem but studied abroad reported losing their Jerusalem residency status, but the government denied revoking residency status of anyone who left for the sole purpose of studying abroad. The government added that the residency of individuals who maintained an “affinity to Israel” would not be revoked and that former residents who wished to return to Israel could receive renewed residency status under certain conditions.

Palestinians possessing residency permits issued by the Israeli government but no PA or Jordanian identity document needed special documents to travel abroad.

During the year the Israeli Supreme Court continued to uphold, with few exceptions, the 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 or could revoke them during the school year.

Delays in permit approvals by Israeli officials caused some Palestinians to miss the travel dates for exchange programs abroad and 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 being detained.

Egyptian authorities opened the Rafah Crossing to pedestrians several times during the year, and OCHA reported 88,510 exits and 70,771 entrances through the Rafah Crossing as of November, an increase over 25,069 exits and 26,829 entrances in 2020. OCHA reported the Rafah Crossing had been open 198 days and closed 135 days as of November, compared to 2020 when the crossing was only open 126 days. The UN and several international NGOs reported that obtaining permission from the Hamas government in Gaza and the Egyptian government to travel through Rafah was extremely difficult for Palestinians in Gaza and often required paying bribes to local authorities.

According to Gisha, Israeli authorities denied some exit permit applications by residents of Gaza on the grounds that the applicants were “first-degree relative[s] [of] a Hamas operative.” UNOCHA reported that some of its staff members were denied exit permits out of Gaza because UNOCHA coordinated with Hamas as the de facto government in Gaza to facilitate the entry, exit, and transportation of UN personnel. In other cases, UNOCHA reported that its staff received exit permits, but Israeli authorities denied them permission for them to exit after hours of waiting at border crossings.

e. Status and Treatment of Internally Displaced Persons

According to the United Nations, 1,025 persons were displaced in the West Bank and East Jerusalem due to demolitions as of November 17.

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. Humanitarian actors, including UNRWA, the ICRC, and NGOs, reported they faced difficulties providing assistance during the May conflict in Gaza, due to several factors, including the intensity of the bombing of Gaza by the Israeli military, difficulties establishing a coordination mechanism with the Israeli government, restrictions on movement of goods and persons by Israeli authorities, and, in one notable case of Israelis permitting humanitarian supplies through the Kerem Shalom Crossing, a mortar attack by Hamas.

f. Protection of Refugees

The PA cooperated with UNRWA in the West Bank. In Gaza de facto authorities generally cooperated with UNRWA and allowed it to operate without interference. After the May conflict and a controversial interview given by UNRWA’s Gaza field director, Hamas announced it would no longer guarantee his and his deputy’s safety, effectively forcing out UNRWA’s two most senior officials.

Access to Asylum: Palestinian residents of the West Bank who claimed to be in a life-threatening situation due to their sexual orientation or other reasons, such as domestic violence, did not have access to the asylum system in Israel due to Israel’s claim that the 1951 Refugee Convention does not apply to Palestinians because they receive assistance from the UNRWA, although UNRWA’s mandate does not extend to Israel. Thus, many Palestinians in life-threatening situations resided in Israel without legal status. NGOs stated this situation left these persons, who claimed they could not return to the West Bank due to fear of oppression, vulnerable to human trafficking, violence, and exploitation. Some lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer, and intersex (LGBTQI+) Palestinians were able to obtain a temporary permit from the Coordination of Government Activities in the Territories (COGAT) allowing them to stay in Israel without authorization to work or to access social services. A Supreme Court petition by NGOs demanding these rights was pending as of the year’s end. According to UNHCR, prior to the issuance of permits, COGAT requested proof of efforts to resettle in a third country. On July 22, in its response to a petition to the Supreme Court demanding the right to work and access to the health-care system for Palestinians with stay permits in Israel, the government stated it viewed a fundamental difference between Palestinians threatened due to cooperation with Israel and Palestinians who fled due to their sexual orientation or domestic violence. The government committed to begin issuing work permits for the first group but not for the second group. Members of the second group could only apply for a permit in demanded fields such as construction and industry, mirroring requirements for Palestinian workers from the West Bank. The government stated that COGAT examined the issue on a case-by-case basis. On July 26, the Supreme Court upheld the government’s position, but also demanded the government update the court regarding the possibility of accepting requests for work permits from the second group, separate from an employer. The case was ongoing at the year’s end.

Abuse of Migrants, Refugees, and Stateless Persons: Israeli security operations in the West Bank led to 27 fatalities of UNRWA-registered Palestinian refugees, five of whom were killed while reportedly conducting an attack on the ISF or Israeli civilians. The ISF conducted an estimated 409 military and policing operations in West Bank refugee camps, injuring 101 Palestinians, according to the United Nations. Of these injuries, 65 persons, including 10 minors, were injured with live ammunition, the United Nations reported. Israeli authorities demolished 141 structures belonging to UNRWA-registered refugees, which resulted in the displacement of 195 refugees, according to the United Nations.

Access to Basic Services: UNRWA provided education, health care, and social services, as well other assistance, in areas of Jerusalem, the West Bank, and Gaza. Palestinian refugees in the occupied territories 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 section 1.d.). UNRWA services in Gaza were also disrupted during the May escalation in violence.

Socioeconomic conditions in Gaza severely affected refugees. UNRWA reported that food security continued to be at risk. In March UNRWA temporarily suspended food distribution at its official distribution centers to avoid spreading COVID-19 but began door-to-door delivery as an alternative soon afterwards.

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.

g. 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 were never recognized by Israel 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 Gaza 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 and has not approved family reunifications since 2009. COGAT confirmed that without accurate and updated records in Israeli databases, Israeli authorities could not process Palestinians’ movement in and out of the West Bank and Gaza.

There was no process for foreign spouses or foreign-born children of Palestinians to obtain permanent legal status in the West Bank prior to August, when Israeli authorities permitted 5,000 family reunification petitions to be submitted via the PA’s Ministry of Civil Affairs. Following a meeting between President Abbas and Israeli minister of defense Gantz on December 28, there were indications that Israel would permit the PA to process additional family reunification petitions, although thousands more would likely remain unprocessed due to Israeli-imposed limits on the number of petitions. Since Israel approves the Palestinian family registry, many Palestinian children and young adults, especially those born abroad, remained without legal status at the end of the year, in the region where they had spent most or all of their lives.

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, however, preventing Palestinians from being able to choose their own government or hold it accountable. Civil society organizations in Gaza, which has been under Hamas control since 2007, stated Hamas and other Islamist groups did not tolerate public dissent, opposition, civic activism, or the promotion of values contrary to Hamas’s political and religious ideology.

Although Israeli 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, Palestinian residents of Jerusalem and Druze of the Golan Heights who have permanent residency status may vote in municipal elections and seek some municipal offices, but not that of mayor, and are denied the right to vote in general elections or serve in the Knesset.

Elections and Political Participation

Recent Elections: The first phase of municipal elections, last held in 2017, took place in the West Bank on December 11. There have been no national elections in the occupied territories since 2006. Elections were due to be held in 2010, but President Abbas refused to announce an election. In 2018 President Abbas announced that the PA Constitutional Court had issued a decision dissolving the Palestinian Legislative Council (PLC) and calling for PLC elections within six months. Those elections never happened. Fatah and Hamas leadership discussed the possibility of elections in late 2019 and returned to the issue in 2020, with President Abbas again promising elections at his address to the UN General Assembly in September. On January 15, President Abbas decreed that elections for the PLC would be held on May 22. On April 2, however, Abbas indefinitely postponed those elections.

Candidates running in the legislative elections prior to their cancellation were targeted. On April 12, unknown assailants shot at the house and office of attorney Hatem Chahine in Hebron. Chahine was a candidate of the Future list, which represents the Democratic Reform Current led by dismissed Fatah leader Mohammed Dahlan. According to press reports, the Criminal Investigation Unit of the Palestinian police inspected Chahine’s house and found bullets in the main entrance and in his wife’s car parked behind the entrance’s gate.

On April 15 in Ramallah, unknown assailants attacked the car of the head of the Unified Palestinian Movement list, Khaled Dweikat, while it was parked in front of his apartment in the Ersal neighborhood. Dweikat said he believed the attack was election-related and filed a complaint with the General Intelligence Service of the Palestinian police, the Central Elections Commission, and the ICHR. The ICHR announced it received numerous complaints prior to President Abbas canceling elections, ranging from threats of violence and property damage to blackmail. On May 1, unknown assailants shot and threw grenades at the house of electoral candidate Nizar Banat. The attack came a few hours after the Freedom and Dignity electoral list, which Banat formed, sent a message to the EU demanding it halt funding for the Palestinian Authority and its security apparatus. Banat died after being beaten by PASF officers several weeks later (see section 1.a.).

On January 19, Israeli police summoned for questioning the Fatah secretary in Jerusalem, Shadi Mtour. They subsequently released Mtour after renewing an order banning any contact between him and 21 PA and Fatah officials, including Fatah deputy head Mahmoud al-Aloul, Jerusalem governor Adnan Gheith, and head of Jerusalem unit at the PA Presidency Mu’tasem Tayem.

Throughout the year, Israeli authorities issued or extended various orders and charges against Gheith. On March 29, Israeli authorities banned Gheith from entering the West Bank or going to his office in al-Ram, a village northeast of Jerusalem. On August 2, Israeli authorities extended an order banning Gheith, from holding contacts with President Abbas and other PA officials. Gheith is already denied movement outside his place of residence in Silwan neighborhood in Jerusalem.

On November 22-23, Palestinian press reported that Israeli forces raided Gheith’s home, assaulted him, his sons, and cousins present at the house, and threw sound bombs and damaged household belongings before interrogating him concerning posts on social media his wife had shared. Israeli authorities charged Gheith with violating the ban on communicating with Palestinian officials and threatening the security of Israel. Israeli authorities released Gheith on bail after several hours, after renewing his house arrest for four more months and other movement and communications bans. On December 26, press outlets reported that Israeli forces again raided Gheith’s home during a larger arrest campaign in the Silwan neighborhood.

On April 17, the Israeli National Police shut down an election press conference at the St. George Hotel in East Jerusalem and detained three PLC candidates, Nasser Qous and Ashraf al-A’war from Fatah and Ratibah al-Natsheh from the Palestinian Democratic Union (FIDA). The press conference was scheduled to take place at the St. George hotel in East Jerusalem. The three candidates were released later that day and warned not to conduct any election activity in Jerusalem City.

According to press reports, Israeli authorities banned Fatah Jerusalemite district committee member Ahed Risheq from entering Haram al-Sharif/Temple Mount for a total of six months.

Political Parties and Political Participation: The PA allowed a limited range of political parties to exist in the West Bank and limited the ability of Hamas members to campaign and organize rallies. In Gaza, Hamas allowed other political parties but restricted their activities, primarily in the case of Fatah. 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 Members of Minority Groups: No PA laws limit participation of women or members of minority groups in the political process, and they did participate. Legally women and minorities may vote and participate in political life, although women faced significant social and cultural barriers in both the West Bank and Gaza. There was a 20 percent quota for women on the Palestinian Legislative Council, but the council’s activity has been suspended since 2007 and no legislative elections have been held since 2006. There were three women and four Christians in the 22-member PA cabinet.

Hamas generally excluded women from leadership positions in Gaza, although Hamas members elected one woman during the year to their political bureau, the 15-member council that leads Hamas in Gaza.

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

Palestinian human rights groups and international organizations reported restrictions on their work in the West Bank. Some of these organizations reported the PASF and PA police harassed their employees and pressured individuals and organizations not to work with them. Several PA security services, including General Intelligence and the Palestinian Civil Police, appointed official liaisons who worked with human rights groups.

Gaza-based NGOs reported that harassment and restrictions on civil society increased during the year. Hamas representatives appeared unannounced 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 regarding the shrinking operational space for international NGOs in Gaza, including Israeli travel bans affecting their Gaza-based staff.

Human rights NGOs alleged that Israeli authorities cited laws against terrorism or protecting national security to arrest or punish critics of the government or deter criticism of government policies or officials. In October Israeli minister of defense Benny Gantz announced that Israel was designating six Palestinian NGOs as terrorist organizations, alleging connections to the PFLP terrorist organization (see section 2.b.).

Some Israeli and Palestinian human rights NGOs operating in the West Bank, Gaza, or both, including B’Tselem, Rabbis for Human Rights, and Breaking the Silence, reported harassment from Israeli settlers and Israeli authorities (see also section 2.b., Freedom of Association). These groups as well as NGO Yesh Din and HRW reported some of their employees were subjected to questioning by security services, interrogations, intimidation, death threats, or physical assault. Yesh Din and B’Tselem reported some Palestinian field workers were detained for several hours at checkpoints after Yesh Din research materials were found in their possession. The NGOs claimed these behaviors increased during periods in which Israeli government officials spoke out against the NGOs’ activities or criticized them as enemies or traitors for opposing Israeli government policy. On December 25, an IDF soldier shot B’Tselem employee Sarit Michaeli in the face in Beita as she documented weekly protests there from a distance. Michaeli believed the rubber bullet that hit her was likely aimed at Beita residents.

According to the HRDF, Israeli authorities repeatedly subjected B’Tselem’s field researcher in the South Hebron Hills, Nasser Nawaj’ah, to harassment, intimidation, and reprisal. On March 6, Shin Bet interrogators allegedly threatened that Nawaj’ah would end up like Harun Abu Aram, a Palestinian civilian whom the IDF shot in the neck and paralyzed, if he continued his work. Nawaj’ah was subsequently detained and questioned by IDF soldiers at least four times in ensuing weeks.

During the COVID-19 pandemic, many human rights organizations working in the Palestinian territories received administrative fines from Israeli authorities for violating COVID-19 regulations. On January 1, Yigal Bruner, Micha Rachman, and Arik Ascherman, the director of the NGO Torat Tzedek, arrived in the Jordan Valley to help Palestinian farmers plow their lands. During their work, Israeli police officers arrived in the area and fined each of them for violating COVID-19 regulations by going to a public place for no necessary reason. Ta’ayush activists Amiel Vardi, Michal Hai, Daniel Kronberg, and Michal Barkat reported the same experience the next day in the South Hebron Hills, as did several other human rights defenders in the following weeks. On January 20, the HRDF filed a request with the attorney general to cancel 13 administrative fines. While similar fines given within Israel were cancelled after a petition to the Supreme Court, fines given in the West Bank were not. By the end of the year, five human rights activists were indicted for violating COVID-19 regulations in the West Bank, and two trials had begun.

Palestinian, Israeli, and international NGOs monitored the Israeli government’s practices in the occupied territories and published their findings.

The United Nations or Other International Bodies: PA 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 operating in Gaza, including UN organizations.

The Israeli government continued its policy of nonengagement with the UN Human Rights Council’s “special rapporteur on the situation in the Palestinian territories occupied since 1967.” In February 2020 the government suspended relations with the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) following publication of a UN Human Rights Council database of companies and “business activities related to settlements in the Occupied Palestinian Territory.” The government of Israel continued its freeze on relations with the agency at year’s end, according to OHCHR. No OHCHR international staff visas were granted or renewed by Israel during the year to allow access to the West Bank and Gaza Strip. As a result the agency’s 16 resident staff were forced to work remotely from outside Israel.

Government Human Rights Bodies: The ICHR continued serving as the PA’s ombudsman and human rights commission. The ICHR issued monthly and annual reports on human rights abuses 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.

Section 6. Discrimination and Societal Abuses

Women

Rape and Domestic Violence: Rape is illegal under PA law, but the legal definition does not address spousal rape. Punishment for conviction of rape is five to 15 years in prison. The PA repealed a law in 2018 that relieved a rapist of criminal responsibility if he married his victim. Neither the PA nor Hamas effectively enforced laws pertaining to rape in the West Bank and Gaza.

According to the PA’s Central Bureau of Statistics, one in five Palestinian women in the West Bank and Gaza reported at least one incident of physical abuse from their husbands. According to UN Women, in the West Bank and Gaza one in three women who have ever been married were subjected to physical violence by their husbands, and one in seven who have never married are subjected to violence by a household member. Women in Gaza were twice as likely to be a victim of spousal abuse as women in the West Bank. PA law does not explicitly prohibit domestic violence.

PA and Hamas did not enforce the law effectively in domestic violence cases in the West Bank and Gaza. NGOs reported Palestinian women were frequently unwilling to report cases of violence or abuse to the PA or Hamas due to fear of retribution or little expectation of assistance. Women’s rights and child advocacy groups reported sharp increases in incidents of domestic violence and abuse related to coronavirus mitigation measures including lockdowns and business closures.

According to human rights groups, the Attorney General’s Office and the security services ignored death threats directed at employees and employees’ family members at a women’s rights organization.

On November 22, Amer Rabee allegedly stabbed his wife, Sabreen Yasser Khweira, to death in their home outside Ramallah. Rabee also allegedly attacked his mother, who suffered injuries and was transferred to a hospital. PA police arrested Rabee later on November 22, and both the Khweira and Rabee families have called for his execution. According to press reports, Rabee had spent a month in prison earlier in the year after Khweira filed a complaint with police after Rabee beat her with cables. The case following Khweira’s killing continued at year’s end.

In October 2020 Palestinian police began an investigation into the death of a pregnant woman at her home in the West Bank town of Nabi Elias, according to media reports. Shortly after the investigation began, the PA Ministry of Social Affairs stated the woman’s husband had killed her and PASF arrested him. The investigation continued at year’s end.

Other Harmful Traditional Practices: The law precludes “family honor” as protection for perpetrators in “honor killing” crimes. In 2018 the PA amended the law to prohibit the practice of judges giving lighter sentences for crimes against women and children versus crimes against men. NGOs claimed the amended law was not sufficiently enforced. According to the Democracy and Media Center (SHAMS), 11 Palestinian women were killed in the West Bank, Gaza, and Jerusalem during the year out of 555 total killings; five in the West Bank, four in Gaza, and two in Jerusalem.

In September 2020 the PA attorney general charged three male family members with murder in the 2019 death of Israa Ghrayeb in an alleged honor killing, according to media reports. Hearings in the case were postponed several times due to coronavirus emergency measures. On February 17, the Bethlehem Court released the three suspects on bail. The case continued at year’s end.

Sexual Harassment: No PA law specifically relates to sexual harassment, which was a significant and widespread problem in the West Bank and Gaza. Some women claimed that when they reported harassment, authorities held them responsible for provoking men’s harassing behavior.

Reproductive Rights: There were no reports of coerced abortion or involuntary sterilization on the part of government authorities. UNICEF reported that 100 percent of live births were attended to by a skilled birth attendant. While menstrual hygiene supplies were widely available, access to clean water and reliable sanitation facilities was a chronic problem. UNRWA provided reproductive health services include preconception care, antenatal care, intranatal care, postnatal care, and family planning to UNRWA registered refugees.

Discrimination: Inheritance for Muslims in the West Bank and Gaza falls under the Palestinian Basic Law, which is based on sharia. Under the Palestinian Basic Law, women have a right to inheritance but generally received less than men. According to human rights groups, in some cases women have been attacked by male family members for asserting their right to an inheritance. While recognized Christian communities have separate civil court systems, there is no separate civil law for Christians, so those communities also utilize the Palestinian Basic Law. Men may marry more than one wife. Women may add conditions to marriage contracts to protect their interests in the event of divorce and child custody disputes but rarely did so. Local officials sometimes advised such women to leave their communities to avoid harassment. Hamas enforced a conservative interpretation of Islam in Gaza that discriminated against women. According to press and NGO reports, in some instances teachers in Hamas-run schools in Gaza sent girls home for not wearing conservative attire, although enforcement was not systematic. Reports of gender-based employment discrimination in Gaza against women were common, and factories often did not hire pregnant or newly married women to avoid the need to approve maternity leave.

Systemic Racial or Ethnic Violence and Discrimination

The Palestinian Basic Law included broad protections for Palestinians but was often superseded by informal tribal laws or the Jordanian penal code which offered less protection. There were no Palestinian laws that specifically provided for the protection of members of racial or ethnic minorities.

The government of Israel has assigned the IDF to maintain law and order in the West Bank through a series of military orders, but none specifically provide for the protection of Palestinian civilians or reference Palestinian rights. Rather, the focus of the IDF’s presence in the West Bank is the protection of Israeli citizens residing or transiting there. Minister of Defense Gantz repeatedly stated throughout the year that the IDF did not have the authority to arrest Israelis who attacked Palestinians in the West Bank. His remarks came after numerous videos that showed Israeli settlers attacking Palestinian civilians in the presence of and occasionally with the assistance of IDF. Israel’s nationalistic crimes unit investigated hate crimes against both Israelis and Palestinians, including “price tag” attacks, in the West Bank. On November 18, Gantz held a meeting with top security officials to discuss “the grave phenomenon” of settler violence against Palestinians over the olive harvest period. After that meeting, Gantz announced the establishment of interagency teams to review force postures and strengthen legal authorities. The interagency teams had not announced any steps to address settler violence as of the end of the year.

According to a HRW report released in April, throughout most of the West Bank and Gaza, Israel was the sole governing power; in the remainder, it exercised primary authority alongside limited Palestinian self-rule. Across these areas and in most aspects of life, HRW concluded, Israeli authorities methodically privileged Jewish Israelis and discriminated against Palestinians.

Palestinians also allegedly attacked other Palestinians on behalf of Israeli settlers. For example Daoud Nassar, director of the Tent of Nations farm, faced more than 25 cases in Palestinian courts involving various Palestinian attacks on the farm and against him personally. In May an arson fire destroyed hundreds of trees. His farm also faced property damage inflicted by Israeli forces. In June a COGAT bulldozer plowed through the property “for access” to another site, destroying trees and fences. There were several demolition orders against structures on the property, regarded as unpermitted in Israeli courts – in one case including a natural cave. Tent of Nations stated it had a valid title to the land dating back approximately 100 years under the British Mandate. The farm, located near Bethlehem, was on a hill with a 360-degree view and settlements occupy surrounding hilltops. Tent of Nations continued to wait at year’s end for COGAT’s Registry Committee to confirm the boundaries of their land and their ownership.

According to the HRDF, on October 11, one Palestinian and two Israeli human rights activists were violently arrested by the Israeli army while assisting Palestinian families in their yearly olive harvest near Salfit village in the West Bank, allegedly for entering a closed military zone and assaulting a soldier. The arrest occurred despite a Supreme Court ruling which stated that the Israeli army must let Palestinians access their lands freely to harvest their olives. Based on video footage, the judge released both Israeli human rights activists under the condition of a five-day ban from Salfit and from Nof-Avi Farm, a nearby unauthorized outpost which was erected on Salfit’s lands. The Palestinian human rights activist was released on similar terms. The Israeli activists were tried under the Israeli civil law system, while the Palestinian activist was tried under the Israeli military legal system, although the three were arrested together and charged with the same offenses.

On December 10, Israeli forces shot and killed a Palestinian resident with live ammunition during ongoing antisettlement protests in Beita village against the unauthorized outpost that Israeli settlers established in May. Since regular protests began in early May, OCHA reported that in Beita and Beit Dajan, nine Palestinians have been killed and more than 5,700 injured, including 218 by live ammunition, 1,083 by rubber bullets and 4,341 others who required medical treatment for inhaling teargas. Most of the Beita residents killed by the IDF were killed during weekly Friday protests against the unauthorized settlement, which has temporarily been converted into an IDF base following the evacuation of settlers in June.

According to Bimkom, an estimated 35,000 Palestinian Bedouins lived in Area C of the West Bank. Many were UNRWA-registered refugees. Bedouins were often resident in areas designated by Israel as closed military zones or planned for settlement expansion. Demolition and forced displacement by the Israeli government of Bedouin and herding communities continued in Area C. Many of these communities lacked access to water, health care, education, and other basic services. The Ministry of Foreign Affairs reported that 16 Israelis died during the year because of Palestinian attacks; 14 of the 16 were in Israel, one was in the West Bank, and one was in Jerusalem, according to the Foreign Affairs Ministry. Thirteen died during the May conflict. The Shin Bet reported, without specifying the identity of perpetrators or victims, that during the year there were nine incidents of rock throwing that resulted in moderate or worse injuries, 94 cases of live fire incidents, 46 stabbing attacks, and 1,516 Molotov cocktail attacks. Two Israeli soldiers were wounded, and one Palestinian killed during the “Day of Rage” protests that were called in solidarity with Gaza on May 19 in Jerusalem and the West Bank. There were also dozens of reports of arson, as well as stone throwing.

As of December, Shin Bet had registered 397 settler attacks resulting in Palestinian fatalities, injuries, or properties in the West Bank, compared to 272 violent incidents in 2020, according to Israeli press reports. The NGO Breaking the Silence reported 416 anti-Palestinian incidents in the West Bank during the first half of the year – more than double the figure for the first half of 2020 and more than all of 2019. According to Haaretz reporting, the IDF was aware of these incidents and often allowed settlers to “let off steam” to avoid confrontation with the settlers.

The ISF reportedly accompanied settlers during some attacks as well. According to The Intercept and NGOs, on May 14, six IDF soldiers accompanied a group of settlers who arrived in the town of Urif, near Nablus. The settlers allegedly uprooted 60 fig and olive trees, attacked the town’s school with stones, and broke its solar panels. During the attack the soldiers allegedly protected the settlers with gunfire, gave orders on where to go, what to uproot, and what to destroy and appeared to coordinate the attack while shooting at anybody who tried to get close. The attack left four Palestinian residents dead, and survivors said they did not know whether settlers or the IDF had shot them.

Some Israeli and Palestinian officials, as well as numerous NGOs alleged that some Israeli settlers used violence against Palestinians to intimidate them from using land that settlers sought to acquire. On July 26, a B’Tselem video showed a settler shooting in the direction of Palestinians in the village of al-Tuwanai, near Hebron, with an IDF-issued assault rifle belonging to a soldier who reportedly stood close by. The settler was then seen picking up large rocks to throw at Palestinians before IDF troops ordered him to leave the area. The IDF acknowledged the incident, saying that the soldier was summoned for an immediate investigation and clarification by the brigade commander, and the regulations were clarified. Various human rights groups, including Yesh Din, Rabbis for Human Rights, and B’Tselem, continued to claim Israeli authorities insufficiently investigated and rarely prosecuted settler violence. Palestinian residents were reportedly reluctant to report incidents because Israeli police stations in the West Bank were located inside Israeli settlements, often where alleged perpetrators resided, and they feared settler retaliation. Israeli police are not permitted to enter Palestinian villages without IDF accompaniment. Palestinians were also discouraged by a lack of accountability in most cases, according to NGOs. Following a freedom of information act request, Yesh Din received Israeli police figures for 2018 to 2020 which revealed that 369 cases of Israeli violence against Palestinians were opened, and 11 indictments were filed during the period. In comparison, 363 cases of Palestinian politically motivated crime against non-Palestinians (Israeli security forces and Israeli settlers) were opened, and 70 indictments filed.

Israeli settlers also attacked and injured Palestinian civilians in the West Bank, in some cases severely. On September 28, 40 mostly masked Israeli settlers from two nearby unauthorized outposts attacked the Palestinian village of Um Faggarah around lunchtime. The settlers first attacked a Palestinian herder and tried to steal his flock of sheep. Settlers then entered villagers’ homes and threw rocks at residents, including at close range. One Israeli settler dropped rocks on the head of a sleeping three-year-old Palestinian boy, fracturing his skull. According to UNOCHA, settlers injured eight Palestinians including children, killed five animals, and damaged numerous vehicles and 10 homes. UNOCHA reported that the IDF shot tear gas canisters and rubber-coated metal bullets, injuring another 20 Palestinians. On September 28, IDF soldiers detained a Palestinian and an Israeli settler in connection with the attack. The Palestinian was eventually released on bail; it was unclear whether the settler remained in custody. On September 29, Israeli police arrested two adults from Jerusalem and one youth from the settlements in connection with the attack. As of the end of the year, media outlets reported that two Israelis were charged for the assault out of dozens involved in the attack.

According to NGO and media reports, Palestinian civilians killed three Israeli civilians in the West Bank. On December 16, Israeli settler Yehuda Dimentman was shot and killed and two additional Israeli citizens riding in the same car were injured in a shooting attack near the outpost of Homesh. Press reported that Israeli police subsequently detained six Palestinians, two of whom they alleged conducted the attack, while the others aided the attackers. Palestinian Islamic Jihad claimed responsibility for the attack, and the investigation continued at year’s end. Following Dimentman’s death, press reported that thousands of Israeli citizens flocked to Homesh in support of retroactively legalizing the Homesh yeshiva and establishing a settlement in memory of Dimentman. Israeli security forces blocked local roads and four nearby Palestinian villages and did not stop the march despite the protesters marching to an area that was illegal for Israelis to enter. According to the ICRC, some protesters entered the nearby Palestinian village of Burqa, vandalizing homes and tombstones and attacking residents, and approximately 100 Palestinians were injured and one hospitalized, mostly from teargas in clashes with the IDF. No arrests were reported despite the heavy Israeli security forces presence.

In December 2020 according to media reports, Israeli police were chasing a car in the West Bank when the car flipped over and one of its occupants, 16-year-old settler Ahuvia Sandak, died. Sandak and the other four occupants, who were also settlers, were reportedly throwing stones at Palestinians before the incident occurred. Sandak’s death sparked violent protests outside police stations in Jerusalem as some questioned the actions of police involved in the incident. In the West Bank, according to media reports, settlers blocked roads in protest of the police role in the incident, threw rocks at cars with license plates that identified them as Palestinian, and raided some Palestinian homes.

There were dozens of reports of settler violence during the olive harvest. Yesh Din stated that between October 1 and November 15, it recorded 41 incidents, including 12 incidents of violent offenses, 10 instances of burning or uprooting olive trees, 16 instances of crop theft, four incidents of land prevention to olive groves, and one case in which soldiers allegedly denied a farmer access to his land without basis. They noted, however, that they had limited resources to document incidents, suggesting that their statistics understated the problem. Army radio reported on November 8 that the Ministry of Defense recorded 67 incidents of settler violence towards Palestinians during the harvest season (with approximately one more week left in the season at that point). The incidents included uprooting, cutting, and burning trees as well as setting cars on fire, and vandalism. Israeli security forces arrested at least three settlers suspected of stone throwing and were investigating other incidents of violence and property damage, according to media reports.

Settler violence occurred throughout the year. According to the IDF, in the first half of the year there were 416 violent incidents on the part of the settlers, averaging 2.5 incidents per day, compared to 507 violent incidents the IDF reported for all of 2020. According to Peace Now and Yesh Din, 63 percent of acts of settler violence against Palestinians took place in the vicinity of outposts, and most violence went unreported to authorities.

Israeli authorities investigated reported attacks against Palestinians and Arab/Palestinian citizens of Israel, primarily in Jerusalem, by members of organizations that made anti-Christian and anti-Muslim statements and objected to social relationships between Jews and non-Jews. On August 18, five young Jewish Israelis stabbed Palestinian resident of East Jerusalem Ahmed Salima outside West Jerusalem’s main market, Mahane Yehuda. Salima had finished his shift at a nearby restaurant and was waiting for his ride. The Israeli Jewish youth were reportedly headed to pray at the Western Wall. While Israeli police first accused the five of committing the attack with nationalistic motives, the prosecutor did not view it as a hate crime and instead announced charges on August 29 of aggravated intentional assault and possession of a knife. The case remained pending.

The Israeli government and settler organizations in Jerusalem made efforts to increase property ownership by Jewish Israelis in Jerusalem. Civil society organizations and representatives of the Palestinian Authority stated the efforts sought to emphasize Jewish history in Palestinian neighborhoods. UNOCHA and NGOs such as Bimkom and Ir Amim alleged that the goal of Jerusalem municipal and Israeli national policies was to decrease the number of Palestinian residents of Jerusalem. Official Israeli government policy was to maintain a 60 percent majority of Jews in Jerusalem according to the Jerusalem Municipality’s Outline Plan 2000. Israeli, Palestinian, and foreign NGOs noted the Israeli government’s goal of “maintaining a solid Jewish majority in the city,” as stated in the Jerusalem municipality’s master plan, and limiting the number of Palestinian residents. The plan originally set a target “ratio of 70 percent Jews and 30 percent Arab,” but planners later acknowledged that “this goal was not attainable” considering “the demographic trend” and adjusted to a 60-40 target.

Jewish landowners and their descendants, or land trusts representing the families, are entitled to reclaim property they had abandoned in East Jerusalem during fighting prior to 1949. Palestinians who abandoned property in Israel in the same period had a right to compensation only but not to reclaim the property. In some cases, private Jewish organizations acquired legal ownership of reclaimed Jewish property in East Jerusalem, including in the Old City and through protracted judicial action sought to evict Palestinian families living there. Authorities designated approximately 30 percent of East Jerusalem for Israeli neighborhoods and settlements. Palestinians were able in some cases to rent or purchase Israeli-owned property, including private property on Israeli government-owned land, but faced significant legal and governmental barriers to both. Israeli NGOs stated that after accounting for Israeli neighborhoods/settlements, Israeli government property, and declared national parks, only 13 percent of all land in East Jerusalem was available for construction by Palestinians or others.

Although the law provides that all residents of Jerusalem are fully and equally eligible for public services provided by the municipality and other Israeli authorities, the Jerusalem municipality and other authorities failed to provide sufficient social services, education, infrastructure, and emergency planning for Palestinian neighborhoods, especially in the areas between the barrier and the municipal boundary. Approximately 117,000 Palestinians lived in that area, of whom approximately 61,000 were registered as Jerusalem residents, according to government data. According to the Jerusalem Institute for Policy Research, 78 percent of East Jerusalem’s Arab residents and 86 percent of Arab children in East Jerusalem lived in poverty in 2017.

Social services in Israeli settlements in the West Bank, including housing, education, and health care, were available only to Israelis and not Palestinians, according to NGOs.

Throughout the year there were nationalistic hate crimes and violence by Jewish individuals and groups against Palestinians and Arab/Palestinian citizens of Israel and property, often with the stated purpose of exacting a “price” for actions taken by the government against the attackers’ interests. The most common offenses, according to police, were attacks on vehicles, defacement of real estate, harm to Muslim and Christian holy sites, assault, and damage to agricultural lands. According to UNOCHA, there was a 21 percent increase in “nationalistic” attacks in the West Bank by settlers or Jewish extremists that involved Palestinian property damage. There were 274 such attacks in 2020, compared to 332 as of December 20.

On May 3, B’Tselem reported that dozens of Israeli settlers attacked the Palestinian village of Jaloud, setting brush fires and throwing stones at villagers. The attack reportedly was revenge for three Israelis wounded in a drive-by shooting at a nearby traffic junction days earlier.

On July 22, three settler youth allegedly set fire to a stone factory west of Hawara Palestinian residents of nearby Jamma’in village described it as a price tag attack, according to media reports. Israeli police stated they had received reports of arson and they had arrested one of the suspects and transferred him to a hospital for medical care.

On November 9, Palestinian residents of al-Bireh found graffiti sprayed on approximately two dozen cars and a building in their neighborhood. The damage included punctured tires, spray-painted Stars of David, and anti-Arab slogans in Hebrew. The slogan “enemies live here” was also painted on a building and “price tag” painted on a van. Israeli police and the IDF were dispatched to the scene, but there were no reported arrests.

In December 2020 Muhammad Marwah Kabha killed Israeli citizen Esther Horgan near the West Bank settlement of Tal Maneshe, according to multiple media reports. Kabha confessed to scouting the area in advance and killing Horgan, and an Israeli military court convicted him of murder on October 27. In May 2020 Palestinian Nizmi Abu Bakar threw a brick off his roof striking IDF soldier Amit Ben Yigal in the head and killing him while the IDF was conducting operations in Area A, according to media reports. In June 2020, Israel indicted Bakar for intentionally causing death. In November 2020 Bakar pleaded not guilty, and the defense stated they would work to annul the confession he gave during his interrogation, according to the Israeli government. The case continued at year’s end.

Children

Birth Registration: The PA registers Palestinians born in the occupied territories, and Israel requires the PA to transmit this information to Israel’s Civil Administration. The PA may not determine citizenship. Children of Palestinian parents may receive a Palestinian identity card issued by the Civil Administration if they are born in the West Bank or Gaza to a parent who holds a Palestinian identity card. The PA Ministry of Interior and Israel’s Civil Administration both play a role in determining a person’s eligibility for that card.

The Israeli government registers the births of Palestinians born in Jerusalem, although some Palestinians who have experienced the process reported that administrative delays can last for years. The Civic Coalition for Palestinian Rights estimated that more than 10,000 children in East Jerusalem remained undocumented.

Education: In Gaza primary education is not universal. UNRWA, Hamas, religious institutions, and private foundations all provided instruction. In addition to the PA curriculum, UNRWA provided specialized classes on human rights, conflict resolution, and tolerance. There were reports that Hamas offered courses on military training in its schools during youth summer camps to which school-age children could apply for admission.

In the West Bank, Palestinian government officials and Palestinian university officials accused the ISF of disrupting university campuses, especially in areas close to Israeli settlements. UNICEF documented 85 instances of “interference in education” by Israeli forces in the West Bank in 2020, 26 percent of which involved firing weapons in or near schools. UNICEF’s preliminary data indicated there were approximately 100 instances of “interference in education” by Israeli forces in the West Bank during the year.

According to NGOs, the difficulty of obtaining permits to build schools and the Israeli destruction of schools built without permits prevented many West Bank Palestinian children from getting an education. Israeli restrictions on construction in Area C of the West Bank and East Jerusalem also negatively affected Palestinian students’ access to education. As of the end of the year, 46 Area C schools and eight East Jerusalem schools, serving an estimated 5,400 students, were under pending partial or full demolition or stop-work orders, according to UNICEF. None were demolished during the year. B’Tselem further reported that on August 24, Israeli troops trained with heavy equipment close to homes and a school near the village of Tayasir in the north Jordan Valley, provoking protests that led to injuries. During the year the Civil Administration conducted 583 demolitions in the West Bank and East Jerusalem that displaced 370 Palestinian minors, complicating their ability to attend school, according to the United Nations.

There were reportedly insufficient classrooms to accommodate schoolchildren in Jerusalem. Based on population data from the Central Bureau of Statistics, the NGO Ir Amim estimated that in the 2020-21 school year, there was a shortage of 2,840 classrooms for Palestinian children who were residents in East Jerusalem. Ir Amim also reported that following a freedom of information request, the Jerusalem Municipality said it did not know where 37,233 Palestinian children in Jerusalem were enrolled in school. According to Ir Amim, this figure constituted 27 percent of East Jerusalem children of compulsory school age.

Child Abuse: PA law prohibits violence against children; however, PA authorities and Hamas in Gaza rarely punished perpetrators convicted of family violence. Reports of domestic abuse increased under coronavirus emergency orders.

There were reports Hamas ran jihadi-themed summer camps, although there were no reports that Hamas recruited or used child soldiers.

Child, Early, and Forced Marriage: Child marriage did not appear to be widespread in the West Bank and Gaza, according to NGOs including the Women’s Center for Legal Aid and Counseling. President Abbas issued a presidential decree declaring a marriage legal only if both parties enter into the marriage willingly and both are 18 years old. The decree provides an exemption for minors if a judge agrees the marriage is in “the best interest of both parties.” As of the end of October, the chief justice of the Sharia Court, Mahmoud al-Habash, granted 400 exemptions out of 2,000 requests, according to Palestinian media outlets. Some of the justifications for granting exemptions were not sufficient reason to provide an exception, according to the Women’s Center for Legal Aid and Counseling, which claimed some of the accepted justifications included “the girl agreed to marriage without coercion,” and “the husband agrees to let his wife complete her studies.”

Sexual Exploitation of Children: The PA considers statutory rape a felony, based on Jordanian law. Punishment for conviction of rape of a victim younger than 15 includes a minimum sentence of seven years’ imprisonment. In Gaza, under the rule of Hamas, suspects convicted of rape of a victim younger than 14 are eligible for the death penalty. There were reports that societal norms in Gaza led to underreporting to Hamas of sexual exploitation of children. The minimum age of consensual sex in the West Bank is 16. The Gaza Strip has no legal age of consent because marriage is legally required before sexual intercourse is allowed.

Displaced Children: Conflict and demolition orders (see section 2.d.) displaced significant numbers of Palestinian children in the West Bank and Gaza.

Anti-Semitism

Israeli settlements in the West Bank had approximately 441,600 residents at the end of 2019 and 451,700 at the end of 2020, according to the Israeli Central Bureau of Statistics.

Some Palestinians and Muslim religious leaders used anti-Semitic rhetoric, including Holocaust denial. Anti-Semitism also regularly featured in public discourse, including expressions of longing for a world without Israel and glorification of terror attacks on Israelis and Jews. During a protest in Beita against an unauthorized settlement on August 15, some of the activists burned a Star of David with a swastika inside. During times of heightened tensions between Israeli authorities and Palestinians, Palestinian press and social media sometimes circulated cartoons encouraging terrorist attacks against Israelis, and official PA media outlets published and broadcast material that included anti-Semitic content.

Civil society organizations cited problematic content in PA textbooks, including those used by UNRWA in its schools, to include anti-Semitic content, incitement to violence directed against Israel, and the failure to include Judaism alongside Christianity and Islam when discussing religion. On June 18, the Georg Eckert Institute for International Textbook Research released a study of a sample of 156 books that noted the textbooks’ adherence to UNESCO standards, including a “strong focus on human rights” as well as progress in the excision of inciteful content, e.g., elimination of references to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict in math and science textbooks. The study also noted a pronounced narrative of resistance towards Israel and found that some selections questioned the legitimacy of the State of Israel, contained anti-Semitic content, and praised Palestinians who committed violent attacks against Israel. UNRWA declared during the year that it had “zero tolerance for hatred, incitement to violence or discrimination” and that it reviewed the content of educational materials to ensure they were in line with UN values and principles and to address problematic content.

In Gaza and the West Bank, there were instances in which media outlets, particularly outlets controlled by Hamas but also media outlets controlled by the PA’s ruling Fatah party, published and broadcast material that included anti-Semitic content, sometimes amounting to incitement to violence.

Trafficking in Persons

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

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

PA law in the West Bank does not prohibit consensual same-sex sexual activity. There were reported examples of violence, criminalization or abuse based on sexual orientation and gender identity during the year. NGOs reported PA security officers and neighbors harassed, abused, and sometimes arrested individuals due to their sexual orientation or gender identity. In Gaza sexual acts “against the order of nature” are criminalized. NGOs reported Hamas security forces harassed and detained persons due to their sexual orientation or gender identity.

Section 7. Worker Rights

a. Freedom of Association and the Right to Collective Bargaining

PA law provides for the rights of workers to form and join independent unions and conduct legal strikes. The law requires conducting collective bargaining without any pressure or influence but does not include protections for employees and unions to engage effectively in collective bargaining. Antiunion discrimination and employer or government interference in union functions are illegal, but the law does not specifically prohibit termination for union activity or provide for job reinstatement for termination due to union activity.

The PA labor code does not apply to civil servants or domestic workers, although the law allows civil servants the right to form unions. The requirements for legal strikes are cumbersome, and strikers had little protection from retribution. Prospective strikers must provide written notice two weeks in advance of a strike (four weeks in the case of public utilities). The PA Ministry of Labor may impose arbitration; workers or their trade unions faced disciplinary action if they rejected the result. If the ministry cannot resolve a dispute, it may refer the dispute to a committee chaired by a delegate from the ministry and composed of an equal number of members designated by the workers and the employer. Disputes may move finally to a specialized labor court, although authorities had not established the court as required by labor legislation.

The government did not effectively enforce the law and procedures were subject to lengthy delays and appeals. Penalties were not commensurate with those for violation of other laws involving denials of civil rights, such as discrimination, and inspection was not sufficient to enforce compliance. The PA enforced the prohibitions on antiunion discrimination and employer interference in union functions, but it inconsistently enforced laws regarding freedom of association. The PA did not seek to enforce collective bargaining rights for unions, except for those representing PA employees. Hamas continued to maintain de facto control of worker rights in Gaza, where the PA was unable to enforce labor law. Hamas continued to suppress labor union activities, including placing restrictions on celebrating Labor Day and suppressing public gatherings of labor unions.

In the West Bank, the PA respected freedom of association and the right to collective bargaining, with some significant exceptions. Labor unions were not independent of authorities and political parties in the West Bank or Gaza. The politicization of labor unions in Gaza by Hamas reduced participation and effectiveness in advocating for labor rights. Two main labor unions in the West Bank (the Palestinian General Federation of Trade Unions and the Federation of Independent and Democratic Trade Unions and Workers) competed for membership and political recognition.

Israel applies Israeli civil law to Israeli settlements in the West Bank, but authorities did not enforce it uniformly. Despite a 2007 ruling by the Israeli Supreme Court requiring the government to apply Israeli law to Palestinian workers in Israeli settlements, the Israeli government did not fully enforce the ruling. Most Israeli settlements continued to apply Jordanian law to Palestinian workers; that law provides for lower wages and fewer protections than does Israeli law.

b. Prohibition of Forced or Compulsory Labor

PA law does not expressly forbid forced or compulsory labor. It is unknown whether any penalties were assessed for violations commensurate with those for other analogous serious crimes, such as kidnapping. Forced labor occurred in the West Bank and Gaza. Women working as domestic workers were vulnerable to forced labor conditions in both the West Bank and Gaza, since the PA and Hamas authorities do not regulate domestic labor within households or in the large informal sector.

c. Prohibition of Child Labor and Minimum Age for Employment

The law does not prohibit or criminalize all the worst forms of child labor. The law provides for the protection of children from exploitation in the workplace, including limitations on working hours, occupational safety, and health restrictions. The government did not effectively enforce the law. Penalties for child labor were not commensurate with those for similar serious crimes, such as kidnapping. PA law provides for a minimum age of employment and prohibits the employment of minors younger than 15. PA law classifies children as persons younger than 18 and permits hiring children between the ages of 15 and 18 for certain types of employment under set conditions. The law allows children younger than 15 to work for immediate family members under close supervision.

PA law prohibits children from working more than 40 hours per week; operating certain types of machines and equipment; performing work that might be unsafe or damage their health or education; and working at night, in hard labor, or in remote locations far from urban centers. A presidential decree includes provisions on child labor and explicit penalties for conviction of violations. PA authorities may penalize repeat offenders by having fines doubled or fully or partially closing the offender’s facility.

Inspectors did not operate in all sectors and did not have the authority to assess penalties. The worst forms of child labor occurred in construction and illicit activities such as smuggling drugs and commercial sexual exploitation. During the year PA Ministry of Labor officials reported there were 14 Palestinian fatalities in the West Bank and Gaza. The Ministry of Labor fined and gave warnings to businesses employing children illegally. The ministry inspected only businesses operating in the formal economy and was unable to conduct investigations in Gaza. It did not have access to the Israeli-controlled Area C of the West Bank. Many cases of child labor in the West Bank reportedly occurred in home environments, for example on family farms, which were not open to labor ministry inspection.

In the first quarter of 2020, 2 percent of children between the ages of 10 and 17 were employed (3 percent in the West Bank and 1 percent in Gaza). Palestinian child laborers deemed by the PA to be most vulnerable to forced labor generally worked in shops, as roadside and checkpoint street vendors, in car washes, in factories, in small manufacturing enterprises, or on family farms.

Hamas did not effectively enforce child labor laws in Gaza; however, Gaza continued to have a lower percentage of child labor than the West Bank. While the United Nations previously reported child labor was increasing in Gaza due to widespread economic hardship, high unemployment across all segments of society has led to high competition for jobs, thus decreasing the demand for child labor. Hamas reportedly encouraged children to work gathering gravel and scrap metal from bomb sites to sell to recycling merchants. Hamas increased recruitment of youth for tunnel-digging activities. Children were also reported to be working informally in the automotive and mechanics sector, often changing tires and working as mechanics’ assistants. There were also reports Hamas trained children as combatants. Due to the rising economic hardship in Gaza, street begging, predominantly by children as young as age three, was common throughout Gaza and Hamas no longer attempted to discourage the practice.

The Israeli government stated it did not issue permits for Palestinian West Bank residents younger than 18 to work in Israeli settlements in the West Bank, except in the Jordan Valley, where the law allows issuing permits to persons ages 16 and older. There were reports during the year that some Palestinian children entered the settlements or crossed into Israel illegally, often smuggled, to seek work. According to a 2015 Human Rights Watch report, Palestinian children younger than 16 worked on Israeli settlement farms. The PA reported that Palestinian children engaged in child labor in Israeli settlements in the West Bank faced security risks, exploitation, and harassment, since they did not have access to legal protection or labor inspection.

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

d. Discrimination with Respect to Employment and Occupation

PA laws and regulations do not prohibit discrimination regarding race, language, sexual orientation or gender identity, HIV-positive status or other communicable diseases, or social status. While PA laws prohibit discrimination based on gender and disabilities, penalties were not commensurate with laws related to civil rights, such as election interference, and the PA did not effectively enforce those laws and regulations in the West Bank, nor did Hamas in Gaza. PA law states that work is the right of every capable citizen; however, it regulates the work of women, preventing them from employment in dangerous occupations. As a result, most women were not able to work at night or in the mining or energy sectors. Women endured prejudice and, in some cases, repressive conditions at work. According to the Palestinian Central Bureau of Statistics (PCBS), the Palestinian female labor force participation rate was 18.9 percent in Gaza and 17.1 percent in the West Bank as of September. Reports of gender-based employment discrimination in Gaza against women were common, and factories often did not hire pregnant or newly married women to avoid the need to approve maternity leave.

There was discrimination in the West Bank and Gaza based on the above categories with respect to employment and occupation. Persons with disabilities faced discrimination in hiring and access to the workplace.

e. Acceptable Conditions of Work

Wage and Hour Laws: The PA’s monthly minimum wage was below the poverty line. On August 23, the PA cabinet approved raising the Palestinian national wage by approximately 30 percent in 2022, although some observers questioned the government’s ability to enforce this policy, especially in Gaza. The PCBS estimated 30 percent of residents in the West Bank and 64 percent of residents in Gaza lived below the poverty line. The average monthly wage in Gaza is significantly lower than the PA’s monthly minimum wage, according to the PCBS.

According to PA law, the maximum official Sunday-to-Thursday workweek is 48 hours. The law also allows for paid official and religious holidays, which employers may not deduct from annual leave. Workers must be paid time and a half for each hour worked beyond 45 hours per week and may not perform more than 12 hours of overtime work per week. The government did not effectively enforce the law on wages and hours of work. Penalties were not commensurate with those for similar crimes, such as fraud.

Occupational Safety and Health: Occupational safety and health standards were not appropriate for the main industries in the country, which included construction, mining, quarrying, manufacturing, and agriculture. The PA Ministry of Labor was responsible for setting appropriate occupational health and safety standards. Responsibility for identifying unsafe work conditions lies with inspectors and not the worker. Palestinian workers do not have the legal protection to remove themselves from situations that endangered their health or safety without jeopardy to their employment. Mechanisms for lodging complaints were generally not utilized due to fear of retribution, according to NGOs.

The government did not effectively enforce the law on occupational safety and health standards. Penalties for violations of occupational, safety, and health laws were not commensurate with those for crimes such as negligence. Labor inspectors could conduct unannounced visits and initiate legal action but did not have the authority to levy fines. In 2020 the Ministry of Labor’s Inspection Department did not conduct regular visits due to COVID-19. The PA did not effectively monitor smaller worksites or those in the informal sector, which were at times below legal safety standards. The ministry does not have authority to enforce Palestinian labor law west of Israel’s barrier or in Israeli settlements in the West Bank.

Informal Sector: Israeli authorities did not conduct labor inspections in Israeli settlements, where Palestinian workers constituted a significant part of the workforce. The lack of a competent labor authority in the settlements increased workers’ vulnerability to exploitation. NGOs such as Kav LaOved stated that exploitative practices in Israeli settlements were widespread. The International Labor Organization (ILO) estimated that one-half of all such workers with permits continued to pay exorbitant monthly fees to brokers to obtain and maintain valid work permits. Approximately 146,000 Palestinians worked in Israel and Israeli settlements as of the third quarter of the year, mostly in construction and agriculture. These workers were more vulnerable to exploitation and were not eligible for worker benefits, such as paid annual and sick leave. Kav LaOved brought cases to Israeli labor courts on behalf of Palestinian workers employed by enterprises in Israel and West Bank settlements. Many of the cases related to nonpayment or misreporting of wages, inadequate medical care following workplace injury, and the settlement of subsequent health insurance claims within the Israeli system.

According to the Palestine Central Bureau of Statistics, as of the third-quarter Labor Force Survey, 28 percent of wage employees received less than the minimum wage. In the West Bank approximately seven percent of wage employees in the private sector received less than the minimum monthly wage. In Gaza, 83 percent of wage employees in the private sector received less than the minimum monthly wage. Palestinians working in Israeli settlements reported they continued to receive wages lower than the Israeli minimum wage, despite a 2008 High Court ruling that Israeli labor laws apply to relations between Palestinian workers and Israeli employers in settlements.

Respect for occupational safety and health standards was poor. There continued to be workplace fatalities of Palestinian laborers. According to an ILO report during the year about Palestinian workers, there were 23 fatalities of Palestinian workers in Israel in 2020, 10 of those in construction. Kav LaOved documented dozens of cases where employers instructed employees to return to the West Bank following workplace injury rather than provide for medical attention inside Israel.