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Australia

Executive Summary

Australia is a constitutional democracy with a freely elected federal parliamentary government. In a free and fair federal parliamentary election in May 2019, the Liberal Party and National Party coalition was re-elected with a majority of 77 seats in the 151-seat House of Representatives. The House subsequently reconfirmed Scott Morrison as prime minister.

The Australian Federal Police (federal police), an independent agency of the Department of Home Affairs, and state and territorial police forces are responsible for internal security. The federal police enforces national laws and state and territorial police forces enforce state and territorial laws. The Department of Home Affairs and the Australian Border Force are responsible for migration and border enforcement. Civilian authorities maintained effective control over the security forces. The Inspector General of the Australian Defence Force is conducting an independent inquiry into allegations that members of the Special Forces may have committed abuses in Afghanistan.

Significant human rights issues included credible allegations of deaths related to neglect or abuse in prison and occasional neglect or mistreatment of prisoners, especially Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander persons or persons with disabilities.

The government took steps to prosecute officials accused of abuses, and ombudsmen, human rights bodies, and internal government mechanisms responded effectively to complaints.

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

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

There were credible allegations of deaths due to abuse in custody by government agents.

Black Lives Matter protests held in major cities sought to raise awareness of black deaths in custody and high rates of indigenous incarceration. Protesters and multiple media reports highlighted the more than 400 indigenous deaths in custody since a royal commission looking into the issue concluded in 1991, and they complained of a lack of convictions despite claims of excessive force or neglect by police.

Since August 2019, the deaths of two indigenous persons in custody have led to murder charges. In August a Western Australia police officer pleaded not guilty to murder in the shooting of a 29-year-old woman. In November 2019 a Northern Territory police officer was charged with murder after shooting a 19-year-old man.

A series of media reports alleged special forces soldiers carried out unlawful killings while on deployment in Afghanistan between 2005 and 2012. The Inspector General of the Australian Defence Force was investigating possible breaches of the laws of armed conflict by special forces personnel in Afghanistan.

b. Disappearance

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

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

The law prohibits such practices, and the government generally respected these provisions. There were occasional claims police and prison officials mistreated suspects in custody; mistreatment of juvenile detainees was a particular concern.

Impunity was not a significant problem in the security forces.

Prison and Detention Center Conditions

There were reports regarding prison or detention center conditions that raised human rights concerns.

Physical Conditions: The most recent data from the Australian Institute of Criminology reported 72 prison deaths in 2017-18. Media sources alleged at least seven suspicious deaths occurred since August 2019, two of which occurred in 2020. Death rates for indigenous Australian prisoners continued higher than for others. For example, in June and July, three Aboriginal prisoners died (two by suicide, the third of unknown causes) in Western Australia prisons.

Prison visits in recent years in Western Australia and Queensland showed a high percentage of inmates had a cognitive, mental health, or physical disability and that inmates with such disabilities were more likely to be placed in solitary confinement and may also suffer higher rates of violence or abuse at the hands of other inmates or prison staff than other inmates.

The Disruptive Prisoner Policy of Western Australia’s Corrective Services also raised particular concern. In July attorneys for three Aboriginal prisoners filed a complaint before the state supreme court, alleging that the policy led some prisoners at the Hakea and Casuarina Prison to spend more than 23 hours a day in solitary confinement with as little as 30 minutes of fresh air a day. The policy was suspended pending an administrative review.

Administration: Authorities investigated allegations of inhumane conditions and documented the results of such investigations in a publicly accessible manner. The government investigated and monitored prison and detention center conditions.

Independent Monitoring: The government permitted visits by independent human rights observers. There were no reports of intimidation by authorities. A number of domestic and international human rights groups expressed concerns about conditions at domestic immigration detention centers (see section 2.f.).

d. Arbitrary Arrest or Detention

The law prohibits arbitrary arrest and detention, and the government generally observed these prohibitions.

Arrest Procedures and Treatment of Detainees

Police officers may seek an arrest warrant from a magistrate when a suspect cannot be located or fails to appear, but they also may arrest a person without a warrant if there are reasonable grounds to believe the person committed an offense. Police must inform arrested persons immediately of their legal rights and the grounds for their arrest and must bring arrested persons before a magistrate for a bail hearing at the next session of the court. The maximum investigation period police may hold and question a person without charge is 24 hours, unless extended by court order for up to an additional 24 hours.

Under limited circumstances in terrorism cases, a number of federal and state or territorial laws permit police to hold individuals in preventive detention without charge or questioning for up to 14 days. These laws contain procedural safeguards including on access to information related to lawyer-client communication.

By law the Office of the Independent National Security Legislation Monitor helps ensure that counterterrorism laws strike an appropriate balance between protecting the community and protecting human rights. The federal police, the Australian Crime Commission, and intelligence agencies are subject to parliamentary oversight. The inspector general of intelligence and security is an independent statutory officer who provides oversight of the country’s six national intelligence agencies.

Bail generally is available to persons facing criminal charges unless authorities consider the person a flight risk or the charges carry a penalty of 12 months’ imprisonment or more. Authorities granted attorneys and families prompt access to detainees. Government-provided attorneys are available to provide legal advice to and represent detainees who cannot afford counsel.

Arbitrary Arrest: The law allows courts to detain convicted terrorists beyond the expiration of their sentence by up to an additional three years for preventive purposes where there is no less restrictive measure available to prevent the risk posed by the offender to the community. Various human rights organizations criticized this law as allowing the government to detain prisoners arbitrarily.

e. Denial of Fair Public Trial

The law provides for an independent judiciary, and the government respected judicial independence and impartiality.

Trial Procedures

The law provides for the right to a fair and timely public trial, and an independent judiciary generally enforced this right. In state district and county courts and in state and territorial supreme courts, a judge and jury try serious offenses. Defendants enjoy a presumption of innocence and cannot be compelled to testify or confess guilt. They have the right to be informed promptly and in detail of the charges, with free interpretation as necessary from the moment charged through all appeals, the right to an attorney, to be present at their trial, and adequate time and facilities to prepare a defense. Government-funded attorneys are available to low-income persons. The defendant’s attorney can question witnesses, present witnesses and evidence, and appeal the court’s decision or the sentence imposed.

News emerged in late 2019 that a man known as both “Witness J” and Alan Johns (a pseudonym) had been prosecuted by the federal government and imprisoned in secret for crimes not made public. Media reports claimed Witness J is a former “senior military officer involved in intelligence” whose imprisonment in Canberra only came to light following a November 2019 judgment in the Australian Capital Territory Supreme Court arising from a dispute related to his treatment in prison. The Australian Capital Territory’s justice minister, Shane Rattenbury, told media in November 2019 he was “deeply disturbed by the extraordinary levels of secrecy surrounding the ‘Witness J’ case” imposed by the federal government, claiming it showed a “growing disregard for the principles of open justice and a robust democracy.” In a statement in December 2019 federal Attorney-General Christian Porter said the matter related to “highly sensitive national security information” that was “of a kind that could endanger the lives or safety of others.” Witness J has since been released from prison after serving a 15-month sentence.

The Independent National Security Legislation Monitor, James Renwick, began a review into the Witness J trial in March, stating that “wholly closed criminal proceedings do indeed appear to be unprecedented in Australia, save possibly during the World Wars.” In April Renwick abandoned the review, citing limitations imposed by COVID-19. Renwick’s term concluded on June 30, and it will be up to the new monitor to consider restarting the review of Witness J’s trial.

Political Prisoners and Detainees

There were no reports of political prisoners or detainees.

Civil Judicial Procedures and Remedies

There is an independent and impartial judiciary in civil matters, and individuals or organizations may seek civil judicial remedies for human rights violations. There is also an administrative process at the state and federal levels to seek redress for alleged wrongs by government departments. Administrative tribunals may review a government decision only if the decision is in a category specified under a law, regulation, or other legislative instrument as subject to a tribunal’s review.

Property Restitution

The government has laws and mechanisms in place for the resolution of Holocaust-era restitution claims, including by foreign citizens. The country is a signatory of the Terezin Declaration. Nongovernmental organizations were not aware of any recent restitution cases. The Department of State’s Justice for Uncompensated Survivors Today (JUST) Act report to Congress, released publicly on July 9, 2020, can be found on the Department’s website: https://www.state.gov/reports/just-act-report-to-congress/.

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

The law prohibits such actions, and there were no reports the government failed to respect these prohibitions. Police have authority to enter premises without a warrant in emergency circumstances.

Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:

a. Freedom of Expression, Including for the Press

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.

National Security: In May, after the highest federal court ruled in April that a warrant used by federal police in a June 2019 raid on the home of News Corp journalist Annika Smethurst was defective, the Australian Federal Police (AFP) announced it would not charge Smethurst for her use of classified information in a 2018 article on surveillance of citizens.

In July the federal police asked the federal director of public prosecutions to consider charging an Australian Broadcasting Corporation (ABC) journalist for publishing classified information in 2017 reports alleging Australian war crimes in Afghanistan. The AFP raided ABC’s Sydney headquarters in June 2019.

The News Corp and ABC raids (relating to separate reports but occurring in the same month) sparked a national discussion on press freedom, led by a coalition of media organizations calling for more legal protections for journalists and whistleblowers. In August the Parliamentary Joint Committee on Intelligence and Security released a report into “the impact of the exercise of law enforcement and intelligence powers on the freedom of the press.” The committee’s inquiry was initiated by the federal attorney general following public concerns about the two federal police raids. The committee recommended the government make changes to the use of warrants that would establish a “public interest advocate” to contest the issuance of warrants against journalists and media organizations. Media organizations including News Corp and the ABC said the report did not go far enough and continued to seek the ability to contest warrants themselves before raids take place.

Internet Freedom

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.

Academic Freedom and Cultural Events

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

b. Freedoms of Peaceful Assembly and Association

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

The declarations of states of emergency by state and territory governments in response to the COVID-19 pandemic affected a number of protests and demonstrations.

In June thousands of protesters in major cities and regional centers defied government health orders to protest the killing of George Floyd in the United States and the treatment of Aboriginal persons and Torres Strait Islanders in Australia. The New South Wales Supreme Court upheld a police appeal to ban a march planned for Sydney on July 28 on public health grounds, with media reporting police arrested and imposed significant fines on six attendees. In Melbourne, police imposed similar fines on three protest organizers for breaching health directions in relation to a June 6 rally.

c. Freedom of Religion

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

d. Freedom of Movement

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

To control the spread of the COVID-19 pandemic, all state and territory governments, with the exception of Victoria and the Australian Capital Territory, enacted interstate border control measures, either outright prohibiting movement, or requiring an enforced mandatory 14-day quarantine period on arrival.

At various times all states and territories also temporarily prohibited or strongly discouraged movement within their borders to reduce the risk of COVID-19 spreading, especially to rural communities with vulnerable populations. For individuals, significant, for some burdensome, fines were the penalty for breaching social distancing and travel restrictions.

e. Status and Treatment of Internally Displaced Persons

Not applicable.

f. Protection of Refugees

The Department of Home Affairs oversees refugee resettlement via the Refugee and Humanitarian Program, which distinguishes between “offshore” and “onshore” individuals. Individuals residing offshore–outside the country–can apply for a refugee visa if they are subject to persecution in their home country; meet the “compelling reasons” criterion; and satisfy health, character, and national security requirements. Individuals who arrived in the country legally (onshore) can apply for a Temporary Protection visa. Persons who seek to enter the country without proper authorization, including preapproval to settle, are considered illegal migrants and subject to detention either in the country or in a third country. Individuals who arrived illegally may apply for a Temporary Protection visa or a Safe Haven Enterprise visa, but it is generally very difficult for them to legalize their status.

Refugee processing centers operated on behalf of Australia in Nauru and Papua New Guinea were closed in March 2019 and October 2017, respectively. As of September 7, approximately 170 refugees or asylum seekers remained in Nauru, housed in community-based facilities funded by the Australian Government. An equivalent number remained in Papua New Guinea.

Abuse of Migrants and Refugees, and Stateless Persons: Domestic and international organizations reported credible allegations of abuse and deteriorating mental health among migrants brought from Nauru and Papua New Guinea for medical treatment and detained in facilities in Brisbane and Melbourne. Alleged abuses included harsh conditions, inadequate mental health and other medical services, assault, and sexual abuse; these also contributed to suicide and self-harm. These organizations also reported suspicious deaths. The UN High Commissioner for Refugees reports that in several cases, family members were not allowed to accompany a relative sent to the country for medical treatment. Government policy required such persons to return to Nauru, Papua New Guinea, or their home country at the conclusion of treatment. The government reported that it provided necessary services to refugees. Months-long protests in Brisbane have sought policy changes, including a change to community detention.

Since the repeal of medevac legislation in December 2019, approval of transfers of asylum seekers and refugees from Nauru and Papua New Guinea–under the off-shore agreements with each country–to Australia for medical treatment not available in the regional processing country remains subject to the discretion of federal ministers. The home affairs minister has approved the medical transfer of 71 persons from Nauru and Papua New Guinea to Australia since the December 2019 repeal; the most recent person arrived from Nauru in July.

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. The UN High Commissioner for Refugees identifies and refers most applicants considered under the program. The government rejected family reunification as a ground for approval of an asylum request.

The law allows the home affairs minister to enter into agreement with a third country to designate that country as a regional processing country for migrants who attempt to enter the country illegally.

Unauthorized maritime arrivals transferred to a regional processing country have their protection claims assessed by the regional processing country under its domestic laws. Since 2019, persons transferred to these countries were no longer held in camps and resided in community-based accommodation while their claims were processed. Australia has memoranda of understanding on regional processing with Papua New Guinea and Nauru and had such arrangements with Cambodia from 2014-18. The settlement arrangements provide for third-country resettlement of unauthorized maritime arrivals that Nauru or Papua New Guinea assess to need international protection.

Australia has another arrangement with Papua New Guinea for the settlement of persons it assesses need international protection. Under this arrangement, any unauthorized maritime arrival entering Australian waters is liable for transfer to Papua New Guinea for processing and resettlement there or in any other participating regional states.

Christmas Island was reopened in August to accommodate overflow in Australia’s immigration detention network. The government says it will initially support 250 persons, mostly individuals whose visas were cancelled for character reasons (i.e., persons who served 12 months or more in jail and are pending removal from Australia). The government stated there is no intention to take asylum seekers, including persons from regional processing countries, to Christmas Island.

By law the government must facilitate legal representation when requested (section 256 of the Migration Act). Some government-funded legal assistance remained available for unauthorized maritime arrivals.

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 or job training 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 countries. The Temporary Protection Visa is valid for three years, and visa holders can work, study, and reside anywhere in the country with access to support services. Once expired, Temporary Protection Visa holders are eligible to reapply for another. The Safe Haven Enterprise Visa is valid for five years and is granted on the basis that visa holders intend to work or study in nonmetropolitan areas. Safe Haven Enterprise Visa holders are eligible to apply for certain permanent or temporary visas after 42 months.

g. Stateless Persons

Not applicable.

Section 3. Freedom to Participate in the Political Process

The constitution and law provide citizens the ability to change their government through free and fair periodic elections held by secret ballot and based on universal and equal suffrage. Voting is mandatory.

Elections and Political Participation

Recent Elections: The government held a free and fair federal parliamentary election in May 2019. Voters re-elected the Liberal-National Party Coalition government. The coalition won 77 seats in the 151-seat House of Representatives; the opposition Labor Party won 68 seats and others won six seats.

Participation of Women and Members of Minority Groups: No laws limit participation of women or members of minority groups in the political process, and they did participate.

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 and territories 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 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 territorial 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, 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 commission 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

Women

Rape and Domestic Violence: The law criminalizes rape of men and women, 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 nonindigenous women, according to a 2018 report.

According to a 2019 statement by the Australian Bureau of Statistics, the proportion of women who experienced partner violence in the last decade remained relatively stable. Women were more likely than men to be victims of domestic violence, including homicide, across all states and territories. In July a survey of 15,000 women by the Australian Institute of Criminology revealed more than half of women who had experienced physical or sexual violence before the COVID-19 pandemic said violence had become more frequent. The research found 8.8 percent of women in a relationship experienced physical or sexual violence from a current or former cohabiting partner between February and May.

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 Human Rights Commission receives complaints of sexual harassment as well as sex discrimination. The penalties vary across states and territories.

Reproductive Rights: Couples and individuals have the right to decide the number, spacing, and timing of their children; to manage their reproductive health; and to have the information and means to do so, free from discrimination, coercion, or violence. State and territorial governments provided comprehensive sex education and sexual health and family planning services. Women had access to contraception and skilled medical care, including attendance by skilled health-care workers during pregnancy and childbirth. Indigenous persons in isolated communities had more difficulty accessing such services than the population in general. Cultural factors and language barriers also inhibited use of sexual health and family planning services by indigenous persons, and rates of sexually transmitted diseases and teenage pregnancy among the indigenous population were higher than among the general population. Government, at national and state and territory levels, provided access to sexual and reproductive health services for survivors of sexual violence.

Coercion in Population Control: There were no reports of coerced abortion or involuntary sterilization on the part of government authorities.

Discrimination: The law provides the same legal status and rights for women and 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.).

Children

The Law Council of Australia and other civil society groups campaigned for all Australian jurisdictions to raise the age of criminal responsibility from 10 to 14.

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 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.

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

Child, 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. Forced marriage is a criminal offense. In 2019 the government expanded the definition of forced marriage explicitly to capture all marriages involving children younger than age 16. 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 a possibly substantial fine and 15 years’ imprisonment. Under federal law, suspected pedophiles can be tried in the country regardless of where the crime was committed, and the maximum penalty for persistent sexual abuse of a child outside the country is 25 years’ imprisonment.

The government largely continued federal emergency intervention measures to combat child sexual abuse in indigenous 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.

Public reaction to the interventions was mixed, with some indigenous activists asserting 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 Annual Report on International Parental Child Abduction at https://travel.state.gov/content/travel/en/International-Parental-Child-Abduction/for-providers/legal-reports-and-data/reported-cases.html.

Anti-Semitism

According to the 2016 census, the country’s Jewish community numbered 91,000. The nongovernmental Executive Council of Australian Jewry reported an incremental increase in anti-Semitic incidents every year since 2015. These incidents included vandalism, threats, harassment, and physical and verbal assaults. According to press reports, persons in the country posted comments and shared various images online, portraying the coronavirus as a “Jew,” as well as accusing Jews of creating and spreading the virus.

Trafficking in Persons

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

Persons with Disabilities

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

The disability discrimination commissioner of the Human Rights Commission promotes compliance with federal and state laws that prohibit discrimination against persons with disabilities. The law also provides for commission 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 approximately 80 percent of all working-age persons.

Members of National/Racial/Ethnic Minority Groups

Of total complaints (2,307) received by the Human Rights Commission in 2019-20, 17 percent related to racial discrimination. The plurality of racial discrimination complaints related to the provision of goods and services (37 percent), with the second largest category being discrimination related to employment (19 percent). One percent of racial discrimination complaints related to access to places and facilities.

Indigenous People

Aboriginal persons 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 and has a number of programs that provide funding for indigenous communities.

According to the 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, notably rising to 100 percent of detained juveniles in the Northern Territory in 2019 and 2020, when 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 Human Rights Commission has an Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander social justice commissioner.

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

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.

Section 7. Worker Rights

a. Freedom of Association and the Right to Collective Bargaining

The law provides for the right of workers to form and join unions and associate freely domestically and internationally, to bargain collectively, and to conduct strikes. The law prohibits antiunion discrimination and provides for reinstatement of workers fired for union activity.

The law requires that employers act in “good faith” when a majority of employees want a collective agreement, although it places some restrictions on the scope of collective bargaining. Prohibited terms include requiring payment of a bargaining services fee or enabling an employee or employer to “opt out” of coverage of the agreement. Furthermore, the law prohibits multi-enterprise agreements or “pattern bargaining,” although low-paid workers can apply for a “low-paid bargaining stream” to conduct multi-enterprise bargaining.

When deciding whether to grant a low-paid authorization, the Fair Work Commission looks at factors including the terms and conditions of employment, the bargaining strength of employees, and whether employers and employees are bargaining for the first time. A bargaining agent may represent either side in the process. The law designates collective agreements as being between employers and employees directly; trade unions are the default representatives of their members but, with some exceptions, are not official parties to collective agreements.

The law restricts strikes to the period when unions are negotiating a new enterprise agreement and specifies that strikes must concern matters under negotiation, known as “protected action.” Protected action provides employers, employees, and unions with legal immunity from claims of losses incurred by industrial action. Industrial action must be authorized by a secret ballot of employees; unions continued to raise concerns this requirement was unduly time consuming and expensive to implement. The law subjects strikers to penalties for taking industrial action during the life of an agreement and prohibits sympathy strikes. The law permits the government to stop strikes judged to have caused “significant economic harm” to the employer or third parties. Some jurisdictions have further restrictions. For example, in New South Wales, the state government may cancel a union’s registration if the government proclaims a state of emergency concerning an essential service and the “industrial organization whose members are engaged in providing the essential service has, by its executive, members, or otherwise, engaged in activities which are contrary to the public interest.”

The government effectively enforced applicable laws. Penalties for violations of freedom of association and collective bargaining protections for individuals and for corporations were commensurate with those for other laws involving denials of civil rights, such as discrimination. The Fair Work Commission is the national independent industrial relations management institution. Its functions include facilitating dispute resolution; if dispute resolution is unsuccessful, the parties may elect the commission to arbitrate the dispute, or the applicant may pursue a ruling by a federal court. Procedures were not subject to lengthy delays or appeals.

Unions reported concerns that the scope of collective bargaining had narrowed in recent years, including through decisions by the Fair Work Commission, which also affected the right to strike.

b. Prohibition of Forced or Compulsory Labor

The law prohibits all forms of forced or compulsory labor, including by migrant workers. Penalties were commensurate with those for analogous serious crimes, such as kidnapping. Since 2019, companies of a certain size must file annual statements identifying risks for modern slavery in their supply chains and efforts to address those risks.

The government effectively enforced applicable labor laws. Most forced labor cases were addressed through civil law, resulting in convicted labor traffickers receiving only fines and other civil penalties that were not commensurate with those for analogous serious crimes, such as kidnapping.

Some foreign nationals who came to the country for temporary work were subjected to forced labor in sectors such as agriculture, cleaning, construction, hospitality, and domestic service.

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

c. Prohibition of Child Labor and Minimum Age for Employment

Not all of the worst forms of child labor are prohibited. As noted by the International Labor Organization, no law prohibits the use, procuring, or offering of a child younger than age 18 for certain illicit activities, in particular for the production and trafficking of drugs, in the Northern Territory.

There is no federally mandated minimum age of employment. In Victoria, the minimum age of employment is 15. States and territories have established 18 years as the minimum age for hazardous work.

There are laws and regulations pertaining to hazardous work across sectors. For example, under the law in Western Australia, an underground worker may not be younger than age 18 unless he or she is an apprentice or a cadet working underground to gain required experience; a person handling, charging, or firing explosives may not be younger than age 18; and a person younger than 21 may not obtain a winding engine driver’s certificate.

Federal, state, and territorial governments effectively monitored and enforced the laws. Penalties for violations were commensurate with those for analogous serious crimes, such as kidnapping.

The Office of the Fair Work Ombudsman actively sought to educate young workers about their rights and responsibilities. Compulsory educational requirements effectively prevented most children from joining the workforce full-time until they were age 17. Although some violations of these laws occurred, there was no indication of a child labor problem in any specific sector. There were some reports of commercial sexual exploitation of children (see section 6, Children).

Also see the Department of Labor’s Findings on the Worst Forms of Child Labor at https://www.dol.gov/agencies/ilab/resources/reports/child-labor/findings  for information on the territories of Christmas Island, Cocos (Keeling) Island, and Norfolk Island.

d. Discrimination with Respect to Employment and Occupation

The law prohibits discrimination on the basis of race, religion, national origin, color, sex, ethnicity, disability, age, sexual orientation or gender identity, HIV/AIDS status, or refugee or stateless status. Federal, state, and territory laws provide for protections against employment discrimination.

The law requires organizations with 100 or more employees to establish a workplace program to remove barriers to women entering and advancing in their organization. The law requires equal pay for equal work. The government continued efforts to encourage persons under the Disability Support Pension program to enter the workforce when they have the capacity to do so, including by requiring compulsory workforce activities for its recipients younger than age 35 who can work for more than eight hours per week.

The government enforced laws prohibiting employment discrimination and penalties were commensurate with laws related to civil rights, such as election interference; however, employment discrimination against women, indigenous persons, and persons with disabilities occurred. According to the government’s Workplace Gender Equality Agency, the full-time gender pay gap was 14 percent. The International Labor Organization noted its concern that, despite several government initiatives, indigenous peoples continued to be disadvantaged and that employment targets were not met.

In 2017-18, the latest year for which such data were available, approximately 30 percent of the complaints about disability discrimination received by the Human Rights Commission were in the area of employment.

e. Acceptable Conditions of Work

For a single adult living alone, the minimum wage exceeded the poverty line defined as 50 percent of median income.

By law maximum weekly hours are 38 plus “reasonable” additional hours, which, by law, must take into account factors such as an employee’s health, family responsibilities, ability to claim overtime, pattern of hours in the industry, and amount of notice given. An employee may refuse to work overtime if the request is “unreasonable.”

Federal or state occupational health and safety laws apply to every workplace, including in the informal economy. By law both employers and workers are responsible for identifying health and safety hazards in the workplace. Workers can remove themselves from situations that endanger health or safety without jeopardy to their employment, and authorities effectively protected employees in this situation. The law includes an antibullying provision. The law also enables workers who are pregnant to transfer to a safe job regardless of their time in employment.

The government effectively enforced laws related to minimum wage, hours of work, and occupational safety and health. The Office of the Fair Work Ombudsman provides employers and employees advice on their rights and has authority to investigate employers alleged to have exploited employees unlawfully. The ombudsman also has authority to prosecute employers who do not meet their obligations to workers. Ombudsman inspectors may enter work sites unannounced if they reasonably believe it is necessary to ensure compliance with the law. The number of ombudsman inspectors was sufficient to enforce compliance and penalties were commensurate with those for crimes like negligence. Inspectors can order employers to compensate employees and sometimes assess fines. There were some reports violations continued in sectors employing primarily migrant workers.

Workers exercised their right to a safe workplace and had recourse to state health and safety commissions, which investigate complaints and order remedial action. Each state and territory effectively enforced its occupational health and safety laws through dedicated bodies that have powers to obtain and initiate prosecutions, and unions used right-of-entry permits to investigate concerns.

Most workers received higher compensation than the minimum wage through enterprise agreements or individual contracts. Temporary workers include both part-time and casual employees. Part-time employees have set hours and the same entitlements as full-time employees. Casual employees are employed on a daily or hourly wage basis. They do not receive paid annual or sick leave, but the law mandates they receive additional pay to compensate for this, which employers generally respected. Migrant worker visas require that employers respect employer contributions to retirement funds and provide bonds to cover health insurance, worker’s compensation insurance, unemployment insurance, and other benefits.

There continued to be reports of employers exploiting immigrant and foreign workers (also see section 7.b.). As part of the 2018 Fair Work Ombudsman’s Harvest Trail inquiry into the exploitation of overseas workers in the agricultural sector, the ombudsman continued to operate a system for migrant workers to report workplace issues anonymously in 16 languages.

There were reports some individuals under “457” employer-sponsored, skilled worker visas received less pay than the market rate and were used as less expensive substitutes for citizen workers. The government improved monitoring of “457” sponsors and information sharing among government agencies, particularly the Australian Tax Office. Employers must undertake “labor market testing” before attempting to sponsor “457” visas.

Safe Work Australia, the government agency responsible for developing and coordinating national workplace health and safety policy, cited a preliminary estimate that, in the year to November 5, 140 workers died while working. Of these fatalities, 44 were in the transport, postal, and warehousing sectors; 27 in the agriculture, forestry, and fishing sectors; and 27 in construction.

Ecuador

Executive Summary

Ecuador is a constitutional, multiparty republic with an elected president and unicameral legislature. In 2017 voters elected President Lenin Moreno from the ruling party Alianza PAIS (Proud and Sovereign Fatherland) and chose members of the National Assembly in elections that were generally free and fair.

The National Police maintains internal security and law enforcement and is under the authority of the Ministry of Government. The military is under the supervision of the Ministry of Defense and is responsible for external security. Police and military forces share responsibility for border enforcement, with the military also having limited domestic security responsibilities. The military may complement police operations to maintain and control public order when expressly mandated. Migration officers are civilians and report to the Ministry of Government. Civilian authorities maintained effective control over the security forces. Members of the security forces allegedly committed some abuses.

Significant human rights issues included: reports of torture and abuse by police officers and prison guards; harsh and life-threatening prison conditions; the existence of criminal libel laws; serious acts of corruption; lack of investigation of and accountability for violence against women and children; and the use of child labor.

The government took steps to investigate and prosecute officials who committed human rights abuses.

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

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

There were reports that the government or its agents committed arbitrary or unlawful killings.

Human rights organizations reported excessive force by security forces who were likely responsible for several of the 11 deaths reported by the comptroller during the October 2019 violent protests against the government’s economic reforms. Ministry of Government officials indicated that only eight deaths were linked to demonstrations, and they argued that the causes of death were either due to force majeure actions of police attempting to control violent crowds or accidents that did not result from direct police action. The nongovernmental organization (NGO) Regional Human Rights Advisory Foundation and other NGOs reported that as of August 17, the Attorney General’s Office had not significantly advanced investigations concerning deaths during the protests. Criminal investigations concerning the entire range of crimes committed during the several weeks of organized violence–including lootings, arson, attacks on public employees and institutions–that accompanied the political protests did not significantly advance before year’s end.

In December 2019 the Provincial Court of Imbabura overturned police officer David Velastegui’s June 2019 sentence for “overreaching in the execution of an act of service.” In 2018 Velastegui shot and killed Andres Padilla, an Afro-Ecuadorian man, during a scuffle. The court, in reversing its ruling, determined Velastegui’s life was in imminent danger, justifying use of his service weapon in self-defense. The court further found “no advance planning or intentionality in Padilla’s death,” and no “criminal responsibility in the accused, since the death did not occur as a consequence of an act of excess of duties.” Padilla’s family appealed the ruling, and a decision on the appeal was pending as of October 19.

b. Disappearance

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

On August 14, after the National Court of Justice sentenced former intelligence officers Raul Chicaiza and Jessica Falcon to one year in prison for the 2012 kidnapping in Bogota, Colombia, of opposition legislator Fernando Balda, the court ruled that government officials used public funds to orchestrate Balda’s kidnapping. The court found former intelligence director Pablo Romero guilty of planning the abduction under the orders of former president Rafael Correa, who was also indicted but remained in Belgium despite extradition requests. The extradition request remained in process as of October 27.

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

While the constitution and the law prohibit torture and similar forms of intimidation and punishment, there were reports that police officers and prison guards tortured and abused suspects and prisoners.

In two cases stemming from arrests relating to the violent October 2019 protests, victims reported to NGOs and international organizations alleged police kidnappings and torture or other forms of degrading treatment during police interrogations. Human rights activists asserted that as of August 17, officials had not investigated these claims. On January 14, the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) released a preliminary report from its state-sponsored October 2019 visit on reported abuses relating to the 2019 protests. Numerous detainees claimed authorities abused them through verbal threats, beatings with fists and metal truncheons, and forced physical exercises. The IACHR noted that judicial authorities in some cases did not record evidence presented by victims. Local human rights organizations reported that torture continued to occur in prisons, especially at Turi Prison in Azuay Province. On February 27, Azuay Public Prosecutor Leonardo Amoroso stated that contrary to official accounts claiming six prisoners died on February 20 in the prison by suicide, a forensic report (indicating one prisoner whose liver had burst) suggested the prisoners might have died as the result of torture, but he did not speculate who may have been responsible for the deaths. As of October 27, an inquiry request from human rights organizations to the Ombudsman’s Office on the case was pending.

On October 13, media reported a female police officer in Duran, Guayas Province, assaulted a female street vendor with a disability, who was tied to a pole, by placing her hands on the vendor’s buttocks while observers ridiculed the vendor and poured water over her head. The offending officer was dismissed from her duties the same day. On October 14, the public prosecutor launched an investigation and arrested two additional suspects involved in the incident.

The Internal Affairs Unit of the National Police investigates whether police killings are justifiable and can refer cases to the Attorney General’s Office to pursue prosecutions. An intelligence branch within the military has a role similar to the police internal affairs unit. The law states that the Attorney General’s Office must be involved in all human rights abuse investigations, including unlawful killings and forced disappearance. Although the National Police’s Internal Affairs division is designed to investigate complaints of police abuses, human rights defenders reported these units often failed to conduct investigations adequately. Activists stated follow-up on abuse claims was difficult due to high staff turnover in the Internal Affairs Unit.

Although impunity was not a significant problem in the security forces, human rights NGOs and civil society groups reported the lack of prosecutions against police officers who allegedly used excessive force against demonstrators during October 2019 protests could be interpreted as impunity. The government did not announce further actions taken to address general public concern about alleged human rights abuses during the October 2019 protests.

Prison and Detention Center Conditions

Prison conditions were harsh and life threatening due to gang violence, official corruption, food shortages, gross overcrowding, harassment by security guards against prisoners and visitors, physical and sexual abuse, and inadequate sanitary conditions and medical care.

Physical Conditions: Prisons continued to be overcrowded despite efforts to alleviate the problem. Officials reported a reduction in total prison overpopulation from 36 percent at the end of 2019 to 28 percent through June 1 by releasing 1,525 inmates between April 1 and June 1 in response to COVID-19 contagion concerns. A human rights NGO reported prison conditions were often better for female inmates due to their lower population density.

By law juveniles cannot be tried as adults, and individuals convicted as juveniles serve their full sentence in juvenile prisons. In May 2019 the daily newspaper El Comercio reported 40 percent of the population in the 11 centers for juvenile offenders were juveniles due to reach adulthood during their sentence. Human rights organizations reported no juveniles resided in adult prisons.

Media reports documented 22 violent deaths in prisons nationwide through August 20. Prison officials and human rights organizations agreed most violent deaths in prisons were linked to tension among criminal gangs with links to drug cartels. An August 3 confrontation between armed prison gangs left 11 inmates dead (including two who died from incineration) and 20 injured at Litoral Prison in Guayaquil. An August 11 gang confrontation in the Latacunga Rehabilitation Center in Cotopaxi Province maximum-security block left two inmates dead and five injured. An NGO reported criminal organizations operating within and outside of prisons intimidated prison staff while on and off duty.

On August 8, Israeli citizen Shy Dahan (incarcerated for alleged ties to corruption in acquiring medical equipment and fraudulent COVID-19 testing kits in a scheme allegedly involving former president Abdala Bucaram) was found dead in his cell in Litoral Prison. On October 1, media reported Litoral Prison director Hector Vivar was arrested for alleged involvement in a bribery scheme in which he demanded $30,000 in exchange for Dahan’s protection and safety.

On September 2, seven prisoners were sentenced to 46 total additional years in prison for the June 11 kidnapping and murder–by decapitation and incineration–of a fellow prisoner in the Eighth Rehabilitation Regional Prison in Guayas Province.

On August 11, President Moreno declared a state of emergency for the nationwide penitentiary system to address the escalation of prison violence, similar to a May 2019 declaration. The government also ordered the presence of police inside prison centers and military personnel at security perimeters and entry checkpoints of prisons. The state of emergency remained in effect as of October 27. During the state of emergency, the government reclassified and segregated inmates at facilities according to assessed threat levels.

Access to and quality of food, potable and hot water, heating, sanitation, and medical care were inadequate. Officials verified that inmates did not have safe and permanent access to healthful food. In 2018 government officials detected a deterioration of the water systems at prison facilities with noticeable difficulties in access to drinking water, especially at the Latacunga Rehabilitation Center, and these problems persisted. In some facilities health measures were sufficient only for emergency care. On June 20, national prison officials reported 699 inmate infections and 10 deaths due to COVID-19 in the national detention centers. Prisoners noted inconsistent and generally insufficient protection and isolation measures from COVID-19 infection in prisons.

An NGO reported that prison officials, including medical staff, often failed to screen adequately and segregate prisoners with mental and physical disabilities from the rest of the prison population. On June 26, President Moreno signed a decree pardoning persons with disabilities and commuting their prison sentences. Pardoned inmates were required to comply with alternative measures, including community service and appearing personally before a judge twice a month.

Administration: Authorities sometimes conducted investigations of credible allegations of mistreatment in prisons.

On March 15, President Moreno ordered the suspension of visits to inmates and curtailed recreational activities at all prison centers as a measure to prevent COVID-19 contagion. Human rights organizations continued to report that the few visitors allowed before the pandemic faced degrading treatment during check-in at prison facilities, including the removal of clothing and illumination of genitalia by flashlights while forced to jump naked. Such treatment dissuaded relatives and religious officials from visiting prisons. An NGO reported that access to inmates had been limited during the May-August 2019 emergency declaration, as inmates continued living in almost complete isolation from their relatives.

Independent Monitoring: Civil society representatives continued to report restrictions to monitoring by independent NGO observers. According to the NGO Permanent Committee (CDH) for the Defense of Human Rights, authorities failed to respond to many independent observers’ requests to visit prisons. Prison officials explained that monitoring groups’ safety could not be guaranteed, especially during the state of emergency in the penitentiary system.

d. Arbitrary Arrest or Detention

The law prohibits arbitrary arrest and detention and provides for the right of any person to challenge the lawfulness of his or her arrest or detention in court, but there were reports that provincial and local authorities did not always observe these provisions. According to NGOs, illegal detentions continued to occur.

Arrest Procedures and Treatment of Detainees

The law requires authorities to issue specific written arrest orders prior to detention, and a judge must charge a suspect with a specific criminal offense within 24 hours of arrest. Authorities generally observed this time limit, although in some provinces initial detention was often considerably longer. Detainees have the right to be informed of the charges against them. By law, if the initial investigation report is incriminating, the judge, upon the prosecutor’s request, may order pretrial detention. Judges at times ordered a detainee’s release pending trial with the use of ankle-monitoring bracelets.

Detainees have a constitutional right to an attorney. Those without financial means to pay for an attorney have the right to request a court-appointed attorney from the Public Defenders’ Office. Although there were many available court-appointed defenders, the number of cases and limited time to prepare for the defense continued to present a disadvantage during trials.

The law entitles detainees to prompt access to lawyers and family members, but NGOs continued to report delays depending on the circumstances and the willingness of local courts and prison guards to enforce the law.

Arbitrary Arrest: Several NGOs and international organizations reported that security forces arbitrarily detained protesters during the October 2019 violent antigovernment demonstrations. In its January 14 report, the IACHR highlighted information received indicating that “a large number of arrests were allegedly carried out arbitrarily or illegally,” underlining the comptroller’s October 2019 claim that up to 76 percent of the government’s reported 1,192 detentions during the demonstrations were arbitrary or illegal.

Pretrial Detention: Corruption and general judicial inefficiency caused trial delays. Police, prosecutors, public defenders, and judges did not receive adequate training. The length of pretrial detention did not usually exceed the maximum sentence for the alleged crime.

e. Denial of Fair Public Trial

While the constitution provides for an independent judiciary, outside pressure and corruption impaired the judicial process. Legal experts, bar associations, and NGOs reported on the susceptibility of the judiciary to bribes for favorable decisions and faster resolution of legal cases. No updates were available through September 18 on the selection of permanent replacement of Judicial Council members after 23 of 36 evaluated judges were deemed not to have met the minimum qualification threshold in November 2019 and were replaced by temporary judges from lower courts appointed by the council.

On January 29, six former police officials convicted for “paralyzing a public service” during a 2010 police protest known as 30-S were released from prison on appeal. All of the officers declared they would seek to reintegrate into the police force. On June 29, four other former police officials sentenced to 12 years in prison in the same incident presented a revision appeal to the National Court of Justice. The appellants, after serving nearly six years in prison, were released as they awaited the court’s ruling, which was pending as of October 27.

Trial Procedures

The law provides for the right to a fair and public trial, although delays occurred frequently. The law presumes a defendant innocent until proven guilty. Defendants have the right to be informed promptly of the charges in detail. The accused have the right to consult with an attorney or to have one provided and to appeal. Defendants have the right to free assistance from an interpreter, but some defendants complained about the lack of an interpreter at court hearings. Defendants have the right to adequate time and resources to prepare their defense, although in practice this was not always the case, and delays in providing translation services made this difficult for some foreign defendants. Foreigners also often faced a language barrier with their public defenders, which impaired their ability to present a defense. Defendants have the right to be present at their trial. The accused may also present evidence and call witnesses, invoke the right against self-incrimination, and confront and cross-examine witnesses.

Judges reportedly rendered decisions more quickly or more slowly due to political pressure or fear in some cases. There were reported delays of up to one year in scheduling some trials.

Criminal justice reforms aimed at reducing congested dockets in criminal cases produced “simplified” proceedings in pretrial stages, resulting in faster resolution of cases. Prisoners reported that after cases reached a higher court, however, lengthy delays ensued in setting dates for preliminary hearings.

The regular court system tried most defendants, although some indigenous groups judged members independently under their own community rules for violations that occurred in indigenous territory, as provided under the constitution.

The court system slowed considerably due to the COVID-19 pandemic, with all courts initially moving to remote working conditions. Defendants’ counsels complained this format inhibited their ability to represent their clients adequately, and several noted that new procedural rules were inconsistently and sometimes arbitrarily applied. By June some courts had returned to in-person appearances, but judges in at-risk health or demographic categories continued to telework.

Political Prisoners and Detainees

There were no reports of political prisoners or detainees.

On July 30, the National Assembly approved a resolution granting amnesty to 20 indigenous leaders charged and convicted in 2015 for kidnapping and extortion after participating in mobilizations against the former Correa administration. Aside from ordering the immediate release of four leaders still in detention, the resolution expunged all criminal records related to the charges, revoked any outstanding arrest warrants against any individuals, and removed any precautionary measures or prison alternatives that had been previously issued. Human rights organizations reported that 150 abused and detained demonstrators continued to face legal processes for the same alleged 2015 acts.

Civil Judicial Procedures and Remedies

Civil courts and the Administrative Conflicts Tribunal, generally considered independent and impartial, handle lawsuits seeking damages for, or immediate ending of, human rights violations. Individuals and organizations may appeal adverse decisions domestically and to regional human rights bodies.

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

The law prohibits such actions, and there were no reports the government failed to respect these prohibitions.

Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:

a. Freedom of Expression, Including for the Press

The constitution provides for freedom of expression, including for the press, but other laws restrict this right. Experts cautioned that restrictive provisions to journalistic work found in a 2013 communication law, reformed in February 2019, remained in effect, including Article 5, which characterizes media and communications as a public service, not a right, and a provision requiring all journalists to hold university degrees. Restrictive provisions found in other laws, such as punishing opinions as slander, which carries a prison term of six months to two years, also remained in force.

Human rights activists noted that national curfews and movement restrictions enacted during the October 2019 protests, and in place to varying degrees since March 17 due to the COVID-19 pandemic, meant for security and public health reasons, in effect set a series of de facto restrictions on freedom of expression, freedom of assembly and association, and freedom of movement (see section 2.b.).

Freedom of Speech: Individuals could usually discuss matters of general interest publicly or privately without reprisal. The law prohibits citizens from using “discrediting expressions,” treated as a misdemeanor with a 15- to 30-day prison term. There were no reports the government invoked this law to restrict freedom of speech during the year.

Freedom of Press and Media, Including Online Media: Independent media were active and expressed a wide variety of views, including those critical of the government.

The domestic freedom of expression monitoring group Fundamedios reported that due to the financial impact of the COVID-19 pandemic, public and private media companies in July reduced staff, including journalists, press support, and administrative staff, among others. According to Fundamedios, the staffing cuts adversely affected press freedom because critical views of the government decreased as a result of the reductions.

The law limits media’s ability to provide election coverage during the official campaign period, with no coverage allowed in the 48 hours preceding a national election. A constitutional court ruling affirmed the right of the press to conduct interviews and file special reports on candidates and issues during the campaign period, but the ruling left in place restrictions on “direct or indirect” promotion of candidates or specific political views.

The law includes the offense of inciting “financial panic” with a penalty of imprisonment from five to seven years for any person who divulges false information that causes alarm in the population and provokes massive withdrawals of deposits from a financial institution that put the institution’s stability at risk.

The law mandates television and radio broadcast of messages and reports by the president and his cabinet are to be free of charge. After taking office in 2017, President Moreno reduced the amount of time required for presidential broadcasts to one 15-minute weekly program, compared with the three- to four-hour weekly program by his predecessor.

Reforms to the 2013 communications law enacted in 2019 on spectrum allocations addressed past concerns about the potential excessive allocation of spectrum to state media. The reforms call for the redistribution of broadcast frequencies to divide media ownership between community media (up to 34 percent) and private and public media (up to 66 percent combined). Maximum figures under the reform are subject to demand and availability. The reforms limit the allocation of radio frequencies to the public sector to no more than 10 percent of the spectrum.

On May 15, the Agency for the Regulation and Control of Telecommunications (ARCOTEL) began a competitive public tender to allocate 3,196 radio frequencies. Fundamedios and other civil society groups criticized the bidding process as lacking transparency and allowing a small number of bidders to accumulate a disproportionate number of frequencies. These groups noted the potential agglomeration of radio frequencies under one domain threatened freedom of expression by reinstalling self-censorship among media outlets. On September 18, the National Assembly initiated an audit of the bidding process. On October 5, ARCOTEL director Xavier Aguirre announced postponement of the bidding process for 25 days to review bidders’ qualifications and review government and civil society inquiries about the process. On November 13, ARCOTEL stated on its website 70 percent of participants (of a total of 621) for the radio frequencies tender complied with all the requisites to obtain their qualifying title, which are valid for 15 years. The remaining 30 percent may ask for a second review of their application.

Violence and Harassment: Human Rights Watch reported police in Guayaquil used apparent excessive force to break up a May 14 peaceful protest against the government’s COVID-19 response and education budget cuts. According to Fundamedios, police attacked two journalists from the daily newspaper Diario Expreso and a photographer for the CDH.

In a December 2019 report, Fundamedios stated the October 2019 violent antigovernment protests led to a resurgence in stigmatization and hateful speech against journalists and media last experienced during former president Correa’s administration. This speech was broadly attributed to the protesters and their supporters, rather than to the Moreno government. Phrases such as “corrupt press” and “sold-out press” were frequently replicated across broad sectors and on social media during the October 2019 protests and carried forward throughout the year. Verbal attacks instilled “a mistrust by the citizenry towards reporters, especially those who belong to some traditional media outlets.” Some journalists said they avoided covering politically charged protests due to fear of suffering physical attacks, as seen during the October 2019 protests.

Censorship or Content Restrictions: There were reports government officials tried to penalize those who published items critical of the government. Fundamedios reported five potential censorship cases involving government officials through August 11. While four cases did not involve legal action or penalties, in one instance a Chimborazo provincial council official filed a criminal complaint against two journalists for publishing a report on corrupt acts in Riobamba, capital of Chimborazo Province.

On September 2, the Constitutional Court overturned a 2012 decision issued by the Contentious Electoral Tribunal (TCE) that fined Vistazo news magazine $80,000 for publishing an editorial rejecting the 2011 government-led referendum on proposed reforms to the judiciary branch three days before the vote was held. After initially ruling in the magazine’s favor, stating an opinion editorial cannot be considered “political propaganda,” the TCE reversed its decision after the then president Correa replaced the TCE’s judges. In its September ruling, the Constitutional Court found the TCE responsible for violating the rights of due process and freedom of expression. The ruling also exhorted government officials to emphasize freedom of expression around the electoral process. A Vistazo legal representative told local media, “This decision sets a precedent that media outlets must express their opinions without self-censorship.”

The law imposes local content quotas on media, including a requirement that a minimum of 60 percent of content on television and 50 percent of radio content be produced domestically. Additionally, the law requires that advertising be produced domestically and prohibits any advertising deemed by a judge to be sexist, racist, or discriminatory in nature. Furthermore, the Ministry of Public Health must approve all advertising for food or health products.

Libel/Slander Laws: Libel is a criminal offense under the law, with penalties of up to three years in prison, plus fines. The law assigns responsibility to media owners, who are liable for opinion pieces or statements by reporters or others, including readers, using their media platforms. The February 2019 reforms to the 2013 communications law repealed a prohibition of “media lynching,” described as the “coordinated and repetitive dissemination of information, directly or by third parties through media, intended to discredit a person or company or reduce its public credibility.” Monitoring organizations reported that as of August 17, the government had not used libel laws against journalists.

On July 13, an attorney representing the Brazilian conglomerate Odebrecht sued the investigative journalist and director of Investigative Journalism online portal, Fernando Villavicencio, for defamation after Villavicencio published an August 2019 report on the private company’s return to the country in 2010 after its 2008 expulsion. The report alleged the company paid $20 million to the Correa government in exchange for generous debt forgiveness terms and cessation of investigations. The Moreno government barred Odebrecht from further operations in the country in January 2019, weeks after Odebrecht officials confessed to U.S. authorities of orchestrating an international corruption network for many years.

In 2019 the Constitutional Court overturned a 2012 ruling against the newspaper Diario La Hora. The National Secretary of Public Administration successfully argued in 2012 that the outlet published information about the then government’s propaganda expenses that damaged the secretariat’s reputation. The court’s decision highlighted that only humans, not institutions, have rights. Legal experts argued the decision set a precedent in favor of free speech.

Actions to Expand Freedom of Expression, including for Media: The National Committee for the Protection of Journalists, a joint government-civil society committee formed in 2019, reconvened on August 11 to discuss ways to protect journalists from threats for reporting on corruption and other sensitive issues. The committee agreed to integrate representatives from the Attorney General’s Office and Judicial Council and, if applicable, activate police intervention to provide protection and support for affected journalists.

Internet Freedom

The government did not restrict or disrupt access to the internet, but human rights organizations and media outlets reported cases of online content censorship.

On February 4, a presidency employee denounced the digital media outlet 4 Pelagatos for alleged intellectual property violations for using a photograph of President Moreno, which was taken by the government, in an online article. According to the complaint, 4 Pelagatos violated the government’s intellectual property for using a government image without authorization. On the same day, the Communications Secretariat stated the presidency employee had been dismissed for “taking unauthorized decisions.” The press release reiterated the government’s respect for the freedom of expression but justified restrictions on imagery use based on copyright standards, saying, “in (our) fight against disinformation, (the national government) has copyright over images and information it generates.”

A government regulation requires that internet service providers comply with all information requests from the superintendent of telecommunications, allowing access to client addresses and information without a judicial order. The law holds a media outlet responsible for online comments from readers if the outlet has not established mechanisms for commenters to register their personal data (including national identification number) or created a system to delete offensive comments. The law also prohibits media from using information obtained from social media unless they can verify the author of the information.

Academic Freedom and Cultural Events

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

b. Freedoms of Peaceful Assembly and Association

The law provides for the freedoms of peaceful assembly and association, and the government generally respected these rights, although the government imposed some restrictions due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Human rights defenders reported a state of emergency enacted on March 17 to control the spread of COVID-19 included de facto restrictions on freedom of assembly and association, as well as freedom of movement. The government instituted nationwide curfews effective seven days a week. Restrictions on freedom of assembly and association limited the number of persons in public places and private residences. President Moreno extended the state of emergency in 60- and 30-day increments through September 12. In an August 25 decision, the Constitutional Court prohibited the president from renewing the state of emergency using the same grounds as the previous requests, ruling the state of emergency “cannot be extended indefinitely through decrees that extend the state of exception or that declare new ones,” as the state needed to transition to a condition allowing “the enjoyment and exercise of constitutional rights threatened (under a state of emergency).”

Freedom of Peaceful Assembly

The law provides for freedom of peaceful assembly, and the government generally respected this right. Public rallies require prior government permits, which authorities usually granted.

Human Rights Watch, the Alliance of Human Rights Organizations, and the CDH reported that police in Guayaquil allegedly arbitrarily detained four demonstrators during a May 14 protest in which police beat and injured demonstrators. According to the CDH, the police report declared the four detainees had verbally assaulted police officers. At a May 15 judicial hearing, a judge ruled police lacked sufficient evidence that the detained protesters had committed a crime and ordered them released.

On June 17, the Constitutional Court struck down Ministerial Agreement 179, issued on May 26 by the minister of defense, in response to complaints by several human rights organizations that argued such a protocol was unnecessary. The agreement governed a May 29 protocol on the use of force formulated in response to state-sponsored visits by missions from the United Nations and the IACHR, which concluded state security forces used excessive force to contain the October 2019 violent antigovernment protests. The NGOs that challenged the protocol argued the constitution grants the power to reestablish public order only to police and not the armed forces. They argued the armed forces’ role is limited to the protection of national sovereignty and territorial integrity. Further, they claimed the protocol, as written, poses a threat to the full exercise of human rights by providing the military wide latitude to intervene in future protests.

Freedom of Association

The law provides for freedom of association, and the government generally respected this right. Civil society representatives noted that some policies enacted during the Correa administration remained in place and could enable the government to dissolve independent organizations for poorly defined reasons.

c. Freedom of Religion

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

d. Freedom of Movement

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

e. Status and Treatment of Internally Displaced Persons

Not applicable.

f. Protection of Refugees

The government cooperated with the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), the International Organization for Migration, and other humanitarian organizations in providing protection and assistance to migrants, refugees, asylum seekers, stateless persons, and other vulnerable persons of concern. In addition the law codifies protections granted to migrants in the constitution, advances the protection of refugees and asylum seekers, and establishes provisions such as equal treatment before the law for migrants, nonrefoulement, and noncriminalization of irregular migration.

Abuse of Migrants, Refugees, and Stateless Persons: Migrants and refugees, especially women and children, sometimes experienced sexual and gender-based violence. UNHCR and local NGOs reported that refugee women and children were susceptible to violence and trafficking in persons for the purposes of sex trafficking and forced labor. They also reported the forced recruitment of adolescents into criminal activity, such as drug trafficking and robbery, on the northern border, particularly by organized-crime gangs that also operated in Colombia. Government authorities provided basic protection for vulnerable populations; however, the influx of migrants and refugees during the year continued to place a significant strain on the government’s capacity to address and prevent abuses against migrants and 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.

Following the institution of a visa entry requirement in August 2019, a significant number of Venezuelan citizens began to enter through informal border-crossing points. International organizations expressed concern that the increased number of informal crossings placed more migrants in vulnerable conditions. The organizations also stated the new policy initially did not allow for exceptions to the visa requirement for some vulnerable populations. International organizations reported an increase in Colombian and Venezuelan asylum seekers during the year.

Access to Basic Services: The law provides for access to education, health care, and other services to all individuals irrespective of their legal status. According to UN agencies and NGOs, refugees encountered discrimination in employment and housing. Recognized refugees received national identification cards that facilitated access to education, employment, banking, and other public services. A 2016 agreement between UNHCR and the Civil Registry allows UNHCR to provide financial aid to refugees who cannot afford to pay the identification card fee and travel expenses to the three cities where the cards are issued. The Civil Registry also requires a refugee enrollment order from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Human Mobility, and sometimes refugees were required to return to the ministry if the information on their records contained errors.

Durable Solutions: The government accepted refugees for resettlement and offered naturalization to refugees, but discrimination and limited access to formal employment and housing affected refugees’ ability to assimilate into the local population.

Temporary Protection: The government implemented a special humanitarian visa process for Venezuelans in September 2019. As of August 31, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Human Mobility had issued more than 40,000 two-year humanitarian visas and continued to adjudicate visa applications filed prior to the special regularization period’s August 13 conclusion.

Section 3. Freedom to Participate in the Political Process

The law provides citizens the ability to choose their government in free and fair periodic elections held by secret ballot and based on universal and equal suffrage. A 2018 national referendum restored term limits for all elected positions, including the presidency, which had been eliminated through a 2015 constitutional amendment.

Elections and Political Participation

Recent Elections: In nationwide elections held in March 2019, citizens elected individuals for municipal, provincial, and parochial offices. Citizens also elected seven members for the permanent Council of Citizen Participation and Social Control for the first time. International observers from the Organization of American States, Inter-American Union of Electoral Organisms, and accredited diplomatic missions concluded the electoral process was orderly and peaceful, and they did not note any significant incidents.

Participation of Women and Members of Minority Groups: No laws limit participation of women or members of minority groups in the political process, and they did participate. On February 3, electoral reforms went into effect requiring that women lead no fewer than 15 percent of party candidate lists at all levels in 2021, at least 30 percent in scheduled 2023 local elections, and 50 percent in 2025. The law mandates that all presidential/vice presidential tickets include at least one woman starting in the 2025 national election.

The proportion of female candidates was low for mayoral seats (14.3 percent) and provincial prefect positions (17.9 percent) in the March 2019 elections.

Social media harassment against female politicians and candidates continued. Local NGO Participacion Ciudadana found 4,381 derogatory tweets against 28 women in politics and government in a study of tweets posted between December 2019 and June. The study indicated a significant increase in violent messages against female politicians in April, as COVID-19 national quarantine measures took hold and women headed prominent ministries and served as government spokespersons most relevant to the lockdown. Participacion Ciudadana director Ruth Hidalgo said, “Most attacks focused on women’s appearance and historical roles that society believes women should maintain. These types of messages discourage women from engaging in politics.”

Section 4. Corruption and Lack of Transparency in Government

The law provides criminal penalties for corruption by officials, and the government took steps to implement the law effectively. Officials, particularly at the local level, sometimes engaged in corrupt practices with impunity. There were numerous reports during the year of government corruption that occurred during the Correa presidency. Additionally, reports of price gouging on medicines and personal protective equipment at public hospitals in the midst of the COVID-19 health crisis implicated local and national officials.

Corruption: The government launched or continued multiple investigations, judicial proceedings, and legislative audits of officials accused of corruption related to state contracts and commercial endeavors that reached the highest levels of government.

On April 7, the National Court of Justice sentenced former president Correa, former vice president Jorge Glas, and 16 other public officials and businessmen to eight years in prison for bribery in the Sobornos (bribes) corruption scheme that illicitly financed Correa’s Alianza PAIS party in exchange for public contracts from 2012 to 2016. Two other convicted presidential aides received reduced sentences of 19 and 38 months, respectively, due to their cooperation in the investigation. The judges found sufficient evidence to prove the existence of a criminal network of corruption headed by Correa, even without directly linking him to the bribes. The National Court of Justice’s Tribunal of Cassation upheld the ruling on September 7, and on October 7, it requested that Interpol issue a new red notice for the arrest of Correa and 14 other defendants residing abroad.

On May 20, President Moreno announced measures to combat public corruption during the COVID-19 pandemic and in future emergencies. Moreno conceded to growing demands to dissolve the Anti-Corruption Secretariat, following the public release of a letter from the attorney general and statements by the presidents of the National Court and Judicial Council criticizing the secretariat for interfering in anticorruption investigations.

On June 1, Attorney General Diana Salazar Mendez announced the formation of a 40-person multidisciplinary task force to investigate all allegations of public health sector corruption during the COVID-19 crisis at the national, provincial, and municipal levels. She argued the task force was needed to ensure impartial investigations, since local prosecutors often faced pressure or conflicts of interest due to personal or family ties to those being investigated. On June 4, 17 persons, including former president Abdala Bucaram, were detained in the task force’s first operation. High-profile prosecutions in those investigations were pending as of October 27, although recent government officials including former risk and emergency management secretary Maria Alexandra Ocles Padilla and former Social Security Institute board director Ivan Granda Molina were under investigation.

On January 30, the National Court of Justice sentenced former vice president Maria Alejandra Vicuna to one year in prison for abuse of official privileges. She was also ordered to pay a $173,118 fine and surrender her home.

Financial Disclosure: Government officials are required to declare their financial holdings upon taking office and, if requested, during an investigation. All agencies must disclose salary information monthly through their web portal. The constitution requires public officials to submit an affidavit regarding their net worth at the beginning and end of their term, including their assets and liabilities, as well as an authorization to lift the confidentiality of their bank accounts. Public officials are not required to submit periodic reports, except in the case of legislators, who must also present a declaration at the midpoint of the period for which they were elected. All the declarations must be filed online with the comptroller general, whose website provides general information on the declarations and contains a section where the public can conduct a search of officials to see if officials complied with the disclosure requirements of income and assets. Access to the entire declaration requires a special application, and the comptroller has the discretion to decide whether to provide the information. A noncomplying official cannot be sworn into office, but 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 often cooperative and responsive to their views.

Government Human Rights Bodies: The Ombudsman’s Office is an administratively and financially independent body under the Transparency and Social Control Branch of government focused on human rights. The Ombudsman’s Office regularly presented cases to the Public Prosecutor’s Office.

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

Women

Rape and Domestic Violence: The law criminalizes rape of men or women, including spousal and intimate partner rape and domestic violence. The government enforced the law, although victims were sometimes reluctant to report these crimes. Rape is punishable with penalties of up to 22 years in prison. The law includes spousal rape under crimes against sexual and reproductive integrity. The penalty for rape where death occurred is 22 to 26 years’ imprisonment. Domestic violence is punishable with penalties ranging from four days to seven years in prison and a substantial fine for “damages, pain, and suffering,” depending on the severity of the crime. Penalties for physical, psychological, and sexual violence were enforced.

The law provides reparation to victims of gender-based violence, while also advocating for the re-education of aggressors. The law defines rape, including spousal rape or incest, forced prostitution, sexual harassment, and other analogous practices, as forms of sexual violence. It also entitles victims to immediate protective measures designed to prevent or cease violence, such as police surveillance, placement in shelters, and awareness programs for the victim and family. These restorative measures were generally enforced.

According to human rights organizations, victims were generally reluctant to press domestic violence charges, and the court system was insufficiently staffed to deal with the caseload. The COVID-19 national quarantine additionally left victims stranded with their perpetrator 24 hours a day and unable to call support hotlines or leave their homes to file formal complaints. On April 12, Human Rights Secretary Cecilia Chacon stated that sex crime-related complaints received by the Public Prosecutor’s Office decreased from 300 per week before the pandemic to just 60 per week since. Human rights organizations and NGOs said the lower number of calls and complaints was a sign that victims were not reporting gender-based violence incidents.

Due to a drop in the number of complaints filed in person with judicial authorities, the government expanded online legal services available to victims in April. Nevertheless, barriers such as digital illiteracy, internet unavailability in rural areas, and lack of general familiarization with these technological resources limited the ability of victims to obtain help.

Judges lacked specialized training for dealing with gender-based violence. Rights organizations also reported local protection-board officials at times discouraged victims from reporting their aggressors.

According to local experts, reporting rapes and other forms of violence continued to be a traumatic process, particularly for female minors. For example, a rape victim must file a complaint at the Public Prosecutor’s Office and submit to gynecological evaluations akin to rape kits administered by medical experts. Many individuals did not report cases of rape and sexual assault due to fear of retribution from the perpetrator or social stigma.

Sexual Harassment: The law criminalizes sexual harassment and provides for penalties of one to five years in prison. The law defines sexual harassment and other analogous practices as forms of sexual violence and mandates that judges prohibit contact between the aggressor and the victim to prevent revictimization and intimidation, and the law was typically enforced. Despite the legal prohibition of sexual harassment and government implementation of the law, women’s rights organizations described a tendency not to report alleged harassment, while harassment remained common in public spaces.

Reproductive Rights: By law couples and individuals have the right to decide the number, spacing, and timing of their children, and have the information and means to do so, free from discrimination, coercion, or violence. Nevertheless, some women’s rights activists complained that a lack of comprehensive sex education limited individuals’ ability to manage their reproductive health and that ineffective distribution of birth control reduced access to contraception. Additionally, the Roman Catholic Church’s stance against contraceptive use and social stigma discouraged women from seeking family planning services.

A 2019 study found income status affected equity in sexual and reproductive health access and outcomes, with low income and rural individuals having significantly less access.

The government provided access to sexual and reproductive health services for survivors of sexual violence.

Coercion in Population Control: There were no reports of coerced abortion or involuntary sterilization on the part of government authorities.

Discrimination: The constitution affords women the same legal status and rights as men. Nevertheless, discrimination against women was prevalent, particularly with respect to economic opportunities for older women and for those in the lower economic strata. Some businesswomen alleged financial institutions would sometimes require a female client to obtain a husband’s cosignature for loan considerations.

UN agencies and NGOs reported female medical staff were discriminated against and subject to violence, including physical and verbal assaults, from their partners and family members for assisting COVID-19-infected patients. According to information collected by UN Women and the NGO CARE International, women outnumbered men in the first line of defense against COVID-19, in a medical field already two-thirds composed of women, making women far more susceptible to COVID-19 exposure.

Children

Birth Registration: Citizenship is acquired through birth in the country, birth to an Ecuadorian mother or father abroad, or by naturalization. According to media reports, ethnic minority families and those with limited economic resources continued to show registration rates significantly lower than those of other groups. Government brigades occasionally traveled to remote rural areas to register families and persons with disabilities. While the law prohibits schools from requesting civil registration documents for children to enroll, some schools, mostly public schools, continued to require them. Other government services, including welfare payments and free primary health care, require some form of identification.

Education: The lack of schools in some areas specifically affected indigenous and refugee children, who must travel long distances to attend school.

Child Abuse: The law criminalizes child abuse and provides penalties of 30 days to 26 years in prison, depending on the severity of the abuse.

On February 1, Ana Cristina Vera, director of the local NGO Surkuna, estimated six of 10 rape aggressors were immediate relatives, with most victims younger than 14. In 2019 the Office of the Public Prosecutor stated approximately 60 percent of rape victims were children and adolescents.

In an August 14 ruling, the Inter-American Court of Human Rights found the state culpable for the sexual violence suffered by Paola Guzman Albarracin inflicted by her public school vice principal, leading to Guzman’s suicide in 2002. In its ruling, the court ordered several restorative measures, including monetary compensation to the victim’s family. On August 15, President Moreno committed to honor the court’s sentence, adding that “our fight to eradicate sexual violence in the education sector has remained firm since my government’s first day.” In June 2019 media reported that approximately 16 percent of the 7,977 sex-crime complaints tracked by the Ministry of Education between 2014 and May 2019 were directed against minors. Teachers or school staff were accused as perpetrators in 25 percent of all complaints.

Local NGOs and the government expressed concern about child abuse and infanticide during the COVID-19 national quarantine but lacked specific, comparative national statistics. The municipal government of Quito’s rights protection council reported 10 suicides and seven cases of infanticide, respectively, between March 17 and May 13. The council stated the infanticides in that span were allegedly committed by an immediate family member. Council vice president Sybel Martinez warned that a lack of precise statistics on violence against minors could fuel impunity. The Attorney General’s Office asserted that, while it tracked and publicized intrafamilial violence statistics weekly, it lacked historical data to establish trend lines. The Human Rights Secretariat ran a public-awareness campaign in late August aimed at children and adolescents, including information about how to access available resources for potential domestic violence victims.

Bullying remained a problem in schools and increasingly occurred on social media. There was no national official data available on bullying, but local officials in Tungurahua Province reported 14 suicides through February 15. A local Education Ministry representative acknowledged school bullying could have been a factor in those suicides. The government’s Lifetime Plan initiative establishes programs addressing different types of violence, including bullying. Municipal and provincial governments also launched other initiatives to address bullying in schools under their supervision throughout the year.

Child, Early, and Forced Marriage: The legal marriage age is 18. There were reports of early and forced marriage in indigenous communities, particularly in instances in which girls became pregnant following an instance of rape. Indigenous leaders reported cases in which sexual aggressors compensated violence with payment or exchange of animals, but in some cases victims were forced to marry their aggressors.

Sexual Exploitation of Children: The age of consent is 14. The law prohibits sexual exploitation of children, including child pornography, with penalties of 22 to 26 years’ imprisonment. The penalty for sex trafficking for the purpose of commercial sexual exploitation of children younger than age 18 is 13 to 16 years in prison. Child sex trafficking remained a problem, despite government enforcement efforts.

Displaced Children: Humanitarian organizations expressed concern that an increasing number of unaccompanied refugee and migrant children entered from Colombia until the government closed its borders on March 17 in response to the COVID-19 pandemic. International organizations remained concerned unaccompanied children and adolescents were vulnerable to exploitation and trafficking by criminal groups.

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.

Anti-Semitism

There is a small Jewish community, including an estimated 250 families in Quito and 82 families in Guayaquil. The Jewish community reported no attacks or aggressions through October 27.

Trafficking in Persons

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

Persons with Disabilities

The law prohibits discrimination against persons with physical, sensory, intellectual, and mental disabilities. The National Council on Disability Equality oversees government policies regarding persons with disabilities.

Although the law mandates access to buildings and promotes equal access to health, education, social security, employment, transport, and communications for persons with disabilities, the government did not fully enforce it.

On October 13, media reported a female police officer assaulted a disabled female street vendor by placing her hands on the vendor’s buttocks while observers ridiculed the vendor (see section 1.c.).

The law stipulates rights to health facilities and insurance coverage as well as access and inclusion in education, and it mandates a program for scholarships and student loans for persons with disabilities. The law provides for job security for those with disabilities and requires that 4 percent of employees in all public and private enterprises with more than 25 employees be persons with disabilities. The law also gives the Ombudsman’s Office responsibility for following up on alleged violations of the rights of persons with disabilities and stipulates a series of fines and punishments for lack of compliance with the law. On September 11, media reported the Ombudsman’s Office received illegal dismissal complaints of persons with disabilities and counted approximately 400 such alleged public-sector dismissals during the COVID-19 pandemic. The Ministry of Labor’s inspectorate office treated each complaint individually, and all were under investigation as of October 23.

The law directs the electoral authorities to provide access to voting and to facilitate voting for persons with disabilities.

Members of National/Racial/Ethnic Minority Groups

The constitution declares the state to be plurinational and affirms the principle of nondiscrimination by recognizing the rights of indigenous, Afro-Ecuadorian, and Montubio (an independent ethnic group of persons with a mixture of Afro-Ecuadorian, indigenous, and Spanish ancestry) communities. It also mandates affirmative action policies to provide for the representation of minorities.

A November 2019 report by the National Council for the Equality of Peoples and Nationalities reiterated that racism and discrimination continued against indigenous peoples and Afro-descendants despite government policies promoting equality. The report reiterated that ethnic minorities continued to struggle with education and job opportunities and often earned less in comparison with their nonindigenous counterparts. Less than 4 percent of the indigenous population entered higher education, according to the most recent census, carried out in 2010. The same agency in February 2019 reported racial minority groups had less access to managerial positions and other professional opportunities.

Afro-Ecuadorian citizens, who accounted for approximately 7 percent of the population according to the 2010 census, suffered pervasive discrimination, particularly with regard to educational and economic opportunity. Afro-Ecuadorian organizations noted that, despite the absence of official discrimination, societal discrimination and stereotyping in media continued to result in barriers to employment, education, and housing. A National Gender Survey published in November 2019 found Afro-Ecuadorian women were particularly vulnerable to gender-based violence and harassment based on racial and sexual stereotypes.

Indigenous People

There were no reports of restrictions placed on indigenous persons and their institutions in decisions affecting their property or way of life. The law provides indigenous persons the same civil and political rights as other citizens. The constitution strengthens the rights of indigenous persons and recognizes Kichwa and Shuar as “official languages of intercultural relations.” The constitution grants indigenous persons and communities the right to prior consultation, which is to participate in decisions on the exploitation of nonrenewable resources located on their lands that could affect their culture or environment, although indigenous peoples’ organizations noted public- and private-sector actors often ignored prior consultation. The constitution also allows indigenous persons to participate in the economic benefits natural resource extraction projects may bring and to receive compensation for any damages that result.

In the case of environmental damage, the law mandates immediate corrective government action and full restitution from the responsible company, although some indigenous organizations asserted a lack of consultation and remedial action. The law recognizes the rights of indigenous communities to hold property communally, although the titling process remained incomplete in parts of the country. During the 2018 national referendum, voters approved two constitutional amendments relevant to indigenous communities, prohibiting mining in urban and protected areas and limiting oil drilling in Yasuni National Park.

A June 1 report by various environmental and indigenous monitoring groups warned that because the mining sector was considered of “strategic importance” during the pandemic and a disproportionate number of indigenous miners were deemed essential employees, the mining sites were “hot spots for contagion” and put neighboring indigenous communities at serious risk of COVID-19 infection. Although confirmed COVID-19 cases and deaths among indigenous communities were lower than the national average, indigenous leaders and international organizations asserted indigenous communities, like other rural low-income communities, were particularly vulnerable to the pandemic’s environmental, medical, and economic effects. On July 1, Amnesty International joined two local indigenous umbrella groups, the Confederation of Indigenous Nationalities of Ecuador and the Confederation of Indigenous Nationalities in the Amazon, in calling on the national government to assemble a national action plan to protect indigenous communities.

The National Council on the Equality of Peoples and Nationalities reported in 2018 that almost 23 percent of indigenous women were underemployed, 36 percent were illiterate, and political participation of indigenous women continued to lag behind the rest of the population.

An April 2019 Amnesty International report faulted the government for a lack of will to adequately provide protection and conduct serious criminal investigations into the 2018 attacks and threats against the female Amazonian environmental defenders Patricia Gualinga, Nema Grefa, Salome Aranda, and Margoth Escobar. Human rights organizations expressed concern about intimidation tactics used against these activists from unidentified sources, including death threats and physical assault. On March 12, Amnesty International reported these tactics were intended to silence their environmental activism and denounced the lack of progress in the case.

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

The government, led by the Ombudsman’s Office, was generally responsive to concerns raised by the lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and intersex (LGBTI) community. Nevertheless, LGBTI groups claimed police and prosecutors did not thoroughly investigate deaths of LGBTI individuals, including when there was suspicion that the killing was motivated by anti-LGBTI bias.

An LGBTI NGO reported the May 28 killing of Javier Viteri, allegedly perpetrated by a military enlistee in the town of Huaquillas. Viteri had a romantic relationship with the enlistee, who was presumably responsible for stabbing Viteri 89 times in the face and genital area. On June 9, the Ombudsman’s Office “urged the competent authorities, especially the Attorney General’s Office, to consider the facts presented as a hate crime in the pertinent investigations, in accordance with criminal law.” The ombudsman also exhorted that investigating officials “carry out their work impartially, without prejudice or stereotypes of gender or sexual orientation.” LGBTI representatives reported a July 26 preparatory trial hearing was suspended. As of October 27, no further information was available.

The constitution includes the principle of nondiscrimination and the right to decide one’s sexual orientation. The law also prohibits hate crimes, but LGBTI activists asserted that since the legal codification of hate crimes in 2008, there had been no hate crime convictions. Although the law prohibits discrimination based on sexual orientation, LGBTI persons continued to suffer discrimination from both public and private entities, particularly in education, employment, and access to health care. LGBTI organizations reported transgender persons suffered more discrimination because they were more visible.

LGBTI persons continued to report that the government sometimes denied their right of equal access to formal education. LGBTI students, particularly transgender students, sometimes were discouraged from attending classes and were more susceptible to bullying in schools. Human rights activists argued the Ministry of Education and school administrators were slow to respond to complaints. LGBTI persons involved in the commercial sex trade reported abusive situations, extortion, and mistreatment by security forces.

The law prohibits LGBTI persons younger than 18 to change gender on their identity documents, even with parental consent. In July 2019 an LGBTI NGO reported a transgender minor was denied enrollment at 15 schools under her chosen name and gender in 2017. The minor’s parents filed a lawsuit requesting that officials allow her to change her name and gender on identity documents to end discrimination against her. The Office of the Civil Registry allowed changes on her identity card in 2018. The NGO Equidad reported the parents then filed an inquiry with the Constitutional Court to determine the age transgender underage individuals may change their identity information. A court decision on the inquiry was pending as of October 27.

LGBTI organizations and the government did not report the existence of private treatment centers confining LGBTI persons against their will to “cure” or “dehomosexualize” them, since such treatment is illegal. LGBTI organizations said relatives took LGBTI persons to neighboring countries instead, where clinics reportedly used cruel treatments, including rape, in an attempt to change LGBTI persons’ sexual orientation.

HIV and AIDS Social Stigma

LGBTI activists reported that during the peaks of the COVID-19 pandemic in April and May, officials at public and private hospitals blocked access to retroviral treatment and hormones to LGBTI patients to focus resources on COVID-19 treatment. The sudden unavailability adversely affected LGBTI individuals undergoing medical treatment.

Section 7. Worker Rights

a. Freedom of Association and the Right to Collective Bargaining

The law, with some exceptions, provides for the rights of workers to form and join trade unions of their choice, bargain collectively, and conduct legal strikes. The law prohibits the dismissal of union members from the moment a union notifies the labor inspector of its general assembly until the formation of its first executive board, the first legal steps in forming a union. Employers are not required to reinstate workers fired for union activity but are required to pay compensation and fines to such workers. According to an April 2019 El Comercio article, the number of public and private unions registered by the Ministry of Labor had increased by 32 percent since 2013. Labor unions and associations reported difficulties in registering unions in the Ministry of Labor due to excessive requirements and Ministry of Labor staff shortages.

Companies that dismiss employees attempting to form a union or that dismiss union members exercising their rights face a fine of one year’s annual salary for each individual wrongfully dismissed. Individual workers still employed may take complaints against employers to the Labor Inspection Office. Individuals no longer employed may take their complaints to courts charged with protecting labor rights. Unions may also take complaints to a tripartite arbitration board established to hear these complaints. These procedures often were subject to lengthy delays because the Ministry of Labor continued to be nonspecialized and understaffed to address all arbitration requests and appeals. Private-sector representatives alleged that boards exhibited conscious bias in favor of employees when they did convene.

All private employers with unionized employees are required to negotiate collectively when the union so requests. The law requires a minimum of 30 workers for the creation of an association, work committee, or labor union, and it does not allow foreign citizens to serve as trade union officers. In 2018 the Ministry of Labor authorized, through ministerial resolutions, eight new types of labor contracts, with specific provisions for the flower, palm, fishing, livestock, and construction sectors.

The law provides for the right of private-sector employees to strike on their own behalf and conduct three-day solidarity strikes or boycotts on the behalf of other industries. The law also establishes, however, that all collective labor disputes be referred to courts of conciliation and arbitration. In 2014 the International Labor Organization (ILO) called on the government to amend this provision by limiting such compulsory arbitration to cases where both parties agree to arbitration and the strike involves the public servants who exercise authority in the name of the state or who perform essential services. Since this action requires constitutional reform, the provision had not been amended as of year’s end.

In most industries the law requires a 10-day “cooling-off” period from the time a strike is declared before it can take effect. In the case of the agriculture and hospitality industries, where workers are needed for “permanent care,” the law requires a 20-day “cooling-off” period from the day the strike is called, and workers may not take possession of a workplace. During this time workers and employers must agree on how many workers are needed to ensure a minimum level of service, and at least 20 percent of the workforce must continue to work to provide essential services. The law provides the employer may contract substitute personnel only when striking workers refuse to send the number of workers required to provide the minimum necessary services. Contracting substitute personnel is effectively impossible, however, as the law does not provide for time-limited, seasonal, hourly, or part-time contracts.

The law prohibits formation of unions and restricts the right to collective bargaining and striking of public-sector workers in “strategic sectors.” Such sectors include workers in the health, environmental sanitation, education, justice, firefighting, social security, electrical energy, drinking water and sewage, hydrocarbon production, fuel processing, transport and distribution, public transportation, and postal service and telecommunications sectors. Some of the sectors defined as strategic exceed the ILO standard for essential services. Workers in these sectors attempting to strike may face charges with penalties of two to five years’ imprisonment. The government effectively enforced the law.

All unions in the public sector fall under the Confederation of Public Servants. Although the vast majority of public-sector workers also maintained membership in labor-sector associations, the law does not allow such associations to bargain collectively or to strike. A 2015 constitutional amendment specifies that only the private sector could engage in collective bargaining.

Several unions, labor associations, and media outlets denounced the presence of military vehicles and alleged police harassment during strikes by employees of local explosives company Explocen since July 13. The strike started after five employees allegedly were dismissed in June without due compensation. The military deployed vehicles to guard the entrance to Explocen’s facilities when the strike started, and officials stated the military presence was necessary because of the national state of emergency (due to the COVID-19 pandemic) and highly dangerous nature of the materials stored and processed at the facility. Employees’ attorneys and unions denounced the protest’s “militarization.” On July 13, the Ombudsman’s Office demanded the Ministry of Labor and Explocen “stop discriminating” and threatening employees’ right to strike. The strike and military presence continued through October 27.

The government did not effectively enforce applicable laws, but penalties were commensurate with those for other laws involving denial of civil rights, such as discrimination. Employers did not always respect freedom of association and collective bargaining. Independent unions often had strong ties to political movements.

b. Prohibition of Forced or Compulsory Labor

The law prohibits all forms of forced or compulsory labor, including all forms of labor exploitation; child labor; illegal adoption; servile marriage; and the sale of tissues, fluids, and genetic materials of living persons. Penalties were commensurate with those for other analogous serious crimes, such as kidnapping.

The government did not effectively enforce the law. Limited resources, limited presence in parts of the country, and inadequate victim services hampered the effectiveness of police and prosecutors. NGOs and media outlets continued to report that children were being subjected to forced criminality, particularly drug trafficking and robbery.

Reports of forced labor of children (see section 7.c.) and women persisted. Observers most frequently reported women as victims of sex trafficking or of working in private homes under conditions that may amount to human trafficking. The National Police reported through August the rescue of 17 female sex trafficking victims, 19 arrests of individuals involved in trafficking in persons, and the dismantling of an international sexual exploitation network. Through August 17, consolidated government figures reported 42 trafficking-in-persons victims (80 percent of them female).

Indigenous and Afro-Ecuadorians, Colombian refugees, and Venezuelan migrants (see section 7.d.) were particularly vulnerable to human trafficking. Traffickers often recruited children from impoverished indigenous families under false promises of employment; these children were then forced to beg or to work as domestic servants, in sweatshops, or as street and commercial vendors within the country or in other South American countries. Men, women, and children were exploited in forced labor and sex trafficking abroad, including in other South American countries and the United States. The country is a destination for South and Central American women and girls exploited in sex trafficking, domestic servitude, and forced begging.

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

c. Prohibition of Child Labor and Minimum Age for Employment

The law prohibits the worst forms of child labor. It sets the minimum working age for minors at 15 for all types of labor and the maximum hours a minor may work at six hours per day, five days per week. The law requires employers of minors who have not completed elementary school to give them two additional hours off from work to complete studies. The law requires employers to pay minors the same wages received by adults for the same type of employment and prohibits minors younger than age 18 from working in “dangerous and unhealthy” conditions. A 2015 ministerial accord lists 27 economic activities that qualify as dangerous and unhealthy. Other illegal activities, including slavery, prostitution, pornography, and drug trafficking, are punishable. The law identifies work that is “likely to harm the health, safety, or morals of a child,” which includes work in mines, garbage dumps, slaughterhouses, livestock, fishing, textiles, logging, and domestic service, as well as in any work environment requiring exposure to toxic or dangerous substances, dust, dangerous machinery, or loud noises.

The law establishes penalties for violations of child labor laws, including fines and closure of the business. Penalties were not commensurate with those for other analogous serious crimes, such as kidnapping. If an employer commits a second child labor violation, inspectors may close the business temporarily. The law authorizes labor inspectors to conduct inspections at factories, workshops, and any other location when they consider it appropriate or when an employer or worker requests an inspection. The COVID-19 pandemic led to a partial moratorium on labor inspections, although some were still conducted. As of October 27, statistics on inspections conducted during the year were unavailable.

The government did not effectively enforce the law. The Ministries of Labor and of Economic and Social Inclusion, Rights Protection Boards, and the Minors’ Tribunals are responsible for enforcing child labor laws.

A January 2019 report by the governmental Intergenerational Equality Council indicated the provinces of Bolivar, Chimborazo, and Cotopaxi had the highest child labor rates for children between the ages of five and 14. A 2017 survey on employment and underemployment found that 3 percent of children ages five to 11 and 10.6 percent of children ages 12 to 14 worked. The survey found that child laborers were most likely in rural areas, particularly in the agricultural and ranching sectors. Although the government conducted two surveys in 2017 that included some information on child labor, the government had not conducted a nationwide child labor survey since 2012. Government, union, and civil society officials agreed that a lack of updated statistics hampered efforts in eradicating child labor.

Several labor organizations and NGOs reported that no reliable data concerning child labor in the formal employment sectors was available due to the COVID-19 pandemic. According to these groups, even before the pandemic, the government-led austerity measures affected the Ministry of Labor’s child labor eradication program, and thus the number of government inspections decreased.

The government also did not effectively enforce child labor laws in the informal sector. The COVID-19 pandemic most likely increased child labor in the informal sector, as NGO surveys and studies found an increase in children supporting family-run businesses who otherwise would attend school. The worsening national economic situation and nationwide school closures triggered by the pandemic further exacerbated this trend. The most common informal economic activity was cooking homemade meals and selling them on the streets or delivering them to customers. According to CARE International, children in rural areas were most likely found working in family-owned farms or businesses, including banana and rose farms.

As the COVID-19 pandemic led to nationwide school closures, more parents were forced to take their children to agricultural fields while the parents worked. Labor organizations reported children were largely removed from the most heavy and dangerous work. In urban areas many children younger than 15 worked informally to support themselves or to augment family income by peddling on the street, shining shoes, sorting garbage, or begging.

Local civil society organizations reported that children conducted domestic work, including paid household work. A July study by CARE International found that during the pandemic many female house cleaners took their children, mostly girls, to their place of employment to help with the mother’s household tasks, likely increasing child labor in domestic environments.

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

d. Discrimination with Respect to Employment and Occupation

The law and regulations prohibit discrimination regarding race, sex, gender, disability, language, sexual orientation or gender identity, HIV-positive status or other communicable diseases, or social status. The law prohibits employers from using discriminatory criteria in hiring, discriminating against unions, and retaliating against striking workers and their leaders. The government did not effectively enforce those laws and regulations, but penalties were commensurate with laws related to civil rights, such as election interference.

Employment discrimination against women was prevalent, particularly with respect to economic opportunities for older women and for those in the lower economic strata. In 2018 the National Assembly approved a series of labor reforms for employees in the public and private sectors to prevent workplace harassment.

The National Institute for Statistics and Census (INEC) announced the unemployment rate in June was 15.7 percent for women and 11.6 percent for men, compared with 5.5 percent and 3.7 percent, respectively, in June 2019. Although INEC did not release further disaggregated gender employment information, economic analysts stressed women were disproportionately affected in some sectors hardest hit by social distancing and workhour reduction measures, including tourism, floriculture, and domestic services.

A labor association reported female health-care personnel in public hospitals nationwide were equipped with ill-fitting medical and protective equipment for treating patients diagnosed with COVID-19, as the majority of the equipment was provided in men’s sizes, although women represented nearly two-thirds of social and health-care service workers.

Afro-Ecuadorians continued to demand more opportunities in the workforce and complained that employers often profiled them based on their job application photographs and racial stereotypes. At the conclusion of a December 2019 official country visit, the UN Working Group of Experts on People of African Descent expressed concern about reports of impunity and also human rights abuses and violations against farm workers, the majority of whom were Afro-descendants, at banana plantations owned by Japanese subsidiary company Furukawa Plantations C.A. The Working Group was also concerned by “the lack of access to justice for people of African descent” seeking reparations for injuries doing agricultural work, and welcomed the Constitutional Court’s commitment to address the backlog of labor cases against agricultural employers. Indigenous and LGBTI individuals as well as persons with disabilities also experienced employment discrimination.

e. Acceptable Conditions of Work

The law provides for a minimum monthly wage, which was above the poverty income level.

The law limits the standard work period to 40 hours a week, eight hours a day, with two consecutive days of rest per week. Miners are limited to six hours a day and may only work one additional hour a day with premium pay. Premium pay is 1.5 times the basic salary for work done from 6 a.m. to midnight. Work done from midnight to 6 a.m. receives twice the basic salary, although workers whose standard shift is at night receive a premium of 25 percent instead. Premium pay also applies to work on weekends and holidays. Overtime is limited to no more than four hours a day and a total of 12 hours a week. Mandatory overtime is prohibited. The government did not effectively enforce minimum wage and overtime laws, but penalties were commensurate with those for similar crimes, such as fraud. Workers are entitled to a continuous 15-day annual vacation, including weekends, plus one extra day per year after five years of service. Different regulations regarding schedule and vacations apply to live-in domestic workers. The law mandates prison terms for employers who do not comply with the requirement of registering domestic workers with the Social Security Administration. INEC data showed the “adequate employment” rate–the proportion of the population working at least 40 hours per week or earning at or above the minimum salary of $400 per month–fell to a record low 16.7 percent through June, and the “underemployment rate” doubled from December 2019 to 34.5 percent.

On June 22, a law to address COVID-19’s impact went into effect that includes provisions allowing employers and employees to enter into force majeure agreements, although the dismissal of an employee is permitted only if the business ceased operations permanently. The law also permits employers to reduce working hours and salaries by up to 50 and 45 percent, respectively, by signing “emergency contracts” with their employees to prevent job losses. Citing government figures, media reported that as of August 20, a total of 671 companies had enrolled 5,971 workers under “emergency contracts,” with the majority of them being in the agriculture, livestock, manufacturing, and trade industries. Unions and labor organizations stated the new law enabled precarious work conditions, reduced wages below the minimum wage, and allowed unfair dismissals without due compensation because of employers’ leverage over employees desperate to keep their jobs during the COVID-19 economic slowdown.

The new law facilitates and encourages teleworking options, including a worker’s right to “disconnect” from work duties for a minimum of 12 continuous hours in a 24-hour period. On July 23, the minister of labor affirmed that more than 430,000 persons in the public and private sectors worked remotely.

The law provides for the health and safety of workers and outlines occupational safety and health (OSH) standards, which are current and appropriate for the country’s main industries. These regulations and standards were not applied in the informal sector, which employed 46.7 percent of the working population before the COVID-19 pandemic. The number of inspectors was insufficient, and the government did not effectively enforce OSH laws.

Authorities may conduct labor inspections by appointment or after a worker complaint. If a worker requests an inspection and a Ministry of Labor inspector confirms a workplace hazard, the inspector then may close the workplace. Labor inspections generally occurred because of complaints, not as a preventive measure, and inspectors could not make unannounced visits. The COVID-19 pandemic impeded in situ inspections due to social distancing measures and budgetary constraints at the Ministry of Labor. In some cases violations were remedied, but other cases were subjected to legal challenges that delayed changes for months. Penalties were not sufficient to deter violations and were often not enforced.

Some unions and labor associations alleged public- and private-sector employers sometimes failed to enforce biosecurity protocols and provide adequate protective equipment to prevent COVID-19 contagion.

The Ministry of Labor continued its enforcement reforms by increasing the number of workers protected by contracts, minimum wage standards, and registration for social security benefits.

Most workers worked in the large informal sector and in rural areas. They were not subject to the minimum wage laws or legally mandated benefits. OSH problems were more prevalent in the large informal sector. The law singles out the health and safety of miners, but the government did not enforce safety rules in informal, often illegal, small-scale mines (frequently linked to local community leaders and organized crime), which made up the vast majority of enterprises in the mining sector. Migrants and refugees were particularly vulnerable to hazardous and exploitative working conditions. According to media and labor associations, local organizations reported complaints of Venezuelans receiving below the minimum wage, particularly in the informal sector.

Workers in the formal sector could generally remove themselves from situations that endangered health or safety without jeopardy to their employment, and authorities effectively protected employees in this situation. Labor representatives said that COVID-19 complicated these protections, however, as employees and their employers sometimes had a conflicting sense on the degree of risk involved in presenting themselves for work and the extent of protective measures at the workplace, while employees feared losing employment in an economic downturn. Workers in the informal sector received far fewer labor protections, and they were less likely to be able to remove themselves from dangerous health or safety situations without jeopardy to their employment.

Poland

Executive Summary

Poland is a republic with a multiparty democracy. The bicameral parliament consists of an upper house (Senate) and a powerful lower house (Sejm). The president and the Council of Ministers headed by the prime minister share executive power. Incumbent President Duda was re-elected to a second five-year term after a second round of voting July 12. The Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe conducted election observation. It found the presidential election was administered professionally despite legal uncertainty during the electoral process due to the outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic and the rescheduling of the election to a later date. It also noted the public broadcaster “failed to ensure balanced and impartial coverage, and rather served as a campaign tool for the incumbent.” The government continued to implement judiciary-related measures that drew strong criticism from the European Commission, some legal experts, nongovernmental organizations, and international organizations.

The police force is a national law enforcement body with regional and municipal units overseen by the Ministry of Interior and Administration. The Border Guard is responsible for border security and combating irregular migration; it reports to the Ministry of Interior and Administration. The Internal Security Agency has responsibility for investigating and combating organized crime, terrorist threats, and proliferation of weapons of mass destruction. The Central Anticorruption Bureau is responsible for combating government, business, and financial corruption and may investigate any matter involving public funds. The prime minister appoints and supervises the heads and deputy heads of both offices, which also report to parliament. Civilian authorities maintained effective control over the security forces. Some members of law enforcement entities committed abuses.

Significant human rights issues included: criminal defamation penalties; violence or threats of violence targeting lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, or intersex persons; and crimes involving violence or threats of violence targeting members of ethnic minorities.

The government took steps to investigate, prosecute, and punish officials who committed human rights abuses. There were no reports of security force impunity.

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

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

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

b. Disappearance

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

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

The constitution and law prohibit such practices. There were reports of problems, however, with police misconduct and corrections officer abuse of prisoners. The law lacks a clear legal definition of torture, but all actions that could be considered “torture” are prohibited under other provisions of law and prosecuted consistent with the country’s obligations under international treaties and conventions prohibiting torture. The law outlines disciplinary actions for police, including reprimand, demotion in rank, and dismissal. Civil society groups noted cases of police misconduct against persons in custody.

On February 19, the Wroclaw District Court upheld the conviction of four former police officers who were found guilty of abuse of power and physical and psychological violence against a 25-year-old man who died in police custody in Wroclaw in 2016. Video footage showed police beating and using an electroshock device on the man while he was handcuffed in a jail cell. One defendant was sentenced to two and a half years in prison, and the others received two-year sentences. In addition, the court ruled the defendants could not work as police officers for eight and six years, respectively.

On September 9, the National Preventive Mechanism (NPM) operating under the office of the commissioner for human rights (ombudsperson) published a report on police action against a group of demonstrators who held a spontaneous gathering on August 7, following the detention of an activist associated with the lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, or intersex community. The report described the treatment of detainees by police as “degrading” and in some cases “inhuman” (see section 6, Acts of Violence, Criminalization, and Other Abuses Based on Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity).

Impunity was not a significant problem in the security forces.

Prison and Detention Center Conditions

Prison and detention center conditions were adequate. There were no significant reports regarding prison or detention center conditions that raised human rights concerns. Nonetheless, insufficient prison medical staff and limited prisoner access to specialized medical treatment continued to be problems.

Physical Conditions: While authorities generally separated juveniles from adults, the law allows shared housing in prisons and detention centers in exceptional cases. Juveniles were at times held together with adult prisoners. Authorities usually sent juveniles between the ages of 17 and 21 accused of serious crimes to pretrial detention.

The law permits authorities to commit prisoners to the National Center for the Prevention of Dissocial Behaviors when they have served their prison sentences and have undergone a custodial therapy program, and continue to have mental disabilities believed to create a high probability they would commit another serious crime against a person.

Administration: Authorities investigated credible allegations of inhuman conditions and made their findings publicly accessible. The country’s human rights ombudsperson may join proceedings in civil and administrative courts on behalf of prisoners and detainees, either when they file a complaint or when information obtained otherwise leads to an allegation of inhuman conditions. The ombudsperson administers the NPM, an independent program responsible for monitoring conditions and treatment of detainees in prisons and detention facilities.

Independent Monitoring: The government allows on a regular basis independent monitoring of prison conditions and detention centers by local human rights groups as well as by the Council of Europe’s Committee for the Prevention of Torture and Inhuman or Degrading Treatment. The Helsinki Human Rights Foundation and other local nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) made occasional visits to prisons. Prison authorities, however, limited access to prisons during the COVID-19 pandemic due to sanitary restrictions.

Improvements: The government continued implementation of a two-billion-zloty ($516 million), four-year (2017-20) prison administration modernization plan to improve the security of detention facilities, prison infrastructure, and working conditions for prison guards.

d. Arbitrary Arrest or Detention

The constitution and law prohibit arbitrary arrest and detention and provide for the right of any person to challenge in court the lawfulness of his or her arrest or detention, and the government generally observed these requirements.

Arrest Procedures and Treatment of Detainees

The constitution and law require authorities to obtain a court warrant based on evidence to make an arrest, and authorities generally complied with the law. The constitution and law allow detention of a person for 48 hours before authorities must file charges and an additional 24 hours for the court to decide whether to order pretrial detention. The law allows authorities to hold terrorism suspects without charges for up to 14 days. The law sets a five-day limit for holding a juvenile in a police establishment for children if the juvenile escaped from a shelter or an educational or correctional facility. It allows police to hold for up to 24 hours in a police establishment a juvenile who is being transferred to a shelter or an educational or correctional facility, in the case of a “justified interruption of convoy.” The law provides that police should immediately notify a detained person of the reasons for his or her detention and of his or her rights. Usually this information is initially delivered orally; later, at the police station, the detainee signs a statement that he or she has been advised of his or her rights and duties. Police give the detained person a copy of the report on his or her detention. Authorities generally respected these rights. Only a court may order pretrial detention.

There is a functioning bail system, and authorities released most detainees on bail. Defendants and detainees have the right to consult an attorney at any time. The government provided free counsel to indigent defendants.

During the last five years, the number of those placed in pretrial detention steadily grew from 4,162 at the end of 2015 to 9,291 as of August 31. In its 2019 report, the Helsinki Human Rights Foundation argued that prosecutors overly relied upon the system of pretrial detention. According to Court Watch Poland’s 2019 report, pretrial detention was often used as the default preventive measure, and judges often deferred to prosecutors’ motions to place detainees in pretrial detention, without considering the use of other preventive measures such as bail, passport seizure, or police supervision. According to the Court Watch report, judges approved 90 percent of prosecutors’ motions for pretrial detention.

e. Denial of Fair Public Trial

While the constitution provides for an independent judiciary, the government continued to implement judiciary-related measures that drew strong criticism from the European Commission, some legal experts, NGOs, and international organizations. The government argued reforms were necessary to improve efficiency in the judicial system and accountability.

On April 8, the European Court of Justice (ECJ) issued interim measures ordering the government to suspend the work of the Supreme Court Disciplinary Chamber with regard to disciplinary cases against judges. The ECJ is evaluating an infringement proceeding launched by the European Commission in April 2019 and referred to the ECJ in October 2019. The commission argued that the country’s disciplinary regime for judges “undermines the judicial independence of…judges and does not ensure the necessary guarantees to protect judges from political control, as required by the Court of Justice of the EU.” The commission stated the disciplinary regime did not provide for the independence and impartiality of the Disciplinary Chamber, which is composed solely of judges selected by the restructured National Council of the Judiciary, which is appointed by the Sejm. The ECJ has yet to make a final ruling. The European Commission and judicial experts complained the government has ignored the ECJ’s interim measures.

On April 29, the European Commission launched a new infringement procedure regarding a law that came into effect on February 14. The law allows judges to be disciplined for impeding the functioning of the legal system or questioning a judge’s professional state or the effectiveness of his or her appointment. It also requires judges to disclose memberships in associations. The commission’s announcement stated the law “undermines the judicial independence of Polish judges and is incompatible with the primacy of EU law.” It also stated the law “prevents Polish courts from directly applying certain provisions of EU law protecting judicial independence and from putting references for preliminary rulings on such questions to the [European] Court of Justice.” On December 3, the commission expanded its April 29 complaint to include the continued functioning of the Disciplinary Chamber in apparent disregard of the ECJ’s interim measures in the prior infringement procedure.

According to Justice Ministry statistics, the average trial lasted 5.4 months in 2018, compared with 5.5 months in 2017 and 4.7 months in 2016. The EU Justice System Scoreboard reported the courts had become less efficient. In 2010 the court of first instance took an average of 49 days to issue a ruling. In 2017 the average increased to 73 days. Some legal experts cited these statistics as evidence that the government’s judicial changes did not lead to greater judicial efficiency.

Trial Procedures

The constitution provides for the right to a fair and public trial, and an independent judiciary generally enforced this right. Defendants enjoy a presumption of innocence and the right to prompt and detailed notification of the charges against them throughout the judicial process, with free interpretation for defendants who do not speak Polish. They have the right to a fair and public trial without undue delay and the right to be present at their trial. Trials are usually public, although the courts reserve the right to close a trial in some circumstances, including divorce proceedings, cases involving state secrets, and cases whose content may offend public morality.

Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, courts suspended regular operations in April and May. After reopening in June, courts considerably limited public access to hearings due to the continuing pandemic. According to a September 25 Court Watch Poland report, some courts continued to ban audiences after reopening, while others limited numbers of external participants. In June, 36 percent of courts surveyed fully banned public access, 44 percent of courts introduced entry passes, and 17 percent limited the number of observers allowed to participate in the hearing. In August, 12 percent of courts surveyed did not allow the public to participate in hearings, 54 percent required entry passes, and 17 percent limited the number of those participating in the hearing. According to Court Watch Poland, the regulations to ban audiences from hearings violated the constitution, which requires judgments to be announced publicly.

Defendants have the right to legal representation, and indigent defendants may consult an attorney provided without cost. The government must provide defendants and their attorneys adequate time and facilities to prepare a defense. Defendants may confront and question witnesses and present witnesses and evidence on their own behalf. Prosecutors may grant witnesses anonymity if they express fear of retribution from defendants. The prosecutor general may release to media information concerning any investigation, except if such information is classified, with due consideration to important public interests. Defendants may not be compelled to testify or confess guilt.

After a court issues a verdict, a defendant has seven days to request a written statement of the judgment; courts must provide a response within 14 days. A defendant has the right to appeal a verdict within 14 days of the response. A two-level appeal process is available in most civil and criminal matters.

Political Prisoners and Detainees

There were no reports of political prisoners or detainees.

Civil Judicial Procedures and Remedies

Individuals or organizations may seek civil remedies for human rights violations. The government’s implementation of court orders, particularly for payment of damages, remained slow and cumbersome.

After they exhaust remedies available in the domestic courts, persons have the right to appeal court decisions involving alleged government violations of the European Convention on Human Rights to the European Court for Human Rights.

The 2015 and 2016 disputes regarding judicial appointments to the Constitutional Tribunal remained unresolved.

Property Restitution

The law provides for restitution of communal property, such as synagogues and cemeteries, seized under Nazi occupation or during the Communist era, but the process proceeded slowly. The property commissions have resolved 7,173 of slightly more than 10,500 communal property claims by religious groups. Heirless property reverts to the state.

The government has put in place legal and administrative procedures for private property restitution, but NGOs and advocacy groups reported it did not make significant progress on resolution of Holocaust-era claims, including for foreign citizens. No comprehensive law addresses the return of, or compensation for, private property, but individuals may seek the return of confiscated private property through administrative proceedings and courts. NGOs and advocacy groups described the process as cumbersome and ineffective.

During the presidential campaign on July 8, President Andrzej Duda addressed the issue of restitution, stating the government would not pay damages for heirless property and declaring he would not accept any law that would privilege any ethnic group over others. He continued, “If someone wants compensation, please turn to those who caused World War II.”

On September 17, parliament adopted further amendments to the Warsaw-specific 2015 law intended to end abusive practices in the trading of former property owners’ claims. Among other things the revised legislation establishes new grounds on which the City of Warsaw must refuse the return of properties, for reasons outside claimants’ control. The president signed the legislation on September 29. NGOs and advocacy groups expressed serious concerns that the 2015 law fell short of providing just compensation to former owners who lost property as a result of the nationalization of properties by the communist-era government, and also properties taken during the Holocaust era. Legal experts expressed concern that the law limited the ability of petitioners to reclaim property unjustly taken from their lawful owners. The World Jewish Restitution Organization asserted that the time limits included in the law were insufficient for potential claimants, particularly Holocaust survivors and their heirs, to meet difficult documentary requirements.

The Department of State’s Justice for Uncompensated Survivors Today (JUST) Act report to Congress, released publicly on July 29, 2020, can be found on the Department’s website: https://www.state.gov/reports/just-act-report-to-congress/.

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

The law prohibits such actions but allows electronic surveillance with judicial review for crime prevention and investigation. There were no reports that the government failed to respect those prohibitions.

Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:

a. Freedom of Expression, Including for the Press

The constitution provides for freedom of speech and press, and the government generally respected these rights.

Freedom of Speech: The law prohibits hate speech, including the dissemination of anti-Semitic literature, the public promotion of fascist, communist, or other totalitarian systems, and the intentional offense of religious feelings.

Violence and Harassment: On February 3, the Warsaw regional court sentenced Michal Majewski, a Wprost weekly reporter, to a fine for protection of sources of information. The conviction refers to a 2014 incident, when Internal Security Agency officers tried to seize forcefully a laptop of one of the journalists who revealed a wiretapping scandal involving leading politicians. The Center for Monitoring Freedom of Speech at the Association of Polish Journalists criticized the conviction as a clear violation of freedom of speech. The ruling was subject to appeal.

On November 11, some police officers used violent crowd control measures against several journalists who were covering violent clashes between police and groups of hooligans during the annual Independence March that took place in Warsaw. Police shot one photojournalist in the face with a rubber bullet and used batons and a stun grenade against other journalists. After the incidents the government announced investigations into the police actions. On December 2, police officially apologized for the incidents and announced training for police officers.

Censorship or Content Restrictions: The constitution prohibits censorship of the press or social communication. Nevertheless, laws regulating broadcasting and media prohibit, under penalty of fines, license revocation, or other authorized sanctions, the promotion of activities endangering health or safety, or the promotion of views contrary to law, morality, or the common good. The law also requires that all broadcasts “respect the religious feelings of the audiences and, in particular, respect the Christian system of values.”

Critics alleged persistent progovernment bias in state television news broadcasts.

Libel/Slander Laws: Defamation by print and broadcast journalists is a criminal offense and includes publicly insulting or slandering the president, members of parliament, government ministers and other public officials, the Polish nation, foreign heads of state and ambassadors, private entities and persons, as well as insult or destruction of the national emblem, the flag, other state symbols, and monuments. Defamation outside media is punishable by a fine and community service. The courts rarely applied maximum penalties, and persons convicted of defamation generally faced fines or imprisonment of less than one year. The maximum sentence for insulting the president is three years’ imprisonment.

On August 5, police charged three persons with desecrating monuments and offending religious sentiment by placing rainbow flags on several monuments around Warsaw, including an historic religious statue standing in front of a Roman Catholic Church associated with Warsaw’s occupation. If convicted the three may face a fine for insulting the monuments and up to two years in prison for offending religious sentiment.

The Helsinki Foundation for Human Rights and the Association of Polish Journalists reported that journalists convicted of defamation had never received the maximum penalty. According to the Helsinki Foundation, however, the criminal defamation law may have a chilling effect on journalists, especially in local media, since local authorities may use the law against journalists. Media owners, particularly of small local independent newspapers, were aware that potentially large fines could threaten the financial survival of their publications. According to the Helsinki Foundation, there was a considerable increase in the number of convictions under the criminal defamation law over the last several years. The foundation observed that those seeking to protect their reputations were more likely to pursue criminal defamation charges than civil litigation. This may negatively affect the operation of local media outlets, which the foundation stated were often the only source of accountability for local officials. According to Ministry of Justice statistics for 2018, the most recent data available, courts convicted one person of insulting the president and three persons for insulting constitutional organs of the government. In 2018 the courts fined two persons for public defamation through media using the public prosecution procedure, when a private person presses criminal charges against another person. In 2018 there were 116 convictions for criminal defamation through media using the private prosecution procedure.

On September 2, the Supreme Court struck down a Lodz District Court judgment from February 2019 against investigative reporter Wojciech Biedron on charges of public insult of a judge for inaccurately reporting that a court had initiated disciplinary proceedings against the judge. The September 2 decision resulted from a complaint filed with the Supreme Court by the prosecutor general in September 2019. The case was sent back to the district court for a retrial.

Nongovernmental Impact: On July 7, unknown perpetrators vandalized the offices of the magazine Fakty Social Dialogue. The perpetrators wrote “Fakty TVN go away” on the office walls, apparently mistaking the magazine’s offices for those of private television station TVN’s flagship news program Fakty, which had broadcast criticism of the government. The magazine’s equipment and server room were destroyed, and hard drives from laptops and computers were stolen. The editor in chief of the magazine claimed the vandalism was the result of a campaign by the governing party against “opposition media.”

Internet Freedom

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 or email without appropriate legal authority. The law authorizes the (ABW) to block websites without a prior court order in cases relating to combating, preventing, and prosecuting terrorist crimes; shut down telecommunications networks when there is a terrorist threat; and conduct surveillance of foreign nationals for up to three months without a court order. During the year there were no reports by media or NGO sources that the ABW blocked websites.

The law against defamation applies to the internet as well.

Academic Freedom and Cultural Events

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

b. Freedoms of Peaceful Assembly and Association

The constitution provides for the freedoms of peaceful assembly and association, and the government generally respected these rights. The law permits restrictions on public assemblies in situations of elevated terrorist threats. During the year there were no cases of the prohibition of a public assembly due to an elevated terrorist threat.

Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, on March 13, the government limited public assemblies to a maximum of 50 persons. From March 31 to May 29, due to a declared “state of epidemic,” the government introduced a total ban on public assemblies. From May 30 to October 16, public assemblies of up to 150 participants were allowed, except for so-called spontaneous gatherings organized without prior notification to local authorities. On October 17, new regulations entered into force that allowed public assemblies of up to 10 participants in regions of the country with the highest numbers of COVID-19 infections and 25 participants in the remaining parts of the country. On October 24, public assemblies were limited to five participants nationwide. In a speech to the Senate on November 27, the ombudsperson expressed concerns that police were increasingly using excessive means of direct coercion against demonstrators over the course of the pandemic and urged the Senate to work on a bill “to make the police more oriented towards observing human rights.”

On May 16, police detained more than 380 persons following a protest by entrepreneurs in Warsaw against government policy towards businesses during the COVID-19 pandemic. Police used tear gas to disperse the protest. The government punished 220 persons for violating social distancing restrictions, and five were charged with more serious crimes, including assaulting police officers.

On October 27, following several days of large public demonstrations against an October 22 Constitutional Court ruling restricting abortion, Law and Justice Party Chairman and Deputy Prime Minister Jaroslaw Kaczynski released a video statement claiming protest organizers and protesters themselves were committing a “serious crime” by protesting during a period of heightened COVID-19 infections in the country. He said authorities had an “obligation to oppose such events.”

c. Freedom of Religion

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

d. Freedom of Movement

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

e. Status and Treatment of Internally Displaced Persons

Not applicable.

f. Protection of Refugees

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

In addition to guarded centers for foreigners, the government operated 10 open centers for asylum seekers with an aggregate capacity of approximately 1,900 persons in the Warsaw, Bialystok, and Lublin areas.

Abuse of Migrants, Refugees, and Stateless Persons: Some incidents of gender-based violence in the centers for asylum seekers occurred, but UNHCR reported that local response teams involving doctors, psychologists, police, and social workers addressed these cases. UNHCR reported no major or persistent problems with abuse in the centers.

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.

On July 23, the European Court of Human Rights ruled against the country, stating it violated the European Convention on Human Rights by not accepting a group of asylum seekers from Russia and not allowing them to file applications for international protection. The case originated in 2017 when several Russian asylum seekers of Chechen origin attempted to enter the country via Belarus but were repeatedly returned to Belarus. The Polish Border Guard refused to accept their applications for international protection even though some had documents that proved they were victims of torture and persecution. On July 24, the Warsaw branch of UNHCR appealed to the government to follow international law and allow asylum seekers to apply for international protection in the country.

Safe Country of Origin/Transit: The EU’s Dublin III Regulation, to which the country is subject, recognizes all EU countries as safe countries of origin and transit. The regulation also authorizes the governments of EU member states to return asylum seekers to the countries where they first entered the EU. The law permits denial of refugee status based on safe country of origin or safe country of transit but includes provisions that allow authorities to consider the protection needs of individuals in exceptional cases.

Freedom of Movement: Authorities placed some asylum seekers in guarded centers for foreigners while they awaited deportation or decisions on their asylum applications. Border guards may place an individual in a guarded center only by court order. The law prohibits the placement of unaccompanied minors younger than 15 in guarded centers. Border guards typically sought to confine foreigners who attempted to cross the border illegally, lacked identity documents, or committed a crime during their stay in the country.

Employment: Asylum seekers are not allowed to work during the first six months of the asylum procedure. If the asylum procedure lasts longer than six months, they may work until the asylum decision is final.

Access to Basic Services: Asylum seekers faced language and cultural barriers and had limited access to higher education. Children in centers for asylum seekers had free access to public education, in addition to other educational activities organized in the center, but those placed with relatives in guarded centers for foreigners did not.

Temporary Protection: The government also provided temporary protection to some individuals who did not qualify as refugees. Between August 18 and November 12, according to Ministry of Interior and Administration statistics, 1,050 Belarusian citizens entered the country under special procedures, including “humanitarian visas,” refugee status, and special permissions from the Border Guard’s chief commander. In addition, 330 Belarusians entered the country under the Ministry of Development program Poland. Business Harbor, which facilitates business activity for Belarusians who want to relocate their business to Poland.

g. Stateless Persons

The law affords the opportunity for stateless persons to obtain nationality. A 2019 UNHCR report noted, however, that the government’s lack of a formal procedure of identifying stateless persons led to protection gaps and exposed stateless persons to many negative consequences, including detention.

The 2019 UNHCR report noted several problems resulting from stateless status, including the inability to undertake legal employment or to access social welfare and health care. Stateless persons often lack identity documents, which limits their ability to perform many legal actions, such as opening a bank account or entering into a marriage. According to UNHCR, such problems made this group particularly vulnerable to poverty and marginalization.

Section 3. Freedom to Participate in the Political Process

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

Elections and Political Participation

Recent Elections: The Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) conducted an election observation mission and concluded in its preliminary findings that the June 28 first-round presidential election was administered professionally despite legal uncertainty during the electoral process related to the outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic. The elections were originally scheduled for May 10; however, the opposition and members of the ruling coalition objected to holding the election due to the risks posed by the pandemic and differences over the implementation of postal voting. After members of the ruling coalition agreed on May 6 to postpone the election until the summer, the National Electoral Commission issued a resolution on May 10 stating it was not possible to conduct the vote that same day, and the Sejm set a new date. According to the OSCE’s report on the first-round election, the decision to continue with the election under the pandemic necessitated legal and practical adjustments that put at risk “the stability and clarity of the otherwise suitable election legislation.” The report stated the changes “had practical implications for candidate registration, campaigning and campaign finance, voting methods, and resolution of election disputes.” The report stated the election campaign was characterized by “negative and intolerant rhetoric further polarizing an already adversarial political environment.” It also stated the public broadcaster “failed to ensure balanced and impartial coverage, and rather served as campaign tool for the incumbent.” The OSCE noted that the second round of elections on July 12 was well managed and candidates were “able to campaign freely in a competitive runoff, but hostility, threats against media, intolerant rhetoric, and cases of misuse of state resources detracted from the process. The polarized media environment, and particularly the biased coverage by the public broadcaster, remained a serious concern.” On August 3, the Supreme Court formally certified the results of the July 12 presidential runoff that resulted in the incumbent president’s re-election. The OSCE’s final report published on September 23 confirmed the initial findings and included 27 recommendations to improve the conduct of elections and “to support efforts to bring [the country] fully in line with…international obligations and standards for democratic elections.”

Participation of Women and Members of Minority Groups: No laws limit participation of women or members of minority groups in the political process, and they did participate. Women’s political participation remained low, with women accounting for 5 percent of ministerial positions, 29 percent of local legislature positions, and 28 percent of national legislature (Sejm and Senate) positions.

Section 4. Corruption and Lack of Transparency in Government

Corruption: The law provides criminal penalties for corruption by officials, and criminal prosecutions for official corruption occurred. There were reports of corruption that resulted in legal action.

On January 29, the Przemysl District Court lowered a previous sentence for former head of Podkarpackie Province Miroslaw Karapyta from four to three years in prison, reduced charges of attempted rape to sexual harassment, and dropped some charges for corruption. A year earlier the court found him guilty of nine charges, including two cases of attempted rape, accepting a personal favor in the form of sexual intercourse, and accepting expensive gifts in return for favors.

On February 28, the Wroclaw Srodmiescie Regional Court sentenced Jozef Pinior, a former senator and member of European parliament, to 18 months in prison for corruption. The court found him guilty of accepting bribes from businessmen in return for intervening with various public institutions to get favorable decisions for their businesses. In September, Pinior filed an appeal against the court’s ruling, claiming he was not guilty.

On July 20, the Central Anticorruption Bureau (CBA) detained Slawomir Nowak, former transportation minister under the prior Civic Platform (now opposition) government, on charges of corruption and leading an organized criminal group. His arrest resulted from a Polish-Ukrainian investigation into alleged corruption when he served as the president of the Ukrainian State Road Agency. Nowak was placed in pretrial detention on July 23.

Financial Disclosure: The law obliges elected and appointed public officials to submit financial statements concerning their financial assets, real property, stocks, and bonds. According to the NGO Stefan Batory Foundation, the CBA was able to screen fewer than 1 percent of all financial disclosure statements filed by politicians and senior officials. With the exception of certain situations provided for by law, the regulations protect information included in financial statements as “restricted access” information that may be made public only with the written permission of the provider.

In April the CBA stated that an audit of Supreme Audit Board head Marian Banas’ required financial declarations revealed Banas lowered the amount of his financial assets in declarations he filed between 2015 and 2019 by approximately 200,000 zloty ($51,600) and failed to report undocumented income from 2018 to 2019 in the amount of 257,000 zloty ($66,300). In November 2019 the CBA notified the Prosecutor’s Office of potential crimes committed by Banas related to false property declarations, concealing a property’s actual status, and undocumented sources of income. In December 2019 the regional prosecutor’s office in Bialystok opened an investigation. In 2019 the prime minister and other leaders of the ruling Law and Justice Party called on Banas to resign, but at year’s end he had not done so. Banas denied the allegations and sued the media outlet that uncovered the reported improprieties for defamation. The investigation into false financial disclosure statements continued at year’s end.

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 Human Rights Bodies: The law entrusts the ombudsperson and the government plenipotentiary for equal treatment with the task of “implementing the principle of equal treatment.”

In cooperation with NGOs, the ombudsperson processes complaints, conducts investigations, institutes and participates in court proceedings, undertakes studies, provides other public bodies with advice, proposes legislative initiatives, and conducts public information campaigns. The ombudsperson has no authority to mediate disputes between private entities, even in cases of racial discrimination. The ombudsperson presents an annual report to the Sejm on the state of human rights and civic freedom in the country.

The government plenipotentiary for equal treatment has a mandate to counter discrimination and promote equal opportunity for all. The plenipotentiary implements the government’s equal treatment policy, develops and evaluates draft acts, analyzes and evaluates legal solutions, and monitors the situation within the scope of application of the principle of equal treatment. In March the plenipotentiary’s position moved to the Ministry of Family and Social Policy. The plenipotentiary also serves as a deputy minister. As such, it does not have the same institutional independence as the ombudsperson and does not have a separate budget.

Both chambers of parliament have committees on human rights and the rule of law. The committees serve a primarily legislative function and consist of representatives from multiple political parties.

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

Women

Rape and Domestic Violence: Rape, including spousal rape, is illegal and punishable by up to 12 years in prison.

While courts may sentence a person convicted of domestic violence to a maximum of five years in prison, most of those found guilty received suspended sentences. The law permits authorities to place restraining orders without prior approval from a court on spouses to protect against abuse.

On November 30, a new law entered into force introducing an immediate restraining order that may be issued by police who respond to a domestic dispute. Under the revised law, the perpetrator must immediately leave the location where the violence took place. The president signed the legislation into law on May 19.

The Women’s Rights Center reported that police were occasionally reluctant to intervene in domestic violence incidents, sometimes arguing there was no need for police intervention. The center also noted some women complained police did not properly respond to their calls because they were preoccupied with duties related to monitoring the implementation of COVID-19 restrictions. During the country’s lockdown in March and April due to the pandemic, women’s rights NGOs noted an increase in the number of calls to their hotlines from domestic violence victims.

The law requires every municipality in the country to set up an interagency team of experts to deal with domestic violence.

Centers for victims of domestic violence operated throughout the country. The centers provided social, medical, psychological, and legal assistance to victims; training for personnel who worked with victims; and “corrective education” programs for abusers.

Sexual Harassment: The law prohibits sexual harassment, and violations carry penalties of up to three years’ imprisonment. According to the Women’s Rights Center, sexual harassment continued to be a serious and underreported problem.

Reproductive Rights: Couples and individuals generally have the legal right to decide freely and responsibly the number, spacing, and timing of their children but had restricted access to the information and means to do so. On October 22, the Constitutional Tribunal outlawed abortion in all but limited circumstances, although the implementation of this ruling was delayed. NGOs noted that infertility treatments were only available to legally married couples defined as a man and a woman, restricting access by LGBTI couples and all single persons.

The law obliges both central and local governments to provide citizens with unrestricted access to methods and means serving “conscious procreation,” implemented by the government as gynecological counseling for women and girls and access to contraception. While there were no legal restrictions on the right to obtain contraceptives, a patient’s ability to obtain them was limited, according to NGOs. The Federation for Women and Family Planning (Federa) noted the government excluded almost all prescription contraceptives from its list of subsidized medicines, making them less affordable, especially for poor women in rural areas. The law also provides that doctors may refrain from performing health services inconsistent with their conscience. According to a report during the year by ASTRA (the Central and Eastern European Network for Sexual and Reproductive Health and Rights), doctors regularly used the conscience clause to refuse to write prescriptions for contraceptives. The report also noted that some pharmacies intentionally did not sell contraceptives or have them in stock. The law does not permit voluntary sterilization. According to Federa, young persons lacked sex counseling services.

Although women have the right to comprehensive medical services before, during, and after childbirth, home birth, while legal, is not subsidized by the National Health Fund. According to the Childbirth with Dignity Foundation, standards for perinatal and postnatal care written into the laws are adequate, but the government failed to enforce them effectively. A 2018 report by the Supreme Audit Office indicated women living in rural areas had limited access to medical services related to childbirth due to an insufficient number of gynecological and obstetric clinics in smaller towns and villages.

The government provided access to sexual and reproductive health services for survivors of sexual violence. According to women’s rights NGOs, access was limited due to victims’ fear of social stigma, some legal constraints, and the use of the conscience clause by medical doctors who refused to provide such services.

Coercion in Population Control: There were no reports of coerced abortion or involuntary sterilization on the part of government authorities.

Discrimination: The constitution provides for the same legal status and rights for men and women and prohibits discrimination against women, although few laws exist to implement the provision. The constitution requires equal pay for equal work, but discrimination against women in employment existed (see section 7.d.).

Children

Birth Registration: A child acquires citizenship at birth if at least one parent is a citizen, regardless of where the birth took place. Children born or found in the country whose parents were unknown or stateless are also citizens. The government has a system of universal birth registration immediately after birth.

Child Abuse: A government ombudsperson for children’s rights issued periodic reports on problems affecting children, such as the need for improved medical care for children with chronic diseases. The ombudsperson’s office also operated a 24-hour free hotline for abused children. The government continued its public awareness campaigns, aimed at preventing physical violence or sexual abuse against children.

Child, Early, and Forced Marriage: The legal minimum age of marriage is 18, although courts may grant permission for girls as young as 16 to marry under certain circumstances.

Sexual Exploitation of Children: The law prohibits sexual intercourse with children younger than 15. The penalty for statutory rape ranges from two to 12 years’ imprisonment.

Child pornography is illegal. The production, possession, storage, or importation of child pornography involving children younger than 15 is punishable by three months’ to 10 years’ imprisonment. During the year police conducted several operations against child pornography and alleged pedophiles.

According to the government and the Children Empowerment Foundation, a leading NGO dealing with trafficking in children, trafficking of children for sexual exploitation remained a problem.

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.

Anti-Semitism

The Union of Jewish Communities estimated the Jewish population at 20,000. Anti-Semitic incidents continued to occur, often involving desecration of significant property, including a synagogue and Jewish cemeteries, and sometimes involving anti-Semitic comments on television and social media. Some Jewish organizations expressed concern regarding the physical safety and security of their members.

On February 27, a member of the lower house of parliament, Janusz Korwin-Mikke, said, “As a result of the pogroms, the strongest and the most gifted [Jews] survived…. The Jews are a power because they had pogroms.” He added, “There are even theories that rabbis deliberately provoke pogroms precisely so that Jews survive and then there is natural selection.”

During the year there were several attacks on Jewish properties and houses of worship. Examples included: defacement in mid-March by unknown perpetrators of a plaque commemorating the local Jewish community and Jewish residents of the city of Szczecin, who were killed during World War II in the Belzec extermination camp; the breaking of a synagogue’s windows on April 14 in the city of Wroclaw by a man who used neo-Nazi speech and gestures; and the tipping over of dozens of tombstones by unknown perpetrators in three Jewish cemeteries in the city of Zabrze and the towns of Dobrodzien and Tarnowskie Gory in September.

In mid-June a narrative appeared in public media during the presidential campaign that drew accusations of anti-Semitism from the domestic and international Jewish community. On June 15, the state-run television broadcaster ran a story claiming that the main challenger to the incumbent president would use public funds to “compensate Jews” with respect to private property restitution should he be elected president. It also claimed the candidate’s approach to restitution “was not based on Poland’s interests” and included images of Israel, George Soros, the Auschwitz-Birkenau concentration camp, and money falling out of a bag. On June 16, American Jewish Committee Central Europe acting director Sebastian Rejak sent a letter to the Polish Media Ethics Council stating that public television coverage could “incite hatred and contempt towards Jews in the world and Polish Jews.” On June 18, Chief Rabbi of Poland Michael Schudrich and the Union of Jewish Communities in Poland released a joint statement that declared, “public media should educate and integrate, not divide” and added, “we must all speak against the use of anti-Semitism or hatred of any other group for political purposes.” On June 29, the OSCE issued a first-round presidential election assessment that stated public television had become “a campaign tool for the incumbent” with reporting that had “clear xenophobic and anti-Semitic undertones.”

A trial of six persons accused of publicly promoting Nazism in 2017 by organizing a celebration of Hitler’s birthday in a forest, donning Wehrmacht uniforms, and burning a swastika continued at year’s end. The incident was secretly filmed and later broadcast by undercover television journalists. The main organizer of the event, a member of the neo-Nazi Pride and Modernity Association, pleaded not guilty, claiming the event was private. In August 2019 in a separate case, the Gliwice Regional Court decided to dissolve Pride and Modernity, stating that the event was tantamount to approval or even affirmation of Hitler and Nazism. In November 2019 the legal representative of the association appealed against the decision. On February 5, the Gliwice District Court suspended the appeal procedure due to the continuing separate trial into irregularities related to the registration of the association.

Trafficking in Persons

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

Persons with Disabilities

The law prohibits discrimination against persons with physical, sensory, intellectual, or mental disabilities. The government did not effectively enforce these provisions, and there were reports of societal discrimination against persons with disabilities. The government restricted the right of persons with certain mental disabilities to vote or participate in civic affairs.

The law states that buildings should be accessible for persons with disabilities, but many buildings remained inaccessible. Public buildings and transportation generally were accessible, although older trains and vehicles were often less so, and many train stations were not fully accessible.

The law states that education is obligatory for all children, including those with disabilities. Children with disabilities may attend schools where they are integrated with children without disabilities, or they may attend separate schools, depending on the significance of their disability.

Members of National/Racial/Ethnic Minority Groups

A number of xenophobic and racist incidents occurred during the year. Several incidents tied to the COVID-19 outbreak occurred in the early days of the pandemic.

On February 28, a bridal store in Warsaw refused to serve two female customers of Indonesian origin because employees thought they might be infected with COVID-19.

On March 25, three men attacked a young Chinese woman who worked at the Silesian University in the town of Sosnowiec. The men surrounded her and shouted “coronavirus” and “China” at her. Police detained one man who was charged with assaulting the woman on the grounds of her national origin, for which he could face up to a three-year prison term.

On November 11, the annual Independence Day March in Warsaw was again organized by a coalition of groups, including the National Radical Camp and All Polish Youth, widely deemed extremist and nationalist in their ideologies. Unlike previous years there were no reports of slogans targeting national or ethnic minorities, but violence occurred mainly between some march participants and police. There was also an incident where participants threw flares at a building displaying a rainbow flag and the logo of a women’s rights group, starting a fire (no injuries were reported).

Societal discrimination against Roma continued to be a problem. The 2011 national census recorded 16,723 Roma, although an official government report on the Romani community estimated that 20,000 to 25,000 Roma resided in the country. Romani community representatives estimated that 30,000 to 35,000 Roma resided in the country.

Romani leaders complained of widespread discrimination in employment, housing, banking, the justice system, media, and education.

During the year the government allocated 11.2 million zloty ($2.88 million) for programs to support Romani communities, including for educational programs. The Ministry of Education helped finance school supplies for Romani children. The Ministry of Interior and Administration provided school grants for Romani high school and university students, postgraduate studies on Romani culture and history in Krakow, and Romani-related cultural and religious events.

The Ukrainian and Belarusian minorities continued to experience harassment and discrimination. On February 9, seven men verbally and physically attacked a group of five foreigners from Ukraine, Belarus, and Russia in the city center of Torun. One of the attackers, who turned himself in to police, was charged with using violence and making threats against others on the grounds of their national identity. On February 18, the man was placed in pretrial detention for three months. Police were searching for other perpetrators at year’s end.

On May 23, a man physically attacked a Ukrainian man and insulted his nationality in a store in the city of Gdansk. Police intervened and charged the man with public insult on the grounds of national identity. The man pleaded guilty and received 10 months of community service.

On June 27, a man attacked a Belarusian security guard in a store in Krakow after the guard asked him to leave the store for not wearing a face mask. The man verbally abused the guard and spat on him several times. On July 2, police detained the man and charged him with public insult on the grounds of national identity, for which he may face up to a three-year prison term.

During the year there were incidents of xenophobic attacks targeting those of African and Middle Eastern descent.

On July 14, two men attacked and shouted racist insults at a man of African descent at a bus stop in the town of Wieliczka. A bystander defended the victim and was also brutally attacked. On July 17, police detained one of the attackers and charged him with public incitement to hatred on the grounds of nationality, inflicting bodily harm, and making death threats. The man was placed in pretrial detention for three months.

On August 2, a group of six men verbally and physically assaulted a group of four foreigners, including citizens of Nigeria, Saudi Arabia, and Tunisia, on a street in Krakow. Four of the suspects were arrested and faced up to five years in prison for violence on the grounds of race or nationality. Police continued to search for the other two perpetrators at year’s end.

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

While the constitution does not prohibit discrimination on the specific grounds of sexual orientation, it prohibits discrimination “for any reason whatsoever.” The laws on discrimination in employment cover sexual orientation and gender identity but hate crime and incitement laws do not. The government plenipotentiary for equal treatment is charged with monitoring discrimination against lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and intersex (LGBTI) individuals and groups. LGBTI advocacy groups, however, criticized the plenipotentiary office for a lack of interest and engagement in LGBTI issues. The ombudsperson also continued to work on LGBTI human rights cases.

During the year several government officials made anti-LGBTI or homophobic public statements. In presidential campaign remarks on June 13, President Andrzej Duda asserted “LGBT ideology” was a form of “neo-Bolshevism” and “even more destructive” than Communism itself. Former interior minister and sitting Member of European Parliament Joachim Brudzinski wrote on Twitter on June 13 that “Poland without LGBT is most beautiful.” Minister of Education and Science Przemyslaw Czarnek stated on June 13 (he was not yet minister at the time) that LGBTI persons were “not equal to normal people.” On July 30, Deputy Minister of State Assets Janusz Kowalski declared the entire country should be an “LGBT-free zone.” He added that a law should be adopted to prohibit public funding of any activities of organizations that explicitly promote “LGBT.” At an election rally on July 1, President Duda said adoption by same-sex couples constituted experimentation on and enslavement of children. On August 25, then minister of education Dariusz Piontkowski defended the education superintendent of Lodz Province for saying the “LGBT virus…of ideology” was “much more dangerous” than COVID-19. On September 14, Law and Justice Party chairman and soon-to-be deputy prime minister Jaroslaw Kaczynski said “LGBT ideology” was a threat “to the very foundations of our civilization.”

On August 7, authorities used force to detain 48 persons in Warsaw during a protest against the pretrial detention of an LGBTI activist. The representatives of the National Preventive Mechanism (NPM) operating under the human rights ombudsperson investigated the mass arrest and released a report on September 7 that stated the treatment of detainees by police “constituted degrading treatment, and in some cases…inhuman treatment.” The NPM interviewed 33 of the 48 detainees, who complained, inter alia, about disproportionate use of force by police, use of homophobic or transphobic comments by police, lack of access to food and drinking water, not being promptly informed of the right to a lawyer, and difficulty in contacting or meeting with a lawyer. In an August 8 press conference, the minister of justice stated police had behaved professionally. On September 2, the deputy minister of interior and the chief of police briefed a Sejm committee on the August 7 events and argued the police reaction was appropriate and proportional to the situation.

During the year there were several verbal and physical attacks against members of the LGBTI community. On August 11, two perpetrators using homophobic language brutally beat a man in Poznan. The man sustained a broken nose and concussion as a result of the attack. The attackers were charged with bodily injury and theft. On August 14, an activist affiliated with LGBTI rights groups reported he was physically and verbally attacked in Warsaw because he was holding hands with his LGBTI partner. He reported he had a broken tooth and a black eye and that his partner suffered bruises on his body. Police opened an investigation into the incident.

During the year local governments around the country adopted “family rights charters,” bringing the total number who had adopted such charters or separate declarations rejecting “LGBT ideology” to more than 90 since 2019. These legally nonbinding documents focused in varying degrees on preventing “LGBT ideology” in schools, called for protection of children against moral corruption, and declared marriage as a union between a woman and a man only. LGBTI NGOs stated the declarations may have a chilling effect on institutions subordinate to local governments and may increase the number of hate crimes. On July 14, the Gliwice administrative court struck down a declaration adopted by the Istebna municipality as a result of a complaint filed by the human rights ombudsperson in December 2019. The court ruled the declaration violated administrative law and the constitution, in particular the ban against discrimination on the grounds of sexual orientation and gender identity. Minister of Justice and Prosecutor General Zbigniew Ziobro sent appeals against the ruling and a similar one regarding a declaration in the Klwow municipality to the Supreme Administrative Court in September. Meanwhile, on June 23 and 24, the Krakow administrative court rejected the ombudsperson’s complaints against the municipality of Lipinki and the county of Tarnow, arguing that the declarations neither limited nor interfered with the constitutional rights and freedoms of any group of citizens and did not discriminate against any person. On August 18, Ziobro defended local communities that signed such declarations and emphasized the declarations referred to “ideology,” not individuals. Ziobro argued that while local authorities did not persecute LGBTI persons, they also did not accept “offensive actions” of LGBTI groups that tried to “impose their ideology” on others.

On February 11, the Supreme Administrative Court dismissed the final appeal of a same-sex couple who wanted to register the birth of their foreign-born child in the country. The child was born abroad to the two women, and his foreign birth certificate listed them as his parents. Polish birth certificates list spaces for a mother and a father. The Supreme Administrative Court found that a woman could not be listed in the space provided for a father’s name, and a man could not be listed in the space provided for a mother’s name.

A 2019 survey conducted by Pew Research Center found a rise in tolerance toward the LGBTI community in the country, with almost half of citizens (47 percent) declaring society should accept homosexuality, compared with the 2002 edition of the survey, in which 40 percent of those polled expressed acceptance.

Section 7. Worker Rights

a. Freedom of Association and the Right to Collective Bargaining

The law provides for the rights of workers to form and join independent trade unions, bargain collectively, and conduct legal strikes. The law prohibits antiunion discrimination and provides legal measures under which workers fired for union activity may demand reinstatement. Individuals who are self-employed or in an employment relationship based on a civil law contract are permitted to form a union.

Government workers, including police officers, border guards, prison guards, and employees of the supreme audit office, are limited to a single union. Workers in services deemed essential, such as security forces, the Supreme Chamber of Audit, police, border guards, and fire brigades, do not have the right to strike. These workers have the rights to protest and to seek resolution of their grievances through mediation and the court system.

Trade unions are registered when at least 10 eligible persons adopt a resolution to form a trade union. Newly established trade unions must appoint a founding committee consisting of three to seven persons. A new trade union must register with the National Court Registry within 30 days of the resolution. The court may remove a trade union from the registry only if a trade union adopts a resolution to dissolve; is no longer able to operate due to the bankruptcy, liquidation, or reorganization of the company in which the trade union operated; or if a trade union has fewer than 10 members for more than three months.

Legal strike ballots require the support of the majority of union voters. To allow for required mediation, a strike may not be called fewer than 14 days after workers present their demands to an employer. The law obligates employers to report workplace group disputes to the district inspection office in their regions. Cumbersome procedures made it difficult for workers to meet all of the technical requirements for a legal strike. What constitutes a strike under the law is limited to strikes regarding wages and working conditions, social benefits, and trade union rights and worker freedoms. The law prohibits collective bargaining for key civil servants, appointed or elected employees of state and municipal bodies, court judges, and prosecutors.

The penalties for obstructing trade union activity range from fines to community service. The government did not effectively enforce applicable law. Resources, inspections, and remediation efforts were not adequate, and the small fines imposed as punishment were an ineffective deterrent to employers. Administrative and judicial procedures were subjected to lengthy delays and appeals. Unions alleged that the government did not consistently enforce laws prohibiting retribution against strikers.

Trade union representatives stated that violations of freedom of association and the right to collective bargaining occurred. While many workers exercised the right to organize and join unions, many small and medium-sized firms, which employed a majority of the workforce, discriminated against those who attempted to organize. The government enforced applicable law, but penalties for violations were not commensurate with those for other laws related to the denial of civil rights.

Labor leaders continued to report that employers regularly discriminated against workers who attempted to organize or join unions, particularly in the private sector. Discrimination typically took the forms of intimidation, termination of work contracts without notice, and closing of the workplace. Some employers sanctioned employees who tried to organize unions.

b. Prohibition of Forced or Compulsory Labor

The law prohibits all forms of forced or compulsory labor. Nevertheless, forced labor occurred.

The government effectively enforced the law. Penalties for forced labor violations were commensurate with those of other serious crimes. In 2019, the most recent year for which statistics were available, the government assisted in removing 154 victims from forced labor.

There were reports that foreign and Polish men and women were subjected to forced labor in construction, agriculture, and restaurants and that children were subjected to forced begging (see section 7.c.).

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

c. Prohibition of Child Labor and Minimum Age for Employment

The law prohibits the employment of children younger than 16, with exceptions in the cultural, artistic, sporting, and advertising fields when parents or guardians and the local labor inspector give their permission. The labor inspector issues a permit on the basis of psychological and medical examinations. Child labor is not allowed if the work may pose any threat to life, health, or physical and mental development of the child, or may conflict with the child’s education. The law prohibits all of the worst forms of child labor. The government effectively enforced applicable law prohibiting employment of children younger than 16, and penalties were commensurate with those of other serious crimes.

Some children younger than 18 engaged in hazardous work in agriculture, primarily on family farms. Migrant Romani children from Romania were subjected to forced begging. Commercial sexual exploitation of children also occurred (see section 6, Children).

d. Discrimination with Respect to Employment and Occupation

The law prohibits discrimination with respect to employment or occupation in any way, directly or indirectly, on all grounds, in particular on the grounds of race, sex, color, religion, political opinion, national origin, ethnic origin, disability, sexual orientation, age, or trade union membership, and regardless of whether the person is hired for definite or indefinite contracts, or for full- or half-time work. The law does not specifically prohibit such discrimination based on language, HIV-positive status, gender identity, or social status. According to the Polish Society for Antidiscrimination Law, by law the accused must prove that discrimination did not take place. In the case of labor contracts that are protected by law, antidiscrimination measures are adequate, and judges know how to apply them. Civil contracts are protected under antidiscrimination law, which prohibits unequal treatment in employment on the basis of gender, race, ethnic origin, nationality, religion, belief, viewpoint, disability, age, or sexual orientation. According to the society, it is relatively straightforward for claimants to assert discrimination occurred during court proceedings; however, very few employees come forward and report discrimination at the workplace. The government enforced applicable law, but penalties for violations were not commensurate with those of similar laws related to civil rights.

On September 29, the Warsaw District Court ruled an employer discriminated against a transgender woman worker by requiring her to wear a male uniform. The woman’s lawyer said it was the first time that a Polish court affirmed a legal prohibition on discrimination against transgender persons in the workplace.

On May 28, the Warsaw district prosecutor’s office announced charges against a human resources manager at an IKEA store for dismissing an employee after he posted quotes from the Bible on the company’s intranet website to imply gay persons deserved death. Prosecutors argued the manager violated the employee’s religious rights. On June 2, several dozen NGOs working on nondiscrimination and equal treatment issued a statement protesting the decision to press charges, arguing that the manager properly fulfilled her duties by preventing discrimination in the workplace. On November 27, the Krakow District Court began a criminal trial against the human resources manager. On November 10, a labor branch of the Krakow court started a labor dispute case against IKEA that was initiated by the fired employee. The employee demanded compensation and the right to return to work.

Discrimination in employment and occupation occurred with respect to gender, age, minority status, disability, political opinion, sexual orientation, gender identity, and trade union membership. According to NGOs, sexual harassment at the workplace was an underreported problem, and police statistics showed a low number of identified offenses (107 in 2019, the latest statistics available). Discrimination against Romani workers also occurred (see section 6, Members of National/Racial/Ethnic Minority Groups).

e. Acceptable Conditions of Work

The national monthly minimum wage and the minimum wage for formal work agreements meet the social minimum monthly income level. There is no minimum wage for informal work agreements. There were reports of employers withholding wages or underpaying laborers under informal work agreements, particularly Ukrainian migrant workers in the construction and agriculture industries.

The constitution provides every employee the right to statutorily specified days free from work as well as annual paid holidays.

The law defines strict and extensive minimum conditions to protect worker health and safety and empowers the National Labor Inspectorate (NLI) to supervise and monitor implementation of worker health and safety law and to close workplaces with unsafe conditions. Workers could remove themselves from situations that endangered health or safety without jeopardy to their employment, and authorities effectively protected employees in this situation. While the NLI’s powers are limited to the formal economy, one of its responsibilities is to inspect the legality of employment, which can contribute to limiting work in the informal economy and ensuring employees who are hired in the informal economy are provided with appropriate occupational health and safety conditions.

Resources were inadequate to enforce effectively minimum wage, hours of work, and occupational health and safety in the formal or informal sectors. Penalties for violations were commensurate with those of other similar laws. The number of labor inspectors was not sufficient to enforce compliance. Labor inspectors had the authority to conduct unannounced inspections and initiate sanctions.

According to the inspectorate’s 2019 report, labor rights violations primarily concerned failure to pay or delayed payment of wages, failure to pay for overtime work, and failure to sign a labor contract in situations when the job performed constituted regular labor. Most wage payment violations occurred in the processing and trade services industries. Seasonal workers were particularly vulnerable to such violations. The national inspectorate’s report did not cover domestic workers because inspectors could only conduct inspections in businesses, not private homes. Another common problem was inaccurate timekeeping records for hours worked.

The large size of the informal economy–particularly in the construction and transportation industries–and the low number of government labor inspectors made enforcement of the minimum wage difficult. The Main Statistical Office definition of informal economy includes unregistered employment performed without a formal contract or agreement and is not counted as a contribution to social security and from which income taxes are not deducted. According to the Central Statistical Office, in 2017 (the latest year for which data were available) 5.4 percent of the workforce (880,000 persons) worked in the informal economy.

In 2019 the NLI launched a three-year information and education campaign to improve work-related health and safety standards in meat-processing companies and continued similar programs targeting construction companies, small businesses, and agricultural employers.

Employers routinely exceeded standards limiting exposure to chemicals, dust, and noise. According to the NLI’s 2019 report, the majority of work-related accidents occurred in industrial processing companies, at construction sites, and in trade. The report also noted poor organization of work processes, lack of proper supervision of employees, inadequate training of employees in work-related health and safety standards, and inadequate measures by employers to prevent accidents were among the leading causes of workplace accidents. The Central Statistical Office reported 83,205 victims of workplace accidents, including 184 fatal accidents during 2019.

Turkey

Executive Summary

Turkey is a constitutional republic with an executive presidential system and a unicameral 600-seat parliament (the Grand National Assembly). In presidential and parliamentary elections in 2018, Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe observers expressed concern regarding restrictions on media reporting and the campaign environment, including the jailing of a presidential candidate that restricted the ability of opposition candidates to compete on an equal basis and campaign freely.

The National Police and Jandarma, under the control of the Ministry of Interior, are responsible for security in urban areas and rural and border areas, respectively. The military has overall responsibility for border control and external security. Civilian authorities maintained effective control over law enforcement officials, but mechanisms to investigate and punish abuse and corruption remained inadequate. Members of the security forces committed some abuses.

Under broad antiterror legislation passed in 2018 the government continued to restrict fundamental freedoms and compromised the rule of law. Since the 2016 coup attempt, authorities have dismissed or suspended more than 60,000 police and military personnel and approximately 125,000 civil servants, dismissed one-third of the judiciary, arrested or imprisoned more than 90,000 citizens, and closed more than 1,500 nongovernmental organizations on terrorism-related grounds, primarily for alleged ties to the movement of cleric Fethullah Gulen, whom the government accused of masterminding the coup attempt and designated as the leader of the “Fethullah Terrorist Organization.”

Significant human rights issues included: reports of arbitrary killings; suspicious deaths of persons in custody; forced disappearances; torture; arbitrary arrest and continued detention of tens of thousands of persons, including opposition politicians and former members of parliament, lawyers, journalists, human rights activists, and employees of the U.S. Mission, for purported ties to “terrorist” groups or peaceful legitimate speech; the existence of political prisoners, including elected officials; politically motivated reprisal against individuals located outside the country; significant problems with judicial independence; severe restrictions on freedom of expression, the press, and the internet, including violence and threats of violence against journalists, closure of media outlets, and unjustified arrests or criminal prosecution of journalists and others for criticizing government policies or officials, censorship, site blocking and the existence of criminal libel laws; severe restriction of freedoms of assembly, association, and movement; some cases of refoulement of refugees; and violence against women and lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and intersex persons and members of other minorities.

The government took limited steps to investigate, prosecute, and punish members of the security forces and other officials accused of human rights abuses; impunity remained a problem.

Clashes between security forces and the Kurdistan Workers’ Party terrorist organization and its affiliates continued, although at a reduced level compared with previous years, and resulted in the injury or death of security forces, terrorists, and civilians. The government did not release information on efforts to investigate or prosecute personnel for wrongful or inadvertent deaths of civilians linked to counterterrorist operations.

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

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

There were credible allegations that the government contributed to civilian deaths in connection with its fight against the terrorist Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) organization in the southeast, although at a markedly reduced level compared with previous years (see section 1.g.). The PKK continued to target civilians in its attacks; the government continued to work to block such attacks. The law authorizes the Ombudsman Institution, the National Human Rights and Equality Institution, prosecutors’ offices, criminal courts, and parliament’s Human Rights Commission to investigate reports of security force killings, torture, or mistreatment, excessive use of force, and other abuses. Civil courts, however, remained the main recourse to prevent impunity.

According to the International Crisis Group, from January 1 to December 10, a total of 35 civilians, 41 security force members, and 235 PKK militants were killed in eastern and southeastern provinces in PKK-related clashes. Human rights groups stated the government took insufficient measures to protect civilian lives in its fight with the PKK.

The PKK continued its nationwide campaign of attacks on government security forces and, in some cases, civilians. For example, on May 14, PKK terrorists attacked aid workers in Van, killing two and injuring one. On June 18, PKK terrorists reportedly attacked a truck carrying fuel for roadwork in Sirnak province by planting an improvised explosive device (IED). The IED explosion killed four truck passengers.

There were credible reports that the country’s military operations outside its borders led to the deaths of civilians. On June 25, a Turkish air strike against the Kurdistan Free Life Party terrorist group reportedly wounded at least six civilians in Iraq. On June 19, Turkish air strikes against PKK targets killed three civilians in the same region of Iraq, according to Human Rights Watch.

Eyewitnesses, a local human rights monitor, and local media reported that an attack carried out by Turkish forces or Turkish-supported Syrian opposition groups on October 16 struck a rural area killing a young boy and injuring others in Ain Issa, Syria; the circumstances of this event are in dispute. Official Turkish government sources reported responding to enemy fire on the date in question and in the area that corresponds with this event, with four to six People’s Protection Units (YPG) fighters reportedly “neutralized,” a term Turkish authorities use to mean killed, captured, or otherwise removed from the battlefield. The government of Turkey considers the YPG the Syrian branch of the United States-designated foreign terrorist organization the PKK. According to media, YPG forces have also reportedly fired on Turkish and TSO forces following Turkey’s October 2019 incursion into northeast Syria and in November and December 2020, including near civilian infrastructure.

Following the launch of the Turkish armed forces’ offensive in northern Syria in October 2019 the UN Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights, Amnesty International, and Human Rights Watch continued to report claims from local and regional human rights activists and media organizations that Turkish-supported Syrian opposition groups committed human rights abuses, reportedly targeting Kurdish and Yezidi residents and other civilians, including arbitrary arrests and enforced disappearance of civilians; torture and sexual violence; forced evacuations from homes; looting and property seizures in areas under Turkish control; transfer of detained civilians across the border into Turkey; restricting water supplies to civilian populations; recruitment of child soldiers; and looting and desecrating religious shrines. Reports by the UN Commission of Inquiry into Syria similarly suggested that Turkish-supported opposition groups may have been responsible for attacks against civilians (for more information, see the Syria section of Department of State Country Reports on Human Rights). The government rejected these reports as flawed and biased, including by an October 6 note verbale to the UN high commissioner for human rights, but acknowledged the need for investigations and accountability related to such reports. The government relayed that the Turkish-supported Syrian National Army had established mechanisms for investigation and discipline in 2019. The government claimed the military took care to avoid civilian casualties throughout the operation.

According to the Baran Tursun Foundation, an organization that monitors police brutality, police have killed 403 individuals for disobeying stop warnings since 2007. According to the report, 93 were children. In April police shot and killed a 19-year-old Syrian refugee who ran from an enforcement stop connected with anti-COVID-19 measures that at the time prohibited minors younger than age 20 from leaving their residences. On May 28, a police officer involved in the shooting was arrested for the killing. Human rights groups documented several suspicious deaths of detainees in official custody, although reported numbers varied among organizations. In November the Human Rights Foundation of Turkey (HRFT) reported 49 deaths in prison related to illness, violence, or other causes. Of these 15 were allegedly due to suicide. In August a 44-year-old man convicted of having ties to the Gulen movement died in a quarantine cell in Gumushane Prison after displaying COVID-19 symptoms. Press reports alleged the prisoner had requested medical treatment multiple times, but the prison failed to provide it. Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP) Member of Parliament (MP) Omer Faruk Gergerlioglu called on the Ministry of Justice to investigate the case.

By law National Intelligence Organization (MIT) members are immune from prosecution as are security officials involved in fighting terror, making it harder for prosecutors to investigate extrajudicial killings and other human rights abuses by requiring that they obtain permission from both military and civilian leadership prior to pursuing prosecution.

b. Disappearance

Domestic and international human rights groups reported disappearances during the year that they alleged were politically motivated.

In February the Ankara Bar Association filed a complaint with the Ankara prosecutor on behalf of seven men reportedly “disappeared” by the government, who surfaced in police custody in 2019. One of the men, Gokhan Turkmen, a civil servant dismissed under state of emergency powers following the 2016 coup attempt, alleged in a pretrial hearing that intelligence officials visited him in prison, threatened him and his family, and urged him to retract his allegations that he was abducted and tortured while in custody. In April the Ankara prosecutor declined to investigate Turkmen’s complaints. Six of the seven men were in pretrial detention on terrorism charges at year’s end. The whereabouts of the seventh were unknown.

In May former HDP MP Tuma Celik asserted that the disappearance of an Assyrian Chaldean Catholic couple in the village of Kovankaya (Syriac: Mehri), reported missing since January, was “a kidnapping carried out with the ones who lean on the state or groups within the state,” likely alluding to nonstate armed groups aligned with the government. Others, including witnesses on the scene, asserted that the PKK was responsible. The husband, Hurmuz Diril, remained missing at year’s end, while in March relatives found the dead body of the wife, Simoni Diril, in a river near the village.

The government declined to provide information on efforts to prevent, investigate, and punish such acts.

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

The constitution and law prohibit torture and other cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment, but domestic and international rights groups reported that some police officers, prison authorities, and military and intelligence units employed these practices. Domestic human rights organizations, the Ankara Bar Association, political opposition figures, international human rights groups, and others reported that government agents engaged in threats, mistreatment, and possible torture of some persons while in custody. Human rights groups asserted that individuals with alleged affiliation with the PKK or the Gulen movement were more likely to be subjected to mistreatment or abuse.

In June, Emre Soylu, an adviser to ruling alliance member Nationalist Movement Party (MHP) Mersin MP Olcay Kilavuz, shared photos on his Twitter account showing a man allegedly being tortured by police at the Diyarbakir Antiterror Branch. A short video shared widely on social media included the screams of a man at the same facility in Diyarbakir. Kurdish politicians and civil society organizations, including the Human Rights Association of Turkey (HRA), condemned the incident and called on authorities to investigate.

In July, Human Rights Watch reported there was credible evidence that police and community night watchmen (bekcis) committed serious abuses against at least 14 persons, including violent arrests and beatings, in six incidents in Diyarbakir and Istanbul from May through July. In four of the cases, authorities refuted the allegations and failed to commit to investigate. In one case on June 26, masked police allegedly raided former mayor and HDP member Sevil Cetin’s home in Diyarbakir city, setting attack dogs on her while beating her. On June 28, the Diyarbakir Governor’s Office released a statement refuting the allegations and stating authorities did not intend to investigate.

In September news reports claimed that Jandarma forces apprehended, detained for two days, tortured, and threw out of a helicopter two farmers in Van province as part of an anti-PKK operation. One of the men died from his injuries. The Van Governor’s Office denied the allegations and stated that the injuries resulted from of the men falling in a rocky area while trying to escape from the officers. A court approved a ban on all news reports on the case, as requested by the Van Prosecutor’s Office. On November 27, Minister of Interior Suleyman Soylu stated one of the villagers, Osman Siban, was aiding PKK terrorists and that authorities therefore apprehended him.

In 2019 public reports alleged that as many as 100 persons, including former members of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs dismissed under the 2016-18 state of emergency decrees due to suspected ties to the Gulen movement, were mistreated or tortured while in police custody. The Ankara Bar Association released a report that detailed its interviews with alleged victims. Of the six detainees the association interviewed, five reported police authorities tortured them. In August the Ankara Prosecution Office decided not to pursue prosecution based on the allegations, citing insufficient evidence.

Reports from human rights groups indicated that police abused detainees outside police station premises and that mistreatment and alleged torture was more prevalent in some police facilities in parts of the southeast. The HRA reported receiving complaints from 573 individuals alleging they were subjected to torture and other forms of mistreatment while in custody or at extracustodial locations from January through November. The HRA reported that intimidation and shaming of detainees by police were common and that victims hesitated to report police abuse due to fear of reprisal. In June, responding to a parliamentary inquiry, the minister of interior reported the ministry had received 396 complaints of torture and maltreatment since October 2019. Opposition Republican People’s Party (CHP) human rights reports alleged that from May to August, 223 individuals reported torture or inhuman treatment.

The government asserted it followed a “zero tolerance” policy for torture and has abolished statute of limitations for cases of torture. On August 5, the Council of Europe released two reports on visits to the country by its Committee for the Prevention of Torture’s (CPT) in 2017 and 2019. The 2019 report stated that the delegation received “a considerable number of allegations of excessive use of force or physical ill-treatment by police and gendarmerie officers from persons who had recently been taken into custody (including women and juveniles). The allegations consisted mainly of slaps, kicks, punches (including to the head and face), and truncheon blows after the persons concerned had been handcuffed or otherwise brought under control.” The CPT noted, “A significant proportion of the allegations related to beatings during transport or inside law enforcement establishments, apparently with the aim of securing confessions or obtaining other information, or as a punishment. Further, numerous detained persons claimed to have been subjected to threats, and/or severe verbal abuse.” The CPT found that the severity of alleged police mistreatment diminished in 2019 compared with the findings of the 2017 CPT visit, although the frequency of the allegations remained worrying.

In its World Report 2020, Human Rights Watch stated: “A rise in allegations of torture, ill-treatment and cruel and inhuman or degrading treatment in police custody and prison over the past four years has set back Turkey’s earlier progress in this area. Those targeted include Kurds, leftists, and alleged followers of Fethullah Gulen. Prosecutors do not conduct meaningful investigations into such allegations and there is a pervasive culture of impunity for members of the security forces and public officials implicated.” According to Ministry of Justice 2019 statistics, the government opened 2,767 investigations into allegations of torture and mistreatment. Of those, 1,372 resulted in no action being taken by prosecutors, 933 resulted in criminal cases, and 462 in other decisions. The government did not release data on its investigations into alleged torture.

Some military conscripts reportedly endured severe hazing, physical abuse, and torture that sometimes resulted in death or suicide. Human rights groups reported that suspicious deaths in the military were widespread. The government did not systematically investigate them or release data. The HRA and HRFT reported at least 18 deaths as suspicious during the year. In September a Kurdish soldier serving in Edirne reported being beaten by other soldiers because of his ethnic identity. Turkish Land Forces Command opened an investigation into the incident.

The government did not release information on its efforts to address abuse through disciplinary action and training.

Prison and Detention Center Conditions

Prisons generally met standards for physical conditions (i.e., infrastructure and basic equipment), but significant problems with overcrowding resulted in conditions in many prisons that the CPT found could be considered inhuman and degrading. While detention facilities were generally in a good state of repair and well ventilated, many facilities had structural deficiencies that made them unsuitable for detention lasting more than a few days.

Physical Conditions: Prison overcrowding remained a significant problem. CPT reports from 2017 and 2019 stated, “The problem of prison overcrowding remained acute, and the steady increase in the size of the prison population already observed in the mid-2000s continued.” According to the Ministry of Justice, as of July, the country had 355 prisons with a capacity for 233,194 inmates and an estimated total inmate population of 281,000, prior to the ministry’s granting of COVID-19 amnesty for 90,000 prisoners.

In April, Minister of Justice Gul announced that three prisoners had died of COVID-19. The same month, to alleviate conditions in prisons due to the pandemic, parliament approved a bill to modify the sentences of 90,000 prisoners by allowing for their release, including those convicted of organized crime and attempted murder. The bill did not include any provisions for persons held under provisional or pretrial detention and explicitly excluded anyone convicted under antiterror charges, including journalists, lawyers, and human rights defenders. The Ministry of Justice has not released updated figures on prisoner deaths due to COVID-19 since April.

If separate prison facilities for minors were not available, minors were held in separate sections within separate male and female adult prisons. Children younger than six were allowed to stay with their incarcerated mothers. The HRA estimated that as of December, 300 children were being held with their mothers. HRA noted that authorities released many mothers and children as a result of the COVID-19 amnesty. Pretrial detainees were held in the same facilities as convicted prisoners.

The government did not release data on inmate deaths due to physical conditions or actions of staff members. The HRA reported that 49 inmates died in prison from January to November. The HRA noted that prisoners were unlikely to report health issues and seek medical care since a positive COVID-19 result would lead to a two-week quarantine in solitary confinement. Human rights organizations and CPT reports asserted that prisoners frequently lacked adequate access to potable water, proper heating, ventilation, lighting, food, and health services. Human rights organizations also noted that prison overcrowding and poor sanitary conditions exacerbated the health risks for prisoners from the COVID-19 pandemic. Civil Society in the Penal System Association reported that prison facilities did not allow for sufficient social distancing due to overcrowding and did not provide cleaning and disinfection services on a regular basis. Prisons also did not provide disinfectant, gloves, or masks to prisoners, but instead sold them at commissaries.

The Ministry of Justice’s Prison and Correctional Facilities official reported to parliament that, as of October, more than 1,900 health workers were serving the prison population. Of the health workers, there were seven medical doctors, 144 dentists, 84 nurses, and 853 psychologists. Human rights associations expressed serious concern regarding the inadequate provision of health care to prisoners, particularly the insufficient number of prison doctors. According to HRA statistics, in September there were 1,605 sick prisoners in the country’s prisons, 604 of whom were in serious condition.

Reports by human rights organizations suggested that some doctors would not sign their names to medical reports alleging torture due to fear of reprisal. As a result victims were often unable to get medical documentation that would help prove their claims.

In December, Amnesty International reported that prison guards in Diyarbakir severely beat prisoner Mehmet Siddik Mese, but the prison doctor stated that the prisoner was not beaten in the official report. Mese did not receive an independent medical examination. The prosecutor decided not to prosecute the suspected perpetrators based on the prison doctor’s report.

Chief prosecutors have discretion, particularly under the wide-ranging counterterrorism law, to keep prisoners whom they deem dangerous to public security in pretrial detention, regardless of medical reports documenting serious illness.

Administration: Authorities at times investigated credible allegations of abuse and inhuman or degrading conditions but generally did not document the results of such investigations in a publicly accessible manner or disclose publicly whether actions were taken to hold perpetrators accountable. Some human rights activists and lawyers reported that prisoners and detainees were sometimes arbitrarily denied access to family members and lawyers.

Independent Monitoring: The government allowed prison visits by some observers, including parliamentarians. The Ministry of Interior reported that under the law prisons were to be monitored by domestic government entities including the Human Rights and Equality Institution of Turkey and the Parliamentary Commission for Investigating Human Rights. International monitors included the CPT, the Council of Europe Commissioner for Human Rights, and the UN Working Group on Arbitrary Detention.

HDP MP Omer Faruk Gergerlioglu stated that in response to his June inquiry, the Parliamentary Commission for Investigating Human Rights reported it had received 3,363 reports of human rights violations from detainees and prisoners since June 2018 but found no violations in any of the cases.

The government did not allow nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) to monitor prisons. In October, HRA Balikesir chairman Rafet Fahri Semizoglu was detained under charges stemming from his visits to prisons. The Civil Society Association in the Penal System published periodic reports on prison conditions based on information provided by parliamentarians, correspondence with inmates, lawyers, inmates’ family members, and press reports.

d. Arbitrary Arrest or Detention

The law prohibits arbitrary arrest and detention and provides for the right of any person to challenge the lawfulness of arrest or detention in court, but numerous credible reports indicated the government did not always observe these requirements.

Human rights groups noted that, following the 2016 coup attempt, authorities continued to detain, arrest, and try hundreds of thousands of individuals for alleged ties to the Gulen movement or the PKK, often with questionable evidentiary standards and without the full due process provided for under law (see section 2.a.).

On the four-year anniversary of the 2016 coup attempt in July, the government announced that authorities had opened legal proceedings against 597,783 individuals, detained 282,790, and arrested 94,975 since the coup attempt on grounds of alleged affiliation or connection with the Gulen movement. During the year the government started legal proceedings against 39,719 individuals, detained 21,000, and arrested 3,688. In July the Ministry of Justice reported that the government had conducted nearly 100,000 operations targeting Gulenists since the coup attempt. The government reportedly detained and investigated a majority of the individuals for alleged terror-related crimes, including membership in and propagandizing for the Gulen movement or the PKK. Domestic and international legal and human rights experts questioned the quality of evidence presented by prosecutors in such cases, criticized the judicial process, asserted that the judiciary lacked impartiality, and that defendants were sometimes denied access to the evidence underlying the accusations against them (see section 1.e., Trial Procedures).

The courts in some cases applied the law unevenly, with legal critics and rights activists asserting court and prosecutor decisions were sometimes subject to executive interference. In January an Ankara court of appeals reversed a lower court ruling for life imprisonment of a former three-star general, Metin Iyidil, accused of participation in the coup attempt. Two days after Iyidil’s release, another court reordered his detention. After President Erdogan publicly criticized the Ankara appeals court decision to acquit, the court ruled for Iyidil to be rearrested. The Council of Judges and Prosecutors opened an investigation into the acquittal decision, suspending the three judges who ruled for acquittal from their posts.

Arrest Procedures and Treatment of Detainees

The law requires that prosecutors issue warrants for arrests, unless the suspect is detained while committing a crime. The period for arraignment may be extended for up to four days. Formal arrest is a measure, separate from detention, which means a suspect is to be held in jail until and unless released by a subsequent court order. For crimes that carry potential prison sentences of fewer than three years’ imprisonment, a judge may release the accused after arraignment upon receipt of an appropriate assurance, such as bail. For more serious crimes, the judge may either release the defendant on his or her own recognizance or hold the defendant in custody (arrest) prior to trial if there are specific facts indicating the suspect may flee, attempt to destroy evidence, or attempt to pressure or tamper with witnesses or victims. Judges often kept suspects in pretrial detention without articulating a clear justification for doing so.

While the law generally provides detainees the right to immediate access to an attorney, it allows prosecutors to deny such access for up to 24 hours. In criminal cases the law also requires that the government provide indigent detainees with a public attorney if they request one. In cases where the potential prison sentence for conviction is more than five years’ imprisonment or where the defendant is a child or a person with disabilities, a defense attorney is appointed, even absent a request from the defendant. Human rights observers noted that in most cases authorities provided an attorney if a defendant could not afford one.

Under antiterror legislation adopted in 2018, the government may detain without charge (or appearance before a judge) a suspect for 48 hours for “individual” offenses and 96 hours for “collective” offenses. These periods may be extended twice with the approval of a judge, amounting to six days for “individual” and 12 days for “collective” offenses. Human rights organizations raised concerns that police authority to hold individuals for up to 12 days without charge increased the risk of mistreatment and torture. According to a statement by Minister of Justice Gul, 48,752 persons were in pretrial detention in the country as of July.

The law gives prosecutors the right to suspend lawyer-client privilege and to observe and record conversations between accused persons and their legal counsel. Bar associations reported that detainees occasionally had difficulty gaining immediate access to lawyers, both because government decrees restricted lawyers’ access to detainees and prisons–especially for those attorneys not appointed by the state–and because many lawyers were reluctant to defend individuals the government accused of ties to the 2016 coup attempt. Human rights organizations reported the 24-hour attorney access restriction was arbitrarily applied and that in terrorism-related cases, authorities often did not inform defense attorneys of the details of detentions within the first 24 hours, as stipulated by law. In such cases rights organizations and lawyers groups reported attorneys’ access to the case files for their clients was limited for weeks or months pending preparations of indictments, hampering their ability to defend their clients.

Some lawyers stated they were hesitant to take cases, particularly those of suspects accused of PKK or Gulen movement ties, because of fear of government reprisal, including prosecution. Government intimidation of defense lawyers also at times involved nonterror cases. The international NGO Freedom House in its 2020 Freedom in the World report stated, “In many cases, lawyers defending those accused of terrorism offenses were arrested themselves.” According to human rights organizations, since 2016 authorities prosecuted more than 1,500 lawyers, arrested 605, and sentenced 441 to lengthy prison terms on terrorism-related charges. Of the arrested lawyers, 14 were presidents of provincial bar associations. This practice disproportionately affected access to legal representation in the southeast, where accusations of affiliation with the PKK were frequent and the ratio of lawyers to citizens was low. In a September speech, the president suggested that lawyers who are “intimate” with terrorist organizations should be disbarred.

Arbitrary Arrest: Although the law prohibits holding a suspect arbitrarily or secretly, there were numerous reports that the government did not observe these prohibitions. Human rights groups alleged that in areas under curfew or in “special security zones,” security forces detained citizens without official record, leaving detainees at greater risk of arbitrary abuse.

In September the HDP released a statement detailing allegations that police kidnapped, physically assaulted, and later released six HDP youth assembly members in separate incidents in Diyarbakir, Istanbul, and Agri province. The HDP also stated that on May 4 police abducted HDP assembly member Hatice Busra Kuyun in Van province, forced her into a car, and threatened her. Police released Kuyun on the same day.

Pretrial Detention: The maximum time an arrestee can be held pending trial with an indictment is seven years, including for crimes against the security of the state, national defense, constitutional order, state secrets and espionage, organized crime, and terrorism-related offenses. Pretrial detention during the investigation phase of a case (before an indictment) is limited to six months for cases that do not fall under the purview of the heavy criminal court–referred to by the International Criminal Police Organization (INTERPOL) as the central criminal court–and one year for cases that fall under the heavy criminal court. The length of pretrial detention generally did not exceed the maximum sentence for the alleged crimes. For other major criminal offenses tried by high criminal courts, the maximum detention period remained two years with the possibility of three one-year extensions, for a total of five years.

For terror-related cases, the maximum period of pretrial detention during the investigation phase is 18 months, with the possibility of a six-month extension.

Rule of law advocates noted that broad use of pretrial detention had become a form of summary punishment, particularly in cases that involved politically motivated terrorism charges.

The trial system does not provide for a speedy trial, and trial hearings were often months apart, despite provisions in the code of criminal procedure for continuous trial. Trials sometimes began years after indictment, and appeals could take years more to reach conclusion.

Detainees Ability to Challenge Lawfulness of Detention before a Court: Detainees’ lawyers may appeal pretrial detention, although antiterror legislation imposed limits on their ability to do so. The country’s judicial process allows a system of lateral appeals to criminal courts of peace for arrest, release, judicial control, and travel ban decisions that substitutes appeal to a higher court with appeal to a lateral court. Lawyers criticized the approach, which rendered ambiguous the authority of conflicting rulings by horizontally equal courts. In addition since 2016 sentences of less than five years’ imprisonment issued by regional appellate courts were final and could not be appealed. Since 2019 the law provides for defendants in certain types of insult cases or speech-related cases to appeal to a higher court.

Detainees awaiting or undergoing trial prior to the 2016-18 state of emergency had the right to a review in person with a lawyer before a judge every 30 days to determine if they should be released pending trial. Under a law passed in 2018, in-person review occurs once every 90 days with the 30-day reviews replaced by a judge’s evaluation of the case file only. Bar associations noted this element of the law was contrary to the principle of habeas corpus and increased the risk of abuse, since the detainee would not be seen by a judge on a periodic basis.

In cases of alleged human rights violations, detainees have the right to apply directly to the Constitutional Court for redress while their criminal cases are proceeding. Nevertheless, a backlog of cases at the Constitutional Court slowed proceedings, preventing expeditious redress.

The Office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) noted that detention center conditions varied and were often challenging due to limited physical capacity and increased referrals. Refugee-focused human rights groups alleged authorities prevented migrants placed in detention and return centers from communicating with the outside world, including their family members and lawyers, creating the potential for refoulement as migrants accept repatriation to avoid indefinite detention.

e. Denial of Fair Public Trial

The law provides for an independent judiciary, but there were indications the judiciary remained subject to influence, particularly from the executive branch.

The executive branch exerts strong influence over the Board of Judges and Prosecutors (HSK), the judicial body that assigns and reassigns judges and prosecutors to the country’s courts nationwide and is responsible for their discipline. Out of 13 total judges on the board, the president directly appoints six: The executive branch and parliament appoint 11 members (seven by parliament and four by the president) every four years; the other two members are the presidentially appointed justice minister and deputy justice minister. The ruling party controlled both the executive and the parliament when the existing members were appointed in 2017. Although the constitution provides tenure for judges, the HSK controls the careers of judges and prosecutors through appointments, transfers, promotions, expulsions, and reprimands. Broad leeway granted to prosecutors and judges challenges the requirement to remain impartial, and judges’ inclination to give precedence to the state’s interests contributed to inconsistent application of laws. Bar associations, lawyers, and scholars expressed concern regarding application procedures for prosecutors and judges described as highly subjective, which they warned opened the door to political litmus tests in the hiring process.

The judiciary faced a number of problems that limited judicial independence, including intimidation and reassignment of judges and allegations of interference by the executive branch. Following the 2016 coup attempt, the government suspended, detained, or fired nearly one-third of the judiciary accused of affiliation with the Gulen movement. The government in the intervening years filled the vacancies, but the judiciary continued to experience the effects of the purges. A Reuters international news organization analysis of Ministry of Justice data showed that at least 45 percent of the country’s prosecutors and judges have three years of legal professional experience or less.

Observers raised concerns that the outcome of some trials appeared predetermined or pointed to judicial interference. In February an Istanbul court ruled to acquit philanthropist Osman Kavala and eight others on charges of attempting to use the 2013 Gezi Park protests to overthrow the state. Kavala, the founder of Anadolu Kultur, an organization dedicated to cross-cultural and religious dialogue, had been in pretrial detention since 2017. The presiding judge permitted Kavala’s lawyer to argue on his client’s behalf but refused to allow any other defendant’s lawyers to do likewise. Without pausing for deliberation following final statements from the defendants, the presiding judge produced a paper that appeared to have the verdict already written. The court acquitted Kavala of the charges and ordered him released immediately, but authorities detained Kavala the same day upon exit from prison on new charges of espionage and attempting to overthrow the state order in connection with the 2016 failed coup. In March authorities issued an order of arrest for Kavala while he was in detention. In October prosecutors filed a new indictment against Kavala seeking three aggravated life sentences for espionage and renewed charges of “attempting to overthrow the constitutional order” and organizing the Gezi Park protests and supporting the Gulen movement. In December the Constitutional Court found that the government did not violate Kavala’s rights when he was re-arrested following acquittal in February. Kavala remained in detention at year’s end.

The government also targeted some defense attorneys representing a number of high-profile clients. In September authorities issued detention orders for 48 lawyers and seven legal trainees in Ankara on charges related to terrorism due to alleged links to the Gulen movement. Prominent bar associations, including those of Ankara, Istanbul, Izmir, and Gaziantep, condemned the arrests and reported that investigators’ questions to the lawyers, as well as presented evidence, were related to their professional activities.

The country has an inquisitorial criminal justice system. The system for educating and assigning judges and prosecutors fosters close connections between the two groups, which some legal experts claimed encouraged impropriety and unfairness in criminal cases.

There are no military courts, and military justice is reserved for disciplinary action, not criminal cases.

Lower courts at times ignored or significantly delayed implementation of decisions reached by the Constitutional Court. The government rarely implemented European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) decisions, despite the country’s obligation to do so as a member of the Council of Europe.

The government acknowledged problems in the judicial sector, and in 2019 parliament passed a Judicial Reform Strategy for 2019-23 reportedly designed to protect legal rights and freedoms and strengthen the independence of the judiciary while fostering more transparency, efficiency, and uniformity in legal procedures. Human rights groups criticized the strategy for focusing on cosmetic rather than structural changes; lacking a clear implementation plan, including timeline; failing to identify responsible government bodies and budget; and failing to address judicial independence concerns. Under the strategy the parliament in July adopted a legislative package amending trial procedures to streamline civil case processing and expanding use of arbitration and the scope of cases where trials may be closed to the public. Human rights organizations noted the effort to reduce trial durations was positive but voiced concern that the law may reduce trial transparency.

Trial Procedures

The constitution provides for the right to a fair public trial, although bar associations and rights groups asserted that increasing executive interference with the judiciary and actions taken by the government through state of emergency provisions jeopardized this right.

The law provides defendants a presumption of innocence and the right to be present at their trials, although in a number of high-profile cases, defendants increasingly appeared via video link from prison, rather than in person. Judges may restrict defense lawyers’ access to their clients’ court files for a specific catalogue of crimes (including crimes against state security, organized crime, and sexual assault against children) until the client is indicted.

A single judge or a panel of judges decides all cases. Courtroom proceedings were generally public except for cases involving minors as defendants. The state increasingly used a clause allowing closed courtrooms for hearings and trials related to security matters, such as those related to “crimes against the state.” Court files, which contain indictments, case summaries, judgments, and other court pleadings, were closed except to the parties to a case, making it difficult for the public, including journalists and watchdog groups, to obtain information on the progress or results of a case. In some politically sensitive cases, judges restricted access to Turkish lawyers only, limiting the ability of domestic or international groups to observe some trials.

Defendants have the right to be present at trial and to consult an attorney of their choice in a timely manner, although legal advocates have asserted the government coerced defendants to choose government-appointed lawyers. Observers and human rights groups noted that in some high-profile cases, these rights were not afforded to defendants. Individuals from the southeast were increasingly held in prisons or detention centers far from the location of the alleged crime and appeared at their hearing via video link systems. Some human rights organizations reported that hearings sometimes continued in the defendant’s absence when video links purportedly failed.

Defendants have the right to legal representation in criminal cases and, if indigent, to have representation provided at public expense. Defendants or their attorneys could question witnesses for the prosecution, although questions must usually be presented to the judges, who are expected to ask the questions on behalf of counsel. Defendants or their attorneys could, within limits, present witnesses and evidence on their own behalf. Defendants have the right not to testify or confess guilt and the right to appeal. The law provides for court-provided language interpretation when needed. Human rights groups alleged interpretation was not always provided free of charge, leaving some poor, non-Turkish-speaking defendants disadvantaged by the need to pay for interpretation.

Observers noted the prosecutors and courts often failed to establish evidence to sustain indictments and convictions in cases related to supporting terrorism, highlighting concerns regarding respect for due process and adherence to credible evidentiary thresholds. In numerous cases authorities used secret evidence or witnesses to which defense attorneys and the accused had no access or ability to cross-examine and challenge in court, particularly in cases related to national security. The government occasionally refused to acknowledge secret witnesses.

In April court authorities released from judicial control (parole) Turkish dual national Serkan Golge. In 2018 a court sentenced Golge to seven-and-a-half years in prison on charges of “membership in a terrorist organization,” referring to the Gulen movement. An appeals court later reduced the charges and sentence to “support of a terrorist organization” and five years’ imprisonment. Authorities arrested Golge in 2016 based on specious evidence, including witness testimony that was later recanted. Golge served nearly three years in prison before he was released; he was permitted to leave the country in June.

Political Prisoners and Detainees

The number of political prisoners remained a subject of debate at year’s end. In July the Ministry of Interior reported the government had detained 282,790 persons in connection with the coup attempt since 2016. Of those, 25,912 were in prison awaiting trial. NGOs estimated there were 50,000 individuals in prison for terror-related crimes. Some observers considered some of these individuals political prisoners, a charge the government disputed.

Prosecutors used a broad definition of terrorism and threats to national security and in some cases, according to defense lawyers and opposition groups, used what appeared to be legally questionable evidence to file criminal charges against and prosecute a broad range of individuals, including journalists, opposition politicians (primarily of the HDP), activists, and others critical of the government.

At year’s end eight former HDP parliamentarians and 17 HDP comayors were in detention following arrest. According to the HDP, since July 2015 at least 5,000 HDP lawmakers, executives, and party members were in prison for a variety of charges related to terrorism and political speech. The government had suspended from office using national security grounds 48 locally elected opposition politicians in Kurdish-majority areas, and subsequently arrested 37. The government suspended from office the elected village leaders of 10 villages in the southeast in May. By August 2019 the government had suspended most of the mayors elected in the southeast in March 2019, including the HDP mayors of major southeastern cities Diyarbakir, Mardin, and Van. The government suspended an additional 16 mayors during the year. The government suspended the majority of mayors for ongoing investigations into their alleged support for PKK terrorism, largely dating to before their respective elections.

In September authorities arrested both comayors of Kars, Ayhan Bilgen and Sevin Alaca, as part of detention orders for 101 persons across seven provinces, including former HDP members of parliament and senior HDP officials, for their alleged involvement in the 2014 Kobane protests in the country regarding perceived government inaction in response to the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria takeover of the majority Kurdish town of Kobane, Syria. The prosecutor’s office also issued a secrecy injunction, citing terror charges, which prevented lawyers from accessing their clients’ files. In total authorities arrested 17 HDP officials. On December 30, the Ankara Prosecutor’s Office filed an indictment containing 37 counts of homicide and charges of “disrupting the unity and territorial integrity of the state” against 108 individuals, including the arrested HDP officials, in relation to the Kobane protests.

Former HDP cochair and former presidential candidate Selahattin Demirtas remained in prison on terrorism charges since 2016 despite 2018 and 2020 ECHR rulings for his release. In June the Constitutional Court ruled that Demirtas’ lengthy pretrial detention violated his rights, but the government did not release him from prison because of a second detention order stemming from a separate investigation related to the 2014 antigovernment Kobane protests. In September the Ankara Chief Public Prosecutor’s Office issued a new indictment against Demirtas under counterterrorism statutes for his criticism of the Ankara chief prosecutor at a hearing in January. On the same day, an Ankara court also ruled for the continuation of Demirtas’ imprisonment based on the Kobane protests investigation. On December 22, the ECHR ruled that Turkey violated Demirtas’ rights, including freedom of expression, liberty, and security; speedy decision on lawfulness of detention; and free elections, and it called for his immediate release. Following the ruling, President Erdogan accused the ECHR of “defending a terrorist” and making a hypocritical, politically motivated ruling. The president also stated that only Turkish courts could rule on the case and that Turkey would “evaluate” the ECHR decision. On December 30, authorities indicted Demirtas for his involvement in the Kobane protests as part of the mass indictment of 108 individuals.

Authorities used antiterror laws broadly against opposition political party members, human rights activists, media outlets, suspected PKK sympathizers, and alleged Gulen movement members or groups affiliated with the Gulen movement, among others, including to seize assets of companies, charities, or businesses. Human rights groups alleged many detainees had no substantial link to terrorism and were detained to silence critical voices or weaken political opposition to the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP), particularly the HDP or its partner party, the Democratic Regions Party.

In June the government expelled MPs Leyla Guven and Musa Farisogulları of the HDP and Enis Berberoglu of the main opposition CHP from parliament and arrested them after appeals courts upheld charges against them on terrorism and espionage, respectively. The Constitutional Court ruled that the government had violated Berberoglu’s rights because it did not renew the lifting of his legal immunity following his re-election in 2018. In October the criminal court in Istanbul, which reviewed Berberoglu’s case, rejected the Constitutional Court ruling for a retrial. Berberoglu remained on release from prison due to COVID-19 precautions. In December a Diyarbakir court sentenced Guven to 22 years and three months in prison on three separate terrorism charges. Authorities transferred Guven to prison following sentencing; they had released her earlier in the year based on time served in a separate case.

Students, artists, and association members faced criminal investigations for alleged terror-related activities, primarily due to their social media posts. The government did not consider those in custody for alleged PKK or Gulen movement ties to be political prisoners and did not permit access to them by human rights or humanitarian organizations.

Credible reports claimed that authorities subjected some persons jailed on terrorism-related charges to abuses, including long solitary confinement, unnecessary strip and cavity searches, severe limitations on outdoor exercise and out-of-cell activity, denial of access to prison library and media, slow medical attention, and in some cases the denial of medical treatment. Reports also alleged that authorities subjected visitors of prisoners accused of terrorism-related crimes to abuse, including limited access to family and degrading treatment by prison guards, including strip searches.

Politically Motivated Reprisal against Individuals Located Outside the Country

The government engaged in a worldwide effort to apprehend suspected members of the Gulen movement. There were credible reports that the government exerted bilateral pressure on other countries to take adverse action against specific individuals, at times without due process. According to a report by several UN special rapporteurs in May, the government reportedly coordinated with other states to transfer more forcibly than 100 Turkish nationals to Turkey since the 2016 coup attempt, of which 40 individuals were subjected to enforced disappearance. In January, Albania deported Turkish citizen Harun Celik, a teacher at a school associated with the Gulen movement, to Turkey after arresting him for traveling on false documents in 2019. Celik’s lawyer reported Celik requested asylum while detained in Albania and that Albania repatriated him to Turkey without giving him an opportunity to appeal the decision. Authorities detained Celik upon arrival in Istanbul. Turkish media hailed the repatriation as a successful operation by Turkish state intelligence. Individuals returned to the country under such circumstances usually faced legal proceedings based on their association with the Gulen movement. In September, Isa Ozer, a Turkish national who had been an elected local deputy in Dogubeyazit in eastern Anatolia for the left-wing HDP, was brought to Turkey from Ukraine in what the Turkish state press described as an intelligence operation.

There were also credible reports that the government attempted to use INTERPOL red notices to target specific individuals located outside the country, alleging ties to terrorism connected to the 2016 coup attempt or to the PKK, based on little evidence. Freedom House reported that, since the 2016 coup attempt, the country had uploaded tens of thousands of requests in INTERPOL for persons the government designated as affiliated with the Gulen movement. There were also reports that individuals faced complications related to erroneous lost or stolen passport reports the government filed against suspected Gulen movement supporters in the years directly following the coup attempt. Targeted individuals often had no clearly identified role in the attempted coup but were associated with the Gulen movement or had spoken in favor of it. The reports to INTERPOL could lead to individuals’ detention or prevent them from traveling.

In September press reported that the Diyarbakir Chief Prosecutor’s Office requested the extradition of former HDP MP and Diyarbakir mayor Osman Baydemir, who resides in the United Kingdom, as part of a terrorism investigation. Authorities also petitioned an INTERPOL red notice for Baydemir. He was previously convicted for insulting police and stripped of MP status in 2018.

The government used property seizure orders to pressure individuals living in exile abroad. In October a court seized all assets, including property and bank accounts, of exiled opposition journalist Can Dundar and declared him a fugitive after he did not attend trial proceedings for the case against him and other former Cumhuriyet journalists who reported on alleged illicit arms shipments by Turkish intelligence officers to Syria. On December 23, an Istanbul court sentenced Dundar in absentia to 27 years’ imprisonment. The court also upheld the asset seizure and began an extradition request from Germany, where Dundar resides.

The government continued to refuse to renew the passports of some citizens with temporary residency permits in other countries on political grounds, claiming they were members of “Gulenist” organizations; these individuals were unable to travel outside of their countries of residence.

Civil Judicial Procedures and Remedies

The constitution provides for an independent and impartial judiciary in civil matters, although this differed in practice. Citizens and legal entities such as organizations and companies have the right to file a civil case for compensation for physical or psychological harm, including for human rights violations. On constitutional and human rights issues, the law also provides for individuals to appeal their cases directly to the Constitutional Court, theoretically allowing for faster and simpler high-level review of alleged human rights violations within contested court decisions. Critics complained that, despite this mechanism, the large volume of appeals of dismissals under the state of emergency and decreased judicial capacity caused by purges in the judiciary resulted in slow proceedings.

As of September 30, the Constitutional Court has received 30,584 applications and found rights law violations in 20 percent of applications, according to official statistics. Of the 2019 applications, 30 percent remained pending. Citizens who have exhausted all domestic remedies have the right to apply for redress to the ECHR; however, the government rarely implemented ECHR decisions. According to the NGO European Implementation Network, Turkey has not implemented 60 percent of ECHR decisions from the last 10 years. For example, the country has not implemented the ECHR decision on the illegality of pretrial detention of former Constitutional Court judge Alparslan Altan, arrested and convicted following the coup attempt in 2016. Altan was serving an 11-year prison sentence at year’s end.

The government established the Inquiry Commission on the State of Emergency Measures, in 2017 to adjudicate appeals of wrongfully dismissed civil servants and began accepting cases that July. The commission reported that, as of the end of the year, it had received 126,630 applications, adjudicated 112,310 cases, approved 13,170, and rejected 99,140. Critics complained the appeals process was opaque, slow, and did not respect citizens’ rights to due process, including by prohibiting defendants from seeing the evidence against them or presenting exculpatory evidence in their defense.

Property Restitution

In multiple parts of the southeast, many citizens continued efforts to appeal the government’s 2016 expropriations of properties to reconstruct areas damaged in government-PKK fighting (see section 1.g, Other Conflict-related Abuse).

According to the Savings Deposit Insurance Fund of Turkey, as of July the government had seized 796 businesses worth an estimated 61.2 billion lira ($7.85 billion) since the 2016 coup attempt. A March NGO report estimated that $32.2 billion in businesses and business assets, including from media outlets, schools, universities, hospitals, banks, private companies, and other holdings were confiscated since the 2016 coup attempt in breach of domestic regulations.

In July the government completed the flooding of a valley in Batman province for a new hydroelectric dam. Residents displaced by the use of eminent domain reported the government’s payment for their property would not cover the cost of the apartment buildings intended to replace their former homes and complained that animal husbandry was not allowed in the new city, a practice residents had until then relied upon for income and sustenance.

The Department of State’s Justice for Uncompensated Survivors Today (JUST) Act Report to Congress, released publicly on July 29, may be found on the Department’s website: https://www.state.gov/reports/just-act-report-to-congress/.

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

While the constitution provides for the “secrecy of private life” and states that individuals have the right to demand protection and correction of their personal information and data, the law provides MIT with the authority to collect information while limiting the ability of the public or journalists to expose abuses. Oversight of MIT falls within the purview of the presidency, and checks on MIT authorities are limited. MIT may collect data from any entity without a warrant or other judicial process for approval. At the same time, the law establishes criminal penalties for conviction of interfering with MIT activities, including data collection or obtaining or publishing information concerning the agency. The law allows the president to grant MIT and its employees’ immunity from prosecution.

Police possess broad powers for personal search and seizure. Senior police officials may authorize search warrants, with judicial permission required to follow within 24 hours. Individuals subjected to such searches have the right to file complaints; however, judicial permission occurring after a search had already taken place failed to serve as a check against abuse.

Security forces may conduct wiretaps for up to 48 hours without a judge’s approval. As a check against potential abuse of this power, the State Inspection Board may conduct annual inspections and present its reports for review to parliament’s Security and Intelligence Commission. Information on how often this authority was used was not available. Human rights groups noted that wiretapping without a court order circumvented judicial control and potentially limited citizens’ right to privacy. Some citizens asserted that authorities tapped their telephones and accessed their email or social media accounts. There was evidence the government monitored private online communications using nontransparent legal authority.

The Ministry of Interior disclosed that in the first seven months of this year, it examined 14,186 social media accounts and took legal action against more than 6,743 users whom it accused of propagandizing or promoting terror organizations, inciting persons to enmity and hostility, or insulting state institutions. The law allows courts to order domestic internet service providers to block access to links, including to websites, articles, or social media posts, and was routinely used to block access to news sites. The editor of one such news website, Sendika, reported that his site has been blocked 63 times since 2015. The HRFT reported that in the first eight months of the year, the government detained at least 485 persons and arrested six for social media posts, including but not limited to posts on COVID-19.

Human rights groups asserted that self-censorship due to fear of official reprisal accounted in part for the relatively low number of complaints they received regarding allegations of torture or mistreatment.

Using antiterror legislation, the government targeted family members to exert pressure on wanted suspects. Government measures included cancelling the passports of family members of civil servants suspended or dismissed from state institutions, as well as of those who had fled authorities. In some cases the government cancelled or refused to issue passports for the minor children of individuals outside the country who were wanted for or accused of ties to the Gulen movement. In June the Ministry of Interior announced it would lift restrictions on the passports of 28,075 persons in addition to the 57,000 reported in 2019.

Government seizure and closure during the previous three years of hundreds of businesses accused of links to the Gulen movement created ambiguous situations for the privacy of client information.

g. Abuses in Internal Conflict

Clashes between security forces and the PKK and its affiliates in the country continued throughout the year, although at a reduced level relative to previous years, and resulted in the injury or deaths of security forces, PKK terrorists, and civilians. The government continued security operations against the PKK and its affiliates in various areas of the east and southeast. Authorities issued curfews of varying duration in certain urban and rural areas and also decreed “special security zones” in some areas to facilitate counter-PKK operations, which restricted access of visitors and, in some cases, residents. While portions of Hakkari province and rural portions of Tunceli Province remained “special security zones” most of the year, the government imposed curfews and “special security zones” less frequently overall than in 2019. PKK attacks claimed the lives of noncombatant civilians, as did kidnappings. Residents of these areas reported they occasionally had very little time to leave their homes prior to the launch of counter-PKK security operations. Those who remained faced curfews of varying scope and duration that at times restricted their movement and complicated living conditions.

Killings: According to the International Crisis Group, from mid-2015 to December, at least 1,265 security force members, 3,166 PKK terrorists, 5,539 civilians, and 226 individuals of unknown affiliation died in PKK-related fighting in the country and the surrounding region.

The HRA reported that in the first 10 months of the year, 14 security officers, 15 civilians, and 78 PKK terrorists were killed during clashes; 15 security officers and 23 civilians were reportedly injured.

PKK attacks resulted in civilian deaths. For example, on April 8, a roadside bomb attack killed five forestry workers in Diyarbakir province. Government data on casualty tolls were unavailable.

PKK tactics included targeted killings and assault with conventional weapons, vehicle-borne bombs, and IEDs. At times IEDs or unexploded ordnance, usually attributed to the PKK, killed or maimed civilians and security forces. According to news reports, in April an 11-year-old boy died as a result of an explosion of unexploded ordnance in Diyarbakir. Since 2016, unexploded ordnance killed at least 22 civilians, 21 of whom were children.

Abductions: The PKK abducted or attempted to abduct civilians (see Child Soldiers, below).

Physical Abuse, Punishment, and Torture: Human rights groups alleged that police, other government security forces, and the PKK abused some civilian residents of the southeast. There was little accountability for mistreatment by government authorities. In April a Gevas court acquitted a police officer who was accused of torturing four village residents in 2017. Although victims identified seven police officers, the prosecutor pressed charges against only one.

Child Soldiers: The government and some members of Kurdish communities alleged the PKK recruited and forcibly abducted children for conscription. A group of mothers continued a sit-in protest they began in Diyarbakir in September 2019 alleging the PKK had forcibly recruited or kidnapped their children and demanding their return. According to the Directorate of Communications of the Presidency, 438 children escaped and left the PKK from January 2014 to June.

Other Conflict-related Abuse: Extensive damage stemming from government-PKK fighting led authorities in 2016 to expropriate certain properties in specific districts of the southeast to facilitate postconflict reconstruction. Many of these areas remained inaccessible to residents at year’s end due to reconstruction. In Diyarbakir’s Sur District, the government had not returned or completed repairs on many of the expropriated properties, including the historic and ancient sites inside Sur, such as Surp Giragos Armenian Church and the Mar Petyun Chaldean Church. The government allocated 30 million lira ($3.8 million) to renovate four churches; renovations on two of them were completed. Some affected residents filed court challenges seeking permission to remain on expropriated land and receive compensation; many of these cases remained pending at year’s end. In certain cases courts awarded compensation to aggrieved residents, although the latter complained awards were insufficient. The overall number of those awarded compensation was unavailable at year’s end.

In May press reported the discovery of plastic boxes containing the remains of 261 bodies of PKK terrorists from the Kurdish-dominated southeastern province of Bitlis; the boxes were buried under the sidewalks in Istanbul’s Kilyos Cemetery. Authorities reportedly removed the bodies from a cemetery in Bitlis during a construction project in 2017 and moved them without the knowledge of families of the buried.

Government actions and adverse security conditions impacted democratic freedoms, including limiting journalists’ and international observers’ access to affected areas, which made monitoring and assessing the aftermath of urban conflicts difficult. Since 2019 the Ministry of Interior suspended 48 of 65 elected HDP mayors in the southeast based on allegations of support for terrorism related to the PKK. Because the mayors were suspended but not removed, pursuant to 2018 antiterror legislation, local residents did not have the opportunity to elect other representatives. The government appointed officials to govern these 48 municipalities in lieu of the removed elected mayors.

Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:

a. Freedom of Expression, Including for the Press

The constitution and law provide for freedom of expression within certain limits. The government restricted freedom of expression, including for the press, throughout the year. Multiple articles in the penal code directly restrict press freedom and free speech through provisions that prohibit praising a crime or criminals or inciting the population to enmity, hatred, or denigration, as well as provisions that protect public order and criminalize insulting the state, the president, or government officials. Many involved in journalism reported that the government’s prosecution of journalists representing major opposition and independent newspapers and its jailing of journalists since the 2016 coup attempt hindered freedom of speech. Media professionals reported that self-censorship was widespread amid fear that criticizing the government could prompt reprisals.

The law provides for punishment of up to three years in prison for conviction of “hate speech” or injurious acts related to language, race, nationality, color, gender, disability, political opinion, philosophical belief, religion, or sectarian differences. Human rights groups criticized the law for not including restrictions based on gender identity and noted that the law was sometimes used more to restrict freedom of speech than to protect minorities.

The government convicted and sentenced hundreds of individuals for exercising their freedom of expression. According to a July MetroPOLL company survey, 62 percent of respondents believed media in the country was not free, and 50 percent believed they were not free on social media.

The government frequently responded to expression critical of it by filing criminal charges alleging affiliation with terrorist groups, terrorism, or otherwise endangering the state. In January, Ankara’s chief public prosecutor opened investigations into 50 persons for social media posts related to the 6.8-magnitude Elazig earthquake on January 24, charging that the posts were “creating worry, fear and panic among the public” and “insulting the Turkish people, the Republic of Turkey and public institutions.” At the end of May, the Ministry of Interior announced that in the six weeks after the COVID-19 pandemic reached the country in mid-March, authorities had examined 10,111 social media accounts containing “unfounded and provocative” information regarding COVID-19. Authorities also identified 1,105 individuals, detained more than 500 persons connected to those accounts for questioning, and initiated nearly 600 criminal investigations. Individuals investigated by police included prominent doctors and heads of medical associations. In October the Ministry of Interior announced it investigated 40 social media accounts, detained 10 individuals, and arrested two for social media posts related to the 7.0-magnitude earthquake that struck Izmir province on October 30.

During the year the government opened investigations into thousands of individuals, including politicians, journalists, and minors, based on allegations of insulting the president; the founder of the Turkish Republic, Mustafa Kemal Ataturk; or state institutions. According to Ministry of Justice statistics, police investigated 36,066 individuals for insulting the president or the state in 2019; 12,298 stood trial and 3,831 were penalized. In contrast from 2014 to 2019, the number of individuals that received prison sentences under insult laws dropped to 2,663. In July police detained 11 persons and arrested one for comments made on social media posts about the president’s daughter and son-in-law, former treasury and finance minister Berat Albayrak, following the birth of their son on charges of “insulting a public official.”

Estimates of the number of imprisoned journalists varied, ranging from at least 37 according to the Committee to Protect Journalists to 79 according to the International Press Institute. The majority faced charges related to antigovernment reporting or alleged ties to the PKK or Gulen movement.

The Media and Law Studies Association in Istanbul attributed the disparity in estimates of the number of incarcerated journalists to the varying definitions of “journalist” or “media worker.” While the government officially recognizes as journalists only persons whom it has issued a yellow press accreditation card–typically limited to reporters, cameramen, and editors–media watchdog groups included distributors, copy editors, layout designers, and other staff of media outlets in their definition. The government often categorized imprisoned journalists from Kurdish-language outlets or alleged pro-Gulen publications as “terrorists,” claiming ties to or support for the PKK and the Gulen movement. Information about and access to the imprisoned staff of some of these outlets was therefore limited, further contributing to disparities in tallies of jailed journalists.

An unknown number of journalists were outside the country and did not return due to fear of arrest, according to the Journalists Association. In June in response to a parliamentary question submitted six months earlier by an HDP MP, Vice President Fuat Oktay stated, the government shut down a total of 119 media outlets under state of emergency decrees following the 2016 failed coup attempt, including a total of 53 newspapers, 20 magazines, 16 television channels, 24 radio stations, and six news agencies. Independent reports estimated the government has closed more than 200 media companies since 2016.

Freedom of Speech: Individuals in many cases could not criticize the state or government publicly without risk of civil or criminal suits or investigation, and the government restricted expression by individuals sympathetic to some religious, political, or cultural viewpoints. At times those who wrote or spoke on sensitive topics or in ways critical of the government risked investigation, fines, criminal charges, job loss, and imprisonment.

On June 23, an Istanbul court upheld the conviction and sentencing of the main opposition CHP Istanbul provincial chair Canan Kaftancioglu on multiple charges related to tweets critical of government policy, including comments related to the 2013 Gezi Park Protests and the 2016 coup attempt, which she made between 2012 and 2017. A lower court had sentenced Kaftancioglu to nearly 10 years’ imprisonment in 2018 for “insulting the republic,” “insulting the president,” and “spreading terrorist propaganda” in tweets. At year’s end she remained free pending her final legal appeal. Kaftancioglu also faced separate charges under a December indictment by the Istanbul Prosecutor’s Office for ordering photographs of alleged illegal construction on land owned by Presidential Communications Director Fahrettin Altun. The indictment sought up to 10 years’ imprisonment for Kaftancioglu. Authorities scheduled the first hearing of the case for May 2021.

A parliamentary by-law prohibits use of the word “Kurdistan” or other sensitive terms by MPs on the floor of parliament and provides for the possibility of fining violators; however, authorities did not uniformly implement this by-law. Diyarbakir Bar Association chairman Ahmet Ozmen continued to face charges filed in 2019 stemming from a statement the Bar Association released in 2017, stating, “We share the unrelieved pain of Armenian people.”

Rights groups and free speech advocates reported intensifying government pressure that in certain cases resulted in their exercising enhanced caution in their public reporting.

In late April the Ankara Bar Association filed a complaint for hate speech against Ali Erbas, president of the Directorate of Religious Affairs (Diyanet), following a sermon in which he stated that homosexuality causes illness, including HIV. In response President Erdogan announced that an attack against Erbas was an attack against the state. The Istanbul Prosecutor’s Office promptly opened a criminal investigation against the bar association, and President Erdogan commented, “All will know their place.”

Freedom of Press and Media, Including Online Media: Mainstream print media and television stations were largely controlled by progovernment holding companies heavily influenced by the ruling party. Reporters without Borders estimated the government was able to exert power in the administration of 90 percent of the most watched television stations and most read national daily newspapers through the companies’ affiliation with the government. Only a small fraction of the holding companies’ profits came from media revenue, and their other commercial interests impeded media independence, encouraged a climate of self-censorship, and limited the scope of public debate.

Nearly all private Kurdish-language newspapers, television channels, and radio stations remained closed on national security grounds under government decrees.

Government prosecution of journalists limited media freedom throughout the year. In 2018 authorities convicted 14 persons affiliated with the leading independent newspaper, Cumhuriyet on charges of aiding terrorist organizations, citing their reporting as part of the evidence against the accused, and sentenced to prison terms of between three and seven years. After a lengthy appeal process, the Constitutional Court found no rights violations in cases for 11 of the journalists but ruled in favor of three. On November 10, the ECHR found that Turkey violated the freedom of expression rights of eight of the journalists and ordered them to be compensated 16,000 euro ($19,200) each. On November 24, the ECHR separately found that the country had violated the rights of another defendant, journalist Ahmet Sik.

In July an Istanbul court convicted Turkish-German journalist Deniz Yucel of “incitement to hatred” and spreading “terrorist propaganda” for articles he wrote on Turkey as a correspondent for the German newspaper Die Welt and sentenced him in absentia to two years and nine months in prison. The Constitutional Court had previously reviewed the press articles in the indictment and determined they were protected by freedom of the press. Yucel indicated he would appeal the ruling.

In several cases the government barred journalists from travelling outside the country, including through the use of electronic monitoring. For example, in October an Istanbul court sentenced five of eight Yeni Yasam, Yeni Cag, and OdaTV journalists on trial for allegedly revealing the identity of intelligence officers to more than four years in prison. The court released three of the defendants, Baris Pehlivan, Hulya Kilinc, and Murat Agirel, based on time served but imposed an international travel ban. The court acquitted the two OdaTV journalists.

Violence and Harassment: Government and political leaders and their supporters used a variety of means to intimidate and pressure journalists, including lawsuits, threats, and, in some cases, physical attack.

According to the Committee to Protect Journalists, in 2019 at least nine journalists were physically attacked, often outside of their place of work. Although in some cases suspects were identified quickly, by year’s end authorities had made no arrests or publicly noted progress in investigations against the perpetrators. Victims publicly expressed a belief that law enforcement agencies were not interested in prosecuting the crimes. On August 19, Saban Onen, a journalist of a Bursa-based local newspaper was attacked in a parking garage in Karacabey. Onen claimed that the attackers were relatives of the ruling AKP mayor of Karacabey and specifically referenced his writing about the mayor during the attack. On August 26, a vehicle belonging to the Nevsehir Journalists Association was set on fire. The chair of the association, Bayram Ekici, stated he believed the attack was a premediated attempt to intimidate journalists.

The government routinely filed terrorism-related charges against individuals or publications in response to reporting on sensitive topics, particularly government efforts against PKK terrorism and the Gulen movement (also see National Security). Human rights groups and journalists asserted the government did this to target and intimidate journalists and the public for speech critical of the state. In September authorities arrested on slander charges the publisher and editor in chief of a daily newspaper in Kocaeli Province after the newspaper ran a story accusing local AKP officials of sexually abusing a minor.

Journalists reported that media outlets fired some individuals for being too controversial or adversarial with the government out of fear of jeopardizing other business interests.

Journalists affiliated or formerly affiliated with pro-Kurdish outlets faced significant government pressure, including incarceration. The government routinely denied press accreditation to Turkish citizens working for international outlets for any association (including volunteer work) with private Kurdish-language outlets.

Censorship or Content Restrictions: Government and political leaders maintained direct and indirect censorship of media and books. Authorities subjected some writers and publishers to prosecution on grounds of defamation, denigration, obscenity, separatism, terrorism, subversion, fundamentalism, or insulting religious values. Authorities investigated or continued court cases against a myriad of publications and publishers on these grounds during the year. Human rights organizations voiced strong concern that a law governing social media that went into effect October 1 would result in increasing social media censorship and indiscriminate enforcement of content removal requests imposed by courts or made through individuals’ requests by social media companies (see section 2.a., Internet Freedom for details). Media professionals widely reported practicing self-censorship due to intimidation and risks of criminal and civil charges.

While the law does not prohibit particular books or publications, authorities required publishing houses to submit books and periodicals to prosecutors for screening at the time of publication. The Turkish Publishers Association reported that bookstores did not carry books by some opposition political figures.

The Turkish Publisher’s Association reported that publishers often exercised self-censorship, avoiding works with controversial content (including government criticism, erotic content, or pro-Kurdish content) that might draw legal action. The association reported that publishers faced publication bans and heavy fines if they failed to comply in cases in which a court ordered the correction of offensive content. Authorities also subjected publishers to book promotion restrictions. In some cases prosecutors considered the possession of some Kurdish-language, pro-Kurdish, or Gulen movement books to be credible evidence of membership in a terror organization. In other cases authorities banned books because of objectionable content.

In August an Istanbul court banned access to reporting by major newspapers and broadcast networks that a large tender was awarded to a friend of the president’s son. In September an Istanbul court ordered an additional access ban to news articles regarding the initial access ban.

In October police raided the Van bureau of Mezopotamya Ajansi and the homes of many journalists of the news agency. Police detained four journalists during the raid and confiscated their cameras and technical equipment. One of the journalists, Cemil Ugur, first reported the story of two villagers in Van who were allegedly detained, tortured, and thrown from a helicopter by soldiers in September. The courts granted a confidentiality order requested by the Van Chief Prosecutor’s Office on news reports concerning the incident. On October 1, an Ankara penal judge also ruled to permit the Information and Communications Technologies Authority to block access to Mezopotamya Ajansi’s online content.

Some journalists reported their employers asked them to censor their reporting if it appeared critical of the government or fired them if they failed to comply. These pressures contributed to an atmosphere of self-censorship in which media reporting became increasingly standardized along progovernment lines. For instance, the government continued to pursue a case against Cumhuriyet journalists Alican Uludag and Duygu Guvenc for “publicly degrading the judiciary” and “insulting the Turkish nation” for their coverage of the country’s arrest of Andrew Brunson in 2018. On October 22, the court ruled that Uludag and Guvenc be acquitted as “the act in question is not defined as a crime in the law.”

Radio and television broadcast outlets did not provide equal access to the country’s major political parties. Critics charged that media generally favored the ruling AKP. In December the owner of private media outlet Olay TV announced that he would close the channel after only a month of operation because its editorial line prioritized pro-HDP content. The editor in chief of Olay TV announced during its last broadcast that the government pressured channel executives to close the channel. Other outlet employees told reporters the channel faced government scrutiny because it was too critical of the government and included reports of alleged corruption and human rights violations by government officials.

Radio and Television Supreme Council (RTUK) member Ilhan Tasci, who represented the CHP, reported that as of December, RTUK had fined or suspended independent broadcasters in 54 instances. During that time government-affiliated broadcasters received two warnings and one fine. Independent broadcasters paid 25 times more in fines than government-affiliated ones.

RTUK continued the practice of fining broadcasters whose content it considered “contrary to the national and moral values of society.” Service providers that broadcast online are required to obtain a license or may face having their content removed. RTUK is empowered to reject license requests on the grounds of national security and to subject content to prior censorship. In July, RTUK announced it would suspend pro-opposition television stations Halk TV and TELE1 for five days and that the two outlets could lose their broadcast licenses entirely if they received another penalty. RTUK ruled that TELE1 “incited hatred” during two news programs that criticized the country’s Directorate of Religious Affairs (Diyanet) and President Erdogan. RTUK imposed the suspension on Halk TV for criticizing Turkey’s foreign policy. The NGO Committee to Protect Journalists warned, “the two channels were two remaining pro-opposition broadcast outlets in a media landscape that has become predominantly progovernment” and that “their presence is vital for media plurality” in the country. After the broadcasters lost court appeals, RTUK suspended TELE1 and Halk TV broadcasts for five days in September.

Libel/Slander Laws: Observers reported that government officials used defamation laws to stop political opponents, journalists, and ordinary citizens from voicing criticism (see section 2.a., Freedom of Expression, Including for the Press). According to press reports, convictions for insulting the president increased 13-fold between 2016 and the end of 2019. The law provides that persons who insult the president of the republic may face a prison term of up to four years. The sentence may be increased by one-sixth if committed publicly and by one-third if committed by media outlets.

Authorities charged citizens, including minors, with insulting the country’s leaders and denigrating “Turkishness.” Free speech advocates pointed out that, while leaders and deputies from opposition political parties regularly faced multiple insult charges, the government did not apply the law equally and that AKP members and government officials were rarely prosecuted. In March, Engin Ozkoc of the opposition CHP insulted the president using the same phrasing that the president used in reference to Ozkoc. Ozkoc’s comments set off a brawl on the floor of the parliament. Erdogan sued Ozkoc for libel and the Prosecutor’s Office opened an investigation into Ozkoc’s comments.

In September a court sentenced the former cochair of the pro-Kurdish Democratic Regions Party Sebahat Tuncel to 11 months in prison for insulting the president. Tuncel had called Erdogan a misogynist and “an enemy of women and Kurds.”

In May police arrested former CHP Izmir province vice chair Banu Ozdemir for her social media posts sharing videos of Izmir mosques playing the song “Bella Ciao” from their speakers after a hacking incident. Ozdemir was arrested on charges of “denigrating religious values” and spent one week in pretrial detention. On December 10, an Izmir court acquitted Ozdemir.

National Security: Authorities regularly used the counterterrorism law and the penal code to limit free expression on grounds of national security. Organizations, including the Committee to Protect Journalists and Freedom House, reported that authorities used the counterterrorism law and criminal code to prosecute journalists, writers, editors, publishers, filmmakers, translators, rights activists, lawyers, elected officials, and students accused of supporting a terrorist organization–generally either the PKK or the Gulen movement.

In March an Istanbul court ordered the arrest of seven journalists and editors for their news organizations’ reports on the funeral of an alleged MIT official who died in Libya in February. Authorities charged the journalists with exposing the identities of MIT agents and their families. In September an Istanbul court found five of the journalists guilty and issued sentences from three to more than four years imprisonment. The court acquitted two of the journalists.

The trial of prominent columnist Ahmet Altan continued, and he remained in prison at year’s end. Altan was convicted in 2018 for “attempting to overthrow the constitutional order” relating to allegations he had a role in the 2016 attempted coup; Altan received an aggravated life sentence. In 2019 after the Supreme Court of Appeals overturned the life imprisonment sentence, Altan was convicted for “aiding a terrorist organization” and released on time served. Within days of the release, he was rearrested following the prosecutor’s objection. In December the Constitutional Court rejected Altan’s application for review of his re-arrest. Rights groups claimed that Altan faced charges in reprisal for his work as a journalists and author.

Authorities also targeted foreign journalists. For example, in March authorities detained a group of journalists, including five foreign journalists along the Turkey-Greece border, for allegedly violating the border zone. All were later released.

Nongovernmental Impact: The PKK used intimidation to limit freedom of speech and other constitutional rights in the southeast. Some journalists, political party representatives, and residents of the southeast reported pressure, intimidation, and threats if they spoke out against the PKK or praised government security forces.

Internet Freedom

The government continued to restrict access to the internet and expanded its blocking of selected online content. The government at times blocked access to cloud-based services and permanently blocked access to many virtual private networks. There was evidence the government monitored private online communications using nontransparent legal authority. The Freedom House report Freedom on the Net 2020: The Pandemics Digital Shadow noted that the government harassed, arrested, and detained journalists, activists, and bloggers for their online activity, especially during the COVID-19 pandemic.

The law allows the government to block a website or remove content if there is sufficient suspicion that the site is committing any number of crimes, including insulting the founder of the Turkish Republic, Mustafa Kemal Ataturk, or insulting the president. The government may also block sites to protect national security and public order. At times authorities blocked some news and information sites that had content criticizing government policies. The law also allows persons who believe a website violated their personal rights to ask the regulatory body to order internet service providers (ISPs) to remove offensive content. Government leaders, including the president, reportedly employed staff to monitor the internet and initiate charges against individuals perceived as insulting them.

The government-operated Information and Communication Technologies Authority (BTK) is empowered to demand that ISPs remove content or block websites with four hours’ notice, as are government ministers. The regulatory body must refer the matter to a judge within 24 hours, who must rule on the matter within 48 hours. If it is not technically possible to remove individual content within the specified time, the entire website may be blocked. ISP administrators may face a penalty of six months to two years in prison or fines ranging from 50,000 to 500,000 lira ($6,400 to $64,000) for conviction of failing to comply with a judicial order. The president appoints the BTK president, vice president, and members of the agency.

In July parliament passed a law regulating online social media providers. According to the law, beginning in October social media companies with more than one million users are required to establish legal in-country representation and to store user data in the country. Failure to establish legal representation is subject to escalating penalties, starting with fines of up to 40 million lira ($5.5 million), a ban on ad placement with the company, and bandwidth restrictions of up to 90 percent. The law also imposes a regulation on content removal, requiring social media companies to respond to content removal requests from individuals within 48 hours and from courts within 24 hours, or face heavy fines. Beginning in June 2021, the law will require social media companies to report and publish on their websites’ statistics on content removal. Opponents of the law asserted it was intended to silence dissent and stifle expression online. There were also concerns that social media company representatives may face criminal charges if companies fail to comply with government requests, and advocates have raised significant data privacy concerns about the new requirement to store data in the country. Prior to the law, the government required content providers to obtain an operating certificate for the country. In November and December, the BTK imposed fines on several social media companies, including Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram, for noncompliance with the law’s in-country legal representation requirements.

The government has authority to restrict internet freedom with limited parliamentary and judicial oversight. The law provides that government authorities may access internet user records to “protect national security, public order, health, and decency” or to prevent a crime. The law also establishes an ISP union of all internet providers that is responsible for implementing website takedown orders. The judicial system is responsible for informing content providers of ordered blocks.

The government required ISPs, including internet cafes, to use BTK-approved filtering tools that blocked specific content. Additional internet restrictions were in place in government and university buildings. According to the internet freedom NGO EngelliWeb, the government blocked 61,049 domain names during 2019, increasing the total number of blocked sites to 408,494. Of the new domain names that the government blocked, 70 percent were blocked through a BTK decision that did not require judicial approval. According to EngelliWeb reporting, 5,599 news articles were blocked in 2019, and news providers removed 3,528 articles after a block was implemented.

In January the government lifted a ban on Wikipedia following a court ruling in December 2019 that the ban constituted a violation of free expression. The government imposed the ban in 2017 based on “national security concerns.”

According to Twitter’s internal transparency report, during the last six months of 2019 the company received 5,195 court orders and other legal requests from authorities to remove content. The country was responsible for 19 percent of Twitter’s global legal demands.

Academic Freedom and Cultural Events

During the year the government continued to limit academic freedom, restrict freedom of speech in academic institutions, and censor cultural events.

The president appointed rectors to state and foundation-run universities, leading critics to assert that the appointments compromised the academic and political independence of the institutions. Some academics faced charges due to public statements critical of government policy. Academics and others criticized the situation in public universities, asserting that the dismissals of more than 7,000 academics during the 2016-18 state of emergency had depleted many departments and institutions of qualified professional staff to the detriment of students and the quality of education.

In July 2019 the Constitutional Court ruled that the prosecution of nearly 2,000 academics, known as the “Academics for Peace,” was a violation of freedom of expression. The academics had signed a 2016 petition condemning state violence in the southeast and been prosecuted on terrorist propaganda charges. As of September, 622 of the 822 Academics for Peace cases ended in acquittal. Most of the academics acquitted in 2019 had been fired from their positions and had not been reinstated at year’s end.

In April the parliament amended the Higher Education Law. The amendment included specification of grounds for censure and dismissal of academics, including engaging in and supporting “activities that qualify as terror” and insulting a superior. The University Faculty Members Association released a statement that expressed concern the amendment threatens academic freedom.

Some academics and event organizers stated their employers monitored their work and that they faced censure from their employers if they spoke or wrote on topics not acceptable to academic management or the government. Many reported practicing self-censorship. Human rights organizations and student groups criticized court- and Higher Education Board-imposed constraints that limited university autonomy in staffing, teaching, and research policies. In December 2019 the Council of Higher Education temporarily suspended the operating license of Istanbul Sehir University, established by former prime minister Ahmet Davutoglu. In January the council seized the assets of the Science and Art Foundation that managed the university and appointed trustees to its management, citing financial mismanagement and inadequate funds as the reason for the intervention. Academic freedom activists claimed that the actions were in retaliation for Davutoglu’s establishment of a new opposition party.

Antiterror measures also affected arts and culture. The government banned more than 200 Turkish and Kurdish songs on the grounds their content encouraged persons to smoke or drink or conveyed “terrorist propaganda.” Police arrested members of Grup Yorum, a popular folk band collective, in 2016 on terror charges alleging the group’s links to terrorist group Revolutionary Peoples Liberation Party-Front and banned them from performing. In April and May, two members of the group, Helin Bolek and Ibrahim Gokcek died as a result of hunger strikes in protest of the group’s treatment. Two additional members remained in prison. In August police detained at least 10 persons for attending an unauthorized concert in Istanbul by the group. Authorities arrested at least two persons for attending the unauthorized concert.

b. Freedoms of Peaceful Assembly and Association

The government restricted the freedoms of peaceful assembly and association.

Freedom of Peaceful Assembly

Although the constitution provides for freedom of assembly, the law provides several grounds for the government to limit that right. The law stipulates penalties for protesters convicted of carrying items that might be construed as weapons, prohibits the use of symbols linked to illegal organizations (including chanting slogans), and criminalizes covering one’s face while protesting. The law permits police to use tinted water in water cannons, potentially to tag protesters for later identification and prosecution. The law also allows police to take persons into “protective custody” without a prosecutor’s authorization if there is reasonable suspicion that they are a threat to themselves or to public order. The antiterror law gives governorates enhanced authority to ban protests and public gatherings, a ban some governorates enacted broadly during the year.

The government regarded many demonstrations as security threats to the state, deploying large numbers of riot police to control crowds, frequently using excessive force and resulting in injuries, detentions, and arrests. At times the government used its authority to detain persons before protests were held on the premise they might cause civil disruption. The government generally supported security forces’ actions. The HRFT reported that in the first eight months of the year, police intervened in at least 637 demonstrations. As many as 1,364 persons claimed they were beaten and received other inhuman treatment during these police interventions. Neither the government nor human rights groups released statistics regarding the number of demonstrations that proceeded without government intervention. Year-end figures for those injured in clashes with authorities during demonstrations were not available. Human rights NGOs asserted the government’s failure to delineate clearly in the law the circumstances that justify the use of force contributed to disproportionate use of force during protests.

In July dozens of leaders and members of 29 bar associations participated in a march to Ankara to protest anticipated legal changes to regulations governing bar associations. Police forcibly disrupted the march as they entered the city of Ankara and prevented bar association chairs from participating in a sit-in in front of the parliament. Video footage showed police pushing and jostling the bar association heads.

On March 8, police clashed with demonstrators intending to mark International Women’s Day by marching through Istanbul’s Taksim Square and Istiklal Avenue. Prior to the scheduled march, the governor of Istanbul announced the areas would be closed for demonstrations and assembly and deployed an extensive police presence to prevent access to the main thoroughfares. Despite the announcement, groups proceeded with the planned march and attempted to enter the area. Police blocked the entrances and dispersed the group using tear gas and riot shields. According to media reports, police detained 32 women during the confrontations. Police did not disperse commemorations and marches hosted by women’s groups in the city’s Kadikoy neighborhood on the Asian side of Istanbul.

Throughout the year during court hearings of jailed former HDP cochair Demirtas, the Ankara governorate or court security personnel banned gatherings, marches, and sit-in protests outside the court. Authorities generally prohibited domestic and international observers from observing the hearings.

The government continued selectively to ban demonstrations outright if they were critical of the government and selectively applied COVID-19 restrictive measures to demonstrations. For instance, the Tekirdag Governor’s Office closed entrance to the province citing COVID-19 precautions ahead of the HDP March for Democracy from Edirne to Ankara, scheduled in June to take place during three days. Sit-ins outside HDP buildings in Diyarbakir to demand the return of children allegedly forcibly recruited by the PKK continued for the second year. Pro-Kurdish demonstrations of many kinds faced violent police responses throughout the year.

Istanbul police continued to prevent the vigil of the Saturday Mothers from taking place on Istiklal Street, in July detaining three group members during the commemoration of the vigil’s 800th week. Since the 1990s, the Saturday Mothers gathered to commemorate the disappearances of relatives following their detention by security forces in the 1980s and 1990s and to call for accountability.

In January police prevented Melek Cetinkaya, the mother of one of 259 military cadets jailed and sentenced to aggravated life in prison in the aftermath of the July 2016 failed coup, from launching a march for justice from Ankara to Istanbul. Police detained Cetinkaya and 66 family members of other imprisoned cadets who were to join the march. The group planned to walk from Ankara to Silivri Prison in Istanbul, where the cadets are jailed. Police teams took heightened security measures in the city center of Ankara before the group gathered and began detaining marchers as they entered the area. Authorities later released all of the detained protesters. Cetinkaya accused police of excessive force.

Throughout the year the governors of Van, Tunceli, Mus, Hakkari, and several other provinces banned public protests, demonstrations, gatherings of any kind, and the distribution of brochures. The longstanding bans in the southeast of the country have remained in place during the year.

In contrast with previous years, labor unions, labor organizations, and opposition political parties called on citizens to honor Labor Day on May 1 while respecting social distance measures. In particular these groups encouraged supporters to sing songs from balconies, share messages via social media, and explore other activities that respect social distancing requirements during the COVID-19 crisis. Social media showed that many celebrations occurred in isolation across the country. In Istanbul and Ankara, police detained and later released at least 45 persons for attempting to march despite a mandatory three-day COVID-related lockdown. Among others, police detained the chair of the Confederation of Progressive Trade Unions (DISK), Arzu Cerkezoglu, as well as 25 other DISK members as they attempted to march to Taksim Square in Istanbul. Prior to the event, DISK claimed to have contacted and informed the Istanbul Governor’s Office regarding its plans to organize a march. The office stated that DISK received Istanbul approval to travel by vehicles, not by foot, and blamed DISK for violating social distancing measures and initiating brawls with law enforcement officials.

Freedom of Association

While the law provides for freedom of association, the government continued to restrict this right. The government used provisions of the antiterror law to prevent associations and foundations it had previously closed due to alleged threats to national security from reopening. In its 2019 end-of-year report, the Inquiry Commission on the State of Emergency Measures reported that 208 of the 1,727 associations and foundations closed following the 2016 coup attempt have been allowed to reopen. Observers widely reported the appeals process for institutions seeking redress through the Inquiry Commission on the State of Emergency Measures remained opaque and ineffective (see section 1.e.).

By law persons organizing an association do not need to notify authorities beforehand, but an association must provide notification before interacting with international organizations or receiving financial support from abroad and must provide detailed documents on such activities. Representatives of associations stated this requirement placed an undue burden on their operations. Human rights and civil society organizations, groups promoting lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and intersex (LGBTI) rights, and women’s groups in particular stated the government used regular and detailed audits to create administrative burdens and to intimidate them through the threat of large fines. For instance, the HRA reported that continued investigations and audits during the last four years have created immense pressure on the organization. In February the government launched a three-week audit of the HRA.

The case against former Amnesty International honorary chair Taner Kilic and 10 other human rights defenders continued in appeals court. Authorities charged the defendants with “membership in a terrorist organization” or “aiding a terrorist organization without being a member,” largely stemming from attendance at a 2017 workshop, “Protecting Human Rights Advocates–Digital Security,” held on Istanbul’s Buyukada Island. On July 3, an Istanbul court convicted four of the human rights activists on terrorism-related charges. Nearly three years after his arrest, Kilic received a prison sentence of six years and three months for membership in a terrorist organization. The court sentenced former Amnesty International Turkey director Idil Eser, and fellow human rights defenders Gunal Kursun and Ozlem Dalkiran to two years and one month for assisting a terrorist organization. The court acquitted seven other human rights activists including German citizen Peter Steudtner and Swedish citizen Ali Gharavi. The four convicted human rights activists remained free pending appeal; the ban on Kilic’s foreign travel, imposed in 2018, remained in place.

On December 27, the parliament adopted new counterterrorist financing legislation entitled “Preventing Financing of Proliferation of Weapons of Mass Destruction” granting the Ministry of Interior powers to audit, suspend staff and governing board members, and temporarily shut down operations of NGOs. The legislation prompted strong concern among civil society groups. Nearly 700 civil society organizations signed a petition opposing the new law, noting it would expand Ministry of Interior “political tutelage,” severely restrict fundraising, and allow for rapid closure of civil society groups without judicial review.

On July 11, parliament approved a law changing the regulations governing bar associations. The law allows lawyers in provinces with more than 5,000 bar association members to establish new associations after collecting a minimum of 2,000 member signatures. Whereas previous regulations only permitted one bar association per province, the new regulations allow for multiple bar associations in large provinces, paving the way for provincial associations to splinter into many groups, which could dilute the voices of existing organizations. The law also changed delegate representation within the Union of Turkish Bar Associations (UTBA), a governing body of bar associations, reducing the influence of large bar associations from major metropolitan areas. All 80 Turkish bar associations, as well as human rights groups, publicly criticized the law, predicting it would undermine judicial independence, divide bar associations along political lines, and diminish the voices of bar associations critical of the government’s actions. To date, bar associations in major metropolitan areas have wielded significant political power and influence, particularly in matters of human rights and rule of law. In September a group of Istanbul Bar Association lawyers gathered enough signatures to establish a new association in the city and filed a registration petition with UTBA.

On October 2, the Ministry of Interior issued a circular postponing bar association elections scheduled by law from October to December. The circular cited anti-COVID-19 precautions banning all in-person events held by professional organizations and NGOs. Major bar associations protested the move, alleging the postponement decision was political since a later election timeline would allow newly established bar associations to participate. On October 5, a total of 76 of 80 bar associations issued a statement alleging that the circular violates Turkish law and filed civil suits. Courts dismissed Ankara, Istanbul, and Izmir associations’ suits. In December the minister of interior postponed the elections further to March 2021.

Bar association and other civil society organization representatives reported that police sometimes attended organizational meetings and recorded them, which the representatives interpreted as a means of intimidation.

In March the country enacted amendments to the Law on Associations introducing requirements that associations notify local administrative authorities of any changes in membership within 30 days or face penalties. The Council of Europe issued a statement calling the amendments “problematic on both procedural and substantive accounts” and noted they failed to meet requirements under the ECHR.

c. Freedom of Religion

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

d. Freedom of Movement

The constitution provides for freedom of internal movement, foreign travel, emigration, and repatriation, but the government limited these rights. The government continued to restrict foreign travel for some citizens accused of links to the Gulen movement or the failed 2016 coup attempt. In June authorities lifted passport restrictions for 28,075 individuals, in addition to the 57,000 lifted in 2019, although it remained unclear how many more remained unable to travel. Curfews imposed by local authorities in response to counter-PKK operations and the country’s military operation in northern Syria also restricted freedom of movement, as did restrictions on interprovincial travel due to COVID-19 precautions.

In-country Movement: The constitution provides that only a judge may limit citizens’ freedom to travel and only in connection with a criminal investigation or prosecution. Antiterror laws allow severe restrictions to be imposed on freedom of movement, such as granting governors the power to limit movement on individuals, including entering or leaving provinces, for up to 15 days.

Freedom of movement remained a problem in parts of the east and southeast, where countering PKK activity led authorities to block roads and set up checkpoints, temporarily restricting movement at times. The government instituted special security zones, restricting the access of civilians, and established curfews in parts of several provinces in response to PKK terrorist attacks or activity (see section 1.g., Abuses in Internal Conflict).

The minister of interior and governorates also restricted interprovincial travel between March and May followed by limited restrictions on movement to and from metropolitan municipalities as measures to contain COVID-19. Some governorates, particularly in the northwest and southeast, instituted subsequent bans on movement as anti-COVID-19 measures throughout the year.

Conditional refugees and Syrians under temporary protection also experienced restrictions on their freedom of movement (see section 2.f., Protection of Refugees).

Foreign Travel: The government placed restrictions on foreign travel for tens of thousands of citizens accused of links to the Gulen movement or the failed coup attempt, as well as on their extended family members. Authorities also restricted some foreign citizens with dual Turkish citizenship from leaving the country due to alleged terrorism concerns. The government maintained the travel restrictions were necessary to preserve security. Some persons whom the government barred from travel chose to leave the country illegally.

Syrians under temporary protection risked the loss of temporary protection status and a possible bar on re-entry into the country if they chose to travel to a third country or return temporarily to Syria. The government issued individual exit permissions for Syrians under temporary protection departing the country for family reunification, health treatment, or permanent resettlement, and required an individual exception for all other reasons. The government sometimes denied exit permission to Syrians under temporary protection for reasons that were unclear.

e. Status and Treatment of Internally Displaced Persons

In October 2019 the country’s Peace Spring military operation displaced more than 215,000 residents of villages along the country’s border with Syria in areas of Syria affected by the operation. At the time the president announced the country’s intention to create a safe zone for the return and resettlement of one to two million Syrian refugees from Turkey. In October the government announced that 414,000 individuals had voluntarily returned to Syria. Approximately one-half of those displaced inside Syria as a result of the operation have returned. More than 100,000 persons remained displaced, however, including tens of thousands of women and children. Turkish officials publicly committed to safe and voluntary refugee returns.

The law allows persons who suffered material losses due to terrorist acts, including those by the PKK or by security forces in response to terrorist acts, to apply to the government’s damage determination commissions for compensation.

f. Protection of Refugees

The government cooperated with UNHCR and other humanitarian organizations in providing protection and assistance to conditional refugees, returning refugees, stateless persons, and temporary and international protection status holders.

The government took steps during the year to continue services provided to the approximately four million refugees, asylum seekers, and migrants in the country, nearly 3.7 million of whom were Syrians. The Directorate General for Migration Management (DGMM) reported that the government apprehended 454,662 “irregular migrants” in 2019. The DGMM reported 201,437 of these apprehensions were Afghan nationals. The government did not provide official data on the number of “irregular migrants” deported to their countries of origin. Due to border closures caused by the COVID-19 pandemic, the government paused deportations until June 1, and deportations continued at a much lower rate throughout the year. In the first six months of the year, an estimated 34 migrants died due to drowning, traffic accidents, or exposure to the elements.

A 2016 agreement between the government and the EU continued to limit irregular migration from Turkey to Europe. In February, however, the government announced that the borders the country shares with the EU were “open,” prompting more than 50,000 refugees, asylum seekers, and migrants to move to the border areas. Some local officials provided free buses to aid refugees’ mass movement to the border, according to humanitarian organizations and rights groups. Because the borders remained closed on the Greek side, many individuals were stuck in difficult conditions, particularly on the land border with Greece near Pazarkule. Press reports asserted some Turkish border guards aided refugees in charging and dismantling border fences. Unable to cross into Greece and unable to return to their homes in Turkey, hundreds of refugees remained at the border for weeks in an unofficial encampment. On March 1, Istanbul Bar Association representatives visited Pazarkule and reported that a group of approximately 1,000 individuals, including women, children, and elderly, were in the region and experienced poor hygienic conditions, lack of medical services, and basic goods, including, food, clothes, and blankets. The bar association delegation reported that many individuals were injured by tear gas capsules.

After weeks of living in open-air temporary shelters, on March 26, Turkish authorities disbanded the encampment due to concerns regarding the spread of COVID-19. The government reported it transported migrants to dormitories in nearby cities to safely quarantine. On March 4, a man was shot and killed while trying to cross the border from Turkey to Greece amid violent clashes at the Evros border. Some NGOs reported he was shot by Greek security forces, likely by accident. On May 12, more than 100 members of the European Parliament addressed a letter to the head of the European Commission, calling for a formal investigation into the death. At least five migrants also drowned in the river near this border area.

Abuse of Migrants, Refugees, and Stateless Persons: Due to strict border control measures as well as intercity travel bans during much of the year due to COVID-19, migration into and through the country was significantly lower than in prior years; however, stricter controls increased the danger for migrants and refugees attempting to travel. For example, an estimated 50-60 migrants died after their boat sank on Lake Van in eastern Turkey. Police arrested the captain of the boat and detained eight others in relation to investigation into the deaths.

The country’s borders with Syria and Iraq remained strictly managed, with admissions only for medical, humanitarian, and family reunification cases from the border with Syria since late 2015. Of the 20 border crossing points between Syria and Turkey, five were open for limited humanitarian, commercial, and individual crossings. Since 2017 some provinces along the border with Syria limited registration of asylum seekers to certain exceptional cases only, limiting refugees’ ability to obtain access to social services, including education and medical care in these areas, unless they relocate to a city where they are able to register. Large cities such as Istanbul also limited registration.

Incidents of societal violence directed against refugees and persons in refugee-like conditions increased during the year. Following the deaths of several Turkish soldiers in Syria in February, in early March increased societal violence against refugee communities was reported throughout the country, including some beatings and attacks on businesses. In July, in the western province of Bursa, four Turkish men beat to death a 17-year-old Syrian refugee in a market. Police arrested the four, who awaited trial at year’s end. Workplace exploitation, child labor, and forced early marriage also remained significant problems among refugees. Human rights groups alleged conditions in detention and removal centers sometimes limited migrants’ rights to communication with and access to family members, interpreters, and lawyers.

UNHCR reported there were LGBTI asylum seekers and conditional refugees in the country, most coming from Iran. According to human rights groups, these refugees faced discrimination and hostility from both authorities and the local population due to their status as members of the LGBTI community. Commercial sexual exploitation also remained a significant problem in the LGBTI refugee community, particularly for transgender individuals.

Refoulement: Authorities generally offered protection against refoulement to all non-European asylum seekers who met the definition of a refugee in the 1951 UN Refugee Convention, although there were some confirmed cases of refoulement, and tens of thousands of deportations took place during the year. The government continued efforts to deport those it claimed entered the country illegally, before they were granted status-determination interviews by Turkish migration authorities, particularly non-Syrians. Istanbul, along with 14 other provinces, stopped registering asylum seekers in 2018, with the exception of those in a few categories such as newborn children, some specialized medical cases, and family reunification instances. Many asylum seekers reported that in order to find work or be with their families, they either did not register or moved from the city where they had registered, neither of which is allowed under the country’s regulations. In May, Amnesty International reported the apparent forcible deportation of six Syrian men to northern Syria, where their lives and freedoms would be at serious risk.

As of November 30, UNHCR intervened in incidents of detention of 1,395 persons of various nationalities that had been brought to its attention. The majority were Syrian nationals (831 persons), Afghans (228 persons) and Iranians (173 persons). Of those known incidents of detention in which UNHCR intervened, three persons reportedly returned, against their will, to their country of origin.

In the incidents of administrative detention, of which UNHCR was made aware, the reasons for detention related to violations of provisions of the Law on Foreigners and International Protection (including but not limited to irregular stay, lack of foreigners’ identity card due to not completing the registration procedure, being in another city without authorization, working without a permit, entry ban, and rejection of request for temporary protection) or criminal acts. Authorities continued to apply the legal framework and the procedural safeguards in place for persons seeking or in need of international protection.

UNHCR typically intervened in incidents of detention when there were concerns detained individuals were unaware of or unable to access the appropriate administrative processes to raise potential protection concerns. For incidents in which UNHCR intervened where the persons were no longer in the country, it was difficult for UNHCR to reach the individual to confirm or deny claims.

Access to Asylum: The law provides for standard treatment of asylum seekers countrywide and establishes a system of protection, but it limits rights granted in the 1951 Refugee Convention to refugees from Europe and establishes restrictions on movement for conditional refugees. While non-European asylum seekers were not considered refugees by law, the government granted temporary protection status to nearly four million Syrians while maintaining conditional or subsidiary refugee status and providing international protection for other asylum seekers. Individuals recognized by the government for temporary protection (Syrians) or conditional or subsidiary refugee status (all other non-Europeans, for example, Iraqis, Iranians, and Somalis) were permitted to reside in the country temporarily until they could obtain third-country resettlement.

The law provides regulatory guidelines for foreigners’ entry into, stay in, and exit from the country, and for protection of asylum seekers. The law does not impose a strict time limit to apply for asylum, requiring only that asylum seekers do so “within a reasonable time” after arrival. The law also does not require asylum seekers to present a valid identity document to apply for status.

UNHCR reported it had intermittent and unpredictable access to detention and removal centers where non-Syrians were detained. UNHCR reported its visits to removal centers where apprehended foreigners were detained indicated the need for improvement in some areas, including access to information and legal aid by detainees as well as improved interpretation services. A 2016 agreement between the EU and Turkey allows some migrants arriving in Greece to be returned to Turkey in particular circumstances. Some observers expressed doubts that all these readmitted persons had access to the asylum procedure and echoed UNHCR’s concerns.

Freedom of Movement: Authorities assigned Syrians to one of 62 “satellite cities,” where they are expected to receive services from local authorities under the responsibility of provincial governorates. These refugees were required to check in with local authorities on either a weekly or biweekly basis and needed permission from local authorities to travel to cities other than their assigned city, including for meetings with UNHCR or resettlement-country representatives, which the government generally provided. Syrians under temporary protection were also restricted from traveling outside of provinces listed on their registration cards without permission. Syrians and non-Syrians could request permission to travel or to transfer their registration through the DGMM. Certain provinces did not accept travel permission requests or transfer of registration from Syrians under temporary protection. Syrians living in camps required permission from camp authorities to leave the camps.

Employment: The law allows both Syrians under temporary protection and non-Syrian conditional refugees the right to work, provided they were registered in the province they wish to work in for six months. Most refugees, however, did not have access to regular or skilled work, partly as a result of high unemployment rates for both refugees and Turkish nationals, which increased during the COVID-19 pandemic. In addition applying for a work permit was the responsibility of the employer, and the procedure was sufficiently burdensome and expensive that relatively few employers pursued legally hiring refugees. As a consequence the vast majority of both conditional refugees and Syrians under temporary protection remained without legal employment options, leaving them vulnerable to exploitation, including illegally low wages, withholding of wages, and exposure to unsafe work conditions. As of late 2019, only an estimated 132,000 Syrians in the country had formal work permits.

Access to Basic Services: During the year, due to changes to the Law on Foreigners under International Protection, refugees registered under international protection status (approximately 330,000 individuals) for more than one year no longer had access to subsidized medical care (other than emergency care). Individuals meeting certain conditions, such as documented chronic conditions or those older than a specific age, could apply for an exemption to be placed back under subsidized care coverage. Previously, the government provided free access to the public medical system to non-Syrian refugees registered until they began receiving international protection. Syrians registered for temporary protection (3.6 million) continued to receive free access to the public health system. The government also expanded access to education for school-age Syrian children, many of whom encountered challenges overcoming the language barrier, meeting transportation or other costs, or both.

As of September the Ministry of National Education reported that 684,919 of the school-age refugee children in the country were in school, a significant increase from prior years. An estimated 400,000 remained out of school. According to UNICEF, since 2017 more than 628,000 refugee children received monthly cash assistance for education through a joint program with UNICEF funded by international donors.

Provincial governments, working with local NGOs, were responsible for meeting the basic needs of refugees and other asylum seekers assigned to satellite cities in their jurisdictions, as well as of the Syrians present in their districts. Basic services were dependent on local officials’ interpretation of the law and their resources. Governors had significant discretion in working with asylum seekers and NGOs, and the assistance provided by local officials to refugees and persons in situations similar to those of refugees varied widely. NGO staff members reported seeing refugees asked for bribes to receive government services, and individual cases of refugees being refused health-care services.

Durable Solutions: The law does not provide for naturalization within the country for Syrians under temporary protection or for conditional refugees, but it allows them to stay until resettled to a foreign country or able to return to their country of origin. The government granted citizenship to some Syrian refugees on a limited basis. As of September authorities had granted approximately 110,000 Syrians citizenship since 2010, according to the Ministry of Interior’s General Directorate of Population and Citizenship Affairs.

As of September 30, UNHCR in cooperation with the DGMM, observed spontaneous voluntary returns in 14 provinces of 10,917 Syrians who chose to return to Syria. In April and May, the DGMM suspended voluntary repatriation as a result of COVID-19 measures. As of the end of November, authorities referred 6,022 refugees to 14 countries for resettlement, and 3,864 refugees departed the country for resettlement. The main reasons for the decrease in resettlement are due to reduced refugee quotas and the suspension of resettlement departures in March due to the COVID-19 pandemic. As of September, however, resettlement departures resumed.

Temporary Protection: The country adopted a geographically limited understanding of the term “refugee” when it ratified the Refugee Convention and acceded to the Refugee Protocol, recognizing only Europeans as eligible for legal refugee status. In recognition of this gap, the government adopted a temporary protection regulation in 2014. The government continued to offer temporary protection to Syrian refugees who did not qualify as refugees due to the European-origin limitation in the law. According to the Syrian National Coalition and Turkish authorities, at year’s end the country was hosting under this “temporary protection” status nearly 3.6 million Syrian refugees. Authorities required Syrian asylum seekers to register with the DGMM to legalize their temporary stay in the country. In September 2019 the governate of Bursa announced that the provinces of Antalya, Aydin, Bursa, Canakkale, Duzce, Edirne, Hatay, Istanbul, Izmir, Kirklareli, Kocaeli, Mugla, Sakarya, Tekirdag, and Yalova would limit registration processing to exceptional cases and newborns. The DGMM has not made any official announcement regarding provinces stopping processing of registrations. Syrians who registered with the government were able to receive an identification card, which qualified them for assistance provided through the governorates, including free primary health care.

By the end of 2019, the DGMM had closed all but seven refugee camps, which the government called temporary accommodation centers, in five provinces. As of the end of November, there were 59,077 Syrians in the accommodation centers, a slight decline from the previous year.

Syrians who officially entered the country with passports could receive one-year residence permits upon registration with the government. In 2019 a total of 117,579 Syrians held valid residence permits; official figures for the calendar year were not available at year’s end.

g. Stateless Persons

The government did not keep figures for stateless persons. The government provided documentation for children born to conditional refugees and Syrians under temporary protection, although statelessness remained an increasing concern for these children, who could receive neither Turkish citizenship nor documentation from their parents’ home country. As of December 2019, at least 516,000 babies had been born to Syrian mothers in the country since the beginning of the Syrian conflict in 2011, according to the Ministry of Interior.

Section 3. Freedom to Participate in the Political Process

Although the constitution and law provide citizens the ability to change their government through free and fair elections based on universal and equal suffrage conducted by secret ballot, the government restricted equal competition and placed restrictions on the fundamental freedoms of assembly and expression (see section 2.b., Freedom of Assembly). The government restricted the activities of opposition political parties, leaders, and officials, including through police detention. Several parliamentarians remained at risk of possible prosecution after parliament lifted their immunity in 2016. In July the government removed three convicted parliamentarians from parliament. During the year restrictive government regulations restricted the ability of many among the opposition to conduct political activities, such as organizing protests or political campaign events and sharing critical messages on social media. The government also suspended democratically elected mayors in multiple cities and municipalities in the southeast and in their place assigned state “trustees” when the former were accused of (but not necessarily convicted of) affiliation with terrorist groups. The government most commonly directed these tactics against politicians affiliated with the leftist pro-Kurdish HDP and its partner, the Democratic Regions Party. The government suspended 81 percent of HDP mayors elected in the March 2019 municipal elections, suspending 16 mayors in 2020 alone. Since 2016 the government removed 88 percent of elected HDP officials. Former HDP cochairs Demirtas and Figen Yuksekdag remained in prison (see section 1.e., Political Prisoners and Detainees).

Opposition party officials reported difficulty raising campaign donations from individuals and businesses, which reported they feared reprisals from the government. Some company employees seen by their management as supporting opposition parties, especially the HDP, claimed they faced adverse treatment, including termination of employment.

In June, CHP deputy chair Ozgur Ozel reported that police had launched investigations against 95 CHP parliamentarians, the majority for insulting the president. The summary of investigations was sent to the parliament for a decision on lifting immunity.

Elections and Political Participation

Recent Elections: The country held municipal elections in March 2019 for thousands of seats, ranging from local neighborhood council seats to metropolitan mayors. The campaign occurred in a media environment that was heavily biased in favor of the government. Progovernment outlets and ruling party incumbents criticized opposition leaders and candidates by alleging they had links to terrorism.

In April 2019 Council of Europe observers stated the elections were conducted in a technically sound and orderly manner but noted that a genuinely democratic election also needed a political environment with genuine freedom of expression, media freedom and equal access to all parties, and a fair and reasonable legal framework overseen by a robust judiciary.

After the Supreme Electoral Council (YSK) initially declared opposition candidate Ekrem Imamoglu the winner of the March mayoral race in Istanbul, the YSK then ordered a rerun of the race in response to ruling party claims of election irregularities. The rerun decision attracted criticism from the European Commission, the Council of Europe, and many others, who asserted the YSK made the decision in a highly politicized context and under pressure from the presidency. In June 2019 Imamoglu won the election rerun and assumed office. In May the Istanbul Metropolitan Municipality reported that the Ministry of Interior had launched 27 separate investigations into allegations of impropriety in zoning and tenders under Imamoglu’s term as mayor of Istanbul’s Beylikduzu District from 2014 to 2019. Imamoglu’s supporters alleged the investigations were political in nature.

The municipal campaigns and elections occurred in an environment with restricted basic rights and freedoms, including those of assembly and speech. While most candidates were generally able to campaign ahead of the elections, government officials threatened multiple candidates and party leaders with criminal charges. For example, a prosecutor revived a resolved legal case against the opposition candidate for Ankara mayor, Mansur Yavas; and President Erdogan publicly raised doubts regarding the Yavas’s ability to fulfill his term should he be elected mayor because of the pending case. In September the court acquitted Yavas. The YSK unseated some winners of the 2019 municipal elections, including six winning HDP mayors, by finding them ineligible to serve after it had initially cleared their eligibility for candidacy.

All parties alleged irregularities in the voter lists, which they complained included “ghost voters” (one “ghost” registrant was older than age 130) or legally deceased individuals, and suspicious residency claims.

Media coverage overwhelmingly favored the candidates of the ruling party and those of its coalition and election ally, the Nationalist Movement Party. For example, according to a member of the national broadcasting regulator during the 57-day period prior to the elections, state-run TRT devoted 150 hours of coverage to the AKP, 50 hours to the CHP, and three hours to the HDP. Many opposition parties relied instead on social media to connect with supporters.

The pre-election period saw several attacks on political party offices, rallies, and members, including some incidents that led to death and serious injury. Opposition party members faced frequent accusations from the highest levels of government of alleged terrorism-related crimes. In April 2019 a crowd assaulted CHP chair Kemal Kilicdaroglu during the funeral ceremony for a soldier killed by the PKK. The attack followed statements by President Erdogan and the chair of other government officials AKP’s parliamentary all alliance partner Nationalist Movement Party (MHP) accusing the CHP of sympathizing and collaborating with “PKK terrorists” during the municipal election campaigns due to their affiliation with the HDP. Police continued an investigation into the incident.

In 2018 the country held early parliamentary and presidential elections that had been originally scheduled for late 2019. The elections completed a constitutional amendment process that began with the 2017 national referendum, the passing of which initiated the country’s official transition from a parliamentary system to a presidential one. The campaign and election both occurred under a state of emergency that had been in place since 2016 and that granted the government expanded powers to restrict basic rights and freedoms, including those of assembly and speech. While most candidates generally were able to campaign ahead of the elections, the HDP’s candidate remained in prison during the campaign and the candidate for the IYI (Good) Party faced a de facto media embargo. Despite the ability to campaign, the observation mission of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) noted the elections were held in an environment heavily tilted in favor of the president and the ruling party, noting, “The incumbent president and his party enjoyed a notable advantage in the campaign, which was also reflected in excessive coverage by public and government-affiliated private media.”

Media coverage of the 2018 parliamentary and presidential candidates similarly overwhelmingly favored the president and ruling party. For example, according to a member of the Radio and Television Supreme Council, between May 14 and May 30, TRT broadcast 67 hours of coverage on President Erdogan, seven hours on CHP candidate Muharrem Ince, 12 minutes on IYI candidate Meral Aksener, eight minutes on Felicity Party candidate Temel Karamanoglu, and no coverage of HDP candidate Selahattin Demirtas. Many opposition parties relied instead on social media to connect with supporters.

The period between the April 2018 announcement of early elections and the vote in March 2019 saw a number of attacks on political party offices, rallies, and members, including some incidents that led to death and serious injury. Violence most commonly targeted the HDP and its campaigners. Opposition party members faced frequent accusations from the highest levels of government of alleged terrorism-related crimes. A number of opposition candidates for parliament continued to face legal charges in connection with such claims, and the HDP’s presidential candidate, Demirtas, was in prison during the campaign. The OSCE noted that key amendments were adopted within months of the early elections, without consultation, and were perceived as favoring the ruling party.

There were allegations of electoral irregularities primarily in the East, which some tied to unanticipated levels of success for the AKP and associated parties, in an area historically dominated by opposition parties.

Political Parties and Political Participation: In parliament 11 political parties had seats, and others were able to participate in elections. Some parties enjoyed greater advantages than others. Media influence favored the ruling party and its alliance partner, the MHP. Representatives expressing views critical of the government or President Erdogan have faced criminal or civil charges. HDP representatives faced significant legal challenges to their ability to campaign, express opinions, and retain their mandate. The government used opposition leaders’ social media postings to file criminal and civil complaints against them, alleging the defendants insulted the president and spread terrorist propaganda.

Participation of Women and Members of Minority Groups: No laws limit the participation of women or members of minority groups in the political process. Some individuals advocating for political rights or associated with the HDP, however, experienced increased government pressure or were accused of ties to the PKK. According to the Association to Support Women Candidates, the number of women participating in the 2019 municipal elections as candidates at the mayoral, district mayoral, and metropolitan city levels was between 7.5 percent and 8.5 percent. For example, 652 of 8,257 (7.9 percent) mayoral candidates in the 2019 elections were women. Of 1,389 newly elected mayors at the district level or higher, 37 were women. The number of women in the judiciary also remained disproportionately low. As of year’s end, there were 101 women in the 600-member parliament. The greatest number of elected female mayors were in the southeast and ran on leftist and pro-Kurdish party tickets.

Section 4. Corruption and Lack of Transparency in Government

While the law provides criminal penalties for conviction of official corruption, the government did not implement the law effectively, and some officials engaged in corrupt practices with impunity. Parliament charges the Court of Accounts, the country’s supreme audit institution, with accountability related to revenues and expenditures of government departments. Outside this audit system, there was no established pattern of or mechanism for investigating, indicting, and convicting individuals accused of corruption, and there were concerns regarding the impartiality of the judiciary in the handling of corruption cases. According to the Transparency International 2019 Corruption Perceptions Index report, the public procurement system has consistently declined in transparency and competitiveness, with exceptions to the Public Procurement Law widely applied. The open tender rate, which was 75 percent in 2004, had fallen to 63 percent in the first six months of 2019. The total proportion of tenders conducted within the scope of negotiated tendering and exceptions increased from 10 percent to 32 percent between 2004 and 2019. The Transparency International Exporting Corruption 2020 report found that the country did not have sufficient legal mechanisms and enforcement systems against foreign bribery.

During the year the government continued prosecutions against law enforcement officers, judges, and prosecutors who initiated corruption-related investigations or cases against government officials, alleging the defendants did so at the behest of the Gulen movement. Journalists accused of publicizing the corruption allegations also faced criminal charges.

In October 2019 the Constitutional Court overturned a broadcast and publication ban on 2013 reports regarding corruption involving former ministers (four resigned at the time). As of year’s end, RTUK had yet to remove the ban on the reports, despite the court’s ruling.

Courts and the Radio Television Supreme Council (RTUK) regularly blocked access to press reports regarding corruption allegations. In an October social media post, RTUK threatened taking legal action against media coverage of a Court of Accounts audit report that found that RTUK employees inflated salary payments and travel expenses in 2019.

Corruption: Press covered allegations that former administrators of the parliamentary Staff and Pensioners Savings and Aid Fund misappropriated seven million lira (approximately $886,000) between 2018 and 2019. In August the Parliamentary Disciplinary Board reprimanded the former board chairman and removed other staff from civil servant duties.

Press also widely covered an August limited tender for a railway line, alleging that a company associated with the ruling AKP, Kalyon Group, won the tender and received a significant tax exemption in a nontransparent fashion. Commentators observed that, based on public procurement law, the tender should have been open to all companies, not a select few, since no emergency existed to justify a limited tender process.

In June the CHP filed a criminal complaint against the former mayor of Serik in Antalya province alleging that he accepted a 500,000-lira bribe ($63,300) from tourism industry businessmen. Authorities had not launched an investigation at year’s end. Press first covered the bribery report allegations after the existing AKP mayor of Serik stated he learned that his MHP predecessor accepted a bribe in a meeting with the foreign minister and minister of tourism, but no investigation was launched.

In August 2019 the Istanbul General Prosecutor’s Office opened a case against three journalists from the newspaper Diken and the general manager of the online newspaper T24, both independent media outlets, for “aiding a terrorist organization” in relation to their reporting based on tweets by an anonymous Twitter account (Fuat Avni) in 2014-15. The Twitter account alleged corruption in the ruling AKP. In July courts acquitted the T24 journalists and in September the Diken journalists.

Financial Disclosure: The law requires certain high-level government officials to provide a full financial disclosure, including a list of physical property, every five years. Officials generally complied with this requirement. The Presidency State Inspection Board is responsible for investigating major corruption cases. Nearly every state agency had its own inspector corps responsible for investigating internal corruption. Parliament, with the support of a simple majority, may establish investigative commissions to examine corruption allegations concerning the president, vice president(s), and ministers. The mechanism was not used during the year. A parliamentary super majority (400 deputies) may vote to send corruption-related cases to the Constitutional Court for further action.

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

A limited number of domestic and international human rights groups operated throughout the country, although many faced continued pressure from the government during the year. Some had difficulty registering as legal entities with the Ministry of Interior. Others faced government obstruction and restrictive laws regarding their operations. Human rights groups reported the government was sometimes unresponsive to their requests for meetings and did not include their input in policy formation. Human rights organizations and monitors as well as lawyers and doctors involved in documenting human rights abuses occasionally faced detention, prosecution, intimidation, and harassment, and their organizations faced closure orders for their activities. For example, in December 2019 the Ministry of the Interior closed and fined the Hatay-based women’s NGO Purple Association for Women’s Solidarity for establishing an unauthorized workplace and conducting unauthorized training. In July after seven months of closure, the association reopened. Human rights organizations reported that official human rights mechanisms did not function consistently and failed to address grave violations.

The HRA reported that its members have collectively faced a total of more than 5,000 legal cases since the group’s establishment and more than 300 legal cases continuing at year’s end. These cases were mostly related to terror and insult charges. The HRA also reported that executives of their provincial branches were in prison. Others faced continued threats of police detention and arrest. For example, police detained HRA’s Istanbul branch president, Gulseren Yoleri, in February as part of an investigation into her 2019 remarks denouncing the country’s military intervention in Syria. In June prosecutors launched a new antiterrorism investigation into human rights lawyer and HRA cochair Eren Keskin. The same month, Keskin’s home was broken into. The HRA assessed the break-in was meant to intimidate Keskin since nothing was stolen. Keskin has faced 143 separate lawsuits and stood trial in several cases against 23 journalists of the daily newspaper Ozgur Gundem closed after the 2016 coup attempt. Keskin was sentenced to seven-and-a-half years in prison for insulting the president and state institutions in 2018 and to three-and-a-half years on terrorism charges in 2019 for her work on the paper where she was editor in chief. Keskin was free pending appeal at year’s end.

The harassment, detention, and arrest of many leaders and members of human rights organizations resulted in some organizations closing offices and curtailing activities and some human rights defenders self-censoring.

Some international and Syrian NGOs based in the country and involved in Syria-related programs reported difficulty renewing their official registrations with the government, obtaining program approvals, and obtaining residency permits for their staff. Some noted the government’s documentation requirements were unclear.

The country participated in the UN Human Rights Council’s Universal Periodic Review process, which concluded in September.

Government Human Rights Bodies: The Ombudsman Institution and the National Human Rights and Equality Institution (NHREI) serve as the government’s human rights monitoring bodies. The Ombudsman Institution operated under parliament as a complaint mechanism for citizens to request investigations into government practices and actions, particularly concerning human rights problems and personnel issues, although dismissals under the 2016-18 state of emergency decrees do not fall within its purview. The Ombudsman Institution’s mandate extends only to complaints relating to public administration. NHREI reviews cases outside of the Ombudsman Institution’s mandate. Independent observers assess that both of the institutions were not financially or operationally independent and did not comply with international human rights standards as prescribed by UN conventions and other international agreements.

In 2019 the NHREI received 1,083 complaints and found violations in four cases. Of these, 273 related to torture and inhuman treatment, 243 were prison transfer requests, 193 related to health, 125 related to prison administration, and 45 to overall prison conditions.

The Ombudsman Institution received 20,968 applications for assistance in 2019, the majority of which dealt with public personnel issues. Of those 13 percent were resolved through amicable settlement.

The Inquiry Commission on the State of Emergency Measures was established in 2017 to review cases and appeals related to purges and closures during the state of emergency (see section 1.e., Civil Judicial Procedures and Remedies).

The Ministry of Justice’s Human Rights Department served as the ministry’s lead entity on human rights issues, coordinating its work with the ministry’s Victims’ Rights Department. It is responsible for developing the national Human Rights Action Plan, the latest version of which was published in December 2019. Human rights groups consulted with the Ministry of Justice in the development process and noted that many provisions in the plan were not consistent with international human rights standards. Human rights groups noted the plan had not been enforced during the year.

Parliament’s Human Rights Commission functioned as a national monitoring mechanism. Commission members maintained dialogue with NGOs on human rights issues and conducted some prison visits, although activists claimed the commission’s ability to influence government action was limited.

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

Women

Rape and Domestic Violence: The government and independent monitoring groups reported with concern that rates of violence against women remained high although the number of femicides decreased slightly from 2019. The We Will Stop Femicide Platform, an NGO dedicated to monitoring violence against women since 2008, reported a record 421 femicides in 2019. The NGO estimated that men killed at least 407 women during the year. Between April 15 and May 19, the Ministry of Family, Labor, and Social Services received a record 2,506 complaints of domestic violence following the release of 90,000 convicts from prisons as part of the country’s COVID-19 countermeasures.

The law criminalizes violence against women and sexual assault, including rape and spousal rape, with penalties of two to 10 years’ imprisonment for conviction of attempted sexual violation and at least 12 years’ imprisonment for conviction of rape or sexual violation. The government did not effectively or fully enforce these laws or protect victims. In one example in July, authorities found the body of Pinar Gultekin, a university student who had been missing for five days. Police alleged that a former boyfriend strangled her after an argument and placed her body in a barrel, which was then burned and filled with concrete. In October police apprehended and arrested the suspect. The brutal crime generated extensive negative media and social media coverage and led to protests in several cities. On July 22, the president issued a tweet that condemned the crime and violence against women and promised that the killer would receive the maximum punishment.

In April, Muslum Aslan beat his 11-year-old daughter to death only days after being released from prison. Authorities released Aslan, who had been arrested for stabbing his wife in the neck with scissors and had a history of abusing his children, during the COVID-19 amnesty after he had served only five months of his sentence. Police re-arrested Aslan, and he committed suicide in prison in May.

The law covers all women and requires police and local authorities to grant various levels of protection and support services to survivors of violence or those at risk of violence. It also mandates government services, such as shelter and temporary financial support, for victims and provides for family courts to impose sanctions on perpetrators.

The law provides for the establishment of violence prevention and monitoring centers to offer economic, psychological, legal, and social assistance. There were 81 violence prevention centers throughout the country, one in each province. There were 145 women’s shelters nationwide with capacity for 3,482 persons. As of July, 42,396 individuals, including 26,347 women and 16,049 children received services from women’s shelters. Women’s rights advocates asserted there were not enough shelters to meet the demand for assistance and that shelter staff did not provide adequate care and services, particularly in the southeast. Some NGOs noted shelters in multiple southeastern provinces closed during the 2016-18 state of emergency and COVID-19 lockdowns and that others faced difficulty following the removal of elected mayors and appointment of government trustees, some of whom cut funding and ended partnerships with the local NGOs. Lack of services was more acute for elderly women and LGBTI women as well as for women with older children. The government operated a nationwide domestic violence hotline and web application called the Women Emergency Assistance Notification System (KADES). In November the Ministry of Interior stated that since its inception in 2018, the KADES app has received more than 48,686 reports and that authorities had responded to each, but it did not specify types of response. NGOs asserted the quality of services provided in calls was inadequate for victims of domestic violence and that women were at times directed to mediation centers or told to reconcile with their husbands.

Violence against women, including spousal abuse, remained a serious and widespread problem both in rural and urban areas. Pandemic lockdowns for COVID-19 during the year coincided with increased reports of domestic violence. Spousal rape is a criminal offense, and the law also provides criminal penalties for conviction of crimes such as assault, deprivation of liberty, or threats. Despite these measures, killings and other forms of violence against women continued.

The government sparked controversy across the political spectrum during the summer when some senior members of the ruling AKP called for the country’s withdrawal from the Istanbul Convention, a Council of Europe convention on preventing and combating violence against women and domestic violence, which the country ratified in 2012. Critics of the convention alleged its commitment to equal implementation without discrimination based on “sexual orientation” or “gender identity” violated Turkish values and that the convention damaged family structures. The calls for withdrawal generated a significant domestic backlash, including from within the ruling party, and women’s rights groups organized in support of the convention. In July and August, protests against withdrawal and for improved government response in combatting violence against women took place nationwide regularly. Some protests resulted in scuffles between police and protesters. Police detained demonstrators at several of the protests, including those in Ankara and Istanbul in August. At the end of the year, the government had not taken any steps to withdraw from the convention.

Courts regularly issued restraining orders to protect victims, but human rights organizations reported police rarely enforced them effectively. Women’s associations also charged that government counselors and police sometimes encouraged women to remain in abusive marriages at their own personal risk rather than break up families.

In June, Sevtap Sahin was killed by her husband in Ankara. According to her family, Sahin had filed 60 domestic violence and restraining order violations complaints with police prior to her murder. In October, Istanbul resident Gul Gulum was killed by her husband, against whom she had obtained a restraining order. In both cases police arrested the husbands following the killings.

Courts in some cases gave reduced sentences to men found guilty of committing violence against women, citing good behavior during the trial or “provocation” by women as an extenuating circumstance of the crime.

For example, in July the Court of Cassation reduced the sentence for Lutfu Sefa Berberoglu, convicted of murdering his wife in 2013 after seeing her in a car with two men, from life imprisonment for murder to 15 years’ imprisonment. The court cited unjust provocation and lack of spousal loyalty as reasons for the reversal.

Other Harmful Traditional Practices: Human rights activists and academics reported the practice of “honor killings” of women continued across the country. The prevalence of killings was most severe in the southeast.

Individuals convicted of honor killings may receive life imprisonment, but NGOs reported that courts often reduced actual sentences due to mitigating factors. The law allows judges, when establishing sentences, to take into account anger or passion caused by the “misbehavior” of the victim.

Sexual Harassment: The law provides for up to five years’ imprisonment for sexual harassment. If the victim is a child, the recommended punishments are longer; however, women’s rights activists reported that authorities rarely enforced these laws. For example, in October a man previously sentenced to eight years in prison for sexually harassing a teacher, but never arrested since an appeals court did not confirm the verdict, shot a woman who rejected his proposal of marriage.

Gender equality organizations indicated that incidents of verbal harassment and physical intimidation of women in public occurred with regularity and cited as the cause a permissive social environment in which harassers were emboldened.

Some women’s rights NGOs asserted that weak legal enforcement of laws to protect women and light sentencing of violent perpetrators of crimes against women contributed to a climate of permissiveness for potential offenders. According to Ministry of Justice statistics, there were 15,842 sexual harassment cases in 2019. Courts ruled for acquittal in 17 percent of cases, in 40 percent of cases the perpetrator was found guilty and sentenced, and in 25 percent of cases, courts suspended the sentence through a verdict postponement judgement. The high rate of verdict postponement contributed to perceptions of impunity for sexual harassment.

Reproductive Rights: Couples and individuals have the right to decide the number, spacing, and timing of their children and to manage their reproductive health, and most had access to the information and means to do so, free from discrimination, coercion, or violence. Cultural barriers to access of contraception exist in religiously conservative communities. According to a 2017 UN World Family Planning report, 6 percent of women between 15 and 49 years of age reported an unmet need for family planning methods. Access to family planning methods and information on managing reproductive health was more difficult for many of the four million refugees in the country. During the year the Reproductive Health Journal published a review on the sexual and reproductive health of Syrian refugee women that stated the rate of postnatal care was inadequate. The review reported a 24-percent rate of modern contraceptive method use among all age groups of Syrian girls and women, with estimated rates of unmet family planning needs at 35 percent and only 20 percent of Syrian women having regular gynecological examinations.

The government provided access to sexual and reproductive health services for survivors of sexual violence.

Coercion in Population Control: There were no reports of coerced abortion or forced sterilization on the part of government authorities.

Discrimination: Women enjoy the same rights as men by law, but societal and official discrimination were widespread. Women faced discrimination in employment.

The constitution permits measures, including positive discrimination, to advance gender equality. To encourage the hiring of women, the state paid social services insurance premiums on behalf of employers for several months for any female employee older than 18. Laws introduced as a gender justice initiative provided for maternity leave, breastfeeding time during work hours, flexibility in work hours, and required childcare by large employers. Rights organizations contended, however, that these changes in the legal framework discouraged employers from hiring women and negatively affected their promotion potential.

Children

Birth Registration: There was universal birth registration, and births were generally registered promptly. A child receives citizenship from his or her parents, not through birth in the country. Only one parent needs to be a citizen to convey citizenship to a child. In special cases in which a child born in the country may not receive citizenship from any other country due to the status of his or her parents, the child is legally entitled to receive citizenship.

Education: Human rights NGOs and others expressed concern that despite the law on compulsory education and the progress made by the nationwide literacy campaign launched in 2018, some families were able to keep female students home, particularly in religiously conservative rural areas, where girls often dropped out of school after completing their mandatory primary education. The reliance on online education platforms during COVID-19 lockdowns negatively affected both boys and girls from socioeconomically disadvantaged families lacking internet access and further exacerbated learning inequalities. In March an evaluation by the think tank Education Reform Initiative following the first two weeks of distance learning noted heavy workloads for teachers, low motivation of children, and lack of access to distance learning of many students. Education organizations reported similar issues following the start of the school year in September. In November the education union Egitim Sen estimated that four million children did not have access to remote education. According to the Turkish Statistical Institute 2019 data, 96 percent of men and 86 percent of women attained primary education and 49 percent of men and 36 percent of women attained secondary education.

The Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, in its Education at a Glance 2019 report, stated the number of young adults who attained a postsecondary education had doubled in the last decade, although it noted that nearly half of them did not complete upper secondary education.

Child Abuse: Child abuse was a problem. The law authorizes police and local officials to grant various levels of protection and support services to victims of violence or to those at risk of violence. Nevertheless, children’s rights advocates reported failed implementation. The law requires the government to provide services to victims, such as shelter and temporary financial support, and empowers family courts to impose sanctions on those responsible for the violence.

By law if the victim of abuse is between ages 12 and 18, molestation results in a sentence of three to eight-year prison sentence, sexual abuse in a sentence of 8 to 15 years’ imprisonment, and rape in a sentence of at least 16 years’ imprisonment. If the victim is younger than 12, conviction of molestation results in a minimum sentence of five years’ imprisonment, conviction of sexual abuse a minimum of 10 years’ imprisonment, and conviction of rape a minimum of 18 years’ imprisonment.

Government authorities increased attention on the problem of child abuse. According to Ministry of Justice statistics, courts opened 28,360 legal cases related to child sexual abuse and imposed 15,651 imprisonment sentences for child sexual abuse in the country in 2019. Child rights experts reported that the increased attention on the problem had led to greater awareness and reporting. While some activists stated that sexual abuse of children spiked during COVID-19 quarantines in May, the Istanbul, Izmir, Diyarbakir and Gaziantep Bar Associations reported that during the COVID-19 lockdowns, requests for legal representation for child abuse survivors dropped significantly. The bar associations cautioned that the drop may indicate an underreporting of child abuse cases and increased barriers to survivors’ accessing legal counseling.

Official statistics on child abuse and maltreatment have been unavailable since 2017, when the government stopped releasing data on the issue. According to Ministry of Justice statistics, 16,348 child sex abuse cases were filed in 2017.

Child, Early, and Forced Marriage: The law defines 18 as the minimum age for marriage, although children may marry at 17 with parental permission and at 16 with court approval. The law acknowledges civil and religious marriages, but the latter were not always registered with the state.

NGOs reported children as young as 12 married in unofficial religious ceremonies, particularly in poor and rural regions and among the Syrian community in the country. According to Ezgi Yaman, the secretary general of the NGO End Child Prostitution and Trafficking (ECPAT), the number of Syrian refugee families who married off their underage daughters to Turkish men as an “economic coping mechanism” increased in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic. Statistics were unavailable because the marriages often took place unofficially. The government’s 2018 Demographic and Health Survey showed that 12 percent of Syrian girls in the country married before age 15, and 38 percent married before age 18. Early and forced marriage was particularly prevalent in the southeast, and women’s rights activists reported the problem remained serious. According to the Turkish Statistical Institute, in 2019, 5 percent of women between ages of 20 and 24 married before age 18. Local NGOs worked to educate and raise awareness among individuals in the Turkish and Syrian populations in major southeast provinces.

Women’s rights groups stated that forced marriages and bride kidnapping persisted, particularly in rural areas, although it was not as widespread as in previous years.

Sexual Exploitation of Children: The constitution requires the state to take measures to protect children from exploitation. The law criminalizes sexual exploitation of children and mandates a minimum sentence of eight years in prison. The penalty for conviction of encouraging or facilitating child prostitution is up to 10 years’ imprisonment; if violence or pressure is involved, a judge may double the sentence. The government did not publish data on rates of sexual exploitation of children.

NGOs like ECPAT noted that young Syrian female refugees were particularly vulnerable to being exploited by criminal organizations and pressured into sex work, and this practice was particularly prevalent among adolescent girls.

The age of consent for sex is 18. The law prohibits producing or disseminating child pornography and stipulates a prison sentence of up to two years as well as a fine for violations. The law provides prison sentences of up to five years for incest.

Displaced Children: Many women’s and migrant rights NGOs reported that displaced children, mostly Syrian, remained vulnerable to economic and sexual abuse.

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.

Anti-Semitism

According to the Chief Rabbinate in Istanbul, approximately 16,000 Jews lived in the country. Some members of the community continued to emigrate or seek to obtain citizenship in a second country, in part due to concerns regarding anti-Semitism.

Jewish citizens expressed concern regarding anti-Semitism and security threats. Anti-Semitic rhetoric continued in print media and on social media throughout the year and included conspiracy theories blaming Jews and Israel for the spread of COVID-19. In March mainstream television channel A Haber featured an interview regarding the spread of COVID-19 where both the program guest and anchorman claimed that Israel intentionally spread the virus. Also in March a video showing bus passengers in Istanbul blaming Jews for COVID-19 circulated widely on social media. The same month unelected politician Fatih Erbakan stated in an interview that Zionists might be behind the pandemic.

In September the progovernment daily newspaper Sabah published an opinion piece criticizing the agreements on normalization of relations between Israel, the United Arab Emirates, and Bahrain that included several anti-Semitic tropes.

According to a Hrant Dink Foundation report on hate speech, in 2019 there were 676 published instances of anti-Jewish rhetoric in the press depicting Jews as violent, conspiratorial, and enemies of the country.

To combat anti-Semitism, the government continued to commemorate International Holocaust Remembrance Day in January, holding an event at Ankara University with participation of the minister of culture, Ministry of Foreign Affairs representatives, and members of the Jewish community. In February the government for the fifth year in a row commemorated the nearly 800 Jewish refugees who died aboard the Struma, a ship that sank off the coast of Istanbul in 1942. The governor of Istanbul, Chief Rabbi Haleva, other members of the Jewish community, and members of the diplomatic community attended the commemoration. As in 2019 President Erdogan issued public messages in celebration of the Jewish holidays of Passover, Rosh Hashanah, and Hanukkah.

Trafficking in Persons

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

Persons with Disabilities

The law prohibits discrimination against persons with disabilities, but NGOs that advocate for persons with disabilities asserted the government did not enforce the law effectively.

The law requires all governmental institutions and businesses to provide persons with disabilities access to public areas and public transportation and allows for the establishment of review commissions and fines for noncompliance. The president declared 2020 the “year of accessibility,” with particular focus on mass transit and building entrances. The government, however, made limited progress implementing the law, and access in many cities remained restricted.

The COVID-19 pandemic exacerbated service accessibility problems for individuals with disabilities. In a September survey conducted by the Women with Disabilities Association, respondents identified lack of access to physical therapy; lack of access to medicine; closure of rehabilitation centers; and an increase in anxiety as major issues related to the pandemic.

The Ministry of Family, Labor, and Social Services is responsible for protecting persons with disabilities. The ministry maintained social service centers assisting marginalized individuals, including persons with disabilities. The majority of children with disabilities were enrolled in mainstream public schools; others attended special education centers.

The law requires all public schools to accommodate students with disabilities, although activists reported instances of such students being refused admission or encouraged to drop out of school. According to disability activists, a large number of school-age children with disabilities did not receive adequate access to education, a situation aggravated by distance learning implemented as a COVID-19 precaution. NGOs reported that public distance education programs created to enable distance learning under COVID-19 did not provide sign interpretation or subtitles for hearing impaired students. According to a March report by the Ministry of Family, Labor, and Social Services, during the 2018 school year (the latest for which data is available), 398,815 students with disabilities were in school, with 295,697 studying in regular schools and the remainder in either state-run or privately owned special education schools or classes. There were more than 14,000 teachers working in special education schools. A Ministry of Family, Labor, and Social Services program allowed individuals with autism to stay in government-run houses and offered state resources to families who were unable to attend to all the needs of their autistic children.

On December 3, the minister of family, labor, and social services announced the total number of persons with disabilities employed in the public sector was 57,000. The private sector employed around 118,000 of the two million citizens with disabilities qualified for work. An employment quota requires private-sector companies with more than 50 employees to include in their workforce at least 3 percent employees with disabilities. The public-sector quota is 4 percent. There was no information available on the implementation of fines for accountability.

Members of National/Racial/Ethnic Minority Groups

The constitution provides a single nationality designation for all citizens and does not expressly recognize national, racial, or ethnic minorities except for three non-Muslim minorities: Armenian Apostolic Christians, Jews, and Greek Orthodox Christians. Other national, religious, or ethnic minorities, including Assyrians, Jaferis, Yezidis, Kurds, Arabs, Roma, Circassians, and Laz, were not permitted to exercise their linguistic, religious, and cultural rights fully.

More than 15 million citizens were estimated to be of Kurdish origin and spoke Kurdish dialects. Security force efforts against the PKK disproportionately affected Kurdish communities in rural areas throughout much of the year. Some predominantly Kurdish communities experienced government-imposed curfews, generally in connection with government security operations aimed at clearing areas of PKK terrorists (see section 1.g.).

Kurdish and pro-Kurdish civil society organizations and political parties continued to experience problems exercising freedoms of assembly and association (see section 2.b.). Hundreds of Kurdish civil society organizations and Kurdish-language media outlets closed by government decree in 2016 and 2017 after the coup attempt remained shut.

The law allows citizens to open private institutions to provide education in languages and dialects they traditionally use in their daily lives, on the condition that schools are subject to the law and inspected by the Ministry of National Education. Some universities offered elective Kurdish-language courses, and four universities had Kurdish-language departments, although several instructors in these departments were among the thousands of university personnel fired under official decrees, leaving the programs unstaffed. In July the Ministry of Education also banned students from writing theses and dissertations in Kurdish, affecting students studying in Kurdish-language departments.

The law allows reinstatement of former non-Turkish names of villages and neighborhoods and provides political parties and their members the right to campaign and use promotional material in any language; however, this right was not protected.

The law restricts the use of languages other than Turkish in government and public services. In March a trustee mayor of Batman province, appointed by the government after the arrest of elected HDP comayors on terrorism charges, removed Kurdish-language information from the municipality website and replaced bilingual pedestrian crossing signs. Batman Province’s population is more than 80 percent Kurdish, and the information removed included guidance on the city and the national government’s COVID-19 preparations. This raised some health concerns, as elderly Kurdish citizens in the southeast are less likely to speak Turkish. All tweets on the official Batman municipality Twitter feed, shared in both Turkish and Kurdish in an attempt to reach the community’s sizeable Kurdish-speaking population, were also deleted, including information on assistance to needy residents and efforts to mitigate economic concerns caused by COVID-19.

In May assailants stabbed and killed Baris Cakan in Ankara, allegedly because he was listening to Kurdish music in his car during the call to prayer. Police detained and later arrested three suspects for the killing.

On International Mother Language Day, February 21, members of parliament from the opposition CHP and HDP parties submitted questions to government officials in the Arabic, Zazaki, Kurmanchi, and Syriac languages. The parliament’s speaker’s office accepted only the Turkish-language submissions.

In October, Istanbul authorities banned a theater company for putting on a Kurdish-language adaptation of the Italian play Trumpets and Raspberries at an Istanbul municipal theater. Company members reported the theater was under police surveillance during stage preparations. The governor of Istanbul, Ali Yerlikaya, wrote on Twitter that authorities banned the play because it contained pro-PKK propaganda and that an investigation had been opened. In November the governor of Sanliurfa province also banned the play.

Although the government officially allows the use of Kurdish in private education and in public discourse, it did not extend permission for Kurdish-language instruction to public education.

Romani communities reported being subjected to disproportionate police violence and housing loss due to urban transformation projects that extended into their traditional areas of residence. Members of the Romani community also reported problems with access to education, housing, health care, and employment. Roma reported difficulty in utilizing government offers to subsidize rent on apartments due to discriminatory rental practices. In June municipality workers tore down 60 tents housing approximately 300 Roma in Cesme, Izmir. The Izmir Bar Association, which visited the site, reported that Romani families were left in destitute conditions. According to community representatives, the municipality promised to deliver trailers to replace the tents but failed to do so. Due to COVID-19 restrictions, community representatives reported that Romani children living in tent cities did not have access to education. Community representatives indicated that 96 percent of Roma were unemployed, although many had jobs in the informal economy.

The government adopted a national Romani strategy in 2016 but underfunded the initiative. Romani advocates complained there was little concrete advancement for Roma. They also reported that Romani communities were particularly hard hit by the COVID-19 pandemic and that the national government did little to provide economic assistance to the communities, particularly since most Roma worked in the informal economy as garbage collectors, flower vendors, and musicians who perform at restaurants or social events. With the imposition of restrictions aimed at slowing the spread of COVID-19 by enforcing social distancing precautions, many Roma found themselves cut off from their livelihoods and without access to the social safety net available to those who could apply for unemployment benefits.

In a statement marking International Romani Day on April 8, a group of 48 Romani organizations in the country asserted that continuing “deep discrimination and serious obstacles” prevented Roma from accessing services during the pandemic. Although national efforts largely missed the Romani community, some municipalities, notably Izmir, worked with Romani advocacy groups and made special efforts to deliver aid including food parcels, masks, and hygiene supplies.

Armenian minority groups reported a rise in hate speech and coded language directed against the Armenian community, including from high-level government officials. In a speech on May 4, President Erdogan stated, “We will not give in to terrorists, who are the leftovers of the sword.” Armenian groups noted “leftovers of the sword” is a term that had been used to indicate those who survived the mass deportation and massacre of Armenians in the final years of the Ottoman Empire.

On May 29, the widow of ethnic Armenian journalist Hrant Dink, who was murdered in 2007, and a Hrant Dink Foundation lawyer received death threats by email urging them to leave the country. Turkish police arrested two suspects in the case who were released from detention on September 21, pending trial.

After the outbreak of hostilities between Armenia and Azerbaijan on September 27, members of the Armenian minority reported increased anti-Armenian rhetoric, including in traditional and social media. Supporters of Azerbaijan staged car convoys featuring Azerbaijani flags in Istanbul near the Armenian Patriarchate and in districts with large Armenian populations. The Hrant Dink Foundation recorded a threefold increase in hate speech targeting Armenians in the week of September 27-October 5, citing more than 1,000 news reports and commentary featuring anti-Armenian language meeting the organization’s criteria for hate speech. On October 5, HDP MP and ethnic Armenian Turk Garo Paylan stated he had been threatened and noted that a progovernment think tank had placed newspaper ads calling him a spy for supporting Armenia. Government officials strongly condemned intimidation of ethnic Armenians and committed to protect the minority. Police increased presence in Istanbul neighborhoods with significant ethnic Armenian populations.

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

During the year LGBTI individuals experienced discrimination, intimidation, and violent crimes. Human rights groups reported that police and prosecutors frequently failed to pursue cases of violence against LGBTI persons or accepted justification for perpetrators’ actions. Police rarely arrested suspects or held them in pretrial detention, as was common with other defendants. When arrests were made, defendants could claim “unjustifiable provocation” under the penal code and request a reduced sentence. Judges routinely applied the law to reduce the sentences of persons who killed LGBTI individuals. Courts of appeal previously upheld these verdicts based in part on the “immoral nature” of the victim. LGBTI advocates reported that police detained transgender individuals engaged in sex work to extract payoffs and that courts and prosecutors created an environment of impunity for attacks on transgender persons involved in sex work.

In June the LGBTI advocacy organization Kaos Gay and Lesbian Cultural Research and Solidarity Association (KAOS-GL) released information regarding 150 self-reported attacks on LGBTI individuals in 2019. The number of reports collected via an online survey increased from 62 the previous year. According to available data, 129 attacks took place in public space, and 41 included multiple attackers. In one-half of the incidents, bystanders did not get involved, and in one-quarter, onlookers sided with the attackers. Only 26 attacks were reported to police, reportedly due to victims’ lack of confidence in effective action and fears of discrimination by police.

In July the Mersin-based LGBTI-rights NGO 7 Color Association, as part of its yearly report on LGBTI human rights abuses in the southeast, indicated that public servants perpetrated 30 percent of the 132 hate speech and discriminatory incidents against LGBTI individuals reported in the cities of Adana, Mersin, Hatay, Antep, and Antalya.

In April a transgender woman, Ajda Ender, reported she was forced to flee her residence because of death threats and physical assaults from her neighbors. Ender reported that police refused to accept her complaint and used transphobic speech when she applied for help. Ender fled to a friend’s apartment where neighbors also reacted with transphobic threats.

While the law does not explicitly criminalize LGBTI status or conduct, provisions of law concerning “offenses against public morality,” “protection of the family,” and “unnatural sexual behavior” sometimes served as a basis for abuse by police and discrimination by employers.

Numerous LGBTI organizations reported a continued sense of vulnerability as restrictions on their freedom of speech, assembly, and association continued. LGBTI advocates also described a “frightening” rise in hate speech of a “fundamentally different character” following controversial remarks by the president of the Directorate of Religious Affairs (Diyanet) and subsequent support for the Diyanet president from high-ranking government officials, including the president. On April 24, during a sermon to mark the beginning of Ramadan, the head of the Diyanet, Ali Erbas, said, “Islam cursed homosexuality” as ‘a great sin’ that “causes diseases and decays lineages.” Erbas also called on followers to unite to “fight this kind of evil.” Supportive segments of the populace posted on social media under the top-trending hashtag #AliErbasYalnizdegildir (Ali Erbas is not alone). Several rights groups and bar associations filed criminal complaints and criticized the remarks, drawing a strong reaction from ruling AKP officials. The Ankara Prosecutor’s Office launched an investigation against the Ankara Bar Association for “insulting religious values” after it condemned Erbas’ remarks in a statement. The prosecutor’s office declined to investigate the bar association’s complaint against the Diyanet.

Anti-LGBTI rhetoric also featured prominently in public debates around the country’s potential withdrawal from the Council of Europe Istanbul Convention on preventing and combating violence against women and domestic violence. Commentators in favor of withdrawal generally pointed to the convention’s reference to equal protection for victims regardless of sexual orientation or gender identity as being inconsistent with Turkish values.

High-level government officials employed anti-LGBTI speech. In June the director of communications of the Presidency, Fahrettin Altun, wrote on Twitter, “LGBT propaganda poses a great threat to freedom of speech.” President Erdogan warned against “those who exhibit all kinds of perversion that our God prohibits” during a television interview the same month.

In July the Radio and Television Supreme Council refused to grant a license to a Turkish television drama featuring an LGBTI character in development by Netflix. Netflix cancelled the production.

In November the Malatya municipality cancelled the planned 10th Malatya International Film Festival after festival organizers announced they would award a “gender-neutral” best performance award instead of best actor and actress awards. The municipality stated that the term “gender-neutral” offended its values.

In December press reported that the Ministry of Trade Board of Advertisement notified Turkish online retailers via letter that companies must label LGBTI pride products featuring rainbows or other LGBTI pride symbols with an 18+ warning to protect “children’s mental, moral, psychologic, and social development.”

The criminal code does not include specific protections based on sexual orientation or gender identity. The law allows for up to three years in prison for hate speech or injurious acts related to language, race, nationality, color, gender, disability, political opinion, philosophical belief, religion, or sectarian differences. Human rights groups criticized the law’s failure to include protections based on gender identity and noted it was sometimes used to restrict freedom of speech and assembly rather than to protect minorities. LGBTI definitions were not included in the law, but authorities reported a general “gender” concept in the constitution provides for protections for LGBTI individuals. KAOS-GL maintained that, due to the law’s failure to recognize the existence of LGBTI individuals, authorities did not provide them social protection.

KAOS-GL reported that some LGBTI individuals were unable to access health services or faced discrimination. Some LGBTI individuals reported they believed it necessary to hide their identities, faced mistreatment by health-service providers (in many cases preferring not to request any service), and noted that prejudice against HIV-positive individuals negatively affected perceptions of the LGBTI community. In August press reports alleged that an LGBTI individual was refused treatment at a hospital in Istanbul by the doctor on duty, who employed homophobic comments. Multiple sources reported discrimination in housing, since landlords refused to rent to LGBTI individuals or charged them significantly higher prices.

During the year LGBTI groups held virtual pride month events in keeping with safe social-distancing practices due to the COVID-19 outbreak. In previous years governors banned pride marches in Ankara, Antalya, Istanbul, Izmir, Gaziantep, and Mersin, citing public safety concerns. In 2019 the Constitutional Court found that Ankara’s blanket ban on LGBTI events, in place since 2017, was illegal. In August a court in Mersin rejected a legal challenge launched by KAOS-GL to the governor’s ban on the 2019 pride march.

Some LGBTI groups reported harassment by police, government, and university authorities. University groups complained that rectors denied them permission to organize, and some indicated they faced administrative investigations or other sanctions for participating in events. In July an Ankara administrative court found that the ban on the 2019 pride march imposed by the rector of Middle East Technical University was unlawful. The university had not challenged the decision at year’s end. Criminal cases against the 18 students and one faculty member arrested for organizing the pride march in 2019 continued; the defendants faced up to three years in prison. The court held a hearing on December 10, but the court declined to issue a ruling and scheduled another hearing for April 2021. Organizers reported that the arrested students were ineligible for scholarship and educational loans while the case continued.

LGBTI organizations reported the government used regular and detailed audits against them to create administrative burdens and threatened the possibility of large fines.

Dating and social networking sites catering to the LGBTI community faced content blocks. In August an Ankara court imposed an access ban on the social networking site Hornet and in September on the dating site Gabile.com. Authorities have blocked the dating site and application Grindr since 2013.

HIV and AIDS Social Stigma

Many persons with HIV and AIDS reported discrimination in access to employment, housing, public services, benefits, and health care. Rights organizations noted that the country lacked sufficient laws protecting persons with HIV and AIDS from discrimination and that there were legal obstacles to anonymous HIV testing. Due to pervasive social stigma against persons with HIV and AIDS, many individuals avoided testing for HIV due to fear the results would be used against them. Human rights advocates reported that some employers required HIV/AIDS testing prior to employment to screen positive applicants. In September the Pozitif-iz Association reported that it received 89 complaints of human rights violations in 2018-19, the majority related to health service provider discrimination. The NGO also observed that HIV-positive individuals faced systemic discrimination in the workplace.

The government launched an HIV/AIDS control program for 2019-24 to raise awareness and combat risk factors. The government also implemented HIV/AIDS education into the national education curriculum.

Other Societal Violence or Discrimination

Alevis and Christians, including Armenian Apostolics, remained the subject of hate speech and discrimination. The term “Armenian” remained a common slur. Attacks on minority places of worship, however, were rare.

According to the Hrant Dink Foundation’s 2019 Media Watch on Hate Speech Report, an analysis of national and local newspapers found 5,515 instances of published hate speech that targeted national, ethnic, and religious groups. The most targeted groups were Armenians, Syrians, Greeks, and Jews.

Atheists also remained the subject of intimidation in media, albeit at a lower level relative to other religious minorities.

Conditional refugees and displaced Syrians under temporary protection also faced increased societal discrimination and violence during the year (see section 2.d.).

Section 7. Worker Rights

a. Freedom of Association and the Right to Collective Bargaining

The law provides for the right of workers to form and join independent unions, bargain collectively, and conduct legal strikes, but it places significant restrictions on these rights. The law prohibits antiunion discrimination and discourages employers for terminating workers involved in union activities. In particular the law requires employers to either reinstate a worker fired for participating in union activity or pay a fine equal to one year of the affected worker’s salary. Some public-sector employees, such as senior officials, magistrates, members of the armed forces, and police, may not form or join unions.

The law provides some workers the right to strike. In particular public-sector workers who are responsible for safeguarding life and property as well as workers in the essential areas (coal mining and petroleum industries, hospitals and funeral industries, urban transportation, energy and sanitation services, national defense, banking, and education) do not have the right to strike. Instead, while the law allows some essential workers to bargain collectively, the law requires the workers to resolve disputes through binding arbitration rather than strikes.

A 2014 the Constitutional Court ruling that bankers and municipal transport workers have the right to strike remains in force. The law further allows the government to deny the right to strike in any situation that represents a threat to public health or national security. On October 9, the government issued an executive order prohibiting workers at the multinational glass manufacturer Sisecam in Mersin from striking, noting the strike would disrupt general public health and security.

The government also maintains a number of restrictions on the right of association and collective bargaining. The law requires labor unions to notify government officials prior to meetings or rallies, which must occur in officially designated areas, and allows government representatives to attend their conventions and record the proceedings.

The law requires a minimum of seven workers to establish a union without prior approval. To become a bargaining agent, a union must represent 40 percent of the worksite employees and 1 percent of all workers in that particular industry. The law prohibits union leaders from becoming officers of or otherwise performing duties for political parties. The law also prohibits union leaders from working for or being involved in the operation of any profit-making enterprise. As of March, 67 percent of public-sector employees and 14 percent of private-sector employees were unionized. Nonunionized workers, such as migrants and domestic servants, are not covered by collective bargaining laws.

The government did not enforce laws related to collective bargaining and freedom of association effectively in many instances (e.g., penalties were not consistently commensurate with those provided under other laws involving denials of civil rights). Labor courts functioned effectively and relatively efficiently, although as with other courts, the appeals process could often last for years. If a court ruled that an employer had unfairly dismissed a worker and should either reinstate or compensate the individual, the employer generally paid compensation to the employee along with a fine.

The 19 unions and confederations shut down under the 2016-18 state of emergency, at times due to alleged affiliations with the Gulen movement, remained closed.

The government and employers interfered with freedom of association and the right to collective bargaining. Government restrictions and interference limited the ability of some unions to conduct public and other activities. According to the most recent information available from the government, as of May 2019, the rate of security force interference in labor union marches and demonstrations was 0.8 percent, below the 2 percent rate of intervention in 2016. Police frequently attended union meetings and conventions. In addition some unions reported that local authorities prohibited public activities, such as marches and press conferences.

Employers used threats, violence, and layoffs in unionized workplaces. Unions stated that antiunion discrimination occurred regularly across sectors. Service-sector union organizers reported that private-sector employers sometimes ignored the law and dismissed workers to discourage union activity. Many employers hired workers on revolving contracts of less than a year’s duration, making them ineligible for equal benefits or bargaining rights.

The government instituted a ban on lay-offs during the COVID-19 crisis that in some cases resulted in the employees being compelled to take leave without pay or earn less than minimum wage. Some companies instituted COVID-19 precautions, including prohibiting workers from leaving and returning to a worksite for extended periods of time. In April workers at a Cengiz Holding construction site of a railway in Diyarbakir staged a protest after reportedly being prohibited from leaving the worksite for more than 15 days and compelled to work 14-hour days during the outbreak.

b. Prohibition of Forced or Compulsory Labor

The law generally prohibits all forms of forced or compulsory labor, but the government enforced such laws unevenly. Penalties for violations were not consistently commensurate with those for other serious crimes. Forced labor generally did not occur, although some local and refugee families required their children to work on the streets and in the agricultural or industrial sectors to supplement family income (see section 7.c.).

Women, refugees, and migrants were vulnerable to labor trafficking. Although government efforts to prevent trafficking continued with mixed effect, authorities made improvements in identifying trafficking victims nationwide. The government did not release data on the number of arrests and convictions related to trafficking.

The government implemented a work permit system for registered Syrian adults with special temporary protected status; however, applying for a work permit was the responsibility of the employer, and the procedure was sufficiently burdensome and expensive that relatively few employers pursued legally hiring refugees. As a consequence the vast majority of both conditional refugees and Syrians under special temporary protection remained without legal employment options, leaving them vulnerable to exploitation, including illegally low wages, withholding of wages, and exposure to unsafe work conditions.

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

c. Prohibition of Child Labor and Minimum Age for Employment

The law allows children to perform light work that does not interfere with their school attendance from age 14 and establishes 16 as the minimum age for regular employment. The law prohibits children younger than 16 from performing arduous or dangerous work. The government prohibited children younger than 18 from working in certain professions or under hazardous conditions.

The government did not effectively enforce child labor laws but made efforts to address the problem. Penalties for violations were sufficiently stringent compared with those for other serious crimes. Resources and inspections were insufficient to effectively monitor and enforce prohibitions against the use of child labor. In the absence of a complaint, inspectors did not generally visit private agricultural enterprises that employed 50 or fewer workers, resulting in enterprises vulnerable to child labor exploitation.

Illicit child labor persisted, including in its worst forms, fostered in part by large numbers of Syrian refugees and the pandemic driving more family members to seek employment. Child labor primarily took place in seasonal agriculture (e.g., hazelnuts), street work (e.g., begging), and small or medium industry (e.g., textiles, footwear, and garments), although the overall scale of the problem remained unclear, according to a wide range of experts, academics, and UN agencies engaged on the issue. Parents and others sent Romani children to work on the streets selling tissues or food, shining shoes, or begging. Such practices were also a significant problem among Syrian and Afghan refugee children. The government implemented a work permit system for registered adult Syrian refugees with temporary protection status, but many lacked access to legal employment; some refugee children consequently worked to help support their families, in some cases under exploitative conditions. According to data from the Ministry of Family, Labor, and Social Services, in 2019, a total of 27 workplaces were fined for violating rules prohibiting child labor.

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

d. Discrimination with Respect to Employment and Occupation

The law does not explicitly address discrimination due to sexual orientation, gender identity, color, national origin or citizenship, social origin, communicable disease status, or HIV-positive status. The labor code does not apply to discrimination in the recruitment phase. Discrimination in employment or occupation occurred with regard to sex, ethnicity, religion, sexual orientation, HIV-positive status, and presence of a disability. Sources also reported frequent discrimination based on political affiliation and views. Penalties were not consistently commensurate with those for other civil rights violations.

Women faced discrimination in employment and were generally underrepresented in managerial-level positions in business, government, and civil society, although the number of women in the workforce increased compared with previous years. According to the Turkish Statistics Institute, the employment rate for women in 2019 was 34 percent (an increase from 28 percent in 2016), corresponding to 10.7 million women, compared with 72 percent employment for men. The World Economic Forum’s Global Gender Gap Report 2020 published in December 2019 recorded that 37.5 percent of women participated in the labor force, compared with 36.1 percent in 2018. Research by Confederation of Progressive Trade Unions of Turkey Research Center concluded that the COVID-19 pandemic disproportionally affected women’s labor force participation.

For companies with more than 50 workers, the law requires that at least 3 percent of the workforce consist of persons with disabilities, while in the public sector, the requirement is 4 percent. Despite these government efforts, NGOs reported examples of discrimination in employment of persons with disabilities.

LGBTI individuals faced particular discrimination in employment. Employment laws allow the dismissal of public-sector employees found “to act in a shameful and embarrassing way unfit for the position of a civil servant,” while some statutes criminalize the vague practice of “unchastity.” KAOS-GL and other human rights organizations noted that some employers used these provisions to discriminate against LGBTI individuals in the labor market, although overall numbers remained unclear.

e. Acceptable Conditions of Work

The national minimum wage was greater than the estimated national poverty level.

The law establishes a 45-hour workweek with a weekly rest day. Overtime is limited to three hours per day and 270 hours a year. The law mandates paid holiday/leave and premium pay for overtime but allows for employers and employees to agree to a flexible time schedule. The Ministry of Family, Labor, and Social Services’ Labor Inspectorate effectively enforced wage and hour provisions in the unionized industrial, service, and government sectors. Workers in nonunionized sectors had difficulty receiving overtime pay to which they were entitled by law. The law prohibits excessive compulsory overtime. Government-set occupational safety and health (OSH) standards were not always up to date or appropriate for specific industries.

The government did not effectively enforce laws related to the minimum wage, working hours, and OSH in all sectors. The law did not cover workers in the informal economy, which accounted for an estimated 25 percent of GDP and more than one-quarter of the workforce. Penalties for violations were not consistently commensurate with those for similar crimes.

OSH violations were particularly common in the construction and mining industries, where accidents were frequent and regulations inconsistently enforced. The Assembly for Worker Health and Safety reported at least 1,488 workplace deaths during the first nine months of the year. These figures included COVID-19-related deaths. In many sectors workers could not remove themselves from situations that endangered their health or safety without jeopardizing their employment, and authorities did not effectively protect vulnerable employees. Overall, numbers of labor inspectors remained insufficient to enforce compliance with labor laws across the country. Inspectors were able to make unannounced inspections and initiate sanctions.

OSH laws and regulations covered both contract and unregistered workers but did not sufficiently protect them. Migrants and refugees working in the informal sector remained particularly vulnerable to substandard work conditions in a variety of sectors, including seasonal agriculture, industry, and construction. A majority of conditional refugees and Syrians under temporary protection were working informally, as employers found too burdensome the application process for work permits (see section 2.f., Protection of Refugees).

Vietnam

Executive Summary

The Socialist Republic of Vietnam is an authoritarian state ruled by a single party, the Communist Party of Vietnam, and led by General Secretary and President Nguyen Phu Trong, Prime Minister Nguyen Xuan Phuc, and Chairwoman of the National Assembly Nguyen Thi Kim Ngan. The most recent National Assembly elections, held in 2016, were neither free nor fair; there was limited competition among Communist Party-vetted candidates.

The Ministry of Public Security is responsible for internal security and controls the national police, a special national security investigative agency, and other internal security units. The Vietnam People’s Army aids civilian authorities to provide relief in times of natural disaster. Civilian authorities maintained effective control over the security forces. Members of the security forces committed numerous abuses.

Significant human rights issues included: unlawful or arbitrary killings by the government; torture by government agents; arbitrary arrests and detentions by the government; political prisoners; significant problems with the independence of the judiciary; arbitrary or unlawful interference with privacy; serious restrictions on free expression, the press, and the internet, including arbitrary arrest and prosecution of government critics, censorship, site blocking, and criminal libel laws; substantial interference with the freedom of peaceful assembly and freedom of association; significant restrictions on freedom of movement, including exit bans on activists; inability of citizens to change their government peacefully through free and fair elections; restrictions on political participation; serious acts of corruption; trafficking in persons; significant restrictions on workers’ freedom of association; and use of compulsory child labor.

The government occasionally took corrective action, including prosecutions against officials who violated the law, but police officers and state officials frequently acted with impunity.

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

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

There were reports indicating officials or other agents under the command of the Ministry of Public Security or provincial public security departments arbitrarily or unlawfully killed protesters. There were reports of at least eight deaths in custody; authorities attributed at least three of the deaths to suicide or chronic medical issues and another to a beating by a fellow prisoner. Authorities sometimes harassed and intimidated families who questioned the police determination of cause of death. In a small number of cases, the government held police officials responsible, typically several years after the death. Despite guidance from the Supreme People’s Court to charge police officers responsible for deaths in custody with murder, such officers typically faced lesser charges. Police conducted their own internal affairs investigations to determine whether deaths in custody were justified.

On January 9, a large contingent of armed police officers belonging to the Ministry of Public Security and Hanoi police surrounded Dong Tam village, My Duc District, Hanoi. During the early morning hours, they raided the house of local elder Le Dinh Kinh, who had led the villagers’ years-long resistance against the seizure of 145 acres of agricultural land for use in a new military installation. During the raid police officers and armed villagers clashed violently, leading to the deaths of three police officers and Le Dinh Kinh. Eyewitnesses, including Kinh’s wife, claimed police threw tear gas grenades into the house while the family was asleep and shot Kinh on sight. Human rights activists expressed doubts about the legality of the raid as well as official police reports that Kinh was armed with a hand grenade, noting the 84-year-old was disabled (see also sections 1.c and 1.e.).

b. Disappearance

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

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

The constitution and law prohibit torture, violence, coercion, corporal punishment, or any form of treatment harming the body and health or the honor and dignity of persons detained or incarcerated. Nonetheless, suspects commonly reported mistreatment and torture by police, plainclothes security officials, and compulsory drug-detention center personnel during arrest, interrogation, and detention. Police, prosecutors, and government oversight agencies seldom investigated specific reports of mistreatment.

Activists reported Ministry of Public Security officials assaulted political prisoners to extract confessions or used other means to induce written confessions, including instructing fellow prisoners to assault them or making promises of better treatment. Abusive treatment was not limited to activists or persons involved in politics. Human rights monitoring groups issued multiple reports of police using excessive force while on duty and investigators allegedly torturing detainees.

One of the Dong Tam villagers who was detained and then released following the January 9 clash with police (see section 1.a.) alleged that Ministry of Public Security interrogators tortured many of the 29 defendants by a variety of methods, including electric shock, cigarette burns to various parts of the body, waterboarding, and other methods that would not leave physical evidence.

According to state media, the Investigation Agency of the Supreme People’s Procuracy initiated criminal proceedings against the police chief of Vinh Tuy local police, Bac Quang District, Ha Giang Province, and two other police officers for their alleged beating of a pretrial detainee. The police chief was detained; the two other officers were held under house arrest pending the completion of the investigation. Impunity in the security forces was a significant problem.

Prison and Detention Center Conditions

Prison conditions varied substantially by prison and province. In most cases they were austere but generally not life threatening. Insufficient diet and unclean food, overcrowding, lack of access to potable water, and poor sanitation remained serious problems.

Physical Conditions: By law pretrial detainees are to be held separately from convicted prisoners. In practice media and activists reported there were cases in which detainees were held in the same cells with convicted prisoners. Authorities generally held men and women separately, with some reported exceptions in local detention centers. Although authorities generally held juveniles in an area separate from adults, on rare occasions authorities reportedly held juveniles in detention with adults for short periods. Authorities sometimes kept children in prison with their mothers until age three, according to a former political prisoner.

Prison officials failed to prevent prisoner-on-prisoner violence. On May 7, prisoner Le Hoang Quang allegedly beat his cellmate, Nguyen Quang Lap, to death with a baton in Chau Duc District police temporary detention, Ba Ria-Vung Tau Province, after an argument.

Some former and serving prisoners and their families reported prisoners received insufficient, poor-quality food. Family members continued to make credible claims prisoners received extra food or other preferential treatment by paying bribes to prison officials. Prisoners had access to basic health care, although there were multiple instances of officials preventing family members from providing prescription medications to prisoners who had no other way of receiving the medication and of prison clinics not reviewing prisoners’ predetention health records.

Some prison authorities refused to allow any items sent to prisoners from outside the prison system, including medication, citing COVID-19-related concerns. For example, Gia Trung Detention Center in Gia Lai Province refused all outside medication while others, such as Detention Center No. 6 in Nghe An Province, allowed medication with prescription.

Authorities placed prisoners in solitary confinement for standard periods of three months. On January 1, the government implemented the Law on the Execution of Criminal Judgements, which calls for lesbian, gay, bisexual, transsexual, or intersex (LGBTI) prisoners to be detained or imprisoned separately from the general detainee or inmate population. Multiple media outlets reported that the law was effectively implemented.

Administration: According to the law, the National Assembly, people’s councils, and the Communist Party of Vietnam’s (CPV) Vietnam Fatherland Front (VFF)–an umbrella group that oversees the country’s government-sponsored social organizations–oversee the execution of criminal judgments. There was no active system of prison ombudsmen with whom prisoners could file complaints. The Ministry of Public Security reported that prisoners may file formal complaints with a prosecutor’s office. Since these complaints must first go through the same prison officials who are often the focus of the complaint, however, most observers considered this a flawed process.

Authorities limited prisoners to one family visit of no longer than an hour per month. Family members of prisoners reported prison authorities frequently terminated their visits after 15 to 30 minutes. Family members were generally permitted to provide various items, including money, supplemental food, and bedding, to prisoners.

Family members of current and former prisoners and lawyers reported certain prison authorities restricted or hindered prisoners’ access to publications, including religious texts, despite provisions in the law providing for such access. Le Dinh Luong, for example, did not have access to a Bible, according to his family. While he made formal requests for a Bible in previous years, Luong’s family made only informal, oral requests to detention officials during the year, which went unanswered. Ho Soc Son District police prevented Hue Nhu from receiving a copy of the constitution and other legal texts despite multiple requests, including by her lawyer. Observers also said that, contrary to the law providing for access to clergy, no Catholic prisoner received a visit by clergy during the year.

Independent Monitoring: The Ministry of Public Security, the government entity that manages prisons, did not allow access to international monitors. Local and regional International Committee of the Red Cross officials neither requested nor carried out prison visits during the year.

d. Arbitrary Arrest or Detention

The constitution states a decision by a court or prosecutor is required for the arrest of any individual, except in the case of a “flagrant offense.” The law allows the government to arrest and detain persons “until the investigation finishes” for particularly serious crimes, including national security cases. Those detained, excepting on political grounds, may question the legality of their detention with the arresting authority, but there is no right for the detainee or a representative to challenge the lawfulness of an arrest before a court. There were numerous cases of authorities arresting or detaining activists or government critics contrary to the law or on spurious grounds. Authorities routinely subjected activists and suspected criminals to de facto house arrest without charge.

Arrest Procedures and Treatment of Detainees

By law, police generally require a warrant issued by a prosecutor (the people’s procuracy) to arrest a suspect, although in some cases a decision from a court is required. The criminal code also allows police to “hold an individual” without a warrant in “urgent circumstances,” such as when evidence existed a person was preparing to commit a crime or when police caught a person in the act of committing a crime. Human rights lawyers shared the view that detention without warrants was a common practice. Lawyers and human rights nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) reported that, in many cases, police officers “invited” individuals to present themselves at police stations without being given a clear rationale. These individuals might be held for hours and questioned or requested to write or sign reports. Many such cases had nothing to do with political or sensitive circumstances. There were, nonetheless, numerous instances where activists were taken into custody by plainclothes individuals without an arrest warrant.

Police may hold a suspect for 72 hours without an arrest warrant. In such cases a prosecutor must approve or disapprove the arrest within 12 hours of receiving notice from police. In practice, especially in politically motivated cases, these procedures were not applied consistently or strictly.

The law requires video or audio recording of interrogations during the investigation, prosecution, and adjudication of cases. In cases in which video or audio recording is not possible, interrogation is only allowed if the person being interrogated agrees. In practice, however, this was not evenly applied. In multiple criminal trials, such videos were used by the authorities to manipulate the court’s and public’s perception of the suspect and the case, according to human rights activists. During the September trial of 29 Dong Tam villagers (see section 1.a.), the prosecution played multiple video clips in which defendants appeared to confess to the charges brought against them. Legal counsel for the defendants reported on social media that the video misrepresented the defendants, who were forced to confess on video.

By law the people’s procuracy must issue a decision to initiate a formal criminal investigation of a detainee and notify the accused or their legal representative within three days of arrest; otherwise, police must release the suspect. The law allows the people’s procuracy to request the court with jurisdiction over the case to grant two additional three-day extensions for a maximum of nine days’ detention before an investigation begins.

Although the criminal code sets time limits for detention while under investigation, including for “serious” and “particularly serious” crimes (for the latter, an individual may be held for 16 months), the law allows the people’s procuracy to detain an individual “until the investigation finishes” in cases of “particularly serious crimes,” including national security cases. Only after the investigation is completed are suspects formally charged.

While a suspect is detained during investigation, authorities may deny family visits; they routinely denied such visits for those arrested on national security charges or in other politically motivated cases.

The law allows for bail in the form of money or property as a measure to replace temporary detention, but it was seldom granted.

The law requires authorities to inform persons held in custody, accused of a crime, or charged with a crime, of their legal rights, including the right to an attorney within three days of arrest. By law the government is required to assign a lawyer for a criminal defendant if the defendant or their lawful representatives do not seek the assistance of defense counsel in cases where the defendant is charged with offenses punishable by death as the highest penalty as prescribed by the penal code, is a minor or person with physical disabilities, or is deemed mentally incompetent. The government may and did also provide lawyers for certain cases, including cases against persons deemed to have made significant contributions to the country, members of poor or near-poor households, members of ethnic minorities in remote and poor areas, or minors. The government may also provide lawyers in certain cases where defendants or their family include victims of agent orange, elderly or disabled persons, victims of domestic violence, victims of trafficking in persons, or HIV-infected persons.

Although the law affords detainees access to counsel from the time of detention, authorities used bureaucratic delays to deny timely access to legal counsel. In many cases authorities only permitted attorneys to access to their clients or the evidence against them immediately before the case went to trial, denying them adequate time to prepare a defense.

In cases investigated under national security laws, the government routinely used bureaucratic delays to prohibit access by defense lawyers to clients until after officials completed their investigation and formally charged the suspect with a crime.

Detainees have an undefined right to notify family members of their arrest. Although police generally informed families of detainees’ whereabouts, the Ministry of Public Security held a number of blogger and activist detainees suspected of national security violations incommunicado.

Arbitrary Arrest: Arbitrary arrest and detention, particularly for political activists and individuals protesting land seizures or other injustices, remained a serious problem. Some activists also reported that authorities used routine police interrogations to obtain incriminating information concerning other human rights activists.

Authorities subjected many religious and political activists to varying degrees of arbitrary detention in their residences, in vehicles, at local police stations, at “social protection centers,” or at local government offices. Officials also frequently questioned human rights activists upon their return from overseas trips. Such detentions were most common around and during events that were likely to draw significant public attention.

On May 8, Ho Chi Minh public security reportedly detained activist Phung Thuy without a warrant and interrogated him for hours on his relationship with the independent Liberal Publishing House. According to one activist, officers used violent interrogation techniques to force Thuy to answer officers’ questions.

Pretrial Detention: The allowable time for temporary detention during an investigation varies from three to 16 months, depending on the offense. There were no standard legal or administrative requirements as to when suspects must be brought before a judicial officer. Depending on the seriousness and nature of the offenses, these time limits vary. In cases of particularly serious crimes, including national security cases, the law allows detention “until the completion of the investigation.”

Similarly, the allowable time for adjudication varies between 45 and 120 days. By law a trial must begin within 30 days of the adjudication of charges. The total time for pretrial detention is the sum of all these periods; the maximum pretrial detention is nominally 21 months in cases of “especially serious offenses.” These limits were exceeded with impunity, and police and prosecutors used lengthy pretrial detention to punish or pressure human rights defenders to confess to crimes, activists said. By law authorities must provide justification for detention beyond the initial four months, but there were reports indicating that court officials ignored the failure of police or prosecutors to comply with such laws when adjudicating cases.

The government detained eight members of Hien Phap, an independent civil society group, for 23 months before their official trial began on July 31.

Lengthy pretrial detention was not limited to activists. State-run media reported that in 2018, a total of 230 persons were detained or held in custody beyond the stipulated time limits.

Detainees Ability to Challenge Lawfulness of Detention before a Court: There is no such right under law. Detained individuals may request that the agency responsible review the decision. If an arrest or detention is deemed improper by the agency, the individual may be eligible for compensation.

e. Denial of Fair Public Trial

The law provides for an independent judiciary and lay assessors, but the judiciary was effectively under the control of the CPV, through the Ministry of Public Security. During the year there were credible reports political influence, endemic corruption, bribery, and inefficiency strongly distorted the judicial system. Most, if not all, judges were members of the CPV and were screened by the CPV and local officials during their selection process to determine their suitability for the bench. Judges are reappointed every five years, following review by party officials. The party’s authority was particularly notable in high-profile cases and when authorities charged a person with corruption, challenging or harming the party or state, or both. Defense lawyers routinely complained that, in many cases, it appeared judges made a determination of guilt prior to the trial.

There continued to be credible reports that authorities pressured defense lawyers not to take religious or democracy activists as clients and questioned their motivations for doing so. Authorities also restricted, harassed, arrested, and disbarred human rights attorneys who represented political activists. The penal code required attorneys to violate attorney-client privilege in national security cases or other serious crimes.

On September 14, the trial of 29 Dong Tam commune residents arrested following the January 9 clash (see section 1.a.) concluded. Of the 29 defendants, two were sentenced to death and one to life in prison while two others received sentences of 12 to 16 years for the deaths of three policemen killed during the encounter. The remaining defendants were convicted of “obstructing officers in the performance of their duty” and received lesser sentences. Legal scholars, academics, and human rights activists cited “serious irregularities” with the trial. The court prevented the defendants’ family members from attending the trial, although the family members of the slain police officers were in attendance.

On February 21, an appellate court in Khan Hoa upheld the prison sentence for lawyer Tran Vu Hai and his wife, who were convicted and sentenced in November 2019 to 12 to 15 months of home detention for “tax evasion”. Those charges, filed in July 2019, led the Ministry of Public Security to deny Hai’s request to defend imprisoned activist Truong Duy Nhat, who was allegedly refouled to Vietnam from Thailand in January 2019. They also enabled police to search Hai’s office and confiscate sensitive documents related to his defense of human rights activists, including Truong Duy Nhat.

Trial Procedures

While the constitution provides for the right to a fair and public trial, this right was not evenly enforced. The law states that defendants are innocent until proven guilty. Defendants’ right to prompt, detailed information about the charges against them was rarely respected. Defendants’ right to a timely trial was ignored with impunity, and although trials generally were open to the public, in sensitive cases judges closed trials or strictly limited attendance.

Authorities generally upheld the right of defendants to be present at their trial. The court sometimes denied suspects the right to their own choice of attorney and assigned one. The criminal code permits defendants to be seated adjacent to their defense attorney, although this was not standard practice. Defendants have the right to communicate with a lawyer if they are on trial for a criminal charge that could result in a 15-year or longer sentence, including capital cases, although they often could not exercise this right. At the September trial of Dong Tam villagers (see section 1.a.), lawyers reported that police initially prevented them from speaking with their clients and only permitted them to do so after multiple requests and a formal petition to the court.

Although the defense has the right to cross-examine witnesses, there were multiple instances in which neither defendants nor their lawyers knew which witnesses would be called, nor were they allowed to cross-examine witnesses or challenge statements against them. In political trials neither defendants nor their attorneys were allowed to examine or review evidence relied upon by the prosecution. A defendant has the right to present a defense, but the law does not expressly state the defendant has the right to call witnesses. Judges presiding over politically sensitive trials often did not permit defense lawyers and defendants to exercise their legal rights.

The law stipulates the spoken and written language of criminal proceedings is Vietnamese, but the state provides interpretation if participants in a criminal procedure use another spoken or written language. The law does not specify whether such services are free of charge.

While elements of the adversarial system were being implemented, courts maintain an inquisitorial system, in which the judge plays the primary role of asking questions and ascertaining facts in a trial. Authorities permitted foreign diplomats to observe three high-profile trials via closed-circuit television, including the appeal of blogger Truong Duy Nhat and the trial of the 29 Dong Tam villagers. Diplomats also observed two regular criminal trials during the year. In most of the trials, defense attorneys were given time to address the court and question their clients, but they could not call witnesses or examine prosecutors’ evidence. In other trials involving individuals charged under national security articles, judges occasionally silenced defense lawyers who were making arguments on behalf of their clients. Convicted persons have the right to at least one appeal.

Political Prisoners and Detainees

Prison officials often held political prisoners in small groups separate from the general inmate population and treated them differently. Some political prisoners enjoyed better material conditions but were subject to more psychological harassment. In other cases political prisoners were subject to harassment from prison authorities and other inmates, the latter sometimes at the instigation of officials. In many cases political prisoners’ daily schedules were different from those of the general inmate population and they were not afforded the opportunity to leave their cells for work or interaction with the general prison population. Officials often subjected political prisoners to more extended periods of solitary confinement than the three months given to other prisoners. In January, Ba Sao Prison in Ha Nam reportedly held Phan Kim Khanh and Nguyen Viet Dung in solitary confinement after their protest against prison regulations. Prison authorities barred them from buying additional food at the prison’s shop, thereby restricting them to meals provided by the prison.

Rations appeared to be more limited for political prisoners than others. Former political prisoners reported they received only two small bowls of rice and vegetables daily, often mixed with foreign matter such as insects or stones. Family members of many imprisoned activists who were or became ill, claimed medical treatment was inadequate and resulted in long-term health complications. In June family members of Nguyen Van Duc Do, for example, reportedly filed a petition to the Xuan Loc Prison in Dong Nai Province demanding an end to Do’s inhuman treatment, alleging that prison guards physically assaulted Do, kept him in solitary confinement, and gave him food mixed with human waste.

Prison authorities often held political prisoners far from their homes, making family visits difficult, and routinely did not inform family members of prison transfers. On February 27, Vo Thuong Trung’s wife attempted to visit her husband at a prison in Dong Nai Province and discovered Trung had been transferred to Gia Trung Prison in Gia Lai Province, nearly 300 miles away. In May, Hanoi-based activist Nguyen Tuong Thuy was arrested in Hanoi and transferred to Ho Chi Minh City for detention.

During the year many political prisoners held hunger strikes to protest maltreatment. From March 13 to April 17, Nguyen Nang Tinh was on hunger strike to protest Nghi Kim Prison officials’ refusal to allow him to meet with a Catholic priest, although Tinh was technically ineligible for such a visit while his case remained under appeal. In August, Trinh Ba Tu refused food for more than 20 days to protest mistreatment in prison at Cham Mat Detention Center, Hoa Binh Province.

As in previous years, courts continued to hand down severe sentences to individuals whose activism appeared to be prominent or linked to overseas groups. On March 2, a court in Ho Chi Minh City upheld the sentencing of environmental activists Tran Van Quyen and Nguyen Van Vien to 10 and 11 years in prison, respectively, on charges of “terrorism to oppose (the) people’s administration” due to their alleged membership in the banned overseas prodemocracy group Viet Tan. The two had been detained along with Australian citizen Chau Van Kham, who was also convicted and sentenced to 12 years imprisonment and who authorities alleged was a member of an overseas activist group. Among the most frequent charges against activists was “producing, storing, disseminating, or communicating information and documents against the state.” Under this charge at least eight individuals received sentences of up to 11 years’ imprisonment during the year.

Politically Motivated Reprisal against Individuals Located Outside the Country

In March Radio Free Asia blogger Truong Duy Nhat, who was forcibly returned to Vietnam from Thailand in January 2019 after applying for refugee status with the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), was tried and sentenced to 10 years’ imprisonment on charges of “abusing his position and power while on duty.” An appeal in August upheld the verdict. In response to Nhat lawyer’s question during the appeal about where and when Nhat was arrested, the prosecutor stated that Nhat was arrested in Hanoi in January 2019. The court refused to address the time gap between Nhat’s apparent refoulement from Thailand in January 2019 and his subsequent appearance in Hanoi in March, ignoring international and domestic calls for transparency related to the circumstances leading to his detention.

In March, Bui Thanh Hieu, an exiled blogger in Germany, announced on Facebook that he would stop blogging because Vietnamese authorities were harassing his family in the country.

Civil Judicial Procedures and Remedies

The constitution provides that any person illegally arrested and detained, charged with a criminal offense, investigated, prosecuted, brought to trial, or subjected to judgment enforcement illegally has the right to compensation for material and mental damages and restoration of honor. The law provides a mechanism for pursuing a civil action to redress or remedy abuses committed by authorities. Administrative and civil courts heard civil suits under procedures similar to those in criminal cases and using members of the same body of judges and people’s assessors to adjudicate the cases. Administrative and civil courts continued to be vulnerable to corruption and outside influence, lack of independence, and inexperience. Very few victims of government abuse sought or successfully received redress or compensation through the court system.

The government continued to prohibit class action lawsuits against government ministries, thus rendering ineffective joint complaints from land rights petitioners.

Property Restitution

By law all land belongs to the government (“all the people of Vietnam”), which granted considerable decision-making authority for land pricing, allocation, and reclamation to local people’s committees and people’s councils, which in turn contributed to unfair business practices and corruption.

There were numerous reports of clashes between local residents and authorities at land expropriation sites during the year. Disputes regarding land expropriation for development projects remained a significant source of public grievance. Many individuals whose land the government forcibly seized protested at government offices for failure to address their complaints. Some coercive land seizures resulted in violence and injury to state officials and residents. There were also reports that development companies hired suspected plainclothes police officers and “thugs” to enforce government seizures by intimidating and threatening residents or breaking into their homes. Authorities arrested and convicted multiple land rights protesters on charges of “resisting persons on duty” or “causing public disorder.”

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

The law prohibits arbitrary or unlawful interference with privacy, home, or correspondence, but the government did not consistently protect these rights and at times violated them.

By law security forces need public prosecutorial orders to enter homes forcibly, but Ministry of Public Security officers regularly entered or surveilled homes, particularly of activists, without legal authority. They often intimidated residents with threats of repercussions for failure to allow entry.

On January 3, Van Giang District police of Hung Yen Province reportedly broke into the apartment of Ho Sy Quyet in Ecopark, Hanoi, ransacking the apartment and confiscating personal possessions without a warrant. Local police also took Quyet and his wife to the district police station for questioning for hours, threatening to arrest and prosecute him if he did not cease his engagement in what authorities considered antistate activities. Quyet was one of dozens of individuals who had been harassed by police since late 2019 for distributing publications of Liberal Publishing House, a now-defunct, illegal private publishing house.

Without legal warrants, authorities regularly opened and censored targeted private mail; confiscated packages and letters; and monitored telephone conversations, email, text messages, blogs, and fax transmissions. The government cut telephone lines and interrupted the cellphone and internet service of several political activists and their family members.

The Ministry of Public Security maintained a system of household registration and block wardens to monitor unlawful activity. While this system was less intrusive than in the past, the ministry closely monitored individuals engaged in or suspected of engaging in unauthorized political activities.

FireEye, a foreign-based network security company, reported infringement on the privacy rights of citizens. FireEye wrote that the government had developed considerable cyberespionage capabilities in recent years. The company also documented attacks by a group called OceanLotus, or APT32, on targets including overseas-based Vietnamese journalists and private- and public-sector organizations abroad and in the country itself. While there was no direct link between APT32 and the government, FireEye contended that the personnel details and data accessed from the targeted organizations were of “very little use to any party other than the Vietnamese government.”

Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:

a. Freedom of Expression, Including for the Press

The constitution and law provide for freedom of expression, including for the press; however, in practice the government did not respect these rights, and several laws specifically encroach on freedom of expression. The government also continued to use broad national security and antidefamation provisions to restrict freedom of expression. Such laws establish the crimes of “sabotaging the infrastructure of socialism,” “sowing divisions between religious and nonreligious people,” and “propagandizing against the state” as serious offenses against national security. The law also expressly forbids “taking advantage of democratic freedoms and rights to violate the interests of the state or lawful rights and interests of organizations or individuals.”

Freedom of Speech: The government continued to restrict speech that criticized individual government leaders or the party, promoted political pluralism or multiparty democracy, or questioned policies on sensitive matters, such as human rights, religious freedom, or sovereignty disputes with China.

On three separate occasions in September, Dong Thap Province security officials “invited” Nguyen Thi Tinh, wife of prisoner Nguyen Nang Tinh, to discuss the government’s concerns about her Facebook posts. Tinh told authorities she only shared information about her family, including updates related to her husband’s situation in prison. She reported the security officials told her the government considered her social media posts to be in violation of an administrative decree related to telecommunication and that she could face punishment in the future.

In June, during a scheduled visit to Thanh Hoa Province by a diplomat, security officials intimidated Nguyen Thi Lanh, the wife of imprisoned pastor and prodemocracy activist Nguyen Trung Ton, and Ton’s son, Nguyen Trung Trong Nghia, implying they could face physical harm unless they remained home “until further notice.” Security officials kept the family locked inside the house for several days until the family broke the lock. Local security officials then took Lanh into custody and continued to harass her at a local police station. When Nghia tried to go to the local police station to learn more about Lanh’s status, plainclothes individuals allegedly assaulted him in the presence of public security and traffic police officials.

Freedom of Press and Media, Including Online Media: The CPV, government, and party-controlled mass media organizations exercised legal authority over all print, broadcast, online, and electronic media, primarily through the Ministry of Information and Communications under the overall guidance of the CPV Propaganda and Education Commission. The law requires editors in chief to be CPV members; many outlets applied this to additional managers as well.

Many nongovernmental entities, however, produced and distributed publications by subcontracting, joint publishing, or buying permits from government or other public publishing entities. State-run media reported private entities produced more than 90 percent of all publications in the country, although outright private ownership or operation of any media outlet or publishing house was prohibited. Media independent of government authority operated on a limited basis online, primarily via blogs and social media, but independent journalists faced government harassment.

Authorities further consolidated government control over media outlets, including requiring them in the future to be affiliated with a government body and severely constraining the number of separate newspapers and magazines that can be published by an organization or in an area. During the year Hanoi city authorities closed six magazines and three newspapers and forcibly merged two newspapers. Authorities in Ho Chi Minh City, with the most vibrant media environment in the country, reorganized 28 media organizations into 19 outlets.

On June 20, the Ministry of Information and Communication demanded the Vietnam Economic Times, a newspaper published by the Vietnam Economic Association, cease operations, effective in January 2021, and revoked the newspaper’s license. On June 26, the ministry licensed the Vietnam Economic Magazine, the new name of the Vietnam Economic Times, which officially suspended its operations on July 15, but no articles were published by either the newspaper or magazine since January. Other publications, such as the popular national online outlet Dan Tri, aligned themselves with ministries to continue to operate.

Authorities intensified a crackdown on members of the Independent Journalist Association of Vietnam, founded to advocate for freedom of expression and the press and for democracy. In November 2019 Ho Chi Minh City Public Security arrested Pham Chi Dung, president of the association, and charged him with antistate propaganda. In May and June, authorities detained and arrested independent journalists Pham Chi Thanh, Nguyen Tuong Thuy, and Le Huu Minh Tuan, also members of the association, under similar charges. On June 23, the Investigation Agency of Ho Chi Minh City Public Security, in coordination with Vung Tau public security, summoned independent journalist Chu Vinh Hai for interrogation on his relationship with the journalists’ association.

By law the government may fine journalists and newspapers for failing to cite their sources of information or for using “documents and materials from organizations and personal letters and materials from individuals.”

The law allows the government to punish publishers if they publish “untruthful information” in the fields of statistics; atomic energy; management of prices, charges, fees, and invoices; education; civil aviation; vocational training; hydrometeorology; cartography; and health.

The law limits satellite television access to senior officials, foreigners, luxury hotels, and the press, but persons throughout the country continued to access foreign programming via home satellite equipment or cable.

The government permitted journalists employed by foreign-based media outlets to operate under significant restrictions. The law, however, requires “live” foreign television programming to run on a 30- to 60-minute delay to enable content monitoring. Viewers reported obstruction of various commentaries, documentaries, and movies on human rights incidents in the country, the Vietnam War, the Cold War, the Soviet era, or reports involving trade tensions. Foreign journalists required formal permission to travel outside Hanoi for reporting. When foreign journalists requested access to an area considered sensitive, such as the Northwest or Central Highlands, or to report a story the government might consider sensitive, authorities often either intentionally delayed their response or denied permission to travel.

Major foreign media outlets reported the government delayed or refused to issue visas for reporters who had previously covered sensitive political topics, particularly reporters for the overseas Vietnamese-language press. The government frequently tried to control resident foreign correspondents by threatening to revoke or not renew their visas.

The information ministry may revoke the licenses of foreign publishers; foreign publishers must renew their licenses annually.

The government also sought to impede criticism by monitoring meetings and communications of journalists.

Violence and Harassment: There continued to be a significant number of reports of security officials attacking or threatening journalists because of their coverage of sensitive stories. Independent journalists faced restrictions on freedom of movement, other forms of harassment, and physical attacks in, for example, the form of staged motorbike accidents, if they reported on sensitive topics.

Authorities increased harassment of Liberal Publishing House. According to an NGO, public security officials questioned and interrogated nearly 100 individuals for purchasing and reading books printed by the publishing house. An NGO reported that public security detained, interrogated, and tortured Ho Chi Minh City-based activist Vu Huy Hoang for conducting business with the publishing house. On October 6, authorities arrested prominent writer and activist Pham Doan Trang for “antistate activities” hours after the government held a meeting with foreign officials on human rights. She was accused of “making, storing, disseminating, or propagandizing information, materials, and products that aim to oppose the State.” In July, Trang announced on her Facebook page that she had resigned from Liberal Publishing House and called on public security officials to stop harassing all associates of the publisher. According to Trang, all members of the publishing house went into hiding to maintain publishing activities and avoid harassment.

Censorship or Content Restrictions: The Ministry of Information and Communications and the CPV Propaganda and Education Commission frequently intervened directly with media to dictate or censor a story.

Propaganda officials forced editors of major media outlets to meet with them regularly to discuss what topics were off-limits for reporting. More often, pervasive self-censorship, including among independent journalists and bloggers, due to the threat of dismissal and possible arrest, enabled the party and government to control media content. The government punished journalists for failing to self-censor, including by revoking journalists’ press credentials.

National Security: The law allows significant fines to be levied against journalists, newspapers, and online media that publish or broadcast information deemed harmful to national interests or for disseminating information considered to distort history and the revolution’s achievements. In some cases these “violations” may lead to criminal proceedings.

Citing laws protecting national security, police arrested and ordered journalists to restrict criticism of government policies or officials.

Internet Freedom

The government restricted and disrupted access to the internet, censored online content, imposed criminal sentences for online expression, and monitored private online communications without legal authority. The limited number of licensed internet service providers were fully or substantially state-controlled companies. The government monitored Facebook posts and punished those who used the internet to organize protests or publish content critical of the government. On July 7, a court in Lam Dong Province convicted Facebook user Nguyen Duc Quoc Vuong of antistate propaganda and sentenced him to eight years in prison. According to state-sponsored media reporting, Nguyen created a Facebook account to post and share numerous articles with “antistate” content on Facebook that reportedly “defamed the party, state, and President Ho Chi Minh.”

The government sometimes blocked websites it deemed politically or culturally inappropriate, including sites operated by overseas Vietnamese political groups in addition to the websites of Radio Free Asia, Voice of America, and the BBC Vietnamese news service. State-owned internet service providers routinely blocked domestic Vietnamese-language websites that contained content criticizing the CPV or promoted political reform.

An administrative regulation compels owners of all websites and social networking sites to cooperate with the Ministry of Information and Communications to prevent the spread of “bad, toxic news.”

Another rule requires all companies and organizations operating websites providing content on “politics, economics, culture, and society” or social networks, including blogging platforms, to register with the government. The government also requires such owners to submit detailed plans of their content and scope for approval. Such companies and organizations must locate at least one server in the country to facilitate government requests for information and must store posted information for 90 days and certain metadata for up to two years.

The government forbids direct access to the internet through foreign internet service providers and requires them to provide technical assistance and workspace to public security agents to allow them to monitor internet activities. The Ministry of Public Security has long required “internet agents,” including cybercafes, to register the personal information of their customers, store records of internet sites visited by customers, and participate in government investigations of online activity. Internet cafes continued to install and use government-approved software to monitor customers’ online activities. The Ministry of Public Security enforced these and other requirements and monitored the internet selectively.

The government continued to pressure firms such as Facebook and Google to eliminate “fake accounts” and content deemed “toxic,” including antistate materials. In October 2019 the Ministry of Information and Communications announced Google removed nearly 8,200 video clips; YouTube blocked 19 YouTube channels; and Facebook blocked nearly 2,500 links, 249 fake accounts, and 249 links that defamed the CPV and government. The Ministry of Information and Communications significantly increased pressure on social media platforms to comply with a higher number of political-speech take-down requests, especially for posts critical of senior CPV officials. Authorities reportedly throttled Facebook’s local servers early in the year, significantly slowing down its local traffic, until the company agreed to significantly increase compliance with government censorship requests.

Force 47, a special unit in the Ministry of National Defense, monitored the internet for misinformation and antistate propaganda.

Authorities also suppressed online political expression by direct action against bloggers, such as arrests, short-term detentions, surveillance, intimidation, and the illegal confiscation of computers and cell phones from activists and their family members. The government continued to use national security and other vague provisions of the penal code against activists who peacefully expressed their political views online. Political dissidents and bloggers reported the Ministry of Public Security routinely ordered disconnection of their home internet service. On June 13, Ho Chi Minh City public security arrested Huynh Anh Khoa and Nguyen Dang Thuong on charges of “abusing democratic freedom” for organizing a Facebook discussion group called Economic-Political Discussion that attracted nearly 50,000 Facebook users, according to an NGO.

Social network and blog users were required to provide their full name, national identification number, and address before creating an account. In-country website and social network operators must allow authorities to inspect local servers upon request and must have a mechanism to remove prohibited content within three hours of detection or notification by authorities.

On April 15, a government decree went into effect imposing significant fines for using social networks to “provide and spread misinformation.” This includes using social networks to distribute maps inaccurately representing the country’s sovereignty and popularizing fake news to disturb the public. The decree was issued as part of the government’s strategy to contain what it deemed to be misinformation, antigovernment sentiment, and defamation on social networks.

In September the Ministry of Information and Communication fined four newspapers a total of 72 million dong ($3,100) for printing misinformation on the arrest and prosecution of former city officials, on Ho Chi Minh, and on a major infrastructure project.

Academic Freedom and Cultural Events

The government restricted academic freedom and cultural events. Foreign academic professionals temporarily working at universities in the country could discuss nonpolitical topics widely and freely in classes, but government observers regularly attended classes taught by both foreigners and nationals. The government continued to require international and domestic organizations to obtain advance approval for conferences involving international sponsorship or participation. The government allowed universities more autonomy over international exchanges and cooperation programs, but visa requirements for visiting scholars and students remained onerous.

The government continued to prohibit any public criticism of the CPV and state policy, including by independent scientific and technical organizations, even when the criticism was for a purely academic audience.

The government exerted influence over art exhibits, music, and other cultural activities by requiring numerous authorizations.

Many activists reported Ministry of Public Security officials threatened university leaders if they did not expel activists engaged in peaceful activities from their respective universities and pressured them and their family members not to attend certain workshops. Multiple activists also reported academic institutions refused to allow them or their children to graduate due to their advocacy of human rights.

b. Freedoms of Peaceful Assembly and Association

The government restricted the freedoms of peaceful assembly and association.

Freedom of Peaceful Assembly

The government restricted freedom of peaceful assembly. Laws and regulations require persons wishing to gather in a group to apply for a permit, which local authorities issued or denied without explanation. Only those arranging publicized gatherings to discuss sensitive matters appeared to require permits. The government generally did not permit any demonstrations that could be perceived as political. The law permits security forces to detain individuals gathering or protesting outside of courthouses during trials. Persons routinely gathered in informal groups without government interference so long as the gathering was not perceived as political or a threat to the state.

The Ministry of Public Security and local police routinely prevented activists from peacefully assembling. There were numerous reports of police dispersing gatherings of environmental activists, land rights advocates, human rights defenders, bloggers and independent journalists, and former political prisoners. For example, on July 18, local police in Cam Vinh commune of Ha Tinh Province dispersed a gathering of Falun Gong members at a private residence.

Police and plainclothes authorities routinely mistreated, harassed, and assaulted activists and those demonstrating against the government.

Freedom of Association

The constitution affords individuals the right of association, but the government severely restricted the establishment of associations involved in what the government considered “sensitive” activities such as political, religious and labor issues. The country’s legal and regulatory framework includes mechanisms particularly aimed at restricting the freedom of NGOs, including religious organizations, to organize and act. The government generally prohibited the establishment of private, independent organizations, insisting that persons work within established, party-controlled mass organizations, usually under the aegis of the VFF.

Laws and regulations governing NGOs restrict their ability to engage in policy advocacy or conduct research outside of state-sanctioned topics and prohibit organizations focused on social science and technology from operating in fields such as economic policy, public policy, political issues, and a range of other areas considered sensitive. Authorities also did not permit them to distribute policy advocacy positions publicly.

The law requires religious groups to register with authorities and to obtain official approval of their activities. Some unregistered religious groups such as the Vietnam Baptist Convention and independent Pentecostal groups reported government interference.

According to some recognized groups and others attempting to register, implementation of the law varied from province to province. Some registered organizations, including governance, women’s rights, and environment-focused NGOs, reported increased scrutiny of their activities.

c. Freedom of Religion

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

d. Freedom of Movement

The constitution provides for freedom of internal movement, foreign travel, emigration, and repatriation, but the government imposed limits on the movement of individuals, especially those convicted under national security or related charges or outspoken critics of the government.

In-country Movement: Several political activists on probation or under house arrest, along with others not facing such legal restrictions, were officially restricted in their movements. Authorities continued to monitor and selectively restrict the movement of many prominent activists and religious leaders, including Nguyen Dan Que, Pham Ba Hai, Nguyen Hong Quang, Thich Khong Tanh, Tran Ngoc Suong, Le Cong Cau, and Duong Thi Tan. Authorities continued to prevent activists from travelling by preventing them from leaving their houses during events that might draw great public attention. Several activists reported authorities had confiscated their national identification cards, preventing them from traveling domestically by air or conducting routine administrative matters.

During the September trial of 29 villagers from Dong Tam (see section 1.a.), security forces prevented Dong Tam residents, family members of the defendants, and prominent activists from leaving their homes. Villagers alleged government security forces actively stymied their efforts to travel to Hanoi to attend the trial.

Religious leaders were required to specify geographical areas where they would be preaching. Some reported that authorities told them that preaching outside of the approved areas was illegal, although enforcement was inconsistent.

Government restrictions required citizens and resident foreigners to obtain a permit to visit border areas, defense facilities, industrial zones involved in national defense, areas of “national strategic storage,” and “works of extreme importance for political, economic, cultural, and social purposes.”

Citizens (or their hosts) must register with local police when staying overnight in any location outside of their own homes; the government appeared to enforce these requirements more strictly in some Central and Northern Highlands districts. Foreign passport holders must also register to stay in private homes, although there were no known cases of local authorities refusing to allow foreign visitors to stay with friends or family. There were multiple reports of police using the excuse of “checking on residency registration” to intimidate and harass activists and prevent them from traveling outside of their place of registration (see sections 1.d. and 1.f.).

Authorities did not strictly enforce residency laws for the general population, and migration from rural areas to cities continued unabated. Moving without permission, however, hampered persons from obtaining legal residence permits, public education, and health-care benefits.

Foreign Travel: Prospective emigrants occasionally encountered difficulties obtaining a passport or exit permission, and authorities regularly confiscated passports of activists and government critics, at times indefinitely. There were multiple reports of individuals crossing the land borders with Laos or Cambodia illegally because they were unable to obtain passports or exit permission; in some cases, this included persons wanted for crimes and political or other activism.

The Ministry of Public Security continued to use foreign travel prohibitions against certain activists and religious leaders. Authorities banned and prevented dozens of individuals from traveling overseas, withheld their passports on vague charges, or refused to issue passports to certain activists or religious leaders without clear explanation; activists believed that international travel authorization was denied to reduce those activists’ opportunities to speak out against the Vietnamese government. Authorities also refused to issue passports to the family members of certain activists.

In May authorities refused without explanation to renew the passport of Catholic priest Nguyen Van Toan. Father Toan, who had a record of making critical statements about the government and participating in protests, later said he found a notation stating his passport was not renewed because he “conducted activities aimed at overthrowing the people’s administration.”

e. Status and Treatment of Internally Displaced Persons

Not applicable.

f. Protection of Refugees

The government generally did not cooperate with UNHCR and other organizations regarding treatment of internally displaced persons, refugees, asylum seekers, and stateless persons.

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.

g. Stateless Persons

According to 2019 UNHCR statistics, there were approximately 30,600 recognized stateless persons and persons of undetermined nationality in the country. This was a substantial increase from the estimated 11,000 stateless persons acknowledged in 2016, due to increased government effort to identify such persons. The bulk of this population are ethnic H’mong living in border areas, but it also included a number of women who lost their citizenship after marrying a foreigner but then lost their foreign citizenship, primarily because of divorce. In the past, the government naturalized stateless ethnic Vietnamese who had lived in Cambodia, but there was no information on naturalization efforts or options for those identified as stateless persons during the year.

Section 3. Freedom to Participate in the Political Process

Citizens could not choose their government through free, fair, and periodic elections based on universal and equal suffrage and conducted by a secret ballot that guaranteed free expression and the will of the people. Although the constitution provides the ability to elect representatives to the National Assembly, people’s councils, and other state agencies directly, constitutional and legal provisions established a monopoly on political power for the CPV, and the CPV oversaw all elections. National Assembly elections take place once every five years by secret ballot. The constitution sets the voting age at 18 and allows candidates to run for election to the National Assembly or people’s council at 21. The last National Assembly election took place in 2016; the next one was scheduled for 2021.

Elections and Political Participation

Recent Elections: The 2016 National Assembly elections allowed limited competition among CPV-vetted candidates but were neither free nor fair, and the government did not allow NGO monitoring. The CPV’s Fatherland Front chose and vetted all candidates through an opaque, multistage process. CPV candidates won 475 of the 496 seats. The remaining 21 were non-CPV candidates unaffiliated with any party. There were no candidates from a party other than the CPV.

According to the government, 99 percent of eligible voters cast ballots in the 2016 election, a figure activists and international observers considered improbably high. Voters may cast ballots by proxy, and officials charged local authorities with ensuring that all eligible voters cast ballots by organizing group voting and verifying that all voters within their jurisdiction had voted. There were numerous reports throughout the country that election officials stuffed ballot boxes to create the illusion of high turnout.

The law allows citizens to “self-nominate” as National Assembly candidates and submit applications for the VFF election-vetting process. In the months leading up to the 2016 National Assembly elections, an informal coalition of legal reformers, academics, activists, and human rights defenders attempted to register as self-nominated, non-CPV “activist independent” candidates. In contrast to the party’s candidates, these candidates actively used Facebook and social media to advertise their policy platforms. VFF officials refused, however, to qualify any of these candidates, and authorities instructed official media to criticize some of them. According to press reports, the VFF allowed two self-nominated candidates on final ballots, but both individuals were party members.

Political Parties and Political Participation: Political opposition movements and other political parties are illegal. Although the constitution states that “all Party organizations and members of the CPV operate within the framework of the constitution and the laws,” the CPV politburo in fact functioned as the supreme national decision-making body, although technically it reported to the CPV Central Committee.

Participation of Women and Members of Minority Groups: No laws limit participation of women or members of minority groups in the political process. The law sets a target of 35 percent of final candidates for the National Assembly and provincial people’s councils to be women and 18 percent of final candidates for the National Assembly to be from minority groups. The 132 women in the National Assembly comprise 27 percent of the body. The 86 ethnic minority delegates comprise 18 percent of the assembly.

Section 4. Corruption and Lack of Transparency in Government

Although the law provides criminal penalties for corruption by officials, the government did not implement the law effectively, and officials engaged in corrupt practices with impunity. This included existing and retired officials from the politburo, central party, military, and public security services.

Corruption: The lack of public consultation on land-use plans and government land compensation frameworks was the primary driver of corrupt land transfers, the major type of corruption. Corruption in financial, banking, natural resource mining, and public investment sectors also remained significant political and social problems.

The Ministry of Public Security reported it processed 123 corruption cases in the first six months of the year. Media outlets reported that in the first six months of the year, the CPV punished 186 party members for corruption. Among those punished were former ministers, former deputy ministers, and provincial leaders.

On September 20, the people’s court of Ho Chi Minh City sentenced retired vice chairman of the Ho Chi Minh City People’s Committee, Nguyen Thanh Tai, to eight years in prison for “violating regulations on management and use of state assets” for allowing a group of investors to acquire a state-owned land lot in 2007 without a proper bidding process.

Financial Disclosure: The law requires all state officials, commissioned officers of police and military forces, career military personnel, holders of positions as deputy manager and above in public service agencies and state-owned enterprises, and state enterprise financial management officers to disclose to their agency their income and assets within 10 days from the date of designation or employment. Any change of 300 million dong ($15,000) or greater requires an additional declaration. Directors of provincial departments and higher ranks or persons in charge of official management, management of public funds, public property or public investment, or who have influence over the operation of other entities as prescribed by the government are required to submit annual disclosures; nominees to be National Assembly and people’s councils’ delegates are required to do so in line with the voting law. The law provides for reprimand, warning, suspension, or removal for noncompliance.

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

The government did not permit independent, local human rights organizations to form or operate, nor did it tolerate attempts by organizations or individuals to criticize its human rights practices publicly. Some activists reported receiving death threats from plainclothes individuals they believed were associated with the government. The United Nations received reports of reprisals against human rights activists from Vietnam who participated in international fora, including Vietnam’s Universal Periodic Review in 2019.

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

Women

Rape and Domestic Violence: The law prohibits using or threatening violence against women, including rape, spousal rape, “other sexual contacts,” and “forced sex crimes.” It also criminalizes the rape of men. Conviction for rape is punishable by imprisonment of up to 15 years, depending on the severity of the case. Authorities prosecuted rape cases but did not release arrest, prosecution, conviction, or punishment statistics. There was little information on the prevalence of rape or on reporting of the crime.

Authorities treated domestic violence cases as civil cases unless the victim suffered injuries to more than 11 percent of the body. The law specifies acts constituting domestic violence and stipulates punishments for convicted perpetrators ranging from warnings to imprisonment for up to three years.

Domestic violence against women was common. The Women’s Union reported in November 2019 that at least 58 percent of married women were worried about domestic violence on a daily basis and that 87 percent did not seek help. Officials acknowledged domestic violence was a significant social concern, and media discussed it openly. Social stigma prevented many survivors from coming forward due to fear of harassment from their spouses or family.

While police and the legal system generally remained unequipped to deal with cases of domestic violence, the government, with the help of international and domestic NGOs, continued to train police, lawyers, community advocates, and judicial officials in the law; supported workshops and seminars that aimed to educate women and men about domestic violence and women’s rights; and highlighted the problem through public-awareness campaigns.

Sexual Harassment: The law prohibits sexual harassment in the workplace. Publications and ethics training for public servants did not, however, mention the problem of sexual harassment.

In serious cases victims may sue offenders outside the workplace under a law that deals with “humiliating other persons” and specifies punishments for conviction that include a warning, noncustodial reform for up to two years, or a prison term ranging from three months to two years.

Reproductive Rights: The constitution stipulates that society, families, and all citizens implement “the population and family planning program.” The law affirms an individual’s right to choose contraceptive methods; to access gynecological diagnosis, treatment, and check-ups during pregnancy; and to obtain medical services when giving birth at health facilities. The government generally enforced these provisions.

The law states that couples or individuals have the right to give birth to one or two children, with exceptions based on government decree. There is no legal provision punishing most citizens who have more children than the stipulated number, although regulatory penalties apply to CPV members and public-sector officials.

The CPV, certain ministries, and some localities issued their own regulations, applying only to party members and government officials, regarding family size. A politburo decree subjects party members to reprimand if they have three children, removes them from a ranking position if they have four, and expels them from the CPV if they have five. Violating the decree also decreases the likelihood of promotion and may lead to job termination. The CPV did not enforce these provisions consistently.

The Population and Reproductive Health Strategy for 2011-20 applies to all citizens and strives to maintain the average number of children per reproductive-age couple at 1.8. The government, primarily through broad media campaigns, maintained its strong encouragement of family planning.

Access to sexual and reproductive health services was provided to all persons, including survivors of sexual violence.

Coercion in Population Control: There were no reports of coerced abortion or involuntary sterilization on the part of government authorities.

The constitution stipulates society, families, and all citizens implement “the population and family planning program,” which allows couples or individuals the right to have one or two children, with exceptions based on government decree. No legal provision punishes citizens who have more than two children.

The CPV and certain government ministries and local governments issued their own regulations on family size for their staff. A decree issued by the politburo, for example, subjects CPV members to official reprimand if they have three children, removes them from a ranking position if they have four children, and expels them from the CPV if they have five children. Violating the decree also decreases the likelihood of promotion and may lead to job termination. The CPV did not enforce these provisions consistently.

Discrimination: The law provides for gender equality, but women continued to face societal discrimination. Despite the large body of law and regulation devoted to protecting women’s rights in marriage and the workplace as well as provisions that call for preferential treatment, women did not always receive equal treatment in employment, education, or housing, particularly in rural areas.

Although the law provides for equal inheritance rights for men and women, a son was more likely to inherit property than a daughter, unless otherwise specified by a legal document such as a will.

Gender-biased Sex Selection: According to 2019 data from the Ministry of Health, the average male to female sex ratio at birth was 111.5 boys to 100 girls, far from the natural norm of 104-106 boys to 100 girls. To address the issue of gender-biased sex selection, the government prohibits gender identification prior to birth and gender-based violence and discrimination. Violations of these provisions are subject to fines or even imprisonment. At the local or provincial level, some authorities give cash incentives for giving birth to female children. For example, Hau Giang provincial authorities awarded couples that give birth to two female children a one-time payment of 390,000 to 1.3 million dong ($17 to $56). In some provinces women enjoy preferences in such areas as education, vocational training, and starting a business.

Children

Birth Registration: By law the government considers anyone born to a citizen parent to be a citizen. Persons born to non-Vietnamese parents may also acquire citizenship under certain circumstances.

Children born to stateless parents or to a stateless mother and unknown father may acquire Vietnamese citizenship if the stateless parents or stateless mother are permanent residents, making the process difficult in most cases.

The law requires a birth certificate to access public services, such as education and health care. Nonetheless, some parents, especially from ethnic minorities, chose not to register their children, and local authorities prevented some parents from registering children to discourage internal migration.

Education: By law education is free, compulsory, and universal through age 14, but school fees were common. Under a government subsidy program, ethnic-minority students were exempt from paying school fees. Authorities also did not always enforce required attendance laws or enforce them equally for boys and girls, especially in rural areas, where government and family budgets for education were limited and children’s labor in agriculture was valuable.

Gender gaps in education declined, but certain gaps remained. There were substantial differences in the education profile of men and women at the postsecondary level, notably in applied technology programs.

The government sometimes denied education to children from families not registered in their locality, with particular discriminatory effect on H’mong communities in the Central Highlands and on the children of some political and religious activists.

Child Abuse: The government did not effectively enforce existing laws on child abuse, and physical and emotional mistreatment was common.

Observers concurred that violence against children occurred in many settings including schools and homes and was usually inflicted by someone known to the child. The most common types of school violence were bullying and corporal punishment by teachers. The number of reported cases of child abuse, especially child sexual abuse, was increasing. UNICEF stated in July 2019 there were no effective interdisciplinary child- and gender-sensitive procedures or processes for handling child-abuse reports and that the responsibilities of government agencies were unclear. The child protection workforce, from social workers to relevant professionals such as police, judges, prosecutors, teachers, and medical experts, was poorly trained, uninformed, and generally insufficient to address the problem, especially at local levels.

Child, Early, and Forced Marriage: The legal minimum age of marriage is 18 for girls and 20 for boys, and the law criminalizes organizing marriage for, or entering into marriage with, an underage person.

Sexual Exploitation of Children: The law criminalizes all acts of sale or deprivation of liberty of children as well as all acts related to the exploitation of children in prostitution and forced child labor for children younger than 16. The exploitation of children in prostitution is not fully criminalized for 16- and 17-year-old children. Sentences for those convicted range from three years’ to life imprisonment and significant fines. The law specifies prison sentences for conviction of acts related to the exploitation of children in prostitution, including harboring prostitution (12 to 20 years), brokering prostitution (seven to 15 years), and buying sex with minors (three to 15 years). The production, distribution, dissemination, or sale of child pornography is illegal, and a conviction carries a sentence of three to 10 years’ imprisonment. The country is a destination for child sex tourism.

The law prohibits all acts of cruel treatment, humiliation, abduction, sale, and coercion of children into any activities harmful to their healthy development and provides for the protection and care of disadvantaged children.

The minimum age for consensual sex is 18. Conviction for statutory rape may result in life imprisonment or capital punishment. Penalties for sex with minors between the ages of 16 and 18 vary from five to 10 years in prison, depending upon the circumstances. The penalty for rape of a child between the ages of 13 and 16 is seven to 15 years’ imprisonment. If the victim becomes pregnant, the rape is incestuous, or the offender is in a guardianship position to the victim, the penalty increases to 12 to 20 years’ imprisonment. The law considers all cases of sexual intercourse with children younger than 13 to be child rape, with sentences ranging from 12 years’ imprisonment to death. The government enforced the law, and convicted rapists received harsh sentences.

Displaced Children: Media outlets reported approximately 22,000 children lived on the streets and sometimes experienced police harassment, sexual exploitation, and abuse.

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

Anti-Semitism

There were small communities of Jewish foreigners in Hanoi and Ho Chi Minh City; there were no reports of anti-Semitic acts.

Trafficking in Persons

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

Persons with Disabilities

The constitution provides for the protection of persons with mental and physical disabilities. The law prohibits discrimination against or mistreatment of persons with physical disabilities, mental disabilities, or both and protects their right to access education and other state services, but the government struggled to enforce these provisions. Persons with disabilities faced widespread social stigmatization. The law protects the rights of persons with disabilities, including their access to education, employment, health services, information, communications, buildings, transport, the judicial system, and other state services; however, the majority of persons with disabilities faced challenges in exercising their rights.

Services for persons with disabilities were often unavailable, and declared policies were not implemented. For example, while the law requires new construction or major renovations of government and large public buildings to include access for persons with disabilities, enforcement was sporadic, particularly outside major cities.

Access to education for children with disabilities, particularly deaf children and those with intellectual disabilities, remained extremely limited.

There is no legal restriction on the right of persons with disabilities to vote, but many polling stations were inaccessible to persons with physical disabilities.

While the provision of social services to persons with disabilities remained limited, the government made some efforts to support the establishment of organizations of persons with disabilities and consulted them in the development or review of national programs, such as the National Poverty Reduction Program, vocational laws, and various education policies. The National Committee on Disabilities, the Vietnam Federation on Disability, and their members from various ministries worked with domestic and foreign organizations to provide protection, support, physical access, education, and employment. The government operated a small network of rehabilitation centers to provide long-term, in-patient physical therapy.

NGOs reported they continued to face challenges applying for funding and offering training for disability-related programs from certain provincial governments, which hampered access for international experts to conduct training.

Members of National/Racial/Ethnic Minority Groups

The law prohibits discrimination against ethnic minorities, but societal discrimination was longstanding and persistent. Local officials in some provinces, notably in the highlands, discriminated against members of ethnic and religious minority groups. Despite the country’s significant economic growth, the economic gap between many ethnic minority communities and ethnic majority communities persisted. Ethnic minority group members constituted a sizable percentage of the population in certain areas, including the Northwest, Central Highlands, and portions of the Mekong Delta.

International human rights organizations and refugees continued to allege that authorities monitored, harassed, and intimidated members of certain ethnic minority groups, particularly ethnoreligious minorities in the Central and Northwest Highlands, including Christian H’mong. Local officials in several provinces in the Central Highlands, including Doan Ket village, Dak Ngo commune, Tuy Duc District, and Dak Nong Province, continue to deny registration to more than 1,000 H’mong Christians who had migrated there in recent years, according to an NGO. As a result, school officials did not allow the H’mong children to attend school.

Some members of these groups fled to Cambodia and Thailand, seeking refugee status as victims of oppression; the government claimed these individuals were illegal migrants who left the country in pursuit of economic opportunities. Human rights groups stated the government pressured Cambodia and Thailand to deny these individuals refugee or temporary asylum seeker status and to return them to Vietnam.

Authorities used national security laws to impose lengthy prison sentences on members of ethnic minorities for their connections to overseas organizations the government claimed espoused separatist aims. In addition, activists often reported an increased presence of Ministry of Public Security agents on historically significant days and holidays in regions inhabited by ethnoreligious minorities.

Government programs meant to address the socioeconomic gap between ethnic minorities and the majority community continued, and the government also continued to allocate land to ethnic minorities in the Central Highlands, although land expropriation in these areas was also common.

The government worked with local education officials to develop local-language curricula. Implementation was more comprehensive in the Central Highlands and the Mekong Delta than in the Northwest Highlands. The government also subsidized several technical and vocational schools for ethnic minorities.

The government granted preferential treatment to domestic and foreign companies that invested in highland areas populated predominantly by ethnic minorities. In addition the government supported infrastructure development programs that targeted poor, largely ethnic-minority areas and established agricultural extension programs for remote rural areas.

HIV and AIDS Social Stigma

Individuals with HIV continued to face discrimination when obtaining and holding employment. Being arrested and detained in compulsory rehabilitation centers for continued use of heroin or methamphetamine also prevented drug users from accessing HIV and health services, although such treatment is considered a basic right of such patients.

Section 7. Worker Rights

a. Freedom of Association and the Right to Collective Bargaining

The law provides for the right of workers to form and join unions under the Vietnam General Confederation of Labor (VGCL), a CPV-run organization. The VGCL, however, answers directly to the VFF, which does not protect trade unions from government interference in or control over union activity. The labor code adopted in November 2019 and coming into force in January 2021 allows workers to form or join an independent employee representative organization of their choosing that does not have to be affiliated with VGCL. Only citizens may form or join labor unions.

The law limits freedom of association by not allowing trade unions full autonomy in administering their affairs. All unions must follow the organizational and operational guidelines prescribed by the CPV and law. The law confers on the VGCL ownership of all trade-union property and gives it the right to represent lower-level unions. By law trade union leaders and officials are not elected by union members, but are appointed.

The law requires that if a workplace trade union does not exist, the next level “trade union” must perform the tasks of a grassroots union, even where workers have not so requested or have voluntarily elected not to organize.

For nonunionized workers to organize a strike, they must request the strike “be organized and led by the upper-level trade union.” If nonunionized workers wish to bargain collectively, the upper-level VGCL union must represent them.

The law prohibits strikes by workers in businesses the government considers essential to the national economy, defense, or public order. “Essential services” include electricity production; post and telecommunications; and maritime and air transportation, navigation, public works, and oil and gas production. The law also grants the chairmen of provincial people’s committees the right to suspend a strike considered detrimental to the national economy or public safety.

The law prohibits strikes at the sector or industry level and prohibits workers and unions from calling for strikes in support of multiemployer contracts.

The law provides for the right of trade unions to organize and lead strikes with substantive and procedural restrictions. The law limits strikes to cases that arise from a collective labor dispute and cases when collective bargaining is not undertaken within the legal timeframes or when a labor arbitration board has not been established. Workers must also provide five days’ prior notification to the employer and the provincial and district level peoples committee labor agents before a strike. Strikes that do not adhere to the process outlined by law are illegal.

The law states the executive committee of a trade union may issue a decision to go on strike only when at least 50 percent of workers support it. Workers must request and exhaust an extensive and cumbersome process of mediation and arbitration before a lawful strike may occur. Unions or workers’ representatives may either appeal decisions of provincial arbitration councils to provincial people’s courts or strike. The law stipulates strikers may not be paid wages while they are not at work. The law prohibits retribution against legal strikers. By law individuals participating in strikes declared illegal by a people’s court and found to have caused damage to their employer are liable for damages, although this has never been enforced.

The law includes provisions that prohibit antiunion discrimination and, nominally, interference in worker organization activities and impose administrative sanctions and fines for violations. The law does not distinguish between workers and managers, however, and fails to prohibit employers’ agents, such as managers, from participating or interfering in union activity.

The labor code, adopted in 2019 and set to take effect on January 1, 2021, includes provisions for collective bargaining.

The government did not effectively enforce applicable laws. There were no penalties for antiunion activities. There was no enforcement against workers for illegal strikes.

According to VGCL statistics as reported in state media, there were 121 wildcat strikes in 2019 and 91 wildcat strikes in the first half of 2020; most occurred in southern provinces. Approximately 82 percent of the strikes were in foreign direct-investment companies (mainly Korean, Taiwanese, Japanese, and Chinese). The strikers sought higher wages, better social insurance, and better meals between shifts. None of the strikes followed the authorized conciliation and arbitration process and thus authorities considered them illegal “wildcat” strikes. The government, however, took no action against the strikers and, on occasion, mediated agreements in the workers’ favor. In some cases the government imposed heavy fines on employers, especially foreign-owned companies, which engaged in illegal practices that led to strikes.

Because it was illegal to establish or seek to establish independent labor unions prior to the new labor code, there were no registered domestic NGOs involved in labor organizing. Local, unregistered labor NGOs, however, supported efforts to raise awareness of worker rights and occupational safety and health issues and to support internal and external migrant workers. Multiple international labor NGOs collaborated with the VGCL to train VGCL-affiliated union representatives in labor organizing, collective bargaining, and other trade union issues. The International Labor Organization (ILO)-International Finance Corporation (IFC) Better Work project reported management participation in trade union activities was a significant issue in apparel and footwear factories.

b. Prohibition of Forced or Compulsory Labor

The constitution and law prohibit forced or compulsory labor. The labor code’s definition of forced labor, however, does not explicitly include debt bondage. The law criminalizes all forms of labor trafficking of adults and children younger than 16. The penalties were not commensurate with those for analogous serious crimes; in fact, the law does not provide any penalty for violating provisions prohibiting forced labor. NGOs continued to report the occurrence of forced labor of men, women, and children (see also section 7.c.).

Labor recruitment firms, most affiliated with state-owned enterprises, and unlicensed brokers reportedly charged workers seeking overseas employment higher fees than the law allows, and they did so with impunity. Those workers incurred high debts and were thus more vulnerable to forced labor, including debt bondage.

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

c. Prohibition of Child Labor and Minimum Age for Employment

The labor code set to take effect on January 1, 2021, establishes that a minor worker is a worker younger than age 18. It states a worker older than age 15 and younger than 18 shall not perform work that might damage the physical or intellectual development and dignity of the minor, such as lifting heavy objects or dealing with alcohol or dangerous chemicals or gases. A minor worker from age 13 up to 15 may perform light jobs from a list from the Minister of Labor, War Invalids and Social Affairs. Children younger than age 13 may work in art and sports in certain circumstances for no more than 20 hours per week. Minor workers must have the permission of their parents. The constitution prohibits child labor.

The government did not effectively enforce the law, and penalties were not commensurate with those for analogous serious crimes.

Illegal child labor was reported in labor-intensive sectors, such as construction, production of garments and textiles, bricks, fish, furniture, footwear, and leather goods, agriculture, and some manufacturing. Local media also reported children working as beggars in gangs whose leaders abused the children and took most of their income. Some children started work as young as 12, and nearly 55 percent of child workers did not attend school.

In the garment sector, children as young as age six reportedly produced garments in conditions of forced labor. The most recently available information from government raids, NGOs, and media reports during the year indicated this was most common in small, privately owned garment factories and informal workshops.

The Ministry of Labor is responsible for enforcing child labor laws and policies. Government officials may fine and, in cases of criminal violations, prosecute employers who violate child labor laws. As part of the government’s 2016-20 National Plan of Action for Children and National Program for Child Protection, the government continued efforts to prevent child labor and specifically targeted children in rural areas, disadvantaged children, and children at risk of exposure to hazardous work conditions.

International and domestic NGOs noted successful partnerships with provincial governments to implement national-level policies combatting child labor.

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

d. Discrimination with Respect to Employment and Occupation

The law prohibits discrimination based on gender, race, disability, color, social class, marital status, belief, religion, HIV-status, and membership in a trade union or participation in trade union activities in employment, labor relationships, and work but not explicitly in all aspects of employment and occupation. The law does not prohibit discrimination based on political opinion, age, language, national origin, sexual orientation, or gender identity. Penalties for discrimination were not commensurate with those under laws related to civil rights.

No laws prohibit employers from asking about family or marital status during job interviews.

The labor code set to take effect on January 1, 2021, includes a definition of sexual harassment and assigns employer responsibility for its prevention. Employers must implement regulations against sexual harassment in the workplace and include it as possible grounds for dismissal.

The government did not effectively enforce employment discrimination laws but did take some action to address employment discrimination against persons with disabilities. Companies with a workforce composed of at least 51 percent employees with disabilities may qualify for special government-subsidized loans.

Discriminatory hiring practices existed, including discrimination related to gender, age, disability, and marital status. Women were expected to retire at age 60, compared with age 62 for men, affecting women’s ability to rise to managerial ranks and have higher incomes and pensions. Under the new labor code beginning in 2021, the retirement ages of employees in normal working conditions shall be 60 years and three months for men, and 55 years and four months for women, and shall increase by three months for men and four months for women each consecutive year.

Women-led enterprises had limited access to credit and international markets. Female workers earned, per year, an average of one month’s income less than male workers. Many women older than 35 found it difficult to find a job, and there were reports of women receiving termination letters at the age of 35. The VGCL’s Institute of Workers and Trade Unions noted women older than 35 accounted for approximately one-half of all unemployed workers in the country. Legal restrictions exist against women in certain occupations and tasks, including jobs deemed “hazardous” in industries such as mining, construction, and transportation.

Social barriers and the limited accessibility of many workplaces remained problems in the employment of persons with disabilities.

e. Acceptable Conditions of Work

The minimum wage varies by region. In all regions the minimum wage exceeds the World Bank official poverty income level.

The law provides for a 48-hour regular workweek, with overtime payment for additional hours worked. The labor code set to take effect on January 1, 2021, limits overtime to 40 hours per month, an increase from 30 hour per month. The new code limits overtime to 200 hours per year, but it provides for an exception in special cases, with a maximum of 300 overtime hours annually, subject to advance approval by the government after consultations with the VGCL and employer representatives.

The new labor code broadens the definition of “employment relationship” so that a legally valid employment relationship exists where two parties agree to a document that includes a description of the job, salary, management, and supervision conditions. The code creates the possibility that where a contract with an “independent contractor,” “service provider,” “freelancer,” or other informal agreement between two or more parties contains employment-like terms, it may be recognized as a formal labor contract. The new labor code also limits the repeated use of limited-term contracts. The law extends protection to part-time and domestic workers.

The law provides for occupational safety and health standards, describes procedures for persons who are victims of labor accidents and occupational diseases, and delineates the responsibilities of organizations and individuals in the occupational safety and health fields. The law provides for the right of workers to remove themselves from situations that endanger health or safety without jeopardy to their employment.

The Ministry of Labor, War Invalids, and Social Affairs is the principal labor authority, and it oversees the enforcement of labor law. The Labor Inspections Department is responsible for workplace inspections to confirm compliance with labor laws and occupational safety and health standards. Inspectors have the authority to make unannounced inspections and initiate sanctions. Inspectors may use sanctions, fines, withdrawal of operating licenses or registrations, closures of enterprises, and mandatory training in response to labor law violations. Inspectors may take immediate measures where they have reason to believe there is an imminent and serious danger to the health or safety of workers, including temporarily suspending operations, although such measures were rare. Penalties for wage and hour and occupational safety and health violations were commensurate with those for similar crimes, such as fraud.

The number of inspectors was not sufficient to enforce compliance. The government did not effectively enforce labor laws, particularly in the informal economy.

Credible reports, including from the ILO-IFC Better Work 2019 Annual Report, indicated many apparel and footwear factories exceeded legal overtime thresholds and did not meet legal requirements for rest days. The ILO-IFC report stated that, while a majority of factories in the program complied with the daily limit of four hours overtime, 77 percent still failed to enforce monthly limits (30 hours) and 69 percent exceeded annual limits (300 hours). In addition, and due to the high prevalence of Sunday work, 40 percent of factories failed to provide at least four days of rest per month to all workers.

Migrant workers, including internal economic migrants, and uncontracted laborers were among the most vulnerable workers, and employers routinely subjected them to hazardous working conditions. Members of ethnic minority groups often worked in the informal economy and, according to the ILO, informal workers typically had low and irregular incomes, endured long working hours, and lacked protection by labor market institutions. Additionally, workers in the informal sector are only eligible to pay into a voluntary social insurance fund covering only retirement and survivors’ allowances. Workers in the formal sector and their employers contributed to a system that covers sickness, maternity, labor accidents, and occupational disease as well as retirement and survivors’ allowances.

On-the-job injuries due to poor health and safety conditions and inadequate employee training remained a problem. Work-related injuries and deaths remained at approximately the same level in 2019 (most recent data) and 2018. In 2019 the government reported 8,150 occupational accidents with 8,327 victims, including 927 fatal incidents with 979 deaths. Among the deaths, 610 incidents involved contracted laborers, while 369 incidents involved uncontracted laborers.