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. As of August 31, the National Civil Police (PNC) and its Office of Professional Responsibility (ORP), the mechanism for investigating security force abuses, reported no complaints of homicide.
On August 16, Mara Salvatrucha criminal gang members entered one of the largest public hospitals and killed five civilian bystanders and two prison guards. The assailants freed a fellow gang member who was being treated at the hospital. The PNC arrested five suspects and the Public Ministry linked four to the case, which was under investigation at year’s end.
The case regarding the 2015 killing of Hector Donaldo Contreras Sanchez was in the intermediary pretrial phase at year’s end. In 2016 authorities arrested 13 members of the San Juan Sacatepequez military brigade for the alleged extrajudicial killing.
In January 2016 the Public Ministry arrested 14 high-ranking former military officers on charges of human rights violations for hundreds of extrajudicial killings during the 1960-96 internal armed conflict. The charges were based on the discovery of mass graves in Coban, Alta Verapa, at the Regional Training Command for Peacekeeping Operations (CREOMPAZ), formerly the Military Zone 2 base during the conflict. Known as the CREOMPAZ case, it was assigned to a special high-risk court created in 2009 with competence to hear cases that posed a serious risk to the security of judges, the prosecutor, the defense, or any other individual involved in the case. In 2016 the court found sufficient evidence to send eight individuals to trial, but the Public Ministry appealed the exclusion of a number of charges in the proceedings. At year’s end the trial was pending resolution of the various appeals by the Public Ministry, joint complainants in the case, and defense lawyers. In March the Supreme Court ruled to remove the immunity of Congressman Edgar Ovalle, one of the suspects in the case. Ovalle disappeared before authorities were able to arrest him and remained a fugitive at year’s end.
On October 13, two separate trials began against former head of state Efrain Rios Montt and former intelligence chief Jose Mauricio Rodriguez Sanchez in the case of genocide involving the Maya Ixil community. In 2013 Rios Montt was found guilty of genocide and crimes against humanity during his presidency (1982-83) and sentenced to 80 years in prison. The Constitutional Court later overturned the conviction on procedural grounds and returned the case to be retried. In 2015 a high-risk court determined Rios Montt was mentally unfit for public trial but ordered the trial be held behind closed doors and with a guardian present. It also ruled any verdict could be used only to determine reparations to the victims and that Rios Montt could not be sentenced to prison. In May the Center for Human Rights Legal Action filed a complaint against former constitutional court magistrates for breach of legal duty after obtaining videos of their deliberations during the decision to annul Rios Montt’s genocide sentence. At year’s end the Public Ministry had not moved the case forward for an initial hearing.
In 2016 a high-risk court dismissed a motion in the 1982 Dos Erres massacre case by the defense team to suspend criminal prosecution for genocide and crimes against humanity. The defense argued that Rios Montt was mentally unfit to stand trial. The case remained in the intermediary pretrial phase, and a date for the next hearing had not been set by year’s end.
As of August the government had paid approximately 23.9 million quetzales ($3.26 million) in individual reparations to families affected by the Chixoy hydroelectric dam. The government also appropriated 121.3 million quetzales ($16.5 million) for collective reparations, which government authorities believed could be delayed until early 2018 due to the fact the proposed community projects were undergoing feasibility studies. During the dam’s construction from 1975 to 1985, more than 400 individuals died and thousands were displaced. As part of a 2014 reparations agreement, the government agreed to pay 1.15 billion quetzales ($156 million) over 15 years in individual and community reparations.
There were no reports during the year of disappearances by or on behalf of government authorities. The government took actions to investigate and prosecute cases of forced disappearances from the internal armed conflict period. In 2016, four high-ranking retired army officers were arrested for the 1981 forced disappearance of minor Marco Antonio Molina Theissen. The Attorney General’s Office presented additional charges against retired army general Benedicto Lucas Garcia, who was also charged in the CREOMPAZ mass graves case. In July the final phase of the preliminary hearings concluded. The trial date for the case was set for March 2018.
Although the constitution and law prohibit torture and other cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment or punishment, there were credible reports of abuse and other mistreatment by PNC members.
On September 18, trial proceedings began for PNC agents Carlos Baten Perez, Rogelio Perez Hernandez, Nancy Evelia Rodriguez Alai, and Cesar Augusto Funes Morales for the torture and illegal detention of four suspects in 2015 in the Villa Nueva suburb of Guatemala City.
Prison and Detention Center Conditions
Prison conditions were harsh and potentially life threatening, with multiple instances of inmates killing other inmates. Sexual assault, inadequate sanitation and medical care, and gross overcrowding placed prisoners at significant risk.
Physical Conditions: Prison overcrowding was a problem. As of August 25, according to the prison system registry, there were 22,660 inmates, including 2,240 women, held in facilities designed to hold 6,800 persons. Physical conditions including sanitation and bathing facilities, dental and medical care, ventilation, temperature control, and lighting were wholly inadequate. Prisoners had difficulty obtaining potable water, complained of inadequate food, and often had to pay for additional sustenance. Illegal drug sales and use was widespread. Prison officials reported safety and control problems, including escape attempts, gang fights, inability to control the flow of contraband goods into prisons, and the fabrication of weapons. Prisoners conducted criminal activity both inside and outside of prisons. From January through August 25, at least 13 inmates died of unnatural causes while in prison.
Media reported that transnational criminal gangs and drug trafficking groups controlled major prison centers. In 2016 prisoner Byron Lima Oliva, a former army captain charged with the murder of human rights defender Bishop Juan Jose Gerardi, was killed along with 13 others in the Pavon prison. On August 2, the PNC arrested six suspects. On November 23, a judge indicted 17 individuals arrested in the case. At year’s end the Public Ministry, with CICIG support, moved the case forward to preliminary hearings.
Conditions for male and female prisoners were generally comparable throughout the country. Media and nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) reported female and juvenile inmates faced continuing physical and sexual abuse. Female inmates reported unnecessary body searches and verbal abuse by prison guards. Children under age four could live in prison with their mothers, although the penitentiary system provided inadequate food for young children and many suffered from illness. Lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and intersex (LGBTI) rights groups stated that other prisoners often sexually assaulted LGBTI individuals and that there were insufficient facilities to protect LGBTI individuals in custody. The Ministry of Government approved initial admittance procedures for LGBTI prisoners in 2015. NGOs claimed, however, the protocols were not being implemented and noted particular concern regarding admittance procedures for transgender individuals. Frequent leadership turnover in the prison system exacerbated these problems. Occasionally authorities held pretrial detainees together with convicted prisoners, juveniles with adults, and male with female detainees.
Media reported similar conditions of abuse and overcrowding at the four juvenile detention centers administered separately by the Secretariat of Social Welfare. Crowding led to nonviolent juvenile offenders being held with violent adult offenders. On July 3 and July 24, riots occurred at the Las Gaviotas juvenile detention facility, resulting in injuries to dozens of prisoners. The riots were sparked by the killing of two inmates. The facility received citations in 2016 for housing 460 inmates in a facility designed for 250 and for dangerous and inhuman conditions.
Administration: The government’s Office of the Human Rights Ombudsman (PDH) and the National Office for the Prevention of Torture (NOPT), both independent entities, are responsible for prisoner rights, receiving complaints, and conducting oversight of the prison system. The PDH and NOPT may submit recommendations to the prison system based on complaints. No independent agency or unit, however, has a mandate to change or implement policy or to act on behalf of prisoners and detainees. Congress delayed the election of NOPT rapporteurs by more than six months, while the PDH and civil society reported former rapporteurs were inactive and ineffective in their oversight mandate.
While the law requires authorities to permit prisoners and detainees to submit complaints to judicial authorities without censorship and request investigation of credible allegations of inhuman conditions, authorities failed to investigate most allegations of inhuman conditions and treatment or to document the results of such investigations in a publicly accessible manner.
Independent Monitoring: The government permitted visits by local and international human rights groups, the Organization of American States, public defenders, and religious groups. The PDH and the NOPT also periodically visited prison facilities. The PDH reported it was sometimes difficult to gain access to the juvenile detention centers administered by the Secretariat of Social Welfare.
Improvements: During the year authorities implemented a correctional model to address corruption and overcrowding as well as the lack of personnel, equipment, and infrastructure in the penitentiary system. The model provided opportunities for the rehabilitation, education, and social reintegration of inmates and improved recruitment, selection, and training of staff. In March the first model correction center opened; it housed 63 female inmates by year’s end.
The constitution and law prohibit arbitrary arrest and detention, but there were credible reports of extrajudicial arrests, illegal detentions, and denial of timely access to a magistrate and hearing as required by law. Suspects are entitled to challenge in court the legal basis or arbitrary nature of their detention. If successful, their release usually took several days. There was no compensation for those ruled unlawfully detained.
ROLE OF THE POLICE AND SECURITY APPARATUS
The PNC, which is overseen by the Ministry of Government and headed by a director general appointed by the ministry, is responsible for law enforcement and maintenance of order in the country. The Ministry of National Defense oversees the military, which focuses primarily on operations in defense of the country, but the government also used the army in internal security and policing as permitted by the constitution.
Civilian authorities in some instances failed to maintain effective control over the PNC, and the government lacked effective mechanisms to investigate and punish abuse and corruption. At times the PNC struggled to deploy its resources effectively across the country.
There were reports of impunity involving security forces. In cases involving police forces, the ORP is responsible for internal investigations and the Public Ministry is responsible for external investigations. Authorities arrested approximately 210 police officials from January through September, compared with 376 in all of 2016. A police reform commission, established by a previous administration, has a legal mandate to make necessary changes to reform police forces. The commission’s infrastructure unit provided design support for the establishment of model police precincts throughout the country.
The ORP reported that from January through August, there were 17 complaints of police extortion and 290 for abuse of authority, compared with 747 and 206, respectively, in all of 2016, according to the Public Ministry’s Strategic Planning Office. The PNC routinely transferred officers suspected of wrongdoing rather than investigating them.
Critics accused police of indiscriminate and illegal detentions when conducting antigang operations in some high-crime neighborhoods. For example, security officials allegedly arrested and imprisoned suspected gang members without warrants or on fabricated drug charges. The local press also reported police involvement in kidnappings for ransom.
In September, Guilber Josue Barrios, a soldier who allegedly drugged and raped a 14-year-old student at a civil military institute administered by the Ministry of Defense in March 2016, was captured in Mexico. On October 9, he was indicted.
The ORP conducted internal investigations of misconduct by police officers. During the first eight months of the year, the ORP reported receiving 1,222 complaints alleging misconduct by police.
All new PNC and soldiers receive some training in human rights and professional ethics. During the year the Ministry of Defense increased its Human Rights Directorate personnel from eight to 13 staff members and incorporated a gender integration unit.
ARREST PROCEDURES AND TREATMENT OF DETAINEES
The law requires presentation of a court-issued warrant to a suspect prior to arrest unless police apprehend a suspect while in the act of committing a crime. Police may not detain a suspect for more than six hours without bringing the case before a judge. Authorities did not regularly respect this right and did not promptly inform some detainees of the charges against them. After arraigning suspects, the prosecutor generally has three months to complete the investigation if the defendant is in pre-trial detentions, and six months to complete the investigation if the defendant is granted house arrest. The law prohibits the execution of search warrants between 6 p.m. and 6 a.m. unless the government has declared a state of siege. Judges may order house arrest for some suspects. The law provides for access to lawyers and bail for most crimes. The government provides legal representation for indigent detainees, and detainees have access to family members. A judge has the discretion to determine whether bail is permissible for pretrial detainees.
Arbitrary Arrest: There were no reliable data on the number of arbitrary detentions. Most accounts, however, indicated that police ignored writs of habeas corpus in cases of illegal detention, particularly during neighborhood antigang operations.
Pretrial Detention: As of August 25, prison system records indicated 50.6 percent of prisoners were in pretrial detention. The law establishes a one-year maximum for pretrial detention, regardless of the stage of the criminal proceeding, but the court has the legal authority to extend pre-trial detention without limits as necessary. Authorities regularly held detainees past their legal trial or release dates. Lengthy investigations and frequent procedural motions by both defense and prosecution often led to lengthy pretrial detentions, delaying trials for months or years. Authorities did not release some prisoners after completing their full sentences due to the failure of judges to issue the necessary court order or other bureaucratic delays.
The constitution and the law provide for an independent judiciary. The judicial system failed to provide fair or timely trials due to inefficiency, corruption, insufficient personnel, and intimidation of judges, prosecutors, and witnesses.
Judges, prosecutors, plaintiffs, and witnesses continued to report threats, intimidation, and surveillance, most often from drug trafficking organizations. By the end of August, the special prosecutor for crimes against judicial workers received 129 complaints of threats or aggression against workers in the judicial branch, compared with 192 through September 2016.
The CICIG assisted the Ministry of Government and Public Ministry with the investigation of cases including allegations of extrajudicial executions, extortion, trafficking in persons, improper adoptions, corruption, and drug trafficking.
The Supreme Court continued to pursue the suspension of judges and conduct criminal investigations of improprieties or irregularities in cases under its jurisdiction. From January through October 6, the Judicial Disciplinary Board investigated 573 complaints against judges of wrongdoing, held hearings on 105 complaints, and applied sanctions in 20 cases. During the same period, the Judicial Disciplinary Unit investigated 1,167 complaints of wrongdoing against technicians and judiciary administrative staff, held hearings on 519 complaints, and applied sanctions in 360 cases, including disciplinary suspension without pay (277 cases) and recommending dismissal (34 cases).
The constitution provides for the right to a fair and public trial, the presumption of innocence, the defendant’s right to be present at trial, and the right to legal counsel in a timely manner. The law requires the government to provide attorneys for defendants facing criminal charges if the defendant cannot find or afford an attorney. Defendants and their attorneys may confront adverse witnesses and present their own witnesses and evidence. The law provides for plea bargaining and the right of appeal. Three-judge panels render verdicts. The law provides for oral trials and mandates free language interpretation for those needing it; however, interpreters were not always available. Officials conduct trials in Spanish, the official language, although many citizens only speak one of the 23 officially recognized indigenous languages.
The Public Ministry, acting semi-independently of the executive branch, may initiate criminal proceedings on its own or in response to a complaint. Private parties may participate in the prosecution of criminal cases as plaintiffs.
POLITICAL PRISONERS AND DETAINEES
There were no reports of political prisoners or detainees.
CIVIL JUDICIAL PROCEDURES AND REMEDIES
Individuals and organizations have access to administrative and judicial remedies to submit lawsuits seeking damages for, or cessation of, a human rights violation or other alleged wrongs. While the judiciary was generally impartial and independent in civil matters, it suffered from inefficiencies, excessive workload, and a legal system that often permits time-consuming but spurious complaints.
The constitution and the law prohibit such actions, and the government generally respected these prohibitions. In September 2016 President Jimmy Morales dismissed Jorge Lopez, the secretary of administrative and security matters of the president, and his deputy, Cesar Sagastume, for alleged illegal surveillance. At year’s end the case was under investigation by the Public Ministry. Media sources reported that former presidential advisor and member of congress Herbert Melgar’s name also appeared in the criminal complaint filed with the Public Ministry. Melgar was not charged, however, and continued to serve in congress.
Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:
The constitution and law provide for freedom of expression, including of the press, and the government generally respected these rights. The intimidation of journalists resulted in significant self-censorship, however.
Press and Media Freedom: There were no legal restrictions on the editorial independence of the media. Reporters covering organized crime, including its links to corrupt public officials, acknowledged practicing self-censorship, recognizing the danger investigative journalism posed to them and their families. Independent media were active and expressed a wide variety of views.
Violence and Harassment: Members of the press continued to report violence and impunity impaired the practice of free and open journalism. Members of the press reported numerous threats by public officials, and criminal organizations increased journalists’ sense of vulnerability.
According to the Public Ministry, 40 complaints were filed for attacks or threats against journalists, and three journalists were killed from January through the middle of September, compared with 87 complaints and eight killings in all of 2016.
The investigation remained open at year’s end regarding the 2016 killing of radio journalist Alvaro Alfredo Aceituno Lopez.
On November 7, the Supreme Court lifted the parliamentary immunity of congressman Julio Antonio Juarez Ramirez based on allegations from the Public Ministry and CICIG that he ordered the killing of journalist Danilo Efrain Zapon Lopez in 2015 in Mazatenango, Suchitepequez. Journalist Federico Benjamin Salazar Geronimo was also killed in the attack and reporter Marvin Tunches was injured. On October 12, Sergio Waldemar Cardona Reyes and German Morataya were convicted and sentenced to 30 and two years in prison, respectively, for their involvement in the Lopez killing.
The Public Ministry employed a unit dedicated to the investigation of threats and attacks against journalists. The NGO Center for Reporting in Guatemala noted that the unit had few resources.
Civil society organizations reported that sexual harassment of female journalists was widespread but rarely reported.
Censorship or Content Restrictions: Members of the press reported receiving pressure, threats, and retribution from various public officials regarding the content of their reporting. Some owners and members of media also accused the government of following a discriminatory advertising policy that penalized or rewarded print and broadcast media based on whether the government perceived the news or commentary as supportive or critical.
The online newsmagazine Nomada reported threats against individual reporters and magazine leadership. Editors used armored vehicles due to fear of attack. After reporting on undisclosed bonuses given by the Ministry of Defense to President Morales, Nomada’s website was targeted in a denial-of-service attack for several days. Nomada published the story on its Facebook account until service was restored. Nomada had experienced similar attacks previously.
Nongovernmental Impact: Organized crime exerted influence over media outlets and reporters, frequently threatening individuals for reporting on criminal activities.
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.
According to the International Telecommunication Union, 35 percent of the population used the internet in 2016.
ACADEMIC FREEDOM AND CULTURAL EVENTS
There were no government restrictions on academic freedom or cultural events.
The constitution provides for the freedoms of peaceful assembly and association, and the government generally respected these rights.
FREEDOM OF ASSOCIATION
The law provides for freedom of association, and the government generally respected this right. There were reports, however, of significant barriers to organizing in the labor sector (see section 7.a.).
See the Department of State’s International Religious Freedom Report at www.state.gov/religiousfreedomreport/.
d. Freedom of Movement, Internally Displaced Persons, Protection of Refugees, and Stateless Persons
The constitution and the law provide for freedom of internal movement, foreign travel, emigration, and repatriation, and the government generally respected these rights. An immigration law passed in September 2016 overhauled the country’s migration system and defined the term “refugee” as well as listing refugees’ rights in accordance with international instruments. The preparation of regulations to implement the law, including on the refugee application process and refugee rights, was underway at year’s end.
The government cooperated with the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) and other humanitarian organizations in providing protection and assistance to refugees, returning refugees, asylum seekers, stateless persons, or other persons of concern.
INTERNALLY DISPLACED PERSONS (IDPS)
The country does not have laws in place to protect internally displaced persons in line with the UN Guiding Principles on Internal Displacement. UNHCR expressed concern regarding violence against IDPs and strengthened its efforts to monitor the problem and provide assistance to the displaced. The country does not officially recognize the existence of IDPs within its borders, with the exception of those displaced by climate change. In June the government evicted an estimated 400 farmers for illegally settling within the Maya Biosphere Reserve. The Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) characterized the evictees as IDPs. Media and civil society reported that the evictees did not receive government assistance in a timely manner.
PROTECTION OF REFUGEES
Access to Asylum: The laws provide for the granting of asylum or refugee status, and the government has established a system for providing protection to refugees. The country approved 39 refugee applications from January through September. The number of asylum applications from El Salvador increased between 2016 and 2017. UNHCR, however, reported that identification and referral mechanisms for potential asylum seekers were inadequate. Both migration and police authorities lacked awareness of the rules for establishing refugee status.
UNHCR reported that access to education for refugees was challenging due to the country’s sometimes onerous requirements for access to formal education, including documentation from the country of origin.
Section 1. Respect for the Integrity of the Person, Including Freedom from:
a. Arbitrary Deprivation of Life and other Unlawful or Politically Motivated Killings
The government and its agents reportedly committed arbitrary or unlawful killings, most commonly by execution after arrest and trial without due process, or for crimes that did not meet the international threshold of “most serious crimes.” As noted by the UN Special Rapporteur (UNSR) on the Situation of Human Rights in the Islamic Republic of Iran, Asma Jahangir, Revolutionary Courts continued to issue the vast majority of death sentences in the country, and trials lacked due process. Legal representation was denied during the investigation phase, and in most cases no evidence other than confessions, often reportedly extracted through torture, was considered.
The government made few attempts to investigate allegations of deaths that occurred after or during torture or other physical abuse or after denying detainees medical treatment. The death penalty may also be imposed on appeal, which deterred appeals in criminal cases.
In the context of the severe fair trial limitations mentioned above, there were at least 437 reported executions as of October, according to NGO Iran Human Rights Documentation Center (IHRDC). The government officially announced 70 executions through October but did not release further information on many of those executions, such as the execution dates, names of those executed, or crimes for which they were executed.
Many executions continued to be carried out in public. According to reports by the IHRDC, there were at least 26 public executions during the year at Rajai Shahr Prison in Karaj (also known as Gohardasht Prison). Reports indicated that these public executions were generally attended by hundreds of individuals, including children. The government also continued regularly to carry out mass executions. According to the NGO Iran Human Rights, at least 12 prisoners were hanged on February 15 at Rajai Shahr Prison.
The law provides for the death penalty in cases of conviction for murder, “attempts against the security of the state,” “outrage against high-ranking officials,” “moharebeh” (which has a variety of broad interpretations, including “waging war against God”), “fisad fil-arz” (corruption on earth, including apostasy or heresy), rape, adultery, drug possession and trafficking, recidivist alcohol use, consensual same-sex sexual conduct, and “insults against the memory of Imam Khomeini and against the Supreme Leader of the Islamic Republic.”
Prosecutors frequently used moharebeh as a criminal charge against political dissidents and journalists, accusing them of “struggling against the precepts of Islam” and against the state that upholds those precepts. Authorities have expanded the scope of this to include “working to undermine the Islamic establishment” and “cooperating with foreign agents or entities.” The judiciary is required to review and validate death sentences.
The majority of executions in the country continued to be for drug-related offenses. Drug offenders, like others, continued to be executed without due process.
In August parliament passed an amendment to the 1997 Law to Combat Drugs that would raise the threshold for the death penalty for drug-related offenses. Under the amended law, capital punishment applies to the possession, sale, or transport of more than approximately 110 pounds of natural drugs, such as opium, or approximately 4.4 to 6.6 pounds of manufactured narcotics, such as heroin or cocaine. According to the old law, capital punishment applied to similar offenses involving slightly more than 11 pounds of natural drugs or two-thirds of a pound of manufactured drugs. Capital punishment, however, still applies to drug offenses involving smaller quantities of narcotics, if the crime is carried out using weapons, employing minors, or involving someone in a leadership role in a trafficking ring or someone who has previously been convicted of drug crimes and given a prison sentence of more than 15 years. The Guardian Council approved the law, and it went into effect on November 14.
The Islamic Penal Code allows for the execution of juvenile offenders starting at age nine for girls and age 13 for boys.
The law allows the judge to determine whether the individual understood the nature and consequences of the crime committed, potentially offering an alternative punishment to the death penalty in certain cases, although reports threw into doubt whether these alternative punishments were applied.
According to an August report by Amnesty International, 89 juvenile offenders were on death row. The government executed at least four juvenile offenders during the year, including Alireza Tajiki, who was executed in August. Tajiki was arrested in 2012 at age 15 and sentenced to death for murder. Reports noted that Tajiki’s trial was unfair and relied on “confessions” Tajiki claimed were made under duress and torture.
In August spiritual leader Mohammad Ali Taheri was sentenced to death on charges of founding a cult and “corruption on earth.” The government labelled Taheri’s movement, variously referred to as Erfan-e Halgheh or Erfan Kayhani, a “satanic” and “deviant sect.” In 2014 Taheri had been sentenced to death on similar charges, although that sentence was annulled in 2015. According to media and NGO reports, the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) also detained dozens of Taheri’s followers during the year.
Adultery remained punishable by death by stoning. According to the NGO Justice for Iran, provincial authorities have been ordered not to provide public information about stoning sentences since 2001. According to Iran Human Rights, in February a man and woman were sentenced to death by stoning by a criminal court in Lorestan Province.
Terrorist groups targeted civilians during the year. ISIS claimed responsibility for the June 7 terrorist attacks in Tehran, which killed at least 12 persons and injured dozens more at the parliament and the mausoleum of Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, the founder of the Islamic Republic of Iran.
There were reports of politically motivated abductions during the year attributed to government officials. In June, Amnesty International reported the forced disappearance on June 23-24 of five ethnic Kurdish men in Sanandaj, Kurdistan Province. Plainclothes officials often seized journalists and activists without warning, and government officials refused to acknowledge custody or provide information on them.
Although the constitution prohibits all forms of torture “for the purpose of extracting confession or acquiring information,” use of physical and mental torture to coerce confessions remains prevalent, especially during pretrial detention. There were credible reports that security forces and prison personnel tortured and abused detainees and prisoners throughout the year.
Commonly reported methods of torture and abuse in prisons included threats of execution or rape, forced virginity and sodomy tests, sleep deprivation, electroshock, burnings, the use of pressure positions, and severe and repeated beatings. UNSR Jahangir highlighted reports of prisoners being subjected to blackmail, beating, and other physical abuse.
Human rights organizations frequently cited some prison facilities, including Evin Prison in Tehran and Rajai Shahr Prison in Karaj, for their use of cruel and prolonged torture of political opponents of the government, particularly Wards 209 and Two of Evin Prison, which were reportedly controlled by the IRGC. Authorities also allegedly maintained unofficial secret prisons and detention centers outside the national prison system where abuse reportedly occurred.
Judicially sanctioned corporal punishments continued. These included flogging, blinding, stoning, and amputation, which the government defends as “punishment,” not torture.
Iran Human Rights reported the case of three prisoners accused of theft having their hands amputated on September 21 at Qom Central Prison.
UNSR Jahangir reported that in January, Hossein Movahedi, a reporter in Najafabad accused of disseminating falsehoods, was flogged for inaccurately reporting the number of student-owned motorcycles impounded by the Najafabad police department.
Extrajudicial punishments involving degrading public humiliation of alleged offenders were also frequently reported throughout the year.
Prison and Detention Center Conditions
Prison conditions were harsh and potentially life threatening due to food shortages, gross overcrowding, physical abuse, and inadequate sanitary conditions and medical care. Prisoner hunger strikes in protest of their treatment were frequent.
Physical Conditions: Overcrowding remained a problem in prisons with many prisoners forced to sleep on floors, in hallways, or in prison yards. The human rights NGO United for Iran, which closely monitored prison conditions, reported in June that the country’s existing prisoner population of approximately 220,000 was three times the capacity of its prisons and detention centers.
There were reported deaths in custody. The Human Rights Activists News Agency (HRANA) reported that on June 19, Fardin Faramarzi died in Sanandaj Central Prison without receiving medical care, despite repeated attempts to obtain care for an undisclosed heart condition and related severe pain.
According to IranWire, guards beat both political and nonpolitical prisoners during raids on wards, performed nude body searches in front of other prisoners, and threatened prisoners’ families. In some instances, according to HRANA, guards singled out political prisoners for harsher treatment.
Prison authorities often refused to provide medical treatment for pre-existing conditions, injuries that prisoners suffered at the hands of prison authorities, or illness due to the poor sanitary conditions in prison. Human rights organizations reported that authorities also used denial of medical care as a form of punishment for prisoners. In March the Center for Human Rights in Iran (CHRI) reported that authorities had denied medical care to Jamaloddin Khanjani and Behrouz Tavakkoli, two of the Bahai leaders imprisoned since 2008.
Medical services for female prisoners in places like Evin Prison were reported as grossly inadequate. Human rights groups highlighted the case of children’s rights activist Atena Daemi, serving a seven-year sentence in Evin Prison during the year for meeting with the families of political prisoners, criticizing the government on Facebook, and condemning the 1988 mass executions of prisoners in the country. Authorities reportedly denied Daemi treatment for kidney infections and complications from gall bladder stones, while an additional charge was brought against her for pretending to be sick.
Frequent water shortages, intolerable heat, unsanitary living spaces, and poor ventilation were regularly reported.
UNSR Jahangir and others condemned the inhuman, life-threatening conditions of Rajai Shahr Prison in Karaj following the hunger strike of numerous political prisoners that began at the end of July. Prisoners protested the sudden transfer of more than 50 political prisoners, including at least 15 Bahais, whom authorities moved without notice from Ward 12 to the prison’s high security Ward 10. Authorities reportedly deprived prisoners of medicine, adequate medical treatment, and personal belongings, and sealed prisoners’ cells with iron sheets that limited air circulation. In her statement issued on August 31, UNSR Jahangir expressed deep alarm at the deteriorating medical conditions of the political prisoners and at reports of their continued torture following the transfer.
Authorities occasionally held pretrial detainees with convicted prisoners. According to HRANA, juvenile detainees were held with adult prisoners in some prisons, including Saghez Central Prison in Kurdistan Province. Authorities held women separately from men.
Mohammad Javad Fat’hi, a member of parliament’s judicial committee, was quoted in media saying that 2,300 children were in prisons during the year with their incarcerated mothers. Fat’hi urged the Prisons Organization to provide transparent statistics on the number of imprisoned mothers. IranWire reported that multiple prisons across the country held older children who lived with their incarcerated mothers without access to medical care or educational and recreational facilities.
There were numerous reports of prisoner suicides throughout the year. According to HRANA, Saeed Naderi Gol Dareh, imprisoned in Ghezelhasar Prison in Karaj on drug-related charges, committed suicide on June 10 by ingesting chemicals.
Administration: Prisoners generally had weekly access to visitors and telephone and other correspondence privileges, but authorities often revoked these privileges. Prisoners practicing a religion other than Shia Islam reported experiencing discrimination while incarcerated. Prisoners were able to submit complaints to judicial authorities but often faced censorship and retribution.
Authorities did not initiate credible investigations into allegations of inhuman conditions. Families of executed prisoners did not always receive notification of their deaths, and authorities frequently denied them the ability to perform funeral rites.
Independent Monitoring: The government did not permit independent monitoring of prison conditions. Prisoners and their families often wrote letters to authorities and, in some cases, to UN bodies to highlight and protest their treatment. The UNSR reported that authorities sometimes threatened prisoners after accusing them of contacting her office.
In July authorities arranged a visit for representatives from numerous foreign diplomatic missions to Evin Prison. According to Amnesty International and other sources, however, the representatives were not allowed unrestricted access to the entire prison.
Prisoner hunger strikes occurred frequently at Evin Prison and elsewhere, and reports on Evin Prison’s inhuman conditions continued. These included infestations with cockroaches and mice, chronic overcrowding, poor ventilation, prisoners being forced to sleep on the floor with little bedding, and insufficient food.
For more information on treatment of political prisoners, see section 1.e., Political Prisoners and Detainees.
Although the constitution prohibits arbitrary arrest and detention, the practices occurred frequently during the year. President Rouhani’s 2016 “Citizen’s Rights Charter” enumerates various freedoms, including “security of their person, property, dignity, employment, legal and judicial process, social security and the like.” The government has not implemented these provisions. Detainees may appeal their sentences in court but are not entitled to compensation for detention.
ROLE OF THE POLICE AND SECURITY APPARATUS
Several agencies shared responsibility for law enforcement and maintaining order, including the Ministry of Intelligence and Security and law enforcement forces under the Interior Ministry, which report to the president, and the IRGC, which reports directly to the supreme leader.
The Basij, a volunteer paramilitary group with local organizations across the country, sometimes acted as an auxiliary law enforcement unit subordinate to IRGC ground forces. Basij units often engaged in repression of political opposition elements or intimidation of civilians accused of violating the country’s strict moral code, without formal guidance or supervision from superiors. The supreme leader holds ultimate authority over all security agencies.
Impunity remained a problem within all security forces. Human rights groups frequently accused regular and paramilitary security forces, such as the Basij, of committing numerous human rights abuses, including acts of violence against protesters and participants in public demonstrations. According to remarks from Tehran Prosecutor General Abbas Jafari-Dolatabadi, the attorney general is responsible for investigating and punishing security force abuses, but the process was not transparent, and there were few reports of government actions to discipline abusers. In a notable exception, in November authorities sentenced former Tehran prosecutor Saeed Mortazavi to two years in prison for his alleged responsibility for the torture and death of protesters in 2009.
ARREST PROCEDURES AND TREATMENT OF DETAINEES
The constitution and law require a warrant or subpoena for an arrest and state that arrested persons should be informed of the charges against them within 24 hours. Authorities, however, held some detainees, at times incommunicado, for days, weeks, or months without charge or trial and frequently denied them contact with family or timely access to legal representation.
The law obligates the government to provide indigent defendants with attorneys for certain types of crimes. The courts set prohibitively high bail, even for lesser crimes, and in many cases, courts did not set bail. Authorities often compelled detainees and their families to submit property deeds to post bail, effectively silencing them due to fear of losing their families’ property.
The government continued to use house arrest without due process to restrict movement and communication. At year’s end former presidential candidates Mehdi Karroubi and Mir Hossein Mousavi, as well as Mousavi’s wife Zahra Rahnavard, remained under house arrest imposed in 2011 without formal charges. Security forces continued to restrict their access to visitors and information. In August, 79-year-old Karroubi went on a hunger strike to demand a public trial and protest the continuing presence of security guards in his house. According to reports Intelligence Ministry agents departed Karroubi’s house but continued to control access from outside. Concerns persisted over Karroubi’s deteriorating health, reportedly exacerbated by his treatment by authorities.
Arbitrary Arrest: Authorities commonly used arbitrary arrests to impede alleged antiregime activities. Plainclothes officers arrived unannounced at homes or offices, arrested persons, conducted raids, and confiscated private documents, passports, computers, electronic media, and other personal items without warrants or assurances of due process.
Individuals often remained in detention facilities for long periods without charges or trials, and authorities sometimes prevented them from informing others of their whereabouts for several days. Authorities often denied detainees’ access to legal counsel during this period and imposed travel bans on individuals released on bail or pending trial.
On February 23, according to a CHRI report, authorities arrested Kurdish civil rights activist Farzaneh Jalali without a warrant. They held her at an Intelligence Ministry detention center until she was released, without charge, on March 13.
Dual nationals–individuals who are citizens of both Iran and another country–continued to be targeted for arbitrary and prolonged detention on the basis of politically motivated charges during the year. Like other Iranians in similar situations, dual nationals faced a variety of due process violations, including lack of prompt access to a lawyer of their choosing and brief trials during which they were not allowed to defend themselves. In some cases courts sentenced such individuals to 10 years or more in prison, and such sentences were generally affirmed on appeal.
Pretrial Detention: Pretrial detention was often arbitrarily lengthy, particularly in cases involving alleged violations of national security law. In other cases authorities held persons incommunicado for lengthy periods before permitting them to contact family members. According to Human Rights Watch (HRW), a judge may prolong detention at his discretion, and pretrial detentions often lasted for months. Often authorities held pretrial detainees in custody with the general prison population.
Detainee’s Ability to Challenge Lawfulness of Detention before a Court: Detainees may appeal their sentences in courts of law but are not entitled to compensation for detention and were often held for extended periods without any legal proceedings.
The constitution provides that the judiciary be “an independent power” that is “free from every kind of unhealthy relation and connection.” The court system was subjected to political influence, and judges were appointed “in accordance with religious criteria.”
The supreme leader appoints the head of the judiciary. The head of the judiciary, members of the Supreme Court, and the prosecutor general were clerics. International observers continued to criticize the lack of independence of the country’s judicial system and judges and maintained that trials disregarded international standards of fairness.
According to the constitution and law, a defendant has the right to a fair trial, to be presumed innocent until convicted, to have access to a lawyer of his or her choice, and to appeal convictions in most cases that involve major penalties. These rights were not upheld.
Panels of judges adjudicate trials in civil and criminal courts. Human rights activists reported trials in which authorities appeared to have determined the verdicts in advance, and defendants did not have the opportunity to confront their accusers or meet with lawyers. The law restricts the choice of attorneys to a government-approved list for defendants charged with crimes against national security and for journalists.
When postrevolutionary statutes do not address a situation, the government advised judges to give precedence to their knowledge and interpretation of sharia (Islamic law). Under this method judges may find a person guilty based on their own “divine knowledge,” or they may issue more lenient sentences.
During the year human rights groups noted the absence of procedural safeguards in criminal trials. According to the CHRI, the government sentenced 11 Christian converts to prison during a period of less than two months in trial proceedings that lacked due process.
Courts admitted as evidence confessions made under duress or torture. In her August 14 report, the UNSR stated that the government relied on physical and mental torture to coerce confessions from prisoners during pretrial detention and interrogations. Authorities also allegedly tortured prisoners and forced them to make videotaped confessions that the government later televised.
The Special Clerical Court is headed by a Shia Islamic legal scholar, overseen by the supreme leader, and charged with investigating alleged offenses committed by clerics and issuing rulings based on an independent interpretation of Islamic legal sources. The constitution does not provide for the court, which operated outside the judiciary’s purview. Clerical courts were used to prosecute Shia clerics who expressed controversial ideas and participated in activities outside the sphere of religion, such as journalism or reformist political activities.
In November 2016 the Qom branch of the Special Clerical Court sentenced prominent cleric Hojjatoleslam Ahmad Montazeri to six years in prison for “endangering national security” and “leaking secrets of the Islamic system” after he posted audio recordings of his father, the late dissident cleric, Hossein Ali Montazeri, condemning the 1988 mass execution of political prisoners. On February 21, Montazeri was arrested to begin serving his sentence. According to reports, however, the cleric was granted furlough and released the following day, allegedly at the direction of the supreme leader.
POLITICAL PRISONERS AND DETAINEES
Statistics regarding the number of citizens imprisoned for their political beliefs were not available. United for Iran estimated there were 746 prisoners of conscience in the country during the year, including those jailed for their religious beliefs.
The government often charged political dissidents with vague crimes, such as “antirevolutionary behavior,” “corruption on earth,” “siding with global arrogance,” moharebeh, and “crimes against Islam.” Prosecutors imposed strict penalties on government critics for minor violations.
A 2016 political crimes law defines political crimes and provides for the treatment of political prisoners. The law defines a political crime as an insult against the government, as well as “the publication of lies.” Political crimes are those acts “committed with the intent of reforming the domestic or foreign policies of Iran,” while those with the intent to damage “the foundations of the regime” are considered national security crimes. The court and the public prosecutor’s office retain responsibility for determining the nature of the crime.
The political crimes law grants the accused certain rights during arrest and imprisonment. According to the law, political criminals should be held in detention facilities separate from ordinary criminals. They should also be exempt from wearing prison uniforms, not subject to rules governing repeat offenses, not subject to extradition, and exempt from solitary confinement unless judicial officials deem it necessary. Political criminals also have the right to see and correspond with immediate family regularly and to access books, newspapers, radio, and television.
Many of the law’s provisions have not been implemented, and the government continued to arrest and charge students, journalists, lawyers, political activists, women’s activists, artists, and members of religious minorities with “national security” crimes that do not fall under the political crimes law. Political prisoners were also at greater risk of torture and abuse in detention and often were mixed with the general prison population. The government often placed political prisoners in prisons far from their families, denied them correspondence rights, and held them in solitary confinement for long periods. Human rights activists and international media also reported cases of political prisoners confined with accused and convicted violent criminals, and with criminals carrying contagious diseases like HIV or hepatitis. Former prisoners reported that authorities often threatened political prisoners with transfer to criminal wards, where attacks were more likely.
The government reportedly held some detainees in prison for years on unfounded charges of sympathizing with alleged terrorist groups.
The government issued travel bans on some former political prisoners, barred them from working in their professional sectors for years after incarceration, and imposed internal exile on others. The government did not permit international humanitarian organizations or UN representatives access to political prisoners.
According to the CHRI, authorities sentenced Faezeh Hashemi to a six-month prison term in March for “spreading falsehoods,” “disturbing public opinion,” and “propaganda against the state,” although a final ruling was said to be pending appeal. Hashemi, the daughter of former president Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani, is a women’s rights activist and former member of parliament.
In May 2016 a revolutionary court in Tehran sentenced prominent human rights defender and journalist Narges Mohammadi to 16 years in prison. The court charged Mohammadi with “propaganda against the state,” “assembly and collusion against national security,” and establishing the illegal “Step by Step to Stop the Death Penalty” organization, allegedly harming national security. Prison authorities repeatedly denied Mohammadi medical attention for significant health problems and denied her family visitation and telephone calls, according to media reports. In April the Supreme Court rejected Mohammadi’s request for judicial review.
The CHRI reported that on August 14, authorities sentenced women’s rights activist and photojournalist Alieh Matlabzadeh to three years in prison for participating in a women’s empowerment seminar in Tbilisi, Georgia, in 2016. Matlabzadeh, a member of the One Million Signatures for Gender Equality campaign, who made a documentary titled, Let’s Not Forget Victims of Violence against Women in Society, was arrested in November 2016 shortly after returning from Georgia.
According to the Bahai International Committee, two Bahai leaders–Mahvash Sabet and Fariba Kamalabadi–were released in September and October, respectively, after serving almost 10 years in prison. They were among seven Bahai leaders, known as the Yaran, who were arrested in 2008, convicted of “disturbing national security,” “spreading propaganda against the regime,” and “engaging in espionage,” and sentenced to 20 years in prison. Their sentences were subsequently reduced to 10 years. The other five Yaran leaders–Jamaloddin Khanjani, Afif Naeimi, Saeid Rezaie, Behrouz Tavakkoli, and Vahid Tizfahm–remained imprisoned for activities related to their beliefs and the practice of their faith.
During the year authorities occasionally gave political prisoners suspended sentences and released them on bail with the understanding that renewed political activity could return them to prison. The government also tried to intimidate activists by temporarily suspending court proceedings against them, while leaving open the option of rearrest at any time. The government summoned activists repeatedly for questioning and confiscated personal belongings such as mobile phones, laptops, and passports.
Lawyers who defended political prisoners were occasionally arrested. The government continued to imprison lawyers and others affiliated with the Defenders of Human Rights Center advocacy group. Abdolfattah Soltani, a human rights lawyer affiliated with the center, has been imprisoned since 2011, according to a recent CHRI report. He was serving a 13-year prison sentence for “being awarded the  Nuremberg International Human Rights Award,” “interviewing with the media about his clients’ cases,” and “cofounding the Defenders of Human Rights Center” with Nobel Peace laureate Shirin Ebadi.
A judicial official reportedly stated that the Intelligence Ministry, as the arresting authority, opposed releasing Soltani despite his poor health and eligibility under the law for parole. Article 58 of the Islamic Penal Code specifies that prisoners may be conditionally released after serving a third of their sentence.
CIVIL JUDICIAL PROCEDURES AND REMEDIES
Citizens had limited ability to sue the government and were not able to bring lawsuits against the government for civil or human rights violations through domestic courts.
The constitution allows the government to confiscate property acquired illicitly or in a manner not in conformity with Islamic law. The government appeared to target ethnic and religious minorities in invoking this provision.
The constitution states that “reputation, life, property, [and] dwelling[s]” are protected from trespass, except as “provided by law.” The government routinely infringed on this right. Security forces monitored the social activities of citizens, entered homes and offices, monitored telephone conversations and internet communications, and opened mail without court authorization.
Syria: Iran, primarily through the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps-Quds Force, as well as Hizballah forces there, continued to support the Assad regime in Syria, thus prolonging the civil war, which has led to the deaths of hundreds of thousands of Syrian civilians. Iran provided arms, financing, and training to Syrian militias, and recruited Iraqi, Afghan, and Pakistani Shia fighters to support the Assad regime. According to HRW (see section 1.d.), the IRGC has recruited thousands of undocumented Afghans living in Iran to fight in Syria since at least 2013, allegedly both offering incentives to potential recruits, such as legal residence, and threatening forced deportation.
Child Soldiers: In an October 1 report, HRW asserted that the IRGC has recruited Afghan children as young as age 14 to fight in the Fatemiyoun Brigade, reportedly an Iranian-supported Afghan group fighting alongside government forces in Syria, and noted that at least 14 Afghan children have been killed fighting in the Syrian conflict.
Iraq: Iran directly supported certain Iraqi Shia militias, including designated foreign terrorist organization Kata’ib Hizballah, which have been complicit in summary executions and other human rights abuses of civilians in Iraq.
Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:
The constitution provides for freedom of expression, including for the press, except when words are deemed “detrimental to the fundamental principles of Islam or the rights of the public.” According to the law, “anyone who engages in any type of propaganda against the Islamic Republic of Iran or in support of opposition groups and associations shall be sentenced to three months to one year of imprisonment.”
Article 26 of the 2016 Charter on Citizens’ Rights acknowledges the right of every citizen to freedom of speech and expression. The charter grants citizens the right freely to seek, receive, publish, and communicate views and information, using any means of communication, but it has not been implemented.
The law provides for prosecution of persons accused of instigating crimes against the state or national security or “insulting” Islam. The government severely restricted freedom of speech and of the press and used the law to intimidate or prosecute persons who directly criticized the government or raised human rights problems, as well as to bring ordinary citizens into compliance with the government’s moral code.
Freedom of Expression: Authorities did not permit individuals to criticize publicly the country’s system of government, supreme leader, or official religion. Security forces and the judiciary punished those who violated these restrictions, as well as those who publicly criticized the president, cabinet, and parliament.
The government monitored meetings, movements, and communications of its citizens and often charged persons with crimes against national security and insulting the regime based on letters, emails, and other public and private communications. Authorities threatened arrest or punishment for the expression of ideas or images they viewed as violations of the legal moral code.
Former president Mohamed Khatami remained barred from giving public remarks, and media remained banned from publishing his name or image. According to national and international media reports, the former president was further barred in October from making public appearances for three months, including at meetings, theater performances, and concerts. Activists reportedly said this ban was one of the latest signs of the continuing crackdown within the regime on reformists.
Press and Media Freedom: The government’s Press Supervisory Board issues press licenses, which it sometimes revoked in response to articles critical of the government or the regime, or did not renew for individuals facing criminal charges or incarcerated for political reasons. During the year the government banned, blocked, closed, or censored publications deemed critical of officials.
The Ministry of Culture and Islamic Guidance (“Ershad”) severely limited and controlled foreign media organizations’ ability to work in the country by requiring foreign correspondents to provide detailed travel plans and topics of proposed stories before granting visas, limiting their ability to travel within the country, and forcing them to work with a local “minder.”
Under the constitution private broadcasting is illegal. The government maintained a monopoly over all television and radio broadcasting facilities through government agency Islamic Republic of Iran Broadcasting. Radio and television programming, the principal source of news for many citizens (especially in rural areas with limited internet access), reflected the government’s political and socioreligious ideology. The government jammed satellite broadcasts as signals entered the country, a continuing practice since at least 2003. Satellite dishes remained illegal but ubiquitous. Those who distributed, used, or repaired satellite dishes faced fines up to 90 million rials ($2,500). Police launched campaigns to confiscate privately owned satellite dishes throughout the country under warrants provided by the judiciary.
Under the constitution the supreme leader appoints the head of the audiovisual policy agency, a council composed of representatives of the president, judiciary, and parliament. The Ministry of Culture reviews all potential publications, including foreign printed materials, prior to their domestic release, and may deem books unpublishable, remove text, or require word substitutions for terms deemed inappropriate.
Independent print media companies existed, but the government severely limited their operations.
Violence and Harassment: The government and its agents harassed, detained, abused, and prosecuted publishers, editors, and journalists, including those involved in internet-based media, for their reporting. The government also harassed many journalists’ families. Reporters Without Borders (RSF) reported that the government summoned at least 10 families of foreign-based journalists during the year for interviews with intelligence officers to pressure them to “stop collaborating with enemy media.” As in previous election years, there were numerous reports of the government’s widespread crackdown on journalists in the runup to the May presidential and local elections.
In August it was widely reported that the government had frozen the assets of more than 150 BBC Persian service present-day and former staff and contributors, banning them from buying or selling property, cars, or other nonliquid assets.
In September, RSF reported at least 50 Iranian journalists based abroad had been threatened during the year, including at least 16 who received death threats. RSF noted that alleged sources used by international media in the country continued to be targeted and harassed. Mehdi Khazali, editor of the blog Baran, was arrested in Tehran in August for sending “false information about the government to counterrevolutionary websites based abroad and to VOA.”
Reformist journalists Issa Saharkhiz, Ehsan Mazandarani, Afarin Chitsaz, and Saman Safarzai were originally arrested in 2015 on charges of membership in “an infiltration group connected to the United States and United Kingdom.” Saharkhiz was conditionally released from prison in April after having been sentenced to three years in August 2016 for “insulting the supreme leader” and “propagating against the state.” In October, according to an RSF report, Saharkhiz was banned from international travel.
According to the CHRI, the government sentenced Mazandarani, a reporter for reformist daily newspaper Etemad and the former editor of Farhikhtegan, to seven years’ imprisonment in April 2016 for “assembly and collusion against national security” and “propaganda against the state.” The sentence was reduced on appeal to two years in July 2016. On February 11, Mazandarani was released from prison but subsequently detained and returned to Evin Prison in March as part of the government’s crackdown on journalists in the runup to the May elections. RSF reported his release from prison on October 31.
Censorship or Content Restrictions: The law forbids government censorship but also prohibits dissemination of information the government considers “damaging.” During the year the government censored publications that criticized official actions or contradicted official views or versions of events. “Damaging” information included discussions of women’s rights, the situation of minorities, criticism of government corruption, and references to mistreatment of detainees.
Officials routinely intimidated journalists into practicing self-censorship. Public officials often filed criminal complaints against newspapers, and the Press Supervisory Board, which regulates media content and publication, referred such complaints to the Press Court for further action, including possible closure, suspension, and fines. According to the IHRDC, the Islamic Republic News Agency determined the main topics and types of news to be covered and distributed topics required for reporting directly to various media outlets.
According to RSF, on October 5, the Tehran prosecutor’s office for culture and media suspended Mostaghel (or Independent), a reformist daily newspaper, for publishing a photo of former prime minister Mir Hossein Mousavi, along with photos of other prime ministers from 1979-89. This action was considered a violation of an order by the High Council for National Security and Justice banning media coverage of the leaders of the 2009 protests that followed the disputed presidential election (see section 1.d., Arrest Procedures and Treatment of Detainees).
According to international and local media reports, in the runup to the May presidential election, the country’s state television censored a documentary released by President Rouhani’s campaign that showed supporters chanting for 2009 presidential candidate Mir Hossein Mousavi, who has been under house arrest since 2011. A picture of former president Mohammad Khatami, whose name and image have been banned from use in media since 2015, was also cut from the video.
Libel/Slander Laws: The government commonly used libel laws or cited national security to suppress criticism. According to the law, if any publication contains personal insults, libel, false statements, or criticism, the insulted individual has the right to respond in the publication within one month. By law “insult” or “libel” against the government, government representatives, or foreign officials while they are on Iranian soil, as well as “the publication of lies” with the intent to reform (but not undermine the government) are considered political crimes and subject to certain trial and detention procedures (see section 1.e.). The government applied the law throughout the year, often citing statements made in various media outlets or internet platforms that criticized the government, to arrest, prosecute, and sentence individuals for crimes against national security.
The government restricted and disrupted access to the internet, monitored private online communications, and censored online content. Individuals and groups practiced self-censorship online.
The Ministries of Culture and of Information and Communications Technology are the main regulatory bodies for content and internet systems in the country. The supreme leader’s office also includes the Supreme Council of Cyberspace (SCC) charged with regulating content and systems. The government collected personally identifiable information in connection with citizens’ peaceful expression of political, religious, or ideological opinion or beliefs.
According to the International Telecommunication Union, 53 percent of the population used the internet. According to the Ministry of Culture, 70 percent of youth between the ages of 15 and 29 used the internet. NGOs reported the government continued to filter content on the internet to ban access to particular sites and to filter traffic based on its content. The law makes it illegal to distribute circumvention tools and virtual private networks, and Minister of Information and Communications Technology Jahromi was quoted in the press in September saying that using circumvention tools is illegal.
The Ministry of Culture and Islamic Guidance must approve all internet service providers. The government also requires all owners of websites and blogs in the country to register with the agencies that comprise the Commission to Determine the Instances of Criminal Content (also referred to as the Committee in Charge of Determining Unauthorized Websites or Committee in Charge of Determining Offensive Content), the governmental organization that determines censoring criteria. These include the Ministry of Culture and Islamic Guidance, Ministry of Information and Communications Technology, Intelligence Ministry, and the Tehran Public Prosecutor’s Office.
Ministry of Information and Communications Technology regulations prohibit households and cyber cafes from having high-speed internet access. The government periodically reduced internet speed to discourage downloading material.
According to media reports, former minister of information and communications technology Mahmoud Vaezi announced that the government had improved methods to control the internet and had shut down a number of online platforms. According to a CHRI report in July, Vaezi vowed to “get rid” of foreign social media and described the government’s efforts to block popular foreign products like WeChat and WhatsApp.
In a June speech, Supreme Leader Khamenei emphasized the importance of the country’s National Information Network (NIN), launched in 2016 to “allow higher speeds and easier access while eliminating threats.” RSF reported that the NIN acts like an intranet system, with full content control and user identification. Authorities may disconnect this network from World Wide Web content and reportedly intended to use it to provide government propaganda, while blocking access to independently reported news or freely gathered information.
Authorities continued to block online messaging tools, such as Facebook, YouTube, and Twitter, although the government operated Twitter accounts under the names of Supreme Leader Khamenei, President Rouhani, Foreign Minister Zarif, and other government-associated officials and entities.
During the year the social media platform Telegram was widely used by government officials, activists, media organizations, and citizens, although the government restricted access to some Telegram content. In August the SCC announced new regulations requiring that all foreign social media platforms, like Telegram, move all their data to servers inside the country or risk being closed. Telegram users in the country were harassed throughout the year for content posted through its servers. RSF reported in June that 173,000 Telegram accounts were blocked and 94 internet users, mainly Telegram users, had been arrested since the start of the year. In April, Prosecutor General Mohammad Jafar Montazeri announced that Telegram’s new voice-call option was blocked in the country because “intelligence agencies cannot monitor it.” In March, eight Telegram administrators were arrested, with no reason provided.
Government organizations, including the Basij “Cyber Council,” the Cyber Police, and the Cyber Army, which observers presumed to be controlled by the IRGC, monitored, identified, and countered alleged cyber threats to national security. These organizations especially targeted citizens’ activities on officially banned social networking websites such as Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, and Flickr, and reportedly harassed persons who criticized the government or raised sensitive social problems.
ACADEMIC FREEDOM AND CULTURAL EVENTS
The government significantly restricted academic freedom and the independence of higher education institutions. Authorities systematically targeted university campuses to suppress social and political activism by prohibiting independent student organizations, imprisoning student activists, removing faculty, preventing students from enrolling or continuing their education because of their political or religious affiliation or activism, and restricting social sciences and humanities curricula.
Authorities barred Bahai students from higher education and harassed those who pursued education through the unrecognized online university of the Bahai Institute for Higher Education (see the Department of State’s International Religious Freedom Report at www.state.gov/religiousfreedomreport/).
The government maintained controls on cinema, music, theater, and art exhibits and censored those productions deemed to transgress Islamic values. The government censored or banned films deemed to promote secularism, non-Islamic ideas about women’s rights, unethical behavior, drug abuse, violence, or alcoholism.
According to the IHRDC, the nine-member film review council of the Ministry of Culture and Islamic Guidance, made up of clerics, former directors, former parliamentarians, and academics, must approve the content of every film before production and again before screening. Films may be barred arbitrarily from screening even if all the appropriate permits were received in advance.
In January, Minister of Culture and Islamic Guidance Reza Salehi Amiri reportedly boasted about the banning of 10 films from the Tehran Fajr International Film Festival. Amiri was quoted saying that for the first time, films with “feminist and inappropriate themes” had been removed.
Officials continued to discourage teaching music in schools. Authorities considered heavy metal and foreign music religiously offensive, and police continued to repress underground concerts and arrest musicians and music distributors. The Ministry of Culture must officially approve song lyrics, music, and album covers as complying with the country’s moral values, although many underground musicians released albums without seeking such permission.
Mehdi and Hossein Rajabian and Yousef Emadi were arrested in 2013 and sentenced to six years’ imprisonment following a 15-minute trial by a revolutionary court, which found them guilty of “insulting Islamic sanctities,” “spreading propaganda against the system,” and “illegal audio-visual activities” for the distribution of unlicensed music. Authorities shut down their website, and Amnesty International reported the three were beaten and given electric shocks in detention. In June the Rajabian brothers were released, but in September, according to a CHRI report, a revolutionary court sentenced Emadi to an additional year in prison, plus two years of internal exile, for “propaganda against the state” and his alleged dissemination of information to foreign media while in Evin Prison.
The government restricted freedoms of peaceful assembly and association.
FREEDOM OF PEACEFUL ASSEMBLY
The constitution permits assemblies and marches of unarmed persons “provided they do not violate the principles of Islam.” The government restricted this right and closely monitored gatherings such as public entertainment and lectures, student and women’s meetings and protests, meetings and worship services of minority religious groups, labor protests, online gatherings and networking, funeral processions, and Friday prayer gatherings to prevent anything it considered as antiregime.
According to activists the government arbitrarily applied rules governing permits to assemble, with proregime groups rarely experiencing difficulty, while groups viewed as critical of the regime experienced harassment regardless of whether authorities issued a permit.
In January authorities charged Baktash Abtin, a poet and senior member of the Iranian Writers Association, with “propaganda against the state.” In December 2016 authorities arrested Abtin along with three others at a peaceful gathering marking the 18th anniversary of the extrajudicial killings of dissidents. Abtin was charged in connection with posting a photo on Instagram of Mazdar Zarafshan, another board member of the Iranian Writers Association arrested in December, that illustrated physical abuse by security forces.
The government cracked down on small protests that began in the city of Mashad on December 28. These protests subsequently spread across the country and included broader economic and political grievances with the nation’s leadership. According to media reports, at least two protestors were killed and hundreds were arrested as of the end of the year. Human rights organizations and media reported that the government also throttled internet speeds and restricted some social media applications in response to the protests.
FREEDOM OF ASSOCIATION
The constitution provides for the establishment of political parties, professional and political associations, and Islamic and recognized religious minority organizations, as long as such groups do not violate the principles of freedom, sovereignty, national unity, or Islamic criteria, or question Islam as the basis of the country’s system of government. The government limited the freedom of association through threats, intimidation, the imposition of arbitrary requirements on organizations, and the arrests of group leaders and members.
The government barred teachers from commemorating International Labor Day and Teachers’ Day. Several teachers and union activists either remained in prison or were awaiting new sentences, including Mahmoud Beheshti Langroudi, Esmail Abdi, Mohammad Reza Niknejad, Mehdi Bohlooli, and Mahmoud Bagheri (see section 7.a.). The Free Union of Workers of Iran reported that intelligence officials interrogated and warned several trade unionists not to organize gatherings on May 1.
See the Department of State’s International Religious Freedom Report at www.state.gov/religiousfreedomreport/.
The law provides for freedom of internal movement, foreign travel, emigration, and repatriation, and the government generally respected these rights, with some exceptions, particularly concerning migrants and women. The government cooperated with the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) with regard to refugees from Afghanistan and Iraq.
ABUSE OF MIGRANTS, REFUGEES, AND STATELESS PERSONS
In-country Movement: Judicial sentences sometimes included internal exile after release from prison, which prevented individuals from traveling to certain provinces. Women often required the supervision of a male guardian or chaperone to travel and faced official and societal harassment for traveling alone.
Foreign Travel: The government required exit permits for foreign travel for all citizens. Citizens who were educated at government expense or received scholarships had either to repay the scholarship or receive a temporary permit to exit the country. The government restricted the foreign travel of some religious leaders, members of religious minorities, and scientists in sensitive fields.
Several journalists, academics, opposition politicians, human and women’s rights activists, and artists remained subject to foreign travel bans and had their passports confiscated during the year. Married women were not allowed to travel outside the country without prior permission from their husbands.
Exile: The law does not provide for forced exile abroad. Many citizens practiced self-imposed exile to express their beliefs freely or escape government harassment.
PROTECTION OF REFUGEES
According to UNHCR, the government has granted registration to 951,000 Afghan and 28,000 Iraqi refugees under a system known as “Amayesh,” through which authorities provide refugees with cards identifying them as legally registered refugees. The cards enable refugees to access basic services and facilitate the issuance of work permits.
Additionally, approximately 1.4 million “nonrefugee” Afghans held visas under a Joint Action Plan for formerly undocumented Afghans. A large number of undocumented Afghans lived in the country and were unable to register as official refugees or visa holders.
HRW and other groups reported that the government continued its mistreatment of many Afghans in Iran, including physical abuse by security forces; deportations; forced recruitment to fight in Syria (see section 1.g.); detention in unsanitary and inhuman conditions; forced payment for transportation to and accommodation in deportation camps; forced labor; forced separation from families; restricted movement within the country; and restricted access to education or jobs.
Refoulement: According to activist groups and NGOs, authorities routinely arrested Afghan refugees and sometimes threatened them with refoulement. According to the International Organization for Migration, from the beginning of the year to November, more than 147,000 undocumented Afghans returned to Afghanistan, with many said to have believed they were pressured to leave, while more than 232,000 had been deported there throughout the year.
Access to Asylum: The law provides for the granting of asylum or refugee status to qualified applicants. While the government reportedly has a system for providing protection to refugees, UNHCR did not have information regarding how the country made asylum determinations. According to HRW the government continued to block many Afghans from registering to obtain refugee status.
Afghans not registered under the Amayesh system who had migrated to Iran in the past decades of conflict in their home country continued to be denied asylum or access to register with the United Nations as refugees for resettlement. NGOs reported many of these displaced asylum seekers believed they were pressured to leave the country but could not return to Afghanistan because of the security situation in their home provinces.
Freedom of Movement: Refugees faced restrictions on in-country movement and faced restrictions from entering 27 provinces, according to UNHCR.
Employment: Only refugees with government-issued work permits as part of the Amayesh system were able to work. NGO sources reported that cards were difficult to renew and were often prohibitively expensive for refugees to maintain due to steep annual renewal fees.
Access to Basic Services: Amayesh cardholders had access to primary education and received primary health care, including vaccinations, prenatal care, maternal and child health, and family planning from the Ministry of Health. They also benefited from a universal basic health insurance package for hospitalization and paraclinical services (medicine, doctor’s visits, radiology, etc.) similar to Iranian citizens, and those with qualifying “special diseases” got comprehensive coverage.
The government claimed to grant refugees access to schools. According to a UNHCR report in June, approximately 52,000 undocumented Afghans were enrolled in the national education system for the 2016-17 year, in addition to an estimated 360,000 documented Afghan children. According to media reporting on schools for Afghan children, however, Afghans continued to have difficulty gaining access to education. The government sometimes imposed fees for children of registered refugees to attend public schools.
There were barriers to marriage between citizens and displaced Afghans. Authorities required Afghans to obtain documentation from their embassy or government offices in Afghanistan to register their marriage in the country, according to media reporting. The law states, “Any foreigner who marries an Iranian woman without the permission of the Iranian government will be sentenced to two to five years in prison plus a cash penalty.” Furthermore, authorities only considered children born from such unions eligible for citizenship if the child’s father is a citizen and registers the child as his, leaving many children stateless.
Most provinces’ residency limitations on refugees effectively denied them access to public services, such as public housing, in the restricted areas of those provinces.
There were no accurate numbers on how many stateless persons resided in the country. Stateless persons included those without birth documents or refugee identification cards. They were subjected to inconsistent government policies and relied on charities, principally domestic, to obtain medical care and schooling. Authorities prohibited stateless persons from receiving formal government support or travel documents.
Women may not directly transmit citizenship to their children or to noncitizen spouses. Only children born to Iranian mothers and non-Iranian fathers who reside in Iran for 18 years and whose parents’ marriage is officially registered with the government are eligible to apply for citizenship. According to media reports, between 400,000 and one million persons lacked Iranian nationality despite having an Iranian citizen mother, due to limitations on citizenship transmission (see section 6, Children).
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 numerous reports that ISIS and other terrorist groups, as well as some government forces, including the PMF, committed arbitrary or unlawful killings (see section 1.g.). During the year the security situation remained unstable due to widespread fighting between the ISF and ISIS; periodic clashes between the ISF, including the PMF, and Peshmerga; and the presence of militias in many liberated areas, as well as sectarian, ethnic, and financially motivated violence. From January 1 to June 30, the UN Assistance Mission for Iraq (UNAMI) reported at least 2,429 civilians killed and 3,277 injured in the country.
Some government security forces allegedly committed extrajudicial killings; the government rarely made public its identification and prosecution of specific perpetrators of abuses and atrocities. Human rights organizations reported that both Ministry of Interior and Ministry of Defense personnel tortured detainees to death. Human Rights Watch (HRW) stated that the Iraqi Army’s 16th division summarily executed suspected ISIS members it had detained.
During the year frequent unlawful killings by unidentified gunmen occurred throughout the country. For example, in May local police reported the killing of a member of a Sunni tribal militia operating under the umbrella of the PMF, and another injured, in an attack carried out by unknown gunmen in Baghdad. In August local police reported unknown gunmen killed a police officer stationed northwest of Kirkuk.
Terrorist and politically motivated violence continued throughout the year, including ISIS attacks on cities. Baghdad was particularly affected. UNAMI reported that from January to October Baghdad experienced IED attacks on a nearly daily basis. According to UNAMI, some attacks targeted government buildings or checkpoints staffed by security forces, while many others targeted civilians. ISIS carried out attacks against Baghdad’s civilian population, including car bomb and suicide bomber attacks on May 30 that killed at least 20 civilians; two IED attacks in the Muqdadiya District on July 27, killing two and injuring three; and an August 28 IED attack on a Sadr City market that reportedly killed 12 and injured 30.
During the year authorities discovered numerous mass graves, including in Anbar, Babil, and Ninewa Governorates. On February 9, the ISF uncovered two mass graves in Rutba, Anbar Governorate, reportedly containing the remains of as many as 25 ISF soldiers and civilians killed by ISIS in 2014. On February 15, Shlomo Organization for Documentation reported the discovery of a mass grave west of Mosul containing 150 remains, possibly of Christian civilians from the area. On August 25, the Iraqi Army announced it found two mass gravesites at Badoush prison and formed an investigative committee to exhume and investigate the remains; but the continuing strike of the forensic investigators of the Martyr’s Foundation, the government’s unit to investigate mass graves, prevented further action by year’s end.
Ethnic and sectarian-based fighting escalated in mixed governorates after liberation operations. For example, Arab residents reported that Shia Turkomen PMF units arrested, kidnapped, or killed Sunni Turkomen Arabs in Tal Afar after the ISF liberated the city from ISIS rule in August. None of those responsible within PMF units were brought to justice by year’s end. Additionally, media reported allegations that unknown groups kidnapped or threatened Arabs in Kirkuk, particularly in the weeks prior to the September 25 Kurdish independence referendum. For example, unknown gunmen reportedly abducted and killed two relatives of a Hawija-based ISIS leader in Daquq, south of Kirkuk August 23. On September 12, unidentified gunmen reportedly killed three persons from a family associated with an ISIS member in Mosul.
In June the Prime Minister’s Office established an investigative committee to review allegations the ISF committed abuses and atrocities. Regarding May 2016 torture allegations against the Ministry of Interior’s Emergency Response Division (ERD), on August 17, the Prime Minister’s Office stated, “The committee has concluded…that clear abuses and violations were committed by members of the ERD,” adding that the perpetrators of the abuses would face prosecution. At year’s end the investigative committee continued its work but had not yet publicly released its findings.
There were also reports of killings or other sectarian violence in the IKR. Minority groups reported threats and attacks targeting their communities in non-IKR areas that the KRG effectively controlled.
There was no publicly available comprehensive account of the extent of the problem of disappeared persons.
Although officially under the command of the prime minister, some PMF units operated with limited government oversight or accountability. According to multiple nongovernmental organizations (NGOs), the 643 men and boys whom PMF units intercepted at ad hoc security screening sites following the liberation of Fallujah in June 2016 remained missing and feared dead at year’s end.
ISIS carried out most abductions that targeted members of various ethnic and religious communities. ISIS frequently abducted members of the security or police forces, members of ethnic and religious minorities, and other non-Sunni communities in areas under its control.
According to the KRG Ministry of Endowments and Religious Affairs, authorities rescued more than 3,100 kidnapped Yezidi men, women, and children from ISIS; however, authorities believed another 3,293 Yezidis, mainly women and children, remained in ISIS captivity. IKR-based civil society organizations (CSOs) reported some ISIS-kidnapped Yezidi children had been trafficked into Turkey. Authorities located four such children in Turkey by year’s end, but efforts to establish their identity and repatriate them moved slowly through Turkish courts. According to the Turkmen Women’s Association, ISIS militants kidnapped an estimated 500 Turkmen Shia women and children from Ninewa Governorate in 2014, and 495 remained in captivity at year’s end.
Individuals, militias, and organized criminal groups carried out abductions and kidnappings for personal gain or for political or sectarian reasons. For example, in September security forces rescued four Christian youths, kidnapped for several days as they traveled from Baghdad to Basrah for a national soccer team match. The kidnappers reportedly planned to extort ransom from the families of the kidnapped.
HRW reported that in June Yezidi fighters from the Ezidkhan Brigades, associated with the PMF, disappeared 52 civilians (22 men, 20 women, and 10 children) from the Sunni Imteywit tribe. Yezidi officials alleged that Imteywit and Jahaysh tribal members participated in ISIS atrocities against Yezidis in 2014, allegations that the tribal members denied.
Journalist and political activist Afrah Shawqi al-Qaisi, who was abducted by gunmen in Baghdad in December 2016, was released in January. Members of a Qatari hunting party, abducted in Muthanna in 2015, were released in April.
Although the constitution expressly prohibits torture in all its forms and under all circumstances, including cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment, government officials, as well as local and international human rights organizations, documented instances of government agents committing torture and other abuses. There were reports police sometimes used abusive methods and coerced confessions for investigations, and courts accepted forced confessions as evidence. ISIS, however, committed most of such abuses.
As in previous years, there were credible reports that government security forces, to include militia units associated with the PMF, abused and tortured individuals during arrest, pretrial detention, and after conviction. International human rights organizations documented cases of torture and abuse in Ministry of Interior-run facilities and to a lesser extent in Ministry of Defense-run detention facilities, as well as in facilities under KRG control. In particular human rights organizations alleged torture or other abuse of detainees by Ministry of Interior and Ministry of Defense forces during the final stages of liberating Mosul and other areas from ISIS rule.
Former prisoners, detainees, and human rights groups reported a wide range of torture and abuse.
Abusive interrogation, under certain conditions, reportedly occurred in some detention facilities of the KRG’s internal security unit, the Asayish, and the intelligence services of the major political parties, the Kurdistan Democratic Party’s (KDP) Parastin and the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan’s (PUK) Zanyari. During monitoring visits to KRG prisons and places of detention between January 2015 and June 2016, UNAMI reported 70 detainees raised allegations of torture or other mistreatment during interrogation.
On January 29, HRW reported that KRG authorities tortured boys between ages 11 and 17, who authorities had arrested because of alleged links to ISIS, and prevented them from accessing counsel. According to the KRG Independent Human Rights Commission there were 215 boys held by the KRG in an Erbil juvenile detention facility on ISIS-related accusations. The commission interviewed 165 boys. Most of the juveniles alleged both PMF and KRG security forces subjected them to various forms of abuse, including beatings. Lawyers provided by an international NGO were reportedly granted access and provided representation to any juvenile without a court-appointed attorney.
Torture and abuse by terrorist groups was widespread. CSOs, humanitarian organizations, and former ISIS captives reported numerous cases of torture, rape, forced labor, forced marriage, forced religious conversion, material deprivation, and battery by ISIS members. There were numerous reports of ISIS torturing and killing civilians for attempting to flee areas under ISIS control. For example, on August 28, local media reported that ISIS burned alive eight civilians, including an infant, who had tried to flee ISIS-held Hawija.
Prison and Detention Center Conditions
Conditions at some prison and detention facilities remained harsh and life threatening due to overcrowding, physical abuse, and inadequate access to sanitation facilities and medical care.
The Ministry of Justice reported that there were no accommodations for inmates with disabilities, and a previously announced ministry initiative to establish facilities for such detainees had not been fully implemented by year’s end.
Physical Conditions: Overcrowding in government-run prisons was a systemic problem exacerbated by an increase in the number of alleged ISIS members detained during the year. Physical conditions in government-run detention facilities and prisons were often poor, according to international observers. Three of the 24 correctional facilities managed by the Iraqi Corrections Service, the government entity with legal authority to hold persons after conviction, were not operational due to the security situation.
For example the sole prison in Muthanna governorate was designed to hold no more than 50 prisoners in each cell; however, observers reported more than 120 persons in one cell. Basrah Central Prison, with a capacity of 1,900, held more than 3,000 inmates; Ma’aqal Prison in Basrah, with a capacity of 250, held 500 prisoners. Overcrowding exacerbated corruption among some police officers and prison administrators in southern governorates, who reportedly took bribes to reduce or drop charges, cut sentences, or release prisoners early.
Inmates in government-run detention and prison facilities sometimes lacked adequate food and water. Access to medical care was inconsistent. Some detention facilities did not have an onsite pharmacy or infirmary, and authorities reported that even when they existed, pharmacies were often undersupplied. Women’s prisons often lacked adequate child-care facilities for inmates’ children, whom the law permits to remain with their mothers until age four. Limited and aging infrastructure worsened sanitation, limited access to potable water, and led to preparation of poor-quality food in many prison facilities.
Authorities separated detainees from convicts in most cases. Prisoners facing terrorism charges were isolated from the general detainee population and were more likely to remain in Ministry of Interior or Ministry of Defense detention for longer periods.
Although the government held most juvenile pretrial detainees and convicts in facilities operated by the Ministry of Labor and Social Affairs, there were reports that Ministry of Justice-administered prisons, Ministry of Interior police stations, and other Ministry of Interior detention facilities held some juveniles.
In March the Iraqi Army and the PMF took control of Badoush Prison, the site where ISIS formerly held hundreds of women in captivity, near Mosul.
According to UNAMI, the KRG’s newer detention facilities in major cities were well maintained, although conditions remained poor in many smaller detention centers operated by the KRG Ministry of Interior. In some KRG Asayish detention centers and police-run jails, KRG authorities occasionally held juveniles in the same cells as adults. A Kurdistan Independent Human Rights Commission report stated that authorities housed 37 minors in Erbil prisons with their convicted mothers as of the middle of the year.
Administration: The central government reported it took credible steps to address allegations of mistreatment in central government facilities; however, the extent of these steps was not fully known. According to the Higher Judicial Council, the judicial system dealt promptly with abuse allegations, and authorities sentenced to one- to three-years’ imprisonment at least five Ministry of Interior officials for committing abuses in Ministry of Interior facilities. The KRG had no uniform policy for addressing allegations of abuse by the KRG Ministry of Interior or the Asayish.
Human rights organizations reported that prison guards or arresting officers released detainees only after the detainees paid a bribe. International and local human rights groups reported that authorities in numerous instances denied family visits to detainees and convicts. Guards allegedly often demanded bribes when detainees asked to call their relatives or legal counsel.
Independent Monitoring: Iraqi Corrections Service prisons allowed regular visits by independent nongovernmental observers. The International Committee of the Red Cross reported the Ministries of Justice, Interior, Defense, and Labor and Social Affairs largely permitted them access to prisons and detention facilities. Authorities also granted UNAMI access to Ministry of Justice prisons and detention facilities in Baghdad. There were reports of some institutional interference in prison visits, and in some cases institutions required advance notification to wardens and prison officials for outside monitor visits.
The KRG generally allowed international human rights NGOs and intergovernmental organizations to visit convicted prisoners and pretrial detainees, but occasionally authorities delayed or denied access to some individuals, usually in cases involving terrorism. The United Nations and the International Committee of the Red Cross had regular access to IKR prisons and detention facilities. In July the Kurdistan Independent Human Rights Commission reported the commission often faced obstacles accessing Asayish facilities.
The constitution provides legal safeguards against arbitrary arrest and detention. During the year, however, there were numerous reports of arbitrary arrests and detentions.
A 2014 prime ministerial executive order prohibits the arrest or remand of individuals, except by order of a competent judge or court or as established by the code of criminal procedures. The executive order requires authorities within 24 hours of the detention to register the detainee’s name, place of detention, reason for detention, and legal basis for detention. The Ministry of Justice is responsible for updating and managing these registers. The order requires the Ministries of Defense and Interior and the National Security Service to establish guidelines for commanders in battlefield situations to register detainees’ details in this central register. The executive order also prohibits any entity, other than legally competent authorities, to detain any person.
In 2016 the Council of Representatives (COR) passed an amended amnesty law that provides for retrials of detainees convicted based on forced confessions or evidence provided by secret informants. The Ministry of Justice reported authorities released nearly 4,500 detainees from government custody between the law’s enactment in 2016 and May 31.
There were numerous reports of arrests and temporary detention by government forces, including the PMF and Peshmerga, of predominantly Sunni Arab IDPs throughout the year. On June 3, HRW reported that KRG authorities detained incommunicado three men and two boys from IDP camps for suspicion of ISIS affiliation.
Prison authorities sometimes delayed the release of exonerated inmates or extorted bribes from prisoners to vacate detention facilities at the end of their sentence terms. According to NGO contacts, inmates whom the judiciary ordered released sometimes faced delays from the Ministry of Interior or other ministries to clear their record of other pending charges.
There were some reports of PMF forces detaining Sunnis following the liberation of ISIS-dominated areas; as well as Kurds and Turkmen in Kirkuk; and Christians in the Ninewa Plains. In a May 22 article, HRW reported that PMF fighters arbitrarily detained men who had fled fighting in their Mosul-area village in April. PMF fighters interrogated the detainees regarding their ISIS affiliation and in some cases beat and tortured them before releasing them.
ISIS also detained individuals for a wide variety of reasons, including silencing critics, punishing those accused of insurrection, or preventing residents from fleeing ISIS-held territory. For example, on August 24, ISIS reportedly abducted five families fleeing ISIS-held al-Qa’im, Anbar Governorate.
ROLE OF THE POLICE AND SECURITY APPARATUS
Civilian authorities did not maintain effective control over some of the security forces.
Numerous domestic security forces operate throughout the country. The regular armed forces and domestic law enforcement bodies maintain order within the country. The Peshmerga, including militias of the KDP and PUK, maintain order in the IKR. The PMF, a state-sponsored umbrella military organization composed of approximately 60 groups, operates throughout the country. The plurality of PMF units were Shia, reflecting the demographics of the country, while Sunni, Yezidi, Christian, and other minority PMF units also operate within their home regions. A law and prime ministerial decree in 2016 established prime ministerial authority over the PMF. While limited by law to operations in Iraq, in some cases units reportedly supported the Assad regime in Syria independently of the Iraqi government’s authority. The Iraqi government does not recognize these fighters as PMF even if their organizations are part of the PMF. All PMF units officially report to the National Security Advisor, but several units in practice are also responsive to Iran and the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC). At year’s end the prime minister and the ISF did not demonstrate consistent command and control over all of the PMF’s activities, particularly those units aligned with Iran. The government’s efforts to formalize the PMF as a governmental security entity continued at year’s end, but portions of the PMF remained Iranian-aligned. Actions of these disparate units at times exacerbated security challenges, especially but not only in ethnically and religiously diverse areas of the country.
The ISF consists of security forces administratively organized within the Ministries of Interior and Defense, the PMF, and the Counterterrorism Service. The Ministry of Interior is responsible for domestic law enforcement and maintenance of order; it oversees the Federal Police, Provincial Police, Facilities Protection Service, Civil Defense, and Department of Border Enforcement. Energy police, under the Ministry of Oil, are responsible for providing infrastructure protection. Conventional military forces under the Ministry of Defense are responsible for the defense of the country but also carry out counterterrorism and internal security operations in conjunction with the Ministry of Interior. The Counterterrorism Service reports directly to the prime minister and oversees the Counterterrorism Command, an organization that includes three brigades of special operations forces.
Impunity was a problem. There were reports of torture and abuse throughout the country in facilities used by the Ministries of Interior and Defense. According to international human rights organizations, abuse took place primarily during detainee interrogations while in pretrial detention.
Problems persisted, including corruption, within the country’s provincial police forces. The army and federal police recruited and deployed soldiers and police officers on a nationwide basis. This practice led to complaints from local communities that members of the army and police were abusive because of ethnosectarian differences.
Security forces made limited efforts to prevent or respond to societal violence. Although 16 family protection units, located in separate buildings at police stations around the country, operated under police authority to respond to claims of domestic violence made by women and children, they lacked sufficient capacity. The most recent report detailing the units’ work is from 2014.
Additionally, some tribal leaders in the south reportedly banned their members from seeking redress through these police units, claiming domestic abuse was a family matter in which police should not become involved.
The two main Kurdish political parties, the KDP and the PUK, had their own security apparatuses. Under the federal constitution, the KRG has the right to maintain internal security forces, supported financially by the federal government but under the KRG’s operational control. Accordingly, the KRG’s Ministry of Peshmerga Affairs oversees 14 infantry brigades and two support brigades, but the PUK and KDP controlled tens of thousands of additional military personnel, including militia forces generally referred to as the Peshmerga 70s and 80s brigades.
The KDP and PUK maintained separate security and intelligence services, the KDP’s Asayish and Parastin, and the PUK’s Asayish and Zanyari, respectively. The KRG Independent Human Rights Commission routinely notified the Kurdistan Ministry of Interior when it received credible reports of police human rights violations.
KRG security services detained suspects in areas the regional government controlled. The poorly defined administrative boundaries between these areas and the rest of the country resulted in continuing confusion regarding the jurisdiction of security forces and the courts, an issue exacerbated by ISIS control of parts of these areas.
ARREST PROCEDURES AND TREATMENT OF DETAINEES
The constitution prohibits unlawful detention and mandates that authorities submit preliminary documents to a competent judge within 24 hours of arrest, a period that may extend in most cases to a maximum of 72 hours. For offenses punishable by death, authorities may legally detain the defendant as long as necessary to complete the judicial process. According to local media and rights groups, authorities arrested suspects in security sweeps without warrants, particularly under the antiterrorism law, and held some detainees for prolonged periods without charge.
The government arbitrarily detained individuals and often did not inform them promptly of the nature of the charges against them. The government periodically released detainees, usually after concluding that it lacked sufficient evidence for the courts to convict them. Many others remained in detention pending review of other outstanding charges. The law allows release on bond for criminal (but not security) detainees. Authorities rarely released detainees on bail. KRG internal security units held some suspects incommunicado without an arrest warrant and transported detainees to undisclosed detention facilities.
The law provides for judges to appoint paid counsel for the indigent. Attorneys appointed to represent detainees frequently complained that insufficient access to their clients hampered adequate attorney-client consultation. In many cases detainees were not able to meet their attorneys until their scheduled trial date. There were reports that defendants did not have access to legal representation during the investigation phase, appointed lawyers lacked sufficient time to prepare a defense, and courts failed to investigate claims of torture while in detention.
Arbitrary Arrest: Police and military personnel sometimes arrested and detained individuals without judicial approval, although there were no reliable statistics available regarding the number of such acts or the length of detentions. Authorities often failed to notify family members of the arrest or location of detention, resulting in incommunicado detention.
There were reports that central government security forces, including the PMF and Peshmerga, detained and arrested individuals, including IDPs, following the liberation of areas from ISIS rule. For example, in September the Ninewa Provincial Council reportedly filed a complaint to the central government and the United Nations stating the PMF routinely detained local Sunni men under suspicion of supporting ISIS. Humanitarian organizations also reported that in many instances central government security forces did not inform detainees of the reason for their detention or the charges filed against them. Humanitarian agencies similarly reported central government security forces detained IDPs suspected of ISIS membership or support.
HRW accused KRG forces of arresting 2,000 men and boys in IDP camps in February. On February 28, the KRG’s High Committee to Evaluate and Respond to International Reports confirmed the majority of the detainees were suspected ISIS members. The committee claimed it informed detainees’ families of their detention and that authorities released suspects within 24 hours thereafter unless they were found to have terrorist affiliation.
KRG police and internal security service officers arrested and detained protesters and activists critical of the KRG, according to NGO contacts and local press reporting. On March 18, HRW accused KRG security authorities of detaining 32 unarmed protesters in Erbil on March 4 and allegedly using threats of retaliation to discourage future protests.
Pretrial Detention: The Ministries of Justice, Defense, Interior, and Labor and Social Affairs are legally authorized to hold pretrial detainees. Lengthy detentions without due process and without judicial action were a systemic problem, particularly during and immediately after ISF campaigns to liberate areas from ISIS. The lack of judicial review resulted from several factors, including a large number of detainees, undocumented detentions, slow processing of criminal investigations, an insufficient number of judges and trained judicial personnel, authorities’ inability or reluctance to use bail or other conditions of release, lack of information sharing, bribery, and corruption. Overcrowding of pretrial detainees remained a problem in many detention facilities.
Lengthy pretrial detentions were particularly common in areas liberated from ISIS. For example, the Ministry of Interior reportedly placed detainees in homes rented from local residents in Ninewa, rather than in proper detention facilities, because the fight against ISIS had mostly destroyed the latter. Use of makeshift facilities led to significant overcrowding and inadequate services. There were allegations of detention beyond judicial release dates as well as of unlawful releases.
There were no independently verified statistics concerning the number of pretrial detainees in central government facilities.
In August the ISF detained more than 1,400 non-Iraqi women and children who fled military operations in Tal Afar. The group included nationals primarily from Turkey, Azerbaijan, Russia, and China. Security forces held the group at a transit facility for two weeks before moving them to a detention facility north of Mosul and later to a facility near Baghdad. Authorities provided residents’ basic needs, but the facility lacked sufficient medical care or shower facilities. Authorities noted that the seclusion of this population protected the group from revenge attacks expected due to their alleged affiliation with ISIS. As of November nearly the entire group remained in central government custody, with some having been repatriated to their countries of origin. Several hundred faced possible charges of violating the counterterrorism law, while the remainder allegedly awaited repatriation.
According to some observers, authorities held some detainees without trial for months or years after arrest, particularly those detained under the antiterrorism law. Authorities sometimes held detainees incommunicado, without access to defense counsel or without formal charge before a judge within the legally mandated period. Authorities at times detained spouses and other family members of fugitives–mostly Sunnis wanted on terrorism charges–to compel their surrender.
KRG authorities also reportedly held detainees for extensive periods in pretrial detention. According to local NGOs and the IKR Independent Human Rights Commission, prisoners held in regional government-administered Asayish prisons sometimes remained in detention for more than six months without trial. According to IKR judicial officials, IKR law permits extension of pretrial detention of up to six months under court supervision. As of September there were an estimated 1,700 pretrial detainees, including 71 women, in various KRG facilities, according to the KRG Ministry of Labor and Social Affairs.
Detainee’s Ability to Challenge Lawfulness of Detention before a Court: The constitution grants detainees the right to a prompt judicial determination on the legality of their detention and the right to prompt release and compensation if found to have been unlawfully detained. In practice individuals faced lengthy detentions without the possibility of prompt release, regardless of guilt. Despite the 2016 reform law concerning rights of detainees, NGOs widely reported that detainees had limited ability to challenge the lawfulness of detention before a court, and a bribe was often necessary to gain release. While a constitutional right, the law does not allow for compensation for a person found to have been unlawfully detained.
The constitution provides for an independent judiciary, although certain articles of law restricted judicial independence and impartiality. The country’s security situation and political history left the judiciary weak and dependent on other parts of the government. One individual heads both the Federal Supreme Court that rules on issues related to federalism and constitutionality and the Higher Judicial Council that manages and supervises the court system, including disciplinary matters. Local and international media claimed this arrangement was politically motivated and undermined judicial independence.
Corruption or intimidation reportedly influenced some judges in criminal cases at the trial level and on appeal at the Court of Cassation. The Commission of Integrity routinely investigated judges on corruption charges, but some investigations were reportedly politically motivated.
Numerous threats and killings by sectarian, tribal, extremist, and criminal elements impaired judicial independence. Judges, lawyers, and their family members frequently faced death threats and attacks. Lawyers participated in protests demanding better protection from the government against threats and violence. Judges were also vulnerable to intimidation and violence. For example, in June gunmen attempted to kill a judge hearing terrorism-related cases in Basrah.
The Kurdistan Judicial Council is legally, financially, and administratively independent from the KRG Ministry of Justice, but the KRG executive influenced politically sensitive cases.
The constitution provides all citizens the right to a fair and public trial.
By law accused persons are innocent until proven guilty. The law requires detainees to be informed promptly and in detail of the charges against them and the right to a fair, timely, and public trial. Defendants have the right to be present at their trial, the right to a privately retained or court-appointed counsel, at public expense if needed, and the right to an interpreter without a fee. Nonetheless, officials routinely failed to inform defendants promptly or in detail of charges against them. Judges assemble evidence and adjudicate guilt or innocence. Defendants and their attorneys have the right to confront witnesses against them and present witnesses and evidence. They may not be compelled to testify or confess guilt. Nevertheless, in numerous cases, forced confessions served as the primary source of evidence without the corroboration of forensic evidence or independent witness testimony. The law provides the right to appeal, although there is a statute of limitations for referral; the Court of Cassation reviews criminal cases on appeal.
Observers, including some government officials, the United Nations, and NGOs, reported trial proceedings fell short of international standards. Although investigative, trial, and appellate judges generally sought to enforce the right to a fair trial, defendants’ insufficient access to defense attorneys was a serious defect in proceedings. Many defendants met their lawyers for the first time during the initial hearing and had limited access to legal counsel during pretrial detention. This was particularly true in counterterrorism courts, where judicial staff reportedly sought to complete convictions and sentencing for thousands of suspected ISIS members in short periods of time. Trials were public, except in some national security cases, but some faced undue delays.
KRG officials noted that prosecutors and defense attorneys frequently encountered obstacles in carrying out their work and that prisoners’ trials were unnecessarily delayed for administrative reasons. According to the IKR’s Independent Human Rights Commission, detainees have remained in KRG internal security service facilities for extended periods even after court orders for their release.
POLITICAL PRISONERS AND DETAINEES
The government did not consider any incarcerated persons to be political prisoners or detainees and stated that all individuals in prison had been either convicted or charged under criminal law or were detained and awaiting trial while under investigation.
It was difficult to assess claims that there were no political prisoners or detainees due to the lack of government transparency, prevalence of corruption in arrest procedures, slow case processing, and inaccessibility to detainees, especially those held in counterterrorism, intelligence, and military facilities. Political opponents of the government asserted the government imprisoned or sought to imprison persons for political activities or beliefs under the pretense of criminal charges ranging from corruption to terrorism and murder.
Niaz Aziz Saleh, convicted in 2012 of leaking KDP party information related to electoral fraud, remained in a KRG prison, despite the completion of his sentence in 2014.
CIVIL JUDICIAL PROCEDURES AND REMEDIES
Individuals and organizations may seek civil remedies for, or cessation of, human rights violations. Administrative remedies also exist, although due to the overwhelming security focus of the executive branch, coupled with an understaffed judiciary dependent on the executive, the government did not effectively implement civil or administrative remedies for human rights violations.
KRG law provides for compensation to persons subject to unlawful arrest or detention. The KRG’s Ministry of Martyrs and Anfal Affairs handles compensation for unlawful arrests or detentions, and its Human Rights Commission reported that while approximately 5,000 cases (including many historical cases) received approval for compensation of a piece of land, 10 years’ salary, and college tuition for one family member, the government could not pay compensation due to budget constraints. The ministry stated there were 13,000 unlawful arrests pending compensation decisions.
The constitution mandates that authorities may not enter or search homes except with a judicial order. The constitution also prohibits arbitrary interference with privacy, but security forces often entered homes without search warrants.
Some government forces and militia groups forced alleged ISIS sympathizers from their homes in several governorates. For example, there were reports that PMF militia group Kata’ib Hizballah kidnapped and intimidated local Arab Sunni residents in Diyala and Babil Governorates and prevented Arab Sunni IDPs from returning to their places of origin. There were credible reports that local authorities punished family members of suspected ISIS members. In some instances local community leaders threatened to evict these family members from their homes forcibly; bulldoze the homes; and/or injure or kill these relatives.
IDPs returning to towns and areas in the Ninewa Plains reported ISIS had destroyed temples, houses of worship, cemeteries, and schools. A Catholic social organization conducted a survey of several historically Christian towns and found 1,233 houses destroyed, 3,520 houses burned, and 8,217 partially damaged. The same organization reported that as of September 3, only 200 Christian families from a pre-ISIS population of 19,000 families had returned to the Ninewa Plains; Christian IDPs in several Ninewa Plains villages under PMF control reported the PMF imposed arbitrary checkpoints and detained civilians without legal authority to do so.
Killings: From January 1 to June 30, UNAMI reported a minimum of 5,700 civilian casualties, including at least 2,429 persons killed and 3,277 injured. It was not clear how many civilians were intentionally targeted.
According to international human rights organizations, some Shia militias, including some under the PMF umbrella, committed abuses and atrocities. The groups participated in operations against ISIS as part of the PMF and were implicated in several attacks on Sunni civilians, reportedly avenging ISIS crimes against the Shia community. For example, in September HRW reported that Shia PMF fighters affiliated with the Badr Organization detained and beat at least 100 male villagers and allegedly shot and killed four who self-identified as ISIS-affiliated during counter-ISIS operations outside Hawija.
ISIS was the major perpetrator of abuses and atrocities in the country, responsible for deaths of many innocent civilians. The United Nations, international human rights groups, and media reported that ISIS executed hundreds of noncombatants, including civilians living under, or trying to flee from, its rule. From May 26-29, according to the UN Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights, ISIS killed more than 200 civilians as they attempted to flee fighting in western Mosul.
These abuses were particularly evident in and around Mosul, as well as western Anbar, where ISIS reportedly killed numerous civilians who attempted to flee ISIS rule or refused to fight the ISF. There were also numerous reports of ISIS killing civilians in al-Qa’im, Anbar Governorate, in August and September for allegedly cooperating with ISF or attempting to flee to liberated territory.
Throughout the year ISIS detonated vehicle-borne improvised explosive devices and suicide bombs in public markets, security checkpoints, and predominantly Shia neighborhoods. For example, ISIS claimed responsibility for September 14 attacks on a checkpoint and restaurant in Dhi Qar that killed 94 civilians.
ISIS also reportedly killed individuals, including minors, who did not conform to ISIS dictates. For example, on August 3, ISIS reportedly killed a 12-year-old boy publicly in al-Qa’im, Anbar Governorate, for verbally insulting ISIS members.
Abductions: Militias, criminal armed groups, ISIS, and other unknown actors kidnapped many persons during the year. While in some cases individuals were kidnapped due to their ethnic or sectarian identity, other individuals were taken for financial motives. ISIS reportedly detained children in schools, prisons, and airports, and separated girls from their families to sell them in ISIS-controlled areas for sexual slavery.
According to Yezidi NGO contacts, since 2014 ISIS caused more than 360,000 Yezidis to flee to areas under KRG control. The KRG Office of Yezidi Rescues reported ISIS kidnapped 6,417 Yezidis (3,547 women and 2,870 men); of that number, the office facilitated the rescue of 1,108 women, 335 men, and 1,635 children. The office reported there were 3,319 Yezidis still missing as of September.
In May, COR member Vian Dakhil reported the KRG had paid more than 5.8 billion Iraqi dinars ($5.0 million) in ransom to secure the release of 3,004 Yezidis from ISIS, and more than 69.9 million Iraqi dinars ($60,000) to middlemen to arrange safe passage to IKR-controlled areas.
Kidnappings also were a tactic used in tribal conflicts throughout the country. For example, Basrah police reported four tribal dispute-linked kidnappings during the year.
Physical Abuse, Punishment, and Torture: Reports from international human rights groups stated that government forces and PMF abused prisoners and detainees, particularly Sunnis (see section 1.a.).
According to international human rights organizations, ISIS used torture to punish individuals connected to the security services and government, as well as those they considered apostates, such as Yezidis. Thousands of women, particularly those from ethnic and religious communities that ISIS considered as not conforming to their doctrine of Islam, were raped, sexually enslaved, murdered, and endured other forms of physical and sexual violence.
ISIS forces killed civilians who cooperated with the government and anyone who refused to recognize ISIS and its caliphate or tried to escape ISIS-controlled territory. For example, in September ISIS reportedly killed 10 civilians in Hawija for allegedly cooperating with the ISF. ISIS also punished minors in areas under its control.
ISIS attempted to attack both ISF units and civilian-populated areas with chemical substances, including chlorine and sulfur mustard gas. For example, in March humanitarian agencies reported ISIS used chemicals containing blistering agents during the ISF’s battle to liberate Mosul.
Child Soldiers: There were no reports that the central government’s Ministries of Interior or Defense conscripted or recruited children to serve in the security services. Some armed militia groups, however, under the banner of the PMF, provided weapons training and military-style physical fitness conditioning to children under age 18. The government and Shia religious leaders expressly forbid children under age 18 from serving in combat; even so, there was evidence on social media of children serving in combat positions. For example, local media reported at least one PMF-linked Shia militia managed a military readiness training camp for teenagers below age 18 in the Taza area south of Kirkuk during the summer months.
KRG and independent sources stated the Yezidi Resistance Forces and Yezidi Women’s Protection Units’ militias employed Yezidi minors in paramilitary roles in Sinjar. Kurdish media reported that the Kurdistan Worker’s Party recruited children from Sulaimaniyah and Halabja Governorates and had armed and transferred more than 250 Yezidi youth from the town of Sinjar to bases in Qandil. Media reported the party also recruited children from Makhmour. Turkish air strikes in April killed one child soldier in Khanasour District of Sinjar.
ISIS forced children to serve as informants, checkpoint staff, and suicide bombers in areas under its control. The NGO Yazda claimed ISIS continued to force Yezidi children into combat roles, including sending young boys to conduct suicide attacks against the ISF in Mosul.
Also see the Department of State’s annual Trafficking in Persons Report at www.state.gov/j/tip/rls/tiprpt/.
Other Conflict-related Abuse: Conflict disrupted the lives of hundreds of thousands of persons throughout the country, particularly in Baghdad, Anbar, and Ninewa Governorates.
The government, the PMF, and ISIS established roadblocks that impeded the flow of humanitarian assistance to communities in need. Local officials reported PMF-affiliated militias looted Kurdish homes and threatened Kurdish residents in Kirkuk and Tuz Khurmatu in October and November. The KRG, specifically KDP-run checkpoints, also restricted the transport of food, medicines, and medical supplies, and other goods into some areas. In September, Yazda accused the KDP of using checkpoints to prevent Yezidi IDP returns to southern Sinjar. Local sources reported that Asayish required clearance letters for anyone to cross the main bridge from Dahuk to Ninewa.
Reports of ISIS’s targeted destruction of civilian infrastructure were common, including attacks on roads, religious sites, and hospitals.
ISIS attacked cultural and religious heritage sites in areas under its control. On June 21, ISIS destroyed the al-Nuri Mosque in Mosul, famed for its leaning minaret.
ISIS increasingly used civilians as human shields in combat and targeted civilian areas with mortars. Amnesty International reported that ISIS used hundreds of Mosul residents as human shields during the ISF’s campaign to retake the city from ISIS control.
Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:
The constitution broadly provides for the right of free expression that does not violate public order and morality, express support for the banned Ba’ath party, or advocate altering the country’s borders through violent means. The primary limitation on individual and media exercise of these rights was self-censorship due to credible fear of reprisals by the government, political parties, ethnic and sectarian forces, terrorist and extremist groups, or criminal gangs.
Freedom of Expression: Despite the constitutional protection for freedom of expression, central government and KRG oversight and censorship sometimes interfered with media operations, at times resulting in the closure of media outlets, restrictions on reporting, and interference with internet service. Individuals were able to criticize the government publicly or privately but not without fear of reprisal. For example, on March 14, KRG security forces prevented a Nalia Radio and Television (NRT) journalist from covering the visit of a western ambassador to Bashiqa. On August 28, the KRG Directorate of Media, Printing, and Publications announced it would temporarily halt the broadcast of NRT, a media outlet that criticized the KDP and the Kurdistan Region’s independence referendum; NRT was closed for one week before resuming programming without incident. On October 28, the National Commission of Media and Communications called for Erbil-based Rudaw TV and Kurdistan 24 TV to suspend broadcasts for operating without a license and broadcasting programs that incite violence.
Press and Media Freedom: An active media expressed a variety of views largely reflecting the owners’ political viewpoints. Media also self-censored to comply with government restrictions against “violating public order” and because of a fear of reprisal by militias, criminal organizations, and private individuals, including political figures. Media outlets, unable to cover operating costs through advertising revenue, frequently relied upon political funding that diminished their ability to report unbiased news. Political parties strongly influenced, or controlled outright, most of the several hundred daily and weekly print media publications, as well as dozens of radio and television stations.
Some media organizations reported arrests and harassment of journalists, as well as government preventing them from covering politically sensitive topics, including security issues, corruption, and weak governmental capacity. Government, KRG security authorities, and militias sometimes prevented journalists from reporting; they cited security pretexts.
On July 1, the Kurdish Journalists’ Syndicate released a report alleging 56 reported violations of press freedom in the first half of the year. From January 1 to September 1, according to the Metro Center for Defending Journalists’ Rights, there were 166 press violations against 144 journalists and media outlets. Both organizations reported that security forces physically blocked journalists’ access to story locations and press conferences.
Security forces barred Gorran-affiliated Kurdish News Network journalist Hazhar Anwar Jawhar, who reported he received several death threats, from covering stories, and they repeatedly assaulted him. He stated KDP security forces in Makhmour prevented him from reporting in the area in 2016 and that a KRG Ministry of Interior official warned him in April that if he did not lower his profile, he would be killed.
Violence and Harassment: According to a report of the Committee to Protect Journalists, 34 journalists were killed during the year.
Reporting from ISIS-controlled areas remained dangerous and difficult. Journalists covering armed clashes involving government, militia, and ISIS forces faced serious threats to their safety, with several instances of journalists killed or injured. Military officials, citing safety considerations, sometimes restricted journalists’ access to areas of active fighting.
Media workers often reported they were pressured by persons and institutions, including politicians, government officials, security services, tribal elements, and business leaders, not to publish articles critical of them. Media workers reported accounts of government or partisan violence, intimidation, death threats, and harassment. For example, on January 31, government officers reportedly harassed and beat a Radio al-Mirbad journalist to prevent him from reporting negative news in Basrah Governorate.
Throughout the IKR there were numerous beatings, detentions, and death threats against media workers. In some cases the aggressors wore military or police uniforms. For example, on March 10, unknown gunmen fired on the house of freelance journalist Hemin Kareem in Sulaimaniyah. Kareem claimed he was targeted due to his critical writing on social media. According to a November 2 HRW statement, on October 30, at least six masked men in military uniforms broke into the Daquq home of Arkan Sharifi, a high school principal and cameraman for Kurdistan TV, and stabbed him to death. At year’s end the assailants remained unidentified and their motives unknown.
Censorship or Content Restrictions: The law prohibits producing, importing, publishing, or possessing written material, drawings, photographs, or films that violate public integrity or decency. The penalties for conviction include fines and imprisonment. Fear of violent retaliation for publishing facts or opinions displeasing to political factions inhibited free expression. Public officials reportedly influenced content through rewarding positive reporting with bribes, providing money, land, access to venues, and other benefits to journalists, particularly to members of the progovernment Journalists’ Syndicate. These restrictions extended to privately owned television stations operating outside of the country.
The Ministry of Culture must approve all books published in or imported into the country, thereby subjecting authors to censorship.
In August the National Commission of Media and Communications prevented two television channels from broadcasting the satirical al-Basheer Show, reportedly for violating the code of media conduct.
The KDP banned NRT, Payam, and the Kurdish News Network from covering the frontlines of the fight against ISIS in Ninewa Governorate as well as Mosul liberation operations that started in October 2016. Additionally, on August 28, the KRG banned NRT local broadcasts for one week because of commercial advertisements for the “No for Now” anti-Kurdistan Region independence referendum campaign. On August 31, KDP supporters raided NRT headquarters in Dahuk and destroyed the NRT logo on the roof of the building.
Libel/Slander Laws: Criminal and civil law prohibits defamation. Many in media complained this provision prevented them from freely practicing their profession by creating a strong fear of prosecution, although widespread self-censorship impeded journalistic performance as well. Public officials occasionally resorted to filing libel charges that in some cases resulted in punitive fines on individual media outlets and editors, often for publishing articles containing allegations of corruption. When cases went to court, the courts usually sided with the journalist, according to local media-freedom organizations.
Libel is a criminal offense under KRG law as well, and judges may issue arrest warrants for journalists on this basis.
Nongovernmental Impact: Nongovernmental actors, including militia groups, reportedly threatened journalists with violence for reporting on sensitive subjects.
There were overt government restrictions on access to the internet, and there were credible reports, but no official acknowledgement, that the government monitored email and internet communications without appropriate legal authority. Despite restrictions, political figures and activists used the internet to criticize corrupt and ineffective politicians, mobilize protesters for demonstrations, and campaign for candidates through social media channels.
The government acknowledged that it interfered with internet access in some areas of the country due to the deterioration in the security situation and ISIS’s disruptive use of social media platforms. During the year there were reports that government officials attempted to have pages critical of the government removed from Facebook and Twitter as “hate speech,” although they did not succeed in doing so.
There were no reports the Ministry of Communications imposed social media blackouts. Sporadically throughout the year, the government instructed internet service providers to shut down the internet during school exams, reportedly so students could not cheat.
According to the World Bank, approximately 21 percent of the population used the internet in 2016, compared with 17 percent in 2015.
ISIS also severely restricted access to the internet and telephone service in areas under its control and threatened users with death.
ACADEMIC FREEDOM AND CULTURAL EVENTS
Social, religious, and political pressures significantly restricted the exercise of freedom of choice in academic and cultural matters. In all regions various groups reportedly sought to control the pursuit of formal education and granting of academic positions. The country’s universities did not pursue gender-segregation policies. ISIS limited female education beyond the primary level in areas that it controlled.
Academic freedoms remained restricted in areas of active conflict and in ISIS-controlled territory. ISIS targeted libraries, museums, and academic institutions in violent attacks and abducted students and faculty. The situation improved during the year, however, as the government liberated locations from ISIS rule, and thousands of schools reopened.
ISIS limited cultural expression by targeting artists, poets, writers, and musicians in areas under its control.
NGOs in the KRG reported that senior professorships were easier to obtain for those with links to the traditional KDP and PUK ruling parties.
The government sometimes limited freedoms of peaceful assembly and association.
FREEDOM OF PEACEFUL ASSEMBLY
The constitution provides for freedom of assembly and peaceful demonstration “regulated by law.” Regulations require protest organizers request permission seven days in advance of a demonstration and submit detailed information regarding the applicants, the reason for the protest, and participants. The regulations prohibit all “slogans, signs, printed materials, or drawings” involving “sectarianism, racism, or segregation” of citizens. The regulations also prohibit anything that would violate the constitution or law; encourage violence, hatred, or killing; or prove insulting to Islam, “honor, morals, religion, holy groups, or Iraqi entities in general.” Provincial councils traditionally maintained authority to issue permits. Authorities generally issued permits in accordance with the regulations.
In large part the government respected the right of its citizens to freedom of peaceful assembly. For example, on March 24, Shia cleric Muqtada al-Sadr addressed an estimated 50,000 followers in Baghdad’s Tahrir Square to demand anticorruption reforms; the protest remained peaceful, and the estimated 2,000 riot police deployed for the occasion did not interfere with the assembly.
On September 19, hundreds of protesters reportedly gathered in Kirkuk to protest the Iraqi parliament’s motion to remove Kirkuk governor Najmaldin Karim from office; the protest was peaceful, and there were no reports government forces acted to disband the protest.
In some cases government forces dismissed unauthorized protests or restricted protests for security reasons. On February 11, riot police dispersed thousands of Sadr supporters gathered outside a gate to Baghdad’s International Zone; the clashes reportedly resulted in the death of one police officer and four protesters.
HRW reported the KRG security services and local police detained 32 persons in Erbil on March 4 for participating in a demonstration without a permit. Twenty-three of those detained were released the same day, three others were released four days later, and six foreign nationals were held for more than 10 days. One of those detained told HRW that authorities never charged him, but the police chief told him to leave Erbil.
FREEDOM OF ASSOCIATION
The constitution provides for the right to form and join associations and political parties, with some exceptions. The government generally respected this right, except for the legal prohibitions against groups expressing support for the Ba’ath Party or Zionist principles. The penal code stipulates that any person convicted of promoting Zionist principles, association with Zionist organizations, assisting such organizations through material or moral support, or working in any way to realize Zionist objectives, is subject to punishment by death. There were no known cases of individuals charged with violating this law during the year.
The government reported it took approximately one month to process NGO registration applications, an improvement from past years. NGOs must register and periodically reregister in Baghdad. The NGO Directorate in the Council of Ministers Secretariat reported 3,450 registered NGOs as of November.
In January, KRG officials in Dahuk temporarily closed the offices of the Yazda organization, allegedly because it did not abide by NGO regulations requiring it to obtain approval to do advocacy work. A local NGO reported that the PUK Asayish prevented it from holding a meeting on corruption in February.
See the Department of State’s International Religious Freedom Report at www.state.gov/religiousfreedomreport/.
The constitution and other national legal instruments recognize the right of all citizens to freedom of movement, travel, and residence throughout the country, but the government did not consistently respect these rights. In some instances authorities restricted movements of displaced persons, and authorities did not allow camp residents to depart without specific permission, thereby limiting access to livelihoods, education, and services.
The government generally cooperated with the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), the International Organization for Migration, and other humanitarian organizations to provide protection and assistance to IDPs, refugees, returning refugees, asylum seekers, stateless persons, or other vulnerable populations. The government did not have effective systems to assist all of these individuals, largely due to funding shortfalls, lack of capacity, and lack of access. The security situation and armed clashes between the ISF and ISIS throughout the year caused significant movement of civilians, further complicating the government’s coordination of relief efforts. Security considerations in and near active combat areas, unexploded ordnance, destruction of infrastructure, and official and unofficial restrictions limited humanitarian access to IDP communities.
Abuse of Migrants, Refugees, and Stateless Persons: UN agencies, NGOs, and the press reported that sectarian groups, extremists, criminals, and, in some alleged but unverified cases, government forces attacked and arrested refugees, including Palestinians, Ahwazis, and Syrian Arabs.
Local NGOs reported that abuse of Syrian refugees, often by other refugees, was common, including violence against women and children, child marriage, forced prostitution, and sexual harassment.
In-country Movement: The law permits security forces to restrict in-country movement pursuant to a warrant, impose a curfew, cordon off and search an area, and take other necessary security and military measures in response to security threats and attacks. There were numerous reports that security forces, including the ISF and Peshmerga, as well as the PMF, selectively enforced regulations requiring residency permits to limit entry of persons into liberated areas under their control. UNAMI and the UN Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights received multiple reports that Kirkuk’s largely non-Arab authorities denied Sunni Arab IDPs from Kirkuk’s Hawija District, as well as Salah al-Din and Ninewa Governorates access to Kirkuk.
There were reports that some PMF militias harassed or threatened civilians fleeing conflict zones, and targeted civilians with threats, intimidation, physical violence, abduction, destruction of property, and killing. There were a number of reports that IDPs, particularly those suspected of ISIS affiliation, faced hostility from local government authorities and populations, as well as threats of expulsion.
The United Nations and humanitarian agencies reported that Kirkuk authorities confiscated identification documents or served notices of eviction to IDPs from Salah al-Din, Anbar, and Diyala Governorates, provoking their departure from camps and urban centers. Authorities reportedly used coercive measures during eviction notifications. Amnesty International reported that PMF units (predominantly Shi’a militias) and the Peshmerga forces prevented civilians, largely Sunni, from returning to their homes after they ousted ISIS.
In Anbar the United Nations and humanitarian agencies noted reports of collective punishment against families with relatives suspected of affiliation with extremist groups in retaken areas. Anbar authorities reportedly made efforts to stop this practice and to work toward post-ISIS reconciliation.
The KRG restricted movement across the areas it administered. Authorities required nonresidents to obtain permits that authorized limited stays in the IKR. These permits were generally renewable. Citizens who sought to obtain residency permits for KRG-controlled areas required sponsorship from a resident in the region. Citizens (of all ethnosectarian backgrounds, including Kurds) crossing into the IKR from central or southern regions were obligated to cross through checkpoints and undergo personal and vehicle inspection. The government imposed similar restrictions on IDPs from Ninewa Governorate and the disputed territories. While authorities allowed many IDPs to return to their places of origin in retaken areas, ethnic Arabs originating from disputed territories under control of the Peshmerga forces were generally prevented from doing so.
KRG authorities applied restrictions more stringently in some areas than in others. The United Nations and international humanitarian organizations stated that practices regarding the entry of IDPs and refugees seeking to return were more or less restrictive depending upon the ethnosectarian background of the displaced individuals and the area to which they intended to return. There were also reports that authorities sometimes closed checkpoints into the region for extended periods, forcing IDPs to wait. Officials prevented individuals whom they deemed security threats from entering the region. KRG officials generally admitted minority IDPs into the IKR, although security checks were occasionally lengthy. Entry often was more difficult for men, particularly Arab men traveling without family.
Due to military operations against ISIS, the ISF, including the PMF and KRG Peshmerga, increased the number of checkpoints and erected makeshift roadblocks in many parts of the country (see section 1.g.). During military operations to retake Mosul, Tal Afar, Hawija, and areas of western Anbar, the ISF managed the transportation of numerous IDPs from muster points to designated and available sites, without allowing IDPs any option to choose displacement sites. In more severe cases, authorities transported households suspected of ISIS affiliation, including many women and children, to substandard sites without any information or freedom of movement. Sites included Ninewa’s Hamam al-Alil and Tel Kayf camps, as well as Salah al-Din’s al-Shahama camp.
ISIS restricted freedom of movement, particularly in the west and north (see section 1.g.). There were numerous credible reports that ISIS killed civilians trying to flee, including in the cities of Hawija, Qayara, and Mosul, when the ISF moved to liberate those areas.
Foreign Travel: The government required exit permits for citizens leaving the country, but the requirement was not routinely enforced.
INTERNALLY DISPLACED PERSONS (IDPS)
The constitution and the national policy on displacement address IDP rights, but few laws specifically do so. The government and international organizations, including UN agencies and NGOs, attempted to provide protection and other assistance to IDPs. High numbers of IDPs outside of camps strained host communities’ resources. Since 2014 the United Nations has designated the country’s humanitarian crisis as a level three emergency, its highest level, citing the scale, urgency, and complexity of the situation.
In some areas violence and insecurity, along with long-standing political, tribal and sectarian tensions, hampered progress on national reconciliation and political reform, complicating the protection environment. Thousands of families have experienced multiple displacements, and large numbers were compelled to move across governorates in search of protection. Forced displacements, combined with the protracted and largely unresolved problem of millions of persons uprooted in the past decades, had a destabilizing effect on the country’s already complex social and political dynamics, straining the capacity of local authorities and revealing the limitations of legal and administrative frameworks.
All citizens are eligible to receive food under the Public Distribution System (PDS); however, authorities implemented the PDS sporadically and irregularly, with limited access in recently retaken areas. Authorities did not distribute all commodities each month, and not all IDPs could access the PDS in each governorate. Low oil prices further limited funds available for the PDS. Citizens could only redeem PDS rations at their place of residence and within their registered governorate, causing loss of access and entitlement following displacement. Following military operations in Mosul, the government included PDS in the first wave of services restoration.
Persons who did not register as IDPs in their places of residence sometimes faced limited access to services. Local authorities often determined whether IDPs would have access to local services. Through the provision of legal aid, the United Nations and other humanitarian agencies assisted IDPs in obtaining documentation and registering with authorities to improve access to services and entitlements. Humanitarian agencies reported some IDPs faced difficulty with registration due to lack of required documentation and administrative delays. Many citizens who previously lived in ISIS-controlled areas did not have civil documents for the prior two or three years, increasing the difficulty of obtaining identification and other personal documents.
Although government assistance focused on financial grants, it did not make payments consistently. Faced with the large movements of IDPs across the country, the government provided food, water, and financial assistance to many but not all IDPs, including in the KRG. Many IDPs lived in informal settlements where they did not receive adequate water, sanitation, or other essential services. According to the International Organization for Migration, as of October, 12 percent of IDPs lived in shelter arrangements that did not meet minimal safety or security standards, 24 percent lived in IDP camps and settlements, and approximately 48 percent resided in private accommodations, including host family residences, hotels, motels, and rented housing.
Since 2014 armed conflict has displaced more than 3.2 million persons, predominantly from Anbar, Ninewa, and Salah al-Din Governorates. From October 2016 to July, Mosul military operations cumulatively displaced more than one million persons, primarily to other areas of Ninewa Governorate. Subsequent military operations in Tal Afar prompted additional Ninewa displacement, while operations in Hawija and western Anbar displaced more than 109,000 persons and 67,000 persons in central and southern regions of the country, respectively, as of mid-November. Almost 2.3 million individuals returned to their communities throughout the country in the past two years. Up to one million individuals remained displaced from the 2006-08 sectarian conflict.
While humanitarian assistance generally reached IDPs in most of the country, access to those remaining in ISIS-controlled areas was limited. Humanitarian personnel were restricted from providing assistance in these areas due to security and movement limitations that constrained aid delivery.
During September central government authorities evicted Anbar IDPs from Amiriyah Fallujah IDP camp complex. The Anbar Operations Command repeatedly mandated the return of IDPs to areas of origin in Falluja District, despite insecurity and vulnerability to sectarian threats in these areas. Furthermore, confiscation of documentation, particularly from male IDPs, increased protection risks and impeded IDPs’ access to public services and humanitarian assistance. In November and December, government officials forced the return of hundreds of IDPs in Anbar and Salahuddin.
On July 9, HRW reported that KRG forces expelled at least four Yezidi IDP families and threatened others because of the participation of their relatives in Iraqi security forces. The Asayish returned the displaced families to Sinjar where access to basic goods and services was very limited. As of the end of August, the Asayish expelled more than 200 Yezidi IDPs from camps, according to the Yezidi Documentation Organization.
PROTECTION OF REFUGEES
Access to Asylum: The law provides for the granting of asylum or refugee status, and the government established a system for providing protection to refugees. According to UNHCR, the country hosts more than 284,000 refugees, primarily from Syria, with smaller numbers of Iranians, Turks, and Palestinians. The government generally cooperated with UNHCR and other humanitarian organizations to provide protection and assistance to refugees in the country.
Employment: Refugees and asylum seekers are legally entitled to work in the private sector. Palestinian refugees, however, faced job insecurity when working in the public sector due to their ambiguous legal status; the government did not recognize their refugee status and did not allow them to obtain citizenship. Syrian refugees were able to obtain and renew residency and work permits both in refugee camps and in the KRG. Iraqi authorities arrested refugees who sought work outside of the KRG and returned them to the KRG.
Durable Solutions: There was no large-scale resettlement or integration of non-Iraqi refugees in central and southern Iraq. Ethnic Kurdish refugees from Syria, Turkey, and Iran generally integrated well in the KRG, although economic hardship plagued families and prevented some children, especially Syrians, from enrolling in formal school. Education service providers in the KRG reported that out-of-camp IDP populations had the poorest school attendance and highest dropout rates amongst IDPs, refugees, and host communities. In September the KRG reported that approximately 60 percent of Syrian refugees in the region lived outside camps. Many worked in Erbil or found shelter with relatives locally.
UNHCR estimated there were more than 48,000 stateless individuals in the country in 2016, the latest year for which complete data were available.
As of 2006 the latest year for which data were available, an estimated 54,500 Bidoun individuals, descendants of individuals who never received Iraqi citizenship upon the state’s founding, living as nomads in the desert near or in the southern governorates of Basrah, Dhi Qar, and Qadisiyah, remained undocumented and stateless. Prolonged drought in the southern section of the country forced many individuals from these communities to migrate to city centers, where most obtained identification documents and gained access to food rations and other social benefits. Other communities similarly at risk of statelessness included the country’s Romani population; the Ahwazi, who are Shia Arabs of Iranian descent; the Bahai religious minority; inhabitants of the southern marshlands; members of the Goyan and Omariya Turkish Kurdish tribes near Mosul; and nationals of South Sudan.
Stateless persons faced discrimination in employment and access to education. Many stateless persons were not able to register for identity cards, which prevented them from enrolling in public school, registering marriages, and gaining access to some government services. Stateless persons also faced difficulty obtaining public-sector employment and lacked job security.