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China (includes Tibet, Hong Kong, and Macau) – Tibet

Executive Summary

READ A SECTION: CHINA | TIBET (BELOW) | HONG KONG | MACAU


The United States recognizes the Tibet Autonomous Region (TAR) and Tibetan autonomous prefectures (TAPs) and counties in Sichuan, Qinghai, Yunnan, and Gansu Provinces to be a part of the People’s Republic of China (PRC). The Chinese Communist Party’s (CCP) Central Committee oversees Tibet policies. As in other predominantly minority areas of the PRC, ethnic Chinese CCP members held the overwhelming majority of top party, government, police, and military positions in the TAR and other Tibetan areas. Ultimate authority rests with the 25-member Political Bureau (Politburo) of the CCP Central Committee and its seven-member Standing Committee in Beijing, neither of which has any Tibetan members.

Civilian authorities maintained control over the security forces.

The most significant human rights issues included: forced disappearances; torture by government authorities; arbitrary detentions; political prisoners; censorship and site blocking; substantial interference with the rights of peaceful assembly and freedom of association; severe restrictions of religious freedom; significant restrictions on freedom of movement; and restrictions on political participation.

The government strictly controlled information about, and access to, the TAR and some Tibetan areas outside the TAR. The Chinese government harassed or detained Tibetans as punishment for speaking to foreigners, attempting to provide information to persons abroad, or communicating information regarding protests or other expressions of discontent through cell phones, email, or the internet, and placed restrictions on their freedom of movement.

Disciplinary procedures were opaque, and there was no publicly available information to indicate senior officials punished security personnel or other authorities for behavior defined under PRC laws and regulations as abuses of power and authority.

Section 1. Respect for the Integrity of the Person, Including Freedom from:

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

There were no reports the government or its agents committed arbitrary or unlawful killings. There were no reports officials investigated or punished those responsible for such killings that had previously taken place.

b. Disappearance

Authorities in Tibetan areas continued to detain Tibetans arbitrarily for indefinite periods.

The whereabouts of the 11th Panchen Lama, Gedhun Choekyi Nyima, the second-most prominent figure after the Dalai Lama in Tibetan Buddhism’s Gelug school, remained unknown. Neither he nor his parents have been seen since Chinese authorities took them away in 1995, when he was six years old.

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

According to credible sources, police and prison authorities employed torture and degrading treatment in dealing with some detainees and prisoners. There were reports during the year Chinese officials severely beat some Tibetans who were incarcerated or otherwise in custody. In the past, such beatings have led to death.

On August 13, Chinese authorities released Gonpo Tseten, a Tibetan from Machu (Chinese: Maqu) county of Ganlho (Chinese: Gannan) Tibetan Autonomous Prefecture (TAP) in Gansu province who had served 10 years of a 12-year prison sentence for “inciting separatism.” On August 17, overseas website Free Tibet reported the authorities had severely tortured and subjected him to forced labor while he was in detention. According to media reports, Gonpo had spearheaded Tibetan protests against the Chinese government in 2008.

Prison and Detention Center Conditions

Prison conditions were harsh and potentially life threatening due to physical abuse and inadequate sanitary conditions and medical care.

There were reports of recently released prisoners permanently disabled or in extremely poor health because of the harsh treatment they endured in prison (see Political Prisoners and Detainees subsection below). Former prisoners reported being isolated in small cells for months at a time and deprived of sleep, sunlight, and adequate food. According to individuals who completed their prison terms during the year, prisoners rarely received medical care except in cases of serious illness. There were many cases in which officials denied visitors access to detained and imprisoned persons.

d. Arbitrary Arrest or Detention

Arbitrary arrest and detention remained serious problems. Public security agencies are required by law to notify the relatives or employer of a detained person within 24 hours of their detention, but they often failed to do so when Tibetans and others were detained for political reasons. Public security officers may legally detain persons throughout the PRC for up to 37 days without formally arresting or charging them. Criminal detention beyond 37 days requires approval of a formal arrest by the procuratorate, but in cases pertaining to “national security, terrorism, and major bribery,” the law permits up to six months of incommunicado detention without formal arrest. After formally arresting a suspect, public security authorities are authorized to detain a suspect for up to an additional seven months while the case is investigated. After the completion of an investigation, the procuratorate can detain a suspect an additional 45 days while determining whether to file criminal charges. If charges are filed, authorities can detain a suspect for an additional 45 days before beginning judicial proceedings. Public security sometimes detained persons beyond the period allowed by law, and pretrial detention periods of a year or longer were common.

Security officials frequently violated these legal requirements. It was unclear how many Tibetan detainees the authorities held under forms of detention not subject to judicial review.

According to the Central Tibetan Administration (CTA), on January 28, authorities arrested and detained Lodoe Gyatso from Nagchu (Chinese: Naqu) prefecture of the TAR after he staged a peaceful protest in front of the Potala Palace in Lhasa. Prior to the protest, Lodoe Gyatso published a video announcing his plans to organize a peaceful demonstration in support of the Tibetan people’s commitment to world peace and nonviolence under the guidance of the Dalai Lama.

e. Denial of Fair Public Trial

Legal safeguards for detained or imprisoned Tibetans were inadequate in both design and implementation. Prisoners in China have the right to request a meeting with a government-appointed attorney, but many Tibetan defendants, particularly those facing politically motivated charges, did not have access to legal representation. In cases which authorities claimed involved “endangering state security” or “separatism,” trials often were cursory and closed. Local sources noted trials were predominantly conducted in Mandarin, with government interpreters provided for Tibetan defendants who did not speak Mandarin. Court decisions, proclamations, and other judicial documents, however, generally were not published in Tibetan.

TRIAL PROCEDURES

In its annual work report, the TAR High People’s Court stated its top political tasks as fighting separatism, criticizing “the 14th Dalai (Lama) clique,” cracking down on the clique’s followers, and maintaining social stability, including by sentencing those who they claimed instigated protests and promoted separatism. The report also stated the court prioritized “political direction,” which included absolute loyalty to the Party.

In June the TAR High People’s Court hired 16 court clerks. Among the requirements for new employees were loyalty to the CCP leadership and having immediate family members with a “good record on combatting separatism” in the Tibet region.

Security forces routinely subjected political prisoners and detainees known as “special criminal detainees” to “political re-education” sessions.

POLITICAL PRISONERS AND DETAINEES

An unknown number of Tibetans were detained, arrested, and sentenced because of their political or religious activity. Authorities held many prisoners in extrajudicial detention centers and never allowed them to appear in public court.

Based on information available from the Political Prisoner Database (PPD) of the Congressional-Executive Commission on China, as of November 27, there were 303 Tibetan political prisoners known to be detained or imprisoned, most of them in Tibetan areas. Of those 303 cases, 132 were reported to be monks (current and former), nuns, or reincarnate teachers. Of the 123 cases for which there was available information on sentencing, punishment ranged from three years to life imprisonment. Observers believed the actual number of Tibetan political prisoners and detainees to be much higher, but the lack of access to prisoners and prisons, as well as the dearth of reliable official statistics, made a precise determination difficult. Authorities continued to hold an unknown number of people in detention centers rather than prisons.

Tibetan Self-Immolations

There were three known cases of Tibetans self-immolating during the year. There have been 155 known immolations since 2009, more than half of which took place in 2012. Local contacts reported the decline in reported self-immolations was due to tightened security by authorities, the collective punishment of self-immolators’ relatives and associates, and the Dalai Lama’s public plea to his followers to find other ways to protest Chinese government repression. Chinese officials in some Tibetan areas withheld public benefits from the family members of self-immolators and ordered friends and monastic personnel to refrain from participating in religious burial rites or mourning activities for self-immolators. According to many contacts in Ngaba county, Sichuan province, officials place family members, relatives, and close friends of self-immolators on a security watch list to prevent them from meeting and communicating with international visitors and, in some cases, deprive them from receiving public benefits.

Self-immolators reportedly viewed their acts as protests against the government’s political and religious oppression. According to multiple contacts, the law criminalizes various activities associated with self-immolation, including “organizing, plotting, inciting, compelling, luring, instigating, or helping others to commit self-immolation,” each of which may be prosecuted as “intentional homicide.”

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

The TAR regional government punished CCP members who followed the Dalai Lama, secretly harbored religious beliefs, made pilgrimages to India, or sent their children to study with exiled Tibetans. Authorities continued to electronically and manually monitor private correspondence and search private homes and businesses for photographs of the Dalai Lama and other politically forbidden items. Police examined the cell phones of TAR residents to search for “reactionary music” from India and photographs of the Dalai Lama. Authorities also questioned and detained some individuals who disseminated writings and photographs over the internet.

The TAR CCP has also launched specialized propaganda campaigns to counter “Tibetan independence” including promoting the proliferation of party media into every household to undermine popular support for the Dalai Lama.

The “grid system” (also known as the “double-linked household system”) continued. The grid system involves grouping households and establishments and encouraging them to report problems in other households, including monetary problems and transgressions, to the government. Authorities reportedly reward individuals with money and other forms of compensation for reporting. While this allows for greater provision of social services to those who need them, it also allows authorities to more easily control those it considers “extremists” and “splittists.”

According to contacts in the TAR, Tibetans frequently received phone calls from security officials ordering them to remove from their mobile phones photos, articles, and contact information for international contacts the government deemed sensitive. Security officials visited the residences of those who did not comply with such orders.

In June news portal Phayul reported local officials arrested two Tibetans from Kardze (Chinese: Ganzi) of Sichuan province for possessing photos of the Dalai Lama after they raided the two men’s residences.

Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:

a. Freedom of Speech and Press

Freedom of Expression, Including for the Press

Freedom of Expression: Tibetans who spoke to foreigners or foreign reporters, attempted to provide information to persons outside the country, or communicated information regarding protests or other expressions of discontent including via mobile phones, and internet-based communications, were subject to harassment or detention under “crimes of undermining social stability and inciting separatism.” During the year authorities in the TAR and other Tibetan areas sought to strengthen control over electronic media and to punish individuals for the poorly defined crime of “creating and spreading of rumors.” Supporting the CCP, criticizing the Dalai Lama, and “not creating and spreading rumors” were some of the major requirements Tibetans had to fulfill to apply for jobs and receive access to government benefits during the year.

On May 22, the government sentenced Tibetan language rights advocate Tashi Wangchuk to five years of imprisonment on the charge of “inciting separatism” for his 2015 video-recorded interview with The New York Times. On August 13, the Yulshul (Chinese: Yushu) Intermediate People’s Court rejected Tashi Wangchuk’s appeal. In a September 7 statement, the Foreign Correspondents Club of China (FCCC) stated the decision “not only violates Tashi’s right to free speech as stipulated in China’s constitution, but sends a message to sources they could be severely punished for accepting interviews with international media.”

Press and Media Freedom: Foreign journalists may visit the TAR only after obtaining a special travel permit from the government, and the authorities almost never granted this permission.

Authorities tightly controlled journalists who worked for the domestic press and could hire and fire them based on assessments of their political reliability. In May the TAR Press, Television, and Radio Bureau hired 26 individuals to fill positions for which one of the listed job requirements was to “resolutely implement the Party’s line, principles, policies, and political stance, fight against separatism, and safeguard the motherland’s unity and ethnic unity.” CCP propaganda authorities remained in charge of journalist accreditation in the TAR and required journalists working in the TAR to display “loyalty to the Party and motherland.” The deputy head of the TAR Propaganda Department simultaneously holds a prominent position in the TAR Journalist Association, a state-controlled professional association to which local journalists must belong.

Violence and Harassment: Chinese authorities arrested and sentenced many Tibetan writers, intellectuals, and singers for “inciting separatism.” Numerous prominent Tibetan political writers, including Jangtse Donkho, Kelsang Jinpa, Buddha, Tashi Rabten, Arik Dolma Kyab, Gangkye Drupa Kyab, and Shojkhang (also known as Druklo), reported security officers closely monitored them following their releases from prison between 2013 and 2018 and often ordered them to return to police stations for further interrogation. In addition, the authorities banned the writers from publishing and prohibited them from receiving services and benefits such as government jobs, bank loans, passports, and membership in formal organizations.

Censorship or Content Restrictions: The authorities prohibited domestic journalists from reporting on repression in Tibetan areas. Authorities promptly censored the postings of bloggers who did so, and the authors sometimes faced punishment.

The TAR Party Committee Information Office maintained tight control of a full range of social media platforms. According to multiple contacts, security officials often cancelled WeChat accounts carrying “sensitive information,” such as discussions about Tibetan language education, and interrogated the account owners. Many sources also reported it was almost impossible to register websites promoting Tibetan culture and language in the TAR with the government, as required by law.

The Chinese government continued to disrupt radio broadcasts of Radio Free Asia’s Tibetan and Mandarin-language services in Tibetan areas, as well as those of the Voice of Tibet, an independent radio station based in Norway.

In addition to maintaining strict censorship of print and online content in Tibetan areas, Chinese authorities sought to censor the expression of views or distribution of information related to Tibet in countries and regions outside of mainland China.

INTERNET FREEDOM

As in the past year, authorities curtailed cell phone and internet service in the TAR and other Tibetan areas, sometimes for weeks or even months at a time, during periods of unrest and political sensitivity, such as the March anniversaries of the 1959 and 2008 protests, “Serf Emancipation Day,” and around the Dalai Lama’s birthday in July. In addition, local observers reported authorities disrupted internet service in areas where self-immolations occurred (see section Tibetan Self-Immolations). Observers also claimed authorities threatened community members with sentences of up to 15 years for those who shared images, videos, and information of the self-immolations with people outside Tibetan areas. When the authorities restored internet service, they closely monitored its usage. There were widespread reports of authorities searching cell phones they suspected of containing suspicious content. Many individuals in the TAR and other Tibetan areas reported receiving official warnings and being briefly detained and interrogated after using their cell phones to exchange what the government deemed to be sensitive information. In July, in advance of the Dalai Lama’s birthday, Radio Free Asia reported authorities warned Tibetans from using social media chat groups to organize gatherings or celebrations of the spiritual leader’s birthday. The TAR Internet and Information Office is continuing a research project known as “Countermeasures to Internet-based Reactionary Infiltration by the Dalai Lama Clique.”

In July, TAR Party Secretary Wu Yingjie urged the region to “resolutely manage the internet, maintain the correct cybersecurity view, and keep in mind Tibet serves as the frontline in the fight against separatism.”

Throughout the year authorities blocked users in China from accessing foreign-based, Tibet-related websites critical of official government policy in Tibetan areas. Technically sophisticated hacking attempts originating from China also targeted Tibetan activists and organizations outside mainland China.

ACADEMIC FREEDOM AND CULTURAL EVENTS

As in recent years, authorities in many Tibetan areas required professors and students at institutions of higher education to attend regular political education sessions, particularly during politically sensitive months, in an effort to prevent “separatist” political and religious activities on campus. Authorities frequently encouraged Tibetan academics to participate in government propaganda efforts, both domestically and overseas, such as making public speeches supporting government policies. Academics who refused to cooperate with such efforts faced diminished prospects for promotion and research grants.

Academics in the PRC who publicly criticized CCP policies on Tibetan affairs faced official reprisal. The government controlled curricula, texts, and other course materials as well as the publication of historically or politically sensitive academic books. Authorities frequently denied Tibetan academics permission to travel overseas for conferences and academic or cultural exchanges the Party had not organized or approved. Authorities in Tibetan areas regularly banned the sale and distribution of music they deemed to have sensitive political content.

The state-run TAR Academy of Social Science continued to encourage scholars to maintain “a correct political and academic direction” in its annual July conference to “improve scholars’ political ideology” and “fight against separatists” under the guidance of Xi Jinping.

In May the TAR Academy of Social Sciences hired five young scholars. One of the requirements listed for these positions was “to demonstrate loyalty to the Party and to criticize the Dalai Lama in both words and deeds.”

In accordance with government guidance on ethnic assimilation, state policies continued to disrupt traditional Tibetan living patterns and customs and accelerated forced assimilation through promoting the influx of non-Tibetans to traditionally Tibetan areas, expanding the domestic tourism industry, forcibly resettling and urbanizing nomads and farmers, and weakening Tibetan-language education in public schools and religious education in monasteries.

Tibetan and Mandarin Chinese are the official languages of the TAR, and both languages appeared on some, but not all, public and commercial signs. Inside official buildings and businesses, including banks, post offices, and hospitals, signage in Tibetan was frequently lacking, and, in many instances, forms and documents were available only in Mandarin. Mandarin was used for most official communications and was the predominant language of instruction in public schools in many Tibetan areas. To print in the Tibetan language, private printing businesses in Chengdu needed special government approval, which was often difficult to obtain.

During the year the Communist Party continued to bring Larung Gar and Yachen Gar, two prominent Tibetan Buddhist educational centers, under tighter Communist Party control, giving Communist Party cadres authority over the institutions’ management, finances, security, and admissions. This was part of an ongoing effort, started in 2016, to reduce the population of these institutes by evicting around 5,000 monks and nuns and destroying as many as 1,500 homes.

The law states, “schools (classes and grades) and other institutions of education where most of the students come from minority nationalities shall, whenever possible, use textbooks in their own languages and use their languages as the media of instruction.” Despite guarantees of cultural and linguistic rights, many primary, middle, high school, and college students had limited access to officially approved Tibetan language instruction and textbooks, particularly in the areas of “modern-day education,” which refers to nontraditional, nonreligious education, particularly computer, physical education, arts, and other “modern” subjects.

The country’s most prestigious universities provided no instruction in Tibetan or other ethnic minority languages, although classes teaching the Tibetan language were available at a small number of universities. “Nationalities” universities, established to serve ethnic minority students and ethnic Chinese students interested in ethnic minority subjects, offered Tibetan language instruction only in courses focused on the study of the Tibetan language or culture. Mandarin was used in courses for jobs that required technical skills and qualifications.

b. Freedom of Peaceful Assembly and Association

Even in areas officially designated as “autonomous,” Tibetans generally lacked the right to organize and play a meaningful role in the protection of their cultural heritage and unique natural environment. Tibetans often faced government intimidation and arrest if they protested official policies or practices.

In February the TAR Public Security Office announced it would consider as criminals those who promote “economic, people’s livelihood, environmental, traditional, and cultural development in Tibetan areas” on behalf of the “Dalai clique” and “foreign hostile forces,” and would label these “spokespersons” as criminals.

In July local contacts reported that many monasteries and rural villages in the TAR and Tibetan areas in Sichuan and Qinghai provinces received official warnings not to organize certain gatherings, including the celebration of the Dalai Lama’s birthday. In one instance, Radio Free Asia reported authorities from Malho (Chinese: Huangnan) TAP of Qinghai province deployed large numbers of armed police to Tibetan villages and towns to discourage such celebrations. According to these contacts, many Tibetan students at various nationality universities were instructed not to organize gatherings and parties in March (Tibet Uprising Day) or July (the Dalai Lama’s birthday).

c. Freedom of Religion

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

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

Chinese law provides for freedom of internal movement, foreign travel, emigration, and repatriation; however, the government severely restricted travel and freedom of movement for Tibetans, particularly Tibetan Buddhist monks and nuns as well as lay persons whom the government considered to have “poor political records.”

In-country Movement: The People’s Armed Police (PAP) and local public security bureaus set up roadblocks and checkpoints in Tibetan areas on major roads, in cities, and on the outskirts of cities and monasteries, particularly around sensitive dates. Tibetans traveling in monastic attire were subject to extra scrutiny by police at roadside checkpoints and at airports.

Authorities sometimes banned Tibetans, particularly monks and nuns, from going outside the TAR and from traveling to the TAR without first obtaining special permission from multiple government offices. Many Tibetans reported encountering difficulties in obtaining the required permissions. This not only made it difficult for Tibetans to make pilgrimages to sacred religious sites in the TAR. Tibetans from outside the TAR who traveled to Lhasa also reported that authorities there required them to surrender their national identification cards and notify authorities of their plans in detail on a daily basis. These requirements were not applied to ethnic Chinese visitors to the TAR.

Even outside the TAR, many Tibetan monks and nuns reported it remained difficult to travel beyond their home monasteries for religious and traditional Tibetan education, with officials frequently denying permission for visiting monks to stay at a monastery for religious education. Implementation of this restriction was especially rigorous in the TAR, and it undermined the traditional Tibetan Buddhist practice of seeking advanced teachings from a select number of senior teachers based at major monasteries scattered across the Tibetan Plateau.

Foreign Travel: Many Tibetans continued to report difficulties in obtaining new or renewing existing passports. Sources reported that Tibetans and certain other ethnic minorities had to provide far more extensive documentation than other citizens when applying for a Chinese passport. For Tibetans, the passport application process sometimes required years and frequently ended in rejection. Some Tibetans reported they were able to obtain passports only after paying substantial bribes and offering written promises to conduct only apolitical or nonsensitive international travel.

Tibetans continued to encounter significant obstacles in traveling to India for religious, educational, and other purposes. Tibetans who had traveled to Nepal and planned to continue to India reported that Chinese officials visited their homes in Tibet and threatened their relatives if they did not return immediately. Sources reported that explicit punishments included placing family members on a blacklist which could lead to the loss of a government job or difficulty in finding employment; expulsion of children from the public education system; and revocation of national identification cards, thereby preventing access to other social services, such as health care and government aid.

According to local contacts, very few Tibetans from China were able to attend teaching sessions held by the Dalai Lama throughout the year in many parts of India, as local Chinese officials refused to issue passports. Many Tibetans who possessed passports were concerned the authorities would place them on the government’s blacklist, and therefore did not travel. In January the Tibetan Journalreported the Chinese government issued orders for the immediate return of Tibetans on pilgrimage in India and Nepal or attending the Dalai Lama’s teachings, with serious consequences for those who refused.

Tightened border controls sharply limited the number of Tibetans crossing the border into Nepal and India. Between January and July, 23 Tibetan refugees transited Nepal through the Tibetan Reception Center, run by the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees in Kathmandu, en route to permanent settlement in India. This reflected a decrease for two straight years.

The government restricted the movement of Tibetans in the period before and during sensitive anniversaries and events and increased controls over border areas at these times. According to local contacts, travel agents in the cities of Chengdu, Xining, and Kunming were forbidden to sell overseas package tours to Tibetans for the months of March and July, the periods around Tibet Uprising Day (March 10) and the Dalai Lama’s birthday (July 6).

In February, shortly after the Tibetan New Year and in advance of Tibet Uprising Day and the convening of China’s national legislature, Radio Free Asia reported that immigration authorities at Chengdu international airport detained three ethnic Tibetans holding non-Chinese passports and valid Chinese visas for eight hours before denying them entry to China and requiring they depart on the next international flight. During their detention, immigration officials and police officers interrogated and searched their web chats and notebooks as well as made copies of their telephone contacts.

The government strictly regulated travel of international visitors to the TAR, a restriction not applied to any other provincial-level entity of the PRC. In accordance with a 1989 regulation, international visitors had to obtain an official confirmation letter issued by the TAR government before entering the TAR. Most foreign tourists obtained such letters by booking tours through officially registered travel agencies. In the TAR, a government-designated tour guide had to accompany international tourists at all times. It was rare for foreigners to obtain permission to enter the TAR by road. As with prior years, authorities banned many international tourists from the TAR in the period before and during the March anniversary of the 1959 Tibetan uprising as well as other periods in which the Chinese government deemed politically sensitive. International tourists sometimes also faced restrictions traveling to Tibetan areas outside the TAR during such times.

The TAR government routinely denied foreign diplomats’ requests for official travel. When foreign officials were allowed to travel to the TAR, the Foreign Affairs Office only allowed closely chaperoned trips. Authorities repeatedly denied requests for international journalists to visit the TAR and other Tibetan areas (see Freedom of Expression section).

Although foreign officials were able to travel more freely in Tibetan areas outside of the TAR, the PAP and local public security bureaus often subjected them to multiple checkpoints.

Section 3. Freedom to Participate in the Political Process

According to the law, Tibetans and other Chinese citizens have the right to vote in some local elections. The Chinese government, however, severely restricted its citizens’ ability to participate in any meaningful elections. Citizens could not freely choose the officials who governed them and the CCP continued to control appointments to positions of political power.

Since 2015, the TAR and many Tibetan areas have strictly implemented the Regulation for Village Committee Management, which stipulates that the primary condition for participating in any local election is the “willingness to resolutely fight against separatism;” in some cases, this condition was interpreted to require candidates to denounce the Dalai Lama. Several sources reported that newly appointed Communist Party cadres have replaced more than 90 percent of traditional village leaders in the TAR and in Tibetan areas outside the TAR over the last two years, despite the lack of village elections.

Section 4. Corruption and Lack of Transparency in Government

The law provides criminal penalties for corrupt acts by officials, but the government did not implement the law effectively in Tibetan areas, and high-ranking officials often engaged in corrupt practices with impunity. There were numerous reports of government corruption in Tibetan areas during the year; some low-ranked officials were punished.

Section 6. Discrimination, Societal Abuses, and Trafficking in Persons

Women

Coercion in Population Control: As in the rest of China, there were reports of coerced abortions and sterilizations, although government statistics on the percentage of abortions coerced during the year were not available. The CCP restricts the rights of parents to choose the number of children they have and utilizes family planning units from the provincial to the village level to enforce population limits and distributions.

Discrimination: There were no formal restrictions on women’s participation in the political system, and women held many lower-level government positions. Nevertheless, they were underrepresented at the provincial and prefectural levels of government.

Children

Many rural Tibetan areas have implemented China’s nationwide “compulsory” and “centralized education” policy, which forced the closure of many village and monastic schools and the transfer of students, including elementary school students, to boarding schools in towns and cities. Reports indicated many of the boarding schools did not adequately care for and supervise their younger students. This policy also resulted in diminished acquisition of the Tibetan language and culture by removing Tibetan children from their homes and communities where the Tibetan language is used. It has also led to the removal of young monks from monasteries, forcing them instead into government-run schools.

Trafficking in Persons

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

National/Racial/Ethnic Minorities

Although the 2010 TAR census figures showed that Tibetans made up 90.5 percent of the TAR’s permanently registered population, official figures did not include a large number of long-, medium-, and short-term ethnic Chinese migrants, such as cadres, skilled and unskilled laborers, military and paramilitary troops, and their respective dependents. Tibetans continued to make up nearly 98 percent of those registered as permanent residents in rural areas of the TAR, according to official census figures.

Migrants to the TAR and other parts of the Tibetan Plateau were overwhelmingly concentrated in urban areas. Government policies to subsidize economic development often benefited ethnic Chinese migrants more than Tibetans. In many predominantly Tibetan cities across the Tibetan Plateau, ethnic Chinese or Hui migrants owned and managed most of the small businesses, restaurants, and retail shops.

Observers continued to express concern that major development projects and other central government policies disproportionately benefited non-Tibetans and resulted in a considerable influx of ethnic Chinese and Hui persons into the TAR and other Tibetan areas. Large state-owned enterprises based outside the TAR engineered or implemented many major infrastructure projects across the Tibetan Plateau, with ethnic Chinese professionals and low-wage temporary migrant workers from other provinces, rather than local residents, managing and staffing the projects.

Economic and social exclusion was a major source of discontent among a varied cross section of Tibetans. Some Tibetans continued to report discrimination in employment. Some Tibetans reported it was more difficult for them than ethnic Chinese to obtain permits and loans to open businesses, and the government gave many ethnic Chinese, especially retired soldiers, incentives to move to Tibet. Restrictions increased during the year on both local NGOs that received foreign funding and international NGOs that provided assistance to Tibetan communities, resulting in a decrease of NGO programs in the TAR and other Tibetan areas. Throughout the year there were no known Tibetan Plateau-based international NGOs operating in the country.

The government continued its campaign to resettle Tibetan nomads into urban areas and newly created communities in rural areas across the TAR and other Tibetan areas. Improving housing conditions, health care, and education for Tibet’s poorest persons were among the stated goals of resettlement, although there was a pattern of settling herders near townships and roads and away from monasteries, which were the traditional providers of community and social services. A requirement that herders bear a substantial part of the resettlement costs often forced resettled families into debt. The government’s campaign resulted in many resettled herders losing their livelihoods and living in impoverished conditions in urban areas.

Although a 2015 media report noted that Tibetans and other minority ethnic groups made up 70 percent of government employees in the TAR, the top CCP position of TAR party secretary continued to be held by an ethnic Chinese, and the corresponding positions in the vast majority of all TAR counties were also held by ethnic Chinese. Within the TAR, ethnic Chinese also continued to hold a disproportionate number of the top security, military, financial, economic, legal, judicial, and educational positions. The law requires Party secretaries and governors of ethnic minority autonomous prefectures and regions to be from that ethnic minority; however, ethnic Chinese were party secretaries in eight of the nine TAPs located in Gansu, Qinghai, Sichuan, and Yunnan Provinces. One TAP in Qinghai Province had a Tibetan party secretary. Authorities strictly prohibited Tibetans holding government and CCP positions from openly worshipping at monasteries or otherwise publicly practicing their religion.

Government propaganda against alleged Tibetan “proindependence forces” contributed to Chinese societal discrimination against ordinary Tibetans. Many Tibetan monks and nuns chose to wear nonreligious clothing to avoid harassment when traveling outside their monasteries and throughout China. Some Tibetans reported that taxi drivers throughout China refused to stop for them and hotels refused to provide rooms.

READ A SECTION: CHINA | TIBET (ABOVE) | HONG KONG | MACAU

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

Executive Summary

READ A SECTION: ISRAEL AND THE GOLAN HEIGHTS  | WEST BANK AND GAZA (BELOW)

The Palestinian Authority (PA) basic law provides for an elected president and legislative council. There have been no national elections in the West Bank and Gaza since 2006. The president has remained in office notwithstanding the expiration of his four-year term in 2009. The Palestinian Legislative Council (PLC) has not functioned since 2007. On December 22, President Abbas announced that the PA Constitutional Court had issued a decision dissolving the PLC and calling for PLC elections within six months. The PA head of government is Prime Minister Rami Hamdallah. PA President Mahmoud Abbas is also Chairman of the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) and General Commander of the Fatah movement.

The PA exercised varying degrees of authority in the West Bank and no authority over Gaza. The PA maintains civil and security control in Area A of the West Bank and civil control and joint security control with Israel in Area B. The PA has no authority over either Israeli or Palestinian residents in Area C of the West Bank where Israel retains both security and civil control. Both PA and Israeli civilian authorities maintained effective control over their security forces. Although PA laws apply in Gaza, the PA did not have authority to enforce laws there. In 2007 Hamas staged a violent takeover of PA government installations in Gaza and has since been the de facto authority in the territory, which it governs with a combination of PA laws and Hamas decrees. Hamas maintained control of security forces in Gaza.

On March 30, Palestinians in Gaza launched the “March of Return,” a series of weekly protests along the fence between Gaza and Israel. The protests, some of which drew tens of thousands of people, and included armed terrorists, militants who launched incendiary devices into Israel, and unarmed protesters, continued throughout the year. Hamas took control of the weekly protests, and many of the protests were violent as encouraged by Hamas.

Human rights issues included:

  • With respect to the PA: reports of unlawful or arbitrary killings; reports of systematic torture; reports of arbitrary detention; political prisoners; arbitrary or unlawful interference with privacy, family and home; undue restrictions on free expression and the press, including detention of journalists and the criminalization of libel, and restrictions on the internet, including censorship and site blocking; substantial interference with the rights of peaceful assembly and freedom of association, including harassment of nongovernmental organizations (NGOs); restrictions on political participation, as the PA has not held a national election since 2006; corruption; reports of crimes involving violence or threats motivated by anti-Semitism, payments to Palestinians in Israeli prisons, including those convicted of acts of terrorism against Israelis; reports that the government did not effectively prosecute allegations of rape and domestic violence; and use of forced or compulsory child labor.
  • With respect to Israel authorities: reports of unlawful or arbitrary killings, including reports that deaths of Palestinians in the course of Israeli military operations were due to unnecessary or disproportionate use of force; reports of torture; reports of arbitrary detention; arbitrary or unlawful interference with privacy, family and home, including demolitions of unpermitted homes and schools; restrictions on free expression and the press, including detention of journalists; interference with the rights of peaceful assembly and freedom of association; and restrictions on freedom of movement, including the requirement of exit permits.
  • With respect to Hamas: reports of unlawful or arbitrary killings; reports of systematic torture; reports of arbitrary detention; political prisoners; arbitrary or unlawful interference with privacy, family and home; undue restrictions on free expression, the press, and the internet, including detention of journalists, censorship, and site blocking; substantial interference with the rights of peaceful assembly and freedom of association; significant restrictions on freedom of movement, including the requirement of exit permits; restrictions on political participation, as there has been no national election since 2006; corruption; unlawful recruitment or use of child soldiers; threats of violence motivated by anti-Semitism; violence or threats of violence targeting lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and intersex (LGBTI) persons; and use of forced or compulsory child labor.
  • With respect to Palestinian civilians: numerous reports of unlawful or arbitrary killings, including killings of seven Israeli soldiers and seven Israeli civilians; and reports of crimes involving violence or threats motivated by anti-Semitism.
  • With respect to Israeli civilians: one report of unlawful or arbitrary killing of a Palestinian resident of the West Bank; and property defacement and destruction of agriculture.

The PA and Israeli authorities took steps to address impunity or reduce abuses, but there were criticisms both did not adequately pursue investigations and disciplinary actions related to violations. There were no legal or independent institutions capable of holding accountable the Hamas de facto authority in Gaza.

This section includes the West Bank and Gaza. In December 2017 the United States recognized Jerusalem as the capital of Israel. It is the position of the United States that the specific boundaries of Israeli sovereignty in Jerusalem are subject to final status negotiations between the parties. Many NGOs and international organizations reporting on the region combine statistics from the West Bank and East Jerusalem, so references to their reports in this section sometimes include data from East Jerusalem.

As stated in Appendix A, this report contains data drawn from foreign government officials; victims of alleged human rights violations and abuses; academic and congressional studies; and reports from the press, international organizations, and NGOs concerned with human rights. In the context of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, some of those sources have been accused of harboring political motivations. The Department of State assesses external reporting carefully but does not conduct independent investigations in all cases. We have sought and received input from the government of Israel and we have noted responses where applicable.

Section 1. Respect for the Integrity of the Person, Including Freedom from:

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

Palestinian terrorist groups and unaffiliated individuals killed seven Israeli civilians and five Israeli Defense Forces (IDF) soldiers in terrorist attacks in the West Bank, and more were injured, according to the Israeli NGO B’Tselem. In addition, the Israeli government reported that security forces foiled approximately 500 terrorist attacks during the year.

For example, on September 17, 17-year-old Palestinian Khalil Jabarin fatally stabbed Ari Fuld at a shopping mall in the West Bank, before being shot by Fuld and another civilian and arrested by police. An Israeli military court indicted Jabarin on October 22 for “intentionally causing death,” and he remained in custody pending trial at year’s end.

During the year Israeli forces killed Palestinians in the West Bank who were attempting or allegedly attempting to attack Israelis, according to B’Tselem and media reports. According to media reports and B’Tselem, some of those killed did not pose a lethal threat to the Israeli Security Forces (ISF) or civilians at the time they were killed.

For example, on December 4, IDF soldiers shot and killed Mohammad Khosam Khabali in the West Bank city of Tulkarm. After the incident, the IDF claimed they were reacting to a group of rock throwing Palestinians. B’Tselem compiled security camera videos showing Khabali walking away from the soldiers when he was killed.

On March 30, Palestinians in Gaza launched the “March of Return,” a series of weekly protests along the fence between Gaza and Israel. The protests, some of which drew tens of thousands of people, and included armed terrorists, militants who launched incendiary devices into Israel, and unarmed protesters, continued throughout the year. Hamas took control of the weekly protests, and many of the protests were violent. IDF shot and killed 190 Palestinians at the Gaza border as of the end of the year, including 41 minors, according to B’Tselem. According to the World Health organization, 6,239 Palestinians in Gaza were injured by IDF live fire in the protests. B’Tselem stated that 149 of the Palestinian protesters who were killed did not take part in hostilities. The government stated that many of the victims were operatives of Hamas or encouraged by Hamas to protest near the border. For example, following media reports that the IDF shot and killed 62 Palestinians at the Gaza fence on May 14, Hamas and Islamic Jihad claimed at least 53 were affiliated with their organizations, including some who were active members. The IDF stated they opened an internal inquiry into each Palestinian death at the border. The Israeli Military Advocate General opened five criminal investigations into IDF actions at the Gaza border, as of the end of the year.

On June 1, IDF shot and killed Razan al-Najjar north of Khuza’ah in Gaza during a Friday protest near the security fence with Israel. Al-Najjar was identified as a medical provider, according to B’Tselem. On October 29, media reported that Israel’s Military Advocate General (MAG) rejected the findings of an IDF inquiry that concluded a soldier did not deliberately shoot her. According to a New York Timesreport, an IDF sniper fired one round of live ammunition into a crowd including 14 white-coated medics, including al-Najjar, when no protesters in the immediate vicinity were conducting violent acts. According to the government, the circumstances of al-Najjar’s death were under investigation by the Military Police.

Gaza-based militant groups periodically conducted small arms attacks into Israel during the protests. In addition, from March 30 to December 5, Palestinian militant groups launched more than 1,150 rockets and mortars from the Gaza Strip indiscriminately toward civilian areas in Israel, as well as incendiary devices tied to kites and balloons that sparked nearly 2,000 fires and burned more than 5,600 acres of land in Israel, according to the government. More than 200 Israelis required treatment from these attacks, mostly for shock. Gaza-based militants shot and killed one Israeli soldier and a rocket launched by Gaza-based militant killed one Palestinian laborer in Ashkelon. On July 20, a Palestinian sniper shot and killed IDF Staff Sergeant Aviv Levi, an Israeli infantry soldier.

In August the Israeli military opened an investigation into the IDF shootings of two Palestinian minors in Gaza. According to an Israeli military statement, an initial probe suggested the soldiers who shot and killed 18-year-old Abed Nabi in March and 15-year-old Othman Hellis in July during Gaza border protests did not adhere to open-fire regulations.

Following multiple terrorist attacks by Palestinians in the West Bank in November and December, the IDF killed two Palestinian drivers and one minor passenger in three incidents in which IDF soldiers perceived attempts to ram vehicles into soldiers at checkpoints. According to B’Tselem, none of the three events were ramming attacks, and one of the adults and the minor passenger were shot in the back as their cars were driving away from checkpoints.

According to media reports, on October 28, an IDF drone strike killed three minors near the eastern Gaza perimeter fence. According to the IDF, the minors were planting an explosive device. The government stated it opened investigations into all deaths at the fence.

According to the government, Gaza-based militants, including Hamas, Palestinian Islamic Jihad, al-Aqsa Martyrs’ Brigades, al-Mujahideen Movement, and other militant factions launched more than 1150 rockets and mortars toward Israel. These attacks killed a Palestinian laborer in Ashkelon and injured an IDF soldier. According to NGOs, media, and the Israeli government, Gaza-based militants fired rockets from civilian locations toward civilian targets.

In response to the rocket, mortar and incendiary attacks, and attempts to infiltrate Israel through the fence, the IDF launched 865 strikes against targets in Gaza during the year, according to the IDF. Air strikes and tank shellings killed 27 Palestinians at least seven of whom were civilians not participating in hostilities, according to B’Tselem. Seventeen of those killed in air strikes were militants, according to the Israeli government. According to B’Tselem, the IDF killed two minors in Gaza on July 14 in a “roof knocking,” a tactic in which a low-explosive projectile is dropped on the roof of a building to warn residents to vacate ahead of a full air strike. B’Tselem released a report on December 19 alleging the IDF withheld aerial footage of the event showing the teenage boys sitting on the edge of the roof. On August 9, the IDF struck more than 150 targets in the Gaza Strip in response to more than 180 rockets and mortars fired by Gaza-based militants into Israel. One of the IDF airstrikes killed one-year-old Bayan Abu Khamash and his pregnant mother, 22-year-old Inas Abu Kahmas, while they were asleep at home in Deir al-Balah, Gaza.

There were reports of Gazan fishermen killed by Israeli and Egyptian authorities. According to the NGO Palestinian Center for Human Rights (PCHR), Israeli soldiers on a naval vessel shot and killed an 18-year-old Gazan fisherman, Isma’il Saleh Abu Riyalah in February. On November 8, Egyptian naval forces allegedly shot and killed Gazan Mostafa Abu Audeh while he was fishing just off the coast of the Palestinian city of Rafah. According to press, the Egyptian military denied the reports.

In Gaza, according to PCHR, Hamas extrajudicially executed seven persons during the year and has issued 125 death sentences since 2007. At year’s end, there were 10 persons in Hamas prisons awaiting capital punishment. PCHR noted a significant increase in application of the death penalty in Gaza since 2007 and particularly in the last three years. By law the PA president must ratify each death penalty sentence, but Hamas proceeded with these executions without the PA president’s approval.

On May 8, Israeli authorities released IDF soldier Elor Azaria from a military prison after nine months’ incarceration for killing incapacitated Palestinian attacker, Abed al-Fatah al-Sharif, in Hebron in 2016. A military court found Azaria guilty of manslaughter in January 2017. IDF Chief of Staff Gadi Eisenkot shortened Azaria’s sentence from 18 months to 14 months in September 2017. Israeli President Reuven Rivlin denied Azaria’s request for clemency in November 2017. The parole board approved releasing Azaria after completing two-thirds of his sentence, as is customary in Israel. According to media reports, Azaria’s punishment included demotion to the rank of private prior to his discharge from the IDF.

The sixth update of the MAG investigation into the 2014 Gaza war closed 88 more cases, bringing the total of alleged incidents closed without charges to 186 of 360. MAG previously brought charges against three soldiers for looting. The remaining investigations were ongoing or not mentioned. This update addressed the IDF application of the “Hannibal Directive,” which calls for overwhelming firepower when an enemy captures an IDF soldier to prevent use of the soldier as a hostage. A March State Comptroller report on the war criticized the Hannibal Directive–which the IDF replaced in 2017–for failing to mention distinction and proportionality, as well as for ambiguous wording that led to confusion about whether the IDF should risk killing its own soldier when attacking kidnappers to prevent a hostage situation. Human rights organizations criticized MAG for failing to find fault in hundreds of incidents that caused more than 1,000 Palestinian civilian deaths, and for focusing on actions by individual soldiers, who may have violated IDF rules or the law, rather than the conformity of IDF rules and policies with international law, including high-level orders regarding the use of force.

b. Disappearance

In the West Bank, there were no reports of disappearances by or on behalf of government authorities in 2018. There was no new information on the disappearances in 2014 and 2015 of three Israeli citizens, Avraham Abera Mengistu, Hisham al-Sayed, and Juma Ibrahim Abu Ghanima, who crossed into Gaza and whom Hamas reportedly apprehended and held incommunicado.

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

The PA basic law prohibits torture or use of force against detainees; however, international and local human rights groups reported that torture and abuse remained a problem. According to an October Human Rights Watch (HRW) report based on 86 cases and dozens of interviews of former detainees, lawyers, and family members, torture occurred in detention centers in both Gaza and the West Bank by Hamas and PA security services. Based on 147 interviews with prisoners, HRW assessed abuse was systematic and routinely practiced in PA prisons, particularly in the PA’s Intelligence, Preventive Security, and Joint Security Committee detention facilities in Jericho. HRW reported tactics including forcing detainees to hold painful stress positions for long periods, beating, punching, and flogging. The spokesperson for PA’s security services, Adnan al-Dumairi, claimed the report was politically motivated and faulted HRW for not fact-checking it with the PA Ministry of Interior.

In September the Middle East Monitor reported that 28-year-old Ahmed Abu Hamada died in a PA jail. The PA reported that he died of natural causes. According to the Middle East Monitor, human rights groups alleged that he died due to torture in detention. Abu Hamada was reportedly a member of the Al Aqsa Martyrs’ Brigades and had been charged with “causing security chaos.”

Palestinian detainees held by Palestinian Authority Security Forces (PASF) registered complaints of abuse and torture with the Palestinian Authority’s Independent Commission for Human Rights (ICHR). The PA Corrections and Rehabilitation Centers Department (CRCD), under the authority of the Ministry of Interior, continued to maintain a mechanism for reviewing complaints of prisoner abuse in civil prisons but reported no cases of inmate abuse by its staff. HRW reported that despite hundreds of complaints having been filed, no disciplinary action was taken in the majority of the cases. The PA denied the use of torture. CRCD conducted yearly assessments of all seven civil prisons in the West Bank to review prison operations, including mechanisms of reporting allegations of abuse and subsequent investigation and disciplinary action.

The ICHR and HRW reported that Hamas internal security tortured detainees. For example, one detainee reported being whipped on his feet and chest with a cable. In letters to HRW, Hamas denied the allegations.

Human rights organizations such as the Public Committee Against Torture in Israel (PCATI) reported that “special interrogation methods” used by Israeli security personnel against Palestinian security detainees in the West Bank included beatings, forcing an individual to hold a stress position for long periods, threats of rape and physical harm, and painful pressure from shackles or restraints applied to the forearms, sleep deprivation, and threats against families of detainees. Female prisoners and detainees reported harassment and abuse in detention by the ISF. According to PCATI there was no investigation into these complaints.

NGO HaMoked alleged that Israeli detention practices included prolonged solitary confinement, lack of food, exposure to the elements, and threats to demolish family homes.

Military Court Watch (MCW) and HaMoked claimed Israeli security services used these techniques to coerce confessions from minors arrested on suspicion of stone throwing or others acts of violence. Israeli officials stated they did not use these techniques.

Prison and Detention Center Conditions

Physical conditions in prisons and detention centers in the West Bank were reportedly poor. The PA does not publish data on detainee numbers. In responses to HRW in April, Preventive Security claimed it held 126 detainees and Intelligence Services claimed it held 61 detainees.

The basic conditions of Hamas-run prisons in Gaza were reportedly poor, prison cells were overcrowded, and there were many reports of abuses. There were an estimated 4,000 detainees in Gaza prisons with about 50 percent held in correctional facilities and 50 percent in temporary police detention, according to the United Nations. Approximately 100 detainees were held by Hamas’ Internal Security Agency. There were approximately 60 women and 60 minor detainees, each held in separate facilities.

Israeli authorities detained inside Israel 82 percent of Palestinian prisoners arrested by the ISF in the West Bank. According to the MCW, as of year’s end, these comprised 5,370 Palestinian detainees. According to Israel Prison Service figures obtained by MCW, the monthly average of minors in detention during the year was 283. As of year’s end, there were eight members of the PLC being held in Israeli prisons.

NGOs reported all prisons lacked adequate facilities and specialized medical care for detainees and prisoners with disabilities.

Physical Conditions: PA prisons continued to be crowded and lacked ventilation, heating, cooling, and lighting systems conforming to international standards. Authorities at times held male juveniles with adult male prisoners. Security services used separate detention facilities. Conditions for women were virtually identical to those for men. The PA used several refurbished structures and buildings as prisons, some of which lacked necessary security accommodations.

NGOs, including PCATI and MCW, stated that Israeli authorities appeared to use poor conditions or exposure to weather as an intimidation method.

Administration: According to HRW, mechanisms designed to hold employees and administrators accountable in both PA and Hamas detention facilities rarely, if ever, led to consequences for serious abuses. There were reports that prison administrators denied some detainees visits from family members.

Human rights groups such as the PCHR reported families of imprisoned Palestinians, particularly Gazans, had only limited ability to visit prisoners due to their detention inside Israel and the lack of entry permits to Israel for most Palestinians.

Independent Monitoring: In the West Bank, the PA permitted the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) access to detainees to assess treatment and conditions. The ICRC continued its regular visits to detention facilities, including interrogation centers, in accordance with its standard modalities, as in previous years. Human rights groups, humanitarian organizations, and lawyers indicated that, as in previous years, there were some difficulties in gaining access to specific detainees held by the PA–depending on which PA security organization managed the facility.

In Gaza, Hamas granted ICRC access to detainees to assess treatment and conditions. The ICRC continued its regular visits to detention facilities, including interrogation centers, in accordance with its standard modalities, as in previous years. Human rights organizations conducted monitoring visits to some prisoners in Gaza, but Hamas authorities denied representatives permission to visit high-profile detainees and prisoners.

The Israeli government permitted visits by independent human rights observers. NGOs sent representatives to meet with Palestinian prisoners–including those on hunger strikes–and inspect conditions in Israeli prisons, detention centers, and some ISF facilities. Palestinian families and human rights groups reported delays and difficulties in gaining access to specific detainees from Israeli authorities. They also reported transfers of detainees without notice and claimed Israeli authorities at times used transfer practices punitively against prisoners engaging in hunger strikes.

d. Arbitrary Arrest or Detention

For information on treatment of Palestinians in Israeli prisons as well as prison conditions in Israel, see the Israel report. PA law prohibits arbitrary arrest and detention. Nonetheless, the PA criminal justice system often did not provide a prompt and speedy trial. There were widespread instances of PA detention without charge or trial for selected security detainees in PASF custody. The PA also arrested without charge Palestinians who posted critical social media postings, journalists critical of the PA, and individuals from areas known to support PA President Abbas’ exiled Fatah rival Muhammad Dahlan, according to HRW.

In October the PA arrested in the West Bank a Palestinian resident of East Jerusalem allegedly involved in the sale of an apartment in the Old City’s Muslim Quarter to a Jew, for allegedly violating a law that prohibits “transferring positions to the enemy.” On December 31, a criminal court sentenced him to life in prison with hard labor.

Hamas practiced widespread arbitrary detention in Gaza, particularly of Fatah members, civil society activists, journalists, and those accused of publicly criticizing Hamas. For example, Hamas arrested dozens of Fatah members for their planned participation in a gathering to watch President Abbas’ UN General Assembly speech in September. Some detainees registered complaints with the PA’s ICHR that their arrests were arbitrary. Information concerning the whereabouts and welfare of those detained was not consistently or reliably available. Hamas did not respect fair trial guarantees or provide access to family and legal counsel to many of those detained.

Since taking control of the West Bank in 1967, Israel has prosecuted Palestinian residents of the West Bank under military law. Since 1967 the Israeli Knesset has extended Israeli criminal and civil law protections to the 412,000 Israeli settlers in the West Bank.

Under Israeli military law, the IPS may hold adults suspected of a security offense for four days prior to bringing them before a judge, with limited exceptions that allow the IPS to detain a suspect for up to eight days prior to bringing the suspect before the senior judge of a district court. Israeli law defines security offenses to include any offense committed under circumstances that might raise a suspicion of harm to Israel’s security and which the ISF believes may link to terrorist activity. Suspects between the ages of 12 and 14 can be held up to one day, with a possible one-day extension. Those between the ages of 14 and 16 can be held up to two days, with a possible two-day extension. Those between the ages of 16 and 18 can be held up to four days, with a possible four-day extension.

Under military law, in security-related cases, Israeli authorities may hold adults for 20 days prior to an indictment, with the possibility of additional 15-day extensions up to 75 days. An Israeli military appeals court can then extend the detention up to 90 days at a time. Prior to an indictment in security-related cases, authorities may hold minors for 15 days, with the possibility of 10-day extensions up to 40 days. An Israeli military appeals court can then extend the detention up to 90 days at a time.

The Emergency Powers Law allows the Israeli Ministry of Defense to detain persons administratively without charge for up to six months, renewable indefinitely.

The Illegal Combatant Law permits Israeli authorities to hold a detainee for 14 days before review by a district court judge, deny access to counsel for up to 21 days with the attorney general’s approval, and allow indefinite detention subject to twice-yearly district court reviews and appeals to Israel’s Supreme Court.

ROLE OF THE POLICE AND SECURITY APPARATUS

West Bank Palestinian population centers mostly fall into Area A, as defined by the Oslo-era agreements. In Area A, which contains 55 percent of the Palestinian population on approximately 18 percent of West Bank land, the PA has formal responsibility for security and civil control. Nevertheless, according to media reports, since 2002 Israeli security forces regularly conducted security operations in Area A, at times without coordinating with the PASF. During the year the IDF conducted incursions throughout Area A in the West Bank, citing security concerns. The PA has civil control, and the PA and Israel maintain joint security control of Area B territory in the West Bank, which contains 41 percent of the population on approximately 21 percent of the land. Israel retains full civil and security control of Area C, which comprises approximately 4 percent of the Palestinian population and 61 percent of the land of the West Bank, although the majority of land in Area C is vacant, and according to the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (UNOCHA), Israel has designated 30 percent of Area C as closed military zones. According to Israel’s Central Bureau of Statistics, approximately 413,000 Israelis live in Area C Israeli settlements.

Six PA security forces operate in the West Bank. Several are under the PA Ministry of Interior’s operational control and follow the prime minister’s guidance. The Palestinian Civil Police have primary responsibility for civil and community policing. The National Security Force conducts gendarmerie-style security operations in circumstances that exceed the capabilities of the civil police. The Military Intelligence Agency handles intelligence and criminal matters involving PASF personnel, including accusations of abuse and corruption; it can refer cases to court. The General Intelligence Service is responsible for external intelligence gathering and operations. The Preventive Security Organization is responsible for internal intelligence gathering and investigations related to internal security cases (for example, antiterrorism, weapons violations, and money laundering). The Presidential Guard protects facilities and provides dignitary protection.

The PA maintained effective control over its security forces and has mechanisms to investigate and punish abuse and corruption. Some Israeli officials claimed that PA authorities failed to prevent and, in fact, incited violence, including terrorist attacks, against Israelis.

The PA and the PLO continued to provide “martyr payments” to the families of Palestinian individuals killed during the commission of a terrorist act. The PA and the PLO also continued to provide payments to Palestinians in Israeli prisons, including those convicted of acts of terrorism against Israelis. These payments and separate stipends for prisoners were first initiated by the PLO in 1965 and continued under the PA since the Oslo Accords with Israel. President Abbas said he will use his last penny “on the families of the prisoners and martyrs.”

In Gaza, Hamas forces exercised de facto authority. Impunity remained a problem. Hamas at times instigated violence at the fence with Israel and failed to prevent or deter violence in numerous other instances.

Israeli authorities maintained a West Bank security presence through the ISF, the ISA, the Israel National Police (INP), and Border Guard. According to organizations such as Yesh Din, PCATI, and B’Tselem, Israeli authorities took some steps to investigate and punish abuse and corruption, but there were reports of failure to take disciplinary action in cases of abuse (see section 1.a.). The ISF stated it continued to open investigations automatically into claims of abuse of Palestinians in Israeli military police custody. Yesh Din claimed the automatic opening of investigations applied only to some Israeli military activity in the West Bank, but not to Palestinians reporting abuse in custody. Reports of abuse go to the Israeli Attorney General’s Office; PCATI reported Israeli authorities systematically disregarded abuse allegations.

NGOs such as Yesh Din and Rabbis for Human Rights also criticized Israeli efforts and accountability in investigating reports of Israeli security forces killing Palestinians. In 2016 the State Attorney’s Office filed an indictment on charges of reckless and negligent use of a firearm against two soldiers who shot and killed a 16-year-old in the village of Budrus who was reportedly trying to flee a restricted area. The State Attorney’s Office proposed (among other actions) that the soldiers pay damages to the families, but the soldiers’ attorney rejected the offer. In June MAG withdrew a pending indictment against the soldiers.

According to NGOs Yesh Din and Bimkom, and media reports, the ISF did not respond sufficiently to violence perpetrated against Palestinians by Israelis in the West Bank (see section 6.).

In January the Israel Central District Attorney’s Office indicted two Israeli suspects on charges connected with a 2015 “price tag” arson attack on a Palestinian home in the West Bank village of Douma, which killed a toddler and his parents, and severely injured his four-year-old brother. A perpetrator also spray-painted “Revenge!” and a Star of David on the wall of the home. Authorities charged one Israeli with murder and another with conspiring to commit a crime. In May relatives of the Palestinian family killed in the attack filed a lawsuit against the Israeli government seeking admission of responsibility and damages. In July a defendant who was a minor at the time of the attack was released to house arrest for the remainder of the hearings. The case was ongoing at year’s end.

ARREST PROCEDURES AND TREATMENT OF DETAINEES

PA law generally requires a warrant for arrest and provides for prompt judicial determination of the legality of detention. There are exceptions that allow for PA arrest without a warrant. PA law allows police to hold detainees for 24 hours if there is sufficient evidence to charge a suspect, and for up to 45 days with court approval. PA law requires that a trial start within six months, or authorities must release the detainee. PA authorities held some prisoners detained by order of Palestinian governors in lengthy pretrial detention, according to complaints received by the ICHR. Some PA security forces reportedly detained Palestinians outside appropriate legal procedures, including without warrants and without bringing them before judicial authorities within the required time. There were no known PA detentions extending beyond the six-month time limit without trial. PA authorities generally informed detainees of the charges against them, albeit sometimes not until interrogation. Bail and conditional release were available at the discretion of judicial authorities. PA authorities granted detainees access to a lawyer. PA courts consistently afforded the right to counsel to indigents charged with felony offenses. Indigent defendants charged with misdemeanors often did not receive counsel, although NGO efforts to represent indigent juveniles and adults in misdemeanor cases were at times successful. The Palestinian Bar Association (PBA) adopted a policy in May that restricted lawyers’ ability to represent indigents free of charge. An NGO challenged this policy in court, and in October the PBA rescinded it. Amnesty International reported that the PASF failed to provide prompt access to legal counsel to some detainees, effectively holding them incommunicado during interrogation.

The PA Military Intelligence Organization (PMI) operated without a service-specific mandate to investigate and arrest PA security force personnel and civilians suspected of “security offenses,” such as terrorism. The PMI conducted these activities in a manner consistent with the other PA security services. Hamas continued to charge that the PA detained individuals during the year solely due to their Hamas affiliation. The PA stated it charged many of these individuals with criminal offenses under PA civil or military codes.

In Gaza, Hamas detained a large number of persons during the year without recourse to legal counsel, judicial review, or bail. There also were instances in which de facto Hamas authorities retroactively issued arrest warrants and used military warrants to arrest Gaza residents.

Israeli military law applied to Palestinians in the West Bank. Israeli civil law applied to Israelis living in the West Bank. Under Israeli military law, authorities can hold detainees for up to 60 days without access to a lawyer. Israeli authorities informed Palestinian detainees of the charges against them during detention, but did not always inform them of the reasons for arrest at the time of arrest, according to the MCW. Israeli authorities stated their policy was to post notification of arrests within 48 hours, but senior officers could delay notification for up to 12 days, effectively holding detainees incommunicado during the interrogation process. An Israeli military commander may request that a judge extend this period.

In accordance with law, Israeli authorities generally provided Palestinians held in Israeli military custody inside Israel access to a lawyer of their choice (and provided lawyers for the indigent). Nonetheless, Palestinian detainees often obtained lawyers only after initial interrogations, and according to interviews with 29 minors, HaMoked reported that 22 of them did not see a lawyer prior to their interrogations. Impediments to movement on West Bank roads or at Israeli-operated crossings often made legal consultation difficult and delayed trials and hearings. According to the MCW, many Palestinian detainees saw their lawyer for the first time when they appeared before an Israeli military court. Based on the circumstances of each case, such as the severity of the alleged offense, status as a minor, risk of escape, or other factors, authorities either granted or denied bail to Palestinians detained for security violations, but denied bail in most cases. Israeli authorities delayed or deprived some Palestinian detainees of visits by their families or lawyers.

NGOs such as MCW and HaMoked claimed Israeli authorities in the West Bank frequently failed to inform Palestinian parents why authorities detained their children or where they had been taken. Israeli authorities stated their policy was to provide written notification about the arrest to parents when they arrested a child at home; however, the NGOs argued this occurred only in 19 percent of cases. Legally, minors who are 16 and 17 years old can be held for 96 hours before seeing a judge, the same period applied to adults. The law mandates audiovisual recording of all interrogations of minors in the West Bank but limits this requirement to nonsecurity-related offenses. NGOs expressed concern that the ISF entered Palestinian homes at night to arrest or photograph minors. Israeli military authorities began providing translations into Arabic of some recent changes to military laws affecting Palestinian minors.

During the year there was a decrease in the detention rate of minors, compared with the high in 2015, which coincided with a spike in knife attacks, but the rate remained higher than earlier levels.

In December 2017 the ISF arrested 16-year-old Palestinian Ahed Tamimi, who had a series of previous altercations with the IDF, and charged her with assault after she was filmed slapping an Israeli soldier in the West Bank town of Nabi Saleh. NGOs criticized the nighttime arrest and charges, arguing that Tamimi did not pose a true threat. Tamimi remained in custody for nine months as a result of a plea agreement and sentencing. Her attorney alleged that Tamimi was interrogated by male interrogators without a female present and without an interrogator specialized in questioning minors. It was also alleged that one of the interrogators sexually harassed Tamimi and that threats were made to arrest her relatives if she remained silent during questioning. A formal complaint was filed in April and an IDF spokesperson stated that an investigation had been opened.

In June MCW reported that the majority of minor detainees reported ISF use of blindfolds, hand ties, physical abuse, and threats of violence. The MCW said data from more than 400 MCW detainee testimonials collected between 2013 and 2017 confirmed widespread physical mistreatment by Israeli authorities of Palestinian minor detainees in the West Bank. HaMoked interviewed minors and their families, who reported very similar circumstances of detention, including lack of notification to families of where authorities detained their children, lack of family visits, and coercive interrogation techniques.

According to NGOs, the ISA engaged in the practice of incommunicado detention of Palestinians, including isolation from outside monitors, legal counsel, and family throughout the duration of interrogation.

Arbitrary Arrest: The PA in the West Bank and Hamas de facto authorities in Gaza made arbitrary arrests based on political affiliation, according to ICHR and HRW. In many cases detainees were held without formal charges or proper procedures. There were numerous reports that the PA and Hamas improperly detained Palestinian journalists and arrested Palestinians who posted criticism of the PA (in the West Bank) or Hamas (in Gaza) online. Hamas also targeted those suspected of ties to Israel.

According to human rights NGOs, including the MCW, B’Tselem, and HaMoked, throughout the year there were reports Israeli security forces in the West Bank arbitrarily arrested and detained Palestinian protesters and activists, particularly those participating in demonstrations against the security barrier or against killings of Palestinians.

Pretrial Detention: It was unclear how many Palestinians were held in pretrial detention in West Bank prisons.

Hamas’ de facto Ministry of Interior told HRW that as of April there were more than 4,000 persons in custody, which includes both charged and pretrial detention. It was unclear how long detainees in Hamas custody stayed in pretrial detention.

As of the end of the year, according to the IPS, 467 persons were in administrative detention, including 432 Palestinian residents of the West Bank and four Palestinian residents of Jerusalem. Three people in administrative detention were minors. An Israeli military court must approve an administrative detention order. Palestinian detainees may appeal the ruling to the Israeli Military Appeals Court and the Israeli High Court of Justice (HCJ). The HCJ did not free any Palestinians under administrative detention during the year.

Detainee’s Ability to Challenge Lawfulness of Detention before a Court: Palestinian detainees faced barriers to their ability to challenge in court the legal basis or arbitrary nature of their detention, and to obtain prompt release and compensation if found to have been unlawfully detained. Detainees held in PA custody faced delays in the enforcement of court rulings regarding their detention, especially regarding the PA’s obligation to release suspects who have met bail.

Hamas told HRW that between January 2016 and December 2017, Palestinians in Gaza lodged 314 complaints against the security services for “overstepping the law and mistreatment,” and 90 of them were proven true, according to Hamas’ internal investigations.

Palestinians held by Israeli military authorities in administrative detention have no right to trial and can only challenge their detention before a military court judge. In cases in which the evidence substantiating the charges against a detainee is classified, the detainee has no means of examining the evidence (nor, in some cases, to examine the charges) to challenge the detention.

Civil society organizations and some Israeli members of Knesset continued to criticize the Israeli government for using administrative detention excessively, adding that the practice was undemocratic since there was no due process. In its September 2017 submission regarding compliance with the UN Convention Against Torture, Israel claimed it issued administrative detention orders “as a preventive measure where there is a reasonable basis to believe that the detention is absolutely necessary for clear security purposes. Administrative detention is not employed where the security risk can be addressed by other legal alternatives, especially criminal prosecution.” The government further emphasized the role of military judges in reviewing administration detention orders.

e. Denial of Fair Public Trial

The PA basic law provides for an independent judiciary. According to ICHR, the PA judicial system was subject to pressure from the security agencies and the executive, undermining judicial performance and independence. PA authorities did not always execute court orders.

Palestinians have the right to file suits against the PA but rarely did so. Seldom-used administrative remedies are available in addition to judicial remedies.

In Gaza Hamas-appointed prosecutors and judges operated de facto courts, which the PA considered illegal. Gaza residents can file civil suits. HRW reported Hamas internal security regularly tried civil cases in military courts.

Israeli law provides for an independent judiciary, and the government generally respected Israeli civil courts’ independence and impartiality. The ISF tried Palestinian residents of the West Bank accused of security offenses in Israeli military courts.

TRIAL PROCEDURES

PA law provides for the right to a fair and public trial, and an independent judiciary generally enforced this right in the West Bank. Trials are public, except when the court determines PA security, foreign relations, a party’s or witness’ right to privacy, protection of a victim of a sexual offense, or an “honor crime” requires privacy. If a court orders a session closed, the decision may be appealed to a higher PA court. Defendants enjoy a presumption of innocence and the right to prompt and detailed information regarding the charges, with free interpretation as necessary, from the moment charged through all appeals. Amnesty International reported that PA political and judicial authorities sometimes failed to adhere to basic due process rights, including promptly charging suspects. PA law provides for legal representation, at public expense if necessary, in felony cases during the trial phase. Defendants have the right to be present and to consult with an attorney in a timely manner during the trial, although during the investigation phase, the defendant only has the right to observe. Defendants have the right to adequate time and facilities to prepare a defense. Suspects and defendants in the PA justice system have a right to remain silent when interrogated by the prosecutor according to the law. Defendants also have a legal right to counsel during interrogation and trial. They have the right to appeal. PA authorities generally observed these rights.

Hamas authorities in Gaza followed the same criminal procedure law as the PA in the West Bank but implemented the procedures inconsistently.

Israeli authorities tried Israelis living in West Bank settlements under Israeli civil law in the nearest Israeli district court. Israeli military trials were provided for Palestinians in the West Bank. The same evidentiary rules used in Israeli criminal cases apply in both Israeli military and civilian proceedings; for example, Israeli authorities cannot base convictions solely on confessions. Indigent detainees do not automatically receive free legal counsel for military trials, but almost all detainees had counsel, in part because NGOs funded their representation. Israeli military courts use Hebrew, but Palestinian defendants have the right to simultaneous interpretation at every hearing. Various human rights organizations claimed the availability and quality of Arabic interpretation was insufficient; most interpreters were bilingual Israelis performing mandatory military service. Defendants can appeal through the Military Court of Appeals and petition Israel’s HCJ. According to NGO reports, Israeli military courts rarely acquitted Palestinians charged with security offenses, although they occasionally reduced sentences on appeal.

Human rights lawyers also argued that the structure of military trials–which take place in Israeli military facilities with Israeli military officers as judges, prosecutors, and court officials, and with tight security restrictions–limited Palestinian defendants’ rights to public trial and access to counsel. MCW reported that 65 percent of Palestinian minors were shown or made to sign documentation written in Hebrew, a language most Palestinian minors could not read, at the conclusion of their interrogation. Israeli authorities disputed these findings, asserting that interrogations of Palestinians took place only in Arabic and that authorities submitted no indictments based solely on a confession written in Hebrew.

POLITICAL PRISONERS AND DETAINEES

NGOs reported arrests of Palestinians on political grounds occurred in both the West Bank and Gaza. There was no reliable estimate of the number of political prisoners the PA held in the West Bank during the year. In an April letter to HRW, the PA denied it had made any arrests based solely on political or party affiliation.

In Gaza, Hamas detained dozens of Palestinians due to political affiliation, public criticism of Hamas, or suspected collaboration with Israel and held them for varying periods. Hamas alleged that they arrested Fatah members on criminal, rather than political charges. Observers associated numerous allegations of denial of due process with these detentions. The ICRC and NGOs had limited access to these prisoners.

Some human rights organizations claimed Palestinian security prisoners held in Israel were political prisoners. The Israeli government described security prisoners as those convicted or suspected of nationalistically motivated violence.

CIVIL JUDICIAL PROCEDURES AND REMEDIES

A Palestinian resident of the West Bank can file suit against the PA, including on matters related to alleged abuses of human rights, but this was uncommon.

A Palestinian resident of Gaza can file suit against de facto Hamas authorities, including on matters related to alleged abuses of human rights, but this was also uncommon.

Palestinian residents of the West Bank can file suit against the government of Israel. In November an Israeli court ruled that residents of Gaza are not able to seek redress or compensation from the Israeli government for damage to property or bodily harm due to Gaza’s classification as an “enemy territory” under the Civil Wrongs (State Liability) Law.

PROPERTY RESTITUTION

The Israeli government conducted multiple demolitions of Palestinian property in the West Bank based on lack of permits, use of the property by the ISF, or as punishment. Human rights NGOs claimed that in the West Bank, Israeli authorities often placed insurmountable obstacles against Palestinian applicants for construction permits, including the requirement that they document land ownership despite the absence of a uniform post-1967 land registration process, the imposition of high application fees, and requirements to connect new housing to often-unavailable municipal works.

Israeli authorities, including the Israeli Civil Administration (ICA) in the West Bank; part of Israel’s Ministry of Defense; and the Ministry of the Interior continued to demolish Palestinian homes, cisterns, and other buildings and property on the basis that these buildings lacked Israeli planning licenses. According to B’Tselem, from 2000 to 2016, Palestinians filed 5,475 applications for building permits in Area C of the West Bank. Of these requests, the ICA approved 226 applications, approximately 4 percent.

During the year Israeli authorities demolished 272 Palestinian structures in the West Bank, 98 percent of which lacked an Israeli building permit and displaced 220 Palestinians, according to data from UNOCHA. The Israeli authorities demolished 15 unpermitted Israeli homes in the Netiv Ha’avot neighborhood of the Elazar settlement in July that the owners had partially built on private Palestinian land. In February the government authorized a financial compensation plan for the affected Netiv Ha’avot residents to provide temporary lodging nearby in the Alon Shvut settlement and money to rebuild their homes elsewhere.

As of year’s end, the Palestinian Bedouin community Khan al-Ahmar in the West Bank had not been demolished, although the Israeli government took administrative steps to do so during the year. Approximately 170 residents live in the community, in an area adjacent to a highway, with unpermitted, makeshift electrical and water connections. On May 24, after nearly 10 years of litigation, the HCJ ruled that the ICA’s demolition orders against the structures in Khan al-Ahmar were valid, which provided the ICA legal justification to demolish every structure in the village since all were built without ICA permits. Residents were not able to receive permits, as the Israeli government has not approved a master plan for the area. Following the ruling the HCJ issued a temporary injunction to delay the demolition pending a series of petitions from the PA and Khan al-Ahmar residents. On September 5, the HCJ convened a panel to judges to review these petitions. The panel ultimately rejected the petitions and upheld the HCJ’s May 24 decision, which terminated the temporary injunction beginning on September 12. In an effort to resolve the Khan al-Ahmar dispute, the government constructed an alternative site for the residents that included electric and water connections and a school building for the community’s children. Khan al-Ahmar residents rejected the transfer proposal, arguing that the site was unsuitable.

Israeli authorities sometimes charged demolition fees for demolishing a home; this at times prompted Palestinians to destroy their own homes to avoid the higher costs associated with Israeli demolition. Palestinians had difficulty verifying land ownership in Israeli courts, according to Israeli requirements for proof of land ownership. According to the government, all land ownership cases are assessed individually by an administrative committee, which is subject to judicial review, and decisions made according to the evidence provided.

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

The PA penal procedure code generally requires the PA Attorney General to issue warrants for entry and searches of private property; however, PA judicial officers may enter Palestinian houses without a warrant in case of emergency. NGOs reported it was common for the PA to harass family members for alleged offenses committed by an individual. According to Amnesty International, during the interrogation of a 31-year-old woman in Jericho the police threatened to hurt her family and take away her children.

Hamas de facto authorities in Gaza frequently interfered arbitrarily with personal privacy, family, and home, according to reporting from local media and NGO sources. Hamas authorities searched homes and seized property without warrants. They targeted Palestinian journalists, Fatah loyalists, civil society members, youth activists, and those whom Hamas security forces accused of criminal activity. Hamas forces monitored private communications systems, including telephones, email, and social media sites. They demanded passwords and access to personal information and seized personal electronic equipment of detainees. While Hamas membership was not a prerequisite for obtaining housing, education, or Hamas-provided services in Gaza, authorities commonly reserved employment in some government positions, such as those in the security services, for Hamas members. In several instances Hamas detained individuals for interrogation and harassment, particularly prodemocracy youth activists, based on the purported actions of their family members.

In response to reported security threats, the ISF frequently raided Palestinian homes, including in areas designated as areas under PA security control by Oslo-era accords, according to media and PA officials. These raids often took place at night, which the ISF stated was due to operational necessity. Only ISF officers of lieutenant colonel rank and above can authorize entry into Palestinian private homes and institutions in the West Bank without a warrant, based upon military necessity.

According to B’Tselem, the Israeli military forced Palestinian families in the Jordan Valley to temporarily vacate their homes 17 times to accommodate Israeli military training in the vicinity. In December the IDF forced 13 families, including 38 minors, to temporarily vacate their homes three separate times. A B’Tselem video from December 26 shows a convoy of Israeli military vehicles driving over crops as the IDF leads families away from their homes.

Israeli authorities froze family unification proceedings for Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza in 2000. HaMoked filed petitions to the High Court of Justice on November 1 on behalf of Palestinian residents of the West Bank and their foreign spouses, requesting that the Israeli government permit foreign spouses to legalize their status through a family unification procedure. HaMoked claimed the military’s refusal to review requests of foreign citizens for family unification is contrary to Israeli law, and to the Israeli-Palestinian Interim Oslo-era agreements. HaMoked further claimed that the IDF rejects family unification requests based on a broad policy, and not on the facts of the individual cases brought before it, and as such does not appropriately balance relevant security needs and the right of Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza–protected persons under international humanitarian law–to family life.

Israeli authorities reportedly permitted children in Gaza access to a parent in the West Bank only if no other close relative was resident in Gaza. Israeli authorities did not permit Palestinians who were abroad during the 1967 War or whose residency permits the Israeli government subsequently withdrew to reside permanently in the West Bank or Gaza.

The ISF continued punitive demolitions of the homes of the families of Palestinians implicated in attacks against Israelis. As of December 21, Israeli authorities partially or fully demolished six family homes of Palestinians who had carried out attacks on Israelis. These actions often also rendered other dwellings near the demolished homes uninhabitable. Punitive demolitions displaced 45 Palestinians, including 13 children, according to the United Nations. NGOs such as Amnesty International, HRW, and several Palestinian and Israeli NGOs widely criticized punitive demolitions as collective punishment.

Demolition of the family home of Islam Abu Hmeid, located in the al-Ama’ari refugee camp in Ramallah occurred on December 15. Israeli authorities arrested Abu Hmeid in June for killing a soldier during a May raid into the camp. The Israeli government asserted such demolitions had a deterrent effect on would-be assailants.

Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:

a. Freedom of Speech and Press

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

INTERNET FREEDOM

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

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

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

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

ACADEMIC FREEDOM AND CULTURAL EVENTS

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

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

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

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

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

b. Freedom of Peaceful Assembly and Association

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

FREEDOM OF PEACEFUL ASSEMBLY

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

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

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

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

FREEDOM OF ASSOCIATION

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

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

c. Freedom of Religion

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

INTERNALLY DISPLACED PERSONS (IDPS)

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

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

PROTECTION OF REFUGEES

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

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

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

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

STATELESS PERSONS

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

Section 3. Freedom to Participate in the Political Process

The PA basic law provides Palestinians the ability to choose their government and vote in periodic free and fair elections held by secret ballot and based on universal, equal suffrage. The PA has not held national elections in the West Bank or Gaza since 2006. Residents of Gaza, which has been under Hamas control since 2007, were unable to choose their own government or hold it accountable. Civil society organizations in Gaza stated Hamas and other Islamist groups did not tolerate public dissent, opposition, civic activism, or the promotion of values contrary to their political and religious ideology.

Elections and Political Participation

Recent Elections: There have been no national elections in the West Bank and Gaza since 2006. On December 22, President Abbas announced that the PA Constitutional Court had issued a decision dissolving the PLC and calling for PLC elections within six months. Authorities scheduled municipal elections in both the West Bank and Gaza in May 2017; however, the PA postponed municipal elections in Gaza. Hamas and the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine boycotted the elections in the West Bank. According to election observers, voting generally proceeded without incidents of violence or voter intimidation. As required by Palestinian law, 20 percent of candidates on the lists were women. As of year’s end, no date was set for new national or municipal elections in the West Bank or Gaza.

Political Parties and Political Participation: The PA allowed a diversity of political parties to exist in the West Bank but limited the ability of Hamas members to campaign and organize rallies. In Gaza Hamas allowed other political parties but restricted their activities. According to HRW, the PA and Hamas arbitrarily arrested each other’s supporters solely because of their political affiliation or expression of views.

Participation of Women and Minorities: No PA laws limit participation of women or members of minorities in the political process, and they did participate. Legally women and minorities can vote and participate in political life on the same basis as men and nonminority citizens, although women faced significant social and cultural barriers in both the West Bank and Gaza. There were three women and three Christians in the 23-member PA cabinet.

Hamas generally excluded women from leadership positions in the de facto ministries in Gaza.

Section 4. Corruption and Lack of Transparency in Government

PA law provides criminal penalties for official corruption, but little was done in practice to prosecute corrupt officials.

Corruption: Allegations of corrupt practices among Fatah officials continued, particularly related to favoritism and nepotism in public-sector appointments, which were rarely advertised publicly.

In Gaza local observers and NGOs alleged instances of Hamas complicity in corrupt practices, including preferential purchasing terms for real estate and financial gains from tax and fee collections from Gazan importers. Hamas de facto authorities severely inhibited reporting and access to information.

Local business representatives in Gaza alleged the PA Ministry of Civil Affairs, which submits applications for the entry of restricted materials into Gaza to Israeli authorities, engaged in nepotism and gave preferential treatment to Gaza-based importers close to the ministry.

Financial Disclosure: PA ministers are subject to financial disclosure laws, but there was little accountability for nondisclosure. The PA publicized financial disclosure documents from public-sector employees, including ministers, via the PA Anticorruption Commission. There was no information on legal requirements for financial disclosure for de facto Hamas authorities in Gaza.

Section 5. Governmental Attitude Regarding International and Nongovernmental Investigation of Alleged Violations of Human Rights

Palestinian human rights groups and international organizations generally operated without PA restriction in the West Bank and PA officials cooperated with their efforts to monitor the PA’s human rights practices, although according to HRW some civil society groups accused the PA of phone tapping. Several PA security services, including General Intelligence and the Palestinian Civil Police, appointed official liaisons who worked with human rights groups.

Israeli and Palestinian human rights NGOs operating in the West Bank and/or Gaza, including B’Tselem, Rabbis for Human Rights, and Breaking the Silence, reported harassment from Israeli settlers and anonymous sources. NGOs reported continued telephonic harassment following widespread publication of a video naming and vilifying activists or supporters of four NGOs that reported on Palestinian human rights issues. B’Tselem, Rabbis for Human Rights, Yesh Din, Human Rights Watch, and Breaking the Silence reported some of their employees were subjected to intimidation, death threats, or physical assault. NGOs claimed these behaviors increased during periods in which government officials spoke out against their activities or criticized them as enemies or traitors for opposing government policy.

Both Palestinian and Israeli human rights NGOs operating in the West Bank and Gaza reported they faced sophisticated cyberattacks on their websites, servers, and internal databases.

Gaza-based NGOs reported that Hamas representatives appeared at their offices to seek tax payments, demand beneficiary lists and salary information, and summon NGO representatives to police stations for questioning.

Humanitarian organizations continued to raise concerns about the shrinking operational space for international NGOs in Gaza following Israeli media reports that Israeli authorities arrested a French Consulate employee who admitted to smuggling weapons from Gaza to the West Bank in official diplomatic vehicles, which led to further scrutiny on both nongovernmental and diplomatic visitors to Gaza.

Palestinian, Israeli, and international NGOs monitored the Israeli government’s practices in the West Bank and Gaza, and published their findings. Israeli authorities permitted some human rights groups to hold and publish press conferences and provided the ICRC with access to most detainees.

The United Nations or Other International Bodies: PA and Israeli officials generally cooperated with and permitted visits by representatives of the United Nations and other international organizations. There were numerous reports Hamas harassed members of international organizations.

Government Human Rights Bodies: The ICHR continued serving as the PA’s ombudsperson and human rights commission. The ICHR issued monthly and annual reports on human rights violations within PA-controlled areas; the ICHR also issued formal recommendations to the PA. The ICHR was generally independent but faced resource shortages that limited its ability to work effectively. Local and international human rights NGOs cooperated with the ICHR.

Section 6. Discrimination, Societal Abuses, and Trafficking in Persons

Women

In March the PA granted women some limited rights regarding their minor children. Palestinian women now pass on citizenship to their children. Women are permitted to choose an “appropriate” school for their minor children and open a bank account in a minor child’s name. Mothers may apply for a passport for their minor child, although the child is not allowed to travel without the permission of their male legal guardian.

Rape and Domestic Violence: Rape is illegal under PA law, but the legal definition does not address spousal rape. Punishment for rape is five to 15 years in prison. While the PA repealed article 308 of the 1960 penal code, which relieved a rapist of criminal responsibility if he married his victim, neither the PA nor de facto Hamas authorities enforced laws pertaining to rape effectively in the West Bank or Gaza. In previous years there were reports police treated rape as a social and not a criminal matter, and authorities released some accused rapists after they apologized to their victims.

According to the PA’s Central Bureau of Statistics, domestic violence and psychological abuse were common in the West Bank and Gaza. PA law does not explicitly prohibit domestic violence, but assault and battery are crimes. PA and de facto Hamas authorities did not enforce the law effectively in domestic violence cases in the West Bank and Gaza. NGOs reported Palestinian women were frequently unwilling to report cases of violence or abuse to PA or de facto Hamas authorities due to fear of retribution or little expectation of assistance. HRW in previous years reported that PA authorities prosecuted few domestic violence cases successfully.

The mandate of the PA Ministry of Women’s Affairs is to promote women’s rights. The ministry worked in the West Bank to highlight the challenges Palestinian women faced in coordination with public institutions, NGOs, and the private sector, as well as international and regional organizations.

Other Harmful Traditional Practices: The law precludes “family honor” as protection for perpetrators in “honor killing” crimes. In March the PA amended article 99 of the 1960 penal code to prohibit the practice of judges giving lighter sentences for crimes against women and children versus crimes against men. NGOs argued the law was not sufficiently enforced. There were no documented reports of honor killings during the year in the West Bank and Gaza but NGOs expressed concerns about underreporting, based on how PA police documented allegations in the West Bank, and due to lack of information on the situation in Gaza.

Sexual Harassment: No PA law specifically relates to sexual harassment, which was a significant and widespread problem in the West Bank and Gaza. Some women claimed that when they reported harassment, authorities held them responsible for provoking men’s harassing behavior.

Coercion in Population Control: There were no reports of coerced abortion or involuntary sterilization.

Discrimination: While PA law provides for equality of the sexes, it discriminates against women. Women can inherit, but not as much as men. Men may marry more than one wife. Women may add conditions to marriage contracts to protect their interests in the event of divorce and child custody disputes but rarely did so. Local officials sometimes advised such women to leave their communities to avoid harassment.

Hamas enforced a conservative interpretation of Islam in Gaza that discriminated against women. Authorities generally prohibited public mixing of the sexes. In Gaza premarital sex was considered a crime punishable by imprisonment.

PA labor law states that work is the right of every capable citizen; however, it regulates the work of women, preventing them from employment in dangerous occupations (see section 7.d.).

According to press and NGO reports, in some instances teachers in Hamas-run schools in Gaza sent girls home for not wearing conservative attire, although enforcement was not systematic.

Children

Birth Registration: The PA registers Palestinians born in the West Bank and Gaza, and Israel requires the PA to transmit this information to the ICA. The PA cannot determine citizenship. Children of Palestinian parents can receive a Palestinian identity card issued by the ICA, if they are born in the West Bank or Gaza to a parent who holds a Palestinian identity card. The PA Ministry of Interior and the ICA both play a role in determining a person’s eligibility for that card.

Education: Education in PA-controlled areas of the West Bank is compulsory from age six through the ninth grade (approximately 16 years old). Education is available to all West Bank Palestinians without cost through high school.

In Gaza, primary education is not universal. UNRWA, de facto Hamas authorities, religious institutions, and private foundations all provided instruction. In addition to the PA curriculum, UNRWA provided specialized classes on human rights, conflict resolution, and tolerance. There were reports Hamas offered courses on military training in its schools during youth summer camps, to which school-age children could apply for admission.

According to the United Nations, there were 111 documented instances of “interference of education” by Israeli forces in the West Bank during the year, more than half of which included the firing of live ammunition, tear gas, or stun grenades in or near schools. A video from November 18 showed an IDF soldier firing a tear gas canister into a Hebron school during school hours. In the West Bank, Palestinian government officials and Palestinian university officials accused the ISF of disrupting university campuses, especially in areas close to Israeli settlements. Officials from the al-Quds University’s Abu Dis campus in the West Bank continued to accuse Israeli soldiers of harassing Palestinian university students on campus and attempting to provoke students. There were occasional low-level skirmishes near the entrance to al-Quds University between the IDF and youths unaffiliated with the university.

Israeli restrictions on construction in Area C of the West Bank affected Palestinian students’ access to education. On December 5, Israeli forces demolished a school in the West Bank village of al-Samou, south of Hebron, due to lack of permits. At least 50 Palestinian schools were under pending demolition orders, including 42 in Area C of the West Bank.

Child Abuse: Child abuse was reportedly widespread. PA law prohibits violence against children; however, PA authorities and de facto authorities in Gaza rarely punished perpetrators of family violence.

Early and Forced Marriage: PA law defines the minimum age for marriage as 18; however, Islamic law allows persons as young as 15 years old to marry. Child marriage did not appear to be widespread in the West Bank and Gaza, according to NGOs including the Women’s Center for Legal Aid and Counseling. For additional information, see Appendix C.

Sexual Exploitation of Children: The PA considers statutory rape a felony, based on the Jordanian penal code. Punishment for rape of a victim younger than age 15 includes a minimum sentence of seven years. In Gaza, under the rule of de facto Hamas authorities, suspects convicted of rape of a victim younger than age 14 are eligible for the death penalty. There were reports that societal norms led to underreporting to the de facto authorities in Gaza of sexual exploitation of children.

Child Soldiers: There were reports Hamas trained children as combatants.

Displaced Children: Conflict and demolition orders (see section 2.d.) displaced Palestinian children in the West Bank and Gaza.

Anti-Semitism

Israeli settlements in the West Bank had approximately 420,000 Jewish residents. The Jewish population in Gaza, aside from foreign nationals, was nonexistent.

Some Palestinians and Muslim religious leaders used anti-Semitic rhetoric and engaged in Holocaust denial. Anti-Israel sentiment was widespread in public discourse and sometimes crossed the line into anti-Semitism, including expressions of longing for a world without Israel and glorification of terror attacks on Israelis. During times of heightened tensions between Israeli authorities and Palestinians, Palestinian press and social media sometimes circulated cartoons encouraging such attacks.

On April 30, President Abbas delivered a speech at a meeting of the Palestinian National Council, where he said Jews experienced the Holocaust “not because of their religion but because of their social roles related to taxes and banks.” He subsequently issued a statement apologizing to those offended by the remarks.

The PA failed to condemn incidents of anti-Semitic expression in official PA media outlets.

Civil society organizations alleged problematic content in Palestinian textbooks, including inappropriately militaristic and adversarial examples directed against Israel as well as the absence of Judaism alongside Christianity and Islam when discussing religion. NGOs PMW and IMPACT-se reported that PA schoolbooks for the 2017-2018 school year contained material that glorified terrorism and promoted violence.

In Gaza and the West Bank, there were instances in which media outlets, particularly outlets controlled by Hamas, published and broadcast material that included anti-Semitic content, sometimes amounting to incitement to violence.

Trafficking in Persons

No PA law specifically prohibits trafficking in persons, and small numbers of Palestinian children and adults reportedly experienced forced labor in both the West Bank and Gaza (also see section 7.b.).

Persons with Disabilities

The law prohibits discrimination due to a permanent or partial disability in physical, psychological, or mental capabilities. It does not mandate access to buildings, information, or communications. The ICHR reported a lack of accessible transportation in Palestinian areas across the West Bank. UNRWA’s policy is to provide accessibility in all new structures in refugee camps.

Palestinians with disabilities continued to receive inconsistent and poor-quality services and care. The PA in the West Bank and de facto Hamas authorities in Gaza partially depended on UN agencies and NGOs to care for persons with physical disabilities, and both offered substandard care for persons with mental disabilities. Palestinians in Gaza reported little to no infrastructure accommodations for persons with mobility disabilities, as well as difficulty in importing wheelchairs and other mobility aids.

National/Racial/Ethnic Minorities

According to UNOCHA an estimated 27,500 Palestinian Bedouin lived in Area C of the West Bank. Many were UNRWA-registered refugees. Bedouins were often resident in areas designated by Israel as closed military zones or planned for settlement expansion. Demolition and forced displacement by the Israeli government of Bedouin and herding communities continued in Area C. Many of these communities lacked access to water, health care, education, and other basic services.

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

PA law, based on the 1960 Jordanian penal code, prohibits consensual same-sex sexual activity. The PA did not prosecute individuals suspected of such activity. Some Palestinians claimed PA security officers and neighbors harassed, abused, and sometimes arrested LGBTI individuals because of their sexual orientation or gender identity. NGOs reported Hamas also harassed and detained persons due to their sexual orientation or gender identity.

HIV and AIDS Social Stigma

While the PA Ministry of Health provided treatment and privacy protections for patients with HIV/AIDS, societal discrimination against affected individuals in the West Bank was common. Anecdotal evidence suggested societal discrimination against HIV/AIDS patients was also very common in Gaza.

Other Societal Violence or Discrimination

UNOCHA reported 181 incidents of Palestinians committing violent acts against Israeli civilians in the West Bank, primarily stone throwing, which represented a 28 percent decrease from 2017. Although the number of incidents decreased, the number of Israeli civilians killed by Palestinians in the West Bank rose from four in 2017 to seven in 2018, including an incident in which Palestinian assailants wounded six Israeli civilians in a drive-by shooting, injuring a pregnant woman whose child was delivered prematurely and later died.

UNOCHA identified 280 incidents of settler attacks that resulted in Palestinian fatalities, injuries, or property damage, which represented a 77 percent increase from 2017. On October 12, Aysha al-Rabi, a Palestinian resident of Bidya village, died in a stone throwing incident near Nablus after a large stone, allegedly thrown by settlers, crashed through her car window and fatally struck her head. Following an ISA investigation of the case, Israeli state prosecutors announced intentions to indict a minor from the West Bank settlement of Rehelim on charges of manslaughter. NGOs alleged that some Israeli settlers used violence against Palestinians to intimidate them from using land that settlers sought to acquire.

Various human rights groups, including Yesh Din, Rabbis for Human Rights, and B’Tselem, continued to claim Israeli authorities insufficiently investigated and rarely prosecuted settler violence. Palestinian residents were reportedly reluctant to report incidents due to fears of settler retaliation and because they were discouraged by a lack of accountability in most cases, according to NGOs.

Access to social and commercial services in Israeli settlements in the West Bank, including housing, education, and health care, was available only to Israelis. Israeli officials reportedly discriminated against Palestinians in the West Bank regarding access to employment and legal housing by denying Palestinians access to registration paperwork.

Section 7. Worker Rights

a. Freedom of Association and the Right to Collective Bargaining

PA law provides for the rights of workers to form and join independent unions and conduct legal strikes. The law requires conducting collective bargaining without any pressure or influence but does not include protections for employees and unions to engage effectively in collective bargaining. Antiunion discrimination and employer or government interference in union functions are illegal, but the law does not specifically prohibit termination or provide for reinstatement due to union activity.

The PA labor code does not apply to civil servants or domestic workers, although the law allows civil servants the right to form unions. The requirements for legal strikes are cumbersome, and strikers had little protection from retribution. Prospective strikers must provide written warning two weeks in advance of a strike (four weeks in the case of public utilities). The PA Ministry of Labor can impose arbitration; workers or their trade unions faced disciplinary action if they rejected the result. If the ministry cannot resolve a dispute, it can refer the dispute to a committee chaired by a delegate from the ministry and composed of an equal number of members designated by the workers and the employer, and finally to a specialized labor court, although authorities had not established the court as required by labor legislation.

The government did not effectively enforce labor laws and subjected procedures to lengthy delays and appeals. Penalties and enforcement were insufficient to deter violations. The PA enforced the prohibitions on antiunion discrimination and employer interference in union functions, but it inconsistently enforced laws regarding freedom of association. The PA did not seek to enforce collective bargaining rights for unions, with the exception of those representing PA employees. Hamas continued to maintain de facto control of worker rights in Gaza, where the PA was unable to enforce labor law.

The PA respected freedom of association and the right to collective bargaining in the West Bank, with some significant exceptions. Labor unions were not independent of authorities and political parties in the West Bank or Gaza. Two main labor unions in the West Bank (the Palestinian General Federation of Trade Unions and the Federation of Independent and Democratic Trade Unions and Workers) competed for membership and political recognition.

Israel applies Israeli civil law to Israeli settlements in the West Bank, but authorities did not enforce it uniformly. Despite a 2007 ruling by the HCJ requiring the government to apply Israeli law to Palestinian workers in Israeli settlements, the Israeli government did not fully enforce the ruling. Most Israeli settlements continued to apply the Jordanian labor law applicable prior to 1967 to Palestinian workers; that law provides for lower wages and fewer protections than does Israeli law.

b. Prohibition of Forced or Compulsory Labor

PA law does not expressly forbid forced or compulsory labor or human trafficking. Forced labor occurred in the West Bank and Gaza. Women working as domestic workers were vulnerable to forced labor conditions in both the West Bank and Gaza, since the PA and de facto Hamas authorities do not regulate domestic labor within households or in the large informal sector.

c. Prohibition of Child Labor and Minimum Age for Employment

PA law prohibits the employment of any person younger than age 15. PA law classifies children as persons younger than age 18 and restricts employment for those between 15 and 18. The law permits hiring children between ages 15 and 18 for certain types of employment under set conditions. The law allows children younger than age 15 to work for immediate family members under close supervision.

PA law prohibits children from working more than 40 hours per week; operating certain types of machines and equipment; performing work that might be unsafe or damage their health or education; and working at night, in hard labor, or in remote locations far from urban centers. A presidential decree includes provisions on child labor accompanied by explicit penalties for violations. PA authorities can penalize repeat offenders by having fines doubled and/or full or partial closure of their facility. Fines and enforcement were not sufficient to deter violations.

In 2017, the latest year for which data were available, PA officials found 70 cases involving child labor (younger than age of 15) and referred 10 cases to the courts. In recent years PA officials reported fining “numerous” persons after successful investigations conducted by the PA Ministry of Labor. The ministry inspected only businesses operating in the formal economy and was unable to conduct investigations in the Gaza Strip. It did not have access to Israeli-controlled Area C of the West Bank. Many cases of child labor in the West Bank reportedly occurred in home environments, for example on family farms, which were not open to labor ministry inspection.

In the second quarter of the year, the PA estimated that 3 percent of children between the ages of 10 and 17 worked in the West Bank and 1.4 percent of children in this same age group worked in Gaza. Palestinian child laborers deemed by the PA to be most vulnerable to forced labor or extreme weather conditions generally worked in shops, as roadside and checkpoint street vendors, in car washes, in factories, in small manufacturing enterprises, or on family farms.

Hamas reportedly did not enforce child labor laws in Gaza. Hamas reportedly encouraged children to work gathering gravel and scrap metal from bombsites to sell to recycling merchants and increased recruitment of youth for tunnel-digging activities. There were also reports Hamas trained children as combatants.

The Israeli government stated it did not issue permits for Palestinian West Bank residents younger than 18 to work in Israeli settlements in the West Bank, except in the Jordan Valley where the law allows issuing permits to persons age 16 and older. There were reports during the year that some Palestinian children entered the settlements or crossed into Israel illegally, often smuggled, to seek work. The PA reported that Palestinian children engaged in child labor in Israeli settlements in the West Bank faced security risks, exploitation, and harassment, since they did not have access to legal protection or labor inspection.

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

d. Discrimination with Respect to Employment and Occupation

PA laws and regulations do not prohibit discrimination regarding race, language, sexual orientation or gender identity, HIV-positive status or other communicable diseases, or social status. While PA laws prohibit discrimination based on gender and disabilities, penalties were insufficient to deter violations and the PA did not effectively enforce those laws and regulations in the West Bank, nor did Hamas in Gaza. PA labor law states that work is the right of every capable citizen; however, it regulates the work of women, preventing them from employment in dangerous occupations.

There was discrimination in the West Bank and Gaza based on the above categories with respect to employment and occupation. Women endured prejudice and, in some cases, repressive conditions at work. At just 20 percent in Gaza and 17 percent in the West Bank, Palestinian female labor force participation is one of the lowest in the region, despite high education and literacy rates.

e. Acceptable Conditions of Work

The PA’s minimum wage of 1,450 shekels ($400) fell well below the poverty line of 2,470 shekels ($678) per month. The PA estimated 14 percent of residents in the West Bank and 39 percent of residents in Gaza lived below the poverty line of 16.4 shekels ($4.50) per day.

According to PA law, the maximum official Sunday to Thursday workweek was 48 hours. The law also allows for paid official and religious holidays, which employers may not deduct from annual leave. Workers must be paid time and a half for each hour worked beyond 45 hours per week and may not perform more than 12 hours of overtime work per week.

The PA Ministry of Labor was responsible for setting occupational health and safety standards. Palestinian workers do not have the legal protection to remove themselves from situations that endangered their health or safety without jeopardy to their employment.

The ministry’s enforcement ability on wage, hours of work, and occupational safety and health standards was limited, even in the West Bank, in part due to lack of staff. Penalties ranged from NIS 200-500 ($53-$135) and were also insufficient to deter violations. During the year, the Ministry of Labor conducted periodic visits to the work places as mandated by the labor law. In 2017 the Ministry of Labor’s Inspection Department made almost 9,500 visits to more than 7,300 business establishments. The inspectorate staff was inadequate to enforce compliance. The PA did not effectively monitor smaller worksites, which were at times below legal safety standards.

The ministry cannot enforce Palestinian labor law west of Israel’s security barrier, or in Israeli settlements in the West Bank.

Israeli authorities did not conduct labor inspections in Israeli settlements, where Palestinian workers constituted a significant part of the workforce. The lack of a competent labor authority in the settlements increased workers’ vulnerability to exploitation. NGOs such as Kav LaOved stated that exploitative practices in Israeli settlements were widespread. During the second quarter of the year, 125,600 Palestinians worked in Israel or Israeli settlements in the West Bank. The International Labor Organization estimated approximately half of all such workers with permits continued to pay exorbitant monthly fees to brokers (averaging $600 USD) to obtain and maintain valid work permits. Roughly 40,000 Palestinians work in Israel and Israeli settlements most in construction and seasonal agriculture. These workers were more vulnerable to exploitation and are not eligible for worker benefits such as paid annual and sick leave. Israeli NGO Kav LaOved brought cases to Israeli labor courts on behalf of Palestinian workers employed by enterprises in Israel and West Bank settlements. Many of these cases related to nonpayment or misreporting of wages, as well as inadequate medical care following workplace injury, as well as subsequent health insurance claims within the Israeli system.

According to the Palestine Central Bureau of Statistics Labor Force Survey, 33 percent of wage employees received less than the minimum wage in the second quarter of the year. In the West Bank, approximately 13 percent of wage employees in the private sector received less than the minimum monthly wage. In Gaza 78 percent of wage employees in the private sector received less than the minimum monthly wage. Palestinians working in Israeli settlements reported they continued to receive wages lower than the Israeli minimum wage, despite a 2008 high court ruling that Israeli labor laws apply to relations between Palestinian workers and Israeli employers in settlements.

Respect for occupational safety and health standards in practice was poor. There were more than 20 workplace fatalities of Palestinian laborers in Israel or Israeli settlements during the year. Israeli NGO Kav LaOved documented dozens of cases where employers instructed employees to return to the West Bank following workplace injury rather than seeking medical attention inside Israel.


READ A SECTION: ISRAEL AND THE GOLAN HEIGHTS | WEST BANK AND GAZA (ABOVE)

Republic of the Congo

Executive Summary

The Republic of the Congo (ROC) is a presidential republic in which the constitution, promulgated in 2015, vests most decision-making authority and political power in the president and prime minister. In 2015 the Republic of the Congo adopted a new constitution, that extended previous maximum presidential term limits to three terms of five years, and provided complete immunity to former presidents. In April 2016 the Constitutional Court proclaimed the incumbent, Denis Sassou N’Guesso, winner of the March 2016 presidential election despite complaints of electoral irregularities. The government held the most recent legislative and local elections in July 2017. While the country has a multiparty political system, members of the president’s Congolese Labor Party (PCT) and its allies retained almost 90 percent of legislative seats, and PCT members occupied almost all senior government positions.

Civilian authorities generally maintained effective control over the security forces.

During the year the country experienced significant positive changes regarding internal peace and security. In December 2017 the government and representatives of the Nsiloulou faction of the Ninja rebel militia group agreed to a ceasefire, thereby ending the conflict in the Pool region that had been ongoing since 2016. In June government and UN sources stated approximately 80-90 percent of the 161,000 persons displaced by the conflict had returned to their homes and villages.

Human rights issues included reports of unlawful or arbitrary killings; forced disappearance; arbitrary detention by the government; harsh and life threatening prison conditions; political prisoners; infringement of citizens’ privacy rights; restrictions on freedoms of assembly and association; restrictions on the ability of citizens to change their government peacefully; corruption on the part of officials; violence against women, including rape, domestic violence, and child abuse; trafficking in persons; and child labor, including worst forms.

The government seldom took steps to prosecute or punish officials who committed abuses, and official impunity was a problem.

According to the United Nations, the security situation in the Pool region improved significantly. In contrast with 2017, reports of human rights abuses against civilians in the conflict zone committed either by government-controlled or rebel forces declined significantly as the security situation improved. The government did not take steps to investigate, prosecute, or punish perpetrators of human rights abuses committed during the Pool conflict by government-controlled or rebel forces in 2016 and 2017. In August the government, rebel leaders, and the United Nations Development Program announced a joint program to conduct disarmament, demobilization, and reintegration (DDR) activities in the Pool region.

Section 1. Respect for the Integrity of the Person, Including Freedom from:

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

There were several reports on social media of the government or its agents committing arbitrary or unlawful killings; however, for most such reports of killings besides those specified below, no independent confirmation was possible, leading to uncertainty regarding the frequency of the incidents and the total number of persons arbitrarily deprived of life.

Human rights nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) continued to report deaths resulting from abuse in prisons and pretrial detention centers (see sections 1.c. and 1.g.).

On July 23, 13 persons between the ages of 12 and 22 died in police custody in the Chacona police station in Brazzaville. Significant public backlash contributed to a shifting government narrative of the incident. The government’s public prosecutor originally announced that the deaths resulted from armed street violence between rival gangs. On July 26, however, the minister of interior admitted before Parliament that the young men died in unclear circumstances in police custody. In the days following the incident, the government announced it would launch an investigation into the incident, detained members of the police unit that worked at the Chacona police station, and paid families 2,000,000 Central African Francs each ($3,530). As of December 10, a judicial review was underway but not yet complete.

b. Disappearance

There were no new reports of politically motivated disappearances. There was no new information on the February 2017 disappearances of Nimi Ngoma Guedj, Akonga Hosny Normand, and Awambi Elmich, who were arrested and detained at the Poto-Poto 2 police jail facility.

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

The constitution prohibits torture, and the law contains a general prohibition against assault and battery, but there is no legal framework specifically banning torture under the criminal code. There were reports of cases of cruel, inhuman, and degrading treatment.

In January authorities released Dongui Christ, an activist, from custody. Authorities had accused Christ of spreading false information and disturbing the public order and subjected him to cruel, inhuman, and degrading treatment during his detention.

The United Nations reported that during the year it received two allegations of sexual exploitation and abuse against peacekeepers from the Republic of the Congo deployed in the UN Multidimensional Integrated Stabilization Mission in the Central African Republic (MINUSCA). One case alleged sexual assault (rape), the other allegation reported sexual exploitation (exploitative relationships involving 13 peacekeepers and 11 victims). Investigations by both the UN and the ROC government were pending. Four allegations were reported in 2017, of which two were pending (and one was unsubstantiated). Ten allegations dating back to 2015 were pending. In 2017 a UN review of the deployment of uniformed personnel from the ROC in MINUSCA found that the nature and extent of allegations of sexual exploitation and abuse pointed to systemic problems in command and control, leading the Republic of the Congo to withdraw its military personnel deployed in MINUSCA.

In June the government convicted three ROC military personnel accused of committing war crimes in the Central African Republic (CAR). A court sentenced the three military personnel to three years in prison before releasing them for time served. The armed forces reportedly imposed nonjudicial punishments on personnel accused of sexual exploitation and abuse in the CAR.

Prison and Detention Center Conditions

Prison and detention center conditions were harsh and life threatening due to inadequate sanitary conditions, gross overcrowding, and a severe deficit of medical and psychological care.

Physical Conditions: As of September the Brazzaville Prison, built in 1943 to accommodate 150 inmates, held more than 1,016, including 33 women and 17 minors. The Pointe-Noire Prison, built in 1934 to hold 75 inmates, held an estimated 325 persons. Police stations regularly housed individuals in their limited incarceration facilities beyond the maximum statutory holding period of 72 hours. In addition to these official prisons, the government’s intelligence and security services operated several secret detention centers and security prisons, which were inaccessible for inspection.

Authorities generally maintained separate areas within facilities for minors, women, and men in Brazzaville and Pointe-Noire. In Brazzaville, while these areas were separate, they were sometimes easily accessible with no locked entryways. In the other 10 prisons, authorities sometimes held juvenile detainees with adult prisoners.

Prison conditions for women were generally better than those for men. There was less crowding in the women’s cells than in those for men. Authorities held pretrial detainees with convicted prisoners. In Brazzaville, authorities housed and treated prisoners with illnesses in one area but allowed them to interact with other inmates.

In the Brazzaville Prison, conditions for wealthy or well connected prisoners generally were better than conditions for others.

There were several reported deaths resulting from abuse, neglect, and overcrowding in prisons and pretrial detention centers. As in 2017, a local NGO reported that figures on the number and causes of death while in custody were unavailable.

In Brazzaville and Pointe-Noire, most inmates slept on the floor on cardboard or thin mattresses in small, overcrowded cells that exposed them to disease. The prisons lacked drainage and ventilation, and they had poorly maintained lighting with wiring protruding from the walls. Basic and emergency medical care was limited. Medical personnel at the Brazzaville Prison cited tuberculosis, dysentery, malaria, and HIV as the most common maladies affecting prisoners. Authorities did not provide specialized medical care to prisoners with HIV/AIDS, nor were HIV tests available in prisons. Authorities took pregnant women to hospitals to give birth, and authorities sometimes allowed them to breastfeed their infants in prison. Access to social services personnel was severely limited due to insufficient staffing, overcrowding, and stigmatization of those with mental health issues. Prisoners had weekly access to Christian religious services only. Prison authorities permitted outdoor exercise intermittently.

Prison inmates reportedly received, on average, two daily meals consisting of rice, bread, and fish or meat. The food provided in prisons did not meet minimum caloric or nutrition requirements; however, prison authorities usually permitted inmates’ families to supply them with additional food. Authorities permitted women to cook over small fires built on the ground in a shared recreational space. The Pointe-Noire Prison occasionally had running water. All of the prisons supplied potable water to inmates in buckets.

Administration: Prison rules provide for prisoners and detainees to submit complaints to judicial authorities without censorship, but officials did not respect this right. Authorities did not investigate credible allegations of inhuman conditions brought to them by NGOs and detainees’ families.

Access to prisoners generally required a communication permit from a judge. The permit allowed visitors to spend five to 15 minutes with a prisoner, although authorities usually did not strictly enforce this limit. In most cases, visits took place either in a crowded open area or in a small room with one extended table where approximately 10 detainees sat at a time. A new permit is technically required for each visit, but families were often able to return for multiple visits on one permit. Since many prisoners’ families lived far away, visits often were infrequent because of the financial hardship of travel.

Independent Monitoring: The government provided domestic and international human rights groups with limited access to prisons and detention centers. Observers generally considered the primary local NGO focused on prison conditions independent; authorities, however, denied it access to the interior of several different prisons on multiple occasions throughout the year.

Throughout the year, human rights NGOs that monitored detention conditions requested letters of permission from the Ministry of Justice to visit prisons. Their repeated requests went unanswered.

Representatives of religiously affiliated charitable organizations visited prisons and detention centers for charitable work and religious counseling. Authorities granted diplomatic missions’ access to both prisons and police jails to provide consular assistance to their citizens.

d. Arbitrary Arrest or Detention

The constitution and law prohibit arbitrary arrest and detention, but local NGOs report arbitrary arrest continued to be a problem. The constitution and law provide detainees the right to challenge the legal basis of their detention before a competent judge or authority, but the government generally did not observe the law.

ROLE OF THE POLICE AND SECURITY APPARATUS

Security forces consist of police, the gendarmerie, and the military. Police and the gendarmerie are responsible for maintaining internal order, with police primarily operating in cities and the gendarmerie mainly in other areas. Military forces are responsible for territorial security, but some units also have domestic security responsibilities. For example, the specialized Republican Guard battalion provides protection for the president, government buildings, and diplomatic missions. The Ministry of Defense oversees the military and gendarmerie, and the Ministry of the Interior and Decentralization oversees the police.

A civilian police unit under the Ministry of Interior and Decentralization is responsible for patrolling the borders. Separately, a military police unit reports to the Ministry of Defense and is composed of military and police officers responsible for investigating professional misconduct by members of any of the security forces.

Civilian authorities generally maintained effective control over the security forces; however, there were members of the security forces who acted independently of civilian authority, committed abuses, and engaged in malfeasance. The law charges both the military police and the Office of the Inspector General of Police with investigating reports of misconduct by security forces. The civilian justice system is responsible for conducting trials of military force members accused of crimes.

ARREST PROCEDURES AND TREATMENT OF DETAINEES

The constitution and law require that a duly authorized official issue warrants before making arrests, a person be apprehended openly, a lawyer be present during initial questioning, and detainees be brought before a judge within three days and either charged or released within four months. The government habitually violated these provisions. There is a bail system, but with 70 percent of the population living in poverty, most detainees could not afford to post bail. There is an option for provisional release, but officials usually denied these requests, even for detainees with serious medical conditions. Authorities sometimes informed detainees of charges against them at the time of arrest, but filing of formal charges often took at least one week. There were reports that authorities arrested detainees secretly and without judicial authorization and sometimes detained suspects incommunicado or put them under de facto house arrest. Police at times held persons for six months or longer before filing charges due to the political nature of the case or administrative errors. Observers attributed most administrative delays to lack of staff in the Ministry of Justice and the court system. Family members sometimes received prompt access to detainees but often only after payment of bribes. The law requires authorities to provide lawyers to indigent detainees facing criminal charges at government expense, but this usually did not occur.

The penal code states authorities may hold a detainee for a maximum of 48 to 72 hours in a police jail before an attorney general reviews the case. Thereafter, authorities must decide to release or to transfer the individual to a prison for pretrial detention. Authorities generally did not observe the 72-hour maximum and frequently held detainees for several weeks before an attorney general freed or transferred them to a prison to await trial. The criminal code states that a defendant or accused person may apply for provisional release at any point during his or her detention, from either an investigating judge or a trial court, depending on the type of case. The law states that provisional release should generally be granted, provided that the judicial investigation is sufficiently advanced, that the accused does not pose a risk of subornation of witnesses, and does not pose a threat of disturbance to public order caused by the offense initially alleged; however, this law was not respected in practice.

Arbitrary Arrest: Reports suggest that arbitrary and false arrests continued to occur.

In November 2017 plain-clothes members of the security forces arrested Steve Bagne Batongo, a lawyer, in Brazzaville. Authorities arrested Bagne in his law office in violation of Article 53 of Congolese Law 026-92 on the Organization of Professional Lawyers. Authorities held Bagne in custody without charge longer than the 72 hours allowed under Article 48 of the penal code. In January authorities released Bagne from detention without trial.

Prostitution is legal. Under the law procuring (arranging the prostitution of another for financial gain) and sex trafficking are illegal. In November, the Brazzaville police arrested a Cameroonian national accused of procuring prostitution. In December, the Ministry of Women’s Promotion conducted job training for 20 former female prostitutes to encourage them to pursue other types of employment. There were unconfirmed reports that police arrested prostitutes, including gay men, for alleged illegal activity.

Pretrial Detention: The penal code sets a maximum of four months in pretrial detention. Under the law pretrial detention is extendable for two additional months with judicial approval. The penal code is not clear whether the two-month extension is renewable. Judges often renewed the two-month extension of pretrial detainees. Between 60 and 75 percent of detainees in the prisons were pretrial detainees. Prison authorities stated the average provisional detention for noncriminal cases lasted one to three months and for criminal cases at least 12 months. Human rights activists, however, stated the average was much longer, commonly exceeding a year, and sometimes exceeding the maximum sentence for the alleged crime.

For example, in November 2015 authorities arrested British citizen Paulin Makaya, president of the opposition United for Congo Party, for “incitement to public disorder” for organizing and participating in an unauthorized demonstration in October 2015 against the constitutional referendum. Makaya remained in pretrial detention for two years and eight months under the charge of disturbing public order. On March 18, authorities charged Makaya with inciting disorderly conduct. His trial took place in July, and the court sentenced Makaya to one year in jail and eligible for release based on time served as of September 15. The government released Makaya on September 17.

Lengthy pretrial detentions were due to the judicial system’s lack of capacity, and a lack of political will to address the issue. The penal code defines three levels of crime: misdemeanors (punishable by less than one year in prison), the delicts (punishable by one to five years in prison), and felonies (punishable by more than five years in prison). Criminal courts try misdemeanor and delict cases regularly. The judicial system, however, suffered from a serious backlog of felony cases. By law criminal courts must hear felony cases four times per year. Due to a lack of funding, no felony cases took place from 2014 until March. Authorities held in pretrial detention those accused of felonies for the duration of this period. From March to May, criminal courts held felony sessions throughout the country. Brazzaville’s criminal court heard 132 felony cases.

Detainee’s Ability to Challenge Lawfulness of Detention before a Court: The constitution and law prohibit arbitrary arrest, arbitrary detention, and false arrest and provide detainees the right to challenge the legal basis of their detention before a competent judge or authority. If an investigating judge determines a detainee to be innocent, his or her release is promptly ordered, and he or she is entitled to file suit with the Administrative Court. The government, however, generally did not observe this law. Local human rights NGOs reported numerous occasions when officials denied detainees in Brazzaville the right to challenge their detention.

e. Denial of Fair Public Trial

The constitution and law are the framework for an independent judiciary. High caseload, lack of financial resources, political influence, and corruption remained problematic. Authorities generally abided by court orders; however, judges did not always issue direct court orders against accused authorities.

In rural areas traditional courts continued to handle many local disputes, particularly property, inheritance, and witchcraft cases, and domestic conflicts that could not be resolved within the family.

TRIAL PROCEDURES

The constitution provides for the right to a fair trial presided over by an independent judiciary, but authorities did not always respect this right. In 2011, the Ministry of Justice began to decentralize the trial process. Appeals courts existed in five departments–Brazzaville, Pointe-Noire, Dolisie, Owando, and Ouesso–and each had authority to try felony cases brought within its jurisdiction.

Under the law all defendants must be informed promptly and in detail of the charges, with free interpretation as necessary and have a right to a fair and public trial in all criminal cases and felony cases. Defendants in all criminal trials have the right to be present at their trials and to consult with an attorney in a timely manner, although this did not always occur. The law obligates the government to provide legal assistance to any indigent defendant facing serious criminal charges, but such legal assistance was not always available because the government did not generally pay for public defenders.

Defendants have the right to adequate time and facilities to prepare a defense. They also have the right to confront or question accusers and witnesses against them and present witnesses and evidence on their own behalf. Defendants have the right not to be compelled to testify or confess guilt and have the right to appeal. The law extends these rights to all citizens, and the government generally abided by these provisions, except in highly politicized cases.

POLITICAL PRISONERS AND DETAINEES

During the year, authorities released numerous prisoners and detainees. According to local NGOs, approximately 70 persons remained in detention for political reasons. On June 26, authorities released 81 supporters of the leader of the Ninja militia, Pasteur Ntumi to solidify the December 23 ceasefire agreement signed between the government and rebel forces.

In December 2017 authorities released an American citizen who served 20 months of prison time for political reasons.

Former presidential candidates Jean-Marie Michel Mokoko and Andre Okombi Salissa remained in jail as of November 14. On October 19, however, authorities released senior members of their staff including Jean Ngouabi, Jacques Banagandzala, Anatole Limbongo Ngoka, Christine Moyen, Dieudonne Dhird, and Raymond Ebonga.

The government permitted limited access to political prisoners by international human rights and humanitarian organizations and diplomatic missions.

CIVIL JUDICIAL PROCEDURES AND REMEDIES

The judiciary heard felony court cases from March to May for the first time since September 2014. Brazzaville’s felony court tried 132 pending cases.

Civil courts continued to review cases on a regular basis throughout the year. Civil courts experienced long delays, although shorter than felony courts. Individuals may file a lawsuit in court on civil matters related to human rights, including seeking damages for or cessation of a human rights violation. The public, however, generally lacked confidence in the judicial system’s ability to address human rights problems.

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

The constitution and law prohibit such actions; the government, however, did not always respect these prohibitions.

There were reports government authorities entered homes without judicial or other appropriate authorization, monitored private movements, and employed informer systems.

Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:

a. Freedom of Speech and Press

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

Freedom of Expression: Individuals could criticize the government publicly or privately but risked reprisal. The constitution provides for freedom of expression in all forms of communication and prohibits censorship. The constitution, however, criminalizes speech that incites ethnic hatred, violence, or civil war and makes it punishable by no less than five years in prison. It also criminalizes any act or event that promotes racism or xenophobia.

Press and Media Freedom: Press and media outlets regularly published criticism and satire of the government and senior officials. Most citizens obtained their news from local retransmission of international media and local radio or television stations. There was greater space in electronic media for open discussion of government policy, including critical discussion. International radio broadcasts and satellite television services were available and encouraged discussions of public policy.

Violence and Harassment: There were reports of direct and indirect intimidation of journalists by the government. For example, in June Fortunat Ngoualali, a 36-year-old journalist for VoxTV, was held in police custody for four days for publishing a readout of a closed-door meeting of the ruling Congolese Labor Party (PCT) on social media.

In July authorities released Ghys Fortune Dombe Bemba, a journalist arrested in January 2017 for publishing a manifesto by rebel leader Frederic Bintsamou a.k.a. Pastor Ntumi. Dombe Bemba’s release fulfilled a key demand of the Ninja militia that was identified in the December 23 cease-fire agreement ending the Pool region conflict.

Additional reports of alleged intimidation included the following: police use of nonlethal force against journalists attempting to report on sensitive events, telephone calls from official and anonymous persons warning journalists not to use footage of politically sensitive events, and pressure on news outlets not to run certain stories or footage.

Censorship or Content Restrictions: Media outlets were required to register with the Superior Council for Liberty of Communication (CSLC), an official regulatory body. Media outlets that violated council regulations were subject to financial sanctions or temporary shutdown. The president appoints the director of the council.

Many journalists and editors at larger circulation media outlets practiced self-censorship and promoted the editorial views of media owners. Newspapers published open letters written by government opponents.

There were no reports that the government revoked journalists’ accreditations if their reporting reflected adversely on the government’s image. The CSLC suspended the operations and circulation of at least two newspapers during the year. The CSLC suspended “Le Nouveau Regard” in July and “Le Troubador” in September. The CSLC accused both newspapers of printing information that was untrue or unverified. Several journalists have expressed a fear of termination from their positions for reporting on politically sensitive topics.

Libel/Slander Laws: The press law provides for monetary penalties and suspension of a publication’s permission to print for defamation and incitement to violence.

National Security: There were no reports of government actions to restrict foreign media criticism during the reporting period.

INTERNET FREEDOM

There were reports government authorities monitored private digital communications without appropriate legal authority, including email, text messaging, or other digital communications intended to remain private. Government officials often corresponded with opposition or diaspora figures using social media accounts encouraging online discourse of major current events.

According to the International Telecommunication Union, 8.6 percent of individuals used the internet in 2017.

ACADEMIC FREEDOM AND CULTURAL EVENTS

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

Self-censorship was common in academia and at cultural events, especially in universities, where there was little room for public discourse on politically sensitive topics. Many university-level professors held second jobs as close advisors to government officials, possibly influencing their intellectual independence.

b. Freedom of Peaceful Assembly and Association

The government restricted freedoms of peaceful assembly and association.

FREEDOM OF PEACEFUL ASSEMBLY

The constitution and law provide for freedom of peaceful assembly; however, the government often did not respect this right.

The government required all groups that wished to hold public assemblies to seek authorization from the Ministry of Interior and Decentralization and appropriate local officials. Both the ministry and local officials sometimes withheld authorization for meetings they claimed might threaten public order. They also created unnecessary obstacles to gaining authorization and called police to disperse meetings they claimed had not received proper authorization.

Local NGOs and political groups reported restrictions on freedom of assembly throughout the year. For example, in May security forces arrested 23 activists from the political youth activist movement Ras-le-Bol (“enough is enough”), including coordinator Frank Nzila, for “association with criminals and participation in an unauthorized demonstration” following their demonstration in Pointe-Noire on May 7 calling on the government to release political prisoners. In July the government released Ras-le-Bol’s members from custody. Ras-le-Bol’s members also reported numerous direct threats from police to stop their activities, and police harassment targeting their families and friends to ascertain their whereabouts.

FREEDOM OF ASSOCIATION

The constitution and law provide for freedom of association, and the government sometimes respected this right. Political, social, or economic groups or associations were required to register with the Ministry of Interior and Decentralization. Authorities sometimes subjected registration to political influence. According to a local NGO, groups that spoke openly against the government encountered overt or veiled threats and found the registration process more time consuming.

c. Freedom of Religion

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

Section 3. Freedom to Participate in the Political Process

The constitution and law provide citizens the ability to choose their government in free and fair periodic elections held by secret ballot and based on universal and equal suffrage. Nevertheless, irregularities restricting this ability occurred during the most recent legislative elections, in 2017, and in previous elections.

Elections and Political Participation

Recent Elections: During the 2017 legislative and local elections, international observers conducted two rounds of electoral observation. Some opposition parties boycotted the vote. Most observers reported that polling stations and electoral officials conducted their business professionally and had the tools necessary to conduct two parallel and concurrent elections for legislative and local races. Civil society and political party representation inside of polling stations was robust and critical in dispute resolution. Observers, however, reported the heavy presence of security forces both outside and inside polling stations.

The 2017 elections gave the PCT and its allies control of 102 of 151 or 68 percent of seats. According to government figures, turnout was 44.44 percent; international observers in Brazzaville, however, indicated participation was lower.

International electoral observers reported examples of fraud that likely benefitted candidates of the PCT and its allies in both rounds. For example, during the first round of voting on July 16, international observers witnessed ballot box stuffing after the close of voting and before vote counts at the Foyer Social voting station in the Poto-Poto neighborhood of Brazzaville. During the second round of voting on July 30, international observers witnessed busloads of soldiers at the CEG De La Paix voting station in the Moungali neighborhood of Brazzaville. Local residents inside and outside the voting station claimed that soldiers who lacked appropriate documentation had voted in the CEG De La Paix voting station, compromising the election results.

The Constitutional Court declared incumbent President Denis Sassou N’Guesso the winner of the March 2016 presidential election in the first round with 60.29 percent of the vote. The court cited a 68.92 percent voter turnout among the more than two million eligible voters, with a 100 percent voter turnout in at least three regions.

On presidential election day, international observers witnessed a number of irregularities including: incorrect voter lists; inconsistency in ballot boxes; prefilled voting tally sheets for voter stations in Brazzaville; polling officials allowing and encouraging underage and multiple voting, and instructing voters to vote only for the incumbent; polling stations opening late and without adequate supplies; polling officials refusing entry to accredited international observers; paying voters to vote for certain candidates; lack of uniform enforcement of voter identification requirements; polling officials, at separate locations, loyal to either the incumbent president or opposition candidates blocking entry to voters supporting opposing candidates; ruling party loyalists impersonating representatives of other candidates; not posting final vote tally sheets on the exterior wall of polling stations as required; burning ballots after the polling station count; and prohibiting observation at regional and national vote compilation centers.

Political Parties and Political Participation: Political parties and civil society groups faced restrictions on their ability to participate in the political and electoral process. In June the Ministry of Interior published a law on the creation of political parties that confers recognition on 55 of 200 existing parties. According to the government, the remaining political parties did not meet requirements including nationwide representation.

In the previous electoral cycle, political groups experienced restrictions on their ability to participate in the political process including delays registering their organizations or candidates and accessing public campaign funds. Some political opposition supporters faced intimidation and security restrictions on attending their rallies or trying to vote, according to numerous eyewitness and media accounts. Attempts to impede criticism of the government through intimidation, arrests, and routine disruption of political meetings remained common. Authorities continued to detain opposition figures (see section 1.e., political prisoners and detainees).

Participation of Women and Minorities: No laws limit women’s or minority groups’ political participation as voters or candidates. Observers suggested cultural constraints might limit the number of women in government. Sexual harassment discouraged women’s participation in political activities. There were 14 women in the 72-seat senate and 15 women in the 151-seat national assembly. There were eight women in the 35-member cabinet appointed in August 2017.

In 2014 the president signed a law requiring that women make up 30 percent of each party’s slate of candidates for local or legislative elections. The 2015 constitution granted parity for women in political positions and mandated the creation of a national advisory council for women, but it did not specify whether the promotion of parity related to pay, benefits, appointment to political positions, or other issues.

The political process excludes many indigenous persons. Reasons included their isolation in remote areas, lack of registration, cultural barriers, and stigmatization by the majority Bantu population (see section 6). For example, a local government official reported that during the October 2015 referendum, the voting booth in Sibiti, a rural city with many indigenous persons, was open for only 30 minutes, from 7:30-8:00 a.m. Because indigenous communities in outer villages must travel several hours to reach Sibiti, no one reportedly voted.

Section 4. Corruption and Lack of Transparency in Government

The law provides for criminal penalties for corruption by officials; however, the government did not implement the law effectively, and many officials engaged in corrupt practices with impunity, despite the president’s calls for an end to corruption in his annual address to the nation during the year and his inauguration speech in 2016.

There was a widespread perception of corruption throughout government, including misuse of revenues from the oil and forestry sectors. Some local and international organizations claimed some government officials, through bribes or other fraud, regularly diverted revenues from these sectors into private overseas accounts before officially declaring the remaining revenues.

Corruption: In his annual New Year’s address to the nation, the president pledged to make anticorruption efforts a priority of his government during the year. The National Commission on the Fight against Corruption, Bribery, and Fraud accused several government officials during the year of corruption. In August the national commission issued a report that detailed investigations conducted during the first four months of the year. The report accused one minister of misusing public funds earmarked for staff training, and embezzlement of funds from a construction project. The national commission sent its report to the public prosecutor for potential legal action. As of November investigations were ongoing. The minister denied all of the findings in the report.

Financial Disclosure: The constitution mandates that senior elected or appointed officials disclose their financial interests and holdings both before taking office and upon leaving office. Failure to do so is legal grounds for dismissal from a senior position. According to the constitution, the Constitutional Court is responsible for enforcing financial disclosure; however, authorities did not enforce this provision. No financial disclosure statements were publicly available during the year.

Section 5. Governmental Attitude Regarding International and Nongovernmental Investigation of Alleged Violations of Human Rights

A number of domestic and international human rights groups occasionally operated without government restriction during their investigations and when publishing their findings on human rights cases. Government officials were not cooperative with and responsive to international or domestic human rights groups. Some domestic human rights groups did not report on specific incidents due to fear of reprisal by the government.

The United Nations or Other International Bodies: The government cooperated with the United Nations and other international bodies during the year. For example, the government hosted major international conferences, partnered with resident United Nations agencies to deliver humanitarian assistance, and consulted regularly with the Office of the Special Representative of the UN Secretary General for Central Africa focused on regional peace, security, and environmental issues.

Government Human Rights Bodies: The government-sponsored Human Rights Commission (HRC) is the government human rights watchdog and is responsible for addressing public concerns about human rights problems. The HRC did not undertake any activities directly responding to human rights problems during the year. As in 2017 its headquarters building remained vacant.

Human Rights and Humanitarian Law are included in Congolese Armed Forces (FAC) Professional Military Education (PME). Military Academy cadets are required to complete courses in both Public Law and Humanitarian International Law. PME for lieutenants (Officer Basic Course), captains (Captains Career Course), and majors (Staff College) directly incorporates a course in Humanitarian International Law. Within the Ministry of Defense, a committee supervises the implementation of the human rights and humanitarian law curriculum for all PME levels from the military academy through Military Staff College.

Section 6. Discrimination, Societal Abuses, and Trafficking in Persons

Women

Rape and Domestic Violence: Rape is illegal in the country. The law prescribes unspecified monetary fines based on the severity of the crime and jail time of between 10 and 20 years in prison for violators. According to a local women’s group, however, penalties actually imposed for rape ranged from as few as several months’ imprisonment to rarely more than three years. NGOs and women’s advocacy groups reported rape, especially spousal rape, was common.

Domestic violence against women, including rape and beatings, was widespread but rarely reported. For example, in one case a woman reported domestic violence by her partner to an NGO, but declined to lodge an official criminal complaint with authorities for fear of reprisal from the former partner or his family. The NGO assisted the victim in her civil complaint seeking monetary support for herself and her children, which the court awarded. There were no specific provisions in the law outlawing spousal battery other than general statutes prohibiting assault.

Sexual Harassment: Sexual harassment is illegal. Generally, the penalty is two to five years in prison. In particularly egregious cases, the penalty may equal the 10-year prison sentence maximum for rape. The government did not effectively enforce these laws.

Coercion in Population Control: There were no reports of coerced abortion or involuntary sterilization.

Discrimination: Both customary marriage and family laws and civil laws enacted by the government govern the rights of women, children, and extended families. Adultery is illegal for both women and men, although the penalty differs. Under civil law the husband can receive only a fine for adultery, while the wife can receive a prison sentence. Polygyny is legal, while polyandry is not.

Women experienced discrimination in divorce settlements, specifically regarding property and financial assets. National law considers men the head of the household, unless the father becomes incapacitated or abandons the family. The law dictates that in the absence of an agreement between spouses, men shall choose the residence of the family.

Women experienced economic discrimination with respect to employment, credit, equal pay, and owning or managing businesses.

Children

Birth Registration: Children acquire citizenship from their parents. Birth within the territory of the country does not automatically confer citizenship, although exceptions exist for children born of missing or stateless parents, or children born of foreign parents, at least one of whom was also born in the country. The government does not require registration of births; it is up to parents to request birth registration for a child. For additional information, see Appendix C.

Education: Education is compulsory, tuition-free, and universal until age 16, but families are required to pay for books, uniforms, and health insurance fees. Most indigenous children could not attend school because they did not have birth certificates or could not afford the 1,200 CFA francs ($2.12) per month insurance fee. Boys were five times more likely than girls to go to high school and four times more likely than girls in high school to go to a university.

Child Abuse: NGOs reported child abuse was prevalent, but not commonly reported to authorities.

Early and Forced Marriage: The law prohibits child marriage, and the legal age for marriage is 18 years for women and 21 for men. Underage marriage is possible with a judge’s permission and with the permission of both sets of parents; the law does not specify a minimum age in such a case. Many couples nevertheless engaged in an informal common-law marriage not legally recognized. For additional information, see Appendix C.

There was no government program focused on preventing early or forced marriage. The penalty for forced marriage between an adult and child is a prison sentence of three months to two years and a fine of 150,000 to 1.5 million CFA francs ($265 to $2,650).

Sexual Exploitation of Children: A child protection code provides penalties for crimes against children such as trafficking, pornography, neglect, and abuse. Penalties for these crimes range from forced labor to fines of up to 10 million CFA francs ($17,667) and prison sentences of several years. The penalty for child pornography includes a prison sentence of up to one year and a fine up to 500,000 CFA francs ($883). The minimum age for consensual sex is 18. The maximum penalty for sex with a minor is five years’ imprisonment and a fine of 10 million CFA francs ($17,667). A lack of specificity in the child protection code was an obstacle to successful prosecution.

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

Anti-Semitism

There is a very small Jewish community. There were no known reports of anti-Semitic acts.

Trafficking in Persons

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

Persons with Disabilities

The law specifically prohibits discrimination against persons with disabilities. The Ministry of Social Affairs and Humanitarian Action is the lead ministry responsible for protecting the rights of persons with disabilities. There are no laws, however, mandating access for persons with disabilities. The government provides separate schools for students with hearing disabilities in Brazzaville and Pointe-Noire. The government mainstreamed children with vision disabilities and children with physical disabilities in regular public schools.

National/Racial/Ethnic Minorities

The law prohibits discrimination based on ethnicity. There were no episodes of regional or ethnic violence reported during the year. The perception of regional and ethnic bias was most acute in the upper echelons of government wherein a large portion of the general officer corps consisted of individuals from the northern departments.

Indigenous People

According to UNICEF and local NGOs, indigenous peoples throughout the country, in both remote and urban areas, remained marginalized. Many indigenous people, known locally as Pygmies, lacked access to gainful employment, health services, housing, and education, in part due to their geographic isolation and different cultural norms. The geographic isolation of some indigenous groups limited their ability to influence government decisions affecting their interests or vote. Other indigenous communities living in more urban areas understood the concept of political participation but feared harassment by members of the Bantu population for participation and lacked access to transportation to voting booths.

According to a local NGO, indigenous communities living among majority Bantu populations often lived in substandard housing on the perimeters of villages. During the year embassy officers received unconfirmed reports of violence between Bantus and Pygmies as well as reports of violence within the indigenous communities themselves. The NGO reported that Bantus often forced indigenous people to work in their fields for little to no pay and refused to purchase food from indigenous vendors. A law enforcement official reported that high rates of alcoholism within the indigenous community contributed to high rates of violence, poverty, and incest. A government official reported that indigenous women and girls suffered from gender-based violence, and teenage pregnancy among indigenous girls was common. Bantu men often impregnated indigenous girls and later denied paternity, offering no child support. Indigenous women suffered from a disproportionate rate of fistulas resulting from unattended childbirth and rape.

A 2011 law provides special status and recognition for indigenous populations. Additionally, the constitution stipulates the state shall provide promotion and protection of indigenous peoples’ rights. The government did not implement these laws.

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

There is no law that specifically prohibits consensual same-sex sexual conduct. The penal code prescribes imprisonment of three months to two years and a fine for those who commit a “public outrage against decency.” The law prescribes a punishment of six months to three years and a fine for anyone who “commits a shameless act or an act against nature with an individual of the same sex under the age of 21.” Authorities did not invoke the law to arrest or prosecute lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, or intersex (LGBTI) persons. On occasion, however, police officers harassed gay men and claimed the law prohibited same-sex sexual activity to elicit a small bribe.

There were no known cases of violence against LGBTI individuals during the year.

HIV and AIDS Social Stigma

Public opinion polls conducted by the World Bank in 2012 showed significant societal discrimination against individuals with HIV/AIDS. The law provides penalties for unlawful divulgence of medical records by practitioners, negligence in treatment by healthcare professionals, family abandonment, and unwarranted termination of employment. Civil society organizations advocating for the rights of persons with HIV/AIDS were fairly well organized and sought fair treatment, especially regarding employment.

Section 7. Worker Rights

a. Freedom of Association and the Right to Collective Bargaining

The law provides for the right of workers to form and join unions of their choice without previous authorization or excessive requirements, with the exception of members of the security forces and other services “essential for protecting the general interest,” including members of the armed forces, police, gendarmerie, and some personnel at ports and airports. The law allows unions to conduct their activities without interference.

Workers have the right to strike, provided they have exhausted all lengthy and complex conciliation and nonbinding arbitration procedures and given seven (7) business days’ due notice. Participation in an unlawful strike constitutes serious misconduct and can result in criminal prosecution. The law requires the continuation of a minimum service in all public services as essential to protect the general interest. A minimum service requirement binds workers in essential services to a limit on the length of time they may strike. The employer determines the extent of the minimum service without negotiating with the parties to the dispute. It is gross misconduct to refuse to take part in providing the minimum service during strikes. Multiple legal strikes occurred in the education sector, including students and educators, among hospital workers, and oil sector workers.

The law provides for the right to bargain collectively. The law prohibits antiunion discrimination and requires the reinstatement of workers dismissed for union activity. The government generally did not effectively enforce applicable laws. Resources, inspections, and remediation were inadequate. There are no penalties for violations.

The government and employers occasionally violated the unions’ right to collective bargaining and freedom of association. Most unions were reportedly weak and subject to government influence due to corruption. As a result, in cases where demonstrations would run counter to the government’s interest, the government persuaded union leaders to prevent workers from demonstrating.

There were reports employers used hiring practices such as subcontracting and short-term contracts to circumvent laws prohibiting antiunion discrimination.

b. Prohibition of Forced or Compulsory Labor

The constitution prohibits forced or compulsory labor unless imposed pursuant to a criminal penalty lawfully mandated by a court. The law, however, allows authorities to requisition people to work in the public interest and provides for their possible imprisonment if they refuse.

The government took steps to prevent and eliminate forced labor, but only relating to trafficked persons. Beginning in 2012, the government worked with the UN Office on Drugs and Crime and a foreign partner to initiate a three-year program to train personnel and draft complete trafficking-in-persons legislation that would include both adults and children. The bill continued to await cabinet and parliamentary review before promulgation.

The indigenous population, known locally as Pygmies, was especially vulnerable to forced labor in the agricultural sector. According to a local NGO, members of the indigenous communities often incurred significant debts. According to a local NGO, members of the indigenous communities receive extremely low wages or no pay to erase the incurred debts. Reports suggested that some servitude might be hereditary. This scenario often left members of the indigenous community impoverished.

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

c. Prohibition of Child Labor and Minimum Age for Employment

According to the law, children under age 16 may not be employed, even as apprentices, without a waiver from the minister of national education. The law prohibits the following crimes against all children up to age 18: forced labor, trafficking and all forms of slavery; child soldiering and forced recruitment for child soldiering; prostitution; the use, procuring, or offering of a child for the production of pornography or for pornographic performances; and the use of children by an adult for illegal activities.

The law includes specific ranges of penalties for violators of the worst forms of child labor. The maximum penalties for many of the most serious violations are 1.16 million CFA francs ($2,050) or five years in prison. According to a local antihuman-trafficking NGO and representatives from the Ministry of Social Affairs and Humanitarian Action, the lack of capacity to prosecute offenders in the judicial system rendered penalties ineffective as a deterrent. Violators did not fear prosecution.

The Ministry of Labor, which is responsible for enforcing child labor laws, concentrated its limited resources on the formal wage sector. Data on the number of children removed from child labor were not available, although the ministry reported authorities aided an NGO’s efforts to rescue 16 children from trafficking. International aid groups reported little change in child labor conditions.

Although there are laws and policies designed to protect children from exploitation in the workplace, child labor was a problem in the informal sector. According to government sources, foreign-born children travel to Congo to work in housekeeping, market vending, agricultural and fishing work with financial remuneration sent back to their parents in their country of origin. Local NGOs report that child victims experienced harsh treatment, long work hours, and almost no access to education or health services. Additionally, they received little or no remuneration for their work. There were no official government statistics on general child labor.

Children as young as six, especially indigenous children in rural areas, often worked long hours in the fields harvesting cassava and carrying heavy loads of firewood. A local authority reported that this was culturally acceptable, although not officially legal.

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

d. Discrimination with Respect to Employment and Occupation

The constitution and law prohibit discrimination based on family background, ethnicity, social condition, age, political or philosophical beliefs, gender, religion, region of origin within the country, place of residence in the country, language, HIV-positive status, or disability. The constitution and law do not specifically prohibit discrimination against persons based on national origin or citizenship, sexual orientation or gender identity, or having communicable diseases other than HIV.

The government did not effectively enforce these prohibitions. Labor law does not specifically reiterate these antidiscrimination provisions. Discrimination in employment and occupation sometimes occurred with respect to women, refugees, and indigenous people. The law prohibits discrimination based on gender and stipulates women have the right to equal pay for equal work. Most women worked in the informal sector and thus had little or no access to employment benefits. In rural areas, women’s education and wage levels are lower than in urban areas with most work focused on family farming, small-scale commerce, and child-rearing.

Persons with disabilities and indigenous groups faced discrimination in hiring and access to the workplace.

e. Acceptable Conditions of Work

The national minimum wage was 90,000 CFA francs ($159) per month in the formal sector, which exceeds the poverty line. There was no official minimum wage for the agricultural and other informal sectors. High urban prices and dependent extended families obliged many workers, including teachers and health-care workers, to seek secondary employment, mainly in the informal sector where the law did not apply.

The law provides for a standard workweek of seven hours per day with a one-hour lunch break, five days a week. There was no legal limit on the number of hours worked per week, and the law provides for paid annual holidays and four months of maternity leave. The law stipulates overtime pay for all work in excess of regular working hours. For public-sector workers, this is 35 hours per week. In private companies, overtime is any work beyond the business’ normal working hours (usually 40 to 42 hours per week). There is no legal prohibition of excessive compulsory overtime. Overtime is subject to agreement between employer and employee. Employers generally observed these standards, and employers usually paid workers in cash for overtime work. The penalty for violating wage laws ranges from 10,000-20,000 CFA francs ($17.70-$35.40) when the violation occurs the first time, and 20,000-36,000 CFA francs ($35.40-$63.60) for subsequent violations. A lack of enforcement rendered the penalties ineffective, and the penalties themselves were not sufficient to deter violations. According to the Inspector General of Labor, there were no penalties issued during the year for wage law violations.

Health and safety regulations are set by the Ministry of Labor, and they are in line with international standards. Although health and safety regulations require biannual visits to businesses by inspectors from the Ministry of Labor, such visits occurred much less frequently, and enforcement of findings was uneven. The Ministry of Labor employed 12 full-time inspectors responsible only for inspecting the formal sector, which was insufficient to enforce compliance with labor laws. Unions generally were vigilant in calling attention to dangerous working conditions; however, the observance of safety standards often was lax in both the private and public sectors. Workers have no specific right to remove themselves from situations that endanger their health or safety without jeopardizing their employment. There were no exceptions for foreign or migrant workers. According to NGOs, labor violations were common in commercial fishing and logging operations, rock quarries, and private construction sites. Authorities did not effectively protect employees in these situations.

Romania

Executive Summary

Romania is a constitutional republic with a democratic, multiparty parliamentary system. The bicameral parliament consists of the Senate and the Chamber of Deputies, both elected by popular vote. The country held parliamentary elections in 2016 that observers generally considered to be free and fair and without irregularities. In 2014 the country held presidential elections in which electoral observers noted irregularities, including insufficient polling stations for the large diaspora community.

Civilian authorities maintained effective control over the security forces.

Human rights issues included endemic official corruption and police violence against the Roma.

The judiciary took steps to prosecute and punish officials who committed abuses, but authorities delayed proceedings involving alleged police abuse. The result was that many of the cases ended in acquittals.

Section 1. Respect for the Integrity of the Person, Including Freedom from:

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

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

The Institute for Investigating Communist Crimes and the Memory of the Romanian Exile (IICCMRE) was authorized to submit criminal complaints related to alleged communist-era crimes. On June 25, the IICCMRE submitted a criminal complaint to the Prosecutor’s Office on alleged inhumane treatment between 1980 and 1989 in the Siret Neuropsychological Pediatric Hospital that resulted in 340 deaths.

In May 2017 the trial began of former communist-era Securitate officials Marin Parvulescu, Vasile Hodis, and Tudor Postelnicu, accused of crimes against humanity before the Bucharest Court of Appeals. They were charged in the death of dissident Gheorghe Ursu, who was arrested and allegedly beaten to death by investigators and cellmates in 1985. As of September the case was before the Bucharest Court of Appeals.

In 2016 the Military Prosecutor’s Office indicted former president Ion Iliescu, former prime minister Petre Roman, former vice prime minister Gelu Voican Voiculescu, and former Romanian Intelligence Service director Virgil Magureanu for crimes against humanity. They were accused of involvement in the 1990 “miners’ riot,” when thousands of miners were brought to Bucharest to attack demonstrators opposed to Iliescu’s rule. According to official figures, the violence resulted in hundreds of injuries, illegal arrests, and four deaths. Media estimates of the number injuries and deaths were much higher. As of September the case was pending before the High Court of Cassation and Justice.

b. Disappearance

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

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

The constitution and law prohibit such practices, but there were reports from nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) and media that police and gendarmes mistreated and abused prisoners, pretrial detainees, Roma, and other vulnerable persons, including homeless persons, women, sex workers, and substance users, primarily with excessive force, including beatings. In one example, according to journalists, in September four agents of the Bucharest Sector 3 police used excessive force against two Romani teenagers caught fishing in a public park. As of September a police disciplinary committee was investigating the case.

In February prosecutors in Bucharest Sector 5 opened a case against 15 employees and the director of the Rahova Penitentiary Hospital for allegedly beating several inmates between 2015 and 2018 and falsifying medical records to cover up the abuses. As of October the investigation of 16 defendants and seven suspects was pending.

The NGO Romani Center for Social Intervention and Studies stated that in 43 cases of police brutality against Roma persons over the previous 12 years, there were no convictions at the national level, often because prosecutors did not take the cases to court. The European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) ruled in a number of cases that the justice system had failed to deliver a just outcome in cases of police brutality, particularly against Roma, and cases involving abuses in psychiatric hospitals. The average time for a ruling in cases of alleged police abuse of Roma was nearly four years.

In 2015 the Association for the Defense of Human Rights-Helsinki Committee (ADHR-HC) reported that the Romani community in the village of Racos in Brasov County complained that police had terrorized and repeatedly beaten them over the previous three years. The Brasov prosecutor’s office allegedly handled their complaints improperly. In addition, four men reportedly beat a civil activist who was advising members of the community on how to submit complaints. The prosecutor’s office attached to the Brasov Tribunal sent to trial several defendants, including the chief of the Racos police, for inciting others to hit the victims and other acts of violence against the civil activist. In September 2017 and July 2018, the Rupea Court convicted the defendants to prison sentences and criminal fines for assault.

According to the United Nations, two allegations of sexual exploitation and abuse against peacekeepers from Romania reported in 2017 were pending. Both cases involve military observers deployed in UN Stabilization Mission in the Democratic Republic of Congo. One case involved the alleged sexual abuse (rape) of a minor. The peacekeeper in question was repatriated by the United Nations. The other case involved alleged sexual exploitation (transactional sex). Investigations by Romanian authorities were pending.

Prison and Detention Center Conditions

Prison conditions remained harsh and overcrowded and did not meet international standards. The abuse of prisoners by authorities and other prisoners reportedly continued to be a problem.

Physical Conditions: According to official figures, overcrowding was a problem, particularly in those prisons that did not meet the standard of 43 square feet per prisoner set by the Council of Europe. Conditions remained generally poor within the prison system, and observers noted insufficient spending on repair and retrofitting. According to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, men and women, juveniles and adults, and pretrial detainees and convicted persons were not held together.

According to media, NGO, and ombudsperson reports, guards assaulted prisoners and, at times, prisoners assaulted and abused fellow inmates. As of September, 74 complaints against penitentiary staff had been lodged with the National Penitentiary Authority (NPA) for abuses and violations of inmates’ rights, acts of corruption, threats, failures in executing professional duties, mistreatment, and inappropriate behavior. Statistics on the number of complaints sent by the NPA or inmates to prosecutors were not available.

A number of prisons provided insufficient medical care, and food quality was poor and sometimes insufficient in quantity. In some prisons heating and ventilation were inadequate. Persons with mental disorder did not receive sufficient care and were frequently isolated by other inmates. The ADHR-HC stated that the actual number of persons who had mental health problems was three times higher than the number of inmates who received treatment for mental illness.

The ADHR-HC stated that most pretrial detention facilities had inadequate conditions, particularly in terms of hygiene and overcrowding. Such facilities were often located in basements and had no natural light and inadequate sanitation. In some pretrial facilities and prisons, there was no possibility for confidential meetings between detainees and their families or attorneys. The ADHR-HC also criticized the lack of adequate treatment for former drug addicts and the lack of HIV and hepatitis prevention measures.

In April 2017 the ECHR issued a pilot judgment regarding prison and detention center conditions in the country. The court had previously dealt with more than 150 complaints of overcrowding and inadequate conditions in prisons and pretrial detention facilities. It found that the applicants’ situation was part of a general pattern of structural dysfunction of the system.

Administration: Independent authorities did not always investigate credible allegations of inhuman conditions.

Independent Monitoring: The government permitted monitoring visits by independent human rights observers, and such visits occurred during the year. The ombudsperson also visited prisons as part of his mandate to monitor places of confinement.

Improvements: The law provides for reducing sentences for prisoners held in inappropriate conditions. Under its provisions, for each 30 days a prisoner has been held since 2012 in inappropriate conditions, his/her sentence is reduced by six days. Inappropriate conditions are those not meeting standards set by the Council of Europe or other conditions as defined by law, including having less than 43 square feet of living space per prisoner, dampness or mold in the walls, and lack of private toilets. Between October 2017 and June 2018, 10,957 inmates were released based on the provisions of this law.

d. Arbitrary Arrest or Detention

The constitution and law prohibit arbitrary arrest and detention, and the government generally respected these prohibitions. The law provides for the right of any person to challenge the lawfulness of his or her detention.

ROLE OF THE POLICE AND SECURITY APPARATUS

The Ministry of Internal Affairs is responsible for the General Inspectorate of the Romanian Police, gendarmerie, border police, General Directorate for Internal Protection (DGPI), and Directorate General for Anticorruption. The DGPI has responsibilities for intelligence gathering, counterintelligence, and preventing and combatting vulnerabilities and risks that could seriously disrupt public order or target Ministry of Internal Affairs operations. The prime minister appoints the head of DGPI. The Romanian Intelligence Service (SRI), the domestic security agency, investigates terrorism and national security threats. The president nominates and the parliament confirms the SRI director.

Civilian authorities maintained effective control over the SRI and the security agencies that reported to the Ministry of Internal Affairs. The government did not have effective mechanisms to investigate and punish abuse, and impunity was a problem.

More than 770 persons submitted criminal complaints concerning violent incidents during a protest on August 10 when the gendarmerie allegedly used excessive force against peaceful protesters. On August 19, the minister of interior announced the ministry’s report concerning the protest was classified. On September 25, the General Prosecutor’s Office stated the declassification of documents was required so that parties, suspects, and lawyers could have access to them. As of November the report had not been declassified.

Police officers were frequently exonerated in cases of alleged beatings and other cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment. A widespread perception of police corruption contributed to citizens’ lack of respect for police. Low salaries also contributed to making individual law enforcement officials susceptible to bribery. Authorities referred cases of high-level corruption to the Directorate General for Anticorruption in the Ministry of Internal Affairs.

ARREST PROCEDURES AND TREATMENT OF DETAINEES

By law only judges may issue detention and search warrants, and the government generally respected this provision. Authorities must inform detainees at the time of their arrest of the charges against them and their legal rights, including the right to remain silent and the right to an attorney. Police must notify detainees of their rights in a language they understand before obtaining a statement and bring them before a court within 24 hours of arrest. Although authorities generally respected these requirements, there were some reports of abuses during the year. Pending trial, if the alleged offender does not pose any danger to conducting the trial, there is no concern of flight or commission of another crime, and the case does not present a “reasonable suspicion” that the person would have committed the offense, the investigation proceeds with the alleged offender at liberty. Depending on the circumstances of the case, the law allows home detention and pretrial investigation under judicial supervision, meaning that the person accused must report regularly to law enforcement. A bail system also exists but was seldom used. Detainees have the right to counsel and, in most cases, had prompt access to a lawyer of their choice. Authorities provided indigent detainees legal counsel at public expense. The arresting officer is also responsible for contacting the detainee’s lawyer or, alternatively, the local bar association to arrange for a lawyer. A detainee has the right to meet privately with counsel before the first police interview. A lawyer may be present during the interview or interrogation.

The law allows police to take an individual to a police station without a warrant for endangering others or disrupting public order. Police reportedly used this provision to hold persons for up to 24 hours. Since those held in such cases were not formally detained or arrested, authorities did not recognize their right to counsel. The ADHR-HC criticized this provision as leaving room for abuse.

Pretrial Detention: A judge may order pretrial detention for up to 30 days. A court may extend this period in 30-day increments up to a maximum of 180 days. Under the law detainees may hold courts and prosecutors liable for unjustifiable, illegal, or abusive measures.

e. Denial of Fair Public Trial

Lack of sufficient personnel, physical space, and technology to enable the judiciary to act swiftly and efficiently continued, resulting in excessively long trials.

The constitution provides for an independent judiciary. The Superior Council of Magistrates is the country’s judicial governance body and is responsible for protecting judicial independence. It generally maintained transparency of operations and acted to suspend judges and prosecutors suspected of legal violations. There were reports, however, that the Judicial Inspectorate, an autonomous disciplinary unit within the council, was subject to increasing political influence and was occasionally used to investigate magistrates prosecuting or ruling against the governing coalition’s officials or allies.

The government generally respected judicial independence and impartiality, but instances of political messaging targeting courts, prosecutors, or judges increased. Some prosecutors and judges complained to the council that media outlets and politicians’ statements damaged their professional reputations. The council determined some politicians’ public statements infringed on judicial independence.

TRIAL PROCEDURES

The constitution and the law provide for the right to a fair and public trial, and an independent judiciary generally enforced this right.

Under the law defendants enjoy the right to the presumption of innocence, have the right to be informed promptly and in detail of the charges against them, and have the right to free linguistic interpretation as necessary from the moment charged through all appeals. Trials should take place without undue delay, but delays were common due to heavy caseloads or procedural inconsistencies. Defendants have the right to be present at trial. The law provides for the right to counsel and the right to consult an attorney in a timely manner. The law requires that the government provide an attorney to juveniles in criminal cases; the Ministry of Justice paid local bar associations to provide attorneys to indigent clients. Defendants may confront or question witnesses against them (unless the witness is an undercover agent) and present witnesses and evidence on their own behalf. The law generally provides for the right of defendants and their attorneys to view and consult case files, but prosecutors may restrict access to evidence for such reasons as protecting the victim’s rights and national security. Both prosecutors and defendants have a right of appeal. Defendants may not be compelled to testify against themselves and have the right to abstain from making statements. Prosecutors may use any statements by defendants against them in court.

The law allows for home detention using electronic monitoring devices, but the government did not procure such devices, and persons were placed under home detention without them. A judge may detain a person for up to five years during a trial, which is deducted from the prison sentence if the person is convicted.

POLITICAL PRISONERS AND DETAINEES

There were no reports of political prisoners or detainees.

CIVIL JUDICIAL PROCEDURES AND REMEDIES

Civil courts are independent and function in every jurisdiction. Judicial and administrative remedies are available to individuals and organizations for violations of human rights by government agencies. Plaintiffs may appeal adverse judgments involving alleged violations of human rights by the state to the ECHR after exhausting the avenues of appeal in domestic courts.

Approximately 80 percent of court cases were civil cases. Caseloads were distributed unevenly, resulting in vastly different efficiency rates in different regions. A lack of both jurisprudence and a modern case management system contributed to a high number of appeals as well as lengthy trials. Litigants sometimes encountered difficulties enforcing civil verdicts because the procedures for enforcing court orders were unwieldy and prolonged.

PROPERTY RESTITUTION

According to the National Authority for Property Restitution (ANRP), the Jewish community is entitled to receive compensation for buildings and land that belonged to the Judaic religious denomination or legal entities of the Jewish community that were confiscated between September 6, 1940, and December 22, 1989. Individuals are entitled to compensation only for real estate confiscated between 1945 and 1989. The government has laws and/or mechanisms in place to address Holocaust-era property claims, and NGOs and advocacy groups reported some progress on resolution of such claims.

The law for returning property seized by the former communist and fascist regimes includes a “points” system to compensate claimants where restitution of the original property is not possible. Claimants may use the points to bid in auctions of state-owned property or exchange them for monetary compensation. The parliament intended the law to speed up restitution, but local authorities hindered property restitution by failing to complete a land inventory stipulated by law. The government twice extended the deadline for the inventory’s completion.

There were numerous disputes over church buildings and property that the Romanian Orthodox Church failed to return to the Greek Catholic Church, despite court orders to do so. The government did not take effective action to return churches confiscated by the post-World War II communist government. There continued to be lengthy delays in processing claims related to properties owned by national minority communities. Under the law there is a presumption of abusive transfer that applies to restitution of private property but not to religious or communal property. In many cases documents attesting to the abusive transfer of such properties to state ownership no longer existed. Religious and national minorities are not entitled to compensation for nationalized buildings that were demolished.

Associations of former owners asserted that the points compensation system was ineffective and criticized the restitution law for failing to resolve cases fairly and for lengthy delays and corruption. While the pace of resolving restitution cases at the administrative level increased, the number of properties returned involving churches and national minorities was disproportionately low. As of September the government had approved the restitution of 14 properties to religious denominations, approved compensation in 28 cases, and rejected 376 other claims. In 111 cases the filers withdrew, redirected, or attached their claims to other files. The number of cases resolved each year has remained approximately constant over the past three years, (an average of 1,300), but the number of positive decisions remained extremely low. Religious communities disputing these rulings continued having to go to court and incur additional costs. As of September there were 6,617 pending requests for restitution from religious denominations.

According to advocates of the Romanian Jewish community, the disappearance of entire document repositories, combined with limited access to other archives, prevented the Jewish community from filing certain claims before the legal deadlines. The ANRP rejected most restitution claims concerning former Jewish communal properties during its administrative procedure. The Caritatea Foundation, established by the Federation of Jewish Communities in Romania and World Jewish Restitution Organization (WJRO) to claim communal properties, reported it challenged these negative ANRP decisions in court. The WJRO also reported that the restitution of heirless private Jewish properties was not completed and that there was insufficient research concerning property that had belonged to Jewish victims of the Holocaust.

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

Although the constitution and law prohibit such actions, there were accusations by NGOs, politicians, and journalists that authorities failed to respect these prohibitions.

In September an advisor to the prime minister published on his Facebook page an official document purporting to be a psychiatric diagnosis of a prominent antigovernment protester.

Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:

a. Freedom of Speech and Press

The constitution provides for freedom of expression, including for the press, and the government partially respected this right. Independent organizations such as Media Monitoring Agency, Freedom House, and Center for Independent Journalism noted excessive politicization of the media, corrupt financing mechanisms, and editorial policies subordinated to owner interests.

Freedom of Expression: The law prohibits denying the Holocaust and promoting or using the symbols of fascist, racist, xenophobic, or Legionnaire ideologies, the latter being the nationalist, extremist, anti-Semitic interwar movement that was among the perpetrators of the Holocaust in the country.

Press and Media Freedom: While independent media were active and expressed a wide variety of views without overt restriction, politicians or persons with close ties to politicians and political groups either owned or indirectly controlled numerous media outlets at the national and local levels. The news and editorial stance of these outlets frequently reflected their owners’ views and targeted criticism at political opponents and other media organizations.

Mass demonstrations in Bucharest on August 10 sharply criticized the government’s performance on curbing corruption. According to watchdogs and independent reports, progovernment media played a key role in spreading misinformation during the demonstrations. Representatives of the governing party claimed that the August 10 protests were sponsored from abroad and aimed to be a coup d’etat. They presented no evidence to support these claims.

The National Audiovisual Council (CNA) and Council Fighting Discrimination (CNCD) avoided sanctioning unprofessional and unethical behavior by media outlets controlled by businessmen and politicians related to the ruling party, while sanctioning reporters criticizing the government. For example, in January the CNCD fined both Republica analyst Cristian Tudor Popescu and Digi24 TV’s Cosmin Prelipceanu 1,000 lei ($250), for criticizing the hairdo of the newly appointed prime minister and for refusing to retract the remark. On June 19, the Bucharest Court of Appeals cancelled the CNCD decision on the grounds that it violated freedom of expression.

During the year media outlets, anchors, and commentators controlled by owners who were connected to the government and ruling parties criticized press outlets whose coverage was critical of the ruling parties and their proposed legal curbs on magistrates’ powers.

Violence and Harassment: More than 20 civic and human rights NGOs condemned the June 20 use of violence by the gendarmerie against peaceful protesters, including the detention of a German reporter.

On August 10, at least 15 journalists suffered physical, verbal, or tear gas assaults by gendarmes while monitoring a major anticorruption, antigovernment protest taking place in Bucharest, according to Active Watch, Reporters Without Borders, the Helsinki Committee for Human Rights, and the International and the European Federations of Journalists. According to NGOs, media reports, and testimonies, the journalists abused by gendarmes included Robert Mihailescu (Hotnews.ro), Cristian Stefanescu (Deutsche Welle), Vlad Ursulean (Casa Jurnalistului), Ioana Moldovan (Documentaria.ro), Silviu Matei (Agerpres), Cristian Popa and Cristi Ban (Digi 24), and Robert Reinprecht and Ernst Gelegs (Austrian public television).

On November 8, invoking privacy legislation, the National Supervisory Authority for Personal Data Processing (ANSPCP) asked investigative media group Rise Project to disclose the sources of the information they used for the articles they published into suspected cases of fraud and corruption with public money. Reporters’ articles referred to TelDrum, a company based in Teleorman County, allegedly connected to the Chamber of Deputies speaker, who is also the chair of the ruling party, PSD. ANSPCP threatened the group with an unprecedented penalty of a 20 million euro ($23 million) fine if it did not provide access to their databases and ongoing investigations. It was the second consecutive year that Rise Project was subject to harassment by government agencies after it started thorough investigations into the assets of the ruling party chair and his family.

Libel/Slander Laws: On May 13, Chamber of Deputies speaker Liviu Dragnea announced that he had requested authorities investigate G4Media.ro reporter Dan Tapalaga, claiming he had revealed a classified memorandum on the possible move of the country’s embassy to Jerusalem. G4Media was able to show that the report was based on open sources.

Voluntari Mayor Florin Pandele sued the news outlet PressOne.ro after the magazine disclosed academic evidence that he and dozens of other officials plagiarized their Ph.D. theses, after which the granting university rescinded his degree. Pandele was claiming damages of 300,000 euros ($339,000) for defamation. On November 20, the High Court of Cassation and Justice sent the case back to the appellate court, ruling that its previous rejection of Pandele’s second appeal was “not convincing.” After another appellate court ruling, the case could return to the High Court for a final ruling.

INTERNET FREEDOM

The government did not systematically restrict or disrupt access to the internet or censor online content, and there were no credible reports that the government monitored private online communications without appropriate legal authority. According to the International Telecommunication Union, 64 percent of the population used the internet in 2017.

In January media outlets reported that police opened two criminal cases against individuals in Timisoara who were accused of “instigating” unrest in Facebook messages in connection with antigovernment protests in December 2017. The human rights NGO Societatea Timisoara reported that the police action was aimed at intimidating street protesters mobilizing for democracy.

On July 19, media and NGOs criticized the Judicial Inspection of the Superior Council of Magistrates for initiating a disciplinary investigation against prosecutor Alexandra Lancranjan for a Facebook post explaining European legislation relating to abuse of office.

National Security: On June 26, the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) found that the arrest of journalist Marian Girleanu in 2006 was disproportionate and constituted an interference with his right to freedom of expression. The court order the state pay 4,500 euros ($5,180) to the journalist and 3,695 euros ($4,250) to his lawyer. Girleanu was arrested and fined in 2006 for sharing classified military information without publishing it. At the time Girleanu was working for the daily newspaper Romania Libera, pursuing investigations into the armed forces and police.

ACADEMIC FREEDOM AND CULTURAL EVENTS

Media outlets and NGOs accused the Vrancea Popular Atheneum, a cultural events venue sponsored by the Focsani municipality, of cancelling a planned conference in February on women’s empowerment and gender equality organized by high school students because one of the speakers was transgender. The Vrancea Bar Association, a county councilor, the Vrancea School Inspectorate, the “Parents for Religion Classes” Association, and the Vrancea and Buzau Archbishopric intervened to block the conference and attempted to dissuade the organizers from holding it. In a statement to media, the director of the Athenaeum asserted, “We are a public, serious-minded institution, I cannot agree with discussions about lesbianism, homosexuality, and transgender taking place in the Athenaeum.” The conference was eventually held at a different location.

b. Freedom of Peaceful Assembly and Association

The constitution and law provide for the freedom of association, but the government occasionally restricted freedom of peaceful assembly.

FREEDOM OF PEACEFUL ASSEMBLY

The constitution provides for freedom of peaceful assembly, and the government partially respected it. The law provides that unarmed citizens may assemble peacefully but also stipulates that meetings must not interfere with other economic or social activities and may not take place near such locations as hospitals, airports, or military installations. In most cases organizers of public assemblies must request permits in writing three days in advance from the mayor’s office of the locality where the gathering is to occur.

On October 15, the Supreme Court ruled that public gatherings, including protests, must be declared in advance when they are to be held in markets, public spaces, or in the vicinity of institutions “of public or private interest.” The decision was mandatory. Activists opposed these restrictions, stating that by announcing the protests, those who take to the streets will be forced to take responsibility not only for themselves, but also for larger groups or for instigators to violence who may be brought there to compromise peaceful anticorruption protests. Civic organizations also warned that in Bucharest, authorities granted public spaces for longer periods to NGOs with no activity only as a pretext to refuse permits to protest to legitimate organizations.

On August 10, a major protest at Victoria Square in Bucharest attracted approximately 100,000 protesters. According to the Ministry of Interior, several hundred persons allegedly attempted to get close to the cabinet office building and threw objects at gendarmes. Media and civic groups reported that the number of violent protesters was much lower, amounting to several dozens of persons. Gendarmes used tear gas and water cannon in an indiscriminate manner, harming peaceful protesters, some of whom were children or elderly. Many bystanders were also injured. NGOs, observers, and journalists noted that gendarmes launched tear gas canisters in adjacent areas of the square against persons who did not pose a threat. Because of the large crowd, protesters did not have the opportunity to disperse when gendarmes began using tear gas grenades. Gendarmes also used violence against protesters who left the protest and were on adjacent streets. Numerous broadcast television reports showed members of the gendarmerie punching, kicking, and hitting peaceful protesters with their batons. Several protesters suffered injuries caused by shrapnel from exploding tear-gas canisters.

According to the Interior Ministry, 452 individuals needed medical care during the protest, of which 33 were gendarmes; 70 persons were taken to the hospital, including 14 gendarmes. Hundreds of protesters reported side effects from irritant agents after the protest. Four Israeli tourists and a driver who happened to be in the area were dragged out of a taxi and beaten by gendarmes. Numerous reports showed that several gendarmes had the identification numbers on their helmets covered with duct tape. Dozens of civic and human rights NGOs condemned the intervention of the gendarmerie, which they viewed as a highly disproportionate response to the actions of most protesters.

FREEDOM OF ASSOCIATION

The constitution provides for freedom of association, and the government generally respected this right. The law prohibits fascist, racist, or xenophobic ideologies, organizations, and symbols.

In August the government adopted an ordinance that authorizes the Ministry of Public Finances to check whether NGOs use the funds redirected by citizens from their income tax according to the organizations’ primary goals. The ADHR-HC asserted that this measure would allow the government to harass NGOs.

c. Freedom of Religion

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

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

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

The government cooperated with the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) and other humanitarian organizations in providing protection and assistance to refugees, asylum seekers, stateless persons, and other persons of concern, which could include irregular migrants potentially in need of international protection.

Abuse of Migrants, Refugees, and Stateless Persons: According to UNHCR, several incidents of harassment and crimes against refugees and migrants were reported throughout the year in Bucharest and other parts of the country, although many incidents were not reported because of fear, lack of information, inadequate support services, and inefficient redress mechanisms. Authorities consistently declined to investigate incidents of this kind as hate crimes.

In-country Movement: The internal movement of beneficiaries of international protection and stateless persons was generally not restricted. Asylum seekers may be subject to measures limiting their freedom of movement and to detention in specific circumstances. The law and implementing regulations provide that the General Inspectorate for Immigration may designate a specific place of residence for an applicant for asylum while authorities determine his or her eligibility or may take restrictive measures, subject to approval by the prosecutor’s office, that amount to administrative detention in “specially arranged closed areas.” According to UNHCR, as of September no cases of asylum detention were recorded during the year. Applicants who do not qualify for asylum were treated as aliens without a right to stay in the country who may be taken into custody pending deportation. According to the law, those applying for asylum while in public custody were released from detention if granted access to the ordinary procedure. Detention in public custody centers is subject to regular review and should not exceed six months unless there are specific circumstances, in which case detention may be extended for up to 18 months. Applicants for or beneficiaries of international protection in certain circumstances, particularly those declared “undesirable” for reasons of national security, may be subject to administrative detention in public custody centers.

The government may grant “tolerated status” to persons who do not meet the requirements for refugee status or subsidiary protection, but who cannot be returned for various reasons. These reasons include cases where stateless persons are not accepted by their former country of habitual residence or where the lives or well-being of returnees could be at risk. Persons with “tolerated status” have the right to work but not to benefit from any other social protection or inclusion provisions, and the government restricted their freedom of movement to a specific region of the country. According to UNHCR, 244 persons were holders of “tolerated status” as of January, of whom 141 had been granted “toleration” as an alternative to detention or following prolonged detention.

PROTECTION OF REFUGEES

Refoulement: The law establishes exceptions to the principle of nonrefoulement and the withdrawal of the right to stay following a declaration of a person as “undesirable.” This may occur, for example, when classified information or “well founded indications” suggest that aliens (including stateless persons), applicants for asylum, or persons granted asylum intend to commit terrorist acts or favor terrorism. Applicants for protection declared “undesirable” on national security grounds were taken into custody pending the finalization of their asylum procedure and then deported. According to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, as of the end of November, 390 persons had been subjected to refoulement.

Access to Asylum: The law provides access to asylum procedures to foreign nationals and stateless persons who express their desire for protection, which may be in the form of refugee status or temporary “subsidiary protection” status. The asylum law prohibits the expulsion, extradition, or forced return of any asylum seeker at the country’s border or from within the country’s territory, but this was not without exception, particularly in cases that fell under the country’s national security and terrorism laws.

UNHCR reported several allegations of denial of access to the country, pushbacks, and deviations from asylum procedures at border areas.

Safe Country of Origin/Transit: The law provides for the concept of safe countries of origin. This normally referred to EU member states but could also include other countries approved by the Internal Affairs Ministry at the recommendation of the General Inspectorate for Immigration. Procedurally, the government would normally reject applications for asylum by persons who had arrived from a safe country under accelerated procedures, except in cases where the factual situation or evidence presented by the applicant shows the existence of a well-founded fear of persecution. Between January and August, one asylum application by an EU national was rejected at the administrative level of the asylum procedure; no information regarding the legal basis for the rejection was available.

The law also refers to the concept of a safe third country. The law extends to irregular migrants who transited and were offered protection in a third country considered safe or who had the opportunity at the border or on the soil of a safe third country to contact authorities for the purpose of obtaining protection. In such cases authorities could deny access to asylum procedures if the designated safe third country agreed to readmit the applicant to its territory and grant access to asylum procedures.

Freedom of Movement: The law incorporates four “restrictive” measures under which the internal movement of applicants for asylum may be limited. The first two establish an obligation to report regularly to the General Inspectorate for Immigration or to reside at a regional reception center. A third restrictive measure allows authorities to place applicants in “specially arranged closed areas” for a maximum of 60 days, either to access the asylum procedure or if the asylum seeker is deemed to pose a danger to national security. There was no case of an asylum applicant being placed in a specially arranged closed area through September. Authorities may also place asylum applicants in administrative detention in a public custody center if they are subject to a transfer to another EU member state under the Dublin Regulations or if they have been declared “undesirable” for reasons of national security, pending their removal from the country.

Under provisions of the law to limit “abuse to the asylum procedure,” irregular migrants who submitted their first application for international protection while in custody were released from detention only if granted access to the ordinary asylum application procedure. The provisions raised concerns among UN agencies and civil society due to the ambiguity in the phrases “abuse of the asylum procedure” and “risk of absconding.”

The period of detention in a public custody center could be prolonged up to a maximum of 18 months.

Employment: Asylum seekers have the right to work starting three months after they submit their first asylum application, if the process was not completed. This period begins again if the applicant obtains access to a new asylum procedure. Even when granted permission to work, many asylum seekers faced problems finding legal work, mainly due to the limited validity of their identification documents and lack of awareness among potential employers of their right to work.

While persons granted protection have the legal right to work, job scarcity, low wages, lack of language proficiency, and lack of recognized academic degrees and other certifications often resulted in unemployment or employment without a legal contract and its related benefits and protections.

Access to Basic Services: Effective access by persons with refugee status or subsidiary protection to education, housing, lifelong learning and employment, public health care, and social security varied across the country, depending on the level of awareness of various public and private actors responsible for ensuring access to these services.

The government provides asylum seekers 16 lei ($4) per day in financial assistance, with slightly increased allowances for vulnerable persons. The allowance was low relative to the local cost of living, and persons with special needs or vulnerabilities were particularly affected. Supplementary financial support was provided under EU-sponsored projects, but timing gaps between these projects restricted funding availability. Applicants for asylum had limited options for meaningful activities, such as language classes, cultural orientation, and skills training. Romanian language classes were no longer available for adults. State-provided social, psychological, and medical assistance for asylum applicants remained insufficient, with many dependent on NGO-implemented projects for such help. Proper identification and assistance for victims of trauma and torture was lacking.

Durable Solutions: According to UNHCR, the country had become a resettlement country, having agreed to resettle small quotas of refugees every year. For 2018-19, the quota pledged by the government was 109 Syrian refugees, to be resettled from Turkey (69) and Jordan (40) with UNHCR and IOM support. As of September no arrivals had been recorded.

UNHCR reported that, as of August, 4,072 persons benefiting from any of several forms of legal protection were residing in the country. By the end of August, 1,406 persons had submitted new or repeat asylum applications.

Beneficiaries of international protection continued to face problems with local integration, including access to vocational training adapted to their specific needs, counseling programs, and naturalization. According to UNHCR, no municipality provided targeted support services or targeted integration and inclusion programs to refugees. Access to education was problematic, and several school inspectorates refused to organize Romanian language classes. According to several reports, schools across the country, including in large cities such as Bucharest or Timisoara, refused to enroll refugee children in school for several months. Obtaining a legal work contract remained difficult for various reasons, including tax concerns and the reluctance of employers to hire refugees. Recipients of subsidiary protection complained of problems regarding their freedom of movement to other countries due to the additional visa requirements. UNHCR reported that refugees saw citizenship acquisition as a cumbersome, costly, and difficult process, with some requirements, particularly related to the applicant’s financial situation, that were difficult to meet.

Temporary Protection: The government did not grant temporary protection to any individuals during the year.

STATELESS PERSONS

According to UNHCR, as of August there were 337 stateless persons with valid residence documents in the country. These included legal residents under the aliens’ regime, stateless persons of Romanian origin, as well as 120 persons granted some form of international protection. Data on stateless persons, including on persons at risk of statelessness and persons of undetermined nationality, were not reliable due to the absence of a procedure to determine statelessness, the absence of a single designated authority responsible for this purpose, and the lack of adequate identification and registration of persons with unknown or undetermined nationality.

The law includes favorable provisions for stateless persons of Romanian origin to reacquire citizenship. Nevertheless, a significant gap persisted due to the lack of safeguards against statelessness for children born in the country, who would be stateless because their parents either were themselves stateless or were foreigners unable to transmit their nationality.

Section 3. Freedom to Participate in the Political Process

The law provides citizens the ability to choose their government in free and mostly fair periodic elections held by secret ballot based on universal and equal suffrage.

Elections and Political Participation

Recent Elections: The country held parliamentary elections in 2016 that were considered free and fair by international observers. In 2014 the country held presidential elections in which electoral observers noted irregularities, including insufficient polling stations for the large diaspora community.

Political Parties and Political Participation: The law requires political parties to register with the Bucharest Tribunal and to submit their statutes, program, and a roster of at least three members. Critics asserted that certain requirements undermine the right to association. These include the requirement that parties field candidates–by themselves or in alliance–in at least 75 electoral constituencies in two successive local elections or that they field a full slate of candidates in at least one county or partial slates of candidates in a minimum of three counties in two successive parliamentary elections. A party’s statutes and program must not include ideas that incite war; discrimination; hatred of a national, racist, or religious nature; or territorial separatism.

Participation of Women and Minorities: No laws limit participation of women or members of minorities in the political process, and they did participate. Societal attitudes presented a significant barrier, and women remained underrepresented in positions of authority. For example, as of September 1, there were 68 women in the 261-seat Chamber of Deputies and 19 women in the 136-seat Senate.

Under the constitution each recognized ethnic minority is entitled to a representative in the Chamber of Deputies. An organization is required, however, to receive votes equal to 5 percent of the national average number of votes cast by district for a deputy to be elected. The list of organizations that benefit from these provisions is limited to those that are already part of a National Council of Minorities, which consists of organizations already in parliament. The law sets more stringent requirements for minority organizations without a presence in parliament. To participate in elections, such organizations must provide the Central Electoral Bureau a membership list equal to at least 15 percent of the total number of persons belonging to that ethnic group, as determined by the most recent census. If this number amounts to more than 20,000 persons, the organization must submit a list with at least 20,000 names distributed among a minimum of 15 counties plus the city of Bucharest, with no fewer than 300 persons from each county. Some organizations and individuals, particularly Romani activists, claimed this rule was discriminatory.

Ethnic Hungarians, represented by the Democratic Union of Hungarians in Romania political party, were the sole ethnic minority to gain parliamentary representation by surpassing the 5 percent threshold of all valid votes cast nationally, the threshold set for political parties. One Romani organization, Roma Party-Pro Europe, had a single representative in parliament.

Section 4. Corruption and Lack of Transparency in Government

The law provides criminal penalties for corruption by officials, but despite numerous high-profile prosecutions, corrupt practices remained widespread. There were numerous reports of government corruption during the year.

Corruption remained a problem according to World Bank indicators and other expert opinion. Bribery was common in the public sector. Laws were not always implemented effectively, and officials sometimes engaged in corrupt practices with impunity.

Corruption: The National Anticorruption Directorate (DNA) continued to investigate and prosecute corruption cases involving political, judicial, and administrative officials throughout the year. In April the DNA indicted former finance minister Sebastian Vladescu for accepting bribes and trafficking in influence.

Verdicts in corruption cases were often inconsistent, with sentences varying widely for similar offenses. Enforcement of court procedures lagged mostly due to procedural and administrative problems, especially with respect to asset forfeiture.

Corruption was widespread in public procurement. A 2016 law provides for a comprehensive software mechanism to flag potential conflicts of interest in public procurement, but the law was not implemented. Bribery was common in the public sector, especially in health care. Individual executive agencies were slow in enforcing sanctions, and agencies’ own inspection bodies were generally inactive. Despite the emphasis on prevention in the latest National Anticorruption Strategy, individual agencies and the government did not take significant action in this area.

Financial Disclosure: The law empowers the National Integrity Agency (ANI) to administer and audit financial disclosure statements for all public officials and to monitor conflicts of interest. The law stipulates that the agency may identify “significant discrepancies” between an official’s income and assets, defined as more than 45,000 lei ($11,250), and allows for seizure and forfeiture of unjustified assets. The mechanism for confiscation of “unjustified assets” was cumbersome. Through October 13, ANI identified five cases of “significant discrepancies” totaling 6.2 million lei ($1.6 million). Through October 13, ANI identified 139 cases of incompatibilities, 61 cases of conflicts of interest, 18 cases of criminal conflict of interest, and two other cases with strong indications of criminal or corruption offenses. During the year ANI reviewed 4,241 public procurement procedures and issued three integrity warnings.

Section 5. Governmental Attitude Regarding International and Nongovernmental Investigation of Alleged Violations of Human Rights

A number of domestic and international human rights groups generally operated without government restriction, investigating and publishing their findings on human rights cases. Government officials generally met with human rights NGOs and were cooperative and sometimes responsive to their views. There were some reports that government officials were reluctant to cooperate with NGOs that focused on institutionalized persons with disabilities or to accept NGO criticism of institutions for persons with disabilities. In July 2017 the Ministry of Labor and Social Justice ceased to allow representatives of the Center for Legal Resources (CLR) to visit institutions for persons with disabilities, stating that the ministry’s agreement with CLR would not be renewed. CLR is an NGO that reported on alleged abuse of institutionalized persons with disabilities.

Government Human Rights Bodies: The Office of the Ombudsperson has limited power and no authority to protect citizens’ constitutional rights in cases requiring judicial action. Although the Office of the Ombudsperson is the only institution that may challenge emergency ordinances in the Constitutional Court, as of September it failed to challenge several controversial ordinances despite persistent calls by civil society to do so. The ombudsperson is the national preventive mechanism implementing the optional protocol to the UN Convention against Torture. This gives the ombudsperson the power to conduct monitoring visits to places where individuals are deprived of their liberty, including prisons, psychiatric hospitals, and asylum centers. As of September the ombudsperson issued 15 reports with recommendations, based mainly on visits to penitentiaries and psychiatric facilities. Some observers continued to regard the institution as ineffective.

In October 2017 the government established the Office of the Children’s Ombudsperson empowered to examine human rights complaints made by children or their legal representatives. In 2016 parliament established the Council for Monitoring the Implementation of the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities. The council was authorized to make unannounced visits in centers and hospitals for persons with disabilities in order to check if the rights of these persons are respected, issue recommendations, and submit criminal complaints. As of September the council had issued 12 reports during the year with recommendations based on visits to residential centers for persons with disabilities. Some observers regarded the institution as ineffective and believed that the inspectors who drafted the reports lacked the necessary human rights expertise.

Each chamber of parliament has a human rights committee tasked with drafting reports on bills pertaining to human rights. On several occasions members of these committees expressed the views of their political parties rather than addressing problems impartially.

The National Council for Combating Discrimination (CNCD) is the government agency responsible for applying domestic and EU antidiscrimination laws. The CNCD reports to parliament. The CNCD operated with the government’s cooperation and, for the most part, without government or party interference. According to the CNCD, the institution did not receive adequate resources. Observers generally regarded the CNCD as effective, but some criticized it for a lack of efficiency and political independence.

Section 6. Discrimination, Societal Abuses, and Trafficking in Persons

Women

Rape and Domestic Violence: Rape, including spousal rape, is illegal. The law provides for three to 10 years’ imprisonment for rape and two to seven years’ imprisonment for sexual assault. If there are no aggravating circumstances and the attack did not lead to death, police and prosecutors may not pursue a case on their own, but they require a victim’s complaint, even if there is independent physical evidence.

The criminal code classifies family violence as a separate offense and stipulates that when murder, battery, or other serious violence is committed against a family member, the penalty is increased. The code also states that, if the parties reconcile, criminal liability is removed.

Violence against women, including spousal abuse, continued to be a serious problem that the government did not effectively address. The law provides for the issuance of provisional restraining orders by police for a maximum of five days and restraining orders by a court for a maximum of six months upon the victim’s request or at the request of a prosecutor, the state representative in charge of protecting victims of family violence, or, if the victim agrees, a social service provider. Violation of a restraining order is punishable by imprisonment for one month to one year. The court may also order the abuser to undergo psychological counselling. The FILIA Center for Gender Studies and Curriculum Development–an NGO that aims to promote gender equality–stated that police lacked procedures for the implementation and monitoring of restraining orders.

Courts prosecuted very few cases of domestic abuse. Many cases were resolved before or during trial when the alleged victims dropped their charges or reconciled with the alleged abuser. Anais, an NGO that assists victims of domestic violence, reported the case of a victim who, since 2013, had obtained 10 restraining orders against her former husband. In spite of the restraining order, for the past five years, the former husband had been following and abusing her both verbally and physically and threatening to kill her. The victim pressed charges on multiple occasions for the violation of the restraining order, but the Prosecutor’s Office attached to Bucharest Sector 3 Court had not sent the case to trial.

Sexual Harassment: Criminal law prohibits sexual harassment, which it defines as repeatedly asking for sexual favors in a work or similar relationship. A victim complaint is necessary to initiate a criminal investigation. Penalties range from fines to imprisonment of three months to one year. The law on equal opportunities for men and women defines sexual harassment as the occurrence of unwanted behavior with a sexual connotation, which can be expressed physically, verbally, or nonverbally and has the effect or result of damaging a person’s dignity and, in particular, the creation of a hostile, intimidating, degrading, humiliating or offensive environment. Civil fines range from 3,000 to 10,000 lei ($750 to $2,500).

Coercion in Population Control: There were no reports of coerced abortion or involuntary sterilization.

Discrimination: Under the law women and men enjoy equal rights. Women experienced discrimination in marriage, divorce, child custody, employment, credit, pay, owning or managing businesses or property, education, the judicial process, and housing. The law requires equal pay for equal work, but there was a 4.5 percent gender pay gap according to EU data. Segregation by profession existed, with women overrepresented in lower-paying jobs. There were reports of discrimination in employment.

Children

Birth Registration: Children derive citizenship by birth from at least one citizen parent. Although birth registration is mandatory by law, it was not universal, and authorities denied some children public services as a result. Most unregistered children had access to schools, and authorities assisted in obtaining birth documents for unregistered children, but the education of unregistered children depended on the decision of school authorities. The law provides simplified birth registration for children whose mothers do not have proper documentation to register their children.

Child Abuse: Child abuse, including emotional, physical, and psychological violence and neglect, continued to be serious problems. Media reported several severe cases of abuse or neglect in family homes, foster care, and child welfare institutions. The government had not established a mechanism to identify and treat abused and neglected children and their families.

Early and Forced Marriage: The legal age of marriage is 18 for both men and women, but the law permits minors as young as 16 to marry under certain circumstances. Illegal child marriage was reportedly common in certain social groups, particularly among some Romani communities. Child protection authorities did not always intervene in such cases. There were no public policies to discourage child marriage.

Sexual Exploitation of Children: The law provides one- to 10-year prison sentences for persons convicted of sexual acts with minors, depending on the circumstances and the child’s age. Sexual intercourse with a minor who is 13 to 15 years of age is punishable by a one- to five-year prison sentence. Sexual intercourse with a person under the age of 13 is punishable by a two- to seven-year prison sentence and deprivation of some rights. The law also criminalizes sexual corruption of minors (which includes subjecting minors to sexual acts other than intercourse or forcing minors to perform such acts), luring minors for sexual purposes or child prostitution, and trafficking in minors. Pimping and pandering that involve minors increase sentences by one-half. The Ministry of Labor confirmed that authorities did not maintain a registry of individuals who had committed sexual offenses against children.

Child pornography is a separate offense and carries a sentence, depending on the circumstances, of up to seven years’ imprisonment, which may be increased by one-third if the perpetrator was a family member or someone in whose care the child was trusted or if the life of the child victim was endangered.

Institutionalized Children: During the year there were several media reports of abuses in placement centers for institutionalized children, including sexual abuse, physical violence by colleagues or staff, and trafficking in persons. Numerous reports noted a lack of adequate food, clothing, medical treatment, and counselling services. According to an investigation by Newsweek Romania, at least 362 children from placement centers and schools for persons with special needs died between 2013 and 2017, mostly because of accidents, suicide, or health problems. The investigation showed that the Authority for the Protection of Children’s Rights and Adoptions did not centralize data on the causes of these deaths. In June media outlets reported that two mentally challenged children from a placement center in Peris, Ilfov County, were sexually abused by an older child in the center. According to a media investigation, the director of the center knew about the abuse but did not notify authorities. In 2016 prosecutors indicted members of an organized crime network who were recruiting girls from orphanages in Iasi for sexual exploitation. In December 2017 the Iasi Tribunal convicted the defendants to prison sentences ranging from three to seven years for trafficking in minors. The defendants appealed the ruling, and as of December the case was pending before the Iasi Court of Appeal.

By law unaccompanied migrant children are housed in placement centers, where they have access to education and benefits other children receive. The detention of families with children is allowed by law, with preservation of family unity used as justification. Several such cases were recorded during the year.

International Child Abductions: The country is a party to the 1980 Hague Convention on the Civil Aspects of International Child Abduction. See the Department of State’s Annual Report on International Parental Child Abduction at https://travel.state.gov/content/travel/en/International-Parental-Child-Abduction/for-providers/legal-reports-and-data.html.

Anti-Semitism

According to the 2011 census, the Jewish population numbered 3,271. Acts of anti-Semitism occurred during the year.

The law prohibits public denial of the Holocaust and fascist, racist, anti-Semitic and xenophobic language and symbols, including organizations and symbols associated with the indigenous Legionnaire interwar fascist movement. The oppression of Roma as well as Jews is included in the definition of the Holocaust.

Streets, organizations, schools, or libraries continued to be named after persons convicted for war crimes or crimes against humanity, according to the Elie Wiesel Institute for the Study of the Holocaust in Romania. For example, Radu Gyr was a commander and anti-Semitic ideologist of the fascist Legionnaire movement convicted of war crimes. The Wiesel Institute requested the renaming of Radu Gyr street in Cluj-Napoca. As of September the local government had not changed the name of the street.

Material promoting anti-Semitic views and glorifying legionnaires also appeared in media, including on the internet, while several government officials made trivializing comments about the Holocaust. In July Agriculture Minister Petre Daea stated on the Antena 3 news channel that the incineration of pigs in response to a swine flu outbreak was similar to what happened at Auschwitz.

During the night of August 3, anti-Semitic and other offensive messages were painted on the childhood home of Auschwitz survivor and Nobel laureate Elie Wiesel in Sighetu Marmatiei. The local office of the national police started an investigation of the incident and identified one suspect.

In April 2017 vandals destroyed 10 tombstones in a Jewish cemetery in Bucharest. Police identified three underage persons who were allegedly responsible for the crime and stated they had acted without any specific reason. As of September the case was pending before the Prosecutor’s Office.

In June 2017 the Jewish community in Cluj-Napoca notified police of anti-Semitic and Holocaust denial messages painted on the exterior wall of the Memorial Temple of Deported Jews synagogue in the city. According to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, as of September the case was pending before the prosecutor’s office attached to the court in Cluj-Napoca.

While not explicitly anti-Semitic, verbal attacks during the year holding a foreign Jewish philanthropist responsible for domestic problems had anti-Semitic connotations. Politicians and the media ascribed negative actions to him, such as controlling a “network of influencers” and paying for activities of opposition parties and antigovernment protesters.

The government continued to implement the recommendations of the 2004 International Commission on the Holocaust in Romaniareport. On October 9, National Holocaust Remembrance Day, the president honored several Holocaust survivors and condemned anti-Semitic hatred and legislation in the country during the Holocaust, stating they were “inconceivable for a society strongly attached to democratic principles and the rule of law.” On the same occasion, the prime minister pledged that the government would support initiatives “to counter anti-Semitism and xenophobia.” The Wiesel Institute continued to organize training courses for teachers and other professionals on the history of the Holocaust.

The Education Ministry did not include a mandatory class on the country’s Holocaust history as part of the general history curricula in force. The high school course History of the Jews–The Holocaust was optional. During the 2016-17 school year, 2,894 pupils from 75 schools took the course.

Trafficking in Persons

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

Persons with Disabilities

The law prohibits discrimination against persons with physical, sensory, intellectual, and mental disabilities. The government did not fully implement the law, and discrimination against persons with disabilities remained a problem.

The law mandates that buildings and public transportation be accessible for persons with disabilities. The country continued to have an insufficient number of facilities specifically designed to accommodate persons with disabilities who could have extreme difficulty navigating city streets or gaining access to public buildings. Persons with disabilities reported a lack of access ramps, adapted public transportation, and adapted toilets in major buildings.

Discrimination against children with disabilities in education was a widespread problem due to lack of adequate teacher training on inclusion of children with disabilities and lack of investment to make schools accessible. Most children with disabilities were either placed in special schools or not placed in school at all. According to the NGO the European Center for the Rights of Children with Disabilities (ECRCD), abuses against children in special schools, including violence by staff, occurred frequently. Several reports by the ECRCD indicated that children with disabilities placed in regular schools faced abuse and discrimination from classmates and staff.

The Center for Legal Resources identified a series of problems in centers for persons with disabilities or psychiatric sections, including verbal and physical abuse of children, sedation, excessive use of physical restraints, lack of hygiene, inadequate living conditions, and lack of adequate medical care.

The National Authority for the Protection of Persons with Disabilities, under the labor ministry, coordinated services for persons with disabilities and drafted policies, strategies, and standards in the field of disabilities rights.

National/Racial/Ethnic Minorities

Discrimination against Roma continued to be a major problem. Romani groups complained that police harassment and brutality, including beatings, were routine. Both domestic and international media and observers reported societal discrimination against Roma. NGOs reported that Roma were denied access to, or refused service in, many public places. Roma also experienced poor access to government services, a shortage of employment opportunities, high rates of school attrition, and inadequate health care. A lack of identity documents excluded many Roma from participating in elections, receiving social benefits, accessing health insurance, securing property documents, and participating in the labor market. Roma had a higher unemployment rate and a lower life expectancy than non-Roma. Negative stereotypes and discriminatory language regarding Roma were widespread.

Despite an order by the Ministry of Education forbidding segregation of Romani students, several NGOs continued to report that segregation along ethnic lines persisted in schools. In 2016 a house, annex, outbuildings, and agricultural storage belonging to Roma were burned and destroyed in the city of Gheorgheni. Media reported that, prior to the arson, police noticed mobs moving towards the area and observed several groups shouting anti-Roma statements. Following the incident the Gheorgheni mayor blamed Roma for triggering the attack. As of September an investigation was pending before the prosecutor’s office attached to the Harghita Tribunal.

Researchers and activists reported that a significant number of the remaining Romani Holocaust survivors who applied for a pension were denied because of unreasonable administrative barriers raised by the pension offices, problematic standards, lack of knowledge about the Holocaust, and burdensome requirements. According to researchers, despite historical evidence, in hundreds of cases authorities considered that Roma were resettled and not deported, and consequently granted them smaller pensions.

Ethnic Hungarians continued to report discrimination related mainly to the use of the Hungarian language. There were continued reports that local authorities did not enforce the law, which states that in localities where a minority constitutes at least 20 percent of the population, road signs must be bilingual. On January 11, Prime Minister Mihai Tudose stated on national television that if anyone raised the Szekler (Hungarian) flag on a public building, they would “wave beside it themselves” (a phrase in Romanian that implies hanging). The CNCD sanctioned Tudose with a warning. In April, during a soccer match in the city of Voluntari between teams from Bucharest and Sfantu Gheorghe, a city inhabited mostly by ethnic Hungarians, a song played through the loudspeakers included xenophobic expressions that incited violence against the Hungarian community. The Romanian Football Federation fined the host team 10,000 lei ($2,500).

Several politicians and government officials made derogatory remarks about ethnic Germans and equated German ethnicity with National Socialism and the Holocaust. On September 2, an advisor to Prime Minister Darius Valcov posted a video clip on his Facebook page that depicted the German Democrat Forum, an organization of ethnic Germans in the country, as a National Socialist organization and compared the country’s president, Klaus Iohannis, to Adolf Hitler. The ethnic German and Jewish communities, the Elie Wiesel Institute, several NGOs, and opposition political figures condemned Valcov’s behavior, and some of them called for his resignation. On August 23, Senator Liviu Pop stated during a television program that President Iohannis, a former chair of the German Democrat Forum, was the head of a successor group to a Nazi organization. After Iohannis condemned the excessive use of force by the gendarmerie against protesters on August 10, Labor Minister Lia Olguta Vasilescu criticized him with the comment, “Cheeky, as a German, to speak of attacking [people] with gas.”

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

The law prohibits discrimination based on sexual orientation. NGOs reported that societal discrimination against LGBTI persons was common, and there were some reports of violence against them.

Discrimination in employment occurred against LGBTI persons. On June 9, a pride parade with more than 5,000 participants took place without incident in Bucharest. Before the event approximately 100 persons took part in a counterprotest.

On June 5, the European Court of Justice ruled that those EU states that do not permit same-sex marriage may nevertheless not obstruct the freedom of residence of an EU citizen by refusing to grant his/her same-sex spouse, even if he/she is a not an EU national, a derived right of residence in their territory. The ruling was issued in the case of Romanian citizen and a non-EU foreign citizen who were married in Belgium in 2010 and denied the right of permanent residence in Romania.

The law governing legal gender recognition for transgender persons was vague and incomplete. In some cases authorities refused legal gender recognition unless an individual had first undergone sex reassignment surgery. Access to adequate psychological services was also limited because some psychologists refused to accept transgender patients.

HIV and AIDS Social Stigma

Although the law provides that HIV-infected persons have the right to confidentiality and adequate treatment, authorities rarely enforced it. Authorities did not adopt regulations that were necessary to provide confidentiality and fair treatment, and discrimination against persons with HIV/AIDS impeded access to routine medical and dental care.

Promotion of Acts of Discrimination

Public figures, politicians, supporters of the Coalition for Family, and representatives of several religious denominations made discriminatory remarks concerning the LGBTI community. In July Vice-President of the Romanian Academy Razvan Theodorescu stated in an interview for Evenimentul Zilei newspaper that “all this fuss about homosexuals and lesbians is an aberration and we don’t need it. These are pathological aspects, certain people are sick.” In October, during the campaign for the revision of the constitutional definition of family, flyers distributed in Bucharest and Craiova by several supporters of the referendum referred to alleged cases of children sexually and emotionally abused by gay couples. Some members of parliament made offending or discriminatory comments about women.

Section 7. Worker Rights

a. Freedom of Association and the Right to Collective Bargaining

The law provides for the rights of workers to form and join independent labor unions, bargain collectively, and conduct legal strikes. Unions can affiliate with regional, national, or EU union federations, but may affiliate with only one national organization. The law prohibits antiunion discrimination and allows workers fired for union activity to challenge in court for reinstatement. The law provides for protection of freedom of association and collective bargaining, but unions complained there was little enforcement to protect against violations of these rights.

Civil servants generally have the right to establish and join unions. Employees of the Ministry of National Defense, certain categories of civilian employees of the Ministries of Interior and Justice, judges, prosecutors, intelligence personnel, and senior public servants, including the president, parliamentarians, mayors, prime minister, ministers, employees involved in security-related activities, and president of the Supreme Court, however, do not have the right to unionize. Unions complained about the requirement that they submit lists of union members with their registration application. Since employers also had access to the list, union officials feared this could lead to reprisals against individual unionized employees, particularly dismissals, hindering the formation of new unions.

Unions may strike only if they give employers 48 hours’ notice, and employers can challenge the right in court, effectively suspending a strike for months. Military personnel and certain categories of staff within the Ministry of Internal Affairs, such as medical personnel, are not permitted to strike. Although not compulsory, unions and employers can seek arbitration and mediation from the Ministry of Labor’s Office for Mediation and Arbitration. Companies may claim damages from strike organizers if a court deems a strike illegal. The law permits strikes only in defense of workers’ economic, social, and professional interests and not for the modification or change of a law. As a result, workers may not challenge any condition of work established by law, such as salaries for public servants, limiting the effectiveness of unions in the public sector.

Unions complained that the legal requirement for representativeness, which states that the right to collective bargaining and to strike can be asserted only by a union that represents 50 percent plus one of the workers in an enterprise, is overly burdensome and limits the rights of workers to participate in collective bargaining and to strike. In the absence of this clear majority, an employer can appoint a worker representative of its choosing to negotiate the agreement. Unions also complained that some companies created separate legal entities to which they transferred employees, thereby preventing them from reaching the threshold for representation.

The law requires employers with more than 21 employees to negotiate a collective labor agreement but provides no basis for national collective labor agreements. Employers refusing to initiate negotiation of a collective bargaining agreement can receive fines. The law permits, but does not impose, collective labor agreements for groups of employers or sectors of activity. The law requires employers to consult with unions on such topics as imposing leave without pay or reducing the workweek due to economic reasons.

Unions complained that the government’s general prohibition on union engagement in political activities was intended to prohibit unions from entering unofficial agreements to support political parties. The law provides for this control due to past abuses by union officials. Unions also complained that authorities could exercise excessive control over union finances, although the government asserts that national fiscal laws apply to all organizations. The International Labor Organization’s Committee of Experts on the Application of Conventions and Recommendations identified fiscal laws as an area of concern.

Union representatives alleged that official reports of incidents of antiunion discrimination remained minimal, as it was difficult to prove legally that employers laid off employees in retaliation for union activities. The CNCD fines employers for antiunion discrimination, although it lacked the power to order reinstatement or other penalties. In 2017 the CNCD issued fines in 18 cases involving access to employment and profession, which includes antiunion discrimination and collective bargaining agreement infringement. The law prohibits public authorities, employers, or organizations from interfering, limiting, or preventing unions from organizing, developing internal regulations, and selecting representatives. Possible fines range from 15,000 to 20,000 lei ($3,800 to $5,000), but in recent years the Labor Inspectorate, which also has jurisdiction over discrimination claims, had not applied such sanctions. The potential fines were insufficient to deter violations, and employees must usually seek judicial remedies to order reinstatement.

The government and employers generally respected the right of association and collective bargaining, and union officials stated that registration requirements stipulated by law were complicated but generally reasonable.

b. Prohibition of Forced or Compulsory Labor

The law prohibits all forms of forced or compulsory labor. Nevertheless, there were reports that such practices continued to occur, often involving Roma, disabled persons, and children. The government did not effectively enforce the law and took limited measures to prevent forced or compulsory labor. The law criminalizes forced labor with penalties ranging from one to three years’ imprisonment, exploitation for beggary with penalties ranging from six months’ to five years’ imprisonment, and enslavement with penalties of imprisonment for three to 10 years. These penalties were insufficient to deter violations.

According to the Ministry of Internal Affairs, 79 of the 662 victims of trafficking officially identified in 2017 were exploited specifically for labor purposes. Of these, 42 were trafficked for agricultural work. Appeals courts in Arges County affirmed the convictions of seven defendants sentenced to between four and eight years in prison for their roles in a forced labor case in Berevoiesti. In 2016 the Directorate for Investigating Organized Crime and Terrorism (DIICOT) uncovered a human trafficking ring that had forced its kidnapped victims, including children, into beggary, slavery, and other forms of forced labor. The captors allegedly kept the victims locked and chained, beat them, and forced them to work.

In October 2017 DIICOT uncovered a group of three citizens who had exploited minors and vulnerable adults for work at a mountain sheep hold on three separate occasions. The victims suffered abuse and assault and had their cell phones taken away. One victim escaped by walking nearly 18 miles back to his hometown.

Men, women, and children were subjected to labor trafficking in agriculture, construction, domestic service, hotels, and manufacturing. Organized rings, often involving family members, forced persons, including significant numbers of Romani women and children, to engage in begging and petty theft (see section 7.c.).

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

c. Prohibition of Child Labor and Minimum Age for Employment

The law prohibits the worst forms of child labor. The minimum age for most forms of employment is 16. Children may work with the consent of parents or guardians at age 15 if the activities do not endanger their health, morality, or safety. The law prohibits persons younger than age 18 from working in hazardous conditions, includes a list of dangerous jobs, and specifies penalties for offenders. Some examples of hazardous jobs for children include those posing a high risk of accident or damage to health, exposure to psychological or sexual risk, night shifts, exposure to harmful temperatures, and those requiring use of hazardous equipment. Parents whose children carry out hazardous activities are required to attend parental education programs or counseling and may be fined between 100 and 1,000 lei ($25 and $250) if they fail to do so. Persons or companies who employ children for hazardous tasks may be fined 500 to 1,500 lei ($125 to $375).

Minors who work have the right to continue their education, and the law obliges employers to assist in this regard. Minors between the ages of 15 and 18 may work a maximum of six hours per day and no more than 30 hours per week, provided their school attendance is not affected. Businesses that impose tasks incommensurate with minors’ physical abilities or fail to respect restrictions on minors’ working hours can face fines of up to 6,000 lei ($1,500). Many minors reportedly did not attend school while working. Minors have the right to an additional three days of annual leave.

The law requires schools to notify social services immediately if children miss class to work, but schools often did not comply. Social welfare services have the responsibility to reintegrate such children into the educational system.

Penalties for violation of child labor laws include sentences ranging from one to two years’ imprisonment or fines. Violations were rarely prosecuted, and penalties were not sufficient to deter violations. The Ministry of Labor may impose fines and close businesses where it finds exploitation of child labor. The National Authority for the Protection of the Rights of the Child and Adoption (ANPFDC) in the Labor Ministry has responsibility for investigating reports of child labor abuse, but enforcement of child labor laws tended to be lax, especially in rural areas with many agricultural households and where social welfare services lacked personnel and capacity to address child labor violations.

The ANPFDC is responsible for monitoring and coordinating all programs for the prevention and elimination of child labor. Government efforts focused on reacting to reported cases, and the ANPFDC dedicated limited resources to prevention programs. According to the ANPFDC, 356 children were subject to child labor in 2017. The incidence of child labor was widely believed to be much higher than official statistics reflected. Child labor, including begging, selling trinkets on the street, and washing windshields, remained widespread in Romani communities, especially in urban areas. Children as young as five engaged in such activities, and cases were usually documented only when police became involved. Of the 356 documented cases of child labor in 2017, authorities prosecuted only 14 alleged perpetrators.

d. Discrimination with Respect to Employment and Occupation

Labor laws and regulations prohibit discrimination with respect to employment and occupation because of race, sex, gender, age, religion, disability, language, sexual orientation or gender identity, HIV-positive or other communicable disease status, social status, or refugee or stateless status. The government did not enforce these laws effectively, reacting to claims of discrimination rather than adequately engaging in programs to prevent discrimination. Although the CNCD and the Labor Inspectorate investigated reported cases of discrimination, penalties were insufficient to deter violations. The penalties for discrimination include fines of between 1,000 and 30,000 lei ($250 and $7,500) for discrimination against an individual, or between 2,000 and 100,000 lei ($500 and $25,000) for discrimination targeting a group of individuals or a community.

Discrimination in employment or occupation occurred with respect to gender, disability, and HIV status. Discrimination against Roma and migrant workers also occurred. In 2017 the CNCD processed 273 discrimination cases with respect to employment. The CNCD addressed cases in both the public and private sectors.

According to Eurostat, the pay gap between men and women in the country was 5.2 percent in 2016. While the law provides female employees re-entering the workforce after maternity leave the right to return to their previous or a similar job, pregnant women and other women of childbearing age could still suffer unacknowledged discrimination in the labor market.

Although systematic discrimination against persons with disabilities did not exist, the public at large had a bias against those with disabilities. NGOs worked actively to change attitudes and assist persons with disabilities to gain skills and employment, but the government lacked adequate programs to prevent discrimination. A government ordinance that took effect in September 2017 includes a provision requiring companies or institutions with more than 50 employees to employ workers with disabilities for at least 4 percent of their workforce or pay a fine for lack of compliance. Before the ordinance was adopted, the law allowed companies not in compliance with the quota to fulfill their legal obligation by buying products from NGOs or firms, known as “sheltered units,” where large numbers of disabled persons were employed. NGOs reported that sheltered units lost an important source of income as a result.

In 2016 the LGBTI rights group ACCEPT received reports of eight cases of employment discrimination against LGBTI persons and guided the complainants in possible courses of action. One case was resolved after the complainant filed an internal complaint with the employer in June; three other individuals refused to appeal to the CNCD or the courts due to concerns about further harassment, preferring settlements with their employers.

e. Acceptable Conditions of Work

The law provides for a national minimum wage that is greater than the official estimate for the poverty income level. The minimum wage more than doubled in nominal terms since 2012, rising from 700 lei ($186) to 1,900 lei ($505) during the year. Authorities enforced wage laws adequately, although a significant informal economy existed. According to Eurostat data, in 2017 more than a third of the population (35.7 percent) was at risk of poverty or social exclusion. Despite minimum wage increases, nearly one in five employed Romanians (18.9 percent) was at risk of poverty.

The law provides for a standard workweek of 40 hours or five days. Workers are entitled to overtime pay for weekend or holiday work or work of more than 40 hours. An employee’s workweek may not exceed 48 hours per week on average over a four-month reference period, although certain exceptions are allowed for certain sectors or professions. The law requires a 48-hour rest period in the workweek, although most workers received two days off per week. During reductions in workplace activity for economic or technical reasons, the law allows employers to shorten an employee’s workweek and reduce the associated salary. Excessive overtime may lead to fines for employers if workers file a complaint, but complaints were rare. The law prohibits compulsory overtime.

The law gives employers wide discretion regarding the performance-based evaluation of employees. The law permits 90-day probationary periods for new employees and simplifies termination procedures during this period.

The law provides for temporary and seasonal work and sets penalties for work performed without a labor contract in either the formal or the informal economy. The fine for employers using undeclared workers is 20,000 lei ($5,000) for each individual working without a labor contract, up to a maximum of 200,000 lei ($50,000). The maximum duration of a temporary contract 36 months, in accordance with EU regulations.

The Ministry of Labor, through the Labor Inspectorate, is responsible for enforcing the law on working conditions, health and safety, and minimum wage rates. The inspectorate was understaffed and inspectors underpaid; consequently, the inspectorate had high turnover and limited capacity. Minimum wage, hours of work, and occupational safety and health standards were not effectively enforced in all sectors. The construction, agriculture, and small manufacturers sectors were particularly problematic sectors for both labor underreporting and neglecting health and safety standards. The Labor Inspectorate identified 5,609 undeclared workers in 2017 and fined employers 45.7 million lei ($11.5 million). Through June the Labor Inspectorate identified 4,940 undeclared workers and fined employers 64.6 million lei ($16.2 million).

According to trade union reports, many employers paid supplemental salaries under the table to reduce both employees’ and employers’ tax burdens. To address underreported labor, in 2017 the government increased the minimum required payroll taxes that employers must pay for their part-time employees to equal those of a full-time employee earning minimum wage. In addition the Labor Inspectorate collaborated with the National Authority for Fiscal Administration to conduct joint operations to check employers in sectors prone to underreported labor, including the textile, construction, security, cleaning, food preparation, transportation, and storage industries. These investigations often focused on underpayment of taxes rather than workers’ rights.

The government did not effectively enforce overtime standards. Union leaders complained that overtime violations were the main problem facing their members, since employers often required employees to work longer than the legal maximum without always receiving mandatory overtime compensation. This practice was especially prevalent in the textile, banking and finance, and construction sectors. In August employees in a wiring and cable factory in Arges County complained about work conditions and practices, including insufficient breaks and mistreatment by management. Penalties for violating overtime standards ranged from 5,000 lei ($1,250) to 10,000 lei ($2,500). Fines of 20,000 lei ($5,000) were imposed for not respecting provisions regarding special compensation or leave for national holidays.

The Ministry of Labor is responsible for establishing occupational health and safety standards, and the Labor Inspectorate inspects employers for compliance with regulations. The high number of violations suggested that the penalties did not deter abuses. In 2017 inspectors focusing on workplace safety conducted 56,629 inspections, imposed 76,154 fines, and applied sanctions ranging from remedial recommendations to workplace or equipment suspension. Workers could remove themselves from situations they deemed dangerous to their health or safety without jeopardy to their employment. Not all workplace accidents are investigated by labor inspectors. Companies investigated minor incidents, while labor inspectors investigated more severe ones, typically those that resulted in fatalities or in multiple injuries. If appropriate, incidents may be referred for criminal investigation. Union leaders stated that labor inspectors only superficially investigated workplace accidents, including ones involving fatalities, and inspectors often wrongly concluded that the victims were at fault in most fatal accidents.

Russia

Executive Summary

The Russian Federation has a highly centralized, authoritarian political system dominated by President Vladimir Putin. The bicameral Federal Assembly consists of a directly elected lower house (State Duma) and an appointed upper house (Federation Council), both of which lack independence from the executive. The March 18 presidential election and the 2016 State Duma elections were marked by accusations of government interference and manipulation of the electoral process, including the exclusion of meaningful opposition candidates.

Except in rare cases, security forces generally reported to civilian authorities. National-level civilian authorities, however, had, at best, limited control over security forces in the Republic of Chechnya, which were accountable only to the head of Chechnya, Ramzan Kadyrov.

The country’s occupation and purported “annexation” of Ukraine’s Crimean Peninsula continued to affect the human rights situation there significantly and negatively. The Russian government continued to arm, train, lead, and fight alongside forces in eastern Ukraine. Credible observers attributed thousands of civilian deaths and injuries, as well as numerous abuses, to Russian-led forces in Ukraine’s Donbas region (see the Country Reports on Human Rights for Ukraine). Authorities also conducted politically motivated arrests, detentions, and trials of Ukrainian citizens in Russia, many of whom claimed to have been tortured.

Human rights issues included extrajudicial killings, including of lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and intersex (LGBTI) persons in Chechnya by local government authorities; enforced disappearances by government authorities; pervasive torture by government law enforcement personnel that sometimes resulted in death and sometimes involved punitive psychiatric incarceration; harsh and life-threatening conditions in prisons; arbitrary or unjust arrest and detention; political prisoners; severe arbitrary interference with privacy; severe suppression of freedom of expression and media, including the use of “antiextremism” and other laws to prosecute peaceful dissent; violence against journalists; blocking and filtering of internet content and banning of online anonymity; severe suppression of the right of peaceful assembly; increasingly severe suppression of freedom of association, including overly restrictive laws on “foreign agents” and “undesirable foreign organizations;” severe restrictions on religious freedom; undue restrictions on freedom of movement of those charged with political offenses; credible reports of refoulement; severe limits on participation in the political process, including restrictions on opposition candidates’ ability to seek public office and conduct political campaigns, and on the ability of civil society to monitor election processes; widespread corruption at all levels and in all branches of government; trafficking in persons; government decriminalization of domestic abuse, which created an atmosphere of impunity for domestic violence against women; and crimes involving violence or threats of violence against LGBTI persons and members of ethnic minorities.

The government failed to take adequate steps to prosecute or punish most officials who committed abuses, resulting in a climate of impunity.

Section 1. Respect for the Integrity of the Person, Including Freedom from:

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

There were numerous reports the government or its agents committed arbitrary or unlawful killings.

Credible nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) and independent media outlets published reports indicating that in December local authorities in the Republic of Chechnya had renewed a campaign of violence against individuals perceived to be members of the LGBTI community. Local Chechen authorities reportedly illegally detained and tortured at least 40 individuals, including two who reportedly died in custody from torture.

On May 15, Justice Minister Aleksandr Konovalov stated during the country’s UN Universal Periodic Review that the government’s “preliminary investigation” into the 2017 campaign of extrajudicial killings and mass torture of gay men in Chechnya by state agents had been closed after authorities had been unable to find evidence of any human rights violations or evidence of the existence of gay men in Chechnya. In 2017 the independent newspaper Novaya Gazeta had reported that, during an “antigay purge” that took place from late 2016 through March 2017, local Chechen security services kidnapped, held prisoner, and tortured more than 100 male residents in Chechnya based on their presumed sexual orientation, resulting in at least three deaths. An independent fact-finding mission launched in November by 16 member states of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE), as well as multiple independent human rights organizations, including Human Rights Watch (HRW), the Russia LGBT Network, and Memorial, subsequently confirmed Novaya Gazeta’s allegations. According to the Russian LGBT Network, as of July 30, at least 125 LGBTI persons had fled Chechnya, the majority of whom had also left the country.

On August 22, a court in Stavropol denied for the fifth time an appeal brought by survivor Maksim Lapunov that sought to compel authorities to open an investigation into his allegations of torture and illegal detention by Chechen officials. Lapunov was the only survivor of the antigay purge in Chechnya willing to be publicly named and cooperate with investigative bodies.

There were multiple reports that, in some prison colonies, authorities systematically tortured inmates (see section 1.c.), which in some cases resulted in death. According to press reporting, on July 25, authorities charged prison guard Ivan Marshalko from prison IK-6 in the Bryansk region with murder and abuse of power after he allegedly intentionally asphyxiated an unnamed inmate on July 22. On September 24, Marshalko’s pretrial detention was extended for two months.

Physical abuse and hazing, which in some cases resulted in death, continued to be a problem in the armed forces, but authorities took steps in some cases to hold those responsible to account. For example, on January 5, according to media reports, soldier Rustam Avazov committed suicide at an airbase in Perm after alleged continual physical and psychological hazing by fellow soldier Ramazan Magomedov. Magomedov was subsequently charged with driving Avazov to commit suicide, and his trial began in August. On October 1, the Perm Regional Military Prosecutor announced at least four officials had been discharged from duty or stripped of their commands following Avazov’s death and that at least 11 others had been reprimanded. According to media reports, this was the third recent death of a conscript at the airbase.

In June media outlets citing confidential sources reported that authorities had reopened their investigation into the 2015 murder of opposition leader Boris Nemtsov and had been conducting new interviews with the five men convicted in 2017 for the killing. Authorities made no official announcement to confirm the report. Human rights activists and the Nemtsov family still believed that authorities were intentionally ignoring the question of who ordered and organized the killing and noted that these persons were still at large.

There were reports that the government or its proxies committed, or attempted to commit, extrajudicial killings of its opponents in other countries. For example, on March 4, according to British authorities, agents of Russian military intelligence spread the nerve agent Novichok on the front door of the home of former Russian military intelligence offer Sergei Skripal in Salisbury, England, in an apparent attempt to kill him. Skripal and his daughter Yulia Skripal were hospitalized in serious condition after coming in contact with the nerve agent, but both ultimately survived. On June 30, Salisbury residents Dawn Sturgess and Charlie Rowley were hospitalized after accidentally coming in contact with a bottle of Novichok that the assassins had discarded. Sturgess died from her exposure to the nerve agent on July 8.

The country played a significant military role in the armed conflict in eastern Ukraine, where human rights organizations attributed thousands of civilian deaths and other abuses to Russian-led forces. Russian occupation authorities in Crimea also committed widespread abuses (see Country Reports on Human Rights for Ukraine).

Since 2015 the country’s forces have conducted military operations, including airstrikes, in the conflict in Syria. According to human rights organizations, the country’s forces took actions, such as bombing urban areas, that purposefully targeted civilian infrastructure (see Country Reports on Human Rights for Syria).

The news website Caucasian Knot reported that at least 50 deaths in the North Caucasus resulted from clashes with security forces in the region during the first half of the year. Dagestan was the most affected region in the first half of the year with 25 deaths, followed by Chechnya, where 15 persons were killed, and Ingushetia, where eight persons were killed.

b. Disappearance

There were reports of disappearances by or on behalf of government authorities. Enforced disappearances for both political and financial reasons continued in the North Caucasus. According to the 2017 report of the UN Working Group on Enforced or Involuntary Disappearances, there were 808 outstanding cases of enforced or involuntary disappearances in the country. Security forces were allegedly complicit in the kidnapping and disappearance of individuals from Central Asia whose forcible return was apparently sought by their governments (see section 2.d.).

On October 6, men who identified themselves as officers with the Ingushetia Center for Combatting Extremism abducted, beat, and subjected Amnesty International researcher Oleg Kozlovskiy to mock executions. Kozlovskiy was in Ingushetia to monitor a series of peaceful protests against a new border agreement signed by the leaders of Ingushetia and Chechnya. According to Kozlovskiy, a man claiming to be a representative of the protest organizers lured him into a car. The man and several accomplices then beat him, drove him to a field, forced him to remove his clothes, beat him again (breaking his rib), photographed him naked, and twice subjected him to a mock execution. Afterward, they held a gun to his head, demanded information about his contacts, attempted to recruit him as an informant, and threatened to kill his wife and children if he reported the abduction. Amnesty International lodged a formal complaint with authorities.

On January 17, Chechen Republic head Kadyrov, suggested that Chechen singer Zelimkhan Bakayev, who had disappeared in August 2017 after allegedly being detained by Chechen police, may have been killed by family members due to his sexual orientation. This marked the first instance a government official suggested the singer may not be alive. Bakayev’s family denied the allegations, and his whereabouts remained unknown at year’s end.

There were continued reports of abductions related to apparent counterterrorism efforts in the North Caucasus. For example, according to Amnesty International, on September 1, several dozen armed men wearing Federal Security Service (FSB) and Ministry of Interior insignias came to the house where Azamat Bayduyev was staying in the Chechen village of Shalazhi and took him to an unknown location with no explanation. Chechen authorities denied detaining Bayduyev, a Chechen refugee who had been deported to the country from Poland on August 31 after he was suspected, but not charged, by Belgian authorities of involvement in planning a terrorist attack. His whereabouts were unknown.

There were reports Russian-led forces and Russian occupation authorities in Ukraine engaged in enforced disappearances (see Country Reports on Human Rights for Ukraine).

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

Although the constitution prohibits such practices, numerous credible reports indicated law enforcement personnel engaged in torture, abuse, and violence to coerce confessions from suspects, and authorities only occasionally held officials accountable for such actions.

There were reports of deaths as a result of torture (see section 1.a.).

Physical abuse of suspects by police officers was reportedly systemic and usually occurred within the first few days of arrest in pretrial detention facilities. Reports from human rights groups and former police officers indicated that police most often used electric shocks, suffocation, and stretching or applying pressure to joints and ligaments because those methods were considered less likely to leave visible marks. The problem was especially acute in the North Caucasus.

There were multiple reports of the FSB using torture against young anarchist and antifascist activists who were allegedly involved in several “terrorism” and “extremism” cases. Multiple defendants, whom authorities alleged were planning terrorist attacks under the auspices of previously unknown supposed organizations called “the Network” and “New Greatness,” alleged they were subjected to torture to coerce confessions, including severe beatings and electric shocks.

In one of many cases with a similar pattern of allegations, on January 23, FSB officers detained software engineer and antifascist activist Viktor Filinkov at St. Petersburg airport, placed him in a minivan, and subjected him to electric shocks for more than five hours while attempting to force him to memorize a confession to planning a terrorist act. On January 25, the Dzerzhinskiy District Court in St. Petersburg authorized Filinkov’s pretrial detention for two months on charges of alleged involvement in a terrorist organization the FSB called “the Network,” which was allegedly comprised of young activists in St. Petersburg and Penza. After visiting him in detention, Filinkov’s lawyer and two members of the St. Petersburg Public Oversight Commission noted burns on his right thigh and chest and handcuff marks on both hands that were consistent with his allegations of torture by electric shock. On a later visit the Public Oversight Commission members noted that the Prison Service did not allow Filinkov to take prescribed medications with him to the St. Petersburg pretrial detention center. As of mid-November, Filinkov remained in pretrial detention.

In the North Caucasus region, there were widespread reports that security forces abused and tortured both alleged militants and civilians in detention facilities. (see section 1.a. for reports of torture against members of the LGBTI community in the Republic of Chechnya). For example, on January 16, the media outlet Republic published an article describing the mass arrest and torture of at least 70 suspected drug addicts in the Shali District of the Republic of Chechnya. One victim described how in August 2017 Chechen police tortured both him and his brother with electric shocks for a week to coerce confessions of drug possession.

Police and persons who appeared to be operating with the tacit approval of authorities conducted attacks on political and human rights activists, critics of government policies, and persons linked to the opposition (see sections 2.b. and 3).

Observers noted an emerging pattern of poisoning of government critics. For example, on September 11, Pyotr Verzilov, the 30-year-old manager of Pussy Riot and editor of the human rights-focused media outlet Mediazona, fell ill after attending a court hearing in Moscow and later suffered seizures and began losing his sight, speech, and mobility. On September 15, he was transported for treatment to Germany, where doctors stated that it was “highly likely” he had been poisoned by an undetermined substance. Press reports indicated that, on the day he was hospitalized, Verzilov was planning to receive a report from “foreign specialists” investigating the July killings of a team of independent Russian journalists who were investigating the activities of the Wagner Battalion, a private militia linked to the Russian government, in the Central African Republic.

Reports by refugees, NGOs, and the press suggested a pattern of police and prison personnel carrying out beatings, arrests, and extortion of persons whom they believed to be Roma, Central Asian, African, or of a Caucasus nationality.

There were multiple reports of authorities detaining defendants for psychiatric evaluations for 30 days or longer to exert pressure on them, or sending defendants for psychiatric treatment as punishment. Beginning July 19, new amendments to the administrative procedure code gave prosecutors the ability to request suspects be placed in psychiatric clinics on an involuntary basis; the law previously only allowed certified medical professionals to make this request, although human rights activists noted that in practice, prosecutors already had this ability.

For example, on August 31, a court in Barnaul ruled to send Andrey Shisherin to a psychiatric clinic for a one-month evaluation. Shisherin was facing blasphemy charges for posting memes on his social network account that ridiculed the patriarch of the Russian Orthodox Church. The court ignored independent psychiatric assessments attesting to Shisherin’s good mental health and sided with the prosecutor, who argued that psychiatric incarceration was required because Shisherin had behaved suspiciously by renouncing a confession he alleged he had previously given under duress.

Nonlethal physical abuse and hazing continued in the armed forces, although violations related to hazing in the military were fewer than in previous years. Activists reported hazing was often tied to extortion schemes.

There were reports Russian-led forces in Ukraine’s Donbas region and Russian occupation authorities in Crimea engaged in torture (see Country Reports on Human Rights for Ukraine).

Prison and Detention Center Conditions

Conditions in prisons and detention centers varied but were often harsh and life threatening. Overcrowding, abuse by guards and inmates, limited access to health care, food shortages, and inadequate sanitation were common in prisons, penal colonies, and other detention facilities.

Physical Conditions: Prison overcrowding remained a serious problem. While the penal code establishes the separation of women and men, juveniles and adults, and pretrial detainees and convicts into separate quarters, anecdotal evidence indicated not all prison facilities followed these rules.

The NGO Penal Reform International reported conditions were generally better in women’s colonies than in those for men, but they remained substandard.

Physical abuse by prison guards was systemic. For example, on July 20, Novaya Gazeta published a YouTube video provided by the NGO Public Verdict that showed 17 prison guards from prison IK-1 in Yaroslavl Oblast appearing to torture prison inmate Yevgeniy Makarov in June 2017. At least 11 prison officials, including the deputy head of the prison and an investigator who had refused to act on prior complaints, were arrested for abusing Makarov and at least five other inmates. On July 24, Makarov’s lawyer, Irina Biryukova, fled the country after receiving death threats, but she later returned. By the time the video was published, Makarov had been transferred to IK-8 in Yaroslavl Oblast, where he reported prison guards severely beat him on several occasions. On September 19, the Investigative Committee announced it had opened a criminal investigation into Makarov’s beatings in IK-8. On October 1, Makarov was released from prison. The Makarov case sparked significant public outcry and led to the public reporting of many other similar cases of inmate torture from prisons across the country, including some instances resulting in the prosecution of prison personnel.

Prisoner-on-prisoner violence was also a problem. For example, according to media reports, on July 5, Ukrainian prisoner Pavlo Hryb was admitted to a medical facility with broken legs and severe bruises. His lawyer alleged Hryb had been beaten by his fellow prisoners while being transported to Rostov-on-Don.

There were also reports prison authorities recruited inmates to abuse other inmates. For example, on August 1 in Vladimir, two inmates and six officials were charged with torture after authorities discovered a torture chamber at a pretrial detention facility. A previous court decision had noted that the pretrial detention center “held inmates that used physical and psychological violence to force other detainees to self-incriminate.”

Overcrowding, nutrition, ventilation, heating, and sanitation standards varied among facilities but generally were poor. The NGO Russia Behind Bars reported minimal opportunities for movement and exercise. Potable water was sometimes rationed and food quality was poor; many inmates relied on food provided by family or NGOs. Access to quality medical care remained a problem.

A 2017 Amnesty International report described the country’s prison transport practices as part of a “Gulag-era legacy” and documented how authorities often transported prisoners for weeks in tiny train compartments with no ventilation, natural light, little water, and infrequent access to toilets and other sanitation.

NGOs reported many prisoners with HIV did not receive adequate treatment.

There were reports political prisoners were placed in particularly harsh conditions of confinement and subjected to punitive treatment within the prison system, such as solitary confinement or punitive stays in psychiatric units. For example, on September 21, Ukrainian prisoner Oleksander Kolchenko was put in solitary confinement for three days in a prison in Chelyabinsk. His attorneys believed the action was in retaliation for his request for a visit from the Ukrainian consul.

Administration: Convicted inmates and individuals in pretrial detention have visitation rights, but authorities can deny visitation depending on circumstances. By law prisoners with harsher sentences are allowed fewer visitation rights. The judge in a prisoner’s case can deny the prisoner visitation. Authorities can also prohibit relatives deemed a security risk from visiting prisoners.

While prisoners can file complaints with public oversight commissions or with the Human Rights Ombudsman’s Office, they often did not do so due to fear of reprisal. Prison reform activists reported that only prisoners who believed they had no other option risked the consequences of filing a complaint. Complaints that reached the oversight commissions often focused on minor personal requests.

NGOs reported that some prisoners who alleged torture were later charged with making false accusations, which often resulted in additional prison time. For example, on January 11, the Investigative Committee of Kirov Oblast opened a criminal case against an unidentified inmate for allegedly making false accusations of torture in a complaint alleging he had been beaten and subjected to electric shocks at prison IK-1. According to press reports, this was the second inmate in two years to be prosecuted for filing a torture complaint against the facility.

Independent Monitoring: Authorities permitted representatives of public oversight commissions to visit prisons regularly to monitor conditions. According to the Public Chamber, there were public oversight commissions in 81 regions with a total of 1,154 commission members. Human rights activists expressed concern that some members of the commissions were individuals close to authorities and included persons with law-enforcement backgrounds.

A law adopted on July 19 gave members of oversight commissions the right to videotape and photograph inmates in detention facilities and prisons with their written approval. Commission members may also collect air samples and conduct other environmental inspections, and they may also conduct safety evaluations and access prison psychiatric facilities.

Authorities allowed the Council of Europe’s Committee for the Prevention of Torture to visit the country’s prisons but continued to withhold permission for it to release any reports, with the exception of one released in 2013 on a visit conducted in 2012.

d. Arbitrary Arrest or Detention

While the law prohibits arbitrary arrest and detention, authorities engaged in these practices with impunity. The law provides for the right of any person to challenge the lawfulness of his or her arrest or detention, but successful challenges were rare.

ROLE OF THE POLICE AND SECURITY APPARATUS

The Ministry of Internal Affairs, the FSB, the Investigative Committee, the Office of the Prosecutor General, and the National Guard are responsible for law enforcement at all levels of government. The FSB is responsible for state security, counterintelligence, and counterterrorism as well as for fighting organized crime and corruption. The national police force, under the Ministry of Internal Affairs, is responsible for combatting all crime. The National Guard assists the FSB Border Guard Service in securing borders, administers gun control, combats terrorism and organized crime, protects public order, and guards important state facilities. The National Guard also participates in armed defense of the county’s territory in coordination with Ministry of Defense forces.

Civilian authorities maintained effective control over security forces. While mechanisms to investigate abuses existed, the government generally did not investigate and punish abuses by law enforcement officers, and impunity was widespread. National-level civilian authorities had, at best, limited control over security forces in the Republic of Chechnya, which were accountable only to the Republic head Kadyrov. Authorities investigated and prosecuted numerous cases of corruption by law enforcement officials, but in many instances, corruption investigations appeared to be a means of settling political scores or turf battles among law enforcement entities.

ARREST PROCEDURES AND TREATMENT OF DETAINEES

By law authorities may arrest and hold a suspect for up to 48 hours without court approval, provided there is evidence of a crime or a witness; otherwise, an arrest warrant is required. The law requires judicial approval of arrest warrants, searches, seizures, and detentions. Officials generally honored this requirement, although bribery or political pressure sometimes subverted the process of obtaining judicial warrants. After arrest, police typically took detainees to the nearest police station, where they informed them of their rights. Police must prepare a protocol stating the grounds for the arrest, and both detainee and police officer must sign it within three hours of detention. Police must interrogate detainees within the first 24 hours of detention. Prior to interrogation, a detainee has the right to meet with an attorney for two hours. No later than 12 hours after detention, police must notify the prosecutor. They must also give the detainee an opportunity to notify his or her relatives by telephone unless a prosecutor issues a warrant to keep the detention secret. Police are required to release a detainee after 48 hours, subject to bail conditions, unless a court decides, at a hearing, to prolong custody in response to a motion filed by police not less than eight hours before the 48-hour detention period expires. The defendant and his or her attorney must be present at the court hearing.

By law police must complete their investigation and transfer a case to a prosecutor for arraignment within two months of a suspect’s arrest, although an investigative authority may extend a criminal investigation for up to 12 months. Extensions beyond 12 months need the approval of the head federal investigative authority in the Ministry of Internal Affairs, the FSB, or the Investigative Committee and the approval of the court. According to some defense lawyers, the two-month time limit often was exceeded, especially in cases with a high degree of public interest.

A number of problems existed related to detainees’ ability to obtain adequate defense counsel. Federal law provides defendants the right to choose their own lawyers, but investigators generally did not respect this provision, instead designating lawyers friendly to the prosecution. These “pocket” defense attorneys agreed to the interrogation of their clients in their presence while making no effort to defend their clients’ legal rights. In many cases, especially in more remote regions, defense counsel was not available for indigent defendants. Judges usually did not suppress confessions taken without a lawyer present. Judges at times freed suspects held in excess of detention limits, although they usually granted prosecutors’ motions to extend detention periods.

Except in the North Caucasus, authorities generally respected the legal limitations on detention. There were reports of occasional noncompliance with the 48-hour limit for holding a detainee. At times authorities failed to issue an official detention protocol within the required three hours after detention and held suspects longer than the legal detention limits.

Arbitrary Arrest: There were many reports of arbitrary arrest, often in connection with demonstrations (see section 2.b.). For example, on March 2, a St. Petersburg court sentenced Denis Mikhaylov, the St. Petersburg campaign manager for opposition leader Aleksey Navalny, to 25 days in jail for participating in protests in January. Earlier that day, Mikhaylov had been released from a 30-day jail term for organizing the same protests. On March 7, a St. Petersburg court upheld his second detention. These “immediate rearrest” scenarios occurred in several cases of Navalny supporters during the year as well as with Navalny himself.

There were reports that Russian-led forces and Russian occupation authorities in Ukraine engaged in arbitrary detention (see Country Reports on Human Rights for Ukraine).

Pretrial Detention: Observers noted lengthy pretrial detention was a problem, but data on its extent was not available.

Detainee’s Ability to Challenge Lawfulness of Detention before a Court: By law a detainee may challenge the lawfulness of detention before a court. Given problems with judicial independence (see section 1.e.), however, judges typically agreed with the investigator and dismissed defendants’ complaints.

Civilian authorities maintained effective control over security forces. While mechanisms to investigate abuses existed, the government generally did not investigate and punish abuses by law enforcement officers, and impunity was widespread. National-level civilian authorities had, at best, limited control over security forces in the Republic of Chechnya, which were accountable only to the Republic head Kadyrov. Authorities investigated and prosecuted numerous cases of corruption by law enforcement officials, but in many instances, corruption investigations appeared to be a means of settling political scores or turf battles among law enforcement entities.

e. Denial of Fair Public Trial

The law provides for an independent judiciary, but judges remained subject to influence from the executive branch, the armed forces, and other security forces, particularly in high-profile or politically sensitive cases, as well as to corruption. The outcomes of some trials appeared predetermined.

There were reports of pressure on defense attorneys representing clients who were being subjected to politically motivated prosecution and other forms of reprisal. For example, on September 9, police in Krasnodar beat and then charged defense lawyer Mikhail Benyash with disobeying police by “injuring himself.” Police warned Benyash previously he would be arrested if he appeared in downtown Krasnodar on that day to provide legal assistance to individuals who had been illegally detained during protests. Police claimed that injuries visible on Benyash’s head resulted from Benyash’s striking his own head against the glass of a police car contrary to their orders.

On April 24, the Moscow Bar Association disbarred human rights lawyer Mark Feygin, who had represented some of the most high-profile defendants in politically motivated trials in recent years. Observers saw the move as retaliation for his work on behalf of these clients.

TRIAL PROCEDURES

The law provides for the right to a fair and public trial, but executive interference with the judiciary and judicial corruption undermined this right.

The defendant has a legal presumption of innocence and the right to a fair, timely, and public trial, but these rights were not always respected. Defendants have the right to be informed promptly of charges and to be present at the trial. The law provides for the appointment of an attorney free of charge if a defendant cannot afford one, although the high cost of legal service meant that lower-income defendants often lacked competent representation. There were few qualified defense attorneys in remote areas of the country. Defense attorneys may visit their clients in detention, although defense lawyers claimed authorities electronically monitored their conversations and did not always provide them access to their clients. Prior to trial defendants receive a copy of their indictment, which describes the charges against them in detail. They also have the opportunity to review their criminal file following the completion of the criminal investigation. Non-Russian defendants have the right to free interpretation as necessary from the moment charged through all appeals, although the quality of interpretation is not always good. During trial the defense is not required to present evidence and is given an opportunity to cross-examine witnesses and call defense witnesses, although judges may deny the defense this opportunity. Defendants have the right not to be compelled to testify or confess guilt. Defendants have the right of appeal. Appellate courts reversed approximately 1 percent of sentences where the defendant had been found guilty.

The law allows prosecutors to appeal acquittals, which they did in most cases. Prosecutors may also appeal what they regard as lenient sentences. On April 5, a court in Petrozavodsk acquitted renowned historian of the gulag and human rights activist Yuri Dmitriyev of child pornography charges, a case that many observers believed to be politically motivated and in retaliation for his efforts to expose Stalin-era crimes. On June 14, the Supreme Court of the Republic of Karelia granted the prosecutor’s appeal of the acquittal and sent the case for retrial. On June 27, Dmitriyev was again arrested and as of November remained in pretrial detention.

Authorities particularly infringed on the right to a fair trial in the Republic of Chechnya, where observers noted that the judicial system served as a means of conducting reprisals against those who exposed wrongdoing by Republic head Kadyrov. For example, on January 9, police in Grozny arrested human rights activist and Memorial Chechnya office head Oyub Titiyev, known for his work exposing violations of human rights in Chechnya, most recently on the 2017 reports of a summary execution of at least 27 men. Police pulled him over, searched his car, and supposedly found 180 grams of marijuana, which observers believed was planted by police to provide a pretext for his imprisonment. Police held Titiyev incommunicado for almost seven hours and threatened to harm his family if he did not plead guilty. On January 10, prosecutors charged Titiyev with drug possession. His trial began on July 19, and he remained in pretrial detention. Some sessions of his trial were closed to the public on vague “national security” grounds, which observers considered baseless.

POLITICAL PRISONERS AND DETAINEES

There were credible reports of political prisoners in the country and that authorities detained and prosecuted individuals for political reasons. Charges usually used in politically motivated cases included “terrorism,” “extremism,” “separatism,” and “espionage.” Political prisoners were reportedly placed in particularly harsh conditions of confinement and subjected to other punitive treatment within the prison system, such as solitary confinement or punitive stays in psychiatric units.

As of November the NGO Memorial Human Rights Center’s list of political prisoners included 204 names, including 153 individuals who were allegedly wrongfully imprisoned for exercising religious freedom. The list included journalists jailed for their writing, such as Igor Rudnikov and Zhelaudi Geriyev; human rights activists jailed for their work, such as Oyub Titiyev and Yuri Dmitriyev; many Ukrainians imprisoned for their vocal opposition to the country’s occupation of Crimea, such as Oleh Sentsov and Oleksander Kolchenko, and dozens of Jehovah’s Witnesses and other religious believers. Memorial noted the average sentences for the cases on their list continued to grow, from 5.3 years for political prisoners and 6.6 years for religious prisoners in 2016 to 6.8 and 9.1 years, respectively, this year. In some cases sentences were significantly longer, such as in the case of Aleksey Pichugin, who has been imprisoned since 2003 with a life sentence.

CIVIL JUDICIAL PROCEDURES AND REMEDIES

Although the law provides mechanisms for individuals to file lawsuits against authorities for human rights violations, these mechanisms often did not work well. For example, the law provides that a defendant who has been acquitted after a trial has the right to compensation from the government. While this legal mechanism exists in principle, in practice it was very cumbersome to use. Persons who believed their human rights had been violated typically sought redress in the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) after domestic courts had ruled against them. The law enables the Constitutional Court to review rulings from international human rights bodies and declare them “nonexecutable” if the court finds that the ruling contradicts the constitution, and the court has declared ECHR rulings to be nonexecutable under this law.

PROPERTY RESTITUTION

The country has endorsed the Terezin Declaration on Holocaust Restitution but declined to endorse the 2010 Guidelines and Best Practices. The government has laws in place providing for the restitution of cultural property, but according to the law’s provisions, claims can only be made by states and not individuals.

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

The law forbids officials from entering a private residence except in cases prescribed by federal law or when authorized by a judicial decision. The law also prohibits the collection, storage, utilization, and dissemination of information about a person’s private life without his or her consent. While the law previously prohibited government monitoring of correspondence, telephone conversations, and other means of communication without a warrant, these legal protections were significantly weakened by laws passed since 2016 granting authorities sweeping new powers and requiring telecommunications providers to store all electronic and telecommunication data (see section 2.a., Internet Freedom). NGOs, human rights activists, and journalists alleged that authorities routinely employed surveillance and other active measures to spy on and intimidate citizens.

Law enforcement agencies required telecommunications providers to grant the Ministry of Internal Affairs and the FSB continuous remote access to client databases, including telephone and electronic communications, enabling them to track private communications and monitor internet activity without the provider’s knowledge. The law permits authorities to monitor telephone calls in real time, with a warrant, but this safeguard is largely pro forma in practice. The Ministry of Information and Communication requires telecommunications service providers to allow the FSB to tap telephones and monitor information over the internet. The Ministry of Information and Communication maintained that authorities would not access information without a court order, although the FSB is not required to show it upon request.

In its 2017 report Russia under Surveillance, the human rights NGO Agora described the development in recent years of a system of “total oversight targeted at civic activists, independent journalists, and representatives of the political opposition” in the name of national security. According to Agora, since 2007 authorities have greatly increased surveillance of telephone calls and online messages, increased the use of hidden audio and video recording devices, and expanded the use of biometric data gathering.

In March, Agora published a report on politically motivated searches of private homes which analyzed the searches of the residences of 600 political activists that security services had conducted over the previous three years. The report concluded that authorities often used the searches to intimidate and threaten political activists. In 98 cases police used the threat of violence, actual violence, and the display of firearms during the searches; in 47 cases authorities searched the premises of the activists’ relatives and friends; and in 70 cases they broke down the doors or entered the residence through a window.

The law requires relatives of terrorists to pay the cost of damages caused by an attack, which human rights advocates criticized as collective punishment. Chechen Republic authorities reportedly routinely imposed collective punishment on the relatives of alleged terrorists, including by expelling them from the republic.

Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:

a. Freedom of Speech and Press

While the constitution provides for freedom of expression, including for the press, the government increasingly restricted this right. During the year the government instituted several new laws restricting both freedom of expression and of the press, particularly in regards to online expression. Regional and local authorities used procedural violations and restrictive or vague legislation to detain, harass, or prosecute persons who criticized the government or institutions it favored, such as the Russian Orthodox Church. The government exercised editorial control over media, creating a media landscape in which most citizens were exposed to predominantly government-approved narratives. Significant government pressure on independent media constrained coverage of numerous issues, especially of Ukraine and Syria, LGBTI issues, the environment, elections, criticism of local or federal leadership, as well as issues of secessionism, or federalism. Censorship and self-censorship in television and print media and on the internet was increasingly widespread, particularly regarding points of view critical of the government or its policies. The government used direct ownership or ownership by large private companies with government links to control or influence major national media and regional media outlets, especially television.

Freedom of Expression: Government-controlled media frequently used derogatory terms such as “traitor,” “foreign agent,” and “fifth column” to describe individuals expressing views critical of or different from government policy, leading to a climate intolerant of dissent.

Authorities continued to misuse the country’s expansive definition of extremism as a tool to stifle dissent. As of September 11, the Ministry of Justice expanded its list of extremist materials to include 4,507 books, videos, websites, social media pages, musical compositions, and other items, an increase of more than 200 items from 2017. According to the prosecutor general, authorities prosecuted 1,500 extremism cases in 2017, some of which included charges of “extremism” levied against individuals for exercising free speech on social media and elsewhere.

Several persons were charged with extremism under the criminal code for comments and images posted in online forums or social networks. For example, on February 11, a court in Stariy Oskol sentenced 23-year-old doctoral student Aleksandr Kruze to 2.5 years in prison for extremism for reposting four nationalist images on social media in 2016. Kruze had been writing a dissertation on radicalization and maintained that the posts had been a part of a research experiment in online discourse around radicalism.

In September the Supreme Court amended its 2011 decree regarding publication of extremist material online to require authorities to have proof of criminal intent in order for them to prosecute. Authorities must now prove in court that publications or reposts were made with the intent “to incite hate or ill will.”

By law authorities may close any organization that a court determines to be extremist, including media outlets and websites. Roskomnadzor, the country’s media oversight agency, routinely issued warnings to newspapers and internet outlets it suspected of publishing extremist materials. Three warnings in one year sufficed to initiate a closure lawsuit.

During the year authorities invoked a 2013 law prohibiting the “propaganda” of “nontraditional sexual relations” to minors to punish the exercise of free speech by LGBTI persons and their supporters. For example, on August 7, a court in Biysk fined 16-year-old Maxim Neverov 50,000 rubles ($750) for posting images of shirtless men on a social network. The Russia LGBT Network attributed the case against Neverov to his organizing of a May public protest called “Gay or Putin.” On October 26, an appeals court overturned the lower court decision.

During the year authorities prosecuted individuals for speech allegedly violating a law that prohibits “offending the feelings of religious believers.” On May 8, authorities raided the home and seized the computers of Barnaul resident Maria Motuznaya. Motuznaya was interrogated and shown pictures of her social media posts from 2015 in which she shared memes that satirized the Russian Orthodox Church. On June 23, she was charged with “offending the feelings of religious believers” and “extremism.” On October 9, a judge returned the case to prosecutors for further development.

During the year authorities prosecuted individuals for speech that allegedly violated a law prohibiting the “rehabilitation of Nazism.” On August 6, police in the Tyva Republic detained journalist Oyuuma Dongak because of photographs of Nazi Germany which contained a swastika posted on her Facebook page in 2014. Dongak said that the photos accompanied an article she had shared about the rebirth of fascism. A court fined her 1,000 rubles ($15) on August 8. Observers described the case as retribution for Dongak’s support of opposition politicians.

During the year authorities prosecuted individuals for speech that allegedly “insulted government officials.” For example, on August 3, a court in Magadan fined two men for “insulting” local mayor Yuri Grishan when they demanded his resignation in messages on the platform WhatsApp, using language authorities deemed “unacceptable.”

During the year authorities used a law banning the “propaganda of narcotics” to prosecute the independent press for their coverage of independent political candidates. On June 20, a court in Syktyvkar fined the independent online news outlet 7×7 800,000 rubles ($12,000), and fined its editor 40,000 rubles ($600) for publishing an interview in March with a libertarian politician who noted that synthetic drugs killed people at a higher rate than heroin. Authorities considered this statement an endorsement of heroin.

The law bans the display of Nazi symbols and the symbols of groups placed on the government’s list of “extremist” organizations. There was no official register or list of banned symbols. On February 26, a St. Petersburg court sentenced opposition activist Artem Goncharenko to 25 days in prison for “organizing an unsanctioned meeting” because he displayed a large inflatable rubber duck in the window of his apartment. Yellow rubber ducks have been used to signal support for the anticorruption protests organized by opposition leader Navalny.

Press and Media Freedom: The government continued to restrict press freedom. As of 2015, the latest year for which data was available, the government and state-owned or state-controlled companies directly owned more than 60 percent of the country’s 45,000 registered local newspapers and periodicals. Government-friendly oligarchs owned most other outlets. The federal government or progovernment individuals completely or partially owned all of the so-called federal television channels, the only stations with nationwide reach. The 29 most-watched stations together commanded 86 percent of television viewership; all were owned at least in part by the federal or local governments or by progovernment individuals. Government-owned media outlets often received preferential benefits, such as rent-free occupancy of government-owned buildings. At many government-owned or controlled outlets, the state increasingly dictated editorial policy. While the law restricts foreign ownership of media outlets to no more than 20 percent, another provision of the ambiguously worded law seemingly bans foreign ownership entirely. The government used these provisions to consolidate ownership of independent outlets under progovernment oligarchs and to exert pressure on outlets that retained foreign backers. In its annual report on freedom of the press, Freedom House rated the country “not free.”

A 2017 law requires the Ministry of Justice to maintain a list of media outlets that are designated “foreign agents.” As of September 20, there were nine outlets listed. The decision to designate media outlets as foreign agents could be made outside of court by other government bodies, including law enforcement agencies.

In some cases courts imposed extremely high fines on independent media outlets, which observers believed were intentionally disproportionate and designed to bankrupt the outlets and force their closure. For example, on October 26, a Moscow court fined independent news outlet The New Times 22.3 million rubles ($338,000) for errors in information it had provided to the government, as required by the “foreign agents” law. Press reports indicated this was the highest fine imposed on a media outlet in the country’s history. Prosecutors alleged that the newspaper had not properly accounted for money it received from a foundation affiliated with the paper, the Press Freedom Support Foundation, which is designated by the government as a “foreign agent.” Observers believed the case against The New Times to be in retaliation for the newspaper publishing an interview with opposition leader Navalny.

Violence and Harassment: Journalists continued to be subjected to arrest, imprisonment, physical attack, harassment, and intimidation as a result of their reporting. According to the Glasnost Defense Fund, as of September incidents of violence and harassment against journalists included two killings, 42 attacks, 82 detentions by law-enforcement officers, 14 prosecutions, 42 threats, 21 politically motivated firings, and one attack on media offices. Journalists and bloggers who uncovered forms of government malfeasance or who criticized the government often faced harassment, either in the form of direct threats to their physical safety or threats to their security or livelihood, frequently through legal prosecution.

On April 14, Maksim Borodin, a Yekaterinburg journalist with the independent newspaper Novyy Den, died in a fall from his fifth-floor apartment balcony in an incident seen by observers as suspicious. Borodin had been reporting on the foreign activities of the Wagner battalion, a private oligarch-sponsored militia aligned with the government.

On April 12, two unknown assailants in Yekaterinburg attacked Dmitriy Polyanin, editor in chief of the regional progovernment newspaper Oblastnaya Gazeta, which had recently published articles about local disputes related to the housing market. Polyanin was hospitalized with a concussion and a broken rib.

On January 31, the FSB raided the apartment of journalist Pavel Nikulin and brought him to their headquarters for several hours of interrogation in response to a 2017 article he wrote about a man who had gone to Syria to fight for ISIS. A regional court named Nikulin as a witness in a criminal investigation into “illegal terrorist training” in connection with the article and had approved a search warrant for his apartment. In July, Nikulin and a colleague were detained by police in Krasnodar on suspicion of extremist activity and attacked by unknown assailants with pepper spray. On September 16, Nikulin and two colleagues were again arrested in Nizhniy Novgorod on suspicion of distributing “extremist materials.”

There was no progress during the year in establishing accountability in a number of high-profile killings of journalists, including the 2004 killing of Paul Klebnikov, the 2006 killing of Anna Politkovskaya, and the 2009 killing of Natalia Estemirova.

Censorship or Content Restrictions: The government directly and indirectly censored the media, much of which occurred online (see Press Freedom, Internet Freedom, and Academic Freedom and Cultural Events sections). Self-censorship in independent media was also reportedly widespread.

There were multiple reports that the government retaliated against those who published content it disliked. For example, on January 23, the website Russiagate.com was blocked with no formal notification hours after it published evidence of corruption by the head of the FSB, Aleksandr Bortnikov. The website’s editor reported that investors in the website immediately informed her that they were ending their financing of the project.

On April 4, the independent Kaliningrad newspaper Novyye Kolesa announced it would cease publication following a campaign of harassment and censorship by authorities. Following an FSB raid in November 2017, authorities arrested the newspaper’s editor, Igor Rudnikov, and charged him with extortion. Human rights organizations believed there to be no legitimate basis for the charges, which could bring 15 years in prison. On March 29, unidentified individuals went to newsstands, seized all copies of the newspaper on sale, and threatened vendors. The lead story in that edition of the newspaper alleged that the FSB had tortured to death a local resident in detention. Distribution network representatives gave orders to hide all remaining copies, and later informed Novyye Kolesa leadership it would no longer be profitable for them to continue to sell the newspaper.

Libel/Slander Laws: Officials at all levels used their authority to restrict the work of journalists and bloggers who criticized them and to retaliate against them, including taking legal action for alleged slander or libel. For example, on July 23, a Moscow court ruled in favor of Nizhigorodskiy Prison Colony Number 2, which had filed a lawsuit against the newspaper Sobesednik and Pussy Riot-member Maria Alekhina for damaging its reputation in a 2017 article describing forced labor conditions at the prison. The court obliged the newspaper to print a retraction and pay a 3,000-ruble ($45) fine.

On April 23, President Putin signed a law allowing the state to block online information that “offends the honor and dignity” of an individual, if the author of the information has defied a court order to delete it.

On October 3, President Putin signed a law that strengthened penalties for the dissemination of “false” information related to defamation or information that violates privacy restrictions. International and domestic experts believed the introduction of criminal responsibility for noncompliance with court decisions ordering the takedown or retraction of content in civil defamation cases would expand the tools available to officials and public figures to interfere with public access to information detrimental to their interests.

National Security: Authorities cited laws protecting national security to restrict criticism of government policies or officials, or to retaliate against critics.

On May 18, authorities raided the home of independent Omsk journalist Viktor Korb, conducted a 10-hour search, and charged him with incitement to terrorism, justification of terrorism, and terrorist propaganda, which carry a sentence of up to seven years in prison. The charges stemmed from Korb’s 2015 publication on a news and discussion website of a portion of remarks given by political activist Boris Stomakhin, during Stomakhin’s trial on terrorism charges. Korb did not endorse Stomakhin’s remarks.

Authorities also charged independent journalists with espionage. On June 4, a Moscow court convicted Ukrainian journalist Roman Sushchenko of espionage and sentenced him to 12 years in prison. Sushchenko, a Paris-based correspondent for the Ukrinform news agency, was detained in Moscow in 2016 on suspicion of collecting classified information, an allegation human rights groups claimed was politically motivated.

INTERNET FREEDOM

The government took significant new steps to restrict free expression online. According to data compiled by the International Telecommunication Union, approximately 76 percent of the country’s population used the internet in 2017.

The government monitored all internet communications and prohibited online anonymity (see also section 1.f.). The government continued to employ its longstanding use of the System for Operative Investigative Activities, which requires internet service providers (ISPs) to install, at their own expense, a device that routes all customer traffic to an FSB terminal. The system enabled police to track private email communications, identify internet users, and monitor their internet activity.

The law requires domestic and foreign businesses to store citizens’ personal data on servers located in the country. In 2016 Roskomnadzor blocked the foreign-based professional networking website LinkedIn for failure to comply with the law. Telecommunications companies are required to store user data and make it available to law enforcement bodies. As of July 1, companies are required to store users’ voice records for six months. As of October 1, companies are required to store electronic correspondence (audio, images and video) for three months.

Observers believed that the country’s security services were able to intercept and decode encrypted messages on at least some messaging platforms. The law requires telecommunications providers to provide authorities with “backdoors” around encryption technologies. Providers face fines of one million rubles ($15,000) for noncompliance.

On April 13, a Moscow court ruled in favor of Roskomnadzor’s 2017 request to block the Telegram messaging service for failing to share with the FSB encryption keys to users’ correspondence. Telegram maintained that the FSB’s request was both unconstitutional and technically impossible, as the messenger uses end-to-end encryption (when the encryption keys are stored only by users). The Supreme Court upheld the FSB’s arguments on August 8. For several months beginning in mid-April, Roskomnadzor actively attempted to block Telegram. Since the messenger was using dynamic internet protocol (IP) addresses, however, blocking it proved impossible. Roskomnadzor was forced to block more than 20 million other IP addresses, which resulted in a major loss in accessibility to a wide range of unrelated online services. Despite Roskomnadzor’s efforts, Telegram remained mostly accessible to users. In August press reports indicated that Roskomnadzor and the FSB were testing systems designed to allow more precise blocking of individual sites to enable blocking Telegram.

The law requires commercial virtual private network (VPN) services and internet anonymizers to block access to websites and internet content prohibited in the country. The law also authorizes law enforcement agencies, including the Ministry of Internal Affairs and the FSB, to identify VPN services that do not comply with the ban by Roskomnadzor. Under the law Roskomnadzor can also block sites that provide instructions on how to circumvent government blocking. When the law came into force in 2017, Roskomnadzor announced that the majority of commercial VPNs and anonymizers used in the country had registered and intended to comply with the law, although most foreign-based VPNs had not. In May, Roskomnadzor reported it had blocked 50 VPN services.

The law prohibits companies registered as “organizers of information dissemination,” including online messaging applications, from allowing anonymous users. Messaging applications and platforms that fail to comply with the requirements to restrict anonymous accounts can be blocked. The law came into force in January. On August 27, Roskomnadzor expanded the list of designated “organizers of information dissemination” to include several new sites, such as the blogging platform Livejournal, the online dating site LovePlanet, and the car sharing app BlaBlaCar. Beginning in July these “organizers of information dissemination” were required to store and provide to the FSB in-depth user information, including user name; full real name; date of birth; exact address; internal passport number; lists of relatives, friends, contacts, all foreign languages spoken; date and time of account’s creation; date and time of all communications; full text of all communications; full archives of all audio and video communications; all shared files; records of all e‑payments; location for use of each service; IP address; telephone number; email address; and software used.

On November 6, Prime Minister Medvedev signed a decree requiring anonymous messenger applications to obtain verification of a user’s phone number from mobile phone network providers within 20 minutes of initial use of the application. If the phone network provider cannot verify the phone number, then messenger services are required to block the user. The government also required network operators to keep track of messenger apps for which users have registered.

The government blocked access to content and otherwise censored the internet. Roskomnadzor maintained a federal blacklist of internet sites and required ISPs to block access to web pages that the agency deemed offensive or illegal, including information that was already prohibited, such as items on the Federal List of Extremist Materials. The law gives the prosecutor general and Roskomnadzor authority to demand that ISPs block websites that promote extremist information, and “mass public events that are conducted in violation of appropriate procedures.” According to the internet freedom NGO Roskomsvoboda, as of October, a total of 3.8 million websites were unjustly blocked in the country.

On November 26, Roskomnadzor filed a civil law suit against Google seeking to fine the company 700,000 rubles ($10,500) for declining to connect its search engine to an automated system that prevents blocked web sites from appearing in search results. On December 11, a court fined Google 500,000 rubles ($7,530).

During the year authorities blocked websites and social network pages that either criticized government policy or purportedly violated laws on internet content. For example, on April 28, Roskomnadzor blocked the LGBTI health awareness site Parni Plus. The site’s administrators said they received a notice from Roskomnadzor on April 28 informing them about a January 26 ruling by a district court in the Altai Territory to block Parni Plus for distributing information that “challenges family values” and “propagates nontraditional sexual relations.” The notice did not specify what content broke the law, and the notice came so late that the website missed its opportunity to appeal the verdict.

In some cases authorities coerced sites into taking down content by threatening to block entire platforms. For example, on February 13, Roskomnadzor threatened to block YouTube, Instagram, and several dozen media outlets if, based on a court decision, they did not delete an anticorruption investigation video made by opposition activist Navalny that described a meeting between government-linked oligarch Oleg Deripaska and Deputy Prime Minister Sergey Prikhodko on a luxury yacht. All but YouTube complied. On February 20, Roskomnadzor stated it would not seek to block YouTube for its noncompliance.

In 2017 amendments to the Federal Law on Information, Information Technologies, and Protection of Information and to the administrative code came into force requiring owners of internet search engines (“news aggregators”) with more than one million daily users to be accountable for the truthfulness of “publicly important” information before its dissemination. Authorities can demand that content deemed in violation be removed and impose heavy fines for refusal. Dunja Mijatovic, the special representative on freedom of the media of the OSCE, raised concerns the law “could result in governmental interference of online information and introduce self-censorship in private companies.”

A law on the “right to be forgotten” allows individuals in the country to request that search engine companies block search results that contain information about them. According to Freedom House’s 2018 Freedom on the Net report, there were several instances of courts ordering that content be removed from search results on these grounds in 2017.

There was a growing trend of social media users being prosecuted for the political, religious, or other ideological content of posts, shares, and “likes,” which resulted in fines or prison sentences (see Freedom of Expression).

There were reports of disruption of communications during demonstrations. For example, media reported that, during opposition protests in Moscow on May 7, authorities switched off phone and mobile internet coverage in the protest area.

ACADEMIC FREEDOM AND CULTURAL EVENTS

The government took new steps during the year to restrict academic and cultural freedom.

On June 21, the Federal Education and Science Supervision Agency revoked the accreditation of the Moscow School of Social and Economic Sciences (Shaninka), claiming the school violated multiple education standards. Shaninka, a Russian-British higher education institution founded in 1995, continued to operate but will not be not be able to issue state-approved diplomas or provide deferment from military service. Media outlet Meduza speculated the loss of accreditation was due to the school’s extensive international connections, and constituted a move to disable the country’s only remaining private institution of higher education.

On November 7, the trial began of well known theater director Kirill Serebrennikov for embezzlement of state funds to stage a Shakespeare play that the government alleged he never produced. According to media outlets, however, the play had been staged more than 15 times and observers believed the charges were politically motivated, citing Serebrennikov’s participation in antigovernment protests and criticism of government policies. Serebrennikov has been in custody since August 2017.

Authorities often censored or shut down cultural events or displays they considered offensive or that expressed views in opposition to the government and in some cases initiated criminal proceedings against organizers. Citing a bomb threat, police disrupted a June 13 theater production about imprisoned Chechen human rights activist Oyub Titiyev in Moscow and evacuated the theater.

In November media outlets reported a notable increase in the number of incidents in which authorities forced the cancellation of concerts of musicians who had been critical of the government. Monitoring by Meduza identified 13 such cases across the country during the month of November, compared with 10 during the rest of the year. Of the 13 cases, nine involved the rapper Husky or the electronic music group IC3PEAK, both of whom perform songs containing lyrics critical of the government. In most cases the concerts were canceled after the FSB or other security forces visited and threatened the managers or owners of music venues.

Persons expressing views of historical events that run counter to officially accepted narratives faced harassment. For example, on January 23, the Ministry of Culture recalled the rights to air the comedy film The Death of Stalin after a number of cultural figures sent a complaint to the department. The authors of the collective letter claimed Death of Stalin was a “spit in the face” of veterans that “blackened the memory of our citizens who defeated fascism.” Police disrupted a January 25 screening of the film at the Pioneer cinema in Moscow. On February 22, a Moscow court fined the theater 100,000 rubles ($1,500) for the screening.

b. Freedom of Peaceful Assembly and Association

The government restricted freedoms of peaceful assembly and association.

FREEDOM OF PEACEFUL ASSEMBLY

The law provides for freedom of assembly, but local authorities restricted this right. The law requires organizers of public meetings, demonstrations, or marches by more than one person to notify the government, although authorities maintained that protest organizers must receive government permission, not just provide notification. Failure to obtain official permission to hold a protest resulted in the demonstration being viewed as unlawful by law enforcement officials, who routinely dispersed such protests. While numerous public demonstrations took place, on many occasions local officials selectively denied groups permission to assemble or offered alternate venues that were inconveniently or remotely located.

Although they do not require official approval, authorities restricted single-person pickets, and required that there be at least 164 feet separating protesters from each other. In 2017 the Constitutional Court decreed that police officers may stop a single-person picket to protect the health and safety of the picketer.

The law requires that “motor rallies” and “tent city” gatherings in public places receive official permission. It requires gatherings that would interfere with pedestrian or vehicle traffic to receive official agreement 10 days prior to the event; those that do not affect traffic require three days’ notice. The law prohibits “mass rioting,” which includes teaching and learning about the organization of and participation in “mass riots.” The law allows authorities to prohibit nighttime demonstrations and meetings and levy fines for violating protest regulations and rules on holding public events.

The law provides heavy penalties for engaging in unsanctioned protests and other violations of public assembly laws–up to 300,000 rubles ($4,500) for individuals, 600,000 rubles ($9,000) for organizers, and one million rubles ($17,140) for groups or companies. Protesters with multiple violations within six months may be fined up to one million rubles ($15,000) or imprisoned for up to five years.

On May 10, President Putin signed a decree limiting freedom of assembly in cities hosting the 2018 International Federation of Football Associations (FIFA) World Cup in conjunction with enhanced security, although protests in cities that did not host the tournament were allowed to take place.

Arrests for organizing or taking part in unsanctioned protests were common. For instance, on August 25, police arrested opposition leader Navalny for allegedly organizing an unsanctioned “voters’ strike” rally on January 28. His arrest came shortly before planned rallies in opposition to pension reform scheduled nationwide on September 9. Immediately following his release on September 24, police from a different precinct rearrested Navalny for 20 more days for allegedly organizing the unsanctioned September 9 demonstration, which purportedly caused “bodily harm to a government official.”

There was a reported increase in authorities charging individuals with “inciting mass riots” based upon their social media activities. For example, following the May 5 antigovernment protests, 28 organizers and activists with opposition leader Navalny’s Anticorruption Foundation were detained and charged with inciting mass riots based on their tweets or retweets. While some were fined and released, others were sentenced to 30-day prison terms.

Activists were at times subject to threats and physical violence in connection with organizing or taking part in public events or protests. On May 5, police stood by as unknown persons in Cossack uniforms beat participants in peaceful opposition rallies in Moscow and other cities. More than 1,300 persons were arrested during these protests, 572 in Moscow alone.

Police often broke up demonstrations that were not officially sanctioned, at times using disproportionate force. For example, on September 9, police throughout the country detained 1,195 persons who were demonstrating against pension reform. Media reports of the Moscow protest described unprovoked and disproportionate police beatings of protesters with rubber batons.

Authorities regularly arrested single-person picketers. For example, on June 14 authorities arrested UK-based activist Peter Tatchell in Moscow for staging a single-person picket against restrictions on LGBTI persons in the country, citing a breach of antiprotest rules put in place for the World Cup. Tatchell was released the same day and departed the country before appearing in court.

Authorities continued to deprive LGBTI persons and their supporters of free assembly rights. Despite a Supreme Court ruling that LGBTI persons should be allowed to engage in public activities, the law prohibiting “propaganda” of homosexuality to minors (see section 6, Acts of Violence, Discrimination, and Other Abuses Based on Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity) provides grounds to deny LGBTI activists and supporters the right of assembly and was often used to interrupt public demonstrations by LGBTI activists. On November 27, the ECHR ruled that the country’s blanket refusal to grant permission to hold public assemblies related to LGBTI issues could not be justified by public safety concerns and constituted a violation of the right to freedom of assembly.

On April 8, police detained approximately 30 gay rights activists who took part in an unsanctioned rally in St. Petersburg. City authorities had turned down their request to hold a parade, so each participant demonstrated alone, in a bid to avoid the protest being called a gathering, which did not prevent their arrest.

Moscow authorities refused to allow an LGBTI pride parade for the 13th consecutive year, notwithstanding a 2010 ECHR ruling that the denial violated the rights to freedom of assembly and freedom from discrimination.

FREEDOM OF ASSOCIATION

The constitution provides for freedom of association. During the year, however, the government instituted new measures and expanded existing restrictive laws to stigmatize, harass, fine, close, and otherwise raise barriers to membership in organizations that were critical of the government.

Public organizations must register their bylaws and the names of their leaders with the Ministry of Justice. The finances of registered organizations are subject to investigation by tax authorities, and foreign grants must be registered.

The government continued to use a law, which requires NGOs that receive foreign funding and engage in “political activity” to register as “foreign agents,” to harass, to stigmatize, and in some cases to halt their operation, although fewer organizations were registered than in previous years. As of October the Ministry of Justice had added five NGOs to the “foreign agents” registry during the year, and its registry of organizations designated as “foreign agents” included 73 NGOs.

For the purposes of implementing the foreign agents law, the government considered “political activities” to include organizing public events, rallies, demonstrations, marches, and pickets; organizing and conducting public debates, discussions or presentations; ‎participating in election activities aimed at influencing the result, including election observation and forming commissions; public calls to influence local and state government bodies, including calling for changes to legislation; disseminating opinions and decisions of state bodies by technology; and attempting to shape public political views, including public opinion polls or other sociological research.

To be delisted, an NGO must submit an application to the Ministry of Justice proving that it did not receive any foreign funding or engage in any political activity within the previous 12 months. If the NGO received any foreign funding, it must have returned the money within three months. The ministry would then initiate an unscheduled inspection of the NGO to determine whether it qualified for removal from the list.

The law on “foreign agents” requires that NGOs identify themselves as “foreign agents” in all their public materials. Authorities fined NGOs for failing to disclose their “foreign agent” status on websites or printed materials. For example, on August 13, a court in the Mari-El Republic fined the human rights group Man and Law 300,000 rubles ($4,500) for failing to mark its Facebook page as belonging to a “foreign agent.” According to the NGO, the page had previously been marked but the marking disappeared when Facebook had updated its user interface.

The government placed additional restrictions on NGOs designated as “foreign agents.” On October 11, President Putin signed a law prohibiting “foreign agent” NGOs and foreign NGOs from receiving an accreditation from the Ministry of Justice that would allow them to submit anticorruption analysis of legislation. NGOs designated “foreign agents” were already prohibited from participating in election observation.

Organizations the government listed as “foreign agents” reported experiencing the social effects of stigmatization, such as being targeted by vandals and online criticism, in addition to losing partners and funding sources and being subjected to smear campaigns in the state-controlled press.

The law requires the Ministry of Justice to maintain a list of “undesirable foreign organizations.” The list expanded during the year as the Ministry of Justice added the European Platform for Democratic Elections, the International Elections Study Center, the German Marshall Fund, and Pacific Environment. As of October the total number of “undesirable foreign organizations” was 15. According to the law, a foreign organization may be found “undesirable” if that group is deemed “dangerous to the foundations of the constitutional order of the Russian Federation, its national security, and defense.” Authorities have not clarified what specific threats the “undesirable” NGOs posed to the country. Any foreign organization deemed “undesirable” must cease its activities, any money or assets found by authorities may be seized, and any citizens found to be continuing to work with the organization in contravention of the law may face up to seven years in prison.

NGOs engaged in political activities or activities that purportedly “pose a threat to the country” or that receive support from U.S. citizens or organizations are subject to suspension under the “Dima Yakovlev” law, which also prohibits NGOs from having members with dual Russian-U.S. citizenship.

Authorities continued to misuse the country’s expansive definition of extremism as a tool to stifle freedom of association. In 2017 the Supreme Court criminalized the activity of members of Jehovah’s Witnesses. The decision prohibited all activity of Jehovah’s Witnesses’ legal entities throughout the country, effectively banning their worship. The parent organization of the Jehovah’s Witnesses in the country and 395 regional branches were formally placed on the Justice Ministry’s list of “extremist” groups, a procedural move following the Supreme Court’s decision. As of October more than 50 Jehovah’s Witnesses were facing criminal charges for taking part in the activities of a banned extremist organization (see the Department of State’s International Religious Freedom Report at www.state.gov/religiousfreedomreport/).

There were reports civil society activists were beaten or attacked in retaliation for their professional activities and that in most cases law enforcement officials did not adequately investigate the incidents. As of September the legal NGO Agora had identified more than 80 such attacks during the year. For example, there were multiple reports of physical attacks on the Memorial and its activists in the North Caucasus during the year, which human rights organizations believed to be a coordinated campaign of pressure aimed at silencing Memorial and halting its human rights work. On January 17, two masked men set fire to the Memorial office in Nazran, Ingushetia. On January 23, unknown perpetrators set fire to one of Memorial’s cars in Makhachkala, Dagestan. On March 29, Sirazhutdin Datsiyev, the head of Memorial’s office in the Republic of Dagestan, was hospitalized with a head injury after an attack by unknown assailants.

In multiple cases authorities arbitrarily arrested and prosecuted civil society activists in political retaliation for their work (see section 1.e.).

There were reports authorities targeted NGOs and activists representing the LGBTI community for retaliation (see section 6, Acts of Violence, Discrimination, and Other Abuses Based on Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity).

c. Freedom of Religion

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

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

The law provides for freedom of internal movement, foreign travel, emigration, and repatriation, but in some cases, authorities restricted internal movement, foreign travel, and repatriation.

The Office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) reported it had a working relationship with the government on asylum and refugee problems. NGOs reported, however, that the government failed to provide protection and assistance to internally displaced persons, refugees, returning refugees, asylum seekers, stateless persons, or other persons of concern. In one case NGOs reported that 102,944 refugees remained in the country, including 101,019 Ukrainians, of whom nearly 2,000 struggled to maintain legal status. The government considered Ukrainian asylum seekers to be separate from asylum seekers from other countries, such as Afghanistan, Georgia, Syria, and Yemen. According to NGOs, two Syrian refugees and 150 Ukrainian refugees received citizenship in during the year. In some cases temporary asylum holders who received refugee status from third countries were not granted exit visas or allowed to depart the country.

Abuse of Migrants, Refugees, and Stateless Persons: NGOs reported that police detained, fined, and threatened with deportation migrants, refugees, and stateless persons. NGOs also reported racially motivated assaults by civilians.

In-country Movement: Although the law gives citizens the right to choose their place of residence, adult citizens must carry government-issued internal passports while traveling domestically and must register with local authorities after arriving at a new location. To have their files transferred, persons with official refugee or asylum status must notify the Ministry of Internal Affairs in advance of relocating to a district other than the one that originally granted them status. Authorities often refused to provide government services to individuals without internal passports or proper registration, and many regional governments continued to restrict this right through residential registration rules.

Authorities imposed travel restrictions on individuals facing prosecution for political purposes.

Foreign Travel: The law provides for freedom to travel abroad, but the government restricted this right for certain groups.

The law on procedures for departing from and entering the country stipulates that a person who violates a court decision does not have a right to leave the country. A court may prohibit a person from leaving the country for failure to satisfy debts; if the individual is suspected, accused, or convicted of a crime; or if the individual had access to classified material. The law allows for the temporary restriction of a bankrupt citizen’s right to leave the country. Authorities imposed travel restrictions on individuals facing prosecution for political purposes. For example, the government temporarily stopped opposition leader Navalny from leaving the country to attend an ECHR hearing on November 13 because he had an outstanding debt from embezzlement charges that most observers considered politically motivated. He was permitted to leave the country the following day.

According to press reports, since 2014 the government restricted the foreign travel of approximately five million of its employees. This included employees of the Prosecutor General’s Office, the Ministry of Internal Affairs, the Ministry of Defense, the Federal Prison Service, the Federal Drug Control Service, the Federal Bailiff Service, the General Administration for Migration Issues, and the Ministry of Emergency Situations.

INTERNALLY DISPLACED PERSONS (IDPS)

In 2017 the Internal Displacement Monitoring Center (IDMC) estimated the country was home to 19,000 internally displaced persons, down from 22,600 in 2016. Of the 19,000 IDPs, the IDMC asserted that 5,900 were new displacements. According to the government’s official statistics, the number of forced migrants decreased from 25,359 in the beginning of 2016 to 19,327 in January 2017. The government indicated that the majority of forced migrants came from former USSR republics, namely Georgia, Kazakhstan, and Uzbekistan, with between 3,500 and 4,000 persons displaced due to the first Chechen conflict in 1995-96.

PROTECTION OF REFUGEES

Refoulement: The government provided some protection against the expulsion or return of persons to countries where their lives or freedom would be threatened on account of their race, religion, nationality, membership in a particular social group, or political opinion. The responsible agency, the Main Directorate for Migration Affairs of the Ministry of Internal Affairs (GAMI), did not maintain a presence at airports or other border points and did not adequately publicize that asylum seekers could request access to the agency. Asylum seekers had to rely on the goodwill of border guards and airline personnel to call immigration officials. Otherwise, they faced immediate deportation to neighboring countries or return to their countries of origin, including in some cases to countries where they may have had reasonable grounds to fear persecution. There were no known statistics on the number of persons subjected to such actions.

Human rights groups continued to allege that authorities made improper use of international agreements that permit them to detain, and possibly repatriate, persons with outstanding arrest warrants from other former Soviet states. This system, enforced by informal ties between senior law enforcement officials of the countries concerned, permitted authorities to detain individuals for up to one month while the Prosecutor General’s Office investigated the nature of the warrants. International organizations reported six cases of refoulement of asylum seekers during the year, and NGOs cited cases in which officials detained persons (most commonly from Central Asia) and returned them clandestinely to their country of origin.

Access to Asylum: The country’s laws provide for the granting of asylum or refugee status, and the government has established a system for providing protection to refugees. NGOs reported applicants commonly paid informal “facilitation fees” of approximately 33,000 rubles ($495) to GAMI adjudicators to have their application reviewed. Applicants who did not speak Russian often had to pay for a private interpreter. Human rights organizations noted that nearly all newly arrived refugees and temporary asylum seekers in large cities, in particular Moscow and St. Petersburg, were forced to apply in other regions, allegedly due to full quotas. With the exception of Ukrainians, GAMI approved a small percentage of applications for refugee status and temporary asylum.

Some observers pointed out that GAMI data failed to include asylum seekers who were forcibly deported or extradited before exhausting their legal remedies. Moreover, some individuals who might otherwise have sought international protection, especially those from Central Asia, reportedly chose not to make formal applications for asylum because doing so often led to criminal investigations and other unwanted attention from the security services.

Human rights organizations noted the country’s tendency during the year not to accept more Ukrainian and Syrian applicants for refugee status and temporary asylum. NGOs also reported that authorities encouraged applicants to return to their countries of origin. Authorities reportedly also had blanket authority to grant temporary asylum to Syrians, but local migration experts noted a decrease in the number of Syrians afforded temporary asylum, suggesting that GAMI had not renewed the temporary asylum of hundreds of Syrians and, in some cases, encouraged applicants to return to Syria.

Employment: Employers frequently refused to hire applicants who lacked residential registration.

Access to Basic Services: By law successful temporary asylum seekers and persons whose applications were being processed have the right to work, receive medical care, and attend school. NGOs reported authorities provided some services to Ukrainian asylum seekers, but there were instances in which applicants from other countries were denied the same service.

While federal law provides for education for all children, regional authorities occasionally denied access to schools to children of temporary asylum and refugee applicants who lacked residential registration. When parents encountered difficulties enrolling their children in school, authorities generally cooperated with UNHCR to resolve the problem.

Temporary Protection: A person who did not satisfy the criteria for refugee status, but who could not be expelled or deported for humanitarian reasons, could receive temporary asylum after submitting a separate application. There were reports, however, of authorities not upholding the principle of temporary protection.

STATELESS PERSONS

According to the 2010 population census, the country was home to 178,000 self-declared stateless persons. Official statistics did not differentiate between stateless persons and other categories of persons seeking assistance. Laws, policies and procedures allow stateless persons to gain nationality, and for their children born in the country to gain nationality. Some NGOs estimated there were approximately 500,000 stateless persons in the country and reported that authorities urged stateless persons to depart the country, but, in most cases, they failed to provide temporary legal status that would facilitate their departure.

Section 3. Freedom to Participate in the Political Process

While the law provides citizens the ability to choose their government in free and fair periodic elections held by secret ballot and based on universal and equal suffrage, citizens could not fully do so because the government limited the ability of opposition parties to organize, register candidates for public office, access media outlets, and conduct political campaigns.

Elections and Political Participation

Recent Elections: The March 18 presidential election and the 2016 parliamentary elections were marred by accusations of government interference and manipulation of the electoral process.

The OSCE reported the March 18 presidential election “took place in an overly controlled environment, marked by continued pressure on critical voices” and that “restrictions on the fundamental freedoms, as well as on candidate registration, have limited the space for political engagement and resulted in a lack of genuine competition.” The OSCE also noted, “television, and in particular broadcasters that are state-founded, owned, or supported, remains the dominant source of political information. A restrictive legislative and regulatory framework challenges freedom of the media and induces self-censorship…Voters were thus not presented with a critical assessment of the incumbent’s views and qualifications in most media.” Observers widely noted that the most serious potential challenger, Navalny, was prevented from registering his candidacy due to a previous criminal conviction that appeared politically motivated.

In a statement on the 2016 State Duma elections, the OSCE’s election observation mission noted, “Democratic commitments continue to be challenged and the electoral environment was negatively affected by restrictions to fundamental freedoms and political rights, firmly controlled media and a tightening grip on civil society…Local authorities did not always treat the contestants equally, and instances of misuse of administrative resources were noted. The election day generally proceeded in an orderly manner, but numerous procedural irregularities were noted during counting.”

Political Parties and Political Participation: The process for nominating candidates for office was highly regulated and placed significant burdens on opposition candidates and political parties. While parties represented in the State Duma may nominate a presidential candidate without having to collect and submit signatures, prospective self-nominated presidential candidates must collect 300,000 signatures, no more than 7,500 from each region, and submit the signatures to the Central Electoral Commission (CEC) for certification. Nominees from parties without State Duma representation must collect 100,000 signatures. An independent candidate is ineligible to run if the commission finds more than 5 percent of signatures to be invalid.

Candidates to the State Duma can be nominated directly by constituents, by political parties in single-mandate districts, by political parties on their federal list, or may be self-nominated. Political parties select candidates for the federal lists from their ranks during party conventions via closed voting procedures. Party conventions also select single mandate candidates. Only political parties that overcame the 5 percent threshold during the previous elections may form federal and single mandate candidate lists without collecting signatures, while parties that did not must collect 200,000 signatures to register a candidate. Self-nominated candidates generally must gather 3 percent of voters’ signatures in their districts.

Gubernatorial candidates nominated by registered political parties are not required to collect signatures from members of the public, although self-nominated candidates are. The law also requires gubernatorial candidates not nominated by a registered party to meet a “municipal filter” requirement. Such candidates must obtain signatures of support from a defined portion of municipal deputies, the portion of which varies by region, as well as collect signatures from at least one deputy in each of a specified portion of municipal council districts.

Observers and would-be candidates said the municipal filter was not applied equally, and that authorities pressured municipal deputies not to provide signatures to candidates who were not preapproved by authorities. They asserted that no independent candidate with the potential to defeat authorities’ favored candidates was permitted to pass through the municipal filter. The election monitoring group Golos also stated that independent candidates were not able to collect the necessary number of municipal deputy signatures as a result of pressure from authorities. During the year the filter prohibited opposition candidates Dmitriy Gudkov and Ilya Yashin from participating in the Moscow mayoral elections.

In some cases opposition parties were repeatedly denied registration. On August 27, authorities denied opposition leader Navalny’s application to register a political party for the fifth time in five years, a decision observers believed to be politically motivated.

Authorities sought to restrict the work of independent monitors and promote government-sponsored monitoring. Observers are prohibited from being accredited to more than one polling station, limiting the ability of civil society to monitor elections. Critics contended that the law made it difficult for domestic election monitors to conduct surprise inspections due to provisions requiring observers to register with authorities, including the polling station they intend to monitor, three days before elections. Burdensome registration regulations also hampered the work of journalists wishing to monitor elections as well as independent or nonparty-affiliated groups, whose monitors registered as journalists for their affiliated publications. On March 7, the CEC denied observer accreditation to 850 observers with the Golos-affiliated media outlet Molniya as well as 4,500 observers with the Navalny-affiliated media outlet Leviathan.

Authorities continued to hamper the efforts of Golos, whose work was curtailed by a law prohibiting NGOs listed as “foreign agents,” from taking part in the election process as well as by continuing harassment and intimidation by authorities.

On January 16, the country’s leading independent pollster, the Levada Center, announced that it would no longer publish the results of its opinion polls on the March presidential elections, fearing legal repercussions. The center had been designated a “foreign agent” in 2016, barring it from participating in election-related work. The center’s director expressed fears the government would forcibly close the pollster if it were to publish its election polling data.

Once elected, many opposition politicians reported efforts by the ruling party to undermine their work or remove them from office. For example, on May 22, the independent mayor of Yekaterinburg, Yevgeniy Roizman, resigned from office after the city’s legislature voted to abolish mayoral elections. Observers saw the change as designed to ensure that a progovernment official occupied the position.

Opposition politicians often faced violence and threats. Media outlets described a spate of threats and attacks on independent municipal deputies who had won seats in the Moscow city district councils in 2017, including several vandalism incidents involving severed pig heads being left in their homes and vehicles. In June an unknown assailant poured motor oil on independent Moscow local city council member Anastasia Muralova shortly after she had successfully halted street repairs in the district that were being carried out illegally without a contract.

Authorities continued to engage in a pattern of harassment, including threats of violence, against opposition leader Navalny and his supporters (see sections 1.d., 2.a., and 2.b.). On September 24, Navalny’s press secretary stated that, since the start of the year, Navalny had been arrested five times and spent 120 days in jail. On November 15, the ECHR upheld a previous decision that found rights violations in Navalny’s seven arrests and two instances of pretrial detentions between 2012 and 2014. They noted these arrests “lacked a legitimate aim,” and “had not been necessary in a democratic society.” On September 11, the head of the National Guard, Viktor Zolotov, challenged Navalny to a duel and threatened to make a “nice, juicy steak” out of him.

Participation of Women and Minorities: No laws limit participation of women and members of minorities in the political process, and they did participate. While members of national minorities took an active part in political life, ethnic Russians, who constituted approximately 80 percent of the population, dominated the political and administrative system, particularly at the federal level.

Section 4. Corruption and Lack of Transparency in Government

The law provides criminal penalties for official corruption, but the government acknowledged difficulty in enforcing the law effectively, and officials often engaged in corrupt practices with impunity. There were numerous reports of government corruption during the year.

Corruption: Corruption was widespread throughout the executive branch, including within the security sector, as well as in the legislative and judicial branches at all levels. Its manifestations included bribery of officials, misuse of budgetary resources, theft of government property, kickbacks in the procurement process, extortion, and improper use of official position to secure personal profits. While there were prosecutions for bribery, a general lack of enforcement remained a problem. Official corruption continued to be rampant in numerous areas, including education, military conscription, health care, commerce, housing, social welfare, law enforcement, and the judicial system.

There were reports of corruption by government officials at the highest level. For example, on February 25, Novaya Gazeta published an article describing how then deputy prime minister Dmitriy Rogozin, who oversaw the country’s military-industrial complex, directed hundreds of millions of rubles in government financing and loans to defense sector firms run by his nephew. There were no indications of an investigation by authorities.

Financial Disclosure: The law requires government officials to file extensive declarations of all foreign real estate they own and any large expenditure involving land, vehicles, and securities, as well as their incomes. The law was inconsistently and selectively enforced, and investigative bodies rarely acted upon media reports of undeclared assets held overseas and other alleged violations. According to Transparency International and investigative reporters, the information officials provided often did not reflect their true income or that of close family members.

Section 5. Governmental Attitude Regarding International and Nongovernmental Investigation of Alleged Violations of Human Rights

A variety of domestic and international human rights groups generally operated in the country, investigating and publishing their findings on human rights cases. Government officials were rarely cooperative or responsive to their concerns. Official harassment of independent NGOs continued and in many instances intensified, particularly of groups that focused on election monitoring, exposing corruption, and addressing human rights abuses. NGO activities and international humanitarian assistance in the North Caucasus were severely restricted. Some officials, including the ombudsman for human rights, regional ombudsman representatives, and the chair of the Presidential Human Rights Council, Mikhail Fedotov, regularly interacted and cooperated with NGOs.

Authorities continued to use a variety of laws to harass, stigmatize, and in some cases halt the operation of domestic and foreign human rights NGOs (see section 2.b., Freedom of Association).

High-ranking officials often displayed hostility towards the activities of human rights organizations and suggested that their work was unpatriotic and detrimental to national security. On January 18, hours after masked men had set fire to the office of human rights NGO Memorial, the only remaining human rights NGO in Chechnya, Chechen Republic head Kadyrov stated that human rights activists are “people without kith or kin, without a nation, and without religion” and that “their work won’t fly in our republic.” On August 22, Kadyrov stated the entry of “human rights defenders into Chechnya is to be prohibited” and compared them to armed militants. Subsequently Chechen Republic minister of mass media Djambulat Umarov explained that Kadyrov’s statement also included journalists.

Authorities continued to apply a number of indirect tactics to suppress or close domestic NGOs, including the application of various laws and harassment in the form of prosecution, investigations, fines, and raids (see sections 1.e. and 2.b.).

Authorities generally refused to cooperate with NGOs that were critical of their activities or listed as a foreign agent. International human rights NGOs had almost no presence east of the Ural Mountains. A few local NGOs addressed human rights problems in these regions but often chose not to work on politically sensitive topics to avoid retaliation by local authorities.

Government Human Rights Bodies: Some government institutions continued to promote human rights and intervened in selected abuse complaints, despite widespread doubt as to these institutions’ effectiveness.

Many observers did not consider the 126-member Public Chamber, composed of government-appointed members from civil society organizations, to be an effective check on the government.

The Presidential Council for Civil Society and Human Rights is an advisory body to the president tasked with monitoring systemic problems in legislation and individual human rights cases, developing proposals to submit to the president and government, and monitoring their implementation. The president selects some council members by decree, and not all members operated independently.

Human rights ombudsperson Tatyana Moskalkova was viewed as a figure with very limited autonomy. The country had regional ombudsmen in 83 of its 85 regions with responsibilities similar to Moskalkova’s. Their effectiveness varied significantly, and local authorities often undermined their independence.

Section 6. Discrimination, Societal Abuses, and Trafficking in Persons

Women

Rape and Domestic Violence: Rape is illegal, and the law provides the same punishment for a relative, including the spouse, who commits rape as for a nonrelative. The penalty for rape is three to six years’ imprisonment for a single offense, with additional time imposed for aggravating factors. According to NGOs, many law enforcement personnel and prosecutors did not consider spousal or acquaintance rape a priority and did not encourage reporting or prosecuting such cases. NGOs reported that local police officers sometimes refused to respond to rape or domestic violence calls unless the victim’s life was directly threatened.

For example, on June 1, online news portal Meduza published allegations by an actress that the director of the Vologorodskiy Drama Theater, Zurab Nanobashvili, had raped her in 2015. Three other actresses also accused Nanobashvili of attempted rape and sexual harassment. Two of the women, one of whom was 17 years old, filed a complaint with the local Investigative Committee that Nanobashvili had groped, licked, and attempted to rape them in April. On June 8, the local Ministry of Culture fired Nanobashvili from his position. On the same day, the Investigative Committee informed the women that, while Nanobashvili’s actions “bore the hallmarks of sexual abuse,” no criminal case would be opened against him because the women were older than age 16.

Domestic violence remained a major problem. There is no significant domestic violence provision in the criminal code and no legal definition of domestic violence. The laws that address bodily harm are general in nature and do not permit police to initiate a criminal investigation unless the victim files a complaint. The burden of collecting evidence in such cases typically falls on the alleged victims. Federal law prohibits battery, assault, threats, and killing, but most acts of domestic violence did not fall within the jurisdiction of the prosecutor’s office.

According to an HRW report on domestic violence published in October, when domestic violence offenses were charged, articles 115 and 116.1 under the country’s Criminal Procedure Code were usually applied, which use the process of private prosecution. These private prosecutions are launched only if the injured party or their guardian takes the initiative to file a complaint with a magistrate judge. In such cases the injured party bears the burden of gathering all evidence necessary for prosecution and must pay all costs of the prosecution, which HRW believed severely disadvantaged survivors.

According to NGOs, police were often unwilling to register complaints of domestic violence, often saying that cases are “family matters,” frequently discouraged victims from submitting complaints, and often pressed victims to reconcile with abusers. HRW’s report on domestic violence described the case of a woman from a small town in western Russia, who complained to police after her husband severely beat her. The police officer who arrived at her home joked with her husband, insulted her, advised her to reconcile with him, and left, after which her husband beat her again and broke her jaw. He then left for several months with their eight-year-old son. When she called police again, they suggested, mockingly, that she was bitter because the husband must have left her for another woman.

A 2017 law made beatings by “close relatives” an administrative rather than a criminal offense for first-time offenders, provided the beating does not cause serious harm requiring hospital treatment. According to official statistics released during the year, since this law was passed, the number of reported domestic violence cases has fallen by half, with 25,667 cases of domestic violence against women reported in 2017, compared with 49,765 cases reported in 2016. NGOs working on domestic violence noted that official reporting of domestic violence decreased because the decriminalization deterred women suffering domestic violence from going to the police. In contrast, HRW’s October report stated that women’s rights groups and crisis centers noted an increase in the number of domestic violence complaints after the 2017 amendments were enacted and said that they considered the increase to be a direct effect of decriminalization. HRW identified three major impacts of the 2017 decriminalization: fostering a sense of impunity among abusers, weakening protections for victims by reducing penalties for abusers, and creation of new procedural shortcomings in prosecuting domestic violence.

According to Ministry of Internal Affairs statistics cited by NGOs, approximately 12,000 women died annually from domestic violence in the country. The NGO Center for Women’s Support asserted that a majority of domestic violence cases filed with authorities were either dismissed on technical grounds or transferred to a reconciliation process conducted by a justice of the peace whose focus was on preserving the family rather than punishing the perpetrator.

HRW’s report noted there are few state-run shelters for victims of domestic violence, citing a study that found only 434 shelter spaces nationally reserved for women in crisis situations (which includes, but is not limited to, domestic violence). HRW noted that these shelters set a high entry threshold, require a daunting amount of paperwork and long wait times to determine whether a space may be granted, and often emphasize “preserving the family” and protecting children over women’s safety needs.

Female Genital Mutilation/Cutting (FGM/C): The law does not specifically prohibit FGM/C. NGOs in Dagestan reported FGM/C was occasionally practiced in some villages. On November 27, Meduza reported that a Moscow clinic conducted FGM/C procedures on girls ages five and 12. After the report was published, the clinic ceased advertising FGM/C services.

Other Harmful Traditional Practices: Human rights groups reported that “honor killings” of women in Chechnya, Dagestan, and elsewhere in the North Caucasus were rarely prosecuted, although there were rare instances in which such killings led to convictions. For example, on September 5, a court in Ingushetia sentenced a man to eight years in prison for an “honor killing” of his 31-year-old daughter. The woman’s body had been found on the side of a highway on February 20, and her father confessed to strangling her. In some parts of the North Caucasus, women continued to face bride kidnapping, polygamy, forced marriage (including child marriage), legal discrimination, and forced adherence to Islamic dress codes.

Sexual Harassment: The criminal code contains a general provision against compelling a person to perform actions of a sexual character by means of blackmail, threats, or by taking advantage of the victim’s economic or other dependence on the perpetrator. Sexual harassment was reportedly widespread.

In early March, three female journalists accused a senior parliamentarian in the State Duma, Leonid Slutskiy, of sexual assault and harassment, including unwanted and inappropriate touching, kissing, and sexualized comments. On March 7, State Duma speaker Vyacheslav Volodin remarked that journalists who feel unsafe reporting from the Duma should “change jobs.” On the same day, Tamara Pletneva, the head of the State Duma Committee on Family, Women, and Children stated that female journalists seeking to avoid harassment should “look more decent and dress more appropriately” and that “if it’s frightening for them, if they are offended here, then they don’t have to come here.” On March 21, the parliamentary ethics committee cleared Slutskiy of any wrongdoing.

Coercion in Population Control: There were no reports of coerced abortion or involuntary sterilization.

Discrimination: The constitution and law provide that men and women enjoy the same legal status and rights, but women often encountered significant restrictions, including bans on their employment in certain types of jobs in sectors like mining and construction.

Children

Birth Registration: By law citizenship derives from parents at birth or from birth within the country’s territory if the parents are unknown or if the child cannot claim the parents’ citizenship. Failure to register a birth resulted in the denial of public services.

Education: Education is free and compulsory through grade 11, although regional authorities frequently denied school access to the children of persons who were not registered local residents, including Roma, asylum seekers, and migrant workers.

Child Abuse: A 2013 estimate by the Ministry of Internal Affairs indicated that one in four children in the country was subjected to abuse by a parent or foster parent. According to a 2011 report published by the NGO Foundation for Assistance to Children in Difficult Life Situations, 2,000 to 2,500 children died annually from domestic violence. A 2017 law that makes beatings by “close relatives” an administrative rather than a criminal offense for first-time offenders, provided the beating does not cause serious harm requiring hospital treatment, applies to children also.

The country does not possess a law on child abuse, but its criminal code outlaws murder, battery, and rape. The range of penalties for such crimes can be from five to 15 years in jail and, if they result in the death of a minor, up to 20 years in jail.

Early and Forced Marriage: The minimum legal age for marriage is 18 for both men and women. Local authorities may authorize marriage from the age of 16 under certain circumstances and even earlier in some regions.

Sexual Exploitation of Children: The law prohibits the commercial sexual exploitation, sale, offering or procuring for prostitution, and practices related to child pornography. The authorities generally enforced the law. The age of consent is 16. In 2015 the Investigative Committee reported filing charges in 1,645 cases of rape involving children and in more than 5,300 cases of sexual assault of children. For example, according to press reports, on February 1, police arrested a man in the Moscow region after his 13-year-old stepdaughter reported he had raped her on a regular basis for three years.

The law prohibits the manufacture, distribution, and possession with intent to distribute child pornography, but possession without intent to distribute is not prohibited by law. Manufacture and distribution of pornography involving children younger than age 18 is punishable by two to eight years in prison or to three to 10 years in prison if it involves children younger than age 14. Authorities considered child pornography to be a serious problem.

Roskomnadzor has the power to shut down any website immediately and without due process until its owners prove its content does not include child pornography. In 2014 approximately 15 percent of the 45,700 links Roskomnadzor shut down related to child pornography.

Institutionalized Children: There were reports of physical, sexual, and psychological abuse in state institutions for children. Children with disabilities were especially vulnerable. For example, on February 19, press reported that law enforcement bodies in Chelyabinsk charged a man with child sexual abuse and charged the leadership of a local orphanage with negligence after the man reportedly sexually abused at least seven children with disabilities at the orphanage over several years. According to witness accounts in the press, several teachers may have been aware of and complicit in the abuse.

International Child Abductions: The country is a party to the 1980 Hague Convention on the Civil Aspects of International Child Abduction. See the Department of State’s Annual Report on International Parental Child Abduction at https://travel.state.gov/content/travel/en/International-Parental-Child-Abduction/for-providers/legal-reports-and-data.html.

Anti-Semitism

The 2010 census estimated the Jewish population at slightly more than 150,000. In 2015, however, the president of the Federation of Jewish Communities of Russia stated that the actual Jewish population was nearly one million.

One violent attack with possible anti-Semitic motives was reported. On October 15, the president of the Jewish community of Tatarstan, Mikhail Abramovich Skoblionok, and his aide, were injured by a bomb he received in the mail. Kazan police opened an investigation to determine if it was an anti-Semitic attack; the attack was being investigated as attempted murder.

A number of leading figures in the Jewish community reported the level of anti-Semitism in the country was decreasing but that during the year some political and religious figures made anti-Semitic remarks publicly.

In a March 10 interview, President Putin responded to a question concerning reports of Russian meddling in foreign elections, by suggesting that instead “Ukrainians, Tatars, and Jews” may have been involved.

On January 15, Russia Insider, an English language publication linked to progovernment oligarchs, published an anti-Semitic essay by its founder, Charles Bausman, that attacked dozens of Jewish writers and journalists, claiming Jews were the reason for “unreasonable hostility towards Putin’s Russia” and solicited anti-Semitic contributions.

On June 30, the FIFA fined the country’s soccer federation $10,100 after Russian fans displayed a neo-Nazi banner during a World Cup match in Samara. The banner reportedly featured the number 88, which is far-right code for “Heil Hitler.”

In early October the Supreme Court upheld the revocation of the foreigner residence permit and deportation of the chief rabbi of Omsk Oblast and the Siberian Federal District, Osher Krichevskiy, and his family for advocating “forcible and violent change” in the constitution and creating a security threat to citizens. According to Novaya Gazeta’s October 4 report on the decision, the country has deported eight rabbis who held foreign citizenships in recent years.

Trafficking in Persons

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

Persons with Disabilities

While several laws prohibit discrimination against persons with physical, sensory, intellectual, and mental disabilities, the government generally did not enforce these laws. The law provides protection for persons with disabilities, including access to education, employment, health services, information, communications, buildings, transportation, the judicial system, and other state services. NGOs reported, however, that persons with disabilities still faced widespread discrimination in securing employment and access to some forms of transportation, as well as physical accessibility throughout the country.

The conditions of guardianship imposed by courts on persons with mental disabilities deprived them of almost all personal rights. Under the family code, individuals with mental disabilities were at times prevented from marrying without a guardian’s consent.

Federal law requires that buildings be accessible to persons with disabilities, but authorities did not enforce the law, and many buildings and modes of public transportation remained inaccessible.

Election laws do not specifically mandate that polling places be accessible to persons with disabilities, and the majority of them were not. Election officials generally brought mobile ballot boxes to the homes of voters with disabilities.

According to HRW, although the government began to implement inclusive education, most children with disabilities did not study in mainstream schools due to a lack of accommodations to facilitate their individual learning needs. The lack of reasonable accommodations left tens of thousands of children with disabilities isolated at home or in specialized schools, often far from their homes.

According to Ministry of Internal Affairs data, more than 45 percent of the country’s total population of children with disabilities were institutionalized. While the law mandates inclusive education for children with disabilities, authorities generally segregated them from mainstream society through a system that institutionalized them through adulthood. Graduates of such institutions often lacked the social, educational, and vocational skills to function in society.

There appeared to be no legal mechanism by which individuals could contest their assignment to a facility for persons with disabilities. The classification of children with mental disabilities by category of disability often followed them through their lives. The official designations “imbecile” and “idiot,” assigned by a commission that assesses children with developmental problems at the age of three, signified that authorities considered a child uneducable. These designations were almost always irrevocable. The designation “weak” (having a slight cognitive or intellectual disability) followed an individual on official documents, creating barriers to employment and housing after graduation from state institutions.

National/Racial/Ethnic Minorities

The law prohibits discrimination based on nationality, but according to a 2017 report by the Committee on Elimination of Racial Discrimination, officials discriminated against minorities, including through “de facto racial profiling, targeting in particular migrants and persons from Central Asia, and the Caucasus.”

During the year there were 15 violent attacks against Central Asians and members of other ethnic minorities, resulting in the death of three persons and injury to 12. Typically the police opened investigations into these incidents but did not disclose their conclusions or apprehend assailants. For example, on January 12, a Kyrgyz man died from multiple stab wounds in Noginsk. Media reports alleged that the assailants, who fled the scene, may have belonged to an ultraright wing group.

According to a 2017 report by the human rights group ADC Memorial, Roma faced widespread discrimination in access to resources (including water, gas, and electricity services); demolitions of houses and forced evictions, including of children, often in winter; violation of the right to education (segregation of Romani children in low quality schools); and other forms of structural discrimination. Media outlets reported that Moscow police forcibly evacuated Romani persons from the city in advance of the June FIFA World Cup.

Indigenous People

The constitution and various statutes provide support for “small-numbered” indigenous peoples of the North, Siberia, and the Far East, permitting them to create self-governing bodies and allowing them to seek compensation if economic development threatened their lands. The government granted the status of “indigenous” and its associated benefits only to those ethnic groups numbering fewer than 50,000 and maintaining their traditional way of life. A 2017 report by the human rights group ADC Memorial noted the major challenges facing indigenous people included “seizure of territories where these minorities traditionally live and maintain their households by mining and oil and gas companies; removal of self-government bodies of indigenous peoples; and repression of activists and employees of social organizations, including the fabrication of criminal cases.”

Indigenous sources reported state-sponsored harassment, including interrogations by the security services, as well as employment discrimination (see section 7.d.). For example, on July 24, authorities in Khahasia charged Khahas activist Lidiya Bainova with extremism for a social media post in which she alleged that ethnic Russians subject Khahas people to discrimination. On November 26, authorities dropped the charges.

Since 2015 the Ministry of Justice has added several NGOs focusing on indigenous issues to the “foreign agents” list (see section 2.b., Freedom of Association), including the Center for Support of Indigenous Peoples of the North and the International Foundation for the Development of Indigenous and Small Numbered Peoples of the North, Siberia, and Far East, making it difficult for them to operate.

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

The law criminalizes the distribution of “propaganda” of “nontraditional sexual relations” to minors and effectively limits the rights of free expression and assembly for citizens who wished to advocate publicly for rights or express the opinion that homosexuality is normal. Examples of what the government considered LGBTI propaganda included materials that “directly or indirectly approve of persons who are in nontraditional sexual relationships” (see section 2.a.). The law did not prohibit discrimination against LGBTI persons in housing or employment or in access to government services such as health care.

During the year there were reports of state actors committing violence against LGBTI individuals based on their sexual orientation or gender identity, particularly in the Republic of Chechnya (see section 1.a.).

There were reports government agents harassed and threatened LGBTI activists. For example, on September 14, police in Pyatigorsk threatened a student activist after he complained about municipal denial of permission to host an LGBTI rally. Police summoned him to a meeting at the university where he studied, and demanded that he drop his request to hold the demonstration. They hinted at the homophobic “mentality of the Caucasus,” the “irritation” the request was causing the city administration, and mentioned that in the event “something should happen” during the demonstration, police might be unable to protect the participants. They also attempted to get the activist to disclose the names of other LGBTI activists and threatened to “out” him to his parents, family members, and acquaintances.

Openly gay men were particular targets of societal violence, and police often failed to respond adequately to such incidents. For example, according to LGBT Network, in June a Volgograd teenager, Vlad Pogorelov, filed a complaint with the local prosecutor’s office against the local police decision to close a criminal investigation into an attack he had suffered in November 2017. Pogorelov, then 17 years old, was lured into a meeting by homophobic persons posing as gay youth on a dating website. They beat and robbed Pogorelov, who filed a police report. Police opened a criminal investigation into the attack but closed it within a month, citing the “low significance” of the attack, and informing Pogorelov that police were unable to protect LGBTI persons. According to LGBT Network, the case was emblematic of authorities’ unwillingness to adequately investigate or consider homophobia as a motive in attacks on LGBTI persons.

On April 24, the LGBT Network released a report that documented 104 incidents of physical violence towards LGBTI persons in 2016-17, including 11 killings. The report noted the continuing trend of groups and individuals luring gay men on fake dates to beat, humiliate, and rob them. The report noted that police often claimed to have found no evidence of a crime or refused to recognize attacks on LGBTI persons as hate crimes, which impeded investigations and perpetrators’ being fully held to account. During investigations of attacks, LGBTI persons risked being “outed” by police to their families and colleagues. LGBTI persons often declined to report attacks against them due to fears police would subject them to mistreatment or publicize their sexual orientation or gender identity.

LGBTI persons reported significant societal stigma and discrimination, which some attributed to official promotion of intolerance and homophobia.

High levels of employment discrimination against LGBTI persons reportedly persisted (see section 7.d.) Activists asserted that the majority of LGBTI persons hid their sexual orientation or gender identity due to fear of losing their jobs or homes as well as the threat of violence. The Russia LGBT Network recorded 13 incidents of discrimination against LGBTI teachers in 2016-17. In most cases homophobic activists wrote letters outing the teachers to the school’s administration, which then either fired the teacher, preventing his or her future employment in schools, or forced him or her to resign. The Russia LGBT Network recorded 18 cases of discrimination against LGBTI persons employed in other professions in 2016-17. Polling of LGBTI persons suggested that 17 percent had encountered employment discrimination.

Medical practitioners reportedly continued to limit or deny LGBTI persons health services due to intolerance and prejudice. The Russia LGBT Network’s report indicated that, upon disclosing their sexual orientation or gender identity, LGBTI individuals often encountered strong negative reactions and the presumption they were mentally ill.

Transgender persons faced difficulty updating their names and gender markers on government documents to reflect their gender identity because the government had not established standard procedures, and many civil registry offices denied their requests. When documents failed to reflect their gender identity, transgender persons often faced harassment by law enforcement officers and discrimination in accessing health care, education, housing, transportation, and employment.

There were reports that LGBTI persons faced discrimination in the area of parental rights. The Russia LGBT Network reported that LGBTI parents often feared that the country’s ban on the “propaganda of nontraditional sexual orientation” to minors would be used to remove custody of their children. In one example, on February 12, the Ordzhonikidzevskiy District Court of Yekaterinburg denied the return of two foster children to the Savinovskiy family on suspicion that the foster mother, Yulia Savinovskiy, was transitioning following breast reduction surgery and social media posts about transgender issues. According to the court, Savinovskiy was seeking the social role of a man, which the court said contradicted the prohibition of same-sex marriages in the country. Savinovskiy lost custody of the two foster children in August 2017. In September 2017 media outlets reported that Children’s Ombudsman Anna Kuznetsova said she would investigate the case, but the results of any action were unknown.

HIV and AIDS Social Stigma

Persons with HIV/AIDS faced significant legal discrimination, growing informal stigma-based barriers, employment discrimination (see section 7.d.), and were prohibited from adopting children.

According to NGO activists, men who have sex with men were unlikely to seek antiretroviral treatment, since treatment exposed the fact that these individuals had the virus, while sex workers were afraid to appear in the official system due to threats from law enforcement bodies. Economic migrants also concealed their HIV status and avoided treatment due to fear of deportation. By law foreign citizens who are HIV-positive may be deported. The law, however, bars the deportation of HIV-positive foreigners who have a Russian national or permanent resident spouse, child, or parents.

Prisoners with HIV/AIDS experienced regular abuse and denial of medical treatment and had fewer opportunities for visits with their children.

Although the law provides for treatment of HIV-positive persons, drug shortages, legal barriers, and lack of funds caused large gaps in treatment. In 2017 the Ministry of Health forbade the Federal AIDS Center in Moscow from dispensing antiretroviral drugs. The center served persons who could not get treatment at Moscow hospitals because they resided in the city without permanent registration.

On June 21, the Constitutional Court deemed it unconstitutional to prohibit HIV-positive parents from adopting children.

The Ministry of Justice continued to designate HIV-related NGOs as foreign agents; at least two such groups were so designated during the year (see section 2.b., Freedom of Association).

Other Societal Violence or Discrimination

The lack of an internal passport often prevented homeless citizens from fully securing their legal rights and social services. Homeless persons faced barriers to obtaining legal documentation. Prior to the World Cup soccer tournament held in June and July, Moskovskiy Komsomolets reported that police rounded up homeless persons, beat them, and bussed them to camps and disused military bases.

Promotion of Acts of Discrimination

A homophobic campaign continued in state-controlled media in which officials, journalists, and others called LGBTI persons “perverts,” “sodomites,” and “abnormal” and conflated homosexuality with pedophilia. State-controlled media also promoted anti-Semitic conspiracies, such as the supposed control of the world economy by the Rothschild family.

Section 7. Worker Rights

a. Freedom of Association and the Right to Collective Bargaining

The law provides that workers may form and join independent unions, bargain collectively, and conduct legal strikes. The law prohibits antiunion discrimination, but it does not require employers to reinstate workers fired due to their union activity. The law prohibits reprisals against striking workers. Unions must register with the Federal Registration Service, often a cumbersome process that included lengthy delays and convoluted bureaucracy. The grounds on which trade union registration may be denied are not defined and can be arbitrary or unjustified. Active members of the military, civil servants, customs workers, judges and prosecutors, and persons working under civil contracts are excluded from the right to organize. The law requires labor unions to be independent of government bodies, employers, political parties, and NGOs.

The law places several restrictions on the right to bargain collectively. For example, only one collective bargaining agreement is permitted per enterprise, and only a union or group of unions representing at least one-half the workforce may bargain collectively. The law allows workers to elect representatives if there is no union. The law does not specify who has authority to bargain collectively when there is no trade union in an enterprise.

The labor code prohibits strikes in the military and emergency response services. It also prohibits strikes in essential public-service sectors, including utilities and transportation, and strikes that would threaten the country’s defense, safety, and the life and health of its workers. The law also prohibits some nonessential public servants from striking and imposes compulsory arbitration for railroad, postal, and municipal workers as well as other public servants in roles other than law enforcement.

Union members must follow extensive legal requirements and engage in consultations with employers before acquiring the right to strike. According to the Federation of Independent Trade Unions of Russia, the legal preparation for a strike takes at least 40 days. Solidarity strikes and strikes on issues related to state policies are illegal, as are strikes that do not respect the onerous time limits, procedures, and requirements mandated by law. Employers may hire workers to replace strikers. Workers must give prior notice of the following aspects of a proposed strike: a list of the differences of opinion between the parties that triggered the strike; the date and time at which the strike will start, its duration and the number of anticipated participants; the name of the body that is leading the strike and the representatives authorized to participate in the conciliation procedures; and proposals for the minimum service to be provided during the strike. In the event a declared strike is ruled illegal and takes place, courts may confiscate union property to cover employers’ losses.

The Federal Labor and Employment Service (RosTrud) regulates employer compliance with labor laws and is responsible for “controlling and supervising compliance with labor laws and other legal acts which deal with labor norms” by employers. Several state agencies, including the Ministry of Justice, the Prosecutor’s Office, the Federal Service for Labor and Employment, and the Ministry of Internal Affairs, are responsible for enforcing the law. These agencies, however, frequently failed to enforce the law, and violations of freedom of association and collective bargaining were common. Penalties were not sufficient to deter violations.

Employers frequently engaged in reprisals against workers for independent union activity, including threatening to assign them to night shifts, denying benefits, and blacklisting or firing them. Although unions were occasionally successful in court, in most cases managers who engaged in antiunion activities did not face penalties.

On January 10, a court in St. Petersburg ruled to liquidate the “Worker’s Association” Interregional Labor Union, in the first-ever application of the country’s “foreign agents” law to a labor union. The St. Petersburg offices of the Justice Ministry and Federal Tax Service claimed the organization engaged in political activity and received foreign funding. Media reported that prosecutors alleged the union received more than 32 million rubles ($480,000) from a Swiss-based international union federation to train members. On May 22, however, the Supreme Court overturned the decision and restored the union’s legal status.

b. Prohibition of Forced or Compulsory Labor

The law prohibits most forms of forced or compulsory labor but allows for it as a penal sentence, in some cases as prison labor contracted to private enterprises.

The government was generally effective in enforcing laws against forced labor, but gaps remained in protecting migrant laborers, particularly from North Korea. Migrant forced labor occurred in the construction and service industries, logging industry (timber), textile shops, brick making, and the agricultural sector (see section 7.c.). Migrant workers at times experienced exploitative labor conditions characteristic of trafficking cases, such as withholding of identity documents, nonpayment for services rendered, physical abuse, and extremely poor living conditions.

Under a state-to-state agreement in effect since 2009, North Korean citizens worked in the country in a variety of sectors, including the logging and construction industries in the Far East. As of 2016 the Federal State Statistics Service, citing GAMI numbers, reported 30,000 North Korean workers were in the country, many of whom worked under conditions of forced labor. Press reports indicated North Korean laborers helped build a new soccer stadium in St. Petersburg used in the World Cup soccer tournament held during the year, a project on which at least one laborer died. Two North Korean laborers died in central Moscow in July while working on a luxury apartment complex, and independent reports characterized as consistent with forced labor conditions in the logging camps in the country’s Far East that employed North Korean laborers.

Authorities failed to screen departing North Korean workers for human trafficking and indications of forced labor.

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

c. Prohibition of Child Labor and Minimum Age for Employment

The law prohibits the employment of children younger than age 16 in most cases and regulates the working conditions of children younger than age 18. The law permits children to work at the age of 14 under certain conditions and with the approval of a parent or guardian. Such work must not threaten the child’s health or welfare. The labor code lists occupations restricted for children younger than age 18, including work in unhealthy or dangerous conditions, underground work, or jobs that might endanger a child’s health and moral development.

RosTrud is responsible for inspecting enterprises and organizations to identify violations of labor and occupational health standards for minors. The government did enforce the law, but violations, such as employing child labor, were at times classified as administrative matters and punished with insufficient fines, doing little to deter future violations.

Child labor was uncommon, but it could occur in brick making, the timber industry, and the informal service, construction, and retail sectors. Some children, both Russian and foreign, were subjected to commercial sexual exploitation and forced participation in the production of pornography (see section 6, Children).

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

d. Discrimination with Respect to Employment and Occupation

The law does not prohibit discrimination based on sexual orientation, HIV status, gender identity, or disability. Although the country placed a general ban on discrimination, the government did not effectively enforce the law.

Discrimination based on gender in compensation, professional training, hiring, and dismissal was common. Employers often preferred to hire men to save on maternity and child-care costs and to avoid the perceived unreliability associated with women with small children. Such discrimination was often very difficult to prove, although NGOs reported several successful lawsuits in St. Petersburg against companies for wrongful termination of women on maternity leave.

A 2013 law prohibits employer discrimination in posting job vacancy information. It also prohibits employers from requesting workers with specific gender, race, nationality, address registration, age, and other factors unrelated to personal skills and competencies. Notwithstanding the law, vacancy announcements sometimes specified gender and age requirements, and some also specified a desired physical appearance.

According to the Center for Social and Labor Rights, courts often ruled in favor of employees filing complaints, but the sums awarded were inconsequential. Many employees preferred not to spend the money and time to take legal action.

The labor code restricts women’s employment in jobs with “harmful or dangerous conditions or work underground, except in nonphysical jobs or sanitary and consumer services,” and forbids women’s employment in “manual handling of bulk weights that exceed the limits set for their handling.”

The labor code includes hundreds of tasks prohibited for women and includes restrictions on women’s employment in mining, manufacturing, and construction. The World Economic Forum’s publication, The Global Gender Gap Report 2015, based on the country’s annual statistics report, documented a widespread gender pay gap and noted that, while women were close to parity in senior business roles, women predominated in low-paying jobs in education, the health-care industry, and low-level sales positions. On average women earned 72.6 percent of salaries for men, notwithstanding that 85 percent of women had completed some form of higher education compared with 68 percent of men.

The law requires applicants to undergo mandatory medical screenings when entering into a labor agreement or when enrolling at educational institutions. The medical commission can restrict or prohibit access to jobs and secondary or higher education if they find signs of physical or mental issues. Persons with disabilities were subject to employment discrimination. Companies with 35 to 100 employees have an employment quota of 1 to 3 percent for persons with disabilities, while those with more than 100 employees have a 2- to 4-percent quota. Some local authorities and private employers continued to discourage persons with disabilities from working. Inadequate workplace access for persons with disabilities limited their work opportunities.

Many migrants regularly faced discrimination and hazardous or exploitative working conditions. Union organizers faced employment discrimination, limits on workplace access, and pressure to give up their union membership.

Employment discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity was a problem, especially in the public sector and education. Employers fired LGBTI persons for their sexual orientation, gender identity, or public activism in support of LGBTI rights. If they expected to be fired, some LGBTI persons chose to resign preemptively to avoid having their future prospects hindered by a dismissal on their resumes. Primary and secondary school teachers were often the targets of such pressure due to the law’s focus on so-called propaganda targeted at minors (see section 6, Acts of Violence, Discrimination, and Other Abuses Based on Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity).

Persons with HIV/AIDS were prohibited from working in some areas of medical research and medicine.

In September, as part of broader pension reform, amendments to the criminal code were adopted to establish criminal liability for employers who dismiss workers due to approaching pension age.

e. Acceptable Conditions of Work

The monthly minimum wage increased to the official “subsistence” level of 11,163 rubles ($170) on May 1, and it will be regularly revised to keep pace with the increase in the subsistence minimum income. Some local governments enacted minimum wage rates higher than the national rate.

Nonpayment of wages is a criminal offense and is punishable by fines, compulsory labor, or imprisonment. Federal law provides for administrative fines of employers who fail to pay salaries and sets progressive compensation scales for workers affected by wage arrears. The government did not effectively enforce the law and nonpayment or late payment of wages remained widespread. According to Rosstat, as of October wage arrears amounted to 3.1 billion rubles ($48.4 million).

According to Novaya Gazeta, 60 coalminers in the TransBaikal region began a hunger strike in June for nonpayment of wages.

The labor code contains provisions for standard workhours, overtime, and annual leave. The standard workweek cannot exceed 40 hours. Employers may not request overtime work from pregnant women, workers younger than age 18, and other categories of employees specified by federal laws. Standard annual paid leave is 28 calendar days. Employees who perform work involving harmful or dangerous labor conditions and employees in the Far North regions receive additional annual paid leave. Organizations have discretion to grant additional leave to employees.

The labor code stipulates that payment for overtime must be at least 150 percent for the first two hours and not less than 200 percent after that. At an employee’s request, overtime may be compensated by additional holiday leave. Overtime work cannot exceed four hours in a two-day period or 120 hours in a year for each employee. The law establishes minimum conditions for workplace safety and worker health, but does not explicitly allow workers to remove themselves from hazardous workplaces without threat to their employment. The law entitles foreigners working legally to the same rights and protections as citizens.

Occupational safety and health standards were appropriate to the main industries. Government inspectors are responsible for enforcement and generally applied the law in the formal sector. Serious breaches of occupational safety and health provisions are criminal offenses. Experts generally pointed to prevention of these offenses, rather than adequacy of available punishment, as the main challenge to protection of worker rights. The number of labor inspectors was insufficient to enforce the law in all sectors. RosTrud, the agency that enforces the provisions, noted that state labor inspectors needed additional professional training and additional inspectors to enforce consistent compliance.

According Rosstat, in 2016 a total of 21.2 percent of the labor force was employed in the informal economy, up from 20.5 percent in 2015 and the highest percentage since 2006. Rosstat defined the informal economy as enterprises not registered as legal companies, including persons who were self-employed or worked for an “individual entrepreneur.” Employment in the informal sector was concentrated in the southern regions. The largest share of laborers in the informal economy was concentrated in the trade, construction, and agricultural sectors, where workers were more vulnerable to exploitative working conditions. Labor migrants worked in low-quality jobs in construction but also in housing, utilities, agriculture, and retail trade sectors, often informally.

No national-level information was available on the number of workplace accidents or fatalities during the year. According to Rosstat, in 2015 approximately 28,200 workers were injured in industrial accidents, including 1,290 deaths.

According to HRW at least 21 workers died from work-related accidents at World Cup soccer tournament construction sites. Many suffered from severe working conditions, including lack of proper safety equipment, freezing temperatures, and threats of termination for complaining. Some workers either did not receive employment contracts or received them late, and some went unpaid for months.

Rwanda

Executive Summary

Rwanda is a constitutional republic dominated by a strong presidency. The ruling Rwandan Patriotic Front (RPF) led a governing coalition that included four smaller parties. In August 2017 voters elected President Paul Kagame to a third seven-year term with a reported 99 percent of the vote and a reported 98 percent turnout. One independent candidate and one candidate from an opposition political party participated in the presidential election, but authorities disqualified three other candidates. In the September elections for parliament’s lower house, the Chamber of Deputies, candidates from the RPF coalition and two other parties that supported RPF policies won all except four of the open seats. For the first time, independent parties won seats in the chamber, with the Democratic Green Party of Rwanda (DGPR) and the Social Party Imberakuri (PS-Imberakuri) winning two seats each. In both the 2017 and the 2018 elections, international monitors reported numerous flaws, including irregularities in the vote tabulation process.

Civilian authorities maintained effective control over state security forces (SSF).

Human rights issues included reports of unlawful or arbitrary killings by state security forces; forced disappearance by state security forces; torture by state security forces including asphyxiation, electric shocks, mock executions; arbitrary detention by state security forces; political prisoners; arbitrary or unlawful interference with privacy; threats to and violence against journalists, censorship, website blocking, and criminal libel; substantial interference with the rights of peaceful assembly and freedom of association, such as overly restrictive nongovernmental organization (NGO) laws; and restrictions on political participation.

The government occasionally took steps to prosecute or punish officials who committed abuses, including within the security services, but impunity involving civilian officials and some members of the SSF was a problem.

Section 1. Respect for the Integrity of the Person, Including Freedom from:

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

There were numerous reports the government committed arbitrary or unlawful killings. For example, according to media reports, on April 13, Kigali attorney Donat Mutunzi disappeared after leaving for work. His family made repeated inquiries of police but was unable to confirm his arrest until April 18. At that time a police officer reportedly told them that Mutunzi was suspected of having defamed President Kagame by circulating false information on the internet. On April 22, prosecutors told an attorney and friend of the Mutunzi family that Mutunzi had been accused of rape. On April 23, police reported Mutunzi had committed suicide by hanging himself in his cell. An examination of the body revealed severe wounds on the face and temples. Mutunzi’s family members told human rights advocates they believed Mutunzi had been beaten and strangled while in custody.

As of September 14, the government had not completed its investigation into 2017 Human Rights Watch (HRW) allegations that police or other security forces had killed 37 individuals between 2016 and 2017 for a variety of petty crimes, including theft of bananas, fishing with illegal nets, and unlawful border crossings. In 2017 Minister of Justice Johnston Busingye publicly called the HRW report “fake news.”

b. Disappearance

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

On October 7, United Democratic Forces-Inkingi (FDU-Inkingi) Vice President Boniface Twagirimana disappeared from Mpanga prison. A government spokesperson told press that Twagirimana and another prisoner had escaped by climbing over the prison wall. The FDU-Inkingi disputed this account and alleged foul play by government authorities, noting that authorities had transferred Twagirimana to Mpanga prison just five days earlier. The party released a press statement saying reliable sources inside the prison had indicated that security agents had taken Twagirimana away in a vehicle. As of November 6, Twagirimana’s whereabouts remained unknown.

Domestic organizations cited a lack of capacity and independence to investigate security-sector abuses, including reported enforced disappearances.

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

The constitution and law prohibit such practices, but there were numerous reports of abuse of detainees by police, military, and National Intelligence and Security Services (NISS) officials.

On September 27, the government enacted an updated penal code that prescribes 20 to 25 years’ imprisonment for any person convicted of torture. The law mandates that when torture is committed by a public official in the course of his or her duties, the penalty for conviction is life imprisonment.

As of September 14, the government had not conducted an investigation into 104 cases of illegally detained individuals who were in many cases reportedly tortured in unofficial military detention centers between 2010 and 2016, as documented by a 2017 HRW report. According to the report, military intelligence personnel and army soldiers employed torture and other cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment or punishment to obtain confessions before transferring the individuals to formal detention facilities. Detainees described asphyxiation, electric shocks, mock executions, severe beatings, and other mistreatment. HRW observed the trials of multiple individuals who alleged being tortured at unofficial military detention centers, including the Kami and the Mukamira military camps; a military base known as the “Gendarmerie” in Rubavu; and detention centers in Bigogwe, Mudende, and Tumba. According to the HRW report, many of the individuals told judges they had been illegally detained and tortured, but HRW was “not aware of any judges ordering an investigation into such allegations or dismissing evidence obtained under torture.” There were no reported prosecutions of SSF personnel for torture.

Prison and Detention Center Conditions

Conditions at prisons and unofficial military detention centers ranged from harsh and life-threatening to meeting international standards. The government took steps to make improvements in some prisons, but conditions varied widely among facilities.

Domestic civil society organizations reported impediments for persons with disabilities, including lack of sign language interpreters at police stations and detention centers.

Physical Conditions: Physical conditions in prisons operated by the Rwanda Correctional Service (RCS) were generally considered adequate. There were no major concerns regarding inmate abuse. Convicted persons and individuals in pretrial detention in RCS prisons were fed once per day, and family members were allowed to deposit funds so that convicts and detainees could purchase additional food at prison canteens. Authorities held men and women separately in similar conditions, and authorities generally separated pretrial detainees from convicted prisoners, although there were numerous exceptions due to the large number of detainees awaiting trial. Overcrowding was common in police stations and detention centers, and poor ventilation often led to high temperatures. According to the RCS, the prison population rose by approximately 15 percent, from fewer than 52,000 inmates in 2015 to more than 61,000 in August, which greatly exacerbated prison overcrowding. There were reports that prison overcrowding remained an issue.

In contrast, conditions were generally harsh and life threatening in unofficial military detention centers, according to a 2017 HRW report. HRW reported that in addition to experiencing torture, individuals detained at such centers suffered from limited access to food, water, and health care.

Transit centers often lacked separate facilities for children. According to HRW, officials held children together with adults in the Muhanga, Mudende, and Gikondo transit centers.

The law does not allow children older than age three to remain with their incarcerated mothers.

The government held five prisoners of the Special Court for Sierra Leone in a purpose-built detention center that the United Nations deemed met international standards for incarceration of prisoners convicted by international criminal tribunals.

Administration: The RCS investigated reported abuses by corrections officers, and the same hierarchical structure existed in police and security forces; there was no independent institution charged with investigating abuses or punishing perpetrators.

Detainees held at the Iwawa Rehabilitation and Vocational Development Center did not have the right to appeal their detentions to judicial authorities.

Independent Monitoring: The government permitted independent monitoring of prison conditions on a limited basis by diplomats and the International Committee of the Red Cross. At times, however, it restricted access to specific prisoners and did not permit monitors to visit undeclared detention centers and certain military intelligence facilities. The government permitted monitoring of prison conditions and trials of individuals whom the UN Mechanism for International Criminal Tribunals (MICT) had transferred to Rwandan national jurisdiction for trials related to the 1994 genocide, per agreement with the MICT.

In June the UN Subcommittee on Prevention of Torture (SPT) formally cancelled its visit to the country. In October 2017 the visit originally was suspended due to obstructions imposed by the government such as limiting access to places of detention. On June 1, the UN assistant secretary-general wrote to the government concerning the lack of assurances given to the SPT that those interviewed or contacted during the visit would not face intimidation or reprisals.

Journalists could access prisons with a valid press card but required permission from the RCS commissioner to take photographs or interview prisoners or guards.

Improvements: Observers credited the RCS with continuing to take steps to improve prison conditions and eradicate abuses in formal detention facilities. In July the government closed the Kigali Central “1930” Prison, the oldest prison in the country, and moved remaining prisoners to a newer facility in Mageragere. The updated penal code removed provisions allowing solitary confinement of prisoners.

d. Arbitrary Arrest or Detention

The constitution and law prohibit arbitrary arrest and detention, but SSF personnel regularly arrested and detained persons arbitrarily and without due process. The law provides for the right of persons to challenge in court the lawfulness of their arrest or detention; however, few tried, and there were no reports of any detainees succeeding in obtaining prompt release or compensation for unlawful detention.

According to HRW’s October 2017 report, individuals “suspected of collaborating with enemies” were detained unlawfully and held “for up to nine months in extremely harsh and inhuman conditions,” frequently incommunicado. HRW also documented cases “in which individuals believed to be held in military custody have never returned and appear to have been forcibly disappeared.” Individuals detained by military intelligence were not registered in the formal law enforcement system, and “the period of their detention in military facilities [is] erased from public record,” according to HRW.

Human rights advocates also reported that police officers killed suspects while making arrests. In May police shot and killed a motorcyclist in Kigali during a traffic stop. Eyewitnesses reported police handcuffed the motorcyclist and began kicking him when the motorcyclist argued with officers. The motorcyclist fled and was pursued by the officer, who proceeded to catch and shoot the motorcyclist. A police spokesperson told press the officer fired because the motorcyclist had attempted to seize the officer’s weapon. Human rights advocates cast doubt on the police’s version of events, noting that eyewitnesses said the motorcyclist was handcuffed and had his hands raised when he was shot.

Domestic observers and local media reported the Rwanda National Police (RNP) continued the practice of systematically rounding up and arbitrarily detaining street children, street vendors, suspected drug abusers, persons in prostitution, homeless persons, and suspected petty criminals. As in previous years, the RNP held detainees without charge at the Gikondo Transit Center before either transferring them to the Iwawa Rehabilitation and Vocational Development Center without judicial review or forcibly returning them to their home areas in the countryside.

ROLE OF THE POLICE AND SECURITY APPARATUS

The RNP, under the Ministry of Justice, is responsible for internal security. The Rwanda Defense Force (RDF), under the Ministry of Defense, is in charge of providing external security, although the RDF also works on internal security and intelligence matters alongside the RNP. In April the recently created Rwanda Investigation Bureau (RIB) assumed some of the functions formerly performed by the RNP, including counterterrorism investigations, investigation of economic and financial crimes, and judicial police functions.

Civilian authorities generally maintained control over the RNP and the RDF, and the government had mechanisms to investigate and punish abuse and corruption. The RNP’s Inspectorate General generally disciplined police for excessive use of force and prosecuted acts of corruption, but there were some instances of impunity. There were reports SSF elements at times acted independently of civilian control. For example, there were reports RDF J-2 (intelligence staff), NISS, and RNP intelligence personnel were responsible for disappearances, illegal detention, and torture in unofficial detention centers.

The RDF normally displayed a high level of military professionalism and discipline, and it took action to investigate and punish misconduct. In August an RDF soldier was immediately arrested after he shot three individuals during a dispute at a bar in Rubavu, killing one. On December 4, a military court sentenced the soldier to life in prison and fined him 6.1 million Rwandan francs ($6,930).

Police at times lacked sufficient basic resources–such as handcuffs, radios, and patrol cars–but observers credited the RNP with generally strong discipline and effectiveness. The RNP institutionalized community relations training that included appropriate use of force and human rights, although arbitrary arrests and beatings remained problems.

To address reports of theft and abuse of street vendors by District Administration Security Support Organ (DASSO) employees, authorities expanded training for DASSO. For example, in April, 515 DASSO community-security-officer trainees participated in instruction designed to promote professionalism and discipline.

ARREST PROCEDURES AND TREATMENT OF DETAINEES

The law requires authorities to investigate and obtain a warrant before arresting a suspect. Police may detain suspects for up to 72 hours without an arrest warrant. Prosecutors must submit formal charges within five days of arrest. Police may detain minors a maximum of 15 days in pretrial detention but only for crimes that carry a penalty for conviction of five years’ or more imprisonment. Police and prosecutors often disregarded these provisions and held individuals, sometimes for months and often without charge, particularly in security-related cases. The SSF held some suspects incommunicado or under house arrest. At times police employed nonjudicial punishment when minor criminals confessed and the victims agreed to a police officer’s recommended penalty, such as a week of detention or providing restitutio