Belgium

Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:

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

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

In July 2017 the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) unanimously rejected the appeal of Fouad Belkacem, the former leader and spokesperson of the disbanded Salafi organization Sharia4Belgium. Authorities prosecuted Belkacem in 2012 for creating YouTube videos in which he called on viewers to commit violence against non-Muslims. He was sentenced to a two-year prison term. In his appeal, Belkacem claimed he was wrongfully convicted of public incitement to discrimination, violence, and hatred. He claimed Article 10 of the European Convention on Human Rights protected his free speech and that he never intended to incite others. In its decision, the ECHR stated that Belkacem’s remarks online were markedly hateful and incompatible with the ECHR’s underlying values of tolerance, nondiscrimination, and peaceful coexistence. The ECHR further stated that it upheld states’ rights to oppose political movements based on religious fundamentalism and noted that Belkacem had attempted to deflect Article 10 from its real purpose by using his right to freedom of expression for ends that were manifestly contrary to the spirit of the convention.

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

In observation of World Refugee Day on June 20, some 100 activists took over a refugee detention facility construction site, preventing workers from entering. Police eventually regained control of the site and administratively arrested protesters, including a news crew of the Francophone public service broadcasting organization, the RTBF, which had been on location to cover the story. All protestors were released after one hour. The RTBF and Belgian and European journalist federations filed formal complaints, and the prime minister ordered an investigation of the incident, asserting that freedom of the press is essential and that police must maintain public order at all times.

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 estimates compiled by the International Telecommunication Union, approximately 87 percent of the population used the internet in 2017.

ACADEMIC FREEDOM AND CULTURAL EVENTS

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

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

c. Freedom of Religion

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

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

The government cooperated with the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) and other humanitarian organizations in providing protection and assistance to refugees, asylum seekers, stateless persons, 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, including specific subsidiary protection that goes beyond asylum criteria established by the 1951 Convention relating to the Treatment of Refugees and its 1967 protocol. Refugee status and residence permits are limited to five years and become indefinite if extended.

Authorities continued to face a significant flow of “transit migrants,” defined as those who remained in the country without requesting asylum while attempting illegal travel to the United Kingdom. To address the flow, the federal government started to detain transit migrants physically to ensure their repatriation.

Safe Country of Origin/Transit: The country denied asylum to asylum seekers who arrived from a safe country of origin or transit, pursuant to the EU’s Dublin III Regulation.

Durable Solutions: The country accepted refugees through UNHCR, including persons located in Italy and Greece, under the EU Emergency Relocation Mechanism. The country also conducted a voluntary return program for migrants in cooperation with the International Organization for Migration.

Temporary Protection: The government also provided temporary “subsidiary” protection to individuals who did not satisfy the legal criteria for refugee status but who could not return to their country of origin due to a real risk of serious harm. Under EU guidelines, individuals granted “subsidiary protection” are entitled to temporary residence permits, travel documents, access to employment, and equal access to health care and housing. In 2017 authorities granted subsidiary protection to 2,900 individuals. In the first half of the year, authorities granted protection to 1,095 individuals.

STATELESS PERSONS

According to UNHCR, at the end of 2017, there were 7,695 persons in the country who fell under UNHCR’s statelessness mandate. The country does not have a significant number of residents who are stateless, de jure or de facto, and does not contribute to statelessness, as the legal framework for stripping an individual of his or her citizenship does not exist except in cases of dual citizenship with another country.

To be recognized as stateless, a requestor must go through legal proceedings and acquire a court ruling on his or her stateless status. Since July 2017 family courts have been tasked with handling these requests in hopes of decreasing wait times. The requestor may appeal the court’s ruling. Recognition of statelessness does not automatically afford a stateless person resident status in the country. Stateless persons may apply for Belgian nationality after meeting the requirements for legal residency.

France

Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:

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

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

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

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

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

INTERNET FREEDOM

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

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

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

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

ACADEMIC FREEDOM AND CULTURAL EVENTS

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

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

FREEDOM OF PEACEFUL ASSEMBLY

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

FREEDOM OF ASSOCIATION

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

c. Freedom of Religion

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 and other humanitarian organizations in providing protection and assistance to refugees, asylum seekers, stateless persons, returning refugees, and other persons of concern.

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

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

PROTECTION OF REFUGEES

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

STATELESS PERSONS

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

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

Germany

Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

INTERNET FREEDOM

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

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

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

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

ACADEMIC FREEDOM AND CULTURAL EVENTS

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

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

FREEDOM OF PEACEFUL ASSEMBLY

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

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

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

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

FREEDOM OF ASSOCIATION

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

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

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

c. Freedom of Religion

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

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

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

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

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

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

PROTECTION OF REFUGEES

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

STATELESS PERSONS

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

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

Hungary

Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:

The constitution provides for freedom of expression, including for members of the press, and the media were active and expressed a wide range of views, although there were some formal restrictions on content related to “hate speech” and allegations that government action helped consolidate media outlets in the hands of progovernment owners.

Freedom of Expression: The law provides that any person who publicly incites hatred against any national, ethnic, racial, or religious group or certain other designated groups of the population may be prosecuted and convicted of a felony punishable by imprisonment for up to three years. The constitution includes hate speech provisions to “protect the dignity of the Hungarian nation or of any national, ethnic, racial, or religious community.” The public denial of, expression of doubt about, or minimization of the Holocaust, genocide, and other crimes of the National Socialist (Nazi) and communist regimes is prohibited by law and is punishable by a maximum sentence of three years in prison. The law also prohibits as a petty offense the wearing, exhibiting, or promoting of the swastika, the logo of the Nazi SS, the symbols of the Arrow Cross, the hammer and sickle, or the five-pointed red star in a way that harms human dignity or the memory of the victims of dictatorships. Judicial remedies exist for damage to individuals and communities that results from hate speech.

According to the Action and Protection Foundation (TEV) of the World Zionist Organization, in the first four months of the year there were 23 instances of anti-Semitic hate acts, including 15 that qualified as hate crimes, of which nine were categorized as hate speech. No police reports were filed. In June a man was sentenced to a 150,000 forint ($600) fine in a nonbinding court ruling for denying the Holocaust in a Facebook comment in 2016.

In 2017 parliament passed a law prohibiting discounted pricing of billboard space for state-financed entities, including political parties. Several opposition parties challenged the law in the Constitutional Court, charging that it was designed to limit their freedom of expression. On December 12, the Constitutional Court rejected the legal challenge.

On July 25, parliament passed a law imposing a 25 percent tax on all civil entities that aid or promote illegal immigration, including groups that support media campaigns deemed to aid or promote immigration. Several NGOs sharply criticized the law, noting that it penalizes the public expression of opinions different from that of the government (see also section 5).

Press and Media Freedom: Independent media were active and expressed a wide variety of views without formal restriction. Media consolidation resulted in further expansion of government-friendly enterprises and reduction in other media voices, primarily in print and broadcast media. In April, citing financial problems, a prominent businessman and political opponent of Prime Minister Orban closed several of his government-critical media outlets and transferred others to a government-friendly owner. In November the owners of 476 government-friendly media outlets, comprising what experts estimate as approximately 85 percent of all Hungarian media outlets nationally, transferred these outlets to the Central European Press and Media Foundation (KESMA), led by Fidesz media expert Gabor Liszkay. On December 5, Prime Minister Orban signed a decree declaring KESMA of strategic national interest and exempting it from scrutiny by the country’s Competition Authority, and by extension, its Media Council. In light of the developments with KESMA, media watchdog Mertek Media Monitor said it made “little sense to speak about freedom of the press in Hungary,” claiming KESMA would enhance the ability of government-friendly media to further squeeze independent media out of the market.

In its final report on the parliamentary elections, the OSCE Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights (ODIHR) concluded that “the ability of contestants to compete on an equal basis was significantly compromised by the government’s excessive spending on public information advertisements that amplified the ruling coalition’s campaign message,” and that “the media is largely dependent on their owners’ financial subsidies and/or government advertisements. Government advertisements are distributed to selected media outlets through restricted public tenders and lack sufficient transparency and robust audit measures. Such a media environment limits space for critical reporting and pluralism” (see section 3, Elections and Political Participation).

The National Media and Info-Communications Authority (NMHH), subordinate to parliament, is the central state administrative body for regulating the media. The authority of the NMHH includes overseeing the operation of broadcast and media markets as well as “contributing to the execution of the government’s policy in the areas of frequency management and telecommunications.” The NMHH president serves as the chair of the five-member Media Council, the decision-making body of the NMHH that supervises broadcast, cable, online, and print media content and spectrum management. The NMHH consisted exclusively of persons named by the governing parties.

The state news agency, MTI, is mandated by law to provide balanced, objective, nonpartisan coverage. Media watchdogs and independent outlets criticized the state media for concealing facts and opinions unfavorable to the government.

National Assembly speaker Laszlo Kover’s 2010 ban on parliamentary access by several dozen persons, mainly journalists, for alleged violation of parliamentary rules remained in force. In May Kover informed the reporters he banned from entering parliament at any point during the 2014-18 parliamentary cycle that they would not be allowed to enter parliament to cover the inaugural parliamentary session. At year’s end, the 2016 appeal by the Hungarian Civil Liberties Union (HCLU) to the ECHR to overturn Kover’s decision remained pending. The OSCE representative on freedom of the media stated that “accrediation for an event should not be used as a tool to curb the content of critical reporting.”

Violence and Harassment: There were no reports of violence against journalists or of physical or legal harassment. Nevertheless, government officials and government-aligned media regularly referred to independent journalists or media as the “Soros media” or “foreign agents.”

Censorship or Content Restrictions: The law provides content regulations and standards for journalistic rights, ethics, and norms that are applicable to all media, including news portals and online publications. It prohibits inciting hatred against nations; communities; ethnic, linguistic, or other minorities; majority groups; and churches or religious groups. It provides for maintaining the confidentiality of sources with respect to procedures conducted by courts or authorities.

The law mandates that every media service provider that delivers news to the public must report in a balanced manner, and it states in particular that public service media providers should pursue balanced, accurate, detailed, objective, and responsible news and information services. These requirements were widely disregarded, including by the public media.

The Media Council may impose fines for violations of content regulations, including on media services that violate prohibitions on inciting hatred or violating human dignity or regulations governing the protection of minors. The council may impose fines of up to 200 million forints ($800,000), depending on the nature of the infringement, type of media service, and audience size. It may also suspend the right to broadcast for up to one week. Defendants may appeal Media Council decisions but must appeal separately to prevent implementation of fines while the parties litigate the substantive appeal.

As of September 1, the Media Council had issued 205 resolutions concerning various alleged violations of the media law, imposing fines totaling nearly 8.8 million forints ($35,000) on 83 media service providers. The most common citations were for unlawful advertising methods violating the dignity of a person or group.

Libel/Slander Laws: Journalists reporting on an event may be judged criminally responsible for making or reporting false statements. Both individuals and media outlets may be sued for libel for their published statements or for publicizing libelous statements made by others. Plaintiffs may litigate in both civil and criminal courts.

Public officials and individual public figures continued to use libel and defamation laws in response to criticism from citizens and journalists, and the HCLU reported the libel laws had a chilling effect on journalists reporting about politicians.

After the April 8 parliamentary elections, three opposition politicians successfully sued multiple progovernment media outlets for libel, accusing them of deliberately spreading false information about them before the election.

INTERNET FREEDOM

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

In cooperation with internet service providers, the NMHH maintained a nonpublic database to block websites that violate the law, including content-related legislation. The system also blocked websites suspected of violating such laws, based on preliminary court rulings.

According to the International Telecommunication Union, 76.8 percent of the population used the internet in 2017.

ACADEMIC FREEDOM AND CULTURAL EVENTS

In 2017 parliament used a fast-track procedure to amend the higher education law regarding the operation of foreign universities in the country. The amendment includes a provision requiring universities from non-EU countries operating in Hungary to have a physical presence in their countries of origin, operate under an intergovernmental agreement between Hungary and the other country of accreditation, and ensure that the name of the university in Hungarian reflects an exact translation of the name in the country of origin. Three U.S.-accredited universities active in the country were found to violate the new requirements: Central European University (CEU), McDaniel College, and Boston University. In 2017 the government signed an agreement allowing the continued operation of McDaniel College.

In 2017 a legal opinion by the Venice Commission called on the government to exempt foreign universities already operating in the country from the obligation to provide education in their country of origin and challenged other provisions. Opposition MPs also filed a suit challenging aspects of the law in the Constitutional Court. The European Commission referred Hungary to the European Court of Justice, arguing that the higher education amendment violates EU rules on the freedom of education and enterprise, provision of services, and scientific activity. The lawsuit remained pending at year’s end. On June 5, the Constitutional Court postponed its proceedings to review the legislation, stating it would wait for the ruling of the European Court of Justice.

In October 2017 parliament voted to extend until the end of 2018 the deadline for foreign higher education institutions to comply with the amended higher education law. Government officials pointed to the extension as responding in part to the Venice Commission’s opinion. CEU established a presence and conducted courses at Bard College in New York, and the Hungarian government and State of New York negotiated the required intergovernmental agreement. The government argued, however, that CEU had not sufficiently complied with the provisions of the law and declined to sign the agreement that would allow it to stay. On December 3, CEU announced it would move its U.S.-accredited programs to Vienna.

A government decree effective as of October 13 eliminated gender studies from the list of master’s degree programs (both state- and private-funded) that could be accredited in Hungary. The decree stated that enrolled students could finish their studies, but gender studies programs can accept no new students in the academic year beginning in 2019. Two Hungarian universities issued degrees in gender studies–Eotvos Lorand University (ELTE) and CEU.

The constitution and law provide for the freedom of peaceful assembly, and the government generally respected this right. By law demonstrations do not require a police permit, but event organizers must inform police of a planned assembly in a public place at least three days in advance. The law authorizes police to prohibit any gathering if it seriously endangers the peaceful operation of representative bodies or courts or if it is not possible to provide for alternate routes for traffic. Police may not disband a spontaneous, unauthorized assembly that remains peaceful and is aimed at expressing opinion on an event that was unforeseeable, but organizers must inform police immediately after organizing has begun. Police are required to disband an assembly if it commits a crime or incites the commission of a crime, results in the violation of the rights of others, involves armed participants, or is held despite a preliminary official ban. A police decision to prohibit or disband a public demonstration is open for judicial review. The police may disband public events in the geographic area affected by a terrorist act that has occurred or one that is threatened.

On June 20, parliament adopted a constitutional amendment that includes a provision to strengthen the protection of privacy by stipulating that freedom of expression and the exercise of the right of assembly shall not harm others’ private and family life and their homes. Critics asserted this would be used to ban unwanted protests in public spaces near politicians’ homes and could be used to ban protests in many other public spaces that have apartments nearby.

On July 20, parliament also amended the law on assembly to give more power to the government to regulate public demonstrations, including the ability to hold organizers liable for damages caused by their events and to ban protests in advance. According to the amended law, authorities may ban or dissolve gatherings that unnecessarily and disproportionately harm others’ human dignity, the dignity of the Hungarian nation, or other national, ethnic, or religious communities. The new rules also permit police to prevent demonstrations that hinder diplomats from performing their duties, threaten public order, or disturb others’ rights to free movement. Although the police’s decision is not subject to appeal, the organizers may contest it in court within three days. The police can fine demonstration organizers if they fail to restore a demonstration site to its original state or clean it up. The new legislation also criminalizes the nonviolent disturbance or impediment of a demonstration.

On July 20, parliament amended the criminal code to make harassment of “official persons” (including members of parliament, judges, and prosecutors) when they are not performing public duties a crime punishable by up to three years’ imprisonment.

FREEDOM OF ASSOCIATION

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

During the year the government passed legislation that introduced new criminal and financial penalties for migration-related work of NGOs and their staff (see section 5).

On July 23, the Budapest local municipality ordered the Aurora Civil and Cultural Center–which provides office space for several NGOs–to close, claiming Aurora’s lease was invalid because it predates the center’s registration; Aurora claimed that it had not violated any rules and that the issue with the date was an administrative mistake. This was the second attempt to shut down the center within one year.

The Fidesz-dominated city assembly of Pecs passed a resolution in December 2017 calling on local residents, businesses, and organizations not to rent or provide any space within the city to the NGO With the Strength of Humanity because it received an approximately $490,000 grant from the Open Society Foundations (OSF) to support community building in the region. The NGO sued the city mayor for libel but lost the case in a July ruling. The NGO said it would appeal the decision. In March a local municipality-owned company rejected an attempt by the same NGO to rent premises for an event. The Equal Treatment Authority fined the company in June.

A 2011 law on religion deregistered more than 300 religious groups and organizations that had previously held incorporated church status; most were required to reapply for registration. The government had not approved any applications for incorporated church status since it amended the same law in 2012, but many applications were approved allowing for status as a lesser religious organization. On December 20, parliament passed an amendment to the law that creates four different statuses for religious organizations. Observers noted that while the amendment provides a simpler procedure for religious entities to gain an intermediate level religious status, it only restores some of the rights they had before 2011.

c. Freedom of Religion

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. In 2017-2018, asylum and border management laws underwent significant legal modifications and limited access to asylum procedures.

Abuse of Migrants, Refugees, and Stateless Persons: Human rights advocates, the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), and the European Commission criticized the government’s treatment of migrants and asylum seekers. Specifically, these organizations reported that migrants and asylum seekers were pushed back to the external side of the border fence on the Serbian-Hungarian border, even if they had not entered Hungary through Serbia. Reports included instances of police violence against refugees and migrants attempting to cross from Serbia to Hungary.

Domestic and international human rights organizations reported fewer complaints regarding the excessive use of police force and abuse against refugees and migrants while the number of asylum seekers decreased, compared with previous years. Human rights organizations, however, stated that in most cases, the government did not take formal action against alleged perpetrators and noted that few victims were willing to lodge formal complaints.

The law permits the detention of rejected asylum seekers for a maximum of 12 months (30 days in cases of families with children). Immigration detention generally took place in immigration detention centers.

The asylum law requires mandatory detention of all asylum seekers other than unaccompanied minors younger than 14. All new asylum seekers were detained in two guarded transit zones (Roszke and Tompa) on the Serbian-Hungarian border, which they could not leave without abandoning their asylum claims.

PROTECTION OF REFUGEES

Refoulement: In 2015 two Bangladeshi asylum seekers, Ilias Ilias and Ali Ahmed, filed suit against the government, asking for release from a transit detention zone and a halt to their expulsion to Serbia. Authorities kept the men in the transit zone for more than three weeks before sending them back to Serbia, considered a safe country under a 2015 government decree. In 2017 the ECHR ruled the men’s return to Serbia as well as their detention was unlawful, but the government appealed the ruling. The ECHR’s Grand Chamber heard the case on April 18; a final judgement remained pending.

Access to Asylum: The law provides for asylum and establishes a procedure for persons in the country to apply for it, but often little or no opportunity to apply was afforded. Since 2017 police were allowed to push back to the Serbian side of the border fence any migrants who could not prove their right to stay in the country, regardless of whether or not they entered the country from Serbia. There is no judicial remedy concerning such “push-backs.”

On June 20, parliament adopted a legislative package that introduced new criminal penalties, including a prison sentence of up to a year, for “facilitating illegal migration.” It criminalizes providing assistance to asylum seekers who were not subject to persecution in their home country or who had already transited a safe country to submit asylum claims; conducting human rights-focused border monitoring activities; or issuing or distributing information leaflets about asylum procedures. Parliament also modified the constitution to state that persons arriving in Hungary “through a country where he or she was not exposed to persecution or a direct risk of persecution should not be entitled to asylum.”

UNHCR and the Council of Europe Commissioner for Human Rights said the law restricts the ability of NGOs and individuals to support asylum seekers and refugees. On June 25, the Venice Commission and the OSCE published a joint opinion on the law, asserting it seriously hindered the operation of legitimate civil groups. On July 19, the European Commission initiated an infringement procedure against Hungary for violating EU and international laws with the introduction of new nonadmissibility grounds for asylum applications and curtailing the right to asylum. In July the European Commission also referred Hungary to the European Court of Justice, asserting its asylum and return legislation did not comply with EU law, namely for holding asylum applicants too long in transit zones at the border and failing to give them proper access to asylum procedures and legal safeguards.

The government provided UNHCR and the International Federation of Red Cross access to refugees and asylum seekers. Cooperation with UNHCR and other humanitarian organizations in providing protection and assistance (as opposed to access) varied (also see Access to Basic Services, below). Access by other humanitarian organizations was more limited. A few domestic NGOs were provided access to the transit zones, and a few other NGOs were provided access only when asylum seekers specifically requested their assistance. Human rights NGOs alleged the government granted access only to certain cooperative organizations, making it difficult to verify information.

Safe Country of Origin/Transit: The government issued lists of “safe countries of origin” and “safe third countries.” Both lists included Serbia, Bosnia and Herzegovina, and Kosovo. UNHCR repeatedly objected to the government’s recognition of Serbia as a safe third country on the grounds that it does not have effective asylum procedures.

Freedom of Movement: In 2015 the government set up two transit zones at the country’s southern border with Serbia, capable of hosting 200-300 persons each, where asylum seekers were required to wait while their requests for refugee status were processed. The government also closed reception facilities for asylum seekers, so that by summer only the facility in Vamosszabadi remained open. The Vamosszabadi facility hosted persons granted international protection for up to 30 days.

Access to Basic Services: In 2016 parliament amended the law to reduce benefits and assistance to those given international protection on the grounds they should not have more advantages than Hungarian citizens. The law requires mandatory and automatic revision of refugee status at least every three years, sets the maximum period at 30 days of stay in open reception centers after recognition, and establishes an eligibility period of six months for basic health-care services following recognition. Authorities do not provide housing allowances, educational allowances, or monthly cash allowances to asylum seekers or beneficiaries of subsidiary protection.

The two transit zones for migrants provided clothes, soap, meals, water, and shelter. Charities provided some educational and social activities in English or Hungarian, as well as supplemental nutrition for children. The government also provided basic medical assistance on site. Between November 2017 and June, a psychologist visited the transit zones for six hours per week without any translation available; the psychologist was subsequently allowed to use government translators. Officials denied transit zone access to certain NGOs and a UNHCR contractor, which prevented several migrants who had previously suffered torture and asylum seekers suffering from posttraumatic stress disorder from receiving specialized care. At the beginning of the year, a government-funded psychiatrist started visiting the two transit zones once per week.

Based on new asylum rules that went into effect July 1 regarding transit by asylum seekers through countries the government considered safe (including Serbia) prior to entering Hungary, immigration authorities rejected all post-June 30 asylum requests heard by December 14. They also interpreted the new rules to mean no food should be given to asylum seekers who appeal their denials, with the exception of children and nursing mothers. The ECHR granted interim measures in five cases in August and ordered the country to feed the asylum seekers. The government subsequently began providing meals to all rejected asylum seekers who appealed.

Durable Solutions: Refugees are allowed to naturalize, but research by the Hungarian Helsinki Committee (HHC) in 2015 (commissioned by UNHCR) found that the applications of refugees and stateless persons were approved at a dramatically lower rate than those of other naturalization seekers. High fees (for example, for certified translations) made the naturalization process more difficult. The government applied preferential conditions to applicants with Hungarian ancestry (via the so-called simplified naturalization process), but not to refugees or stateless persons. The HHC criticized the procedural framework for naturalization, noting decisions were not explained to applicants and no appeal of rejections is allowed.

There were no reported cases of onward refugee resettlement from the country to other states.

Temporary Protection: The law provides for a specific temporary protection status for situations of mass influx, but organizations working on the problem reported that it was not used in practice. Under the law, all forms of international protection (refugee status, subsidiary protection, tolerated stay, stateless status, etc.) are temporary by nature, with periodic review of the entitlement to protection.

STATELESS PERSONS

The country operates a dedicated statelessness determination procedure and provides a humanitarian residence permit to persons recognized as stateless. According to UNHCR, 139 stateless persons lived in the country at the end of 2017, and the government maintained what UNHCR characterized as a good stateless-person determination process. The law provides for naturalization by stateless persons.

Netherlands

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: It is a crime “verbally or in writing or image deliberately to offend a group of people because of their race, their religion or beliefs, their sexual orientation, or their physical, psychological, or mental disability.” The statute does not consider statements that target a philosophy or religion, as opposed to a group of persons, as criminal hate speech. The penalties for violating the law include imprisonment for a maximum of two years, a fine of up to 8,100 euros ($9,300), or both. In Aruba the penalties for this offense are imprisonment for a maximum of one year or a fine of 10,000 Aruban florins ($5,600). In the Netherlands there are restrictions on the sale of the book Mein Kampf and the display of the swastika symbol with the intent of referring to Nazism. The appeals process in the case of Freedom Party leader Geert Wilders, who was convicted of inciting discrimination in 2016 for leading an anti-Moroccan chant, continued at year’s end.

Press and Media Freedom: Independent media in the kingdom were active and expressed a wide variety of views without restriction. The restrictions on “hate speech” applied to the media but were only occasionally enforced. Disputes occasionally arose over journalists’ right to protect their sources.

INTERNET FREEDOM

The governments did not restrict or disrupt access to the internet or censor online content, and there were no credible reports that the governments monitored private online communications without appropriate legal authority. The internet was widely available in the kingdom and used by citizens. According to the International Telecommunication Union, in 2017 just over 90 percent of the population used the internet in the Netherlands, 94 percent in Aruba, and 87 percent in Curacao. No complete data for Sint Maarten were available.

Authorities continued to pursue policies to prevent what they considered incitement to discrimination on the internet. They operated a hotline for persons to report discriminatory phrases and hate speech with the principal aim of having them removed. On May 18, the Amsterdam District Court convicted 20 persons for using inflammatory, threatening, and offensive language against a black politician on social media. The court sentenced four of them to community service and fined 16 others.

ACADEMIC FREEDOM AND CULTURAL EVENTS

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

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

c. Freedom of Religion

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

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

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

PROTECTION OF REFUGEES

Refoulement: Ten human rights organizations including Amnesty International and Defense for Children International campaigned against the repatriation of screened-out asylum seekers (those whose asylum claims have received final denial) to Afghanistan because they regard the security situation there as too unsafe. The courts, however, backed the government’s position that it is safe enough to repatriate persons to certain parts of Afghanistan.

Access to Asylum: The laws on asylum vary in different parts of the kingdom. In general the law in the Netherlands provides for the granting of asylum or refugee status, and the government has an established system for providing protection to refugees.

Sint Maarten is not a party to the 1951 UN Convention on Refugees or its 1967 Protocol but is required to follow the European Convention on Human Rights. The law does not provide for the granting of asylum or refugee status. Foreigners requesting asylum are processed as foreigners requesting a humanitarian residence permit. UNHCR aided authorities in asylum cases and determined whether the asylum case was justified and whether the government needed to provide protection. If so, the asylum seekers received a humanitarian residence permit; if not, authorities deported them to their country of origin or a country that agreed to accept them.

Curacao is not a party to the 1951 UN Convention on Refugees or its 1967 Protocol but is required to follow the European Convention on Human Rights. In July 2017 the Curacao government took over the responsibility from UNHCR for registering asylum seekers and issuing humanitarian permits. The Curacao government reported that it had received fewer than 10 requests for asylum and was processing them in accordance with their procedures, although it had yet to issue a permit. Curacao requested and received guidance and training from the Netherlands on asylum processing procedures.

Aruba is a party to the 1967 Protocol to the 1951 UN Convention on Refugees.

The vast majority of asylum seekers in the Dutch Caribbean were from Venezuela. In general, Aruba, Curacao, and Sint Maarten considered the majority of Venezuelan asylum seekers to be economic migrants ineligible for protection.

Safe Country of Origin/Transit: Authorities in the Netherlands denied asylum to persons who came from so-called safe countries of origin or who had resided for some time in safe countries of transit. They used EU guidelines to define such countries. Applicants had the right to appeal all denials.

Following the European Commission’s positive reassessment of the asylum situation in Greece in the spring, the Netherlands started sending third country asylum seekers back to Greece, despite protests by human rights organizations.

Freedom of Movement: Government guidelines require that authorities not detain denied asylum seekers longer than three months, but they exceeded this term in several cases. In the Netherlands the national ombudsperson, Amnesty International, and other NGOs asserted that persons denied asylum and irregular migrants were regularly subjected to lengthy detention before deportation even when no clear prospect of actual deportation existed.

Durable Solutions: In the Netherlands the government accepted up to 500 refugees per year for resettlement through UNHCR, and the governments of the Dutch Caribbean accepted up to 250. These refugees came mainly from UN refugee camps, and many were Syrians arriving from camps in Lebanon and Jordan. The government also relocated several hundred Syrians from refugee camps in Turkey under the terms of the EU agreement with Turkey. It provided financial and in-kind assistance to refugees who sought to return to their home country voluntarily. Most of the migrants granted residency permits on Curacao and Aruba are from Venezuela. The laws in all parts of the kingdom provide the opportunity for non-Dutch persons to gain citizenship.

Temporary Protection: The government of the Netherlands provided temporary protection to individuals who may not qualify as refugees. According to Eurostat data, in 2017 it provided subsidiary protection to 4,135 persons and humanitarian status to 365 others. In the Dutch Caribbean, individuals deemed to be economic migrants were returned to their country of origin.

STATELESS PERSONS

According to the most recent available UNHCR statistics (2017), 1,951 persons in the Netherlands fell under UNHCR’s statelessness mandate. Stateless persons in the Netherlands included Palestinians from Syria, Romani immigrants, and some Moluccans, who declined both Dutch and Indonesian citizenship.

The laws in all parts of the kingdom provide the opportunity for stateless persons to gain 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.

c. Freedom of Religion

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.

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The Lessons of 1989: Freedom and Our Future