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

During the year there were no reports that the government or its agents committed arbitrary or unlawful killings and no reports of deaths from torture.

During the year there were no reports of disappearances by or on behalf of government authorities. There were no developments in the reportedly continuing investigations into the 2000 disappearance of journalist Zmitser Zavadski and the 1999 disappearances of former deputy prime minister Viktar Hanchar, businessman Anatol Krasouski, and former interior minister Yuri Zakharanka. There was evidence of government involvement in the disappearances, but authorities continued to deny any connection with them.

In May 2016 a Minsk court suspended the civil suit of Zakharanka’s mother asking for the court to recognize Zakharanka’s death until the criminal case regarding his disappearance was closed. The lawyer for Zakharanka’s mother told the court, “given the fact that for 16 years the investigation has produced no results, it deprives the citizen the opportunity to realize her rights. In fact it is a denial of justice.”

In August 2016 a Minsk city court refused the request of Zakharanka’s mother to declare her son deceased. In order to obtain access to case materials and his property, Zakharanka’s mother has repeatedly asked authorities to declare him dead, suspend the investigation, or both. In June authorities extended the investigation into Zakharanka’s disappearance to December 24.

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

The law prohibits such practices. Nevertheless, the Committee for State Security (KGB), riot police, and other security forces, often without identification and in plain clothes, beat detainees on occasion. Security forces also reportedly mistreated individuals during investigations. Police occasionally beat persons during arrests.

Human rights advocates, opposition leaders, and activists released from detention facilities reported maltreatment and other forms of physical and psychological abuse of suspects during criminal and administrative investigations.

On March 25, special police forces raided an apartment in which 58 human rights observers, experts, and foreign journalists gathered in advance of unauthorized protest in Minsk. According to eyewitnesses, when a doorbell rang and human rights advocate Aliaksei Loika opened the door officers assaulted Loika, who was hospitalized and diagnosed with a concussion the same day. On August 28, a Minsk district investigative committee turned down Loika’s request to investigate his beatings because it stated law enforcement officers did not apply excessive physical force.

On March 29, a court in Minsk sentenced Mikalai Dziadok, an anarchist and opposition activist, to 10 days in administrative detention for resisting police and participating March 25 in unauthorized protests in Minsk. Dziadok was hospitalized after his detention with a concussion and minor facial and head injuries. In court he claimed that a police officer hit him in the head a number of times. Police testified that Dziadok shouted political slogans and resisted police during his detention, requiring officers to apply physical force. Dziadok’s father filed a complaint asking investigators to look into his son’s beating, but authorities turned it down.

There were numerous reports of cases of hazing of conscripts into the army that included beatings and other forms of physical and psychological abuse. Some of those cases reportedly resulted in deaths. For example, on October 13, a senior official from the Investigative Committee announced a criminal investigation into alleged hazing and violence that preceded the discovery October 3 of the body of a 21-year-old soldier, Aliaksandr Korzhych, in the basement of his military barracks near Barysau.

On October 16, the government also confirmed that soldier Genadz Sarokin died on September 2 while assigned to a military unit in the Brest region and that his case was under investigation. In a separate case, authorities reopened the investigation into a purported suicide on March 31 of another soldier, Artsiom Bastsiuk, at military grounds in the Barysau region. On October 12, Bastsiuk’s family received notification that his death was not the result of a criminal act, but the family continued to maintain that he was psychologically abused and harassed during his service.

Authorities reported isolated cases of prosecution of suspected military offenders. For example, on May 30, a district court in Brest sentenced an army sergeant to three years restricted freedom, a form of house arrest, for abusing his powers and beating a younger soldier. The offender was also to pay 4,000 rubles ($2,050) in moral damages.


Prison and detention center conditions remained poor and in many cases posed threats to life and health.

Physical Conditions: According to local activists and human rights lawyers, there were shortages of food, medicine, warm clothing, and bedding as well as inadequate access to basic or emergency medical care and clean drinking water. Ventilation of cells and overall sanitation were poor, and authorities failed to provide conditions necessary for maintaining proper personal hygiene. Prisoners frequently complained of malnutrition and low-quality uniforms and bedding. Some former political prisoners reported psychological abuse and sharing cells with violent criminals. The law permits family and friends to provide detainees with food and hygiene products and to send them parcels by mail, but authorities did not always allow this.

According to a May 26 report by independent survey organizations that questioned 130 individuals detained between March 15 and April 19 on charges related to unsanctioned demonstrations, approximately 79 percent of respondents stated that authorities failed to inform their families of their whereabouts, and 83 percent stated prison authorities had not properly informed them of their rights, obligations, and the detention centers’ regulations. Approximately 17 percent complained of a lack of medical care and 27 percent said they were denied access to lawyers. More than 50 percent of the detainees complained of unsanitary conditions. Only 21 percent of those surveyed were not impeded by prison authorities from appealing their sentences.

Overcrowding of pretrial holding facilities, and prisons generally, was a problem. For example, individuals who were held for short periods in a holding facility in the town of Dziarzhynsk reported that they had to take shifts to sleep, as there were more inmates than beds in the cell.

Authorities allowed persons sentenced to a form of internal exile (khimiya) to work outside detention facilities. These individuals were required to return at night to prison barracks, where they lived under strict conditions and supervision.

Although there were isolated reports that police placed underage suspects in pretrial detention facility cells with adult suspects and convicts, authorities generally held juvenile prisoners separately from adults at juvenile penal colonies, arrest houses, and pretrial holding facilities. In general conditions for female and juvenile prisoners were slightly better than for male prisoners.

According to human rights NGOs and former prisoners, authorities routinely abused prisoners.

On March 23, a Minsk district court ruled in the case of the death of 21-year old Ihar Ptichkin that the Interior Ministry, which is in charge of holding facilities, should pay 20,000 rubles ($10,300) in moral damages to his mother, 10,000 rubles ($5,150) to his sister, and 6,000 rubles ($3,100) to cover the costs of his funeral. These damages were one third of what the family requested in a suit contesting his death in custody. After an alleged beating Ptichkin suffered a heart attack and died in a pretrial detention center in Minsk in 2013. In October 2016 a Minsk district court convicted prison doctor Aliaksandr Krylou, who was involved in Ptichkin’s case, of negligence and sentenced him to three years’ imprisonment.

Credible sources maintained that prison administrators employed inmates to intimidate political prisoners and compel confessions. They also reported that authorities neither explained nor protected political prisoners’ legal rights and excessively penalized them for minor violations of the prison rules.

In view of poor medical care, observers believed tuberculosis, pneumonia, HIV/AIDS, and other communicable diseases were widespread in prisons. In 2014 a senior tuberculosis control officer reported that tuberculosis infection in prisons was quadruple the national average but claimed that only up to 4 percent of the 7,400 tuberculosis patients across the country were in prisons.

Human rights NGOs reported that prison inmates and individuals held in internal exile often complained of lack of employment opportunities or low pay. In August 2016 the head of the Interior Ministry’s Corrections Department, Siarhei Daroshka, stated that of the average 510 rubles ($205) salary, inmates would get only 10 percent and the rest would go to cover the costs of their imprisonment and to repay any debts or damages ordered by the court.

Administration: As in the previous year, authorities claimed to have conducted annual or more frequent investigations and monitoring of prison and detention center conditions. Human rights groups, however, asserted that such inspections, when they did occur, lacked credibility in view of the absence of an ombudsperson and the inability of reliable independent human rights advocates to visit prisons or provide consultations to prisoners. In July authorities approved the application of Aleh Hulak, chairperson of the human rights group Belarusian Helsinki Committee, to join the Ministry of Justice’s commission on prison conditions monitoring. In August the ministry organized a visit to a high security prison in Hrodna. The visit reportedly was closely monitored by the head of the prison administration. The commission, mainly composed of the ministry’s officials and representatives of progovernmental NGOs, failed to produce any comprehensive reports.

Prisoners and detainees had limited access to visitors, and denial of meetings with families was a common punishment for disciplinary violations. Authorities often denied or delayed political prisoners’ meetings with family as a means of pressure and intimidation.

Although the law provides for freedom of religion, and there were no reports of egregious infringements, authorities generally prevented prisoners from holding religious services and performing ceremonies that did not comply with prison regulations.

Former prisoners reported that prison officials often censored or did not forward their complaints to higher authorities and that prison administrators either ignored or selectively considered requests for investigation of alleged abuses. Prisoners also reported that prison administrators frequently refused to provide them with copies of responses to their complaints, which further complicated their defense. Complaints could result in retaliation against prisoners who spoke out, including humiliation, death threats, or other forms of punishment and harassment.

Corruption in prisons was a serious problem, and observers noted that parole often depended on bribes to prison personnel or a prisoner’s political affiliation.

Independent Monitoring: Despite numerous requests to the Ministries of Internal Affairs and Justice, government officials refused to meet with human rights advocates or approve requests from NGOs to visit detention and prison facilities. In its 2015 response to Paval Sapelka of the human rights NGO Vyasna, the head of Interior Ministry’s Corrections Department claimed it would be “inexpedient” for him to visit detention facilities and monitor their conditions.

The law limits arbitrary detention, but the government did not respect these limits. Authorities arrested or detained individuals for political reasons and used administrative measures to detain political activists before, during, and after protests and other major public events.


The Ministry of Internal Affairs exercises authority over police, but other bodies outside of its control, for example, the KGB, the Financial Investigations Department of the State Control Committee, the Investigation Committee, and presidential security services exercise police functions. The president has the authority to subordinate all security bodies to his personal command and he maintained effective control over security forces. Impunity among law enforcement personnel remained a serious problem. Individuals have the right to report police abuse to a prosecutor, although the government often did not investigate reported abuses or hold perpetrators accountable.


By law police must request permission from a prosecutor to detain a person for more than three hours, but police usually ignored this procedure and routinely detained and arrested individuals without warrants. Authorities may hold a criminal suspect for up to 10 days without filing formal charges and for up to 18 months after filing charges. By law prosecutors, investigators, and security service agencies have the authority to extend detention without consulting a judge. Detainees have the right to petition the court system regarding the legality of their detention, but authorities frequently suppressed or ignored such appeals. The country has no functioning bail system.

Arbitrary Arrest: Authorities detained opposition and civil society activists for reasons widely considered politically motivated. In isolated cases authorities used administrative measures to detain political activists before, during, and after planned demonstrations and protests, as well as other public events.

From February through April, authorities fined, detained, or arrested more than 950 protesters in Minsk and other cities. Protests largely stemmed from a presidential decree requiring Belarusian nationals, foreigners, and noncitizens permanently residing in the country who officially work less than 183 calendar days per year to pay an annual tax. Charges ranged from participation in an unsanctioned demonstration to minor hooliganism and resisting arrest. Of the detained, human rights groups estimated that authorities issued approximately 259 jail sentences of up to 25 days. At least 10 journalists were arrested and four were fined for working without accreditation, minor hooliganism, and participating in an unsanctioned demonstration. All those arrested were released by year’s end.

For example, on March 28, courts in Minsk, Babruisk, Barysau, Brest, Vitsyebsk, Homyel, and Polatsk convicted 177 individuals (144 in Minsk and 33 in other cities) on various charges, including participation in unsanctioned demonstrations on March 25-26, minor hooliganism, and resisting police. Of the 177 individuals detained March 25-26, 74 were sentenced to between two and 25 days of detention and 93 were ordered to pay fines between 46 rubles ($25) and 1,840 rubles ($970).

On March 27, Mikalai Statkevich, a former political prisoner and 2010 presidential candidate, stated that police apprehended him at a friend’s apartment in Minsk on March 23 and transported him to KGB detention facilities. Police reportedly had a warrant for his arrest and claimed that he and a group of unidentified individuals were suspects in a criminal case of preparing mass riots. Statkevich explained in his interview that while officers showed him some papers and accused him of plotting mass riots since 2011, they did not give him any documents nor allowed him to make telephone calls to his family or lawyer. Statkevich refused to answer questions or testify at holding facilities. Throughout the year Statkevich and Uladzimir Nyaklyaeu, another 2010 presidential candidate, opposition activist, and former political prisoner, were arrested repeatedly and placed in administrative detentions, usually in connection with unauthorized gatherings and demonstrations.

Pretrial Detention: Authorities may hold a criminal suspect for up to 10 days without filing formal charges. Prior to being charged, the law provides detainees with no access to their families or to outside food and medical supplies, both of which are vital in view of the poor conditions in detention facilities. Police routinely held persons for the full 10-day period before charging them.

Police often detained individuals for several hours, ostensibly to confirm their identity; fingerprinted them; and then released them without charge. Police and security forces frequently used this tactic to detain members of the democratic opposition and demonstrators, to prevent the distribution of leaflets and newspapers, or to break up civil society meetings and events.

Detainee’s Ability to Challenge Lawfulness of Detention before a Court: Detainees have the right to petition the court system regarding the legality of their detention, but authorities frequently suppressed or ignored such appeals. By law, courts have 24 hours to issue a ruling on a detention and 72 hours on an arrest. Courts hold closed hearings in these cases, which the suspect, a defense lawyer, and other legal representatives may attend. Prosecutors, suspects, and defense lawyers may appeal lower court decisions to higher courts within 24 hours of the ruling. Higher courts have three days to rule on appeals, and their rulings may not be challenged. Further appeals may be filed only when investigators extend the period of detention.

The constitution provides for an independent judiciary, but authorities did not respect judicial independence and impartiality. Observers believed corruption, inefficiency, and political interference with judicial decisions were widespread. Courts convicted individuals on false and politically motivated charges brought by prosecutors, and observers believed that senior government leaders and local authorities dictated the outcomes of trials.

As in previous years, according to human rights groups, prosecutors wielded excessive and imbalanced authority because they may extend detention periods without the permission of judges. Defense lawyers were unable to examine investigation files, be present during investigations and interrogations, or examine evidence against defendants until a prosecutor formally brought the case to court. Lawyers found it difficult to challenge some evidence because the Prosecutor’s Office controlled all technical expertise. According to many defense attorneys, this power imbalance persisted throughout the year, especially in politically motivated criminal and administrative cases. Courts did not exonerate criminal defendants except in rare circumstances.

By law, bar associations are independent, and licensed lawyers are permitted to establish private practices or bureaus. All lawyers must be licensed by the Ministry of Justice and must renew their licenses every five years.

In September a Ministry of Justice standing commission, which reviews lawyers’ performance, found that prominent independent lawyer Ana Bakhtsina had “insufficient professional skills” to be a defense lawyer. According to Bakhtsina, the template she used for concluding contracts with clients differed slightly from the ministry’s recommended one, and the commission also identified grammar mistakes in its review of her documents. On September 26, Bakhtsina appealed the commission’s decision revoking her license but her appeal was dismissed. Additionally, at least seven more defense lawyers were due to retake their bar exams within six months following the ministry’s determination that their professional skills were only “partially insufficient.”


The law provides for the right to a fair and public trial, but authorities occasionally disregarded this right.

The law provides for the presumption of innocence. Nevertheless, the lack of judicial independence, state media practice of reporting on high-profile cases as if guilt were already certain, and widespread limits on defense rights frequently placed the burden of proving innocence on the defendant.

The law also provides for public trials, but authorities occasionally held closed trials frequently in judges’ chambers. Judges adjudicate all trials. For the most serious cases, two civilian advisers assist the judge.

The law provides defendants the right to attend proceedings, confront witnesses, and present evidence on their own behalf, but authorities did not always respect these rights.

The law provides for access to legal counsel for the defendant and requires courts to appoint a lawyer for those who cannot afford one. Although by law defendants may ask for their trials to be conducted in Belarusian, most judges and prosecutors were not fluent in this language, rejected motions for interpreters, and proceeded in Russian. Interpreters are provided when the defendant speaks neither Belarusian nor Russian. The law provides for the right to choose legal representation freely; however, a presidential decree prohibits NGO members who are lawyers from representing individuals other than members of their organizations in court. The government’s attempts to disbar attorneys who represented political opponents of the regime further limited defendants’ choice of counsel. The government also required defense attorneys to sign nondisclosure statements that limited their ability to release any information regarding the case to the public, media, and even defendants’ family members.

Courts often allowed statements obtained by force and threats of bodily harm during interrogations to be used against defendants. Some defendants were tried in absentia. For example, on January 9, a court in the town of Svislach notified three For Freedom movement activists that they were fined in absentia for participating in an unsanctioned ceremony in October 2016 commemorating the 1863-64 anti-Russian uprising, during which Belarusians, Poles, and Lithuanians rebelled against Russian rule. The movement’s leader, Yuri Hubarevich, received a fine of 525 rubles ($260); an activist from Brest, Yuri Kazakevich, 210 rubles ($105); and an activist from Vitsyebsk, Vadzim Babin, 63 rubles ($32).

Defendants have the right to appeal convictions, and most defendants did so. Nevertheless, appeals courts upheld the verdicts of the lower courts in the vast majority of cases.


Local human rights organizations reported several different lists of political prisoners in the country. These included individuals who were facing criminal charges and others who were already incarcerated. Leading local human rights groups, including Vyasna and the Belarusian Helsinki Committee, either recognized these individuals as prisoners of conscience or noted serious due process violations that merited, at the very least, a retrial.

After President Lukashenka’s March 21 comments that some 20 militants were arrested for seeking to stir up unrest, KGB officers began detaining dozens of individuals across the country and charging them with such separate matters as training or preparing for participation in mass, potentially violent riots, or creating an illegal armed organization. Detainees were connected with the White Legion group (a now defunct radical opposition organization active in the 1990s); the registered “Patriot” educational and training camp for youth; or the Malady Front opposition youth group. Police searched their residences, and the KGB reportedly confiscated rifles, guns, grenades, and other weapons that, according to the KGB, were to be used during the March 25 demonstrations. Some families of the arrested individuals told the press that defense lawyers were denied meetings with detainees at KGB holding facilities.

On April 11, a KGB spokesperson confirmed that 20 individuals were charged with the creation of an illegal armed formation and could face up to seven years’ imprisonment if convicted. The KGB spokesperson also confirmed that 17 individuals were charged with preparing a mass riot and faced up to three-years’ imprisonment if convicted. The official, however, did not specify how many of those detained faced multiple charges. The KGB confirmed 18 other suspects were also being investigated in connection with the case, four of whom were in custody. Some state media published articles concerning the criminal cases, describing suspects as members of extremist nationalist groups, and stated that the investigation began on March 21.

On November 30, the Investigative Committee Chairman Ivan Naskevich announced that both charges and criminal proceedings against all those involved in the case had been dropped and that the investigation was now closed. Naskevich said the actions of the individuals involved posed no danger to the public or a threat to the constitutional order.

On June 9, the Prosecutor General’s Office rejected a request filed by Ales Byalyatski, the chair of the human rights group Vyasna, to investigate allegations of torture made by some of the individuals detained in the White Legion case. Byalyatski highlighted the treatment of former head of the White Legion group Miraslau Lazouski, who was allegedly beaten during his arrest and had blood and bruises on his face when he appeared in a state television “documentary” regarding the White Legion. Byalyatski also stated that several individuals charged in the case were forced to take psychotropic drugs while in custody. In its reply the Prosecutor General’s Office called those reports mere allegations not supported by evidence or formal complaints from the detained or their lawyers.

Former political prisoners released in August 2015 continued to be unable to exercise some civil and political rights at year’s end. For example, in July 2016 the Central Electoral Commission refused to register the initiative group supporting the candidacy for parliament of former political prisoner and 2010 presidential candidate Mikalai Statkevich because any individual in prison or with a criminal record is prohibited by law from being a candidate.


The law provides that individuals may file lawsuits seeking damages for a human rights violation, but the civil judiciary was not independent and was rarely impartial in such matters.


To date, there are no laws providing for restitution or compensation for immovable private property confiscated during World War II and the Holocaust on its territory. The country also has no legislative regime for restitution of communal property or of heirless property. The government reported that, in the last 10 years, it did not receive any requests or claims from individuals, NGOs, or any other public organization, either Jewish or foreign, seeking compensation or restitution of any property.

The law prohibits such actions, but the government did not respect these prohibitions. Authorities used wiretapping, video surveillance, and a network of informers that deprived persons of privacy.

By law persons who obstruct law enforcement personnel in the performance of their duties may be penalized or charged with an administrative offense, even if the “duties” are inconsistent with the law. “Obstruction” could include any effort to prevent KGB or law enforcement officers from entering the premises of a company, establishment, or organization; refusing to allow KGB audits; or denying or restricting KGB access to information systems and databases.

The law requires a warrant before, or immediately after, conducting a search. Nevertheless, some democratic activists believed the KGB entered their homes unannounced. The KGB has the authority to enter any building at any time, as long as it applies for a warrant within 24 hours after the entry.

Security forces continued to target prominent opposition and civil society leaders with arbitrary searches and interrogations at border crossings and airports. For example, on March 14, border officials detained Ihar Barysau, a Mahilyou leader of the opposition Social Democratic Party Hramada, for three hours upon his arrival from Germany at the national airport in Minsk. A law enforcement officer searched his belongings and confiscated his flash drives.

While the law prohibits authorities from intercepting telephone and other communications without a prosecutor’s order, authorities routinely monitored residences, telephones, and computers. Nearly all opposition political figures and many prominent members of civil society groups claimed that authorities monitored their conversations and activities. The government continued to collect and obtain personally identifiable information on independent journalists and democratic activists during raids and by confiscating computer equipment.

The law allows the KGB, the Ministry of Internal Affairs, special security services, financial intelligence personnel, and certain border guard detachments to use wiretaps. Wiretaps require the permission of a prosecutor, but the lack of prosecutorial independence rendered this requirement meaningless.

On March 12, Belarusian Christian Democracy cochair Paval Sevyarynets filed a complaint that the state Belarus 1 television channel illegally broadcast recordings of his private cell phone conversations in a news show. On September 12, police responded that the television channel received the tape from “an anonymous source,” and that the channel’s administration “did not make any deliberate effort” to obtain such information. Additionally, on September 26, the Ministry of Information claimed that the channel used materials from open sources as well as from law enforcement agencies, and did not interfere in Sevyarynets’ private life.

The Ministry of Communications has the authority to terminate the telephone service of persons who violate telephone contracts, which prohibit the use of telephone services for purposes contrary to state interests and public order.

Authorities continued to harass family members of NGO leaders and civil society and opposition activists through selective application of the law.


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

While the law prohibits extrajudicial killings by government security forces, there were several reports that the government or its agents committed arbitrary or unlawful killings.

On July 26, Tolibjon Dustov, a 50-year-old resident of Shahrituz District, died following his arrest by police officers. According to official reports, Dustov died of a heart attack. Dustov had been detained on suspicion of drug trafficking by officers of the Interior Ministry in Dusti. A few hours after his arrest, relatives found him dead in a hospital. Despite initial police claims Dustov died of a heart attack, his mother believed that he died after police mistreatment. “We think he was beaten on the way, and when he was taken to the hospital, he was already dead,” she claimed. In late December, the local prosecutors’ office charged a Dusti police officer with excessive force, resulting in Dustov’s death.

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 prohibits the use of torture. Although the government amended the criminal code in 2012 to add a separate article to define torture in accordance with international law, there were reports of beatings, torture, and other forms of coercion to extract confessions during interrogations. Officials did not grant sufficient access to information to allow human rights organizations to investigate claims of torture.

In the first three months of the year, 38 new cases of mistreatment were documented by the Coalition against Torture–a group of local nongovernmental organizations (NGOs)–with a number of victims alleging severe physical abuse. Specifically, 13 of 15 victims reported such abuse as beatings on the face, head, kidneys, and abdomen after the binding of legs and hands, and passing electrical current through nails. On March 28, Jovidon Hakimov stated in court his confession that he tried to recruit fighters for the extremist group ISIS was obtained under duress. Hakimov was accused of recruiting several citizens to fight for ISIS in Iraq and Syria. On March 30, a court sentenced Hakimov to 15 years in prison. According to his lawyers, Hakimov claimed police severely beat him during an interrogation following his January arrest. Hakimov’s lawyers alleged that Hakimov’s nose was broken during the interrogation and that police also subjected him to electric shock. Hakimov’s lawyers also claimed the court rejected their request for a medical examination of Hakimov to verify the physical abuse. Several police officers who testified at the Dushanbe court hearing rejected Hakimov’s claims.

There were conflicting reports on the mistreatment of imprisoned lawyer Buzurgmehr Yorov, in prison since 2015 (see section 1.e.). As of October the head of the pretrial detention center number 1 (SIZO) reported to Radio Free Europe Radio Liberty that Yorov had been held in solitary confinement since September 29; he denied allegations of torture and other mistreatment against Yorov. Yorov’s wife told journalists that the head of prison administration assured her that her husband was safe and said he was sent to solitary confinement after guards found money in his cell in violation of prison rules. Amnesty International reported that Yorov might have been held in solitary confinement four times. In contrast to the claims of the government, Yorov’s mother reported after a visit to the detention center that guards subjected her son and other cellmates to regular beatings, one of which allegedly resulted in his hospitalization at the detention center facility. She claimed also Yorov told her the beatings were accompanied by insults, humiliation, and threats.

Prison and Detention Center Conditions

Prison conditions reportedly were harsh and life threatening due to overcrowding and unsanitary conditions.

Physical Conditions: The government operated 10 prisons, including one for women, and 12 pretrial detention facilities. Exact conditions in the prisons remained unknown, but detainees and inmates described harsh and life-threatening conditions, including extreme overcrowding and unsanitary conditions.

Penal Reform International, an organization conducting prison reform work with regional representation out of Kazakhstan, described the conditions in the women’s prison as frigid in the winter, with only intermittent electricity and heat, and a lack of food provisions for inmates and staff alike. Disease and hunger were serious problems. UN agencies reported that infection rates of tuberculosis and HIV in prisons were significant and the quality of medical treatment was poor. Authorities often held juvenile boys with adult men.

Administration: A government Office of the Ombudsman exists, and its ombudsman visited prisons but resolved fewer than 2 percent of filed complaints. NGOs reported mistrust of the ombudsman due to the office’s loyalty to the president and frequent dismissal of human rights concerns. A special monitoring group with ombudsmen and NGO representatives conducted announced visits of prison conditions. No known complaints were filed regarding specific prison conditions.

Independent Monitoring: The Ministry of Justice continued to restrict access to prisons or detention facilities for representatives of the international community. Throughout the year the Coalition against Torture and the human rights ombudsman conducted visits of closed institutions, although officials denied Coalition against Torture monitors private interviews with detainees or access to internal correctional institution documents. The International Committee of the Red Cross continued to lack access due to the absence of an agreement with the government, a situation existing since 2004.

The law does not explicitly prohibit arbitrary arrests, which were common. The law states that police must inform the Prosecutor’s Office of an arrest within 12 hours and file charges within 10 days. The law provides for the right of any person to challenge the lawfulness of his/her arrest or detention in court, but use of this provision was limited. Few citizens were aware of their right to appeal an arrest, and there were few checks on the power of police and military officers to detain individuals.


The Ministry of Internal Affairs, Drug Control Agency, Agency on State Financial Control and the Fight against Corruption (Anticorruption Agency), State Committee for National Security (GKNB), State Tax Committee, and Customs Service share civilian law enforcement responsibilities. The Ministry of Internal Affairs is primarily responsible for public order and manages the police. The Drug Control Agency, Anticorruption Agency, and State Tax Committee have mandates to investigate specific crimes and report to the president. The GKNB is responsible for intelligence gathering, controls the Border Service, and investigates cases linked to alleged extremist political or religious activity, trafficking in persons, and politically sensitive cases. The Customs Service reports directly to the president. The Prosecutor General’s Office oversees the criminal investigations that these agencies conduct.

Agency responsibilities overlap significantly, and law enforcement organizations defer to the GKNB. Law enforcement agencies were not effective in investigating organized criminal gangs, reportedly because the gangs maintained high-level connections with government officials and security agencies. A tacit understanding among law enforcement that certain individuals were untouchable prevented investigations.

Official impunity continued to be a serious problem. While authorities took some limited steps to hold perpetrators accountable, reports of torture and mistreatment of prisoners continued, and the culture of impunity and corruption weakened investigations and prosecutions. In some cases, during pretrial detention hearings or trials judges dismissed defendants’ allegations of abuse and torture during detention. Victims of police abuse may submit a formal complaint in writing to the officer’s superior or the Office of the Ombudsman. Most victims reportedly chose to remain silent rather than risk official retaliation. The Office of the Ombudsman made few efforts to respond to complaints regarding human rights violations and rarely intervened, claiming it did not have the power to make statements or recommendations regarding criminal cases.


By law police may detain an individual up to 12 hours before authorities must file criminal charges. If authorities do not file charges after 12 hours, the individual must be released, but police often did not inform detainees of the arrest charges. If police file criminal charges, they may detain an individual 72 hours before they must present their charges to a judge for an indictment hearing. The judge is empowered to order detention, house arrest, or bail pending trial.

By law family members are allowed access to prisoners after indictment, but officials often denied access to attorneys and family members. The law states that a lawyer is entitled to be present at interrogations at the request of the detainee or lawyer, but in many cases authorities did not permit lawyers timely access to their clients, and initial interrogations occurred without them. Detainees suspected of crimes related to national security or extremism were held for extended periods without being formally charged.

Arbitrary Arrest: The government generally provided a rationale for arrests, but detainees and civil society groups frequently reported that authorities falsified charges or inflated minor incidents to make politically motivated arrests. For example, tens of family members of exiled activists were punished for alleged offenses committed by their relatives in an effort to convince them to cease their activities abroad. Human rights organizations alleged the father of a political opposition activist was detained prior to the September Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) Human Dimension Implementation Meeting in Warsaw. Human Rights Watch and the Norwegian Helsinki Committee also reported in July that authorities detained, interrogated, and threated the relatives of tens of peaceful opposition activists attending an opposition gathering in Germany to mark the 20th anniversary of the peace agreement that ended Tajikistan’s civil war.

Some police and judicial officials regularly accepted bribes in exchange for lenient sentencing or release. Law enforcement officials must request an extension from a judge to detain an individual in pretrial detention after two, six, and 12 months.

Pretrial Detention: Defense advocates alleged prosecutors often held suspects for lengthy periods and registered the initial arrest only when the suspect was ready to confess. In most cases pretrial detention lasted from one to three months, but it could extend as long as 15 months.

Detainee’s Ability to Challenge Lawfulness of Detention before a Court: Persons arrested or detained, regardless of charge, are entitled to challenge in court the legal basis or arbitrary nature of their detention. Despite such rights to challenge detention, the decrease in the number of lawyers licensed to take on criminal cases and the general apprehension with which lawyers take on sensitive cases limited the use of this entitlement for those arrested on cases suspected to be politically motivated.

Although the law provides for an independent judiciary, the executive branch exerted pressure on prosecutors, defense lawyers, and judges. Corruption and inefficiency were significant problems.


Defendants legally are afforded a presumption of innocence, but the presumption did not exist in practice. The courts found nearly all defendants guilty.

Defendants were not always promptly informed of the criminal charges against them or granted a trial without undue delay. Courts generally allowed defendants to be present at their trial and to consult with an attorney in a timely manner during trials but often denied defendants the right to an attorney during the pretrial and investigatory periods, particularly in politically sensitive cases. Authorities continued to level politically motivated criminal charges against some defense lawyers to obstruct detained political opposition figures’ access to legal counsel and dissuade other lawyers from taking the cases.

The government provided attorneys at public expense when requested, but defendants and civil society complained the government sometimes appointed attorneys as a means to deny defendants’ access to the legal counsel of their choice. Defendants and private attorneys said government-appointed attorneys often provided a poor and counterproductive defense. In addition, due to changes in the law on advocates and the establishment of a legal bar, all lawyers were required to retake the bar exam by June 2016 in order to renew their licenses. Many lawyers were unable to take the exam in time, in part because there were a limited number of locations offering the exam. Moreover, the government abolished a grandfather clause that would have allowed experienced lawyers to continue to practice. As a result, the number of lawyers accepting criminal defense cases in the country shrank from approximately 2,000 to only 532. International observers of court cases stated there were criminal cases in which defendants did not have legal representation.

Defendants may present witnesses and evidence at trial with the consent of the judge. Defendants and attorneys have the right to confront and question witnesses and to present evidence and testimony. An interpreter is provided for defendants who do not speak Tajik, the official language used for court hearings. No groups are barred from testifying, and in principle all testimony receives equal consideration. Courts, however, generally gave prosecutorial testimony far greater consideration than defense testimony.

Low wages for judges and prosecutors left them vulnerable to bribery, a common practice. Government officials subjected judges to political influence.

Although most trials are public, the law also provides for secret trials when there is a national security concern. Civil society members faced difficulties in gaining access to high-profile public cases, which the government often declared secret. During the year the government conducted politically motivated court cases behind closed doors. Three trials involving human rights attorney Buzurgmehr Yorov, the defense attorney for members of the banned Islamic Revival Party of Tajikistan (IRPT), were held in Dushanbe. All the trials were closed to the public because they were classified “secret.” Major international human rights organizations raised concerns over Yorov’s court hearings, which they alleged failed to ensure due process protections. He was convicted in October 2016 of issuing public calls for the overthrow of the government and inciting social unrest and initially sentenced to 23 years in prison. In January the court prolonged the same sentence by three years and in March sentenced him to two additional years in a subsequent closed-door trial for contempt of court and insulting a government official.


While authorities claimed there were no political prisoners or politically motivated arrests, opposition parties and local and international observers reported the government selectively arrested and prosecuted political opponents. Although there was no reliable estimate of the number of political prisoners, the government reported 239 prisoners who were members of banned political parties or movements.

In January the Khatlon Regional Court sentenced Said Ziyoyev, a resident of Qubodiyon District, to seven years’ imprisonment for participating in a meeting of the banned movement “Group-24.” The court ruled that Ziyoyev participated in a meeting organized by “Group-24” in Ekaterinburg, Russia, in November 2014, relying on a video as evidence. Ziyoyev’s lawyer argued that the video was shot on September 30, 2014, while the movement “Group-24” was a legal group. Ziyoyev was charged with two violations of the criminal code: illegal possession of computer information and organization of extremist community. Ziyoyev appealed the ruling to the Supreme Court, but there were no new developments at year’s end.


Civil cases are heard in general civil courts, economic courts, and military courts. Judges may order monetary compensation for victims in criminal cases. No separate juvenile justice system exists, although there were some courts that provide a separate room for children linked to the courtroom by video camera.

The constitution states that the home is inviolable. With certain exceptions, it is illegal to enter the home by force or deprive a person of a home. The law states that police may not enter and search a private home without the approval of a judge. Authorities may carry out searches without a prosecutor’s authorization in exceptional cases, “where there is an actual risk that the object searched for and subject to seizure may cause a possible delay in discovering it, be lost, damaged, or used for criminal purposes, or a fugitive may escape.” The law states that courts must be notified of such searches within 24 hours. Police frequently ignored these laws and infringed on citizens’ right to privacy, including personal searches without a warrant.

According to the law, “when sufficient grounds exist to believe that information, documents, or objects that are relevant to the criminal case may be contained in letters, telegrams, radiograms, packages, parcels, or other mail and telegraph correspondence, they may be intercepted” with a warrant issued by a judge. The law states that only a judge may authorize monitoring of telephone or other communication. Security offices often monitored communications, such as social media and telephone calls, without judicial authorization.

In May and June, teams of officials from various security agencies went from house to house in Dushanbe searching for “undesirables” as part of a security campaign labeled “Operation Order” by the government. According to media reports, official government documents defined the “undesirables” as ranging from religious extremists or potential terrorists, to electricity thieves and anyone using the wrong type of light bulb. The searches were conducted without proper authorization from the courts, and authorities issued no public notices about the sweeps. In many instances Dushanbe residents learned of the inspections only when teams arrived at their front doors. These reports did not extend beyond the city of Dushanbe and did not include businesses or other organizations.


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

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

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 law prohibits such practices and limits the situations in which police officers may resort to physical force and the use of firearms. During the year there were multiple reports of the use of excessive force by security forces. Most complaints involved maltreatment or use of excessive force during incident response or arrest.

Prison and Detention Center Conditions

Prison and detention center conditions generally did not meet international standards.

Physical Conditions: According to human rights monitoring organizations, police station detention cells generally did not comply with international standards and lacked sanitation facilities and bedding, although police were making efforts to improve them. The prison in Dili (Becora), the country’s largest, was overcrowded. It had an estimated capacity of 290 inmates, but in September held 547 adult and juvenile male convicts and pretrial detainees. According to independent monitoring, juvenile and adult prisoners were in the same block, although separate blocks housed pretrial detainees and convicts. Gleno Prison was not overcrowded and held women as well as adult male convicts and pretrial detainees in separate blocks. Conditions were the same for male and female prisoners, who shared recreation areas. Housing blocks separated nonviolent offenders from violent offenders. There were no specific supports for offenders with mental disabilities.

Authorities provided food three times daily in the prisons; however, there was no budget for food in police station detention centers, and officers and independent monitors reported that police purchased food for prisoners out of their personal funds. While authorities provided water in prisons, it was not always available in detention centers. Due to lack of Ministry of Health staff, the Ombudsman for Human Rights and Justice (PDHJ) found that there was no regular staffing of medical centers at the hospitals and medical staff might only be available on a weekly or monthly basis at the facility. For urgent cases and those beyond basic needs, authorities took inmates to a local hospital in Gleno or Dili. Access to clean toilets was generally sufficient, although without significant privacy. PDHJ assessed ventilation and lighting as adequate in prisons but not in detention centers. Prisoners were able to exercise for two hours daily.

Administration: Prisoners and detainees could submit complaints to judicial authorities without censorship and request investigation of credible allegations of problematic conditions. The PDHJ oversees prison conditions and prisoner welfare. It monitored inmates, and reported that the government was generally responsive to recommendations. Nonetheless, some human rights monitoring organizations questioned how widely known the complaint mechanism was and whether prisoners felt free to utilize it.

Independent Monitoring: The government permitted prison visits by NGOs and independent human rights observers.

Improvements: Authorities completed construction of a new prison in Suai, which held 25 prisoners.

The law prohibits arbitrary arrest and detention and provides for the right of any person to challenge the lawfulness of his/her arrest or detention in court, and the government generally observed these prohibitions.


The law does not fully clarify the particular authority of the national police (PNTL), the judicially mandated Scientific Police for Criminal Investigations, or the military (F-FDTL). Security sector experts also said that the operational roles and relationship between the PNTL and the F-FDTL were unclear.

The PNTL is legally responsible for law enforcement and maintenance of order within the country. It has several specialized units, including border, maritime, and immigration units.

The F-FDTL is legally responsible for external security, and may play a role in internal security only in “crisis” or “emergency” situations declared by the government and president. The F-FDTL, however, may support police in joint operations if requested by a “competent entity.” The president is commander-in-chief of the armed forces, but the chief of defense, the F-FDTL’s senior military officer, exercised day-to-day command over the armed forces. F-FDTL military police responded occasionally to incidents involving only civilians.

Civilian oversight of the PNTL and the F-FDTL improved, in comparison with previous years. Various bilateral partners continued efforts to strengthen the development of the police, especially through community policing programs and technical assistance efforts, including work to improve disciplinary and accountability mechanisms within the PNTL.

The PNTL’s internal accountability mechanisms remained somewhat ineffective, but improved. Rates of reported cases closed without investigation decreased, but the office responsible for internal affairs (the PNTL Department of Justice) did not have sufficient resources to investigate and respond to all cases brought to its attention. The office increased its use of disciplinary measures, including demotions, written admonitions, and fines. Nonetheless, especially outside the capital, municipality commanders at times do not fully engage in the disciplinary process, perhaps due partly to lack of familiarity with disciplinary procedures.

The PNTL internal affairs office may recommend that the commander general refer cases to the Office of the Prosecutor General for investigation. The office reported 35 investigations during the year, including some from the previous year, of which 21 were still under investigation, 13 had been closed, and one had been transferred to the Prosecutor General’s Office for criminal investigation.

F-FDTL regulations permit referral of disciplinary incidents amounting to crimes to the prosecutor general (misconduct is processed internally). One security sector NGO assessed the F-FDTL’s disciplinary system as strong but not entirely free of political influence.

Citizens reported obstacles to reporting complaints about police behavior, including repeated requests to return later or to submit their complaints in writing.

There was a widespread belief that members of the security forces enjoyed substantial for illegal or abusive actions.


The law requires judicial warrants prior to arrests or searches, except in exceptional circumstances or in cases of flagrante delicto.

The law requires a hearing within 72 hours of arrest. During these hearings the judge may determine whether the suspect should be released because conditions for pretrial detention had not been met, released conditionally (usually after posting some form of collateralized bail or on condition that the suspect report regularly to police), or whether the case should be dismissed due to lack of evidence. Though the government’s 2014 decision to rescind visas for international legal advisors, who had filled critical roles as judges, prosecutors, and investigators, continued to affect the justice system, backlogs decreased during the year, particularly in courts outside of Dili. Justice sector monitoring organizations reported that the system adhered much more closely to the 72-hour timeline than in past years.

Time in pretrial detention may be deducted from a final sentence, but there is no remedy to make up for pretrial detention in cases that do not result in conviction.

The law provides for access to legal representation at all stages of the proceedings and provisions exist for providing public defenders for all defendants at no cost (see section 1.e.). Due to a lack of human resources and transportation, however, public defenders were not always able to attend to their clients and sometimes met clients for the first time during their first court hearing.

Pretrial Detention: The law specifies that a person may be held in pretrial detention for up to one year without presentation of an indictment, two years without a first-instance conviction, or three years without a final conviction on appeal. If any of these deadlines are not met, the detained person may file a claim for release. Exceptionally complex cases can also provide justification for the extension of each of those limits by up to six months with permission of a judge. Pretrial detainees composed approximately 20 percent of the total prison population. Procedural delays and staff shortages were the most frequent causes of trial delays. In many cases, the length of pretrial detention equaled or exceeded the length of the sentence upon conviction.

Detainee’s Ability to Challenge Lawfulness of Detention before a Court: While persons arrested or detained may challenge the legal basis of their detention and obtain prompt release, justice sector monitoring organizations reported that such challenges rarely occur, likely due to limited knowledge of the provision allowing such challenges.

The law provides that judges shall perform their duties “independently and impartially without improper influence” and requires public prosecutors to discharge their duties impartially. Many legal sector observers expressed concern about the independence of some judicial organs in politically sensitive cases, a severe shortage of qualified personnel, and the complex legal regime influenced by legacies of Portuguese, Indonesian, and UN administration, and various other international norms. An additional problem is that all laws and many trial proceedings and court documents are in Portuguese, a language spoken by approximately 10 percent of the population. Nonetheless, observers noted that citizens generally enjoyed a fair, although not always expeditious, trial and that the judiciary was largely independent.

Administrative failings involving the judge, prosecution, and/or defense led to prolonged delays in trials. Moreover, the law requires at least one international judge on a panel in cases involving past human rights abuses. There have been no new such cases since 2014; however, the absence of international judges has meant that pre-2014 cases were pending indefinitely with no clear timeline for coming to trial.


The law provides for the right to a fair and public trial, and an independent judiciary generally enforced this right. Under the criminal procedure code, defendants enjoy a presumption of innocence, access to a lawyer, and rights against self-incrimination and to attend their trial. Trials are held before judges or judicial panels; juries are not used. Defendants can confront hostile witnesses and present other witnesses and evidence. Defendants have a right of appeal to higher courts. The government provides interpretation, as necessary, into local languages. Observers noted that the courts made progress in providing interpretation services during court proceedings; however, interpretation services were still not available for all defendants.

Justice sector NGOs expressed concern that judges did not provide clear information or take the time to explain and read their decisions. Observers also noted that in many cases judges did not follow the Law on Witnesses, which provides important protections for witnesses. Additionally, the country has not passed juvenile justice legislation, leaving many juveniles in the justice system without protections and perhaps subject to vigilante justice by frustrated communities seeking justice.

The constitution contemplates a Supreme Court, but it has not been established due to staffing and resource limits. The Court of Appeals carries out Supreme Court functions in the interim.

Mobile courts based in Dili, Baucau, Covalima, and Oecusse operated in areas that did not have a permanent court. These courts processed only pretrial proceedings.

For crimes considered “semi-public,” some citizens utilized traditional (customary) systems of justice that did not necessarily follow due process standards or provide witness protection, but provided convenient and speedy reconciliation proceedings with which the population felt comfortable.

The public defender’s office, concentrated in Dili, was too small to meet the need, and many defendants relied on lawyers provided by legal aid organizations. A number of defendants who were assigned public defenders reported they never saw their lawyers, and some observers noted that public defenders were confused about their duties to the client versus the state and that few viewed their role as client advocates. Public defenders did not have access to transportation to visit clients in detention, so sometimes met their clients for the first time in court.


There were no reports of political prisoners or detainees.


As there is no separate civil judicial system in the country, civil litigation experienced the same problems encountered in the criminal justice system. No regional human rights body has jurisdiction in Timor-Leste.


The government promulgated land tenure legislation in June. Supplemental legislation was needed to address issues of eviction and community property, among others. The formation of a new government delayed full implementation of the new law. Community concerns over inadequate compensation for government expropriation of land continued during the year. A community near the new airport and highway in Suai organized a protest in September. According to the village leader, who spoke on behalf of the community to the national media, the new houses the government provided as compensation were too small, and were in an area without sufficient space to grow vegetables. Community members also complained that the new highway blocked access to their gardens and farms.

Although the law prohibits arbitrary interference with privacy, family, home, or correspondence, observers noted a general lack of privacy protections throughout the government, particularly in the health sector.


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

There were reports of extrajudicial killings by the government or its agents during the year. For example, on March 19, police brutally beat to death Mark Chongwa, an air force officer, while in detention for a minor traffic infraction. The Human Rights Commission (HRC) condemned the killing as an arbitrary deprivation of life, prompting the president to order a full inquiry into police actions. The HRC called for disciplinary action against the police officers responsible for the arrest and detention of Chongwa. Four individuals, including two police officers and two inmates, were arrested and charged with manslaughter. The case was referred to the High Court for prosecution; the trial continued at year’s end.

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

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

Although the constitution prohibits subjecting any person to torture or to inhuman or degrading punishment, no laws address torture specifically. According to the HRC, police used excessive force–including torture and cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment–to obtain information and confessions when apprehending, interrogating, and detaining criminal suspects. For example, the HRC stated the March 19 death of Mark Chongwa was a result of torture.

The HRC reported allegations of torture in every detention facility it monitored but noted that it was difficult to prosecute perpetrators because no law exists that explicitly prohibits torture or the use of excessive force. Confessions obtained through torture are admissible in court.

Prison and Detention Center Conditions

During the year the government changed its prison policy from punitive to correction and rehabilitation of inmates. Nevertheless, physical conditions in prisons and detention centers remained harsh and life threatening due to overcrowding, frequent outbreaks of disease, food and potable water shortages, and poor sanitation and medical care.

Physical Conditions: According to the nongovernmental organization (NGO) Prisons Care and Counseling Association (PRISCCA), there were 20,916 detainees (of whom 4,000 were awaiting trial at year’s end) in 90 prison facilities with a capacity of 8,550 inmates. PRISCCA noted overcrowding was due to a slow-moving judicial system, outdated laws, and increased incarceration due to higher numbers of persons driven to crime by poverty. Other factors included limitations on judges’ power to impose noncustodial sentencing, a retributive police culture, and poor bail and bonding conditions. Indigent inmates lacked access to costly bail and legal representation through the Law Association of Zambia. Other organizations such as the Legal Aid Board and the National Prosecutions Authority were also difficult for inmates to access due to a lack of representation outside Lusaka.

Other than the March 19 death of Mark Chongwa, no data on or estimates of deaths in jails, pretrial or other detention centers, or prisons attributed to physical conditions or actions of staff members or other authorities were available. While the HRC noted that prison overcrowding and sanitary and other physical conditions fell below international standards, it reported no cases of authorities abusing prisoners and no complaints of abuse filed by inmates. The HRC stated that it had no evidence of political prisoners being treated differently from other prisoners.

The law requires separation of different categories of prisoners, but only female prisoners were held separately. According to the HRC, conditions for female prisoners were modestly better primarily because of less crowded facilities. Juveniles were detained in the same holding cells with adult detainees. Prisons held an undetermined number of children who were born in prison or living in prisons while their mothers served sentences. Incarcerated women who had no alternative for childcare could choose to have their infants and children under age four with them in prison. According to PRISCCA, correctional facilities designated for pretrial detainees included convicted inmates.

Many prisons had deficient medical facilities and meager food supplies. Lack of potable water resulted in serious outbreaks of water- and food-borne diseases, including dysentery and cholera. PRISCCA reported that prison food was inadequate nutritionally. The prison system remained understaffed with only two full-time medical doctors and 84 qualified health-care providers serving the prison population. The incidence of tuberculosis remained very high due to overcrowding, lack of compulsory testing, and prisoner transfers. The supply of tuberculosis medication and other essential drugs was erratic. A failure to remove or quarantine sick inmates resulted in the spread of tuberculosis and other illnesses and the deaths of several prisoners. The HRC and PRISCCA expressed concern at the lack of isolation facilities for the sick and for persons with psychiatric problems. Although prisoners infected with HIV were able to access antiretroviral treatment services within prison health-care facilities, their special dietary needs and that of those on tuberculosis treatment were not met adequately. Prisons also failed to address adequately the needs of persons with disabilities. Inadequate ventilation, temperature control, lighting, and basic and emergency medical care remained problems.

According to the 2013 National Audit of Prisons, female inmates had limited access to health-care services. Gynecological care, cervical cancer screening, prenatal services, and prevention of mother-to-child transmission programs were nonexistent. Female inmates relied on donations of underwear, sanitary pads, diapers for infants and toddlers, and soap.

Authorities denied prisoners access to condoms because the law criminalizes sodomy and prevailing public opinion weighed against providing condoms. Prison authorities, PRISCCA, and the Medical Association of Zambia advocated for prisoners’ conjugal rights as a way to reduce prison HIV rates. Discriminatory attitudes toward the most at-risk populations (persons in prostitution and men who have sex with men) stifled the development of outreach and prevention services for these groups.

Administration: There were no ombudsmen to promote the interests of inmates. Prisoners and detainees generally could not submit complaints to judicial authorities or request investigation of credible allegations of inhuman conditions.

Independent Monitoring: The government permitted prison monitoring by independent local and international NGOs and religious institutions.

Improvements: During the year the government introduced a prison policy of correction and rehabilitation of inmates. It changed the penal system from a punitive to a correctional model in order to transform prison facilities to concentrate on correction and rehabilitation. It stated that instead of being punished for wrongdoing, offenders required rehabilitation so that they may better contribute to the development of the country when released and reintegrated into society. The August opening of a 300-inmate capacity correctional facility in Monze increased total prison system capacity from 8,250 to 8,550 inmates.

Although the constitution and law prohibit arbitrary arrest and detention and provides for the right of any person to challenge the lawfulness of arrest or detention in court, the HRC reported authorities frequently violated these requirements. It stated there was an increase in arbitrary arrests and unnecessarily prolonged detention in various detention centers, including police stations, during the year. PRISCCA reported there was an increase in suspects arrested and detained following the president’s July 5 declaration of a “threatened” state of emergency in which he invoked emergency powers. The UPND stated police arrested its members on politically motivated pretenses and charged them with nonbailable offenses. The Zambian Police Service (ZPS), however, claimed police arrested these individuals while they committed assault and theft. Many were tried and acquitted due to insufficient evidence.

On April 12, police arrested opposition UPND leader Hakainde Hichilema and five other UPND members and charged them with treason. On April 10, police used tear gas on party officials during a raid on Hichilema’s residence in Lusaka. On April 23, the Roman Catholic bishops of Zambia issued a statement condemning the raid as a “massive, disproportionate” use of force by police. On August 16, the Lusaka High Court released Hichilema and his codefendants when the director of public prosecutions dropped treason charges against him.


The ZPS reports to the Ministry of Home Affairs. Divided into regular and paramilitary units, the ZPS has primary responsibility for maintaining law and order. The Zambia Security and Intelligence Service (ZSIS), under the Office of the President, is responsible for external and internal intelligence. The Central Police Command in Lusaka oversees 10 provincial police divisions with jurisdiction over police stations in towns countrywide.

The army, air force, and national service are responsible for external security. The commander of each service reports to the president through the minister of defense. By law defense forces have domestic security responsibilities only in cases of national emergency. In addition to security responsibilities, the Zambia National Service performs road maintenance and other public works projects and runs state farms for displaced children.

Paramilitary units of the ZPS, customs officers, and border patrol personnel guard lake, river, and other border areas. The Drug Enforcement Commission is responsible for enforcing the laws on illegal drugs, fraud, counterfeiting, and money laundering. The Drug Enforcement Commission, customs, and border patrol personnel operate under the Ministry of Home Affairs. Impunity was a problem. Senior police officials disciplined some officers for engaging in extortion of prisoners by suspending them or issuing written reprimands, but many abuses went unaddressed. Dismissals of officers for extortion were rare.


The constitution and law require authorities to obtain a warrant before arresting a person for most offenses. Police do not need a warrant, however, when they suspect a person has committed offenses such as treason, sedition, defamation of the president, or unlawful assembly. Police rarely obtained warrants before making arrests.

Although the law requires that detainees appear before a court within 24 to 48 hours of arrest and be informed of the charges against them, authorities routinely held detainees for as long as six months before trial, which often exceeded the length of the prison sentence corresponding to conviction for the defendant’s alleged crime. The HRC noted this abuse remained common, particularly in rural districts, where subordinate courts operated in circuits because detainees could be tried only when a circuit court judge was in the district.

On July 5, the president invoked emergency powers that gave police authority to detain individuals for up to seven days without charge. There were numerous reports of politically motivated detentions of individuals held for the maximum seven-day period without charge before release. On August 23, Inspector General of Police Kakoma Kanganja claimed police officers had complied with the terms of the declaration and added that no complaints of police excesses were filed.

Based on a presumption of innocence provided for in the constitution, the Criminal Procedure Code provides for bail in case of any detention. Before granting bail, however, courts often required at least one employed person, often a government employee, to vouch for the detainee. Bail may not be granted in cases of murder, aggravated robbery, violations of narcotics laws, and treason.

Authorities frequently refused or delayed bail in politically sensitive cases. For example, United Progressive People party leader Saviour Chishimba was denied bail when he was charged with defaming the president. Chishimba was held for eight days, released, and the charges against him dropped.

Detainees generally did not have prompt access to a lawyer. Although the law obligates the government to provide an attorney to indigent persons who face serious charges, many indigent defendants were unaware of this right. The government’s legal aid office and the Legal Resources Foundation provided legal services to some indigent arrestees.

Arbitrary Arrest: According to human rights groups, arbitrary or false arrest and detention remained problems. Police often arbitrarily summoned family members of criminal suspects for questioning, and authorities arrested criminal suspects based on uncorroborated accusations or as a pretext for extortion. Human rights groups reported police routinely detained citizens after midnight, a practice legal only during a state of emergency. For example, five opposition UPND members were charged with robbery–a nonbailable offense–and held in detention for one year. When the case reached trial, the High Court dismissed the case due to lack of evidence.

Pretrial Detention: Prolonged pretrial detention was a problem. Thirty-two percent of prison inmates were in pretrial detention. On average detainees spent an estimated six months in pretrial detention, which often exceeded the maximum length of the prison sentence corresponding to the detainee’s alleged crime. Contributing factors included inability to meet bail requirements, trial delays, and adjournments due to absent prosecutors and their witnesses.

Detainee’s Ability to Challenge Lawfulness of Detention before a Court: Detainees had the ability to challenge in court the legal basis or arbitrary nature of their detention, but police often prevented detainees from filing challenges to prolonged detention. For example, UPND vice president Mwamba and other opposition leaders were detained on numerous occasions during the 2016 election campaign and prevented from challenging the legality of their arrests in court until they had spent several days in jail.

The constitution and law provide for an independent judiciary; the government largely respected judicial independence. The ruling party intervened in criminal and civil cases in which it had an interest.


The constitution provides for the right to a fair and public trial, but the judicial system was open to influence by the ruling party in cases in which it has an interest. Defendants enjoy the right to a presumption of innocence, to be informed promptly of charges against them, and to be present at a fair and timely trial. Nevertheless, defendants were not always informed promptly and in detail of the charges against them, and trials were usually delayed. Defendants enjoy the right to consult with an attorney of their choice, to have adequate time to prepare a defense, to present their own witnesses, and to confront or question witnesses against them. Indigent defendants were rarely provided an attorney at state expense. Interpretation services in local languages were available in most cases. There were no reports defendants were compelled to testify or confess guilt. Defendants had the right to appeal.


There were some reports of political prisoners or detainees, particularly following the 2016 election period. For example, in October 2016 UPND leader Hakainde Hichilema stated police arrested more than 2,000 UPND members on “trumped up” charges. The ZPS claimed these individuals were arrested while committing assaults and robberies. Some were tried and convicted of assault and malicious damage of property, while others were released without charge or, if tried, acquitted.


Complainants may seek redress for human rights abuses from the High Court. Individuals or organizations may seek civil remedies for human rights violations and appeal court decisions to the African Court of Human and Peoples’ Rights. In 2015 a group of Barotse activists appealed to the court, seeking to compel the government to respond to a legal argument for the region’s independence. The appeal remained pending at year’s end.

The constitution and law prohibit such actions, but the government frequently did not respect these prohibitions. The law requires a search or arrest warrant before police may enter a home, except during a state of emergency or when police suspect a person has committed an offense such as treason, sedition, defaming the president, or unlawful assembly. Police routinely entered homes without a warrant even when one was legally required. Domestic human rights groups reported authorities routinely detained, interrogated, and physically abused family members or associates of criminal suspects to obtain their cooperation in identifying or locating the suspects.

On April 10, police used tear gas and destroyed property in a raid without a search warrant on the home of UPND leader Hichilema (see section 1.d.).

The law grants the Drug Enforcement Commission, ZSIS, and police authority to monitor communications using wiretaps with a warrant based on probable cause, and authorities generally respected this requirement. The government required cell phone service providers to register all subscriber identity module (SIM) cards. Critics contended the government’s Zambia Information and Communications Technology Agency monitored telecommunications.

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