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

Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

INTERNET FREEDOM

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

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

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

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

ACADEMIC FREEDOM AND CULTURAL EVENTS

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

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

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

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

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

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

FREEDOM OF PEACEFUL ASSEMBLY

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

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

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

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

FREEDOM OF ASSOCIATION

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

INTERNALLY DISPLACED PERSONS (IDPS)

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

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

PROTECTION OF REFUGEES

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

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

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

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

STATELESS PERSONS

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

Spain

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.

Freedom of Expression: The law prohibits, subject to judicial oversight, actions including public speeches and the publication of documents that the government interprets as celebrating or supporting terrorism. The law provides for imprisonment from one to four years for persons who provoke discrimination, hatred, or violence against groups or associations on the basis of ideology, religion or belief, family status, membership in an ethnic group or race, national origin, sex, sexual orientation, illness, or disability.

The law penalizes downloading of illegal content and use of unauthorized websites, violent protests, insulting a security officer, recording and disseminating images of police, and participating in unauthorized protests outside government buildings. The NGO Reporters without Borders (RSF) called the law a threat to press freedom, while the Professional Association of the Judiciary considered it contrary to freedom of speech and information. The Spanish Socialist Workers’ Party challenged the law in the Constitutional Court, where a decision was pending.

On March 20, the RSF expressed its concern for the increase in the number of court rulings limiting the freedom of expression with disproportionate censorship and harsh sentences imposed in accordance with the law.

Violence and Harassment: The RSF and other press freedom organizations stated that the country’s restrictive press law and its enforcement impose censorship and self-censorship on journalists.

An April 24 statement by the RSF alleged that the October 2017 independence referendum in Catalonia, ruled unconstitutional by the Supreme Court, “exacerbated tensions and created a suffocating environment for journalists.” The RSF alleged that Catalan authorities increased harassment against “pro-Spanish unity” journalists on social media platforms, while regional police intimidated other journalists.

The Barcelona Hate Crimes Prosecutor’s 2017 report documented an increase in the number of hate crimes beginning in October 2017, mostly attributable to political beliefs related to the independence movement. In Barcelona Province, 30.8 percent of 279 registered cases represented hate speech and discrimination against those holding differing political views.

Actions to Expand Freedom of Expression, Including for the Media: On March 13, the ECHR ruled in favor of Enric Stern and Jaume Roura, who in 2007 burned a photograph of the king and were sentenced to 15 months in prison for insulting the crown. The ECHR found the punishment issued by the national court violated their right to freedom of expression and ordered the government to compensate them with 7,200 euros each ($8,280).

INTERNET FREEDOM

The government did not restrict or disrupt access to the internet or censor online content, and there were no credible reports that the government monitored private online communications without appropriate legal authority. Authorities monitored websites for material containing hate speech or promoting anti-Semitism or terrorism.

The International Telecommunication Union reported that 85 percent of the population used the internet in 2017.

ACADEMIC FREEDOM AND CULTURAL EVENTS

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

The law provides for the freedom of peaceful assembly, and the government generally respected this right. The law provides for fines of up to 600 euros ($690) for failing to notify authorities about peaceful demonstrations in public areas, up to 30,000 euros ($34,500) for protests resulting in “serious disturbances of public safety” near parliament and regional government buildings, and up to 600,000 euros ($690,000) for unauthorized protests near key infrastructure. By law any protestors who refuse to disperse upon police request may be fined.

FREEDOM OF ASSOCIATION

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

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

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

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

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

Abuse of Migrants, Refugees, and Stateless Persons: The latest report of the National Ombudsman indicated that the center for the temporary accommodation of migrants in the enclave of Melilla was “severely overcrowded.” The center housing migrants in the enclave of Ceuta was also overcrowded.

PROTECTION OF REFUGEES

Refoulement: According to a UNHCR report on April 3, there were cases where migrants who crossed the border from Morocco to the enclaves of Ceuta and Melilla were returned to Morocco without receiving a complete eligibility review for asylum.

Access to Asylum: According to the Ministry of the Interior, by November 30, 59,048 persons arrived in the country illegally via the Mediterranean Sea or land border crossing points in Ceuta and Melilla bordering Morocco, a number higher than the total numbers for 2015, 2016, and 2017 combined.

The law provides for the granting of asylum or refugee status, and the government has established a system for providing protection to refugees. The country has bilateral return agreements with Morocco and Algeria. Authorities review asylum petitions individually, and there is an established appeals process available to rejected petitioners. The law permits any foreigner in the country who is a victim of gender-based violence or of trafficking in persons to file a complaint at a police station without fear of deportation, even if that individual is in the country illegally. Although potential asylum seekers were able to exercise effectively their right to petition authorities, some NGOs, such as CEAR, and Accem, as well as UNHCR alleged that several migration reception centers lacked sufficient legal assistance for asylum seekers. The NGOs reported that getting an appointment to request asylum could take months. CEAR reported the government granted refugee status to 595 individuals in 2017. This number does not include refugees accepted from Italy, Greece, Turkey, and Lebanon, as part of the EU relocation and resettlement plan.

On April 9, the government granted political asylum to three Turkish citizens requesting protection from persecution related to the 2016 attempted coup against the Turkish government. They were the first Turkish nationals granted asylum by the government in connection with the attempted Turkish coup.

On September 3, in a report from a March 18-24 observation mission in Ceuta and Melilla, the COE issued found the continued use of so-called “hot returns,” whereby migrants are returned without first registering and verifying eligibility for asylum. Lawyers and UNHCR reported that in August authorities returned 116 migrants to Morocco within 24 hours of their arrival after they crossed the border to Ceuta, without first verifying whether they were eligible for asylum. Spanish authorities, the International Organization for Migration, and the Spanish Red Cross asserted the migrants were identified and provided legal counsel under the terms of the country’s migration laws. The return of the migrants was carried out under terms of a 1992 agreement with Morocco that provides for the readmission of third-country nationals who illegally entered Spain from Morocco.

Safe Country of Origin/Transit: Under EU law the country considers all other countries in the Schengen area, the EU, and the United States to be safe countries of origin.

Access to Basic Services: In Ceuta and Melilla, according to UNHCR, asylum seekers could wait up to several months in some cases before being transferred to the care of NGOs in mainland Spain. Migrants from countries without a return agreement and those who demonstrated eligibility for international protection were provided housing and basic care as part of a state-sponsored reception program managed by various NGOs.

Durable Solutions: The government accepted refugees for relocation and resettlement and provided assistance through NGOs such as CEAR and Accem. As of April the country received 2,792 refugees (1,359 through relocation and 1,433 through resettlement) from Italy, Greece, Turkey, and Lebanon. UNHCR noted the country’s system for integrating refugees, especially vulnerable families, minors, and survivors of gender-based violence and trafficking in persons, needed improvement.

The government assisted in the safe, voluntary return of failed asylum seekers and migrants to their homes or the country they came from.

Temporary Protection: The government also provided temporary protection to individuals whose applications for asylum were pending review, or who did not qualify as refugees and asylees. In 2017 it extended subsidiary protection to approximately 4,080 such persons.

STATELESS PERSONS

According to UNHCR, at the end of 2017, 1,596 stateless persons lived in the country. The law provides a path to citizenship for stateless persons. The law includes the obligation to grant nationality to those born in Spain of foreign parents, if both lack nationality or if legislation from neither parent’s country of nationality attributes a nationality to the child, as well as to those born in Spain whose parentage is not determined.

Sri Lanka

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.

Freedom of Expression: Authorities restricted “hate speech,” including insult to religion or religious beliefs through the police ordinance and penal code. The government requested media stations and outlets to refrain from featuring hate speech in their news items and segments.

Press and Media Freedom: Independent media were active and expressed a wide variety of views. Journalists in the Tamil-majority north, however, reported harassment, intimidation, and interference from the security sector when reporting on sensitive issues related to the civil war or its aftermath. They reported the military contacted them to request copies of photographs, lists of attendees at events, and names of sources from articles. They also reported the military directly requested that journalists refrain from reporting on sensitive events, such as Tamil war memorials or land occupation protests, and that they feared repercussions if they did not cooperate.

In October, after former President Mahinda Rajapaksa was appointed prime minister in a move challenged in court as unconstitutional, some of Rajapaksa’s supporters took control of state media outlets. The International Federation of Journalists reported serious concern about harassment of journalists at state media institutions, and in some cases mobs loyal to Rajapaksa entered facilities and threatened employees and forced them to leave the premises. In another case the bodyguard of a minister loyal to ousted Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe opened fire into a crowd of protesters outside a state media outlet, killing a Rajapaksa supporter.

Violence and Harassment: There were reports of harassment and intimidation of journalists when covering sensitive issues. Reporters Without Borders reported authorities intimidated Tamil Guardian journalist Uthayarasa Shalin in August following his coverage of a festival at a Hindu temple, but there were conflicting reports whether Shalin was targeted due to his work as a journalist.

Censorship or Content Restrictions: On several occasions print and electronic media journalists noted they self-censored stories that criticized the president or his family. These journalists said they had received direct calls from private individuals or supporters of the government asking them to refrain from reporting anything that tainted the first family. On June 5, the Telecommunications Regulatory Authority (TRA) closed Telshan Network, a private television station. TRA accused the network of defaulting on its license fees. The network denied the allegations and claimed the closure was politically motivated. In November 2017 TRA blocked access of London-based website Lanka eNews after it published an expose into alleged corruption in President Sirisena’s office; the site remained blocked at year’s end.

INTERNET FREEDOM

There were no credible reports that the government monitored private online communications without appropriate legal authority. The government placed limited restrictions on websites it deemed pornographic. In March the government imposed a weeklong ban on several social media platforms, including Facebook, Whatsapp, and Instagram, during a state of emergency imposed following an eruption of anti-Muslim violence in the Central Province.

According to International Telecommunication Union data, approximately 34 percent of the population used the internet in 2017.

ACADEMIC FREEDOM AND CULTURAL EVENTS

State university officials allegedly prevented professors and university students from criticizing government officials. There were no other reported government restrictions on academic freedom or cultural events.

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

FREEDOM OF PEACEFUL ASSEMBLY

The law provides for freedom of peaceful assembly, and the government generally respected this right. The constitution stipulates that the freedom of assembly may be restricted in the interest of religious harmony, national security, public order, or the protection of public health or morality. It also may be restricted in the interest of securing due recognition and respect for the rights and freedoms of others, or in the interest of meeting the just requirements of the general welfare of a democratic society. Under Police Ordinance Article 77(1), protesters must seek permission from the local police before holding a protest.

FREEDOM OF ASSOCIATION

The law provides for freedom of association but limits the right, for example, by criminalizing association with or membership in banned organizations. Christian groups and churches reported some authorities classified worship activities as “unauthorized gatherings” and pressured them to end these activities. According to the groups, authorities sometimes justified their actions stating the groups were not registered with the government, although no law or regulation specifically requires such registration.

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

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

The law provides for freedom of internal movement, foreign travel, emigration, and repatriation, and the government generally respected these rights. The government cooperated with 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, stateless persons, or other persons of concern.

INTERNALLY DISPLACED PERSONS (IDPS)

The country’s civil war that ended in 2009 caused widespread, prolonged displacement, including forced displacement by the government and the LTTE, particularly of Tamils. According to the Ministry of Resettlement, Rehabilitation, Northern Development, and Hindu Religious Affairs, 37,815 citizens remained IDPs as of June 30. The large majority resided in Jaffna, Kilinochchi, Mannar, and Batticaloa Districts in the north and east. While all IDPs had full freedom of movement, most were unable to return home due to land mines; restrictions designating their home areas as part of HSZs; lack of work opportunities; inability to access basic public services, including acquiring documents verifying land ownership; and lack of government resolution of competing land ownership claims and other war-related reasons. The government did not provide protection and assistance to IDPs in welfare camps.

The government promoted the return and resettlement of IDPs by returning approximately 840 acres of military-seized land and making state land available for landless IDPs. The military and other government agencies supported the resettlement of IDPs by constructing houses, schools, toilets, and providing other social services on newly released lands.

PROTECTION OF REFUGEES

Access to Asylum: The law does not provide for the granting of asylum or refugee status. The government relied on UNHCR to provide food, housing, and education for refugees in the country and to pursue third-country resettlement for them. The law does not permit refugees and asylum seekers to work or enroll in the government school system, but many worked informally.

Sudan

Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:

The Interim National Constitution provides for freedom of expression, including for the press “as regulated by law,” but the government heavily restricted this right.

Freedom of Expression: Individuals who criticized the government publicly or privately were subject to reprisal, including arrest. The government attempted to impede such criticism and monitored political meetings and the press.

In January and February, at least 18 journalists were arrested in and around Khartoum while covering protests against the declining economic situation and bread price increases. Arrested journalists included employees of Agence France Presse, Reuters, and the BBC. Most were released shortly after arrest, but several from Sudanese media outlets were held up to two months in detention, including Al Midan correspondent Kamal Karrar. No formal charges were ever brought against any of the journalists.

Journalist Mohamed Osman Babiker was arrested and taken from his home in El Gezira on July 31, after Kassala state authorities filed a complaint against him under the Information Act of 2015 for criticizing the state’s branch of the National Congress Party on social media. Babiker was transferred from a jail in Khartoum to Kassala to await trial.

The government also curtailed public religious discussion if proselytization was suspected and monitored religious sermons and teachings (see the Department of State’s International Religious Freedom Report at www.state.gov/religiousfreedomreport/).

Press and Media Freedom: The Interim National Constitution provides for freedom of the press, but authorities prevented newspapers from reporting on issues they deemed sensitive. Throughout the year the government verbally warned newspapers of “red line” topics on which the press could not report. Such topics included corruption, university protests, the weak economy and declining value of the Sudanese pound, deaths of persons in detention, the fuel crisis, government security services, and government action in conflict areas. Measures taken by the government included regular and direct prepublication censorship, confiscation of publications, legal action, and denial of state advertising. Confiscation after printing in particular inflicted financial damage on newspapers already under financial strain due to low circulation.

The government influenced radio and television reporting through the permit process, as well as by offering or withholding government payments for advertisements, based on how closely affiliated they were with the government.

The government controlled media through the National Council for Press and Publications (NCPP), which administered mandatory professional examinations for journalists and oversaw the selection of editors. The council had authority to ban journalists temporarily or indefinitely. The registration of journalists was handled primarily by the Sudanese Journalists Network, which estimated there were 7,000 registered journalists in the country, although fewer than 200 of them were believed to be actively employed as journalists. The remainder were members of the government and security forces working on media issues, who received automatic licenses.

On June 10, the Parliament approved a new Combatting Cybercrimes Act for 2018. The new act makes spreading anything deemed to be “fake news” illegal and carries a punishment of up to three years’ imprisonment. On October 11, the act was applied after a judge sentenced a man in White Nile State to two years imprisonment and a fine of 10,000 SDG ($215) for creating a fake Facebook account and posting indecent photographs. Human rights activists were concerned about the potential use of the law to further censor content in news and social media, but there have not been any known cases against human rights activists as of November.

Violence and Harassment: The government continued to arrest, harass, intimidate, and abuse journalists and vocal critics of the government. NISS required journalists to provide personal information, such as details on their ethnic group, political affiliation, and family.

Censorship or Content Restrictions: The government continued to practice direct prepublication and prebroadcast censorship of all forms of media. Confiscations of print runs was the censorship method most frequently used by NISS, This was an incentive to self-censorship.. On June 10, authorities confiscated the full run of Al Tayar newspaper for publishing an article about the economic situation. The same day, NISS asked the article’s author, journalist Shamile al Noor, to report to NISS for questioning. He was questioned for three hours and then told to report back the following day, when NISS told him to stop commenting publicly on President Bashir. On October 4, NISS seized print runs of two newspapers and summoned their editors-in-chief for a meeting after the editors met with foreign ambassadors and charges. NISS summoned the editors for a second meeting on October 24.

Authorities used the Press and Publications Court, specializing in media issues and “newspaper irregularities” and established under the Press and Publications Act, to prosecute “information crimes.”

In early August the Speaker of the National Assembly met with editors-in-chief of major newspapers and instructed them to comply with red line topics and, in exchange, NISS would no longer confiscate newspapers. The NCPP would then take on the responsibility of monitoring newspaper content. Some human rights groups expressed concern that this was a move by the government to further encourage self-censorship.

On July 31, the chief editor of Al-Jareeda newspaper, Ashraf Abdelaziz stated publically that NISS prevented the newspaper from being distributed for seven straight days, thus inflicting a huge financial loss on the paper.

Following the December protests, government censorship of media tightened, resulting in the arrests of several journalists and near daily confiscations of entire newspaper print runs. The NISS declared news on the protests a “red line” topic and then pre-censored newspapers to stop the publication of news on the protests.

Libel/Slander Laws: The law holds editors in chief criminally liable for all content published in their newspapers. In April Muhsin Musa was arrested in Kadugli, South Kordofan for defamation after he posted critisicm of the fuel crisis and general economic conditions on his Twitter account. A few days later, police arrested Awadia Abdulrahman in Khartoum North for sharing Musa’s posts.

National Security: The law allows for restrictions on the press in the interest of national security and public order. It contains loosely defined provisions for bans for encouraging ethnic and religious disturbances and incitement of violence. The criminal code, National Security Act, and emergency laws were regularly used to bring charges against the press. Human rights activists called the law a “punishment” for journalists.

NISS initiated and continued legal action against journalists for stories critical of the government and security services.

INTERNET FREEDOM

The government regulated licensing of telecommunications companies through the National Telecommunications Corporation. The agency blocked some websites and most proxy servers judged offensive to public morality, such as those purveying pornography. There were few restrictions on access to information websites, but authorities sporadically blocked access to YouTube and “negative” media sites. On December 21, the government suspended service for key social media platforms including WhatsApp, Facebook and YouTube to disrupt communication among protestors. According to the International Telecommunication Union, approximately 28 percent of individuals used the internet in 2016.

Freedom House continued to rank the country as “not free” in its annual internet freedom report. According to the report, arrests and prosecutions under the Cybercrime Act grew during the year, reflecting a tactical shift in the government’s strategy to limit internet freedom. The report noted that many journalists writing for online platforms published anonymously to avoid prosecution, while ordinary internet users in the country had become more inclined to self-censor to avoid government surveillance and arbitrary legal consequences.

ACADEMIC FREEDOM AND CULTURAL EVENTS

The government restricted academic freedom, determining the curricula and appointing vice chancellors responsible for administration at academic and cultural institutions. The government continued to arrest student activists and cancel or deny permits for some student events. Youth activists reported some universities discouraged students from participating in antigovernment rallies and treated NCP students favorably. Some professors exercised self-censorship. On April 15, Esmatt Mahmoud, a philosophy professor at the University of Khartoum, was arrested after the university filed a complaint against him for a Facebook post he wrote criticizing the university’s handling of personnel issues. The Public Order Police monitored cultural events, often intimidating women and girls, who feared police would arrest them for “indecent” dress or actions.

On May 28, NISS prevented a theater troupe, Al Samandal, from performing a play entitled “The Worker’s Revolution” during a theater festival in Port Sudan.

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

FREEDOM OF PEACEFUL ASSEMBLY

Although the Interim National Constitution and law provide for freedom of peaceful assembly, the government severely restricted this right. The criminal code makes gatherings of more than five persons without a permit illegal. Organizers must notify the government 36 hours prior to assemblies and rallies.

On March 9, a Public Order Court convicted 12 youths of gross indecency, committing an indecent or immoral act, and alcohol and drug consumption. The individuals were arrested at Burri Beach in Khartoum and accused of belonging to a sunworshipping cult, after they had brought mattresses to sleep on the beach with the intention, reportedly, of waking early to watch the sunrise and then slaughter a sheep.

The government continued to deny permission to Islamic orders associated with opposition political parties, particularly the Ansar (Umma Party) and the Khatmiya (Democratic Unionist Party), to hold large gatherings in public spaces, but parties regularly held opposition rallies on private property. Government security agents occasionally attended opposition meetings, disrupted opposition rallies, or summoned participants to security headquarters for questioning after meetings. Opposition political parties claim they were almost never granted official permits to hold meetings, rallys, or peaceful demonstrations. Security forces used tear gas and other heavy-handed tactics against largely peaceful protests at universities or involving university students. NISS and police forces regularly arrested Darfuri students at various universities for publicly addressing civilians).

FREEDOM OF ASSOCIATION

The Interim National Constitution and law provide for freedom of association, but the government severely restricted this right. The law prohibits political parties linked to armed opposition groups. The government closed civil society organizations or refused to register them on several occasions.

Government and security forces continued arbitrarily to enforce legal provisionsthat strictly regulate an organization’s ability to receive foreign financing and register public activities. The government maintained its policy of “Sudanization” of international NGOs. Many organizations reported they faced administrative difficulties if they refused to have progovernment groups implement their programs at the state level.

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

The Interim National Constitution and law provide for freedom of movement, foreign travel, and emigration, but the government restricted these rights for foreigners, including humanitarian workers. After the lifting of certain foreign economic sanctions in October 2017, however, the government slightly eased restrictions for humanitarian workers.

The government impeded the work of UN agencies and delayed full approval of their activities throughout the country, particularly in the Two Areas; however, there were fewer such restrictions than in prior years. NGOs also alleged the government impeded humanitarian assistance in the Two Areas. The SPLM-N also restricted access for humanitarian assistance in the Two Areas due to concerns over security of commodities crossing from government-held areas into SPLM-N-controlled areas.

Abuse of Migrants, Refugees, and Stateless Persons: Asylum seekers and refugees were vulnerable to arbitrary arrest and harassment outside of camps because they did not possess identification cards while awaiting government determination of refugee or asylum status. According to authorities registration of refugees helped provide for their personal security.

There were some reported abuses, including of gender-based violence, in refugee camps. The government worked closely with the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) to provide greater protection to refugees.

Refugees often relied on human trafficking and smuggling networks to leave camps. Smugglers turned traffickers routinely abused refugees if ransoms were not paid.

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

In-country Movement: The government and rebels restricted the movement of citizens in conflict areas (see section 1.g.).

Internal movement was generally unhindered for citizens outside conflict areas. Foreigners needed travel permits for domestic travel outside Khartoum, which were bureaucratically difficult to obtain. Foreigners were required to register with the Ministry of Interior’s Alien Control Division within three days of arrival and were limited to a 15.5-mile radius from Khartoum. Once registered, foreigners were allowed to move beyond this radius, but travel outside of Khartoum State to conflict regions required official approval. Requirements for travel to tourist sites were loosened during the year.

Foreign Travel: The government requires citizens to obtain an exit visa to depart the country. Issuance was usually without complication, but the government continued to use the visa requirement to restrict some citizens’ travel, especially of persons it deemed a political or security interest. A number of opposition leaders were denied bording for flights out of the country, and in some cases their passports were confiscated.

Exile: The government observed the law prohibiting forced exile, but political opponents abroad risk arrest upon return. Some opposition leaders and NGO activists remained in self-imposed exile in northern Africa and Europe; other activists fled the country during the year. As of year’s end, several prominent opposition members had not returned to the country under the 2015 general amnesty for leaders and members of the armed movements taking part in the national dialogue; some expressed concern about their civic and political rights even with the amnesty.

In February National Umma Party chair Sadiq al-Mahdi began self-imposed exile in Cairo. In April authorities charged al-Mahdi with attempting to overthrow the government. On July 10, Egyptian Authorities refused Al-Mahdi entry to Egypt upon his return from a meeting of the Sudan Call opposition network in Paris. The refusal reportedly came after the Sudanese and Egyptian governments signed an agreement to ban opposition activities in each other’s countries and to collaborate on antiopposition efforts. Al-Mahdi then went to London and Jordan, but announced that he would return to the country in October.

INTERNALLY DISPLACED PERSONS (IDPS)

Large-scale displacement continued to be a severe problem in Darfur and the Two Areas. The year saw an increase in conflict-related displacement in Jebel Marra, due to fighting between the government and armed opposition forces.

According to the United Nations and partners, during the year at least 15,000 persons were newly displaced in Darfur and 5,000 in South Kordofan, a substantial increase from 2017’s estimated 10,000 newly displaced persons. The UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs reported the vast majority of the displacement during the year was triggered by intercommunal and other armed conflict. Many IDPs faced chronic food shortages and inadequate medical care. Significant numbers of farmers were prevented from planting their fields due to insecurity, leading to near-famine conditions in parts of South Kordofan. The government and the SPLM-N continued to deny access to humanitarian actors and UN agencies in areas controlled by the SPLM-N. Information about the number of displaced in these areas was difficult to verify. Armed groups estimated the areas contained 545,000 IDPs and severely affected persons during the year, while the government estimated the number as closer to 200,000. UN agencies could not provide estimates, citing lack of access. Children accounted for approximately 60 percent of persons displaced in camps.

Government restrictions, harassment, and the threat of expulsion resulted in continued interruption of gender-based violence programming. Reporting and outreach were limited (see section 5). Some UN agencies were able to work with the Darfur governor’s advisers on women and children to raise awareness of gender-based violence and response efforts.

There were numerous reports of abuse committed by government security forces, rebels, and armed groups against IDPs in Darfur, including rapes and beatings (see section 1.g.).

Outside IDP camps and towns, insecurity restricted freedom of movement; women and girls who left the towns and camps risked sexual violence. Insecurity within IDP camps also was a problem. The government provided little assistance or protection to IDPs in Darfur. Most IDP camps had no functioning police force. International observers noted criminal gangs aligned with rebel groups operated openly in several IDP camps.

As in previous years, the government did not establish formal IDP or refugee camps in Khartoum or the Two Areas.

PROTECTION OF REFUGEES

UNHCR reported more than 927,000 refugees and asylum seekers in the country. The government’s Commission for Refugees estimated the total refugee population could be as high as 1.3 million persons, because a large number of potential refugees and asylum seekers remained unregistered. UNHCR reported there were countless South Sudanese in the country who were unregistered and at risk of statelessness.

Approximately 4,200 refugees from Chad and 5,100 refugees from the Central African Republic lived in Darfur. New Eritrean refugees entering eastern Sudan often stayed in camps for two to three months before moving to Khartoum, other parts of the country, or on to Libya in an effort to reach Europe. In eastern Sudan, UNHCR estimated there were 131,000 refugees from Eritrea and Ethiopia. According to UNHCR an average of 500 to 1,000 new asylum seekers arrived each month in eastern Sudan, but over 70 percent migrated onward. The government has eased international humanitarian NGOs’ access to eastern Sudan, as it did throughout the country.

During the year UNHCR and the government amended the official South Sudanese refugee statistics to include South Sudanese living in Sudan before December 2013. UNHCR estimated that 768,819 South Sudanese refugees were in Sudan. The government claimed that there were between 2 and 3 million South Sudanese refugees in Sudan. Many South Sudanese refugees arrived in remote areas with minimal public infrastructure and where humanitarian organizations and resources were limited.

According to UNHCR, Khartoum hosted an estimated 285,000 South Sudanese refugees, including 47,000 refugees who lived in nine settlements known as “open areas” until August. A December 2017 joint government and UN assessment of the open areas indicated gaps in protection, livelihood, shelter, health, and education services.

Sudan’s and South Sudan’s “four freedoms” agreement provides their citizens reciprocal freedom of residence, movement, economic activity, and property ownership, but was not fully implemented. The government stated that, because South Sudanese are recognized as refugees (since 2016), their rights were governed by the Asylum Act, justifying a lack of implementation of the four freedoms. Implementation also varied by state in each country. For example, South Sudanese in East Darfur had more flexibility to move around (so long as they were far away from the nearest village) than did those in White Nile State. Recognition as refugees allowed South Sudanese to receive more services from UNHCR. At the state level, however, governments still referred to them as “brothers and sisters.”

Refoulement: The country is a signatory to the 1951 Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees and generally respected the principle of nonrefoulement with a few notable exceptions. With UNHCR’s assistance authorities were trained on referral procedures to prevent refoulement, including of refugees who previously registered in other countries. There were no reported cases of refoulement during the year; however, individuals who were deported as illegal migrants may have had legitimate claims to asylum and/or refugee status.

Access to Asylum: The law requires asylum applications to be nominally submitted within 30 days of arrival in the country. This time stipulation was not strictly enforced. The law also requires asylum seekers to register both as refugees with the Commission for Refugees and as foreigners with the Civil Registry (to obtain a “foreign” number).

The government granted asylum to many asylum seekers, particularly from Eritrea, Ethiopia, Somalia, and Syria; it sometimes considered individuals registered as asylum seekers or refugees in another country, mostly in Ethiopia, to be irregular movers or migrants. Government officials routinely took up to three months to approve individual refugee and asylum status, but they worked with UNHCR to implement quicker status determination procedures in eastern Sudan and Darfur to reduce the case backlog.

Since the beginning of the Syrian conflict in 2011, more than 12,500 Syrians have registered with UNHCR. Government sources, however, claimed that there were 106,000 Syrians in the country. The government waived regular entry visa requirements for Yemenis. As of September more than 3,200 Yemeni refugees had registered in the country.

Freedom of Movement: The country maintained a reservation on Article 26 of the UN Convention on Refugees of 1951 regarding refugees’ right to move freely and choose their place of residence within a country. The government’s encampment policy requires asylum seekers and refugees to stay in designated camps; however, 76 percent of South Sudanese refugees (the great majority of refugees in the country) lived with the local community in urban and rural areas. The government continued to push for the relocation of South Sudanese refugees living outside of Khartoum city to the While Nile state refugee camps. UNHCR notified the government that relocations must be voluntary and dignified. By year’s end the government had yet to relocate South Sudanese refugees to camps. The government allowed the establishment of two refugee camps in East Darfur and nine refugee camps in White Nile for South Sudanese refugees.

Refugees who left camps without permission and were intercepted by authorities faced administrative fines and return to the camp. Refugees and asylum seekers in urban areas, excluding Egyptians, Syrians, Yemenis, Iraqis, and Palestinians, were also subject to arrest. On average 150-200 refugees and asylum seekers were detained in Khartoum each month and assisted with legal aid by the joint UNHCR and Commission for Refugees legal team.

Employment: The government in principle allows refugees to work informally, but rarely granted work permits (even to refugees who obtained degrees in the country). A UNHCR agreement with the Commission for Refugees to issue more than 1,000 work permits to selected refugees for a livelihood graduation program implemented in Kassala and Gadaref was, due NISS suspension of the granting of permits, only 27 work permits were issued during the year, compared with 25 in 2016.

Some refugees in eastern states found informal work as agricultural workers or laborers in towns. Some women in camps reportedly resorted to illegal production of alcohol and were harassed or arrested by police. In urban centers the majority of refugees worked in the informal sector (for example, as tea sellers, house cleaners, and drivers), leaving them at heightened risk of arrest, exploitation, and abuse.

Temporary Protection: The government generally provided first asylum/temporary protection to individuals who might not qualify as refugees.

Suriname

Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:

The constitution provides for freedom of expression, including for the press. While there are no formal restrictions on the press, actions by government and nongovernment actors impeded the ability of the independent media to conduct their work.

Press and Media Freedom: Independent media were active and expressed a wide variety of views without formal restriction. Multiple media outlets published materials critical of the government. Ownership affiliations, either pro- or antigovernment, influenced the overall tone of reporting.

Agents of the government used state media, particularly the state-run radio station, as a tool to criticize and attack those with views opposing the government. In certain instances the attacks directly threatened democracy and rule of law.

Violence and Harassment: Journalists reported intimidation by government and nongovernment actors. To protect the identity of journalists, two of four leading daily newspapers intermittently printed only the initials of writers instead of their full names. Another newspaper printed articles without an author’s name.

Censorship or Content Restrictions: Media members reported continued self-censorship in response to alleged pressure from government officials or government-affiliated entities on journalists who published negative stories about the administration. Nonetheless, the press carried articles critical of the government on a daily basis. Additionally, many news outlets retained affiliations with particular political parties that could bias reporting.

The generally low wages for journalists made them vulnerable to bias and influence, which further jeopardized the credibility of reporting. Independent media faced competition for qualified journalists. The government’s media office, as well as the private sector, hired jounalists away from independent media outlets, offering them higher wages. This practice made it difficult for independent media to retain qualified staff and impeded their ability to report adequately on government activities.

In May the Suriname Association of Journalists expressed its concerns about the centralization of information by the government, which limited the press in its ability freely and independently to gather news. Following the introduction of the centralized system in 2017, government officials and entities avoided direct contact with the press.

Nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) reported the selective awarding of advertising by the government.

Libel/Slander Laws: The country’s criminal defamation laws carry harsh penalties, with prison terms between three months and seven years. The harshest penalty is for expressing public enmity, hatred, or contempt towards the government. There were no reports of cases involving defamation during the year.

INTERNET FREEDOM

There were no government restrictions on access to the internet, and the government asserted that it did not monitor private online communications without appropriate legal oversight. Nevertheless, journalists, members of the political opposition and their supporters, and other independent entities perceived government interference or oversight of email and social media accounts.

Internet access was common and widely available in the major cities but less common in remote areas, with limited bandwidth and often limited or no access to electricity. According to the International Telecommunication Union, 49 percent of citizens 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.

FREEDOM OF PEACEFUL ASSEMBLY

In contrast with 2017, there were no violations of the freedom to peaceful assembly during the year.

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

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

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

The government cooperated with the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) in providing protection and assistance to refugees and asylum seekers.

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 country relies on UNHCR to assign refugee or asylum seeker status. Once status is confirmed, refugees or asylum seekers obtain residency permits under the alien legislation law.

The Red Cross Suriname was the local point of contact for those filing for refugee status with UNHCR.

In March the Ministry of Justice and Police passed a resolution that sets forth procedures for the formal processing of aliens filing for protective or refugee status and formalizes cooperation with the Red Cross as the UNHCR representative.

STATELESS PERSONS

A 2014 amendment to the Citizenship and Residency Law grants citizenship through place of birth to a child who is born in the country to non-Surinamese parents, but it does not automatically confer citizenship of one of the parents. The amended law aims to eliminate the possibility of statelessness among children but does not apply retroactively, so a person born before September 2014 continues to be subject to the previous citizenship rules. Thus, children born before September 2014 in undocumented Brazilian-national mining communities or to foreign women in prostitution become eligible to apply for citizenship only at the age of 18.

While officially the government does not limit services such as education to stateless children, the bureaucratic requirements of registering children for these services proved obstacles to obtaining services.

Sweden

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.

Freedom of Expression: The law criminalizes expression considered to be hate speech and prohibits threats or statements of contempt for a group or member of a group based on race, color, national or ethnic origin, religious belief, or sexual orientation. Penalties for hate speech range from fines to a maximum of four years in prison. In addition the country’s courts have held that it is illegal to wear xenophobic symbols or racist paraphernalia or to display signs and banners with inflammatory symbols at rallies.

Press and Media Freedom: Independent media were active and expressed a wide variety of views without restriction. The law criminalizing hate speech applies as well to print and broadcast media, the publication of books, and online newspapers and journals.

Nongovernmental Impact: Journalists were subjected to harassment and intimidation. In August a member of the neo-Nazi Nordic Resistance Movement (NRM) was arrested and charged with planning to murder two journalists. In September the man was sentenced to two and one-half years in prison. Utgivarna, an industry group representing major Swedish publishers, reported a general increase in threats to Swedish journalists during 2017 by criminal gangs, ISIS fighters, right-wing extremists, and other groups.

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 data from the International Telecommunication Union, 96 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.

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 internally displaced persons, refugees, asylum seekers, stateless persons, and other persons of concern.

Abuse of Migrants, Refugees, and Stateless Persons: Police reported several fires involving housing facilities or planned housing facilities for asylum seekers by suspected arsonists.

A report published on September 12 by UN Women found that the benefits system does not cover survivors of violence against women who are not legally resident in the country, and most shelters are not allowed to house survivors from this group. Hospital emergency rooms may treat the survivors. Private shelters may also accept illegal migrants, but may incur legal liability for hiding and housing an illegal migrant.

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. Applicants may appeal unfavorable asylum decisions.

Asylum seekers who have been denied residence are not entitled to asylum housing or a daily allowance, though many municipalities continued to support rejected asylum seekers through the social welfare system at the local level. The Council of Europe’s human rights commissioner criticized the government over delays in the appointment of guardians for unaccompanied minor refugees and in processing of asylum applications from unaccompanied minors.

Safe Country of Origin/Transit: In accordance with EU regulations, the government denied asylum to persons who had previously registered in another EU member state or in countries with which Sweden maintained reciprocal return agreements.

Durable Solutions: The government assisted in the voluntary return of rejected asylum seekers to their homes and authorized financial support for their repatriation in the amount of 30,000 kronor ($3,450) per adult and 15,000 kronor ($1,700) per child, with a maximum of 75,000 kronor ($8,600) per family. The country also participated in the European Reintegration Network that offers support for reintegration for returning rejected asylum seekers.

Temporary Protection: The government also provided various forms of temporary protection to individuals who may not qualify as refugees. In 2017 it provided temporary protection to 1,091 persons.

STATELESS PERSONS

According to UNHCR there were 35,101 stateless persons in the country in December 2017. The large number of stateless persons was due to the influx of migrants and refugees and the birth of children to stateless parents who remained stateless until either one parent acquired citizenship or a special application for citizenship (available for stateless children under the age of five) was made. Most stateless persons came from the Middle East (Gaza and the West Bank, Lebanon, Syria, and Iraq) and Somalia.

Stateless persons who were granted permanent residence could obtain citizenship through the same naturalization process as other permanent residents. Gaining citizenship generally took four to eight years, depending on the individual’s grounds for residency, ability to establish identity, and lack of a criminal record.

Switzerland

Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:

The constitution provides for freedom of expression, including for the press, although the law restricts speech involving racial hatred and denial of crimes against humanity. The government generally respected these rights. An independent press, an effective judiciary, and a functioning democratic political system combined to promote freedom of expression, including for the press.

Freedom of Expression: The law prohibits hate speech, such as public incitement to racial hatred or discrimination, spreading racist ideology, and denying crimes against humanity, including via electronic means. It provides for punishment of violators by monetary fines and imprisonment of up to three years. There was one conviction under this law as of October.

Press and Media Freedom: Independent media were active and expressed a wide variety of views without restriction. The law’s restriction on hate speech and denial of crimes against humanity also applies to print, broadcast, and online newspapers/journals. According to federal law, it is a crime to publish information based on leaked “secret official discussions.”

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 Federal Statistical Office, 90 percent of the adult 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.

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

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

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

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

Abuse of Migrants, Refugees, and Stateless Persons: Authorities may detain asylum seekers who inhibit authorities’ processing of their asylum requests, subject to judicial review, for up to six months while adjudicating their applications. The government may detain rejected applicants for up to three months to assure they do not go into hiding prior to forced deportation, or up to 18 months if repatriation posed special obstacles. The government may detain minors between the ages of 15 and 18 for up to 12 months pending repatriation. Authorities generally instructed asylum seekers whose applications were denied to leave voluntarily but could forcibly repatriate those who refused.

Following media reports of asylum seekers younger than 15 being held in deportation prisons, authorities in the cantons of Zurich and Bern decided to stop incarcerating asylum seekers who are minors; the Federal Council announced in October that the State Secretariat for Migration (SEM) will instead task cantons with establishing alternative accommodation for asylum-seeking minors. Members of parliament alleged that the practice breached the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child. The Federal Council stated that the practice occurs very rarely.

In September the UN Committee against Torture called the SEM’s attempt to deport an asylum-seeking Eritrean torture victim back to Italy “inhumane” on the grounds that the man’s psychiatric condition required a re-examination. The SEM’s investigation into the case was pending as of November.

The SEM stated that many unaccompanied minors fled the country’s official reception centers after applying for asylum, and authorities were unable to verify their whereabouts. The NGO Terre des Hommes expressed concern over missing underage asylum seekers becoming victims of trafficking. Terre des Hommes further stated that some cantons did not consistently report disappearances of underage asylum seekers. According to data from the Federal Statistical Office, sexual violence in asylum housing was on the rise, with authorities recording 33 cases of sexual violence in 2017, including six cases of child sex abuse and eight rapes. NGO Terre des Femmes noted that asylum centers often restricted the private sphere and safety of female refugees, due to bedrooms and bathrooms not always being gender segregated. According to the NGO, perpetrators of sexual violence comprised asylum seekers, caregivers, and security personnel.

On July 12, the NCPT released its annual report on deportation flights. Between April 2017 and March, the country forcibly deported 317 persons, including 28 families and 28 children, to their countries of origin. The NCPT regarded the treatment of deportees as generally professional. The committee, however, criticized the deportation of seven-months’ pregnant women and the staggered repatriation of asylum-seeking families that led to the separation of family members during deportation. The committee continued to observe inconsistent deportation practices among the cantons.

NGOs working with refugees continued to complain that officials often effectively denied detained asylum seekers proper legal representation in deportation cases due to their financial inability to hire an attorney. Authorities provided free legal assistance only during the initial phase of the asylum application process and in cases of serious criminal offenses, deeming deportation of asylum seekers an administrative, rather than a judicial, process.

PROTECTION OF REFUGEES

Refoulement: While the government generally did not force asylum seekers to return to countries where their lives or freedom may be threatened, there were reportedly exceptions. In July the Federal Administrative Court ruled Eritrean asylum seekers may still be deported to their home country even if they faced military conscription upon their return. The court stated that while conditions during Eritrean national service are reportedly difficult, they are not so severe as to make deportation unlawful. The court further concluded that cases of abuse and sexual assault were not widespread enough to influence the assessment. The ruling followed previous criticism by the UN special rapporteur on the human rights of migrants over the Administrative Court’s February 2017 decision to no longer grant protection to Eritrean asylum seekers who illegally departed their 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. The government required asylum applicants to provide documentation verifying their identity within 48 hours of completing their applications; authorities, under the law, are to refuse to process applications of asylum seekers unable to provide a credible justification for their lack of acceptable documents or to show evidence of persecution.

Safe Country of Origin/Transit: The SEM relied on a list of “safe countries.” Asylum seekers who originated from or transited these countries generally were ineligible for asylum. The country is a signatory to the EU’s Dublin III Regulation.

Employment: The law prohibits asylum seekers from working during the first three months following their arrival in the country, and authorities can extend that prohibition for an additional three months if the SEM rejects the asylum application within the first three months. After three months asylum seekers may seek employment in industries with labor shortages, such as in the hospitality, construction, healthcare, or agricultural sectors.

Access to Basic Services: The cantons assumed the main responsibility for providing housing, general assistance, and care to asylum applicants during the processing phase. Shortages of appropriate housing for asylum seekers remained a problem. Asylum seekers have the right to basic medical care, and the children of asylum seekers are entitled to attend school until ninth grade (the last year for which school is mandatory).

A study published in August 2017 by Bern’s University of Applied Sciences reported shortages in asylum centers’ health-care services for pregnant women. According to the report, a lack of translation services prevented patients from receiving adequate psychological support, while access to female-specific contraception was limited due to the unsubsidized cost of the prescription.

To accommodate increasing numbers of asylum seekers, the SEM continued to house hundreds of asylum seekers in remote rural areas or in decommissioned military establishments–several of them underground–retrofitted to serve as short-term housing. In May 2017 the SEM commenced a pilot project to end the ban on mobile phones for asylum seekers and took additional steps to provide suitable care for minor asylum seekers in federal centers.

Durable Solutions: In 2016 the government announced it would accept an additional 2,000 Syrian refugees until 2019 as part of a UNHCR resettlement program. In 2015 the government agreed to accept 3,000 Syrian refugees between 2015 and 2018 under the UNHCR resettlement program. As of August, 2,231 of these had arrived in the country.

Temporary Protection: In 2017 the government granted temporary admission to 8,419 individuals, 966 of whom the government designated as refugees.

Syria

Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:

While the constitution provides for freedom of expression, including for the press, the government severely restricted this right, often terrorizing, abusing, or killing those who attempted to exercise this right.

Freedom of Expression: The law contains a number of speech offenses limiting the freedom of expression, including provisions criminalizing expression that, for example, “weakens the national sentiment” in times of war or defames the president, courts, military, or public authorities. The government routinely characterized expression as illegal, and individuals could not criticize the government publicly or privately without fear of reprisal. The government also stifled criticism by invoking provisions of law prohibiting acts or speech inciting sectarianism. It monitored political meetings and relied on informer networks.

Press and Media Freedom: Although the law provides for the “right to access information about public affairs,” and bans “the arrest, questioning, or searching of journalists,” press and media restrictions outweigh freedoms. The law contains many restrictions on freedom of expression for the press, including provisions criminalizing, for example, the dissemination of false or exaggerated news that “weakens the spirit of the Nation,” or the broadcasting abroad of false or exaggerated news that “tarnishes” the country’s reputation. The law bars publication of content that affects “national unity and national security,” harms state symbols, defames religions, or incites sectarian strife or “hate crimes.” The law further forbids publication of any information about the armed forces.

The government continued to exercise extensive control over local print and broadcast media, and the law imposes strict punishment for reporters who do not reveal their government sources in response to government requests. Freedom House reported that only a few dozen print publications remained in circulation, reduced from several hundred prior to the conflict. A number of quasi-independent periodicals, usually owned and produced by individuals with government connections, published during the year. Books critical of the government were illegal.

The government owned some radio stations and most local television companies, and the Ministry of Information closely monitored all radio and television news broadcasts and entertainment programs for adherence to government policies. Despite restrictions on ownership and use, citizens widely used satellite dishes, although the government jammed some Arab networks.

Violence and Harassment: Government forces reportedly detained, arrested, and harassed journalists and other writers for works deemed critical of the state. Harassment included intimidation, banning individuals from the country, dismissing journalists from their positions, and ignoring requests for continued accreditation. According to reliable NGO reports, the government routinely arrested journalists who were either associated with or writing in favor of the opposition and instigated attacks against foreign press outlets throughout the country. For example, in September the Committee to Project Journalists (CPJ) reported that on August 25, Syrian military intelligence forces stopped and arrested Kurdish broadcast journalist Omar Kalo at a checkpoint while he was traveling to renew his passport. The government reportedly interrogated Kalo and subsequently transferred him to the military intelligence prison in Aleppo. He was released in early October.

Reporters Without Borders (RSF) reported that 26 journalists, citizen journalists, and media assistants remained imprisoned by the government, and CPJ reported that at least five journalists remained missing or held hostage as of November. The reason for arrests was often unclear. RSF reported that at least 25 journalists, citizen journalists, and media assistants died in government detention between 2011 and October. For example, in July RSF and the CPJ reported that photojournalist Niraz Saeed was executed or died due to torture while in government custody at Sednaya Prison in 2016.

The government and ISIS routinely targeted and killed both local and foreign journalists, according to the COI, CPJ, and RSF. The CPJ estimated more than 120 journalists were killed between 2011 and October, while RSF estimated more than 240 journalists, citizen journalists, and media assistants were killed during the same period. The CPJ attributed more than half of journalist deaths since 2011 to government and progovernment forces.

During the year the CPJ and RSF documented the deaths of 14 journalists, citizen journalists, and media assistants: Abdul Rahman Ismael Yassin was killed by a government barrel bomb; Ahmed Azize and Bashar al-Attar were killed while aiding wounded civilians in separate Russian “double-tap” air strikes; Kamel abu al-Walid was killed by a landmine; Mustafa Salamah was killed by artillery fire; Obeida abu Omar was killed when a Russian air strike hit his home; Ibrahim al-Munjar was shot and killed by a motorcycle gunman after receiving death threats from ISIS; Ahmed Hamdan, Khaled Hamo, Moammar Bakkor, and Sohaib Aion were killed by government and Russian air strikes and bombings; and Raed Faris and Hamud Junaid were killed by unidentified gunmen (see section 1.a.).

Censorship or Content Restrictions: The government continued to control the dissemination of information strictly, including developments regarding fighting between the government and armed opposition, and prohibited most criticism of the government and discussion of sectarian problems, including religious and ethnic minority rights. The Ministries of Information and Culture censored domestic and foreign publications prior to circulation or importation, including through the General Corporation for the Distribution of Publications, and prevented circulation of content determined critical or sensitive. According to Freedom House, the National Media Council lacked independence, regularly criticized media overage that was displeasing to the regime, and intimidated media outlets into taking a progovernment editorial line. The government prohibited publication or distribution of any material security officials deemed threatening or embarrassing to the government. Censorship was usually greater for materials in Arabic.

Local journalists reported they engaged in extensive self-censorship on subjects such as criticism of the president and his family, the security services, or Alawite religious groups.

In July 11 letters, RSF asked UN secretary-general Gutierrez, UN special envoy for Syria Staffan de Mistura, Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu, and Jordanian prime minister Omar Razzaz to take all necessary measures to evacuate and provide for the safety and protection of 69 journalists who reportedly self-identified as being exposed to extremely grave danger by the advance of government forces on Daraa and the demilitarized Quneitra region on the Syria-Israel border. The International Press Institute sent a similar letter to Prime Minister Razzaz the same day, and the CPJ sent a similar letter to High Representative of the European Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy Frederica Mogherini on July 25. Some journalists reportedly told RSF they feared being executed or imprisoned as soon as the government controlled the entire province. RSF assessed that the regime’s persecution of journalists for more than seven years justified their fears, especially as many of them covered the uprising since the outset, helped to document the government’s human rights violations, and risked severe reprisals if identified with the opposition.

Libel/Slander Laws: The law criminalizes libel, slander, insult, defamation, and blasphemy, and the government continued to use such provisions to restrict public discussion and detain, arrest, and imprison journalists perceived to have opposed the government.

National Security: The government regularly cited laws protecting national security to restrict media criticism of government policies or public officials.

Nongovernmental Impact: The CPJ and RSF reported that armed opposition groups, HTS, and ISIS targeted journalists. Extremist organizations such as the HTS and ISIS posed a serious threat to press and media freedoms. International NGOs reported the SDF also periodically detained journalists.

For example, the CPJ reported that, on June 22, the FSA detained three cameramen–Kaniwar Khalef, Essam al-Abbas, and Hassan Khalef–near the village of Chath in northeastern Syria after the journalists stopped to ask directions. The FSA reportedly shot at the group’s reporter, Heybar Othman, as he ran and, subsequently, transferred the three cameramen to a prison in Azaz. Their fate was unknown as of October.

According to Freedom House, the PYD appeared to exercise partisan influence over media regulation in Kurdish-held territories. In February the COI reported that SDF members intimidated and arrested journalists and activists for reporting on alleged violations by the SDF in Raqqa and elsewhere in the country. The CPJ reported that on September 30, the Sutoro police, an ethnically Assyrian force affiliated with the PYD in the northeast, arrested Souleman Yousph, who is ethnically Assyrian, seized his electronics, and held him for five days. Yousph had published pieces criticizing the PYD and its ally, the Syriac Union Party, for allegedly closing private Assyrian schools and trying to impose a Kurdish nationalist curriculum in public schools.

HTS reportedly detained and tortured journalists. RSF reported that HTS freed journalist Hossam Mahmoud on June 6 after holding him for six months but continued to hold Amjad al Maleh, whom HTS captured with Mahmoud in December 2017. RSF further reported that HTS detained two other journalists earlier in the year, and captors commonly attempted to coerce detainees to give up journalism. RSF assessed that HTS wanted to control media reporting.

The severe restrictions imposed by ISIS on fundamental freedoms such as the freedom of expression, including for the press, were well documented. The CPJ reported that a motorcycle gunman shot and killed journalist Ibrahim al Munjar in Saida, Daraa on the morning of May 17. Al Munjar reportedly had received death threats from ISIS following his reporting on clashes between the FSA and ISIS in Daraa.

INTERNET FREEDOM

The government controlled and restricted access to the internet and monitored email and social media accounts. This year’s Freedom on the Net Report, the country remained a dangerous and repressive environment for internet users. The report noted a slight improvement in internet access in areas liberated from ISIS. Individuals and groups could not express views via the internet, including by email, without prospect of reprisal. The government applied the law to regulate internet use and prosecute users. On 25 March, the government approved by presidential decree the anticybercrime law (also referred to Law No. 9), which increases penalties for cybercrimes, including those affecting the freedom of expression. It also mandates the creation of specialized courts and delegates specialized jurists for the prosecution of cybercrimes in every governorate. NGOs such as the Gulf Center for Human Rights asserted the new law threatens online freedom. As of late 2017, at least 15 citizen journalists remained imprisoned by the government on charges related to digital activism. Hackers linked to Iran continued cyberattacks against Syrian opposition groups in an effort to disrupt reporting on human rights violations.

In a positive, but limited development, authorities unblocked a number of media websites by the end of 2017, including Al JazeeraAl ArabiyaAsharq al-Awsat, the Qatari Al-Arab newspaper, and Al-Hayat, in addition to the Syrian websites The New SyrianEnab Baladi, and Souriali Radio, according to this year’s Freedom on the Net report. The report also noted that many nonpolitical websites were also unblocked, such as Wikipedia and the WordPress blogosphere. The block on the Israeli domain (.il) was also lifted.

The government often monitored internet communications, including email; it interfered with and blocked internet service, SMS messages, and two-step verification messages for password recovery or account activation. The government employed sophisticated technologies and hundreds of computer specialists for filtering and surveillance purposes such as monitoring email and social media accounts of detainees, activists, and others. The government did not attempt to restrict the security branches’ monitoring and censoring of the internet. The security branches were largely responsible for restricting internet freedom and access; internet blackouts often coincided with security force attacks. The government censored websites related to the opposition, including the websites for local coordination committees as well as media outlets.

The government also restricted or prohibited internet access in areas under siege. It obstructed connectivity through its control of key infrastructure, at times shutting the internet and mobile telephone networks entirely or at particular sites of unrest. There was generally little access to state-run internet service in besieged areas unless users could capture signals clandestinely from rooftops near government-controlled areas. Some towns in opposition-held areas had limited internet access via satellite connections. Some activists reportedly gained access independently to satellite internet or through second- and third-generation (2G and 3G) cell phone network coverage.

The government meanwhile expanded its efforts to use social media, such as Instagram, Twitter, and Facebook, to spread progovernment propaganda and manipulate online content. Government authorities routinely tortured and beat journalists to extract passwords for social media sites, and the Syrian Electronic Army (SEA), a group of progovernment computer hackers, frequently launched cyberattacks on websites to disable them and post progovernment material. In addition to promoting hacking and conducting surveillance, the government and groups that it supported, such as the SEA, reportedly planted malware to target human rights activists, opposition members, and journalists. Local human rights groups blamed government personnel for instances in which malware infected activists’ computers. Arbitrary arrests raised fears that authorities could arrest internet users at any time for online activities perceived to threaten the government’s control, such as posting on a blog, tweeting, commenting on Facebook, sharing a photograph, or uploading a video.

Observers also accused the SEA of slowing internet access to force self-censorship on government critics and diverting email traffic to government servers for surveillance.

According to the International Telecommunication Union, 34 percent of individuals used the internet and 45 percent of households had internet access at home in 2017.

ACADEMIC FREEDOM AND CULTURAL EVENTS

The government restricted academic freedom and cultural events. Authorities generally did not permit academic personnel to express ideas contrary to government policy. Authorities reportedly dismissed or imprisoned university professors in government-held areas for expressing dissent and killed some for supporting regime opponents. Combatants on all sides of the war attacked or commandeered schools. The Ministry of Culture restricted and banned the screening of certain films.

During the conflict students, particularly those residing in opposition-held areas, continued to face challenges in taking nationwide exams. For example, school districts in besieged areas of eastern Ghouta suspended activities intermittently through April due to government assaults. Areas liberated by the SDF from ISIS reopened local schools. For example, thousands of children in Raqqa city returned to school in August and September in refurbished buildings previously used or destroyed by ISIS. Many school buildings required extensive repairs, sometimes including clearance of explosive remnants of the war, and administrators required assistance to obtain basic supplies for learning.

In September the government barred actor Samer Ismail from leaving the country to attend the Venice Film Festival in Italy, where his film The Day I Lost My Shadow was due to be shown. Local media reported that every man between the ages of 17 and 42 must obtain approval from the conscription office before leaving the country, which Ismail reportedly had not done.

In September multiple news outlets reported that the SDF, PYD, and its ally, the Syriac Union Party, temporarily closed 14 private Assyrian and Chaldean Catholic schools in the cities of Qamishli, Hasakeh, and Al-Malikiyeh for their refusal to cease teaching the Syrian regime’s curriculum and implement new school curriculum. The schools, administered by the Syriac Orthodox Church Diocese, had been in operation since 1935, serving Assyrian, Armenian, Arab, and Kurdish communities in the area. The Kurdish authorities and the local Syriac Orthodox Archbishopric eventually reached an agreement that allowed the schools to reopen. Samira Haj Ali, head of the Kurdish authority’s education authority, said the agreement ensured students in the first two grades followed a Syriac version of the Syrian Interim Government’s curriculum, a slight variation of the regime curriculum excluding Ba’athist ideological components. In exchange, the agreement allowed students in grades three to six to follow the Damascus education curriculum with extra Syriac language classes available.

ISIS and the HTS sought to restrict academic freedom severely and to curtail cultural events they considered un-Islamic. Schools in ISIS-controlled territories banned several academic subjects, including chemistry and philosophy, but ISIS territories diminished significantly during the year.

The government limited freedoms of peaceful assembly and association.

FREEDOM OF PEACEFUL ASSEMBLY

The constitution provides for the freedom of peaceful assembly, but the law grants the government broad powers to restrict this freedom.

The Ministry of Interior requires permission for demonstrations or any public gathering of more than three persons. As a rule, the ministry authorized only demonstrations by the government, affiliated groups, or the Baath Party, orchestrating them on numerous occasions.

According to allegations by Kurdish activists and press reporting, the PYD and the YPG sometimes suppressed freedom of assembly in areas under their control. During the year, however, hundreds of Christians and Assyrians peacefully protested against PYD policy to close private religious schools that teach the Syrian regime’s curriculum. Kurdish security forces fired weapons into the air but reportedly did not otherwise engage the protesters. Similar protests in Hasaka against forcible recruitment also appear to have occurred without serious incident.

During the year multiple media outlets reported that HTS loosened restrictions on civil society activity, including protests, due to popular pressure for engagement to oppose an expected assault by government and progovernment forces on the Idlib Governorate. This approach was manifested in September, when substantial numbers protested against President Assad and the government in opposition- and HTS-held areas of Idlib and Hama.

The COI reported that residents who previously resided in ISIS-controlled Raqqa noted severe restrictions on assembly while under ISIS rule, but ISIS territories contracted considerably during the year.

FREEDOM OF ASSOCIATION

The constitution provides for the freedom of association, but the law grants the government latitude to restrict this freedom. The government required prior registration and approval for private associations and restricted the activities of associations and their members. The executive boards of professional associations were not independent of the government.

The government often denied requests for registration or failed to act on them, reportedly on political grounds. None of the local human rights organizations operated with a license but many functioned under organizations that had requisite government registration. The government continued to block the multiyear effort by journalists to register a countrywide media association. Despite government efforts, journalists in exile founded the Syrian Journalist Association as an independent democratic professional association in 2012 to empower the role of freedom of the press and expression in Syria.

The government selectively enforced the 2011 decree allowing the establishment of independent political parties, permitting only progovernment groups to form official parties (see section 3). According to local human rights groups, opposition activists declined to organize parties, fearing the government would use party lists to target opposition members.

Under laws that criminalize membership and activity in illegal organizations as determined by the government, security forces detained hundreds of persons linked to local human rights groups and prodemocracy student groups. The thousands of death notices released by the government during the year shed light on this practice. For example, the Atlantic described the fates of many of the young protest organizers, civil society leaders, and local coordination committee members forcibly disappeared by the government in 2011. These included Yahya and Ma’an Shurbaji; both had been missing since 2011 and were now listed as having died in government detention in 2013. The government also searched these individuals’ personal and social media contacts for further potential targets.

HTS restricted the activities of organizations it deemed incompatible with its interpretation of Islam. For example, in its March report, the COI describes how in 2015 the HTS predecessor Jabhat al-Nusra group burned a women’s organization in Idlib, stole the organizer’s car, and detained the organizer for a short period. In 2017 the March COI report noted that HTS prevented NGOs in Idlib from conducting meetings with mixed participants so a number of NGOs began holding meetings via remote presence.

According to previous media reports and reports from former residents of ISIS-controlled areas, ISIS did not permit the existence of associations that opposed the structures or policies of the “caliphate.”

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

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

The constitution provides for freedom of movement “within the territories of the state unless restricted by a judicial decision or by the implementation of laws,” but the government, ISIS, and other armed groups restricted internal movement and travel and instituted security checkpoints to monitor such travel throughout the regions under their respective control. Government sieges in Homs, Damascus, rural Damascus, Deir al-Zour, and Idlib Governorates restricted the freedom of movement and resulted in documented cases of death, starvation, and severe malnutrition, while forced evacuations following sieges resulted in mass displacement and additional breakdowns in service provision and humanitarian assistance (see section 1.g.).

The government inconsistently cooperated with UNHCR and other humanitarian organizations in providing protection and assistance to IDPs, refugees, asylum seekers, stateless persons, and other persons of concern. The government provided some cooperation to the UN Relief and Works Agency for Palestinian Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA).

Abuse of Migrants, Refugees, and Stateless Persons: Both government and opposition forces reportedly besieged, shelled, and otherwise made inaccessible some Palestinian refugee camps, neighborhoods, and sites, which resulted in severe malnutrition, lack of access to medical care and humanitarian assistance, and civilian deaths.

In-country Movement: In government-besieged cities throughout the country, government forces blocked humanitarian access, leading to severe malnutrition, lack of access to medical care, and death. The violence, coupled with significant cultural pressure, severely restricted the movement of women in many areas. Additionally, the law allows certain male relatives to place travel bans on women.

The government expanded security checkpoints into civilian areas to monitor and limit movement. Government forces reportedly used snipers to prevent protests, enforce curfews, target opposition forces, and, in some cases, prevent civilians from fleeing besieged towns. The government also barred foreign diplomats from visiting most parts of the country and rarely granted them permission to travel outside Damascus. The consistently high level and unpredictability of violence severely restricted movement throughout the country.

In areas they still controlled, armed opposition groups and terrorist groups such as HTS and ISIS also restricted movement, including with checkpoints (see section 1.g.). According to the COI, long desert detour routes exposed drivers and passengers to arbitrary arrest, unlawful search and seizure of property, demands for bribes, and detention and execution at checkpoints administered by ISIS, the government, and other armed actors.

While the SDC and SDF generally supported IDP communities in northeast Syria, in July HRW claimed that the SDC and members of the Kurdish Autonomous Administration operating in Deir al-Zour and Raqqa confiscated the identification cards of IDPs in camps and prevented their freedom of movement. According to UN and HRW allegations, the SDF in some instances required IDPs to obtain “sponsorship” to move to traditionally Kurdish areas controlled by the Kurdish Autonomous Administration in Qamishli, Hasakeh, and Kobani.

In the remaining areas under its control, ISIS restricted the movement of government supporters or assumed supporters, especially the Alawite and Shia populations, as well as Yezidi, Christian, and other captives. ISIS reportedly did not permit female passengers to traverse territory it controlled unless accompanied by a close male relative.

Foreign Travel: While citizens have the right to travel internationally, the government denied passports and other vital documents based on the applicant’s political views, association with opposition groups, or ties to geographic areas where the opposition dominated. The government also imposed exit visa requirements and routinely closed the Damascus airport and border crossings, claiming the closures were due to violence or threats of violence. For example, local media reported that every man between the ages of 17 and 42 must obtain approval from the conscription office before leaving the country. Additionally, the government often banned travel by human rights or civil society activists, their families, and affiliates. Many citizens reportedly learned of the ban against their travel only when authorities prevented them from departing the country. The government reportedly applied travel bans without explanation or explicit duration, including in cases when individuals sought to travel for health reasons. The government comprehensively banned international travel of opposition members, often targeting any such individual who attempted to travel. Local media and human rights groups repeatedly stated that opposition activists and their families hesitated to leave the country, fearing attacks at airports and border crossings.

The government also often refused to allow citizens to return. According to numerous media outlets, Major General Abbas Ibrahim, head of Lebanon’s General Security directorate, stated that in coordinating the return of Syrian refugees from Lebanon, the Syrian government reviews a list of names and “on average” rejects 10 percent of them.

Syrians born abroad to parents who fled the conflict and remained in refugee camps generally did not have access to Syrian citizenship documents. The government allowed Syrians living outside of the country, whose passports expired, to renew their passports at consulates. Many who fled as refugees, however, feared reporting to the government against which they may have protested or feared the government could direct reprisals against family members still in the country.

Women older than age 18 have the legal right to travel without the permission of male relatives, but a husband may file a request with the Interior Ministry to prohibit his wife from departing the country.

There were reports ISIS destroyed Syrian passports and legal records and produced its own passports, not recognized by any country or entity. These policies disproportionately affected children, because many left the country before obtaining a passport or identification card. ISIS explicitly prohibited women from foreign travel.

INTERNALLY DISPLACED PERSONS (IDPS)

During the year violence continued to be the primary reason for displacement, much of it attributed to government and Russian aerial attacks. Government and progovernment evacuations of besieged areas, often overseen by Russian forces, forcibly displaced hundreds of thousands of persons. Years of conflict and evacuations repeatedly displaced persons, and each displacement depleted family assets. In September the United Nations estimated there were more than 6.2 million IDPs in the country, including 1.5 million new IDPs since the start of the year. The United Nations estimated that 750,000 IDPs returned to their places of origin during the first half of the year. Up to 1.2 million persons lived in UN-designated hard-to-reach areas. UN humanitarian officials reported that most IDPs sought shelter with host communities or in collective centers, abandoned buildings, or informal camps. The humanitarian response to the country was coordinated through a complex bureaucratic structure. The crisis inside the country continued to meet the UN criteria for a level 3 response–the global humanitarian system’s classification for response to the most severe, large-scale humanitarian crises.

The government generally did not provide sustainable access to services for IDPs, did not offer IDPs assistance or protection, did not facilitate humanitarian assistance for IDPs, and provided inconsistent protection. The government forcibly displaced populations from besieged areas and restricted movement of IDPs. The government did not promote the safe, voluntary, and dignified return, resettlement, or local integration of IDPs and, in many cases, refused to allow IDPs to return home. Seven Syrians who had attempted to return to their homes in Darayya and Qaboun, or whose immediate relatives attempted to return in May and July, told HRW that they or their relatives were unable to access their residential or commercial properties. According to HRW, the government was imposing town-wide restrictions on access to Darayya and in Qaboun the government either had restricted access to their neighborhoods or had demolished the property of the Syrians attempting to return. The government routinely disrupted the supply of humanitarian aid, including medical assistance, to areas under siege as well as to newly recaptured areas (see section 1.g.).

The SARC functioned as the main partner for international humanitarian organizations working inside the country to provide humanitarian assistance in government and some opposition-controlled areas. NGOs operating from Damascus faced government bureaucratic obstruction in attempting to provide humanitarian assistance. UN agencies and NGOs sought to increase the flow of assistance to opposition-held areas subject to government offensives to meet growing humanitarian needs, but the government increasingly restricted cross-line operations originating from Damascus. Cross-border operations from Turkey, Jordan, and Iraq, provided humanitarian assistance, but these halted from Jordan in June when the government retook territory in the southwest up to the Syria-Jordan border. While humanitarian aid was provided cross-border from Turkey to northwest Syria (Idlib and Aleppo) via two border crossings, Turkey prohibited the provision of humanitarian and stabilization aid to areas of northeast Syria from Turkey.

Assistance reached some hard-to-reach locations, but the government continued to hinder UN and NGO access, and the government secured control over many of these areas during the year. For example, humanitarian organizations reported throughout the summer that the government did not permit UN agencies the sustained access required to conduct detailed needs assessments for vulnerable populations in Quneitra. The United Nations reported that as of November only seven humanitarian assistance convoys had accessed hard-to-reach areas during the year, providing assistance to approximately 220,000 persons.

In early November the United Nations and SARC delivered humanitarian assistance to approximately 50,000 persons in need at Rukban camp in southeast Syria near the Jordanian border. Additionally, the convoy provided an emergency vaccination campaign to protect some 5,000 children against measles, polio, and other diseases. The overall humanitarian situation in Rukban camp had reached a dire state, with reported shortages of basic commodities, protection concerns, increasing violence, and the death of several children who reportedly were unable to obtain the further medical treatment they needed, according to the United Nations. Prior to the delivery of humanitarian goods, the last UN delivery of assistance to Rukban was in January, delivered through Jordan. Prior to the November delivery, the government refused to authorize a convoy to travel from Damascus to Rukban.

Armed opposition groups, and terrorist groups such as HTS and ISIS, also impeded humanitarian assistance to IDPs. For example, in March the United Nations criticized the Turkish-backed armed opposition groups, including the FSA, for providing inconsistent, restricted access to IDPs in Afrin. In October the United Kingdom temporarily suspended the delivery of aid to Syria’s northwestern Idlib Province due to HTS taxes on aid trucks. The United Kingdom subsequently resumed aid delivery and, as of November, was still delivering aid to Idlib Province. The SDF and SDC generally facilitated the safe and voluntary return of IDPs during the year, particularly to Raqqa.

PROTECTION OF REFUGEES

Refoulement: UNHCR maintained that conditions for refugee return to Syria in safety and dignity were not yet in place and did not promote, nor facilitate, the return of refugees to Syria during the year. In July, however, the government and Russia began a diplomatic campaign to encourage the return of refugees to Syria. While Russia reportedly was eager to use the return of Syrian refugees as a means to secure international donations for Syria reconstruction efforts, the Syrian government adopted a more cautious approach on promoting the return of refugees, reportedly due to the government’s suspicion that many Syrian refugees supported the opposition.

Access to Asylum: The law provides for the granting of asylum or refugee status, and the government has established a system for providing protection to refugees. UNHCR and UNRWA were able to maintain limited protection areas for refugees and asylum seekers, although violence hampered access to vulnerable populations. In coordination with both local and international NGOs, the United Nations continued to provide such individuals essential services and assistance.

Employment: The law does not explicitly grant refugees, except for Palestinians, the right to work. While the government rarely granted non-Palestinian refugees a work permit, many refugees found work in the informal sector as guards, construction workers, street vendors, and in other manual jobs.

Access to Basic Services: The law allows for the issuance of identity cards to Palestinian refugees and the same access to basic services provided to citizens. The government also allowed Iraqi refugees access to publicly available services, such as health care and education, but residency permits were available only to those refugees who entered the country legally and possessed a valid passport, which did not include all refugees. The lack of access to residency permits issued by authorities exposed refugees to risks of harassment and exploitation, and severely affected their access to public services. The approximately 48,000 non-Palestinian refugees and asylum seekers in the country faced growing protection risks, multiple displacements, tightened security procedures at checkpoints, and difficulty obtaining required residency permits, all of which resulted in restrictions on their freedom of movement. UNHCR reported a rise in sexual- and gender-based violence and child-protection concerns among refugees, including child labor, school dropouts, and early marriages.

STATELESS PERSONS

Following the 1962 census, approximately 150,000 Kurds lost their citizenship. A legislative decree had ordained the single-day census in 1962, and the government executed it unannounced with regard to the inhabitants of al-Hasakah Governorate. Anyone not registered for any reason or without all required paperwork became “foreign” from that day onward. The government at the time argued it based its decision on a 1945 wave of alleged illegal immigration of Kurds from neighboring states, including Turkey, to Hasakah, where they allegedly “fraudulently” registered as Syrian citizens. In a similar fashion, authorities recorded anyone who refused to participate as “undocumented.” Because of this loss of citizenship, these Kurds and their descendants lacked identity cards and could not access government services, including health care and education. They also faced social and economic discrimination. Stateless Kurds do not have the right to inherit or bequeath assets, and their lack of citizenship or identity documents restricted their travel to and from the country.

In 2011 President Assad decreed that stateless Kurds in al-Hasakah Governorate who were registered as “foreigners” could apply for citizenship. It was unclear how many Kurds benefited from the decree. UNHCR reported that approximately 40,000 of these Kurds remained unable to obtain citizenship. Likewise, the decree did not extend to the approximately 160,000 “unregistered” stateless Kurds. The change from 150,000 to 160,000 reflected an approximate increase in population since the 1962 census.

Children derive citizenship solely from their father. Because women cannot confer nationality on their children, an unknown number of children whose fathers were missing or deceased due to the continuing conflict were at risk of statelessness. Mothers could not pass citizenship to children born outside the country, including in neighboring countries operating refugee camps. Children who left the country during the conflict also experienced difficulties obtaining identification necessary to prove citizenship and obtain services.

Taiwan

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.

Press and Media Freedom: The independent media were active and expressed a wide variety of views without restriction. There was, however, concern about the impact of the concentration of media ownership on freedom of the press, particularly among companies with People’s Republic of China (PRC) investment.

There were no reports that central authorities restricted media freedom, but three journalists from different media outlets accused Taipei City of obstructing their work or penalizing them for performing their professional duties. In January a journalist accused the Taipei City government of refusing his requests for information in retaliation for a story regarding the city’s dispute with a contractor. In June a CTi News reporter claimed that a draft speech Taipei Mayor Ko Wen-je submitted to the National Security Council before delivery in China in July 2017 did not contain controversial phrases Ko later uttered in China. The reporter accused Ko of suppressing a segment on this story due to air on June 1. She subsequently left CTi News, and a Taipei City councilor said her departure was due to pressure from the city. Also in June, Taipei officials pressured a magazine reporter to drop an investigative report about the city’s breach of personal information for more than 3,000 AIDS patients. In August the International Federation of Journalists and its Taiwan affiliate condemned what they assessed to be a pattern of media interference under Mayor Ko.

Censorship or Content Restrictions: Local academics, reporters, and media activists alleged that self-censorship continued since some media presented news stories slanted in favor of the PRC due to political considerations and the influence of local businesses with close ties to the PRC. PRC authorities reinforced such pressure by using access denial to punish Taiwan media outlets whose coverage they deemed to be insufficiently consistent with PRC policies. Retaliatory tactics included denial of entry to China, heightened questioning and scrutiny during transits of Hong Kong, and targeted cyberattacks against the journalists’ mobile phones and computers. Journalists also reported difficulty publishing content that PRC authorities find politically objectionable because those authorities pressured Taiwan businesses with operations in China to cancel advertisements in Taiwan publications that feature such content.

Journalists said they faced pressure from management to submit news stories to complement or support the content of paid advertisements. Critics said product placement under the guise of news reporting undercut objective journalism, restricted journalists’ freedom, and undermined public trust in the media.

INTERNET FREEDOM

Authorities did not restrict or disrupt access to the internet or censor online content, and there were no credible reports they monitored private online communications without appropriate legal authority. The internet was widely available and used extensively.

ACADEMIC FREEDOM AND CULTURAL EVENTS

There were no restrictions on academic freedom or cultural events.

Some critics accused the Ministry of Education of failing to respect academic independence by politicizing the selection process of the president of National Taiwan University (NTU). The ministry, however, insisted it acted within the scope of its legal authority.

In January an NTU selection committee chose Kuan Chung-ming, a former minister of the National Development Council under the Kuomintang (nationalist) administration, to head the public university. Afterwards, sources revealed that Kuan failed to disclose his position as an independent board member at Taiwan Mobile, an affiliate of the Fubon Financial Group, one of whose owners, Richard Tsai, sat on the NTU selection committee. In August the Judicial Yuan concluded that Kuan and Tsai had contravened the Act Governing the Appointment of Educators by failing to disclose the conflict of interest before the election. Accusations also arose against Kuan of plagiarism and of violating the law requiring former officials who handled classified information to seek permission to leave Taiwan for three years after the end of their tenure in office. In September the Ministry of Education instructed NTU to hold another vote among the five finalists of the previous election, including Kuan, but to exclude Richard Tsai from the new vote.

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

In March the High Court upheld the 2017 dismissal of charges against 22 protesters who led the occupation of the Legislative Yuan during the 2014 Sunflower Student Movement. The lower court judge said the protesters’ actions met the criteria for civil disobedience.

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

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

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

PROTECTION OF REFUGEES

Access to Asylum: The law does not provide for granting asylum or refugee status, and authorities have not established a system for providing protection to refugees. All PRC citizens unlawfully present are required by law to be returned to the PRC, although in the past there were cases of granting permanent resident status to PRC asylum seekers who resided in Taiwan for an extended period.

In May, Taiwan allowed PRC asylum seeker Huang Yan to enter Taiwan for three months and subsequently extended her stay in late August for an additional three months. Huang is a human rights activist who received refugee status from the office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees in Thailand. Despite the lack of a refugee law or procedure, authorities decided to approve Huang’s stay in consideration of the high likelihood she would face persecution if returned to the PRC. Huang was seeking permanent resettlement in another country.

The government provided medical treatment and humanitarian assistance to refugees and asylum seekers held in third countries. In June the Ministry of Foreign Affairs acknowledged that Taiwan and Australia signed a memorandum of understanding in September 2017 allowing Australia to transfer refugees and asylum seekers in Nauru to Taiwan for urgent medical treatment. The ministry said the emergency treatments began in January, and as of June, Taiwan hospitals had treated 10 refugees from Nauru.

Tajikistan

Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:

The law provides for freedom of speech, including for the press, but the government restricted these rights.

Freedom of Expression: The authorities continued to curb freedom of speech through detentions, prosecutions, the threat of heavy fines, the passage of strict and overreaching slander legislation, and the forced closure of media outlets. By law a person may be imprisoned for as long as five years for insulting the president.

In 2016 the Parliament amended Article 137 of the Criminal Code providing for criminal responsibility for public insult or slander against the leader of the nation, including on the internet, for which an individual can go to jail for up to five years. In August the Khatlon Region court sentenced labor migrant Umar Murodov from Muminobod to five and a half years of imprisonment for “insulting and humiliating the president.” According to court documents, Murodov “liked” videos critical of the president on the Russian-language social media site Odnoklasniki, widely used among Tajik labor migrants in Russia. Law enforcement officers arrested Murodov on June 12 when he returned to the country from Moscow. On July 18, law enforcement officials told the media that while in Moscow, Murodov “liked” videos with calls for the violent overthrow of the government and insulted the head of state in the comments section of his Odnoklasniki page. In a conversation with Radio Ozodi in May, Murodov claimed that Muminobod authorities promised they would not arrest him should he return voluntarily.

Press and Media Freedom: Independent media faced significant and repeated government threats on media outlets. Although some print media published political commentary and investigatory material critical of the government, journalists observed that authorities considered certain topics off limits, including, among other matters, questions regarding financial improprieties of those close to the president, or content regarding the banned IRPT.

Several independent television and radio stations were available in a small portion of the country, but the government controlled most broadcasting transmission facilities. A decree issued by the government, “Guidelines for the Preparation of Television and Radio Programs,” stipulates that the government through a state broadcast committee has the right to “regulate and control the content of all television and radio networks regardless of their type of ownership.”

The government allowed some international media to operate and permitted rebroadcasts of Russian television and radio programs.

Violence and Harassment: Journalists continued to face harassment and intimidation by government officials. Although the government decriminalized libel in 2012, state officials regularly filed defamation complaints against news outlets in retaliation for publishing stories critical of the government.

After eight months in detention, the government on August 22 released and reduced the charges against independent journalist Khairullo Mirsaidov. Mirsaidov was sentenced on June 11 to 12 years in a high-security penal colony, after the Khujand city court found him guilty of “embezzlement of public funds,” “forgery of documents,” and “dissemination of false information.” Criminal charges were filed against Mirsaidov in December 2017, soon after he publicly accused government officials from the local Department of Youth and Sports of soliciting a bribe. The original charges included “inciting ethnic and religious hatred,” a charge that was later dropped. The severe nature of the charges and their timing created concern that authorities were punishing Mirsaidov for his whistleblower activities.

Censorship or Content Restrictions: Journalists regularly practiced self-censorship to avoid retribution from officials. Opposition politicians had limited or no access to state-run television. The government gave opposition parties minimal broadcast time to express their political views, while the president’s party had numerous opportunities to broadcast its messages.

Newspaper publishers reported the government exercised restrictions on the distribution of materials, requiring all newspapers and magazines with circulations exceeding 99 recipients to register with the Ministry of Culture. The government continued to control all major printing presses and the supply of newsprint. Independent community radio stations continued to experience registration and licensing delays that prevented them from broadcasting. The government restricted issuance of licenses to new stations, in part through an excessively complex application process. The National Committee on Television and Radio, a government organization that directly manages television and radio stations in the country, must approve and then provide licenses to new stations. The government continued to deny the BBC a renewal of its license to broadcast on FM radio.

Libel/Slander Laws: In 2012 the government repealed the law criminalizing libel and defamation and downgraded the offenses to civil violations, although the law retains controversial provisions that make publicly insulting the president an offense punishable by a fine or up to five years in jail. Nevertheless, libel judgments were common, particularly against newspapers critical of the government.

INTERNET FREEDOM

Individuals and groups faced extensive government surveillance of internet activity, including emails, and often self-censored their views while posting on the internet. Authorities blocked some critical websites and news portals, and used temporary full blackouts of internet services and messaging to suppress criticism.

According to a World Bank report issued in June 2017, 17 percent of the population used the internet regularly.

There were new and continuing government restrictions on access to internet websites, such as Facebook, YouTube, Google, Google services, and Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, although some of the restrictions were lifted during the year. Independent and opposition news agencies and websites located outside of the country have been blocked by the government for several years. The State Communications Service, the official communications regulator, routinely denied involvement in blocking these sites, but the government admitted to periodically implementing a law that allows interruption of internet content and telecommunications “in the interest of national security.” The government continued to implement a 2015 law enabling the GKNB to shut off internet and telecommunications during security operations.

In 2017 the Majlisi Milli, the upper house of parliament, passed a law giving law enforcement bodies the right to track citizens using the internet. According to the new bill, the security agencies can monitor internet traffic and have access to information regarding which internet sites citizens visit and the type of information they seek. On June 13, the lower house of the parliament adopted amendments to the Criminal Code, making those who use the “like” or “share” function on social media regarding “terrorism” and “extremism-related” topics subject to up to 15 years in jail. Members of Parliament amended article 179 that said, “Public calls for the commission of terrorist crimes and (or) publicly justifying terrorist activities,” adding “via the internet” to the second part of this article.

ACADEMIC FREEDOM AND CULTURAL EVENTS

The Ministry of Education maintained a dress code that bans wearing the hijab in schools and government institutions. Authorities allowed women to wear a traditional version of the head covering–a scarf that covers hair but not the neck–to schools and universities. Some female students wore the hijab to and from school but removed it upon entering the school building. Parents and school officials appeared to accept this arrangement. The ministry also maintained its ban on beards for all teachers. Students with beards reported being removed from class, questioned, and asked to shave. A Ministry of Education decree obliges all female teachers, university students, and schoolchildren to wear traditional dress, during the academic year.

Government authorities increased the urgency of their effort to dissuade citizens from wearing “foreign clothing,” primarily focused on the hijab, which covers the hair, ears, and neck. According to media reports, the government’s Committee on Women and Family Affairs, in cooperation with the Ministry of Internal Affairs, conducted informational campaigns, or “raids,” in public areas against women wearing the hijab, threatening those who refused to remove their hijab with a 1,000 somoni ($115) fine and six months imprisonment. In addressing these media reports, the ministry denied that such measures existed and claimed the government was conducting a public campaign to promote national culture and clothing.

A Ministry of Education directive requires school administrators to inform students of the Law on Parental Responsibility, which bans all persons under age 18 from participating in public religious activities, with the exception of funerals. The law provides that, with written parental consent, minors between the ages of seven and 18 may obtain a religious education during their free time from school and outside the state education curriculum and may worship as part of educational activities at religious institutions.

The government requires all persons studying religion abroad to register with the Committee on Religious Affairs (CRA), Ministry of Education, and Ministry of Foreign Affairs. The law provides criminal penalties for violating restrictions on sending citizens abroad for religious education, preaching and teaching religious doctrines, and establishing ties with religious groups abroad without CRA consent.

The Ministry of Education banned students from attending events sponsored by or conducted for foreign organizations during school hours. On February 28, the Ministry of Education reportedly issued a new regulation that requires the ministry’s approval for all students to study abroad and for ministry employees who wish to travel internationally for any educational purpose.

On April 22, the Communications Service, without explanation, reportedly blocked internet access and sealed the office of the Tajik Academic Research and Educational Network Users Association’s, which consists of more than 20 research institutes and more than 30 universities.

There were several reports throughout the year that academics writing on sensitive subjects regarding politics, religion, and history feared publishing or even submitting their articles for review because to possible government retribution.

The government limited freedoms of peaceful assembly and association through requirements to obtain permission from local governments and through frequent inspections by various government agencies.

FREEDOM OF PEACEFUL ASSEMBLY

The constitution provides the right to freedom of peaceful assembly, but the government required that individuals obtain permission from the government to stage public demonstrations. Individuals considering the staging of peaceful protests reportedly chose not to do so for fear of government reprisal.

FREEDOM OF ASSOCIATION

The constitution protects freedom of association, but the government restricted this right. As in the previous year, civil society organizations reported a noticeable increase in the number and intensity of registration and tax inspections by authorities. The government continued to enforce the ban on activities held under the banner of the IRPT. As a result of a 2016 constitutional referendum, nonsecular political parties became illegal.

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

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

The law provides for freedom of foreign travel, emigration, repatriation, but the government imposed some restrictions. According to Article 14 of the constitution, restrictions on the rights and freedoms of a person and a citizen are allowed only for ensuring the rights and freedoms of others, public order, protecting the foundations of the constitutional order, state security, national defense, public morality, public health, and the territorial integrity of the republic.

The government rarely 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, or other persons.

In-country Movement: The government prohibits foreigners, except diplomats and international aid workers, from traveling within a 15-mile zone along the borders with Afghanistan and China in the Khatlon Region and the Gorno-Badakhsan Autonomous Oblast (GBAO) unless they obtain permission from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. Officials did not always enforce the restrictions along the western border with Afghanistan, although the government continued to require travelers (including international workers and diplomats) to obtain special permits to visit the GBAO. The government also continued to enforce a policy barring Afghan refugees from residing in urban areas.

Foreign Travel: Individuals in some cases do not have the right to leave the country without arbitrary restrictions. Authorities reportedly confiscated the passports of Ibrohim Tillozoda, the critically ill four-year-old grandson of exiled IRPT leader Muhiddin Kabiri, and his mother, prohibiting Tillozoda, who has life-threatening stage-3 testicular cancer and whose treatment is beyond the scope of local doctors, to seek medical treatment abroad. The deputy head of the border control office in Dushanbe told media on July 26 that there were no restrictions on the family members’ departure and claimed that none of them applied for passports or permission to leave. Following criticism of this statement, Tillozoda received his passport and flew to Turkey August 2. On August 4, Fatima Davlyatova, the 10-year-old daughter of human rights activist Shabnam Khudoydodova, was forced off a flight headed to Europe with her grandmother and uncle, and informed she was banned from travelling abroad. Khudoydodova, a member of the banned human rights organization Group 24, has been in exile since 2015. On August 11, after facing international criticism, the GKNB contacted Davlyatova, her grandmother and her uncle stating there was a misunderstanding with their documents, gave them new flight tickets and allowed to travel to Almaty to reunite with her Khudoydodova.

The government abused international law enforcement mechanisms, such as Interpol Red Notices, in an attempt to locate and repatriate into its prison system local dissidents living abroad. Such dissidents are detained on the basis of politically motivated extremism charges. In June IRPT spokesman Bobojon Qayumzod was reportedly detained by Czech police at the Czech-German border because his name was on a list of persons banned from entering the Czech Republic. Police kept him in custody for a day before releasing him. On August 4, Polish authorities detained IRPT member Mahmadi Teshaev based on an Interpol Red Notice. A Polish court released him on August 10 due to the political background of his case. Media reported that Numonjon Sharipov, a senior IRPT representative, was flown from Istanbul by Tajik diplomatic staff and forcibly handed over to the Tajik government by Turkish authorities. According to the IRPT’s official website, Payom, Sharipov was detained on February 4 by Turkish law enforcement officers on suspicion of violating migration laws. His lawyers said that Turkish migration officials told them on February 16 that their client would be allowed to leave for a third country some days later. On February 19, however, the lawyers were informed that Sharipov had already left the country, with an unnamed witness saying that Sharipov was taken to the airport in a car belonging to the Tajik consulate.

PROTECTION OF REFUGEES

Refoulement: The government in some cases forced asylum seekers or refugees to return to countries where they may face persecution or torture. There were 13 refugee families who continued to be at risk of penalty and deportation. The UNHCR office in Dushanbe has not been notified of any new deportation cases since the beginning of the year. The deportees included refugees whose status was revoked based on violation of the law prohibiting such persons from residing in urban areas as well as cumbersome preconditions that preclude a claimant from registering as a refugee. The cases of revoked status were under appeal in court with the support of UNHCR. The deportations took place despite the incomplete appeal processes. In some cases there was risk 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. Nevertheless, the process for making asylum status determinations remained uncertain and lacked transparency, and administrative and judicial procedures did not comply with international standards. Although not required by law, government officials required refugees and asylum seekers to obtain a visa and a valid travel document before entering the country. Government officials detained and deported individuals not in possession of a visa without due process.

The government processed asylum applications through the National Refugee Status Determination Commission and granted applicants documents to regularize their stay and prevent deportation. Formal notifications of administrative and legal decisions provided little insight into the rationale for adjudications. In some instances, when denying claimants refugee status, officials cited, in broad terms, a lack of evidence of persecution in the refugee’s home country or “malpractice” on the part of refugees applying to renew their status, such as violation of the prohibition of living in big cities, including in Dushanbe. Unofficially, some refugees claimed authorities could deny cases if sufficiently high bribes were not paid.

The government continued to place significant restrictions on claimants, and officials continued to enforce a law decreed in 2000 prohibiting asylum seekers and refugees from residing in the capital and all major cities in the country. Security officials regularly monitored refugee populations. Asylum seekers and refugees regularly reported to UNHCR that security officials harassed them, often for allegedly lacking personal identification, and attempted to extort money. Police subjected them to raids if they were believed to be residing in prohibited areas.

During the year increased government scrutiny of persons living in areas annexed to Dushanbe, coupled with the retroactive application of Government Resolution 325, a law that prohibits refugees from living in major urban areas including Dushanbe, led to a significant increase in administrative cases brought against refugees.

The law stipulates that refugee status be granted for as long as three years. Since 2009 the Department of Citizenship and Works with Refugees, under the Passport Registration Services within the Ministry of Internal Affairs, has had responsibility for refugee issues. Refugees must reregister yearly to receive an extension of refugee status. According to government statistics, the country had 2,647 registered refugees, 99 percent of whom were Afghan. An additional 167 asylum seekers, mostly Afghan, still have their refugee status determination process pending.

Freedom of Movement: Refugees are not permitted to live in major urban areas, including Dushanbe, according to Government Resolution 325, restricting their ability to find work and go to school.

Access to Basic Services: Refugees and asylum seekers are legally entitled to education and health services alongside local citizens. The Ministry of Education allowed Afghan parents to send their children to local schools without paying fees. UNHCR partners provided books, school uniforms, and some language classes to these children. The law provides registered refugees with equal access to law enforcement, health care, and the judicial system, although in practice refugees did not always have equal access. Vulnerable refugee families received assistance with medical expenses. Refugees were subjected to harassment and extortion. In such situations UNHCR’s legal assistance partner assisted clients in obtaining judicial redress while providing training and awareness-raising sessions to local authorities to strengthen their understanding of refugee rights.

Durable Solutions: Following the amended Constitutional Law on Nationality adopted in 2015, the government removed provisions for expedited naturalization, leaving refugees on equal standing with nonrefugee foreigners when applying for citizenship.

STATELESS PERSONS

In April 2017 the government adopted by-laws to the 2015 Constitutional Law on Nationality that provide practical guidance on its implementation. Since the nationality law outlines only a general framework on citizenship issues, there was a need to clarify procedures for applicants and government officials. The by-laws’ implementing regulations set clear guidance on required documents to be submitted, mandate responsibilities for each government agency accepting and processing those documents, create a decision-making mechanism and authority on nationality-related issues, outline responsibilities of government agencies to provide within a specific time frame information on decisions made, and describe the rights of applicants to appeal to courts decisions and actions of government agencies. The adopted by-laws are designed to provide a more transparent and effective process of nationality-related cases as well as an overall greater effectiveness in reduction of statelessness in the country.

The government, UNHCR, and NGO partners continued to implement a project to identify and find solutions for stateless persons and persons with undetermined nationality in three pilot provinces of the country (Khatlon, Soghd, and Districts of Republican Subordination). From the project’s inception in November 2017 until June 30, 31,107 persons falling under UNHCR’s statelessness mandate, including former USSR citizens with undetermined nationality, were registered in the three target regions. Solutions were found for 23,524 persons, both adults and children, who had their nationalities confirmed with local authorities. Some registered individuals, however, struggled to achieve a durable solution because they lived in remote areas and lacked the financial means to pay for transportation and fees associated with confirming their citizenship. As a result, a total of 4,226 individuals residing in remote districts in the three separate pilot areas were assisted in covering their legal fees and the administrative costs associated with nationality confirmation.

Tanzania

Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:

The constitution provides for freedom of speech but does not explicitly provide for freedom of the press.

Freedom of Expression: Public criticism of the government was unwelcome and resulted in punitive action in some cases. Authorities used the Cybercrimes Act to bring criminal charges against individuals who criticized the government on a variety of electronic media. In March the Electronic and Postal Communications (Online Content) Regulations became law, requiring the Tanzania Communications Regulatory Authority (TCRA) to certify all bloggers and operators of online forums through a licensing process. On May 29, the government won a court case against bloggers and activists who sought to block the enforcement of the new regulations because they require disclosure of information about members, shareholders, and staff. Several bloggers shut down their websites to avoid punishment under the new regulation. Analysts conducting research for a civil society organization (CSO) reported that respondents in Dar es Salaam and Dodoma said they did not feel free to express their political beliefs for fear of being kidnapped or tortured for expressing views at odds with the ruling party’s agenda.

Press and Media Freedom: Independent media on the mainland were active and generally expressed varying views, although media outlets often practiced self-censorship to avoid conflict with the government.

Two mainland newspapers (Daily News and Habari Leo) were owned by the government, one (Uhuru) by the ruling Party of the Revolution (CCM), another (Tanzania Daima) by the chair of the CHADEMA opposition party, and another (Mwanahalisi) by a CHADEMA parliamentarian. The remaining newspapers were independent, although close associates of political party members owned some of them. Registering or licensing new media outlets, both print and broadcast, continued to be difficult. Newspaper registration was at the discretion of the registrar of newspapers at the information ministry on both the mainland and Zanzibar. Acquiring a broadcasting license from the TCRA took an estimated six months to one year, and the TCRA restricted the area of broadcast coverage. The TCRA imposes mandatory registration and annual fees for commercial and community radio stations. The fee structure disproportionately disadvantages the existence and creation of small community radio stations.

In June 2017 the TCRA also clarified a requirement that all broadcast stations receive approval from the Tanzania Film Board for locally produced content, including music videos, films, cartoons, and other video content.

The Zanzibari government-owned daily newspaper had an estimated circulation of 25,000. There was one privately owned weekly newspaper with a much smaller circulation. The government of Zanzibar controlled content on the radio and television stations it owned. There were government restrictions on broadcasting in tribal languages; broadcasts in Kiswahili or English were officially preferred. The nine private radio stations on Zanzibar operated independently, often reading the content of national dailies, including articles critical of the Zanzibari government.

The government also threatened to close down TV service providers for failing to comply with free-to-air licensing regulations. In August the TCRA demanded a cessation of broadcasting Free-to-Air (FTA) public channels for close to one month. FTA content included several local news channels.

On the mainland the government generally did not restrict the publication of books. The publication of books on Zanzibar was uncommon.

Violence and Harassment: Law enforcement authorities attacked, harassed, and intimidated journalists during the year. For example, on August 9, Tanzania Daima journalist Sitta Tuma was arrested and accused of unlawful assembly while covering the opposition by-election campaign in Tarime district in Mara Region.

Censorship or Content Restrictions: The law authorizes police to raid and seize materials from newspaper offices without a warrant and authorizes the minister of information to “prohibit or otherwise sanction the publication of any content that jeopardizes national security or public safety.”

A permit was required for reporting on police or prison activities, both on the mainland and in Zanzibar, and journalists needed special permission to cover meetings of the Tanzanian National Assembly or attend meetings in the Zanzibar House of Representatives. Anyone publishing information accusing a Zanzibari representative of involvement in illegal activities was liable to a fine of not less than TZS 250,000 ($110), three years’ imprisonment, or both. The government may fine and suspend newspapers without warning.

There were examples of the government repressing information, extending to online newspapers and journals. In November newspapers did not publish an international statement critical of the government for fear of reprisal. In January management of the weekly Swahili newspaper Nipashe voluntarily suspended the Sunday edition of its own newspaper for three months after being chastised by the Ministry of Information for publishing an article critical of the government. In June the East African Court of Justice (EACJ) ruled that the government’s June 2017 ban of weekly tabloid Mawio for two years for publishing an article implicating two former presidents in corruption was illegal; the EACJ ruling had not been implemented. In September parliament passed amendments to the 2015 Statistics Act that require individuals and organizations to obtain permission from the National Bureau of Statistics before conducting surveys, collecting research data, or publicizing results.

Libel/Slander Laws: The law provides for arrest, prosecution, and punishment for the use of seditious, abusive, or derogatory language to describe the country’s leadership. The Media Services Act of 2016 makes defamation a criminal act. Defamation is defined as any matter likely to injure the reputation of any person by exposing him to hatred, contempt, or ridicule, or likely to damage any person in his profession or trade by an injury to his reputation.

In July CHADEMA MP Halima Mdee was arrested and accused of insulting the president during a press conference after she criticized him for barring teenage mothers from school. In February a court in the southern highlands sentenced CHADEMA MP Joseph Mbilinyi and local CHADEMA leader Emmanuel Masonga to two months in prison for insulting the president at a public rally held in December 2017.

In November 2017 the government ordered Channel Ten to apologize publicly for broadcasting the name and residence of a student allegedly sodomized by a motorcycle driver.

National Security: In March the Electronic and Postal Communications (Online Content) Regulations were passed, requiring online content providers to monitor and filter content that threatens national security or public health and safety.

INTERNET FREEDOM

The government restricted access to the internet and monitored websites and internet traffic. The Electronic and Postal Communications (Online Content) Regulations tighten control of internet content through registration requirements and licensing fees. Bloggers and persons operating online forums, including online television and radio streaming services, must obtain certification from the TCRA by submitting a license application requiring information such as the nature of services offered, estimated cost of investment, staff qualifications, and future plans. In addition, all online content providers must pay application and licensing fees totaling more than two million TZS ($924) in initial costs. Licenses are valid for three years and must be renewed annually for one million TZS ($440). Prohibitive costs led some citizens to stop blogging or posting content on online forums, including international social media platforms.

Under the regulations internet cafes must install surveillance cameras to monitor persons online; online material deemed “offensive, morally improper” or that “causes annoyance,” is prohibited; and those charged with violating the regulations face a minimum fine of TZS five million ($2,200) or a minimum sentence of 12 months in prison. According to the TCRA’s Telecommunication Statistics, in June 22.9 million persons (45 percent of the population) used the internet in 2017. According to the International Telecommunication Union, 16 percent of the population used the internet that year.

The Cybercrimes Act of 2015 criminalizes the publication of false information, defined as “information, data or facts presented in a picture, texts, symbol, or any other form in a computer system where such information, data, or fact is false, deceptive, misleading, or inaccurate.” Individuals who made critical comments about the government on electronic media were charged under the act, even when remarks reflected opinions or were factually true. University of Dar es Salaam student and human rights activist Abdul Nondo was charged with publishing false information and providing false information to police in March after he sent a private WhatsApp message to friends saying he had been abducted by unknown assailants.

ACADEMIC FREEDOM AND CULTURAL EVENTS

In September parliament passed amendments to the 2015 Statistics Act that require individuals and organizations to obtain permission from the National Bureau of Statistics before conducting surveys or collecting research data, and before publicizing results. Academics were concerned that the new amendments would stifle independent research in universities.

The government restricted freedom of peaceful assembly and association, including through bans decreed by authorities but not supported by law. The government requires organizers of rallies to obtain police permission. Police may deny permission on public safety or security grounds or if the permit seeker belongs to an unregistered organization or political party. The government and police continued to limit the issuance of permits for public demonstrations and assemblies to political parties, NGOs, and religious organizations. The only political meetings allowed in principle are by MPs in their constituencies; outside participants, including party leaders, are not permitted to participate. Restrictions are also applied to nonpolitical gatherings deemed critical of the government.

In August police arrested members of an opposition coalition for holding a public rally in Turwa Buyungi ward in advance of by-elections. During a June speech at the State House, the president declared the opposition should confine its political opinions to appropriate platforms, such as parliament, until the next elections in 2020.

FREEDOM OF ASSOCIATION

The constitution provides for freedom of association, and the government generally respected this right. Thousands of NGOs and societies operated in the country. Political parties were required to register and meet membership and other requirements. Freedom of association for workers was limited (see section 7.a.).

The registration process for associations outside Zanzibar was slow. The law makes a distinction between NGOs and societies and applies different registration procedures to the two. It defines a society as any club, company, partnership, or association of 10 or more persons, regardless of its purpose, and notes specific categories of organizations not considered societies, such as political parties. The law defines NGOs to include organizations whose purpose is to promote economic, environmental, social, or cultural development; protect the environment; or lobby or advocate on issues of public interest. Societies and organizations may not operate until authorities approve their applications. In August the government began a verification exercise that required all NGOs to reregister. Registration of new NGOs was suspended until December 1.

Religious organizations are registered as societies and wait the longest–an average of four years–for registration. From July 2017 to March, the Registrar of Societies received 252 registration applications, 74 of which came from religious institutions. The registrar registered 136 organizations and rejected five applications; 111 applications remained unprocessed. The government rarely registered societies within the legally required 14-day period.

NGOs in Zanzibar apply for registration with the Zanzibar Business and Property Registration Agency. While registration generally took several weeks, some NGOs waited months if the registrar determined additional research was needed.

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; however, there were cases of political opposition leaders being barred from leaving the country. For example, in September a member of an opposition political party was prevented from boarding a plane while attempting to travel to an international conference on political party development. After the July release of survey results by independent East African NGO Twaweza showing that the president’s approval rating had dropped 41 percent over the past two years, immigration officials confiscated the passport of Twaweza’s executive director.

In February the travel of migrant workers overseas for employment was temporarily suspended to allow time for the government to strengthen migrant worker protection mechanisms.

Abuse of Migrants, Refugees, and Stateless Persons: In January the government withdrew from the UN’s Comprehensive Refugee Response Framework, announced that it would no longer provide citizenship to Burundian refugees, and would encourage refugees to return home. The government assured the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) that it would respect the choice of refugees on whether or not to return to their country of origin. While many Burundian refugees had been successfully repatriated, there were several accounts of refugees facing intimidation or pressure to return home by Tanzanian authorities. Some refugees who were pressured into returning to Burundi became refugees in other countries or returned to Tanzania.

Refugees apprehended more than 2.5 miles outside their camps without permits are subject by law to sentences ranging from a fine up to a three-year prison sentence. In July immigration officials reported that 1,470 undocumented immigrants employed as agricultural laborers were arrested in Kagera Region, including 994 Burundian, 223 Ugandans, 193 Rwandans, 19 Ethiopians, 39 Congolese, and two Kenyans. Immigration also reported the arrest of 156 Burundians in Kasulu Kigoma. UNHCR reported that when police apprehended refugees outside the camp without permits, they were normally held in the prison nearest to where they were arrested. Usually these persons were prosecuted and sentenced in local courts. Some were only given warnings and advised to return to the camp. UNHCR advocated for the return of refugees to the camp, but the response was dependent on the officer handling the case.

Sexual- and gender-based violence against refugees continued, including allegations against officials who worked in or around refugee camps. UNHCR worked with local authorities and residents in the three refugee camps to strengthen coordination and address violence, including sexual violence, against vulnerable persons. UNHCR reported the most frequent gender-based violence crimes were rape and physical assault, followed by psychological and emotional abuse. The public prosecutor investigated, prosecuted, and punished perpetrators of abuses in the camp, although international NGOs provided assistance to the legal team when requested by a survivor. Local authorities and the public prosecutor handled most cases of refugee victims of crime and abuse outside the camp. Residents of the refugee camps suffered delays and limited access to courts, common problems also faced by citizens.

PROTECTION OF REFUGEES

Access to Asylum: The law provides for the granting of asylum or refugee status, and the government has an established system for providing protection to refugees. The National Eligibility Committee is mandated to meet regularly and make determinations on asylum applications.

The international NGO Asylum Access reported many persons with refugee claims were living in Dar es Salaam. The government often treated these individuals as undocumented immigrants, deporting or imprisoning them if they faced criminal charges. Arrest was often the only situation in which urban asylum seekers were exposed to the government. Observers believed many urban asylum seekers, if given the opportunity, would be able to demonstrate a need for international protection that would qualify them for refugee status. Since urban asylum seekers were not formally registered with UNHCR and the government, however, they had very little access to health care and education, and employment opportunities were limited to the informal sector. There was no policy or infrastructure to serve this group.

UNHCR processed irregular migrants arrested by authorities when the persons in custody were asylum seekers or were in the process of accessing the asylum process at the time they were apprehended.

During the year the government and the International Organization for Migration continued to support training for law enforcement officers on the use of biometric registration equipment intended to provide irregular migrants a basis for either regularizing their status or voluntary return to their places of origin.

Safe Country of Origin/Transit: No policy for blanket or presumptive denials of asylum exists for applicants arriving from “safe country of origin” or through a “safe country of transit.” All asylum applications are evaluated individually. The law provides that, unless the transit country is experiencing a serious breach of peace, an asylum claim can be refused upon failure to show reasonable cause as to why asylum was not claimed in the transit country prior to entry into the country.

Freedom of Movement: Encampment policy does not allow refugees to travel more than 2.5 miles outside the boundaries of official refugee camps without permission of the Ministry of Home Affairs. The ministry generally granted permission for purposes such as medical referrals and court appearances.

Authorities sometimes imprisoned irregular migrants before releasing them to UNHCR if there was a pending asylum claim. Other irregular migrants were occasionally arrested if they bypassed refugee transit sites and attempted to work in border towns without permission.

Employment: The government generally did not permit refugees to pursue employment and restricted refugees’ attempts to farm land within the camps.

Durable Solutions: In 2017 the Ministry of Home Affairs granted citizenship to 135 persons, an increase of 10 percent from 2016 to 2017. More than 48,000 returns were facilitated under a tripartite agreement between Tanzania, Burundi, and UNHCR. The government, however, increased pressure on Burundians to sign up for returns, often under duress, thus bringing into question the claimed voluntary nature of the returns. There were reports of the government closing markets used jointly by camp and host communities; a reduction in camp exit permits; reduced health and education benefits; and forcible loading of persons into return convoys without proper safeguards.

Thailand

Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:

Broad NCPO orders restricting freedom of expression, including for the press, issued following the 2014 coup, remained in effect at year’s end. Invoking these orders, officials suspended media outlets, blocked access to internet sites, and arrested individuals engaging in political speech. In addition to official restrictions on speech and censorship, NCPO actions resulted in significant self-censorship by the public and media. The NCPO routinely banned dissemination of information that the NCPO asserted could threaten the NCPO or “create conflict” within the country.

Freedom of Expression: The NCPO enforced limits on free speech and expression using a variety of regulations and criminal provisions, including intimidation of speakers, monitoring meetings, and threats of prosecution or arrest.

Article 112 of the criminal code, the so-called lese majeste (“royal insult”) law, makes it a crime–punishable by a maximum of 15 years’ imprisonment for each offense–to criticize, insult, or threaten the king, queen, royal heir apparent, or regent. The government continued to use this law to prosecute anyone who was in any way critical of the monarchy or members of the royal family. The law also allows citizens to file lese majeste complaints against each other. The Attorney General’s Office issued a directive on February 21 announcing that the decision to indict lese majeste suspects lies solely with the attorney general. Previously public prosecutors could also decide whether to indict lese majeste cases.

No new lese majeste prosecutions had begun this year as of September, but in January the government issued at least one summons under Article 112 to prodemocracy student activist Chanoknan Ruamsap, accusing her of sharing on her Facebook page a BBC profile of the king. No charges have been filed as the activist reportedly departed the country prior to being arrested and has not returned.

The government continued regularly to conduct lese majeste trials in secret and prohibited public disclosure of the content of the alleged offenses. The government also frequently tried lese majeste cases in military courts that provided fewer rights and protections for civilian defendants, notwithstanding a September 2016 order that ended the practice of trying violations of Article 112 in military courts for offenses committed after that date (see section 1.e.). International and domestic human rights organizations and academics expressed concern about the lese majeste law’s negative effect on freedom of expression.

Official statistics varied by agency, but new lese majeste cases increased dramatically following the 2014 coup. According to local NGO Internet Dialogue on Law Reform, as of September 94 new lese majeste cases had been filed since the 2014 coup with 43 convictions. In some of these cases, the accused committed the alleged offense prior to the 2014 coup, but authorities only filed charges afterwards. According to the Department of Corrections, 128 persons were imprisoned on lese majeste charges as of August (including a number of persons convicted for corruption-related offenses under Article 112 for misuse of royal title to further business interests).

In January the Yala Provincial Court sentenced 23-year-old Nurhayati Masoh, a visually impaired woman, to three years in prison, reduced to one and one-half years after she pled guilty to sharing an article deemed defamatory to the monarchy on her Facebook page. She appealed the conviction and was acquitted in February. She was rearrested in March and the Bangkok Criminal Court, after a one-day trial, sentenced her to two years in prison under the Computer Crimes Act, rather than lese majeste, for sharing audio clips deemed defamatory to the monarchy on her Facebook page.

Thai Lawyers for Human Rights reported that Nathee Suwajjananon was arrested this year and brought before the military court for pretrial detention for allegedly posting online comments related to the late king in 2016. On November 13, the military prosecutor issued a nonprosecution order on lese majeste charges and returned the case file to police. Police officials then submitted a request for Suwajjananon’s pretrial detention to a civilian court, resulting in the public prosecutor indicting him on sedition charges under Article 116 rather than lese majeste charges under Article 112, an increasingly common prosecutorial tactic.

Press and Media Freedom: Independent media were active but faced impediments to operating freely. Many media contacts reported concerns about NCPO orders authorizing government officials to limit press freedom and suspend press operations without a court order.

The 2017 constitution requires owners of newspapers and other mass media to be citizens. Government entities owned and controlled most radio and broadcast television stations.

The Thai Journalists Association (TJA), the Thai Broadcast Journalists Association (TBJA), and the Online News Providers Association called on the NCPO to refrain from passing laws that could affect freedom of the press. Their joint statement also called on the NCPO to revoke its announcements and orders that restrict freedom of the press. The statement also called on the National Broadcasting and Telecommunications Commission (NBTC) to advocate for broadcast media reform without government interference.

In September police shut down a forum organized by foreign journalists to discuss whether senior military officers in Burma should face justice for alleged human rights abuses committed by their forces against Rohingya Muslims and other ethnic minorities. According to press reports, approximately one dozen police arrived ahead of the scheduled panel discussion at the Foreign Correspondents Club of Thailand and ordered the panelists not to speak.

Violence and Harassment: Senior government officials routinely made statements critical of media. There were numerous reports of security forces harassing citizens who publicly criticized the military government, including by visiting or surveilling their residences or places of employment. Media operators also complained of harassment and monitoring.

In April there were reports that the management of television station PPTV pressured the station’s news director to resign after military officials repeatedly visited the station related to the journalist’s coverage of alleged corruption involving the defense minister.

On May 21, the government warned journalists they would arrest them if they did not wear government-issued armbands while covering prodemocracy demonstrations. The TJA released a statement saying it was not aware of the new protocol and advised members of the press to abide by their regular procedures and display official badges.

Censorship or Content Restrictions: The NCPO restricted content deemed critical of or threatening to the military government, and media widely practiced self-censorship. NCPO Order No. 41/2016 empowers the National Broadcasting and Telecommunications Commission (NBTC) to suspend or revoke the licenses of radio or television operators broadcasting content deemed false, defamatory to the monarchy, harmful to national security, or unnecessarily critical of the military government. Authorities monitored media content from all media sources, including international press.

In September police arrested three women for possessing with intent to sell T-shirts with a small symbol deemed to be a logo for an antimonarchy, anti-NCPO movement advocating for removal of the color blue, the color representing the monarchy, from the Thai flag.

The emergency decree, which remained in effect in the conflict-affected southernmost provinces, empowers the government “to prohibit publication and distribution of news and information that may cause the people to panic or with an intention to distort information.” It also authorizes the government to censor news considered a threat to national security.

Libel/Slander Laws: Defamation is a criminal offense punishable by a maximum fine of 200,000 baht ($6,015) and two years’ imprisonment. Military and business figures filed criminal defamation and libel cases against political and environmental activists, journalists, and politicians.

There were several high-profile cases of criminal defamation filed against human rights defenders and government critics. In February the Internal Security Operations Command (ISOC) filed a complaint against Ismael Tae, founder of the Pattani Human Rights Organization, accusing him of defamation related to his appearance on a television show to discuss the torture he endured in military detention in 2008.

National Security: Various NCPO orders issued under Section 44 of the interim constitution, later extended by the 2017 constitution, provide authorities the right to restrict distribution of material deemed to threaten national security. Media associations expressed alarm regarding the sweeping powers they complained lacked clear criteria for determining what constitutes a threat to national security.

On May 9, the NBTC suspended for 30 days the broadcast license of Peace TV, a television channel operated by the United Front for Democracy against Dictatorship, on allegations the channel’s content threatened national security and the morality of the country. The TJA and TBJA issued a joint statement calling on the NBTC to review its decision to suspend Peace TV.

INTERNET FREEDOM

The government continued to restrict or disrupt access to the internet and routinely censored online content. There were reports the government monitored private online communications without appropriate legal authority.

Under the Computer Crimes Act (CCA), the government may impose a maximum five-year prison sentence and a 100,000 baht ($3,000) fine for posting false content on the internet found to undermine public security, cause public panic, or harm others, based on vague definitions. The law also obliges internet service providers to preserve all user records for 90 days in case authorities wish to access them. Any service provider that gives consent to or intentionally supports the publishing of illegal content is also liable to punishment. By law authorities must obtain a court order to ban a website, although officials did not always respect this requirement. Media activists criticized the law, stating it defined offenses too broadly and some penalties were too harsh.

Individuals and groups generally were able to engage in peaceful expression of views via the internet, although there were numerous restrictions on content, including proscribing lese majeste, pornography, gambling, and criticism of the NCPO.

Civil society reported the government used prosecution, or threat of prosecution, under the Computer Crimes Act as a tool to suppress speech online. From January to June, 57 persons were charged or prosecuted under sedition and the Computer Crimes Act. On August 24, the Technology Crime Suppression Division charged three members of a political party with violating the Act. The charges stemmed from a Facebook Live video in which one of the party leaders criticized politicians who switched parties as supporters of the NCPO. If convicted, they could face a five-year prison term.

The government closely monitored and blocked thousands of websites critical of the monarchy. The prosecution of journalists, political activists, and other internet users for criminal defamation or sedition for posting content online further fostered an environment of self-censorship. Many political online message boards and discussion forums closely monitored discussions and self-censored to avoid being blocked. Newspapers restricted access to their public comment sections to minimize exposure to possible lese majeste or defamation charges. The NBTC also lobbied foreign internet content and service providers to remove or locally censor lese majeste content. Human rights contacts reported that police sometimes asked detained political activists to reveal passwords to their social media accounts.

Former Chiang Mai governor Pawin Chamniprasart filed a complaint alleging violations of the Computer Crimes Act in March against a local magazine for posting images of a student artist’s drawing of three ancient Thai kings wearing pollution masks to call attention to seasonal air pollution. The complaint alleged the drawings negatively affected the image of Thailand’s ancient kings. Chiang Mai authorities withdrew the complaint in September.

Internet access was widely available in urban areas and used by citizens, including through a government program to provide limited free Wi-Fi access at 300,000 hotspots in cities and schools. The government also undertook an initiative to expand internet access to rural areas throughout the country. International monitoring groups estimated 46 million citizens (67 percent of the population) had access to the internet during the year.

ACADEMIC FREEDOM AND CULTURAL EVENTS

The NCPO intervened to disrupt academic discussions on college campuses, intimidated scholars, and arrested student leaders critical of the coup. Universities also practiced self-censorship.

University authorities reported the regular presence of military personnel on campus, monitoring lectures and attending student events. There were numerous accounts of authorities arresting students for exercising freedom of speech and expression.

In February, six students and activists in Chiang Mai were charged with violating NCPO Order 3/2015 banning political gatherings of five or more people for their role in a February 14 prodemocracy rally at Chiang Mai University demanding elections in 2018. As of September the case was pending at the Office of the Prosecutor in Chiang Mai.

In August a group of university students filed a petition to the Prime Minister’s Office, through the Ministry of Education, objecting to the amendment of the Education Ministerial Regulations on Student Behavior. The proposed amendments expand the prohibition on gatherings from those that cause public disorder to include also gatherings that violate public morality.

The Polling Director of the National Institute for Development Administration resigned in January in protest, alleging the Institute had prohibited the release of poll results related to Deputy Prime Minister Prawit Wongsuwan’s wristwatch scandal (see section 4).

The government restricted freedoms of peaceful assembly and association.

FREEDOM OF PEACEFUL ASSEMBLY

The 2017 constitution grants the freedom to assemble peacefully, subject to restrictions enacted to “protect public interest, peace and order, or good morals, or to protect the rights and liberties of others.” Nonetheless, NCPO orders, invoked under authority of Article 44 of the interim constitution and extended under the constitution, continued to prohibit political gatherings of five or more persons and penalize persons supporting any political gatherings.

According to a human rights advocacy group, the NCPO has moved away from disrupting public events, opting instead to charge event leaders and participants for violating NCPO orders and laws prohibiting gatherings and political activities. In September, the Foreign Correspondents’ Club of Thailand announced police had ordered the club to cancel a scheduled panel discussion entitled “Will Myanmar’s Generals Ever Face Justice for International Crimes.” The club issued a statement noting this was the sixth event canceled by police order at the club since the 2014 coup.

In May police arrested 15 leaders and activists from the “We Want Elections” group for organizing a demonstration to commemorate the fourth anniversary of the 2014 coup. The group members were charged with sedition and violating the NCPO’s ban on political gatherings of five or more persons.

Surat Thani, Phuket, and Phang Nga Provinces have regulations that prohibit migrant workers–specifically persons from Cambodia, Burma, and Laos–from gathering in groups, while Samut Sakhon Province prohibits migrant gatherings of more than five persons. Authorities did not enforce these provisions strictly, particularly for gatherings on private property. Employers and NGOs may request permission from authorities for migrant workers to hold cultural gatherings.

FREEDOM OF ASSOCIATION

The 2017 constitution grants individuals the right to free association subject to restrictions by law enacted to “protect public interest, peace and order, or good morals.”

The law prohibits the registration of a political party with the same name or logo as a legally dissolved party.

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 2017 constitution provides for freedom of internal movement, foreign travel, emigration, and repatriation. The government generally respected these rights, with some exceptions for “maintaining the security of the state, public peace and order or public welfare, town and country planning, or youth welfare.”

Following the 2014 coup, the NCPO issued orders prohibiting travel outside the country for approximately 155 persons, the majority of which it lifted in 2016. Nevertheless, the Thai Lawyers for Human Rights Center (TLHR) estimated there were an additional 300 persons who, when summoned to appear before the NCPO following the 2014 coup, signed agreements as a condition of their release consenting not to travel abroad without NCPO approval. According to the TLHR, the NCPO had not revoked the restrictions contained in these agreements. The NCPO asserted the travel ban is the result of continuing litigation and not an NCPO initiated ban.

The government usually cooperated with the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), the International Organization for Migration, and other humanitarian organizations in providing protection and assistance to refugees, asylum seekers, stateless persons, and other persons of concern, although with some restrictions.

Abuse of Migrants, Refugees, and Stateless Persons: In 2015 authorities confined in IDCs and shelters approximately 870 Rohingya and Bangladeshi persons who arrived in the country irregularly by boat during the mass movement in the Bay of Bengal and Andaman Sea in May 2015. As of September approximately 100 persons (mostly Rohingya) remained in detention.

Authorities continued to treat all refugees and asylum seekers who lived outside of designated border camps as illegal migrants. Persons categorized as illegal migrants are legally subject to arrest and detention. Although reinstated in 2013, authorities have not universally permitted bail for detained refugees and asylum seekers since 2016.

International humanitarian organizations noted concerns about congested conditions, lack of exercise opportunities, and limited freedom of movement in the IDCs.

In-country Movement: The government restricted the free internal movement of members of hill tribes and other minority groups who were not citizens but held government-issued identity cards. Authorities prohibited holders of such cards from traveling outside their home districts without prior permission from the district office or outside their home provinces without permission from the provincial governor. Offenders are subject to fines or a jail term of 45 to 60 days. Persons without cards may not travel at all. Human rights organizations reported police at inland checkpoints often asked for bribes in exchange for allowing stateless persons to move from one district to another.

Foreign Travel: Local authorities required resident noncitizens, including thousands of ethnic Shan and other non-hill-tribe minorities, to seek permission for foreign travel. A small number of nonregistered Burmese refugees, who were approved for third-country resettlement but not recognized as refugees by the government, waited for years for exit permits.

PROTECTION OF REFUGEES

The government’s treatment of refugees and asylum seekers remained inconsistent. Nevertheless, authorities hosted significant numbers of refugees and asylum seekers, generally provided protection against their expulsion or return, and allowed persons fleeing fighting or other incidents of violence in neighboring countries to cross the border and remain until conflict ceased. Moreover, authorities permitted urban refugees recognized by UNHCR and registered camp-based Burmese refugees to resettle to third countries.

Refoulement: The government provided some protection against the expulsion or return of refugees to countries where they would face threats to their lives or freedom because of their race, religion, nationality, membership in a particular social group, or political opinion. Outside the camps, government officials did not distinguish between asylum-seeking Burmese and other undocumented Burmese, regarding all as illegal migrants. However, if caught outside of camps without permission the authorities generally allowed registered and verified Burmese refugees to return to their camp. Other Burmese, if arrested in Thailand without refugee status or legal permission to be in Thailand, were often escorted back to the Burmese border. Authorities generally did not deport persons of concern holding valid UNHCR asylum-seeker or refugee status; however, one Cambodian UNHCR-recognized person of concern was returned in February, and others with protection concerns were forcibly returned to their home countries.

As part of an overall operation to reduce illegal immigrants and visa overstayers in the country, immigration police in Bangkok sometimes arrested and detained asylum seekers and refugees, including women and children. The government, however, has not deported any UNHCR-registered persons of concern from these groups. There were approximately 412 refugees and asylum seekers residing in IDCs as of December 10, and approximately 50 Uighurs have been detained in Thailand since 2015.

Access to Asylum: The law does not provide for the granting of asylum or refugee status. Burmese asylum seekers and refugees who reside outside official refugee camps are by law considered illegal migrants, as are all non-Burmese asylum seekers and refugees in the country if they do not hold a valid passport and visa. If arrested they are subject to indefinite detention at IDCs in Bangkok and other provinces.

UNHCR’s ability to provide protection to some groups of refugees outside the official camps remained limited. Its access to asylum seekers in the main IDC in Bangkok and at Suvarnabhumi International Airport to conduct status interviews and monitor new arrivals varied throughout the year. UNHCR had access to provincial IDCs where authorities detained ethnic Rohingya to conduct refugee status determinations. Authorities allowed resettlement countries to conduct processing activities in the IDCs, and humanitarian organizations were able to provide health care, nutritional support, and other humanitarian assistance.

The government allowed UNHCR to monitor the protection status of approximately 100,000 Burmese refugees and asylum seekers living in nine camps along the border with Burma. NGOs funded by the international community provided basic humanitarian assistance in the camps, including health care, food, education, shelter, water, sanitation, vocational training, and other services.

The government facilitated third-country resettlement for approximately 1,400 Burmese refugees from camps as of August. Refugees residing in the nine camps along the border who are not registered with the government were ineligible for third-country resettlement.

Freedom of Movement: Refugees residing in the nine refugee camps on the border with Burma had no freedom of movement, and authorities have confined them to the camps since the camps were established. A refugee apprehended outside the official camps is subject to possible harassment, fines, detention, deregistration, and deportation.

Refugees and asylum seekers were not eligible to participate in the official nationality-verification process, which allows migrant workers with verified nationality and passports to travel throughout the country.

Employment: The law prohibits refugees from working in the country. The government allowed undocumented migrant workers from neighboring Burma, Cambodia, and Laos to work legally in certain economic sectors if they registered with authorities and followed a prescribed process to document their status (see section 7.d.). The law allows victims of trafficking and witnesses who cooperate with pending court cases to work legally during and up to two years after the end of their trial involvement.

Access to Basic Services: The international community provided basic services for refugees living inside the nine camps on the border with Burma. For needs beyond primary care, a medical referral system allows refugees to seek other necessary medical services. For the urban refugee and asylum seeker population living in Bangkok, access to basic health services was minimal. Since 2014 two NGOs provided primary and mental health-care services. UNHCR coordinated referrals of the most urgent medical cases to local hospitals.

Since Burmese refugee children living in the camps generally did not have access to the government education system, NGOs continued to provide educational opportunities, and some were able to coordinate their curriculum with the Ministry of Education. In Bangkok some refugee communities formed their own schools to provide education for their children. Others sought to learn Thai with support from UNHCR, because the law provides that government schools must admit children of any legal status who can speak, read, and write Thai with some degree of proficiency.

Temporary Protection: The government continued to extend temporary protection status to the migrants of Rohingya and Bangladeshi origin who arrived during the 2015 maritime migration crisis in the Bay of Bengal and Andaman Sea.

STATELESS PERSONS

The government continued to identify stateless persons, provide documentation to preclude statelessness, and open paths to citizenship for long-time residents. An estimated 470,000 persons, mainly residing in the northern region, were likely stateless or at risk of statelessness, including persons from Burma who did not have evidence of Burmese citizenship, ethnic minorities registered with civil authorities, and previously undocumented minorities.

The government pledged to attain zero statelessness by 2024 and in 2016 approved a Cabinet resolution that provides a pathway to Thai nationality for approximately 80,000 stateless children and young adults. The resolution covers persons born in the country, whose parents are ethnic minorities, who are registered with the government, and who have resided in the country for a minimum of 15 years. The new resolution also applies to stateless youths certified by a state agency to have lived in the country for 10 years whose parentage is unknown.

Birth within the country does not automatically confer citizenship. The law bases citizenship on birth to at least one citizen parent, marriage to a male citizen, or naturalization. Individuals may also acquire citizenship by means of special government-designated criteria implemented by the Ministry of Interior with approval from the cabinet or in accordance with nationality law (see section 6, Children). Recent amendments to the law allow ethnic Thai stateless persons and their children, who meet the added definition of “displaced Thai,” to apply for the status of “Thai nationality by birth.”

The law stipulates every child born in the country receive an official birth certificate regardless of the parents’ legal status. Many parents did not obtain birth certificates for their children due to the complexity of the process, the need to travel from remote areas to district offices, and a lack of recognition of the importance of the document.

By law stateless members of hill tribes may not vote or own land, and their travel is restricted. Stateless persons also may not participate in certain occupations reserved for citizens, including farming, although authorities permitted noncitizen members of hill tribes to undertake subsistence agriculture. Stateless persons had difficulty accessing credit and government services, such as health care. Although education was technically accessible for all undocumented and stateless children, it was usually of poor quality. School administrators placed the term “non-Thai citizen” on these students’ high school certificates, which severely limited their economic opportunities. Some public universities charged stateless and undocumented students higher tuition rates than citizens.

Without legal status, stateless persons were particularly vulnerable to various forms of abuse (see section 6, Children and Indigenous People).

Timor-Leste

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 and a functioning democratic political system promoted freedom of expression, including for the press.

Libel/Slander Laws: President Francisco Guterres Lu-Olo and other officials cited the need for stronger antidefamation laws to prevent criticisms of prominent political figures on social media.

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, 25 percent of the population used the internet in 2016.

ACADEMIC FREEDOM AND CULTURAL EVENTS

There were no government restrictions on academic freedom or cultural events. The National Language Institute must approve academic research on Tetum and other indigenous languages and regularly did so.

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

FREEDOM OF PEACEFUL ASSEMBLY

The constitution provides for “freedom to assemble peacefully and without weapons, without a need for prior authorization.” The law establishes guidelines on obtaining permits to hold demonstrations, requires police be notified five days in advance of any demonstration or strike, and establishes setback requirements at some buildings. The power to grant or deny permits is vested only in the PNTL.

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 provides for granting asylum or refugee status; however, the system does not align with international standards. There were concerns that regulations governing asylum and refugee status may preclude genuine refugees from proving their eligibility for such status. For example, persons who wish to apply for asylum have only 72 hours to do so after entering the country. Foreign nationals already present in the country have only 72 hours to initiate the process after the situation in their home country becomes too dangerous for a safe return.

Togo

Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:

Although the constitution provides for freedom of speech, including for the press, the government restricted these rights. The law imposes penalties on journalists deemed to have committed “serious errors” as defined in the media code.

Press and Media Freedom: Independent media were active and expressed a wide variety of views.

Censorship or Content Restrictions: The High Authority of Audiovisuals and Communications is a constitutionally mandated body charged with allocating frequencies to private television and radio stations and providing for press freedom and ethical standards of journalism. For violations of the press code, it has the power to impose penalties, including suspending publications for up to six months, withdrawing press cards, and seizing equipment from journalists.

Libel/Slander Laws: On April 4, the government arrested the president of the political association Youth Movement for Democracy and Development after the organization published a report on the repression of protests in which it claimed the government had killed approximately 100 demonstrators. The government charged the president with libel for spreading false news, insulting authorities, and calling for genocide. By year’s end the case had yet to be prosecuted and the president remained incarcerated.

INTERNET FREEDOM

Unlike in prior years, the government did not restrict or disrupt access to the internet or censor online content. There were media reports the government acquired sophisticated electronic eavesdropping equipment from a foreign provider; however, there were no credible reports, the government eavesdropped without appropriate judicial authority.

On December 7, the National Assembly passed a cybersecurity law that criminalizes the dissemination of false information and the production and sharing of data that undermine “order, public security, or breach human dignity.” A person convicted of violating the law may be sentenced to three years’ imprisonment.

According to the International Telecommunication Union, 12.4 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 did not consistently respected these rights.

FREEDOM OF PEACEFUL ASSEMBLY

The constitution and law provide for the freedom of peaceful assembly, and the government generally respected this right. Organizers of demonstrations must obtain permission from the Ministry of Territorial Affairs, which may prescribe the route marchers may take. In September 2017 the government implemented a ban on public demonstrations in the cities of Sokode, Bafilo, and Mango, citing a risk of violence. The ban continued during the year.

For example, citing a law prohibiting the disruption of political campaigns, during the two weeks prior to the December 20 parliamentary elections, the government banned all gatherings and demonstrations of political parties promoting a boycott of the elections.

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

While the law provides for freedom of internal movement, foreign travel, emigration, and repatriation, the government restricted some of these rights.

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

In-country Movement: Traffic police routinely stopped motorists on fabricated traffic law charges in order to obtain bribes.

Foreign Travel: On October 2, the government prevented an opposition politician on a hunger strike from leaving the country for medical treatment. On October 9, authorities allowed the politician to leave.

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 for refugees.

Durable Solutions: The government cooperated with UNHCR to assist in the safe, voluntary repatriation of refugees to their home countries. From January 1 to October 10, the government assisted in the repatriation of 236 refugees.

Tonga

Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:

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

Press and Media Freedom: Privately owned media were active and expressed a wide variety of views without restriction, although some self-censorship occurred. The dismissal of two employees at government-owned Tonga Broadcasting Commission (TBC) in 2017 raised concerns about the independence of the state-owned media. In explaining the firings, the prime minister stated that broadcasters had improperly amplified opposition messages while downplaying government messages.

Censorship or Content Restrictions: Media outlets reported on political developments and high-profile court cases but privately owned media exercised self-censorship regarding high-profile individuals. The board of state-owned TBC directed that board-appointed censors review all TBC programming prior to broadcast.

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. Workplaces and internet cafes provided internet access, but most homes did not have such access. According to the International Telecommunication Union, approximately 40 percent of the population had access to the internet in 2016.

ACADEMIC FREEDOM AND CULTURAL EVENTS

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

The constitution provides for the freedoms of 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. The government cooperated with the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees and other humanitarian organizations in providing protection to internally displaced persons, refugees, asylum seekers, stateless persons, or other persons of concerns.

PROTECTION OF REFUGEES

Access to Asylum: The country’s laws do not provide for the formal granting of asylum or refugee status, and the government has not established a system for providing protection to refugees. The principal immigration officer has wide discretionary powers under immigration laws, however, and may allow noncitizens to remain in the country, including on humanitarian grounds.

Trinidad and Tobago

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. An independent press, an effective judiciary, and a functioning democratic political system combined to promote freedom of expression, including for the press.

Violence and Harassment: In contrast with 2017, there were no credible reports of journalists subjected to violence, harassment, or intimidation due to their reporting.

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, 77 percent of citizens 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, but the government forced some asylum seekers to return to their home country.

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 and other persons of concern under its mandate; however, this cooperation was considerably strained in numerous cases. Refugees and asylum seekers were often the subjects of immigration enforcement actions and deportations, affecting their freedom of movement.

PROTECTION OF REFUGEES

Refoulement: On April 21, the government deported 82 Venezuelans to their home country, some of whom were seeking asylum. Some of the deported asylum seekers expressed a well founded fear of Venezuelan authorities learning their identities, yet officials overseeing the deportation sought the assistance of the Venezuelan embassy during the process.

In principle, refugees are granted full protection from refoulement and detention if presented to the Immigration Division upon applying for asylum. In practice, however, the lack of adequate legal protection meant that valid, registered refugees and asylum seekers were often arrested and detained on immigration charges.

Access to Asylum: In the absence of national refugee legislation, UNHCR registered all asylum seekers, conducted refugee status determinations on behalf of the government, and attempted to promote durable solutions for all refugees recognized under UNHCR’s mandate.

The law does not provide for any exemption or nonpenalization of irregular entry or stay of asylum seekers or refugees, although the government adopted a refugee policy in June. Persons who expressed a need for international protection could be subject to detention if they entered via irregular ways or exceeded their permitted length of stay without having presented themselves voluntarily to the authorities.

The Living Water Community (LWC), a local Roman Catholic NGO and UNHCR’s operational partner, was the first point of contact for persons in need of international protection. It provided reception services, orientation, and counseling, and it notified the Ministry of National Security’s Immigration Division of the respective asylum applications. In coordination with UNHCR, the LWC engaged in case management and provided psychosocial care and humanitarian assistance, including cash, housing assistance, and legal aid, among other services.

The Ministry of National Security’s Immigration Division authorized the stay of asylum seekers and refugees through the issuance of orders of supervision. These orders provided for protection against detention or deportation. In exchange for issuing an order of supervision, however, immigration authorities often confiscated the passports of refugees and asylum seekers and retained custody of their passports until the refugees or asylum seekers provided a financial deposit equivalent to a return flight ticket to their home country. This inhibited the freedom of movement of many refugees and asylum seekers and, in many cases, effectively trapped them in a country where they were not legally allowed to work and where their access to public services was considerably hindered. Many refugees and asylum seekers experienced xenophobia and discrimination, and sexual and gender-based violence was a particular concern for women.

Employment: In the absence of implementing legislation, neither refugees nor asylum seekers were permitted to work. They were sometimes subjected to exploitation, including sexual exploitation.

Access to Basic Services: Refugee and asylum-seeking children did not have access to public education, because by law they do not qualify for the required student permit. Refugees and asylum seekers struggled to access all but emergency public-health facilities. They did not have access to identity documents and were obliged to surrender their passports to the Immigration Division to remain in the country legally.

Durable Solutions: Due to the absence of national legislation that would allow for local integration, resettlement was traditionally the only durable solution for refugees in the country, but this was difficult due to lack of available spaces. UNHCR, the LWC, and the International Organization for Migration continued to collaborate on the identification, submission, and transfer of refugees in need of resettlement.

Some refugees and asylum seekers abandoned their claims and left the country due to the lengthy processing time and lack of rights, particularly the right to work. Many also feared harassment and discrimination.

The government also collaborated with UNHCR to facilitate the resettlement of a few refugees to smaller Caribbean islands by allowing them to stay temporarily in the country to complete the formalities required for resettlement and then directly travel to their new asylum country.

Tunisia

Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:

The constitution and law provide for freedom of expression, including for the press, and the government mainly respected this right, although there were constraints. An independent press and a functioning democratic political system contributed to an environment generally conducive to this freedom. Some media outlets and civil society expressed concerns about occasional government interference in media and the concentration of media ownership in the hands of a few political parties or families.

Freedom of Expression: Public speech considered offensive to “public morals” or “public decency,” terms undefined in the law, continued to be treated as criminal acts. Provisions of the penal and telecommunications codes, for example, criminalize speech that causes “harm to the public order or public morals” or intentionally disturbs persons “in a way that offends the sense of public decency.” During several demonstrations, authorities presented inconsistent policies pertaining to the display of the rainbow flag, a symbol associated with rights for LBGTI individuals. In January authorities authorized a demonstration in Tunis demanding greater individual freedoms; however, they reportedly qualified this approval with a request that the organizers not raise rainbow flags. When participants raised the flag during their approved demonstration, police dispersed the crowd, reportedly “for their own security.” During an August 13 demonstration in central Tunis in support of the fundamental freedoms and equality, activists raised rainbow flags without incident or attempts by security forces to restrict this symbolic speech.

Press and Media Freedom: Activists expressed concern about government interference in media and in the concentration of media ownership. NGOs continued to call for reforms to the penal code and military justice code, which NGOs stated were used to target journalists, lawyers, and civil society activists. The codes criminalize defamation, false allegations against members of an administrative or judicial authority, and attacks against the “dignity, reputation, or morale of the army.”

On January 27, the Tunisian Union of Journalists (SNJT) issued a statement denouncing the “return of repressive practices against journalists” and limits to freedom of expression posed by the improper or illegal use of surveillance of the media sector. Subsequently, on January 29, then minister of interior Lotfi Brahem stated during a hearing before parliament that the ministry was monitoring journalists, including one whose conversation with a protester was wiretapped.

Violence and Harassment: Violence and harassment against journalists continued, according to human rights organizations.

The SNJT reported 245 violations relating to physical assault, detention, and confiscation of equipment against journalists between March 2017 and March 2018, with public service employees responsible for 106 of those violations and security officers responsible for 50. In its monthly report for January (the same month as countrywide social movements), the SNJT documented 18 cases of violations committed against journalists. The report found security officers and members of security unions were responsible for 11 of the 18 documented violations, which included physical assault, detention, and confiscation of equipment.

The SNJT issued a statement condemning assaults against six journalists on August 8. According to the SNJT, three security officers verbally and physically assaulted journalists who were attending a press conference on the margins of a cultural event in Djerba. Media reported that these police officers were not originally from Djerba and that the local police commissioner apologized to the journalists on their behalf.

The SNJT and other rights groups documented that police detained and questioned several journalists in relation to their coverage of the protests, including two French journalists–Michel Picard, a freelance journalist, and Mathieu Galtier, a reporter for the Paris-based daily Liberation. On January 14, police briefly detained and questioned Picard after he reported on President Beji Caid Essebsi’s inauguration of a youth center in Cite Ettadhamen. On January 11, one day after Galtier covered protests in Tebourba, police officers took him from his home to a police station for questioning. Galtier reported the police did not show him a warrant for his arrest and that they insisted on learning the names of his sources in Tebourba.

Censorship or Content Restrictions: The government penalized individuals who published items counter to government guidelines or who published items deemed to defame government officials. While online and print media frequently published articles critical of the government, journalists and activists at times practiced self-censorship to avoid violence targeting journalists, mainly from security forces or other anonymous attackers, according to the NGO Tunis Center for Press Freedom.

On April 18, blogger Mohamed Hammami was sentenced to eight months in prison and a fine of 120 dinars ($43) for criticizing then minister of civil society, human rights, and constitutional bodies Mehdi Ben Gharbia. In another example, on March 9, a court of first instance sentenced blogger Sahbi al-Omri to 18 months in prison after he published information on Facebook accusing Adel Shoushan, a security director in Tunis, of abuse of authority in that position. Released pending an appeal on this first charge, al-Omri was arrested on September 18, reportedly for defaming a member of the Supreme Judicial Council in a Facebook post.

Libel/Slander Laws: Various civil society organizations expressed concern about the use of criminal libel laws to stifle freedom of expression. The 2017 adoption of decree laws maintaining the separation between protection of freedom of expression and regulation of the communications and media sector rolled back the prerevolution regime of censorship and secrecy; however, many media actors and activists expressed concern that these decree laws did not go far enough to protect press freedoms and freedom of expression. Several media actors and civil society groups argued the need for more comprehensive media reforms to comply with the country’s international obligations.

National Security: Military courts have the power under the law to try civilians for “insulting the honor of the armed forces.” In March a military court sentenced Yassine Ayari, a Tunisian activist elected to parliament in December 2017, in absentia to 16 days’ imprisonment for “insulting the military” and “offending the president of the republic” as a result of a Facebook post published in February 2017 in which he mocked the appointment of a senior military commander. In a separate case, on June 26, the military court sentenced Ayari to three months in prison for “insulting the military” and “offending the president of the republic” following another Facebook post. Ayari waived his parliamentary immunity, although as of November, he has yet to serve his sentences.

INTERNET FREEDOM

The government did not restrict or disrupt access to the internet, and there were no credible reports the government monitored private online communications without legal authority. There was no censorship of websites, including those with pornographic content, with the exception of websites linked to terrorist organizations. According to Internet World Stats, 68 percent of the population used the internet.

ACADEMIC FREEDOM AND CULTURAL EVENTS

There were no reports of government restrictions on academic freedom.

The law provides for the rights of freedom of peaceful assembly and association, but the government did not always respect the right of association. The state of emergency law grants the government the right to limit the right of assembly, although the government rarely applied this law during the year. On July 27, parliament adopted a law mandating the establishment of a more comprehensive business registration system, with the aim to combat terrorism finance and money laundering that also included requirements for nonprofit associations to submit financial data to a newly created registry. This National Center for the Registry of Institutions would be responsible for collecting and maintaining the financial and administrative data of all “economic actors,” including nonprofit associations. Several prominent civil society organizations (CSOs) issued a public statement contending that this registry would duplicate existing requirements, place an undue burden on CSOs, and potentially threaten freedom of association. The government contends that the law does not prevent either the registration or the operations of CSOs.

FREEDOM OF PEACEFUL ASSEMBLY

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

In January the government authorized civil society groups throughout the country to organize peaceful protests against the new budget law as well as price increases and subsidy cuts. Media reported that authorities detained some of the organizers of the social movement #Fech_Nestanew (What Are We Waiting For) on charges including graffiti, destruction of property, and “inciting riots” through the distribution of flyers calling for more protests. All were subsequently released without charge, according to human rights groups. With this notable exception, human rights groups reported that the police respected the protesters’ rights to peaceful assembly.

In several cities, these peaceful social movements gave way to instances of opportunistic crime, including episodes of vandalism and looting masquerading as protests that led to small-scale clashes with security forces. On January 13, the Ministry of Interior stated that authorities arrested more than 930 individuals for criminal charges that the ministry reported were unrelated to the legitimate and authorized protest movements; many of these individuals were subsequently released. The ministry also reported that more than 50 police officers were injured during the protests and one civilian died of asphyxiation as a result of an asthma attack prompted by the tear gas used by police to clear protesters.

Subsequent social movements, including several large protests in downtown Tunis during the summer, took place without major incidents or reports of interference by security forces. In several smaller protests throughout southern Tunisia to demand greater economic development, security forces responded proportionately to violent incidents using riot control techniques and tear gas to disperse crowds that had blocked access to border posts.

FREEDOM OF ASSOCIATION

The law provides for the right of freedom of association, but the government did not always respect it. A 2011 law on associations eliminated penalties in the previous law, as well as the prohibition on belonging to, or serving in, an unrecognized or dissolved association. The law eased the registration procedure, making it more difficult for government entities to hinder or delay registration. According to the 2011 law, only the judiciary has the authority to suspend or dissolve an association. Several independent monitoring organizations asserted, however, that the government delayed registration of associations through unnecessary bureaucratic hurdles, at times for political reasons, a practice counter to the law.

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

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

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

In-country Movement: As of September the Tunisian NGO Observatory for Rights and Freedoms (ODL) estimated that more than 100,000 individuals were on a border-control order list known as “S17.” Originally created to restrict individuals’ movement outside the country, civil society groups report that the government has restricted individuals’ internal travel as well. Amnesty International concluded in an October report that the Ministry of Interior had issued the original S17 directive without independent judicial oversight and that authorities have subsequently applied the directive in a discriminatory and disproportionate manner to restrict movement. Based on research conducted into the application of S17 measures between April 2017 and August 2018, Amnesty found that “as of January 2018, the ministry had prevented 29,450 people from traveling to conflict areas on the basis of S17 measures since 2013.”

Without a clear understanding of the directive’s legal basis and scope, individuals on this list are unable to effectively appeal their inclusion on the list or seek legal redress. Civil society reported that the ministry systematically and discriminatorily included individuals on the “S17” list if they have a conservative appearance or were arrested on suspicion of connection to terrorist groups, even if they were subsequently released without charge. According to the ODL, despite a court order to the contrary, the Ministry of Interior refused to grant individuals access to the orders that led them to be included on the “S17” list. Even in the case of a court mandated suspension or lifting of the travel restrictions, individuals have remained on the list.

Since 2014 more than 500 individuals filed complaints with the ODL, claiming the government prevented them from traveling due to suspicions of extremism, and, in some cases, apparently based on the travelers’ religious attire. The group added that some persons were prevented from traveling despite not having a criminal record, because they were related to a terrorist suspect. In other cases, the observatory claimed that women were prevented from traveling if suspected of prostitution, often based on appearance alone.

Foreign Travel: The law requires that authorities promptly inform those affected by travel restrictions or who have had their passports seized of the reasons for these decisions. In addition, the law provides that the affected individuals have the right to challenge the decision and sets a maximum of 14 months during which their travel can be restricted before requiring another court order. Human rights groups noted the law was not consistently applied and that security forces did not always respect court decisions to reverse travel restrictions.

PROTECTION OF REFUGEES

Access to Asylum: The country does not have a law for granting asylum or refugee status. The Ministry of Interior noted it coordinated regularly with UNHCR in spite of the absence of this legal framework. Pending the creation of a legal framework, UNHCR is the sole entity conducting refugee status determination. UNHCR provided assistance to registered refugees for primary medical care and, in some cases, for basic education. The government granted access to schooling and basic public health facilities for registered refugees.

Temporary Protection: In August authorities received a boat carrying 40 irregular migrants (32 men and eight women) that had been stranded off the coast of Tunisia after being refused entry by several other countries. The secretary of state for immigration and Tunisians abroad, Adel Jarboui, headed the delegation that met the migrants at the port of Zarzis prior to their transfer to a migrant shelter in Medenine. The government announced it would work with the migrants’ countries of origin to facilitate their right to return.

Turkey

Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:

The constitution and law provide for freedom of expression within certain limits, and the government restricted freedom of expression, including for the press, throughout the year. Multiple articles in the penal code directly restrict press freedom and free speech, for example, through provisions that prohibit praising a crime or criminals or inciting the population to enmity, hatred, or denigration, as well as provisions that protect public order and criminalize insult. The law provides for punishment of up to three years in prison for conviction of “hate speech” or injurious acts related to language, race, nationality, color, gender, disability, political opinion, philosophical belief, religion, or sectarian differences. Human rights groups criticized the law for not including restrictions based on gender identity and noted that the law was sometimes used more to restrict freedom of speech than to protect minorities.

Hundreds of incarcerations were widely viewed as related to freedom of expression. In an example of the government’s use of broad definitions of terror to prosecute and intimidate critics, in June, authorities arrested two teenagers who drew a picture of an electric kettle and wrote the name of the pro-Kurdish HDP on a wall in Istanbul’s Gazi neighborhood. The teens were charged with disseminating the propaganda of a terrorist organization. The tea kettle reference came from remarks by jailed HDP presidential candidate Demirtas, who had joked, through social media posts by his lawyers, about tweeting via an electric kettle in his prison cell.

Many in media reported the government’s prosecution of journalists representing major independent newspapers and its jailing of journalists during the preceding two years hindered freedom of speech and that self-censorship was widespread amid fear that criticizing the government could prompt reprisals.

During the year the government opened investigations into thousands of individuals, including politicians, journalists, and minors, for insulting the president, the founder of the Turkish Republic Mustafa Kemal Ataturk, or state institutions. For example, on July 6, authorities detained four students from Ankara’s Middle East Technical University for insulting the president by carrying a banner depicting President Erdogan as different cartoon animals. Critics of the arrests noted that the cartoon had appeared years earlier and had faced a similar challenge in court, but that the court had ruled that it did not meet the threshold for insult. On July 18, President Erdogan directed prosecutors to start criminal insult proceedings against opposition CHP Chairman Kemal Kilicdaroglu and 72 other CHP parliamentarians after they shared the same cartoon via Twitter in a sign of support for the university students.

Estimates of the number of imprisoned journalists varied. The Media and Law Studies Association in Istanbul attributed the disparity to the varying definitions of “journalist” or “media worker.” While the government only officially recognizes persons who have been issued a yellow press accreditation card–typically limited to reporters, cameramen, and editors–media watchdog groups include distributors, copy editors, layout designers, or other staff of media outlets in their definition. The government also characterized those working for Kurdish language outlets as “terrorists” for their alleged ties to the PKK, regardless of their previous work. Information about and access to Kurdish outlets’ imprisoned staff was therefore limited.

The Committee to Protect Journalists claimed that, as of December, there were at least 73 journalists in prison; the Journalists’ Union of Turkey claimed 142 journalists were in prison as of July 20; Reporters without Borders claimed there were 43 journalists in jail as of December 2017; the NGO Platform for Independent Journalism (P24) reported that there were 176 journalists, editors, or media managers in jail as of October 19, the vast majority for alleged ties to the PKK or Gulen movement. An unknown number of additional journalists were outside the country and did not return due to fear of arrest, according to the Journalists Association. Hundreds more remained out of work after the government as part of its response to the 2016 coup attempt, closed media outlets, mostly in 2016-17, that were allegedly affiliated with the PKK or Gulen movement.

Freedom of Expression: Individuals in many cases could not criticize the state or government publicly without risk of civil or criminal suits or investigation, and the government restricted expression by individuals sympathetic to some religious, political, or cultural viewpoints. At times many who wrote or spoke on sensitive topics or in ways critical of the government risked investigation.

A parliamentary by-law prohibits use of the word “Kurdistan” or other sensitive terms by members of parliament on the floor of parliament, providing for the possible issuance of fines to violators. In January parliament fined Osman Baydemir, a suspended former HDP spokesperson and Sanliurfa parliamentarian, 12,000 lira ($2,290) after he referred to himself as a “representative of Kurdistan” during a December 2017 discussion in parliament.

Rights groups and free speech advocates reported intensifying government pressure that, in certain cases, resulted in enhanced caution in public reporting.

Press and Media Freedom: Mainstream print media and television stations are largely controlled by progovernment holding companies. According to Reporters Sans Frontieres (RSF), with the sale in March of the large Dogan Media Group to the progovernment Demiroren Group, the government was able to exert power in the administration of 90 percent of the most watched television stations and most read national dailies. Only a fraction of the holding companies’ profits came from media revenue, and their other commercial interests impeded media independence, encouraged a climate of self-censorship, and limited the scope of public debate.

Nearly all private Kurdish-language newspapers, television channels, and radio stations remained closed on national security grounds under government decrees, although a Kurdish-language radio and television station, Amed Radio-Television, opened following the end of the state of emergency in July.

Government prosecution of independent journalists limited media freedom throughout the year. Examples include 14 persons affiliated with leading independent newspaper Cumhuriyet convicted April 28 of aiding terrorist organizations and sentenced to prison terms ranging between three and seven years. The court placed the journalists on probation and banned them from traveling abroad until the appeals process concluded. The cases continued at year’s end. Examples of journalists whose detentions were considered politically motivated included four journalists and editors who had worked for the now-closed, Gulen-linked Zaman newspaper. Authorities arrested the four in 2016 and they remained in detention on terrorism and coup-related charges. Examples of convictions condemned by international human rights organizations included six journalists sentenced to aggravated life prison terms February 16 for alleged links to the unsuccessful 2016 coup attempt. Courts convicted an additional six journalists associated with the shuttered Zamannewspaper of terrorism-related charges July 6 and sentenced them to between eight and more than 10 years imprisonment.

On July 12, police in Diyarbakir raided the offices of Kurdish publication JinNews and confiscated the new organization’s computers. On June 28, Istanbul police also raided the office of the Sendika.org news website as part of an investigation into Editor in Chief Ali Ergin Demirhan, who was briefly detained on May 28 on charges of promoting “terrorist propaganda” in a column titled, “We Can Stop Dictatorship.”

In several cases the government barred journalists from travelling outside the country. In December 2017 the government imposed a travel ban on journalist Mesale Tolu, a dual German-Turkish national, when she was charged with membership in a terror organization. In August authorities lifted the travel ban pending the outcome of her trial. Many other journalists remained unable to travel abroad due to travel bans.

Violence and Harassment: Government and political leaders and their supporters used a variety of means to intimidate and pressure journalists, including lawsuits, threats, and, in some cases, physical attack.

The government routinely filed terrorism-related charges against an individual or publication in response to reporting on sensitive topics, particularly PKK terrorism and the Gulen movement (also see National Security). Human rights groups and journalists said the government did this to target and intimidate journalists and the public. On June 20, journalist and editor in chief of the Cagdas Sesnews website, Ece Sevin Ozturk, was arrested and charged with aiding a terrorist organization after the conservative progovernment newspaper Yeni Safak alleged that she had ties to “FETO.”

Journalists reported that media outlets fired some individuals for being too controversial or adversarial with the government due to fear of jeopardizing other business interests.

Journalists currently or formerly affiliated with pro-Kurdish outlets faced significant government pressure including incarceration. The government routinely denied press accreditation to Turkish citizens working for international outlets for any association (including volunteer work) with Kurdish-language outlets.

Censorship or Content Restrictions: Government and political leaders increased direct censorship of news media, online media, and books. In November the Interior Ministry reported that authorities investigated 631,233 digital materials, monitored 110,000 social media publications, and detained 7,000 individuals for social media posts.

In August, following a steep drop in the value of the lira, the government promised sanctions against “disturbing” comments or social media posts about the economy, effectively criminalizing criticism of the government’s handling of the economy and the crisis. On September 27, media reported that HDP official Idris Ilhan was arrested for “terror propaganda” and “opposition to the capital markets law” after he tweeted on August 13 that “the dollar is up because we are going down.” On September 18, online publication T24 reported that the General Directorate for Security announced that it had initiated 346 investigations on August 12 alone in connection with posts about foreign currency rates.

On February 6, following a request by the Information and Communication Technologies Authority (BTK), an Ankara court blocked access to hundreds of websites linked to opponents of Operation Olive Branch including organizations, journalists, and news outlets, as well as some YouTube and Instagram accounts, for allegedly “promoting terrorism, inciting people to crime, and disturbing public security and order.”

While the law does not prohibit particular books or publications, publishing houses were required to submit books and periodicals to prosecutors for screening at the time of publication. The Turkish Publishers Association (TPA) reported that the country’s largest bookstore chain, D&R, removed some books from their shelves and did not carry books by some opposition political figures.

The TPA reported publishers often exercised self-censorship, avoiding works with controversial content (including government criticism, erotic content, or pro-Kurdish content) that might draw legal action. The TPA reported that publishers faced publication bans and heavy fines if they failed to comply in cases in which a court ordered the correction of offensive content. Publishers were also subject to book promotion restrictions. In some cases, prosecutors considered the possession of some Kurdish language, pro-Kurdish, or Gulenist books to be credible evidence of membership in a terror organization. In other cases, authorities directly banned books because of objectionable content. For example, in May courts banned at least nine Kurdish books written in Turkish, citing counterterrorism. Avesta, the Kurdish publishing company, stated the books included a biography of Kurdish leader Mustafa Barzani and Yezidi religious books. In October police confiscated copies of an Avesta book on Sheikh Ubeydullah and the Kurdish Uprising of 1880 at the Batman Book Fair and detained the publishing company’s staff.

Some journalists said their firms fired them or asked them to censor their reporting if it appeared critical of the government. These pressures contributed to an atmosphere of self-censorship in which media reporting became increasingly standardized along progovernment lines. Failure to comply typically resulted in a dismissal, with media groups citing “financial reasons” as a blanket cause for termination.

Some writers and publishers were subject to prosecution on grounds of defamation, denigration, obscenity, separatism, terrorism, subversion, fundamentalism, and insulting religious values. Authorities investigated or continued court cases against a myriad of publications and publishers on these grounds during the year. For example, authorities charged Sebla Kucuk with “spreading the propaganda of a terrorist organization” after she published translations of Reuters reports and transcriptions from the court hearings of Turkish banker Mehmet Hakan Atilla and Iranian gold trader Reza Zarrab, who were on trial in the United States for charges related to an Iranian sanctions evasion scheme.

In 2017 the government issued an emergency decree removing the Supreme Board of Election’s authority to fine or halt private radio and television broadcast outlets that violated the principle of equality, which required that broadcasters give equal access to the country’s major political parties. The board’s authority remained curtailed during the year. Critics charged that the move benefited the ruling AKP political party generally, and impacted coverage of the June elections.

The Radio and Television Supreme Council continued the practice of fining broadcasters whose content it considered “contrary to the national and moral values of society.”

Libel/Slander Laws: Observers reported that government officials used defamation laws to stop political opponents, journalists, and ordinary citizens from voicing criticism (see section 2.a., Freedom of Expression, Including for the Press). The law provides that persons who insult the president of the republic may face a prison term of up to four years. The sentence may be increased by one sixth if committed publicly and by one-third if committed by media outlets.

Authorities charged citizens, including minors, with insulting the country’s leaders and denigrating “Turkishness.” For example, on May 29, President Erdogan filed a criminal complaint against CHP candidate Muharrem Ince for allegedly “insulting the president” in claims he made during a campaign rally.

Lawmakers, mostly from the pro-Kurdish HDP, were also targeted in a significant number of insult-related cases. At year’s end, 6,000 HDP lawmakers, executives, and party members were in prison for a variety of charges related to terrorism and political speech.

While leaders and deputies from opposition political parties regularly faced multiple insult charges, free speech advocates pointed out that the government did not apply the law equally and that AKP members and government officials were rarely prosecuted.

The Ministry of Justice reported that in 2017 it launched 20,000 investigations related to insulting the president. Comprehensive government figures for the year were unavailable at year’s end, but according to media reports, from 2014 through 2017, government authorities filed more than 68,000 insult-related lawsuits against individuals or organizations.

National Security: Authorities regularly used the counterterrorism law and the penal code to limit free expression on grounds of national security. Organizations, including the Committee to Protect Journalists and Freedom House, reported that authorities used the counterterrorism law and criminal code to prosecute journalists, writers, editors, publishers, translators, rights activists, lawyers, elected officials, and students accused of supporting a terrorist organization–generally either the PKK or the Gulen movement, or early in the year in connection with opposition to Operation Olive Branch.

In one example, prominent columnist Ahmet Altan remained in prison at year’s end, convicted along with his brother, economist Mehmet Altan, on terror-related charges in February for allegedly sending coded messages to the 2016 coup plotters during a panel discussion on a television program. On June 27, a court released Mehmet Altan, with a travel ban and judicial monitoring as conditions as the trial continued. Many observers viewed their prosecution as an effort to intimidate or silence prominent opposition voices.

Foreign journalists were also prosecuted. For example, in October 2017, a court convicted Wall Street Journal correspondent Ayla Albayrak of terrorist propaganda based on a story she wrote on government-PKK clashes, and was sentenced in absentia to two years and one month in prison. Her case remained under appeal at year’s end.

Nongovernmental Impact: The PKK used a variety of pressure tactics that limited freedom of speech and other constitutional rights in the southeast. In the aftermath of curfews first enacted in 2016 in response to PKK violence, some journalists, political party representatives, and residents of the southeast reported pressure, intimidation, and threats if they spoke out against the PKK or praised government security forces.

INTERNET FREEDOM

During the year internet freedom did not improve. The government did not block new sites as frequently in the past, but it continued to restrict access to the internet and did not unblock selected online content. The government at times blocked access to cloud-based services and permanently blocked access to many virtual private networks. There was evidence that the government monitored private online communications using nontransparent legal authority.

The Freedom House report Freedom on the Net 2017: Manipulating Social Media to Undermine Democracy highlighted increasing efforts by authorities to control use of virtual private networks and the use of government-employed “armies of opinion shapers” to spread progovernment views online.

The law allows the government to block a website or remove content if there is sufficient suspicion that the site is committing any number of crimes, including: insulting the founder of the Turkish Republic, Mustafa Kemal Ataturk or insulting the president. The government may also block sites to protect national security and public order. For example, authorities have blocked Wikipedia and other news and information sites that have content criticizing government policies.

The government-operated BTK is empowered to demand that internet service providers (ISPs) remove content or block websites with four hours’ notice. The regulatory body must refer the matter to a judge within 24 hours, who must rule on the matter within 48 hours. If it is not technically possible to remove individual content within the specified time, the entire website may be blocked. ISP administrators may face a penalty of six months to two years in prison or fines ranging from 50,000 to 500,000 lira ($9,500 to $95,000) for conviction of failing to comply with a judicial order. Under a decree published in the official gazette on July 9, the president appoints the BTK president, vice president, and members of the authority.

The law also allows persons who believe a website has violated their personal rights to ask the regulatory body to order the ISP to remove the offensive content. Government ministers may also order websites blocked, and the regulatory authority is legally compelled to comply within four hours, followed by a court order within 24 hours.

The state of emergency allowed the government expanded powers to restrict internet freedom with reduced parliamentary and judicial oversight. The law provides that government authorities may access internet user records to “protect national security, public order, health, and decency” or to prevent a crime. The law also establishes an ISP union of all internet providers that are responsible for implementing website takedown orders. The judicial system is responsible for informing content providers of ordered blocks. Content providers, including Twitter and Facebook, were required to obtain an operating certificate for the country.

Government leaders, including the president, reportedly employed staff to monitor the internet and initiate charges against individuals accused of insulting them.

Internet access providers, including internet cafes, are required to use BTK approved filtering tools. Additional internet restrictions operated in government and university buildings. According to the internet freedom NGO Engelliweb, the government blocked at least 54,400 websites during the year. Of those, 51,600 were blocked through a BTK decision and 875 by court order.

In April 2017 the BTK banned Wikipedia from operating in the country due to two terrorism-related articles, pursuant to a law that allows filtering on national security grounds. The BTK also demanded the removal of “offensive content” and that Wikipedia open an office in the country. The organization appealed the decision, which the Constitutional Court upheld on May 5. Wikipedia remained inaccessible in the country without the use of virtual private networks. The government stated the ban would remain in place as long as Wikipedia does not remove content that links the country with support to the terrorist group ISIS.

According to Twitter’s internal transparency report, during the first six months of the year, the company received 8,988 court orders and other legal requests from authorities to remove content, more than double compared to the previous six months. According to digital news source The Daily Dot, at year’s end, Twitter had blocked media-related accounts in the country at the government’s request.

In July Russia’s state-controlled Sputnik news agency shut down its Kurdish language website, reportedly in response to a request from Turkish authorities.

ACADEMIC FREEDOM AND CULTURAL EVENTS

During the year the government continued to limit academic freedom, restrict freedom of speech in academic institutions, and censor cultural events.

The president appointed rectors to state and foundation-run universities, leading critics to assert that the appointments compromised the independence of the institutions. Hundreds of additional professors lost their jobs or faced charges due to political speech during the year. The Council of Higher Education reported that, as of July 31, 7,257 academics from more than 100 universities had been dismissed since the 2016 attempted coup under state of emergency decrees. Of those, 5,705 were suspended for allegedly aiding a terrorist organization. Many of those dismissed were prohibited from travelling abroad, as were their spouses and children. During the first half of the year, rectors required the permission of the chairman of the Council of Higher Education to travel abroad. That requirement was lifted in July. Other administrators and some professors were also required to seek permission from supervisors for foreign travel. Throughout the year, courts issued sentences for 28 academics, known as the Academics for Peace, for “terrorist propaganda” after they were among the more than 1,100 signatories of a 2016 petition condemning state violence against Kurds in the southeast and calling for peace. Among them, an Istanbul court sentenced prominent physician and chairwoman of the Human Rights Foundation of Turkey, Sebnen Financi, on December 19 to two years and eight months in prison for “spreading terrorist propaganda.”

Some academics and event organizers stated their employers monitored their work and that they faced censure from their employers if they spoke or wrote on topics not acceptable to academic management or the government. Many reported practicing self-censorship. Human rights organizations and student groups criticized legal and Higher Education Board-imposed constraints that limited university autonomy in staffing, teaching, and research policies.

State of emergency and antiterror measures also affected arts and culture. In May press outlets reported that state broadcaster TRT had banned 208 songs from the airwaves over the previous two years. TRT defended the practice, stating it was respecting the law which forbids the broadcast of content encouraging people to smoke or drink or that conveys “terrorist propaganda.” On May 23, authorities arrested rapper Ezhel on charges of inciting drug use in some of his songs; following a month of pretrial arrest, the court acquitted and released him on June 19. In January Ankara and Istanbul authorities banned actor Baris Atay’s play, Only Dictator, indefinitely citing security concerns.

The government restricted the freedoms of peaceful assembly and association.

FREEDOM OF PEACEFUL ASSEMBLY

Although the constitution provides for freedom of assembly, the law provides several grounds for the government to limit that right. The law stipulates penalties for protesters convicted of carrying items that might be construed as weapons, prohibits the use of symbols linked to illegal organizations (including chanting slogans), and criminalizes covering one’s face during a protest. The law permits police to use tinted water in water cannons, potentially to tag protesters for later identification and prosecution. The law also allows police to take persons into “protective custody” without a prosecutor’s authorization if there is reasonable suspicion that they are a threat to themselves or to public order. The state of emergency and subsequent antiterror law gave governorates enhanced authority to ban protests and public gatherings, a ban widely enacted during the year.

The government regarded many demonstrations as security threats to the state, deploying large numbers of riot police to control crowds, sometimes using excessive force. At times the government used its authority to detain persons before protests were held on the premise that they might cause civil disruption.

Throughout the year at the hearings of detained former HDP co-chair Demirtas, the Ankara governorate or court security personnel banned gatherings, marches, and sit-in protests outside the court. Domestic and international observers were also banned from observing the trial hearings.

The government also selectively restricted meetings to designated sites or dates, particularly limiting access to Istanbul’s Taksim Square and Ankara’s Kizilay Square, and set up roadblocks to prevent protesters from gathering there. Although police removed barriers around the human rights monument in Ankara’s Kizilay Square in July, a mobile police presence remained. The government banned many demonstrations outright if they touched on sensitive subjects.

On August 25, Istanbul police began preventing the vigil of the Saturday Mothers–a group who since the 1990s had gathered to commemorate the disappearances of relatives following their detention by Turkish security forces in the 1980s and 1990s and call for accountability. Interior Minister Suleyman Soylu said the group was exploiting the concept of motherhood to mask support for terrorism.

In January police prevented HDP lawmaker Ziya Pir, Democratic Regions Party (DBP) co-chair Mehmet Arslan, Democratic Society Congress (DTK) co-chair Leyla Birlik, and other party members from holding a press conference opposing Operation Olive Branch in front of the HDP Diyarbakir provincial headquarters.

Security forces at times responded with excessive force to protests, resulting in injuries, detentions, and arrests. The government generally supported security forces’ actions. The HRA and HRFT jointly reported that, in the first 11 months of the year, police intervened in 785 demonstrations, detaining 3,697 people and arresting 118 individuals. Year-end figures for those injured in clashes with authorities during demonstrations were not available. Human rights NGOs asserted that the government’s failure to delineate clearly in the law the circumstances that justify the use of force contributed to disproportionate use of force during protests. On June 27, for example, police in Ankara broke a facial bone of a protester in Ankara while detaining her.

On May 1 (Labor Day), authorities restricted rallies in parts of Istanbul and other cities if they were not government sanctioned. In Istanbul, 50 persons participating in the celebrations were detained while authorities closed Taksim Square, the traditional venue for the celebrations. Police roughly arrested protesters who sought to defy the ban on demonstrations by marching towards the square.

On April 25, Istanbul police briefly detained three human rights activists for using the word “genocide” in their statements and on their banners in an April 24 Armenian Remembrance Day commemoration organized by the HRA in Istanbul’s Sultanahmet Square. Police reportedly told the organizers that the term “genocide” was not permitted, and they did not allow the ceremony to be held.

Pro-Kurdish demonstrations of many kinds faced violent police responses throughout the year. For example, police tear gassed and sprayed pressurized water at supporters of the pro-Kurdish HDP celebrating the party’s elections performance in June after the demonstrators began throwing stones at police vehicles.

Local authorities issued indefinite bans on LGBTI events in several parts of the country, including for film festivals and other public activities in Ankara and parts of Istanbul. Adana’s governor banned a planned LGBTI pride march in June, and Ankara’s governor extended a ban on LGBTI events through the end of October 2019.

FREEDOM OF ASSOCIATION

While the law provides for freedom of association, the government continued to restrict this right during the year. Under the state of emergency and using provisions of the antiterror law, the government shut down associations and foundations for alleged threats to national security. The government did not release data on the number of NGOs it closed during the year. According to the HRJP, the government closed nearly 1,500 nongovernmental associations or foundations for alleged threats to national security. Other NGOs reported different statistics, based on different data collection methods. Observers widely reported that the appeals process for institutions seeking redress was opaque and ineffective (see section 1.e.).

By law, persons organizing an association do not need to notify authorities beforehand, but an association must provide notification before interacting with international organizations or receiving financial support from abroad and must provide detailed documents on such activities. Representatives of associations stated this requirement placed an undue burden on their operations. Human rights and civil society organizations, groups promoting LGBTI rights, and women’s groups in particular complained that the government used regular and detailed audits to create administrative burdens and to intimidate them through the threat of large fines. Bar association representatives reported that police sometimes attended civil society organizational meetings and recorded them, interpreting it as a means of intimidation.

In January authorities detained at least 25 members of the conservative Furkan Foundation and closed all of its branches in Adana in connection with the group’s criticism of Operation Olive Branch. In July 2017 authorities detained eight leading human rights activists, including Amnesty International’s Turkey director, and two foreign trainers during a workshop on digital security and stress management that President Erdogan claimed was a “continuation” of the 2016 failed coup attempt. Most were charged with supporting a terrorist organization. All were released from pretrial detention in October 2017, but those arrested still faced charges and prison time at year’s end.

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, but the government limited these rights. The government restricted foreign travel for hundreds of thousands of citizens accused of links to the Gulen movement or the failed 2016 coup attempt. On July 25, authorities lifted the foreign travel bans of 155,000 individuals, although it remained unclear how many more remained unable to travel. Curfews imposed by local authorities in response to counter-PKK operations and the country’s military operation in northern Syria also restricted freedom of movement. Authorities in Sirnak province, on the country’s border with Syria and Iraq, designated 12 areas as “temporary security zones” through February 12. The government also limited freedom of movement for the 3.6 million persons from Syria as well as for the approximately 370,000 persons from Iraq, Afghanistan, and other countries who were present in the country.

The government cooperated with the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) and other humanitarian organizations in providing protection and assistance to conditional refugees, returning refugees, stateless persons, and temporary and international protection status holders.

Abuse of Migrants, Refugees, and Stateless Persons: Between January and December, authorities apprehended 268,003 irregular migrants attempting to enter Turkey, according to Turkish General Staff and Ministry of Interior data. Multiple sources reported that authorities denied entry to undocumented Iraqis and Syrians during the year. There were reports Turkish border guards intercepted, or summarily deported, Syrians seeking asylum back to Syria. For example, on March 22, HRW reported Turkish forces “routinely intercepted hundreds, and at times thousands, of asylum seekers at the Turkey-Syria border since at least December 2017 and summarily deported them to the war-ravaged Idlib governorate in Syria.” Turkish border guards also reportedly killed or injured Syrian asylum-seekers at the border (see Section 1.a.).

The country’s borders with Syria and Iraq have remained closed to all but urgent humanitarian cases since late 2015. Of the 19 border crossing points between Syria and Turkey, only three were open for limited civilian access. The rest were for military or military and humanitarian assistance only. Since November 2017 some provinces along the border with Syria had limited registration of asylum seekers to newborn babies and urgent protection cases only, limiting their ability to gain access to social services, including education and medical care.

Incidents of societal violence directed against refugees and persons in refugee-like conditions increased during the year. In June in the Bornova district of Izmir Province, tensions between local residents and Syrian refugees erupted into violence that continued for three days. Workplace exploitation, child labor, and early marriage also remained significant problems among refugees. Human rights groups alleged conditions in detention and removal centers sometimes limited migrants’ rights to communication with and access to family members, interpreters, and lawyers (also see Refoulement).

UNHCR conducted a number of visits to temporary reception centers in Duzici/Osmaniye and Kayseri, where migrants readmitted from Greece were referred on a temporary basis, but did not have regular, unfettered access. In most cases, these migrants did not have access to legal counsel or interpretation, leaving them vulnerable to refoulement.

UNHCR reported there were LGBTI asylum seekers and conditional refugees in the country, most from Iran. According to human rights groups, these refugees faced discrimination and hostility from both authorities and the local population due to their status as members of the LGBTI community. Commercial sexual exploitation also remained a significant problem in the LGBTI refugee community.

In-country Movement: The constitution provides that only a judge may limit citizens’ freedom to travel and only in connection with a criminal investigation or prosecution. The state of emergency allowed the government to limit citizens’ internal movement without a court order. The new antiterror law allows severe restrictions to be imposed on freedom of movement, such as granting governors the power to limit movement, including entering or leaving provinces, for up to 15 days.

Freedom of movement remained a problem in parts of the east and southeast, where continuing PKK activity led authorities to block roads and set up checkpoints, temporarily restricting movement at times. The government instituted special security zones, restricting the access of civilians, and established curfews in parts of several provinces in response to PKK terrorist attacks or activity (see section 1.g.).

Conditional refugees and Syrians under temporary protection also experienced restrictions on their freedom of movement (see Protection of Refugees).

Foreign Travel: The government placed restrictions on foreign travel for tens of thousands of citizens accused of links to the Gulen movement or the failed coup attempt. The government applied travel restrictions to those accused of affiliation with terrorist groups or Gulen movement, as well as to their extended family members. Authorities also restricted foreign citizens with dual Turkish citizenship from leaving the country. The government maintained that these travel restrictions were necessary and justified to preserve security.

Syrians under temporary protection risked the loss of temporary protection status and a possible bar on re-entry into the country if they chose to travel to a third country or return temporarily to Syria. The government issued individual exit permissions for Syrians under temporary protection departing the country for family reunification, health treatment, or permanent resettlement, and required an individual exception for all other reasons. The government sometimes denied exit permission to Syrians under temporary protection for reasons that were unclear.

Until September non-Syrian conditional refugees accepted by a third country for resettlement through a UNHCR process also needed to obtain exit permission before leaving the country. In September the government assumed full control of the national asylum system for international protection cases and became the referring authority for all resettlement cases.

INTERNALLY DISPLACED PERSONS (IDPS)

The renewal of conflict between the government and the PKK in the southeast in 2015 resulted in hundreds of thousands of IDPs. In some cases those displaced joined IDPs remaining from the conflict between security forces and the PKK between 1984 and the early 2000s. A reduction in urban clashes and government reconstruction efforts during the year permitted some IDPs to return to their homes. Overall numbers remained unclear at year’s end.

The law allows persons who suffered material losses due to terrorist acts, including those by the PKK or by security forces in response to terrorist acts, to apply to the government’s damage determination commissions for compensation. The government reported that, between 2004 and June, it had distributed more than 1 billion lira ($190 million) to more than 70,000 victims of displacement due to past PKK terrorism in Sirnak province.

PROTECTION OF REFUGEES

The government took steps during the year to increase services provided to almost four million refugees in the country. A 2016 agreement between the government and the EU continued to hold down irregular migration from Turkey to Europe via the Aegean Sea. As of November 23, the government reported a total of 32,000 interceptions of individuals attempting to leave Turkey via the Aegean. Fewer individuals than in 2017 attempted to leave Turkey through a more dangerous route to Romania via the Black Sea and Evros River through the Greek border.

Refoulement: During the year UNHCR reported 27 cases of possible refoulement of persons of various nationalities, including Iraqis, Afghans, Iranians, and Syrians. Reports of detention of larger numbers of individuals, including Syrians and Iraqis, were also received. Authorities generally offered protection against refoulement to all non-European asylum seekers who met the definition of a refugee in the 1951 UN Refugee convention, although there were some unconfirmed cases of possible refoulement and tens of thousands of deportations may have taken place during the year. According to media reports, between January and October, more than 26,000 Afghans and more than 5,000 irregular migrants were deported.

Access to Asylum: The law provides for standard treatment of asylum seekers countrywide and establishes a system of protection, but it limits rights granted in the 1951 convention to refugees from Europe and establishes restrictions on movement for conditional refugees. While non-European asylum seekers were not considered refugees by law, the government granted temporary protection status to Syrians while maintaining conditional/subsidiary refugee status and providing international protection for other asylum seekers. Individuals recognized by the government for temporary protection (Syrians) or conditional/subsidiary refugee status (all other non-Europeans, for example, Iraqis, Iranians, and Somalis) were permitted to reside in the country temporarily until they could obtain third country resettlement.

The law provides regulatory guidelines for foreigners’ entry into, stay in, and exit from the country, and for protection of asylum seekers. The law does not impose a strict time limit to apply for asylum, requiring only that asylum seekers do so “within a reasonable time” after arrival. The law also does not require asylum seekers to present a valid identity document to apply for status.

UNHCR stopped registering persons of concern on September 10 as the Ministry of Interior Directorate General for Migration Management (DGMM) assumed full control of the national asylum system, including those under international protection. It reported that approximately 370,932 persons of concern were registered with UNHCR as of September 7, including 142,728 who were Iraqi nationals, 171,519 Afghan nationals, 39,220 Iranian nationals, and 5,757 Somali nationals. As of December 13, there were 3,611,834 Syrians registered for temporary protection; as of December 13, there were 143,803 Syrians and Iraqis residing in government-run camps, according to DGMM statistics.

UNHCR reported it had intermittent and unpredictable access to detention and removal centers where non-Syrians returned to the country from Greece were detained. UNHCR expressed doubts that all readmitted persons had access to the asylum procedure and reported that the access of readmitted persons to information, interpretation services, and legal assistance was problematic.

Freedom of Movement: Authorities assigned “conditional refugees” to one of 62 “satellite cities,” where they are supposed to receive services from local authorities under the responsibility of provincial governorates. These refugees were required to check in with local authorities on either a weekly or biweekly basis and needed permission from local authorities to travel to cities other than their assigned city, including for meetings with UNHCR or resettlement-country representatives. Syrians under temporary protection were also restricted from traveling outside of provinces listed on their registration cards without permission. Syrians and non-Syrians could request permission to travel or to transfer their registration through the DGMM. Certain provinces did not accept travel permission requests or transfer of registration from Syrians under temporary protection. Syrians living in camps required permission from camp authorities to leave the camps.

Employment: The law allows both Syrians under temporary protection and non-Syrian conditional refugees the right to work, provided they have been registered in the province they wish to work in for six months. Applying for a work permit was the responsibility of the employer, and the procedure was so burdensome and expensive that relatively few employers pursued legally hiring refugees. As a consequence, the vast majority of both conditional refugees and Syrians under temporary protection remained without legal employment options, leaving them vulnerable to exploitation, including illegally low wages, withholding of wages and exposure to unsafe work conditions.

Access to Basic Services: The government provided free access to the public medical system to Syrians registered for temporary protection and subsidized medical care to other conditional refugees. The government also expanded access to education for more than 640,000 of one million school-age Syrian children. Many encountered challenges overcoming the language barrier or meeting transportation or other costs, or both.

As of November 1, the Ministry of National Education reported that 64 percent or 640,000 school-age Syrian children in the country were in school, a significant increase from prior years. An estimated 36 percent remained out of school during the 2018-19 school year. According to UNICEF, more than 350,000 refugee children received monthly cash assistance for education through a joint program with UNICEF funded by international donors.

Provincial governments, working with local NGOs, were responsible for meeting the basic needs of refugees and other asylum seekers assigned to satellite cities in their jurisdictions, as well as of the Syrians present in their districts. Basic services were dependent on local officials’ interpretation of the law and their resources. Governors had significant discretion in working with asylum seekers and NGOs, and the assistance provided by local officials to refugees and persons in situations similar to those of refugees varied widely.

Durable Solutions: The law does not provide for durable solutions within the country for Syrians under temporary protection or for conditional refugees, but it allows them to stay until resettled to a foreign country or able to return to their country of origin. The government granted citizenship to some Syrian refugees on a limited basis. As of September authorities had granted approximately 60,000 Syrians citizenship since 2010, according to the Interior Ministry’s General Directorate of Population and Citizenship Affairs.

Temporary Protection: The government offered temporary protection to Syrian refugees who did not qualify as refugees due to the European-origin limitation in the law. Authorities required Syrian asylum seekers to register with the DGMM to legalize their temporary stay in the country. In some provinces, after November 2017, DGMM no longer processed new registrations beyond new babies and highly vulnerable Syrians. Syrians who registered with the government were able to receive an identification card, which qualified them for assistance provided through the governorates, including free health care. During the year administration of the camps was handed from the emergency authority to the DGMM, and the DGMM completed the closure of six camps and relocation of approximately 60,000 residents. Remaining residents of the camps received significantly more assistance, including shelter, education, and food support.

Syrians who officially entered the country with passports could receive one-year residence permits upon registration with the government. Figures for the year were not available as of year’s end.

STATELESS PERSONS

Government figures for stateless persons for the year were not available as of year’s end. The government provided documentation for children born to conditional refugees and Syrians under temporary protection, although statelessness remained an increasing concern for these children, who could receive neither Turkish citizenship nor documentation from their parents’ home country. According to public statements by the Interior Minister, as of December there were more than 380,000 babies born to Syrian mothers in the country since the beginning of the Syrian conflict in 2011.

Turkmenistan

Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:

The constitution provides for freedom of expression, including for the press, but the government did not respect this right.

Freedom of Expression: The law requires political parties to allow representatives of the Central Election Committee and Ministry of Justice to monitor their meetings. The government warned critics against speaking with visiting journalists or other foreigners about human rights problems.

During the year the government publicized new laws that stipulate civil servants must refrain from making public statements on the activities of the government and its leaders if such statements are not part of their official duties. The laws also state that civil servants must refrain from making public statements regarding the value of goods, works, and services, including the government’s budget, borrowing, or debt.

In May, Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty (RFE/RL) reported its stringer Soltan Achilova was detained and questioned by local authorities when she tried to photograph a flower-laying ceremony the president was attending. In June, two unidentified men confronted Achilova when she visited her relatives in Mary Province. On the same day, local traffic police impounded her relative’s vehicle and stated they would not return the vehicle until Achilova left the province.

Press and Media Freedom: The government financed and controlled the publication of books and almost all other print media and online newspapers and journals. Quasi-independent weekly newspaper Rysgal continued to operate, although its stories were largely reprints from state media outlets or reflected the views of the state news agency. The government maintained restrictions on the importation of foreign newspapers except for the private, but government-sanctioned, Turkish newspaper Zaman Turkmenistan, which reflected the views of the official state newspapers, and Atavatan-Turkmenistan, a Turkish journal.

The government controlled radio and domestic television, but satellite dishes providing access to foreign television programming were widespread throughout the country. International organizations and news outlets highlighted the forced removal of some satellite dishes by the government and replacement with telecommunications packages, such as cable, that limited access to certain channels and kinds of information. Citizens also received international radio programs through satellite access.

The government continued its ban on subscriptions to foreign periodicals by nongovernmental entities, although copies of nonpolitical periodicals appeared occasionally in the bazaars. The government maintained a subscription service to Russian-language outlets for government workers, although these publications were not available for public use.

There was no independent oversight of media accreditation, no defined criteria for allocating press cards, no assured provision for receiving accreditation when space was available, and no protection against the withdrawal of accreditation for political reasons. The government required all foreign correspondents to apply for accreditation. It granted visas to journalists from outside the country only to cover specific events, such as international conferences and summit meetings, where it could monitor their activities.

Violence and Harassment: The government subjected journalists critical of its official policy to surveillance and harassment. There were reports law enforcement officials harassed and monitored citizen journalists who worked for foreign media outlets, including by monitoring their telephone conversations and restricting their travel abroad. Gaspar Matalaev was detained in 2016 after reporting on the use of forced and child labor in the cotton fields. In May the UN Working Group on Arbitrary Detention found that his imprisonment was “a targeted action by the Turkmen authorities against a prominent human rights defender in the country.”

Censorship or Content Restrictions: The law prohibits censorship and provides for freedom to gather and disseminate information, but authorities did not implement the law. The government continued to censor newspapers and prohibit reporting of opposition political views or any criticism of the president. Domestic journalists and foreign news correspondents often engaged in self-censorship due to fear of government reprisal.

To regulate domestic printing and copying activities, the government required all publishing houses, printing, and photocopying establishments to register their equipment. The government did not allow the publication of works on topics that were out of favor with the government, including some works of fiction. The government must approve the importation, publishing, and dissemination of religious literature. Importation of the Quran and the Bible is prohibited.

INTERNET FREEDOM

The government continued to monitor citizens’ email and internet activity. Reports indicated the Ministry of National Security controlled the main internet access gateway and that several servers belonging to internet protocol addresses registered to the Ministry of Communications operated software that allowed the government to record Voice over Internet Protocol (VOIP) conversations, turn on computer cameras and microphones, and log keystrokes. The authorities blocked access to websites they considered sensitive, including YouTube, Twitter, and Facebook, as well as virtual private network connections, including those of diplomatic missions and international businesses, and severely restricted internet access to other websites. Skype, an encrypted VOIP service, was blocked throughout the year.

According to the International Telecommunication Union, 21 percent of the population used the internet in 2017.

ACADEMIC FREEDOM AND CULTURAL EVENTS

The government did not tolerate criticism of government policy or the president in academic circles and curtailed research in areas it considered politically sensitive, such as comparative law, history, ethnic relations, and theology. In 2015 a presidential decree established procedures for the government to certify foreign diplomas. To have foreign diplomas formally recognized, graduates must complete an application, submit information on their family history for three generations, and pass regular Turkmen university graduation exams related to their majors. Due to this extensive process, many graduates of foreign universities reported they were unable to certify their diplomas with authorities at the Ministry of Education, making them ineligible for employment at state agencies. Some graduates reported ministry officials demanded bribes to allow certification of their diplomas.

The Ministry of Culture censored and monitored all public exhibitions, including music, art, and cultural events. The government strictly controlled the production of plays and performances in state theaters, and these were severely limited. Authorities also strictly controlled film screenings and limited viewings to approved films dubbed or subtitled in Turkmen and Russian, unless sponsored by a foreign embassy.

FREEDOM OF PEACEFUL ASSEMBLY

The constitution and law provide for freedom of assembly, but the government restricted this right. During the year authorities neither granted the required permits for public meetings and demonstrations nor allowed unregistered organizations to hold demonstrations. According to Forum 18, in some instances police raided homes where members of religious groups were meeting and detained participants.

Unregistered religious groups were not allowed to meet, according to the country’s religion law adopted in 2016.

FREEDOM OF ASSOCIATION

Although the constitution and law provide for freedom of association, the government restricted this right. The law requires all NGOs to register with the Ministry of Justice and all foreign assistance to be coordinated through the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. Unregistered NGO activity is punishable by a fine, short-term detention, and confiscation of property. The law requires all religious groups to register with the Ministry of Justice and sets out a schedule of fines for religious activity conducted by unregistered groups.

Of the estimated 120 registered NGOs, international organizations recognized only a few as independent. NGOs reported the government presented a number of administrative obstacles to NGOs that attempted to register. Authorities reportedly rejected some applications repeatedly on technical grounds. Some organizations awaiting registration found alternate ways to carry out activities, such as registering as businesses or subsidiaries of other registered groups, but others temporarily suspended or limited their activities. Although the law states there is a process for registering foreign assistance, NGOs had difficulty registering bilateral foreign assistance in practice due to the 2013 decree requiring such registration.

Sources noted a number of barriers to the formation and functioning of civil society. These included regulations that permitted the Ministry of Justice to send representatives to association events and meetings and requirements that associations notify the government about their planned activities.

In February 2017 the official government newspaper Neytral’nyy Turkmenistan published the changes and new amendments to the Law on Public Associations. Specifically, the law does not exempt religious organizations, nonprofit associations, and political parties; founders of public associations have to be Turkmen citizens; the law denies public associations the right to represent and protect the rights of other citizens, including the right to participate in elections; and public associations can be sponsored only by legal entities, including foreign nonprofit organizations.

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 do not provide for full freedom of movement. The government did not cooperate with the Office of the UN High Commission for Refugees (UNHCR).

In-Country Movement: The law requires internal passports and residency permits. Persons residing or working without residency permits face forcible removal to their place of registration. A requirement for a border permit remained in effect for all foreigners wishing to travel to border areas.

In August, RFE/RL reported Ashgabat City police cleared the city of provincial labor migrants by sending them back to their provinces. Reportedly, police conducted these types of clean-up raids during the September 2017 Asian Indoor and Martial Arts Games and the September “Amul-Hazar” international auto rally.

The law does not permit dual citizenship. Starting in 2015 all dual citizens were obliged to renounce one of their citizenships if they wanted to travel outside the country. The process of renouncing Turkmen citizenship is not transparent and can take up to a year.

Foreign Travel: The government continued to bar certain citizens from departing under its Law on Migration. The law states that Turkmenistan citizens may be denied exit from the country “if their exit contravenes the interests of national security of Turkmenistan.” “Prove They Are Alive!” reported that any of the country’s law enforcement bodies can initiate a travel ban on a citizen and that travelers in various categories may be denied departure, including young men obliged to military service; persons facing criminal and civil charges or under probationary sentence; relatives of persons reportedly convicted and imprisoned for the 2002 alleged assassination attempt; as well as journalists, civil society activists, and their family members. Although the government denied maintaining a “black list” of local persons not permitted to travel abroad, ANT reported that such a list existed and contained approximately 17,000 names. According to various sources, in most cases travelers who were stopped were not given an explanation for denial of departure and were informed of the ban only upon attempting foreign travel from the airport. Some individuals were able to obtain documentation from the State Migration Service (SMS) later stating they were not allowed to depart the country, but without justification for the ban. In some cases authorities initially denied travelers departure from the country, but after several days, or in some cases weeks, the travelers were allowed to depart without explanation for the delay.

The government routinely prevented citizens from travelling abroad for programs sponsored by foreign governments, unless the program was specifically approved in advance by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. Migration officials often stopped “nonapproved” travelers at the airport and prevented them from leaving. In some cases, however, those traveling for approved programs were also not allowed to depart or were delayed.

The law provides for restrictions on travel by citizens who had access to state secrets, presented falsified personal information, committed a serious crime, were under surveillance, might become victims of trafficking, previously violated the law of the destination country, or whose travel contradicts the interests of national security. In some cases the law provides for time limits on the travel ban as well as fines for its infraction. Former public-sector employees who had access to state secrets were prevented from traveling abroad for five years after terminating their employment with the government. The law allows authorities to forbid recipients of presidential amnesties from traveling abroad for a period of up to two years. The law also allows the government to impose limitations on obtaining education in specific professions and specialties.

In March 2017 the SMS reduced the validity of passports from 10 years to five years.

In its 2016-17 annual report, AI stated that arbitrary restrictions on the right to travel abroad remained in practice. According to AI, the government targeted, among others, relatives of those accused of involvement in the alleged attempt to assassinate then president Niyazov in 2002, relatives of opposition figures residing abroad, civil society activists, students, journalists, and former migrant workers.

The Ministry of Labor and Social Welfare reportedly received instructions to deny benefits to children whose parents left the country for long periods of time. It was unknown whether this instruction was implemented, but it appeared to fit what observers, including RFE/RL, believed was a government plan to ensure that local labor migrants returned to the country. In April RFE/RL reported such measures and concluded their target was labor migrants who had left the country.

Exile: The law provides for internal exile, requiring persons to reside in a certain area for a fixed term of two to five years.

PROTECTION OF REFUGEES

While formally there is a system for granting refugee status, it was inactive. In 2009 the government assumed responsibility from UNHCR for making refugee status determinations but did not grant refugee status since. UNHCR had observer status at government-run refugee-status determination hearings. There were no new asylum seekers officially registered in the country since 2005. UNHCR reported that as of October 2017, 22 UNHCR mandate refugees resided in the country. Each of these had been individually recognized under UNHCR’s mandate between 1998 and 2002. Mandate refugees were required to renew UNHCR certificates with the government annually. The country did not grant citizenship to any UNHCR mandate refugees during the year.

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. The country had not granted asylum since 2005.

STATELESS PERSONS

The country had a significant population of former Soviet Union citizens who became stateless due to the breakup of the Soviet Union. UNHCR’s last estimate of this population was calculated in 2015, at which time they estimated there were 7,111 stateless persons or persons of underdetermined nationality in the country. The number of stateless persons who were also refugees was not available. Citizenship is derived primarily from one’s parents. The requirement that applicants for citizenship prove they are not citizens of another country impeded efforts to establish the nationality of undocumented persons. According to UNHCR, however, in the past 10 years, the government granted citizenship to an estimated 18,000 stateless persons. In September the government granted 735 stateless person citizenship. The law allows stateless persons to reside in the country legally and travel internationally with government-issued identification and travel documents.

Undocumented stateless persons did not have access to public benefits, education, or employment opportunities.

Tuvalu

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. An effective judiciary and a functioning democratic political system combined to promote freedom of expression, including for the press.

Press and Media Freedom: Although there were no government restrictions, the government’s Media Department controlled the country’s sole radio station. There were no local private, independent media to express a variety of views.

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. Internet access was available primarily on Funafuti, although connections were slow, expensive, and unreliable. According to the International Telecommunication Union, 49 percent of the population had access to the internet in 2017.

ACADEMIC FREEDOM AND CULTURAL EVENTS

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

Although the law provides for freedom of peaceful assembly, the government allowed island chiefs to place restrictions on it.

FREEDOM OF PEACEFUL ASSEMBLY

The law provides for freedom of peaceful assembly; however, the government allows island chiefs to place restrictions on assembly for public worship (see section 2.c.).

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 provides for the granting of asylum or refugee status, but the government has not established a system for providing protection to refugees. There were no reported applications for asylum or refugee status during the year.

Uganda

Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:

The constitution and law provide for freedom of speech, including for the press, but the government often restricted this right.

Freedom of Expression: The government restricted citizens’ ability to criticize its actions. It also restricted some political symbols, musical lyrics, and theatrical performances.

On September 1, local media reported that the ISO had blocked dual citizen Kato Kajubi from flying out of the country, accusing him of offensive communication after he posted videos on social media showing himself participating in a protest abroad against the government’s arrest of Kyagulanyi. The authorities released Kajubi but held him under house arrest without arraigning him in court. In late October, Kajubi was finally allowed to depart the country. His computer and phone had not been returned to him by year’s end.

The cyberharassment trial of Makerere University professor Stella Nyanzi remained pending at year’s end. On November 2, Nyanzi was arrested on new allegations of offending the president, due to social media posts made in September in which she allegedly insulted the president and his mother. On November 7, after being detained for more than 48 hours without charge, Nyanzi was charged under Section 25 of the Computer Misuse Act 2011 on offensive communication. The trial continued at year’s end.

Press and Media Freedom: The country had an active media environment with numerous privately owned newspapers and television and radio stations. These media outlets regularly covered stories and often provided commentary critical of the government and officials. The UPF’s Media Crimes Unit, however, closely monitored all radio, television, and print media, and security forces subjected numerous journalists to harassment, intimidation, and arrest. Government officials and ruling party members owned many of the private rural radio stations and imposed reporting restrictions. Media practitioners said government and security agents occasionally called editors and instructed them not to publish stories that negatively portrayed the government. In September the Uganda Communications Commission (UCC) directed all radio and television stations to broadcast live the president’s speeches on political and security events. The president repeatedly attacked critical media in his speeches. In at least three speeches between January and June, the president referred to the privately owned The Daily Monitor and Red Pepper as enemy newspapers and warned that he “would do something” about The Daily Monitor if it did not desist from reporting about the country’s growing foreign debt. The government instructed telecommunication companies to pull down internet news agencies that did not register with the UCC.

Violence and Harassment: Security forces subjected journalists to violence, harassment, and intimidation.

Local CSO Human Rights Network for Journalists Uganda (HRNJU) reported that the government did not stop its security agencies from denying journalists access to news scenes, damaging and confiscating cameras, and unlawfully arresting journalists. The HRNJU and local media reported that the security forces harassed at least 12 journalists through July. On August 21, local television aired footage of UPDF soldiers beating Reuters journalist James Akena with sticks as he covered youths protesting Kyagulanyi’s detention, even as he knelt down and raised his hands in the air. On September 20, the police and SFC blocked journalists from accessing Entebbe International airport and sections of the Entebbe-Kampala highway, and arrested several journalists, effectively stopping the media from covering Kyagulanyi as he returned from the U.S., where he had gone for medical treatment. The minister of security told local media on September 3 that acts of security personnel beating journalists during protests were “occupational hazards” because “whenever it rains, everyone gets wet.”

Censorship or Content Restrictions: The government directly and indirectly restricted media coverage and content. On March 27, local media reported that the UCC had suspended the broadcast licenses of 23 radio stations, accusing them of “abetting electronic fraud” by promoting “witchcraft content.” The UCC told local media that the radio stations hosted “witchdoctors” who conned the public by promising to solve a listener’s problems if the listener sent them money. The UCC reported in August that it had withdrawn the suspension after the radio stations committed themselves to respect broadcasting regulations.

Many print and broadcast journalists practiced self-censorship, particularly when reporting on the president, his inner circle, and powerful business companies.

Libel/Slander Laws: Authorities used libel and slander laws to suppress criticism of government officials. On May 22, the UPF questioned and later released on bond four editors of online publications on criminal libel charges after they published personal bank account details of a former central bank official that the government ombudsman was investigating for corruption.

National Security: Authorities cited laws protecting national security to restrict criticism of government policies. In November 2017 the UPF closed the Red Pepper newspaper, arrested its five directors and three editors, and charged them with treason after the newspaper published a story alleging the president was working to overthrow a neighboring country’s government. The court released the eight on bail in late December 2017, but authorities did not allow the newspaper to reopen until January 24, after a January 22 presidential pardon. On March 27, the DPP dropped the treason charges against the eight.

INTERNET FREEDOM

The government restricted and disrupted access to the internet and censored online content. On July 1, the government levied a 200-shilling (five-cent) daily tax on social media that it said was to compensate for revenue losses incurred due to migration of utility preference from conventional voice calls to internet-based messaging and calls. The president, however, in a July 4 statement, said the tax on social media use was justified because social media users abused the internet by taking part in “subversion and malice.”

ACADEMIC FREEDOM AND CULTURAL EVENTS

The government restricted some artistic presentations. The government in October, November, and December blocked Kyagulanyi from holding concerts at various locations across the country. Authorities also blocked other musicians from holding concerts at the Kyagulanyi-owned One Love Beach venue. On August 2, local media reported that UPF had blocked Kyagulanyi from holding five concerts because the UPF said he would use the events to incite the public, even after the UPF had given written assurance to provide security for the events.

The government restricted freedoms of peaceful assembly and association.

FREEDOM OF PEACEFUL ASSEMBLY

While the constitution provides for freedom of assembly, the government did not respect this right. The government continued to use the Public Order Management Act to limit the right to assemble and disrupted opposition and civil society-led public meetings and rallies. The act also placed a significant bureaucratic burden on those wishing to organize or host gatherings and afforded the UPF wide discretion to prevent an event by refusing to approve it, or, more commonly, by not responding to the permission request, which then created a legal justification for disrupting almost any gathering.

According to local media, the UPF on July 11 fired teargas and live bullets to disperse a crowd of youth who were marching in Kampala to protest the government’s imposition of a 1-percent tax on all mobile money transactions. The police arrested three protesters and the state charged them in court on July 16 with holding an unlawful assembly. The court released the three on bail on July 23 and the trial continued at year’s end. On July 18, the UPF questioned MP Kyagulanyi, who had led the protest, and released him on police bond.

FREEDOM OF ASSOCIATION

While the constitution and law provide for freedom of association, the government did not respect this right. The government restricted the operations of local nongovernmental organizations (NGOs), especially those that work on civil and political rights (see section 5). Government regulations enacted in 2017 require NGOs to disclose sources of funding and personal information about their employees and impose onerous registration and reporting requirements. Government regulations enable the NGO Bureau and its local level structures to deny registration to any organization focused on issues deemed to be “undesirable” or “prejudicial” to the “dignity of the people of Uganda.” The regulations also provide the NGO Bureau broad powers to inspect NGO offices and records and to suspend their activities without due process. The regulations increased registration fees for local NGOs from 20,000 shillings ($5.33) to 100,000 ($26.67), and annual permit renewal fees from 20,000 shillings ($5.33) to 60,000 shillings ($16), respectively. They also introduced new fees, including for the NGO Bureau to review permit applications (60,000 shillings, or $16) and for NGOs to file annual reports (50,000 shillings, or $13.33). On July 24, local media reported that the minister for internal affairs had instructed the bureau “to tighten accountability oversight” over NGOs to ensure they used their funds for the approved purpose. The bureau in turn vowed “to crack the whip” on NGOs deemed noncompliant. Local media reported that the minister had voiced suspicion that NGOs used foreign funds to support dissent.

The government also restricted the operations of opposition political parties (see section 3).

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, 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. The government continued to uphold its enabling asylum policies and practices towards refugees and asylum seekers from various countries, mainly from South Sudan, the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), Burundi, and Somalia. Most refugees enjoyed unhindered access to asylum, freedom of movement, freedom of residence, right to registration and documentation, and access to justice, education, health care, and employment.

Abuse of Migrants, Refugees, and Stateless Persons: UNHCR and migrant-support NGOs reported they received credible reports that some military, immigration, customs, and refugee officials at several entry and registration points harassed refugees and confiscated personal items. UNHCR and NGOs also received reports that some government officials demanded bribes from refugees to process or issue paperwork, especially at Old Kampala Police Station, where urban refugees and other migrants register.

UNHCR and NGOs observed South Sudanese armed groups abduct South Sudanese men in refugee settlements, forcibly returning them home to fight in the country’s civil war. UNHCR reported the government deployed additional troops to improve its border surveillance and promised to investigate the alleged abductions.

PROTECTION OF REFUGEES

Refoulement: Although there were no credible reports of refoulement during the year, Rwandan and Burundian refugee groups expressed fear that authorities were either complicit in or unable to stop extrajudicial actions by neighboring governments.

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. While individuals fleeing South Sudan have prima facie refugee status (status without determination of individual refugee status), the Refugee Eligibility Committee determines whether individuals fleeing from the DRC, Somalia, and Burundi are eligible for refugee status. The committee was functional, but administrative issues and the continued influx of asylum seekers from the DRC and Burundi created a backlog of more than 50,000 cases.

The country does not have a policy of presumptive denials of asylum to applicants. Numerous sources, however, reported that the country had for several years clandestinely received migrants expelled from Israel. According to official reports, the country was unaware of Israeli government plans–later challenged and halted in Israeli courts–to remove approximately 39,000 migrants to unnamed African countries. Sources reported many Eritrean, Ethiopian, and Sudanese migrants crossed through the country. Some of these migrants eventually made their way to Libya and attempted to cross to Europe. There are no credible reports of official acquiescence or complicity in such crossings.

Durable Solutions: The government did not accept third-country refugees for resettlement, but it assisted in the safe and voluntary return of refugees to their homes and supported the resettlement of third-country refugees to other countries by providing birth certificates and travel documents. Following a 2015 constitutional court ruling that confirmed the right to naturalization for certain long-term refugees, however, the government in 2016 committed to begin processing naturalization cases for an estimated 15,000 refugees who had resided in the country for approximately 20 years. By year’s end there were no known cases of a refugee having naturalized.

Ukraine

Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:

The constitution and law provide for freedom of expression, including for members of the press. Authorities did not always respect these rights, however. The government introduced measures that banned or blocked information, media outlets, or individual journalists deemed a threat to national security or who expressed positions that authorities believed undermined the country’s sovereignty and territorial integrity. Other problematic practices continued to affect media freedom, including self-censorship, so-called jeansa payments (publishing unsubstantiated news articles for a fee), and slanted news coverage by media outlets whose owners had close ties to the government or opposition political parties.

In the Donbas region, Russia-led forces suppressed freedom of speech and the press through harassment, intimidation, abductions, and assaults on journalists and media outlets. They also prevented the transmission of Ukrainian and independent television and radio programming in areas under their control.

Freedom of Expression: With some exceptions, individuals in areas under government control could generally criticize the government publicly and privately and discuss matters of public interest without fear of official reprisal. The law criminalizes the display of communist and Nazi symbols as well as the manufacture or promotion of the “St. George’s ribbon,” a symbol associated with Russia-led forces in the Donbas region. During the May 9 celebration of World War II Victory Day, several persons were detained in Kyiv, Lviv, Poltava, Melitopol, and Odesa for carrying banned Soviet symbols.

The law prohibits statements that threaten the country’s territorial integrity, promote war, instigate racial or religious conflict, or support Russian aggression against the country, and the government prosecuted individuals under these laws.

Press and Media Freedom: The NGO Freedom House rated the country’s press as “partly free.” Independent media and internet news sites were active and expressed a wide range of views. Privately owned media, the most successful of which were owned by wealthy and influential oligarchs, often presented readers and viewers a “biased pluralism,” representing the views of their owners, favorable coverage of their allies, and criticism of political and business rivals. The 10 most popular television stations were owned by businessmen whose primary business was not in media. Independent media had difficulty competing with major outlets that operated with oligarchic subsidies.

As of October 1, the Institute of Mass Information (IMI) recorded 140 cases of alleged violations of freedom of press during the year, compared with 152 cases over the same period in 2017.

Jeansa–the practice of planting one-sided or favorable news coverage paid for by politicians or oligarchs–continued to be widespread. IMI’s monitoring of national print and online media for jeansa indicated that a wide range of actors ordered political jeansa, including political parties, politicians, oblast governments, and oligarchs. According to IMI press monitoring, during the month of September, the country’s internet media contained the highest level of jeansa observed in the previous five years, a level twice as high as the same period in 2017, with 52 percent of journalists reporting that their outlet regularly published jeansa. 

Violence and Harassment: Violence against journalists remained a problem. Human rights groups and journalists criticized what they saw as government inaction in solving the crimes as giving rise to a growing culture of impunity.

According to IMI, as of September 1, there had been 22 reports of attacks on journalists during the year, compared with 19 cases during the same period in 2017. As in 2017, private, rather than state, actors perpetrated the majority of the attacks. As of September 1, there were 24 incidents involving threats against journalists, as compared with 22 during the same period in 2017. IMI and editors of major independent news outlets also noted online harassment of journalists by societal actors, reflecting a growing societal intolerance of reporting deemed insufficiently patriotic, a development they asserted had the tacit support of the government.

On September 8, two men, one of them identified as Volodymyr Voychenko, a member of the Novoodesa district council in Mykolaiv Oblast, attacked and beat the editor in chief of the local Mykolaiv newspaper My City, Mykola Popov. According to Popov, Voychenko and an accomplice approached him at a restaurant to complain about his writing and then beat him. The journalist linked the attack to his critical publications about local authorities. Police opened an investigation into both Popov and his attackers, who had filed a complaint claiming that Popov had attacked them.

There were also reports that police beat journalists covering demonstrations (see section 2.b).

There were reports of police using violence and intimidation against journalists. For example in February 21, several female journalists seeking to attend the treason trial of former president Yanukovych reported that police officers forced them to undress and undergo invasive security checks in order to be granted entry to a courtroom where Poroshenko was testifying via video link. Specifically, the female journalists were asked to remove all clothing above the waist so that police could confirm that they did not have political slogans written on their bodies. Police later indicated that they had been looking for members of the protest group Femen, who often conducted partially nude protests. The presidential administration subsequently apologized for the intrusive checks, but the National Police spokesperson defended the police actions as “necessary.”

There were reports of attacks on the offices of independent media outlets, generally by unidentified assailants. For example, on February 23, an unknown assailant burned the offices of the investigative news website Chetverta Vlada (fourth Power) in Rivne. Police opened an investigation into the attack. Five days prior, unknown persons had robbed the offices hosting the website’s server and seized key equipment, which incapacitated the site. Two perpetrators were identified and police issued a wanted notice.

There were reports that government officials sought to pressure journalists through the judicial system. On August 27, Pechersk District Court in Kyiv granted the Prosecutor General’s Office access to 17 months of text messages, calls, and locations from the cell phone of journalist Natalia Sedletska, who was the editor in chief of the anticorruption investigative television program Schemes. The court’s decision was made in the context of a case against Artem Sytnyk, the head of the National Anticorruption Bureau (NABU) for allegedly disclosing state secrets to journalists in which Sedletska and a number of other journalists were called as witnesses. Sedletska had previously refused to provide information to the Prosecutor General’s Office voluntarily on the grounds her communications with confidential sources are protected under the law. Human rights defenders considered the court’s decision a violation of press freedom and an attempt to harass and intimidate Sedletska. On September 18, an appeals court ruled to restrict the original request to geolocation data from around the offices of the NABU in Kyiv, but upheld the original timeframe. On September 18, the ECHR ordered the government to ensure that authorities do not access any data from Sedletska’s cell phone. According to press reports, Sedletska was one of at least three journalists whose communications data was subject to court rulings that it should be provided to the Prosecutor General’s Office.

There were no developments during the year in the 2016 killing of well-known Belarusian-Russian journalist Pavel Sheremet, who hosted a morning show on Vesti radio and worked for the Ukrainska Pravda online news outlet (see section 1.a.).

In June 2017 authorities completed the investigation of the 2015 killing of Oles Buzyna, allegedly by members of a right-wing political group, and referred the case to court for trial. Court hearings against two suspects were underway as of September.

Censorship or Content Restrictions: Human Rights organizations frequently criticized the government for taking an overly broad approach to banning books, television shows, and other content (see sections on National Security and Internet Freedom).

The State Committee on Television and Radio Broadcasting (Derzhkomteleradio) maintained a list of banned books that were seen to be aimed at undermining the country’s independence, spreading propaganda of violence, inciting interethnic, racial, religious hostility, promoting terrorist attacks, or encroaching on human rights and freedoms. As of July the list contained 180 books. In January, Derzhkomteleradio banned the Russian-language translation of Stalingrad, an award-winning book by British historian Anthony Beever. Authorities held that the book’s allegation that Ukrainian militias during World War II carried out an execution of 90 Jewish orphans in Bila Tserkva constituted “propaganda” encroaching on the country’s sovereignty and security.

Both independent and state-owned media periodically engaged in self-censorship when reporting stories that might expose political allies to criticism or that might be perceived by the public as insufficiently patriotic or provide information that could be used for Russian propaganda.

Libel/Slander Laws: Libel is a civil offense. While the law limits the monetary damages a plaintiff can claim in a lawsuit, local media observers continued to express concern over high monetary damages awarded for alleged libel. Government entities, and public figures in particular, used the threat of civil suits, sometimes based on alleged damage to a person’s “honor and integrity,” to influence or intimidate the press and investigative journalists.

For example, on June 13, Ukroboronprom (an association of state-run companies producing defense articles) filed a lawsuit against Publishing House Media DK, the media group that owns Novoye VremyaNovoye Vremya had published articles on corruption connected to state purchases of defense articles from Ukroboronprom. The lawsuit called for the protection of Ukroboronprom’s honor and dignity and demanded that Novoye Vremya publish a retraction of the story on corruption schemes. The case had not yet been heard in court by year’s end.

National Security: Authorities took measures to prohibit, regulate, and occasionally censor information deemed a national security threat, particularly those emanating from Russia and promoting pro-Russian lines, in the context of the ongoing conventional conflict in the Donbas, as well as the ongoing Russian disinformation and cyber campaigns.

The government continued the practice of banning specific works by Russian actors, film directors, and singers, as well as imposing sanctions on pro-Russian journalists. According to the State Film Agency, as of mid-September more than 660 films and television shows had been banned on national security grounds since 2014. In response to Russia’s continued barrage of cyberattacks and disinformation as part of its efforts to destabilize Ukraine, the government maintained its May 2017 ban on the operations of 468 companies and 1,228 persons that allegedly posed a “threat to information and the cyber security of the state.” Among them were the country’s two most widely used social networks, which were based in Russia, and major Russian television channels.

There were reports that the government used noncompliance with these content bans to pressure outlets it perceived as having a pro-Russian editorial policy. For example, on January 25, the television channel INTER, which some observers perceived to have a pro-Russian bias, received notice from the SBU that it would be subjected to additional “inspections” on the grounds the channel had aired films that were banned because they starred pro-Russian actors that posed a “threat to national security.”

On October 4, parliament approved a resolution to impose sanctions on television channels 112 Ukraine and NewsOne due to their alleged pro-Russian activities and beneficial owners. The resolution called for blocking of assets, suspension of licenses, a ban on the use of radio frequencies, and a termination of the provisions of telecommunication services and usage of general telecommunications networks. As of December sanctions had not yet come into force.

On September 18, the Lviv Oblast council banned all Russian-language books, films, and songs, in order to combat “hybrid warfare” by Russia. The Zhytomyr and Ternopil Oblast Councils mirrored this measure on October 25 and November 6 respectively. Observers expressed doubts that this type of ban could be enforced.

Media professionals continued to experience pressure from the SBU, the military, and other officials when reporting on sensitive issues, such as military losses. For example, the editor in chief of the weekly magazine Novoye Vremya reported threats to the magazine’s editorial board by the chair of the parliamentary committee on national security and former head of the Ukroboronprom Serhiy Pashynsky, and the deputy chair of the National Security and Defense Council Oleg Hladkovsky. The magazine reported that the two officials were the main beneficiaries of corruption schemes connected to state purchases of defense articles. On April 12, attorneys for the two members of parliament visited the magazine’s office and demanded that Novoye Vremya publish a retraction of the story on national security grounds. The magazine refused to do so.

There were reports that the government used national security grounds to arrest and prosecute journalists it believed had a pro-Russian editorial bias. On May 15, the SBU searched RIA Novosti Ukraine’s office. Editor in Chief Kirill Vyshinskiy was arrested and charged with high treason. According to the SBU, in the spring of 2014, Vyshinskiy went to Crimea, where he allegedly took part in a propaganda campaign supporting the peninsula’s purported annexation by Russia, for which the SBU alleged he was given an award by the Russian government. The Committee to Protect Journalists, Reporters without Borders, and the OSCE representative on freedom of the media expressed concern at the time of his arrest. Pretrial investigation continued as of late September.

Authorities continued to deport and bar entry to foreign journalists on national security grounds. On July 10, border guards barred John Warren Graeme Broderip, a UK national and the host of the Russian channel NTV, from entering the country and imposed a three-year entry ban on him for violating the rules of entering occupied Crimea in 2015.

Nongovernmental Impact: There were reports that nationalist hate groups committed attacks on journalists. For example according to IMI, on July 19, members of nationalist hate group C14 in Kyiv attacked a journalist covering a trial of C14 members who had been charged with attacking a Romani camp.

Russia-led forces in the east harassed, arbitrarily detained, and mistreated journalists (see section 1.g.). According to the HRMMU, “the space for freedom of opinion and expression remained highly restricted.” The HRMMU documented the case of two men detained and charged with espionage for their pro-Ukrainian positions expressed in social media. The HRMMU also noted that “local media currently operated mainly as a tool for promoting those in control.” According to CyberLab Ukraine, the authorities in the “Luhansk People’s Republic” blocked more than 50 Ukrainian news outlets.

The HRMMU reported that journalists entering Russia-controlled territory of the “DPR” had to inform the “press center” of the “ministry of defense” about their activities on a daily basis, were arbitrarily required to show video footage at checkpoints, and were accompanied by members of armed groups when travelling close to the contact line.

On August 22, the Russian state-run television channel Rossiya 24 broadcast an “interview” with Stanislav Aseyev, in which he falsely confessed to spying for Ukraine. “DPR authorities” arrested Aseyev in June (see section 1.g.).

INTERNET FREEDOM

According to the International Telecommunication Union (ITU), 53 percent of the population used Internet in 2017. Law enforcement bodies monitored the internet, at times without appropriate legal authority, and took significant steps during the year to block access to websites.

On May 14, the president endorsed new sanctions approved by the National Security and Defense Council that, among other things, obliged Ukrainian internet providers to block 192 sites, in addition to those previously blocked.

Human rights groups and journalists who were critical of Russian involvement in the Donbas region and the occupation of Crimea reported their websites were subjected to cyberattacks, such as coordinated denial of service incidents and unauthorized attempts to obtain information from computers, as well as coordinated campaigns of “trolling” and harassment on social media.

In its annual Freedom on the Net report published in November, Freedom House concluded that internet freedom had deteriorated for the second year in a row. It noted in particular that “authorities have become less tolerant of online expression perceived as critical of Ukraine’s position in the conflict, and the government has been especially active this year in sanctioning social media users for ‘separatist’ and ‘extremist’ activities, with many users detained, fined, and even imprisoned for such activities. Meanwhile, Russia-led forces in the east have stepped up efforts to block content online perceived to be in support of Ukrainian government or cultural identity.”

There were reports that the government prosecuted individuals for their posts on social media. According to the media monitoring group Detector Media, in 2017 authorities opened criminal investigations into 40 users or administrators of social media platforms for posting content that “undermined the constitutional order” of the country or otherwise threatened national security, 37 of which were referred to court. For example, according to Freedom House, in February the SBU searched the home of a Chernihiv resident for allegedly posting anti-Ukrainian content on Russian social media platforms. Authorities seized his computer and telephone, and later charged him for “undermining the constitutional order.” According to the SBU, the man shared content on several groups and pages with more than 20,000 followers.

On November 28, representatives of at least four Ukrainian human rights, media, and anticorruption organizations were notified by Google that their private and corporate Google accounts were attacked by offenders likely backed by the Russian government. Ukrainian users received similar messages throughout 2015-2016. Independent analysis indicated that a hacker group named Fancy Bear associated with the Russian Government was behind the attacks.

ACADEMIC FREEDOM AND CULTURAL EVENTS

There were no reports of government restrictions on academic freedom or cultural events. The government maintained a list of Russian or pro-Russian musicians, actors, and other cultural figures that it prohibited from entering the country on national security grounds.

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

FREEDOM OF PEACEFUL ASSEMBLY

The constitution provides for the freedom of peaceful assembly, and the government generally respected this right. There are no laws, however, regulating the process of organizing and conducting events to provide for the right, and authorities have wide discretion under a Soviet-era directive to grant or refuse permission for assemblies on grounds of protecting public order and safety. Organizers are required to inform authorities in advance of plans for protests or demonstrations.

During the year citizens generally exercised the right to assemble peacefully without restriction in areas of the country under government control. There were reports, however, that police at times used excessive force when dispersing protests. For example, on March 3, police destroyed a protest tent camp that had been set up near the parliament in October 2017. Police allegedly beat protesters and used tear gas against journalists. Nineteen persons sustained injuries (10 had head injuries and nine other types of physical injuries), including journalists from Radio Liberty, Hromadske TV, and the Insider news outlet. The journalists reported deliberate attacks by police despite the fact that they had clearly identified themselves as members of the press. According to the chief of the Kyiv police, investigators and police were lawfully investigating criminal acts in connection with protester attempts to seize the International Center for Culture and Arts in Kyiv in December 2017 and clashes at the parliament on February 27. Police initiated two criminal investigations on possible use of excessive force by officers and interference by police in the work of journalists who were attempting to record the event. The investigation continued as of December.

While the main 2018 Pride March in Kyiv was protected by thousands of police, police at times did not adequately protect smaller demonstrations, especially those organized by persons belonging to minority groups or opposition political movements. Events organized by women’s rights activists or the LGBTI community were regularly disrupted by members of nationalist hate groups. On March 8, members of right-wing groups attacked participants in public events in Uzhhorod, Lviv, and Kyiv aimed at raising awareness of women’s rights and gender-based and domestic violence. Police launched investigations of the incidents. Police briefly detained attackers but no charges were filed.

In Russia-controlled territory, the HRMMU noted an absence of demonstrations because “people are concerned that they may be ‘arrested’ if they organize protests or assemblies against the policies” of Russia-led forces. The HRMMU also noted the only demonstrations permitted in these areas were ones in support of local “authorities,” often apparently organized by Russia-led forces, with forced public participation.

FREEDOM OF ASSOCIATION

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

Human rights groups and international organizations continued to criticize sharply a law signed by the president in March 2017 that introduced vague and burdensome asset-reporting requirements for civil society organizations and journalists working on anticorruption matters. The law was widely seen as an intimidation and a revenge measure against the country’s anticorruption watchdogs, which had successfully pushed for increased financial transparency for government officials. Heads and members of the boards of anticorruption NGOs had to submit their asset declarations by April 1. Observers continued to express concern that these asset declarations have the potential to endanger the staff of NGOs working on human rights and anticorruption, particularly if they work on issues related to Russian-occupied Crimea or areas of the Donbas controlled by Russia-led forces.

Human rights organizations reported a growing number of unsolved attacks on members of civil society organizations, which they believed created a climate of impunity. A September 26 joint statement by several dozen Ukrainian civic organizations stated that there had been more than 50 such attacks in the previous 12 months and accused the government of failing to investigate these crimes properly.

There were reports of incidents in which observers alleged that the government targeted activists for prosecution in retaliation for their professional activity. For example, several major human rights groups expressed concern about the government’s prosecution of Vitaliy Shabunin, head of the anticorruption NGO AntAC, which they alleged was selective and politically motivated. On January 15, authorities charged Shabunin with allegedly inflicting bodily harm on a journalist, a charge that carries a heavier penalty than the crime of inflicting intentional moderate bodily harm with which he had previously been charged in 2017. Both charges stemmed from an incident in June 2017 in which Shabunin allegedly punched Vsevolod Filimonenko, a supposed journalist who had reportedly harassed one of Shabunin’s colleagues. Human rights groups noted that video footage of the events suggested that Filimonenko may have been sent by the country’s security services to provoke a conflict with Shabunin and that the resources and vigor the government applied to prosecuting Shabunin far exceeded their usual approach to prosecuting attacks on journalists, including attacks where the resultant injuries were much more grave.

According to the HRMMU, in the territories controlled by Russia-led forces, domestic and international civil society organizations, including human rights defenders, could not operate freely. Residents informed the HRMMU they were being prosecuted (or feared being prosecuted) by the “ministry of state security” for their pro-Ukrainian views or previous affiliation with Ukrainian NGOs. If human rights groups attempted to work in those areas, they faced significant harassment and intimidation. The HRMMU also noted an increase in civil society organizations run by Russia-led forces, which appeared to require certain persons, such as public-sector employees, to join.

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 citizens with freedom of internal movement, foreign travel, emigration, and repatriation. The government, however, restricted these rights, particularly in the eastern part of the country near the zone of conflict.

The government cooperated with UNHCR and other humanitarian organizations in providing protection and assistance to IDPs, refugees, returning refugees, asylum seekers, stateless persons, and other persons of concern. International and domestic organizations reported the system for protecting asylum seekers, stateless persons, and other persons of concern did not operate effectively.

Abuse of Migrants, Refugees, and Stateless Persons: Authorities frequently detained asylum seekers for extended periods without court approval.

In-country Movement: The government and Russia-led forces strictly controlled movement between government-controlled areas and territories in the Donbas region controlled by Russia-led forces. Crossing the contact line remained arduous. Public passenger transportation remained prohibited.

While five crossing points existed, only four were in operation for much of the year. According to the HRMMU, between May and August, an average of 39,000 individuals crossed the line daily. The HRMMU reported that individuals crossing the contact line, predominantly the elderly and people with medical issues, had to spend several hours standing in line. According to the State Emergency Service of Ukraine in Luhansk Oblast, up to 100 persons experienced health incidents each day at the Stanytsia-Luhanska checkpoint between May and August.

The government used a pass system involving an online application process to control movement into government-controlled territory. Human rights groups expressed concern that many persons in Russia-controlled territory did not have access to the internet to obtain such passes and that the pass system imposed significant hardships on persons crossing into government-controlled territory, in particular those who sought to receive pensions and government benefits, which were not distributed in the territory controlled by Russia-led forces. As of April 2017, crossing permits no longer expire and residents of territory adjacent to the line of contact on the government-controlled side did not need a permit to cross.

The HRMMU repeatedly voiced concern over reports of corruption by checkpoint personnel on both sides, including demands for bribes or goods in exchange for easing passage across the line of contact. Russia-led forces continued to hinder freedom of movement in the eastern part of the country.

The government and Russian occupation authorities subjected individuals crossing between Russian-occupied Crimea and the mainland to strict passport controls at the administrative boundary between Kherson Oblast and Crimea. Authorities prohibited rail and commercial bus service across the administrative boundary, requiring persons either to cross on foot or by private vehicle. Long lines and insufficient access to toilets, shelter, and potable water remained prevalent. Civil society, journalists, and independent defense lawyers continued to maintain that the government placed significant barriers to their entry to Crimea, including lengthy processes to obtain required permissions, thereby complicating their ability to document and address abuses taking place there.

INTERNALLY DISPLACED PERSONS (IDPS)

According to the Ministry of Social Policy, as of late September more than 1.5 million persons were registered IDPs due to Russia’s aggression in eastern Ukraine and the occupation of Crimea. Some NGOs and international organizations estimated the number to be lower, since some persons returned to their homes after registering as IDPs, while others registered while still living in the conflict zone. The largest number of IDPs resided in areas immediately adjoining the conflict zones, in government-controlled areas of Donetsk and Luhansk Oblasts as well as in Kharkiv, Dnipropetrovsk, and Zaporizhzhya Oblasts. Many resided in areas close to the line of contact in the hope they would be able to return home.

The government granted social entitlements only to those individuals who had registered as IDPs. By law, IDPs are eligible to receive payments of 880 hryvnias ($33) per month for children and persons with disabilities and 440 hryvnias ($16) per month for those able to work. Families may receive no more than 2,400 hryvnias ($89) per month. According to the law, the government should provide IDPs with housing, but authorities did not take effective steps to do so. On October 10, the president signed a law providing for the priority provision of social housing for IDPs with disabilities. Humanitarian aid groups had good access to areas under government control.

Housing, employment, and payment of social benefits and pensions remained the greatest concerns among IDPs. Local departments of the Ministry of Social Policy regularly suspended payment of pensions and benefits pending verification of their recipients’ physical presence in government-controlled territories, ostensibly to combat fraud, requiring recipients to go through a burdensome reinstatement process.

According to the HRMMU, the government applied the IDP verification procedure broadly. The suspensions affected the majority of IDP residents in government-controlled territory, as well as most residents of Russia-controlled areas; effects were especially acute for the elderly and disabled, whose limited mobility hindered their ability to verify whether they were included in the lists or to prove their residency. The government often suspended payments without notification, and IDPs reported problems having them reinstated. On September 4, the Supreme Court ruled that the verification requirement did not constitute lawful grounds for termination of pension payments.

According to research conducted by the International Organization for Migration (IOM), 59 percent of surveyed IDP households relied on government support as one of their main sources of income. More than 15 percent of IDP respondents indicated their social payments had been suspended.

IDPs were unable to vote in local elections unless they changed their registration to their new place of residence.

According to the HRMMU, IDP integration remained impeded by the lack of a government strategy and the consequent absence of allocation of financial resources, leading to IDPs’ economic and social marginalization. Local civil society organizations and international humanitarian organizations provided the bulk of assistance for IDPs on a temporary basis. NGOs reported their ability to support IDPs was limited and nearing exhaustion. UN agencies reported the influx of IDPs led to tensions arising from competition for scarce resources. Critics accused internally displaced men who moved to western areas of the country of evading military service, while competition rose for housing, employment, and educational opportunities in Kyiv and Lviv.

A shortage of employment opportunities and the generally weak economy particularly affected IDPs, forcing many to live in inadequate housing, such as collective centers and other temporary accommodations. Other IDPs stayed with host families, volunteers, and in private accommodations, although affordable private accommodations were often in poor condition.

NGOs reported employment discrimination against IDPs. Some IDPs, particularly those in government-controlled areas of Donetsk and Luhansk Oblasts, lacked sufficient sanitation, shelter, and access to potable water. IDPs continued to have difficulty obtaining education, medical care, and necessary documents. Romani activists expressed concern that some Roma in eastern areas could not afford to flee conflict areas, while others had no choice but to leave their homes.

In 2015 the Kyiv Administrative Court of Appeal overturned a National Bank decision that Crimean IDPs were nonresidents, which had restricted access to banking and financial services for those fleeing the Russian occupation. Nonetheless, media reports indicated that banks continued to restrict banking services for Crimean IDPs even after the court decision.

PROTECTION OF REFUGEES

Refoulement: The government often did not provide for protection against the expulsion or return of asylum seekers to a country where there was reason to believe their lives or freedom would be threatened on account of their race, religion, nationality, membership in a particular social group, or political opinion. For example on September 12, the Prosecutor General’s Office authorized the extradition of a Russian citizen, Timur Tumgoyev, to the Russian Federation, which subsequently prosecuted him on terrorism charges. According to press reports, Tumgoyev had been in the country since 2016, had apparently fought in a progovernment battalion in the Donbas, and had requested asylum. The UN Human Rights Committee had previously called on the country’s authorities to halt Tumgoyev’s extradition pending consideration of his assertion that he would face torture if forcibly returned. On September 19, the Prosecutor General’s Office opened an investigation into whether there had been criminal negligence on the part of the state agencies involved in Tumgoyev’s extradition. On October 6, the Russian press reported that Tumgoyev had been severely beaten in detention in Russia.

There were also allegations that officials deported some individuals to countries where they were at risk of imprisonment without providing an opportunity for them to apply for asylum. For example on July 12, the SBU in Mykolaiv detained Turkish opposition journalist Yusuf Inan, who had a permanent residence permit in Ukraine. On July 13, a Mykolaiv court ruled to extradite him to Turkey, where he was wanted on charges of being a member of the Gulen movement. According to press reports, authorities immediately transported Inan to Turkey, denying him the ability to appeal the court decision or apply for asylum.

Access to Asylum: The law provides for asylum or refugee status, and the government has established a legal system to protect refugees. Protection for refugees and asylum seekers was insufficient due to gaps in the law and the system of implementation. As of July 1, only seven persons had received refugee status since the start of the year. The country is a transit and destination country for asylum seekers and refugees, principally from Afghanistan, the Russian Federation, Bangladesh, Syria, and Iraq.

Human rights groups noted that the refugee law falls short of international standards due to its restrictive definition of a refugee. The law permits authorities to reject many asylum applications without a thorough case assessment. In other instances government officials declined to accept initial asylum applications without a legal basis, leaving asylum seekers without documentation and vulnerable to frequent police stops, fines, detention, and exploitation. Asylum seekers in detention centers were sometimes unable to apply for refugee status within the prescribed time limits and had limited access to legal and other assistance. Asylum seekers have five days to appeal an order of detention or deportation.

A lack of access to qualified interpreters also hampered the full range of asylum procedures. International observers noted the government did not provide resources for interpreters, which created opportunities for corruption and undermined the fairness of asylum application procedures.

Employment: Most asylum seekers were unable to obtain a work permit as required by law. Some asylum seekers worked illegally, increasing their risk of exploitation.

Access to Basic Services: The national plan on the integration of refugees adopted by the government did not allocate resources for its implementation. A UNHCR report indicated all newly recognized refugees received a one-time grant of approximately 30 hryvnias ($1.10). Some reports, however, indicated the government did not always provide payment.

Temporary accommodation centers had a reception capacity of 421. Asylum seekers living outside an official temporary accommodation center often experienced difficulties obtaining residence registration, and authorities regularly fined them more than 500 hryvnias ($19) because they lacked registration. According to the State Migration Service, refugees and those seeking complementary protection could receive residence registration at homeless shelters for up to six months.

According to UNHCR, gaps in housing and social support for unaccompanied children left many without access to state-run accommodation centers or children’s shelters. Many children had to rely on informal networks for food, shelter, and other needs and remained vulnerable to abuse, trafficking, and other forms of exploitation. UNHCR noted a lack of educational programs and vocational activities for those in detention for extended periods.

Temporary Protection: The government also provided temporary protection (“complementary protection”) to individuals who may not qualify as refugees; as of July 1, authorities had provided complementary protection to 37 persons during the year, bringing the overall total to 739.

STATELESS PERSONS

UNHCR estimated there were 35,463 stateless persons in the country at year’s end. Persons who were either stateless or at risk of statelessness included Roma, homeless persons, current and former prisoners, and persons over 50 who never obtained a Ukrainian personal identification document after the fall of the Soviet Union and were no longer able to obtain one.

The law requires establishing identity through a court procedure, which demanded more time and money than some applicants had. UNHCR reported Roma were at particular risk for statelessness, since many did not have birth certificates or any other type of documentation to verify their identity. Homeless persons had difficulty obtaining citizenship because of a requirement to produce a document testifying to one’s residence.

Ukraine (Crimea)

Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:

See the Country Reports on Human Rights for Russia for a description of the relevant Russian laws and procedures that the Russian government applied and enforced in occupied Crimea.

Occupation authorities significantly restricted freedom of expression and subjected dissenting voices including the press to harassment and prosecution. They refused to register independent print and broadcast media outlets, forcing them to cease operations. Threats and harassment against international and Ukrainian journalists were common.

Freedom of Expression: The HRMMU noted that occupation authorities placed “excessive limitations on the freedoms of opinion and expression.” Individuals could not publicly criticize the Russian occupation without fear of reprisal. Human rights groups reported the FSB engaged in widespread surveillance of social media, telephones, and electronic communication and routinely summoned individuals for “discussions” for voicing or posting opposition to the occupation.

During the year human rights monitors observed an increase in prosecutions and convictions for opinions expressed in social media posts, at times for posts that were written before Russia began its occupation of Crimea. For example, on May 4, a court in Sevastopol sentenced Ihor Movenko to two years in a minimum security prison for commenting on a social network that “Crimea is Ukraine.”

There were reports that authorities detained individuals for “abusing” the Russian flag or other symbols of the Russian occupation. For example on July 26, the FSB raided the homes of four Crimean Tatar teenagers in Belogorsk District after the youth allegedly removed the Russian flag from the city hall in the village of Kurskoye and threw it into a pit latrine. During the raids two residents of the homes were detained for interrogation and then released.

Press and Media Freedom: Independent print and broadcast media could not operate freely. Occupation authorities refused to register most independent media outlets, forcing them to close in 2015. According to the Crimean Human Rights Group, after the occupation of Crimea began, many local journalists left Crimea or abandoned their profession. With no independent media outlets left in Crimea and professional journalists facing serious risks for reporting from the peninsula, public activists began reporting on developments in Crimea. The HRMMU noted in a September report on Crimea that there was “continued interference in journalistic activity and a lack of independent reporting.”

The small monthly Ukrainian language newsletter Krymsky Teren, published by the Ukrainian Cultural Center, suspended publication on June 30 after members of the center and their publishing house were warned not to engage in “extremist activities” and threatened. In early December the newsletter resumed publication. On August 29, FSB agents searched the apartment of the editor of Krymsky Teren, Olha Pavlenko, whom they claimed had ties to a Ukrainian nationalist organization. After the search authorities interrogated Pavlenko and confiscated and copied her cell phone and computer. On September 2, she left for mainland Ukraine, citing fears for her safety.

Violence and Harassment: There were numerous cases of Russian security forces or police harassing independent media and detaining journalists in connection with their professional activities. For example, the HRMMU’s September report described an interview with an undercover reporter monitoring trials of Crimean Tatars accused of terrorism, who was questioned by police about his journalistic activity. He was “warned” about the consequences of “wandering around” court hearings and released after writing an explanatory note.

There were reports that authorities failed to investigate violence against journalists. For example, on February 1, journalist Evgeniy Gaivoronskiy reported that an unknown assailant had pushed him to the ground and kicked him multiple times in the center of Yalta. Gaivoronskiy had been receiving threats for several months before the attack. According to press reports, Gaivoronskiy had a history of employment at pro-Russian publications, but he had recently come into conflict with a local real estate developer, Dmitriy Tiukayev, because of his critical reporting on Tiukayev’s building projects. Gaivoronskiy reported the attack to police but said they refused to open an investigation.

Censorship or Content Restrictions: Following Russia’s occupation of Crimea, journalists overwhelmingly resorted to self-censorship to continue reporting and broadcasting.

There were reports that media outlets were pressured to remove stories that angered powerful political figures. According to press reports on September 23, local Feodosiya newspaper Gorod-24 published a report about a luxury construction project that fit the description of a home being built for Dmitry Kiselyov, head of the government-owned media agency. According to the article’s author, authorities forced the newspaper’s editor to purchase all printed copies of the paper at her own expense and then arranged her firing. Kiselyov filed a complaint with police, claiming the journalist was engaging in an extortion attempt.

Russian occupation authorities banned most Ukrainian and Crimean Tatar-language broadcasts, replacing the content with Russian programming. According to Crimean Human Rights Group media monitoring, during the year occupation authorities began to jam the signal of four previously accessible Ukrainian radio stations by transmitting Russian radio stations at the same frequencies.

Human rights groups reported Russian authorities forbade songs by Ukrainian singers from playing on Crimean radio stations.

Censorship of independent internet sites became more widespread (see Internet Freedom).

National Security: Authorities cited laws protecting national security to justify retaliation against opponents of Russia’s occupation.

The Russian Federal Financial Monitoring Service (RosFinMonitoring) included prominent critics of the occupation on its list of extremists and terrorists. This prevented these individuals from holding bank accounts, using notary services, and conducting other financial transactions. On September 6, RosFinMonitoring added the names of five critics of the occupation to the list, including Larisa Kitaiska, a local businesswoman convicted of extremism for making comments critical of the occupation that authorities deemed “Russophobic.”

Authorities frequently used the threat of “extremism” or “terrorism” as grounds to justify raids, arrests, and prosecutions of individuals in retaliation for their opposition to the occupation. For example on May 21, Russian security forces raided the houses of Crimean Solidarity activists and bloggers Server Mustafayev and Edem Smailov in Bakhchisaray District and detained them. As of late September, both remained in detention and had been charged with participating in the activities of the Islamic group Hizb ut-Tahrir, which is banned in Russia but legal in Ukraine. Human rights monitors believed that the case against them was politically motivated.

INTERNET FREEDOM

Russian occupation authorities restricted free expression on the internet by imposing repressive laws of the Russian Federation on Crimea (see section 2.a. of the Country Reports on Human Rights for Russia). Security services routinely monitored and controlled internet activity to suppress dissenting opinions. According to media accounts, occupation authorities interrogated residents of Crimea for posting pro-Ukrainian opinions on Facebook or in blogs.

More than 30 Ukrainian online outlets were among the hundreds that Russian federal authorities blocked in Crimea, including several sites that were not on Russian federal internet block list.

ACADEMIC FREEDOM AND CULTURAL EVENTS

Russian authorities in Crimea engaged in a widespread campaign to suppress the Crimean Tatar and Ukrainian languages. While Crimean Tatar and Ukrainian are official languages in occupied Crimea, authorities continued to reduce instruction in schools and offered the languages only as optional instruction at the end of the school day. The Mejlis reported authorities continued to pressure Crimean Tatars to use the Cyrillic, rather than the Latin, alphabet.

Despite an April 2017 order by the International Court of Justice to ensure access to education in Ukrainian, there was only one Ukrainian school with Ukrainian as a language of instruction and 13 classes offered Ukrainian as a subject in the curriculum. According to occupation authorities, there were 16 Crimean Tatar schools in the peninsula in the 2017-2018 academic year as compared with 52 in the 2014-2015 academic year. The Crimean Tatar Resource Center reported, however, that this number was substantially inflated.

FREEDOM OF PEACEFUL ASSEMBLY

See the Country Reports on Human Rights for Russia for a description of the relevant Russian laws and procedures that the Russian government applied and enforced in occupied Crimea.

Individuals opposing the occupation reported widespread harassment and intimidation by occupation authorities to suppress their ability to assemble peacefully. For example, the press reported on October 11 that authorities in Armyansk had issued a warning to a local resident, Yekaterina Pivovar, not to violate laws governing public protests. Pivovar had allegedly been planning to organize a group of local mothers to assemble outside city hall to demand a meeting with local officials. The mothers were concerned about the impact of toxic sulfur dioxide gas being released since late August from a nearby titanium plant on the health of their children.

A 2017 regulation limits the places in Crimea where public events may be held to 366 listed locations. The HRMMU noted that the “regulation” restricted freedom of assembly to a shrinking number of “specially designated spaces,” an unnecessary move that appeared “designed to dissuade the exercise of the right of freedom of assembly.”

Authorities fined individuals for conducting single-person pickets, the only type of protest that is supposed to be permitted without official permission under the legal system that Russia has imposed on occupied Crimea. According to the HRMMU, between December 2017 and March, occupation “courts” fined 80 Muslim men, who had conducted single-person pickets in October 2017 to protest the arrests of other Muslim men, mostly Crimean Tatars, for alleged membership in terrorist or extremist organizations.

There were reports of occupation authorities using coercive methods to provide for participation at rallies in support of the “government.” Students, teachers and civil servants were forced to attend a commemoration event on the day of deportation of the Crimean Tatars organized by Crimean-occupation authorities in Simferopol on May 18.

There were reports that occupation authorities charged and fined individuals for allegedly violating public assembly rules in retaliation for gathering to witness security force raids on homes.

FREEDOM OF ASSOCIATION

See the Country Reports on Human Rights for Russia for a description of the relevant Russian laws and procedures that the Russian government applied and enforced in occupied Crimea.

Occupation authorities broadly restricted freedom of association for individuals that opposed the occupation. For example, there were numerous reports of authorities taking steps to harass, intimidate, arrest, and imprison members of the human rights group Crimean Solidarity, an unregistered movement of friends and family of victims of repression by occupation authorities. Two of the group’s leaders, Emir-Usain Kuku and Server Mustafayev, remained in pretrial detention as of November on charges of allegedly belonging to the Islamic organization Hizb ut-Tahrir. Human rights monitors believed the cases against both men to be politically motivated and without basis. On January 27, law enforcement officers in Sudak disrupted a Crimean Solidarity civic group meeting attended by 150 persons. Law enforcement officers allegedly searched for drugs and weapons and questioned and photographed participants at the gathering. On October 27, in Simferopol, officials from the “prosecutor general’s office” accompanied by a contingent of armed men in masks and uniformed police raided another Crimean Solidarity meeting. The officials issued formal warnings to three members of the group, whom authorities claimed were poised to violate “counterterrorism and counterextremism” legislation by purportedly planning to hold a series of single-person pickets. On October 28, occupation authorities blocked the group’s website.

The Mejlis of the Crimean Tatar people remained banned for purported “extremism” despite an order by the International ?ourt of Justice requiring that Russian authorities “refrain from maintaining or imposing limitations on the ability of the Crimean Tatar community to conserve its representative institutions, including the Mejlis.” On October 29, occupation authorities announced plans to “nationalize” the Mejlis building in Simferopol, which they had seized in 2014, by transferring it to a Muslim organization that supported the occupation. Following the 2016 ban on the Crimean Tatar Mejlis as an “extremist organization,” occupation authorities banned gatherings by Mejlis members and prosecuted individuals for discussing the Mejlis on social media (see section 6).

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

Russian occupation authorities did not respect rights related to freedom of movement and travel.

In-country Movement: Occupation authorities maintained a state border at the administrative boundary between mainland Ukraine and Crimea. According to the HRMMU, this border and the absence of public transportation between Crimea and mainland Ukraine continued to undermine freedom of movement to and from the peninsula, affecting mainly the elderly, people with limited mobility, and young children.

There were reports occupation authorities selectively detained and at times abused persons attempting to enter or leave Crimea. According to human rights groups, Russian authorities routinely detained adult men at the administrative boundary for additional questioning, threatened to seize passports and documents, seized telephones and memory cards, and questioned them for hours. For example, according to the HRMMU, on March 8, the FSB detained a Crimean Tatar man for 12 hours and subjected him to physical violence in order to force him to testify against Crimean Tatar acquaintances suspected of being members of “radical” Muslim groups.

Occupation authorities prohibited entry into Crimea by Mustafa Jemilev and Refat Chubarov, members of the Verkhovna Rada, and the former and current chairmen of the Crimean Tatar Mejlis, respectively; by Crimean Tatar activist Sinaver Kadyrov; and by Ismet Yuksel, general director of the Crimean News Agency, on the pretext that they would incite radicalism.

According to the HRMMU, Ukrainian legislation restricts access to Crimea to three designated crossing points and imposes sanctions, including long-term entry bans, in case of noncompliance. Crimean residents lacking Ukrainian passports, who only possess Russian-issued Crimean travel documents not recognized by Ukrainian authorities, often faced difficulties when crossing into mainland Ukraine.

Citizenship: Russian occupation authorities required all residents of Crimea to be Russian citizens. Those who refused Russian citizenship could be subjected to arbitrary expulsion. Multiple citizens of Ukraine were deported from Crimea for violating the Russian Federation’s immigration rules. According to the Crimean Human Rights Group, during the first four years of Russia’s occupation, over 2,000 Ukrainians were prosecuted for not having Russian documents and 336 persons have been deported.

On February 13, the Yevpatoria city court ruled against 23 citizens of Ukraine. They were fined 5,000 Russian rubles ($76) each and administratively expelled to mainland Ukraine for working without a labor license.

Residents of Crimea who chose not to adopt Russian citizenship were considered foreigners. In some cases, they could obtain a residency permit. Persons holding a residency permit without Russian citizenship, however, were deprived of key rights and could not own agricultural land, vote or run for office, register a religious congregation, or reregister a private vehicle. Authorities denied those who refused Russian citizenship access to government employment, education, and health care, as well as the ability to open bank accounts and buy insurance, among other limitations.

According to the Crimean Human Rights Group, Russian authorities prosecuted private employers who continued to employ Ukrainians. Fines could be imposed on employers for every recorded case of employing a Ukrainian citizen without a labor license. Fines in such cases amounted to several million dollars.

In some cases, authorities compelled Crimean residents to surrender their Ukrainian passports, complicating international travel, because many countries did not recognize passports issued by Russian occupation authorities.

INTERNALLY DISPLACED PERSONS (IDPS)

Approximately 27,600 residents of Crimea registered as IDPs on the mainland, according to the Ministry of Social Policy. The Mejlis and local NGOs, such as Krym SOS, believed the actual number could be as high as 100,000, as most IDPs remained unregistered. Many individuals fled due to fear that occupation authorities would target them for abuse because of their work as political activists or journalists. Muslims, Greek Catholics, and Evangelical Christians who left Crimea said they feared discrimination due to their religious beliefs.

Crimean Tatars, who made up the largest number of IDPs, said they were concerned about pressure on their community, including an increasing number of arbitrary searches of their homes, surveillance, and discrimination. In addition, many professionals left Crimea because Russian occupation authorities required them to apply for Russian professional licenses and adopt Russian procedures in their work.

United Arab Emirates

Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:

The constitution provides for freedom of speech and of the press; however, the law prohibits criticism of national rulers and speech that may create or encourage social unrest; the government restricted freedom of speech and press.

Freedom of Expression: After the onset of widespread regional turmoil in 2011, authorities severely restricted public criticism of the government and individual ministers. The government continued to make arrests or impose other restrictions for speech related to and in support of Islamist political activities, calls for democratic reforms, criticism of or perceived insults against the government and government institutions, and, in rarer cases, criticism of individuals. In November the Supreme Court ruled that both online verbal and written insults are a prosecutable offense. In January the Federal Supreme Court upheld a 10-year jail sentence and 500,000 AED ($136,000) fine for a citizen who was found guilty of insulting and mocking one of the country’s leaders.

In other cases authorities brought individuals to trial for posting material on social media platforms. The material was considered a violation of privacy or personally insulting to acquaintances, colleagues, employers, or religions.

After the government severed diplomatic ties with Qatar in 2017, the General Prosecutor declared that showing any sympathy with Qatar or objecting to the government’s position against Qatar in written, visual, or verbal form, would be punishable by three to 15 years in prison or a minimum fine of 500,000 AED ($136,000). These restrictions continued to apply to social media users in the country. During the year there were no confirmed arrests under the declaration.

Press and Media Freedom: International NGOs categorized the press, both in print and online, as not free. Except for regional media outlets located in Dubai and Abu Dhabi’s free trade zones, the government owned most newspapers, television stations, and radio stations. All media conformed to unpublished government reporting guidelines. The government also influenced privately owned media through the National Media Council (NMC), which directly oversaw all media content. Satellite-receiving dishes were widespread and provided access to uncensored international broadcasts. In March the NMC issued regulations for electronic media, including rules for publishing and selling advertising, print, video, and audio material. The regulations required those benefitting monetarily from social media advertising to purchase a license from the NMC. In April an Ajman Radio anchor was fired under orders from the crown prince of Ajman after being accused of insulting a caller on his morning talk show; the anchor stated that he was defending the country’s reputation.

Censorship or Content Restrictions: By law the NMC, whose members the president appoints, licenses and censors all publications, including private association publications. The law authorizes censorship of domestic and foreign publications to remove criticism of the government, ruling families, or friendly governments. Statements that “threaten social stability,” and materials considered pornographic, excessively violent, derogatory to Islam, or supportive of certain Israeli government positions are criminalized. In April the Dubai Appeals Court upheld a three-month prison sentence and 5,000 AED ($1,360) fine for an Indian man who was convicted of defaming Islam. The law also criminalizes as blasphemy acts that provoke religious hatred or insult religious convictions through any form of expression, including broadcasting, printed media, or the internet. In 2017 the government issued new regulations that require government and private institutions to obtain a license before publishing or broadcasting media or advertising content, or face penalties. The order applied to any media or advertising activity and to any person or entity that issues any type of publication, including clubs, associations, diplomatic missions, foreign centers, and movie theaters.

After severing diplomatic ties with Qatar, the government blocked Qatari-funded al-Jazeera’s website and most Qatari broadcasting channels.

Government officials reportedly warned journalists when they published or broadcast material deemed politically or culturally sensitive. Editors and journalists commonly practiced self-censorship due to fear of government retribution, particularly as most journalists were foreign nationals and could be deported. Authorities did not allow some books they viewed as critical of the government, Islam, and local culture, as well as books that supported the Muslim Brotherhood or its ideology.

Libel/Slander Laws: The government used libel and slander laws to suppress criticism of its leaders and institutions. The law criminalizes acts that defame others online or through information technology. In June an Arab man was fined 250,000 AED ($68,100) by the Abu Dhabi Criminal Court of First Instance on charges of defamation and violating cybercrime laws when he tweeted comments that were deemed insulting to a woman.

Those convicted of libel face up to two years in prison. The maximum penalty for libel against the family of a public official is three years in prison.

National Security: Authorities often cited the need to protect national security as the basis for laws that curb criticism of the government or expression of dissenting political views. For example, the country’s cybercrime laws include broad limitations on using electronic means to promote disorder or “damage national unity.” Human rights groups criticized these laws, particularly in statements at the United Nations Human Rights Council in January in response to the country’s Universal Periodic Review, for excessively restricting freedom of speech.

INTERNET FREEDOM

The government restricted access to some websites and monitored social media, instant messaging services, and blogs. Authorities stated they could imprison individuals for misusing the internet. Self-censorship was apparent on social media, and there were reports the Ministry of Interior monitored internet use.

The country’s two internet service providers, both linked to the government, used a proxy server to block materials deemed inconsistent with the country’s values, as defined by the Ministry of Interior. Blocked material included pornographic websites and a wide variety of other sites deemed indecent, such as those dealing with lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and intersex (LGBTI) issues; Judaism and atheism; negative critiques of Islam; testimonies of former Muslims who converted to Christianity; gambling; promotion of illegal drug use; and postings that explained how to circumvent the proxy servers. International media sites, accessed using the country’s internet providers, contained filtered content. The government also blocked some sites containing content critical of ruling families in the UAE and other states in the region. The Telecommunications Regulatory Authority was responsible for creating lists of blocked sites. Service providers did not have the authority to remove sites from blocked lists without government approval. The government also blocked most voice-over-internet-protocol applications. In late December 2017, the government blocked Skype and in January reportedly blocked an online petition protesting that move. Calling applications on WhatsApp and other voice-over-internet-protocols have also been blocked from use in country or with phone numbers registered in the country.

The Federal Public Prosecution for Information Technology Crimes investigated criminal cases involving use of information technology, including the use of the internet with the intent to damage public morals, the promotion of sinful behavior, insults to Islam and God, illegal collections of donations, trafficking in persons, calling for or abetting the breach of laws, and the organization of demonstrations.

The law explicitly criminalizes use of the internet to commit a wide variety of offenses and provides fines and prison terms for internet users who violate political, social, and religious norms. The law provides penalties for using the internet to oppose Islam; to proselytize Muslims; to abuse a holy shrine or ritual of any religion; to insult any religion, belief, sect, race, color, or ethnic group; to incite someone to commit sin; or to contravene family values by publishing news or photographs pertaining to a person’s private life or family. In April a man was sentenced to three months in prison and fined 5,000 AED ($1,360) for insulting key figures in Islam on Facebook.

The 2012 cybercrimes decree and the 2015 Antidiscrimination Law provide for more severe penalties for violations and include jail terms that reach life sentences and fines depending on severity and seriousness of the crime. In August the penalties for violating the cybercrimes law were strengthened, including an increase in the maximum fines to four million AED ($1,089,000). These laws added to existing online communication limitations on freedom of speech to include prohibitions on criticism or defamation of the government or its officials; insults based on religion, belief, sect, race, color, or ethnic origin; insults directed at neighboring countries; and calls for protests and demonstrations. In April the Telecommunications Regulatory Authority (TRA) warned residents that posting or spreading “fake news” on social media was punishable by imprisonment or fines up to one million AED ($272,000).

Abu Dhabi police reported in January that they had investigated 774 cybercrime cases in 2017, 206 of which were categorized as blackmail.

In March the National Media Council (NMC) began requiring social media influencers who accept payment in money or high-value goods and services in return for endorsing products to join a social media management agency or obtain an e-commerce license for 30,000 AED ($8,167) and a trade license, for which the price varies by emirate.

The International Telecommunication Union estimated in 2017 that 94 percent of households had access to the internet.

ACADEMIC FREEDOM AND CULTURAL EVENTS

The government restricted academic freedom, including speech both inside and outside the classroom by educators, and censored academic materials for schools. The government required official permission for conferences and submission of detailed information on proposed speakers and topics of discussion. This was also required at private schools for events on campus. Some organizations found it difficult to secure meeting space for public events that dealt with contentious issues.

Cultural institutions avoided displaying artwork or programming that criticized the government or religion. Self-censorship among cultural and other institutions, especially for content presented to the public, was pervasive and generally directed at preventing the appearance of illegal works, including those deemed as promoting blasphemy or addressing controversial political issues.

The constitution provides for the freedoms of assembly and association, but the government did not always respect these rights.

FREEDOM OF PEACEFUL ASSEMBLY

The law provides limited freedom of assembly and the government imposed restrictions.

The law requires a government-issued permit for organized public gatherings. Authorities dispersed impromptu protests such as labor strikes and at times arrested participants. While there was no uniform standard for the number of persons who could gather without a permit, civil society representatives in the past have reported authorities could ask groups of four or more to disperse if they did not have a permit. The government did not interfere routinely with informal, nonpolitical gatherings held without a government permit in public places unless there were complaints. The government generally permitted political gatherings that supported its policies. Hotels, citing government regulations, sometimes denied permission for groups such as unregistered religious organizations to rent space for meetings or religious services.

FREEDOM OF ASSOCIATION

The law provides limited freedom of association. The government imposed some restrictions.

Political organizations, political parties, and trade unions are illegal. All associations and NGOs are required to register with the Ministry of Community Development (formerly Social Affairs), and many that did received government subsidies. Domestic NGOs registered with the ministry were mostly citizens’ associations for economic, religious, social, cultural, athletic, and other purposes. Registration rules require that all voting organizational members, as well as boards of directors, must be local citizens. This requirement excluded almost 90 percent of the population from fully participating in such organizations. In Dubai volunteer organizations were required to register with the Community Development Authority (CDA) and were required to obtain approval from the CDA before conducting fundraising activities.

Associations must follow the government’s censorship guidelines and receive prior government approval before publishing any material. In Abu Dhabi exhibitions, conferences, and meetings require a permit from the Tourism and Culture Authority. To obtain a permit, the event organizer must submit identification documents for speakers along with speaker topics. The government denied permits if it did not approve of the topic or speaker. If the event or speaker continued without an approved permit, the government imposed fines.

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 generally provided for freedom of internal movement, emigration, and repatriation. While the government generally respected these rights, it imposed certain legal restrictions on foreign travel. The lack of passports or other identity documents restricted the movement of stateless persons, both within the country and internationally. The government allowed the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) and other humanitarian organizations to provide protection and assistance to refugees, asylum seekers, stateless persons, and other persons of concern.

Foreign Travel: Authorities generally did not permit citizens and residents involved in legal disputes under adjudication, and noncitizens under investigation to travel abroad. Additionally, authorities sometimes arrested individuals with outstanding debts or legal cases while in transit through an airport.

At the sole discretion of emirate-level prosecutors, foreign nationals had their passports taken or travel restricted during criminal and civil investigations. Some individuals were also banned from foreign travel. These measures posed particular problems for noncitizen debtors, who in addition to being unable to leave the country, were usually unable to find work without a passport and valid residence permit, making it impossible to repay their debts or maintain legal residency. In some cases family, friends, local religious organizations, or other concerned individuals helped pay the debt and enabled the indebted foreign national to depart the country. According to media reports, the president pardoned 704 prisoners ahead of Eid al-Adha and pledged to settle financial obligations of released prisoners. Rulers across the emirates pardoned nearly 2,000 prisoners ahead of national day. In April a Dubai-based businessperson cleared the debts of 560 prisoners held across the country.

Travel bans were placed on citizens. For example, citizens of interest for reasons of state security, including former political prisoners, encountered difficulties renewing official documents, resulting in implicit travel bans. Authorities did not lift travel bans until the completion of a case in the judicial system.

In June 2017 the government and several other regional countries severed diplomatic ties with Qatar and enacted a blockade on air, sea, and land traffic to and from Qatar. Qatari citizens were given two weeks to leave the UAE and were banned from traveling to and transiting the UAE. Emirati citizens were banned from visiting or transiting through Qatar. The UAE Ministry of Interior established a hotline to assist blended Qatari-Emirati families, allowing them to remain in the UAE on a case-by-case basis. Qatar filed a case in the International Court of Justice against the UAE for having violated the International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination when it ordered all Qatari citizens to leave the country. In July the International Court of Justice ruled that the government should take three provisional measures: ensure that all families that included a Qatari were reunited; give Qatari students who were studying in the UAE at the time of the expulsion the opportunity to complete their education in the UAE, or obtain their educational records if they chose to study elsewhere; and allow Qataris access to the UAE’s judicial system. In response the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation issued a statement that the government had already taken those measures.

Custom dictates that a husband may prevent his wife, minor children, and adult unmarried daughters from leaving the country by taking custody of their passports.

Citizenship: The government may revoke naturalized citizens’ passports and citizenship status for criminal or politically provocative actions.

PROTECTION OF REFUGEES

UNHCR lacked formal legal status in the country separate from the UN Development Program. The government nevertheless worked with UNHCR on a case-by-case basis to address refugee issues. The government did not formally grant refugee status or asylum to aliens seeking protection, but it allowed some refugees to remain in the country temporarily on an individual basis. This nonpermanent status often presented administrative, financial, and social hardships, including the need frequently to renew visas and the inability to access basic services such as health care and education for children. In June the government announced that citizens of war-torn countries who were living in the UAE and had overstayed their visas would be permitted to apply from August 1 to October 31 for a permit to legally remain in the UAE for a year. These applicants were to be exempted from immigration fines and their permits extendable, although the duration of the extension was unknown.

Refoulement: The family of Abudujilili Supi, a Uighur man from China legally residing in the UAE, reported to media that Supi was detained by local police in September after he left afternoon prayers at the Abdullah bin Rawaha mosque in Sharjah. Supi’s wife, who witnessed the arrest, was given no explanation why he was arrested. Supi called her from detention three days later informing her that he was told he would be forced to return to China involuntarily by UAE authorities. His whereabouts remained unknown.

Access to Asylum: The law does not provide for the granting of asylum or refugee status, and the government had not established a transparent, codified system for providing protection to refugees. While the government extended informal protection from return to refugees in some cases, any persons lacking legal residency status were technically subject to local laws on illegal immigrants, and authorities could detain them. In some cases authorities confined individuals seeking protection at an airport to a specific section of the airport while they awaited resettlement in another country.

Employment: Access to employment was based on an individual’s status as a legal resident, and persons with a claim to refugee status but who lacked legal residency status, including those with either short-term visitor visas or expired visas, were generally not eligible for employment.

Access to Basic Services: Access to education and other public services, including health care, is based on an individual’s status as a legal resident. As a result some families, particularly from Iraq and Syria, reportedly did not have access to healthcare or schools. The government provided or allowed access to some services on a case-by-case basis, often after the intervention of UNHCR representatives. Some hospitals were willing to see patients without the mandatory insurance, but required full payment up front.

STATELESS PERSONS

Informal estimates suggested 20,000 to 100,000 Bidoon, or persons without citizenship, resided in the country. Government statistics estimated the population at 10,000. Most Bidoon lacked citizenship because they did not have the preferred tribal affiliation used to determine citizenship when the country was established. Others entered the country legally or illegally in search of employment. Because children derive citizenship generally from the father, Bidoon children born within the country’s territory remained stateless. Without passports or other forms of identification, the movement of Bidoon was restricted, both within the country and internationally. In recent years the government purchased a number of passports from Comoros and issued them to Bidoon. The documents conferred economic Comoran citizenship on the recipients and legalized their status in the UAE.

The government has a naturalization process, and individuals may apply for citizenship. Children of female citizens married to noncitizens do not acquire citizenship automatically at birth, but their mothers may obtain citizenship for the children after submitting an application, which a government committee reviews and generally accepts, once the child is 18 years old. A foreign woman may receive citizenship after 10 years of marriage to a citizen. Anyone may receive a passport by presidential fiat.

The committee that reviews mothers’ citizenship applications for their children also reviews citizenship applications from Bidoon who could satisfy certain legal conditions to be eligible for naturalization and subsequently could gain access to education, health care, and other public services. There were no reports, however, of stateless persons receiving Emirati citizenship.

United Kingdom

Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:

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

Freedom of Expression: The law prohibits expressions of hatred toward persons because of their color, race, nationality (including citizenship), ethnic or national origin, religion, or sexual orientation as well as any communication that is threatening or abusive and is intended to harass, alarm, or distress a person. The penalties for such expressions include fines, imprisonment, or both.

Press and Media Freedom: The law’s restrictions on expressions of hatred apply to the print and broadcast media. In Bermuda the law prohibits publishing written words that are threatening, abusive, or insulting, but only on racial grounds; on other grounds, including sexual orientation, the law prohibits only discriminatory “notices, signs, symbols, emblems, or other representations.”

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. The country has no blanket laws covering internet blocking, but the courts have issued blocking injunctions against various categories of content such as depictions of child sexual abuse, promotion of extremism and terrorism, and materials infringing on copyrights.

By law, the electronic surveillance powers of the nation’s intelligence community and police, allow them, among other things, to check internet communications records as part of an investigation without a warrant.

According to the Office for National Statistics (ONS), in the first quarter of the year, 90 percent of adults had used the internet in the last three months, up from 89 percent in 2017.

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 routinely 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 routinely respected these rights.

The law permits the home secretary to impose “Temporary Exclusion Orders” (TEOs) on returning UK citizens or legal residents if the home secretary reasonably suspects the individual in question is or was involved in terrorism-related activity and considers the exclusion necessary to protect persons in the UK from a risk of terrorism. TEOs impose certain obligations on the repatriates, such as periodic reporting to police. The measure requires a court order and is subject to judicial oversight and appeal. Home Secretary Sajid Javid confirmed the Home Office served nine TEOs in 2017.

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, or other persons of concern.

Abuse of Migrants, Refugees, and Stateless Persons: Home Office officials have the power to detain asylum seekers and unauthorized migrants who do not enter the asylum system. There was no maximum time limit for the use of detention. Immigration detention was used to establish a person’s identity or basis of claim, to remove a person from the country, or to avoid a person’s noncompliance with any conditions attached to a grant of temporary admission/release.

In-country Movement: The home secretary may impose terrorism prevention and investigation measures (TPIMs) based on a “balance of probabilities.” TPIMs are a form of house arrest applied to those thought to pose a terrorist threat but who cannot be prosecuted or deported; a TPIM can last for up to two years. The measures include electronic tagging, reporting regularly to the police, and facing “tightly defined exclusion from particular places and the prevention of travel overseas.” A suspect must live at home and stay there overnight, possibly for up to 10 hours. Suspects can be sent to live up to 200 miles from their normal residence. The suspect may apply to the courts to stay elsewhere. The suspect can use a mobile phone and the internet to work and study, subject to conditions.

Access to Asylum: In England, Scotland, Wales, and Northern Ireland, the law provides for granting asylum or refugee status, and the government has established a system for providing protection to refugees. Bermuda’s constitution and laws do not provide for granting asylum or refugee status, and the government does not have an established system for providing protection to refugees.

Safe Country of Origin/Transit: The country is subject to the EU’s Dublin III regulation and considers all other EU member states, except Greece, to be countries of safe origin or transit. The regulation permits authorities to remove an asylum applicant to another country responsible for adjudicating an applicant’s claim. The government places the burden of proof on asylum seekers who arrive from safe countries of origin, who pass through a country where they are not considered to be at risk, or who remained in the country for a period before seeking asylum.

Employment: Asylum applicants are not allowed to work while their asylum application is under consideration, except in limited circumstances. If the applicant has waited longer than 12 months for the government to make an initial decision on an asylum claim, the applicant can request permission to work. Asylum seekers received government support at 30 percent below the normal rate for their family size for the duration of their asylum application.

Temporary Protection: The government may provide temporary protection to individuals who may not qualify as refugees under the categories of humanitarian protection and discretionary leave.

Uruguay

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. 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: In February an individual called President Vazquez a “liar,” after he and other representatives from the Un Solo Uruguay workers’ organization had consultations with the president. Shortly afterward, the President’s Office posted a communique on its official website with embarrassing, personal information about the individual, which he claimed caused him public ridicule. The President’s Office received a formal complaint from the INDDHH in April stating that the communique violated the individual’s rights to freedom of expression and peaceful protest. As a result, the President’s Office removed the information from its website.

Violence and Harassment: The local nongovernmental organization (NGO) Servicio Paz y Justicia (SERPAJ) reported some cases of harassment and intimidation against journalists. Journalists were subjected to lawsuits and legal threats, sometimes by government officials or associations to discourage them from doing investigative reporting on certain issues. Journalists were also bullied on social media channels. The local NGO CAInfo reported a journalist from the city of Carmelo was brought to trial in March after being charged with defamation and injury by a businessman in the health sector. The journalist reported on suspicions involving public contracts associated with the Artigas Hospital. The judge ultimately dismissed the case. CAInfo also reported some cases of violence against journalists.

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, 68 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. SERPAJ reported some increased efforts by the government to delegitimize social movements. According to SERPAJ, the government’s “antipicketing decree” had direct consequences on the forms of popular mobilization by limiting protesters’ ability to block streets and highways. The government responded that the decree did not affect the right to strike as defined in the constitution. SERPAJ also claimed that the “essential services” decree was being used to stifle protests and union activity. In August the umbrella union organization PIT-CNT organized a general strike against the government’s alleged overuse of the essential services decree.

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

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

The law provides for freedom of internal movement, foreign travel, emigration, and repatriation, and the government generally respected these rights. The government cooperated with the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees 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.

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. Through its refugee commission, the government has a system for adjudicating asylum claims, providing protection to refugees, and finding durable solutions, including resettlement.

Uzbekistan

Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:

The constitution and law provide for freedom of expression, including for the press, but the government restricted these rights for both online and offline media.

Freedom of Expression: The government exercises official and unofficial restrictions on the ability of individuals to criticize the government or to discuss matters of general public interest. The law restricts criticism of the president, and publicly insulting the president is a crime for which conviction is punishable by up to five years in prison. The law specifically prohibits publication of articles that incite religious confrontation and ethnic discord or that advocate subverting or overthrowing the constitutional order.

Press and Media Freedom: Independent media did not operate freely because the state exercises broad control over media coverage. All media entities, foreign and domestic, must register with authorities and provide the names of their founder, chief editor, and staff members. Print media must also provide hard copies of publications to the government. The law holds all foreign and domestic media organizations accountable for the accuracy of their reporting, prohibits foreign journalists from working in the country without official accreditation, and subjects foreign media outlets to domestic mass media laws. The government used accreditation rules to deny foreign journalists and media outlets the opportunity to work in the country. Nevertheless, during the year a correspondent affiliated with a foreign-government sponsored news agency received accreditation and has begun cooperation with UZA.uz, the main state news agency. In addition, foreign-based news website Eurasianet has also received accreditation.

Amendments in 2014 to the Law on Information Technologies hold bloggers legally accountable for the accuracy of what they post and prohibit posts potentially perceived as defaming an individual’s “honor and dignity.” Limitations also preclude perceived calls for public disorder, encroachment on constitutional order, posting pornography or state secrets, issuing “threats to the state,” and “other activities that are subject to criminal and other types of responsibilities according to legislation.”

The government prohibited the promotion of religious extremism, separatism, and fundamentalism as well as the instigation of ethnic and religious hatred.

In June the Oliy Majlis approved a new law “On Countering Extremism.” The bill states that it aims to provide for individuals’ security, protect the society and the state, preserve the constitutional order and the territorial integrity of the country, retain peace, and provide for multiethnic and multireligious harmony among citizens. The law provides a framework of basic concepts, principles and directions for countering extremism as well as responsibility for carrying out extremist activities. Civil society groups expressed concern that the law’s definition of extremism remains too broad.

Articles in state-controlled newspapers reflected the government’s viewpoint. The main government newspapers published selected international wire stories. The government prohibited legal entities with more than 30 percent foreign ownership from establishing media outlets. The government allowed publication of a few private newspapers with limited circulation containing advertising, horoscopes, and some substantive local news, including infrequent stories critical of government socioeconomic policies. Some government controlled print media outlets began to publish articles that were openly critical of local municipal administrations.

A few purportedly independent websites consistently reported the government’s viewpoint. During the year, however, press and news organizations began broadcasting and publishing a wider variety of views and news, to include criticisms and policies enacted under former president Karimov. In July 2017 the government launched Ozbekiston, a 24-hour news channel that broadcast current affairs and news in Uzbek, Russian, and English. The channel interviewed visiting high-level foreign officials.

Violence and Harassment: Police and security services subjected print and broadcast journalists to arrest, harassment, and intimidation as well as to bureaucratic restrictions on their activity. A blogger, Akrom Malik, who was arrested in 2016 for allegedly writing articles promoting the banned People’s Movement of Uzbekistan, was convicted and in January sentenced to six years in prison.

Censorship or Content Restrictions: Journalists and senior editorial staff in state media organizations reported that some officials’ responsibilities included censorship. In many cases the government placed individuals as editors in chief with the expressed intent that they serve as the main censor for a particular media outlet. Continuing the past trend of moderate criticism of the government, online publications like Kommersant.uz and Nuz.uz have published critical stories on issues such as electricity outages, currency, trade, and the black market. In addition, Adobiyat Gazetesi, a literary journal, published stories by authors who are still on a “black list” and have not been able to publish elsewhere.

In July the privately owned Kun.uz news website was blocked for several weeks following critical reporting on a relative of the information and communication minister. In September the privately owned Gazeta.uz news website was blocked for several weeks following publication of a critical report on government policy regarding the Aral Sea.

There was often little distinction between the editorial content of government and privately owned newspapers. Journalists engaged in little investigative reporting. Widely read tabloids occasionally published articles that presented mild criticism of government policies or discussed some problems that the government considered sensitive, such as trafficking in persons.

The “International Press Club,” launched in April 2017, continued to interview high-level officials and serves as a venue for discussion between journalists and the government.

Libel/Slander Laws: The criminal and administrative codes impose significant fines for libel and defamation. The government used charges of libel, slander, and defamation to punish journalists, human rights activists, and others who criticized the president or the government.

INTERNET FREEDOM

The government generally allowed access to the internet, including social media sites. Internet service providers, allegedly at the government’s request, routinely blocked access to websites or certain pages of websites that the government considered objectionable, such as Fergananews.comOzodlik.org, and Asiaterra.info. The government blocked several domestic and international news websites and those operated by opposition political parties. Since September, Facebook, YouTube, Vkontakte, have been intermittently blocked, but users are able to access it with Virtual Presence Networks. NGOs reported that international human rights websites such as Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch, and Reporters without Borders were blocked.

The media law defines websites as media outlets, requiring them to register with authorities and provide the names of their founder, chief editor, and staff members.

According to government statistics, approximately 60 percent of individuals in the country used the internet. Unofficial estimates, especially of internet access through mobile communications devices, were higher. Telegram, a social media application that users access on their mobile phones, has become increasingly popular. Several active online forums allowed registered users to post comments and read discussions on a range of social problems. To become a registered user in these forums, individuals must provide personally identifiable information. It was not clear whether the government attempted to collect this information, although provisions of the Law on Information Technologies require internet cafe proprietors to log customers’ browser history.

A decree requires all websites seeking the “.uz” domain to register with the government’s Agency for Press and Information. The decree generally affected only government-owned or government-controlled websites. Opposition websites and those operated by international NGOs or media outlets tended to have domain names registered outside the country.

In September the government adopted new procedures for restricting access to websites that included “banned information,” as reported by the press service of the Uzbek Justice Ministry on its Telegram-channel. Based on these regulations, a website or blog could be blocked for calling for the violent overthrow of the constitutional order and territorial integrity of the country; spreading ideas of war, violence and terrorism, as well as religious extremism, separatism and fundamentalism; disclosing information that is a state secret or protected by law; or disseminating information that could lead to national, ethnic or religious enmity or involves pornography, or promoting narcotic usage. According to the ministry, the government has the authority to block websites or blogs without a court order.

In August and September authorities arrested four online writers, Adham Olimov, Ziyavuddin Rahmon, Otabek Usmanov and Miraziz Ahmedov, likely due to their religious views that were posted on blogs. Olimov has been critical of government policies on Islam in his postings on Facebook, where he goes by the name Musannif Adham. Olimov’s relatives say he was detained by police on the evening of August 28 and that prior to his detention his Tashkent apartment had been searched without warning. Among the items allegedly confiscated by police were mobile phones, a laptop, a desktop computer, two external hard drives, and Arabic-language books and dictionaries. The Tashkent city prosecutor’s office told Olimov’s family that he had been sentenced to 15 days in detention for refusing to submit to police authority. He was also fined 191,500 sums ($23). The bloggers were initially denied access to attorneys in pretrial detention. All of the bloggers were released as of September.

ACADEMIC FREEDOM AND CULTURAL EVENTS

The government continued to limit academic freedom and cultural events. In September the National Library was ordered to cancel an event commemorating a famous national poet, Rauf Parfi. Authorities occasionally required department head approval for university lectures, and university professors generally practiced self-censorship.

Although a decree prohibits cooperation between higher educational institutions and foreign entities without the explicit approval of the government, foreign institutions often were able to obtain such approval through the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, especially for foreign-language projects.

FREEDOM OF PEACEFUL ASSEMBLY

The constitution and law provide for freedom of assembly, but the government often restricted this right. Authorities have the right to suspend or prohibit rallies, meetings, and demonstrations for security reasons. The government often did not grant the permits required for demonstrations. Authorities subjected citizens to large fines, threats, arbitrary detention, and abuse for violating procedures for organizing meetings, rallies, and demonstrations or for facilitating unsanctioned events by providing space, other facilities, or materials. Organizers of “mass events” with the potential for more than 100 participants must sign agreements with the Ministry of Interior for the provision of security prior to advertising or holding such an event. This regulation was broadly applied, even to private corporate functions.

On August 3, the City Court in Chust, near Namangan, sentenced Pastor Alisher and his assistant Abror, to 10 days of administrative arrest. Judge Bokhodir Kazakov found them and six other individuals guilty of “illegal religious activity” that was allegedly just a tea party at the pastor’s home. The six other individuals were penalized under the same charges for 999,445 sums ($120) each, with payment due immediately. Their cell phones were also confiscated.

FREEDOM OF ASSOCIATION

While the law provides for freedom of association, the government continued to restrict this right. While the government released new laws and guidance it stated were intended to encourage the growth of civil society, the government still sought to control NGO activity, internationally funded NGOs, and unregulated Islamic and minority religious groups. The operating environment for independent civil society, in particular human right defenders, remained restrictive. Activists reported continuing government control and harassment.

On April 21 in Chimbay City, Karakalpakstan, local police raided a birthday party attended by a group of Christians. The participants were escorted to the local police station and charged with holding an “illegal religious meeting,” and released the next morning. On July 13, group members were summoned to the local court by telephone, not by written notification. The judge found all of them, except the minors, guilty of engaging in illegal religious activity. The women were ordered to pay penalties of $150-$200 (1,230,000 sum to 1,640,000 sum) each and the owner of the house to pay $1,000 (8,220,000 sum). The 11 men involved were sentenced to 5 to 7 days of administrative arrest. Eight of the convicted Christians were 18-19 years of age, and their parents did not receive any formal notification after their children were sentenced. As a result of international pressure, on July 17, the Supreme Court of Karakalpakstan vacated the verdicts of the Chimbay court and ordered restitution of personal belongs to the defendants.

The Ministry of Justice, which oversees the registration of NGOs, requires NGOs to obtain the ministry’s approval to hold large meetings with nonmembers, including foreigners; to seek the ministry’s clearance on any event where materials are to be distributed; and to notify the ministry in writing of the content and scope of the events in question.

On April 12, the President signed the new Law on Public Control to establish a legal framework for public oversight of the activities of government bodies and government officials. In accordance with the law, citizens, citizens’ self-government bodies, noncommercial organizations, and mass media have the right to exercise oversight regarding activities of government bodies and officials.

There are legal restrictions on the types of groups that may be formed, and the law requires that organizations with an operating budget and funds be registered formally with the government. The law allows for a six-month grace period for new organizations to operate while awaiting registration from the Ministry of Justice, during which time the government officially classifies them as “initiative groups.” Several NGOs continued to function as initiative groups for periods longer than six months.

The government issued a number of regulations that affected NGO activity. In May the president issued a decree entitled “Measures to Fundamentally Enhance the Role of Civil Society Institutions in the Process of Democratic Renewal of the Country.” In a separate action, in June the Ministry of Justice (MoJ) issued an order on the procedure for NGOs to inform the government of their planned activities. According to a summary posted on Norma.uz, starting from June 1, NGOs are no longer required to obtain approval from the MoJ in order to conduct events, but they still need to notify the MoJ of plans to conduct public programs. The minimum period for informing the ministry of planned activities is 10 days before the start of an event without the participation of foreign citizens, and 20 days before the start of event with the participation of foreign citizens. The MoJ only provides NGOs with written notice in cases of refusal to conduct the event. On June 27, another order established a new form of annual reporting on the NGO activities for submission to the government. In August the Ministry of Justice adopted the Regulation on Monitoring and Studying Activities of Nongovernmental Noncommercial Organizations, which establishes a separate procedure on monitoring and studying NGOs’ activities.

International NGOs praised the development of these procedures, stating that they offered new procedural rules and limitations for the actions of MoJ inspectors; one NGO stated, however, a concern that the latter regulation still provided the authority for the MoJ to audit and harass NGOs. The administrative liability code imposes large fines for violations of procedures governing NGO activity as well as for “involving others” in “illegal NGOs”; the law does not specify whether the term refers to NGOs suspended or closed by the government or merely NGOs not officially registered. The administrative code also imposes penalties against international NGOs for engaging in political activities, activities inconsistent with their charters, or activities the government did not approve in advance.

In May the president signed a decree abolishing the so-called banking commission, established in 2004 to regulate or oversee NGO receipt of foreign grants. Beginning on September 1, registered NGOs are allowed to receive grants from domestic and foreign donors. Receiving organizations must notify the Ministry of Justice of their grants and present a plan of activities to the ministry that details how the NGO would allocate the funds. If the ministry approves, no other government approvals are required. The ministry requires yearly financial reports from NGOs.

Parliament’s Public Fund for the Support of Nongovernmental, Noncommercial Organizations, and Other Civil Society Institutions continued to conduct grant competitions to implement primarily socioeconomic projects. Some civil society organizations criticized the fund for primarily supporting government-organized NGOs. The law criminalizes membership in organizations the government broadly deemed “extremist.”

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 laws provide for freedom of internal movement, foreign travel, emigration, and repatriation.

In-country Movement: Citizens were required to have a domicile registration stamp in their passport before traveling domestically or leaving the country, and the government at times delayed domestic and foreign travel and emigration during the visa application process. Permission from local authorities was required to move to Tashkent City or the Tashkent Region from other parts of the country, but permission is no longer required to work in Tashkent. Those living without Tashkent City or Tashkent Region registration were unable to receive city services and could not legally work, send their children to school, or receive routine medical care.

The government required hotels to register foreign visitors with the government on a daily basis. Foreigners staying in private homes were required to register their location within three days of arrival.

Foreign Travel: The government generally granted the requisite exit visas for citizens and foreign permanent residents to travel or emigrate outside the Commonwealth of Independent States. Exit visa procedures, however, allow authorities to deny travel based on “information demonstrating the inexpedience of the travel.” According to civil society activists, these provisions were poorly defined and denials could not be appealed. Authorities sometimes interfered in foreign travel if the purpose of the trip was expressly religious in nature.

On May 25, Deputy Interior Minister Rustam Juraev signed an order that girls and women living in the capital are no longer required to be interviewed by the migration and citizenship departments and obtain permission to travel abroad. The head of Shaykhantahur Department of migration and registration of citizenship Dilshod Kadirov said that in addition, girls and women no longer need permission from their spouse or a warrant from the authorized person, certificates from the mahalla, or to take any tests in order to qualify for foreign travel.

PROTECTION OF REFUGEES

Refoulement: The government provided some protection against the expulsion or return of refugees to countries where their lives or freedom would be threatened due to their race, religion, nationality, membership in a particular social group, or political opinion.

Access to Asylum: The laws do not provide for the granting of asylum or refugee status, and the government has not established a system for providing protection to refugees.

Among 27 individual refugees (18 cases), the total number of individuals was reduced to 13 individuals, due to death, spontaneous departure, or the fact that they had obtained various alternative stay arrangements. As of June there are 14 individuals (10 cases) remaining under the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees’ (UNHCR) mandate. UNHCR undertakes the following activities in coordination with the UNDP office in Tashkent, through its staff under UNDP contract and under the overall supervision of the UN Resident Coordinator: Issuing a mandate refugee certificate to the existing refugees, monitoring their rights situations and providing counseling and making interventions for the refugees when necessary, and providing financial assistance to some of the refugees based on their specific vulnerability.

In addition, UNHCR/UNDP staff provides counselling to asylum seekers when they arrive.

STATELESS PERSONS

Some refugees from Tajikistan were officially stateless or faced the possibility of becoming officially stateless, as many carried only old Soviet passports rather than Tajik or Uzbek passports. Children born to two stateless parents could receive Uzbek citizenship only if both parents had a residence permit.

Although official data on stateless persons were not available, authoritative human rights activists estimated there were 3,000 stateless persons in Khorezm Province, Bukhara Province, and the autonomous Republic of Karakalpakstan. Most of these individuals reportedly were women who had married and lived in neighboring Turkmenistan prior to the country’s independence in 1991.

On July 15, the government launched an online portal for registration of foreign citizens and stateless persons. Foreign citizens and stateless persons may register online at their place of residence after arrival.

Vanuatu

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 and judiciary and a functioning democratic political system combined to promote freedom of speech and press. In April international media were barred from entering the Luganville wharf while trying to report on rumors the Chinese were considering the wharf for a military base.

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.

Internet access was available and widely used in urban areas, but rural areas remained inadequately served. According to the International Telecommunication Union, approximately 24 percent of the population had access to the internet in 2016.

ACADEMIC FREEDOM AND CULTURAL EVENTS

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

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

INTERNALLY DISPLACED PERSONS (IDPS)

In August the prime minister ordered a mandatory evacuation of 10,000 persons threatened by a volcanic eruption on the island of Ambae and urged resettlement in evacuation centers on nearby islands. As of November no one had been allowed to return to Ambae due to the ongoing threat from the volcano. Evacuees complained that it was difficult to earn an income or access food and water. According to media reports, nearly 500 households were trying to create new, permanent “second” homes on the island of Maewo, but there were issues with negotiating land titles. There were similar evacuations from the island in 2017, and those displaced were able to return to their homes after approximately one month.

PROTECTION OF REFUGEES

Access to Asylum: The law does not provide for granting asylum or refugee status, but the government developed an ad hoc system for providing protection to refugees and granted temporary refugee status and asylum to those seeking it while awaiting resettlement by UNHCR.

Venezuela

Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:

The law provides for freedom of expression, including for the press, but the combination of laws and regulations governing libel and media content as well as legal harassment, physical intimidation of individuals and media, and executive influence on the judiciary resulted in significant repression of these freedoms. National and international groups, such as the IACHR, Human Rights Watch, Freedom House, the Inter American Press Association, Reporters without Borders, and the Committee to Protect Journalists, condemned government efforts throughout the year to restrict press freedom and create a climate of fear and self-censorship.

Freedom of Expression: The law makes insulting the president punishable by six to 30 months in prison without bail, with lesser penalties for insulting lower-ranking officials. In November 2017, however, the ANC gave final approval to the Constitutional Law against Hate, for Political Coexistence and Tolerance, which stipulates prison sentences of up to 20 years. While the government stated the purpose of the law was to “promote peace and tolerance,” NGOs observed the vaguely written law could be used to silence political parties, activists, and civil society leaders as well as media outlets and journalists. Comments exposing another person to public contempt or hatred are punishable by prison sentences of one to three years and fines.

On September 16, DGCIM officers detained Merida state firefighters Ricardo Prieto Parra and Carlos Varon Garcia on charges of “instigating hate” after a satirical video they produced of a donkey depicted as President Maduro received wide publicity on social media. Prieto Parra and Varon Garcia faced up to 20 years in prison for the alleged crime.

Hospital worker Lenny Josefina Martinez Gonzalez remained in prison as of October 8, awaiting trial after SEBIN arrested her in October 2017 for photographing women giving birth in a hospital waiting room. The photographs, captured in Lara State, illustrated the country’s medical crisis and were widely viewed on social media.

Press and Media Freedom: The law provides that inaccurate reporting that disturbs the public peace is punishable by prison terms of two to five years. The requirement that media disseminate only “true” information was undefined and open to politically motivated interpretation. Human Rights NGO Espacio Publico counted 92 acts of censorship between January and June, as well as 73 attacks on journalists and reporters. Meanwhile, the local journalists’ union (SNTP) counted 26 “closures, sanctions, and blockings” of outlets and 87 attacks on journalists during the same period.

The law prohibits all media from disseminating messages that incite or promote hate or intolerance for religious, political, gender-related, racial, or xenophobic reasons; incite, promote, or condone criminal acts; constitute war propaganda; foment anxiety in the population or affect public order; do not recognize legitimate government authorities; incite homicide; or incite or promote disobedience to the established legal order. Penalties range from fines to the revocation of licenses. The threat of nonrenewal of operating licenses systematically led to self-censorship on the part of several media outlets.

Despite such laws President Maduro and the ruling United Socialist Party (PSUV) used the nearly 600 government-owned or -controlled media outlets to insult and intimidate the political opposition throughout the year. ANC president Diosdado Cabello continued to use his weekly television program to denounce individual journalists and media outlets, according to observers.

The law declares telecommunications a “public interest service,” thereby giving the government authority to regulate the content and structure of the radio, television, and audiovisual production sectors. The law provides that the government may suspend or revoke licenses when it judges such actions necessary in the interests of the nation, public order, or security. The law empowers the government to impose heavy fines and cancel broadcasts for violations of its norms; the National Telecommunications Commission (CONATEL) oversees the law’s application.

The government continued legal actions against high-profile independent media outlets Tal CualEl NacionalEl Nuevo PaisLa PatillaEl Pitazo, and Globovision. In May a court found El Nacional, the nation’s largest independent daily newspaper, guilty of “moral damage” against Cabello for republishing a critical article from the Spanish newspaper ABC and ordered the newspaper to pay a fine of one billion bolivares fuertes ($10,400).

The NGO Espacio Publico reported 219 violations of freedom of expression between January and June. This represented a 72 percent decline from the historically high numbers of 2017, but an 11 percent increase over the 2013-16 averages. The most common violations were aggressions against journalists and censorship. State-owned and -influenced media provided almost continuous progovernment programming. In addition private and public radio and television stations were required to transmit mandatory nationwide broadcasts (cadenas) throughout the year, including a daily 15-minute news broadcast that provided reports and summaries of government achievements. Both Maduro and other ruling-party officials utilized mandatory broadcast time to campaign for progovernment candidates. Opposition candidates generally did not have access to media broadcast time.

The law requires practicing journalists to have journalism degrees and be members of the National College of Journalists, and it prescribes jail terms of three to six months for those practicing the profession illegally. These requirements are waived for foreigners and opinion columnists.

Violence and Harassment: Senior national and state government leaders continued to harass and intimidate privately owned and opposition-oriented television stations, media outlets, and journalists by using threats, property seizures, administrative and criminal investigations, and prosecutions. Government officials, including the president, used government-controlled media outlets to accuse private media owners, directors, and reporters of fomenting antigovernment destabilization campaigns and coup attempts.

Government officials also harassed foreign journalists working in the country. No charges were filed against GNB officers who allegedly attacked Elyangelica Gonzalez, a reporter for Univision Noticias and the Colombian-based station Caracol Radio, while she reported outside the Supreme Court in March 2017.

Censorship or Content Restrictions: In its 2016 report, the Venezuelan Institute of Press and Society (IPYS) noted the government’s preference for using legal proceedings, financial sanctions, and administrative actions against unfavorable news outlets instead of shutting them down outright. Members of the independent media stated they regularly engaged in self-censorship due to fear of government reprisals. This resulted in many journalists posting articles to their personal blogs and websites instead of publishing them in traditional media.

The government also exercised control over content through licensing and broadcasting requirements. CONATEL acted selectively on applications from private radio and television broadcasters for renewal of their broadcast frequencies. According to Nelson Belfort, former president of the Venezuelan Radio Chamber, and NGO reports, approximately 80 percent of radio stations were in “illegal” status throughout the country due to CONATEL’s not having renewed licenses for most radio stations since 2007.

According to the SNTP, during the year 25 print news outlets closed due to the government’s economic policies, which made it difficult for independent newspapers to access foreign currency, preventing many from purchasing critical supplies and equipment necessary for day-to-day business operations. During the first half of the year, five regional newspapers went out of print for lack of supplies, especially newsprint: Diario El Tiempo in Anzoategui State, El Impulso in Lara, El Oriental in Monagas, La Prensa de Barinas in Barinas, and La Region del Oriente in Sucre.

The government controlled a large portion of the country’s businesses and paid for advertising only with government-owned or government-friendly media.

Libel/Slander Laws: Government officials engaged in reprisals against individuals who publicly expressed criticism of the president or government policy. As of October 1, President Maduro had not acted on his June 2017 announcement that he would use slander laws to “defend his honor” in court against opposition leaders’ allegations that he was responsible for protest-related deaths.

National Security: The law allows the government to suspend or revoke licenses when it determines such actions necessary in the interests of public order or security. The government exercised control over the press through a public entity, the Strategic Center for Security and Protection of the Homeland (CESPPA), established in 2013, which is similar to the governmental entity Center for National Situational Studies (CESNA) established in 2010. CESNA and CESPPA have similar mandates and are responsible for “compiling, processing, analyzing, and classifying” both government-released and other public information with the objective of “protecting the interests and objectives of the state.”

During the year President Maduro renewed three times the “state of exception” he first invoked in 2016, citing a continuing economic emergency, and granted himself the power to restrict rights otherwise provided for in the constitution. The 60-day emergency decree, which by law is renewable only once and requires National Assembly endorsement to be effective, allows the president to block any action he deems could “undermine national security” or could “obstruct the continuity of the implementation of economic measures for the urgent reactivation of the national economy.” The National Assembly continued systematically to refuse to ratify each renewal, and the Supreme Court annulled each refusal, reasoning that the assembly’s “contempt” status made its failure to endorse the renewal “unconstitutional.” According to Human Rights Watch, the “state of exception” negatively affected the rights to freedom of association and expression.

Nongovernmental Impact: Widespread violence in the country made it difficult to determine whether attacks on journalists resulted from common criminal activity or whether criminals or others targeted media members.

INTERNET FREEDOM

The government restricted or disrupted access to the internet and censored online content. The executive branch exercised broad control over the internet through the state-run CONATEL. Free Access, an NGO focused on freedom of expression and social justice, reported that CONATEL supported monitoring of private communications and repression of internet users who expressed dissenting opinions online. According to media reports, users of social networks accused CONATEL of monitoring their online activity and passing identifying information to intelligence agencies, such as SEBIN. According to Free Access, CONATEL provided information to SEBIN, including internet protocol addresses, which assisted authorities in locating the users.

The law puts the burden of filtering prohibited electronic messages on service providers, and it allows CONATEL to order service providers to block access to websites that violate these norms and sanctions them with fines for distributing prohibited messages. IPYS reported that from 2017 to November, local internet providers following CONATEL orders blocked access to eight online outlets, including El NacionalLa PatillaRunrunesCronica UnoArmando.Info, and El Pitazo.

CONATEL’s director, Jorge Elieser Marquez Monsalve, reiterated the claims of his predecessors that CONATEL’s role is to enforce the law and prevent dissemination of illegal information or material unsuitable for children and adolescents. Nevertheless, the government continued to block internet sites that posted dollar- and euro-to-bolivar currency exchange rates differing from the government’s official rate. The government-owned internet service provider CANTV facilitated blockages.

Intelligence agencies, which lacked independent oversight, conducted surveillance for political purposes. Courts relied on evidence obtained from anonymous patriotas cooperantes (cooperating patriots) to harass perceived opponents of the government, and senior government officials used personal information gathered by patriotas cooperantes to intimidate government critics and human rights defenders.

According to the International Telecommunication Union, 64 percent of the population used the internet in 2017.

ACADEMIC FREEDOM AND CULTURAL EVENTS

There were no substantive reports of government restrictions on cultural events, but there were some government restrictions on academic freedom. Aula Abierta (Open Classroom), a local human rights NGO focused on academic freedoms, reported the government retaliated against opposition-oriented autonomous universities by providing insufficient funding and failing to adjust budgetary allocations to inflation. According to some university leaders, the 2018 budget allocation would not take them through the first semester. In September 2017 the National University Council, the government regulating body for university education, relinquished its functions to the ANC, disregarding the law requiring university autonomy. The government continued gradually increasing its control over local universities, including the admissions process. In 2015 the Ministry of Education began selecting at least 70 percent of those offered university seats using criteria based 50 percent on academic achievement, 30 percent on socioeconomic conditions, 15 percent on residency, and 5 percent on involvement in social service activities. University leaders complained the student selection process unfairly advantaged ruling-party supporters and usurped authority from the universities.

In May the Ministry of Higher Education, Science, and Technology announced a nationwide university scholarship program that would reportedly benefit more than 50,000 university students. According to the ministry, students must have a carnet de la patria (homeland card, a government-issued social benefits card provided primarily to government supporters; see section 3, Political Parties and Political Participation) to qualify. In June the government similarly announced a financial incentive called the “student bonus” for cardholders with school-age children.

FREEDOM OF PEACEFUL ASSEMBLY

The constitution provides for this right, but the government generally repressed or suspended it. The law regulates the right to assembly. Human rights groups continued to criticize the law as enabling the government to charge protesters with serious crimes for participating in peaceful demonstrations. Ambiguous language in the law also allowed the government to criminalize organizations that were critical of the government. Protests and marches require government authorization in advance and are forbidden within designated “security zones.”

Citizens organized sporadic and often spontaneous small-scale protests throughout the year to demand basic services such as water and electricity. The government generally refrained from using the widespread, violent, and in some cases fatal responses they used to quash the 2017 protests, but NGOs reported cases of arbitrary detention and heavy-handed police tactics to quell protests.

FREEDOM OF ASSOCIATION

The constitution provides for freedom of association and freedom from political discrimination, but the government did not respect these rights. Although professional and academic associations generally operated without interference, a number of associations complained that the TSJ and the National Electoral Council (CNE), which is responsible for convoking all elections and establishing electoral dates and procedures, repeatedly interfered with their attempts to hold internal elections.

A 2016 presidential decree called on the Foreign Ministry to suspend international funding to NGOs when “it is presumed” that the funding is used with “political purposes or for destabilization.” There were no reports the government implemented the decree during the year.

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; however, the government did not respect these rights.

On October 5, the government announced the creation of a special migration police unit. Although some NGOs expressed concern the government would use the unit to restrict international travel of select individuals, the government asserted the force would essentially be customs and border patrol units. The government declared the migration police would provide citizen security at migration points and established 72 points of control to monitor the border situation and dispel what it called myths regarding a supposed Venezuelan migratory crisis.

The government did not cooperate with the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) 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: With the refugee status determination process centralized at the National Refugee Commission (CONARE) headquarters in Caracas, asylum seekers often waited for years to obtain a final decision. During this period they had to continue renewing their documentation every three months to stay in the country and avoid arrest and deportation. While traveling to the commission, particularly vulnerable groups, such as women with young children, the elderly, and persons with disabilities, faced increased personal risks, such as arrest and deportation, extortion, exploitation, and sexual abuse by authorities at checkpoints and other locations.

On September 24, CONARE announced it would approve refugee applications for 54 Colombians who were awaiting approval. CONARE president Juan Carlos Aleman remarked the commission had more than 1,100 active requests for refugee status and that CONARE would respond to all of the requests in the next few months.

Arbitrary detentions continued but were reduced during the year. Security forces often used excessive force to control residents in states along the border with Colombia.

While no official statistics were available, a women’s shelter reported recurring problems with gender-based violence and trafficking of refugee women.

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

In-country Movement: The government restricted the movement of certain opposition leaders, preventing them from traveling on government-controlled airlines and refusing to allow them to board some domestic flights.

Foreign Travel: Obtaining a passport became increasingly difficult during the year. Prospective applicants waited overnight in lines and often did not receive passports even after years of delays. Some applicants reportedly paid several thousands of U.S. dollars to obtain a passport. The government repeatedly seized passports from journalists, members of the opposition, and National Assembly deputies at ports of entry without explanation as they attempted to depart the country.

Exile: There were new cases of citizens denied the right to return during the year. For example, the government released jailed University of Los Andes student leader Villca Fernandez on June 14, requiring that he leave the country as a condition of his release. SEBIN officials had arrested Fernandez in 2016 after he sent a tweet defending himself after then PSUV first vice president Diosdado Cabello threatened Fernandez on his weekly televised show. SEBIN officials reportedly tortured Fernandez, refused him medical attention, and kept him in solitary confinement, releasing him for less than 15 minutes at a time to use the bathroom.

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. According to UNHCR, the vast majority of asylum seekers came from Colombia. UNHCR estimated there were 7,860 recognized refugees and 173,000 persons in need of international protection in the country in 2017. The majority of such persons remained without any protection. Despite the increased migration of Venezuelans to neighboring countries, NGOs supporting displaced Colombians noted many chose to remain in Venezuela despite the economic crisis, citing a cost of living comparatively lower than in Colombia, fear of violence, or the ease with which they could travel between the two nations without relocating. Most of the Colombians had not accessed procedures for refugee status determination due to the inefficiency of the process. UNHCR reported that few persons in need of international protection were legally recognized as refugees.

Access to Basic Services: Colombian asylum seekers without legal residency permits had limited access to the job market, education, and health systems. The lack of documentation created significant challenges to achieving sufficient protection and long-term integration. Authorities permitted Colombian children to attend school but inconsistently granted them diplomas or certificates of completion without residency documentation, resulting in high dropout rates for Colombian children.

Vietnam

Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:

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

Freedom of Expression: The government continued to restrict speech that criticized individual government leaders, criticized the party, promoted political pluralism or multiparty democracy, or questioned policies on sensitive matters, such as human rights, religious freedom, or sovereignty disputes with China. The government also sought to impede criticism by monitoring meetings and communications of journalists and activists, including in academic institutions.

On June 12, the National Assembly adopted the Law on Cybersecurity which included vague national security provisions prohibiting “distortion of history, denial of revolutionary achievements, undermining national solidarity, taking advantage of cybersecurity protection activities to violate national security, national interests or sovereignty, or disrupt public order.” The law states any violation of its regulations would be subject to criminal prosecution.

Numerous groups and individuals criticized current and former local and national officials or members of government affiliates on social media, particularly Facebook.

On July 5, Hanoi authorities arrested blogger Le Anh Hung and charged him with “abusing democratic freedom” for online posts criticizing political leaders. Hung was a regular political writer for the Vietnamese programs of Voice of America, Radio Free Asia, and the British Broadcasting Corporation, and also contributed to the Independent Journalists Association of Vietnam’s blog.

Press and Media Freedom: The CPV, government, and party-controlled mass organizations exercised legal authority over all print, broadcast, online, and electronic media, primarily through the Ministry of Information and Communications under the overall guidance of the CPV Propaganda and Education Commission. The law authorizes the government to fine journalists and newspapers, with fines ranging from five million to 10 million Vietnamese dong (VND) ($220 to $440) for journalists who fail to cite their sources of information and for journalists and newspapers that “use documents and materials from organizations and personal letters and materials from individuals.” In July the Ministry of Information and Communications ordered a three-month suspension and 220 million VND ($10,000) fine on Tuoi Tre Online, the online version of top daily Tuoi Tre, for attributing untrue remarks to the president and “disrupting national unity.” The suspension was one of the harshest punishments in years and had a chilling effect throughout the journalism sector.

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

On March 11, the government consolidated several circulars implementing revised Decree 72 which governs on the management, supply, and use of internet services and online information. Decree 72 continues to require media to register and store user’s personal information, facilitate the removal of information that violated laws, and allow the revocation of licenses of violators, among other provisions.

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

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

The government permitted foreign-based media outlets although the law requires foreign television broadcasts to run on a 30- to 60-minute delay to enable content monitoring. Such channels ran on a 10-minute delay, however. Viewers reported obstruction of various commentaries, documentaries, and movies on human rights incidents in the country, the Vietnam War, the Cold War, the Soviet era, or events in China and Venezuela.

Major foreign media outlets reported the government delayed or refused to issue visas for reporters who previously covered sensitive political topics, particularly reporters for the overseas Vietnamese-language press. In November consular officials did not issue a visa to a BBC journalist who intended to report on the anniversary of relations between the UK and Vietnam. His visa application remained pending in December.

Government regulations authorize the information ministry to revoke the licenses of foreign publishers, and each foreign publisher must reapply annually to maintain its license.

Violence and Harassment: There continued to be a significant number of reports of security officials attacking, threatening, or arresting journalists and independent bloggers because of their coverage of sensitive stories.

Plainclothes security officials detained and beat a prominent independent journalist and author Pham Doan Trang with their motorcycle helmets after she attended an unsanctioned concert in Ho Chi Minh City. She sustained a concussion.

Foreign journalists said they continued to be required to notify authorities about travel outside Hanoi when it was to an area considered sensitive, such as the Northwest or Central Highlands, or involved a story the government otherwise might consider sensitive.

Censorship or Content Restrictions: The Ministry of Information and Communications and the CPV Propaganda and Education Commission frequently intervened directly to dictate or censor a story.

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

In August a managing editor at a leading state-run daily said he was warned that he could be disciplined for what he wrote on Facebook. The newspaper said the contents he posted “undermined national unity” and provided fabricated and libelous information about organizations and individuals. He had written posts about state conglomerate Vinashin’s losses, among other issues.

National Security: The law tightly restricts media freedom and stipulates fines of 20 million to 30 million VND ($880 to $1,330) for journalists, newspapers, and online media that publish or broadcast information deemed harmful to national interests and up to 50 million dong ($2,200) for information considered as distorting history and the revolution’s achievements. In some cases these “violations” may be subject to criminal proceedings.

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

INTERNET FREEDOM

The government restricted and disrupted access to the internet, censored online content, and monitored private online communications without legal authority. The limited number of licensed internet service providers (ISPs) were fully or substantially state-controlled companies. The government monitored Facebook posts and punished those who used the internet to organize protests or publish content critical of the government. On September 22, in separate trials, the People’s Court of Cai Rang district, Can Tho City, convicted Facebook users Nguyen Hong Nguyen and Truong Dinh Khang of “abusing democratic freedoms” and sentenced them to two years’ and one year’ imprisonment respectively. The government sometimes blocked websites it deemed politically or culturally inappropriate, including sites operated by overseas Vietnamese political groups in addition to the websites of Radio Free Asia, Voice of America, and the BBC Vietnamese news service. State-owned ISPs routinely blocked domestic Vietnamese-language websites that contained content criticizing the CPV or promoting political reform.

The law requires all companies and organizations operating websites providing content on “politics, economics, culture, and society” or social networks, including blogging platforms, to register with the government. The government also required such owners to submit detailed plans of their content and scope for approval. Such companies and organizations must locate at least one server in the country to facilitate requests for information from the government and store posted information for 90 days and certain metadata for up to two years.

The government forbids direct access to the internet through foreign ISPs, requires domestic ISPs to store information transmitted on the internet for at least 15 days, and requires ISPs to provide technical assistance and workspace to public security agents to allow them to monitor internet activities. The Ministry of Public Security has long required “internet agents,” including cyber cafes, to register the personal information of their customers, to store records of internet sites visited by customers, and to participate in government investigations of online activity. Internet cafes continued to install and use government-approved software to monitor customers’ online activities. The Ministry of Public Security enforced these and other requirements and monitored selectively.

On June 12, the National Assembly adopted a Law on Cybersecurity–scheduled to take effect on January 1, 2019–that requires foreign firms to store personal data locally and to open offices in the country. Members of the public protested the law and shared concerns that the law would make it easier for the state to pressure social media platforms to remove user-generated content or to hand over user information to security officials. Critics said it could undermine local businesses, which rely heavily on firms providing cross-border services online such as cloud-computing services.

The government continued to pressure firms such as Facebook and Google to eliminate “fake accounts” and content deemed “toxic,” including antistate materials. On July 9, the Ministry of Information and Communications announced that Google removed nearly 6,700 video clips, YouTube blocked six YouTube channels, and Facebook blocked nearly 1,000 links, 107 fake accounts, and 137 accounts that defamed the CPV and government.

Force 47, a special unit within the Ministry of National Defense monitored the internet for misinformation and antistate propaganda.

Authorities also suppressed online political expression by direct action against bloggers such as arrests, short-term detentions, surveillance, intimidation, and the illegal confiscation of computers and cell phones of activists and family members. The government continued to use national security and other vague provisions of the penal code against activists who peacefully expressed their political views online. Political dissidents and bloggers reported that the Ministry of Public Security routinely ordered disconnection of their home internet service. On September 17, the People’s Court of Tu Son town convicted citizen journalist Do Cong Duong of “disrupting public order” for filming a forced eviction, according to an NGO. He was sentenced to four years in prison. Duong was subsequently convicted of “abusing democratic freedoms” and sentenced on October 12 to an additional five years in prison.

Social network and blog users are required to provide their full name, national identification number, and address before creating an account. In-country website and social network operators must allow authorities to inspect local servers upon request and must have a mechanism to remove prohibited content within three hours of detection or notification by authorities.

According to the International Telecommunication Union, 49.6 percent of the population used the internet in 2017.

ACADEMIC FREEDOM AND CULTURAL EVENTS

The government restricted academic freedom and cultural events. Foreign academic professionals temporarily working at universities in the country could discuss nonpolitical topics widely and freely in classes, but government observers regularly attended classes taught by both foreigners and nationals. The government continued to require international and domestic organizations to obtain advance approval for conferences involving international sponsorship or participation. The government allowed universities more autonomy over international exchanges and cooperation programs, but visa requirements for visiting scholars and students remained onerous.

The government continued to prohibit any public criticism of CPV and state policy, including by independent scientific and technical organizations, even when the criticism was for a purely academic audience.

The government exerted influence over art exhibits, music, and other cultural activities by requiring significant permission procedures.

Many activists reported Ministry of Public Security officials threatened university leaders if they did not expel activists from their respective universities and pressured them and their family members not to attend certain workshops, although their political activities were peaceful. Multiple activists also reported academic institutions refused to allow them or their children to graduate due to their advocacy of human rights. In March at Hanoi Noi Bai airport authorities denied exit permission to a student from Song Ngoc parish in Nghe An province who was traveling to study overseas due to his involvement in Formosa-related protests.

FREEDOM OF PEACEFUL ASSEMBLY

The government restricted freedom of peaceful assembly. Law and regulations require persons wishing to gather in a group to apply for a permit, which local authorities issued or denied without explanation. Only those arranging publicized gatherings to discuss sensitive matters appeared to require permits, however, and persons routinely gathered in informal groups without government interference. The government generally did not permit any demonstrations perceived to be political. The law permits security forces to detain individuals gathering or protesting outside of courthouses during trials.

The Ministry of Public Security and local police routinely prevented activists from peacefully assembling. There were numerous reports of police dispersing gatherings of environmental activists, anti-China activists, land rights advocates, human rights defenders, bloggers and independent journalists, women’s rights, and former political prisoners.

Social media and multiple activists reported that on June 17, authorities took some 180 people, including those who were involved in protesting the draft SAEZ and cybersecurity laws and those observing the demonstrations, to Tao Dao stadium in Ho Chi Minh City. Some activists including Phan Tieu May said they were not protesting but were taken by authorities from their homes or cafes to the stadium Authorities searched, and beat those detained. Many of those involved said they sustained injuries to the head, and some lost consciousness. One individual required long-term hospitalization for his injuries.

On August 15, Ho Chi Minh City police and plainclothes individuals beat musician Nguyen Tin and other activists at Casanova Cafe in District 3 in Ho Chi Minh City after Nguyen Tin held an unregistered concert. They tied him to a chair and beat him over the head with his guitar, according to other activists.

FREEDOM OF ASSOCIATION

The constitution affords individuals the right of association, but the government restricted freedom of association severely. The country’s legal and regulatory framework establishes mechanisms for restricting freedom of NGOs to act and organize, including by restricting freedom of association. The government generally prohibited the establishment of private, independent organizations, insisting that persons work within established, party-controlled mass organizations, usually under the aegis of the VFF. The government used complex and politicized registration systems for NGOs and religious organizations to suppress unwelcome political and religious participation.

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

The Law on Belief and Religions, which came into effect January 1, still requires religious groups to register with authorities and to inform officials of activities. Authorities had the right to approve or refuse religious activities. Some unregistered religious groups reported an increase in government interference.

Some registered organizations, civil society organizations including governance and environment-focused NGOs, reported increased scrutiny of their activities.

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, but the government imposed some limits on the movement of certain individuals, especially those convicted under national security or related charges or outspoken critics of the government.

Religious and ethnic minority groups, including Hmong and Montagnards who fled the Central Highlands for Cambodia or Thailand, some reportedly due to abuse (see Section 6), asserted that authorities pressured them to return by threatening their families that remained in-country. Authorities then abused, detained, or questioned them upon their return.

In-country Movement: Several political activists, amnestied with probation or under house arrest, along with others not facing such legal restrictions were officially restricted in their movements, including Bui Thi Minh Hang and Dinh Nhat Uy. Authorities continued to monitor and selectively restrict the movement of many prominent activists and religious leaders including Nguyen Dan Que, Pham Chi Dung, Pham Ba Hai, Nguyen Hong Quang, Thich Khong Tanh, Le Cong Cau, and Duong Thi Tan. Several activists reported authorities had confiscated their national identification cards, preventing them from traveling domestically by air or conducting routine administrative matters.

Some activists reported authorities prevented them and their family members from leaving their homes during politically sensitive events, (see also section 1.d.).

A government restriction regarding travel to certain areas required citizens and resident foreigners to obtain a permit to visit border areas, defense facilities, industrial zones involved in national defense, areas of “national strategic storage,” and “works of extreme importance for political, economic, cultural, and social purposes.”

Local police required citizens to register when staying overnight in any location outside of their own homes; the government appeared to enforce these requirements more strictly in some Central and Northern Highlands districts. Foreign passport holders also needed to register to stay in private homes, although there were no known cases of local authorities refusing to allow foreign visitors to stay with friends or family. There were multiple reports of police using the excuse of “checking on residency registration” to intimidate and harass activists and prevent them from traveling outside of their place of registration (see sections 1.d. and 1.f.).

Authorities did not strictly enforce residency laws for the general population, and migration from rural areas to cities continued unabated. Moving without permission, however, hampered persons from obtaining legal residence permits, public education, and health-care benefits.

Foreign Travel: Prospective emigrants occasionally encountered difficulties obtaining a passport or exit permission, and authorities regularly confiscated passports of activists, at times indefinitely. There were multiple reports of individuals crossing the land borders with Laos or Cambodia illegally because they were unable to obtain passports or exit permission; in some cases this included persons sought for alleged crimes or wanted for political or other activism.

The Ministry of Public Security continued to use foreign travel prohibitions against certain activists and religious leaders, including Bui Minh Quoc, Dinh Huu Thoai, Do Thi Minh Hanh, Pham Doan Trang, Nguyen Hong Quang, and Le Cong Dinh. Authorities banned and prevented dozens of individuals from traveling overseas, withheld their passports on vague charges, or refused to issue passports to certain activists or religious leaders without clear explanation. Authorities also refused to issue passports to the family members of certain activists.

On September 17, authorities prevented Nguyen Quang A from traveling to Geneva to attend a hearing with members of civil society for Vietnam’s Universal Periodic Review before the UN Human Rights Council. In October Nguyen Quang A was able to travel to Brussels to testify to the EU’s International Trade Committee, but reported having been intimidated by security officials the day of his departure.

PROTECTION OF REFUGEES

Access to Asylum: The law does not provide for granting asylum or refugee status, and the government has not established a system for providing protection to refugees.

STATELESS PERSONS

According to the government, at the end of 2017 there were approximately 29,500 recognized stateless persons and persons of undetermined nationality living in the country. This was a substantial increase from the estimated 11,000 stateless persons acknowledged in 2016 and was due to increased government effort to identify such persons. The bulk of this population lived in border areas, but it also included a number of women who lost their citizenship after marrying a foreigner but then lost their foreign citizenship, primarily because of divorce. In the past the government naturalized stateless ethnic Vietnamese who had lived in Cambodia, but there was no information on naturalization efforts or options for those identified as stateless persons during the year.

Western Sahara

Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:

Moroccan law and practice apply. The Moroccan constitution and Moroccan law generally provide for freedom of expression, including for the press, although they criminalize and restrict some freedom of expression in the press and social media–specifically criticism of Islam, of the institution of the monarchy, and of the government’s positions regarding territorial integrity and Western Sahara. Such criticism can result in prosecution under the penal code, with punishments ranging from fines to jail time, despite the freedom of expression provided for in the 2016 press code. The press code applies only to journalists accredited by the Ministry of Communication for speech or publications in the line of work; private speech by accredited journalists remains punishable under the penal code. Authorities were sensitive to any reporting not in line with the state’s official position on the territory’s status, and they continued to expel, harass, or detain persons who wrote critically on the issue. According to the October 3 UN secretary-general’s report on Western Sahara, the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) continued to be concerned by reports alleging excessive surveillance of human rights defenders and journalists in Western Sahara.

Freedom of Expression: Moroccan law criminalizes criticism of Islam, of the legitimacy of the monarchy, of state institutions, of officials such as those in the military, and of the Moroccan government’s position regarding territorial integrity and Western Sahara. Sahrawi media outlets and bloggers with opposing views to the government often practiced self-censorship on these issues.

On October 2, a court in Laayoune sentenced two unregistered journalists, a blogger, and a photographer, to two years in prison for “forming an organization to commit delinquent acts” and “organizing a violent demonstration.” According to media sources, the two individuals were documenting a demonstration on March 27 for their media outlet on Facebook “Smara News,” when they were arrested and detained. The government reported that the individuals were part of a violent demonstration injuring several officers.

For more information, see the Department of State’s 2018 Country Reports on Human Rights for Morocco.

Censorship and Content Restrictions: Moroccan law and practice apply. Self-censorship and government restrictions remained serious hurdles to the development of a free, independent, and investigative press. Publications and broadcast media require government accreditation, and the government may deny and revoke accreditation as well as suspend or confiscate publications. For more information, see the Department of State’s 2018 Country Reports on Human Rights for Morocco.

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

Local and international media, including satellite television and POLISARIO-controlled television and radio from the Sahrawi refugee camps in Algeria, were available in the territory.

Moroccan government practices concerning press and media freedom, violence and harassment, libel or slander, and national security issues were the same as those in internationally recognized Morocco. For more information on these subheadings, see the Department of State’s 2018 Country Reports on Human Rights for Morocco.

INTERNET FREEDOM

Moroccan law and practice apply. For more information, see the Department of State’s 2018 Country Reports on Human Rights for Morocco.

ACADEMIC FREEDOM AND CULTURAL EVENTS

Moroccan law and practice apply. For more information, see the Department of State’s 2018 Country Reports on Human Rights for Morocco.

Moroccan law applies. As in internationally recognized Morocco, the Moroccan government limited freedoms of peaceful assembly and association.

FREEDOM OF PEACEFUL ASSEMBLY

Moroccan law provides for the right of peaceful assembly. The government generally permitted authorized and unauthorized peaceful demonstrations to occur. According to Moroccan law, groups of more than three persons require authorization from the Ministry of Interior to protest publicly. As in internationally recognized Morocco, some NGOs complained that the government used administrative delays and other methods to suppress or discourage unwanted peaceful assembly. Security forces intervened on occasion to disband both authorized and unauthorized protests when officials deemed the demonstration a threat to public security. The October 3 UN secretary-general’s report on Western Sahara cited claims by some local NGOs that Moroccan security forces had forcibly dispersed demonstrations related to the right to self-determination, the disposal of natural wealth and resources, and the rights of detainees.

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

The CNDH’s three regional commissions monitored 52 demonstrations from April 2017 to March and concluded that the security forces’ use of violence to disperse demonstrations decreased during the year.

FREEDOM OF ASSOCIATION

Moroccan law and practice apply. Generally, the government denied official recognition to NGOs that it considered advocates against Islam’s status as the state religion, the legitimacy of the monarchy, or Morocco’s territorial integrity. Authorities noted that 418 organizations were registered in Laayoune and 288 in Dakhla, the two largest cities in Western Sahara. The Laayoune branch of the CNDH reported that it received complaints from three organizations that were denied registration during the year. The branches contacted government authorities and following mediation, one of the organizations in Laayoune was in the process of being registered. According to the CNDH, of the 10 organizations denied registration in 2017, five were registered, one was in the process of being registered, two were referred to judiciary, and two did not receive a response as of September.

The government tolerated activities of several unregistered organizations.

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

Moroccan law and practice applies. Moroccan law provides for freedom of internal movement, foreign travel, emigration, and repatriation, and the government generally respected these rights. NGOs and activists alleged that Moroccan authorities sometimes restricted access to Western Sahara for foreign visitors, including journalists and human rights defenders. The government of Morocco claimed it only restricted access when such visits challenged Morocco’s territorial integrity or were perceived to be a threat to internal security and stability. According to the government, authorities granted access to 13,844 foreigners traveling to Laayoune from January to August 2018. As of September several human rights organizations reported that authorities denied access to five foreigners traveling to Laayoune. The government confirmed it expelled six foreigners from Laayoune in 2017 for threatening internal stability and failing to meet immigration requirements.

On May 11, Moroccan authorities denied two Swedish activists entry into Western Sahara to meet with the Sahrawi Association of Victims of Grave Human Rights Violations Committed by the Moroccan State (ASVVDH). According to media reports, the activists planned to conduct a field visit as representatives of Emmaus Stockholm, their Swedish organization, which funded an ASVVDH project in 2017. The government reported the activists were denied entry in accordance with immigration law and in the interest of maintaining public order in the territory. The government reported the activists had ties with POLISARIO and that their visit was political, to document local activists observing the 45th anniversary of the creation of POLISARIO.

The government continued to make travel documents available to Sahrawis, and there were no reported cases of authorities preventing Sahrawis from traveling. The government of Morocco encouraged the return of Sahrawi refugees from abroad if they acknowledged the government’s authority over Western Sahara. Those refugees wishing to return must obtain the appropriate travel or identity documents at a Moroccan consulate abroad, often in Mauritania.

PROTECTION OF REFUGEES

Moroccan law and practice apply. For more information, see the Department of State’s 2018 Country Reports on Human Rights for Morocco.

Yemen

Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:

Although the constitution provides for freedom of expression, including for the press, “within the limits of the law,” the Press and Publications Law calls for journalists to uphold national unity and prohibits criticism of the head of state. Rebel actors did not respect the rights as provided, and the government was unable to enforce them.

Freedom of Expression: All parties to the conflict severely restricted the right to freedom of expression, and female human rights defenders, journalists, and activists faced specific repression on the basis of gender. Local human rights defenders faced harassment, threats, and smear campaigns from the government and Coalition and Houthi forces.

On March 4, the Houthis released two journalists after almost two years of detention. According to the National Organization of Yemeni Media, 14 others remain detained in Houthi-run prisons.

Press and Media Freedom: Prior to the outbreak of conflict, the transitional government approved legislation to regulate broadcasting and television channels. A number of domestic private stations operated under media production company permits, and several stations broadcast from abroad for domestic audiences.

In July the Yemeni Journalists’ Syndicate (YJS) announced it had recorded 100 cases of media freedom violations during the first half of the year, including threats of kidnapping, arrest, torture, blocking of news sites, and suspension of salaries, among other threats. According to YJS, the ROYG committed 47 alleged abuses either in government buildings or on security bases, and 39 were committed by the Houthis, six by the Coalition, and eight by unknown individuals.

Violence and Harassment: Progovernment popular resistance forces, Houthis, and tribal militias were responsible for a range of abuses against media outlets. For example, progovernment forces, including Security Belt and Hadrami forces, harassed media and monitors by raiding civil society organizations, and detaining peaceful journalists and demonstrators for publicizing complaints about detention practices and military operations. CPJ reported an armed raid in March on the offices of al-Shomou Foundation, believed to be pro-ROYG. The men set fire to the presses used to print the weekly Al-Shomou and daily Akhbar al-Youm newspapers. The president of al-Shomou Foundation told CPJ the attackers arrived in vehicles and wore uniforms consistent with the “Security Belt” forces that operate in and around Aden. Three weeks later, seven Akhbar al-Youm staff were abducted from the same location.

Houthi militias and forces loyal to Saleh were responsible for a campaign of violence and harassment against journalists, according to Yemeni Journalists Syndicate, an affiliate of the International Federation of Journalists. The government was unable to take any substantive steps to protect journalists from violence and harassment.

In multiple instances, Houthis went to the homes of activists, journalists, and political leaders opposed to the Houthis and used the threat of arrest and other means to intimidate perceived opponents and to silence dissent. According to HRW, authorities frequently compelled detainees to sign contracts promising not to affiliate themselves with groups their captors saw as opposed to Houthi movement.

Censorship or Content Restrictions: The Houthis controlled several state ministries responsible for press and communications, including the Ministry of Telecommunications. In that capacity, they selected items for formerly government-run broadcast and print media and did not allow reports critical of themselves. The Houthi-controlled Ministry of Telecommunications and internet service providers reportedly blocked websites and domains that authorities deemed critical of the Houthi agenda. UNOHCHR reported that Houthi forces censored television channels and banned newspapers from publication.

Libel/Slander Laws: The law criminalizes criticism of the “person of the head of state;” the publication of “false information” that may spread “dissent and division among the people;” materials that may lead to “the spread of ideas contrary to the principles of the Yemeni revolution;” and “false stories intended to damage Arab and friendly countries or their relations.”

Nongovernmental Impact: International media and human rights organizations have said that their personnel were unable to obtain Coalition permission to use United Nations flights into and out of Sana’a since early 2017. Independent observers must take commercial flights to government-controlled areas in the south and then travel by land across dangerous front lines to other areas. UNOHCHR reported Houthi forces raided or closed the premises of a large number of civil society organizations and frozen the assets, including bank accounts, of at least two NGOs.

INTERNET FREEDOM

Censorship affected internet freedom, and there were notable cases of Houthi intrusion into cyberspace. The Houthi-controlled Public Telecommunications Corporation systematically blocked user access to websites and internet domains it deemed dangerous to the rebel actors’ political agenda.

According to the International Telecommunication Union, 27 percent of the population used the internet during the year, while 6 percent had internet access at home.

ACADEMIC FREEDOM AND CULTURAL EVENTS

The NSB maintained permanent offices on campuses, reflecting continued government concern about security and, in some cases, controversial speech. Party-affiliated officials at the Ministry of Higher Education and academic institutions reviewed prospective university professors and administrators for political acceptability before hiring them and commonly showed favoritism toward supporters of specific political parties. There were no reported instances of censored curriculums or sanctioned professors or students; however, after their takeover, Houthi and other actors’ incursions onto campuses and detentions of academics appeared designed to intimidate them as perceived opponents.

The law provides for the freedoms of peaceful assembly and association, but these rights were not respected in the majority of the country, i.e., areas which the government did not control.

FREEDOM OF PEACEFUL ASSEMBLY

The law provides for freedom of peaceful assembly. The Houthis and their affiliates responded to demonstrations and protests in various parts of the country with excessive force.

FREEDOM OF ASSOCIATION

While the law provides for freedom of association, there were reports Houthis harassed and shut down NGOs. The law regulates associations and foundations and outlines the establishment and activities of NGOs. Authorities required annual registration. The law exempts registered NGOs from taxes and tariffs and requires the government to provide a reason for denying an NGO registration, such as deeming an NGO’s activities “detrimental” to the state. It forbids NGO involvement in political or religious activities. It permits foreign funding of NGOs. The law requires government observation of NGO internal elections. There were no known attempts by NGOs to register during the year.

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.

In 2016 the Coalition closed Sana’a International Airport to commercial traffic, permitting only UN humanitarian flights and thereby preventing thousands of local citizens from seeking medical care abroad. Those who need to leave the country attempt alternative routes that require long journeys across active front lines at high risk and cost.

Prior to 2014, the transitional government cooperated with the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) and other humanitarian organizations in providing protection and assistance to IDPs, refugees, returning refugees, asylum seekers, stateless persons, and other persons of concern. The Houthi takeover, Coalition airstrikes, and the Hudaydah offensive, however, made it difficult for humanitarian organizations to reach many areas of the country due to security concerns. The ROYG did not enforce the law, even in government-controlled areas, due to capacity and governance issues.

According to UNHCR, the country’s laws and policies were consistent with international standards, but authorities’ capacity to protect and assist persons in need was limited. The Houthis imposed ad hoc and unpredictable requirements on humanitarian organizations throughout the year, such as visa restrictions and checkpoints, making implementation of humanitarian programs difficult in areas under their control.

Abuse of Migrants, Refugees, and Stateless Persons: In past years, multiple NGOs reported that criminal smuggling groups built a large number of “camps” near the Yemen-Saudi border city of Haradh, where militants held migrants for extortion and ransom.

UNHCR, the International Organization for Migration (IOM), and other partners continued to face challenges accessing detention centers. UNHCR and IOM negotiated with relevant ministries to find alternative means to monitor refugees and asylum seekers in detention.

IOM recorded more than 50,000 new arrivals of migrants and refugees to the country in the first half of the year. The IOM reported that both the government and Houthis detained migrants due to concerns that they could be recruited by the other party. While the government was able to deport migrants back to their country of origin, the Houthis generally detained migrants for indefinite periods. IOM worked with the Houthis to assist the migrants while in detention. Separately, UNHCR and IOM worked together to provide assisted voluntary returns for migrants and assisted spontaneous returns for Somali refugees. As of October 18, UNHCR and IOM had helped more than 2,600 refugees and migrants to return to the Horn of Africa since the program began in September 2017.

In April HRW reported that government officials tortured, raped, and executed migrants and asylum seekers from the Horn of Africa at the Bureiqa detention center in the southern port city of Aden. The authorities denied asylum seekers an opportunity to seek refugee protection and deported migrants en masse to dangerous conditions at sea. As of April approximately 90, primarily Eritrean, migrants remained in the country.

Houthi armed groups also arbitrarily detained migrants in poor conditions and failed to provide access to asylum and protection procedures in a facility near the western port of Hudaydah. HRW reported overcrowding, lack of access to medical care, and physical abuse, with detainees showing signs of sores and festering wounds. Early in the year, at least one group of migrants–87 individuals, including seven children–held in the Hudaydah facility by Houthi forces were released on condition they travel to Aden. Yemeni soldiers stopped the group along the way and reportedly took them to the Bureiqa detention facility in Aden.

In-country Movement: Rebel forces, resistance forces, security forces, and tribesmen maintained checkpoints on major roads. In many regions, especially in areas outside effective central security control, armed tribesmen frequently restricted freedom of movement, operating their own checkpoints, sometimes with military or other security officials, and often subjected travelers to physical harassment, extortion, theft, or short-term kidnappings for ransom. Damage to roads, bridges, and other infrastructure from the conflict also hindered the delivery of humanitarian aid and commercial shipments (see section 1.g.).

Women in general did not enjoy full freedom of movement, although restrictions varied by location. Some observers reported increased restrictions on women in conservative locations, such as Safadi. Oxfam reported that in areas controlled by radical Islamic groups such as AQAP (see section 6, Women) men at checkpoints increasingly insisted on adherence to the “mahram” system, the cultural obligation of women to be accompanied by male relatives in public.

Authorities required travel permits for all non-Yemeni nationals leaving Sana’a.

Local observers reported that Yemenis from Houthi-controlled areas faced increasing discrimination and difficulties when traveling in the southern portion of the country.

Foreign Travel: In the past women needed the permission of a male guardian, such as a husband, before applying for a passport or leaving the country. A husband or male relative could bar a woman from leaving the country by placing a woman’s name on a “no-fly list” maintained at airports. Prior to the conflict, authorities strictly enforced this requirement when women traveled with children, but there were no reports of authorities enforcing this requirement during the year. There were attempts, however, by Houthis to impose similar restrictions on women’s international travel. Given the deterioration of infrastructure and lack of security due to the conflict, many women reportedly declined to travel alone (see section 6, Women).

INTERNALLY DISPLACED PERSONS (IDPS)

According to UNHCR’s Fact Sheet for October, there were approximately two million IDPs, of whom 89 percent were displaced for more than one year. There were approximately one million IDP returnees. The government’s IDP registration system has been on pause since the escalation of the conflict in 2015.

Humanitarian organizations’ access to IDPs was generally limited and unpredictable due to the continuing conflict; however, many humanitarian organizations maintained a presence in multiple locations throughout the country. According to the United Nations, humanitarian organizations, local NGOs, and charities that still functioned in the capital supported IDPs in Sana’a with food, shelter, and nonfood items. IDPs from Sa’ada reported limited access to cash for purchasing basic household items.

Humanitarian organizations reported that parties to the conflict interfered with the distribution of humanitarian goods. Houthi forces conducted armed robberies and stole vehicles throughout the year, yet this type of limitation generally occurred in conflict hotspots and represented a small fraction of overall aid. Due to general insecurity, humanitarian organizations’ access to populations of concern was restricted and somewhat unpredictable. According to the United Nations, there were 22.2 million individuals in need.

There was a marked increase in food insecurity throughout the country, and rates of acute malnutrition were high among IDPs and other vulnerable groups (see section 1.g.). According to Save the Children, 64.5 percent of total population was food insecure, 8.4 million were on brink of starvation, and half of all children in the country were stunted. An estimated 400,000 children were malnourished.

IOM reported that IDPs largely sought refuge with relatives or friends or rented accommodations where many faced frequent threats of eviction due to late payments of rent. Others were housed in unconventional shelters in public or private buildings, such as schools, health facilities, or religious buildings, primarily in Taizz and Lahj. As of September UNHCR provided core relief items to 383,549 IDP individuals, emergency shelter kits to 59,882 individuals, and rental subsidies for 108,396 individuals. In January UNHCR finalized the construction of 1,700 transitional shelters for IDP families, with 3,200 under construction in Hajjah at year’s end. UNHCR provided 27,767 core relief item kits and 4,430 emergency shelter kits to assist families displaced by fighting in al-Hudaydah by the end of September.

The Saudi government-run King Salman Relief Agency set up a temporary camp in September in al-Khawkha to shelter IDPs fleeing al-Hudaydah and supply them with water tanks, mobile clinics and shelter materials, including camps and blankets. The camp could accommodate 420 IDPs and plans to expand operations to eventually benefit 30,000 IDPs.

PROTECTION OF REFUGEES

The country received refugees from a variety of countries during the conflict. Many refugees became increasingly vulnerable due to the worsening security and economic situation in the country. Somali, Ethiopian, Eritrean, and other refugees shared in the general poverty and insecurity of the country.

According to UNHCR’s September Fact Sheet, there were more than 280,000 refugees and asylum seekers in the country, mostly from Somalia and Ethiopia. Many were attempting to reach or return to Saudi Arabia for work and had entered the country based on false information from smugglers that the conflict in the country was over, according to UNHCR and IOM. Due to the fighting, many left Aden and took refuge at the Kharaz camp and towns in the South. The ROYG could not provide physical protection to refugees; many were held in detention centers operated by Houthis in the North and the government in the South. UNHCR claimed there were reports of refugees facing physical and sexual abuse as well as torture and forced labor, in both Houthi and ROYG controlled facilities, and that many refugees were susceptible to trafficking.

Refoulement: Eritrean, Ethiopian and Somali detainees of the Bureiqa migrant detention center near Aden alleged they were not allowed to claim refugee status in Yemen and that hundreds of fellow detainees were sent back out to sea in overloaded boats. Information was not available for deportations during the year.

Access to Asylum: No law addresses the granting of refugee status or asylum, and there was no system for providing protection to asylum seekers. In past years, the government provided automatic refugee status to Somalis who entered the country. The Houthis attempted to take over the refugee status determinations process in areas under their control, leading many refugees to have lapsed documentation. UNHCR was able to access populations to provide assistance and was working with the Houthis to come to a resolution on registration of refugees. UNHCR continued to conduct refugee status determination in southern Yemen in territory under government control, in coordination with the government.

Freedom of Movement: Freedom of movement remained difficult for all in the country, including refugees, given the damage to roads, bridges, and basic infrastructure caused by the conflict. Most of the country’s airports incurred significant damage or were closed to commercial traffic, making travel difficult for all, including refugees. In areas controlled by Houthis unofficial checkpoints caused unnecessary delays or blocked the movement of individuals or goods.

Access to Basic Services: Refugees lacked access to basic services due to the ongoing conflict. The United Nations estimated that only about 55 percent of public-health facilities remained functional during the year. Many were closed due to damage caused by the conflict, some were destroyed, and all facilities faced shortages in supplies, including medications and fuel to run generators.

Zambia

Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:

Although the constitution and law provide for freedom of expression, including for the press, it has derogations that permit restrictions of these fundamental rights and freedoms in certain circumstances. In particular, Article 22(3) allows the restriction of freedom of expression in the interests of national defense, public safety, public order, and public health or for the purpose of protecting the reputations, rights, and freedoms of others and maintaining the authority and independence of the courts. Based on these provisions, the government can restrict these freedoms using subsidiary laws such as the Penal Code, Public Order Act, Preservation of Public Security Act, and Emergency Powers Act.

Freedom of Expression: The government remained sensitive to criticism in general, particularly by the political opposition and civil society, and restricted the ability of individuals to freely criticize it or discuss matters of general public interest. For example, in November, Gregory Chifire, director of the Southern Africa Network Against Corruption, was sentenced to six years’ imprisonment on four counts of contempt of court. The charges were leveled against him following a letter he wrote to the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court, Irene Mambilima, as well as articles he published in local print and online media in which he alleged corrupt practices within the judiciary. When he could not substantiate those claims in court, he was found guilty of contempt and received a penalty.

Press and Media Freedom: The government published two of the country’s four most widely circulated newspapers. One of the two privately owned newspapers opposed the ruling PF party, while the other supported it and the government. Opposition political parties and civil society organizations contended government-run media failed to report objectively. Although state media covered government-sponsored and nongovernmental events, coverage was not fair; state media failed to educate and inform citizens in an objective, balanced, and clear way, civil society organizations reported.

In addition to a multichannel government-controlled radio station that broadcasts nationwide, approximately 73 private and community radio stations broadcast. These radio stations experienced political pressure. Although some local private stations broadcast call-in and other talk programs on which diverse and critical viewpoints were expressed freely, media bodies claimed journalists who appeared on such programs received threats from senior government officials and politicians. Independent, private media outlets also often received threats from the government for providing airtime to the opposition. For example, ruling party officials threatened to have Sun FM’s Lusaka radio license application disqualified for broadcasting a November 2 interview with UPND leader, Hakainde Hichilema, who alleged that the government sold the Zambia Forestry and Forest Industries Corporation to Chinese business interests.

According to media watchdog organizations, independent media failed to operate freely due to restrictions imposed by government authorities. Police reportedly failed to follow up journalists’ assault cases, while some media houses were threatened with closure for unfavorable or lack of coverage of the president. On several occasions police used force to interrupt broadcasts. For example, on April 13, police stormed KFM radio in Mansa and stopped a radio program in which Chishimba Kambwili, who is both a PF MP and a consultant for the opposition National Democratic Congress (NDC) party, was on air during a local government by-election.

Violence and Harassment: The government stated it tolerated negative articles in newspapers and magazines, but there were numerous reports that showed government, ruling party, and some opposition officials and supporters harassed, threatened, and physically and verbally attacked journalists. For example, on January 27, during a cholera outbreak in Lusaka in which the president deployed military wings to clean up street vendors in Lusaka’s central business district, Michael Miyoba, a reporter from a private newspaper, was abducted and beaten by military officers. According to the Media Institute of Southern Africa (MISA) Zambia, the officers allegedly pulled his genitals as punishment to curtail media reports on their operations. In a case demonstrative of societal violence towards journalists, especially during election periods, on June 5, UPND cadres attacked seven journalists from various media houses, including The MastNews DiggersRadio Phoenix, and Prime Television, during the Chilanga parliamentary by-election.

Censorship or Content Restrictions: The government remained sensitive to media criticism and indirectly censored publications or penalized publishers. Numerous media watchdog organizations reported that the harassment and arrest of journalists, threats by the government to introduce punitive legislation against media personnel, restriction of their access to public places, and undue influence, among other restrictions, compromised media freedom and resulted in self-censorship.

Libel/Slander Laws: The government and individual public figures used laws against libel, slander, or defamation against critics to restrict public discussion. The government also often used sedition laws against those critical of the government. For example, on November 20, Copperbelt Province police issued a “warn and caution” statement to opposition UPND leader, Hakainde Hichilema, following his appearance in front of police for “investigations” related to his earlier discussion on live radio of a rumored sale of a parastatal firm. The statement charges that the leader’s discussion on live radio amounted to the offense of sedition. Although not officially charged, the statement required the suspect to acknowledge the nature of the allegation, and left open the possibility for arrest later.

INTERNET FREEDOM

Although access generally was not restricted and individuals and groups could freely express their views via the internet, the government threatened individuals using online fora with arrest and online media with closure. For example, on several occasions the government restricted access to antigovernment online publication Zambian Watchdog and other sites critical of the government. MISA Zambia reported that the government monitored internet communications without legal authority and sought to restrict social media content. On March 19, police in Mansa summoned Radio Mano station manager Crispin Ntalasha for a Facebook post, which was seen as an indication of state surveillance of private citizens on social media. Later in June media reported that Zambia Information and Communications Technology Agency (ZICTA) warned WhatsApp group administrators in Zambia to register with ZICTA or face arrest and prosecution for noncompliance.

According to the International Telecommunication Union, 27.8 percent of the population used the internet in 2017.

ACADEMIC FREEDOM AND CULTURAL EVENTS

There were reports of government restrictions on academic freedom and cultural events. For example, on September 29, Kenyan Professor Patrick Lumumba was denied entry into the country and returned to Kenya. Professor Lumumba was invited by Eden University, a Lusaka-based private university, to give a public lecture on the topic: “Africa in the age of Chinese influence and global geo dynamics.” According to Government Spokesperson Dora Siliya, Lumumba was denied entry due to “security considerations.”

Similarly, on October 27, University of Zambia (UNZA) management canceled a planned lecture by PF Bahati Constituency MP and presidential contender Harry Kalaba. Kalaba, a former foreign affairs minister, who has made his 2021 presidential aspirations clear, was, on October 30, scheduled to discuss “Africa’s relations with the rest of the world” at UNZA Great East Road Campus. The cancellation came in the wake of an “overwhelming response” from members of the public confirming to attend the lecture, according to organizers of the event.

The constitution provides for freedom of peaceful assembly; however, the government restricted this right, and police and progovernment groups disrupted meetings, rallies, and other activities of opposition political parties and civil society organizations. In dealing with demonstrators, police adopted heavy-handed practices such as surrounding the venue to prevent meetings from taking place, forcefully breaking up demonstrations, and arresting demonstrators.

The Public Order Act requires political parties and other groups to notify police in advance of any rallies but does not require formal approval or permit. In 1995 the Supreme Court declared provisions in the act that previously gave police the power to regulate assemblies, public meetings, or processions unconstitutional. The police, however, have continued to disregard this landmark ruling and continued to stop opposition and civil society groups from holding public gatherings. For example, on October 19, police in Ndola arrested a small group of civil society and church officials during a meeting and charged them with unlawful assembly. The meeting, which took place at the Ndola Central Baptist Church, was organized by the Center for Trade Policy and Development as a public discussion about the government’s 2019 national budget. Police justified the arrests on the premise the meeting had become “political” and the group had not notified them of the gathering.

Opposition political parties complained of selective application of the Public Order Act, noting police allowed ruling party gatherings without notification. Police also prevented opposition and civil society groups planning to protest government actions from gathering on the grounds that police received notifications too late, had insufficient staff to provide security, or the gathering would coincide with government events in the same province. For example, in the lead up to the July 26 Lusaka mayoral elections, police in the district of Kanyama blocked opposition UPND leader Hakainde Hichilema from holding a campaign rally in the area after the group had registered the event with the Electoral Commission, ostensibly because President Lungu would be visiting the area. Although police claimed inadequate staff to provide security for gatherings, police responded in force to disrupt opposition gatherings and often allowed ruling party supporters to disrupt them.

FREEDOM OF ASSOCIATION

The constitution provides for freedom of association. While the government generally respected the right to freedom of association, it placed some limits on this right through various mechanisms. For example, although it generally went unenforced, the NGO Act requires all organizations to apply for registration to the registrar of societies. The registration process is stringent, long, and gives the registrar considerable discretion. The law also places restrictions on funding from foreign sources. For this reason donors, including some UN agencies, required all organizations to register under the NGO Act before receiving funding. According to the Southern African Center for the Constructive Resolution of Disputes, uncertainties surrounding the implementation of the NGO Act and NGO policy affected the operations of civil society organizations.

Despite these restrictions the government liberally allowed civil society organizations to hold meetings in which they criticized it. For example, on March 6, the Oasis Forum, an association of civil society organizations, hosted a public discussion in Lusaka on a topic critical of the government.

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, 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, and other persons of concern.

Abuse of Migrants, Refugees, and Stateless Persons: Gender-based violence was a problem, and authorities failed to provide adequate physical protection. Violence against girls and women–including defilement, rape, marriages of girls under age 18, and prostitution–was a major problem affecting female asylum seekers and refugees in camps and among those residing independently, especially in urban areas. Gender inequality, economic dependence on men, and impunity of perpetrators were among the factors contributing to abuse.

In-country Movement: The government intermittently restricted freedom of internal movement. Although police generally used roadblocks to control criminal activity, enforce customs and immigration controls, check drivers’ documents, and inspect vehicles for safety compliance, there were reports police used such interventions to limit participation in political gatherings, especially during parliamentary and local government by-elections.

PROTECTION OF REFUGEES

Refoulement: On August 8, the government forcibly returned Tendai Biti, a Zimbabwean national and senior member of the opposition Movement for Democratic Change Alliance, to Zimbabwe. Biti fled to Zambia and applied for asylum at the Chirundu border post in the aftermath of the July 30 Zimbabwean general elections. Despite a High Court order and UNHCR interventions for his stay, immigration authorities detained him at the border and forcibly returned him to Zimbabwe on August 9. According to government officials, Biti’s application was denied because he was running away from a “legitimate” court process in Zimbabwe.

Access to Asylum: The law provides for the granting of asylum or refugee status, and the government has a system for providing protection to refugees. According to UNHCR, although the law provides for the granting of asylum, it also gives the minister of home affairs wide discretion to deport refugees without appeal. The government was responsible for conducting refugee status determinations.

Freedom of Movement: Restrictions on the right to freedom of movement by refugees within the country include the requirement for a settlement-based refugee to obtain a 60-day gate pass from a refugee officer, specifying reasons for leaving the settlement. Refugees must also carry a valid refugee card or proof of registration as proof of identity. Additionally, the degraded road conditions to the refugee settlement areas severely limited access to markets for refugees seeking a sustainable livelihood.

Employment: The law requires refugees to obtain work permits before they can engage in employment, including self-employment activities. Issuance of employment permits is subject to normal immigration procedures, including the application of a government policy that requires the immigration department to ascertain that there is no Zambian national that can perform the job.

Access to Basic Services: Although the government provided basic services, including housing and limited health-care services to refugees, the law does not accord equal access to education. The government, however, provided primary and secondary education in refugee settlements. Secondary school for refugees living in urban areas was also allowed but required a study permit and the payment of school fees.

Refugees were required to obtain government permission to move or live outside refugee camps, which was frequently granted on a temporary basis. Government policy limited refugees’ legal employment options to refugee camps, unless refugees obtained specific government authorization to work outside camps.

Durable Solutions: The government promoted the safe, voluntary return, resettlement, and local integration of refugees and stateless persons. During the year the Ministry of Home Affairs reported that the government issued residence permits to over 3,000 Angolan and Rwandan refugees and offered them land in an ongoing local integration program. A further 4,000 refugees were resettled and offered naturalization. Financial and procedural challenges, however, constrained the full integration of naturalized Angolan and Rwandan former refugees. Delayed passport issuance for both Angolans and Rwandans by their respective nations’ diplomatic and consular representatives in the country and their authorities in their capitals also kept several thousand in legal limbo.

Temporary Protection: The government provided temporary protection to individuals who may not qualify as refugees, and the recognition rate of asylum claims was high. The recourse for those rejected was appeal to the Ministry of Home Affairs. For example, in August the government provided temporary protection to Soriano Katumbi, a Congolese politician reportedly fleeing political persecution from progovernment militia in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC).

Provincial and district joint operations committees are responsible for establishing the identity of asylum seekers and their reasons for leaving their country of origin. According to the Department of Immigration, the government intercepted several groups from the Horn of Africa and other parts of Africa at the border and within the country. UNHCR interceded with the director of immigration to prevent forced deportations. The last instance of forced removal occurred in 2015 involving the deportation of two Rwandan refugees by the minister of home affairs. In August the High Court quashed the deportation of the two and declared it invalid.

STATELESS PERSONS

According to UNHCR the country has no provision for maintaining statistical information regarding stateless persons. The Ministry of Home Affairs reported there was a relatively small number of undocumented habitual residents–mainly hunters and gatherers–who have since been integrated into local rural communities following the destruction of their natural habitat due to development activities. The government is in the process of issuing them with national identity documents. UNHCR reported one case of a stateless person claiming to be South African who arrived from the DRC in 1997. The South African High Commission in Zambia refused to issue the person a passport because it could not ascertain his claim to citizenship. Subsequently, immigration authorities detained the person on several occasions for lack of documentation because his stay in the country was not yet regularized.

Zimbabwe

Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:

The constitution provides for freedoms of expression and of the media, but the law limits these freedoms in the “interest of defense, public security or professional confidentiality, to the extent that the restriction is fair, reasonable, necessary and justifiable in a democratic society based on openness, justice, human dignity, equality and freedom.” The government continued to arrest, detain, and harass critics, and journalists practiced self-censorship.

Freedom of Expression: There were no official restrictions on individuals criticizing criticize the government or on the discussion of matters of general public interest. Authorities, however, remained sensitive to criticism in general, particularly when directed at President Mnangagwa. Persons accused of insulting the president and his office are charged under section 33 (2) (b) of the Criminal Law (Codification and Reform Act), undermining authority of or insulting a president, but this was contested in the Supreme Court on the basis that the section infringed on the right to freedom of expression. The court did not make a final determination on its constitutionality, however, and the law remains in force. On October 26, police cited the law to arrest Wisdom Mkhwananzi after he gave testimony at a commission of inquiry hearing in Bulawayo accusing President Mnangagwa of complicity in the government’s killing of more than 20,000 people in the 1980s known locally as “Gukurahundi.”

On September 29, police arrested Norman Machipisa after he reportedly said President Emmerson Mnangagwa was incapable of running the country. He was charged with contravening section 41(b) of the Criminal Law (Codification and Reform Act) for disorderly conduct. Harare Magistrate Learnmore Mapiye released him on $20 bail and remanded him until October 11. On August 21, police arrested Munyaradzi Shoko and charged him with criminal nuisance for allegedly posting offensive statements on Facebook concerning President Mnangagwa. On August 23, police withdrew charges against Shoko.

Press and Media Freedom: Independent newspapers and commercial radio stations were active and expressed a wide variety of views, although with some restrictions. State-sponsored media, however, were the most prevalent. The Ministry of Media, Information, Publicity, and Broadcasting Services exercised control over state-run media.

Independent newspapers continued to operate freely, although journalists reported practicing self-censorship. Police and journalist unions regularly met in an effort to promote a safe working environment.

On August 3, riot police briefly stopped a press conference where MDC Alliance leader Nelson Chamisa planned to speak on alleged election rigging in the aftermath of the July 30 polls. Broadcasting and Media Services Minister Simon Khaya Moyo intervened, and police departed the venue, after which the press conference proceeded.

The government used accreditation laws to monitor international media journalists’ entry into the country. The government required foreign journalists to obtain permits 60 days before travelling to the country in order to report from the country.

Foreign reporters paid more for permits and accreditation than did their local counterparts. The Zimbabwe Media Commission charged $200 for a foreigner’s 60-day accreditation while local journalists paid $10 for a one-year accreditation. ZEC charged journalists covering the July 30 election an additional $50 fee for further accreditation to election-related events and facilities.

On September 5, media reported government authorities denied a passport application for freelance journalist Violet Gonda. Gonda lived in exile for nearly 15 years, and returned to the country in the aftermath of the 2017 military intervention ending President Robert Mugabe’s rule. Officials at the Registrar General’s office stated they could not process her passport for reasons dating back to 2002 when she worked for London-based SW Radio Africa. Her appeal remained pending at year’s end.

Most international media outlets such as CNN, al-Jazeera, and the BBC continued to operate in the country.

Radio remained the principal medium of public communication, particularly for the rural majority. All urban commercial radio stations licensed in 2015 were operating during the year. Despite their perceived allegiance to ZANU-PF, these stations included independent voices in their programming. The government did not license any community radio stations during the year.

The government-controlled Zimbabwe Broadcasting Corporation–the country’s only domestically based television-broadcasting station–operated one television channel. International satellite television broadcasts were available through private firms but were too expensive for most citizens.

During the year the Broadcasting Authority of Zimbabwe (BAZ) granted three broadcasting licenses, including a content distribution license to the government-controlled Zimbabwe Newspapers Private Limited, and video on demand licenses (dealing with internet video content) to Econet Wireless (operating Kwese TV) and Tel One. On September 7, the BAZ awarded independent media house AMH an online television and radio license.

Violence and Harassment: Security forces, officials, and supporters from the major political parties routinely harassed journalists. On September 4, the Media Institute of Southern Africa (MISA) condemned what it stated was the systematic “censorship, banning, or expulsion of journalists from public events.” It stated that the trend was against the letter and spirit of media freedoms as espoused in the country’s constitution.

On April 30, police arrested and detained Gift Phiri, an editor with the Daily News, after he was seen taking pictures of a ZANU-PF meeting with party polling agents. He was charged with one count of criminal trespassing. Phiri was later released after paying a fine.

On May 24, Deputy Minister of Justice Terrence Mukupe assaulted NewsDay journalist Blessed Mhlanga and his wife during a live radio program. Mhlanga had released a video recording of an internal ZANU-PF meeting in which Mukupe said the military would not recognize opposition candidate Nelson Chamisa as president if he won the July 30 election. When Mhlanga went to police to file a complaint regarding the assault, he learned Mukupe already had made a statement accusing him as the aggressor.

On May 14, MDC Alliance supporters manhandled Tawanda Mudimu, a photographer with state media outlet The Herald, while he covered demonstrations at the party’s headquarters in Harare. According to the MISA-Zimbabwe chapter, MDC Alliance supporters allegedly assaulted Mudimu and demanded he delete the pictures he had taken during opposition demonstrations.

Censorship or Content Restrictions: The government maintained censorship through media registration and accreditation laws, although many provisions of the law are inconsistent with the constitution. The law provides the government with extensive powers to control media and suppress free speech by requiring the registration of journalists and prohibiting the “abuse of free expression.” Government-controlled media practiced self-censorship and bias in favor of the ruling party.

Libel/Slander Laws: The Constitutional Court ruled the constitution outlaws criminal defamation. Civil defamation laws remained in force.

Newspapers exercised self-censorship due to government intimidation and the prospect of prosecution under civil libel laws.

National Security: The law grants the government a wide range of legal powers to prosecute persons for political and security crimes that are not clearly defined. For example, the extremely broad Official Secrets Act criminalizes the divulging of any information acquired by government employees in the course of official duties. Authorities used these laws to restrict publication of information critical of government policies or public officials.

INTERNET FREEDOM

The law permits the government to monitor all communications in the country, including internet transmissions. Internet and mobile phone communication in the country was widely available. The government, however, regulated internet and mobile phone communication to curb dissent and increased its share of the information and communications technology market and international gateways. The government regularly monitored and interfered with use of social media.

On June 18, the ZPCS summoned prison officer John Mahlabera to a disciplinary hearing for a tweet perceived to be supportive of MDC Alliance President Nelson Chamisa. The prison authorities said Mahlabera’s actions showed disloyalty to President Mnangagwa.

The Interception of Communications Act (ICA) along with the Postal and Telecommunications (Subscriber Registration) Regulations, 2014 (SI 95 of 2014) facilitated eavesdropping and call interception. Under ICA law enforcement officers may apply to the responsible minister for a warrant authorizing law enforcement to intercept communications, including calls, emails, and messages. Using the statutory instrument, officers may apply for interception warrants if they know the identities of individuals whose calls and messages they want to intercept.

According to the International Telecommunication Union, 27.1 percent of the population used the internet in 2017.

ACADEMIC FREEDOM AND CULTURAL EVENTS

The government did not restrict academic freedom during the year, however the country’s laws restricted the independence of universities, subjecting them to government influence and providing disciplinary powers over staff and students to university authorities. The country’s president is the chancellor of all eight state-run universities and appoints their vice chancellors. The government has oversight of higher education policy at public universities, and ZANU-PF controls the Ministry of Higher and Tertiary Education.

The Censorship and Entertainment Controls Board approves scripts by playwrights. Artists who violated provisions of the Censorship and Entertainment Control Act (CECA) received fines and prison sentences. On May 10, Harare Magistrate Josephine Sande ordered musician Tawanda Mumanyi to pay a fine of $100 or stay one month in prison for recording a song deemed “obscene and indecent.” Authorities convicted Mumanyi of contravening CECA for the “Kurova Hohwa” song’s sexually suggestive lyrics.

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

FREEDOM OF PEACEFUL ASSEMBLY

The government restricted freedoms of peaceful assembly, association, or both. The Public Order and Security Act (POSA) requires organizers to notify police of their intention to hold a public gathering–defined as 15 or more individuals–seven days in advance. Failure to do so may result in criminal prosecution as well as civil liability. The law also allows police to prohibit a gathering based on security concerns but requires police to file an affidavit in a magistrate’s court stating the reasons behind the denial. The government enacted POSA after a demonstration resulted in security forces killing six opposition protestors on August 1. A seventh individual died from injuries related to the protests.

Although many groups did not seek permits, other groups informed police of their planned events, and police either denied permission or gave no response. The MDC Alliance accused police of using the cholera epidemic in Harare as an excuse to ban large public assemblies to prevent an MDC Alliance rally on September 15. Media reported that from September 16-22 police forcibly removed vendors who refused to comply with orders related to the cholera outbreak to vacate their stalls in the Harare CBD. On October 11, police arrested Peter Mutasa, president of the Zimbabwe Congress of Trade Unions (ZCTU), and 35 trade unionists in Harare and other major city centers as they awaited a court decision to overturn the ban on their planned demonstration against the government’s 2 percent tax on electronic transfers. Police had previously denied ZCTU’s request for a permit, and a Harare magistrate dismissed ZCTU’s challenge to the police ban on October 12.

Authorities often denied requests by civil society, trade unions, religious groups, or political parties other than ZANU-PF to hold public events if the agenda conflicted with government policy positions. There were several reports of political rallies interrupted by opposing political parties.

On February 26, police used tear gas and water cannons to disperse dozens of National University of Science and Technology students protesting continued strikes by lecturers. Police dogs injured eight students, while police arrested 61 students. A local NGO reported 15 students sought medical treatment after this incident.

FREEDOM OF ASSOCIATION

The constitution and law provide for freedom of association, but the government restricted this right. Although the government did not restrict the formation of political parties or unions, ZANU-PF supporters, sometimes with government support or acquiescence, intimidated and harassed members of organizations perceived to be associated with other political parties. For example, a local NGO reported that on July 25, a local councilor in Mbire threatened to have community members beaten and their homes burnt down if they voted for opposition political parties. Local NGOs provided multiple reports similar to this one.

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, but the government restricted these rights. The government generally cooperated with the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) and other humanitarian organizations in providing assistance to refugees, asylum seekers, stateless persons, and other persons of concern at Tongogara refugee camp, but it interfered with some humanitarian efforts directed at internally displaced persons. The Registrar General continues to delay implementing a joint statelessness study as part of UNHCR’s campaign to end statelessness by 2024.

Abuse of Migrants, Refugees, and Stateless Persons: Security forces detained irregular migrants in prisons with convicted criminals. Prolonged detention for migrants was common. Migrants complained of mistreatment by other prisoners. The government sometimes worked with international organizations to assist the voluntary repatriation of migrants, primarily Mozambicans settled on the border between the countries.

In-country Movement: Police interrupted freedom of movement with checkpoints less frequently than in 2017 but continued to operate regular checkpoints nationwide along most major routes.

Foreign Travel: The constitution provides the right for citizens to enter and leave the country and the right to a passport or other travel documents. The Office of the Registrar General imposed administrative obstacles in the passport application process for citizens entitled to dual citizenship, particularly Malawian, Zambian, and Mozambican citizenship. Despite high-profile cases in which courts confirmed the rights of Zimbabweans to hold dual citizenship, many poorer citizens could not afford the legal costs of appealing passport and other travel document denials.

Many citizens left the country to settle in other countries. In search of employment, young Zimbabweans routinely settled in South Africa and Botswana. Although South Africa and Botswana repatriated hundreds of them each year, the majority eventually found their way back to these countries. The majority of white citizens who lost their farms beginning in 2000 continued to move to other countries. Zambia, Mozambique, Namibia, and South Africa continued to support white Zimbabwean former farmers by making land available at concessionary rates.

Exile: The constitution prohibits expulsion from the country for all citizens. A number of persons, including former government officials, prominent businessmen, human rights activists, opposition party members, and human rights lawyers, left the country and remained in self-imposed exile due to fear of persecution.

Citizenship: The constitution provides for three different classes of citizenship: by birth, by descent, or by registration. The government deprived some sections of the population of citizenship rights based on the law, which revokes the citizenship of persons who fail to return to the country in any five-year period.

Despite a constitutional provision of citizenship and having voted previously, some persons were denied the right to vote during the July 30 elections because they could not adequately demonstrate their citizenship. An amendment to the Citizenship Act, which would align the law with the 2013 constitution and allow dual citizenship, remained pending in parliament at year’s end. Independent groups estimated that as many as two million citizens might have been disenfranchised, including those perceived to have opposition leanings, such as the more than 200,000 former commercial farm workers from neighboring countries and approximately 30,000 mostly white dual nationals. During the year citizens had to sue the government to assert dual citizenship rights. Poor citizens who could not afford the costs of litigation remained disadvantaged.

INTERNALLY DISPLACED PERSONS (IDPS)

According to international organizations, approximately 113,000 households were displaced and more than 250 groups of identified IDPs lived throughout the country. The primary causes of displacement were rural evictions (45.7 percent), natural disasters (27.7 percent), localized conflict (13.3 percent), and urban evictions (13.1 percent). The most significant historical events that created internal displacement included state-sponsored election-related violence, land reform, and Operation Murambatsvina (the government’s eviction of citizens from nonfarming areas in 2005). According to one NGO, Operation Murambatsvina resulted in the destruction of homes and livelihoods affecting an estimated 700,000 persons. Until 2009 the government denied the existence of any IDPs.

In 2014 approximately 15,000 persons were displaced from the vicinity of the Tokwe-Mukosi dam in Masvingo Province. Other recent documented displacements were from disputed farming areas. At year’s end several thousand households in disputed farming areas were at risk of displacement due to verifiable threats or eviction notices. Most of the persons displaced had resided on their land for years without formal offer letters or title deeds. The government provided no resettlement assistance to evicted families and depended primarily on international organizations to do so.

IDPs from previous years remained in near-emergency conditions, with an overwhelming majority living without basic sanitation. IDPs were among the populations at greatest risk of food insecurity. In addition to improved living conditions, IDPs required regularization of their status. Without needing any official documentation, several generations of farm workers originally from neighboring countries previously resided in insular commercial farming communities. With the eviction of farm owners, these farm workers were forced to adjacent communal lands and left without employment as well as health and education services.

Contractors and NGOs independent of the government that carried out food security and other assessments faced challenges in accessing certain rural districts. In isolated cases local authorities advised organizations against traveling to farms involved in ownership disputes, where aid workers might be at risk.

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. According to UNHCR, the country hosted approximately 20,177 refugees and asylum seekers during the year. As of July 31, 13,356 were registered and 58 percent were granted refugee status. The Tongogara refugee camp hosted approximately 12,100 refugees and asylum seekers, with an estimated 100 arrivals each month, primarily from the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Mozambique, and Burundi.

Freedom of Movement: The government maintained a formal encampment policy requiring refugees to live at the Tongogara refugee camp. Nevertheless, at year’s end more than 943 refugees lived in urban areas, including Harare and Bulawayo, and more than 6,546 Mozambican asylum seekers lived among host communities along the border with Mozambique.

Employment: Refugees in the informal sector had limited employment options due to the encampment policy requiring all refugees to reside in the Tongogara refugee camp. UNHCR partners continued to monitor and explore livestock production for livelihood activities in the camp.

Durable Solutions: While the government did not accept refugees from foreign countries for resettlement, it facilitated the voluntary repatriation of refugees to their home countries by recognizing the Voluntary Repatriation Declaration Form as a valid document for travel purposes. The government also allowed Rwandan refugees, who lost prima facie refugee status following implementation of the 2013 Rwandan cessation clause, to remain in the country pending final arrangements by the government. Additionally, the Office of the Commissioner for Refugees stated that Rwandans with Zimbabwean spouses would be permitted to regularize their stay in the country. Many refugees were unwilling to return to their home countries voluntarily, and resettlement remained the only viable solution for many of them.