Egypt

Executive Summary

According to its constitution, Egypt is a republic governed by an elected president and unicameral legislature. Presidential elections were held in March 2018. Challengers to the incumbent President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi pulled out ahead of the election, citing personal decisions, political pressure, legal troubles, and unfair competition; in some cases they were arrested for alleged violations of candidacy rules. Domestic and international organizations expressed concern that government limitations on association, assembly, and expression severely constrained broad participation in the political process. Domestic and international observers concluded that government authorities professionally administered parliamentary elections in 2015 in accordance with the country’s laws, while also expressing concern about restrictions on freedom of peaceful assembly, association, and expression and their negative effect on the political climate surrounding the elections.

The Interior Ministry supervises law enforcement and internal security, including the Public Police, the Central Security Force (CSF), the National Security Sector (NSS), and Customs and Immigration. The Public Police are responsible for law enforcement nationwide. The CSF protects infrastructure and is responsible for crowd control. The NSS is responsible for internal security threats and counterterrorism along with other Egyptian security services. The armed forces report to the minister of defense and are responsible for external defense, but they also have a mandate to “assist” police in protecting vital infrastructure during a state of emergency. Military personnel were granted full arrest authority in 2011 but normally only use this authority during states of emergency and “periods of significant turmoil.” Defense forces operate in the Sinai as part of a broader national counterterrorism operation with general detention authority. The Border Guard Forces, under the Ministry of Defense, are responsible for border control. Civilian authorities maintained effective control over the security forces.

In April the country held a national referendum that approved new constitutional amendments, which among other outcomes extended President Sisi’s current term from four years to six years and allowed the president to run for a third six-year term in 2024. Domestic and international press reported multiple violations of the elections law by the government in the referendum process, including arrests of opponents. The State Council blocked all legal challenges to the referendum and amendments.

President Sisi requested that parliament approve a nationwide state of emergency (SOE) after the 2017 terrorist attack on Coptic churches. Since then, the government has requested, and parliament has renewed, SOEs with one- or two-day gaps between every two SOE periods to meet the legal requirement that SOEs may only be renewed once. In North Sinai, a partial SOE has been in effect since 2014. The government regularly renews that SOE every three months and has imposed partial curfews on parts of North Sinai.

Significant human rights issues included: unlawful or arbitrary killings, including extrajudicial killings by the government or its agents and terrorist groups; forced disappearance; torture; arbitrary detention; harsh and life-threatening prison conditions; political prisoners; arbitrary or unlawful interference with privacy; the worst forms of restrictions on free expression, the press, and the internet, including arrests or prosecutions against journalists, censorship, site blocking, and the existence of unenforced criminal libel; substantial interference with the rights of peaceful assembly and freedom of association, such as overly restrictive laws governing civil society organizations; restrictions on political participation; violence involving religious minorities; violence targeting lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and intersex (LGBTI) persons; use of the law to arbitrarily arrest and prosecute LGBTI persons; and forced or compulsory child labor.

The government inconsistently punished or prosecuted officials who committed abuses, whether in the security services or elsewhere in government. In most cases the government did not comprehensively investigate allegations of human rights abuses, including most incidents of violence by security forces, contributing to an environment of impunity.

Attacks by terrorist organizations caused arbitrary and unlawful deprivation of life. Terrorist groups conducted deadly attacks on government, civilian, and security targets throughout the country, including places of worship. Authorities investigated terrorist attacks and prosecuted alleged perpetrators. Terrorists and other armed groups abducted civilians in North Sinai, some of whom they beheaded. There were incidents of societal sectarian violence against Coptic Christian Egyptians.

Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:

a. Freedom of Expression, Including for the Press

The constitution provides for freedom of expression, including for the press, but includes a clause stating, “It may be subject to limited censorship in times of war or public mobilization.” The government frequently did not respect this right.

Freedom of Expression: Citizens expressed their views on a wide range of political and social topics. Nonetheless, the government investigated and prosecuted critics for alleged incitement of violence, insults to religion, insults to public figures and institutions such as the judiciary and the military, or violation of public morals. Individuals also faced societal and official harassment for speech viewed as sympathetic to political protests in other countries, such as Mohamad Ramadan who remained in pretrial detention after his December 2018 arrest for “inciting social unrest” by posting a photo on Facebook of himself wearing a yellow vest akin to those worn by political protesters in France.

The law provides a broad definition of terrorism, to include “any act harming national unity or social peace.” Human rights observers expressed concern that authorities could use the ambiguous definition to stifle nonviolent speech and nonviolent opposition activity.

Between January and June, a local organization that tracks freedom of association and speech recorded 138 violations of the freedoms of media and artistic and digital expression. One example cited by The Association for Freedom of Thought and Expression (AFTE) is the June 25 arrest of several political figures after they met to form a new political alliance (Alliance of Hope) to run in 2020 parliamentary elections. On August 6, the Cairo Criminal Court upheld a freeze on the assets of 83 defendants in the case (no. 930/2019). On September 3, board members of the Journalists’ Syndicate, journalists, and families of the detainees submitted three official complaints to NCHR claiming that the detainees were experiencing poor detention conditions and medical negligence. The next hearing on the renewal of the detention of the defendants was scheduled for January 8, 2020.

On September 24, authorities arrested Hazem Hosni and Hassan Nafaa, both political science professors at Cairo University who were outspoken critics of President Sisi. Hosny was also a spokesman for the 2018 presidential campaign of Sami Anan (see section 3). According to media, Nafaa’s arrest came minutes after a local channel aired a leaked conversation between Nafaa and an al-Jazeera producer in which Nafaa demanded LE 16,500 ($1,000) for conducting an interview with al-Jazeera. On December 17, the State Security Prosecutor ordered the renewal of Hosni and Nafaa’s detention for 15 days pending investigations on charges of joining a banned group and spreading false news.

In a November 19 report, HRW claimed it had documented 28 cases from 2016 to 2019 in which authorities harassed or threatened one or more family members of journalists, media workers, and political and human rights activists who have criticized the government and now live abroad.

Press and Media, Including Online Media: Independent media were active and expressed a variety of views but with significant restrictions. Independent media reported that entities wholly or partially owned by the intelligence services assumed control of several independent media companies throughout the year. The constitution, penal code, and media and publications law govern media issues. The government regulated the licensing of newspapers and controlled the printing and distribution of a majority of newspapers, including private newspapers and those of opposition political parties. The law does not impose restrictions on newspaper ownership.

The more than 20 state-owned media outlets broadly supported official state policy. The National Press Authority holds the power to appoint and dismiss editorial leadership of state-owned print outlets. The governmental Egyptian Radio and Television Union appointed the heads of state-owned radio and television channels. Both state-owned and private media (including television and online journalism) occasionally broadcast and published mild criticism of government policies, but dominant media narratives supported the president and his policy initiatives.

The law considers websites and social media accounts with at least 5,000 subscribers as media outlets, requires them to pay a licensing fee of 50,000 Egyptian pounds (LE) ($3,030), and grants the Supreme Council for Media Regulation (SCMR) broad discretion to block their content. According to media reports, the SCMR fined the weekly newspaper al-Mashhad LE 50,000 ($3,030) in March and blocked its website for six months for allegedly publishing sexually explicit material. Al-Mashhad claimed it did not publish illicit material and that the censorship was due to its reports claiming that a police station in Cairo extorted business owners to fund food to be given to voters in the April referendum. According to media reports, the SCMR also prevented al-Mashhad from sending 30 journalists to report from polling stations during the referendum.

As of December the Committee to Protect Journalists reported there were 26 imprisoned journalists in the country.

On June 23, the al-Tahrir news agency stated it was shutting down operations after authorities blocked its website on May 9. According to a June 25 report by the Committee to Protect Journalists, the SCMR issued a bylaw in March stating that websites in violation of Egypt’s media laws would be blocked.

On November 24, unidentified security officials raided the office of news site Mada Masr, seized documents and electronic equipment, and detained three staff members. Detained staff members were taken to a police station before being released several hours later. On November 27, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs released a statement saying that Mada Masr was investigated because it was operating without a permit. No additional information was available on the status of the investigation as of December 16.

On May 21, a court ordered the release of al-Jazeera journalist Mahmoud Hussein, who had been held for 880 days in pretrial detention for allegedly disseminating false news and receiving monetary funds from foreign authorities to defame the state’s reputation. Before processing his release, authorities rearrested Hussein, who remained in pretrial detention awaiting formal charges.

Violence and Harassment: According to media reports and local and international human rights groups, state actors arrested and imprisoned, harassed, and intimidated journalists. Foreign correspondents reported cases where the government denied them entry, deported them, and delayed or denied issuance of media credentials; some claimed these actions were part of a government campaign to intimidate foreign media.

According to media reports, on February 20, authorities detained David Kirkpatrick, a New York Times reporter, in the Cairo International Airport and prevented him from entering the country. Kirkpatrick was the Cairo bureau chief for The New York Times from 2011 to 2015 and is the author of a book on Egypt, Into the Hands of the Soldiers.

Censorship or Content Restrictions: Official censorship occurred. The SOE empowered the president to monitor newspapers, publications, editorials, drawings, and all means of expression and to order the seizure, confiscation, and closure of publications and print houses.

According to media reports, authorities blocked 34,000 websites prior to the April referendum, including sites gathering signatures to oppose the amendments. On June 23, AFTE reported that authorities censored three issues of the leftist Al Tagammaa Party’s weekly Al Ahly newspaper that discussed presidential pardons, corruption, and a planned government cabinet reshuffle. The AFTE report noted the government had previously censored Al-Dostour, Al-Mesryoon, Sawt Al Ummah, Al-Sabah, and Al-Bawaba newspapers.

Some activists and many journalists reported privately they self-censored criticism of the government or comments that could be perceived as sympathetic to the MB, due to the overall anti-MB and progovernment media environment. Publishers were also wary of publishing books that criticized religious institutions, such as al-Azhar, or challenged Islamic doctrine.

On March 22, the Musicians’ Syndicate banned famous singer Sherine Abdel Wahab from performing and summoned her for questioning for “insulting Egypt.” The syndicate lifted the ban in early June after she publicly apologized.

Libel/Slander Laws: Local and international rights groups reported several cases of authorities charging and convicting individuals with denigrating religion under the so-called blasphemy law, targeting primarily Christians but also Muslims.

On January 29, atheist video blogger Sherif Gaber launched a crowdfunding page called “Help Me Escape Egypt” to aid him in purchasing another nationality. On March 29, he posted on Twitter that there were two warrants for his arrest for treason and receiving funding from unknown sources. Gaber was arrested for denigration of Islam-related charges in 2018, 2015, and 2013. As of December 16, the government had not detained him.

National Security: The law allows government censors to block the publication of information related to intelligence and national security.

The law imposes a fine on any person who “intentionally publishes…or spreads false news.” The fine is many times the average annual salary of most local journalists. In March 2018 authorities established hotlines for members of the public to call or leave text messages reporting fake news in either traditional or social media that endangers state security.

Judges may issue restraint orders to prevent media from covering court cases considered sensitive on national security grounds. Rights groups stated authorities sometimes misused the orders to shield government, police, or military officials from public scrutiny. Citing safety and security, the government and military restricted media access to many parts of North Sinai.

Authorities have held blogger Islam al-Refai, known as Khorm, who ran a satirical Twitter account with 75,000 followers, in pretrial detention since 2017, according to his attorney. NGOs continued to claim that authorities used counterterrorism and state-of-emergency laws and courts unjustly to prosecute journalists, activists, lawyers, political party members, university professors, and critics for their peaceful criticism.

The constitution protects the right to privacy, including on the internet. The constitution provides for the confidentiality and “inviolability” of postal, telegraphic, and electronic correspondence; telephone calls; and other means of communication. They may not be confiscated, revealed, or monitored except with a judicial order, only for a definite period, and only in cases defined by law. The constitution prohibits the government from “arbitrarily” interrupting, disconnecting, or depriving citizens seeking to use all forms of internet communications.

Despite legal protections, the government restricted and disrupted access to the internet and censored online content. There were credible reports the government monitored private online communications without appropriate legal authority including cyberattacks to gain access to devices and accounts belonging to critics of the government. Law enforcement agencies restricted or disrupted individuals’ access to the internet, and the government monitored social media accounts and internet usage, relying on a law that only allows targeted interception of communications under judicial oversight for a limited period and does not permit indiscriminate mass surveillance. The public prosecutor prosecuted individuals accused of posting “insulting” material.

The counterterrorism law criminalizes the use of the internet to “promote ideas or beliefs that call for terrorist acts” or to “broadcast what is intended to mislead security authorities or influence the course of justice in relation to any terrorist crime.” The law also authorizes the public prosecutor and investigators to monitor and record online communications among suspects in terrorism cases for a period of 30 days, renewable in 30-day increments. The law does not specify a maximum period.

The cybercrime law of August 2018 states, “the relevant investigating authority may, when the evidence indicates that a website is broadcasting phrases, numbers, pictures, videos, or any promotional material, that constitutes one of the crimes enshrined in this law, and poses a threat to national security or endangers the security or economy of the country, order the blocking of the website.” The government had not issued implementing regulations for the law as of September.

There were reports the government temporarily blocked access to internet messaging applications. On March 5, the Ministry of Communications and Information Technology denied reports that the government monitored social media sites. On March 14, there were reports that authorities blocked Facebook and other social media platforms.

The government attempted to disrupt the communications of terrorist groups operating in Sinai by cutting mobile services, internet, and sometimes landlines.

The law obliges internet service providers and mobile operators to allow government access to customer databases, allowing security forces to obtain information regarding activities of specific customers, which could lead to lack of online anonymity.

There were reports authorities monitored social media and internet dating sites to identify and arrest LGBTI individuals (see section 6, Acts of Violence, Discrimination, and Other Abuses Based on Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity).

A local news site reported in April that the government blocked its website and 500 more in Egypt. The blocked sites included international NGOs, local human rights NGOs, and numerous virtual private network services. Some blockages appeared intended to respond to critical coverage of the government or to disrupt antigovernment political activity or demonstrations. On April 15, NetBlocks.org reported that the government blocked 34,000 internet domains to stop an online campaign to gather signatures to oppose the April constitutional referendum. On May 22, a local organization that tracks freedom of association and speech reported the government blocked 26,175 websites to block the Batel “Void” Campaign launched on April 8 to petition against the April referendum. After September 20 street protests (see section 2.b.), internet users throughout the country reported difficulty accessing Facebook Messenger and the news websites of the BBC, al-Jazeera, and al-Hurra. A spokesperson for the Supreme Council for Media Regulation said the BBC and other news websites may have been blocked because of their “inaccurate” coverage of the protests.

In 2017 the news website Mada Masr sued the government seeking information on why it was blocked. In September 2018 the Court of Administrative Justice referred the case for technical review by the Justice Ministry’s Authority of Experts. This review was pending at year’s end. Defense lawyers claimed it could take years to examine the case.

There were reports of politically motivated cyberattacks. A March 6 report from AI documented a wave of digital attacks that likely originated from government-backed bodies, starting from early January and involving multiple attempts to gain access to the email accounts of prominent Egyptian human rights defenders, media, and civil society organization staff.

In October, The New York Times reported that a series of cyberattacks targeting journalists, opposition politicians, and human rights activists, in which attackers installed software on the targets’ phones that enabled them to read the victims’ files and emails and track their locations, was traced to the Ministry of Communications and Information Technology and that geographic coordinates embedded in one of the applications used to track the targeted individuals corresponded to the headquarters of the General Intelligence Service.

There were reports of government restrictions on academic freedom and cultural events. The removal of references to the country’s 2011 and 2013 revolutions from high school history class curricula continued after a 2017 decree from the Ministry of Education. According to media and local rights groups, a degree of self-censorship, similar to that reported by nonacademic commentators, existed when academics publicly commented on sensitive political and socioeconomic issues. Faculty members needed security agency approval to travel abroad for academic purposes. Faculty and officials at public universities and research centers also must obtain Ministry of Foreign Affairs permission to travel abroad for any reason.

On August 14, the Middle East Studies Association Committee on Academic Freedom requested the government to lift the travel ban on University of Washington doctoral student Walid Salem. Authorities arrested Salem in May 2018 while he was conducting political science dissertation research on the Egyptian judiciary and released him in December 2018 with a travel ban and probation pending trial.

According to a local human rights organization, authorities released Helwan University science professor Yehia al-Qazzaz from prison on May 23, following his 2018 arrest based on a complaint filed against him by the university’s dean of the faculty of sciences for comments al-Qazzaz made on Facebook critical of President Sisi. According to the organization, after al-Qazzaz’s release, the president of Helwan University continued to harass al-Qazzaz with investigations over his 2018 political comments and by referring him to university disciplinary procedures for being absent from work while he was in prison.

There was censorship of cultural events. A prime ministerial decree issued in June 2018 declares it unlawful to hold a special event or festival without “prior license from the Ministry of Culture and liaising with relevant state entities.” This requirement added to existing regulations, under which organizations must obtain a permit from the Ministry of Culture’s Censorship Board, as well as permits from the Ministry of Interior and the relevant artists’ union for concerts, performances, and other cultural events. The Ministry of Culture must approve all scripts and final productions of plays and films. The ministry censored foreign films to be shown in theaters but did not censor the same films sold as DVDs.

On May 26, after remaining in pretrial detention since his arrest in February 2018, authorities released film editor Ahmed Tarek on probationary measures pending trial. According to his lawyer, authorities held Tarek incommunicado at National State Sector headquarters three days. Tarek faced charges of spreading false news and joining a group established contrary to the provisions of the law. The charges stemmed from his work on a documentary, Minus 1,095 Days, which sought to rebut claims in a state-produced film highlighting President Sisi’s accomplishments called 1,095 Days.

b. Freedoms of Peaceful Assembly and Association

The government restricted freedoms of peaceful assembly and association.

The constitution provides for freedom of assembly “according to notification regulated by law.” The demonstrations law includes an expansive list of prohibited activities, giving a judge the authority to prohibit or curtail planned demonstrations after submitting an official memorandum. Domestic and international human rights organizations asserted the law did not meet international standards regarding freedom of assembly. In 2017 a local human rights organization filed a lawsuit challenging the 1914 law, arguing that it was passed by an incompetent body and repealed in 1929. The court was expected to issue a ruling in the case on January 4, 2020. In 2017 the government imposed an exclusion zone of 2,600 feet (790 meters) around vital governmental institutions in which protests are prohibited.

There were protests throughout the year, mostly small, and some occurred without government interference. In most cases the government rigorously enforced the law restricting demonstrations, in some cases using force, including in cases of small groups of protesters demonstrating peacefully.

In September local NGOs reported police arrested more than 4,000 individuals after small protests erupted in several cities over accusations of corruption against President Sisi. Many of the individuals detained reportedly had no connection to the protests and happened simply to be in the vicinity of the protests. Police and prosecutors subsequently released more than 2,500 of those detained. Local human rights organizations claimed that, in some instances, detainees were tortured or subjected to other abuses.

The cumulative number of persons arrested under the protest law was not publicly available. On May 13, authorities arrested political activist Haytham Mohamadeen, who police had surveilled since his October 2018 release following five months in pretrial detention. On May 14, authorities arrested political activist Mostafa Maher, the brother of political activist Ahmed Maher, who co-founded the April 6 movement. On December 25, Mostafa Maher received a release order that was immediately appealed by the prosecutor. Both remained in pretrial detention pending charges of “colluding with a terrorist group.”

On April 22, the final day of voting for the referendum, authorities arrested Ahmed Badawi, an engineer and member of the liberal Dostour Party, after he raised a sign saying “No to the constitutional changes” outside a polling station in Cairo. According to local media, authorities arrested four members of the Dostour Party in February after they reportedly voiced objection to the proposed constitutional amendments.

According to a local human rights organization, thousands of persons whom authorities arrested during 2013 and 2014 due to their participation in demonstrations (some of which were peaceful) remained imprisoned; however, authorities released others who had completed their sentences and some through presidential pardons. Authorities reportedly held such individuals under charges of attending an unauthorized protest, incitement to violence, or “blocking roads.”

Human rights groups claimed authorities inflated or used these charges solely to target individuals suspected of being members of groups in opposition to the government or those who sought to exercise the rights to free assembly or association.

On March 29, authorities conditionally released prominent activist Alaa Abdel Fattah, whom a court convicted of participating in a protest in 2013. The conditions of a Court of Cassation sentence in 2017 require Abdel Fattah to report to the Dokki police station from 6 p.m. to 6 a.m. each day for the next five years, but he may report at 7:30 p.m. during Ramadan. Abdel Fattah was appealing the nightly sentence and requesting that he be allowed to fulfill its terms from home. On September 29, police detained Abdel Fattah as he prepared to leave after spending the night in the police station and charged him with belonging to a terrorist organization, funding a terrorist group, spreading false news to undermine national security, and using social media to commit a publishing offense. Local NGOs reported he was tortured or subjected to other abuses while in custody in Tora Prison. As of year’s end, Abdel Fattah, along with his attorney Mohamed Elbakr, remained in detention on charges of “joining a banned group” and “spreading false news.”

Since their release from prison in 2017 after completing three-year sentences for violating the protest law, activists Ahmed Maher and Mohamed Adel remained on probation with terms requiring them to reside in the local police station from 6 p.m. to 6 a.m. each day. In May authorities rearrested Maher and released him a few days later on charges of beating a citizen and damaging his car outside a police station. Authorities also rearrested Adel in another case. On December 16, an administrative court ruled that the order to compel Adel to spend every night inside a police station as part of his probation was invalid. The court ruled that Adel could spend the daily probationary period from 6 p.m. until 6 a.m. inside his home, according to a lawyer.

On May 21, authorities arrested several high school boys who protested in front of the Ministry of Education building regarding the repeated failures of new electronic systems in their schools; they were released the following day.

The constitution provides for freedom of association. The law governing associations, however, significantly restricts this right.

President Sisi signed a new NGO law on August 19. The law replaced a 2017 law which local and international NGOs stated could make it impossible for them to operate independently; the 2017 law was never implemented. According to International Center for Not-Profit Law (ICNL), the new law includes noteworthy improvements from the 2017 law in several respects, such as by eliminating individual prison sentences for violations and by removing the previous formal oversight role for security and intelligence authorities over foreign funding and foreign organizations. However, ICNL also assessed that the new law preserves the former law’s overall restrictive regulatory approach and continues to impose significant barriers to civil society activity.

Pending the promulgation of implementing regulations for the new law, the Ministry of Social Solidarity continued to apply the previous NGO law on international and domestic organizations receiving international funding. Rights groups reported fewer incidents of security services ordering cancellation of planned training programs or other events. On February 2, the Supreme Constitutional Court ruled unconstitutional several articles of the previous NGO law, which gives the minister of social solidarity the right to dissolve NGOs.

The penal code criminalizes the request for or acceptance of foreign funds, materiel, weapons, ammunition, or “other things” from states or NGOs “with the intent to harm the national interest.” Those convicted may be sentenced to life in prison (or the death penalty in the case of public officials) for crimes committed during times of war or with “terrorist purpose.”

On October 16, a local NGO announced that authorities arrested lawyer Amr Emam after he announced on October 14 that he intended to go on a hunger strike and begin a sit-in to protest the arrests and alleged abuse of journalist Esraa Abdel Fattah, activist Alaa Abdel Fattah, and his attorney Mohamed Elbakr. As of year’s end, Emam remained in detention pending investigations in case no. 488 of 2019 on charges of “colluding with a terrorist organization,” “publishing fake news,” and “misusing social media to spread false information.”

On May 2, Cairo Criminal Court renewed the pretrial detention of Ibrahim Metwally Hegazy, founder of the Association of the Families of the Disappeared. Authorities arrested him in 2017 at the Cairo International Airport and initially held him incommunicado. Hegazy was traveling to Geneva to participate in the WGEID. The charges against him included “communicating with a foreign body to harm the Egyptian national interest.” On May 20, the WGEID stated that it “remains concerned” that the measures against Hegazy “constitute acts of reprisals against him for cooperating with the Working Group.” On October 15, the Cairo Criminal Court ordered Hegazy’s release. On November 5, Hegazy appeared in front of the State Security Prosecution accused in a new case of “belonging to a terrorist group” and “funding a terrorist group.” On November 20, UN human rights rapporteurs criticized Hegazy’s continued detention.

Following the December 2018 acquittal of 41 mostly foreign NGO workers sentenced in 2013 for operating unlicensed organizations and receiving foreign funding without government permission, a court acquitted the remaining two defendants in May.

The MB, the MB-affiliated Freedom and Justice Party, and its NGO remained illegal, and the MB was listed as a designated terrorist organization.

Authorities continued investigations of local NGOs that received foreign funding under a case originally brought in 2011. The Cairo Criminal Court postponed until February 15, 2020, a motion to lift the travel bans imposed on eight defendants in the case, including Nazra for Feminist Studies founder Mozn Hassan, accused of receiving foreign funding to harm national security in connection with her NGO.

A court case brought by el-Nadeem Center for the Rehabilitation of Victims of Violence (also registered under the name el-Nadeem for Psychological Rehabilitation) challenging a 2016 closure order remained pending an expert report ordered by the court. The organization asserted the closure was politically motivated, targeting el-Nadeem because of its work investigating torture, deaths in detention, and impunity for these crimes. The organization continued to operate in a limited capacity.

c. Freedom of Religion

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

d. Freedom of Movement

The law provides for freedom of internal movement, foreign travel, emigration, and repatriation, and the government generally respected these rights, albeit with some exceptions, including the handling of potential refugees and asylum seekers. The government cooperated with the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) and other humanitarian organizations in providing protection and assistance to refugees, asylum seekers, stateless persons, and other persons of concern. Authorities maintained a “no-fly” list that prevented some defendants in court cases from fleeing the country.

In-country Movement: Citizens and foreigners may not travel freely in areas of the country designated as military zones. The government sought to prevent private individuals, journalists, civil society figures, and international organizations from entering North Sinai, stating it was to protect their safety, although it began organizing some supervised visits for journalists to North Sinai in July.

Foreign Travel: The constitution states, “No citizen may be prevented from leaving the State territory.”

Nonetheless, men who have not completed compulsory military service and have not obtained an exemption may not travel abroad or emigrate. National identification cards indicated completion of military service.

Authorities required citizens between ages 18 and 40 to obtain permission from the Interior Ministry to travel to 16 countries: Georgia, Guinea, Indonesia, Iraq, Jordan, Lebanon, Libya, Malaysia, Qatar, South Africa, South Korea, Sudan, Syria, Thailand, Turkey, , and Yemen. Enforcement of these regulations was sporadic. The government stated it intended these regulations to make it more difficult for citizens to join terrorist groups and to stop flight of criminals. These regulations also affected the ability of other individuals to travel outside the country.

The government-imposed travel bans on human rights defenders and political activists under investigation or formally charged. Local human rights groups maintained that authorities used travel bans to intimidate and silence human rights defenders, including individuals connected with NGOs facing investigation as part of the reopened NGO foreign-funding case. A September 2018 court ruling stated a travel ban “does not require the investigation of certain facts and their certainty,” but there must be “serious evidence that there are reasons for it and that the decision to prevent travel is due to security reasons and the interests of the state.”

Democracy activist Esraa Abdel Fattah remained unable to depart the country as a result of a travel ban (see section 1.c. regarding her arrest).

Exile: There was no government-imposed exile, and the constitution prohibits the government from expelling citizens or banning citizens from returning to the country. Some Mubarak- and Morsi-era politicians lived outside the country by choice and stated they faced government threats of prosecution.

Not Applicable.

f. Protection of Refugees

Abuse of Migrants, Refugees, and Stateless Persons: From April to June, 413 incidents of sexual and gender-based violence (SGBV) were reported to UNHCR and CARE International, which provided SGBV prevention activities and counseling to 1,750 refugee and asylum seekers.

Media, NGOs, and UNHCR staff reported multiple cases of attacks against refugees, particularly women and children. According to UNHCR, refugees sometimes reported harassment, sexual harassment, and discrimination. Refugee women and girls, particularly sub-Saharan Africans, faced the greatest risk of societal, sexual, and gender-based violence.

According to UNHCR and press reports, police security sweeps increased in neighborhoods known to house Syrian, Sudanese, and other African refugees, as well as migrants, resulting in increased detentions. Detainees reported authorities subjected them to verbal abuse and poor detention conditions.

Refoulement: Although the government often contacted UNHCR upon detaining unregistered migrants and asylum seekers, authorities reportedly sometimes encouraged unregistered detainees to choose to return to their countries of origin or a neighboring country to avoid continued detention, even in cases where the individuals expressed a fear of return. The number of these cases was unknown.

Compared with previous years, fewer Palestinian refugees from Syria entered the country illegally, intending to travel to Europe. In a number of cases, in the absence of valid travel documents or inability to confirm their identities they faced more difficulties, including higher chances of detention or deportation.

Access to Asylum: The constitution provides for the protection of political refugees, but the laws do not provide for granting asylum or refugee status, and the government has not established a comprehensive legal regime for providing protection to refugees. The government granted UNHCR authority to make refugee status determinations. UNHCR does not register Libyan citizens; neither does it register or assist Palestinian refugees in the country.

According to UNHCR as of June 30, asylum seekers in the country came mainly from Syria, as well as from Eritrea, Ethiopia, South Sudan, Sudan, and Yemen. The number of African refugees increased during the year, according to UNHCR, particularly those from Eritrea, Ethiopia, and Sudan.

Since 2013 the government has applied a system of visa and security clearance requirements for Syrian nationals and Palestinian refugees from Syria, thus assuring no direct entries from Syria since Egypt lacked consular services there. Following the UNHCR high commissioner’s visit in 2017, the country relaxed its visa requirements for Syrians seeking family reunification.

Reports of irregular movements of individuals, including asylum seekers, and detention of foreign nationals attempting to depart the country irregularly via the Mediterranean remained low during the year, according to UNHCR, following parliament’s passage and enforcement of a law that dramatically increased patrols on the country’s Mediterranean coast in 2016.

UNHCR and its partners usually had regular access, by request, to detained registered refugees and asylum seekers along the north coast. Local rights groups faced continued resistance from the government when trying to interview detainees at Qanater men’s and women’s prisons outside Cairo, which housed the majority of detained refugees and asylum seekers. Authorities generally granted UNHCR access to asylum seekers at all prison and detention facilities. Authorities generally released asylum seekers registered with UNHCR, although frequently did not do so for detained migrants, many of whom were Eritrean, Ethiopian, Somali, and Sudanese (who may have had a basis for asylum claims). Detained migrants–as unregistered asylum seekers–did not have access to UNHCR. Authorities often held them in in police stations until UNHCR or other aid agencies assisted them, although sometimes authorities sent them to regular prisons alongside convicted criminals or deported them.

The government has never recognized UNHCR’s mandate to offer services to Palestinians outside of the fields of operations of the UN Relief and Works Agency, reportedly due to a belief that allowing UNHCR registration would negate Palestinian refugees’ alleged right of return. Approximately 2,900 Palestinian refugees from Syria were also present in the country, the majority reportedly in Cairo. The Palestinian Authority mission in the country provided limited assistance to this population. The Swiss Red Cross also provided some humanitarian assistance to Palestinian refugees from Syria.

Employment: No law grants or prohibits refugees the right to work. Those seeking unauthorized employment were challenged by lack of jobs and societal discrimination, particularly against sub-Saharan Africans. Refugees who found work took low-paying jobs in the informal market, such as domestic servants, and were vulnerable to financial and sexual exploitation by employers.

Access to Basic Services: Refugees, in particular non-Arabic-speaking refugees from sub-Saharan Africa, received limited access to some services, including health care and public education. According to UNHCR, refugees can fully access public-health services, although many did not have the resources to do so, and prices were often higher for refugees due to discrimination. The Interior Ministry restricted access for some international organizations seeking to assist migrants and refugees in Sinai. UNHCR was unaware of any migrants detained in Sinai since 2016. UNHCR provided some refugees with modest support for education and health care, as well as small monthly financial assistance grants for particularly vulnerable refugees. The International Organization for Migration provided additional assistance to particularly vulnerable migrants and individual asylum cases either rejected or being processed by UNHCR.

Refugee children not enrolled in public schools mainly attended refugee-run schools, private schools, or were home schooled. The law requires government hospitals to provide free emergency medical care to refugees, but many hospitals did not have adequate resources to do so. In some cases hospitals insisted that refugees provide payment in advance of receiving services or refused to provide services to refugees. One local refugee agency reported some refugees died due to the lack of medical care. As of March 19, UNHCR reported 10 protests and two suicides committed by refugees in response to the lack of adequate services. In response to the influx of Syrians, the government allowed Syrian refugees and asylum seekers access to public education and health services. The Ministry of Education estimated that 35,000 school-age Syrian children (approximately 90 percent) enrolled successfully in the public-school system.

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. Constraints on freedom of expression, association, and assembly, however, limited citizens’ ability to do so.

Recent Elections: The country held a presidential election in March 2018 resulting in the re-election of President Sisi with 92 percent of the vote. President Sisi’s sole opponent, Moussa Moustapha Moussa, received 3 percent of the vote, less than the number of spoiled ballots. Moussa registered his candidacy on January 29, the last possible day to register, and until the day before he registered his candidacy, he was a member of a campaign supporting President Sisi for a second term. Prior to the elections, authorities arrested some potential candidates for allegedly violating military prohibitions for public office and reportedly pressured others against running in the elections; some candidates remained in detention as do journalists arrested based on their coverage of the elections. Authorities were still holding chief editor of the now-blocked Masr al-Arabiya news site Adel Sabri, satirist Shady Abu Zeid, and former Constitution Party leader Shady al-Ghazaly Harb in pretrial detention. Authorities arrested them with other bloggers, researchers, and students between February 4 and May 23, 2018, in cases no. 621/2018 and 441/2018 on charges including spreading false news and joining a banned group. According to Front Line Defenders, authorities arrested Sabri in April 2018 after Masr al-Arabiya published a translation of a New York Times article that claimed authorities gave bribes to citizens to vote during the presidential elections. According to local media, authorities arrested Harb in May 2018 after he made statements about the presidential elections. Domestic and international organizations expressed concern that government limitations on association, assembly, and expression severely constrained broad participation in the political process.

International news media alleged that, in some instances, voters were paid to vote. The Supreme Media Regulatory Council fined some news outlets publishing critical coverage of the presidential election and also referred several journalists to the Journalists Syndicate for investigation (see section 2.a.).

Parliamentary elections were held in 2015. Domestic and international observers concluded that government authorities professionally administered these elections, while also expressing concern about restrictions on freedom of peaceful assembly, association, and expression and their negative effect on the political climate surrounding the elections.

In April a national referendum approved constitutional amendments extending President Sisi’s current term from four years to six years (ending in 2024) and allowing the president to run for a third six-year term in 2024. The amendments expand the role of the armed forces to include “safeguarding the constitution and democracy” and the role of the president to include appointing the heads of judicial bodies and chairing the Supreme Council for Judicial Bodies and Entities. They also limit the State Council’s authority to review laws. The amendments also add a second chamber (Senate) to the parliament and allow the president to appoint one or more vice presidents.

Multiple domestic and international organizations and press reported interference by the government in the referendum process: arrests of independent and partisan individuals who opposed the constitutional amendments publicly on social media accounts; distribution of food packages and cash as incentives to vote yes; a large presence of banners and media promoting the amendments and a lack of opposition banners and media; a government ban on websites opposing the amendments, including those gathering “no vote” signatures; the lack in some polling stations of a list of the proposed amendments; progovernment supporters to mobilize near and in polling stations; and allowing out-of-district voters to vote in all polling stations, which allowed for the possibility of casting multiple votes.

Political Parties and Political Participation: The constitution grants citizens the ability to form, register, and operate political parties. The law requires new parties to have a minimum of 5,000 members from each of at least 10 governorates. The constitution also states, “No political activity may be practiced and no political parties may be formed on the basis of religion or discrimination based on gender, origin, or sectarian basis or geographic location. No activity that is hostile to democratic principles, secretive, or of military or quasi-military nature may be practiced. Political parties may not be dissolved except by virtue of a court judgment.”

The Freedom and Justice Party, the political wing of the MB, remained banned. Authorities did not ban other Islamist parties, including the Strong Egypt Party and the Building and Development Party. Separate military courts sentenced former chief of staff of the armed forces Sami Anan to six years in prison for violating military discipline by announcing his intention to run for president in 2018 and to four years in prison for forgery. On December 22, Anan was released from detention by military prosecution order.

Participation of Women and Minorities: No laws limit participation of women or, members of minorities in the political process, and they did participate. Social and cultural barriers, however, limited women’s political participation and leadership in most political parties and some government institutions. Voters elected a record number of 75 women, 36 Christians, and nine persons with disabilities to parliament during the 2015 parliamentary elections, a substantial increase compared with the 2012 parliament. The House of Representatives law outlines the criteria for the electoral lists, which provides that the House of Representatives must include at least 56 women, 24 Christians, and nine persons with disabilities. The April constitutional amendments introduced a 25 percent quota in the House of Representatives for women and a requirement to better represent workers, farmers, youth, Christians, Egyptians abroad, and individuals with disabilities. In 2015 the president appointed 28 additional members of parliament, including 14 women and two Christians. The House of Representatives law grants the president the authority to appoint House of Representatives members, not to surpass 5 percent of the total number of elected members. If the president opts to use this authority, one-half of his appointments must be women, according to the law. Parliament included 89 women and 38 Christians.

Eight women led cabinet ministries. There were two Christians among the appointed governors of the 27 governorates. In 2018 authorities appointed Manal Awad Michael, a Coptic woman, governor of Damietta, making her the country’s second female governor. No women were on the Supreme Constitutional Court. In 2018 the Supreme Judiciary Council promoted 16 female judges to higher courts, including the Qena Appeals Court. Legal experts stated there were approximately 66 female judges serving in family, criminal, economic, appeals, and misdemeanor courts; that total was less than 1 percent of judges. Several senior judges were Christian.

On November 6, member of parliament Ahmed Tantawi told press that parliament has referred him to an ethics committee for posting a video criticizing President Sisi.

Of the eight stateless persons known to UNHCR, most were Armenians displaced for more than 50 years. According to a local civil society organization, the number of stateless persons in the country was likely higher than the number recorded by UNHCR. The government and UNHCR lacked a mechanism for identifying stateless persons, including those of disputed Sudanese/South Sudanese nationality and those of disputed Ethiopian/Eritrean nationality. A majority of the approximately 70,000 Palestinian refugees were stateless.

Section 4. Corruption and Lack of Transparency in Government

The law provides criminal penalties for corruption by officials, but the government did not consistently implement the law effectively, and officials sometimes engaged in corrupt practices with impunity.

Corruption: The Central Agency for Auditing and Accounting was the government’s internal anticorruption body and submitted reports to the president and prime minister that were not available to the public. The auditing and accounting agency stationed monitors at state-owned companies to report corrupt practices. The Administrative Control Authority (ACA), another state institution with technical, financial, and administrative independence, had jurisdiction over state administrative bodies, state-owned enterprises, public associations and institutions, private companies undertaking public work, and organizations to which the state contributes in any form. The ACA is a civilian agency led by personnel seconded from the military and intelligence services. The ACA has no oversight role for allegations of corruption involving the military. In addition to anticorruption, it also has jurisdiction for criminal violations to include human trafficking and financial crimes.

On April 3, the World Bank offered a positive assessment of the country’s anticorruption efforts. The ACA raised more than 400 corruption-related cases and took legal action against more than 1,400 employees January to August. For example, on August 20, the ACA arrested the secretary general of the SCMR, Ahmed Selim, for bribery and corruption.

In another case, on September 15, the Illicit Gains Authority referred Souad al-Khouli, the former deputy governor of Alexandria, to the criminal court based on charges of illegally obtaining more than LE 907,500 ($55,000) by exploiting her public positions. On April 4, the Port Said Felonies court sentenced Gamal Abdel Azim, the former head of the Customs Authority, to 10 years in prison and a fine of LE 769,000 ($46,600) on charges of corruption and bribery. A February report by the Project on Middle East Democracy criticized the lack of transparency in ACA investigations and alleged the organization may selectively target individuals for investigation at the behest of the Presidency.

In August Mohamed Ali, a disgruntled former contractor whose contracting company formerly carried out civilian projects for the army, posted a series of videos accusing President Sisi of wasting public funds on prestige projects. President Sisi stated the allegations were “lies and slander” and that the projects were necessary to build a new state.

Financial Disclosure: There are no financial disclosure laws for public officials. A 2013 conflict-of-interest law forbids government officials from maintaining any pecuniary interest in matters over which they exercise authority.

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

International and local human rights organizations stated the government continued to be uncooperative. On April 16, the local development minister said the government had established human rights units in 25 governorates and planned to establish units in Cairo and North Sinai as well. Government officials publicly asserted they shared the civil society organizations’ goals, but they rarely cooperated with or responded to the organizations’ inquiries, according to local NGOs. Some units were in the formative stage, staffed by personnel from the governor’s complaints office who receive basic human rights training. The cabinet established a committee on human rights chaired by the minister of foreign affairs to prepare UN reports and respond to human rights allegations raised against the country. Domestic civil society organizations criticized the government’s consultations with civil society as insufficient.

Extended delays in gaining government approvals and an unclear legal environment continued to limit the ability of domestic and international NGOs to operate. State-owned and independent media frequently depicted NGOs, particularly international NGOs and domestic NGOs that received funding from international sources, as undertaking subversive activities. Some NGOs reported receiving visits or calls to staff, both at work and at home, from security service officers and tax officials monitoring their activities, as well as societal harassment.

Human rights defenders and political activists were also subjected to governmental and societal harassment and intimidation, including through travel bans (see section 2.d.). On October 31, the Arabic Network for Human Rights Information released a statement saying that security forces vandalized the car of a lawyer working for the organization and that several days prior security forces had physically beaten the organization’s director and stolen his car.

Well-established, independent domestic human rights NGOs struggled to operate amid increasing pressure from security forces throughout the country. Online censorship (see section 2.a.) diminished the roles of internet activists and bloggers in publicizing information concerning human rights abuses. Authorities sometimes allowed civil society organizations not registered as NGOs to operate, but such organizations often reported harassment, along with threats of government interference, investigation, asset freezes, or closure.

The government continued investigations into the receipt of foreign funding by several human rights organizations (see section 2.b.).

Major international human rights organizations, such as HRW and AI, have not had offices in the country since closing them in 2014 due to “concerns about the deteriorating security and political environment in the country.”

The United Nations or Other International Bodies: In October 2018 the UN special rapporteur on the right to adequate housing visited the country, the first rapporteur to visit since 2010. In a December 2018 statement, the rapporteur claimed that individuals she met during her trip faced retaliation in the form of forced evictions, housing demolitions, arbitrary arrest, intimidation, and other reprisals.

Nine other UN special rapporteurs had pending visit requests; the Ministry of Foreign Affairs stated it was committed to facilitating their visits by the end of 2019. Authorities did not allow the International Committee of the Red Cross access to prisoners and detainees. The Interior Ministry provided some international organizations informal access to some detention centers where authorities detained asylum seekers, refugees, and migrants to provide humanitarian assistance (see section 2.d.).

Following backlash from domestic and international human rights organizations, the United Nations postponed plans for an international conference on torture in Cairo in September.

Government Human Rights Bodies: The quasi-governmental NCHR monitored government abuses of human rights submitted in the form of citizen complaints to the government. The NCHR continues to function with its existing membership, even though under the law the terms of existing NCHR members ended in 2016. A number of well-known human rights activists served on the organization’s board, although some observers alleged the board’s effectiveness was sometimes limited because it lacked sufficient resources and the government rarely acted on its findings. The council at times challenged and criticized government policies and practices, calling for steps to improve its human rights record. In early October the NCHR criticized police procedures during the September arrests of citizens, including not informing arrestees of the charges against them and forcing citizens to display the contents of their mobile phones. In response the Interior Ministry stated that all arrests were legal. The NCHR also held a conference in September to discuss the NGO law and Egypt’s preparations for the Universal Periodic Review with local human rights organizations, and in October to discuss torture.

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

Rape and Domestic Violence: The law criminalizes rape, prescribing penalties of 15 to 25 years’ imprisonment, or life imprisonment for cases of rape involving armed abduction. Spousal rape is not illegal. The government did not effectively enforce the law. Civil society organizations reported police pressure not to pursue charges.

In July police arrested a 15-year-old girl who confessed that she had killed a bus driver who she alleged had kidnapped her in a deserted rural area near Cairo and sought to sexually assault her at knife point. The case was pending pretrial detention as of October 2. On November 12, the prosecutor general said in a statement that there were no grounds to prosecute her.

Domestic violence was a significant problem. The law does not prohibit domestic violence or spousal abuse, but authorities may apply provisions relating to assault with accompanying penalties. The law requires that an assault victim produce multiple eyewitnesses, a difficult condition for domestic abuse victims. Police often treated domestic violence as a social rather than criminal matter.

The Interior Ministry includes a unit responsible for combating sexual and gender-based violence. The NCW, a quasi-governmental body, was responsible for coordinating government and civil society efforts to empower women. In 2015 the NCW launched a five-year National Strategy to Combat Violence Against Women with four strategic objectives: Prevention, protection, intervention, and prosecution. An NCW study found that approximately 1.5 million women reported domestic violence each year.

Female Genital Mutilation/Cutting (FGM/C): FGM/C is illegal, but it remained a serious problem. According to international and local observers, the government did not effectively enforce the FGM/C law. In May the government formed a national task force to end FGM/C, led by the NCW and the National Council for Childhood and Motherhood (NCCM). The latest research conducted by the National Population Council shows that the number of girls ages 13-17 subjected to the procedure dropped to 72 percent in 2018.

In July the “Protecting Her from FGM” campaign was launched by the National Commission for the Elimination of Female Genital Mutilation and included a door-to-door campaign in all governorates to raise awareness among local communities about the harmful effects of FGM/C, in cooperation with the committees of child protection and rural leaders.

In July Dar al-Iftaa, responsible for issuing Islamic fatwas, said that female circumcision in its current form in Egypt is considered an attack on the body of women and therefore is prohibited and not permissible under Islamic law.

A 2016 amendment to the law designated FGM/C a felony, as opposed to a misdemeanor as it was previously, and assigned penalties for conviction of five to seven years’ imprisonment for practitioners who perform the procedure or 15 years if the practice led to death or “permanent deformity.” The law granted exceptions in cases of “medical necessity,” which rights groups and subject matter experts identified as a problematic loophole that allowed the practice to continue.

Other Harmful Traditional Practices: The law does not specifically address “honor” crimes, which authorities treated as any other crime. There were no reliable statistics regarding the incidence of killings and assaults motivated by “honor,” but local observers stated such killings occurred, particularly in rural areas. Local media occasionally reported on incidents where fathers or brothers killed their daughters and sisters in alleged “honor killings” after they discovered they had premarital or extramarital relationships, especially in Upper Egypt.

Sexual Harassment: Sexual harassment remained a serious problem. The government claimed it prioritized efforts to address sexual harassment. The penal code defines sexual harassment as a crime, with penalties including fines and sentences of six months’ to five years’ imprisonment if convicted. Media and NGOs reported sexual harassment by police was also a problem, and the potential for further harassment further discouraged women from filing complaints.

A criminal court sentenced a man to 10 years in prison in March for cyber sexual harassment, after hacking a social media account of a university female student and using her personal photos to create fake accounts to send obscene messages.

The state-affiliated Egyptian Football Association’s decision to overturn its initial decision to expel national soccer team player Amr Warda from the country’s Africa Cup of Nations squad for online sexual harassment of several women sparked anger among women activists and local NGOs. In July the Disciplinary Board at Cairo University dismissed Professor Yaseen Lasheen following allegations of sexual harassment and blackmail of a female student. Cairo University president Mohamed al-Khosht referred Lasheen to the Public Prosecution on allegations of sexual harassment and blackmail dating back to 2017.

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

Discrimination: The constitution provides for equal rights for male and female citizens. Women did not enjoy the same legal rights and opportunities as men, and discrimination was widespread. Aspects of the law and traditional societal practices disadvantaged women in family, social, and economic life.

Women faced widespread societal discrimination, threats to their physical security, and workplace bias in favor of men that hindered their social and economic advancement.

Laws affecting marriage and personal status generally corresponded to an individual’s religious group. A female Muslim citizen cannot legally marry a non-Muslim man. If she were to do so, authorities could charge her with adultery and consider her children illegitimate. Under the government’s interpretation of Islamic law, any children from such a marriage could be placed in the custody of a male Muslim guardian. Khula divorce allows a Muslim woman to obtain a divorce without her husband’s consent, provided she forgoes all her financial rights, including alimony, dowry, and other benefits. The Coptic Orthodox Church permits divorce only in rare circumstances, such as adultery or conversion of one spouse to another religion. Other Christian churches sometimes permitted divorce on a case-by-case basis.

The law follows sharia in matters of inheritance; therefore, a Muslim female heir generally receives one-half the amount of a male heir’s inheritance, and Christian widows of Muslims have no inheritance rights. A sole Muslim female heir receives one-half her parents’ estate, and the balance goes to the siblings of the parents or the children of the siblings if the siblings are deceased. A sole male heir inherits his parents’ entire estate.

On November 26, a court ruled that Huda Nasrallah, a Coptic woman, was entitled to a share of her father’s estate equal to those of her brothers. Nasrallah had challenged a lower court ruling that granted each of her brothers double her share. Nasrallah’s appeal reportedly cited Article 245 of the Orthodox personal status bylaws, issued in 1938, which grants Coptic Christian women equal inheritance to men, and argued that sharia does not apply to her as a Copt.

In marriage and divorce cases, a woman’s testimony must be judged credible to be admissible. Usually the woman accomplishes credibility by conveying her testimony through an adult male relative or representative. The law assumes a man’s testimony is credible unless proven otherwise.

Labor laws provide for equal rates of pay for equal work for men and women in the public but not the private sector. Educated women had employment opportunities, but social pressure against women pursuing a career was strong. Large sectors of the economy controlled by the military excluded women from high-level positions.

Birth Registration: Children derive citizenship through their parents. The mother or the father transmits citizenship and nationality. The government attempted to register all births soon after birth, but some citizens in remote and tribal areas such as the Sinai Peninsula resisted registration or could not document their citizenship. In some cases failure to register resulted in denial of public services, particularly in urban areas where most services required presentation of a national identification card.

Education: Education is compulsory, free, and universal until the ninth grade. The law provides this benefit to stateless persons and refugees. Public schools enrolled Syrian refugees, but they largely excluded refugees of other nationalities.

Child Abuse: The constitution stipulates the government shall protect children from all forms of violence, abuse, mistreatment, and commercial and sexual exploitation. According to a local rights group, authorities recorded hundreds of cases of alleged child abuse each month. The quasi-governmental NCCM works on child abuse issues, and several civil society organizations assisted runaway and abandoned children.

Rights organizations reported children faced mistreatment in detention, including torture, sharing cells with adults, denial of their right to counsel, and authorities’ failure to notify their families. In a November 2018 report, AI alleged it had documented six instances of torture and 12 instances of enforced disappearances involving children since 2015. The State Information Service released a response denying the report.

Early and Forced Marriage: The legal age of marriage is 18. On September 3, the NCCM announced it had received 432 complaints about child marriage cases on its hotline from 18 governorates since the beginning of the year. Families reportedly sometimes forced adolescent girls to marry wealthy foreign men in what were known locally as “tourism” or “summer” marriages for the purpose of sexual exploitation, prostitution, or forced labor. According to the law, a foreign man who wants to marry an Egyptian woman more than 25 years younger than he is must pay a fine of LE 50,000 ($3,030). Women’s rights organizations argued that allowing foreign men to pay a fine to marry much younger women represented a form of trafficking and encouraged child marriage. They called on the government to eliminate the system altogether. The Antitrafficking Unit at the NCCM is responsible for raising awareness of the problem.

Sexual Exploitation of Children: The law provides for sentences of not less than five years’ imprisonment and fines of up to LE 200,000 ($12,120) for conviction of commercial sexual exploitation of children and child pornography. The government did not adequately enforce the law. The minimum age for consensual sex is age 18.

Displaced Children: The Central Agency for Public Mobilization and Statistics and the NCCM estimated the number of street children to be 16,000, while civil society organizations estimated the number to be in the millions. The ministry offered shelters to street children, but many chose not to use them because staff treated the children as if they were criminals, according to local rights groups. According to rights groups, the incidence of violence, prostitution, and drug dealing in these shelters was high. Religious institutions and NGOs provided services for street children, including meals, clothing, and literacy classes. The Ministry of Health and Population provided mobile health clinics staffed by nurses and social workers. The Ministry of Social Solidarity also provided 17 mobile units in 10 governorates, offering emergency services, including food and health care, to street 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.

The country’s Jewish community reportedly numbered fewer than eight individuals. There were a few reports of imams, who are appointed and paid by the government, using anti-Semitic rhetoric in their sermons.

Journalists and academics made statements on state-owned television endorsing conspiracy theories about Jewish domination of world media and economy. Responding to a play by Ain Shams University in Cairo that portrayed the Holocaust, a political science professor at Cairo University said it promotes “Israeli myths.”

In May Egyptian-born Canadian actor Mena Massoud received heavy criticism in the press and on various social media platforms over his interview with a prominent Israeli newspaper website.

In August media commentators and local anti-Zionist organizations strongly criticized a theater performance on the Holocaust performed by university students in the National Theater Festival, accusing members of the cast of glorifying Zionism and insulting Muslims.

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

The constitution states persons with disabilities are equal without discrimination before the law. The law prohibits discrimination in education, employment, health, political activity, rehabilitation, training, and legal protection.

The law provides for persons with disabilities to gain access to vocational training and employment. Government policy sets a quota for employing persons with disabilities of 5 percent of workers with disabilities for companies with more than 50 employees. Authorities did not enforce the quota requirement, and companies often had persons with disabilities on their payroll to meet the quota without actually employing them. Government-operated treatment centers for persons with disabilities, especially children, were of poor quality.

During the year the parliament approved, and the president signed, a law to establish the National Council for People with Disabilities (NCPD), an independent body that aims to promote, develop, and protect the rights of persons with disabilities and their constitutional dignity. The council subsequently signed a cooperation protocol with the Ministry of Justice to guarantee the rights of persons with disabilities and to train employees in the government on how to help those with hearing impairments.

Persons with disabilities rode government-owned mass transit buses without charge, but the buses were not wheelchair accessible. Persons with disabilities received subsidies to purchase household products, wheelchairs, and prosthetic devices. Some children with disabilities attended schools with their nondisabled peers while others attended segregated schools. Some of the segregated institutions were informal schools run by NGOs. Some parents of children with disabilities often complained on social media of the lack of experience of teacher assistants assigned to help their children.

The law prohibits discrimination on any grounds. Nevertheless, dark-skinned Egyptians and sub-Saharan Africans faced discrimination and harassment, as did Nubians from Upper Egypt.

According to the constitution, the state should make efforts to return Nubians to their original territories and develop such territories within 10 years of the constitution’s 2014 ratification.

In April the State Security Emergency Court in Aswan fined 25 members of the indigenous Nubian minority LE 50,000 ($3,030) each, and cleared eight defendants over charges of organizing an unsanctioned protest in 2017, disrupting public order, and halting traffic in the southern city of Aswan, to pressure the government to return to ancestral lands.

While the law does not explicitly criminalize consensual same-sex sexual activity, it allows police to arrest LGBTI persons on charges such as “debauchery,” “prostitution,” and “violating the teachings of religion” and provides for prison sentences if convicted of up to 10 years. According to a local rights group, there were more than 250 reports of such arrests since 2013. Authorities did not use antidiscrimination laws to protect LGBTI individuals. Legal discrimination and social stigma impeded LGBTI persons from organizing or advocating publicly in defense of their rights. Information was not available on official or private discrimination in employment, occupation, housing, statelessness, or access to education or health care based on sexual orientation and gender identity. There were no government efforts to address potential discrimination. A Supreme Media Council (a semigovernmental body) ban on media supporting LGBTI persons and their rights continued. On January 21, a court in Giza sentenced television host Mohamed al-Ghiety to one year of hard labor for interviewing a gay man and also fined him LE 3,000 ($182) for “promoting homosexuality” on his privately owned LTC television channel. The gay man, whose identity was hidden, had talked about life as a sex worker.

There were reports of arrests and harassment of LGBTI individuals. Intimidation and the risk of arrest greatly restricted open reporting and contributed to self-censorship. Rights groups and activists reported harassment by police, including physical assault and forced payment of bribes to provide information concerning other LGBTI individuals or to avoid arrest. The government has the authority to deport or bar entry to the country of LGBTI foreigners.

There were reports that authorities used social media, dating websites, and cell phone apps to entrap persons they suspected of being gay or transgender, a method LGBTI advocates described as especially effective as LGBTI-friendly public spaces had largely closed during the past few years.

On March 6, authorities arrested a transgender woman for her alleged involvement in antigovernment demonstrations after a February 27 train crash in Cairo’s Ramses Station. According to local press, authorities sexually assaulted al-Kashef, subjected her to a public anal examination, and placed her in solitary confinement in a male prison. Authorities added her to an existing case which includes at least 35 persons, including transgender male Hossam Ahmed, who authorities also subjected to invasive physical exams and who remained in pretrial detention in a female prison as of December 16, despite a December 4 court order for his release. On July 18, al-Kashef was released from prison pending trial.

Rights groups reported that authorities, including the Forensic Medical Authority, conducted forced anal examinations. The law allows for conducting forced anal exams in cases of debauchery.

HIV-positive individuals faced significant social stigma and discrimination in society and the workplace. The health-care system provided anonymous counseling and testing for HIV, free adult and pediatric antiretroviral therapy, and support groups.

There were incidents of mob violence and vigilantism, particularly sectarian violence against Coptic Christian Egyptians. On July 1, the Court of Cassation upheld a death sentence issued against a suspect convicted of killing two Copts, terrorizing the Christian community of Shamiya village in Assiut, and imposing taxes on the village in 2013-14.

Section 7. Worker Rights

a. Freedom of Association and the Right to Collective Bargaining

The law provides for the rights of workers to form and join independent unions, bargain collectively, and strike, with significant restrictions. The constitution provides for freedom of association. The law prescribes union elections every four years and imposes a strict hierarchy for union formation consisting of a company-level trade union committee, a profession, or industry-level general union, and a national-level union. In June the International Labor Organization (ILO) Committee on the Application of Standards discussed the country’s failure to meet the terms of Convention 87 concerning the Freedom of Association and Protection of the Right to Organize. Specifically, the committee considered the minimum threshold of workers required to form an enterprise union appeared to restrict workers’ freedom of association, since 90 percent of all economic activity in the country is conducted in small and medium enterprises with fewer than 50 employees. The committee also noted that the high threshold requirements for general unions and confederations guaranteed the government-sponsored confederation a de facto monopoly.

In July parliament amended the 2017 trade unions law. The amendments reduced the minimum number of workers required to form a trade union committee from 150 to 50, the number of trade union committees required to form a general union from 15 to 10, and the number of workers required to form a general union from 20,000 to 15,000. The new amendments also decreased the number of unions necessary to establish a trade union federation from 10 to seven and the number of workers in a trade union federation from 200,000 to 150,000. Furthermore, the amendments replaced prison penalties for violations of labor laws with financial penalties.

While the law provides for collective bargaining, it imposes significant restrictions. For example, the government sets wages and benefits for all public-sector employees. The law does not provide for enterprise-level collective bargaining in the private sector and requires centralized tripartite negotiations that include workers, represented by a union affiliated with the Egyptian Trade Union Federation (ETUF), business owners, and the Ministry of Manpower overseeing and monitoring negotiations and agreements.

The constitution provides for the right to “peaceful” strikes. The Unified Labor Law permits peaceful strikes as well, but it imposes significant restrictions, including prior approval by a general trade union affiliated with ETUF. In May workers at the Mahala Egypt Spinning and Weaving Company went on strike over unpaid salaries and bonuses, which they ended when the company’s administration promised to pay the delayed wages.

The law prohibits antiunion discrimination and provides for the reinstatement of workers fired for union activity. Labor laws do not cover some categories of workers, including agricultural and domestic workers, and other sectors of the informal economy.

The Ministry of Manpower and affiliated directorates did not allow trade unions to adopt any bylaws other than those provided in the law. This position, according to local workers’ rights organizations, was contrary to the law, which states that unions can use the statutory bylaws as guidance to develop their own.

Government enforcement of applicable laws was inconsistent. The government also occasionally arrested striking workers and rarely reversed arbitrary dismissals. The government seldom followed the requirement for tripartite negotiations in collective disputes, leaving workers to negotiate directly with employers, typically after resorting to a strike.

Independent unions continued to face pressure to dissolve. In some cases the Ministry of Manpower delayed responding to unions’ applications for legal status, leaving many in legal limbo. In other instances the Ministry of Manpower refused to legalize proposed unions if an ETUF-affiliated counterpart existed. Independent labor activists claimed that the government placed obstacles on independent unions’ ability to participate in 2018 union elections by delaying or rejecting union registration.

Authorities arrested several labor organizers and subjected others to legal sanctions following the dispersal of a labor strike.

Workers sometimes staged sit-ins on government and private property, often without obtaining the necessary permits. Rights groups claimed authorities sometimes arrested those seeking to obtain protest permits. In January the engineers and workers in al-Nasr Contracting Company organized a strike at the New Administrative Capital to demand their late salaries. The security services reportedly arrested seven workers, including trade unionist Talal Atef. In April Sharabiya Appellant Misdemeanor Court sentenced the seven workers to 30 days in prison on charges of participating in an illegal gathering and refusing to perform their duties at work in order to harm the company. In March the Court of Cassation upheld a court ruling sentencing 27 police officers in South Sinai to three years in prison and cancelled a LE 6,000 fine over charges of protesting and going on strike. The incident dates back to January when 50 police officers in different sectors of South Sinai protested the Interior Ministry’s decision to reduce vacation days to 10 days a month instead of 15 days.

On September 16, security personnel in plain clothes arrested 19 workers who participated in a sit-in to demand payment of annual salary increases for the past two years and unpaid bonuses in a factory in Ismailia. The sit-in began on September 14 in front of the General Investment Authority and blocked the Cairo-Ismaili road. The prosecutor released 13 of the workers the same day without charges and detained six of them, including two women, for 15 days pending formal charges. On September 22, an Ismailia court released them on bail.

On October 7, thousands of Universal Company for Engineering Industries workers protested delayed salaries of three months and other unpaid benefits. Media reported that the protest continued for eight days and included 5,000 workers from different departments of the company.

b. Prohibition of Forced or Compulsory Labor

The constitution states no work may be compulsory except by virtue of a law. The government did not effectively enforce the prohibition but conducted awareness raising activities such as distributing antitrafficking informational booklets to migrant laborers, and the NCW conducted a media campaign about the treatment of domestic workers, a population vulnerable to trafficking, and worked with NGOs to provide some assistance to victims of human trafficking, including forced labor. Penalties were insufficient to deter violations.

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 does not prohibit all of the worst forms of child labor. The law sets the minimum age for regular employment at age 15 and at age 13 for seasonal employment. The constitution defines a child as anyone younger than 18. A Ministry of Manpower decree bars children younger than 18 from 44 specific hazardous occupations, while the law prohibits employment of children younger than 18 from work that “puts the health, safety, or morals of the child into danger.” Provincial governors, with the approval of the minister of education, may authorize seasonal work (often agricultural) for children age 13 and older, provided duties are not hazardous and do not interfere with schooling. The labor code and law limit children’s work hours and mandate breaks.

Overall, authorities did not enforce child labor laws effectively. The Ministry of Manpower, in coordination with the NCCM and the Interior Ministry, enforced child labor laws in state-owned enterprises and private sector establishments through inspections and supervision of factory management. Labor inspectors generally operated without adequate training on child labor issues, although the Ministry of Manpower offered some child labor-specific training. The government did not inspect noncommercial farms for child labor, and there were very limited monitoring and enforcement mechanisms for children in domestic service. When authorities imposed penalties for violations, fines were insufficient to deter violations.

Although the government often did not effectively enforce relevant laws, authorities implemented a number of social, educational, and poverty reduction programs to reduce children’s vulnerability to exploitive labor. The NCCM, working with the Ministries of Education and Social Solidarity, sought to provide working children with social security safeguards and to reduce school dropout rates by providing families with alternative sources of income.

Child labor occurred, although estimates on the number of child laborers varied. According to the 2012 joint ILO and Central Agency for Public Mobilization and Statistics child labor survey, of the 1.8 million children working, 1.6 million were engaged in child labor, primarily in the agricultural sector in rural areas but also in domestic work and factories in urban areas, often under hazardous conditions. Children also worked in light industry, the aluminum industry, construction sites, brick production, and service businesses such as auto repair. According to government, NGO, and media reports, the number of street children in Cairo continued to increase in the face of deteriorating economic conditions. Such children were at greater risk of sexual exploitation or forced begging. In some cases employers abused or overworked children. Children also worked in the production of limestone.

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 .

d. Discrimination with Respect to Employment and Occupation

The constitution states all citizens “are equal in rights, freedoms, and general duties without discrimination based on religion, belief, gender, origin, race, color, language, disability, social class, political or geographic affiliation, or any other reason.” It does not specify age, citizenship, sexual orientation, gender identity, or HIV-positive status or other communicable diseases. In April the Ministry of Justice started its first training course for 22 employees working at the state’s real estate departments in Giza and Cairo to use sign language to help persons with disabilities fill out documents. The training comes as part of a cooperation protocol signed in January between the Justice Ministry and the newly established NCPD. While the law provides for persons with disabilities to gain access to vocational training and employment, the government did not effectively enforce prohibitions against such discrimination. Discrimination also occurred against women and migrant workers (see sections 2.d. and 6), as well as workers based on their political views.

An employee facing discrimination can file a report with the local government labor office. If the employee and the employer are unable to reach an amicable settlement, they can file their claim in administrative court, which may order the employer to redress the complaint or to pay damages or legal fees. According to local rights groups, implementation of the law was inadequate. Additionally, the lengthy and expensive litigation process could deter employees from filing claims.

Local rights groups reported several cases of employers dismissing workers or depriving them from work for expressing antigovernment opinions. In March the actors’ professional syndicate revoked the memberships of well-known actors Khaled Abul Naga and Amr Waked, describing their actions as amounting to “high treason” against the homeland and the Egyptian people. The syndicate’s decision came after the two actors participated in a congressional briefing in Washington regarding the human rights situation in Egypt.

In June the Ministry of Religious Endowments warned it would terminate the employment of imams in Sharqiyah Governorate who violated the ministry’s instructions not to hold funeral prayers for the late president Morsi, who died on June 17.

e. Acceptable Conditions of Work

Challenges to improving working conditions in both the private sector and informal sector include uneven application or lack of regulations and restrictions on engaging in peaceful protests as a means of negotiating resolutions to workplace disparities. For example, there is no national minimum wage in the private sector, but the government sets a monthly minimum wage for government employees and public-sector workers, which is above the poverty line. According to labor rights organizations, the government implemented the minimum wage for public-sector workers but applied it only to direct government employees and included benefits and bonuses in calculating total salaries. For government employees and public business-sector workers, the government also set a maximum wage limit per month. The law does not require equal pay for equal work.

The law stipulates a maximum 48-hour workweek for the public and private sectors and provides for premium pay for overtime and work on rest days and national holidays. The law prohibits excessive compulsory overtime. The government sets worker health and safety standards, for example, prohibiting employers from maintaining hazardous working conditions. The law excludes agricultural, fisheries, and domestic workers from regulations concerning wages, hours, and working conditions.

The Ministry of Manpower is responsible for enforcing labor laws and standards for working conditions. The government did not effectively enforce the law. The ministry did not attempt to apply labor standards to the informal sector. Penalties, especially as they were often unenforced, were not sufficient to deter violations.

By law workers can remove themselves from situations that endanger health or safety without jeopardy to employment, although authorities did not reliably enforce this right. In March at least 10 workers were killed and 15 more were injured in an explosion at a military-owned phosphates and fertilizer production facility in Ain Sokhna, a port city east of Cairo. Workers blamed the factory’s administration for failing to comply with the health and safety measures at the site. In May, three workers were killed when a fire broke out in a plastic factory in Sadat city in Menofia Governorate.

According to media reports, laborers in some remote areas worked in extremely dangerous environments. In North Sinai, workers’ movements were restricted by local government-established curfews and checkpoints run by both the military and non-state armed groups. In June terrorists killed four civilian workers who were building a fence around the El Arish airport.

The government provided services, such as free health care, to all citizens, but the quality of services was often poor. Other benefits, such as social insurance, were available only to employees in the formal sector.

Many persons throughout the country faced poor working conditions, especially in the informal economy, which employed up to 40 percent of workers, according to some estimates. Domestic workers, agricultural workers, workers in rock quarries, and other parts of the informal sector were most likely to face hazardous or exploitive conditions. There were reports of employer abuse of citizen and undocumented foreign workers, especially domestic workers. Little information was available on workplace fatalities and accidents.

Iran

Executive Summary

The Islamic Republic of Iran is an authoritarian theocratic republic with a Shia Islamic political system based on velayat-e faqih (guardianship of the jurist). Shia clergy, most notably the rahbar (supreme leader), and political leaders vetted by the clergy dominate key power structures. The supreme leader is the head of state. The members of the Assembly of Experts are nominally directly elected in popular elections. The assembly selects and may dismiss the supreme leader. The candidates for the Assembly of Experts, however, are vetted by the Guardian Council (see below) and are therefore selected indirectly by the supreme leader himself. Ayatollah Ali Khamenei has held the position since 1989. He has direct or indirect control over the legislative and executive branches of government through unelected councils under his authority. The supreme leader holds constitutional authority over the judiciary, government-run media, and other key institutions. While mechanisms for popular election exist for the president, who is head of government, and for the Islamic Consultative Assembly (parliament or majles), the unelected Guardian Council vets candidates, routinely disqualifying them based on political or other considerations, and controls the election process. The supreme leader appoints half of the 12-member Guardian Council, while the head of the judiciary (who is appointed by the supreme leader) appoints the other half. Parliamentary elections held in 2016 and presidential elections held in 2017 were not considered free and fair.

The supreme leader holds ultimate authority over all security agencies. Several agencies share responsibility for law enforcement and maintaining order, including the Ministry of Intelligence and Security and law enforcement forces under the Interior Ministry, which report to the president, and the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC), which reports directly to the supreme leader. The Basij, a volunteer paramilitary group with local organizations across the country, sometimes acted as an auxiliary law enforcement unit subordinate to IRGC ground forces. The IRGC and the national army, or “Artesh,” provided external defense. Civilian authorities maintained effective control over the security forces.

In response to widespread protests that began November 15 after a fuel price increase, the government blocked almost all international and local internet connections for most of a week, and security forces used lethal force to end the protests, killing approximately 1,500 persons and detaining 8,600, according to international media reports. There was no indication government entities were pursuing independent or impartial investigations into protester deaths.

Significant human rights issues included executions for crimes not meeting the international legal standard of “most serious crimes” and without fair trials of individuals, including juvenile offenders; numerous reports of unlawful or arbitrary killings, forced disappearance, and torture by government agents, as well as systematic use of arbitrary detention and imprisonment; harsh and life-threatening prison conditions; hundreds of political prisoners; unlawful interference with privacy; significant problems with independence of the judiciary, particularly the revolutionary courts; severe restrictions on free expression, the press, and the internet, including violence, threats of violence, and unjustified arrests and prosecutions against journalists, censorship, site blocking, and criminalization of libel; substantial interference with the rights of peaceful assembly and freedom of association, such as overly restrictive nongovernmental organization (NGO) laws; severe restrictions of religious freedom; restrictions on political participation through arbitrary candidate vetting; widespread corruption at all levels of government; unlawful recruitment of child soldiers by government actors to support the Assad regime in Syria; trafficking in persons; violence against ethnic minorities; harsh governmental restrictions on the rights of women and minorities; crimes involving violence or threats of violence targeting lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and intersex (LGBTI) persons; criminalization of LGBTI status or conduct; and outlawing of independent trade unions.

Despite repeated calls from the international community, including the United Nations, the government effectively took no steps to investigate, prosecute, punish, or otherwise hold accountable officials who committed these abuses, many of which were perpetrated as a matter of government policy. This included abuses and numerous suspicious deaths in custody from previous years. Impunity remained pervasive throughout all levels of the government and security forces.

Government officials materially contributed to human rights abuses in Syria, through their military support for Syrian President Bashar Assad and Hizballah forces; in Iraq, through aid to pro-Iran militia groups; and in Yemen, through support for Houthi rebels, who targeted civilians and civilian infrastructure in Yemen and Saudi Arabia.

Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:

a. Freedom of Expression, Including for the Press

The constitution provides for freedom of expression, including for the press, except when words are deemed “detrimental to the fundamental principles of Islam or the rights of the public.” According to the law, “anyone who engages in any type of propaganda against the Islamic Republic of Iran or in support of opposition groups and associations shall be sentenced to three months to one year of imprisonment.”

The Charter on Citizens’ Rights acknowledges the right of every citizen to freedom of speech and expression. The charter grants citizens the right to seek, receive, publish, and communicate views and information, using any means of communication; however, it has not been implemented.

The law provides for prosecution of persons accused of instigating crimes against the state or national security or “insulting” Islam. The government severely restricted freedom of speech and of the press and used the law to intimidate or prosecute persons who directly criticized the government or raised human rights problems, as well as to bring ordinary citizens into compliance with the government’s moral code.

Freedom of Expression: Authorities did not permit individuals to criticize publicly the country’s system of government, supreme leader, or official religion. Security forces and the judiciary punished those who violated these restrictions, as well as those who publicly criticized the president, cabinet, and parliament. A July UN report noted “increasing restrictions” on freedom of expression.

The government monitored meetings, movements, and communications of its citizens and often charged persons with crimes against national security and for insulting the regime, citing as evidence letters, emails, and other public and private communications. Authorities threatened arrest or punishment for the expression of ideas or images they viewed as violations of the legal moral code.

In June and August, two dozen civil society activists circulated two separate letters calling on the supreme leader to step down and begin a process to develop a new constitution. Authorities arrested nearly all of the signatories to these letters and charged them with “propaganda against the state” and “collusion against national security.” Their trials continued before a revolutionary court.

Press and Media, Including Online Media: The government’s Press Supervisory Board issues press licenses, which it sometimes revoked in response to articles critical of the government or the regime, or it did not renew them for individuals facing criminal charges or incarcerated for political reasons. During the year the government banned, blocked, closed, or censored publications deemed critical of officials.

The Ministry of Culture and Islamic Guidance (Ershad) severely limited and controlled foreign media organizations’ ability to work in the country. The ministry required foreign correspondents to provide detailed travel plans and topics of proposed stories before granting visas, limiting their ability to travel within the country, and forced them to work with a local “minder.” According to the Washington Post, the ministry temporarily stopped issuing permits to any foreign correspondents during the summer.

Under the constitution private broadcasting is illegal. The government maintained a monopoly over all television and radio broadcasting facilities through IRIB, a government agency. Radio and television programming, the principal source of news for many citizens, particularly in rural areas with limited internet access, reflected the government’s political and socioreligious ideology. The government jammed satellite broadcasts as signals entered the country, a continuous practice since at least 2003. Satellite dishes remained illegal but ubiquitous. Those who distributed, used, or repaired satellite dishes faced fines up to 90 million rials (approximately $2,100). Police, using warrants provided by the judiciary, conducted periodic campaigns to confiscate privately owned satellite dishes throughout the country.

Under the constitution the supreme leader appoints the head of the Audiovisual Policy Agency, a council composed of representatives of the president, judiciary, and parliament. The Ministry of Culture reviews all potential publications, including foreign printed materials, prior to their domestic release and may deem books unpublishable, remove text, or require word substitutions for terms deemed inappropriate.

Independent print media companies existed, but the government severely limited their operations.

In June, Judge Mohammad Moghiseh, presiding over Tehran’s Revolutionary Court Branch 28, sentenced Masoud Kazemi, editor in chief of the monthly political magazine Sedaye Parsi, to four and one-half years in prison followed by a two-year ban from working as a journalist for national security charges of spreading misinformation and insulting the supreme leader. In November 2018 authorities arrested Kazemi for reporting on corruption in the Ministry of Industry.

Violence and Harassment: The government and its agents harassed, detained, abused, and prosecuted publishers, editors, and journalists, including those involved in internet-based media, for their reporting. The government also harassed many journalists’ families.

According to information provided by Journalism is not a Crime, an organization devoted to documenting freedom of the press in the country, at least 38 journalists or citizen-journalists were imprisoned as of December.

Authorities banned national and international media outlets from covering demonstrations throughout the year in an attempt to censor coverage of the protests and to intimidate citizens from disseminating information about them. On May 4, authorities arrested Marzieh Amiri, a journalist for Shargh, a leading reformist newspaper, at a protest outside the parliament building in Tehran. In reaction to Amiri’s arrest, member of parliament Mohammad-Ali Pourmokhtar reportedly said to state media, “[J]ournalists don’t have the right to report on anything they want. They are the problem.” Pourmokhtar noted there was nothing wrong with Amiri’s arrest since she had been exposing important information to enemy states. Amiri posted bail of one billion rials ($23,000) and was released from Evin Prison in late October.

In July, Amnesty International called for the release of three reporters for Gam (Step), a Telegram app news channel covering labor issues. According to Amnesty International’s report and other reporting from human rights organizations, authorities arrested Amirhossein Mohammadifard, Gam’s editor in chief; his wife Sanaz Allahyari, a reporter; and Amir Amirgholi, a Gam staff reporter, in January. The journalists reportedly faced national security charges connected to their reporting on workers’ rights protests in Khuzestan Province. Authorities released the journalists on bail in late October.

Censorship or Content Restrictions: The law forbids government censorship but also prohibits dissemination of information the government considers “damaging.” During the year the government censored publications that criticized official actions or contradicted official views or versions of events. “Damaging” information included discussions of women’s rights, the situation of minorities, criticism of government corruption, and references to mistreatment of detainees.

In July the Huffington Post reported that the government had set conditions for the BBC not to share reporting materials it gathered inside the country with BBC Persian, its Persian language channel. According to the report, the agreement was made in exchange for the government to allow a BBC correspondent into the country.

Officials routinely intimidated journalists into practicing self-censorship. Public officials often filed criminal complaints against newspapers, and the Press Supervisory Board, which regulates media content and publication, referred such complaints to the Press Court for further action, including possible closure, suspension, and fines. The Islamic Republic News Agency determined the main topics and types of news to be covered and distributed topics required for reporting directly to various media outlets, according to the IHRDC.

Libel/Slander Laws: The government commonly used libel laws or cited national security to suppress criticism. According to the law, if any publication contains personal insults, libel, false statements, or criticism, the insulted individual has the right to respond in the publication within one month. By law “insult” or “libel” against the government, government representatives, or foreign officials while they are in the country, as well as “the publication of lies” with the intent to alter, but not overthrow, the government are considered political crimes and subject to certain trial and detention procedures (see section 1.e.). The government applied the law throughout the year, often citing statements made in various media outlets or on internet platforms that criticized the government, in the arrest, prosecution, and sentencing of individuals for crimes against national security.

National Security: Authorities routinely cited laws on protecting national security to arrest or punish critics of the government or to deter criticism of government policies or officials. In January authorities charged three members of the Iran Writer’s Association with national-security-related crimes, reportedly for publishing information opposing censorship of art and literature, according to CHRI.

The government restricted and disrupted access to the internet, including fully blocking access for almost one week during nationwide protests in November. There were reports the government again slowed internet access on December 25, which media and NGO reports noted would correspond to approximately 40 days after the protests began, when the government may be concerned that families of those killed would organize new protests surrounding memorial ceremonies for the victims. Authorities also monitored private online communications and censored online content. Individuals and groups practiced self-censorship online.

The Ministries of Culture and of Information and Communications Technology are the main regulatory bodies for content and internet systems. The Supreme Leader’s Office also includes the Supreme Council of Cyberspace, charged with regulating content and systems. The government collected personally identifiable information in connection with citizens’ peaceful expression of political, religious, or ideological opinion or beliefs.

The government continued to implement the National Information Network (NIN, also known as SHOMA). As described by Freedom House, SHOMA enabled the government to reduce foreign internet connection speeds during politically sensitive periods, disconnect the network from global internet content, and disrupt circumvention tools. According to widespread media and NGO reports, the government shut down nearly all internet access in the country for five days following the outbreak of protests over fuel price increases on November 15. The BBC noted that authorities controlled the country’s two internet connections to the outside world, the state telecommunications firm and the Institute for Physics and Mathematics. Oracle’s internet-monitoring service called it “the largest internet shutdown ever observed in Iran.” Access to mobile networks in parts of the country remained heavily restricted for several weeks after the demonstrations began to diminish.

NGOs reported the government filtered content on the internet throughout the year to ban access to particular sites and to filter traffic based on its content. The law makes it illegal to distribute circumvention tools and virtual private networks, and Minister of Information and Communications Technology Jahromi was quoted in the press stating that using circumvention tools is illegal.

The Ministry of Culture and Islamic Guidance must approve all internet service providers. The government also requires all owners of websites and blogs in the country to register with the agencies that compose the Commission to Determine the Instances of Criminal Content (also referred to as the Committee in Charge of Determining Unauthorized Websites or Committee in Charge of Determining Offensive Content), the governmental organization that determines censoring criteria. These agencies include the Ministry of Culture and Islamic Guidance, Ministry of Information and Communications Technology, the Intelligence Ministry, and the Tehran Public Prosecutor’s Office.

Ministry of Information and Communications Technology regulations prohibit households and cybercafes from having high-speed internet access.

Authorities continued to block online messaging tools, such as Facebook, YouTube, and Twitter, although the government operated Twitter accounts under the names of Supreme Leader Khamenei, President Rouhani, Foreign Minister Zarif, and other government-associated officials and entities, including after shutting down most of the country’s internet access during the November demonstrations.

Government organizations, including the Basij Cyber Council, the Cyber Police, and the Cyber Army, which observers presumed to be controlled by the IRGC, monitored, identified, and countered alleged cyberthreats to national security. These organizations especially targeted citizens’ activities on officially banned social networking websites such as Telegram, Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, and Flickr, and they reportedly harassed persons who criticized the government or raised sensitive social problems.

The popular messaging app Telegram remained blocked during the year, although it continued to be accessed using circumvention tools.

Bloggers, social media users, and online journalists continued to be arrested. In April authorities warned citizens they could be prosecuted for posting pictures of major flooding in the country’s southwest under the charge of “disturbing public opinion.” On October 5, authorities reportedly arrested Instagram user Sahar Tabar for “blasphemy” and “encouraging youths to corruption” for posts on her account depicting results of her numerous plastic surgeries. Several weeks later, she appeared to express regret for her actions in a state television broadcast that observers described as a “forced confession.” CHRI reported in August that authorities detained at least 14 Instagram “celebrities” in the previous three months and ordered them to stop their online activities.

The government significantly restricted academic freedom and the independence of higher education institutions. Authorities systematically targeted university campuses to suppress social and political activism by banning independent student organizations, imprisoning student activists, removing faculty, preventing students from enrolling or continuing their education because of their political or religious affiliation or activism, and restricting social sciences and humanities curricula.

In April, according to a CHRI report, the Supreme Cultural Revolution Council’s Committee for the Islamization of Universities passed an amendment to the country’s academic disciplinary regulations, according to which university students could be punished for engaging in online activities deemed as “unethical.” Jamasb Nozari, director of the state-run Academic Affairs Organization, stated in an interview with Iranian Students News Agency (ISNA), “Publishing unethical photos or committing immoral acts in cyberspace and on information-sharing networks will result in disciplinary action against students.”

Authorities barred Bahai students from higher education and harassed those who studied through the unrecognized online university of the Bahai Institute for Higher Education. According to a HRANA report in September, authorities denied university admission to at least 22 Bahai students solely based on their religious affiliation despite they passed the national admissions test (see the Department of State’s International Religious Freedom Report at https://www.state.gov/religiousfreedomreport/).

The government maintained control over cinema, music, theater, and art exhibits and censored those productions deemed to transgress Islamic values. The government censored or banned films deemed to promote secularism, non-Islamic ideas about women’s rights, unethical behavior, drug abuse, violence, or alcoholism.

According to the IHRDC, the nine-member film review council of the Ministry of Culture and Islamic Guidance, consisting of clerics, former directors, former parliamentarians, and academics, must approve the content of every film before production and again before screening. Films may be barred arbitrarily from screening even if all the appropriate permits were received in advance.

In July, CHRI reported that a court sentenced filmmaker Mohammad Rasoulof to one year in prison for the content of his films. According to Rasoulof, the accusations made against him in court focused on films he made examining the government’s persecution of members of the Bahai faith. Since 2017 authorities have banned Rasoulof from leaving the country and making films. Similarly, film director Jafar Panahi has been barred from traveling since 2010, when he was charged with generating “propaganda against the Islamic Republic.”

Officials continued to discourage teaching music in schools. Authorities considered heavy metal and foreign music religiously offensive, and police continued to repress underground concerts and arrest musicians and music distributors. The Ministry of Culture must officially approve song lyrics, music, and album covers as complying with the country’s moral values, although many underground musicians released albums without seeking such permission.

In July a revolutionary court sentenced in absentia Nikan Khosravi and Arash Ilkhani of the metal band Confess to more than 14 years in prison and 74 lashes for “insulting the sanctity of Islam,” among other charges.

b. Freedoms of Peaceful Assembly and Association

The government severely restricted freedoms of peaceful assembly and association.

The constitution permits assemblies and marches of unarmed persons, “provided they do not violate the principles of Islam.” To prevent activities it considered antiregime, the government restricted this right and closely monitored gatherings such as public entertainment and lectures, student and women’s meetings and protests, meetings and worship services of minority religious groups, labor protests, online gatherings and networking, funeral processions, and Friday prayer gatherings.

According to activists, the government arbitrarily applied rules governing permits to assemble, as proregime groups rarely experienced difficulty, while groups viewed as critical of the regime experienced harassment regardless of whether authorities issued a permit.

Protests against government corruption and economic mismanagement continued throughout the year, as did labor-sector protests. Protests against the country’s compulsory hijab laws also increased.

On May 13, Basij militia and progovernment plainclothes vigilante groups forcibly dispersed a student demonstration at the University of Tehran, in which hundreds of students peacefully protested the country’s mandatory hijab laws. Videos showed clerics, vigilante groups, and Basij members chanting Islamic slogans, calling for the students to respect the law or leave the university. The vigilante groups later reportedly physically attacked the students after they had retreated to the university auditorium.

On November 14, the government announced a fuel subsidy cut that substantially increased the cost of gasoline. The cut sparked days of protests in nearly three-quarters of the country’s provinces and increasingly included broader expressions of frustration regarding the country’s leadership, according to media and NGO reports. Security forces responded with lethal force, killing approximately 1,500 protesters, according to international media reports (see section 1.a.). Authorities also arrested 8,600 demonstrators. Government officials described the protesters as “rioters” and did not indicate any intent to investigate protester deaths, calling the casualty figures “disinformation.”

There were no government investigations into the killings of at least 20 demonstrators during protests in 2017-18, nor were there any government investigations into the forcible dispersal of February 2018 protests by the Gonabadi Sufi dervish community, during which security forces killed numerous dervishes. Between March 9 and 12, an appeals court upheld convictions of 23 dervishes arrested at the 2018 demonstrations and confirmed sentences ranging from six to 26 years in prison, lashings, social media bans, and travel bans. Dozens of members of the Gonabadi Sufi community remained imprisoned at year’s end.

The constitution provides for the establishment of political parties, professional and political associations, and Islamic and recognized religious minority organizations, as long as such groups do not violate the principles of freedom, sovereignty, national unity, or Islamic criteria, or question Islam as the basis of the country’s system of government. The government limited the freedom of association through threats, intimidation, the imposition of arbitrary requirements on organizations, and the arrests of group leaders and members (see section 7). The government continued to broaden arbitrarily the areas of civil society work it deemed unacceptable, to include conservation and environmental efforts (see section 1.d.).

c. Freedom of Religion

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

d. Freedom of Movement

The law provides for freedom of internal movement, foreign travel, emigration, and repatriation, and the government generally respected these rights, with some exceptions, particularly concerning migrants and women. The government cooperated with the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) with regard to refugees from Afghanistan and Iraq.

In-country Movement: Judicial sentences sometimes included internal exile after release from prison, which prevented individuals from traveling to certain provinces. Women often required the supervision of a male guardian or chaperone to travel and faced official and societal harassment for traveling alone.

Foreign Travel: The government required exit permits for foreign travel for all citizens. Citizens who were educated at government expense or received scholarships had either to repay the scholarship or receive a temporary permit to exit the country. The government restricted the foreign travel of some religious leaders, members of religious minorities, and scientists in sensitive fields.

Numerous journalists, academics, opposition politicians, human and women’s rights activists, and artists remained subject to foreign travel bans and had their passports confiscated during the year. Married women were not allowed to travel outside the country without prior permission from their husbands.

Not applicable.

f. Protection of Refugees

According to UNHCR, the government granted registration to 951,142 Afghans under a system known as Amayesh, through which authorities provide refugees with cards identifying them as de facto refugees. The cards enable refugees to access basic services and facilitate the issuance of work permits. The most recent Amayesh XIV renewal exercise started on May 28. In addition to registered refugees, the government hosted some 450,000 Afghans who hold Afghan passports and Iranian visas and an estimated 1.5 to 2.0 million undocumented Afghans. The country also hosted 28,268 Iraqi refugees.

Abuse of Migrants, Refugees, and Stateless Persons: HRW and other groups reported the government continued its mistreatment of many Afghans, including physical abuse by security forces, deportations, forced recruitment to fight in Syria, detention in unsanitary and inhuman conditions, forced payment for transportation to and accommodation in deportation camps, forced labor, forced separation from families, restricted movement within the country, and restricted access to education or jobs.

Refoulement: According to activist groups and NGOs, authorities routinely arrested Afghans without Amayesh cards and sometimes threatened them with deportation. According to the International Organization for Migration, from the beginning of the year to August, more than 219,254 undocumented Afghans returned to Afghanistan, with many claiming they were pressured to leave. More than 273,089 were deported there throughout the year.

Access to Asylum: The law provides for the granting of asylum or refugee status to qualified applicants. While the government reportedly has a system for providing protection to refugees, UNHCR did not have information regarding how the country made asylum determinations. According to HRW, the government continued to block many Afghans from registering to obtain refugee status.

Afghans not registered under the Amayesh system who had migrated during past decades of conflict in their home country continued to be denied access to an asylum system or access to register with the United Nations as refugees. NGOs reported many of these displaced asylum seekers believed they were pressured to leave the country but could not return to Afghanistan because of the security situation in their home provinces.

Freedom of Movement: Refugees faced certain restrictions on in-country movement and faced restrictions from entering certain provinces, according to UNHCR. They can apply for laissez-passer documents allowing them to move between those provinces where Afghans were allowed to go.

Employment: Only refugees with government-issued work permits were able to work. NGO sources reported Amayesh cards were difficult to renew and were often prohibitively expensive for refugees to maintain, due to steep annual renewal fees.

Access to Basic Services: Amayesh cardholders had access to education and health care, including vaccinations, prenatal care, maternal and child health, and family planning from the Ministry of Health. All registered refugees can enroll in a basic health insurance package similar to the package afforded to citizens, which covered hospitalization and paraclinical services (medicine, doctor’s visits, radiology, etc.). During the year UNHCR covered the insurance premium for 92,000 of the most vulnerable refugees, including refugees who suffer from special diseases and their families. The remaining refugee population can enroll in health insurance by paying the premium themselves during four enrollment windows throughout the year.

The government claimed to grant Afghan children access to schools. More than 480,000 Afghan children were enrolled in primary and secondary schools, in addition to 103,000 undocumented Afghan children. According to media reporting, however, Afghans continued to have difficulty gaining access to education.

Most provinces’ residency limitations on refugees effectively denied them access to public services, such as public housing, in the restricted areas of those provinces.

There were no accurate numbers on how many stateless persons resided in the country. Stateless persons included those without birth documents or refugee identification cards. They were subjected to inconsistent government policies and relied on charities, principally domestic, to obtain medical care and schooling. Authorities prohibited stateless persons from receiving formal government support or travel documents.

In October the Guardian Council approved an amendment to the civil code granting Iranian citizenship to the children of Iranian women married to foreign men. Previously, female citizens were not able to transmit citizenship to their children or to noncitizen spouses, and their dependents could not apply for citizenship until they lived in Iran for at least 18 years. The children and spouses of Iranian men were granted citizenship automatically. Under the new law, women must still apply for nationality for their children, and children who turn 18 can apply for nationality themselves. Human rights activists noted concern that the amended law requires the Intelligence Ministry and the Intelligence Organization of the IRGC to certify that no “security problem” exists before approving citizenship for these specific applications, and this vaguely defined security provision could be used arbitrarily to disqualify applicants if they or their parents are seen as critical of the government. According to media reports, between 400,000 and one million persons lacked Iranian nationality despite having an Iranian citizen mother, due to prior limitations on citizenship transmission (see section 6, Children).

Section 3. Freedom to Participate in the Political Process

The constitution provides citizens the ability to choose the president, as well as members of the Assembly of Experts and parliament, provided all have been vetted and approved by the Guardian Council. Elections are based on universal suffrage. Candidate vetting conducted by unelected bodies, however, abridged this right in all instances. Reported government constraints on freedom of expression and the media; peaceful assembly; association; and the ability freely to seek, receive, and impart information and campaign also limited citizens’ right to choose freely their representatives in elections.

The Assembly of Experts, which is composed of 86 popularly elected clerics who serve eight-year terms, elects the supreme leader, who acts as the de facto head of state and may be removed only by a vote of the assembly. The Guardian Council vets and qualifies candidates for all Assembly of Experts, presidential, and parliamentary elections based on criteria that include candidates’ allegiance to the state and adherence to Shia Islam. The council consists of six clerics appointed by the supreme leader and six jurists nominated by the head of the judiciary (who is appointed by the supreme leader) and approved by parliament.

The supreme leader exerted significant influence over the activities of elected officials. For example, on November 17, according to press reports, the supreme leader’s office sent a letter to parliament urging members of parliament to end debate on fuel rationing and pricing, which spurred major countrywide protests two days earlier.

Recent Elections: Presidential and local council elections were held in 2017. The country’s electoral system continued to fall short of international standards for free and fair elections primarily because of the Guardian Council’s controlling role in the political process, including determining which individuals could run for office and, in certain instances, arbitrarily removing winning candidates.

In 2017 the Guardian Council approved six Shia male candidates for president from a total candidate pool of 1,636 individuals. Voters re-elected Hassan Rouhani as president.

Candidates for local elections were vetted by monitoring boards established by parliament, resulting in the disqualification of a number of applicants. Observers asserted that reformist candidates such as Abdollah Momeni, Ali Tajernia, and Nasrin Vaziri, previously imprisoned for peacefully protesting the 2009 election, were not allowed to run due to their political views.

Political Parties and Political Participation: The constitution provides for the formation of political parties, but the Interior Ministry granted licenses only to parties deemed to adhere to the “governance of the jurist” system of government embodied in the constitution. Registered political organizations that adhered to the system generally operated without restriction, but most were small, focused around an individual, and without nationwide membership. Members of political parties and persons with any political affiliation that the regime deemed unacceptable faced harassment and sometimes violence and imprisonment. The government maintained bans on several opposition organizations and political parties. Security officials continued to harass, intimidate, and arrest members of the political opposition and some reformists (see section 1.e.).

Participation of Women and Minorities: Women faced significant legal, religious, and cultural barriers to political participation. According to the Guardian Council’s interpretation, the constitution bars women, as well as persons of foreign origin, from serving as supreme leader or president, as members of the Assembly of Experts, the Guardian Council, or the Expediency Council, and as certain types of judges.

The Guardian Council disqualified all 137 women who registered as candidates for the 2017 presidential election. Almost 18,000 female candidates, or 6.3 percent of all candidates, were permitted to run for positions in the 2017 local elections.

All cabinet-level ministers were men. A limited number of women held senior government positions, including that of vice president for legal affairs and vice president for women and family affairs. According to the World Bank, women make up 6 percent of members of parliament.

Practitioners of a religion other than Shia Islam are barred from serving as supreme leader or president, as well as from being a member in the Assembly of Experts, Guardian Council, or Expediency Council. The law reserves five seats in parliament for members of recognized minority religious groups, although minorities may also be elected to nonreserved seats. The five reserved seats were filled by one Zoroastrian, one Jew, and three Christians. There were no non-Muslims in the cabinet or on the Supreme Court.

In 2018 the Expediency Council, the country’s highest arbiter of disputes between state branches, amended the Law on the Formation, Duties, and Election of National Islamic Councils to affirm the right of constitutionally recognized religious minorities to run in local elections.

Section 4. Corruption and Lack of Transparency in Government

The law provides criminal penalties for official corruption, but the government implemented the law arbitrarily, sometimes pursuing apparently legitimate corruption cases against officials, while at other times, bringing politically motivated charges against regime critics or political opponents. Officials continued to engage in corrupt practices with impunity. Many expected bribes for providing routine services or received bonuses outside their regular work, and individuals routinely bribed officials to obtain permits for otherwise illegal construction.

Endowed religious charitable foundations, or bonyads, accounted for one-quarter to one-third of the country’s economy, according to some experts. Government insiders, including members of the military and clergy, ran these tax-exempt organizations, which are defined under law as charities. Members of the political opposition and international corruption watchdog organizations frequently accused bonyads of corruption. Bonyads received benefits from the government, but no government agency is required to approve their budgets publicly.

Numerous companies and subsidiaries affiliated with the IRGC engaged in trade and business activities, sometimes illicitly, including in the telecommunications, mining, and construction sectors. Other IRGC entities reportedly engaged in smuggling pharmaceutical products, narcotics, and raw materials. The domestic and international press reported that individuals with strong government connections had access to foreign currency at preferential exchange rates, allowing them to exploit a gap between the country’s black market and official exchange rates.

Corruption: The judiciary continued an anticorruption campaign that observers viewed as motivated by several factors, including political infighting and replacing lost revenue due to economic challenges. The supreme leader approved a request from the head of the judiciary in 2018 to set up special revolutionary courts to try individuals for economic crimes, seeking maximum sentences for those who “disrupted and corrupted” the economy. He was quoted saying that punishments for those accused of economic corruption, including government officials and those from the military, should be carried out swiftly. Amnesty International criticized the courts’ lack of fair trial and due process guarantees.

In October a court reduced a seven-year prison sentence handed down in May to Hossein Fereydoun, the brother of President Rouhani, to five years. The exact nature of the charges was unclear, but he was convicted of receiving bribes. Some observers asserted the case was motivated by retribution sought by hardline political and judicial figures.

In November, Radio Farda reported that as a part of the judiciary’s drive against corruption, a number of employees of the State Deeds and Properties Organization were arrested on charge including “taking huge bribes, forgery, and cooperation with profiteers to appropriate public and private property.” These arrests came in tandem with the arrest of the Rudehen City Council chairman, Manouchehr Hemmat Najafi, on charges of embezzlement and bribery, and of 25 other individuals in connection to a case of unlicensed construction projects. As of December 9, details of the number of arrested employees and their positions have not been disclosed.

Financial Disclosure: Regulations require government officials, including cabinet ministers and members of the Guardian Council, Expediency Council, and Assembly of Experts, to submit annual financial statements to the government inspectorate. Little information was available on whether the government effectively implemented the law, whether officials obeyed the law, or whether financial statements were publicly accessible.

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

The government restricted the operations of and did not cooperate with local or international human rights NGOs investigating alleged violations of human rights. The government restricted the work of domestic activists and often responded to their inquiries and reports with harassment, arrests, online hacking, and monitoring of individual activists and organization workplaces.

By law NGOs must register with the Ministry of Interior and apply for permission to receive foreign grants. Independent human rights groups and other NGOs faced harassment because of their activism, as well as the threat of closure by government officials, following prolonged and often arbitrary delays in obtaining official registration.

During the year the government prevented some human rights defenders, civil society activists, journalists, and scholars from traveling abroad. Human rights activists reported intimidating telephone calls, threats of blackmail, online hacking attempts, and property damage from unidentified law enforcement and government officials. The government summoned activists repeatedly for questioning and confiscated personal belongings such as mobile phones, laptops, and passports. Government officials sometimes harassed and arrested family members of human rights activists. Courts routinely suspended sentences of convicted human rights activists, leaving open the option for authorities to arrest or imprison individuals arbitrarily at any time on the previous charges.

In his July report, UNSR Rehman expressed concern about the arrest, arbitrary detention, and sentencing of human rights defenders, journalists, and lawyers. He noted acts of intimidation and reprisals in detention, including torture and mistreatment, as well as reports of reprisals against human rights defenders and journalists for engaging the UNSR and cooperating with other UN mechanisms.

According to NGO sources, including HRW and Amnesty International, the government’s rights record and its level of cooperation with international rights institutions remained poor. The government continued to deny requests from international human rights NGOs to establish offices in or to conduct regular investigative visits to the country. The most recent visit of an international human rights NGO was by Amnesty International in 2004 as part of the EU’s human rights dialogue with the country.

The United Nations or Other International Bodies: During the year the government continued to deny repeated requests by the UNSR on the situation of human rights in Iran to visit the country.

On November 15, for the seventh consecutive year, the UN General Assembly adopted a resolution expressing serious concern about the country’s continuing human rights violations. The resolution repeated its call for the country to cooperate with UN special mechanisms, citing the government’s failure to approve any request from a UN thematic special procedures mandate holder to visit the country in more than a decade. It drew attention to the government’s continued failure to allow the UNSR into the country to investigate human rights abuses despite repeated requests. The most recent visit by a UN human rights agency to the country was in 2005.

Government Human Rights Bodies: The High Council for Human Rights, headed by Mohammad Javad Larijani, is part of the judicial branch of the government and lacks independence. The council continued to defend the imprisonment of high-profile human rights defenders and political opposition leaders, despite domestic and international pressure. Larijani continued to call for an end to the position of the UNSR. There was no information available on whether the council challenged any laws or court rulings during the year.

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

Rape and Domestic Violence: Rape is illegal and subject to strict penalties, including death, but it remained a problem. The law considers sex within marriage consensual by definition and, therefore, does not address spousal rape, including in cases of forced marriage. Most rape victims likely did not report the crime because they feared official retaliation or punishment for having been raped, including charges of indecency, immoral behavior, or adultery, the last of which carries the death penalty. Rape victims also feared societal reprisal or ostracism.

For a conviction of rape, the law requires four Muslim men or a combination of three men and two women or two men and four women, to have witnessed a rape. A woman or man found making a false accusation of rape is subject to 80 lashes. In January, IranWire reported the suspicious death of Zahra Navidpour, a woman who had accused Salman Khodadadi, chairman of the parliament’s Social Affairs Committee and a former IRGC commander, of raping her. On January 6, Navidpour was found dead at her home; after her body was rushed to the hospital, the medical examiner provided no reason for the woman’s death, leading to speculation that she had either committed suicide or been killed. Navidpour died while Khodadadi was on trial for having an illegitimate affair; the court sentenced him to two years’ exile, a two-year ban on serving in public office, and 99 lashes; however, the Supreme Court dismissed the lower court’s verdict.

In May local and international media reported that Mohammad Ali Najafi, a former vice president and mayor of Tehran, had confessed to shooting to death one of his two wives. Najafi resigned as mayor of Tehran in 2018 after he was criticized for attending a dance performance by young girls. He was sentenced to death for the murder, but his wife’s family reportedly waived the death penalty, as allowed by law. He also received a two-year jail sentence for possessing an illegal firearm.

The law does not prohibit domestic violence. Authorities considered abuse in the family a private matter and seldom discussed it publicly. In July, according to a HRANA report, the head of the medical examiner’s officer of Tehran Province announced that more than 16,420 cases of domestic violence had been reported to the office, a rise from 2018.

Female Genital Mutilation/Cutting (FGM/C): The law criminalizes FGM/C and states, “the cutting or removing of the two sides of female genitalia leads to diyeh (financial penalty or blood money) equal to half the full amount of diyeh for the woman’s life.”

Little current data was available on the practice inside the country, although older data and media reports suggested it was most prevalent in Hormozgan, Kurdistan, Kermanshah, and West Azerbaijan Provinces.

Other Harmful Traditional Practices: There were no official reports of killings motivated by “honor” or other harmful traditional practices during the year, although human rights activists reported that such killings continued to occur, particularly among rural and tribal populations.

The law reduces punitive measures for fathers and other family members who are convicted of murder or physically harming children in domestic violence or “honor killings.” If a man is found guilty of murdering his daughter, the punishment is between three and 10 years in prison rather than the normal death sentence or payment of diyeh for homicide cases.

On October 23, the Guardian Council reportedly approved a bill increasing sentences for perpetrators of “acid attacks,” in which the perpetrators throw acid generally on women victims for perceived violations of social norms that discriminate against women.

Sexual Harassment: The law addresses sexual harassment in the context of physical contact between men and women and prohibits physical contact between unrelated men and women. There was no reliable data on the extent of sexual harassment, but women and human rights observers reported that sexual harassment was the norm in many workplaces. There were no known government efforts to address this problem.

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

Discrimination: The constitution provides for equal protection for women under the law in conformity with its interpretation of Islam. The government did not enforce the law, and provisions in the law, particularly sections dealing with family and property law, discriminate against women. Judicial harassment, intimidation, detention, and smear campaigns significantly challenged the ability of civil society organizations to fight for and protect women’s rights.

In October the Guardian Council approved an amendment to the country’s civil code that allows Iranian women married to foreign men to transmit citizenship to their children (see section 2.f.). Ahmad Meidari, the deputy of the Ministry of Social Welfare, was reported estimating in January that 49,000 children would benefit if the legislation were enacted. The government does not recognize marriages between Muslim women and non-Muslim men, irrespective of their citizenship. The law states that a virgin woman or girl wishing to wed needs the consent of her father or grandfather or the court’s permission.

The law permits a man to have as many as four wives and an unlimited number of sigheh (temporary wives), based on a Shia custom under which couples may enter into a limited-time civil and religious contract, which outlines the union’s conditions.

A woman has the right to divorce if her husband signs a contract granting that right; cannot provide for his family; has violated the terms of their marriage contract; or is a drug addict, insane, or impotent. A husband is not required to cite a reason for divorcing his wife. The law recognizes a divorced woman’s right to part of shared property and to alimony. These laws were not always enforced.

The government actively suppressed efforts to build awareness among women of their rights regarding marriage and divorce. According to a CHRI report, in September 2018 the IRGC Intelligence Organization arrested Hoda Amid, a human rights attorney, and Najmeh Vahedi, a sociologist and women’s rights activist, three days before they were supposed to host a workshop about the country’s marriage laws, which they had organized with a legal permit. One of the purposes of the workshop was to teach women how to expand their rights with legally binding prenuptial contracts.

The law provides divorced women preference in custody for children up to age seven, but fathers maintain legal guardianship rights over the child and must agree on many legal aspects of the child’s life (such as issuing travel documents, enrolling in school, or filing a police report). After the child reaches the age of seven, the father is granted custody unless he is proven unfit to care for the child.

Women sometimes received disproportionate punishment for crimes such as adultery, including death sentences. Islamic law retains provisions that equate a woman’s testimony in a court of law to one-half that of a man’s and value a woman’s life as one-half that of a man’s. According to the law, the diyeh paid in the death of a woman is one-half the amount paid in the death of a man, with the exception of car accident insurance payments. According to a CHRI report, in July the government declared equality between men and women in the payment of blood money. Per the Supreme Court ruling, the amount paid for the intentional or unintentional physical harm to a woman will still be one-half the blood money as that paid for a man, but the remaining difference will now be paid from a publicly funded trust.

Women have access to primary and advanced education. Quotas and other restrictions nonetheless limited women’s admissions to certain fields and degree programs.

The Statistical Center of Iran reported during the year that the jobless rate among women ages 15 to 19 was 35 percent. All women’s participation in the job market remained as low as 16 percent. Women reportedly earned 41 percent less than men for the same work. Unemployment among women in the country was twice as high as it was among men.

Women continued to face discrimination in home and property ownership, as well as access to financing. In cases of inheritance, male heirs receive twice the inheritance of their female counterparts. The government enforced gender segregation in many public spaces. Women must ride in a reserved section on public buses and enter some public buildings, universities, and airports through separate entrances.

The law provides that a woman who appears in public without appropriate attire, such as a cloth scarf veil (hijab) over the head and a long jacket (manteau), or a large full-length cloth covering (chador), may be sentenced to flogging and fined. Absent a clear legal definition of “appropriate attire” or of the related punishment, women (and men) were subjected to the opinions of various disciplinary and security force members, police, and judges.

In May, CHRI reported that authorities arrested 30 individuals, including both men and women, who were practicing yoga inside a home in the city of Gorgan. The individuals were accused of wearing “inappropriate clothing” and engaging in “indecent activities.” Several individuals reported such arrests were not uncommon but that public officials rarely acknowledged them.

Protests, beating, and arrests continued as security forces cracked down on peaceful nationwide protests against dress restrictions. CHRI reported that since 2018 at least 44 women had been arrested for peacefully protesting the mandatory dress code. According to media reports in June, the government introduced 2,000 new morality police units to manage what officials called “increasing defiance” of the compulsory hijab law.

In April security forces arrested Yasaman Aryani, her mother Monireh Arabshahi, and Mojgan Keshavarz after they posted a video for International Women’s Day. In the video the women are seen walking without headscarves through a Tehran metro train, handing flowers to female passengers.

Numerous news outlets reported that in August a revolutionary court sentenced Arabshahi, Aryani, and Keshavarz to 16, 16, and 23 years in prison, respectively, for “spreading propaganda against the system” and “inciting corruption and prostitution.”

In May, CHRI reported that authorities had released Vida Movahedi eight months after she was arrested for peacefully protesting the hijab law. Movahedi was initially arrested in October 2018 after she stood on a utility box on Revolution Street in Tehran, removed her headscarf, and waved it on a stick in defiance.

On June 22, according to a video posted to Instagram by activist Masih Alinejad, plainclothes police violently dragged a 15-year-old girl into a police car for not obeying a directive to put on a hijab. Tehran police confirmed the arrest two days later, stating that the girl and four of her friends “insulted the agents” after refusing to respect “public moral and civil codes.”

According to international media reports, in June security guards attacked women trying to enter a stadium in Tehran to watch a men’s soccer match between Iran and Syria. In September, Sahar Khodayari, known as “Blue Girl,” died from severe burns caused by self-immolation after police arrested and later released her from Qarchak Prison on bail on charges of “improperly wearing hijab” and defying the country’s ban on female spectators from viewing soccer and other sports in public stadiums. Following Khodayari’s suicide and under pressure from the world soccer governing body (FIFA), the government permitted approximately 3,500 women to attend the October 10 World Cup qualifier match between Iran and Cambodia at Azadi Stadium, which has an estimated capacity of 78,000. Amnesty International labelled the government’s last-minute permission a “cynical publicity stunt” to “whitewash their image” following the death of Khodayari.

As noted by the former UNSR and other organizations, female athletes have been traditionally barred from participating in international tournaments, either by the country’s sport agencies or by their husbands. There were, however, cases throughout the year of female athletes being permitted to travel internationally to compete.

Birth Registration: Prior to October only a child’s father could convey citizenship, regardless of the child’s country of birth or mother’s citizenship. Legislation passed and approved in October provides Iranian mothers the right to apply for citizenship for children born to fathers with foreign citizenship (see section 2.f. and section 6, Women). The new law also includes a stipulation of obtaining a security clearance from the security agencies prior to receiving approval. Birth within the country’s borders does not confer citizenship, except when a child is born to unknown parents. The law requires that all births be registered within 15 days.

Education: Although primary schooling until age 11 is free and compulsory for all, media and other sources reported lower enrollment in rural areas, especially for girls.

Children without state-issued identification cards are denied the right to education. In her March 2018 report, former UNSR Jahangir noted that in Sistan va Baluchestan Province, the Cabinet of Ministers requested the Ministry of Education to issue a special card for children without birth certificates so they could attend school. As a result, more than 20,000 children who had received such cards registered for school, and 19,000 were allowed to attend. In his February report, current UNSR Rehman expressed concern over access to education for minority children, including references to high primary school dropout rates for ethnic minority girls living in border provinces.

Child Abuse: There was little information available on how the government dealt with child abuse. The law states, “Any form of abuse of children and juveniles that causes physical, psychological, or moral harm and threatens their physical or mental health is prohibited,” and such crimes carry a maximum sentence of three months in confinement or a fine of 10 million rials ($230).

Early and Forced Marriage: The legal minimum age of marriage for girls is 13, but girls as young as nine years old may be married with permission from a court and their fathers. In 2018 UNICEF reported that 17 percent of girls in the country were married before reaching age 18 and that approximately 40,000 were married before 15. In March 2018 former UNSR Jahangir stated this number was likely higher, as thousands of underage marriages were not reported. The issue became a subject of national debate in February when a charity group reported on the case of “Raha,” an 11-year-old girl who was reportedly raped by a nearly 50-year-old man she was forced to marry. Authorities reportedly arrested the man on February 11 and nullified the marriage.

Sexual Exploitation of Children: The legal age requirements for consensual sex are the same as those for marriage, as sex outside of marriage is illegal. There are no specific laws regarding child sexual exploitation, with such crimes either falling under the category of child abuse or sexual crimes of adultery. The law does not directly address sexual molestation nor provide a punishment for it.

According to CHRI, the legal ambiguity between child abuse and sexual molestation could lead to child sexual molestation cases being prosecuted under adultery law. While no separate provision exists for the rape of a child, the crime of rape, regardless of the victim’s age, is potentially punishable by death.

Displaced Children: There were reports of thousands of Afghan refugee children in the country, many of whom were born in Iran but could not obtain identity documents. These children were often unable to attend schools or access basic government services and were vulnerable to labor exploitation and trafficking.

UNHCR stated school enrollment among refugees was generally higher outside the 20 settlements, where more resources were available and where 97 percent of the refugees reside.

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.

The law recognizes Jews as a religious minority and provides for their representation in parliament. According to the Tehran Jewish Committee, the population includes approximately 9,000 Jews. Members of the Iranian Jewish community are reportedly subject to government restrictions and discrimination. Government officials continued to question the history of the Holocaust, and anti-Semitism remained a pervasive problem. In May, President Rouhani implied Jewish control over various Western interests, saying that speeches by foreign officials criticizing Iran were “written by Zionists word for word.” Cartoons in state-run media outlets repeatedly depicted foreign officials as puppets of Jewish control.

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

In October, HRW and CHRI reported persons with disabilities remained cut off from society, a major obstacle being a mandatory government medical test that can exclude children from the public school system. They continued to face stigma and discrimination from government social workers, health-care workers, and others. Many persons with disabilities remained unable to participate in society on an equal basis. The law provides for public accessibility to government-funded buildings, and new structures appeared to comply with these standards. There were efforts to increase access for persons with disabilities to historical sites. Government buildings that predated existing accessibility standards remained largely inaccessible, and general building accessibility, including access to toilets, for persons with disabilities remained a problem. Persons with disabilities had limited access to informational, educational, and community activities. CHRI reported in 2018 that refugees with disabilities, particularly children, were often excluded or denied the ability to obtain the limited state services provided by the government.

The constitution grants equal rights to all ethnic minorities, allowing minority languages to be used in the media. The law grants the right of citizens to learn, use, and teach their own languages and dialects. In practice minorities did not enjoy equal rights, and the government consistently barred use of their languages in school as the language of instruction.

The government disproportionately targeted minority groups, including Kurds, Ahwazis, Azeris, and Baluchis, for arbitrary arrest, prolonged detention, disappearances, and physical abuse. These ethnic minority groups reported political and socioeconomic discrimination, particularly in their access to economic aid, business licenses, university admissions, job opportunities, permission to publish books, and housing and land rights.

Another widespread complaint among ethnic minority groups, particularly among Ahwazis, Azeris and Lors, was that the government diverted and mismanaged natural resources, primarily water, often for the benefit of IRGC-affiliated contractors. According to reports from international media and human rights groups, these practices devastated the local environment on which farmers and others depended for their livelihoods and well-being, resulting in forced migration and further marginalization of these communities.

The law, which requires religious screening and allegiance to the concept of “governance by the jurist,” not found in Sunni Islam, impaired the ability of Sunni Muslims (many of whom are also Baluch, Ahwazi, or Kurdish) to integrate into civic life and to work in certain fields.

Human rights organizations observed that the government’s application of the death penalty disproportionately affected ethnic minorities. Authorities reportedly subjected members of minority ethnicities and religious groups in pretrial detention repeatedly to more severe physical punishment, including torture, than other prisoners, regardless of the type of crime of which they were accused.

The estimated eight million ethnic Kurds in the country frequently campaigned for greater regional autonomy. The government continued to use the law to arrest and prosecute Kurds for exercising their rights to freedom of expression and association. The government reportedly banned Kurdish-language newspapers, journals, and books and punished publishers, journalists, and writers for opposing and criticizing government policies.

Authorities suppressed legitimate activities of Kurdish NGOs by denying them registration permits or bringing security charges against persons working with such organizations. Authorities did not prohibit the use of the Kurdish language in general but did not offer education in Kurdish in public schools. UNSR Rehman stated in his July report concern regarding the reported persecution of Kurdish language teachers, including Zara Mohammadi, arrested and detained by authorities on May 23 for giving private Kurdish lessons without a permit in Sanandaj.

According to the same UN report, in the first six months of the year, 115 Kurdish citizens were arrested for charges related to membership in Kurdish political parties and 84 for participating in civic activities such as organizing Nowruz celebrations or managing networks on social media. International human rights observers, including the IHRDC, stated that the country’s estimated two million Ahwazi Arabs, representing 110 tribes, faced continued oppression and discrimination. Ahwazi rights activists reported the government continued to confiscate Ahwazi property to use for government development projects, refusing to recognize the paper deeds from the prerevolutionary era.

According to UNSR Rehman’s July report, his office received information that the IRGC was involved in redirecting floodwater in the spring towards local farms to preserve oil reserves and equipment in Khuzestan Province. In April media and NGOs reported that police arrested social media users and Arab flood relief volunteers and charged them with “broadcasting distracting news and flood rumors.” They remained detained in Khuzestan.

Ahwazi human rights groups reported the government rounded up hundreds of Ahwazis following the September 2018 attack on a military parade in Ahwaz (estimates reported in November 2018 ranged from 600 to more than 800 arrests), while the state-run Tasnim news agency reported the arrest of 22 persons in connection with the attack (see section 1.a.). Ahwazi human rights groups also reported instances of torture of detainees in the Intelligence Ministry detention center in Ahwaz.

Ethnic Azeris, who number more than 18 million, or approximately 23-25 percent of the population, were more integrated into government and society than other ethnic minority groups and included the supreme leader. Azeris reported the government discriminated against them by harassing Azeri activists or organizers and changing Azeri geographic names.

UNSR Rehman stated in his July report that there were 82 Azeris arbitrarily detained on national security-related charges with sentences of up to six years. This figure includes activists and supporters of the soccer club Tiraxtur who were arrested and detained on May 2 for leading pro-Azeri chants at a soccer match at Sehend Stadium in Tabriz.

According to reports, the government tried to prevent thousands of mostly Azeri speaking activists from meeting every year at Babak Fortress to celebrate peacefully the birthday of a historic figure, Babak Khorramdin. The annual gathering has general overtones of Azeri nationalism. Amnesty and HRANA reported that Azeri law student and activist Ebrahim Nouri was arrested on 30 occasions, including at Babak Fortress, and accused of promoting propaganda against the government and “separatism in Azerbaijan.”

Local and international human rights groups alleged discrimination during the year against the Baluchi ethnic minority, estimated at between 1.5 and two million persons. Areas with large Baluchi populations were severely underdeveloped and had limited access to education, employment, health care, and housing; Baluchi activists reported that more than 70 percent of the population lived below the poverty line.

According to activist reports, the law limited Sunni Baluchis’ employment opportunities and political participation. Activists reported that throughout the year, the government sent hundreds of Shia missionaries to areas with large Sunni Baluch populations to try to convert the local population. According to Baluchi rights activists, Baluchi journalists and human rights activists faced arbitrary arrest, physical abuse, and unfair trials.

The law criminalizes consensual same-sex sexual activity, which is punishable by death, flogging, or a lesser punishment. The law does not distinguish between consensual and nonconsensual same-sex intercourse, and NGOs reported this lack of clarity led to both the victim and the perpetrator being held criminally liable under the law in cases of assault. The law does not prohibit discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity. According to international and domestic media reports, there was at least one case during the year in which an alleged criminal was executed for sodomy-related charges. While few details were available for specific cases, LGBTI activists expressed concern that the government executed LGBTI individuals under the pretext of more severe, and possibly specious, criminal charges such as rape. In June the foreign minister appeared to defend executions of LGBTI persons for their status or conduct. After being asked by a journalist in Germany why the country executes “homosexuals,” the foreign minister stated, “Our society has moral principles. And we live according to these principles. These are moral principles concerning the behavior of people in general. And that means that the law is respected and the law is obeyed.”

Security forces harassed, arrested, and detained individuals they suspected of being LGBTI. In some cases security forces raided houses and monitored internet sites for information on LGBTI persons. Those accused of “sodomy” often faced summary trials, and evidentiary standards were not always met. The Iranian LGBTI activist group 6Rang noted that individuals arrested under such conditions were traditionally subjected to forced anal or sodomy examinations–which the United Nations and World Health Organization stated can constitute torture–and other degrading treatment and sexual insults. Punishment for same-sex sexual activity between men was more severe than between women.

The government censored all materials related to LGBTI status or conduct. Authorities particularly blocked websites or content within sites that discussed LGBTI issues, including the censorship of Wikipedia pages defining LGBTI and other related topics. There were active, unregistered LGBTI NGOs and activists in the country, a number of whom were arrested or charged for LGBTI-related activities during the year.

On December 13, Radio Farda reported that Rezvaneh Mohammadi, a gender-equality activist, was sentenced to five years in prison by Branch 28 of the revolutionary court in Tehran, presided over by Judge Mohammad Moghiseh, under the charge of “collusion against national security by seeking to normalize homosexual relations.” NGOs noted this was the first time an activist had faced such an accusation in the country. According to CHRI, authorities arrested Mohammadi in September 2018 and held her in solitary confinement for several weeks at Evin Prison, where they pressured her, including with threats of rape, to confess to receiving money to overthrow the government. Hate-crime laws or other criminal justice mechanisms do not exist to aid in the prosecution of bias-motivated crimes.

The law requires all male citizens older than age 18 to serve in the military but exempts gay men and transgender women, who are classified as having mental disorders. New military identity cards listed the subsection of the law dictating the exemption. According to the NGO 6Rang, this practice identified gay or transgender individuals and put them at risk of physical abuse and discrimination.

NGOs reported authorities pressured LGBTI persons to undergo gender reassignment surgery. According to a July report by the NGO 6Rang, the number of private and semigovernmental psychological and psychiatric clinics allegedly engaging in “corrective treatment” or reparative therapies of LGBTI persons continued to grow. The NGO 6Rang reported the increased use at such clinics of electric shock therapy to the hands and genitals of LGBTI persons, prescription of psychoactive medication, hypnosis, and coercive masturbation to pictures of the opposite sex. According to the NGO 6Rang, one such institution is called The Anonymous Sex Addicts Association of Iran, with branches in 18 provinces.

Despite government programs to treat and provide financial and other assistance to persons with HIV/AIDS, international news sources and organizations reported that individuals known to be infected with HIV/AIDS faced widespread societal discrimination.  Individuals with HIV/AIDS, for example, continued to be denied employment as teachers.

Section 7. Worker Rights

a. Freedom of Association and the Right to Collective Bargaining

The constitution provides for freedom of association, but neither the constitution nor law specifies trade union rights. The law states that workers may establish an Islamic labor council or a guild at any workplace, but the rights and responsibilities of these organizations fell significantly short of international standards for trade unions. In workplaces where workers established an Islamic labor council, authorities did not permit any other form of worker representation. The law requires prior authorization for organizing and concluding collective agreements. Strikes are prohibited in all sectors, although private-sector workers may conduct “peaceful” campaigns within the workplace. The law does not apply to establishments with fewer than 10 employees.

Authorities did not respect freedom of association and the right to collective bargaining, and the government did not effectively enforce applicable laws. The government severely restricted freedom of association and interfered in worker attempts to organize. Labor activism is considered to be a national security offense, with severe punishments up to and including the death penalty. The law does not prohibit antiunion discrimination and does not require reinstatement of workers fired for union activity.

Antiunion discrimination occurred, and the government harassed trade union leaders, labor rights activists, and journalists during a crackdown on widespread protests. Independent trade unionists were subject to arbitrary arrests, tortured, and subjected to harsh sentences.

According to media and NGO reporting, on May 1, International Labor Day, police violently attacked and arrested at least 35 activists who had gathered for peaceful demonstrations demanding workers’ rights, organized by 20 independent labor organizations, in front of parliament. The government barred teachers from commemorating International Labor Day and Teachers’ Day. Several prominent teachers and union activists remained in prison or awaited new sentences, including Mahmoud Beheshti Langroudi (see below).

The Interior Ministry; the Ministry of Cooperatives, Labor, and Social Welfare; and the Islamic Information Organization determined labor councils’ constitutions, operational rules, and election procedures. Administrative and judicial procedures were lengthy. The Workers’ House remained the only officially authorized national labor organization, and its leadership oversaw, granted permits to, and coordinated activities with Islamic labor councils in industrial, agricultural, and service organizations with more than 35 employees.

According to CHRI, the labor councils, which consisted of representatives of workers and a representative of management, were essentially management-run unions that undermined workers’ efforts to maintain independent unions. The councils, nevertheless, sometimes could block layoffs and dismissals. There was no representative workers’ organization for noncitizen workers.

According to international media reports, security forces continued to respond to workers’ attempts to organize or conduct strikes with arbitrary arrests and violence. As economic conditions deteriorated, strikes and worker protests were numerous and widespread across the country throughout the year, often prompting a heavy police response. Security forces routinely monitored major worksites. According to CHRI, workers were routinely fired and risked arrest for striking, and labor leaders were charged with national security crimes for trying to organize workers.

According to a CHRI report, in August 2018 security forces violently suppressed protests at the Haft Tappeh sugarcane company in the southeast. Haft Tappeh, the country’s largest sugar production plant, had been the site of continuing protests against unpaid wages and benefits for more than two years. According to CHRI, at least five workers were detained and charged with national security crimes but later released on bail following negotiations between labor representatives and judicial officials. In May the protests resurfaced in response to the announcement of a joint indictment issued against five journalists and two labor rights activists. Sepideh Gholian, Amir Hossein Mohammadifard, Sanaz Allahyari, Ali Amirgholi, Asal Mohammadi, Esmail Bakhski, and Ali Nejati were charged with “assembly and collusion against national security,” “forming groups with the intention to disturb national security,” and “contacts with antistate organizations.”

According to NGO and media reports, as in previous years, a number of trade unionists were imprisoned or remained unjustly detained for their peaceful activism. Mehdi Farahi Shandiz, a member of the Committee to Pursue the Establishment of Labor Unions in Iran, continued serving a three-year sentence, having been convicted of “insulting the supreme leader” and “disrupting public order.” There were reports that Shandiz was beaten and tortured in Karaj Prison and kept for prolonged periods in solitary confinement.

The government continued to arrest and harass teachers’ rights activists from the Teachers Association of Iran and related unions. In March media outlets reported continued nationwide teacher strikes demanding better pay, rights to an official union, and the release of teachers’ rights activists who were jailed during protests in 2018. That same month Hashem Khastar, a teachers’ rights activist from Mashhad, was allegedly abducted by unknown individuals, resurfaced shackled to a bed at a psychiatric hospital, was released, and taken into custody.

According to a CHRI report, Mahmoud Beheshti-Langroudi, the former spokesman for the Iranian Teachers’ Trade Association (ITTA) jailed since 2017, continued a 14-year combined sentence for charges associated with his peaceful defense of labor rights. CHRI reported in July that Beheshti-Langroudi commenced another hunger strike protesting his unjust sentence, the judiciary’s refusal to review his case, and the mistreatment of political prisoners. Esmail Abdi, a mathematics teacher and former secretary general of ITTA, continued a six-year prison sentence for labor rights activism. He was arrested in 2015 and convicted in 2016 for “propaganda against the state” and “collusion against national security.” CHRI reported in April 2018 that Abdi had written a letter from Evin Prison criticizing the judiciary’s “arbitrary and illegal rulings” and “widespread violations of the rights of teachers and workers in Iran.” He decried the “criminalization of trade unions” and demanded a public trial that he had thus far been denied.

According to reports from international media and human rights organizations, truck drivers launched nationwide strikes over low and unpaid wages and stipends throughout the year. HRANA reported that the government arrested at least 261 drivers in 19 provinces following a round of protests in the fall of 2018. The drivers were threatened with heavy sentences, and Attorney General Mohammad Jaafar Montazeri issued a public statement suggesting that those who initiated the protest should be subject to the death penalty. In October 2018 the International Transport Workers’ Federation expressed concern over the government’s harsh crackdown on labor action by truckers across the country, including the threat of the death penalty against organizers.

b. Prohibition of Forced or Compulsory Labor

The law prohibits all forms of forced or compulsory labor, but the government did not effectively enforce the law and made no significant effort to address forced labor during the year. Penalties were not sufficient to deter violations. Conditions indicative of forced labor sometimes occurred in the construction, domestic labor, and agricultural sectors, primarily among adult Afghan men and boys younger than age 18. Family members and others forced children to work.

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 does not prohibit the worst forms of child labor. The law prohibits employment of children younger than age 15 and places restrictions on employment of children younger than 18, such as prohibiting hard labor or night work. The law does not apply to domestic labor and permits children to work in agriculture and some small businesses from the age of 12. The government did not adequately monitor or enforce laws pertaining to child labor, and child labor remained a serious problem. Penalties for violations were not sufficient to deter violations.

The United Nations in 2016 cited a 2003 law that exempts workshops with fewer than 10 employees from labor regulations as increasing the risks of economic exploitation of children. The UN report also noted serious concerns with the large number of children employed under hazardous conditions, such as in garbage collection, brick kilns, and industrial workshops, without protective clothing and for very low pay.

There were reportedly significant numbers of children, especially of Afghan descent, who worked as street vendors in major urban areas. According to official estimates, there were 60,000 homeless children, although many children’s rights organizations estimated up to 200,000 homeless children. The Committee on the Rights of the Child reported that street children in particular were subjected to various forms of economic exploitation, including sexual abuse and exploitation by the public and police officers. Child labor also was used in the production of carpets and bricks. Children worked as beggars, and there were reports criminals forced some children into begging rings. According to ISNA, Reza Ghadimi, the managing director of the Tehran Social Services Organization, said in 2018 that, according to a survey of 400 child laborers, 90 percent were “molested.”

Also, see 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 constitution bars discrimination based on race, gender, disability, language, and social status “in conformity with Islamic criteria,” but the government did not effectively enforce these prohibitions. According to the constitution, “everyone has the right to choose any occupation he wishes, if it is not contrary to Islam and the public interests and does not infringe on the rights of others.”

Despite this constitutional provision, the government made systematic efforts to limit women’s access to the workplace, and their participation in the job market remained as low as 16 percent. Women reportedly earned 41 percent less than men for the same work. Unemployment among women in the country was twice as high as it was among men. Hiring practices often discriminated against women, and the Ministry of Cooperatives, Labor, and Social Welfare guidelines stated that men should be given preferential hiring status. An Interior Ministry directive requires all officials to hire only secretaries of their own gender. Women remained banned from working in coffee houses and from performing music alongside men, with very limited exceptions made for traditional music. Women in many fields were restricted from working after 9 p.m.

Kurds, Ahwazis, Azeris, and Baluchis reported political and socioeconomic discrimination with regard to their access to economic aid, business licenses, and job opportunities.

CHRI reported that, according to the director of the State Welfare Organization, 60 percent of persons with disabilities remained unemployed.

e. Acceptable Conditions of Work

In 2018 the Supreme Labor Council, the government body charged with proposing labor regulations, agreed to raise the minimum monthly wage by 19.8 percent. There were reported complaints that the minimum wage increase was too low in light of the plunging value of the Iranian rial against the U.S. dollar, which is used to price day-to-day goods. The minimum wage is commonly below the poverty line in rural areas.

The law establishes a maximum six-day, 44-hour workweek with a weekly rest day, at least 12 days of paid annual leave, and several paid public holidays. Any hours worked above that total entitles a worker to overtime. The law mandates a payment above the hourly wage to employees for any accrued overtime and provides that overtime work is not compulsory. The law does not cover workers in workplaces with fewer than 10 workers, nor does it apply to noncitizens.

Employers sometimes subjected migrant workers, most often Afghans, to abusive working conditions, including below-minimum-wage salaries, nonpayment of wages, compulsory overtime, and summary deportation without access to food, water, or sanitation facilities during the deportation process. The government did not effectively enforce the laws related to wages and hours, and occupational safety and health. Penalties were not sufficient to deter violations.

According to media reports, many workers continued to be employed on temporary contracts, under which they lacked protections available to full-time, noncontract workers, and could be dismissed at will. Large numbers of workers employed in small workplaces or in the informal economy similarly lacked basic protections. Low wages, nonpayment of wages, and lack of job security due to contracting practices continued to contribute to strikes and protests, which occurred throughout the year.

According to local and international media reports, thousands of teachers, truckers, and workers from a wide variety of sectors held largescale, countrywide rallies and protests demanding wage increases and payment of back wages throughout the year. During the year authorities increased pressure against these protesters through intimidation, wrongful arrests, and arbitrary charges.

Little information was available regarding labor inspection and related law enforcement. While the law provides for occupational health and safety standards, the government sometimes did not enforce these standards in either the formal or informal sectors. Workers reportedly lacked the power to remove themselves from situations that endangered their health or safety without jeopardizing their employment.

Labor organizations alleged that hazardous work environments resulted in the deaths of thousands of workers annually. In 2018 the state-run Iran Labor News Agency quoted the head of the Construction Workers Association as estimating there were 1,200 deaths and 1,500 spinal cord injuries annually among construction workers, while local media routinely reported on workers’ deaths from explosions, gas poisoning, electrocution, or similar accidents.

Iraq

Executive Summary

Iraq is a constitutional parliamentary republic. The 2018 parliamentary elections, while imperfect, generally met international standards of free and fair elections and led to the peaceful transition of power from Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi to Adil Abd al-Mahdi. On December 1, in response to protesters’ demands for significant changes to the political system, Abd al-Mahdi submitted his resignation, which the Iraqi Council of Representatives (COR) accepted. As of December 17, Abd al-Mahdi continued to serve in a caretaker capacity while the COR worked to identify a replacement in accordance with the Iraqi constitution.

Numerous domestic security forces operated throughout the country. The regular armed forces and domestic law enforcement bodies generally maintained order within the country, although some armed groups operated outside of government control. Iraqi Security Forces (ISF) consist of administratively organized forces within the Ministries of Interior and Defense, and the Counterterrorism Service. The Ministry of Interior is responsible for domestic law enforcement and maintenance of order; it oversees the Federal Police, Provincial Police, Facilities Protection Service, Civil Defense, and Department of Border Enforcement. Energy police, under the Ministry of Oil, are responsible for providing infrastructure protection. Conventional military forces under the Ministry of Defense are responsible for the defense of the country but also carry out counterterrorism and internal security operations in conjunction with the Ministry of Interior. The Counterterrorism Service reports directly to the prime minister and oversees the Counterterrorism Command, an organization that includes three brigades of special operations forces. The National Security Service (NSS) intelligence agency reports directly to the prime minister.

The Popular Mobilization Forces (PMF), a state-sponsored umbrella military organization composed of approximately 60 militia groups, operated throughout the country. Most PMF units were Shia Arab, reflecting the demographics of the country, while Sunni Arab, Yezidi, Christian, and other minority PMF units generally operated within or near their home regions. All PMF units officially report to the national security advisor and are under the authority of the prime minister, but several units in practice were also responsive to Iran and Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps.

The two main Kurdish political parties, the Kurdistan Democratic Party (KDP) and the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK), each maintained an independent security apparatus. Under the federal constitution, the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) has the right to maintain internal security forces, but the PUK and KDP separately controlled additional Peshmerga units. The constitution also allows for a centralized, separate Asayish internal security service; however, KDP and PUK each maintained Asayish forces. The KDP and PUK also maintained separate intelligence services, nominally under the KRG Ministry of Interior.

Civilian authorities did not maintain effective control over some elements of the security forces, particularly certain Iran-aligned PMF units. Poorly defined administrative boundaries and disputed territories between the Iraqi Kurdistan Region (IKR) led to confusion over the jurisdiction of security forces and the courts.

The country experienced large-scale protests in Baghdad and several Shia-majority governorates beginning in early October. Demonstrators gathered in the streets to reinforce their demands for an end to corruption and a restructuring of the government. Civilian authorities quickly lost control of the situation. Security and armed groups, including PMF forces, responded with live ammunition, tear gas canisters shot as projectiles, and concussion grenades, in an attempt to suppress the demonstrations. By official accounts, as of December 17, more than 479 civilians were killed and at least 20,000 were injured. While one general and several officers were under investigation, efforts to achieve accountability were limited.

Significant human rights issues included: reports of unlawful or arbitrary killings, including extrajudicial killings; forced disappearances; torture; arbitrary detention; harsh and life-threatening prison and detention center conditions; arbitrary or unlawful interference with privacy; the worst forms of restrictions on free expression, the press, and the internet, including violence against journalists, censorship, site blocking, and criminal libel; significant interference with the rights of peaceful assembly; legal restrictions on freedom of movement of women; threats of violence against internally displaced persons (IDPs) and returnee populations perceived to have been affiliated with the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS); widespread official corruption; unlawful recruitment or use of child soldiers by elements of the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), Shingal Protection Units (YBS), and the Iran-aligned PMF that operate outside government control; trafficking in persons; criminalization of lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and intersex (LGBTI) status or conduct; violence targeting LGBTI persons; and restrictions on worker rights, including restrictions on formation of independent unions, discrimination in employment of migrants, women, those with disabilities, and child labor.

The government, including the Office of the Prime Minister, investigated allegations of abuses and atrocities perpetrated by the ISF, including a ministerial investigation of the October protests, but the government rarely punished those responsible for perpetrating or authorizing human rights abuses. Impunity effectively existed for government officials and security force personnel, including the ISF, Federal Police, PMF, and certain units of KRG Asayish internal security services.

Despite a reduction in numbers, ISIS continued to commit serious abuses and atrocities, including killings through suicide bombings and improvised explosive devices (IEDs). The government had ongoing investigations and was prosecuting allegations of ISIS abuses and atrocities and, in some instances, publicly noted the conviction of suspected ISIS members under the 2005 counterterrorism law.

Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:

a. Freedom of Expression, Including for the Press

The constitution provides for the right of free expression, including for the press, that does not violate public order and morality, express support for the banned Baath Party, or advocate altering the country’s borders through violent means. Despite this provision media and social activists faced various forms of pressure and intimidation from authorities, making the primary limitation on freedom of expression self-censorship due to a credible fear of reprisals by the government, political parties, ethnic and sectarian forces, terrorist and extremist groups, or criminal gangs. A media environment in which press outlets were closely affiliated with specific political parties and ethnic factions, an opaque judiciary, and a developing democratic political system combined to place considerable restrictions on freedom of expression, including the press.

Freedom of Expression: Despite the constitutional protection for freedom of expression, central government and KRG oversight and censorship sometimes interfered with media operations, at times resulting in the closure of media outlets, restrictions on reporting, denying access to public information, and interference with internet service. Individuals were able to criticize the government publicly or privately but not without fear of reprisal. In July dozens of journalists in the southern governorate of Basrah staged a vigil in front of the governorate building demanding the right to work free of intimidation and arrest in response to a threat from a military commander to arrest every journalist covering an unlicensed demonstration. Impunity in cases of violence against the press and a lack of a truly independent judiciary and press regulation body diminished the effectiveness of journalists.

Central government and KRG forces arrested and detained protesters and activists critical of the central government and of the KRG, respectively, according to statements by government officials, NGO representatives, and press reports. In October Amnesty International reported, based on the accounts of 11 activists, that security forces systematically targeted anyone who criticized their conduct during the protests. Their testimony illustrated how security forces had systematically targeted anyone who was speaking out against the conduct of security forces during the protests. Amnesty International continued to receive reports of activists and journalists threatened by security forces. These forces warned them that if they continued to speak out against human rights abuses committed against protesters, they would be added to a blacklist compiled by intelligence services.

Certain KRG courts applied the more stringent Iraqi criminal code in lawsuits involving journalists instead of the IKR’s own Journalism Law, which provides greater protection for freedom of expression. For example, a court in Kalar ordered Dang Radio director general Azad Osman to pay a fine equal to approximately $190 and sentenced him to a three-month suspended prison sentence for defamation after he published an article critical of the KRG. In another instance, authorities in Sulaimaniya arrested Nalia Radio and Television (NRT) director and presenter Shwan Adil on December 8 due to a complaint under Article 9 of the KRG’s Journalism Law regarding defamation from Raza Hasan, head of the University of Sulaimani. Raza complained NRT’s reporting on his academic work was inaccurate. In a separate incident, on December 15, authorities ordered Shwan to appear in court due to a complaint under Article 9 by the Sulaimaniya Police Directorate over NRT’s reporting on the murder-suicide of two journalists in October.

Press and Media, Including Online Media: Local media was active and expressed a variety of views, largely reflecting owners’ political viewpoints. Media also self-censored to comply with government restrictions against “violating public order” and because of a fear of reprisal by political parties, militias, terrorist groups, criminal organizations, and private individuals, including political figures. In November the government closed nine television channels for “publishing content inciting violence” during coverage of countrywide demonstrations. Political parties strongly influenced, or controlled outright, most of the several hundred daily and weekly print publications, as well as dozens of radio and television stations.

Press and social media accounts reported that the Baghdad offices of six television stations were attacked on October 5 after the news outlets covered antigovernment protests. Al-Arabiya, Dijlah, Al-Ghad, NRT, Al-Hadath, and TRT were ransacked and taken off the air by militiamen from Saraya Ṭalia al-Khurasani (PMF Brigade 18) and Harakat Hezbollah al-Nujaba (PMF Brigade 12) for continuing to broadcast imagery of the protests. HRW noted that the attacks came immediately after the central government’s Communications and Media Commission warned the stations to shut down. NRT was overrun after showing an interview with a protester who identified PMF militias responsible for sniper attacks. When a seventh station, Al-Forat, proved too well guarded to overrun, Asaib Ahl al-Haq (PMF Brigades 41, 42, and 43) bombed the building on October 6, damaging cars and other buildings in the area. In September the government suspended the license of Al-Hurra Television after it showed an investigative report alleging corruption within the country’s religious institutions and accused the network of bias and defamation in its report. The station received threats of violence following the broadcast.

The KDP and PUK gave prioritized access to the outlets they owned. In KDP strongholds, Kurdistan Television, Rudaw, and K24 had access to all public places and information, while in PUK-dominated Sulaimaniya Governorate, Kurdsat News and GK Television enjoyed the same privilege. Conversely, outlets belonging to opposition parties or lacking party affiliation had limited access to public information in the IKR. In August Spanish freelance journalist Ferran Barber was detained and eventually deported by authorities, according to the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ). According to the report, the journalist was interrogated about his work while agents searched his cell phone, camera memory cards, and laptop. No charges were brought against Barber, but he was not allowed to contact anyone during his detention.

Government forces sometimes prevented journalists from reporting, citing security reasons. Some media organizations reported arrests and harassment of journalists, as well as government efforts to prevent them from covering politically sensitive topics, including security issues, corruption, and government failure to provide adequate services. In July Reporters without Borders condemned the decision of a judge who ordered the search and arrest of a journalist after the journalist published a report on the misuse of public funds by a Basrah district judge. According to the journalist’s account, the judge allegedly embezzled 96 million dinars ($80,500) to buy a car for his cousin.

Violence and Harassment: According to the CPJ, there were two journalists killed in country during the year. An unidentified assailant shot and killed Iraqi reporter Hisham Fares al-Adhami while he was covering the protests on Baghdad’s Al-Tayyaran Square on October 4. A report by U.S. broadcaster National Public Radio said that Iraqi security forces had opened fire on demonstrators. On December 6, an unidentified individual shot Ahmed Muhana al-Lami, a photographer, in the back while he was covering protests in Baghdad’s Al-Khilani Square. He was transported to Sheikh Zayed Hospital in Baghdad, where he later died. Two unidentified Iraqi officials told The Associated Press they believed that the attacks on demonstrators had been orchestrated by Iranian-backed militias.

In the early days of the October protests, violence and threats of violence directed towards media covering the protests was widespread. By mid-October most international media outlets and many local journalists departed Baghdad for Erbil and the Kurdistan region following reports that security forces were circulating a list of journalists and activists to arrest and intimidate.

Reporting from areas liberated from ISIS control remained dangerous and difficult. Journalists covering armed clashes involving government forces, militias, and ISIS remnants faced serious threats to their safety. Military officials, citing safety considerations, sometimes restricted journalists’ access to areas of active fighting.

Media workers often reported that politicians, government officials, security services, tribal elements, and business leaders pressured them not to publish articles critical of them. Journalists reported accounts of government or partisan violence, intimidation, death threats, and harassment. In April the Center for Supporting Freedom of Expression issued a report on abuse and attacks recorded during the first quarter of the year. They reported the killing of a novelist and 37 cases of abuse against journalists and demonstrators, more than twice as many as during the same period last year.

In October antiriot police in Basrah prevented several journalists from covering demonstrations in the Al-Ashar area and attacked Associated Press correspondent Haider al-Jourani. Throughout the IKR, there were reports of beatings, detentions, and death threats against media workers. In some cases, the aggressors wore KRG military or police uniforms. In particular, journalists working for the Kurdish channel NRT were frequently arrested. In July the CPJ reported that KRG counterterrorism forces severely beat Ahmed Zawiti, the head of the Al-Jazeera network in Erbil, when he and his team covered an attack on Turkish consulate staff.

Censorship or Content Restrictions: The law prohibits producing, importing, publishing, or possessing written material, drawings, photographs, or films that violate public integrity or decency. The penalties for conviction include fines and imprisonment. Fear of violent retaliation for publishing facts or opinions critical of political factions inhibited free expression. The Ministry of Culture must approve all books published in or imported into the country, thereby subjecting authors to censorship.

Public officials reportedly influenced content by rewarding positive reporting with bribes, providing money, land, access to venues, and other benefits to journalists, particularly to members of the progovernment Journalists’ Syndicate. These restrictions extended to privately owned television stations operating outside of the country.

Nongovernmental Impact: Nongovernmental and quasi-governmental actors, including militias outside of state control, terrorist groups, and criminal organizations, reportedly threatened journalists with violence for reporting on sensitive subjects.

The government restricted or disrupted access to the internet and censored online content, and there were reports the government monitored private online communications without appropriate legal authority. Government restrictions on access to the internet were overt, but the government denied that it monitored private online communications without appropriate legal authority. Despite restrictions, political figures and activists used the internet to criticize politicians, organize demonstrations, and campaign for candidates through social media platforms.

The government acknowledged it interfered with internet access in some areas of the country, reportedly due to the security situation and ISIS’ disruptive use of social media platforms. Since demonstrations began in October, access to 3G networks and Wi-Fi was turned off on multiple occasions in the country, excluding the IKR. While Wi-Fi and 3G access was largely restored, connectivity remained weak, making social media and streaming difficult. Slow speeds, or the “throttling back” of internet access, greatly limited the ability of users to upload video and photographic content.

In other instances, the government sporadically instructed internet service providers to shut down the internet for two to three hours a day during school exams, reportedly to prevent cheating on standardized national exams. On June 26, NetBlocks, an NGO that maps internet freedom, reported that connectivity with several internet providers fell below 50 percent, which coincided with the Education Ministry schedule for physics exams. Impact was regional, with significant disruption in Baghdad, while other cities, including the country’s autonomous Kurdish regions, remained unaffected.

There were government restrictions on academic freedom and cultural events. Social, religious, and political pressures significantly restricted the exercise of freedom of choice in academic and cultural matters. In all regions, various groups reportedly sought to control the pursuit of formal education and the granting of academic positions.

Academic freedoms remained restricted in areas of active conflict with ISIS.

NGOs in the IKR reported that senior professorships were easier to obtain for those with links to the traditional KDP and PUK ruling parties.

b. Freedoms of Peaceful Assembly and Association

The government sometimes limited freedoms of peaceful assembly and association.

The constitution provides for freedom of assembly and peaceful demonstration “regulated by law.” Regulations require protest organizers to request permission seven days in advance of a demonstration and submit detailed information regarding the applicants, the reason for the protest, and participants. The regulations prohibit all “slogans, signs, printed materials, or drawings” involving “sectarianism, racism, or segregation” of citizens. The regulations also prohibit anything that would violate the constitution or law; encourage violence, hatred, or killing; or prove insulting to Islam, “honor, morals, religion, holy groups, or Iraqi entities in general.” Provincial councils traditionally maintained authority to issue permits. Authorities generally issued permits in accordance with the regulations. As demonstrations escalated starting in October, authorities consistently failed to protect demonstrators from violence (see section 1.a.).

The constitution provides for the right to form and join associations and political parties, with some exceptions. The government generally respected this right, except for the legal prohibitions against groups expressing support for the Baath Party or Zionist principles.

The government reported it took approximately one month to process NGO registration applications. NGOs must register and periodically reregister in Baghdad. According to the NGO Directorate at the Council of Ministers Secretariat, there were 4,365 registered NGOs as of September, including 158 branches of foreign organizations. There were also 900 female-focused or female-chaired NGOs registered as of September. The directorate also sanctioned 700 NGOs for committing violations such as providing cover for political parties or suspicious operations against the NGOs code.

NGOs operating in the IKR require a separate registration. As a result, some NGOs registered only in Baghdad could not operate in the IKR, while those registered only in Erbil could not operate outside the IKR and KRG-controlled disputed territories.

c. Freedom of Religion

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

d. Freedom of Movement

The constitution and law provide for the freedom of internal movement, foreign travel, emigration, and repatriation, but the government did not consistently respect these rights. Law and custom generally do not respect freedom of movement for women. For example, the law prevents a woman from applying for a passport without the consent of her male guardian or a legal representative. Women could not obtain the Civil Status Identification Document, required for access to public services, food assistance, health care, employment, education, and housing, without the consent of a male relative.

In some instances, authorities restricted movements of displaced persons, and authorities did not allow some IDP camp residents to depart without specific permission, thereby limiting access to livelihoods, education, and services. Many parts of the country liberated from ISIS control suffered from movement restrictions due to checkpoints of PMF units and other government forces. In other instances, local authorities did not always recognize security permits of returnees nor comply with the central government’s orders to facilitate, but not force, returns.

Successful efforts by the government to regain control of areas previously held by ISIS allowed many returns to take place. Returnees, however, grappled with the destruction of homes, lack of services and livelihoods, and continued concerns for security due to the prevalence of PMF groups. In some cases, this led to secondary displacement or a return to the camp.

Security considerations, unexploded ordnance, destruction of infrastructure, and official and unofficial restrictions sometimes limited humanitarian access to IDP communities. Insecurity caused by the presence of ISIS and PMF groups hindered the movement of international staff of humanitarian organizations, restricting their ability to monitor programs for a portion of the year.

In-country Movement: The law permits security forces to restrict in-country movement and take other necessary security and military measures in response to security threats and attacks. There were numerous reports that government forces, including the ISF, Peshmerga, and PMF, selectively enforced regulations, including for ethnosectarian reasons, requiring residency permits to limit entry of persons into areas under their control.

Humanitarian agencies frequently reported evictions of IDPs from camps and informal displacement sites due to closures and consolidations, which reportedly were often not coordinated among relevant local authorities or with humanitarian actors, and which caused some sudden, involuntary displacements. In an effort to avoid eviction, approximately 15,000 families left camps. Most were considered secondarily displaced, as they were unable to return to their place of origin. Some political actors promoted camp closures in advance of May 2018 parliamentary elections, and authorities reportedly used coercive measures during eviction notifications. IDP camp managers reported government officials did not always give IDPs at closed camps the choice of returning to their governorates of origin or displacement to another site. Some families in camps near Baghdad expressed a desire to integrate locally, having found informal employment, but local government authorities reportedly denied requests.

There were numerous reports that IDPs, particularly those suspected of ISIS affiliation, faced hostility from local government officials and populations, as well as expulsion. In liberated areas of Anbar, Duhok, Kirkuk, Ninewa, and Salah al-Din Governorates, humanitarian agencies reported movement restrictions for families with relatives suspected of ISIS affiliation. An Interior Ministry official estimated the number of those with perceived ISIS affiliation at 250,000. Tribal leaders and humanitarian actors reported that fabricated accusations of ISIS affiliation led to stigmatization of IDPs, particularly those living in camps, who were being isolated and whose movements in and out of camps were increasingly restricted. They also expressed concerns of collective punishment against certain communities for their perceived ties to ISIS. In late January authorities governing the town of Karma, northeast of Fallujah in Anbar Governorate, issued special pink identity cards to at least 200 families with relatives suspected of ISIS affiliation, a local lawyer and a humanitarian worker told HRW. He said the families were allowed to return home and could use the documents to travel through checkpoints but would be permanently marked by the pink cards. Tribal pacts called for punishing false accusations of ISIS affiliation, but they also prohibited legal defense for those affiliated with ISIS. IDPs were also often the targets of stigmatization or discrimination because of familial rivalries or economic reasons, rather than affiliation with ISIS.

Multiple international NGOs reported that PMF units and Peshmerga prevented civilians, including Sunni Arabs and ethnic and religious minorities, from returning to their homes after government forces ousted ISIS (see section 6). For example, the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) reported that local armed groups barred returns to certain areas of Baiji, Salah al-Din Governorate. Similarly, Christian CSOs reported that certain PMF groups, including the 30th Shabak Brigade, prevented Christian IDP returns and harassed Christian returnees in several towns in the Ninewa Plain, including Bartalla and Qaraqosh. Members of the 30th Brigade refused to implement a decision from the prime minister to remove checkpoints.

There were reports some PMF groups harassed or threatened civilians fleeing conflict zones or returning to liberated areas and targeted civilians with threats, intimidation, physical violence, abduction, destruction or confiscation of property, and killing.

The KRG restricted movement across the areas it administered. Authorities required nonresidents to obtain permits that authorized limited stays in the IKR. These permits were generally renewable. Citizens who sought to obtain residency permits for KRG-controlled areas required sponsorship from a resident in the region. Humanitarian actors described the sponsorship program as effective in enabling the return of thousands of IDPs. Citizens of all ethnosectarian backgrounds, including Kurds, crossing into the IKR from central or southern regions were obligated to cross through checkpoints and undergo personal and vehicle inspection. The government imposed similar restrictions on IDPs from Ninewa Governorate and the disputed territories.

KRG authorities applied restrictions more stringently in some areas than in others. The United Nations and international humanitarian organizations stated that restrictiveness of entry for IDPs and refugees seeking to return depended upon the ethnosectarian background of the displaced individuals and the area to which they intended to return. There were also reports that authorities sometimes closed checkpoints into the region for extended periods, forcing IDPs to wait, often resulting in secondary displacement. Officials prevented individuals whom they deemed security threats from entering the region. KRG officials generally admitted minority IDPs into the IKR, although security checks reportedly were lengthy on occasion. Entry reportedly was often more difficult for men, particularly Arab men traveling without family.

HRW reported in September that the KRG was preventing an estimated 4,200 Sunni Arabs from returning home to 12 villages east of Mosul. Affected families said they were blocked from their homes and farmland and were unable to earn a living. KRG authorities provided explanations for the blocked returns but allowed only Kurdish residents and Arabs with KRG ties to return, leading to suspicions that the restriction was based on security concerns regarding perceived ISIS ties.

Foreign Travel: The government required exit permits for citizens leaving the country, but the requirement was not routinely enforced.

According to the International Organization for Migration (IOM) Displacement Tracking Matrix, 1,444,500 persons remained internally displaced in the country as of October, predominantly in Erbil, Duhok, and Ninewa Governorates. Almost 4.5 million persons returned to areas of origin across the country. In October the IOM reported that 8 percent of IDPs lived in shelter arrangements that did not meet minimal safety or security standards, 25 percent lived in IDP camps and settlements, and 67 percent resided in private accommodations, including host family residences, hotels, motels, and rental housing.

The constitution and national policy on displacement address IDP rights, but few laws specifically do so. The government and international organizations, including UN agencies and local and international NGOs, provided protection and other assistance to IDPs. Humanitarian actors provided support for formal IDP camps and implemented community-based services for IDPs residing outside of camps to limit strain on host community resources.

In some areas violence, insecurity, and long-standing political, tribal and ethnosectarian tensions hampered progress on national reconciliation and political reform, complicating the protection environment for IDPs. Thousands of families faced secondary displacement due to economic and security concerns. Forced displacements, combined with unresolved problems caused by the uprooting of millions of Iraqis in past decades, strained the capacity of local authorities.

Government assistance focused on financial grants, but payments were sporadic. Faced with large movements of IDPs across the country, the government provided food, water, and financial assistance to some, but not all IDPs, including in the IKR. Many IDPs lived in informal settlements without access to adequate water, sanitation, or other essential services.

All citizens were eligible to receive food under the Public Distribution System (PDS), but authorities implemented the PDS sporadically and irregularly, with limited access in recently liberated areas. Authorities did not distribute all commodities each month, and not all IDPs could access the PDS in each governorate. Low oil prices reduced government revenues and further limited funds available for the PDS. There were reports of IDPs losing access and entitlement to PDS distributions and other services due to requirements that citizens could redeem PDS rations or other services only at their registered place of residence.

Local authorities often determined whether IDPs would have access to local services. Through the provision of legal aid, the United Nations and other humanitarian organizations assisted IDPs in obtaining documentation and registering with authorities to improve access to services and entitlements. The Directorate of Civil Affairs, with the support of UNHCR and the UN Refugee Agency, inaugurated the first national Identification Document Center in Ninewa Governorate in October. The Center allowed many IDPs who lost or were unable to obtain civil status documentation, including birth certificates, as a result of recent conflicts, to obtain documentation that proved their identity and helped gain access to public services and government assistance programs. Humanitarian agencies reported some IDPs faced difficulty with registration. In October UNHCR reported that nearly 2.9 million IDPs across the country were missing at least one form of civil documentation. In April the Norwegian Refugee Council reported that approximately 45,000 IDP children in camps were missing civil documentation.

Households with perceived ties to ISIS faced stigma and were at increased risk of being deprived of their basic rights. Government officials frequently denied security clearances for displaced households with a perceived ISIS affiliation to return to areas of origin. Because of this perceived affiliation, these households faced problems obtaining civil documentation and had limited freedom of movement, including the ability to seek medical treatment, due to the risk of arrest or inability to reenter the camp. Humanitarian organizations reported that female heads of household in multiple IDP camps struggled to obtain permission to move and were subject to verbal and physical harassment, including rape, sexual assault, and exploitation, by government forces and camp residents.

HRW reported in August that the government was denying thousands of children whose parents had a perceived ISIS affiliation their right to access an education. They reported that officials were instructing school principals and aid groups that undocumented children were barred from enrolling in government schools, despite a September 2018 document signed by senior Education Ministry officials that appeared to support allowing children missing civil documentation to enroll in school.

IKR-based NGOs documented numerous cases of women who were forced to marry ISIS fighters subsequently became widows with children but lacked marriage and birth certificates required to obtain legal documentation for their children. These women and children were stigmatized because of their association with ISIS, leaving them at heightened risk of suicide, retaliation, and sexual exploitation. Although some communities issued edicts and took steps to absolve women of perceived guilt associated with their sexual exploitation by ISIS fighters, honor killings remained a risk. Communities generally did not accept children born to ISIS fighters and they were frequently abandoned or placed in orphanages, as reported by Yezidi NGOs and media.

Central government authorities and governors took steps to close or consolidate camps, sometimes in an effort to force IDPs to return to their areas of origin. UNICEF reported that between August and September, the number of formal IDP camps dropped from 89 to 77 because of government-mandated camp closures. In many cases forced returns from camps resulted in secondary or tertiary displacement, often to out-of-camp settings. HRW reported that local authorities forcibly expelled  more than 2,000 individuals from camps for displaced people in Ninewa Governorate from August 23 to September 4.

West Mosul, Ninewa Governorate, along with the historically Christian town of Batnaya north of Mosul, remained in ruins and almost completely uninhabited. Most Christian IDPs refused to return to the nearby town of Tal Kayf, citing fear of the PMF 50th Babylon Brigade that occupied it. Prior to 2002 there were between 800,000 and 1.4 million Christians in the region, but during the year that figure had fallen to below 150,000. Only a very small number of the country’s population of 400,000 to 500,000 Yezidis had returned to their homes. Many chose to stay in camps, saying a lack of a reconstruction plan, lack of public services, and insecurity discouraged them from returning home.

f. Protection of Refugees

Abuse of Migrants, Refugees, and Stateless Persons: The government generally cooperated with the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), the International Organization for Migration (IOM), and other humanitarian organizations in providing protection and assistance to IDPs, refugees, returning refugees, asylum seekers, stateless persons, or other persons of concern. The government did not have effective systems to assist all of these individuals, largely due to funding shortfalls and lack of capacity. Humanitarian protection experts assessed that conditions in IDP camps were highly susceptible to sexual exploitation and abuse. Refugees and IDPs reported frequent sexual harassment, both in camps and cities in the IKR. Local NGOs reported on cases where camp management and detention employees subjected IDPs and refugees to various forms of abuse and intimidation.

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. Syrians made up the vast majority of the refugee population, and almost all refugees resided in the IKR. The KRG generally cooperated with UNHCR and other humanitarian organizations to provide protection and assistance to refugees in the country.

In October Syrian refugees began fleeing into the IKR following the Turkish incursion into northeast Syria. The KRG cooperated with UNHCR in allowing these individuals to seek refuge in camps and receive basic assistance. The KRG allowed Syrian refugees with family in the IKR to live outside of camps. As of mid-November, the number of newly displaced Syrians in Iraq exceeded 16,000.

Freedom of Movement: Syrian refugees continued to face restrictions on residence and movement outside the IKR.

Employment: Refugees and asylum seekers are legally entitled to work in the private sector. The central government does not recognize the refugee status of Palestinians, but the KRG does. They are allowed to work in the private sector but are required to renew their status annually. Syrian refugees were able to obtain and renew residency and work permits both in refugee camps and in the IKR, although not in the rest of the country. Authorities arrested refugees with IKR residence permits who sought work outside the region and returned them to the IKR. A UNHCR survey of Syrian refugees in the IKR between April and June showed that 89 percent of the refugee families had at least one family member regularly employed in some form of livelihood activity.

Durable Solutions: There was no large-scale integration of refugees in the central and southern regions of the country. Ethnic Kurdish refugees from Syria, Turkey, and Iran generally integrated well in the IKR, although economic hardship reportedly plagued families and prevented some children, especially Syrians, from enrolling in formal school. For the 2018-19 school year, the KRG Ministry of Education began teaching all first- and second-grade classes for Syrian refugees outside refugee camps in Sorani Kurdish in Erbil and Sulaimaniya Governorates and Badini Kurdish in Duhok Governorate instead of the dialects of Kurmanji Kurdish spoken by Syrian Kurds, while offering optional instruction in Sorani and Badini to those inside refugee camps.

UNHCR estimated there were more than 47,000 stateless individuals in the country as of August. An estimated 45,000 displaced children in camps were missing civil documentation and faced exclusion from local society, including being barred from attending school, lacking access to healthcare, and being deprived of basic rights. These children, born under ISIS rule, were issued birth certificates that were considered invalid in the eyes of the government. They faced extreme difficulties in obtaining civil documentation due to perceived ISIS affiliation.

Absent a countrywide, consistent plan to document children of Iraqi mothers and ISIS fathers, those children were at risk of statelessness. The government enforced a law requiring any non-Muslim women who bore children of Muslim men to register children as Muslim, no matter the circumstances of the child’s conception or the mother’s religion. The Yezidi community frequently welcomed back Yezidi women who survived ISIS captivity but not children fathered by ISIS fighters. The Yezidi community frequently forced women to give up such babies and minor children to orphanages under threat of expulsion from the community. International NGOs provided shelter referrals to some Yezidi women and, in some cases, assisted mothers in finding homes for forcibly abandoned children. Those children that do not receive assistance were without parents, identification, clear country of birth, or settled nationality.

As of 2006, the latest year for which data was available, an estimated 54,500 “Bidoon” (stateless) individuals, living as nomads in the desert in or near the southern governorates of Basrah, Dhi Qar, and Qadisiyah, remained undocumented and stateless descendants of individuals who never received Iraqi citizenship upon the state’s founding. Prolonged drought in the south of the country forced many individuals from these communities to migrate to city centers, where most obtained identification documents and gained access to food rations and other social benefits. Other communities similarly at risk of statelessness included the country’s Romani (Dom) population; the Ahwazi, who are Shia Arabs of Iranian descent; the Baha’i religious minority; inhabitants of the southern marshlands; members of the Goyan and Omariya Turkish Kurdish tribes near Mosul; and nationals of South Sudan.

Stateless persons faced discrimination in employment and access to education. Many stateless persons were not able to register for identity cards, which prevented them from enrolling in public school, registering marriages, and gaining access to some government services. Stateless individuals also faced difficulty obtaining public-sector employment and lacked job security.

A UNHCR-funded legal initiative secured nationality for hundreds of formerly stateless families, giving them access to basic rights and services. Since 2017, lawyers worked to help Bidoons, and other stateless people, acquire nationality, assisting an average of 500 individuals per year.

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. Despite violence and other irregularities in the conduct of elections, citizens were generally able to exercise this right.

Recent Elections: In May 2018 the Independent High Electoral Commission (IHEC) conducted elections for the COR–the national parliament. The 2018 elections were notable in that the IHEC chose to implement new technologies, including the automated counting and tabulation of votes, and the biometric identification and verification of voters. These new technologies, adopted very late in the electoral cycle, placed considerable strain on the institution. International and local observers monitored the elections. Two hundred and seventy-five members of the country’s outgoing COR, including the speaker, lost their seats in these elections. Although observers declared the elections peaceful, allegations of fraud prompted parliament to order a recount of ballots in areas of Anbar, Kirkuk, Baghdad, and the IKR. Fraud allegations included repeat voting, manipulation of electronic ballot tallies, ballot stuffing, and voter intimidation.

Due to problems obtaining or replacing civil documentation, as well as last-minute changes to the IHEC identification requirements, many IDPs were disenfranchised during the May 2018 elections. Although the IHEC made attempts to accommodate the various registration and voting challenges (special absentee voting stations and waiver of the biometric identification card requirement) facing IDPs, the IHEC did not sufficiently inform IDPs in camps about the registration process and the voting procedures for the different categories of IDPs. By the November 2017 cut-off date for voter registration, only 293,000 of an estimated 800,000 IDPs of voting age were registered.

The Kurdistan Independent High Electoral Commission held elections in September 2018 for the Iraqi Kurdistan Parliament (IKP). Most observers witnessed only minor irregularities and saw no evidence of systemic fraud, but opposition parties alleged voter intimidation and systemic fraud, such as ballot stuffing and falsification of documents. Following national parliamentary elections, the International Crisis Group reported in May 2018 on allegations in Kirkuk Governorate, noting that the Kurdish PUK party won in several non-Kurdish areas with historically low PUK support, and turnout in Kurdish areas was low compared both to past elections and to turnout in Turkmen and Arab areas.

Political Parties and Political Participation: Political parties and coalition blocs tended to organize along either religious or ethnic lines, although some parties crossed sectarian lines. Membership in some political parties, particularly KDP and PUK in the IKR or major parties in central government-controlled territory, conferred special privileges and advantages in employment and education.

Participation of Women and Minorities: No laws limit participation of women or members of minorities in the political process, and they did participate.

The constitution mandates that women constitute at least 25 percent of parliamentary and provincial council membership. In parliamentary elections, 19 women received sufficient votes to win seats in the 329-seat COR without having to rely on the constitutional quota, compared with 22 in 2014. Sixty-five additional women were awarded seats based on the quota, raising the total number of seats women held to 84. Nonetheless, political discussions often reportedly marginalized female members of parliament.

In 2018 parliamentary elections for the IKP, 36 women received votes to win seats in the 111-seat parliament. The results also indicated that five candidates representing minority groups won seats, including Turkmen and Assyrians. The IKP elected its first female speaker, Rewaz Fayeq, in July.

Of the 329 seats in parliament, the law reserves nine seats for minorities: five for Christian candidates from Baghdad, Ninewa, Kirkuk, Erbil, and Duhok Governorates, respectively; one Yezidi; one Sabean-Mandaean; one Shabak; and, following a parliamentary decision in February, one for Faili Kurds in Wasit Governorate. One Christian was appointed to the new cabinet.

Following complaints by Yezidi activists, the Federal Supreme Court ruled in January 2018 that the Yezidi minority must have more seats in the country’s parliament, reflective of the size of the community, but the decision was not implemented during the year.

The KRG reserves 30 percent of parliamentary and provincial council membership for women. Three women held cabinet level positions as of December.

Of 111 seats in the IKP, the law reserves 11 seats for minorities along ethnic, rather than religious lines: five for (predominantly Christian) Chaldo-Assyrian candidates, five for Turkmen candidates, and one for Armenian candidates. No seats are reserved for self-described groups whom the KRG considers ethnically Kurdish or Arab, such as Yezidis, Shabak, Sabean-Mandaeans, Kaka’i, and Faili Kurds.

Major political parties partnered with, or in some cases created, affiliated minority political parties in both the central government and IKR elections and encouraged other Iraqis to vote for allied minority candidates for quota seats in the COR and IKP. Minority community activists complained that this process disenfranchised them, and they advocated for electoral reform to limit voting for minority quota seats to voters of the relevant minority, as well as for additional quota seats in the COR and IKP.

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 law allows some individuals convicted of corruption to receive amnesty upon repaying money they had obtained by corruption, which had the effect of allowing them to keep any profits from stolen funds. Officials frequently engaged in corrupt practices with impunity. There were numerous reports of government corruption during the year.

Corruption: According to a statement by a member of the Parliament Services Committee, the number of “sham projects” in the country since 2003 was in excess of 6,000. The estimated cost of these “phantom projects” was approximately 200 trillion dinars ($176 billion) over the past 16 years. Bribery, money laundering, nepotism, and misappropriation of public funds were common at all levels and across all branches of government. Family, tribal, and ethnosectarian considerations significantly influenced government decisions at all levels and across all branches of government. Investigations of corruption were not free from political influence, as evidenced by the arrest warrant issued in November for Talal al-Zubaie, who was previously the chairman of the Integrity Commission. Zubaie was wanted for corruption charges stemming from his time serving as the commission’s chairman.

Anticorruption efforts were hampered by a lack of agreement concerning institutional roles and political will, political influence, lack of transparency, and unclear governing legislation and regulatory processes. Although anticorruption institutions increasingly collaborated with civil society groups, the effect of expanded cooperation was limited. Media and NGOs attempted to expose corruption independently, but their capacity was limited. Anticorruption, law enforcement, and judicial officials, as well as members of civil society and media, faced threats, intimidation, and abuse in their efforts to combat corrupt practices.

In February the prime minister established a High Council for Combatting Corruption, which along with the Parliamentary Integrity Committee, was charged with developing national policies and strategies to confront corruption. Although the Commission of Integrity (COI) investigated several high-profile cases, prosecution and conviction rates were low. In August the COI issued a summary of the commission’s biannual report, finding the commission filed more than 4,783 corruption cases and issued more than 857 arrest warrants. There were almost 442 convictions, including three ministers and 27 senior officials, although the convictions remained anonymous. The report stated that the law allowed more than 986 convicted persons amnesty upon repaying money they had obtained by corruption.

The Central Bank leads the government’s efforts to combat money laundering and terrorist financing. Through the Offices of Banking Supervision and Financial Intelligence Unit, the Central Bank worked with law enforcement agencies and the judiciary to identify and prosecute illicit financial transactions. The investigatory capacity of authorities remained extremely limited, although they were successful in prosecuting a small number of money-laundering cases linked to ISIS. Political party influence on government institutions and intimidation of government employees made it difficult for authorities to investigate money-laundering cases related to corruption. Numerous mid-level government officials were fired due to involvement in investigations of money-laundering cases linked to influential political party members. The COI, which prosecutes money-laundering cases linked to official corruption, suffered from a lack of investigatory capacity.

The Council of Ministers Secretariat has an anticorruption advisor, and the COR has an integrity committee. The Council of Ministers secretary general led the Joint Anticorruption Council, which also included agency inspectors general. In October the Council dismissed 1,000 civil servants after convicting them of public integrity crimes including wasting public money, deliberately damaging public money and embezzlement. On August 24, the prime minister’s media office announced that the Supreme Council for Combating Corruption had presented 8,824 cases of corruption to the judiciary.

Border corruption was also a problem. In June the Baghdad Post newspaper’s website posted footage that revealed a long line of trucks, believed to be smuggling goods across the border, being allowed to bypass regulations and taxes. Local officials told reporters that the smuggling ring was controlled by government officials and the IRGC.

The KRG maintained its own COI, which issued its first report in 2017. The COI lacked the resources and investigators needed to pursue all potential corruption cases, according to one specialist on the issue.

In August 2018 the KRG formally launched Xizmat (services), a government reform program to document and provide more efficient and transparent government services to citizens in the IKR using an online portal. Deputy Prime Minister Qubad Talabani reported in May that this system, in addition to other digital reforms, helped remove complications, identify unnecessary processes, and expose thousands of “ghost employees.”

Financial Disclosure: The law authorizes the COI to obtain annual financial disclosures from senior public officials, including ministers, governors, and parliamentarians, and to take legal action for nondisclosure. Penalties range from fines to imprisonment. A unified system for enforcing annual financial disclosures does not exist. The COI has no jurisdiction over the IKR, but Kurdish members of the central government were required to conform to the law. The law obligates the COI to provide public annual reports on prosecutions, transparency, accountability, and ethics of public service. According to the COI’s semiannual report, all of the members of parliament (MPs) and half of the 15 governors submitted financial disclosure information, a considerable increase over previous years.

The Kurdistan Commission on Public Integrity is responsible for distributing and collecting financial disclosure forms in the IKR. There was no information available indicating that public officials faced penalties for financial nondisclosure.

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

A number of domestic and international human rights groups operated, in most cases with little government restriction or interference, investigating and publishing their findings on human rights cases. Government officials were somewhat cooperative and responsive to their views.

Due to the ISIS-driven humanitarian crisis, the majority of local NGOs focused on assisting IDPs and other vulnerable communities. In some instances, these NGOs worked in coordination with central government and KRG authorities. A number of NGOs also investigated and published findings on human rights cases. There were some reports of government interference with NGOs investigating human rights abuses and violations involving government actors.

HRW reported on at least 22 incidents of harassment, intimidation, or assault on aid workers by government officials in Ninewa during the first two months of the year. According to the report, authorities in Ninewa harassed, threatened, and arrested aid workers and brought false terrorism charges against them in some cases. HRW reported that local authorities also compelled organizations to stop providing services to families accused of ISIS ties.

NGOs faced capacity-related problems, did not have regular access to government officials and, as a result, were not able to provide significant protections against failures in governance and human rights abuses. Domestic NGOs’ lack of sustainable sources of funding hindered the sector’s long-term development. The government rarely awarded NGOs contracts for services. While the law forbids NGOs from engaging in political activity, political parties or sects originated, funded, or substantially influenced many domestic NGOs.

NGOs were prevented from operating in certain sectors (see section 6, Women) NGOs registered in Erbil could not operate outside the IKR and KRG-controlled disputed territories (see section 2.b.).

The IKR had an active community of mostly Kurdish NGOs, many with close ties to, and funding from, the PUK and KDP political parties. Government funding of NGOs legally is contingent upon whether an NGO’s programming goals conform to already-identified KRG priority areas. The KRG NGO Directorate established formal procedures for awarding funds to NGOs, which included a public description of the annual budget for NGO funding, priority areas for consideration, deadlines for proposal submission, establishment of a grant committee, and the criteria for ranking proposals.

The United Nations or Other International Bodies: The government and the KRG sometimes restricted the access of the United Nations and other international organizations to sensitive locations, such as Ministry of Interior-run detention facilities holding detainees suspected of terrorism.

Government Human Rights Bodies: The IHCHR is constitutionally mandated. The law governing the IHCHR’s operation provides for 12 full-time commissioners and three reserve commissioners with four-year, nonrenewable terms; in 2017 new commissioners assumed duties. The law provides for the IHCHR’s financial and administrative independence and assigns it broad authority, including the right to receive and investigate human rights complaints, conduct unannounced visits to correctional facilities, and review legislation. Some observers reported the commissioners’ individual and partisan political agendas largely stalled the IHCHR’s work. The IHCHR actively documented human rights violations and abuses during the demonstrations that started in October but briefly discontinued publishing the number of protest-related deaths, reportedly due to pressure from the Prime Minister’s Office.

The IHRCKR issued periodic reports on human rights, trafficking in persons, and religious freedom in the IKR. The commission reported KRG police and security organizations generally had been receptive to human rights training and responsive to reports of violations. Both the IHRCKR and KHRW conducted human rights training for police and Asayish, mainly for investigators. The IHRCKR worked with the Ministry of Peshmerga to establish an International Human Rights Institute within the ministry during the year.

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

Rape and Domestic Violence: The law criminalizes rape and sexual assault of women, men, and children, but not specifically spousal rape, and permits a sentence not exceeding 15 years, or life imprisonment if the victim dies. The rape provisions of the law do not define, clarify, or otherwise describe “consent,” leaving the term up to judicial interpretation. The law requires authorities to drop a rape case if the perpetrator marries the victim, with a provision protecting against divorce within the first three years of marriage. The victim’s family sometimes agreed to this arrangement to avoid the social stigma attached to rape. There were no reliable estimates of the incidence of rape or information on the effectiveness of government enforcement of the law.

Humanitarian protection experts assessed that conditions in IDP camps were highly susceptible to sexual exploitation and abuse. UNHCR reported in May that women in IDP camps with alleged ties to ISIS were particularly vulnerable to abuse, including rape by government forces and other IDPs (see sections 1.c. and 2.d.).

Although the constitution prohibits “all forms of violence and abuse in the family,” the law does not specifically prohibit domestic violence but stipulates that men may discipline their wives and children “within certain limits prescribed by law or by custom.” The law provides reduced sentences for violence or killing if the perpetrator had “honorable motives” or if the perpetrator caught his wife or female relative in the act of adultery or sex outside of marriage. Domestic violence remained a pervasive problem.

The government made some progress on implementation of its 2016 joint communique with UNAMI on the prevention and response to conflict-related sexual violence, but human rights organizations reported that the criminal justice system was often unable to provide adequate protection for women.

Likewise, NGOs reported that the government made minimal progress in implementing UN Security Council Resolution 1325 on women, peace, and security despite an implementation plan launched in 2016. The KRG High Council of Women’s Affairs reported that neither the central government nor the KRG had allocated a budget for implementing this resolution.

Harassment of legal personnel who sought to pursue domestic violence cases under laws criminalizing assault, as well as a lack of trained police and judicial personnel, further hampered efforts to prosecute perpetrators.

The government and KRG also struggled to address the physical and mental trauma endured by women who lived under ISIS rule. In April UNHCR reported 10 suicides, mostly by Yezidi women, in six IDP camps in the Dohuk Governorate since the beginning of the year, a number UNHCR believed to be underreported. Doctors Without Borders also reported that during a five-month period, 24 patients who had attempted suicide were brought to one Sinjar area hospital, six of whom died. Almost half were younger than 18, and the youngest victim was 13.

While the law does not explicitly prohibit NGOs from running shelters for victims of gender-based crimes, the law allows the Ministry of Labor and Social Affairs to determine if a shelter may remain open, and the ministry did not do so. As a result, only the ministry could operate shelters in central government-controlled territory. NGOs that operated unofficial shelters faced legal penalties for operating such shelters without a license (see section 5). NGOs reported that communities often viewed the shelters as brothels and asked the government to close them; on occasion, shelters were subject to attacks. In order to appease community concerns, the ministry regularly closed shelters, only to allow them to reopen in another location later. In the absence of shelters, authorities often detained or imprisoned sexual harassment victims for their own protection. Some women, without alternatives, become homeless.

The Ministry of Interior maintained 16 family protection units under police authority, located in separate buildings at police stations around the country, designed to resolve domestic disputes and establish safe refuges for victims of sexual or gender-based violence. These units reportedly tended to prioritize family reconciliation over victim protection and lacked the capacity to support victims. NGOs stated that victims of domestic violence feared approaching the family protection units because they suspected that police would inform their families of their testimony. Some tribal leaders in the south reportedly banned their members from seeking redress through police family protection units, claiming domestic abuse was a family matter. The family protection units in most locations did not operate shelters.

KRG law criminalized domestic violence, including physical and psychological abuse, threats of violence, and spousal rape. The KRG implemented the provisions of the law and maintained a special police force to investigate cases of gender-based violence and a family reconciliation committee within the judicial system, but local NGOs reported that these programs were not effective at combating gender-based violence. In one notable case, Shadiya Jasim’s husband shot and killed her on the steps of a courthouse in Erbil in September after she filed for divorce. Her husband surrendered to police and was taken into custody. The police were investigating the killing.

In the IKR one privately operated shelter and four KRG Ministry of Labor and Social Affairs-operated shelters provided some protection and assistance for female victims of gender-based violence and human trafficking. Space reportedly was limited, and service delivery reportedly was poor. NGOs played a key role in providing services, including legal aid, to victims of domestic violence, who often received no assistance from the government. Instead of using legal remedies, authorities frequently mediated between women and their families so that the women could return to their homes. Other than marrying or returning to their families, which often resulted in further victimization by the family or community, there were few options for women accommodated at shelters.

Female Genital Mutilation/Cutting (FGM/C): NGOs and the KRG reported the practice of FGM/C persisted in the IKR, particularly in rural areas of Erbil, Sulaimaniya, and Kirkuk Governorates, and among refugee communities, despite a ban on the practice in IKR law. Rates of FGM/C, however, reportedly continued to decline. FGM/C was not common outside the IKR.

During the year UNICEF reported 37.5 percent of women and girls ages 15-49 in the IKR had undergone FGM/C, a decrease from previous years. NGOs attributed the reduction in FGM/C to the criminalization of the practice and sustained public outreach activities by civil society groups.

Other Harmful Traditional Practices: The law permitted honor as a lawful defense in violence against women, and so-called honor killings remained a serious problem throughout the country. A provision of the law limits a sentence for conviction of murder to a maximum of three years in prison if a man is on trial for killing his wife, girlfriend, or a female dependent due to suspicion that the victim was committing adultery or engaged in sex outside of marriage. UNAMI reported that several hundred women died each year from honor killings. Some families reportedly arranged honor killings to appear as suicides.

During the year the KRG began prosecuting murders of women, including by honor killings, as homicides, meaning culprits convicted of honor killings were subject to penalties up to and including the death penalty. The KRG Ministry of Interior Directorate General of Combating Violence against Women confirmed that sentences in such cases sometimes reached 20 years.

The KRG Ministry of Interior’s Directorate General of Combating Violence Against Women confirmed 16 cases of honor killing among 22 female homicide victims in the IKR as of September.

There were reports that women and girls were sexually exploited through so-called temporary, or pleasure marriages, under which a man gives the family of the girl or woman dowry money in exchange for permission to “marry” her for a specified period. A BBC investigation found instances of Shia clerics in Baghdad advising men on how to abuse girls. Young women, widowed or orphaned by the aggressions of ISIS, were especially vulnerable to this type of exploitation, as detailed in the BBC report. In similar cases, NGOs reported some families opted to marry off their underage daughters in exchange for dowry money, believing the marriage was genuine, only to have the girl returned to them months later, sometimes pregnant.

Government officials and international and local NGOs also reported that the traditional practice of nahwa, where a cousin, uncle, or other male relative of any woman may forbid or terminate her marriage to someone outside the family, remained a problem, particularly in southern governorates. In April the newspaper Arab News reported on a 22-year-old from Amarah, who wished to marry a university classmate. The men of her tribe declared nahwa and forced her to marry her cousin. Two weeks after the marriage, the girl died of injuries resulting from self-immolation. Grand Ayatollah Ali Sistani called for an end to nahwas and fasliya (where women are traded to settle tribal disputes), but these traditions continued, especially in areas where tribal influence outweighed government institutions.

Sexual Harassment: The law prohibits sexual relations outside marriage, including sexual harassment. Penalties include fines of up to only 30 dinars (2.5 cents) or imprisonment or both not to exceed three months for a first-time offender. The law provides relief from penalties if unmarried participants marry. The law prohibits sexual harassment in the workplace. No information was available regarding the effectiveness of government enforcement, but penalties were very low. In most areas there were few or no publicly provided women’s shelters, information, support hotlines, and little or no sensitivity training for police. Refugees and IDPs reported regular sexual harassment, both in camps and cities in the IKR.

In September the COR lifted immunity of MP Faiq al-Shaikh Ali based on a request by the judiciary in order to prosecute him under charges of defamation against Prime Minister Adil Abdul Mahdi’s adviser for women’s affairs, Hanan al-Fatlawi, head of Erada party.

Female political candidates suffered harassment online and on social media, including posting of fake, nude, or salacious photographs and videos meant to harm their campaigns. In the IKR, New Generation Movement IKP member Shady Nawzad reported that party leader Shaswar Abdulwahid threatened to publish revealing photographs and video of her if she left the party.

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

Discrimination: The Council of Ministers’ Iraqi Women Empowerment Directorate is the lead government body on women’s issues. Although the constitution provides for equality between men and women, the law does not provide for the same legal status and rights for women as for men. Criminal, family, religious, personal status, labor, and inheritance laws discriminate against women. Women experienced discrimination in such areas as marriage, divorce, child custody, employment, pay, owning or managing businesses or property, education, the judicial process, and housing.

For example, in a court of law, a woman’s testimony is worth half that of a man in some cases and is equal in other cases. The law generally permits women to initiate divorce proceedings against their spouses, but the law does not entitle a divorced woman to alimony other than child support or two years’ financial maintenance in some cases; in other cases the woman must return all or part of her dowry or otherwise pay a sum of money to the husband. Under the law the father is the guardian of the children, but a divorced mother may be granted custody of her children until age 10, extendable by a court up to age 15, at which time the children may choose with which parent they wish to live.

All recognized religious groups have their own personal status courts responsible for handling marriage, divorce, and inheritance issues, and discrimination toward women on personal status issues varies depending on the religious group. The government’s interpretation of sharia is the basis of inheritance law for all citizens except recognized religious minorities. In all communities, male heirs must provide financial support to female relatives who inherit less. If they do not, women have the right to sue.

The law provides women and men equal rights in owning or managing land or other property, but cultural and religious norms impeded women’s property rights, especially in rural areas.

Law and custom generally do not respect freedom of movement for women. For example, the law prevents a woman from applying for a passport without the consent of her male guardian or a legal representative (see section 2.d.). Women could not obtain the Civil Status Identification Document, required for access to public services, food assistance, health care, employment, education, and housing, without the consent of a male relative.

NGOs also reported cases in which courts changed the registration of Yezidi women to Muslim against their will because of their forced marriage to ISIS fighters.

Although the KRG provided some additional protections to women, in most respects, KRG law mirrors federal law, and women faced discrimination. Beginning in May, public prosecutors in Kurdistan began accepting the testimony of women in court on an equal basis with that of men. KRG law allows women to set as a prenuptial condition the right to divorce her husband beyond the limited circumstances allowed by Iraqi law and provides a divorced wife up to five years’ alimony beyond childcare.

The KRG maintained a High Council of Women’s Affairs and a Women’s Rights Monitoring Board to enforce the law and prevent and respond to discrimination.

Birth Registration: The constitution states that anyone born to at least one citizen parent is a citizen. Failure to register births resulted in the denial of public services such as education, food, and health care. Single women and widows often had problems registering their children. Although in most cases authorities provided birth certificates after registration of the birth through the Ministries of Health and Interior, this was reportedly a lengthy and at times complicated process. The government was generally committed to children’s rights and welfare, although it denied benefits to noncitizen children. Humanitarian organizations reported a widespread problem of children born to members of ISIS or in ISIS-held territory failing to receive a government-issued birth certificate. An estimated 45,000 displaced children living in camps lack civil documentation, including birth certificates.

Education: Primary education is compulsory for citizen children for the first six years of schooling–and until age 15 in the IKR; it is provided without cost to citizens. Equal access to education for girls remained a challenge, particularly in rural and insecure areas. Recent, reliable statistics on enrollment, attendance, or completion were not available.

In September UNICEF reported that of the 1.55 million displaced persons, 728,000 were children. Those who were displaced had limited access to education; at least 70 percent of displaced children missed at least one year of school. In May UNICEF reported that one-half of schools in the country required repairs following the territorial defeat of ISIS, and more than three million children had their education interrupted.

Child Abuse: Although the constitution prohibits “all forms of violence and abuse in the family,” the law does not specifically prohibit domestic violence but stipulates that men may discipline their wives and children “within certain limits prescribed by law or by custom.” The law provides protections for children who were victims of domestic violence or were in shelters, state houses, and orphanages, including access to health care and education. Violence against children reportedly remained a significant problem, but up-to-date, reliable statistics on the extent of the problem were not available. Local NGOs reported the government made little progress in implementing its 2017 National Child Protection Policy.

KRG law criminalizes domestic violence, including physical and psychological abuse and threats of violence. The KRG implemented the provisions of the law, but local NGOs reported these programs were not effective at combating child abuse. The KRG’s Ministries of Labor and Social Affairs, Education, and Culture and Youth operated a toll-free hotline to report violations against, or seek advice regarding, children’s rights.

Early and Forced Marriage: The legal minimum age of marriage is 18, but the law allows a judge to permit children as young as 15 to marry if fitness and physical capacity are established and the guardian does not present a reasonable objection. The law criminalizes forced marriage but does not automatically void forced marriages that have been consummated. The government reportedly made few efforts to enforce the law. Traditional early and forced marriages of girls, including temporary marriages, occurred throughout the country. UNHCR reported the continued prevalence of early marriage due to conflict and economic instability, as many families arranged for girls to marry cousins or into polygamous households to prevent forced marriages to ISIS fighters. Others gave their daughters as child brides to ISIS or other armed groups as a means to ensure their safety, access to public services in occupied territories, or livelihood opportunities for the entire family.

In the IKR the legal minimum age of marriage is 18, but KRG law allows a judge to permit children as young as 16 to marry under the same conditions applied in the rest of the country. KRG law criminalizes forced marriage and suspends, but does not automatically, void forced marriages that have been consummated. According to the KRG High Council of Women’s Affairs, refugees and IDPs in the IKR engaged in child marriage and polygamy at a higher rate than IKR residents.

Sexual Exploitation of Children: The law prohibits commercial sexual exploitation, sale, offering or procuring for prostitution, and practices related to child pornography. Child prostitution was a problem, as were temporary marriages, particularly among the IDP population. Because the age of legal criminal responsibility is nine in the areas administered by the central government and 11 in the IKR, authorities often treated sexually exploited children as criminals instead of victims. Penalties for commercial exploitation of children range from fines and imprisonment to the death penalty. No information was available regarding the effectiveness of government enforcement.

Child Soldiers: Certain PMF units, including AAH, HHN, and KH, reportedly recruited and used child soldiers, despite a government prohibition. The PKK, HPG, and YBS Yezidi militias also reportedly continued to recruit and use child soldiers. ISIS was known to recruit and use child soldiers (see section 1.g.).

Displaced Children: Insecurity and active conflict between government forces and ISIS caused the continued displacement of large numbers of children. Abuses by government forces, particularly certain PMF groups, contributed to displacement. Due to the conflict in Syria, children and single mothers from Syria took refuge in the IKR. UNICEF reported that almost one-half of IDPs 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.

A very small number of Jewish citizens lived in Baghdad. According to unofficial statistics from the KRG Ministry of Endowments and Religious Affairs, there were approximately 430 Jewish families in the IKR. There were no reports of anti-Semitic acts in the country during the year.

The penal code stipulates that any person convicted of promoting Zionist principles, association with Zionist organizations, assisting such organizations through material or moral support, or working in any way to realize Zionist objectives, be subject to punishment by death. According to the code, Jews are prohibited from joining the military and cannot hold jobs in the public sector.

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

The constitution states the government, through law and regulations, guarantees the social and health security of persons with disabilities, including through protection against discrimination and provision of housing and special programs of care and rehabilitation. Despite constitutional guarantees, no laws prohibit discrimination against persons with physical, sensory, intellectual, or mental disabilities. Persons with disabilities had limited access to education, employment, health services, information, communications, buildings, transportation, the judicial system, or other state services.

Although the Council of Ministers issued a decree in 2016 ordering access for persons with disabilities to buildings and to educational and work settings, incomplete implementation continued to limit access. Local NGOs reported many children with disabilities dropped out of public school due to insufficient physical access to school buildings, a lack of appropriate learning materials in schools, and a shortage of teachers qualified to work with children with developmental or intellectual disabilities.

The minister of labor and social affairs leads the Independent Commission for the Care of People with Disabilities. Any Iraqi citizen applying to receive disability-related government services must first receive a commission evaluation. The KRG deputy minister of labor and social affairs leads a similar commission, administered by a special director within the ministry.

There is a 5 percent public-sector employment quota for persons with disabilities, but employment discrimination persisted, and observers projected that the quota would not be met by the end of the year (see section 7.d.). Mental health support for prisoners with mental disabilities did not exist.

The Ministry of Health provided medical care, benefits, and rehabilitation, when available, for persons with disabilities, who could also receive benefits from other agencies, including the Prime Minister’s Office. The Ministry of Labor and Social Affairs operated several institutions for children and young adults with disabilities. The ministry maintained loans programs for persons with disabilities for vocational training.

The country’s population included Arabs, Kurds, Turkmen, and Shabaks, as well as ethnic and religious minorities, including Chaldeans, Assyrians, Armenians, Yezidis, Sabean-Mandaeans, Baha’i, Kaka’i, and a very small number of Jews. The country also had a small Romani (Dom) community, as well as an estimated 1.5 to 2 million citizens of African descent who reside primarily in Basrah and adjoining governorates. Because religion, politics, and ethnicity were often closely linked, it was difficult to categorize many incidents as based solely on ethnic or religious identity.

The law does not permit some religious groups, including Baha’i, Zoroastrian, and Kaka’i, to register under their professed religions, which, although recognized in the IKR, remained unrecognized and illegal under Iraqi law. The law forbids Muslims to convert to another religion (see sections 2.d. and section 6, Children).

Government forces, particularly certain PMF groups, and other militias targeted ethnic and religious minorities, as did remaining active ISIS fighters. Discrimination continued to stoke ethnosectarian tensions in the disputed territories throughout the year. Some government forces, including PMF, reportedly forcibly displaced individuals due to perceived ISIS affiliation or for ethnosectarian reasons. In June a Sunni MP warned of forced displacement in Diyala. He said some areas of the governorate had witnessed intimidation of the Sunni population by militias that forced them to leave, resulting in a systematic demographic change along the border with Iran. There were reports that gunmen attacked the village of Abu al-Khanazir in the governorate, killing three members of same family, which led to a wave of displacement from the village. Later in June, armed groups, some of them belonging to the Badr Corps militia, sealed off the district of Tarmiyah, besieged its inhabitants, and caused many to flee, according to the same MP.

Many persons of African descent, some stateless, lived in extreme poverty with high rates of illiteracy and unemployment. Located predominately in the southern portions of the country, many lived in extreme poverty with nearly 80 percent illiteracy and reportedly above 80 percent unemployment. They were not represented in politics, and members held no senior government positions. Furthermore, they stated that discrimination kept them from obtaining government employment. Members of the community also struggled to obtain restitution for lands seized from them during the Iran-Iraq war.

According to a September HRW report, ethnic discrimination existed within Iraqi federal court’s judicial process. Victims of ISIS abuse, including Yezidis, were not able to participate in court proceedings due to documentation problems based on ethnicity and religion. Even in cases in which defendants admitted to sexual exploitation of minority women, prosecutors neglected to charge them with rape, which carries a sentence of up to 15 years.

While the law does not criminalize consensual same-sex sexual conduct between adults per se, authorities used public indecency or prostitution charges to prosecute such conduct. Authorities used the same charges to arrest heterosexual persons involved in sexual relations with anyone other than their spouse. The constitution and law do not extend antidiscrimination protections to LGBTI individuals based on their sexual orientation.

Despite repeated threats and violence targeting LGBTI individuals, specifically gay men, the government failed to identify, arrest, or prosecute attackers or to protect targeted individuals.

In May the Kirkuk police ordered its elements to prevent youth from wearing skinny jeans in public places, to arrest violators, and to monitor and observe cases of what it called “youth effeminacy.” In August Anbar police arrested tens of youth wearing skinny jeans in public places, then began to arrest those who objected to the security decision on social media platforms, including an activist who was placed in Al-Khalidiya prison.

In their September report, an Iraq-based LGBT human rights organization, IraQueer, asserted that government security forces failed to investigate acts of discrimination and violence against LGBTI persons and did not effectively prevent violence against them. IraQueer also criticized militia members, religious leaders, government officials, and health-care workers for failing to prevent discrimination. Data compiled from 2015 to 2018 by IraQueer indicated that government authorities and affiliated armed groups were responsible for 53 percent of crimes against LGBTI persons, family members accounted for 27 percent, ISIS 10 percent; for the remaining 10 percent, responsibility was unclear.

In April IraQueer reported the killing of a transgender woman in Basrah who was killed by her extended family after the discovery of her hormone drugs. In late August another transgender woman was found dead outside Baghdad. Her clothes were ripped, and she was shot twice. The victim had originally gone missing in late April after receiving numerous death threats. Activists reported she was likely killed between early May and mid-August.

LGBTI individuals also faced intimidation, threats, violence, and discrimination in the IKR. An IKR-based human rights NGO director reported that members of his staff refused to advocate for LGBTI human rights based on their misperception that LGBTI persons were mentally ill.

According to NGOs, Iraqis who experienced severe discrimination, torture, physical injury, and the threat of death on the basis of real or perceived sexual orientation, gender identity and expression, and sex characteristics had no recourse to challenge those actions via courts or government institutions.

Section 7. Worker Rights

a. Freedom of Association and the Right to Collective Bargaining

The constitution states that citizens have the right to form and join unions and professional associations. The law, however, prohibits the formation of unions independent of the government-controlled General Federation of Iraqi Workers and in workplaces with fewer than 50 workers. The law does not prohibit antiunion discrimination or provide reinstatement for workers fired for union activity. The law allows workers to select representatives for collective bargaining, even if they are not members of a union, and affords workers the right to have more than one union in a workplace. In June the government ratified International Labor Organization Convention 87, Freedom of Association and Protection of the Right to Organize.

The law also considers individuals employed by state-owned enterprises (who made up approximately 10 percent of the workforce) as public-sector employees. CSOs continued to lobby for a trade union law to expand union rights.

Private-sector employees in worksites employing more than 50 workers may form workers committees–subdivisions of unions with limited rights–but most private-sector businesses employed fewer than 50 workers.

Labor courts have the authority to consider labor law violations and disputes, but no information was available concerning enforcement of the applicable law, including whether procedures were prompt or efficient. Strikers and union leaders reported that government officials threatened and harassed them.

The law allows for collective bargaining and the right to strike in the private sector, although government authorities sometimes violated private-sector employees’ collective bargaining rights. Some unions were able to play a supportive role in labor disputes and had the right to demand government arbitration.

Media reported that 3,000 contract workers in the electrical industry formed a union in late 2017 after the government failed to pay five months of wages. After the Ministry of Electricity fired 100 union leaders following initial protests in March, thousands of workers reportedly organized sit-ins at power plants. Protesters reportedly demanded the government reinstate the fired workers, include electrical contract workers in the pension and social security system with the same benefits as permanent workers, and pay them a minimum monthly wage of 400,000 dinars ($350). In May the government acquiesced to these demands and agreed to include all 150,000 public-sector contract workers in the pension and social security system.

b. Prohibition of Forced or Compulsory Labor

The law prohibits all forms of forced or compulsory labor–including slavery, indebtedness, and trafficking in persons–but the government did not effectively monitor or enforce the law. Penalties were not sufficient to deter violations.

Employers subjected foreign migrant workers–particularly construction workers, security guards, cleaners, repair persons, and domestic workers–to forced labor, confiscation of travel and identity documents, restrictions on movement and communications, physical abuse, sexual harassment and rape, withholding of wages, and forced overtime. There were cases of employers withholding travel documents, stopping payment on contracts, and preventing foreign employees from leaving the work site.

Employers subjected women to involuntary domestic service through forced marriages and the threat of divorce, and women who fled such marriages or whose husbands divorced them were vulnerable to social stigma and further forced labor. Female IDPs, single women, and widows were particularly vulnerable to economic exploitation and discriminatory employment conditions.

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 constitution and law prohibit the worst forms of child labor. In areas under central government authority, the minimum age for employment is 15. The law limits working hours for persons younger than 18 to seven hours a day and prohibits employment in work detrimental to health, safety, or morals of anyone younger than 18. The labor code does not apply to juveniles (ages 15 to 18) who work in family-owned businesses producing goods exclusively for domestic use. Since children employed in family enterprises are exempt from some protections in the labor code with regard to employment conditions, there were reports of children performing hazardous work in family-owned businesses.

The law mandates employers bear the cost of annual medical checks for working juveniles. Children between the ages of 12 and 15 are not required to attend school, but also not permitted to work; thus, they were vulnerable to the worst forms of child labor. Penalties include imprisonment for a period of 30 days to six months and a fine of up to one million dinars ($880), to be doubled in the case of a repeated offense. Data on child labor was limited, particularly with regard to the worst forms of child labor, a factor that further limited enforcement of existing legal protections.

Child labor, including in its worst forms, occurred throughout the country. For example, 12-year-old Mohammed Salem told the French Media Agency in July 2018 that, since his father was killed by ISIS, he supported his mother and himself by selling tissues for 15 hours a day on the street in eastern Mosul. The Iraqi Observatory for Human Rights documented cases of displaced children forced to migrate with their families and subsequently engaged in child labor (see sections 2.d. and 6, Children).

The Ministry of Labor and Social Affairs was charged with enforcing the law prohibiting child labor in the private and public sectors, and labor law enforcement agencies took actions to combat child labor. Gaps existed within the authority and operations of the ministry that hindered labor law enforcement, however, including an insufficient number of labor inspectors and a lack of funding for inspections, authority to assess penalties, and labor inspector training. Inspections continued, and resumed in liberated areas, but due to the large number of IDPs, as well as capacity constraints and the focus on maintaining security and fighting terrorism, law enforcement officials and labor inspectors’ efforts to monitor these practices were ineffective. Penalties for violations did not serve as a deterrent.

In the IKR education is mandatory until age 15, which is also the minimum age for legal employment.

In September 2018 a Kurdish human rights group found almost 500 children begging in Sulaimaniyah Governorate and approximately 2,000 children begging in Erbil Governorate, with the majority of these being IDPs and refugees. The group had no data from Duhok Governorate. The majority were from IDP or refugee families. The KRG Ministry of Labor and Social Affairs estimated that 1,700 children worked in the IKR, often as street vendors or beggars, making them particularly vulnerable to abuse. The KRG Ministry of Labor and Social Affairs operated a 24-hour hotline for reporting labor abuses, including child labor, that received approximately 200 calls per month.

Local NGOs reported that organized gangs also recruited children to beg. The Ministry of Labor and Social Affairs continued a grants program to encourage low-income families to send their children to school rather than to beg in the streets.

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/ .

d. Discrimination with Respect to Employment and Occupation

The constitution provides that all citizens are equal before the law without discrimination based on gender, race, ethnicity, origin, color, religion, creed, belief or opinion, or economic and social status. The law prohibits discrimination based on gender, race, religion, social origin, political opinion, language, disability, or social status. It also prohibits any forms of sexual harassment in the workplace. The government was ineffective in enforcing these provisions. The law does not prohibit discrimination based on age, sexual orientation or gender identity, HIV-positive status, or other communicable diseases. The law allows employers to terminate workers’ contracts when they reach retirement age, which is lower by five years for women. The law gives migrant Arab workers the same status as citizens but does not provide the same rights for non-Arab migrant workers, who faced stricter residency and work visa requirements.

Many persons of African descent lived in extreme poverty and were nearly 80 percent illiterate; more than 80 percent were reportedly unemployed. According to some sources, they make up 15 to 20 percent of the Basrah region’s 2.5 million inhabitants. They were not represented in politics, held no senior government positions, and reported that discrimination kept them from obtaining government employment.

Despite constitutional guarantees, no laws prohibit discrimination against persons with physical, sensory, intellectual, or mental disabilities. Persons with disabilities had limited access to education, employment, health services, information, communications, buildings, transportation, the judicial system, or other state services.

Although the Council of Ministers issued a decree in 2016 ordering access for persons with disabilities to buildings and to educational and work settings, incomplete implementation continued to limit access. There is a 5 percent public-sector employment quota for persons with disabilities, but employment discrimination persisted, and observers projected that the quota would not be met by the end of the year. The Ministry of Labor and Social Affairs maintained loans programs for persons with disabilities for vocational training.

Discrimination in employment and occupation occurred with respect to women, foreign workers, and minorities (see section 6). Media reported in February and June that the availability of foreign workers willing to accept longer hours and lower pay in unskilled positions had increased Iraqi unemployment to approximately 23 percent and led foreign workers to commandeer certain undesired industries such as janitorial services and the food industry, resulting in social stigmatization. Economic analyst Anas Morshed told media in February, “For example, Bangladeshis are most favored for cleaning work, whereas trades and shopping centers prefer to hire Syrians and other Arab nationalities.”

There were more than 15 unions, associations, and syndicates in the IKR, all led by all-male executive boards. In response, the Kurdistan United Workers Union established a separate women’s committee, reportedly supported by local NGOs, to support gender equality and advance women’s leadership in unions in the IKR.

e. Acceptable Conditions of Work

The national minimum wage, set by federal labor law, was increased and was above the poverty line. The law limits the standard workday to eight hours, with one or more rest periods totaling 30 minutes to one hour, and the standard workweek to 48 hours. The law permits up to four hours of overtime work per day and requires premium pay for overtime work. For industrial work, overtime should not exceed one hour per day. The government sets occupational health and safety standards. The law states that for hazardous or exhausting work, employers should reduce daily working hours. The law provides workers the right to remove themselves from a situation endangering health and safety without prejudice to their employment but does not extend this right to civil servants or migrant workers, who together made up the majority of the country’s workforce.

The Ministry of Labor and Social Affairs has jurisdiction over matters concerning labor law, child labor, wages, occupational safety and health topics, and labor relations. The ministry’s occupational safety and health staff worked throughout the country, but the government did not effectively enforce regulations governing wages or working conditions. The number of inspectors was not sufficient to deter violations. Penalties for violations did not serve as a deterrent.

The legal and regulatory framework, combined with the country’s high level of violence and insecurity, high unemployment, large informal sector, and lack of meaningful work standards, resulted in substandard conditions for many workers. Workplace injuries occurred frequently, especially among manual laborers. A lack of oversight and monitoring of employment contracts left foreign and migrant workers vulnerable to exploitative working conditions and abusive treatment. Little information was available on the total number of foreign workers in the country, although some observers reported that large groups of migrant workers, many of them in the country illegally, lived in work camps, sometimes in substandard conditions.

Israel, West Bank, and Gaza

Read A Section: Israel

West Bank and Gaza

Executive Summary

Israel is a multiparty parliamentary democracy. Although it has no constitution, parliament, the unicameral 120-member Knesset, has enacted a series of “Basic Laws” that enumerate fundamental rights. Certain fundamental laws, orders, and regulations legally depend on the existence of a “state of emergency,” which has been in effect since 1948. Under the Basic Laws, the Knesset has the power to dissolve the government and mandate elections. Following the nationwide Knesset elections in April and September, which were generally considered free and fair, Israeli political parties failed to form a coalition government. Therefore, the Knesset voted on December 11 to dissolve itself and set March 2, 2020, as the date for a third general election within a year.

Under the authority of the prime minister, the Israeli Security Agency (ISA) combats terrorism and espionage in Israel, the West Bank, and Gaza. The national police, including the border police and the immigration police, are under the authority of the Ministry of Public Security. The Israeli Defense Forces (IDF) is responsible for external security but also has some domestic security responsibilities and reports to the Ministry of Defense. ISA forces operating in the West Bank and East Jerusalem fall under the IDF for operations and operational debriefing. Civilian authorities maintained effective control over the security services.

Significant human rights issues included: reports of unlawful or arbitrary killings, including targeted killings of Israeli civilians and soldiers; arbitrary detention; restrictions on non-Israelis residing in Jerusalem including arbitrary or unlawful interference with privacy, family, and home; and significant restrictions on freedom of movement.

The government took steps to prosecute and punish officials who committed abuses within Israel regardless of rank or seniority.

This section includes Israel, including Jerusalem. The United States recognized Jerusalem as the capital of Israel in December 2017 and recognized Israel’s sovereignty over the Golan Heights in March 2019. It is the position of the United States that the specific boundaries of Israeli sovereignty in Jerusalem are subject to final status negotiations between the parties. The Palestinian Authority exercises no authority over Jerusalem.

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

Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:

a. Freedom of Expression, Including for the Press

The law generally provides for freedom of expression, including for the press, and the government generally respected this right. An independent press, an effective judiciary, and a functioning democratic political system combined to promote freedom of expression, including for the press.

The law imposes tort liability on any person who knowingly issues a public call for an economic, cultural, or academic boycott of the State of Israel or of institutions or entities in areas under its control in the West Bank. Plaintiffs must prove direct economic harm to claim damages under the “anti-boycott” legislation. The law also permits the finance minister to impose administrative sanctions on those calling for such a boycott, including restrictions on participating in tenders for contracts with the government and denial of government benefits.

In 2017 the Knesset passed an amendment barring entry to the country of visitors who called for boycotts, and in January 2018 the Ministry of Strategic Affairs published a list of 20 organizations whose members would be refused entry to Israel. The government also used this law to deport Human Rights Watch director of Israel and Palestine Omar Shakir (see section 5).

Freedom of Expression: The law prohibits hate speech and content liable to incite to violence or discrimination on grounds of race, origin, religion, nationality, and gender.

The maximum penalty for desecrating the Israeli flag is three years in prison and a fine of 58,400 shekels ($16,900).

In cases of speech that are defined as incitement to violence or hate speech, the law empowers police to limit freedom of expression.

A 2018 law “prohibit[s] individuals or organizations that are not part of the education system from engaging in activities within an educational institution when the nature of the activity undermines the goals of state education.” Both supporters and opponents of the bill said it targeted the NGO Breaking the Silence, which described its activities as collecting and publishing “the testimonies of soldiers who served in the occupied territories in order to generate public discourse on the reality of the occupation, with the aim of bringing it to an end.” Breaking the Silence criticized the law as a violation of freedom of political expression. As of year’s end, the Ministry of Education had not issued regulations necessary to implement the law.

Security officials prohibited groups affiliated with the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) or Palestinian Authority (PA) from meeting in Jerusalem based on a 1995 law banning the PA from engaging in political, diplomatic, security, or security-related activities in Israel, including Jerusalem.

Press and Media, Including Online Media: Independent media were active and expressed a wide variety of views without restriction, with a few exceptions.

In October 2018 police issued a new regulation regarding the work of journalists in areas experiencing clashes, which authorities claimed balanced freedom of the press and security requirements. According to the Seventh Eye media watchdog group, the regulation grants police broad authorities to prevent journalists’ access to public incidents involving violence (i.e., riots, demonstrations, protests) if there exists a concern that the entry of journalists would lead to “special circumstances,” such as injury or the loss of life, further violence, disrupting investigative procedures, serious violation of privacy, or violation of a closure order. According to the regulation, however, police must also consider alternatives to minimize the violation of press freedom, for instance by escorting journalists in and out of dangerous situations.

Violence and Harassment: Palestinian journalists who were able to obtain entry permits, as well as Jerusalem-based Arab journalists, reported incidents of harassment, racism, and occasional violence when they sought to cover news in Jerusalem, especially in the Old City and its vicinity. According to a January 23 Foreign Press Association statement, “Arab journalists [are] needlessly hassled by Israeli security in what we believe is clear ethnic profiling.” This included reports of alleged harassment by Israeli soldiers and acts of violence against Palestinian and Arab-Israeli journalists that prevented them from covering news stories. According to the Journalists Support Committee, 26 Palestinian journalists were detained in Israeli prisons as of August. In April the Committee to Protect Journalists issued a statement criticizing the government for holding Palestinian journalists in its jails, noting “Israel’s use of administrative detention to hold journalists without charge runs completely contrary to its professed values of democracy and rule of law.”

The Ministry of Interior sought to deport stateless photojournalist Mustafa al-Haruf from East Jerusalem to Jordan, after he was unable to obtain residency status in Jerusalem, and held him in administrative detention between January and October. In March the Committee to Protect Journalists called on authorities to either clarify the reasons for al-Haruf’s detention and deportation order or release him immediately. After Jordan refused to accept al-Haruf, on October 24, a court reviewing border-control decisions released him, due to the Ministry of Interior’s inability to deport him. The court ordered al-Haruf to regularize his status by February 12, 2020. While the government classified the reasons for the denial of al-Haruf’s status for security reasons, in an appeal of his deportation a Supreme Court justice stated al-Haruf “crossed the line between his journalistic work and assisting terrorist organizations” but also mentioned “reports that are not sympathetic to the State of Israel,” according to +972 Magazine.

Prime Minister Netanyahu and his supporters criticized journalists, media channels, and media owners for reporting on investigations into a series of allegations (see section 4) involving the prime minister, for which the attorney general decided to indict him. In January the Likud Party published billboards with photographs of four journalists saying, “they will not decide,” according to media reports. Following attacks in media and social media by the prime minister and his son, Yair Netanyahu, against Channel 12 News legal correspondent Guy Peleg, who covered the Netanyahu investigations, Peleg received a series of threats on WhatsApp and social media, which led the channel to provide him with a private security guard on August 30. On August 31, Netanyahu criticized the heads of Channel 12 News for their coverage of his office, called for a boycott of the channel, and said they were carrying out a “terror attack against democracy,” while treating rival political parties more gently than Likud. Netanyahu argued that he was working to increase competition in the domestic television market.

On October 26, a group of ultra-Orthodox men physically attacked an Israel Hayom reporter near Haifa. The attackers severely assaulted the journalist, breaking his nose and resulting in a concussion. The attackers called him a “traitor” and a “leftist” after confirming he was a journalist. On October 31, police arrested a suspect in the attack, and the investigation of the case was pending as of December.

On September 2, the state attorney issued a directive instructing prosecutors to consider requesting increased sentences of three to five years’ imprisonment for violent offenses committed against journalists.

Censorship or Content Restrictions: All media organizations must submit to military censors any material relating to specific military issues or strategic infrastructure problems, such as oil and water supplies. Organizations may appeal the censor’s decisions to the Supreme Court, and the censor may not appeal a court judgment.

News printed or broadcast abroad is subject to security censorship. The government regularly enacted restrictive orders on sensitive security information and continuing investigations and required foreign correspondents, as well as local media, to abide by these orders. According to data provided by the armed forces through a Freedom of Information Act request by +972 Magazine, in 2018 the censor intervened in 2,721 articles of 10,938 submitted to it and banned 363 articles.

While the government retained the authority to censor the printing of publications for security concerns, anecdotal evidence suggested authorities did not actively review the Jerusalem-based al-Quds newspaper or other Jerusalem-based Arabic publications. Those publications, however, reported they engaged in self-censorship.

National Security: The law criminalizes as “terrorist acts” speech supporting terrorism, including public praise of a terrorist organization, display of symbols, expression of slogans, and “incitement.” In 2018 the Knesset amended the law to authorize restrictions on the release of bodies of terrorists and their funerals to prevent “incitement to terror or identification with a terrorist organization or an act of terror.” The government issued 53 indictments and courts convicted 39 persons under the law during the year. On May 16, the Nazareth District Court partially accepted the appeal of Dareen Tatour, who was convicted by the local magistrate’s court due to poems, pictures, and other media content she posted online in 2015. The court reversed lower court verdicts on charges of “incitement to violence” and “support of a terrorist organization” related to her poetry, but it upheld convictions related to her other publications. The ruling stated that when examining freedom of expression, the fact that Tatour’s words were part of an artistic piece had to be taken into consideration.

The government monitored electronic communications for security purposes. The law authorizes district court judges to restrict access to internet sites to prevent the commission of crimes. The end-of-year report for 2018 by the state attorney’s Cyber Unit stated that requests to digital services companies to remove content based on its assessment that the content is illegal under the law led to the removal of 13,140 online postings, compared with 10,500 in 2017. According to the report, 80 percent of the requests were due to offenses related to a terror organization, and 19 percent were due to incitement offenses. On November 26, Adalah and ACRI petitioned the Supreme Court to stop the Ministry of Justice’s Cyber Unit process of requesting that digital services companies voluntarily remove contents prior to a formal legal review, arguing these requests infringe on the rights of freedom of expression and due process. The state prosecution argued the Cyber Unit approached companies only after investigative authorities identified the contents as violating the law. On August 19, a district court judge rejected a request by ACRI to review the 1,700 websites for transparency purposes, arguing that a publication of domains would contradict the reason for their removal.

The “Nakba Law” prohibits institutions that receive government funding from engaging in commemoration of the Nakba, or “catastrophe,” the term used by Palestinians to refer to the displacement of Palestinians during Israel’s 1948 War of Independence. Activities forbidden by the law include rejection of the existence of Israel as a “Jewish and democratic state” or commemorating “Israel’s Independence Day or the day on which the State was established as a day of mourning.”

On July 25, the Supreme Court issued an injunction demanding that Science and Technology minister Ofir Akunis explain why he blocked the appointment of an Israeli professor to an official Israeli-German scientific committee. In 2018 Akunis had claimed he blocked the appointment because years earlier the professor had signed a petition by faculty members in universities, expressing “support and appreciation to the students and lecturers who refuse to serve as soldiers in the occupied territories.”

On November 7, following a demand from Minister of Culture and Sports Miri Regev, the mayor of Ma’alot-Tarshiha decided not to show the documentary film Advocate, about attorney Lea Tsemel’s defense of Palestinian prisoners, in the city’s cultural center as a part of a DocAviv film festival. Following a letter from ACRI arguing the decision was illegal, the deputy attorney general informed the mayor he had no authority to cancel the showing of a film. In protest DocAviv presented the film in a nearby Kibbutz and outside the Ma’alot-Tarshiha cultural center. In June, after the film was selected as the winning film in the DocAviv Documentary Film Festival, Mifal Hapayis (the country’s state lottery), announced it would stop funding the award for the winning film in the festival but later retracted its announcement.

The government maintained prohibitions on some prominent Jerusalem-based Palestinian institutions, such as the Jerusalem Chamber of Commerce and Orient House, which had been the de facto PLO office. The government renewed a military closure order for these and other institutions on the grounds they violated the Oslo Accords by conducting political activities or otherwise operating on behalf of the PA in Jerusalem. The government likewise continued to shut down Palestinian institutions and cultural events in Jerusalem due to PA participation or support. According to Haaretz, Minister of Public Security Gilad Erdan approved 10 such orders during the year.

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.

The law provides for this right, and the government generally respected it.

There were reports that police used excessive force in response to protests by certain groups, including members of the ultra-Orthodox community, Arab citizens and residents, Israelis of Ethiopian origin, and persons with disabilities. For example, on May 23, military police officers reportedly forced to the floor an autistic boy at an ultra-Orthodox demonstration. According to police, the boy allegedly hit a police officer prior to the incident.

In June authorities implemented a new procedure granting police the ability to impose conditions on outdoor gatherings of 50 or more persons. NGOs expressed concern that this restriction was a violation of freedom of expression and assembly and criticized police for creating obstacles to free speech and assembly in cases where demonstration permits were not required. On August 14, police arrested seven activists who protested against the killing of an Ethiopian-Israeli by a police officer (see section 6), and on August 16, authorities arrested an additional nine anticorruption activists, arguing they violated the new conditions.

The law provides for this right, and the government generally respected it.

The law prohibits registration of an association or a party if its goals include denial of the existence of the State of Israel or of the democratic character of the state.

The law requires NGOs receiving more than one-half of their funding from foreign governments to state this fact in their official publications, applications to attend Knesset meetings, websites, public campaigns, and any communication with the public. The law allows a fine of 29,200 shekels ($8,400) for NGOs that violate these rules. As of October the government had not taken legal action against any NGO for failing to comply with the law.

Local NGOs, particularly those focused on human rights problems and critical of the government, asserted the government sought to intimidate them and prevent them from receiving foreign government funding (see section 5).

c. Freedom of Religion

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

d. Freedom of Movement

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

In-country Movement: The security barrier that divided the majority of the West Bank from Israel also divided some communities in Jerusalem, affecting residents’ access to places of worship, employment, agricultural lands, schools, and hospitals, as well as the conduct of journalism and humanitarian and NGO activities. For example, restrictions on access in Jerusalem had a negative effect on residents who were patients and medical staff trying to reach the six Palestinian hospitals in East Jerusalem that offered specialized care, including delays at checkpoints lasting up to two hours. Authorities sometimes restricted movement within these neighborhoods of Jerusalem and Jerusalem’s Old City and periodically blocked entrances to the East Jerusalem neighborhoods of Issawiya, Silwan, and Jabal Mukabber. The government stated that restrictions on movement in Jerusalem were temporary and implemented only when necessary for investigative operations, public safety, or public order, and when there was no viable alternative.

Foreign Travel: Citizens generally were free to travel abroad provided they had no outstanding military obligations and no administrative restrictions. The government may bar citizens from leaving the country based on security considerations, due to unpaid debts, or in cases in which a Jewish man refuses to grant his wife a Jewish legal writ of divorce. Authorities do not permit any citizen to travel to any state officially at war with Israel without government permission. This restriction includes travel to Iran, Iraq, Lebanon, Saudi Arabia, Syria, and Yemen.

The government requires all citizens to have a special permit to enter Area A in the West Bank (the area, according to the Interim Agreement, in which the PA exercises civil and security responsibility), but the government allowed Arab citizens of Israel access to Area A without permits. The government continued selective revocations of residency permits of some non-Israeli citizens in Jerusalem. This meant those residents could not return to reside in Jerusalem. Reasons for revocation included holding residency or citizenship of another country; living in another country, the West Bank, or Gaza for more than seven years; or, most commonly, being unable to prove a “center of life” (interpreted as full-time residency) in Jerusalem. Some non-Israeli citizens who were born in Jerusalem but studied abroad reported losing their Jerusalem residency status, but the government denied revoking residency status of anyone who left for the sole purpose of studying abroad. The government added that the residency of individuals who maintain an “affinity to Israel” will not be revoked and that former residents who wish to return to Israel may receive renewed residency status under certain conditions.

Non-Israeli citizens possessing Jerusalem identity cards issued by the Israeli government needed special documents to travel abroad.

Exile: In 2018 the Knesset passed an amendment to the Entry Into Israel Law granting the minister of interior authority to revoke the permanent resident status of individuals who have committed acts that constitute “breach of trust” or terrorism. On August 22, Minister of Interior Aryeh Deri revoked the residency of two East Jerusalemites who were convicted of being involved in terrorist attacks and sentenced to life in prison, based on the amendment. HaMoked appealed against the law and one of the revocations, and the case continued at year’s end.

Citizenship: The law allows revocation of citizenship of a person on grounds of “breach of trust to the State of Israel” or following a conviction for an act of terror.

Not applicable.

f. Protection of Refugees

Abuse of Migrants, Refugees, and Stateless Persons: Communities with large concentrations of African migrants were occasionally targets of violence. Additionally, the nature of government policies on the legality of work forced many refugees to work in “unofficial” positions, making them more susceptible to poor treatment and questionable work practices by their employers. According to the Hotline for Refugees and Migrants, Population and Immigration Authority (PIBA) inspectors used violence against imprisoned migrants during their deportation during the year. According to Hotline, PIBA, unlike police or the IPS, did not have an external body to which migrants could file complaints if subjected to violence.

The government cooperated with UNHCR and other humanitarian organizations in providing protection and assistance to refugees, asylum seekers, stateless persons, or other persons of concern, except as noted below.

Refoulement: The government provided some protection against expulsion or return of refugees to countries where their lives or freedom could be threatened and stated its commitment to the principle of nonrefoulement.

As of September 30, there were 32,090 irregular migrants and asylum seekers in the country, of whom 29,141 were from Eritrea or Sudan, according to PIBA.

In October 2018 PIBA announced the government ended a policy that provided temporary protection for citizens of the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) and requested those without a visa to depart the country by January 5. The Supreme Court issued an injunction in December 2018 temporarily halting the deportation following a petition by NGOs. On March 7, Minister of Interior Aryeh Deri halted the deportation based on a recommendation of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs due to “recent developments in the DRC.” According to PIBA, there were 311 asylum seekers from the DRC in the country in 2018.

The government offered irregular migrants incentives to “depart” the country to an unspecified third country in Africa, sometimes including a $3,500 stipend (paid in U.S. dollars). The government claimed the third-country government provided for full rights under secret agreements with Israel. The government provided most returnees with paid tickets, but NGOs and UNHCR confirmed that migrants who arrived at the destination did not receive residency or employment rights. From January 1 until September 30, 2,024 irregular migrants departed the country under pressure, compared with 2,677 in 2018. NGO advocates for irregular migrants claimed many of those who departed to other countries faced abuses in those countries and that this transfer could amount to refoulement.

In February 2018 an administrative appeals tribunal ruled that an Eritrean asylum seeker had a well-founded fear of persecution after he fled military conscription in his home country and that PIBA should not have rejected his asylum application arbitrarily. The Ministry of Interior appealed the ruling to a district court and then requested to reexamine the individual’s request for asylum, but the judge refused. The case continued at year’s end.

Access to Asylum: The law provides for granting of asylum or refugee status. The government has established a system for providing protection to refugees, but it rarely did so. In 2008 authorities began giving the majority of asylum seekers a “conditional release visa” that requires frequent renewal. Only two Ministry of the Interior offices in the country, located in Bnei Brak and Eilat, renew such visas. The government provided these individuals with a limited form of group protection regarding freedom of movement, protection against refoulement, and informal access to the labor market. Advocacy groups argued that the policies and legislation adopted in 2011 were aimed at deterring future asylum seekers by making life difficult for those already in the country and that these actions further curtailed the rights of this population and encouraged its departure.

Refugee status determination recognition rates remained extremely low. From 2009 to 2017, the government approved only 52 of 55,433 asylum requests, according to a 2018 report from the State Comptroller’s Office. Of these, 13 were for Eritrean citizens and one was for a Sudanese citizen. The government approved six asylum requests during the year. As of May there were 15,000 asylum applications awaiting examination, according to a government response to a Supreme Court petition.

Irregular migrants subject to deportation, including those claiming but unable to prove citizenship of countries included in Israel’s nonrefoulement policy, were subjected to indefinite detention if they refused to depart after receiving a deportation order. In 2018 at year’s end, there were 165 migrants with undetermined or disputed citizenship in detention.

On January 2, PIBA stopped examining asylum requests of Eritrean citizens following a request by the attorney general in order to reevaluate the criteria for approving asylum requests. In July the government announced it would reexamine all requests from Eritrean asylum seekers, including 3,000 that were previously turned down, based on new criteria that require asylum seekers to prove they would be persecuted if returned home and they did not flee to avoid compulsory military service. On July 9, the government informed the Supreme Court that it stopped examining asylum claims of Sudanese citizens from Darfur, Nuba Mountains, and Blue Nile due to the “dynamic political situation in Sudan.” On July 28, the Supreme Court overturned the revocation of residency permits of three asylum seekers.

Palestinian residents of the West Bank who claimed to be in a life-threatening situation due to their sexual orientation or other reasons, such as domestic violence, did not have access to the asylum system in Israel; however, many of them resided in Israel without legal status. NGOs stated this situation left persons who claimed they could not return to the West Bank due to fear of persecution vulnerable to human traffickers, violence, and exploitation. Some lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, or intersex Palestinians were able to obtain a temporary permit allowing them to stay in Israel from the Coordinator of Government Activities in the Territories (COGAT), but without authorization to work. The government stated that COGAT examined the issue on a case-by-case basis.

The government did not accept initial asylum claims at its airports.

Safe Country of Origin/Transit: In 2017 PIBA announced a fast-track procedure to reject asylum applications from applicants whose country of citizenship the Ministry of the Interior determined was safe for return and began applying it to Georgian and Ukrainian applicants.

Freedom of Movement: Authorities prohibited asylum seekers released from the closed the Holot detention facility and Saharonim Prison from residing in Eilat, Tel Aviv, Jerusalem, Petah Tikva, Netanya, Ashdod, and Bnei Brak–cities that already had a high concentration of asylum seekers.

Employment: On July 9, the government informed the Supreme Court that it would remove text from the visas of Eritrean and Sudanese asylum seekers stipulating “this is not a work visa,” a restriction that had not been enforced since 2011 due to a government commitment to the Supreme Court. The government also stated it would grant work permits to 300 asylum seekers from Sudan. According to NGOs, these steps did not change the asylum seekers’ ability to work. According to UNHCR, beginning in October asylum seekers from countries not listed under Israel’s nonrefoulement policy were restricted from working for three to six months after submitting their requests if they did not have a visa before applying. In 2017 the Supreme Court ruled that asylum seekers are included as “foreign workers,” a category prohibited by Finance Ministry regulations from working on government contracts, including local government contracts for cleaning and maintenance, which often employed irregular migrants.

The law requires employers to deduct 20 percent of irregular migrants’ salaries for deposit in a special fund and adds another 16 percent from the employer’s funds. Some vulnerable populations, including individuals recognized as human trafficking victims, are eligible for a reduced rate of 6 percent, but many of them either still paid the full deduction or did not receive reimbursements for previously paying the full deduction, according to PHRI and UNHCR. On December 8, PIBA announced all recognized victims of trafficking would receive retroactive reimbursements and would pay a deposit of 6 percent without having to declare their status to their employers. Employees can access the funds only upon departure from the country, and the government may deduct a penalty for each day that the employee is in the country without a visa.

NGOs such as Kav LaOved and Hotline for Refugees and Migrants criticized the law for pushing vulnerable workers’ already low incomes below minimum wage, leading employers and employees to judge it to be more profitable to work on the black market, increasing migrants’ vulnerability to trafficking and prostitution. According to government officials and NGOs, some Eritrean women entered prostitution or survival sex arrangements in which a woman lives with several men and receives shelter in exchange for sex. The NGO Aid Organization for Refugees and Asylum Seekers in Israel (ASSAF) reported significant increases in homelessness, mental health concerns, and requests for food assistance following implementation of the law. In a June 26 response to a NGO coalition petition against the law to the Supreme Court, the government stated that only 68 asylum seekers received the full amount deducted from their salaries in their deposits, and no money was deposited for 45 percent of the migrants to which the law applied, despite deductions having been taken from their salaries, according to Haaretz. The petition was pending at year’s end.

The law bars migrants from sending money abroad, limits the amount they may take with them when they leave to the minimum wage for the number of months they resided in the country, and defines taking money out of the country as a money-laundering crime.

Access to Basic Services: The few legally recognized refugees received social services, including access to the national health-care system, but the government for the most part did not provide asylum seekers with public social benefits. Asylum seekers who were either unemployed or whose employers did not arrange a private insurance policy for them as required by law had access only to emergency care, either in emergency rooms or in one refugee clinic in south Tel Aviv. The establishment of three additional refugee clinics throughout the country was postponed. The Ministry of Health offered medical insurance for minor children of asylum seekers for 120 shekels ($35) per month, but in September 2018 it began excluding children of undocumented migrants from this program. The ministry stated an interministerial team was assessing this change in response to a Supreme Court petition. The government sponsored a mobile clinic and mother and infant health-care stations in south Tel Aviv, which were accessible to migrants and asylum seekers. Hospitals provided emergency care to migrants but often denied follow-up treatment to those who failed to pay, according to PHRI. Until September the Ministry of Health funded one provider of mental health services for approximately 700 irregular migrants that in the past year was unable to accept new patients due to budget and staffing shortages. On December 9, the Ministry of Welfare stated that local authorities must treat asylum seekers of three groups–women who suffered from domestic violence, persons with disabilities, and the homeless–pending the regularization of insurance issues with the Ministry of Health, which did not take place by year’s end. Asylum seekers who were recognized as victims of trafficking were eligible for rehabilitation and care. The same eligibilities did not apply for victims of torture.

Temporary Protection: The government provided temporary protection to individuals whom it did not recognize as refugees, or who may not qualify as refugees–primarily to Eritrean and Sudanese irregular migrants, as described above.

Despite being eligible for Israeli citizenship since 1981, an estimated 23,000 Druze living in territory captured from Syria in 1967 largely refused to accept it, and their status as Syrian citizens was unclear. They held Israeli identification cards, which listed their nationality as “undefined.”

In 2017 media reported the Ministry of Interior had retroactively canceled the citizenship of 2,600 Bedouin citizens, alleging that a “registration error” had mistakenly granted citizenship to their ancestors between 1948 and 1951. Cancellation of their citizenship left these individuals stateless.

Section 3. Freedom to Participate in the Political Process

The law provides citizens the ability to choose their government in free and fair periodic elections held by secret ballot and based on universal and equal suffrage. Non-Israeli citizens in Jerusalem who have permanent residency status may vote in Jerusalem municipal elections and seek some municipal offices, but not mayor, and they cannot vote in general elections or serve in the Knesset.

Recent Elections: Observers considered the April 9 and September 17 parliamentary elections free and fair. In each of the elections, more than 67 percent of eligible voters cast ballots. In April the ruling Likud Party placed cameras in predominately Arab polling stations in an effort to dissuade Arab voter turnout. Following the elections, the Central Elections Committee ruled that the placement of recording devices in polling stations is forbidden and would require formal legislation, which the Likud Party was unable to pass in the Knesset. During the September elections, observers noted minimal irregularities that had no impact on the final outcome.

Political Parties and Political Participation: The Basic Laws prohibit the candidacy of any party or individual that denies the existence of the State of Israel as the state of the Jewish people or the democratic character of the state or that incites racism. A political party may also not be registered if its goals include support of an armed struggle, enemy state, or terror organization against Israel. Otherwise, political parties operated without restriction or interference. The Northern Islamic Movement, banned in 2015, continued its practice of boycotting elections and prohibiting its members from running for local or national office.

The law restricts the funding of individuals and groups that engage in “election activity” during the period of a national election, which is typically three months. The law’s sponsors described it as an effort to prevent organizations and wealthy individuals from bypassing election-funding laws, but some civil society organizations expressed concern the law would stifle political participation.

The law allows dismissal of an MK if 90 of 120 MKs vote for expulsion, following a request of 70 MKs, including at least 10 from the opposition. The party of an expelled member could replace the MK with the next individual on its party list, and the expelled member could run in the next election. Joint List MK Yousef Jabareen and NGOs argued the government intended the law to target Arab legislators and that it harmed democratic principles such as electoral representation and freedom of expression.

In the period preceding the April and September elections, the NGO Adalah demanded that the Central Elections Committee and the Ministry of Interior set up polling stations for Arab Bedouin citizens in the unrecognized villages in the Negev or provide the voters with transportation to their assigned polling stations. Authorities denied the request.

Participation of Women and Minorities: No laws limit participation of women or members of minorities in the political process, and they did participate. The law provides an additional 15 percent in campaign funding to municipal party lists composed of at least one-third women. Women and minorities participated widely in politics, although their representation in the Knesset decreased during the year. While at the beginning of the year the 120-member Knesset had 35 female members and 18 members from ethnic or religious minorities (12 Muslims, three Druze, two Ethiopian-Israelis, and one Christian), at year’s end, following two elections, the Knesset had 28 women and 16 members from ethnic or religious minorities (nine Muslims, three Druze, two Christian and two Ethiopian Israelis). As of September the 23-member cabinet included four women and one Druze minister. One woman was a deputy minister; there were no Arabs. Aida Touma Suliman, an Arab, chaired a permanent committee in the Knesset, the Committee on the Status of Women. Four members of the 15-member Supreme Court were women, and one was Arab. Following October 2018 municipal elections, the number of women mayors and local council heads increased from six to 14 of 257 such positions.

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 reports of government corruption, although impunity was not a problem.

Corruption: The government continued to investigate and prosecute top political figures. On November 21, Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit decided to indict Prime Minister Netanyahu for offenses of allegedly taking a bribe, fraud, and breach of trust, related to possible corruption involving regulation of a telecommunications company, an alleged attempt to direct authorities to suppress media coverage in exchange for favorable press, and the alleged receipt of inappropriate gifts. On August 14, the attorney general decided to indict Minister of Welfare Haim Katz for fraud and breach of trust after he allegedly helped a businessman by promoting legislation in contravention of the law and involving a conflict of interest. Several other government ministers and senior officials were under investigation for various alleged offenses, including Minister of Interior Aryeh Deri, Deputy Minister of Health Yaakov Litzman, and MK David Bitan.

The law prohibits police from offering a recommendation whether to indict a public official when transferring an investigation to prosecutors. The attorney general or state prosecutor can ask police for a recommendation, however. Detectives or prosecutors who leak a police recommendation or an investigation summary can be imprisoned for up to three years. The law does not apply to investigations in process at the time of the law’s passage.

The NGO Lawyers for Good Governance, which combats corruption in Israel’s 85 Arab municipalities, reported that it received 934 corruption-related complaints through its hotline, up 20 percent from 2018. The NGO stated that during the year it prevented 48 senior staff appointments on the basis of nepotism or hiring without a public announcement.

Financial Disclosure: Senior officials are subject to comprehensive financial disclosure laws, and the Civil Service Commission verifies their disclosures. Authorities do not make information in these disclosures public without the consent of the person who submitted the disclosure. There is no specific criminal sanction for noncompliance.

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

A variety of Israeli, Palestinian, and international human rights groups generally operated without government restriction, investigating and publishing their findings on human rights cases. Government officials were generally responsive to their views, and parliamentarians routinely invited NGOs critical of the government to participate in Knesset hearings on proposed legislation. The government stated it makes concerted efforts to include civil society in the legislation process, in developing public policy, and in a variety of projects within government ministries, but it did not cooperate with human rights organizations that it deemed “politically affiliated.” Human rights NGOs have standing to petition the Supreme Court directly regarding governmental policies and may appeal individual cases to the Supreme Court.

Domestic NGOs, particularly those focused on human rights issues, continued to view the law requiring disclosure of support from foreign entities on formal publications and its implementation as an attempt to stigmatize, delegitimize, and silence them. Supporters of the legislation described it as a transparency measure to reveal foreign government influence. Critics noted it targeted only foreign government funding, without requiring organizations to report private funding.

A 2017 law mandates additional scrutiny of requests for National Service volunteers from NGOs that receive more than one-half of their funding from foreign governments. After the National Service Authority rejected the requests of several NGOs, the organizations appealed the decisions, arguing they had complied with the new regulations and that the decision targeted them due to the nature of their work. The cases were pending at year’s end.

The staffs of domestic NGOs, particularly those calling for an end to the country’s military presence in the West Bank and NGOs working for the rights of asylum seekers, stated they received death threats from nongovernmental sources, which spiked during periods in which government officials spoke out against their activities or criticized them as enemies or traitors for opposing government policy. For example, on July 31, unknown individuals vandalized the offices of several NGOs working to advance the rights of asylum seekers, including ASSAF and Amnesty International. On the same day, a package with death threats and a dead mouse was left at the office of Elifelet, Citizens for Refugee Children.

In December 2018 the High Court overturned a Be’er Sheva municipality decision to evict the cultural center of the Negev Coexistence Forum (NCF) from a public shelter due to their engagement in “political activity.” In January the municipality demanded the organization retroactively pay property taxes dating back to 2012, totaling 480,000 shekels ($139,000). The NCF viewed the decision as a tool to “persecute and silence those promoting joint Jewish-Arab activity in the city.” In April the municipality reached an agreement with the NCF, reducing the fine to 30,000 shekels ($8,700), and gave the organization until October 2020 to leave the shelter.

On April 16, a Jerusalem district court upheld a government decision not to renew a work visa for the Human Rights Watch Israel and Palestine director, Omar Shakir, on grounds that he called for a boycott of West Bank settlements. (For information about boycotts against Israel and Israeli settlements in the West Bank, see section 2.a.) Human Rights Watch appealed the ruling to the Supreme Court. On November 5, the Supreme Court upheld the district court decision and ordered Shakir to depart the country by November 25.

The United Nations or Other International Bodies: The government generally cooperated with the United Nations and other international bodies. The country withdrew from UNESCO in December 2018. The government continued its policy of nonengagement with the UN Human Rights Council’s “special rapporteur on the situation in the Palestinian territories occupied since 1967.”

Government Human Rights Bodies: The state comptroller also served as ombudsman for human rights problems and in this capacity investigated complaints against statutory bodies subject to audit by the state comptroller, including government ministries, local authorities, government enterprises and institutions, government corporations, and their employees. The ombudsman is entitled to use any relevant means of inquiry and has the authority to order any person or body to assist in the inquiry.

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

Rape and Domestic Violence: Rape, including spousal rape, is a felony punishable by 16 years’ imprisonment. Rape under aggravated circumstances or rape committed against a relative is punishable by 20 years’ imprisonment. The Central Bureau of Statistics reported approximately 15,000 women were victims of sex offenses in 2018, including indecent acts, attempted rape, and rape. The number of requests to the Association for Rape Crisis Centers for assistance related to rape in 2018 was 8 percent higher than in 2017. Authorities opened 1,534 investigations of suspected rape in 2018, compared with 1,443 in 2017. Authorities closed 91 percent of rape cases in 2018 without filing an indictment, mainly due to lack of evidence.

During the year, 13 women and girls were killed, most by family members or male partners.

On January 1, the Knesset approved a law extending the statute of limitation on severe sexual offenses from 10 to 15 years, with a sentence of seven years’ imprisonment. The Knesset also approved an amendment to the penal code on murder charges and sentencing, which came into effect on July 10. According to the amendment, men who kill their partners after abusing them are to be charged with “murder under aggravated circumstances,” with a sentence of life imprisonment. Women who kill an abusive partner are to be charged with “murder under circumstances of reduced liability,” with a maximum punishment of 15 years’ imprisonment.

According to media reports, in June and July the parole board decided to grant early release to two women convicted of killing their abusive husbands. They served 17 and 18 years, respectively, of their 25-year sentences.

The Ministry of Labor, Social Affairs, and Social Services operated 14 shelters for survivors of domestic abuse, including two for the Arab community, two mixed Jewish-Arab shelters, two for the ultra-Orthodox community, and eight for non-ultra-Orthodox Jewish communities. The ministry also operated a hotline for reporting abuse. The government stated that police officers receive training to interact with persons of different cultures and backgrounds, with an emphasis on special minority communities, although women from certain Orthodox Jewish, Muslim, and Druze communities faced significant social pressure not to report rape or domestic abuse.

Sexual Harassment: Sexual harassment is illegal. Penalties for sexual harassment depend on the severity of the act and whether the harassment involved blackmail. The law provides that victims may follow the progress on their cases through a computerized system and information call center. In 2018 prosecutors filed 168 indictments for sexual harassment, up from 129 in 2017. According to 2018 data from the Central Bureau of Statistics, 95 percent of sexual harassment victims older than age 20 did not report the incident to police. Throughout the year victims of sex offenses expressed discontent with law enforcement’s response to such cases through a #WhyIDidn’tComplain campaign. In March 2018 Supreme Court Chief Justice Esther Hayut established a committee to examine the judicial system’s treatment of victims of sex offenses. In a December report, while acknowledging progress in treating victims of sex offense, the committee found victims faced difficulties at every step of the legal process. The report recommended establishing a commission for the promotion of rights for victims of offenses, including sex offenses, appointing social workers to accompany victims throughout the process, establishing centers providing services to victims, piloting teams specializing in sex offenses in law enforcement institutions, and developing restorative justice proceedings in the context of sex offenses.

On September 23, a district court convicted former Jerusalem police chief Niso Shaham  for sexually harassing officers under his command, overturning a 2018 magistrate court ruling. Sentencing was pending at year’s end.

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

Discrimination: The law provides for the same legal status and rights for women as for men. The law requires every government ministry and every municipality to have an advisor working to advance women’s rights. The government subsidizes day-care and after-school programs to encourage labor participation by mothers and offers professional training to single parents. Although the law prohibits discrimination based on gender in employment and wages and provides for class action antidiscrimination suits, a wage gap between men and women persisted. According to the Central Bureau of Statistics, in 2018 the average salary of men was 12,500 shekels ($3,600) and 8,540 shekels for women ($2,480). A part of the gap reportedly resulted from a differential between hours men and women worked each week on average.

In the criminal and civil courts, women and men enjoyed the same rights, but in some matters separate religious courts–responsible for adjudication of family law, including marriage and divorce–limited the rights of Jewish, Christian, Muslim, and Druze women. Although women served as judges in nonreligious courts, they remained barred from serving as judges in rabbinical courts.

The law allows a Jewish woman or man to initiate divorce proceedings, and both the husband and wife must give consent to make the divorce final. Sometimes a husband makes divorce contingent on his wife conceding to demands, such as those relating to property ownership or child custody. Jewish women in this situation could not remarry and any children born to them from another man would be deemed illegitimate by the Rabbinate without a writ of divorce. In rare cases Jewish women refused to grant men divorces, but this has a lesser effect on a husband under Jewish law. Rabbinical courts sometimes sanctioned a husband who refused to give his wife a divorce, while also declining to grant the divorce without his consent.

A Muslim woman may petition for and receive a divorce through the sharia courts without her husband’s consent under certain conditions. A marriage contract may provide for other circumstances in which she may obtain a divorce without his consent. Through ecclesiastical courts, Christians may seek official separations or divorces, depending on their denomination. Druze divorces are performed by an oral declaration of the husband alone and then registered through the Druze religious courts, placing a disproportionate burden on the woman to leave the home with her children immediately. A civil family court or a religious court settles child custody, alimony, and property matters after the divorce, which gives preference to the father unless it can be demonstrated that a child especially “needs” the mother.

In some ultra-Orthodox neighborhoods, private organizations posted “modesty signs” demanding women obscure themselves from public view to avoid distracting devout men. The local municipality of Beit Shemesh refused to remove the signs, resulting in a fine of 10,000 shekels ($2,900) per day if the signs remained posted. Following the municipality’s refusal to remove the signs, the Supreme Court ruled in November 2018 that authorities must comply with the order by December 31, 2018, or it would be subject to fines. The Supreme Court later extended the deadline until August 30. According to the government, the municipality did not fully implement the ruling by the end of the year, and some signs that were taken down had been replaced by new ones.

Women’s rights organizations cited a growing trend of gender segregation and discrimination against women meant to accommodate soldiers of the national religious stream. Despite greater inclusion of women in the IDF in recent years, including in combat roles and senior leadership positions, on April 14, the IDF stopped allowing women to serve in combat positions in the Armored Corps, citing economic and logistical reasons. Women’s rights organizations criticized the decision, claiming it was not made for legitimate reasons and hindered gender equality in the IDF. On September 10, a 19-year-old woman petitioned the Supreme Court demanding the option to serve in a combat role in the Armored Corps. The case was pending at year’s end.

Women’s rights organizations also expressed concern about gender segregation in some public events that took place during the year. On August 14, the Supreme Court ruled in favor of an NGO petition objecting to a gender-segregated event held by the Afula municipality. The event went forward prior to the Supreme Court ruling as a lower court had initially ruled in favor of the municipality. On August 18, the Office of the Attorney General issued a directive stipulating certain circumstances in which gender-segregated events could be held, pending further examination of the issue. The guidelines deviated from a previous directive that permitted segregation only in events of a religious nature.

Birth Registration: Children derive citizenship at birth if at least one parent is a citizen regardless of whether they are born inside or outside of the country. Births are supposed to be registered within 10 days of delivery. Births are registered in the country only if the parents are citizens or permanent residents. Any child born in an Israeli hospital receives an official document from the hospital that affirms the birth. If one of the parents is an Israeli citizen and the other is not, the child may be registered as Israeli as long as he or she lives with the parent who is an Israeli citizen or permanent resident.

The Supreme Court granted the minister of interior an extension due to the March 2020 elections for its response to a petition by 34 lesbian mothers against the Ministry of Interior’s refusal to list nonbiological mothers on birth certificates, despite court-issued parenting orders. Another petition of a same-sex couple who demanded to make the process of registering parenthood for lesbian couples equal to that of heterosexual couples was pending at year’s end. On September 23, the Supreme Court found against the Ministry of Interior’s requirement for proof of a long-term relationship between two mothers, which does not exist for heterosexual couples, in order to recognize shared parenthood.

For children of nonresident parents, including those who lack legal status in the country, the Ministry of the Interior issues a confirmation of birth document, which is not a birth certificate. The Supreme Court confirmed in a November 2018 ruling that the ministry does not have the authority to issue birth certificates for nonresidents under existing law.

The government registers the births of non-Israelis born in Jerusalem, although some who have experienced the process reported that administrative delays can last years.

Education: Primary and secondary education is free and universal through age 17 and compulsory through grade 12.

The government did not enforce compulsory education in unrecognized Bedouin villages in the Negev. Bedouin children, particularly girls, continued to have the highest illiteracy rate in the country, and more than 5,000 kindergarten-age children were not enrolled in school, according to the NCF. The government did not grant construction permits in unrecognized villages, including for schools. In 2018 the government began to provide transportation to preschools for children from the unrecognized villages of al-Sira, al-Jaraf, and Umm al-Nameileh for the first time, in response to legal action.

There were reportedly insufficient classrooms to accommodate schoolchildren in Jerusalem. Based on population data from the Central Bureau of Statistics, the NGO Ir Amim estimated in previous years a shortage of 2,500 classrooms for non-Israeli children resident in East Jerusalem, and 18,600 non-Israeli children in Jerusalem were not enrolled in any school.

The government operated separate public schools for Jewish children, in which classes were conducted in Hebrew, and for Arab children, with classes conducted in Arabic. For Jewish children separate public schools were available for religious and secular families. Individual families could choose a public school system for their children to attend regardless of ethnicity or religious observance.

The government funded approximately 34 percent of the Christian school system budget and restricted the schools’ ability to charge parents tuition, according to church officials. The government offered to fund Christian schools fully if they become part of the public (state) school system, but the churches continued to reject this option, citing concerns that they would lose control over admissions, hiring, and use of church property.

Jewish schoolgirls continued to be denied admission to ultra-Orthodox schools based on their Mizrahi ethnicity (those with ancestry from North Africa or the Middle East) despite a 2009 court ruling prohibiting ethnic segregation between Mizrahi and Ashkenazi schoolgirls, according to the NGO Noar Kahalacha.

There is no Arabic-language school for a population of approximately 3,000 Arab students in Nof Hagalil (formerly Nazareth Ilit), a town where 26 percent of residents are Arab. As a result, most Arab students attended schools in Nazareth and nearby villages. An NGO petition seeking the establishment of an Arabic-language school remained pending at year’s end.

Child Abuse: The law requires mandatory reporting of any suspicion of child abuse. It also requires social service employees, medical and education professionals, and other officials to report indications that minors were victims of, engaged in, or coerced into prostitution, sexual offenses, abandonment, neglect, assault, abuse, or human trafficking. The Ministry of Education operated a special unit for sexuality and for prevention of abuse of children and youth that assisted the education system in prevention and appropriate intervention in cases of suspected abuse of minors. On January 1, the Knesset approved a law extending the statute of limitation on serious crimes against children from 10 to 15 years.

The National Council for the Child received more than 222,544 complaints during the year relating to physical and sexual abuse, neglect, and child pornography.

According to local government officials and human rights organizations, Gaza fence protests, air raid sirens, and rocket attacks led to psychological distress among children living near the Gaza Strip, including nightmares and posttraumatic stress disorder.

Early and Forced Marriage: The law sets the minimum age of marriage at 18 years, with some exceptions for minors due to pregnancy and for couples older than age 16 if the court permitted it due to unique circumstances. Some Palestinian girls were coerced by their families into marrying older men who were Arab citizens of Israel, according to government and NGO sources.

Sexual Exploitation of Children: The law prohibits sexual exploitation of a minor and sets a penalty of seven to 20 years in prison for violators, depending on the circumstances. The law prohibits the possession of child pornography (by downloading) and accessing such material (by streaming). Authorities enforced the law. The Ministry of Public Security operated a hotline to receive complaints of activities that seek to harm children online, such as bullying, dissemination of hurtful materials, extortion, sexual abuse, and pressure to commit suicide.

The minimum age for consensual sex is 16. Consensual sexual relations with a minor between the ages of 14 and 16 constitute statutory rape punishable by five years’ imprisonment.

International Child Abductions: The country is a party to the 1980 Hague Convention on the Civil Aspects of International Child Abduction. See the Department of State’s report 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.

Jews constituted close to 75 percent of the population, according to the Central Bureau of Statistics. The government often defined crimes targeting Jews as nationalistic crimes relating to the Palestinian-Israeli conflict rather than as resulting from anti-Semitism.

Regarding claims for the return of, or restitution for, Holocaust-era assets, the government has laws and mechanisms in place. Relevant laws refer to assets imported during World War II whose owners did not survive the war. Unclaimed assets were held in trust and not transferred to legal inheritors, who in most cases were not aware that their late relatives had property in Israel.

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

The Basic Laws provide a legal framework for prohibiting discrimination against persons with disabilities in the provision of government services. Legislation mandates access to buildings, information, communication, transportation, the judicial system, and physical accommodations and services in the workplace, as well as access to mental health services as part of government-subsidized health insurance, and the government generally enforced these laws. The law prioritizes access by persons with disabilities to public services, such as eliminating waiting in line. On June 22, an amendment to the Equal Rights Law came into effect, stipulating that public services cannot be provided from buildings or spaces that are not accessible to persons with disabilities. The law also mandates that all government buildings built before 2009 be made accessible to persons with disabilities by the end of the year, excluding local authority buildings, which should be made accessible by November 2021. As of November, 60 percent of public buildings were made accessible for individuals with disabilities.

Societal discrimination and lack of accessibility persisted in private-sector employment and education. Government ministries had not developed regulations regarding the accessibility of health services, roads, sidewalks, and intercity buses by the end of the year. The law requires that at least 5 percent of employees of every government employer with more than 100 workers be persons with disabilities. In 2018, 60 percent of government employers met this requirement, according to data from the National Insurance Institute.

Shortages of funding for Arab-majority municipalities adversely affected Arab citizens with disabilities. The disability rights NGO Bizchut reported a lack of accessible transportation services in Arab-majority neighborhoods of East Jerusalem.

A May 6 State Comptroller report acknowledged that state institutions, including police, Ministry of Justice, courts, IPS, and Ministry of Welfare, do not guarantee the rights of persons with disabilities under legal procedures. It also stated that criminals with disabilities were held for periods of time longer than usual, in unsuitable conditions, or released without punishment and therapy due to a lack of adequate facilities and resources.

Arab Christians and Muslims, Druze, and Ethiopian citizens faced persistent institutional and societal discrimination. There were multiple instances of security services or other citizens racially profiling Arab citizens. Some Arab civil society leaders described the government’s attitude toward the Arab minority as ambivalent; others cited examples in which Israeli political leaders incited racism against the Arab community or portrayed it as an enemy.

In June 2018 the Knesset passed a new basic law referred to as the Nation State Law. The new law changed Arabic from an official language, which it had been since Israel adopted prevailing British Mandate law in 1948, to a language with a “special status.” The law also recognized only the Jewish People as having a national right of self-determination and called for promotion of “Jewish settlement” within Israel, which Arab organizations and leaders in the country feared would lead to increased discrimination in housing and legal decisions pertaining to land. Druze leaders criticized the law for relegating a minority in the country who serve in the military to second-class citizen status. Opponents also criticized the law for not mentioning the principle of equality to prevent harm to the rights of non-Jewish minorities. Supporters stated it was necessary to anchor the country’s Jewish character in a basic law to balance the 1992 Basic Law: Human Dignity and Liberty, which protected individual rights, noting the Supreme Court had already interpreted the 1992 law as mandating equality. Such supporters argued that the Human Dignity and Liberty law continues to safeguard individual civil rights. Political leaders conceded that the criticisms of the Druze community must be addressed. Multiple lawsuits challenging the Nation State Law remained pending with the Supreme Court at year’s end.

On October 22, 14 soldiers of the Netzah Yehuda battalion were arrested on suspicion of attacking Bedouin individuals at a gas station in the southern part of the country, and eight of them were charged with assault, threats, and illegal use of weapons. According to media reports, the soldiers agreed to a plea bargain with military prosecutors in which they admitted to attacking and threatening the Bedouin in return for dismissal of the misuse of weapons charge. The soldiers also received sentences of 52 to 60 days in military prison.

On April 30, two citizens, Koren Elkayam and Tamir Bartal from Be’er Sheva, were convicted of racially motivated assault against Arab citizens and sentenced to one year in prison. They were convicted of involvement in four separate cases of assault in 2017 in which they targeted Arabs to prevent them from having romantic relationships with Jewish women. Elkayam and Bartal were also sentenced to eight months of probation and required to pay the victims 8,000 shekels ($2,300) in compensation.

Throughout the year there were “price tag” attacks, which refer to violence by Jewish individuals and groups against non-Jewish individuals and property with the stated purpose of exacting a “price” for actions taken by the government against the attackers’ interests. The government classifies any association using the phrase “price tag” as an illegal association and a price tag attack as a security (as opposed to criminal) offense. The most common offenses, according to police, were attacks on vehicles, defacement of real estate, harm to Muslim and Christian holy sites, assault, and damage to agricultural lands. For example, on October 31, two individuals were arrested after buildings and cars in Akbara, an Arab neighborhood in the city of Safed, were vandalized. Graffiti included stars of David and the writings “Kumi Uri” and “closed military zone.” The writing referred to an illegal outpost near the Yizhar settlement, where violence against soldiers led the government to declare the area a closed military zone. According to Yesh Din, the Lod District Court sentenced a member of the Nahliel Jewish underground group on July 15 to four years in prison on charges of arson, stone throwing at vehicles, and aggravated assault.

The government employed affirmative action policies for non-Jewish minorities in the civil service. The percentage of Arab employees in the public sector was 12 percent (63 percent entry-level), according to the NGO Sikkuy. The percentage of Arab employees in the 62 government-owned companies was approximately 2.5 percent; however, during the year Arab citizens held 12 percent of director positions in government-owned companies, up from 1 percent in 2000, and Arab workers held 11 percent of government positions, up from 5 percent in 2000, according to Sikkuy. In 2017 the Ministry of Labor, Social Affairs, and Social Services announced an investment of 15 million shekels ($4.3 million) over the next five years to integrate Arab employees into the high-tech sector.

Separate school systems within the public and semipublic domains produced a large variance in education quality. Arab, Druze, and ultra-Orthodox students passed the matriculation exam at lower rates than their non-ultra-Orthodox Jewish counterparts. The government continued operating educational and scholarship programs to benefit Arab students. As of October, 18 percent of undergraduate students in Israeli institutes of higher education were Arab citizens or residents, up from 13 percent in 2010, 14.6 percent in master’s degree programs, up from 7.4 percent, and 7 percent in doctoral programs, up from 5.2 percent, according to the Central Bureau of Statistics.

Approximately 93 percent of land is in the public domain. This includes approximately 12.5 percent owned by the Jewish National Fund (JNF), whose statutes prohibit sale or lease of land to non-Jews. Arab citizens are allowed to participate in bids for JNF land, but the Israel Lands Administration (ILA) grants the JNF another parcel of land whenever an Arab citizen of Israel wins a bid. In June 2018 the Supreme Court ruled that the ILA Executive Council must have representation of an Arab, Druze, or Circassian member to prevent discrimination against non-Jews; however, there were no members from these groups on the executive council at year’s end.

The Bedouin segment of the Arab population continued to be the most disadvantaged. More than one-half of the estimated 258,000 Bedouin citizens in the Negev lived in seven government-planned towns. In nine of 11 recognized villages, all residences remained unconnected to the electricity grid or to the water infrastructure system, according to the NCF. Nearly all public buildings in the recognized Bedouin villages were connected to the electricity grid and water infrastructure, as were residences that had received a building permit, but most residences did not have a building permit, according to the government. Each recognized village had at least one elementary school, and eight recognized villages had high schools.

Approximately 90,000 Bedouins lived in 35 unrecognized tent or shack villages without access to any government services. (See section 1.e. for issues of demolition and restitution for Bedouin property.)

The government generally prohibited Druze citizens and residents from visiting Syria. The government has prevented family visitations to Syria for noncitizen Druze since 1982.

An estimated population of 148,700 Ethiopian Jews faced persistent societal discrimination, although officials and citizens quickly and publicly criticized discriminatory acts against them.

On January 18, a police officer shot and killed Yehuda Biadga, an Ethiopian-Israeli who suffered from a mental disability and was deemed a threat by police after approaching them with a knife. The Department of Investigations of Police Officers closed the case against the officer without an indictment. On June 30, an off-duty police officer in Haifa shot and killed Selomon Teka, an 18-year-old of Ethiopian descent, after Teka threw rocks at him and physically confronted him. The incident spurred widespread demonstrations across the country calling out police brutality against Ethiopian citizens. On November 19, the officer was indicted for negligent homicide, an offense with a prison sentence up to three years.

On August 18, NGOs submitted a petition to the Supreme Court requesting an injunction against a police practice of racial profiling targeting Ethiopian-Israelis and other minority populations. Police continued to use this practice despite recommendations from a 2016 Ministry of Justice report on combating racism against Ethiopian-Israelis and a March police directive.

On October 28, police established a new unit for gender equality and cultural diversity to be responsible for advancing and developing cultural competency in the police force. The unit intended to provide tools to police officers to improve their interface with distinct populations in Israeli society.

The law prohibits discrimination based on sexual orientation, and the government generally enforced these laws, although discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender identity persisted in some parts of society. There were reports of discrimination in the workplace against lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and intersex (LGBTI) persons, despite laws prohibiting such discrimination. According to an Equal Employment Opportunity Commission survey by the Ministry of Labor and Social Affairs and Social Services, 32 percent of transgender persons were unemployed.

On August 25, authorities indicted two individuals on charges of attempted murder of their 16-year-old brother, whom they stabbed outside an LGBTI youth shelter on July 26, allegedly on the basis of his sexual orientation. Their trial was pending as of October.

Violence and discrimination against transgender persons remained a matter of concern. For example, a 15-year-old transgender student from Ashkelon did not attend school for six months after being regularly attacked and threatened by children at her school. When she returned to school, she was attacked again and was rushed to the hospital with a concussion and internal injuries.

LGBTI activists were able to hold public events and demonstrations with few restrictions. On June 3, police agreed to withdraw its demand to require identification from all participants in the Jerusalem pride parade following negotiations with the Jerusalem Open House. Following a petition from ACRI, police canceled a security restriction it had imposed on organizers of a June 27 Bat Yam pride event, which required the organization to supply a barricade six and one-half feet high and a metal detector.

Despite IPS regulations prohibiting holding transgender prisoners in solitary confinement, transgender women who had not undergone full gender adjustment were being held under segregation, according to ACRI.

Although discrimination against persons with HIV is illegal, the Israel AIDS Task Force (IATF) reported instances of HIV-related stigma and discrimination, including cases related to insurance and rehabilitation centers.

According to the IATF, while the IPS regulations allowing HIV-positive prisoners to reside with the general prisoner population was being implemented, detainees who were HIV positive faced difficulties accessing treatment.

As of January, the IDF began allowing persons with HIV to enlist and serve in noncombat roles. Previously persons with HIV could join as only volunteers after they were found ineligible for general military service.

The Ministry of Health continued a two-year pilot program to accept blood donations from gay and bisexual men. Under the pilot program, a donation from a gay or bisexual man is to be stored until the man donates blood again four months later. If both donations pass routine screening tests, both will be used.

Individuals and militant or terrorist groups attacked civilians in Israel, including 13 stabbing attacks and vehicular attacks characterized by authorities as terror attacks (see section 1.a.), in addition to rockets shot into Israel by Gaza-based terrorist groups. (For issues relating to violence or discrimination against asylum seekers, see section 2.d.)

Arab communities in Israel continued to experience high levels of crime and violence, especially from organized crime, and high numbers of illegal weapons, according to government data and NGOs. Causes included low level of policing; limited access to capital; easy access to illegal weapons; and socioeconomic factors, such as poverty, unemployment, and the breakdown of traditional family and authority structures, according to The Abraham Fund Initiatives and other NGOs. Government action to address the issue included: opening five police stations in Arab towns between 2017 and 2018, increasing enforcement to prevent violence, improving communication with Arab citizens through Arabic-language media and social media, enhancing trust with the community and community policing, and examining legal aspects including proposals for legislative amendments with emphasis on weapon control and raising the threshold for punishments.

On June 24, the city of Afula announced it would close its main public park to nonresidents during the summer. The NGO Adalah petitioned against this decision, claiming the Afula municipality deliberately sought to prevent Arab residents of neighboring towns from entering the park. The attorney general announced his opposition to the decision of the Afula municipality to close the park to nonresidents, noting the decision on entering municipal parks, which are a shared public space, cannot be made on the basis of religion, nationality, country of origin, gender, sexual orientation, or any other inherent characteristic. On July 14, an administrative court called for reopening the park, and the municipality complied.

Israeli authorities investigated reported attacks against Palestinians and Arab citizens of Israel, primarily in Jerusalem, by members of organizations that made anti-Christian and anti-Muslim statements and objected to social relationships between Jews and non-Jews.

The Israeli government and Jewish organizations in Jerusalem made efforts to increase property ownership by Jewish Israelis and emphasized Jewish history in Jerusalem neighborhoods that are predominantly non-Jewish. Organizations such as UNOCHA, Bimkom, and Ir Amim alleged that the goal of Jerusalem municipal and Israeli national policies was to decrease the number of non-Jewish residents of Jerusalem. Jewish landowners and their descendants, or land trusts representing the families, were entitled to reclaim property they had abandoned in East Jerusalem during fighting prior to 1949, but others who abandoned property in Israel in the same period had no reciprocal right to stake their legal claim to the property. In some cases, private Jewish organizations acquired legal ownership of reclaimed Jewish property in East Jerusalem, including in the Old City, and through protracted judicial action sought to evict non-Israeli families living there. Authorities designated approximately 30 percent of East Jerusalem for Israeli settlements. Non-Israeli citizens were able in some cases to rent or purchase Israeli-owned property, including private property on Israeli government-owned land, but faced significant barriers to both. Israeli NGOs stated that after accounting for Israeli settlements, Israeli government property and declared national parks, only 13 percent of all land in East Jerusalem was available for construction by others.

Although the law provides that all residents of Jerusalem are fully and equally eligible for public services provided by the municipality and other Israeli authorities, the Jerusalem municipality failed to provide sufficient social services, education, infrastructure, and emergency planning for neighborhoods where the majority of residents were not Israelis, especially in the areas between the security barrier and the municipal boundary. Approximately 117,000 Palestinians lived in that area, of whom approximately 61,000 were registered as Jerusalem residents, according to government data. According to the Jerusalem Institute for Policy Research, 78 percent of East Jerusalem’s Arab residents and 86 percent of Arab children in East Jerusalem lived in poverty in 2017.

During the April and September national election campaigns, the Likud Party deployed messages promoting hatred against Arab citizens, including a chatbot message on Prime Minister Netanyahu’s Facebook page saying, “the Arabs want to destroy all of us, women, children and men.” The chatbot was temporarily suspended by Facebook. Netanyahu stated he was unaware of the message.

Section 7. Worker Rights

a. Freedom of Association and the Right to Collective Bargaining

The law provides for the right of workers to form and join independent unions, strike, and bargain collectively. After a union declares a labor dispute, there is a 15-day “cooling period” in which the Histadrut, the country’s largest federation of trade unions, negotiates with the employer to resolve the dispute. On the 16th day, employees are permitted to strike. Workers essential to state security, such as members of the military, police, prison service, Mossad, and the ISA, are not permitted to strike. While the law prohibits strikes over political issues and also allows the government to declare a state of emergency to block a strike that it deemed could threaten the economy or trade with foreign states, according to the Histadrut, this law has never been applied.

The law prohibits antiunion discrimination. A labor court has discretionary authority to order the reinstatement of a worker fired for union activity.

The government generally respected workers’ rights to freely associate and bargain collectively for citizens. Penalties were sufficient to deter violations, although foreign workers continued facing difficulties exercising these rights, according to the Histadrut.

Court rulings and union regulations forbid simultaneous membership in more than one trade union. According to the International Trade Union Confederation, some employers actively discouraged union participation, delayed or refused to engage in collective bargaining, or harassed workers attempting to form a union. Approval by a minimum of one-third of the employees in a given workplace is needed to allow the trade union to represent all workers in that workplace. Members of the Histadrut who pay 0.95 percent of their wages in affiliation fees may be elected to the union’s leadership bodies. Instead of affiliation fees, Palestinian workers pay 0.80 percent of their wages as “trade union fees,” of which the Histadrut transfers half to the Palestinian trade union.

According to Kav Laoved, a growing number of workers in fields such as teaching, social work, security, cleaning and caregiving are employed as contract workers, which infringes on their right to associate, as it reduces their bargaining power, and on their right to equality.

b. Prohibition of Forced or Compulsory Labor

The law prohibits and criminalizes forced or compulsory labor and prescribes penalties sufficient to deter violations, but the government did not effectively enforce laws for foreign workers and some citizens.

Foreign agricultural workers, construction workers, and nursing care workers–particularly women–were among the most vulnerable to conditions of forced labor, including nonpayment or withholding of wages. NGOs reported some workers experienced conditions of forced labor, including the unlawful withholding of passports, restrictions on freedom of movement, limited ability to change or otherwise choose employers, nonpayment of wages, exceedingly long working hours, threats, sexual assault, and physical intimidation. For example, the Turkish construction company Yilmazlar, which employed approximately 1,200 workers, took extensive measures to deter employees from escaping, including requiring a bond of up to 138,000 shekels ($40,000) before starting work, paying salaries three months in arrears, and employing thugs to chase and beat those who escape, according to NGOs. In April 2018 Yilmazlar employees filed legal proceedings against the company, alleging they suffered from abusive employment that amounts to human trafficking. The company denied all allegations. The case continued at year’s end.

Palestinian laborers continued to suffer from abuses and labor rights violations, especially in construction, partly as a result of lack of adequate government oversight and monitoring.

According to government and NGO data as of October, foreign workers in caregiving, agriculture, and construction sectors, including primarily visa overstays from former Soviet Union countries, irregular African migrants, and Palestinians (both documented and undocumented) were ineligible to receive benefits such as paid leave and legal recourse in cases involving workplace injury. According to Kav LaOved, approximately 100,000 migrant workers and Palestinian workers lacked mobility in the labor market because their work permits were tied to their employers. Despite a 2016 government resolution to issue permits directly to Palestinian construction workers rather than Israeli employers, PIBA continued to issue work permits to employers. The work permits linked the employee to a specific employer, creating a dependence which some employers and employment agencies exploited to charge employees monthly commissions and fees; according to the Bank of Israel, 30 percent of Palestinian workers in the country and the settlements paid brokerage fees for their permits in monthly payments of approximately 2,000 shekels ($580), or 20 percent of their salary. In many cases the employer on record hired out employees to other workplaces. More than one-half the documented Palestinian workers did not receive written contracts or pay slips, according to the International Labor Organization.

Gray market manpower agencies engaged in labor trafficking by exploiting visa waiver agreements between Israel and former Soviet Union and Eastern European countries. The traffickers illegally recruited laborers to work in construction, caregiving, and prostitution and charged them exorbitant recruitment fees, and sometimes sold them fake documentation.

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, provides for the protection of children from exploitation in the workplace, and prohibits forced or compulsory labor. Children age 14 and older may be employed during official school holidays in light work that does not harm their health. Children age 15 and older who have completed education through grade nine may be employed as apprentices. Regulations restrict working hours for youths between the ages of 16 and 18 in all sectors. Penalties were sufficient to deter violations.

The government generally enforced these laws and conducted year-round inspections to identify cases of underage employment, with special emphasis on summer and school vacation periods. During the year authorities imposed a number of sanctions against employers for child labor infractions, including administrative warnings and fines. Minors worked mainly in the food-catering, entertainment, and hospitality sectors. The government forbade children younger than age 18 from working at construction sites.

On March 1, authorities indicted a Bedouin man from Rahat for forcing his two nephews to work under abusive, slave-like conditions. His trial was underway at year’s end.

d. Discrimination with Respect to Employment and Occupation

The law prohibits discrimination in employment and occupation based on age, race, religion, national origin, ethnicity, sex, sexual orientation, and disability. The Equal Employment Opportunities Law prohibits an employer from discriminating against employees, contractors, or persons seeking employment. The Equal Pay Law provides for equal pay for equal work of male and female employees. The Equal Rights for Persons with Disabilities Law prohibits discrimination against persons with disabilities (see section 6). The law does not explicitly prohibit discrimination on the basis of citizenship and HIV/AIDS status.

The government effectively enforced applicable law, and penalties were sufficient to deter violations. The law charges the Commission for Equal Employment Opportunities with the implementation and civil enforcement of the Equal Employment Opportunities Law. According to the commission’s annual report, in 2018 it received 748 complaints, a decrease from 766 in 2017. Civil society organizations reported discrimination in the employment or pay of women, Ethiopian-Israelis, and Arab citizens. In one case the commission joined a Muslim dentist in an antidiscrimination lawsuit against the New Shen Clinic in Netanya, which asked her to remove her hijab (Muslim religious women’s head covering) at work. On September 8, a labor court ruled the clinic must pay compensatory damages for discrimination based on religion.

On January 1, an amendment to the Hours of Work and Rest Law became effective, allowing workers to refuse to work on a day of rest, based on their religion, even if they are not religiously observant.

e. Acceptable Conditions of Work

The national minimum wage, which is set annually, was above the poverty income level for individuals but below the poverty level for couples and families. Authorities investigated employers, imposed administrative sanctions, and filed two indictments for violations of the Minimum Wage Law during the year.

The law allows a maximum 43-hour workweek at regular pay and provides for paid annual holidays. Premium pay for overtime is set at 125 percent for the first two hours and 150 percent for any hour thereafter up to a limit of 15 hours of overtime per week. According to Kav LaOved, 700,000 individuals were employed on an hourly basis, which reduced their social rights and benefits.

The Labor Inspection Service, along with union representatives and construction site safety officers, enforced labor, health, and safety standards in the workplace. The number of labor inspectors was insufficient to enforce the law, particularly in the construction and agriculture industries, and scaffolding regulations were inadequate to protect workers from falls. Employers were responsible for identifying unsafe situations. The PELES (an acronym of Working without Risk in Hebrew) police unit established in December 2018 was responsible for investigating workplace accidents that resulted in death or severe injuries, mainly at construction sites. No law protects the employment of workers who report on situations that endanger health or safety or remove themselves from such situations. The year marked the highest number of fatal work accidents in the last two decades, according to Kav LaOved. During the year 47 workers, including 14 Palestinians, died in accidents in the construction industry, and another 197 workers were injured, according to Kav LaOved. According to media reports, the PELES unit investigated only a small number of the incidents involving casualties.

The provisions of the labor law extended to most Palestinians employed by Israeli businesses in the West Bank. In response to a Supreme Court petition from Kav LaOved, the government confirmed in July 2018 that it had not disbursed any sick leave payments to Palestinian workers since January 1, 2018, despite depositing 2.5 percent of Palestinian workers’ salaries in a sick leave fund. According to Kav LaOved, only several Palestinian employees received their pension funds. Court cases on both matters were continuing as of the end of the year.

The country has bilateral work agreements (BWA) with Bulgaria, Moldova, Romania, Ukraine, and China to employ migrants in the construction sector and with Thailand and Sri Lanka for the agricultural sector. Government offices coordinated recruitment of workers from those countries, which led to significantly lower recruitment fees. During the year the government also implemented an agreement with the Philippines to employ caregivers and domestic workers.

BWAs provided foreign workers with information regarding their labor rights as well as a translated copy of their labor contract prior to arrival in the country. The government continued to help fund a hotline for migrant workers to report violations, and the government’s enforcement bodies claimed all complaints were investigated. The absence of BWAs for foreign caregivers and additional migrant workers not covered by BWAs led to continuing widespread abuses and exploitative working conditions, including excessive recruitment fees, false employment contracts, and lack of legal protections related to housing, nonpayment of wages, physical and sexual violence, and harassment.

Some employers in the agriculture sector circumvented the BWAs by recruiting “volunteers” from developing countries to earn money and learn about Israeli agriculture. “Volunteers” worked eight to 10 hours per day in a salary equal to half the minimum wage and without social benefits and received volunteer visas, which did not permit them to work. Others employed foreign students registered for work-study programs, which consisted of long hours of manual labor and a pay beyond the minimum wage. A committee of inquiry at Tel Aviv University determined in June that students were employed inappropriately and recommended a change to the work-study program.

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West Bank and Gaza

Lebanon

Executive Summary

Lebanon is a parliamentary republic based on the 1943 National Pact, which apportions governmental authority among a Maronite Christian president, a Shia speaker of the Chamber of Deputies (parliament), and a Sunni prime minister. Lebanese law officially recognizes 18 religious sects or confessions. In 2016 parliament elected Michel Aoun to the presidency, ending more than two years of political deadlock. Following the 2017 passage of the country’s new electoral law, the government held parliamentary elections in May 2018, after parliament had extended its legal term three times between 2013 and 2017. The elections were peaceful and considered generally free and fair. President Michel Aoun accepted Prime Minister Saad Hariri’s resignation on October 29 following almost two weeks of protests starting October 17. As of the end of the year, no new government had been formed.

The Internal Security Forces (ISF), under the Ministry of Interior, are responsible for law enforcement, while the Directorate of General Security (DGS), also under the Ministry of Interior, is responsible for border control but also exercises some domestic security responsibilities. The Lebanese Armed Forces (LAF), under the Ministry of Defense, are responsible for external security but authorized to arrest and detain suspects on national security grounds; they also arrested alleged drug traffickers, managed protests, enforced building codes related to refugee shelters, and intervened to prevent violence between rival political factions. The General Directorate of State Security (GDSS), reporting to the prime minister through the Higher Defense Council, is responsible for investigating espionage and other national security issues. Civilian authorities maintained control over the government’s armed forces and other security forces, although Palestinian security and militia forces, the designated foreign terrorist organization (FTO) Hizballah, and other extremist elements operated outside the direction or control of government officials.

The Syrian conflict affected the country economically and socially. Over the past several years, the Syrian conflict has generated an influx of more than one million refugees and strained the country’s already weak infrastructure and ability to deliver social services.

Significant human rights issues included: arbitrary or unlawful killings by nonstate actors; allegations of torture by security forces; excessive periods of pretrial detention by security forces; undue and increasing restrictions on freedoms of speech and press, including laws criminalizing libel and a number of forms of expression; high-level and widespread official corruption; criminalization of lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and intersex (LGBTI) status or conduct; and forced or compulsory child labor.

Although the legal structure provides for prosecution and punishment of officials who committed human rights abuses, enforcement remained a problem, and government officials enjoyed a measure of impunity for human rights abuses, including evading or influencing judicial processes.

Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:

a. Freedom of Expression, Including for the Press

The constitution provides for freedom of expression, including for the press, and stipulates that restrictions may be imposed only under exceptional circumstances. The government generally respected this right, but there were some restrictions, particularly regarding political and social issues.

Freedom of Expression: Individuals were generally free to criticize the government and discuss matters of public interest; however, several legal restrictions limited this right. The law prohibits discussing the dignity of the president or insulting him or the president of a foreign country. The military code of justice prohibits insulting the security forces, and the Military Court prosecuted civilians under this statute.

Press and Media, Including Online Media: The 1962 Publications Law regulates print media. The law holds journalists responsible for erroneous or false news; threats or blackmail; insult, defamation, and contempt; causing prejudice to the president’s dignity; insulting the president or the president of a foreign country; instigation to commit a crime through a publication; and sectarian provocation. The law further contains detailed rules governing the activities of printing houses, press media, libraries, publishing houses, and distribution companies. This law provides rules and conditions for becoming a journalist and for obtaining licenses for new publications. It also prohibits the press from publishing blasphemous content regarding the country’s officially recognized religions or content that may provoke sectarian feuds.

There was uncertainty regarding which legal framework is applicable to online news sites in the country. No specific laws regulate online speech. The penal code, however, contains a number of speech offenses, such as defamation of public officials, public entities, and individuals. Accordingly, authorities are able to prosecute individuals, journalists, and bloggers for what they express online.

On March 11, the Military Court sentenced al-Jadeed TV correspondent Adam Chamseddine in absentia to three months in prison for criticizing the GDSS in a Facebook post. On April 12, a military judge ruled that, because Chamseddine is a journalist, the Military Court did not have jurisdiction over the case and returned the file to the military prosecutor who subsequently dropped all charges. Authorities heard these cases in both civil and military courts; they generally carried sentences of between one and three years in prison, although typically they resulted in fines.

The law governing audiovisual media bans live broadcasts of unauthorized political gatherings and certain religious events, as well as any broadcast of “any matter of commentary seeking to affect directly or indirectly the well-being of the nation’s economy and finances, material that is propagandistic and promotional, or promotes a relationship with Israel.” Media outlets must receive a license from the Council of Ministers to broadcast any type of political news or programs. The law prohibits broadcasting programs that harm the state or its relations with foreign countries or have an effect on the well-being of such states. The law also prohibits the broadcast of programs that seek to harm public morals, ignite sectarian strife, or insult religious beliefs.

Violence and Harassment: Journalists continued to face intimidation and harassment. Political friction and tension led some outlets to fear entering certain “politically affiliated” areas to report without removing brandings and logos identifying the outlets. For example, MTV reporters have been known to remove their outlet’s logo when entering Hizballah-affiliated areas. Outlets that sought to report in areas under control of Hizballah were required to obtain special permission from Hizballah’s media arm.

Authorities continued to prosecute online, print, and television journalists for violations of the country’s publications law. NGOs and media watchdogs claimed such prosecutions were efforts to intimidate critics. Prosecutors sometimes referred these cases to criminal courts based on both private complaints and their own discretion, but more often they referred such cases to the Publications Court. Publications Court cases typically remained open for a year or more and typically ended with fines or dismissal.

Censorship or Content Restrictions: Authorities selectively applied elements of the law that permit censorship of pornographic material, political opinion, and religious material considered a threat to national security or offensive to the dignity of the head of state or foreign leaders. The DGS may review and censor all foreign newspapers, magazines, and books to determine admissibility into the country, but these reviews are mostly for explicit, pornographic content. Some journalists reported that political violence and extralegal intimidation led to self-censorship.

On September 18, the president of the Lebanese University, Fouad Ayoub, had the judiciary request on his behalf that at least 20 media outlets remove all news and media reports related to him from their websites in an apparent attempt to edit his appearance on search engines. Media outlets were still determining their responses as of December 19.

The law includes guidelines regarding materials deemed unsuitable for publication in a book, newspaper, or magazine. Any violation of the guidelines could result in the author’s imprisonment or a fine. Authors could publish books without prior permission from the DGS, but if the book contained material that violated the law, including material considered a threat to national security, the DGS could legally confiscate the book and put the author on trial. Publishing without prior approval a book that contained unauthorized material could put the author at risk of a prison sentence, fine, and confiscation of the published materials.

Authorities from any of the recognized religious groups could request that the DGS ban a book. The government could prosecute offending journalists and publications in the publications court. According to NGOs, as of September each of the 30 book-banning cases the government registered in the publications court in 2017–mainly from libel suits filed by politicians, political parties, and private citizens–was in the process of being resolved. Authorities occasionally also referred such cases to criminal courts, a process not established in law.

Libel/Slander Laws: In most cases criminal courts heard libel and defamation complaints, which can carry sentences of one to three years but typically resulted in fines or a promise to remove offending material from the internet. NGOs and activists reported increased prosecutions under such laws, and political figures or their representatives filed several complaints against critics throughout the year. Human rights NGO ALEF (Association Libanaise pour l’Education et la Formation) reported that in several dozen cases this year, criminal defamation suits were filed against journalists, bloggers, political activists, and private citizens, including for posting their opinions in WhatsApp groups or on Facebook. While these cases rarely, if ever, resulted in prolonged detentions or jail sentences, interrogations by police and lengthy, expensive trials created a chilling effect on political speech.

Following publication of intentionally provocative articles on September 12 that criticized President Aoun and sarcastically suggested that Iranian Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei is the true leader of Lebanon, editors of the newspaper Nidaa al-Watan were summoned to appear before the Office of the Prosecutor General for the State on charges of defamation of the president. On September 20, the case was referred to the Publications Court. On November 21, the editor was found not guilty.

Private citizens may file criminal complaints, which the law requires an investigating judge to consider, and many defamation cases were initiated via the allegations of private citizens. Politicians at times responded to allegations of wrongdoing leveled at them by filing criminal complaints alleging defamation. The military justice code also prohibits defamation of the army.

The ISF Cybercrimes Bureau reported that, as of May 15, they had received referrals of 432 defamation cases for investigation. The Cybercrimes Bureau reportedly investigated 1,451 defamation cases in 2018, an increase of 81 percent from 2017. In November Human Rights Watch reported a 325 percent increase in the number defamation cases investigated by authorities and noted prison sentences against at least three individuals in defamation cases between 2015 and 2019. On October 5, four lawyers filed a complaint against the Economist, accusing the magazine of damaging the country’s reputation and insulting the Lebanese flag in its article reporting on the country’s dollar shortage that was published the same day.

On May 13, the GDSS arrested social media activist Rasheed Jumblatt and detained him for four days over a Facebook video post that allegedly included provocative and sectarian comments and insults against Foreign Minister Gebran Bassil. Jumblatt was subsequently released after charges were dropped.

Nongovernmental Impact: Political and religious figures sometimes sought to rally public outcry aimed at inhibiting freedom of expression and the press, including through coercion and threats of violence. This included public statements by some political and religious figures calling for the cancellation of a concert by local indie rock band Mashrou’ Leila due to threats of violence or content of the band’s music they perceived as offensive (see Academic Freedom and Cultural Events).

The law does not restrict access to the internet. The government reportedly censored some websites to block online gambling, pornography, religiously provocative material, extremist forums, and Israeli websites, but there were no verified reports the government systematically attempted to collect personally identifiable information via the internet. On May 24, the Ministry of Telecommunications requested that its internet service provider block Grindr, a networking app used primarily by LGBTI communities, based on a judicial order.

Restrictions on freedom of speech concerning government officials applied to social media communications, which authorities considered a form of publication rather than private correspondence. Human rights groups reported that political parties and their supporters intimidated individuals online and in person in response to online posts deemed critical of political leaders or religious figures, such as in the Mashrou’ Leila case (see Academic Freedom and Cultural Events).

The ISF’s Cybercrime Bureau and other state security agencies summoned journalists, bloggers, and activists to question them about social media and blog posts, especially when they criticized political figures or religious sects. On July 15, Riad el-Assaad was summoned by the ISF Cybercrime Bureau in response to a post on his Facebook page referencing suspicion of corruption within the Syndicate of Lebanese Contractors. El-Assaad removed the post under threat of detention.

NGOs noted the number of known summonses might not be accurate since many individuals chose not to discuss or report their cases.

There were no government restrictions specific to academic freedom, but libel and slander laws apply.

The majority of private universities enjoyed freedom of expression, and students were free to hold student elections and organize cultural, social, and political activities.

On July 30, organizers of the Byblos International Festival canceled the performance of indie rock band Mashrou’ Leila, citing the need “to avoid bloodshed” after the band faced criticism from some political and religious figures, as well as some private citizens, for a four-year-old post on Facebook of an image that transposed the face of pop diva Madonna onto an image of the Virgin Mary. According to Human Rights Watch and other NGOs, on July 24, security officers interrogated two band members for six hours. The band removed two songs from its playlist and the offending image from Facebook, and it issued a July 31 statement expressing regret that some had been offended. Despite these steps, the concert was canceled by organizers who cited threats of violence as the official reason for the cancellation.

On July 19, the DGS Censorship Bureau requested the ban of two films, Hard Paint (2018) and Damascus Cover (2017), on the premise that they promoted homosexuality and the Israeli intelligence service, respectively. As of September 5, the Ministry of Interior had not issued final judgement. The DGS reviewed all films and plays, and there were complaints among the public that the DGS’s decision-making process lacked transparency and was influenced by the opinions of religious institutions and political groups.

b. Freedoms of Peaceful Assembly and Association

The constitution provides for the freedoms of peaceful assembly and association, and the government generally respected these freedoms.

The constitution provides for the freedom of peaceful assembly with some conditions established by law. Organizers are required to obtain a permit from the Interior Ministry three days prior to any demonstration.

Security forces occasionally intervened to disperse demonstrations, usually when protesters caused property damage or clashes broke out between opposing protesters. Security forces generally allowed demonstrators to protest peacefully during large, widespread protests that began October 17. Security forces predominantly demonstrated restraint and professionalism in interactions with protesters. The ISF occasionally used tear gas and rubber bullets to disperse protesters who authorities alleged were engaging in violence or vandalism, and the LAF in some instances used nonlethal force to disperse protesters who resisted LAF efforts to clear key thoroughfares. Human Rights Watch reported security forces used excessive force against protesters as well as intimidating and, in some cases, beating those attempting to film abuses. On November 1, ISF officers arrested and allegedly beat Salim Ghadban, a protester who had objected to the officers arresting four protesters occupying the Banks Association building in downtown Beirut. Ghadban was taken into temporary custody overnight at el-Helou police station where he was reportedly unable to contact an attorney, his family, or a physician.

Amnesty International reported that on October 26 the LAF used live ammunition fired in the air to disperse protesters blocking a main road in the northern area of Beddawi, which resulted in the alleged wounding of two protesters. During the same incident, five officers were injured. As of November a military court was investigating the incident. Following Prime Minister Hariri’s October 29 resignation, security forces, under increasing pressure from political leaders and the public, began to clear main roads but otherwise allowed demonstrators to peacefully assemble. Some protesters were detained after altercations with security forces, and as of November 19, at least five protesters who had previously been involved in unrelated criminal activity were referred to the judiciary for investigation. On November 12, a LAF bodyguard opened fire from inside a military vehicle attempting to pass through protesters blocking a road in Khaldeh, killing one protester. The LAF arrested the shooter and an investigation into the incident continued as of December 19. Altercations between protesters and supporters of nonstate actor Hizballah occurred sporadically during the protests, and security forces attempted to separate the conflicting groups with varying levels of success. Confrontations escalated into violence the night of November 25, when Hizballah and Amal supporters on motorcycles threw rocks and intimidated protesters in Beirut and opened fire on protesters and destroyed tents in Tyre. Human Rights Watch reported on November 8 that more than three dozen protesters asserted they had seen or were victims of violent attacks, including in Beirut, Bint Jbeil, Nabatieh and Sour, and that security forces failed to intervene to protect them.

Protesters clashed with ISF riot police on the evenings of December 14 and 15 in Beirut, producing the largest numbers of protest-related injuries to both protesters and security forces recorded during the year. Amnesty International on December 19 reported the Lebanese Civil Defense said it had treated 72 individuals for injuries at the scene and that 20 ISF members were taken to the hospital on December 14. Amnesty International denounced the presence of masked men in civilian clothing who allegedly attacked protesters. A Lebanese lawyer filed a formal complaint with the UN Human Rights Council.

The constitution provides for freedom of association, with some conditions established by law, and the government generally respected the law.

No prior authorization is required to form an association, but organizers must notify the Ministry of Interior for it to obtain legal recognition, and the ministry must verify that the organization respects “public order, public morals, and state security.” In some cases the ministry sent an NGO’s notification papers to the security forces to initiate inquiries about an organization’s founding members. Organizations must invite ministry representatives to any general assembly where members vote on bylaws, amendments, or seats on the board of directors. The ministry must then validate the vote or election. Failure to do so can result in the dissolution of the organization by a decree issued by the Council of Ministers.

The cabinet must license all political parties (see section 3).

In areas under Hizballah’s sway, independent NGOs faced harassment and intimidation, including social, political, and financial pressures. Hizballah reportedly paid youth who worked in “unacceptable” NGOs to leave the groups.

c. Freedom of Religion

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

d. Freedom of Movement

The law provides for freedom of internal movement, foreign travel, emigration, and repatriation. The government generally respected these rights for citizens but placed extensive limitations on the rights of refugee populations and asylum seekers, most of whom were from Palestine, Syria, and Iraq (see section 2.f. Protection of Refugees).

In-country Movement: Armed nonstate actors hindered or prevented movement in areas they controlled. Armed Hizballah members controlled access to some areas under Hizballah’s control, and the Palestinian Front for the Liberation of Palestine prevented access to a border area under its control, according to the security services. Armed supporters of Druze leader Walid Jumblatt sought to block the motorcades of the foreign minister and of a rival Druze minister on June 30, the latter blockade resulting in a shootout and two deaths. Within families, men sometimes exercised considerable control over female relatives, restricting their activities outside the home or their contact with friends and relatives.

Citizenship: Citizenship is derived exclusively from the father. A citizen mother married to a noncitizen father cannot transmit Lebanese citizenship to her children (see section 2.g. Stateless Persons).

Fighting in 2007 destroyed the Nahr el-Bared Palestinian refugee camp, displacing approximately 30,000 residents, of whom some 27,000 were registered Palestinian refugees. Many of the displaced resided in areas adjacent to the camp or in other areas of the country where United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA) services were available. As of September approximately 75 percent of the displaced families had returned to newly reconstructed apartments in the camp.

f. Protection of Refugees

As of October there were nearly 920,000 Syrian refugees in Lebanon registered with the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR). Since the government instructed UNHCR to stop registering Syrian refugees in early 2015, this total did not include Syrian refugees who arrived after that time. There were no formal refugee camps in the country for Syrians. Most Syrian refugees resided in urban areas, many in unfinished, substandard, or nonresidential buildings. Approximately 20 percent lived in informal tented settlements, often adjacent to agricultural land, according to an October UN assessment. According to a UN study, refugees often took loans to cover even their most basic needs, including rent, food, and health care, putting nearly 90 percent of them in debt and leaving them food insecure.

In early 2015 the government banned the entry of all Syrian refugees except for undefined “humanitarian exceptions.” During the year the Ministry of Social Affairs approved a limited number of Syrian asylum cases, including unaccompanied and separated children, persons with disabilities, medical cases, and resettlement cases under extreme humanitarian criteria.

In addition to nearly 14,000 UNHCR-registered Iraqi refugees residing in the country, a limited number of additional Iraqis entered during the year to escape violence. As of June 30, UNHCR also registered more than 4,200 refugees or asylum seekers from Sudan and other countries.

During the year the government launched campaigns which limited refugees’ ability to reside or work in the country. These included forced compliance with building codes limiting the use of concrete and hardened materials in refugee shelters, increased arrests for residency-related offenses, and stepped-up enforcement of labor laws that targeted businesses employing refugees–which affected more than 6,600 refugees.

Abuse of Migrants, Refugees, and Stateless Persons: In April the Higher Defense Council (HDC), a body chaired by the president that includes cabinet ministers and security service heads, issued guidance to the security services to increase enforcement of building codes. This resulted in the destruction of thousands of refugee shelters. Security services forced refugees to destroy and replace hardened walls and roofs; alternatively security services did so themselves or entirely demolished noncompliant shelters. Although authorities generally cited violations of building, environmental codes, or both, there was insufficient judicial review or opportunity to legally challenge eviction or demolition actions.

On June 5, residents of an informal refugee settlement in Deir El Ahmar in Northwest Baalbek claimed that a Civil Defense member, responding to a fire in the camp, recklessly drove into the camp putting children’s lives at risk, which resulted in an altercation between camp residents and the driver, who ended up in the hospital. Following the incident, a group of approximately 50 local men, who had previously posted threats against refugees on social media, purportedly to protect the local population, returned to the camp and verbally threatened residents. Later that night the same group entered the camp and set fire to multiple refugee shelters, prompting local authorities to evacuate all 88 refugee families for their safety.

Labor laws were also enforced more strictly to fine employers who employed Syrians or Palestinians and to close illegal refugee-run businesses. Environmental regulations were cited more frequently in the eviction of refugees and bulldozing of dwellings in some locations. Refugee arrests and detentions also increased, and some NGOs funded by international donors to provide water and sanitation services to refugee settlements were sued by the government and fined for allegedly contributing to the pollution of the Litani River.

Multiple NGOs and UN agencies shared reports of sexual harassment and exploitation of refugees by employers and landlords, including paying workers below the minimum wage, working excessive hours, debt bondage, and pressuring families into early marriage for their daughters to relieve economic hardship. There were multiple reports of foreign migrant domestic workers (mainly from East Africa and Southeast Asia) tied to their employers through legal sponsorship, known as the kafala system, who faced physical, mental, and sexual abuse, unsafe working conditions, and nonpayment of wages. According to NGOs who assisted migrant workers in reporting these abuses to authorities, security forces and judges did not always adequately investigate these crimes; victims sometimes refused to file complaints or retracted testimony due to threats and fear of reprisals or deportation.

Refoulement: The government reaffirmed its commitment to the principle of nonrefoulement with respect to Syrians. Some political party representatives, however, employed antirefugee rhetoric, stating assistance to Syrian refugees in particular placed additional burden on the state already facing an economic crisis. The DGS coordinated with Syrian government officials to facilitate the voluntary return of approximately 16,000 refugees from 2017 to September 1, 2019. UNHCR did not organize these group returns but was present at departure points and found no evidence that returns were involuntary or coerced in the cases of those refugees whom they interviewed. Human rights groups including Amnesty International questioned government claims that refugee returns were entirely voluntary, calling the environment “coercive” and citing credible risk of persecution or other human rights abuses upon return to areas controlled by the Syrian regime.

An HDC decision in April required the deportation of anyone arrested and found to have entered the country illegally after April 24. As of September the DGS reported it had deported 2,731 individuals under this order. UN officials considered the government’s new deportation policy as creating a high risk of refoulement given the lack of a formal review process to assess credible fear of persecution or torture. Specifically, the HDC decision requiring the deportation of anyone arrested and found to have entered the country illegally after April 24 elevated the risk of refoulement. Human rights groups and the international community all raised concerns about the risk of turning over refugees to Syrian authorities. There were several anecdotal reports of Syrian refugees who were subsequently abused in detention after being turned over to Syrian authorities by Lebanese officials. Government officials maintained their policy only applied to illegal migrants, not refugees, although it did not appear there was sufficient due process to make such a determination. UNHCR and international donors urged the government to provide for a judicial or independent administrative review before carrying out deportations. The government maintained that while the law requires a court hearing on all deportation cases, it did not have the bandwidth to process the existing caseload.

Non-Syrian asylum seekers arrested due to irregular entry or residency faced administrative detention without being sentenced by a court. The DGS held these individuals in a migrant retention facility where officials processed their immigration files before making administrative deportation decisions. Most cases resulted in deportation of the detainee, except for some instances where UNHCR secured their resettlement to a third country. During the year two Sudanese asylum seekers and four Iraqis (three refugees and one asylum seeker) were deported. In addition, one Iraqi refugee and her two children were not allowed re-entry into Lebanon after they briefly returned to Iraq to obtain an official document.

Access to Asylum: The law does not provide for the granting of asylum or refugee status. Nonetheless, the country hosted an estimated 1.5 million refugees, the vast majority of them Syrian. In an effort to address the low number of refugees obtaining and renewing legal residency, since 2017 residency fees have been waived for refugees who had registered with UNHCR prior to 2015. This ruling excluded unregistered refugees or those who had renewed on the basis of Lebanese sponsorship. DGS implementation of the waiver continued to be inconsistent, and there was minimal improvement in the percentage of refugees with legal status. According to the United Nations, only 20 percent of the refugee population held legal residency as of September.

Due to the slow pace of implementation of residency determinations, the majority of Syrian refugees were unable to renew their legal documents, which significantly affected their freedom of movement owing to the possibility of arrests at checkpoints, particularly for adult men. While authorities released most detainees within a few days, some of the refugees said authorities required them to pay fines before releasing them or confiscated their identification documents (IDs). Syrian refugees faced barriers to obtaining Syrian ID documentation required to renew their residency permits in Lebanon because of the hostility of the Syrian government to the refugee population and because Syrian government embassies and consulates charge exorbitant fees. Obtaining and maintaining legal residency was also a challenge for refugees of other nationalities, particularly Iraqis, due to high renewal fees and sponsorship requirements. There is no official limitation of movement for Palestinian refugees from Syria (PRS) in the country; however, PRS without legal status faced limitations on their freedom of movement, mainly due to the threat of arrest at checkpoints.

Since 2014 authorities granted entry visas at the border only to PRS with either a verified embassy appointment in the country or a flight ticket and visa to a third country. Additionally, limited numbers of PRS secured visas to Lebanon by obtaining prior approval from the DGS, which required a sponsor in the country and could not be processed at border posts. UNRWA estimated that only 12 percent of the PRS in the country had arrived after 2016.

In 2017 the DGS issued a circular allowing the free, unlimited renewal of PRS residency for six months, with no fees for delayed submission. This circular has been consistently used since its issuance and applies to PRS who entered the country legally or who regularized their status before September 2016. The circular also granted temporary residency documents to PRS who turned 15 years old in the country, allowing them to use available documents such as an individual civil status card, instead of passports or national identity cards. Previously children were required to have an ID or valid travel document to be able to renew their residency. If they did not have one of these two documents, their legal status was revoked, and they became at risk of arrest and detention if they were stopped at any checkpoint. The circular, issued for residency renewal and not regularization, did not apply to PRS who entered the country through unofficial border crossings. Authorities issued a departure order to PRS who entered the country through official border crossings but who overstayed their temporary transit visa or failed to renew their visa.

Since 2017 the government waived the condition of valid residency for birth and marriage registration for PRS, expanding the application of a previous circular issued in September 2017 applicable to Syrians. Since March 2018 the Ministry of Interior waived the costly court proceedings to obtain birth registration of PRS and Syrian refugee children older than one year who were born in Lebanon between January 2011 and February 2018. The proof of marriage requirement remained in effect during the year.

Freedom of Movement: Authorities imposed curfews in a number of municipalities across the country, allegedly to improve security of all communities. Some international observers raised concerns that these measures may be discriminatory and excessive, since authorities typically enforced them for Syrian refugees, who mostly lack legal residency status and could face greater consequences if detained for a curfew violation. Municipalities and neighborhoods hosting Syrian refugee populations continued to impose movement restrictions through curfews, evictions, and threats of evictions. UN agencies reported that local municipal officials frequently used the threat of evictions to exert control over refugees or to appease host communities competing with refugees for jobs and other resources.

Police checkpoints and curfews imposed by municipalities restricted refugees’ movement. Cases of identity document confiscation and fines for breaking curfews continued, and a few violent incidents against refugees occurred. UNHCR staff reported restrictions on movement increasingly forced families to send children and young women, whom authorities are less likely to stop yet who are more vulnerable to exploitation and abuse, to perform family errands.

Employment: Authorities continued requiring Syrian refugees who wished to obtain residency permits to pledge to abide by the country’s laws, under which Syrians may work only in agriculture, construction, and cleaning. In July the Ministry of Labor stepped up enforcement and fined employers who hired refugees outside these sectors.

The law allows a special account to provide end-of-service indemnities or severance pay to Palestinian refugees who retire or resign. These benefits were available only to Palestinians working in the legal labor market. Palestinians did not benefit from national sickness and maternity funds or the family allowances fund. UNRWA continued to bear the cost of any medical, maternity, or family health-care expenses (excluding worker’s compensation).

Palestinian refugees received partial access to the benefits of the National Social Security Fund. They may not, however, work in at least 33 professions including medicine, law, and engineering and face informal restrictions on work in other industries. According to UN agencies, government officials, and Palestinian advocacy groups, Palestinian refugees consistently reported discrimination in hiring due to excessive bureaucracy and societal stigma. Lack of written contracts, lack of employment benefits, and insecure job tenure contributed to unstable working conditions.

Palestinian refugees were barred from employment in many fields, making refugees dependent upon UNRWA as the sole provider of education, health care, and social services. A 2010 law expanding employment rights and removing some restrictions on Palestinian refugees was not fully implemented, and Palestinians remained barred from working in most skilled professions, including almost all those that require membership in a professional association. A Ministry of Labor effort to restrict Syrian refugee access to employment led to closure of several businesses employing or owned by Palestinians, triggering three weeks of protests in July and August.

Access to Basic Services: The government did not consider local integration of any refugees a viable solution.

The law considers UNRWA-registered Palestinian refugees to be foreigners. UNRWA provides health, education, social services, and emergency assistance to registered Palestinian refugees residing in the country. The amount of land allocated to the 12 official Palestinian refugee camps in the country has changed only marginally since 1948, despite a fourfold increase in the population. Consequently, most Palestinian refugees lived in overpopulated camps, some of which suffered heavy damage in past conflicts. By agreement with the government, Palestinian security committees provided security for refugees in the camps.

A comprehensive, multi-year plan to rebuild the Nahr el-Bared Camp in eight stages began in 2008; the project continued at year’s end and was approximately 75 percent completed. Remaining reconstruction was not fully funded, with a 99 billion LBP ($66 million) shortfall remaining. Of the 27,000 Palestinians originally displaced following the camp’s destruction, UNRWA expected that approximately 21,000 would return. Many moved into completed apartments this year, and the temporary settlements that housed them near Nahr el-Bared Camp were decommissioned. The government did not permit UNRWA to install individual electricity meters in apartments, preferring that UNRWA pay a single bill rather than collecting from thousands of households, which limited access to electricity for residents.

Palestinian refugees typically could not access public health and education services or own land. A 2001 amendment to the law was designed to exclude Palestinians from purchasing or inheriting property. Palestinians who owned and registered property prior to the 2001 law entering into force could bequeath it to their heirs.

Palestinian refugees residing in the country could not obtain citizenship and were not considered citizens of any other country. Palestinian refugee women married to Lebanese citizens were able to obtain citizenship after one year of marriage. According to the country’s nationality law, the father transmits citizenship to children. Palestinian refugees, including children, had limited social and civil rights and no access to government-provided health, education, or other social services. Children of Palestinian refugees faced discrimination in birth registration, and many had to leave school at an early age to earn an income.

Palestinian refugees who fled Syria for Lebanon since 2011 received limited basic support from UNRWA, including food aid, cash assistance, and winter assistance, such as cash to purchase fuel for heating. Authorities permitted children of PRS to enroll in UNRWA schools and access UNRWA health clinics.

The Ministry of Education and Higher Education facilitated the enrollment of more than 200,000 non-Lebanese students, predominantly Syrian refugees, in public schools (basic education from kindergarten to grade nine) in the 2018-19 academic year. Authorities estimated there were almost 338,000 registered Syrians of school age (three to 14 years old) in the country. Donor funding to UN agencies covered school-related expenses, such as school fees, books, and uniforms. Syrian refugees had access to many nonprofit and private health centers and local clinics for primary care services, and UN agencies and NGOs funded the majority of associated costs with international donor support. Syrian refugees had access to a limited number of UNHCR-contracted hospitals for lifesaving and obstetric care.

Iraqi refugees had access to both the public and private education systems. Iraqi refugees also had access to the primary health-care system. UNHCR, through NGOs, provided secondary health care with donor support.

Citizenship is derived exclusively from the father, resulting in statelessness for children of a citizen mother and a noncitizen father when registration under the father’s nationality is not possible. This discrimination in the nationality law particularly affected Palestinians and increasingly Syrians from female-headed households. Additionally, some children born to Lebanese fathers did not have their births registered due to administrative obstacles or a lack of understanding of the regulations. There were no official statistics on the size of the stateless population.

Approximately 3,000-5,000 Palestinians were not registered with UNRWA or the government. These Palestinians began to arrive in the country during the 1960s and do not hold any formal valid identification documentation. The government does not recognize their legal status in the country. Without documentation and legal status, nonregistered Palestinians faced restrictions on movement, risked arrest or detention, and encountered obstacles completing civil registration procedures.

Undocumented Palestinians, not registered in other countries where UNRWA operates such as Syria or Jordan, were not necessarily eligible for the full range of services provided by UNRWA. Nonetheless, in most cases UNRWA provided primary health care, education, and vocational training services to undocumented Palestinians. The majority of these were men, many of them married to UNRWA-registered refugees or Lebanese citizen women, who could not transmit refugee status or citizenship to their husbands or children.

The Directorate of Political and Refugee Affairs is responsible for late registration of children of Palestinian refugees. According to the law, birth registration of children older than one year previously required a court procedure, proof of marriage, an investigation by the DGS, and a DNA test. A March 2 decree issued by the Ministry of Interior facilitated the required documentation for birth registration of PRS and Syrian children more than one year old and born in the country since 2011. In such cases authorities no longer required the court procedure and DNA tests to register these children; however, proof of marriage is still mandatory. This decree does not apply to the registration of Palestinian refugee children more than one year old.

Approximately 1,500 of an estimated 100,000 Kurds living in the country lacked citizenship, despite decades of family presence in the country. Most were descendants of migrants and refugees who left Turkey and Syria during World War I, but authorities continued to deny them citizenship to preserve the country’s sectarian balance. The government issued a naturalization decree in 1994, but high costs and administrative obstacles prevented many individuals from acquiring official status. Some individuals who had previously received official status had their citizenship revoked in 2011 under a presidential decree. Others held an “ID under consideration” document without a date or place of birth.

Stateless persons lacked official identity documents that would permit them to travel abroad and could face difficulties traveling internally, including detention for not carrying identity documents. They had limited access to the regular employment market and no access to many professions. Additionally, they could not access public schools or public health-care facilities, register marriages or births, or own or inherit property.

Section 3. Freedom to Participate in the Political Process

Although the law provides citizens the ability to choose their government in free and fair periodic elections conducted by secret ballot and based on universal and equal suffrage, lack of government control over parts of the country, defects in the electoral process, previous prolonged extensions of parliament’s mandate, and corruption in public office restricted this ability.

Recent Elections: Michel Aoun was elected president in 2016, ending two and one-half years of political stalemate. Following the passage of a new electoral law, parliamentary elections were held in May 2018 for the first time in nine years. Observers concluded that the elections were generally free and fair. On July 31, President Michel Aoun signed a decree calling for the parliamentary by-election to fill Hizballah MP Nawwaf Moussawi’s seat in Tyre following his resignation. The by-election was scheduled to be held on September 15, but a Hizballah-affiliated candidate ran unopposed after other candidates withdrew their candidacies.

Political Parties and Political Participation: All major political parties and numerous smaller ones were almost exclusively based on confessional affiliation, and parliamentary seats were allotted on a sectarian basis.

Participation of Women and Minorities: No laws limit participation of women or members of minorities in the political process, and they did participate. There were, however, significant cultural barriers to women’s participation in politics. Prior to 2004, no woman held a cabinet position, and there have been only seven female ministers subsequently, including current ministers. Four women served in the 30-member cabinet formed in January, one of whom became the Arab world’s first female interior minister. Only six of 128 members of parliament were women, and several of the female members of parliament were close relatives of prominent male politicians. Female leadership of political parties was limited, although three parties introduced voluntary quotas for their membership. Since 2017 women have been able to run in municipal elections in their native towns instead of the municipality of their spouses.

Minorities participated in politics. Regardless of the number of its adherents, authorities allocated every government-recognized religion, except Coptic Christianity, Ismaili Islam, and Judaism, at least one seat in parliament. Voters elected three parliamentarians representing minorities (one Syriac Orthodox Christian and two Alawites) in the 2018 elections. None of the minority parliamentarians were women. Members of these groups also held high positions in government and the LAF.

Since refugees are not Lebanese citizens, they have no Lebanese political rights.

Section 4. Corruption and Lack of Transparency in Government

Although the law provides criminal penalties for official corruption, the government did not implement the law effectively, and officials reportedly engaged in corrupt practices with impunity and on a wide scale. Government security officials, ISF, agencies, customs, and the judiciary were subject to laws against bribery and extortion. The lack of strong enforcement limited the law’s effectiveness. The Ministry of State for Combating Corruption was eliminated when a new government was formed on January 31; the ministry previously had little operational budget or authority.

The Central Inspection Board (CIB), an oversight body within the Office of the Prime Minister, is responsible for monitoring administrative departments, including procurement and financial actions, and remained mostly independent of political interference. The CIB may inspect employees of the national and municipal government, and has the authority to seek their removal or refer cases for prosecution. The CIB’s authority does not extend to cabinet ministers or to municipal executives. The Social Security Fund and the Council for Development and Reconstruction, public entities that managed large funding flows, were outside the CIB’s jurisdiction.

Corruption: Observers widely considered government control of corruption to be poor. There was limited parliamentary or auditing authority oversight of revenue collection and expenditures. During the continuing protests that began October 17, alleged corruption in the government and public sector was a major complaint of protesters and a major impetus for the protests. Within the first month after protests began, there was an increase in the number of corruption-related investigations and prosecution actions.

Types of corruption generally encountered included systemic patronage; judicial failures, especially in investigations of official wrongdoing; and bribery at multiple levels within the national and municipal governments. Corruption led to diversion of resources intended for other objectives. A few judges were suspended from duty pending investigation of allegations of receiving bribes from lawyers and intermediaries; some were released while one judge remained under further investigation as of November 19.

Financial Disclosure: The law requires the president of the republic, the president of the Chamber of Deputies, the president of the Council of Ministers, as well as ministers, members of parliament, and judges to disclose their financial assets in a sealed envelope deposited at the Constitutional Council, but the government does not make the information available to the public. They must also do the same when they leave office. Heads of municipalities disclose their financial assets in a sealed envelope deposited at the Ministry of Interior, and civil servants deposit their sealed envelopes at the Civil Servants Council, which are also not available to the public. If a case is brought to the State Council for noncompliance, the State Council may take judiciary administrative action to remove the offender from office.

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

A number of domestic and international human rights groups generally operated without government restriction, investigating and publishing their findings on human rights cases. Government officials were sometimes responsive to these groups’ views, but there was limited accountability for human rights abuses.

There was no information on reports from previous years of international and local human rights groups being targeted by security services for harassment.

Government Human Rights Bodies: The position of State Minister for Human Rights was eliminated in the new cabinet formed in January. Parliament’s Committee on Human Rights struggled to make legal changes to guide ministries in protecting specific human rights. In March 2018 the cabinet appointed the five members of the National Preventive Mechanism against Torture, a body within the 10-member National Human Rights Institute, but as of October the Institute, which was created in 2016, had no budget and had still not commenced its work (see section 1.c., Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman, or Degrading Treatment or Punishment).

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

Rape and Domestic Violence: The law criminalizes rape and the use of threats or violence to claim a “marital right to intercourse,” although it does not explicitly outlaw spousal rape. While the government effectively enforced the law, its interpretation by religious courts in cases brought before them, not to civil courts, precluded full implementation of civil law in all provinces, such as in the case of an abused wife compelled to return to her husband under personal status laws, despite battery being outlawed in the penal code. The minimum prison sentence for a person convicted of rape is five years, or seven years for raping a minor. In 2017 parliament repealed the article of the penal code that freed rapists from prosecution and nullified their convictions if they married their victims.

The law criminalizes domestic violence, calls for provision of shelters, gives women the ability to file a restraining order against the abuser, and assigns special units within the ISF to receive domestic violence complaints. NGOs alleged that the definition of domestic violence was narrow and did not provide adequate protection from all forms of abuse. Although the penal code provides for a maximum sentence of 10 years in prison for battery, religious courts could cite personal status laws to require a battered wife to return to her home despite physical abuse. Some police, especially in rural areas, treated domestic violence as a social, rather than criminal, matter.

NGOs and activists criticized the domestic violence law, claiming that it does not sufficiently protect victims or punish abusers, who they alleged often received disproportionately light sentences. On July 30, the Mount Lebanon Criminal Court closed the case of a man who shot and killed his wife outside their home in Aramoun in 2015 following a dispute. The final verdict sentenced the husband to 25 years of hard labor and required him to pay LBP 150 million ($100,000) to the victim’s heirs.

Police and judicial officials worked to improve their management of domestic violence cases, but they noted that social and religious pressures–especially in more conservative communities–led to underreporting of cases, while some victims sought arbitration through religious courts or between families rather than through the justice system. There were reports and cases of foreign domestic workers, usually women, suffering from mistreatment, abuse, and in some cases rape or conditions akin to slavery.

According to women’s rights NGO KAFA, victims reported that police response to complaints submitted by battered or abused women improved. During the year ISF and judicial officials received training on best practices for handling cases involving female detainees, including victims of domestic violence and sexual exploitation. NGOs that provided services to such victims reported increased access to potential victims in ISF and DGS custody. The ISF continued its practice begun in 2018 of alerting its human rights unit to all cases involving victims of domestic violence and other vulnerable groups, so officers could track the cases and provide appropriate support to victims.

The Women’s Affairs Division in the Ministry of Social Affairs and several NGOs continued projects to address sexual or gender-based violence, such as providing counseling and shelter for victims and training ISF personnel to combat violence in prisons.

Other Harmful Traditional Practices: On March 2, hundreds of protesters, including some lawmakers, marched on parliament to demand raising the minimum age of marriage to 18. Marriage is governed by 18 different sect-based personal status laws, and all sects allow girls to be married before age 18.

Sexual Harassment: The law prohibits sexual harassment, but authorities did not enforce the law effectively, and it remained a widespread problem.

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

Discrimination: Women suffered discrimination under the law and in practice, including under the penal and personal status codes. The constitution does not explicitly prohibit discrimination on the basis of sex. In matters of marriage, child custody, inheritance, and divorce, personal status laws provide unequal treatment across the various confessional court systems but generally discriminate against women. All 18 recognized religious groups have their own personal status courts responsible for handling these issues, and laws vary depending on the religious group. For example, Sunni religious courts applied an inheritance law that provides a daughter one-half the inheritance of a son. Religious law on child custody matters favors the father in most instances, regardless of religion. Sharia courts weigh the testimony of one man as equal to that of two women. Nationality law also discriminates against women, who may not confer citizenship to their spouses and children, although widows may confer citizenship to their minor children born of a citizen father. Since August 2018 divorced women have been allowed to include the names of their children on their civil records.

By law women may own property, but they often ceded control of it to male relatives due to cultural norms and family pressure.

The law does not distinguish between women and men in employment and provides for equal pay for men and women, although workplace gender discrimination, including wage discrimination, exists in practice.

Birth Registration: Citizenship is derived exclusively from the father, which may result in statelessness for children of a citizen mother and noncitizen father who may not transmit his own citizenship (see section 2.d.). If a child’s birth is not registered within the first year, the process for legitimizing the birth is long and costly, often deterring families from registration. Syrian refugees no longer need legal residency to register the birth of their child. Authorities also waived several requirements for late birth registration by Syrian refugees. Birth registration still remained inaccessible to some, because the government required proof of legal residence and legal marriage, documentation which was often unavailable to refugees.

Some refugee children and the children of foreign domestic workers also faced obstacles to equal treatment under the law. NGOs reported discrimination against them including bullying linked to race, skin color, religion, and nationality, although some could attend public school. Syrian refugee children are not legally entitled to enroll in public schools at regular hours, although they may attend schools’ second shifts.

Religious courts ruled on civil cases involving family matters such as child custody in the case of divorce.

Education: Education for citizens is free and compulsory through the primary phase. Noncitizen and stateless children, including those born of noncitizen fathers and citizen mothers and refugees, lacked this right. The Ministry of Education and Higher Education directed that non-Lebanese students could not outnumber Lebanese in any given classroom during the regular school shift, which sometimes limited enrollment.

Child Abuse: The country lacked a comprehensive child protection law; however, the law on the Protection of at-Risk Children or Children Violating the Law, provided some protection to children who were victims of violence.

As of August 27, the child protection NGO Himaya reported assisting with more than 914 cases of psychological, physical, and sexual abuse as well as exploitation and neglect. The Ministry of Social Affairs had a hotline to report cases of child abuse. In a typical example, representatives of a local shelter for abused women and children described a case of a father who sexually and physically abused a child in the shelter’s care. According to the organization, the father escaped punishment through religious courts, as many families chose to handle such cases through these courts rather than the national justice system.

Early and Forced Marriage: There is no legal minimum age for marriage, and the government does not perform civil marriages, although Minister of Interior Raya al-Hassan in February publicly voiced her support for reintroducing the debate on whether or not to allow civil marriage in Lebanon. Most religious leaders opposed civil marriage, despite the fact that Lebanon recognizes civil marriages conducted outside the country. The various sects each have their own religious courts governing issues of personal status, such as marriage, divorce, child custody and inheritance. The minimum age of marriage varies from age 14 to age 18 depending on the sect. UN agencies, NGOs, and government officials noted high rates of early marriage among the Syrian refugee population. They partially attributed this circumstance to social and economic pressure on families with limited resources.

Sexual Exploitation of Children: The penal code prohibits and punishes commercial sexual exploitation, child pornography, and forced prostitution. The minimum age for consensual sex is 18 for both men and women, and statutory rape penalties include hard labor for a minimum of five years and a minimum of seven years’ imprisonment if the victim is younger than 15 years old. The government generally enforced the law.

The ISF, DGS, and judicial officials improved enforcement of the country’s antitrafficking law, which prohibits the sexual exploitation of children. NGOs provided training throughout the year to increase police and judicial officials’ sensitivity to the issue and reported increased numbers of potential victims that authorities referred to NGO-run shelters and victim protection programs. This included a training for DGS officers focused on behavioral psychology and effective communication skills with victims with trainees selected from departments that specialize in direct communication with citizens, migrants, refugees, travelers, and those at the airport and at the administrative retention center. Separately, four trainings were conducted for DGS officers on countertrafficking and identification of victims of human trafficking.

Displaced Children: Some refugee children lived and worked on the street. Given the poor economic environment, limited freedom of movement, and little opportunity for livelihoods for adults, many Syrian refugee families often relied on children to earn money for the family, including by begging or selling small items in the streets. Refugee children were at greater risk than Lebanese children for exploitation, gender-based violence, and child labor, since they had greater freedom of movement compared to their parents, who often lacked residency permits.

The Ministry of Education and Higher Education facilitated enrollment of almost 200,000 non-Lebanese children in the 2018-19 academic year. More than one-half of refugee children ages three to 18 were out of school, according to UNHCR. The government and some NGOs offered a number of informal education programs to eligible students.

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.

In a May interview with al-Joumhouria, Speaker of the Parliament Nabih Berri used an anti-Semitic slur when explaining Israel’s position on its maritime border with Lebanon.

At year’s end there were an estimated 70 Jews living in the country and 5,500 registered Jewish voters who lived abroad but had the right to vote in parliamentary elections.

The Jewish Community Council reported that throughout the year a construction site adjacent to the Jewish cemetery in Beirut regularly dumped trash and rubble into the cemetery. Council members said municipal authorities agreed to speak with the construction company but that dumping continued as of September 11. On September 18, the ISF called in for questioning a member of the Jewish Community Council who manages the cemetery, questioning him about the number and type of visitors to the cemetery and local synagogues over the summer. The council member was not detained, but his phone was temporarily confiscated.

Rooms, shops, and a gas station were built on the land of the Jewish cemetery in Tripoli, and a lawsuit was filed in 2011. While the suit was still pending, authorities had taken no action by year’s end.

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

According to the law, persons with disabilities have the right to employment, education, health services, accessibility, and the right to vote; however, there was no evidence the government effectively enforced the law. Although prohibited by law, discrimination against persons with disabilities continued. On February 11, the minister of foreign affairs appointed Joe Rahhal, who himself has a physical disability, as his advisor of persons with special disabilities.

The Ministry of Social Affairs and the National Council of Disabled are responsible for protecting the rights of persons with disabilities. According to the president of the Arab Organization of Disabled People, little progress had occurred since parliament passed the law on disabilities in 2000. Resource limitations restricted the ability of the government to investigate adequately abuses against persons with disabilities.

The Ministry of Education and Higher Education stipulated that for new school building construction “schools should include all necessary facilities in order to receive the physically challenged.” Nonetheless, the public-school system was ill-equipped to accommodate students with disabilities.

Depending on the type and nature of the disability, children with a disability may attend mainstream school. Due to a lack of awareness or knowledge, school staff often did not identify a specific disability in children and could not adequately advise parents. In such cases children often repeated classes or dropped out of school. According to a 2018 Human Rights Watch report, children with disabilities lacked access to education, as both public and private schools often improperly refused to admit them or charged additional fees, citing a lack of appropriate facilities or staff.

The law mandates access to buildings for persons with disabilities, but the government failed to amend building codes to implement these provisions. The law does not mandate access to information or accommodations for communication for persons with disabilities.

Lebanese of African descent attributed discrimination to the color of their skin and claimed harassment by police, who periodically demanded to see their papers. Foreign Arab, African, and Asian students, professionals, and tourists reported being denied access to bars, clubs, restaurants, and private beaches at the direction and discretion of venue owners or managers.

Syrian workers, usually employed as manual laborers and construction workers, continued to suffer discrimination. Many municipalities enforced a curfew on Syrians’ movements in their neighborhoods in an effort to control security.

Article 534 of the Lebanese Penal Code prohibits sexual relations “contradicting the laws of nature” and effectively criminalizes consensual, same-sex sexual conduct among adults. The law was occasionally enforced in civilian and military courts, and it carries a penalty of up to one year in prison. On April 1, a civilian court in Saida ruled on a 2017 case, convicting two men accused of homosexual activity under Article 534. The initial sentence of jail time was replaced with a fine of LBP 500,000 ($333). On March 30, a military prosecutor in Beirut acquitted four military personnel accused of “sodomy.” The judge cleared the group of charges of committing sexual acts “contrary to nature” and declined to issue warrants for their arrest, commenting that the penal code does not specify what kind of relationship can be considered “contrary to nature.” The ruling was the first of its kind by a military prosecutor. Some government and judicial officials, along with NGOs and legal experts, questioned whether the law actually criminalizes same-sex sexual conduct.

No provisions of law provide antidiscrimination protections to LGBTI persons based on their sexual orientation, gender identity or expression, or sex characteristics. NGOs continued to report employment discrimination faced by transgender women due to the inconsistency between official documentation and gender self-presentation.

NGOs stated that official and societal discrimination against LGBTI persons persisted. Observers received reports from LGBTI refugees of physical abuse by local gangs, which the victims did not report to the ISF. Observers referred victims to UNHCR-sponsored protective services.

During the year government agents interfered with or restricted events focused on LGBTI rights. On January 31, prominent LGBTI rights NGO Arab Foundation for Freedoms and Equality (AFE) confirmed that it would move regional programs outside the country beginning in 2019. The decision followed a DGS attempt to shut down the September 2018 Networking, Exchange, Development, Wellness, and Achievement (NEDWA) sexual-health conference through intimidation of AFE’s executive director and the threat of DGS or other agencies exposing attendees from LGBTI-hostile countries to their governments. (Ultimately the conference continued at a different Beirut venue.) The DGS implemented a continuing travel ban on foreign attendees of NEDWA, including Human Rights Watch’s regional LGBTI researcher and other nationals of Canada, Egypt, and Iraq.

The government did not collect information on official or private discrimination in employment, occupation, housing, statelessness, or lack of access to education or health care based on sexual orientation or gender identity. Individuals who faced problems were reluctant to report incidents due to fear of additional discrimination or reprisal. There were no government efforts to address potential discrimination.

HIV/AIDS is stigmatized due to sensitivities about extramarital relations and LGBTI identities. NGOs reported that resources to direct patients to clinics where they can receive tests without stigma or discrimination were limited. In addition to stigma and discrimination, many persons with HIV/AIDS were unable to pay for routine tests that the Ministry of Public Health does not cover, including the blood test that must be completed and submitted to the Ministry of Public Health before any treatment can begin. The law requires the government to provide treatment to all HIV-positive citizens and to Palestinian and Syrian refugees living in Lebanon. Nonetheless, treatment was only available at one hospital in Beirut, making it difficult for patients outside of Beirut to receive treatment easily.

Section 7. Worker Rights

a. Freedom of Association and the Right to Collective Bargaining

The law provides for the right of private-sector workers to form and join trade unions, bargain collectively, and strike but places restrictions on these rights. The Ministry of Labor must approve the formation of unions, and it controlled the conduct of all trade union elections, including election dates, procedures, and ratification of results. The law permits the administrative dissolution of trade unions and bars trade unions from political activity. Unions have the right to strike after providing advance notice to and receiving approval from the Ministry of Interior. Organizers of a strike (at least three of whom must be identified by name) must notify the ministry of the number of participants in advance and the intended location of the strike, and 5 percent of a union’s members must take responsibility for maintaining order during the strike.

There are significant restrictions on the right to strike. The labor law excludes public-sector employees, domestic workers, and agricultural workers. Therefore, they have neither the right to strike nor to join and establish unions. The law prohibits public-sector employees from any kind of union activity, including striking, organizing collective petitions, or joining professional organizations.

The law protects the right of workers to bargain collectively, but a minimum of 60 percent of workers must agree on the goals beforehand. Two-thirds of union members at a general assembly must ratify collective bargaining agreements. The Association of Banks in Lebanon renewed the collective sectoral agreement with the Federation of Lebanese Bank Employees Unions on December 6 after nearly three months of mediation between the two parties led by the minister of labor. The Association of Banks in Lebanon had initially refused to renew the agreement.

The law prohibits antiunion discrimination. Under the law, when employers misuse or abuse their right to terminate a union member’s contract, including for union activity, the worker is entitled to compensation and legal indemnity and may institute proceedings before a conciliation board. The board adjudicates the case, after which an employer may be compelled to reinstate the worker, although this protection was available only to the elected members of a union’s board. Anecdotal evidence showed widespread antiunion discrimination in both the public and private sectors, although this issue did not receive significant media coverage. According to the International Labor Organization (ILO), the most flagrant abuses occurred in banking, private schools, retail businesses, daily and occasional workers, and the civil service. Prime Minister Hariri warned civil servants in May against striking or expressing their opinion about the national budget discussions.

By law foreigners with legal resident status may join trade unions. According to the ILO, however, in practice most unions do not encourage or accept the participation of foreign workers. The migrant law permits migrant workers to join existing unions (regardless of nationality and reciprocity agreements) but denies them the right to form their own unions. They do not enjoy full membership as they may neither vote in trade union elections nor run for union office. Certain sectors of migrant workers, such as migrant domestic workers, challenged the binding laws supported by some unions by forming their own autonomous structures that acted as unions, although the Ministry of Labor has not approved them.

Palestinian refugees generally may organize their own unions. Because of restrictions on their right to work, few refugees participated actively in trade unions. While some unions required citizenship, others were open to foreign nationals whose home countries had reciprocity agreements with Lebanon.

The government’s enforcement of applicable laws was weak, including with regard to prohibitions on antiunion discrimination.

Freedom of association and the right to collective bargaining were not always respected. The government and other political actors interfered with the functioning of worker organizations, particularly the main federation, the General Confederation of Lebanese Workers (CGTL). The CGTL is the only national confederation recognized by the government, although several unions boycotted and unofficially or officially broke from the CGTL and no longer recognized it as an independent and nonpartisan representative of workers. Since 2012 the Union Coordination Committee (UCC), a grouping of public and private teachers as well as civil servants, played a major role in pushing the government to pass a promised revised salary scale, largely overshadowing the CGTL. While the UCC is not formally recognized by any government body, it acts as an umbrella organization and guides several recognized leagues of workers in demonstrating and in negotiating demands. During the 2019 national budget debate, both CGTL and UCC failed to successfully take leadership of worker protest actions or to coherently voice the demands and aspirations of working people. CGTL was further weakened when in January union president Antoine Bechara was interrogated by the ISF Anti-Cybercrime Bureau over a complaint filed by Minister of Economy Raed Khoury. In May, Bechara was arrested and pressured to resign after a video was leaked showing him insulting and making offensive comments against the late Maronite patriarch Nasrallah Sfeir. The National Federation of Workers and Employees in Lebanon emerged as another alternative to represent the independent trade union movement.

On April 30, health workers at Saida Public Hospital began a strike that lasted four days, demanding payment of overdue salaries and denouncing the lack of basic materials in the facility. Police used force to end the strike and arrested the leaders of the trade union committee. Antiunion discrimination and other instances of employer interference in union functions occurred. Some employers fired workers in the process of forming a union before the union could be formally established and published in the official gazette.

There was widespread anecdotal evidence of arbitrary dismissals of Lebanese, and their replacement by non-Lebanese, across economic and productive sectors. This action was mainly in the form of Syrian refugees allegedly replacing Lebanese in some sectors. There were no official statistics to quantify the scale of these dismissals.

b. Prohibition of Forced or Compulsory Labor

The law prohibits forced or compulsory labor, but there is no legislative provision that provides criminal penalties for those employing forced labor. The government did not effectively enforce the law, although the government made some efforts to prevent or eliminate forced labor. The law does not criminally prohibit debt bondage.

Children, foreign workers employed as domestic workers, and other foreign workers sometimes worked under forced labor conditions. The law provides protection for domestic workers against forced labor, but domestic work is excluded from protections under the labor law and vulnerable to exploitation. In violation of the law, employment agencies and employers routinely withheld foreign workers’ passports, especially in the case of domestic workers, sometimes for years. According to NGOs assisting migrant workers, in some instances employers withheld salaries for the duration of the contract, which was usually two years.

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

Child labor occurred, including in its worst forms. While up-to-date statistics on child labor were unavailable, anecdotal evidence and the accounts of NGOs suggested the number of child workers may have risen during the year and that more children worked in the informal sector. UNHCR noted that commercial, sexual exploitation of refugee children continued to occur.

The minimum age for employment is 14, and the law prescribes the occupations that are legal for juveniles, defined as children between ages 14 and 18. The law requires juveniles to undergo a medical exam by a doctor certified by the Ministry of Public Health to assure they are physically fit for the type of work employers ask them to perform. The law prohibits employment of juveniles for more than seven hours per day or between 7 p.m. and 7 a.m., and it requires one hour of rest for work lasting more than four hours. The law prohibits specific types of labor for juveniles, including informal “street labor.” It also lists types of labor that, by their nature or the circumstances in which they are carried out, are likely to harm the health, safety, or morals of children younger than 16, as well as types of labor that are allowed for children older than 16, provided they are offered full protection and adequate training.

Overall, the government did not enforce child labor laws effectively, in part due to inadequate resources. Advocacy groups did not consider penalties for those who violate laws on the worst forms of child labor as sufficient deterrents.

Child labor, including among refugee children, was predominantly concentrated in the informal sector, including in small family enterprises, mechanical workshops, carpentry, construction, manufacturing, industrial sites, welding, agriculture, and fisheries. UN agencies and NGOs reported that Syrian refugee children were vulnerable to child labor and exploitation. According to the ILO, child labor rates have at least doubled since the Syrian refugee influx. The ILO reported that instances of child labor strongly correlated with a Syrian refugee presence. The ILO equally highlighted that the majority of Syrian children involved in the worst forms of child labor–especially forced labor–worked primarily in agriculture in the Bekaa and Akkar regions and on the streets of major urban areas (Beirut and Tripoli). Anecdotal evidence also indicated child labor was prevalent within Palestinian refugee camps.

The Ministry of Labor is responsible for enforcing child labor requirements through its Child Labor Unit. Additionally, the law charges the Ministry of Justice, the ISF, and the Higher Council for Childhood (HCC) with enforcing laws related to child trafficking, including commercial sexual exploitation of children and the use of children in illicit activities. The HCC is also responsible for referring children held in protective custody to appropriate NGOs to find safe living arrangements.

A Ministry of Labor unit responsible for inspections of all potential labor violations also investigates child labor issues when a specific complaint is reported or found in the course of their other inspection.

The Ministry of Labor’s Child Labor Unit acts as the government’s focal point for child labor issues, and it oversees and implements the ministry’s national strategy to tackle child labor. The National Steering Committee on Child Labor is the main interministerial body coordinating on child labor across the government.

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 provides for equality among all citizens and prohibits employment discrimination based on race, gender, disability, language, or social status. The law does not specifically provide for protection against employment discrimination based on sexual orientation, gender identity, HIV status, or other communicable diseases. Although the government generally respected these provisions, they were not enforced in some areas, and aspects of the law and traditional beliefs discriminated against women. Discrimination in employment and occupation occurred with respect to women, persons with disabilities, foreign domestic workers, and LGBTI and HIV-positive persons (see section 6).

The law does not distinguish between women and men in employment, and it provides for equal pay for men and women. On wage equality for similar work, the 2018 World Economic Forum’s Global Gender Gap Report indicates that the overall situation in the country remained largely unchanged, despite slight progress on the ratio of women in parliament.

According to the UN Population Fund, the labor law does not explicitly prohibit sexual harassment in the workplace; it merely gives an employee the right to resign without prior notice in the event that the employer or representative committed an indecent offense towards the employee or a family member. There are, however, no legal consequences for the perpetrator.

Employment law defines a “disability” as a physical, sight, hearing, or mental disability. The law stipulates that persons with disabilities fill at least 3 percent of all government and private-sector positions, provided such persons fulfill the qualifications for the position. There was no evidence the government enforced the law. Employers are legally exempt from penalties if they provide evidence no otherwise qualified person with disabilities applied for employment within three months of advertisement.

Migrant workers and domestic workers faced employment hurdles that amounted to discrimination (see section 7.e.).

e. Acceptable Conditions of Work

The legal minimum wage was last raised in 2012. There was no official minimum wage for domestic workers. Observers concluded that the minimum wage is lower than unofficial estimates of the poverty income level. Official contracts stipulated monthly wages for domestic workers, depending on the nationality of the worker. A unified standard contract, which was registered with the DGS for the worker to obtain residency, granted migrant domestic workers some labor protections. The standard contract covered uniform terms and conditions of employment, but not wages.

The law prescribes a standard 48-hour workweek with a weekly rest period that must not be less than 36 consecutive hours. The law stipulates 48 hours work as the maximum per week in most corporations except agricultural enterprises. The law permits a 12-hour day under certain conditions, including a stipulation that overtime pay is 50 percent higher than pay for normal hours. The law does not set limits on compulsory overtime. The law includes specific occupational health and safety regulations and requires employers to take adequate precautions for employee safety.

Domestic workers are not covered under the labor law or other laws related to acceptable conditions of work. Such laws also do not apply to those involved in work within the context of a family, day laborers, temporary workers in the public sector, or workers in the agricultural sector.

The Ministry of Labor is responsible for enforcing regulations related to acceptable conditions of work, but it did so inconsistently. The ministry’s enforcement team handled all inspections of potential labor violations, but suffered from a lack of staff, resources, legal tools, and political support for its work. Interference with inspectors affected the quality of inspections and issuance of fines for violators was common. The law stipulates that workers may remove themselves from situations that endanger their health or safety without jeopardy to their employment, although government officials did not protect employees who exercised this right.

Workers in the industrial sector worked an average of 35 hours per week, while workers in other sectors worked an average of 32 hours per week. These averages, however, were derived from figures which included part-time work, including for employees who desired full-time work. Some private-sector employers failed to provide employees with family and transportation allowances as stipulated under the law and did not register them with the National Social Security Fund (NSSF).

Some companies did not respect legal provisions governing occupational health and safety in specific sectors, such as the construction industry. Workers could report violations to the CGTL, Ministry of Labor, NSSF, or through their respective unions. In most cases they preferred to remain silent due to fear of dismissal.

Violations of wage, overtime, and occupational health and safety standards were most common in the construction industry and among migrant workers, particularly with foreign domestic workers.

Foreign migrant workers arrived in the country through local recruitment agencies and source-country recruitment agencies. Although the law requires recruitment agencies to have a license from the Ministry of Labor, the government did not adequately monitor their activities. A sponsorship system tied foreign workers’ legal residency to a specific employer, making it difficult for foreign workers to change employers. If employment was terminated, a worker lost residency. This circumstance made many foreign migrant workers reluctant to file complaints to avoid losing their legal status.

Some employers mistreated, abused, and raped foreign domestic workers, who were mostly of Asian and African origin. Domestic workers often worked long hours and, in many cases, did not receive vacations or holidays. Victims of abuse may file civil suits or seek other legal action, often with the assistance of NGOs, but most victims, counseled by their embassies or consulates, settled for an administrative solution that usually included monetary compensation and repatriation. In a typical example, one victim explained that, when she escaped from an employer who was withholding her wages, an NGO helped her file charges against her employer. Authorities reached an administrative settlement with her employer to pay back wages and finance return to her home country but did not seek criminal prosecution of her employer.

Authorities typically did not prosecute perpetrators of abuse against foreign domestic workers for a number of reasons, including the victims’ refusal to press charges and lack of evidence. Authorities settled an unknown number of cases of nonpayment of wages through negotiation. According to source-country embassies and consulates, many workers did not report violations of their labor contracts until after they returned to their home countries, since they preferred not to stay in the country for a lengthy judicial process.

While licensed businesses and factories strove to meet international standards for working conditions with respect to occupational safety and health, conditions in informal factories and businesses were poorly regulated and often did not meet these standards. The Ministry of Industry is responsible for enforcing regulations to improve safety in the workplace. The regulations require industries to have three types of insurance (fire, third party, and workers’ policies) and to implement proper safety measures. The ministry has the authority to revoke a company’s license if its inspectors find a company noncompliant, but there was no evidence this occurred.

The law requires businesses to adhere to safety standards, but authorities poorly enforced the law, and it did not explicitly permit workers to remove themselves from dangerous conditions without jeopardy to their continued employment. Workers may ask to change their job or be removed from an unsafe job without being affected, as per the labor code. The government only weakly implemented the law due to lack of governance, the weak role of the trade union movement, corruption, and lack of trade union rights.

Syria

Executive Summary

President Bashar Assad has ruled the Syrian Arab Republic since 2000. The constitution mandates the primacy of Baath Party leaders in state institutions and society, and Assad and Baath party leaders dominate all three branches of government as an authoritarian regime. An uprising against the regime that began in 2011 continued throughout the year. The 2014 presidential election and the 2016 parliamentary elections resulted in the election of Assad and 200 People’s Council (Syrian parliament) seats for the Baath Party-led National Progressive Front, respectively. Both elections took place in an environment of widespread regime coercion, and many Syrians residing in opposition-held territory did not participate in the elections. Observers did not consider the elections free or fair.

The regime’s multiple security branches traditionally operated autonomously with no defined boundaries between their areas of jurisdiction. Military Intelligence and Air Force Intelligence reported to the Ministry of Defense, the Political Security Directorate reported to the Ministry of Interior, and the General Intelligence Directorate reported directly to the Office of the President. The Interior Ministry controlled the four separate divisions of police. Regime-affiliated militia, such as the National Defense Forces (NDF), integrated with other regime-affiliated forces and performed similar roles without defined jurisdiction. Civilian authorities maintained effective control over the uniformed military, police, and state security forces but possessed limited influence over foreign and domestic military or paramilitary organizations operating in the country, including Russian armed forces, Iran-affiliated Lebanese Hizballah, Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps, and nonuniformed proregime militias, such as the NDF.

Regime and proregime forces launched major aerial and ground offensives in April to recapture areas of northwest Syria, killing thousands of civilians and forcing hundreds of thousands more to flee. In December these forces launched another large-scale assault. The April assault, involving the use of heavy weapons and chemical weapons, and the December assault that involved heavy weapons, devastated the civilian infrastructure in the affected areas and exacerbated an already dire humanitarian situation. Syrian and Russian airstrikes repeatedly struck civilian sites, including hospitals, markets, schools, and farms, many of which were included in UN deconfliction lists. As of December the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) reported there were 6.2 million internally displaced Syrians, 2.5 million of whom were children, and more than 5.6 million Syrian refugees registered with UNHCR.

Significant human rights issues included: reports of unlawful or arbitrary killings by the regime, including those involving the continued use of chemical weapons, among them chlorine and other substances; forced disappearances; torture, including torture involving sexual violence; arbitrary detention; harsh and life-threatening prison conditions, including denial of medical care; prisoners of conscience; arbitrary or unlawful interference with privacy; a lack of independence of the judiciary; undue restrictions on free expression, including violence against journalists, restrictions on the press and access to the internet, censorship, and site blocking; substantial suppression of the rights of peaceful assembly and freedom of association; undue restrictions on freedom of movement; restrictions on political participation; high-level and widespread corruption; unlawful recruitment and use of child soldiers by the regime and other armed actors; trafficking in persons; criminalization of lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and intersex (LGBTI) status or conduct; violence and severe discrimination targeting LGBTI persons; and severe restrictions on workers’ rights.

The regime took no steps to identify, investigate, prosecute, or punish officials who committed human rights violations or abuses. Impunity was pervasive and deeply embedded in the security and intelligence forces and elsewhere in the regime.

Regime-linked paramilitary groups reportedly engaged in frequent violations and abuses, including massacres, indiscriminate killings, kidnapping civilians, extreme physical abuse, including sexual violence, and detentions. Regime-affiliated militias, including Hizballah, repeatedly targeted civilians.

Russian forces were implicated in the deaths of civilians resulting from airstrikes characterized as indiscriminate and resulting in the widespread destruction of civilian infrastructure, particularly during support of the regime’s military campaign in northwest Syria. These airstrikes destroyed hospitals, shelters, markets, homes, and other integral civilian facilities, damaging medical supplies and equipment and shutting down vital health care networks, and followed a well-documented pattern of attacks with serious and deleterious humanitarian and civilian impacts.

In areas under the control of armed opposition groups, human rights abuses, including killings and extreme physical abuse, continued to occur due to the unstable security situation and continued to foster an environment in which human rights abuses were committed, including killings, extreme physical abuse, and detention.

Armed terrorist groups, such as al-Qaida-linked Hayat Tahrir al-Sham (HTS), committed a wide range of abuses, including massacres, unlawful killings, bombings, and kidnappings; unlawful detention; extreme physical abuse; and forced evacuations from homes based on sectarian identity. Despite the territorial defeat of the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) in March, ISIS continued to carry out unlawful killings, bombings, and kidnappings, attack members of religious minority groups, and subject women and girls to routine rape, forced marriages, and sex trafficking.

Elements of the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), a coalition of Syrian Kurds, Arabs, Turkmen, and other minorities that included members of the Kurdish Peoples Protection Units (YPG), reportedly engaged in acts of corruption, unlawful restriction of the movement of persons, and arbitrary arrest of civilians, as well as attacks resulting in civilian casualties.

Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:

a. Freedom of Expression, Including for the Press

While the constitution provides for freedom of expression, including for the press, the regime severely restricted this right, often terrorizing, abusing, or killing those who attempted to exercise this right.

Freedom of Expression: The law contains a number of speech offenses that limit the freedom of expression, including provisions criminalizing expression that, for example, “weakens the national sentiment” in times of war or defames the president, courts, military, or public authorities. The regime routinely characterized expression as illegal, and individuals could not criticize the regime publicly or privately without fear of reprisal. The regime also stifled criticism by invoking provisions of law prohibiting acts or speech inciting sectarianism. It monitored political meetings and relied on informer networks.

Press and Media, Including Online Media: Although the law provides for the “right to access information about public affairs” and bans “the arrest, questioning, or searching of journalists,” press and media restrictions outweighed freedoms. The law contains many restrictions on freedom of expression for the press, including provisions criminalizing, for example, the dissemination of false or exaggerated news that “weakens the spirit of the Nation” or the broadcasting abroad of false or exaggerated news that “tarnishes” the country’s reputation. The law bars publication of content that affects “national unity and national security,” harms state symbols, defames religions, or incites sectarian strife or “hate crimes.” The law further forbids publication of any information about the armed forces.

The regime continued to exercise extensive control over local print and broadcast media, and the law imposes strict punishment for reporters who do not reveal their sources in response to regime requests. Freedom House reported that only a few dozen print publications remained in circulation, reduced from several hundred prior to the conflict. A number of quasi-independent periodicals, usually owned and produced by individuals with regime connections, published during the year. Books critical of the regime were illegal.

The regime owned some radio stations and most local television companies, and the Ministry of Information closely monitored all radio and television news broadcasts and entertainment programs for adherence to regime policies. Despite restrictions on ownership and use, citizens widely used satellite dishes, although the regime jammed some Arab networks.

Violence and Harassment: Regime forces reportedly detained, arrested, and harassed journalists and other writers for works deemed critical of the state as well as journalists associated with networks favorable to the regime. Harassment included intimidation, banning individuals from the country, dismissing journalists from their positions, and ignoring requests for continued accreditation. According to reliable NGO reports, the regime routinely arrested journalists who were either associated with or writing in favor of the opposition and instigated attacks against foreign press outlets throughout the country. The SNHR reported that authorities in February arrested Ahmad Orabi, who worked as a news correspondent for al Ayyam newspaper and Ana Press, despite having previously signed a reconciliation agreement with the regime. In January a U.S. federal court found the regime had perpetrated targeted murder to intimidate journalists, inhibit newsgathering and the dissemination of information, and suppress dissent, and found it liable for the 2012 death of American journalist Marie Colvin. The court ordered the regime to pay $302 million in punitive damages, which it has not paid.

Reporters Without Borders (RSF) reported that 26 journalists, citizen journalists, and media assistants remained imprisoned, although it did not specify by whom, and the CPJ reported that at least five journalists remained missing or held hostage as of November. The reason for arrests was often unclear. RSF reported that at least 25 journalists, citizen journalists, and media assistants died in regime detention between 2011 and October. For example, in July the CPJ reported that a prison official informed the family of Alaa Nayef al-Khader al-Khalidi in July that the photojournalist died due to torture while in regime custody at Sedayna Prison.

The regime and ISIS routinely targeted and killed both local and foreign journalists, according to the COI, the CPJ, and RSF. The CPJ estimated that 129 journalists were killed since 2011, while RSF estimated more than 260 journalists, citizen journalists, and media assistants were killed during the same period. The CPJ attributed more than half of journalist deaths between 2011 and 2017 to regime and proregime forces.

During the year the CPJ, RSF, and the SNHR documented the deaths of six journalists, citizen journalists, and media assistants. Anas Al-Dyab was killed in a Russian airstrike while documenting the bombardment of Khan Sheikhoun; Amjad Hassan Bakir was killed when a missile struck the Free Idlib Army vehicle in which he was riding as an embedded journalist covering the regime’s offensive in Idlib Governorate; Mohammad Jomaa was killed by a mine in Deir Ezzour in an area that had recently been retaken by the SDF; and Omar Al-Dimashqi was killed by the explosion of an IED placed under his car by an unidentified attacker.

Censorship or Content Restrictions: The regime continued to strictly control the dissemination of information, including on developments regarding fighting between the regime and the armed opposition, and prohibited most criticism of the regime and discussion of sectarian problems, including religious and ethnic minority rights. The Ministries of Information and Culture censored domestic and foreign publications prior to circulation or importation, including through the General Corporation for the Distribution of Publications, and prevented circulation of content determined critical or sensitive. The regime prohibited publication or distribution of any material security officials deemed threatening or embarrassing to the regime. Censorship was usually more stringent for materials in Arabic.

Local journalists reported they engaged in extensive self-censorship on subjects such as criticism of the president and his family, the security services, or Alawite religious groups.

RSF reported journalists fled the advance of regime troops, fearing imprisonment as soon as the regime controlled the entire province they were in. RSF assessed that the regime’s persecution of journalists for more than eight years justified their fears, especially as many of them covered the uprising since the outset, helped to document the regime’s human rights violations, and risked severe reprisals if identified with the opposition.

Libel/Slander Laws: The law criminalizes libel, slander, insult, defamation, and blasphemy, and the regime continued to use such provisions to restrict public discussion and to detain, arrest, and imprison journalists perceived to have opposed the regime.

National Security: The regime regularly cited laws protecting national security to restrict media criticism of regime policies or public officials.

Nongovernmental Impact: According to Freedom House, media freedom varied in territory held by armed opposition groups, but local outlets were typically under heavy pressure to support the dominant militant faction. The CPJ and RSF reported that extremist opposition groups, such as the HTS, detained and tortured journalists (see section 1.g.) and posed a serious threat to press and media freedoms. The CPJ reported that four members of the HTS abducted Syrian reporter Ahmed Rahal, a reporter for the Syrian pro-civil rights news website Al-Dorar al-Sahmia, after raiding his home in September. The SNHR reported that the family of Samer Saleh al Salloum, an activist responsible for the printing and distribution of al Gherbal political magazine and Zawrak children’s magazine, was informed in August that he had reportedly been executed in detention by the HTS in April.

In July the CPJ reported that the HTS arbitrarily detained Jumaa Haj Hamdou, a reporter for the Syrian pro-civil rights opposition news website Zaman al-Wasl, at his home in western Aleppo. He was not charged and was released after six days. Fathi Ibrahim Bayoud, the editor in chief of Zaman al-Wasl, told the CPJ he believed Hamdou was detained because of his reporting.

The regime controlled and restricted access to the internet and monitored email and social media accounts. In Freedom House’s 2019 Freedom on the Net Report, the country remained a dangerous and repressive environment for internet users. Individuals and groups could not express views via the internet, including by email, without prospect of reprisal. The regime applied the law to regulate internet use and prosecute users. The anticybercrime law (also referred to as Law No. 9) increases penalties for cybercrimes, including those affecting the freedom of expression, remained in place. It also mandates the creation of specialized courts and delegates specialized jurists for the prosecution of cybercrimes in every governorate. RSF asserted the law served as a tool for the regime to threaten online freedom. As of late in the year, at least 14 citizen journalists remained imprisoned by the regime, many on charges related to their digital activism. Hackers linked to Iran continued cyberattacks against Syrian opposition groups to disrupt reporting on human rights violations.

The regime interfered with and blocked internet service, text messages, and two-step verification messages for password recovery or account activation. The regime employed sophisticated technologies and hundreds of computer specialists for filtering and surveillance purposes, such as monitoring email and social media accounts of detainees, activists, and others. The regime did not attempt to restrict the security branches’ monitoring and censoring of the internet. The security branches were largely responsible for restricting internet freedom and access; internet blackouts often coincided with security force attacks. The regime censored websites related to the opposition, including the websites of local coordination committees as well as media outlets.

The regime also restricted or prohibited internet access in areas under siege. Regime officials obstructed connectivity through their control of key infrastructure, at times shutting the internet and mobile telephone networks entirely or at particular sites of unrest. There was generally little access to state-run internet service in besieged areas unless users could capture signals clandestinely from rooftops near regime-controlled areas. Some towns in opposition-held areas had limited internet access via satellite connections. Some activists reportedly gained access independently to satellite internet or through second- and third-generation (2G and 3G) cellular telephone network coverage.

The regime expanded its efforts to use social media, such as Instagram, Twitter, and Facebook, to spread proregime propaganda and manipulate online content. Regime authorities routinely tortured and beat journalists to extract passwords for social media sites, and the Syrian Electronic Army (SEA), a group of proregime computer hackers, frequently launched cyberattacks on websites to disable them and post proregime material. In addition to promoting hacking and conducting surveillance, the regime and groups it supported, such as the SEA, reportedly planted malware to target human rights activists, opposition members, and journalists. Local human rights groups blamed regime personnel for instances in which malware infected activists’ computers. Arbitrary arrests raised fears that authorities could arrest internet users at any time for online activities perceived to threaten the regime’s control, such as posting on a blog, tweeting, commenting on Facebook, sharing a photograph, or uploading a video.

Observers also accused the SEA of slowing internet access to force self-censorship on regime critics and diverting email traffic to regime servers for surveillance.

The regime restricted academic freedom and cultural events. Authorities generally did not permit academic personnel to express ideas contrary to regime policy. Authorities reportedly dismissed or imprisoned university professors in regime-held areas for expressing dissent and killed some for supporting regime opponents. Combatants on all sides of the war attacked or commandeered schools. The Ministry of Culture restricted and banned the screening of certain films.

During the conflict students, particularly those residing in opposition-held areas, continued to face challenges in taking nationwide exams. For example, school districts in Dar’a were affected by the influx of new pupils to the governorate due to hostilities, forcing many schools to hire unqualified staff and begin operating in shifts to accommodate all the pupils. The COI reported that thousands of students had to repeat classes and retake examinations as a result. Areas liberated by the SDF from ISIS reopened local schools. In Raqqa city and the surrounding rural regions, more than 130,000 students returned to classes in 322 refurbished buildings and schools previously used or destroyed by ISIS. Many school buildings required extensive repairs, sometimes including clearance of explosive remnants of the war, and administrators required assistance to obtain basic supplies for learning.

The SDF also reportedly imposed penalties for SDF and school administration staff members who enrolled their children in schools that did not use their curriculum.

b. Freedoms of Peaceful Assembly and Association

The regime limited freedoms of peaceful assembly and association.

The constitution provides for the freedom of peaceful assembly, but the law grants the government broad powers to restrict this freedom.

The Ministry of Interior requires permission for demonstrations or any public gathering of more than three persons. As a rule the ministry authorized only demonstrations by the regime, affiliated groups, or the Baath Party, orchestrating them on numerous occasions.

According to allegations by Kurdish activists and press reporting, the Kurdish Democratic Union Party (PYD) and the YPG sometimes suppressed freedom of assembly in areas under their control. Throughout the year inhabitants in Deir Ezzor protested against alleged corruption by SDF officials, lack of access to basic services, reports of forced conscription of youths into the SDF, and lack of information on the status of men and boys detained by the SDF due to suspected affiliations to ISIS following the coalition offensive to liberate Baghuz from ISIS control. Protests generally occurred throughout northeast Syria on a variety of issues without interference from local authorities.

During the year multiple media outlets reported that the HTS increased its repression of civil society activity in August due to widespread protests held in opposition to the group. The SNHR reported that the HTS arrested approximately 182 persons as of August, among them political and media activists, 45 of whom reportedly died in detention.

The constitution provides for the freedom of association, but the law grants the regime latitude to restrict this freedom. The regime required prior registration and approval for private associations and restricted the activities of associations and their members. The executive boards of professional associations were not independent of the regime.

The regime often denied requests for registration or failed to act on them, reportedly on political grounds. None of the local human rights organizations operated with a license, but many functioned under organizations that had requisite government registration. The regime continued to block the multiyear effort by journalists to register a countrywide media association. Despite regime efforts, journalists in exile founded the Syrian Journalist Association as an independent democratic professional association in 2012 to empower the role of freedom of the press and expression.

The regime selectively enforced the 2011 decree allowing the establishment of independent political parties, permitting only proregime groups to form official parties (see section 3). According to local human rights groups, opposition activists declined to organize parties, fearing the regime would use party lists to target opposition members.

Under laws that criminalize membership and activity in illegal organizations as determined by the regime, security forces detained hundreds of persons linked to local human rights groups and prodemocracy student groups. The death notices released by the regime shed light on this practice. For example, HRW described the forcible disappearance by the regime during the year of many young protest organizers, civil society leaders, and local coordination committee members. This included Sahar, a community leader and head of the Women’s Affairs Bureau in Daraa, who was detained without cause at a local checkpoint. In several cases documented by HRW, intelligence branches either arrested or repeatedly harassed relatives of civil society activists and people who fled the country to gain information about their wanted family members or force them to return.

The HTS restricted the activities of organizations it deemed incompatible with its interpretation of Islam. HTS forces detained Munawir Hamdeen, a relief worker at the Big Heart organization in Idlib, after severely beating him at his home in 2016. After five months of detention, Hamdeen pleaded guilty to the charge of adultery and was held in detention until August, when his body was found outside the Syrian Civil Defense (White Helmets) center in Idlib.

c. Freedom of Religion

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

d. Freedom of Movement

The constitution provides for freedom of movement “within the territories of the state unless restricted by a judicial decision or by the implementation of laws,” but the regime, ISIS, and other armed groups restricted internal movement and travel and instituted security checkpoints to monitor such travel throughout the regions under their respective control. Regime sieges in Idlib Governorate restricted freedom of movement and resulted in documented cases of death, starvation, and severe malnutrition, while forced evacuations following sieges resulted in mass displacement and additional breakdowns in service provision and humanitarian assistance (see section 1.g.).

In-country Movement: In regime-besieged cities throughout the country, regime forces blocked humanitarian access, leading to severe malnutrition, lack of access to medical care, and death. The violence, coupled with significant cultural pressure, severely restricted the movement of women in many areas. Additionally, the law allows certain male relatives to place travel bans on women.

The regime expanded security checkpoints into civilian areas to monitor and limit movement. Regime forces reportedly used snipers to prevent protests, enforce curfews, target opposition forces, and, in some cases, prevent civilians from fleeing besieged towns. The regime also barred foreign diplomats from visiting most parts of the country and rarely granted them permission to travel outside Damascus. The consistently high level and unpredictability of violence severely restricted movement throughout the country.

In areas they still controlled, armed opposition groups and terrorist groups, such as the HTS, also restricted movement, including with checkpoints (see section 1.g.). The COI reported in September it had received accounts of harassment, including of women, arbitrary arrest, unlawful search and seizure of property, and demands for bribes at checkpoints administered by the HTS and other armed actors.

While the Syrian Democratic Council and the SDF generally supported IDP communities in northeast Syria, in July HRW reported that the Autonomous Administration of North and East Syria was restricting the movement of more than 11,000 foreign women and children suspected to be affiliated with ISIS in a separate section of the al-Hol IDP Camp. The UN secretary-general also released a report on children and armed conflict stating that 1,248 children of 46 nationalities were deprived of their liberty to move freely by the SDF due to their actual or alleged association with ISIS.

Until the territorial defeat of ISIS in March, ISIS restricted the movement in areas under its control of regime supporters or assumed supporters, especially the Alawite and Shia populations, as well as Yezidi, Christian, and other captives. The Free Yezidi Foundation further reported that Yezidis were held against their will by ISIS. ISIS reportedly did not permit female passengers to traverse territory it controlled unless accompanied by a close male relative.

Foreign Travel: While citizens have the right to travel internationally, the regime denied passports and other vital documents, based on the applicant’s political views, association with opposition groups, or ties to geographic areas where the opposition dominated. The regime also imposed exit visa requirements and routinely closed the Damascus airport and border crossings, claiming the closures were due to violence or threats of violence. Additionally, the regime often banned travel by human rights or civil society activists, their families, and affiliates. Many citizens reportedly learned of the ban against their travel only when authorities prevented them from departing the country. The regime reportedly applied travel bans without explanation or explicit duration, including in cases when individuals sought to travel for health reasons. The regime comprehensively banned international travel of opposition members, often targeting any such individual who attempted to travel. Local media and human rights groups repeatedly stated that opposition activists and their families hesitated to leave the country, fearing attacks at airports and border crossings.

The regime also often refused to allow citizens to return. According to several media outlets, Richard Kouyoumjian, Lebanon’s minister of social affairs, stated in March that the regime accepted less than 20 percent of the refugees who attempted to return to the country from Lebanon.

Syrians born abroad to parents who fled the conflict and remained in refugee camps generally did not have access to Syrian citizenship documents. The regime allowed Syrians living outside of the country whose passports had expired to renew their passports at consulates. Many who fled as refugees, however, feared reporting to the regime against which they may have protested or feared the regime could direct reprisals against family members still in the country.

Women older than 18 have the legal right to travel without the permission of male relatives, but a husband may file a request with the Interior Ministry to prohibit his wife from departing the country.

During the year violence continued to be the primary reason for displacement, much of it attributed to regime and Russian aerial attacks. Regime and proregime evacuations of besieged areas, often overseen by Russian forces, forcibly displaced hundreds of thousands of persons. Years of conflict and evacuations repeatedly displaced persons, and each displacement depleted family assets. In September the United Nations estimated there were more than 6.2 million IDPs in the country, including 2.5 million children and five million individuals in need of acute assistance. This number included 1.5 million new IDPs since the start of the year. In May UNOCHA recorded 27,969 spontaneous IDP returnees in several areas across the country. The greatest number of these returns were recorded in Homs with 8,290 returnees, approximately 45 percent of whom were displaced within the governorate. Deir Ezzor received the second-largest number of IDP returnees with 5,373 spontaneous returns, while 4,349 returns were recorded in rural Damascus. The fourth largest number of returnees was recorded in Aleppo, with 3,592 returnees, followed by Daraa with 3,098 recorded spontaneous returns. UN humanitarian officials reported that most IDPs sought shelter with host communities or in collective centers, abandoned buildings, or informal camps. The humanitarian response to the country was coordinated through a complex bureaucratic structure. The crisis inside the country continued to meet the UN criteria for a level 3 response–the global humanitarian system’s classification for response to the most severe, large-scale humanitarian crises.

The regime generally did not provide sustainable access to services for IDPs, did not offer IDPs assistance, did not facilitate humanitarian assistance for IDPs, and provided inconsistent protection. The regime forcibly displaced populations from besieged areas and restricted movement of IDPs. The regime did not promote the safe, voluntary, and dignified return, resettlement, or local integration of IDPs and, in many cases, refused to allow IDPs to return home (see section 1.e., Property Restitution).

According to HRW, the regime confiscated more than 70 residential households with all internal contents in the Eastern Ghouta Region. The regime restricted access to many of the neighborhoods and converted several properties into military headquarters. In November the Middle East Institute reported that regime security and intelligence forces had seized a number of homes and other properties belonging to local residents using several different methods. Those with a backlog of service bills or back taxes who were unable to pay their debt to the regime were given a brief window to leave their property, while some former opposition members had their homes and businesses summarily seized by intelligence forces. The regime routinely disrupted the supply of humanitarian aid, including medical assistance, to areas under siege as well as to newly recaptured areas (see section 1.g.).

The SARC functioned as the main partner for international humanitarian organizations working inside the country to provide humanitarian assistance in regime- and some opposition-controlled areas. NGOs operating from Damascus faced regime bureaucratic obstruction in attempting to provide humanitarian assistance. UN agencies and NGOs sought to increase the flow of assistance to opposition-held areas subject to regime offensives to meet growing humanitarian needs, but the regime increasingly restricted cross-line operations originating from Damascus. The UN and its humanitarian partners continued to provide cross-border assistance from Turkey and Iraq during the year. While humanitarian aid was provided cross-border from Turkey to northwest Syria (Idlib and Aleppo) via two border crossings, Turkey placed restrictions on the provision of humanitarian and stabilization aid to areas of northeast Syria from Turkey.

Assistance reached some hard-to-reach locations, but the regime continued to hinder UN and NGO access, and the regime secured control over many of these areas during the year. Humanitarian actors noted that access remained a pressing concern for service delivery in areas controlled by the regime and nongovernmental actors. The United Nations reported that only seven humanitarian assistance convoys accessed hard-to-reach areas during the year.

In September the United Nations and SARC delivered humanitarian assistance to 15,000 individuals and facilitated the voluntary return of nearly 400 individuals at Rukban Camp in southeast Syria near the Jordanian border. In early November the United Nations and SARC delivered humanitarian assistance to approximately 45,000 persons in need and provided an emergency vaccination campaign to protect some 5,000 children against measles, polio, and other diseases. Humanitarian conditions in Rukban remained dire due to inconsistent access to the area. The regime frequently took months to approve aid convoy requests, and Jordan declined requests to deliver aid from its side of the border, although it allowed a small, exceptional delivery by an NGO from Jordan during Ramadan. The United Nations reported that, since February, approximately half of the camp’s estimated population, or 18,000 individuals, left the camp through the regime-established transit point, primarily towards collective shelters in Homs, where the United Nations and SARC provided services, before moving onwards.

Armed opposition groups and terrorist groups such as the HTS and ISIS, also impeded humanitarian assistance to IDPs. Humanitarian actors reported that the HTS impeded the delivery of aid and services in areas of the northeast, making it difficult to effectively respond to displacement near Idlib. For example, in March the United Nations criticized Turkish-supported Syrian armed opposition groups, including the FSA, for providing inconsistent, restricted access to IDPs in Afrin. In October the United Kingdom temporarily suspended the delivery of aid to Idlib Province due to the HTS taxes on aid trucks. The United Kingdom subsequently resumed aid delivery and, as of November, was still delivering aid to Idlib. NGOs continued to report bureaucratic challenges in working with the HTS Salvation Government, which impeded delivery of services in the camps.

The SDF and SDC generally facilitated the safe and voluntary return of IDPs during the year, particularly to Deir Ezzour and Raqqa.

f. Protection of Refugees

UNHCR maintained that conditions for refugee return to the country in safety and dignity were not yet in place and did not promote, nor facilitate, the return of refugees to the country during the year. Throughout the year, however, the regime and Russia maintained a diplomatic campaign to encourage the return of refugees to Syria. While Russia reportedly was eager to use the return of Syrian refugees as a means to secure international donations for Syria reconstruction efforts, the regime adopted a more cautious approach on promoting the return of refugees, reportedly due to its suspicion that many Syrian refugees supported the opposition.

Abuse of Migrants, Refugees, and Stateless Persons: The regime inconsistently cooperated with UNHCR and other humanitarian organizations in providing protection and assistance to IDPs, refugees, asylum seekers, stateless persons, and other persons of concern. The regime provided some cooperation to the UN Relief and Works Agency for Palestinian Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA). Both regime and opposition forces reportedly besieged, shelled, and otherwise made inaccessible some Palestinian refugee camps, neighborhoods, and sites, which resulted in severe malnutrition, lack of access to medical care and humanitarian assistance, and civilian deaths.

Both regime and opposition forces reportedly besieged, shelled, and otherwise made inaccessible some Palestinian refugee camps, neighborhoods, and sites, which resulted in severe malnutrition, lack of access to medical care and humanitarian assistance, and civilian deaths.

Access to Asylum: The law provides for the granting of asylum or refugee status, and the regime has established a system for providing protection to refugees. UNHCR and UNRWA were able to maintain limited protection areas for refugees and asylum seekers, although violence hampered access to vulnerable populations. In coordination with both local and international NGOs, the United Nations continued to provide such individuals essential services and assistance.

Employment: The law does not explicitly grant refugees, except for Palestinians, the right to work. While the regime rarely granted non-Palestinian refugees a work permit, many refugees found work in the informal sector as guards, construction workers, street vendors, and in other manual jobs.

Access to Basic Services: The law allows for the issuance of identity cards to Palestinian refugees and the same access to basic services provided to citizens. The regime also allowed Iraqi refugees access to publicly available services, such as health care and education, but residency permits were available only to those refugees who entered the country legally and possessed a valid passport, which did not include all refugees. The lack of access to residency permits issued by authorities exposed refugees to risks of harassment and exploitation and severely affected their access to public services. The approximately 45,000 non-Palestinian refugees and asylum seekers in the country faced growing protection risks, multiple displacements, tightened security procedures at checkpoints, and difficulty obtaining required residency permits, all of which resulted in restrictions on their freedom of movement. The COI reported a rise in sexual- and gender-based violence and child-protection concerns among refugees, including child labor, school dropouts, and early marriages.

Following the 1962 census, approximately 150,000 Kurds lost their citizenship. A legislative decree had ordained the single-day census in 1962, and the government executed it unannounced to the inhabitants of al-Hasakah Governorate. Anyone not registered for any reason or without all required paperwork became “foreign” from that day onward. The government at the time argued it based its decision on a 1945 wave of alleged illegal immigration of Kurds from neighboring states, including Turkey, to Hasakah, where they allegedly “fraudulently” registered as Syrian citizens. In a similar fashion, authorities recorded anyone who refused to participate as “undocumented.” Because of this loss of citizenship, these Kurds and their descendants lacked identity cards and could not access government services, including health care and education. They also faced social and economic discrimination. Stateless Kurds do not have the right to inherit or bequeath assets, and their lack of citizenship or identity documents restricted their travel to and from the country.

In 2011 President Assad decreed that stateless Kurds in Hasakah who were registered as “foreigners” could apply for citizenship. It was unclear how many Kurds benefited from the decree. UNHCR reported that approximately 40,000 of these Kurds remained unable to obtain citizenship. Likewise, the decree did not extend to the approximately 160,000 “unregistered” stateless Kurds. The change from 150,000 to 160,000 reflected an approximate increase in population since the 1962 census.

Children derive citizenship solely from their father. Because women cannot confer nationality on their children, an unknown number of children whose fathers were missing or deceased due to the continuing conflict were at risk of statelessness. Mothers could not pass citizenship to children born outside the country, including in neighboring countries hosting refugee camps. Children who left the country during the conflict also experienced difficulties obtaining identification necessary to prove citizenship and obtain services.

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, citizens were not able to exercise that ability. Outcomes reflected underlying circumstances of elections that impeded and coerced the will of the electorate.

Recent Elections: Municipal elections were held in September 2018 with approximately 40,000 candidates vying for more than 18,000 council seats in areas controlled by the regime. According to media outlets, opposition figures claimed a low turnout because most citizens considered the elections to be of limited value. Opposition sources, according to online media outlet Al-Monitor, alleged the regime forced civil servants to cast their votes. Multiple reports indicated the regime denied access to ballot boxes to voters residing in Daraa Province, which the regime brought under its control earlier in the year following a military offensive. According to observers the results were rigged in favor of the ruling Baath Party. Most of the candidates were either from the Baath Party or associated with it.

In 2016 the country held geographically limited parliamentary elections, the results of which citizens living outside regime control rejected. The 2014 presidential election, in which Bashar Assad ostensibly received 88.7 percent of the vote, was neither free nor fair by international standards. Voters faced intimidation by regime security forces, and the regime forcibly transported state employees in Damascus to polling centers, according to observers and media. Media reports described low overall voter turnout, even among those living in relatively stable areas with access to polling stations. Authorities allowed only persons in regime-controlled territory, certain refugee areas, and refugees who left the country after obtaining official permission to vote.

In 2017 Kurdish authorities held elections for leaders of local “communes” in an effort to establish new governing institutions to augment regional autonomy. The regime does not recognize the Kurdish enclave or the elections. The Kurdish National Council (KNC, a rival to the PYD) called for a boycott, terming the elections “a flagrant violation of the will of the Kurdish people.” Media outlets reported the election was monitored by a small group of foreign experts, including a member of the Kurdistan Democratic Party, which runs the Kurdish Regional Government in neighboring Iraq.

Political Parties and Political Participation: The constitution provides that the Baath Party is the ruling party and assures that it has a majority in all government and popular associations, such as workers’ and women’s groups. The Baath Party and nine smaller satellite political parties constituted the coalition National Progressive Front. The Baath-led National Progressive Front dominated the 250-member People’s Council, holding 200 of the 250 parliament seats following the 2016 election. A 2011 decree allows for the establishment of additional political parties but forbids those based on religion, tribal affiliation, or regional interests.

Membership in the Baath Party or close familial relationships with a prominent party member or powerful regime official assisted in economic, social, and educational advancement. Party or regime connections made it easier to gain admission to better schools, access lucrative employment, and achieve greater advancement and power within the government, military, and security services. The regime reserved certain prominent positions, such as provincial governorships, solely for Baath Party members.

The regime showed little tolerance for other political parties, including those allied with the Baath Party in the National Progressive Front. The regime harassed parties, such as the Communist Union Movement, Communist Action Party, and Arab Social Union. Police arrested members of banned Islamist parties, including Hizb ut-Tahrir and the Muslim Brotherhood of Syria. Reliable data on illegal political parties was unavailable.

The PYD generally controlled the political and governance landscape in northeast Syria while allowing for Arab representation in local governance councils. The PYD, however, maintained overall control of critical decisions made by local councils. PYD-affiliated internal security forces at times reportedly detained and forcibly disappeared perceived opponents.

Participation of Women and Minorities: No laws limit participation of women or members of minorities in the political process, and they did participate. Although there were no formal restrictions, cultural and social barriers largely excluded women from decision-making positions. The regime formed after the 2014 election included three female members: Vice President Najah al-Attar, Minister of State for Environmental Affairs Nazira Serkis, and Minister of Social Affairs and Labor Rima al-Qadiri. Thirteen percent of the members of parliament elected in 2016 were women. There were Christian, Druze, and Kurdish members of parliament. In 2017 Hammouda Sabbagh became the first Orthodox Christian to be elected speaker of parliament. Alawites, the ruling religious minority, held greater political power in the cabinet than other minorities as well as more authority than the majority Sunni sect did.

Section 4. Corruption and Lack of Transparency in Government

Although the law provides criminal penalties for corruption by officials, the regime did not implement the law effectively. Officials frequently engaged in corrupt practices with impunity. There were numerous reports of regime corruption during the year. Corruption continued to be a pervasive problem in police forces, security services, migration management agencies, and throughout the regime.

Corruption: Due to the lack of free press and opposition access to instruments of government and media, there was almost no detailed information about corruption, except petty corruption. Freedom House reported that to secure its support base, the regime regularly distributed patronage in the form of public resources and implemented policies to benefit favored industries and companies. Authorities reportedly awarded government contracts and trade deals to allies such as Iran and Russia, possibly as compensation for political and military aid. Basic state services and humanitarian aid reportedly were extended or withheld based on a community’s demonstrated political loyalty to the regime, providing additional leverage for bribe-seeking officials.

For example, President Bashar Assad’s cousin, Rami Makhlouf, reportedly was known as “Mr. 5 Percent” or “Mr. 10 Percent,” depending on the size of the deal. As late as 2011, Makhlouf reportedly controlled 60 percent of the country’s economy. The Panama Papers, Swissleaks, and most recently the Paradise Papers chronicled his money-laundering and sanctions-busting activities (see section 1.e., Property Restitution).

Human rights lawyers and family members of detainees stated that regime officials in courts and prisons solicited bribes for favorable decisions and provision of basic services. In a December report, PHR provided the account of Dr. Youssef, a Syrian surgeon arrested on charges of providing “support to terrorists” for offering medical services to protesters who were shot by regime intelligence forces. Youssef was subjected to extensive torture in regime detention and only released after his family bribed regime authorities.

NGOs reported instances of elements affiliated with the SDF engaging in acts of corruption in northeast Syria. The SNHR reported increasing levels of corruption by civil councils in Deir Ezzour, comprised predominantly of SDF officials in northeast Syria, resulting in the unequal distribution of humanitarian assistance to family members of SDF officials and those willing to pay bribes.

Financial Disclosure: There are no public financial disclosure laws for public officials.

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

The regime restricted attempts to investigate alleged human rights violations, criminalized their publication, and refused to cooperate with any independent attempts to investigate alleged violations. The regime did not grant permission for the formation of any domestic human rights organizations. Nevertheless, hundreds of such groups operated illegally in the country.

The regime was highly suspicious of international human rights NGOs and did not allow them into the country. The regime normally responded to queries from human rights organizations and foreign embassies regarding specific cases by denying the facts of the case or by reporting that the case was still under investigation, the prisoner in question had violated national security laws, or, if the case was in criminal court, the executive branch could not interfere with the judiciary. Amnesty International (AI), for example, attempted with little success to engage regime authorities on human rights concerns, including torture and other mistreatment, enforced disappearances, and deaths in custody, through various means since 2011. The regime denied organizations access to locations where regime agents launched assaults on antigovernment protesters or allegedly held prisoners detained on political grounds. The United Nations reported that the regime also actively restricted the activities of humanitarian aid organizations, especially along supply routes and access points near opposition-controlled areas (see section 1.g.).

There were numerous reports the regime harassed domestic human rights activists by subjecting them to regular surveillance and travel bans, property seizure, detention, torture, forcible disappearance, and extrajudicial killings (see section 1.e., Political Prisoners and Detainees). In May, HRW reported on “Samir,” a human rights activist working with the Norwegian Refugee Council and the Swiss Department for Foreign Affairs in Daraa. He left Daraa in January after he found out he was wanted by the Criminal Intelligence branch for working with aid groups and receiving funding from foreign entities for his work in contravention of the Counterterrorism Law of 2012. A contact inside the Military Intelligence branch warned him that authorities intended to arrest him, prompting his immediate departure. A few days later, his family received an official summons from the regime.

Terrorist groups, including ISIS, violently attacked organizations and individuals seeking to investigate human rights abuses or advocating for improved practices. The SDF and other opposition groups occasionally imposed restrictions on human rights organizations or harassed individual activists, in some cases reportedly subjecting them to arbitrary arrest.

The United Nations or Other International Bodies: The regime continued to deny access for the COI, mandated by the UN Human Rights Council to document and report on human rights violations and abuses in the country. It did not cooperate fully with numerous UN bodies, resulting in restrictions on access for humanitarian organizations, especially to opposition-controlled areas.

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

Rape and Domestic Violence: The law criminalizes rape and sexual assault of women, men, and children, but the regime did not enforce the law effectively. Rape is punishable by imprisonment and hard labor for at least 15 years (at least nine years in mitigating circumstances), which is aggravated if the perpetrator is a government official, religious official, or has legitimate or actual authority over the victim. Male rape is punishable by imprisonment for up to three years. The law specifically excludes spousal rape, and it reduces or suspends punishment if the rapist marries the victim. The victim’s family sometimes agreed to this arrangement to avoid the social stigma attached to rape.

The UN Population Fund (UNFPA) and other UN agencies, NGOs, and media outlets characterized rape and sexual violence as endemic, underreported, and uncontrolled in the country (see sections 1.c. and 1.g.). Humanitarian organizations reported that women, men, and community leaders consistently identified sexual violence as a primary reason their families fled the country. The COI reported that rape and sexual violence continued to play a prominent role in the conflict and was used to terrorize and punish women, men, and children perceived as associated with the opposition, as did terrorist groups such as the HTS and ISIS. There were instances, comparatively far fewer, of armed opposition groups reportedly raping women and children. The HTS and ISIS also reportedly forced women and girls into sexual slavery.

The law does not specifically prohibit domestic violence, but it stipulates that men may discipline their female relatives in a form permitted by general custom. According to a May UNFPA report, violence against women and children was pervasive and increasing due to the conflict and the lack of economic opportunity for men. Victims did not report the vast majority of cases. Security forces consistently treated violence against women as a social rather than a criminal matter. Observers reported that when some abused women tried to file a police report, police did not investigate their reports thoroughly, if at all, and that in other cases police officers responded by abusing the women.

In previous years several domestic violence centers operated in Damascus; the Ministry of Social Affairs and Labor licensed them. Local NGOs reported, however, that many centers no longer operated due to the conflict. There were no known government-run services for women outside Damascus. According to local human rights organizations, local coordination committees and other opposition-related groups offered programs specifically for protection of women; NGOs did not integrate these programs throughout the country, and none reported reliable funding.

Other Harmful Traditional Practices: The law permits judges to reduce penalties for murder and assault if the defendant asserts an “honor” defense, which often occurred. The regime kept no official statistics on use of this defense in murder and assault cases and reportedly rarely pursued prosecution of so-called honor crimes. There were no officially reported honor killings during the year, but reporting from previous years indicated that honor killings increased since the onset of the crisis in 2011. NGOs working with refugees reported families killed some rape victims inside the country, including those raped by regime forces, for reasons of honor.

The terrorist groups ISIS and the HTS permitted and committed so-called honor killings in territories under their control (see section 1.g.).

Sexual Harassment: The law prohibits discrimination in employment on the basis of gender but does not explicitly prohibit sexual harassment. The regime did not enforce the law effectively. Sexual harassment was pervasive and uncontrolled. For example, a 2019 UNFPA report cited an adolescent girl from Idlib who was blackmailed and harassed by a stranger who took revealing photos of her in a changing room and threatened to share them with her family.

Coercion in Population Control: There were no reports of coerced abortion or involuntary sterilization by the regime, but the Free Yezidi Foundation reported that ISIS forced some Yezidi women whom they had impregnated to have abortions (see section 1.g.).

Discrimination: Although the constitution provides for equality between men and women, the law does not provide for the same legal status and rights for women as for men. Criminal, family, religious, personal status, labor, nationality, inheritance, retirement, and social security laws discriminate against women. For example, if a man and a woman separately commit the same criminal act of adultery, then by law the woman’s punishment is double that of the man. The law generally permits women to initiate divorce proceedings against their spouses, but the law does not entitle a divorced woman to alimony in some cases. Under the law a divorced mother loses the right to guardianship and physical custody of her sons when they reach age 13 and of her daughters at age 15, when guardianship transfers to the paternal side of the family. Personal status laws applied to Muslims are derived from sharia and are discriminatory toward women. Church law governs personal status issues for Christians, in some cases barring divorce. Some personal status laws mirror sharia regardless of the religion of those involved in the case. While the constitution provides the “right of every citizen to earn his wage according to the nature and yield of the work,” the law does not explicitly stipulate equal pay for equal work. Women cannot pass citizenship to their children. The regime’s interpretation of sharia is the basis of inheritance law for all citizens except Christians. Accordingly, courts usually granted Muslim women half the inheritance share of male heirs. In all communities, male heirs must provide financial support to female relatives who inherit less. If they refuse to provide this support, women have the right to sue.

The law provides women and men equal rights in owning or managing land or other property, but cultural and religious norms impeded women’s property rights, especially in rural areas.

The Commission for Family Affairs, Ministry of Justice, and the Ministry of Social Affairs and Labor shared responsibility for attempting to accord equal legal rights to women. Governmental involvement in civil rights claims, including cases against sexual discrimination, was stagnant, and most claims went unanswered.

Women participated in public life and in most professions, including the armed forces, although UNFPA reported that violence and lawlessness in many regions reduced women’s access to the public sphere. Various sources observed that women constituted a minority of lawyers, university professors, and other professions.

The terrorist groups ISIS and the HTS reportedly placed similar discriminatory restrictions on women and girls in the territories they controlled. For example, the International Center for the Study of Radicalism reported in September that the HTS forced women and girls into marriage, imposed a dress code on women and girls, banned women and girls from wearing makeup, required that women and girls be accompanied by a mahram or male member of their immediate family, forbade women from speaking with unrelated men or hosting men who were not their husband, forbade widows from living alone, banned women’s centers, banned meetings with mixed male and female participation, and segregated classrooms. The HTS maintained all-female police units to support the Hisbah in enforcing these regulations, sometimes violently, among women. Summary punishments for infractions ranged from corporal punishment, such as lashing, to execution.

Birth Registration: Children derive citizenship solely from their father. In large areas of the country where civil registries were not functioning, authorities did not register births. The regime did not register the births of Kurdish noncitizen residents, including stateless Kurds (see section 2.g.). Failure to register resulted in deprivation of services, such as diplomas for high school-level studies, access to universities, access to formal employment, and civil documentation and protection.

Education: The regime provided free public education to citizen children from primary school through university. Education is compulsory for all children between the ages of six and 12. Enrollment, attendance, and completion rates for boys and girls generally were comparable. Noncitizen children could also attend public schools at no cost but required permission from the Ministry of Education. While Palestinians and other noncitizens, including stateless Kurds, could generally send their children to school and universities, stateless Kurds were ineligible to receive a degree documenting their academic achievement.

The conflict and widespread destruction continued to hamper the ability of children to attend school. In October UNICEF reported that 5.3 million children were in need of humanitarian assistance. UNICEF also reported that fighting destroyed or damaged or that combatants occupied one in every three schools. Approximately 1.75 million children were out of school (among more than 2.6 million Syrian children, including refugees and others in the diaspora); another 1.35 million were at risk for leaving school.

ISIS and the HTS reportedly imposed their interpretation of sharia on schools and discriminated against girls in the territories they controlled. The International Crisis Group reported in March that the HTS continued to segregate classrooms by gender, imposed their curriculum on teachers, and closed private schools and educational centers. Additionally, the STJ reported in March that the HTS Salvation Government banned any students who had previously been granted elementary and middle-school diplomas by the regime from pursuing their high school education in any schools controlled by the HTS.

Child Abuse: The law does not specifically prohibit child abuse, but it stipulates that parents may discipline their children in a form permitted by general custom. According to a 2017 UNFPA report, violence against children, especially girls, was pervasive and increasing due to the conflict and the lack of economic opportunity for men.

NGOs reported extensively on reports of regime and proregime forces, as well as the HTS and ISIS, sexually assaulting, torturing, detaining, killing, and otherwise abusing children (see sections 1.a., 1.b., 1.c., and 1.g.). The HTS and ISIS subjected children to extremely harsh punishment, including execution, in the territories they controlled.

Early and Forced Marriage: The legal age for marriage is 18 for men and 17 for women. A boy as young as 15 or a girl as young as 13 may marry if a judge deems both parties willing and “physically mature” and if the fathers or grandfathers of both parties’ consent. Early and forced marriages were common. CARE reported in March that young women were increasingly vulnerable to forced marriage due to the extreme financial hardships placed upon families while the conflict progressed into its eighth year.

Many families reportedly arranged marriages for girls, including at younger ages than typically occurred prior to the start of the conflict, believing it would protect them and ease the financial burden on the family.

There were instances of early and forced marriage of girls to members of regime, proregime, and armed opposition forces.

In previous years ISIS abducted and sexually exploited Yezidi girls in Iraq and transported them to Syria for rape and forced marriage; many of those Yezidi women and girls remained captive during the year (see section 1.g. and section 6, Women). Even after the territorial defeat of ISIS, the Free Yezidi Foundation reported that Yezidi women and children remained with ISIS-affiliated families in detention camps due to the intense trauma from their treatment under ISIS and out of fear. From 2014 onwards, ISIS began to forcibly marry Sunni (also a minority) girls and women living in territories under its control. Some of those forced to marry ISIS members were adults, including widows, but the vast majority of cases the COI documented revealed that girls between the ages of 12 and 16 were victims of forced marriage. Many women and girls reportedly were passed among multiple ISIS fighters, some as many as six or seven times within two years. The HTS also reportedly forced Druze and other minority women and girls into marriage as well as Sunni women and girls.

Sexual Exploitation of Children: The law stipulates penalties for those found guilty of certain forms of child abuse associated with trafficking crimes, including kidnapping and forced prostitution, both of which carry a penalty of up to three years in prison. The law considers child pornography a trafficking crime, but the punishment for child pornography was set at the local level with “appropriate penalties.” It was also unclear if there had been any prosecutions for child pornography or if authorities enforced the law.

The age of sexual consent by law is 15 with no close-in-age exemption. Premarital sex is illegal, but observers reported authorities did not enforce the law. Rape of a child younger than 15 is punishable by not less than 21 years’ imprisonment and hard labor. There were no reports of regime prosecution of child rape cases.

Child Soldiers: Several sources documented the continued unlawful recruitment and use of children in combat (see section 1.g.).

Displaced Children: There was a large population of IDP children and some refugee children as well. These children reportedly experienced increased vulnerability to abuses, including by armed forces (see sections 1.c., 1.g., 2.e., and 2.f.).

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.

In 2016 NGOs estimated that fewer than 20–perhaps fewer than 10–Jews remained in the country. The national school curriculum did not include materials on tolerance education or the Holocaust. There is no designation of religion on passports or national identity cards, except for Jews. Government-controlled radio and television programming continued to disseminate anti-Semitic news articles and cartoons. The regime-controlled Syrian Arab News Agency frequently reported on the “Zionist enemy” and accused the Syrian opposition of serving “the Zionist project.”

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

The Ministry of Social Affairs and Labor is responsible for assisting persons with disabilities, working through dedicated charities and organizations to provide assistance. During an April briefing with the UN Security Council, Syrian activist Nujeen Mustafa explained that persons with disabilities remained among the most vulnerable and neglected of all displaced persons in the country, particularly in areas of active conflict.

The destruction of schools and hospitals, most often by regime and proregime forces, limited access to education and health services for persons with disabilities, but government and nongovernment social care institutes reportedly exist for blindness, deafness, cerebral palsy, and physical and intellectual disabilities. The regime did not effectively work to provide access for persons with disabilities to information, communications, building, or transportation. In its November report, UNFPA detailed how both public and private spaces–including educational institutions, health-care services and religious or cultural buildings–were inaccessible to the elderly and persons with disabilities, leading to further ostracization and deprivation. UNFPA further stated that persons with disabilities were sometimes denied aid, as they could not access it, and some distribution centers required presence in person. UNFPA identified women and adolescent girls with disabilities as being at a dangerously high risk of various forms of violence and exploitation.

According to the COI, on May 13, two men and a child with intellectual disabilities were kidnapped by an armed group when travelling from Afrin to I’zaz. One of those abducted was reportedly found dead a few days later displaying signs of torture, while the kidnappers demanded a ransom of $10,000 for the remaining abductees. The bodies of the second man and child were discovered more than a month later. There was no indication the regime effectively investigated or punished those responsible for violence and abuses against persons with disabilities.

The regime actively restricted national and ethnic minorities from conducting traditional, religious, and cultural activities. The Kurdish population–citizens and noncitizens–faced official and societal discrimination and repression as well as regime-sponsored violence. Regime and proregime forces, as well as ISIS and armed opposition forces such as the Turkish-backed FSA, reportedly arrested, detained, tortured, killed, and otherwise abused numerous Kurdish activists and individuals as well as members of the SDF during the year (see section 1.g.).

The regime continued to limit the use and teaching of the Kurdish language. It also restricted publication in Kurdish of books and other materials, Kurdish cultural expression, and at times the celebration of Kurdish festivals.

The Alawite community, to which Bashar Assad belongs, enjoyed privileged status throughout the regime and dominated the state security apparatus and military leadership. Nevertheless, the regime reportedly also targeted Alawite opposition activists for arbitrary arrest, torture, detention, and killing. Extremist opposition groups targeted Alawite communities on several occasions for their perceived proregime stance.

In March the COI reported that armed opposition groups detained hundreds of women and girls belonging to minority groups, particularly Alawites, and used them as bargaining chips for initiating prisoner swaps with regime and proregime forces.

The terrorist groups ISIS and the HTS violently oppressed and discriminated against all non-Sunni Arab ethnic minorities in the territories they controlled (see section 1.g.).

HRW documented multiple instances of Syrian opposition forces “discriminating on ethnic grounds.” HRW reported that TSOs participating in Turkey’s military offensive into northeast Syria “refused to allow the return of Kurdish families displaced by Turkish military operations and looted and unlawfully appropriated or occupied their property.” HRW reported opposition forces systematically blocked Kurdish IDP returns while permitting some Arab IDP returns.

The law criminalizes consensual same-sex sexual conduct, defined as “carnal relations against the order of nature” and punishable by imprisonment up to three years. In previous years police used this charge to prosecute LGBTI individuals. There were no reports of prosecutions under the law during the year, but NGO reports indicated the regime arrested dozens of LGBTI persons since 2011 on charges such as abusing social values; selling, buying, or consuming illegal drugs; and organizing and promoting “obscene” parties. Local media and NGOs reported instances in which regime and proregime forces used accusations of homosexuality as a pretext to detain, arrest, torture, and kill civilians. The frequency of such instances was difficult to determine, since police rarely reported their rationale for arrests.

Although there were no known domestic NGOs focused on LGBTI matters, there were several online networking communities, including an online LGBTI-oriented magazine. Human rights activists reported there was overt societal discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity in all aspects of society.

The terrorist HTS regularly detained, tortured, and killed LGBTI individuals in the territories they controlled (see section 1.g.). For example, in August The Guardian newspaper reported that a Syrian transgender woman was arrested by HTS officers barely 110 yards across the border into Idlib after being deported by Turkish authorities. According to a fellow refugee deported on the same bus, the HTS officers went through her cellular telephone, humiliating her about pictures they found. The woman has not been heard from since she was seen forced into the back of a taxi, a bag tied over her head.

There were no reports of violence or discrimination against persons with HIV/AIDS, but human rights activists believed such cases were underreported and the UN Development Program (UNDP) noted that stigma affected access to health care. The UNDP and the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis, and Malaria assessed that the incapability of the health-care sector to identify newly infected persons or offer medical support in a hostile environment posed a major problem and added to the risk of further spread of the disease among the general population.

Yezidis, Druze, Christians, Shia, and other religious minorities were subject to violence and discrimination by ISIS, the HTS, and other extremist groups (see section 1.g.).

Section 7. Worker Rights

a. Freedom of Association and the Right to Collective Bargaining

While the law provides for the right to form and join unions, conduct legal labor strikes, and bargain collectively, there were excessive restrictions on these rights. The law prohibits antiunion discrimination but also allows employers to fire workers at will.

The law requires all unions to belong to the regime-affiliated General Federation of Trade Unions (GFTU). The law prohibits strikes involving more than 20 workers in certain sectors, including transportation and telecommunications, or strike actions resembling public demonstrations. Restrictions on freedom of association also included fines and prison sentences for illegal strikes.

The law requires that government representatives be part of the bargaining process in the public sector, and the Ministry of Social Affairs and Labor could object to, and refuse to register, any agreements concluded. The law and relevant labor protections do not apply to workers covered under civil service provisions, under which employees neither have nor are considered to need collective bargaining rights. The law does not apply to foreign domestic servants, agricultural workers, NGO employees, or informal-sector workers. There are no legal protections for self-employed workers, although they constituted a significant proportion of the total workforce. Foreign workers may join the syndicate representing their profession but may not run for elected positions, with the exception of Palestinians, who may serve as elected officials in unions.

The regime did not enforce applicable laws effectively or make any serious attempt to do so during the year. Penalties were not sufficient to deter violations.

The Baath Party dominated the GFTU, and Baath Party doctrine stipulates that its quasi-official constituent unions protect worker rights. The GFTU president was a senior member of the Baath Party, and he and his deputy could attend cabinet meetings on economic affairs. In previous years the GFTU controlled most aspects of union activity, including which sectors or industries could have unions. It also had the power to disband union governing bodies. Union elections were generally free of direct GFTU interference, but successful campaigns usually required membership in the Baath Party. Because of the GFTU’s close ties to the regime, the right to bargain collectively did not exist in practical terms. Although the law provides for collective bargaining in the private sector, past regime repression dissuaded most workers from exercising this right.

There was little information available on employer practices with regard to antiunion discrimination. Unrest and economic decline during the year caused many workers to lose their private-sector jobs, giving employers the stronger hand in disputes.

b. Prohibition of Forced or Compulsory Labor

The law does not prohibit all forms of forced or compulsory labor, and such practices existed. The penal code does not define forced labor. The code states, “those sentenced to forced labor will be strictly required to do work with difficulty on par with their sex, age, and may be inside or outside of the prison.” The penal code allows for forced labor as a mandatory or optional sentence for numerous crimes, such as treason. Authorities may sentence convicted prisoners to hard labor, although according to the International Labor Organization, authorities seldom enforced such a sentence. There was little information available on regime efforts to enforce relevant laws during the year or on the effectiveness of penalties to deter violations.

Terrorist groups, including ISIS and the HTS, reportedly forced, coerced, or fraudulently recruited some foreigners, including migrants from Central Asia, children, and Western women to join them. Thousands of Yezidi women and girl captives of ISIS remained missing and were presumed to have served as sex slaves and in domestic servitude (see section 1.g.).

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 provides for the protection of children from exploitation in the workplace and prohibits the worst forms of child labor. There was little publicly available information on enforcement of the child labor law. The regime generally did not make significant efforts to enforce laws that prevent or eliminate child labor. Independent information and audits regarding regime enforcement were not available. The minimum age for most types of nonagricultural labor is 15 or the completion of elementary schooling, whichever occurs first, and the minimum age for employment in industries with heavy work is 17. Parental permission is required for children younger than 16 to work. Children younger than 18 may work no more than six hours a day and may not work overtime or during night shifts, weekends, or on official holidays. The law specifies that authorities should apply “appropriate penalties” to violators. Restrictions on child labor do not apply to those who work in family businesses and do not receive a salary.

Child labor occurred in the country in both informal sectors, such as begging, domestic work, and agriculture, as well as in positions related to the conflict, such as lookouts, spies, and informants. Conflict-related work subjected children to significant dangers of retaliation and violence.

Various forces, particularly terrorist groups and regime-aligned groups, continued to recruit and use child soldiers (see section 1.g.).

Organized begging rings continued to subject children displaced within the country to forced labor.

d. Discrimination with Respect to Employment and Occupation

Although the constitution provides for equality between men and women, the law does not provide for the same legal status and rights for women as for men. Labor and nationality laws discriminate against women. While the constitution provides the “right of every citizen to earn his wage according to the nature and yield of the work,” the law does not explicitly stipulate equal pay for equal work. The Commission for Family Affairs, Ministry of Justice, and Ministry of Social Affairs and Labor shared responsibility for attempting to accord equal legal rights to women. Governmental involvement in civil rights claims, including cases against sexual discrimination, was stagnant, and most claims went unanswered. Women participated in most professions, including the armed forces, although UNFPA reported that violence and lawlessness in many regions reduced women’s access to the public sphere. Various sources observed that women constituted a minority of lawyers, university professors, and other professions.

The constitution does not address discrimination based on sexual orientation, age, or HIV-positive status. Since the law criminalizes homosexuality, many persons faced discrimination due to their sexual orientation.

The law prohibits discrimination against persons with disabilities, including their access to education, employment, health services, and other state services, but the regime did not enforce these provisions effectively. Discrimination occurred in hiring and access to worksites. The law seeks to integrate persons with disabilities into the workforce, reserving 4 percent of government jobs and 2 percent of private-sector jobs for them. Private-sector businesses are eligible for tax exemptions after hiring persons with disabilities.

Discrimination in employment and occupation occurred with respect to certain minority groups (see section 6, National/Racial/Ethnic Minorities).

e. Acceptable Conditions of Work

The law divides the public-sector monthly minimum wage into five levels based on job type or level of education, almost all of which fell below the World Bank’s poverty indicator. Benefits included compensation for meals, uniforms, and transportation. Most public-sector employees relied on bribery to supplement their income. Private-sector companies usually paid much higher wages, with lower-end wage rates semiofficially set by the regime and employer organizations. Many workers in the public and private sectors took additional manual jobs or relied on their extended families to support them.

The public-sector workweek was 35 hours, and the standard private-sector workweek was 40 hours, excluding meals and rest breaks. Hours of work could increase or decrease based on the industry and associated health hazards. The law provides for at least one meal or rest break totaling no less than one hour per day. Employers must schedule hours of work and rest such that workers do not work more than five consecutive hours or 10 hours per day in total. Employers must provide premium pay for overtime work.

The regime set occupational safety and health standards. The law includes provisions mandating that employers take appropriate precautions to protect workers from hazards inherent to the nature of work. The law does not protect workers who chose to remove themselves from situations that endanger their health or safety from losing their employment.

The Ministry of Social Affairs and Labor is responsible for enforcing the minimum wage and other regulations pertaining to acceptable conditions of work. The Ministries of Health and of Social Affairs and Labor designated officials to inspect worksites for compliance with health and safety standards. Workers could lodge complaints about health and safety conditions with special committees established to adjudicate such cases. Wage and hour regulations as well as occupational health and safety rules do not apply to migrant workers, rendering them more vulnerable to abuse.

There was little information on regime enforcement of labor law or working conditions during the year. There were no health and safety inspections reported, and even previous routine inspections of tourist facilities, such as hotels and major restaurants, no longer occurred. The enforcement of labor law was lax in both rural and urban areas, since many inspector positions were vacant due to the conflict and their number was insufficient to cover more than 10,000 workplaces. Penalties were not sufficient to deter violations.

Before the conflict began, 13 percent of women participated in the formal labor force, compared with 73 percent of men. During the year the unemployment rate for both men and women remained above 50 percent, with millions unable to participate in the workforce due to continued violence and insecurity. During the year UNFPA reported that local female employment participation increased in areas such as Damascus, Raqqa, and Daraa, as men were detained or killed.

Foreign workers, especially domestic workers, remained vulnerable to exploitative conditions. For example, the law does not legally entitle foreign female domestic workers to the same wages as Syrian domestic workers. The Ministry of Social Affairs and Labor oversees employment agencies responsible for providing safe working conditions for migrant domestic workers, but the scope of oversight was unknown. The continued unrest resulted in the large-scale voluntary departure of foreign workers as demand for services significantly declined, but violence and lawlessness impeded some foreign workers from leaving the country.

West Bank and Gaza

Read A Section: West Bank And Gaza

Israel

Executive Summary

The Palestinian Authority (PA) basic law provides for an elected president and legislative council. There have been no national elections in the West Bank and Gaza since 2006. President Mahmoud Abbas has remained in office despite the expiration of his four-year term in 2009. The Palestinian Legislative Council (PLC) has not functioned since 2007, and the PA Constitutional Court dissolved it in 2018. President Abbas called in September for the PA to organize PLC elections within six months, but elections did not take place by year’s end. The PA head of government is Prime Minister Mohammad Shtayyeh. President Abbas is also chairman of the Palestine Liberation Organization and general commander of the Fatah movement.

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

In Gaza the terrorist organization Hamas exercised de facto authority. The security apparatus of the Hamas de facto government in Gaza largely mirrored the West Bank. Internal security included civil police, guards and protection security, an internal intelligence-gathering and investigative entity (similar to the PSO in the West Bank), and civil defense. National security included the national security forces, military justice, military police, medical services, and the prison authority. The “Islamic Resistance Movement”–a group with some affiliation to the Hamas political movement–maintained a large military wing in Gaza, named the Izz ad-din al-Qassam Brigades. In some instances the Hamas de facto “civilian” authorities utilized the Hamas movement’s military wing to crack down on internal dissent.

The government of Israel maintained a West Bank security presence through the Israeli Defense Force (IDF), the Israeli Security Agency, the Israeli National Police, and the Border Guard. Israel maintained effective civilian control of its security forces throughout the West Bank and Gaza.

West Bank Palestinian population centers mostly fall into Area A, as defined by the Oslo-era agreements. The PA has formal responsibility for security in Area A, but Israeli security forces (ISF) regularly conducted security operations there, at times without coordinating with the PASF. The PA and Israel maintain joint security control of Area B in the West Bank. Israel retains full security control of Area C and has designated the majority of Area C land as either closed military zones or settlement zoning areas.

Significant human rights issues included:

  • With respect to the PA: reports of unlawful or arbitrary killings, torture, and arbitrary detention by authorities; holding political prisoners and detainees, including as reprisal for participation in foreign investment conferences; significant problems with the independence of the judiciary; arbitrary or unlawful interference with privacy; restrictions on free expression, the press, and the internet, including violence, threats of violence, unjustified arrests and prosecutions against journalists, censorship, and site blocking; substantial interference with the rights of peaceful assembly and freedom of association, including harassment of nongovernmental organizations (NGOs); restrictions on political participation, as the PA has not held a national election since 2006; acts of corruption; violence and threats of violence motivated by anti-Semitism; violence and threats of violence targeting lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and intersex (LGBTI) persons; and reports of forced child labor.
  • With respect to Israeli authorities: reports of unlawful or arbitrary killings, including allegations that deaths of Palestinians in the course of Israeli military operations were due to unnecessary or disproportionate use of force; reports of torture; reports of arbitrary detention; arbitrary or unlawful interference with privacy; restrictions on free expression, the press, and the internet, including violence, threats of violence, unjustified arrests and prosecutions against journalists, censorship, and site blocking; substantial interference with the rights of peaceful assembly and freedom of association, including harassment of NGOs; and significant restrictions on freedom of movement, including the requirement of exit permits.
  • With respect to Hamas: reports of unlawful or arbitrary killings, systematic torture, and arbitrary detention by Hamas officials; political prisoners; arbitrary or unlawful interference with privacy; restrictions on free expression, the press, and the internet, including violence, threats of violence, unjustified arrests and prosecutions against journalists, censorship, site blocking, and the existence of criminal libel laws; substantial interference with the rights of peaceful assembly and freedom of association; restrictions on political participation, as there has been no national election since 2006; acts of corruption; violence and threats of violence motivated by anti-Semitism; unlawful recruitment and use of child soldiers; violence and threats of violence targeting LGBTI persons; the criminalization of consensual same-sex sexual conduct between adults; and forced or compulsory child labor.
  • With respect to Palestinian civilians: five reports of unlawful or arbitrary killings, and violence and threats of violence motivated by anti-Semitism.
  • With respect to Israeli civilians: two reports of unlawful or arbitrary killing of Palestinian residents of the West Bank.

The PA took some steps to address impunity or reduce abuses, but there were criticisms that senior officials made comments glorifying violence in some cases and inappropriately influenced investigations and disciplinary actions related to abuses. Israeli authorities operating in the West Bank took steps to address impunity or reduce abuses, but there were criticisms they did not adequately pursue investigations and disciplinary actions related to abuses. There were no legal or independent institutions capable of holding the Hamas de facto authority in Gaza accountable.

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

Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:

a. Freedom of Expression, Including for the Press

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

In Gaza, Hamas restricted press freedom through arrests and interrogations of journalists, as well as harassment and limitations on access and movement for some journalists. These restrictions led many journalists to self-censor. During the March Bidna Na’eesh (We Want to Live) protests, Hamas arrested 23 journalists, according to rights groups.

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

Freedom of Expression: Although no PA law prohibits criticism of the government, media reports indicated PA authorities arrested West Bank Palestinian journalists and social media activists who criticized or covered events that criticized the PA.

On February 24, the PASF detained photojournalist Mohammad Dweik while he filmed a protest against the National Social Insurance Law, according to media reports; he was later released after deleting the content from his camera.

The law restricts the publication of material that endangers the “integrity of the Palestinian state.” The PA arrested West Bank journalists and blocked websites associated with political rivals, including sites affiliated with political parties and opposition groups critical of the Fatah-controlled PA. Websites blocked during 2018 continued to be blocked throughout the year.

According to HRW, the PA arrested 1,609 individuals between January 2018 and April 2019 for insulting “higher authorities” and creating “sectarian strife.” HRW stated these charges “criminalize peaceful dissent.” The PA arrested more than 750 persons during this period for social media posts, according to data provided to HRW.

In Gaza, Hamas authorities arrested, interrogated, seized property from, and harassed Palestinians who publicly criticized them. Media practitioners accused of publicly criticizing Hamas, including civil society and youth activists, social media advocates, and journalists, faced punitive measures, including raids on their facilities and residences, arbitrary detention, and denial of permission to travel outside Gaza. In January, Hamas arrested the Palestinian comedian Ali Nassman after he released a song on YouTube mocking a Hamas policy, according to media. He was released later that day. In April, Hamas arrested Palestinian comedian Hussam Khalaf for mocking the same Hamas policy, and he was released the next day.

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

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

On May 26, the Hamas de facto government Ministries of Interior and Information in Gaza prevented PA-owned newspaper Al Hayat Al Jadida from distributing its paper based on the claim that the outlet published provocative material that incited violence and disrupted the civil peace.

In March, Hamas security arrested Rafat al-Qedra, the general manager of Palestine TV in Gaza. According to media outlets, they confiscated his mobile telephone and personal laptop before releasing him.

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

There were reports of Israeli forces detaining journalists in the West Bank, including the August 6 detention in Burqin of Muhammed Ateeq, who was held for 10 days, and the August 29 detention of photojournalist Hasan Dabbous in his village near Ramallah. According to Israeli authorities, Ateeq was arrested on suspicion of endangering the security of the area.

On June 10, an Israeli military court indicted Palestinian journalist Lama Khater, who was arrested alongside five other journalists in July 2018, for incitement to violence through her writing and sentenced her to 13 months in prison, including time already served, according to media reports. She was released on July 26. Khater claimed she was mistreated during interrogation, including being chained to a chair for 10 to 20 hours a day for more than a month, according to media reports. According to Israeli authorities, Khater admitted to membership in Hamas, an illegal organization, and was sentenced as part of a plea bargain.

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

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

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

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

Throughout the year there were reports of Israeli actions that prevented Palestinian or Arab-Israeli journalists from covering news stories in the West Bank and Gaza. These actions included alleged harassment by Israeli soldiers and acts of violence against journalists. Palestinian journalists also claimed that Israeli security forces detained Palestinian journalists and forced them to delete images and videos under threat of violence, arrest, or administrative detention. On August 2, ISF detained AP photojournalist Eyad Hamad for several hours while he was reporting on house demolitions in the Wadi al-Hummous area of East Jerusalem, according to rights groups and media reports. The government of Israel stated it could find no record of this incident.

On July 24, Reporters without Borders alleged the IDF was intentionally targeting the media after five Palestinian journalists were injured in the span of four days while covering events in the West Bank and Gaza. At least two of the injured journalists were wearing vests marked “press” when the IDF allegedly fired at them with live rounds, according to media reports. One of the journalists, Sami Misran of Al-Aqsa TV, allegedly lost the use of an eye, according to the Times of Israel. The IDF stated it does not target journalists. According to the government of Israel, allegations of misconduct regarding the Gaza protests were being examined by the Fact Finding Assessment Mechanism, which will be reviewed by the MAG to determine whether there are reasonable grounds for criminal investigations.

On May 4, the Israeli air force shelled and destroyed a Gazan building that included the offices of local and regional media agencies and institutes, including the Turkish Anadolu Agency, the Prisoners Media Center, the Hala Media Training Center, and the Abdullah Hourani Studies Center, according to media reports. The IDF stated it targeted the building because it housed other offices related to Hamas and that it did not intend to destroy the media offices.

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

According to media reports, the PASF confiscated equipment from journalist Thaer Fakhouri in Hebron and arrested him for posting “incitement information” on social media platforms. He was held for four days and obliged to pay a fine before being released.

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

The Israeli government raided and closed West Bank Palestinian media sources, primarily on the basis of allegations they incited violence against Israeli civilians or security services. Acts of incitement under military law are punishable by up to 10 years’ imprisonment. NGOs and other observers said Israeli military regulations were vaguely worded and open to interpretation. The ISF generally cited two laws in its military orders when closing Palestinian radio stations–the 1945 Defense Emergency Regulations and the 2009 Order Concerning Security Provisions. These laws generally define incitement as an attempt to influence public opinion in a manner that could harm public safety or public order.

Libel/Slander Laws: There were some accusations of slander or libel against journalists and activists in the West Bank and Gaza.

A case continued in Ramallah Magistrate’s Court in which London-based al-Arabi al-Jadeed disputed a 2016 closure order by the PA following an investigative report about torture in PA prisons.

HRW reported that Gazan authorities charged journalist Hajar Harb with slander for an investigative piece she wrote in 2016 accusing doctors in Gaza’s health ministry of writing false reports to allow healthy people to leave Gaza for treatment in return for payment. She was convicted in absentia in 2017. She returned to Gaza in 2018 and was granted a new trial. In March she was acquitted on appeal.

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

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

The PA blocked access to at least 59 news sites sympathetic to Hamas or political factions critical of Abbas. The PA monitored social media actively, pressuring and harassing activists and journalists. There were instances when the PA arrested or detained Palestinians because of their posts on social media.

According to media reports, on January 6, the PASF arrested journalist Mahmoud Hreish at his house in Betunia city and detained him for 23 days. The PASF interrogated him about a Facebook post in which he criticized the PA’s insufficient response to Israeli settler attacks against Palestinians.

Gaza-based Palestinian civil society organizations and social media practitioners stated Hamas de facto authorities monitored the internet activities of Gaza residents and took action to intimidate or harass them. On April 13, Hamas intelligence detained and interrogated journalist Hamza Hammad, according to media reports. He was reportedly released after 24 hours after signing a pledge to no longer post on Facebook about the political and economic situation in Gaza.

According to HRW, between January 2018 and March 2019, both the PA and Hamas arrested dozens of persons based on social media posts on charges of “harming revolutionary unity” and “misuse of technology.” The PA arrested and brought to trial Palestinian human rights activist Issa Amro for a social media post critical of the PA’s arrest of a Palestinian journalist, according to media reports.

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

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

Students and faculty from Gaza participating in certain cultural and education programs (including programs sponsored by foreign governments and international organizations) faced questioning from de facto Hamas authorities. On February 19, Hamas’ General Intelligence Service arrested the head of the Birzeit University Center for Development Studies, Ghassan Abu Mata, for conducting a survey on “youth reality” in Gaza without a permit from the Hamas-led Ministry of the Interior, according to the PCHR and the al-Mezan Center for Human Rights.

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

b. Freedoms of Peaceful Assembly and Association

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

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

After a new social security law was passed and published in the official gazette, the United Movement against the Social Security Law called for a commercial strike in Hebron on January 15 in opposition to the law, according to the Human Rights and Democracy Media Center (SHAMS) and media reports. PA police arrested and investigated several of the protesters and held them overnight, according to SHAMS.

According to a Hamas decree, any public assembly or celebration in Gaza requires prior permission. Hamas used arbitrary arrest to prevent some events from taking place, particularly the Bidna Na’eesh (We Want to Live) protest (see section 1.d., Arbitrary Arrest) and political events affiliated with Fatah. Hamas also attempted to impede criticism of Hamas policies by imposing arbitrary demands for the approval of meetings on political or social topics.

A 1967 Israeli military order stipulates that a “political” gathering of 10 or more persons requires a permit from the regional commander of military forces, which Israeli commanders rarely granted. The penalty for a breach of the order is up to 10 years’ imprisonment or a heavy fine. Israeli military law prohibits insulting a soldier, participating in an unpermitted rally, and “incitement” (encouraging others to engage in civil disobedience). Palestinian human rights activist Issa Amro faced 16 charges in a trial underway in an Israeli military court that began in 2016. The charges include participation in a march without a permit, assaulting a soldier, and incitement, according to rights groups. Human rights organizations such as Amnesty International stated Amro’s actions during these incidents were consistent with nonviolent civil disobedience. The latest hearing in his case took place in September. Ha’aretz reported the IDF detained Amro at least 20 times at various checkpoints from May to July 2018. In August, IDF soldiers detained Amro at a checkpoint in Hebron and released him two hours later with no explanation, according to rights groups.

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

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

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

c. Freedom of Religion

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

d. Freedom of Movement

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

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

Citing security concerns and frequent attempted terrorist attacks, Israel imposed significant restrictions on Palestinian movement in the West Bank and between the West Bank and Jerusalem. Israeli authorities often prohibited travel between some or all Palestinian West Bank towns and deployed temporary checkpoints for that purpose. Palestinians who lived in affected villages stated that “internal closures” continued to have negative economic effects, lowering their employment prospects, wages, and days worked per month. During periods of potential unrest, including on some major Israeli, Jewish, and Muslim holidays, Israeli authorities enacted “comprehensive external closures” that prevented Palestinians from leaving the West Bank and Gaza. For example, Israeli authorities enacted a comprehensive closure for the West Bank and Gaza for eight days during Pesach from April 19-26, according to B’Tselem. B’Tselem reported 13 such days in total during the year.

The Israeli travel permit system restricts Palestinians’ ability to travel from Gaza to the West Bank, including travel to pursue higher education opportunities. Palestinian higher education contacts reported that permits for Gazans to attend West Bank universities were seldom granted.

Israel has declared access restricted areas (ARAs) on both the coastal and land borders around Gaza, citing evidence that Hamas exploited these areas at times to conduct attacks or to smuggle weapons and goods into Gaza. The lack of clear information regarding the ARAs created risks for Palestinians in Gaza who lived or worked either on the Mediterranean Coast or near the perimeter fence. No official signage indicating the line of demarcation exists, and official policy changed frequently. Likewise, the permitted maritime activity area for Palestinians along the coastal region of Gaza changed between zero and 15 nautical miles 19 times throughout the year, according to the Gisha, an Israeli organization that focuses on Palestinian freedom of movement. Human rights NGOs asserted this confusion led to multiple instances of Israeli forces firing upon farmers and fishermen. According to the United Nations, regular electrical outages often made it necessary for Gazan farmers to work their fields after dark; in some instances, IDF soldiers shot at farmers near the ARA while they irrigated their fields at night.

On February 20, Israeli naval forces arrested five fishermen and confiscated three boats off the Gaza coast, according to the PCHR. The Israeli forces used live fire during the arrests, damaging one of the boats, and one of the fishermen was injured when an Israeli naval vessel hit him after he jumped off his boat when it was fired on. Also on February 20, Israeli naval forces allegedly shot Gaza fisherman Khader al-Saaidy with rubber-coated bullets in the face and chest at close range, and he lost sight in both eyes as a result. According to the government of Israel, the case was referred to the MAG to determine whether there were reasonable grounds for a criminal investigation.

A key barrier to Palestinian movement was the security barrier that divides the majority of the West Bank from Israel, including Jerusalem, and some parts of the West Bank. Israeli authorities constructed the barrier to prevent attacks by Palestinian terrorists. In some areas it divides Palestinian communities in the West Bank and Jerusalem. At its widest points, the barrier extends 11 miles (18 kilometers) into the West Bank. B’Tselem estimated that 27,000 Palestinians resided in communities west of the barrier who were required to travel through Israeli security checkpoints to reach the remainder of the West Bank. Other significant barriers to Palestinian movement included internal ISF road closures and Israeli restrictions on the movement of Palestinian persons and goods into and out of the West Bank and Gaza. Major checkpoints, such as Container and Za’tara, caused major disruptions in the West Bank when closed, according to media reports. When Container (near Bethlehem) is closed, it cuts off one-third of the West Bank population living in the South, including Bethlehem and Hebron, from Ramallah and the North. Similarly, Za’tara checkpoint blocks traffic in and out of the entire northern part of the West Bank, including Nablus, Tulkarem, and Jenin, according to media reports. UNOCHA reported there were 705 permanent obstacles throughout the West Bank, a 3 percent increase from their previous survey in 2016. Israeli restrictions on movement affected virtually all aspects of Palestinian life, including attendance at weddings and funerals, access to places of worship, employment, access to agricultural lands, schools, and hospitals, as well as the conduct of journalism and humanitarian and NGO activities. There were also reports of patients dying in traffic before reaching hospitals and ambulances en route to accidents or scenes of attacks being stopped by the IDF for hours at a time. In October the Israeli government denied a travel request for an Amnesty International employee from the West Bank to accompany his mother to a chemotherapy treatment in Jerusalem citing “security concerns,” according to Amnesty.

Israeli officials imposed restrictions on movement of materials, goods, and persons into and out of Gaza based on security and economic concerns. Amnesty International and HRW reported difficulties by foreign workers in obtaining Israeli visas, which affected the delivery of humanitarian assistance in the West Bank and Gaza. Amnesty International and HRW also reported that the Israeli government denied their employees permits to enter Gaza from Israel. The United Nations and several international NGOs reported that the Israeli government denied their local Gazan staff permits to exit Gaza into Israel, and UNOCHA reported that more than 130 local UN staff were under travel bans prohibiting them from exiting Gaza. The Israeli government stated all Gaza exit requests are reviewed on a case-by-case basis in accordance with security considerations arising from Hamas’s de facto control of Gaza.

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

UNRWA reported its West Bank Headquarters staff lost 79 workdays during the year, mostly due to increased Israeli demands to search UNRWA vehicles at checkpoints between Bethlehem and Jerusalem.

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

The ISF routinely detained for several hours Palestinians residing in Gaza who had permits to enter Israel for business and subjected them to interrogations and strip searches at Israeli-controlled checkpoints, according to rights groups. UNOCHA and several NGOs working on freedom of movement issues noted that frequently changing protocols and unofficial, unwritten policies at checkpoints have resulted in the forfeiture of personal property including money, electronics, and clothing of those attempting to exit Gaza with valid travel permits.

Israeli authorities allegedly damaged Palestinian property in the West Bank while conducting raids, sealed off entries and exits to homes and other buildings, and confiscated vehicles and boats. The Israeli government stated that it imposed collective restrictions only if an armed forces commander believed there was a military necessity for the action and that the imposition on the everyday lives of Palestinian civilians was not disproportionate.

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

Israeli authorities restricted or prohibited Palestinian travel on 29 roads and sections of roads (totaling approximately 36 miles) throughout the West Bank, including many of the main traffic arteries, according to B’Tselem. The ISF also imposed temporary curfews confining Palestinians to their homes during ISF arrest operations. During the Muslim holy month of Ramadan, Israeli authorities eased restrictions on Palestinians entering Israel, including Jerusalem, allowing West Bank Palestinians to use Ben Gurion Airport, to visit family, and visit the Haram al-Sharif/Temple Mount for religious services. Israeli authorities did not issue permits to Palestinians in Gaza to visit Jerusalem.

Israeli authorities extended the security barrier in the Cremisan Valley near Bethlehem and began land clearing to extend the barrier through Walajah village, also near Bethlehem. Israel continued to restrict movement and development near the barrier, including access by some international organizations. In response to a freedom of information act request from HaMoked in 2018, the IDF reported that during the year it had denied 72 percent of permit requests by Palestinian farmers to access their land blocked by the security barrier, of which 1 percent of the denials were for security reasons. HaMoked asserted many of these refusals were due to arbitrary claims by Israeli authorities that the farmer’s land was too small to cultivate.

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

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

Israeli restrictions allowed fishing only within three nautical miles of Gaza land during specific periods. The Israeli government stated these restrictions were necessary for security reasons. Israeli and Egyptian naval forces regularly fired warning shots at Palestinian fishermen entering the restricted sea areas, in some cases directly targeting the fishermen, according to UNOCHA. Israeli armed forces confiscated fishing boats intercepted in these areas and detained the fishermen. In August the Coordinator of Government Activities in the Territories returned 22 seized fishing boats to their owners; all the boats had holes in them and the fishermen were forced to pay the cost of moving the boats from government of Israel custody back to the docking area, according to the United Nations.

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

The Israeli government, citing security concerns, continued to impose intermittent restrictions on Palestinian access to certain religious sites, including the Haram al-Sharif/Temple Mount. Israeli officials cited security concerns when imposing travel restrictions, including limiting access to Jerusalem during major Jewish holidays as well as continuing construction of Israel’s security barrier, which impeded the movements of Palestinian Muslims and Christians in the West Bank.

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

Foreign Travel: Hamas authorities in Gaza occasionally enforced movement restrictions on Palestinians attempting to exit Gaza to Israel via the Erez Crossing and to Egypt via the Rafah Crossing. Palestinians returning to Gaza were regularly subject to Hamas interrogations about their activities in Israel, the West Bank, and abroad.

Citing security concerns, Israeli authorities often denied or did not respond to Palestinian applications for travel permits through the Erez Crossing. Israel largely limited entry and exit from Gaza at the Erez Crossing to humanitarian cases and limited permits to businesspersons and day laborers working in Israel. These limitations prevented some Palestinians from transiting to Jerusalem for visa interviews; to Jordan (often for onward travel) via the Allenby Bridge; and to the West Bank for work or education. The Israeli Ministry of Foreign Affairs stated there were no new restrictions on items that could be brought through Erez into Israel, but Gazans reported additional restrictions, including not being allowed to carry phone chargers or more than one pair of shoes. Israel approved 40 percent of exit permit requests from Gaza to Jordan, 56 percent from Gaza to Israel and the West Bank, and 50 percent from the West Bank to Israel, according to the Israeli government.

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

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

According to Gisha, Israel denied some exit permit applications by residents of Gaza on the grounds that the applicants were “first-degree relative[s] [of] a Hamas operative.” UNOCHA reported that some of their staff members were denied exit permits out of Gaza due to security blocks because UNOCHA coordinates with Hamas as the de facto government in Gaza to facilitate the entry, exit, and transportation of UN personnel.

UNOCHA estimated that during the year 700 persons in Gaza were displaced by three instances of hostilities between armed Palestinian groups and Israel. Additional persons in Gaza remained displaced due to the destruction caused by the 2014 war.

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

f. Protection of Refugees

Abuse of Migrants, Refugees, and Stateless Persons: Israeli security operations in the West Bank led to 11 Palestinian UNRWA beneficiary fatalities, three of whom were killed allegedly while conducting an attack on the ISF or Israeli civilians. Israeli use of live ammunition caused most injuries. There were 62 Palestinians reported injured by Israeli authorities in West Bank refugee camps, according to UNRWA, of whom live ammunition injured 17, including four UNRWA beneficiary minors.

The most recent fatality in Deheisha refugee camp south of Bethlehem was in July, when the ISF fatally shot 14-year-old Arkan Thaer Mizher. According to the Israeli government, the investigation has concluded and the MAG was reviewing the findings.

UNRWA provided education, health care, and social services to areas of Jerusalem, the West Bank, and Gaza; however, the agency continued to experience funding shortfalls throughout the year. During the year Israel’s ambassador to the United Nations urged international donors to suspend funding to the agency amid a UN Office of Internal Oversight Services investigation into allegations of corruption and mismanagement by UNRWA’s senior management team. Several international and Israeli NGOs called for the UN to strengthen oversight of UNRWA and improve transparency to address the allegations.

Access to Basic Services: Palestinian refugees in the West Bank and Gaza were eligible to access UNRWA schools and primary health care clinics, although in some cases, movement restrictions limited access to UNRWA services and resources in the West Bank (see section 1.d.).

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

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

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

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

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

Section 3. Freedom to Participate in the Political Process

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

Recent Elections: There have been no national elections in the West Bank and Gaza since 2006. In December 2018 President Abbas announced that the PA Constitutional Court had issued a decision dissolving the PLC and calling for PLC elections within six months. As of the end of the year, no date was set for national or municipal elections in the West Bank or Gaza.

Political Parties and Political Participation: The PA allowed a limited range of political parties to exist in the West Bank and limited the ability of Hamas members to campaign and organize rallies. Activists linked to the new Reform and Development Party in the West Bank claimed PA security agencies pressured them not to organize. The PA reportedly detained one party member for several hours with no explanation. In Gaza, Hamas allowed other political parties but restricted their activities, primarily in the case of Fatah. According to HRW, the PA and Hamas arbitrarily arrested each other’s supporters solely because of their political affiliation or expression of views. Hamas arrested more than 1,000 Fatah leaders and members in Gaza during the year, according to media reports.

Participation of Women and Minorities: No PA laws limit participation of women or members of minorities in the political process, and they did participate. Legally women and minorities can vote and participate in political life, although women faced significant social and cultural barriers in both the West Bank and Gaza. There are three women and four Christians in the 22-member PA cabinet.

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

Section 4. Corruption and Lack of Transparency in Government

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

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

In August, Finance Minister Shukri Bishara returned more than $81,000 in secret bonuses in response to public outrage after leaked documents revealed that in 2017 President Abbas approved a measure to give his cabinet a 67 percent raise, retroactive to 2014 when the cabinet was formed, according to media reports. The PA said other ministers would also return bonuses. Media reports alleged only those bonuses taken retroactively would be returned. The same month President Abbas also announced he was firing “all of his advisors,” according to the PA’s official Wafa news agency and other media reports. President Abbas reportedly took the action as an austerity measure in light of the PA’s budget shortfall following the government of Israel’s decision in February to withhold $138 million in tax transfers to the PA, corresponding to Israel’s record of PA payments to the families of jailed Palestinian militants.

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

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

Financial Disclosure: PA ministers are subject to financial disclosure laws, but there was little accountability for nondisclosure. The PA publicized financial disclosure documents from public-sector employees, including ministers, via the PA Anticorruption Commission. De facto Hamas authorities in Gaza did not require financial disclosure.

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

Palestinian human rights groups and international organizations reported some restrictions on their work in the West Bank. Some of these organizations reported the PASF and PA police harassed their employees and pressured individuals and organizations not to work with them. Several PA security services, including General Intelligence and the Palestinian Civil Police, appointed official liaisons who worked with human rights groups.

Israeli and Palestinian human rights NGOs operating in the West Bank, Gaza, or both, including B’Tselem, Rabbis for Human Rights, and Breaking the Silence, reported harassment from Israeli settlers and anonymous sources. B’Tselem, Rabbis for Human Rights, Yesh Din, HRW, and Breaking the Silence reported some of their employees were subjected to intimidation, death threats, or physical assault. NGOs claimed these behaviors increased during periods in which government officials spoke out against their activities or criticized them as enemies or traitors for opposing government policy.

Gaza-based NGOs reported that Hamas representatives appeared at their offices to seek tax payments, demand beneficiary lists and salary information, and summon NGO representatives to police stations for questioning. On March 17, Hamas security forces assaulted and injured Jamil Sarhan, the director of the ICHR Gaza office, and Bakr al-Turkmani, an ICHR employee, while they were performing human rights monitoring duties. Hamas detained other human rights workers in March, prompting Amnesty International to state on March 18 that it was “clear that Hamas security forces are trying to stop human rights defenders from carrying out the vital work of document and reporting” on Hamas abuses.

Humanitarian organizations continued to raise concerns about the shrinking operational space for international NGOs in Gaza, including a significant increase in Israeli travel bans affecting their Gaza-based staff. Israeli authorities increased scrutiny of both nongovernmental and diplomatic visitors to Gaza following the February 2018 arrest of a French consulate employee who admitted to smuggling weapons from Gaza to the West Bank in official diplomatic vehicles. In April the Be’er Sheva District Court sentenced him to seven years in prison.

Palestinian, Israeli, and international NGOs monitored the Israeli government’s practices in the West Bank and Gaza and published their findings.

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

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

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

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

According to the PA’s Central Bureau of Statistics, one in five Palestinian women in the West Bank and Gaza reported at least one incident of physical abuse from their husbands. Women in Gaza were twice as likely to be a victim of spousal abuse as women in the West Bank. PA law does not explicitly prohibit domestic violence, but assault and battery are crimes. PA and de facto Hamas authorities did not enforce the law effectively in domestic violence cases in the West Bank and Gaza. NGOs reported Palestinian women were frequently unwilling to report cases of violence or abuse to the PA or de facto Hamas authorities due to fear of retribution or little expectation of assistance. HRW in previous years reported that PA authorities prosecuted few domestic violence cases successfully.

Other Harmful Traditional Practices: The law precludes “family honor” as protection for perpetrators in “honor killing” crimes. In 2018 the PA amended the law to prohibit the practice of judges giving lighter sentences for crimes against women and children versus crimes against men. NGOs claimed the amended law was not sufficiently enforced. According to SHAMS, there were 20 honor killings in the West Bank and Gaza through October. On September 21, the PA attorney general charged three male family members with murder in the death of Israa Ghrayeb in an alleged honor killing, according to media reports. The case continued at year’s end.

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

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

Discrimination: Inheritance for Muslims in the West Bank and Gaza falls under Palestinian Basic Law, which is based on sharia. Under Palestinian Basic Law, women have a right to inheritance but, in practice, generally received less than men. According to rights groups, in some cases women have been attacked by male family members for asserting their right to an inheritance. While recognized Christian communities have separate civil court systems, there is no separate civil law for Christians, so those communities also utilize Palestinian Basic Law. Men may marry more than one wife. Women may add conditions to marriage contracts to protect their interests in the event of divorce and child custody disputes but rarely did so. Local officials sometimes advised such women to leave their communities to avoid harassment.

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

According to press and NGO reports, in some instances teachers in Hamas-run schools in Gaza sent girls home for not wearing conservative attire, although enforcement was not systematic. Reports of gender-based employment discrimination in Gaza against women are common, and factories often do not hire pregnant or newly married women in order to avoid the need to approve maternity leave.

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

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

According to the United Nations, there were 199 documented instances of “interference of education” by Israeli forces in the West Bank through September, 30 percent of which involved the firing of tear gas canisters or stun grenades in or near schools. The H2 area of Hebron was the most highly affected area with 74 incidents. A video from March shows armed IDF soldiers entering a school in Hebron and attempting to detain a nine-year-old and his seven-year-old brother for allegedly throwing stones at soldiers. Under Israeli military law, the age of majority is 12. According to the Israeli government, the incident was precipitated by a group of 10 school students throwing stones at soldiers and ultimately resulted in no arrests.

In the West Bank, Palestinian government officials and Palestinian university officials accused the ISF of disrupting university campuses, especially in areas close to Israeli settlements. Officials from the al-Quds University’s Abu Dis campus in the West Bank continued to accuse Israeli soldiers of harassing Palestinian university students on campus and attempting to provoke students. There were occasional low-level skirmishes near the entrance to al-Quds University between the IDF and youths unaffiliated with the university.

According to HRW, the difficulty of obtaining permits to build new schools and the Israeli destruction of schools built without permits made it difficult for many West Bank Palestinian children to get an education. Israeli restrictions on construction in Area C of the West Bank also affected Palestinian students’ access to education. At the end of the year, 43 Palestinian schools in Area C were under pending demolition orders.

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

Early and Forced Marriage: President Abbas issued a presidential decree declaring a marriage legal only if both parties enter into the marriage willingly and both are 18 years old, but the decree provides an exception for minors if a judge agrees the marriage is in “the best interest of both parties.” Child marriage did not appear to be widespread in the West Bank and Gaza, according to NGOs including the Women’s Center for Legal Aid and Counseling.

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

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

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

Israeli settlements in the West Bank had approximately 427,800 Jewish residents. The Jewish population in Gaza, aside from foreign nationals, was nonexistent.

Some Palestinians and Muslim religious leaders used anti-Semitic rhetoric and engaged in Holocaust denial. Anti-Israel sentiment was widespread in public discourse and sometimes crossed the line into anti-Semitism, including expressions of longing for a world without Israel and glorification of terror attacks on Israelis. On March 23, after the IDF killed Omar Abu Laila, who attacked and killed IDF soldier Gal Keidan and Rabbi Achiad Ettinger, Fatah deputy chairman Mahmoud al-Aloul praised Abu Laila on the official Fatah Facebook page, saying, “We are extremely proud, this is Omar Abu Laila…he represents all of you, represents all young Palestinians.” Media reported that Fatah closed its official Facebook page in September, so it may only be viewed by those expressly invited due to concerns that the site would be shut down due to its content. During times of heightened tensions between Israeli authorities and Palestinians, Palestinian press and social media sometimes circulated cartoons encouraging terrorist attacks against Israelis, and official PA media outlets published and broadcast material that included anti-Semitic content.

In March the PA official daily newspaper al-Hayat al-Jadida published an opinion piece that made anti-Semitic remarks regarding foreign Jewish officials involved in Middle East peace negotiations, according to the National Council of Young Israel.

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

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

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

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

Persons with disabilities continued to receive inconsistent and poor quality services and care in the West Bank and Gaza. The PA in the West Bank and de facto Hamas authorities in Gaza partially depended on UN agencies and NGOs to care for persons with physical disabilities, and both offered substandard care for persons with mental disabilities. Palestinians in Gaza reported little to no infrastructure accommodations for persons with mobility disabilities, as well as difficulty in importing wheelchairs and other mobility aids. Hamas de facto authorities were more likely to provide prostheses and mobility aids to people injured in Israeli airstrikes or in the protests at the Gaza fence than to those born with disabilities, according to NGOs.

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

In the West Bank, PA law, based on the 1960 Jordanian penal code, does not prohibit consensual same-sex sexual activity. NGOs reported PA security officers and neighbors harassed, abused, and sometimes arrested people due to their sexual orientation or gender identity. In Gaza, under the British Mandate Penal Code of 1936, sexual acts “against the order of nature” are criminalized. NGOs reported Hamas security forces harassed and detained people due to their sexual orientation or gender identity.

On August 19, PA police spokesperson Louay Arzeikat released a statement in which he declared that LGBT rights group al-Qaws was banned from holding events in the West Bank, according to rights groups and media reports. Arzeikat threatened to arrest members of the group, stated the organization’s work was contrary to the “values of Palestinian society,” and encouraged local communities to inform on the members, according to rights groups and media reports. Arzeikat released the statement after al-Qaws held a discussion on gender pluralism in Nablus on August 4, according to rights groups. On August 27, the PA police rescinded the statement following criticism from human rights groups. In October al-Qaws said increased persecution and restrictions continued even after the PA police rescinded their statement.

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

As of December 9, UNOCHA reported 101 incidents of Palestinians committing violent acts against Israeli civilians in the West Bank, primarily stone throwing, which represented a 49 percent decrease from 2018. Israeli police investigated 87 allegations of nationalistic-based offenses committed by Palestinians against Israelis in the West Bank through July, according to the Israeli government. On March 17, a Palestinian assailant stabbed and killed an Israeli soldier near the Ariel settlement in the West Bank before stealing the soldier’s rifle to kill an Israeli civilian and wound another Israeli soldier.

During the same timeframe, UNOCHA identified 330 incidents of settler attacks that resulted in Palestinian fatalities, injuries, or property damage, which represented an 18 percent increase from 2018. Israeli police investigated 31 allegations of nationalistic-based offenses committed by Israelis against Palestinians in the West Bank through July, two of which resulted in indictments, according to the government of Israel. In February the Lod District Attorney’s Office publicized an Israeli civilian’s conviction on 25 charges, including racially motivated assault and property destruction targeting Palestinians in the West Bank from 2013 to 2016. Israeli authorities arrested the perpetrator in 2016 but released him until sentencing since he was a minor when the crimes occurred, according to the media. NGOs alleged that some Israeli settlers used violence against Palestinians to intimidate them from using land that settlers sought to acquire. On May 17, B’Tselem released video footage of an off-duty Israeli solider igniting a bush fire on Palestinian-owned farmland near Burin village. The IDF suspended the soldier from his combat unit, and according to media reports, the incident remained under Israeli police investigation. Various human rights groups, including Yesh Din, Rabbis for Human Rights, and B’Tselem, continued to claim Israeli authorities insufficiently investigated and rarely prosecuted settler violence. Palestinian residents were reportedly reluctant to report incidents due to fears of settler retaliation and because they were discouraged by a lack of accountability in most cases, according to NGOs.

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

Section 7. Worker Rights

a. Freedom of Association and the Right to Collective Bargaining

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

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

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

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

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

b. Prohibition of Forced or Compulsory Labor

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

c. Prohibition of Child Labor and Minimum Age for Employment

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

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

In 2018, the latest year for which data were available, PA officials found 169 cases involving child labor (younger than 15) and referred 10 cases to the courts. In recent years PA officials reported fining “numerous” persons after successful investigations conducted by the PA Ministry of Labor. The ministry inspected only businesses operating in the formal economy and was unable to conduct investigations in the Gaza Strip. It did not have access to Israeli-controlled Area C of the West Bank. Many cases of child labor in the West Bank reportedly occurred in home environments, for example on family farms, which were not open to labor ministry inspection.

In the second quarter of the year, 3 percent of children between the ages of 10 and 17 were employed–4 percent in the West Bank and 1 percent in Gaza. Palestinian child laborers deemed by the PA to be most vulnerable to forced labor or extreme weather conditions generally worked in shops, as roadside and checkpoint street vendors, in car washes, in factories, in small manufacturing enterprises, or on family farms.

Hamas reportedly did not enforce child labor laws in Gaza, and the United Nations reported child labor was increasing in Gaza due to widespread economic hardship. Hamas reportedly encouraged children to work gathering gravel and scrap metal from bombsites to sell to recycling merchants and increased recruitment of youth for tunnel-digging activities. Children were also reported to be working informally in the automotive and mechanics sector, often changing tires and working as mechanics’ assistants. There were also reports Hamas trained children as combatants.

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

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

d. Discrimination with Respect to Employment and Occupation

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

There was discrimination in the West Bank and Gaza based on the above categories with respect to employment and occupation. Women endured prejudice and, in some cases, repressive conditions at work. The Palestinian female labor force participation rate was 20 percent in Gaza and 17 percent in the West Bank.

e. Acceptable Conditions of Work

The PA’s monthly minimum wage was significantly below the poverty line. The PA estimated 14 percent of residents in the West Bank and 53 percent of residents in Gaza lived below the poverty line.

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

The PA Ministry of Labor was responsible for setting occupational health and safety standards. Palestinian workers do not have the legal protection to remove themselves from situations that endangered their health or safety without jeopardy to their employment. Mechanisms for lodging complaints were generally not utilized due to fear of retribution, according to NGOs.

The ministry reported that its enforcement ability on wage, hours of work, and occupational safety and health standards was limited, even in the West Bank, in part due to lack of staff. Penalties were also insufficient to deter violations. During the year the Ministry of Labor conducted periodic visits to the workplaces as mandated by the labor law. In 2018 the Ministry of Labor’s Inspection Department visited larger business establishments and took legal actions against the establishments violating the law (e.g., warnings, partial shutdown, total shutdown, and referring to the court). The PA did not effectively monitor smaller worksites, which were at times below legal safety standards.

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

Israeli authorities did not conduct labor inspections in Israeli settlements, where Palestinian workers constituted a significant part of the workforce. The lack of a competent labor authority in the settlements increased workers’ vulnerability to exploitation. NGOs such as Kav LaOved stated that exploitative practices in Israeli settlements were widespread. The International Labor Organization estimated one-half of all such workers with permits continued to pay exorbitant monthly fees to brokers to obtain and maintain valid work permits. Approximately 130,000 Palestinians worked in Israel and Israeli settlements, mostly in construction, and an estimated 18,000 in seasonal agriculture. These workers were more vulnerable to exploitation and were not eligible for worker benefits, such as paid annual and sick leave. Kav LaOved brought cases to Israeli labor courts on behalf of Palestinian workers employed by enterprises in Israel and West Bank settlements. Many of these cases related to nonpayment or misreporting of wages, inadequate medical care following workplace injury, and the settlement of subsequent health insurance claims within the Israeli system.

According to the Palestine Central Bureau of Statistics Labor Force Survey, 30 percent of wage employees received less than the minimum wage in the second quarter of the year. In the West Bank, approximately 10 percent of wage employees in the private sector received less than the minimum monthly wage. In Gaza, 79 percent of wage employees in the private sector received less than the minimum monthly wage. Palestinians working in Israeli settlements reported they continued to receive wages lower than the Israeli minimum wage, despite a 2008 high court ruling that Israeli labor laws apply to relations between Palestinian workers and Israeli employers in settlements.

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

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