Finland

Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:

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

Freedom of Expression: Public speech intended to incite discrimination against any national, racial, religious, or ethnic group is a crime. Hate speech is not a separate criminal offense, but may constitute grounds for an aggravated sentence for other offenses.

Press and Media Freedom: The distribution of hate material intended to incite discrimination against any national, racial, religious, or ethnic group in print or broadcast media, books, or online newspapers or journals is a crime.

Independent media were active and expressed a wide variety of views with little restriction.

Violence and Harassment: Journalists who covered sensitive topics, including immigration, far-right organizations, and terrorism, reported ongoing extragovernmental harassment. While prosecutors initiated cases related to the harassment of reporters, the Union of Journalists in Finland released a public statement criticizing the prosecutor’s office for its failure to protect journalists. In one notable case, a reporter who wrote about the role of an Afghan asylum seeker who rendered first aid to victims of a 2017 domestic terror attack was subjected to such intense harassment she relocated to Helsinki. Police declined to press charges against her harassers, who included members of anti-immigrant groups.

INTERNET FREEDOM

The government did not restrict or disrupt access to the internet or censor online content, and there were no credible reports the government monitored private online communications without appropriate legal authority. The law provides for everyone to have a “subjective right to a telephone subscription and an internet connection.” According to International Telecommunication Union statistics, an estimated 88 percent of the population used the internet in 2017.

Courts can fine persons found guilty of inciting racial hatred on the internet. There were a few reports that individuals incurred fines for publishing and distributing such material via the internet. On June 26, Ilja Janitskin, founder of the anti-immigrant website MV-lehti, was freed to await a verdict in his trial on charges of ethnic agitation and defamation. On October 18, the Helsinki District Court found Janitskin guilty on multiple counts of aggravated incitement against an ethnic group and sentenced him to 22 months in prison.

ACADEMIC FREEDOM AND CULTURAL EVENTS

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

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

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

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

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

Abuse of Migrants, Refugees, and Stateless Persons: There were several reports of violence against asylum seekers. In January an asylum seeker at the Joutseno migrant reception center committed suicide while awaiting deportation, sparking protest among other residents at the converted prison facility. Right-wing extremist groups hostile to asylum seekers and immigrants, including the neo-Nazi Nordic Resistance Movement (NRM) and the vigilante group Soldiers of Odin, maintained an active presence both online and in street demonstrations.

PROTECTION OF REFUGEES

Refoulement: Lawyers specializing in asylum cases alleged the government deported asylum seekers to countries where they are likely to face persecution or torture, most notably Iraq and Afghanistan. In September the Immigration Service announced it would suspend deportations to Afghanistan following new guidance from UNHCR regarding safety conditions in the country.

Access to Asylum: The law provides for the granting of asylum or refugee status, and the government has established a system for providing protection to refugees. Parliament sets an annual quota for refugee admissions, and the government decides its allocation. Asylum seekers have the right to free legal representation throughout their application procedure. There were numerous reports by media and civil society organizations, including the president of the Supreme Administrative Court responsible for reviewing asylum decision appeals, that asylum seekers lacked adequate access to legal assistance during the initial stages of the asylum application process and during subsequent appeals.

Safe Country of Origin/Transit: The government adheres to the EU’s Dublin III Regulation that establishes which EU member state is responsible for examining the asylum application. The government does not, however, return asylum seekers to Greece or Hungary under the Dublin Regulation.

Employment: Asylum seekers who have valid travel documents, but do not yet have a valid residence permit, are allowed to begin working three months after they have submitted their asylum application. Asylum seekers who do not have valid travel documents must wait six months after they have submitted their asylum application before they can begin working.

Durable Solutions: According to UNHCR the government accepted 1,094 refugees for resettlement during 2017, a number similar to previous years. The government also assisted in the safe, voluntary return of migrants to their home countries. Between January and June, the Finnish Immigration Service and the International Organization for Migration helped more than 480 persons to return voluntarily to their homes in 29 different countries.

Temporary Protection: From January to May the government provided temporary protection to 191 individuals who did not qualify as refugees but who were deemed to qualify for subsidiary protection. From January to May, the government also offered protection to 209 individuals based on “other grounds,” including medical and compassionate grounds.

STATELESS PERSONS

According to UNHCR 2,749 stateless persons resided in the country at the end of 2017. Involuntarily stateless persons and certain other special groups, such as refugees, have a shorter residency requirement–four years instead of six–than other persons before they are eligible to apply for citizenship. A child may obtain citizenship from either the mother or father regardless of the place of birth and may also acquire citizenship if the child is born in the country and would otherwise be stateless.

France

Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:

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

Freedom of Expression: While individuals could criticize the government publicly or privately without reprisal, there were some limitations on freedom of speech. Strict antidefamation laws prohibit racially or religiously motivated verbal and physical abuse. Written or oral speech that incites racial or ethnic hatred and denies the Holocaust or crimes against humanity is illegal. Authorities may deport a noncitizen for publicly using “hate speech” or speech constituting a threat of terrorism.

UN Special Rapporteur Fionnuala Ni Aoilain expressed concern that counterterrorism legislation passed in October 2017 restricted freedom of religion, movement, and expression. After a week-long visit in May, Ni Aoilain stated “the scope of these measures constitutes a de facto state of qualified emergency” in ordinary law.

Press and Media Freedom: While independent media were active and generally expressed a wide variety of views without restriction, print and broadcast media, books, and online newspapers and journals were subject to the same antidefamation and hate speech laws that limited freedom of expression.

The law provides protection to journalists, who may be compelled to reveal sources only in cases where serious crimes occurred and access to a journalist’s sources was required to complete an official investigation.

INTERNET FREEDOM

The government did not restrict or disrupt access to the internet or censor online content, and there were no credible reports that the government monitored private online communications without appropriate legal oversight. According to International Telecommunication Union statistics, 85 percent of the population used the internet during the year.

Under the law intelligence services have the power to monitor suspected threats to public order and detect future terrorists. The law also provides a legal framework for the intelligence services’ activities. Laws against hate speech apply to the internet.

On May 30, the National Commission on Informatics and Liberties (CNIL), the government’s data protection authority, released its annual report. The report showed a significant increase in the number of requests made to authorities to remove online terrorist and child-pornography-related content. The report, which covered the period between March 2017 and February 2018, also stated the Central Office for the Fight against Crime Related to Information and Communication Technology (OCLCTIC) issued 35,110 withdrawal requests, an increase of 1,270 percent from the previous year. Of these, 93 percent concerned terrorist content and 7 percent child pornography. CNIL underscored that the significant increase in withdrawal requests did not necessarily indicate more offensive material posted online, but rather that a large number of newly hired investigators at OCLCTIC allowed the unit to identify and report more content.

On October 10, parliament adopted a bill cracking down on “fake news,” allowing courts to rule whether reports published during election periods are credible or should be taken down. The law allows election candidates to sue for the removal of contested news reports during election periods and to force platforms such as Facebook and Twitter to disclose the source of funding for sponsored content.

ACADEMIC FREEDOM AND CULTURAL EVENTS

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

The constitution and law provide for the freedoms of peaceful assembly and association, subject to certain security conditions, and the government generally respected these rights.

FREEDOM OF PEACEFUL ASSEMBLY

In February Amnesty International released a report claiming “prefects (representatives of the French state at local level; the most senior central government officials) continued to resort to emergency measures to restrict the right to freedom of peaceful assembly. In particular they adopted dozens of measures restricting the freedom of movement of individuals to prevent them from attending public assemblies. Authorities imposed these measures on vague grounds and against individuals with no apparent connection to any terrorism-related offense.”

FREEDOM OF ASSOCIATION

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

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

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

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

On June 19, the National Consultative Commission for Human Rights (CNCDH), an independent government agency, stated it was “deeply shocked” by the treatment of migrants in the “border areas…where the Republic (France) violates fundamental rights.” For example, the border police station in Col de Montgenevre had a facility for sheltering migrants overnight that had no running water or camp beds and whose outdoor latrines were submerged under three feet of snow at the time of the CNCDH visit. The commander stated he fed the migrants from the stocks on hand but had no funds allocated to feed them.

In-country Movement: The law requires persons engaged in itinerant activities with a fixed domicile to obtain a license that is renewable every four years. Itinerant persons without a fixed abode must possess travel documents.

PROTECTION OF REFUGEES

Refoulement: The government usually provided protection against the expulsion or return of persons to countries where they would be likely to face persecution or torture. On January 8, then interior minister Gerard Collomb announced the government had deported 26,000 persons in 2017, a 17 percent increase over 2016. Authorities returned approximately 2,330 persons to the EU-member state through which they first entered the EU, in line with the Dublin Regulation. This included some who were returned to Greece, where the European Court of Human Rights found that persons could be subject to persecution. The human rights group La Cimade criticized the government’s strict implementation of deportation laws, including detaining persons prior to ordered expulsion and during the initial asylum claims process.

Access to Asylum: The country’s laws provide for the granting of asylum or refugee status, and the government has a system for providing protection to refugees. The system was active and accessible to those seeking protection. The Office for the Protection of Refugees and Stateless Refugees (OFPRA) provided asylum application forms in 24 languages, including English, Albanian, Russian, Serbo-Croatian, Turkish, Tamil, and Arabic. Applicants, however, must complete them in French, generally without government-funded language assistance.

On August 1, parliament adopted an asylum and immigration bill intended to reduce the average time for processing asylum applications to six months and shortens from 120 to 90 days the period asylum seekers have to make an application. It also includes measures to facilitate the removal of aliens in detention, extends from 45 to 90 days the maximum duration of administrative detention, and from 16 to 24 hours the duration of administrative detention to verify an individual’s right to stay. The new law extends the duration of residence permits for subsidiary and stateless refugees from one year to four years and enables foreigners who have not been able to register for asylum to access shelter. It includes measures to strengthen the protection of girls and young men exposed to the risk of sexual mutilation, states that a country persecuting LGBTI persons cannot be considered “safe,” and adopts protective provisions on the right to remain for victims of domestic violence.

On July 6, the Constitutional Council, the country’s highest court, ruled that providing humanitarian assistance to undocumented migrants on the country’s territory was not a crime. The case against the government was brought by Cedric Herrou, an activist farmer who was sentenced for providing assistance to migrants in 2017. The court stated that the freedom to help for humanitarian reasons should apply to “all assistance provided with a humanitarian aim.” On July 6, then interior minister Collomb issued a statement that the court’s decision was in line with the government’s efforts to exempt from prosecution individuals who only provide humanitarian assistance to migrants.

Asylum applications rose by 17 percent in 2017 to 100,412, according to provisional data released on January 8 by OFPRA, with 36 percent of applicants approved for asylum or refugee status. OFPRA stated that priority attention was given to female victims of violence, persons persecuted on the basis of their sexual orientation, victims of human trafficking, unaccompanied minors, and victims of torture, particularly in the context of asylum seekers from Libya.

Safe Country of Origin/Transit: The government considered 16 countries to be “safe countries of origin” for purposes of asylum. A “safe country” is one that provides for compliance with the principles of liberty, democracy, rule of law, and fundamental human rights. This policy reduced the chances of an asylum seeker from one of these countries obtaining asylum but did not prevent it. While individuals originating in a safe country of origin may apply for asylum, they may receive only a special form of temporary residence status that allows them to remain in the country. Authorities examined asylum requests through an emergency procedure that may not exceed 15 days. Countries considered “safe” included Albania, Armenia, Benin, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Cabo Verde, Georgia, Ghana, India, Macedonia, Mauritius, Moldova, Mongolia, Montenegro, Senegal, Serbia, and Kosovo.

Freedom of Movement: Authorities maintained administrative holding centers for foreigners who could not be deported immediately. Authorities could hold undocumented migrants in these facilities for a maximum of 90 days. There were 26 holding centers on the mainland and three in the overseas territories with a total capacity of 1,970 persons.

On July 3, five refugee/migrant assistance associations (Association Service Social Familial Migrants, Forum-Refugies-Cosi, France Terre d’Asile, Cimade, and Ordre de Malte) released a joint annual report that estimated 47,000 undocumented migrants were placed in administrative holding centers in 2017, representing a slight increase from 45,937 in 2016.

According to an annual report published on July 3 by six domestic NGOs, government detention of migrant children on the country’s mainland territory increased by 70 percent in 2017, compared with 2016. The report noted, however, that the duration of detentions was often short. Since the law prohibits the separation of children from their parents, they were detained together. Civil society organizations criticized the provision of the new asylum and immigration bill adopted during the year that doubles the maximum detention time for foreigners subject to deportation to up to 90 days.

On May 30, for the 35th time since mid-2015, authorities dismantled a large migrant tent camp in Paris. The government forcibly resettled evacuees–937 men and 87 women and children, all of whom, according to press reports, originated in Sudan, Somalia, and Eritrea–in gymnasiums and other public facilities in Paris and the surrounding region while they waited for the government to register and review their eligibility for asylum. Two large tent camps remained in Paris–one reportedly holding about 800 persons (mainly from Afghanistan) and the other holding 300-400 individuals.

According to a report published on June 27 by Cimade, a domestic NGO that provides advice and legal support to migrants, refugees, and asylum seekers, the number of migrants refused entry at the country’s border rose to 85,408 in 2017, a 34 percent increase from 2016 (63,845).

Durable Solutions: The government has provisions to manage a range of solutions for integration, resettlement, and return of migrants and unsuccessful asylum seekers. The government accepted refugees for resettlement from other countries and facilitated local integration and naturalization, particularly of refugees in protracted situations. The government assisted in the safe, voluntary return of migrants and unsuccessful asylum seekers to their home countries. In 2017 the government voluntarily repatriated 7,110 undocumented migrants to their countries of origin. On July 25, the Ministry of the Interior announced an increase of financial return aid to foreigners (except those from the EU or visa-exempt countries) from 1,000 euros ($1,150) to 2,500 euros ($2,870).

Temporary Protection: Authorities may grant individuals a one-year renewable permit and can extend the permit for an additional two years. According to OFPRA, the government did not grant temporary protection in 2017.

Refoulement: The government usually provided protection against the expulsion or return of persons to countries where they would be likely to face persecution or torture. On January 8, then interior minister Gerard Collomb announced the government had deported 26,000 persons in 2017, a 17 percent increase over 2016. Authorities returned approximately 2,330 persons to the EU-member state through which they first entered the EU, in line with the Dublin Regulation. This included some who were returned to Greece, where the European Court of Human Rights found that persons could be subject to persecution. The human rights group La Cimade criticized the government’s strict implementation of deportation laws, including detaining persons prior to ordered expulsion and during the initial asylum claims process.

Access to Asylum: The country’s laws provide for the granting of asylum or refugee status, and the government has a system for providing protection to refugees. The system was active and accessible to those seeking protection. The Office for the Protection of Refugees and Stateless Refugees (OFPRA) provided asylum application forms in 24 languages, including English, Albanian, Russian, Serbo-Croatian, Turkish, Tamil, and Arabic. Applicants, however, must complete them in French, generally without government-funded language assistance.

On August 1, parliament adopted an asylum and immigration bill intended to reduce the average time for processing asylum applications to six months and shortens from 120 to 90 days the period asylum seekers have to make an application. It also includes measures to facilitate the removal of aliens in detention, extends from 45 to 90 days the maximum duration of administrative detention, and from 16 to 24 hours the duration of administrative detention to verify an individual’s right to stay. The new law extends the duration of residence permits for subsidiary and stateless refugees from one year to four years and enables foreigners who have not been able to register for asylum to access shelter. It includes measures to strengthen the protection of girls and young men exposed to the risk of sexual mutilation, states that a country persecuting LGBTI persons cannot be considered “safe,” and adopts protective provisions on the right to remain for victims of domestic violence.

On July 6, the Constitutional Council, the country’s highest court, ruled that providing humanitarian assistance to undocumented migrants on the country’s territory was not a crime. The case against the government was brought by Cedric Herrou, an activist farmer who was sentenced for providing assistance to migrants in 2017. The court stated that the freedom to help for humanitarian reasons should apply to “all assistance provided with a humanitarian aim.” On July 6, then interior minister Collomb issued a statement that the court’s decision was in line with the government’s efforts to exempt from prosecution individuals who only provide humanitarian assistance to migrants.

Asylum applications rose by 17 percent in 2017 to 100,412, according to provisional data released on January 8 by OFPRA, with 36 percent of applicants approved for asylum or refugee status. OFPRA stated that priority attention was given to female victims of violence, persons persecuted on the basis of their sexual orientation, victims of human trafficking, unaccompanied minors, and victims of torture, particularly in the context of asylum seekers from Libya.

Safe Country of Origin/Transit: The government considered 16 countries to be “safe countries of origin” for purposes of asylum. A “safe country” is one that provides for compliance with the principles of liberty, democracy, rule of law, and fundamental human rights. This policy reduced the chances of an asylum seeker from one of these countries obtaining asylum but did not prevent it. While individuals originating in a safe country of origin may apply for asylum, they may receive only a special form of temporary residence status that allows them to remain in the country. Authorities examined asylum requests through an emergency procedure that may not exceed 15 days. Countries considered “safe” included Albania, Armenia, Benin, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Cabo Verde, Georgia, Ghana, India, Macedonia, Mauritius, Moldova, Mongolia, Montenegro, Senegal, Serbia, and Kosovo.

Freedom of Movement: Authorities maintained administrative holding centers for foreigners who could not be deported immediately. Authorities could hold undocumented migrants in these facilities for a maximum of 90 days. There were 26 holding centers on the mainland and three in the overseas territories with a total capacity of 1,970 persons.

On July 3, five refugee/migrant assistance associations (Association Service Social Familial Migrants, Forum-Refugies-Cosi, France Terre d’Asile, Cimade, and Ordre de Malte) released a joint annual report that estimated 47,000 undocumented migrants were placed in administrative holding centers in 2017, representing a slight increase from 45,937 in 2016.

According to an annual report published on July 3 by six domestic NGOs, government detention of migrant children on the country’s mainland territory increased by 70 percent in 2017, compared with 2016. The report noted, however, that the duration of detentions was often short. Since the law prohibits the separation of children from their parents, they were detained together. Civil society organizations criticized the provision of the new asylum and immigration bill adopted during the year that doubles the maximum detention time for foreigners subject to deportation to up to 90 days.

On May 30, for the 35th time since mid-2015, authorities dismantled a large migrant tent camp in Paris. The government forcibly resettled evacuees–937 men and 87 women and children, all of whom, according to press reports, originated in Sudan, Somalia, and Eritrea–in gymnasiums and other public facilities in Paris and the surrounding region while they waited for the government to register and review their eligibility for asylum. Two large tent camps remained in Paris–one reportedly holding about 800 persons (mainly from Afghanistan) and the other holding 300-400 individuals.

According to a report published on June 27 by Cimade, a domestic NGO that provides advice and legal support to migrants, refugees, and asylum seekers, the number of migrants refused entry at the country’s border rose to 85,408 in 2017, a 34 percent increase from 2016 (63,845).

Durable Solutions: The government has provisions to manage a range of solutions for integration, resettlement, and return of migrants and unsuccessful asylum seekers. The government accepted refugees for resettlement from other countries and facilitated local integration and naturalization, particularly of refugees in protracted situations. The government assisted in the safe, voluntary return of migrants and unsuccessful asylum seekers to their home countries. In 2017 the government voluntarily repatriated 7,110 undocumented migrants to their countries of origin. On July 25, the Ministry of the Interior announced an increase of financial return aid to foreigners (except those from the EU or visa-exempt countries) from 1,000 euros ($1,150) to 2,500 euros ($2,870).

Temporary Protection: Authorities may grant individuals a one-year renewable permit and can extend the permit for an additional two years. According to OFPRA, the government did not grant temporary protection in 2017.

STATELESS PERSONS

OFPRA reported there were 1,370 stateless persons in the country at the end of 2016. It attributed statelessness to various factors, including contradictions among differing national laws, government stripping of nationality, and lack of birth registration. As the agency responsible for the implementation of international conventions on refugees and stateless persons, OFPRA provided benefits to stateless persons. OFPRA’s annual report stated that it granted stateless status to 179 persons in 2017. The government provided a one-year residence permit marked “private and family life” to persons deemed stateless that allowed them to work. After two permit renewals, stateless persons could apply for and obtain a 10-year residence permit.

The law affords persons the opportunity to gain citizenship. A person may qualify to acquire citizenship if: either of the person’s parents is a citizen; the person was legally adopted by a citizen; the person was born in the country to stateless parents or to parents whose nationality does not transfer to the child; or the person marries a citizen. A person who has reached the legal age of majority (18) may apply for citizenship through naturalization after five years of habitual residence in the country. Applicants for citizenship must have good knowledge of both the French language and civics.

Gabon

Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:

The constitution and law provide for freedom of expression, including for the press, and the government generally respected this right. Nevertheless, the High Authority of Communication (HAC) suspended several media outlets, including the newspaper Echos du NordEchos du Nord was suspended twice during the year, once for failing to be represented at a hearing regarding publication of a “tendentious article” critical of the president and a second time for publishing an article regarding the purchase of a luxury car by the vice president that he disputed.

Press and Media Freedom: Independent media were active, but authorities occasionally used libel and slander laws to restrict media criticism of the government. The country’s sole major daily newspaper, L’Union, was progovernment. Approximately 131 privately owned weekly or monthly newspapers represented independent views and those of political parties, but only 30 newspapers were published regularly. All newspapers, including government-affiliated ones, criticized the government and political leaders of both opposition and progovernment parties. The country had both progovernment and opposition-affiliated broadcast media, although the main opposition-affiliated television station did not have the technical means to broadcast countrywide. According to NGO Reporters without Borders, domestic law on freedom of expression and media freedom did not meet international standards.

Violence and Harassment: Unlike in 2017 there were no cases of journalists being harassed or intimidated, although some journalists were reportedly warned not to investigate the cause of death of children suspected of being the victims of ritual killings.

Censorship or Content Restrictions: Most newspaper owners had either a progovernment or a pro-opposition political bias. Print journalists practiced occasional self-censorship to placate owners. Pro-opposition content on television was limited.

Libel/Slander Laws: Libel and slander may be treated as either criminal or civil offenses. Editors and authors of articles ruled libelous in a court of law may be jailed for two to six months and fined 500,000 to five million CFA francs ($850 to $8,500). Penalties for conviction of libel, disrupting public order, and other offenses also include a one- to three-month publishing suspension for a first offense and a three- to six-month suspension for repeat offenses.

There was evidence that in several cases libel laws were applied to discourage or punish critical coverage of the government. For example, HAC issued two one-month suspensions in July and October to Echos du Nord.

INTERNET FREEDOM

There were no restrictions on internet and social media access during the year.

According to the International Telecommunication Union, 50.3 percent of the population used the internet in 2017.

ACADEMIC FREEDOM AND CULTURAL EVENTS

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

The government limited freedom of peaceful assembly.

FREEDOM OF PEACEFUL ASSEMBLY

The constitution and law provide for freedom of assembly; however, the government did not consistently respect this right. In August 2017 parliament enacted a law that placed restrictions on freedom of assembly. On August 28, authorities prohibited union leaders from holding a march to protest austerity measures. Authorities detained several individuals who attempted to march but released them after a few hours without charge. There were reports the government failed to approve permits for public meetings. Some civil society activists stated they did not submit requests to hold public meetings because they expected the government would deny them.

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

The constitution and law provide for freedom of internal movement, foreign travel, emigration, and repatriation. The government prevented opposition leader Jean Ping from traveling abroad during the year. In 2017 the government suspended these rights for several weeks for members of the political opposition.

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, asylum seekers, and other persons of concern. According to UNHCR, there were no known internally displaced persons or stateless persons in the country.

Abuse of Migrants, Refugees, and Stateless Persons: Despite efforts by the government and UNHCR to reduce discrimination, refugees complained of harassment and extortion by security force members. Some security force members harassed asylum seekers or refugees working as merchants, service-sector employees, and manual laborers and, in order to extort bribes, refused to recognize valid documents held by refugees and asylum seekers.

In-country Movement: Although there were no legal restrictions on freedom of internal movement, military and police members and gendarmes stopped travelers at checkpoints to check identity, residence, or registration documents and on some occasions to solicit bribes. Refugees required a travel document endorsed by UNHCR and government authorities to circulate freely within the country.

Foreign Travel: The law requires a married woman to have her husband’s permission to obtain a passport and to travel abroad. The law prohibits individuals under criminal investigation from leaving the country. Most holders of a residence permit and refugees need a no-fee exit visa to leave from and return to the country. Exit visas were not issued promptly, which impeded persons’ ability to depart.

On January 12, authorities banned opposition leader Jean Ping from traveling abroad. As of December the travel ban remained in effect.

PROTECTION OF REFUGEES

Access to Asylum: The law provides for the granting of asylum or refugee status, and the government has established a system for providing protection to refugees.

Access to Basic Services: The law provides refugees equal access to public services, although there were reports that in some cases school and hospital employees improperly required refugees to pay additional fees. The National Health Insurance and Social Welfare Fund did not serve refugees.

Durable Solutions: The nationality code allows refugees to apply for naturalization; however, the process is long and expensive, costing 1.2 million CFA francs ($2,040). At age 18 children born in the country of refugee parents may apply for citizenship.

Georgia

Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:

The constitution and law provide for freedom of expression, including for the press, and citizens generally were free to exercise this right, although there were allegations the government at times did not adequately safeguard that freedom. During the year journalists, NGOs, and the international community raised concerns about the environment for media pluralism.

Press and Media Freedom: Independent media were very active and expressed a wide variety of views. On October 17, independent Iberia Television suspended broadcasting. The station’s owner alleged that the station’s financial problems were linked to government pressure. Iberia’s closure, and the 2017 merger of three television stations decreased media pluralism and increased the concentration of media outlets in favor of the ruling party. NGOs have criticized the close relationship between the heads of the Georgian Public Broadcaster (GPB) and Georgian National Communications Commission (GNCC) and the ruling party and media monitoring organizations report GPB’s editorial bias in favor of the ruling party.

On February 21, Parliament overrode President Margvelashvili’s January 15 veto of controversial amendments to the Law on Broadcasting that Parliament initially passed in December 2017. While the GNCC supported the amendments that had been initiated by GPB management, NGOs, private television stations, and opposition parties heavily criticized the amendments for enabling the GPB to receive additional revenue from commercial advertising and rendering the station’s restructuring process opaque.

Members of the GPB board elected by the ruling party frequently criticized NGOs, particularly in response to a July 2017 letter a group of 24 NGOs sent to high-level foreign officials that cited a “deteriorated media environment.” GPB published a series of articles deriding the civil sector for this critique, prompting the Media Advocacy Coalition to issue a statement in defense of the civil sector in February.

By law, media outlets are obligated to disclose information about their owners. While media ownership transparency allowed consumers to judge the objectivity of news, laws obliging broadcasters to disclose information about their financial sources were not fully enforced.

Some media outlets, watchdog groups, and NGOs continued to express concern regarding media pluralism and political influence in the media, especially against those critical of the government. Concerns persisted concerning government interference with and criticism of pro-opposition bias in some media outlets, in particular in the country’s most widely viewed television station, Rustavi 2. In March 2017, the ECHR suspended the Supreme Court’s decision to transfer Rustavi 2’s ownership to a former owner, Kibar Khalvashi. The ECHR’s review of the case remained pending at year’s end. Rustavi 2 struggled financially because of frozen assets and an overdue tax bill. In April a number of NGOs and rights groups reaffirmed their support for the ECHR’s interim measure on Rustavi 2 because it allowed the station to maintain its editorial independence.

Violence and Harassment: Crimes against media professionals, citizen reporters, media outlets were rare; however, during the year there were at least three reports of such violence. For example, in March members of the far-right group Georgian March damaged a car and injured a Rustavi 2 journalist during a protest against the station’s high-profile anchor, Giorgi Gabunia, who had referenced Jesus Christ in an on-the-air joke about Georgian Dream Party chairman Bidzina Ivanishvili’s tree collection. Georgian March filed a complaint to the station and demanded Gabunia’s apology for insulting their religious sentiment. NGOs and human rights advocates considered the protesters’ actions criminal offenses, such as coercion, illegal restriction of liberty, violence, damage of property, and unlawful interference with the journalist’s professional activities. GYLA called upon the relevant bodies to investigate the matter. The Ministry of Internal Affairs opened an investigation and arrested several individuals for hooliganism, all of whom were subsequently released on bail. The pretrial hearings continued as of November 7.

Nongovernmental Impact: Media observers, NGO representatives, and opposition politicians alleged that Georgian Dream party chair and former Prime Minister Bidzina Ivanishvili exerted a powerful influence over the government and judiciary, including in court decisions against Rustavi 2.

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

INTERNET FREEDOM

The government did not restrict or disrupt access to the internet or censor online content, but concerns remained about unauthorized surveillance. Surveillance laws introduced in 2017 attracted criticism for allowing excessive access to user data (see section 1.f.).

According to International Telecommunication Union statistics, approximately two-thirds of the population used the internet. High prices for services and inadequate infrastructure limited access, particularly for individuals in rural areas or with low incomes.

Insufficient information was available about internet freedom in Abkhazia and South Ossetia.

ACADEMIC FREEDOM AND CULTURAL EVENTS

NGOs continued to raise concern that the government improperly pressured schools that Turkish authorities alleged to be linked to the Gulen movement, which they accused of responsibility for the 2016 coup attempt. After the 2017 closure of two secondary schools and arrest of their general director, Mustafa Cabuk, on a Turkish government extradition request (Cabuk was released in February, see section 2.d.), officials began to impose administrative pressure on the International Black Sea University, a leading private institution, citing tax liens on the university’s properties as a reason to prevent it from taking on new students.

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

FREEDOM OF PEACEFUL ASSEMBLY

The constitution and law generally provide for freedom of assembly. Human rights organizations expressed concern, however, about provisions in the law, including the requirement that political parties and other organizations give five days’ notice to local authorities to assemble in a public area, thereby precluding spontaneous demonstrations. NGOs reported that police sometimes restricted freedom of assembly. For example, on December 17, 14 NGOs accused the authorities of restricting opposition access to the site of a planned Inauguration Day demonstration on December 16. The government responded that it had provided an area for demonstrations, but that protestors had refused to use it. As of mid-December, two supporters of Georgian Dream and one opposition activist were in detention after inauguration day incidents. Two Georgian Dream activists were arrested after allegedly assaulting an opposition activist in Velistsikhe, and opposition leader Davit Kirkitadze was arrested after he reportedly assaulted a police officer who was blocking the highway with a bus. Kirkitadze and his supporters claimed his arrest was politically motivated. NGOs also stated police abused the administrative offences code to detain participants of peaceful assemblies based on articles 166 (petty hooliganism), 173 (non-compliance with a lawful order of a law enforcement officer), and 150 (defacing the appearance of a self-governing unit).

There were several protests in May, including those against raids on popular nightclubs and in support of the International Day Against Homophobia, Transphobia, and Biphobia (IDAHOT). In May LGBTI organizations were unable to hold a sanctioned IDAHOT rally due to safety concerns following large rallies attended in part by far right groups that threatened violence against LGBTI supporters. Several LGBTI activists still met in front of the State Chancellery under heavy police presence. The PDO reported violence against LGBTI individuals, whether in the family or in public spaces, was a serious problem, and that the government has been unable to respond to this challenge.

FREEDOM OF ASSOCIATION

There were reports that some government representatives and supporters of the ruling party pressured political opposition figures and supporters and state employees (see Section 3).

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

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

The law provides for freedom of internal movement, foreign travel, emigration, and repatriation of citizens, but de facto authorities and Russian occupying forces limited this freedom in Abkhazia and South Ossetia.

The government cooperated with the UN High Commission for Refugees (UNHCR) and other humanitarian organizations in providing protection and assistance to IDPs, refugees, returning refugees, asylum seekers, stateless persons, and most other persons of concern. The Public Defender’s Office and NGOs, however, alleged that authorities made politically motivated decisions on asylum and other requests affecting selected Turkish and Azerbaijani citizens.

In-country Movement: There were substantial impediments to freedom of internal movement due to a lack of access to the breakaway regions of Abkhazia and South Ossetia. The majority of the approximately 300,000 IDPs from Abkhazia and South Ossetia wished to return to their areas of origin but lacked adequate security provisions and political, human, economic, and movement rights absent a political resolution to the conflicts.

Foreigners were restricted from moving in and out of South Ossetia but could access Abkhazia with approval from the de facto authorities. There were reports that late in the year citizens of Commonwealth of Independent States countries were prohibited from entering Abkhazia except from Russia, which violated Georgian law. This placed additional restrictions on international humanitarian access to Abkhazia. Crossing permits introduced by de facto South Ossetian authorities were the only document that allowed movement across the South Ossetia ABL to or from Tbilisi-administered territory (TAT).

Some residents of Abkhazia who used their Georgian passports had to obtain permission from de facto security services to cross the Abkhazia ABL to or from TAT. Georgian passport holders could cross a checkpoint if they possessed invitation letters cleared by the de facto state security services allowing them to enter Abkhazia. The latter did not consistently provide permission to cross and limited movement to specific areas. In August de facto authorities suddenly declared older Soviet-era passports, used by thousands of ethnic Georgians living in Abkhazia, to be no longer valid for crossing, threatening the livelihood of many residents. De facto authorities then blocked some ethnic Georgians who had used Soviet-era passports to cross into TAT from returning to Abkhazia. De facto authorities claimed that residents without valid crossing documents would be allowed to apply for residence permits, which would enable them to cross, but it remained unclear how these new regulations would be implemented.

Georgian law prohibits entry into and exit from the breakaway regions through the territory of neighboring states (i.e., Russia).

Russian and Abkhaz de facto authorities limited international organizations’ ability to operate in Abkhazia. Russian and South Ossetian de facto authorities limited international organizations, including humanitarian organizations, access to South Ossetia; however, the Co-Chairs of the Geneva International Discussions–representing the United Nations, the OSCE, and the EU Special Representative for the South Caucasus and the Crisis in Georgia–visited South Ossetia quarterly prior to each round of the discussions, accompanied by UNHCR. The ICRC office in Tskhinvali was the only international organization representation in South Ossetia.

De facto authorities and Russian forces in the Russian-occupied territories also restricted the movement of the local population across the ABL, although they showed flexibility for travel for medical care, pension services, religious services, and education. Villagers who approached the line or crossings risked detention by Russian Federation “border guards.” Russian border guards along the ABL with Abkhazia typically enforced the boundary-crossing rules imposed by de facto authorities through detentions and fines. Along the South Ossetia ABL, Russian border guards frequently transferred individuals to de facto authorities. The SSSG reported that detentions by de facto authorities typically lasted two to three days until the detainee paid “fines” set by the de facto “court,” although some sentences for “violations of the state border” carried considerably longer terms.

The European Union Monitoring Mission was aware of 14 individuals detained along the ABL with Abkhazia and 92 detained along the line with South Ossetia as of November. There were credible reports based on local sources that, on several occasions, local South Ossetian or Russian “border guards” crossed into government-controlled territory to detain an individual. There were also reports of arbitrary arrests of ethnic Georgians by de facto authorities, particularly in the Tskhinvali and Gali regions of South Ossetia and Abkhazia, respectively. Most often, the arrested individuals were accused of violating the “state border.” According to EUMM, many detainees were obliged to sign documents in Russian that they did not understand.

De facto authorities continued to expand fencing and other physical barriers along the ABL between the government-administered area and South Ossetia. This expansion of the Russian “borderization” policy further restricted movement, creating physical barriers and obstructing access to agricultural land, water supplies, and cemeteries. In November, Russian occupation forces in South Ossetia erected fencing along a one-kilometer line at the village of Atotsi, Kareli Municipality. Local residents reported they had already tilled and sowed the land that was then taken away, and they would not be able to reap the harvest.

In March 2017 Abkhaz de facto authorities closed two crossing points across the ABL, leaving crossing points open only at the Enguri Bridge and Saberio-Pakhulani. As access to government-administered territory became more restricted and visits to family and friends living across the ABL much more difficult to arrange, the closure of crossing points further impoverished and isolated the population in lower Gali and contributed to a growing sense of isolation. The closure also prevented children from attending classes in their native Georgian language across the ABL.

INTERNALLY DISPLACED PERSONS (IDPS)

As part of a broader consolidation plan, the government abolished the Ministry for Refugees, Accommodation, and Internally Displaced Persons in August, dividing the ministry’s responsibilities among the Ministries of Interior, Labor, Health, and Social Affairs, as well as the State Ministry for Reconciliation and Civic Equality. According to the government, as of August, there were approximately 280,000 IDPs from the 1992-93 and 2008 conflicts. UNHCR estimated 235,176 persons were in an “IDP-like” situation, some 50,000 of whom were in need of protection and humanitarian assistance. This number included individuals who have returned to Abkhazia and South Ossetia, as well as those displaced in the 2008 conflict who subsequently were relocated, or have obtained housing or cash compensation.

Most persons displaced in 2008 received formal IDP status in accordance with national legislation, although some individuals who were not displaced by the 2008 conflict and lived close to the ABL were officially described as being in an “IDP-like situation.” The government provided monthly allowances to persons recognized as IDPs, promoted their socioeconomic integration, and sought to create conditions for their return in safety and dignity.

Despite their 1994 agreement with Georgia, Russia, and UNHCR that called for the safe, secure, and voluntary return of IDPs who fled during the 1992-93 war, Abkhaz de facto authorities continued to prevent the return of those displaced by the war. Between 45,000 and 60,000 IDPs have returned since that time to the Gali, Ochamchire, and Tkvarcheli regions of lower Abkhazia, but Abkhaz de facto authorities refused to allow the return of IDPs to other regions. De facto authorities prevented IDPs living elsewhere in the country from reclaiming homes in Abkhazia, based on a “law” that expropriated all “abandoned property” from the 1992-93 war. IDPs who returned were allowed to sell but were barred from buying property.

Ethnic Georgians living in Abkhazia lacked fundamental rights and confronted onerous registration requirements that threatened their continued status. De facto authorities continued to pressure ethnic Georgians to acquire a “foreign residency permit,” which allows the holder to cross the ABL and remain in Abkhazia for a period of five years. An applicant must, however, accept the status of an alien (i.e., a Georgian living as a foreigner in Abkhazia), may not purchase property, may not transfer residency rights of property to children born in de facto controlled territory, may not vote, and must accept a lack of other basic rights. As of December 31, de facto authorities continued to allow ethnic Georgians to cross the ABL with “Form Number Nine,” an administrative pass that de facto authorities had previously threatened to discontinue.

PROTECTION OF REFUGEES

Access to Asylum: A 2017 law remained in effect guaranteeing access to international protection, including access to asylum or refugee status. NGOs, however, alleged that executive and judicial authorities made politically motivated decisions in response to asylum requests by some Turkish citizens and a number of Azerbaijani citizens.

The law distinguishes among three types of protection: a) refugee status (as per the 1951 Refugee Convention), b) protected humanitarian status (complementary protection), and c) temporary protection. In 2017, the government’s acceptance rate for granting refugee or humanitarian status was 18 percent. During the first six months of the year, the overall acceptance rate was 6.8 percent (25 were recognized as eligible for refugee or humanitarian status while 343 were rejected).

In February, authorities released on bail a Turkish citizen, Mustafa Emre Cabuk. The release followed a statement by the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe’s co-rapporteurs for Georgia questioning the use of pretrial detention for asylum seekers and urging that asylum requests “should be based only on humanitarian and human rights law, including the European Convention on Human Rights, whose requirements should be fully applied.” In July 2017, the government had denied asylum Cabuk and his family after it detained him following a Turkish government extradition request, which accused him of being a member of a terrorist organization.

The Public Defender’s Office and local and international NGOs continued to raise concerns about the government’s refusal to grant asylum, other protected status, or residency permits to a number of Azerbaijani journalists and activists. The NGOs claimed the individuals were politically persecuted in Azerbaijan and accused the Georgian government of rejecting the asylum and residence permit requests despite continued pressure against activists by the Azerbaijani government. The NGOs reported the government based its refusal of asylum and residence permits on national security interests without giving clear reasons or citing relevant legislation. In 2017 three NGOs reported that Azerbaijani dissidents no longer viewed the country as a safe haven.

The Public Defender’s Office reported it found several unreasonable instances of refusal to grant citizenship, asylum/refugee status, and residency permits to foreigners on national security grounds after reviewing the government’s confidential considerations in some cases.

Employment: Asylum seekers (from the start of the asylum procedure) and persons under international protection have legal access to the labor market. Foreigners, including persons under international protection, can register at the “Worknet” state program for vocational training and skills development.

Access to Basic Services: The government provided limited assistance to persons with protected status. In 2017 the government opened an integration center to provide structured integration programs for such persons. The country’s reception center had adequate services for asylum seekers and had capacity for approximately 150 persons.

The law enables refugees and asylum seekers to receive a temporary residence permit during the entirety of their asylum procedure as well as documentation necessary to open a bank account and register a business or property. Refugees receive a renewable temporary residence permit for three years, while protected humanitarian status holders receive a permit for one year, renewable upon a positive assessment of the need for continued protection. Access to education remained a problem due to the language barrier, notwithstanding the government’s provision of Georgian language classes.

Durable Solutions: The government offered a path to naturalization for refugees residing on its territory. The naturalization process began in 2009, when there were 1,200 Chechen refugees in Pankisi. As of November, 58 percent (699) applied for citizenship. Out of these applications, the government naturalized 78 percent (545) and rejected 22 percent (154). Approximately 17.5 percent (211) of the initial refugee population remained in Pankisi and had yet to be naturalized, including several whose applications authorities rejected because they failed to pass the required language and history tests. Authorities purportedly denied others naturalization based on national security concerns.

Temporary Protection: The law provided for avenues to temporary protection to individuals who may not qualify as refugees. The law provided temporary residence permits, but these permits are not a form of international protection per se in the meaning of refugee law. The Ministry of Internal Affairs may grant these temporary permits to individuals who meet the criteria for refugee status or humanitarian protection, but who were rejected on national security grounds. From January to June, 433 persons applied for asylum and authorities granted humanitarian status to three percent (13). In the first six months of 2017, 379 individuals applied for asylum and authorities granted humanitarian status to six percent (22).

STATELESS PERSONS

According to government statistics, as of October, authorities granted 22 percent of the year’s applications for stateless status (eight out of 32).

The law defines a stateless person in line with the 1954 UN Convention relating to the Status of Stateless Persons and lists specific rights and responsibilities of stateless persons. The law provides that an adult can be granted citizenship if he or she has permanently resided on the country’s territory during the previous five years; knows the state language; is familiar with the country’s history and laws and able to pass the relevant tests; and has a job or owns real estate on the country’s territory, conducts business, or owns shares in a Georgian company or industry. In exceptional cases, the president may grant citizenship to individuals who do not satisfy these requirements.

Germany

Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:

The constitution provides for freedom of expression, including for the press, and the government generally respected this right. An independent press, an effective judiciary, and a functioning democratic political system combined to promote freedom of expression, including for the press. The law bans Nazi propaganda, Holocaust denial, and fomenting racial hatred.

Freedom of Expression: While the government generally respected these rights, it imposed limits on groups it deemed extremist. The government arrested, tried, convicted, and imprisoned a number of individuals for speech that incited racial hatred, endorsed Nazism, or denied the Holocaust (see also section 6, Anti-Semitism).

Press and Media Freedom: Independent media were active and expressed a wide variety of views with few restrictions. The limitations on press freedom are similar to those on expression.

Authorities banned 72 CDs, five books, and 26 journal articles for right-wing extremist, anti-Semitic, or racist content in 2017.

In January the Bild daily newspaper defied a Frankfurt court order and published an uncensored picture of an alleged looter during the 2017 G20 Summit in Hamburg. The court had ruled in July 2017 that Bild had either to stop publishing or to censor pictures of the individual Bild photographed stealing items, and the court upheld this ruling in December 2017. Bild argued that the “mission of the press” was to depict crimes committed at major events. In May a Frankfurt court ordered Bild to pay a 50,000 euro ($57,500) fine for defying the court order.

Violence and Harassment: In August representatives of the anti-Islam Patriotic Europeans Against the Islamization of the Occident (PEGIDA) movement and the AfD party protested Chancellor Angela Merkel’s visit to Dresden (Saxony). During the demonstration a demonstrator (an off-duty police employee) claimed that privacy laws prohibited a camera team covering the demonstration from filming him, and he filed a complaint with police on the spot. Despite an exception to the privacy law allowing for coverage of public demonstrations, police held the journalists for 45 minutes, reportedly to verify their identities. The journalists stated that police hindered their coverage of the event. The complaint remained under investigation at year’s end. While Saxony’s minister-president denied any wrongdoing by police, Chancellor Merkel issued a statement in support of press freedom and noted that demonstrators should expect that they may be filmed.

Actions to Expand Freedom of Expression, Including for the Media: In August the Entertainment Software Self-Regulation Body introduced new regulations for video games permitting Nazi-related symbols such as swastikas to be displayed if they serve a teaching or artistic purpose, or cover current affairs or history.

On January 1, the repeal of the law protecting heads of state and foreign government institutions from public insults entered into force.

INTERNET FREEDOM

The government did not restrict or disrupt access to the internet or censor online content, with one notable exception, and there were no credible reports that the government monitored private online communications without appropriate legal authority. The law permits the government to take down websites that belong to banned organizations or include speech that incites racial hatred, endorses Nazism, or denies the Holocaust. Authorities worked directly with internet service providers and online media companies to monitor and remove such content. As of July authorities monitored several hundred websites and social media accounts associated with right-wing extremists.

On January 1, legislation to combat hate speech on social networking sites went into effect. Social media companies are responsible for identifying hate speech and deleting content, and the law imposes short deadlines and financial penalties for noncompliance. Journalists and press organizations, as well as digital policy groups, voiced concerns that social media companies seeking to comply with the law may delete more content than necessary or install filters to block problematic content, and asserted this would result in a broad and chilling effect on freedom of speech. On January 23, the Committee to Protect Journalists reported that, to avoid legal entanglement, Twitter suspended the account of the online magazine Titanic when it posted a satirical parody of AfD politician Beatrix von Storch’s anti-Muslim statement. The German Association of Journalists criticized the suspension, stating it was censorship and limited the freedom of the press. In June the Ministry of Justice stated that it had received 400 complaints about hate speech on social media, far below the 25,000 complaints it anticipated receiving after the law went into effect. Critics argued these statistics were evidence that social media companies were aggressively blocking content. In June, two politicians from the FDP complained in Cologne’s administrative court that the law violates their freedom of communication.

In February the higher state court of Baden-Wuerttemberg sentenced a man to two and a half years in prison for operating the neo-Nazi website “Altermedia” under statutes criminalizing hate speech. The website, which the interior ministry removed in 2016, served as a platform for right-wing extremist networks and carried speech promoting Holocaust denial, as well as promoting hatred of foreigners, refugees, and Jews.

According to International Telecommunication Union statistics, 84 percent of the country’s population used the internet in 2017.

ACADEMIC FREEDOM AND CULTURAL EVENTS

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

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

FREEDOM OF PEACEFUL ASSEMBLY

While the constitution provides for the freedom of peaceful assembly, the government restricted this freedom in some instances. Groups seeking to hold open-air public rallies and marches must obtain permits, and state and local officials may deny permits when public safety concerns arise or when the applicant is from a prohibited organization, mainly right-wing extremist groups. In rare instances during the year, authorities denied such applications to assemble publicly. Authorities allowed several nonprohibited, right-wing extremist, or neo-Nazi groups to hold public rallies or marches when they did so in accordance with the law.

It is illegal to block officially registered demonstrations. Many anti-Nazi activists refused to accept such restrictions and attempted to block neo-Nazi demonstrations or to hold counterdemonstrations, resulting in clashes between police and anti-Nazi demonstrators. In October the immunity of the Green party Bundestag member Canan Bayran was lifted, and the Berlin police opened an investigation to determine whether she had blocked a demonstration. In February she reportedly blocked an antiabortion rally. The investigation continued at year’s end.

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

Foreign politicians may not hold rallies in Germany if they are election candidates in their country within three months of the proposed rally. In the months preceding the Turkish presidential election in June, local authorities canceled a number of rallies that featured Turkish cabinet ministers or politicians.

FREEDOM OF ASSOCIATION

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

The federal and state OPCs monitored several hundred organizations. Monitoring consisted of collecting information from public sources, written materials, and firsthand accounts but also included intrusive methods, such as the use of undercover agents who were subject to legal oversight. The FOPC and state OPCs published lists of monitored organizations, including left- and right-wing political parties. Although the law stipulates that surveillance must not interfere with an organization’s activities, representatives of some monitored groups, such as Scientologists, complained that the publication of the organizations’ names contributed to prejudice against them.

The FOPC monitored approximately 16,500 so called Reichsbuerger (“citizens of the empire”) and Selbstverwalter (self-administrators), a significant increase from the 10,000 monitored in 2016. These individuals denied the existence of the Federal Republic of Germany and rejected its legal system. The FOPC considered the groups to represent a potential threat due to their affinity for weapons and their contempt for national authorities. In 2017 members of Reichsbuerger and Selbstverwalter groups committed 911 politically motivated crimes; of these, authorities categorized 783 crimes as extremist and 130 as violent.

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

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

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

Abuse of Migrants, Refugees, and Stateless Persons: Authorities in various states continued to detain for up to 18 months some asylum seekers whose applications were rejected pending their deportation. Courts permit authorities also to deport rejected asylum seekers without advance notification. Authorities could only detain asylum seekers, refugees, and migrants awaiting deportation to a country within the EU under the Dublin III regulation if there was evidence they posed a flight risk. In March authorities were holding 82 rejected asylum seekers pending deportation.

The government deported asylum seekers while their applications were pending review. One Uighur had an asylum hearing scheduled for the day he was returned to China, but state-level officials stated they did not receive a notification fax from the Federal Office for Migration and Refugees (BAMF) (see below, Refoulement). On August 13-15, the Council of Europe’s Committee to Prevent Torture monitored treatment of unsuccessful asylum seekers during a charter flight returning them to Afghanistan.

Assaults on refugees, asylum seekers, and migrants; and attacks on government-provided asylum homes continued during the first half of the year. In February a man stabbed three refugees in the city of Heilbronn, Baden-Wuerttemberg. The attack severely injured a 25-year-old Iraqi man, and the other two men sustained minor injuries. In June prosecutors charged the suspect with attempted murder.

In-country Movement: Authorities issued three types of travel documents to stateless individuals, those with refugee and asylum status, and foreigners without travel documents. Stateless individuals received a “travel document for the stateless.” Those with recognized refugee and asylum status received a “travel document for refugees.” Foreigners from non-EU countries received a “travel document for foreigners” if they did not have a passport or identity document and could not obtain a passport from their country of origin.

Several states had an assigned residence rule requiring refugees with recognized asylum status to live within a specific city for a period of three years. As of April the states of Bavaria, Baden-Wuerttemberg, Hesse, North Rhine-Westphalia, Saarland, Saxony, and Saxony-Anhalt implemented the residence rule. Local authorities who supported the rule stated it facilitated integration and enabled authorities to plan for increased infrastructure needs, such as schools. In September the administrative court in Muenster, North Rhine-Westphalia, ruled that, while North Rhine-Westphalia could require those with recognized refugee status to live within the state, it could not require them to live in a specific city.

PROTECTION OF REFUGEES

Refoulement: In August, Bavarian authorities deported a 22-year-old Uighur man to China (see above Abuse of Refugees, Migrants, and Stateless Persons) prior to his asylum hearing. The asylum seeker’s lawyer was unable to establish contact with his client following his deportation and feared that Chinese authorities had detained him. In December the Ministry of Foreign Affairs confirmed the Uighur man had been arrested in China, and that they were working to have him returned to Germany.

In June the government lifted its deportation ban for Afghanistan, and three states began deportations to that country. Previous federal policy only permitted deportations of convicted criminals and those deemed a security risk. In August, 700 demonstrators in Munich protested the policy change. NGOs including Amnesty International criticized the policy as a breach of the principle of refoulement.

Access to Asylum: The law provides for the granting of asylum or refugee status, and the government has established a system for providing protection to refugees. The country faced the task of integrating approximately 1.3 million asylum seekers, refugees, and migrants who arrived between 2015 and 2017 as well as an additional 110,324 who requested asylum during the first six months of the year. The heavy influx of asylum seekers, refugees, and migrants taxed the country’s infrastructure and resources.

The NGO Pro Asyl criticized the “airport procedure” for asylum seekers who arrive at the country’s airports. Authorities stated the airport procedure was used only in less complex cases, and that more complex asylum cases were referred for processing through regular BAMF channels. Authorities maintained that only persons coming from countries that the government identified as “safe”–the member states of the European Union, as well as Albania, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Ghana, Kosovo, Macedonia, Montenegro, Senegal, and Serbia–and those without valid identification documents could be considered via the “fast track procedure.” The “fast track procedure” enabled BAMF to decide on asylum applications within a two-day period, during which asylum applicants were detained at the airport. If authorities denied the application, the applicant had the right to appeal. Appeals were processed within two weeks, during which the applicant was detained at the airport. If the appeal was denied, authorities deported the applicant. The NGO Fluechtlingsrat Berlin criticized a similar “fast track” or “direct” procedure applied to some asylum seekers in Berlin. The organization claimed asylum applicants were not provided with sufficient time and access to legal counsel.

In April, BAMF suspended the head of its Bremen branch amid allegations the official improperly approved up to 2,000 asylum applications. According to media reports, the official colluded with three lawyers and a translator between 2013 and 2017 to divert Yazidi applicants to Bremen. In May the Chief Public Prosecutor in Nuremberg announced an investigation of BAMF President Jutta Cordt for failing to prevent the practices in Bremen. The Federal Court of Auditors is currently auditing BAMF, and the allegations prompted a large-scale internal BAMF review of 2018 asylum cases.

In August the government resumed issuance of family reunification visas for those with subsidiary protection, a measure suspended in late 2016. The government is authorized to approve reunification visas for up to 1,000 family members per month–defined as spouses, minor children, or parents–of individuals who have subsidiary protection.

In February a Yazidi woman with refugee status living in Schwaebisch Gmuend (Baden-Wuerttemberg) reportedly encountered the ISIS member who tortured and raped her in Iraq in 2014. The case raised concerns about the government’s ability to protect refugees and screen migrants for ties to ISIS and other terror groups. The woman reported the case to the police, who opened an investigation. Police stated, however, that they were unable to locate the perpetrator, who was not registered as a refugee or resident in Baden-Wuerttemberg. The woman reported she felt unsafe, and she returned to Iraq. In June the federal attorney general’s office in Karlsruhe opened an investigation in the case, which continued at year’s end. The Baden-Wuerttemberg interior ministry’s spokesperson reported there were seven reports of Yazidi women encountering their attackers in Germany, one of which was found to be unsubstantiated.

Safe Country of Origin/Transit: The country adheres to the EU’s Dublin III regulation, which permits authorities to turn back or deport individuals who entered the country through the “safe countries of transit,” which include the EU member states, Switzerland, Norway, Iceland, and Liechtenstein. The government did not return asylum seekers to Syria. The government defines “safe countries of origin” to include Albania, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Ghana, Kosovo, Macedonia, Montenegro, Senegal, Serbia, and EU states. The NGO Pro Asyl pointed out that refugees who under the Dublin III regulation fell into another EU state’s responsibility but could not be returned to that country, often remained in a legal grey zone. They were not allowed to work or participate in integration measures including German language classes.

Employment: Persons with recognized asylum status were able to access the labor market without restriction; asylum seekers whose applications were pending were generally not allowed to work during their first three months after applying for asylum. According to the Federal Employment Agency, approximately 482,000 refugees were unemployed as of July. Refugees and asylum seekers faced several hurdles in obtaining employment, including lengthy review times for previous qualifications, lack of official certificates and degrees, and limited German language skills.

The law excludes asylum seekers from countries considered “safe countries of origin” and unsuccessful asylum seekers who cannot be returned to the country through which they first entered the area covered by the Dublin III regulation from certain refugee integration measures, such as language courses and access to employment opportunities. The government did not permit asylum seekers and persons with a protected status from “safe countries of origin” to work if they applied for asylum after August 2015.

Access to Basic Services: State officials retain decision-making authority on how to house asylum seekers, refugees, and migrants, and whether to provide allowances or other benefits.

Pro Asyl criticized a refugee center in Manching, Bavaria, that was converted into a “transit center” in May. The center housed more than 1,000 refugees and could process asylum applicants in one location from start to finish. Critics claimed the center’s isolated location in an industrial area and a policy that did not allow NGOs to access the center made it difficult for refugees to seek legal counsel and enroll in education and language programs.

Several states, including Berlin, Brandenburg Bremen, Hamburg, Schleswig-Holstein, and Thuringia, provided medical insurance cards for asylum seekers. The insurance cards allow asylum seekers to visit any doctor of their choice without prior approval by authorities. In other states asylum seekers received a card only after 15 months, and community authorities had to grant permits to asylum seekers before they could consult a doctor. The welfare organization Diakonie, however, criticized the medical insurance card system, which only enabled asylum seekers to access emergency treatment. Local communities and private groups sometimes provided supplemental health care.

Durable Solutions: The government accepted for resettlement and facilitated the local integration (including naturalization) of refugees who had already fled their countries of origin, particularly for refugees belonging to vulnerable groups. Such groups included women with children, refugees with disabilities, victims of trafficking in persons, and victims of torture or rape. Authorities granted residence permits to long-term migrants, asylum seekers, refugees, and migrants who could not return to their countries of origin.

The government assisted with the safe and voluntary return to their homes of asylum seekers, refugees, and migrants. In the first half of the year, authorities provided financial assistance to 1,500 individuals to facilitate voluntary returns to their country of origin. Beneficiaries were either rejected asylum seekers or foreigners without valid identification. The number of voluntary return beneficiaries decreased during the year, which BAMF attributed to the overall decrease in asylum seekers in the country.

The government also offered a return bonus of 800 to 1,200 euros ($920 to $1,380) per person to asylum seekers whose applications are pending but who are unlikely to have their applications approved. Among others, refugees from Iraq and Afghanistan extensively used the program.

Temporary Protection: The government provides two forms of temporary protection–subsidiary and humanitarian–for individuals who may not qualify as refugees. In the first six months of the year, the government extended subsidiary protection to 15,542 persons. This status is usually granted if a person does not qualify for refugee or asylum status but might face severe danger in his or her country of origin due to war or conflict. During the same period, 6,639 individuals were granted humanitarian protection. Humanitarian protection is granted if a person does not qualify for any form of protected status, but there are other humanitarian reasons the person cannot return to his or her country of origin (for example, unavailability of medical treatment in their country of origin for a health condition). Both forms of temporary protection are granted for one year and may be extended. After five years a person under subsidiary or humanitarian protection can apply for an unlimited residency status if he or she earns enough money to be independent of public assistance and has a good command of German.

STATELESS PERSONS

UNHCR reported 13,458 stateless persons in the country at the end of 2017. Some of these persons lost their previous citizenship when the Soviet Union collapsed or Yugoslavia disintegrated. Others were Palestinians from Lebanon and Syria whom the government registered as stateless.

Laws and policies provide stateless persons the opportunity to gain citizenship on a nondiscriminatory basis. Stateless persons may apply for citizenship after six years of residence. Producing sufficient evidence to establish statelessness could often be difficult, however, because the burden of proof is on the applicant. Authorities generally protected stateless persons from deportation to their country of origin or usual residence if they faced a threat of political persecution there.

Ghana

Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:

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

Violence and Harassment: The Media Foundation for West Africa counted 17 cases of attacks on journalists from January 2017 to March 2018. Earlier in the year, police assaulted a reporter who had visited the Criminal Investigations Department headquarters to report on the arrest of a political party official. The reporter sustained fractures to his skull. Officials reported an investigative report was submitted to administrators in May and provided no further information as of September. In June there were reports that a member of parliament criticized and incited violence against a prominent journalist whose investigative crew produced a film about corruption in Ghana soccer, including involvement by government officials.

INTERNET FREEDOM

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

The internet was accessible in Accra and other large cities. There was limited but growing internet access in other areas. According to the International Telecommunication Union, approximately 38 percent of the population used the internet in 2017.

ACADEMIC FREEDOM AND CULTURAL EVENTS

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

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

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

The constitution provides for freedom of internal movement, foreign travel, emigration, and repatriation and the government generally respected these rights. In an effort to curb human trafficking, however, the government in 2017 imposed a ban on labor recruitment to Gulf countries after increased reports of abuse endured by migrant workers. Media investigations during the year revealed some recruitment agencies continued their operations despite the ban.

Abuse of Migrants, Refugees, and Stateless Persons: Gender-based violence remained a problem. According to the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), as of the end of October, there were 36 incidents of sexual and gender-based violence (SGBV) reported from refugee camps, in addition to 46 cases of verbal assaults and threats. UNHCR worked with Department of Social Welfare personnel and the Ghana Health Service psychosocial counselors to provide medical, psychosocial, security, and legal assistance where necessary in all the cases reported. Obstacles to holding perpetrators of SGBV accountable for acts conducted in the camps included ineffective access to civil and criminal legal counseling for victims; poor coordination among the Department of Social Welfare, the Legal Aid Scheme, and police; and lack of representation for the alleged perpetrator and presumed victims.

PROTECTION OF REFUGEES

Access to Asylum: The law provides for the granting of asylum or refugee status, and the government has established a system for providing protection to refugees. The law allows rejected asylum seekers to appeal and remain in the country until an appeal is adjudicated. A four-member appeals committee, appointed by the minister of the interior, is responsible for adjudicating the appeals, but the process continued to be subject to delays. As of November the government had a backlog of 1,192 asylum seekers whose petitions were pending adjudication, plus another 43 individual asylum seekers who are awaiting a second decision following an initial rejection of their petition.

Employment: Refugees could apply for work permits through the same process as other foreigners; however, work permits were generally issued only for employment in the formal sector, while the majority of refugees worked in the informal sector.

Durable Solutions: In 2011 nearly 18,000 residents of Cote d’Ivoire fled to Ghana because of political instability following Cote d’Ivoire’s disputed 2010 presidential election. From January to early November, UNHCR assisted in the voluntary repatriation of 258 Ivoirian refugees–a slow but steady increase the agency attributed to better assistance packages and better information provided to Ivoirians about the situation in their home country. Although the government granted Ivoirian refugees prima facie refugee status during the initial stages of the emergency, by the end of 2012, the government had transitioned to individual refugee status determination for all Ivoirians entering thereafter.

In late November a group of Sudanese refugees began camping outside the UNHCR office in Accra, calling for improved assistance related to health, shelter, food, and resettlement. The population is part of a protracted backlog of cases. A decision from the Ministry of Interior regarding possible integration as a durable solution remained pending.

In 2012 UNHCR and the International Organization for Migration assisted with the voluntary repatriation of more than 4,700 Liberians from Ghana. Approximately 3,700 Liberians opted for local integration. UNHCR and the Ghana Refugee Board continued to work with the Liberian government to issue the Liberians passports, enabling them to subsequently receive a Ghanaian residence and work permit. As of May the Liberian government had issued 352 passports to this population. As of November an estimated 200 Liberians were still awaiting passports. The Ghana Immigration Service also supported the process by issuing reduced-cost residency permits, including work permits for adults, to locally integrating former Liberian refugees.

Greece

Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:

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

Freedom of Expression: The constitution and law protect freedom of expression but specifically allow restrictions on speech inciting discrimination, hatred, or violence against persons or groups based on their race, color, religion, descent, national or ethnic origin, sexual orientation, gender identity, or disability, or who express ideas insulting to persons or groups on those grounds. On March 11, local media reported a court sentenced a blogger in Veroia, northern Greece, to 18 months in prison and a fine of 5,500 euros ($6,325) for inciting hatred toward Syrian refugees residing in a local reception camp. In 2016 the blogger had falsely claimed, “Illegal migrants buried a small church inside the camp so as not to be insulted [by seeing it].”

Press and Media Freedom: Independent media were active and expressed a wide variety of views without restriction.

Violence and Harassment: Journalists were subjected to physical attack, harassment, or intimidation due to their reporting in at least seven instances. Several attacks were led by members of far-right groups. In some instances, police arrested the perpetrators.

On June 19, a group of ultrarightists attacked a photojournalist in Athens, according to the Journalists’ Union of the Athens Daily Newspapers (ESHEA). Unidentified perpetrators also stole his camera equipment. ESHEA claimed police present at the scene did not attempt to prevent the attack or to arrest the attackers.

On June 1, a Chios court sentenced a local Golden Dawn party member to six months in prison and a 2,000 euros ($2,300) fine for attacking a journalist in September 2017. The attack took place while the journalist was covering a protest rally against refugees and migrants on the island. In a separate case, a court sentenced the same perpetrator to 18 months in prison for instigating racially motivated violence against refugees.

A bomb caused extensive damage to private television station SKAI in Athens early December 17, but no injuries. Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras immediately condemned the bombing, calling it “an attack by cowardly and dark forces against democracy itself;” however, SKAI Media Group President Yannis Alafouzos blamed the government coalition for inspiring the attack through threats and boycotts. Police launched an investigation, but had not made any arrests as of December 18.

Censorship or Content Restrictions: The government did not censor media. The government maintains an online register of local websites’ legal status, number of employees, detailed shareholder information, and the tax office they fall under. Once registered, these websites are accredited to accept funding through state advertising, to cover official events, and to benefit from research and training programs of the National Center of Audiovisual Works. All registered websites had to display their certification on their homepage. Although registering was an open and nonobligatory process, outlets failing to do so could be excluded from the accreditation benefits.

Libel/Slander Laws: The law provides criminal penalties for defamation. On February 26, police arrested and briefly detained journalist and publisher Kostas Vaxevanis following a lawsuit filed by former prime minister Antonis Samaras, who accused Vaxevanis of defamation. A week earlier the journalist had accused Samaras on social media of lying about his alleged involvement in a scandal concerning Swiss pharmaceutical company Novartis’s alleged bribes to medical doctors and politicians.

On September 22, police detained three journalists after Minister of Defense Panos Kammenos accused them of defamation. The journalists had published an article accusing Kammenos of large-scale mismanagement of European Union migration funds. The following morning the public prosecutor ordered a preliminary investigation into the incident and the immediate release of the three journalists. No further information on the case was available as of November 30.

INTERNET FREEDOM

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

ACADEMIC FREEDOM AND CULTURAL EVENTS

There were no government restrictions on academic freedom or cultural events. In February, two Orthodox Metropolitans filed separate lawsuits requesting the theatrical performance of “Jesus Christ Superstar” be banned for blasphemy. The theater company continued to stage performances despite daily and at times violent demonstrations outside the theater by individuals opposed to the production. Actors and staff criticized authorities for failing to adequately protect their lives and property, reporting that protestors threatened “to burn down the theater,” assaulted actors and audience members, and threw paint on staff cars and the theater, but no arrests were made.

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

FREEDOM OF ASSOCIATION

Although the constitution and law provide for freedom of association, the government continued to place legal restrictions on the names of associations of nationals who self-identified as ethnic Macedonian or associations that included the term “Turkish” as indicative of a collective ethnic identity (see section 6). Such associations, despite the lack of legal recognition, continued to operate.

On July 12, the Thrace appeals court rejected a request from the unofficial “Turkish Union of Xanthi” to reinstate its legal status. The association submitted this petition following a European Court of Human Rights ruling that the Greek court’s decision violated the right of association as protected by the European Convention of Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms and a 2017 law allowing the reexamination of such previously rejected requests.

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

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

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

Abuse of Migrants, Refugees, and Stateless Persons: According to a wide range of credible sources, including international organizations and NGOs, authorities did not always provide adequate security or physical protection to migrants and asylum seekers, particularly those residing in RICs. The RVRN recorded 34 incidents involving racially motivated verbal and physical violence against refugees and migrants in 2017. (See also section 6, “National/Racial/Ethnic Minorities.”)

Separation and protection of vulnerable groups was not implemented at some sites. Credible reports described several incidents of violence involving asylum seekers, including fistfights, stabbings, and gender-based violence. The International Rescue Committee assessed that more than 70 individuals were sexually abused at the RIC in Moria from March to October. Several incidents of gender-based violence, including domestic violence, sexual harassment, and rape, were also recorded in organized facilities on the mainland. Doctors without Borders reported that two victims of sexual abuse in the Moria RIC were under five years of age.

Media reported on April 28 that police arrested a refugee residing at a reception facility in Serres, northern Greece, after his 15-year-old daughter accused him of repeated rape.

On November 9, authorities arrested a male refugee in Agia Eleni camp in northern Greece on charges of sexually abusing a three-year-old boy inside the camp.

Refugee and migrant women who were victims of gender-based violence were legally eligible for temporary shelter in government-run homes and for legal and psychosocial assistance but few of them reported the abuse. Some NGO representatives said that even after victims reported rapes to the authorities, some victims continued residing in the same camp with the perpetrators.

NGOs noted inadequate psychological care for refugees and asylum seekers, especially in the six RICs. Doctors without Borders reported that 25 percent of the children they worked with in Moria RIC on Lesvos island from February to June had either self-harmed, attempted suicide, or had thought about committing suicide.

PROTECTION OF REFUGEES

During the year the flow of migrants and asylum seekers to the country from Africa, Asia, and the Middle East continued. As of October 31, UNHCR figures indicated 67,100 migrants and asylum seekers resided throughout the country.

Refoulement: The government provided some protection against the expulsion or return of refugees to countries in which their lives or freedom would be threatened due to race, religion, nationality, membership in a particular social group, or political opinion. In February the NGO Greek Council for Refugees (GCR) published a compilation of testimonies of migrants and refugees who claimed they had been forcibly returned to Turkey despite their desire to claim asylum. On February 25, a GCR lawyer and coordinator of the GCR legal team who had previously served as secretary general for migration argued in an opinion article in a local newspaper that allegations of refoulement were not being properly investigated despite appeals by UNHCR, the Council of Europe human rights commissioner, and other organizations. On May 3, GCR accused the government “of a systematic tactic of irregular forced returns in the Evros region, in violation of international law.” Government officials denied any authorized unlawful returns.

Access to Asylum: The law provides for the granting of asylum or refugee status, and the government has established a system for providing legal protection to refugees through an autonomous asylum service under the authority of the Ministry of Migration Policy. The law requires that applicants have access to certified interpreters and allows applicants to appeal negative decisions and remain in the country while their appeals are examined.

Authorities worked with NGOs, international organizations, and the European Asylum Support Office to inform undocumented migrants awaiting registration in the asylum system, as well as non-EU foreign national detainees, about their rights and asylum procedures and IOM-assisted voluntary return programs. UNHCR also assisted the government with briefings and distribution of multilingual leaflets and information packages on asylum and asylum procedures.

On July 18, media reported the case of a Guinean national who was deported prior to having the chance to appeal the initial denial of asylum. His attorneys claimed that even though they communicated the applicant’s intent to file an appeal, authorities deported the applicant without prior notification. The government did not issue a public response.

Human rights activists and NGOs working with asylum applicants reported long waits for asylum appeals decisions due to time-consuming processes, gaps in the payment of certified interpreters, backlogs in the appeals process, and a limited number of appeals committees. On May 22, parliament passed new legislation to accelerate the examination of asylum requests by reducing gaps in interpreter payments and introducing additional and more flexible means of communication between applicants and authorities. Despite changes in the law, structural problems in the asylum process continued to exist.

Asylum applicants from countries other than Syria complained that their asylum applications were delayed while Syrian applications were prioritized. Many asylum seekers also complained about difficulty scheduling an appointment and connecting with the Asylum Service system via Skype. NGOs, international organizations, and human rights activists reiterated concerns related to the asylum system, including the lack of adequate staff and facilities; difficulties in registering claims; questions about the expedited nature and thoroughness of the examination of initial claims and appeals; insufficient welfare, integration, counseling, legal, and interpretation services; discrimination; and detention under often inadequate and overcrowded conditions inside the RICs.

Safe Country of Origin/Transit: The country adheres to the Dublin III Regulation, according to which authorities may return asylum seekers to the EU member state of first entry for adjudication of asylum claims.

According to a 2016 agreement between the EU and Turkey, every undocumented migrant crossing from Turkey into the Greek islands would be confined to an RIC for up to 25 days, during which time the individual would have the opportunity to apply for asylum in Greece. Individuals opting not to apply for asylum or whose applications were deemed unfounded or inadmissible would be returned to Turkey under the terms of the agreement.

Freedom of Movement: Undocumented migrants arriving at Greek islands were subjected to special border reception and registration procedures, and were not allowed to leave accommodation centers for up to 25 days. After this period undocumented migrants remaining in those facilities were generally allowed to enter and exit but were prohibited from travelling to the mainland unless they filed asylum applications deemed admissible by the asylum authorities or were deemed “vulnerable.” Once asylum applications were filed, found admissible, and in process, migrants could move to an accommodation center on the mainland, space permitting. There was no restriction on movement in or out of the mainland accommodation centers.

On April 24, 21 local and international NGOs issued a statement condemning the government’s practice of confining migrants and asylum seekers to certain “hotspot” islands for initial processing.

Unaccompanied minors were placed under “protective custody” due to lack of space in specialized shelters. (See section 1, Prison and Detention Center Conditions, Physical Conditions.)

Employment: Recognized refugees and holders of asylum-seeker papers were entitled to work, although this right was not widely publicized or consistently enforced. In March the managing board of the Greek Manpower Organization (OAED) extended the right to register for the official unemployment to migrants and refugees residing in shelters or with no permanent address, allowing them to benefit from training programs and state allowances.

Access to Basic Services: Legally, services such as shelter, health care, education, and judicial procedures were granted to asylum seekers in possession of a valid residency permit; however, staffing gaps, lack of interpreters, and overcrowded migrant sites limited certain asylum seekers’ access to these services. Legal assistance was limited and was usually offered via NGOs, international organizations, and volunteer lawyers and bar associations.

RICs on islands and in the Evros region continued to be overcrowded with inadequate shelter, healthcare, wash facilities, and sewer connections, creating security and health concerns. Housing conditions at reception facilities elsewhere on the mainland were generally better. The general rapporteur of the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe (PACE) Committee on Migration, Refugees and Displaced Persons visited Athens, Kavala, Drama, and Lesvos from July 10-12. The rapporteur found that in contrast to the acceptable accommodation centers in Kavala and Drama, Lesvos RIC conditions “continued to be appalling,” with persons suffering from “severely overcrowded accommodation facilities.”

Unaccompanied minors living in “protective custody” in police stations had limited or no access to health care or medical services. (See section 1, Prison and Detention Center Conditions, Physical Conditions.)

Many vulnerable asylum-seeking individuals were eligible to be sheltered in apartments via a housing framework implemented by UNHCR in cooperation with some NGOs and local municipalities. Conditions in the apartments were significantly better than in reception facilities.

Administrative and facility management staff in reception centers were usually permanent state employees, eight-month government-contracted personnel, and NGO and international organization-contracted staff. Media reported cases, especially in the islands, in which assigned staff was inadequate or improperly trained.

Everyone in the country is entitled to emergency medical care regardless of legal status. Medical volunteers, NGO-contracted doctors, the Hellenic Center for Disease Control and Prevention (KEELPNO), and army medical doctors provided basic health care in reception centers, referring emergencies and complex cases to local hospitals, which were often overburdened and understaffed. Some individuals suffering from chronic diseases continued to face problems with obtaining proper medication. According to a July 27 HRW report, pregnant women in Evros reception and detention facilities had no access to proper medical and prenatal care.

Domestic and international NGOs continued to criticize authorities for failing to identify asylum seekers with nonvisible vulnerabilities, such as victims of torture. In a 2018 annual review, HRW noted that authorities’ failure to properly identify vulnerable asylum seekers for transfer to the mainland had “impeded their access to proper care and services.” HRW argued that official policies, living conditions, and the uncertainty of the slow asylum claim decision-making process contributed to deteriorating mental health for some asylum seekers and other migrants on the islands.

Durable Solutions: Recognized refugees may apply for naturalization after three years of residence in the country under this status. The government continued to process family reunification applications for asylum seekers with relatives in other countries. IOM offered voluntary returns to rejected asylum seekers and those who renounced their asylum claims.

Temporary Protection: As of June 30, the government provided temporary protection to approximately 1,102 individuals who may not qualify as refugees.

Grenada

Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:

The law provides for freedom of expression, including for the press, and the government generally respected this right. Independent media were active and expressed a wide variety of views without restriction.

INTERNET FREEDOM

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

According to the International Telecommunication Union, 59 percent of the population used the internet in 2017.

ACADEMIC FREEDOM AND CULTURAL EVENTS

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

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

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

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

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

PROTECTION OF REFUGEES

Access to Asylum: The law does not provide for the granting of asylum or refugee status, and the government has no established formal channels for providing protection to refugees or asylum seekers. There were no reports of refugees attempting to enter the country in 2017.

Guatemala

Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:

The constitution and law provide for freedom of expression, including for the press, and the government generally respected this right. The intimidation of and violence against journalists resulted in significant self-censorship, however.

Freedom of Expression: Following President Morales’ August 31 press conference announcing he would not renew CICIG’s mandate, several prominent human rights defenders and activists reported the PNC visited them ostensibly to inquire about their protection measures. Several journalists also reported suspected surveillance of their homes and offices in the days following the August 31 press conference. The activists and journalists interpreted these actions as an effort to intimidate them from criticizing the administration’s measures with respect to CICIG.

Press and Media Freedom: There were no legal restrictions on the editorial independence of the media. Reporters covering organized crime, including its links to corrupt public officials, acknowledged practicing self-censorship, recognizing the danger investigative journalism posed to them and their families. Independent media were active and expressed a wide variety of views. Since August 31, public security forces have imposed more stringent identification checks on journalists covering government events and activities.

Violence and Harassment: Online attacks against independent journalists and media outlets increased throughout the year. These included hacking of journalists’ private accounts, publishing stolen or falsified personal information, and apparent coordinated attempts to undermine specific journalists and the press. Members of the press continued to report threats and violence from public officials and criminal organizations, which impaired the practice of free and open journalism. The government failed to establish a journalist protection program, a voluntary commitment the country accepted in 2012 during the Universal Periodic Review of the UN Human Rights Council.

According to the Public Ministry, 54 complaints were filed for attacks or threats against journalists, and two journalists were killed from January through the end of August, compared with 116 complaints and three killings in all of 2017.

In November 2017 the Supreme Court lifted the parliamentary immunity of Congressman Julio Antonio Juarez Ramirez based on allegations from the Public Ministry and CICIG that he ordered the killing of journalist Danilo Efrain Zapon Lopez in 2015 in Mazatenango, Suchitepequez. Journalist Federico Benjamin Salazar Geronimo was also killed in the attack and reporter Marvin Tunches was injured. At year’s end the case was at the intermediary public trial phase.

The Public Ministry employed a unit dedicated to the investigation of threats and attacks against journalists, but the NGO Center for Reporting in Guatemala noted it had few prosecutions.

Censorship or Content Restrictions: Members of the press reported receiving pressure, threats, and retribution from public officials regarding the content of their reporting. Some owners and members of media accused the government of following a discriminatory advertising policy that penalized or rewarded print and broadcast media based on whether the government perceived the news or commentary as supportive or critical. Significant self-censorship occurred as a result.

Nongovernmental Impact: Organized crime exerted influence over media outlets and reporters, frequently threatening individuals for reporting on criminal activities.

INTERNET FREEDOM

The daily newspaper elPeriodico experienced a two-day denial of service attack and another three-day attack starting on September 1. The source of the attacks remained unknown.

A local newspaper reported former president Otto Perez Molina’s administration created a surveillance network in 2012 to access social media accounts of diplomats, government officials, politicians, journalists, students, and academics.

According to the International Telecommunication Union, 41 percent of the population used the internet in 2017.

ACADEMIC FREEDOM AND CULTURAL EVENTS

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

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

FREEDOM OF PEACEFUL ASSEMBLY

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

On September 12, the congressional spokesperson reported that more than 2,100 police were present at Congress during a commemoration of the country’s independence, led by President Morales. A protest scheduled to converge at Congress on the same day was not able to approach the perimeters of Congress. The heavy police presence ostensibly serving as presidential security and crowd control received widespread criticism and media as a form of intimidation against the protesters. Civil society groups expressed concern over the presence of Kaibiles, military special forces who were implicated in war crimes during the country’s internal armed conflict from 1960-96.

On September 14, when President Morales and his cabinet attended a ceremony at the cathedral on the central plaza, NGOs and journalists accused the government of using excessive security measures to intimidate citizens and restrict their right to assemble. Observers stated security measures included the deployment of antiriot military police; the registration of all pedestrians entering the plaza, including children; and excessive security checks. On September 14, a Public Ministry prosecutor stated publicly he would investigate for possible violations of freedom of movement.

FREEDOM OF ASSOCIATION

The law provides for freedom of association, and the government generally respected this right. There were reports, however, of significant barriers to organizing in the labor sector (see section 7.a.).

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

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

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

An immigration law in effect since 2017 overhauled the country’s migration system and defined the term “refugee” as well as listing refugees’ rights in accordance with international instruments. The preparation of regulations to implement the law, including on the refugee application process and refugee rights, was underway at year’s end. Government agencies made limited progress in implementing the Protection Council mandated by the new migration code, which would support the protection, reception, and reintegration of returned children.

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, asylum seekers, stateless persons, or other persons of concern, including during the mid-October surge of Central American migrants that passed through the country.

INTERNALLY DISPLACED PERSONS (IDPS)

The country does not have laws in place to protect IDPs in line with the UN Guiding Principles on Internal Displacement. UNHCR expressed concern regarding violence against IDPs and strengthened its efforts to monitor the problem and provide assistance to the displaced. The country does not officially recognize the existence of IDPs within its borders, with the exception of those displaced by climate change and natural disasters. The Inter-American Commission on Human Rights characterized as IDPs 400 farmers the government evicted from the Maya Biosphere Reserve in 2017. Media and civil society groups reported the evictees did not receive government assistance in a timely manner.

PROTECTION OF REFUGEES

Access to Asylum: The laws provide for the granting of asylum or refugee status, and the government has established a system for providing protection to refugees. UNHCR, however, reported that identification and referral mechanisms for potential asylum seekers were inadequate. Both migration and police authorities lacked adequate training concerning the rules for establishing refugee status.

Access to Basic Services: UNHCR reported access to education for refugees was challenging due to the country’s onerous requirements for access to formal education, including documentation from the country of origin.

The Gambia

Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:

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

National Security: On May 9, the Supreme Court ruled the sedition law constitutional. The sedition law prohibits “exciting disaffection against the person of the President or the government.” Penalties for conviction include fines and a minimum prison sentence of one year.

Actions to Expand Freedom of Expression, Including for the Media: On May 9, the Supreme Court ruled the defamation laws unconstitutional.

INTERNET FREEDOM

The government did not restrict or disrupt access to the internet or censor online content, and there were no credible reports that the government monitored private online communications without appropriate legal authority. According to the International Telecommunication Union, 19.8 percent of the population used the internet in 2017.

ACADEMIC FREEDOM AND CULTURAL EVENTS

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

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

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

The law provides for freedom of internal movement, foreign travel, emigration, and repatriation, and the government generally respected these rights. The government cooperated with the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) and other humanitarian organizations in providing protection and assistance to internally displaced persons, refugees, returning refugees, asylum seekers, stateless persons, or other persons of concern. UNHCR coordinated government efforts with the International Organization for Migration, the Gambia Red Cross Society, and other agencies to provide this protection and assistance.

In-country Movement: Police and immigration personnel frequently set up security checkpoints. Individuals found to be without proper identification documentation were subject to detention or forced to pay bribes.

PROTECTION OF REFUGEES

Access to Asylum: The law provides for granting refugee status. The Gambia Commission for Refugees worked with UNHCR on protection of refugees.

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The Lessons of 1989: Freedom and Our Future