Central African Republic
Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:
The constitution and law provide for freedom of expression and the press. The government generally respected these rights.
Press and Media, Including Online Media: Independent media were active and expressed a wide variety of views without restriction. All print media in the country were privately owned. Radio was the most widespread medium of mass communication. There were a number of alternatives to the state-owned radio station, such as Radio Centrafrique. Independent radio stations operated freely and broadcast organized debates and call-in talk shows that were critical of the government, election process, ex-Seleka, and Anti-balaka militias. International media broadcast within the country.
Public discussion and political debates were generally free from state authorities’ influence. Freedom of expression, however, was inhibited due to the risk of retaliation by armed groups for expressing opinions opposing their ideologies.
The government monopolized domestic television broadcasting, with coverage typically favorable to government positions.
The government did not restrict or disrupt access to the internet or censor online content. There were no credible reports that the government monitored private online communications without appropriate legal authority.
There were no reports that the government restricted academic freedom or cultural events. The country’s sole university was open.
The constitution provides for the freedoms of peaceful assembly and association, including the right to participate in political protests. The government, however, denied most requests to protest that were submitted by civil society groups, citing insecurity in Bangui.
Between April and June, the government repeatedly denied the right to peacefully demonstrate to a platform of civil society and opposition political parties, known as “E Zingo Biani.” On June 15, “E Zingo Biani” attempted to organize a meeting at the UCATEX stadium located in the Combatant district in the eighth constituency of Bangui near the Bangui M’poko Airport. The group submitted a request to the Ministry of Interior and Public Security; however, the request was denied. The Central African police, supported by MINUSCA forces as well as citizens who were part of a proregime paramilitary group called the “Central African Sharks Movement,” led by Heritier Doneng, prevented the demonstration from taking place. The group attempted to circumvent the ban peacefully with a demonstration and a march. Police fired teargas at the demonstrators, several of whom were severely injured. Former minister Joseph Bendounga and two AFP reporters were arrested by the OCRB.
A law prohibiting nonpolitical organizations from uniting for political purposes remained in place.
c. Freedom of Religion
See the Department of State’s International Religious Freedom Report at https://www.state.gov/religiousfreedomreport/.
The constitution provides for freedom of internal movement, foreign travel, emigration, and repatriation, but the government did not always respect these rights.
The government generally cooperated with UNHCR and other humanitarian organizations in providing protection and assistance to internally displaced persons, refugees, returning refugees, asylum seekers, stateless persons, or other persons of concern.
In-country Movement: Armed groups and bandits made in-country movement extremely dangerous. Government forces, armed groups, and criminals alike frequently used illegal checkpoints to extort funds.
The country continued to face an acute humanitarian crisis. According to UNHCR, there were 613,031 internally displaced persons (IDPs) and 606,875 CAR refugees in neighboring countries at the end of August. Targeted violence against civilians by armed groups continued throughout the year. According to the Office of Coordination and Humanitarian Action (OCHA), attacks by armed groups against humanitarian organizations increased during the year. These attacks obstructed delivery of life-saving assistance to persons displaced by conflict.
Armed groups continued to target IDPs and threaten individuals and organizations attempting to shelter IDPs, including churches.
In March, 13 Muslim families that were among the IDPs in Bangassou returned to their homes in the village of Tokoyo.
In May many IDPs returned to their villages of origin due to the perception of improved security following the signature of the Political Agreement for Peace and Reconciliation (APPR), and a result of deteriorated living conditions in some IDP camps.
In June UNHCR and the governments of Cameroon and CAR agreed on the conditions for the voluntary repatriation of 285,000 Central Africans. This convention provided a legal framework for a voluntary return of CAR refugees living in Cameroon.
In July UNHCR and the governments of CAR and the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) signed a Tripartite Agreement to facilitate the repatriation of CAR refugees living in the DRC.
Throughout the year clashes among armed groups caused death and destruction of property. According to UNHCR, many newly displaced persons suffered fatal attacks, robberies, lootings, and kidnappings. Even after reaching safe locations, they often risked assault by armed groups if they ventured outside of camps to search for food. In many affected areas, humanitarian assistance was limited to strictly life-saving interventions, due to limited access and insecurity. The presence of armed groups continued to delay or block planned humanitarian deliveries.
Humanitarian organizations remained concerned regarding evidence that members of armed groups continued to hide out in IDP sites and attempted to carry out recruitment activities. This raised concerns for the safety of humanitarian staff and vulnerable displaced individuals residing in these areas.
The humanitarian actors provided assistance to IDPs and returnees and promoted the safe voluntary return, resettlement, or local integration of IDPs. The government allowed humanitarian organizations to provide services, although security concerns sometimes prevented organizations from operating in some areas and targeted attacks on humanitarian operations impeded their ability to access some populations.
During the year three humanitarian workers were killed, and there were 90 reported incidents affecting humanitarian workers, premises, and assets.
Access to Asylum: The laws provide for the granting of asylum or refugee status, and the government has established a system for providing protection to refugees. Individuals that had fled their countries of origin and had prior criminal records, however, were immediately repatriated.
In June the government celebrated the 36th anniversary of the National Commission for Refugees and gave 42 Rwandan refugees asylum certificates to remain in CAR.