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Bangladesh

Executive Summary

Bangladesh’s constitution provides for a parliamentary form of government that consolidates most power in the Office of the Prime Minister. In a December 2018 parliamentary election, Sheikh Hasina and her Awami League party won a third consecutive five-year term that kept her in office as prime minister. This election was not considered free and fair by observers reportedly due to irregularities, including ballot-box stuffing and intimidation of opposition polling agents and voters.

The security forces encompassing the national police, border guards, and counterterrorism units such as the Rapid Action Battalion, maintain internal and border security. The military, primarily the army, is responsible for national defense but also has some domestic security responsibilities. The security forces report to the Ministry of Home Affairs, and the military reports to the Ministry of Defense. Civilian authorities maintained effective control over the security forces. Members of the security forces committed numerous abuses.

Significant human rights issues included credible reports of: unlawful or arbitrary killings, including extrajudicial killings; forced disappearance; torture or cases of cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment or punishment by the government or its agents on behalf of the government; harsh and life-threatening prison conditions; arbitrary arrests or detentions; political prisoners; politically motivated reprisals against individuals in another country; serious problems with the independence of the judiciary; arbitrary or unlawful interference with privacy; punishment of family members for offenses allegedly committed by an individual; serious restrictions on free expression and media, including violence or threats of violence against journalists, unjustified arrests or prosecutions of journalists, and censorship and the existence of criminal libel and slander laws; serious restrictions on internet freedom; substantial interference with the freedom of peaceful assembly and freedom of association, including overly restrictive laws on the organization, funding, or operation of nongovernmental organizations and civil society organizations; restrictions on refugees’ freedom of movement; mistreatment of refugees; serious and unreasonable restrictions on political participation; serious government corruption; government restrictions on or harassment of domestic human rights organizations; lack of investigation of and accountability for gender-based violence, including but not limited to domestic and intimate partner violence, sexual violence, child abuse, early and forced marriage, and other harmful practices; crimes involving violence or threats of violence targeting members of ethnic minority groups or indigenous people; crimes involving violence or threats of violence against lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer, or intersex persons; existence or use of laws criminalizing consensual same-sex sexual conduct between adults; significant restrictions on independent trade unions and workers’ freedom of association; and existence of the worst forms of child labor.

There were reports of widespread impunity for security force abuses and corruption. The government took few measures to investigate and prosecute cases of corruption and abuse and killing by security forces.

Section 1. Respect for the Integrity of the Person

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

The constitution provides for the rights to life and personal liberty. There were numerous reports, however, that the government or its agents committed arbitrary or unlawful killings. Police policy requires internal investigations of all significant uses of force by police, including actions that resulted in serious physical injury or death, usually by a professional standards unit that reports directly to the inspector general of police. The government, however, neither released statistics on total killings by security personnel nor took comprehensive measures to investigate cases. Human rights groups expressed skepticism regarding the independence and professional standards of the units conducting these assessments and claimed citizens were being deprived of justice. In the few known instances in which the government brought charges, those found guilty generally received administrative punishment.

Law enforcement raids occurred throughout the year, primarily to counter terrorist activity, drugs, and illegal firearms. Suspicious deaths occurred during some raids, arrests, and other law enforcement operations. Security forces frequently denied their role in such deaths: they claimed that when they took a suspect in custody to a crime scene to recover weapons or identify co-conspirators, accomplices fired on police; police returned fire and, in the ensuing gunfight, the suspect was killed. The government usually described these deaths as “crossfire killings,” “gunfights,” or “encounter killings.” Media also used these terms to describe legitimate uses of police force. Human rights organizations and media outlets claimed many of these crossfire incidents constituted extrajudicial killings. Human rights organizations claimed in some cases law enforcement units detained, interrogated, and tortured suspects, brought them back to the scene of the original arrest, executed them, and ascribed the death to lawful self-defense in response to violent attacks.

Domestic human rights organization Ain o Salish Kendra (ASK) reported at least 80 individuals died in extrajudicial killings during the year, including 51 in so-called shootouts or crossfires with law enforcement agencies. Between May 2018 and June, ASK reported a total of 606 incidents of alleged extrajudicial executions. According to another human rights organization, Odhikar, of 71 incidents of alleged extrajudicial killings between January and September 30, 35 deaths resulted from gunfights with law enforcement, 30 persons were shot by law enforcement, and six others died from alleged torture while in custody. In 2020 Odhikar reported a total of 225 alleged extrajudicial executions, down from 391 incidents in 2019. Human rights organizations and civil society expressed concern regarding the alleged extrajudicial killings and arrests, claiming many of the victims were innocent.

Between January and July, local human rights organizations and media reported 10 Rohingya refugees were victims of extrajudicial killings. In Cox’s Bazar, the site of Rohingya refugee camps, Rohingya constituted a disproportionate percentage of reported “crossfire” killings. On February 23, media reported three Rohingya refugees including the ringleader of the “Zakir Bahini” gang were killed in a “gunfight” with the Rapid Action Battalion (RAB) in Cox’s Bazar. On July 16, media reported Luftar Rahman and Hashem Ullah, Rohingya alleged to be criminals by the government, were reportedly killed in a “gunfight” with the RAB and Border Guards of Bangladesh (BGB). On July 19, media reported a Rohingya refugee with the alias “Kalimullah” was killed in a “gunfight” with the RAB in Cox’s Bazar. In all these cases, media reported security forces conducted raids to find the alleged criminals. After speaking with family members of the deceased, Amnesty International reported several of those killed were picked up from their homes by police and later found dead.

During the March 26-28 demonstrations after Indian prime minister Narendra Modi’s visit to the country, civil society and media reported at least 19 persons were killed and more than 100 injured (see sections 1.b., 1.d., 2.a., 2.b., and 6).

In May two suspects in the May 16 killing of businessman Shahin Uddin were allegedly killed by security forces days after their arrest. The two were accused of hacking Uddin to death in front of his son. Media reported that one of the suspects, Md. Manik, was killed in a reported gunfight with the RAB, while the other, Monir, was killed two days later, also in a reported gunfight with police. After his death Uddin’s wife filed a murder suit against 20 persons, including former Member of Parliament M.A. Awal. On May 20, the RAB arrested Awal for allegedly ordering the killing of Uddin regarding a land dispute.

In August media reported the Ministry of Home Affairs convened a senior investigation committee to investigate the killing of retired army major “Sinha” Md. Rashed Khan. As a result of the investigation, authorities suspended 21 police officers and charged nine officers. In 2020 police in Cox’s Bazar allegedly shot and killed Khan at a checkpoint. Security forces reported that Sinha “brandished” a gun, while eyewitnesses said Sinha had left the firearm in the car when he was asked by police to exit the vehicle. Sinha’s killing generated intense public discussion on police, extrajudicial killings, and law enforcement excesses.

b. Disappearance

Human rights groups and media reported disappearances and kidnappings continued, allegedly committed by security services. Between January and September 30, local human rights organizations reported 18 persons were victims of enforced disappearances. The government made limited efforts to prevent, investigate, or punish such acts. Civil society organizations reported victims of enforced disappearance were mostly opposition leaders, activists, and dissidents. Following alleged disappearances, security forces released some individuals without charge, arrested others, found some dead, and never found others. The Paris-based organization International Federation of Human Rights reported enforced disappearances continued throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, targeting opposition members, political activists, and individuals who were critical of the government’s policies and response to the pandemic. Political opposition alleged police forces did not register complaints from families of those subjected to enforced disappearances (see also section 2.a.).

Following the March 26-28 demonstrations against Indian prime minister Narendra Modi’s visit to the country and subsequent political clashes (see sections 1.a., 1.d., 2.a., 2.b., and 6), civil society and media reported several Islamic preachers including Abu Taw Haa Muhammad Adnan, madrassa students, and those associated with the organization Hefazat-e-Islam were missing, according to their family members. Some of the disappeared were later found and subsequently arrested under various charges, including under the Digital Security Act (DSA).

On July 19, Mayer Daak (Mother’s Call), an organization of members of the families of victims of enforced disappearances, issued a statement urging the government to return the disappeared persons to their families before the religious holiday of Eid-al-Adha. The organization reported more than 500 individuals have gone missing in the country since 2009. According to the statement, the few victims of enforced disappearance who returned did not discuss their experiences due to fear of reprisal.

In August, Human Rights Watch published a comprehensive study of enforced disappearances in the country, a matter they described as becoming a predominant tactic used by security forces under the ruling government. The report was based on more than 115 interviews with victims, family members, and witnesses between July 2020 and March. It documented 86 cases of enforced disappearances during the prior decade in which the victim’s whereabouts remained unknown. It also alleged government refusal to acknowledge or investigate cases.

In November the Cyber Tribunal Court indicted photojournalist and news editor Shafiqul Islam Kajol on three charges under the DSA that were first filed in March. The court scheduled Kajol’s hearing for January 2022. The government allegedly forcibly detained Kajol in 2020 and held him in government detention for 53 days. Kajol spent a total of 237 days in prison on defamation charges and was released on interim bail in December 2020.

In September the UN Working Group on Enforced Disappearances (WGEID) raised concerns regarding allegations of disappearances and impunity in the country. The WGEID reported receiving complaints regularly concerning disappearances, mostly relating to alleged disappearances of members of opposition political parties. Since 2013 the government has not responded to a request from the WGEID to visit the country.

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

Although the constitution and law prohibit torture and other cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment or punishment, local and international human rights organizations and media reported security forces, including those from the intelligence services, police, and soldiers seconded into civilian law enforcement, employed torture and cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment or punishment. The law contains provisions allowing a magistrate to place a suspect in interrogative custody, known as remand, during which questioning of the suspect may take place without a lawyer present. Human rights organizations alleged many instances of torture occurred during remand. Some victims who filed cases under the Torture and Custodial (Prevention) Act were reportedly harassed and threatened, while some were forced to withdraw their cases due to fear.

According to multiple organizations, including the UN Committee against Torture (CAT), security forces reportedly used torture to gather information from alleged militants and members of political opposition parties. These forces reportedly used beatings with iron rods, kneecappings, electric shock, rape and other sexual abuse, and mock executions. Numerous organizations also claimed security forces were involved in widespread and routine commission of torture, occasionally resulting in death, for the purpose of soliciting payment of bribes or obtaining confessions.

According to international and local civil society, activists, and media, impunity was a pervasive problem in the security forces, including within but not limited to the RAB, BGB, Detective Branch of Police, police, and other units. Politicization of crimes, corruption, and lack of independent accountability mechanisms were significant factors contributing to impunity, including for custodial torture. While police are required to conduct internal investigations of all significant abuses, civil society organizations alleged investigative mechanisms were not independent and did not lead to justice for victims. Law enforcement authorities took no additional steps, such as training, to address or prevent abuses.

On January 4, media reported family members of Rejaul Karim Reja said he died in police custody four days after he was arrested by the Detective Branch of Police in Barisal. Medical reports stated Reja, a law student, died of excessive bleeding and had numerous injury marks on his body. Barisal Metropolitan Police investigated the case and alleged he died because of complications related to drug addiction. Reja’s father alleged police tortured and killed his son and demanded a fair and impartial investigation.

On February 25, media reported writer Mushtaq Ahmed died in prison after being held in pretrial detention for 10 months. Ahmed was charged under the DSA for posting criticism of the government’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic on Facebook (see section 2.a.). On March 3, the inspector general of prisons told media a three-member investigation committee found “no evidence of negligence.” On March 4, the minister of home affairs announced Ahmed died of natural causes and found no visible evidence of wounds or bruises on his body. According to Ahmed Kabir Kishore, a cartoonist detained by the RAB alongside Ahmed, Mushtaq Ahmed endured “extensive torture,” including being “beaten a lot” and subjected to electric shock torture to the genitals during his detention. The RAB’s spokesperson Lieutenant Colonel Ashiq Billah rejected the allegations of torture and dismissed Kishore’s complaints as “lies.” Nationwide protests demanding justice for Ahmed’s death in custody lasted for weeks.

On March 4, Kishore, charged under the DSA, was released on bail. Media reported Kishore appeared visibly injured after being released. On March 10, Kishore filed a legal claim with a Dhaka court under the Torture and Custodial Death (Prevention) Act alleging that he and Ahmed were tortured in custody. Although police records state he was arrested by Unit 3 of the RAB (RAB-3) in May 2020, Kishore said he was picked up from his residence by men in plainclothes three days prior. Kishore detailed the alleged torture he experienced while in custody, stating, “Every time they were not pleased with an answer, they hit me on my legs, ankles, and soles of my feet,” and that someone from behind slapped him on both sides of his head throughout RAB’s interrogations. Kishore also stated he lacked timely access to medication to control his diabetes. He reported “long-lasting side effects,” such as bleeding through his right ear, severe pain in his left knee and ankle, and difficulty with walking.

In March the UN Human Rights Council released a statement urging the “prompt, transparent, and independent” investigation into Ahmed’s death, the “overhaul” of the DSA, the release of all detained under the law, and an investigation into allegations of ill-treatment of other detainees, including Kishore. The Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights reported allegations of torture and ill-treatment by the RAB were a “long-standing concern.”

On March 14, a Dhaka court directed the Police Bureau of Investigation to launch an investigation into Kishore’s claims. On October 17, media reported the Bureau submitted to the courts the investigation report, which stated there was no evidence of Kishore’s allegations of torture against 16 or 17 unnamed individuals in plainclothes, nor was there definitive evidence that one or more persons picked up the cartoonist from home and tortured him physically and mentally in May 2020. On November 24, Kishore filed a no-confidence application against the investigation report, which the court accepted.

On June 26, 10 international human rights groups issued a statement for the International Day in Support of Victims of Torture, stating the government allegedly failed to follow up on recommendations made by the CAT in 2020 to better prevent and address torture.

On July 3, media reported a three-member committee was formed to investigate the alleged torture of Indian prisoner Shahjahan Bilash after footage of the incident went viral on social media. Five officers from Cumilla Central Jail, including the chief prison guard, were suspended. Three other prison employees were also suspended for allegedly circulating the video footage.

Multiple news outlets reported a woman filed a case under the Torture and Custodial Death (Prevention) Act against six persons on July 5, including three police officers, alleging she was tortured and sexually assaulted while in custody in the Wazirpur police station in Barisal District. In response to the allegations, a senior judicial magistrate court asked the district police to launch an investigation and ordered a medical report to be submitted within 24 hours of the complaint. Media reported the district police withdrew two of the accused officers from the police station and launched an investigation into the allegations. The medical report submitted to the court by the local hospital stated injury marks were found on both hands, neck, and other parts of the woman’s body. The officers accused in the case denied the allegations.

Prison and Detention Center Conditions

Prison conditions were harsh and at times life threatening due to severe overcrowding, inadequate facilities, physical abuse, corruption, and a lack of proper sanitation and social-distancing measures during the COVID-19 pandemic. There were no privately run detention facilities.

Between January and September 30, local human rights organization ASK reported 67 prisoners, of which 42 were awaiting trial and 25 were convicted, died in jail custody. Former detainees reported some inmates who died in prison were transported to a hospital and pronounced dead due to natural causes.

Physical Conditions: According to the Department of Prisons, as of April more than 83,837 prisoners were held in facilities designed to hold 42,450 inmates. Throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, federal authorities implemented a policy that required prison authorities to screen all incoming inmates for symptoms and keep them in a 14-day quarantine. Other protocols in place included mandating face masks, discontinuing family visits in exchange for weekly telephone calls, providing access to hand sanitizers, and other measures. Prison superintendents stated they had no capacity to isolate inmates infected by COVID-19. As of June 22, the government opened three COVID-19 isolation centers in the districts of Keraniganj, Feni, and Kishoreganj. Some released prisoners alleged that many prisons underreported positive cases of COVID-19. Authorities often incarcerated pretrial detainees with convicted prisoners.

The Department of Prisons’ statistics revealed 29 of 141 positions for prison doctors were vacant as of April, while half the posts for nurses and pharmacists were unoccupied. Officials reported only approximately 11 prison doctors provided care to the 83,837 inmates, causing prison authorities to employ nurses or pharmacists to provide medical care.

Conditions in prisons, and often within the same prison complex, varied widely. Authorities held some prisoners in areas subject to high temperatures, poor ventilation, and overcrowding. The law allows individuals whom prison officials designated as “very important persons” (VIP) to access “Division A” prison facilities with improved living conditions and food, more frequent family visitation rights, and the provision of another prisoner without VIP status to serve as an aide in the cell. News outlets reported some individuals with VIP access were allegedly allowed to conduct business remotely, meet with members of the opposite sex, and receive visitors despite restrictions in place to curb the pandemic.

While the law requires holding juveniles separately from adults, authorities incarcerated many juveniles alongside adults. Children were sometimes imprisoned (occasionally with their mothers) despite laws and court decisions prohibiting the imprisonment of minors. Authorities held female prisoners separately from men.

In March media reported at least five children at the Jashore Juvenile Correction Center allegedly attempted suicide, and eight others fled. In April media reported that between April 15-22, juvenile courts granted bail to a total of 167 incarcerated children to curb the spread of the pandemic.

In July media reported three male youths died in Jashore after allegedly conducting protests demanding, among other matters, better quality of food, water, and sports facilities. In response the deputy commissioner of Jashore formed a committee to investigate the grievances and identify improvements to facility services. Officials at the correction center stated the boys were killed in a fight with other inmates; however, days after the incident, the Bangladesh National Women Lawyers Association reported allegations of torture in the correction center and demanded a separate judicial inquiry into the deaths. In September 2020, after the deaths of three male youths at the same correction center in August 2020, the Ministry of Social Welfare recommended management changes for all juvenile correction centers. A journalist reported the government took no steps in line with the ministry’s recommendations as of March. Media reported juvenile centers made no effort to rehabilitate youths in custody, had appointed officials not trained to handle juvenile delinquency, and treated the youths as criminals as opposed to juveniles with special needs.

On August 4, media reported an appeals court acquitted two minors jailed for a month by a mobile court in Netrokona. The appeals court ruled the mobile court had no jurisdiction to deal with juvenile crimes.

Although Dhaka’s central jail had facilities for those with mental disabilities, not all detention facilities had such facilities, nor are they required by law. Judges may reduce punishments for prisoners with disabilities on humanitarian grounds. Jailers also may make special arrangements, for example, by transferring inmates with disabilities to a prison hospital.

Administration: Prisons lacked any formal process for offenders to submit grievances. Prisons had no ombudsperson to receive prisoner complaints. Retraining and rehabilitation programs were extremely limited.

d. Arbitrary Arrest or Detention

The constitution prohibits arbitrary arrest and detention, but the law permits authorities to arrest and detain an individual without an order from a magistrate or a warrant if authorities perceive the individual may constitute a threat to security and public order. The law also permits authorities to arrest and detain individuals without an order from a magistrate or a warrant if authorities perceive the individual is involved with a serious crime. The constitution provides for the right of any person to challenge the lawfulness of his or her arrest or detention in court, but the government did not generally observe these requirements. Media, civil society, and human rights organizations accused the government of conducting enforced disappearances not only against suspected militants but also against civil society and opposition party members. Authorities increasingly held detainees without divulging their whereabouts or circumstances to family or legal counsel, or without acknowledging having arrested them.

Arrest Procedures and Treatment of Detainees

The constitution requires arrests and detentions be authorized by a warrant or occur because of observation of a crime in progress, but the law grants broad exceptions to these protections.

Under the constitution detainees must be brought before a judicial officer to face charges within 24 hours, but this was not regularly enforced. The government or a district magistrate may order a person detained for 30 days to prevent the commission of an act that could threaten national security; however, authorities sometimes held detainees for longer periods with impunity.

There is a functioning bail system, but law enforcement routinely rearrested bailed individuals on other charges, despite directives from the Supreme Court’s Appellate Division prohibiting rearrest of persons on new charges without first producing them in court before being released on bail.

Authorities generally permitted defense lawyers to meet with their clients only after formal charges were filed in the courts, which in some cases occurred weeks or months after the initial arrest. Detainees are legally entitled to counsel even if they cannot afford to pay for it, but the country lacked sufficient funds to provide this. Many detainees were not permitted to communicate with others outside of detention.

Arbitrary Arrest: Arbitrary arrests occurred, often in conjunction with political demonstrations or speech, or as part of security force responses to terrorist activity, and the government held persons in detention without specific charges, sometimes to collect information regarding other suspects. The expansiveness of the 1974 Special Powers Act grants a legal justification for arrests that would often otherwise be considered arbitrary, since it removes the requirement arrests be based on crimes that have occurred previously. Human rights activists claimed police falsely constructed cases to target opposition leaders, workers, and supporters, and that the government used the law enforcement agency to crack down on political rivals.

After the March 26-28 demonstrations resulting from Indian prime minister Narendra Modi’s visit to Bangladesh (see sections 1.a., 1.b., 2.a., 2.b., and 6), media reported police filed 154 cases against 3,270 named and several unnamed persons. The charges filed included: terrorism, violent activities, attacking public properties, rioting, possession of deadly weapons, causing grievances, and defacing public and private properties. Police arrested 1,230 opposition leaders and members belonging to various groups, including the Bangladesh National Party (BNP), Hefazat e-Islam, and Jamaat-e-Islami. Police stated individuals were arrested as suspects for their alleged presence at the demonstrations. Civil society reported the majority of these were arbitrary arrests. The largest number of arrests took place in Brahmanbaria. As of April 30, the Brahmanbaria jail, which had a total capacity of 600 inmates, held 1,700 prisoners.

In October, media reported government authorities arrested hundreds of suspects following violence resulting from a controversial social media post coinciding with the Durga Puja festival (see sections 2.a. and 6). In Rangpur authorities arrested 60 men whose families claimed they were innocent, and men in another seven villages went into hiding due to fears of arbitrary arrest. News outlets reported some ruling Awami League officials blamed opposition parties BNP and Jamaat-e-Islami for the anti-Hindu violence; some BNP officials in turn blamed the Awami League and alleged the government used anti-Hindu violence as a pretext to blame, target, and detain opposition party members.

Pretrial Detention: According to statistics released by the Department of Prisons in April, 80 percent of prisoners in the country were in prison either as pretrial detainees or on remand. Arbitrary and lengthy pretrial detention continued due to bureaucratic inefficiencies, limited resources, lax enforcement of pretrial rules, and corruption. Lawyers attributed the overuse of arbitrary and stringent laws such as the DSA, which have low rates of bail provisions, as another explanation for the high numbers of pretrial detentions. In some cases the length of pretrial detention equaled or exceeded the sentence for the alleged crime.

e. Denial of Fair Public Trial

The law provides for an independent judiciary, but corruption and political interference compromised its independence. The government generally did not respect judicial independence and impartiality.

Human rights observers maintained that magistrates, attorneys, and court officials demanded bribes from defendants in many cases, or courts ruled based on influence from or loyalty to political patronage networks. Observers claimed judges who made decisions unfavorable to the government risked transfer to other jurisdictions. Officials reportedly discouraged lawyers from representing defendants in certain cases.

Corruption and a substantial backlog of cases hindered the court system, and the granting of extended continuances effectively prevented many defendants from obtaining fair trials. During the pandemic media reported many courts were closed and very few operated virtually, exacerbating case backlogs.

In January the High Court ordered the release of Md. Kamrul Islam, who was prosecuted in a fraud case based on an investigation conducted by the Anti-Corruption Commission. The High Court asked the commission to act against the investigators who apparently charged the wrong person for the crime. In 2003 the commission accused and pressed charges against Islam for using a fake certificate to obtain admissions to a college in 1998. In 2014 he was convicted and sentenced to 15 years in prison but was released on January 28.

Trial Procedures

The constitution provides the right to a fair and public trial, but the judiciary did not always protect this right due to corruption, partisanship, and weak human resources.

Defendants are presumed innocent, have the right to appeal, and have the right to be informed promptly and in detail of the charges against them. Defendants do not have the right to a timely trial. The accused are entitled to be present at their public trial. Indigent defendants have the right to a public defender. Trials are conducted in the Bengali language; the government does not provide free interpretation for defendants who cannot understand or speak Bengali. Defendants have the right to adequate time to prepare a defense.

Accused persons have the right to confront prosecution or plaintiff witnesses and present their own witnesses and evidence. They also have the right not to be compelled to testify or confess guilt although defendants who do not confess are often kept in custody. The government frequently did not respect these rights.

Mobile courts headed by executive branch magistrates rendered immediate verdicts that often included prison terms for defendants who did not have the opportunity for legal representation. In June the High Court ruled mobile courts could not hold trials against children.

Political Prisoners and Detainees

There were reports of political prisoners or detainees. Political affiliation often appeared to be a factor in claims of arrest and prosecution of members of opposition parties, including through spurious charges under the pretext of responding to national security threats. Police jailed opposition party activists throughout the year for criticizing the government regarding its actions in managing COVID-19.

In September media reported authorities issued a six-month suspension of the sentencing of Khaleda Zia, former prime minister and chairperson of the opposition political party BNP. In March 2020 Zia’s sentence was initially suspended for six months on humanitarian grounds, but she remained confined at home. In both instances the government restricted Zia from traveling abroad to seek treatment for her ill health, stating she would receive medical treatment in Dhaka. In August the minister for law, justice and parliamentary affairs stated that Zia could request to travel abroad if she waived home confinement, went to jail, and made her request from there. In 2018 Zia was sentenced to 10 years’ imprisonment on corruption and embezzlement charges, which were first filed in 2008. International and domestic legal experts commented on the lack of evidence to support the conviction and suggested a political ploy to remove the leader of the opposition from the electoral process. These experts stated courts were generally slow in considering petitions for bail on her behalf.

Politically Motivated Reprisal Against Individuals Located Outside the Country

Threats, Harassment, Surveillance, and Coercion: On October 6, media reported RAB forces arrested Nusrat Shahrin Raka, the sister of U.S.-based Bangladeshi journalist Kanak Sarwar, on charges of violating the DSA and drug possession. Raka’s children were detained for 30 hours and subsequently released. Raka has been held without bail awaiting court hearings. A few days before her arrest, media reported Raka told local police that a “fraudulent” social media account in her name was posting allegedly antigovernment material. She also reported the account to the social media company, which removed it after her complaint. In November media reported police allegedly confiscated the property of Sarwar’s family in Feni District. According to the press, Sarwar believed the charges against his sister were retribution for his previous online commentary seen as being critical of the government and said his sister had committed no crime. In December 2020 the High Court directed authorities to block Sarwar’s websites in which he shared content for “antistate distorted content.”

Efforts to Control Mobility: The Committee to Protect Journalists reported that on October 7, the European branch of the country’s ruling Awami League party filed a police complaint in Stockholm against Bangladeshi journalist Tasneem Khalil who was reportedly based in Sweden. The complaint alleged Khalil spread “disinformation and slander against Bangladesh.” In Dhaka, authorities brought similar charges against Khalil under the DSA and issued a warrant for his failure to appear in court, although he no longer lived in the country. The organization also reported that members of the Directorate General of Forces Intelligence, the intelligence section of the armed forces, repeatedly visited Khalil’s mother’s home in Sylhet, where they encouraged her to dissuade him from continuing his work and inquired regarding his whereabouts. The government filed similar DSA charges against Shamiul Islam Khan Sami, a Bangladeshi businessman reportedly based in Hungary and alleged to be critical of government corruption (see section 4).

Civil Judicial Procedures and Remedies

Individuals and organizations may seek judicial remedies for human rights violations; however, lack of public faith in the court system deterred many from filing complaints. While the law has a provision for an ombudsperson, one had not been established.

Property Seizure and Restitution

The government did not implement a 2001 act to accelerate the process of return of land to primarily Hindu individuals. The act allows the government to confiscate property of anyone whom it declares to be an enemy of the state. It was often used to seize property abandoned by minority religious groups when they fled the country, particularly after the 1971 independence war.

Minority groups continued to report land ownership disputes that disproportionately displaced minorities, especially in areas near new roads or industrial development zones where land prices had increased. They also claimed local police, civil authorities, and political leaders were sometimes involved in evictions or shielded politically influential land grabbers from prosecution (see section 6, Indigenous Peoples). While the government amended a law in 2016 to allow for land restitution for indigenous persons living in the Chittagong Hill Tracts (CHT), the disputes remained unresolved.

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

The law does not prohibit arbitrary interference with private correspondence. Intelligence and law enforcement agencies may monitor private communications with the permission of the Ministry of Home Affairs, but police rarely obtained such permission from the courts to monitor private correspondence. Human rights organizations alleged police, the National Security Intelligence, and the Directorate General of Forces Intelligence employed informers to conduct surveillance and report on citizens perceived to be critical of the government.

During the year the government became increasingly active in monitoring social media sites and other electronic communications to scan public discussions on COVID-19 and the government’s handling of the virus. In March the Information Ministry announced the formation of a dedicated a unit to monitor social media and television outlets for “rumors” related to COVID-19.

On June 22, a Dhaka court issued a notice on behalf of 10 Supreme Court lawyers requesting the Bangladesh Telecommunications Regulatory Commission (BTRC) to disclose the steps it had taken to prevent eavesdropping on private, telephone conversations. The notice mentioned 16 eavesdropping cases to be evaluated, which were previously disclosed by the press. Some of these cases involved eavesdropping on members of the political opposition. According to the press, the BTRC did not respond to the request.

In September 2020 the High Court asserted citizens’ right to privacy and stated the collection of call lists or conversations from public or private telephone companies without formal approval and knowledge of the individual must stop. In its verdict the court stated, “It is our common experience that nowadays private communications among citizens, including their audios/videos, are often leaked and published in social media for different purposes.”

Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties

a. Freedom of Expression, Including for Members of the Press and Other Media

The constitution provides for freedom of expression including for members of the press and other media, but the government frequently contravened this right. There were significant limitations on freedom of expression both online and offline. Members of media and bloggers self-censored their criticisms of the government due to harassment and fear of reprisal.

b. Freedoms of Peaceful Assembly and Association

The government restricted freedoms of peaceful assembly and association.

Freedom of Peaceful Assembly

The law provides for the right to peaceful assembly, but the government limited this right. The law gives the government broad discretion to ban assemblies of more than four persons. The government requires advance permission for gatherings such as protests and demonstrations (see section 1.e.).

According to human rights groups, authorities continued to use provisions to prohibit gatherings by opposition groups and imposed what observers saw as unreasonable requirements for permits. Occasionally police or ruling party activists used force to disperse demonstrations assembled by opposition parties, organizations, and activists.

The March 26-28 demonstrations after Indian prime minister Narendra Modi’s visit were organized by members of Hefazat-e-Islam (see sections 1.a., 1.b., 1.d., 2.a., and 6). Observers said the demonstrations started out peacefully until members of law enforcement agencies and ruling party leaders and activists arrived. Police filed 154 cases against 3,270 named and many unnamed persons, which allegedly made it easier for them to include anyone in the case. As a result, 1,230 opposition leaders and activists, including members of Hefazat-e-Islam, were arrested and detained. In addition, 53 leaders and activists of the Bangladesh Students, Youth and Labor Rights Council were arrested and taken into custody through court proceedings.

Opposition leaders and activists reported numerous restrictions towards organizations throughout the year. The opposition BNP was regularly denied holding events or intimidated by authorities and ruling party activists at their events. On March 29, 20 persons were injured after police allegedly attacked a program organized in front of the BNP office in Khulna. On May 31, police allegedly obstructed various programs, including a food drive for the poor, organized on the anniversary of the death of BNP’s founder and former president, Ziaur Rahman.

Freedom of Association

The law provides for the right of citizens to form associations, subject to “reasonable restrictions” in the interest of morality or public order, and the government generally respected this right. The government’s NGO Affairs Bureau often withheld or delayed its approval for foreign funding to NGOs working on issues the bureau deemed sensitive, such as human rights, labor rights, indigenous rights, or humanitarian assistance to Rohingya refugees (see sections 2.d., 5, and 7. a.).

The law places restrictions on the receipt of foreign funds by NGOs or government officials and provides for punishment of NGOs making any derogatory comments regarding the constitution or constitutional institutions (see section 5).

c. Freedom of Religion

See the Department of State’s International Religious Freedom Report at https://www.state.gov/2020-report-on-international-religious-freedom/ https://www.state.gov/religiousfreedomreport/.

d. Freedom of Movement and the Right to Leave the Country

The law provides for freedom of internal movement, emigration, and repatriation, and the government generally respected these rights, except in three sensitive areas: the CHT and the Rohingya camps in Cox’s Bazar and on the island of Bhasan Char in the Bay of Bengal. The government enforced restrictions on access to the CHT by foreigners and restricted movement of Rohingya refugees. The Rohingya camps in Cox’s Bazar were surrounded by barbed and concertina wire fencing with few pedestrian gates to allow the Rohingya to move among the camps or into the local community. The lack of pedestrian gates hampered egress during a large fire in some camps in March. Bhasan Char is an island with no regular links to the mainland. In August at least 11 Rohingya died after their boat capsized while trying to leave Bhasan Char, and hundreds more have attempted do so since transfers began in January. Authorities caught and arrested many Rohingya who tried to leave Bhasan Char and detained them on the mainland or returned them to the island.

While foreign travel is allowed, some senior civil society and international NGO representatives reported harassment and delays at the airport when applying for a visa, entering, or departing the country. The government prevented war crimes suspects from the 1971 independence war from leaving the country.

Throughout the year numerous lockdown periods and movement restrictions were enforced to curb the COVID-19 pandemic. While restrictions enforced applied to all citizens during any designated period, civil society reported individuals from poorer communities were disproportionately arrested or punished for violating quarantine rules. Allegations of bribes to avoid movements restrictions or penalties were also reported.

e. Status and Treatment of Internally Displaced Persons

Societal tensions and marginalization of indigenous persons continued in the CHT because of a government policy initiated during an internal armed conflict from 1973-97. This policy relocated landless Bengalis to the CHT with the implicit objective of changing the demographic balance to make Bengalis the majority, displacing tens of thousands of indigenous persons.

The internally displaced persons (IDPs) in the CHT had limited physical security. Community leaders maintained indigenous persons faced widespread violation of their rights by settlers, sometimes supported by security forces (see section 6).

The number of IDPs in the CHT remained disputed. In 2000 a government task force estimated the number at 500,000, which included nonindigenous as well as indigenous persons. In 2020 the CHT Commission estimated slightly more than 90,000 indigenous IDPs resided in the area. The prime minister pledged to resolve outstanding land disputes in the CHT to facilitate the return of the IDPs and close remaining military camps, but the taskforce on IDPs remained unable to function due to a dispute regarding classifying settlers as IDPs. The commission reported authorities displaced several indigenous families to create border guard camps and army recreational facilities. No land disputes were resolved during the year.

f. Protection of Refugees

The government cooperated with the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) and other humanitarian organizations in providing protection and assistance to Rohingya refugees.

The government is not a party to the 1951 Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees or the 1967 Protocol. As a result the government claimed it was not under legal obligation to uphold the basic rights enshrined in this treaty.

Prior to the 2017 Rohingya arrivals, the government and UNHCR provided temporary protection and basic assistance to approximately 33,000 registered Rohingya refugees from Burma living in two official camps (Kutupalong and Nayapara), while the government and the International Organization for Migration aided approximately 200,000 undocumented Rohingya living in makeshift settlements in Cox’s Bazar. In 2017 more than 750,000 Rohingya fled ethnic cleansing in neighboring Burma to seek safe haven in Bangladesh. As a result of this influx, more than 907,000 registered Rohingya refugees were living in refugee camps, makeshift settlements, and host communities. The government claimed actual numbers totaled more than one million. The government did not recognize the arrivals as refugees, referring to them instead as “forcibly displaced Burmese nationals,” but abided by many of the established UN standards for refugees. One notable exception was that the Rohingya did not enjoy full freedom of movement throughout the country. Government officials stated repatriation was the government’s only goal, stressing privileges such as freedom of movement, formal education, or livelihood opportunities could not be afforded to the Rohingya population.

A National Task Force of 25 ministries and department representatives and chaired by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs provided oversight and strategic guidance for the overall Rohingya response. The Ministry of Home Affairs coordinated and maintained law and order for the Rohingya response, with support from the Armed Police Battalion. At the local level, the Refugee, Relief, and Repatriation Commission, under the Ministry of Disaster Management and Relief, was responsible for the management of the Rohingya response.

As of December 31, Bhasan Char hosted nearly 17,000 Rohingya refugees. The government paused relocations for several months in the middle of the year, but it resumed the transfer of refugees from Cox’s Bazar to Bhasan Char at the end of November. Media reported the government spent more than 25.8 billion taka ($300 million) to prepare for the eventual transfer of 100,000 refugees to the island. The government rejected requests from international human rights groups to move Rohingya refugees to the mainland, asserting that living conditions were better on Bhasan Char than in the overcrowded Cox’s Bazar camps. In March authorities allowed UN and other international donors to visit the island in conjunction with local authorities. On October 9, authorities signed a memorandum of understanding (MOU) with UNHCR that outlines the humanitarian and protection framework underlying potential UN operational engagements on Bhasan Char. During the year the UN organizations conducted a series of assessments on Bhasan Char and worked with the government on the modalities of operations on the island.

On September 29, gunmen shot and killed Mohammad Mohib Ullah, chairman and founder of the Arakan Rohingya Society for Peace and Human Rights, in Cox’s Bazar. Media reports alleged that criminal groups carried out the attack, potentially in retribution for his work to advocate for rights for Rohingya in the country. Mohib Ullah was an advocate for Rohingyas’ human rights, worked to document the Burmese security forces’ crimes against Rohingya, and advocated for Rohingya in multiple international forums. As of December authorities had not publicly identified a motive or perpetrators.

Access to Asylum: The law does not provide for granting asylum or refugee status, nor has the government established a formal system for providing protection to refugees. The government provided significant protection and assistance to Rohingya refugees residing in the country. Prior to 2017 the government cooperated with UNHCR to provide temporary protection and basic assistance to registered refugees resident in two official camps. After the 2017 arrival of more than 750,000 additional Rohingya refugees, the government started to register the refugees biometrically and provided identity cards with their Burmese addresses. At the end of 2019, the government completed the second phase of its joint registration exercise with UNHCR to verify Rohingya refugees and issue identity cards that replaced prior cards and provided for protection of Rohingya refugees, consistent with the government’s stance against forced returns to Burma. Despite this documentation system, the lack of formal refugee status for Rohingya and clear legal reporting mechanisms in the camps impeded refugees’ access to the justice system.

On February 11, international media reported a boat carrying 90 Rohingya refugees with mostly women and children sailed from Cox’s Bazar towards Malaysia. After four days the boat’s engine failed in the Andaman Sea; nine refugees died, and after a 113-day journey, the 81 survivors landed on an Indonesian island. According to media reports, international humanitarian organizations and family members of those onboard appealed to India, Bangladesh, Burma, and Malaysia for information regarding the fate of the 81 survivors on the boat. Media reported the Bangladeshi government denied reentry to the 81 survivors.

g. Stateless Persons

The Rohingya in the country were legally or in fact stateless. They could not acquire citizenship, nor does the government of Burma recognize them as citizens.

Every individual born in Bangladesh is a citizen of the country by birth as per Bangladesh’s Citizenship Act of 1951. This provision is not afforded to Rohingya. A 2009 amendment to the Act allows anyone born in the country to either a Bangladeshi mother or father the right to claim citizenship. This amendment was not retroactively applied to Rohingya children born in the country to stateless fathers prior to 2009, who remain at risk of statelessness. There were cases in which children born to one Bangladeshi parent and one Rohingya parent were not recognized as citizens, despite the 2009 amendment.

Section 3. Freedom to Participate in the Political Process

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

Elections and Political Participation

Recent Elections: Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina and her Awami League (AL) party won a third consecutive five-year term in a December 2018 parliamentary election that observers considered neither free nor fair and that was marred by irregularities including ballot-box stuffing and intimidation of opposition polling agents and voters. With more than 80 percent of the vote, the AL and its electoral allies won 288 of 300 directly elected seats, while the main opposition BNP and its allies won only seven seats. Parliament conferred the official status of opposition on the Jatiya Party, a component of the AL-led governing coalition, which seated 22 members in parliament. During the campaign leading to the election, there were credible reports of harassment, intimidation, arbitrary arrests, and violence that made it difficult for many opposition candidates and their supporters to meet, hold rallies, or campaign freely.

During the 2018 national elections, the government did not grant credentials or issue visas within the timeframe necessary to conduct a credible international monitoring mission to most international election monitors from the Asian Network for Free Elections. Only seven of the 22 Election Working Group NGOs were approved by the Ministry of Home Affairs, NGO Affairs Bureau, and the Election Commission to observe the domestic election.

Low voter turnout, intimidation, irregularities, and low-scale violence targeting opposition-nominated candidates during campaigns and voting marked several local government elections during the year. On February 28, the main opposition BNP announced it would boycott municipal elections countrywide on the grounds the Election Commission had “destroyed” the electoral system. The BNP also refrained from nominating candidates for parliamentary by-elections held during the year. The elections drew few voters, and in some constituencies the ruling AL candidates were “uncontested winners.”

In subdistrict (Upazila) elections from June through December, media reported intraparty violence between AL-affiliated candidates and their supporters left more than 50 individuals dead. Human rights organization ASK stated 157 persons died and 10,833 were injured in a total of 932 political clashes during the year. One candidate publicly boasted government officials and security services supported him, and he threatened ballots would not be secret. Media reported the Election Commission took virtually no action to address violations of the electoral code of conduct by ruling party leaders. AL officials downplayed the violence as the byproduct of “overly enthusiastic” candidates.

Section 4. Corruption and Lack of Transparency in Government

The law provides criminal penalties for conviction of corruption by officials, but the government did not implement the law effectively. There were numerous reports of government corruption during the year, and officials frequently engaged in corrupt practices with impunity.

There were numerous reports of DSA arrests and charges for citizens who reported corruption (see section 2.a.).

The Anti-Corruption Commission (ACC), set up in 2004 to serve as an independent monitoring mechanism, focuses on investigating cases of corruption, including but not limited to bribery, embezzlement, extortion, abuse of discretion, and improper political contributions. The ACC must obtain permission from the government to investigate or file any charge against government politicians or bureaucrats. Local human rights organizations questioned the independence and effectiveness of the ACC, which they claimed was evidenced by the acquittal of most cases brought against ruling party officials and bureaucrats, while legal processes, investigations, and filing of cases against leaders of the BNP continued.

Corruption: Corruption remained a serious problem. In January the Prime Minister’s Office (PMO) announced its intent to provide public housing for 885,622 homeless and landless families, as part of an initiative to eradicate homelessness in honor of the birth centenary of the country’s founding father Sheikh Mujibar Rahman. In July media reported 36 subdistricts raised allegations of corruption and construction irregularities connected to the housing projects. In response to these reports, the PMO appointed five officials to inspect the allegations, announced “zero tolerance” for any irregularities, and launched technical committees to advise on the administration of the project. Media reported the secretary to the PMO accepted responsibility for the “administration’s failure to deliver on the promise of a flawless project.”

On February 1, al-Jazeera’s Investigative Unit released the documentary, “All the Prime Minister’s Men,” a two-year investigation alleging corruption against political and military figures, including Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina and former chief of army staff general Aziz Ahmed (see section 2.a.). The documentary focused on activities of Ahmed’s family and alleged corruption, including bribery and collusion with security forces such as the RAB unit. The documentary also alleged the government’s military intelligence service bought spyware from Israel, a country not recognized by Bangladesh, to monitor the prime minister’s political opponents. In response to the investigation, in February the Ministry of Foreign Affairs dismissed the findings of the document as a “smear campaign” orchestrated by opponents of the ruling government based abroad.

Media reported numerous accounts of local authorities embezzling government food and cash assistance during the pandemic and the related government-imposed lockdowns. In response to these reports, in April 2020 the prime minister assigned 64 mid-level officials from the central government to monitor and report on relief operations. Media reported the relief distribution efforts were administered by civil servants under the executive branch. In June some politicians from both the ruling and opposition parties objected to the centrally administered relief distribution efforts, alleging bureaucrats under the ruling party were corrupt and taking over the country. Opposition lawmakers criticized the Health Ministry for its alleged failure to curb corruption and provide health care during the pandemic.

On June 6, an MP of the ruling party alleged corruption and money laundering continued despite the government’s vow to curb the practice. Another senior MP of the ruling party criticized the government’s budget proposals to impose taxes on the incomes of private universities and medical colleges.

Section 5. Governmental Posture Towards International and Nongovernmental Investigation of Alleged Abuses of Human Rights

Several domestic and international human rights groups generally operated with some government restrictions, and they investigated and published their findings on human rights cases. Government officials were rarely cooperative and responsive to their reports.

Although human rights groups often sharply criticized the government, they also practiced self-censorship. Observers commented on the government’s strategy to reduce the effectiveness and inhibit operations of civil society, exacerbated by threats from extremists and an increasingly entrenched leading political party. Even civil society members affiliated with the ruling party reported receiving threats of arrest from the security forces for public criticism of government policies.

The government continued to restrict the funding and operations of the human rights organization Odhikar, which in turn continued to report harassment, intimidation, and surveillance by government officials and security forces, including disruption of their planned events. On February 14, the Supreme Court rejected the petition for dismissing the case against Odhikar’s secretary and director and ordered the case to proceed at the Cyber Crimes Tribunal. Odhikar’s NGO renewal registration remained pending at year’s end since 2014. On October 5, the case against Odhikar’s secretary Adilur Rahman Khan and director Nasiruddin Elan went to trial regarding alleged violations in 2013 of the Information and Communications Technology Act.

The government required all NGOs, including religious organizations, to register with the Ministry of Social Welfare. Local and international NGOs working on sensitive topics or groups, such as security force abuses, religious matters, human rights, indigenous peoples, LGBTQI+ communities, Rohingya refugees, or worker rights, faced formal and informal governmental restrictions (see sections 2.b. and 7.a.). Some of these groups claimed intelligence agencies monitored them. The government sometimes restricted international NGOs’ ability to operate through delays in project registration, cease-and-desist letters, and visa refusals.

The law restricted foreign funding of NGOs and included what rights groups reported were punitive provisions for NGOs making “derogatory” comments regarding the constitution of the country, its founding history, or constitutional bodies (that is, government institutions and leaders).

The United Nations or Other International Bodies: The government did not respond to a UN Working Group on Enforced Disappearances request to visit the country. The Office of the UN Resident Coordinator in the country reported 158 other pending requests for UN special rapporteurs to visit the country since 2016, including the special rapporteur on extrajudicial, summary, or arbitrary executions; the special rapporteur on the rights to freedom of peaceful assembly and of association; and the special rapporteur on the promotion and protection of human rights and fundamental freedoms while countering terrorism.

On February 4, the United Nations Secretary General’s Spokesperson called for a full investigation by relevant authorities into allegations of corruption and illegality involving the army. The United Nations raised concerns regarding allegations the military purchased surveillance equipment from Israel. Bangladeshi military commanders claimed the equipment was bought for one of the Army units to be sent on UN peacekeeping missions, but a UN spokesperson responded surveillance equipment was not deployed with contingents in UN peacekeeping operations. Human rights groups alleged the country used surveillance equipment to target political opponents and dissidents (see section 2.a.).

On February 6, seven international human rights groups called on the United Nations to review its use of Bangladeshi peacekeeping troops around the world. Bangladesh is the largest overall contributor of uniformed personnel to UN peacekeeping missions, with more than 6,800 personnel deployed in peacekeeping operations around the world.

Government Human Rights Bodies: The National Human Rights Commission (NHRC) has seven members, including five honorary positions. The NHRC’s primary activities are to investigate human rights abuses, address discrimination in law, educate the public on human rights, and advise the government on key human rights matters. Some human rights organizations questioned the independence and effectiveness of the NHRC, alleging the government used state institutions including the NHRC to implement its political agenda.

Section 6. Discrimination and Societal Abuses

Women

Rape and Domestic Violence: The law only prohibits rape of girls and women by men and physical spousal abuse, but the law excludes marital rape if the girl or woman is older than 13. Conviction of rape may be punished by life imprisonment or the death penalty.

Credible human rights organizations found rape remained a serious issue in the country, with reported rapes throughout the year roughly keeping pace with previous years. Domestic human rights group ASK reported at least 1,321 women were raped during the year. In comparison Odhikar reported 1,538 women and children were raped in 2020; among them, 577 were women, and 919 were younger than age 18. There were allegations of rapists blackmailing survivors by threatening to release the video of the rape on social media.

Rights groups reported violence against women in all forms increased throughout the pandemic. ASK reported 640 women were survivors of domestic violence during the year, including 372 who died as a result of the violence. NGOs mobilized to address an increase in gender-based violence during the pandemic. There were reports of sexual violence committed with impunity. On June 14, actress Shamsunnahar Smriti, popularly known as Pori Moni, filed a case alleging businessman Nasir Mahmood and five other men attempted to rape and kill her at the Dhaka Boat Club. On August 4, the RAB removed Moni from her apartment during a raid in which agents allegedly found illegal substances including alcohol and narcotics. Some activists stated the police raid was in response to her filing a rape case against a powerful businessman.

On April 26, college student Mosarat Jahan Munia was found dead in her apartment in Dhaka. Nusrat Jahan, Munia’s sister filed a case against Bashundhara Group managing director Sayem Sobhan Anvir Anvi, alleging he abetted Munia’s reported suicide. On July 19, police submitted the final probe report exonerating Anvir of involvement in Munia’s death. On July 26, 51 activists and leaders across the country demanded a reinvestigation into her death, stating, “We believe a proper investigation and appropriate trial for Munia’s suicide or murder is essential in maintaining public confidence in the rule of law of the country.”

In response to a September 2020 gang rape case in Sylhet, Feminists Across Generations, a local group working against gender-based violence and abuse against women, launched “Rage Against Rape,” a movement declaring gender-based violence a national emergency. The organization’s 10-point plan urged for reform and argued the death penalty for conviction would not solve rape culture or gender-based violence. The organization advocated for women and girls’ safety from violence and raised awareness of individual cases of rape. Separately the Rape Law Reform Coalition, a coalition of 17 organizations, continued to advocate for its “Rape Law Reform Now” campaign, another 10-point plan urging for legal and institutional reforms.

According to guidelines for handling rape cases, the officer in charge of a police station must record any information relating to rape or sexual assault irrespective of the place of occurrence. Chemical and DNA tests must be conducted within 48 hours from when the incident was reported. Guidelines also stipulate every police station must have a female police officer available to survivors of rape or sexual assault during the recording of the case by the duty officer. The statements of the survivor must be recorded in the presence of a lawyer, social worker, protection officer, or any other individual the survivor deems appropriate. Survivors with disabilities should be provided with government-supported interpretation services, if necessary, and the investigating officer along with a female police officer should escort the survivor to a timely medical examination.

A collection of political, sociocultural, and human rights groups stated incidents of rape continued to occur due to a culture of impunity. According to human rights monitors, many survivors did not report rapes due to lack of access to legal services, social stigma, fear of further harassment, and the legal requirement to produce witnesses. The burden is on the rape survivor to prove a rape occurred, using medical evidence.

Systemic Racial or Ethnic Violence and Discrimination

There were no major attacks on religious minorities motivated by transnational violent extremism. There were, however, reports of attacks on Hindu and Buddhist property and temples for political and economic reasons, and some of these faith groups stated attacks on religious structures increased during the pandemic.

On March 17, an estimated 89 houses and eight temples in a Hindu village in Sylhet were vandalized. Media and civil society attributed the attack to hundreds of members of Hefazat-e-Islam supporters triggered by a resident’s Facebook post criticizing a Hefazat leader for condemning Indian prime minister Narendra Modi’s visit. After the incident the organization released a YouTube video rejecting responsibility for the attack. The government expressed regret and sent the RAB to the village. As of March 23, police had arrested 35 individuals in connection with the attack. Members of the Hindu minority community blamed religious fundamentalist groups for the incident, while some civil society and opposition leaders blamed the ruling party. Some other human rights groups blamed local law enforcement and administration officials for not preventing the attack.

On October 13, media reported anti-Hindu violence broke out following a social media post that went viral depicting a Quran in the lap of a Hindu deity in the city of Cumilla during the Hindu Durga Puja festival (see sections 1.d. and 2.a.). Muslim protesters allegedly attacked Hindus, Hindu temples, and damaged property in several cities. Six persons died in ensuing violence, mostly due to clashes with security forces deployed to restore order. Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina and other senior officials condemned the violence, emphasized the country’s secular identity superseded religious identity, and the government took measures to compensate Hindu victims.

NGOs reported national origin, racial, and ethnic minorities faced discrimination. For example, some Dalits (lowest-caste Hindus) suffered from restricted access to land, adequate housing, education, and employment.

The estimated 300,000 Urdu-speaking population (known as Biharis, originally Urdu-speaking Muslims who migrated to then East Pakistan before the Bangladesh Liberation War) were formerly stateless, and members from this community stated their requests to obtain passports were often rejected by immigration officers due to their lack of a permanent address. Almost all this population still resided in refugee-like camps established by the International Committee of the Red Cross in the 1970s, when Biharis believed they would return to Pakistan following the 1971 war. A December 2020 International Republican Institute (IRI) study claimed living conditions for Biharis in the camps remained poor, with many camps containing fewer than 10 public toilets serving hundreds of residents. The Geneva Camp in Mohammadpur, Dhaka, for example, held an estimated 30,000 residents as of January. While older Biharis may have had an affinity to Pakistan, many participants in the IRI study stated they identified as Bangladeshi, particularly those who grew up after the Liberation War. In 2008 a High Court ruling that the Bihari community had rights as citizens prompted the international donor community to cease support as the community was technically no longer stateless. While the government provided some basic services, including water and electricity, Biharis reported social and economic discrimination as well as a lack of initiatives integrating them into society, leaving them isolated in crowded camps.

In September some Biharis expressed concern officials would reject their official status as Bangladeshis, expropriate their land, and implement policies to force the Biharis to return to Pakistan.

Indigenous Peoples

The indigenous community of the CHT experienced widespread discrimination and abuse despite nationwide government quotas for participation of indigenous CHT residents in the civil service and higher education. These conditions also persisted despite provisions for local governance in the 1997 CHT Peace Accord, which has not been fully implemented, specifically the portions of the accord empowering a CHT-specific special administrative system consisting of the three Hill District Councils and the Regional Council. Indigenous persons from the CHT were unable to participate effectively in decisions affecting their lands due to disagreements regarding land dispute resolution procedures under the Land Commission Act.

An August 2020 study found land confiscations, livelihood risks, and violence against indigenous women increased during the pandemic. While the country had a 20 percent poverty rate, poverty in the plains, where some indigenous persons lived, was more than 80 percent and more than 65 percent in the CHT. The study also found a lack of health care for indigenous persons. Other organizations corroborated health care available to indigenous persons was well below the standard available to nonindigenous persons in the country. In October 2020 a group of indigenous tribal leaders presented a memorandum to the government stating a significant portion of the food security needs of marginalized communities in CHT remained unmet.

Throughout the pandemic, multiple NGOs reported severe food insecurity due to the abrupt job loss by indigenous persons outside the CHT. Since many indigenous persons most in need of assistance lived in remote areas difficult to access by vehicles, many indigenous communities reported receiving no government assistance.

In November 2020 business conglomerate Sikder Group, in partnership with the Bangladesh Army Welfare Trust, started constructing a five-star hotel and tourist resort on Chimbuk Hill, located in the CHT, despite protests from the Mro, the resident indigenous community, regarding resulting evictions. According to activists, the project would displace 115 Mro families in four villages and lead to a larger estimated displacement of 10,000 persons. Indigenous rights groups stated the land in question is held under customary law by the tribal community for its own use, and transfer of such land may only take place with the informed consent of the indigenous residents. According to these groups, the proposed project site was critical to subsistence crop cultivation, the sole source of livelihood for the Mro people. In January a video circulated showing a confrontation between Mro villages and persons at the hotel construction site.

Indigenous communities in areas other than the CHT reported the loss of land to Bengali Muslims, and indigenous peoples’ advocacy groups reported deforestation to support Rohingya refugee camps and other commercial pursuits caused severe environmental degradation in their land, adversely affecting their livelihoods. The government continued construction projects on land traditionally owned by indigenous communities in the Moulvibazar and Modhupur forest areas.

The central government retained authority over land use. The land commission, designed to investigate and return all illegally acquired land, did not resolve any disputes during the year. According to one organization, Naika Mardi, an indigenous person and Liberation War fighter, was unable to register 0.04 acres of land to his name, even after trying for 10 years. Madi had been living on this land since before independence in 1971.

The Chakma and Marma indigenous communities, organized under different political groups, engaged in intra-indigenous community violence. The factional clashes between and within the United Peoples’ Democratic Forum and the Parbatya Chattagram Jana Samhati Samiti resulted mostly from the desire to establish supremacy in particular geographic areas. Media reported many leaders of these factions were engaged in extortion and smuggling of money, drugs, and arms. Meanwhile, the deaths and violence remained unresolved. NGOs and indigenous persons familiar with the situation warned intraparty violence in the CHT had risen sharply.

Reports of sexual assaults on indigenous women and children by Bengali neighbors or security personnel remained unresolved.

Children

Birth Registration: Individuals are born citizens if their parents were Bangladeshi citizens, if the nationality of the parents is unknown and the child is born in Bangladeshi territory, or if their fathers or grandfathers were born in the territories that were previously not part of the country. The government did not register births for nor extend citizenship to Rohingya refugees born in the country, although it permitted UNHCR to register births within the refugee camps. If a person qualifies for citizenship through ancestry, the father or grandfather must have been a permanent resident of these territories in or after 1971. Birth registration is required to obtain a national identity card or passport.

Education: Education is free and compulsory through eighth grade by law, and the government offered subsidies to parents to keep girls in class through 10th grade. Teacher fees, books, and uniforms remained prohibitively costly for many families, despite free classes, and the government distributed hundreds of millions of free textbooks to increase access to education. Enrollments in primary schools showed gender parity, but completion rates fell in secondary school, with more boys than girls completing that level. Early and forced marriage was a factor in girls’ attrition from secondary school. Numerous civil society organizations stated many families of school-aged children struggled to find access to the internet in order to benefit from online schooling during the pandemic.

Child Abuse: Many forms of child abuse, including sexual abuse, physical and humiliating punishment, child abandonment, kidnapping, and trafficking, continued to be serious and widespread. Children were vulnerable to abuse in all settings: home, community, school, residential institutions, and the workplace. The law prohibits child abuse and neglect with the penalty for conviction up to five years’ imprisonment, a fine, or both. According to Bangladesh Shishu Adhikar Forum (BSAF), a network of child rights NGOs, the law was not fully implemented, and juvenile cases – like many other criminal cases – often lagged in the judicial system. The Department of Social Services, under the Ministry of Social Welfare, operated “Child Helpline – 1098,” a free telephone service designed to help children facing violence, abuse, and exploitation. The hotline received approximately 80,000 calls a year on average and was accessible from anywhere in the country. The hotline center provided services such as rescue, referral, and counseling.

ASK reported a total of 453 cases of violence against children were filed in the first half of the year.

Odhikar reported child rape increased alarmingly during the year. According to a survey, 64 percent of rape survivors in Chittagong were children and adolescents. A 2019 BSAF report on child rape stated children as young as two were among the rape survivors and cited a failure of the law-and-order situation in the country as reason for the increase in child rape. In BSAF’s 2020 report, the domestic organization Human Rights Support Society reported 850 children were raped and 136 violent incidents were committed against children.

During the year former students detailed multiple allegations of sex abuse at the hands of teachers and older pupils in Islamic madrassas. In May a former leader of the Chhatra League raped a ninth-grade madrassa student. Family members later rescued the girl, finding her in critical condition. The man beat the girl’s father when he demanded justice. In September a father of a nine-year-old girl in Cox’s Bazar accused his daughter’s teacher of raping her inside a local madrassa. Many smaller schools had few teachers and no oversight from governing bodies.

Despite advances, including establishing a monitoring agency in the Ministry of Home Affairs, trafficking of children and inadequate care and protection for survivors of trafficking continued to be problems. Child labor and abuse at the workplace remained problems in certain industries, mostly in the informal sector, and child domestic workers were vulnerable to all forms of abuse at their informal workplaces.

Anti-Semitism

There was no Jewish community in the country. Politicians and imams used anti-Semitic statements, reportedly to gain support from their constituencies.

Trafficking in Persons

See the State Department’s Trafficking in Persons Report at https://www.state.gov/trafficking-in-persons-report/.

Persons with Disabilities

The law provides for equal treatment and freedom from discrimination for persons with disabilities, and the government took mostly effective measures to enforce these provisions. NGOs reported the government took cases of violence based on discrimination against persons with disabilities seriously, and it acted to investigate and punish those responsible for violence and abuses against those with disabilities. Nonetheless, civil society reported those with disabilities were the most vulnerable group throughout the pandemic, especially women and girls.

Executive Director Badiul Alam of Bangladesh Protibandhi Unnayan Sangstha (BPUS), a local NGO that has supported more than 7,000 persons with disabilities, estimated 15 to 20 million individuals, or 10 percent of the population, possessed some form of disability. BPUS estimated more than 60 percent of the disability population lived in rural areas without access to government support.

In 2020 the government passed the National Building Construction Act. Although the law requires physical structures be made accessible to those with disabilities, the government did not implement the law effectively. For example, government buildings had no accommodations for persons with disabilities. The law calls for the establishment of local committees to expedite implementation of the law, but most committees had not been activated. In some cases local authorities were not aware of their responsibilities under this law.

The law requires persons with disabilities to register for identity cards to track their enrollment in educational institutions and access to jobs. This registration allows them to be included in voter lists, to cast votes, and to participate in elections. The law states no person, organization, authority, or corporation shall discriminate against persons with disabilities and allows for fines or three years’ imprisonment for conviction of not giving unequal treatment for school, work, or inheritance based on disability, although implementation of the law was uneven. Local NGOs estimated 50 to 60 percent of those with disabilities were unable to exercise their right to vote, as voting centers lacked accommodations for persons with disabilities. Most polling centers had no access to priority voting and no assistive tools such as braille ballots for visually impaired persons to vote confidentially. A 27-member National Coordination Committee is charged with coordinating relevant activities among all government organizations and private bodies to fulfill the objectives of the law. Implementation of the law was slow, delaying the formation and functioning of Disability Rights and Protection Committees required by the legislation. Civil society organizations advocated the inclusion of those with disabilities in the national parliament, stressing representation would ensure their needs are taken into consideration during decision making.

According to the NGO Action against Disability, some children with disabilities did not attend public school due to lack of accommodation, but data were not readily available. The government trained teachers on inclusive education and recruited disability specialists at the district level. The government also allocated stipends for students with disabilities. A peer-reviewed study released in July 2020 found many families with children with disabilities lacked knowledge and access to government programs and benefits.

The law affords persons with disabilities the same access to information rights as other persons, but family and community dynamics often influenced whether these rights were exercised. Additionally, many organizations reported persons with visual disabilities experienced difficulties accessing technology, depriving them of equal access to education, information, health, and other basic human rights. While individuals reported government websites contained more user-friendly services for persons with disabilities, they also reported information for persons with disabilities was usually uploaded on portals as scanned documents, which made it incompatible for software used by visually impaired persons. Community members reported documents uploaded in formats readable by assistive technology would make a positive difference. The government provided visually impaired students with accessible books every year and was working on a National Web Accessibility Guideline to make all government services accessible to persons with disabilities through a national web portal.

The law identifies persons with disabilities as a priority group for government-sponsored legal services. The Ministry of Social Welfare, the Department of Social Services, and the National Foundation for the Development of the Disabled are the government agencies responsible for protecting the rights of persons with disabilities. Activists reported the government’s plan of action for ensuring rights of women and girls with disabilities needed strengthening.

The government took action to investigate those responsible for violence and abuses against persons with disabilities. The government plans to make its national helpline more inclusive and accessible.

Government facilities for treating persons with mental disabilities were inadequate. The Ministry of Health established child development centers in all public medical colleges to assess neurological disabilities. Several private initiatives existed for medical and vocational rehabilitation as well as for employment of persons with disabilities. National and international NGOs provided services and advocated for persons with disabilities. The government operates 103 disability information and service centers in all 64 districts, where local authorities provided free rehabilitation services and assistive devices. The government also promoted autism research and awareness. The government inaugurated an electronic system to disburse social welfare payments, including disability allowances. Activists reported the monthly government allowance for persons with disabilities was 775 taka (nine dollars) and requested the government consider increasing the allowance in the national budget.

Government inaction limited the rights of persons with disabilities to participate in civic life, including accessibility during elections.

HIV and AIDS Social Stigma

Civil society organizations and LGBTQI+ activists often cited social stigma against HIV and AIDS and against higher-risk populations as a barrier for accessing health services, especially for the transgender community and men who have sex with men. Mental health care was a top concern, and according to these groups, mental health-care providers tended to use moralistic terms to shame LGBTQI+ persons. In terms of physical health care, many practitioners expressed discomfort in discussing sexual activity, and shamed patients who discussed sexually transmitted infections. Neither PrEP nor PEP, pre- and post-exposure medications that prevent transmittal of HIV during sex, were available in the country. The government made HIV testing free of cost, but stigma regarding testing and seeking treatment remained strong. On October 19, the government published national antiretroviral therapy guidelines to outline efforts to increase treatment availability around the country.

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

Same-sex sexual conduct is illegal under the penal code. The government did not actively enforce the law. LGBTQI+ groups reported the government retained the law because of societal pressure. LGBTQI+ groups reported police used the law as a pretext to harass LGBTQI+ individuals and individuals who were perceived to be LGBTQI+ regardless of their sexual orientation, as well as to limit registration of LGBTQI+ organizations. Some groups also reported harassment under a suspicious-behavior provision of the police code. The transgender population has long been a marginalized but recognized as part of society. Nevertheless, it experienced continued high levels of fear, harassment, and law enforcement contact in the wake of violent extremist attacks. Police investigation and prosecution of those complicit in violence or crimes against LGBTQI+ individuals remained rare.

Members of LGBTQI+ communities received threatening messages via telephone, text, and social media, and some were harassed by police. They stressed the need for online and physical security due to continued threats of physical violence. In August an antiterrorism tribunal sentenced six individuals to death in the killing of two gay men five years ago, Mahbub Rabbi Tonoy and Xulhaz Mannan, an editor of the country’s first gay rights magazine and a prominent gay rights activist.

The law does not prohibit discrimination against LGBTQI+ persons in housing, employment, nationality laws, and access to government services such as health care. LGBTQI+ groups reported official discrimination in employment and occupation, housing, and access to government services including health care and access to justice.

While some transgender women in the country identified as hijra (a cultural South Asian term for some transgender women as well as some intersex and gender non-conforming individuals), due to an affinity for the hijra subculture or a desire for increased social protection, not all chose to do so. Many transgender women asserted their transgender identities and corrected those who identified them as hijra. Meanwhile, transgender men received little support or tolerance, particularly in poor and rural communities. Some conservative clerics decried the transgender community and sharply distinguished it from the hijra identity, saying the latter would be tolerable while the former remains unacceptable.

Organizations specifically assisting lesbians continued to be rare. Strong social stigma based on sexual orientation was common and prevented open discussion of the subject.

Although the government made some progress in promoting social acceptance of hijra persons, a small segment of the community, the government made limited efforts to promote the rights of others in the LGBTQI+ community. On September 16, the director general of the Bangladesh Bureau of Statistics announced the national census would include hijra as a “third gender” category; the census was scheduled to be conducted in 2022.

Section 7. Worker Rights

a. Freedom of Association and the Right to Collective Bargaining

The law provides for the right to join unions and, with government approval, the right to form a union, although labor rights organizations reported high levels of rejections for trade union registration and an overly complicated registration process. The law requires a minimum of 20 percent of an enterprise’s total workforce to agree to be members before the Department of Labor under the Ministry of Labor and Employment (MOLE) may grant approval for registration of a union. The department may request a labor court dissolve the union if membership falls below 20 percent. Generally, the law allows only wall-to-wall (entire factory) bargaining units. NGOs reported the Registrar of Trade Unions regularly abused its discretion and denied applications without reason, for reasons not recognized in law or regulation, or by fabricating shortcomings in the application. One union representative explained she had completed all paperwork to form a union and had support from 30 percent of workers, but the union registration was rejected by the Department of Labor because the factory claimed it had hundreds of additional employees. Organizers’ names were shared with the factory owner, and all were fired. Furthermore, the department did not allow more than one union per garment factory. Labor leaders reported unions sympathetic to management received quick approvals to organize

The labor law definition of workers excludes managerial, supervisory, and administrative staff. Firefighting staff, security guards, and employers’ confidential assistants are not entitled to join a union. Civil service and security force employees are prohibited from forming unions.

The law continued to ban trade unions and severely restricted the right to organize and bargain collectively for the nearly 430,000 workers in export-processing zones (EPZs). Worker welfare associations (WWAs), dominated by the Bangladesh Export Processing Zones Authority (BEPZA), continued to replace the function of independent, democratically elected unions in EPZs. The law limits inspection and greatly restricts the right to strike, giving BEPZA’s chairperson discretion to ban any strike viewed as prejudicial to the public interest. The law provides for EPZ labor tribunals, appellate tribunals, and conciliators, but those institutions were not established. Instead, eight labor courts and one appellate labor court heard EPZ cases. More than 50 percent of WWAs in one zone of the EPZ must approve a federation, and they were prohibited from establishing any connection to outside political parties, unions, federations, or NGOs. Except for limitations on the right of association and worker protections in the EPZs, the labor law prohibits antiunion discrimination. A labor court may order the reinstatement of workers fired for union activities, but reinstatement was rarely awarded.

The Department of Labor may deregister unions for other reasons with the approval of a labor court. The law affords unions the right of appeal in the cases of dissolution or denial of registration. Unfair labor practices, including antiunion discrimination, were expressly prohibited, but 2018 amendments to labor law halved penalties for both employers and workers. The labor law and rules amendment process continued, as indicated in a roadmap the government submitted to the International Labor Organization (ILO). Workers were often charged with unfair labor practices; employers rarely were. The government did not effectively enforce applicable laws. Penalties were not commensurate with those for other laws involving denials of civil rights. The law provides for the right to conduct legal strikes but with many limitations. For example, the government may prohibit a strike deemed to pose a “serious hardship to the community” and may terminate any strike lasting more than 30 days. The law additionally prohibits strikes for the first three years of commercial production if the factory was built with foreign investment or owned by a foreign investor.

The law establishes mechanisms for conciliation, arbitration, and dispute resolution by a labor court. The Department of Labor has the authority to deal with unfair labor practices, while the Department of Inspection for Factories and Establishments (DIFE) has the authority to mediate wage-related disputes, but their decisions were not binding. The government reported 20 complaints were filed for unfair labor practices from January to December 1; six were resolved according to the law and standard operating procedures, four investigations were completed, and 10 remained open. Trade union federations reported they have stopped filing unfair labor cases due to the enormous backlog of existing cases in labor courts.

The law establishes that workers in a collective-bargaining union have the right to strike in the event of a failure to reach a settlement. Few strikes followed the cumbersome legal requirements, however, and strikes or walkouts often occurred spontaneously. According to the law, at least 75 percent of union employees must support strike action. Work stoppages, strikes, and workplace actions were prevalent during the year in several sectors, and they generally concerned past-due wages, improper or illegal shutdowns, layoffs, terminations, and discrimination. The COVID-19 pandemic exacerbated these problems.

In July the workers of Style Craft factory in Gazipur agitated in front of the Labor Ministry building for 10 days, demanding arrears. Despite repeated meetings of MOLE with the employers, there was still no progress as to the payment of the arrears. According to the Industrial Police, the factory had 3,200 workers who did not receive wages after the factory announced sudden closure of its operation. The workers stated wages were in arrears for four to nine months and that their total due was more than 700 million taka ($8.14 million); however, the factory owner wanted to pay less than 25 million taka ($290,698).

On June 13, a female ready-made-garments (RMG) factory worker, Jesmin Begum, died and 35 others were injured as police clashed with 500-600 former workers demonstrating peacefully for the payment of arrears in front of the Dhaka EPZ. Police fired tear gas, rubber bullets, and used charged batons and water cannons to disperse the workers of Lenny Fashions Ltd, Lenny Apparels Ltd and A One Fashions Ltd., some of whom in return threw bricks at police, according to a local trade union leader. Union leaders said Begum died after being hit by rubber bullets, although police alleged she critically injured her head as she bumped into a pole while fleeing. In January the three referenced factories allegedly closed without clearing workers arrears, and thereafter former workers periodically demonstrated to protest. Dhaka EPZ authorities stated they were trying to sell the closed factories to clear the workers’ arrears.

On April 17, media reported at least seven workers were killed, and dozens injured after police opened fire on a crowd of workers demanding payment of unpaid wages and a pay raise at a Chinese-backed power plant. Police opened fire after approximately 2,000 protesters began hurling bricks and stones at officers at the construction site of the coal-fired plant in the southeastern city of Chittagong. The workers were protesting regarding unpaid wages, a pay raise, and reduced hours during the holy month of Ramadan, which started the same week as the protest.

According to the labor rights organization Solidarity Center, union registration applications and approvals have declined significantly since 2013 and that workers faced significant challenges registering unions. Despite the adoption of standard operating procedures for union registration in 2017, Solidarity Center reported the process routinely took longer than the 60-day maximum time, and nearly half of all union applications were arbitrarily denied. From January to December 1, Solidarity Center’s partners assisted 10 unions with their registration, and to date only one was approved, three were rejected, and six were pending approval. The government reported receiving 233 total valid applications during the year and approved 190, rejected 31, with the remainder still to be reviewed.

Workers in the RMG sector reported resistance when seeking to establish unions and engage in collective bargaining. In a 2018 survey, the Centre for Policy Dialogue, a local think tank, collected data from 3,856 RMG factories employing 3.6 million workers and found 97.5 percent of them had no union. During the year MOLE reported the RMG sector had 1,006 active trade unions and 1,951 participation committees. Labor leaders claimed much lower numbers of trade unions and asserted while there are perhaps 80 to 90 active unions, only 30 to 40 actually negotiated because intimidation, corruption, and violence continued to constrain union organizing. The ministry reported the shrimp sector had 16 unions. Only 70 tanneries were unionized under the sector’s single union. The tea sector had one union, the largest in the country, representing 95,000 to 100,000 workers. Labor regulations do not clearly provide a legal basis for collective bargaining at the industrial, sectoral, and national levels.

Labor rights groups reported workers routinely faced retaliation and violence for asserting their rights under the law, including organizing unions, raising concerns, or even attending union information sessions. For example, on August 6, the Bangladesh Industrial Police (BIP) filed a criminal case against the general secretary of the Bangladesh Garment and Industrial Workers Federation and other union leaders and members that the Solidarity Center characterized as a case of retaliation for attempting to organize. Workers at the Crossline garment factories in the city of Gazipur failed to register two unions and accused factory management of violating labor laws. These deep disagreements with management led to protests, BIP intervention, and violence on both sides; in response, Crossline filed criminal charges against up to 200 of its factory workers and dismissed others who had led the push to unionize.

Workers in unions were subjected to police violence, mass dismissals, and arrests of union leaders for asserting their rights to protest. Police intimidated unions in the RMG sector by frequently visiting their meetings and offices, photographing or recording meetings, and monitoring NGOs supporting trade unions. The International Trade Union Confederation (ITUC) noted major discrepancies in labor legislation that do not align with the standards of the ILO and emphasized concerns regarding police crackdowns on workers protesting wages. ITUC also called for more measures to restrain interference in union elections. In September Geneva-based IndustriALL Global Union reported police first banned several union meetings and then physically stopped participants from joining a meeting where a regional committee of the IndustriALL Bangladesh Council was to be formed. According to labor law, every factory with more than 50 employees is required to have a participation committee (PC). The law states there shall not be any participation committee if any registered trade union exists in a factory. Employers often selected or appointed workers for the PC instead of permitting worker elections to determine those positions. Employers also failed to comply with laws and regulations that provided for the effectiveness and independence of PCs.

Workers from several factories also asserted that since August 2018, Bangladesh Garments Manufacturer and Exporters Association (BGMEA) and factory owners allegedly used a database of RMG workers to blacklist those who brought demands to management or tried to form unions. Although created after the 2013 Rana Plaza collapse to have a record of workers (and potential victims of future disasters), the database served to track known union organizers or anyone who has brought a complaint to management to prevent these staff from finding employment at any other factory. Labor organizations also cited examples of factory owners willing to pay up to one million taka ($11,628) to the Department of Labor to dismiss a union registration application, or to share the names of organizers.

b. Prohibition of Forced or Compulsory Labor

The law prohibits all forms of forced or compulsory labor outside prisons, but the government did not effectively enforce the law. Criminal penalties for forced or bonded labor offenses were commensurate with those for other analogous serious crimes. Inspection mechanisms that enforce laws against forced labor did not function effectively. Resources, inspections, and remediation efforts were inadequate. The law also requires that victims of forced labor have access to shelter and other protective services afforded to trafficking victims, but the government did not always provide such services.

During the past year, law enforcement conducted fewer investigations and denied credible reports of official complicity in hundreds of forced labor and commercial sexual exploitation cases. The government did not provide sufficient victim protective services, nor did it consistently follow victim identification procedures. There were no government-owned shelters for adult male victims.

Some individuals recruited to work overseas with fraudulent employment offers subsequently were exploited abroad under conditions of forced labor or debt bondage. Many migrant workers assumed debt to pay high recruitment fees imposed legally by recruitment agencies belonging to the Bangladesh Association of International Recruiting Agencies and illegally by unlicensed subagents.

Children and adults were also forced into domestic servitude and bonded labor that involved restricted movement, nonpayment of wages, threats, and physical or sexual abuse (see section 7.c.). In December 2020 police rescued four workers who were being tortured in confinement at a brickfield and arrested seven individuals, including owners of the kiln. According to DIFE, at least 297 abuse cases were pending at labor courts across the country, while 106 cases were pending in Dhaka and 60 in Narayanganj. The cases were mostly filed under Section 326 of the penal code for voluntarily causing grievous hurt, assault, and torture at brick kilns. According to the ILO, significant number of child laborers were employed in the various chores at the brick kiln. To complete these tasks, which required no special skill, kiln operators and their agents targeted poverty-stricken villages and urban slums to recruit unskilled laborers.

Traffickers exploited workers in forced labor through debt-based coercion and bonded labor in the shrimp and fish-processing industries, aluminum and garment factories, brick kilns, dry fish production, and shipbreaking. NGOs reported officials permit traffickers to recruit and operate at India-Bangladesh border crossings and maritime embarkation points.

The more than 907,000 Rohingya men, women, and children in refugee camps, who did not have access to formal schooling or livelihoods, were vulnerable to forced labor and commercial sexual exploitation, particularly by local criminal networks. International organizations reported that officials took bribes from traffickers to access refugee camps.

See the Department of State’s Trafficking in Persons Report at https://www.state.gov/trafficking-in-persons-report/.

c. Prohibition of Child Labor and Minimum Age for Employment

The law does not prohibit all the worst forms of child labor. The law regulates child employment, and the regulations depended on the type of work and the child’s age. The law establishes the minimum age for work at 14, and the minimum age for hazardous work at 18, with no exceptions. Minors may work up to five hours per day and 30 hours per week in factories and mines or up to seven hours per day and 42 hours per week in other types of workplaces. By law every child must attend school through eighth grade.

In accordance with the law, the government has declared 38 hazardous sectors where child labor is prohibited, but hazardous domestic work, fish drying, brick production, stone collection, and brick and stone-breaking sectors were not included in that list. Even in sectors declared hazardous, child labor persists, with the government declaring only eight of the 38 listed sectors free of child labor. Trade union leaders pointed to domestic work, local garments production for domestic consumption, fish drying, and brick kilns as the biggest users of child and bonded labor.

The government continued to fund and participate in programs to eliminate or prevent child labor, including building schools and a three billion-taka ($35 million) government-funded three-year project that began in 2018 and removed approximately 90,000 children from hazardous jobs. In 2019 the program reintegrated 1,254 children into schools and provided rehabilitation for 3,501 children as well as livelihood support for their parents. In July DIFE stated that in the 2020-21 fiscal year, DIFE had already removed 5,800 child workers. On October 26, MOLE signed agreements with 112 NGOs to eliminate risky child labor. According to the agreements, 100,000 children would be removed from hazardous work in the fourth phase of the project, at a cost of more than 2.85 billion taka ($33.1 million).

MOLE enforcement mechanisms were insufficient for the large, urban informal sector, and authorities rarely enforced child labor laws outside the export-garment and shrimp-processing sectors. Penalties were not commensurate with those for other analogous serious crimes, such as kidnapping. DIFE enforced child labor laws in 42 sectors, and during the 2020-21 fiscal year it targeted six hazardous sectors, engineering workshops, bakery, transport, plastic, food-processing factories, and restaurants, for complete elimination of child labor. Labor inspectors were not authorized to assess penalties; they have the power only to send legal notices and file cases in court. Even when the courts imposed fines, however, they were too low to deter child labor violations.

Agriculture and other informal sectors that had no government oversight employed large numbers of children. The government found children working eight to 10 hours per day in restaurants, engineering workshops, local transportation, and domestic work. The government also reported underage children were found in almost all sectors except the export-oriented RMG, shrimp, tannery, ship breaking, silk production, ceramic, glass, and export-oriented leather goods and footwear sectors.

Children engaged in the worst forms of child labor in the production of bidis (hand-rolled cigarettes), furniture and steel, matches, poultry, salt, soap, textiles, and jute, including forced child labor in the production of dried fish and bricks. Children also performed dangerous tasks in the production of garments and leather goods bound for the local market, where the Bangladesh Labor Foundation reported 58 percent of workers were younger than 18, and 18 percent were younger than age 15.

According to a 2016 Overseas Development Institute report based on a survey of 2,700 households in Dhaka’s slums, 15 percent of children ages six to 14 were engaged in full-time work and not in school. These children were working well beyond the 42-hour limit set by national legislation. In a 2006 survey conducted by an international organization, more than 400,000 children were found engaged in domestic work. Children engaged in forced labor in the leather industry and in criminal activities, such as forced begging and the production and transport of drugs. In begging rings, traffickers abused children to increase earnings.

Rohingya children residing in refugee camps were vulnerable to forced labor. Rohingya girls were trafficked from the camps to Dhaka or foreign countries for domestic servitude. Rohingya children recruited to work outside the refugee camps were reportedly underpaid or unpaid, subjected to excessive working hours, or in bonded labor as shop hands, domestic workers, fishermen, and rickshaw pullers.

Also see the Department of Labor’s Findings on the Worst Forms of Child Labor at https://www.dol.gov/agencies/ilab/resources/reports/child-labor/findings  and the List of Goods Produced by Child Labor or Forced Labor at https://www.dol.gov/agencies/ilab/reports/child-labor/list-of-goods .

d. Discrimination with Respect to Employment and Occupation

The labor law prohibits wage discrimination based on sex or disability, but it does not prohibit other discrimination based on sex, disability, social status, caste, sexual orientation, or similar factors. The constitution prohibits adverse discrimination by the state based on religion, race, caste, sex, or place of birth and expressly extends that prohibition to government employment; it allows affirmative action programs for the benefit of disadvantaged populations. The law does not describe a penalty for discrimination. The government did not effectively enforce the law, and the penalties were not commensurate with those for similar crimes.

The garment sector traditionally offered greater employment opportunities for women. Women represented most garment-sector workers, making up more than 50 percent of the total RMG workforce, according to official statistics, although statistics were unreliable and varied widely due to a lack of data. Women were generally underrepresented in supervisory and management positions and generally earned less than their male counterparts, even when performing similar functions. A 2017 Oxford University and Center for Economic Research and Graduate Education Economics Institute study found women earned lower wages in export-oriented garment factories, even after controlling for worker productivity. According to the study, approximately two-thirds of the wage gap remained even after controlling for skills, which the study attributed to higher mobility for male workers. Additionally, former BGMEA president Rubana Haq noted the perception women were less able to adapt to increasing automation in the garment sector, leading factories to lay off many female workers. Women were also subjected to abuse in factories, including sexual harassment. Solidarity Center partners reported there were no antiharassment committees in garment factories, but the Garment Exporters’ Association announced it had visited more than 1,100 factories to confirm the committees had been established.

In the tea industry, female workers faced discrimination. Male workers received rice rations for their female spouses, but female tea-workers’ spouses were not given rice rations, as they were not considered dependents.

Some religious, ethnic, and other minorities reported discrimination, particularly in the private sector (see section 6).

The laws prohibiting adolescents from participating in dangerous work specify that women are equal to adolescents and are, therefore, prohibited from working with hazardous machinery, cleaning machinery in motion, working between moving parts, or working underground or underwater.

e. Acceptable Conditions of Work

Burma

Executive Summary

Burma’s military overthrew the democratically elected civilian government via a coup d’etat on February 1, declaring a state of emergency and transferring all executive, legislative, and judicial authorities to the State Administration Council, an authoritarian military-run administrative organization led by armed forces commander in chief Min Aung Hlaing. The military detained key elected civilian leaders and dissolved all national and subnational legislatures, including the Union Parliament, forcing many elected members to flee their homes and offices or face potential arrest. On February 5, elected parliamentarians from the National League for Democracy and allied political parties formed the Committee Representing the Union Parliament, which subsequently declared the regime “illegitimate” and the 2008 constitution abolished before proclaiming a “National Unity Government” on April 16.

The Myanmar Police Force is primarily responsible for internal security. The Border Guard Police is administratively part of the Myanmar Police Force but operationally distinct. Both fall under the regime’s Ministry of Home Affairs, led by an active-duty military general and itself subordinate to the military command. The armed forces under the Ministry of Defense are responsible for external security but are engaged almost exclusively in internal activities, including combat against ethnic armed groups. Members of the regime security forces continued to commit numerous gross violations of human rights.

Regime security forces arrested State Counsellor Aung San Suu Kyi, President Win Myint, and other leading members of the civilian government and National League for Democracy on February 1. Nationwide prodemocracy protests following the coup and the Civil Disobedience Movement, continuing as of November, opposed and disrupted efforts by the regime to exert full administrative control over governing institutions. The regime responded with repressive tactics such as the mass arrest of its political opponents and the use of widespread lethal violence against unarmed persons, including men, women, and children. Fighting between the military and ethnic armed organizations escalated, and the National Unity Government announced on April 16 that it would establish armed People’s Defense Force groups that would cooperate with various ethnic armed organizations.

Significant human rights issues included credible reports of: unlawful or arbitrary killings, including extrajudicial killings; forced disappearances; torture and cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment and punishment by the regime; gender-based violence by the regime; harsh and life-threatening prison conditions; arbitrary arrest or detention; political prisoners or detainees; politically motivated reprisals against individuals in another country; serious problems with the independence of the judiciary; arbitrary or unlawful interference with privacy; punishment of family members for offenses allegedly committed by an individual; serious abuses in a conflict, including reportedly unlawful or widespread civilian harm, enforced disappearances or abductions, and torture and physical abuses or punishment; unlawful recruitment or use of child soldiers; serious restrictions on free expression and media, including violence or threats of violence against journalists, unjustified arrests or prosecutions of journalists, and censorship; and the existence of criminal libel laws; substantial interference with the freedoms of peaceful assembly and association; particularly severe restrictions on religious freedom; restrictions on freedom of movement; the inability of citizens to change their government peacefully through free and fair elections; serious and unreasonable restrictions on political participation; serious government corruption; lack of investigation of and accountability for gender-based violence; trafficking in persons; crimes involving violence or threats targeting members of national and ethnic minority groups; the existence of laws criminalizing consensual same-sex sexual conduct between adults, although those laws were rarely enforced; significant restrictions on workers’ freedom of association, including violence and threats against labor activists; and the use of forced and child labor, including the worst forms of child labor.

There continued to be almost complete impunity for abuses by the regime security forces. There was no credible information that the regime took actions to prosecute or punish officials responsible for human rights abuses or corruption.

Some ethnic armed organizations and Peoples Defense Force groups or members committed human rights abuses, including killings, disappearances, physical abuse and degrading treatment, and failure to protect local populations in conflict zones.

Section 1. Respect for the Integrity of the Person

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

There were numerous reports that regime security forces committed arbitrary or unlawful killings of civilians, prisoners, and other persons in their power. According to the Assistance Association for Political Prisoners (AAPP), which noted that the actual number was likely to be much higher, there were 1,300 verified reports of persons killed by the regime as of November 22. Some ethnic armed organizations (EAOs) and Peoples Defense Force (PDF) groups or members committed human rights abuses, including killings, disappearances, physical abuse and degrading treatment, and failure to protect local populations in conflict zones (see also section 1.g.). Examples include the following.

On February 9, Mya Thwate Khaing was shot in the head by police while peacefully protesting the military coup in the capital, Nay Pyi Taw. She was taken to the hospital but died of her injuries several days later. Her death was widely considered the first fatality in the protest movement that began on February 2.

On February 28, regime security forces killed as many as 26 persons in eight cities and injured scores during a day of massive nationwide demonstrations against the regime. According to multiple media reports, eyewitnesses accounts, and documentary evidence, police arrested hundreds and used tear gas, flash-bang grenades, rubber bullets, and live rounds in confronting demonstrators.

On March 11, regime security forces shot and killed at least 11 persons in five cities according to multiple media reports, eyewitness accounts, and photographic evidence. Regime security forces used live rounds against unarmed demonstrators in addition to the use of tear gas, flash-bang grenades, and rubber bullets.

On March 27, a national holiday known as Armed Forces Day, regime security forces killed more than 100, including 13 children, across the country according to media reports, eyewitness accounts, and social media posts. Regime security forces met demonstrations on March 28 with further violence, killing at least 22 more individuals.

According to media reports, in April regime security forces continued to kill demonstrators and other civilians, including, on April 9, at least 28 persons in Bago Region. The killing came as regime security forces confronted demonstrators and sought to clear residents’ makeshift barricades.

In May the Chin Human Rights Organization reported that the military cremated the bodies of two civilians who were allegedly tortured to death by regime security forces in Chin State’s capital Hakha.

In July local media reported the death of 40 civilians allegedly killed by the military in Sagaing’s Kani Township. According to a local resident who spoke with the news website Irrawaddy, “Junta troops raided our villages. We fled and found corpses when we came back to the villages.”

In July local media reported the rape and killing of a 55-year-old woman by three soldiers in Kachin State. The military acknowledged the incident after the family filed a complaint, but no action was known to have been taken against the alleged perpetrators.

In September local media reported the King Cobra civilian defense group killed an alleged regime informant in Sagaing Region. King Cobra claimed its members committed 26 other killings.

AAPP alleged that at least 100 political prisoners died due to torture inflicted by authorities between February 1 and September 9. Well-known poet Khet Thi, who wrote the line, “They shoot in the head, but they don’t know the revolution is in the heart,” was reportedly tortured to death by regime security forces. The 45-year-old was detained on May 8 and died the following day in transit to the hospital in Monywa, Magway Region.

b. Disappearance

There were numerous reports of disappearances allegedly committed by the regime.

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

The law prohibits torture; however, members of regime security forces reportedly tortured and otherwise abused suspects, prisoners, detainees, and others. Such incidents occurred, for example, during interrogations and were widely documented across the country. Alleged harsh interrogation techniques were designed to intimidate and disorient and included severe beatings and deprivation of food, water, and sleep. Other reported interrogation methods described in news reports included rubbing salt into wounds and depriving individuals of oxygen until they passed out.

A 19-year-old prodemocracy supporter told local media that on April 9, he was taken to a military compound on the outskirts of Bago Township, Bago Region where “the commander tied my hands from the back and used small scissors to cut my ears, the tip of my nose, my neck and my throat.”

In April media reported regime forces struck Wai Moe Naing, a high-profile Muslim protest leader and a Muslim, with an unmarked vehicle during a motorbike demonstration in Monywa.

Transgender writer Han Nwe Oo shared on social media that while in detention she was ridiculed for being transgender, sexually assaulted, and faced “atrocious” interrogation for two days at a military camp inside Mandalay Palace, Mandalay Region in September.

According to nongovernmental organizations (NGOs), women in custody were subjected to sexual assault, gender-based violence, and verbal abuse. Police in some cases verbally abused women who reported rape. Women who reported sexual assault faced further abuse by police and the possibility of being sued for impugning the dignity of the perpetrator. On July 19, the UN special rapporteur on the situation of human rights defenders noted “[w]omen human rights defenders are particularly at risk in remote rural areas and are often beaten and kicked before being sent to prison where they may face torture and sexual violence with no medical care provided.”

In one case in April, Human Rights Watch (HRW) reported that security force members severely beat and sexually assaulted a female detainee accused of involvement in small-scale bomb attacks against regime targets in Rangoon. Her injuries were so severe she struggled to eat or urinate. Her cellmate reported similar treatment.

Also in April, local media reported that a high school student from Rangoon was arrested with her mother and described how she was “touched by a police officer who told me he could kill me and make me disappear.”

In Rangoon a journalist detained in March told media he witnessed police burn a detained female journalist with cigarettes and threaten to rape her if she did not provide information on her involvement in prodemocracy activities.

Impunity for rights abuses was pervasive for security force leaders and members. There was no credible evidence that the regime took action to investigate incidents or punish alleged perpetrators of abuses or to include human rights training as part of its overall training of regime security forces. The regime routinely denied responsibility for atrocities. For example, in April local media reported that the regime issued a blanket denial of abuses during a meeting with the UN special envoy for Burma, rejecting her allegations as “one-sided,” while denying it had killed children, among other atrocities.

Prison and Detention Center Conditions

Conditions in prisons, labor camps, and military detention facilities were reportedly harsh and frequently life threatening due to overcrowding; degrading and abusive treatment; and inadequate access to medical care (including COVID-19 treatment) and basic needs, including food, shelter, and hygiene.

Physical Conditions: There were 48 known prisons and 50 known labor camps in 2020. Women and men were held separately. Some prisons held pretrial detainees together with convicted prisoners. Children were sometimes held in pretrial detention with adults. More than 20,000 inmates were serving court-mandated sentences in labor camps located across the country in 2020; data were not available for the reporting year. The Associated Press reported on October 28 that the military had transformed dozens of public facilities (e.g., community halls) into interrogation centers across the country after the coup.

Several reports document poor conditions within prison facilities, including inadequate sewage systems, insufficient – and often inedible – rations, and a lack of basic necessities. Overcrowding was reportedly a serious problem in many prisons and labor camps. According to AAPP, occupancy at Insein Prison, the country’s largest, was nearly three times its intended capacity prior to the military coup.

Medical care was inadequate, and this reportedly contributed to deaths in custody. Prisons failed to adopt measures to protect prisoners from COVID-19, and there were widespread reports of COVID-19 transmission, illness, and deaths among prisoners. Despite regular regime reporting at national and subnational levels on COVID-19 cases and deaths, the regime failed to make data available on the impact of COVID-19 in prisons. According to AAPP, COVID-19 vaccinations were limited only to high-profile prisoners. In addition to COVID-19, prisoners suffered from other health problems, including malaria, heart disease, high blood pressure, tuberculosis, skin diseases, and intestinal illnesses caused or exacerbated by unhygienic conditions and spoiled food. There were also numerous reports of political prisoners being denied medical services.

Former prisoners complained of poorly maintained physical structures that provided no protection from the elements and were infested with rodents, snakes, and molds.

Conditions for women were deplorable, with a lack of access to sufficient toilets and no privacy. Prison guards denied requests for sanitary products for menstruation and other basic hygiene products. After the coup, sexual violence, gender harassment, and humiliation by officials increased.

In September human rights watchdog Just Power reported that a prominent human rights activist suffered from deteriorating health conditions as a result of her “unjust arrest and detention.” According to the report, regime security forces denied her access to health services, including to medicines provided by her family.

Administration: Prisoners and detainees could sometimes submit complaints to judicial authorities prior to the coup, but there was no clear legal or administrative protection for this right. There is no credible evidence of prisoners and detainees submitting complaints after the coup. Some prisons prevented full adherence to religiously based codes of personal conduct, ostensibly due to space restrictions and security concerns.

In April local media reported that a journalist fasting in observance of Ramadan was accused of staging a hunger strike and sent to solitary confinement at Insein Prison.

Independent Monitoring: The Department of Corrections in the Ministry of Home Affairs operated the prisons and labor camp system.

The International Committee for the Red Cross had no access to prisons, labor camps, or military detention sites during the year. After March 2020, the Ministry of Home Affairs under the deposed civilian government claimed it could not allow access because of COVID-19 prevention measures. After the coup, the military continued to deny access to all prisons and detention sites.

The UN Office on Drugs and Crime did not have access to prisons or labor camps and on February 1, ended cooperative capacity-building programs with the Department of Corrections. The drug and crime office continued to provide limited COVID-19-related personal protective equipment and primary basic health care assistance (e.g., infection prevention and control supplies) directly to the prisons.

d. Arbitrary Arrest or Detention

The law does not prohibit arbitrary arrest. Persons held generally did not have the right to appeal the legality of their arrest or detention either administratively or before a court. The law allows authorities to order the detention without charge or trial of anyone they believe is performing or might perform any act that endangers the sovereignty and security of the state or public peace and tranquility.

Arrest Procedures and Treatment of Detainees

Incommunicado detention was common. Since the coup, the regime detained politicians, election officials, journalists, activists, protesters, and Civil Disobedience Movement (CDM) members and refused to confirm their locations in violation of international law, according to HRW. In August AAPP reported that an estimated 5,000 individuals listed by the regime as “under detention” were in unknown locations, accounting for approximately 82 percent of arrests since the coup. Even when the whereabouts of prisoners was known, prisoners were regularly denied access to lawyers and family members.

After the coup, the military regime suspended aspects of privacy protection law to legalize arrests and private property searches without a warrant.

Authorities may hold suspects in pretrial detention for two weeks (with a possible two-week extension) before bringing them before a judge or informing them of their charges. The regime is not, however, obliged to respect this provision of the law. There is a functioning bail system, although the courts regularly denied bail to prodemocracy supporters. There were numerous reports that authorities did not inform family members or attorneys of arrests in a timely manner, did not disclose their location, and regularly denied family visitations.

Arbitrary Arrest: There were numerous reports of arbitrary arrest, including detention by the regime in unknown locations. Since the coup, regime security forces have made at least 8,000 arrests and more than 6,500 of those individuals remain in some form of detention.

In May, HRW reported the arrest of a lawyer defending a deposed local political leader after a court hearing in Nay Pyi Taw and the arrest of lawyer defending a political prisoner in Ayeyarwady Region. In June, HRW reported the arrest of a lawyer defending more than 120 political prisoners in Kachin State.

In July, UN human rights experts expressed concern about the arbitrary arrest of human rights defenders, citing credible information of such treatment of human rights defenders, including labor rights and student activists.

According to AAPP, among those the regime detained as of September were more than 175 family members of prodemocracy supporters, including 15 children. In August, for example, a family member delivering food and medicine to a political prisoner was detained at Insein Prison for six days. In September regime security forces reportedly arrested the wife and young child of a human rights activist to coerce his surrender. The activist was charged under terrorism legislation for supporting the CDM. His wife and child were missing as of December.

According to the independent news service Myanmar Now, a 14-year-old boy was detained in Taungtha Township, Mandalay Region in September by the regime to coerce his father, a former local National League for Democracy (NLD) leader, to turn himself in to police. The boy’s mother told a reporter, “They came for my husband and took the kid, saying they needed him to show them where dad was.…I keep waiting for his release. I don’t want anything else; I just want my son back.”

Pretrial Detention: Prior to the coup, judges and police sometimes colluded to extend detentions. According to the Independent Lawyers’ Association in 2020, arbitrary and lengthy pretrial detentions resulted from lengthy, complicated legal procedures and widespread corruption. These problems continued following the coup, worsened by the regime’s ability to detain persons indefinitely without trial. For those facing trial, detention prior to and during trials sometimes equaled or exceeded the sentence after conviction. The regime amended the legal aid law in May, removing the right to legal aid services during pretrial detention. Additional amendments limited legal aid for stateless persons, asylum seekers, foreigners, and migrant workers.

Detainee’s Ability to Challenge Lawfulness of Detention before a Court: Although habeas corpus exists in national law, regime security forces violated this law by arresting and detaining individuals without following proper procedures. Arbitrary arrest or detention was drastically increased to suppress political dissent, according to AAPP and detainees had limited ability to meaningfully challenge the lawfulness of detention before a court due to its lack of judicial independence from the regime.

e. Denial of Fair Public Trial

The constitution provides for an independent judiciary, a protection the regime has not respected. On February 4, the regime dismissed five NLD-appointed justices of the Supreme Court and replaced them with justices who support the regime. The remaining four justices, including the chief justice, were holdovers from the previous military junta.

In February the regime declared martial law in numerous townships across the country and transferred judicial (and executive) power to regional military commanders in several cities. In martial law courts, defendants have few or no rights, including access to legal counsel and the right of appeal (except in cases involving the death penalty, which may be appealed to armed forces commander in chief Min Aung Hlaing). The hearings are abbreviated, the verdict is reached within one or two sessions, and the sentences are typically the maximum penalties allowed. According to regime public announcements, by November, 61 cases were heard in martial law courts, with 280 defendants convicted and sentenced, including at least 80 defendants sentenced to death.

Judicial corruption was a significant problem. According to NGOs, officials at all levels received illegal payments at all stages of the legal process for purposes ranging from influencing routine matters to substantive decisions, such as fixing the outcome of a case.

Trial Procedures

Although no formal changes to trial procedures in civilian courts were made following the coup, the lack of judicial independence leaves much to the interpretation of the regime. The law provides for the right to a fair and public trial but also grants broad exceptions, effectively allowing the regime to violate these rights at will. While the right to counsel remains in the law, many defense lawyers were unwilling to handle prodemocracy cases due to fear for their personal safety. According to HRW, at least six lawyers handling political cases were arrested since the coup. Defendants do not enjoy a presumption of innocence or, even when the law provides for them, the rights to be informed promptly and in detail of the charges against them; to be present at their trial; to free interpretation; or to receive adequate representation. There is no right to adequate time and facilities to prepare a defense. Trial procedures were also affected by COVID-19 pandemic mitigation measures.

Political Prisoners and Detainees

The regime detained and arrested politicians, election officials, journalists, activists, protesters, religious activists, and CDM members. Political prisoners were not always held separately from the prison’s general population. Many political prisoners were held incommunicado.

Many former political prisoners were subject to surveillance and restrictions following their release, including the inability to secure identity or travel documents. AAPP estimated that there were more than 6,000 political prisoners as of year’s end.

Deposed state counsellor Aung San Suu Kyi was arrested on February 1 and held in an unknown location. She faced 11 separate charges for a range of offenses running from interacting with a crowd during the COVID-19 pandemic to sedition. Her trial was closed to the public and the regime placed a gag order on her attorneys so that the attorneys could not communicate with the public about her case. On December 6, she was convicted of inciting unrest and violating COVID-19 restrictions and sentenced to four years in prison. Also arrested February 1, deposed president Win Myint, was tried on the same charges and also convicted and sentenced to four years’ imprisonment. Just hours after the news of guilty verdicts for Aung San Suu Kyi and Win Myint broke on December 6, state media announced that the regime had “reduced [their] sentences…by two years.” The regime announcement also highlighted that the two would remain detained in their unknown locations, in conditions reportedly equivalent to house arrest.

Amnesty: The regime included some political prisoners among the more than 23,000 inmates released to mark Union Day on February 12. The regime released all those who met set criteria (e.g., not charged under Section 505 of the penal code, which criminalizes disseminating information that could agitate or cause security forces or state officials to mutiny), with no specific leniency for political prisoners. According to some human rights activists, the regime used the general pardon order to make space available for more political prisoners.

Amnesty was also granted to several high-profile ethnic Rakhine politicians, including Aye Maung and writer Wai Hin Aung, sentenced to long jail sentences for high treason under the deposed NLD government. In September the regime also released controversial ultranationalist Buddhist monk Ashin Wirathu, charged with sedition by the deposed government for comments he made during a 2019 promilitary rally.

Politically Motivated Reprisal against Individuals Located Outside the Country

Bilateral Pressure: There were credible reports that the regime attempted to pressure the Thai government to impose stricter control on movement across the border with Burma to undermine the ability of prodemocracy supporters from organizations, including the National Unity Government (NUG) and the Committee Representing the Union Parliament that created it, to depart the country.

Civil Judicial Procedures and Remedies

The law allows complainants to use provisions of the penal code and laws of civil procedure to seek civil remedies for human rights abuses. Individuals and organizations may not appeal an adverse decision to regional human rights bodies but may make complaints to the Myanmar National Human Rights Commission. After the coup, the ability of complainants to raise human rights abuses through the judicial system or the commission was limited.

Property Seizure and Restitution

Under the 2008 Constitution the state owns all land, although there is a limited amount of freehold land, and the law allows for registration and sale of private land ownership rights. Most land is held in long-term lease, meaning that while the government still owns this leasehold, private parties may lease land on a long-term basis with a general expectation that the leasehold would automatically roll over upon its expiration. The law provides for compensation when the government acquires privately held land for a public purpose; however, the postcoup situation is unclear. The government may also declare land unused or “vacant” and assign it to foreign investors or designate it for other uses. There is no judicial review of land ownership or confiscation decisions; administrative bodies subject to regime control make final decisions on land use and registration. The law does not favor recognition of traditional land tenure systems (customary tenure). There were numerous reports that the regime used its authority to seize property of prodemocracy supporters.

In March the regime reportedly seized assets worth approximately $3.8 million from staff members of a foundation accused of financially supporting the CDM.

In September the regime Anti-Terrorism Central Committee released a public notice requiring landlords to provide a list of tenants to their ward administration offices or face confiscation of the property.

As of November 15, credible media reports indicated that the regime has seized approximately 70 properties owned by NLD officials. The regime’s amendment of three laws enabled the extrajudicial seizure of property owned by defendants. The regime has also seized properties belonging to members of the Committee Representing the Union Parliament and NUG or their families.

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

The law protected privacy and the security of the home, but enforcement of these rights was limited after the coup. Unannounced nighttime household checks were common. The law does not protect the privacy of correspondence or other communications. The regime regularly monitored private electronic communications through online surveillance; there were numerous reports that the regime monitored prodemocracy supporters.

On March 1, the New York Times reported that the military employed invasive dual-use surveillance, hacking, and forensic technologies to monitor and target critics and protesters. Before the coup, the military built an “electronic warfare capability” and bought surveillance technology, including cell phone-hacking tools to monitor prodemocracy activists.

In July local news outlet Frontier Myanmar reported that the regime ordered mobile phone companies to install equipment to enable them to monitor calls, text messages, and locations of selected users, flagging each time they use words such as “protest” or “revolution.” Mention of these words may trigger heavier surveillance or be used as evidence against those being watched. The regime also monitored social media use, including data from visited websites, as well as conversations in public and private chat groups. According to the magazine Frontier Myanmar, this “cybersecurity team” was based inside the police’s Special Branch, a notorious surveillance department that heavily monitored suspected dissidents in the previous era of junta rule.

g. Conflict-related Abuses

After the coup, escalating conflict between the regime and joint EAOs-PDF groups focused on the northwest part of the country, with frequent fighting in Chin State and Sagaing and Magway Region. Conflict was also reported in Kachin, Kayah, and Karen States and in the Mandalay, Bago, and Tanintharyi Regions. Conflict between the military and the Arakan Army (AA) in Rakhine State declined following the coup because of a pre-coup de facto ceasefire. In March the regime removed the Arakan Army from its designated list of terrorist organizations; however, local media reported clashes between the AA and the military on November 9 after the military entered an AA-controlled area in the border area of Maungdaw Township.

Fighting between EAOs in Shan State continued.

Reports of killings, disappearances, excessive use of force, disregard for civilian life, sexual violence, and other abuses committed by regime security forces and some EAOs and PDF groups were common.

The NUG issued a code of conduct for PDF groups in June and included a call to respect human rights in its September 7 “people’s defensive war” declaration. No data was available to measure the impact of the NUG’s efforts to prevent human rights abuses by PDF groups.

Killings: Deliberate killings and deaths due to excessive or unjustified use of force by the regime were reported. For example:

On March 3, regime security forces killed at least 24 persons across the country in confrontations with peaceful demonstrators. In one Rangoon neighborhood alone, at least seven protesters died and 17 were critically wounded in a confrontation with regime security forces. Over the March 13-14 weekend, regime security forces shot and killed demonstrators indiscriminately across the country, killing at least 42.

In May a young mother in Magway’s Salin Township reportedly died from indiscriminate military fire during a raid. According to Myanmar Now, the raid was in response to prodemocracy graffiti.

In July, NUG-designated Minister for Human Rights Aung Myo Min reported that the military killed at least 32 civilians and displaced more than 6,000 residents from 13 villages in Sagaing’s Debeyin Township during intensified military operations targeting EAO and PDF strongholds.

In September the military was suspected of killing and mutilating five civilians in Magway’s Gangaw Township. According to the Irrawaddy, the victims were shot, and in some cases mutilated or showed signs of torture.

Also in September, the Irrawaddy reported on the killing of 18 civilians in Magway’s Yaw village perpetrated by the military. One resident recalled, “Most of them were shot in the head. Their heads were broken, and their brains spilled out like a ripe papaya that has fallen from a tree.” An 86-year-old resident was found tied up, with signs that he had been beaten to death.

In late September, according to a Radio Free Asia report, security forces responding to an attack by local defense forces in Thantlang, Chin State, shot and killed Baptist pastor Cung Biak Hum as he and others tried to extinguish fires the forces set. When his body was recovered, his ring finger was cut off and the wedding ring apparently stolen.

On December 5, regime security forces violently suppressed prodemocracy protesters in Rangoon. Tactics included, according to numerous reports, ramming a police vehicle directly into a crowd, killing five and injuring another 15. Escalating violence between the military and EAOs exposed many children to violence. AAPP reported in September that 61 children were killed in military-EAO conflicts.

Physical Abuse, Punishment, and Torture: There were reports of such abuses by EAOs and PDF forces. In December Myanmar Now reported the targeting of alleged military informants and others seen as sympathetic to the regime. In June commanders of the Karen National Defense Army, the armed wing of the Karen National Union, confirmed Karen National Defense Army soldiers killed 25 alleged military spies and detained 22 others for approximately one week near Waw Lay, Myawaddy Township, Karen State.

Child Soldiers: The military and some EAOs (Kachin Independence Army, AA, Ta’ang National Liberation Army, Karen National Liberation Army, Shan State Army, and Arakan Rohingya Salvation Army) were listed in the UN secretary-general’s 2021 Annual Report on Children and Armed Conflict as perpetrators of the unlawful recruitment and use of children. There were no data on PDF groups. Meaningful use of the National Complaint Mechanism, focused on the elimination of forced labor but which also prohibits the use and recruitment of child soldiers, was limited after the coup. There was no credible evidence that the regime or EAOs prosecuted offenders.

Also see the Department of State’s Trafficking in Persons Report at www.state.gov/trafficking-in-persons-report/.

Other Conflict-related Abuse: According to numerous local media reports, UN counterparts, and NGOs the regime restricted the passage of relief supplies, including medical supplies, and access by international humanitarian organizations to conflict-affected areas including in Kachin, Chin, Kayah, Karen, Tanintharyi, and Shan States. HRW reported on December 13 that restrictions on humanitarian assistance imposed by the regime since the coup were creating a “nationwide humanitarian catastrophe.” The United Nations estimated that the number of persons needing assistance would go from one million before the coup to 14.4 million by 2022. On November 8, the United Nations stated, “access to many people in desperate need across the country remains extremely limited due to bureaucratic impediments put in place by the armed forces.” HRW further reported that the military has seized food deliveries meant for displaced populations and arrested individuals on “suspicion of supporting aid efforts.” Visas for aid workers have also been delayed or denied. UNICEF reported in October that “the need to procure travel authorization [from the regime] remains a major access impediment and a high constraint factor for the humanitarian partners’ capacity to reach people in need.”

The regime reportedly forced civilians to act as human shields, carry supplies, or serve in other support roles. In September the Karen National Union reported to a local media outlet that approximately 300 civilians, including a number of women and children, were forced by regime security forces to perform military support duties. In September, Democratic Voice Burma reported that more than 100 soldiers abducted five local residents to act as guides for regime security forces in Kachin State.

As of September, the World Health Organization reported 260 attacks on health-care workers since the coup, representing 39 percent of such attacks globally during the year. In a February case, a doctor was arrested in Rangoon for providing first aid to prodemocracy supporters who had been shot while peacefully protesting. In July the Irrawaddy reported that the regime arrested five volunteer doctors working on COVID-19 prevention activities after luring them to a house under false pretenses.

Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties

a. Freedom of Expression, Including for Members of the Press and Other Media

The 2008 Constitution provides that “every citizen shall be at liberty in the exercise of expressing and publishing freely their convictions and opinions,” but it contains the broad and ambiguous caveat that exercise of these rights must “not be contrary to the laws enacted for national security, prevalence of law and order, community peace and tranquility, or public order and morality.” The postcoup regime led a full-scale crackdown on freedom of expression.

Freedom of Expression: Freedom of speech was severely limited. Those who spoke openly against the regime or in favor of the NLD, NUG, or democracy more broadly risked abuse and punishment by authorities. On September 4, poet and activist Maung Saungkha was convicted under Section 19 of this law after he placed a banner over a highway during a protest marking the one-year anniversary of restrictions on mobile internet communications in parts of Rakhine and Chin States. Maung Saungkha chose to pay a fine of 30,000 kyat ($22.50) rather than serve a 15-day prison sentence.

The regime used the Law Protecting the Privacy and Security of the Citizens to allow authorities to review content on individuals’ cell phones at checkpoints and during neighborhood raids. The regime reportedly employed violence and targeted killings to silence critics in civil society. Violence against persons engaged in speech deemed antiregime was allegedly used by proregime ultranationalist Buddhist groups as well as security forces and included maiming, kidnapping, and torture. The regime intimidated many prodemocracy voices among the public who previously spoke openly about politically sensitive topics. (See also “Internet Freedom,” below.)

A prodemocracy activist in Rangoon said during a media interview that regime security forces beat him as authorities transported him to a local interrogation center in February. The next morning, he was unable to eat due to injuries he had sustained during his first night in detention. He reported being tortured for days and only released after signing a statement denying the use of torture by the regime.

Freedom of Expression for Members of the Press and Other Media, Including Online Media: Prior to the coup, independent media outlets were active and able to operate despite many official and unofficial restrictions, economic hardship, and an uncertain business environment. After the coup, analysts reported the closure of 71 media outlets, ranging from well-known national, regional, and ethnic media to small Facebook pages. Regime crackdowns on media resulted in the arrest, detention, loss of work, and forced exile of more than 1,000 journalists, editors, and media staff – approximately 50 percent of pre-coup total. For example, two Kamayut Media journalists were arrested in March, one was released on June 15 and the other remained in detention at year’s end. In Mandalay the regime arrested and subsequently released freelance journalists. Eleven media and the Voice Daily self-censored and avoided criticism of the regime. The Myanmar Times and Union Daily have ceased publication, and Irrawaddy, Frontier, and Myanmar Now operated mostly in exile from outside the country.

In May the regime banned satellite dishes to restrict access to international news. The regime offered three public television channels – two controlled by the Ministry of Information and one controlled by the military. Two private companies that had strong links to the previous military regime continued to broadcast six free-to-air television channels. The regime and regime-linked businesspersons controlled eight FM radio stations. In August the NUG launched Radio NUG, a clandestine service that provided two 30-minute reports daily with prodemocracy content.

Violence and Harassment: The regime subjected journalists and other media workers to violence, harassment, detention, and intimidation for their reporting. According to AAPP, at least 95 journalists were unjustly arrested after February, and more than half of those remained in detention as of November. Among journalists detained by the regime were reporters from the Associated Press, the Ayeyarwady Times News, and many more outlets. In April the New York Times reported that many journalists stopped wearing helmets or vests marked with the word “PRESS,” did not publish under their own names, and avoided sleeping at home. On December 14, local media reported that freelance photojournalist and graphic designer Soe Naing died in regime custody after his arrest on December 10 while covering the “Silent Strike.” Soe Naing reportedly died after a violent interrogation, marking the first known death of a journalist while in regime custody since the coup.

Authorities arrested Polish photojournalist Robert Bociaga on March 11 in Shan State and deported him after he was held in detention for 13 days.

In April authorities detained Yuki Kitazumi, a Japanese freelance journalist, and accused him of supporting prodemocracy protests. Authorities released and deported Kitazumi in May.

Censorship or Content Restrictions: After the coup, the regime banned independent media outlets that did not self-censor reporting on the prodemocracy movement. The regime also banned using certain terminology in reporting, such as “junta,” “coup d’etat,” and “military council.” The Myanmar Times suspended publication on February 21 after many of its staff quit to protest the leadership’s decision to follow the regime order not to describe the military takeover as a “coup.” On March 8, the regime banned broadcast, online, and print media Mizzima, Democratic Voice Burma, Khit Thit Media, Myanmar Now, and 7Day News from broadcasting or reporting on any platform. Each of these media organizations had extensively covered the protests, including on their social media pages. The regime later revoked the licenses of three ethnic-minority-run outlets: Myitkyina News Journal from Kachin State, Tachileik News Agency from Shan State, and 74 other media outlets suspended their operations in response.

Libel/Slander Laws: Even before the coup, the military could and did use various legal provisions, such as a criminal defamation clause in the telecommunications law, to restrict freedom of expression. After the coup, the regime primarily relied on Section 505 of the penal code to prosecute journalists. Following his arrest on March 3 in Bago Region, a reporter covering prodemocracy protests from the radio and television company Democratic Voice Burma was the first after the coup to be charged under this section of the law. According to media reports, he was brutally beaten and seriously injured during his arrest. On May 3, he was sentenced to three years in prison. In June two other journalists were sentenced to two years in prison. According to the Committee to Protect Journalists, at least 24 journalists were facing charges under the broadened Section 505A that includes penalties for spreading “false news.”

National Security: Although the regime prosecuted some media critics using laws related to national security, in general the regime used other methods to pursue its critics. The regime designated the NUG and related prodemocracy groups as terrorist organizations but as of November had not arrested or tried any members of these on terrorist charges.

b. Freedoms of Peaceful Assembly and Association

The regime curtailed the exercise of the freedoms of peaceful assembly and association.

Freedom of Peaceful Assembly

In the initial days after the coup, hundreds of thousands of individuals took to the streets peacefully to protest the military takeover and demand the release of Aung San Suu Kyi. On February 8, the regime ordered curfews and restrictions on the size of gatherings that effectively banned peaceful public demonstrations across the country, although demonstrations continued, nonetheless. Regime security forces met protesters with increasing violence and lethal force. According to numerous reports in local media, small-scale prodemocracy protests continued across the country as of November despite violent intimidation and suppression by security forces.

Freedom of Association

The regime restricted the right to freedom of association. The law on registering organizations stipulates voluntary registration for local NGOs and removes punishments for noncompliance for both local and international NGOs. Prior to the coup, the government interpreted the law as requiring NGOs that received foreign funding to register with the government. After the coup, the regime required banks to report on all foreign funds received by both local and international NGOs.

c. Freedom of Religion

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

d. Freedom of Movement and the Right to Leave the Country

The law does not protect freedom of internal movement, foreign travel, emigration, or repatriation. Local regulations limit the rights of citizens to settle and reside anywhere in the country. Authorized officials may require the registration of foreigners’ movements and require foreigners to register every change of address exceeding 24 hours.

In-country Movement: Regional and local orders, directives, and instructions restricted freedom of movement. The regime increased restrictions on freedom of movement after the coup. Numerous local media reports described regime security force roadblocks and the random searches of private cars and taxis. Nightly curfews in Rangoon and several other cities also restricted movement, as did a reinstated requirement that all visitors register with the local ward administrator. Local media reported that the regime harassed, including by seizing ambulances, health-care workers when medical emergencies required them to break curfew. Due to escalating conflict with the military, the NUG and EAOs warned civilians to travel only in case of an emergency. For example, the Thantlang Revolutionary Campaign informed residents in September not to go out after 7 p.m., not to go hunting or into the jungle unless absolutely necessary, and to take extra care when traveling. COVID-19 mitigation regulations also contributed to restriction of movement.

Limitations on freedom of movement for Rohingya in Rakhine State were unchanged. Rohingya may not move freely; they must obtain travel authorization to leave their township. In contrast to the pre-coup rule that Rohingya traveling without documentation could return to their homes without facing immigration charges, the regime’s General Administration Department issued a directive resuming legal actions against Rohingya traveling without permission in Sittwe and Kyauktaw.

Foreign Travel: The regime restricted foreign travel by prodemocracy supporters and expanded measures to increase oversight. According to an official order dated May 13, “The authorities have directed airlines that all bookings for departures from Myanmar must be made at least 10 days in advance of the intended departure and be shared with [the] Ministry of Foreign Affairs.” The regime also reportedly cancelled, or refused to issue, passports to prodemocracy supporters. The regime notified the diplomatic community in Thailand and India that it had taken this action against multiple prodemocracy leaders. Numerous prodemocracy supporters expressed concern for their security and safety if they tried to leave the country by air, and at least one person reported being denied boarding because she was related to an NLD member. COVID-19 mitigation efforts also restricted foreign travel.

e. Status and Treatment of Internally Displaced Persons

The Office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) estimated that 296,000 recently arrived individuals were living as internally displaced persons (IDPs) as of December 17 due to postcoup violence in Southeast Burma, Kachin and Shan States, and Northwest Burma. A total of 666,000 persons were internally displaced in the country as of December 1. Decades of conflict between the central government and ethnic communities, exacerbated by the coup and the COVID-19 pandemic, resulted in large numbers of primarily ethnic-minority IDPs in ethnic-dominated parts of the country.

In June the United Nations estimated that more than 100,000 persons had fled their homes to escape conflict and risked starving in Kayah State alone. Myanmar Now reported on June 16 that the Karenni Nationalities Defense Force announced the temporary suspension of attacks on the military amid the growing crisis.

The regime has systematically obstructed humanitarian relief. In June local media reported that the military burned bags of rice, barrels of cooking oil, and other staples that locals from southern Shan State gathered to support those displaced from an escalation in fighting. In September, for example, amid an escalation in conflict, the military blocked humanitarian supply routes to 50,000 IDPs in Chin State, according to Radio Free Asia. According to local media, fighting erupted in Lay Kay Kaw Township, Karen State, the evening of December 14 between opposition forces and regime security, displacing at least 4,000 individuals including local residents and prodemocracy supporters seeking safe haven in the area. Democratic Voice Burma news reported that regime security forces continued to shoot at civilians as they fled for safety. HRW reported in December that the regime has imposed travel restrictions on humanitarian workers, blocked access roads and aid convoys, and destroyed nonmilitary supplies.

f. Protection of Refugees

The regime did not always cooperate with UNHCR or other humanitarian organizations in providing protection and assistance to refugees, returning refugees, asylum seekers, or other persons of concern.

Access to Asylum: The law does not provide for granting asylum or refugee status, and the government has not established a system for providing protection to refugees. UNHCR did not register any asylum seekers during the year.

g. Stateless Persons

The law defines a “national ethnic group” as a racial and ethnic group that can prove origins in the country dating back to 1823, a year prior to British colonization, and the regime officially recognized 135 “national ethnic groups” whose members are automatically granted full citizenship. The law also establishes two forms of citizenship short of full citizenship: associate and naturalized. Citizens in these two categories are unable to run for political office; form a political party; serve in the military, police, or public administration; inherit land or money; or pursue certain professional degrees, such as medicine and law. Only members of the third generation of associate or naturalized citizens are able to acquire full citizenship.

Rohingya, most of whom are Muslim, are not recognized as a “national ethnic group” and the vast majority are stateless as a result. Following the forced displacement of more than 740,000 Rohingya to Bangladesh in 2017, up to 600,000 Rohingya were estimated to remain in Rakhine State. Some Rohingya may be technically eligible for full citizenship. The process involves additional official scrutiny and was complicated by logistical difficulties, including travel restrictions and significant gaps in understanding the Burmese language. In practice this also required substantial bribes to regime officials, and even then, it did not result in equality with other full citizens. In particular, only Rohingya were required to go through an additional step of applying for the National Verification Card, through which they receive identity documents that describe them as “Bengali.” Regime officials treat Rohingya with the presumption of noncitizenship. This could lead to discrimination in access to public services and a wide range of societal discrimination.

There were also significant numbers of stateless persons and persons with undetermined nationality, including persons of Chinese, Indian, and Nepali descent. Although these latter groups did not face the same level of official and social discrimination as Rohingya, the regime granted members of these groups only the lesser rights, and imposed the greater restrictions, of associate and naturalized citizenship. The regime did not single these groups out the same way as Rohingya when obtaining citizenship.

The law does not provide any form of citizenship (or associated rights) for children born in the country whose parents are stateless.

Section 3. Freedom to Participate in the Political Process

Prior to the coup, the constitution provided citizens a limited ability to choose their government through elections held by secret ballot. The military deposed the democratically elected parliament and dissolved the Union Election Commission (UEC), appointing a former military major general to replace the ousted UEC chairman. On July 26, the military regime UEC announced that it had annulled the results of the November 2020 general elections, which domestic and international observers assessed as largely reflective of the will of the electorate, despite some identified irregularities and local election cancellations in some ethnic areas.

On October 16, the regime UEC announced that upcoming regional elections were cancelled across most of Rakhine State and in various other ethnic areas in Kachin State, Shan State and elsewhere.

The regime used laws against terrorism to arrest and punish groups and individuals who were active in the country’s precoup political life. The regime designated the NUG, the Committee Representing the Union Parliament, and PDF groups as unlawful terrorist organizations. According to the law, anyone associated with these groups could face 10 years to life in prison, although no one had come to trial as of year’s end.

Elections and Political Participation

Recent Elections: Observers considered the 2020 national elections to be generally reflective of the will of the population, notwithstanding some structural shortcomings. The NLD, chaired by Aung San Suu Kyi, won more than 80 percent of the 1,150 contested seats at the state, regional, and union levels in those elections. The NLD won 396 of 476 races for national assembly seats; a military-affiliated party won 33, and various ethnic parties took 47 seats. The 2008 constitution bars Aung San Suu Kyi from the presidency due to her marriage to a British national.

Political Parties and Political Participation: Political parties faced narrowing political space amid regime investigations and threats to ban them from competing in elections. Political parties not aligned with the military were denied the rights to assemble and protest peacefully. The military regime, moreover, conducted politically motivated investigations into prodemocracy political parties and their leaders, particularly the NLD. In May the UEC began investigations into the 93 registered political parties, including financial audits. In an August 27 letter, the UEC threatened that if political parties did not submit financial statements, their party registration could be suspended.

Participation of Women and Members of Minority Groups: No laws limit the participation of women in the political process, and they did participate in elections. Laws limiting the citizenship status of many ethnic minority groups (see “Stateless Persons” above) also limited their rights to participate in political life. Women and members of historically marginalized and minority groups were underrepresented in government prior to the coup. Some policies (as opposed to laws and regulations) limited women’s participation in practice.

In the 2020 general elections, 194 women were elected to parliament.

Section 4. Corruption and Lack of Transparency in Government

Since the coup, the Anti-Corruption Commission has regularly targeted deposed NLD politicians and other former civilian government leaders for prosecution under anticorruption law. As of November, the commission charged at least 45 former NLD and civilian government officials, including Aung San Suu Kyi, former president Win Myint, union-level ministers, and state and region ministers appointed by the previous government. Most observers considered these charges baseless.

Corruption was widespread in all dimensions of political life, including especially the judicial system. Petty extortion by police was paralleled by more serious graft at higher levels, such as demanding bribes from victims to conduct criminal investigations.

Corruption: Although corruption was widespread, unlike the civilian government it overthrew, the regime used corruption laws almost exclusively against opponents, as noted. Such cases, which often relied on coerced testimony, did not provide an accurate picture of actual corruption.

Section 5. Governmental Posture Towards International and Nongovernmental Investigation of Alleged Abuses of Human Rights

The regime did not allow domestic human rights organizations to function independently. Human rights NGOs were able to open offices and operate, but reported harassment, monitoring by authorities, and arbitrary detention. The regime, for example, sometimes pressured hotels and other venues not to host meetings organized by activists or civil society groups. Regime security forces also raided and damaged NGO offices. These restrictions went beyond standard COVID-19 mitigation efforts.

The United Nations or Other International Bodies: The regime systematically denied attempts by the United Nations and other international organizations and NGOs to investigate human rights abuses or to access the locations of alleged abuses. Foreign human rights activists and advocates, including representatives from international NGOs, continued to be restricted to short-term visas that required them to leave the country periodically for renewal. Several international NGOs’ local partners were repeatedly asked to show financial statements and other documents that revealed their relationship with foreign funders.

The regime refused to cooperate with or grant access to the Independent Investigative Mechanism for Myanmar created by the UN Human Rights Council to investigate alleged atrocities in the country.

The regime continued to refuse entry to the UN special rapporteur on the human rights situation in the country. While the prior civilian government permitted the UN secretary-general’s special envoy for Burma to open an office in the country in 2019, the regime denied the envoy and her staff permission to enter the country after the coup.

Government Human Rights Bodies: The Myanmar National Human Rights Commission has the power to conduct independent inquiries, and in some cases may call for investigations into abuses. In fact the commission had limited ability to operate as a credible, independent mechanism. Before the coup, the commission investigated some incidents of human rights abuses, but no investigations took place after February 1. The commission released photos of commission members visiting prisons, labor camps, and police detention facilities between May and June. No findings from the visits were released. The NUG established a Human Rights Ministry, which pledged to document human rights abuses committed by regime security forces. The Independent Commission of Enquiry for Rakhine State has not been active since the coup.

Section 6. Discrimination and Societal Abuses

Women

Rape and Domestic Violence: Rape of women and men is illegal but remained a significant problem, and the regime did not enforce the law effectively. Rape of a woman outside of marriage carries a maximum sentence of 20 years in prison. Spousal rape is not a crime unless the wife is younger than the legal age of marriage (which may vary according to ethnicity or religion), and the penalty is a maximum of two years in prison. The law prohibits committing bodily harm against another person, but there are no laws specifically against domestic violence or spousal abuse unless the wife is younger than the legal age of marriage. Overlapping and at times contradictory legal provisions complicated implementation of these limited protections.

Domestic violence against women, including spousal abuse, remained a serious problem. Abuse within families was prevalent and considered socially acceptable. Spousal abuse or domestic violence was difficult to measure because the government did not maintain comprehensive statistics and survivor typically did not report it, although the government attempted to document cases, and reported cases were on the rise.

Sexual Harassment: The law prohibits sexual harassment and prescribes a maximum penalty of two years in prison if the harassment involves physical contact. Harassment is punishable by a fine or up to one year in prison. The regime did not report information on the prevalence of the problem, and many of these crimes were unreported. NGOs reported regime police investigators were not sensitive to survivors and rarely followed through with investigations or prosecutions.

Reproductive Rights: There were no reports of coerced abortion or involuntary sterilization on the part of government authorities. The law allows the government to impose coercive birth-spacing requirements – 36 months between children – if the president or national government designates “special regions” for health care based on factors such as population, migration rate, natural resources, birth rates, and food availability. In such special regions, the government may create special health-care organizations to perform various tasks, including establishing family planning regulations. The government did not designate any such special regions.

In Rakhine State, local authorities prohibited Rohingya families from having more than two children, although some Rohingya with household registration documents reportedly circumvented the law.

The law otherwise limits the right of individuals to manage their reproductive health. Access to sexual and reproductive health services, including emergency contraception, for sexual violence survivors through public and private facilities was very limited and further exacerbated by the collapse of the public-health system after the coup. While September reports from Population Services International indicated that demand for oral contraceptives increased significantly in Rangoon after the coup, access to family planning was limited in rural areas. Economic hardship and security concerns in conflict-affected regions also limited access to family planning.

The Department of Social Welfare adapted gender-based violence services to COVID-19 restrictions, including expanding virtual platforms for online training.

The United Nations estimated in 2017 that the maternal mortality rate nationwide was 250 deaths per 100,000 live births. No more recent reliable data were available. The 2017 National Maternal Death Surveillance and Response Report stated that the maternal mortality ratio was highest in Shan, Chin, and Ayeyarwady States. NGOs regularly reported throughout the year that humanitarian access and movement restrictions among Rohingya limited access to health-care services and contributed to maternal mortality rates in Rakhine State being higher than the national average. Complications resulting from unsafe abortions were also a leading cause of maternal deaths.

Other major factors influencing maternal mortality included poverty; the high rate of home births (63 percent; a number that likely rose after the coup); limited availability of and access to comprehensive sexual and reproductive health services and information, including contraception, and maternal and newborn health services; low coverage of antenatal care visits; and the lack of access to services from appropriately trained and skilled birth attendants and other trained community health workers.

Discrimination: By law women enjoy the same legal status and rights as men, including property and inheritance rights and religious and personal status, but regime officials did not enforce the law. Communities around the country implemented customary law to address matters of marriage, property, and inheritance that differed from the provisions of statutory law and which was often discriminatory against women. The law requires equal pay for equal work, but the formal sector did not respect this requirement, and the regime did not actively enforce it. NGOs reported other forms of workplace discrimination were common (see also section 7.d.). The law restricts the ability of Buddhist women to marry non-Buddhist men by requiring public notification prior to any such marriage and allowing objections to the marriage to be raised in court. The law was rarely enforced. Poverty affected women disproportionately.

Systemic Racial or Ethnic Violence and Discrimination

Wide-ranging governmental and societal discrimination against members of minority groups persisted, including in areas such as education, housing, employment, and access to health services. Members of ethnic minority groups constituted 30 to 40 percent of the population. The seven ethnic minority states comprised approximately 60 percent of the national territory, and a significant number of minorities also resided in majority ethnic Burmese regions. Rohingya continued to face severe discrimination based on their ethnicity and religion, although conflict between the military and ethnic Rakhine populations de-escalated.

Children

Birth Registration: The law automatically confers full citizenship to children when both parents are from one of the 135 recognized national ethnic groups and to some children who meet other citizenship requirements. Second generation children may acquire full citizenship if at least one parent has full citizenship. Third generation children of associate or naturalized citizens may acquire full citizenship. Many long-term residents in the country, including Rohingya, are not among the recognized national ethnic groups, and thus their children are not automatically conferred citizenship (see also section 2.g.). There were significant rural-urban disparities in birth registration, with an informal or almost nonexistent process in small, rural villages. Birth registration is required to obtain a national identification card, and it can provide important protections for children, particularly against child labor, early marriage, and underage recruitment into the armed forces and ethnic armed groups.

Education: By law, education is compulsory, free, and universal through the fourth grade (up to age 10). This leaves children ages 10 through 13 vulnerable to child labor, since they are not required to attend school and are not legally permitted to work (the minimum age for work is 14). Burmese is the mandatory language of instruction in public schools. The national education plan does not allow for other languages of instruction, although some public schools taught ethnic languages as extra subjects. Schools were often unavailable in remote communities and conflict areas, and access to them for internally displaced and stateless children was also limited.

In June the regime ordered all primary and secondary schools to reopen, after closing in 2020 due to the COVID-19 pandemic. According to the Myanmar Teacher’s Federation, more than 90 percent of students did not return on June 2 as mandated. The teachers’ federation reported that almost one-third of teachers from the primary to university level were suspended for participating in the CDM. A suspended teacher from Rangoon told international media in May, “I’m not afraid of arrest and torture. I’m afraid of becoming a teacher who teaches the students propaganda.” In early July the regime ordered all primary and secondary schools closed due to the third wave of COVID-19; the schools reopened before year’s end.

UNICEF reported in July that the regime and prodemocracy groups conducted 180 attacks against schools and school personnel and that the military used education facilities for military purposes in at least 157 cases.

Child Abuse: The laws were neither adequate to deter child abuse nor enforced. The United Nations reported in July that hundreds of children were killed or maimed and approximately 1,000 arrested in postcoup demonstrations and clashes. The chairperson of the Child Rights Convention described children as “under siege” since the coup.

Child, Early, and Forced Marriage: The law stipulates different minimum ages for marriage based on religion and gender. The minimum age for Buddhists is 18, while the minimum age for non-Buddhists is 16 for boys and 15 for girls. Child marriage occurred, especially in rural areas. There were no reliable statistics on forced marriage.

Sexual Exploitation of Children: End Child Prostitution in Asian Tourism (ECPAT), a Bangkok-based international NGO, characterized the problem of children experiencing sexual abuse and violence as “widespread,” despite the scarcity of data. Lifetime migrants constituted 20 percent of the country’s population, and the children who accompany them faced higher risks of sexual exploitation, forced marriage, and trafficking, according to UNICEF.

The law prohibits the commercial sexual exploitation of children, including pimping; separate provisions within the penal code prohibit sex with a minor younger than 14. The penalty for the purchase and sale of commercial sex acts from a child younger than 18 is 10 years in prison. The law prohibits child pornography and specifies a minimum penalty of two years’ imprisonment and a modest fine. The law on child rights prescribes a penalty of one to seven years in prison, a substantial fine, or both, for sex trafficking and forced marriage. If a survivor is younger than 14, the law considers any sexual act to constitute statutory rape. The maximum sentence for statutory rape is two years in prison when the survivor is between ages 12 and 14, and 10 years to life in prison when the survivor is younger than 12. The law against trafficking in persons requires a demonstration of force, fraud, or coercion to constitute a child sex-trafficking offense. The deposed civilian government introduced these laws. ECPAT cited a lack of monitoring and evaluation mechanisms as well as publicly available data to ascertain the effectiveness of implementation.

Displaced Children: The United Nations estimated that as of October there were more than 589,000 IDPs, approximately 37 percent of whom were children.

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

Anti-Semitism

There was one synagogue in Rangoon serving a very small and primarily expatriate Jewish population. There were no reports of anti-Semitic acts.

Trafficking in Persons

See the Department of State’s Trafficking in Persons Report at https://www.state.gov/trafficking-in-persons-report/.

Persons with Disabilities

The law prohibits discrimination against persons with physical, sensory, intellectual, and mental disabilities. While the law requires job protection, equal access to education, and access to public transportation, there was no meaningful enforcement. According to the Eden Center for Disabled Children, children with disabilities had a lower school attendance rate than their peers. COVID-19 mitigation restrictions and the coup further limited access to services, including education and programs focused on reducing stigma and discrimination against persons with disabilities.

Military veterans with disabilities in urban areas received official benefits on a priority basis, usually a civil service job at pay equivalent to rank. Official assistance to civilians with disabilities in principle included two-thirds of pay for a maximum of one year for a temporary disability and a tax-free stipend for permanent disability.

HIV and AIDS Social Stigma

Official and societal violence and discrimination, including employment discrimination, against persons with HIV or AIDS, continued. Reports of abuse included verbal insults, harassment, threats, and physical assault. Significant legal, social, and financial barriers impeded access to services for persons with HIV or AIDS. These barriers included stigma, unhelpful gender norms, poor infrastructure, an entrenched drug trade, political instability, and the COVID-19 pandemic. Laws criminalizing behaviors that increased the risk of acquiring HIV or AIDS fueled stigma and discrimination against persons engaged in these behaviors and impeded their access to HIV prevention, treatment, and care services.

The regime paused most high-level efforts to address these matters due to political instability and reduced engagement with the regime by persons and groups concerned with them.

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

Although consensual sexual activity between men remained a criminal offense, political reforms in prior years made it easier for the lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer, and intersex (LGBTQI+) community to hold public events and openly participate in society. Discrimination, stigma, and a lack of acceptance among the general population persisted. Transgender persons, for example, were subject to police harassment, and their identity was not recognized. After the coup, reported violence against LGBTQI+ persons increased. As of July the NUG minister of human rights claimed at least 12 LGBTQI+ community members died and another 73 were arrested while peacefully protesting against the regime. As of November, at least 65 LGBTQI+ community members remained in detention, and 28 were either in hiding or had fled to areas not under regime control. According to Radio Free Asia, LGBTQI+ prodemocracy supporters were targeted for humiliation by regime after arrest including sexual insults, taunts, mocking of clothing, and physical abuse.

There were reports of discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity in employment. Many LGBTQI+ individuals faced significant barriers to education and employment if they were vocal or visible about their status. LGBTQI+ persons reported facing discrimination from health-care providers, including public shaming.

A 2019 report by the British Council found mixed views on whether LGBTQI+ persons could be accepted in the culture: fifty percent of respondents rejected the idea. Overall, those polled were more willing to accept LGBTQI+ persons in the abstract but were less so when the person in question was a specific individual, such as a relative or politician.

Section 7. Worker Rights

a. Freedom of Association and the Right to Collective Bargaining

After the military coup on February 1, the regime committed widespread abuses against organized labor, including the unlawful detention and extrajudicial killing of labor union leaders and members for exercising their fundamental freedoms and basic human rights. After the coup, labor laws often went unenforced or were enforced primarily against organized labor and labor activists and in the interests of business owners and the regime.

The military declared at least 16 labor unions illegal and issued arrest warrants for more than 85 union leaders, including 11 of the Confederation of Trade Unions of Myanmar, and many union leaders remained in prison or missing. There were numerous reported raids of trade union offices and union leaders’ homes. More than a dozen union leaders were killed.

The law provides for the right of workers to form and join independent unions, bargain collectively, and conduct strikes. The law permits labor organizations to demand the reinstatement of workers dismissed for union activity, but it does not explicitly prohibit antiunion discrimination in the form of demotions or mandatory transfers, nor does it offer protection for workers seeking to form a union. The law does not provide adequate protection for workers from dismissal before a union is officially registered. The law prohibits civil servants and personnel of the security services and police from forming unions. The law permits workers to join unions only within their category of trade or activity, and the definition of trade or activity lacks clarity. Basic labor organizations must have a minimum of 30 workers and register through township registrars via the Chief Registrar’s Office of the regime Ministry of Labor, Immigration, and Population (Ministry of Labor). The law permits labor federations and confederations to affiliate with international union federations and confederations.

The law provides for voluntary registration for local NGOs, including labor NGOs working on labor matters, as long as they do not receive foreign funding. The military authorities interfered in the operations of the International Labor Organization (ILO) country office, including through the continued imposition of banking restrictions, the denial of visa extensions for ILO officials, and the denial of tax exemptions.

The law provides unions the right to represent workers, to negotiate and bargain collectively with employers, and to send representatives to a conciliation body or tribunal; however, there were reports that employers dismissed union leaders with impunity or with military support. The law stipulates that a management committee, including government and nongovernmental representatives, in the special economic zones be the first instance arbiter in disputes between employers and employees.

In March, however, the military took control and imposed martial law over two major industrial zones located in Hlain Thar Yar and Shwe Pyi Thar Townships, Rangoon Region, as well as other townships with a high concentration of industrial and manufacturing enterprises. Labor representatives alleged that some employers hired military-affiliated security guards to harass and intimidate workers, sometimes leading to fatal violence when disputes arose. On March 16 at Xing Jia shoe factory, the employer reportedly called in police to deal with a dispute with a group of workers seeking their pay. The police opened fire and killed at least six workers.

The law provides the right to strike in most sectors with significant requirements such as the permission of the relevant labor federations. The law prohibits strikes addressing problems not directly relevant to labor matters. The law does not permit strikes or lockouts in essential services such as water, electric, or health. Lockouts are permitted in public utility services (including transportation; cargo and freight; postal; sanitation; information, communication, and technology; energy; petroleum; and financial sectors), with a minimum of 14 days’ notice provided to the relevant labor organizations and conciliation body. Strikes in public utility services generally require the same measures as in other sectors, but seven days’ advance notice and negotiation between workers and management is required before the strike takes place in order to determine maintenance of minimum service levels.

The government did not effectively enforce labor laws related to freedom of association. Penalties for violations of related labor laws were commensurate with those for other laws involving denials of civil rights; however, laws were enforced primarily against independent trade unions and not employers.

After the coup, strikes and collective worker action led to retaliation by the military, including workers forced to return to work at gunpoint. On February 19, shipping and jetty workers in Mandalay went on strike to support the CDM. There were reports that the military tried, at gun point, to force the workers back to work, but large crowds gathered to block and drive the military away. The military fired into the crowd, killing protesters. The military evicted striking railway worker and their families, forcing them to flee.

After a national work stoppage began on March 8, the military publicly stated that all public sector workers must return or face criminal charges. There were reports of at least 1,100 public-sector workers from various departments receiving some form of threat or discipline because of participation in the CDM.

Workers at some unionized factories negotiated leave agreements so they would be granted leave to attend the demonstrations. Employer refusal, in some cases, led to work stoppages. There are numerous reports of workers fired for participating in the CDM. Many reported postings at factories saying workers would be fired if they participated in the CDM.

Worker organizations reported that formal dispute settlement and court procedures were not effective at enforcing labor laws. After the coup, there were multiple reports of worker disputes handled with military interference.

Labor organizations also reported that local labor offices imposed unnecessary bureaucratic requirements for union registration that were inconsistent with the law.

The Confederation of Trade Unions in Myanmar reported the arrest and harassment of trade unionists by regime security forces after the coup, including the secretary general of Myanmar Infrastructure, Craft and Service who was detained in June when the regime raided the infrastructure, craft, and service union office in Mandalay. Labor sources reported the secretary general was not allowed to meet any visitors or access legal aid while in detention. In a separate case, regime authorities detained the director of the Solidarity Trade Union of Myanmar at his office in April. Labor sources reported the regime denied the director access to medicine and other necessary health care to manage her chronic illness while in detention. The regime released the director in October as part of a general amnesty and without pursuing formal charges. On October 12, a military tribunal also sentenced two union organizers, U Yen Tu Htauk and Ma Kyi Par Lay, to life in prison.

b. Prohibition of Forced or Compulsory Labor

The law prohibits most forms of forced or compulsory labor, although insufficient barriers exist for the use of forced labor by the military and penal institutions. The law also provides for the punishment of persons who impose forced labor on others. The law provides criminal penalties for forced labor violations; penalties differ depending on whether the military, the government, or a private citizen committed the violation. The penalties were commensurate with analogous serious crimes such as kidnapping. The regime did not effectively enforce the law, particularly in the areas where significant conflict was occurring.

In early 2020 the government established a forced-labor complaints mechanism under the Ministry of Labor. There were no data available on the functioning of or the number of cases reported to or processed by the mechanism since the coup. The ILO expressed profound concern over practices of the military authorities, including the use of forced labor.

The regime threatened CDM members with criminal charges if they did not return to work (see also section 7.a.).

Also see the Department of State’s Trafficking in Persons Report at https://www.state.gov/trafficking-in-persons-report/.

c. Prohibition of Child Labor and Minimum Age for Employment

The law prohibits the worst forms of child labor, although the regime did not meaningfully enforce the law. The law sets the minimum age at 14 for work in certain sectors, including shops and factories; the law establishes special provisions for “youth employment” for those older than 14. There is, however, no minimum age for work for all sectors in which children were employed, including agriculture and informal work. The law prohibits employees younger than 16 from working in a hazardous environment, but the government did not issue a list of hazardous jobs. Some sector-specific laws identify activities that are prohibited for children younger than 18. Penalties under the Child Rights Law were analogous to other serious crimes, such as kidnapping.

Children worked mostly as street vendors, refuse collectors, restaurant and teashop attendants, garment workers, and domestic workers. Children often worked in the informal economy, in some instances exposing them to drugs and petty crime, risk of arrest, commercial sexual exploitation, HIV, AIDS, and other sexually transmitted infections (see also section 6). Children were also vulnerable to forced labor in teashops, agriculture and forestry, gem production, begging, and other fields. In rural areas children routinely worked in family agricultural activities, occasionally in situations that potentially involved forced labor. Child labor was also reported in the extraction of rubies and jade and the manufacture of rubber and bricks.

Also see the Department of Labor’s Findings on the Worst Forms of Child Labor at https://www.dol.gov/agencies/ilab/resources/reports/child-labor/findings/  and the Department of Labor’s List of Goods Produced by Child Labor or Forced Labor at https://www.dol.gov/agencies/ilab/reports/child-labor/list-of-goods .

d. Discrimination with Respect to Employment and Occupation

Labor laws and regulations do not prohibit employment discrimination. Restrictions against women in employment exist based on social and cultural practices and beliefs. Women remained underrepresented in most traditionally male-dominated occupations (forestry, carpentry, masonry, and fishing) and were effectively barred from them by hiring practices and cultural barriers. Women were not legally prohibited from any employment except in underground mines. The law governing hiring of civil service personnel states that nothing shall prevent the appointment of men to “positions that are suitable for men only,” with no further definition of what constitutes positions “suitable for men only.”

There were reports that government and private actors practiced discrimination that impeded Muslim-owned businesses’ operations and undercut their ability to hire and retain labor, maintain proper working standards, and secure public and private contracts. There were reports of discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity in employment, including the denial of promotions and firing of LGBTQI+ persons. Activists reported limited job opportunities for many openly gay and lesbian persons and noted a general lack of support from society. Activists reported that in addition to general societal discrimination, persons with HIV or AIDS faced employment discrimination in both the public and private sectors, including suspensions and the loss of employment following positive results from mandatory workplace HIV testing.

e. Acceptable Conditions of Work

Wage and Hour Laws: The official minimum daily wage was above the poverty line. The minimum wage covers all sectors and industries and applies to all workers in the formal sector except those in businesses with fewer than 15 employees. The law requires the minimum wage to be revised every two years. The government also established tripartite committees in the Special Economic Zones responsible for setting wage levels and an inspector for each zone.

The workweek is 44 hours per week for factories. For shops and other establishments, it is 48 hours per week. Although the law in general states that overtime should not exceed 12 hours per work week, the law allows up to 16 hours of overtime when special matters require additional overtime. Overtime for factory workers is regulated under a separate directive that limits overtime to 20 hours per week. The law also stipulates that an employee’s total working hours cannot exceed 11 hours per day (including overtime and a one-hour break). Laws did not apply to those in the informal sector or self-employed.

Occupational Safety and Health: The 2019 Occupational Safety and Health law sets standards for occupational safety, health, and welfare. The Ministry of Labor has the authority to suspend businesses operating at risk to worker health and safety until risks are remediated.

Labor unions reported instances in which workers could not remove themselves from situations that endangered their health or safety without jeopardizing their employment. Unions reported that workers concerned about COVID-19 positive cases in factories were nonetheless required to work.

The Ministry of Labor’s Factories and General Labor Laws Inspection Department oversees labor conditions in the private sector. Inspectors were authorized to make unannounced inspections and initiate sanctions.

The regime did not effectively enforce the law. Penalties for wage and hour violations were commensurate with those for similar violations, but penalties for safety and health violations were not. The number of labor law inspectors and factory inspectors was insufficient to address wage, salary, overtime, occupational safety and health standards, and other matters adequately. In some sectors other ministries regulated occupational safety and health laws (e.g., the Ministry of Agriculture, Livestock, and Irrigation).

Informal Sector: Observers agreed the great majority of the country’s workers were in the informal sector. Wage, hours and occupational safety and health laws did not apply to those in the informal sector or self-employed.

Informal workers’ jobs were less secure during the COVID-19 pandemic. For example, in April 2020 the Ministry of Health ordered that no more than 50 workers could be present at a construction site. One of the largest employers of informal labor was the construction sector. The postcoup regime retained the policy.

Informal-sector jobs usually lacked basic benefits such as social and legal protections. In at-risk industries – defined as having occupational hazards, volatile payment structures, and ease in exploiting labor rights – on average, one in five workers had an informal work arrangement, although the proportion was even higher in manufacturing, construction, recreation, and personal services. In addition, nearly two-thirds of the workers in medium- to high-risk industries were employed informally.

Cambodia

Executive Summary

Cambodia is a constitutional monarchy with an elected parliamentary government. The ruling Cambodian People’s Party won all 125 National Assembly seats in the 2018 national election, having banned the main opposition party in 2017, turning the country into a de facto one-party state. The prime minister since 1985, Hun Sen, continued in office. International observers, including foreign governments and international and domestic nongovernmental organizations, criticized the election as neither free nor fair and not representative of the will of the people.

The Cambodian National Police maintain internal security. The Royal Cambodian Armed Forces are responsible for external security and also have some domestic security responsibilities. The National Police report to the Ministry of Interior, while the armed forces report to the Ministry of National Defense. Civilian authorities maintained effective control over the security forces, which at times threatened force against opponents of Prime Minister Hun Sen and were generally perceived as an armed wing of the ruling party. There were credible reports that members of the security forces committed some abuses.

Significant human rights issues included credible reports of: torture and cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment or punishment by the government; arbitrary detention by the government; political prisoners and detainees; serious problems with the independence of the judiciary; arbitrary interference in the private lives of citizens, including pervasive electronic media surveillance; serious restrictions on free expression and media, including violence and threats of violence, unjustified arrests or prosecutions of journalists, criminal libel laws, and censorship; serious restrictions on internet freedom; substantial interference with the freedom of peaceful assembly and freedom of association, including overly restrictive laws on the organization, funding, or operation of nongovernmental organizations and civil society organizations; inability of citizens to change their government peacefully through free and fair elections; serious restrictions on political participation; serious and pervasive government corruption, including in the judiciary; serious government restrictions on or harassment of domestic or international human rights organizations; lack of investigation of and accountability for violence against women; trafficking in persons; and the worst forms of child labor, including forced or compulsory child labor.

A pervasive culture of impunity continued. There were credible reports that government officials, including police, committed abuses and acts of corruption with impunity, and in most cases the government took little or no action. Government officials and their family members were generally immune to prosecution.

Section 1. Respect for the Integrity of the Person

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

In contrast with 2020, there were no reports that the government or its agents committed arbitrary or unlawful killings. On January 13, the Battambang Provincial Court sentenced two military police officers, Sar Bunsoeung and Chhoy Ratana, to four and seven years in prison, respectively, and ordered them to pay between 20 and 30 million riels ($4,900 and $7,400) in compensation to the family for the January 2020 death of Tuy Sros, who died in police custody after being arrested in a land dispute in Banteay Meanchey Province. Two witnesses reported that military police beat Tuy and refused to provide medical treatment. By law those who commit “torture and the act of cruelty with aggravating circumstances” may be sentenced to between 10 and 20 years in prison. The victims’ family appealed the sentence seeking stronger punishment; there were no reports of progress on the appeal as of October.

b. Disappearance

In contrast with 2020, there were no reports of disappearances by or on behalf of government authorities.

On June 4, the one-year anniversary of Thai prodemocracy activist Wanchalearm Satsaksit’s disappearance, local and international nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) released a statement calling the Cambodian government’s investigation a failure and a violation of international human rights obligations. Wanchalearm’s sister called on the Cambodian government to identify those responsible and bring them to justice.

Eyewitnesses reported that in June 2020 several armed men abducted Wanchalearm outside his Phnom Penh apartment. Authorities initially denied an abduction had taken place, claiming that official records showed Wanchalearm had left the country three years earlier. A representative of the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights in Geneva raised concerns that the incident “may now comprise an enforced disappearance.” In March the Cambodian government responded to the UN’s Committee on Enforced Disappearances, claiming that Wanchalearm was not on the list of residents in the apartment where the alleged abduction took place, that the vehicle seen in security camera footage of the alleged abduction was not registered, that three individuals who lived near the apartment said they had not witnessed any abduction, and that authorities could not find any further evidence from the security camera footage.

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

The constitution prohibits such practices; however, beatings and other forms of physical mistreatment of police detainees and prison inmates reportedly continued during the year.

NGOs and detainees reported that military and police officials used physical and psychological abuse and occasionally severely beat criminal detainees, particularly during interrogation. On April 3, local police in Battambang Province took Pich Theareth into custody for allegedly murdering his wife. Police later announced that Pich died of a heart attack a few hours after his arrest. Pich’s relatives alleged that he was beaten to death and posted photographs of his bruised body on social media and filed a complaint against police. On June 16, the National Antitorture Committee determined that Pich’s death was caused by “excessive torture” and requested that the National Police investigate the case. An NGO reported in September that the National Police had not filed any charges against the police officers involved.

Although the law requires police, prosecutors, and judges to investigate all complaints, including those of police abuse, in practice there was impunity for government officials and their family members for human rights abuses. Judges and prosecutors rarely conducted independent investigations. Although the law allows for investigations into accusations of government abuse, cases were pursued only when there was a public outcry or when they drew the prime minister’s attention. If abuse cases came to trial, presiding judges usually passed down verdicts based only on written reports from police and witness testimony. In general police received little professional training on protecting or respecting human rights.

Prison and Detention Center Conditions

Prison conditions remained harsh and in many cases life threatening.

Physical Conditions: Gross overcrowding was a problem. According to the Ministry of Interior, as of July authorities held an estimated 39,000 prisoners and detainees, including 2,571 women, in 29 prisons designed to hold a maximum of 11,000 prisoners. The ministry reported the government’s “war on drugs” had exacerbated overcrowding, as approximately 22,000 of the prisoners and detainees were held for drug trafficking crimes.

In most prisons there was no separation of adult and juvenile prisoners (including children living with incarcerated mothers) or of persons convicted of serious crimes, minor offenses, or in pretrial detention. According to a local NGO, as of July prisons held at least 25 pregnant women and 74 children living with their mothers. Between January and June, the General Department of Prisons reported there were at least 120 deaths in custody.

Allowances for food and other necessities were inadequate in many cases. Family members often provided these, at least in part, and sometimes had to pay a bribe to do so. Observers continued to report that authorities misappropriated allowances for prisoners’ food, exacerbating malnutrition and disease. Authorities did not provide updated figures on access to clean water; as of 2016, 18 of 29 prisons provided clean water. Prisons did not have adequate facilities for persons with mental or physical disabilities. NGOs also alleged prison authorities gave preferential treatment, including increased access to visitors, transfers to better cells, and permission to leave cells during the day, to prisoners whose families paid bribes, while greater restrictions, such as stricter surveillance and denial of gifts from visitors, were placed on human rights defenders and political prisoners. According to a local NGO, prison gangs sometimes violently attacked other prisoners. NGOs reported significant drug use by prisoners, made possible by bribing guards.

The country had 11 government, three private, and four NGO-run inpatient drug rehabilitation centers. Most observers agreed most “patients” in such facilities were involuntarily detained, committed by police or family members without due process. According to the National Authority for Combating Drugs, no detainee was younger than age 18. The authority reported that from January to March, 9,267 drug users received treatment in these centers. Observers noted employees at the centers frequently controlled detainees with physical restraints and subjected them to intense physical exercise. Violence committed by other drug patients was also common. In January, Moy Somnang died at a hospital after he was beaten by other patients. A police officer reported that the “boss” of a criminal network operating at the facility ordered others to beat and torture Moy soon after he arrived at the center.

After COVID-19 began spreading widely throughout the country due to an outbreak in February, officials severely limited access to prisons for family members, attorneys, consular officials, and other outside representatives. Lawyers defending detained labor leader Rong Chhun were not able to communicate with their client and did not know whether Chhun was sick or had been vaccinated until a prosecutor informed attendees in an open court hearing on June 8. There were some reports of COVID-19 spreading uncontrolled through overcrowded detention facilities before the government vaccinated most of the prison population. As of November the government maintained strict restrictions on outside visitation. According to prison officials, as of September the government had provided COVID-19 vaccinations to more than 90 percent of prisoners and detainees throughout the country.

Administration: There were no prison ombudsmen or other government advocates for prisoners. Prisoners could submit complaints about alleged abuse to judicial authorities through lawyers, but a large number of prisoners and detainees could not afford legal representation. The government stated it investigated complaints and monitored prison and detention center conditions through the General Department of Prisons, which reportedly produces internal biannual reports on prison management. The prison department, however, did not release any reports despite frequent requests from civil society organizations.

Before COVID-19 pandemic protocols were put in place in February, authorities routinely allowed prisoners and detainees access to visitors, although human rights organizations confirmed families sometimes had to bribe prison officials to visit prisoners. There were credible reports officials demanded bribes before allowing prisoners to attend trials or appeal hearings, before releasing inmates who had served their full terms of imprisonment, or before allowing inmates to exit their cells.

Independent Monitoring: The government allowed, subject to preconditions and restrictions, international and domestic human rights groups, including the International Committee of the Red Cross and the UN Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights, to visit prisons and provide human rights training to prison guards, although COVID-19 policies affected attempts to arrange visits. Some NGOs reported limited cooperation from local authorities who, for example, generally made it difficult to gain access to pretrial detainees.

The Ministry of Interior required lawyers, human rights monitors, and other visitors to obtain permission prior to visiting prisoners (often from multiple government agencies), and sometimes the government required NGOs to sign a formal memorandum of understanding delineating their roles during prison visits. The government largely halted prison visits after COVID-19 began spreading widely throughout the country in February. Although some local independent monitoring groups were able to meet privately with prisoners, others were not. A local human rights NGO that provides medical care to prisoners reported the government refused requests to visit convicted prisoners who were members of an opposition political party. Another NGO reported the government accused it of harboring political bias and using its visits to embolden political prisoners. Representatives of the UN human rights commissioner reported they were usually able to visit prisons and hold private meetings when interviewing a particular prisoner of interest.

d. Arbitrary Arrest or Detention

The law prohibits arbitrary arrest and detention and limits pretrial detention to a maximum of 18 months; however, the government did not always respect these prohibitions.

Arrest Procedures and Treatment of Detainees

The law requires police to obtain a warrant from an investigating judge prior to making an arrest, unless police apprehend a suspect while in the act of committing a crime. The law allows police to take a person into custody and conduct an investigation for 48 hours, excluding weekends and government holidays, before they must file charges or release a suspect. In felony cases of exceptional circumstances prescribed by law, police may detain a suspect for an additional 24 hours with the approval of a prosecutor. Nevertheless, authorities routinely held persons for extended periods before charging them.

There was a bail system, but many prisoners, especially those without legal representation, had no opportunity to seek release on bail. Authorities routinely denied bail in politically sensitive cases, leading to lengthy pretrial detention before trial begins.

Arbitrary Arrest: As of August observers recorded at least 68 arbitrary arrests, including 14 political activists, 21 journalists, 10 environmental activists, and four land rights activists. The actual number of arbitrary arrests and detentions was likely higher, since victims in rural areas may not have filed complaints due to the difficulty of traveling to human rights NGO offices or because of concern for their family’s security. Authorities took no legal or disciplinary action against persons responsible for illegal detentions.

In February, Ministry of Environment officers arrested and arbitrarily detained five environmental activists for investigating illegal logging, according to Amnesty International. They were released three days later.

Former Cambodia National Rescue Party (CNRP) leader Kem Sokha continued to be held under house arrest arbitrarily and well beyond the legal limit. Following Sokha’s 2017 arrest and after 26 months in pretrial detention, in 2019 the government partially lifted judicial restrictions, effectively releasing him from house arrest, but not allowing him to travel abroad or engage in political activity. The charges of treason against him were pending as of December.

Pretrial Detention: As of July the Ministry of Interior reported holding 13,549 pretrial detainees, approximately one-third of all prisoners. Government officials stated that prolonged detentions were frequently the result of the limited capacity of the court system. The law allows for a maximum pretrial detention of six months for misdemeanors and 18 months for felonies, but NGOs reported authorities held some accused in pretrial detention for longer than those legal maximums. In cases of “incitement,” a charge commonly levied against political and environmental activists, no individuals were granted bail, according to reports; every known “incitement” suspect was held in pretrial detention until the end of their trial, almost always beyond the statutory minimum sentence of six months. In some cases the period spent in pretrial detention was longer than the minimum sentence for the crime detainees were to be tried for. Authorities occasionally held pretrial detainees without legal representation. Under the law police may arrest and detain accused persons for a maximum of 24 hours before allowing them access to legal counsel, but authorities routinely held prisoners incommunicado for several days before granting them access to a lawyer or family members.

Detainee’s Ability to Challenge Lawfulness of Detention before a Court: The government made significant progress clearing a backlog of court cases and long delays in obtaining judicial rulings, which had interfered with the right to challenge in court the legal basis or arbitrary nature of detention. On June 29, the Ministry of Justice reported that it had expedited and resolved 96 percent of approximately 40,000 backlogged criminal cases after a year-long effort.

e. Denial of Fair Public Trial

The constitution provides for an independent judiciary, but the government did not respect judicial independence, exerting extensive control over the courts. Court decisions were often subject to political influence. Judicial officials, up to and including the chief of the Supreme Court, often simultaneously held positions in the ruling party, and observers alleged only those with ties to the ruling Cambodian People’s Party (CPP) or the executive received judicial appointments. Corruption among judges, prosecutors, and court officials was widespread. The judicial branch was inefficient and could not assure due process. At times the outcome of trials appeared predetermined.

The government significantly increased the use of arbitrary charges of “incitement” over the last two years, using the law to charge criminally political opposition leaders and their supporters, labor and environmental activists, and citizens who make politically sensitive comments, including social media posts about the border with Vietnam, the government’s COVID-19 response, relations with China, and unflattering comments about senior government officials. The law criminalizes the “direct incitement to commit a felony or disturb social security,” a vague standard commonly used to suppress and punish peaceful political speech and dissent. By the end of 2020, the government reportedly filed at least 200 cases of incitement, up from approximately 40 in 2019 and no more than 20 in previous years. This included a mass filing of incitement charges against approximately 120 individuals in November 2020, most of whom were associated with the opposition CNRP. There was no report that anyone had ever been acquitted of an incitement charge; individuals with a criminal record may not hold public office until the king grants clemency after a request from the prime minister.

In the long-suspended treason trial of former political opposition leader Kem Sokha, the government gave conflicting statements, at times insisting the court was acting independently, while at other times insisting the trial would last for “years,” or that the outcome would depend on other factors, such as the EU’s partial withdrawal of trade benefits.

Observers alleged the Bar Association of Cambodia heavily favored admission of CPP-aligned members at the expense of nonaligned and opposition attorneys and at times admitted unqualified individuals to the bar solely due to their political affiliation. Analysts revealed that many applicants to the bar paid high bribes for admittance.

A shortage of judges and courtrooms continued to delay many cases. NGOs also believed court officials focused on cases that might benefit them financially. Court delays or corrupt practices often allowed accused persons to escape prosecution. There were widespread allegations that rich or powerful defendants, including members of the security forces, often paid victims and authorities to drop criminal charges. These allegations were supported by NGO reports and instances of rich defendants appearing free in public after their high-profile arrests were reported in media without further coverage of court proceedings or final outcomes of the cases. Authorities sometimes urged victims or their families to accept financial restitution in exchange for dropping criminal charges or for failing to appear as witnesses.

Trial Procedures

The law provides for the right to a fair and public trial; however, the judiciary rarely enforced this right.

Defendants are by law required to be informed promptly of the charges against them, be presumed innocent, and have the right of appeal, but they often resorted to bribery rather than rely on the judicial process. Trials are not always public and frequently face delays. Defendants have the right to be present at their trials and consult with an attorney, confront and question witnesses against them, and present witnesses and evidence on their own behalf. The law, however, allows trials in absentia, and courts at times convicted suspects in absentia with no defense representation. In felony cases, if a defendant cannot afford an attorney, the law requires the court to provide the defendant with free legal representation; however, the judiciary was not always able to provide legal counsel, and most defendants sought assistance from NGOs, pro bono representation, or “voluntarily” proceeded without legal representation. In the absence of a required defense attorney in a felony case, trial courts routinely adjourned cases until defendants could secure legal representation, a process that often took months. Trials were typically perfunctory, and extensive cross-examination usually did not take place. NGOs reported that sworn written statements from witnesses and the accused in many cases constituted the only evidence presented at trials. The courts offered free interpretation.

There was a critical shortage of trained lawyers, particularly outside the capital. The right to a fair public trial often was denied de facto for persons without means to secure counsel.

Authorities sometimes allegedly coerced confessions through beatings or threats or forced defendants to sign written confessions without informing them of the contents. Courts accepted forced confessions as evidence in trial despite legal prohibitions against doing so. According to a human rights NGO’s random sample of 148 appeals court proceedings in the first half of the year, eight individuals reported that judicial police had used torture or violence to force them to confess during their investigations. For years NGOs reported that fewer than half of all known defendants were present at their appeals because of difficulties traveling to the capital from other parts of the country.

Political Prisoners and Detainees

As of October a local human rights NGO estimated that authorities held nearly 30 political prisoners and detainees.

In January a Phnom Penh court found prominent labor leader Rong Chhun guilty of “incitement to commit a felony” and sentenced him to the maximum punishment of two years’ imprisonment. The court also ordered him and two codefendants to pay the Cambodian Boundary Commission up to 400 million riels ($100,000) in restitution. Chhun was arrested in July 2020 after he visited the border with Vietnam and spoke to the press about concerns over border demarcation. Chhun was subsequently released on probation after an appeals court suspended a portion of his sentence in November.

In December the court in charge of the treason case against CNRP leader Kem Sokha set a trial date of January 19, 2022.

Politically Motivated Reprisal against Individuals Located Outside the Country

Extraterritorial Killing, Kidnapping, Forced Returns, or Other Violence or Threats of Violence: According to Human Rights Watch, Cambodian refugees hiding in Bangkok reported escalating levels of surveillance and threats by unidentified persons whom they believed were under the direction of Cambodian government officials. In October the prime minister publicly called for a UNHCR-registered CNRP activist living in Thailand to be “eliminated” and urged police to search for him, including searching “abroad.” In November the government of Thailand refouled three Cambodian opposition activists who were UNHCR-registered refugees. They were immediately arrested upon arrival in Cambodia.

Efforts to Control Mobility: Some government critics and opposition politicians were in self-imposed foreign exile. In some cases the government subsequently took steps to block exiles’ return, including revoking their Cambodian passports.

Civil Judicial Procedures and Remedies

The country has a system in place for hearing civil cases, and citizens are entitled to bring lawsuits seeking damages for human rights violations. Some administrative and judicial remedies were available. NGOs reported, however, that public distrust in the judicial system due to corruption and political control deterred many from filing lawsuits and that authorities often did not enforce court orders.

Property Seizure and Restitution

The land law states that any person who peacefully possessed private or state land (excluding public lands, such as parks) or inhabited state buildings without contest for five years prior to the 2001 promulgation of a law on restitution has the right to apply for a definitive title to that property. Most citizens, however, lacked the knowledge and means to obtain formal documentation of ownership.

Provincial and district land offices continued to follow pre-2001 land registration procedures, which did not include accurate land surveys or opportunities for public comment. Land speculation in the absence of clear title fueled disputes in every province and increased tensions between poor rural communities and speculators. Some urban communities faced forced eviction to make way for commercial development projects.

Authorities continued to force inhabitants to relocate from disputed land, although the number of cases declined in recent years. On September 12, police arrested more than 30 displaced rice farmers and villagers protesting being forcibly removed from their land with inadequate compensation to make way for Phnom Penh’s new international airport and surrounding development. On September 20, thousands of displaced villagers from three provinces blocked the road to the Land Ministry, demanding the government’s help in resolving land disputes. Some persons also used the threat of legal action or eviction to intimidate poor and vulnerable persons into selling their land at below-market values. As of July a local NGO reported 49 new cases of land grabbing and forced evictions. Another human rights NGO investigated 31 new cases of land grabbing as of June, affecting 2,659 families across the country.

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

Although the law provides for the privacy of residences and correspondence and prohibits illegal searches, NGOs reported police routinely conducted searches and seizures without warrants. The government continued to leak personal correspondence and recordings of telephone calls by opposition and civil society leaders to government-aligned media. On June 24, police arrested Kak Sovanchay, a 16-year-old boy reportedly with autism, for allegedly “insulting the government” in posts he made in a private chat group on the social media app Telegram that related to his father, a jailed CNRP official. Kak was convicted and later released on probation after an appeals court suspended a portion of his sentence in November.

Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties

The April 2020 state of emergency law, which the prime minister claimed was necessary because of the COVID-19 pandemic, allows the government to ban or limit freedoms of travel, assembly, and information distribution and the ability to leave one’s home during a declared emergency. NGOs and UN experts condemned the law, arguing that it lacked an effective oversight mechanism and could be used to infringe on the rights of the people. As of November the government had not declared a state of emergency under this law.

a. Freedom of Expression, Including for Members of the Press and Other Media

The constitution provides for freedom of expression, including for members of the press and other media. In 2017, however, the government began carrying out a sustained campaign to eliminate independent news media and dissenting voices in the country and increasingly restrict free expression; many individuals and institutions reported widespread self-censorship.

b. Freedoms of Peaceful Assembly and Association

The government restricted freedoms of peaceful assembly and association.

Freedom of Peaceful Assembly

Although the constitution provides for freedom of peaceful assembly, the government did not respect this right. In a survey covering the nine months to January, 64 percent of NGOs and 28 percent of trade unions stated they believed they were free to assemble peacefully.

The law requires advance notification for protests, marches, or demonstrations, although authorities inconsistently enforced this requirement. One provision requires five days’ notice for most peaceful demonstrations, while another requires 12 hours’ notice for impromptu gatherings on private property or protests at designated venues and limits such gatherings to 200 persons. By law provincial or municipal governments issue demonstration permits at their discretion. Lower-level government officials, particularly in Phnom Penh, generally denied requests unless the national government specifically authorized the gatherings. All levels of government routinely denied permits to groups critical of the ruling party. Authorities cited the need for stability and public security – terms left undefined in the law and therefore subject to wide interpretation – as reasons for denying permits.

In May a court sentenced Long Kunthea and several of her associates to 18 months’ imprisonment for “incitement” for planning a peaceful, one-person demonstration aimed at raising concerns about environmental matters and urban development. Long and her associates had planned to post a video of the demonstration online. In November an appeals court suspended their sentences and placed them on probation.

In August, Neth Savoeun, the National Police chief and nephew of Prime Minister Hun Sen, appointed Dy Vichea, deputy commissioner of the National Police and the prime minister’s son-in-law, as the head of a working group publicly tasked with searching for individuals who were “inciting other villagers to protest in land disputes.” NGOs and land activists condemned the working group, arguing that its purpose was to crack down on land rights activists.

There were credible reports the government prevented associations and NGOs from organizing human rights-related events and meetings; those NGOs failed to receive permission from local authorities. Government authorities occasionally cited the law to break up meetings and training programs deemed hostile to the government.

Despite these restrictions, media reported on unauthorized public protests related to a variety of matters, including land and labor disputes and demands to release political prisoners. Since the July 2020 arrest of union leader Rong Chhun, authorities on multiple occasions forcibly dispersed protesters demanding his release, leading to at least four injuries. In October a court sentenced 10 youth activists from the Khmer Thavrak group to 14- or 15-month prison terms and a two-million-riel ($490) fine each for joining peaceful protests in August and September 2020 calling for Rong’s release.

In June approximately 100 soldiers fired on land rights protesters in Kandal Province; one demonstrator was shot in the shoulder but survived.

On July 10, the fifth anniversary of the death of prominent government critic Kem Ley, authorities banned any gathering at the Caltex gas station where he was shot, citing COVID-19 health protocols. Thousands gathered at the station in previous years to commemorate Kem Ley on the anniversary of his killing.

Freedom of Association

The constitution provides for freedom of association, but the government continued to restrict it, targeting specifically groups it believed could be involved in political dissent. The law requires all associations and NGOs to register and to be politically neutral, which restricts the right to association and those organizations’ right to free expression.

Vague provisions in several laws prohibiting any activity that may “jeopardize peace, stability, and public order” or harm “national security, national unity, traditions, and the culture of Cambodian society” created a substantial risk of arbitrary and politicized restriction of the right of association. According to critics, the laws on associations and trade unions establish heavily bureaucratic, multistep registration processes that lack both transparency and administrative safeguards, thereby reinforcing legal and political objections to registering groups. Laws on reporting activities and finances, including the disclosure of all successful funding proposals, financial or grant agreements, and bank accounts also impose burdensome obligations that allow officials to restrict or close organizations for petty or arbitrary reasons. Some NGOs and unions complained that police carefully monitored their activities and intimidated participants by sending uniformed or plainclothes police to observe their meetings and training sessions.

c. Freedom of Religion

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

d. Freedom of Movement and the Right to Leave the Country

The law provides for freedom of internal movement, foreign travel, emigration, and repatriation, and the government generally respected these rights. The government restricted the movement of persons into and out of certain “red zones” in several cities at various points throughout the year to prevent the spread of COVID-19, reportedly causing significant cash and supply shortages. On April 29, more than 100 Phnom Penh residents protested severe restrictions in the red zones, pointing to acute food shortages.

e. Status and Treatment of Internally Displaced Persons

Not applicable.

f. Protection of Refugees

The government cooperated with the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) and other humanitarian organizations in providing protection and assistance to internally displaced persons, refugees, returning refugees, asylum seekers, stateless persons, and other persons of concern. In August, at the request of an international NGO, Prime Minister Hun Sen agreed to accept up to 300 Afghan refugees for temporary stays in Cambodia until they could be resettled to a third country. On November 16, an initial group of 15 Afghan refugees arrived.

Access to Asylum: The law provides for the granting of asylum or refugee status, and the government has established a system for providing protection to refugees. The system, however, is not equally accessible to all refugees and asylum seekers and is not transparent. Asylum seekers who enter the country without documentation or overstay their visas are vulnerable to deportation. The government does not grant resident status or a resident “book” to refugees, only a “refugee card.”

Freedom of Movement: Authorities restricted the movement of refugees. For example, local authorities require Montagnards who have been granted refugee status to stay confined to their temporary homes, aside from shopping trips for groceries and other essential items. As of December the government had made no announcement about restrictions on Afghan refugees awaiting resettlement in the country.

Employment: The law allows refugees to work and operate a business. Refugees, however, are generally not provided with resident status or resident books, making it difficult to exercise these rights.

Access to Basic Services: The government’s refusal to grant resident status and resident books to refugees limited their access to basic services.

g. Stateless Persons

The country had habitual residents who were de facto stateless. According to UNHCR, there were an estimated 57,450 stateless persons in the country as of the end of 2019, primarily ethnic Vietnamese. On June 2, Phnom Penh authorities ordered 700 families living in boats or floating houses along the Tonle Sap River, most of whom were ethnic Vietnamese and had long lived in the area, to dismantle their homes and depart the vicinity immediately. The government did not effectively implement laws or policies to provide such persons the opportunity to acquire or document their Cambodian nationality (see section 6, Children). According to an NGO, individuals without proof of nationality often did not have access to formal employment, education, marriage registration, the courts, or the right to own land.

Section 3. Freedom to Participate in the Political Process

Although the constitution provides citizens the ability to choose their government in free and fair periodic elections held by secret ballot and based on universal and equal suffrage, in practice there was no such ability. By law the government may dissolve parties and ban individuals from party leadership positions and political life more broadly. The law also bars parties from using any audio, visual, or written material from a convicted criminal.

As of September, 29 of the 118 CNRP officials barred from political activity after the Supreme Court disbanded the party in 2017 had applied for political rehabilitation. Authorities restored the political rights of 26 individuals and rejected three applications. Prime Minister Hun Sen stated in August that he would not restore any politician’s political rights unless he was “pleased.” Local experts and opposition party members complained the “rehabilitation” process was arbitrary, created a false appearance of wrongdoing on the part of the banned politicians, and allowed the prime minister to choose his own political opponents. The CPP dominated all levels of government from districts and provincial councils to the National Assembly.

Elections and Political Participation

Recent Elections: The most recent national election occurred in 2018. Although 20 political parties participated, the largest opposition party, the CNRP, was excluded. Of the 19 non-CPP parties that competed in the election, political rights groups claimed that 16 were CPP proxies.

Although campaign laws require news outlets to give equal coverage to each party participating in an election, there was no evidence of the law’s enforcement during the 2018 election; news outlets gave significantly greater coverage to the CPP than to other parties. In view of the decline in independent media outlets, government-controlled news outlets provided most content and coverage prior to the election. This was particularly the case in rural areas, where voters had less access to independent media.

Approximately 600,000 ballots cast in 2018 were deemed invalid, compared with an estimated 100,000 in the previous election. Observers argued this was a sign of protest; in view of the pressure to vote and the absence of the CNRP from the ballot, many voters chose to spoil their ballots intentionally rather than vote for a party. According to government figures, 83 percent of registered voters went to the polls. The ruling CPP won all 125 seats in the National Assembly. Government statistics could not be verified due to a lack of independent observers.

Most independent analysts considered the entire election process seriously flawed. Most diplomatic missions to the country declined to serve as official observers in the election. Major nonstate election observation bodies, including the Carter Center and the Asian Network for Free Elections, also decided against monitoring the election after determining the election lacked basic credibility. The National Election Committee accused the international community of bias, arguing the international community supported it only when the CNRP was on the ballot. Although nominally independent, the government installed closed-circuit television cameras in the committee offices, enabling it to observe the committee’s proceedings.

Political Parties and Political Participation: Excepting the CPP and several small progovernment parties, independent political parties suffered from a wide range of legalized discrimination, selective enforcement of the law, intimidation, and biased media coverage. These factors contributed significantly to the CPP’s effective monopolization of political power. Membership in the CPP was a prerequisite for many government positions.

In September 2020 Prime Minister Hun Sen reportedly stated that CNRP leader Kem Sokha’s case may not be resolved until 2024.

In April, Kak Sovanchhay, the teenage child of an imprisoned former opposition party official, was struck in the head by a brick thrown by two men on a motorbike, putting him in critical condition. The offenders were not located. Kak Sovanchhay was later arrested and charged with “incitement,” a misdemeanor punishable by up to two years’ imprisonment. Kak, who reportedly had autism, received no treatment or any special accommodation in detention or during his trial.

Participation of Women and Members of Minority Groups: No laws limit the participation of women and members of ethnic minorities in the political process, but cultural practices that relegate women to second-class status – epitomized by the Chbab Srey, a traditional code of conduct for women dating to the 14th century – limited women’s role in politics and government. Despite repeated vows by the CPP to increase female representation, only 19 women were elected to the National Assembly in the 2018 national election, down from 25 in 2013. The 2017 local elections saw participation for the first time of the Cambodia Indigenous People’s Democracy Party; the party also participated in the 2018 parliamentary elections.

Section 4. Corruption and Lack of Transparency in Government

The law provides criminal penalties for corruption by officials, but the government did not implement the law effectively. The National Council Against Corruption and its Anticorruption Unit are authorized by law to receive and investigate corruption complaints. The unit, however, did not collaborate frequently with civil society and was considered ineffective in combating official corruption. Instead, it focused on investigations of opposition figures, leading to a widespread perception that it served the interests of the ruling CPP. There were numerous reports of government corruption during the year.

Corruption: The Anticorruption Unit has never investigated a high-level member of the ruling party, despite widespread allegations of corruption at senior levels of the party and government. For example, in June activists renewed allegations against National Assembly member and former provincial governor Prak Chan for involvement in the illegal smuggling of timber to Vietnam after his name was put forward as a candidate for the National Election Committee, but authorities took no action against him. In August the unit arrested two individuals for impersonating government officials, but otherwise had not arrested anyone since 2016 when it arrested five employees of a prominent human rights NGO and an opposition party member serving as commune chief. Similarly only one financial disclosure statement was ever unsealed, that of then National Assembly vice president and opposition CNRP president Kem Sokha.

Corruption was endemic throughout society and government. There were reports police, prosecutors, investigating judges, and presiding judges took bribes from owners of both legal and illegal businesses.

Civil servants must seek clearance and permission from supervisors before responding to legislative inquiries about corruption allegations.

Citizens frequently and publicly complained about corruption. Meager salaries contributed to “survival corruption” among low-level public servants, while a culture of impunity enabled corruption to flourish among senior officials. In January, Le Changsangvath, head of the Banteay Meanchey provincial health department, was accused of soliciting a 60-million-riel ($15,000) bribe. Instead of investigating, the Ministry of Health dismissed the allegation and claimed that those who made the complaint were trying to provoke social chaos. On October 25, police surrounded the house of Kong Kheang, an official from the ruling CPP, who had accused Land Management Minister Chea Sophara of demanding bribes from lower officials in exchange for their position promotions in the party and in the government. Police threatened him and his family. In July the government granted 425 acres of land (designated as state forest) to real estate tycoon (and former government official) Leng Pheaktra (commonly known as Leng Navatra).

Section 5. Governmental Posture Towards International and Nongovernmental Investigation of Alleged Abuses of Human Rights

There were multiple reports of a lack of official cooperation with human rights investigations and in some cases, intimidation of investigators by government officials.

Approximately 25 human rights NGOs operated in the country. A further 100 NGOs’ work involved some human rights concerns, but only a few actively organized training programs or investigated abuses.

Human rights defenders faced increasing repression. On September 18, Prime Minister Hun Sen publicly ordered the arrest of political commentator Seng Sary, accusing him of joining the opposition party to create a revolution; the prime minister withdrew his order two days later, stating he had listened to Seng’s explanations and found them “reasonable.”

Defenders were detained without bail before trial and pending verdict.

The United Nations or Other International Bodies: Although the government generally permitted visits by UN representatives with human rights responsibilities, authorities generally restricted access to opposition officials, including Kem Sokha. On September 23, Prime Minister Hun Sen met via videoconference with Vitit Muntarbhorn, the UN special rapporteur on the situation of human rights in Cambodia. Government spokespersons regularly chastised UN representatives publicly for their remarks on a variety of human rights concerns.

Government Human Rights Bodies: There were three government human rights bodies: a Committee for the Protection of Human Rights and Reception of Complaints in both the Senate and National Assembly; and the Cambodian Human Rights Committee, which reported to the prime minister’s cabinet. The Cambodian Human Rights Committee submitted government reports for international human rights review processes, such as the Universal Periodic Review, and issued responses to reports by international organizations and government bodies, but it did not conduct independent human rights investigations. Credible human rights NGOs considered the government committees of limited efficacy and criticized their role in vocally justifying the government crackdown on civil society and the opposition.

The Extraordinary Chambers in the Courts of Cambodia, which was established to investigate and prosecute leaders of the former Khmer Rouge regime who were most responsible for the atrocities committed between 1975 and 1979, continued operations. The chambers are a hybrid tribunal, with both domestic and international jurists and staff, governed by both domestic law and an agreement between the government and the United Nations. All investigations have officially ended, no new investigations were opened during the year, and no prosecutions were conducted in the trial chamber. Appeals and some preprosecution proceedings continued.

On August 16, the chambers’ Supreme Court heard an appeal in a case against Khieu Samphan, the Khmer Rouge head of state in the 1970s. In 2018 the chambers sentenced Khieu to life imprisonment for crimes against humanity, grave breaches of the Geneva Conventions, and genocide. Two separate cases, those of Khmer Rouge naval commander Meas Muth and Khmer Rouge official Yim Tith, remained under consideration before the chambers. As of September international jurists continued to advocate that the two defendants be brought to trial for similar charges, while Cambodian jurists continued to advocate for dismissal. As of November, the Pretrial Chamber had yet to resolve these disputes.

Section 6. Discrimination and Societal Abuses

Women

Rape and Domestic Violence: Rape and domestic violence were significant problems. The law, which does not specify the sex of a victim, criminalizes rape and “indecent assault.” Rape is punishable by five to 30 years’ imprisonment. Spousal rape is not specifically mentioned in the law, but the underlying conduct may be prosecuted as “rape,” “causing injury,” or “indecent assault.” Charges for rape were rare. The law criminalizes domestic violence and assigns penalties ranging from one to 15 years’ imprisonment.

Rape and domestic violence were likely underreported due to fear of reprisal, social stigma, discrimination, and distrust of police and the judiciary. Women comprised a small proportion of judicial officials, which likely contributed to underreporting of rape and domestic abuse. NGOs reported authorities inadequately enforced domestic violence law and avoided involvement in domestic disputes.

Rape and domestic violence sometimes led to death. Most observers believed neither authorities nor the public generally regarded domestic violence as a criminal offense.

In one example, Heng Sear, a wealthy businessman with connections to the government, was accused of sexual assault by university student and former beauty pageant contestant Mean Pich Rita who, after refusing Heng’s advances, was arrested in May for allegedly stealing his cell phone. She was quickly released after a public outcry, but police took no action against Heng.

The Ministries of Information and Women’s Affairs implemented a code of conduct for media reporting on violence against women, which bans publication of a survivor’s personal identifiable information, photographs of victims, depictions of a woman’s death or injury, depictions of nudity, and the use of certain offensive or disparaging words against women.

Sexual Harassment: The law criminalizes sexual harassment, imposing penalties of six days’ to three months’ imprisonment and modest fines. Workplace sexual harassment was believed to be widespread.

As of September no legal action had been taken against Ouk Kosal, the former police chief of Kampong Thom Province. In July 2020 four female police officers submitted a letter to Deputy Prime Minister and Interior Minister Sar Kheng reporting that Kosal sexually assaulted them. The letter stated they had reported the abuse on multiple occasions since 2018, but the case had not progressed. National Police chief Neth Savoeun stated that police did not take action because they “wanted to protect the dignity of the women.”

Reproductive Rights: There were no reports of coerced abortion or involuntary sterilization on the part of government authorities.

Cultural barriers played a significant role in limiting women’s access to contraceptives. Unmarried, sexually active persons were often too shy or embarrassed to ask for contraceptives at health centers, clinics, and pharmacies.

The government provided access to sexual and reproductive health services to survivors of sexual violence, including emergency contraception.

According to the country’s 2019 census, the maternal mortality rate was 141 deaths per 100,000 live births, compared with 178 deaths per 100,000 live births in 2015. Major factors influencing high maternal mortality rates included shortages of adequate health facilities, medications, and skilled birth attendants.

Discrimination: The constitution and law provide for equal rights for women and men, including equal pay for equal work and equal status in marriage. The government did not effectively enforce the law. For the most part, women had equal property rights, the same legal right as men to initiate divorce proceedings, and equal access to education, but cultural traditions and greater parenting responsibilities than men limited the ability of women to reach senior positions in business and government or participate in the workforce.

The government expected women to dress and comport themselves according to “Khmer traditions.” In March a female police officer was forced to apologize for a Facebook post showing her nursing her baby while in uniform, leading to an outcry from civil society groups and some government officials, who came to the woman’s defense. On June 5, authorities arrested a woman selling lotions online for “ruining women’s honor” and accused her of using inappropriate and sexual words during an online promotion of her product.

Systemic Racial or Ethnic Violence and Discrimination

The constitution grants equality before the law and offers the same rights to all citizens regardless of their race, sex, language, religious belief, political tendency, birth origin, social status, wealth, or other status. The law criminalizes discrimination and violence if due to “membership in a particular ethnicity, nationality, race, or religion.”

Experts noted an increase in negative attitudes toward Chinese nationals in the country, in part due to links with criminal activity, particularly in Sihanoukville. Newspapers reported stories of crimes committed by Chinese residents and business owners (mostly against fellow Chinese nationals), including murder, shootings, armed robbery, gang violence, kidnapping, trafficking in persons, extortion, counterfeiting, pornography, drunk driving, and drug possession. On August 21, authorities arrested more than 100 Chinese nationals for suspected drug trafficking.

Hundreds of ethnic Vietnamese fishing families living along the Tonle Sap River were forced to relocate their floating homes in June after government officials ordered them to vacate the area, despite some families reportedly having lived there for generations. The government did not recognize the citizenship of some ethnic Vietnamese, leaving them stateless. Some of the families attempted to move their floating homes into Vietnam via the Mekong River but their movements were prevented at the border.

Children

Birth Registration: By law children born to one or two ethnic Khmer parents are citizens. A child derives citizenship by birth to a mother and father who are not ethnic Khmer if both parents were born and living legally in the country or if either parent acquired citizenship through other legal means. Ethnic minorities are considered citizens by law. The Ministry of Interior administered the birth registration system, but not all births were registered immediately, primarily due to lack of public awareness of the importance of registering births and corruption in local government.

Failure to register births resulted in discrimination, including the denial of public services. Children of ethnic minorities and stateless persons were disproportionately unlikely to be registered. NGOs that serve disenfranchised communities reported authorities often denied access to education and health care services for children without birth registration. NGOs stated such persons, when adults, were also often unable to gain employment, own property, vote, or access the legal system.

Education: Education was free, but not compulsory, through grade nine. Many children left school to help their families in subsistence agriculture or work in other activities. Others began school at a late age or did not attend school at all. The government did not deny girls equal access to education, but families with limited resources often gave priority to boys, especially in rural areas. According to international organization reports, enrollment dropped significantly for girls after primary school in urban areas, while secondary school enrollment for boys dropped significantly in rural areas.

Child Abuse: Child abuse was common, and legal action against perpetrators was rare, according to observers. According to UNICEF’s Violence Against Children Report in 2020, approximately half of the children in the country had experienced extreme violence. As of July a local human rights NGO had investigated 94 abuses involving 106 children – 99 girls and seven boys. Almost 90 percent were either cases of rape or attempted rape.

Child, Early, and Forced Marriage: The legal minimum age of marriage for both men and women is 18; however, children as young as 16 may marry with parental permission.

Sexual Exploitation of Children: Sexual intercourse with a person younger than 15 is illegal. The government continued to raid brothels to identify and remove child sex trafficking victims, although the majority of child sex trafficking was clandestine, occurring in beer gardens, massage parlors, beauty salons, karaoke bars, other retail spaces, and noncommercial sites. Police investigated child sex trafficking in brothels or when victims filed complaints directly but did not typically pursue more complicated cases, for example those involving online sexual exploitation. According to a 2020 NGO report, 15 percent of children in the country reported having been contacted by strangers on social media, and 2 percent reported having been asked to share intimate pictures or videos, or to perform inappropriate acts. The Cambodia National Council for Children launched a five-year action plan in July aimed at improving several areas of public policy and coordination, “including strengthening measures to prevent exploitation” and to rehabilitate victims. Undercover investigation techniques were generally not used in trafficking investigations, which impeded officials’ ability to hold child sex traffickers accountable.

The country remained a destination for child sex tourism. The government used the law to prosecute both sex tourists and citizens for the sexual exploitation of children. The law provides penalties ranging from two to 20 years in prison for commercial sexual exploitation of children. The law also prohibits the production and possession of child pornography.

Local human rights organizations and local experts were concerned regarding the government’s failure to punish appropriately foreign residents and tourists who purchase or otherwise engage in sex with children. Endemic corruption at all levels of government severely limited investigations and prosecutions of child sex traffickers, and the government took no action to investigate or prosecute complicit officials.

Displaced Children: Displaced children represented a serious problem. The government offered limited, inadequate services to street children at a single rehabilitation center in Phnom Penh. In 2017 a local NGO estimated there were 1,200 to 1,500 displaced street children in Phnom Penh with no relationship to their families and 15,000 to 20,000 children who worked on the streets but returned to families in the evenings.

Institutionalized Children: NGOs and other observers alleged many private orphanages were mismanaged and populated by sham orphans to lure donations from foreigners. From 36,000 to 49,000 children lived in residential care institutions or orphanages, according to UNICEF and research conducted by Columbia University in 2018. Approximately 80 percent of these children had at least one living parent. The study also found that residential care resulted in lower developmental and health outcomes for children and put them at higher risk for future exploitation. There were no state-supported or -operated orphanages or other child protection programs that provided safe alternatives for children.

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

Anti-Semitism

A small Jewish foreign resident community lived in Phnom Penh. There were no reports of anti-Semitic acts.

Trafficking in Persons

See the Department of State’s Trafficking in Persons Report at https://www.state.gov/trafficking-in-persons-report/.

Persons with Disabilities

The law prohibits discrimination, neglect, exploitation, or abandonment of persons with physical or intellectual disabilities, but it was not effectively enforced. The law does not address access to transport. The Ministry of Social Affairs, Veterans, and Youth has overall responsibility for protecting the rights of persons with disabilities, although the law assigns specific tasks to other ministries, including the Ministries of Health, Education, Public Works and Transport, and National Defense.

Persons with disabilities faced significant societal discrimination and economic disadvantages, especially in obtaining skilled employment. According to a 2019 NGO survey of more than 4,300 persons with disabilities, at least 60 percent lived below the poverty line, compared with 25 percent in the general population.

Children with limited physical disabilities attended regular schools. According to a Ministry of Education report in 2019, there were 60,284 students with disabilities throughout the country. The ministry worked to train teachers on how to integrate students with disabilities into classes with students who did not have disabilities. Children with more significant disabilities attended separate schools sponsored by NGOs in Phnom Penh; education for students with more significant disabilities was not available outside of Phnom Penh. A local NGO reported that at least 60 percent of children with disabilities did not attend school. Although there are no legal limits on the rights of persons with disabilities to vote or participate in civic affairs, the government made no concerted effort to assist their civic engagement.

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

No law criminalizes consensual same-sex sexual conduct, nor was there official discrimination against lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and intersex (LGBTQI+) persons. Societal discrimination persisted, however, particularly in rural areas.

LGBTQI+ persons generally had limited job opportunities due to discrimination and exclusion. LGBTQI+ persons were occasionally harassed or bullied for their work in the entertainment and commercial sex sectors.

A local LGBTQI+ rights organization reported incidents of violence or abuse against LGBTQI+ persons, including domestic violence by family members. Stigma or intimidation may have inhibited further reporting of incidents. Police did not prioritize investigations into LGBTQI+-related complaints.

Section 7. Worker Rights

a. Freedom of Association and the Right to Collective Bargaining

The law broadly provides for the right of private-sector workers to form and join independent trade unions of their own choice, to bargain collectively, and to strike. The law excludes certain categories of workers from joining unions, puts significant restrictions on the right to organize, limits the right to strike, facilitates government intervention in internal union affairs, permits the government as well as third parties to seek the dissolution of trade unions, and imposes minor penalties on employers for unfair labor practices. The government failed to enforce applicable laws effectively. Penalties for antiunion discrimination in hiring and dismissing employees were commensurate with penalties for other types of discrimination.

Civil servants, teachers, workers employed by state-owned enterprises, and workers in the banking, health-care, and informal sectors may form only “associations,” not trade unions, affording them fewer worker protections than unionized trades. The law also restricts illiterate workers from holding union leadership.

Reports of severe restrictions on union formation were common. In 2020 the country registered 210 new unions, down from 375 unions registered in 2019. Independent union leaders noted that a small number of unions were active, and that an estimated 10 percent could be considered independent. Some employers reportedly refused to sign notification letters to recognize unions officially or to renew contracts with short-term employees who joined unions. Most workers in the formal manufacturing sector were on short-term contracts. Unions noted short-term contracts allowed employers to dismiss union organizers by failing to renew their contract. Employers and local government officials often refused to provide necessary paperwork for unions to register. Some employers took advantage of the prolonged registration process to terminate elected union officials prior to the unions’ formal registration, making them ineligible to serve as union officers and further retarding the registration process.

Onerous registration requirements amounted to a requirement for prior authorization for union formation. Union registration requirements include filing charters, listing officials and their immediate families, and providing banking details to the Ministry of Labor and Vocational Training. Labor activists reported many banks refused to open accounts for unregistered unions, although unions are unable by law to register until they provide banking details. Provincial-level labor authorities reportedly stalled registration applications indefinitely by requesting more materials or resubmissions due to minor errors late in the 30-day application cycle, although anecdotal evidence suggested this practice had decreased, particularly for garment- and footwear-sector unions. The law forbids unregistered unions from operating.

Workers reported various other obstacles while trying to exercise their right to freedom of association. There were reports of government harassment of independent labor leaders, including the use of spurious legal charges. Several prominent labor leaders associated with the opposition or independent unions had charges pending against them or were under court supervision.

Several unions reported increased union-busting activity amid the sharp economic downturn caused by the COVID-19 pandemic. For example, according to union leaders at the Phnom Penh, Siem Reap, and Sihanoukville airports, the Cambodia Airport Management Service stopped negotiating a collective bargaining agreement with the International Airport Independent Employees Union due to COVID-19 and then suspended workers unilaterally in all airports, without consulting the union. In April, NagaWorld, the country’s largest casino, notified the casino workers’ union that it would dismiss 1,329 employees; it had fired 956 workers as of August. NagaWorld union representatives accused the company of using the pandemic as a pretext to get rid of union leaders and members specifically, noting that while union members represented approximately 50 percent of the company’s total of 8,000 employees, they made up nearly 83 percent of those expected to be dismissed. According to Solidarity Center, from January to August, 140 legal cases were brought against unions and workers in the garment industry, a sharp increase from previous years.

While workers enjoy the right to conduct strikes, the legal requirements for doing so are cumbersome. The law stipulates that workers may strike only after meeting several requirements, including the successful registration of a union; the failure of other methods of dispute resolution (such as conciliation, mediation, and arbitration); the completion of a 60-day waiting period following the emergence of the dispute; a secret-ballot vote of the absolute majority of union members; and seven days’ advance notice to the employer and the Ministry of Labor and Vocational Training. Strikers may be criminally charged if they block entrances or roads or engage in any other behavior interpreted by local authorities as harmful to public order. A court may issue an injunction against the strike and require the restart of negotiations with employers.

There were credible reports of workers dismissed on spurious grounds after organizing or participating in strikes. Unions initiated most strikes without meeting all the requirements stated above, making them technically illegal, according to Better Factories Cambodia. Participating in an illegal strike, however, is not in itself a legally acceptable reason for dismissal. In some cases employers failed to renew the short-term contracts of union activists; in others they pressured union personnel or strikers to accept compensation and quit. Government-sponsored remedies for these dismissals were generally ineffective.

The Ministry of Labor and Vocational Training’s Strike Demonstration Resolution Committee reported that unions held 49 strikes and demonstrations involving 35,500 workers during the first half of the year, compared with 92 strikes and demonstrations involving 50,700 workers during the same period in 2020. Observers attributed the decline to widespread factory closures and restrictions due to the increased spread of COVID-19 beginning in late February. Most of the strikes concerned unpaid wages and denial of benefits following factory closures due to the sharp economic downturn caused by the COVID-19 pandemic.

During the year the government restricted workers’ right to assemble. Authorities turned down most union requests for rally permits on the grounds that social distancing would be difficult or impossible during such events. Unions complained that police prevented them from marching and broke up such activities before marchers could reach their destination.

Union leaders and observers expressed concerns that new laws enacted during the pandemic could further curtail workers’ rights to association and assembly. There was a decrease in union gatherings and other activities in the first half of the year, according to a report by local rights groups, partly due to restrictions amid widespread community transmission of COVID-19.

The resolution of labor disputes was inconsistent. Unions reported progress in “minority” unions’ ability to represent workers in collective disputes. From January to August the Arbitration Council heard 22 labor disputes, compared with 47 in the same period in 2020, with a council official noting that this decrease was due in part to widespread factory closures since February after an outbreak of COVID-19 and continued community transmission since then. The official stated the decline was also due to the Ministry of Labor and Vocational Training classifying more disputes as “individual” instead of “collective,” making them ineligible for referral to the council, which hears only “collective” disputes. Labor disputes that are designated “individual” disputes may be brought before the courts, although the judicial system was neither impartial nor transparent. There is no specialized labor court.

The law places significant, detailed reporting responsibilities on labor unions, such as a requirement to submit annual financial statements, including, under some circumstances, independently audited statements. Union representatives feared many local chapters would not be able to meet the requirements, and unions that fail to meet these requirements face fines.

b. Prohibition of Forced or Compulsory Labor

The law prohibits all forms of forced or compulsory labor.

The government did not effectively enforce the law, and while there were penalties for employing forced labor or hiring individuals to work off debts (a maximum of one month’s jail time or a fine), they were not commensurate with penalties for analogous serious crimes such as kidnapping (at least one year of imprisonment).

Media reported on organized Chinese criminal gangs trafficking Chinese and other foreign citizens into Cambodia to work as forced labor in online gambling and online fraud operations; multiple police raids on such operations freed suspected trafficking victims. Some NGOs reported that migrant workers were trafficked to work in Chinese-run and other construction sites in Cambodia. There was evidence that employers, particularly those operating brick kilns, were violating the law prohibiting forced or bonded labor. Brick kiln proprietors subjected many of the more than 10,000 persons living at these kilns, including children, to multigenerational debt-based coercion, either by buying off their preexisting loans or by requiring them to take out new loans as a condition of employment.

Although the government made efforts to highlight the problem of forced labor, the extent to which these efforts were effective remained unclear.

Debt remained an important driver of forced labor. According to a joint report by two human rights groups, 3.6 million households had loans from microfinance lenders totaling $11.8 billion in 2020. The report revealed that the average microloan was approximately 17,400 riels ($4,280) – more than the annual income of 95 percent of the country’s residents. The report added that some workers had taken out new loans to repay existing debt. The Cambodia Microfinance Association and Association of Banks in Cambodia disputed the report’s findings. Children were also at risk of forced labor (see section 7.c.).

Also see the Department of State’s annual Trafficking in Persons Report at https://www.state.gov/trafficking-in-persons-report/.

c. Prohibition of Child Labor and Minimum Age for Employment

The law prohibits all the worst forms of child labor and establishes 15 as the minimum age for most employment and 18 as the minimum age for hazardous work. Although the law prohibits work by children younger than 15, it does not apply to children outside of formal employment relationships. The law permits children between ages 12 and 15 to engage in “light work” that is not hazardous to their health and does not affect school attendance; an implementing regulation provides an exhaustive list of activities considered “heavy work.” These include agriculture, brickmaking, fishing, tobacco, and cassava production. The law limits most work by children between ages 12 and 15 to a maximum of four hours on school days and seven hours on other days and prohibits work between 8 p.m. and 6 a.m. The government did not effectively enforce the law.

Ministry of Labor regulations define household work and set the minimum age for it at 18. The regulation, however, does not specify rights or a minimum age for household workers employed by relatives.

The law stipulates fines for persons convicted of violating the country’s child labor provisions, but such sanctions were rarely imposed. The penalties for employing child labor were not commensurate with penalties for analogous serious crimes such as kidnapping, except for employing children in working conditions that affected a child’s health or physical development, which carries a two- to five-year prison sentence (10 years if the working conditions cause a child’s death).

Child labor inspections were concentrated in Phnom Penh and provincial formal-sector factories producing goods for export rather than in rural areas where the majority of child laborers worked. Inadequate training also limited local authorities’ ability to enforce child labor regulations, especially in rural areas and high-risk sectors. The Ministry of Labor and Vocational Training reported that its labor inspectorate lacked the resources and mandate to conduct inspections in hospitality and nightlife establishments and at construction sites.

Children were vulnerable to the worst forms of child labor, including in agriculture, brickmaking, and commercial sex (see also section 6, Children). Poor access to basic education and the absence of compulsory education contributed to children’s vulnerability to exploitation. Children from impoverished families were at risk because some affluent households reportedly used humanitarian pretenses to hire children as domestic workers who were then subjected to abuse and exploitation. Children were also forced to beg; several NGOs reported such street work had increased due to economic pressures caused by the pandemic.

Children worked with their parents on rubber, cassava, cashew, and banana plantations, according to a union active in the agriculture sector.

Between 2019 and 2020, the Ministry of Labor and Vocational Training inspected 486 brick kilns and stated it found no child labor or debt bondages. A 2019 census by independent researchers, however, recorded at least 638 cases of child labor at kilns in addition to debt bondage at 464 kilns. Inspectors often provided kiln owners with advance notice of inspections.

Rising debt during the pandemic contributed to child labor, including the “worst forms,” because some families pressured to repay debt forced their children to leave school to work.

See also the Department of Labor’s Findings on the Worst Forms of Child Labor at https://www.dol.gov/agencies/ilab/resources/reports/child-labor/findings .

d. Discrimination with Respect to Employment and Occupation

The law prohibits employment discrimination based on race, color, sex, disability, religion, political opinion, birth, social origin, HIV-positive status, or union membership. The law does not explicitly prohibit employment discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender identity, age, language, or communicable disease status. The constitution stipulates that citizens of either sex shall receive equal pay for equal work.

The government generally did not enforce these laws. Penalties for employment discrimination include fines and administrative remedies.

Harassment of women was widespread. Penalties for sexual harassment (six days to three months in jail plus a fine by law) were not commensurate with those in laws related to civil rights. A 2020 Better Factories Cambodia report stated that sexual harassment had been reduced at export-oriented garment factories over the last three years, which researchers attributed to factory participation in the Better Factories program. The report also noted survey results showing that 7 percent of women reported having things being thrown at them, and 18 percent of women reported someone at the factory tried to have a sexual relationship with them.

e. Acceptable Conditions of Work

Wage and Hour Laws: The minimum wage covers only the garment and footwear sector. It was more than the official estimate for the poverty income level.

The law provides for a standard legal workweek of 48 hours, not to exceed eight hours per day. The law establishes a rate of 130 percent of daytime wages for nightshift work and 150 percent for overtime, which increases to 200 percent if overtime occurs at night, on Sunday, or on a holiday. Employees may work a maximum two hours of overtime per day. The law states that all overtime must be voluntary and provides for paid annual holidays. Workers in marine and air transportation are not entitled to social security and pension benefits and are exempt from limitations on work hours prescribed by law.

Workers reported overtime was often excessive and sometimes mandatory; many complained that employers forced them to work 12-hour days, although the legal limit is 10, including overtime. Workers often faced dismissal, fines, or loss of premium pay if they refused to work overtime.

The Ministry of Labor and Vocational Training is responsible for enforcing labor laws, but the government did not do so effectively. Inspectors have the authority to make unannounced inspections and initiate sanctions, but penalties were seldom assessed and were insufficient to address problems. Penalties for violating laws on minimum wage (six days’ to one month’s imprisonment) and overtime (a fine of 31 to 60 times the prevailing daily base wage) were not commensurate with those for similar crimes, such as fraud (six months’ to three years’ imprisonment).

The government met the International Labor Organization (ILO) standard for the number of inspectors in a less developed country but enforced standards selectively due to poorly trained staff, lack of necessary equipment, and corruption. Ministry officials admitted their inability to carry out thorough inspections of working hours and stated they relied upon Better Factories Cambodia to do such inspections in export-oriented garment factories. Outside the export garment industry, working-hour regulations were rarely, if ever, enforced. The Ministry of Labor and Vocational Training put a partial moratorium on all inspections in February due to a COVID-19 outbreak and widespread community transmission, including in factories.

Workers and labor organizations raised concerns that short-term contracts (locally known as fixed-duration contracts) allowed firms, especially in the garment sector, to avoid wage and legal requirements. Fixed-duration contracts also allowed employers greater freedom to dismiss union organizers and pregnant women simply by failing to renew their contracts. The law limits such contracts to a maximum of two years, but more recent directives allow employers to extend this period to up to four years. The Arbitration Council and the ILO disputed this interpretation of the law, noting that after 24 months an employee should be offered a permanent “unlimited duration contract” (also see section 7.a.). Forced overtime remained a problem in factories making products for export. Unions and workers reported some factory managers fired workers who refused to work overtime.

Occupational Safety and Health: By law workplace health and safety standards must be adequate to provide for workers’ well-being. Labor inspectors assess fines according to a complex formula based on the severity and duration of the infraction as well as the number of workers affected. Labor Ministry inspectors are empowered to conduct unannounced visits and assess fines on the spot, without the cooperation of police.

The number of inspectors met ILO standards for a less developed country but was insufficient to enforce the law effectively. Government inspection of construction worksites was insufficient. Penalties for violating occupational safety and health laws (typically a fine of 30 to 120 times the prevailing daily base wage) were not commensurate with those for similar crimes, such as fraud (six months’ to three years’ imprisonment).

Compliance with safety and health standards continued to be a problem in the garment export sector due largely to improper company policies, procedures, and poorly defined supervisory roles and responsibilities.

Work-related injuries and health difficulties remained problems, although the latest available statistics showed some improvement. More than 15,000 workers were injured in 2020, a 23.7 percent drop from 2019, according to the National Social Security Fund.

Informal Sector: The country had a substantial number of informal workers. Estimates varied, but 19 percent of the nearly 9.2 million-strong workforce enjoyed social protection under the National Social Security Fund, with the remaining 81 percent therefore meeting a common definition of informal workers. Such workers dominated the agricultural sector. These workers were not covered by wage, hour, and occupational safety and health laws and inspections. In addition most construction companies and brick factories operated informally, and workers in those sectors were not entitled to the minimum wage, lacked insurance, and worked weekends and holidays with few days off. Most brick-factory workers did not have access to the free medical care provided by the National Social Security Fund because the factories were not registered.

In July the government increased social protections, including direct cash payments, for some informal workers due to the economic hardships created by the pandemic.

China (Includes Hong Kong, Macau, and Tibet)

Read A Section: China

Hong Kong | Macau | Tibet

EXECUTIVE SUMMARY

The People’s Republic of China is an authoritarian state in which the Chinese Communist Party is the paramount authority. Communist Party members hold almost all top government and security apparatus positions. Ultimate authority rests with the Communist Party Central Committee’s 25-member Political Bureau (Politburo) and its seven-member Standing Committee. Xi Jinping continued to hold the three most powerful positions as party general secretary, state president, and chairman of the Central Military Commission.

The main domestic security agencies include the Ministry of State Security, the Ministry of Public Security, and the People’s Armed Police. The People’s Armed Police continue to be under the dual authority of the Central Committee of the Communist Party and the Central Military Commission. The People’s Liberation Army is primarily responsible for external security but also has some domestic security responsibilities. Local jurisdictions also frequently use civilian municipal security forces, known as “urban management” officials, to enforce administrative measures. Civilian authorities maintained effective control of the security forces. There were credible reports that members of the security forces committed serious and pervasive abuses.

Genocide and crimes against humanity occurred during the year against predominantly Muslim Uyghurs and members of other ethnic and religious minority groups in Xinjiang. These crimes were continuing and included: the arbitrary imprisonment or other severe deprivation of physical liberty of more than one million civilians; forced sterilization, coerced abortions, and more restrictive application of the country’s birth control policies; rape; torture of a large number of those arbitrarily detained; forced labor; and draconian restrictions on freedom of religion or belief, freedom of expression, and freedom of movement.

Significant human rights issues included credible reports of: arbitrary or unlawful killings by the government; forced disappearances by the government; torture by the government; harsh and life-threatening prison and detention conditions; arbitrary detention by the government, including the mass detention of more than one million Uyghurs and members of other predominantly Muslim minority groups in extrajudicial internment camps and an additional two million subjected to daytime-only “re-education” training; political prisoners; politically motivated reprisal against individuals outside the country; the lack of an independent judiciary and Communist Party control over the judicial and legal system; arbitrary interference with privacy including pervasive and intrusive technical surveillance and monitoring; punishment of family members for offenses allegedly committed by an individual; serious restrictions on free expression and media, including physical attacks on and criminal prosecution of journalists, lawyers, writers, bloggers, dissidents, petitioners, and others as well as their family members; serious restrictions on internet freedom, including site blocking; substantial interference with the freedom of peaceful assembly and freedom of association, including overly restrictive laws that apply to foreign and domestic nongovernmental organizations; severe restrictions and suppression of religious freedom; substantial restrictions on freedom of movement; refoulement of asylum seekers to North Korea, where they have a well founded fear of persecution, including torture and sexual violence; the inability of citizens to choose their government peacefully through free and fair elections; serious restrictions on political participation; serious acts of government corruption; forced sterilization and coerced abortions; trafficking in persons, including forced labor; violence targeting members of national, racial, and ethnic minority groups; severe restrictions on labor rights, including a ban on workers organizing or joining unions of their own choosing; and child labor.

Government officials and the security services often committed human rights abuses with impunity. Authorities often announced investigations following cases of reported killings by police but did not announce results or findings of police malfeasance or disciplinary action. Enforcement of laws on corruption was inconsistent and not transparent, and corruption was rampant.

Section 1. Respect for the Integrity of the Person

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

There were numerous reports that the government or its agents committed arbitrary or unlawful killings. In many instances few or no details were available. In an April 21 report, Amnesty International declared the country executed potentially thousands of individuals in 2020.

In Xinjiang there were reports of custodial deaths related to detentions in the internment camps. There were multiple reports from Uyghur family members who discovered their relatives had died while in internment camps or within weeks of their release. In January, Radio Free Asia (RFA) reported the 82-year-old Uyghur poet Haji Mirzahid Kerimi died in prison while serving an 11-year sentence for writing books that were later blacklisted. According to RFA, Kerimi was arrested in 2017 as part of the People’s Republic of China’s (PRC) campaign to censor “dangerous” literature. RFA also reported Kurbanjan Abdukerim died in February shortly after his release from an internment camp. During the three years of his detainment, Abdukerim family reported he had lost more than 100 pounds and that the cause of his death was unknown.

b. Disappearance

Disappearances through multiple means continued at a nationwide, systemic scale.

The primary means by which authorities disappeared individuals for sustained periods of time is known as “Residential Surveillance at a Designated Location” (RSDL). RSDL codifies in law the longstanding practice of the detention and removal from the public eye of individuals the state deems a risk to national security or intends to use as hostages. The primary disappearance mechanism for public functionaries is known as liuzhi. Per numerous reports, individuals disappeared by RSDL and liuzhi were subject to numerous abuses including but not limited to physical and psychological abuse, humiliation, rape, torture, starvation, isolation, and forced confessions.

The government conducted mass arbitrary detention of Uyghurs, ethnic Kazakhs, Kyrgyz, and members of other Muslim and ethnic minority groups in Xinjiang. Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch, and other nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) alleged these detentions amounted to enforced disappearance, since families were often not provided information concerning the length or location of the detention.

Amnesty International reported in April that Ekpar Asat, also known as Aikebaier Aisaiti, a Uyghur journalist and entrepreneur, had been held in solitary confinement since 2019 in Aksu Prefecture. He was reportedly detained in Xinjiang in 2016 shortly after participating in a program in the United States and subsequently sentenced to up to 15 years in prison.

In July officials at Tongji University in Shanghai confirmed that Uyghur research scientist Tursunjan Nurmamat had been detained after Nurmamat suddenly went silent on social media in April. Further details on Nurmamat’s case and whereabouts were unknown.

Professional tennis player Peng Shuai disappeared from public view for approximately three weeks after her November 2 accusation on social media that former Politburo Standing Committee member and vice premier Zhang Gaoli had sexually assaulted her. Her reappearance, via what appeared to be tightly controlled and staged video clips, raised concerns that authorities were controlling her movement and speech (see section 6, Women).

Former lawyer Tang Jitian, a long-time advocate for Chinese citizens, has been held incommunicado since December 10, reportedly in connection with his plans to attend Human Rights Day events in Beijing. Subsequently there were reports that authorities had sent a video to his former wife telling his family to remain quiet.

In 2020, four citizen journalists disappeared from public view after authorities in Wuhan took them into custody. Chen Qiushi, Li Zehua (who was released after two months in April 2020), Zhang Zhan, and Fang Bin had interviewed health-care professionals and citizens and later publicized their accounts on social media during the initial COVID-19 outbreak and subsequent lockdown in Wuhan. Media reported November 24 that Fang Bin was in custody in Wuhan, the first news of his location since his arrest in February 2020. On September 30, Chen Qiushi appeared on social media but said he could not talk about what happened to him. In November according to reports from her family and lawyer in media, Zhang Zhan, who had been sentenced in December 2020 to four years’ imprisonment, remained in detention and has been on an intermittent hunger strike.

The government still had not provided a comprehensive, credible accounting of all those killed, missing, or detained in connection with the violent suppression of the 1989 Tiananmen demonstrations. Many activists who were involved in the 1989 demonstrations and their family members continued to suffer official harassment. The government made no efforts to prevent, investigate, or punish such harassment.

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

The law prohibits the physical abuse and mistreatment of detainees and forbids prison guards from coercing confessions, insulting prisoners’ dignity, and beating or encouraging others to beat prisoners. The law excludes evidence obtained through illegal means, including coerced confessions, in certain categories of criminal cases. There were credible reports that authorities routinely ignored prohibitions against torture, especially in politically sensitive cases.

Numerous former prisoners and detainees reported they were beaten, raped, subjected to electric shock, forced to sit on stools for hours on end, hung by the wrists, deprived of sleep, force-fed, forced to take medication against their will, and otherwise subjected to physical and psychological abuse. Although prison authorities abused ordinary prisoners, they reportedly singled out political and religious dissidents for particularly harsh treatment.

Zhang Zhan, sentenced to four years’ imprisonment in December 2020 for her activities as a citizen journalist during the COVID-19 outbreak in Wuhan, was not allowed family visits by Shanghai prison authorities. When Zhang went on a hunger strike, prison officials force-fed her, tying and chaining her arms, torso, and feet.

In August after 21 months in detention, human rights lawyer Ding Jiaxi was indicted. Ding was detained in 2019 on suspicion of “inciting subversion of state power” for participating in a meeting in Xiamen, Fujian Province, to organize civil society activities and peaceful resistance to Chinese Communist Party (CCP) rule. Ding’s wife posted on Twitter that Ding was tortured in a detention center in Beijing, including being subjected to sleep deprivation tactics such as shining a spotlight on him 24 hours per day.

On March 22, Zhang Wuzhou was sentenced to two years and nine months in prison for “obstructing official duty, provoking quarrels and stirring up trouble.” Following her arrest in June 2020, Zhang was tortured in the Qingxin District Detention Center in Qingyuan (Guangdong Province), according to her lawyer’s July 2020 account as reported by Radio Free Asia. Zhang said that detention center authorities handcuffed her, made her wear heavy foot shackles, and placed her in a cell where other inmates beat her. The Qingyuan Public Security Bureau detained Zhang on charges of “provoking quarrels and stirring up troubles” two days after she held banners at Guangzhou Baiyun Mountains to mark the anniversary of the Tiananmen massacre.

As of November human rights activist and lawyer Yu Wensheng remained in a Nanjing prison serving a four-year sentence. In April he was treated in a hospital for nerve damage from an unknown incident suffered in prison. He was convicted in June 2020 for “inciting subversion of state power” and was held incommunicado for 18 months before and after his conviction. Yu reported he was repeatedly sprayed with pepper spray and was forced into a stress position for an extended period.

As of November human rights lawyer Chang Weiping, who was reportedly tortured while in RSDL, was still in pretrial detention. Chang, known for his successful representation of HIV and AIDS discrimination cases, was detained in October 2020 after posting a video to YouTube detailing torture he suffered during a January 2020 round of RSDL.

In December 2020 Niu Tengyu was sentenced to a 14-year jail term by the Maonan District People’s Court in Guangdong for “picking quarrels and stirring up trouble,” “violating others’ privacy,” and “running an illegal business” in a case that has been linked to the leak of the personal information of President Xi’s daughter. According to RFA, Niu’s lawyers alleged that prior to the trial, Niu was stripped, suspended from the ceiling, and his genitals burned with a lighter. They also alleged he was beaten so badly that he lost use of his right hand.

Members of the minority Uyghur ethnic group reported systematic torture and other degrading treatment by law enforcement officers and officials working within the penal system and the internment camps. Survivors stated that authorities subjected individuals in custody to electric shock, waterboarding, beatings, rape, forced sterilization, forced prostitution, stress positions, forced administration of unknown medication, and cold cells (see section 6, Systemic Racial or Ethnic Violence and Discrimination). In an October report on CNN, a former PRC police detective now living in Europe who had multiple tours of duty in Xinjiang confirmed many of these specific allegations in what he described as a systematic campaign of torture.

In March, Newlines Institute for Strategy and Policy released a comprehensive assessment of the PRC’s actions in Xinjiang to examine “whether China bears State responsibility for breaches of Article II of the Genocide Convention, in particular, whether China is committing genocide against the Uyghurs as defined by Article II of the Convention.” The report included contributions of more than 30 scholars and researchers and found that the PRC has implemented a campaign designed to eliminate Uyghurs, in whole or in part. The report stated, “[h]igh-level officials gave orders to ‘round up everyone who should be rounded up,’ ‘wipe them out completely,’ ‘break their lineage, break their roots, break their connections and break their origins.’” The report noted the PRC has also pursued a “dual systematic campaign of forcibly sterilizing Uyghur women of childbearing age and interning Uyghur men of child-bearing years, preventing the regenerative capacity of the group.”

In June, Amnesty International released a report that documented the accounts of more than 50 former detainees regarding the torture, mistreatment, and violence inflicted on them in camps in Xinjiang. The report detailed the systematic use of detainment and “re-education” centers to target Uyghurs and members of other ethnic minorities living in Xinjiang. The report concluded, “according to the evidence Amnesty International has gathered, corroborated by other reliable sources, members of the predominantly Muslim ethnic minorities in Xinjiang have been subjected to an attack meeting all the contextual elements of crimes against humanity.” Further, it elaborated on violence and detention stating, “Amnesty International believes the evidence it has collected provides a factual basis for the conclusion that the Chinese government has committed at least the following crimes against humanity: imprisonment or other severe deprivation of physical liberty in violation of fundamental rules of international law; torture; and persecution.”

The treatment and abuse of detainees under the liuzhi detention system, which operates outside the judicial system as a legal tool for the government and the CCP to investigate corruption and other offenses, featured custodial treatment such as extended solitary confinement, sleep deprivation, beatings, and forced standing or sitting in uncomfortable positions for hours and sometimes days, according to press reports.

The law states psychiatric treatment and hospitalization should be “on a voluntary basis,” but the law also allows authorities and family members to commit persons to psychiatric facilities against their will and fails to provide meaningful legal protections for persons sent to psychiatric facilities. The law does not provide for the right to a lawyer and restricts a person’s right to communicate with those outside the psychiatric institution.

Official media reported the Ministry of Public Security directly administered 23 psychiatric hospitals for the criminally insane.  While many of those committed to mental health facilities were convicted of murder and other violent crimes, there were also reports of activists, religious or spiritual adherents, and petitioners involuntarily subjected to psychiatric treatment for political reasons.  Public security officials may commit individuals to psychiatric facilities and force treatment for “conditions” that have no basis in psychiatry.

Impunity was a significant problem in the security forces, including the Ministry of Public Security, the Ministry of State Security, and the Ministry of Justice, which manages the prison system.

Prison and Detention Center Conditions

Conditions in penal institutions for both political prisoners and criminal offenders were generally harsh and often life threatening or degrading.

Physical Conditions: Authorities regularly held prisoners and detainees in overcrowded conditions with poor sanitation. Food often was inadequate and of poor quality, and many detainees relied on supplemental food, medicines, and warm clothing provided by relatives when allowed to receive them. Prisoners often reported sleeping on the floor because there were no beds or bedding. In many cases provisions for sanitation, ventilation, heating, lighting, and access to potable water were inadequate.

The lack of adequate, timely medical care for prisoners remained a serious problem, despite official assurances prisoners have the right to prompt medical treatment. Prison authorities at times withheld medical treatment from political prisoners. Multiple NGOs and news agencies reported detainees at “re-education” centers or long-term extrajudicial detention centers became seriously ill or died.

Political prisoners were sometimes held with the general prison population and reported being beaten by other prisoners at the instigation of guards. Some reported being held in the same cells as death row inmates. In some cases authorities did not allow dissidents to receive supplemental food, medicine, and warm clothing from relatives.

Conditions in administrative detention facilities were similar to those in prisons. Deaths from beatings occurred in administrative detention facilities. Detainees reported beatings, sexual assaults, lack of proper food, and limited or no access to medical care.

In Xinjiang authorities expanded internment camps for Uyghurs, ethnic Kazakhs, and other Muslims. Buzzfeed reported in July that the map of detention centers “neatly fits the geography of counties and prefectures across Xinjiang, with a camp and detention center in most counties and a prison or two per prefecture.” The report estimated that the government had built enough detention space to hold up to 1.01 million individuals. The Australian Strategic Policy Institute’s Xinjiang Data Project satellite analysis indicated that Xinjiang has 385 detention centers. In some cases authorities used repurposed schools, factories, and prisons to hold detainees. The Associated Press reported in October that authorities have closed or repurposed the makeshift detention centers found in cities, but in their place have built larger detention centers outside the cities. According to Human Rights Watch, these camps focused on “military-style discipline and pervasive political indoctrination of the detainees.” Detainees reported pervasive physical abuse and torture in the camps and overcrowded and unsanitary conditions.

In July the Associated Press estimated one detention center in Dabancheng, Xinjiang could hold 10,000 persons. Associated Press reported that during a tour of the facility it observed detainees “in uniform rows with their legs crossed in lotus position and their backs ramrod straight” where they watched videos of CCP propaganda. In October, CNN interviewed a former Chinese police officer who served multiple tours in Xinjiang and was directly involved in the severe physical mistreatment and violence undertaken against Uyghurs and other ethnic minority communities. The officer stated, “We took (them) all forcibly overnight. If there were hundreds of people in one county in this area, then you had to arrest these hundreds of people.” During interrogations, police officers would “kick them, beat them (until they’re) bruised and swollen, … Until they kneel on the floor crying.” “Interrogation” methods included shackling persons to a metal or wooden “tiger chair” (rendering them immobile), sexual violence against men and women, electrocutions, and waterboarding. The source said inmates were forced to stay awake for days and denied food and water. The former police officer stated that 150,000 police officers had been recruited to participate in the province-wide “strike hard” campaign and that there were arrest quotas they had to meet. Authorities accused detainees of terror offenses, but the source said he believed “none” of the hundreds of prisoners he was involved in arresting had committed a crime.

Administration: The law states letters from a prisoner to higher authorities of the prison or to the judicial organs shall be free from examination; it was unclear to what extent the law was observed. While authorities occasionally investigated credible allegations of inhuman conditions, their results were not documented in a publicly accessible manner. Authorities denied many prisoners and detainees reasonable access to visitors and correspondence with family members. Some family members did not know the whereabouts of their relatives in custody. Authorities also prevented many prisoners and detainees from engaging in religious practices or gaining access to religious materials.

Independent Monitoring: Authorities considered information about prisons and various other types of administrative and extralegal detention facilities to be a state secret, and the government did not permit independent monitoring.

d. Arbitrary Arrest or Detention

Arbitrary arrest and detention remained systemic. The law grants public security officers broad administrative detention powers and the ability to detain individuals for extended periods without formal arrest or criminal charges. Lawyers, human rights activists, journalists, religious leaders and adherents, and former political prisoners and their family members continued to be targeted for arbitrary detention or arrest. (See section 1.b., Disappearance, for a description of RSDL and liuzhi.)

The law provides for the right of any person to challenge the lawfulness of his or her arrest or detention in court, but the government generally did not observe this requirement.

There were allegations of detainee abuse and torture in the official detention system, known as liuzhi, of the National Supervisory Commission-Central Commission for Discipline Inspection (NSC-CCDI; see section 4). Liuzhi detainees are held incommunicado and have no recourse to appeal their detention. While detainee abuse is proscribed by the law, the mechanism for detainees to report abuse was unclear.

On March 14, Li Qiaochu was arrested for her human rights advocacy and involvement with fellow activists involved in the nationwide crackdown of lawyers and activists who participated in 2019 meetings in Xiamen, Fujian. Her first visit with her lawyer was on August 27, who reported that her mental health had deteriorated. At year’s end she was still detained in Shandong Province on suspicion of “subverting state power.”

On October 1, more than 170 Uyghurs in Hotan, Xinjiang, were detained by the National Security Agency of Hotan on the country’s national day, according to Radio Free Asia. They were accused of displaying feelings of resistance to the country during flag-raising activities. Among those detained were at least 40 women and 19 minors.

On September 19, journalist Sophia Huang and activist Wang Jianbing were detained in Guangzhou, according to the rights group Weiquanwang (Rights Protection Network). Huang had planned to leave China via Hong Kong on September 20 for the United Kingdom, where she intended to pursue graduate studies. Media reported that both were being held incommunicado under RSDL on suspicion of “incitement to subvert state power.” As of year’s end they remained detained in Guangzhou, and no one was allowed to see the pair.

In September, PRC authorities released Canadian citizens Michael Kovrig and Michael Spavor from detention in China and allowed them to return to Canada, shortly following the release by Canadian authorities of Huawei Technologies executive Meng Wanzhou. Kovrig and Spavor had been detained since December 2018, after the arrest in Canada of Meng. For months the two Canadian citizens were held in RSDL before being charged with a crime and were denied access to lawyers and consular services. Another Canadian, Robert Schellenberg, remained in detention as his sentence was reviewed. After Meng’s arrest, Schellenberg’s sentence for drug-smuggling crimes was increased from 15 years’ imprisonment to a death sentence.

There were no statistics available for the number of individuals in the liuzhi detention system nationwide. Several provinces, however, publicized these numbers, including Heilongjiang with 376 and Jilin with 275 detained, both in 2020. One provincial official heading the liuzhi detention system stated suspects averaged 42.5 days in detention before being transferred into the criminal justice system.

Arrest Procedures and Treatment of Detainees

Criminal detention beyond 37 days requires approval of a formal arrest by the procuratorate, but in cases pertaining to “national security, terrorism, and major bribery,” the law permits up to six months of incommunicado detention without formal arrest. After formally arresting a suspect, public security authorities are authorized to detain a suspect for up to an additional seven months while the case is investigated.

After the completion of an investigation, the procuratorate may detain a suspect an additional 45 days while determining whether to file criminal charges. If charges are filed, authorities may detain a suspect for an additional 45 days before beginning judicial proceedings. Public security officials sometimes detained persons beyond the period allowed by law, and pretrial detention periods of a year or longer were common.

The law stipulates detainees be allowed to meet with defense counsel before criminal charges are filed, although lengthy detention without access to lawyers before charges were filed were common. The criminal procedure law requires a court to provide a lawyer to a defendant who has not already retained one; is blind, deaf, mute, or mentally ill; is a minor; or faces a life sentence or the death penalty. This law applies whether or not the defendant is indigent. Courts may also provide lawyers to other criminal defendants who cannot afford them, although courts often did not do so. Lawyers reported significant difficulties meeting their clients in detention centers, especially in cases considered politically sensitive. According to the South China Morning Post, a new legal aid law introduced in August that will enter into force in 2022 stipulates that legal consultation, the drafting of legal documents, representation in cases, labor arbitration and mediation will be paid for by legal aid centers set up central and local government.

Criminal defendants are entitled to apply for bail (also translated as “a guarantor pending trial”) while awaiting trial, but the system did not operate effectively, and authorities released few suspects on bail.

The law requires notification of family members within 24 hours of detention, but authorities often held individuals without providing such notification for significantly longer periods, especially in politically sensitive cases. In some cases notification did not occur. Under a sweeping exception, officials are not required to provide notification if doing so would “hinder the investigation” of a case. The criminal procedure law limits this exception to cases involving state security or terrorism, but public security officials have broad discretion to interpret these provisions.

Under certain circumstances the law allows for residential surveillance in the detainee’s home, rather than detention in a formal facility. With the approval of the next-higher-level authorities, officials also may place a suspect under “residential surveillance at a designated location” for up to six months when they suspect crimes of endangering state security, terrorism, or serious bribery and believe surveillance at the suspect’s home would impede the investigation. Authorities may also prevent defense lawyers from meeting with suspects in these categories of cases. Human rights organizations and detainees reported the practice of residential surveillance at a designated location left detainees at a high risk for torture, since being neither at home nor in a monitored detention facility reduced opportunities for oversight of detainee treatment and mechanisms for appeal.

Authorities used administrative detention to intimidate political and religious advocates and to prevent public demonstrations. Forms of administrative detention included compulsory drug rehabilitation treatment (for drug users), “custody and training” (for minor criminal offenders), and “legal education” centers for political activists and religious adherents, particularly Falun Gong practitioners. The maximum stay in compulsory drug rehabilitation centers is two years, including commonly a six-month stay in a detoxification center. The government maintained similar rehabilitation centers for those charged with prostitution or with soliciting prostitution.

Arbitrary Arrest: Authorities detained or arrested persons on allegations of revealing state secrets, subversion, and other crimes as a means to suppress political dissent and public advocacy. These charges, as well as what constitutes a state secret, remained poorly defined and any piece of information could be retroactively designated a state secret. Authorities also used the vaguely worded charges of “picking quarrels and provoking trouble” broadly against many civil rights advocates. It was unclear what this term means. Authorities also detained citizens and foreigners under broad and ambiguous state secret laws for, among other actions, disclosing information on criminal trials, commercial activity, and government activity. A counterespionage law grants authorities the power to require individuals and organizations to cease any activities deemed a threat to national security. Failure to comply could result in seizure of property and assets.

There were multiple reports authorities arrested or detained lawyers, religious leaders or adherents, petitioners, and other rights advocates for lengthy periods, only to have the charges later dismissed for lack of evidence. Authorities subjected many of these citizens to extralegal house arrest, denial of travel rights, or administrative detention in different types of extralegal detention facilities, including “black jails.” In some cases public security officials put pressure on schools not to allow the children of prominent political detainees to enroll. Conditions faced by those under house arrest varied but sometimes included isolation in their homes under guard by security agents. Security officials were frequently stationed inside the homes. Authorities placed many citizens under house arrest during sensitive times, such as during the visits of senior foreign government officials, annual plenary sessions of the National People’s Congress (NPC) and the Chinese People’s Political Consultative Conference, the anniversary of the Tiananmen massacre, and sensitive anniversaries in Tibetan areas and Xinjiang. Security agents took some of those not placed under house arrest to remote areas on so-called vacations.

In March activist Chen Jianfang, detained in Shanghai since 2019, was tried for “inciting subversion of state power.” A verdict was not announced following the trial, and Chen remained in detention. After Chen fired her court-appointed lawyer, she was not allowed to meet with a replacement lawyer.

In May, Wang Aizhong, a leader of the “Southern Street Movement” which advocates for the freedom of political expression, was detained by Guangzhou police under suspicion of “picking quarrels and provoking trouble,” and then formally arrested in July. According to the NGO Chinese Human Rights Defenders, authorities told Wang’s wife he was arrested for his social media posts and for giving foreign media interviews.

On June 4, Gao Heng was arrested by Guangzhou police for posting on social media a picture of himself holding a sign commemorating the anniversary of the Tiananmen massacre. Gao last met with a lawyer in prison in July pending his trial. No details of what he has been charged with or his current status have been publicly released.

Pretrial Detention: Pretrial detention could last longer than one year. Defendants in “sensitive cases” reported being subjected to prolonged pretrial detention. From 2015 to 2018, authorities held many of the “709” detainees (referring to the government crackdown on human rights lawyers that began on July 9, 2015) and their defense attorneys in pretrial detention for more than a year without access to their families or their lawyers. Statistics were not published or made publicly available, but lengthy pretrial detentions were especially common in cases of political prisoners.

At year’s end Beijing-based lawyer Li Yuhan, who defended human rights lawyers during the “709” crackdown, remained in detention at the Shenyang Detention Center; she has been held since 2017 and charged with “picking quarrels and provoking trouble.” On July 12, Li met with her lawyer who reported that Li was urged to confess to her “crimes”; she refused. On October 21, her case went to trial, but no verdict was rendered. Due to Li’s poor health, her attorney submitted multiple requests to Shenyang authorities to release Li on medical parole, but the request was repeatedly denied.

As of September 8, the Ganjingzi District Court in Dalian City had not tried Ren Haifei, a Falun Gong practitioner held without trial and without charges since June 2020. Ren was arrested without a warrant, hospitalized for severe injuries suffered after his initial arrest, and remanded to the Dalian Yaojia detention center after release from the hospital where he has remained. Ren Haifei was previously incarcerated from 2001 to 2008 for his Falun Gong beliefs and for participating in peaceful protests related to the government’s treatment of other Falun Gong practitioners. Ren’s trial was first scheduled for July; however, authorities postponed the trial, citing COVID-19 concerns.

e. Denial of Fair Public Trial

Although the law states the courts shall exercise judicial power independently, without interference from administrative organs, social organizations, and individuals, the judiciary did not exercise judicial power independently. Judges regularly received political guidance on pending cases, including instructions on how to rule, from both the government and the CCP, particularly in politically sensitive cases. The CCP Central Political and Legal Affairs Commission have the authority to review and direct court operations at all levels of the judiciary. All judicial and procuratorate appointments require approval by the CCP Organization Department.

Corruption often influenced court decisions since safeguards against judicial corruption were vague and poorly enforced. Local governments appointed and paid local court judges and, as a result, often exerted influence over the rulings of those judges.

A CCP-controlled committee decided most major cases, and the duty of trial and appellate court judges was to craft a legal justification for the committee’s decision.

Courts are not authorized to rule on the constitutionality of legislation. The law permits organizations or individuals to question the constitutionality of laws and regulations, but a constitutional challenge may be directed only to the promulgating legislative body. Lawyers had little or no opportunity to rely on constitutional claims in litigation.

Media sources indicated public security authorities used televised confessions of lawyers, foreign and domestic bloggers, journalists, and business executives to establish guilt before their criminal trial proceedings began. In some cases these confessions were likely a precondition for release. NGOs asserted such statements were likely coerced, perhaps by torture, and some detainees who confessed recanted upon release and confirmed their confessions had been coerced. No provision in the law allows the pretrial broadcast of confessions by criminal suspects.

In February, United Kingdom media regulator Ofcom cancelled the broadcast license of China Global Television Network, the international news channel of China Central Television, for having insufficient editorial independence from the PRC government and the CCP. In July 2020 Ofcom found in its formal investigation that China Global Television Network broadcast in 2013 and 2014 a confession forced from a British private investigator imprisoned in China. “Judicial independence” remained one of the subjects the CCP reportedly ordered university professors not to discuss (see section 2.a., Academic Freedom and Cultural Events).

Trial Procedures

Although the law reaffirms the presumption of innocence, the criminal justice system remained biased toward a presumption of guilt, especially in high-profile or politically sensitive cases.

Courts often punished defendants who refused to acknowledge guilt with harsher sentences than those who confessed. The appeals process rarely reversed convictions, and it failed to provide sufficient avenues for review. Remedies for violations of defendants’ rights were inadequate.

Regulations of the Supreme People’s Court required trials to be open to the public, except in cases involving state secrets, privacy issues, minors, or – if requested by a party to the proceedings – commercial secrets. Authorities used the state secrets provision to keep politically sensitive proceedings closed to the public, sometimes even to family members, and to withhold a defendant’s access to defense counsel. Court regulations stipulate that foreigners with valid identification should be allowed to observe trials under the same criteria as citizens, but in practice foreigners were permitted to attend court proceedings only by invitation. As in past years, authorities barred foreign diplomats and journalists from attending several trials. In some instances authorities reclassified trials as “state secrets” cases or otherwise closed them to the public.

Regulations require the release of court judgments online and stipulate court officials should release judgments, except those involving state secrets and juvenile suspects, within seven days of their adoption. Courts did not post all judgments. They had wide discretion not to post if they found posting the judgment could be considered “inappropriate.” Many political cases did not have judgments posted.

Individuals facing administrative detention do not have the right to seek legal counsel. Criminal defendants are eligible for legal assistance, but the vast majority of criminal defendants went to trial without a lawyer.

Lawyers are required to be members of the CCP-controlled All-China Lawyers Association, and the Ministry of Justice requires all lawyers to pledge their loyalty to the leadership of the CCP upon issuance or annual renewal of their license to practice law. The CCP continued to require law firms with three or more party members to form a CCP unit within the firm.

Despite the government’s stated efforts to improve lawyers’ access to their clients, in 2017 the head of the All-China Lawyers Association told China Youth Daily that defense attorneys had taken part in less than 30 percent of criminal cases. In particular, human rights lawyers reported authorities did not permit them to defend certain clients or threatened them with punishment if they chose to do so. On November 21, China Change reported that more than 40 lawyers lost their license due to their human rights work since 2016. Some lawyers declined to represent defendants in politically sensitive cases, and such defendants frequently found it difficult to find an attorney. In some instances authorities prevented defendant-selected attorneys from taking the case and instead appointed their own attorney.

The government suspended or revoked the business licenses or law licenses of numerous lawyers who took on sensitive cases such as defending prodemocracy dissidents, house-church activists, Falun Gong practitioners, or government critics. Authorities used the annual licensing review process administered by the All-China Lawyers Association to withhold or delay the renewal of professional lawyers’ licenses. In October the association issued new guidelines that banned lawyers from speaking about cases publicly, including organizing press conferences and petitions, publishing open letters, or engaging in any public advocacy work.

Other government tactics to intimidate or otherwise pressure human rights lawyers included unlawful detention, vague “investigations” of legal offices, disbarment, harassment, physical intimidation, and denial of access to evidence and to clients.

On February 2, media reported that Ren Quanniu, a human rights lawyer based in Zhengzhou who represented activists and journalists, learned the Henan Provincial Judicial Department had revoked his license. In March judicial authorities in Zhengzhou informed the Henan Guidao Law Firm where Ren worked that it must shut down. Media further reported that in early July municipal authorities had blacklisted Ren and prohibited him from starting his own legal consultancy business.

In October the Beijing Municipal Bureau of Justice revoked Lin Qilei’s legal license on the basis that the law firm to which Lin belonged had been deregistered, despite multiple attempts by Lin to apply for registration. Lin’s firm, Beijing Ruikai Law Firm, had handled many cases on behalf of religious adherents and prodemocracy supporters.

On December 16, the Beijing Municipal Bureau of Justice revoked Liang Xiaojun’s legal license, citing his social media posts that were critical of Marxism and referred to the Falun Gong as a religion. Liang represented many human rights defenders, activists, and other disbarred lawyers during his legal career.

The law governing the legal profession criminalizes attorneys’ actions that “insult, defame, or threaten judicial officers,” “do not heed the court’s admonition,” or “severely disrupt courtroom order.” The law also criminalizes disclosing client or case information to media outlets or using protests, media, or other means to influence court decisions. Violators face fines and up to three years in prison.

Regulations also stipulate detention center officials should either allow defense attorneys to meet suspects or defendants or explain why the meeting cannot be arranged at that time. The regulations specify that a meeting should be arranged within 48 hours. Procuratorates and courts should allow defense attorneys to access and read case files within three working days. The time and frequency of opportunities available for defense attorneys to read case files shall not be limited, according to the guidelines. In some sensitive cases, lawyers had no pretrial access to their clients, had limited time to review evidence, and were not allowed to communicate with defendants during trials. In contravention of the law, criminal defendants frequently were not assigned an attorney until a case was brought to court. The law stipulates the spoken and written language of criminal proceedings shall be conducted in the language common to the specific locality, with government interpreters providing language services for defendants not proficient in the local language. Observers noted trials were predominantly conducted in Mandarin Chinese, even in non-Mandarin-speaking areas, with interpreters provided for defendants who did not speak the language.

Mechanisms allowing defendants to confront their accusers were inadequate. Only a small percentage of trials reportedly involved witnesses. Judges retained significant discretion over whether live witness testimony was required or even allowed. In most criminal trials, prosecutors read witness statements, which neither the defendants nor their lawyers had an opportunity to rebut through cross-examination. Although the law states pretrial witness statements cannot serve as the sole basis for conviction, prosecutors relied heavily on such statements. Defense attorneys had no authority to compel witnesses to testify or to mandate discovery, although they could apply for access to government-held evidence relevant to their case.

Under the law lawyers are assigned to convicted prisoners on death row who cannot afford one during the review of their sentences.

In December 2020 the Shenzhen Yantian District People’s Court sentenced 10 Hong Kong activists to prison terms between seven months and three years for illegal border crossing. After the activists were captured by PRC authorities in August 2020, they were held incommunicado. Lawyers hired by their families were barred from meeting with the activists; the court only allowed state-appointed lawyers to be present during the closed-door trial.

In July, three members of the antidiscrimination NGO Changsha Funeng – Cheng Yuan, Liu Yongze, and Wu Gejianxiong, also known as the “Changsha Three” – were sentenced in a secret trial to two to five years in prison. Despite a legal requirement to do so, the sentences were not made public, and the families were informed through informal channels. Changsha Funeng had assisted in litigating cases to end discrimination against persons with disabilities and carriers of HIV and hepatitis B. Cheng Yuan had also worked on antitorture programs, litigation to end the country’s one-child policy, and reform for household registration laws.

Political Prisoners and Detainees

Government officials continued to deny holding any political prisoners, asserting persons were detained not for their political or religious views but because they had violated the law. Authorities, however, continued to imprison citizens for reasons related to politics and religion. Human rights organizations estimated tens of thousands of political prisoners remained incarcerated, most in prisons and some in administrative detention. The government did not grant international humanitarian organizations access to political prisoners. Government security forces continued to harass and intimidate former political prisoners and their family members.

In January media reported that family members of detained lawyer Chang Weiping experienced harassment. After the family protested in front of the Gaoxin branch of the Baoji Municipal Public Security Bureau, Chang’s parents were summoned for multiple rounds of interrogation. They found a closed-circuit television camera installed outside their home and had their mobile phones confiscated. Chang’s wife, Chen Zijuan, was visited by authorities multiple times, during which authorities warned her not to conduct public advocacy for her husband and pressured her to delete her social media posts regarding her husband.

On August 25, the South China Morning Post reported on the broad use of the crime “picking quarrels and provoking trouble” against journalists, activists, lawyers, and ordinary citizens to suppress free speech. In August, two activists, Chen Mei and Cai Wei, were convicted of the crime after archiving censored internet materials related to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Authorities granted political prisoners early release at lower rates than other prisoners. Thousands of persons were serving sentences for political and religious offenses, including for “endangering state security” and carrying out “cult activities.” The government neither reviewed the cases of those charged before 1997 with counterrevolution and hooliganism nor released persons imprisoned for nonviolent offenses under repealed provisions.

Many political prisoners remained either in prison or under other forms of detention after release at year’s end, including writer Yang Maodong (pen name: Guo Feixiong); Uyghur scholars Ilham Tohti, Rahile Dawut, and Hushtar Isa, brother of Uyghur World Congress president Dolkun Isa; Tibetan Dorje Tashi; activists Wang Bingzhang, Chen Jianfang, and Huang Qi; Taiwan prodemocracy activist Lee Ming-Che; pastors Zhang Shaojie and Wang Yi; Falun Gong practitioner Bian Lichao; Catholic Auxiliary Bishop of Shanghai Thaddeus Ma Daqin; rights lawyers Xia Lin, Gao Zhisheng, Xu Zhiyong, Li Yuhan, and Yu Wensheng; blogger Wu Gan; citizen journalist Zhang Zhan; Shanghai labor activist Jiang Cunde; and others.

Criminal punishments included “deprivation of political rights” for a fixed period after release from prison, during which an individual could be denied rights of free speech, association, and publication. Former prisoners reported their ability to find employment, travel, obtain residence permits and passports, rent residences, and access social services was severely restricted.

Authorities frequently subjected former political prisoners and their families to surveillance, telephone wiretaps, searches, and other forms of harassment or threats. For example, security personnel followed the family members of detained or imprisoned rights activists to meetings with foreign reporters and diplomats and urged the family members to remain silent regarding the cases of their relatives. Authorities barred certain members of the rights community from meeting with visiting dignitaries.

Politically Motivated Reprisal against Individuals Located Outside the Country

Threats, Harassment, Surveillance, and Coercion: Reports continued throughout the year regarding PRC pressure on Xinjiang-based relatives of persons located outside China who spoke publicly about the detentions and abusive policies underway inside Xinjiang. In June 2020 Kazakhstan media reported that Kazakh authorities temporarily detained Aqiqat Qaliolla and Zhenis Zarqyn for their protests in front of the PRC embassy regarding lost family members in Xinjiang “re-education” camps. In February, RFA reported based on official sources that Bakihaji Helil was sentenced in 2017 to nine years in prison after returning early from his religion studies at al-Azhar University in Egypt following Xinjiang authorities’ harassment of his family.

PRC media and authorities continued to harass and defame women who spoke about rape and sexual abuse in Xinjiang internment camps. Qelbinur Sedik, a Xinjiang camp teacher who fled China and now lives abroad, was repeatedly targeted by PRC media and received direct video messages from local Xinjiang police threatening reprisal against her family members still in Xinjiang. The BBC reported that Xinjiang police used social media to threaten Uyghurs living in Europe.

PRC state media also released videos of Xinjiang-based ethnic and religious minorities to discredit their overseas relatives’ accounts to foreign media. The persons in the videos urged their foreign-based family members to stop “spreading rumors” about Xinjiang. The overseas relatives said they had lost communication with their Xinjiang relatives until the videos were released.

In February, Hong Kong Free Press reported the PRC used “proof-of-life” videos to dispute or undermine claims of several foreign citizens about the disappearance and treatment of their relatives in China. For example the PRC published a video of Memet Tohti Atawulla’s brother who had disappeared during the PRC’s crackdown in Xinjiang. The PRC filmed the family of Sayragul Sauytbay, who since leaving China in 2018 has publicly criticized the PRC’s treatment of Kazakh persons and other Muslims in China, accusing Sayragul of “theft, deception, child abuse, and sexual immorality.” Similarly, Hong Kong Free Press reported “Kuzzat Altay’s father disowns him on camera” and “Zumrat Dawut’s brother suggests that her father’s death was due to her political activism.”

In March, Reuters reported PRC officials used press conferences to attack women abroad who provided eyewitness accounts of their experiences in Xinjiang internment camps. The report quoted a Xinjiang official publicly claiming, “Everyone knows about her inferior character. She’s lazy and likes comfort, her private life is chaotic, her neighbors say that she committed adultery while in China.” In May, Reuters reported PRC officials routinely harassed young Uyghur activists living abroad. Uyghurs faced threats from PRC hackers, intimidating phone calls, and bullying on social media.

Misuse of International Law-enforcement Tools: There were credible reports the PRC attempted to misuse international law enforcement tools for politically motivated purposes as a reprisal against specific individuals located outside the country. On July 20, according to the Associated Press, Moroccan authorities arrested Uyghur activist Yidiresi Aishan in Casablanca based on an Interpol red notice (a request from a government for a person’s arrest). The South China Morning Post reported on August 2 that Interpol had rescinded the red notice for Aishan after advocacy groups raised concerns that the red notice system was being used to repatriate Uyghur dissidents back to China. Aishan had previously lived in Turkey where he was an active member of the Uyghur diaspora and an outspoken critic of the PRC. Aishan was still detained in Morocco at year’s end.

The NSC-CCDI led the PRC’s transnational fugitive recovery efforts, Operations Fox Hunt and Sky Net. Although these efforts ostensibly targeted economic crimes, media reported they were sometimes politically motivated and targeted dissidents who lived overseas. On February 24, state-sponsored CGTN reported that through “Sky Net 2021,” a total of 1,421 fugitives, including 28 red notice fugitives, were brought back to China in 2020.

Efforts to Control Mobility: The government pressured foreign countries to repatriate or deny visas to Uyghurs who had left China. COVID-19 measures, such as checkpoints, health-app restrictions, and COVID-19-related lockdowns restricted individuals’ freedom of movement.

In November lawyer Xie Yang attempted to visit imprisoned citizen journalist Zhang Zhan’s family but was warned by two police officers to not go. Shortly after, his COVID-19 health verification mobile phone app went from green to red, which effectively restricted his movement.

Bilateral Pressure: There were credible reports that for politically motivated purposes the PRC attempted to exert bilateral pressure on other countries aimed at having those countries take adverse action against specific individuals. In Kazakhstan, media reported that Kazakh authorities temporarily detained at least 10 protesters at the PRC embassy who were demanding the release of family members being held in Xinjiang “re-education” camps. In February a court in Kazakhstan sentenced Baibolat Kunbolatuly to 10 days in jail for staging protests outside the Chinese consulate to demand answers about his brother’s detention in Xinjiang. According to RFA on October 1 (the PRC’s national day), Kazakh police detained eight ethnic Kazakh protesters in Nur-Sultan who were demanding the release of relatives being held in Xinjiang.

On June 30, the Chinese Embassy in France sent a letter to the editorial office of French youth newspaper Mon Quotidien condemning its article regarding forced labor in Xinjiang. According to Radio Free Asia, the Chinese Embassy also circulated a petition calling for the withdrawal of the article.

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

The law states the “freedom and privacy of correspondence of citizens are protected by law,” but authorities often did not respect the privacy of citizens. A new civil code entered into force on January 1, introducing articles on the right to privacy and personal information protection. Although the law requires warrants before officers can search premises, officials frequently ignored this requirement. The Public Security Bureau and prosecutors are authorized to issue search warrants on their own authority without judicial review. There continued to be reports of cases of forced entry by police officers.

Authorities routinely monitored telephone calls, text messages, faxes, email, instant messaging, social media apps, and other digital communications intended to remain private, particularly of political activists. Authorities also opened and censored domestic and international mail. Security services routinely monitored and entered residences and offices to gain access to computers, telephones, and fax machines. Foreign journalists leaving the country found some of their personal belongings searched. In some cases, when material deemed politically sensitive was uncovered, the journalists had to sign a statement stating they would “voluntarily” leave these documents in the country.

According to Civil Rights and Livelihood Watch, a website focusing on human rights in China, Lin Xiaohua began appealing the bribery conviction of his older brother Lin Xiaonan, the former mayor of Fu’an City, Fujian Province, who in April was sentenced to 10 years and six months in prison. In June 2020 Xiaohua tried to send petition letters and case files to the Supreme People’s Procuratorate, the Supreme People’s Court, and the National Commission of Supervision-CCP Central Discipline Inspection Commission, but the post office opened all the letters then refused to deliver them. In July 2020 the Xiamen Culture and Tourism Administration confiscated the letters and files, stating they were “illegal publications.”

According to Freedom House, rapid advances in surveillance technology – including artificial intelligence, facial recognition, and intrusive surveillance apps – coupled with growing police access to user data helped facilitate the prosecution of prominent dissidents as well as ordinary users. A Carnegie Endowment report in 2019 noted the country was a major worldwide supplier of artificial-intelligence surveillance technology, such as facial recognition systems, surveillance cameras, and smart policing technology.

According to media reports, the Ministry of Public Security used tens of millions of surveillance cameras throughout the country to monitor the general public. Human rights groups stated authorities increasingly relied on the cameras and other forms of surveillance to monitor and intimidate political dissidents, religious leaders and adherents, Tibetans, and Uyghurs. These included facial recognition and “gait recognition” video surveillance, allowing police not only to monitor a situation but also to quickly identify individuals in crowds. In May the BBC reported Chinese technology companies had developed artificial intelligence, surveillance, and other technological capabilities to help police identify members of ethnic minorities, especially Uyghurs. The media sources cited public-facing websites, company documents, and programming language from firms such as Huawei, Megvii, and Hikvision related to their development of a “Uyghur alarm” that could alert police automatically. Huawei denied its products were designed to identify ethnic groups. The monitoring and disruption of telephone and internet communications were particularly widespread in Xinjiang and Tibetan areas. The government installed surveillance cameras in monasteries in the Tibetan Autonomous Region (TAR) and Tibetan areas outside the TAR (see Special Annex, Tibet). The law allows security agencies to cut communication networks during “major security incidents.” Government entities collected genetic data from residents in Xinjiang with unclear protections for sensitive health data.

According to Human Rights Watch, the Ministry of State Security partnered with information technology firms to operate a “mass automated voice recognition and monitoring system,” similar to ones already in use in Xinjiang and Anhui, to help solve criminal cases. According to one company involved, the system monitored Mandarin Chinese and certain minority languages, including Tibetan and Uyghur. In many cases other biometric data such as fingerprints and DNA profiles were being stored as well. This database included information obtained not just from criminals and criminal suspects but also from entire populations of migrant workers and all Uyghurs applying for passports. Some Xinjiang internment camp survivors reported that they were subjected to coerced comprehensive health screenings including blood and DNA testing upon entering the internment camps. There were also reports from former detainees that authorities forced Uyghur detainees to undergo medical examinations of thoracic and abdominal organs.

Forced relocation because of urban development continued in some locations. Protests over relocation terms or compensation were common, and authorities prosecuted some protest leaders. In rural areas, infrastructure and commercial development projects resulted in the forced relocation of thousands of persons.

Property-related disputes between citizens and government authorities sometimes turned violent. These disputes frequently stemmed from local officials’ collusion with property developers to pay little or no compensation to displaced residents, a lack of effective government oversight or media scrutiny of local officials’ involvement in property transactions, and a lack of legal remedies or other dispute resolution mechanisms for displaced residents. The problem persisted despite central government claims it had imposed stronger controls over illegal land seizures and taken steps to standardize compensation.

Government authorities also could interfere in families’ living arrangements when a family member was involved in perceived sensitive political activities.

The government at various levels and jurisdictions continued to implement two distinct types of social credit systems. The first, the corporate social credit system, is intended to track and prevent corporate malfeasance. The second, the personal social credit system, is implemented differently depending on geographic location.

Although the government’s goal was to create a unified government social credit system, there continued to be dozens of disparate social credit systems, operated distinctly at the local, provincial, and the national government levels, as well as separate “private” social credit systems operated by several technology companies. These systems collected vast amounts of data from companies and individuals in an effort to address deficiencies in “social trust,” strengthen access to financial credit instruments, and reduce corruption. These agencies often collected information on academic records, traffic violations, social media presence, friendships, adherence to birth control regulations, employment performance, consumption habits, and other topics. For example, there were reports individuals were not allowed to ride public transportation for periods of time because they allegedly had not paid for train tickets.

Industry and business experts commented that in its present state, the social credit system was not used to target companies or individuals for their political or religious beliefs, noting the country already possessed other tools outside the social credit system to target companies and individuals. The collection of vast amounts of personal data combined with the prospect of a future universal and unified social credit system, however, could allow authorities to control further the population’s behaviors.

In a separate use of social media for censorship, human rights activists reported authorities questioned them regarding their participation in human rights-related chat groups, including on WeChat and WhatsApp. Authorities monitored the groups to identify activists, which led to users’ increased self-censorship on WeChat as well as several separate arrests of chat group administrators.

The government continued to use the “double-linked household” system in Xinjiang developed through many years of use in Tibet. This system divides towns and neighborhoods into units of 10 households each, with the households in each unit instructed to watch over each other and report on “security issues” and poverty problems to the government, thus turning average citizens into informers. In Xinjiang the government also continued to require Uyghur families to accept government “home stays,” in which officials or volunteers forcibly lived in Uyghurs’ homes and monitored families’ observance of religion for signs of “extremism.” Those who exhibited behaviors the government considered to be signs of “extremism,” such as praying, possessing religious texts, or abstaining from alcohol or tobacco, could be detained in “re-education camps.”

The government restricted the right to have children (see section 6, Women).

Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties

a. Freedom of Expression, Including for Members of the Press and Other Media

The constitution states citizens “enjoy freedom of speech, of the press, of assembly, of association, of procession and of demonstration.” Authorities limited and did not respect these rights, however, especially when their exercise conflicted with CCP interests. Authorities continued to impose ever-tighter control of all print, broadcast, electronic, and social media and regularly used them to propagate government views and CCP ideology. Authorities censored and manipulated the press, social media, and the internet, particularly around sensitive anniversaries and topics such as public health.

Freedom of Expression: Citizens could discuss specific policies but often avoided discussing broader political issues, leaders, or “sensitive” topics for fear of official punishment. Authorities routinely took harsh action against citizens who questioned the legitimacy of the CCP or criticized President Xi’s leadership. Some independent think tanks, study groups, and seminars reported pressure to cancel sessions on sensitive topics. Many others confirmed authorities regularly warned them against meeting with foreign reporters or diplomats, and to avoid participating in diplomatic receptions or public programs organized by foreign entities.

Those who made politically sensitive comments in public speeches, academic discussions, or remarks to media, or who posted sensitive comments online, remained subject to punitive measures, as did members of their family. In addition an increase in electronic surveillance in public spaces, coupled with the movement of many citizens’ routine interactions to the digital space, signified the government was monitoring an increasing percentage of daily life. Conversations in groups or peer-to-peer on social media platforms and via messaging applications were subject to censorship, monitoring, and action from authorities. An increasing threat of peer-to-peer observation and possible referral to authorities further eroded freedom of speech.

The popular communication app WeChat remained heavily censored. Posts regarding sensitive topics such as PRC politics disappeared when sent to or from a China-registered account. Authorities continued to use the app to monitor political dissidents and other critics, some of whom were detained by police or sentenced to prison for their communications. Chinese citizens moving abroad who continued to use an account created in China were still subject to censorship.

On June 5, Gao Heng, a Christian, was detained by authorities for “picking quarrels and provoking troubles” after taking a picture of himself on the Guangzhou Metro holding a small sign that read “June 4th: Pray for the Country.”

On July 6, multiple WeChat accounts run by lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer, or intersex (LGBTQI+) societies at several universities were closed, with past posts scrubbed and replaced with a notice stating “All content has been blocked and the use of the account has been stopped” for violations of unspecified social media regulations.

On July 23, veteran petitioner Li Yufeng went on trial at the Jiaozuo City Central Station People’s Court on the charge of “picking quarrels and provoking trouble.” Li was detained in 2019 after she accompanied a friend to Beijing to file a petition at the Supreme People’s Court.

Prominent poet Wang Zang and his wife Wang Li remained in detention on the charge of “inciting subversion of state power.” Wang Zang, taken from his home in May 2020, and Wang Liqin, detained in June 2020, were indicted by the Chuxiong Yi Autonomous Prefecture People’s Procuratorate in September 2020. Police “evidence” against Wang Zang included his poetry, performance art, and views expressed on social media.

In October veteran journalist Luo Changping and a social media user identified by the surname Zuo were detained for making critical comments online regarding The Battle of Changjin Lake, a state-sponsored film set during the Korean War. Since the new code took effect in March, reports indicated that the law has been used at least 15 times to punish those who questioned the party’s version of history.

Authorities arrested or detained countless citizens for “spreading fake news,” “illegal information dissemination,” or “spreading rumors online.” These claims ranged from sharing political views or promoting religious extremism to sharing factual reports on public health concerns, including COVID-19.

This trend was especially stark in Xinjiang, where the government ran a multifaceted system of physical and cyber controls to stop individuals from expressing themselves or practicing their religion or traditional beliefs. Beyond the region’s expansive system of internment camps, the government and the CCP operated a system to limit in-person and online speech. In Xinjiang police regularly stopped Muslims and members of non-Han ethnic minorities and demanded to review their cell phones for any evidence of communication deemed inappropriate.

During the year the government extensively used mobile phone apps, cameras, and other electronics to monitor all speech and movement. Authorities in Xinjiang employed a comprehensive database that tracked the movements, mobile app usage, and even electricity and gasoline consumption of inhabitants in the region.

The government also sought to limit criticism of their Xinjiang policies even outside the country, disrupting academic discussions and intimidating human rights advocates across the world. Government officials in Xinjiang detained the relatives of several overseas activists. In February the government blocked Clubhouse, a foreign software platform designed to promote open conversations, after only a few days of operation. Before Clubhouse was blocked, Chinese citizens had participated in discussions concerning topics the PRC considers sensitive, including Xinjiang and Taiwan.

Numerous ethnic Uyghurs and Kazakhs living overseas were intimidated into silence by threats from government officials against members of their family who lived in China, threats sometimes delivered in China to the relatives, and sometimes delivered by Chinese government officials in the foreign country. (See section 1.e., Politically Motivated Reprisal against Individuals Located Outside the Country.)

The government restricted the expression of views it found objectionable, even when those expressions occurred abroad. Online, the government expanded attempts to control the global dissemination of information while also exporting its methods of electronic information control to other nations’ governments. During the year there was a rise in reports of journalists in foreign countries and ethnic Chinese living abroad experiencing harassment by Chinese government agents due to their criticisms of PRC politics. This included criticisms posted on platforms such as Twitter that were blocked within China.

The government sought to limit freedom of expression in online gaming platforms. The popular Chinese-made online game Genshin Impact continued to censor the words “Taiwan” and “Hong Kong” among others in its in-game chat program. Users noted the program’s censorship covered all users, regardless of the country of citizenship or where the game was being played.

Freedom of Expression for Members of the Press and Other Media, Including Online Media: The CCP and government continued to maintain ultimate authority over all published, online, and broadcast material. Officially, only state-run media outlets have government approval to cover CCP leaders or other topics deemed “sensitive.” While it did not dictate all content to be published or broadcast, the CCP and the government had unchecked authority to mandate if, when, and how particular issues were reported or to order they not be reported at all. The government’s propaganda department issued daily guidance on what topics should be promoted in all media outlets and how those topics should be covered. Chinese reporters working for private media companies confirmed increased pressure to conform to government requirements on story selection and content.

The Cyberspace Administration of China (CAC) directly manages internet content, including online news media, and promotes CCP propaganda. A CCP propaganda department deputy minister ran the organization’s day-to-day operations. It enjoyed broad authority in regulating online media practices and played a large role in regulating and shaping information dissemination online.

The CCP continued to monitor and control the use of non-Mandarin languages in all media within the country. Since January 1, Mongolian-language content, previously broadcast on state media, was replaced with Chinese cultural programs that promote a “strong sense of Chinese nationality common identity.”

All books and magazines continued to require state-issued publication numbers, which were expensive and often difficult to obtain. Nearly all print and broadcast media as well as book publishers were affiliated with the CCP or the government. There were a small number of print publications with some private ownership interest but no privately owned television or radio stations. The CCP directed the domestic media to refrain from reporting on certain subjects, and traditional broadcast programming required government approval.

Journalists operated in an environment tightly controlled by the government. Only journalists with official government accreditation were allowed to publish news in print or online. The CCP constantly monitored all forms of journalist output, including printed news, television reporting, and online news, including livestreaming. Journalists and editors self-censored to stay within the lines dictated by the CCP, and they faced increasingly serious penalties for crossing those lines, which could be opaque. While the country’s increasingly internet-literate population demanded interesting stories told with the latest technologies, government authorities asserted control over technologies such as livestreaming and continued to pressure digital outlets and social media platforms.

Because the CCP did not consider internet news companies “official” media, they were subject to debilitating regulations and barred from reporting on potentially “sensitive” stories.

Violence and Harassment: The government frequently impeded the work of the press, including citizen journalists. Journalists reported being subjected to physical attack, harassment, monitoring, and intimidation when reporting on sensitive topics. Government officials used criminal prosecution, civil lawsuits, and other punishment, including violence, detention, and other forms of harassment, to intimidate authors and journalists and to prevent the dissemination of unsanctioned information on a wide range of topics.

Family members of journalists based overseas also faced harassment, and in some cases detention, as retaliation for the reporting of their relatives abroad. Dozens of Uyghur relatives of overseas-based journalists working for Radio Free Asia’s Uyghur Service remained disappeared or detained in Xinjiang. In March, RFA reported that authorities had detained two brothers of Uyghur Service editor Eset Sulaiman since 2018.

Restrictions on domestic and foreign journalists by central and local CCP propaganda departments increased significantly.

Journalists faced the threat of demotion or dismissal for publishing views that challenged the government. In many cases potential sources refused to meet with journalists due to actual or feared government pressure. The scope of censorship was vast, with several Chinese journalists noting “an atmosphere of debilitating paranoia.” For example long-standing journalist contacts continued to decline off-the-record conversations, even concerning nonsensitive topics. So-called taboo topics included not only Tibet, Taiwan, and corruption, but also natural disasters and the #MeToo movement.

During the year authorities imprisoned numerous journalists working in traditional and new media. The government also silenced numerous independent journalists by quarantining them under the guise of pandemic response. Reporters Without Borders, in a report released on December 7, tallied at least 127 journalists (professional and nonprofessional) detained in the country. Of these, 71 – or more than one-half the journalists imprisoned – were Uyghur.

On January 7, investigative journalist Li Xinde, who founded and ran the China Public Watchdog Network anticorruption website, was convicted of “illegal business activity” and received a five-year prison sentence. He was initially detained in 2019 after publishing on his website a report that a court in Tianjin had wrongfully convicted a businessman.

On January 8, former journalist Zhang Jialong was sentenced to 18 months’ imprisonment by the Nanming District Court in Guiyang City on charges of “picking quarrels and provoking trouble.” Zhang, while a journalist with Tencent, met with then secretary of state John Kerry in 2014 and asked him to “tear down this great firewall that blocks the Internet.”

On May 11, citizen journalists Chen Mei and Cai Wei were put on trial at Beijing’s Chaoyang District Court, after more than a year in detention, on the charge of “picking quarrels and provoking trouble.” The two volunteered for a website archive, Terminus 2049, that documented censored COVID-19 outbreak information, among other topics. On August 13, Chen and Cai were convicted on the “picking quarrels and provoking trouble” charge but were then released on August 15 for time served.

A CCP organization in Henan Province issued a call on social media to confront a BBC journalist covering flooding in Zhengzhou, Henan Province. The Foreign Correspondents’ Club of China cited the incident as an example of the “growing hostility against foreign media in China,” thanks to rising Chinese nationalism sometimes “directly encouraged by Chinese officials and official entities.”

The Foreign Correspondents’ Club of China’s annual report on media freedoms, released in March, found that authorities and the CCP used “all arms of state power” – including surveillance systems introduced to curb COVID-19 – to harass and intimidate journalists, their Chinese colleagues, and those whom the foreign press sought to interview. For the third consecutive year, not a single correspondent said that working conditions improved.

The survey reported 88 percent of correspondents had requests for interviews declined because subjects needed prior permission to speak to a foreign journalist or because they were not permitted to speak to foreign journalists at all, an increase from 76 percent in 2019. Nearly 40 percent of correspondents said they were aware of sources being harassed, detained, called in, or questioned for interacting with a foreign journalist, an increase from 25 percent in 2019. Nearly one-half the correspondents said the fear of digital or in-person surveillance regularly affected their ability to adequately interview and communicate with sources or carry out their reporting. Almost 60 percent said their Chinese colleagues were subject to intimidation, compared with 44 percent in 2019.

Authorities used the visa renewal process to challenge journalists and force additional foreign reporters out of the country.  A Reporters Without Borders report released December 7 tallied 18 foreign reporters who were forced to leave the country in 2020 due to surveillance and visa blackmail.

In March, BBC journalist John Sudworth left the country following threats of legal action, obstruction, and intimidation. A state-sponsored propaganda campaign targeted the BBC and Sudworth to discredit them and push back against international criticism regarding issues such as Xinjiang and Hong Kong. According to the Australian Strategic Policy Institute, the government’s targeting of the BBC began after the BBC published a report detailing allegations of systematic rape in internment camps where Muslims were detained in Xinjiang.

Local employees working for foreign press outlets reported increased harassment and intimidation, in addition to authorities’ continued tight enforcement of restrictions on these employees. Foreign news bureaus are prohibited by law from directly hiring Chinese citizens as employees and must rely on personnel hired by the Personnel Service Corporation, a subordinate unit of the Diplomatic Service Bureau affiliated with the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. The code of conduct threatens dismissal and loss of accreditation for those citizen employees who engage in independent reporting. It instructs them to provide their employers with information that projects “a good image of the country.” Multiple foreign outlets reported a continuing inability to hire the number of local staff members that they wished, saying authorities continued to impose an unofficial cap of one local researcher per foreign correspondent from media outlets out of favor with authorities. Some outlets even reported trouble getting the Diplomatic Service Bureau’s permission to hire a single local researcher per correspondent. New staff were wary of taking on responsibilities that might be considered politically sensitive, limiting their portfolios and contributions.

Government harassment of foreign journalists was particularly aggressive in Xinjiang. According to the 2020 Foreign Correspondents’ Club report, all foreign reporters who traveled to Xinjiang were openly followed, denied access to public places, and were asked or forced to delete photographs and other data from devices. Reporters documented cases of staged traffic accidents, road blockages, hotel closures, and cyberattacks. They reported constant surveillance while they worked in Xinjiang, with government agents stepping in to block access to some areas, intimidating local inhabitants from talking to the journalists, and stopping the journalists – sometimes many times per day – to seize their cameras and force them to erase pictures. Reporters noted local contacts warned them any resident seen talking to foreigners would almost certainly be detained, interrogated, or sent to a “re-education camp.”

Government officials also sought to suppress journalism outside their borders.  While in past years these efforts largely focused on Chinese-language media, during the year additional reports emerged of attempts to suppress media critical of China regardless of language or location.

Censorship or Content Restrictions: Regulations grant broad authority to the government at all levels to restrict publications based on content, including mandating if, when, and how particular issues are reported.

According to Freedom House, on February 5, the China Association of Performing Arts (an industry association under the Ministry of Culture and Tourism) released new restrictions that required performances to promote the “party line,” not “undermine national unity,” nor “endanger national security.” Performers who violated the rules would face suspensions or a permanent ban from the industry.

Official guidelines for domestic journalists were often vague, subject to change at the discretion of propaganda officials, and enforced retroactively. Propaganda authorities forced newspapers and online media providers to fire editors and journalists responsible for articles deemed inconsistent with official policy and suspend or close publications. Self-censorship was prevalent among journalists, authors, and editors, particularly with post facto government reviews carrying penalties.

The CCP Central Propaganda Department ordered media outlets to adhere strictly to the information provided by official departments. Directives warned against reporting on issues related to COVID-19 outbreaks, the official response, and international inquiries, as well as party and official reputation, health and safety in general, and foreign affairs.

The government sought to exercise complete control over public and private commentary regarding the COVID-19 outbreak, undermining local and international efforts to report on the virus’s spread. COVID-19 information on Chinese social media was closely guarded from the outbreak’s earliest manifestation. Popular livestreaming and messaging platforms WeChat and YY continued censorship protocols, including on words related to the virus causing COVID-19, SARS, and potential disease vectors.

In the run-up to the 100th anniversary of the CCP’s founding on July 1, the government sought to tighten control over how citizens discuss history on the country’s heavily censored internet, releasing legal amendments stipulating that persons who “insult, slander or infringe upon” the memory of the country’s national heroes and martyrs faced jail time of up to three years.

In April the CAC vowed to crack down on “historical nihilists” and launched a hotline for internet users to report “illegal” comments that “distorted” the CCP’s historical achievements and attacked the country’s leadership. The tip line allowed individuals to report fellow citizens who “distort” the party’s history, attack its leadership and policies, defame national heroes, and “deny the excellence of advanced socialist culture” online.

Also in April authorities in Jiangsu Province detained a 19-year-old man after he made “insulting” comments online regarding Japan’s 1937 occupation of Nanjing.

In early May a regulatory official reported authorities had dealt with a large number of accounts deemed to be propagating “historical nihilism” and that they directed online platforms to clean up more than two million posts the CAC deemed illegal.

Some private companies censored content without explicit orders from authorities. In late March streaming platforms in the country began to censor the logos and symbols of brands such as Adidas that adorn items worn by contestants performing dance, singing, and standup-comedy routines, following a feud between the government and international companies that said they would avoid using cotton produced in Xinjiang. Although government officials may not have ordered the shows to obscure the brands, the video streaming sites apparently felt pressured or obliged to publicly distance themselves from Western brands involved in the feud.

In May, Chinese video platforms censored a Friends reunion television special, removing appearances by music stars Lady Gaga, Justin Bieber, and the K-pop group BTS, all of whom had previously engaged in activity that reportedly angered the Chinese government.

The government increased efforts to screen out unsanctioned information and align online content with the state’s agenda. In August the CCP’s Central Propaganda Department, along with the state-backed bodies for state-approved artists and authors, the Ministry of Culture and Tourism, and State Administration of Radio and Television, as well as the China Federation of Literary and Art Circles and Chinese Writers Association, issued policy guidelines urging better “culture and art reviews,” partly by limiting the role of algorithms in content distribution. Under the guidelines, all domestic content creators and distributors are told to “adhere to the correct direction, strengthen Marxist literary theory and criticism, and pay attention to the social effects of literary criticism … and not to contribute to the spread of low, vulgar and pandering content or quasi-entertainment content.”

Citizen journalists faced an increasingly difficult climate, with the CAC and other authorities seeking to strengthen control over content published through social media, including “self-media” accounts. Also known as “we-media,” these accounts are typically blogs operated independently on social media without official backing from established outlets. Self-media had become one of the biggest emerging trends, with a report by the State Information Center noting that in 2020 online media accounted for 80 percent of the country’s media market. The tightened restrictions online had the effect of further clamping down on self-employed reporters, who also could not be accredited by the National Press and Publication Administration, which administers tests and grants the licenses required for citizens to work in the profession. Unaccredited reporters can face legal fallout or even criminal charges. The campaign to clean up self-media accounts also targeted social media trending charts, push notifications, and short-video platforms. The CAC was also exploring measures to control the distribution of information across all internet platforms to end “disruption to the order of internet broadcasts.”

In January the National Press and Publication Administration announced that it had made it a priority to stop reporters from running their own self­media accounts, as part of its annual review of journalists’ accreditation.

In February the CAC implemented new rules on managing public internet accounts, the first change since 2017. The rules specified the type of content platforms should ban, including those deemed to be engaged in fabricating information, inciting extreme emotions, plagiarism, cyberbullying, blackmailing, and artificially inflating the number of clicks. This represented a fresh crackdown on “fake news” and other online activities perceived to be harmful. The new rules to “protect the security of content and maintain a healthy cyberspace” aimed to curb independent reporting and reposting of information considered illegal while promoting government-sanctioned stories.

The new rules also broadened the definition of harmful online information. In addition to information that authorities considered to endanger national security, leak state secrets, or subvert state power, the new rules banned online information that “disrupts financial market order.” False information regarding disasters, epidemics, emergencies, and food and drug safety was also banned. On top of possible criminal charges and other punishments, websites spreading such information could be shut down, and individuals working for such sites could be held liable and subject to heavy fines.

In July the government launched a campaign to crack down on “fake news” and clean up online content. The CCP’s Central Propaganda Department announced the campaign would target “illegal news activities” by news organizations and staff, internet platforms and public accounts, as well as unaccredited social organizations and individuals.

Control over public depictions of President Xi was severe, with censors aggressively shutting down any depiction that varied from official media storylines. Censors continued to block images of the Winnie the Pooh cartoon character on social media because internet users used it to represent Xi. Social media posts did not allow comments related to Xi Jinping and other prominent Chinese leaders.

Domestic films were subject to government censorship. The CCP continued to call for films to highlight Chinese culture and values and promote the country’s successful growth. On October 9, former news editor and journalist Luo Chang Ping was detained in Hainan for a post on Weibo critical of a film’s depiction of the country’s role in the Korean War on suspicion of “impeaching the reputation of heroes and martyrs.”

Foreign movies shown in the country were also subject to censorship. The scheduled PRC release of Nomadland, a foreign movie directed by China-born filmmaker Chloe Zhao, was postponed following a controversy concerning comments Zhao made in 2013 regarding censorship in China; many online mentions of Nomadland were censored by authorities.

In October, Chinese broadcaster Tencent blocked Boston Celtics (National Basketball Association) games from its platform after a member of the team, Enes Kanter, posted social media posts critical of the PRC’s policies in Tibet.

Newscasts from overseas news outlets, largely restricted to hotels and foreign residence compounds, were subject to censorship. Individual issues of foreign newspapers and magazines were occasionally banned when they contained articles deemed too sensitive. Articles on sensitive topics were removed from international magazines. Television newscasts were often blacked out during segments on sensitive subjects. For example in February, authorities banned the BBC World News television channel in apparent retaliation after the United Kingdom revoked the license of the state-owned Chinese broadcaster CGTN.

Government regulations restrict and limit public access to foreign television shows, which are banned during primetime, and local streamers had to limit the foreign portion of their program libraries to less than 30 percent.

Authorities continued to ban books with content they deemed inconsistent with officially sanctioned views. The law permits only government-approved publishing houses to print books. Newspapers, periodicals, books, audio and video recordings, or electronic publications may not be printed or distributed without the approval of central authorities and relevant provincial publishing authorities. Individuals who attempted to publish without government approval faced imprisonment, fines, confiscation of their books, and other punishment. The CCP also exerted control over the publishing industry by preemptively classifying certain topics as state secrets.

Government rules ban the sale of foreign publications without an import permit. This includes sales on online shopping platforms, which are banned from offering “overseas publications,” including books, movies, and games that do not already have government approval.  The ban also applies to services related to publications.

New rules from the Ministry of Education went into effect April 1, banning from libraries books that favored the “West” at the expense of China. Nikkei Asia reported that the order would impact 240 million primary and secondary school students and also require students to begin studying “Xi Jinping Thought.” According to Nikkei Asia, books that conveyed political, economic, and cultural ideas from democratic nations could be banned.

Libel/Slander Laws: By law defamation can be punished by up to three years’ imprisonment; truth is not a defense.

In February police in the Shapingba District of Chongqing issued a criminal detention warrant for a 19-year-old Chinese citizen living overseas in connection for his posts on the Sina Weibo microblogging platform. Police claimed the blogger posted a comment defaming People’s Liberation Army (PLA) martyrs that had a “severe negative social impact.” Official state media reported that at least six other Chinese domestic internet users had been under criminal or administrative detention for “stirring up trouble” by publishing defamatory comments concerning PLA martyrs on social media platforms.

In May at least seven citizens were detained for “defaming” Yuan Longping, revered as the “Father of Hybrid Rice” in China, who died on May 22. Media reports noted that local police had responded to complaints of insulting remarks regarding Yuan on social media and determined the posts had caused a “seriously bad” impact on the society. Five of the detained faced criminal investigations; two were detained under administrative procedures. Sina Weibo announced on May 24 that it would permanently close the accounts of 64 users who were found to have spread insults and attacks on Yuan.

In October a woman identified in court only by her last name, Xu, was sentenced to seven months in prison for violating a newly amended criminal code that makes “impeaching the reputation of heroes and martyrs” a crime. Xu had mocked online some internet users who had imagined themselves as Dong Cunrui, a war hero who died during China’s civil war in 1949.

National Security: Authorities often justified restrictions on expression on national security protection grounds. Government leaders cited the threat of terrorism to justify restricting freedom of expression by Muslims and other religious minorities. These justifications were a baseline rationale for restrictions on press movements, publications, and other forms of repression of expression.

b. Freedoms of Peaceful Assembly and Association

The government restricted freedoms of peaceful assembly and association.

Freedom of Peaceful Assembly

While the constitution provides for freedom of peaceful assembly, the government severely restricted this right. The law stipulates such activities may not challenge “party leadership” or infringe upon the “interests of the state.” Protests against the political system or national leaders were prohibited. Authorities denied permits and quickly suppressed demonstrations involving expression of dissenting political views. For example police in Huizhou continued to hold human rights activist Xiao Yuhui, detained in July 2020 after repeating a WeChat post calling for individuals to save Hong Kong.

Citizens throughout the country continued to gather publicly to protest evictions, forced relocations, and inadequate compensation, often resulting in conflict with authorities or formal charges. Media reported thousands of protests took place during the year across the country. Although peaceful protests are legal, public security officials rarely granted permits to demonstrate. Despite restrictions, many demonstrations occurred, but authorities quickly broke up those motivated by broad political or social grievances, sometimes with excessive force.

In August, Ding Jiaxi and Xu Zhiyong were indicted on charges of subversion after two rounds of investigation by the Linyi Municipal Public Security Bureau and 21 months in detention. Ding and Xu were arrested in December 2019 after they met earlier that month in Xiamen, Fujian, to organize civil society and plan nonviolent social movements in the country. They were charged with “incitement to subvert state power” and “subversion of state power;” the latter crime carries a minimum 10-year prison sentence. Authorities continued to deny the families and their lawyers access to Xu and Ding.

Concerts, sports events, exercise classes, and other meetings of more than 200 persons require approval from public security authorities. Mass-gathering events were canceled during the year due to COVID-19 controls.

Freedom of Association

The constitution provides for freedom of association, but the government restricted this right. CCP policy and government regulations require that all professional, social, and economic organizations officially register with and receive approval from the government. These regulations prevented the formation of autonomous political, human rights, religious, spiritual, labor, and other organizations that the government believed might challenge its authority in any area. The government maintained tight controls over civil society organizations and, in some cases, detained or harassed NGO workers. Propaganda targeted NGOs, smearing them for any affiliation with foreign governments.

The regulatory system for NGOs was highly restrictive, but specific requirements varied depending on whether an organization was foreign or domestic. Domestic NGOs were governed by charity law and a host of related regulations. Domestic NGOs could register in one of three categories: as a social group, a social organization, or a foundation. All domestic NGOs are required to register under the Ministry of Civil Affairs and find an officially sanctioned sponsor to serve as their “professional supervisory unit.” Finding a sponsor was often challenging, since the sponsor could be held civilly or criminally responsible for the NGO’s activities and sponsorship included burdensome reporting requirements. All organizations are required to report their sources of funding, including foreign funding.

All domestic NGOs are supposed to have a CCP cell, although implementation was not consistent. According to authorities, these CCP cells were to “strengthen guidance” of NGOs in areas such as “decision making for important projects, important professional activities, major expenditures and funds, acceptance of large donations, and activities involving foreigners.” Authorities are to conduct annual “spot checks” to ensure compliance on “ideological political work, party building, financial and personnel management, study sessions, foreign exchange, acceptance of foreign donations and assistance, and conducting activities according to their charter.”

The law requires foreign NGOs to register with the Ministry of Public Security and to find a state-sanctioned sponsor for their operations or for one-time activities. NGOs that fail to comply face possible civil or criminal penalties. The law provides no appeal process for NGOs denied registration, and it stipulates NGOs found to have violated certain provisions could be banned from operating in the country. The law also states domestic groups cooperating with unregistered foreign NGOs will be punished and possibly banned.

Some international NGOs reported it was more difficult to work with local partners, including universities, government agencies, and other domestic NGOs, as the NGO law codified the CCP’s perception that foreign NGOs were a “national security” threat. Many government agencies still had no unit responsible for sponsoring foreign NGOs. The vague definition of an NGO, as well as of what activities constituted “political” and therefore illegal activities, left many business organizations and alumni associations uncertain whether they fell within the purview of the law. The lack of clear communication from the government, coupled with harassment by security authorities, caused some foreign NGOs to suspend or cease operations in the country. According to the Ministry of Public Security, as of November 2, approximately 622 foreign NGO representative offices had registered under the Foreign NGO Management Law, with more than one-half of those focusing on industry or trade promotion activities.

According to the Ministry of Civil Affairs, by the end of the year, there were more than 900,000 registered social organizations, public institutions, and foundations. Many experts believed the actual number of domestic NGOs to be much higher. NGOs existed under a variety of formal and informal guises, including national mass organizations created and funded by the CCP that are organizationally prohibited from exercising any independence, known as government-operated NGOs, or GONGOs.

For donations to a domestic organization, foreign NGOs must maintain a representative office in the country to receive funds, or to use the bank account of a domestic NGO when conducting temporary activities. By law foreign NGOs are prohibited from using any other method to send and receive funds, and such funding must be reported to the Ministry of Public Security. Foreign NGOs are prohibited from fundraising and “for-profit activities” under the law.

Although all registered organizations came under some degree of government control, some NGOs, primarily service-oriented GONGOs, were able to operate with less day-to-day scrutiny. Authorities supported the growth of some NGOs that focused on social problems, such as poverty alleviation and disaster relief. Law and regulations explicitly prohibit organizations from conducting political or religious activities, and organizations that did not comply faced criminal penalties.

Authorities continued to restrict, evict, and investigate local NGOs that received foreign funding and international NGOs that provided assistance to Tibetan communities in the TAR and other Tibetan areas. Almost all were forced to curtail their activities altogether due to travel restrictions, official intimidation of staff members, and the failure of local partners to renew project agreements.

c. Freedom of Religion

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

d. Freedom of Movement and the Right to Leave the Country

The law provides for freedom of internal movement, foreign travel, emigration, and repatriation, but the government did not respect these rights.

The government, often preemptively, harassed and intimidated individuals and their family members by denying them permission to travel, both internationally and domestically, keeping them under house arrest or submitting them to “forced travel” during politically significant holidays.

In-country Movement: Authorities continued to maintain tight restrictions on freedom of movement, particularly to curtail the movement of individuals deemed politically sensitive before key anniversaries, or during foreign country national days, visits by foreign dignitaries, or major political events, as well as to forestall demonstrations. Uyghurs faced draconian restrictions on movement within Xinjiang and outside the region. Although the use of “domestic passports” that called for local official approval before traveling to another area was discontinued in 2016, authorities still made identification checks for individuals entering or leaving cities and on public roads. In Xinjiang, security officials operated checkpoints managing entry into public places, including markets and mosques, that required Uyghurs to scan their national identity card, undergo a facial recognition check, and put baggage through airport-style security screening. Such restrictions were not applied to Han Chinese in these areas.

The government operated a national household registration system (hukou) and maintained restrictions on the freedom to change one’s workplace or residence, although many provinces and localities eased restrictions. While many rural residents migrated to the cities, where per capita disposable income was approximately three times the rural per capita income, they often could not change their official residence or workplace within the country. Most cities had annual quotas for the number of new temporary residence permits they could issue, and all workers, including university graduates, had to compete for a limited number of such permits. It was particularly difficult for rural residents to obtain household registration in provincial capitals, but outside those cities many provinces removed or lowered barriers to move from a rural area to an urban one.

The household registration system added to the difficulties faced by rural residents, even after they relocated to urban areas and found employment. According to the Statistical Communique of the Peoples Republic of China on 2019 National Economic and Social Development, published in February 2020 by the National Bureau of Statistics of China, 280 million individuals lived outside the jurisdiction of their household registration. Migrant workers and their families faced numerous obstacles regarding working conditions and labor rights. Many were unable to access public services, such as public education for their children or social insurance, in the cities where they lived and worked because they were not legally registered urban residents.

Under the “staying at prison employment” system applicable to recidivists incarcerated in administrative detention, authorities denied certain persons permission to return to their homes after serving their sentences. Some released or paroled prisoners returned home but did not have freedom of movement.

Foreign Travel: The government controlled emigration and foreign travel. Government employees and retirees, especially from the military, faced foreign travel restrictions. The government denied passport applications or used exit controls for departing passengers at airports and other border crossings to deny foreign travel to some dissidents and persons employed in government posts. Throughout the year many lawyers, artists, authors, and activists were at times prevented from exiting the country. Authorities also blocked the travel of some family members of activists, including foreign family members.

Border officials and police sometimes cited threats to “national security” as the reason for refusing permission to leave the country, although often authorities provided no reason for such exit bans. Authorities stopped most such persons at the airport at the time of their attempted travel.

Most citizens could obtain passports, although individuals the government deemed potential political threats, including religious leaders, political dissidents, petitioners, as well as their family members and members of ethnic minorities, routinely reported being refused passports or otherwise being prevented from traveling overseas.

Disbarred lawyers, rights activists, and families of “709” lawyers faced difficulties applying for passports or were barred from leaving the country. For example disbarred human rights lawyers Wang Yu (also a 709 lawyer) and Tang Jitian remained under exit bans. Yang Maodong, whose pen name is Guo Feixiong, was banned from boarding a flight out of Shanghai in January, was denied authorization to travel abroad throughout the year, and was detained by authorities in December. Family members of some 709 lawyers, such as Li Heping and Wang Quanzhang, had passport applications denied.

Uyghurs, particularly those residing in Xinjiang, reported great difficulty in getting passport applications approved. They were frequently denied passports to travel abroad. Since 2016 authorities ordered Xinjiang residents to turn in their passports or told residents no new passports were available. Foreign national family members of Uyghur activists living overseas were also denied visas to enter the country, in part due to COVID-19 travel restrictions although restrictions predated the pandemic. Authorities refused to renew passports for Uyghurs living abroad.

Exile: The law neither provides for a citizen’s right to repatriate nor addresses exile. The government continued to refuse re-entry to numerous citizens considered dissidents, Falun Gong activists, or “troublemakers.” Although in previous years authorities allowed some dissidents living abroad to return, dissidents released on medical parole and allowed to leave the country often were effectively exiled. Because of the COVID-19 pandemic, authorities greatly reduced the total number of travelers who could enter the country, including citizens.

e. Status and Treatment of Internally Displaced Persons

Not applicable.

f. Protection of Refugees

Although it restricted access to border areas, the government regularly cooperated with the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), which maintained an office in Beijing.

Access to Asylum: The law does not provide for the granting of refugee or asylum status. The government did not have a system for providing protection to refugees but generally recognized UNHCR-registered refugees in China. Asylum applicants and refugees remained in the country without access to education or social services and were subject to deportation at any time.

UNHCR reported that officials continued to restrict UNHCR access to border areas. Authorities sometimes detained and prosecuted citizens who assisted North Korean refugees and asylum seekers, as well as those who facilitated illegal border crossings.

Refoulement: The government continued to consider North Koreans as illegal “economic migrants” rather than refugees or asylum seekers and forcibly returned many of them to North Korea, where such migrants would face harsh punishments including torture, forced abortions, forced labor, sexual violence, or death. Entries of such migrants were reduced during the year due to border closures during the COVID-19 pandemic. As of July advocacy organizations believed PRC authorities detained 1,170 North Koreans, the majority of whom were refugees and asylum seekers. In July, PRC authorities forcibly returned approximately 50 North Korean refugees, resuming forcible repatriations which had been on hold since early 2020 after the North Korean government shut its borders due to COVID-19.

North Koreans detained by PRC authorities faced forcible repatriation unless they could pay bribes to secure their release. Family members wanting to prevent forced returns of their North Korean relatives were required to pay fees to Chinese authorities, purportedly to cover expenses incurred while in detention. While detained North Koreans were occasionally released, they were rarely given the necessary permissions for safe passage to a third country.

Access to Basic Services: Refugees generally did not have access to public health care, public education, or other social services due to lack of legal status.

Durable Solutions: The government largely cooperated with UNHCR when dealing with the local settlement in China of Han Chinese or members of ethnic minorities from Vietnam and Laos living in the country since the Vietnam War era. The government and UNHCR continued discussions concerning the granting of citizenship to these long-term residents and their children, many of whom were born in China.

g. Stateless Persons

According to international media reports, as many as 30,000 children born to North Korean women in China, most of whom were trafficked and married to Chinese spouses, had not been registered because their North Korean parent was undocumented, leaving the children de facto stateless. These children were denied access to public services, including education and health care, despite provisions in the law that provide citizenship to children with at least one PRC citizen parent. Chinese fathers reportedly sometimes did not register their children to avoid exposing the illegal status of their North Korean partners.

Section 3. Freedom to Participate in the Political Process

The constitution states, “all power in the People’s Republic of China belongs to the people” and the organs through which citizens exercise state power are the NPC and the people’s congresses at provincial, district, and local levels. In practice the CCP dictated the legislative agenda to the NPC. While the law provides for elections of people’s congress delegates at the county level and below, citizens could not freely choose the officials who governed them. The CCP controlled all elections and continued to control appointments to positions of political power. The CCP used various intimidation tactics, including house arrest, to block independent candidates from running in local elections.

Elections and Political Participation

Recent Elections: In 2018 the NPC’s 2,980 delegates elected the president and vice president, the premier and vice premiers, and the chairman of the Central Military Commission. The NPC Standing Committee, which consists of 175 members, oversaw the elections and determined the agenda and procedures for the NPC. The selection of NPC members takes place every five years, and the process is controlled by the CCP.

The NPC Standing Committee remained under the direct authority of the CCP. All important legislative decisions required the concurrence of the CCP’s seven-member Politburo Standing Committee. Despite its broad authority under the state constitution, the NPC did not set policy independently or remove political leaders without the CCP’s approval.

According to Ministry of Civil Affairs 2019 statistics, almost all the country’s more than 600,000 villages had implemented direct elections by ordinary citizens for members of local subgovernmental organizations known as village committees. The direct election of officials remained narrow in scope and was strictly confined to the lowest rungs of local governance. Corruption, vote buying, and interference by township-level and CCP officials continued to be problems. The law permits each voter to cast proxy votes for up to three other voters.

Election law governs legislative bodies at all levels, although compliance and enforcement varied across the country. Under the law citizens have the opportunity every five years to vote for local people’s congress representatives at the county level and below, although in most cases higher-level government officials or CCP cadres controlled the nomination of candidates. At higher levels, legislators selected people’s congress delegates from among their own ranks. For example, provincial-level people’s congresses selected delegates to the NPC. Local CCP secretaries generally served concurrently within the leadership team of the local people’s congress, thus strengthening CCP control over legislatures.

Political Parties and Political Participation: Official statements asserted “the political party system [that] China has adopted is multiparty cooperation and political consultation” under CCP leadership. The CCP, however, retained a monopoly on political power, and the government forbade the creation of new political parties. The government officially recognized nine parties founded prior to 1949, and parties other than the CCP held 30 percent of the seats in the NPC. These non-CCP members did not function as a political opposition. They exercised very little influence on legislation or policymaking and were only allowed to operate under the direction of the CCP United Front Work Department.

No laws or regulations specifically govern the formation of political parties. The China Democracy Party remained banned, and the government continued to monitor, detain, and imprison its current and former members. China Democracy Party founder Qin Yongmin, detained with his wife Zhao Suli in 2015, has been in Hubei’s Qianjiang Prison since 2018 for “subversion of state power.”

Participation of Women and Members of Minority Groups: Women and members of minority groups held few positions of significant influence in the government or CCP structure. Among the 2,987 appointed delegates to the 13th NPC in 2018, 742 (25 percent) were women. Following the 19th Party Congress in 2017, one member of the CCP Central Committee’s 25-member Politburo was a woman. There were no women in the Politburo Standing Committee.

Election law provides a general mandate for quotas for female and ethnic minority representatives, but achieving these quotas often required election authorities to violate the election law.

A total of 438 delegates from 55 ethnic minorities were members of the 13th NPC, accounting for 16 percent of the total number of delegates. All of the country’s officially recognized minority groups were represented. The 19th Party Congress elected 15 members of ethnic minority groups as members of the 202-person Central Committee. There was no ethnic minority member of the Politburo, and only one ethnic minority member was serving as a party secretary of a provincial-level jurisdiction, although a handful of ethnic minority members were serving as leaders in provincial governments. An ethnic Mongolian woman, Wang Lixia, served as chair of the Inner Mongolia Autonomous Region, equivalent to a provincial governor. An ethnic Hui woman, Xian Hui, served as chair of the Ningxia Hui Autonomous Region. An ethnic Bai woman, Shen Yiqin, served as party secretary of Guizhou Province.

Section 4. Corruption and Lack of Transparency in Government

Although officials faced criminal penalties for corruption, the government and the CCP did not implement the law consistently or transparently. Corruption remained rampant. Many cases of corruption involved areas heavily regulated by the government, such as land-usage rights, real estate, mining, and infrastructure development, which were susceptible to fraud, bribery, and kickbacks. Court judgments often could not be enforced against powerful special entities, including government departments, state-owned enterprises, military personnel, and some members of the CCP.

Transparency International’s analysis indicated corruption remained a significant problem in the country. There were numerous reports of government corruption – and subsequent trials and sentences – during the year.

By law the NSC-CCDI is a government and CCP body charged with rooting out corruption and discipline inspection (enforcing conformity). Its investigations may target any public official, including police, judges, and prosecutors; the commission can investigate and detain individuals connected to targeted public officials. The NSC-CCDI is vested with powers of the state and may conduct investigations against any employee who performs a public duty; that includes doctors, academics, and employees of state-owned enterprises. There were credible reports that the NSC-CCDI investigations and detentions by liuzhi were sometimes politically motivated. According to Safeguard Defenders’ analysis of NSC-CCDI official documents of a select few provinces, in those provinces the NSC-CCDI placed at least 5,909 individuals into liuzhi since its creation in 2018. Nationwide, Safeguard Defenders estimated that 52,000 individuals were placed into liuzhi since 2018.

Corruption: In numerous cases government prosecutors investigated public officials and leaders of state-owned enterprises, who generally held high CCP ranks, for corruption.

While the tightly controlled state media apparatus publicized some notable corruption investigations, in general very few details were made public regarding the process by which CCP and government officials were investigated for corruption. Observers also said that corruption charges were often a pretext for purging political rivals.

In October the NSC-CCDI detained former vice ministers of public security, Fu Zhenghua and Sun Lijun. The South China Morning Post reported that Fu Zhenghua was being held for “serious violations” of party discipline. Sun Lijun was expelled from the CCP and faced trial for “serious violation of discipline rules and law.” According to state media, Sun accepted bribes and gifts and misused his position to “achieve his political objectives.” The South China Morning Post reported in August that the NSC-CCDI was investigating Peng Bo, a former deputy chief of the CAC, for accepting bribes and expelled him from the party. Published accusations that Peng strayed from CCP plans regarding the “propaganda struggle over the internet,” “sought benefits from internet companies,” “resisted investigations by the party and engaged in superstitious activities,” and violated the “eight-point requirements on frugal living, visited private clubs frequently and accepted invitations to extravagant banquets and dinners” may indicate that corruption was not the primary reason for the investigation into Peng.

Section 5. Governmental Posture Towards International and Nongovernmental Investigation of Alleged Abuses of Human Rights

The government sought to maintain control over civil society groups, halt the emergence of independent NGOs, and hinder activities of civil society and human rights groups. The government frequently harassed independent domestic NGOs and in many cases did not permit them to openly monitor or comment on human rights conditions. The government made statements expressing suspicion of independent organizations and closely scrutinized NGOs with financial or other links overseas. The government took significant steps during the year to bring all domestic NGOs under its direct regulatory control, thereby curtailing the space for independent NGOs to exist. Most large NGOs were quasi-governmental, and all official NGOs were required to have a government agency sponsor.

The United Nations or Other International Bodies: The government remained reluctant to accept criticism of its human rights record by other nations or international organizations. The government sharply limited the visits of UN experts to the country and rarely provided substantive answers to queries by UN human rights bodies. A dozen requests for visits to the country by UN experts remained outstanding.

The government used its membership on the UN Economic and Social Council’s Committee on NGOs to block groups critical of China from obtaining UN accreditation and barring accredited activists from participating in UN events. The government also retaliated against human rights groups working with the United Nations.

Section 6. Discrimination and Societal Abuses

Women

Rape and Domestic Violence: Rape of women is illegal and carries a sentence that ranges from three years in prison to death. The law does not safeguard same-sex couples or survivors of marital rape. A separate law on sexual assault includes male victims but has a lesser maximum penalty of five years in prison. Of the reported cases, most allegations of rape were closed through private settlement rather than prosecution. Some persons convicted of rape were executed.

Domestic violence remained a significant problem. Some scholars said victims were encouraged to attempt to resolve domestic violence through mediation. Societal sentiment that domestic violence was a personal, private matter contributed to underreporting and inaction by authorities when women faced violence at home. The law defines domestic violence as a civil, rather than a criminal, offense. The web publication Sixth Tone reported in 2019 that 25 percent of families had experienced domestic violence.

The government supported shelters for survivors of domestic violence, and some courts provided protections to survivors, including through court protective orders prohibiting a perpetrator of domestic violence from coming near to a survivor. Nonetheless, official assistance did not always reach survivors, and public security forces often ignored domestic violence. Legal aid institutions working to provide counseling and defense to survivors of domestic violence were often pressured to suspend public activities and cease all forms of policy advocacy, an area that was reserved only for government-sponsored organizations.

According to women’s rights activists, a recurring problem in the prosecution of domestic violence cases was a failure by authorities to collect evidence, including photographs, hospital records, police records, or children’s testimony. Witnesses seldom testified in court.

On November 2, professional tennis player Peng Shuai in a since-deleted post on Weibo accused former Politburo Standing Committee member and vice premier Zhang Gaoli of sexually assaulting her in 2018. Peng said she and Zhang previously had an extramarital relationship and that she went to Zhang’s house “about three years ago” at his invitation to play tennis with him and his wife, when he sexually assaulted her. International media said this was the first such public accusation against a senior CCP official. Peng disappeared from public view following her post, and her social media accounts were blocked. Her disappearance sparked an international outcry, and a subsequent series of public sightings were criticized as staged propaganda intended to defuse international criticism.

Courts’ recognition of domestic violence improved, making spousal abuse a mitigating factor in crimes committed in self-defense.

Sexual Harassment: The law prohibits sexual harassment against women. The law defines behaviors included in the definition of harassment, eliminates the statute of limitations of minors seeking to sue on sexual harassment grounds, and requires employers to make affirmative efforts to prevent and address sexual harassment in the workplace. It remained difficult for victims to file a sexual harassment complaint and for judges to reach a ruling on such cases. Human Rights Watch cited one statistic showing nearly 40 percent of women said they experienced sexual harassment in the workplace. Many women, however, remained unwilling to report incidents of sexual harassment, believing the justice system was ineffectual, according to official media. Several prominent media reports of sexual harassment were widely shared on social media, helping to raise awareness of the problem, particularly in the workplace.

In August a female employee of Hangzhou-based Alibaba wrote she had been sexually assaulted by her manager and a client and that Alibaba had not initially taken the matter seriously. Alibaba subsequently fired the accused manager, and two other senior employees resigned for not properly handling the allegations. The criminal case against the accused manager was ultimately dropped by prosecutors who said the “forcible indecency” committed by the man was not a crime.

On September 14, the Haidian District Court in Beijing ruled against plaintiff Zhou Xiaoxuan (also known as Xianzi) in a high-profile sexual harassment case, stating there was insufficient evidence to support her claims that China Central Television personality Zhu Jun had groped and forcibly kissed her in 2014 when she was an intern working for him.

The law allows victims to file a sexual harassment complaint with their employer, authorities, or both. Employers who failed to take effective measures to prevent sexual harassment could be fined.

Some women’s NGOs that sought to increase public awareness of sexual harassment reported harassment by public security and faced challenges implementing their programs.

Reproductive Rights: Through law and policy the CCP and government limit the rights of parents to choose the number of children they have. The law restricts most married couples to three children (increased from two in May) and allows couples to apply for permission to have a fourth child if they meet local and provincial requirements. In August the NPC formally passed the law raising the number of children permitted, including several provisions aimed at boosting the birth rate and “reducing the burden” of raising children. These provisions included abolishing the “social maintenance fee” that was a fine for having children beyond the previous limit, encouraging local governments to offer parental leave, and increasing women’s employment rights.

Enforcement of population control policy relied on social pressure, education, propaganda, and economic penalties, as well as on measures such as mandatory pregnancy examinations, contraception and, less frequently, forced sterilizations and, in some provinces, coerced abortions. Penalties for exceeding the permitted number of children were not enforced uniformly and varied by province. The law as implemented requires each woman with an unauthorized pregnancy to abort or to pay a social compensation fee, which can reach 10 times a person’s annual disposable income. Those with the financial means often paid the fee to ensure their children born in violation of the birth restrictions would have access to a wide array of government-provided social services and rights. Some avoided the fee by hiding such children with friends or relatives. The law only mentions the rights of married couples, which means unmarried women are not authorized to have children. They consequently have social compensation fees imposed on them if they give birth “outside of the policy,” and they could be subject to the denial of legal documents such as birth documents and the hukou residence permit, although local governments rarely enforced these regulations.

While authorities have liberalized population control measures for members of the Han majority since 2016, birth control policies directed toward Uyghurs became more stringent. Ethnic and religious minority women were often subject to coercive population control measures. Government targeting of ethnic and religious minorities in Xinjiang with intensified coercive family-planning measures resulted in plummeting birth rates since 2018. Most Xinjiang prefectures reported large increases in sterilizations and implantation of intrauterine devices (IUD), with Hotan Prefecture alone more than doubling its female sterilization numbers from 2017 to 2018. There were widespread reports of coercive population control measures – including forced abortions, forced sterilizations, involuntary IUD insertions, and pregnancy checks – occurring at detention centers in the region and targeting minority groups, primarily Uyghurs and ethnic Kazaks. Parents judged to have exceeded the government limit on the number of children (three or more) risked being sent to detention centers unless they paid exorbitant fines. In a January post later removed by Twitter, the PRC Embassy in the United States claimed, “Study shows that in the process of eradicating extremism, the minds of Uygur women in Xinjiang were emancipated and gender equality and reproductive health were promoted, making them no longer baby-making machines. They are more confident and independent.”

Since national family planning law mentions only the rights of married couples, local implementation was inconsistent, and unmarried persons were required to pay for contraception.

Sexual and reproductive health services including emergency contraception were available for survivors of sexual violence at public hospitals.

Discrimination: The constitution states “women enjoy equal rights with men in all spheres of life.” The law provides for equality in ownership of property, inheritance rights, access to education, and equal pay for equal work. Nonetheless, women reported that discrimination, unfair dismissal, demotion, and wage discrepancies were significant problems.

On average women earned 35 percent less than men who did similar work. This wage gap was greater in rural areas. Women were underrepresented in leadership positions, despite their high rate of participation in the labor force.

Authorities often did not enforce laws protecting the rights of women. According to legal experts, it was difficult to litigate sex discrimination suits because of vague legal definitions. Some observers noted the agencies tasked with protecting women’s rights tended to focus on maternity-related benefits and wrongful termination due to pregnancy or maternity leave rather than on sex discrimination, violence against women, or sexual harassment.

Women’s rights advocates indicated that in rural areas women often forfeited land and property rights to their husbands in divorce proceedings. The civil code includes a provision for a 30-day “cooling off” period in cases of uncontested divorce; some citizens expressed concern this leaves those seeking escape from domestic violence susceptible to further abuse. Rural contract law and laws protecting women’s rights stipulate women enjoy equal rights in cases of land management, but experts asserted this was rarely the case due to the complexity of the law and difficulties in its implementation.

Gender-biased Sex Selection: The most recent information from the State Council Information Office stated the boy-girl birth ratio had dropped from 113.5 in 2015 to 110.1 boys per 100 girls in 2019.

Nonmedical fetal sex diagnosis and aborting a pregnancy based on gender selection are illegal.  Private and unregistered clinics, however, provided these services. Provincial health commissions made efforts to crack down on sex-selective abortions.

Systemic Racial or Ethnic Violence and Discrimination

The constitution and laws include language that protects members of racial or ethnic minorities or groups from violence and discrimination; however, the government did not enforce these laws effectively, and authorities perpetrated and promoted violence and discrimination against members of racial or ethnic minority groups. Official state media outlets published numerous articles describing members of minority ethnic or religious groups as violent and inferior. Such propaganda emphasized the connection between religious beliefs, in particular belief in Islam, and acts of violence. Moreover, many articles described religious adherents as culturally backward and less educated, and thus in need of government rectification.

The government “sinicization” campaign resulted in ethnically based restrictions on movement, including curtailed ability to travel freely or obtain travel documents; greater surveillance and presence of armed police in ethnic minority communities; and legislative restrictions on cultural and religious practices.

The government promoted Han Chinese migration into minority areas, significantly increasing the population of Han in Xinjiang. Han Chinese officials continued to hold the majority of the most powerful CCP posts and many government positions in minority autonomous regions, particularly Xinjiang.

In 2017 the Xinjiang government implemented “Deradicalization Regulations,” codifying efforts to “contain and eradicate extremism.” Since 2017 the government used this broad definition of extremism to detain more than one million Uyghurs, ethnic Kazakhs, Kyrgyz, and other Muslims in re-education or detention centers, designed to instill patriotism and erase their religious and ethnic identities. This included many of those ordered to return to China from studying or working abroad. International media reported government security officials in the centers abused, tortured, and killed some detainees (see sections 1.a., 1.b., 1.c., 1.d., and 2.d.).

Outside the internment camps, the government implemented severe restrictions on expressions of minorities’ culture, language, and religious identity, including regulations prohibiting behaviors the government considered signs of “extremism” such as growing “abnormal” beards, wearing veils in public places, and suddenly stopping smoking and drinking alcohol, among other behaviors. The regulations banned the use of some Islamic names when naming children and set punishments for teaching religion to children. Authorities conducted “household surveys” and “home stays” in which officials or volunteers forcibly lived in Uyghurs’ homes and monitored families for signs of “extremism.” There were media reports that male officials would sleep in the same bed as the wives of men who were detained in internment camps, as part of the “Pair Up and Become Family” program, and also bring alcohol and pork for consumption during the home stay. Authorities also used a vast array of surveillance technology specifically designed to target and track Uyghurs.

The national government perpetuated and condoned policies and attitudes that promoted discrimination; minority groups in border and other regions had less access to education than their Han Chinese counterparts, faced job discrimination in favor of Han Chinese migrants, and earned incomes well below those in other parts of the country. Government development programs and job provisions intentionally disrupted traditional living patterns of minority groups and in some cases included the forced relocation of persons and the forced settlement of nomads. As part of its emphasis on building a “harmonious society” and maintaining social stability, the government promoted racism and institutional discrimination against minorities, and disparaged and denied the resulting complaints, cracking down on peaceful expressions of ethnic culture and religion.

Many of the security raids, arbitrary detentions, and judicial punishments appeared to target groups or individuals peacefully seeking to express their political or religious views. Detention and punishment could be based on expression on the internet and social media, including the browsing, downloading, and transmitting of banned content. Officials continued to use the threat of violence as justification for extreme security measures directed at the local population, journalists, and visiting foreigners. According to the official news agency Xinhua, officials used surveillance and facial recognition software, biodata collection, and big-data technology to create a database of Uyghurs in Xinjiang for the purpose of conducting “social-instability forecasting, prevention, and containment.” (See section 1.f.) Security forces frequently staged large-scale parades involving thousands of armed police in cities across Xinjiang, according to state media.

Uyghurs and members of other religious and ethnic minority groups continued to be sentenced to long prison terms and were in some cases executed without due process on spurious charges of separatism and endangering state security. (See sections 1.a. and 1.b.).

The law criminalizes discussion of “separatism” on the internet and prohibits use of the internet in any way that undermines national unity. It further bans inciting ethnic separatism or “harming social stability.” It requires internet service providers and network operators to set up monitoring systems to detect, report, and delete religious content, and to strengthen existing systems and report violations of the law. Authorities searched cell phones at checkpoints and during random inspections of Uyghur households. Persons in possession of alleged terrorist material, including pictures of general religious or cultural importance, could be arrested and charged with crimes. International media reported security officials at police checkpoints used a surveillance application to download and view content on mobile phones. (See section 1.f.).

Ethnic Kazakhs were also targeted. Throughout the year ethnic Kazakhs in Almaty and Nur-Sultan reported that PRC officials attempted to silence protests regarding their missing family members in Xinjiang. Small groups of Kazakhs often protested outside the PRC consulate in Almaty and the PRC Embassy in Nur-Sultan to demand answers concerning their families’ detention in Xinjiang. Local sources stated that PRC officials frequently called their cell phones to pressure them to stop protesting. Kazakhs were also prevented from moving freely between China and Kazakhstan, and some were detained in internment camps upon their return to China.

The government pressured foreign countries to forcibly repatriate or deny visas to Uyghurs who had left China, and repatriated Uyghurs faced the risk of imprisonment and mistreatment upon return. Some Uyghurs who were forcibly repatriated disappeared after arriving in China. Family members of Uyghurs studying overseas were also pressured to convince students to return to China, and returning students were detained or forced to attend “re-education camps,” according to overseas media. Overseas ethnic Uyghurs, whether they were citizens of the PRC or their countries of residence, were sometimes pressured to provide information concerning the Uyghur diaspora community to agents of the PRC government.

Freedom of assembly was severely limited in Xinjiang. For information regarding abuse of religious freedom in Xinjiang, see the Department of State’s International Religious Freedom Report at https://www.state.gov/religiousfreedomreport/.

For specific information on Tibet, see the Tibet Annex.

Children

Birth Registration: Citizenship is derived from parents. Parents must register their children in compliance with the national household registration system within one month of birth. Children born outside policy quotas or to single women often cannot be registered or receive other legal documents such as the hukou residence permit. Unregistered children could not access public services, including education, health care, identity registration, or pension benefits.

Education: Although the law provides for nine years of compulsory education for children, many children in poor rural areas did not attend school for the required period, and some never attended. Public schools were not allowed to charge tuition, but many schools continued to charge miscellaneous fees because they received insufficient local and central government funding. Such fees and other school-related expenses made it difficult for poorer families and some migrant workers to send their children to school. The gap in education quality for rural and urban youth remained extensive, with many children of migrant workers attending unlicensed and poorly equipped schools.

The law states “schools (classes and grades) and other institutions of education where most of the students come from minority nationalities shall, whenever possible, use textbooks in their own languages and use their languages as the medium of instruction.” Despite provisions to ensure cultural and linguistic rights, measures requiring full instruction in Mandarin beginning in preschool and banning the use of Uyghur in all educational activities and management were implemented throughout Xinjiang, according to international media.

Government authorities in Inner Mongolia required instructors to use Mandarin to teach history and politics instead of the Mongolian language and traditional Mongolian script, which are viewed as a key part of Mongolian culture. The PRC implemented similar policies in Xinjiang, Tibet, and other provinces to encourage a “national common language,” but which observers viewed as a means to erode unique languages and cultures.

Child Abuse: The physical abuse of children is grounds for criminal prosecution, and the law protects children. Sexual abuse of minors, particularly of rural children, was a significant problem.

Child, Early, and Forced Marriage: The legal minimum age for marriage is 22 for men and 20 for women. Child marriage was not known to be a problem.

Sexual Exploitation of Children: The minimum legal age for consensual sex is 14. Persons who forced girls younger than 14 into commercial sex could be sentenced to 10 years to life in prison in addition to a fine or confiscation of property. In especially serious cases, violators could receive a life sentence or a death sentence, in addition to having their property confiscated. Those who paid for commercial sex with girls younger than 14 were subject to five years or more in prison in addition to paying a fine.

Pornography of any kind, including child pornography, is illegal. Under the criminal code, those producing, reproducing, publishing, selling, or disseminating obscene materials with the purpose of making a profit could be sentenced to up to three years in prison or put under criminal detention or surveillance in addition to paying a fine. Offenders in serious cases could receive prison sentences of three to 10 years in addition to paying a fine.

According to the law, persons broadcasting or showing obscene materials to minors younger than 18 are to be “severely punished.”

Infanticide or Infanticide of Children with Disabilities: The law forbids infanticide, although NGOs reported that female infanticide due to a traditional preference for sons and coercive birth limitation policies continued. Parents of children with disabilities frequently left infants at hospitals, primarily because of the anticipated cost of medical care. Gender-biased abortions and the abandonment and neglect of baby girls were believed to be in decline but continued to be a problem in some circumstances.

Displaced Children: The detention of an estimated one million or more Uyghurs, ethnic Kazakhs, Kyrgyz, and other Muslims in Xinjiang left many children without caregivers. While many of these children had relatives willing to care for them, the government placed the children of detainees in orphanages, state-run boarding schools, or “child welfare guidance centers,” where they were forcibly indoctrinated with CCP ideology and forced to learn Mandarin Chinese, reject their religious and cultural beliefs, and answer questions regarding their parents’ religious beliefs and practices.

In October 2020 a study on parent-child separation in Yarkand County, Kashgar Prefecture, analyzed data from government spreadsheets not previously available. According to the study, government statistics showed that between 2017 and 2019, the number of boarding students in primary and middle schools (grades one to nine) increased from 497,800 to 880,500. Children in these schools studied ethnic Han culture, Mandarin, and CCP ideology. Government policy aimed to provide such children with state-sponsored care until they reach age 18. In Hotan some boarding schools were topped with barbed wire.

Institutionalized Children: See “Displaced Children” section above.

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

Anti-Semitism

The government does not recognize Judaism as an ethnicity or religion. The World Jewish Congress estimated the Jewish population at 2,500. There were no reports of anti-Semitic acts during the year.

Trafficking in Persons

See the Department of State’s Trafficking in Persons Report at https://www.state.gov/trafficking-in-persons-report/.

Organ Harvesting

Some activists and organizations accused the government of forcibly harvesting organs from prisoners of conscience, including religious and spiritual adherents such as Falun Gong practitioners and Muslim detainees in Xinjiang. In June several UN experts issued a statement expressing alarm concerning allegations of organ harvesting “targeting minorities, including Falun Gong practitioners, Uyghurs, Tibetans, Muslims and Christians, in detention in China.”

Persons with Disabilities

The law protects the rights of persons with disabilities and prohibits discrimination, but in many instances conditions for such persons lagged behind legal requirements, and the government failed to provide persons with disabilities with access to programs intended to assist them.

According to the law, persons with disabilities “are entitled to enjoyment of equal rights as other citizens in political, economic, cultural, and social fields, in family life, and in other aspects.” Discrimination against, insult of, and infringement upon persons with disabilities is prohibited. The law prohibits discrimination against minors with disabilities and codifies a variety of judicial protections for juveniles.

The Ministry of Education reported there were more than 2,000 separate schools for children with disabilities, but NGOs reported only 2 percent of the 20 million children with disabilities had access to education that met their needs.

Individuals with disabilities faced difficulties accessing higher education. Universities often excluded candidates with disabilities who would otherwise be qualified. A regulation mandates accommodations for students with disabilities when taking the national university entrance exam.

Unemployment among adults with disabilities, in part due to discrimination, remained a serious problem. The law requires local governments to offer incentives to enterprises that hire persons with disabilities. Regulations in some parts of the country also require employers to pay into a national fund for persons with disabilities when employees with disabilities do not make up a statutory minimum percentage of the total workforce.

The law sets standards for making roads and buildings accessible to persons with disabilities; compliance was limited.

The law forbids marriage for persons with certain mental disabilities, such as schizophrenia. If doctors find a couple is at risk of transmitting congenital disabilities to their children, the couple may marry only if they agree to use birth control or undergo sterilization. In some instances officials continued to require couples to abort pregnancies when doctors discovered possible disabilities during prenatal examinations. The law stipulates local governments are to employ such practices to eliminate the births of children with disabilities.

HIV and AIDS Social Stigma

Discrimination against persons with HIV remained a problem, impacting individuals’ employment, education, and housing opportunities and impeding access to health care. In some instances laws protecting persons with HIV from discrimination contradict laws restricting the rights of persons with HIV. During the year state media outlets reported instances of persons with HIV or AIDS who were barred from housing, education, or employment due to their HIV status. According to the National Health Commission, as of the end of 2019, an estimated 950,000 persons in the country had HIV or AIDS.

According to the law, companies may not demand HIV antibody tests nor dismiss employees for having HIV. Nonetheless, regulations also stipulate that HIV-positive individuals shall not engage in work that is prohibited by laws, administrative regulations, and the Department of Health under the State Council.

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

No laws criminalize private consensual same-sex conduct between adults. Individuals and organizations working on LGBTQI+ matters continued to report discrimination and harassment from authorities similar to that experienced by organizations that accept funding from overseas.

LGBTQI+ individuals reported incidents of violence, including domestic violence; however, they encountered difficulties in seeking legal redress, since regulations on domestic violence do not include recognition of same-sex relationships. Accessing redress was further limited by societal discrimination and traditional norms, resulting in most LGBTQI+ persons refraining from publicly discussing their sexual orientation or gender identity. Nonetheless, the civil code includes a provision that protects certain tenancy rights for designated partners of deceased property owners without officially defined family relationships.

NGOs working on LGBTQI+ topics reported that although public advocacy work became more difficult for them due to laws governing charities and foreign NGOs, they made some progress in advocating for LGBTQI+ rights through specific antidiscrimination cases.

In July, WeChat’s parent company Tencent deleted dozens of public WeChat accounts run by LGBTQI+ groups at universities across the country for allegedly violating internet regulations, including 14 of the most prominent accounts.

In September the National Radio and Television Administration ordered television companies to exclude niangpao or “sissy men” from their content. It was the first time the government used the term, which is used to insult or bully gay men. Also in September the administration condemned representations of gay men’s love stories on radio and television. Later in the month, the state-backed gaming association issued new video game guidelines stating that depictions of same-sex relationships, characters with ambiguous genders, and effeminate males were considered problems and would raise flags.

In November, LGBT Rights Advocacy China, an organization focused on changing law and policy, announced it was ceasing all activities and shutting down its social media accounts.

Hong Kong

Read A Section: Hong Kong

China | Macau | Tibet

EXECUTIVE SUMMARY

Hong Kong is a Special Administrative Region of the People’s Republic of China. The 1984 Sino-British Joint Declaration and the Basic Law of the Special Administrative Region specified that, except in matters of defense and foreign affairs, Hong Kong would have a high degree of autonomy under the “One Country, Two Systems” framework. During the year, China continued to dismantle Hong Kong’s political freedoms and autonomy in violation of these international commitments. Amendments to the Basic Law fundamentally changed Hong Kong’s electoral system to allow Beijing effectively to block participation of political groups not approved by Beijing. The Hong Kong government arrested or disqualified opposition pan-democratic politicians, blocking their participation in upcoming elections. Pro-Beijing candidates won 89 of the 90 seats in the December Legislative Council election, which was widely regarded as fundamentally flawed. The turnout rate of 30.2 percent was a record low since Hong Kong’s handover to the People’s Republic of China in 1997.

The Hong Kong Police Force maintains internal security and reports to the Security Bureau. The Security Bureau continues to report to the chief executive; however, the National Security Department of the Hong Kong Police Force, established by the National Security Law, operates under the supervision of the central government, and the National Security Law permits the embedding of mainland security personnel within the department. In addition, the National Security Law established a Committee on National Security in the Hong Kong government that reports to the central government, as well as an Office for Safeguarding National Security in Hong Kong that is staffed by members of mainland security agencies. Unaccountable under Hong Kong law, the Office allows mainland China security elements to operate openly, contradicting the spirit and practice of the Sino-British Joint Declaration and the “One Country, Two Systems” framework. It is no longer clear if Hong Kong’s civilian authorities maintain effective autonomous control over the city’s security services. Hong Kong security forces have taken actions – to include arrests against nonviolent protesters, opposition politicians, activists, journalists, union members, and others deemed by local officials to be critical of the central and Special Administrative Region governments.

Beijing undermined Hong Kong’s autonomy and eroded civil liberties and democratic institutions throughout the year. Hong Kong and Chinese authorities repeatedly threatened or arrested associations, groups, or individuals affiliated with the prodemocracy movement, undermining fundamental freedoms otherwise provided for under the Basic Law. Following accusations made by Beijing-controlled media organs, Hong Kong authorities investigated and cut government ties with these groups, in some cases freezing their assets and forcing them to cease operations. Even after threatened groups disbanded, authorities continued targeting key members for investigations and arrests. These procedures were applied to prodemocratic parties, trade unions, and professional associations, among others.

Significant human rights issues included credible reports of: arbitrary arrests and detention; political prisoners or detainees; politically motivated reprisals against individuals outside of Hong Kong; serious problems regarding the independence of the judiciary in certain areas; arbitrary interference with privacy; serious restrictions on free expression and media, including unjustified arrests or prosecutions of journalists and censorship; substantial interference with the rights of peaceful assembly and freedom of association, including overly restrictive laws on the organization, funding, or operation of nongovernmental organizations and civil society organizations; restrictions on the freedom of movement and on the right to leave the territory; the inability of citizens to change their government peacefully through free and fair elections; serious and unreasonable restrictions on political participation; trafficking in persons; and significant restrictions on workers’ freedom of association, including coercive actions against independent trade unions and arrests of labor union activists.

The government took few steps to identify, prosecute, and punish officials who committed human rights abuses. The government prosecuted at least one case of official corruption.

Section 1. Respect for the Integrity of the Person

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

There were no credible reports that the Special Administrative Region (SAR) or its agents committed arbitrary or unlawful killings.

b. Disappearance

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

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

The law prohibits such practices and there were few reports of such abuse. According to a June Amnesty International report, prisoners in detention did not report abuse due to fear of retaliation. Other observers in direct contact with those in the detention facilities did not report witnessing or seeing evidence of abuse in the facilities.

Prison and Detention Center Conditions

There were reports of prison or detention center conditions that raised human rights concerns.

Wall-fare, an independent prisoners’ rights organization, submitted a petition signed by 100,000 persons requesting that in very hot weather, prisoners have access to cold water, better ventilation, and extra showers, as some facilities lacked air conditioning. Wall-fare disbanded in September after the security secretary announced that some groups were giving prisoners items such as chocolates and hair clips to recruit them to endanger national security.

In October, one individual detained under the National Security Law (NSL) accused the agency responsible for the SAR’s prisons and detention centers of intercepting letters sent to her on the grounds that they would “affect order in the prison,” arguing that the agency’s standards had become stricter on political grounds.

Physical Conditions: Some activists raised credible concerns that individuals in pretrial detention for charges related to the NSL were kept in solitary confinement for extended periods of time. In some cases, activists alleged these individuals were subjected to 24-hour lighting, excessively hot or cold temperatures, or other degrading conditions.

Administration: The government investigated allegations of problematic conditions and documented the results in a publicly accessible manner. There was an external Office of the Ombudsman.

Independent Monitoring: The government generally permitted legislators and justices of the peace to conduct prison visits. Justices of the peace may make suggestions and comments on matters, such as physical conditions, overcrowding, staff improvement, training and recreational programs and activities, and other matters affecting the welfare of inmates.

The Independent Police Complaints Council is the Hong Kong police watchdog, responsible for investigating alleged corruption or abuses. The SAR government announced in November 2020 that it would appeal a court ruling that month that declared the complaints council incapable of effective investigation, as it lacked necessary powers and was inadequate to fulfill the SAR’s obligations under the Basic Law to provide an independent mechanism to investigate complaints against the Hong Kong police.

d. Arbitrary Arrest or Detention

The law prohibits arbitrary arrest and detention and provides for the right of any person to challenge the lawfulness of his or her arrest or detention in court. Under the NSL, however, the Hong Kong Police Force made several arbitrary arrests. The Hong Kong Police Force maintains internal security and reports to the SAR’s Security Bureau. The Immigration Department of the Security Bureau controls passage of persons into and out of the SAR as well as the documentation of local residents. The Security Bureau and police continue to report to the chief executive. The National Security Department of the police force, however, which was established by the NSL, operates under the supervision of the People’s Republic of China (PRC) government, and the NSL permits the embedding of mainland security personnel within the department. In addition, the NSL established a Committee on National Security within the SAR government that reports to the PRC government, as well as an Office for Safeguarding National Security in Hong Kong that is staffed by members of the PRC security agencies who may not be prosecuted under the SAR’s legal system. Therefore, it was no longer clear if the SAR’s civilian authorities maintain effective autonomous control over the city’s security services.

Security forces targeted nonviolent protesters, opposition politicians, and prodemocracy activists and organizations during the year. Multiple sources also reported suspected members of the PRC central government security services in the SAR were monitoring political activists, nongovernmental organizations (NGOs), and academics who criticized the PRC central government’s policies.

At the time of its passage, the SAR and PRC claimed the NSL was not retroactive. Despite that claim, international observers have noted that the police National Security Department, created by the NSL, used its sweeping investigative powers to find evidence of “sedition” prior to the establishment of the NSL and charge individuals under both the NSL and colonial-era sedition laws. Some of the evidence cited included individuals’ opinion posts online.

On January 6 and 7, authorities arrested 55 political activists for participating in the July 2020 unofficial pan-democratic primary election. Of those arrested, 47 were charged under the NSL with subversion.

Arrest Procedures and Treatment of Detainees

Police generally apprehended suspects openly when they observed them committing a crime or with warrants based on sufficient evidence and issued by a duly authorized official. Police were also required to charge or release arrested suspects promptly. The government respected this requirement and generally brought arrested persons before a judicial officer within 48 hours. Detainees were generally informed promptly of potential charges against them. There was a functioning bail system that allowed persons not charged to post bail to be released from detention pending the filing of charges. Such “police bail” included requirements that the arrestee submit to monthly check-ins at a police station. There was no defined period under the law within which the government was required to file charges. Activists argued that the bail system left the arrested in legal purgatory. After arrest, by law the Department of Justice investigates to determine the appropriate charges for the arrestee. Police have the authority to require individuals arrested under the NSL to surrender their travel documents while an investigation is continuing, including if they are not formally charged, and there were reports police exercised this authority in numerous NSL cases. Interviews of suspects must be videotaped.

Under NSL charges, democracy activists were increasingly denied bail, and the threshold for bail was higher. Bail conditions under the NSL place the burden of proof on the defendant to convince the judge that he or she would not “continue to commit acts endangering national security” and are adjudicated only by specially designated national security judges. Jeremy Tan, a former pan-democratic politician facing NSL charges, was denied bail in part based on an email invitation from a foreign consulate, while another former lawmaker, Claudia Mo, was denied bail in part based on interviews and text messages with international press. In November a SAR court denied bail to Cheung Kim-hung, chief executive officer (CEO) of Apple Daily parent company Next Digital, in apparent response to international condemnation of the executive’s arrest as an infringement on freedom of the press. Prosecutors cited a statement by the Media Freedom Coalition, signed by 21 governments, as well as a separate statement by the United Kingdom foreign secretary, as evidence of a close association between Cheung and “foreign political groups.”

Observers criticized SAR authorities for the treatment of the 47 individuals charged under the NSL in connection with the unofficial 2020 pan-democratic primary election. Police and prosecutors arrested, detained, and charged these individuals as a group, then immediately demanded a lengthy pretrial period to investigate the allegations made against them.

In February the Court of Final Appeal, the highest SAR court, reversed a ruling by a lower court granting bail to Jimmy Lai, media owner and democracy activist. The Court of Final Appeal decision stated that the courts have no power to review the NSL’s constitutionality, including provisions where the Basic Law and the NSL may be in conflict, such as bail standards.

Authorities generally allowed detainees access to a lawyer of their choice, but some legal experts stated that during initial bail hearings, many of the 47 persons charged with subversion for organizing or participating in the unofficial 2020 pan-democratic primary faced delays obtaining access to their lawyers. The first defendant in an NSL trial, Tong Ying-kit, requested that two additional pro bono barristers be permitted to join his legal team. The specially designated national security judges stated that with the addition of the barristers, the defendant might no longer be eligible for legal aid, forcing the withdrawal of the proposed two additional lawyers.

e. Denial of Fair Public Trial

Although the law generally provides for an independent judiciary, its independence was limited in NSL cases. Arrests and prosecutions appeared to be increasingly politically motivated. The SAR’s highest court stated that it was unable to find the NSL or any of its provisions unconstitutional, or to review the NSL based on incompatibility with the Basic Law or the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights. Activists voiced concern about NSL proceedings because those charged under the NSL face stricter bail conditions; may be denied due process (see below) and a fair and public trial (see below); and may face extradition to the mainland for trial. In bail hearings, the NSL places the burden of proof on the defendant, rather than the prosecution, as is otherwise the case in most criminal matters. Local Chinese Communist Party-controlled media entities in the SAR put pressure on the judiciary to accept more “guidance” from the government and called for extradition to the mainland in at least one high-profile 2020 case; they also criticized sentences deemed too lenient.

Trial Procedures

The law provides for the right to a fair and public trial, and the judiciary largely enforced this right. Defendants have the right to be informed promptly and in detail of the charges against them and the right to a trial without undue delay, but these rights were not always upheld. Some defendants in drug and drug trafficking cases waited several years to go to trial. Some charged with violations related to the 2019 protest movement may not face trial until 2023 due to a backlog in the judiciary’s caseload. Many of those charged with NSL violations have been remanded into custody and have been awaiting trial for several months because of the NSL’s high threshold for granting bail. Tong Ying-kit was charged and denied bail in July 2020 and was held in custody until his hearing on July 30. Jimmy Lai, arrested in December 2020, then temporarily released on bail, was returned to custody on December 31, 2020. His first trial was not held until the end of May, when he was convicted on a non-NSL charge of “unauthorized assembly” for participation in a 2019 peaceful protest. Given the special requirements for bail in NSL cases, the newness of the law, and COVID-19 pandemic related delays, persons charged under the NSL face longer-than-average pretrial delays.

Defendants are presumed innocent, except in official corruption cases: a sitting or former government official who maintains a standard of living above that commensurate with an official income or who controls monies or property disproportionate to an official income is by law considered guilty of an offense unless the official can satisfactorily explain the discrepancy. The courts upheld this ordinance. Trials are by jury except at the magistrate and district court levels. Under the NSL, SAR authorities may direct that a panel of three specially designated national security judges hear a case instead of a jury. In the trial of the first NSL defendant, Tong Ying-kit, the secretary of justice issued a certificate for the case to be heard by such a three-judge panel.

An attorney is provided at public expense if defendants cannot afford counsel. Defendants have adequate time and facilities to prepare a defense. The government conducted court proceedings in either Cantonese or English, the SAR’s two official languages. The government provided interpretation service to those not conversant in Cantonese or English during all criminal court proceedings. Defendants could confront and question witnesses testifying against them and present witnesses to testify on their own behalf. Defendants have the right not to be compelled to testify or confess guilt, the right to be present at their trial, and the right of appeal. In October SAR authorities proposed limiting the right of defendants receiving legal aid to choose their own lawyers, as well as the number of legal aid and judicial review cases that each lawyer may take per year. Some lawyers, activists, and experts have criticized the proposal as restricting defendants’ right to the counsel of their choice and limiting activists’ abilities to challenge authorities’ actions.

SAR courts are charged with interpreting provisions of the Basic Law that address matters within the limits of the SAR’s autonomy. SAR courts also interpret provisions of the Basic Law that relate to central government responsibilities or the relationship between the central authorities and the SAR. The Court of Final Appeal may seek an interpretation of relevant provisions from the PRC central government’s Standing Committee of the National People’s Congress (the legislature). SAR courts must by law follow the standing committee’s interpretations in cases involving central government jurisdiction, although judgments previously rendered are not affected.

The chief executive provides a list of judges eligible to hear NSL cases. Some activists have described this NSL provision, which enables SAR authorities to hand pick the pool of judges to hear national security cases, as inconsistent with judicial independence. In multiple cases, SAR prosecutors have argued that defendants accused of charges that do not fall under the NSL should be tried by these specially designated national security judges, claiming that the cases involved “national security.”

The National People’s Congress Standing Committee determines how the NSL is interpreted, not a SAR-based judiciary or elected body. The standing committee has the power in cases involving foreign countries, serious situations, or major and imminent threats to national security to extradite the accused to the mainland and hold trials behind closed doors.

Political Prisoners and Detainees

SAR authorities detained and imprisoned a growing number of individuals during the year because of expressed and, in some cases, presumed, political views and participation in nonviolent political activities.

Local and international observers noted that with few exceptions, those charged with NSL violations, sedition, or unauthorized assembly were peacefully exercising freedoms of expression, political participation, assembly, and association provided for in the Basic Law and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights. For example, activists and legal experts have commented that the 47 individuals charged with violating the NSL for participation in the 2020 unofficial pan-democratic primary election have been accused of subversion for allegedly planning to use a mechanism described in the Basic Law to cause the chief executive to resign.

Politically Motivated Reprisal against Individuals Located Outside the Territory

The NSL claims jurisdiction over any individual, regardless of location, deemed to be engaged in one of the four vaguely defined criminal activities under the NSL: “secession;” subversion; terrorist activities; or collusion with a foreign country or external elements to endanger national security. There are reportedly standing NSL-related arrest warrants against 30 individuals, all residing abroad, one of whom has foreign citizenship and has resided outside the SAR and mainland China for more than 20 years. Although reported in state-controlled media, the government refused to acknowledge the existence of these warrants.

The amendment to the SAR’s Personal Data (Privacy) Ordinance, effective October 8, also known as the antidoxing amendment, increases the criminal penalties for individuals who are “reckless” with others’ personal information as well as for staff of internet service providers or online platforms that do not comply with doxing-related requests. The only territorial limit on the application of the law is that the concerned individual was present in the SAR at the time of the incident or was a SAR resident, raising concerns that the amendment may be used to prosecute individuals located outside the SAR who criticize SAR officials.

Civil Judicial Procedures and Remedies

For apolitical court cases, there is an independent and impartial judiciary for civil matters and access to a court to file lawsuits seeking damages for human rights violations by SAR agencies or persons, except for employees of the National Security Department, as well as the Central Government Liaison Office, depending on interpretations of the law.

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

The law prohibits such actions, but there were multiple reports the SAR government failed to respect these prohibitions, including credible reports that PRC central government security services and the Beijing-mandated Office for Safeguarding National Security monitored prodemocracy and human rights activists and journalists in the SAR. Some of those arrested under the NSL, including some of the 55 individuals arrested in January in connection with the July 2020 unofficial pan-democratic primary election, were required to forfeit personal mobile and computer devices, including before they were formally charged. Police made repeated requests to technology companies for access to individuals’ private correspondence. SAR authorities froze bank accounts of former lawmakers, civil society groups, and other political targets.

Technology companies, activists, and private citizens increasingly raised concerns about the right to privacy and protection of data. The antidoxing amendment passed in October allows the Office of the Privacy Commissioner for Personal Data to seize and access any electronic devices on the premises without a warrant if they suspect a doxing-related offense has been committed or may be committed. In June the Executive Council approved a proposal to mandate real name registration for subscriber identity module cards and to allow authorities to access telecommunications data without a warrant.

Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties

a. Freedom of Expression, Including for Members of the Press and Other Media

Despite provisions of the Basic Law and government claims, the PRC and SAR governments increasingly encroached upon freedom of expression. Attacks on independent media included the coerced closures of Apple Daily and Stand News; the restructuring of public broadcaster Radio Television Hong Kong (RTHK) to gut its editorial independence and to delete previous online content considered politically sensitive; pressure applied to a prominent journalists’ labor union; and acts to encourage self-censorship by other media outlets and public opinion leaders.

Freedom of Expression: There were legal restrictions on the ability of individuals to criticize the government publicly without reprisal. Expressing views perceived to be critical of the PRC or SAR prompted charges of sedition or NSL violations for prodemocratic activists and politicians. On June 4, Chow Hang-tung, the vice chair of the Hong Kong Alliance in Support of Patriotic Democratic Movements of China, was arrested and later charged for inciting unauthorized assembly, because she urged members of the public to “turn on the lights wherever you are – whether on your telephone, candles, or electronic candles” in remembrance of the Tiananmen Square massacre.

Requirements for electoral candidacy and for taking the oath of office also limited free speech in the political arena. The overhauled electoral system (see section 3) requires all elected officials to swear an oath of allegiance and to adhere to “patriotic” standards with respect to the PRC and SAR. Even with the signed pledge and oath of office, the Electoral Affairs Commission chose to disqualify 49 seated members of local District Councils and one remaining non-pro-Beijing legislative councilor, questioning their patriotism based on past statements or actions, despite their adherence to the requirements of office. There was no judicial recourse.

The government requires all civil servants to swear an oath of allegiance. According to media reports, civil servants may lose their jobs if they refuse to swear the oath and may face criminal charges, including under the NSL, if they later engage in behavior, including speech, deemed to violate the oaths. SAR authorities and Beijing officials insinuated that interactions with foreign diplomats could be considered “collusion” under the NSL. One former pan-democratic politician facing NSL charges was denied bail in part based on an email invitation from a foreign consulate, while another was denied bail in part based on interviews and text messages with international press.

Any speech critical of the central or local government or its policies may be construed as advocating secession or subversion in violation of the NSL, or inciting hate against the government in violation of a colonial-era sedition law. Prosecutors argued in multiple court hearings that the phrase “Liberate Hong Kong, Revolution of Our Times,” a common slogan of the 2019 prodemocracy protests, contained an inherent meaning of support for independence, a change in the SAR’s constitutional status, or both. To date, courts have convicted two individuals under the NSL in part on that basis. Scholars and activists have argued that the courts’ decisions failed to take into consideration protections for freedom of expression enshrined in the Basic Law, the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, and the NSL itself.

In May SAR authorities passed legislation that criminalized inciting others not to vote in elections or to cast blank ballots. Violators are subject to up to three years’ imprisonment and a fine. The SAR anticorruption agency arrested at least 10 individuals in November and December for allegedly urging, on social media, others to cast blank votes. On December 16, two of the 10 were the first to be prosecuted under this law. Legal experts described the legislation as disproportionate and out of line with common law norms that criminalize incitement only when the behavior incited is itself illegal. SAR officials have also claimed that inciting others to boycott elections or cast blank votes may violate the NSL.

SAR legislation prohibits acts deemed to abuse or desecrate the PRC national flag or anthem. In September SAR authorities amended the legislation to criminalize desecrating the national flag or anthem online, such as by posting an image of a “defiled” national flag on social media. At least one individual was convicted during the year for desecrating the national flag, and at least three others were arrested for allegedly desecrating the flag or insulting the national anthem.

Freedom of Expression for Members of the Press and Other Media, Including Online Media: The operating space for independent media shrank considerably. The SAR targeted independent media that expressed views it construed as not progovernment. Pro-Beijing media and politicians accused government-owned public broadcaster RTHK of exercising insufficient editorial oversight, opposing police and the government, and thus potentially standing in violation of the NSL. The SAR government subsequently forced out the managing director and replaced him with a pro-Beijing civil servant with no broadcasting experience. RTHK’s civil service employees were given a deadline to swear loyalty oaths, leading many to resign. Under its new management, RTHK also fired presenters, cancelled shows, and censored content based on political perspective.

The SAR systematically dismantled Apple Daily, an independent newspaper and online news platform. On June 17, national security police officers arrested five executives of Next Digital, the parent company of Apple Daily. The same day, police searched Apple Daily offices and froze its assets. During the search, police documented each staff member on site. Following the freeze of its assets, on June 24, Apple Daily issued its last online reports and newspaper edition. Three members of the editorial staff, including a senior editor prohibited from boarding a flight at the airport, were subsequently arrested under the NSL. Cheung Kim-hung, CEO of Apple Daily parent company Next Digital, was denied bail based in part on public statements made by foreign governments, over which the defendant had no control.

On December 29, national security police officers arrested seven individuals affiliated with prodemocracy online media outlet Stand News on charges of “conspiracy to print or distribute seditious materials” under a colonial-era sedition law. The same day, police raided its office, seized journalistic materials, and froze its assets. Police also raided the home of Stand News deputy editor and chairman of the Hong Kong Journalists Association Ronson Chan, who was taken in for questioning but later released. Stand News subsequently announced on its social media page the resignation of its chief editor, the layoff of all staff, and the immediate cessation of all its operations.

Violence and Harassment: The pro-Beijing media and SAR officials began in September to accuse the Hong Kong Journalists Association of potential NSL violations. The association released a report in July titled Freedom in Tatters outlining the worrisome loss of journalistic freedom. The report expressed concern that police force national security offices would begin scrutinizing its activities using tactics like those used against trade unions and other professional associations. The Hong Kong Journalists Association is a frequent target of SAR government officials’ and pro-Beijing media criticism. In November the Foreign Correspondents’ Club issued the results of a member survey showing that 83 percent of respondents believed the NSL caused the media environment to change for the worse. This spurred the PRC Ministry of Foreign Affairs office in the city to condemn the club for smearing the city’s press freedom and interfering in the territory’s affairs.

Censorship or Content Restrictions: Reports of media self-censorship and suspected content control continued. Public libraries and universities culled their holdings, including archives, to comply with the NSL; it was unclear if this was based on a request from SAR officials or if the institutions chose to self-censor. Public libraries removed past issues of Apple Daily and books authored by prodemocratic activists. After the closure of Apple Daily and the increased scrutiny of RTHK, Stand News removed articles and columns from its website in June to reduce risks that SAR authorities would accuse the media outlet of breaking the NSL or other laws.

In July officers in the Hong Kong police’s National Security Department arrested and later charged five members of a labor union with “conspiring to publish seditious publications” after the union published a series of children’s books that referred to the 2019-20 protest movement. Police also froze more than 160,000 Hong Kong dollars ($20,000) of the union’s assets. In August SAR authorities announced they were canceling the union’s registration for alleged activities inconsistent with the union’s stated objectives. SAR officials accused the books of “inciting hatred” and “poisoning” children’s minds against the PRC and SAR governments.

In October the Legislative Council passed a film censorship law that empowers SAR authorities to revoke a film’s license if “found to be contrary to national security interests.” Violators are liable for up to three years’ imprisonment.

Internet Freedom

The SAR government generally did not restrict or disrupt access to the internet or censor online content, although activists claimed central government authorities actively monitored their internet activity. There were also numerous reports of unexplained problems with access to certain websites associated with the prodemocracy movement. There were reports that public access was blocked to certain websites, including those associated with the prodemocracy movement and a museum focused on the 1989 Tiananmen Square massacre, although SAR authorities refused to confirm the reports. Prosecutors cited social media posts as evidence, including against those charged with NSL violations or inciting an unlawful assembly. NGOs and some media outlets reported focusing on digital security to protect their privacy, partners, and sources.

When investigating NSL violations, the national security divisions of the police force may require a person who published information or opinions or the relevant service provider to remove the content or assist the national security divisions by providing information on the user. Facebook, WhatsApp, and Twitter reported denying the SAR government’s user information and content takedown requests. Google reported releasing data to the SAR authorities on three occasions during the year, once due to a credible threat to life and twice in connection with suspected trafficking in persons; Google reported it had not complied with many political requests.

The antidoxing amendment raised concerns among civil society, the press, and online platforms that the vague amendment would be used to prosecute journalists reporting on matters of public interest. The amendment applies the same standard of consent to disclose data to private individuals and public officials alike and does not include carve outs for issues of public interest or for already publicly available information.

Academic Freedom and Cultural Events

There was a significant increase in restrictions on academic freedom and cultural events. The PRC and SAR authorities claimed that a lack of “patriotic education” was a root cause of the 2019 antiextradition bill protests and targeted the Hong Kong Professional Teachers Union, which dissolved under political pressure in August (see section 2.b., Freedom of Association).

In February the SAR’s Education Bureau announced the incorporation of “national security” into the SAR government-approved curriculum at all levels, beginning at the kindergarten level. New guidelines require all schools following the official SAR curriculum to limit political expression and activities on school campuses and to submit periodic reports regarding their implementation of so-called national security education. Activists decried the guidelines as restricting freedom of expression on campuses. The Education Bureau announced guidelines in October that require all SAR-run and subsidized schools to hold weekly flag raising ceremonies.

In July police raided the office of the student union at the University of Hong Kong after the union’s council passed a motion expressing “sadness” at the death of an individual who attacked a police officer on the July 1 anniversary of the SAR’s handover to PRC sovereignty. The union later apologized and retracted the motion. Under pressure from SAR authorities, university leadership barred the students who attended the council meeting from campus and severed ties with the student union. In August police arrested four members of the student union on suspicion of “advocating terrorism,” a crime under the NSL.

In June a museum dedicated to memorializing the 1989 Tiananmen Square massacre operated by the Hong Kong Alliance in Support of Patriotic Democratic Movements of China was raided following allegations that the museum did not have the appropriate license. Under this pressure, the museum closed later that month.

In December, three universities removed sculptures and artworks commemorating the 1989 Tiananmen Square massacre from their campuses. The University of Hong Kong removed a memorial to the victims of the massacre called “Pillar of Shame,” the Chinese University of Hong Kong removed a statue of “The Goddess of Democracy,” and Lingnan University removed a wall relief portraying the massacre. The universities cited unspecified legal risks, and the University of Hong Kong and Chinese University of Hong Kong also claimed that their management had never approved the presence of the statues, which had stood on the campuses since 1997 and 2010, respectively.

b. Freedoms of Peaceful Assembly and Association

The law provides for the freedoms of peaceful assembly and association, but SAR authorities did not respect those rights, especially for individuals and organizations associated with the prodemocracy movement. The government repeatedly claimed COVID-19 pandemic health concerns as reasons for restricting public gatherings, although it made exceptions for events involving government officials and pro-Beijing groups.

Freedom of Peaceful Assembly

While the law provides for freedom of peaceful assembly, the government effectively banned peaceful assembly for political purposes to prevent COVID-19. Because of the strict public health limits on any public gathering, police did not issue any “letters of no objection” for public demonstrations from groups not aligned with the PRC and SAR governments after the start of the COVID-19 pandemic. For example, police refused permits for a May 1 Labor Day rally, the annual 1989 Tiananmen Square massacre vigil, and the annual July 1 prodemocracy rally marking the anniversary of the SAR’s handover to China.

Freedom of Association

SAR law provides for freedom of association, but the government did not respect the law. SAR authorities investigated and forced the closure of any group they deemed a “national security” concern. Pro-Beijing media also accused several unions, including the SAR’s largest trade and teacher unions (see section 7, Freedom of Association and the Right to Collective Bargaining) of “foreign collusion” – punishable by up to life in prison under the NSL – due to their affiliation with international organizations.

The Civil Human Rights Front, an umbrella group that organized large-scale annual prodemocracy protests, announced its dissolution just days after the police commissioner publicly accused the group of possible violations of the NSL and of operating since 2002 without proper registration. He made this accusation despite previous police approvals of the group’s requests for protest permits in prior years.

The 612 Humanitarian Fund, which used crowdfunding to support emergency financial and legal assistance for persons injured or arrested during the 2019 protests against the extradition bill, was also forced to shutter its operations after the government publicly made criminal allegations against the group.

The Hong Kong Alliance in Support of Patriotic Democratic Movements of China, a prodemocracy group organizing annual vigils to commemorate the Tiananmen Square massacre, voted to disband after Hong Kong police charged seven of its leaders, as well as the organization itself, under the NSL, and froze the group’s assets. In October Chief Executive Carrie Lam ordered the Alliance removed from the city’s Companies Registry.

By law any person claiming to be an officer of a banned group may be sentenced to a maximum of three years in prison and fined. Those convicted of providing meeting space or other aid to a banned group may also be sentenced to fines and jail time.

c. Freedom of Religion

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

e. Status and Treatment of Internally Displaced Persons

Not applicable.

f. Protection of Refugees

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

Access to Asylum: The law does not provide for granting asylum or refugee status, but the SAR government has established a system for providing limited protection to persons who would be subject to torture or other abuses in their home country.

The SAR government uses the term “nonrefoulement claim” to refer to a claim for protection against deportation. Persons subject to deportation could file a nonrefoulement claim if they either arrived in the SAR without proper authorization or had overstayed the terms of their admittance. Filing such a claim typically resulted in a period of detention followed by release on recognizance. Activists and refugee rights groups expressed concerns about the quality of adjudications and the very low rate of approved claims, fewer than 1 percent. Denied claimants may appeal to the Torture Claims Appeal Board. The government did not publish the board’s decisions, a practice that the Hong Kong Bar Association previously noted created concerns about the consistency and transparency of decisions. Persons whose claims were pending were required to appear periodically before the Immigration Department. In August the SAR implemented an ordinance amendment specifically targeting those seeking asylum and barring them from entering the SAR. The amendment also shortened timeframes for individuals seeking protection against deportation, and in some cases limited these individuals’ access to interpretation into their mother tongues.

Abuse of Migrants and Refugees: Activists indicated that persons seeking refugee status faced discrimination and were frequent targets of negative commentary by some political parties and media organizations.

Employment: “Nonrefoulement claimants” have no right to work in the SAR while their claims are under review, and they must rely on social welfare stipends and charities. An NGO reported the government’s process for evaluating claims, which did not allow claimants to work legally in the SAR, made some refugees vulnerable to trafficking. The SAR government, however, frequently granted exceptions to this rule for persons granted nondeportation status and awaiting UNHCR resettlement.

Access to Basic Services: Persons who made “nonrefoulement” claims were eligible to receive publicly funded legal assistance, including translation services, as well as small living subsidies. Claimants were also entitled to basic health-care services at public hospitals and clinics. The children of such claimants could attend SAR public schools.

Temporary Protection: Persons whose claims for “nonrefoulement” are substantiated do not obtain permanent resident status in the SAR. Instead, the SAR government refers them to UNHCR for possible recognition as refugees and resettlement in a third country. In some cases, individuals waited years in the SAR before being resettled.

Section 3. Freedom to Participate in the Political Process

The Basic Law limits the ability of residents to change their government. The National People’s Congress Standing Committee March decision to overhaul the SAR’s electoral system further limited this ability, in contradiction to provisions in the Basic Law that describe the election of the chief executive and Legislative Council via universal suffrage as the “ultimate aim.”

Voters do not enjoy universal suffrage in elections for the chief executive or equal suffrage in Legislative Council elections. PRC central authorities made broad changes to the electoral system, thereby ensuring that only candidates vetted and approved by Beijing would be allowed to hold office at any level.

September 19 elections for seats in the Chief Executive Election Committee (CEEC), the first after the PRC’s overhaul of the SAR’s political system in March, by design produced a near unanimous sweep for pro-Beijing “patriots.” More than 1,100 of the 1,500 seats in the expanded CEEC were predetermined and not up for election. For the few competitive seats, regulations limited the franchise and moved the SAR farther from the one-person, one-vote principle. Only one nominally independent candidate was elected to any of those seats. Although the CEEC was historically considered a “closed circle election,” the September contest limited the number of voters eligible to cast ballots to fewer than 5,000 individuals, 97 percent smaller than the previous CEEC election in 2016. Following Beijing-imposed changes to the electoral system, all candidates for the Legislative Council are required to pass through a labyrinthine application process for vetting their “patriotic” bona fides. Per the new law, voters directly elect 20 of the expanded Legislative Council’s 90 seats, or 22 percent; in contrast, in the 2016 Legislative Council election, voters directly elected 40 of the 70 seats (57 percent). Forty seats are selected by the CEEC directly, while 30 are selected as representatives of “functional constituencies” for various economic and social sectors. In the December 19 Legislative Council elections, pro-Beijing candidates won 89 of the 90 seats, including all 20 of the directly elected seats. None of the major prodemocracy parties fielded any candidates.

Under the Basic Law, only the SAR government, not members of the legislature, may introduce bills that affect public expenditure, the political structure, or government policy.

The SAR sends 36 deputies to the National People’s Congress and has approximately 200 delegates in the Chinese People’s Political Consultative Conference – bodies that operate under the direction of the Chinese Communist Party and do not exercise legislative independence. The approval of the chief executive, two-thirds of the Legislative Council, and two-thirds of the SAR’s delegates to the legislature are required to place an amendment to the Basic Law on the legislative agenda, which has the sole power to amend the Basic Law.

Elections and Political Participation

Recent Elections: On December 19, the SAR held elections for the expanded Legislative Council. Pro-Beijing candidates won 89 of the 90 seats, including all 20 of the directly elected seats in the geographical constituencies. Only one nonestablishment moderate won a seat in the social welfare constituency. The SAR government had earlier postponed the election originally scheduled for September 2020 citing COVID-19 concerns, a decision seen by the prodemocracy opposition as an attempt to thwart its electoral momentum and avoid the defeat of pro-Beijing candidates. Several activists also called on voters to boycott the election, arguing it was a sham election. About 1.3 million voters cast ballots in the election, a record low turnout rate of 30.2 percent. Approximately 2 percent of ballots cast were blank or otherwise invalid, a record high. In contrast the 2016 election had a turnout rate of 58.3 percent. In 2017 the 1,194-member CEEC, dominated by proestablishment electors, selected Carrie Lam to be the SAR’s chief executive.

In September the SAR held elections for the CEEC, which elected 40 members of the Legislative Council in December and is scheduled to elect the chief executive in March 2022. Approximately 75 percent of the CEEC seats were filled by ex officio holders of various government positions, through nominations by Beijing-controlled bodies, or by uncontested candidates. Only one candidate not explicitly aligned with either the pro-Beijing or proestablishment camp won a seat. A total of 4,380 ballots were cast compared with more than 250,000 ballots in the 2016 election.

Political Parties and Political Participation: Since the imposition of the NSL, numerous leaders of prodemocracy political parties, protest organizing groups, and civil society organizations have been arrested for their involvement in nonviolent political activities. For example, in January, 55 prodemocracy politicians and activists, including former members of the Legislative Council and elected local District Council members, were arrested under the NSL for their involvement in the July 2020 unofficial pan-democratic primary election. No political party was subjected to an outright ban, but many prodemocracy political parties and organizations disbanded because of pressure from SAR authorities or concern they or their members would be subjected to political repression.

In May SAR authorities passed legislation requiring all elected members of local District Councils to swear loyalty oaths to Beijing. Many activists argued the move was designed to break the opposition pan-democratic camp’s hold over the District Councils, the SAR’s only representative bodies elected solely through universal suffrage, after pan-democratic politicians won 388 of 479 seats in the councils in 2019 local elections and won overall control over 17 of the 18 councils. After passage of the legislation, anonymous SAR officials were cited in local media as saying that District Council members who took the loyalty oath and were subsequently disqualified might be required to reimburse the SAR for up to hundreds of thousands of Hong Kong dollars in salary and expenses. More than 260 District Council members resigned in response. Subsequently, SAR authorities administered loyalty oaths to the remaining District Council members in September and October, then disqualified 49 pan-democratic District Council members without the possibility of appeal. The disqualified members are ineligible to run for election for five years.

In August, the chief secretary ruled that Cheng Chung-tai, one of two remaining Legislative Council members who did not caucus with the pro-Beijing or proestablishment camp, was ineligible to serve on the CEEC. Cheng was subsequently disqualified from his legislative seat as well, although the PRC Ministry of Foreign Affairs had praised him in 2020 for remaining in the legislature after the disqualifications and resignations of nearly all other pan-democratic representatives. In September Cheng announced the dissolution of his political party, Civic Passion.

Since the National People’s Congress Standing Committee decision in March created a labyrinthine nomination and vetting process for all candidates for political office designed to ensure “loyalty” to Beijing, and after the resignation and disqualification of hundreds of opposition District Council members, many opposition politicians and groups announced that they would not field candidates in the December Legislative Council elections. For example, the Democratic Party, the SAR’s largest opposition party, announced in October that none of its members had received sufficient nominations from within the party to run.

Participation of Women and Members of Minority Groups: No law limits participation of women or members of minority groups in the political process, and they did participate. Following December Legislative Council elections, there were 17 women Legislative Council members (approximately 19 percent). In 2017 Carrie Lam was selected to be the SAR’s first female chief executive.

There is no legal restriction against members of historically marginalized or ethnic minority groups running for electoral office or serving as electoral monitors. There were, however, no members of ethnic minority groups in the Legislative Council, and members of such groups reported they considered themselves unrepresented.

Section 4. Corruption and Lack of Transparency in Government

The law provides criminal penalties for corruption by officials, and the government generally implemented the law effectively. There were, however, reports of government corruption and a growing culture of impunity from prosecution for police and security sector officials.

Corruption: Opposition activists claimed that three senior government officials were treated leniently after attending a group dinner in violation of social distancing regulations in March. The Department of Justice cleared a senior police official in the National Security Department of illegal misconduct for visiting an unlicensed massage parlor where illegal sex services were reportedly being offered, although six women were arrested and four ultimately charged from the same police raid. The officer was subsequently reassigned to lead the police force personnel and training department.

Section 5. Governmental Posture Towards International and Nongovernmental Investigation of Alleged Abuses of Human Rights

A variety of domestic and international human rights groups reported increasing government scrutiny, harassment, and restrictions, although some continued to investigate and publish their findings on human rights cases. The SAR used the NSL to force organizations expressing criticism of the PRC to cease operations, to self-censor, or to change operational procedures to protect their staff. The forced disbandment of multiple trade unions and other organizations created a chilling effect on the remaining groups that were historically critical of the central government.

In October Amnesty International announced it would close its Hong Kong office, as well as its Hong Kong-based regional office, by the end of the year. The organization stated that the NSL made it “impossible for human rights organizations in Hong Kong to work freely and without fear of serious reprisals from the government.”

PRC and SAR officials repeatedly accused local and international NGOs that alleged human rights abuses in the SAR of “sowing discord.”

A SAR court denied bail to a media executive in November in apparent response to international condemnation of the executive’s arrest as an infringement on freedom of the press. The court cited a statement by the Media Freedom Coalition, signed by 21 governments, as well as a separate statement by the United Kingdom’s foreign secretary, as evidence of a close association among Cheung Kim-hung, CEO of Apple Daily parent company Next Digital, and “foreign political groups.”

Government Human Rights Bodies: There is an Office of the Ombudsman and an Equal Opportunities Commission. The government recruits commissioners to represent both offices through a professional search committee, which solicits applications and vets candidates. Commissioners were independent. Both organizations operated without interference from the SAR government and published critical findings in their areas of responsibility. NGOs stated that the Equal Opportunities Commission had a narrow mandate that did not allow for deep investigations, and limited support from the SAR government.

Section 6. Discrimination and Societal Abuses

Women

Rape and Domestic Violence: The law criminalizes rape against women, including spousal rape, but does not explicitly criminalize rape against men. Support organizations for sexual and domestic violence reported an increase in gender-based violence based on the larger volume of calls to their hotlines and requests for mental health-care assistance. Activists expressed concern that rape was underreported, especially within ethnic minority communities.

The law does not directly criminalize domestic violence, but the government regarded domestic violence against women as a serious concern. Abusers may be liable for criminal charges under laws on offenses against the person, sexual assault, and child mistreatment, depending on which act constituted domestic violence. The government effectively prosecuted violators under existing criminal violations.

The law allows survivors to seek a three-month injunction, extendable to six months, against an abuser. The ordinance covers abuse between spouses, heterosexual and homosexual cohabitants, former spouses or cohabitants, and immediate and extended family members. It protects victims younger than 18, allowing them to apply for an injunction in their own right, with the assistance of an adult guardian, against abuse by parents, siblings, and specified immediate and extended family members. The law also empowers courts to require that an abuser attend an antiviolence program. In cases in which the abuser caused bodily harm, the court may attach an arrest warrant to an existing injunction and extend the validity of both injunctions and arrest warrants to two years.

The government maintained programs provided intervention, counseling, and assistance to domestic violence survivors and abusers.

Sexual Harassment: The law prohibits sexual harassment or discrimination based on sex, marital status, and pregnancy. The law applies to both men and women, and police generally enforced it effectively. There were multiple reports, however, of sexual harassment in housing, the workplace, and universities.

Reproductive Rights: There were no reports of coerced abortion or involuntary sterilization on the part of government authorities.

The government provides access to sexual and reproductive health services, including emergency contraception, for survivors of sexual violence.

Discrimination: Women enjoy the same legal status and rights as men. The SAR’s sexual discrimination ordinance prohibits discrimination based on sex or pregnancy status, and the law authorizes the Equal Opportunities Commission to work towards the elimination of discrimination and harassment as well as to promote equal opportunity for men and women. Although the government generally enforced these laws, women reportedly faced some discrimination in employment, salary, welfare, inheritance, and promotion.

Systemic Racial or Ethnic Violence and Discrimination

Although ethnic Chinese account for most of the population, the SAR is a multiethnic society, with persons from multiple ethnic groups recognized as permanent residents with full rights by law. The law prohibits discrimination, and the Equal Opportunities Commission oversees implementation and enforcement of the law. The commission maintained a hotline for inquiries and complaints concerning racial discrimination. Although the SAR government took steps to reduce discrimination, there were frequent reports of discrimination against ethnic minorities; the law does not clearly cover racial discrimination occurring during law enforcement activity.

Advocates stated there were indications of racism in COVID-19 testing and quarantine measures. Returning South and Southeast Asian SAR minority group residents complained of poor quarantine facilities, wait times, and diet, and accused the SAR of discrimination.

Persons born in mainland China also experienced frequent discrimination. Nonpermanent residents did not receive SAR cash subsidies to help with the COVID-19 pandemic-related economic downturn until eight months after the pandemic spread to the SAR.

Children

Birth Registration: All Chinese nationals born in the SAR, on the mainland, or abroad to parents, of whom at least one is a Chinese national and Hong Kong permanent resident, acquire both Chinese citizenship and Hong Kong permanent residence. Children born in the SAR to non-Chinese parents, at least one of whom is a Hong Kong permanent resident, acquire SAR permanent residence and qualify to apply for naturalization as Chinese citizens. Authorities routinely registered all such statuses.

Child Abuse: The law mandates protection for survivors of child abuse (battery, assault, neglect, abandonment, and sexual exploitation), and the SAR government enforced the law. The law allows for the prosecution of certain sexual offenses, including those against minors, committed outside the territory of the SAR.

The government provided parent education programs through its maternal- and child-health centers, public education programs, clinical psychologists, and social workers. Police maintained a child abuse investigation unit and, in collaboration with the Social Welfare Department, operated a child witness support program.

Child, Early, and Forced Marriage: The legal minimum age of marriage is 16 for both girls and boys; however, parents’ written consent is required for marriage before age 21.

Sexual Exploitation of Children: The age of consent is effectively 16. By law, a person having “unlawful sexual intercourse” with a person younger than 16 is subject to five years’ imprisonment, while unlawful sexual intercourse with a person younger than 13 carries a sentence of life imprisonment. The law prohibits the commercial sexual exploitation of children and procuring children for commercial sex. The law makes it an offense to possess, produce, copy, import, or export pornography involving a child or to publish or cause to be published any advertisement that conveys, or is likely to be understood as conveying, the message that a person has published, publishes, or intends to publish any child pornography. Authorities enforced the law. The penalty for creation, publication, or advertisement of child pornography is eight years’ imprisonment, while possession carries a penalty of five years’ imprisonment.

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

Anti-Semitism

The active Jewish community numbered approximately 2,500 persons. There were no reports of anti-Semitic acts.

Trafficking in Persons

See the Department of State’s Trafficking in Persons Report at https://www.state.gov/trafficking-in-persons-report/.

Persons with Disabilities

The law prohibits discrimination against persons with physical, sensory, intellectual, and mental disabilities, and the government generally enforced these provisions. The government took action to investigate and punish those responsible for violence or abuses against persons with disabilities. The government generally implemented laws and programs to provide persons with disabilities access to education, employment, the judicial system, and health services. The law on disabilities states that children with separate educational needs must have equal opportunity in accessing education. Some human rights groups considered the SAR’s disability law too limited and that its implementation did not promote equal opportunities. The Social Welfare Department provided training and vocational rehabilitation services to assist persons with disabilities, offered subsidized resident-care services for persons deemed unable to live independently, offered preschool services to children with disabilities, and provided community support services for persons with mental disabilities, their families, and other residents interested in improving their mental health.

The government generally implemented laws and programs to provide persons with disabilities access to information, communications, and buildings, although there were reports of some restrictions. The law calls for improved building access and provides for sanctions against those who discriminate.

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

No laws criminalize consensual same-sex sexual conduct between adults. While the SAR has laws that ban discrimination on the grounds of race, sex, disability, and family status, no law prohibits companies or individuals from discriminating on grounds of sexual orientation or gender identity. There are also no laws that specifically aid in the prosecution of bias-motivated crimes against members of the lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer, or intersex (LGBTQI+) community. Lawmakers expressed both strong support for, and strong opposition to, LGBTQI+ rights. LGBTQI+ activists reported that they considered the courts to be the primary avenue to secure LGBTQI+ rights and viewed the courts as impartial in decisions on LGBTQI+ issues.

Section 7. Worker Rights

a. Freedom of Association and the Right to Collective Bargaining

The law provides for workers to form and join unions, but the SAR and PRC authorities took repeated actions that violated the principle of union independence. The law does not protect the right to collective bargaining or obligate employers to bargain. The law prohibits civil servants from bargaining collectively.

The law prohibits firing an employee for striking and voids any section of an employment contract that punishes a worker for striking. The commissioner of police has broad authority to control and direct public gatherings, including strikes, in the interest of national security or public safety.

By law an employer may not fire, penalize, or discriminate against an employee who exercises his or her union rights and may not prevent or deter the employee from exercising such rights. Penalties for violations of laws protecting union and related worker rights include fines as well as legal damages paid to workers. Penalties were commensurate with those under other laws involving the denial of civil rights.

The law was not effectively enforced, and the government repressed independent unions and their confederations. SAR and national authorities publicly claimed that strikes and other union-organized activities during the prodemocracy movement in 2019-20 were “anti-China” in nature, and pressure from officials and from PRC-supported media outlets led many unions to disband.

In August, the Hong Kong Professional Teachers’ Union, the city’s largest professional trade union with approximately 95,000 members, decided to dissolve after facing pressure from PRC-supported media, which called the union a “poisonous tumor” to be eradicated, and the announcement hours later by the Hong Kong Education Bureau that it would cease working with the union.

On October 3, the Hong Kong Confederation of Trade Unions voted to dissolve. Founded in 1990, the confederation included more than 80 unions from a variety of trades and grew to more than 100,000 members. Chairman Wong Tik-yuen reported that union members received threats against their personal safety if union operations were to continue.

b. Prohibition of Forced or Compulsory Labor

The law does not prohibit all forms of forced or compulsory labor, nor do laws specifically criminalize forced labor. Instead, the SAR uses its Employment and Theft Ordinances to prosecute forced labor and related offenses. Because these violations are typically civil offenses with fines, penalties for these offenses were not commensurate with those for analogous serious crimes, such as kidnapping, which violate the Crimes Ordinance and carry prison terms.

NGOs expressed concerns that some migrant workers, especially domestic workers in private homes, faced high levels of indebtedness assumed as part of the recruitment process, creating a risk they could be subjected to forced labor through debt-based coercion. Domestic workers in the SAR were mostly women and mainly came from the Philippines, Indonesia, and other Southeast and South Asian countries. The SAR allows for the collection of maximum placement fees of 10 percent of the first month’s wages, but some recruitment firms required large up-front fees in the country of origin that workers struggled to repay. Some locally licensed employment agencies were suspected of colluding with local money lenders and agencies overseas to profit from debt schemes, and some local agencies illegally withheld the passports and employment contracts of domestic workers until they repaid the debt.

SAR authorities stated they encouraged aggrieved workers to file complaints and make use of government conciliation services, and that they actively pursued reports of any labor violations (see section 7.e., Acceptable Conditions of Work).

See also the Department of State’s Trafficking in Persons Report at https://www.state.gov/trafficking-in-persons-report/.

c. Prohibition of Child Labor and Minimum Age for Employment

The law prohibits the worst forms of child labor. Regulations prohibit employment of children younger than 15 in any industrial establishment. Children younger than 13 are prohibited from taking up employment in all economic sectors. Children who are 13 or older may be employed in nonindustrial establishments, subject to certain requirements, such as parental written consent and proof the child has completed the required schooling.

The Labor Department effectively enforced these laws and regularly inspected workplaces to enforce compliance with the regulations. Penalties for child labor law violations include fines and legal damages and were not commensurate with those for analogous serious crimes, such as kidnapping, that violate the Crimes Ordinance and carry prison terms.

d. Discrimination with Respect to Employment and Occupation

The law and regulations prohibit employment discrimination based on race or ethnicity, disability, family status (marital status or pregnancy), or sex. The law stipulates employers must prove that proficiency in a particular language is a justifiable job requirement if they reject a candidate on those grounds. Regulations do not prohibit employment discrimination on the grounds of age, color, religion, political opinion, national origin or citizenship, sexual orientation or gender identity, HIV or other communicable disease status, or social status. The law authorizes the Equal Opportunities Commission to work towards the elimination of discrimination and harassment as well as to promote equal opportunity for men and women.

The government generally enforced these laws and regulations. In cases in which employment discrimination occurred, SAR courts had broad powers to levy penalties on those violating these laws and regulations. Although the government generally enforced these laws, women reportedly faced some discrimination in employment, salary, welfare, inheritance, and promotion.

Human rights activists and local scholars continued to raise concerns about job prospects for minority students, who were more likely to hold low-paying, low-skilled jobs and earn below-average wages.

e. Acceptable Conditions of Work

Wage and Hour Laws: The statutory minimum wage was below the poverty line for an average-sized household. The law does not regulate working hours, paid weekly rest, rest breaks, or compulsory overtime for most employees. Several labor groups reported that employers expected extremely long hours and called for legislation to address that concern.

Occupational Safety and Health: The law includes occupational safety and health standards for various industries. Workplace health and safety laws allow workers to remove themselves from situations that endanger health or safety without jeopardy to their employment. Employers are required to report any injuries sustained by their employees in work-related accidents.

The Occupational Safety and Health Branch of the Labor Department is responsible for safety and health promotion, identification of unsafe conditions, enforcement of safety management legislation, and policy formulation and implementation. Inspectors have the authority to make unannounced inspections and initiate investigations and prosecutions. For the first half of the year, the Labor Department reported 14,368 cases of occupational accidents.

The government effectively enforced the law, and the number of labor inspectors was sufficient to enforce compliance except in the cases of nonpayment or underpayment of wages to, and working conditions of, domestic workers. There were many press reports regarding poor conditions faced by, and underpayment of wages to, domestic workers. Labor inspectors have the authority to conduct unannounced inspections and initiate sanctions. Penalties for violations of the minimum wage or occupational safety and health standards include fines, damages, and worker’s compensation payments. These penalties were commensurate with those for similar crimes. The Labor Tribunal adjudicated disputes involving nonpayment or underpayment of wages and wrongful dismissal.

India

Executive Summary

India is a multiparty, federal, parliamentary democracy with a bicameral legislature. The president, elected by an electoral college composed of the state assemblies and parliament, is the head of state, and the prime minister is the head of government. The constitution gives the country’s 28 states and nine union territories a high degree of autonomy and primary responsibility for law and order. Electors chose President Ram Nath Kovind in 2017 to serve a five-year term, and Narendra Modi became prime minister for the second time following the victory of the National Democratic Alliance coalition led by the Bharatiya Janata Party in the 2019 general election. Observers considered the parliamentary elections, which included more than 600 million voters, to be free and fair, but there were reports of isolated instances of violence.

The states and union territories have primary responsibility for maintaining law and order, with policy oversight from the central government. Police are within state jurisdiction. The Ministry of Home Affairs controls most paramilitary forces, the internal intelligence bureaus, and national law enforcement agencies, and provides training for senior officials from state police forces. Civilian authorities maintained effective control over the security forces. Members of the security forces committed some abuses.

Significant human rights issues included credible reports of: unlawful and arbitrary killings, including extrajudicial killings by the government or its agents; torture and cases of cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment or punishment by police and prison officials; harsh and life-threatening prison conditions; arbitrary arrest and detention by government authorities; political prisoners or detainees; arbitrary or unlawful interference with privacy; restrictions on free expression and media, including violence, threats of violence, or unjustified arrests or prosecutions against journalists, use of criminal libel laws to prosecute social media speech; restrictions on internet freedom; overly restrictive laws on the organization, funding, or operations of nongovernmental organizations and civil society organizations; refoulement of refugees; serious government corruption; government harassment of domestic and international human rights organizations; lack of investigation of and accountability for gender-based violence; crimes involving violence and discrimination targeting members of minority groups based on religious affiliation, social status or sexual orientation or gender identity; and forced and compulsory labor, including child labor and bonded labor.

Despite government efforts to address abuses and corruption, a lack of accountability for official misconduct persisted at all levels of government, contributing to widespread impunity. Investigations and prosecutions of individual cases took place, but lax enforcement, a shortage of trained police officers, and an overburdened and underresourced court system contributed to a low number of convictions.

Terrorists in Jammu and Kashmir, northeastern states, and Maoist terrorism-affected areas committed serious abuses, including killings and torture of armed forces personnel, police, government officials, and civilians, kidnapping, and recruitment and use of child soldiers.

Section 1. Respect for the Integrity of the Person

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

There were reports that the government or its agents committed arbitrary or unlawful killings, including extrajudicial killings of suspected criminals and terrorists.

Military courts are primarily responsible for investigating killings by security forces and paramilitary forces.

Reports of prisoners or detainees who were killed or died in police and judicial custody continued. In March the National Campaign Against Torture reported the deaths of 111 persons in police custody in 2020. The report stated 82 of the deaths were due to alleged torture or foul play. Uttar Pradesh and Gujarat reported the highest number of custodial deaths at 11 each, followed by Madhya Pradesh with 10 deaths. A separate Prison Statistics of India (PSI) report from the National Crime Records Bureau (NCRB) documented 1,887 inmate deaths in judicial custody in 2020. The report attributed most prison deaths to natural causes and stated the highest number of custodial deaths occurred in Uttar Pradesh and West Bengal.

In September the National Human Rights Commission required Assam’s director general of police to compile a report in connection with a complaint alleging that police committed extrajudicial killings of more than 20 petty criminals.

On June 18, a Dalit woman collapsed and died while in police custody for suspected theft. The Telangana High Court ordered an investigation into allegations the victim was beaten to death. The Telangana government fired three police officers for their involvement in the custodial death and provided compensation to family members.

On July 22, Ravi Jadav and Sunil Pawar, two members of a tribal community accused of involvement in a bicycle theft case, were found hanging inside a police station in the Navsari District of Gujarat. Three police officials were arrested in connection with the custodial deaths, and on September 18, Navsari police provided compensation to family members of the victims.

In September 2020 the Central Bureau of Investigation filed charges against nine police officials in connection with the custodial deaths of Ponraj and Beniks Jeyaraj in Tamil Nadu. The two men were arrested in June 2020 for violating COVID-19 regulations; police allegedly beat them while in custody, and they subsequently died. The Tamil Nadu government arrested and held without bail 10 police officials alleged to be involved in the deaths, but one official has since died from COVID-19. The trial of the remaining nine was underway.

Killings by government and nongovernment forces were reported in Jammu and Kashmir, northeastern states, and Maoist-affected areas of the country (see section 1.g.). The South Asia Terrorism Portal reported the deaths of 23 civilians throughout the country as a result of terrorism as of November 27.

In July police arrested five persons in connection with the 2018 killing of Rising Kashmir editor in chief Shujaat Bukhari and his two police bodyguards. A police investigation alleged that terrorists belonging to Lashkar-e-Tayyiba targeted Bukhari in retaliation for his support of a government-backed peace effort.

Terrorists committed numerous killings. Maoist terrorists in Jharkhand and Bihar continued to attack security forces and infrastructure facilities, including roads, railways, and communication towers.

Terrorists killed 10 political party leaders in Jammu and Kashmir. On August 9, terrorists fatally shot Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) leader Gulam Rasool Dar and his wife in Anantnag District. Apni Party leader Ghulam Hassan Lone was killed by terrorists on August 19 in Kulgam District.

b. Disappearance

There were allegations police failed to file required arrest reports for detained persons, resulting in unresolved disappearances. Police and government officials denied these claims. The central government reported state government screening committees informed families regarding the status of detainees. There were reports that prison guards sometimes required bribes from families to confirm the detention of their relatives.

Disappearances attributed to government forces, paramilitary forces, and terrorists occurred in areas of conflict during the year (see section 1.g.).

On March 31, UN special rapporteurs asked the central government to provide details regarding allegations of arbitrary detention, extrajudicial killings, and disappearances in Jammu and Kashmir, including the status of Naseer Ahmad Wani, who disappeared in 2019 after being questioned by army soldiers.

The Association of Parents of Disappeared Persons, Kashmir (APDP) reported two cases of disappearances during the year, one in Bandipora District of North Kashmir in July and another in Baramullah in June. Both persons remained missing, and the APDP claimed the National Human Rights Commission declined to investigate the cases.

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

The law prohibits torture, but there were reports that police forces employed such practices.

Police beatings of prisoners resulted in custodial deaths (see section 1.a.).

The law does not permit authorities to admit coerced confessions into evidence, but nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) alleged authorities used torture to coerce confessions. Authorities allegedly also used torture to extort money or as summary punishment.

There were reports of abuse in prisons at the hands of guards and inmates, as well as reports that police raped female and male detainees.

On May 23, Karnataka police suspended Subinspector Arjun Honkera after Punith K.L, a Dalit man, filed a complaint against Honkera for forcing him to lick the urine of another inmate while he was in police custody. The complainant also alleged police beat him for hours. The Criminal Investigation Department of the Karnataka police arrested Honkera on September 2.

The government authorized the National Human Rights Commission (NHRC) to investigate rape cases involving police officers. By law the NHRC may also request information regarding cases involving the army and paramilitary forces, but it has no mandate to investigate those cases. NGOs claimed NHRC statistics undercounted the number of rapes committed in police custody. Some rape victims were unwilling to report crimes due to social stigma and fear of retribution if the perpetrator was a police officer or official. There were reports police officials refused to register rape cases.

Victims of crime were sometimes subjected to intimidation, threats, and attacks.

There were reports of security forces acting with impunity, but members were also held accountable for illegal actions. In December 2020 the army indicted an officer and two others for extrajudicial killings in Jammu and Kashmir; a court trial was underway. Jammu and Kashmir police also filed local charges against the accused.

Prison and Detention Center Conditions

Prison conditions were frequently life threatening, most notably due to inadequate sanitary conditions, lack of medical care, and extreme overcrowding.

Physical Conditions: Prisons were often severely overcrowded, and food, medical care, sanitation, and environmental conditions frequently were inadequate. Potable water was not universally available. Prisons and detention centers remained underfunded and understaffed and lacked sufficient infrastructure. Prisoners were sometimes physically mistreated.

According to the PSI 2020 report released in December, there were 1,306 prisons in the country with a total authorized capacity of 414,033 persons. The actual incarcerated population was 488,511. Persons awaiting trial accounted for approximately 76 percent of the prison population. The law requires detention of juveniles in rehabilitative facilities, but at times authorities detained juveniles in adult prisons, especially in rural areas. Authorities often held pretrial detainees with convicted prisoners. The PSI 2020 report acknowledged overcrowding as “one of the biggest problems faced by prison inmates.”

According to the India Justice Report 2020, in Uttar Pradesh each correctional officer is responsible for more than 25,000 inmates. In 21 states and union territories, the occupancy rate for prisons was more than 100 percent. The most crowded prisons were Delhi (at 175 percent of capacity), Uttar Pradesh (at 168 percent), and Uttarakhand (at 159 percent).

In May the Odisha Directorate of Prisons set up an exclusive ward in Bhubaneswar to house up to 10 transgender persons. The ward had beds, separate washroom blocks, a hall, and a reading room. State officials announced that similar exclusive wards for transgender persons will be opened in all other prisons in a phased manner. A representative of the transgender community welcomed the move, pointing out that there were previous reports of sexual harassment of transgender inmates held in the regular wards.

On May 7, the Supreme Court ordered state law enforcement agencies to reduce arrests and decongest prisons. The Supreme Court issued a similar ruling in March 2020, which ordered states and union territories to release certain prisoners on parole or interim bail. The state governments of Goa, Chhattisgarh, Madhya Pradesh, Gujarat, and Maharashtra independently ordered their prison systems to parole or furlough inmates to reduce prison overcrowding during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Administration: Authorities permitted prisoners to register complaints with state and national human rights commissions, but the authority of the commissions extended only to making recommendations. Government officials reportedly often failed to comply with a Supreme Court order instructing the central government and local authorities to conduct regular checks on police stations to monitor custodial violence.

Authorities permitted visitors limited access to prisoners, but some family members claimed authorities denied access to relatives, particularly in areas experiencing high levels of violence, including Jammu and Kashmir.

Independent Monitoring: The NHRC received and investigated prisoner complaints of human rights violations throughout the year. Civil society representatives believed few prisoners filed complaints due to fear of retribution from prison guards or officials.

The NHRC made unannounced visits to monitor state prisons in multiple states. NHRC special rapporteurs visited state prisons on a regular basis throughout the year to verify that authorities provided medical care to all inmates. The NHRC has not publicly released reports on their findings. NHRC jurisdiction does not extend to military detention centers.

Courts sometimes ordered prisoners released on bail to receive medical treatment.

d. Arbitrary Arrest or Detention

The law prohibits arbitrary arrest and detention, but both occurred during the year. Police also used special security laws to postpone judicial reviews of arrests. Pretrial detention was arbitrary and lengthy, sometimes exceeding the duration of the sentence given to those convicted.

According to human rights NGOs, police used torture, mistreatment, and arbitrary detention to obtain forced or false confessions. In some cases police reportedly held suspects without registering their arrests and denied detainees sufficient food and water.

Following the 2019 abrogation of autonomous status for Jammu and Kashmir, authorities used a public safety law to detain local politicians without trial, but most were subsequently released. Media reports indicated some of those released were asked to sign bonds agreeing not to engage in political activity after release. A few prominent politicians declined to sign and were still released. Former Jammu and Kashmir chief minister Mehbooba Mufti, who was released in October 2020, alleged that she was frequently subjected to periods of house arrest.

On February 13, New Delhi police arrested climate activist Disha Ravi in Bengaluru on sedition charges. The authorities accused Ravi of creating and sharing a document that included instructions on fomenting violence. After Ravi spent 10 days in jail, a New Delhi court granted her bail on February 23, noting a citizen’s right to dissent from the government.

Arrest Procedures and Treatment of Detainees

In cases other than those involving security risks, terrorism, or insurgency, police may detain an individual without charge for up to 30 days, but an arrested person must be brought before a judge within 24 hours of arrest. Lengthy arbitrary detention remained a significant problem due to overburdened and underresourced court systems and a lack of legal safeguards.

Arraignment of detainees must occur within 24 hours unless authorities hold the suspect under a preventive detention law. The law allows police to summon individuals for questioning, but it does not grant police prearrest investigative detention authority. There were incidents in which authorities allegedly detained suspects beyond legal limits. By law authorities must allow family member access to detainees, but this law was not always observed.

Due to delays in completing repatriation procedures, foreign nationals often remained incarcerated beyond the expiration of their sentences, including those charged under the immigration act for irregular entry or stay. The PSI 2020 noted a category of 765 “other” prisoners pending release; experts analyzing the previous editions of the PSI report stated this category most likely represented those who had completed sentences but had not yet been released. This included approximately 270 Rohingya arrested for illegal entry, of whom 147 had reportedly completed their sentences.

The law requires every arrested person to be produced before a judicial magistrate within 24 hours of arrest. Other than in Jammu and Kashmir, the National Security Act allows police to detain persons considered security risks without charge or trial for as long as one year. The law allows family members and lawyers to visit national security detainees and requires authorities to inform a detainee of the grounds for detention within five days, or 10 to 15 days in exceptional circumstances. Nonetheless, rights activists noted instances where these provisions were not followed in Odisha, Manipur, Andhra Pradesh, and Maharashtra. Under the Armed Forces Special Powers Act (AFSPA), the central government may designate a state or union territory as a “disturbed area,” authorizing security forces in the state to use deadly force to “maintain law and order” and to arrest any person “against whom reasonable suspicion exists” without informing the detainee of the grounds for arrest. The law also provides security forces immunity from civilian prosecution for acts committed in regions under the AFSPA.

The designation as a disturbed area under the AFSPA remained in effect in Nagaland, parts of Arunachal Pradesh, Manipur, and Assam, and a version of the law was in effect in Jammu and Kashmir. The AFSPA was renewed through January, and again in June in Nagaland, which has been under the AFSPA for nearly six decades. It was also extended in Assam, Manipur, and in three districts of Arunachal Pradesh. On December 27, the Ministry of Home Affairs announced the creation of a committee to review the continuation of the AFSPA in Nagaland.

Human rights organizations asserted the law is in violation of Article 21 of the constitution and continued to call for its repeal, citing numerous alleged human rights violations.

The Public Safety Act (PSA), which applies only in Jammu and Kashmir, permits authorities to detain persons without charge or judicial review for up to two years without visitation from family members. The press reported that the number of PSA detentions rose to 331 from 134 in 2020.

Authorities in Jammu and Kashmir allowed detainees access to a lawyer during interrogation, but human rights groups documented that police routinely employed arbitrary detention and denied detainees access to lawyers and medical attention.

Authorities must promptly inform persons detained on criminal charges of the charges against them and of their right to legal counsel. By law a magistrate may authorize the detention of an accused person for a period of no more than 90 days prior to filing charges. Under standard criminal procedure, authorities must release the accused on bail after 90 days if charges are not filed.

NCRB data from January 2020 showed that most individuals awaiting trial spent more than three months in jail before they could secure bail, and more than 63 percent spent between three months and five years before being released on bail. According to the India Justice Report 2020, one in four court cases have been pending for more than five years.

The law also permits authorities to hold a detainee in judicial custody without charge for up to 180 days (including the 30 days in police custody). The Unlawful Activities Prevention Act (UAPA), which gives authorities the ability to detain persons for up to 180 days without charge in cases related to insurgency or terrorism, makes no bail provisions for foreign nationals, and it allows courts to deny bail in the case of detained citizens. The UAPA presumes the accused to be guilty if the prosecution can produce evidence of the possession of firearms or explosives or the presence of fingerprints at a crime scene, regardless of whether authorities demonstrate criminal intent. State governments also reportedly held persons without bail for extended periods before filing formal charges under the UAPA. The NCRB Crime in India 2020 report released in September revealed that 796 new UAPA cases were registered in 2020.

In 2019 parliament passed an amendment to the UAPA that allows the government to designate individuals as terrorists and provides new authorities to the National Investigation Agency (NIA) to seize properties acquired from proceeds of terrorism.

States and union territories with terrorist activity, including Manipur and Jammu and Kashmir, also saw an increase in the application of the UAPA. Media reported that since 2019, the Jammu and Kashmir administration had booked more than 2,300 persons in approximately 1,200 cases under the UAPA. Of those, 46 percent remained in jail as of August, according to government figures.

On November 23, Kashmiri human rights defender Khurram Parvez was arrested by the NIA for “terror funding” and “conspiracy”; both his home and office were raided. His arrest was immediately criticized by domestic and international civil society. UN Special Rapporteur on the Situation of Human Rights Defenders Mary Lawlor and other UN experts called for his immediate release in a joint statement on December 22.

In September 2020 former Jawaharlal Nehru University student leader Umar Khalid was arrested under the UAPA for making a speech during protests against the Citizenship Amendment Act, 2019 (CAA). He remained in jail and claimed prosecutors were delaying the start of his trial. In a related case, the Delhi High Court ordered the release of student leaders Asif Iqbal Tanha, Natasha Narwal, and Devangana Kalita in June. The three had been charged under the UAPA for allegedly conspiring to incite the 2020 Delhi riots.

Multiple courts have denied bail to the majority of 15 activists incarcerated on conspiracy charges related to the Elgaar Parishad Bhima Koregaon protests that resulted in several deaths. The accused claimed the charges were politically motivated. On February 21, the Bombay High Court granted conditional bail on medical grounds for six months to Varvara Rao, an 81-year-old human rights activist, following his hospitalization for COVID-19 in June 2020. The NIA petitioned for Rao’s return to prison following several bail extensions despite his health’s improvement; in December the Bombay High Court ordered the matter be discussed during a further hearing early in 2022.

On July 5, 84-year-old human rights activist and Jesuit priest Father Stan Swamy died in a private hospital after contracting COVID-19 in prison. A NIA Special Court had rejected multiple bail pleas submitted on medical grounds, including Swamy’s diagnosis of Parkinson’s disease, other age-related illnesses, and multiple falling incidents in prison, in the months following Father Swamy’s arrest in October 2020. Activist Sudha Bharadwaj was released on bail in December.

Arbitrary Arrest: The law prohibits arbitrary arrest or detention, but in some cases, police reportedly continued to arrest persons arbitrarily. There were reports of police detaining individuals for custodial interrogation without identifying themselves or providing arrest warrants.

On March 9, paramilitary personnel and local police of the Dantewada District in Chhattisgarh detained human rights activist Hidme Markam without a warrant during an event to recognize International Women’s Day and Adivasi rights. She remained in jail after charges were filed under the UAPA.

On June 15, police in Jammu and Kashmir detained political activist Sajad Sofi after he criticized government officers who were posted in Jammu and Kashmir from other parts of the country. Sofi was released four days later.

Pretrial Detention: NCRB data reported 371,848 prisoners were awaiting trial at the end of 2020, totaling 76 percent of the country’s prison population. Media reported the high numbers of pretrial detainees contributed to prison overcrowding.

The Telangana Prisons Department stated that since 2019 a total of 429 persons facing trial remained in prisons despite securing bail. The report noted the accused belonged to low-income families that did not have sufficient money to pay for bail. Telangana officials said COVID-19 had hampered the activities of the NGOs that visit prisons and pay bail money.

e. Denial of Fair Public Trial

The law provides for an independent judiciary and the government generally respected judicial independence, but the judicial system experienced delays, capacity challenges, and corruption.

The judicial system remained seriously overburdened and lacked modern case management systems, often delaying or denying justice. According to Department of Justice statistics released in January, there were 402 judicial vacancies out of 1,098 positions on the country’s 25 high courts.

Trial Procedures

The law provides for the right to a fair and public trial, except in proceedings that involve official secrets or state security. Defendants enjoy the presumption of innocence, except as described under UAPA conditions, and may choose their counsel. The constitution specifies the state should provide free legal counsel to defendants who cannot afford it to ensure that opportunities for securing justice are not denied to any citizen, but circumstances often limited access to competent counsel. An overburdened justice system resulted in lengthy delays in court cases, with disposition sometimes taking more than a decade.

There were reported cases in which police denied suspects the right to meet with legal counsel as well as cases in which police unlawfully monitored suspects’ conversations and violated their confidentiality rights.

While defendants have the right to confront accusers and present their own witnesses and evidence, defendants sometimes did not exercise this right due to lack of proper legal representation. Defendants have the right not to testify or confess guilt. Courts must announce sentences publicly, and there are effective channels for appeal at most levels of the judicial system.

Political Prisoners and Detainees

There were reports of political prisoners and detainees. NGOs reported the central government held political prisoners and temporarily detained individuals in Jammu and Kashmir under the PSA. In August the lieutenant governor of Jammu and Kashmir, Manoj Sinha, announced the formation of a committee to investigate the cases of political prisoners detained under the PSA. Sinha stated no politician remained in detention under the PSA in Jammu and Kashmir.

Civil Judicial Procedures and Remedies

Individuals or NGOs on behalf of individuals or groups may file public-interest litigation petitions in any high court or directly to the Supreme Court to seek judicial redress of public injury. Grievances may include a breach of public duty by a government agent or a violation of a constitutional provision. NGOs credited public-interest litigation petitions with making government officials accountable to civil society organizations in cases involving allegations of corruption and partiality.

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

While the constitution does not contain an explicit right to privacy, the Supreme Court ruled in 2017 that privacy is a “fundamental right.”

The law, with some exceptions, prohibits arbitrary interference. The government generally respected this provision; at times authorities infringed upon the privacy rights of citizens. The law requires police to obtain warrants to conduct searches and seizures, except for cases in which such actions would cause undue delay. Police must justify warrantless searches in writing to the nearest magistrate with jurisdiction over the offense.

Both the central and state governments legally intercepted communications. A Group of Experts on Privacy convened in 2018 by the central government noted the country lacked a comprehensive consumer data-protection framework.

The UAPA also allows use of evidence obtained from intercepted communications in terrorism cases. In Jammu and Kashmir, Punjab, and Manipur, security officials have special authorities to search and arrest without a warrant.

There were reports that government authorities accessed, collected, or used private communication arbitrarily or unlawfully or without appropriate legal authority and developed practices that allow for the arbitrary or unlawful interference with privacy, including the use of technology to arbitrarily or unlawfully surveil or interfere with the privacy of individuals.

Privacy concerns were raised by The Wire, an online media outlet, that published a series of stories alleging dozens of journalists were potential targets for surveillance by Pegasus malware developed by NSO Group Technologies. The Wire cited forensic analysis conducted by Amnesty International on phone numbers that showed signs of either attempted or successful infiltration. In October the Supreme Court ordered an independent probe on these allegations.

The government denied conducting surveillance activities that violated laws or formally established procedures. Laws permit the government to intercept calls to protect the sovereignty and integrity of the country, the security of the state, friendly relations with foreign states, for public order, or for preventing incitement to the commission of an offense.

g. Conflict-related Abuses

The country’s armed forces, the security forces of individual states, and paramilitary forces engaged with terrorist groups in several northeastern states and Jammu and Kashmir, and with Maoist terrorists in the northern, central, and eastern parts of the country. The intensity of these conflicts continued to decline. The army and security forces remained stationed in conflict areas in the northeastern states, Jharkhand, and Bihar. The armed forces and police also engaged with terrorist groups in Jammu and Kashmir.

The use of force by all parties resulted in deaths and injuries to both conflict participants and civilians. There were reports government security forces committed extrajudicial killings. Human rights groups claimed police sometimes refused to release bodies. Authorities did not require the armed forces to report custodial deaths to the NHRC.

There were few investigations and prosecutions of human rights violations or abuses arising from internal conflicts.

Killings: Terrorists used violence against the state, including killings, while government security forces conducted operations against these groups sometimes leading to the deaths of intended targets or nonparticipants.

On October 8, Parvez Ahmad Bokda died when members of the Central Reserve Police Force opened fire in what they claimed was self-defense at a checkpoint in Jammu and Kashmir. Local observers said the death was the result of “disproportionate force” and pressed for action against the security personnel involved. On October 24, Shahid Ajaz was killed in crossfire between security forces and terrorists, according to initial police reports. Media reported 12 civilian deaths in Jammu and Kashmir by terrorist or security forces in October.

On April 3, Maoist terrorists killed 22 members of security forces in Chhattisgarh. The ambush marked the largest death toll for security forces battling the guerrillas since 2017.

Maoist insurgents allegedly killed former colleagues on suspicion of acting as informants for law enforcement. Korra Pilku of Andhra Pradesh and Santosh Dandasena of Odisha were allegedly killed for working with police officials.

Abductions: Human rights groups maintained that insurgent groups abducted persons in Chhattisgarh, Manipur, Jharkhand, and Jammu and Kashmir.

Maoist groups in Chhattisgarh used abduction to intimidate law enforcement and the local population. Media reports alleged Maoists killed Constable Sannu Punem after abducting him in Bijapur District of Chhattisgarh. Additionally, Maoist rebels were suspected of kidnapping 11 persons who attended a police recruitment event.

Physical Abuse, Punishment, and Torture: There were reports government security forces tortured and mistreated insurgents in custody and injured demonstrators. Human rights activists alleged some prisoners were tortured or killed during detention.

The postmortem report on A Velmurugan, a member of a Maoist terrorist group killed by anti-insurgency forces in Kerala in November 2020, showed he “sustained 44 lacerated penetrative and nonpenetrative wounds on all sides of his body,” leading human rights activists to allege torture.

Waheed-Ur-Rehman Parra, a Kashmiri politician detained by the National Intelligence Agency on alleged terrorist charges, was granted bail in January. On March 31, UN Special Rapporteur on Torture Nils Melzer cosigned a report raising concerns of Parra’s alleged torture in custody. The government denied these allegations, and soon after the report was made public, Parra was re-arrested. Parra was still in custody at year’s end.

Child Soldiers: In May the United Nations released the Children and Armed Conflict report, which identified the recruitment of two minors by unidentified perpetrators. The United Nations also stated it was investigating reports that security forces used three minors for less than 24 hours.

Insurgent groups reportedly recruited teenagers for support roles. There were reports terrorist groups recruited children from schools in Chhattisgarh.

On July 27, the federal minister of state for home affairs informed parliament that Maoist terrorists in Chhattisgarh and Jharkhand states were recruiting children and providing them military training.

Speaking at the UN Security Council’s Open Debate on Children and Armed Conflict on July 28, the foreign secretary called for an end to impunity for all those involved in recruiting child soldiers. He called for greater accountability and sincere efforts in bringing the perpetrators to justice.

Other Conflict-related Abuse: In 2020 the Ministry of Home Affairs informed parliament’s lower house there were approximately 65,000 registered Kashmiri migrant families across the country. Tens of thousands of Hindus, known as Kashmiri Pandits, fled the Kashmir Valley after 1990 because of violent intimidation that included murders, destruction of temples, and rapes by Kashmiri Muslim residents.

In March the Ministry of Home Affairs informed parliament that 3,800 Kashmiri Pandit migrants had returned to Jammu and Kashmir since the 1990s, 520 of whom had returned after August 2019. In July the Ministry of Home Affairs reported to parliament that 1,997 candidates from the Kashmiri Pandit community had been selected for jobs in Jammu and Kashmir.

In the central and eastern areas, armed conflicts between Maoist insurgents and government security forces over land and mineral resources in tribal forest areas continued. According to the South Asia Terrorism Portal’s existing-conflict map, Maoist-affected states included Madhya Pradesh, Maharashtra, Karnataka, Kerala, Tamil Nadu, Andhra Pradesh, Telangana, Odisha, Chhattisgarh, Jharkhand, West Bengal, Bihar, Uttar Pradesh, and Assam. Human rights advocates alleged the security operations sought not only to suppress terrorism but also to force tribal populations from their land.

Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties

a. Freedom of Expression, Including for Members of the Press and Other Media

The constitution provides for freedom of expression, but it does not explicitly mention freedom of the press. The government generally respected this right, but there were instances in which the government or actors considered close to the government allegedly pressured or harassed media outlets critical of the government, including through online trolling. There were also reports of terrorists and extremists perpetrating killings, violence, and intimidation against journalists critical of the government.

Freedom of Expression: Individuals routinely criticized the government publicly and privately via online platforms, television, radio, or in print media. According to the HRW World Report 2021, the government “increasingly harassed, arrested, and prosecuted rights defenders, activists, journalists, students, academics, and others critical of the government or its policies.” Harassment and detainment of journalists critical of the government in their reporting or social media messaging continued.

Freedom House’s Freedom in the World 2021 report downgraded the country’s ranking from “Free” to “Partly Free,” due in part to “a crackdown on expressions of dissent by media, academics, civil society groups, and protesters.” The Freedom House report stated authorities used security, defamation, sedition, and hate speech laws, as well as contempt-of-court charges, to curb critical voices. Media contacts said that some media outlets practiced self-censorship in response to the government reportedly withholding public-sector advertising from some outlets critical of the government.

On January 1, Madhya Pradesh police arrested stand-up comedian Munawar Faruqui and four other persons for offending religious sentiments with jokes he allegedly planned to perform. The Supreme Court granted Faruqui bail in February, stating the allegations against him were vague.

On February 1, the government ordered Twitter to block accounts belonging to journalists covering the protests against agricultural reform laws, stating the order was to prevent a potential escalation of violence. Twitter initially complied with the government’s request, but subsequently restored access to the accounts after conducting an internal review.

On May 13, Manipur police arrested social activist Erendro Leichombam for a Facebook post critical of a BJP leader who advocated cow dung and cow urine as cures for COVID-19. On July 19, the Supreme Court granted bail to Leichombam, who was previously kept in preventive detention under the National Security Act after being granted bail by a lower court.

On July 24, Tamil Nadu police arrested Father George Ponnaiah, a Catholic priest, for alleged hate speech against the prime minister and home minister. The priest was attending a July 18 meeting honoring deceased tribal rights activist Father Stan Swamy. The court remanded Ponnaiah to judicial custody for 15 days, and the Madras High Court granted conditional bail on August 10.

Freedom of Expression for Members of the Press and Other Media, Including Online Media: Independent media were active and generally expressed a wide variety of views. The law prohibits content that could harm religious sentiments or provoke enmity among groups, and authorities invoked these provisions to restrict print media; broadcast media; digital media platforms, including streaming services; and publication or distribution of books.

There were reports from journalists and NGOs that government officials at both the local and national levels were involved in intimidating critical media outlets through physical harassment and attacks, pressuring owners, targeting sponsors, encouraging frivolous lawsuits, and in some areas blocking communication services, such as mobile telephones and the internet, and constraining freedom of movement.

NGOs alleged criminal prosecutions and investigations were used to intimidate journalists critical of the government.

The Reporters without Borders 2021 World Press Freedom Index described the country as very dangerous for journalists, with press freedom violations by police, political activists, criminal groups, and local officials. The report also identified “coordinated hate campaigns waged on social networks,” encouraging threats against journalists as a major area of concern. Harassment and violence were particularly acute for female journalists. Journalists working in Jammu and Kashmir continued to face barriers to free reporting through communications and movement restrictions.

In Jammu and Kashmir at least six journalists were assaulted, detained, or questioned by police through August according to the Jammu Kashmir Coalition of Civil Society. In 2020 the government introduced a new media regulation in Jammu and Kashmir empowering local administration to determine “fake and antinational news” and to initiate criminal charges against journalists. The Kashmir Press Club protested the policy and alleged that the government was institutionalizing intimidation by exploiting the policy against media platforms critical of the government.

In January, Uttar Pradesh, Haryana, Gujarat, Karnataka, and New Delhi police filed charges against India Today anchor Rajdeep Sardesai; National Herald senior consulting editor Mrinal Pande; Qaumi Awaz editor Zafar Agha; the Caravan founder Paresh Nath, editor Anant Nath, and executive editor Vinod K. Jose; and Member of Parliament Shashi Tharoor. The charges included sedition, intent to cause riot, and other charges through their coverage of a violent January 26 protest. The Supreme Court granted the individuals a stay of arrest on February 9.

On March 5, journalists Shafat Farooq and Saqib Majeed said they were beaten by police during a protest in Srinagar. On July 17, Kashmiri journalist Aakash Hassan was allegedly assaulted by police. In August, Jammu and Kashmir police detained and questioned journalist Irfan Malik concerning tweets critical of the Jammu Kashmir government’s film promotion policy.

On April 7, Jammu and Kashmir Police inspector general Vijay Kumar issued a warning that police would file criminal charges against journalists who approached ongoing police counterterrorism operations, on the grounds that such reporting was “likely to incite violence” or promote “antinational sentiment.” The Editors Guild of India criticized the prohibitions as “draconian and undemocratic.”

Media reported criminal charges were filed against individuals who posted requests for oxygen supplies via social media during the second wave of the COVID-19 pandemic. On April 28, police in Amethi, Uttar Pradesh, filed charges against 26-year-old Shashank Yadav for tweeting a plea for oxygen for his grandfather. On April 30, the Supreme Court warned that states should protect citizens’ right to communicate their grievances regarding the COVID-19 pandemic on social media.

On June 15, Uttar Pradesh police filed charges against Twitter; online news platform The Wire; journalists Rana Ayyub, Saba Naqvi, and Mohammad Zubair; and Congress leaders Salman Nizami, Masqoor Usmani, and Sama Mohammad for “stoking communal unrest” by posting video footage of the assault of an elderly Muslim man.

On July 22, the Income Tax Department searched 32 office and residential locations affiliated with the Dainik Bhaskar Group, publisher of Dainik Bhaskar, the country’s second-most-read Hindi language newspaper. The Income Tax Department also raided the offices of Hindi language television station Bharat Samachar. Government sources asserted the raids were a result of alleged tax evasion by the media groups. The media groups claimed the raids were conducted as retaliation for investigative reporting during the second wave of the COVID-19 pandemic.

In February the Kashmir Press Club stated security agencies had routinely deployed intimidation tactics such as threats, summonses, and physical attacks on journalists in Jammu and Kashmir. On February 8, police summoned journalists Naseer Ganai and Haroon Nabi to the police facility, where they were questioned for reporting on a statement by the Jammu Kashmir Liberation Front.

In June the Jammu and Kashmir government released Media Policy 2020, a policy which authorizes the Directorate of Information and Publication Relations to “examine” the content of print, electronic, and other forms of media for “fake news, plagiarism, and unethical or antinational activities” in the name of law and order. Under the new media policy, government action could range from legal proceedings against journalists for “indulging in fake news, unethical or antinational activities, or plagiarism” to withholding advertisements from any media that “incite or tends to incite violence, question sovereignty and the integrity of India, or violate the accepted norms of public decency and behavior.”

On June 13, Uttar Pradesh authorities charged Scroll.in executive editor Supriya Sharma for a news report critical of the COVID-19 lockdown; she was charged with violating the Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes (Prevention of Atrocities) Act, 1989, and sections of the penal code regarding printing defamatory matter and negligent acts likely to spread infection of disease dangerous to life. Police also charged the Mumbai-based editor in chief of Scroll.in. On August 26, the Allahabad High Court granted Sharma protection from immediate arrest in the case but allowed the investigation to continue.

On July 1, UNESCO director general Audrey Azoulay called for authorities to end “gunpoint censorship” and prosecute those responsible for the killing of Shubham Mani Tripathi, a journalist for the newspaper Kampu Mail. Tripathi died on June 19 when he was shot six times by two gunmen in Uttar Pradesh. His killing was allegedly in retaliation for his investigative reports into connections between illegal sand mining and corruption allegations. The two assailants, along with a third individual, were arrested.

The government maintained a monopoly on AM radio stations, limiting broadcasting to the state-owned All India Radio, and restricted FM radio licenses to entertainment and educational content. Widely distributed private satellite television provided competition for Doordarshan, the government-owned television network. There were accusations of political interference in the state-owned broadcasters. State governments banned the import or sale of selected books that contained material government officials deemed could be inflammatory or provoke communal or religious tensions.

On May 14, Andhra Pradesh police filed sedition charges against Telugu news channels TV5 and ABN Andhra Jyothi for broadcasting the speeches and statements of Member of Parliament K. Raghu Ramakrishna Raju that allegedly “promoted enmity and hatred among different communities.” Police arrested Raju and filed sedition charges against him. On May 21, the Supreme Court granted bail to the lawmaker; on May 31, the Supreme Court blocked Andhra Pradesh police from acting against the two channels.

Violence and Harassment: The Committee to Protect Journalists reported five journalists were killed during the year. Journalists were threatened online with violence and, in the case of female journalists, rape.

On March 24, Syandan Patrika journalist Bikash Das was assaulted in Tripura while covering a story on corruption. A group of assailants attacked Das, inflicting serious injuries before he was able to escape.

On June 13, Uttar Pradesh journalist Sulabh Srivastava was found dead under mysterious circumstances. On the day before his death, Sulabh wrote to seek protection from Uttar Pradesh police, claiming he faced danger after reporting on organized crime in the city. Police reported the cause of Srivastava’s death as a motorcycle accident.

In July photojournalist Masrat Zahra, who relocated to Germany after UAPA charges were filed against her, alleged her parents were beaten by Jammu and Kashmir police because of her work.

On August 8, journalist Chennakeshavalu was stabbed to death by two suspects allegedly for his reporting on illegal gambling activities in Andhra Pradesh. Police arrested Venkata Subbaiah, a police officer, and his brother Nani for suspected murder.

Online and mobile harassment was prevalent, and reports of internet “trolling,” continued to rise. In some instances police used information provided by anonymous social media users as a pretext to initiate criminal proceedings against journalists.

Censorship or Content Restrictions: Citizens generally enjoyed freedom of speech, but the government continued to censor and restrict content based on broad public and national interest provisions in Article 19 of the constitution.

On February 25, the government published new regulations to govern social media platforms, messaging services, and streaming service that delivers content directly to the consumer over the internet. Human rights advocates and journalists expressed concerns that these rules would curtail freedom of speech and expression, and several media organizations filed legal actions against the regulations. They contended that parts of IT Rules 2021 are unconstitutional and contrary to the necessity and proportionality standard laid down by the Supreme Court in the 2018 Puttaswamy v. India decision guaranteeing the right to privacy in the constitution. In response to one such challenge on August 14, the Mumbai High Court ordered a stay on implementation of Rules 9(1) and 9(3) of the IT Rules 2021, which require digital news media and online publishers to adhere to a prescribed code of ethics and establish a three-tier grievance redressal mechanism.

Libel/Slander Laws: Individuals continued to face legal action for posting offensive or derogatory material on social media. In January the Delhi High Court dismissed a criminal defamation case filed by a former senior official against Priya Ramani, accusing Ramani of sexual harassment. The court noted, “a woman cannot be punished for raising her voice against sexual abuse.”

National Security: In some cases government authorities cited laws protecting national interest to restrict media content. The government banned more than 200 Chinese mobile apps because they were “prejudicial” to the sovereignty and security of the country.

Internet Freedom

There were government restrictions on access to the internet, disruptions of access to the internet, censorship of online content, and there were reports the government occasionally monitored users of digital media, such as chat rooms and person-to-person communications. The law permits the government to block internet sites and content and criminalizes sending messages the government deems inflammatory or offensive. Both central and state governments have the power to issue directives for blocking, intercepting, monitoring, or decrypting computer information. The government temporarily blocked telecommunications and internet connections in certain regions during periods of political unrest.

In January 2020 the Supreme Court declared access to the internet a fundamental right guaranteed by the constitution. In 2015 the Supreme Court overturned some provisions of the information technology law that restricted content published on social media but upheld the government’s authority to block online content “in the interest of sovereignty and integrity of India, defense of India, security of the state, and friendly relations with foreign states or public order” without court approval. The government may shut telephone and internet services temporarily during a “public emergency” or for “public safety.” A suspension order can be issued by a “competent authority” at either the federal or the state level.

NGO Software Freedom Law Center reported the central and state governments conducted localized internet shutdowns 36 times as of October. For example, according to Jammu Kashmir Coalition of Civil Society, Jammu and Kashmir experienced 19 instances of internet shutdown as of August.

Press outlets reported instances in which individuals and journalists were arrested or detained for online activity. Police continued to arrest individuals based on the Information Technology Act for legitimate online activity, despite a 2015 Supreme Court ruling striking down the statute as unconstitutional; experts claimed the arrests were an abuse of legal processes.

The Central Monitoring System continued to allow government agencies to monitor electronic communications in real time without informing the subject or a judge. The monitoring system is an indigenous mass electronic surveillance data mining program installed by the Center for Development of Telematics, a government-owned telecommunications technology development center.

Academic Freedom and Cultural Events

Contacts reported a few Kashmiri academics attempting to travel internationally to attend academic conferences or pursue professional assignments were prohibited from leaving the country.

In January the Ministry of Education issued guidelines for holding virtual conferences and seminars that required local universities to seek government approval for any virtual discussions, including approval of the names of all participants, and prohibited virtual events related to security matters. The academic community, including the country’s two largest science academies representing 1,500 scientists, protested and requested the elimination of these regulations. In February the government withdrew the guidelines and left in place a 2008 rule that only concerned in-person conferences.

In July, Madhya Pradesh police warned the administration of Dr. Harisingh Gour University of possible action based on the national penal code “if religious and caste sentiments are hurt” during an international webinar titled Culture and Linguistic Hurdles in the Achievement of Scientific Temper. The police warning was prompted by a complaint from the Akhil Bharatiya Vidyarthi Parishad, which objected to the topic as well as past statements and “antinational mentality” of the academic participants.

b. Freedoms of Peaceful Assembly and Association

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

Freedom of Peaceful Assembly

The law provides for freedom of assembly. Authorities often required permits and notification before parades or demonstrations, and local governments generally respected the right to protest peacefully. Jammu and Kashmir was an exception, where the state government sometimes denied permits to separatist political parties for public gatherings, and security forces reportedly detained and assaulted members of political groups engaged in peaceful protest (see section 1.g.). During periods of civil unrest in Jammu and Kashmir, authorities used the law to ban public assemblies and impose curfews.

Freedom of Association

The law provides for freedom of association. While the government generally respected this right, the government’s increased monitoring and regulation of NGOs that received foreign funding caused concern. In certain cases the government suspended foreign banking licenses or froze accounts of NGOs that allegedly received foreign funding without authorization or that unlawfully mixed foreign and domestic funding. In other instances the government canceled or declined to renew Foreign Contribution (Regulation) Act (FCRA) registrations.

In September 2020 parliament passed amendments to the FCRA that placed additional limitations on the international funding of nongovernmental organizations. Financial consultants and NGO leaders believed the new legislation would severely restrict the ability of smaller, regional organizations to raise funds and diminish collaboration between the government and civil society.

Some NGOs reported an increase in random FCRA compliance inspections by Ministry of Home Affairs officials. FCRA licenses were also reportedly canceled periodically based on confidential investigations by the Intelligence Bureau.

Some NGOs stated they were targeted as a reprisal for their work on “politically sensitive” topics such as human rights or environmental activism. In September 2020 Amnesty International India (AII) closed its offices after a two-year FCRA investigation charged the organization with financial irregularities resulting in the suspension of its local bank accounts. In February the Enforcement Directorate froze access to AII assets worth more than 170 million rupees ($2.3 million) as part of a money-laundering investigation.

On March 31, the National Investigation Agency conducted searches of suspected terrorist organizations at 31 locations across Andhra Pradesh and Telangana. The Human Rights Forum described the searches as intimidation intended to stifle lawful protest, while a representative of the People’s Union for Civil Liberties alleged that human rights activists were being deliberately targeted and silenced by this law enforcement action.

On June 7, the government temporarily suspended the FCRA license of Commonwealth Human Rights Initiative (CHRI) for alleged violations. CHRI lawyers believe the enforcement action was taken as retribution for CHRI’s human rights work. Subsequently, the Delhi High Court allowed the human rights organization access up to 25 percent of the impounded funds to pay staff salaries.

On September 16, Enforcement Directorate officials raided the home and office of human rights activist Harsh Mander. Authorities alleged Mander violated provisions of the FCRA. Human Rights Watch claimed authorities repeatedly targeted Mander, who has criticized the government’s “discriminatory policies against religious minorities.” On September 29, more than 30 activists and intellectuals released a statement condemning the raids as a tactic to harass and intimidate Mander.

c. Freedom of Religion

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

d. Freedom of Movement and the Right to Leave the Country

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

In-country Movement: The central government relaxed restrictions on travel by foreigners to Arunachal Pradesh, Nagaland, Mizoram, Manipur, and parts of Jammu and Kashmir, excluding foreign nationals from Pakistan, China, and Burma. The Ministry of Home Affairs and state governments required citizens to obtain special permits when traveling to certain states. Inner Line Permits are required in the states of Arunachal Pradesh, Nagaland, Mizoram, and Manipur.

Foreign Travel: The government may legally deny a passport to any applicant for engaging in activities outside the country “prejudicial to the sovereignty and integrity of the nation.”

The government delayed issuance and renewal of passports to citizens from Jammu and Kashmir, sometimes for up to two years. The government reportedly subjected applicants born in Jammu and Kashmir, including children born to military officers deployed there, to additional scrutiny and police clearances before issuing them passports.

Citizenship: In 2019 parliament passed the Citizenship Amendment Act, which provides an expedited path to citizenship for Hindu, Sikh, Buddhist, Jain, Parsi, and Christian religious minorities from Afghanistan, Bangladesh, and Pakistan. The act does not include Muslims from those countries and does not apply to the tribal areas of Assam and Tripura, most of Meghalaya, Mizoram, Manipur, Nagaland, Arunachal Pradesh, or Tripura. Following passage of the act, widespread protests against its passage and the exclusion of Muslims from the statute occurred throughout the country, leading to arrests, targeted communications shutdowns, bans on assembly, and deaths in a few instances.

On July 27, the minister of state for home affairs notified parliament that the government required additional time to further develop and notify the rules for the CAA, effectively meaning that the law was not in effect during the year.

Approximately 1.9 million residents of the state of Assam, which borders Bangladesh, were left off the Supreme Court-mandated National Register of Citizens (NRC) register in Assam. The government established procedures for appeals. The nationality status of those excluded remained unclear, pending the adjudication of appeals. On May 13, Assam’s NRC authorities requested Supreme Court permission for a reverification of the NRC list.

e. Status and Treatment of Internally Displaced Persons

Settlements of internally displaced persons (IDPs) existed throughout the country. In 2020 approximately 3,900 persons were displaced because of conflicts and violence, while natural disasters displaced almost four million persons.

Precise numbers of those displaced by conflict or violence were difficult to obtain because the government does not monitor the movements of displaced persons, and humanitarian and human rights agencies had limited access to camps and affected regions. While authorities registered residents of IDP camps, an unknown number of displaced persons resided outside the camps. Many IDPs lacked sufficient food, clean water, shelter, and health care (see section 1.g., Other Conflict-related Abuse).

National policy or legislation did not address the matter of internal displacement resulting from armed conflict or from ethnic or communal violence. The welfare of IDPs was generally the purview of state governments and local authorities, allowing for gaps in services and poor accountability. The central government provided limited assistance to IDPs but allowed NGOs and human rights organizations access to IDPs; neither access nor assistance was standard for all IDPs or all situations.

On April 20, nearly 400 families of Mizoram’s Bru tribe left a temporary camp and relocated to permanent homes. Since 1997, nearly 37,000 Brus have lived in six relief camps after they fled Mizoram’s Mamit, Kolasib, and Lunglei Districts. In 2020 the central government, along with the state governments of Tripura and Mizoram, signed an agreement with the leaders of the Mizoram Bru Displaced People’s Forum that allowed Brus to settle permanently in Tripura.

f. Protection of Refugees

The government generally cooperated with the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) and other humanitarian organizations in providing minimal protection and assistance to refugees, returning refugees, or asylum seekers, as well as other persons of concern. While UNHCR does not have an official agreement with the government, it is able to assist asylum seekers and refugees from noncontiguous countries. UNHCR did not have direct access to newly arriving refugees on the country’s border with Burma or protracted Sri Lankan refugees in Tamil Nadu.

The country hosted a large refugee population, including more than 73,404 Tibetan refugees, per the latest census conducted by Central Tibetan Relief Committee. More than 92,000 refugees from Sri Lanka lived in the country as of July 1. In February, Burmese nationals fleeing violence in Burma began arriving in Mizoram, Manipur, and Nagaland states. The estimated number of Burmese refugees varied widely from approximately 5,000 to 20,000. A protection working group consisting of civil society and humanitarian organizations provides basic humanitarian assistance to this population.

UNHCR reported 736 Afghans registered for protection between August 1 and September 30, and it established a telephone helpline to answer queries from this population. The Ministry of Home Affairs announced an emergency e-visa for Afghan nationals seeking emergency entry into India on August 17 after the collapse of the previous Afghan government. On September 5, a Ministry of Home Affairs official stated that no Afghan national would be required to leave the country without prior approval of the Home Ministry.

The courts protected refugees and asylum seekers in accordance with the constitution. The Supreme Court, however, issued an order allowing the deportation of a group of Rohingya on April 8. The group of more than 150 Rohingya were detained on March 6 for illegally residing in Jammu and Kashmir. The government argued Rohingya were illegal migrants who had crossed the border. They enjoyed equal protection of law, but their right to movement was restricted.

In many cases refugees and asylum seekers under UNHCR’s mandate reported increased obstacles to regularizing their status through long-term visas and residence permits.

Access to Asylum: The law does not provide for the granting of asylum or refugee status, and the government has not established a system for providing protection to refugees. Absent a legal framework, the government sometimes granted asylum on a situational basis on humanitarian grounds in accordance with international law. This approach resulted in varying standards of protection for different refugee and asylum-seeker groups. The government recognized refugees from Tibet and Sri Lanka and generally honored UNHCR decisions on refugee status determination for individuals from other countries.

UNHCR maintained an office in New Delhi, where it registered refugees and asylum seekers, made refugee status determinations, and provided some services. The government permitted UNHCR and its partner staff access to refugees in other urban centers and allowed it to operate in Tamil Nadu to assist with Sri Lankan refugee repatriation. Access to some refugees or asylum seekers in detention was granted.

The government generally permitted NGOs, international humanitarian organizations, and foreign governments access to Sri Lankan refugee camps and Tibetan settlements, but it generally denied access to asylum seekers in Mizoram, Manipur, and Jammu and Kashmir. The government denied requests for some foreigners to visit Tibetan settlements in Ladakh.

After the end of the Sri Lankan civil war, the government ceased registering Sri Lankans as refugees. The Tamil Nadu government cooperated with UNHCR by providing exit permission for Sri Lankan refugees to repatriate voluntarily; however, UNHCR did not have access to Sri Lankan refugees who remained in Tamil Nadu.

Excluding Tibetan and Sri Lankan refugees, 43,157 persons of concern were registered by UNHCR as of the end of August.

Refoulement: The government advocated for the return of refugees to Burma. According to UNHCR, at least 26 non-Rohingya refugees (of an estimated 40,000) have been deported since late 2016.

On April 2, Assam police took a 14-year-old Rohingya girl from a shelter home to the international border in Manipur for deportation to Burma. Burmese immigration officials reportedly refused to accept the girl, and police returned the girl to the shelter home.

On May 3, the High Court of Manipur granted seven Burmese nationals who illegally entered the country permission to approach the UNHCR office in New Delhi. The High Court interpreted Article 21 of the constitution as protecting the principle of nonrefoulement.

On August 9, the minister of state for defense informed parliament that 8,486 Burmese refugees entered the country after the military coup in February. The minister noted that 5,796 refugees were “pushed back” into Burma while 2,690 remained in the country.

Abuse of Migrants and Refugees: The law does not contain the term “refugee,” treating refugees as any other foreigner. Undocumented physical presence in the country is a criminal offense. Persons without documentation were vulnerable to detention, forced returns, and abuse. The country historically treated persons as refugees based on the merits and circumstances of the cases.

Refugees reported exploitation by nongovernment actors, including assaults, gender-based violence, fraud, and labor and sex trafficking. Most urban refugees worked in the informal sector or in occupations such as street vending, where they suffered from police extortion, nonpayment of wages, and exploitation.

NGOs claimed law enforcement officials harassed and intimidated Rohingya refugees, including by confiscating UNHCR-issued refugee cards and government identification documents. NGOs also alleged Delhi police handcuffed, physically abused, and covered refugees’ heads with hoods while detaining them for routine questioning.

UNHCR continued to advocate for the release of detained refugees, for asylum seekers to freely move within the country and have their claims assessed, and for refugees to benefit from protection in the state where they arrived, and which has jurisdiction over them.

Freedom of Movement: UNHCR registered 43,157 refugees and asylum seekers as of August 31. This included 23,518 persons from Burma. On August 10, the minister of state for home affairs told the lower house of parliament the government did not have accurate data on the number of illegal migrants in the country and responded to questions from parliamentarians that there were reports of Rohingya migrants committing illegal activities.

The country hosted more than 92,000 Sri Lankan Tamil refugees. In August, 29 Sri Lankan Tamil refugees attempted suicide in two separate incidents at a detention camp in Tamil Nadu. Media reports stated nearly 80 Sri Lankan Tamils conducted a protest for weeks demanding their release and alleging false detention. The refugees were reportedly dissatisfied after meeting Tamil Nadu government officials in May who determined that their release would be delayed. Tamil Nadu has 107 refugee camps across the state, including one detention camp for refugees with criminal records.

Employment: Most UNHCR-registered refugees found employment in the informal sector. Some refugees reported discrimination by employers and landlords. According to UNHCR, obtaining formal employment was difficult for refugees because they did not possess government-issued documents such as long-term visas, which the government stopped issuing to refugees in 2017.

Access to Basic Services: Refugees and asylum seekers had access to housing, primary and secondary education, and health care. In cases where refugees were denied access, it was often due to a lack of knowledge of refugee rights by the service provider. In many cases UNHCR or its partners were able to intervene successfully and advocate for refugee access.

For asylum seekers UNHCR provided a letter upon registration indicating the person was being considered for UNHCR refugee status.

Sri Lankan refugees were permitted to work in Tamil Nadu. Police, however, reportedly summoned refugees back into the camps on short notice, particularly during elections and required refugees or asylum seekers to remain in the camps for several days.

On August 27, Tamil Nadu chief minister M.K. Stalin announced a special welfare package of 3.17 billion rupees ($42 million) for Sri Lankan Tamil refugees living in Tamil Nadu. The assistance will support refugee housing, cooking gas subsidies, and education allowances for refugee children. This allocation followed the disbursement of 4,000 rupees ($53) per Sri Lankan refugee family earlier in the year.

Government services, such as mother and child health programs, were available. According to a factsheet published by UNHCR in June, 6,561 refugees and asylum seekers were vaccinated against COVID-19 across the country during the year.

Refugees were able to request protection from police and courts as needed.

Durable Solutions: The government did not accept refugees for resettlement from other countries.

According to UNHCR an April 2020 moratorium on the repatriation of Sri Lankans remained in effect since the COVID-19 pandemic forced the suspension of commercial flight operations. A ferry project jointly proposed by the government and the government of Sri Lanka for the repatriation of refugees remained on hold. Departures for voluntary repatriation, third country resettlement, and complementary pathways continued.

g. Stateless Persons

By law parents confer citizenship, and birth in the country does not automatically result in citizenship. Any person born in the country on or after January 26, 1950, but before July 1, 1987, obtained citizenship by birth. A child born in the country on or after July 1, 1987, obtained citizenship if either parent was a citizen at the time of the child’s birth. Authorities consider those born in the country on or after December 3, 2004, citizens only if at least one parent was a citizen and the other was not illegally present in the country at the time of the child’s birth. Authorities considered persons born outside the country on or after December 10, 1992, citizens if either parent was a citizen at the time of birth, but authorities do not consider those born outside the country after December 3, 2004, citizens unless their birth was registered at a consulate within one year of the date of birth. Authorities may also confer citizenship through registration in specific categories and via naturalization after residing in the country for 12 years.

Children born in Sri Lankan refugee camps received birth certificates. While these certificates alone do not entitle refugees to citizenship, refugees may present birth certificates to the Sri Lankan High Commission to obtain a consular birth certificate, which entitles them to pursue Sri Lankan citizenship.

Section 3. Freedom to Participate in the Political Process

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

Elections and Political Participation

Recent Elections: The Election Commission is an independent constitutional body responsible for administering all elections at the central and state level throughout the country. In May 2019 voters re-elected the BJP-led National Democratic Alliance in the country’s general elections, which involved more than 600 million eligible voters. During the year state assembly elections took place in Tamil Nadu, Kerala, Puducherry, West Bengal, and Assam. Observers considered these elections free and fair.

Political Parties and Political Participation: The constitution provides for universal voting rights for all citizens 18 and older. There are no restrictions placed on the formation of political parties or on individuals of any community from participating in the election process. The election law bans the use of government resources for political campaigning, and the Election Commission effectively enforced the law. The commission’s guidelines ban opinion polls 48 hours prior to an election and exit poll results may not be released until completion of the last phase (in a multiphase election).

Participation of Women and Members of Minority Groups: No laws limit participation of women or members of minority groups in the political process, and they freely participated. The law reserves one-third of the seats in local councils for women. Religious, cultural, and traditional practices prevented women from proportional participation in political office. Nonetheless, women held many high-level political offices, including two positions as cabinet ministers. This represented a decline from the first Modi government when nine women served in the cabinet. The 2019 general election resulted in 78 women elected to the lower house of parliament, compared with 66 in the 2014 general election. The sole female chief minister leads West Bengal.

The constitution stipulates that, to protect historically marginalized groups and provide for representation in the lower house of parliament, each state must reserve seats for Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes in proportion to their population in the state. Only candidates belonging to these groups may contest elections in reserved constituencies. Members of minority populations had previously served or currently served as prime minister, president, vice president, cabinet ministers, Supreme Court justices, members of parliament, and state chief ministers.

Section 4. Corruption and Lack of Transparency in Government

The law provides criminal penalties for corruption by officials at all levels of government. Officials frequently engaged in corrupt practices with impunity. There were numerous reports of government corruption during the year.

Corruption: Corruption was present at multiple levels of government. In June the country’s anticorruption ombudsman reported it had received 110 corruption complaints, including four against members of parliament, during the year.

NGOs reported the payment of bribes to expedite services, such as police protection, school admission, water supply, and government assistance. Civil society organizations drew public attention to corruption throughout the year, including through demonstrations and websites that featured stories of corruption.

Section 5. Governmental Posture Towards International and Nongovernmental Investigation of Alleged Abuses of Human Rights

Most domestic and international human rights groups generally operated without government restriction, investigating and publishing their findings on human rights cases. In some circumstances groups faced restrictions (see section 2.b., Freedom of Association). There were reportedly more than three million NGOs in the country, but definitive numbers were not available. The government generally met with domestic NGOs, responded to their inquiries, and acted in response to their reports or recommendations.

The NHRC worked cooperatively with numerous NGOs, and several NHRC committees had NGO representation. Some human rights monitors in Jammu and Kashmir were able to document human rights violations, but periodically security forces, police, and other law enforcement authorities reportedly restrained or harassed them. Representatives of certain international human rights NGOs sometimes faced difficulties obtaining visas and reported that occasional official harassment and restrictions limited their public distribution of materials.

The United Nations or Other International Bodies: The United Nations had limited access to Jammu and Kashmir and the northeastern states. In September UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Michelle Bachelet raised concerns regarding restrictions on public assembly, internet shutdowns, and the use of UAPA charges in the country.

Government Human Rights Bodies: The NHRC is an independent and impartial investigatory and advisory body established by the central government, with a dual mandate to investigate and remedy instances of human rights violations and to promote public awareness of human rights. It is directly accountable to parliament but works in close coordination with the Ministry of Home Affairs and the Ministry of Law and Justice. It has a mandate to address official violations of human rights or negligence in the prevention of violations, intervene in judicial proceedings involving allegations of human rights violations, and review any factors (including acts of terrorism) that infringe on human rights. The law authorizes the NHRC to issue summonses and compel testimony, produce documentation, and requisition public records. The NHRC also recommends appropriate remedies for abuses in the form of compensation to the victims of government killings or their families.

The NHRC has neither the authority to enforce the implementation of its recommendations nor the power to address allegations against military and paramilitary personnel. Human rights groups claimed these limitations hampered the work of the NHRC. Some human rights NGOs criticized the NHRC dependence on the government funding and its policy of not conducting investigations that last more than one year. Some claimed the NHRC did not register all complaints, dismissed cases arbitrarily, rerouted complaints back to the alleged violator, and did not adequately protect complainants.

Of 28 states, 24 have human rights commissions, which operated independently under the auspices of the NHRC. Some human rights groups alleged local politics influenced state committees, which they claimed were less likely to offer fair judgments than the NHRC. The Human Rights Law Network observed most state committees had few or no minority, civil society, or female representatives. The group claimed the committees were ineffective and at times hostile toward victims, hampered by political appointments, understaffed, and underfunded.

The government closed the Jammu and Kashmir Human Rights Commission in 2019 and ordered the NHRC to oversee human rights violations in Jammu and Kashmir. The NHRC has jurisdiction over all human rights violations, except in certain cases involving the military. The NHRC has authority to investigate cases of human rights violations committed by the Ministry of Home Affairs and paramilitary forces operating under the AFSPA in the northeast states.

Section 6. Discrimination and Societal Abuses

Women

Rape and Domestic Violence: The law criminalizes rape in most cases, but marital rape is not illegal when the woman is older than 15. According to legal experts, the law does not criminalize rape of adult men. Rape of minors is covered by the gender-neutral Protection of Children from Sexual Offenses Act (POCSO). Official statistics reported rape as one of the country’s fastest-growing crimes, prompted at least in part by the increasing willingness of survivors to report rapes, but observers believed the number of rapes remained vastly underreported.

Law enforcement and legal recourse for rape survivors were inadequate, and the judicial system was unable to address the problem effectively.  Police sometimes worked to reconcile rape survivors and their attackers.  In some cases they encouraged female rape survivors to marry their attackers.

The NGO International Center for Research on Women noted low conviction rates in rape cases was one of the main reasons sexual violence continued unabated and at times unreported. NGOs observed the length of trials, lack of victim support, and inadequate protection of witnesses and survivors remained major concerns and were more pronounced during the COVID-19 pandemic. The government sought to expedite cases involving women by setting up more than a thousand fast-track special courts to handle pending rape cases. In addition, several high courts have also directed state governments to establish more fast-track courts to promptly dispose of pending rape cases.

Civil society organizations provided awareness and survivor-centered, nonstigmatizing, confidential and free care to victims of violence and facilitate referrals to tertiary care, social welfare, and legal services. Some also provided short-term shelter for women and child survivors of rape. These services were intended to encourage women and children to come forward and report cases.

Additionally, the central government implemented interventions to improve the safety and security of women while reporting violence. This includes centers for reporting and accessing health support, women help desks at police stations to facilitate reporting, emergency response support system via a mobile application for reporting emergencies, and training programs for police, prosecutors, medical officers, and the judiciary to respond to victims in compassionate and respectful ways.

Rape continued to be a persistent problem, including gang rape, rape of minors, rape against lower-caste women or women from religious and nonreligious minority communities by upper-caste men, and rape by government officials.

The minimum mandatory punishment for rape is 10 years’ imprisonment. The minimum sentence for the rape of a girl younger than age 16 is between 20 years’ and life imprisonment; the minimum sentence of gang rape of a girl younger than 12 is either life imprisonment or the death penalty. The Investigation Tracking System for Sexual Offenses monitors sexual assault investigations. According to latest government data, 77 cases of rape per day were reported across the country in 2020.

On April 7, a 24-year-old Delhi woman was gang raped by five men in Gurugram, Haryana. The woman was raped repeatedly and left near Farrukhnagar, Haryana. To date, no suspects have been arrested.

On June 11, two minor tribal girls in Assam’s Kokrajhar District were found hanging from a tree after they were raped and killed. Police arrested seven suspects.

On August 1, a nine-year-old Dalit girl was allegedly raped, suffocated to death, and her body cremated in New Delhi. Police arrested and charged four suspects, two of whom admitted to raping her because she was a Dalit.

Women in areas such as in Jammu and Kashmir, northeastern states, Jharkhand, and Chhattisgarh, as well as vulnerable Dalit or tribal women, were often victims of rape or threats of rape. National crime statistics indicated Dalit women were disproportionately victimized. Domestic violence continued to be a problem. The COVID-19 pandemic and lockdown led to increased instances of domestic violence. Women and children were more vulnerable due to loss of livelihood of the perpetrator and the family being forced to remain indoors, where victims were locked in with their abusers with limited means to escape or access to resources.

Local authorities made efforts to address the safety of women. The NCRB’s 2021 Crime in India report revealed that overall crime against women fell by 8 percent from 405,326 cases in 2019 to 371,503 cases in 2020. West Bengal and Odisha reported the highest increase in crimes against women while Uttar Pradesh recorded a 17 percent decline in registered cases. Madhya Pradesh reported the largest number of domestic violence cases while Rajasthan reported the highest number of rapes.

Female Genital Mutilation/Cutting (FGM/C): No national law addresses the practice of FGM/C. According to human rights groups and media reports, between 70 and 90 percent of Dawoodi Bohras, a population of approximately one million persons concentrated in the states of Maharashtra, Gujarat, Rajasthan, and Delhi, practiced FGM/C.

Other Harmful Traditional Practices: The law forbids the acceptance of marriage dowries, but many families continued to offer and accept dowries, and dowry disputes remained a serious problem. NCRB data showed a total of 7,045 dowry-related deaths in 2020 as compared with 7,141 in 2019. The highest number of cases were registered in Uttar Pradesh with 2,302 victims. Most states employed dowry prohibition officers. A 2010 Supreme Court ruling mandates all trial courts to charge defendants in dowry death cases with murder.

Acid attacks against men and women continued to cause death and permanent disfigurement. On April 16, a man from Patiala threw acid on his wife for not giving birth to a son. The woman sustained burns on nearly 58 percent of her body in the acid attack. Police charged the man with attempted murder and voluntarily causing grievous hurt.

On May 21, a woman contracted to have acid thrown on her boyfriend after he rejected her marriage proposal. Police arrested the perpetrator.

So-called honor killings remained a problem, especially in Punjab, Uttar Pradesh, and Haryana; they were usually attributable to the victim marrying against his or her family’s wishes.

In August, Gwalior police in Madhya Pradesh arrested the father and brother of a 22-year-old woman found hanging at her home after a reported “honor killing.” Police also charged the woman’s uncle and two cousins with murder, as the family had opposed her choice to marry outside of her community.

Andhra Pradesh police registered a case of suspicious death as murder in response to a complaint that the parents of an 18-year-old girl allegedly killed and cremated her when she refused to end her relationship with a man of another caste.

The Telangana High Court questioned police statistics that reported only four “honor killings” and three cases of assault on individuals who married outside of their caste in the preceding four years in the state. A social activist filed a petition alleging 36 “honor killings” took place in the state in recent years.

There were reports women and girls in the devadasi system of symbolic marriages to Hindu deities (a form of so-called ritual prostitution) were victims of rape or sexual abuse at the hands of priests and temple patrons, including sex trafficking. This practice was found in Karnataka, Maharashtra, Andhra Pradesh, and Tamil Nadu, and almost always targeted girls from Scheduled Caste and Scheduled Tribe communities. NGOs suggested families exploited some girls from lower castes to mitigate household financial burdens and the prospect of marriage dowries. The practice deprived girls of their education and reproductive rights and subjected them to stigma and discrimination.

Tamil Nadu, Andhra Pradesh, Karnataka, and Maharashtra have legislation that prohibits the devadasi system and provides rehabilitation services to women and girls affected by the practice. Enforcement of these laws remained lax.

In February police rescued a 19-year-old girl from Karnataka after she alerted them to her parents’ plan to force her into the devadasi system. Officials noted the victim’s mother was a former devadasi and insisted her daughter join the practice.

No federal law addresses accusations of witchcraft; however, authorities may use other legal provisions as an alternative for an individual accused of witchcraft. The NCRB reported 88 deaths with witchcraft listed as the motive in 2020. Madhya Pradesh registered 17 cases of murder against those accused of witchcraft. Bihar, Odisha, Chhattisgarh, Rajasthan, Assam, and Jharkhand have laws criminalizing accusing others of witchcraft.

On March 9, a woman’s dismembered body was found buried in Jharkhand. According to police, villagers suspected the woman of practicing witchcraft.

On May 25, a group of villagers in Assam’s Baksa District beat a 50-year-old tribal man to death. Police suspected a case of witch hunting and detained five persons.

Sexual Harassment: Sexual harassment remained a serious problem. Authorities required all state departments and institutions with more than 50 employees to operate committees to prevent and address sexual harassment, often referred to as “eve teasing.” By law sexual harassment includes one or more unwelcome acts or behavior, such as physical contact, a request for sexual favors, making sexually suggestive remarks, or showing pornography.

Reproductive Rights: There were reports of coerced and involuntary sterilization. The government promoted female sterilization as a form of family planning for decades. Some women, especially poor and lower-caste women, reportedly were pressured by their husbands and families to have tubal ligations or hysterectomies. The government provided monetary compensation for the wage loss, transportation costs, drugs and dressing, and follow-up visits to women accepting contraceptive methods, including voluntary sterilization. There were no formal restrictions on access to other forms of family planning; however, despite recent efforts to expand the range of contraceptive choices, voluntary sterilization remained the preferred method due to the costs and limited availability of alternative contraceptive choices.

Policies and guidelines that penalized families with more than two children were not widely enforced but remained in place in various states. Certain states continued to maintain quotas for government jobs and subsidies for adults with no more than two children. For example, Assam linked a two-child norm to accessing state government benefits and running for certain offices.

Many states promoted female sterilization as a family planning method, which resulted in risky, substandard procedures and limited access to nonpermanent methods. The central government does not have the authority to regulate state public health policies. Some women, particularly poor and lower-caste women, were reportedly pressured to have tubal ligations, hysterectomies, or other forms of sterilization.

The government recognized the role of health-care professionals in treating survivors of sexual violence and implemented protocols that meet international standards for such medical care. Government directives instruct health facilities to ensure survivors of all forms of sexual violence receive immediate access to health care services, including emergency contraception, police protection, emergency shelter, forensic services, and referrals for legal aid and other services. Implementation of the guidelines was uneven, however, due to limited resources and social stigma.

In February the Ministry of Health and Family Welfare released the Sample Registration Report for Maternal Mortality Rates between 2016 and 2018, which estimated that the maternal mortality ratio declined to 113 deaths per 100,000 live births in 2016-18, compared with 130 such deaths per 100,000 live births in 2014-16. The report indicated Assam’s maternal mortality rate, at 215 per 100,000 live births, was the highest in the country, while Kerala recorded the lowest maternal mortality ratio at 43 per 100,000 live births.

Care received by women, especially those from marginalized and low-income groups, at public health facilities was often inadequate, contributing to a reluctance to seek treatment. Government initiatives resulted in a significant increase in institutional births, but there were reports that health facilities continued to be overburdened, underequipped, and undersupplied.

Policies penalizing families with more than two children remained in place in seven states, but some authorities did not enforce them. There were reports these policies created pressure on women with more than two children to use contraception, including permanent methods such as sterilization, or even termination of subsequent pregnancies.

To counter sex selection, almost all states introduced “girl child promotion” plans to promote the education and well-being of girls; some plans required a certificate of sterilization for the parents to collect benefits.

Discrimination: The law prohibits discrimination in the workplace and requires equal pay for equal work, but employers reportedly often paid women less than men for the same job, discriminated against women in employment and credit applications, and promoted women less frequently than men. The government did not effectively enforce discrimination laws.

Many tribal land systems, including in Bihar, deny tribal women the right to own land. Other laws or customs relating to the ownership of assets and land accord women little control over land use, retention, or sale.

Gender-biased Sex Selection: The law bans sex determination tests, the use of all technologies for the purpose of selecting a fetus’s gender, and sex-based abortions; however, NGOs claimed the practice of abortion based on sex was widely practiced across the country despite government efforts to enforce the legislation. This resulted in a sex ratio of 889 females per 1,000 males (or 112 males per 100 females) per the 2011 census.

States implement “girl child promotion” programs to counter prenatal sex selection. In 2015 the national government launched the Beti Bachao Beti Padhao program to arrest the decline in the child sex ratio. According to government data, the sex ratio at birth improved from 918 girls per 1,000 boys in 2014-15 (109 boys per 100 girls) to 934 girls per 1,000 boys in 2019-20 (107 boys per 100 girls).

According to media reports, fear of giving birth to a girl child drove some women toward sex-selective abortion or attempts to sell baby girls.

Systemic Racial or Ethnic Violence and Discrimination

The constitution prohibits discrimination against any citizen on the grounds of religion, race, caste, or place of birth. The registration of castes and tribes continued for the purpose of affirmative action programs, as the federal and state governments continued to implement programs for members of lower-caste groups to provide better quality housing, quotas in schools, government jobs, and access to subsidized foods. Critics claimed many of the programs to assist the lower castes suffered from poor implementation, corruption, or both.

The term Dalit, derived from Sanskrit for “oppressed” or “crushed,” refers to members of what society regarded as the lowest of the Scheduled Castes. According to the 2011 census, Scheduled Caste members constituted 17 percent of the population (approximately 200 million persons). The NCRB reported 50,291 crimes against Scheduled Castes in 2020 – an increase of 9.4 percent from 2019. Crimes committed against Dalits reportedly often went unpunished, either because authorities failed to prosecute perpetrators or because victims did not report crimes due to fear of retaliation.

Discrimination based on caste remained prevalent, particularly in rural areas. In August Haridwar police arrested two suspects for using caste-based slurs against Indian hockey player Vandana Katariya. The suspects were charged with insult with intent to provoke breach of the peace and violation of the Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes Act.

The law protects Dalits, but there were numerous reports of violence and significant discrimination in access to services, such as health care, education, access to justice, freedom of movement, access to institutions (such as temples), and marriage. Many Dalits were malnourished. Most bonded laborers were Dalits, and those who asserted their rights were often victims of attacks, especially in rural areas. As agricultural laborers for higher-caste landowners, Dalits reportedly often worked without pay.

NGOs reported Dalit students were sometimes denied admission to certain schools because of their caste, required to present caste certification prior to admission, barred from morning prayers, asked to sit in the back of the class, or forced to clean school toilets while being denied access to the same facilities. There were also reports some teachers refused to correct the homework of Dalit children, refused to provide midday meals to Dalit children, and asked Dalit children to sit separately from children of upper-caste families.

In September an Uttar Pradesh school principal was suspended and a police report filed for using caste-based slurs and discriminating against Dalit children.

On February 2, the minister for social justice and empowerment told parliament that Uttar Pradesh reported the highest number of deaths of persons who died while cleaning sewers and septic tanks, work often performed by Dalits, between 2016 to December 2020. While Uttar Pradesh recorded 52 deaths, Tamil Nadu registered 43 deaths. Most manual-scavenging accidents occurred due to asphyxiation and exposure to poisonous gases when workers were inside the sewer systems and septic tanks. NGOs estimated the number of deaths was underreported.

On September 8, the Madras High Court directed the heads of corporations and municipalities in Tamil Nadu to submit a written report that no manual-scavenging work would be permitted in their jurisdiction. The court had previously indicated the heads of corporations and municipalities would be held personally liable for any manual-scavenging activity or mishap occurring in their jurisdiction. The court also recommended the state government obtain appropriate machinery and improve sewer lines to eliminate manual scavenging in the state.

Indigenous Peoples

The constitution provides for the social, economic, and political rights of disadvantaged groups of indigenous persons. The law provides special status for indigenous individuals, but authorities often denied their rights in practice.

In most of the northeastern states, where indigenous groups constituted most of the states’ populations, the law provides for tribal rights, but some local authorities disregarded these provisions. The law prohibits any nontribal person, including citizens from other states, from crossing a government-established inner boundary without a valid permit. No one may remove rubber, wax, ivory, or other forest products from protected areas without authorization. Tribal authorities must also approve the sale of land to nontribal persons.

Tribal leaders in Telangana accused the state government of impinging on the forest rights of tribal communities. Farmers contended the state forest department destroyed their crops without prior notice and attempted to forcibly remove them from their land. On August 6, police arrested 23 tribal farmers for attempted murder when tribal members “forcefully tried to recover farmland that the villagers have been cultivating for decades.” Tribal leaders criticized the arrests as “persecution” for defending their rights.

On August 26, a tribal man from Madhya Pradesh died after several persons tied him to a van and dragged him on the road following a minor traffic dispute. Madhya Pradesh police identified and arrested five of the eight accused after a video of the incident was disseminated widely on social media.

Children

According to a Lancet report, more than 100,000 children lost either one or both parents during the COVID-19 pandemic. The National Commission for Protection of Child Rights (NCPCR) filed a Supreme Court affidavit reporting 8,161 children were orphaned, 92,475 children lost one parent, and 396 were abandoned between April 2020 and August.

After the NCPCR raised concerns regarding complaints of illegal adoption of children orphaned by COVID-19, the Supreme Court directed states to take stringent measures against illegal adoptions and to increase publicity of the laws and regulations.

Birth Registration: The law establishes state government procedures for birth registration. Analysis of government data from 2015-16 noted approximately 62 percent of children younger than five had their births registered and their parent or parents received a birth certificate.

Children lacking citizenship or registration may not be able to access public services, enroll in school, or obtain identification documents later in life.

Education: The constitution provides for free education for all children from ages six to 14, with a compulsory education age through age 15, but the government did not always comply with this requirement. Since the minimum age for work is lower than the compulsory education age, children may be encouraged to leave school before the completion of compulsory education.

The COVID-19 pandemic affected children’s right to education and nutrition. A UNICEF India report found that during the pandemic 1.5 million schools were closed, which affected 247 million children enrolled in elementary and secondary schools. Socioeconomic inequality and lack of resources, including internet and technological devices as well as limited access to electricity, resulted in less educational opportunities for some children. The report projected that 8 percent of all children may not return to school. To reduce the risk of children dropping out, the Supreme Court ordered private schools to waive fees and for the state to pay fees to ensure children remain enrolled.

According to UNICEF, more than 60 percent of secondary school-age children with disabilities did not attend school. Additionally, children with disabilities faced additional challenges with online education.

Since the minimum age for work is lower than the compulsory education age, children may be encouraged to leave school before the completion of compulsory education.

Child Abuse: The law prohibits child abuse, but it does not recognize physical abuse by caregivers, neglect, or psychological abuse as punishable offenses.

The India Child Protection Fund reported increased incidences of cyber or sexual abuse involving children. With children spending more time indoors and online during the COVID-19 pandemic, often without supervision, the report expressed concern that children were more vulnerable to online sexual predators.

A Karnataka Commission for the Protection of Child Rights study, released in July, concluded that physical, online, and mental abuse against children sharply increased during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Child, Early, and Forced Marriage: The law sets the legal age of marriage for women at 18 and men at 21, and it empowers courts to annul early and forced marriages. The law does not characterize a marriage between a girl younger than 18 and a boy younger than 21 as illegal but recognizes such unions as voidable. The law also sets penalties for persons who perform, arrange, or participate in child marriages. Authorities did not consistently enforce the law nor address the practice of rape survivors being forced into marriage.

In 2020 the government constituted a task force to review the increase of the minimum permissible age for marriage of girls from 18 to 21 years. Critics believed the proposal did not address the core concerns regarding child marriage, such as extreme poverty and lack of education.

The law establishes a full-time child marriage prohibition officer in every state to prevent child marriage. These individuals have the power to intervene when a child marriage is taking place, document violations of the law, file charges against parents, remove children from dangerous situations, and deliver them to local child protection authorities.

Financial distress, parental deaths, and school closures have put more girls at risk of child marriage. According to media reports, more than 500 cases of child marriage took place in West Bengal between March and June 2020 during the COVID-19 national lockdown. The NCRB reported 785 cases of child marriages were registered throughout the country in 2020, an increase of 50 percent from the previous year. Officials reported that in most cases underage girls were forced to marry because of their family’s loss of earnings and financial distress caused by the lockdown. According to a recent study, 65 percent of the child marriage cases were related to so-called romantic marriages, another 30 percent were arranged, and 5 percent were forced.

Sexual Exploitation of Children: The law prohibits child pornography and sets the legal age of consent at 18. It is illegal to pay for sex with a minor, to induce a minor into commercial sexual or any form of “illicit sexual intercourse,” or to sell or buy a minor for the purposes of commercial sex exploitation or child sex trafficking.  Violators are subject to 10 years’ imprisonment and a fine.

The law provides for at least one special court dedicated to sexual offenses against children (POCSO court) to be set up in each district, but implementation of this provision lagged.

NCRB data showed that the number of 16- to 18-year-old victims under the POCSO Act was higher than the number of child victims from all the other age groups. Some NGOs noted several adolescent boys entered the juvenile justice system having been charged with rape because of the changes in the law.

Media reports indicated that the COVID-19 pandemic resulted in a rise in cases filed under the POCSO Act. Data from Child Welfare Committees showed a 36.5 percent increase in the number of POCSO cases registered from January to July when compared with the number recorded for the same period in 2020. The rise in POCSO cases was attributed to increased time spent online which increased exposure to online traffickers.

On March 13, the Ministry of Women and Child Development published new rules to protect children from sexual offenses. The rules provide for immediate compensation, increased public awareness regarding services from the CHILDLINE India Foundation, and legal aid assistance. The rules advise state governments to enact a child protection policy to re-enforce the prohibition of violence against children. A new provision also directs immediate financial help to victims of child sexual abuse by the Child Welfare Committees. NGOs noted the procedure was not being implemented in a standardized fashion across jurisdictions.

In January the Bombay High Court ruled that groping a child is not considered sexual assault if there is no “skin-to-skin contact” or “sexual intent.” The National Commission for Women criticized the ruling and appealed to the Supreme Court. The Supreme Court reversed the Bombay’s High Court’s decision.

In a June 2020 ruling the Delhi High Court mandated notice to complainants in child assault cases to ensure their presence in every bail application filed by the accused in their case. This ensured the complainant is informed of the proceedings and has an opportunity to argue against bail. Other high courts were expected to follow suit. For instance, the Orissa High Court issued similar directions to the POCSO courts operating under its jurisdiction.

In June 2020 the Delhi High Court held that the POCSO Act does not prevent a victim from applying for monetary compensation more than once if their circumstances required. Court cases typically last for years, and a victim’s financial needs may grow as time passes.

There was a continued focus on providing speedy justice to victims of sexual abuse. A 2016 study by the NGO Counsel to Secure Justice highlighted many child sexual abuse cases were pending trial or delayed in trial. The government stated 49,000 pending cases related to rape and sexual offenses against children were addressed during the COVID-19 pandemic with the use of 1,023 fast-track courts. Critics alleged fast-track courts established for POCSO cases were often unable to function on a timely basis because of pandemic restrictions. As a remedy, the Supreme Court directed the states of Assam, West Bengal, and Rajasthan to initiate a pilot project to test videoconferencing facilities for recording testimony.

Displaced Children: Displaced children, including refugees, IDPs, and street children, faced restrictions on access to government services (see also section 2.d.).

Institutionalized Children: Lax law enforcement and a lack of safeguards encouraged an atmosphere of impunity in several group homes and orphanages.

A National Commission for Protection for Child Rights audit found that out of 7,163 childcare institutions in the country, as many as 2,039 or 28.5 percent were not registered with state governments as mandated by the Juvenile Justice Act, 2015. In several cases government-funded shelter homes continued to operate despite significant gaps in mandatory reporting and allegations of abuse.

In 2020 the Supreme Court directed state governments to improve the handling of the COVID-19 crisis among institutionalized children. States were asked to file detailed reports, and various guidelines were issued to different childcare institutions on how to deal with the pandemic-induced crisis. NCPCR stated more than 720 children in childcare institutions in 11 states and union territories contracted COVID-19 as of August, but no fatalities were reported.

In January 2020 the Supreme Court revised the Juvenile Justice (Care and Protection of Children) Act, 2015, to prevent children from being tried as adults. The Supreme Court ruled that children can be tried as an adult only for “heinous” crimes that have a minimum punishment of seven years. In view of this judgment, the Juvenile Justice Board may conduct a preliminary assessment into a child’s mental and physical capacity to decide whether the child should be tried as an adult.

Many children continued to stay in institutions. Children accused of committing crimes often did not appear before juvenile justice boards for up to a year, and in many cases, children were required to stay in institutions for extended periods of time.

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

Anti-Semitism

Jewish groups from the 4,650-member Jewish community cited no reports of anti-Semitic acts during the year.

Trafficking in Persons

See the Department of State’s Trafficking in Persons Report at www.state.gov/trafficking-in-persons-report.

Organ Harvesting

Buying and selling of human organs are prohibited by the Transplantation of Human Organs Act. Organs can be donated to close relatives as well as others in need of transplantation for medical reasons after proper authorization.

In July, Assam police arrested three persons for trading in human organs – mainly kidneys harvested from approximately 12 victims. Other reports indicated almost 30 individuals may have been victims. Reports suggested that pandemic-induced financial hardship led villagers to fall prey to those involved in the organ trade.

Persons with Disabilities

The constitution does not explicitly mention disability. The law provides equal rights for persons with a variety of disabilities, and a 2016 law increased the number of recognized disabilities, including persons with Parkinson’s disease and victims of acid attacks. The law requires the government to provide persons with disabilities with unrestricted free access to physical infrastructure and public transportation systems.

The law states the government should take necessary measures for persons with disabilities to provide barrier-free access in government, private hospitals, and healthcare institutions.

The law further states the government shall take measures to provide: (1) facilities for persons with disabilities at bus stops, railway stations, and airports conforming to the accessibility standards relating to parking spaces, toilets, ticketing counters, and ticketing machines; (2) access to all modes of transport that conform with design standards including retrofitting old modes of transport, wherever technically feasible and safe for persons with disabilities, economically viable and without entailing major structural changes in design; and (3) accessible roads to address mobility necessary for persons with disabilities.

According to the National Center for Promotion of Employment for Disabled People (NCPEDP), only 494 state government buildings in 15 states were accessible by persons with disabilities. The Central Public Works Department has made 1,030 central government buildings accessible, while 603 railway stations and 44,153 buses were partially accessible by persons with disabilities.

The law establishes quotas of 3 percent of all educational seats and 4 percent of government jobs for persons with disabilities. The government allocated funds to programs and NGOs to increase the number of jobs filled. In 2017 a government panel decided that private news networks must accompany public broadcasts with sign language interpretations and closed captions to accommodate persons with disabilities.

Access to education continued to be a challenge for students with disabilities. During the pandemic the closure of schools led to an increase in the number of students with disabilities dropping out. According to NGOs the digital divide has led to increased exclusion of persons with disabilities due to lack of access to technology.

The law states that the appropriate government and local authorities shall endeavor that all educational institutions provide inclusive education to children with disabilities. Toward that end, they should: (1) admit them without discrimination and provide education and opportunities for sports and recreation activities equally with others; (2) make buildings, campuses, and facilities accessible; and (3) provide reasonable accommodation according to the individual’s requirement. According to the law, the government shall take measures to promote, protect, and ensure participation of persons with disabilities in adult education and continuing education programs equally with others.

Private-sector employment of persons with disabilities remained low, despite governmental incentives. Discrimination against persons with disabilities in employment, education, and access to health care was more pervasive in rural areas, and 45 percent of the country’s population of persons with disabilities were illiterate.

The Ministry of Health and Family Welfare estimated 25 percent of individuals with mental disabilities were homeless. Mainstream schools remained inadequately equipped with teachers trained in inclusive education, resource material, and appropriate curricula. Patients in some mental-health institutions faced food shortages, inadequate sanitary conditions, and lack of adequate medical care.

The NCPEDP reported the government allowed persons with disability to access COVID-19 vaccination services using the Unique Disability ID cards.

In May the NCPCR reported a total of 99 sexual abuse cases relating to children with disabilities had been registered from 2017 to 2020.

HIV and AIDS Social Stigma

The estimated HIV prevalence has been declining since the epidemic’s peak in 2000 and has stabilized in recent years. According to the National AIDS Control Organization, there were approximately 70,000 newly diagnosed HIV infections in 2019. The epidemic persisted among the most vulnerable and high-risk populations that include female sex workers, men who have sex with men, transgender persons, and persons who inject drugs. UNAIDS 2018 data indicated new HIV infections were declining among sex workers and men who have sex with men, but stigma related to key populations continued to limit their access to HIV testing and treatment. The data showed 79 percent of individuals were aware of their HIV status and that 71 percent of individuals with HIV were receiving treatment.

According to the National AIDS Control Organization 2019 report, Maharashtra was estimated to have the highest number of new HIV infections, followed by Bihar, Uttar Pradesh, West Bengal, Gujarat, and Delhi.

The National AIDS Control Program prioritized HIV prevention, care, and treatment interventions for high-risk groups and advocated for the rights of persons with HIV. The National AIDS Control Organization worked actively with NGOs to train women’s HIV and AIDS self-help groups. Police engaged in programs to strengthen their role in protecting communities vulnerable to HIV.

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

NGO activists reported heightened discrimination and violence against the lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer, and intersex (LGBTQI+) community in the eastern area of the country during the COVID-19 lockdown.

LGBTQI+ persons faced physical attacks, and rape. LGBTQI+ groups reported they experienced widespread societal discrimination and violence, particularly in rural areas. Activists reported that transgender persons continued to face difficulty obtaining medical treatment. Some police officers committed crimes against LGBTQI+ persons and used the threat of arrest to coerce victims not to report the incidents. With the aid of NGOs, several states offered education and sensitivity training to police.

In June the Madras High Court ordered the state and union governments to draw up plans for reforms that protect sexual orientation and gender identity rights. The High Court recommended awareness training for government officials and police, separate housing for gender-nonconforming and transgender persons in prison, revocation of licenses from doctors who claim “cures” for homosexuality, and gender-neutral bathrooms at school and colleges.

On June 13, the Odisha state government began recruitment for police positions of candidates who self-identified as transgender. A Bhubaneswar-based transgender activist welcomed the move as one of the several protransgender policy decisions taken by the Odisha government in recent years.

On July 6, the Karnataka state government amended its civil services rules to enable a 1 percent quota of government jobs for transgender individuals to be filled through direct recruitment.

Section 7. Worker Rights

a. Freedom of Association and the Right to Collective Bargaining

The law provides for the right to form and join unions and to bargain collectively, but there is no legal obligation for employers to recognize a union or engage in collective bargaining. In Sikkim, trade union registration was subject to prior permission from the state government. The law limits the organizing rights of federal and state government employees.

The law provides for the right to strike but places restrictions on this right for some workers. As an example, in export-processing zones (EPZs), a 45-day notice is required because of the EPZs’ designation as a “public utility.” The law also allows the government to ban strikes in government-owned enterprises and requires arbitration in specified “essential industries.” Definitions of essential industries vary from state to state. The law prohibits antiunion discrimination and retribution for involvement in legal strikes and provides for reinstatement of employees fired for union activity. Union leaders generally operated free from threats and violence from government and employers. Employers rarely refused to bargain with worker led unions.

On February 3, industrial workers across the country observed a day of protest against the government’s plans to privatize state-owned companies and to press for the repeal of labor codes passed by parliament in September 2020. In September approximately 25 million workers across the country went on a day-long strike in support of the farmers’ protest demanding the repeal of farm reform legislation.

Enforcement of the law varied from state to state and from sector to sector. Enforcement was generally better in the larger, organized-sector industries. Authorities generally prosecuted and punished individuals responsible for intimidation or suppression of legitimate trade union activities in the industrial sector. Civil judicial procedures addressed abuses because the Trade Union Act does not specify penalties for such abuses. Penalties were commensurate with those for other laws involving denials of civil rights, such as discrimination. Specialized labor courts adjudicate labor disputes, but there were long delays and a backlog of unresolved cases.

Employers generally respected freedom of association and the right to organize and bargain collectively in the formal industrial sector but not in the larger, informal economy. Most union members worked in the formal sector, and trade unions represented a small number of agricultural and informal-sector workers. Membership-based organizations such as the Self-Employed Women’s Association successfully organized informal-sector workers and helped them to gain higher payment for their work or products.

An estimated 80 percent of unionized workers were affiliated with one of the five major trade union federations. Unions were independent of the government, but four of the five major federations were associated with major political parties.

State and local authorities sometimes impeded registration of unions, repressed independent union activity, and used their power to declare strikes illegal and force adjudication. Labor groups reported that some employers continued to refuse to recognize established unions, and some instead established “workers’ committees” and employer-controlled unions to prevent independent unions from organizing. EPZs often employed workers on temporary contracts. Additionally, employee-only restrictions on entry to the EPZs limited union organizers’ access.

In November 2020 a nationwide general strike took place. More than 250 million public- and private-sector workers participated in the strike, called by 10 central trade unions and hundreds of worker associations and federations. Trade union leaders demanded that the government repeal certain labor codes and three recently passed farm laws. In November parliament passed a law to repeal three agricultural reform laws after farmers largely concentrated in Punjab, Haryana, and Uttar Pradesh protested for their repeal. The Indian National Trade Union Congress congratulated the farmers’ union for their protests.

In January labor and Dalit activists Shiv Kumar and Nodeep Kaur were arrested after their protest against the alleged harassment of factory workers in the Kundli Industrial Area in the state of Haryana, which turned violent on January 12. While in police custody, the families of both activists alleged they were subject to physical abuse. Nodeep Kaur was granted bail on February 26, and on March 4, a judge granted bail to Shiv Kumar.

b. Prohibition of Forced or Compulsory Labor

The law prohibits all forms of forced or compulsory labor, but forced labor, including bonded labor for both adults and children (see section 7.c.), remained widespread. Internal forced labor constituted the country’s largest labor-trafficking problem; traffickers use debt-based coercion (bonded labor) to compel men, women, and children to work in agriculture, brick kilns, rice mills, embroidery and textile factories, and stone quarries. Women and children from the Dalit and tribal communities were vulnerable to forced labor, as were children of migrant laborers. The increase in economic insecurity and unemployment due to the pandemic further increased vulnerability to forced labor.

Enforcement and compensation for victims is the responsibility of state and local governments and varied in effectiveness. Some local governments did not effectively enforce laws related to bonded labor or labor trafficking laws, such as the Bonded Labor System (Abolition) Act. When inspectors referred violations for prosecution, court backlogs, inadequate preparation, and a lack of prioritization of the cases by prosecuting authorities sometimes resulted in acquittals. In addition, when authorities reported violations, they sometimes reported them to civil courts to assess fines and did not refer them to police for criminal investigation of labor trafficking. Legal penalties varied based on the type of forced labor and included fines and prison terms; penalties were not commensurate with those for analogous serious crimes, such as kidnapping. For example, bonded labor is specifically criminalized by the Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes (Prevention of Atrocities) Act, which prescribes sufficiently stringent penalties, and the Bonded Labor System (Abolition) Act, which prescribes penalties that were not sufficiently stringent.

Investigations, prosecutions, and case convictions of traffickers decreased in 2020. NGOs estimated at least eight million trafficking victims in the country, mostly in bonded labor, and reported that police often did not file reports. Authorities penalized some adult and child victims for crimes their traffickers compelled them to commit.

On July 22, officials in Tamil Nadu’s Virudhunagar District rescued 14 adolescent bonded laborers from two plastics factories; three had been trafficked from Bihar.

On August 26, Thane District officials in Maharashtra rescued 43 individuals belonging to a traditional tribal group who were kept in bondage at a stone quarry. Police also opened an investigation after two of the rescued women accused the quarry owners of sexual abuse.

Scheduled Caste and Scheduled Tribe members lived and worked under traditional arrangements of servitude in many areas of the country. The central government had long abolished forced labor servitude, but these social groups remained impoverished and vulnerable to forced exploitation.

In May the National Human Rights Commission (NHRC) issued three advisories to states and union territories, recommending measures to address the mental health of vulnerable populations, release and rehabilitation of bonded laborers, and safeguarding rights of informal workers. The NHRC noted that all levels of government must ensure that medical resources are provided to bonded laborers.

Also see the Department of State’s Trafficking in Persons Report at https://www.state.gov/trafficking-in-persons-report/

c. Prohibition of Child Labor and Minimum Age for Employment

All the worst forms of child labor were prohibited. The law prohibits employment of children younger than 14. The law also bans the employment of children between 14 and 18 in hazardous work. Children are barred from using flammable substances, explosives, or other hazardous material, as defined by the law. In 2017 the Ministry of Labor and Employment added 16 industries and 59 processes to the list of hazardous industries where employment of children younger than 18 is prohibited and where children younger than 14 are precluded from helping, including family enterprises.

Despite evidence that children worked in unsafe and unhealthy environments for long periods of time in spinning mills, garment production, carpet making, and domestic work, not all children younger than 18 are prohibited from working in occupations related to these sectors. The law permits employment of children in family-owned enterprises involving nonhazardous activities after school hours. Nevertheless, child labor remained common.

Law enforcement agencies took actions to combat child labor. State governments enforced labor laws and employed labor inspectors, while the Ministry of Labor and Employment provided oversight and coordination. Nonetheless, gaps existed within the operations of the state government labor inspectorate that hindered adequate labor law enforcement. Violations remained common. The law establishes penalties that are not commensurate with those for other analogous serious crimes, such as kidnapping, and authorities sporadically enforced them. The fines collected are deposited in a welfare fund for formerly employed children.

The International Labor Organization estimated there were 10 million child workers between ages five and 14 in the country. Most of the child labor occurred in agriculture and the informal economy, particularly in stone quarries, in the rolling of cigarettes, and in informal food-service establishments. Children were also exploited in domestic service and in the sugarcane, construction, textile, cotton, and glass-bangle industries in addition to begging.

Commercial sexual exploitation of children occurred (see section 6, Children).

Forced child labor, including bonded labor, also remained a serious problem. Employers engaged children in forced or indentured labor as domestic servants and beggars, as well as in quarrying, brick kilns, rice mills, silk-thread production, and textile embroidery. Children typically entered debt bondage along with their entire family, and trafficked children were also employed in cotton farms, home-based embroidery businesses, and roadside restaurants.

In July, Telangana police rescued 172 child workers as part of a campaign to detect child labor and locate missing children. Police arrested 37 persons for employing children and filed 18 cases against employers.

In June, UNICEF reported it expected that COVID-19 and subsequent economic distress would have increased the risk of child labor. The closure of 1.5 million schools due to the pandemic and lockdowns increased the risk of child labor and unsafe migration for children enrolled in elementary and secondary schools.

Also see the Department of Labor’s Findings on the Worst Forms of Child Labor at https://www.dol.gov/agencies/ilab/resources/reports/child-labor/findings  and the Department of Labor’s List of Goods Produced by Child Labor or Forced Labor at https://www.dol.gov/agencies/ilab/reports/child-labor/list-of-goods 

d. Discrimination with Respect to Employment and Occupation

The law prohibits discrimination based on race, sex, gender, disability, language, sexual orientation, gender identity, or social status with respect to employment and occupation. A separate law bans discrimination against individuals suffering from HIV or AIDs. The law does not forbid employment discrimination against individuals with communicable diseases or based on color, religion, political opinion, national origin, or citizenship.

The law prohibits women from working in jobs that are physically or morally harmful.

The government effectively enforced the law and regulations within the formal sector; however, penalties were not sufficient to defer violations. The law and regulations do not protect informal-sector workers (industries and establishments that do not fall within the purview of the Factories Act), who made up an estimated 90 percent of the workforce.

Discrimination occurred in the informal sector with respect to Dalits, indigenous persons, and persons with disabilities. The American Bar Association report, Challenges for Dalits in South Asia, noted, “Dalits have been provided with reservations (or quotas) for government jobs; however, reservations do not apply to private sector jobs.” Gender discrimination with respect to wages was prevalent. Foreign migrant workers were largely undocumented and typically did not enjoy the legal protections available to workers who are nationals of the country.

e. Acceptable Conditions of Work

Wage and Hour Laws: State government laws set minimum wages and hours of work. The daily minimum wage varied but was more than the official estimate of poverty level income. State governments set a separate minimum wage for agricultural workers. Laws on wages, hours, and occupational health and safety do not apply to the large informal sector.

The law mandates a maximum eight-hour workday and 48-hour workweek as well as safe working conditions, which include provisions for restrooms, cafeterias, medical facilities, and ventilation. The law mandates a minimum rest period of 30 minutes after every four hours of work and premium pay for overtime, but it does not mandate paid holidays. The law prohibits compulsory overtime and limits the amount of overtime a worker may perform. Occupational safety and health standards set by the government were generally up to date and covered the main industries in the country.

State governments are responsible for enforcing minimum wages and hours of work. The number of inspectors generally was insufficient to enforce labor law. Inspectors have the authority to make unannounced inspections and initiate sanctions. State governments often did not effectively enforce the minimum wage law for agricultural workers.

To boost the economy following the COVID-19-induced lockdown, many state governments relaxed labor laws to permit overtime work beyond legislated limits. The state governments of Uttar Pradesh and Gujarat passed executive orders to suspend enforcement of most labor laws for a period of up to three years to promote industrial production.

Occupational Safety and Health: Federal law sets safety and health standards. State governments enforced additional state-specific regulations. Enforcement of safety and health standards was poor, especially in the informal sector, but also in some formal-sector industries. Penalties for violation of occupational safety and health standards were commensurate with those for crimes such as negligence.

Small, low-technology factories frequently exposed workers to hazardous working conditions. Undocumented foreign workers did not receive basic occupational health and safety protections. In many instances workers could not remove themselves from situations that endangered health or safety without jeopardizing their employment.

On February 23, two workers were killed, and 26 others injured in a blast at the United Phosphorous Limited plant in Jhagadia, Gujarat. State authorities shut down the plant following the blast.

On June 7, a fire at the SVS Aqua Technologies chemical plant near Pune in Maharashtra killed 18 persons. Preliminary investigations revealed that flammable materials had been stored in the plant without following prescribed safety norms. On June 8, police arrested the factory director on charges of culpable homicide not amounting to murder and subsequently released him on bail. In March, Geneva-based IndustriALL noted high accident rates continued in factories, chemical plants, and mines. According to IndustriALL, the 14 accidents reported during the year resulted in 42 workers’ deaths and approximately 100 workers being injured.

Informal Sector: Violations of wage, overtime, and occupational safety and health standards were common in the informal sector. The World Bank reported most of the labor force is employed in the informal sector. A report issued by the State Bank of India in October estimated the size of the informal sector was more than 52 percent of the total labor sector, but other estimates placed the percentage much higher. On August 26, the Ministry of Labor and Employment launched the e-Shram portal to develop a national database of unorganized workers including migrant workers, construction workers, and gig and platform workers. The portal will facilitate the extension of social-sector benefits to workers in the unorganized sector. More than 30 million unorganized workers registered on the portal as of October 8, nearly half of them women.

According to the World Bank’s Shifting Gears: Digitization and Services-Led Development report, low-skilled and urban workers faced the brunt of employment shocks due to the second wave of COVID-19, and their earnings have yet to return to 2019 levels. In December 2020 a World Bank economist for South Asia and other experts noted more than 44 percent of the country’s informal workers were unemployed in April 2020. In 2020 the International Labor Organization connected the high rate of informal work to a low level of education and skill levels of the overall workforce. Within the informal sector, casual or temporary wage workers were more likely to lose employment than self-employed workers, regardless of industry, location, education, or caste.

Indonesia

Executive Summary

Indonesia is a multiparty democracy. In April 2019 Joko Widodo (popularly known as Jokowi) won a second five-year term as president. Voters also elected new members of the House of Representatives and the Regional Representative Council, as well as provincial and local legislatures. Domestic and international observers deemed the elections to be free and fair.

The Indonesian National Police is responsible for internal security and reports directly to the president. The Indonesian National Armed Forces, which also report directly to the president, are responsible for external defense and combatting separatism, and in certain conditions may provide operational support to police, such as for counterterrorism operations, maintaining public order, and addressing communal conflicts. Civilian authorities maintained control over security forces. There were credible reports that members of the security forces committed abuses.

Significant human rights issues included credible reports of: unlawful or arbitrary killings by government security forces; torture by police; harsh and life-threatening prison conditions; arbitrary arrest or detention; political prisoners; serious problems with the independence of the judiciary; arbitrary and unlawful interference with privacy; serious abuses in the conflict in Papua and West Papua Provinces, including unlawful civilian harm, torture and physical abuses; serious restrictions on free expression and media, including unjustified arrests or prosecutions of journalists and religious figures, censorship, and the existence of criminal libel laws; serious restrictions on internet freedom; substantial interference with the freedom of peaceful assembly and freedom of association; serious government corruption; lack of investigation of and accountability for gender-based violence; crimes involving violence or threats of violence targeting members of racial and ethnic minority groups; crimes involving violence or threats of violence against lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer, or intersex persons; and the existence of laws criminalizing consensual same-sex sexual conduct between adults.

While the government took steps to investigate and prosecute some officials who committed human rights abuses and corruption, impunity for historic and recent serious human rights abuses and corruption remained a significant concern, especially as some of those implicated in past abuses received promotions, were given public awards and honors, and occupied senior official positions.

Armed conflict between government forces and separatist groups continued in Papua and West Papua Provinces. There were numerous reports of both sides committing abuses against civilians including killings, physical abuse, and destruction of property. The conflict caused the displacement of thousands of residents. Outside Papua and West Papua, there were numerous reports of unknown actors using digital harassment and intimidation against human rights activists and academics who criticized government officials, discussed government corruption, or covered issues related to the conflict in Papua and West Papua.

Section 1. Respect for the Integrity of the Person

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

There were numerous reports that security officials committed arbitrary or unlawful killings. Many of these reports related to security forces’ counterinsurgency operations against armed separatist groups in Papua and West Papua (see section 1.g.).

In many cases of alleged extrajudicial killings, police and the military did not conduct any investigations and, when they did, failed to disclose either the fact or the findings of these internal investigations. Official statements related to abuse allegations sometimes contradicted nongovernmental organization (NGO) accounts, and the frequent inaccessibility of areas where violence took place made confirming facts difficult.

The Commission for Disappeared and Victims of Violence (KontraS), a local NGO, reported 16 deaths due to alleged torture and other abuse by security forces between June 2020 and May 2021. KontraS also reported 13 deaths attributable to police shootings in the same period. On January 8, the National Commission on Human Rights released its report on the December 2020 police shootings of six members of the Islamic Defenders Front (see also section 2.b.) on the Jakarta-Cikampek toll road in West Java Province. The commission found that police unlawfully killed four front members who were already in police custody and labelled the killings a human rights violation. In April a police spokesperson stated that three police officials from the Mobile Reserve Unit of the Greater Jakarta Metropolitan Regional Police had been named as suspects and were being investigated, noting that one of the three had died in an accident in January. On August 23, media reported the filing of charges against the two suspects in the East Jakarta District Court.

On April 25, Baubau City Police in Southeast Sulawesi Province arrested Samsul Egar on suspicions of involvement in drug trafficking. According to media reports, police chased Egar; after he was captured, he was seen handcuffed on the ground and unconscious. Egar was brought to a hospital where he was declared dead. Human rights organizations reported Egar had bruises on his body. Police allegedly did not tell Egar’s family they believed he was a drug trafficker until 28 days after his death. As of September 10, there was no indication that authorities had investigated the report or taken action against the officer involved.

On August 31, the Balikpapan District Court of East Kalimantan Province began the trial of six Balikpapan City Police officers charged with abuses resulting in the 2020 death of Herman Alfred, a 39-year-old man accused of stealing a phone. The six officers were removed from duty in February when they were named as suspects in the case. According to prosecutors, Alfred was arrested on December 2, and brought to the Balikpapan police station. The six officers allegedly physically abused him while in custody, inflicting injuries that led to his death. As of September 10, the trial of the six officers was ongoing.

There were also multiple reports of killings outside of Papua and West Papua by terrorist groups. The government investigated and prosecuted all such killings.

For example, media and the government reported that the East Indonesia Mujahedeen group was responsible for the May 11 killing of four farmers, reportedly all Christians, in Poso Regency, Central Sulawesi Province. The same group was accused of killing four residents of Sigi Regency, Central Sulawesi, in November 2020. As of October, security force operations seeking to apprehend members of the group continued. On September 18, security forces killed the group’s leader, Ali Kalora, in a firefight.

On March 28, two suicide bombers attacked the Sacred Heart of Jesus Catholic cathedral, in Makassar, South Sulawesi Province, killing both assailants and injuring 20 bystanders. The attack occurred during a Palm Sunday mass. Police identified the two bombers as part of Jamaah Ansharut Daulah, a terrorist organization responsible for the 2018 bombings of three churches in Surabaya, East Java Province. As of May 19, a police spokesperson told the media that 53 persons had been detained and named as suspects in connection with the bombing.

b. Disappearance

Outside Papua and West Papua (see section 1.g.) there were no reports of disappearances by or on behalf of government authorities. The government and NGOs reported little progress in accounting for persons who previously disappeared, including disappearances that occurred when Timor-Leste was still part of Indonesia. NGOs reported little progress in prosecuting those responsible for such disappearances and noted many officials suspected of being involved in disappearances continued to serve in the government (see section 1.c.).

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

The constitution prohibits such practices. The law criminalizes the use of violence or force by officials to elicit a confession, but no law specifies or defines “torture.” Other laws, such as on witness and victim protection, include antitorture provisions. Officials face imprisonment for a maximum of four years if they use violence or force illegally.

NGOs made numerous reports of police and security forces using excessive force during detention and interrogation, with some cases resulting in death (see section 1.a.).

National police and the military maintained procedures to address alleged torture. All police recruits undergo training on the proportional use of force and human rights standards. In cases of alleged torture (and other abuse), police and the military typically conducted investigations but often did not publicly disclose either the fact or the findings of these internal investigations. Official statements related to abuse allegations sometimes contradicted NGO accounts, and the frequent inaccessibility of areas where violence took place made confirming facts difficult. NGOs and other observers criticized the short prison sentences often imposed by military courts in abuse cases involving civilians or actions by off-duty soldiers.

KontraS reported 166 injuries from alleged torture and other abuse by security forces between June 2020 and May 2021. KontraS also reported 98 persons injured in police shootings during the same period. KontraS noted there had been a decrease in police violence cases compared with previous years but attributed the decrease to the COVID-19 pandemic rather than reforms in police behavior.

On May 25, a uniformed solider, Joaquim Parera, assaulted an employee of a gas station in East Nusa Tenggara Province. The employee refused to provide service to Parera because he had cut in line. The assault was filmed, and the video was spread widely online. A mediation session between Parera and the victim was held and the military reported the dispute had been settled peacefully. The military also stated that Parera could still face a military tribunal, but as of November 24 there were no updates on whether Parera faced punishment for the incident.

On June 22, police detained a 20-year-old man, Yohan Ronsumbre, on suspicion of theft in Biak Numfor Regency, Papua Province. NGOs reported that during the detention police officers attempted to force Ronsumbre to confess by punching him and pouring boiling water on his right arm. Ronsumbre’s lawyers reported the incident to police, the national Ombudsman, and the National Commission on Human Rights. In July a police representative told media they were investigating the incident. As of November 24, there was no update on the investigation or action taken against the officers involved.

On August 19, two soldiers from the 1627/Rote Ndao District Military Command in East Nusa Tenggara Province physically abused a 13-year-old boy who they suspected of stealing a mobile phone from one of the soldiers. The soldiers beat the boy, burned him with cigarettes, and burned his genitals with a candle. On August 23, the two soldiers were arrested by military police and were reportedly under investigation for the incident.

Aceh Province has special authority to implement sharia regulations. Authorities there carried out public canings for violations of sharia in cases of sexual abuse, gambling, adultery, alcohol consumption, consensual same-sex conduct, and sexual relations outside of marriage. Sharia does not apply to non-Muslims, foreigners, or Muslims not resident in Aceh. Non-Muslims in Aceh occasionally chose punishment under sharia because it was more expeditious and less expensive than secular procedures. For example, in February three non-Muslims convicted of illegal possession of alcohol requested punishment under sharia and each received 40 lashes. One of those punished publicly stated he did so to avoid a lengthy prison sentence.

Canings continued to occur in public spaces despite the Aceh governor’s 2018 order that they should be executed only in prison facilities. Individuals sentenced to caning may receive up to 100 lashes for each crime for which they were convicted, depending on the crime and prison time served.

NGOs reported that some female police and military recruits were subjected to invasive virginity testing as a condition of employment, which activists claimed were painful, degrading, discriminatory, and frequently inaccurate. The law does not require such testing, but some police and military regulations include the testing in their recruitment process, leading to inconsistent application across the country. Media reported that, per regulation, fiancees of military personnel were sometimes subjected to this testing. In June the army issued a technical regulation eliminating virginity testing for recruits and fiancees – the status of this testing for the navy and air force remained unclear.

In December 2020 President Widodo signed a government regulation on chemical castration and the use of tracking devices for individuals convicted of sexual abuse of children. The regulation allows chemical castration and electronic tracking for a maximum of two years after offenders are released from prison.

Security force impunity remained a problem. Members of the army special forces’ Rose Team, which was involved in the kidnapping, torture, and killing of students in 1997-98, continued to serve as senior officials in the government despite being convicted and serving prison sentences for their involvement in these abuses. On August 12, President Widodo awarded the nation’s third-highest civilian honor to Eurico Guterres, an alleged former pro-Indonesia militia leader in East Timor. In 2002 Guterres was convicted and sentenced to 10 years in prison for crimes against humanity for his involvement in mass violence and killings in East Timor prior to its independence in 1999. In 2008, however, the Supreme Court overturned the convictions of Guterres and all others convicted on such charges.

Internal investigations undertaken by security forces were often opaque, making it difficult to know which units and actors were involved, especially if they occurred in Papua or West Papua. Internal investigations were sometimes conducted by the unit accused of the abuses, or in high-profile cases by a team sent from police or military headquarters in Jakarta. Cases involving military personnel could be forwarded to a military tribunal for prosecution or, in the case of police, to public prosecutors. These trials lacked transparency, and the results were not always made public. Victims or their families may file complaints with the National Police Commission, National Commission on Human Rights, or National Ombudsman to seek an independent inquiry into the incident. The lack of transparent investigations and judicial processes continued to hamper accountability in multiple past cases involving security forces. NGOs continued to advocate for investigations and judicial resolution of historical cases of security force involvement in killings and disappearances that date back to 1965.

Prison and Detention Center Conditions

Conditions in the country’s 526 prisons and detention centers were often harsh and sometimes life threatening, due especially to overcrowding.

Physical Conditions: Overcrowding was a serious problem, including at immigration detention centers. According to the Ministry of Law and Human Rights, as of July there were 271,231 prisoners and detainees in prisons and detention centers designed to hold a maximum of 132,107. Overcrowding posed hygiene and ventilation problems. The degree of overcrowding varied at different facilities. Minimum- and medium-security prisons were often the most overcrowded; maximum-security prisons tended to be at or below capacity. On September 8, a fire at the Tangerang Level I Prison in Banten Province killed 49 inmates. Media reported that the fire occurred in a cell block designed for 38 inmates but that held 122.

From the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic in early 2020 to September 2021, concern about the rapid spread of COVID-19 in prisons led officials to grant early releases to nearly 70,000 prisoners. This mass sentence reduction, however, did not apply to inmates convicted for “political crimes,” such as Papuan and Moluccan activists.

By law prisons are supposed to hold those convicted by courts, while detention centers hold those awaiting trial. Most prisons have two facilities on the same compound, one designed for pretrial detainees and one for convicted prisoners. Persons held at the two facilities did not normally mix. At times, however, officials held pretrial detainees together with convicted prisoners due to overcrowding.

By law children convicted of serious crimes serve their sentences in juvenile prison, although some convicted juveniles remained in the adult prison system despite efforts to end this practice.

Authorities generally held female prisoners at separate facilities. In prisons with both male and female prisoners, female prisoners were confined in separate cellblocks. According to NGO observers, conditions in prisons for women tended to be significantly better than in those for men. Women’s cellblocks within prisons that held prisoners of both genders, however, did not always grant female prisoners access to the same amenities, such as exercise facilities, as their male counterparts.

NGOs noted authorities sometimes did not provide prisoners adequate medical care. Human rights activists attributed this to a lack of resources.

International and local NGOs reported that in some cases prisoners did not have ready access to clean drinking water. There were widespread reports the government did not supply sufficient food to prisoners, and family members often brought food to supplement relatives’ diets.

Guards in detention facilities and prisons regularly extorted money from inmates, and prisoners reported physical abuse by guards. Inmates often bribed or paid corrections officers for favors, food, telephones, or narcotics. The use and production of illicit drugs in prisons were serious problems, with some drug networks basing operations out of prisons.

Administration: The law allows prisoners and detainees to submit complaints to authorities without censorship and to request investigation of alleged deficiencies. Complaints are submitted to the Ministry of Law and Human Rights where they were investigated and were subject to independent judicial review.

Independent Monitoring: Some NGOs received access to prisons but were required to obtain permission through bureaucratic mechanisms, including approval from police, attorneys general, courts, the Ministry of Home Affairs, and other agencies. NGOs reported authorities rarely permitted direct access to prisoners for interviews and that health restrictions implemented to prevent the spread of COVID-19 had further impeded their ability to monitor prison conditions. There was no regular independent monitoring of prisons.

d. Arbitrary Arrest or Detention

The law prohibits arbitrary arrest and detention and provides for the right of any person to challenge the lawfulness of his or her arrest or detention in court. The government generally observed these requirements, but there were notable exceptions.

Arrest Procedures and Treatment of Detainees

Security forces must produce warrants during an arrest. Exceptions apply, for example, if a suspect is caught in the act of committing a crime. The law allows investigators to issue warrants, but at times authorities, especially police from the Criminal Investigation Department, made questionable arrests without warrants.

By law suspects or defendants have the right to contact family promptly after arrest and to legal counsel of their choice at every stage of an investigation. Legal aid organizations reported numerous cases in which they had difficulty accessing detainees, especially if physical or other abuse during or after the arrest was discovered or alleged when access was granted.

Court officials are supposed to provide free legal counsel to all persons charged with offenses that carry the death penalty or imprisonment for 15 years or more, and to destitute defendants facing charges that carry a penalty of imprisonment for five years or more. Such legal resources were limited, however, and free counsel was seldom provided. Additionally, NGOs reported that some police and prosecutors maintained a “pocket lawyer” who could be called in to provide a pro forma defense for their clients.

Suspects can only be detained for 110 days before charges must be filed; however, in special circumstances that period can be extended to 170 days, and in terrorism cases the period can be extended to 290 days. During an investigation police can detain suspects for 20 days but then must seek an extension of detention from public prosecutors, which can be granted for an additional 40 days. NGOs reported numerous cases in which investigators’ requests to extend detention did not contain information required under the law, such as the details of the alleged crime and a citation of relevant law. Following the 60 days of detention allowed for police investigation, prosecutors can continue detention for 20 days for prosecutorial investigation and request an additional 30 days of detention from a judge. Detention can be extended another 60 days if the suspect has severe mental illness or is suspected of a crime carrying a punishment of nine years or more in prison. In terrorism cases, police may detain a suspect for 21 days before naming them as a suspect or having to seek an extension from public prosecutors. Prosecutors can extend pretrial detention of terrorism suspects up to a total of 240 days, or up to a total of 290 days with approval from the chief magistrate of the district court.

There is no system of bail; however, detainees can request a suspension of detention, which can be granted by investigators, prosecutors, or judges. Additionally, detainees may challenge their arrest and detention by petitioning for a pretrial hearing. According to the law, a judge must begin the pretrial hearing within three days of receipt of the application and render a decision within seven days after the beginning of the hearing. Some defense lawyers indicated reluctance to request these suspensions, since sometimes the paperwork their clients must sign as a condition of release include language that can be interpreted as an admission of guilt.

Lack of legal resources was particularly problematic for persons involved in land disputes. Local government officials and large landowners involved in land grabs reportedly accused community activists of crimes, hoping the resulting detentions or arrests and the community’s lack of legal and financial resources would hamper efforts to oppose the land grab.

Arbitrary Arrest: There were reports of arbitrary arrests by police, primarily by the Criminal Investigation Department and the Mobile Brigade Corps. There were multiple media and NGO reports of police temporarily detaining persons for criticizing the government, participating in peaceful demonstrations, and other nonviolent activities.

In February for example, police detained three members of the Dayak indigenous community in East Kutai Regency, East Kalimantan Province, for surveying assets on land in dispute between the Dayaks and a palm oil company, PT Subur Abadi Wana Agung. The three were released the next day. NGOs criticized the detentions as an attempt to criminalize the community’s efforts to defend their land rights.

NGOs reported numerous cases of arbitrary arrest across the country, with numerous cases in Papua and West Papua and in connection with political protests and property disputes. Most of those detained in such cases were released within 24 hours.

Pretrial Detention: The legal length of pretrial detention depends on factors such as whether the suspect is a flight risk or a danger or is charged with certain crimes. The maximum period of pretrial detention is 170 days for most suspects, 290 days for terrorism suspects. If convicted, time in pretrial detention is counted against the sentence. Media reported, however, cases in which suspects were detained longer than allowed by law, in some cases – especially of low-level crimes with sentences less than a year – resulting in immediate release of persons found guilty because the time served in pretrial detention equaled or exceeded their sentence. Terrorism suspects are governed by special rules. The government did not report the number of individuals in pretrial detention.

e. Denial of Fair Public Trial

The law provides for an independent judiciary and the right to a fair public trial, but the judiciary remained susceptible to corruption (see section 5) and influence from outside parties, including business interests, politicians, the security forces, and officials of the executive branch.

In March the Corruption Court sentenced former secretary of the Supreme Court, Nurhadi Abdurrachman, to six years in prison and a substantial fine, for receiving bribes worth nearly 50 billion rupees (IDR) ($3.5 million) to influence cases appearing before the Supreme Court.

Decentralization created difficulties for the enforcement of court orders, and at times local officials ignored them.

Four district courts are authorized to adjudicate cases of systemic gross human rights violations upon recommendation of the National Human Rights Commission. None of these courts, however, has heard or ruled on such a case since 2005.

Under the sharia court system in Aceh, 23 district religious courts and one court of appeals hear cases. The courts usually heard cases involving Muslims and based their judgments on decrees formulated by the local government rather than the national penal code.

Trial Procedures

The constitution provides for the right to a fair trial, but judicial corruption and misconduct hindered the enforcement of this right. The law presumes defendants are innocent until proven guilty, although this was not always respected. Defendants are informed promptly and in detail of the charges at their first court appearance. Although suspects have the right to confront witnesses and call witnesses in their defense, judges may allow sworn affidavits when distance is excessive or the cost of transporting witnesses to the court is too expensive, hindering the possibility of cross-examination. Some courts allowed forced confessions and limited the presentation of defense evidence. Defendants have the right to avoid self-incrimination. The prosecution prepares charges, evidence, and witnesses for the trial, while the defense prepares their own witnesses and arguments. A panel of judges oversees the trial and can pose questions, hear evidence, decide on guilt or innocence, and impose punishment. Both the defense and prosecution may appeal a verdict.

The law gives defendants the right to an attorney from the time of arrest and at every stage of investigation and trial. By law indigent defendants have the right to public legal assistance, although they must prove they have no funds for private legal assistance. NGOs reported that defendants in many areas of the country do not have access to legal assistance due to the lack of legal aid organizations in those areas. Where they existed, their legal staffs were often too small to represent all indigent defendants. There were, consequently, numerous cases in which defendants faced trial without counsel. Defendants facing offenses that carry the death penalty or imprisonment for 15 years or more are required to have legal counsel; however, NGOs reported cases in which the legal counsel provided to these defendants was associated with the prosecution. All defendants have the right to free interpretation. In some cases, procedural protections were inadequate to ensure a fair trial. With the notable exceptions of sharia court proceedings in Aceh and some military trials, trials are public.

Political Prisoners and Detainees

NGOs estimated that as of July, seven political prisoners from Papua and West Papua were incarcerated, either awaiting trial or after being convicted under treason and conspiracy statutes, including for the display of banned separatist symbols. Additionally, eight Moluccan political prisoners remained in prison, according to NGOs.

According to Amnesty International, a small number of the 188 Papuans detained between January and July for participating in peaceful protests were charged with treason or other criminal offenses.

On February 10, environmental activists Samsir and Syamsul Bahri were arrested by the Tanjung Pura Police in Langkat Regency, North Sumatra for an alleged assault in December 2020. On May 31, the two were sentenced to two months in prison. NGOs claimed that the accusations made against the activists were false and meant to criminalize the two activists and thereby impede their efforts to rehabilitate mangroves in the area.

On May 9, security forces arrested Victor Yeimo, spokesperson for the pro-independence National Committee for West Papua in Jayapura, Papua Province. Lawyers for Yeimo reported he was arrested without a warrant and moved to the Mobile Brigade Corps’ detention center without notification to his lawyers. On August 30, the Jayapura District Court rejected Yeimo’s pretrial challenge to detention on the grounds of his unprocedural arrest. Yeimo was charged with criminal conspiracy, incitement, and treason for his alleged involvement in violent antiracism protests in Papua and West Papua Provinces in 2019. NGOs alleged that the charges against Yeimo were a baseless attempt to silence nonviolent advocacy for Papuan separatism. NGO requests for his release on health grounds were rejected. His hospitalization, however, delayed the start of his trial, and as of November 24, the trial had yet to begin.

On July 22, the East Jakarta District Court sentenced Roland Levy and Kevin Molama, two members of the Papuan Student Alliance, to five months in prison minus time served for assaulting another Papuan student. Police arrested the two activists on March 3 at a student dormitory in Jakarta. NGOs claimed the charges against the two were a fabricated attempt to disrupt the activists’ efforts.

Local activists and family members generally were able to visit political prisoners, but authorities held some prisoners on islands far from their families.

Civil Judicial Procedures and Remedies

Victims of human rights abuses may seek damages in the civil court system, but widespread corruption and political influence limited victims’ access to justice.

Property Seizure and Restitution

An eminent domain law allows the government to expropriate land for the public good, provided the government properly compensates owners. NGOs accused the government of abusing its authority to expropriate or facilitate private acquisition of land for development projects, often without fair compensation.

Land access and ownership were major sources of conflict. Police sometimes evicted those involved in land disputes without due process, often siding with business-related claimants over individuals or local communities.

In January the Ministry of Agrarian Affairs and Spatial Planning launched an electronic land certificate program to register land claims across the country. Stated goals of the program included reducing the number of land disputes by making it more difficult to falsify land deeds.

On January 5, President Widodo held a virtual ceremony where he announced the distribution of 584,407 land certificates (i.e., titles) to demonstrate the government’s commitment to addressing land disputes. The Ministry of Agrarian Affairs reported that in 2020 it had issued 6.8 million land certificates across the country.

On January 29, the Ministry of Energy and Natural Resources announced an agreement with PT Tambang Mas Sangihe allowing the company to expand its operations on Sangihe Island, North Sulawesi Province. In June the Save Sangihe Island movement, made up of local community members, filed a lawsuit against the agreement, arguing it had been made without a proper evaluation of environmental impact, without consultation with the local community, and in violation of several other laws.

On March 4, five UN special rapporteurs and a team of independent experts sent a letter highlighting human rights abuses associated with the Mandalika tourism project on the island of Lombok, West Nusa Tenggara Province. The Mandalika project was managed by the Indonesia Tourism Development Corporation, a state-owned enterprise, and was designated a priority project by the government; the land confiscated was designated a Special Economic Zone. The United Nations and NGOs reported the project was associated with numerous claims of land grabbing, forced evictions, and police and unknown actors threatening and intimidating residents. Local activists were also detained and sentenced for creating “disturbances.”

On March 17, an armed group forcibly evicted residents of Pancoran Buntu II in Jakarta. The residents were evicted from land subject to a court case with PT Pertaminia Training and Consulting, a subsidiary of a state-owned enterprise. During the incident, 28 residents suffered injuries, including broken bones, lacerations, and breathing difficulties due to tear gas. Human rights organizations reported that police in the area did nothing to stop the armed group.

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

The law requires judicial warrants for searches except in cases involving subversion, economic crimes, and corruption. Security forces generally respected these requirements. The law also provides for searches without warrants when circumstances are “urgent and compelling.” Police throughout the country occasionally took actions without proper authority or violated individuals’ privacy.

NGOs claimed security officials occasionally conducted warrantless surveillance on individuals and their residences and monitored telephone calls.

The government developed Peduli Lindungi (Care Protect), a smartphone application used to track COVID-19 cases. Government regulations sought to stop the spread of the virus by requiring individuals entering public spaces like malls to check in using the application. The application also stores information on individuals’ vaccination status. NGOs expressed concerns about what information was gathered by the application and how this data was stored and used by the government.

On August 16, protesters gathered in Yahukimo Regency, Papua Province, to protest the arrest of Victor Yeimo (see section 1.e.) and the extension and revision of special autonomy for Papua. NGOs reported that police opened fire on the demonstration and arrested 48 protesters. One protester, Ferianus Asso, was allegedly hit by police gunfire in the abdomen; he was treated at home until August 20, when he was taken to a local hospital. On August 22, Asso died from complications related to his injuries. As of November 24, there were no reports that the government investigated the incident.

Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties

a. Freedom of Expression, Including for Members of the Press and Other Media

The constitution provides for freedom of expression, including for members of the press and other media. The law places various restrictions on its exercise, including criminal penalties for defamation, hate speech, blasphemy, obscenity, and spreading false information. There were numerous reports of the law being used to limit political criticism of the government.

Freedom of Expression: The law criminalizes speech deemed defaming of a person’s character or reputation (see Libel/Slander Laws below); insulting a religion; spreading hate speech; spreading false information; obscenity; or advocating separatism. Spreading hate speech or false information is punishable by up to six years in prison. Language in the law regulating pornography has been broadly applied to restrict content deemed as offending local morals. Under the criminal code, blasphemy is punishable for up to five years in prison. Blasphemy cases, however, were usually prosecuted under the Electronic Information and Transactions law, which was increasingly used to regulate online speech and carries a maximum six-year prison sentence. NGOs reported these laws were often used to prosecute critics of the government.

In February Sulaiman Marpaung, a man in North Sumatra Province, was sentenced to eight months in prison for hate speech after he posted comments on Facebook critical of Vice President Ma’ruf Amin’s religious bona fides and a collage of photos comparing the vice president with an elderly Japanese pornography actor.

On May 19, Kahiri Amri, head of the KAMI opposition political organization in Medan, North Sumatra Province, was sentenced to one year in prison for hate speech. In October 2020 Amri sent messages in a WhatsApp chat about organizing protests against the government’s proposed Omnibus Bill on Job Creation. In those messages he referred to police as “brown planthoppers” – a kind of insect – which the court deemed to constitute hate speech.

On August 19, an “antimask” activist, Yunus Wahyudi, was sentenced to three years in prison for spreading false news. In 2020 Wahyudi had posted a video online in which he claimed that there was no COVID-19 in Banyuwangi Regency, East Java Province.

According to the Legal Aid Foundation, in 2020 there were 67 blasphemy cases following at least 40 arrests on blasphemy charges. On August 25, police arrested Muhammad Kece in Bali for videos he uploaded to YouTube that allegedly insulted the Prophet Muhammad. On August 26, police arrested Yahya Waloni in Bogor Regency, West Java, for comments made in a video claiming that the Bible is fake. As of November 24, both Kece and Waloni were still in detention, with Waloni’s trial having begun and Kece’s trial scheduled to begin. For additional cases see section 2.c.

Although the law permits flying a flag symbolizing Papua’s cultural identity generally, a government regulation specifically prohibits the display of the Morning Star flag in Papua, the Republic of South Maluku flag in Maluku, and the Free Aceh Movement Crescent Moon flag in Aceh.

On May 21, Nasruddin (aka Nyak Din) was sentenced to one year in prison and his co-defendant Zulkifli was sentenced to eight months in prison for treason for flying the Free Aceh Movement Crescent Moon Flag in Indrajaya District, Aceh Province.

On May 15, police arrested three men for raising the Republic of South Maluku flag in Central Maluku Regency, Maluku Province. The three men have been named as suspects for treason and could face up to life imprisonment. As of November 24, there was no update on this case.

Freedom of Expression for Members of the Press and Other Media, Including Online Media: Independent media were active and expressed a wide variety of views. The government, however, sometimes used regional and national regulations, including those on blasphemy, hate speech, defamation, false information, and separatism, to restrict media. Obtaining permits for travel to Papua and West Papua was difficult for foreign journalists, who reported bureaucratic delays or denials, ostensibly for safety reasons. The constitution protects journalists from interference, and the law states that anyone who deliberately prevents journalists from doing their job shall face a maximum prison sentence of two years or a substantial fine.

Violence and Harassment: From January to August, the Alliance of Independent Journalists reported 24 cases of violence against journalists that included doxing, physical assaults, and verbal intimidation and threats perpetrated by various actors, including government officials, police and security personnel, members of mass organizations, and the general public.

On March 4, Yasmin Bali, a journalist for Malukunews.com, was assaulted by Galib Warang, reportedly a friend of West Seram Regent Muhammad Yasin Payapo, in Maluku Province. Bali and several journalists had originally come to the regent’s office to interview the regional secretary. While waiting for the interview, Bali attempted to take a photo, at which point Warang punched him. Media reported that the assault happened in front of the regent. As of September 16, Warang was on trial for the incident.

On March 27 in Surabaya, East Java, security guards assaulted Nurhadi (no last name), a journalist for Tempo magazine, who was covering a story about a former Ministry of Finance official named as a suspect in a corruption case. Nurhadi went to the official’s daughter’s wedding reception to collect information for the report. While escorting Nurhadi from the reception, security guards allegedly destroyed his phone, punched him, and threatened to kill him. Nurhadi was taken to a second location where he was interrogated and beaten by two police officers. In May police named the two officers, Purwanto (no last name) and Firman Subkh, as suspects for assaulting Nurhadi. As of November 24, the trial for the two officers was ongoing. The suspects were not detained during the trial per a request from Surabaya Police.

In May IndonesiaLeaks, a joint investigative journalism project, reported the attempted hacking of websites and personal social media accounts of those associated with the project. Journalists associated with the project also reported that police followed them and took photos as they interviewed sources at cafes. The alleged intimidation occurred after IndonesiaLeaks made public its investigation into the head of the Corruption Eradication Commission and the reasons behind his alleged use of a civil service test to weaken the commission (see section 4). As a result of threats and intimidation, IndonesiaLeaks discontinued the use of its Twitter account in June.

In July the Bukit Barisan Regional Military Command identified four soldiers as suspects in the June 19 killing of Mara Salem Harahap, editor in chief of lassernewstoday.com, in Simalungun Regency, North Sumatra Province. Police had previously named two other suspects, the owner and staff of a local nightclub, in the killing. Police reported that Harahap often visited the nightclub and threatened to report on its involvement in drug trafficking if he was not given free drugs. The nightclub owner provided money to one of the soldiers to “deter” Harahap from continuing this extortion. On September 13, one of the soldiers, Awaluddin (no last name), died due to unknown causes at a hospital. As of October 28, another soldier, Dani Effendi, was reportedly on trial in military court for his involvement in the killing. As of October 28, the trial for the owner and staff of the night club was ongoing.

Censorship or Content Restrictions: The Attorney General’s Office has authority to monitor written material and request a court order to ban written material; this power was apparently not used during the year.

The Broadcasting Commission has the power to restrict content broadcast on television and radio and used that authority to restrict content deemed offensive. On March 17, the commission issued a circular on television programs aired during the month of Ramadan, which contained a provision that programs not show physical intimacy such as kissing or cuddling. Another provision prohibited television programs from having lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, or queer content. In June the commission issued a list of 42 English-language songs that were prohibited from being played before 10 p.m. due to their content. Included in the list were songs by Bruno Mars, Ariana Grande, Maroon 5, and Busta Rhymes.

The government-supervised Film Censorship Institute censored domestic and imported movies for content deemed religiously or otherwise offensive.

Libel/Slander Laws: Criminal defamation provisions prohibit libel and slander, which are punishable with five-year prison terms. The truth of a statement is not a defense.

NGOs alleged that government officials, including police and the judiciary, selectively used criminal defamation to intimidate individuals and restrict freedom of expressions.

On June 22, Andi Dharmawansyah was sentenced to one month in jail for defaming Andi Suryanto Asapa, the former district head of health for Sinjai Regency, South Sulawesi Province. On February 16, Dharmawansyah posted an accusation online that Asapa was the mastermind behind cuts to a compensation fund intended for the heirs of health workers who died from COVID-19.

On September 10, presidential Chief of Staff Moeldoko filed criminal defamation complaints with police against researchers from Indonesia Corruption Watch. The criminal complaint focuses on statements made by the organization in July accusing Moeldoko of having a conflict of interest in promoting the use of Ivermectin as a treatment for COVID-19 because of his daughter’s close relationship with PT Harsen Laboratories, the producer of Ivermectin. Moeldoko denied that his daughter had any business relationship with PT Hansen Laboratories. Prior to filing these charges, Moeldoko sent three cease and desist letters to Indonesia Corruption Watch, the first delivered on July 29. As of year’s end, the Criminal Investigative Agency of the police was investigating the complaint.

On September 22, Coordinating Minister of Maritime and Investment Affairs Luhut Pandjaitan filed criminal and civil defamation complaints with police against Fatia Maulidiyanti, coordinator for KontraS, and Haris Azhar, executive director of the Lokataru Foundation. The complaints focus on statements made by Maulidiyanti in an August 20 video hosted on Azhar’s YouTube channel accusing Pandjaitan of having an economic interest in the conflict in Papua, based on an August report by a coalition of 10 NGOs on mining interests in Papua. Pandjaitan’s lawyers and spokesperson denied the activists’ accusations and stated they lacked a factual basis for claiming Pandjaitan has a conflict of interest in Papua. As of year’s end, the Criminal Investigative Agency was investigating the complaint after efforts to arrange mediation sessions between the parties stalled.

National Security: The government used legal provisions barring advocacy of separatism to restrict the ability of individuals and media to advocate peacefully for self-determination or independence in different parts of the country.

Nongovernmental Impact: Hardline Muslim groups sometimes intimidated perceived critics of Islam. On September 3, a group destroyed an Ahmadiyya mosque in Sintang Regency, West Kalimantan Province. The destruction of the mosque followed protests against the Ahmadi by a group called the Alliance of the Islamic Ummah and an August 14 order by the Sintang regent closing the mosque. Police arrested 22 individuals in connection with the case, naming three of those arrested as potential masterminds of the attack. As of November 24, government officials were investigating the incident and the involvement of hardline groups and the local government.

Criminal groups also reportedly used intimidation and violence against journalists who exposed their operations. On June 13, unknown persons set fire to the house of Syahzara Sopian, a journalist for a local newspaper in Binjai, North Sumatra. On June 26, four unknown armed persons, in an apparent attempt to kill him, attacked Sopian in a cafe; Sopian escaped. As of July 14, police had arrested five individuals and were still pursuing four other suspects in the case. Police reported that the apparent motive for the arson and attempted murder was Sopian’s reporting on an illegal gambling ring operating in the city.

On November 7, a group calling itself the “Homeland Militant Defender Army” threw an explosive device into the house of the parents of human rights activist Veronica Koman in Jakarta, leaving behind a note containing threats and demanding that Koman return to the country. No one was injured in the bombing. Koman went to Australia in late 2019 after police stated she would be arrested on charges of inciting violent protests related to Papua. A police spokesperson stated that the bombing was likely related to Koman’s activism related to the situation in Papua. As of November 24, there has been no update on the status of the police investigation into the attack.

b. Freedoms of Peaceful Assembly and Association

The constitution and law provide for the freedoms of peaceful assembly and association, but the government sometimes restricted these freedoms.

Freedom of Peaceful Assembly

The law provides for freedom of assembly, and outside Papua the government generally respected this right. The law requires demonstrators to provide police with written notice three days before any planned demonstration and requires police to issue a receipt for the written notification. This receipt acts as a de facto license for the demonstration. Restrictions on public gatherings imposed to address the COVID-19 pandemic limited the public’s ability to demonstrate. NGOs claimed that the government selectively enforced COVID-19 related restrictions to prevent antigovernment protests.

Police in Papua routinely refused to issue such demonstration receipts, believing the demonstrations would include calls for independence, an act prohibited by law. A Papua provincial police decree prohibits rallies by seven organizations labeled as pro-independence, including the National Committee of West Papua, the United Liberation Movement for West Papua, and the Free Papua Movement.

On May 25, several hundred persons joined a protest against the extension and revision of Papua’s special autonomy in Manokwari Regency, West Papua. Police dispersed the crowd, stating it was a violation of COVID-19 restrictions on public gatherings, arresting 146 individuals. On August 10, police arrested 14 students from Cendrawasih University in Jayapura, Papua Province for involvement in a protest demanding the release of Victor Yeimo (see section 1.e.). NGOs reported that these protesters were often injured in the process of arrest.

NGOs reported that protests related to Papua across the country were routinely disrupted by police and protesters were arrested. On January 27, protesters gathering in front of the parliament building in Jakarta were arrested before they could begin their demonstration against the extension and revision of Papua’s special autonomy. On March 5, Papuan students held a protest in Semarang, Central Java Province opposing the extension and revision of Papua’s special autonomy. Police disbursed the protest and arrested 20 individuals. On March 8, police arrested 46 persons in Denpasar, Bali Province, during a protest against the extension and revision of Papua’s special autonomy; police said they were arrested for violating COVID-19 related restrictions.

On March 9, Malang Police Chief Senior Commander Leonardus Harapantua Simarmata Permata threatened protesters from the Papuan Students Alliance in Malang, East Java. In a video of the incident, which was spread widely online, Permata can be heard saying “if you cross that line your blood is halal.” Activists and media reported the statement as a threat to shoot the protesters if they crossed a police barrier. On March 23, a Police Internal Affairs spokesperson stated they were investigating the incident. In June Permata was reassigned to be principal examiner for the National Police Forensic Lab; it was not clear whether this reassignment was related to the incident.

On May 1, students in Medan, North Sumatra Province, protested against the 2020 Omnibus Law on Job Creation, calling for its cancellation. Police arrested 14 of the protesters, during which time several students were injured.

Freedom of Association

The constitution and law provide for freedom of association, which the government generally respected. The regulations on registration of organizations were generally not onerous. Some LGBTQI+ advocacy groups, however, reported that when attempting to register their organizations, they were unable to state explicitly that they were LGBTQI+ advocacy groups on their registration certificate.

To register officially, foreign NGOs must have a memorandum of understanding with a government ministry. Some organizations reported difficulties obtaining these memoranda and claimed the government withheld them to block their registration, although cumbersome bureaucracy within the Ministry of Law and Human Rights was also to blame. Foreign NGOs could continue to operate in the country without registration, but those lacking registration were unable to work directly with government programs.

In December 2020, Coordinating Minister for Political, Legal, and Security Affairs Mahfud MD announced a joint ministerial decree that declared the Islamic Defenders Front, a hardline Islamic organization, “nonregistered” and banned the organization, its symbols, and its activities. The Islamic Defenders Front’s permit to operate as a religious organization expired in June 2019; it was operating without a clear legal status for 18 months. Mahfud MD stated that during this period the organization had broken the law and violated public order and refused to amend its articles of association to make it consistent with the law, specifically the national ideology of Pancasila. A coalition of prominent human rights organizations released a statement asserting that while they criticized the Islamic Defenders Front’s violent actions, hate speech, and violations of the law, the joint ministerial decree was not consistent with the country’s constitution and was an unjust restriction on the rights of association and expression.

c. Freedom of Religion

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

d. Freedom of Movement and the Right to Leave the Country

The law provides for freedom of internal movement and generally allows for travel outside of the country. The law gives the military broad powers, in a declared state of emergency, to limit land, air, and sea traffic. The government did not use these powers during the year. The government instituted a variety of restrictions on movement intended to prevent the spread of COVID-19. Some NGOs and activists criticized the frequent changes of these restrictions and their inconsistent enforcement.

In-country Movement: The government continued to impose administrative hurdles for travel by NGOs, journalists, foreign diplomats, and others to Papua and West Papua. After the COVID-19 pandemic began, authorities severely limited movement in and out of Papua and West Papua, enforcing these restrictions far more strictly and for a longer period than elsewhere.

e. Status and Treatment of Internally Displaced Persons

The government collects data on displacement caused by natural hazards and conflict through the National Disaster Management Authority, although the lack of systematic monitoring of return and resettlement conditions made it difficult to estimate reliably the total number of internally displaced persons (IDPs). The Internal Displacement Monitoring Center reported there were 161,000 IDPs due to disasters and 40,000 IDPs due to conflict and violence as of December 2020.

The law stipulates the government must provide for “the fulfillment of the rights of the people and displaced persons affected by disaster in a manner that is fair and in line with the minimum service standards.” IDPs in towns and villages were not abused or deprived of services or other rights and protections, but resource and access constraints delayed or hindered the provision of services to IDPs in some cases, notably for those who fled to the countryside and forests to escape conflict in Papua and West Papua.

The return of persons displaced by conflict in Papua and West Papua was slow and difficult. Fighting in the highlands of Puncak Regency, Papua Province in 2019 led to thousands of displaced persons relocating to the capital of Illaga. The local government recorded that as of June 2, approximately 3,019 persons from 23 villages remained displaced as a result of conflict.

f. Protection of Refugees

The government cooperated with the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees and other humanitarian organizations in providing protection and assistance to refugees, returning refugees, or asylum seekers, as well as other persons of concern.

Access to Asylum: The country is not a signatory to the 1951 UN Refugee Convention and does not allow permanent local settlement or naturalization of asylum seekers or persons judged to be refugees. The government allows refugees to settle temporarily while awaiting permanent resettlement. The law acknowledges UNHCR’s role in processing all refugee status determinations in the country. Regulations establish a detailed refugee management process, outlining the specific responsibilities of national and subnational agencies from the time of refugee arrival to departure for resettlement or repatriation. UNHCR officials reported 13,343 known refugees and asylum seekers were in the country as of August.

Section 3. Freedom to Participate in the Political Process

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

Elections and Political Participation

Recent Elections: In April 2019 Joko Widodo (popularly known as Jokowi) won a second five-year term as president. Voters also elected new members of the House of Representatives and the Regional Representative Council, as well as provincial and local legislatures. Domestic and international observers deemed the elections free and fair.

Participation of Women and Members of Minority Groups: No law limits participation of women and members of historically marginalized or minority groups in the political process, and they did participate. The law on political parties mandates that women comprise a minimum of 30 percent of the founding membership of a new political party.

Section 4. Corruption and Lack of Transparency in Government

The law provides criminal penalties for official corruption, but government efforts to enforce the law were insufficient. There were numerous reports of government corruption during the year. Despite the arrest and conviction of many high-profile and high-ranking officials, including the former ministers of maritime and social affairs, there was a widespread perception that corruption remained endemic. NGOs claimed that endemic corruption was one cause for human rights abuses, with moneyed interests using corrupt government officials to harass and intimidate activists and groups that impeded their businesses.

The Corruption Eradication Commission, national police, the armed forces’ Special Economics Crime Unit, and the Attorney General’s Office may all investigate and prosecute corruption cases. Coordination between these offices, however, was inconsistent and coordination with the armed forces unit was nonexistent. The Corruption Eradication Commission does not have authority to investigate members of the military, nor does it have jurisdiction in cases where state losses are valued at less than IDR one billion ($70,000).

Many NGOs and activists maintained that the Corruption Eradication Commission’s ability to investigate corruption was limited because its supervisory body was selected and appointed by the president and because the commission was part of the executive branch. Commission investigators were sometimes harassed, intimidated, or attacked because of their work.

On May 5, the Corruption Eradication Commission conducted a civics exam for all commission employees as part of a legally mandated transition process to convert commission staff to regular civil service status. Seventy-five employees failed the test, including prominent investigators who had criticized the commission’s leadership and 2019 amendments to the commission’s statute and who were involved in many high-profile investigations, including those of two ministers (see below). On July 15, the national ombudsman concluded the exam was improperly administered and that the commission lacked the legal standing to compel employees to take the exam. NGOs and media reported that the test was a tactic to remove specific investigators, including Novel Baswedan, a prominent investigator who had led a case resulting in the imprisonment of the speaker of the House of Representatives and who had been injured in an acid attack perpetrated by two police officers. On September 30, the commission dismissed 57 of the 75 who failed the test.

On August 30, the commission’s supervisory board determined that the commission Deputy Chairperson Lili Pintauli Siregar was guilty of an ethics violation in her handling of a bribery case involving the mayor of Tanjung Balai, Muhammad Syahrial. The board determined Siregar had inappropriate contact with the subject of an investigation for her own personal benefit and imposed a one-year, 40 percent pay reduction for Siregar for the infraction.

Corruption: The Corruption Eradication Commission investigated and prosecuted officials suspected of corruption at all levels of government. Several high-profile corruption cases involved large-scale government procurement or construction programs and implicated legislators, governors, regents, judges, police, and civil servants. In 2020 the commission recovered state assets worth approximately IDR 152 billion ($10.7 million); it conducted 114 investigations, initiated 81 prosecutions, and completed 111 cases resulting in convictions. The Attorney General Office’s Corruption Taskforce was also active in the investigation and prosecution of high-profile corruption cases.

On March 10, two police generals were convicted and sentenced for taking bribes from Djoko Soegiarto Tjandra, a fugitive from charges of involvement in a Bank Bali debt scandal, to assist him in traveling around the country while a fugitive. Inspector General Napoleon Bonaparte was sentenced to four and one-half years in prison for taking IDR 7.2 billion ($500,000) in bribes; Brigadier General Prasetijo Utomo was sentenced to three and one-half years for taking IDR 1.4 billion ($100,000). On April 5, Tjandra was sentenced to four and one-half years in prison for bribing Bonaparte, Utomo, and a prosecutor.

On July 16, former minister of marine affairs and fisheries Edhy Prabowo was found guilty of accepting bribes from businessmen and misusing his authority to expedite export permits for lobster larvae. Prabowo was sentenced to five years in prison, a substantial fine, and barred from public office for three years after the end of his sentence.

On August 23, former social affairs minister Juliari Peter Batubara was found guilty of accepting IDR 20.8 billion ($1.45 million) in kickbacks related to government food assistance programs created to alleviate hunger during the COVID-19 pandemic. Juliari was sentenced to 12 years in prison, ordered to pay IDR 14.6 billion ($1 million) in restitution, a fine of IDR 500 million ($34,700), and barred from running for public office for four years after the end of his prison term.

According to NGOs and media reports, police commonly demanded bribes ranging from minor payoffs in traffic cases to large amounts in criminal investigations. Corrupt officials sometimes subjected Indonesian migrants returning from abroad, primarily women, to arbitrary strip searches, theft, and extortion.

Bribes and extortion influenced prosecution, conviction, and sentencing in civil and criminal cases. Anticorruption NGOs accused key individuals in the justice system of accepting bribes and condoning suspected corruption. Legal aid organizations reported cases often moved very slowly unless a bribe was paid, and in some cases, prosecutors demanded payments from defendants to ensure a less zealous prosecution or to make a case disappear.

In 2020 the National Ombudsman received 284 complaints related to maladministration in court decisions. From January 1 to October 30, 2020, the Judicial Commission received 1,158 public complaints of judicial misconduct and recommended sanctions against 121 judges. The Judicial Commission reported that from January 4 to April 30, they had received 494 complaints of judicial misconduct.

Section 5. Governmental Posture Towards International and Nongovernmental Investigation of Alleged Abuses of Human Rights

Domestic and international human rights organizations generally operated without government restriction, except in Papua and West Papua, investigating and publishing findings on human rights cases and advocating improvements to the government’s human rights performance. Government representatives met with local NGOs, responded to their inquiries, and took s