Australia

Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:

Although the constitution does not explicitly provide for freedom of speech or press, the High Court has held that the constitution implies a limited right to freedom of political expression, 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.

Libel/Slander Laws: Journalists expressed concern that strict defamation laws have had a “chilling effect” on investigative journalism and freedom of the press. In February businessman and political donor Chau Chak Wing won a defamation case against a media organization that linked him to a bribery case implicating a former president of the UN General Assembly. A member of parliament, Andrew Hastie, criticized the verdict, saying, “Generally speaking, we are concerned about the impact that defamation laws in Australia are having on responsible journalism that informs Australians about important national security issues.”

National Security: In June the AFP raided ABC’s headquarters and the home of a News Corp journalist as part of an investigation into the alleged publishing of classified national security information. The media union denounced the raids as an attempt to “intimidate” journalists; an Essential Poll found that three-quarters of citizens were concerned about press freedom in the aftermath of the raids. The country’s three largest media organizations–ABC, News Corp, and Nine Entertainment–jointly called for more legal protections for journalists and whistleblowers. In July the parliamentary Joint Committee on Intelligence and Security opened an inquiry into the impact of law enforcement and intelligence powers on the freedom of the press. Media companies challenged the constitutionality of the AFP’s warrants in court.

The government did not restrict or disrupt access to the internet or censor online content, and there were no credible reports the government monitored private online communications without appropriate legal authority. The internet was widely available to and used by citizens.

Law enforcement agencies require a warrant to intercept telecommunications, including internet communications.

In April parliament passed the Sharing of Abhorrent Violent Material Act in response to the livestreaming via Facebook of the shootings at mosques in Christchurch, New Zealand, by an Australian citizen. It introduced new offenses for social media sites and online content-hosting services that allow videos of offensively violent conduct to be viewed in the country. This law defined such conduct as videos depicting terrorist acts, murders, attempted murders, torture, rape, or kidnapping. Services that fail to rapidly remove material from their website are subject to large fines (including up to A$10.5 million ($7.1 million) or 10 percent of annual revenue for corporations) and the imprisonment of their employees. In September the government ordered five websites, all based outside the country, to remove “abhorrent violent material” or face prosecution. The material on at least one website included a video of the beheading of a Scandinavian tourist in Morocco.

Two special representatives of the UN Human Rights Council, David Kaye and Fionnuala Ni Aolain, publicly opposed the law and questioned its consistency with human rights standards and freedom of expression. These concerns were echoed by media companies in the country, which warned the law could lead to the censorship of legitimate speech. Facebook, Google, and Amazon also opposed the laws, warning it would require “proactive” surveillance of users worldwide.

There were no government restrictions on academic freedom or cultural events.

Although the freedoms of peaceful assembly and association are not codified in law, the government generally respected these rights.

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.

Not applicable.

f. Protection of Refugees

Abuse of Migrants, Refugees, and Stateless Persons: Domestic and international organizations expressed serious concern about credible allegations of abuse of migrants in the detention center on Nauru and from the former detention center at Manus Island in Papua New Guinea. Abuses included inadequate mental health and other medical services, instances of assault, sexual abuse, suicide, self-harm, suspicious deaths, and harsh conditions. The government claimed to continue to provide necessary services to refugees.

In March parliament passed medevac legislation giving medical experts the authority to authorize refugees and asylum seekers from the former Manus Island detention center or Nauru to travel to Australia to receive medical treatment. According to media reports, 179 persons had transferred to the country for health reasons under this legislation as of December.

In December parliament repealed the medevac legislation, a step human rights advocates denounced. The repeal of the law restores the full discretion of federal ministers to accept or reject medical transfers to the country. The UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) released a statement saying that it was “disappointed by the repeal” and expressing concern that it “may negatively impact vital care for asylum seekers in offshore processing facilities.”

Refoulement: UNHCR noted that immigration authorities in the country and offshore detention centers forcibly deported refugees and asylum seekers. The government refused to allow these families to be reunited in the country. UNHCR is aware of several cases where family members are held on offshore processing facilities, while spouses undergoing medical treatment reside in the country.

Access to Asylum: The law provides for granting asylum or refugee status. The government maintains a humanitarian refugee program that includes several types of visas available to refugees for resettlement in the country. UNHCR identifies and refers the majority of applicants considered under the program.

The law authorizes the immigration minister to designate a country as a regional offshore processing center. Parliament must be notified and then has five days to reject the proposed designation. Asylum seekers transferred to third countries for regional processing have their asylum claims assessed by the country in which the claim is processed. Agreements were in effect with Nauru (2013) and Cambodia (2014), although the latter has been little used.

In May authorities intercepted a boat with 20 Sri Lankans trying to reach the country to claim asylum. The Sri Lankans were taken to Christmas Island, a small Australian island approximately 300 miles south of Jakarta. They were held there for a few days while their asylum claims were adjudicated. After the claims were denied, the 20 were flown back to Sri Lanka with the cooperation of the Sri Lankan government. The incident was the first use of Christmas Island for detention of asylum seekers in five years. Authorities also occasionally forced intercepted boats carrying smuggled persons back into the territorial waters of their country of embarkation when safe to do so.

By law the government must facilitate access to legal representation for persons in immigration detention in the country. Access to government-funded legal assistance is available only to those who arrived through authorized channels.

In June 2018 the immigration minister stated no refugee in Papua New Guinea or Nauru, including persons with close family ties, would be resettled in the country. The government sought to enforce this policy, although UNHCR representatives accused the government of breaking a previous promise to accept refugees with close family ties. Moreover, the long-term status of persons evacuated to the country for medical treatment pursuant to the March parliamentary action remained uncertain as of November.

Durable Solutions: The government accepted refugees for resettlement from third countries and funded refugee resettlement services. The Humanitarian Settlement Services program provided case-specific assistance that included finding accommodation, employment programs, language training, registering for income support and health care, and connecting with community and recreational programs.

Temporary Protection: The law permits two temporary protection options for individuals who arrived in the country and were not taken to regional processing centers in third countries. The temporary protection visa (TPV) is valid for three years, and visa holders are able to work, study, and reside anywhere in the country with access to support services. Once expired, TPV holders are eligible to reapply for another TPV. The Safe Haven Enterprise Visa (SHEV) is valid for five years and is granted on the basis that visa holders intend to work or study in nonmetropolitan areas. SHEV holders are eligible to apply for certain permanent or temporary visas after 42 months.

Not applicable.

Section 4. Corruption and Lack of Transparency in Government

The law provides criminal penalties for corruption by officials, and the government generally implemented these laws effectively.

Corruption: All states have anticorruption bodies that investigate alleged government corruption, and every state and territory appoints an ombudsman who investigates and makes recommendations in response to complaints about government decisions. The government also appoints one commonwealth (federal) ombudsman as laws differ between states, and one process or policy cannot always be used across jurisdictions.

The Australian Capital Territory established its anticorruption commission in July.

The law requires persons and entities who have certain arrangements with, or undertake certain activities on behalf of foreign principals to register with the government.

Financial Disclosure: The law requires all federal, state, and territory elected officials to report their financial interests. Failure to do so could result in a finding of contempt of parliament and a possible fine or jail sentence. Federal officeholders must report their financial interests to a register of pecuniary interests, and the report must be made public within 28 days of the individual’s assumption of office. The law prohibits foreign campaign contributions.

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

A variety of domestic and international human rights groups generally operated without government restriction, investigating and publishing their findings on human rights cases. Government officials often were cooperative and responsive to their views.

Government Human Rights Bodies: The Human Rights Commission (HRC), an independent organization established by parliament, investigates complaints of discrimination or breaches of human rights under the federal laws that implement the country’s human rights treaty obligations. The HRC reports to parliament through the attorney general. Media and nongovernmental organizations deemed its reports accurate and reported them widely. Parliament has a Joint Committee on Human Rights, and federal law requires that a statement of compatibility with international human rights obligations accompany each new bill.

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

Rape and Domestic Violence: The law criminalizes rape, including spousal rape, and the government enforced the law effectively. The laws of individual states and territories provide the penalties for rape. Maximum penalties range from 12 years’ to life imprisonment, depending on the jurisdiction and aggravating factors.

The law prohibits violence against women, including domestic abuse, and the government enforced the law. The laws of individual states and territories provide the penalties for domestic violence. In the largest jurisdiction, New South Wales, domestic violence offenses cover acts of personal violence (such as stalking, intimidation, or strangulation) committed against a person with whom the offender has (or had) a domestic relationship. For domestic violence offenses, courts must impose a full-time prison sentence unless a valid exception applies. In the case of strangulation, an offense associated with domestic violence, the maximum penalty is five years’ imprisonment.

Violence against women remained a problem, particularly in indigenous communities. Indigenous women were 32 times as likely to be hospitalized due to family violence as non-Indigenous women, according to a 2018 report.

Women were more likely than men to be victims of domestic violence, including homicide, across all states and territories. According to a 2016 survey, women were nearly three times more likely to have experienced partner violence than men, with approximately one in six women (17 percent) and one in 16 men (6 percent) having experienced partner violence since the age of 15. According to the Australian Bureau of Statistics, the proportion of women who experienced partner violence in the last decade remained relatively stable. Federal and state government programs provide support for victims, including funding for numerous women’s shelters. Police received training in responding to domestic violence. Federal, state, and territorial governments collaborated on the National Plan to Reduce Violence against Women and their Children 2010-22, the first effort to coordinate action at all levels of government to reduce violence against women.

Sexual Harassment: The law prohibits sexual harassment. Complaints of sexual harassment can lead to criminal proceedings or disciplinary action against the defendant and compensation claims by the plaintiff. The HRC receives complaints of sexual harassment as well as sex discrimination. The penalties vary across states and territories.

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, including under laws related to family, religion, personal status, labor, property, nationality, and inheritance, as well as employment, credit, pay, owning or managing businesses, education, and housing. The government enforced the law effectively.

Employment discrimination against women occurred, and there was a much-publicized “gender pay gap” (see section 7.d.).

Birth Registration: Children are citizens if at least one parent is a citizen or permanent resident at the time of the child’s birth. Children born in the country to parents who are not citizens or permanent residents acquire citizenship on their 10th birthday, if they lived the majority of their life within the country. Failure to register does not result in denial of public services. In general, births were registered promptly.

Child Abuse: State and territorial child protection agencies investigate and initiate prosecutions of persons for child neglect or abuse. All states and territories have laws or guidelines that require members of certain designated professions to report suspected child abuse or neglect. The federal government’s role in the prevention of child abuse includes funding for research, carrying out education campaigns, developing action plans against commercial exploitation of children, and funding community-based parenting programs.

In 2017 the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse released its final recommendations on what institutions and governments should do to address child sexual abuse and ensure justice for victims. Since the recommendations were released, the Royal Commission website reports there have been 42,000 calls handled, 8,000 sessions held, and 2,500 referrals to authorities, including police. The government also responded by creating the National Office for Child Safety in the Department of Social Services in July 2018.

The rate of indigenous children on care and protection orders was nearly seven times greater than the nonindigenous rate.

In September, Roman Catholic Cardinal George Pell lodged an application with the country’s highest court to appeal his child sex abuse convictions. In August the Court of Appeal of the Supreme Court of Victoria upheld Pell’s December 2018 conviction on five counts of child sexual abuse of two boys in the 1990s. Pell was sentenced to six years’ imprisonment and required to register as a sex offender. The Court of Appeal also refused Pell’s release from prison during his appeal.

Early and Forced Marriage: The legal minimum age of marriage is 18 for both boys and girls. Persons age 16 to 18 may apply to a judge or magistrate for an order authorizing marriage to a person who has attained 18 years; the marriage of the minor also requires parental or guardian consent. Two persons younger than age 18 may not marry each other; reports of marriages involving a person younger than age 18 were rare. The government reported an increase in the number of forced marriage investigations, but the practice remained rare.

Sexual Exploitation of Children: The law provides a maximum penalty of 25 years’ imprisonment for commercial sexual exploitation of children and was effectively enforced.

The law prohibits citizens and residents from engaging in, facilitating, or benefiting from sexual activity with children overseas who are younger than age 16 and provides for a maximum sentence of 17 years’ imprisonment for violations. The government continued its awareness campaign to deter child sex tourism through distribution of pamphlets to citizens and residents traveling overseas.

The legal age for consensual sex ranges from ages 16 to 18 by state. Penalties for statutory rape vary across jurisdictions. Defenses include reasonable grounds for believing the alleged victim was older than the legal age of consent and situations in which the two persons are close in age.

All states and territories criminalize the possession, production, and distribution of child pornography. Maximum penalties for these offenses range from four to 21 years’ imprisonment. Federal laws criminalize using a “carriage service” (for example, the internet) for the purpose of possessing, producing, and supplying child pornography. The maximum penalty for these offenses is 10 years’ imprisonment, a fine of A$275,000 ($186,000), or both. Under federal law, suspected pedophiles can be tried in the country regardless of where the crime was committed.

The government largely continued federal emergency intervention measures to combat child sexual abuse in aboriginal communities in the Northern Territory, following findings of high levels of child sexual abuse and neglect in a 2007 inquiry. These measures included emergency bans on sales of alcohol and pornography, restrictions on the payment of welfare benefits in cash, linkage of support payments to school attendance, and medical examinations for all indigenous children younger than age 16 in the Northern Territory.

While public reaction to the interventions remained generally positive, some aboriginal activists asserted there was inadequate consultation and that the measures were racially discriminatory, since nonindigenous persons in the Northern Territory were not initially subject to such restrictions.

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 on compliance at https://travel.state.gov/content/travel/en/International-Parental-Child-Abduction/for-providers/legal-reports-and-data/reported-cases.html.

According to the 2016 census, the country’s Jewish community numbered 91,000. During the year ending on September 30, 2018, the nongovernmental Executive Council of Australian Jewry reported 366 anti-Semitic incidents, an increase of 59 percent over the previous 12-month period. These incidents included vandalism, threats, harassment, and physical and verbal assaults. One neo-Nazi group, Antipodean Resistance, was responsible for 36 percent of reported anti-Semitic incidents.

During the May election campaign, several candidates’ posters were defaced with swastikas and “Hitler” moustaches, including the posters of several Jewish parliamentarians. An anonymous letter was distributed in the electorate of one independent Jewish parliamentarian, opposing her candidacy and claiming Jews were spreading disease.

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

The law prohibits discrimination against persons with physical, sensory, intellectual, and mental disabilities. The government effectively enforced the law.

The disability discrimination commissioner of the HRC promotes compliance with federal and state laws that prohibit discrimination against persons with disabilities. The law also provides for HRC mediation of discrimination complaints, authorizes fines against violators, and awards damages to victims of discrimination.

Children with disabilities generally attended school. The government provided funding for early intervention and treatment services and cooperated with state and territorial governments that ran programs to assist students with disabilities.

According to government sources, approximately half of Australians with a disability are employed, compared with 83 percent of all working-age persons.

Of total complaints (2,046) received by the HRC in 2017-18, 14 percent related to racial discrimination. The plurality of racial discrimination complaints related to employment (29 percent), with the second largest category being discrimination in the provision of goods and services (28.5 percent). Fewer than 1 percent of racial discrimination complaints related to access to places and facilities.

Aboriginals and Torres Strait Islanders constitute the country’s indigenous population. Despite federal and state government initiatives, indigenous peoples and communities continued to have high incarceration rates, high unemployment rates, relatively low levels of education, and high incidences of domestic and family violence, substance abuse, and limited access to health services in comparison with other groups. The National Indigenous Australians Agency has responsibility for policy and programs related to indigenous peoples and communities. The prime minister reports annually to parliament regarding government progress on eliminating indigenous inequalities.

Indigenous groups hold special collective native title rights in limited areas of the country and federal and state laws enable indigenous groups to claim unused government land. Indigenous ownership of land was predominantly in nonurban areas. Indigenous-owned or -controlled land constituted approximately 20 percent of the country’s area (excluding native title lands) and nearly 50 percent of the land in the Northern Territory. The National Native Title Tribunal resolves conflicts over native land title applications through mediation and acts as an arbitrator in cases where the parties cannot reach agreement about proposed mining or other development of land. Native title rights do not extend to mineral or petroleum resources, and in cases where leaseholder rights and native title rights conflict, leaseholder rights prevail but do not extinguish native title rights.

As part of the intervention to address child sexual abuse in Northern Territory indigenous communities (see section 6, Children), the national government administered indigenous communities directly. The strategy and a number of other programs provide funding for indigenous communities.

According to the Australia Bureau of Statistics, while indigenous peoples make up less than 3 percent of the total population, they constituted 27 percent of the full-time adult prison population. Nearly half of the imprisoned indigenous persons were serving sentences for violent offenses. Figures from parliament note that indigenous youth were significantly overrepresented in the criminal justice system. The data indicates that 68 percent of detained juveniles were from an indigenous background. It was more likely that an indigenous juvenile would be incarcerated than at any other point since 1991, when the Royal Commission into Aboriginal Deaths in Custody report was released. An Australian Law Reform Commission study released in March 2018 found that the justice system contributed to entrenching inequalities by not providing enough sentencing options or diversion programs for indigenous offenders.

The HRC has an Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander social justice commissioner.

No laws criminalize consensual same-sex sexual conduct between adults. Discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity is prohibited by law in a wide range of areas, including employment, housing, family law, taxes, child support, immigration, pensions, care of elderly persons, and social security.

The law provides protections against discrimination based on sexual orientation, gender identity, and sex characteristics.

In 2017-18, the HRC received 87 complaints of discrimination based on sexual orientation and 30 based on gender identity.

Austria

Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:

The constitution 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.

Freedom of Expression: The law prohibits incitement, insult, or contempt against a group because of its members’ race, nationality, religion, or ethnicity if the statement violates human dignity, and imposes criminal penalties for violations. The law also prohibits public denial, belittlement, approval, or justification of the Nazi genocide or other Nazi crimes against humanity in print media, broadcast media, the publication of books, and online newspapers or journals and provides criminal penalties for violations. The law also prohibits disparagement of religious teachings in public. The government strictly enforced these laws (see the Department of State’s International Religious Freedom Report at https://www.state.gov/religiousfreedomreport/).

Press and Media, Including Online Media: Independent media were active and expressed a wide variety of views.

Libel/Slander Laws: NGOs reported that strict libel and slander laws created conditions that discouraged reporting of governmental abuse. For example, many observers believed the ability and willingness of police to sue for libel or slander discouraged individuals from reporting police abuses.

With limited exceptions, the government did not restrict or disrupt access to the internet or censor online content. There were no credible reports the government monitored private online communications without appropriate legal authority. Authorities continued to restrict access to websites that violated the law, such as neo-Nazi sites. The law barring neo-Nazi activity provides for one- to 10-year prison sentences for public denial, belittlement, approval, or justification of National Socialist crimes. The criminal code provision on incitement provides for prison sentences of up to five years. Authorities restricted access to prohibited websites by trying to shut them down and by forbidding the country’s internet service providers from carrying them.

There were no government restrictions on academic freedom or cultural events.

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

See the Department of State’s International Religious Freedom Report at 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.

In-country Movement: Asylum seekers’ freedom of movement was restricted to the district of the reception center assigned by authorities for the duration of their initial application process until the country’s responsibility for examining the application was determined. By law, asylum seekers must be physically present in the centers of first reception for up to 120 hours during the initial application process. Authorities have 20 days in which to determine the country’s responsibility and jurisdiction for the case.

Not applicable.

f. Protection of Refugees

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.

Safe Country of Origin/Transit: EU regulations provide that asylum seekers who transit an EU country determined to be “safe” on their way to Austria be returned to that country to apply for refugee status. Authorities considered signatories to the 1951 refugee convention and its 1967 protocol to be safe countries of transit. The Federal Administrative Court ruled, however, that deportations to Hungary would have to be examined on an individual basis due to the possibility of human rights abuses there.

Employment: While asylum seekers are legally restricted from seeking regular employment, they are eligible for seasonal work, low-paying community service jobs, or professional training in sectors that require additional apprentices. A work permit is required for seasonal employment but not for professional training. An employer must request the work permit for the prospective employee.

Durable Solutions: There are provisions for integration, resettlement, and returns, which the country was cooperating with the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees and other organizations to improve. The integration section in the Ministry for Foreign Affairs and Integration, together with the Integration Fund and provincial and local integration offices, coordinated measures for integration of refugees.

Temporary Protection: According to the Interior Ministry, in 2018 the government provided temporary protection to approximately 4,190 individuals who might not qualify as refugees but were unable to return to their home countries. According to the Interior Ministry, between January and August, the government provided temporary protection to approximately 1,455 individuals.

According to the government’s statistical office, in January 2018 there were approximately 14,600 persons in the country registered as stateless; that is, having undocumented or unclear citizenship. Stateless persons in the country were largely Austrian-born children of foreign nationals who were unable to acquire citizenship through their parents due to the laws in their parents’ country of origin. Authorities did not deport them because they lacked a home country. The law allows some stateless persons to gain nationality. A stateless person born in the country may be granted citizenship within two years of reaching the age of 18 if he or she has lived in the country for a total of 10 years, including five years continuously before application, and is able to demonstrate sufficient income. Stateless persons can receive temporary residence and work permits that must be renewed annually.

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. Anticorruption laws and regulations extend to civil servants, public officials, governors, members of parliament, and employees or representatives of state-owned companies. The law also criminalizes corrupt practices by citizens outside the country. The penalty for bribery is up to 10 years in prison.

Corruption: The trial of former finance minister Karl-Heinz Grasser and 15 others on embezzlement and corruption charges continued. Grasser and his codefendants were charged in connection with the 2.45 billion euro ($2.7 billion) auction sale of 62,000 state-owned apartments in 2004. Prosecutors alleged that information from the Finance Ministry under Grasser’s leadership helped the eventual auction winner by signaling the size of the bid needed to acquire the properties.

In May the vice chancellor and leader of the Freedom Party resigned after the publication of a 2017 video in which he promised a woman posing as a wealthy Russian that he could manipulate government procurement contracts to her benefit in exchange for her purchasing a major stake in a mass-tabloid newspaper and providing his party with positive media coverage. A special unit with the Vienna Prosecutor’s Office began investigating the case in May.

Financial Disclosure: Public officials are subject to financial disclosure laws; there were no reports that officials failed to comply with disclosure requirements. Politicians must publicly disclose biannually when they earn more than 1,142 euros ($1,260) for certain activities, but they are not required to disclose the amounts they earned. The law does not require public officials to file disclosure reports upon leaving office. There are no sanctions for noncompliance with financial disclosure laws.

In July campaign finance reform legislation went into effect that set new annual limits on campaign donations of 7,500 euros ($8,300) for single donations and a maximum of 750,000 euros ($830,000) in total donations from all sources. The law increases fines for violations to 150 percent of the amount of an illegal donation.

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 generally were cooperative and responsive to their views.

Government Human Rights Bodies: A human rights ombudsman’s office consisting of three independent commissioners examined complaints against the government. The ombudsman’s office is completely independent and has its own budget; parliament appoints its members. The ombudsman’s office effectively monitored government activities. A parliamentary human rights committee provides oversight.

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

Rape and Domestic Violence: Rape of women or men, including spousal rape, is punishable by up to 15 years’ imprisonment. The government generally enforced the law. Law enforcement response to rape and domestic violence was effective. Police referred victims of domestic violence to special shelters and imposed orders barring abusive family members from contact with the victims.

Domestic violence is punishable under the criminal code provisions for murder, rape, sexual abuse, and bodily injury. Police can issue, and courts may extend, an order barring abusive family members from contact with survivors. In July the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) ruled on a high-profile domestic violence case where a survivor’s child was murdered by the father. In 2010 a restraining order was issued against the father, and he was convicted of domestic violence. In 2012 authorities issued another restraining order when the mother filed for divorce and reported the father for rape, beating her and their children, and making daily threats to kill her and their children. The order, however, did not prevent the father from committing a crime, and he ultimately killed his son at a school, a location not included in the order. The ECHR ruled that Austrian authorities had not breached their obligation under the European Convention on Human Rights to protect the boy’s life from the criminal acts of his father.

Under the law the government provided psychosocial care in addition to legal aid and support throughout the judicial process to survivors of gender-based violence. Police training programs addressed sexual or gender-based violence and domestic abuse. The government funded privately operated intervention centers and hotlines for victims of domestic abuse.

Sexual Harassment: The law prohibits sexual harassment, and the government generally enforced the law. Labor courts may order employers to compensate victims of sexual harassment; the law entitles a victim to a minimum of 1,000 euros ($1,100) in compensation. The Women’s Ministry and the labor chamber regularly provided information to the public on how to address sexual harassment.

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

Discrimination: Women enjoy the same legal rights as men, but they were subject to some discrimination in remuneration and representation in certain occupations.

Birth Registration: By law, children derive citizenship from one or both parents. Officials register births immediately.

Child Abuse: Child abuse is punishable by up to five years’ imprisonment, which may be extended to 10 years. Severe sexual abuse or rape of a minor is punishable by up to 20 years’ imprisonment, which may be increased to life imprisonment if the victim dies because of the abuse. The government continued its efforts to monitor child abuse and prosecute offenders. Officials noted there was a growing readiness by the public to report cases of such abuse.

Early and Forced Marriage: The minimum legal age for marriage is 18. Adolescents between the ages of 16 and 18 may legally contract a marriage by special permit and parental consent or court action. NGOs estimated there were approximately 200 cases of early marriage annually, primarily in the Muslim and Romani communities.

Sexual Exploitation of Children: The law provides up to 15 years’ imprisonment for an adult convicted of sexual intercourse with a child younger than 14, the minimum age for consensual sex for both girls and boys. It is a crime to possess, trade, or privately view child pornography. Possession of or trading in child pornography is punishable by up to 10 years’ imprisonment. The government effectively enforced these laws.

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 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.

According to figures compiled by the Austrian Jewish Community (IKG), there were between 12,000 and 15,000 Jews in the country, of whom an estimated 8,000 were members of the IKG.

The IKG expressed concern that anti-Semitism remained at a “high but stable” level. The NGO Forum against Anti-Semitism reported 503 anti-Semitic incidents during 2018. These included five physical assaults in addition to name-calling, graffiti and defacement, threatening letters, dissemination of anti-Semitic texts, property damage, and vilifying letters and telephone calls. Of the reported incidents, five concerned physical assaults, 28 threats and insults, 203 letters and calls, 51 vandalism, and 171 involved anti-Semitic internet postings. The government provided police protection to the IKG’s offices and other Jewish community institutions in the country, such as schools and museums. The IKG noted that anti-Semitic incidents typically involved neo-Nazi and other related right-wing extremist perpetrators.

In the spring unknown perpetrators repeatedly desecrated with swastikas an outdoor exhibit of Holocaust survivor photographs on a central Vienna boulevard. The Muslim Youth organization and a youth group of the Catholic charity Caritas joined a vigil to protect the posters. President Van der Bellen and former chancellor Kurz strongly condemned the desecration, stressing that there is no place for anti-Semitism in the country, and called for an immediate and thorough investigation.

School curricula included discussion of the Holocaust, the tenets of different religious groups, and advocacy of religious tolerance. The Education Ministry offered special teacher training seminars on Holocaust education and conducted training projects with the Anti-Defamation League.

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

The law prohibits discrimination against persons with physical, sensory, intellectual, and mental disabilities. The government did not always effectively enforce these provisions. Employment discrimination against persons with disabilities occurred.

While federal law mandates access to public buildings for persons with physical disabilities, NGOs complained many public buildings lacked such access. The Ministry of Labor, Social Affairs, and Consumer Protection handled disability-related problems. The government funded a wide range of programs for persons with disabilities, including transportation and other assistance to help integrate schoolchildren with disabilities into mainstream classes and employees with disabilities into the workplace.

In April the Ministry of Interior published statistics citing approximately 1,075 neo-Nazi extremist, racist, Islamophobic, or anti-Semitic incidents in 2018, up slightly from 1,063 such incidents in 2017.

An NGO operating a hotline for victims of racist incidents reported receiving approximately 1,920 complaints in 2018. It reported that racist internet postings comprised 60 percent of cases and were mostly directed against Muslims and migrants.

The Islamic Faith Community’s documentation center, established for tracking anti-Muslim incidents, reported receiving 540 complaints in 2018, a 74 percent increase compared with the 309 complaints received in 2017. More than half of the 540 reported incidents took place on digital media. Incidents included verbal abuse and anti-Muslim graffiti.

Human rights groups continued to report that Roma faced discrimination in employment and housing. Government programs, including financing for tutors, helped school-age Romani children move out of “special needs” programs and into mainstream classes. NGOs reported that Africans living in the country were also verbally harassed or subjected to violence in public.

NGOs continued to criticize police for allegedly targeting minorities for frequent identity checks. Racial sensitivity training for police and other officials continued with NGO assistance.

The Labor and Integration Ministries continued providing German-language instruction and skilled-labor training to young persons with immigrant backgrounds. Compulsory preschool programs, including some one- and two-year pilot programs, sought to remedy language deficiencies for nonnative German speakers.

The government continued training programs to combat racism and educate police in cultural sensitivity. The Interior Ministry renewed an annual agreement with a Jewish group to teach police officers cultural sensitivity, religious tolerance, and the acceptance of minorities.

Antidiscrimination laws apply to lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and intersex (LGBTI) persons. There was some societal prejudice against LGBTI persons but no reports of violence or discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender identity. LGBTI organizations generally operated freely. Civil society groups criticized the lack of a mechanism to prevent service providers from discriminating against LGBTI individuals.

Belgium

Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:

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

Freedom of Expression: Holocaust denial, defamation, sexist remarks and attitudes that target a specific individual, and incitement to hatred are criminal offenses punishable by a minimum of eight days (for Holocaust denial) or one month (incitement to hatred and sexist remarks or attitudes) and up to one year in prison and fines, plus a possible revocation of the right to vote or run for public office. If the incitement to hatred was based on racism or xenophobia, the case would be tried in the regular courts. If, however, the incitement stemmed from other motives, including homophobia or religious bias, a longer and more costly trial by jury generally would be required. The government prosecuted and courts convicted persons under these laws.

Press and Media, Including Online Media: The prohibition of Holocaust denial, defamation, sexist remarks, attitudes that target a specific individual, and incitement to hatred applies to print and broadcast media, books, and online newspapers and journals.

The government did not restrict or disrupt access to the internet or censor online content, and there were no credible reports that the government monitored private online communications without appropriate legal authority.

There were no government restrictions on academic freedom or cultural events.

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

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

d. Freedom of Movement

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

Not applicable.

f. Protection of Refugees

The government cooperated with the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) and other humanitarian organizations in providing protection and assistance to refugees, asylum seekers, stateless persons, or other persons of concern.

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, including specific subsidiary protection that goes beyond asylum criteria established by the 1951 Convention relating to the Treatment of Refugees and its 1967 protocol. Refugee status and residence permits are limited to five years and become indefinite if extended.

Authorities continued to face a significant flow of “transit migrants,” defined as those who remained in the country without requesting asylum while attempting illegal travel to the United Kingdom. To address the flow, the federal government started to detain transit migrants physically to ensure their repatriation, in those cases where they could be deported to a safe country of origin. Subsidiary protection is available to transit migrants if they request it, and local governments and NGOs did inform migrants of this option. Many transit migrants, however, do not request legal status in the country, even if they are aware of the possibility to apply for subsidiary protection.

Safe Country of Origin/Transit: The country denied asylum to asylum seekers who arrived from a safe country of origin or transit, pursuant to the EU’s Dublin III Regulation.

Durable Solutions: The country accepted refugees through UNHCR, including persons located in Italy and Greece, under the EU Emergency Relocation Mechanism. The country also conducted a voluntary return program for migrants in cooperation with the International Organization for Migration.

Temporary Protection: The government also provided temporary “subsidiary” protection to individuals who did not satisfy the legal criteria for refugee status but who could not return to their country of origin due to a real risk of serious harm. Under EU guidelines, individuals granted “subsidiary protection” are entitled to temporary residence permits, travel documents, access to employment, and equal access to health care, education, and housing. In 2018 authorities granted subsidiary protection to 1,777 individuals.

According to UNHCR, by mid-2018 there were 8,984 persons in the country who fell under UNHCR’s statelessness mandate. The country does not have a significant number of residents who are stateless, de jure or de facto, and does not contribute to statelessness, as the legal framework for stripping an individual of his or her citizenship does not exist except in cases of dual citizenship with another country.

To be recognized as stateless, a requestor must go through legal proceedings and acquire a court ruling on his or her stateless status. Since July 2017 family courts have been tasked with handling these requests in hopes of decreasing wait times. The requestor may appeal the court’s ruling. Recognition of statelessness does not automatically afford a stateless person resident status in the country. Stateless persons may apply for nationality after meeting the requirements for legal residency in the country.

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 isolated reports of government corruption.

Corruption: The law provides criminal penalties for official corruption, and the government generally implemented the law effectively. Following several corruption scandals in 2017 and 2018, no significant cases were reported in the current year.

Financial Disclosure: The law does not require elected officials to disclose their income or revenue, but they must report if they serve on any board of directors, regardless of whether in a paid or unpaid capacity. Officials in nonelective offices are held to the same standard. Sanctions for noncompliance are infrequent but have been used in the past when triggered by public outcry.

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

A variety of domestic and international human rights groups operated without government restriction, investigating and publishing their findings on human rights cases. Government officials generally were cooperative and responsive to their views.

Government Human Rights Bodies: Federal and regional government ombudsmen monitored and published reports on the workings of agencies under their respective jurisdictions. The Interfederal Center for Equal Opportunities (UNIA) is responsible for promoting equal opportunity and combating discrimination and exclusion at any level (federal, regional, provincial, or local). The center enjoyed a high level of public trust, was independent in its functioning, and was well financed by the government.

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

Rape and Domestic Violence: Rape of women or men, including spousal rape, is illegal, and the government prosecuted such cases. A convicted rapist may receive 10 to 30 years in prison. The law prohibits domestic violence and provides for fines and incarceration. Legal sanctions for domestic violence are based on the sanctions for physical violence against a third person; the latter range from eight days to 20 years in prison. In cases of domestic violence, these sanctions are doubled.

The NGO StopFeminicide reported that 36 women died in connection with rape or domestic violence in 2018. According to 2018 statistics from the federal police, there were approximately 39,000 official complaints of physical, psychological, and economic violence, including 139 complaints of sexual violence.

In May, Julie Van Espen, a 23-year-old student, was killed on her way to Antwerp. Police arrested Steve Bakelmans after a review of surveillance camera data. Bakelmans had been sentenced to four years in prison in a 2017 rape case, a ruling he had appealed. Bakelmans had been set free pending the ruling of the appellate court, scheduled later in the year. The case made media headlines as proof of the deficiencies of the justice system and of its protections for women against violence.

A number of government-supported shelters and telephone helplines were available across the country for victims of domestic abuse.

Female Genital Mutilation/Cutting (FGM/C): The law prohibits FGM/C for women and girls, and it was not a widespread practice in the country. Reported cases were primarily filed by recent immigrants or asylum seekers. Criminal sanctions apply to persons convicted of FGM/C. According to 2017 estimates, there were more than 17,000 female minor and adult victims of FGM/C in the country, while more than 8,000 were at risk. The vast majority of potential victims were asylum seekers from Guinea, Somalia, Cote d’Ivoire, and Egypt.

Sexual Harassment: The law aims to prevent violence and harassment at work, obliging companies to set up internal procedures to handle employee complaints. Sexist remarks and attitudes targeting a specific individual are illegal; fines for violations range from 50 to 1,000 euros ($55 to $1,100). The government generally enforced antiharassment laws. Politicians and organizations such as the Federal Institute for the Equality of Men and Women worked to raise awareness of the problem.

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

Discrimination: Women have the same legal rights as men. The law requires equal pay for equal work and prohibits discrimination on the grounds of gender, pregnancy, or motherhood as well as in access to goods, services, social welfare, and health care. The government generally enforced the law effectively, although many NGOs and feminist organizations reported women often had to accept part-time work due to conflicting family obligations.

Birth Registration: The government registered all live births immediately. Citizenship is conferred on a child through a parent’s (or the parents’) citizenship, but, except for a few circumstances, not through birth on the country’s territory.

Child Abuse: The government continued to prosecute cases of child abuse and punish those convicted.

Early and Forced Marriage: The law provides that both (consenting) partners must be at least 18 years of age to marry.

Sexual Exploitation of Children: The law prohibits sexual exploitation, abduction, and trafficking of children and includes severe penalties for child pornography and possession of pedophilic materials. Authorities enforced the law. The penalties for producing and disseminating child pornography range up to 15 years’ imprisonment and up to one year in prison for possessing such material. Local girls and foreign children were subjected to sex trafficking within the country.

The minimum age for consensual sex is 16. Statutory rape carries penalties of imprisonment for up 30 years.

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 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 was estimated at 40,000 persons. There were 101 reports of anti-Semitic acts in 2018, a significant increase from the 56 notifications in 2017. Anti-Semitic acts included physical attacks, verbal harassment, and vandalism of Jewish property. A poll by the EU’s Fundamental Rights Agency found that 39 percent of local Jews had encountered verbal abuse. Authorities generally investigated and where appropriate prosecuted such cases.

In August, Dimitri Verhulst, a columnist for the Brussels daily De Morgen, published an op-ed stating that, “Being Jewish is not a religion. No God would give creatures such an ugly nose.” The paper later withdrew the comments after widespread criticism that they were anti-Semitic and Verhulst later admitted he should have made a clearer distinction between Israelis and Jews. There was also widespread criticism of a float in the March carnival parade in Aalst, which featured puppets of two stereotypical Orthodox Jews sitting on bags of money amid crawling rats. Aalst’s mayor, a member of a right-wing nationalist party, declined to take action and denied that the float was offensive. Jewish groups and international organizations, including the European Commission, condemned the float.

Online hate speech continued to be a problem. In August, UNIA stated that the number of notices it received on online speech (targeting the Jewish community among others) doubled during the campaign for the May general elections, from 369 during the first six months of 2018 to 740 for the same period in 2019. UNIA added that such an increase is not unusual during an electoral campaign.

The law prohibits public statements that incite national, racial, or religious hatred, including denial of the Holocaust. The government prosecuted and convicted individuals under this law (see section 2.a.). The government also provided enhanced security at Jewish schools and places of worship.

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

The law prohibits discrimination against persons with physical, sensory, intellectual, and mental disabilities. The government generally enforced the provisions.

While the government mandated that public buildings erected after 1970 must be accessible to persons with disabilities, many older buildings were still inaccessible. Although the law requires that prison inmates with disabilities receive adequate treatment in separate, appropriate facilities, there were still many such inmates incarcerated in inadequate facilities.

There were reports of physical and verbal attacks against Muslims. In 2018, the most recent year of available data, the Collective Against Islamophobia in Belgium reported they had opened investigations into 90 Islamophobic attacks, 76 percent of which were against Muslim women. In February students at a Catholic high school in Melle dressed up as “Saudi Muslims,” including one wearing a black face mask and a fake explosive vest. In March, two veiled Muslim women picking up their children from school in Uccle were verbally abused by a driver, who then attempted to run over the women. Police later arrested the driver.

Ethnic minorities continued to experience discrimination in access to housing, education, and employment. Discriminatory acts primarily took place over the internet, at work, or when individuals attempted to gain access to various public and private services, such as banking and restaurants.

Discrimination against women who wear a headscarf was common in the labor market. The law also prohibits the wearing of a full-face veil (niqab) in public places. Authorities may punish persons who discriminate on the basis of ethnic origin with a fine of up to 137.50 euros ($150) and a jail sentence of up to seven days. There were reports of discrimination against persons of African and Middle Eastern ancestry. Government efforts to address such problems included internal training of officials and police officers and enforcement of laws prohibiting such discrimination.

The law prohibits discrimination against LGBTI persons in housing, employment, application of nationality laws, and access to government services such as health care. The government enforced the law, but the underreporting of crimes against the LGBTI community remained a problem.

UNIA reported in May that it received 125 complaints of homophobic acts in 2018, compared with 84 in 2017 and 104 in 2016. The complaints included 17 incidents of physical aggression, 42 incidents of verbal aggression, and 17 of discrimination in renting a property or providing a commercial service.

LGBTI persons from immigrant communities reported social discrimination within those communities. The government supported NGOs working to overcome the problem.

The law provides protections for transgender persons, including legal gender recognition without first undergoing sex reassignment surgery.

UNIA received complaints of discrimination based on physical characteristics, political orientation, social origin, or status. Restrictions on Islamic clothing in public and private sector employment, schools, and public spaces affected Muslim women in particular. The Muslim community was also targeted as part of the increase in online hate speech during the election campaign.

Brunei

Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:

Under the law and emergency powers, the government restricted freedom of expression, including for the press.

Freedom of Expression: There is no provision for freedom of speech in the constitution or laws. Members of the LegCo may “speak their opinions freely” on behalf of citizens, but they are prohibited from using language or exhibiting behavior deemed “irresponsible, derogatory, scandalous, or injurious.” Under the law it is an offense to challenge the royal family’s authority. The law also makes it an offense to challenge “the standing or prominence of the national philosophy, the Malay Islamic Monarchy concept.” This philosophy identifies Islam as the state religion and monarchical rule as the sole form of government to uphold the rights and privileges of the Brunei Malay race. The law also criminalizes any act, matter, or word intended to promote “feelings of ill will or hostility” between classes of persons or “wound religious feelings.”

The SPC includes provisions barring contempt for or insult of the sultan, administration of sharia, or any law related to Islam. The SPC sections implemented in April provide, under certain circumstances, for death sentences for apostasy from Islam, deriding Islamic scriptures, and declaring oneself as god, among other offenses. There were no known cases of persons charged under these sections, but online criticism of the law was largely self-censored, and online newspapers did not permit comments or stories on these subjects.

In December a secular court judge convicted a former government employee in absentia for sedition based on social media comments posted in 2017 criticizing Ministry of Religious Affairs officials and halal policy. The court sentenced the man, who fled the country after pleading not guilty during initial trial hearings in 2018, to 18 months’ imprisonment.

All public musical or theatrical performances require prior approval by a censorship board composed of officials from the Prime Minister’s Office, the Ministry of Home Affairs, and the Ministry of Religious Affairs. The government interpreted the SPC to prohibit public celebration of religions other than Islam, including displaying Christmas decorations. Some establishments, however, openly sold Christmas decorations or advertised Christmas-themed events. Christmas remained an official national holiday.

Press and Media, Including Online Media: The law allows the government to close a newspaper without giving prior notice or showing cause. The law requires local newspapers to obtain operating licenses and prior government approval for hiring foreign editorial staff, journalists, and printers. The law also gives the government the right to bar distribution of foreign publications and requires distributors of foreign publications to obtain a government permit. Foreign newspapers generally were available. Internet versions of local and foreign media were generally available without censorship or blocking.

The government owned the only local television station. Three Malaysian television channels were also available, along with two satellite television services. Some content was subject to censorship based on theme or content, including religious content, but such censorship was not consistent.

Censorship or Content Restrictions: The law provides for prosecution of newspaper publishers, proprietors, or editors who publish anything with what the government deems seditious intent. Punishments include suspension of publication for a maximum of one year, a prohibition on publishers, printers, or editors from publishing, writing for, or editing any other newspaper, and the seizure of printing equipment. Persons convicted under the law also face a maximum fine of 5,000 Brunei dollars (BND) ($3,690) and a maximum prison term of three years. Journalists deemed to have published or written “false and malicious” reports may be subject to fines or prison sentences. In the past, the government shuttered media outlets and reprimanded media companies for their portrayals of certain events and encouraged reporters to avoid covering controversial topics. There were no such reports during the year. The government maintained that most censorship was aimed at stopping violent content from entering the country.

The SPC prohibits publication or importation of publications giving instruction about Islam contrary to sharia. It also bars the distribution to Muslims or to persons with no religion of publications related to religions other than Islam. The SPC bars the publication, broadcast, or public expression of a list of words generally associated with Islam (such as Quran) in a non-Islamic context. The SPC also prohibits religious teaching without written approval. There were no reports of charges under these regulations.

Journalists commonly reported practicing self-censorship because of social pressure, reports of government interference, and legal and professional concerns.

Libel/Slander Laws: The law prohibits bringing into hatred or contempt or exciting disaffection against the sultan or the government. Persons convicted under the law face a fine of BND 5,000 ($3,690), a maximum of three years in prison, or both. There were no reports of such cases during the year.

The government restricts access to the internet, censors online content, and has the capability to monitor private online communications. The government monitors private email and internet chat-room exchanges believed to be propagating religious extremism or otherwise subversive views, including those of religious minorities, or material on topics deemed immoral. The Ministry of Transport and Infocommunications and the Prime Minister’s Office enforce the law that requires internet service providers and internet cafe operators to register with the director of broadcasting in the Prime Minister’s Office. The Attorney General’s Chambers and the Authority for the Infocommunications Technology Industry advised internet service and content providers to monitor for content contrary to the public interest, national harmony, and social morals.

Internet companies self-censored content and reserved the right to cut off internet access without prior notice. The government continued awareness campaigns warning citizens about the misuse of and social ills associated with social media, including the use of social media to criticize Islam, sharia, or the monarchy. The government maintained a hotline for people to report fake or malicious information circulated on social media that involved public or national interests.

Although there are no official government restrictions on academic freedom, government authorities must approve public lectures, academic conferences, and visiting scholars, and the sultan serves as chancellor of all major universities.

Academics reported practicing self-censorship. In recent years, some researchers published overseas under a pseudonym when they perceived that certain topics would not be well received by the authorities. Religious authorities reviewed publications to verify compliance with social norms.

There were government restrictions on cultural events. A censorship board composed of officials from the Prime Minister’s Office, the Ministry of Home Affairs, and the Ministry of Religious Affairs determined the suitability of concerts, movies, cultural shows, and other public performances, and censored, banned, or restricted some activities. During the year, at least one cultural group was unable to perform for the intended audience because the show did not receive Censorship Board approval by the proposed date. Although the Censorship Board rarely required changes in performances, delays associated with the censorship process posed logistical hurdles for performing-arts organizations. Authorities restricted traditional Chinese New Year lion-dance performances to Chinese temples, Chinese school halls, and private residencies of Chinese association members.

The government limited and restricted freedoms of peaceful assembly and association.

The government’s emergency powers restrict the right to assemble. Public gatherings of 10 or more persons require a government permit, and police may disband an unofficial assembly of five or more persons deemed likely to cause a disturbance of the peace. Permits require the approval of the minister of home affairs. The government routinely issued permits for annual events but has in recent years occasionally used the restrictions to disrupt political gatherings. Organizers of events on sensitive topics tended to hold meetings in private rather than apply for permits or practiced self-censorship at public events.

The law does not provide for freedom of association. The law requires formal groups, including religious, social, business, labor, and cultural organizations, to register with the Registrar of Societies and provide regular reports on membership and finances. Applicants were subject to background checks, and proposed organizations were subject to naming requirements, including a prohibition on names or symbols linked to triad societies (Chinese organized-crime networks). The government reported it accepted the majority of applications to form associations, but some new organizations reported delaying their registration applications after receiving advice that the process would be difficult. The government may suspend the activities of a registered organization if it deems such an act to be in the public interest.

Organizations seeking to raise funds or donations from the general public are required to obtain permission from the Ministry of Home Affairs, and each individual fundraising activity requires a separate permit. Approved organizations dealt with matters such as pollution, wildlife preservation, arts, entrepreneurship, and women in business.

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

d. Freedom of Movement

The government generally respected the legal right to freedom of internal movement and the right to emigrate but imposed restrictions on foreign travel and repatriation.

Foreign Travel: Government employees, including both citizens and foreign residents working on a contractual basis, must apply for exit permits to travel abroad. Government guidelines state no government official may travel alone and unrelated male and female officers may not travel together, but the government enforced this policy inconsistently. The country’s tourist passports state the bearer may not travel to Israel.

Exile: By law the sultan may forcibly exile, permanently or temporarily, any person deemed a threat to the safety, peace, or welfare of the country. There have been no cases of banishment since the country became fully independent in 1984.

Not Applicable.

f. Protection of Refugees

Access to Asylum: The law does not provide for granting asylum or refugee status, and the government has not established a system for providing protection to refugees.

According to the 2011 census–the most recent government figures available–there were approximately 20,500 stateless residents, most of whom had permanent-resident status. Most stateless residents were native-born, of Chinese heritage, and from families that have resided in the country for generations. Other stateless residents included members of indigenous tribes, whose lands span Brunei and the neighboring Malaysian state of Sarawak. The vast majority of stateless persons held a certificate of identity (COI), which functioned as a passport. COI holders have some rights, including to subsidized health care and education, similar to those of citizens. The government had no data available on stateless persons who held no form of residency or COI.

Stateless persons may apply for citizenship if they are adults born in the country and resident for 12 of the last 15 years, provided they pass a test demonstrating sufficient knowledge of Malay culture and language. Women married to citizens and the minor children of citizens who did not obtain citizenship at birth–such as children of citizen mothers and permanent-resident fathers–may also apply. Contacts in the stateless community who passed the Malay culture and language test reported, however, a de facto suspension of citizenship approvals for adult stateless residents, with many reporting that five to 10 years had elapsed since they passed their test, and yet they still had not been granted citizenship. On October 22, when the government granted 222 applicants citizenship, an official noted that 1,262 applicants had received citizenship since 2017. Local observers noted that most of those awarded citizenship had married Malay Muslim citizens and were not members of the ethnic Chinese community.

Section 4. Corruption and Lack of Transparency in Government

The law provides criminal penalties for corruption by officials, and the government generally implemented these laws effectively, although officials sometimes engaged in corrupt practices.

Corruption: Although corruption was not pervasive, the sultan publicly criticized police, the military, and the immigration and labor departments for corrupt activities by some officials, among other shortcomings. In September the high court began a high-profile trial of two former judges indicted in July 2018 on 40 corruption-related charges, including money laundering and embezzling money from Brunei’s court system. The case was particularly noteworthy because the husband-and-wife pair were very well connected–one was the son of the minister of religious affairs and the other the daughter of a retired high-ranking military officer.

Financial Disclosure: Government officials are not subject to routine financial disclosure reports, but by law officials must declare their assets if they are the subject of an investigation. The government did not make these declarations public. The Anticorruption Bureau also issued a public warning to all government workers that it is empowered to investigate any official who maintains a standard of living above or disproportionate to his or her past or present emolument.

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

Neither domestic nor international human rights groups could operate freely due to government restrictions. No registered civil society organizations dealt directly with human rights, mostly due to self-censorship. A few domestic organizations worked on humanitarian issues, such as assistance for victims of domestic violence or provision of free legal counsel for indigent defendants. They generally operated with government support, and the government was somewhat cooperative and responsive to their views, although they reported practicing self-censorship and avoiding sensitive issues. Regional and other international human rights organizations occasionally operated in the country but faced the same restrictions as all unregistered organizations.

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

Rape and Domestic Violence: Secular law stipulates imprisonment from eight to 30 years plus caning with a minimum of 12 strokes as punishment for rape. The SPC provides stoning to death as the maximum punishment for rape. The law does not criminalize rape against men or spousal rape and explicitly states that sexual intercourse by a man with his wife is not rape as long as she is not younger than 14 (15 if she is ethnic Chinese). There is no specific domestic violence law, but authorities arrested individuals in domestic violence cases under the law related to protection of women and girls. The criminal penalty under the law is one to two weeks in jail and a fine for a minor assault; an assault resulting in serious injury is punishable by caning and a longer prison sentence. Islamic family law provides protections against spousal abuse and for the granting of protection orders, and it has been interpreted to cover sexual assault. The penalty for violating a protection order is a maximum fine of BND 2,000 ($1,460), maximum imprisonment of six months, or both.

Police investigated domestic violence only in response to a report by a victim but reportedly did respond effectively in such cases.

The government reported rape cases, but there were no data available on the prevalence of the crime. A special police unit staffed by female officers investigated domestic-abuse and child-abuse complaints.

The Department of Community Development in the Ministry of Culture, Youth, and Sports provided counseling for women and their spouses. Some female and minor victims of domestic violence and rape were placed in protective custody at a government-sponsored shelter while waiting for their cases to be scheduled in court. Islamic courts staffed by male and female officials offered counseling to married couples in domestic-violence cases. Islamic courts recognized assault as grounds for divorce.

Female Genital Mutilation/Cutting (FGM/C): No law criminalizes FGM/C for women of any age. There were no reports of FGM/C being performed on women older than 18.

There were no statistics on the prevalence of FGM/C, but contacts reported that in general it was done within 40 days of birth based on religious belief, health, and custom. Contacts also reported that the procedure was sometimes performed outside of a medical setting. The Ministry of Religious Affairs declared circumcision for Muslim girls (sunat) to be a religious rite obligatory under Islam and described it as the removal of the hood of the clitoris (Type I per World Health Organization (WHO) classification). The government does not consider this practice to be FGM/C and continued to express support for the WHO’s call for the elimination of FGM and for member countries to enact and enforce legislation to protect girls and women from all forms of violence, including FGM/C. The government claimed the practice rarely resembled the Type I description and had not caused medical complications or complaints.

Sexual Harassment: The law prohibits sexual harassment and states that whoever utters any word, makes any sound or gesture, or exhibits any object intending to insult the modesty of a woman shall be punished by up to three years in prison and a fine. The law also stipulates that whoever assaults or uses criminal force, intending thereby to outrage, or knowing the act is likely to outrage the modesty of a person, shall be punished by caning and a maximum imprisonment of five years. There were reports of sexual harassment, but there are no data available on the prevalence of the crime.

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

Discrimination: In accordance with the government’s interpretation of the Quran, Muslim women and men are accorded different rights. Secular civil law permits female citizens to own property and other assets, including business properties. Noncitizen husbands of citizens may not apply for permanent-resident status until they reside in the country for a minimum of seven years, whereas noncitizen wives may do so after two years of marriage. Although citizenship is automatically inherited from citizen fathers, citizen mothers may pass their nationality to their children only through an application process in which children are first issued a COI (and considered stateless).

Birth Registration: Citizenship derives from the father, or, following an application process, the mother. Citizenship is not derived by birth within the country’s territory. Birth registration is universal and equal for girls and boys. Stateless parents must apply for a special pass for a child born in the country. Failure to register a birth is against the law and later makes it difficult to enroll the child in school.

Child Abuse: Child abuse is a crime and was prosecuted but did not appear prevalent. The Royal Brunei Police Force includes a specialized Woman and Child Abuse Crime Investigation Unit, and the Ministry of Culture, Youth, and Sports provided shelter and care to victims.

Early and Forced Marriage: The legal minimum age of marriage for both boys and girls is 14 years and seven months with parental and participant consent, unless otherwise stipulated by religion or custom under the law, which generally sets a higher minimum age. The Islamic Family Act sets the minimum marriageable age at 16 for Muslim girls and 18 for Muslim men and makes it an offense to use force, threat, or deception to compel a person to marry against his or her own will. Ethnic Chinese must be 15 or older to marry, according to the Chinese Marriage Act, which also stipulates sexual intercourse with an ethnic Chinese girl younger than 15 is considered rape even if with her spouse. Contacts reported that although permitted by the law, marriages involving minors were rare and generally prohibited by social custom.

Sexual Exploitation of Children: By law sexual intercourse with a girl younger than 14 (15 if ethnically Chinese) constitutes rape and is punishable by imprisonment of from eight to 30 years plus a minimum of 12 strokes of the cane. The law provides for protection of women, girls, and boys from commercial sexual exploitation through prostitution and “other immoral purposes,” including pornography. The government applied the law against “carnal intercourse against the order of nature” to prosecute rape of male children. The minimum age for consensual sex outside of marriage is 16.

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.

There was no known Jewish community in the country. Comments disparaging Jewish persons collectively were occasionally posted online and on social media.

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

The law does not prohibit discrimination against persons with disabilities or mandate accessibility or the provision of most public services to them. Access to buildings, information, transport, and communications for persons with disabilities was inconsistent. The law does not specifically address access to the judiciary for persons with disabilities. All persons regardless of disability, however, receive the same rights and access to health care.

Although not required by law, the government provided inclusive educational services for children with disabilities who attended both government and religious schools alongside nondisabled peers. Persons with disabilities may participate in local village elections.

During the year the Department for Community Development continued its outreach programs targeted at promoting awareness of the needs of persons with disabilities.

In his 2018 New Year’s national speech, the sultan announced all children with disabilities under the age of 15 were eligible to receive a monthly disability allowance of BND 450 ($330). Nine registered NGOs worked to supplement services provided by the three government agencies that supported persons with disabilities. Public officials, including the sultan, called for persons with disabilities to be included in everyday activities.

The government favors ethnic Malays in society through its national Malay Islamic Monarchy philosophy, which is enshrined in the constitution. Under the constitution, ministers and most top officials must be Malay Muslims, although the sultan may make exceptions. Members of the military must be Malay. The government pressured both public- and private-sector employers to increase hiring of Malay citizens. There were no incidents of violence against ethnic minorities, but the government continued policies that favored ethnic Malays in employment, health, housing, and land ownership.

Some indigenous persons were stateless. Indigenous lands were not specifically demarcated, and there were no specially designated representatives for indigenous groups in the LegCo or other government entities. Indigenous persons generally had minimal participation in decisions affecting their lands, cultures, and traditions and in the exploitation of energy, minerals, timber, or other natural resources on and under indigenous lands.

Secular law criminalizes “carnal intercourse against the order of nature,” understood to mean sex between men. In 2017 legal amendments increased the minimum sentence for such carnal intercourse to 20 years’ incarceration. The amendment was intended to apply in cases of rape or child abuse wherein both attacker and victim are male, because existing law covers only assault of a woman by a man. The SPC bans liwat (anal intercourse) between men or between a man and a woman who is not his wife, with a maximum penalty of death by stoning. The SPC also prohibits men from dressing as women or women dressing as men “without reasonable excuse” or “for immoral purposes.” Senior officials asserted that foreign criticism of the SPC was due to “misconceptions” and that the government did not intend to “criminalize or discriminate” based on sexual orientation. The sultan stated that “the privacy of individuals” would be respected.

Members of the LGBTI community reported societal discrimination in public and private employment, housing, recreation, and in obtaining services including education from state entities. Members of the LGBTI community reported the government monitored their activities and communications. Like all events in the country, events on LGBTI topics were subject to restrictions on assembly and expression. The LGBTI community reported that the government would not issue permits for community events or events on LGBTI topics.

HIV and HIV-related stigma and discrimination occurred. By law foreigners infected with HIV are not permitted to enter or stay in the country, although no medical testing is required for short-term tourists.

On December 2, the minister of health stated that from 1986 to 2018, 247 citizens and permanent residents were diagnosed with HIV, noting that 93 percent of the patients were men. The minister called for more effective outreach to high-risk populations, citing stigma and discrimination toward HIV/AIDS patients that caused social isolation and mental-health issues. He also noted that Brunei’s health system ensured universal health coverage for all citizens and permanent residents and provided free and comprehensive health care that covered all aspects of prevention, care, treatment, and support for HIV.

Bulgaria

Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:

The constitution and law provide for freedom of expression, including for the press, and the government generally respected this right. Concerns persisted, however, that corporate and political pressure, combined with the growing and nontransparent concentration of media ownership and distribution networks, as well as government regulation of resources and support for media, gravely damaged media pluralism. In October the secretary general of Reporters Without Borders described the media situation as “worse than ever.” He said that the country was “embroiled in an extremely serious media civil war,” and expressed concern about harassment of journalists, political manipulation of media, and a collapse of professional standards in the media.

According to the Bulgarian Helsinki Committee, there was a persistent deterioration in the freedom of expression and a collapse of professional and ethical standards supporting a high-quality media environment. In a public statement in September, the NGO outlined “continued trends of increased control of major media by the government, especially before the past [European Parliament] and forthcoming [local] elections.” According to Transparency International Bulgaria, media ownership “is often unclear” and many media outlets “are financially dependent on state advertising, which may color their reporting and affect any criticism they may otherwise provide of government authorities.”

The International Research and Exchanges Board’s 2019 Media Sustainability Index identified an increase in the country in crimes against media professionals, verbal attacks against journalists by government officials, and a lack of transparency in the ownership of online media contributing to the distribution of fake news and propaganda.

Freedom of Expression: The law provides for one to four years’ imprisonment for use of and incitement to “hate speech.” The law defines hate speech as instigation of hatred, discrimination, or violence based on race, ethnicity, nationality, religion, sexual orientation, marital or social status, or disability. NGOs alleged that the presence of nationalist parties in the government “empowered” supporters to use hate speech regularly.

Individuals generally criticized the government without official reprisal. In August the prosecutor general and his deputies requested from the Supreme Judicial Council a decision on whether media publishing “false information” or “manipulative allegations” about prosecutors should be prosecuted. In response, the Supreme Judicial Council’s Prosecutorial College called on the public and the media to be more tolerant and responsible when commenting on the nomination for a new prosecutor general.

Press and Media, Including Online Media: The media were active and expressed a wide variety of views. Laws restricting “hate speech” also applied to print media. Reporters Without Borders’ 2019 World Press Freedom Index reported widespread “corruption and collusion between media, politicians and oligarchs,” “judicial harassment of independent media,” as well as increased “threats against reporters.” Domestic and international organizations criticized both print and electronic media for editorial bias, lack of transparency in their financing and ownership, and susceptibility to political influence and economic incentives.

Violence and Harassment: In February investigative journalist Hristo Geshov complained that he received anonymous threats after he released a video of his initial investigation of an illegal water supply business in Troyan. In May, two unidentified persons abducted Geshov and held him captive overnight until he agreed to take down his zovnews.com story on the case. As of September there was no further information on law enforcement action to identify the abductors.

In August the specialized prosecution service accused online news provider Mediapool of vandalism and desecrating the memory of a deceased magistrate. The service condemned Mediapool for publishing a story covering the 72-hour arrest of a man who had written obscenities on the magistrate’s obituary posted inside the courthouse.

In September photojournalist Veselin Borishev spent a night in jail after police arrested him for taking pictures of them during a protest. The Interior Ministry issued an official apology and opened an internal investigation into the case.

Censorship or Content Restrictions: Journalists continued to report editorial prohibitions on covering specific persons and topics, and the imposition of political points of view by corporate leaders. According to the international NGO Association of European Journalists, self-censorship was widespread, especially in the smaller regional media.

In June, NetInfo executive director and minority shareholder Hristo Hristov complained of pressure and “increased interference in the editorial policies” of online news providers Gong, Vesti, and Dariknews from the new majority shareholders, brothers Kiril and Georgi Domuschiev. The NetInfo board of directors subsequently removed Hristov from his CEO position.

Human rights lawyers expressed concerns that changes in the Personal Data Protection Act passed in January present the government with opportunities to muzzle free speech, as they empower authorities to fine media and journalists in cases when “freedom of speech does not prevail over the right of a target of journalistic investigation to remain outside the focus of public attention.” According to the Association of European Journalists, the new legislation could force journalists to self-censor.

The Association of European Journalists protested the removal on September 12 of long-time anchor Sylvia Velikova from her rule-of-law-focused morning program on Bulgarian National Radio, attributing it to Velikova’s opposition to the nomination of Ivan Geshev as sole candidate for the next prosecutor general. Following protests, Velikova was reinstated.

Libel/Slander Laws: Libel is illegal and punishable by a fine of 3,000 to 15,000 levs ($1,680 to $8,400) and public censure. In June the Sofia City Court imposed a 1,000 lev ($560) fine on Economedia journalist Rosen Bosev in a libel lawsuit filed by the former head of the Financial Supervision Commission, Stoyan Mavrodiev, who was offended by Bosev’s statement on television that Mavrodiev had repressed Economedias Dnevnik and Capital publications. The Association of European Journalists protested the court decision, accusing Judge Petya Krancheva of “settling a score” with Bosev, who had written critical articles about her.

In January the Sofia City Court ruled against Sofia regional governor Ilian Todorov’s libel appeal against freelance journalist Ivo Indjev, who posted a series of articles online in which he called Todorov a “xenophobe,” “anti-Semite,” “pro-Nazi nationalist,” and “Kremlin marionette,” among other things. The court’s decision confirmed the trial court’s “not guilty” verdict and made the argument that “as a public person occupying a high-level government position, the claimant should possess a higher threshold of tolerance to criticism.”

The government did not restrict or disrupt access to the internet or censor online content. There were reports, however, that the government exceeded its legal authority in monitoring private online communications. In 2018 the interior minister acknowledged that it was a routine practice for the security services to call individuals for questioning over their social media behavior.

There were no government restrictions on academic freedom or cultural events.

The constitution and law provide for the freedoms of peaceful assembly and association, and the government mostly respected these rights.

On April 18, workers from the Dunarit defense industry plant, who wanted to gather for peaceful support of two coworkers who were appearing at a remand hearing at the Specialized Criminal Court. In an open letter to the media, they complained that police pushed them away from the court building, surrounded them, took away their identity cards, and issued official warnings on the basis of suspicion of an attempted attack on the court. Police justified their actions with reference to an “order from higher up.”

Authorities continued to deny registration of the Macedonian activist group OMO Ilinden, despite a January judgment and 10 prior decisions of the European Court of Human Rights that the denials violated the group’s freedom of association.

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.

Not applicable.

f. Protection of Refugees

Abuse of Migrants, Refugees, and Stateless Persons: Human rights organizations continued to report widespread “pushbacks,” violence, robbery, and humiliating practices against migrants and asylum seekers along the border with Turkey. In August media publications citing “internal sources” from the European border control agency FRONTEX alleged that border police had “chased migrants with dogs, beaten them, and forced them back across the border.” The interior minister denied the allegations, claiming that border guards “use force only when the situation demands it, such as in cases of aggression against them.”

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, or other persons of concern.

Refoulement: Human rights organizations criticized the government for deporting Turkish citizens back to Turkey where they would face imprisonment due to their political activity. In July, for example, the Sofia Administrative Court approved the extradition of Ilhan Karabag, a Turkish citizen of Kurdish origin, who had spent three years in a reception center as an asylum seeker. The NGO Bordermonitoring reported the presence of a representative of the Turkish diplomatic mission at the court hearings and protested, asserting the presence of the representative was an attempt to pressure the court.

Access to Asylum: The law provides for granting asylum or refugee status, and the government has established a system for protecting refugees. The president may grant asylum to persons who are persecuted for their belief or activities advocating for internationally recognized rights and freedoms. Asylum seekers and refugees who cross the border irregularly are subject to detention.

Freedom of Movement: The law restricts asylum seekers’ movement to the administrative region in which the reception center where they have been accommodated is located. The restriction is valid until the asylum procedure is completed.

Access to Basic Services: The refugee integration ordinance authorizes mayors to sign integration agreements with persons who have refugee status, specifying the services they will receive–housing, education, language training, health services, professional qualification, and job search assistance–as well as the obligations of the responsible institutions. NGOs claimed the government made inconsistent efforts to integrate refugees. According to the Asylum Information Database country report published in March, “no integration activities are planned, funded or available to the general population of recognized refugees or subsidiary protection holders.” According to the State Agency for Refugees, as of October, four refugee families totaling 27 persons had signed integration agreements, and two more families were negotiating agreements with municipal authorities.

In June the State Agency for Refugees and the International Organization for Migration inaugurated a safety zone for unaccompanied asylum-seeking children at the Voenna Rampa reception center to provide 24-hour care and specialized services in an environment adapted to their needs.

Durable Solutions: The government accepted refugees for resettlement, offered naturalization to refugees residing on its territory, and assisted in their voluntary return to their homes. As of November the country had accepted 67 relocated refugees and was in the process of interviewing another 26.

Temporary Protection: The Council of Ministers may provide temporary protection in case of mass influx of foreign nationals driven by an armed conflict, civil war, violence, or large-scale human rights violations in their country of origin, as determined by the Council of the European Union. The government also provided humanitarian protection to individuals who may not qualify as refugees and provided it to 208 persons as of September.

The law affords the opportunity for a stateless person to apply for citizenship after three years of receiving permission for long-term or permanent residence in the country. In February the European Network on Statelessness criticized the country for “serious shortcomings” in its treatment of stateless persons, including detaining them. In 2018 Eurostat estimated the number of stateless persons at 1,870, while UNHCR placed the number of persons under its statelessness mandate at 92 at the end of 2018.

Section 4. Corruption and Lack of Transparency in Government

While the law provides criminal penalties for corruption by officials, the government did not implement the law effectively, and officials in all branches of government reportedly engaged in corrupt practices with impunity. During the year there were reports of government corruption, including bribery, conflict of interest, elaborate embezzlement schemes, procurement violations, and influence trading.

In March the European Commission’s annual European Semester Report identified corruption as a major obstacle to investment and noted that the “fight against corruption remains a challenge,” insisting that “authorities need to show a stable record of effectively investigating and prosecuting high-level corruption cases, including [those] involving politicians.” In its October report, the European Commission acknowledged the country’s anticorruption reform efforts but noted that its “positive effects… remain to be seen” since “very few final convictions have been adopted and enforced in cases involving high-level corruption.”

Corruption: In January Transparency International Bulgaria stated there had been no significant progress in the country’s anticorruption efforts. In March the Sega newspaper reported it had obtained official Justice Ministry information that only nine persons sentenced on petty corruption-related crimes served actual prison time. In April Standart reported that the prosecutor general stated at a national security council meeting that there were ongoing corruption investigations against 140 high-level government officials, including members of the National Assembly, ministers, deputy ministers, mayors, heads of agencies, and tax and customs officials, and that they had resulted in 39 indictments.

On April 15, the Specialized Criminal Court sentenced the former mayor of Sofia’s Mladost district, Desislava Ivancheva, to 20 years in prison, a 20,000 lev ($11,200) fine, property confiscation, and a ban on holding high-level public office for 20 years. Ivancheva’s former deputy, Bilyana Patrova, received 15 years in prison, a 15,000 lev ($8,400) fine, property confiscation, and a ban on holding high-level public office for 15 years. Another former Mladost district mayor, Petko Dyulgerov, received 12 years in prison, a 12,000 lev ($6,720) fine, and property confiscation. According to the prosecution, Ivancheva solicited a 500,000-euro ($550,000) bribe from an investor in construction projects, with Dyulgerov serving as an intermediary and Petrova acting as an accomplice.

In April the Constitutional Court abolished changes to the code on administrative procedure that had increased fees for second appeals by a factor of 14 for individuals and 70 for organizations. The court’s decision was based on petitions by the president, the ombudsman, and 53 National Assembly members who shared the opinion of NGOs that asserted the amendments imposed severe restrictions on access to administrative justice and restricted the ability to challenge the legality of acts by the public administration.

Financial Disclosure: The law mandates that government officials make annual public declarations of their assets and income as well as any circumstances in which they could face accusations of using their position for personal gain. The Commission for Combating Corruption and Forfeiture of Illicit Assets verified and monitored disclosures for all officials except magistrates, whose declarations were monitored by the Supreme Judicial Council’s inspectorate. High-level public officials and magistrates who fail to submit a financial disclosure declaration can incur fines of up to 3,000 levs ($1,680), and up to 6,000 levs ($3,360) for a repeat violation. The provision was enforced during the year. In March the commission reported identifying omissions or discrepancies in more than 10 percent of the annual declarations, attributing it to the new procedures and the lack of an information campaign.

In June the Commission for Combating Corruption and Forfeiture of Illicit Assets exonerated seven senior political figures, including the head of the Supreme Cassation Court, the minister of justice, and the ruling GERB party’s deputy chairman and National Assembly member, of conflict of interest allegations. The NGO Anticorruption Fund released a report alleging that those officials had acquired luxury real estate property at below-market value, but the commission concluded they had not used their official status to acquire the property.

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

A variety of domestic and international human rights groups generally operated without government restriction, investigating and publishing their findings on human rights cases. Human rights observers reported uneven levels of cooperation from national and local government officials. Some political parties, civic movements, and media outlets advocated closing certain NGOs because they obtained funding from foreign donors.

Government Human Rights Bodies: The ombudsman is an independent constitutional body elected by the national assembly with a five-year mandate. The ombudsman reviews individuals’ complaints against the government for violations of rights or freedoms. The ombudsman can request information from authorities, act as an intermediary in resolving disputes, make proposals to end existing practices, refer information to the prosecution service, and request the Constitutional Court to abolish legal provisions as unconstitutional.

The Commission for Protection against Discrimination is an independent specialized agency for preventing and protecting against discrimination and ensuring equal opportunity.

A National Assembly permanent committee covers religious denominations and human rights.

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

Rape and Domestic Violence: The law criminalizes rape, and authorities generally enforced its provisions when violations came to their attention. Sentences for rape convictions range up to 20 years in prison. There is no specific criminal law against spousal rape; authorities could prosecute spousal rape under the general rape statute, but rarely did so.

In February the National Assembly passed amendments introducing penalties of up to 10 years’ imprisonment for crimes committed in the context of domestic violence. The law defines domestic violence as systematic physical, sexual, or psychological violence; subjection to economic dependence; or coercive restriction of the personal life, personal liberty, and personal rights of a parent or child, a spouse or former spouse, a person with whom one shares a child, a cohabiting partner or former cohabiting partner, or a member or former member of the same household. The law empowers courts to impose fines, issue restraining or eviction orders, or require special counseling. Noncompliance with a restraining order may result in imprisonment for up to three years or a fine of 5,000 levs ($2,800). In January the government adopted an annual program for prevention and protection against domestic violence, which provides for the appointment of psychologists in larger schools, training of security service personnel, and development of an electronic database of cases of domestic and gender-based violence.

In October the UN special rapporteur on violence against women noted the existence of a “massive” pushback campaign against women’s rights as well as “tolerance and normalization of violence against women,” in addition to legal barriers, insufficient numbers of shelters, and inefficient protection measures. NGOs continued to express concern over the increase in cases of the killing of women or girls as a result of domestic violence. In February, for example, Borislav Nikolov from Varna severely beat his wife Kremena, who died of head trauma with internal bleeding one day before the court hearing of their divorce case. The spouses had agreed to file for a divorce two weeks earlier. According to Kremena’s family and friends, she had been subjected to physical and psychological violence throughout their five-and-a-half-year marriage. In September the Varna District Court sentenced Nikolov to serve 12 years in prison and pay 100,000 levs ($56,000) in compensation to the victim’s family.

The Animus Association Foundation and other NGOs provided short-term protection and counseling to domestic violence victims in 22 crisis centers and shelters throughout the country. The government funded an NGO-operated 24-hour free helpline that victims could call for counseling, information, and support, as well as to report abuse. Police and social workers referred victims of domestic violence to NGO-run shelters.

Sexual Harassment: The law identifies sexual harassment as a specific form of discrimination rather than a criminal offense, although prosecutors may identify cases in which harassment involves coercion combined with sexual exploitation. If prosecuted as coercion, sexual harassment is punishable by up to six years in prison.

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

Discrimination: While the law provides women the same legal status and rights as men, women faced some discrimination in economic participation and political empowerment. The law establishes equal opportunities in all spheres of public, economic, and political life, equal access to public resources, equal treatment, exclusion of gender-based discrimination and violence, balanced representation of men and women in decision-making authorities, and overcoming of gender-based stereotypes. Following a 2018 Constitutional Court ruling that the term “gender” blurs the boundaries of the two biologically determined sexes, the government’s July report regarding equality between women and men listed “fighting against violence based on the biological sex and changing the public stereotypes about women and men” as one of its priorities.

Birth Registration: Citizenship derives from one’s parents or by birth within the country’s territory, unless one receives foreign citizenship by heritage. The law requires the registration of births within seven days.

Child Abuse: The law protects children against any type of abuse, including physical, psychological, and sexual violence and exploitation, and punishes violators with fines ranging from 300 to 10,000 levs ($168 to $5,600), unless the abuses constitute a criminal or more severe administrative offense. Violence against children continued to be a problem.

Beginning in January, domestic NGO March for the Family association organized a series of protests against the government’s draft Strategy for the Child 2019-2030, expressing fear that it would give excessive power to the authorities to remove children from their parents by force. The political parties Internal Macedonian Revolutionary Organization and Vazrazhdane, as well as the Holy Synod of the Bulgarian Orthodox Church, joined the campaign against the strategy. The National Network for Children, an alliance of hundreds of NGOs defending children’s rights, endorsed the strategy, which it asserted focused on a full prohibition of physical punishment of children and criminalization of domestic violence. The minister of labor and social policy insisted that the strategy was intended to “mobilize, finance, integrate and streamline the efforts of the authorities and civil society to improve every child’s living environment and chances of fulfilling their potential,” but the government, nevertheless, decided to discontinue the strategy. In March the government publicized the draft of its annual National Program for Child Protection, based on the four-year National Program for Prevention of Violence and Abuse against Children (2017-20), but did not proceed with its adoption due to the ongoing protests.

In June the government’s Social Assistance Agency reported registering 1,000 child abuse cases. According to a 2018 joint survey of the Bulgarian Teachers’ Trade Union and the Ministry of Interior, 70 percent of children in the country had experienced abuse in their families, and in 60 percent of the cases the abuse was a reaction to the child’s conduct and grades in school. A 2018 survey commissioned by the National Network for Children indicated that, while 88 percent of parents consider physical punishment of children ineffective, two-thirds resorted to physical punishment, and one-fourth did so on a regular basis.

In April the National Network for Children released its 2019 “report card,” which found a slight overall improvement in government policies on children but noted that authorities continued to “develop policies and make legislative changes not on the basis of evidence, but led by strictly partisan motives, with a lack of clear vision, political will, and professionalism.” The government funded an NGO-operated 24-hour free helpline that children could call for counseling, information, and support, as well as to report abuse.

In March the European Committee of Social Rights found that the country was in violation of European Social Charter legal provisions by requiring a one-year suspension or termination of monthly family allowances if a child stops attending school (even if the child subsequently returned to school) and by requiring the termination of monthly family allowances if a minor becomes a parent. The decision also identified discriminatory treatment of Roma, particularly minor Romani girls.

Early and Forced Marriage: The minimum age for marriage is 18. In exceptional cases, a person may enter into marriage at 16 with permission from the regional court. NGOs criticized authorities for treating early marriages as an ethnic Romani rather than a gender problem but acknowledged that child marriage was pervasive in Romani communities. As of September courts had sentenced 21 adults for cohabiting with girls younger than 16, and 33 adults for cohabiting with girls younger than 14.

Sexual Exploitation of Children: The law differentiates between forcing children into prostitution, which is punishable by up to eight years’ imprisonment and a fine of up to 15,000 levs ($8,400), and child sex trafficking, punishable by up to 10 years’ imprisonment and a fine of up to 20,000 levs ($11,200). The law prohibits child pornography and provides for up to six years in prison and a fine of up to 8,000 levs ($4,480) for violations. Authorities enforced the law. The legal minimum age for consensual sex is 14. In April the UN special rapporteur on the sale and sexual exploitation of children found that Romani children were disproportionately at risk of sexual or other types of violence and that cooperation among the various authorities engaged in child protection remained a problem.

Displaced Children: As of September, 416 unaccompanied minors sought asylum in the country, a 260 percent increase from the same period in 2018. In July the Supreme Administrative Court opened a case following a 2017 petition from the ombudsman. According to the ombudsman, courts apply different standards in determining whether migrant children are unaccompanied and routinely place children so designated in detention centers for irregular migrants. The ombudsman’s petition asked the court to establish uniform legal treatment of unaccompanied children across the court system.

Institutionalized Children: The government continued to close residential care institutions for children, and as of November 495 children remained to be relocated from the 21 legacy facilities and placed in community-based care. In January the government closed the medical and social care home in Yambol, which at the end of 2017 accommodated 19 children–down from 69 in 2009. According to NGOs, the government had not ensured improved quality of life for the children in the new family-type placement centers and the quality of the family support services remained unchanged. In November, Disabilities Rights International released a report stating the country’s deinstitutionalization reform had “replaced a system of large, old orphanages with newer, smaller buildings that are still operating as institutions” and that while physical conditions in group homes are clean, they remain “dehumanizing and dangerous.” The Ministry of Labor and Social Policy accused the report of generalization and described its findings as “biased, nonrepresentative, and seeking to demean the deinstitutionalization process.”

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 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 2011 census indicated that 1,130 Jews lived in the country, but local Jewish organizations estimated the actual number was 5,000-6,000.

Anti-Semitic rhetoric continued to appear regularly on social networking sites and as comments under online media articles. The Organization of Bulgarian Jews Shalom reported increasing manifestations of anti-Semitism in the form of anti-Semitic speech and imagery on social networks and at parades and meetings by far-right and ultranationalist groups as well as periodic vandalism of Jewish cemeteries and monuments. Souvenirs with Nazi insignia were available in tourist areas around the country. According to Shalom, the national coordinator on combating anti-Semitism and the Ministry of Interior “responded unfailingly” to anti-Semitic incidents, but weak laws prevented the authorities from punishing offenders more severely.

On April 20 and 21–dates coinciding with Adolph Hitler’s birthday–the marginal, nonparliamentary Bulgarian National Union party hosted an international meeting of far-right organizations in Sofia, which announced the establishment of a “pan-European union” for the “complete elimination of the influence of…the Zionist lobby.” Meanwhile, obituaries of Adolf Hitler appeared in public places in the town of Dupnitsa, 30 miles south of Sofia, announcing that a memorial service would take place at the Jewish cemetery. The mayor of Dupnitsa and the Foreign Ministry condemned both events as “spreading xenophobic, anti-Semitic, and racist messages.” Posters of Hitler and Nazi symbols also appeared in public places in the Black Sea port city of Burgas. Law enforcement agencies identified the perpetrators, but the regional prosecution refused to open an investigation, asserting that it was an act of “minor hooliganism.”

In February a rally took place in Sofia in honor of Hristo Lukov, leader in the 1940s of an anti-Semitic/pro-Nazi organization, the Union of Bulgarian National Legions. The government, the Bulgarian Socialist Party, NGOs, international organizations, and diplomatic missions denounced the rally. The Sofia Administrative Court overturned Sofia mayor Yordanka Fandakova’s ban on the march, which comprised 200-300 participants. On the same day, the Council of Ministers hosted senior government officials, municipal leaders, intellectuals, civil society leaders, and diplomats from International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance member countries, who signed a manifesto against hate speech, vowing to protect public space from hatred and intolerance and enhance public sensitivity to any acts of racism, anti-Semitism, xenophobia, and discrimination.

In April vandals defaced a WWII memorial in Stara Zagora with swastikas and anti-Semitic slogans. Authorities responded quickly, cleaning up the monument.

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

The law protects the rights of persons with physical, mental, intellectual, and sensory disabilities, including their access to health services, education, employment, housing, public infrastructure, transportation, sports and cultural events, public and political events, the judicial system, and other services. The government did not effectively enforce these provisions, focusing most of its efforts on providing disability pensions, social services, and institutional care. NGOs accused the government of pursuing a goal of reducing the number of persons with disabilities through redefinition of disability criteria rather than supporting them. In June the Bulgarian Industrial Association complained that employers were not aware of whether they met the legal requirements for employing persons with permanent disabilities, noting the absence of an integrated information database. In February the NGO Union of the Blind criticized a regulation, adopted in August 2018 with the intention of curbing disability pension fraud, that introduced a new methodology for assessing the degree of disability. The NGO stated that the change failed to achieve its goal of curbing false disability claims and, instead, had negatively affected 19 percent of persons with “real” disabilities.

In January the prosecution service declared its intention to “go after fake disability pensions,” stating that the country’s social assistance system was defrauded of hundreds of millions of levs every year. In February, for example, authorities arrested the head of the local medical expert evaluation board in Silistra, and in June they arrested eight persons in Sofia, including two heads of medical expert evaluation boards. All were charged with accepting bribes to issue false disability certifications. As of October investigations in the cases were ongoing.

While the law requires improved access to public and transportation infrastructure for persons with disabilities, enforcement lagged in some new public works projects and existing buildings. The Commission for Protection against Discrimination continued its 2017 nationwide campaign of inspecting public buildings, utility providers, telecommunications operators, banks, and insurance companies. Those not in compliance with the law for persons with disabilities received fines from 2,000 to 20,000 levs ($1,120 to $11,200). According to the commission, persons with disabilities faced problems accessing not only public infrastructure, but also employment, health-care services, and education.

The law promotes the employment of persons with disabilities and covers 30 to 50 percent of the employers’ related insurance costs in addition to the full costs of adjusting and equipping workplaces to accommodate them. The government provided a 24-month program of subsidies for employers who hire unemployed persons with a permanent disability. NGOs considered the program inadequate, since more than 50 percent of unemployed persons with disabilities are older than 50 and had not studied in college, and only one-third had specialized education. The law requires that companies with 50 to 99 employees hire at least one person with a permanent disability; in larger companies, persons with permanent disabilities must make up at least 2 percent of the workforce.

Individuals with mental and physical disabilities were widely stigmatized and often housed in institutions in remote areas under harsh conditions. According to NGOs, the government did not provide adequate medical care for all persons with mental disabilities. In February the NGOs European Network for Independent Living, the Center for Independent Living, and the Validity Foundation petitioned the government to abandon plans to channel EU funds into building a large number of community-based centers for persons with disabilities and elderly persons, asserting that it would result in “transinstitutionalization” and fail to deal with the “deeply ingrained discrimination, social exclusion, and segregation of these groups.”

The Ministry of Education transformed most of the 55 “special schools” for students with special education needs into education support centers, leaving only five special schools with approximately 600 students with sensory and hearing disabilities. Most of the remaining approximately 18,000 students with special education needs attended mainstream schools. Those studying in the special schools received diplomas that higher-level learning establishments did not recognize as qualifying them for further education.

According to NGOs, police lacked training and skills in dealing with persons with mental disabilities and often traumatized them further with their actions. In one example, in April police in Sofia detained a young man with autism, who showed them only a copy of his identity card and refused to speak. Police responded by shouting at him and took him to the police station. The director of the Center for Social Rehabilitation and Integration of Persons with Autism in Sofia explained that such persons carry only a copy of their identity cards as a precaution.

The law provides specific measures for persons with disabilities to have access to the polls, including mobile ballot boxes, voting in a polling station of their choice, and assisted voting. According to ODIHR, those measures were “not sufficient to ensure equal participation, especially for persons with visual impairments who cannot vote independently.”

Societal intolerance and occasional violence against the Roma persisted, and political and government actors sometimes condoned or prompted them. Human rights organizations reported a persistent level of racial discrimination against Roma. The media often described Roma and other minority groups using discriminatory, denigrating, and abusive language, highlighting instances in which Romani persons had committed a crime. Nationalist parties, such as Ataka, the Internal Macedonian Revolutionary Organization, and the National Front for Salvation of Bulgaria, routinely resorted to strong anti-Roma, anti-Turkish, and anti-Semitic slogans and rhetoric. A 2018 Open Society Institute study found that 81 percent of respondents had witnessed incidents of hate speech targeting Roma.

In January the Supreme Administrative Court decided that the National Front for Salvation of Bulgaria party leader Valeri Simeonov’s statements that Roma were “brash, overconfident, and ferocious apes” who “want sickness benefits without being ill, child care for children who wallow with the pigs on the streets, and maternity benefits for women who have the instincts of street bitches,” made in 2014 while he was a national assembly member, were not abusive, degrading, or discriminatory. The decision overturned the 2017 ruling of the Burgas Regional Court convicting Simeonov. NGOs insisted that such statements were racist and dehumanizing and criticized the government for its failure to prosecute them as a criminal offense.

On January 6, Romani brothers Boris and Asen Paketov severely beat a member of the armed forces in Voyvodinovo, a village two miles north of Plovdiv. The victim, 33-year-old Special Forces corporal Valentin Dimov, was hospitalized with facial fractures. The incident led to local protests supported by outsiders as well as by Dimov’s colleagues from the Special Forces Brigade. Defense Minister Krasimir Karakachanov arrived in Voyvodinovo two days after the incident, where he stated, “Gypsies in Bulgaria have become extremely brash, and the Bulgarian people have run out of tolerance.” He advocated for a “comprehensive program for solving the Gypsy question [because] … the people don’t have to tolerate a part of the population which only has rights and refuses to understand it also has responsibilities and needs to abide by the law.” Protesters accused the local government of protecting the local Roma and failing to enforce the law. Karakachanov ordered the demolition of the illegal houses occupied by approximately 250 Roma, who fled the village. NGOs filed a complaint against the minister with the Commission for Protection against Discrimination. The Bulgarian Helsinki Committee criticized the government’s actions in forcing Romani residents out of their homes in subzero temperatures and accused the minister of a “disproportionate response” inciting an ethnic cleansing. In February the mayor of Maritsa municipality north of Plovdiv expressed willingness to provide the Voyvodinovo Roma affected by the evictions with social housing but complained that the municipality did not have such housing and sought help from the regional governor. As of September a solution to the housing situation remained pending.

There were few prosecutions for hate crimes, and sentences were often short or suspended for those convicted. In July the Bulgarian Helsinki Committee accused prosecution authorities of indifference to hate-motivated crimes, citing the lack of action against the participants in a protest in April who vandalized five Roma-occupied houses in Gabrovo, setting fire to two of them. The protest in Gabrovo, a central northern city with a Romani population of less than 1 percent, was in support of a local shopkeeper who had been beaten by three Roma. Deputy Prime Ministers Tomislav Donchev and Karakachanov supported the protest, claiming that local authorities had allowed an accumulation of Roma-related problems. The protests forced most Romani residents to flee the city and hide for days in the woods. The Organization of Bulgarian Jews Shalom joined other NGOs in their response to the incidents in Voyvodinovo and Gabrovo, condemning “every attempt at provoking ethnic tensions in the country” and expressing serious concern about the “reluctance of government representatives to assume responsibility for the current integration policies.”

According to the Standing Roma Conference, local authorities disproportionately targeted illegal Romani dwellings for demolition. NGOs frequently petitioned the European Court of Human Rights to order the government to freeze the razing of homes in Romani neighborhoods until authorities provided adequate alternative accommodation for pregnant women, children, the elderly, and sick persons. The government did not respond.

The law establishes Bulgarian as the official language of instruction in the country’s public education system but allows instruction in foreign languages, providing that instruction in Bulgarian language and literature is conducted in Bulgarian. The law also permits study of the mother tongue. Local government and school officials reported that they had instructions to ensure that primary school classes are delivered only in Bulgarian, even in schools where more than 50 percent of the students had Turkish or Romani as their mother tongue. In March the Education Ministry approved new curricula for the teaching of Armenian, Hebrew, Romani, and Turkish. Nearly 14 percent fewer students on average learned their mother tongue in public schools during the 2017-18 school year, although there was a 28 percent increase in the number of Romani students studying their mother tongue.

The law prohibits ethnic segregation in multiethnic schools and kindergartens but allows segregation of entire schools. Of Romani children, 30 percent (up from 16 percent five years earlier) were enrolled in segregated schools outside mainstream education, according to the European Roma Rights Center. Romani children often attended de facto segregated schools where they received inferior education. There were instances of ethnic Bulgarian students withdrawing from desegregated schools, thereby effectively resegregating them. There was also self-segregation when children did not feel safe and were afraid to go to school outside their neighborhood. Romani NGOs reported that many schools throughout the country refused to enroll Romani students. In May the Education Ministry launched a national program for educational desegregation, providing one million levs ($560,000) for extra transportation costs, school aids, and additional activities involving students, parents, and teachers.

In July the National Assembly amended the law, providing official professional status to health mediators who help the Roma and other marginalized communities improve their access to health care. The National Health Mediators Network employs 245 mediators in 130 municipalities.

According to the Bulgarian Helsinki Committee, Romani women were routinely segregated within maternity hospital wards. Romani NGOs stated that some municipalities set discriminatory requirements for access to services in order to restrict Romani women’s access to them. For example, the assisted reproduction program in Veliko Turnovo and the one-time allowance for giving birth in Svilengrad both require completed secondary education by the mother.

NGOs identified an overall rise in the occurrence of hate speech and hate crimes. As of year’s end, investigators had not identified the soccer hooligans involved in the September 2018 racist assault on black British citizen Leon Koffi, who sustained serious injuries and required hospital treatment for two weeks.

The law prohibits discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity, but the government did not effectively enforce this prohibition. No laws protect against hate crimes based on sexual orientation and gender identity. NGOs asserted that authorities often refused to investigate and prosecute homophobia and transphobia because they are not recognized by law as crimes.

There were reports of violence against LGBTI persons. In February an unidentified man passing by Galya Petkova, who was walking her dog in downtown Sofia, addressed her as “snide fag” and punched her in the mouth. Societal prejudice and discrimination, particularly in employment, remained a problem. During the year there was a series of attacks on the Rainbow Hub, a community center and shared space for LGBTI organizations in Sofia, ranging from stealing the rainbow flag hanging outside and dislodging the mailbox, to breaking in and smashing windows.

According to LGBTI organizations, courts rejected the right of same-sex partners to protection against domestic violence because the law protects persons living in spousal cohabitation and treats “spousal” only as applying to married persons who cannot legally be the same sex. The Commission for Protection against Discrimination reported a trend of receiving very few cases–four as of October–regarding sexual orientation.

A June 2018 Open Society Institute study identified a doubling in the number of respondents who witnessed hate-speech incidents directed at LGBTI persons compared with 2016, from 21 percent to 42 percent. According to the Gays and Lesbians Accepted in Society Foundation, 73 percent of LGBTI persons had received threats due to their sexual orientation, with 60 percent of the threats occurring in schools. Of those surveyed, 15 percent were victims of assault, but none reported the incident to police due to fear of police harassment and lack of trust that the report would be properly investigated.

NGOs stated persons suspected of being gay were often fired from their jobs, and such individuals were reluctant to seek redress in court due to fear of being identified as LGBTI. Many health professionals considered LGBTI status a disease, and the general stigma around sexual orientation and gender identity frequently resulted in refusal of health services, particularly to transgender persons. NGOs complained that most parties in the National Assembly, government ministers, and municipal authorities were reluctant to engage in a dialogue on the challenges facing LGBTI individuals and related policy issues.

In April municipal councilors from the Internal Macedonian Revolutionary Organization and the Bulgarian Socialist Party in Plovdiv requested the resignation of the artistic director of the “Plovdiv 2019 European Capital of Culture” project, Svetlana Kuyumdjieva, because she approved funding for and included an LGBTI photography exhibition in the program. The councilors stated that a “gay event” could not be part of the cultural program and that the “obtrusion of amoral propaganda” would be a bad influence on the rising generation. In April the education minister issued instructions to all school principals in the country, banning any “booklets, questionnaires, or newssheets requiring pupils to determine their gender identity.”

As reported by the government’s national program for HIV and sexually transmitted disease prevention and control, “despite the enormous medical progress in HIV treatment, little has been achieved in terms of overcoming the stigma and discrimination [associated with HIV]. Negative societal attitudes have a strong impact on persons with HIV/AIDS.” According to the Health Ministry’s National Center for Infectious and Parasitic Diseases, there was on average a four-year delay in the diagnosis of persons with HIV because they were reluctant to be tested due to the stigma, which also existed in the medical community. At a roundtable in March, the Bulgarian Infectious Disease Association reported that often surgeons and intensive care wards refused treatment to HIV patients, even though their infection had been brought under control, and that the stigma within the rest of the medical community was even greater.

According to a report on the results of a public opinion poll delivered at a roundtable in June, 90 percent of those surveyed would not live with persons with HIV/AIDS, 75 percent would not be friends, 60 percent would not work with them, and 50 percent were afraid to communicate with such persons. NGOs reported that the general stigma around sexual orientation and gender identity frequently resulted in denial of health services to persons living with HIV/AIDS.

The Bulgarian Helsinki Committee reported that certain print and online media increasingly targeted human rights activists, lawyers, and journalists, and deliberately covered the organization’s press releases in a distorted way to portray it as treacherous, biased, and anti-Bulgarian. Bulgarian Helsinki Committee staff also reported receiving frequent threats. In October the prosecutor general dismissed a request by the Internal Macedonian Revolutionary Organization for banning the Bulgarian Helsinki Committee, which accused the NGO of “anticonstitutional, illegal, immoral, and openly anti-Bulgarian activity.”

Chile

Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:

The constitution 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.

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

In August reports emerged that the Army Intelligence Directorate wiretapped investigative journalist Mauricio Weibel, who was researching alleged corruption in the army, as well as four active or retired officers suspected of leaking documents to him. The directorate’s leadership stated the wiretaps were authorized by judicial authorities in 2016 and 2017, citing “national security” concerns. Both an internal army investigation and a congressional inquiry were launched. The investigations continued as of November.

The government did not restrict or disrupt access to the internet or censor online content, and there were no credible reports that the government monitored private online communications without appropriate legal authority.

There were no government restrictions on academic freedom or cultural events.

The law provides for the freedoms of peaceful assembly and association, and the government generally respected those rights.

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 internal movement, foreign travel, emigration, and repatriation; and the government generally respected these rights.

Not applicable.

f. Protection of Refugees

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, including access to education and health care.

Durable Solutions: In 2018 the government announced a Democratic Responsibility visa for Venezuelans fleeing the humanitarian crisis in Venezuela. In June the government halted visa-free entry for nonimmigrant Venezuelans. Under the government’s immigration reform, the Democratic Responsibility Visa is the primary means for Venezuelans to work or establish legal residency in Chile. In 2018 the government began facilitating the voluntary repatriation of more than 1,200 Haitians to Port-au-Prince under its Humanitarian Plan for Orderly Returns program. Haitians wishing to participate must sign a declaration that they will not return to Chile within nine years of departing.

Not applicable.

Section 4. Corruption and Lack of Transparency in Government

The law provides criminal penalties for corruption by officials, and the government generally implemented those laws effectively. There were isolated reports of government corruption during the year.

Corruption: Two former commanders in chief of the army, Humberto Oviedo and Juan Miguel Fuente-Alba, were arrested and charged with corruption. The two were alleged to have embezzled or misappropriated more than eight billion pesos (CLP) ($11.5 million) during their terms in command of the army (2010-18). They were the highest-ranking officers to be charged in a large-scale criminal investigation that, according to the National Prosecutor’s Office, involved nearly 600 current or former officers suspected of misappropriation of funds as of November 2018. The investigation and related criminal prosecutions continued as of October.

On September 6, the Public Ministry announced additional charges against former director general of the Carabineros Eduardo Gordon, increasing the amount of funds he allegedly misappropriated to CLP 70 million ($96,000), up from the CLP 21 million ($30,000) originally announced in 2018. The charges stemmed from alleged misappropriation of representational expenses for personal use during Gordon’s time as director general of the Carabineros in 2010 and 2011. As of October the investigation was in progress.

Financial Disclosure: Law and regulation require income and asset disclosure by appointed and elected officials. Declarations are made available to the public, and there are administrative sanctions for noncompliance.

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 cooperative and responsive to their views.

Government Human Rights Bodies: The National Institute for Human Rights (INDH) operated independently and effectively, issued public statements and an annual report, and proposed changes to government agencies or policies to promote and protect human rights. The government enacted legislation designating the INDH as the country’s National Preventive Mechanism against Torture under the Optional Protocol to the UN Convention against Torture.

The Senate and Chamber of Deputies have standing human rights committees responsible for drafting human rights legislation.

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

Rape and Domestic Violence: The law criminalizes rape of men or women, including spousal rape. Penalties for rape range from five to 15 years’ imprisonment, and the government generally enforced the law when violations were reported.

The law criminalizes both physical and psychological domestic violence and protects the privacy and safety of the victim making the charge of rape or domestic violence.

Family courts handle cases of domestic violence and penalize offenders with fines up to CLP 720,000 ($1,065). Additional sanctions include eviction of the offender from the residence shared with the survivor, restraining orders, confiscation of firearms, and court-ordered counseling. Cases of habitual psychological abuse and physical abuse cases in which there are physical injuries are prosecuted in the criminal justice system. Penalties are based on the gravity of injuries and range from 61 days’ to 15 years’ imprisonment. Murder in the context of domestic violence is defined as femicide in the criminal code, and penalties range from 15 years to life in prison. The government generally enforced the laws against domestic violence effectively.

The Ministry of Women and Gender Equality ran a victims’ assistance and protection program that operated psychological, legal, and social assistance centers and shelters throughout the country and maintained an emergency hotline.

Sexual Harassment: Workplace sexual harassment is not a criminal offense, with penalties outlined exclusively in the labor code. By law sexual harassment in the workplace is cause for immediate dismissal from employment. The law requires employers to define internal procedures, or a company policy, for investigating sexual harassment, and employers may face fines and additional financial compensation to victims if it is shown the company policy on sexual harassment was not followed. The law provides protection to those affected by sexual harassment by employers and coworkers. The law provides severance pay to individuals who resign due to sexual harassment if they have completed at least one year with the employer.

On May 3, a law modifying the criminal code to define sexual harassment in public spaces as a crime went into effect. The law defines any verbal or gesticular act of a sexual nature designed to intimidate or humiliate another person as harassment, and it includes audiovisual recordings of an individual’s genital area or private parts without consent. Depending on the severity of the crime, sentences can range from 61 days’ to five years’ imprisonment and fines up to 20 UTM (an indexed amount, updated monthly) (approximately $1,400 as of November).

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

Discrimination: Although women possess most of the same legal rights as men, the government did not enforce the law effectively, and discrimination in employment, pay, ownership and management of businesses, and education persisted. Certain laws defining the marital relationship enable discrimination. The default and most common marital arrangement is “conjugal society,” which provides that a husband has the right to administer joint property, including his wife’s property, without consultation or written permission from his spouse, but a wife must demonstrate that her husband has granted his permission before she is permitted to make financial arrangements. Legislation remained pending years after a 2007 agreement with the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights to modify the conjugal society law to give women and men equal rights and responsibilities in marriage. The commercial code provides that, unless a woman is married under the separate-estate regime or a joint-estate regime, she may not enter into a commercial partnership agreement without permission from her husband, while a man may enter into such an agreement without permission from his wife.

Despite a law providing for equal pay for equal work, the average woman’s annual income was 32 percent less than that of men, according to the Ministry of Women and Gender Equality. The ministry is in charge of protecting women’s legal rights and is specifically tasked with combatting discrimination against women.

Birth Registration: Citizenship is derived by birth within the country’s territory and from one’s parents or grandparents. There were no reports that birth registration was denied on a discriminatory basis.

Child Abuse: There are laws against child abuse, but it remained a persistent problem. The law renders persons convicted of child sexual abuse permanently ineligible for any position, job, career, or profession in educational settings requiring direct and habitual contact with children younger than age 18. The law also includes a public registry of these sex offenders.

As part of the 2018 National Agreement on Childhood, the government opened the second Local Office for Children’s Affairs in the northern city of Iquique in the Tarapaca Region in March. The first office in the pilot program opened in the Florida municipality of greater Santiago in 2018, and 10 additional offices were tentatively planned across the country. The centers coordinated access to local services and benefits for children and adolescents and the activation and resolution of vulnerability alerts through the Childhood Alert System.

Early and Forced Marriage: The legal minimum age of marriage is 18 (16 with parental consent).

Sexual Exploitation of Children: Commercial sexual exploitation of children and adolescents was a problem, and children were victims of sex trafficking with and without third-party involvement. Children were also used in the production of pornography. The law prohibits all forms of human trafficking, prescribing penalties ranging from five years and one day to 15 years in prison, plus fines, for trafficking offenses. Nevertheless, child sex-trafficking cases were often prosecuted under a different law, Article 367 of the penal code, which provides lesser penalties. Due to sentencing guidelines for first-time offenders that provide automatic parole for any sentence of less than five years’ confinement, many convicted traffickers were given weak and inadequate sentences, which hampered efforts to deter and hold traffickers accountable.

Heterosexual sexual relations with minors between the ages of 14 and 18 may be considered statutory rape depending on the circumstances; sex with a child younger than age 14 is considered rape, regardless of consent or the victim’s gender. Penalties for statutory rape range from five to 20 years in prison. Child pornography is a crime. Penalties for producing child pornography range from 541 days to five years in prison.

Institutionalized Children: Following the 2016 death of 11-year-old Lissette Villa in a group home run by the National Service for Minors (SENAME), a number of investigations uncovered systemic problems of abuse and neglect. In July, Deputy (member of congress) Rene Saffirio accused the Ministry of Justice of concealing an investigative report drafted by the Investigative Police in 2018 that surveyed administrative records of all 240 SENAME residential facilities nationwide in the areas of adoption, protective services, and juvenile justice. The survey found that 45 percent of the facilities did not comply with minimum SENAME standards, 73 percent lacked guidelines and preventive procedures on children’s suicides, 77 percent did not have guidelines to deal with behavioral incidents, and 72 percent lacked procedures in case of children’s deaths. Of the centers, 58 percent, including all of those administered directly by SENAME, reported incidents of physical, psychological, or sexual abuse by staff members responsible for the children’s care. The National Prosecutor’s Office claimed it was validating the study’s methodology before forwarding it to the Minister of Justice. The National Advocate for Children’s Rights announced that it sent a copy of the study to the UN Committee on the Rights of the Child on July 4.

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 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 Jewish community numbers approximately 18,000 persons. Jewish community leaders reported concern over the tone of social media postings they perceived as threatening. The commentary leaders found offensive primarily referenced frustration with Israeli government policies and did not specifically mention either Jewish individuals or Chilean Jews.

During widespread social unrest in October and November, the Jewish cemetery in Santiago and Jewish-owned businesses in Concepcion were vandalized with anti-Semitic graffiti, and vandals threw Molotov cocktails at the main synagogue in Concepcion.

In December 2018 the Jewish Community of Chile successfully sued to block a municipal law in Valdivia that would have associated the city with the “Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions (BDS)” movement. The court ruled municipalities do not have the legal authority to conduct foreign relations and that all public tenders must be guaranteed “equal and nondiscriminatory treatment” under the law.

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

The law prohibits discrimination against persons with physical, sensory, intellectual, and mental disabilities, and the government mostly enforced these provisions. Persons with disabilities suffered forms of de facto discrimination. The law provides for universal and equal access to buildings, information, and communications. Most public buildings did not comply with legal accessibility mandates. The public transportation system, particularly outside Santiago, did not adequately provide accessibility for persons with disabilities. In recent years, however, the Metropolitan Mobility Network, the main system of public transportation within Santiago, instituted changes to improve compliance with the law, including new ramp systems and elevators at certain metro stations, as well as improved access to some buses. Nevertheless, many metro stations and most buses remained inaccessible to persons with physical disabilities.

The Ministry of Social Development’s National Service for the Disabled (SENADIS) reported that children with disabilities attended mainstream public primary and secondary school but noted difficulties in ensuring equal access to schooling at private institutions. SENADIS also reported that persons with disabilities had fewer opportunities to continue their education beyond secondary school. According to a 2016 study by SENADIS, persons with disabilities on average had less formal education, lower workforce participation and employment rates, and lower average salaries than the general population. Persons considered to have severe disabilities were especially likely to be excluded from the workforce.

Equal treatment and nondiscrimination are explicitly protected in the constitution, and the labor code specifically prohibits discrimination. In its 2017 annual report, the INDH published survey results regarding racial discrimination, in which 76 percent of those surveyed reported having witnessed discriminatory actions against immigrants, most of whom were from other Latin American countries or from the Caribbean, including Afro-descendants. There were reports of discrimination against racial minorities and immigrants in the public-health and education systems. The government implemented training programs for public officials on assisting immigrants, incorporated interpreters into offices, and provided information in languages other than Spanish, specifically Haitian Creole. Several municipal governments implemented plans for assistance to migrants in public services.

Although the constitution does not specifically protect indigenous groups, indigenous peoples have the right to participate in decisions affecting their lands, cultures, and traditions, including the exploitation of energy, minerals, timber, or other natural resources on indigenous lands. In its annual report on human rights, the University of Diego Portales reported indigenous peoples encountered serious obstacles to exercising these civil and political rights, including the right to use natural resources in their territories, to political participation, and to nondiscrimination and equal access to justice. Indigenous persons experienced societal discrimination, including in employment; there were reports of incidents in which they were attacked and harassed. In its 2017 annual report, the INDH published racial discrimination survey results, in which between 65 and 83 percent of citizens reported agreeing with a series of discriminatory statements regarding indigenous groups.

There were numerous reports of police abuse against Mapuche individuals and communities, including against children. The INDH brought petitions to protect the constitutional rights of Mapuche individuals, including children and adolescents, in cases of excessive use of force by security forces. Amnesty International’s annual report reiterated there were continuing reports of excessive use of force and arbitrary detention during police operations in Mapuche communities.

In November 2018 Carabineros forces shot and killed Camilo Catrillanca, a Mapuche community leader in Temucuicui in the southern Araucania Region, causing widespread protests. Four officers were arrested, and two senior officials resigned, when it was revealed the Carabineros had lied in their initial reports of the incident and destroyed video evidence showing the victim was unarmed and was shot in the back. A 15-year-old boy who witnessed the shooting was arrested and allegedly beaten in custody; his arrest was later declared illegal. The trial of eight persons (seven Carabineros officers and one civilian employee) accused of criminal charges including homicide, attempted homicide, and obstruction of justice in the case was scheduled to begin in November.

Indigenous lands are demarcated, but some indigenous Mapuche and Rapa Nui communities demanded restitution of privately and publicly owned traditional lands.

The law recognizes nine indigenous groups in the country and creates an administrative structure to provide specialized programs and services to promote economic, social, and cultural development of these peoples.

The law sets the age of consent at 18 for consensual same-sex sexual activity; heterosexual activity is permitted, under some circumstances, at age 14. Antidiscrimination laws exist and prohibit discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender identity in housing, employment, and access to government services. The government generally enforced these labor laws effectively. In March the Movement for Homosexual Integration and Liberation (MOVILH), a leading gay rights NGO, reported it tracked 698 cases of discrimination due to sexual orientation or gender identity during 2018, the highest number in the history of their annual report and a 44 percent increase over 2017, including an increase of 217 percent in discrimination against transgender individuals. The most common discriminatory acts reported to MOVILH were verbal abuse and discrimination in the public services, such as police operations, public education, and health services.

Violence against lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and intersex (LGBTI) individuals continued. In October police arrested Alberto Faundez on suspicion of theft. Upon discovering that he was gay, police allegedly physically assaulted him in the detention center, forced him to strip naked in front of other prisoners, and subjected him to homophobic insults. MOVILH and the INDH filed legal actions protesting the treatment.

The case continued against police for arbitrary detention and cruel, inhuman, and degrading treatment in a 2018 incident. In June 2018, on the night of Santiago’s Pride Parade, MOVILH reported that its founder, LGBTI activist Rolando Jimenez, was subjected to verbal and physical abuse and arbitrarily arrested for defending a same-sex couple being subjected to verbal discrimination, harassment, and physical abuse by Carabineros. Jimenez was charged with attacking a police officer and making death threats, as well as with theft of the officer’s watch. MOVILH alleged the accusations were false and that Jimenez was attacked because he had been a constant critic of alleged homophobic actions by Police Precinct Number One. In August, Jimenez publicly reconciled with Carabineros General Director Mario Rozas, who apologized for the incident and promised an internal investigation.

Law enforcement authorities appeared reluctant to use the full recourse of a 2012 antidiscrimination law, including charging assailants of LGBTI victims with a hate crime, which would elevate criminal penalties as permitted under the law.

On August 29, after formal review by the comptroller general, the Official Register published implementing regulations for the Gender Identity Law enacted in 2018. The law grants transgender citizens, starting at age 14, the ability to change gender markers on government-issued identity documents, including national identity cards and university diplomas, to reflect their gender identity. The law was scheduled to go into effect on December 27. MOVILH estimated that a large portion of the increase in discrimination cases registered in 2018 came in response to the passage of this law.

Croatia

Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:

The constitution and law provide for freedom of expression, including for the press, and the government generally respected this right. An independent press, an effective judiciary, and a functioning democratic political system combined in most cases to promote freedom of expression, including for the press. NGOs reported, however, that the government did not adequately investigate or prosecute cases in which journalists or bloggers received threats, and the Croatian Journalists’ Association (CJA) reported that lawsuits against journalists and media outlets were used as a form of censorship.

Freedom of Expression: The law sanctions individuals who act “with the goal of spreading racial, religious, sexual, national, ethnic hatred, or hatred based on the color of skin or sexual orientation or other characteristics.” The law provides for six months’ to five years’ imprisonment for conviction of such “hate speech.” Conviction for internet hate speech is punishable by six months to three years’ imprisonment. Although the law and recent Constitutional Court decisions technically impose restrictions on symbolic speech considered “hate speech,” including the use of Nazi- and (the World War II regime) Ustasha-era symbols and slogans, NGOs and advocacy groups complained that enforcement of those provisions remained inadequate.

Press and Media, Including Online Media: Independent media were active and expressed a wide variety of views without restriction. Restrictions on material deemed hate speech apply to print and broadcast media. Many private newspapers and magazines were published without government interference. Observers said, however, that information regarding actual ownership of some local radio and television channels was not always publicly available, raising concerns about bias, censorship, and the vulnerability of audiences to malign influence.

Violence and Harassment: NGOs reported that intimidation and threats, especially online threats, against journalists had an increasingly chilling effect on media freedom and that the government insufficiently addressed this problem.

On March 7, Office of Security Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) representative on freedom of the media Harlem Desir expressed concern about a March 6 police visit to the online news portal Net.hr, ostensibly to verify the identity and home address of journalist Djurdjica Klancir. Ivo Zinic, the head of Sisak County and a member of the Croatian Democratic Union, had previously filed a private defamation lawsuit against Klancir, and Desir alleged the police visit was conducted to intimidate Klancir. Zinic denied having anything to do with the police incident.

Censorship or Content Restrictions: Members of the press reported practicing self-censorship due to fear of online harassment, being sued, upsetting politically connected individuals, or losing their jobs for covering certain topics.

On September 16, Gordan Duhacek, a journalist for the online portal index.hr, was detained by police and later fined at Zagreb’s Misdemeanor Court for a July 2018 Twitter message that discussed police treatment of those arrested and contained an antipolice message. Duhacek also faced a court judgment for another tweet, a satirical rewrite of the lyrics of a patriotic song. The CJA labeled police treatment of Duhacek as intimidation. On September 17, OSCE representative Harlem Desir expressed concern about the case and stated, “Such treatment of journalists for their views is unacceptable. Freedom of expression is a fundamental human right and should be respected as such.” Dunja Mijatovic, the Council of Europe’s commissioner for human rights, said the arrest and fine for Duhacek “amount to pure intimidation of the press” and called on authorities to protect media freedom and avoid undue pressure on journalists.

Libel/Slander Laws: The country’s public broadcaster, Croatian Radio Television (HRT), filed more than 30 lawsuits against its own and other journalists, including HRT journalist and CJA president Hrvoje Zovko, who complained of censorship at the HRT and was later dismissed from his position as HRT editor. On October 29, the Zagreb Labor Court found the HRT’s dismissal of Zovko illegal and ordered him reinstated. On March 2, several hundred journalists rallied in Zagreb against the curbing of media freedoms in the country. The CJA reported there were more than 1,000 ongoing lawsuits involving journalists or media outlets. The CJA viewed these lawsuits as attacks on the independence of the media. Responding to the CJA’s claims on February 6, Prime Minister Andrej Plenkovic said, “Croatia is a free country with free media and free media ownership structure,” and “to say today that there is no media freedom in Croatia means that the person making this claim is neither reading the papers, listening to the radio, nor watching television.” On March 6, the OSCE’s Desir expressed his concern about the high number of lawsuits filed against journalists and outlets, claiming that defamation laws were being misused to intimidate journalists.

The government did not restrict or disrupt access to the internet or censor online content, and there were no credible reports that the government monitored private online communications without appropriate legal authority.

There were no government restrictions on academic freedom or cultural events.

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

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

d. Freedom of Movement

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

Not applicable.

f. Protection of Refugees

Abuse of Migrants, Refugees, and Stateless Persons: International and domestic NGOs and international organizations outside of the country such as the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) reported police pushbacks of migrants, some of whom may have been asylum seekers, attempting to enter the country illegally, particularly on the country’s border with Bosnia and Herzegovina, and alleged border police subjected migrants to degrading and abusive treatment, including theft and destruction of migrants’ property during pushbacks. Human Rights Watch claimed that reported police pushbacks of migrants into Bosnia and Herzegovina were illegal under international law. Amnesty International also reported police abuse of migrants and pushbacks. Interior Minister Davor Bozinovic denied reports of migrant abuse. According to Bozinovic, the Ministry of the Interior received more than 200 complaints of alleged illegal and violent pushbacks of migrants, but, following investigations, found no evidence to support the allegations.

In March the ombudsperson received an anonymous complaint by a border police officer alleging that illegal mistreatment of migrants was ordered by police superiors. The ombudsperson notified the State Attorney’s Office and requested an independent investigation. In the absence of a response from the State Attorney’s Office, in June she notified parliament. The Ministry of the Interior ultimately dismissed those claims as unsubstantiated and inaccurate.

In November there were reports of two separate shootings of migrants by police, both resulting in injuries. In the first incident, police reported an Afghan migrant was shot accidentally when a police officer fired a warning shot. The officer evacuated the migrant, who was in critical condition, to a hospital. In the second incident, police reported a migrant was accidentally shot while resisting arrest. The investigation into the first shooting was completed in December and it was found to have been an accident. There was no additional information on the status of the victim. The investigation into the second shooting was ongoing at year’s end.

Interior Minister Bozinovic said the country encouraged and promoted strengthening legal pathways for persons in need of international protection and carried out an EU resettlement program for Syrian refugees from Turkey.

The government in most cases cooperated with UNHCR and other humanitarian organizations in providing protection and assistance to refugees, asylum seekers, stateless persons, and other persons of concern.

Access to Asylum: The law provides for the granting of refugee status and subsidiary protection status and the government has established a system for providing protection to asylum seekers. NGOs reported authorities at the borders between Serbia and Bosnia and Herzegovina prevented some migrants from applying for international protection, although officials denied these reports.

Durable Solutions: During the year the government received 98 refugees and asylum seekers under the EU Resettlement Program, for a total of 250 refugees and asylum seekers since the program began in 2015. In accordance with decisions of the Council of the EU to relocate migrants from Italy and Greece, the government received an additional 81 asylum seekers and resettled 250 Syrian refugees from Turkey.

The government continued to participate in a joint regional housing program (RHP) with the governments of Bosnia and Herzegovina, Montenegro, and Serbia. The RHP aimed to contribute to the resolution of the protracted displacement situation of the most vulnerable refugees and displaced persons following the 1991-95 conflict. As of September, the RHP had provided housing to 289 families (674 individuals) in the country.

Temporary Protection: The Ministry of Interior reported that from January to December 11, the government provided asylum to 153 refugees who had a well-founded fear of persecution if they returned to their home country. The country also has a mechanism for subsidiary protection for those who do not qualify for asylum and granted protection to one person during the year.

According to the last census, from 2011, there were 2,886 persons stateless or at risk of statelessness in the country. Many of these persons were Roma who lacked citizenship documents. The Ministry of the Interior is responsible for granting stateless individuals residency and eventual citizenship.

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. State prosecutors continued to prosecute several major corruption cases involving mayors, politicians, and public figures, and the judiciary generally imposed statutory penalties in cases in which there was a conviction. High-profile convictions for corruption, however, were frequently overturned on appeal. Corruption remained a problem, and significant numbers of high-profile corruption cases were underway.

Corruption: Several corruption cases against former high-level government officials reported in previous years were still pending. On May 23, the Supreme Court increased the corruption sentence of former prime minister Ivo Sanader to six years’ imprisonment, after prosecutors appealed an earlier four-and-a-half-year sentence from a lower court. Sanader was found guilty of assisting former Croatian Democratic Union member of parliament Stjepan Fiolic in a 2009 real estate deal that provided Sanader 17 million kuna ($2.6 million) in proceeds. Separate trials continued against Sanader on other corruption-related charges. On December 30, in one of these, the Zagreb County Court sentenced Sanader to a first instance appealable ruling of six years’ imprisonment for accepting a bribe of approximately $11 million during 2009 negotiations with Hungarian energy firm Hungarian Oil and Gas Public Limited Company, which was seeking management control of Croatian energy firm Oil Company, Public Stock Company.

The Office for the Suppression of Corruption and Organized Crime launched an investigation into former administration minister Lovro Kuscevic, who, while mayor of a municipality on Brac Island, was suspected of initiating an unlawful change in the municipality’s urban plan as well as enabling his brother-in-law to buy a government-subsidized flat. He resigned as minister in July and returned to parliament, which later stripped him of immunity from prosecution. The investigation covered three other officials suspected of abuse of office, incitement to abuse, and giving false depositions. The case was ongoing at year’s end.

Financial Disclosure: The law requires that public officials declare their assets and income, and government officials generally complied with this requirement. This information was available to the public. Fines are the penalty for noncompliance. During the year the Commission for Dealing with the Conflict of Interest fined two members of parliament, Ivan Sincic and Anka Mrak Taritas, and one state secretary, Zeliko Uhlir, for irregularities in their financial disclosure forms.

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

A variety of domestic and international human rights groups sometimes operated without government restriction, investigating and publishing their findings on human rights cases. Domestic NGOs working on migrants’ rights issues, however, reported police pressure. Two NGOs claimed their contracts to provide refugee services in asylum seeker reception centers were terminated due to their public criticism of police for alleged violence against migrants (see section 2.f.). Government officials generally were cooperative and responsive to their views.

Government Human Rights Bodies: The country has an ombudsperson for human rights who investigated complaints of human rights abuses, as well as three additional ombudspersons for gender equality, disabled persons, and children. The law stipulates that parliament cannot dismiss the ombudsperson for human rights because of dissatisfaction with his or her annual report. Parliament may dismiss the other three if it does not accept their annual reports. Ombudspersons admitted that this limited their ability to do their jobs thoroughly and independently and imposed political influence over their work.

The law authorizes ombudspersons to initiate shortened procedures in cases where there is sufficient evidence of the violation of constitutional and legal rights.

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

Rape and Domestic Violence: The law criminalizes the rape of men or women, including spousal rape and domestic violence. The law was in most cases effectively enforced. A separate law provides misdemeanor sanctions for family violence. Sentences range from fines to jail, depending on the crime’s severity. Rape, including spousal rape, is punishable by a maximum of 15 years’ imprisonment. Conviction for domestic violence is punishable by up to three years’ imprisonment; the law provides for misdemeanor punishments and further protects victims’ rights. Violence against women, including spousal abuse, remained a problem. Six family members, including a 10-year-old child, were shot and killed in Zagreb by a 30-year-old man who later killed himself. Local media reported the suspect’s former wife and her partner were among the victims. In another high-profile case, police charged five suspects with raping and blackmailing a 15-year-old girl in the Vrsi municipality near the city of Zadar. The investigation continued at year’s end.

Domestic violence NGO #spasime (“Save me”) held protests in Zagreb, Dubrovnik, and Split to show support for victims and demanded that the “system” adequately protect victims. Prime Minister Plenkovic attended the protest held in Zagreb, met with protest leaders afterward, and said he was ready to address the issue of domestic violence.

Police and prosecutors were generally responsive to allegations of domestic violence and rape. According to the 2018 report by the ombudsperson for gender equality, the number of misdemeanor cases of domestic violence decreased by 10.7 percent since 2017; however, the same period saw an increase in the percentage of criminal acts committed against close family members, indicating the severity of domestic violence offenses.

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

Discrimination: Women have the same legal status and rights as men with regard to family, employment, religion, inheritance, and voting. The law requires equal pay for equal work. In practice, women experienced discrimination in employment and occupation (see section 7.d.).

Birth Registration: Authorities registered all births at the time of birth within the country or abroad. Citizenship is derived by descent from at least one citizen parent or through birth in the country’s territory in exceptional cases.

Child Abuse: Amendments to the Penal Code which entered into force in January provided stricter penalties for the abuse of children. Penalties depend on the crime’s gravity and include long-term imprisonment if the consequence is death of a child. Child abuse, including violence and sexual abuse, remained a problem. On February 28, a 54-year-old man threw his four children, ages three, five, seven, and eight, off the balcony of their home, significantly injuring one. Following the attack, all the victims were released to their mother. The father was detained for 30 days and indicted with a charge of attempted murder. Both parents were previously convicted in 2017 of child neglect. The ombudsperson for children reported that police and prosecutors generally were responsive in investigating such cases.

Early and Forced Marriage: The legal minimum age for marriage is 18; children older than 16 may marry with a judge’s written consent (see Sec. 7.c.).

Sexual Exploitation of Children: The law prohibits commercial sexual exploitation of children; the sale, offering, or procuring of a child for prostitution; and child pornography, and authorities enforced the law. Amendments to the Penal Code which entered into force in January provided stricter penalties for the sexual exploitation of children. The Office of the Ombudsperson for Children stated that crimes and violence committed against children increased during the year, and claimed many crimes remained unreported. The Ministry of the Interior conducted investigative programs and worked with international partners to combat child pornography. The ministry operated a website known as Red Button for the public to report child pornography to police. The minimum age for consensual sex is 15.

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 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 World Jewish Congress estimated the country’s Jewish community at 1,700. Some Jewish community leaders continued to report anti-Semitic rhetoric, including the use of symbols affiliated with the Ustasha and historical revisionism, and some students reported bullying in schools. The January Holocaust Revisionist Report, a study examining how individual EU states deal with the legacy of involvement in or complicity with the Holocaust, pointed to the contemporary use of the wartime Ustasha salute, Za Dom Spremni (“For the Homeland, Ready”), and to the government’s and the Croatian Catholic Church’s apparent unwillingness to address the roles of the state and the church in the Holocaust as issues. The report also noted that the country lacked a consensus about what happened at the concentration camp in Jasenovac. On January 24, the Catholic Church unveiled a large banner on the Zagreb Cathedral commemorating International Holocaust Remembrance Day. Cardinal Josip Bozanic, archbishop of Zagreb, “declared it unacceptable to permit the re-emergence of anti-Semitism.” Observers from minority religious groups noted that this was a conspicuous and positive gesture given complaints by minority groups that the Church minimized its complicated role in the country during the Holocaust.

The Jewish community also stated government officials did not sufficiently condemn, prevent, or suppress Holocaust revisionism. For example, the NGO Simon Wiesenthal Center urged authorities to ban a book denying crimes committed by the country’s pro-Nazi regime during the Holocaust, saying the book “denies that mass murders of Serbs, Jews, Roma, and Croatian antifascists were carried out frequently in the notorious Jasenovac concentration camp.” The book was not banned. The law imposes a maximum sentence of three years for creating or distributing printed material which incites violence or hatred against a group of persons based on religion and national or ethnic origin, or approves, denies or diminishes the crime of genocide.

On April 14, the government held its official annual commemoration for victims killed by the Ustasha regime at Jasenovac. The Jewish community, along with the Serb National Council (SNV) and the Alliance of Antifascist Fighters, boycotted the official commemoration for the fourth year in a row and held their own commemorations on April 12. Jewish Community leaders said the separate commemoration was necessary due to the government’s “tacit approval” of the use of the Ustasha salute and increased revisionism regarding the history of the country’s World War II fascist regime. President Kolinda Grabar-Kitarovic visited the Jasenovac memorial site on her own on April 13.

On August 14, media reported that the High Misdemeanor Court fined a singer who used the Ustasha-affiliated salute “Za Dom Spremni” in the performance of a popular nationalist song. The court stated that the salute conveys hatred toward persons of different races, religions, and ethnicities, and fined the singer 965 kuna ($150). The ruling contributed to a body of legal decisions that characterize the use of “Za Dom Spremni” as hate speech.

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

The law prohibits discrimination against persons with physical, sensory, intellectual, or mental disabilities, including in access to education, employment, health services, information, communications, buildings, transportation, and the judicial system or other state services, but the government did not always enforce these provisions effectively. While the law mandates access to buildings for persons with disabilities, building owners and managers did not always comply, and there were no reported sanctions.

The 2018 Ombudsperson for Persons with Disabilities Report stated that the government inspected state care facilities for persons with disabilities and found cases of use of questionable forms of restraint, including separation and physical restraint, but no human rights violations were recorded. The ombudsperson, however, remarked that the findings proved that certain state facilities’ protocols for restricting the behavior of persons with disabilities violated the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities.

Children with disabilities attended all levels of school with nondisabled peers, although NGOs stated the lack of laws mandating equal access for persons with disabilities limited educational access for those students.

Constitutional provisions against discrimination applied to all minorities. According to the ombudsperson for human rights, ethnic discrimination was the most prevalent form of discrimination, particularly against Serbs and Roma.

According to the SNV, the Serb national minority faced hate speech, graffiti, physical assaults (including an assault against Serbian seasonal workers) and significant discrimination in employment registration of Serb schools in Eastern Slavonia, and in the justice system, particularly with respect to missing persons and war crimes cases.

On August 21, masked assailants wielding clubs and a machete attacked patrons and damaged property at a cafe frequented by Serbs in Uzdolje, during the airing of a Serbian soccer match. Police reported 16 suspects to the state prosecutor in connection with the attack and charged them with violent behavior, destruction of a property, and causing bodily injuries. As of December, 11 of the suspects remained in investigative detention. The state prosecutors reported at year’s end the investigation was ongoing.

On February 9, a group of reported nationalists attacked Serbian water polo players in Split ahead of a match. Four suspects were arrested on February 11 and charged with several criminal acts, including hate crimes. The State prosecutors reported that at year’s end the cases were still ongoing.

On July 12, the president of Constitutional Court, Miroslav Separovic, announced a July 2 ruling by the court that the use of the Serbian language and Cyrillic script for official purposes in Vukovar city should be enhanced. According to the decision, ethnic Serb city councilors should have the same access to official documents in their own language and script as ethnic Croatian councilors.

The government allocated funds and created programs for development and integration of Romani communities, but discrimination and social exclusion of Roma remained a problem. According to a World Bank Group report from February, 93 percent of Roma lived below the national at-risk-of-poverty threshold in comparison to the overall rate of 19 percent, and only 30 percent of Romani women and men had completed primary education. Completion rates of schooling at upper secondary and higher-level educational institutions were 6 percent for Romani women and 24 percent for Romani men. The unemployment rate for Roma 16 years and older was 74 percent for men and 51 percent for women. The report further stated that Romani girls were disproportionately excluded from early childhood development opportunities in comparison with their male peers, and 78 percent of Romani girls left school early, in comparison with 60 percent of Romani boys.

In June approximately 1,000 individuals rallied in the northern town of Cakovec to protest the alleged dangerous and criminal behavior of the Roma in their community. Protesters claimed state institutions failed to “protect” them from the local Romani population. After the rally, Medjimurje County police affirmed their decision to allow the protest, which they said included no hate speech or incitement to racial, religious or ethnic intolerance. The Government Office for Human and National Minority Rights condemned the protest.

The law prohibits discrimination in employment and occupation, nationality laws, housing, access to education, and health care based on sexual orientation, gender identity, or gender expression. Representatives from minority groups said these provisions were not consistently enforced. In response to civil society concerns, the government revised the 2016-20 National Plan for Combating Discrimination to address lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and intersex (LGBTI) issues.

LGBTI NGOs noted the continuation of the judiciary’s uneven performance in discrimination cases. They reported members of their community had limited access to the justice system, with many reluctant to report violations of their rights due to concerns about the inefficient judicial system and fear of further victimization during trial proceedings. NGOs reported that investigations into hate speech against LGBTI persons remained unsatisfactory. The Split Municipal State’s Prosecutor’s Office filed an indictment on October 3 against a 34-year-old, who was charged with inciting violence and hatred against LGTBI persons on Facebook during a pride parade in Split in mid-June.

Organizations which opposed the ratification of the Istanbul Convention continued promoting anti-LGBTI sentiment in their rhetoric, declaring same-sex couples, same-sex parents, and transgender persons a threat to the country and to traditional society. In June during Split’s pride parade, graffiti appeared on an overpass stating, “only dead gay is OK.” Following the pride parade in Zagreb, the Zagreb Pride Association noted a decrease in violence and discrimination.

Societal discrimination against persons with HIV/AIDS remained a problem. The NGO Croatian Association for HIV (HUHIV) reported some physicians and dentists refused to treat HIV-positive patients. HUHIV reported violations of the confidentiality of persons diagnosed with HIV, with some facing discrimination, including in employment, after disclosure of their status. There were reports that transplant centers refused to place HIV-positive patients on their lists of potential organ recipients.

HUHIV reported that the government’s National Plan for Fighting HIV helped combat the stigmatization and discrimination of persons with HIV/AIDS. Additionally, HUHIV reported that an HIV diagnosis was no longer listed on government-supplied sick leave forms, protecting the privacy of HIV-positive individuals.

Czech Republic

Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:

The law 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. The law provides for some limitations to this freedom, including in cases of hate speech, Holocaust denial, and denial of communist-era crimes.

Freedom of Expression: The law prohibits speech that incites hatred based on race, religion, class, nationality, or other group affiliation. It also limits the denial of the Holocaust and communist-era crimes. Individuals who are found guilty can serve up to three years in prison. The law is also applied to online, print, and broadcast media.

Press and Media, Including Online Media: Independent media were active and expressed a wide variety of views. President Zeman, his spokesperson, and parties on the far right and left publicly alleged bias in both public and private media outlets. The Freedom and Direct Democracy Party (SPD) and the Communist Party openly sought to appoint politically polarizing figures to public media supervisory boards, raising concerns they were attempting to violate the political neutrality of these institutions.

The law prohibits elected officials from controlling media properties while in office. Prime Minister Babis placed ownership of his media assets in a trust fund in 2017. Critics alleged this situation could encourage self-censorship with respect to media coverage of the government.

Transparency International lodged an administrative complaint against Prime Minister Babis in August 2018, alleging that, despite moving his commercial holdings into two trusts in early 2017, Babis still controlled media properties. In January the municipal office where Babis resided determined he had a conflict of interest and imposed a fine of 200,000 crowns ($8,600). The initial ruling was overruled twice by a higher court who halted the proceedings in September, stating it could not prove the prime minister influenced media through his company. Transparency International stated it would file a request with the Ministry of Justice to review the decision.

The government did not restrict or disrupt access to the internet or censor online content, and there were no credible reports the government monitored private online communications without appropriate legal authority.

The law prohibits, among others, speech that denigrates a nation, race, ethnic, or other group of persons; incites hatred toward members of a group or advocates the restriction of their civil rights; and publicly denies, questions, endorses, or vindicates genocide.

There were no government restrictions on academic freedom or cultural events.

In February Charles University initiated a second administrative appeal regarding President Zeman’s refusal to appoint two professors, first in 2015 and again in 2018. The Municipal Court overturned President Zeman’s 2015 decision in November 2018, noting at the time executive bodies do not have the authority to assess a candidate’s qualifications following the regular nomination process.

The constitution and law provide for the freedom of peaceful assembly and association, and the government generally respected these rights.

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.

Not applicable.

f. Protection of Refugees

Abuse of Migrants, Refugees, and Stateless Persons: Acts of physical intimidation and vandalism remained serious concerns. NGOs focusing on migration issues reported an increase in telephone and email threats, including death threats (see section 6, Other Societal Violence and Discrimination).

The government cooperated with the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) and other humanitarian organizations to provide protection and assistance to refugees, asylum seekers, stateless persons, or other persons of concern.

Access to Asylum: The law provides for the granting of asylum or refugee status, and the government has an established system for providing protection to refugees and other specifically endangered foreign nationals.

According to the Ministry of Interior, during the first eight months of the year the average length of asylum procedures was 73 days. The length of asylum procedures in 90 percent of all cases met all legal requirements. In the remaining cases, asylum applicants received information about new deadlines for completing the asylum process in compliance with the law. Under the law, the Ministry of Interior should decide on asylum cases within six months if the applicant has submitted all required documents. Observers criticized the length and substance of some decisions.

The ombudsperson’s office issued an official complaint in February criticizing the Ministry of Interior for exceeding the legal deadlines for processing asylum applications for 78 Chinese Christians who filed asylum requests in 2016. The office also stated the ministry failed to inform parties about the deadline extension. In February 2018 the ministry granted asylum to eight individuals and rejected the remaining applications. According to ministry officials, the applicants were not able to prove their claims of persecution or that their lives were in danger as practicing Christians. Most of the rejected applicants appealed the ministry’s decisions in court, and some cases were returned to the ministry for review.

In April the Constitutional Court ruled former justice minister Robert Pelikan’s March 2018 decision to extradite Russian hacker Yevgeny Nikulin violated Nikulin’s rights because his asylum claim was still in process. The ruling prevents future extraditions from occurring while an asylum claim is still in process.

Safe Country of Origin/Transit: The country generally adheres to the Dublin III Regulation, which calls for authorities to return asylum seekers to the first EU country they entered. The Ministry of Interior accepted asylum applications from individuals arriving from or through countries deemed to be safe, as defined by law. Authorities reviewed all cases individually, but usually did not grant international protection to these applicants. Authorities added 12 countries to the list of safe countries in March.

Freedom of Movement: The length of detention for illegal migrants and rejected asylum seekers was shortened due to implementing a voluntary return system. By law, migrants facing deportation or waiting for voluntary repatriation because of ordered deportation can be detained for up to 180 days. If there are children accompanying the adults, detention can last no more than 90 days with no possibility of further extension. Vulnerable persons, including families, cannot be detained if they apply for international protection.

As of September there were 75 migrants in detention facilities in the country. Five migrants were in a detention facility specifically designed for vulnerable groups, single women without children, and families with children. The Ministry of Interior reported there were no displaced children in the country during the year.

In December 2018 the Constitutional Court annulled some parts of the 2017 amendment to the foreigners’ law ruling courts must still review the legality of detaining foreign nationals even after their release or deportation to ensure they were not detained illegally despite an attempt by the government to eliminate this procedure. The Constitutional Court also annulled a provision that halted foreign nationals’ temporary or permanent residence proceedings if it became apparent they were in the country illegally or had a deportation order.

Durable Solutions: A national integration program managed by the government in close cooperation with UNHCR and NGOs continued. Under the State Integration Program, beneficiaries of international protection are entitled to temporary accommodation, social services, Czech language training, and assistance with finding employment and permanent housing. Children are entitled to school education. In July the government amended the foreigners’ law to include government funding for integration centers beginning July 2020. The centers were previously dependent on EU funding.

The Ministry of Interior runs a long-term program to resettle vulnerable persons with Czech roots back in the Czech Republic. Under the program, the ministry in 2018 resettled approximately 2,000 persons from Ukraine and Venezuela.

The Ministry of Interior started its own assisted voluntary return program in 2017 and effectively used it to help 378 individuals return to their country of origin in 2018. As of September 1, approximately 222 individuals had been voluntarily returned to their countries of origin in 2019.

Temporary Protection: The government provided temporary protection (called “subsidiary protection” in the EU) to individuals who may not qualify as refugees. As of September 1, subsidiary protection was granted to 66 individuals during the year. Under EU guidelines, individuals granted subsidiary protection are eligible for temporary residence permits, travel documents, access to employment, equal access to health care and housing, and school education for children.

In July the Ministry of Interior granted subsidiary protection to eight Taiwanese fraud suspects detained in Prague. The group was arrested in February 2018 following a Chinese Interpol notice that it had defrauded Chinese women in Australia. The Prague High Court ruled in June the suspects could be extradited from the Czech Republic to China. The Ministry of Interior granted them subsidiary protection due to concerns they would not receive a fair trial in China.

The Ministry of Interior reported 521 stateless persons in the country at the end of 2018. UNHCR, however, estimated there were 1,502 persons that fell under its statelessness mandate at the end of 2018. The ministry reported 10 stateless persons applied for international protection and seven were granted subsidiary protection by September. The country did not have a legal definition and determination procedure. Stateless persons who do not possess a permanent residency permit were not entitled to receive an identity document. Under certain circumstances, stateless persons can obtain citizenship.

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. Officials sometimes engaged in corrupt practices with impunity. An offender may face up to 12 years in prison and property forfeiture. Several high-level political figures were under investigation in various regions for manipulating public contracts (e.g., the highway toll system) and abuse of official power. Court procedures were administratively demanding, and courts sometimes artificially prolonged the cases to allow lower sentencing.

Corruption remained a problem among law enforcement bodies, and the most common forms of corruption included: leaking information for payments; the unauthorized use of law enforcement databases, typically searching for derogatory information; unlawful influencing of law enforcement procedures; and blackmail.

In December the government passed legislation intended to prevent political candidates or close acquaintances from filling positions on supervisory boards in state-owned companies, beginning January 1, 2020. Candidates for these positions are to be selected in a clear, transparent process that prioritizes technical expertise and is reviewed by an advisory committee.

After 14 years of criminal proceedings, Judge Jiri Berka was sentenced to eight and a half years in prison in November 2018. He was arrested in 2005 on charges of criminal conspiracy and fraud for falsifying the bankruptcies of 10 companies, causing damages worth 264 million crowns ($11.3 million). The appeals court lowered the penalty to seven years due to the length of the procedure, and Berka began serving his sentence in April.

On October 7, David Rath, a former minister of health and former governor of Central Bohemia, began serving a seven-year sentence after a four-year appeals process. Rath was sentenced in 2015 to seven years in prison and fined 10 million crowns ($430,000) on charges of accepting a seven million crown ($300,000) bribe in 2012. Observers criticized the case’s length despite the existence of strong supportive evidence.

Observers criticized the tenuous position of principal prosecutors whom, under existing legislation, the government can remove from office without cause.

Corruption: In November the European Commission (EC) delivered a final audit examining Prime Minister Babis’ potential conflict of interest due to his alleged continued control over his Agrofert conglomerate, which had been transferred into trust funds in 2017. As of year’s end, the results of the audit had not officially been made public; the government is required to respond to the report in early 2020. In a separate case, Czech prosecutors reopened legal proceedings in December to review allegations that he had improperly received agricultural subsidies from the European Union.

Financial Disclosure: Public officials’ asset declarations are available on the internet in a limited form or by request submitted to the Ministry of Justice. The Ministry of Justice can impose penalties of up to 50,000 crowns ($2,000) for noncompliance, but many politicians either did not or only partially fulfilled their obligation. The law also requires judges, prosecutors, directors of research institutions, and selected professional army personnel to disclose their assets. Their information is not available to the public for security reasons.

An amendment to the Free Access to Information law was passed in March that introduced new measures to strengthen citizens’ right to information beginning in 2020. Under the new law, citizens would be able to request a higher-ranking office to compel a subordinate office to provide requested information, absent grounds for refusal. The Office for Personal Data Protection would now have the right to issue similar orders and to review decisions not to provide information.

Parliament amended the Registry of Public Contracts law in June and partially canceled exceptions for major state-owned companies, such as Czech Energy Company, Czech Railways, Prague Gas Company, and others. As of November 1, the companies were obliged to publish all private and grant contracts or repayable financial assistance at the registry if not subject to other exceptions, such as contracts with a value of 50,000 crowns ($2,000) or less. Observers complained sponsorship contracts, legal advisory, and media services would be excluded. The registry is available to the public.

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

A variety of domestic and international human rights groups generally operated without governmental restriction, investigating and publishing their findings on human rights cases. Government officials were often cooperative and responsive to their views, although some politicians disparaged NGOs in public remarks. Additional proposals to restructure state financing for NGOs resulted in general uncertainty about future funding.

Government Human Rights Bodies: The government abolished the position of minister for human rights in 2018. The director of the Section for Human Rights at the Office of the Government holds the title of commissioner for human rights.

The Office of the Government had several advisory and working-level bodies related to human rights, such as the Government Council for Human Rights, the Interministerial Commission for Romani Community Affairs, the Council for National Minorities, the Anticorruption Committee, and the Board for Persons with Disabilities.

The ombudsperson operated without government or party interference and had adequate resources. Human rights observers generally regarded the ombudsperson as effective. The office issued quarterly and annual reports to the government on its activities in addition to reports and recommendations on topics of special concern. The most frequent discrimination complaints reported to the ombudsperson related to ethnic, disability, and age-based discrimination.

In addition to the public defender of rights, there were ombudspersons for security forces and for education.

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

Rape and Domestic Violence: The law prohibits rape, including spousal rape, and provides a penalty of two to 10 years in prison for violations, with longer sentences in aggravated circumstances. The government enforced these provisions.

Observers reported prosecutors and judges often lacked knowledge on the subject and that there was a shortage of experienced judicial experts. Demanding criminal procedures required repeated victim testimonies that contributed to their further traumatization. Penalties were often too low and only half of all sentences included prison time.

In March the Regional Court in Ostrava reduced the punishment from 33 months in prison to probation for a man who sexually abused his daughters. One of the daughters reported the case to police after another daughter, who was mentally handicapped, became pregnant. The court asserted the man needed to take care of the newborn baby.

The government announced in September it would cut funding by 70 percent for all NGOs working on gender issues. NGOs reported the cuts would lead to their closure or very limited services affecting not only lobbying for equal opportunities for women and men, but also other services they provide such as counseling and legal support to sexually abused women or victims of domestic violence.

NGOs reported some gynecological offices did not provide services to rape victims because they did not have access to rape kits and referred them to local hospitals. Once at a hospital, some staff told victims they needed either a police report or to come back with a police officer before they could conduct a rape examination.

NGOs noted women in immigrant communities underreported instances of violence due to fear their immigration status would be negatively affected.

Domestic violence is punishable by up to four years in prison, with longer sentences in aggravated circumstances. Police have the authority to remove violent abusers from their homes for 10 days. The law states a removal order can remain in effect for a total of up to six months, including extensions. The Ministry of Interior reported police removed 1,282 offenders from their homes in 2018.

The law also provides protection against domestic violence to other individuals living in the household, especially children and seniors. The government supported a widely used hotline for crime and domestic violence victims.

The Vodafone Foundation, police, and the NGO Rosa launched a new mobile application, Bright Sky CZ, in October. The application enables endangered persons to document incidents of domestic violence and provides a list of nearby domestic violence support services. It also serves as a resource for family and friends to help those suffering from abuse.

Sexual Harassment: The antidiscrimination law prohibits sexual harassment and treats it as a form of direct discrimination. If convicted, penalties may include fines, dismissal from work, and up to eight years in prison. Police often delayed investigations until the perpetrator committed serious crimes, such as sexual coercion, rape, or other forms of physical assault.

Offenders convicted of stalking may receive sentences of up to three years in prison.

Coercion in Population Control: There were no reports of coerced abortion or involuntary sterilization. The government agreed at the end of 2018 to reconsider compensating women who were involuntarily sterilized in the 1990s and early 2000s. Although the statute of limitations expired, the government was also considering a law that would frame conditions for such compensation and financial limits. Most sterilized women were Romani.

Discrimination: The law grants men and women the same legal status and rights, including under family, religious, personal status, labor, property, nationality, and inheritance laws. Women sometimes experienced employment and wage discrimination (see section 7.d.).

Although the number of children growing up in institutions has declined from 10,000 in 2011 to 8,500 in 2018, the Czech Helsinki Committee criticized the length of foster care proceedings, the rising number of social work cases involving abuse or mistreatment, the lack of public housing, and difficulty accessing adaptive equipment for children with disabilities. Observers also criticized the lack of effective tools for identifying child victims in a timely manner. The lack of a centralized regulatory body or coordinated interministerial approach to child issues made the reform process slow.

In February police detained a 20-year-old man in Louny suspected of violent behavior that resulted in the death of his girlfriend’s three-year-old son. According to observers, police did not take proper steps to prevent the death despite making several visits to the family.

Birth Registration: Children derive their citizenship from their parents. Any child with at least one citizen parent is automatically a citizen. Children born to noncitizens, such as asylum seekers or migrants, retain their parents’ citizenship. Authorities registered births immediately.

Child Abuse: Prison sentences for persons found guilty of child abuse range from five to 12 years.

The Ministry of Labor and Social Affairs registered approximately 2,500 cases in which children experienced family violence, although a 2018 UNICEF survey suggested 14 percent (175,000) of children may have suffered family violence. NGOs estimated 40,000 children experience some form of violence each year. Experts estimated 10 to 15 percent of those children received professional care. In 2018 the Ministry of Labor and Social Affairs reported authorities removed approximately 590 children from their parents based on court decisions due to abuse, exploitation, or mistreatment, which was 11 percent more than the previous year. Four children died due to abuse or mistreatment.

Early and Forced Marriage: The minimum legal age for marriage is 18. Some members of the Romani community married before reaching legal age. The law allows for marriage at the age of 16 with court approval; no official marriages were reported of anyone younger than 16.

Sexual Exploitation of Children: The law prohibits commercial sexual exploitation of children and the possession, manufacture, and distribution of child pornography, which is punishable by imprisonment for up to eight years. The minimum age for consensual sex is 15. Sexual relations with a child younger than 15 is punishable by a prison term of up to eight years, or more in the presence of aggravating circumstances. The law prohibits all forms of trafficking and prescribes punishments of two to 10 years in prison for violations, with longer sentences in the presence of aggravating circumstances. These laws were generally enforced.

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 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.

There were approximately 10,000 Jews in the country. Public expressions of anti-Semitism were rare, but small, fairly well-organized right-wing groups with anti-Semitic views were active. The Ministry of Interior continued to monitor the activities of extremist groups and cooperated with police from neighboring countries.

The Ministry of Interior recorded 15 criminal offenses related to anti-Semitism in 2018. The Supreme Court rejected an appeal from a man who previously received a suspended two-year prison sentence for incitement to hatred, libel, and genocide denial in August.

The Prague Municipal Court upheld the suspended one-year prison sentence for former Freedom and Direct Democracy Party (SPD) secretary Jaroslav Stanik in September. In October 2017 Stanik stated that Roma, Jews, and homosexuals should be shot at birth.

The government approved the 2019 Counter Extremism and Hate Crime Strategy in May that emphasized communication, prevention, and education to combat hostility and discrimination toward the Romani community and others. The strategy also addressed extremism and hate crimes on the internet.

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

The law prohibits discrimination against persons with physical, sensory, intellectual, and mental disabilities. The ombudsperson acted as a mediator in most cases, and a small number of cases were prosecuted in the courts. Persons with disabilities continued to face a shortage of public accommodations. Economic growth and measures to increase employment opportunities for persons with disabilities led to a significant decrease in the number of unemployed disabled persons.

According to law, only children with significant disabilities should attend special schools with specially trained teachers. Many children with disabilities were able to attend mainstream primary and secondary schools and universities, but sufficient funding remains an issue.

The Prague Municipal Court ruled a handicapped student had the right to a special assistant at a mainstream school. The court also ruled that the government must reimburse the parents for funding the special assistant because the school and region did not have sufficient funding.

The ombudsperson’s office became a monitoring body under the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities in June 2018. The ombudsperson made visits to governmental and private workplaces employing incarcerated or institutionalized persons, including persons with disabilities, to examine conditions, assure respect for fundamental rights, and advocate for improved protection against mistreatment. The ombudsperson criticized workplace discrimination against persons with disabilities and the low availability of dental services for persons with mental disabilities, especially for persons on the autism spectrum who need examinations under general anesthesia.

According to the Office of the Government, ministries were not complying with the law requiring companies and institutions with more than 25 employees to have 4 percent of staff be persons with physical disabilities. Instead of employing persons with disabilities, many companies and institutions either paid fines or bought products from companies that employed persons with disabilities, a practice that the National Disability Council and the ombudsperson criticized.

The ombudsperson reported more than 30 percent of proven discrimination cases from 2009 to 2018 were due to disabilities.

There were approximately 300,000 Roma in the country, and many faced varying levels of discrimination in education, employment, and housing, as well as high levels of poverty, unemployment, and illiteracy. The government introduced some legal measures that were considered controversial and moved the Agency for Social Inclusion from the Office of the Government to the Ministry of Regional Development. The agency lost the capacity to coordinate work with different ministries.

Hate crimes against Roma and minorities continued to be a problem.

In April police investigated a man and woman for brutally assaulting five Romani children in Lipnik na Becvou. Two children received hospital treatment. The man and woman were charged in September with three felonies and faced up to five years in prison if convicted.

Despite approved legislative measures to promote integrated education, the estimated share of Romani children educated in special needs programs decreased from 13.2 percent to 12.7 percent in the last three years, compared to 1.1 percent of non-Romani students who were educated in special programs.

In September the ombudsperson and several NGOs, including Amnesty International, criticized an amendment to the Ministerial Decree on Special Education that decreased the maximum number of special assistants per classroom. The amendment omitted a provision stipulating that disabled students be educated in mainstream schools and enabled more special schools to be created for students with various kinds of disabilities, including mild mental disabilities. Observers asserted the amendment hindered progressive steps toward inclusive education. Future funding supporting Romani desegregation in schools and special needs students was uncertain.

Approximately one-third of Roma lived in socially excluded communities. While the law prohibits housing discrimination based on ethnicity, NGOs stated some municipalities discriminated against certain socially disadvantaged groups, primarily Roma, and based their decisions not to provide housing on the allegedly bad reputation of Roma. Unemployment in these communities was 31 percent, compared to 6 percent or less in nearby areas.

The 2017 amendment to the law addressing poverty, which was intended to solve housing problems, had the opposite effect in some cases. The amendment reduced government housing subsidies in areas that cities designated as undesirable for a variety of reasons, including poor living conditions and high crime. Some cities began to use this designation as an instrument to push Roma and other low-income citizens into a city’s periphery. Several senators initiated a constitutional complaint and requested the Senate to annul certain provisions of the law. The case was pending at the end of September.

The government decided in April to launch an investment program focused on building new public housing units and providing social services through two projects totaling 1.35 billion crowns ($58 million). In December the city of Most approved funding to build housing out of shipping containers in the Chanov housing division. The ombudsperson and the Agency for Social Inclusion previously criticized the plan on the grounds it would contribute to residential segregation. The Agency for Social Inclusion also called for Chanov’s gradual closure.

Roma were the most frequent targets of hate speech on the internet.

In April the Constitutional Court ruled a lower court was wrong not to consider Romani singer Radoslav Banga an injured party from racist online posts or to ask for his testimony during trial. In 2016 Banga posted on Facebook that he had walked out of the Czech Nightingale music awards ceremony to protest an award given to Ortel, a band associated with the far right. In response one commenter on Facebook called for a “white homeland” and for minorities to be sent to gas chambers. Authorities identified the commenter, a student, who was subsequently sentenced to 100 hours of community service for displaying sympathy towards a movement aimed at suppressing human rights and freedoms.

In the months following President Zeman’s September 2018 comment suggesting Roma chose not to work, approximately 9,000 Roma posted photos of themselves working.

In 2018 the government bought a pig farm located on the site of a WWII-era concentration camp for Roma in Lety for 450 million crowns ($18 million) and officially handed it over to the Museum of Romani Culture to build a memorial to Romani Holocaust victims. The Ministry of Culture also provided the museum with a facility in September to open a Roma and Sinti Center in Prague by 2023.

In August Communist leader Vojtech Filip blamed rising pork prices on the pig farm’s closure. Filip claimed on Twitter the closure lowered pork production by 30 percent and questioned whether the pig farm overlapped with the former WWII site. His comments were denounced by the Museum of Romani Culture.

The country has antidiscrimination laws that prohibit discrimination against lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and intersex (LGBTI) persons in housing, employment, and access to health care, and the government generally enforced such laws. The country does not have specific hate crime provisions covering sexual orientation and gender identity. The number of incidents of violence based on sexual orientation was low. Local LGBTI leaders stated citizens were largely tolerant of LGBTI persons but feared society tended generally to be more divided and intolerant to minority groups.

In May the ombudsperson issued the results of a survey on LGBTI rights. Approximately half of LGBTI persons surveyed reported believing lesbians and gays were able to live as they wish, while a third believed this was true for transgender persons. Among transgender persons, 86 percent reported experiencing discrimination in the last five years, compared to 58 percent of lesbian and 33 percent of gay persons. More than a third of LGBTI persons surveyed claimed they had faced discrimination in the previous five years, which was three times higher than for the general population. Of LGBTI survey participants, 91 percent indicated they did not report incidents of discrimination to authorities because they believed the incidents were either minor or that authorities would not take action. The most common locations where discrimination against LGBTI persons occurred were at work and school.

During Prague Pride Week in August, an individual set fire to a rainbow flag and fired flares at visitors to Pride Village–the main site of Prague Pride activities. The night before the event’s parade, 20 liters of oil were poured onto a staircase near the end of the parade route. Pride week organizers also reported a similar incident at a gay nightclub in Ostrava during Ostrava Pride Week. Prague municipal cleaning services removed the oil before the parade, and police were investigating the incidents. Police also detained 10 far-right protesters who attempted to assault parade participants.

Transgender individuals are required to be sterilized in order to obtain a sex change or receive legal gender recognition. The Council of Europe found this practice contrary to EU member commitments on the protection of health. The ombudsperson recommended the government should submit amendments to relevant laws. In May the Supreme Administrative Court ruled, contrary to the European Court for Human Rights, the sterilization requirement was legitimate.

Persons with HIV/AIDS faced societal discrimination, although there were no reported cases of violence. The Czech AIDS Help Society reported several cases of discrimination, primarily in access to health care, especially due to the legal requirement to inform every doctor when a patient is HIV-positive. The cases were usually unsolved or ended in mediation. HIV/AIDS is classified as a disability under the antidiscrimination law, which contributed to the stigmatization of and discrimination against HIV-positive individuals. Individuals with HIV/AIDS often preferred to keep their status confidential rather than file a complaint, which observers believed led to underreporting the problem. The Czech AIDS Help Society noted most insurance companies did not provide health insurance to persons with HIV/AIDS.

The Czech AIDS Help Society reported the judicial system lacked qualified experts knowledgeable about technical HIV/AIDS issues. At the end of 2018, the NGO successfully lobbied to a regional health office in Prague to change procedures that previously resulted in some persons with HIV/AIDS receiving fines that year for unsafe sexual health practices.

Observers noted an increase in discrimination against foreign nationals as well as hate or violence against individuals with different political views. There were frequent verbal, online, and sometimes physical attacks on human rights activists, NGO representatives, and some politicians. Observers reported hate crimes were not sufficiently recognized by police, prosecutors, and judges, who often lacked either will or adequate knowledge.

After several racist online attacks in January against Czech-Ethiopian MP Dominik Feri that did not lead to any prosecution, two men attacked Feri at an event in April. Feri was hospitalized with light injuries. Although a witness heard one of the attackers address Feri using a racial slur, the prosecutor did not believe race played a factor in the assault. The prosecutor elected to postpone indicting the attackers. If the attackers do not commit a crime or misdemeanor within 15 months, the case will not go to court. Feri stated he did not intend to file a complaint and that the prosecutor’s solution was “sufficient.”

The director of an NGO that provides legal support to hate crime victims was the victim of online attacks, including death threats, on Facebook in two separate cases in 2017 and 2018. Police initially considered the first case a minor offense and imposed a 5,000 crown ($200) fine. In the second case, an appeals court downgraded the case to a misdemeanor and moved the case to the local government at the beginning of the year. In both instances, prosecutors did not believe the director was in danger, either because the posts were not on her personal profile or because she did not block the commenter.

In 2014 a hotel owner in Ostrava was fined 50,000 crowns ($2,100) for refusing to accommodate Russian tourists unless they signed a form condemning the Russian government’s 2014 occupation of Crimea. The owner appealed, and the Supreme Administrative Court ruled discrimination occurred but agreed to lower the fine. In April a Constitutional Court judge reviewed the owner’s constitutional appeal and ruled business owners are free to refuse their services based on their personal opinion.

NGOs actively worked to combat anti-Muslim attitudes, although violence and hate against Muslims and their allies remained widespread. A prosecutor indicted a couple in June for the July 2018 attack on a Muslim woman and her husband. The couple confronted the woman and her husband in a park in Teplice with an air gun and threatened to kill them. The case was pending. An anonymous person posted an article in reaction to the investigation, calling for the investigating officer to be killed and containing false information about the case. Although police began investigating the case, it was ultimately dropped.

In December the Supreme Court overturned the Prague Municipal Court’s 2017 decision that a female Muslim student could not wear a hijab to a secondary medical school. The court stated religious pluralism must be respected.

Denmark

Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:

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

Freedom of Expression: The law prohibits any public speech or the dissemination of statements or other pronouncements that threaten, deride, or degrade a group because of gender, race, skin color, national or ethnic background, religion, or sexual orientation. Authorities may fine offenders or imprison them for up to two years.

The government did not restrict or disrupt access to the internet or censor online content, and there were no credible reports that the government monitored online communications without appropriate legal authority.

There were no government restrictions on academic freedom or cultural events.

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

Police banned anti-Islam political party leader Rasmus Paludan from demonstrating for 24 hours in April, after violence erupted during a previous demonstration in Noerrebro, Copenhagen, where 23 persons were arrested. In another instance in May, the East Jutland Police prohibited Paludan from holding electoral events in Vollsmose, an area near Odense with a large number of residents of foreign descent. Paludan attempted to go to Vollsmose for three days, but police denied him access based on safety and security concerns.

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

d. Freedom of Movement

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

Not applicable.

f. Protection of Refugees

Access to Asylum: The law provides for the granting of asylum or refugee status, and the government has established a system for providing protection to refugees. The government limits the rights of persons with subsidiary or temporary protection to family reunification, restrictions not applied to persons recognized as refugees.

In September the government stated it would close Sjaelsmark, a departure center run by the Danish Prison and Probation Service for rejected asylum seekers who cannot be returned to their country of origin. The editor of an NGO’s informational website, Refugees.dk, wrote that conditions at Sjaelsmark were “deliberately as unpleasant as possible.” Residents were not allowed to work, cook, or claim benefits. An April report by the Danish Red Cross found a significant proportion of children living at the center suffered from difficulty sleeping and decreased appetite. On November 21, the government and its supporting parties signed a deal which committed the government to remove 220 children and their parents from the Sjaelsmark Departure Center before April 2020.

Freedom of Movement: On July 19, the Supreme Court ruled illegal the extended detention of a rejected Iraqi asylum seeker. The law limits the initial period of immigration detention to six months, which can be extended to 18 months if special circumstances exist. Authorities allegedly extended the Iraqi’s detention past six months to influence cooperation with deportation proceedings.

Safe Country of Origin/Transit: The country employs the EU’s Dublin III regulation, which permits authorities to turn back or deport individuals who attempt to enter the country through a “safe country of transit” or are registered in another Dublin regulation state.

Access to Basic Services: A law adopted on February 21 (see next paragraph) allows municipalities to accommodate refugees only in temporary housing, and cuts cash benefits for caregivers by approximately 20 percent.

Durable Solutions: On February 21, parliament enacted a “paradigm shift” in policy to encourage repatriation of refugees rather than their integration into the country’s society. The new law eliminated the possibility of long-term residency permits for refugees. The government did not participate with the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) in its program to resettle refugees.

Temporary Protection: Through the end of October, the government provided temporary protection to 254 persons who may not qualify as refugees. The figure in 2018 was 406 persons.

According to UNHCR 8,236 stateless persons lived in the country at the end of 2018. Stateless persons can apply for citizenship if they have lived in Denmark for at least eight years.

Section 4. Corruption and Lack of Transparency in Government

Corruption: On December 6, police announced two former civilian employees of the Ministry of Defense Estate Agency were charged with receiving bribes. One of the charged allegedly received bribes in services valued at 174 million kroner ($26.1 million), while the other allegedly received bribes in goods worth 35,250 kroner ($5,286). The case involves more than 450 alleged specific instances of wrongdoing. Three private sector employees were charged with paying bribes, complicity in paying bribes, aggravated breach of trust, and breach of trust.

Financial Disclosure: Reporting of personal finances, including from positions with private and public companies, personal businesses, donors, foreign gifts, and past/future salaries is mandatory but not enforced. Government officials may not work on specific matters in which they, persons they represent, or persons with whom they have close relations have a personal or economic interest. Officials must inform their superiors of any possible conflicts of interest that might disqualify them.

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

A variety of domestic and international human rights groups generally operated without government restriction, investigating and publishing their findings on human rights cases. Government officials were cooperative and responsive to their views.

Government Human Rights Bodies: The parliamentary ombudsman investigated complaints regarding national and local public authorities and any decisions authorities made regarding the treatment of citizens and their cases. The parliamentary ombudsman can independently inspect prisons, detention centers, and psychiatric hospitals. A European ombudsman ensured Danish compliance with EU basic rights, a consumers’ ombudsman investigated complaints related to discriminatory marketing, and two royal ombudsmen liaised between the Danish government and the governments in the Faroe Islands and Greenland. These ombudsmen enjoyed the government’s cooperation, operated without government or political interference, and were considered effective.

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

Rape and Domestic Violence: The law criminalizes rape against women or men (the statute is gender neutral), including spousal rape and domestic violence. Rape is not defined by a lack of consent, but rather by whether physical violence, threat, or coercion is involved or if the victim is found to have been unable to resist. Penalties for rape include imprisonment for up to 12 years for aggravated circumstances and up to six years for domestic violence. The government effectively prosecuted persons accused of rape. In 2018 the government developed a four-year national action plan to combat psychological and physical violence in close relationships and allocated 101 million kroner ($15.1 million) to implement the plan.

A 2018 report by the National Institute of Public Health stated that approximately 1.6 percent of Danish women above the age of 16 reported being victims of physical violence by their partner within the previous year. Figures from the Crime Prevention Council showed that an estimated 5,400 rapes and attempted rapes occur annually. According to the Crime Prevention Council, in 2018 police made 1,079 official reports of rape or attempted rape, and 234 indictments for rape followed. In March Amnesty International published a report declaring that the country has a pervasive rape culture and was “failing to live up to its human rights obligations to protect women against rape, investigate rape crimes, prosecute those responsible, and provide compensation to victims.” In response to Amnesty’s report, then minister of justice Soren Pape Poulsen responded on Twitter, “Thanks so much for putting this on the agenda. It is utterly important to bring justice to sexual assault victims.”

Faroese law criminalizes rape with penalties up to 12 years’ imprisonment. The law considers nonconsensual sex with a victim in a “helpless state” to be sexual abuse rather than rape. In certain instances, it also reduces the penalty for rape and sexual violence within marriage.

Greenlandic law criminalizes rape but reduces the penalty for rape and sexual violence within marriage. Persons convicted of rape in Greenland typically receive a prison sentence of 18 months.

The government and NGOs operated 24-hour hotlines, counseling centers, and shelters for female survivors of violence. The royal family supported a variety of NGOs that worked to improve conditions and services at shelters and to assist families afflicted with domestic violence.

Sexual Harassment: The law prohibits sexual harassment and provides that authorities may order a perpetrator or an employer who allowed or failed to prevent an incident of harassment to pay monetary compensation to victims. The law considers sexual harassment an unsafe working condition and gives labor unions or the Equal Treatment Board the responsibility to resolve it (see also section 7.e.). The government enforced the law effectively.

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

Discrimination: Women have the same legal status and rights as men, including under family, labor, property, nationality, and inheritance laws. The government enforced the law effectively. Little discrimination was reported in employment, ownership, and management of businesses, or access to credit, education, or housing.

Birth Registration: Most children acquire citizenship from their parents. Stateless persons and certain persons born in the country to noncitizens may acquire citizenship by naturalization, provided, in most cases, that they apply for citizenship before their 21st birthday. The law requires medical practitioners to register promptly the births of children they deliver, and they generally did so.

Child Abuse: Child abuse is illegal and punishable by up to two years in prison. The National Police and Public Prosecutor’s Office actively investigated child abuse cases. According to police statistics, approximately 17 percent of total sexual offenses in Greenland were crimes of “sexual relations with individuals below the age of 15.”

In 2018, 27 percent of all reports of sexual crimes made against minors in Greenland came from the town of Tasiilaq, even though Tasiilaq (population approximately 2,800) comprised only 5 percent of the total Greenlandic population. In a report conducted by the Greenlandic Police, the Municipality of Sermesooq, and the Greenlandic Self-Rule, authorities reported 191 sexual crimes in Tasiilaq from 2014 to 2018. In 2018 alone, there were 20 reports of child abuse. As of June 13, 15 cases of sexual assaults against children continued. On September 26, the government allocated 5.3 million kroner ($790,000) to aid vulnerable children in Tasiilaq.

The government’s Children’s Council monitors children’s rights and promotes children’s interests in legislative matters.

Early and Forced Marriage: The legal minimum age for marriage is 18.

Sexual Exploitation of Children: The law prohibits the commercial sexual exploitation of children and child pornography. Penalties for the distribution of child pornography include up to a six-year prison sentence. The government generally enforced these laws. The minimum age for consensual sexual activity is 15. The purchase of sexual services from a person younger than 18 is illegal.

The law in Greenland prohibits sexual relations with children younger than 15; Greenlandic Police determine the penalties for perpetrators.

Displaced Children: The government considered unaccompanied minor refugees and migrants to be vulnerable, and the law includes special rules regarding them. A personal representative was appointed for all unaccompanied children who sought asylum or who stayed in the country without permission.

Institutionalized Children: An April study by the Danish Red Cross concluded that 61 percent of the children living at the deportation camp Sjaelsmark were likely to be diagnosed with a psychiatric disorder. The Danish Red Cross also found that twice as many children at the facility were at high risk for mental illness when compared to newly arrived children. The municipality of Hoersholm disclosed that 141 children were living at Sjaelsmark on May 27. From April 2016 to September 2018 there were 103 reports of violence, threats, and suspected radicalization among residents. From February 2015 to March 2018, there were four documented suicide attempts. The camp’s facilities were widely criticized in media for a lack of kitchen facilities for families and insufficient school offerings. The camp had a fence around its outer perimeter, and visitors were only allowed at certain times. The Red Cross report concluded that half of 11- to 17-year-old children had symptoms of posttraumatic stress syndrome, and many of them suffered from loss of appetite, nightmares, and problems sleeping. The ombudsman noted in a December 2018 report that the conditions for children at Sjaelsmark were likely “to make their childhood substantially more difficult and to restrict their natural development.”

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 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 Jewish Community in Denmark (Det Jodiske Samfund i Danmark) estimated between 6,000 and 8,000 Jews lived in the country, most in the Copenhagen area.

Representatives of the Jewish community reported 45 anti-Semitic acts against the Jewish community in 2018, 50 percent more than in the previous year. The acts included assault, physical harassment, threats, vandalism, and hate speech. During the year the government cooperated with the Jewish community to provide police protection for the Great Synagogue of Copenhagen as well as other locations of importance to the Jewish community. Jewish community leaders reported continued good relations with police and the ability to communicate their concerns to authorities, including the minister of justice.

On November 9, the 81st anniversary of the Kristallnacht (the Night of Broken Glass) pogrom against Jews in Germany, police reported incidents of harassment and vandalism against Jews in five cities in the country. At a Jewish graveyard in Randers, Ostre Kirkegard, vandals covered more than 80 tombstones in green paint. Police arrested two persons and charged them with vandalism and, preliminarily, a hate crime.

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

The law prohibits discrimination against and harassment of persons with physical, sensory, intellectual, or mental disabilities. It also mandates access by persons with disabilities to government buildings, education, employment, information, and communications. The government enforced these provisions.

The right of persons with disabilities to vote or participate in civic affairs was generally not restricted, but some persons with disabilities reported problems in connection with elections, including ballots that were not accessible to blind persons or persons with mental disabilities. The country maintained a system of guardianship for persons considered incapable of managing their own affairs due to psychosocial or mental disabilities. Persons under guardianship who do not possess legal capacity have the right to vote in local and regional elections as well as in elections to the European Parliament, but not in national elections.

Greenland employed a spokesperson to promote the rights and interests of persons with disabilities. According to media reports, persons with disabilities in Greenland continued to lack adequate access to physical aids, counselling, educated professionals, and appropriate housing. Many Greenlanders with disabilities had to be relocated to Denmark because of lack of support resources in Greenland.

A government action plan, targeting neighborhoods of majority non-Western immigrants, seeks to eliminate “ghettos” by 2030. In October the Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights of the UN Human Rights Council urged the country not to define a “ghetto” using the proportion of residents from “non-Western” countries, considering it discriminatory. Legislation went into force in July requiring “ghetto” parents to send toddlers older than the age of one to government-funded daycare to be taught “Danish values,” including Christmas and Easter traditions. Authorities withheld quarterly benefits of up to 4,557 kroner ($683) from noncompliant parents.

The law protects the rights of the indigenous Inuit inhabitants of Greenland, who are Danish citizens and whose legal system seeks to accommodate their traditions. Through their elected internally autonomous government, they participated in decisions affecting their lands, culture, traditions, and the exploitation of energy, minerals, and other natural resources.

The law prohibits hate speech based on sexual orientation and gender identity as well as discrimination against persons based on sexual orientation. The victim’s sexual orientation can be an aggravating circumstance in crimes.

The law affords individuals legal gender recognition, but government guidelines since 2012 require that individuals undergoing transition receive hormone treatment at one of two designated government-run clinics; private physicians are not permitted to establish this course of treatment.

During the year representatives from the Muslim community reported discrimination against Muslims. Statistics from the Muslim community on anti-Islamic incidents were not available, but according to police figures 63 religiously motivated hate crimes against Muslims occurred in 2018. Representatives from the Muslim community reported that Muslims in the country lived with a sense of increased scrutiny from the government and society. The chairman of Grimhoj Mosque, Omar al-Saadi, noted that Muslims in the country came from war-torn countries and just wanted to live in peace, but the government “keeps sending messages that we just don’t like you,” citing deliberate provocations such as the “burqa ban” and burnings of the Quran by anti-Islam party leader Rasmus Paludan.

During the year authorities fined 23 persons under the law banning masks and face coverings, including burqas and niqabs. Fines imposed for first offenders included 1,000 kroner ($150) upon any violation of the ban and, if repeated, up to 10,000 kroner ($1,500). During the year Paludan held Quran-burning “demonstrations” in typically immigrant neighborhoods across the country, citing freedom of speech rights. Paludan’s Quran-burning demonstration on Palm Sunday, in which he received heavy police protection, led to riots, burned cars, and rock throwing. Then prime minister Lars Loekke Rasmussen called Paludan’s demonstration “a meaningless provocation.”

In August unknown vandals defaced the Muslim World League’s (MWL) building by graffitiing the word “terrorists” on it. MWL director Basri Kurtis reported the incident to police.

Estonia

Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:

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

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

The government did not restrict or disrupt access to the internet or censor online content, and there were no credible reports that the government monitored private online communications without appropriate legal authority.

There were no government restrictions on academic freedom or cultural events.

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

The annual remembrance ceremony commemorating the World War II Battle of Sinimae mentioned in previous years’ reports again occurred. Three members of Parliament participated in the event.

While the constitution provides for freedom of association, the law specifies that only citizens may join political parties. There were no restrictions on the ability of noncitizens to join other civil groups.

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 internal movement, foreign travel, emigration, and repatriation, and the government generally respected these rights.

Not applicable.

f. Protection of Refugees

Access to Asylum: The law provides for the granting of asylum or refugee status, and the government has established a system for providing protection to refugees. The NGO Estonian Human Rights Center (EHRC) and other NGOs provided legal and social assistance to asylum seekers in cooperation with authorities. Government officials indicated that access to legal aid was available at every stage of the asylum procedure. The EHRC continued to raise concerns about the prolonged detention of asylum seekers during adjudication of cases.

Safe Country of Origin/Transit: The government has a policy of denying asylum to applicants from a “safe” country of origin or transit. Authorities asserted that they granted interviews to all individual asylum seekers.

Durable Solutions: The government assisted in the safe, voluntary return of some refugees to their countries of origin under a program of the International Organization on Migration. The country worked with the EU and the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) to implement a refugee resettlement program. Naturalization is open to all permanent residents of the country after five years’ residence, provided they pass mandatory citizenship and language examinations.

Temporary Protection: The government provided temporary protection to individuals who may not qualify as refugees. Temporary protection includes right to work, access to education, and health care. In 2018 the government granted temporary protection via residence permit to one person.

UNHCR categorized 77,877 persons residing in the country as stateless as of the end of 2018. As of January 1, according to government statistics, there were over 72,400 residents of undetermined citizenship, or 5.5 percent of the population. Nearly all were ethnic Russians, Ukrainians, or Belarusians. These persons are eligible to apply for naturalized citizenship, and some of them may hold Russian, Ukrainian or Belarusian citizenship.

There are statutory procedures that offer persons over the age of 18 opportunities for obtaining citizenship by naturalization, but some human rights observers regarded them as inadequate, and their rate of naturalization remained low. To facilitate acquisition of citizenship, authorities adopted such policies as funding civics and language courses and simplifying naturalization for persons with disabilities. The government also simplified the Estonian language requirements so that applicants older than 65 are no longer required to take a written language examination, although they still must pass an oral one. The government also provides citizenship, without any special application by the parents, to persons younger than 15 who were born in the country and whose parents were not citizens of Estonia or of any other country, and had lived in Estonia for five years at the time of the birth of the child.

Section 4. Corruption and Lack of Transparency in Government

The law provides criminal penalties for corruption by officials, and the government generally implemented these laws effectively. The government has effective mechanisms to investigate and punish abuse and corruption. There were isolated reports of official corruption during the year.

Corruption: In December 2018 the Supreme Court terminated criminal proceedings (launched in 2015) against former prime minister, minister, mayor of Tallinn, and former long-serving Center Party chairman Edgar Savisaar due to his declining health. The Office of the Prosecutor General accused Savisaar of large-scale embezzlement, accepting bribes, money laundering, and accepting prohibited donations to his party.

In 2017 the Prosecutor General’s Office pressed charges against two former top managers of the state-owned Port of Tallinn, former CEO Ain Kaljurand and former board member Allan Kiil, who were indicted on charges of accepting bribes on multiple occasions and engaging in money laundering from 2005 to 2015. Each was charged with receiving millions of euros in bribes. The court case was pending.

In 2018 the number of corruption cases was approximately the same as in 2017. These cases were often related to the health sector.

Financial Disclosure: The law requires all public officials to disclose their income and assets. Designated offices have responsibility for monitoring and verifying disclosures. The financial declarations of high-level government officials were available to the public, and there are criminal and administrative sanctions for noncompliance with the law.

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 without government restriction, investigating and publishing their findings on human rights cases. Government officials were cooperative and responsive to their views.

Government Human Rights Bodies: The legal chancellor, an independent official with a staff of more than 45, performs the role of human rights ombudsman. The chancellor reviews legislation for compliance with the constitution; oversees authorities’ observance of fundamental rights and freedoms and the principles of good governance; and helps resolve accusations of discrimination based on gender, race, nationality (ethnic origin), color, language, religion, social status, age, disability, or sexual orientation. The legal chancellor also makes recommendations to ministries and local governments, requests responses, and has authority to appeal to the Supreme Court. The chancellor compiles an annual report for the parliament. Public trust in the office was high, and the government was responsive to its reports and decisions.

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

Rape and Domestic Violence: The law criminalizes rape, including spousal rape, and physical abuse, including domestic violence. The law is effectively enforced. The penalty for rape, including spousal rape, is imprisonment for up to 15 years. According to the NGO Sexual Health Union, 13 percent of women have suffered sexual abuse, including rape.

According to NGOs and shelter managers, violence against women, including domestic violence, was a problem. Women constituted 80 percent of the victims of domestic violence registered by police. In the first half of year, the number of official reports of domestic violence grew as compared with 2018, partially due to a change in how the law considers such cases. In 2018 domestic violence crimes comprised 44 percent of all violent crimes in the country.

NGOs, local governments, and others could seek assistance for victims from the national government. There was a network of shelters for women, and women with children, who were victims of gender-based violence as well as hotlines for domestic violence and child abuse. There were four treatment centers for victims of sexual violence. Police officers, border guards, and social workers received training related to domestic and gender violence from NGOs, the Ministry of Social Affairs, the Ministry of the Interior, and the Ministry of Justice.

Sexual Harassment: The law prohibits sexual harassment, but there were reports of such harassment in the workplace and on public transport. By law sexual harassment complaints may be resolved in court, before the legal chancellor, by the Labor Dispute Committee, or by the gender-equality and equal-treatment commissioner. An injured party may demand termination of the harmful activity and compensation for damages. The penalty for sexual harassment is a fine or detention for up to 30 days. All victims in reported cases of sexual harassment were women. The number of registered stalking incidents grew compared with 2017, and 82 percent of victims were women, while 83 percent of perpetrators were men.

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

Discrimination: The law provides the same legal status and rights for women as for men. The government generally enforced such laws. There were reports of discrimination in employment and occupation, and unequal treatment, due to gender, age, disability, and sexual preference (see section 7.d.).

Birth Registration: Citizenship derives primarily from the citizenship of at least one parent. Either citizen parent may pass citizenship to a child regardless of the other parent’s citizenship status. Children born to parents who are not citizens of Estonia or of any other country and have lived in the country for five years, acquire citizenship at birth. Registration of births occurred in a timely manner.

Child Abuse: In 2018 approximately 87 percent of sexual crimes were committed against persons under the age of 18, which was 6 percent less than in 2017. The Police and Border Guard Board worked to combat child abuse, including sexual abuse. The legal chancellor acted as children’s ombudsman. Police provided training to officers on sexual abuse in cooperation with the justice, education, and social ministries and local and international organizations.

Early and Forced Marriage: The legal minimum age for marriage is 18. A court may extend the legal capacity of a person who is at least 15 for the purpose of marriage.

Sexual Exploitation of Children: The law prohibits the commercial sexual exploitation of children and child pornography, and authorities enforced the law. The minimum age for consensual sex is 14. Conviction of engaging in child pornography carries punishment ranging from a fine to three years in prison. Girls are more frequently exploited than boys are.

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 Annual Report on International Parent Child Abduction at https://travel.state.gov/content/travel/en/International-Parental-Child-Abduction/for-providers/legal-reports-and-data/reported-cases.html.

The Jewish community numbered an estimated 2,000 to 2,500 persons.

On March 16, the chief rabbi of Estonia was verbally attacked by a 27-year-old man under the influence of drugs, who insulted the rabbi and shouted anti-Semitic remarks in the center of the capital. The perpetrator was sentenced to eight days in prison for the offense. The prime minister condemned the incident, stating that discrimination based on religion, nationality, origin, or any other reason was totally unacceptable.

On June 23, unknown vandals knocked over and vandalized five gravestones at the Rahumae Jewish Cemetery in the capital. Police opened a criminal investigation which was pending at year’s end.

On January 28, the government held an annual memorial event on Holocaust Remembrance Day at the Rahumae Jewish Cemetery in Tallinn. Schools participated in commemorative activities throughout the country. The Education and Research Ministry, in cooperation with the Estonian Jewish community, the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance, the Estonian Memory Institute, and the Museum of Occupation, organized an essay writing competition on topics related to the Holocaust for schoolchildren.

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

The law prohibits discrimination against persons with physical, sensory, intellectual, and mental disabilities. The government generally enforced these provisions.

Persons with disabilities may avail themselves of government assistance in accessing information and may request individual personal assistants when necessary. The law provides that buildings constructed or renovated after 2002 must be accessible to persons with disabilities. Few older buildings were accessible, but new or renovated ones generally were. In May 2018 the minister for entrepreneurship information technology introduced a regulation requiring public buildings to provide access and to ensure availability of information for persons with disabilities.

According to the legal chancellor, measures to safeguard the fundamental rights of individuals in mental health facilities remained inadequate. Problems included abusive use of physical restraints, weak documentation thereof, and inadequate medical care. NGOs complained that, while services typically were accessible in the capital, persons with disabilities in some rural areas had difficulty receiving appropriate care. There were reports of discrimination in occupation or employment (also see section 7.d.).

The Ministry of Social Affairs is responsible for protecting the rights of persons with disabilities, and local governments are responsible for the provision of social welfare services to persons with disabilities. The government continued implementing the work ability reform, which was intended for persons with reduced working ability and whose ability to be active in the society was assessed individually. The government focused on developing rehabilitation services to improve the ability of those with disabilities to cope independently. The government also provided compensation for some additional expenses incurred by persons with disabilities.

In 2018 police registered five cases of physical abuse, breach of public order, or threats that included hatred against persons from racial or ethnic minorities.

On March 26, police opened investigations regarding a verbal attack and an attempted physical attack against two persons of color by four men in the center of Tartu. The investigations were pending at the end of the year.

Members of the Estonian Conservative People’s Party (EKRE, a part of the governing coalition) made derogatory and racist public statements regarding ethnic minorities, immigrants, refugees, women, and the lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and intersex (LGBTI) community. Of note, during parliamentary swearing-in ceremonies, members of parliament from EKRE made hand gestures associated with white nationalism. No disciplinary action was taken. Also notable, an EKRE member of the European parliament also referenced the Holocaust and “the final solution” in a social media post on how best to handle refugees living in Europe.

Knowledge of Estonian is required to obtain citizenship, and all public servants and public-sector employees, service personnel, medical professionals, and other workers who have contact with the public must possess a minimum competence in the language. Russian speakers stated that Estonian language requirements resulted in job and salary discrimination. The government continued to provide free and subsidized opportunities for Estonian language learning.

In districts where more than half the population spoke a language other than Estonian, the law entitles inhabitants to receive official information in their language, and authorities respected the law.

Roma, who numbered fewer than 1,000, reportedly faced discrimination in several areas, including employment. The government took steps to emphasize the importance of education for Romani children, but their school dropout rate remained high.

Nonwhite residents reported discrimination in housing. The government faced difficulties finding housing for resettled refugees, which refugee advocates attributed to societal discrimination.

The law prohibits discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity. While the law is not specific regarding the forms of sexual orientation and gender identity covered, the general understanding is that it encompasses lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and intersex individuals. In 2018, police registered one case that included hatred against LGBTI persons. Advocacy groups reported societal harassment and discrimination against LGBTI persons remained common, but noted improving attitudes towards LGBTI persons. In October a group of anti-LGBTI protestors from the EKRE party attempted to force their way into a meeting of the LGBTI association in the city of Parnu. The police responded promptly to the situation, and the meeting proceeded in another location.

Finland

Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:

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

Freedom of Expression: Public speech intended to incite discrimination against any national, racial, religious, or ethnic group is a crime. Hate speech is not a separate criminal offense but may constitute grounds for an aggravated sentence for other offenses.

Press and Media, Including Online Media: The distribution of hate material intended to incite discrimination against any national, racial, religious, or ethnic group in print or broadcast media, books, or online newspapers or journals is a crime.

Independent media were active and expressed a wide variety of views with little restriction.

Violence and Harassment: Journalists who covered sensitive topics, including immigration, far-right organizations, and terrorism, reported continuing harassment by private entities, including being targeted by defamation cases.

On April 12, the Oulu District Court convicted and fined journalist Johanna Vehkoo of the investigative journalistic website Long Play for defamation of Oulu city councilor Junes Lokka, an anti-immigration activist with a history of making xenophobic remarks and a member of the Genuinely Finnish Joint List political group. Vehkoo had called Lokka a “Nazi,” “Nazi clown,” and “racist.” Separately on April 1, Lokka himself was charged with four counts of defamation and invasion of privacy for his internet postings.

The government did not restrict or disrupt access to the internet or censor online content, and there were no credible reports the government monitored private online communications without appropriate legal authority.

There were no government restrictions on academic freedom or cultural events.

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

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

d. Freedom of Movement

The constitution and law provide for freedom of internal movement, foreign travel, emigration, and repatriation, and the government generally respected these rights. The government continued to accept returned asylum seekers who had first entered in Finland but then moved on to other European countries according to the Dublin Regulation.

Not applicable.

f. Protection of Refugees

Refoulement: On November 14, the ECHR decided that the government violated the European Convention on Human Rights when it deported an Iraqi man to his country of origin, where he was killed three weeks later. The ECHR found that authorities had not carried out a sufficiently thorough assessment of the risks faced by the man despite accepting his account of enduring two attacks on his personal safety while in Iraq. The police and Finnish Immigration Service subsequently suspended repatriations to Iraq, although this suspension does not apply to convicted criminals.

Following an investigation in Afghanistan in 2018, the government resumed deportation flights to that country during the year.

The number of Russian-origin members of Jehovah’s Witnesses applying for asylum based on alleged religious persecution increased significantly over 2018, reaching 200 individuals by the first seven months of the year. The Finnish Immigration Service rejected approximately 90 percent of the claims by members of Jehovah’s Witnesses, and unofficial reports indicated that asylum adjudicators did not consider membership in the church alone to be sufficient basis for an asylum claim.

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. Parliament sets an annual quota for refugee admissions, and the government decides its allocation. Asylum seekers have the right to free legal representation throughout their application procedure. There were numerous reports by media and civil society organizations, including the president of the Supreme Administrative Court responsible for reviewing asylum decision appeals, that asylum seekers lacked adequate access to legal assistance during the initial stages of the asylum application process and during subsequent appeals.

Safe Country of Origin/Transit: The government adheres to the EU’s Dublin III Regulation that establishes which EU member state is responsible for examining an asylum application.

Durable Solutions: According to the Finnish Immigration Service, 606 refugees were accepted for resettlement in the country during 2018. The government also assisted in the safe, voluntary return of migrants to their home countries.

Temporary Protection: From January to August, the government provided temporary protection to 289 individuals who did not qualify as refugees but who were deemed to qualify for subsidiary protection. During the same period, the government also offered protection to 278 individuals based on “other grounds,” including medical and compassionate grounds.

According to the UN High Commissioner Refugees, 2,759 stateless persons resided in the country at the end of 2018. Involuntarily stateless persons and certain other special groups, such as refugees, have a shorter residency requirement–four years instead of six–than other persons before they are eligible to apply for citizenship. A child may obtain citizenship from either the mother or father regardless of the place of birth and may also acquire citizenship if the child is born in the country and would otherwise be stateless.

Section 4. Corruption and Lack of Transparency in Government

The law provides criminal penalties for corruption by officials, and the government generally implemented these laws effectively. There were isolated reports of government corruption during the year.

Financial Disclosure: By law, appointed and elected officials must each year declare their income, assets, and other private interests that could overlap with their official duties. Officials must make their initial declaration within two months of assuming office and declare any potential conflicts of interest that arise during their tenure. The law does not provide for specific criminal penalties for nondisclosure. By law income and asset information from the tax forms of all citizens must be made public each year.

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 often were cooperative and responsive to their views.

Government Human Rights Bodies: The parliamentary ombudsman enjoyed the government’s cooperation, operated without government or party interference, and had adequate resources. The parliamentary ombudsman investigates complaints that a public authority or official failed to observe the law, fulfill a duty, or appropriately implement fundamental human rights protections.

The Human Rights Center operates as part of the parliamentary ombudsman’s office. The center’s functions include promoting human rights, reporting on the implementation of human rights obligations, and cooperating with European and international bodies on human rights matters. The center does not have authority to investigate individual human rights abuses. A delegation of representatives from civil society who participated in promoting and safeguarding human rights frequently cooperated with the center.

The parliamentary Constitutional Law Committee analyzes proposed legislation for consistency with international human rights conventions. The committee deals with legislation relating to criminal and procedural law, the courts, and the prison system.

The law requires the ombudsman for children, the nondiscrimination ombudsman, and the ombudsman for equality impartially to advance the status and legal protection of their respective reference groups. These ombudsmen operate under the Ministry of Justice. Responsibility for investigating employment discrimination rests solely with the Occupational Safety and Health Administration in the Ministry of Social Affairs and Health.

Responsibility for developing antidiscrimination policies and legislation as well as for the Advisory Board for Ethnic Relations resides with the Ministry of Justice’s Unit for Democracy, Language Affairs, and Fundamental Rights. The Advisory Board for Ethnic Relations advocates for policy changes to improve integration.

The nondiscrimination ombudsman also operated as an independent government-oversight body that investigates discrimination complaints and promotes equal treatment within the government. The nondiscrimination ombudsman also acted as the national rapporteur on trafficking in human beings and supervised the government’s removal of foreign nationals from the country.

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

Rape and Domestic Violence: The law criminalizes rape, including spousal rape, and the government enforced the law effectively. Rape is punishable by up to four years’ imprisonment. If the offender used violence, the offense is considered aggravated, and the penalty may be more severe. The maximum penalties are six years’ imprisonment for rape and 10 years for aggravated rape. All sexual offenses against adults, except sexual harassment, are subject to public prosecution. Sexual offenses against a defenseless person (intoxicated or with a disability) are considered as severe as rape.

Authorities may prosecute domestic abuse under various criminal laws, including laws prohibiting rape, assault and battery, harassment, and disturbing the peace. The penalty for physical domestic violence ranges from a minimum of six months to a maximum of 10 years in prison.

Civil society organizations criticized the emphasis on intentional violence in the legal definition of rape, which they alleged led courts to find assailants not guilty in cases where the coercion was less explicit. In one high-profile court case decided in January, the Eastern Finland Court of Appeals overruled a lower court’s rape conviction due to the fact that the assailant was not aware that his violence had compelled the victim to have sex with him.

Violence against women, including spousal abuse, continued to be a problem. In September, following a country inspection, the Council of Europe Group of Experts on Action against Violence against Women and Domestic Violence (GREVIO) reported that key professionals in the criminal justice system, such as prosecutors and law enforcement officers, were not systematically trained before taking up their duties on how to intervene in cases of violence against women, including domestic violence. The ombudsman for equality at the Ministry of Justice highlighted problems with access to domestic violence shelters in remote rural areas.

The government funds shelters specifically for victims of domestic violence. In 2018, the most recent year for which data was available, 179 beds were available in shelters throughout the country, a 25-percent increase over the year before. Demand for shelter space, as indicated by the number of days residents spent in each shelter, also grew by 25 percent during the same period. GREVIO reported a need for more female police officers to fulfill the government’s pledge always to match a victim of violence with an officer of the same gender. GREVIO also highlighted the need for additional shelters for victims of intimate partner violence.

Sexual Harassment: The law defines sexual harassment as a specific, punishable offense with penalties ranging from fines to up to six months’ imprisonment. Employers who fail to protect employees from workplace harassment are subject to the same penalties. The prosecutor general is responsible for investigating sexual harassment complaints. The government generally enforced the law.

On March 22, the Helsinki appeals court increased to 5,440 euros ($6,000) the fine of Member of Parliament Teuvo Hakkarainen (Finns Party) for sexually harassing fellow parliamentarian Veera Ruoho.

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 government enforced the law effectively. The ombudsman for equality at the Ministry of Justice highlighted problems with workplace discrimination against pregnant women.

Birth Registration: A child generally acquires citizenship at birth through one or both parents. A child can also acquire citizenship at birth if the child is born in the country and meets certain other criteria, such as if the parents have refugee status in the country or if the child is not eligible for any other country’s citizenship. A local registration office records all births immediately.

Child Abuse: The law prohibits child abuse, defining children as individuals younger than age 16. The law defines rape of a minor (younger than 18 years) as aggravated rape. Rape of a child carries a minimum penalty of one-year imprisonment and a maximum of six years. Child negligence and physical or psychological violence carry penalties of up to six months in prison and up to two years in prison, respectively. Aggravating factors may increase the length of the prison term.

The GREVIO report found judges did not always consider violence by one parent against another as a reason to restrict the abuser’s right of access to his or her child, reflecting a lack of awareness of the impact that exposure to violence may have on a child’s development.

Early and Forced Marriage: The minimum age of marriage is 18. In February parliament amended the law to disallow marriage of individuals under that age, even with an exemption from the Ministry of Justice. In recent years the ministry had issued between 10 and 30 exemptions per year. The National Assistance System for Victims of Human Trafficking reported an increase in cases of forced marriage among its target population, rising to 26 in the first six months of the year, compared with 20 cases in all of 2018.

Sexual Exploitation of Children: The country prohibits the commercial sexual exploitation of children, including child pornography and the sale, offering, or procuring of children for prostitution. The law prohibits purchase of sexual services from minors and covers “grooming” (enticement of a child), including in a virtual environment or through mobile telephone contacts. Authorities enforced the law effectively, including through a one-million-euro ($1.1 million) grant announced in August to fund training on how to recognize online solicitation and exploitation.

The minimum age for consensual sex is 16. The law regards a person whose age cannot be determined, but who can reasonably be assumed to be younger than 18, as a child.

In March the National Bureau of Investigation completed a pretrial investigation of five men suspected of importing, receiving, and distributing sexually offensive material involving children between 2004 and 2018. Some of the suspects were also accused of having sexually abused the victims. In July police detained a Helsinki man on the suspicion of committing sex crimes, including aggravated rape and aggravated child sexual abuse, against 12 girls. In August police completed a pretrial investigation of a resident of the city of Espoo who was suspected of committing sex crimes against 52 girls through social media. In the first quarter of the year, there were 475 reported cases of child exploitation.

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 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.

Government statistics and Jewish leaders place the size of the Jewish population between 1,500 and 2,500 individuals, most living in the Helsinki area.

In July vandals in Helsinki defaced the entrance of the building housing, inter alia, the Embassy of Israel with anti-Semitic stickers glorifying Adolf Hitler and smashed the glass door to the building. Police and Jewish community representatives suspected the neo-Nazi Nordic Resistance Movement (NRM) was behind the vandalism, although police did not make any arrests. Over the previous two years, the Helsinki Synagogue was similarly defaced in multiple incidents. The government provided funding for the security of the synagogue. Representatives of the Jewish community reported feeling under threat and specifically targeted due to their beliefs. In May, Petri Sarvamaa, a Finnish member of the European Parliament campaigning for re-election, was approached on the street and threatened by an assailant who called him a derogatory slur for a Jewish person. In September the media reported that a recently elected member of parliament, Hussein al-Taee of the Social Democratic Party of Finland, had made anti-Semitic comments online.

Police continued to implement the 2018 court ban on the neo-Nazi NRM. The Finnish-language website of the organization was no longer online, and public displays of their symbol decreased in frequency, although members continued to spray graffiti. The National Bureau of Investigation suspected the NRM continued to operate underground. In February the nondiscrimination ombudsman announced the conclusion of a case her office brought before the National Nondiscrimination and Equality Tribunal in which an individual had prominently displayed a Nazi flag to the public. In the first ruling of its kind, the tribunal found such displays illegal. During a speech at the official Holocaust remembrance ceremony in January, Interior Minister Kai Mykkanen highlighted the prominent display of Nazi flags by marchers at a December 2018 demonstration in Helsinki as a reason for concern and reaffirmed government support for the fight against anti-Semitism.

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

The constitution and law prohibit discrimination against persons with disabilities in all fields, including the provision of government services. The government effectively monitored compliance with these laws and implemented enforcement actions. In response to complaints of lack of accessibility, the ombudsman carried out unannounced inspections on polling stations, schools, prisons, medical facilities, and other locations. The findings of the inspections were released during the year, and improvements were made, including in two voting locations that did not have accessible voting booths and in multiple prisons. The spot report found two prisons to be completely inaccessible.

The law specifically prohibits discrimination on the basis of origin and nationality. According to the results of the European Union Minorities and Discrimination Survey published in November 2018, 14 percent of persons of African descent in the country stated they had been subject to racist harassment in the previous five years. The most frequent complaints of discrimination or harassment concerned employment and online communication.

Media reports highlighted discrimination by private security guards as a concern. In February, Habiba Ali, a member of the Espoo City Council of Somali descent, complained after a security guard without cause accused her of shoplifting. In August an investigation of security services at the country’s largest amusement park found a history of training that encouraged ethnic profiling and discrimination against Romani visitors.

The nondiscrimination ombudsman is responsible for responding to complaints of discrimination and regularly mediated between business owners, government agencies, and public service providers regrading treatment of customers and clients. The Ministry of Justice also responds to complaints of discrimination. During the year the Advisory Board for Ethnic Relations pointed out the vulnerability of first- and second-generation immigrant youth to discrimination.

The government strongly encouraged tolerance and respect for minority groups, sought to address racial discrimination, and assisted victims.

The constitution provides for the protection of the Sami language and culture, and the government financially supported these efforts. The Sami, who constituted less than 0.1 percent of the population, have full political and civil rights as citizens as well as a measure of autonomy in their civil and administrative affairs. A 21-member Sami parliament (Samediggi), popularly elected by the Sami, is responsible for the group’s language, culture, and matters concerning their status as an indigenous people. It can adopt legally binding resolutions, propose initiatives, and provide policy guidance.

During the year there were complaints the national government intervened election procedures of the Sami parliament by adding new voters to voter lists before elections in September. Members of the outgoing Sami parliament described the ministry’s actions as a violation of their right to self-determination and a threat to the viability of their self-governance. Representing the numerically small Sami minority, members of the Sami parliament asserted that the new voters recognized by the Ministry of Justice would overwhelm their traditional constituency and block their efforts to preserve cultural and traditional agricultural practices. In February, following a decision by the Ministry of Justice to compel the inclusion of a statistically significant number of new voters and a decision by the Supreme Administrative Court affirming it, the UN Human Rights Committee recommended that the Ministry of Justice abide by voter eligibility requirements previously established by the Sami parliament. The Supreme Administrative Court confirmed its decision, and elections went forward in September.

The ombudsman for gender equality stated that Sami victims of domestic violence were at a disadvantage in accessing public shelters due to the long distances between population centers in the northern part of the country. The nondiscrimination ombudsman also highlighted the challenges facing Sami due to the lack of government services in their own language, particularly in education and health services.

Sami objected to plans to develop an Arctic railway running from Helsinki to the northern border, citing the railway’s potential impact on natural resources critical for their livelihoods, including reindeer-herding land and Arctic nature tourism. In May activists demonstrated in Helsinki against the railway and plans to increase mining activities in historically Sami areas.

The law prohibits discrimination based on gender identity, gender expression, or sexual orientation in housing, employment, nationality laws, and access to government services, and the government enforced the law.

The law requires that a transgender person present a medical statement affirming their gender identity and a certificate of infertility before the government will legally recognize their gender identity. In addition to the requirement that an individual submit to sterilization, activists criticized the duration of the legal process, stating it can take up to three years to obtain identity documents with the new gender markers. Trafficking authorities and civil society stated they have no specialized services for transgender victims of trafficking and are unaware of their status among the trafficking-victim population.

While the law prohibits “conversion therapy” in medical settings, it continued to be practiced privately, most commonly in religious associations. The media reported that the Christian organization Journey Finland, as well as strict branches of the Evangelical Lutheran Church and Orthodox Church, continued to practice conversion therapy.

In July police reported they were still searching for an individual who smeared feces on and vandalized a halal grocery store in the city of Hyvinkaa two to three times a week during 2018.

France

Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:

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

Freedom of Expression: While individuals could criticize the government publicly or privately without reprisal, there were some limitations on freedom of speech. Strict antidefamation laws prohibit racially or religiously motivated verbal and physical abuse. Written or oral speech that incites racial or ethnic hatred and denies the Holocaust or crimes against humanity is illegal. Authorities may deport a noncitizen for publicly using “hate speech” or speech constituting a threat of terrorism.

Press and Media, Including Online Media: While independent media were active and generally expressed a wide variety of views without restriction, print and broadcast media, books, and online newspapers and journals were subject to the same antidefamation and hate speech laws that limited freedom of expression.

The law provides protection to journalists who may be compelled to reveal sources only in cases where serious crimes occurred and access to a journalist’s sources was required to complete an official investigation.

Violence and Harassment: In April the NGO Reporters without Borders (RSF) released its annual report that noted growing hatred directed at reporters in the country and an “unprecedented” level of violence from both protesters and riot police directed at journalists during Yellow Vest protests. RSF reported dozens of cases of police violence and excessive firing of flash-ball rounds at reporters.

Secretary general of RSF Christophe Deloire met with President Macron on May 3 to discuss the issue, and with Interior Minister Castaner on June 18. According to Deloire, President Macron committed to following the issue closely. Following the Castaner meeting, RSF described the exchange as frank and constructive and said Castaner promised to consider RSF’s proposals to limit police violence against journalists. Nonetheless, on December 20, RSF filed a complaint with the Paris public prosecutor’s office related to police violence during the Yellow Vest demonstrations between November 2018 and May 2019.

Libel/Slander Laws: Defamation is a criminal offense, although it does not carry the possibility of imprisonment as punishment. The law distinguishes between defamation, which consists of the accusation of a particular fact, and insult, which does not.

National Security: The Committee to Protect Journalists raised concerns about police and prosecutors questioning reporters on national security grounds. On May 23, police summoned a senior correspondent for Le Monde newspaper who had been reporting extensively on a corruption scandal within the Macron government centered on the misconduct of a former security aide, Alexandre Benalla. The reporter, Ariane Chemin, was brought for questioning for having published the name of a former member of the special forces, a charge which stemmed from the antiterrorism law.

The government did not restrict or disrupt access to the internet or censor online content, and there were no credible reports that the government monitored private online communications without appropriate legal authority.

Under the law intelligence services have the power to monitor suspected threats to public order and detect future terrorists. The law also provides a legal framework for the intelligence services’ activities. Laws against hate speech apply to the internet.

The annual report of the National Commission on Informatics and Liberties (CNIL), the government’s data protection authority, showed a significant decrease in the number of requests made to authorities to remove online terrorist- and child-pornography-related content. The report, which was released April 15, stated the Central Office for the Fight against Crime Related to Information and Communication Technology issued 25,474 withdrawal requests between March 2018 and February 2019, a decrease of 27 percent from the previous year. Of these, 9 percent concerned terrorist content and 91 percent child pornography. CNIL attributed the decrease in withdrawal requests related to terrorism to a decline in production of propaganda content by the ISIS terrorist group. The Platform for Harmonization, Analysis, Cross-referencing and Signal Orientation, the online watchdog that helped monitor online hate content, also reported a decrease in reports.

There were no government restrictions on academic freedom or cultural events.

The constitution and law provide for the freedoms of peaceful assembly and association, subject to certain security conditions, and the government generally respected these rights.

The government enacted security legislation on April 10 that gave security forces greater powers at demonstrations, including the power to search bags and cars in and around demonstrations. It also approved making it a criminal offense for protesters to conceal their faces at demonstrations, punishable by a year in prison and 15,000 euros ($16,500) in fines.

The constitution and law provide for the freedom of association, and the government generally respected this right.

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

d. Freedom of Movement

The constitution and law provide for freedom of internal movement, foreign travel, emigration, and repatriation, and the government generally respected these rights. The law permits the government to cancel and seize passports and identification cards of French nationals in some circumstances, such as when there are serious reasons to believe that they plan to travel abroad to join a terrorist group or engage in terrorist activities.

In-country Movement: The law requires persons engaged in itinerant activities with a fixed domicile to obtain a license that is renewable every four years. Itinerant persons without a fixed abode must possess travel documents.

Not applicable.

f. Protection of Refugees

Abuse of Migrants, Refugees, and Stateless Persons: Local authorities of Grande-Synthe, in the north of France, and eight local associations approached the Council of State with concerns about the migrants’ living conditions, the “inaction” of the state, and the “violation of fundamental rights” at a gymnasium in the commune of Grande-Synthe housing hundreds of migrants in conditions NGOs described as a violation of fundamental rights. On June 21, the Council of State, the country’s highest administrative court, ordered authorities to install water points, showers, and toilets in the gymnasium. The Council of State gave regional authorities eight days to install “sufficient” resources and to provide some 700 migrants with information, in their own languages, about their rights. The Council ruled that the state had been deficient in executing its responsibility to ensure “the right not to be submitted to inhuman or degrading treatment.” Regional authorities cooperated with the ruling. In September police moved approximately 1,000 persons from the gymnasium and the surrounding tent settlement to emergency shelters elsewhere in northern France. NGOs, including Doctors of the World and Care4Calais, criticized the lack of transparency on where migrants were being taken and described the evictions as a “show of institutional violence.”

Beginning November 6, the government began a push to evacuate migrant camps before the end of the year and resettle or relocate inhabitants “in line with government regulations.” From November 6 to December 4, police evacuated at least four migrant camps housing an estimated 3,500 to 4,000 migrants around the country. On November 28, a group of 20 NGOs, including Doctors without Borders and the human rights organization La Cimade, issued a statement criticizing the “infernal cycle of camps, evacuations, and police harassment” and the continuation of evacuations without providing viable long-term housing solutions. Within 48 hours of one evacuation, the group noted “the return to the street of dozens of people” who did not “meet the required administrative criteria” for more permanent housing.

The government cooperated with the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees and other humanitarian organizations in providing protection and assistance to refugees, asylum seekers, stateless persons, returning refugees, and other persons of concern.

Refoulement: Amnesty International France and La Cimade criticized the country for its deportation of migrants to Afghanistan, stating on October 25 that the level of attacks on civilians in Afghanistan meant “forced deportations of Afghans are illegal and violate the principle of nonrefoulement.” On September 9, InfoMigrants news organization reported the Ministry of Interior confirmed 11 deportations to Afghanistan in 2018, the same number as in the previous year. Deportations to Afghanistan continued during the year.

Access to Asylum: The country’s laws provide for the granting of asylum or refugee status, and the government has a system for providing protection to refugees. The system was active and accessible to those seeking protection. The Office for the Protection of Refugees and Stateless Refugees (OFPRA) provided asylum application forms in 24 languages, including English, Albanian, Russian, Serbo-Croatian, Turkish, Tamil, and Arabic. Applicants, however, must complete them in French, generally without government-funded language assistance. Applications for asylum must be made on French territory or at a French border-crossing point. Asylum seekers may request from a French embassy or consulate a special visa for the purpose of seeking asylum in France. After arrival in France, the visa holder must follow the same procedure as other asylum seekers in France; however, the visa holder is authorized to work while his or her asylum application is processed and evaluated, unlike other applicants. Asylum seekers may appeal decisions of the OFPRA to the National Court on Asylum Law.

In 2018 parliament adopted an asylum and immigration bill intended to reduce the average time for processing asylum applications to six months and shorten from 120 to 90 days the period asylum seekers have to make an application. It also includes measures to facilitate the removal of aliens in detention, extend from 45 to 90 days the maximum duration of administrative detention, and from 16 to 24 hours the duration of administrative detention to verify an individual’s right to stay. The new law extends the duration of residence permits for subsidiary and stateless refugees from one year to four years and enables foreigners who have not been able to register for asylum to access shelter. It includes measures to strengthen the protection of girls and young men exposed to the risk of sexual mutilation, states that a country persecuting LGBTI persons cannot be considered “safe,” and adopts protective provisions on the right to remain for victims of domestic violence. By law unaccompanied migrant children are taken into the care of the child protection system.

OFPRA stated that priority attention was given to female victims of violence, persons persecuted on the basis of their sexual orientation, victims of human trafficking, unaccompanied minors, and victims of torture.

In a report published June 5, Amnesty International accused authorities of harassing, intimidating, and assaulting people offering aid to migrants in the north of France in a deliberate attempt to discourage their work. The report, Targeting Solidarity, noted that security forces engaged in a deliberate attempt “to curtail acts of solidarity” offered by activists to migrants, asylum seekers and refugees. Authorities harassed, intimidated, and even violently assaulted people offering humanitarian aid and other support.

Safe Country of Origin/Transit: The government considered 16 countries to be “safe countries of origin” for purposes of asylum. A “safe country” is one that provides for compliance with the principles of liberty, democracy, rule of law, and fundamental human rights. This policy reduced the chances of an asylum seeker from one of these countries obtaining asylum but did not prevent it. While individuals originating in a safe country of origin may apply for asylum, they may receive only a special form of temporary residence status that allows them to remain in the country. Authorities examined asylum requests through an emergency procedure that may not exceed 15 days. Countries considered “safe” included Albania, Armenia, Benin, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Cabo Verde, Georgia, Ghana, India, Kosovo, Mauritius, Moldova, Mongolia, Montenegro, North Macedonia, Senegal, and Serbia.

Freedom of Movement: Authorities maintained administrative holding centers for foreigners who could not be deported immediately. Authorities could hold undocumented migrants in these facilities for a maximum of 90 days, except in cases related to terrorism. There were 24 holding centers on the mainland and three in the overseas territories with a total capacity of 1,970 persons.

On June 4, six refugee and migrant assistance associations (Association Service Social Familial Migrants, Forum-Refugies-Cosi, France Terre d’Asile, Cimade, Ordre de Malte, and Solidarite Mayotte) released a joint annual report that estimated 45,000 undocumented migrants were placed in administrative holding centers in 2018, representing a slight decrease from 47,000 in 2017.

According to the associations’ annual report, the government detained 1,429 children. The report noted, however, that in 86 percent of the cases, the duration of detentions did not exceed 48 hours. Since the law prohibits the separation of children from their parents, they were detained together. Civil society organizations continued to criticize the provision of the 2018 asylum and immigration bill that doubled the maximum detention time for foreigners subject to deportation to up to 90 days.

On September 17, authorities cleared more than 800 migrants, mainly Iraqi Kurds, from a makeshift camp near the northern port of Dunkirk, after the Lille administrative court ruled on September 4 it had become a health and security hazard. A total of 811 persons, including 506 young men and 58 unaccompanied minors, were cleared from the gym and makeshift camp. They were resettled in public facilities elsewhere in the country while they waited for the government to register and review their eligibility for asylum.

Durable Solutions: The government has provisions to manage a range of solutions for integration, resettlement, and return of migrants and unsuccessful asylum seekers. The government accepted refugees for resettlement from other countries and facilitated local integration and naturalization, particularly of refugees in protracted situations. The government assisted in the safe, voluntary return of migrants and unsuccessful asylum seekers to their home countries. In 2018 the government voluntarily repatriated 10,678 undocumented migrants, including 2,709 minors, to their countries of origin. On September 6, the Ministry of the Interior announced a temporary increase of financial return aid to foreigners (except those from the EU or visa-exempt countries) from 650 euros ($715) to 1,850 euros ($2,035).

Temporary Protection: Authorities may grant individuals a one-year renewable permit and can extend the permit for an additional two years. According to OFPRA, the government did not grant temporary protection in 2018, the most recent year for which information was available.

OFPRA reported there were 1,370 stateless persons in the country at the end of 2016, the most recent period for which statistics are available. It attributed statelessness to various factors, including contradictions among differing national laws, government stripping of nationality, and lack of birth registration. As the agency responsible for the implementation of international conventions on refugees and stateless persons, OFPRA provided benefits to stateless persons. OFPRA’s annual report stated that it granted stateless status to 71 persons in 2018. The government provided a one-year residence permit marked “private and family life” to persons deemed stateless that allowed them to work. After two permit renewals, stateless persons could apply for and obtain a 10-year residence permit.

The law affords persons the opportunity to gain citizenship. A person may qualify to acquire citizenship if: either of the person’s parents is a citizen, the person was legally adopted by a citizen, the person was born in the country to stateless parents or to parents whose nationality does not transfer to the child, or the person marries a citizen. A person who has reached the legal age of majority (18) may apply for citizenship through naturalization after five years of habitual residence in the country. Applicants for citizenship must have good knowledge of both the French language and civics.

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 some reports of government corruption during the year.

Corruption: On October 18, Patrick Balkany, mayor of the Parisian suburb Levallois-Perret, and his wife Isabelle, deputy mayor, received prison sentences for money laundering of five and four years, respectively. The couple, both 71, were also barred from holding public office for 10 years. The court dropped corruption charges for lack of evidence. The sentence came a month after their conviction on tax fraud charges, for which Patrick Balkany received a four-year sentence and Isabelle a three-year sentence, in addition to a 10-year bar on holding elected office. The pair were charged with hiding two luxury villas and other assets from the tax authorities and evading around four million euros ($4.4 million) in taxes.

Financial Disclosure: The president, members of parliament and the European Parliament, ministers, regional and departmental council heads, mayors of larger communities, and directors of government-owned companies (post office, railway, and telephone) are required to declare their personal assets to the Commission for the Financial Transparency of Political Life at the beginning and end of their terms. The commission issued and made available to the public periodic reports on officials’ financial holdings on a discretionary basis at least once every three years. Officials who fail to comply are subject to sanctions.

The Central Office for Combating Corruption and Financial and Tax Crimes investigated offenses including tax fraud, influence peddling, and failure of elected officials to make financial disclosures or report their own violations of the law.

On September 15, Justice Minister Nicole Belloubet admitted that she “forgot to mention” her ownership shares, totaling 336,000 euros ($370,000), of three properties in a 2017 financial disclosure. She corrected the document after being questioned by political opponent Jean-Luc Melenchon. The properties did not appear in a first statement filed in 2017, but they were included in a later 2017 disclosure. Belloubet stated the omission was in error and added that she had declared these properties in previous asset declarations. She stated that the High Authority for the Transparency of Public Life had recognized she had “no intention of fraud.”

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

A wide variety of domestic and international human rights organizations generally operated, investigated, and published their findings on human rights cases without government restrictions. Government officials were cooperative and responsive to their views.

Government Human Rights Bodies: The National Consultative Commission on Human Rights (CNCDH) advised the government on human rights and produced an annual report on racism and xenophobia. Domestic and international human rights organizations considered the CNCDH independent and effective. Observers considered the Defender of Rights independent and effective, with access to all necessary resources.

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

Rape and Domestic Violence: The law criminalizes rape of men or women, including spousal rape, and the government generally enforced the law effectively. The penalty for rape is 15 years’ imprisonment, which may be increased. The government and NGOs provided shelters, counseling, and hotlines for rape survivors.

The law prohibits domestic violence against women and men, including spousal abuse, and the government generally enforced the law effectively. The penalty for domestic violence against either gender varies from three years in prison and a fine of 45,000 euros ($49,500) to 20 years in prison.

On November 19, the Council of Europe Group of Experts on Action against Violence against Women and Domestic Violence (GREVIO) released its baseline evaluation report for the country. The report noted significant shortcomings in the legal framework on violence against women, including that the definition of sexual assault and rape is not based on the absence of consent but rather on the use of violence, coercion, threat, or surprise. The report also pointed out the inadequacy and unbalanced geographical distribution of housing facilities and emergency assistance centers for victims of rape and domestic violence.

In November the government’s Interministerial Agency for the Protection of Women against Violence and Combatting Human Trafficking (MIPROF) published data showing that in 2018 approximately 213,000 women older than age 18 declared they had been victims of physical or sexual violence at the hands of a partner or former partner. MIPROF reported that, over the same period, 94,000 women declared they had been victims of rape or attempted rape.

In December the National Observatory of Crime and Criminal Justice, an independent public body, and the National Institute of Statistics and Economic Studies (INSEE) published a joint study showing that the number of persons who consider themselves victims of sexual violence committed by a person who does not live with them declined from 265,000 in 2017 to 185,000 in 2018. In 2017 there was a sharp increase in the number of estimated victims, so despite this decline the 2018 estimate reflected the second-highest level since the organizations began collecting data in 2008.

The government sponsored and funded programs for women victims of violence, including shelters, counseling, hotlines, free mobile phones, and a media campaign. The government also supported the work of 25 associations and NGOs dedicated to addressing domestic violence.

The government implemented its 2017-19 interministerial plan to address violence against women. The program’s three main objectives are ensuring women’s access to rights; strengthening public action to protect the most vulnerable groups, such as children, young women, and women living in rural regions; and uprooting the culture of sexism.

On July 1, the High Council for Equality, an independent, consultative body, issued a statement expressing alarm over the number of femicides in the country. It highlighted “the pathways and possible failures [in the judiciary, gendarmerie or police] that have led to the killing of 70 women since the beginning of the year.” According to NGOs such as NousToutes and Fondation des Femmes, as of December, 148 women were.killed in such crimes during the year.

On September 3, the government launched a national forum on domestic violence and brought together dozens of ministers, judges, police officers, victims’ relatives and feminist groups. Approximately 100 conferences took place across the country from September 3 to November 25. At the closure of the series of consultations on November 25, the international day for the prevention of violence against women, Prime Minister Philippe announced 40 measures aimed at preventing domestic violence against women, focusing on three areas: education (educating children on gender equality); protection (ensuring the immediate safety of victims and their children); and restriction (preventing further violence from the perpetrators). Among concrete measures announced were the creation of 1,000 new places in shelters for victims and improved training for those who work with victims of domestic violence.

Female Genital Mutilation/Cutting (FGM/C): FGM/C was practiced in the country, particularly within diaspora communities. Various laws prohibit FGM/C and include extraterritorial jurisdiction, allowing authorities to prosecute FGM/C, which is punishable by up to 20 years in prison, even if it is committed outside the country, and up to 30 years if the FGM/C leads to the death of the victim. The government provided reconstructive surgery and counseling for FGM/C victims.

According to the latest statistics available from the Ministry of Gender Equality and the Fight against Discrimination, between 40,000 to 60,000 FGM/C victims resided in the country. The majority were recent immigrants from sub-Saharan African countries where FGM/C was prevalent and where the procedure was performed. According to the Group against Sexual Mutilation, 350 excisions were performed in the country each year. On June 21, the junior minister of gender equality and the fight against discrimination, Marlene Schiappa, launched a national action plan to combat FGM/C, focusing on identifying risks, preventing FGM/C, and supporting female victims.

On July 23, the National Public Health Agency released a report that estimated the number of victims of FGM/C rose from 62,000 in the early 2000s to 124,355 in the middle 2010s.

Sexual Harassment: The law prohibits gender-based harassment of both men and women in the workplace. Sexual harassment is defined as “subjecting an individual to repeated acts, comments, or any other conduct of a sexual nature that are detrimental to a person’s dignity because of their degrading or humiliating character, thereby creating an intimidating, hostile, or offensive environment.” The government enforced the law.

On July 16, the University Toulouse Jean-Jaures announced that two professors would be barred from positions in all public higher-education institutions due to “sexual and moral harassment” of several students.

In August 2018 parliament passed a law against “sexual and sexist violence” that provides for on-the-spot fines of 90 to 750 euros ($99 to $825) for persons who sexually harass others on the street (including wolf whistling), and up to 3,000 euros ($3,300) if there are aggravating circumstances. The law covers sexual or sexist comments and behavior that is degrading, humiliating, intimidating, hostile, or offensive. The bill also increases sanctions for cyberstalking and prohibits taking pictures or videos under someone’s clothes without consent, which is punishable by up to one year in prison and a fine of 15,000 euros ($16,500).

In August the Ministry of Gender Equality and the Fight against Discrimination reported that authorities fined 713 men for harassing women in public since the introduction of the new law in 2018.

On June 17, a Paris court sentenced a man to an eight-month suspended sentence after he masturbated on the Paris metro in front of a woman and told her she was “beautiful.” The man, 48, was ordered to pay 500 euros ($550) in damages to the woman who filmed the offense, as well as to another woman who reported the same behavior. The perpetrator was also ordered to undergo psychiatric treatment.

According to the latest statistics released by the Interior Ministry in January, reported cases of sexual harassment and sexual violence surged in 2018, with 28,900 complaints registered by police, up 20 percent over the previous year.

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

Discrimination: The law prohibits gender-based job discrimination and harassment of subordinates by superiors, but this prohibition does not apply to relationships between peers. The constitution and law provide for the same legal status and rights for women as for men, including under family, religious, personal status, labor, property, nationality, and inheritance laws. The Ministry of Gender Equality and the Fight against Discrimination is responsible for protecting the legal rights of women. The constitution and law provide for equal access to professional and social positions, and the government generally enforced the laws.

There was discrimination against women with respect to employment and occupation, and women were underrepresented in most levels of government leadership.

Birth Registration: The law confers nationality to a child born to at least one parent with citizenship or to a child born in the country to stateless parents or to parents whose nationality does not transfer to the child. Parents must register births of children regardless of citizenship within three days at the local city hall. Parents who do not register within this period are subject to legal action.

Child Abuse: There are laws against child abuse, including against rape, sexual assault, corruption of a minor, trafficking, kidnapping, child prostitution, and child pornography. The government actively worked to combat child abuse. Penalties are generally severe.

The GREVIO report found courts rarely applied legislative mechanisms to prioritize children’s safety in custody disputes and thus did not sufficiently incorporate children’s risk of exposure to violence in custody and visitation decisions. The report also found a lack of support and assistance for children who have witnessed violence.

On November 20, the government presented a three-year plan to end violence against children. The junior secretary for children, Adrien Taquet, presented 22 measures “to end once and for all violence against children.” New measures include 400,000 euros ($440,000) in additional funding for responses to the “child in danger” emergency hotline and strengthened implementation of background checks for those working in contact with children.

Early and Forced Marriage: The minimum legal age for marriage is 18. Early marriage was a problem mainly for communities from the Maghreb, Sub-Saharan Africa, and South Asia. The law provides for the prosecution of forced marriage cases, even when the marriage occurred abroad. Penalties for violations are up to three years’ imprisonment and a 45,000 euro ($49,500) fine. Women and girls could seek refuge at shelters if their parents or guardians threatened them with forced marriage. The government offered educational programs to inform young women of their rights.

Sexual Exploitation of Children: The law criminalizes sexual exploitation of children. The minimum age of consent is 15, and sexual relations with a minor aged 15 to 18 are illegal when the adult is in a position of authority over the minor. For rape of a minor younger than 15 the penalty is 20 years’ imprisonment, which can be increased in the event of aggravating circumstances. Other sexual abuse of a minor under the age of 15 is punishable by up to 10 years in prison and a fine of 150,000 euros ($165,000). The law provides that underage rape victims may file complaints up to 30 years after they turn 18.

The government enforced these laws effectively but faced criticism from NGOs such as Coup de Pouce, Acting against Child Prostitution, and the French Council of Associations for the Rights of the Child that argued children cannot provide legal consent regardless of circumstance.

The law also criminalizes the commercial sexual exploitation of children. The minimum penalty for sexual exploitation of children is 10 years’ imprisonment and a fine of 1.5 million euros ($1.65 million). The law prohibits child pornography; the maximum penalty for its use and distribution is five years’ imprisonment and a 75,000 euro ($82,500) fine.

As part of the 2020-22 plan to combat violence against children released November 20, the government released estimates that more than 130,000 girls and 35,000 boys annually suffer rape or attempted rape, and 140,000 children are exposed to domestic violence. According to an IPSOS poll released October 7 conducted with victims of childhood sexual abuse, the victims’ average age is 10 years and 83 percent of victims are girls. Victims file a lawsuit in only 25 percent of the cases.

Displaced Children: On February 28, the European Court of Human Rights ordered the state to pay 15,000 euros ($16,500) in reparations for the mistreatment of a 12-year-old Afghan in 2016 who spent six months at the Calais migrant camp. The court stated that authorities did not do everything within their power to protect the child from the uncertainty and poor conditions after the government demolished the camp.

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 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.

NGO and government observers reported numerous anti-Semitic incidents, including physical and verbal assaults on individuals and attacks on synagogues, cemeteries, and memorials, particularly in the Alsace-Lorraine region. The number of anti-Semitic acts increased by 74 percent in 2018, according to government statistics, while the number of violent attacks fell from 97 in 2017 to 81.

On May 22, a Jewish driver working for a ride-sharing company was mugged and beaten by perpetrators who targeted him because of his Jewish-sounding name. The victim reported that a man in his 20s was waiting for him at the appointed place and asked to sit in the front seat, following which a group of about 10 young men surrounded the car. One of the perpetrators told him, “you must have money; we’re going to need to frisk you.” The men then beat the driver, causing him to black out. He sustained injuries and a concussion. In July authorities charged four individuals for the attack and one, a teenager, was placed in pretrial detention because the anti-Semitic nature of the attack was considered an aggravating circumstance.

According to the latest statistics released by the Defense Ministry, the government deployed 10,000 security personnel throughout the country to protect sensitive sites, including vulnerable Catholic, Jewish, and Muslim sites and other places of worship.

On February 2, police arrested 19 persons in Strasbourg when a Yellow Vest protest turned violent, and approximately 50 protesters threw rocks at police and tried to damage local property, including the main synagogue. Some protesters shouted anti-Semitic insults and reportedly launched firecrackers toward the synagogue entrance. Several other Yellow Vest protests also included anti-Semitic acts. On February 16, a man participating in a Yellow Vest march in Paris shouted epithets, including “dirty Zionist” and “dirty race,” at renowned French Jewish intellectual Alain Finkielkraut, an early supporter of the Yellow Vest movement who had recently turned against it. Despite being convicted for violating the country’s antiracism laws, which prohibit verbal attacks based on religion, ethnicity or race, the man was given a two-month suspended sentence by a Paris court.

Anti-Semitic vandalism targeted Jewish sites, including Holocaust memorials and cemeteries. In Quatzenheim, near Strasbourg, vandals defaced more than 90 graves at a Jewish cemetery in February. On February 19, President Macron and Interior Minister Castaner visited the site to support the Jewish community in the region, and prefecture and local politicians also voiced their rejection of the anti-Semitic attack. On December 2, more than 100 graves in the Jewish cemetery of Westhoffen, also in eastern France, were desecrated. Spray-painted swastikas and the number “14,” associated with white supremacy, covered headstones. Both President Macron and Interior Minister Castaner condemned the acts, and Castaner visited the site with community leaders on December 4. On May 13, police opened an investigation of the vandalism of a commemorative plaque in Paris devoted to Jewish children arrested by the French Vichy government in 1942 and deported to Nazi death camps. The graffiti included the number 4,115, representing the number of children arrested by Vichy police, and the word “extermination.” Paris 15th District mayor Philippe Goujon denounced the defacement.

After news that an administrator at an Orthodox Jewish high school leaked national examination materials to students in an effort to boost the school’s results, users posted hundreds of anti-Semitic posts on Twitter. The tweets included tropes that the students would avoid punishment because Jews “control everything” in France.

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

The constitution and law protect the rights of persons with physical, sensory, intellectual, and mental disabilities, including their access to education, employment, health services, information, communications, buildings, transportation, the judicial system, and other state services. The government generally enforced these provisions effectively.

An estimated 350,000 persons with intellectual or mental disabilities were deprived of the right to vote. The law allows a judge to deny the right to vote to individuals who are assigned guardians to make decisions on their behalf, which mainly affected persons with disabilities.

While the law requires companies with more than 20 workers to hire persons with disabilities, many such companies failed to do so.

The law requires that buildings, education, and employment be accessible to persons with disabilities. According to the latest government estimates available, 40 percent of establishments in the country were accessible. In 2015 parliament extended the deadline for owners to make their buildings and facilities accessible by three to nine years. In 2016 then president Hollande announced that 500,000 public buildings across the country were undergoing major renovation to improve accessibility. The Ministry of Social Affairs and Health (now called the Ministry for Solidarity and Health) reported in 2016 that only 300,000 of one million establishments open to the public were fully accessible. Public transport is not accessible, or is only partially accessible, in Paris and Marseille, the two largest cities in the country.

In its most recent report on the country in 2016, the UN Committee on the Rights of the Child stated that autistic children in the country “continue to be subjected to widespread violations of their rights.” The committee found the majority of children with autism did not have access to mainstream education and that many “are still offered inefficient psychoanalytical therapies, overmedication, and placement in psychiatric hospitals and institutions.” Parents who opposed the institutionalization of their children were intimidated and threatened and, in some cases, lost custody of their children, according to the report. The law provides every child the right to education in a mainstream school, but the Council of Europe criticized authorities for not implementing it. Pressure groups such as Autism France estimated that only 20 percent of autistic children were in school. In April 2018 the government began implementing a 340 million euro ($374 million) strategy to give autistic children access to education. The plan includes increasing diagnosis and early years support for children with autism, increasing scientific research, and training doctors, teachers, and staff.

Societal violence and discrimination against immigrants of North African origin, Roma, and other ethnic minorities remained a problem. Many observers, including the Defender of Rights and the CNCDH, expressed concern that discriminatory hiring practices in both the public and private sectors deprived minorities from sub-Saharan Africa, the Maghreb, the Middle East, and Asia of equal access to employment.

On February 12, the Ministry of Interior announced the government registered 1,137 hate crimes involving threats or violence in 2018, a 20 percent increase from the number recorded in 2017. This overall increase stemmed entirely from the surge in anti-Semitic acts, which numbered 541, up 74 percent from 2017. Anti-Muslim acts and other acts of racism actually decreased during the same period. The Ministry registered 100 anti-Muslim acts, down 17 percent from 2017, and 496 other acts of racism, down 4 percent from 2017.

Government observers and NGOs, including the French Council for the Muslim Religion and the Collective against Islamophobia, reported a number of anti-Muslim incidents during the year, including slurs against Muslims, attacks on mosques, and physical assaults. The number of registered violent acts of racism against Muslims decreased from 73 in 2017 to eight in 2018. Over the same period, threats against the Muslim community increased by 12 percent, while total anti-Muslim acts declined 17 percent, from 121 to 100, the lowest level since 2010.

On October 28, a man shot and seriously injured two elderly men who spotted him trying to set fire to the door of the mosque in Bayonne in southwestern France. President Macron, Interior Minister Castaner, and National Rally leader Marine Le Pen, among others, all condemned the attack. As of October 31, the suspect, 84-year-old Claude Sinke, had been placed in custody for attempted murder, and judicial police had opened an investigation.

Under the counterterrorism law, prefects have authority to close places of worship “in which statements are made, ideas or theories are disseminated, or activities take place that lead to violence, hatred or discrimination, provoke the commission of acts of terrorism, or make apologies for such acts.” On May 16, the minister of the interior stated that since 2018, the Ministry of Interior had closed 27 places of worship on this basis, of which 20 were still closed as of October. In June the Muslim Rights Action group published a report calling the closures “collective punishment” and a violation of religious liberty.

Beginning on February 7, the prefect of Isere closed the al-Kawthar Mosque in Grenoble for a period of six months. According to the Ministry of Interior, the mosque’s YouTube channel posted videos that incited hatred and violence towards Christians and Jews, the imam’s sermons justified armed jihad, and the mosque was frequented by known extremists.

On July 18, Le Point magazine reported the Interior Ministry had during the year expelled 44 radicalized foreigners as of that month. While the article did not provide deportation figures for 2018, it reported the country deported just 20 radicalized foreigners in 2017.

Societal hostility against Roma, including Romani migrants from Romania and Bulgaria, continued to be a problem. There were reports of anti-Roma violence by private citizens. Romani individuals, including migrants, experienced discrimination in employment. Government data estimated there were 20,000 Roma in the country.

On June 29, the CNCDH highlighted in its annual report that intolerance of Roma remained particularly stark and had changed little since 2016. The 2018 report noted the presence of “intensified racism” leading to abuse of the fundamental rights of the Roma and that anti-Roma sentiment in the country was expressed both by public “rejection of [their] cultural differences” and the perception that Roma posed a “threat to the national [security] order.” The report also cited authorities’ “ambiguous policy towards slum dismantling,” which in turn encouraged “organized wandering” by members of the Romani community.

In March, Romani camps near Paris faced a series of attacks from groups wielding makeshift weapons after false rumors spread that Roma were kidnapping children from Paris’ poorer suburbs. In April a 19-year-old French man received an 18-month sentence for participating in the attacks and was ordered to pay 3,000 euros ($3,300) in compensation to each of the victims. On July 3, the Bobigny criminal court found six men guilty of planning an attack against a Romani camp near Paris. Four of the men received five- to six-month sentences; the other two received five-month suspended sentences.

Authorities continued to dismantle camps and makeshift homes inhabited by Roma. According to Romeurope data, authorities evicted 9,688 Roma from 171 different localities in 2018, a 14.3 percent decrease from the previous year.

Citizens, asylum seekers, and migrants may report cases of discrimination based on national origin and ethnicity to the Defender of Rights. According to the most recent data available, the office received 5,631 discrimination claims in 2018, 14.9 percent of which concerned discrimination based on ethnic origin.

The government attempted to combat racism and discrimination through programs that promoted public awareness and brought together local officials, police, and citizens. Some public school systems also managed antidiscrimination education programs.

The law prohibits discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity in housing, employment, nationality laws, and access to government services. Authorities pursued and punished perpetrators of violence based on sexual orientation or gender identity. The statute of limitations is 12 months for offenses related to sex, sexual orientation, or gender identity.

According to an online survey of 1,229 LGBTI individuals, more than one-half reported having been victims of homophobic, biphobic, or transphobic behavior. The survey was conducted by the French Institute of Public Opinion between April 12 and April 24.

Anti-LGBTI acts in the country increased by 15.5 percent in 2018, compared with 2017, according to an annual report published on May 14 by the domestic NGO SOS-Homophobie. The results marked the third consecutive year that the number of reported anti-LGBTI acts increased in the country. The NGO stated it received 1,905 reports of anti-LGBTI incidents of all types in 2018, compared with 1,650 incidents in 2017. The data reflected a 66 percent increase in reports of physical assaults in 2018, to 231 cases, compared with 139 cases in 2017. The majority of victims were men (73 percent) and 34 years of age or younger in cases where the victim’s age was known (56 percent). The report noted there was a 42 percent increase in anti-lesbian incidents, and that 23 percent of anti-LGBTI incidents occurred on the internet.

On July 18, 12 students of the Catholic Institute of Higher Studies faced trial in the criminal court of La Roche-sur-Yon (Loire Region) for destroying a display during the International Day against Homophobia, Transphobia, and Biphobia on May 18. Three students were previously expelled from the university, and their appeal to the Catholic bishop of the diocese was denied, with the bishop stating that the expulsions were “justified and proportionate to the gravity of each individual’s misconduct.” In response to the incident, La Roche-sur-Yon mayor Luc Bouard hosted an antihomophobia demonstration with more than 800 participants.

On July 27, a same-sex couple was hospitalized near Lyon after a group of approximately 20 persons armed with iron bars attacked and shouted homophobic slurs at them. The couple fled to a nearby building where they took refuge and called police. When police arrived shortly thereafter, they were also attacked by men with iron bars. Police dispersed the mob using tear gas, and the couple was then able to be taken to the hospital. The prosecutor opened an inquiry for aggravated violence.

Human rights organizations such as Inter-LGBTI criticized the government for continuing to require transgender persons to go to court to obtain legal recognition of their gender identity.

On May 22, the Paris Criminal Court convicted a man of “assault on the basis of sexual orientation or gender identity.” The defendant was filmed punching a transgender woman near a Paris metro station on March 31. He was sentenced to 10 months in prison (four of them on parole), issued a restraining order, and fined 8,000 euros ($8,800).

Germany

Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:

Freedom of Expression: While the government generally respected these rights, it imposed limits on groups it deemed extremist. The government arrested, tried, convicted, and imprisoned a number of individuals for speech that incited racial hatred, endorsed Nazism, or denied the Holocaust (see also section 6, Anti-Semitism).

In May, Facebook announced it had removed 2.19 billion “fake profiles” between January and March, including some that promoted the AfD, after the NGO Avaaz identified them as sources of targeted misinformation. Saarland AfD politician Laleh Hadjimohamadvali claimed her posts had been deleted or blocked in the past, which deprived her of her freedom of expression.

Lower Saxony’s government approved a law in March that makes it illegal for judges and state prosecutors to wear religious symbols openly during public trials. This includes (Muslim) headscarves, (Christian) crosses, and (Jewish) kippas. Similar laws already existed in Baden-Wuerttemberg, Bavaria, Berlin, and Bremen, while Hesse and Thuringia imposed more vague limits on religious attire for judges and state prosecutors.

Georg Restle, the host of the left-leaning political TV program “Monitor” on Westdeutscher Rundfunk (WDR), received a death threat by mail after he made critical comments about the AfD on July 11. WDR has filed charges against the unknown perpetrator, and 44 WDR journalists expressed solidarity with Restle in an ad in the local newspaper Koelner Stadt-Anzeiger. After the threat, Restle requested stronger protection for freedom of speech and press. The threatening letter appeared to have the same author as similar letters sent to Cologne Mayor Reker and to Altena Mayor Hollstein. The Federal Prosecutor assumed that an individual with a right-wing extremist background was responsible. Cologne police were investigating.

Press and Media, including Online Media: The constitution 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 bans Nazi propaganda, Holocaust denial, and fomenting racial hatred.

Violence and Harassment: On May 1, during a demonstration of the far-right Pro Chemnitz movement in the city of Chemnitz, a journalist from the local daily Freie Presse was threatened by protesters. Instead of defending the journalist’s right to cover the demonstration, police forced him to delete his pictures and afterwards expelled him from the demonstration site. Later, police released a statement saying it was a “misunderstanding.” Pro Chemnitz is a right-wing organization which the Saxony Office for the Protection of the Constitution monitors to evaluate whether it should be banned.

In August 2018 representatives of the anti-Islam Patriotic Europeans against the Islamization of the Occident movement and the AfD party protested Chancellor Merkel’s visit to Dresden. A demonstrator (an off-duty police employee) claimed privacy laws prohibited a ZDF camera team from filming him, and he filed a complaint with police on the spot. Police held the camera team for 45 minutes, reportedly to verify their identities. Chancellor Merkel issued a statement in support of press freedom and noted that demonstrators should expect they may be filmed. The Dresden Police Commissioner apologized to the journalists, and the police employee was transferred to the state directorate in September 2018. In June the employee sued ZDF for violating media law and his personal rights. The case was ongoing as of November.

The government did not restrict or disrupt access to the internet or censor online content, with one notable exception, and there were no credible reports that the government monitored private online communications without appropriate legal authority. The exception is that the law permits the government to take down websites that belong to banned organizations or include speech that incites racial hatred, endorses Nazism, or denies the Holocaust. Authorities worked directly with internet service providers and online media companies to monitor and remove such content. As of July authorities monitored several hundred websites and social media accounts associated with right-wing extremists.

In July the NRW Justice Minister announced the creation of a central office for severe cases of politically motivated hate speech on the Internet, such as death threats against politicians on social media.

In February 2018, NRW launched the statewide project “Prosecution Rather Than Deletion–Law Enforcement on the Internet.” Through November it received 378 offense reports, leading to 182 investigation procedures and the identification of 73 defendants. Other contributors to the initiative include NRW Justice and Interior Ministries, the Cologne police headquarters, and media outlets Rheinische Post and RTL.

There were government restrictions on academic freedom and cultural events supporting extreme right-wing neo-Nazism.

While the constitution provides for the freedoms of peaceful assembly and association, the government restricted these freedoms in some instances.

The government restricted the freedom of peaceful assembly in some instances. Groups seeking to hold open-air public rallies and marches must obtain permits, and state and local officials may deny permits when public safety concerns arise or when the applicant is from a prohibited organization, mainly right-wing extremist groups. In rare instances during the year, authorities denied such applications to assemble publicly. Authorities allowed nonprohibited right-wing extremist or neo-Nazi groups to hold public rallies or marches when they did so in accordance with the law.

It is illegal to block officially registered demonstrations. Many anti-Nazi activists refused to accept such restrictions and attempted to block neo-Nazi demonstrations or to hold counterdemonstrations, resulting in clashes between police and anti-Nazi demonstrators.

Police detained known or suspected activists when they believed such individuals intended to participate in illegal or unauthorized demonstrations. The length of detention varied from state to state.

In February the Duesseldorf administrative court ruled that the police ban of the planned Kurdish demonstration “Against the war in Afrin” in February 2018 was unlawful. The court found the police assumption that the protest group was a suborganization of the banned Kurdistan Workers’ Party was false and the ban disproportionate. It ordered the police to compensate the protest group 5,000 euros ($5,500).

The government restricted freedom of association in some instances. The law permits authorities to prohibit organizations whose activities the Constitutional Court or federal or state governments determine to be opposed to the constitutional democratic order or otherwise illegal. While only the Federal Constitutional Court may prohibit political parties on these grounds, both federal and state governments may prohibit or restrict other organizations, including groups that authorities classify as extremist or criminal in nature. Organizations have the right to appeal such prohibitions or restrictions.

The federal and state OPCs monitored several hundred organizations. Monitoring consisted of collecting information from public sources, written materials, and firsthand accounts, but also included intrusive methods, such as the use of undercover agents who were subject to legal oversight. The federal and state OPCs published lists of monitored organizations, including left- and right-wing political parties. Although the law stipulates surveillance must not interfere with an organization’s legitimate activities, representatives of some monitored groups, such as Scientologists, complained that the publication of the organizations’ names contributed to prejudice against them.

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 internal movement, foreign travel, emigration, and repatriation; the government generally respected these rights. The government cooperated with the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) and other humanitarian organizations in providing protection and assistance to internally displaced persons, refugees, returning refugees, asylum seekers, stateless persons, or other persons of concern.

In 2016 the federal government issued a law requiring refugees with recognized asylum status who received social benefits to live within the state that handled their asylum request for a period of three years, and several states implemented the residence rule. States themselves can add other residence restrictions, such as assigning a refugee to a specific city. Local authorities who supported the rule stated that it facilitated integration and enabled authorities to plan for increased infrastructure needs, such as schools.

Not applicable.

f. Protection of Refugees

Abuse of Migrants, Refugees, and Stateless Persons: On August 21, the law addressing deportation, known as “better implementing the obligation to leave the country,” entered into force. In an open letter, 22 NGOs, including lawyers’ and judges’ associations and child rights, welfare, and human rights organizations, called on the Bundestag to reject the law, which they criticized for its focus on ostracizing migrants and for its alleged violation of human rights. Under the law, all asylum seekers will have to remain in initial reception facilities until the end of their asylum procedure, up to 18 months. Until passage of the new law, this only applied to those from “safe countries of origin.” Rejected asylum seekers who do not cooperate sufficiently in obtaining travel documents can be obliged to stay in the institutions for longer than 18 months. Authorities are now able to arrest persons who are obliged to leave the country without a court order. Persons obliged to leave the country who do not attend an embassy appointment to establish their identity can be placed in detention for 14 days. The law indicates that persons detained under “deportation detention”–including families and children–will be held in regular prisons. NGOs such as Pro Asyl, Amnesty International, and the Jesuit Refugee Service criticized this as contradicting “the clear case law of the European Court of Justice,” which calls for a strict separation of deportation detention and imprisonment. Refugees deemed to be flight risks can be taken into preventive detention. Officials who pass on information about a planned deportation are liable to prosecution. Legal scholars stress the regulations are legally problematic, as both the German constitution and the EU Return Directive pose high hurdles for deportation detention. The law also provides for the withdrawal of all social benefits from those recognized as asylum seekers in other EU states after two weeks. Of the 16 federal states, 11 announced they would not implement the law.

Assaults on refugees, asylum seekers, and migrants continued, as did attacks on government-provided asylum homes. On April 14, a video appeared online showing four security guards beating an asylum seeker in Halberstadt, Saxony-Anhalt. Saxony-Anhalt’s Interior Ministry suspended the four security guards and ordered an investigation of the incident. The investigation was ongoing as of November.

In May the Council of Europe’s Committee for the Prevention of Torture (CPT) criticized the country’s deportation practices for rejected asylum seekers, including the practice of not informing detainees of their exact deportation date. In its report the CPT also called on the country’s government to refrain when deporting migrants from “disproportionate and inappropriate” use of force, such as methods that cause suffocation or severe pain. On a deportation flight in August 2018 the CPT’s experts had witnessed a police officer pressing his arm against a deportee’s neck, which restricted his ability to breathe. Another police officer repeatedly squeezed the genitals of the same man, who was tied with tape. The CPT also specifically condemned methods in the Eichstaett, Bavaria, detention center, where security guards were not specially trained and detainees lived in prison-like conditions that included limited access to multipurpose rooms, lack of access to their own clothing, and no ability to speak directly to a doctor. In response, the Federal Ministry of Justice rejected accusations that a direct visit to the doctor was not possible. It further asserted detainees usually did not have enough clothing to change regularly and needed to supplement this with clothing from the detention center when their own clothing was being washed.

Refoulement: In 2018 the government lifted its deportation ban for Afghanistan, and approximately 200 refugees were deported to that country during the first six months of the year. Previous federal policy permitted deportations only of convicted criminals and those deemed a security risk. NGOs including Amnesty International criticized the policy as a breach of the principle of refoulement.

Access to Asylum: The law provides for the granting of asylum or refugee status, and the government has established a system for providing protection to refugees. The country faced the task of integrating approximately 1.3 million asylum seekers, refugees, and migrants who arrived between 2015 and 2017, as well as an additional 305,943 who requested asylum in 2018 and during the first six months of the year. The heavy influx of asylum seekers, refugees, and migrants taxed the country’s infrastructure and resources.

The NGO Pro Asyl criticized the “airport procedure” for asylum seekers who arrive at the country’s airports. Authorities stated the airport procedure was used only in less complex cases and that more complex asylum cases were referred for processing through regular Federal Office for Migration and Refugees (BAMF) channels. Authorities maintained that only persons coming from countries the government identified as “safe” (see below) and those without valid identification documents could be considered via the “fast track procedure.” The “fast track procedure” enabled BAMF to decide on asylum applications within a two-day period, during which asylum applicants were detained at the airport. If authorities denied the application, the applicant had the right to appeal. Appeals were processed within two weeks, during which the applicant was detained at the airport. If the appeal was denied, authorities deported the applicant. The NGO Fluechtlingsrat Berlin criticized a similar “fast track” or “direct” procedure applied to some asylum seekers in Berlin. The organization claimed asylum applicants were not provided with sufficient time and access to legal counsel.

In April 2018 BAMF suspended the head of its Bremen branch amid allegations that the official improperly approved up to 2,000 asylum applications. In April, however, a BAMF review concluded that just 50 Bremen asylum decisions (0.9 percent) should be subject to legal review–a proportion below the national average of 1.2 percent.

A Hamburg lawyer and former Green party state parliamentarian confirmed in February that he was representing four German families with seven children aged two to 14 who were calling on the German Ministry of Foreign Affairs for repatriation from Syria and Iraq, where they had joined the Islamic State. In April the government allowed one of the mothers to return from Iraq to Germany with her three children; the mother was promptly arrested. In November an appeals court in Berlin ruled the German government must repatriate from Syria the German wife and three children of an Islamic State member. Their lawyer said he hoped the decision would set a precedent for the 20 other German mothers and 40 children he represented.

Safe Country of Origin/Transit: The country adheres to the EU’s Dublin III regulation, which permits authorities to turn back or deport individuals who entered the country through “safe countries of transit,” which include the EU member states, and Switzerland, Norway, Iceland, and Liechtenstein. “Safe countries of origin” also include Albania, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Ghana, Kosovo, North Macedonia, Montenegro, Senegal, and Serbia. The government did not return asylum seekers to Syria. The NGO Pro Asyl pointed out that refugees who under the Dublin III regulation fell into another EU state’s responsibility but could not be returned to that country often remained in a legal gray zone. They were not allowed to work or participate in integration measures, including German language classes.

Employment: Persons with recognized asylum status were able to access the labor market without restriction; asylum seekers whose applications were pending were generally not allowed to work during their first three months after applying for asylum. According to the Federal Employment Agency, approximately 200,000 refugees were unemployed as of July. Refugees and asylum seekers faced several hurdles in obtaining employment, including lengthy review times for previous qualifications, lack of official certificates and degrees, and limited German language skills.

The law excludes some asylum seekers from access to certain refugee integration measures, such as language courses and employment opportunities. This applies to asylum seekers from countries considered “safe countries of origin” and unsuccessful asylum seekers who cannot be returned to the country through which they first entered the area covered by the Dublin III regulation. The government did not permit asylum seekers and persons with a protected status from safe countries of origin to work if they applied for asylum after 2015.

Access to Basic Services: State officials retain decision-making authority on how to house asylum seekers, refugees, and migrants, and whether to provide allowances or other benefits.

Several states provided medical insurance cards for asylum seekers. The insurance cards allow asylum seekers to visit any doctor of their choice without prior approval by authorities. In other states asylum seekers received a card only after 15 months, and community authorities had to grant permits to asylum seekers before they could consult a doctor. The welfare organization Diakonie criticized the medical insurance card system, which only enabled asylum seekers to obtain emergency treatment. Local communities and private groups sometimes provided supplemental health care.

Durable Solutions: The government accepted for resettlement and facilitated the local integration (including naturalization) of refugees who had fled their countries of origin, particularly for refugees belonging to vulnerable groups. Such groups included women with children, refugees with disabilities, victims of trafficking in persons, and victims of torture or rape. Authorities granted residence permits to long-term migrants, asylum seekers, refugees, and migrants who could not return to their countries of origin.

The government assisted asylum seekers, refugees, and migrants with the safe and voluntary return to their countries. In the first half of the year, authorities provided financial assistance of 300 to 500 euros ($330 to $550) to 6,786 individuals to facilitate voluntary returns to their country of origin. Beneficiaries were either rejected asylum seekers or foreigners without valid identification.

The government also offered a return bonus of 800 to 1,200 euros ($880 to $1,320) per person to asylum seekers whose applications were pending but who were unlikely to have their applications approved. Most of the applicants who received this bonus came from Albania, Serbia, North Macedonia, and Iraq.

Temporary Protection: The government provides two forms of temporary protection–subsidiary and humanitarian–for individuals who do not qualify as refugees. In the first six months of the year, the government extended subsidiary protection to 11,855 persons. This status is usually granted if a person does not qualify for refugee or asylum status but might face severe danger in his or her country of origin due to war or conflict. During the same period, 3,872 individuals were granted humanitarian protection. Humanitarian protection is granted if a person does not qualify for any form of protected status, but there are other humanitarian reasons the person cannot return to his or her country of origin (for example, unavailability of medical treatment in their country of origin for a health condition). Both forms of temporary protection are granted for one year and may be extended. After five years, a person under subsidiary or humanitarian protection can apply for an unlimited residency status if he or she earns enough money to be independent of public assistance and has a good command of German.

UNHCR reported 14,779 stateless persons in the country at the end of 2018. Some of these persons lost their previous citizenship when the Soviet Union collapsed or Yugoslavia disintegrated. Others were Palestinians from Lebanon and Syria whom the government registered as stateless.

Laws and policies provide stateless persons the opportunity to gain citizenship on a nondiscriminatory basis. Stateless persons may apply for citizenship after six years of residence. Producing sufficient evidence to establish statelessness could often be difficult, however, because the burden of proof is on the applicant. Authorities generally protected stateless persons from deportation to their country of origin or usual residence if they faced a threat of political persecution there.

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 isolated reports of government corruption during the year.

Corruption: In a June report, the Council of Europe’s Group of States against Corruption (GRECO) assessed the country as “globally unsatisfactory” and accused the Bundestag of not implementing its recommendations on the prevention of bribery of members of parliament. Of the eight recommendations GRECO made in 2014, the government had only implemented three of them satisfactorily. Among other things, GRECO faulted the Bundestag for its unclear rules with regard to dealings with lobbyists and for overly lax reporting obligations of parliamentarians, including existing or potential conflicts of interest.

Research by multiple media outlets in April examined Russia’s attempts to influence German politics, in particular through the AfD. They uncovered Russian documents from 2017 recommending that Russia provide concrete assistance to AfD candidate Markus Frohnmaier, as his victory would provide Russia with “its own absolutely controlled MP in the Bundestag.” Frohnmaier entered the Bundestag in 2017 and has taken consistently pro-Russia positions.

In March, Transparency Germany, Transparency International’s national chapter, filed a criminal complaint against Bundestag member Karin Strenz and former Bundestag member Eduard Lintner over an alleged bribery case orchestrated by the Azerbaijani government. Beginning in the early 2000s, the Azerbaijanis operated a money laundering scheme to, among other things, bribe politicians at the Council of Europe to soften human rights resolutions and election observation reports. Following an investigation, the Council of Europe banned both Strenz and Lintner for life from the Council of Europe in June 2018. In January the Bundestag presidium announced Strenz had violated the Bundestag’s rules of conduct.

Financial Disclosure: Members of state and federal parliaments are subject to financial disclosure laws that require them to publish their earnings from outside employment. Sanctions for noncompliance range from an administrative fine to as much as half of a parliamentarian’s annual salary. Appointed officials are subject to the public disclosure rules for civil servants, who must disclose outside activities and earnings. If the remuneration exceeds certain limits, which vary by grade, the employee must transfer the excess to the employing agency. Under the federal disciplinary law, sanctions for noncomplying officials include financial penalties, reprimand, or dismissal. In the corruption case involving Strenz, the Bundestag fined her more than 19,000 euros ($20,900) in March for the late disclosure of her payments from a company that passed along the money from Azerbaijan.

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

A variety of domestic and international human rights groups generally operated without government restriction, investigating and publishing their findings on human rights cases. Government officials were cooperative and responsive to their views.

Government Human Rights Bodies: A number of government bodies worked independently and effectively to protect human rights. The Bundestag has a Committee for Human Rights and Humanitarian Aid and one for Petitions. The Petitions Committee fields complaints from the public, including human rights concerns. The German Institute for Human Rights has responsibility for monitoring the country’s implementation of its international human rights commitments, including treaties and conventions. The Federal Anti-Discrimination Agency (FADA) is a semi-independent body that studies discrimination and assists victims of discrimination. The Office of the Federal Commissioner for Persons with Disabilities has specific responsibility for protecting the rights of persons with disabilities. The Justice Ministry’s commissioner for human rights oversees implementation of court rulings related to human rights protections.

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

Rape and Domestic Violence: The law criminalizes rape, including spousal rape, of men and women, and provides penalties of up to 15 years in prison. Without a court order, officials may temporarily deny access to their household to those accused of abuse, or they may impose a restraining order. In severe cases of rape and domestic violence, authorities can prosecute individuals for assault or rape and require them to pay damages. Penalties depend on the nature of the case. The government enforced the laws effectively.

In 2018, 9,234 cases of sexual violence against men and women were reported to police. This is a substantial reduction from the previous year, but the federal police indicated this is due in part to a change in statistical methodology by which certain offenses previously classified as “sexual violence” have been reclassified as “sexual harassment.”

In July a Wiesbaden court sentenced an Iraqi asylum seeker to life imprisonment for murder. The court also determined an “exceptional severity of guilt,” meaning an early release after 15 years is highly unlikely. In June 2018 he raped and killed a 14-year-old in Wiesbaden. The suspect was also accused of twice raping an 11-year-old girl in a refugee shelter in March 2018. The suspect initially fled to Iraq, but he was subsequently returned to Germany, where he was tried.

In December 2018 an off-duty police officer in Berlin raped a 24-year-old woman. Following consensual sex, the police officer asked for additional services, which she declined. The officer then hit her and raped her until the victim’s partner intervened. The Berlin public prosecutor’s office emphasized that the officer was off-duty and his status had no bearing on the alleged crime. The case was pending as of November.

The federal government, the states, and NGOs supported numerous projects to prevent and respond to cases of gender-based violence, including providing victims with greater access to medical care and legal assistance. Approximately 340 women’s shelters offering a total of 6,700 beds operated throughout the country. The NGO Central Information Agency of Autonomous Women’s Homes (ZIF) reported accessibility problems, especially in bigger cities, because women who found refuge in a shelter tended to stay there longer due to a lack of available and affordable housing. ZIF also stated refugee women are particularly vulnerable, as they are required to maintain residence in a single district for three years and many live in districts in which there are no women’s shelters.

Female Genital Mutilation/Cutting (FGM/C): FGM/C of women and girls is a criminal offense punishable by one to 15 years in prison, even if performed abroad. Authorities can revoke the passports of individuals who they suspect are traveling abroad to subject a girl or woman to FGM/C; however, authorities have not taken this step since the law took effect in 2017. FGM/C affected segments of the immigrant population, in particular those from Eritrea, Iraq, Somalia, and Egypt, and their Germany-born children. A working group under the leadership of the Federal Ministry for Family Affairs, Senior Citizens, Women, and Youth worked with other federal government bodies and all 16 states to combat FGM/C. While official statistics indicated just four cases of FGM/C in 2018, a March study by the ministry indicated that between 1,558 and 5,684 daughters of immigrants are at risk of FGM/C.

Other Harmful Traditional Practices: The law criminalizes “honor killings” as murder and provides penalties that include life in prison. The government enforced the law effectively and financed programs aimed at ending “honor killings.”

Sexual Harassment: Sexual harassment of women was a recognized problem and prohibited by law. Penalties include fines and prison sentences of as many as five years. Various disciplinary measures against harassment in the workplace are available, including dismissal of the perpetrator. The law requires employers to protect employees from sexual harassment. The law considers an employer’s failure to take measures to protect employees from sexual harassment to be a breach of contract, and an affected employee has the right to paid leave until the employer rectifies the problem. Unions, churches, government agencies, and NGOs operated a variety of support programs for women who experienced sexual harassment and sponsored seminars and training to prevent it.

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

Discrimination: Men and women enjoy the same legal status and rights under the constitution, including under family, labor, religious, personal status, property, nationality, and inheritance laws. The government generally enforced the law effectively.

Birth Registration: In most cases individuals derive citizenship from their parents. The law allows individuals to obtain citizenship if they were born in the country and if one parent has been a resident for at least eight years or has had a permanent residence permit for at least three years. Parents or guardians are responsible for registering newborn children. Once government officials receive birth registration applications, they generally process them expeditiously. Parents who fail to register their child’s birth may be subject to a fine.

Child Abuse: There are laws against child abuse. Violence or cruelty towards minors, as well as malicious neglect, are punishable by five months to 10 years in prison. Incidents of child abuse were reported. The Federal Ministry for Family, Seniors, Women, and Youth sponsored a number of programs throughout the year on the prevention of child abuse. The ministry sought to create networks among parents, youth services, schools, pediatricians, and courts and to support existing programs at the state and local level. Other programs provided therapy and support for adult and youth victims of sexual abuse.

Early and Forced Marriage: The legal minimum age for marriage is 18 years.

Legislation passed in 2017 nullifies existing marriages conducted in other countries in which at least one spouse was under age 16 at the time of the wedding, even if they were of legal age in the country where the marriage was performed. Individuals aged 16 or 17 can petition a judge on a case-by-case basis to recognize their foreign marriage if they face a specific hardship from not having their marriage legally recognized. Complete central statistics are unavailable on such cases.

Child and forced marriage primarily affected girls of foreign nationality. The government reported that as of March 31, there were 179 married minors in the country, a substantial decrease from 1,475 in 2016. The majority of married minor registrants were from Syria.

Sexual Exploitation of Children: The law prohibits commercial sexual exploitation, sale, offering, or procuring children for prostitution and practices related to child pornography, and authorities enforced the law. The minimum age for consensual sex is 14 years unless the older partner is older than 18 and is “exploiting a coercive situation” or offering compensation, and the younger partner is under 16. It is also illegal for a person who is 21 or older to have sex with a child younger than 16 if the older person “exploits the victim’s lack of capacity for sexual self-determination.” The government’s Independent Commissioner for Child Sex Abuse Issues offered a sexual abuse help online portal and an anonymous telephone helpline free of charge.

In January police informed the public about a child abuse case on a campground in Luegde, NRW, involving more than 40 sexually abused children aged between three and 14 years. The abuse took place over more than a decade. Three suspects were detained and confessed to the crimes. In July, one man was ordered to attend therapy and was sentenced to two years of probation for taking part in the crime via webcam and for owning child pornography. The public prosecutor appealed the sentence as overly lenient. The other two men were sentenced in September to 13 and 12 years in prison, followed by preventive detention.

On July 12, a parliamentary investigating committee opened an investigation into possible failures, omissions, misjudgments, and misconduct of the NRW state government in the child abuse case. Problems with the investigation included the disappearance from the local police station of 155 USB drives containing child pornography, the placement of a foster child with one of the main perpetrators, and concerns that authorities did not follow up on an earlier suspicion of child abuse. As of November the investigation was ongoing.

The case led to the creation of new resources for abuse victims and prosecutors. In March, Cologne opened a new office to serve as a point of contact for children and youth, and in May the first countrywide center for child protection went into operation in Cologne. The office combines the expertise of forensic medical specialists and child protection experts to examine suspected cases of child abuse.

Displaced Children: According to the NGO Federal Association for Unaccompanied Minor Refugees (BumF), 4,087 unaccompanied minors applied for asylum in the country in 2018, over half of whom came from four countries: Afghanistan, Somalia, Guinea, and Eritrea. BAMF granted some form of asylum to unaccompanied minors in just 61.5 percent of cases, a sharp drop from 94.5 percent in 2016. BumF observed that some unaccompanied minors might have become victims of human trafficking. For more information see the Department of State’s Trafficking in Persons Report at https://www.state.gov/trafficking-in-persons-report/.

According to estimates by the NGO Off Road Kids, as many as 2,500 children between the ages of 12 and 18 become at least temporarily homeless every year. Off Road Kids reported most runaways stayed with friends and were not living on the streets. These minors were generally school dropouts who did not receive assistance from the youth welfare office or their parents, and instead used digital networks to find temporary housing with friends and online acquaintances.

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 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.

Observers estimated the country’s Jewish population to be almost 200,000, of whom an estimated 90 percent were from the former Soviet Union. There were approximately 107,000 registered Jewish community members.

Manifestations of anti-Semitism, including physical and verbal attacks, occurred at public demonstrations, sporting and social events, in schools, in the street, in certain media outlets, and online. Apart from anti-Semitic speech, desecration of cemeteries and Holocaust monuments represented the most widespread anti-Semitic acts. The federal government attributed most anti-Semitic acts to neo-Nazi or other right-wing extremist groups or persons. Jewish organizations also noted an increase of anti-Semitic attitudes and behavior among some Muslim youth and left-wing extremists. NGOs agreed that right-wing extremists were responsible for the majority of anti-Semitic acts but cautioned that federal statistics misattributed many acts committed by Muslims as right-wing.

In 2018 the Federal Ministry of Interior reported 1,799 anti-Semitic crimes, an increase from the 1,504 anti-Semitic crimes in 2017. NGOs working to combat anti-Semitism noted the reported number of anti-Semitic attacks was likely too low, and a significant number of cases were unreported due to fear.

The FOPC’s annual report stated that the number of violent right-wing anti-Semitic incidents rose more than 70 percent, from 28 in 2017 to 48 in 2018. The FOPC also identified three violent left-wing anti-Semitic incidents, plus four with a religious ideological motivation, and 10 with a foreign ideological motivation. Federal prosecutors brought charges against suspects and maintained permanent security measures around many synagogues.

Many prominent government officials repeatedly condemned anti-Semitism throughout the year, including Chancellor Merkel and Foreign Minister Maas. In 2018 the federal government created the position Federal Commissioner for Jewish Life in Germany and the Fight against Anti-Semitism. Several states also established state-level commissioners to combat anti-Semitism. The positions’ responsibilities vary by state but involve meeting with the Jewish community, collecting statistics on anti-Semitic acts, and designing education and prevention programs.

On October 9, a gunman attacked the synagogue in the eastern German city of Halle on Yom Kippur, where approximately 50 individuals were attending a prayer service. When the gunman was unable to enter the building, he shot and killed two German nationals outside the synagogue in a snack bar. He was arrested shortly after the attack. The federal public prosecutor’s investigation into the suspect’s background and motives was ongoing, but according to media reports he admitted to the investigating authorities that he harbored far-right extremist political sympathies. Several Jewish community leaders called for police protection at all synagogues during services. Leading officials promised a more determined fight against anti-Semitism and far-right violent extremism, and the Federal Ministry of Interior introduced a package of measures to improve security and deter anti-Semitic crime that is expected to be taken up by the Bundestag in early 2020.

In March local media reported criminal proceedings against four police detectives were suspended in relation to an incident in July 2018 in Bonn that involved a visiting professor who was allegedly assaulted by a 20-year-old German with Palestinian roots. When police arrived, the attacker fled the scene, but the police mistakenly believed the victim was the attacker and allegedly used excessive force to detain him. Police later apprehended the perpetrator and charged him with incitement of hate and causing bodily harm. Cologne police opened an internal investigation and assigned the police officers involved in the incident to desk jobs pending the investigation’s results. Prosecutors, however, denied the professor’s request to provide testimony for the internal investigation. The police officers returned to regular duty. The attacker was indicted for charges of sedition and bodily harm. His trial took place on October 14 and resulted in conviction for incitement of hate. He was sentenced to youth custody for four years and six months, including a pre-existing juvenile sentence of three years and nine months for robbery, insult, coercion, bodily harm, and fare evasion.

In December 2018 media reported that Frankfurt prosecutors were investigating five police officers who had exchanged right-wing extremist messages, including racist slogans, swastikas, and pictures of Hitler, via text message. Investigators began their work after a lawyer who defended victims’ families in the 2013-18 trials related to the right-wing terrorist organization National Socialist Underground (NSU) received a threatening letter in August signed “NSU 2.0” at her private address, which was not publicly known. When she reported the threat, investigators found that an officer in Frankfurt had conducted an unauthorized search for her address and uncovered the right-wing extremist messages. In June the lawyer received additional death threats, once again signed “NSU 2.0.” Also in June, another Frankfurt police officer was briefly arrested in connection with the scandal that by March had expanded to 38 investigations into police officers from Hesse.

In July, two men speaking Arabic insulted and spat on Rabbi Yehuda Teichtal and his son as they were leaving a Berlin synagogue. German President Frank-Walter Steinmeier later visited Teichtal in his home to offer his support, saying, “There is no place for anti-Semitism in Germany.” Rabbi Teichtal called for “tolerance, dialogue, and training” to counter rising levels of anti-Semitism. Anti-Semitic incidents also occurred in Hamburg and Munich, involving spitting and anti-Semitic slurs.

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

The law prohibits discrimination against persons with disabilities. The law makes no specific mention of the rights of persons with sensory or intellectual disabilities, but their rights are considered included under the other headings. NGOs disagreed whether the government effectively enforced these provisions.

The Bundestag approved a measure on March 15 to extend suffrage to the approximately 80,000 adults with disabilities in Germany who are the subjects of court orders declaring that they are incapable of independently managing their administrative and financial matters. The Constitutional Court ruled in April this law must go into effect in time for the European Parliament elections in late May, which it did.

A workshop in Leverkusen, NRW, that employs persons with disabilities separately from others dismissed two caregivers after a February 2017 TV report disclosed secret recordings taken in 2015 showing them humiliating a young woman with mental disabilities. The workshop management criticized the TV station for not sharing its insights earlier. In June the local court in Opladen, NRW, sentenced one of the dismissed caregivers to pay a fine of 2,400 euros ($2,640). The Cologne prosecutor indicted two more defendants, but these cases were not pursued due to insufficient evidence.

Persons with disabilities faced particular difficulties in finding housing.

State officials decide whether children with disabilities may attend mainstream or special needs schools. In 2017-18, 544,630 children with special education needs attended school; of these, 317,480 attended special needs schools. In some instances, parents or teachers in mainstream schools protested against the inclusion of students with special needs, primarily because the schools had insufficient resources and capabilities to address their needs.

The annual FOPC report for 2018 recorded 1,088 violent, politically motivated crimes committed by individuals with right-wing extremist backgrounds. Of these, 821 were categorized as xenophobic.

In July a 55-year-old right-wing extremist shot and gravely wounded a 26-year-old Eritrean man in the town of Waechtersbach, Hesse. Before the attack the perpetrator had announced his intention to kill a refugee. A search of the perpetrator’s home confirmed suspicions of a racist motive, a police spokesperson said. Police found the perpetrator’s body in a car in a neighboring town, where he had shot himself in the head.

On March 20, the press reported legal authorities had initiated 239 criminal proceedings in connection with demonstrations in Chemnitz in August 2018, when approximately 6,000 right-wing demonstrators and 1,500 counter protestors took to the streets in response to the fatal stabbing of a German man, reportedly by two immigrants. Newscasts showed right-wing extremists giving the Hitler salute, which is illegal, and chanting anti-immigrant slogans. On August 22, the district court of Chemnitz sentenced a 23-year-old Syrian asylum seeker to nine years and six months in prison for the fatal stabbing that led to the demonstrations. Authorities believe the other suspect, a 22-year-old Iraqi, fled the country.

Hostility focused on asylum seekers, refugees, and migrants from the Middle East and Africa. On March 17, two men threw explosives at a home for asylum seekers in Nussdorf, Bavaria; two weeks later they perpetrated a similar attack on the same home. Police arrested two offenders, 20 and 23 years old, who were tried and convicted and sentenced to three years and nine months in prison.

Persons of foreign origin faced particular difficulties with finding housing. The Federal Anti-Discrimination Agency (FADA) reported cases of landlords denying rental apartments to persons not of ethnic-German origin–particularly of Turkish and African origin.

Harassment of members of racial minorities such as Roma remained a problem throughout the country. In March statistics from the Federal Ministry of the Interior reported a 54 percent rise in attacks on Sinti and Roma in 2018. The ministry considers all but five of the crimes as right-wing, and of 36 suspects identified, 32 belonged to the extreme right spectrum. The Federal Interior Ministry stated “even if the number of cases increased compared to 2017, they are still at a very low level.” The head of the Sinti and Roma Council, Romani Rose, suggested, however, that many crimes against Sinti and Roma go unreported.

In May in the town of Erbach, Baden-Wuerttemberg, a burning torch was thrown at a vehicle in which a Romani family slept with their nine-month-old baby. No one was injured, as the torch missed the caravan. The Stuttgart public prosecutor suspected a politically motivated offense, and in July, police arrested five Germans aged 17 to 20 in connection with the crime.

The law prohibits discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity. LGBTI activists criticized the requirement that transgender persons be diagnosed as “mentally ill” in order to obtain legal gender recognition.

In March the then federal justice minister Katrina Barley announced that gay men placed under investigation or taken into investigative custody between 1949 and 1969 under the law criminalizing male homosexuality would receive compensation from the government. The government began paying compensation immediately to those who filed for it. Barley said the anti-homosexuality law known as Paragraph 175 “destroyed lives, led to sham marriages, harassment, blackmail, and suicide.” In 2017 the country approved compensation to gay men who were convicted under the antihomosexuality law; however, Barley’s announcement extended this to men who were placed under investigation but not convicted. West Germany decriminalized homosexuality in 1969, but approximately 50,000 men were convicted between 1949 and 1969.

In June the Regional Court in Chemnitz declared it could not identify a homophobic or right-wing motive for beating a 27-year-old gay man to death in April 2018. The court found the three men guilty of manslaughter rather than murder. The three were known members of the right-wing scene, and one of them had a swastika tattoo. Police classified the crime as a “right-wing motivated homicide.”

The NGO German AIDS Foundation reported that societal discrimination against persons with HIV/AIDS ranged from isolation and negative comments from acquaintances, family, and friends to bullying at work. A domestic AIDS service NGO continued to criticize authorities in Bavaria for ongoing mandatory HIV testing of asylum seekers.

In March 2018 unknown perpetrators wrote anti-Muslim graffiti on the Fatih Mosque in Bremen-Groepelingen. The Bremen Police State Protection unit investigated. The chair of the Fatih Mosque, Zekai Gumus, called on the Bremen senate and authorities to solve the crime, noting police had not identified suspects responsible for a 2017 attack on the mosque. As of July police had yet to identify any suspects for the March 2018 attack.

On June 8 in Bremen, unknown perpetrators desecrated 50 copies of the Quran by throwing them into toilets when the mosque was open to the public. As of November local police were investigating.

Civil society organizations continued to report discriminatory identity checks by police on members of ethnic and religious minorities.

Greece

Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:

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

Freedom of Expression: The constitution and law protect freedom of expression but specifically allow restrictions on speech inciting discrimination, hatred, or violence against persons or groups based on their race, skin color, religion, descent, national or ethnic origin, sexual orientation, gender identity, or disability, or who express ideas insulting to persons or groups on those grounds.

Press and Media, Including Online Media: Independent media were active and expressed a wide variety of views without restriction. On June 10, the government passed legislation requiring vendors who sell print media to stock and display all Greek newspapers and magazines. Penalties for those intentionally breaking the law range from one year’s imprisonment to a fine from 5,000 to 50,000 euros ($5,500 to $55,000). For repeated offenders, the penalty can increase to two years or more in prison.

Violence and Harassment: Journalists were subjected to physical attack, harassment, or intimidation due to their reporting in at least 10 instances. On April 7, a riot police officer in Idomeni, near the border with North Macedonia, kicked a photojournalist covering a migrant protest and later struck the photojournalist in the face and head with his shield. The government and journalist unions condemned the attacks. Seven attacks were led by members of far-right groups who targeted reporters and photojournalists covering rallies protesting the Prespa Agreement between Greece and North Macedonia. Anarchists led other attacks, once torching a journalist’s car at her residence and on December 5, pelting a television crew stationed near the Athens University of Economics and Business with paint. There were no reports of police detentions in these incidents.

Censorship or Content Restrictions: The government did not censor media. The government maintains an online register with the legal status of local websites, their number of employees, detailed shareholder information, and the tax office they fall under. Once registered, these websites are accredited to accept funding through state advertising, to cover official events, and to benefit from research and training programs of the National Center of Audiovisual Works. All registered websites had to display their certification on their homepage. Although registering was an open and nonobligatory process, outlets failing to do so could be excluded from the accreditation benefits. On April 15, the government launched a similar electronic registry for regional and local press.

Libel/Slander Laws: The law provides criminal penalties for defamation. A law passed February 26 clarifies that individuals convicted of crimes cannot claim slander for discussion of those crimes. This law also removes the provision requiring journalists to appear immediately before a court, or wait in jail until the court opened, in the case they were accused of libel, a provision that had been abused by politicians to intimidate journalists. On February 13, a court convicted then alternate health minister Pavlos Polakis for slander against a deceased reporter whom he had accused of taking bribes from the Hellenic Center for Disease Control and Prevention. The court ordered the alternate health minister to pay financial damages to the journalist’s family. The government abolished blasphemy laws, effective on July 1.

The government did not restrict or disrupt access to the internet or censor online content, and there were no credible reports the government monitored private citizens’ online communications without appropriate legal authority. In November 2018 the newly established Committee on Internet Violations of Intellectual Property ordered domestic internet service providers to discontinue access for three years to 38 domain names offering pirated content. The committee set a 48-hour deadline from the time of the notification of the decision, threatening providers with a fine of 850 euros ($935) for each day of noncompliance.

There were no government restrictions on academic freedom or cultural events. On March 14, four members of an ultrarightist group stormed into a theater in Thessaloniki and briefly interrupted a theatrical performance because they thought “it offended the divine.” On March 3, media reported that a concert by the heavy-metal band “Rotting Christ” in a municipally owned venue in Patras was cancelled. Local authorities cited “technical problems” but the band leader alleged the performance was cancelled after pressure from the local church, which objected to the band’s name.

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

There were, however, some complaints that police dispersed and briefly arrested demonstrators outside heavily secured venues, citing concerns of peace and public order (see also section 1.d., Arbitrary Arrest or Detention). On January 23, police detained 20 protesters outside the Megaro Mousikis concert hall in Athens where the then prime minister was scheduled to deliver a speech. According to those detained, police did not provide an explanation for their actions.

On January 29, the International Hellenic Association (IHA) criticized the Ministry of Defense for retracting an offer to provide space inside the War Museum’s premises for an event entitled “Macedonia Is One and Greek.” The IHA suggested the government was using its authority to quash dissenting views on the Prespa Agreement, a treaty between Greece and North Macedonia, which resolved a long dispute over the name “Macedonia.”

Although the constitution and law provide for freedom of association, the government continued to place legal restrictions on the names of associations of nationals who self-identified as ethnic Macedonian or associations that included the term “Turkish” as indicative of a collective ethnic identity (see section 6, National/Racial/Ethnic Minorities). Such associations, despite the lack of legal recognition, continued to operate.

On September 13, a first-instance court in Serres, in northern Greece, decided to annul a decision by which it had granted official status to the local association Cyril and Methodius Brotherhood of Serres Locals. The annulment resulted from appeals by the Panhellenic Federation of Macedonian Cultural Associations and the local prosecutor. The Cyril and Methodius Brotherhood of Serres Locals had acquired official status through civil-court recognition in January 2018. Petitioners argued that the brotherhood’s articles of association, providing for the preservation and promotion of the “local” language and the attribution of respect to “local” heroes, were deceitful and against public order. According to prosecution witnesses, the brotherhood’s members purposely hid from the court its true goal of promoting locally the language and history of North Macedonia.

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.

In-country Movement: Undocumented migrants arriving at Greek islands were subjected to special border reception and registration procedures and were not allowed to leave registration centers for up to 25 days. After this period, undocumented migrants remaining in those facilities were generally allowed to enter and exit but were prohibited from travelling to the mainland unless they filed asylum applications deemed admissible by the asylum authorities or were identified as “vulnerable.” This group included unaccompanied minors; persons with disabilities; the elderly; pregnant women or those who recently gave birth; single parents with young children; victims of torture, shipwrecks, and other trauma; and victims of human trafficking. Once asylum applications were filed, found admissible, and in process, migrants could move to an accommodation center on the mainland, space permitting. There was no restriction on movement in or out of the mainland accommodation centers. As of September, however, no facilities were available on the mainland even though approximately 7,000 migrants had been deemed vulnerable. The government made efforts to increase placements in the mainland and decongest the island reception and registration facilities, but a steady flow of arrivals, which accelerated during the summer and fall, caused severe overcrowding.

Some local and international NGOs reiterated criticism of the government’s practice of confining asylum seekers to the islands for initial processing exceeding 25 days.

Unaccompanied minors were placed under “protective custody” due to lack of space in specialized shelters (see section 1, Prison and Detention Center Conditions, Physical Conditions).

Not applicable.

f. Protection of Refugees

During the year the flow of migrants and asylum seekers to the country from Africa, Asia, and the Middle East continued. As of December 16, UNHCR figures indicated 109,000 migrants and asylum seekers resided throughout the country.

On November 1, parliament amended the asylum legislation. The new rules are designed to speed up decision making on asylum applications and to increase the number of rejected applicants returned to Turkey or to their country of origin. The law, which will take effect on January 1, 2020, establishes extended periods of detention for asylum seekers; ties the treatment of asylum applications to the applicants’ cooperation (or lack thereof) with authorities; alters the appeals committees so they consist exclusively of judges, dropping a position held by a UNHCR designate; requires appeals to be filed and justified through court briefs instead of standardized documents; eliminates “post-traumatic stress disorder” as a factor that would make a refugee considered “vulnerable” and therefore ineligible to be returned to Turkey if their asylum application is denied; and codifies that rejected asylum applicants should immediately return to Turkey or their country of origin. UNHCR, as well as local and international NGOs, including the Greek National Commission for Human Rights, Human Rights Watch, the Greek Council for Refugees (GCR), the MSF, and many others, argued the law emphasized returns over protection and integration, put an excessive burden on asylum seekers, focused on punitive measures, and introduced tough requirements an asylum seeker could not reasonably be expected to fulfill.

Abuse of Migrants, Refugees, and Stateless Persons: According to a wide range of credible sources, including international organizations and NGOs, authorities did not always provide adequate security or physical protection to asylum seekers, particularly those residing in RICs. The RVRN recorded 51 incidents involving racially motivated verbal and physical violence against refugees and migrants in 2018 (Also see section 6, National/Racial/Ethnic Minorities.)

The separation and protection of vulnerable groups was not implemented at some sites. On February 9, the MSF reported that a 20-year-old male Yazidi refugee at the RIC in Fylakio, Evros, was living in a container with his visually impaired sister, his female cousin suffering from mental health problems, and three unrelated men. Media reported incidences of violence involving asylum seekers, including gender-based violence. On January 8, local and international media reported Oxfam’s findings that asylum-seeking and refugee women were wearing diapers at night for fear of leaving their tents to go to the bathroom. In its report for the rights of “children on the move” in Greece, issued on June 14, the ombudsman noted that children at the RIC in Lesvos were at risk of sexual abuse and exploitation, rape, and assault. The report stated many parents of children, especially single parents, were reluctant to queue for hours for food because they were afraid to expose their children to the risk of violence and sexual abuse. Cases of trading food in exchange for sex were also reported to the ombudsman. On April 11, PACE expressed serious concern regarding the humanitarian situation and the poor security of asylum seekers at RICs on the Greek islands as well as in centers on the mainland.

On January 23, a court in Thessaloniki sentenced a 50-year-old Iraqi man to 20 years’ imprisonment for raping his 16-year-old daughter at a reception facility in Serres.

Refugee and migrant women who were victims of gender-based violence were legally eligible for temporary shelter in government-run homes and for legal and psychosocial assistance, but few of them reported abuse. Some NGO representatives reiterated findings from previous years that even after reporting rapes to the authorities, some victims continued residing in the same camp with the perpetrators.

NGOs noted inadequate medical and psychological care for refugees and asylum seekers, especially in the six RICs, mainly attributed to the government’s inability to hire medical doctors willing to serve in such facilities. Even when the government significantly increased the salaries and reissued calls for recruitment, medical doctors expressed minimal interest.

On February 8, a Communist Party delegation visit to the reception facility in Katsikas, Epirus, noted the absence of medical care, especially for women, newborns, and children, according to media reports.

NGOs also noted inadequate psychological care for refugees and asylum seekers, especially in the six RICs. The MSF reported that 25 percent of the children they worked with in the Moria RIC on Lesvos Island from February to June had either self-harmed, attempted suicide, or had thought about committing suicide.

The government cooperated with UNHCR, the IOM, and other humanitarian organizations in providing protection and assistance to refugees, asylum seekers, and other persons of concern.

Refoulement: The government provided some protection against the expulsion or return of asylum seekers to countries in which their lives or freedom would be threatened due to race, religion, nationality, membership in a particular social group, or political opinion. On October 31, in a unanimous decision, the Supreme Court ruled that Iranian Sharareh Khademi should not be extradited to her country of origin as this would pose an “immediate risk to her life.” The court annulled the decision of a lower-level court that had ruled in favor of the extradition. Khademi and her daughter were victims of domestic violence by an abusive husband and father.

On June 19, the GCR announced it had filed a complaint with the Supreme Court that migrants and asylum seekers were being forced back across the border into Turkey from northeastern Evros in Greece. The GCR stated it had evidence backing the claims of several migrants and asylum seekers who said they were forced back. The GCR reported it had filed three lawsuits on behalf of six Turkish nationals, including a child, who claimed that local authorities had exercised violence to force them back into Turkey. Reportedly, one of the young women, forced back to Turkey, was arrested and taken to a Turkish prison. The GCR noted that despite the growing number of alleged pushbacks, there was no official government reaction.

On June 8, the group Racist Crimes Watch filed a complaint against Hellenic Police in Didimoticho, northern Greece, alleging local police staff beat with batons and fired plastic bullets at a 35-year-old Iraqi national and two Egyptian nationals, ages 18 and 26, prior to forcing them back to Turkey.

On May 5, media reported a letter addressed by the then minister for citizen protection Olga Gerovassili to the UNHCR representative in Greece in response to concerns about pushbacks in the Evros area by security officers. After an investigation, the then minister wrote that the alleged incidents were not proven true. She also noted the absence of any such reporting by Frontex officers who assist the Greek border police in their work. From January to April, police arrested 3,130 third-country nationals in the areas of Orestiada and Alexandroupolis.

Access to Asylum: The law provides for the granting of asylum or refugee status, and the government has established a system for providing legal protection to refugees through an autonomous asylum service under the authority of the Ministry of Migration Policy. Following the July 7 elections, the Ministry for Migration Policy was folded into the Ministry for Citizen Protection. The law requires that applicants have access to certified interpreters and allows applicants to appeal negative decisions and remain in the country while their appeals are examined.

Authorities worked with NGOs, international organizations, and the European Asylum Support Office to inform undocumented migrants awaiting registration in the asylum system, as well as non-EU foreign national detainees, about their rights, asylum procedures, and the IOM-assisted voluntary return programs. UNHCR assisted the government with briefings and distribution of multilingual leaflets and information packages on asylum and asylum procedures.

Human rights activists and NGOs working with asylum applicants reported long waits of up to two years for decisions due to time-consuming processes, pre-existing backlogs in the appeals process, and a limited number of appeals committees. Access to the asylum process for persons detained in predeparture centers was also a concern. In its annual report for 2018, the Greek ombudsman reported his office continued to receive complaints from asylum applicants about difficulties in scheduling an appointment and connecting with the Asylum Service system via Skype, especially in Athens and in Thessaloniki. On May 6, local media reported the Greek Asylum Service had a backlog of more than 62,000 cases while an estimated 5,500 new applications were submitted yearly by new entrants.

According to the Asylum Information Database report for 2018, published by GCR on April 21, the average period between preregistration and full registration was 42 days in 2018. The average processing time at first instance was reported at approximately 8.5 months in 2018. Approximately 80 percent of the 58,793 applicants with pending applications at the end of 2018 had not had an interview with the asylum service.

Major delays frequently occurred in the identification of vulnerable persons on the islands, due to a significant lack of qualified staff, which also impacted the asylum procedure.

Asylum applicants from countries other than Syria complained that their asylum applications were delayed while Syrian applications were prioritized. NGOs, international organizations, and human rights activists also reiterated concerns about the lack of adequate staff and facilities; insufficient welfare, integration, counseling, legal, and interpretation services; discrimination; and detention under often inadequate and overcrowded conditions inside the RICs.

Safe Country of Origin/Transit: The country adheres to the Dublin III Regulation, according to which authorities may return asylum seekers to the EU member state of first entry for adjudication of asylum claims.

According to the 2016 joint EU-Turkey statement, every undocumented migrant crossing from Turkey into the Greek islands would be confined to a RIC for up to 25 days, during which time the individual would have the opportunity to apply for asylum in Greece. Individuals opting not to apply for asylum or whose applications were deemed unfounded or inadmissible would be returned to Turkey (see also section 2.d., Freedom of Movement).

Employment: Recognized refugees and holders of asylum-seeker papers were entitled to work, although this right was not widely publicized or consistently enforced. In 2018 the managing board of the Greek Manpower Organization extended the right to register for official unemployment to asylum seekers and refugees residing in shelters or with no permanent address, allowing them to benefit from training programs and state allowances.

Access to Basic Services: Legally, services such as shelter, health care, education, and judicial procedures are granted to asylum seekers in possession of a valid residency permit; however, staffing gaps, a lack of interpreters, and overcrowded reception sites limited certain asylum seekers’ access to these services. On July 13, the minister for labor and social affairs revoked a June 20 ministerial decree signed by his predecessor that simplified the process for asylum seekers to be granted a social security number (AMKA). The minister argued that the system of granting AMKAs would be re-examined, as it was abused by foreign nationals who should not have received a number. Several NGOs reported problems in securing access for asylum-seeking individuals to basic services, including treatment for chronic diseases. Legal assistance was limited and was offered via NGOs, international organizations, volunteer lawyers, and bar associations.

RICs on islands and in the Evros region continued to be overcrowded, with inadequate shelter, health care, wash facilities, and sewer connections creating security and health concerns. Housing conditions at reception facilities elsewhere on the mainland were generally better, although at times overcrowding hindered access to services. Due to a lack of space, the government in September opened temporary camps on the mainland, providing six-person tents to hundreds of migrants.

Unaccompanied minors living in “protective custody” in police stations had limited or no access to health care or medical services. As of November 30, according to the country’s National Center for Social Solidarity (EKKA), there were 257 unaccompanied children in protective custody (see section 1.c., Prison and Detention Center Conditions, Physical Conditions).

Many vulnerable asylum-seeking individuals were eligible to be sheltered in apartments via a housing framework implemented by UNHCR in cooperation with some NGOs and local municipalities. Conditions in the apartments were significantly better than in reception facilities.

Administrative and facility management staff in reception centers were usually permanent state employees, eight-month government-contracted personnel, and staff contracted by NGOs and international organizations. Media reported cases, especially on the islands, in which assigned staff were inadequate or improperly trained. On June 6, media reported that 40 employees from the Asylum Service offices in Attica, Korinthos and Patras attended a training seminar on statelessness, the Dublin Treaty, and gender-based violence to handle asylum cases more efficiently.

Everyone in the country is entitled to emergency medical care, regardless of legal status. Medical volunteers, NGO-contracted doctors, the Hellenic Center for Disease Control and Prevention, and army medical doctors provided basic health care in reception centers, referring emergencies and complex cases to local hospitals, which were often overburdened and understaffed. Some individuals suffering from chronic diseases continued to encounter problems obtaining proper medication. Pregnant women in Evros reception and detention facilities continued facing problems in accessing proper medical and prenatal care.

The government failed to identify asylum seekers with nonvisible vulnerabilities, such as victims of torture and trafficking victims, due to gaps and shortages in skilled staff, including medical doctors, at the RICs, several NGOs reported. On January 1, the government officially launched a multidisciplinary national referral mechanism (NRM), which included appropriate standard operating procedures and referral forms. The NRM required first responders to inform and coordinate with the EKKA, when potential victims were identified for care and placement.

Durable Solutions: Refugees may apply for naturalization after three years of residence in the country as a recognized refugee. The government continued to process family reunification applications for asylum seekers with relatives in other countries. The IOM offered voluntary returns to rejected asylum seekers and those who renounced their asylum claims.

Temporary Protection: As of September 30, the government provided temporary protection to approximately 2,578 individuals who may not qualify as refugees.

Not applicable.

Section 4. Corruption and Lack of Transparency in Government

The law provides criminal penalties for corruption by officials, but the government did not always implement the law effectively. Officials sometimes engaged in corrupt practices with impunity. Permanent and ad hoc government entities charged with combating corruption were understaffed and underfinanced. On July 17, law enforcement authorities arrested six medical doctors, three nurses, and an interpreter working at the hospital on Samos Island who allegedly sold bogus medical certificates to asylum seekers to facilitate their transfer to the mainland on health grounds. Hospital authorities noticed that many of the certificates issued were identical and referred to cases and conditions that were not usually dealt with at the hospital.

On August 7, parliament passed legislation establishing a unified transparency authority by transferring the powers and responsibilities of public administration inspection services to an independent authority.

Corruption: Reports of official corruption continued. On January 16, a criminal court in Athens found 20 former government officials, private businessmen, and shipyard officials guilty of bribery and money laundering over a contract for the construction of four submarines by a foreign company at the Skaramangas shipyards. Among those convicted were a former defense ministry official and a French-Swiss banker. The court imposed suspended jail sentences ranging from five to 20 years for all but one defendant.

The government intensified efforts to combat tax evasion by increasing inspections and crosschecks among various authorities and by engaging in more sophisticated types of verifications of undeclared income, such as the use of surveillance drones over popular islands to make sure tour boat operators provide receipts to visitors. Furthermore, monthly lotteries offer taxpayers rewards of 1,000 euros ($1,100) for using payment cards in their daily transactions. Media reported allegations of tax officials complicit in individual and corporate tax evasion.

Financial Disclosure: The law requires income and asset disclosure by appointed and elected officials, including private-sector employees such as journalists, and heads of government-funded NGOs. Several agencies are mandated to monitor and verify disclosures, including the General Inspectorate for Public Administration, the police internal affairs bureau, the Piraeus appeals prosecutor, and an independent permanent parliamentary committee. Declarations were made publicly available, albeit with delays. The law provides for administrative and criminal sanctions for noncompliance. Penalties range from two to 10 years’ imprisonment and fines from 10,000 to one million euros ($11,000 to $1.1 million).

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

A variety of domestic and international human rights groups generally operated without government restriction, investigating and publishing their findings on human rights cases, with the exception of restricted access to reception and detention facilities for migrants on the islands and–in certain circumstances–to official camps on the mainland. Government officials were often cooperative and responsive to their views.

Government Human Rights Bodies: The Office of the Ombudsman, a state body considered independent and effective, investigated complaints of human rights abuses by individuals. Five deputy ombudsmen dealt with human rights, children’s rights, citizen-state relations, health and social welfare, and quality of life problems, respectively. The office received adequate resources to perform its functions. In its 2018 annual report, the office reported it received 15,644 complaints, of which 72 percent were satisfactorily resolved.

The autonomous, state-funded National Commission for Human Rights (NCHR) advised the government on protection of human rights. The NCHR was considered independent, effective, and adequately resourced. On April 4, the head of the NCHR, Giorgos Stavropoulos, resigned in protest after the government added five members from the LGBTI community and two from the Romani community to the 25-member NCHR board. Stavropoulos asserted that the increase violated “the principle of equality,” as other member organizations had only one vote.

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

Rape and Domestic Violence: Under a law that took effect July 1, rape, including spousal rape, is a crime punishable by 10 years to life imprisonment in cases with multiple perpetrators or if the rape results in the victim’s death. The previous limit was five to 20 years. Attempted sexual intercourse without consent is punishable by up to 10 years in prison. Charges may be pressed ex officio, without the need of a complaint. If the victim does not wish to seek prosecution, the prosecutor may decide to drop charges. The law applies equally to all survivors, regardless of gender. On January 7, media reported research showing that only 200 of an estimated average of 4,500 rape incidents per year were officially reported (approximately one out of 22).

Penalties for domestic violence under the new penal code range from one to three years’ imprisonment, depending on the severity of the violence. The previous range was two to 10 years. The court may impose longer prison sentences for crimes against pregnant or minor victims. Authorities generally enforced the law effectively when the violence was reported; however, some NGOs and international organizations criticized law enforcement in migrant sites for not responding appropriately to victims reporting domestic violence. Experts estimated only 10 percent of rape and domestic violence cases reach the courtroom, noting that despite an adequate legislative framework, judges’ personal biases and social norms that blame the victim were major obstacles. In the first half of the year, police reported identifying the perpetrators in 69 cases of rape and attempted rape. As of June, police had recorded 94 reported rape incidents, 67 of which were attempted rapes.

The government and NGOs made medical, psychological, social, and legal support available to rape survivors. On March 26, the government passed legislation “on the promotion of substantial gender equality and countering gender-based violence.” The law aimed to promote gender equality in politics and businesses and to standardize the services provided in government shelters to victims of gender-based violence, including foreign national women with no legal status.

Female Genital Mutilation/Cutting (FGM/C): The law requires mandatory prison sentences for persons who coerce or force female individuals to undergo genital mutilation.

Despite reports that migrant and refugee women residing in the country underwent FGM/C prior to their arrival in Greece, there was no concrete evidence FGM/C was practiced in the country. On February 2, the European Institute for Gender Equality issued a study estimating that 25 to 42 percent of migrant and refugee girls living in the country but originating from states in which FGM/C is practiced were at risk of FGM/C.

Sexual Harassment: Under the new penal code, penalties may be as high as three years in prison for sexual harassment, with longer terms applied to perpetrators who take advantage of their position of authority or the victim’s need for employment. The previous penalty ranged from two months to five years. In his 2018 annual report, the ombudsman reported his office received 262 complaints pertinent to gender equality matters without specifying how many were related to sexual harassment. In reports from previous years, the ombudsman had noted the absence of a policy against sexual harassment in most private and public workplaces, emphasizing that employers were often ignorant of their legal obligations when employees filed sexual harassment complaints.

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

Discrimination: The constitution provides for the same legal status between women and men. The government effectively enforced the laws promoting gender equality, although discrimination occurred, especially in the private business sector. Muslim minority members in Thrace can request the use of sharia with notarized consent of both parties (see also section 6, National/Racial/Ethnic Minorities).

On January 29, parliament passed legislation establishing in each university an unpaid committee entrusted with the promotion of gender equality. The law assigned academic senates to decide on the formation of such committees, to consist of nine members, including a student representative.

Legislation passed in March established a “National Council on Gender Equality” and created a certification for companies that comply with maternity leave laws, provide equal pay for male and female employees, and demonstrate gender equality in managerial posts. According to data issued by the Secretariat for Gender Equality on March 18, between October and December 2018, 44 percent of women were employed, compared with 60 percent of men.

In 2018 the government announced that to avoid gender bias in hiring decisions it would no longer reveal the gender of unemployed individuals it recommended for job vacancies. The government also decided to allow female victims of domestic violence residing in special shelters or lacking a permanent residence to register for unemployment benefits, including training programs and state allowances.

Birth Registration: Citizenship is derived from one’s parents at birth; a single parent may confer citizenship on a child. Parents are obliged to register their children within 10 days of birth. The law allows belated birth registration but imposes a fine in such cases.

Child Abuse: Violence against children, particularly migrant, refugee, street, and Romani children, remained a problem. The NGO Smile of the Child reported 321 serious cases of abuse related to 623 children through its helpline SOS 1056 from January 1 to June 30. Of those children, 38 percent were younger than age six. The law prohibits corporal punishment and the mistreatment of children, but government enforcement was generally ineffective. Welfare laws provide for treatment and prevention programs for abused and neglected children in addition to foster care or accommodation in shelters. Government-run institutions were understaffed, however, and NGOs reported insufficient space, including for unaccompanied minors who by law are entitled to special protection and should be housed in special shelters.

In 2018 the government enacted legislation allowing foster care and adoption procedures to be completed in less than a year, making them a viable option for children in urgent need of protection. On February 7, parliament passed legislation giving an additional three months of paid leave to foster parents and parents with adopted children up to age six. Parents of children born to surrogate mothers are also entitled to three months of paid leave after the child’s birth.

Early and Forced Marriage: The legal age for marriage is 18, although minors ages 16 and 17 may marry with authorization from a prosecutor. While official statistics were unavailable, NGOs reported illegal child marriage was common in Romani communities, with Romani girls often marrying between the ages of 15 and 17, or even younger, and male Roma marrying between the ages of 15 and 20. The Hellenic Statistical Authority recorded the marriage of seven girls younger than age 15 in 2018. Throughout that year, the authority recorded weddings for 186 boys and 753 girls aged 15-19.

Sexual Exploitation of Children: The legal age of consent is 15. The law criminalizes sex with children younger than age 15. The law prohibits the commercial sexual exploitation of children and child pornography and imposes penalties if the crime was committed using technology in the country. Authorities generally enforced the law.

Displaced Children: According to EKKA data, approximately 4,962 refugee and migrant unaccompanied and separated children resided in the country as of October 31. Only 1,760 of these children resided in age-appropriate facilities. Local and international NGOs attested that unaccompanied minors were not always properly registered, at times lacked safe accommodations or legal guardians, and were vulnerable to labor and sexual exploitation, including survival sex. On June 14, the ombudsman issued a report about children on the move in the country, noting discrepancies in the administrative treatment of unaccompanied minors depending on where they entered the country, the agency that identified them, and their nationality.

In 2018 parliament passed legislation requiring a “legal guardian” for the daily care of each unaccompanied minor. The legislation allows older unaccompanied minors to reside in semiautonomous living units, established a special body entrusted with the protection of minors and the monitoring of guardianship in each prosecution office, created a special directorate in the national government for the protection of unaccompanied minors, established a registry of certified guardians who meet certain criteria, established a registry of unaccompanied minors, and created a registry of shelters and facilities for unaccompanied minors.

Institutionalized Children: Activists condemned the use of protective custody for unaccompanied minors for prolonged periods, often in unsanitary, overcrowded conditions resulting from a lack of space in specialized shelters (see section 1, Prison and Detention Center Conditions, Physical Conditions).

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 Annual Report on International Parental Abduction at https://travel.state.gov/content/travel/en/International-Parental-Child-Abduction/for-providers/legal-reports-and-data/reported-cases.html.

Local Jewish leaders estimated the Jewish community in the country consisted of approximately 5,000 individuals. Anti-Semitic rhetoric remained a problem, particularly in the extremist press, social networking sites, and certain blogs. A Eurobarometer survey, conducted in December 2018, found that local citizens did not regard anti-Semitism as a major problem, despite a recent spate of attacks. Vandalism of Holocaust monuments and memorials continued in the city of Thessaloniki. On January 25, unknown perpetrators vandalized a monument marking the site of the former Jewish cemetery at Aristotle University campus in Thessaloniki. On January 28, Archbishop Ieronymos of the Greek Orthodox Church publicly denounced the attack, describing “the desecration and vandalism of synagogues, Jewish cemeteries and Holocaust memorials” as “hideous acts that brutally offend our history, culture, nation, and faith.” On April 10, perpetrators vandalized two memorial metal plaques at the Thessaloniki port area dedicated to persons who perished during the Holocaust.

The Central Board of Jewish Communities (KIS) continued to express concern about anti-Semitic comments by some journalists in the mainstream media and by some religious leaders, including Greek Orthodox Church clerics. On May 13, the KIS reiterated concern about political cartoons and images in the mainstream media where political controversies were mocked with the use of Jewish sacred symbols and comparisons to the Holocaust. The KIS issued the statement about a commentary on social media by journalist Kostas Vaxevanis, criticizing statements by the then main opposition leader. Vaxevanis, arguing that the former leader supported a seven-day work week, illustrated his commentary with a sketch of the entrance to the Auschwitz concentration camp where the phrase Arbeit macht frei (work sets you free) was paraphrased as “12 hours of labor liberates.” The KIS explained that the use of that sign for journalistic commentaries was unacceptable because it trivialized a symbol of horror and of Nazi barbarism.

On April 18, a misdemeanor appeals court in Thessaloniki sentenced a 62-year-old medical doctor to a suspended 14-month jail term for putting up an anti-Semitic sign in 2014 at his municipal practice which read, “Jews Are Not Welcome Here,” in German.

On May 3, a large Greek delegation, including Nikos Voutsis, the then parliamentary speaker, David Saltiel, president of Jewish Communities of Greece; and other members of parliament, participated in the 31st annual March of the Living at the Auschwitz concentration camp in Poland. Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew I also marched. The march highlighted the history of Greek Jews during the Holocaust, with the parliament speaker marking the occasion by presenting artifacts to the newly established permanent Greek exhibit in the Auschwitz museum. The latter was funded by parliament and organized through cooperation with the Jewish Museum of Greece.

On February 12, in a statement, the KIS hailed the adoption of the working definition of anti-Semitism in accordance with the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance by the General Secretariat for Religious Affairs of the Ministry of Education.

On July 13, Minister for Agricultural Development and Food Makis Voridis defended himself against accusations that he had expressed anti-Semitic views in the past. Voridis denounced “any intolerance on his part” that might be interpreted as anti-Semitic or neo-Nazi. On July 16, the KIS issued a statement that “it takes into consideration and values the explanations” provided by the minister and hoped to see him undertake initiatives to demonstrate his sincerity and fight intolerance and anti-Semitism.

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

The law prohibits discrimination against persons with physical, sensory, intellectual, and mental disabilities in employment, education, access to health care, information, communications, buildings, transportation, the judicial system, and other state services such as special education. NGOs and organizations for disability rights reported government enforcement of these provisions was inconsistent. In a February 11 report, local NGO Greek Helsinki Monitor (GHM) noted that penalties for parking in places designated for persons with disabilities, including ramps and pathways for the blind, were only administrative, treated as plain parking offenses.

Most children with disabilities had the option of attending mainstream or specialized schools, unless they could not function in a mainstream classroom. According to the General Confederation of Greek Workers (GSEE), the dropout rate for students with disabilities was 30 percent; approximately 59 percent of students with disabilities were able to finish middle school. The main obstacles were shortages in transportation and a lack of infrastructure such as ramps, as well as audiovisual aids, staff, and regular funding. Despite progress in establishing new special-education school units and classes to help students with disabilities integrate in primary and secondary education, the ombudsman noted that integrating children with special needs into mainstream classrooms remained a problem.

Persons with disabilities continued to have poor access to public buildings, transportation, and public areas, even though such access is required by law. Access to buildings, ramps for sidewalks, and public transportation vehicles were the biggest concerns. Even ramps in the street were often too steep or rough to use, and ramps for public transportation were often out of order.

Experts also noted that while the Athens metro and the main airports were generally accessible, trains and most ships, including ferries, remained inaccessible or partially accessible. The GHM reported that most court buildings, including the Athens First Instance Court, lacked accessibility for citizens, lawyers, and judges with disabilities.

A September 2018 memorandum cosigned by then minister for shipping and island policy and the National Association of Greeks with Paraplegia provides that shipping companies should make their vessels accessible and safe for persons with motor impairment by May 1. The decision obliged nautical transportation companies to install proper elevators and lifting devices, to designate specific disabled parking spaces and areas where wheelchairs could be secured, and to train their personnel to assist persons with disabilities onboard the vessels. While the law allows service animals to accompany blind individuals in all mass transit and eating establishments, blind activists maintained they occasionally faced difficulties accessing public transportation, places, and services.

The ombudsman reported that 14 percent of the complaints his office received were related to disability and chronic disease issues.

The GHM also reported instances of persons with disabilities not being able to vote in the local and European Parliament elections on May 25 and June 2. Domestic law obliges polling station committees (PSC) chairpersons to provide assistance by entering the voting booth or taking election materials outside the polling station if the person cannot enter. The GHM alleged that at times PSC chairs voted for their own preferred candidates.

The GHM noted a lack of homebound voting, effectively disenfranchising voters who cannot travel to polling stations. Inadequate physical infrastructure in public buildings used for voting, in most cases state schools, was one of the main obstacles for persons with disabilities.

On May 29, the government passed legislation lifting significant obstacles to the granting of Greek citizenship for persons with disabilities, which includes provisions for persons with intellectual disabilities or psychiatric illness. In general, the law on citizenship requires an interview with the applicant and several years of Greek schooling. The new legislation enables persons with disabilities, born or raised in the country by lawfully residing foreign nationals, to claim nationality. Under the previous law, persons who were unable to attend a Greek school could not file a petition for citizenship. Adult foreign nationals with certified mental or physical disabilities previously could not take and pass the Greek language knowledge and naturalization test.

According to government statistics, individuals with disabilities and chronic ailments represented 15 percent of all permanent hires in the public sector.

While the constitution and law prohibit discrimination against members of minorities, Roma and members of other minority groups continued to face discrimination.

Although the government recognized an individual’s right to self-identification, many individuals who defined themselves as members of a minority group found it difficult to express their identity freely and to maintain their culture. Citizens identified themselves as Turks, Pomaks, Vlachs, Roma, Arvanites, or Macedonians. Some unsuccessfully sought official government identification as ethnic or linguistic minorities. Courts routinely rejected registration claims filed by associations in Thrace with titles including the terms Turk and Turkish when based on ethnic grounds, although individuals may legally call themselves Turks, and associations using those terms were able to function regularly without legal status (see also section 2.b., Freedom of Association). Government officials and courts denied requests by Slavic groups to use the term Macedonian to identify themselves on the grounds that more than two million ethnically (and linguistically) Greek citizens also used the term Macedonian for self-identification.

The government officially recognizes a Muslim minority, as defined by the 1923 Treaty of Lausanne, which consists of persons descended from Muslims residing in Thrace at the time of the treaty’s signature. They include ethnic Turkish, Pomak, and Romani communities. Some Pomaks and Roma claimed that ethnically Turkish members of the Muslim minority provided monetary incentives to encourage them to say they were ethnically Turkish.

During the 2018-19 school year, the government operated 128 primary schools and two secondary schools in the Thrace region that provided secondary bilingual education for minority children in Greek and Turkish. The government also operated two Islamic religious schools in Thrace. Some representatives of the Muslim minority said the facilities were inadequate to cover their needs, claiming the government ignored their request to privately establish an additional minority secondary school. The same representatives noted a decreasing trend in the number of primary minority schools, which the government attributed to the decreasing number of students. Per the law, any facility with less than five students must temporarily suspend operations, with students referred to neighboring schools. For the 2019-20 school year, authorities announced that of the 20 schools that suspended operation in the region of Eastern Macedonia and Thrace, five were minority schools.

Roma continued to face widespread governmental and societal discrimination, social exclusion, and harassment, including ethnic profiling by police, alleged abuse while in police custody, discrimination in employment, limited access to education, and segregated schooling.

Poor school attendance, illiteracy, and high dropout rates among Romani children remained problems. Authorities did not enforce the mandatory education law for Romani children, and local officials often excluded Romani pupils from schools or sent them to Roma-only segregated schools. In his 2018 annual report, the Greek ombudsman noted that even when Romani children were enrolled in schools, authorities often failed to provide transportation.

On March 26, parliament passed legislation allowing the granting of Greek citizenship to stateless Roma born in the country but whose parents lacked official registration.

On April 17, media reported that the then alternate minister for social solidarity approved the relocation of 31 Romani families in Farsala, central Greece, to a new municipally owned site. On the same day, the municipality in Chalandri, northeast of Athens, reportedly hired two Romani cultural mediators to facilitate access for local Roma to social welfare services as well as the enrollment of adults into “second chance” schools.

Local media and NGOs reported race- and hate-motivated attacks on migrants by far-right groups, including alleged supporters of Golden Dawn. Golden Dawn members of parliament publicly expressed anti-immigrant, anti-Muslim, anti-Semitic, and homophobic views. The trial of 69 members, including 18 current and former members of parliament, continued. They were charged with weapons crimes and operating a criminal enterprise.

On April 20, a court on Chios Island sentenced a 79-year-old man from a local village to 13 years’ imprisonment for shooting and injuring a 15-year-old Syrian refugee with a hunting rifle in July 2018.

The law prohibits discrimination against LGBTI persons in housing, employment, and government services such as education and health care. The government enforced antidiscrimination laws, which include sexual orientation and gender identity, as aggravating circumstances in hate crimes. Offices combatting race crimes and hate crimes include in their mandates crimes targeting LGBTI individuals because of their sexual orientation or gender identity.

Violence against LGBTI individuals remained a problem. Societal discrimination and harassment of LGBTI persons were widespread despite advances in the legal framework protecting such individuals. LGBTI refugees and migrants reported incidents of rape, physical violence, and discrimination perpetrated by other refugees and migrants, and reported that authorities and NGOs did not adequately investigate these crimes. LGBTI activists alleged that authorities were not always motivated to investigate incidents of violence against LGBTI individuals and that victims were hesitant to report such incidents to the authorities due to a lack of trust.

In 2018 the RVRN recorded 18 attacks based on sexual orientation and 11 based on gender identity. In one incident the perpetrator was a law enforcement official who targeted a Greek transgender woman. Among the recorded assaults on grounds of sexual orientation, one incident of rape was reported. Six of the incidents resulted in injuries and were combined with verbal attacks and threats. In one of those cases, the victim was a minor male. Of the 11 incidents recorded on grounds of gender identity, three involved physical violence combined with threats and verbal assault. According to information communicated to the RVRN for the calendar year 2018, Hellenic Police recorded 226 incidents potentially involving racist motives, 40 of which were related to sexual orientation and gender identity.

On July 29, the Newspaper of the Journalists reported on the case of a male couple from Switzerland who, on their exit from a gay bar on the island of Mykonos, were kicked and punched by eight unknown male perpetrators. The victims said no one helped them, although there were witnesses.

On January 28, a first-instance court issued a guilty verdict against Metropolitan of Kalavryta and Aegialia Amvrosios for public calls to violence, hate speech, and abuse of his position in the church. The decision overturned a previous court’s decision to acquit Amvrosios. The court sentenced him to a seven-month suspended prison sentence and a fine of 10,000 euros ($11,000).

On February 27, the Supreme Court prosecutor ordered a probe into the attempted eviction by the same metropolitan of an elderly man from a church-run retirement home for allegedly being gay.

Unmarried transgender individuals older than age 15 may update identity documents to reflect their gender identity without undergoing sex reassignment surgery. The law requires that a judge validate the change based on the individual’s external appearance. In 2018 the NGO Transgender Support Association (SYD) issued a press statement saying that judicial officials often failed to properly apply this law. The SYD alleged that judges did not always secure the necessary privacy for the hearing and often used derogatory language and employed an intimidating stance toward transgender individuals and their lawyers. On February 19, media reported that a civil court on Lesvos Island allowed a Bangladeshi transgender refugee woman to change all her identification documents to match her appearance.

At the start of the seventh annual LGBTI Pride parade in Thessaloniki, two gay men were pushed into the sea. Six days later, media reported police had launched an investigation into the incident. Twenty-two locally based Christian associations announced that they would boycott businesses sponsoring the Thessaloniki Pride event.

While the law prohibits discrimination with respect to employment of HIV-positive individuals, societal discrimination against persons with HIV/AIDS remained a problem. Persons with HIV/AIDS were exempt from serving in the armed forces on medical grounds. A presidential decree authorizes the dismissal of professional military staff members if a member diagnosed with AIDS does not respond to treatment, but there were no reports of military staff dismissals under this provision.

On March 11, unknown arsonists attacked the premises of the NGO Positive Voice, which hosted a facility that conducted HIV tests for free. The perpetrators also removed the rainbow flag from the facade.

On April 13, media reported the Labor Inspectorate fined a private company that refused to accept the services of an HIV-positive employee who returned to work after long-term sick leave. The case reached the ombudsman’s office, which found the company violated the antidiscrimination law and recommended a fine. The company tried unsuccessfully to prove it was unaware of the employee’s health problem, while citing his professional inefficiency as the reason for the dismissal. During mediation talks with the Labor Inspectorate, the employer offered the employee the option to return at work but with less favorable terms, which he refused.

Hungary

Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:

The constitution provides for freedom of expression, including for members of the press, and the media were active and expressed a wide range of views. There were some formal restrictions on content related to “hate speech.” At the end of 2018, allies of the ruling Fidesz party consolidated what experts estimated to be between 80 and 90 percent of all media outlets into the hands of the nonprofit Central European Press and Media Foundation (KESMA), established and managed by Fidesz allies.

Freedom of Expression: Criminal law provides that any person who publicly incites hatred against any national, ethnic, racial, religious, or certain other designated groups of the population may be prosecuted and convicted of a felony punishable by imprisonment for up to three years. The constitution includes hate speech provisions to “protect the dignity of the Hungarian nation or of any national, ethnic, racial, or religious community.” The law prohibits the public denial of, expression of doubt about, or minimization of the Holocaust, genocide, and other crimes of the National Socialist (Nazi) and communist regimes; such crimes are punishable by up to three years in prison. The law also prohibits as a misdemeanor the wearing, exhibiting, or promoting of the swastika, the logo of the Nazi SS, the symbols of the Arrow Cross, the hammer and sickle, or the five-pointed red star in a way that harms human dignity or the memory of the victims of dictatorships. Judicial remedies exist for damage to individuals and communities that results from hate speech. The media law, which was amended in June and entered into force on August 1, also prohibits media content intended to incite hatred or violence against specific minority or majority communities and their members. The new law includes the provision that media content must not have the potential to instigate an act of terrorism.

A law approved in July 2018 imposes a 25 percent tax on civil entities that aid or promote illegal immigration, including groups that support media campaigns deemed to aid or promote immigration. Several NGOs sharply criticized the law, noting that it penalizes the public expression of opinions different from that of the government (see also section 5). At year’s end no entity had paid any tax under the law, and no known Tax Office investigation or audit had been conducted to that effect.

In December 2018 the ECHR unanimously ruled in favor of the publisher of a large domestic independent news site in a 2013 case. The site had previously been found guilty of disseminating defamatory information by including a hyperlink to a YouTube video that featured inaccurate allegations against the Jobbik party. While the Supreme Court found that the website was at fault, the ECHR stated “…objective liability for using a hyperlink could undermine the flow of information on the Internet, dissuading article authors and publishers from using such links if they could not control the information they led to. That could have a chilling effect on freedom of expression on the Internet.”

Press and Media, Including Online Media: Independent media were active and expressed a wide variety of views without formal restriction. Media consolidation resulted in further expansion of government-friendly enterprises and reduction in other media voices, primarily in print and broadcast media. Mertek Media Monitor and other independent organizations estimated that KESMA controlled between 80 and 90 percent of the country’s media outlets. An August 2018 report by the Center for Media Pluralism and Media Freedom and commissioned by the European Commission concluded that KESMA “poses a risk to the diversity of the Hungarian press, as one type of editorial position characterizes a large number of outlets.” The reports also found that some progovernment outlets relied almost completely on government advertising for their revenues. According to Freedom House, the government “…avoids censorship, force, or outright intimidation of journalists, and instead… resorts to tools designed to co-opt the media.” These tools include “legal, extralegal, and economic strategies for applying pressure to critical outlets, and supporting friendly ones.”

The new media law that entered into force on August 1 allows individual broadcasters to operate an unlimited number of radio stations in the same city. The law provides that radio frequencies will be awarded for 10 instead of seven years and that licenses be extendable without a bid for an additional seven years, as opposed to the earlier five. According to independent analysts, these changes further consolidate media, benefiting progovernment outlets and hindering media independence. Independent and opposition media were often excluded from government-organized events and press conferences.

The National Media and Info-Communications Authority (NMHH), subordinate to parliament, is the central state administrative body for regulating the media. The authority of the NMHH includes overseeing the operation of broadcast and media markets as well as “contributing to the execution of the government’s policy in the areas of frequency management and telecommunications.” The NMHH president serves as the chair of the five-member Media Council, the decision-making body of the NMHH that supervises broadcast, cable, online, and print media content and spectrum management. The NMHH consists exclusively of persons named by the governing parties.

The state news agency, MTI, which offers its services free of charge, is mandated by law to provide balanced, objective, nonpartisan coverage. Media watchdogs and independent outlets criticized the state media for concealing facts and opinions unfavorable to the government. Opposition politicians complained that they rarely were able to appear on state-run broadcasts and noted that state media outlets underreported large antigovernment protests that took place in Budapest in December 2018.

Violence and Harassment: There were no reports of violence against journalists or of physical or legal harassment. Nevertheless, government officials and government-aligned media continued to refer to some independent journalists or media as the “Soros media” or “foreign agents.” At the end of November 2018, an investigative reporter for an independent news website was admonished in a summary procedure before a district court in Budapest for alleged abuse of personally identifiable information for using publicly available information in an article on a person who criticized Sweden’s migration policy. The reporter demanded a full trial. On September 4, another court notified the reporter of its nonbinding resolution exonerating him, since the person in question was a public figure who must tolerate in-depth scrutiny in the public interest.

Censorship or Content Restrictions: The law provides content regulations and standards for journalistic rights, ethics, and norms that are applicable to all media, including news portals and online publications. It prohibits inciting hatred against nations; communities; ethnic, linguistic, or other minorities; majority groups; and churches or religious groups. It provides for maintaining the confidentiality of sources with respect to procedures conducted by courts or authorities.

The law mandates that every media service provider that delivers news to the public must report in a balanced manner, and that public service media providers should pursue balanced, accurate, detailed, objective, and responsible news and information services. These requirements were widely disregarded, including by the public media. A former reporter at the M1 public news station stated in an August interview that public broadcaster reporters were informally instructed by their superiors to interview only government-friendly public figures and to portray the political opposition as ridiculous.

The Media Council may impose fines for violations of content regulations, including on media services that violate prohibitions on inciting hatred or violating human dignity or regulations governing the protection of minors. The Council may impose fines of up to 200 million forints ($666,000), depending on the nature of the infringement, type of media service, and audience size. It may also suspend the right to broadcast for up to one week. Defendants may appeal Media Council decisions but must appeal separately to prevent the implementation of fines while the parties litigate the substantive appeal.

As of September 1, the Media Council had issued 101 resolutions concerning various alleged violations of the media law, imposing fines totaling nearly 28.4 million forints ($94,600) on 68 media service providers. The most common citations were for unlawful advertising methods, breaching broadcasting regulations, and violating the dignity of a person or group. In a prominent case, the Media Council concluded in July that a government-friendly commercial television station had violated the obligation to provide balanced reporting in a segment shown in September 2018. The Media Council made that decision only after being compelled to do so by two binding court rulings and imposed no fine. Instead, the station was instructed either to make the Media Council resolution public or allow the plaintiff, an opposition member of the European Parliament, to present his views in the same program.

Libel/Slander Laws: Journalists reporting on an event may be judged criminally responsible for making or reporting false statements. Both individuals and media outlets may be sued for libel for their published statements or for publicizing libelous statements made by others. Plaintiffs may litigate in both civil and criminal courts.

Public officials and other public figures continued to use libel and defamation laws in response to criticism from citizens and journalists. Courts tended to pass verdicts that protected private individuals from libel or slander by government-affiliated media and their reporters. In a milestone ruling in July, the Constitutional Court rejected the complaint of a high-profile informal advisor to the prime minister, who had sued an independent news website for publishing compromising photographs taken during his vacation, which he alleged violated his privacy rights. The Constitutional Court ruled that the advisor was a public figure and declared that “without the freedom and diversity of public debate there is no free public opinion and there is no rule of law.” In another prominent case, the Supreme Court ruled in January that a pundit working for a government-affiliated outlet had to apologize and pay 300,000 forints ($1,000) in compensation to an opposition politician for calling him a degrading name in public.

The government did not restrict or disrupt access to the Internet and generally did not censor online content. There were no substantiated reports that the government monitored private online communications without appropriate legal authority.

In cooperation with Internet service providers, the NMHH maintained a nonpublic database to block websites that violate the law, including content-related legislation. The system also blocked websites suspected of violating such laws, based on preliminary court rulings.

A 2017 amendment to the higher education law regarding the operation of foreign universities introduces a provision requiring universities from non-EU countries operating in the country to have a physical presence in their country of origin, operate under an intergovernmental agreement between Hungary and the other country of accreditation, and ensure that the university’s name in Hungarian reflects an exact translation of the name in the country of origin. Three U.S.-accredited universities active in the country were found to violate the new requirements: Central European University (CEU), McDaniel College, and Boston University. Boston University decided to leave based on the new requirements.

In 2017 the Venice Commission issued a legal opinion that called on the government to exempt foreign universities already operating in the country from the obligation to provide education in their country of origin and challenged other provisions of the law. The European Commission referred Hungary to the European Court of Justice (ECJ), arguing that the higher education amendment violates EU rules on the freedom of education and enterprise, provision of services, and scientific activity. The first hearing before the ECJ took place in June. Opposition members of parliament also filed a suit challenging aspects of the law in the Constitutional Court, which postponed its review of the legislation to wait for the ECJ to rule.

In 2018 the CEU established a presence at Bard College in New York, and the Hungarian government and the State of New York negotiated the required intergovernmental agreement. The government argued, however, that CEU had not sufficiently complied with the provisions of the law and declined to sign the agreement that would allow it to stay in the country. In December 2018 CEU announced it would move its U.S.-accredited programs to Vienna. In July, CEU was accredited as an Austrian private university under the name of Central European University, and in November it officially opened its campus in Vienna.

On July 2, parliament passed a law that effectively gives the government control over the funding of 15 research institutes. Under the new law, the institutions, which until then had been funded and managed by the Hungarian Academy of Sciences, were to be brought under a new government-run entity. The changes, which took effect in September, give the government influence over two-thirds of the nation’s research institutions’ budget and gives the prime minister the final say over personnel decisions for the governing board of the new entity. On July 17, the Conferences of Rectors of Germany, Austria, and Poland criticized the law as infringing upon the principles of academic freedom and the self-governance of scientific institutions.

The constitution and law provide for the freedom of peaceful assembly, and the government generally respected this right. The constitution and law provide for freedom of association, and the government generally respected this right, with some exceptions.

The constitution includes a provision on the protection of privacy, which stipulates that freedom of expression and the exercise of the right of assembly shall not harm others’ private and family life and their homes, potentially restricting protests in public spaces near politicians’ homes and protests in other public spaces that have apartments nearby. The law also permits the government to regulate public demonstrations, including holding organizers liable for damages caused by their events, and to ban protests in advance. Under the law authorities may ban or dissolve gatherings that unnecessarily and disproportionately harm the dignity of the nation or other national, ethnic, or religious communities. The law also criminalizes the nonviolent disturbance or impediment of a demonstration.

The criminal code provides that harassment of “official persons” (including members of parliament, judges, and prosecutors) when they are not performing public duties is a crime punishable by up to three years’ imprisonment.

The European Commission brought an infringement procedure challenge in the ECJ against the law requiring NGOs that receive more than 7.2 million forints ($24,000) per year from abroad to register as foreign-funded organizations; as of August the challenge remained pending. The Commission asserted the law unduly interferes with freedom of association (see section 5).

In late 2017 the Fidesz-dominated city assembly of Pecs called on local residents, businesses, and organizations not to rent or provide any space to the NGO With the Strength of Humanity, which received a grant of approximately $490,000 from the Open Society Foundations to support community building in the region. The NGO sued the city mayor for libel but lost the case in a 2018 trial court ruling. In May the appeals court ordered the municipality to pay a fine but did not condemn the mayor for his public statements.

A 2011 law on religion deregistered more than 300 religious groups and organizations that had previously held incorporated church status; most were required to reapply for registration. The government had not approved any applications for incorporated church status since it amended the law in 2012, but it approved many applications for a lesser status of religious organizations. On April 15, an amendment to the law entered into force creating four different statuses for religious organizations. Observers noted that while the amendment provides a simpler procedure for religious entities to gain an intermediate-level status, it only restores some of the rights they had before 2011.

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

d. Freedom of Movement

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

Not applicable.

f. Protection of Refugees

Abuse of Migrants, Refugees, and Stateless Persons: Human rights advocates, the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), and the European Commission criticized the government’s treatment of migrants and asylum seekers. Specifically, these organizations reported that migrants and asylum seekers were pushed back to the Serbian side of the Serbia-Hungary border fence, even if they had not entered Hungary through Serbia. In September 2018 the CPT published a report on the treatment and conditions of detention of foreigners in transit zones at the border and other establishments with irregular migrants, based on its 2017 visit to the country. The report noted that many detainees alleged police officers had physically mistreated them during their “push-back” to Serbia, and several displayed recent traumatic injuries as a result of alleged police mistreatment.

During the year domestic and international human rights organizations reported receiving fewer complaints of excessive use of police force and abuse against refugees and migrants, as the number of asylum seekers decreased from previous years. Human rights organizations asserted, however, that in most cases, the government did not take formal action against alleged police perpetrators and noted that few victims were willing to lodge formal complaints.

Refoulement: On May 8, UN High Commissioner for Refugees Filippo Grandi issued a statement calling the forced expulsion of two Afghan asylum-seeking families from the country deeply shocking and a flagrant violation of international and EU law.

Access to Asylum: The law provides for asylum and establishes a procedure for persons in the country to apply for it, but often authorities afforded little or no opportunity to apply. In 2017 and 2018, asylum and border management laws underwent significant legal modifications that limited access to the country’s territory and asylum procedures and deterred asylum seekers from applying for protection. Police are allowed to push back to the Serbian side of the border any migrants who cannot prove their right to stay in the country, regardless of whether or not they entered the country from Serbia. According to UNHCR observations published in November 2018, these legislative amendments failed to draw the necessary distinction between the situation of refugees and asylum seekers and that of other aliens.

Safe Country of Origin/Transit: The government issued lists of “safe countries of origin” and “safe third countries.” Both lists included Serbia, Bosnia and Herzegovina, and Kosovo. UNHCR repeatedly objected to the government’s designation of Serbia as a safe third country on the grounds that it does not have effective asylum procedures. In 2018 parliament modified the constitution to state that persons arriving in the country “through a country where he or she was not exposed to persecution or a direct risk of persecution should not be entitled to asylum.” Parliament also amended the asylum law and restricted the right to asylum to only those persons who arrived in Hungary directly from a place where their life or freedom were at risk. Since asylum applications can only be filed in either of the two transit zones at the Hungary-Serbia border, anyone who wants to submit an asylum claim can do so only by entering a transit zone from Serbia. Because Hungary considers Serbia as a safe third country, the new inadmissibility provision triggered the automatic rejection of any asylum claim. Since the new rules entered into force in 2018, NGOs were aware of only three positive decisions concerning asylum applications filed after July 2018 by asylum seekers passing through Serbia. The immigration authority declared all other applications inadmissible.

Freedom of Movement: The asylum law requires mandatory placement of all asylum seekers other than unaccompanied minors younger than 14 in two guarded transit zones (Roszke and Tompa) on the Serbia-Hungary border, which they may leave only by entering Serbia. If the asylum seekers leave the zones, they forfeit their asylum claims.

The law permits the detention of rejected asylum seekers for a maximum of 12 months (30 days in cases of families with children). Immigration detention generally took place in immigration detention centers. Since July 2018 rejected asylum seekers were placed under alien policing procedure (no longer the asylum procedure), and the designated compulsory place of stay was the transit zone.

In April 2018 the ECHR’s Grand Chamber heard the case of two Bangladeshi asylum seekers, Ilias and Ali Ahmed, who in 2015 filed a lawsuit against the government seeking their release from a transit zone and a stay of their deportation to Serbia. The chamber found the applicants’ confinement in the Roszke border zone violated their rights because it had amounted to detention without formal, reasoned decision and without appropriate judicial review. The chamber also found their deportation to Serbia was unlawful. Authorities kept the men in the transit zone for more than three weeks before sending them back to Serbia. Following the government’s appeal, the chamber on November 21 ruled that Hungary had violated the ECHR prohibition of torture, inhuman or degrading treatment by expelling them without assessing the risks of not having proper access to asylum procedures in Serbia or being subjected to chain refoulement, but that their stay in the transit zone was not deprivation of liberty because they had entered it on their own initiative and in practice were able to return to Serbia.

Access to Basic Services: Services for persons under an alien policing procedure included only basic health care but not the provision of food, with the exception of children younger than 18 and pregnant or nursing mothers. As of August 1, the immigration authority had declined in a total of 17 cases to provide food to 27 individuals detained in the transit zones after August 2018. In each case the Hungarian Helsinki Committee successfully requested interim measures from the ECHR ordering Hungarian authorities to immediately start providing food to the individuals concerned. On July 25, the European Commission launched an infringement procedure against the country for the nonprovision of food to persons awaiting deportation who were detained in a transit zone.

In 2016 parliament amended the law to reduce benefits and assistance to persons given international protection on the grounds they should not have more advantages than Hungarian citizens. Authorities do not provide housing allowances, educational allowances, or monthly cash allowances to asylum seekers or beneficiaries of subsidiary protection. The two transit zones for asylum seekers provided clothes, soap, meals, water, and shelter. Charities provided some educational and social activities in English or Hungarian as well as supplemental nutrition for children. The government also provided basic medical assistance on site. The authorities hired a psychologist and a psychiatrist who visited the transit zones once per week for four hours per zone. Officials denied transit zone access to certain NGOs and a UNHCR contractor, which prevented several asylum seekers arriving to Hungary from war-affected countries who had previously suffered torture and posttraumatic stress disorder from receiving specialized care.

The government provided UNHCR and the International Federation of the Red Cross access to refugees and asylum seekers, with the exception of those held in the alien policing sectors in the transit zones. A few domestic charities were allowed access to the transit zones; attorneys contracted by an NGO were allowed access only when asylum seekers specifically requested their assistance.

On October 8, the ECHR ruled that refusing a journalist access to a reception center for asylum seekers in order to report on living conditions there was a violation of freedom of expression and may discourage the sharing of accurate information that is in the public interest, particularly regarding the situation of vulnerable groups. The case involved a local journalist who requested access to the Debrecen Reception Center to conduct interviews but was rejected on the grounds that press coverage would interfere with the private lives of persons accommodated there.

On July 17, after an official visit to the Hungary-Serbia border, UN Rapporteur Felipe Gonzalez Morales described prison-like conditions in the transit zones, with asylum seekers chained to hospital beds. Morales stated general hygiene conditions were acceptable but that medical care was insufficient. He added that doctors were available for only a couple of hours a day, and there were no gynecologists or pediatricians, even though the majority of asylum seekers were women and children. Interpreters were scarce and communication with doctors could be difficult.

On July 25, the European Commission referred Hungary to the ECJ, stating the legislation that criminalizes providing assistance to asylum seekers who were not subject to persecution in their home country or who had already transited a safe country curtailed the asylum seekers’ right to communicate with and be assisted by national, international, and nongovernmental organizations (see section 2.b.).

Durable Solutions: Refugees are allowed to naturalize, but according to civil society organizations the applications of refugees and stateless persons were approved at a lower rate than those of other naturalization seekers. The Hungarian Helsinki Committee criticized the procedural framework for naturalization, noting decisions were not explained to applicants and no appeal of rejections were allowed. There were no reported cases of onward refugee resettlement from the country to other states. Domestic media reported at the beginning of the year that since 2018, the country had admitted approximately 300 individuals with Hungarian ancestry from Venezuela under a special government program involving a local charity that is different from the standard asylum procedures.

Temporary Protection: The law provides for a specific temporary protection status for situations of mass influx, but organizations working on the problem reported that it was not used in practice. Under the law all forms of international protection (refugee status, subsidiary protection, tolerated stay, stateless status, etc.) are temporary by nature, with periodic review of the entitlement to protection.

On July 29, the ECJ ruled that judges may grant international protection status to asylum seekers if an administrative body has overruled their decision without establishing new elements in the case. A 2015 regulation had stripped the courts of the right to overrule immigration authorities on asylum applications.

Not applicable.

Section 4. Corruption and Lack of Transparency in Government

While the law provides criminal penalties for corruption by public officials, few such cases were lodged or prosecuted during the year. The European Commission and NGOs contended that the government did not implement or apply these laws effectively and that officials often engaged in corrupt practices with impunity.

Corruption: Anticorruption NGOs alleged government corruption and favoritism in the distribution of EU funds. The Corruption Research Center Budapest identified several cases of bid rigging and other corruption risk indicators in public tenders with EU funding. The Research Center concluded that companies with close links to the government faced significantly less competition and were able to obtain higher prices when bidding for EU-funded projects.

In its annual report released on September 3, the European Antifraud Office reported investigating nine cases related to the use of EU funds in the country and recommended local authorities open criminal investigations into seven of them. The Antifraud Office also recommended that the country repay 3.8 percent of the funds it received from the EU between 2014 and 2018.

On July 22, domestic and international media reported that Microsoft Hungary (a wholly owned subsidiary of Microsoft Corporation) and Microsoft Corporation agreed to pay approximately $26 million in fines. The case involved Microsoft Hungary employees who requested discounts on software licenses from Microsoft headquarters that they claimed were necessary to secure the software sales to government agencies, although they knew the agencies had already agreed to pay full price. The inflated margins reportedly funded a corrupt payment scheme to bribe government officials and secure software deals. Microsoft and its Hungarian subsidiary cooperated with the investigation and took remedial measures. Microsoft Hungary dismissed four employees and cancelled contracts with many of its vendors. After Microsoft Hungary dismissed CEO Istvan Papp in 2016, the government appointed Papp as vice president of the Hungarian Investment Promotion Agency, a position he held for eight months. Similarly, the government appointed Microsoft Hungary’s former government relations director Viktor Sagyibo as a ministerial commissioner in the Prime Minister’s Office until August 2018. Authorities had closed the investigation into Microsoft Hungary in 2018, declaring they had found no evidence of criminal activity. In August, however, the Prosecutor General’s Office stated it would reopen the investigation.

In February the European Commission’s European Semester report on the country noted that corruption remained an important concern. Although the commission had noted minimal improvement during the previous year, it stated further steps were necessary to strengthen transparency and competition in public procurement. The report also called for the Prosecutor General’s Office to pursue corruption cases more effectively and determined that “action by Hungarian authorities to prosecute high-level corruption was lacking.”

Financial Disclosure: The law requires members of parliament, senior government officials, the president of the Supreme Court and his deputies, and the prosecutor general to publish asset declarations on a regular basis. NGOs claimed that public officials circumvented the required disclosures by placing assets in the names of spouses, who are not required to file asset declarations. The vast majority of public-sector employees, including law enforcement and army officers, judges, prosecutors, civil servants, and public servants, were also obliged to submit asset declarations, which are not publicly accessible. NGOs noted there were no criminal or administrative sanctions for submitting inaccurate asset declarations and asserted there was no effective method to detect violators.

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

In 2018 the Constitutional Court postponed its proceedings on a legal challenge to the NGO law which requires NGOs that receive more than 7.2 million forints ($24,000) per year in funding from abroad to register as foreign-funded organizations. The court stated it would wait for the ruling of the ECJ on an infringement procedure brought by the European Commission. The commission asserted the law unduly interfered with freedom of association. The lawsuit remained pending at year’s end. In 2017 a Venice Commission opinion stated the NGO law would cause disproportionate and unnecessary interference with the freedoms of association and expression, right to privacy, and the prohibition of discrimination.

In December 2018 the OSCE and the Venice Commission concluded jointly that a 2018 law introducing an additional 25 percent tax on activities “providing material support for the operation of NGOs whose activities support immigration” violated freedom of expression and association as guaranteed by the European Convention of Human Rights and other international legal norms and should be repealed.

The law contains a provision, adopted in 2018, that mandates criminal penalties, including imprisonment for up to a year, for “facilitating illegal migration.” The law also criminalizes providing assistance to asylum seekers who were not subject to persecution in their home country or who had already transited a safe country to submit asylum claims; conducting human-rights-focused border monitoring activities; or issuing or distributing information leaflets about asylum procedures. On February 28, the Constitutional Court ruled the law was constitutional but could not be applied “if the purpose of the action is only to reduce the suffering of those in need and treat them humanely.” The court emphasized that the new criminal action can only be committed deliberately and that the perpetrator must know that he or she is helping someone who is not subject to persecution or whose fear of direct persecution is not well founded.

Local authorities sometimes took administrative actions that harassed or interfered with the legitimate work of NGOs. In March, for example, the Budapest municipal authorities forced the Aurora NGO Center, which provided office space for several smaller human rights organizations, to close its bar at 10 p.m., citing complaints from local citizens. In August it ordered Aurora to close the bar completely, depriving Aurora of a significant source of revenue. In September far-right activists disrupted an event at Aurora, and in October a group of neo-Nazis vandalized the center and burned the pride flag that was hanging outside (see also section 6 on violence based on sexual orientation). In November the newly elected (as of October) mayor of the district in which Aurora is located declared the center could remain open and that “Aurora can count on the partnership and protection of the municipality.”

Government Human Rights Bodies: The constitution and law establish a unified system for the Office of the Commissioner for Fundamental Rights (ombudsperson). The ombudsman has two deputies, one responsible for the rights of national minorities and one for the interests of “future generations” (environmental protection). The ombudsman is nominated by the president and elected by a two-thirds majority of parliament. He is solely accountable to parliament and has the authority to initiate proceedings to defend the rights of citizens from abuse by authorities and entities providing public services. The constitution provides that the ombudsman may request that the Constitutional Court review laws. The ombudsman is also responsible for collecting electronically submitted reports of public benefit, e.g., whistleblower reports on public corruption, and operated the national preventive mechanism against torture. Ombudsman recommendations are not binding. The office was viewed as independent and effective within the scope of its responsibilities.

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

Rape and Domestic Violence: Rape of men or women, including spousal rape, is illegal. Although there is no crime defined as rape, the equivalent crimes are sexual coercion and sexual violence. These crimes include the exploitation of a person who is unable to express his or her will. Penalties for sexual coercion and sexual violence range from one year in prison to 15 years in aggravated cases.

The criminal code includes “violence within partnership” (domestic violence) as a separate category of offense. Regulations extend prison sentences for assault (light bodily harm) to three years, while grievous bodily harm, violation of personal freedom, or coercion may be punishable by one to five years in prison, if committed against domestic persons.

By law police called to a scene of domestic violence may issue an emergency restraining order valid for three days in lieu of immediately filing charges, while courts may issue up to 60-day “preventive restraining orders” in civil cases, without the option to extend.

Women’s rights NGOs continued to criticize the law for not placing sufficient emphasis on the accountability of perpetrators and the tendency of authorities to blame the victims. In one case, the Appeals Court of Budapest in January sentenced a 29-year-old mother to 10 years in prison for allegedly attempting to kill the father of her child by drugging and stabbing him. The couple met in 2011, and later the relationship turned abusive. In 2016 police found each of them with multiple stab wounds. Women’s rights organizations began a petition asking for a pardon for the woman, on the grounds that she was not a perpetrator of domestic violence, but a victim who had not received the proper support to leave a five-year abusive relationship. She started serving her sentence in April.

The Ministry of Human Capacities continued to operate a 24-hour toll-free hotline for victims of domestic violence and trafficking in persons. The ministry also sponsored crisis centers and secret shelters for victims of domestic violence operated by civil society organizations and church institutions. The crisis centers provided immediate accommodation and care for individuals and families for up to 90 days. The secret shelters addressed the needs of severely abused women whose lives were in danger; they were allowed a maximum stay of six months at the shelters. The newest type of service was the “crisis ambulance,” which provided mobile walk-in consultations–but not accommodation–for victims of domestic violence.

NGOs criticized the lack of training on gender-based violence for professionals and emphasized the need for broader awareness-raising efforts among the public to encourage victims to seek assistance and report violence without stigmatization. The UN Human Rights Committee’s Sixth Periodic Report expressed concern about reports that domestic violence continued to be a persistent and underreported problem.

Sexual Harassment: By law harassment of a sexual nature constitutes a violation of the equal treatment principle but is not a crime.

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. According to the Economist’s 2018 glass ceiling index, women held 14.5 percent of the members of company boards, based on 2017 data. Women’s rights organizations asserted that Romani women could suffer multiple forms of discrimination on the basis of gender, ethnicity, and class, and experienced barriers to equal access in education, health care, housing, employment, and justice.

Birth Registration: An individual acquires citizenship from a parent who is a citizen. Births were registered immediately. NGOs asserted the law provides only partial safeguards against statelessness at birth because all children of foreign parents born in the country are registered on birth certificates as being of unknown nationality. In addition the NGOs claimed that children born to stateless parents or to noncitizen parents who cannot pass on their nationality to their children were in some cases born and remained stateless.

Education: Although the law provides for free and compulsory education between the ages of three and 16 and prohibits school segregation, NGOs reported the segregation of Romani children in schools and frequent misdiagnosis of Romani children as mentally disabled, which limited their access to quality education and increased the gap between Romani and non-Romani society.

Education research conducted by the Hungarian Academy of Sciences published in 2018 concluded that school segregation increased by almost 10 percent between 2008 and 2016. The UN Human Rights Committee’s Sixth Periodic Report expressed concerns that segregation in schools, especially through the rising number of church schools, remained prevalent, and the number of Romani children placed in schools for children with mild disabilities remained disproportionately high. By law church schools are exempt from requirements to enroll any student who resides within the local school district.

In 2018 the Metropolitan Court of Budapest ruled, in a 10-year-old case, that the Ministry of Human Capacities, which is in charge of education policy, was directly responsible for the segregation in 28 schools in 14 localities and ordered the ministry to desegregate the schools based on a plan crafted by experts. The court also prohibited the opening of first grades in the next school year if desegregation is not completed. The court ordered the ministry to collect, for the first time in the country’s case law history, ethnicity data on Romani children in primary schools through third-party identification in order to monitor segregation. The court also imposed a fine of 50 million forints ($167,000). In February the appeals court upheld the ruling but dropped the requirement to prohibit the opening of first grades.

In 2018 a trial court ruled in favor of 62 Romani children in a 2015 suit against the municipality of Gyongyospata and the Klebelsberg School Maintenance Center for their segregation in the primary school in Gyongyospata. The court ordered the state to pay compensation totaling 89 million forints ($297,000). In September the appeals court confirmed the ruling and increased the compensation to be paid to Romani children to 99 million forints ($330,000).

A report prepared during the year by Romani and pro-Romani NGOs stated one-half of Romani students dropped out of the education system. Only 24 percent of Romani students finished high school, compared with 75 percent of non-Romani students. Only 5 percent of Romani students entered university, compared with 35 percent of non-Romani students. The report noted that segregating Romani children in schools and lowering the mandatory school age to 16 years contributed to high dropout rates.

Child Abuse: Efforts to combat child abuse included a “child protection signaling system” to detect and prevent the endangerment of children; law enforcement and judicial measures; restraining orders; shelters for mothers and their children; and removal of children from homes deemed unsafe. The law provides that failure of a parent to “cooperate” with the doctors, district nurses, teachers, or family supporters in the signaling system automatically constitutes gross endangerment, even without any other signs of negligence or endangerment.

Early and Forced Marriage: The legal minimum age of marriage is 18. The Social and Guardianship Office may authorize marriages of persons between the ages of 16 and 18.

Sexual Exploitation of Children: Buying sexual services from a child younger than 18 is a crime punishable by up to three years in prison. Forcing a child into prostitution is a crime punishable by up to three years in prison. The law prohibits child pornography. The statute of limitations does not apply to sexual crimes against children. The government generally enforced the law.

The minimum age for consensual sex is 12, provided the older partner is 18 or younger. Persons older than 18 who engage in sexual relations with a minor between the ages of 12 and 14 may be punished by one to five years’ imprisonment. By law statutory rape is a felony punishable by five to 10 years’ imprisonment if the victim is younger than 12.

Law enforcement authorities arrested and prosecuted children who were the victims of sex trafficking as misdemeanor offenders. NGOs strongly criticized this practice for blaming or punishing the victim.

Institutionalized Children: A study in Nograd County commissioned by the European Roma Rights Center and published in 2016 showed that 80 percent of the children in state care in the county were of Romani origin.

NGOs noted that institutionalized children living in state care were especially vulnerable to human trafficking for prostitution and criticized the lack of special assistance for child victims of trafficking. In a report published in 2018, the ombudsman stated that one-third of children were placed in child protection care because of their families’ poor financial circumstances.

In November 2018 a former director of the state childcare home in Bicske and an employee received eight- and three-year prison sentences, respectively, for sexually abusing several boys younger than age 18 between 2004 and 2016. In April the prosecution announced it had requested that the appeals court increase the sentences due to serious psychological traumas suffered by the victims. The appeals court affirmed the ruling in September.

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 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.

According to the 2011 census, 10,965 persons identified their religion as Judaism. According to estimates from the World Jewish Congress, the Jewish population numbered between 35,000 and 120,000 persons. According to a study published in 2018 by Szombat, a leading Hungarian Jewish news outlet, 82 percent of Hungarian Jews had a direct family member or ancestor who lost their life in the Holocaust. Jewish organizations considered the Holocaust to represent a defining element in the identity of Hungarian Jews, and they regarded it as vital to preserve the memory of what occurred during the Holocaust.

The Action and Protection Foundation (TEV), a Jewish group monitoring anti-Semitism, registered 32 anti-Semitic hate crimes in 2018. These were 19 cases of hate speech, 10 of vandalism, and three of assault.

Research of Median Public Opinion Institute conducted on behalf of TEV published in July indicated that approximately 33 percent of the population held anti-Semitic views. Another survey on anti-Semitic attitudes issued by the Anti-Defamation League in November found 42 percent of Hungarian respondents harbored anti-Semitic attitudes; 71 percent said it was probably true the Jewish community had too much power in the business world, and 59 percent believed Jews talked too much about what happened to them in the Holocaust.

Leading Jewish groups, Holocaust scholars, and others continued to express concern about the government’s planned opening of the House of Fates, a proposed new Holocaust museum and education center in Budapest that would focus on non-Jewish Hungarians’ rescue efforts of Hungarian Jews. These groups and individuals criticized the project as an attempt to obscure the involvement of the World War II-era Hungarian state and its leader, Miklos Horthy, in the Holocaust. Controversy around the museum concept delayed its opening. The Unified Hungarian Jewish Congregation (EMIH), which owned the museum, prepared a new concept and presented it on June 4 at the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance meeting in Luxembourg. In November, EMIH chief rabbi Slomo Koves stated the museum should be ready to open in 18 months.

Jewish groups expressed concerns about praise by government officials for Hungarian World War II-era leaders and Hitler allies known for their anti-Semitism and about public rhetoric that could incite anti-Semitism and hate speech. On September 4, the Federation of Jewish Communities in Hungary (Mazsihisz) issued a statement condemning government officials’ participation in the unveiling of a statue of Gyula Kornis in the town of Vac. Kornis was a monk and leading educator in the Horthy era who helped to prepare and implement the country’s anti-Semitic education laws in the 1920s. Mazsihisz criticized the presence of government officials in the ceremony honoring the man who “wanted to exclude nearly one million people from the nation because of their origin.”

On November 16, far-right party Mi Hazank (Our Homeland), joined by a few hundred participants, marched in Budapest to commemorate the 100th anniversary of Horthy’s entry into Budapest. Fidesz parliamentarian Janos Lazar laid flowers at Horthy’s grave, praising him as “a heroic soldier, a true Hungarian patriot whom we should remember by bowing our head.” Mazsihisz president Andras Heisler stated he was deeply disappointed by Lazar, who as a previous leader of the Prime Minister’s Office had striven to build good relations with Jewish organizations and had accepted Jewish values but had now denied them with his act.

On August 18, five young men in Nyiregyhaza told a Jewish community activist on the street that he and his wife were “filthy Jews” who “belong in the gas chamber.”

On August 20, the Living Memorial social movement stated on its Facebook page that unknown assailants vandalized its memorial to Hungarian Holocaust victims. The Living Memorial, located on Budapest’s Liberty Square and consisting of memorabilia of victims and their families, was created in protest against the government’s controversial memorial to “the victims of the German occupation” of 1944. Critics of this memorial, including prominent Hungarian Jewish groups, believed it whitewashed the country’s complicity in the Holocaust. Also on August 20, the national Saint Stephen’s Day holiday, the far-right website kuruc.info published an article entitled, “Liberty Square was waiting for National Day to be cleaned–our reader cleaned up the Jewish garbage,” including a photograph of memorial objects in a nearby garbage can.

In November posters appeared in Budapest showing two journalists from the independent online news site Index.hu in front of an Israeli flag with the caption, “We have also come from beyond the border.” The poster featured the Index.hu logo next to the words, “Constant complaining, latent anti-Hungarian feelings, betrayal of the homeland.” TEV reported the case to police.

The country successfully hosted the European Maccabi Games, often referred to as the “Jewish Olympics,” in Budapest between July 29 and August 7. Prime Minister Orban stated on that occasion that his government provided protection and major support to the Hungarian Jewish community for preserving its identity and for the renaissance of Hungarian Jewish life.

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

The constitution and the law prohibit discrimination against persons with physical, sensory, intellectual, communicational, and psychosocial disabilities in employment, education, air travel and other transportation, access to health care, or the provision of other state services.

Both the central government and municipalities continued to renovate public buildings to make them accessible to persons with disabilities. There were no data available on the percentage of government buildings that complied with the law, but NGOs asserted many public buildings remained inaccessible. NGOs also noted that public transportation had limited accessibility.

NGOs claimed public elementary schools were not obligated to enroll children with disabilities. They also asserted many children with autism, intellectual disability, or profound and multiple disabilities were often segregated in special schools or were forced to be home schooled without financial compensation to the family.

The government reviewed its 2019-36 deinstitutionalization strategy to reduce the number of persons with disabilities living in institutions with capacities greater than 50 persons, but NGOs reported no meaningful progress and received complaints about mistreatment, forced medicalization, and inhuman living conditions in large-scale institutions. In April a human rights NGO received audio and video recordings about physical and verbal abuse of persons with disabilities living in an institution in Baranya County. The ombudsperson called on the director of the institution to conduct an investigation. A grassroots movement advocated for creating a personal assistance service to facilitate independent living of persons with disabilities instead of their institutionalization or 24-hour family care.

The constitution provides that a court may deprive persons with disabilities who are under guardianship of the right to vote due to limited mental capacity. NGOs noted that depriving persons with intellectual or psychosocial disabilities of their legal rights violated international conventions on the rights of persons with disabilities.

In August the disabled persons’ federation Meosz announced it was suing the progovernment media outlet PestiSracok.hu for publishing an article that offended the human dignity of persons with reduced mobility. In a response to Coca-Cola advertisements promoting tolerance of same-sex couples, a journalist from the outlet wrote in that article that while “we do not hate disabled people…we do not fill our children’s heads with the nonsense that it is just as natural to live in a wheelchair as to walk on two feet and that it is not worse, only different.”

Roma were the country’s largest ethnic minority. According to the 2011 census, approximately 315,000 persons (3 percent of the population) identified themselves as Roma. A University of Debrecen study published in 2018, however, estimated there were 876,000 Roma in the country, or approximately 9 percent of the country’s population. The study claimed the 2011 census underestimated the size of the Romani community, since Romani respondents often preferred not to disclose their minority status. To avoid biased responses, the researchers gathered data from municipal governments and from Romani self-government bodies instead of asking respondents to self-report their ethnicity.

Human rights NGOs continued to report that Roma suffered social and economic exclusion and discrimination in almost all fields of life. According to a 2017 study by the Pew Research Center on religious belief and national belonging in Central and Eastern Europe, 54 percent of respondents in the country would not be willing to accept Roma as members of their family, 44 percent as neighbors, and 27 percent as citizens of their country.

On May 9, the Appeals Court of Debrecen affirmed a lower-level court ruling that the municipality of Miskolc was responsible for direct discrimination and harassment of local Romani inhabitants by conducting raids in the segregated neighborhood and carrying out evictions without providing alternative housing. This was the country’s largest antidiscrimination lawsuit, covering a period of five years and affecting the rights of several thousand persons.

In January and October 2018, a group of young Roma was denied entry to dance clubs in Nyiregyhaza and Budapest. In December the Equal Treatment Authority ordered the security firm employed by Gozsdu Courtyard in Budapest to pay a fine of 500,000 forints ($1,670) for discrimination.

In January media broadcast recordings of Tamas Sneider, the leader of the opposition party Jobbik, making racist comments and promising to defend the country against Roma. In May approximately 400 persons attended a protest against “Gypsy crime” organized by the far-right party Mi Hazank (Our Homeland) in Torokszentmiklos in the southern part of the country.

Segregation of Romani children in schools and their frequent misdiagnosis as mentally disabled remained a problem (see section 6, Children). Observers claimed the public education system continued to provide inadequate instruction for members of minorities in their own languages as required by law and that Romani-language schoolbooks and qualified teachers were in short supply.

The law establishes cultural autonomy for nationalities (replacing the term “minorities”) and recognizes the right to foster and enrich historic traditions, language, culture, and educational rights as well as to establish and operate institutions and maintain international contacts.

The law prohibits discrimination based on sexual orientation. In addition the law prohibits certain forms of hate speech and prescribes increased punishment for violence against members of the lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and intersex (LGBTI) community. Victims of discrimination have a wide choice of remedies, including a procedure by a designated government agency (the Equal Treatment Authority), enforcement of personality rights via civil court procedure, and sectoral remedies in media law. Only the civil procedure allows for the awarding of pecuniary and nonpecuniary damages. The Constitutional Court also offers possibilities to challenge allegedly discriminatory legislation. NGOs reported that the Equal Treatment Authority, ombudsman, and courts enforced these antidiscrimination laws.

In July 2018 authorities suspended the implementation of a law granting transgender persons the right to legal gender recognition; as of August no requests for legal gender recognition had subsequently been processed. The ombudsman criticized the situation. The Constitutional Court’s December 2018 deadline for parliament to adopt legislation allowing transgender persons without Hungarian citizenship legally residing in Hungary to have their legal gender recognized expired without any legislative action.

During the month-long Budapest Pride Festival, protesters disrupted six events, including, in some cases, with acts of physical violence against event organizers. According to LGBTI groups, police failed to act promptly to secure the events. After the Budapest Pride March, protesters harassed, kicked, and spat on a couple who had participated in the event. Police conducted and closed a criminal investigation, and the case was pending with the prosecution at year’s end.

In September far-right activists disrupted an LGBTI event at Aurora NGO center, and in October a neo-Nazi organization burned the rainbow flag flying at Aurora. LGTBI organizations highlighted that neither the relevant government officials nor the public bodies responsible for promoting nondiscrimination and respect for human rights condemned these events at the time. In November, Budapest police announced they had brought in for questioning nine persons in connection with the attack and ordered an investigation to be carried out on suspicion of disorderly conduct.

During the year the Equal Treatment Authority issued several decisions in cases concerning discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity. In one case it fined the Budapest Mayor’s Office one million forints ($3,300) for blocking access to all LGBTI-related websites from its local network; the new mayor of Budapest elected in October lifted the ban after assuming office.

In May, National Assembly Speaker Laszlo Kover compared same-sex couples who want to adopt children to pedophiles. In June, Fidesz deputy caucus leader Istvan Boldog called for a ban of the Pride March. In August he called for the boycott of Coca-Cola for its advertising campaign featuring same-sex couples. The local government in Pest later levied a 500,000-forint ($1,670) fine against Coca-Cola for this ad campaign.

Iceland

Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:

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

Freedom of Expression: The law establishes fines and imprisonment for up to two years for “[a]nyone who publicly mocks, defames, denigrates, or threatens a person or group of persons by comments or expressions of another nature, for example, by means of pictures or symbols for their nationality, color, race, religion, sexual orientation, or gender identity, or disseminates such materials.”

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

The government did not restrict or disrupt access to the internet or censor online content, and there were no credible reports that the government monitored private online communications without appropriate legal authority. The government has implemented the EU’s General Data Protection Regulation into domestic law.

There were no government restrictions on academic freedom or cultural events.

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

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

d. Freedom of Movement

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

Not applicable.

f. Protection of Refugees

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. It allows for an accelerated procedure by the Ministry of Justice’s Directorate of Immigration of applications deemed to be “manifestly unfounded.” An independent regulatory committee, the Immigration and Asylum Appeals Board, adjudicated asylum cases rejected by the directorate.

Safe Country of Origin/Transit: The country adheres to the EU’s Dublin III regulation, which allows for the return of asylum seekers to the country of entry into the EU. The country did not return asylum seekers to EU member states Greece and Hungary unless they already received protection in these countries. In certain cases the country also did not return vulnerable asylum seekers to Italy and Greece.

Durable Solutions: The government accepted refugees for resettlement and provided for their local integration. In October 2018 the government announced that it would resettle 75 refugees in 2019, most of whom originated from Syria, as well as lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and intersex (LGBTI) refugees and their families from Kenyan refugee camps. As of August the country had accepted 49 refugees, all from Syria. The government also signed agreements with three municipalities to resettle 25 LGBTI refugees from Kenyan refugee camps, consisting of persons originally from Uganda, Sudan, Zimbabwe, and other central African countries. As of October the entire group had arrived in Iceland and started receiving services.

Temporary Protection: The government provided temporary protection to individuals who may not qualify as refugees and as of October 15, had provided subsidiary protection to 114 persons and humanitarian protection to 12 others during the year.

Not applicable.

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 no reports of government corruption during the year.

Financial Disclosure: Most public officials were not bound by law to publicly disclose financial interests, but most chose to do so. The law requires members of parliament and government ministers who are not members of parliament to report their financial interests publicly on parliament’s website and to update this information within one month of receiving new information. As of August 8, all 63 members of parliament elected in 2017 reported their financial interests online. A cabinet directive requires all political advisors and permanent secretaries to submit financial disclosures. As of August all those who were required had disclosed their respective financial interests and made them publicly available online. There are no criminal or administrative sanctions for noncompliance.

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 cooperative and responsive to their views.

Government Human Rights Bodies: The parliament’s ombudsman, elected by parliament for a period of four years, secures the rights of the citizens to equal and impartial treatment in their dealings with public authorities. The ombudsman is party to the Optional Protocol to the Convention against Torture and conducts periodic site visits to prisons and psychiatric hospitals; the first site visit of the ombudsman was in October 2018. The ombudsman is independent from any governmental authority, including parliament’s, when exercising his or her functions. While the ombudsman’s recommendations are not binding on authorities, the government generally adopted them.

The Parliamentary Standing Committee on Judicial Affairs and Education is responsible for legislative oversight of human rights in the country. The committee was generally considered effective.

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

Rape and Domestic Violence: Rape carries a maximum penalty of 16 years in prison. Judges typically imposed sentences of two to three years. The law does not explicitly address spousal rape.

The law criminalizes domestic violence specifically with a maximum penalty of 16 years in prison.

Victims of domestic violence can request police to remove perpetrators physically from the home for up to four weeks at a time. Police can also impose a 72-hour restraining order to prevent abusers from coming into proximity with the victim, and courts can extend this restraining order for up to a year. The law entitles victims of sex crimes to a lawyer to advise them of their rights and to help them pursue charges against the alleged assailants. As of October approximately 117 women and 65 children sought temporary lodging at the country’s shelter for women, mainly because of domestic violence.

The police procedure for the handling of domestic violence states that law enforcement should report to location of the incident. If responding officers are unable to enter the premises and have reasonable suspicion that the life of an individual inside might be threatened, they are allowed to use force to enter. If a child is present, an official from the child protective services must be called to the scene. All present parties are questioned and the case is entered into the police database. If the situation warrants, the responding officers can arrest the perpetrator and assist the victim in seeking medical care and offer guidance on legal recourse. The victim can request a temporary restraining order be imposed on the perpetrator. In some cases law enforcement, child protective services, or the family of the victim can request the restraining order. If law enforcement deems the victim to be in danger following the imposed restraining order, they will give the victim an emergency services call device.

The government helped finance the Women’s Shelter, the Counseling and Information Center for Survivors of Sexual Violence, the rape crisis center of the national hospital, and other organizations that assisted victims of domestic or gender-based violence. These organizations offered services free of charge, regardless of the victim’s citizenship. In addition, the government assisted immigrant women in abusive relationships, offering emergency accommodation, counseling, and information on legal rights.

Sexual Harassment: Two laws prohibit sexual harassment. The general penal code makes sexual harassment punishable by imprisonment for up to two years. The law on equal status defines sexual harassment more broadly as any type of unfair or offensive physical, verbal, or symbolic sexual behavior that is unwanted, affects the self-respect of the victim, and continues despite a clear indication that the behavior is undesired. The law requires employers and organization supervisors to make specific arrangements to prevent employees, students, and clients from becoming victims of gender-based or sexual harassment. The law establishes fines for violations, but more severe penalties could be applicable under other laws.

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

Discrimination: Women have the same legal status and rights as men according to the constitution and the law. Although the government enforced the law effectively, employment discrimination occurred.

Birth Registration: A child acquires the country’s citizenship at birth if both parents are citizens, if the mother is a citizen, or if the father is a citizen and is married to the child’s foreign mother. If a mixed-nationality couple had obtained a judicial separation at the time when the child was conceived, the child acquires the mother’s citizenship. A stateless child can become a citizen at the age of three. By law, all children have access to social services regardless of citizenship. If a child is not legally domiciled in the country or is living in the country without legal guardians, a child protection committee in the municipality where the child is physically located assumes care if needed and takes measures to secure his or her best interests. Registrations of births were prompt.

Child Abuse: Child abuse is illegal. Under the law, the general public has a duty of notifying authorities if suspicion arises of any form of child abuse. The Government Agency for Child Protection is responsible for implementation of the law. The agency operated a diagnostic and short-term treatment center for abused and troubled minors and was responsible for one short-term treatment center in Reykjavik and two centers in other locations. It also coordinated the work of 27 committees throughout the country that were responsible for local management of child-protection cases.

The government is legally mandated to provide services for children, including a safe residence for children as well as specialized services. The government maintained a children’s assessment center to secure the well-being and lessen the trauma experienced by children and coordinate victim protection and accelerate prosecution in child sexual abuse cases.

The prime minister appoints the ombudsman for children, who acts independently of the government. While the ombudsman’s recommendations are not binding on authorities, the government generally adopted them.

Early and Forced Marriage: The minimum age for marriage is 18 for both sexes. There were no reports during the year of forced marriages.

Sexual Exploitation of Children: The law prohibits the payment, or promise of payment or consideration of another type, for the commercial sexual exploitation of a child under the age of 18. Violation may be punished with fines or imprisonment for up to two years. The law punishes child pornography by up to two years in prison. The law criminalizes statutory rape with incarceration for one to 16 years. The government effectively enforced these laws.

The minimum age for consensual sex is 15. The penal code includes a requirement for explicit consent for sexual acts, meaning that consent is not considered to be given freely if obtained through violence or the threat of violence, any kind of force, or the use of drugs or alcohol.

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 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 resident Jewish community was estimated to include between 100 and 250 individuals. For the first time, a synagogue was in the process of being registered as a religious organization. There were no reports of discrimination or institutional challenges to its registration.

There were no reports of anti-Semitic discrimination or violence against the community. Despite generally having received a warm welcome from the community and government entities, the Jewish community noted a concerning incident of anti-Semitic hate speech targeting the community in a February social media post related to an event where a member of the Jewish community spoke to students at the University of Reykjavik about Jewish conceptions of leadership and tolerance. In September several comments with anti-Semitic hate speech were added to the post, although the majority of the comments did not appear to be made by Icelandic individuals. The incident had not been reported to law enforcement for further investigation.

In July and September, a small contingent of neo-Nazis, mostly Swedish and belonging to the Nordic Resistance Movement (NRM), distributed white nationalist propaganda in the country. While the number of Icelandic members of the NRM is unknown, it is believed to be small. On September 5, police were sent to monitor an NRM demonstration in downtown Reykjavik. The demonstration caused a local outcry, and a counterprotest was organized the following day which drew a significantly larger number of attendees.

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

The constitution prohibits discrimination against persons with disabilities. The law provides that persons with disabilities have access to buildings, information, and communications. By law, persons with disabilities are free to hire their own assistance providers and tailor assistance to their needs. Disability rights advocates complained that authorities did not fully implement the law and regulations. While violations of these regulations are punishable by a fine or a jail sentence of up to two years, one of the main associations for persons with disabilities contended that authorities rarely, if ever, assessed penalties for noncompliance.

All discrimination is illegal, in both society and the labor market, including discrimination based on race and ethnicity. Immigrants, mainly of non-Western origin or from Eastern Europe and the Baltic countries, and asylum seekers, suffered occasional incidents of social harassment based on their ethnicity. A single incident of a potentially religiously motivated hate crime was reported by local media during the year. In July a group of three Muslim women were accosted outside a grocery store in a suburb of Reykjavik. A woman shouted at the group before spitting in their direction and attempting to grab their hijabs. Law enforcement agencies were notified but did not come to the scene since the involved parties had left. The victims provided their statements to police the following day, but refused to seek further legal recourse, resulting in law enforcement dropping the case.

While the constitution does not specifically prohibit discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender identity, it does so implicitly. The law prohibits anyone from denying a person goods or services on grounds of that person’s sexual orientation or gender identity. It also prohibits denying a person access to a public meeting place or other places open to the public on the same footing with others on grounds of that person’s sexual orientation or gender identity. The law further prohibits incitement to hatred against persons on the basis of sexual orientation or gender identity and the dissemination of hateful material.

LGBTI activists continued to note the lack of explicit protections for LGBTI individuals on the basis of sexual orientation, gender identity or expression, or sex characteristics, in hate crime laws.

Immigrants and asylum seekers, mainly of non-Western origin, suffered occasional incidents of harassment based on their religious beliefs. The 2017 report by the European Commission against Racism and Intolerance (ECRI), the most recent report available, noted “the growing incidence of anti-Muslim sentiment” in the country, including on social media.

Ireland

Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:

The law 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.

Freedom of Expression: The law prohibits words or behaviors likely to generate hatred against persons because of their race, nationality, religion, national origins, or sexual orientation. Although a referendum to remove blasphemy from the constitution passed in 2018, the law still prohibits blasphemy, defined as publishing or uttering “matter that is grossly abusive or insulting in relation to matters held sacred by any religion, thereby causing outrage among a substantial number of the adherents of that religion.” The law permits defendants to argue “genuine literary, artistic, political, scientific, or academic value” as a defense.

Press and Media Freedom, Including Online Media: Independent media were active and expressed a wide variety of views. The same prohibitions against language likely to generate hatred and blasphemy that affected freedom of expression also applied to the press. The government can prohibit the state-owned radio and television network from broadcasting any material “likely to promote or incite to crime or which would tend to undermine the authority of the state.” Authorities did not invoke these prohibitions during the year.

The government did not restrict or disrupt access to the internet or censor online content, and there were no reports that the government monitored private online communications without appropriate legal authority. Consistent with an EU directive, the government requires telecommunication companies to retain information on all telephone and internet contacts (not content) for two years.

In December 2018 the High Court found that legislation allowing general and indiscriminate retention of data from mobile phones breached EU law and the European Convention on Human Rights.

There were no government restrictions on academic freedom or cultural events.

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

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

d. Freedom of Movement

The constitution and law provide for freedom of internal movement, foreign travel, emigration, and repatriation, and the government generally respected these rights. The government cooperated with the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), the International Organization for Migration, and other humanitarian organizations in providing protection and assistance to refugees, asylum seekers, stateless persons, and other persons of concern.

Not applicable.

f. Protection of Refugees

Access to Asylum: The law provides for the granting of refugee or subsidiary protection status, and the government has established a system for providing protection to refugees. Asylum seekers whose initial applications are rejected can appeal the decision. Asylum seekers have access to legal advice.

NGOs and the UN Human Rights Committee continued to express concern over the length and complexity of the application and appeal processes. In 2018 the average length of stay in “direct provision,” a system that includes housing, meals, a weekly cash allowance, and access to health care for asylum seekers, was 24 months.

Safe Country of Origin/Transit: The country generally follows the EU’s Dublin III Regulation, which permits the return of asylum applicants to the EU member state of original entry for adjudication of asylum claims. As of July the government received 58 asylum seekers who were rescued in the Mediterranean Sea.

Employment: In July 2018 the EU’s recast Reception Conditions Directive was transposed into domestic law. The directive allows access to the labor market for a broader range of persons seeking international protection than those receiving “direct provision” and removed previous limitations to employment, such as salary restrictions and ineligible sectors for employment. An individual seeking asylum can access the labor market nine months after submitting an application for international protection.

Access to Basic Services: The country employs a system called “direct provision” for asylum seekers that includes housing, meals, a weekly cash allowance, and access to health care. Children have access to education. As of December 2018, 75 percent of asylum seekers remained in the government-run support system for less than three years, compared with 73 percent in December 2017. More than 40 percent of asylum seekers spent more than two years in direct provision. The Irish Refugee Council, the national ombudsman, and the UN Human Rights Committee expressed concern over the detrimental effects of long stays in direct provision accommodation for asylum seekers. In November 2018 the direct provision facilities reached capacity, which required the government to house asylum seekers in emergency accommodations in hotels around the country. As of August, 1,068 individuals were in emergency accommodation, including 177 children. NGO representatives said the government’s use of emergency accommodations led to serious difficulties accessing basic services, including health care and education.

Durable Solutions: The government operated a resettlement program to accommodate up to 200 persons referred by UNHCR or identified through selection missions to UNHCR refugee operations. Under the Irish Refugee Protection Program, the government committed to accepting 4,000 refugees, including 2,622 via the EU relocation program. The government has relocated 1,022 refugees since 2016. The government provides a postarrival cultural orientation program and civics and language courses.

Temporary Protection: The government provided temporary protection (subsidiary protection) to individuals who may not qualify as refugees and granted such protection to 200 persons in 2018. Such individuals were entitled to temporary residence permits, travel documents, access to employment, health care, and housing. The government did not make determinations on subsidiary protection status at the same time as determining asylum status. This caused delays, as a separate determination on subsidiary protection could take from several months to more than a year to complete.

Not applicable.

Section 4. Corruption and Lack of Transparency in Government

The law provides criminal penalties for corruption by officials, and the government generally implemented the laws effectively. There were no reports of central government corruption during the year.

Corruption: There were isolated reports of low-level government corruption during the year.

Financial Disclosure: Elected and appointed officials, as well as civil servants at the higher grades, are required to furnish a statement in writing to the Standards in Public Office Commission of their financial interests and the interests of their spouse, civil partner, and child that could materially influence the person in the performance of official functions. The commission verifies the disclosures. The commission made public the financial disclosures of elected officials. There are criminal and administrative sanctions for noncompliance.

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 without government restriction, investigating and publishing their findings on human rights cases. Government officials often were cooperative and responsive to their views.

Government Human Rights Bodies: The law obliges public bodies to take account of human rights and equality in the course of their work. The Irish Human Rights and Equality Commission (IHREC), an independent government organization, monitored adherence of public bodies to legal obligations. The IHREC was active throughout the year, holding consultations, training sessions, briefings, and policy reviews on human rights issues.

There is also a human rights subcommittee of the parliamentary Committee on Justice, Defense, and Equality. It examines how issues, themes, and proposals before parliament take human rights concerns into account.

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

Rape and Domestic Violence: The law criminalizes rape, including spousal rape, and the government enforced the law. Most persons convicted received prison sentences of five to 12 years. The law also criminalizes domestic violence. It authorizes prosecution of a violent family member and provides victims with “safety orders,” which prohibit the offender from engaging in violent actions or threats, and “barring orders” (restraining orders), which prohibit an offender from entering the family home for up to three years. Anyone found guilty of violating a barring or an interim protection order may receive a fine of up to 4,000 euros ($4,400), a prison sentence of 12 months, or both. In January the government began enforcing the Domestic Violence Act 2018. The law extends protection and safety orders to couples who do not live together, provides guidelines for granting protective orders, and introduces coercive control as a new crime. In July the government began enforcing the Council of Europe Convention on preventing and combatting violence against women and domestic violence (Istanbul Convention). The convention criminalizes violence against women, including domestic violence, sexual harassment, and psychological violence.

Sexual Harassment: The law obliges employers to prevent sexual harassment and prohibits employers from dismissing an employee for making a complaint of sexual harassment. Authorities effectively enforced the law when companies reported sexual harassment. The penalties can include an order requiring equal treatment in the future, as well as compensation for the victim up to a maximum of two years’ pay or 40,000 euros ($44,000) but also in the supply of, and access to, goods and services.

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

Discrimination: The law provides that women and men have the same legal status and rights. The government enforced the law effectively, although inequalities in pay and promotions persisted in both the public and private sectors. In 2017 the Convention on the Elimination of all Forms of Discrimination against Women noted a persistence of “discriminatory stereotypes concerning the roles and responsibilities of women and men in the family and in society.” It also observed a low level of participation of Traveller (a minority traditionally itinerant ethnic group), Roma, and migrant women in political and public life.

Birth Registration: A person born after 2004 on the island of Ireland (including Northern Ireland) is automatically a citizen if one parent was an Irish citizen, a British citizen, a resident of either Ireland or Northern Ireland entitled to reside in either without time limit, or a legal resident of Ireland or Northern Ireland for three of the four years preceding the child’s birth (excluding time spent as a student or an asylum seeker). Authorities register births immediately.

Child Abuse: The law criminalizes physical and psychological abuse and engaging in, or attempting to engage in, a sexual act with a child younger than age 17. The maximum sentence in such cases is five years in prison, which can increase to 10 years if the accused is a person in authority, such as a parent or teacher. The law additionally prohibits any person from engaging in, or attempting to engage in, a sexual act with a juvenile younger than age 15; the maximum sentence is life imprisonment. Tusla, the government’s child and family agency, provided child protection, early intervention, and family support services. The government also provided funding to NGOs that carried out information campaigns against child abuse as well as those who provided support services to victims.

Early and Forced Marriage: The legal minimum age for marriage is 18, including for citizens who marry abroad. The Domestic Violence Act of 2018 repealed provisions that enabled persons younger than 18 to marry, and criminalized forced marriage.

Sexual Exploitation of Children: The law prohibits the sexual exploitation of children and child pornography, and authorities enforced the law. Conviction of trafficking of children and taking a child from home for sexual exploitation carries a maximum penalty of life imprisonment. A person convicted of meeting a child for the purpose of sexual exploitation faces a maximum penalty of 14 years’ imprisonment. The Criminal Law (Sexual Offenses) Act sets a maximum fine of 5,000 euros ($5,500) and includes new offenses relating to child sexual grooming and child pornography. The minimum age for consensual sex is 17.

The law provides for a fine of up to 31,000 euros ($34,100), a prison sentence of up to 14 years, or both for a person convicted of allowing a child to be used for pornography. For producing, distributing, printing, or publishing child pornography, the maximum penalty is 5,000 euros ($5,500), 12 months’ imprisonment, or both.

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 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.

According to the 2016 census, the Jewish community numbered 2,557 persons. There were no reports of violent anti-Semitic acts.

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

The law prohibits discrimination against persons with physical, sensory, intellectual, and mental disabilities. The government effectively enforced these provisions and implemented laws and programs to ensure that persons with disabilities had full access to buildings, information, and communications. In 2017 the government adopted a National Disability Inclusion Strategy for 2017-21. In March 2018 the government ratified the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities.

Societal discrimination and violence against immigrants and racial and ethnic minorities remained a problem. The country’s African population and Muslim community in particular experienced racially motivated physical violence, intimidation, graffiti, verbal slurs, and attacks against mosques.

The law obliges local officials to develop suitable accommodation sites for Travellers and to solicit input from the Travellers. According to the IHREC, Travellers were 22 times more likely than other respondents to report discrimination in access to housing.

In 2016, the most recent report available, the Council of Europe’s Committee of Social Rights determined that the country’s law and practice violated the human rights of Travellers on the following grounds: inadequate conditions at many Traveller sites; insufficient provision of accommodation for Travellers; inadequate legal safeguards for Travellers threatened with eviction; and evictions carried out without necessary safeguards. The government has taken no known action to redress these problems.

The law prohibits discrimination based on sexual orientation in employment, goods, services, and education. The law does not include gender identity as an explicit category, but the courts have interpreted the law as prohibiting discrimination against transgender persons.

Civil liberties and civil society organizations reported the law does not include specific provisions on hate crimes or bias-motivated violence, and does not consider prejudice as an aggravating factor when sentencing criminals.

Italy

Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:

The constitution provides for freedom of expression, including for the press, and the government usually 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.

Freedom of Expression: Detention is legitimate only in case of serious violation of fundamental rights and hate crimes. Speech based on racial, ethnic, national, or religious discrimination is a crime punishable by up to 18 months in prison. Holocaust denial is an aggravating circumstance carrying additional penalties in judicial proceedings.

The law criminalizes insults against any divinity as blasphemy and penalizes offenders with fines from 51 to 309 euros ($56 to $340). There were no reports of enforcement of this law, or of convictions under it, during the year. On July 26, the municipal authorities of Saonara, near Padua, adopted rules penalizing public blasphemy with a 400-euro ($440) fine.

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

Violence and Harassment: The 2019 World Press Freedom Index, compiled by the

NGO Reporters without Borders (RSF), characterized the level of violence against reporters, including verbal and physical intimidation, by private actors as “alarming,” particularly in Campania, Calabria, Apulia, Sicily, Rome, Latium, and Lazio.

The RSF reported journalists increasingly self-censored due to pressure from politicians and organized crime networks. In January, Paolo Borrometi, a journalist collaborating with the newswire Agenzia Giornalistica Italia received a threatening letter, likely from an organized crime syndicate. Borrometi had previous around-the-clock police protection, because prosecutors believed an organized crime cell was planning to kill him for his investigations into its illicit business.

The 2019 report of the Partner Organizations to the Council of Europe Platform to Promote the Protection of Journalism and Safety of Journalists (PJSJ) voiced concerns over physical and verbal attacks on journalists by neo-fascist groups.

Although authorities generally did not participate in or condone violence or harassment against journalists, the RSF and the PJSJ condemned the former deputy prime minister for his hostile social media rhetoric about the media and journalists. On May 23, a group of riot police officers beat Stefano Origone, a reporter for the daily La Repubblica, with batons and kicked him while the journalist was covering clashes among demonstrators near a rally staged by far-right party CasaPound in Genoa. Origone suffered two broken fingers and one broken rib before another police officer stopped the beating, shouting “stop, stop, he’s a journalist.” Police opened an investigation into the incident and expressed regret.

On August 1, the National Federation of the Italian Press (FNSI) denounced the hostility towards journalists who questioned public officials. Valerio Muzio, a journalist for a leading daily La Repubblica, videotaped police intimidating him after they noticed he was filming former deputy prime minister Matteo Salvini’s son riding on a police jet ski, against regulations. On August 5, Chief of Police Franco Gabrielli opened an investigation into possible limitations on freedom of the press stemming from the incident. On August 4, the FNSI expressed solidarity for journalist Sandro Ruotolo, who criticized Salvini in a tweet and subsequently received threats via Twitter from other users.

Libel/Slander Laws: Libel and defamation are criminal offenses punishable by up to three years of imprisonment, which may be increased if directed against a politician or government official. Public officials brought cases against journalists under libel laws. Criminal penalties for libel were seldom carried out. On September 22, the Court of Cassation (Supreme Court) ruled, based on the European Convention on Human Rights, that journalists convicted of libel cannot be punished with imprisonment. Detention is legitimate only in case of serious violation of fundamental rights and hate crimes. In August former prime minister Matteo Renzi sued Antonio Padellaro, former editor of independent daily Fatto Quotidiano, for defamation based on his likening Renzi to the former deputy prime minister during a talk show.

On March 7, the ECHR condemned the country for the jail term given to former deputy editor of the daily Libero Alessandro Sallusti for the publication of some articles in 2007. In 2012 the Court of Cassation had upheld a conviction to 14 months in prison, considered incompatible with the EU Convention on Human Rights, and a 5,000-euro ($5,500) fine.

On June 11, the weekly magazine L’Espresso reported a Milan judge acquitted journalist Emiliano Fittipaldi of defamation charges filed by the former deputy prime minister for having stated during a television show that it was impossible “to deploy Navy ships and shoot at anybody who gets closer, as proposed by the former deputy prime minister in some instances.”

Nongovernmental Impact: The RSF noted many journalists from Rome and the south claimed the mafia and local criminal gangs pressured them. On August 15 in Sulmona, unidentified individuals burned the car of Claudio Lattanzio, a photojournalist for local daily Il Centro. The FNSI also reported threats from organized crime syndicates against journalists. During the year, according to an RSF report, approximately 20 journalists received around-the-clock police protection due to threats from organized crime, while 200 others received occasional protection in 2018. In February a journalist was attacked by a group while filming an investigative story on mafia clans in Abruzzo. The same journalist was previously attacked in late 2017 while he was investigating a different mafia clan’s alleged support for radical group Casa Pound in the Roman coastal town of Ostia.

The government did not restrict or disrupt access to the internet or censor online content, and there were no credible reports that the government monitored private online communications without appropriate legal authority. The National Center for the Fight against Child Pornography, part of the National Police, monitored websites for crimes involving child pornography.

There were no government restrictions on academic freedom or cultural events.

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

See the Department of State’s International Religious Freedom Report at 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.

Not applicable.

f. Protection of Refugees

Abuse of Migrants, Refugees, and Stateless Persons: International humanitarian organizations accused the government of endangering migrants by encouraging Libyan authorities, through cooperation and resources, to rescue migrants at sea and return them to reception centers in Libya. Aid groups and international organizations deemed Libyan centers to have inhuman living conditions. On January 18, 117 persons drowned when the Italian Coast Guard referred their boat’s distress call to the Libyan Coast Guard, which did not respond. The boat was approximately 50 miles off the Libyan coast, which would have placed it in the Libyan search and rescue zone, when it sunk. Italian prosecutors investigated the Italian Coast Guard’s culpability in the incident and on February 7 determined that the Coast Guard acted in accordance with the law, and in line with its search and rescue procedures.

Media outlets reported some cases of violence against refugees. In July unknown attackers threw rocks at, and seriously injured, nine migrant farm workers on their way to work in fields near Foggia.

The International Organization for Migration (IOM), UNHCR, and NGOs reported labor exploitation of asylum seekers, especially in the agriculture and service sectors (see section 7.b.), and sexual exploitation of unaccompanied migrant minors (see section 6, Children).

The government uncovered corruption and organized crime in resources allotted for asylum seekers and refugees. On July 2, police arrested 11 members of four NGOs for alleged fraud and money laundering in the mismanagement of migration centers.

The government cooperated with UNHCR and other international and humanitarian organizations in providing protection and assistance to internally displaced persons, refugees, returning refugees, asylum seekers, stateless persons, and other persons of concern. The uncertainty of EU member states’ willingness to accept a share of migrant arrivals affected the willingness of authorities to protect migrants and asylum seekers brought to the country by rescue vessels.

Refoulement: Amnesty International and other NGOs accused the government of encouraging refoulement by pressuring NGOs to limit rescues of migrants in the Mediterranean Sea and encouraging the Libyan coast guard to take rescued migrants back to Libya. UNHCR did not classify this as refoulement but stated it was looking into the legality of the country’s actions. UNHCR did not consider Libya a “safe port” because it has not signed the applicable UN refugee conventions.

Access to Asylum: In December 2018 the previous government enacted a law sponsored by the interior minister at the time which was designed in part to reduce irregular migration to Italy and to remove humanitarian protection status for migrants. The passage of the law resulted in a higher percentage of denials of any form of protection for migrants. The law also closed the country’s ports to rescue ships the government suspected of communicating and coordinating maritime rescues off the coast of Libya with Libya-based traffickers. On January 31, a rescue ship flying the Dutch flag docked in Lampedusa without the government’s permission. Authorities arrested the ship’s captain, Carola Rackete, but released her and the ship when other EU countries agreed to relocate some of the asylum seekers. On May 20, six UN experts sent a letter to the government expressing concern for the security decree’s incompatibility with the right to life and the principle of nonrefoulement. On August 5, parliament approved a migration and security decree that empowers the Ministry of Interior to prohibit NGO migrant rescue ships suspected of collaborating with traffickers from entering the country’s territorial waters. With the formation of a new government coalition in September and Salvini’s departure from government, some security decrees were under review, and most NGO rescue ships were again allowed to dock in Italian ports. From January to November 7, authorities registered 9,944 new seaborne arrivals. Between August 2018 and July 2019, the Ministry of Interior expelled 6,862 illegal migrants.

NGOs and independent observers identified difficulties in asylum procedures, including inconsistency of standards applied in reception centers and insufficient referral rates of trafficking victims and unaccompanied minors to adequate services.

Regional adjudication committees took an average of six months to process asylum claims. If a case was legally appealed, the process could last up to two years. Authorities closed the largest migration centers in Sicily and Lazio, where service provided to asylum seekers was not always adequate. On July 31, migration centers hosted 105,000 migrants, a 34-percent decrease from the previous year. From January to June, the government received 16,865 asylum requests.

Safe Country of Origin/Transit: The country is party to the EU’s Dublin III Regulation and its subsequent revisions, which identifies the member state responsible for examining an asylum application based primarily on the first point of irregular entry.

Freedom of Movement: The law permits authorities to detain migrants and asylum seekers in identification and expulsion centers for up to 180 days if authorities decide they pose a threat to public order or if they may flee from an expulsion order or pre-expulsion jail sentence. The government paired efforts to reduce migrant flows through the Mediterranean Sea on smuggler vessels with restrictions on freedom of movement for up to 72 hours after migrants arrived in reception centers.

Employment: According to the Federation of Agroindustrial Workers–an affiliate of the Italian General Labor Confederation (CGIL)–and other labor unions and NGOs, employers continued to discriminate against refugees in the labor market, taking advantage of weak enforcement of legal protections against exploitation of noncitizens. High unemployment in the country also made it difficult for refugees to find legal employment.

Access to Basic Services: Authorities set up temporary housing for refugees, including high-quality centers run by local authorities, although many were in larger centers of varying quality, including repurposed facilities such as old schools, military barracks, and residential apartments. UNHCR, the IOM, and other humanitarian organizations and NGOs reported thousands of legal and irregular foreigners, including refugees, were living in abandoned, inadequate, or overcrowded facilities in Rome and other major cities. They also reported refugees had limited access to health care, legal counseling, basic education, and other public services.

Some refugees working in the informal economy could not afford to rent apartments, especially in large cities. They often lived in makeshift shacks in rural areas or squatted in buildings where they lived in substandard conditions. On July 30, police forcibly evicted 400 persons, including refugees, squatting in a building in the outskirts of Turin originally built to host Olympic athletes. NGOs and advocacy groups alleged the Rome municipal government failed to provide alternative public housing for evicted persons, including refugees with legal status.

On June 6, hosted refugees and other migrants in Frosinone staged a demonstration against the reduction of the daily allowance provided by the government to asylum seekers in which two police were injured. On September 2, refugees and other migrants joined Italians in Foggia, Puglia, to organize a sit-in inside the building where the territorial committee meets to adjudicate asylum. Protesters drew attention to the lack of services and asked for greater scrutiny of labor exploitation in southern Italy.

Durable Solutions: The government’s limited attempts to integrate refugees into society produced mixed results. The government offered refugees whose asylum was granted resettlement services. The government and the IOM assisted migrants and refugees who opted to return to their home countries.

Temporary Protection: Between January and September, the government provided humanitarian protection to 16,761 persons and subsidiary protection to 2,614 persons.

Not applicable.

Section 4. Corruption and Lack of Transparency in Government

The law provides criminal penalties for corruption by officials, and the government sometimes implemented the law effectively. Officials sometimes engaged in corrupt practices with impunity. There were numerous reports of government corruption during the year.

Corruption: On February 25, a Rome court sentenced former Rome mayor Gianni Alemanno to six years in prison and a lifetime ban on holding public office for corruption and for accepting illegal funds from an organized crime clan that obtained lucrative public contracts.

Financial Disclosure: The law requires members of parliament to disclose their assets and incomes. The two parliamentary chambers publish a bulletin containing parliamentarians’ information (if agreed to by each member of parliament) on their public websites. The law stipulates that the president of each chamber may order noncompliant members to submit their statements within 15 days of their request but provides for no other penalties. Ministers must disclose their information online.

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

A variety of domestic and international human rights groups generally operated without government restriction, investigating and publishing their findings on human rights cases. While government officials were generally cooperative and responsive to their views, former minister Salvini alleged some foreign NGOs conducting search and rescue activities in the central Mediterranean coordinated their activities with human traffickers.

Government Human Rights Bodies: The Ministry of Foreign Affairs’ Interministerial Committee for Human Rights and the Senate’s Human Rights Committee focused on international and high-profile domestic cases. The National Office to Combat Racial Discrimination under the Department of Equal Opportunity in the Prime Minister’s Office assisted victims of discrimination.

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

Rape and Domestic Violence: A new violence against women law adopted on July 17 imposes harsher penalties for crimes of domestic and gender-based violence. The law penalizes rape, including spousal rape, with six to 12 years in prison. The law criminalizes the physical abuse of women (including by family members), provides for the prosecution of perpetrators of violence against women, and helps shield abused women from publicity. Judicial protective measures for violence occurring within a family allow for an ex parte application to a civil court judge in urgent cases. A specific law on stalking includes mandatory detention for acts of sexual violence, including by partners. Police officers and judicial authorities prosecuted perpetrators of violence against women, but survivors frequently declined to press charges due to fear, shame, or ignorance of the law.

Between January and June, 39 women were killed by domestic partners. On March 15, a man killed his wife and then committed suicide in Castelvetrano after she asked for a divorce.

Two sentences in March in cases of violence against women were considered too lenient because they were based on crimes of passion. In Bologna the court of appeal reduced a sentence from 30 years to 16 because the person convicted appeared to have acted in “strong emotional and passionate turmoil.” In a second case, magistrates in Genoa also reduced from 30 years to 16 the sentence for a man who killed his wife because they considered he had a “strong sense of anger, disappointment, and resentment.”

The Department of Equal Opportunity operated a hotline for victims of violence seeking immediate assistance and temporary shelter. It also operated a hotline for stalking victims.

Female Genital Mutilation/Cutting (FGM/C): The law prohibits FGM/C and it is punishable by up to 12 years’ imprisonment, even if the crime is committed abroad. Cases of FGM/C occurred in some immigrant communities. Experts estimated that between 60,000 and 80,000 women were victims of genital mutilation and that most mutilations were performed outside the country. The European Institute for Gender Equality estimated that 15 to 24 percent of girls originating from countries where FGM/C is practiced were at risk of FGM/C in the Italy. Prosecutors often depended on coverage by NGOs and self-reporting from the migrant community to identify and prosecute FGM/C.

Sexual Harassment: Minor cases of verbal sexual harassment in public are punishable by up to six months’ incarceration and a fine of up to 516 euros ($568). By law, gender-based emotional abuse is a crime. The government effectively enforced the law. Police investigated reports of harassment.

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

Discrimination: Women have the same legal status and rights as men, and the government enforced laws prohibiting discrimination in all sectors. Women nonetheless experienced widespread discrimination, particularly with respect to employment (also see section 7.d. regarding pay disparities between genders).

Birth Registration: A child acquires citizenship automatically when one of the parents is a citizen, when the parents of children born in the country are unknown or stateless, when parents are foreigners from countries of origin that do not give citizenship to their children born abroad, when a child is abandoned in the country, and when the child is adopted. Local authorities require registration immediately after birth.

Child Abuse: Sexual abuse of minors is punishable by six to 24 years in prison, depending on the age of the child. The NGO Telefono Azzurro reported 4,210 cases of child abuse and 66 missing children cases in 2018. Approximately 5,700 persons, mostly teenagers, contacted its help center through social media. The government implemented prevention programs in schools, promptly investigated complaints, and punished perpetrators.

Early and Forced Marriage: The minimum age for marriage is 18, but juvenile courts may authorize marriages for individuals as young as 16. Forced marriage is punishable by up to five years in prison, or six years if it involves a minor under the age of 18. Forced marriage even for religious reasons is also penalized. In a report released in February, the NGO ECPAT International estimated the rate of illegal child marriages (within the community, but not recognized by law) in the shantytowns of Rome to be as high as 77 percent.

Sexual Exploitation of Children: Authorities enforced laws prohibiting sexual exploitation, the sale of children, offering or procuring a child for prostitution, and practices related to child pornography. Independent observers and the government estimated at least 5,000 foreign minors were victims of sexual exploitation. On April 3, a Bari court convicted two men respectively to six year and six months and five years and six months in prison for exploiting at least four minors as sex workers between 2010 and 2017. According to the Department of Equal Opportunity, the number of assisted minor victims of trafficking increased from 199 in 2017 to 215 in 2018.

There were reports of child pornography. On June 21, the Postal Police (under the National Police) announced an operation conducted in 10 regions to dismantle a network responsible for exchanging and selling pornographic material showing minors online and using two WhatsApp groups to entice new victims. Authorities investigated 51 persons. In 2018 Postal Police reported 532 persons allegedly involved in child sexual abuse or sexual exploitation, of whom 43 were arrested.

Save the Children Italy reported 263 minors were victims of labor exploitation and approximately 2,210 minors were victims of child trafficking, mostly for sexual exploitation, in five of the country’s 20 regions.

The minimum age for consensual sex is 14 or 13 if the partner is under the age of 18 and the age gap is less than three years.

Displaced Children: The Ministry of the Interior reported 1,335 unaccompanied minors arrived in the country between January and November 4. As of June 30, the Ministry of Labor and Social Policies reported 7,272 unaccompanied minors, of whom 93 percent were boys, present in the country. It also reported approximately 5,314 minors previously registered at reception centers were reported missing in 2018, putting them at risk of labor and sexual exploitation.

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 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.

There were approximately 28,000 Jews in the country. The law criminalizes the public display of the fascist stiff-armed Roman salute and the sale or display of fascist or Nazi memorabilia. Violations can result in six months’ to two years’ imprisonment, with an additional eight months if fascist or Nazi memorabilia are sold online. On July 9, police arrested Fabio Carlo D’Allio, leader of the far-right group Legio Subalpina, for possession of weapons of war and seized knives and other weapons after raiding the homes of 10 other rightist militants.

Anti-Semitic societal prejudices persisted. Some extremist fringe groups were responsible for anti-Semitic remarks and actions, including vandalism and publication of anti-Semitic material on the internet. The Observatory on Anti-Semitism of the Foundation Jewish Contemporary Documentation Center (the Center) reported 158 anti-Semitic incidents between January and August 7, but no violent assaults.

Internet hate speech and bullying were the most common forms of anti-Semitic attacks, according to the center. On August 7, the center reported 105 cases of insults on the internet and 181 cases of graffiti or vandalism against Jewish residents. Most episodes occurred during Jewish holidays or celebrations. Anti-Semitic slogans and graffiti appeared in some cities, including Rome, Forli, and Livorno.

On October 30, the Senate approved a proposal from Senator for Life and Holocaust survivor Liliana Segre to establish an extraordinary committee to fight intolerance, anti-Semitism and hate crimes; however, 98 center-right senators abstained in the vote. Segre, who was expelled from school for her religion in 1938 and sent to the Nazi Auschwitz camp in 1943, noted that, “there is a mounting wave of racism and intolerance that should be stopped in all possible ways.” Subsequently, in November, the Milan prefect gave Segre a police escort after she received a wave of threats and was the target of anti-Semitic hate speech on social media culminating in a few days when Segre and her family received more than 200 hate messages per day, including statements denying the Holocaust.

On February 13, in northwestern Italy, a man insulted a Jew walking with his son and stole his kippah. When the victim reacted, the man slapped him twice and shouted anti-Semitic remarks at him.

More than 2,000 police officers guarded synagogues and other Jewish community sites in the country.

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

The law protects the rights of persons with disabilities. The government enforced these provisions, but there were incidents of societal and employment discrimination. Although the law mandates access to government buildings and public transportation for persons with disabilities, physical barriers continued to pose challenges.

On June 20, police arrested 13 persons accused of mistreating a group of persons with disabilities in a rehabilitation center in Novi Ligure.

Governmental and societal violence and discrimination against ethnic minorities, including Roma, Sinti, and the nomadic Caminanti, remained a problem. There were reports of discrimination based on race or ethnicity in employment (see section 7.d.).

The press and NGOs reported cases of incitement to hatred, violent attacks, forced evictions from unauthorized camps, and mistreatment by municipal authorities. In February the press reported that the country’s intelligence agency warned parliament that racism and xenophobia were threats the country could face and that attacks on migrants and minorities could rise ahead of European elections in May.

On May 10, national and local police forcibly evacuated a former fireworks production facility hosting a Romani camp near Naples. More than 450 persons had illegally occupied the facility since 2016 in the absence of alternative housing. On May 21, the ECHR, after hearing a complaint by some of those affected with the support of the NGO Associazione 21 Luglio and the European Roma Rights Center, ordered the national government to provide temporary housing to 10 families; on June 5, the ECHR determined that the government had complied.

In June then-interior minister Salvini announced he planned to conduct a “census” of the Romani community and to take steps to expel noncitizen Roma. According to the Associazione 21 Luglio, housing remained a serious concern for the country’s 25,000 Roma, most of whom came from Balkan countries. A total of 15,000 persons lived in 127 authorized camps, and another 9,600, mainly Romanians and Bulgarians, lived in informal encampments primarily in Lazio and Campania.

The law prohibits discrimination against lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and intersex (LGBTI) persons in housing, employment, nationality laws, and access to government services and the government enforced the law effectively. NGOs advocating for LGBTI rights reported instances of societal violence, discrimination, and hate speech.

The press reported isolated cases of violence against gay and lesbian couples during the year. On June 23, a man assaulted and injured two Brazilian gay men in Pescara. When LGBTI persons reported crimes, the government investigated, but in some cases failed to identify the perpetrators.

In March media reported that a Muslim woman wearing a hijab was riding a public bus in Turin when a local woman verbally and physically attacked her, including violently ripping the hijab off her head.