Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:
The constitution and law provide for freedom of expression, including for the press, and the government generally respected this right. An independent press, an effective judiciary, and a functioning democratic political system combined in most cases to promote freedom of expression, including for the press. NGOs reported, however, that the government did not adequately investigate or prosecute cases in which journalists or bloggers received threats.
Freedom of Expression: The law sanctions individuals who act “with the goal of spreading racial, religious, sexual, national, ethnic hatred, or hatred based on the color of skin or sexual orientation or other characteristics.” The law provides for six months to five years imprisonment for conviction of such “hate speech.” Conviction for internet hate speech is punishable by six months to three years imprisonment. Although the law and recent Constitutional Court decisions technically impose restrictions on symbolic speech considered “hate speech,” including the use of Nazi- and Ustasha (the World War II regime)-era symbols and slogans, NGOs and advocacy groups complained that enforcement of those provisions remained inadequate.
Press and Media Freedom: Independent media were active and expressed a wide variety of views without restriction. Restrictions on material deemed hate speech apply to print and broadcast media. Many private newspapers and magazines were published without government interference. Observers said, however, that information regarding actual ownership of some local radio and television channels was not always publicly available, raising concerns about bias, censorship, and the vulnerability of audiences in the country to malign influence.
On February 22, the Sisak city council prohibited Croatian Radio Television (HRT) journalist Igor Ahmetovic from entering an open city council session for reporting purposes. The Croatian Journalists’ Association (CJA) publicly demanded Sisak overturn that prohibition, stating the prohibition was a violation of the constitutional right to free reporting and access to information. A lawsuit filed by Ahmetovic against the city remained ongoing at year’s end.
Violence and Harassment: NGOs reported that physical attacks and threats, especially online threats, against journalists had an increasingly chilling effect on media freedom and that the government was insufficiently addressing this problem.
For example, in July the Zadar district attorney indicted soccer player Jakov Surac on charges he committed battery and made death threats against journalist Hrvoje Bajlo. The indictment stated Surac committed the crime specifically because of Bajlo’s work as a journalist. The case was ongoing.
Additionally, in August the Split district attorney declined to press criminal charges against war veteran Stipe Perkovic Tabak for online statements that Index.hr journalists should be killed. The CJA condemned this decision, stating the court allowed Perkovic Tabak’s veteran status to give him immunity.
Censorship or Content Restrictions: Members of the press reported practicing self-censorship for fear of receiving online harassment, upsetting politically connected individuals, or losing their jobs for covering certain topics.
The government did not restrict or disrupt access to the internet or censor online content, and there were no credible reports that the government monitored private online communications without appropriate legal authority.
According to the International Telecommunication Union, 67 percent of the population used the internet in 2017.
ACADEMIC FREEDOM AND CULTURAL EVENTS
There were no government restrictions on academic freedom or cultural events.
The constitution and law provide for the freedoms of peaceful assembly and association, and the government generally respected these rights.
See the Department of State’s International Religious Freedom Report at www.state.gov/religiousfreedomreport/.
d. Freedom of Movement, Internally Displaced Persons, Protection of Refugees, and Stateless Persons
The constitution and law provide for freedom of internal movement, foreign travel, emigration, and repatriation, and the government generally respected these rights.
The government in most cases cooperated with the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) and other humanitarian organizations in providing protection and assistance to internally displaced persons, refugees, returning refugees, asylum seekers, stateless persons, and other persons of concern. In August, however, UNHCR criticized the government for violent pushbacks of illegal migrants; the government stated that approximately 2,500 refugees and migrants were turned back at the border during the first eight months of the year.
Abuse of Migrants, Refugees, and Stateless Persons: International and domestic NGOs reported police violence against asylum seekers and migrants, particularly on the country’s border with Bosnia and Herzegovina (BiH).
UNHCR and several NGOs published reports alleging border police subjected migrants to degrading treatment, including verbal epithets and vulgarities, destruction of property, and beatings, including of vulnerable persons such as asylum seekers, minor children, persons with disabilities, and pregnant women. NGOs reported several migrants alleged border guards beat them while they were holding their infants or toddlers. One female migrant told NGOs male border police officers subjected her to a strip search in the forest in the presence of adult male migrants.
NGOs reported cases in which authorities kept families of asylum seekers detained in correctional facilities rather than in asylum reception centers. They stated police confined the families in cells for long periods, and children did not have access to outdoor exercise, education, books, or age-appropriate toys. In April the ECHR ordered the government to release one family from detention and allow them freedom of movement. In September the Council of Europe’s commissioner for human rights called on the government to launch prompt and independent investigations regarding allegations of police violence and theft against refugees and migrants and of collective expulsion.
Domestic NGOs working on migrants’ rights reported police pressure, such as extensive surveillance and questioning of employees’ close associates and family members. Similarly, the ombudsperson’s 2017 report described pressure imposed on her office by some high-ranking officials from the Ministry of the Interior who said she should not have discussed nor debated cases in public. In October the ombudsperson said the Ministry of the Interior had repeatedly denied her access to information on police treatment of migrants. The Ministry of the Interior stated it adequately responded to the ombudperson’s requests.
The Ministry of the Interior publicly denied all allegations of violence or inhuman treatment of migrants and all allegations of pressuring humanitarian workers. In response to a query from the Council of Europe Human Rights Commissioner, Minister of the Interior Davor Bozinovic wrote that the Ministry of the Interior investigated all complaints received but had not found enough concrete data to warrant a criminal investigation.
PROTECTION OF REFUGEES
Access to Asylum: The law provides for the granting of asylum and refugee status, and the government has established a system for providing protection to asylum seekers. NGOs reported authorities at the border between Serbia and BiH prevented some migrants from applying for international protection, although officials denied these reports.
In June, claiming insufficient evidence, state prosecutors declined to prosecute a criminal case against police in the November 2017 death of a six-year-old Afghan girl killed by a train on the border with Serbia. The ombudsperson publicly called for an independent investigation into the actions of border police.
The Ministry of the Interior, in cooperation with several NGOs, provided applicants for international protection with housing and board, legal counseling, and psychological and humanitarian support. NGOs reported good cooperation with the Ministry of the Interior in the two asylum reception centers, Porin and Kutina, and asserted quality of services was generally good, giving education and medical services as positive examples. NGOS identified a need for increased psychiatric support, including for post-traumatic stress disorder, suicidal ideation, and drug/alcohol dependence.
In August the Ministry of the Interior adopted a comprehensive Protocol to provide assistance to unaccompanied minors.
In November 2017 the government began refurbishment of the Zagreb Reception Center for Asylum Seekers at Porin, which remained operational, transferring some residents temporarily to Kutina Center.
Durable Solutions: The government committed to receive 1,583 refugees and asylum seekers (1,433 under an EU relocation plan and 150 under an EU resettlement plan). As of August the country had received 81 refugees from Greece and Italy and resettled 105 Syrian refugees from Turkey.
The government continued to participate in a five-year joint regional housing program (RHP) with the governments of BiH, Montenegro, and Serbia. The RHP aimed to contribute to the resolution of the protracted displacement situation of the most vulnerable refugees and displaced persons following the 1991-95 conflict. As of August, the RHP had provided housing to 229 families incorporating 510 individuals in the country.
Temporary Protection: The Ministry of the Interior reported that from January to August, the government granted subsidiary protection to 20 persons who did not qualify as refugees.
UNHCR estimated there were approximately 290 persons stateless or at risk of statelessness in the country. Many of these persons were Roma who lacked citizenship documents. The Ministry of the Interior is responsible for granting stateless individuals residency and eventual citizenship. Leaders from the Romani community reported stateless individuals faced significant barriers to employment, education, property ownership, and access to medical services.