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Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:

While the constitution provides for freedom of speech and press, the government severely restricted these rights, often terrorizing, abusing, or killing those who attempted to exercise these rights.

Freedom of Speech and Expression: The government routinely characterized expression as illegal, and individuals could not criticize the government publicly or privately without fear of reprisal. The government also stifled criticism by invoking penal code articles prohibiting acts or speech inciting sectarianism. It monitored political meetings and relied on informer networks.

Press and Media Freedoms: The government continued to exercise extensive control over local print and broadcast media, and the law imposes strict punishment for reporters who do not reveal their government sources in response to government requests. A number of quasi-independent periodicals, usually owned and produced by individuals with government connections, published during the year. In 2014 the government began allowing very limited use of Kurdish in state-run universities, following a decades-long, mostly ineffective ban prohibiting all Kurdish-language publications (see section 6, National/Racial/Ethnic Minorities).

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

Books critical of the government were illegal.

Extremist organizations such as Jabhat al-Nusra, Jund al-Aqsa, and Da’esh also posed a serious threat to press and media freedoms.

Violence and Harassment: Government forces reportedly detained, arrested, and harassed journalists and other writers for works deemed critical of the state. Harassment included attempts at intimidation, banning such individuals from the country, dismissing journalists from their positions, and ignoring requests for continued accreditation. According to reliable NGO reports, the government routinely arrested journalists who were either associated with or writing in favor of the political opposition or the FSA and instigated attacks against foreign press outlets throughout the country.

The government and Da’esh routinely targeted and killed both local and foreign journalists, according to the COI. According to Freedom on the Net and the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ), Syria remained the most deadly and dangerous country in the world for journalists. During the year the CPJ documented the deaths of three journalists in the country: Khaled al-Iissa, Osama Jumaa, and Majid Dirani. According to the CPJ, the majority of reporters killed were covering politics and human rights issues. Reporters Without Borders (RSF) estimated 56 journalists were killed between 2011 and September, including seven during the year.

A June 16 attack in Aleppo City injured prominent Syrian activist Hadi al-Abdullah and killed photographer Khaled al-Issa, both affiliated with the popular opposition media outlet Radio Fresh. No group took responsibility for the attack; however, it signified the risks to activists and journalists affiliated with opposition groups.

According to the RSF, eight journalists and 17 netizens (activists who may not have journalist training but who use the internet to disseminate their work) remained in prison. The CPJ reported that seven journalists remained in government detention. The reason for arrests was often unclear. Arbitrary arrest raised fears that authorities could arrest internet users at any time for simple online activities perceived to threaten the government’s control, such as posting on a blog, tweeting, commenting on Facebook, sharing a photograph, or uploading a video.

According to reports from media outlets operating in areas controlled by the PYD, they faced pressure and received online threats demanding they play pro-PYD songs. Reports indicated that some opposition journalists affiliated with the Kurdish National Council were detained and/or beaten by members of the PYD security services. In May an independent radio station in al Hasakah governorate reported that an anonymous armed group attacked its headquarters, set the building on fire, and threatened to kill the head of the station if he did not stop broadcasting. Following the attack many local and international governments and political parties criticized the attack, including the Executive Authority of the Self-Administration in the area.

Censorship or Content Restrictions: The government continued to control the dissemination of information strictly, including developments regarding fighting between the government and armed opposition, and prohibited most criticism of the government and discussion of sectarian problems, including religious and ethnic minority rights. The Ministries of Information and Culture censored domestic and foreign publications prior to circulation or importation and prevented circulation of content determined critical or sensitive. The government prohibited publication or distribution of any material security officials deemed threatening or embarrassing to the government. Censorship was usually greater for materials in Arabic.

Local journalists reported they engaged in extensive self-censorship on subjects such as criticism of the president and his family, the security services, or Alawite religious groups. The government required both domestic and foreign journalist who did not observe these guidelines to leave the country or targeted them for arrest, torture, or execution.

Libel/Slander Laws: Although the 2011 media law prohibits imprisoning journalists for practicing their profession, the government continued to detain and arrest journalists who opposed the government. The government charged some of these individuals under libel laws.

National Security: The government cited laws protecting national security to restrict media distribution of material that criticized government policies or public officials.

Nongovernmental Impact: Opposition forces kidnapped and killed journalists. According to the RSF and SNHR, the PYD subjected journalists to harassment and detention. According to the COI, Da’esh abducted journalists and activists working to document its abuses in territories under its control. According to the SNHR Da’esh killed 14 media activists including a woman and held others in detention. The SNHR also reported that opposition groups killed six media activists and injured two, and it alleged that Russian forces killed six.


According to the 2016 Freedom on the Net Report, the country remained one of the most dangerous and repressive environments for internet users in the world. The government controlled and restricted the internet and monitored e-mail and social media accounts. Individuals and groups could not express views via the internet, including by e-mail, without prospect of reprisal. The government applied the media law, as well as the general legal code, to regulate internet use and prosecute users.

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

Many areas no longer had internet access because of continued violence and damage to infrastructure largely perpetrated by the government, especially in the north and east. The government also restricted or prohibited internet access in areas under siege. It obstructed connectivity through its control of key infrastructure, at times shutting the internet and mobile telephone networks entirely or at particular sites of unrest. There was generally little access to state-run internet service in besieged areas unless users could capture signals clandestinely from rooftops near government-controlled areas. Some towns in opposition-held areas had limited internet access via satellite connections. Some activists reportedly gained access independently to satellite internet or through second and third-generation (3G) cell phone network coverage.

The government meanwhile expanded its efforts to use social media, such as Instagram, Twitter, and Facebook, to spread pro-government propaganda and manipulate online content. Government authorities routinely tortured and beat journalists to extract passwords for social media sites, and the Syrian Electronic Army (SEA), a group of pro-government computer hackers, frequently launched cyberattacks on websites to disable them and post pro-government material. In January authorities detained Abdul Moyeen Hommse, a media activist, for posting a video satirizing Asad’s government. Later he lost his job. In addition to promoting hacking and conducting surveillance, the government and groups that it supported, such as the SEA, reportedly planted malware to target human rights activists, opposition members, and journalists. Local human rights groups blamed government personnel for instances in which malware infected activists’ computers.

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

Da’esh forces restricted access to internet cafes, especially for women, confiscated cell phones and computers, and instituted strict rules for journalists to follow or face punishment. In February, Da’esh banned private internet access and closed all internet cafes across Manbij, a city in northern Aleppo governorate. Da’esh also increased cyberattacks on journalists and groups documenting human rights abuses. In April Da’esh killed journalist Mohammed Zahir al-Sherqat in response to al-Sherqat’s activism.


The government restricted academic freedom and cultural events. Authorities generally did not permit teachers to express ideas contrary to government policy. The Ministry of Culture restricted and banned the screening of certain films.

Da’esh and Jabhat al-Nusra sought to restrict academic freedom severely and to curtail cultural events considered un-Islamic. Media sources reported that schools in Da’esh-controlled Raqqa governorate banned several academic subjects, including chemistry and philosophy.

During the year students, particularly those residing in opposition-held areas, continued to face challenges in taking nationwide exams. The government, however, allowed 360 students from Moadimiyeh and 68 students from Madaya to travel to government-held areas to take exams in May.


The constitution provides for the right of assembly, but the government restricted this right. Even after the 2011 repeal of the emergency law, a subsequent 2011 presidential decree grants the government broad powers over freedom of assembly.

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

In opposition-held areas, extremist armed opposition groups targeted activists, protesters, documentation groups, and media groups for detention, hostage taking, harassment, and executions. The COI reported that residents in Da’esh-controlled parts of Aleppo and Raqqa governorates noted severe restrictions on assembly.

According to allegations by Kurdish activists and in press reporting, the PYD and the YPG suppressed freedom of assembly and severely limited freedom of speech in areas under their control.


The constitution permits private associations but grants the government the right to limit their activities. The government restricted freedom of association, requiring prior registration and approval for private associations and restricting the activities of associations and their members. The executive boards of professional associations were not independent of the government.

The government often denied requests for registration or failed to act on them, reportedly on political grounds. None of the local human rights organizations operated with a license, but many functioned under organizations that had requisite government registration. The government continued to block the multi-year effort by journalists to form a countrywide media association. The government selectively enforced the 2011 decree allowing the establishment of independent political parties, allowing only progovernment groups to form official parties (see section 3). According to local human rights groups, opposition activists declined to organize parties, fearing the government would use party lists to target opposition members.

Under the authority of laws that criminalize membership and activity in illegal organizations as determined by the government, security forces detained hundreds of persons linked to local human rights groups and prodemocracy student groups. The government also searched these individuals’ personal and social media contacts for further potential targets.

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

See the Department of State’s International Religious Freedom Report at

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

The constitution provides for freedom of movement “within the territories of the state unless restricted by a judicial decision or by the implementation of laws.” The government, Da’esh, and other armed groups, however, restricted internal movement and travel and instituted security checkpoints to monitor such travel throughout the regions under their respective control. Government sieges in Homs, Damascus, Rif-Damascus, Deir al-Zour, and Idlib governorates resulted in documented cases of death, starvation, and severe malnutrition (see section 1.g.). Opposition forces imposed sieges on government-held areas in Aleppo governorate, cutting off water, electricity, fuel, and medicine. In areas under its control, Da’esh restricted the movement of government supporters or assumed supporters, especially the Alawi and Shia populations. Other opponents of the government also restricted the movement of such individuals, but to a lesser extent.

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

In-country Movement: In government-besieged cities throughout the country, government forces blocked humanitarian access, leading to severe malnutrition, lack of access to medical care, and death, particularly in the cities of Zabadani, Douma, and Eastern Ghouta (see section 1.g.). According to OCHA, 590,000 persons remained in 18 besieged areas. The violence, coupled with significant cultural pressure, severely restricted the movement of women in many areas. Additionally, the law allows certain male relatives to place travel bans on women (see section 6, Women).

The government inconsistently cooperated with UNHCR and other humanitarian organizations in assisting internally displaced persons, refugees, and asylum seekers. The government provided some cooperation to the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestinian Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA).

The government relied on security checkpoints to monitor and limit movement and expanded them into civilian areas. The government also barred foreign diplomats from visiting most parts of the country and rarely granted them permission to travel outside Damascus. The consistently high level and unpredictability of violence severely restricted movement throughout the country.

Da’esh and opposition groups also controlled movement, including with checkpoints.

Government forces reportedly used snipers to prevent protests, enforce curfews, target opposition forces, and in some cases to prevent civilians from fleeing besieged towns. According to the COI, the drive through long desert detour routes exposed passengers and drivers to arbitrary arrest, unlawful search and seizure of property, demands for bribes, and detention and execution at checkpoints administered by Da’esh, the government, and other armed actors.

Da’esh reportedly did not permit female passengers to traverse territory it controlled unless accompanied by a close male relative.

Foreign Travel: While citizens have the right to travel internationally, the government denied passports and other vital documents based on the applicant’s political views, association with opposition groups, or ties to geographic areas where the opposition dominated. The government also imposed exit visa requirements and routinely closed the Damascus airport and border crossings, claiming the closures were due to violence or threats of violence. Additionally, the government often banned travel by human rights or civil society activists, their families, and affiliates. Many citizens reportedly learned of the ban against their travel only when authorities prevented them from departing the country. The government reportedly applied travel bans without explanation or explicit duration, including in cases when individuals sought to travel for health reasons. The government comprehensively banned international travel of opposition members, often targeting any such individual who attempted to travel. Local media and human rights groups repeatedly stated that opposition activists and their families hesitated to leave the country, fearing attacks at airports and border crossings. In June, Turkish border guards killed 11 Syrian refugees when they attempted to flee from the country.

There were reports Da’esh destroyed Syrian passports and legal records and produced its own passports, not recognized by any country or entity. These policies disproportionately affected children, because many left the country before obtaining a passport or identification card. Additionally, Syrians born abroad to parents who fled the conflict and remained in refugee camps generally did not have access to Syrian citizenship documents. The government in 2015 began allowing Syrians living outside of the country whose passports expired to renew their passports at consulates. Many who fled as refugees, however, feared reporting to the government against which they may have protested or feared the government could direct reprisals against family members still in the country.

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

Da’esh explicitly prohibited women from foreign travel.

Emigration and Repatriation: On their return to the country, both persons who unsuccessfully sought asylum in other countries and those who had previous connections with the Syrian Muslim Brotherhood faced prosecution. The law provides for the prosecution of any person who attempts to seek refuge in another country to evade penalty in Syria. The government routinely arrested dissidents and former citizens with no known political affiliation who attempted to return to the country after years or even decades of self-imposed exile. Many emigrants who did not complete mandatory military service could pay a fee to avoid conscription while visiting the country, but this option tended to vary by ethnicity and socioeconomic status. Authorities exempted from military service without payment persons of Syrian origin born in a foreign country but able to demonstrate service in the army of the country of birth.


The government largely did not facilitate humanitarian assistance for IDPs and provided inconsistent protection. During the year violence continued to be the primary reason for citizens to leave the country, much of the violence attributed to government and Russian aerial attacks. Years of conflict repeatedly displaced persons; each displacement depleted family assets and eroded coping mechanisms.

By the last quarter of the year, the United Nations estimated there were more than 6.1 million IDPs in the country. The government generally did not provide sustainable access for services to the IDP population and did not offer IDPs assistance or protection. UN humanitarian officials reported that most IDPs sought shelter with host communities or in collective centers, abandoned buildings, or informal camps. In the first half of the year, intensified fighting in the governorates of Aleppo and al-Hasakah displaced more than 900,000 citizens. In September fighting displaced an additional 100,000 persons in Hama governorate. Observers estimated that 75,000 to 100,000 persons, displaced from all parts of the country, remained stranded at the border with Jordan in a location known as “the berm.”

The SARC functioned as the main partner for international humanitarian organizations working inside the country to provide humanitarian assistance in both government- and opposition-controlled areas. Access difficulties–including those imposed by the government, Da’esh, and opposition groups–hindered the delivery of aid to persons in need. NGOs operating from Damascus faced extensive bureaucratic obstruction when attempting to provide relief to populations in need. The SARC and UN agencies sought to increase the flow of assistance to opposition-held areas to meet growing humanitarian needs. The government routinely disrupted the supply of humanitarian aid to rebel-held areas, particularly medical assistance (see section 1.g.).

The humanitarian response to the country was one of the largest in the world, coordinated through a complicated bureaucratic structure. The crisis inside the country continued to meet the UN criteria for a Level 3 response–the global humanitarian system’s classification for response to the most severe, large-scale humanitarian crises. Cross-border operations from Turkey and Jordan provided humanitarian assistance for Syrians. Additional assistance came through cross-line operations originating from Damascus. Since the International Syria Support Group’s Humanitarian Task Force began advocating for expanded access in February, the United Nations provided assistance to nearly 400,000 persons in 17 besieged areas, more than 817,000 in hard-to-reach locations, and 57,000 persons in priority cross-line areas, compared with 30,000 who received assistance in 2015. Assistance reached many besieged and hard-to-reach towns several times. Despite these efforts, however, the Asad government continued to hinder UN access, and many communities continued to suffer and surrender to the government’s “starve and kneel” tactics.

OCHA reported that during July no humanitarian assistance reached more than four million persons in the country’s hard-to-reach areas.


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

UNHCR estimated that at least 95,000 persons, mainly Yezidi Iraqis, entered the country following Da’esh attacks on Sinjar District in Iraq, beginning in 2014. Many initially fled to Mount Sinjar but managed to evacuate the mountain with the assistance of military strikes led by the Western coalition and support from Syrian Kurdish groups, who transported many Yezidis into the country. The majority of these persons returned to Iraq through the Iraqi Kurdistan Region; however, in June UNHCR estimated there were approximately 10,000 Iraqis in camps in al-Hasakah governorate, including 2,262 Yezidis in the Newroz camp, 2,330 Sunni Arabs in Roj camp, and 5,700 in al-Hol camp. There were also some Iraqis in the cities of Malkia, Qamishly, Amuda, and Derbasia.

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

Access to Basic Services: The law allows for the issuance of identity cards to Palestinian refugees and the same access to basic services provided to citizens. The government also allowed Iraqi refugees access to publicly available services, such as health care and education, but residency permits were available only to those refugees who entered Syria legally and possessed a valid passport, which did not include all refugees. The lack of access to residency permits issued by the Syrian authorities exposed refugees to risks of harassment and exploitation and severely affected their access to public services. The approximately 30,000 non-Palestinian refugees in the country faced growing protection risks, multiple displacements, tightened security procedures at checkpoints, and difficulty obtaining required residency permits, all of which resulted in restrictions on their freedom of movement. UNHCR reported a rise in sexual- and gender-based violence and child protection concerns among refugees, including child labor, school dropouts, and early marriages.


Approximately 190,000 Kurds in the country are not entitled to Syrian nationality under the law. The government considered the Kurds to be foreigners, which denied them access to services. Following the 1962 census, approximately 150,000 Kurds lost their citizenship. A legislative decree ordained the single-day census in 1962, and the government executed it unannounced with regard to the inhabitants of al-Hasakah governorate. Government justification for this measure was to identify Kurds who had entered the country since 1945. Anyone not registered for any reason or without all required paperwork became “foreign” from that day onward. In similar fashion authorities recorded anyone who refused to participate as “undocumented.” Because of this loss of citizenship, these Kurds and their descendants lacked identity cards and could not access government services, including health care and education. They also faced social and economic discrimination. Stateless Kurds do not have the right to inherit or bequeath assets, and their lack of citizenship or identity documents restricted their travel to and from the country.

In 2011 President Asad issued a decree declaring that stateless Kurds in al-Hasakah governorate who were registered as “foreigners” could apply for citizenship. UNHCR reported that approximately 40,000 of these were still unable to obtain citizenship. Likewise, the decree did not extend to the approximately 160,000 “unregistered” stateless Kurds. The change from 150,000 to 160,000 reflected an approximate increase in population since the 1962 census.

Children derive citizenship solely from their father. Because women cannot confer nationality on their children, an unknown number of children whose fathers were missing or deceased due to the continuing conflict were at risk of statelessness. Mothers could not pass citizenship to children born outside the country, including in neighboring countries operating refugee camps.


Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:

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

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

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

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

The government allowed some international media to operate and permitted rebroadcasts of Russian television and radio programs. In November the independent news media outlet Nigoh reportedly closed its doors following government harassment and threats of criminal proceedings in response to its prior publication of IRPT content and an inadvertent misspelling of the word “president.”

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

On September 19, Ozodagon news agency reported that a journalist from Faraj newspaper, Doro Suhrobi, was beaten by a police officer. While reporting from one of the markets in Dushanbe on the economic difficulties facing the country, Suhrobi was taken to a local police station and detained. According to Suhrobi, he was humiliated and beaten by the police officer that detained him with no intervention from his colleagues. After being released, Suhrobi registered his injuries in a local hospital and filed a complaint with the Ministry of Internal Affairs (MIA). The MIA spokesperson, Umarjoni Emomali, told the media in a press conference that the ministry had launched an investigation into the case.

Censorship or Content Restrictions: Journalists regularly practiced self-censorship to avoid retribution from officials. Opposition politicians had limited or no access to state-run television. The government gave opposition parties minimal broadcast time to express their political views, while the president’s party had numerous opportunities to broadcast its messages. Access to information was particularly difficult for journalists in the weeks prior to the May 22 Constitutional Referendum. State run TV and radio stations did not broadcast any programs on their channels offering views in opposition to the constitutional amendments.

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

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


Individuals and groups faced extensive government surveillance of internet activity, including e-mails, and often self-censored their views while posting on the internet. According to 2016 Telecommunications data, 19.5 percent of the population of Tajikistan used the internet in that year.

There were new and continuing government restrictions on access to internet websites, such as Facebook, YouTube, Google, Google services, and Radio Free Europe/ Radio Liberty. The State Communications Service (SCS) routinely denied involvement in blocking these sites, but the government admitted to periodically implementing a law that allows interruption of internet content and telecommunications “in the interest of national security.” The government continued to implement a 2015 law enabling the State Committee for National Security (GKNB) to shut off internet and telecommunications during security operations.

Since May, independent news agency websites Asia-PlusRadio Liberty’s Tajik Service and Ozodagon were inaccessible in the country. Local experts said the government blocked these websites to limit and control coverage of the constitutional referendum. Previously, access to most social media networks, such as Facebook, YouTube, Odnoklasniki, and numerous news agency websites, were blocked intermittently throughout the year.


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

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

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

The Ministry of Education banned students from attending events sponsored by or conducted for foreign organizations during school hours.

There were several reports throughout the year that academics writing on sensitive subjects regarding politics, religion, and history feared publishing or even submitting their articles for review for fear of retribution. There was no official censorship, however, of films, plays, art exhibits, music presentations, or other cultural activities.


The constitution provides the right to freedom of assembly, but the government required that individuals obtain permission from the government to stage public demonstrations. Individuals considering staging peaceful protests reportedly chose not to do so for fear of government reprisal. On September 19, the families of exiled opposition figures protesting in Warsaw reported retaliatory law enforcement harassment and detention at their homes in Tajikistan.

On May 15, approximately 200-300 individuals organized a celebration in honor of the Indian holiday “Holi” in the local stadium “Spartak,” a central Dushanbe building belonging to the MIA. Organizers of the event told human rights activists they obtained an official permit from the MIA to hold the event in the stadium and that it was the fourth time the group celebrated this holiday in Dushanbe. As the celebration neared its conclusion, the crowd of mostly minors were exiting the stadium when police arrived and forcefully detained approximately 200 participants. The detainees reported they were verbally abused for celebrating a non-Muslim holiday, beaten, and threatened with rape. Some of the detainees recorded the incident and later posted the recordings on social media. NGO Civil Liberties filed a complaint with the MIA on behalf of the detainees, but the alleged victims never subsequently submitted a formal request for an investigation.


The constitution protects freedom of association, but the government restricted this right. Civil society organizations reported a noticeable increase in the number and intensity of registration and tax inspections by authorities. The government continued to enforce the ban on activities held under the banner of the IRPT. As a result of the May 22 constitutional referendum, non-secular political parties became illegal.

On March 30, the government adopted new regulations to the Law on Public Associations that indicated how organizations registered with the Ministry of Justice (MOJ) must inform the MOJ of their foreign funding. Shortly after the MOJ adopted the regulations, the ministry discussed them publicly with members of civil society and donor organizations. The MOJ created a working group, which included NGO representatives, to consider possible changes to the form NGOs must submit to notify the government of their foreign funding. On June 9, the MOJ approved a new form, based in part upon the suggestions of NGO representatives. The president signed the new regulations into law on August 8. International human rights organizations and NGOs criticized the regulations, saying they created an unnecessary burden on NGOs and that the MOJ did not have the capacity to process all the information it would receive from organizations.

See the Department of State’s International Religious Freedom Report at

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

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


Access to Asylum: The law provides for the granting of asylum or refugee status, and the government has established a system for providing protection to refugees. Nevertheless, the process for making asylum status determinations remained uncertain, lacking transparency, and administrative and judicial procedures did not comply with international standards. Although not required by law, government officials required refugees and asylum seekers to obtain a visa and a valid travel document before entering the country. Government officials without due process detained and deported individuals not in possession of a visa.

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

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

During the first seven months of the year the government deported five asylum seekers and refugees to Afghanistan. The deportees included rejected asylum seekers and refugees with revoked status based on violation of the law prohibiting such persons from residing in urban areas as well as cumbersome preconditions that preclude a claimant from registering as a refugee. Most of the cases of revoked status were under appeal in court with the support of UNHCR. The deportations took place despite the incomplete appeal processes. In some of these cases, there was risk of refoulement.

Although the law stipulates that refugee status be granted for as long as three years, the transfer of refugee processing to the Ministry of Internal Affairs in 2009 resulted in much shorter periods of status being granted. According to government statistics, the country had 2,185 registered refugees, 98 percent of whom were Afghan. An additional 141 asylum seekers, mostly Afghan, were seeking refugee status.

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

Employment: An increasing percentage of refugees entering the country did not possess professional backgrounds or job skills, and many faced discrimination by the local population. The requirement to live outside urban areas created additional problems for finding adequate work. While UNHCR assisted some female refugees by providing vocational job training in skills such as sewing, cooking, and hairdressing, most female refugees remained in the home in accordance with traditional cultures. Most male refugees worked for small enterprises.

Access to Basic Services: Refugees and asylum seekers are legally entitled to education and health services alongside local citizens. The Ministry of Education allowed Afghan parents to send their children to local schools without paying fees. UNHCR partners provided books, school uniforms, and some language classes to these children and assisted with their medical expenses. The law provides registered refugees with equal access to law enforcement, health care, and the judicial system, although refugees did not always have equal access. In practice, refugees were subject to harassment, discrimination, and extortion.

Durable Solutions: Following the amended Law on Nationality adopted in August, refugees hold equal standing to non-refugee foreigners when applying for citizenship. Although the government and UNHCR agreed on local integration of refugees into the general population as a more durable solution to the refugee situation, there was little progress in processing pending cases to completion.


As of July a reported 769 persons registered as stateless by the government. As of October 2016 UNHCR and its partners identified and registered as many as 23,150 individuals at risk of statelessness in three pilot provinces, (Khatlon, Sughd, and District of Republic Subordination), highlighting the potential extent of statelessness as well as the challenges and opportunities of facilitating solutions. Holders of former Soviet Union passports constituted the bulk of those at risk of statelessness, although a number of people, predominantly women, holding expired foreign passports came forward and sought counselling.


Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:

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

Freedom of Speech and Expression: Individuals could criticize the government both publicly and privately, but some persons expressed concern about doing so in public. Authorities used the Cybercrime Act to bring criminal charges against individuals who criticized the government in a variety of electronic media.

Press and Media Freedoms: The independent media on the mainland were active and generally expressed a wide variety of views. The union Ministry of Information, Culture, Arts, and Sports reported there were 126 radio stations, 28 television stations, nine cable television providers, 62 weekly newspapers, and 16 daily newspapers. In Zanzibar the government controlled the only local daily newspaper (mainland newspapers were available), a television station, and one of the seven radio stations.

Two mainland newspapers (Daily News and Habari Leo) were owned by the government, one (Uhuru) by the ruling Party of the Revolution (CCM), and another (Daima) by the chair of the Party of Democracy and Development (Chadema) opposition party. The remaining newspapers were independent, although close associates of political party members owned some of them. Registering or licensing new media outlets, both print and broadcast, continued to be difficult. Newspaper registration was at the discretion of the registrar of newspapers at the information ministry on both the mainland and Zanzibar. Acquiring a broadcasting license from the Tanzania Communication Regulatory Authority (TCRA) took an estimated six months to one year, and the TCRA restricted the area of broadcast coverage.

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

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

Violence and Harassment: Law enforcement authorities and crowds attacked, harassed, and intimidated journalists during the year. For example, in March, Mwananchi Communications Limited journalist Salma Maulid was abducted and beaten by unknown assailants while reporting on elections in Zanzibar.

Censorship or Content Restrictions: The law authorizes police to raid and seize materials from newspaper offices without a warrant and authorizes the minister of information to close media outlets for undefined reasons of “public interest” or “the interest of peace and good order.”

A permit was required for reporting on police or prison activities, both on the mainland and in Zanzibar, and journalists needed special permission to cover meetings of the Tanzanian National Assembly or attend meetings in the Zanzibar House of Representatives. Anyone publishing information accusing a Zanzibari representative of involvement in illegal activities was liable to a fine of not less than 250,000 Tanzanian shillings (TZS) ($115), three years’ imprisonment, or both. Nothing in the law specifies whether this penalty stands if the allegation is proven true. The government may fine and suspend newspapers without warning.

There were examples of the government repressing information. For example, on August 29, the government shut down radio stations Magic FM Dar es Salaam and Five Arusha on the grounds they broadcast seditious content on August 17 and 25, respectively. Media outlets often practiced self-censorship to avoid conflict with the government. The LHRC reported journalists from both private and public media were concerned about censorship of stories by editors fearful of criticizing government leaders or policies. The LHRC reported broadcasters were required to submit reports stating who would appear and what would be discussed to the TCRA prior to any live broadcasts. In August the minister of information, culture, arts, and sport stated the government would ban any media publishing inflammatory statements in its coverage of demonstrations or political rallies.

Government repression of the media extended to online newspapers and journals. In January, the Kiswahili weekly newspaper Mawiowas permanently banned from publishing in print and online under the 1976 Newspaper Act for allegedly inciting violence by declaring the opposition candidate the winner of the 2015 presidential elections in Zanzibar and running a headline warning of unrest to come in Zanzibar. In August, under the Electronic and Postal Communication Act, Kiswahili weekly newspaper Mseto was suspended for three years and banned from publishing stories online for publishing an article critical of the president.

Libel/Slander Laws: The law provides for arrest, prosecution, and punishment for the use of seditious, abusive, or derogatory language to describe the country’s leadership.

The TCRA vowed to be more vigilant while overseeing media coverage after the passage of the Cybercrime Act in 2015, which states any violation of the license requirements would be subject to severe penalties, including possible deregistration. Television station ITV and radio station Radio One were issued strong warnings and instructed to apologize on air on two consecutive days for “provocative statements” made by a member of parliament (MP) during a live broadcast, although no action was taken against the MP. The TCRA ordered television station Clouds TV to apologize on five consecutive days for transmitting an interview with a transgender woman in July on the grounds that it had broadcast a program that failed to protect Tanzanian values.

On September 4, the High Court lifted an indefinite ban on the Kiswahili investigative newspaper Mwanahalisi, which was banned in 2012 for allegedly threatening national security. The judge said he was convinced Information, Youth, Culture, and Sports Minister Fenella Mukangara breached procedure when banning the newspaper.


While the government did not restrict access to the internet, it monitored websites and internet traffic that criticized the government, and it also sought to combat illegal activities. According to the TCRA’s January-March 2016 report, 17.3 million persons (34 percent of the population) used the internet in 2015. According to the International Telecommunication Union, 5.36 percent of the population used the internet that year.

The Cybercrimes Act of 2015 criminalizes the publication of false information, defined as “information, data or facts presented in a picture, texts, symbol, or any other form in a computer system where such information, data, or fact is false, deceptive, misleading, or inaccurate.” Several individuals who made critical comments about the government on electronic media were charged under the act, even when remarks reflected opinions or were factually true.

On June 8, Isaac Habakuki Emire was sentenced to three months in prison or a fine of TZS seven million ($3,220) for online statements referring to President Magufuli as a “coward” and a self-promoter who should not be compared to Julius Nyerere, the country’s first president.

In mid-December human rights groups criticized the arrest of Maxense Melo, founder of the popular Jamii Forums website, a popular online forum for political discussions, on a variety of charges, including failure to cooperate with a police investigation. Police reportedly asked Melo to reveal the identities of online commentators who posted remarks critical of the government.


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


The constitution provides for freedom of assembly, but the government did not always respect this right.

The government requires organizers of rallies to obtain police permission. Police may deny permission on public safety or security grounds or if the permit seeker belongs to an unregistered organization or political party. The government and police continued to limit the issuance of permits for public demonstrations and assemblies to political parties, NGOs, and religious organizations. During a June speech at State House, the president declared the 2015 election over and the opposition should confine its political opinions to appropriate platforms, such as parliament, until the next election cycle in 2020. Also in June the police commissioner for operations and training announced the police had banned any form of political demonstration or rally until further notice, claiming such meetings were intended to incite civil disobedience. The same day police broke up a rally by opposition party Chadema, which had previously been issued a permit, and made 22 arrests. Later that month police barred opposition party ACT Wazalendo from holding an indoor meeting to discuss and review the 2016-17 budget. Again in June police in three cities broke up graduation ceremonies organized by an opposition party for members of its student organization.


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

The registration process for associations outside Zanzibar was slow, particularly for religious and lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and intersex organizations. The law makes a distinction between NGOs and societies and applies different registration procedures to the two. It defines a society as any club, company, partnership, or association of 10 or more persons, regardless of its purpose, and notes specific categories of organizations not considered to be societies, such as political parties. The law defines NGOs to include organizations whose purpose is to promote economic, environmental, social, or cultural development; protect the environment; or lobby or advocate on issues of public interest. Societies and organizations may not operate until authorities approve their applications.

Religious organizations are registered as societies and wait the longest–an average of four years–for registration. From July 2015 to March, the Registrar of Societies received 472 registration applications, 26 of which came from religious institutions. The registrar registered 404 societies and rejected 13 applications; 55 applications remained unprocessed. The government rarely registered societies within the legally required 14-day period. The Ministry of Health, Community Development, Gender, Elderly, and Children registered other NGOs. The process took two to five years.

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

See the Department of State’s International Religious Freedom Report at

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

The constitution provides for freedom of internal movement, foreign travel, emigration, and repatriation, and the government generally respected these rights. In late 2015 the government banned official international travel by civil servants without authorization from State House.

Abuse of Migrants, Refugees, and Stateless Persons: Refugees may not travel more than 2.5 miles outside their camp without permission of the Ministry of Home Affairs. Refugees apprehended outside the camps without permits are subject by law to sentences ranging from a fine up to a three-year prison sentence. UNHCR reported that when police apprehended refugees outside the camp without permits, they were normally held in the prison nearest to where they were arrested. Unless the infraction connected the detainee with another criminal issue, police generally released these individuals back into the camp, where camp officials sometimes ordered the refugee to perform community service.

Sexual and gender-based violence of refugees continued. UNHCR worked with local authorities and residents in the three refugee camps to strengthen coordination and address violence, including sexual violence, against vulnerable persons. UNHCR reported the most frequent gender-based violence crimes were rape and physical assault, followed by psychological and emotional abuse. The government investigated, prosecuted, and punished perpetrators of abuses in the camp; local authorities handled most cases of refugees involved in crime and abuse outside the camp. Residents of the refugee camps suffered delays and limited access to courts, common problems also faced by citizens.

The government generally cooperated with UNHCR and other humanitarian organizations in providing protection and assistance to refugees and asylum seekers.


Access to Asylum: The law provides for the granting of asylum or refugee status, and the government has an established system for providing protection to refugees. The National Eligibility Committee (NEC) is mandated to meet regularly and make determinations on asylum applications, and was reviewing a backlog of several hundred claims.

During the year the NEC made formal determinations on pending asylum cases; most involved individuals from the Democratic Republic of the Congo who had been residing in Burundi.

During the year the government allowed UNHCR to reopen a third former refugee camp to accommodate the large increase in the refugee population resulting from instability in Burundi and to maintain prima facie refugee status for new Burundi arrivals. Third-country nationals who were previously recognized as refugees in Burundi, as well as Burundian citizens, were eligible for prima facie refugee status.

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

UNHCR processed irregular migrants arrested by authorities for possible asylum, but police continued to hold them in prisons.

From December 2014 to February 2015, the government and the International Organization for Migration (IOM) conducted a registration campaign for irregular migrants in Kigoma intended to provide a basis for either regularizing their status or voluntary return to their places of origin. The project registered 22,282 persons. Kigoma regional authorities stated an additional 400 persons had been registered since the end of the project. The IOM began a program to supply biometric registration equipment to immigration authorities across the country.

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

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

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

Durable Solutions: In 2014 the Ministry of Home Affairs granted citizenship to 1,514 members of the Wazigua ethnic group (formerly known as Somali Bantu) and 162,156 Burundian refugees. In December 2015 the ministry reported that 98 percent of these persons had become citizens.


Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:

Broad NCPO orders restricting freedom of speech and press, issued following the 2014 coup, remained in effect at year’s end. Invoking these orders, officials suspended media outlets, blocked access to internet sites, and summoned members of media to report to authorities for questioning and “attitude adjustment.” In addition to official restrictions on speech and censorship, NCPO actions resulted in significant self-censorship by the public and media. The NCPO prohibited political figures, analysts, and others from providing interviews or comments to media and banned dissemination of information that could threaten the NCPO or “create conflict” within the country, particularly in advance of the August 7 constitutional referendum.

Freedom of Speech and Expression: The NCPO enforced limits on free speech and expression using a variety of regulations and criminal provisions. The Referendum Law, enacted in advance of the August 7 constitutional referendum, criminalized campaigning related to the referendum, and the NCPO used the law almost exclusively to suppress political expression opposed to the draft charter (see section 3). Procharter speech, including comments by senior NCPO officials, was allowed.

The NCPO also invoked criminal sedition statutes to restrict political speech. In April the military charged eight political activists with sedition for posting information on a satirical Facebook page called, “We Love General Prayut.”

Article 112 of the criminal code, the so-called lese majeste law, makes it a crime–punishable by a maximum of 15 years’ imprisonment for each offense–to criticize, insult, or threaten the king, queen, royal heir apparent, or regent. The government increasingly used this law to prosecute anyone critical of the monarchy or members of the royal family in any way, especially following the October 13 death of King Bhumibol and the December 10 ascension of King Maha Vajiralongkorn. The law also allows citizens to file lese majeste complaints against each other, which they did on numerous occasions. The government regularly conducted lese majeste trials in secret and prohibited public disclosure of the content of the alleged offenses. The government also frequently tried lese majeste cases in military courts that provided fewer rights and protections for civilian defendants, although a September 12 order ended the practice of trying violations of Article 112 in military courts for offenses committed after that date (see section 1.e.). International and domestic human rights organizations and academics expressed concern about the lese majeste law’s chilling effect on freedom of expression.

Official statistics varied by agency, but new lese majeste cases increased dramatically following the 2014 coup. According to local NGO Internet Dialogue on Law Reform, the number of new lese majeste cases filed since the 2014 coup was 68 as of September, although police officials acknowledged dozens of additional investigations following King Bhumibol’s death on October 13. In some of these cases, the accused committed the alleged offense prior to the 2014 coup, but authorities only filed charges afterwards. According to the Department of Corrections, the government detained 103 persons under lese majeste laws as of March 31 (including a number of persons convicted for corruption-related offenses under Article 112 for misuse of royal title to further business interests).

On March 4, a military prosecutor filed lese majeste charges against Thanakorn Siripaiboon for “liking” a Facebook post deemed critical of the king and for writing a Facebook post referring to the king’s dog in a sarcastic manner.

The government also invoked the lese majeste law to censor or ban media publications. On April 8, officials banned the French edition of Marie Claire magazine from distribution in the country after it published a story about the royal family, according to an official government announcement.

Press and Media Freedoms: The 2016 constitution requires owners of newspapers and other mass media to be citizens. Government entities owned and controlled most radio and broadcast television stations, including the 524 officially registered AM and FM stations. The armed forces and police owned another 244 radio stations, ostensibly for national security purposes. Other owners of national broadcast media included the government’s Public Relations Department and the Mass Communication Organization of Thailand Public Company Limited, a former state enterprise in which the government maintained a majority share. Government entities leased nearly all stations to commercial companies that provided commercial content to the stations.

The law provides for the regulation of radio and television frequencies and three categories of broadcast licenses (public service, community service, and commercial). The National Broadcasting and Telecommunications Commission (NBTC) allocates broadcast frequencies and regulates broadcast media. Radio stations must renew their licenses every seven years. The law requires stations to broadcast 30-minute, government-produced newscasts twice daily and to register with the NBTC. Several thousand small community radio stations countrywide also operated under a separate licensing system that requires annual renewal of licenses.

Violence and Harassment: Senior government officials routinely made statements critical of media. Media operators also complained of harassment and monitoring.

On March 14, plainclothes military personnel monitored and recorded a film screening held at the Foreign Correspondents’ Club of Thailand (FCCT), a practice the club’s president, Jonathan Head, complained to the government occurred regularly. In response to FCCT complaints, an NCPO spokesperson stated that the monitoring was legal and conducted to verify the club’s activities were not part of any political movement.

On July 26, Premsak Piyayura, a mayor and former member of parliament, allegedly had his subordinates in the presence of other journalists pull down the pants of a newspaper reporter who had questioned him about a controversial Facebook posting. The incident drew widespread criticism from media as an example of the lack of respect and mistreatment of journalists by government officials. Using his authority under Article 44 of the interim constitution, Prime Minister Prayut later suspended the mayor without pay pending a formal investigation.

Censorship or Content Restrictions: The NCPO restricted content deemed critical of or threatening to it, and the media widely practiced self-censorship. NCPO orders remained in effect that prohibited any criticism of military authorities and directed print media, television, radio, cable, and other online media operators not to publish or broadcast any information critical of the military’s actions or criticism likely to cause public misunderstanding made with malice and false information aimed to discredit the NCPO. Authorities monitored media content from all media sources, including international press.

Many media contacts reported concerns about NCPO orders authorizing government officials to limit press freedom and suspend press operations without a court order. On May 3, World Press Freedom Day, the Thai Journalists’ Association and the Thai Broadcast Journalists’ Association issued a joint statement asking the NCPO to revoke any laws that limit or violate freedom of the press, including NCPO orders 97/2557, 103/2557, and 3/2558.

While international media operated relatively freely, in February the Ministry of Foreign Affairs issued revised guidelines for issuing visas to journalists and media correspondents. Foreign journalists feared the new guidelines provide discretionary power to deny media visas based on the content of media reporting. According to the FCCT, authorities denied visas to at least five journalists since the 2014 coup.

On September 13, several media organizations petitioned the National Reform Steering Assembly to review a government proposal to form a regulatory organization called the National Media Professional Council to regulate the conduct of media practitioners.

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

Libel/Slander Laws: Defamation is a criminal offense punishable by a maximum fine of 200,000 baht ($5,600) and two years’ imprisonment. Military and business figures filed criminal defamation and libel cases against political and environmental activists, journalists, and politicians.

There were several high-profile cases of criminal defamation against human rights defenders. In May officials from the military’s Internal Security Operations Command Region 4 filed criminal defamation and computer crimes charges against three of the principal drafters of a report documenting cases of alleged torture by security forces in the southernmost provinces. Numerous national and international human rights groups condemned the charges against Pornpen Khongkachonkiet, Anchana Heemmina, and Somchai Homlaor, arguing the charges posed a serious threat to all human rights monitoring and reporting in the country.

In July police in Narathiwat Province charged Naritsarawan Kaewnopparat, the niece of a military conscript killed by fellow soldiers in 2011, with criminal defamation and computer crimes for statements she made demanding the prosecution of soldiers responsible for her uncle’s death. An internal army investigation previously found that a junior officer and other conscripts tortured Naritsarawan’s uncle and caused his death, although no one was criminally charged.

In another case, the Criminal Court on September 20, found British citizen Andy Hall guilty of criminal defamation and computer crimes, based on a Finnwatch report to which he contributed in 2013 that accused a local food company, Natural Fruit, of human and labor rights violations at its factory in Prachuap Khiri Khan Province. The report claimed the firm paid wages below the legal minimum and subjected workers to dangerous working conditions and excessive hours. Natural Fruit subsequently filed a criminal defamation complaint against Hall in 2014. The court sentenced Hall to three years in prison and a fine, although it suspended the prison sentence.

National Security: Section 44 of the interim constitution, later extended by the 2016 constitution, provides authorities the right to restrict distribution of material deemed to threaten national security. Media associations expressed alarm regarding the sweeping powers they complained lacked clear criteria for determining what constitutes a threat to national security.

On August 29, the NBTC suspended the broadcast of Voice TV’s Wake Up News program for one week for broadcasting political commentary deemed to violate NCPO orders. Following the suspension announcement, Voice TV executives stated the channel would voluntarily “reduce and tone down its political commentary” to avoid further punishment.


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

The law establishes procedures for the search and seizure of computers and computer data in certain criminal investigations and gives the information ministry authority to request and enforce the removal of information disseminated via computer. The government may impose a maximum five-year prison sentence and a 100,000 baht ($2,800) fine for posting false content on the internet found to undermine public security, cause public panic, or harm others, based on vague definitions. Authorities may impose a maximum 20-year sentence and 300,000 baht ($8,400) fine if an offense results in the death of a person. The law also obliges internet service providers to preserve all user records for 90 days in case authorities wish to access them. Any service provider that gives consent to or intentionally supports the publishing of illegal content is also liable to punishment. Most prosecutions were for content-related offenses. By law authorities must obtain a court order to ban a website, although officials did not always respect this requirement. Media activists criticized the law, stating it defined offenses too broadly and some penalties were too harsh.

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

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

Following the October 13 death of King Bhumibol, the NBTC and other government entities routinely blocked online and broadcast content related to the monarchy. The NBTC also issued instructions encouraging citizens to identify and report any online content that appeared to violate the lese majeste law.

The RTP Technical Crime Suppression Division reported receiving 3,638 complaints from January to September, compared with 2,083 computer-related complaints it reported from January to August 2014 that resulted in 65 criminal actions. Most cases involved alleged defamation, lese majeste, and other illegal activity, such as gambling and pornography.

Internet access was widely available in urban areas and used by citizens, including through a government program to provide limited free Wi-Fi access at 300,000 hotspots in cities and schools. The government also undertook an initiative to expand internet access to rural areas throughout the country. International monitoring groups estimated 29 million citizens (43 percent of the population) had access to the internet during the year.

In December the NCPO-appointed National Legislative Assembly (NLA) unanimously passed an amendment to the 2007 Computer Crimes Act that significantly expanded government powers to control and capture online content and increased criminal sanctions against individuals and internet service providers for false or distorted information posted online.


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

In the run-up to the August 7 national referendum on the draft constitution, at least three universities–Khon Kaen University, Mahidol University, and Ubon Ratchatani University–banned public on-campus discussion of the charter. Notwithstanding university policy, students at Khon Kaen University organized a public on-campus discussion of the draft charter. University officials reportedly cut off water and power and removed all chairs in the building where the event was to be held in an effort to stop it. Following the event university staff filed a police complaint accusing the student participants of trespassing.

Election Commission officials reportedly sent a letter to Mahidol University officials complaining that a prominent university faculty member made critical comments about the draft charter. At Ubon Ratchatani University, the dean of the Political Science Faculty canceled a public seminar on the draft constitution under pressure from both university and provincial officials.

In April military officials forced cancelation of a scheduled discussion program on the draft constitution organized by Book Republic, an independent bookstore in Chiang Mai that regularly organizes discussions on various contemporary issues. On October 5, immigration officials detained and deported Hong Kong democracy activist Joshua Wong, who had traveled to Bangkok to participate in an academic panel at Chulalongkorn University commemorating the October 6, 1976 massacre of student activists at Thammasat University.

University authorities reported the regular presence of military personnel on campus, monitoring lectures and attending student events. There were numerous accounts of authorities arresting students for exercising freedom of speech and expression, particularly in advance of the August 7 referendum.

The military government continued the process of revising secondary and primary school textbooks and increased instruction on patriotic themes. The military government also continued a civic education curriculum emphasizing General Prayut’s 12 core values of “Thainess.”

Government authorities continued to be sensitive to the content of film and performing arts. Acknowledging government sensitivities, the Thailand International Film Festival 2016 pulled from its lineup four films it feared might present a negative image of the country.


The 2016 constitution grants the freedom to assemble peacefully, subject to restrictions enacted to “protect public interest, peace and order, or good morals, or to protect the rights and liberties of others.”

Invoking authority under Article 44 of the interim constitution, coup leaders prohibited political gatherings of five or more persons and penalized persons supporting any political gatherings. Human rights groups argued the prohibition violated the country’s obligations under the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights. The 2015 Public Assembly Act codified restrictions on freedom of assembly and requires, among other provisions, that protesters obtain permission from police for rallies at least 24 hours in advance. Moreover, it bans all demonstrations within 500 feet of the prime minister’s headquarters, parliament, royal palaces, and courthouses. The emergency decree in effect in the southernmost provinces also provides authority to limit freedom of assembly.

Police arrested citizens assembled in violation of government orders. According to a government watchdog organization, in advance of the August 7 referendum officials arrested and charged more than 150 persons nationwide for violating the prohibition on political gatherings of five or more persons. While the NCPO enforced bans against political gatherings critical of the coup or the NCPO, authorities allowed some pro-coup and pro-military demonstrations. In August police arrested 19 men for violating a ban on political gatherings after they set up a monitoring center to oversee the August 7 constitutional referendum. On December 16, the attorney general charged all 19 with violating the government’s ban and the court accepted the charges. On September 21, local administrators in Pattani Province intervened and stopped approximately 500 people from gathering to celebrate International Peace Day.

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


The interim constitution did not explicitly provide for freedom of association. The 2016 constitution grants individuals the right to free association subject to restrictions by law enacted to “protect public interest, peace and order, or good morals.”

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

See the Department of State’s International Religious Freedom Report at

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

The interim constitution and the 2016 constitution provide for freedom of internal movement, foreign travel, emigration, and repatriation. The government generally respected these rights, with some exceptions for “maintaining the security of the state, public peace and order or public welfare, town and country planning, or youth welfare.”

Following the 2014 coup, the NCPO issued orders prohibiting travel outside the country for approximately 155 persons. In May the NCPO lifted the travel ban for approximately 130 of these persons, essentially those who were not otherwise facing criminal charges and subject to judicial travel restrictions. Prior to lifting the travel ban, the NCPO in March refused a request from journalist Pravit Rojanaphruk to travel to Finland to participate in a World Press Freedom Day event.

In addition to those initially subject to travel restrictions by NCPO order, the Thai Lawyers for Human Rights Center (TLHR) estimated there were an additional 300 persons who, when summoned to appear before the NCPO following the 2014 coup, signed agreements as a condition of their release consenting not to travel abroad without NCPO approval. According to the TLHR, the NCPO has not revoked the restrictions contained in these agreements.

The government usually cooperated with the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), the International Organization for Migration, the International Committee of the Red Cross, and other humanitarian organizations in providing protection and assistance to internally displaced persons, refugees, asylum seekers, stateless persons, and other persons of concern, although with some restrictions. Cooperation with UNHCR to protect certain groups remained uneven, which limited UNHCR’s ability to provide protection to all nationalities.

Abuse of Migrants, Refugees, and Stateless Persons: Media reports, Human Rights Watch, and other sources alleged government officials took bribes from and colluded with human smugglers and traffickers who detained Rohingya on islands and other locations in the south. In 2015 authorities confined in IDCs and shelters approximately 870 Rohingya and Bangladeshi persons who arrived in the country irregularly by boat during the mass movement in the Bay of Bengal and Andaman Sea crisis of May 2015. As of December approximately 330 of them (mostly Rohingya) remained in detention.

Authorities continued to treat refugees and asylum seekers from Burma who lived outside of designated border camps, including Rohingya boat arrivals, as illegal migrants. Multidisciplinary teams conducted interviews and identified some of the Rohingya arrivals as victims of trafficking, and officials subsequently transferred them to shelters under the care of the Ministry of Social Development and Human Security. Persons categorized as illegal migrants are legally subject to arrest and detention. The government worked in cooperation with donors and international organization partners to provide protection and assistance to Rohingya while in IDCs and shelters. The lack of Rohingya-speaking interpreters within IDCs and shelters remained a concern. Although reinstated in 2013, authorities implemented inconsistently the practice of permitting bail for detained refugees and asylum seekers originally initiated in 2011.

International humanitarian organizations noted concerns about congested conditions, lack of exercise opportunities, and limited freedom of movement in the IDCs. Some IDCs with Rohingya detainees lacked efficient medical referral mechanisms and failed to allow exercise due to fear the detainees would escape.

Authorities allowed some women and children, including unaccompanied minors whom officials certified were victims of trafficking, to stay in shelters operated by the Ministry of Social Development and Human Security. Persons in these shelters often reported a lack of adequate human resources to meet the needs of running the facilities and providing adequate psychosocial services to shelter residents.

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

Foreign Travel: Local authorities also required other long-time noncitizen residents, including thousands of ethnic Shan and other non-hill-tribe minorities, to seek permission for foreign travel. A small number of Burmese refugees, who were approved for third-country resettlement but not recognized as refugees by the government because they reside outside the nine refugee camps, have awaited exit permits for years.


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

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

UNHCR remained limited in its ability to provide protection to Lao Hmong, Uighurs, and Burmese outside the official camps as well as to all North Koreans. Its access to asylum seekers in the main IDC in Bangkok and at Suvarnabhumi International Airport to conduct status interviews and monitor new arrivals varied throughout the year. UNHCR had access to provincial IDCs where authorities detained ethnic Rohingya, including coastal Ranong Province and southern Songkhla Province, to conduct refugee status determinations. Authorities allowed resettlement countries to conduct processing activities in the IDCs, and humanitarian organizations were able to provide health care, nutritional support, and other humanitarian assistance.

The government allowed UNHCR to monitor the protection status of approximately 103,000 Burmese refugees and asylum seekers living in nine camps along the border with Burma but prohibited UNHCR from any assistance role in the camps. NGOs funded by the international community provided basic humanitarian assistance in the camps, including health care, food, education, shelter, water, sanitation, vocational training, and other services. UNHCR issued identification cards to registered refugees living in the camps.

The government facilitated resettlement for 3,479 Burmese refugees from camps as of December. Refugees residing in the nine camps along the border who had not registered with the government were ineligible for third-country resettlement.

An estimated 60,000 Burmese had not registered since the cessation of the Provincial Admissions Boards in 2005. In 2012 the government resumed limited admissions screening to consider only refugee cases under the family reunification criteria (parent/child or spousal relationships) through Fast Track Provincial Admission Boards (FTPAB). As of December authorities had received 3,246 cases with 8,208 persons (including 4,467 FTPAB-registered persons).

Refoulement: The government provided some protection against the expulsion or return of refugees to countries where they would face threats to their lives or freedom because of their race, religion, nationality, membership in a particular social group, or political opinion. Outside the camps government officials did not distinguish between asylum-seeking Burmese and other undocumented Burmese, regarding all as illegal migrants. Authorities generally took those arrested outside of the camps to the border and deported them back to their home country. Authorities generally did not deport persons of concern holding valid UNHCR asylum-seeker or refugee status; however, in 2015 authorities forcibly repatriated two Chinese activists to whom UNHCR had granted refugee status, and forcibly deported a vulnerable migrant group of 109 ethnic Uighurs to China. As of December approximately 60 Uighurs remained in detention in the country.

Immigration police in Bangkok arrested and detained asylum seekers and refugees, including women and children. The detained population fluctuated between 250 and 450 persons, depending on immigration raids and the release of detainees on bail. Government officials estimated the IDC in Bangkok repatriated 200 to 300 undocumented immigrant detainees per week. Authorities typically detained Burmese, Cambodian, and Laotian persons for approximately five days before repatriating them. In contrast, authorities often held detainees for a year or longer if they lacked assistance from their respective embassies, sought third-country resettlement, refused to return to their countries of origin, or lacked funds to pay for their trip home.

Freedom of movement: Refugees residing in the nine refugee camps on the border with Burma had no freedom of movement, and authorities confined them to the camps. In previous years authorities did not enforce this policy, and many refugees often left the camps for short periods to find work in the local economy. Following the 2014 coup, camp commanders began enforcing restrictions on camp residents, making freedom of movement outside the camps more difficult. A refugee apprehended outside the official camps is subject to harassment, fines, detention, deregistration, and deportation.

Refugees and asylum seekers were not eligible to participate in the official nationality verification process, which allows migrant workers with verified nationality and passports to travel throughout the country. Authorities restricted those holding only work permits from traveling outside the province where they work unless they first obtained official permission.

Employment: The law prohibits refugees from working in the country. The government allowed undocumented migrant workers from neighboring Burma, Cambodia, and Laos to work legally in certain economic sectors if they registered with authorities and followed a prescribed process to document their status (see section 7.d.). In March the government announced that victims of trafficking who cooperated with pending court cases would receive renewable one-year stay and work permits; however, as of December the program had not been implemented.

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

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

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


The government continued to identify stateless persons, provide documentation to preclude statelessness, and open paths to citizenship for long-time residents. According to the government, an estimated 487,000 persons, mainly residing in the northern region, were likely stateless or at risk of statelessness. Several NGOs reported that most stateless persons, many of whom were members of hill tribes, might be eligible for citizenship (see section 6). Others were migrants from Burma who did not have evidence of Burmese citizenship, ethnic minorities registered with civil authorities, previously undocumented minorities, and displaced persons residing in border camps. The government announced plans to reduce drastically the number of stateless persons, focusing initially on the citizenship applications of approximately 60,000 children.

Birth within the country does not automatically confer citizenship. The law bases citizenship on birth to at least one citizen parent, marriage to a male citizen, or naturalization. Individuals may also acquire citizenship by means of special government-designated criteria implemented by the Ministry of Interior with approval from the cabinet or in accordance with nationality law (see section 6). Amendments to the law during the year allowed ethnic Thai stateless persons and their children, who meet the added definition of “displaced Thai,” to apply for the status of “Thai nationality by birth,” but there were reports of slow, inconsistent implementation due to complicated laws and regulations and the existence of substantial gray areas.

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

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

Without legal status stateless persons were particularly vulnerable to various forms of abuse (see section 6).


Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:

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

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


The government did not restrict or disrupt access to the internet or censor online content, and there were no credible reports the government monitored private online communications without appropriate legal authority. According to the International Telecommunication Union, 7.1 percent of the population used the internet in 2015.


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

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

See the Department of State’s International Religious Freedom Report at

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

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

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

In-country Movement: Traffic police routinely stopped motorists on fabricated charges of violating traffic laws to solicit bribes.


Access to Asylum: On March 3, the National Assembly passed a law in compliance with the Geneva Convention that defines the process for determining refugee status and created an appeals commission. The law defines the status of refugees and grants refugees protection, rights, and duties. It also created two commissions, the Appeals Commission (CR) and the National Commission for Refugees (CNR), with the existing Office of National Coordination of Refugees being the CNR’s permanent secretariat. The Ministry of Security and Civil Protection presides over the CNR, which comprises representatives from nine ministries, and heads the CR, which includes representatives from seven ministries.

Durable Solutions: The government cooperated with the Office of the UN High Commission for Refugees to assist in the safe, voluntary repatriation of refugees to their home countries. The government assisted in the repatriation of 29 refugees.


Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:

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

Press and Media Freedoms: The independent media were active and expressed a wide variety of views without restriction, although some self-censorship occurred.

Censorship or Content Restrictions: Media outlets reported on political developments and high-profile court cases but exercised self-censorship regarding high-profile individuals. The board of the Tonga Broadcasting Commission (TBC), a government-owned company, directed that board-appointed censors review all TBC programming prior to broadcast.


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. Workplaces and internet cafes provided internet access, but most homes did not have such access.


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

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

See the Department of State’s International Religious Freedom Report at

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

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


Access to Asylum: The country’s laws do not provide for the formal granting of asylum or refugee status. The principal immigration officer has wide discretionary powers under immigration laws, however, and may allow noncitizens to remain in the country.


Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:

Multiple articles in the penal code directly restrict press freedom and free speech (for example, through provisions prohibiting praising a crime or criminals or inciting the population to enmity, hatred, or denigration; and by protecting public order and criminalizing insult). The law provides for punishment of up to three years in prison for “hate speech” or injurious acts related to language, race, nationality, color, gender, disability, political opinion, philosophical belief, religion, or sectarian differences. Human rights groups criticized the law for not including protections based on gender identity and noted that the law was sometimes used more to restrict freedom of speech than to protect minorities.

During the year hundreds of individuals, including journalists and minors, were indicted for insulting the president or prime minister and insulting institutions of the state. On July 29, President Erdogan announced a one-time forgiveness of insults against him, although he and his legal team began filing insult charges again shortly after. Experts estimated there were nearly 4,000 insult-related cases in process as of the end of July.

More than 140 journalists were detained for alleged ties to the PKK or the Gulen movement. Hundreds more lost their jobs as the government closed media outlets allegedly affiliated with the Gulen movement or the PKK.

Freedom of Speech and Expression: Individuals in many cases could not criticize the state or government publicly without risk of civil or criminal suits or investigation, and the government continued to restrict expression by individuals sympathetic to some religious, political, or cultural viewpoints. Many who wrote or spoke on sensitive topics involving the ruling party risked investigation.

On January 8, a caller to a popular television talk program, The Beyaz Show, pled for viewers to “show more sensitivity as human beings” toward citizens in the country’s Southeast, many of whom were displaced and facing violence. The talk show host, Beyazit Ozturk, solicited applause after the call for solidarity, but a national backlash immediately ensued. Ozturk issued an apology the next day, accusing the caller, teacher Ayse Celik, of “provocation” and of misleading call screeners to get on the air. Prosecutors charged her with “praising terrorism and a terrorist organization.” Celik’s case and that of 38 codefendants continued at year’s end.

Within the first several weeks after the failed July 15 coup, human rights activists reported increasing restrictions on freedom of expression as the government arrested dozens of journalists for alleged Gulen or PKK links and closed more than 130 media institutions. Numerous journalists and others described a dwindling independent media under escalating official pressure. By the end of the year, the government had closed nearly 200 media institutions and jailed more than 140 journalists.

Press and Media Freedoms: Print media was privately owned and active. Conglomerates or holding companies, many of which had interests before the government on a range of business matters, owned an increasing share of media outlets. Only a fraction of these companies’ profits came from media revenue, and their other commercial interests impeded media independence, encouraged a climate of self-censorship, and limited the scope of public debate. Private newspapers published in numerous languages, including Armenian, Arabic, English, and Farsi, although most had low circulations. In the months after the failed coup attempt, authorities closed most Kurdish-language newspapers, television channels, and radio stations, citing national security grounds.

The government used its authorities under the state of emergency to close more than 195 media outlets critical of the government as of mid-December. Authorities linked most to either the Gulen movement or PKK. The government issued arrest warrants for more than 200 journalists and blocked dozens of online news media sites. On September 15, a representative of the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) reported that, in the first two months after the July 15 coup attempt, authorities stripped more than 600 members of the press of their credentials. The government also detained family members of journalists and others who fled the country and initiated criminal investigations against journalists for reports written before the coup attempt. These pressures contributed to an atmosphere of self-censorship in which media reporting increasingly standardized along progovernment lines.

On December 13, the CPJ reported there were 81 journalists in jail. The CPJ said dozens more journalists were jailed in Turkey, but it could not confirm a direct link between their work and their imprisonment. The Turkish NGO Platform for Independent Journalism (P24) reported that as of December 30, the number of journalists, editors, or media managers in jail stood at 145. According to P24, 117 of these were arrested as part of a coup-attempt-related probe, while 32 were in jail before the coup attempt.

While the law does not ban particular books or publications, publishing houses were required to submit books and periodicals to prosecutors for screening at the time of publication. The Turkish Publishers Association (TPA) reported that, as a means of censorship, the Ministry of Culture sometimes denied approval of a barcode required for all publications. Police conducted raids and confiscated books on some stands at annual book fairs and also stopped book-delivery trucks at times in the Southeast, confiscating their contents. Local courts banned books without regard to limits in the law that allow banning by the court only in the locality where the book was published. After the coup attempt, 29 Gulen-affiliated publishing companies were closed, and schools avoided the titles they published although the titles were not technically criminalized. The Ministry of National Education undertook to rewrite 58 textbooks after the failed coup attempt to remove alleged “subliminal messages” allegedly inserted by the Gulen movement. Primary, secondary, high schools, and universities became increasingly cautious about the books they allowed students to read.

The TPA reported that publishers often exercised self-censorship, avoiding works with controversial content (including government criticism, erotic content, or pro-Kurdish content) that might draw legal action. The TPA reported that publishers faced publication bans and heavy fines if they failed to comply in cases where a court ordered the correction of offensive content. Publishers were also subjected to book promotion restrictions.

Writers and publishers were subjected to prosecution on grounds of defamation, denigration, obscenity, separatism, terrorism, subversion, fundamentalism, and insulting religious values. Authorities investigated or continued court cases against myriad publications and publishers on these grounds during the year.

Prosecutors considered the possession of pro-Kurdish and Gulenist books credible evidence of membership in a banned organization. In one case police intercepted and detained Esar Dogan Ozturk in Duzce for attempting to eliminate Gulenist literature in his possession by burning it in July. (The AKP and Gulenists were close partners until roughly 2013. Owning Gulenist literature had not previously been criminalized.)

The government restricted access to the internet and regularly blocked selected online content, including online newspapers and journals (see Internet Freedom).

Violence and Harassment: Government and political leaders and their supporters used a variety of means to intimidate and pressure journalists, including lawsuits, threats, and, in some cases, physical attack. President Erdogan and AKP members sometimes verbally attacked journalists by name in response to critical reporting. A study by the International Press Institute, covering the first several months of the year, found that government supporters and Turkish nationalists systematically targeted journalists online for verbal abuse, apparently intending to incite actions against them, damage their credibility, or shame them. Approximately one-third of the abusive messages were sexual in nature. An NGO tracking journalism issues in the country reported there were seven physical attacks against journalists in June, four in July, and three in August.

Prior to the failed coup attempt, the government also regularly filed criminal charges against journalists, prosecuting them on insult and terror-related charges. Human rights groups noted that filing terrorism-related charges was a common tool the government used to target journalists reporting on sensitive issues, particularly PKK terrorism (also see National Security).

On January 28, prosecutors indicted Cumhuriyet editor in chief, Can Dundar, and his Ankara bureau chief, Erdem Gul, (who had been in jail since November 2015) for releasing state secrets and threatening to overthrow the state. The Istanbul prosecutor’s office sought aggravated life imprisonment and a separate life sentence plus 30 years for each. On March 25, the court ruled at their hearing that the remainder of their trial would be closed to the public. On April 25, an Istanbul court found Dundar guilty of separate insult charges, sentencing him to 955 days in jail, commuted to a 28,650 lira ($8,200) fine, for insulting officials in a series of articles. On May 6, the court found Dundar and Gul guilty of releasing state secrets and sentenced them to five years and 10 months’ imprisonment each. As of year’s end, the two remained free pending appeal and continued to face other indictments in connection with separate pending cases. Dundar left the country in June and remained abroad at year’s end. The government reportedly cancelled his wife’s passport following the July 15 coup attempt.

In November authorities detained or arrested more than 10 executives and journalists at Cumhuriyet, for purportedly supporting the activities of the Gulen movement and/or PKK. Editor in chief Murat Sabuncu, who succeeded Can Dundar, and nine colleagues remained in prison as of year’s end.

Persons accused of attacking journalists or independent media institutions often received minimal penalties. At a break in his hearing on May 6, Dundar was attacked by a gunman. Dundar was unhurt but a camera operator was injured. On August 25, the gunman appeared in court, charged with attempted murder. On September 28, an Istanbul criminal court downgraded the charges to attempted injury and threat with a weapon, and on October 21, the gunman was released from pretrial detention.

Journalists reported that media outlets fired some individuals for being too controversial or adversarial with the government out of fear of jeopardizing other business interests. On January 13, the progovernment newspaper Aksam reportedly fired columnist Gulay Gokturk after she used her column to question the AKP’s call for a change to a presidential system. An organization tracking pressure against journalists found that 395 journalists were fired in July and 11 were forced to resign. During the month of August, this organization counted 2,308 journalists who were fired or lost their jobs and three who were forced to resign in the wake of the post-coup-attempt media closures and arrests.

Pro-Kurdish journalists faced significant government pressure, with more than 40 in jail pending trial as of September 5. On June 20, police arrested three temporary editors of the pro-Kurdish daily Ozgur Gundem, while an investigation into 37 others for their support of the publication continued. Human Rights Foundation of Turkey president, Sebnem Korur Fincanci; Reporters Without Borders-Turkey representative, Erol Onderoglu; and journalist/author, Ahmet Nesin, were arrested on charges of creating “propaganda for a terrorist organization” after serving brief tours as “duty” editors of the publication. Fincanci and Onderoglu were released on June 30 and Nesin on July 1. On October 19, Can Dundar was indicted in his absence on charges of “printing and publishing terrorist organizations’ statements” in connection with his service for a day as volunteer editor in chief of the since-closed newspaper. These trials continued at year’s end.

Authorities detained dozens of journalists working for pro-Kurdish DIHA, Azadiya Welat, Jin News Agency (JINHA), and Ozgur Gundemthroughout the year. As of September 26, the CPJ reported that 12 DIHA staff were in prison, with at least 19 others facing charges of creating propaganda for a terrorist organization. DIHA, Azadiya Welat, and JINHA were among 15–mostly Kurdish–media outlets closed by government decree on October 29. The government closed most additional Kurdish-language media during November.

Special operations police reportedly detained Nedim Oruc, a DIHA journalist who had extensively covered the violence in the Southeast, at his home in Silopi in Sirnak Province on the morning of January 5, along with 36 other persons. Oruc’s contacts reported they were unable to receive any information about his whereabouts for several days until a social media campaign resulted in an announcement from the Silopi Security Directorate that Oruc was in custody. On June 10, he was released pending trial on charges of making propaganda for a terrorist organization. His case remained underway as of year’s end.

The government also pressured journalists by employing an otherwise rarely used statute that allows courts to strip parental rights from those found guilty of criminal offenses. On May 18, an Istanbul court found journalist Arzu Yildiz guilty of breaching the confidentiality of a court case (a charge related to her coverage of the 2014 scandal where the government’s intelligence branch appeared to have covertly supplied arms to Syrian rebels) and sentenced her to 20 months in jail. The court also stripped Yildiz of her legal rights over her children. Her lawyer characterized the decision as an act of revenge and noted Yildiz would not be able to register her two children in school, open bank accounts for them, or take them abroad alone.

In addition to criminal charges and arrests, journalists faced verbal harassment, tax investigations, and fines. On March 22, Istanbul prosecutors filed an indictment accusing Aydin Dogan, founder and honorary chairman of Dogan Holding AS, and Ersin Ozince, chairman of the country’s largest publicly traded bank, Turkiye Is Bankasi, of involvement in a criminal scheme to evade taxes on fuel imports. Observers considered the charges linked to political considerations. Dogan’s company, Dogan Holding, was the owner of Hurriyet, CNN Turk, and other media outlets. In 2015 the company was banned from participating in state tenders and became the subject of two criminal investigations after President Erdogan accused Dogan of being a “coup lover,” alleging his involvement in a 1997 coup plot.

Government officials withheld press accreditation and denied entry to several journalists from Germany, the Netherlands, Greece, Russia, Norway, Syria, and the United States. Eleven international journalists reported government interference in their ability to report within Turkey in the first four months of the year. Several international writers and at least one Turkey-based correspondent for an international media organization faced criminal charges during the year, accused either of insulting Turkish officials or of creating propaganda for a terrorist organization.

Extremists have also targeted Syrian journalists who had fled to Turkey. On June 12, two gunmen attacked Syrian journalist, Ahmed Abd al-Qader, outside his home in Sanliurfa. Al-Qader, who survived the attack, was presumably targeted because he founded the exiled Syrian news outlet Eye on the Homeland. On April 10, Syrian journalist, Muhammed Zahir al-Sherkat, was shot in the head on a street in Gaziantep’s Degirmicem neighborhood by Da’esh attackers; he died a day later. Da’esh claimed responsibility for killing three other Syrian journalists in the country since October 2015. Investigations into the cases continued at year’s end.

Censorship or Content Restrictions: Government and political leaders occasionally resorted to direct censorship of news media. During the year the government added several events to the list of topics on which media coverage was restricted, including the Ensar child abuse case, accusations of sexual assault of children in Syrian refugee camps, terror attacks, Da’esh shelling of Turkey’s border town Kilis, precoup investigation of the Gulen movement, and others. The government declared media bans on terror attacks or other sensitive issues, although many media outlets disregarded these bans, which were often not enforced.

On September 15, a representative of the CPJ reported that, in the two months after the July 15 coup attempt, authorities censored at least 30 news websites. According to an NGO tracking journalism issues in the country, the government sharply increased its media interference as a consequence of the July 15 coup attempt. The government initiated approximately 200 blocking actions each in March, April, and May, blocking news websites, prohibiting hard-copy news publishing, or blocking television broadcasting. The number of blocking actions increased to 429 in June and 497 in July. After the coup attempt, the number of blocking actions rose to 783 in August.

Progovernment media appeared to coordinate editorial decisions, at times running similar headlines. On September 23, a Red Hack leak of purported e-mails between President Erdogan’s son-in-law (and energy minister) Berat Albayrak and the CEO of the Dogan Media group, Mehmet Ali Yalcindag, showed alleged collusion on the headlines planned for the next day’s Hurriyet newspaper. On September 28, an Ankara criminal court confirmed the hack of Albayrak’s e-mail, although Albayrak denied that the publicized e-mails were legitimate. Despite the seriousness of the allegation of official interference in media, progovernment media did not cover it. The websites and Twitter accounts of those independent media that did cover it were blocked.

On January 26, Istanbul prosecutors initiated an investigation into CNN Turk (owned by Dogan Media) for running a caption connected to President Erdogan’s image reading “Dictator on trial.” The caption appeared in CNN Turk reporting on a criminal case filed against the leader of the opposition Republican People’s Party, Kemal Kilicdaroglu, who called Erdogan a “dictator” at the party’s January 17 convention. At year’s end the investigation had not led to charges, and the Radio and Television Supreme Council (RTUK) decided not to fine the station, but it issued directions on how CNN Turk might use different wording in the future.

The RTUK continued a practice of fining broadcasters whose content it considered “contrary to the national and moral values of society.”

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

Citizens, including children, were charged with insulting Turkish leaders and denigrating Turkishness. On March 1, Justice Minister Bozdag told parliament that since Erdogan became president in 2014, his ministry had allowed the prosecution of 1,845 criminal cases based on alleged insult of the president (the Ministry of Justice must approve criminal prosecution of insult cases against Turkish leaders). In August news media reported there were about 4,000 criminal insult cases underway based on violations, including “denigrating Turkishness” or insulting public leaders.

On February 2, prosecutors demanded a nearly five-year prison sentence against journalist Ozgur Mumcu for insulting President Erdogan in a May 2015 editorial. The item in the opposition daily Cumhuriyet commented on Erdogan’s response to the mother of a Gezi victim, calling Erdogan “a tyrant who oppresses his people, treating them without mercy.”

The government encouraged citizens to report incidents of insult. In one example, in April the Turkish embassy in the Netherlands sent a communication to Turkish citizens in the country asking them to report incidents of insult against Turkish leaders. On April 25, a Dutch/Turkish dual citizen, journalist Ebru Umar, was detained while vacationing in Turkey for sending a tweet critical of the Turkish embassy’s communication. She was eventually allowed to depart Turkey, although her trial on insult charges continued.

Despite enjoying parliamentary immunity against most criminal charges, lawmakers were also the subject of insult-related civil cases. On July 14, an Ankara civil court ordered Republican People’s Party (CHP) Chairman Kemal Kilicdaroglu to pay President Erdogan 50,000 lira ($14,300) for calling him a “sham dictator.” Erdogan’s lawyers argued that the comment constituted “extraordinarily weighty insults” with the intent of attacking Erdogan’s image. In another civil insult case in September 2015, a court ordered Kilicdaroglu to pay 20,000 lira ($5,700).

While leaders and deputies from opposition political parties regularly faced multiple insult charges, free speech advocates pointed out that the law was not applied equally. On February 29, President Erdogan’s spouse described the Turkish nation as a “90-year-old-wreck,” but she was not charged with any crime.

On July 29, President Erdogan announced he would forgive most insult cases his legal team had filed. On September 6, Erdogan’s lawyer told media that the team had filed a petition to withdraw complaints against thousands of defendants. As a result, 10 persons were released from prison and prosecutors dropped 16 cases against opposition CHP leader, Kemal Kilicdaroglu, and one case against Nationalist Movement Party leader, Devlet Bahceli. Prosecutors subsequently filed new insult charges against politicians and citizens.

The laws also allow prosecution for insulting religion or religious values. On April 28, Cumhuriyet journalists, Ceyda Karan and Hikmet Cetinkaya, were each sentenced to two years in prison on charges of “insulting people’s religious values” for reprinting the caricature of the Islamic prophet after the January 2015 attacks on Charlie Hebdo in Paris that killed 12 persons. Cumhuriyet faced security threats after it became one of five international publications that, in a show of solidarity with the Charlie Hebdo victims, printed excerpts from the edition published after the attacks.

National Security: Authorities regularly used the antiterror law and the penal code to limit free expression on grounds of national security. Organizations including the CPJ and Freedom House reported authorities increasingly used the antiterror law and criminal code to prosecute journalists, writers, editors, publishers, translators, rights activists, lawyers, elected officials, and students accused of supporting the PKK. Before the July 15 coup attempt, at least 28 pro-Kurdish and five other journalists whose reporting was generally critical of the government were in jail pending trial. According to the television station T24, another 13 pro-Kurdish journalists and 66 journalists accused of links to the Gulen movement were jailed in the period between the July 15 coup attempt and September 5, bringing the total number of journalists in detention pending trial to 112. Another 54 were under detention but not formally arrested. As of November 15, the International Press Institute estimated that 160 journalists were in jail in Turkey. By year’s end the journalism-focused NGO P24 estimated there were 145 journalists in jail.

Nongovernmental Impact: The PKK used a variety of pressure tactics that limited freedom of speech and other constitutional rights in the Southeast. During the 2015 elections and also in the aftermath of curfews enacted in the spring in response to PKK violence, some residents of the Southeast reported pressure, intimidation, and threats if they spoke out against the PKK or praised government security forces.


The government restricted access to the internet and regularly blocked selected online content. The government at times blocked access to “cloud”-based services and to virtual private networks. There was evidence that the government monitored private online communications using nontransparent legal authority.

During the year internet freedom continued to worsen in the country, partly in response to ongoing security challenges, particularly in the Southeast. Internet law allows the government to block a website or remove content if there is sufficient suspicion that the site is committing any of a number of crimes, including insulting the founder of the Turkish Republic, Mustafa Kemal Ataturk; encouraging suicide, the sexual abuse of children, or the use of drugs and stimulants; providing substances dangerous to health; engaging in obscenity or prostitution; providing means for gambling; threatening life or property. Sites may also be blocked to protect national security and public order. In June the internet governing body updated regulations to make it easier to censor internet content.

On August 15, the government issued a decree under the state of emergency dismantling the Turkish Telecommunications Authority (TIB) due to its alleged role in the coup attempt and folding its authorities into the existing Information and Communication Technologies Authority (BTK). The BTK is now empowered, as the TIB was previously, to demand that internet service providers (ISPs) remove content or block websites with four hours’ notice. The regulatory body must refer the matter within 24 hours to a judge, who must rule on the matter within 48 hours. If it is not technically possible to remove individual content within the specified time, the entire website may be blocked. ISP administrators may face a penalty of six months’ to two years’ imprisonment or fines ranging from 50,000 to 500,000 lira ($14,300 to $143,000) for failing to comply with a judicial order.

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

The declaration of a state of emergency expanded the government’s powers to restrict internet freedom with reduced parliamentary and judicial oversight. Critics charged that the elimination of the TIB and empowerment of the BTK limited oversight of internet surveillance and censorship.

The BTK reported 200,634 complaints regarding offensive internet content through September 22. The institution did not describe how many of the complaints resulted in blocking orders.

The law provides that government authorities may access internet user records to “protect national security, public order, health, and decency” or to prevent a crime. The law also establishes an ISP union of all internet providers that is responsible for implementing website takedown orders. The BTK is not obligated to inform content providers about ordered blocks or to explain why a block was imposed. Content providers, including Twitter and Facebook, were required to obtain an operating certificate for the country.

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

According to the internet freedom NGO Engelliweb, as of November 16, 115,315 websites had been blocked during the year, an increase from 106,198 in 2015 and 58,635 in 2014. Approximately 93 percent of the sites were blocked via a TIB/BTK decision and 2.6 percent were blocked by a court order.

Internet access providers, including internet cafes, are required to use filtering tools approved by the BTK. Additional internet restrictions operated in government and university buildings.

The NGO monitoring project Turkey Blocks reported that the government greatly increased its use of “throttling” during the year, slowing access to specific websites in the aftermath of terror attacks or other sensitive events to the point where they were essentially unusable. This practice restricted information access during crises.

According to Twitter’s internal transparency report, the company received 2,493 court orders and other legal requests from Turkish authorities to remove content in the first half of the year. According to digital news source the Daily Dot, on July 23 and again on July 25, Twitter blocked at least 12 journalists’ and three media outlets’ accounts. As of the end of September, Twitter had blocked 26 media-related accounts in the country at the government’s request. Twitter reported that it received more requests to block or remove content from the government of Turkey than from any other government.


During the year the government increasingly limited academic freedom, restricted freedom of speech in academic institutions, and censored cultural events.

After the failed July 15 coup attempt, the Ministry of Education suspended 15,000 staff and revoked the licenses of 21,000 teachers at private primary and secondary education institutions. By mid-August the number of suspended teachers rose to 33,000 and revoked licenses to 27,000, representing about 6 percent of the education sector. Just before school resumed in mid-September, an additional 11,000 teachers were summarily purged. On November 25, the Ministry of National Education announced it had reinstated 6,007 of the suspended teachers.

University education was also affected by the postcoup purges. On July 19, the Higher Education Board (YOK) announced that all university deans were asked to resign; on July 20, YOK announced a ban on all academic travel. A decree issued on July 27 closed 15 universities affecting 64,533 students and 2,808 academics. As of December some sources estimated as many as 6,000 academics had been suspended or fired on allegations of terror links. On October 29, a decree issued under the state of emergency changed the process by which university heads (rectors) are named. The decree eliminated the possibility of faculty elections and put both public and foundation universities under a system where the YOK will choose three nominees to present to the president for his choice. If the president rejects all three candidates and if a month elapses with no new nominees, the president may appoint a qualified rector entirely of his own choosing.

Some academics and event organizers stated their work was monitored and that they faced censure from their employers if they spoke or wrote on topics not acceptable to academic management or the government. Many reported practicing self-censorship. Human rights organizations and student groups continued to criticize constraints placed on universities by law and by the actions of the Higher Education Board that limited the autonomy of universities in staffing, teaching, research policies, and practice.

On January 11, a group of 1,128 academics from 89 Turkish universities, along with more than 300 international academics, released a petition calling on the state to “put an end to violence inflicted against its citizens.” The so-called Academics for Peace accused the government of conducting “torture, ill-treatment, and massacres” in the Southeast. A nationalistic backlash ensued, with President Erdogan calling the academics “traitors” and the YOK initiating investigations against the signers. Many faced threats of violence or experienced vandalism of their property. Progovernment media published their photos and personal contact information, leading many to fear for their safety. On September 2, a decree issued under the state of emergency led to the dismissal of many academics, including some of the “Academics for Peace.” On December 22, the president of YOK said 4,797 academics had been dismissed since the coup attempt, with 3,025 suspended, and another 1,079 reinstated. More than 100 “Academics for Peace” signers had been dismissed.

The government’s response to the July 15 coup attempt also affected the arts community. On August 3, Istanbul Municipal City Theaters suspended four actors and two directors for alleged Gulen connections. On August 11, singer Sila Gencoglu was criticized after she described an August 7 rally commemorating Turkish democracy and those lost in the coup attempt as a “show.” Following her remarks, the Istanbul Metropolitan Municipality cancelled two concerts, and three other cities followed suit.


Although the constitution provides for freedom of assembly, the law provides several grounds for the government to limit that right. The 2015 Internal Security Package increased penalties for protesters carrying items that might be construed as weapons, prohibited the use of symbols linked to illegal organizations (including chanting slogans), and criminalized covering one’s face during a protest. The law permits police to use tinted water in water cannons potentially to tag protesters for later identification and prosecution. The law also allows police to take persons into “protective custody” without a prosecutor’s authorization, if there is reasonable suspicion that they are a threat to themselves or to public order.

The government regarded many demonstrations as security threats to the state, deploying large numbers of riot police to control crowds, often using excessive force. At times, the government used its authority to detain persons before protests were held on the premise that they might cause civil disruption. The government selectively restricted meetings to designated sites or dates, particularly limiting access to Istanbul’s Taksim Square and Ankara’s Kizilay Square, and set up roadblocks to prevent protesters from gathering there. The government banned many demonstrations outright if they touched sensitive issues.

Security forces regularly responded with excessive force to protests, resulting in dozens of injuries, detentions, arrests, and even deaths. The government generally supported security forces’ actions.

Human rights organizations remained critical of the violent police response to demonstrations and police use of tear gas. The current year European Commission’s progress report on Turkey noted widespread use of excessive force by authorities against peaceful protesters.

During events commemorating the Kurdish new year holiday of Newroz in March, there were clashes reported between celebrants and police in Batman, Adana, Mardin, Sirnak, Sanliurfa, Mersin, and Bursa. Media reported that at least 160 persons were detained by police nationwide during the celebrations and that police used tear gas and water cannons to disperse celebrants in some cities. Gatherings of as many as a million participants in Diyarbakir and 75,000 in Istanbul were peaceful.

Pro-Kurdish demonstrations of many kinds faced violent police responses throughout the year. On January 9 in Izmir, a group of women protesting in favor of peace in the Southeast were disrupted by police. Police detained 13 members of the group calling itself Women for Peace, including pro-Kurdish Evrensel reporter Eda Aktas, on the grounds that protesters’ press statements insulted the Turkish nation or its institutions. On February 2 in Adana, police allegedly shot and killed 20-year-old Murat Daskan during a protest against the curfews in the Southeast. Eyewitnesses reported police shot Daskan, took his body away, returned later to collect bullet shells, and then reported they “found” his body in the neighborhood. Another 20-year-old, Kadir Caliskan, was injured in the same protest. Police said the PKK shot the protesters. On February 9 in Diyarbakir, 16-year-old Mahmut Bulak was shot in the head while participating in a protest against curfews for Cizre and Sur.

On May 1 (Labor Day), the government took extraordinary security measures in Istanbul, with Taksim Square closed to the traditional annual demonstrations. Police intervened against crowds in Istanbul using tear gas and water cannons and reportedly detained more than 200 protesters. Nail Mavus was killed in Istanbul after being hit by a police water-cannon vehicle, apparently accidentally. After the government announced that Taksim square would be closed, the unions decided to hold their official demonstration in Bakirkoy, another neighborhood, where the event was peaceful. In the Southeast the governors of Adana, Gaziantep, and Sanliurfa cancelled May Day demonstrations, citing security concerns.

On June 19, police dispersed crowds using tear gas when activists attempted to hold a “trans pride” parade. Citing security concerns, the Istanbul Governor’s Office also banned the LGBTI community’s annual pride parade, which had been planned for June 26. Police actively prevented both those who nonetheless gathered for the pride parade and an anti-LGBTI group that had gathered the same day to protest parade participants (see section 6: Acts of Violence).

On September 20, an Ankara court found 45 students of Middle East Technical University guilty of violating the law on meetings and protests, resisting public officers, and obstructing the latter from doing their jobs. The charges related to a 2012 student protest against then prime minister Erdogan while he was visiting their campus. Police used tear gas and water cannons against the peacefully protesting students, injuring some of them. In the scuffle that ensued, several students were detained. Each of the 45 students was sentenced to 10 months in prison.

On November 6, a police officer was killed when PKK supporters threw Molotov cocktails at security forces during an unauthorized demonstration in southern Adana province.

Decrees issued under the state of emergency after July 15 increased the discretion of individual governors to limit citizens’ ability to demonstrate. For example, the government prevented teachers’ groups from demonstrating to protest the suspension and dismissal of tens of thousands of educators after the July 15 coup attempt. On September 23 in Diyarbakir, a group of suspended teachers staged a protest in front of the Ministry of National Education provincial office. Police intervened to stop the protest and detained 17.

On October 18, the Ankara governor’s office banned all demonstrations through November. Several times in November, the municipality allowed demonstrations against EU countries accused of supporting the PKK. Crowds of as many as 500 protesters staged outside of related embassies, with some contacts alleging the government had bused supporters to the demonstrations.


While the law provides for freedom of association, the government increasingly restricted this right during the year.

In the aftermath of the July 15 coup attempt, the government used its expanded powers under the state of emergency powers to close 1,694 associations and foundations for alleged threats to national security. The Ministry of Interior reported at year’s end that 1,390 had alleged links to the Gulen movement, about 240 to the PKK, 38 to DHKP/C or other leftist groups, and 12 to Da’esh. Many sources reported that the appeals process was opaque and ineffective. Decrees permitted the reopening of nearly 200 shuttered associations/foundations on November 22, although overall numbers of reopened institutions remained unclear at year’s end.

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

See the Department of State’s International Religious Freedom Report at

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

The constitution provides for freedom of movement within the country, foreign travel, emigration, and repatriation, but the government limited these rights. The government restricted foreign travel for more than 100,000 citizens accused of links to the Gulen movement or the failed July 15 coup attempt. The government also limited freedom of movement for the 2.75 million persons from Syria as well as for the almost 300,000 persons from Iraq, Afghanistan, and other countries present in Turkey.

Abuse of Migrants, Refugees, and Stateless Persons: Multiple sources reported that authorities denied entry to undocumented Iraqis and Syrians during the year. In late 2015 the government effectively closed its borders to all but extreme humanitarian cases. There were multiple reports during the year of Syrians who were turned back while attempting to enter the country as well as some reports of shootings and beating deaths by Turkish border guards. On May 10, HRW reported that, during March and April, border guards used violence against Syrian asylum seekers and smugglers, killing five persons, including a child, and seriously injuring 14 others, according to victims, witnesses, and Syrian locals interviewed by the organization. According to the HRA, during the first nine months of the year, security forces killed 41 persons and injured 37 at the country’s borders. UNHCR followed up on individual cases in collaboration with the Turkish authorities when it became aware of shooting incidents at the border, noting that it had dealt with five such incidents that had resulted in death of two persons during the year.

While incidents of societal violence directed against refugees and persons in refugee-like conditions remained rare, many refugees faced workplace exploitation. Forced prostitution, bride selling, and child labor also remained significant problems among refugees. Human rights groups alleged conditions in detention and removal centers sometimes limited migrants’ rights to communication with and access to family members and lawyers (also see Refoulement).

As of November UNHCR and its partner organization, the Association for Solidarity with Asylum Seekers and Migrants, reported conducting 12 monitoring visits with government permission to removal centers during the year. Additionally, UNHCR conducted regular visits to the temporary reception center in Duzici/Osmaniye, where migrants readmitted from Greece were referred on temporary basis. UNHCR noted that physical conditions in the removal centers were consistent with international standards.

UNHCR reported more than 1,000 LGBTI asylum seekers and conditional refugees lived in the country, most of them from Iran. According to human rights groups, these refugees faced discrimination and hostility due to their status as members of the LGBTI community. On July 25, Mohammed Wisam Sankari, a gay Syrian under temporary protection, was found dead in Istanbul, the victim of an apparent hate crime. His throat was cut and his body was mutilated. Before his death Sankari had filed a complaint with police over previous assaults. As of year’s end, no suspects were arrested in the killing.

The government cooperated with the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) and other humanitarian organizations in providing protection and assistance to refugees, returning refugees, asylum seekers awaiting resettlement to third countries (termed “conditional refugees”), stateless persons, and Syrians under temporary protection.

In-country Movement: The constitution provides that only a judge may limit citizens’ freedom to travel and only in connection with a criminal investigation or prosecution. The state of emergency instituted on July 20, after the failed coup attempt, allowed the government to limit citizens’ movement without a court order.

Freedom of movement was a problem in the East and Southeast, where renewed conflict between the government and PKK members and supporters caused authorities to block roads and set up checkpoints, temporarily restricting movement. The government instituted special security zones where civilian entrance was restricted and established curfews in several provinces in response to PKK terrorist attacks (see section 1.g.).

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

Foreign Travel: The government placed restrictions on foreign travel for approximately 100,000 citizens accused of alleged links to the Gulen movement or the failed coup attempt. Travel restrictions were applied both to those accused directly of affiliation with the Gulen movement or other terrorist groups as well as to their extended family members. The government maintained these travel restrictions were necessary and authorized under the state of emergency.

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

Non-Syrian conditional refugees accepted by a third country for resettlement through a UNHCR process also needed to obtain exit permission before leaving the country. UNHCR reported that, through the end of October, 5,584 Syrians under temporary protection received exit permission, and another 9,286 non-Syrian, conditional refugees, received exit permission to resettle to a third country.

During the year the government adopted a policy of prohibiting Syrians with education beyond a high school diploma from resettling to third countries. Hundreds of Syrians who had been identified for resettlement to third countries based on internationally defined vulnerabilities were denied permission to depart. For some, the denial occurred just days before planned departures and after the refugees had sold their goods and left their apartments, creating hardship. Despite their higher education, these refugees lacked reasonable employment opportunities in Turkey and, in some cases, were disabled or otherwise incapable of working. Late in the year, the government reviewed some individual cases of exit permission denial based on education.


The renewal of conflict in the Southeast in 2015 resulted in a significant increase in numbers of internally displaced persons (IDPs). In February, Health Minister Mehmet Muezzinoglu stated that the renewal of the conflict had displaced an estimated 355,000 persons since July 2015. In April a report prepared by the NGO Mazlumder estimated there were 100,000 displaced persons in Cizre alone.

Persons who were newly displaced in the region joined IDPs remaining from the conflict between security forces and the PKK between 1984 and the early 2000s. According to the Ministry of Interior, 386,360 persons had been displaced in earlier decades, of whom 190,000 eventually returned to their homes. At the end of 2013, the Internal Displacement Monitoring Center, an international NGO, estimated there were nearly one million IDPs in the country, most of whom were displaced between 1986 and 1995.

The law allows persons who suffered material losses due to terrorist acts, including those by the PKK or by security forces in response to terrorist acts, to apply to the government’s damage determination commissions for compensation. As of September the government reported it had distributed 123 million lira ($35 million) to the victims of displacement due to terrorism in the past. Since 1999 a total of 208 million lira ($60million) had been allocated from the ministry’s budget for provinces affected by a long-term rehabilitation project related to PKK violence.

In connection with the renewed PKK-government clashes from 2015-16, senior officials announced plans in February to reconstruct localities and properties in the Southeast damaged during clashes. The government did not provide figures for rehabilitation projects undertaken during the year in connection with property expropriations.


The government took steps during the year to increase services provided to the more than three million refugees in the country. A March agreement between the government and the EU effectively contributed to reducing the flow of migrants via human smugglers into Europe, reducing the number of drownings in the Mediterranean during the year. The International Organization for Migration reported that 434 persons died while attempting to travel from Turkey to Greece, compared with 806 such deaths in 2015.

Access to Asylum: The law provides for standard treatment of asylum seekers countrywide and establishes a system of protection, but limits rights granted in the 1951 UN Refugee Convention to refugees from Europe and establishes restrictions on movement for conditional refugees. While most non-European asylum seekers were not considered refugees under the law, the government granted temporary protection status to Syrians while maintaining conditional/subsidiary refugee status and providing international protection for other asylum seekers. Through July, UNHCR adjudicated refugee status for non-Syrian asylum seekers, while the government of Turkey did so for Syrians. After July a new protocol between the government and UNHCR moved adjudication responsibility for non-Syrian refugees to the government. Authorities offered protection against refoulement to all non-European asylum seekers who met the definition of a refugee in the 1951 convention. Those recognized by the government for temporary protection (Syrians) or conditional/subsidiary refugee status (all other non-Europeans, for example, Iraqis, Iranians, and Somalis) were permitted to reside in the country temporarily.

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

UNHCR reported that, as of September, approximately 125,879 Iraqis (of an estimated 300,000) in the country had entered UNHCR’s refugee status determination process. Additionally, as of September there were 113,756 Afghans, 28,534 Iranians, and 12,195 persons of other nationalities in UNHCR’s status determination process. The government reported there were 2,753,696 Syrians registered for temporary protection as of November 3. The government reported that, as of October 8, there were 255,125 Syrians and 6,394 Iraqis residing in government-run camps.

Refoulement: NGOs reported that during the year authorities deported dozens of Afghan and Iraqi migrants to their country of origin, some of them evidently against their will. UNHCR received several reports of persons in detention, including Iraqis and Syrians, who opted for voluntary repatriation, but it was unclear whether all deportations were truly voluntary. In April, AI alleged that authorities had forcibly returned more than 100 Syrian migrants, including unaccompanied children and some who had already registered for protection in the country.

UNHCR reported it had intermittent and not fully predictable access to the detention and removal centers where non-Syrians returned to Turkey from Greece were detained. UNHCR reported that it was unclear if all readmitted persons had access to the asylum procedure, and their access to information, interpretation services, and legal assistance was problematic.

Freedom of movement: Authorities assigned “conditional refugees” to one of 64 cities, where they received services from local authorities under the responsibility of provincial governorates. These asylum seekers were required to check in with local authorities on either a weekly or biweekly basis and needed permission from local authorities to travel to cities other than their assigned city, including for meetings with UNHCR or resettlement country representatives. Syrians under temporary protection were also restricted by a 2015 Ministry of Interior circular from traveling outside of provinces listed on their registration cards. Syrians were eligible for medical and other services and could qualify for a work permit, although these benefits were limited to the province in which they were registered. Syrians and non-Syrians could request permission to travel or to transfer their registration through the DGMM. Indigent Syrians were reportedly, at times, assembled and moved to government-run camps in the country’s South. Syrians living in government-run camps could generally come and go during the day, although authorities sometimes restricted this right.

Employment: On January 15, a law took effect granting Syrians under temporary protection the right to work, putting them in a situation similar to that of other conditional refugees, who could qualify for work permits once they had been resident in the country for six months. Applying for a work permit was the responsibility of the employer, and the procedure was sufficiently burdensome that few employers pursued legally hiring refugees. Consequently, the vast majority of both conditional refugees and Syrians under temporary protection remained without legal employment options. In October the government stated it had issued 3,175 work permits to Syrians since the law took effect. In January, Deputy Prime Minister Numan Kurtulmus stated that 7,351 Syrians had prior to the implementation of the legislation received work permission through other means, such as qualifying as legal foreign residents of Turkey or via humanitarian residency visas rather than as Syrians under temporary protection. Because permission to work legally was hard to obtain, many refugees remained vulnerable to exploitation, such as withholding of wages and exposure to unsafe work conditions.

Access to Basic Services: The government provided free access to the country’s public medical system to Syrians registered for temporary protection and subsidized medical care to other conditional refugees. The government also provided access to education for school-age children, but had limited resources to help them overcome the language barrier or fund transportation or other costs.

As of March the Ministry of National Education reported that 93 percent of Syrian children in camps and 26 percent of children outside of camps were in school. At the end of November, the Ministry of National Education reported that 160,915 Syrian children were enrolled in regular public schools, while 330,981 were enrolled in temporary education centers, for 491,896 school-age Syrian children in school. An estimated 41 percent (341,000) remained out of school during the 2016-17 school year.

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

Durable Solutions: The law does not provide for durable solutions within the country for Syrians under temporary protection or for conditional refugees, but it allows them to stay until resettled to a foreign country or able to return to their country of origin.

Temporary Protection: The government enacted a temporary protection status regime in response to the arrival of Syrian refugees who did not qualify as refugees due to the European-origin limitation in the law. Authorities required Syrian asylum seekers to register with the DGMM to legalize their temporary stay in the country. Syrians who registered with the government were able to receive an identification card, which qualified them for assistance provided through the governorates, including free health care. Residents of the camps received significantly more assistance, including shelter, education, and food support.

Syrians who officially entered the country with passports could receive one-year residence permits upon registration with the government. UNHCR estimated that only 4 percent of the Syrian population in the country qualified for residency.


According to UNHCR there were 780 stateless persons under its mandate as of the end of 2014, the last year for which data was available. Although the government provided documentation for babies born to conditional refugees and Syrians under temporary protection, statelessness remained an increasing concern for these children, who could receive neither Turkish citizenship nor documentation from their parents’ home country. According to the Turkish Health Institute, there were 177,000 babies born to Syrian mothers in the country between the beginning of the conflict in 2011 and November.


Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:

The constitution provides for freedom of speech and press, but the government did not respect these rights.

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

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

In October state police services threatened to harm animal rights activist Galina Kucherenko for her online postings protesting a government campaign to destroy stray dogs and cats found on the city streets. Their harassment and intimidation led to Kucherenko’s two-month involuntary confinement to her home, which appeared to ease toward the end of the year.

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

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

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

There was no independent oversight of media accreditation, no defined criteria for allocating press cards, no assured provision for receiving accreditation when space was available, and no protection against the withdrawal of accreditation for political reasons. The government required all foreign correspondents to apply for accreditation. It granted visas to journalists from outside the country only to cover specific events, such as international conferences and summit meetings, where it could monitor their activities. The government reported 25 foreign mass media agencies, such as Xinhua, the Associated PressRIA Novosti, and Turkish TRT, were accredited and that TrendAZERTAC, and the Associated Press of Pakistan applied for accreditation. The government did not respond to a November 2015 call by the international community for accreditation of Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty (RFE/RL).

Violence and Harassment: The government subjected journalists critical of its official policy to surveillance and harassment. There were reports law enforcement officials harassed and monitored citizen journalists who worked for foreign media outlets, including by monitoring their telephone conversations and restricting their travel abroad. RFE/RL stringer Saparmamed Nepeskuliyev was arrested, charged, and convicted for possession of narcotics and sentenced to three years’ incarceration in 2015. He remained imprisoned. HRW disputed the legal basis of the charge, stating it was politically motivated. Visiting foreign journalists reported harassment and denial of freedom of movement when they attempted to report from the country.

Several RFE/RL stringers faced harassment and intimidation throughout the year. On October 25, unknown persons attacked and robbed Soltan Achilova after police confronted her for photographing a line of persons queuing for cigarettes at a convenience store. Achilova was harassed verbally by unknown persons on November 14 and was struck by men on bicycles on November 25.

RFE/RL stringer Khudayberdy Allashov was arrested and detained in Konye-Urgench December 3 for possession of an illegal local tobacco product. Reportedly, police also beat Allashov following his arrest, detained his wife and mother, and seized his mother’s home. Allashov faced a seven-year sentence for the alleged crime and remained in jail at year’s end.

The OSCE reported in December RFE/RL stringer Rovshen Yazmuhamedov was threatened by authorities with enforcement of a previously suspended jail sentence. As in previous years, the government required journalists working for state-owned media to obtain permission to cover specific events as well as to publish or broadcast the subject matter they covered.

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

To regulate domestic printing and copying activities, the government required all publishing houses and printing and photocopying establishments to register their equipment. The government did not allow the publication of works on topics that were out of favor with the government, including some works of fiction.


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

According to the government, 12 percent of the population used the internet. The percentage of the population that accessed the internet via cell phones reportedly was significantly higher, although official estimates were not available. Much of the population received its news from Russian- and Turkish-language cable and satellite television feeds.


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

The Ministry of Culture censored and monitored all public exhibitions, including music, art, and cultural events.


The constitution and law provide for freedom of assembly, but the government restricted this right. During the year authorities neither granted the required permits for public meetings and demonstrations nor allowed unregistered organizations to hold demonstrations. In some instances religious groups reported their members were arrested while gathering for private dinners.


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

Of the estimated 109 registered NGOs, international organizations recognized only a few as independent. NGOs reported the government presented a number of administrative obstacles to NGOs that attempted to register. Authorities reportedly rejected some applications repeatedly on technical grounds. In 2014 the government reported it registered three NGOs whose primary focus was sports and leisure activities. Some organizations awaiting registration found alternate ways to carry out activities, such as registering as businesses or subsidiaries of other registered groups, but others temporarily suspended or limited their activities. Although the law states there is a process for registering foreign assistance, NGOs had difficulty registering bilateral foreign assistance in practice due to a 2013 decree requiring such registration.

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

See the Department of State’s International Religious Freedom Report at

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

The constitution and law do not provide for full freedom of movement.

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

The law does not permit dual citizenship, and in 2015 the government terminated an agreement with Russia that previously provided an exception for certain dual Turkmen-Russian citizens. All dual citizens are obliged to renounce one of their citizenships if they want to travel outside the country. The process of renouncing Turkmen citizenship is not transparent and can take up to a year.

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

During the year the government allowed some persons previously banned from travel to depart the country. For instance, family members of emigrant opposition politician Pirimguly Tanrykuliev were allowed to depart the country after previously being informed they were banned from departing the country for life.

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

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

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


While formally there is a system for granting refugee status, it was inactive. In 2009 the government assumed responsibility from the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) for making refugee status determinations but has not granted refugee status since. UNHCR had observer status at government-run refugee-status determination hearings. Persons determined by the government not to be refugees obtained mandate refugee status from UNHCR. Mandate refugees were required to renew UNHCR certificates with the government annually. In 2015 UNHCR reported that 27 UNHCR mandate refugees resided in the country, but it provided no updates for 2016. The country did not grant citizenship to any UNHCR mandate refugees during the year.

In 2014 the government amended the Law on Migration to permit refugees to receive, at no charge, biometric identification and travel documents compliant with the requirements of the International Civil Aviation Organization.

Access to Asylum: The laws provide for the granting of asylum or refugee status, and the government has established a system for providing protection to refugees. The country has not granted asylum since 2005.


The country had a significant population of former Soviet Union citizens who became stateless due to the breakup of the Soviet Union. In December 2015 UNHCR estimated there were 7,111 stateless persons or persons of underdetermined nationality in the country. The number of stateless persons who were also refugees was not available. Citizenship is derived primarily from one’s parents. The requirement that applicants for citizenship prove they are not citizens of another country impeded efforts to establish the nationality of undocumented persons. According to UNHCR, however, in the past 10 years, the government granted citizenship to an estimated 18,000 stateless persons. During the year the government granted citizenship to 1,381 stateless persons residing in the country. In 2014 the government amended its Law on Migration to allow stateless persons to reside in the country legally and travel internationally with government-issued identification and travel documents.

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


Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:

The constitution and law provide for freedom of speech and press, but the government often restricted these rights.

Freedom of Speech and Expression: The government restricted opposition political parties from speaking to the press, and police detained activists who publicly criticized the government.

On February 19 and May 9, police raided FDC party headquarters, fired tear gas, blocked entry to the offices, and cancelled scheduled press conferences. According to media reports on February 19, an officer on the scene claimed police sealed the site because of reasonable suspicion the party was planning criminal activity. On May 9, police arrested FDC deputy secretary general Harold Kaija while he addressed a press conference. According to media, a police spokesperson stated that police arrested Kaija “as he attempted to address a press conference on a parallel swearing-in ceremony” for former presidential candidate Besigye, which had been organized by the FDC to parody the official ceremony set for May 12.

Press and Media Freedoms: The country had an active media environment with numerous privately owned newspapers and television and radio stations. These media outlets regularly covered stories and often provided commentary critical of the government and officials. The UPF’s Media Crimes Unit, however, closely monitored all radio, television, and print media, and security forces subjected numerous journalists to harassment, intimidation, and arrest. Government officials and ruling party members owned many of the private rural radio stations and imposed reporting restrictions.

Cabinet minister Mwesigwa Rukutana, who owned Radio Ankole in Ntungamo District, directed his staff not to broadcast advertisements placed by independent and opposition politicians during the election season.

Violence and Harassment: Security forces assaulted journalists. For example, on May 24, media reported that Abraham James Byandala, then minister without portfolio, punched a journalist in the abdomen as she was covering a court case in which he was charged with corruption. The journalist filed a complaint against the minister but subsequently withdrew it.

Security forces also arbitrarily arrested journalists. For example, local media reported that, on February 22, a plainclothes police officer pepper-sprayed the eyes of freelance photojournalist Isaac Kasamani while he was covering police confinement of opposition leader Besigye to his home (see section 1.d.). On February 27, police arrested Eriasa Sserunjogi and Abubaker Lubowa, journalists working for opposition-leaning newspaper Daily Monitor, who also were covering the Besigye house arrest. Police detained the two journalists at Kasangati Police Station for several hours before releasing them without charge.

Security forces also harassed and intimidated journalists. On January 10, for example, media reported police in Moroto, in the northeast, confiscated and destroyed journalists’ cameras to stop them from filming a roadblock erected to stop Besigye from traveling to a campaign event. Regional police commander Richard Aruk condemned the action and advised the journalists to file a complaint to enable his office to investigate the incident.

Police also arbitrarily detained foreign journalists. On February 7, police arrested two BBC journalists filming outside Abim Hospital in the northeast. The district police commander claimed they had no permission from the Ministry of Health to film at the hospital. Police released the journalists that night without charge.

On November 27, police detained Kenya Television Network reporter and anchor Joy Doreen Biira for “abetting terrorism” after she reported on the UPF and UPDF’s November 27 raid on the Rwenzururu king’s palace (see section 1.a.). The Committee to Protect Journalists stated, “It is bad enough that Ugandan authorities desired to censor coverage of a newsworthy event, but the use of antiterrorism laws to intimidate a journalist is a vast overreach.” Police released Biira the following day and she was allowed to return to Kenya. Police have not yet charged Biira but claim to be investigating her case.

Censorship or Content Restrictions: The government directly and indirectly restricted media coverage and content.

On December 6, for example, the Uganda Communications Commission (UCC) prohibited further media reporting on the November 27 raid by security forces on the Rwenzururu king’s palace, claiming it could influence an ongoing court case.

In response to the attorney general’s April 28 petition to the Constitutional Court, which claimed the opposition-led civil unrest campaign “Defiance” was an unconstitutional effort to stop the lawful swearing-in ceremony of the president, the Constitutional Court the same day issued a one-month prohibition on activities by the campaign to allow sufficient time for the court to review the attorney general’s petition. On May 5, citing the court ruling, Minister for Information Jim Muhwezi stated that the government would revoke the license of any media house that covered any aspect or activity of the Defiance campaign. Although the swearing-in ceremony took place on May 12, the court had not set a date to hear the petition by year’s end, nor had the attorney general requested an extension of the prohibition.

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

Libel/Slander Laws: Authorities used libel and slander laws to suppress criticism of government officials.

On April 21, the police Criminal Investigations Directorate questioned Daily Monitor journalists Alex Atuhaire and Yasiin Mugerwa concerning alleged criminal libel. The questioning focused on an article reporting statements by members of the Rwenzori Region’s parliament accusing a cabinet minister of inciting postelection violence.


The government cited security as justification to restrict and disrupt internet access, especially to social media sites.

On February 17, the UCC ordered telecommunication companies to block user access to Facebook, Twitter, WhatsApp, and mobile phone financial transaction services on February 18, election day. The UCC claimed it had evidence of plans to use these sites to foment unrest and violence. The affected sites were inaccessible for almost three days.

On May 11, again citing security, the UCC ordered telecommunications companies to disable access to social media for more than 24 hours while international dignitaries attended the president’s fifth inauguration ceremony.

Citing the Antiterrorism Act, the Regulation of Interception of Communications Bill, and the Computer Misuse Act, the government monitored internet communication. According to the UCC, approximately 37 percent of the population used the internet.

The case of Robert Shaka, who was arrested and released on bail in June 2015 for allegedly violating the president’s privacy by posting statements about his health on Facebook, continued.


The government occasionally restricted academic freedom and cultural events. Authorities blocked retired Supreme Court justice George Kanyeihamba, a former NRM loyalist turned critic, from addressing Makerere University law students on the February elections. The Human Rights and Peace Center (HURIPEC) reported government officials also influenced academic appointments at public universities on the basis of political affiliation.

HURIPEC reported government officials attempted to prohibit, censor, cancel, or restrict films and musical presentations that addressed political themes or criticized the administration. Officials unsuccessfully attempted to ban Robert Kyagulanyi’s song Ddembe (“Liberty”), which called for peaceful elections and transfer of power. Media reported the Uganda Broadcasting Corporation declined to air the song, and officials directed radio program directors not to play it. The UCC denied the government had banned the song. HURIPEC also reported the government banned a free DVD about the country’s history, which was widely distributed on Kampala’s streets. Police deemed its possession a crime for its “inappropriate and violent content.”


While the constitution provides for freedom of assembly, the government did not respect this right. The government used the 2013 Public Order Management Act (POMA) to limit the right to assemble, especially for political opponents and critics of the government. The act places a significant bureaucratic burden on those wishing to organize or host gatherings and affords the UPF wide discretion to prevent or disrupt gatherings.

During and after the presidential election, UPF officers disrupted scheduled opposition rallies and meetings, even in some cases when authorities had granted permission. In many instances, the UPF provided no official response to requests to hold public meetings.

In two separate incidents on February 15, the final day of the presidential campaign, UPF officers prevented Besigye from appearing at campaign rallies approved by the Electoral Commission by blocking his access. Police fired teargas to disperse supporters who had gathered at the rally sites. During both incidents police arrested Besigye before releasing him without charge. Media reported that, during the second incident, police also fired bullets to disperse the crowd, resulting in one civilian death.

On February 19, a day after the elections, police arrested senior FDC officials, blockaded their party headquarters, and cancelled a scheduled FDC press conference. When FDC supporters gathered at party headquarters to protest, police reportedly fired tear gas and bullets to disperse the crowd and arrested eight supporters.

After the elections the UPF cited its legal powers of “preventive arrest,” which allow police to remove and detain persons to prevent them from committing a crime and the POMA to harass opposition leaders. Police “preventively” arrested several opposition leaders attempting to hold meetings and other events, generally releasing them the same day. Police often prevented Besigye and other opposition leaders from participating in political events by confining them to their residences. When police allowed Besigye to leave his home, they often arrested him to prevent him from meeting with supporters or party officials. FHRI reported that, on February 22, police arrested Besigye and remanded him to the Naggalama Police Station after he attempted to go to the Electoral Commission to collect forms to contest the election results. According to IGP Kayihura, Besigye’s intent was to rally supporters and cause chaos in the city, in violation of the POMA.

In response to the FDC’s “Free My Vote” campaign, which called for an independent audit of presidential election results, police often disbanded peaceful protest meetings, including prayer groups, and arrested protest organizers.

In response to the FDC’s May 5 call for nationwide protests to contest the outcome of the presidential election, the head of the Constitutional Court, Deputy Chief Justice Steven Kavuma, issued an order prohibiting the FDC from organizing “demonstrations, processions, other public meetings, media campaigns or pronouncements including but not limited to planned demonstrations or processions scheduled for May 5 or any other day among other orders.” On May 6, media reported police had arrested 88 opposition supporters for participating in banned demonstrations.


While the constitution and law provide for freedom of association, the government did not always respect this right. On January 30, the president signed the NGO Act passed by the National Assembly in November 2015. The law includes a clause that requires NGOs to receive approval from local NGO monitoring committees, local governments, and relevant line ministries in each district in which they operate to be registered and active. The law also prohibits NGOs from engaging in acts “prejudicial to the interests of Uganda and the dignity of the people of Uganda.” Discriminatory aspects of the law prevented LGBTI organizations from registering as NGOs.

The NGO Board, under the Ministry of Internal Affairs, regulates NGO activities and approves their registrations. It is composed of representatives from various ministries, including the security services.

FHRI reported that during the year intruders broke into various NGO offices, taking computers, files, and other sources of information. The nature of the crimes, along with limited police action to pursue perpetrators, led some of the affected organizations to suspect government involvement. In a May 22 incident, closed-circuit television (CCTV) footage showed four unidentified intruders breaking into the Kampala office of the Human Rights Awareness and Promotion Forum (HRAPF), which provides legal support for sexual minorities. The next morning, HRAPF staff found the dead body of the guard on duty at the time of the break-in, along with documents, a television screen, and keys, on the organization’s compound. Police arrived at the scene two hours after HRAPF reported the incident, but no investigation had been initiated by year’s end.

On April 10, according to Human Rights Network for Journalists (HRNJ) staff, a late evening female visitor to HRNJ’s Kampala office offered the security guard food laced with sedatives. CCTV footage showed four men entering the premises and ransacking them after the guard apparently had passed out.

See the Department of State’s International Religious Freedom Report at

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

The constitution and law provide for freedom of internal movement, foreign travel, emigration, and repatriation.

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


Access to Asylum: The law provides for the granting of asylum or refugee status, and the government has an established system for providing protection to refugees. The government has consistently provided a safe haven for refugees and asylum seekers. As of November 1, UNHCR, in partnership with the government, had identified an estimated 898,000 refugees and asylum seekers of different nationalities. Of these, 270,000 were from the Democratic Republic of the Congo and 476,000 from South Sudan. Other countries of origin included Burundi, Somalia, Rwanda, and Eritrea. The government provided adequate protection to refugees, including temporary protection, resettlement, and other long-term solutions.

As of July there were 39,000 asylum seekers in the country. According to UNHCR, the government made little progress in clearing the backlog because the Refugee Appeals Board has not operated since 2014.

The government did not fulfill UNHCR’s 2012-13 recommendation to implement a cessation clause and lift the blanket refugee status conferred on approximately 4,000 Rwandan refugees who arrived in the country prior to 1999. The government stated it would not invoke the cessation clause while ambiguities concerning the local integration and permanent legal status for these long-term refugees remained unresolved. The government had yet to fully implement administrative processes for the naturalization of refugees who fell within the scope of the October 2015 Constitutional Court ruling, which allows long-staying refugees (in most cases, requiring more than 20 years’ presence) to obtain citizenship through naturalization.

Access to Basic Services: Although the government granted refugees the same access as citizens to public health, education, and other services, there were anecdotal reports of discrimination against some refugees due to language barriers or xenophobia. The Refugee Commission of the Office of the Prime Minister, UNHCR, its implementing partners, and other NGOs worked to reduce barriers to access.

Durable Solutions: The government did not accept refugees for resettlement from foreign countries, but it facilitated UNHCR efforts to resettle refugees in foreign countries. The government assisted the safe and voluntary return of refugees to their homes.

United Arab Emirates

Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:

The constitution provides for freedom of speech and of the press; however, the law prohibits criticism of national rulers and speech that may create or encourage social unrest; the government restricted freedom of speech and press.

Freedom of Speech and Expression: After the onset of the Arab Spring in 2011, authorities severely restricted public criticism of the government and ministers. The government continued to make arrests or impose other restrictions for speech related to and in support of Islamist political activities, calls for democratic reforms, criticism of or perceived insults against the government and government institutions, and in rarer cases, criticism of individuals. In February a court sentenced Omani citizen Saleh Mohammed al-Awaisi to a three-year jail term for sharing a poem over social media that ridiculed the government and its soldiers in Yemen. He was tried under the cybercrime law, which criminalizes all forms of electronic abuse.

In another case, in January authorities issued an arrest warrant for two men who had posted a video of themselves in military uniforms, mimicking the dance moves from a popular Saudi music video. The authorities accused the men of dishonoring the country’s military services. Also in January, the Federal Supreme Court sentenced Mohammed Ashour to three years in prison for creating a Facebook page that allegedly damaged the reputation of the country. In other cases, authorities brought individuals to trial for posting material on social media platforms that was seen as personally insulting to acquaintances, colleagues, employers, or religions.

Press and Media Freedoms: International NGOs categorized the press, both in print and online, as not free. Except for media outlets located in Dubai and Abu Dhabi’s free trade zones, the government owned most newspapers, television stations, and radio stations. All media conformed to unpublished government reporting guidelines. The government also influenced the privately owned media, through the National Media Council (NMC), which directly oversaw all media content. Satellite-receiving dishes were widespread and provided access to uncensored international broadcasts.

In February, Jordanian media outlets and human rights groups reported that Jordanian journalist Tayseer al-Najjar had been detained in mid-December 2015 without charge and was being held incommunicado. His wife subsequently told the press that authorities had accused him of spying for Qatar, criticizing the UAE, and criticizing Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi. Human Rights Watch reported in December that al-Najjar was transferred to al-Wathba prison in March and had not been provided with access to legal counsel or informed of the charges against him. Al-Najjar remained in detention at year’s end.

Censorship or Content Restrictions: By law the NMC, whose members the president appoints, licenses and censors all publications, including private association publications. The law authorizes censorship of domestic and foreign publications to remove criticism of the government, ruling families, or friendly governments; statements that “threaten social stability;” and materials considered pornographic, excessively violent, derogatory to Islam, or supportive of certain Israeli government positions. The law also criminalizes, as blasphemy, acts that provoke religious hatred or insult religious convictions through any form of expression, including broadcasting, printed media, or the internet.

According to the NMC and Dubai police officials, authorities did not give journalists specific instructions; however, government officials reportedly warned journalists when they published or broadcast material deemed politically or culturally sensitive. Journalists commonly practiced self-censorship due to fear of government retribution, particularly since most journalists were foreign nationals and could be deported. Authorities did not allow some books perceived as critical of the government, Islam, and Emirati culture, as well as books that supported the Muslim Brotherhood or its ideology.

Libel/Slander Laws: The government used libel and slander laws to suppress criticism of its leaders and institutions. The law criminalizes acts that defame others through online or information technology means. Those who commit libel may face up to two years in prison; the maximum penalty for those convicted of libel against the family of a public official is three years in prison.

In May the courts convicted three sports journalists of slander and handed each a three-month suspended prison sentence after they publicly criticized a competitor television channel.

National Security: Authorities often cited the need to protect national security as the basis for laws that curb criticism of government or expression of dissenting political views. For example, the country’s cybercrimes laws include broad limitations on using electronic means to promote disorder or “damage national unity.” Human rights groups criticized these laws for excessively restricting freedom of speech.


The government restricted access to some websites and monitored social media, instant messaging services, and blogs. Authorities stated they could imprison individuals for misusing the internet. Self-censorship was apparent on social media, and there were reports the Ministry of Interior monitored internet use. The International Telecommunication Union estimated more than 90 percent of the population had access to the internet.

The country’s two internet service providers, both linked to the government, used a proxy server to block materials deemed inconsistent with the country’s values, as defined by the Ministry of Interior. Blocked material included pornographic websites and a wide variety of other sites deemed indecent, as well as those dealing with lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and intersex (LGBTI) issues; Judaism and atheism; negative critiques of Islam; testimonies of former Muslims who converted to Christianity; gambling; promotion of illegal drug use; and postings that explained how to circumvent the proxy servers. International media sites accessed using the country’s internet providers contained filtered content. The government also blocked some sites that contained content critical of ruling families in the UAE and other states in the region. The Telecommunications Regulatory Authority was responsible for creating lists of blocked sites. Service providers did not have the authority to remove sites from blocked lists without government approval. The government also blocked most voice-over-internet-protocol applications. In June authorities asked Snapchat to block content after some users complained to the telecoms regulator of objectionable content. Also in June, authorities blocked the website of news organization Middle East Eye.

The law explicitly criminalizes use of the internet to commit a wide variety of offenses and provides fines and prison terms for internet users who violate political, social, and religious norms. The law provides penalties for using the internet to oppose Islam; to proselytize Muslims to join other religions; to abuse a holy shrine or ritual of any religion; to insult any religion, belief, sect, race, color, or ethnic group; to incite someone to commit sin; or to contravene family values by publishing news or photographs pertaining to a person’s private life or family. In February the government announced it would increase fines and jail terms for the “criminal intent” use of Virtual Private Networks, which often were used to circumvent internet censorship.

In August news reports alleged that authorities had used a malware application to obtain access to the iPhone of Emirati political activist Ahmed Mansoor by exploiting a flaw in Apple’s iOS operating system.

The 2012 cybercrimes decree and the 2015 Antidiscrimination Law provide for more severe penalties for violations and add to existing online communication limitations on freedom of speech to include prohibitions on criticism or defamation of the government or its officials; insults based on religion, belief, sect, race, color, or ethnic origin; insults directed at neighboring countries; and calls for protests and demonstrations.


The government restricted academic freedom, including speech both inside and outside the classroom by educators, and censored academic materials for schools. The government required official permission for conferences and submission of detailed information on proposed speakers and topics of discussion. Some organizations found it difficult to secure meeting space for public events that dealt with contentious issues.

Cultural institutions avoided displaying artwork or programming that criticized the government or religion. Self-censorship among cultural and other institutions, especially for content presented to the public, was pervasive and generally directed at preventing the appearance of illegal works, including those deemed as promoting blasphemy or addressing controversial political issues.

The constitution provides for the freedoms of assembly and association; however, the government did not always respect these rights.


The law provides limited freedom of assembly and the government imposed restrictions.

The law requires a government-issued permit for organized public gatherings. Authorities dispersed impromptu protests such as labor strikes and at times arrested participants. While there was no uniform standard for the number of persons who could gather without a permit, civil society representatives in the past have reported authorities could ask groups of four or more to disperse if they did not have a permit. The government did not interfere routinely with informal, nonpolitical gatherings held without a government permit in public places unless there were complaints. The government generally permitted political gatherings that supported its policies. Hotels, citing government regulations, sometimes denied permission for groups such as religious organizations to rent space for meetings or religious services.


The law provides limited freedom of association. The government imposed some restrictions.

Political organizations, political parties, and trade unions are illegal. All associations and NGOs are required to register with the Ministry of Social Affairs, and many that did received government subsidies. Domestic NGOs registered with the ministry were mostly citizens’ associations for economic, religious, social, cultural, athletic, and other purposes. Registration rules require that all voting organizational members, as well as boards of directors, must be Emirati; this excluded almost 90 percent of the population from fully participating in such organizations.

Associations must follow the government’s censorship guidelines and receive prior government approval before publishing any material. In Abu Dhabi, exhibitions, conferences, and meetings require a permit from the Tourism and Culture Authority. To obtain a permit, the event organizer must submit identification documents for speakers along with speaker topics; the government denied permits if it did not approve of the topic or speaker.

See the Department of State’s International Religious Freedom Report at

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

The law generally provided for freedom of internal movement, emigration, and repatriation, and the government generally respected these rights; however, the government imposed certain legal restrictions on foreign travel. The government allowed the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) and other humanitarian organizations to provide protection and assistance to refugees, asylum seekers, stateless persons, and other persons of concern. The lack of passports or other identity documents restricted the movement of stateless persons, both within the country and internationally.

Foreign Travel: Authorities generally did not permit citizens and residents involved in legal disputes under adjudication, and noncitizens under investigation to travel abroad. In addition, authorities sometimes arrested individuals with outstanding debts or legal cases while in transit through an airport.

At the sole discretion of emirate-level prosecutors, foreign nationals had their passports taken or travel restricted during criminal and civil investigations, which in some cases times posed significant difficulties. Some were also banned from foreign travel. These measures posed particular problems for noncitizen debtors, who in addition to being unable to leave the country, were usually unable to find work without a passport and valid residence permit, and as a result were unable to repay their debts or maintain legal residency.

Travel bans could also be placed on citizens; citizens of interest for reasons of state security, including former political prisoners, also encountered difficulties renewing official documents, resulting in de facto travel bans.

Authorities did not lift travel bans until the completion of a case in the judicial system. In complex cases, particularly in the investigation of financial crimes, travel bans remained in place for three years or more.

Custom dictates that a husband may prevent his wife, minor children, and adult unmarried daughters from leaving the country by taking custody of their passports.

Citizenship: The government may revoke naturalized citizens’ passports and citizenship status for criminal or politically provocative actions. According to AI, in March authorities confiscated the passports and revoked the citizenship of three siblings whose father had been convicted previously of membership in Al Islah, a group the government designated as a terrorist organization.


UNHCR lacked formal legal status in the country separate from the UN Development Program; however, the government worked with UNHCR on a case-by-case basis to address refugee issues. The government did not formally grant refugee status or asylum to aliens seeking protection; however, it allowed some refugees to remain in the country temporarily on an individual basis. This nonpermanent status often presented administrative, financial, and social hardships, including the need frequently to renew visas and the inability to access basic services such as health care and education for children.

Access to Asylum: The law does not provide for the granting of asylum or refugee status, and the government had not established a transparent, codified system for providing protection to refugees. While the government extended informal protection from return to refugees in some cases, any persons lacking legal residency status were technically subject to local laws on illegal immigrants and authorities could detain them. There were no reports, however, that the government sent individuals who expressed a fear of return back to their country of origin against their will. In some cases authorities confined individuals seeking protection at an airport to a specific section of the airport while they awaited resettlement in another country.

Access to Basic Services: Access to employment, education, and other public services, including health care, is based on an individual’s status as a legal resident. Persons with a claim to refugee status, including those with either short-term visitor visas or expired visas, were generally not eligible for such benefits, and as a result some families, particularly from Iraq and Syria, reportedly did not have access to healthcare or school for children. The government provided or allowed access to some services on a case-by-case basis, often after the intervention of UNHCR representatives.


Estimates suggested 20,000 to 100,000 bidoon, or persons without citizenship, resided in the country. Most bidoon lacked citizenship because they did not have the preferred tribal affiliation used to determine citizenship when the country was established. Others entered the country legally or illegally in search of employment. Because children derive citizenship generally from the father, bidoon children born within the country’s territory remained stateless. Without passports or other forms of identification, the movement of bidoon was restricted, both within the country and internationally.

The government has a naturalization process, and individuals may apply for citizenship. Children of female citizens married to noncitizens do not acquire citizenship automatically at birth, but their mothers may obtain citizenship for the children after submitting an application, which a government committee reviews and generally accepts, once the child is 18 years old. A foreign woman may receive citizenship after 10 years of marriage to a citizen. Anyone may receive a passport by presidential fiat.

The committee that reviews mothers’ citizenship applications for their children also reviews citizenship applications from bidoon who could satisfy certain legal conditions to be eligible for naturalization and subsequently could gain access to education, health care, and other public services. There were no reports, however, of stateless persons receiving Emirati citizenship.

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