Cambodia

Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:

Although the constitution provides for freedom of expression, including for the press, the government did not always respect these rights.

Freedom of Expression: The constitution grants freedom of expression except where it adversely affects public security. The constitution also declares that the king is “inviolable,” and a Ministry of Interior directive implementing the country’s criminal defamation law reiterates these limits and prohibits publishers and editors from disseminating stories that insult or defame not just the king, but also government leaders and institutions.

Election laws contain provisions that require civil society organizations to remain “neutral” during political campaign periods and prohibit them from “insulting” political parties through media.

The government used the penal code to prosecute citizens on disinformation and incitement charges, which carry a maximum sentence of three years imprisonment. Judges also can order fines, which may lead to jail time if not paid. Courts interpreted “incitement” broadly and senior government officials threatened to prosecute opposition figures on incitement charges for acts including calling for a “change in government” by electoral means.

Local human rights NGOs, media, and several independent analysts continued to express concern publicly about government actions targeting their work, including the arrests of ADHOC officials. On September 13, authorities arrested Dem Kundy and Hun Vannak, who worked for the NGO Mother Nature, on charges of incitement to commit a felony and violating privacy for filming sand-dredging operations in Koh Kong Province, a politically sensitive environmental issue.

Press and Media Freedom: A majority of Khmer-language newspapers received financial support from persons closely associated with the ruling CPP.

On September 4, The Cambodia Daily, an independent English language newspaper that had published uninterrupted since 1993, ceased operations a week after it received a warning from the government to pay tax arrears calculated at more than $6 million. The newspaper’s director of press claimed the government used the charge of tax evasion as a pretext to shutter independent press freedom in the country. Tax authorities refused to present detailed information about the tax charges, and information about the arrears quickly leaked to government-controlled media, despite laws calling for the government to attempt to resolve issues of tax noncompliance privately.

The three largest pro-CPP newspapers never criticized the government for politically motivated or human rights problems. As of August no pro-opposition newspapers published regularly, and the government restricted critical voices on electronic publications and social media.

The government, military forces, and the ruling political party continued to influence broadcast media. The great majority of domestic radio and television stations operated under the control or influence of the CPP. In August the government shut down CNRP-aligned Moha Nokor radio station and closed all stations broadcasting content from the Voice of America (VOA) and Voice of Democracy (VOD), claiming the stations violated the law by committing tax evasion and for failing to obtain permission from the Ministry of Information before airing new content. According to an NGO that monitors media, the government routinely used state and state-influenced private television stations to promote the activities of the government and the CPP and to criticize the opposition, while not granting the opposition parties equal access. On September 12, Radio Free Asia (RFA) announced closure of its office in the country, citing legal harassment and a government crackdown on independent media prior to national elections. On November 14, authorities arrested two former RFA journalists on charges of espionage and for allegedly helping foment a “color revolution” in the country. The charges were widely seen as politically motivated.

Authorities never permitted the CNRP to open a television station, despite a 2014 agreement from the government to allow it.

Violence and Harassment: Threats and violence against journalists and reporters remained common. In May local authorities in Ratanakiri Province briefly detained six journalists for reporting on illegal logging in the Seima Biodiversity Conservation Area. On August 28, authorities charged two Cambodia Daily reporters with “inciting violence” for election-related coverage in Ratanakiri.

Censorship or Content Restrictions: The law prohibits prepublication censorship, and no formal censorship system existed. The government, however, increasingly used other means to censor the media and social media following the assassination of Kem Ley, the arrest of some government critics, and by threats from the government, including the prime minister. Methods included harassment and intimidation. Because the government controls permits and licenses for journalists, most media outlets not directly controlled by the government or CPP practiced self-censorship to some degree. Some reporters and editors continued to self-censor their reporting due to fear of government reprisal. Some media agencies reported receiving calls from the Ministry of Interior threatening to revoke their licenses if they did not cease broadcasting opposition-produced content and programs produced by VOA, RFA, and VOD.

Libel/Slander Laws: The government used libel, slander, defamation, and denunciation laws to restrict public discussion on issues it deemed sensitive or against its interests. Prime Minister Hun Sen launched a lawsuit against political analyst and commentator Kim Sok for his online accusation that the government was complicit in the murder of Kem Ley. In August the courts sentenced Kim Sok to 18 months in prison and fined him 800 million riels ($200,000).

National Security: The government continued to cite national security concerns to justify restricting citizens’ rights to criticize government policies and officials. In particular the government routinely threatened to prosecute and arrest anyone who questioned the demarcation of the country’s border with Vietnam or suggested the government had ceded national territory to Vietnam.

INTERNET FREEDOM

The government restricted and disrupted access to the internet, censored online content, and there were credible reports government entities monitored private online communications. According to the Ministry of Posts and Telecommunications, more than 31 percent of the population had internet access, primarily those living in urban areas.

The telecommunications law was widely criticized by leading civil society and human rights activists, who stated it provides the government broad authority secretly to monitor online public discussion and communications using private telecommunication devices. According to Licadho the law gave the government legal authority to monitor every telephone conversation, text message, email, social media activity, and correspondence between individuals without their knowledge or consent. Any opinions expressed in these exchanges that the government deemed to violate its definition of national security could result in maximum imprisonment of 15 years.

As of October a local human rights NGO stated authorities arrested at least five persons for content they posted online. One woman was threatened by the government in April for posting online a video of herself throwing a shoe at a billboard depicting the prime minister.

A “Cyber War Team” in the Council of Ministers’ Press and Quick Reaction Unit is responsible for monitoring and countering “incorrect” information from news outlets and social media. The Quick Reaction Unit was responsible for publishing several videos claiming civil society, independent media, and the opposition were colluding with foreign powers to overthrow the government. The government often used these videos as justification to crack down on those who opposed the rule of the prime minister.

ACADEMIC FREEDOM AND CULTURAL EVENTS

In general there were no formal or overt government restrictions on academic freedom or cultural events, although scholars tended to exercise caution when teaching political subjects due to fear of offending politicians. Many individuals in academia resorted to self-censorship or expressed their opinions anonymously. In May 2016 the Ministry of Education reminded public and private education institutions the education law strictly prohibits all political activities and discussions on school campuses. Senior government officials again reminded public education institutions of the law in the months leading up to the June 4 local commune council elections. Many activists asserted the law aims to stifle youth support of the opposition, adding that most school principals supported the CPP. Government officials appeared to exempt some large campus-based organizations affiliated with the ruling party, however, including one run by the prime minister’s son, stating these were “extracurricular” groups that promoted “humanitarian causes.” In August a district governor in Battambang Province dismissed a vice principal of a high school for allegedly teaching students about “politics.”

FREEDOM OF PEACEFUL ASSEMBLY

Although the constitution provides for freedom of peaceful assembly, the government did not always respect this right.

The LANGO requires all groups to register and also requires advance notification for meetings, training, protests, marches, or demonstrations, although authorities inconsistently enforced this requirement. One provision requires five days’ notice for most peaceful demonstrations, while another requires 12 hours’ notice for impromptu gatherings on private property or protests at designated venues, and limits such gatherings to 200 persons. By law provincial or municipal governments may issue demonstration permits at their discretion. Lower-level government officials, particularly in Phnom Penh, generally denied requests unless the national government specifically authorized the gatherings. All levels of government routinely denied permits to groups critical of the ruling party.

There were credible reports the government occasionally prevented associations and NGOs from organizing public events, arguing the groups had not registered. Regulations promulgated before the June 4 commune council elections allowed civil servants to campaign after working hours, but did not grant the same freedoms to employees of NGOs or others working in civil society. Following the September 3 arrest of opposition leader Kem Sokha, many provincial governments prohibited meetings, events, and demonstrations by the opposition CNRP even before its forced dissolution on November 16.

Authorities cited the need for stability and public security–terms not defined in the law and therefore subject to wide interpretation–as reasons for denying permits. Government authorities also occasionally cited provisions of the law to prevent associations and NGOs from organizing public events or to break up meetings and training deemed hostile to the government. At the same time, the government routinely allowed progovernment demonstrators to gather.

Despite these restrictions, the press reported numerous public protests, most related to land or labor disputes. In some cases police forcibly dispersed peaceful groups assembled without a permit, sometimes causing minor injuries to demonstrators. In other cases police used force against demonstrators after they interfered with traffic, made threats of or carried out acts of violence, or refused orders to disperse.

According to a joint report released in August by the CCHR, ADHOC, the American Center for International Labor Solidarity, and the International Center for Not-for-Profit Law, from April 2016 to March, there were 60 incidents of NGOs prevented by authorities from holding meetings, training, or gatherings due to LANGO provisions. The report also recorded 246 restrictions of fundamental freedoms by the government and third-party entities linked to the government between April and September. Although the vast majority of restrictions occurred in Phnom Penh, restrictions were documented in every province except Prey Veng and Kep. The government sometimes took legal action against peaceful protesters. On October 27, authorities arrested five persons who planned to distribute leaflets during the Water Festival to call for demonstrations to demand the government release political prisoners. On the same day, the Phnom Penh municipal court summoned Leng Seng Hong, president of the Cambodian Democratic Student Intellectual Federation, to appear in the court on charges of incitement to commit felony for appealing to the public to protest if the CNRP was dissolved.

Senior government and military officials, including Prime Minister Hun Sen, Phnom Penh governor Khoung Sreng, CPP spokesperson Sok Eysan, Council of Ministers spokesperson Phay Siphan, and Armed Forces commander-in-chief Pol Sarouen, warned the public not to gather or demonstrate in the capital during the trial hearings of opposition leader Kem Sokha following his September 3 arrest. Minister of Defense Tea Banh publically called for “crushing the opposition” warning the military would “smash the teeth of protesters” planning to demonstrate against June 4 commune election results. Minister of Social Affairs Vong Sauth said demonstrators who dispute the upcoming 2018 elections would be “hit with …bamboo poles.” The commander of the prime minister’s bodyguards, General Hing Bun Heng, threatened to use force to “crush” any demonstration, citing his possession of “100 tanks.”

Minister of Interior Sar Kheng also instructed provincial governors and police chiefs to block opposition supporters from traveling to the capital and to prevent any demonstrations. Khoung Sreng said authorities would not allow “anarchic” protests in the city and that security forces in all 12 districts of the capital needed to be on alert: “The toughest measures will be applied on the people protesting against the court and [we] won’t forgive those people,” Khoung Sreng said. The threats against peaceful protests followed months of warnings against protesting election results. Prime Minister Hun Sen threatened that a CNRP victory in June commune elections would lead to “civil war.”

FREEDOM OF ASSOCIATION

The constitution provides for freedom of association, but the government did not always respect this right, particularly with regard to workers’ rights (see section 7.a.). The LANGO requires all associations and NGOs to be politically neutral, which not only restricts the right to association, but also restricts those organizations’ rights to free expression.

In June Prime Minister Hun Sen ordered the Ministry of Interior to dissolve The Situation Room, a consortium of 40 of the country’s most prominent human rights NGOs, after they issued findings on the conduct of the June 4 commune elections. The Situation Room was charged with violating the LANGO for failing to register as an NGO (although each of the 40 constituent NGOS were registered individually) and for violating the LANGO provisions on political neutrality.

Vaguely worded provisions in the LANGO, the Law on Trade Unions (TUL), and Amended Political Parties Law prohibit any activity that may “jeopardize peace, stability, and public order” or harm “national security, national unity, traditions, and culture of Cambodian society.” Civil society organizations expressed concern these provisions created a substantial risk of arbitrary restriction of the right of association. According to critics the LANGO and TUL (see section 7.a.) establish heavily bureaucratic, multistep registration processes that lack both transparency and administrative safeguards, rendering the registration processes vulnerable to politicization. These laws also impose burdensome reporting obligations on activities and finances, including the disclosure of all successful funding proposals, financial or grant agreements, and bank accounts.

The local NGO consortium Cooperation Committee for Cambodia reported in July that NGOs generally lacked guidance from the government on how to comply with the requirements. As of August the Ministry of Economy and Finance had summoned six civil society and media organizations to prove their compliance with local tax laws. This included ADHOC, Licadho, the Committee for Free and Fair Elections in Cambodia, The Cambodia Daily, VOA, and RFA.

On September 15, the Ministry of Interior nullified the registration of Mother Nature, a local NGO working on environmental protection, without providing justification to the organization. In late September the government began requiring all NGOs to report their management structures, funding sources, and other details to the Ministry of Interior. On August 23, the government abruptly ejected the National Democratic Institute (NDI) and its foreign staff from the country, claiming the organization had failed to register properly under the LANGO. NDI had submitted its registration documents more than 18 months prior to its ejection and had failed to receive a reply from government authorities despite a clause in the law that notification was to be given within 45 days of document submission.

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.

Exile: In 2016 the government ordered immigration officials to take unspecified legal action to prevent former opposition leader Sam Rainsy from returning to the country. He had gone into exile in France in 2015, when the government issued a warrant for his arrest on charges of defamation while he was outside of the country. Thun Saray, the president of ADHOC, escaped the country and remained in Canada under self-imposed exile due to fear of being targeted by the government. Following the arrest of Kem Sokha, nearly every senior leader of the CNRP went into hiding or exile, with acting CNRP President Pol Ham and Parliamentary Whip Son Chhay the only two prominent leaders remaining in the capital while many lower-level party activists reported increased police surveillance and intimidation.

PROTECTION OF REFUGEES

Refoulement: Stating they were “economic migrants,” the government returned at least 140 Montagnard asylum seekers to Vietnam since 2015, including 13 in August, without conducting proper refugee status determinations. In August, Rhona Smith, UN special rapporteur on human rights in Cambodia, released a statement following her two-week mission to the country in which she stated the office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) acknowledged the legitimacy of the asylum claims of 36 Vietnamese Christian Montagnards and had decided to find a solution outside of the country and that the government had not agreed to settle them in country or facilitate their transit to the third country. In October the government cooperated in sending seven of the 36 Montagnards to the third country, claiming the remaining 29 had weak asylum claims. The government dismissed the special rapporteur’s statement and condemned her for what it described as interference in its domestic affairs.

The government increased monitoring at the UNHCR-managed compound that provides support to Montagnard asylum seekers. In April authorities forcibly removed a pregnant woman and her husband from the premises and took them to an immigration center for questioning. The family was awaiting final refugee status determination, and authorities later released them.

Access to Asylum: The law provides for the granting of asylum or refugee status, and the government has established a system for providing protection to refugees.

The government failed to grant equal access to that system for all asylum seekers. In particular, authorities routinely denied access by Montagnard asylum seekers from Vietnam since 2014. During the year the Refugee Department at the Ministry of Interior recognized three Montagnards as refugees and took proactive steps to deport the 29 persons it claimed had weak asylum claims. Some NGOs attributed the government’s lack of commitment to granting asylum to Montagnards to pressure from the government of Vietnam.

Employment: Persons granted refugee status do not have the right to work.

Access to Basic Services: Persons granted refugee status do not have access to basic services, including public and banking services.

Durable Solutions: By agreement with Australia, the government since 2014 has accepted for domestic resettlement seven refugees detained while seeking asylum in Australia. The last refugee arrived in April. Of the seven, three who were Rohingya from Burma remained in the country, while the other four–one from Burma and three Iraqis–chose to return to their countries. Although the three Rohingya refugees decided to stay in the country, no effective pathway to citizenship existed for them.

STATELESS PERSONS

The country had habitual residents who were de facto stateless. There was no recent, reliable data on the number or demography of stateless persons; however, UNHCR reported that they were primarily ethnic Vietnamese. The government did not effectively implement laws or policies to provide such persons the opportunity to gain nationality (see section 6, Children). The most common reason for statelessness was lack of proper documents from the country of origin.

According to an NGO, individuals without proof of nationality often did not have access to formal employment, education, marriage registration, the courts, or the right to own land.

Cameroon

Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:

The law provides for freedom of expression, including for the press, but the government often restricted this right.

Freedom of Expression: Government officials penalized individuals or organizations that criticized or expressed views at odds with government policy. Individuals who criticized the government publicly or privately frequently faced reprisals. On several occasions, the government used the law requiring permits or government notification of public protests to stifle discourse, and many civil society and political organizations reported increased difficulty in obtaining approval to organize public gatherings. The government attempted to impede criticism by monitoring political meetings. In May government authorities reportedly shut down an Amnesty International news conference at which the rights group planned to discuss the plight of three students sentenced to a decade in prison for a Boko Haram joke.

The government also used antiterrorism legislation to exercise control over public and private expression. On April 24, the military court in Yaounde sentenced Radio France International (RFI)’s Hausa service journalist Ahmed Abba to 10 years in prison for “nondenunciation of acts of terrorism” and “laundering the proceeds of terrorist acts.” Authorities arrested Abba in 2015 in Maroua, Far North region, on suspicion of collaborating with Boko Haram and withholding information. After a 29-month imprisonment, Abba was released on December 22 when an Appeals Court judge acquitted him of “laundering of the proceeds of terrorism.” The judge, however, upheld the “nondenunciation of acts of terrorism” charge and sentenced Abba to 24 months in prison (time served) and a fine of CFA 55 million francs ($102,611).

Press and Media Freedom: Independent media were active and expressed a wide variety of views, although there were restrictions, especially on editorial independence, in part due to stated terrorism concerns, the fight against Boko Haram, and the crisis in the two Anglophone regions. Journalists reported practicing self-censorship to avoid repercussions for criticizing the government, especially on security matters.

Violence and Harassment: Police, gendarmes, and other government agents arrested, detained, physically attacked, and intimidated journalists for their reporting.

Based on estimates by the National Commission on Human Rights and Freedoms, and the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ), authorities arrested at least eight journalists in connection with their reporting of the Anglophone crisis. On February 9, security forces arrested Atia Tilarious Azohnwi, a political journalist with The Sun and Amos Fofung, bureau chief at The Guardian Post. Both were released in August without charges. Tim Finnian and Hans Achomba were arrested in January for reporting critical of the government; they were released after the president’s August 30 decree, which freed 55 detainees.

Censorship or Content Restrictions: The National Communication Council (NCC) is empowered to ensure all printed media comply with the legal requirement that editors in chief deposit two signed copies of each newspaper edition with the Prosecutor’s Office for scrutiny within two hours of publication. Journalists and media outlets practiced self-censorship, especially if the NCC had suspended them previously. The NCC issued several warnings and suspensions during the year.

NCC president Peter Esoka publicly warned journalists several times in the year to refrain from publishing stories on secession and federalism activities in the two Anglophone regions. On January 10, Northwest regional authorities sealed the premises of Bamenda-based Hot Cocoa 94 FM Radio. The authorities allegedly accused the station of inciting the population to civil disobedience. According to a CPJ report, the station was allowed to resume broadcasting within 48 hours with the condition that it handle sensitive issues objectively, especially during crisis situations. Epervier Plus and its editor received a six-month suspension for publishing allegations of embezzlement involving a senior divisional officer.

Libel/Slander Laws: Press freedom is further constrained by strict libel laws. These laws authorize the government, at its discretion and the request of the plaintiff, to criminalize a civil libel suit or to initiate a criminal libel suit in cases of alleged libel against the president or other high government officials. Such crimes are punishable by prison terms and heavy fines. The libel law places the burden of proof on the defendant. The government contended libel laws were aimed at safeguarding citizens whose reputations could be permanently damaged by defamation. The government and public figures reportedly used laws against libel or slander to restrict public discussion. On February 22, police arrested Medjo Lewis, editor of La Detente Libre. The High Court of Bafoussam, West region, subsequently sentenced him to two years in prison plus a fine of 10 million CFA francs ($18,656) for defamation. Lewis was granted an early release in September.

INTERNET FREEDOM

From January 17 to April 20, the government blocked access to the internet in the Southwest and Northwest regions. On January 17, the country’s four telephone operators, including South Africa’s MTN and France’s Orange, informed their subscribers in both regions that internet services were no longer available for reasons “beyond their control.” In late March the minister of telecommunications acknowledged authorities were behind the internet shutdown. Government authorities claimed the shutdown was an attempt to limit the propagation of images and misinformation about the crisis in the Anglophone regions, which the government perceived as a threat to peace and national unity. The Global Network Initiative released a statement in January expressing deep concerns about the restrictions on the internet and urging the government to lift the restrictions immediately.

Civil society organizations reported renewed, targeted Internet disruptions in select locations in the Southwest and Northwest regions after September 22 and following major protests in the Anglophone regions on October 1. Public announcements from the government indicated a willingness to block internet access again should the government deem it necessary. In October the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights voiced concern over tensions in the country’s Anglophone regions, noting that people should be allowed to exercise their rights to freedom of expression, including through uninterrupted access to the internet.

The International Telecommunication Union estimated that 25 percent of the population used the internet in 2016.

ACADEMIC FREEDOM AND CULTURAL EVENTS

Although there were no legal restrictions on academic freedom or cultural events, state security informants reportedly continued to operate on university campuses. There were no reports the government censored curricula; sanctioned academic personnel for their teachings, writing, or research; restricted academic travel or contacts; intimidated academics into self-censorship; or attempted to influence academic appointments based on political affiliation. There were a few reports, however, of security personnel disrupting student extracurricular activities.

The government restricted freedoms of peaceful assembly and association.

FREEDOM OF PEACEFUL ASSEMBLY

Although the law provides for freedom of peaceful assembly, the government often restricted this right. The law requires organizers of public meetings, demonstrations, and processions to notify officials in advance but does not require prior government approval of public assemblies and does not authorize the government to suppress public assemblies that it has not approved in advance. Nevertheless, officials routinely asserted the law implicitly authorizes the government to grant or deny permission for public assemblies. The government often refused to grant permits for assemblies and used force to suppress assemblies for which it had not issued permits. Authorities typically cited “security concerns” as the basis for deciding to block assembly. The government also prevented civil society organizations and political parties from holding press conferences. Police and gendarmes forcibly disrupted meetings and demonstrations of citizens, trade unions, and political activists throughout the year.

The Divisional Officer (DO) for Douala V, Littoral region, prohibited a meeting and rally that the opposition Social Democratic Front party intended to organize on March 4 at “Carrefour Le Pauvre” intersection, followed by a march along a specific itinerary. The DO stated the event was likely to disrupt public order. On March 4, authorities allegedly deployed police and gendarmerie antiriot cars, as well as armed gendarmes and police officers, around the planned meeting spot. Security forces erected barricades along the planned course for the rally. In the early hours of the day, authorities also deployed troops around the DO’s residence in Ndogpassi neighborhood in Douala.

In May authorities banned two events scheduled to take place in Yaounde, including press conferences by Amnesty International and NGO New Human Rights (NDH). The objective of Amnesty International’s conference was to communicate the contents of letters and petitions requesting President Biya to release three students whom a military court sentenced to 10 years’ imprisonment for exchanging jokes about Boko Haram by short message service. A dozen security agents in uniform and plainclothes invaded the meeting venue early in the morning and asked hotel officials to close the meeting hall. The NDH conference intended to focus on the topic “human rights and the fight against terrorism in Cameroon.” The DO alleged the event was likely to disturb public order. In August the Cameroon Political Journalists Club could not hold the ninth edition of its monthly Cafe Politique, which was scheduled to host a National Democratic Institute representative. Yaounde’s DO claimed the conference would disturb the public order and peace.

FREEDOM OF ASSOCIATION

The constitution and law provide for freedom of association, but the law also limits this right. On the recommendation of the senior divisional officer, the Ministry of Territorial Administration and Decentralization may suspend the activities of an association for three months on grounds the association is disrupting public order. The minister may also dissolve an association if it is deemed a threat to state security. National associations may acquire legal status by declaring themselves in writing to the ministry but the ministry must explicitly register foreign associations and religious groups; if they do not, the law imposes heavy fines for individuals who form and operate any such association. The law prohibits organizations that advocate a goal contrary to the constitution, laws, and morality, as well as those that aim to challenge the security, territorial integrity, national unity, national integration, or republican form of the state.

The conditions for recognition of political parties, NGOs, or associations were complicated, involved long delays, and were unevenly enforced. This resulted in associations operating in legal uncertainty, their activities tolerated but not formally approved.

On January 17, the minister of territorial administration and decentralization banned the Southern Cameroons National Council and the Cameroon Anglophone Civil Society Consortium, officially prohibiting all activities, meetings, and demonstrations initiated by either group or anyone sympathetic to them. The minister stated the purpose and activities of these organizations were contrary to the constitution and could jeopardize the security of the state, territorial integrity, national unity, and integration.

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

Although the constitution and law provide for freedom of internal movement, foreign travel, emigration, and repatriation, at times the government restricted these rights. The government worked closely with the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) and other humanitarian organizations to provide protection and assistance to internally displaced persons (IDPs), refugees, asylum seekers, stateless persons, and other persons of concern.

In-country Movement: Police and gendarmes at roadblocks and checkpoints in cities and on most highways often extorted bribes and harassed travelers. Police frequently stopped travelers to check identification documents, vehicle registrations, and tax receipts as security and immigration control measures. Between September 29 an October 5, authorities in the two Anglophone regions closed regional land and sea borders, banned movement from one division to another, and in some cases, prevented people from leaving their homes on October 1.

INTERNALLY DISPLACED PERSONS (IDPS)

Several thousand persons abandoned their homes in some villages on the border with Nigeria and fled to cities in the Far North region because of frequent attacks by Boko Haram. The International Organization for Migration’s Displacement Tracking Matrix Round 11 for the Far North region indicated a total displaced population of 335,016 individuals, including 241,987 IDPs, 29,337 unregistered refugees, and 63,692 returnees. Of the IDP population, 92 percent was reportedly displaced due to the conflict with Boko Haram; and 8 percent was displaced due to flooding and other climatic factors.

PROTECTION OF REFUGEES

Refoulement: Following security measures taken by authorities in the Far North region to counter Boko Haram, UNHCR and NGOs reported more than four thousand cases of forced returns in the year to December, mostly of Nigerians. In a press release on February 23, UNHCR expressed concern over the forced expulsion of 517 Nigerians, including 313 who had requested asylum. During a press conference on March 23, the minister of communications refuted all allegations of forced returns. He acknowledged, however, that the government escorted refugees from several localities of Mayo Sava Division to Banki, Borno State, Nigeria. The minister said the operations were carried out in agreement with Nigerian authorities, especially the National Emergencies Management Agency and Borno’s State Emergency Management Agency. UNHCR also reported that 887 Nigerian refugees, who were alleged to have been forcibly returned, arrived in Banki on June 27.

Access to Asylum: The laws provide for granting asylum or refugee status, and the government has established a system of providing protection to refugees. UNHCR continued to provide documentation and assistance to the refugee population. UNHCR and the government continued to conduct biometric verification and registration of refugees, including of those not living in refugee camps. Nevertheless, local authorities did not always recognize these documents as official, which prevented refugees from travelling and engaging in business activities. As of November 30, the country hosted 247,777 refugees from the Central African Republic (CAR) and 90,728 from Nigeria. The country hosted 652,967 persons of concern to UNHCR as of November 30.

Access to Basic Services: Most refugees had access to health care, education, and limited employment opportunities. Access to these services varied according to the location of the refugees, with those in camps receiving support through humanitarian organizations while refugees living in host communities faced difficulty receiving services.

Durable Solutions: On March 2, UNHCR and the governments of Cameroon and Nigeria signed a tripartite agreement concerning voluntary repatriation. On August 10, the tripartite commission met for the first time and directed its technical working group to set up a timetable and procedures “to ensure the safe, dignified, voluntary return and sustainable reintegration of Nigerian refugees from Cameroon.” Between April and June, the number of Nigerian refugees returning from Cameroon to Banki, Nigeria, reached 15,036. In addition the Nigerian Immigration Service (NIS) registered 5,224 individuals who had earlier returned to Banki between January and March. In total the NIS registered 20,260 returnees between January and June, according to UNHCR. Observers and NGOs, however, continued to report as of November that the agreement had yet to be fully implemented and that Cameroon continued forcibly to repatriate Nigerian refugees to Nigeria.

Temporary Protection: The government provided temporary, unofficial protection to individuals who may not qualify as refugees, extending this protection to hundreds of individuals during the year, including third-country nationals who had fled violence in the CAR. Due to their unofficial status and inability to access services or support, however, many of these persons were subject to harassment and other abuse.

Central African Republic

Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:

The constitution and law provide for freedom of speech, including for the press, and the government generally respected this right. In March President Touadera issued a decree appointing the members of the High Council for Communication, an independent body mandated by the constitution. It is tasked with assuring liberty of expression and equal access for the media; it also has regulatory powers.

Press and Media Freedom: All print media in the country were privately owned. Radio was the most important medium of mass communication. There were a number of alternatives to the state-owned radio station, Radio Centrafrique. Independent radio stations operated freely and broadcast organized debates and call-in talk shows critical of the government, the election process, ex-Seleka, and anti-Balaka militias. International media broadcast within the country.

Bangui’s Maison de la Presse (Media Center), which provides working and meeting space for journalists, was ordered closed after a legal dispute with the family of a former president.

The government monopolized domestic television broadcasting (available only in the capital and for limited hours), and television news coverage generally supported government positions.

INTERNET FREEDOM

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

According to the International Telecommunication Union, approximately 4 percent of the population used the internet in 2016.

ACADEMIC FREEDOM AND CULTURAL EVENTS

There were no reports the government restricted academic freedom or cultural events.

Many schools remained closed or without adequate resources. The country’s sole university was open.

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

FREEDOM OF ASSOCIATION

A law prohibiting nonpolitical organizations from uniting for political purposes remained in place.

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

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

The government generally cooperated with UNHCR and other humanitarian organizations in providing protection and assistance to internally displaced persons, refugees, returning refugees, asylum seekers, stateless persons, or other persons of concern.

In-country Movement: Armed groups and bandits made in-country movement extremely dangerous. Government forces, armed groups, and criminals alike frequently used illegal checkpoints to extort funds. Armed groups often targeted Muslims, including truck drivers, for attack.

INTERNALLY DISPLACED PERSONS (IDPS)

Ex-Seleka and anti-Balaka attacks on civilians and fighting between armed groups displaced at least 922,000 persons at the height of the conflict in January 2014. As the security situation improved during the last three years, hundreds of thousands of IDPs returned to their homes. During the year there was a significant deterioration of the security situation and a return to levels of violence similar to 2013 and 2014.

The number of citizens classified as IDPs and refugees exceeded 1.1 million, the highest level of displacement since 2013. Almost 600,000 persons were displaced inside the country, while 514,000 took refuge in Cameroon, Chad, and, within the last six months, the northern part of the Democratic Republic of the Congo, to where more than 67,000 fled.

Militia groups continued to target IDPs and threaten individuals and organizations attempting to shelter IDPs, including churches.

Since May new clashes between armed groups caused increased destruction of property and death. According to UNHCR, many newly displaced persons witnessed fatal attacks, robberies, lootings, and kidnappings. Even after reaching safe locations, they often risked assault by armed groups if they ventured outside of camps. Unable to approach aid workers, they barely had access to vital supplies. The worsening situation raised concerns over the delivery of humanitarian assistance to populations in need, in a context where 50 percent of the population depended on humanitarian aid to survive. In many affected areas, humanitarian assistance was limited to strictly life-saving interventions, due to limited access and insecurity. The presence of armed groups continued to delay or block planned humanitarian deliveries by air.

Humanitarian organizations remained concerned about evidence that members of armed groups continued to hide out in IDP sites and attempted to carry out recruitment activities. This raised concerns for the safety of humanitarian staff and vulnerable displaced individuals residing in these areas.

The government provided assistance to IDPs and returnees and promoted the safe voluntary return, resettlement, or local integration of IDPs. The government allowed humanitarian organizations to provide services, although security concerns sometimes prevented organizations from operating in areas previously controlled by the Seleka, and targeted attacks on humanitarian operations impeded their ability to access some populations.

In January the government closed the IDP camp at the M’Poko International Airport. The government distributed cash payments to residents to return to their communities of origin or other resettlement sites.

According to the Association of Women Lawyers of Central Africa (AFJC), sexual and gender-based violence in IDP camps was widespread.

With an improving security situation in the capital, some Muslims returned to Bangui.

There were reports of sexual abuse of children by international and MINUSCA peacekeeping forces during the year (see section 1.c.).

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 Subcommission on Eligibility, however, had not held sessions since 2009, which contributed to a growing backlog of asylum applications.

The volatile security situation prevented humanitarian organizations from accessing locations that host refugee populations. As of July there were 9,100 refugees in the country. Many of the 2,000 Congolese refugees likely returned to the Democratic Republic of the Congo to flee the violence in the southeastern region. The 1,900 Sudanese in Bambari continued to receive assistance. There were unconfirmed reports of additional influxes of South Sudanese, perhaps increasing the number of displaced South Sudanese beyond the 4,000 reported in July. In many areas, refugees depended on protection from MINUSCA or the support of host communities.

Chad

Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:

The constitution provides for freedom of opinion, expression, and press, but the government severely restricted these rights, according to Freedom House. Authorities used threats and legal prosecutions to curb critical reporting.

Freedom of Expression: The law prohibits “inciting racial, ethnic, or religious hatred,” which is punishable by up to two years in prison and a fine of one to three million Central African (CFA) francs ($1,766 to $5,300).

Press and Media Freedom: The government subsidized the only daily newspaper and owned a biweekly newspaper. Government and opposition newspapers had limited readership outside the capital due to low literacy rates and lack of distribution in rural areas.

According to Freedom in the World 2016, “broadcast media were controlled by the state, and the High Council of Communication exerted control over most content on the radio,” which remained the most important medium of mass communication. The government-owned Radio Diffusion Nationale Tchadienne had several stations. There were approximately a dozen private stations, which faced high licensing fees and threat of closure for coverage critical of the government, according to Freedom House. The number of community radio stations that operated outside of government control continued to grow, and radio call-in programs broadcast views of callers that included criticism of the government.

The country had three television stations–one owned by the government and two that were privately owned.

Violence and Harassment: Authorities reportedly harassed, threatened, arrested, and assaulted journalists for defamation.

According to NGOs, human rights defenders and journalists were threatened, harassed, and intimidated by either anonymous individuals or those identifying themselves as members of the security services. Between February 22 and 24, Eric Kokinague, a director of the newspaper Tribune Infos, received more than a dozen anonymous threatening calls from different numbers after he published an article heavily critical of President Deby.

Censorship or Content Restrictions: The government penalized those who published items counter to government guidelines, sometimes by closing media outlets. Some journalists and publishers practiced self-censorship.

Libel/Slander Laws: Despite a 2010 media law that abolished prison sentences for defamation or insult, authorities arrested and detained persons for defamation. The Chadian Convention for the Defense of Human Rights reported that Betoloum Joseph, a journalist and director of Radio Kar UBA of Moundou, was arrested by police on September 13. They accused him of defaming police on a radio show.

INTERNET FREEDOM

The government did not directly restrict or disrupt access to the internet or directly censor online content, and there were no credible reports that the government monitored private online communications.

Online activist Tadjadine Mahamat Babouri, known as Mahadine, was detained in September 2016 after having posted several videos on Facebook criticizing the government’s mismanagement of public funds. Charged with undermining the constitutional order, threatening territorial integrity and national security, and collaborating with an insurrection movement, at year’s end he was awaiting trial. At least seven unidentified armed men arrested him and took him to an unofficial detention center, where they held him without access to his family or lawyer, and with neither water nor food. According to his lawyer and a relative, he was beaten and subjected to electric shocks before being transferred to the judicial police in October 2016. Due to Mahadine’s deteriorating health condition, he was eventually transferred to the Moussoro prison, and on March 15, his lawyers requested an immediate transfer to N’Djamena so he could receive appropriate medical care. By year’s end the minister of justice had not responded.

The government blocked access to international data roaming, including Blackberry access, allegedly for security reasons; the government claimed criminals and terrorists from Nigeria and Cameroon were using international roaming to communicate with each other while in Chad. The government also claimed the blockages were due to technical problems, a claim met with widespread skepticism.

According to the International Telecommunication Union, approximately 5 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 government limited freedoms of peaceful assembly and association.

FREEDOM OF PEACEFUL ASSEMBLY

Although the constitution provides for freedom of peaceful assembly, the government did not respect this right. The government regularly interfered with opposition protests and civil society gatherings, particularly before and after the April 2016 election. The law requires organizers to notify the Ministry of Public Security and Immigration five days in advance of demonstrations, although groups that provided advance notice did not always receive permission to assemble. Following the 2015 Boko Haram attacks, the ministry often denied permission for large gatherings, including social events such as weddings and funerals. During the April 2016 election campaign, the government allowed ruling party supporters to gather and rally but banned such activities for opposition groups.

On May 27, police interrupted Movement for Citizen Awareness’s (MECI) general assembly, which was taking place at the Alal-Mouna Center in N’Djamena. Police surrounded the venue, and the director of police told the organizers and participants that the meeting was banned. MECI members requested an official document banning the event, but none was presented.

On February 25, 71 students at the University of N’Djamena’s main campus of Toukra were arrested during a protest against the minister of higher education, research and innovation, who was visiting the school along with his Senegalese counterpart.

FREEDOM OF ASSOCIATION

The constitution and law provide for freedom of association, and the government generally respected this right. While an ordinance requires the Ministry of Public Security and Immigration to provide prior authorization before an association, including a labor union, may be formed, there were no reports the ordinance was enforced. The ordinance also allows for the immediate administrative dissolution of an association and permits authorities to monitor association funds.

On January 6, the minister of territorial administration prohibited all MECI activities, stating that MECI was “unnatural” and “takes place without any legal basis.” He accused MECI of being “an accomplice of some adventurers abroad with subversive objectives.” Five days later Dobian Assingar, the MECI spokesman and honorary president of the Chadian League of Human Rights, was summoned by the Judicial Police of N’Djamena, questioned about MECI activities, and released.

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

Although the constitution and law provide for freedom of movement, foreign travel, emigration, and repatriation, the government imposed limits on these rights.

The government cooperated with UNHCR and other humanitarian organizations in providing protection and assistance to IDPs, refugees, and other persons of concern.

Abuse of Migrants, Refugees, and Stateless Persons: There were reports of rape, attempted rape, and sexual and gender-based violence in refugee camps. The perpetrators were either fellow refugees or unknown individuals living near the camps. Authorities only occasionally prosecuted perpetrators of sexual violence. The judicial system did not provide consistent and predictable recourse or legal protection, and traditional legal systems were subject to ethnic variations. To fill the void, UNHCR enlisted the support of a local NGO to support the cases of refugees through the judicial process. The DPHR was unable to provide humanitarian escorts consistently due to lack of resources but was generally effective in providing protection inside refugee camps.

Due to the absence of rebel activity and implementation of education campaigns in camps, there were no reports of recruitment of refugees in refugee camps, including by Central African Republic (CAR) militias.

In-country Movement: Lack of security in the east, primarily due to armed banditry, occasionally hindered the ability of humanitarian organizations to provide services to refugees. In the Lake Chad area, attacks by Boko Haram and concurrent government military operations constrained the ability of humanitarian organizations to provide assistance to IDPs.

INTERNALLY DISPLACED PERSONS (IDPS)

During the year the Lake Chad region experienced additional displacement of more than 4,400 persons. As of November the total number of displaced since 2015 increased to 123,205. The security situation remained fragile but stable and allowed for the return of approximately 51,000 individuals between February and October. Humanitarian access to IDPs improved significantly during the year, and the government actively supported humanitarian operations by international agencies, including legal protection and efforts promoting local integration.

PROTECTION OF REFUGEES

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

In cooperation with UNHCR, the government launched a project to strengthen the civil registration system for the issuance of civil status certificates (birth, marriage, and death certificates) to 50,000 refugees, IDPs, Chadian returnees from the CAR, and persons living around camps and settlements under UNHCR’s mandate.

Access to Basic Services: Although local communities hosted tens of thousands of newly arrived refugees, antirefugee sentiment existed due to competition for local resources, such as wood, water, and grazing land. Refugees also received goods and services not available to the local population, and refugee children at times had better access to education and health services than those in the surrounding local populations. Many humanitarian organizations included host communities in their programming to mitigate this tension.

Durable Solutions: The government pledged to extend citizenship to tens of thousands of returnees, most of whom had resided in the CAR since birth, although only 3 percent of Chadian returnees from the CAR held Chadian nationality documents by year’s end. The government allowed referral for resettlement in foreign countries of refugees from the CAR and Sudan.

China (includes Tibet, Hong Kong, and Macau)

Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:

The constitution states citizens “enjoy freedom of speech, of the press, of assembly, of association, of procession and of demonstration,” although authorities generally limited and did not respect these rights, especially when they conflicted with CCP interests. Authorities continued tight control of print, broadcast, electronic, and social media and regularly used them to propagate government views and CCP ideology. Authorities censored and manipulated the press and the internet, particularly around sensitive anniversaries.

Freedom of Expression: Citizens could discuss many political topics privately and in small groups without official punishment. The government, however, routinely took harsh action against citizens who questioned the legitimacy of the CCP. Some independent think tanks, study groups, and seminars reported pressure to cancel sessions on sensitive topics. Those who made politically sensitive comments in public speeches, academic discussions, or in remarks to media, or posted sensitive comments online, remained subject to punitive measures.

In January the government abruptly shut down the website and social media accounts of the Beijing-based think tank Unirule. Its members, a group of prominent economics experts known for outspoken views on government economic policy, responded with a letter protesting the “obvious aim of silencing Unirule totally” and calling for greater government tolerance of NGOs. Government censors promptly removed the letter from the internet.

On March 31, Foshan Intermediate Court sentenced Su Changlan for subversion of state power for using the internet and social media to post online messages in support of Hong Kong’s 2014 prodemocracy Occupy Central Movement. The court found her guilty of incitement to subvert state power and sentenced her to three years’ imprisonment. Su had campaigned for the land rights of local farming communities. As Su’s sentence included time served, she was released in October (see section 1.c.).

On May 26, He Weifang, a law professor at the elite Peking University and the lawyer for Nobel laureate Liu Xiaobo, announced that government pressure compelled him to close his Weibo microblog and his accounts on the private messaging system “Weixin” (aka WeChat). Over the past decade, he had developed an online following of millions and was known for criticizing the country’s lack of freedom of speech and judicial independence.

In September, Guangzhou authorities detained Peng Heping because he helped publish a poetry anthology in honor of the late political prisoner and Nobel Peace laureate Liu Xiaobo. Peng was charged with “illegal business activity.”

In a sign of the level of sensitivity around public discourse, censors blocked several versions of the Winnie the Pooh cartoon on social media because internet users (“netizens”) used the symbol to represent President Xi Jinping. The government similarly blocked the use of a popular but offensive nickname for North Korean President Kim Jong Un. Internet searches for this name returned the message, “according to the relevant laws, regulations, and policies, the search results have not been displayed.” Authorities arrested and tried a man in Jilin for “incitement to subvert state power” for posting selfies to his social media accounts wearing a T-shirt referring to President Xi as “Xitler.” In a similar case Guangdong authorities arrested a man for reposting a negative comment about Xi Jinping on the messaging app WhatsApp.

The legislature passed a law in November criminalizing disrespect for the national anthem in public, punishable by up to three years in prison and loss of political rights. The new law mirrors existing laws that punish public desecration of the flag with imprisonment.

Press and Media Freedom: The CCP and government continued to maintain ultimate authority over all published, online, and broadcast material. Officially, only state-run media outlets have government approval to cover CCP leaders or other topics deemed “sensitive.” While it did not dictate all content to be published or broadcast, the CCP and the government had unchecked authority to mandate if, when, and how particular issues were reported or to order that they not be reported at all. In a widely reported 2016 visit to the country’s main media outlets, President Xi told reporters that they were the “publicity front” of the government and the Party and that they must “promote the Party’s will” and “protect the Party’s authority.”

The government continued to strictly monitor the press and media, including film and television, via its broadcast and press regulatory body, the State Administration of Press, Publication, Radio, Film, and Television (SAPPRFT). The Cyberspace Administration of China (CAC) also closely regulated online news media. All books and magazines continued to require state-issued publication numbers, which were expensive and often difficult to obtain. As in the past, nearly all print and broadcast media as well as book publishers were affiliated with the CCP or government. There were a small number of print publications with some private ownership interest but no privately owned television or radio stations. The CCP directed the domestic media to refrain from reporting on certain subjects, and traditional broadcast programming required government approval.

Journalists operated in an environment tightly controlled by the government. While the country’s increasingly internet-literate population demanded interesting stories told with the latest technologies, government authorities asserted control over those new technologies (such as livestreaming) and clamped down on new digital outlets and social media platforms.

Because the Communist Party does not consider internet news companies “official” media, they are subject to debilitating regulations and barred from reporting on potentially “sensitive” stories. According to the most recent All China Journalist Association report from 2016 on the nation’s news media, there were 232,925 officially credentialed reporters working in the country. Only 1,158 worked for news websites, with the majority working at state-run outlets such as xinhuanet.com and Chinadaily.com. This did not mean that online outlets did not report on important issues–many used creative means to share content–but they limited their tactics and topics since they were acting outside official approval.

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

Family members of journalists based overseas also faced harassment, and in some cases detention, as retaliation for the reporting of their relatives abroad. A journalist could face demotion or job loss for publishing views that challenged the government. In many cases potential sources refused to meet with journalists due to actual or feared government pressure. In particular, academics–a traditional source of information–were increasingly unwilling to meet with journalists.

Uighur webmaster Nijat Azat continued to serve a sentence for “endangering state security.” Fellow Uighur webmaster Dilshat Perhat was scheduled to be released, but there was no information on his case at year’s end. During the year additional journalists working in traditional and new media were also imprisoned.

In June police in Sichuan Province arrested and charged citizen journalist Yang Xiuqiong with “illegally providing state secrets overseas” for her work on the banned citizen rights website 64 Tianwang. Other site contributors, including its founder, Huang Qi, were arrested in 2016 and remained in jail. On July 4, a court in Mianyang, Sichuan, rejected 64 Tianwang contributor Wang Shurong’s appeal of a six-year sentence for “picking quarrels and provoking troubles.” Lian Huanli, also a volunteer for the website, had been missing since May, according to media reports.

On August 3, a court in Dali, Yunnan, sentenced citizen journalist Lu Yuyu to four years’ imprisonment for “picking quarrels and stirring up trouble.” Authorities arrested Lu and his partner, Li Tingyu, in June 2016 after they spent several years compiling daily lists of “mass incidents”–the official term for protests, demonstrations, and riots–and disseminated their findings via social media. Public security officials reportedly beat Lu, who later went on a hunger strike to protest his treatment and lack of access to his attorney. The government tried Li in a secret trial, then released her in April without announcing a formal verdict.

A pair of Voice of America (VOA) reporters were assaulted and detained for four hours under false pretenses while trying to cover the trial of jailed dissident blogger Wu Gan in Tianjin on August 14. As they approached the courthouse, they were accosted by 10 plainclothes individuals, physically detained and had their laptops and cameras confiscated. The police took them to jail and accused them of beating one of the persons who had detained them. They were released with their personal effects four hours later–after their photographs were deleted.

Foreign journalists based in the country continued to face a challenging environment for reporting. According to information collected in December by the Foreign Correspondents’ Club of China (FCCC), the vast majority of respondents did not believe reporting conditions in the country met international standards. More than one-third of journalists believed that conditions had deteriorated compared with the previous year, an acceleration since 2016, when 25 percent of journalists believed conditions had deteriorated year over year. Similarly, the percentage of journalists reporting government officials had subjected them to interference, harassment, or violence while reporting increased from 57 percent to approximately two-thirds.

Restrictions on foreign journalists by central and local CCP propaganda departments remained strict, especially during sensitive times and anniversaries. Foreign press outlets reported that local employees of foreign news agencies were also subjected to official harassment and intimidation and that this remained a major concern for foreign outlets. Almost one-third of FCCC members who responded to FCCC inquiries reported authorities subjected their Chinese colleagues to pressure or violence. In addition FCCC members reported physical and electronic surveillance of their staff and premises.

While traveling in Hunan Province in April to report on a story of a petitioner who was attempting to travel to Beijing to lodge a protest, BBC correspondent John Sudworth and his team were physically assaulted by a group of men who refused to identify themselves; the journalists’ camera equipment was also broken. Later, in the presence of uniformed police officers and government officials, the same men forced the BBC team to sign a written confession and apology, under threat of further violence.

On August 23, plainclothes officers detained Nathan VanderKlippe, a Globe and Mail reporter, while he reported in Xinjiang and held him for several hours. The police temporarily seized his computer and examined the photographs on his camera’s memory card. After releasing him, they then followed him 120 miles to his hotel.

In November authorities in Xinjiang detained and interrogated two foreign journalists, holding them overnight and demanding the journalists turn over pictures and documents. They finally released the journalists in the morning and then followed them on the train to their next destination, where the local police and foreign affairs office again harassed them and blocked them from all hotels. Authorities spent the night keeping them awake in the lobby of a hotel, as they were “not allowed to sleep here.”

On December 14, security guards in Beijing beat two South Korean journalists attempting to cover the visit of South Korean president Moon Jae-in; one of the journalists was hospitalized.

Foreign Ministry officials once again subjected a majority of journalists to special interviews as part of their annual visa renewal process. During these interviews the officials pressured journalists to report less on human rights issues, referencing reporting “red lines” that journalists should not cross, and in some cases threatened them with nonrenewal of visas. Many foreign media organizations continued to have trouble expanding or even maintaining their operations in the country due to the difficulty of receiving visas. Western media companies were increasingly unwilling to publicize such issues due to fear of stirring up further backlash by the government.

On October 25, authorities blocked journalists from the New York Times, the Economist, the BBC, and the Guardian from entering a press event where the Communist Party revealed its new Politburo members. Authorities allowed other foreign journalists to attend but excluded these journalists, ostensibly because of past reporting.

Authorities continued to enforce tight restrictions on citizens employed by foreign news organizations. The code of conduct for citizen employees of foreign media organizations threatens dismissal and loss of accreditation for those citizen employees who engage in independent reporting. It instructs them to provide their employers information that projects “a good image of the country.” Several FCCC members reported that security officials summoned local assistants for meetings that the assistants found extremely intimidating.

Media outlets that reported on commercial issues enjoyed comparatively fewer restrictions, but the system of postpublication review by propaganda officials encouraged self-censorship by editors seeking to avoid the losses associated with penalties for inadvertently printing unauthorized content.

Chinese-language media outlets outside the country reported intimidation and financial threats from the government. For example, the owner of the Vision China Times in Australia said that Chinese officials repeatedly threatened Chinese companies that advertised in his newspaper. In one case Ministry of State Security officials stopped by the company every day for two weeks. Other Chinese-language outlets signed deals with the Chinese News Service, which is the second-largest state-owned news agency in China.

Censorship or Content Restrictions: The State Council’s Regulations on the Administration of Publishing grant broad authority to the government at all levels to restrict publications based on content, including mandating if, when, and how particular issues are reported. While the Ministry of Foreign Affairs daily press briefing was generally open, and the State Council Information Office organized some briefings by other government agencies, journalists did not have free access to other media events. The Ministry of Defense continued allowing select foreign media outlets to attend occasional press briefings.

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

The CCP Central Propaganda Department ordered media outlets to adhere strictly to the information provided by authoritative official departments when reporting on officials suspected of involvement in graft or bribery. Throughout the year the Central Propaganda Department issued similar instructions regarding various prominent events. Directives often warned against reporting on issues related to party and official reputation, health and safety, and foreign affairs. For example, after a North Korean nuclear test, the Propaganda Department directed media companies to disable the comments function on all social media platforms, ordered media outlets to downplay the news, and decreed they follow Xinhua’s lead in reporting. The orders included instructions for media outlets not to investigate or report on their own. The CAC and SAPPRFT strengthened regulations over the content that online publications are allowed to distribute, reiterating long-standing rules that only state-licensed news media may conduct original reporting.

In the first half of the year, provincial authorities inspected Hunan TV, one of the country’s most watched channels, and warned the network it focused too much on entertainment and failed to comply with the CPC’s requirement that media outlets bear the flag of the Communist Party.

In September the SAPPRFT issued more than a dozen new guidelines on television content. The general thrust of these guidelines was to prohibit negative reporting about government policies or officials. Additionally, the SAPPRFT planned to ramp up production of “a large number of television dramas that sing the praises of the party, the motherland, the people, as well as its heroes.”

The FCCC reported it was still largely impossible for foreign journalists to report from the TAR, other Tibetan areas, or Xinjiang without experiencing serious interference. Those who took part in government-sponsored trips to the TAR and other Tibetan areas expressed dissatisfaction with the access provided. Of those who tried to report from the Tibetan area, more than 75 percent reported problems in both Tibet, which is officially restricted, and Xinjiang, which ostensibly does not have the same restrictions on reporting. Foreign reporters also experienced restricted access and interference when trying to report in other sensitive areas, including the North Korean border, at places of historical significance to the founding of the Communist party, sites of recent natural disasters, and areas–including in Beijing–experiencing social unrest.

Authorities continued to block electronic distribution of the VOA and Radio Free Asia. Despite attempts to block access, the VOA and Radio Free Asia had significant audiences, including human rights advocates, ordinary citizens, English language teachers and students, and government officials.

Overseas television newscasts, largely restricted to hotels and foreign residence compounds, were subject to censorship. Individual issues of foreign newspapers and magazines occasionally were banned when they contained articles deemed too sensitive. Articles on sensitive topics were removed from international magazines. Television newscasts were blacked out during segments on sensitive subjects.

Politically sensitive coverage in Chinese, and to a lesser extent in English, was censored more than coverage in other languages. The government prohibited some foreign and domestic films deemed too sensitive or selectively censored parts of films before they were released. Under government regulations, authorities must authorize each foreign film released in the country, with the total number of films not to exceed 38.

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

In March the government issued a ban on the sale of foreign publications without an import permit. The new rules affect the popular online shopping platform Taobao, which is banned from offering “overseas publications,” including books, movies, and games, that do not already have government approval. The ban also applies to services related to publications. According to a statement on the company’s website, “Taobao has embargoed sales of foreign publications.”

A Zhejiang court in February convicted a pair of booksellers for selling banned books. Dai Xuelin, a Beijing-based social media editor at the Guangxi Normal University Press, and his business partner Zhang Xiaoxiong were sentenced to five years and three and one-half years, respectively, in prison for running an “illegal business operation” because they resold books published in Hong Kong that were not authorized for sale in the mainland.

Following the death in July of Nobel Peace Prize laureate Liu Xiaobo, the government censored a broad array of related words and images across public media and on social media platforms. Besides his name and image, phrases such as “rest in peace,” “grey,” quotes from his writings, images of candles, and even candle emojis were blocked online and from private messages sent on social media. Attempts to access censored search results resulted in a message saying the result could not be displayed “according to relevant laws, regulations, and policies.”

INTERNET FREEDOM

The government tightly controlled and highly censored domestic internet usage. According to an official report released in July by the China Internet Network Information Center, the country had 751 million internet users, accounting for 54.3 percent of its total population. The report noted 19.92 million new internet users in the first half of the year, with approximately 201 million going online from rural areas. Major media companies estimated that 625 million persons, mainly urban residents, obtained their news from social and online media sources.

Although the internet was widely available, it was heavily censored. The government continued to employ tens of thousands of individuals at the national, provincial, and local levels to monitor electronic communications and online content. The government also reportedly paid personnel to promote official views on various websites and social media and to combat those who posted alternative views. Internet companies also employed thousands of censors to carry out CCP and government directives on censorship.

During the year the government issued a number of new regulations to tighten its control over online speech and content. The regulations increased government oversight over internet livestreaming, bulletin board services, instant messaging applications, group chats, and other online services. The government also finalized draft regulations that strengthened government control over internet news information services; it had not yet finalized draft regulations issued for public comment during 2016 that would further strengthen government oversight over online publishing.

The Cybersecurity Law, which took effect in June, allows the government to “monitor, defend, and handle cybersecurity risks and threats originating from within the country or overseas sources.” Article 12 of the law criminalizes using the internet to “creat[e] or disseminat[e] false information to disrupt the economic or social order.” The law also codifies the authority of security agencies to cut communication networks across an entire geographic region during “major security incidents,” although they had previously exercised this authority prior to the law’s passage.

The CAC finalized regulations on Internet News Information Services that require websites, mobile apps, forums, blogs, instant communications services, and search engines to ensure that news coverage of a political, economic, diplomatic, or commentary nature conforms to official views of “facts.” These regulations extended longstanding traditional media controls to new media–including online and social media–to ensure these sources also adhere to the Communist Party directive.

In June the Beijing Cyberspace Administration forced companies to close celebrity gossip social media accounts, citing new rules designed to create an “uplifting mainstream media environment.” Included in the closing was “China’s Number One Paparazzi” Zhou Wei, who had more than seven million followers on his Weibo microblog account. References to homosexuality and the scientifically accurate words for genitalia were also banned. Writers who cover lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and intersex; gender; and youth health issues expressed concern over how to proceed without being shut down.

New CAC regulations on livestreaming came into effect on July 15. All live-streaming platforms, commercial websites, web portals, and apps were required to register with CAC. Licensed central media and affiliations are not required to register. Throughout the year the government published details of its crackdown on live-streaming content, detailing its efforts to shut down dozens of offending live-streaming accounts.

The SAPPRFT set out further limits in September on posting audio and visual material to social media. The new rules require a special permit for transmission of audiovisual materials on blogging platforms such as Weibo and instant messaging platforms such as WeChat. Platform managers were made directly responsible for ensuring user-posted content complies with their permit’s scope. This includes television shows, movies, news programs, and documentaries, which many netizens consumed exclusively through social media channels. The rules prohibit the uploading of any amateur content that would fall under the definition of news programming.

The Ministry of Industry and Information Technology issued two directives during the year restricting the use of unauthorized virtual private network (VPN) services as part of the government’s longstanding crackdown on online speech and content. The ministry’s move was targeted at individual rather than enterprise VPN users. Ministry officials acknowledged during a July 25 press conference the need for major corporations and other users to retain access to authorized VPN services. Nonetheless, many smaller businesses, academics, and others expressed concern over the integrity of communications transmitted using authorized VPN services. The directive reflected a more aggressive stance towards unauthorized VPN use.

The new rules and regulations issued during the year–combined with the massive online presence of citizens who must live under these restrictions–severely restricted internet freedom. The regulatory tightening imposed by security services and propaganda officials resulted in an internet management model that permits some internet traffic for commercial gain while severely curtailing political opinion.

GreatFire.org, a website run by activists tracking online censorship in the country, reported that thousands of domains, web links, social media searches, and internet protocol addresses that it monitored in the country remained blocked. In addition to social media websites such as Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram, the government continued to block almost all access to Google websites, including its email service, photograph program, map service, calendar application, and YouTube. Other blocked websites included Pinterest, SnapChat, Picasa, WordPress, and Periscope, among many others. While countless news and social media sites remained blocked, a large percentage of censored websites were gambling or pornographic websites.

Government censors continued to block websites or online content related to topics deemed sensitive, such as Taiwan, the Dalai Lama, Tibet, the 1989 Tiananmen massacre, and all content related to the Panama Papers. Many other websites for international media outlets, such as the New York Times, the Wall Street Journal, and Bloomberg, remained perennially blocked, in addition to human rights websites, such as those of Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch. In addition, in July the last two major Chinese-language news websites originating outside the country were blocked–Financial Times Chineseand Singapore’s Lianhe Zaobao. With their departure, all Chinese-language newspaper websites available on the mainland fell under the control of the Communist Party.

Authorities continued to jail numerous internet writers for their peaceful expression of political views. In August blogger and activist Wu Gan, known by his pen name “Super Vulgar Butcher,” was tried in a Tianjin court for “subversion of state power.” Wu spent two years in pretrial detention without access to the lawyers his family hired, and there was evidence he was tortured during that incarceration. His father was also detained for part of that time but later released without charge. Prior to his trial, Wu released a video statement denying any wrongdoing and calling his trial a “farce.” His trial was held in secret, and afterward the court released a statement stating that Wu “recognized that his behavior violated criminal law.” On December 26, the court sentenced Wu to eight years in prison followed by five years’ deprivation of political rights. Following the verdict, Wu released a statement restating he was tortured and identifying the perpetrators of this mistreatment. Family and friends believed his long detention and his lengthy sentence were due to his refusal to confess to any crimes and retract his accusations of torture.

In addition there continued to be reports of cyberattacks against foreign websites, journalists, and media organizations carrying information that the government restricted internet users in the country from accessing. As in the past, the government selectively blocked access to sites operated by foreign governments, including the websites or social media platforms of health organizations, educational institutions, NGOs, social networking sites, and search engines.

While such censorship was effective in keeping casual users away from websites hosting sensitive content, many users circumvented online censorship by using various technologies. Information on proxy servers outside the country and software for defeating official censorship were available. In July, Apple Inc. removed VPN services from its app store in the country. Encrypted communication apps such as Telegram and WhatsApp were regularly disrupted, especially during “sensitive” times of the year, such as during the period prior to the 19th Party Congress.

Government officials were increasingly willing to prosecute individuals for using VPN software. In Guangzhou a Dongguan court sentenced a local citizen to nine months’ imprisonment and fined him 5,000 yuan ($758) as punishment for selling VPN software.

The State Secrets Law obliges internet companies to cooperate fully with investigations of suspected leaks of state secrets, stop the transmission of such information once discovered, and report the crime to authorities. This is defined broadly and without clear limits. Furthermore, the companies must comply with authorities’ orders to delete such information from their websites; failure to do so is punishable by relevant departments, such as police and the Ministry of Public Security.

Following President Xi’s calls for establishing an alternative form of global internet governance at CAC’s December 2015 World Internet Conference, the government continued its international diplomatic efforts towards the establishment of a new, government-led multilateral system to replace the existing multistakeholder system that currently includes a variety of international stakeholders, including representatives from business and civil society. The CAC and the Ministry of Foreign Affairs both released major cyberpolicy strategies during the year that called for adoption of the multilateral approach, and the government encouraged members of both the Shanghai Cooperation Organization and the BRICS (Brazil, Russia, India, China, and South Africa) to support its internet governance agenda during summit events that it hosted. The government’s 2017 World Internet Conference, held December 3-5, again included calls for countries to adopt an “internet sovereignty” model that would increase government censorship power.

The government continued to introduce new measures implementing a “Social Credit System,” which is intended to collect vast amounts of data to create credit scores for individuals and companies in an effort to address deficiencies in “social trust,” strengthen access to financial credit instruments, and reduce public corruption. Unlike Western financial credit-rating systems, the government’s Social Credit System is designed also to collect information on academic records, traffic violations, social media presence, quality of friendships, adherence to birth control regulations, employment performance, consumption habits, and other topics. This system is also intended to result in increased self-censorship, as netizens would be liable for their statements, relationships, and even for information others shared on social media groups. Netizens’ credit scores decline when they express impermissible ideas, spread banned content, or associate with anyone who does so, and a decline in score means a loss of access to information-sharing applications and websites. An individual’s “social credit score,” among other things, quantifies a person’s loyalty to the government by monitoring citizens’ online activity and relationships. Points are awarded and deducted based on the “loyalty” of sites visited, as well as the “loyalty” of other netizens a person interacts with.

In September the government announced new regulations that place responsibility on the organizers of chat groups on messaging apps for ensuring that impermissible content is not shared on the group chat. Under these new rules, the creator of a WeChat group, for example, could be held liable for failing to report impermissible content shared by anyone in the chat group. According to an announcement by the CAC, the companies that provide chat platforms are responsible for tracking and assigning “social credit ratings.” Users with low social credit scores lose the privilege of creating groups, and even the ability to use the platforms, a significant loss now that a majority of young persons use messaging platforms for not only social but also many economic interactions.

ACADEMIC FREEDOM AND CULTURAL EVENTS

The government continued restrictions on academic and artistic freedom and on political and social discourse at colleges, universities, and research institutes. Restrictive SAPPRFT and Central Propaganda Department regulations and decisions constrained the flow of ideas and persons.

The government and the CCP Organization Department continued to control appointments to most leadership positions at universities, including department heads. While CCP membership was not always a requirement to obtain a tenured faculty position, scholars without CCP affiliation often had fewer chances for promotion. Academic subject areas deemed politically sensitive (e.g., civil rights, elite cronyism, civil society, etc.) continued to be off-limits. Some academics self-censored their publications, faced pressure to reach predetermined research results, or were unable to hold conferences with international participants during politically sensitive periods. Foreign academics claimed the government used visa denials, along with blocking access to archives, fieldwork, or interviews, to pressure them to self-censor their work. The use of foreign textbooks in classrooms remained restricted, and domestically produced textbooks continued to be under the editorial control of the CCP.

The CCP requires undergraduate students, regardless of academic major, to complete political ideology coursework on subjects such as Marxism, Maoism, and Deng Xiaoping thought. The government declared 2017 to be the “Year of Education Quality on University Ideological and Political Lessons,” and 29 prominent universities were inspected to assess their promotion of Marxist theory and socialist core values. State media reported the government dispatched more than 200 “experts” to at least 2,500 college and university classes nationwide to inspect and attend ideological and political classes. A Financial Times report in June suggested these inspections focused on universities with Western ties.

The government also placed new regulations on private K-12 schools. A Wall Street Journal article stated such changes were motivated by the central government’s desire to have more influence in education by requiring a CCP presence in these schools. As of July international students were also required to take political theory classes.

In June, Education Minister Chen Baosheng stressed that higher education institutions needed to better promote Marxist theory and “socialist core values.” Two Chinese professors were fired for criticizing Mao Zedong in online posts in January and June.

In December 2016 Xi Jinping chaired the National Ideology and Political Work Conference for Higher Education and called for turning the academy into a “stronghold that adheres to party leadership.” Xi stressed that “China’s colleges and universities are institutions of higher learning under the Party’s leadership; they are colleges and universities with Chinese socialist characteristics.” Xi further asserted that strengthening the role of Marxism in the curriculum was needed to “guide the teachers and students to become staunch believers in the socialist value system.” Xi specifically called on professors to become “staunch supporters of the Party’s rule.”

Authorities on some occasions blocked entry into the country of individuals deemed politically sensitive and, in some cases, refused to issue passports to citizens selected for international exchange programs who were considered “politically unreliable,” singling out Tibetans, Uighurs, and individuals from other minority nationality areas. A number of other foreign government-sponsored exchange selectees who already had passports, including some academics, encountered difficulties gaining approval to travel to participate in their programs. Academics reported having to request permission to travel overseas and, in some cases, said they were limited in the number of foreign trips they could take per year.

Academic censorship was on the rise during the year, and the CCP’s reach increasingly extended beyond the country’s physical borders. In a case that made international headlines, in August the Cambridge University Press excluded 300 articles and book reviews from the online version of its prestigious China Quarterly periodical available in the country. It was responding to a demand by the General Administration of Press and Publication, which threatened to shut down the website if the articles were not removed. The articles touched on a broad set of themes, including Taiwan relations, the Cultural Revolution, the crackdown on prodemocracy demonstrators in Tiananmen Square, and government policies towards ethnic minorities. After widespread criticism, Cambridge University Press reversed its decision and reposted the articles. According to the Financial Times, this case led academics to fear that universities would be forced to make concessions or lose access to the country’s lucrative market.

In September a foreign researcher announced that government authorities were systematically erasing historical records as part of their process of digitization. While working through the digitization of historical documents, they deleted Chinese journal articles from the 1950s that contradict explanations of party history promoted by President Xi. These databases are a primary source for academic research by domestic and foreign academics.

The CCP actively promotes censorship of Chinese students outside the country. A New York Times opinion article asserted that Chinese students on Australian campuses tended to self-censor and monitor each other, threatening free and open debate on campus. A Chinese commencement speaker at the University of Maryland who criticized China and Chinese authorities was excoriated in Chinese social media, and the student later apologized for her comments. The New York Times stated that the 150 chapters of the Chinese Student and Scholar Associations “…have worked in tandem with Beijing to promote a pro-Chinese agenda and tamp down anti-Chinese speech on Western campuses.” A Time article reported Taiwan universities signed agreements with mainland Chinese counterparts promising to avoid teaching sensitive content to secure lucrative fee-paying students from China. The government stated it would no longer fund scholars going to the University of California San Diego after a commencement speech there by the Dalai Lama.

Many intellectuals and scholars exercised self-censorship, anticipating that books or papers on political topics would be deemed too sensitive to be published. Censorship and self-censorship of artistic works was also common, particularly artworks deemed to involve politically sensitive subjects. Authorities frequently denied Western musicians permission to put on concerts in China. In July the Beijing Municipal Bureau of Culture prohibited Justin Bieber from performing in order to “maintain order in the Chinese market and purify the Chinese performance environment.” The government continued to forbid public performances of Handel’s Messiah, according to an August report by the Economist. Authorities also scrutinized the content of cultural events and applied pressure to encourage self-censorship of discussions.

The government restricted freedoms of peaceful assembly and association.

FREEDOM OF PEACEFUL ASSEMBLY

While the constitution provides for freedom of peaceful assembly, the government severely restricted this right. The law stipulates that such activities may not challenge “party leadership” or infringe upon the “interests of the state.” Protests against the political system or national leaders were prohibited. Authorities denied permits and quickly suppressed demonstrations involving expression of dissenting political views.

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

Several significant demonstrations took place in Beijing in late 2016 and during the year. In January approximately 500 People’s Liberation Army veterans protested over unpaid benefits. The crowd, while sizable, was considerably smaller than the thousands of veterans who took to the streets in October 2016 outside the headquarters of the Central Military Commission. In June approximately 100 protesters clashed with Beijing police in the city’s Changping District. The protesters were parents who objected to the city’s plans to assign their children to a new, less affluent school. Police detained at least three protesters. In July police in Beijing closed city streets to shut down a protest over the government’s targeting of a company called Shanxinhui. The government had shut down the company over allegations it was a thinly disguised pyramid scheme, but protesters claimed it was a social organization that served the poor.

In February more than 100 petitioners from Raoping County in Guangdong Province protested in front of the nearby Chaozhou Municipal Government headquarters. Local officials had sold villagers’ farmland to a battery disassembling and disposal mill, which resulted in severe environmental damage, including pollution of the villagers’ major drinking-water source, the nearby Huang-Gang-He River. Police violently dismissed the peaceful demonstration in the evening, detaining 12 villagers.

In March police in Henan Province used tear gas and fired pepper spray at thousands of protesters who gathered to demonstrate against forced evictions in a suburb of Henan’s Shangqiu City. Radio Free Asia reported that several persons, including some elderly residents, were severely injured in encounter.

In April police formally charged four demonstrators–Chen Ruifeng, Mai Pinglin, Mai Yingqiang, and Wang Er–on suspicion of “gathering a crowd to disrupt public order and to disrupt traffic.”

In May prominent Guangdong human rights activist Li Biyun and dozens of villagers from Rongli village took to the streets with banners and firecrackers to celebrate the arrest of former Jiangmen Municipal Party secretary and mayor Liu Weigen, who was under investigation for bribery. Li led the march, followed by villagers holding red banners that read, “Support Xi’s anticorruption campaign.” Police and security forces filmed the demonstrations but took no action.

Rights lawyers and activists who advocated for nonviolent civil disobedience were detained, arrested, and in some cases sentenced to prison terms. Lawyer Tang Jingling continued to serve his five-year sentence for “inciting subversion of state power” for promoting his ideas of nonviolent civil disobedience. Yuan Xinting, also sentenced in the same case in January 2016, remained in prison. Their associate, Wang Qingying, was released from prison in November 2016. He reported being tortured while in detention.

Concerts, sports events, exercise classes, or other meetings of more than 200 persons require approval from public security authorities. Large numbers of public gatherings in Beijing and elsewhere were canceled at the last minute or denied government permits, ostensibly under the guise of ensuring public safety.

FREEDOM OF ASSOCIATION

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

The regulatory system for NGOs was highly restrictive, but specific requirements varied depending on whether an organization was foreign or domestic. Domestic NGOs were governed by the Charity Law, which went into effect in September 2016, and a host of related regulations. Domestic NGOs could register in one of three categories: a social group, a social organization, or a foundation. All domestic NGOs are required to register under the Ministry of Civil Affairs and find an officially sanctioned sponsor to serve as their “professional supervisory unit.” Finding a sponsor was often challenging, since the sponsor could be held civilly or criminally responsible for the NGO’s activities. All organizations are also required to report their sources of funding, including foreign funding. Domestic NGOs continued to adjust to this new regulatory framework.

In August 2016 the CCP Central Committee issued a directive mandating the establishment of CCP cells within all domestic NGOs by 2020. According to authorities, these CCP organizations operating inside domestic NGOs would “strengthen guidance” of NGOs in areas such as “decision making for important projects, important professional activities, major expenditures and funds, acceptance of large donations, and activities involving foreigners.” The directive also mandates that authorities conduct annual “spot checks” to ensure compliance on “ideological political work, party building, financial and personnel management, study sessions, foreign exchange, acceptance of foreign donations and assistance, and conducting activities according to their charter.”

On January 1, the Law on the Management of Foreign NGOs’ Activities with Mainland China (Foreign NGO Management Law) came into effect. The law requires foreign NGOs to register with the Ministry of Public Security and to find a state-sanctioned sponsor for their operations. NGOs that fail to comply face possible civil or criminal penalties. The law provides no appeal process for NGOs denied registration, and it stipulates that NGOs found to have violated certain provisions could be placed on a “blacklist” and barred from operating in the country.

In the first year of the Foreign NGO Management Law’s implementation, some international NGOs reported that it became more difficult to work with local partners, including universities, government agencies, and other domestic NGOs, as the law codified the CCP’s perception that foreign NGOs were a “national security” threat. Finding an official sponsor was difficult for most foreign NGOs, as sponsors could be held responsible for the NGO’s conduct and had to undertake burdensome reporting requirements. Even after the Ministry of Public Security published a list of sponsors in December 2016, NGOs reported that most government agencies had no unit responsible for sponsoring foreign NGOs. Potential Professional Supervisory Units reported they had little understanding of how to implement the law and what would be expected of them by authorities. The vague definition of an NGO, as well as of what activities constituted “political” and therefore illegal activities, also left many business organizations and alumni associations uncertain whether they fell under the purview of the law. The lack of clear communication from the government, coupled with harassment by security authorities, caused some foreign NGOs to suspend or cease operations in the country. As of September approximately 185 of the MPS-estimated 7,000 previously operational foreign NGOs had registered under the Foreign NGO Management Law, with most focusing on trade and commerce activities.

According to the Ministry of Civil Affairs, by June there were more than 670,000 legally registered social organizations, public institutions, and foundations. Many experts believed the actual number of domestic NGOs to be much higher. Domestic NGOs reported that foreign funding continued to drop, as many domestic NGOs sought to avoid such funding due to fear of being labeled as “subversive” in the face of growing restrictions imposed by new laws. NGOs existed under a variety of formal and informal guises, including national mass organizations created and funded by the CCP that are organizationally prohibited from exercising any independence, known as government-operated NGOs or GONGOs.

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

Although all registered organizations came under some degree of government control, some NGOs, primarily service-oriented GONGOs, were able to operate with less day-to-day scrutiny. Authorities supported the growth of some NGOs that focused on social problems, such as poverty alleviation and disaster relief. Law and regulations explicitly prohibited organizations from conducting political or religious activities, and organizations that refused to comply faced criminal penalties.

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

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, but the government at times did not respect these rights.

While seriously restricting its scope of operations, the government occasionally cooperated with the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), which maintained an office in Beijing, to provide protection and assistance to select categories of refugees, asylum seekers, and other persons of concern.

The government increasingly silenced activists by denying them permission to travel, both internationally and domestically, or keeping them under unofficial house arrest.

Abuse of Migrants, Refugees, and Stateless Persons: There were reports that North Korean agents operated clandestinely within the country to repatriate North Korean citizens forcibly. According to press reports, some North Koreans detained by government authorities faced repatriation unless they could pay bribes to secure their release.

In-country Movement: Authorities continued to maintain tight restrictions on freedom of movement, particularly to curtail the movement of individuals deemed politically sensitive before key anniversaries, visits by foreign dignitaries, or major political events, as well as to forestall demonstrations. Freedom of movement for Tibetans continued to be very limited in the TAR and other Tibetan areas. Public security officers maintained checkpoints in most counties and on roads leading into many towns as well as within major cities, such as Lhasa. Restrictions were not applied to Han Chinese migrants or tourists in Tibetan areas. Uighurs in the XUAR also faced restrictions on movement within the XUAR itself. Although the use of “domestic passports” that called for local official approval before traveling to another area was discontinued in 2016, identification checks remained in place when entering cities and on public roads. Such restrictions were not applied to Han Chinese in these areas.

Although the government maintained restrictions on the freedom to change one’s workplace or residence, the national household registration system (hukou) continued to change, and the ability of most citizens to move within the country to work and live continued to expand. While many rural residents migrated to the cities, where the per capita disposable income was approximately three times the rural per capita income, they often could not change their official residence or workplace within the country. Most cities had annual quotas for the number of new temporary residence permits they could issue, and all workers, including university graduates, had to compete for a limited number of such permits. It was particularly difficult for rural residents to obtain household registration in more economically developed urban areas.

The household registration system added to the difficulties faced by rural residents, even after they relocated to urban areas and found employment. According to the Statistical Communique of the People’s Republic of China on 2015 National Economic and Social Development published by the Ministry of Human Resources and Social Security, 294 million persons lived outside the jurisdiction of their household registration. Of that number, 247 million individuals worked outside their home district. Many migrant workers and their families faced numerous obstacles with regard to working conditions and labor rights. Many were unable to access public services, such as public education for their children or social insurance, in the cities where they lived and worked because they were not legally registered urban residents.

In 2015 the government announced that all citizens were entitled to a household registration (also known as a hukou), including children born to a single parent or children born in violation of the one-child policy. On March 24, the Ministry of Public Security announced it had issued 14 million hukous to regularize the status of undocumented women and children.

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

Foreign Travel: The government permitted legal emigration and foreign travel for most citizens. Government employees and retirees, especially from the military, continued to face foreign travel restrictions. The government expanded the use of exit controls for departing passengers at airports and other border crossings to deny foreign travel to some dissidents and persons employed in government posts. Throughout the year many lawyers, artists, authors, and other activists were at times prevented from exiting the country. Authorities also blocked the travel of some family members of rights activists and of suspected corrupt officials and businesspersons, including foreign family members.

Border officials and police cited threats to “national security” as the reason for refusing permission to leave the country. Authorities stopped most such persons at the airport at the time of their attempted travel.

Most citizens could obtain passports, although individuals the government deemed potential political threats, including religious leaders, political dissidents, petitioners, and ethnic minorities, routinely reported being refused passports or otherwise prevented from traveling overseas. Wu Rongrong, a women’s rights activist who gained global prominence in 2015 after being detained for trying to pass out stickers with antisexual harassment slogans, was denied a travel permit because of “unresolved legal cases” against her, and she was told the travel ban was for 10 years. After she posted about the situation on social media, which garnered international attention, the travel ban was suddenly lifted.

Uighurs, particularly those residing in the XUAR, reported great difficulty in getting passport applications approved at the local level. They were frequently denied passports to travel abroad, particularly to Saudi Arabia for the Haj, to other Muslim countries, or to Western countries for academic purposes. Since 2016 authorities ordered residents of the XUAR to turn in their passports or told residents no new passports were available. The passport recall, however, was not limited to Uighur areas. Family members of Uighur activists living overseas were also denied visas to enter the country. During the year the government also made a concerted effort to compel Uighurs studying abroad to return to China. Upon return, some of them were detained or disappeared.

In the TAR and Tibetan areas of Qinghai, Gansu, Yunnan, and Sichuan Provinces, Tibetans, especially Buddhist monks and nuns, experienced great difficulty acquiring passports. The unwillingness of government authorities in Tibetan areas to issue or renew passports for Tibetans created, in effect, a ban on foreign travel for a large segment of the Tibetan population. Han Chinese residents of Tibetan areas did not experience the same difficulties.

The government continued to try to prevent many Tibetans and Uighurs from leaving the country and detained many who were apprehended while attempting to leave (see Tibet Annex). Some family members of rights activists who tried to emigrate were unable to do so.

Exile: The law neither provides for a citizen’s right to repatriate nor addresses exile. The government continued to refuse re-entry to numerous citizens considered dissidents, Falun Gong activists, or “troublemakers.” Although authorities allowed some dissidents living abroad to return, dissidents released on medical parole and allowed to leave the country often were effectively exiled.

PROTECTION OF REFUGEES

Refoulement: The government did not provide protection against the expulsion or forcible return of vulnerable refugees and asylum seekers, especially North Korean refugees. The government continued to consider North Koreans as “illegal economic migrants” rather than refugees or asylum seekers and forcibly returned many of them to North Korea. The government continued to deny UNHCR permission to operate outside of Beijing.

Human Rights Watch (HRW) documented the government detained 41 North Koreans in July and August alone, compared with 51 documented detentions of North Korean refugees from June 2016 to July 2017. In the same report, HRW estimated that among these 92 North Korean refugees, family members reported that at least 46 were refouled.

Access to Asylum: The law does not provide for the granting of refugee or asylee status. The government did not have a system for providing protection to refugees but allowed UNHCR to assist the relatively small number of non-North Korean and non-Burmese refugees. The government did not officially recognize these individuals as refugees; they remained in the country as illegal immigrants unable to work, with no access to education, and subject to deportation at any time.

Authorities continued to repatriate North Korean refugees forcibly, including trafficking victims, generally treating them as illegal economic migrants. The government detained and deported such refugees to North Korea, where they faced severe punishment or death, including in North Korean forced-labor camps. The government did not provide North Korean trafficking victims with legal alternatives to repatriation.

The government continued to prevent UNHCR from having access to North Korean or Burmese refugees. Authorities sometimes detained and prosecuted citizens who assisted North Korean refugees, as well as those who facilitated illegal border crossings.

In some instances the government pressured other countries to return asylum seekers or UNHCR-recognized refugees forcibly. In July, Egypt detained more than 100 Uighurs, and forcibly returned a portion to China, including some who were seeking asylum.

Access to Basic Services: North Korean asylum seekers and North Koreans in the country seeking economic opportunities generally did not have access to health care, public education, or other social services due to lack of legal status. International media reported that as many as 30,000 children born to North Korean women in China, most of whom were married to Chinese spouses, were denied access to public services, including education and health care, despite provisions in the law that provide citizenship to children with at least one PRC citizen parent.

Durable Solutions: The government largely cooperated with UNHCR when dealing with the resettlement in China of Han Chinese or ethnic minorities from Vietnam and Laos living in the country since the Vietnam War era. The government and UNHCR continued discussions concerning the granting of citizenship to these long-term residents and their children, many of whom were born in China. The government worked with UNHCR in granting exit permission for a small number of non-Burmese and non-North Korean refugees to resettle in third countries.

China (includes Tibet, Hong Kong, and Macau) – Hong Kong

Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:

The law provides for freedom of expression, including for the press, and the government generally respected this right. An independent press, an effective judiciary, and an unfettered internet combined to permit freedom of expression, including for the press, on most matters. During the year, however, SAR and central government actions and statements raised the perceived risks associated with expressing dissenting political views.

Freedom of Expression: There were some legal restrictions on the ability of individuals to criticize the government publicly without reprisal. A new national law passed by the central government in September criminalizes any action mocking the Chinese national anthem and requires persons attending public events to stand at attention and sing the anthem in a solemn manner when it is played. The central government’s National People’s Congress voted to add the law to the Basic Law’s Annex III, which obliges the SAR government to adopt local legislation. SAR officials said the law would be implemented after the LegCo passes local implementing legislation. In September a court found LegCo member Cheng Chung Tai guilty of desecrating both the national and Hong Kong SAR flags after he turned several Chinese and Hong Kong SAR flags upside down on the desks of other LegCo members. The court ordered Cheng to pay a fine of 5,000 Hong Kong dollars (HK$) ($640).

The SAR and central government called for restrictions on discussion of Hong Kong independence. Before Chinese president Xi Jinping’s July visit to the SAR, police told the proindependence Hong Kong National Party it would not be permitted to hold any public event, according to a Hong Kong Free Press article. In September students at several universities in the SAR hung banners in support of Hong Kong independence. In response Mathew Cheung, the SAR’s chief secretary for administration (the second-most senior executive official), stated “there is no room for discussion” of Hong Kong independence. A mainland government-controlled media outlet called on SAR authorities to take legal action to forbid persons from advocating for independence. On September 19, at a rally calling for the dismissal of Benny Tai, a coorganizer of the large-scale 2014 “Occupy” protests from Hong Kong University, LegCo member Junius Ho supported another protester’s call to “kill” independence advocates by saying “with no mercy” into his microphone.

Observers feared that requirements for electoral candidacy and for taking the oath of office limited free speech in the political arena. In July 2016 the Electoral Affairs Commission instituted a new requirement that all LegCo candidates sign a pledge stating that the SAR is an “inalienable part” of China in order to run for office.

The NPCSC’s November 2016 interpretation of Basic Law Article 104 barred legislators-elect from taking office if they refused to take the oath, altered the wording of the oath, or failed to demonstrate sufficient “sincerity” or “solemnity” when taking the oath. As of year’s end, the government had used the NPCSC’s interpretation to disqualify six legislators for making oaths that did not conform to the NPCSC’s interpretation. On August 25, the Court of Final Appeal dismissed the appeal bids of two of the six lawmakers. Two additional lawmakers appealed their cases on September 11; their appeals were pending at year’s end. The final two lawmakers declined to appeal their disqualification.

Press and Media Freedom: Independent media were active and expressed a wide variety of views; however, some journalists expressed concerns about increasing self-censorship.

Violence and Harassment: In February the home of a senior staff member at Sing Pao Daily News was splashed with red paint after staff members spotted suspicious persons following the newspaper’s managers, according to the Hong Kong Journalists Association’s annual report.

Censorship or Content Restrictions: Reports of media self-censorship continued during the year. Many media outlets were owned by companies with business interests on the mainland, which led to claims they were vulnerable to self-censorship, with editors deferring to perceived concerns of publishers regarding their business interests. Mainland interests reportedly owned most bookstores in the SAR and restricted the sale of politically sensitive books.

Libel/Slander Laws: In March then chief executive C. Y. Leung sued LegCo member Kenneth Leung for defamation over remarks Kenneth Leung made about a HK$50 million ($6.4 million) payment the former chief executive received from an Australian engineering firm.

Actions to Expand Freedom of Expression, Including for the Media: In September the SAR lifted its ban on online-only media attending government press conferences.

INTERNET FREEDOM

The SAR government did not restrict or disrupt access to the internet or censor online content, although activists claimed central government authorities closely monitored their email and internet use. The internet was widely available and used extensively.

There were reports of politically motivated cyberattacks against private persons and organizations. In September hackers replaced the regular content on the prodemocracy political party Demosisto’s website with promainland government messages and images mocking Demosisto’s secretary general, Joshua Wong.

ACADEMIC FREEDOM AND CULTURAL EVENTS

Some suggested Hong Kong-based academics and cultural figures practiced self-censorship to preserve opportunities in the mainland.

In 2016 Hong Kong’s Tiananmen Museum closed after two years of operation. The museum had been the only museum in the country commemorating the 1989 Tiananmen Square massacre. According to CNN and Time, the Hong Kong Alliance, a prodemocracy group that operated the museum, stated the closure was due to pressure from the owners’ committee of the building, which made it difficult for the museum to operate by restricting visitor numbers, filing a lawsuit disputing the usage of the space as a museum, and forcing visitors to provide their names and personal information–a requirement that discouraged visitors from the mainland. The museum operators also cited high rent and other fundraising challenges but kept the museum’s exhibits and said they hoped to move to a new and bigger location in the future. They temporarily reopened the museum from April to June but still did not have a new permanent location.

Hong Kong-based international NGOs expressed concern about pro-Beijing media outlets’ sustained criticism of their activities, which the newspapers characterized as interference by “foreign forces.” NGO staff members reported that these efforts to discredit their work in the SAR made it difficult for the groups to continue their existing partnerships with academic institutions and their public outreach. NGOs also expressed concern about the mainland’s Foreign NGO Management Law, which went into effect on January 1, noting the law imposed onerous restrictions on their ability to operate and implement social services delivery, advocacy work, and aid services in the mainland. The law specifically defines Hong Kong-based organizations as covered by the law’s requirements.

The law provides for the freedoms of peaceful assembly and association, but government actions, including prosecutions of activists, increased the perceived risks associated with participating in political protest.

FREEDOM OF PEACEFUL ASSEMBLY

The law provides for freedom of peaceful assembly, and the government generally respected this right. Police routinely issued the required “letter of no objection” for public meetings and demonstrations–including those critical of the SAR and central governments–and most protests occurred without serious incident.

On June 4, tens of thousands of persons peacefully gathered without incident in Victoria Park to commemorate the 28th anniversary of the Tiananmen Square crackdown. The annual vigil and a smaller annual event in Macau were reportedly the only sanctioned events in China to commemorate the Tiananmen Square anniversary. Figures varied for participation in the annual July 1 prodemocracy demonstration, held on the anniversary of the 1997 transfer of sovereignty over Hong Kong to China. Police estimated 14,500 protesters; an independent polling organization estimated 27,000, and organizers claimed 60,000. Police did not interfere with the legally permitted rally.

Several government prosecutions of protesters and attempts to seek harsher penalties against protesters raised the perceived cost of protesting government policies, which could have a chilling effect on political protest in the SAR. For example, in 2016 authorities found prodemocracy activists Joshua Wong and Alex Chow guilty of participating in an illegal assembly. The charge arose after they led a group of persons over a fence into a closed SAR government complex where protests had traditionally been held at the start of the 2014 Occupy protests. In connection with the same event, prodemocracy activist Nathan Law was found guilty of inciting others to participate in an illegal assembly. Wong and Law were originally sentenced to perform 80 and 120 hours of community service, respectively, while Chow was given a suspended sentence of three weeks’ imprisonment. The government filed a timely appeal of the sentences, and Wong and Law completed their community service sentences while the appeal was pending.

On August 17, the Court of Appeal overturned the lower court’s sentences and ordered Wong, Law, and Chow to serve six, eight, and seven months in prison, respectively. The Court of Appeal argued the lower court’s sentences were inadequate and stiffer sentences were required to deter such acts in the future, which the court characterized as violent. Wong and Law were imprisoned from August through October, when they were released on bail, pending the outcome of their appeal. Chow was imprisoned in August and released on bail in November, also pending the outcome of his appeal. On August 20, tens of thousands of persons protested the prison sentences, which would bar the three from running in local elections for five years, according to SAR law. Some commentators claimed the SAR government sought stiffer penalties against the trio in order to stifle dissent and prevent the three defendants from running for office. Two UN special rapporteurs and prominent international lawyers expressed public concern the prison sentences were inconsistent with freedoms of expression and assembly. The SAR government denied any political motivation for seeking stiffer penalties against the trio and argued the cases were handled in accordance with the law. Wong, Law, and Chow appealed their sentences.

FREEDOM OF ASSOCIATION

SAR law provides for freedom of association, and the government generally respected it. Nonetheless, officials did not approve prodemocracy political party Demosisto’s application to register as a legal entity, even though the application had been pending for more than one year. The mainland Foreign NGO Management Law, which came into effect on January 1 and also applies to NGOs based in the SAR, imposes onerous restrictions on NGOs’ ability to operate in the mainland.

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 prominent exceptions.

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

There continued to be claims the Immigration Department refused entry to a small number of persons traveling to the SAR for political reasons. In June, shortly before Chinese president Xi Jinping’s visit to the SAR, two Macau-based prodemocracy activists reported they were denied entry. In October Benedict Rogers, deputy chairman of the British Conservative Party’s Human Rights Commission, was refused entry to the SAR. The Immigration Department, as a matter of policy, declined to comment on individual cases. Activists and other observers contended that the refusals, usually of persons holding views critical of the central government, were made at the behest of mainland authorities.

Foreign Travel: Most residents easily obtained travel documents from the SAR government, although central government authorities in the past have not permitted some human rights activists, student protesters, and prodemocracy legislators to visit the mainland. Some students who participated in the 2014 protest movement previously alleged the central government’s security agencies surveilled the protests and blacklisted them.

PROTECTION OF REFUGEES

Refoulement: Under the “one country, two systems” framework, the SAR continued to administer its own immigration and entry policies and make determinations regarding “nonrefoulement” claims independently. The government’s Unified Screening Mechanism (USM) consolidated the processing of claims based on risk of return to persecution, torture, or cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment or punishment. From 2009 to the end of December, 110 of the more than 15,000 nonrefoulement claims adjudicated were substantiated, according to government statistics. Also according to government statistics, at year’s end there were 5,899 nonrefoulement claims pending adjudication.

Persons wishing to file a nonrefoulement claim cannot do so while they have legally entered the SAR and must instead wait until they overstay the terms of their entry before they can file such a claim, which typically results in a period of detention followed by release on recognizance. Persons whose claims are pending are required to appear periodically before the Immigration Department.

Applicants and activists continued to complain about the slow processing of claims, which can take several years, a shortage of government-provided interpretation services, and limited government subsidies available to applicants. Activists and refugee rights groups also expressed concerns about the very low rate of approved claims, suggesting the government’s threshold for approving claims was far higher than other developed jurisdictions.

Access to Asylum: The SAR is not a signatory to the 1951 UN Refugee Convention or its 1967 protocol. Under the “one country, two systems” framework, these international agreements are not extended to Hong Kong even though the central government is a signatory. Persons whose nonrefoulement claims are substantiated through the USM do not obtain a status that allows them to permanently live and work in the SAR. Instead, they are referred to UNHCR for possible recognition as refugees and resettlement to a third country. Some nonrefoulement claimants had waited in the SAR for resettlement for years.

Employment: The government defines nonrefoulement claimants as illegal immigrants or “overstayers” in the SAR, and as such they have no legal right to work in the SAR while claims are under review.

Access to Basic Services: Persons with nonrefoulement claims under the USM were eligible to receive publicly funded legal assistance, including translation services, as well as small living subsidies. The children of nonrefoulement claimants could usually attend SAR public schools.

China (includes Tibet, Hong Kong, and Macau) – Macau

Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:

The law provides for freedom of expression, including for the press, but the government occasionally sought to restrict these rights.

In August police arrested two persons for allegedly spreading false information about the government’s response to a typhoon. In December the government said it had begun drafting legislation to implement a national law passed in September that criminalizes any action mocking the Chinese national anthem and requires persons attending public events to stand at attention and sing the anthem in a solemn manner when the anthem is played.

The SAR Penal Code states that anyone who initiates or organizes, or develops propaganda that incites or encourages, discrimination, hatred, or racial violence, is liable to imprisonment for one to eight years. The law also states that anyone who, in a public meeting or in writing intended for dissemination by any means or media, causes acts of violence against a person, or group of persons on the grounds of their race, color, or ethnic origin, or defames, or insults a person, or group of persons on those grounds with the intention of inciting or encouraging racial discrimination, is liable to imprisonment for between six months and five years.

Press and Media Freedom: Local media expressed a wide range of views but the government took steps to restrict unfavorable news coverage.

Censorship or Content Restrictions: The media practiced self-censorship, in part because the government heavily subsidized major newspapers that tended to follow closely the PRC government’s policy on sensitive political issues. On August 29, the Macau Journalists Association stated at least five editors of local media outlets received messages from their senior executives instructing them to report more on positive news after a typhoon, and less on the government’s accountability for problems, especially the accountability of the highest officials. On August 28, the Macau Portuguese and English Press Association released a statement protesting the Macau Electoral Affairs Commission’s order to a local newspaper to remove an interview with a Legislative Assembly candidate from its website.

National Security: On August 26, SAR police denied entry to four journalists from Hong Kong who traveled to the SAR to report from the city after a typhoon. Immigration authorities asked the four journalists to sign a notice stating they “posed a risk to the stability of internal security,” according to a media report. In September the International Federation of Journalists condemned the SAR’s decision to deny entry to 15 Hong Kong-based journalists, some of whom intended to report on the SAR’s Legislative Assembly election.

INTERNET FREEDOM

The government did not restrict or disrupt access to the internet or censor online content. Activists critical of the government reported the government monitored their telephone conversations and internet usage.

According to the Statistics and Census Service, approximately 59 percent of the population subscribed to the internet. This did not take into account multiple internet users for one subscription, nor did it include those who accessed the internet through mobile devices.

The law criminalizes a range of cybercrimes and empowers police, with a court warrant, to order internet service providers to retain and provide authorities with a range of data. Police may seize electronic evidence without a warrant under exigent circumstances, but the police must obtain judicial validation of their actions within 72 hours or destroy the evidence.

Activists previously reported the government installed enterprise-grade software capable of censoring, decrypting, and scanning secured transmissions on its free Wi-Fi service without notifying users.

ACADEMIC FREEDOM AND CULTURAL EVENTS

Academics reported self-censorship and also reported they were deterred from studying or speaking on controversial topics concerning China. Scholars also previously reported they were warned not to speak at politically sensitive events or on behalf of certain political organizations. University professors reported the SAR’s universities lacked a tenure system, which left professors vulnerable to dismissal for political reasons.

In February an art gallery cancelled a scheduled performance by an ethnically Tibetan artist after it received pressure to do so from government officials, according to media reports.

The law provides for freedom of peaceful assembly and association, and the government often respected these rights, despite some efforts to discourage participation in peaceful demonstrations.

FREEDOM OF PEACEFUL ASSEMBLY

The law requires prior notification, but not approval, of demonstrations involving public roads, public places, or places open to the public. Police may redirect demonstration marching routes, but organizers have the right to challenge such decisions in court.

Activists alleged authorities were making a concerted effort to use both intimidation and criminal proceedings against participants in peaceful demonstrations to discourage their involvement. For example, the Legislative Assembly, in a secret ballot, voted to suspend Sulu Sou from the Legislative Assembly after prosecutors charged him with “aggravated disobedience” to police authorities during a peaceful protest against the Chief Executive. Activists reported police routinely attempted to intimidate demonstrators by ostentatiously taking videos of them and advising bystanders not to participate in protests.

In June approximately 200 persons participated in a vigil at Senado Square to mark the 28th anniversary of the 1989 Tiananmen Square crackdown.

FREEDOM OF ASSOCIATION

The law provides for freedom of association, and the government generally respected this right. No authorization is required to form an association, and the only restrictions on forming an organization are that it not promote racial discrimination, violence, crime, or disruption of public order, or be military or paramilitary in nature.

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. The Immigration Department cooperated with the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees and other humanitarian organizations in providing protection and assistance to refugees, asylum seekers, stateless persons, and other persons of concern.

The Internal Security Law grants police authority to deport or deny entry to nonresidents whom they regard under the law as unwelcome, a threat to internal security and stability, or possibly implicated in transnational crimes. During the year the government banned several Hong Kong politicians and activists from entering the SAR on the grounds they posed a threat to internal security, according to media reports.

PROTECTION OF REFUGEES

Access to Asylum: The law provides for the granting of asylum or refugee status and the government has established a system for providing protection to refugees. Persons granted refugee status ultimately enjoy the same rights as other SAR residents.

Pending final decisions on their asylum claims, the government registered asylum seekers and provided protection against their expulsion or return to their countries of origin. Persons with pending applications were eligible to receive government support, including basic needs such as housing, medical care, and education for children, but were not allowed to work until their refugee status was recognized.

China (includes Tibet, Hong Kong, and Macau) – Tibet

Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:

Freedom of Expression: Tibetans who spoke to foreigners or foreign reporters, attempted to provide information to persons outside the country, or communicated information regarding protests or other expressions of discontent through cell phones, email, or the internet were subject to harassment or detention under “crimes of undermining social stability and inciting separatism.” During the year authorities in the TAR and other Tibetan areas sought to strengthen control over electronic media and to punish individuals for the ill-defined crime of “creating and spreading of rumors.”

Tashi Wangchuk continued to be held without trial after being charged in 2016 with “inciting separatism.” If found guilty, he faces up to 15 years in prison.

Press and Media Freedom: Foreign journalists may visit the TAR only after obtaining a special travel permit from the government, and this permission was rarely granted. The Foreign Correspondents Club of China’s annual report stated reporting from “Tibet proper remains off-limits to foreign journalists.” This same report noted many foreign journalists were also told that reporting in Tibetan areas outside the TAR was “restricted or prohibited.”

Authorities tightly controlled journalists who worked for the domestic press and could hire and fire them based on assessments of their political reliability. In May the TAR Press, Television, and Radio Bureau announced job vacancies with one of the listed job requirements to “resolutely implement the Party’s line, principles, policies, and political stance, fight against separatism, and safeguard the motherland’s unity and ethnic unity.” CCP propaganda authorities remained in charge of local journalist accreditation in the TAR and required journalists working in the TAR to display “loyalty to the Party and motherland.” The deputy head of the TAR Propaganda Department simultaneously holds a prominent position in the TAR Journalist Association, a state-controlled professional association to which local journalists must belong.

Violence and Harassment: Chinese authorities arrested and sentenced many Tibetan writers, intellectuals, and singers for “inciting separatism.” Numerous prominent Tibetan political writers, namely Jangtse Dokho, Kelsang Jinpa, Buddha, Tashi Rabten, Arik Dolma Kyab, and Gangkye Drupa Kyab, reported that security officers closely monitored them following their release from prison between 2013 and 2016. In addition, they were banned from publishing and were no longer able to receive public services and benefits such as public-service jobs, bank loans, passports, and membership in formal organizations.

Censorship or Content Restrictions: Domestic journalists were not allowed to report on repression in Tibetan areas. Authorities promptly censored the postings of bloggers who did so, and the authors sometimes faced punishment.

Since the establishment of the CCP’s Central Leading Small Group for Internet Security and Informatization in 2014, the TAR Party Committee Information Office has further tightened the control of a full range of social media platforms. According to multiple contacts, security officials often cancelled WeChat accounts carrying “sensitive information,” such as discussions about Tibetan language education, and interrogated the account owners. Many sources also reported it was almost impossible to register websites promoting Tibetan culture and language in the TAR.

The Chinese government continued to jam radio broadcasts of Voice of America and RFA’s Tibetan and Chinese-language services in some Tibetan areas as well as the Voice of Tibet, an independent radio station based in Norway.

According to multiple sources, authorities in Qinghai and Sichuan provinces confiscated or destroyed “illegal” satellite dishes in many Tibetan areas. In addition to maintaining strict censorship of print and online content in Tibetan areas, Chinese authorities sought to censor the expression of views or distribution of information related to Tibet in countries and regions outside of mainland China. In March Tashi Norbu, a Tibetan painter based in the Netherlands and whose work featured the Dalai Lama and previously was shown in an exhibit in Dharamsala, India, was forced to cancel a scheduled live-painting performance in Macau after authorities in Beijing threatened to arrest and deport him if he tried to enter a Chinese-administered region. According to Norbu, a gallery official told him a high-level Chinese military official stated that Norbu was blacklisted and forbidden entry into Macau. Norbu was advised to leave Hong Kong for his own safety.

INTERNET FREEDOM

As in the past year, authorities curtailed cell phone and internet service in the TAR and other Tibetan areas, sometimes for weeks or even months at a time, during periods of unrest and political sensitivity, such as the March anniversaries of the 1959 and 2008 protests, “Serf Emancipation Day,” and around the Dalai Lama’s birthday in July. In addition, local observers reported authorities disrupted internet service in areas where self-immolations occurred. They also claimed authorities threatened community members with sentences of up to 15 years for those who shared images, videos, and information of the self-immolations outside Tibetan areas. When internet service was restored, authorities closely monitored its usage. There were widespread reports of authorities searching cell phones they suspected of containing suspicious content. Many individuals in the TAR and other Tibetan areas reported receiving official warnings and being briefly detained and interrogated after using their cell phones to exchange what the government deemed to be sensitive information. In July the TAR Internet and Information Office received approval from the Chinese National Social Science Foundation to complete a key research project known as “Countermeasures to Internet-based Reactionary Infiltration by the Dalai Lama Clique.”

In 2016 the National People’s Congress Standing Committee passed a cybersecurity law that further strengthened the legal mechanisms available to security agencies to surveil and control content online. Some observers noted that provisions of the law, such as Article 12, disproportionally affected Tibetans and other ethnic minorities. Article 12 criminalizes using the internet to commit a wide range of ill-defined crimes of a political nature, such as “harming national security,” “damaging national unity,” “propagating extremism,” “inciting ethnic hatred,” “disturbing social order,” and “harming the public interest.” The law also codifies the practice of large-scale internet network shutdowns in response to “major [public] security incidents,” which public security authorities in Tibetan areas have done for years without a clear basis in law. On March 8, the TAR reported that the newly established TAR branch of China’s National Cyberspace Administration has been actively engaging in a “Tibet-related cyberspace battle” both inside and outside of China.

Throughout the year authorities blocked users in China from accessing foreign-based, Tibet-related websites critical of official government policy in Tibetan areas. Well-organized computer hacking attacks originating from China harassed Tibet activists and organizations outside China.

ACADEMIC FREEDOM AND CULTURAL EVENTS

As in recent years, authorities in many Tibetan areas required professors and students at institutions of higher education to attend regular political education sessions, particularly during politically sensitive months, in an effort to prevent “separatist” political and religious activities on campus. Authorities frequently encouraged Tibetan academics to participate in government propaganda efforts, such as making public speeches supporting government policies. Academics who refused to cooperate with such efforts faced diminished prospects for promotion and research grants.

Academics in the PRC who publicly criticized CCP policies on Tibetan affairs faced official reprisal. The government controlled curricula, texts, and other course materials as well as the publication of historically or politically sensitive academic books. Authorities frequently denied Tibetan academics permission to travel overseas for conferences and academic or cultural exchanges. Authorities in Tibetan areas regularly banned the sale and distribution of music they deemed to have sensitive political content.

In May senior officials of the state-run TAR Academy of Social Science encouraged scholars to maintain “a correct political and academic direction” and held a conference to “improve scholars’ political ideology” and “fight against separatists” under the guidance of Xi Jinping.

Policies promoting planned urban economic growth, rapid infrastructure development, the influx of non-Tibetans to traditionally Tibetan areas, expansion of the domestic tourism industry, forced resettlement and the urbanization of nomads and farmers, and the weakening of Tibetan-language education in public schools and religious education in monasteries continued to disrupt traditional living patterns and customs and accelerate forced assimilation.

Tibetan and Mandarin Chinese are official languages in the TAR, and both languages appeared on some, but not all, public and commercial signs. Inside official buildings and businesses, including banks, post offices, and hospitals, signage in Tibetan was frequently lacking, and in many instances forms and documents were available only in Mandarin. Mandarin was used for most official communications and was the predominant language of instruction in public schools in many Tibetan areas. Private printing businesses in Chengdu needed special government approval to print in the Tibetan language, but it was often difficult to obtain approval.

A small number of public primary schools in the TAR continued to teach mathematics in the Tibetan language, but since June 2016, observers reported that TAR officials have replaced Tibetan language mathematics textbooks in all middle and high schools with Mandarin versions. Observers also reported that WeChat users in the TAR discussing the issue were subsequently visited by public security officers and punished for spreading rumors.

According to sources, there were previously 20 Tibetan language schools or workshops for local children operated by Tibetan Buddhist monasteries in Sichuan Province’s Kardze TAP. After the 2015 release of the Kardze TAP Relocation Regulation for Minors in Monasteries, authorities forced 16 of these schools to close and relocated their students to government-run schools.

The Kardze TAP has the highest illiteracy rate (above 30 percent) in Sichuan Province, compared with a national rate of 4 to 5 percent. Despite the illiteracy problem, in 2016 the central government ordered the destruction of much of Larung Gar, the largest Tibetan Buddhist education center and a focal point for promoting both Tibetan and Chinese literacy. The central government reportedly also ordered the destruction of Yachen Gar, another Tibetan Buddhist education center in Kardze (Chinese: Ganzi) Prefecture, where both Tibetan and Chinese are taught.

China’s Regional Ethnic Autonomy Law states, “schools (classes and grades) and other institutions of education where most of the students come from minority nationalities shall, whenever possible, use textbooks in their own languages and use their languages as the media of instruction.” Despite guarantees of cultural and linguistic rights, many primary, middle, high school, and college students had limited access to officially approved Tibetan language instruction and textbooks, particularly in the areas of modern education.

China’s most prestigious universities provided no instruction in Tibetan or other ethnic minority languages, although classes teaching the Tibetan language were available at a small number of universities. “Nationalities” universities, established to serve ethnic minority students and ethnic Chinese students interested in ethnic minority subjects, offered Tibetan language instruction only in courses focused on the study of the Tibetan language or culture. Mandarin was used in courses for jobs that required technical skills and qualifications.

Even in areas officially designated as “autonomous,” Tibetans generally lacked the right to organize and play a meaningful role in the protection of their cultural heritage and unique natural environment. Tibetans often faced intimidation and arrest if they protested policies or practices they found objectionable. In 2015 authorities in Rebkong County in the Tibetan Region of Amdo, now administered under Qinghai Province, circulated a list of unlawful activities. The list included “illegal associations formed in the name of the Tibetan language, the environment, and education.” As was the case in the previous year, sources in the area reported this list remained in force and that no new associations had been formed since the list was published.

In July local contacts reported that many monasteries and rural villages in Tibetan areas in Sichuan and Qinghai Provinces received official warnings not to organize gatherings, including the celebration of His Holiness the Dalai Lama’s birthday. According to these contacts, many Tibetan students at various nationality universities were instructed not to organize gatherings and parties in March (Tibet Uprising Day) and July (His Holiness the Dalai Lama’s birthday).

At the Sixth Tibet Work Forum in 2015, the CCP ordered a large-scale campaign to expel students and demolish living quarters at Larung Gar, the world’s largest center for the study of Tibetan Buddhism. The expulsion and demolition campaign commenced in 2016. According to local contacts, authorities reduced the resident population to 5,000 and demolished more than 3,000 residences by August. Before the campaign began, the population at Larung Gar was estimated to be as large as 30,000. Since July 2016, authorities have banned foreign tourists from visiting the area. In August the government appointed a prefecture police chief to serve as president of Larung Gar.

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

Chinese law provides for freedom of internal movement, foreign travel, emigration, and repatriation; however, the government severely restricted travel and freedom of movement for Tibetans, particularly Tibetan Buddhist monks and nuns.

In-country Movement: Freedom of movement for all Tibetans, but particularly for monks and nuns, remained severely restricted throughout the TAR as well as in other Tibetan areas. The PAP and local public security bureaus set up roadblocks and checkpoints on major roads, in cities, and on the outskirts of cities and monasteries, particularly around sensitive dates. Tibetans traveling in monastic attire were subject to extra scrutiny by police at roadside checkpoints and at airports.

Authorities sometimes banned Tibetans, particularly monks and nuns, from going outside the TAR and from traveling to the TAR without first obtaining special permission from multiple government offices. Many Tibetans reported encountering difficulties in obtaining the required permissions. This not only made it difficult for Tibetans to make pilgrimages to sacred religious sites in the TAR, but it also obstructed land-based travel to India through Nepal. Tibetans from outside the TAR who traveled to Lhasa also reported that authorities there required them to surrender their national identification cards and notify authorities of their plans in detail on a daily basis. These requirements were not applied to ethnic Chinese visitors to the TAR.

Even outside the TAR, many Tibetan monks and nuns reported it remained difficult to travel beyond their home monasteries for religious and traditional Tibetan education, with officials frequently denying permission for visiting monks to stay at a monastery for religious education. Implementation of this restriction was especially rigorous in the TAR, and it undermined the traditional Tibetan Buddhist practice of seeking advanced teachings from a select number of senior teachers based at major monasteries scattered across the Tibetan Plateau.

Foreign Travel: Many Tibetans continued to report difficulties in obtaining new or renewing existing passports. Sources reported that Tibetans and other minorities had to provide far more extensive documentation than other Chinese citizens when applying for a Chinese passport. For Tibetans, the passport application process could take years and frequently ended in rejection. Some Tibetans reported they were able to obtain passports only after paying substantial bribes. Tibetans continued to encounter significant obstacles in traveling to India for religious, educational, and other purposes.

In 2016 Chinese officials in the Tibetan Regions of Kham and Amdo under the administration of Qinghai, Sichuan, and Gansu Provinces visited the homes of Tibetan passport holders and confiscated their documents. Officials claimed they collected the passports in order to affix new seals on them, but Tibetans suspected the timing was intended to make it impossible for them to attend an important religious ceremony known as the Kalachakra, which the Dalai Lama conducted in India in January. Additional reports in 2016 indicated that travel agencies in China were told by local authorities to cancel trips to India and Nepal during this same period. The apparent travel ban also reportedly extended to ethnic Chinese travelers. Tibetans who had traveled to Nepal and planned to continue to India reported that Chinese officials visited their homes in Tibet and threatened their relatives if they did not return immediately. Sources reported that explicit punishments included placing family members on a blacklist, which could lead to the loss of a government job or difficulty in finding employment; expulsion of children from the public education system; and revocation of national identification cards, thereby preventing access to other social services, such as health care and government aid. As a result of these measures, approximately 7,000 Tibetans who were already in India legally for the 2017 Kalachakra missed the event as they had to return to the PRC or face severe repercussions. In September news reports speculated that in preparation for the 19th Party Congress meeting the government barred foreigners from entering Tibet borders between October 18 and October 28, and foreigners already travelling in the area were required to leave during those dates.

Tight border controls sharply limited the number of persons crossing the border into Nepal and India. From January to October, 41 Tibetan refugees transited Nepal through the Tibetan Reception Center, run by the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees in Kathmandu, en route to permanent settlement in India. This was fewer than in previous years, with 120 refugees able to register at the center in 2016, 89 in 2015, and 80 in 2014.

The government restricted the movement of Tibetans in the period before and during sensitive anniversaries and events and increased controls over border areas at these times. In January there were reports that travel agents in Chengdu, Xining, and Kunming were forbidden to sell package overseas tours to Tibetans for the months of March and July, the periods around Tibet Uprising Day (March 10) and the Dalai Lama’s birthday (July 6).

The government regulated travel by foreigners to the TAR, a restriction not applied to any other provincial-level entity in the PRC. In accordance with a 1989 regulation, foreign visitors had to obtain an official confirmation letter issued by the TAR government before entering the TAR. Most tourists obtained such letters by booking tours through officially registered travel agencies. In the TAR, a government-designated tour guide had to accompany foreign tourists at all times. It was rare for foreigners to obtain permission to enter the TAR by road. In what has become an annual practice, authorities banned many foreign tourists from the TAR in the period before and during the March anniversary of the 1959 Tibetan uprising. Foreign tourists sometimes also faced restrictions traveling to Tibetan areas outside the TAR.

Foreign officials were able to travel to the TAR only with the permission of the TAR Foreign Affairs Office and only on closely chaperoned trips arranged by that office. With the exception of a few highly controlled trips, authorities repeatedly denied requests for international journalists to visit the TAR and other Tibetan areas (see section on Freedom of Expression).

Côte d’Ivoire

Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:

The constitution and law provide for freedom of speech and press, but the government restricted both. The National Press Council, the government’s print media regulatory body, briefly suspended or reprimanded newspapers and journalists for statements it contended were false, libelous, or perceived to incite xenophobia and hate.

Freedom of Expression: The law prohibits incitement to violence, ethnic hatred, rebellion, and insulting the head of state or other senior members of the government.

In March a local politician of Lebanese origin, “Sam l’African,” was arrested after proclaiming at a political rally that he was just as Ivoirian as President Ouattara. He was sentenced to six months in Abidjan’s main central prison for insult and slander towards “people belonging to an ethnic group,” then fined and sentenced to another five years and revocation of his civic rights for fraud.

Press and Media Freedom: The independent media were active and expressed a wide variety of views. Newspapers aligned politically with the opposition frequently published inflammatory editorials against the government or fabricated stories to defame political opponents.

In February six journalists were detained for allegedly threatening state security, inciting rebellion, and spreading false information on the January mutiny by security forces. They were released after being held in a military barracks in Abidjan for two days. Media organizations and journalists from both progovernment and opposition newspapers denounced the arrest.

In May the government proposed a new media law that included controversial articles that sought to criminalize press offenses and provided for imprisonment of journalists and citizens who, through the press, “incite xenophobia, rebellion, or breaches national security” (Article 90). The law sparked protests from media organizations and civil society, and it was temporarily withdrawn. In December, without any notice, the National Assembly put the media law on the agenda of a plenary session. The last-minute timing of the vote immediately before the Christmas holiday was seen as intentional and did not allow sufficient time for media and civil society organizations to mobilize and react. Nevertheless, the parliamentary group Vox Populi was prepared for the session and was able to propose several amendments to the law, including the full removal of Article 90. With the amendments, the media law passed unanimously.

The High Audiovisual Communications Authority oversees the regulation and operation of radio and television stations. There were numerous independent radio stations. The law prohibits transmission of political commentary by private radio stations.

Censorship or Content Restrictions: The government influenced news coverage and program content on television channels and public and private radio stations.

Libel/Slander Laws: Criminal libel is punishable by one to three years in prison.

National Security: Libel deemed to threaten the national interest is punishable by six months to five years in prison.

INTERNET FREEDOM

The government did not restrict or disrupt access to the internet or censor online content, and there were no credible reports that the government monitored private online communications without appropriate legal authority. According to the International Telecommunication Union, approximately 26.5 percent of the population used the internet in 2016. With a mobile phone penetration rate of virtually 100 percent, however, internet access by mobile device was likely much higher.

ACADEMIC FREEDOM AND CULTURAL EVENTS

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

The law provides for the freedoms of peaceful assembly and association, but the government restricted the freedom of peaceful assembly.

FREEDOM OF PEACEFUL ASSEMBLY

The law provides for freedom of peaceful assembly, but the government did not always respect this right. The law requires groups that wish to hold demonstrations or rallies in stadiums or other enclosed spaces to submit a written notice to the Ministry of Interior three days before the proposed event. Numerous opposition political groups reported denials of their requests to hold political meetings and alleged inconsistent standards for granting public assembly permissions. In some instances public officials stated they could not provide for the safety of opposition groups attempting to organize both public and private meetings.

In September students protesting an alleged increase in school fees due to hidden costs, after a call from the Students’ Union of Cote d’Ivoire, clashed with police, and 43 students were arrested and detained. Authorities released them in mid-October, following three weeks in Abidjan’s main prison, whereupon several complained of having contracted illnesses due to the prison’s conditions.

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

The constitution and law do not specifically provide for freedom of movement, foreign travel, emigration, or repatriation, but the government generally respected these rights. The government cooperated with the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) and other humanitarian organizations in providing protection and assistance to internally displaced persons, refugees, returning refugees, asylum seekers, stateless persons, or other persons of concern.

In-country Movement: There were impediments to internal travel. Security forces and unidentified groups erected and operated roadblocks, primarily along secondary roads outside of Abidjan. Although some roadblocks served legitimate security purposes, racketeering and extortion were common. FACI occupied some checkpoints at border crossings, but fewer than in previous years. Discrimination against perceived foreigners and descendants of Burkinabe migrants, including difficulty obtaining nationality and identity documentation, remained a challenge to free movement of stateless persons and those at risk of statelessness in the country.

INTERNALLY DISPLACED PERSONS (IDPS)

Most IDPs were in the western and northeastern regions and in Abidjan and surrounding suburbs; no estimates of the total number of IDPs were available. Most IDPs were displaced due to the 2010-11 postelectoral crisis and evictions from illegally occupied protected forests in 2016. The 51,000 persons evicted in 2016 from Mont Peko National Park, where they had been living and farming illegally, continued to face challenges of housing and food security in the surrounding areas where they had largely integrated into local communities. These were largely economic migrants, likely including many stateless persons. There were no reports that the government evicted residents of Abidjan from flood-prone areas or removed structures built on illegally occupied land.

In 2014 the government adopted the African Union Convention for the Protection and Assistance of Internally Displaced Persons in Africa (Kampala Convention). The convention commits the government to protect the rights and well-being of persons displaced by conflict, violence, disasters, or human rights abuses and provides a framework of durable solutions for IDPs. The government respected the principle of voluntary return but provided limited assistance to IDPs; the United Nations and international and local NGOs worked to fill the gaps. While many of those displaced returned to their areas of origin, difficult conditions, including lack of access to land, shelter, and security, prevented others’ return. Host communities had few resources to receive and assist IDPs, who often resorted to living in informal urban settlements. In October the government announced a 650 million CFA francs ($1.19 million) assistance package for those driven from their lands after ethnic-fueled disputes.

PROTECTION OF REFUGEES

Access to Asylum: The constitution and law provide for the granting of asylum or refugee status, and the government has established a system for providing protection to refugees. According to UNHCR, the country hosted 1,470 refugees at the end of August, most of whom were Liberian refugees who opted for local integration following the 2012 invocation of the cessation clause, which ended refugee status for Liberians.

Durable Solutions: Refugee documents allowed refugees to move freely in the country, with refugees under the age of 14 included on their parents’ documents. Refugees also had access to naturalization, although UNHCR reported many refugees had been in the naturalization process for more than five years.

Temporary Protection: The government also provided temporary protection for individuals who no longer qualified as refugees under the relevant UN conventions. Persons awaiting status determination received a letter, valid for three months, indicating they were awaiting a decision on their status. The letter provided for temporary stay and freedom of movement only. Holders of the letter did not qualify for refugee assistance such as access to education or health care.

STATELESS PERSONS

Statelessness in the country remained extensive. Administrative hurdles, difficulty verifying nationality, and discrimination resulted in an estimated 700,000 persons who were stateless or at risk of statelessness. Lack of documentation has extended down through generations of long-term migrants, and the failure to keep government records of migrants caused hurdles in obtaining documentation. Children of migrants born in the country were never registered by the government. With birth registration as a requirement for citizenship, they were thus rendered stateless. UNHCR estimated 300,000 abandoned children, known as foundlings, who because they could not prove their citizenship through parents, were effectively stateless and thus deprived of the opportunity to attend high school, get a formal job, open a bank account, own land, travel freely, or vote. Stateless persons faced numerous significant additional challenges, such as access to health services, ability to wed legally, receive inheritance, enjoy political rights, as well as being exposed to exploitation and arbitrary detention. Social stigma and general harassment can also accompany statelessness.

Only 7,000 persons received Ivoirian nationality through a naturalization program that ended in January 2016, and a decision on an additional 123,810 cases was pending.

Cuba

Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:

The constitution provides for freedom of expression, including for the press, only insofar as it “conforms to the aims of socialist society.” Laws banning criticism of government leaders and distribution of antigovernment propaganda carry penalties ranging from three months to 15 years in prison.

Freedom of Expression: The government had little tolerance for public criticism of government officials or programs and limited public debate of issues considered politically sensitive. State security regularly harassed the organizers of independent fora for debates on cultural and social topics to force them to stop discussing issues deemed controversial. Forum organizers reported assaults by state security, video surveillance installed outside of venues, and detention of panelists and guests on the days they were expected to appear.

Government workers reported being fired, demoted, or censured for expressing dissenting opinions or affiliating with independent organizations. Several university professors, researchers, and students reported they were forced from their positions, demoted, or expelled for expressing ideas or opinions outside of government-accepted norms. In April the University of Marta Abreu in Las Villas expelled first-year journalism student Karla Maria Perez for “counterrevolutionary projections, actions, membership in organizations, and online publishing.” The university’s government-affiliated student group, the Federation of University Students, supported this decision in an open letter, stating that Perez was a “known member of an illegal and counterrevolutionary organization that is against the principles, objectives, and values of the Cuban revolution,” and quoted Fidel Castro’s famous dictum, “Within the revolution, everything; against the revolution, nothing.”

During the year some religious groups reported greater latitude to express their opinions during sermons and at religious gatherings, although most members of the clergy continued to exercise self-censorship. Religious leaders in some cases criticized the government, its policies, and the country’s leadership without reprisals. The Catholic Church operated a cultural and educational center in Havana that hosted debates featuring participants expressing different opinions about the country’s future. Reverends Mario Travieso and Alain Toledano, both affiliated with the Apostolic Movement, reported frequent police harassment, including surveillance, threats, intimidation, and arbitrary fines. Both Travieso and Toledano claimed that the government was harassing them because of their outspoken criticism of certain government policies during their sermons.

Press and Media Freedom: The government directly owned all print and broadcast media outlets and all widely available sources of information. News and information programming was generally uniform across all outlets, with the exception of broadcasts of Venezuelan government news programming. The government also controlled nearly all publications and printing presses. The party censored public screenings and performances. The government also limited the importation of printed materials. Foreign correspondents in the country had limited access to and often were denied interviews with government officials. They also struggled to gather facts and reliable data for stories. Despite meeting government vetting requirements, official journalists who reported on sensitive subjects did so at personal risk, and the government barred official journalists from working for unofficial media outlets in addition to their official duties.

Violence and Harassment: The government does not recognize independent journalism, and independent journalists sometimes faced government harassment, including detention and physical abuse. Most detentions involved independent journalists who filmed arrests and harassment of Todos Marchamos activists or otherwise attempted to cover politically sensitive topics. Two journalists were detained, had their equipment confiscated, and were harassed for covering the aftermath of Hurricane Irma. Some independent journalists reported interrogations by state security agents for publishing articles critical of government institutions.

Censorship or Content Restrictions: The law prohibits distribution of printed materials considered “counterrevolutionary” or critical of the government. Foreign newspapers or magazines were generally unavailable outside of tourist areas. Distribution of material with political content–interpreted broadly to include the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, foreign newspapers, and independent information on public health–was not allowed and sometimes resulted in harassment and detention.

The government sometimes barred independent libraries from receiving materials from abroad and seized materials donated by foreign governments, religious organizations, and individuals. Government officials also confiscated or destroyed cameras and cell phones of individuals to prevent them from distributing photographs and videos deemed objectionable, such as those taken during arrests and detentions. Activists reported interrogations and confiscations at the airport when arriving from the United States. On April 6, airport authorities detained Eliecer Avila, leader of the human rights organization Somos+, for six hours upon his return from a human rights conference in Colombia. Authorities reportedly confiscated Avila’s laptop computer, training materials, memory drives, and other personal belongings.

Libel/Slander Laws: The government uses defamation of character laws to arrest or detain individuals critical of the country’s leadership.

INTERNET FREEDOM

The government restricted access to the internet, and there were credible reports that the government monitored without appropriate legal authority citizens’ and foreigners’ use of email, social media, internet chat rooms, and browsing. The government controlled all internet access, except for limited facilities provided by a few diplomatic missions and a small but increasing number of underground networks.

While the International Telecommunication Union reported that 39 percent of citizens used the internet in 2016, that number included many whose access was limited to a national intranet that offered only government-run email and government-generated websites, at a fraction of the price of open internet. Other international groups reported lower internet penetration, stating approximately 15 percent of the population had access to open internet.

The government selectively granted in-home internet access to certain areas of Havana and sectors of the population consisting mostly of government officials, established professionals, some professors and students, journalists, and artists. Others could access email and internet services through government-sponsored “youth clubs,” internet cafes, or Wi-Fi hot spots approved and regulated by the Ministry for Information, Technology, and Communications. Users were required to purchase prepaid cards in order to access the internet.

During the year the government increased the number of Wi-Fi hot spots to more than 500 countrywide and lowered the cost to one convertible peso (CUC) ($1) per hour, still beyond the means of some citizens, whose average official income was approximately 29 CUC ($29) per month. The cost of access to the national intranet was 10 cents per hour. Authorities reviewed the browsing history of users, reviewed and censored email, and blocked access to at least 41 websites considered objectionable. In addition to internet access at public Wi-Fi hot spots, citizens and foreigners could buy internet access cards and use hotel business centers. Access usually cost between five and 10 CUC ($5 to $10) an hour, a rate well beyond the means of most citizens.

While the law does not set specific penalties for unauthorized internet use, it is illegal to own a satellite dish that would provide uncensored internet access. The government restricted the importation of wireless routers, actively targeted private wireless access points, and confiscated equipment.

The use of encryption software and transfer of encrypted files are also illegal. Despite poor access, harassment, and infrastructure challenges, a growing number of citizens maintained blogs in which they posted opinions critical of the government, with help from foreign supporters who often built and maintained the blog sites overseas. The government blocked local access to many of these blogs. In addition a small but growing number of citizens used Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, and other social media to report independently on developments in the country, including observations critical of the government. Like other government critics, bloggers faced government harassment, including detention and physical abuse.

Human rights activists reported frequent government monitoring and disruption of cell phone and landline services prior to planned events or key anniversaries related to human rights. The government-owned telecommunications provider ETECSA often disconnected service for human rights organizers, often just before their detention by state security, or to disrupt planned activities.

ACADEMIC FREEDOM AND CULTURAL EVENTS

The government restricted academic freedom and controlled the curricula at all schools and universities, emphasizing the importance of reinforcing “revolutionary ideology” and “discipline.” Some academics refrained from meeting with foreigners, including diplomats, journalists, and visiting scholars, without prior government approval and, at times, the presence of a government monitor. Those permitted to travel abroad were aware that their actions, if deemed politically unfavorable, could negatively affect them and their relatives back home. During the year the government allowed some religious educational centers greater space to operate.

Outspoken artists and academics faced some harassment and criticism orchestrated by the government.

Public libraries required citizens to complete a registration process before the government granted access to books or information. Citizens could be denied access if they could not demonstrate a need to visit a particular library. Libraries required a letter of permission from an employer or academic institution for access to censored, sensitive, or rare books and materials. Religious institutions organized small libraries. Independent libraries were illegal but continued to exist, and owners faced harassment and intimidation.

The government restricted freedoms of peaceful assembly and association.

FREEDOM OF PEACEFUL ASSEMBLY

Although the constitution grants a limited right of assembly, the right is subject to the requirement that it may not be “exercised against the existence and objectives of the socialist state.” The law requires citizens to request authorization for organized meetings of three or more persons, and failure to do so could carry a penalty of up to three months in prison and a fine. The government tolerated some gatherings, and many religious groups reported the ability to gather without registering or facing sanctions.

Independent activists faced greater obstacles, and state security forces often suppressed attempts to assemble, even for gatherings in private dwellings and in small numbers.

On August 19, more than 100 state security agents reportedly used force to break up a family-themed event organized by the political and human rights organization UNPACU. According to UNPACU president Jose Daniel Ferrer, approximately 50 activists, family members, and neighbors had gathered for a picnic on the banks of a river before authorities arrived and used violence and intimidation, including against minors, women, and elderly attendees, to disperse the gathering. Authorities reportedly severely beat five UNPACU members, with some suffering broken noses and at least one requiring stitches.

The government also continued to organize acts of repudiation in the form of mobs organized to assault and disperse those who assembled peacefully. Participants arrived in government-owned buses or were recruited by government officials from nearby workplaces or schools. Participants arrived and departed in shifts, chanted revolutionary slogans, sang revolutionary songs, and verbally taunted those assembled peacefully. The targets of this harassment at times suffered physical assault or property damage. Government security officials at the scene, often present in overwhelming numbers, did not arrest those who physically attacked the victims or respond to victims’ complaints and instead frequently orchestrated the activities or took direct part in physical assaults.

The government did not grant permission to independent demonstrators or approve public meetings by human rights groups or others critical of any government activity.

FREEDOM OF ASSOCIATION

The government routinely denied citizens freedom of association and did not recognize independent associations. The constitution proscribes any political organization not officially recognized. A number of independent organizations, including opposition political parties and professional associations, operated as NGOs without legal recognition.

Recognized churches (including the Roman Catholic humanitarian organization Caritas), the Freemason movement, and a number of fraternal and professional organizations were the only associations legally permitted to function outside the formal structure of the state or the CP. Religious groups are under the supervision of the CP’s Office of Religious Affairs, which has the authority to deny permits for religious activities and exerted pressure on church leaders to refrain from including political topics in their sermons.

Groups must register through the Ministry of Justice to receive official recognition. Authorities continued to ignore applications for legal recognition from new groups, including several new religious groups as well as women’s rights and gay rights organizations, thereby subjecting members to potential charges of illegal association.

The government continued to afford preferential treatment to those who took an active part in CP activities and mass demonstrations in support of the government, especially when awarding valued public benefits, such as admissions to higher education, fellowships, and job opportunities.

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

There continued to be restrictions on freedom of movement within the country, foreign travel, and migration with the right of return. The government also controlled internal migration from rural areas to Havana.

Individuals seeking to migrate legally stated they faced police interrogation, fines, harassment, and intimidation, including involuntary dismissal from employment. Government employees who applied to migrate legally to the United States reportedly sometimes lost positions when their plans became known. Some family members of former government employees who emigrated from the island lost public benefits or were denied passports to travel and join their family members abroad.

The law provides for imprisonment of up to three years or a fine of 500 nonconvertible pesos (CUP) ($20) for first-time “rafters” (those who attempted to depart clandestinely, commonly using homemade vessels). Most persons caught attempting unauthorized departures via sea were detained briefly. In the case of military or police defectors, or those traveling with children, the punishment could be more severe. Prison terms were also more common for persons attempting to flee to the United States through the Guantanamo U.S. Naval Station.

Under the terms of the 1994-95 U.S.-Cuba Migration Accords, the government agreed not to prosecute or retaliate against migrants returned from international or U.S. waters, or from the Guantanamo U.S. Naval Station, after attempting to emigrate illegally if they had not committed a separate criminal offense. The government prevented independent trips to monitor repatriated Cubans outside of Havana. Some would-be migrants alleged harassment and discrimination, such as fines, expulsion from school, and job loss.

In-country Movement: Although the constitution allows all citizens to travel anywhere within the country, changes of residence to Havana were restricted. The local housing commission and provincial government authorities must authorize any change of residence. The government may fine persons living in a location without authorization from these bodies and send them back to their legally authorized place of residence. There were reports that authorities limited social services to illegal Havana residents. Police threatened to prosecute anyone who returned to Havana after expulsion.

The law permits authorities to bar an individual from a certain area within the country, or to restrict an individual to a certain area, for a maximum of 10 years. Under this provision, authorities may internally exile any person whose presence in a given location is determined to be “socially dangerous.” Dissidents frequently reported that authorities prevented them from leaving their home provinces or detained and returned them to their homes even though they had no written or formal restrictions placed against them.

Foreign Travel: The government continued to require several classes of citizens to obtain permission for emigrant travel, including highly specialized medical personnel; military or security personnel; many government officials, including academics; and many former political prisoners and human rights activists. It also used arbitrary or spurious reasons to deny permission for human rights activists to leave the island to participate in workshops, events, or training programs. For example, the CCDHRN reported that authorities denied at least 12 human rights defenders permission to leave during August alone.

PROTECTION OF REFUGEES

Access to Asylum: The constitution provides for the granting of asylum to individuals persecuted for their ideals or actions involving a number of specified political grounds. The government has no formal mechanism to process asylum for foreign nationals.

Temporary Protection: On the small number of cases of persons seeking asylum, the government worked with the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees and other humanitarian organizations to provide protection and assistance, pending third-country resettlement. In addition the government allowed foreign students who feared persecution in their home countries to remain in the country after the end of their studies, until their claims could be substantiated or resolved.

Democratic Republic of the Congo

Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:

The law provides for freedom of speech, including for the press. The press frequently and openly criticized public officials and public policy decisions. Individuals generally could criticize the government, its officials, and other citizens in private without being subject to official reprisals. Public criticism, however, of government officials, the president, or government policies regarding elections, democracy, and corruption sometimes resulted in intimidation, threats, and arrest. The government also prevented journalists from filming or covering some protests and refused to renew or grant visas for several foreign media correspondents.

Freedom of Expression: The law prohibits insulting the head of state, malicious and public slander, and language presumed to threaten national security. Authorities sometimes detained journalists, activists, and politicians when they publicly criticized the government, the president, or the SSF. Plainclothes security agents allegedly monitored political rallies and events.

On July 31, authorities arrested human rights lawyer Timothee Mbuya and six other civil society activists and media as they were preparing a march to deliver a letter to the local office of the electoral body demanding an electoral calendar. While two of the detained were released without charges, Mbuya was sentenced to 12 months in prison on November 20 for provocation and incitation of disobedience for organizing the march and the four others were sentenced to eight months in prison.

Press and Media Freedom: The law mandates the High Council for the Audiovisual and Communications (CSAC) to provide for freedom of the press and equal access to communications media and information for political parties, associations, and citizens. A large and active private press functioned predominantly in Kinshasa, although with some representation across the country, and the government licensed a large number of daily newspapers. Radio remained the principal medium of public information due to limited literacy and the relatively high cost of newspapers and television. The state owned three radio stations and three television stations, and the president’s family owned two additional television stations. Government officials, politicians, and to a lesser extent church leaders, owned or operated the majority of media outlets.

The government required newspapers to pay a one-time license fee of 250,000 Congolese francs ($156) and complete several administrative requirements before publishing. Broadcast media were also subject to a Directorate for Administrative and Land Revenue advertisement tax. Many journalists lacked professional training, received little or no set salary, could not access government information, and exercised self-censorship due to concerns about harassment, intimidation, or arrest.

In November the local NGO Journalists in Danger (JED) reported 121 cases of attacks against the media from November 2016 to October and attributed more than half of these to government security forces. JED also named several government officials responsible for violation press freedoms. Topping the list was Communications Minister Lambert Mende for jamming the signals of Radio France Internationale (RFI) and UN-supported Radio Okapi. JED reported 37 cases of arbitrary arrest of journalists in comparison to 20 cases during the prior year.

From December 2016 to January 23, the government closed CCTV and Radio Liberte Kinshasa, both owned by Jean-Pierre Bemba, leader of the opposition Congolese Liberation Movement party. Authorities maintained they were closed for failing to pay back taxes and licensing fees, although they were allowed back on the air in January.

In South Kivu, armed men attacked Radio Tuungane de Minembwe on May 21 and SSR attacked Radio Mutanga FM in Shabunda on June 12. In North Kivu a Mai Mai RMG destroyed Radio Moto in Butembo on October 7. On June 11, Radio Francophone des Grands Lacs was attacked in Kalemi in Tanganyika Province. Journalists Fidel Nsikundi and Heri Makyambi from Libunda Community Radio were arrested in South Kivu on July 29 and accused of supporting a RMG. The two journalists were reporting on local Mai Mai militia activities when they were arrested. On December 4, JED denounced their continued detention. On December 6-7, security forces allegedly ransacked Radiotelevision Kindu Maniema (TKM). Speaking to Radio Okapi, the owner of the TKM accused Interior Minister and Vice Prime Minister Ramazani Shadari of ordering security forces to attack the radio station after a listener during a call-in show accused Shadari and the provincial governor of accepting bribes.

On August 11, the government allowed RFI to resume broadcasting after the company signed an agreement with national broadcaster Radio Television Nationale Congolaise (RTNC). The government had blocked RFI’s signal since November 2016.

Violence and Harassment: Local journalists were vulnerable to intimidation and violence by the SSF. For example, JED reported that three journalists claimed to have been physically beaten by police colonel Van Kasongo in Goma on April 12 while they were covering a peaceful demonstration by civil society group LUCHA (Struggle for Change). According to JED, at least 13 journalists were arrested, intimidated, and some physically attacked while covering peaceful civil society demonstrations throughout the country on July 31. Several journalists reportedly had their equipment confiscated and/or images erased upon their release. For example, in Bukavu, two journalists from Canal Futur alleged they were violently arrested, driven to an unknown location, and released after police forced them to erase all images they had recorded. According to JED one independent journalist, Jean Pierre Tshibitshabu, was arrested covering the July 31 demonstrations in Lubumbashi and was sentenced to eight months in prison on September 29.

On November 2, JED reported 121 documented press freedom violations since the beginning of the year, up from 87 during the same period in 2016. These violations included 49 journalists detained or arrested, 32 cases of journalists threatened or attacked, and 37 instances of authorities preventing the free flow of information. Other incidents included efforts to subject journalists to administrative, judicial, or economic pressure. At year’s end the government had not sanctioned or charged any perpetrator of press freedom violations.

Censorship or Content Restrictions: While the CSAC is the only institution with legal authority to restrict broadcasts, the government, including the SSF and provincial officials, also exercised this power in practice. Some press officers in government agencies allegedly censored news articles by privately owned publications. Privately owned media increasingly practiced self-censorship due to fear of potential suppression and the prospect of the government shutting them down as it had done previously to a handful of major pro-opposition media outlets.

Media representatives reported they were pressured by the government not to cover events organized by the opposition or news concerning opposition leaders. In November 2016 the government blocked the signals of RFI and UN-supported Radio Okapi. Radio Okapi’s signal was reestablished after a week. On August 11, the government allowed RFI to resume broadcasting after the company signed an agreement with national broadcasting station RTNC.

In a July 12 decree, Communications Minister Lambert Mende announced the government would require prior authorization for any foreign media personnel wishing to travel from one province to another, which he claimed was for security reasons. The media watchdog JED deemed the decree a tactic to censor media and restrict their working space to prevent their covering sensitive topics.

Several international journalists who were based in the country were forced to leave during the year after they were unable to renew their visas.

Libel/Slander Laws: The national and provincial governments used criminal defamation laws to intimidate and punish critics. For example, in 2016 the Ministry of Justice revived a defamation case against Vital Kamerhe, leader of the opposition party Union for the Congolese Nation, for his statements concerning electoral fraud in the 2011 elections, despite the settlement made out of court in 2012. If convicted, Kamerhe could face up to one year in prison and a fine, and could be barred from running for certain public offices. On January 6, journalist Serge Kabongo was arrested for writing an article on alleged financial mismanagement by the director of the National Insurance Agency. The director claimed that Kabongo was not a journalist and could not substantiate the allegations. Kabongo was among the estimated 4,000 prisoners who escaped from Kinshasa’s Makala prison on May 17. In November the director told JED that the charges had been dropped.

National Security: The national government used a law that prohibits anyone from making general defamatory accusations against the military to restrict free speech.

Nongovernmental Impact: RMGs and their political wings regularly restricted press freedom in the areas where they operated.

INTERNET FREEDOM

Some private entrepreneurs made moderately priced internet access available through internet cafes in large cities throughout the country. Data-enabled mobile telephones were an increasingly popular way to access the internet. According to the International Telecommunication Union, 6.2 percent of individuals in the country used the internet in 2016.

On August 7, the telecommunications regulatory authority (ARPTC) hindered communications via social media networks, ostensibly “to prevent the exchange of abusive images” in advance of protests planned for August 8-9. In a written directive to all mobile data providers, the ARPTC asked that companies take “technical preventive measures” to “reduce to the absolute minimum the transmission of images” via a number of social networks. The communique said the companies would receive instructions to “return to normal as soon as possible” without specifying an end date. Internet speed was limited for four days from August 7-11, during which time persons could access social media applications but could not download images. On December 30, Posts and Telecommunications Minister Emery Okundi Ndjovu directed internet providers and cell phone companies to “suspend” short message service (SMS) and internet service throughout the country as of 6:00 pm on December 30 “for reasons of State security.” Internet and SMS service remained cut during protests led by the Roman Catholic Church on December 31, and had not been re-established by year’s end.

ACADEMIC FREEDOM AND CULTURAL EVENTS

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

FREEDOM OF PEACEFUL ASSEMBLY

The constitution provides for freedom of peaceful assembly, but the government frequently restricted this right and prevented those critical of the government from exercising their right to peaceful assembly. The law requires organizers of public events to notify local authorities in advance of the event. The government maintained that public events required advance permission and regularly declined to authorize public meetings or protests organized by opposition parties or civil society groups critical of the government. The government did, however, authorize protests and assemblies organized by progovernment groups and political parties. During the year the SSF beat, detained, or arrested persons participating in protests, marches, and meetings. The SSF also used tear gas, rubber bullets, and at times live ammunition, resulting in numerous civilian deaths and injuries.

According to MONUSCO there were 596 violations of democratic space from January through August. These included restrictions on freedom of assembly, the right to liberty and security of person, and of the right to freedom of opinion and expression. At least 81 demonstrations organized by opposition political parties and/or civil society were either prohibited or repressed by authorities from January to June. During the same period, at least 70 demonstrations, including 31 organized by the ruling party coalition, were held without incident.

On June 17, police arrested four performance artists in Goma for protesting civilian massacres in Kasai and Beni. The police transferred the four to the public prosecutor’s office on charges of rebellion. The four were provisionally released on June 28 after paying 79,000 Congolese francs ($49) bail each.

The government interfered with activities held by a coalition of 12 human rights NGOs known as the Collective Action of Civil Society, including a June 30 public conference. Government officials reportedly threatened the owner of the event’s venue and arrested approximately 100 persons who arrived for the event. All were released in the following days. Meanwhile, police provided security for a separate June 30 event held by the ruling People’s Party for Reconstruction and Democracy (PPRD).

On July 31, civil society organizations attempted to hold peaceful demonstrations in at least nine cities across the country to call on the government to publish an electoral calendar. The SSF shut down the protests, sometimes violently, and arrested at least 131 demonstrators. Five of these were sentenced in Lubumbashi to prison terms ranging from eight to 12 months for disturbing the peace, provocation, and inciting disobedience. On August 1, MONUSCO’s special representative of the secretary general issued a statement condemning the government’s repression of peaceful protests on July 31, stating he was “concerned by the restrictions imposed on peaceful assembly and arrests of those who seek to express their political views, as well as by the targeting of journalists and the confiscation of their materials,” and called on authorities to “fully uphold the fundamental rights and freedoms as enshrined in the Congolese Constitution.”

On August 31, Kinshasa governor Andre Kimbuta informed the opposition Rassemblement coalition that it could not hold a planned September 3 rally. Governor Kimbuta claimed that a dissident, progovernment wing of the Rassemblement led by Joseph Olenghankoy had already informed the Governor’s Office of its plan to hold a rally of its own at the same place and the same time. In his letter to the Rassemblement, Kimbuta recalled that since September 2016 security forces had “advised” that political protest should occur only in closed spaces and that allowing the Rassemblement to hold a public rally at the same time as Olenghankoy, and in a public space directly in front of Olenghankoy’s New Forces for Union and Solidarity microparty, would be “provocative.”

On September 25, authorities arrested 27 citizens, many of whom were members of civil society group LUCHA, for demonstrating in front of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs against a new policy to invalidate all semibiometric passports and replace them with biometric passports. They were released later the same day. On September 30, government security forces arrested 33 LUCHA members in Goma and 16 civil society members in Kisangani for protesting the government’s failure to hold elections in 2017. The civil society activists in Kisangani were released later that same day, and the Goma activists were released on October 3.

On October 22-24, in Lubumbashi, the SSF prevented opposition Rassemblement president and UDPS party leader Felix Tshisekedi from meeting with other Rassemblement members or holding a public rally. On October 19, in advance of Tshisekedi’s arrival, Lubumbashi Mayor Jean Oscar Sanguza Mutunda issued a directive stating that “for the umpteenth time” no public meetings may occur without authorization. On October 22, the SSF stormed the UDPS party office in Lubumbashi and reportedly arrested 32 party members for planning to hold an unauthorized public meeting. All 32 were released on October 23 after the public prosecutor reportedly declined to press charges. More persons were arrested and tear-gassed on October 23 while trying to welcome Tshisekedi at the Lubumbashi airport and another opposition leader, Gabriel Kyungu, was blocked from reaching the airport. On October 24, police confined Tshisekedi to his Lubumbashi hotel; on October 25, the public prosecutor summoned the hotel’s owner for questioning. When Tshisekedi tried to leave his hotel, first by car and then on foot, police in riot gear barricaded the road and used tear gas.

Kinshasa Governor Kimbuta disallowed opposition and civil society protests on November 15 and November 30. On November 14, Kinshasa police commander Sylvano Kasongo told local media that Governor Kimbuta had ordered police to “disperse without mercy” gatherings of five persons or more. In Goma, North Kivu, police inspector Placid Nyembo told local media that protests would be “suppressed without hesitation.” On November 23, the mayor of Kananga banned all public demonstrations “until further notice.” After the opposition Rassemblement coalition scheduled another protest for November 28, the deputy secretary general of the ruling Presidential Majority (MP) coalition and Minister of Urban Affairs Joseph Kokonyangi sent Governor Kimbuta a letter declaring the MP’s plan to hold a march of its own in support of the new electoral calendar on November 28. Almost simultaneously, the founder of a progovernment group called the Front for a Referendum informed Governor Kimbuta of its plan to hold a progovernment march on November 28. When the Rassemblement shifted its protest to November 30, the youth wing of Communications Minister Lambert Mende’s Convention of Unified Congolese party and two more MP-affiliated groups called Cafe Kinois and the National Union of Nationalists also scheduled protests for November 30. Citing the conflicting routes and overlapping requests, the Governor’s Office refused to authorize any of the protests.

Opposition and civil society groups attempted to march anyway on November 15, November 28, and November 30. The SSF arrested as many as 74 persons across the country for planning or participating in November 15 protests. Among those arrested and later released was Binja Yalala, a 15-year-old girl on the island of Idjwi in Lake Kivu. Police in Goma arrested 22 members of LUCHA on November 28. According to MONUSCO, the SSF arbitrarily arrested 213 persons during protests on November 30. Most of these were subsequently released. According to MONUSCO, one protester was killed on November 30.

On December 29, Kinshasa Governor Kimbuta claimed he could not authorize a peaceful December 31 protest organized by the Catholic Church because he would need 240,000 police officers to provide security throughout Kinshasa. Police arrested 11 civil society activists in Kananga on December 29 and arrested five others, including civil society activist Carbone Beni, in Kinshasa on December 30. On December 31, despite Governor Kimbuta’s claim to lack the police needed to secure the protests, the SSF appeared in force, using batons, rubber bullets, tear gas, and live ammunition to disperse protesters. In some cases the SSF fired tear gas, rubber bullets, and live ammunitions into church compounds. At least six persons were killed. The United Nations and civil society organizations accused the government of obscuring the actual number of persons killed and injured by preventing the United Nations and civil society groups from accessing morgues, hospitals, and detention facilities. The injured included a woman who was shot in the head by a live bullet inside a church compound and a priest who was hit in the head by a rubber bullet as he pulled her to safety. At least 180 were arrested and at least 92 were injured. The Apostolic Nunciature reported that six of its priests were arrested on December 31 and that the SSF encircled 134 of its parishes. Video showed police beating peaceful and in some cases sedentary protesters in Beni and Kasindi.

FREEDOM OF ASSOCIATION

The constitution provides for freedom of association, and the government generally respected this right. Civil society organizations and NGOs are required to register with the government and may receive funds only through donations; they cannot generate any revenue, even if it is not at a profit. The registration process is burdensome and very slow. Some groups, particularly within the LGBTI community, reported the government had denied their registration requests.

During an interactive dialogue with civil society in Kinshasa in March 2016, the minister of justice and human rights stated that only 63 of more than 21,000 NGOs in the country were formally registered. Many NGOs reported that, even when carefully following the registration process, it often took years to receive legal certification. Many interpreted registration difficulties as intentional government obstacles for impeding NGO activity. On October 17, Rural Development Minister Justin Bitakwira, acting as the human rights minister, called for the dissolution of local NGOs that had opposed the government’s candidacy to the UN Human Rights Council.

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. The government sometimes restricted these rights.

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

In September 2016 the country sent one of several delegations from African nations, UNHCR, and the African Union that, after seven years of negotiations, reached an agreement on steps to end the protracted Rwandan refugee situation by the end of 2017. More than 5,700 Rwandans voluntarily repatriated from the country between January and July. As of July 31, UNHCR estimated there were 245,052 Rwandan refugees in the country.

In July, UNJHRO reported that the leader of the opposition party National Union of Federalists of Congo, Gabriel Kyungu, and members of his family and party were victims of threats and harassment by FARDC and national police. The SSF deployed several times throughout the year to blockade Kyungu in his home in Lubumbashi and prevent political gatherings from taking place at his residence.

In November human rights lawyer George Kapiamba told local media that the Ministry of Foreign Affairs had refused to issue him a new fully biometric passport. Kapiamba alleged that his name figured on a list of individuals blacklisted by the ANR from obtaining new passports. Also in November the Directorate General of Migration confiscated the passport of opposition UDPS party secretary general Jean Marc Kabund Kabund at Kinshasa’s airport and prevented him from leaving the country. Both cases remained unresolved at year’s end.

Abuse of Migrants, Refugees, and Stateless Persons: Continuing conflict in North and South Kivu provinces harmed refugees and IDPs in the region, with attacks often resulting in deaths and further displacement. The armed conflict sometimes exacerbated ethnic tensions and clashes between communities and displaced groups. On September 15, the SSF fired on Burundian refugees and asylum seekers in the town of Kamanyola in the East, resulting in the deaths of 38 civilians and one FARDC soldier. As many as 135 persons were injured. The Burundians were reportedly protesting the deportation of four members of their community when the SSF opened fire.

In-country Movement: The SSF and RMGs established barriers and checkpoints on roads and at airports and markets, ostensibly for security reasons, and routinely harassed and extorted money from civilians for supposed violations, sometimes detaining them until they or a relative paid. The government required travelers to submit to control procedures at airports and ports during domestic travel and when entering and leaving towns.

Local authorities continued to collect illegal taxes and fees for boats to travel on many parts of the Congo River. There also were widespread reports that FARDC soldiers and RMG combatants extorted fees from persons taking goods to market or traveling between towns (see section 1.g.).

The SSF sometimes required travelers to present travel orders from an employer or government official, although the law does not require such documentation. The SSF often detained and sometimes exacted bribes from individuals traveling without orders.

Foreign Travel: Because of inadequate administrative systems, passport issuance was irregular. On September 15, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs announced that only full-biometric DRC passports would be valid after October 16 and that citizens holding nonbiometric or semibiometric passports would need to apply for new passports. The Foreign Ministry stated the government would confiscate passports from citizens returning from abroad after November 15 with nonbiometric or semibiometric passports. The Foreign Ministry subsequently delayed this deadline to January 2018 and stated that passports with valid visas would not be confiscated. In April the media reported that, for every $185 biometric passport, $60 went directly to a company owned by an alleged relative of the president, Marie Makoyo Wangoi. Officials accepted bribes to expedite passport issuance, and there were reports the price of new fully biometric passports varied widely. There were also credible reports that the government refused to issue new passports to civil society activists and opposition members critical of the government.

INTERNALLY DISPLACED PERSONS (IDPS)

Due to the conflict in the East and heightened conflict in areas of the Kasai region and former Katanga province, by November there were an estimated 4.1 million IDPs throughout the country. According to the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, there were by November approximately 1.1 million IDPs in North Kivu, 763,000 in the Kasai region, 654,000 in Tanganyika, 598,000 in South Kivu, 343,000 in Ituri, and 276,000 in Maniema. The government was unable to protect or assist IDPs adequately but generally allowed domestic and international humanitarian organizations to do so. UNHCR and other international humanitarian organizations worked to close IDP sites where the security situation was relatively stable. UNHCR closed 12 camps where local integration and relocation or return was possible. These were Bulengo, Mugunga 3, Lushebere, Bonde, Burora, Nyabiondo, Kalembe Remblais, Mushababwe, Muhanga, Lusogha, Luve, and Katsiru camps.

Conflict and insecurity, as well as poor infrastructure, adversely affected humanitarian efforts and led to new IDP camps. Late November fighting in the Bweru area of North Kivu led to temporary displacements from Mpati, Kivuye, Bweru, Kabukombo, Ngoriba, and Nyange to Kirumbu, Kalengera, and other nearby villages. There were credible reports that local authorities impeded humanitarian access to IDP camps in Tanganyika Province. In addition at least six IDP sites in Kalemie Territory were destroyed by fire. The cause of these fires was undetermined.

Population displacements continued throughout the year, particularly in the east. Many areas continued to experience insecurity, such as North Kivu’s Beni Territory, Ituri Province, and South Kivu’s Fizi Territory. Intercommunal violence and fighting among armed groups in the east resulted in continued population displacement and increased humanitarian needs for IDPs and host communities.

Due to the remote location of the Kasai region, humanitarian access was difficult, and IDPs lived in poor conditions without adequate shelter or protection. Women and girls were particularly vulnerable to sexual violence. More than 30,000 citizens from Kasai fled as refugees to Angola beginning in April.

Combatants and other civilians abused IDPs. Abuses included killings, sexual exploitation of women and children (including rape), abduction, forced conscription, looting, illegal taxation, and general harassment.

In the Kasai provinces, UNHCR reported IDPs started to return to their homes, but continued insecurity, abuses by the SSF and RMGs, as well as thorough destruction of homes impeded returns. UNHCR considered most of the 710,000 returnees from January to November to be living in extremely precarious conditions. From January until November, approximately one million IDPs returned to their areas of origin, according to UNHCR. This included 491,000 returnees in Kasai-Central, 270,000 in North Kivu, 154,000 in Tanganyika, 121,000 each in Lomami and South Kivu, and 45,000 each in Maniema and Ituri.

Conditions in IDP camps in Kalemie territory and Twa-Bantu interethnic conflict complicated the returns in Tanganyika Province, resulting in 584,000 IDPs. Six unexplained fires burned more than 5,000 huts in IDP camps in the province, and the United Nations reported that more than 13,000 IDPs were either relocated to more remote camps or returned to their villages under questionable conditions.

PROTECTION OF REFUGEES

As of August 22, UNHCR reported 671,000 refugees in the country from seven adjacent countries, of which approximately 245,000 were from Rwanda.

Access to Asylum: The law provides for the granting of asylum or refugee status, and the government established a rudimentary system for providing protection to refugees. The system granted refugee and asylum status and provided protection against the expulsion or return of refugees to countries where their lives or freedom would be threatened on account of their race, religion, nationality, membership in a particular social group, or political opinion.

The government cooperated with UNHCR and other humanitarian organizations in assisting refugees and asylum seekers with welfare and safety needs. The government assisted in the safe, voluntary return of refugees to their homes by allowing their entry into the country and facilitating immigration processing. In establishing security mechanisms, government authorities did not treat refugees differently than citizens.

Durable Solutions: Through the application of the cessation clauses of the 1951 Convention and the 1969 Organization of African Unity Convention, Angolans who fled the Angolan civil war (which ended in 2002) ceased to be refugees in 2012. In 2014 UNHCR launched the final assisted voluntary repatriation of former Angolan refugees. From January through September 2015, 3,916 Angolans returned home; another 21,290 Angolans in Kinshasa, Kongo Central, and Upper Katanga provinces awaited return. UNHCR helped another 18,638 Angolan refugees to file for local integration in 2015, including paying for their residency permits. As of June, 494 Angolan refugees remained in the country.

The country has not invoked the cessation clause effective in 2013 for Rwandan refugees who fled Rwanda before the end of 1998. In September 2016 the government joined other refugee-hosting countries and UNHCR to commit to facilitating repatriation of Rwandans from countries of asylum through December 31. To implement the tripartite agreement from 2014, the National Commission on Refugees (CNR) and UNHCR began in 2016 the process of biometrically registering Rwandan refugees. The FDLR impeded the process in North Kivu, where most of the refugees were located. UNHCR and the CNR suspended biometric registration following FDLR attacks on UNCHR-supported registration teams in February and April 2016, during which the teams lost all of their data. An effort during the year registered 42,000 Rwandan refugees in South Kivu. UNHCR continued to support voluntary repatriation and between January and April it assisted in repatriating 1,347 Rwandan refugees.

On September 15, the SSF shot and killed 36 Burundians refugees and asylum seekers in Kamanyola outside of Bukavu in eastern DRC.

Temporary Protection: The government provided temporary protection to an undetermined number of individuals who may not qualify as refugees (see section 1.g.).

Djibouti

Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:

The constitution and law allow for freedom of expression, including for the press, provided the exercise of these freedoms complies with the law and respects “the honor of others.” The government did not respect these rights. The law provides prison sentences for media offenses.

Freedom of Expression: Individuals who criticized the government publicly or privately could face reprisals. Plainclothes security agents in mosques monitored the content of sermons during Friday prayers.

In separate instances in June and July, SDS personnel reportedly arrested Chehem Abdoulkader Chehem (Renard), Omar Mahamoud (Zohra), and Mahmoud Ali for posting their plays criticizing the government on Facebook. Authorities dismissed their cases on August 8.

Press and Media Freedom: There were no privately owned or independent newspapers in the country. Printing facilities for mass media were government owned, which created obstacles for those wishing to publish criticism of the government. The principal newspaper, La Nation, maintained a monopoly on domestic news. In late October the managing director and several journalists of La Nation were fired for republishing an article that included a quotation critical of President Guelleh.

Opposition political groups and civil society activists circulated newsletters and other materials that criticized the government via email and social media sites.

On March 19, SDS personnel reportedly arrested Djiboutian Human Rights League President Omar Ali Ewado, detaining him for one week for republishing an international press release condemning the Turkish president’s mass firing of teachers. Authorities dismissed his case but seized his laptop.

The government owned the only radio and television stations, operated by Radio Television Djibouti. The official media generally did not criticize government leaders or policy, and opposition access to radio and television time remained limited. Foreign media broadcast throughout the country, and cable news and other programming were available via satellite.

Twenty-five years ago the Ministry of Communication created the Communication Commission to distribute licenses to nongovernmental entities wishing to operate media outlets. In 2012 the ministry accepted its first application for licensing, but the application remained pending at year’s end. In 2015 Maydaneh Abdallah Okieh–a journalist with radio station La Voix de Djibouti–submitted a request to the Ministry of Communication for approval to operate a radio station. He subsequently received a letter stating the ministry’s commission had not been fully established and could not grant rights to operate a radio station. On January 11, the minister of communication held a ceremony to formalize the commission. The commission did not report approving any new media outlets.

Violence and Harassment: The government arrested and harassed journalists.

Censorship or Content Restrictions: Media law and the government’s harassment and detention of journalists resulted in widespread self-censorship. Some opposition members used pseudonyms to publish articles.

Circulation of a new newspaper requires authorization from the Communication Commission, which requires agreement from the National Security Service. The National Security Service reportedly investigated funding sources and the newspaper staff’s political affiliations.

Libel/Slander Laws: The government used laws against slander to restrict public discussion.

INTERNET FREEDOM

There were few government restrictions on access to the internet, although the government monitored social networks to ensure there were no planned demonstrations or overly critical views of the government.

Djibouti Telecom, the state-owned internet provider, reportedly continued to block access to websites of the Association for Respect for Human Rights in Djibouti and La Voix de Djibouti, which often criticized the government. According to the International Telecommunication Union, approximately 13 percent of the population used the internet in 2016.

ACADEMIC FREEDOM AND CULTURAL EVENTS

There were government restrictions on academic and cultural events. For example, the government restricted research in the country’s North for security reasons.

The government restricted freedoms of peaceful assembly and association.

FREEDOM OF PEACEFUL ASSEMBLY

Although the constitution provides for freedom of assembly, the government restricted this right. The Ministry of Interior requires permits for peaceful assemblies. The ministry allowed opposition groups to host events and rallies. Security authorities occasionally restricted this right.

For example, on September 12, security personnel reportedly stopped the MRD’s 25th anniversary celebration, launching tear gas into the crowd after MRD members allegedly threw rocks at them. In ending the celebration, security personnel reportedly injured several MRD members, including National Assembly member Doualeh Egueh Ofleh. In addition security personnel allegedly confiscated more than 60,000 Djiboutian francs (DJF) ($339), three projectors, a telephone, and other equipment.

FREEDOM OF ASSOCIATION

The constitution and law allow for freedom of association provided community groups register and obtain a permit from the Ministry of Interior. Nevertheless, the ministry ignored the petitions of some groups (see section 5). The government harassed and intimidated opposition parties, human rights groups, and labor unions.

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

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

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

On January 5, President Guelleh signed and promulgated a comprehensive refugee law, providing for refugees’ rights to health, education, and work.

Abuse of Migrants, Refugees, and Stateless Persons: The government maintained an increased police presence at the Ali Addeh refugee camp following the 2014 attack on La Chaumiere restaurant. Separately, gendarmes maintained a presence at the Markazi refugee camp. With the passage of a refugee law, authorities expanded legal protections for refugees.

Refugees, however, reported abuse and attacks to the National Office for Assistance to Refugees and Populations Affected by Disaster (ONARS) and UNHCR. With the support of the local National Union of Djiboutian Women (UNFD), mobile courts traveled to the largest camp, Ali Addeh, to hear the backlog of pending cases. During the year the UNFD also placed a full-time staff member in all refugee camps to provide support for domestic violence victims. Cases of domestic violence were reported, although the status of subsequent investigations was unknown. Impunity remained a problem.

The government detained and deported large numbers of irregular migrants, primarily from Ethiopia. The government sometimes gave individual irregular migrants the opportunity to claim asylum status, after which the National Eligibility Commission (NEC) was supposed to determine their status. The commission did not meet during the year. More than 8,500 asylum seekers awaited decisions on their asylum claims.

In-country Movement: Due to the continuing border dispute with Eritrea, certain areas in the North remained under military control.

Foreign Travel: Citizens and opposition members reported immigration officials prevented them from boarding international flights.

PROTECTION OF REFUGEES

Refoulement: The government did not routinely grant refugee or asylum status to groups other than southern Somalis and–beginning in 2015–Yemenis. A backlog in asylum status determinations put individuals waiting for their screening at risk of expulsion to countries where they might be threatened. After the 2014 attack on La Chaumiere Restaurant by suicide bombers from Somalia, authorities closed the border with Somalia to refugees and stopped new registration and refugee status determination processes. Although the border remained officially closed during 2015, UNHCR reported the government allowed new arrivals into the country. The government also resumed the refugee status determination process in 2015, hosting several sessions of the NEC each month thereafter.

With the government focusing on communal and regional elections and working on implementing decrees for the new refugee law, the NEC did not meet during the year.

The government also began a partnership with the International Organization for Migration (IOM) during the year to vet migrants for indicators of trafficking.

In late October the minister of health signed a convention with the IOM to incorporate migrants into the national health system.

Access to Asylum: The law provides for the granting of asylum or refugee status. Asylum seekers from southern Somalia and Yemen were, prima facie, considered eligible for asylum or refugee status. All other asylum claims must be reviewed by the NEC, which falls under the Ministry of Interior and consists of staff from ONARS and several ministries; UNHCR participates as an observer.

According to UNHCR the country hosted more than 27,750 refugees and asylum seekers, primarily from south and central Somalia, Ethiopia, and Eritrea. In two refugee camps in the southern region of Ali Sabieh, the country hosted more than 20,500 refugees and asylum seekers. An additional estimated 4,800 refugees from Ethiopia, Yemen, Somalia, and other countries lived in urban areas, primarily in Djibouti City. Due to Ethiopia’s instability in late 2016, Djibouti permitted more than 7,000 Ethiopians, particularly those from the Oromia, to register as asylum seekers.

In the past most new Somali refugees arrived at the Ali Addeh camp, which reached maximum capacity several years ago. In 2012 UNHCR and ONARS reopened a second camp at Holl-Holl to reduce congestion. In January, UNHCR and ONARS completed a validation census of refugees in camps and in Djibouti City and identified those who arrived after 2009 for voluntary relocation to the new camp.

The country also continued to host refugees fleeing violence in Yemen. ONARS and UNHCR registered approximately 6,000 refugees from Yemen, at least 2,800 of whom lived in a refugee camp in the northern region of Obock.

Due to the unresolved conflict begun in 2008 between Djibouti and Eritrea and Eritrea’s mandatory national service program, which includes military service, the government considered Eritrean detainees as deserters from the Eritrean military rather than refugees.

During the year the government continued to facilitate resettlement of 266 Eritreans from who had been placed in the Ali Addeh refugee camp.

Employment: Scarce resources and employment opportunities limited local integration of refugees. Under the new refugee law, documented refugees are allowed to work without a work permit in contrast to previous years, and many (especially women) did so in jobs such as house cleaning, babysitting, or construction. The law provides little recourse to challenge working conditions or seek fair payment for labor.

Access to Basic Services: The Ali Addeh camp was overcrowded, and basic services such as potable water were inadequate. The Holl-Holl camp was not overcrowded and had better access to potable water than the Ali Addeh camp. The government continued to issue birth certificates to children born in the Ali Addeh and Holl-Holl refugee camps.

The Markazi camp provided Yemeni refugees with basic services such as water, food, shelter, and medical services. The government issued birth certificates to children born in the Markazi refugee camp. ONARS and UNHCR also began issuing identification cards to Yemeni refugees.

For the first time, for the 2017-18 academic year, the government provided a new Ministry of Education-accredited English curriculum for first grade refugee youth. Previously UNHCR provided refugees in the Ali Addeh and Holl-Holl refugee camps with a Kenya-adapted curriculum taught in English and French that was not recognized by Kenyan and Djiboutian authorities. On August 28, the minister of education and a UNHCR representative signed a memorandum of understanding on refugee education.

Refugees in the Markazi camp had access to instruction based on a Yemeni and Saudi curriculum taught in Arabic.

Durable Solutions: In conjunction with the IOM, the government continued to support vocational training for young refugees. These training programs resulted in a small number of refugees finding local employment.

Temporary Protection: The government provided temporary protection to a limited number of individuals who may not qualify as refugees. Authorities often jailed irregular migrants identified as economic migrants attempting to transit the country to enter Yemen and returned them to their countries of origin. The government worked with the IOM to provide adequate health services to these migrants while they awaited deportation. The IOM and the minister of health signed a convention in late October to have three doctors and three nurses stationed across the country to support migrants and citizens. The Coast Guard also agreed to host a migrant shelter in Khor Angar in the North.

Egypt

Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:

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

Freedom of Expression: Citizens expressed their views on a wide range of political and social topics. The government investigated and prosecuted critics for alleged incitement of violence, insults to religion, insults to public figures and institutions such as the judiciary and the military, or violation of public morals. Individuals also faced societal and official harassment for speech viewed as sympathetic to the MB, such as using a hand gesture showing four fingers, a reference to the 2013 security operation to disperse the sit-in at Rabaa al-Adawiya Square.

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

On May 21, the Court of Cassation cancelled the sentence against author Ahmed Naji and ordered his retrial. In 2016 authorities sentenced Naji to two years in prison on charges of violating public morals based on the publication of an excerpt of his novel, The Use of Life, which contained explicit descriptions of sexual acts and illegal drug use. Authorities had acquitted Naji of the same charges in January 2016, but prosecutors appealed the decision. On July 6, Cairo airport authorities prevented author Naji from traveling to New York, informing him he was subject to an exit ban. The date for the retrial was not set as of December.

On December 12, authorities sentenced both pop singer Shyma and music video director Mohamed Gamal to two years in prison for “inciting debauchery.” The charges stemmed from a music video in which the singer eats an apple and a banana in an allegedly suggestive manner.

Press and Media Freedom: Independent media were active and expressed a variety of views but with significant restrictions. The constitution, penal code, and media and publications law govern media issues. The government regulated the licensing of newspapers and controlled the printing and distribution of a majority of newspapers, including private newspapers and those of opposition political parties. The law does not impose restrictions on newspaper ownership.

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

As of December the Committee to Protect Journalists reported there were 20 imprisoned journalists in the country. Authorities continued to keep journalist Ismail Alexandrani in detention without formal charges as of December. Authorities detained the Egyptian investigative researcher in 2015 at Hurgada airport upon his return from Berlin. In November 2016 a court ordered his release, but authorities successfully appealed the release order. According to local rights groups, Alexandrani was under investigation for “reporting false news” and “joining a banned group.” Alexandrani’s reporting and scholarly work focused on Sinai.

In May police raided the offices of al-Borsa, an Arabic financial newspaper, and Daily News Egypt, the only independent English-language newspaper. Mostafa Sakr, chairperson of Business News–the parent company of both newspapers–was detained by police but released later that day. Authorities ordered Sakr’s assets frozen after they designated him as a terrorist earlier in the year (see section 1.e.). In August the state-run committee assigned to seizing funds and assets of MB-affiliated members assigned the state-run newspaper Akhbar al-Youm to assume operation of the Daily News Egypt, as well as the Arab International Company for Commercial Agencies, parent company of prominent Alef bookstore chain.

In March a court reduced a two-year sentence for harboring fugitives against Yehia Kalash, former president of the press syndicate, and Gamal Abdel Reheem and Khaled el-Balshy to a one-year suspended sentence. The defendants appealed the sentence again, and the case was pending at year’s end. The charges stemmed from their efforts to prevent the detention of two journalists during a May 2016 police raid on the press syndicate headquarters.

On May 8, a court reduced the sentences of television presenter Mohamed Adly and journalists Samhi Mostafa and Abdullah Fakharany from life in prison to five years and acquitted news organization managers Hany Salah-el-Deen and Mosad al-Barbary. Authorities convicted the five, along with Hassan al-Kabbani, in 2015 on charges including inciting violence and disseminating false news. Kabbani was not included in the retrial.

On August 14, a court ordered a 45-day extension to al-Jazeera journalist Mahmoud Hussein’s pretrial detention. In December 2016 authorities arrested Hussein in Cairo, accusing him of disseminating false news and receiving monetary funds from foreign authorities to defame the state’s reputation. Subsequently, authorities have held him in pretrial detention, and, according to press reports, he has yet to face formal charges. On August 24, Hussein’s daughter told the press that prison authorities denied Hussein treatment for a broken arm.

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

On April 24, authorities denied Sudanese journalists, Taher Saty and Kamal Eddin, entry into the country when they arrived at Cairo International Airport after returning from vacation in France. According to a Sudanese Journalists’ Network statement, authorities deported both individuals within 24 hours.

On August 17, authorities arrested crime reporter Abdallah Ras and took him to a National Security Agency office, according to his employer al-Bawaba News. The Interior Ministry initially denied arresting and detaining Rashad, and his employer and family did not know his whereabouts or what charges he faced for more than 11 days. He was charged with joining a banned group, and his next hearing was scheduled for December.

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

On, April 10, April 11, and September 3, authorities banned the printing of daily newspaper al-Bawaba. According to press reports, the banned issues contained articles critical of the Interior Ministry and its response to terrorist attacks.

On August 6, the state printing press refused to publish newspaper al-Masryoun’s weekly edition. According to an Arabic Network for Human Rights Information report, the printing press told al-Masryoun staff that a security institution ordered the press not to print the newspaper. According to press reports, the August 6 edition of al-Masryoun contained an article critical of the country’s dealings with Israel.

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

On November 19, police raided the downtown Cairo office of Merit Publishing House and detained a volunteer on suspicion of being in possession of unregistered books. On December 28, police returned to Merit, confiscated two books, and took Merit’s owner to the police station for questioning. He was subsequently released.

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

In May authorities charged former under secretary of the Ministry of Islamic Endowment Sheikh Salem Abdul Galeel with denigration of religion and undermining national unity for stating on his television program Muslims Are Asking that Christians are infidels (kuffar) and their faith is corrupt. Galeel’s television show was canceled, and the Ministry of Islamic Endowments banned him from preaching in any mosque. Galeel was released on bail; a hearing remained pending at year’s end.

In July authorities charged Coptic Orthodox priest Makary Younan with denigration of religion, discrimination against a specific group, disturbing peace and order in the country, exploiting religion to spread thoughts that aimed to stir strife and insult divine religions, and harming national unity and social coherence. Younan stated in a sermon that, according to both Islamic and non-Islamic historical sources, Egypt had been a Christian-majority country until it was defeated by an Islamic army. On November 12, the court dropped the case after the prosecuting lawyer agreed to reconcile with Younan.

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

The law imposes a fine on any person who “intentionally publishes…or spreads false news.” The fine is many times the average annual salary of most local journalists.

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

On April 12, an Alexandria court sentenced lawyer Mohamed Ramadan to 10 years in prison, followed by five years under house arrest and a five-year ban on using the internet. It convicted him of insulting the president, misusing social media platforms, and incitement to violence under the country’s counterterrorism law, as a result of comments he made on social media. In December 2016 authorities arrested Ramadan while he was visiting clients at Montazah Police Station in Alexandria.

On May 19, a rights lawyer told media that authorities had arrested approximately 30 activists on charges relating to sharing posts critical of the government on social networking sites. The charges, which fall under the country’s antiterrorism law, included inciting public opinion against the government, insulting the president, obstructing state institutions, and seeking to overthrow the regime.

INTERNET FREEDOM

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

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

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

On April 20, police arrested Dostour Party member Nael Hassan on charges including insulting the president online based on social media comments, according to public statements by his lawyer. On November 1, he was released.

There were multiple reports that the government temporarily blocked access to internet messaging applications. For example, on July 7, the government blocked an internet communication site for mobile users; the block lasted one day.

On June 24, authorities convicted Ghazy Sami Ghazy and fined him EGP 30,000 ($1,700) on charges of insulting the president in relation to a poem he published on Facebook. On the same day, authorities acquitted him of publishing fake news. In March authorities arrested and imprisoned him on charges including spreading and publishing false information, preventing state institutions from carrying out their duty, and insulting the president via poems on his Facebook account.

The government attempted to disrupt the communications of terrorist groups operating in Sinai by cutting telecommunication networks: mobile services, internet, and sometimes landlines. Cuts generally occurred from 6 a.m. to 6 p.m. Networks were again fully accessible at approximately 8 p.m. and sometimes later. Cutsalso disrupted operations of government facilities and banks.

The law obliges internet service providers and mobile operators to allow government access to customer databases, allowing security forces to obtain information regarding activities of specific customers, which could lead to lack of online anonymity. Individuals widely used social media sites, such as Twitter and Facebook, to spread criticism of the government and security forces.

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

As of December the government had blocked more than 400 websites without providing a clear legal basis or authority responsible for the blocks. The blocked sites included international NGOs, local human rights NGOs, and numerous virtual private network services. On May 24, the government announced it had blocked 21 websites, mostly independent and MB-affiliated news sites, on charges of inciting terrorism and spreading lies. Some blockages appeared to be in response to critical coverage of the government. For instance, authorities blocked one website less than 48 hours after it published a report detailing systematic government use of torture.

In February, Citizen Lab and the Egyptian Initiative for Personal Rights released a report documenting a large-scale and sophisticated phishing campaign targeting human rights NGOs, lawyers, journalists, and political activists that began in November 2016. The organizations were unable to identify a perpetrator of the attacks.

According to the International Telecommunication Union, 41 percent of the population used internet in 2016. Media reported 1.7 million active users on Twitter and stated 35 million persons used Facebook.

ACADEMIC FREEDOM AND CULTURAL EVENTS

There were reports of government restrictions on academic freedom and cultural events. In June the Ministry of Education removed mention of the country’s 2011 and 2013 revolutions from high school history class curriculums. In 2016 Minister of Higher Education Ashraf al-Shihy published a statement requiring private universities to review all research papers and thesis dissertations to assure they do not include any “direct or indirect insult to societies or individuals belonging to any brotherly or friendly countries.” According to media and local rights groups, a degree of self-censorship, similar to that reported by nonacademic commentators, allegedly existed when academics publicly commented on sensitive political and socioeconomic issues. Faculty members needed security agency approval to travel abroad for academic purposes. Faculty and officials at public universities and research centers also must obtain Ministry of Foreign Affairs permission to travel abroad. In August an official at the country’s embassy in Berlin threatened to cancel researcher Taqadum al-Khatib’s PhD scholarship if he did not surrender his passport and access to his personal Facebook account, according to a local NGO report. In September, Damietta University cancelled al-Khatib’s scholarship, and press reported he was dismissed from the university in October. According to the university’s dean, al-Khatib violated the terms of his scholarship when he changed his research topic without informing the university board. Human rights groups stated the university dismissed him for his research on the sovereignty of the disputed Tiran and Sanafir islands.

The Ministry of Education began a campaign to remove all MB members from teaching positions before the start of the 2017-18 academic year. Press reported that Asyut University terminated six teaching staff members, and Cairo University announced it had suspended four professors for alleged MB affiliation.

There was censorship of cultural events. The Ministry of Culture must approve all scripts and final productions of plays and films. The ministry censored foreign films to be shown in theaters but did not censor the same films sold as DVDs.

On July 2, the rock band Cairokee announced the General Authority for Censorship of Works of Art rejected four songs on their new album “A Drop of White” and banned the entire album from sale in stores and from broadcast on television and radio. The band continued offering the album online and played the music during concerts. Band members told press they believed authorities banned the four songs because of their “political overtones.”

The Syndicate of Musicians stated that it would ban future concerts by Lebanese band “Mashrou’ Leila” after concert-goers waved a rainbow flag in support of LGBTI rights during a September performance in the country (see section 6).

The government restricted freedoms of peaceful assembly and association.

FREEDOM OF PEACEFUL ASSEMBLY

The constitution provides for freedom of assembly “according to notification regulated by law.” Authorities implemented an amended 2013 demonstrations law that includes an expansive list of prohibited activities, giving a judge the authority to prohibit or curtail planned demonstrations after submitting an official memorandum. Domestic and international human rights organizations asserted the law did not meet international standards regarding freedom of assembly. In January the government imposed an exclusion zone of 2,600 feet around vital governmental institutions in which protests are prohibited.

There were protests throughout the year that varied widely in size, and some occurred without government interference. In other cases the government rigorously enforced the law restricting demonstrations, even in cases of small groups of protesters demonstrating peacefully.

The number of persons arrested under the protest law was not publically available, although research center Daftar Ahwal reported at least 37,000 cases of individuals stopped, arrested, or charged under the protest law between November 2013 and September 2016. Authorities charged 15,491 individuals under the protest law resulting in 6,382 convictions and 5,083 acquittals.

On February 1, security forces arrested 29 members of the Ultras Ahlawy, a fan club of the Ahly soccer team in Cairo. According to press reports, the group had been planning a commemoration of the Port Said stadium riot in which 70 persons died. Prior to the arrests, the group cancelled the commemoration, citing police warnings, raids, and arrests of its members.

On November 8, the Court of Cassation reduced the prison sentence of prominent activist Abdel Fattah from five years’ “rigorous” imprisonment to five years’ imprisonment followed by five years of probation. No further appeals are possible. In 2015 the Cairo Criminal Court sentenced Abdel Fattah to five years in prison on charges of breaking the demonstrations law related to his participation in a protest in front of the Shura Council in 2013.

Thousands of persons whom authorities arrested during 2013 and 2014 due to their participation in demonstrations (some of which were peaceful) remained imprisoned; however, authorities released others who had completed their sentences. Authorities held such individuals under charges of attending an unauthorized protest, incitement to violence, or “blocking roads.” Human rights groups claimed authorities inflated or used these charges solely to target individuals suspected of being members of groups in opposition to the government or those who sought to exercise the rights to free assembly or association.

In January authorities released activists Ahmed Maher and Mohamed Adel from prison after they completed three-year sentences for violating the protest law. Authorities placed both individuals on probation for the next three years and required them to reside in the local police station from 6 p.m. to 6 a.m. each day. Police reportedly physically assaulted Maher and ordered him to mop the floor of the local police station during his nights at the station.

According to press reports, student groups focused on entertainment while political activities virtually disappeared in light of pressure from authorities. Universities held student union elections in December for the first time in two years.

FREEDOM OF ASSOCIATION

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

On May 30, the government enacted a new NGO law. The law affects all nongovernmental civil society associations, the overwhelming majority of which were domestic welfare, educational, and environmental foundations. It includes among its provisions: creation of a new administrative body that includes members of security services and can regulate all NGOs that receive foreign funding and reject registration applications by not responding for 60 days; rules targeting all aspects of NGO work; and prison sentences among the penalties for violations. Local and international NGOs stated the law could make it impossible for them to operate independently. As of December the government had not issued implementing regulations. As a result several local NGOs stated that while they continued to operate under the previous law, government agencies have frozen activities or carried out stricter registration and security procedures, in anticipation of implementation of the new law. The Ministry of Social Solidarity continued to apply the previous law in a highly restrictive manner on international and domestic organizations receiving international funding, denying government approval of programs that domestic and international organizations sought to implement, or granting governmental approval after lengthy delays (which in some cases amounted to effective denials). Rights groups reported several incidents of security services ordering the cancellation of planned training programs or other events. In February the Ministry of Social Solidarity suspended 500 NGOs in Qalioubeya Governorate for lack of activity and failure to achieve objectives, according to a ministry statement. In July the Ministry of Social Solidarity dissolved 22 NGOs in Luxor, alleging they had MB connections.

The penal code criminalizes the request for or acceptance of foreign funds, materiel, weapons, ammunition, or “other things” from states or NGOs “with the intent to harm the national interest.” Those convicted may be sentenced to life in prison (or the death penalty in the case of public officials) for crimes committed during times of war or with “terrorist purpose.” On September 10, authorities arrested Ibrahim Metwally Hegazy, founder of the Association of the Families of the Disappeared, at the Cairo International Airport and held him incommunicado. Hegazy was traveling to Geneva to participate in the UN Working Group on Enforced and Involuntary Disappearances. His whereabouts were not known until September 12, when the government confirmed his arrest. The charges against him included “communicating with a foreign body to harm the Egyptian national interest.” On September 21, Hegazy told his lawyers authorities tortured him during the first three days they held him. He remained in detention, and his next hearing was scheduled for December.

As of December the conviction of 43 mostly foreign NGO workers sentenced in 2013 for operating unlicensed organizations and receiving foreign funding without government permission stood. Appeals for some defendants were pending; defendants had not yet filed appeals in the remainder of cases.

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

Authorities continued investigations of local NGOs that received foreign funding under a case originally brought in 2011. On August 22, authorities released human rights lawyers Malek Adly and Osama Khalil on bail; both faced charges relating to their work with the Hisham Mubarak Law Center. On June 20, authorities released human rights activist Hafiz Tayel on bail; his charges included receiving foreign funding to harm national security in connection with his NGO, the Egyptian Center for the Right to Education. On May 24, authorities released human rights defender Mohamed Zaree of the Cairo Institute for Human Rights Studies on bail after they charged him with receiving funds from foreign entities and spending them with intent to harm national security and national interests. On January 11, a Cairo criminal court ordered an asset freeze against human rights defenders Mozn Hassan of Nazra for Feminist Studies and Mohamed Zaree and Atef Hafez of the Arab Penal Reform Organization. The court also froze the assets of Nazra for Feminist Studies and the Arab Penal Reform Organization.

In February authorities closed the offices of el-Nadeem Center for the Rehabilitation of Victims of Violence (also registered under the name el-Nadeem for Psychological Rehabilitation), which documents torture and other forms of abuse and provides counseling for torture and rape victims. In February 2016 the center received administrative closure orders from three governmental bodies, and in November 2016 authorities froze its assets. The organization asserted the closure was politically motivated, targeting el-Nadeem because of its work on torture, deaths in detention, and impunity for these crimes. As of December authorities had not officially rescinded the order, but the organization continued to operate in a limited capacity.

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

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

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

While reports of abuse by Sinai-based facilitators and captors of irregular migrants declined, a shift in human trafficking activities to mainland Egypt accompanied this decline due to the security situation in Sinai and Libya.

In-country Movement: Citizens and foreigners may not travel in areas of the country designated as military zones. The government sought to prevent private individuals, journalists, and civil society activists from entering the Sinai Peninsula, stating it was to protect their safety; however, some persons avoiding government detection did enter Sinai, particularly irregular migrants attempting to reach the Israeli border and the western border zone.

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

Men who have not completed compulsory military service, however, may not travel abroad or emigrate. National identification cards indicated completion of military service.

Authorities required citizens between ages 18 and 45 to obtain permission from the Interior Ministry to travel to 16 countries: Guinea, Indonesia, Iraq, Israel, Jordan, Lebanon, Libya, Malaysia, Qatar, South Africa, South Korea, Sudan, Syria, Thailand Turkey, and Yemen. Enforcement of these regulations was sporadic. The government stated it intended these regulations to make it more difficult for citizens to join terrorist groups and to stop flight of criminals. These regulations also affected the ability of other individuals to travel outside the country.

The government increasingly imposed travel bans on human rights defenders, and political activists. In March 2016 Mada Masrreported there had been 554 cases of politically motivated banned entry and exit imposed by authorities in airports since 2011. Local human rights groups maintained authorities used travel bans to intimidate and silence human rights defenders, including individuals connected with NGOs facing investigation as part of the reopened NGO foreign funding case. On October 2, Cairo airport authorities prevented human rights defender Magdy Abdel Hamid from travelling to Jordan. Press reports cited his status as a defendant in the NGO foreign funding case as the reason for his ban.

Democracy activist Esraa Abdel Fattah remained unable to depart the country. In 2015 authorities prevented Abdel Fattah from departing the country and informed her that authorities had issued a travel ban in her name. She filed a lawsuit to challenge the ban, but the court dismissed the suit. In September authorities referred a case regarding comments she made on social media for military prosecution.

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

PROTECTION OF REFUGEES

Refoulement: According to human rights advocates, migrants detained while attempting to enter the country irregularly were typically given two options: return to their country of origin or administrative detention. The government often contacted UNHCR upon detaining unregistered migrants and asylum seekers. The number of potential asylum seekers returned to their countries was unknown. Authorities sometimes encouraged those detained to choose to return to their countries of origin to avoid continued detention, even in cases where the individuals expressed a fear of return. There were no reports that authorities deported children to their countries of origin without their parents or an adult caregiver.

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

The Association on Freedom of Thought and Expression reported that, between July 3 and October, authorities arrested 90 to 120 Uighurs, primarily students at al-Azhar University. Some reports indicated authorities subsequently deported 12 of these individuals, and the number of individuals still in custody remained unknown. Human rights organizations reported the individuals faced arbitrary detention and torture if returned to China.

Access to Asylum: The constitution provides for the protection of political refugees, but the laws do not provide for granting asylum or refugee status, and the government has not established a comprehensive legal regime for providing protection to refugees. The government granted UNHCR authority to make refugee status determinations. UNHCR does not register Libyan citizens, nor does it register or provide assistance to Palestinian refugees in the country.

According to UNHCR, as of August there were approximately 211,000 registered refugees and asylum seekers in the country, coming mainly from Syria (123,033), as well as from Sudan, South Sudan, Ethiopia, Eritrea, and Yemen. Since 2016 the number of Syrian nationals registered as refugees has increased. Observers attributed the increase to relaxed family reunification visa requirements, decreasing areas of ISIS control throughout the country, young men attempting to avoid conscription in the national military or armed groups, and an increased fear of raids targeting unregistered migrants. Most Syrians continued to arrive by way of Sudan, which remained the only neighboring country to which Syrians could travel without visas. The number of African refugees also increased during the year according to UNHCR, particularly among Ethiopian, Eritrean, and South Sudanese populations.

In 2012 and 2013 under the Morsi administration, the government accorded Syrians visa-free entry. Starting in mid-2013 the government applied a system of visa and security clearance requirements for Syrian nationals and Palestinian refugees from Syria, thus assuring no direct entries from Syria since Egypt lacked consular services there. Following the UNHCR high commissioner’s visit in January, the country relaxed its visa requirements for Syrians seeking family reunification.

Reports of irregular movements of individuals, including asylum seekers, and detention of foreign nationals attempting to depart the country irregularly via the Mediterranean dropped dramatically during the year, according to UNHCR, following parliament’s passage and enforcement of a law that dramatically increased patrols on the country’s Mediterranean coast. In 2016 UNHCR documented 4,985 failed attempts to leave the country by sea; however, since the law’s passage, authorities intercepted only four boats trying to leave Egyptian waters. UNHCR observed increased African irregular departures from the country, particularly Sudanese, Eritrean, and Ethiopian nationals. Irregular migrants continued to travel steadily through the land route from Sudan (Wedi Halfa/Abu Simbel).

UNHCR access to detained registered refugees and asylum seekers was unscheduled and intermittent. According to UNHCR, authorities allowed access but only by request. Local rights groups faced continued resistance from the government when trying to interview detainees at Qanater men’s and women’s prisons outside Cairo, which housed the majority of detained refugees and asylum seekers. Authorities generally granted UNHCR access to asylum seekers at all prison and detention facilities, and UNHCR officials visited 102 detained foreign prisoners to determine their status as of September. Authorities generally released migrants upon confirming they were registered with UNHCR as well. Authorities detained migrants, many of whom were Ethiopian, Eritrean, Sudanese, and Somali (and may have had a basis for asylum claims) and frequently did not grant them the same quick release. Detained migrants–as unregistered asylum seekers–did not have access to UNHCR. Authorities often held them in in police stations until UNHCR or other aid agencies assisted them, although sometimes authorities sent them to regular prisons alongside convicted criminals.

The government has never recognized UNHCR’s mandate to offer services to Palestinians outside of the fields of operations of the UN Relief and Works Agency, reportedly due to a belief that allowing UNHCR registration would negate Palestinian refugees’ right of return. Approximately 2,900 Palestinian refugees from Syria were also present in the country, the majority reportedly in Cairo. The Palestinian Authority mission in the country provided limited assistance to this population, who were not able to access UNHCR assistance provided to Syrians due to governmental restrictions. The International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) mission in Cairo provided some humanitarian assistance to Palestinian refugees from Syria.

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

Access to Basic Services: Refugees, in particular non-Arabic-speaking refugees from sub-Saharan Africa, received limited access to some services, including housing and public education. According to UNHCR, refugees can fully access public-health services. The Interior Ministry restricted some international organizations seeking to assist migrants and refugees in Sinai. UNHCR was unaware of any migrants detained in Sinai since 2016. UNHCR provided refugees with modest support for education and health care, as well as small monthly financial assistance grants for particularly vulnerable refugees. The International Organization for Migration provided additional assistance to particularly vulnerable migrants and individual asylum cases either rejected or being processed by UNHCR.

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

STATELESS PERSONS

Most of the 26 stateless persons known to UNHCR were Armenians displaced for more than 50 years. According to a local civil society organization, the number of stateless persons in the country was likely higher than the number recorded by UNHCR. The government and UNHCR lacked a mechanism for identifying stateless persons, including those of disputed Sudanese/South Sudanese nationality and those of disputed Ethiopian/Eritrean nationality. An unknown number of the approximately 70,000 Palestinian refugees were stateless.

Equatorial Guinea

Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:

Although the constitution and law provide for freedom of speech and press, by law authorities have extensive powers to restrict media activities, and the government exercised these powers. The government restricted journalistic activity through prepublication censorship. Media remained weak and under government influence or control. Persons close to the president owned the few private media outlets that existed. Most journalists practiced self-censorship. Those who did not were subject to government surveillance and threats.

Freedom of Expression: Individuals generally chose not to criticize the president, his family, other high-ranking officials, or security forces due to fear of reprisal. The government attempted to impede criticism by continuing to monitor the activities of opposition members, journalists, and others.

Press and Media Freedom: The country had one marginally independent newspaper that published sporadically. Print media outlets were extremely limited. Starting a periodical or newspaper was a complicated process governed by an ambiguous law and impeded by government bureaucracy. Accreditation was cumbersome for both local and foreign journalists. International newspapers and news magazines occasionally were available in grocery stores and hotels in major cities.

The government owned the only national radio and television broadcast system, Radio-Television of Equatorial Guinea. The president’s eldest son, Vice President Teodoro Nguema Obiang Mangue, owned the only private broadcast media, Television Asonga and Asonga Radio. Journalists who worked for these entities could not report freely.

Requests by political parties to establish private radio stations were denied or remained perpetually pending. Satellite broadcasts were widely available, including the French-language Africa24 television channel that the government partially owned.

International news agencies did not have correspondents or regular stringers present in the country. Visiting journalists for foreign media outlets and some independent local journalists could not operate freely, and government agents reportedly followed and observed both groups. For example, during the 2016 presidential election authorities restricted journalists from visiting polling stations. Nevertheless, Africa24 accompanied Africa Union observers and al-Jazeera journalist reported on polling stations.

Violence and Harassment: Security forces detained, intimidated, and harassed journalists. The government took no steps to preserve the safety and independence of media or to prosecute individuals who harassed journalists.

In June 2016 authorities arrested Enrique Nsolo, a well-known local human rights activist, for photographing and recording the arrest of a fraudulent document seller in front of a foreign embassy. Nsolo was held incommunicado without charge in deplorable conditions before his release several days later.

On July 27, authorities recalled and burned the June/July edition of the independent Ebano periodical. Authorities objected to an article in the edition by local journalist Obiang Mbana that stated security forces did not respect journalists and asked the government to educate security forces. Obiang Mbana stated, “The national press is a prison, there is a lot of censorship, and that is very harmful to the profession.” Police repeatedly detained Obiang Mbana during the year. Reporters Without Borders denounced the government’s intimidation of journalists.

Censorship or Content Restrictions: The law gives the government considerable authority to restrict publication through official prepublication censorship. The law also establishes criminal, civil, and administrative penalties for violation of its provisions, particularly of the 19 publishing principles in Article 2 of the Law on the Press, Publishing, and Audiovisual Media. The only marginally independent newspaper practiced self-censorship and did not openly criticize the government or the president.

The only publishing facility available to newspapers was located at the Ministry of Information, Press, and Radio, where officials censored printed materials.

Between June 19 and July 5, the government prohibited cable provider companies from including international news reports of the “ill-gotten gains trial” of Vice President Teodoro Nguema Obiang Mangue.

Libel/Slander Laws: The government used laws against libel and slander, both of which are criminalized, to restrict public discussion. In May a court sentenced Citizens for Innovation of Equatorial Guinea (CI) opposition party leader Gabriel Nse Obiang Obono to six months’ imprisonment and a fine of 50 million CFA francs ($83,752) for defamation for voicing criticism of the PDGE party. The court also ordered his indefinite suspension from political activity.

INTERNET FREEDOM

The government restricted and disrupted access to the internet and censored online content. During the November elections, authorities completely shut down the internet.

Since March 2015 the government has intermittently blocked WhatsApp, Facebook, and exile opposition blogs Diario Rombe and Radio Macuto. In December cell phone access to WhatsApp resumed while access to Facebook, Diario Rombe, and Radio Macuto continued to be restricted.

Users attempting to access political opposition sites were redirected to the government’s official press website or received a message the websites did not exist. WhatsApp and the internet were the primary ways opposition views were expressed and disseminated. According to the International Telecommunication Union, 23.8 percent of inhabitants used the internet in 2016.

ACADEMIC FREEDOM AND CULTURAL EVENTS

The government restricted academic freedom and cultural events. Faculty, students, and members of opposition political parties complained of government interference in the hiring of teachers, the employment of unqualified teachers, and official pressure on teachers to give passing grades to failing students with political connections. Teachers with political connections but no experience or accreditation were employed and reportedly seldom appeared at the classes they were assigned to teach. Most professors practiced self-censorship.

Cultural events required coordination with the Ministry of Information, Press, and Radio, the Department of Culture and Tourism, or both. The resulting bureaucratic delay was a disincentive for prospective organizers, who often did not know the criteria used for judging proposals or their chances for approval.

The government restricted freedoms of peaceful assembly and association.

FREEDOM OF PEACEFUL ASSEMBLY

The constitution and law provide for the right of peaceful assembly, but regulatory provisions effectively undermined this right, and the government routinely restricted freedom of assembly. The government formally abolished permit requirements for political party meetings within party buildings but requires prior permission for public events, such as meetings in other venues or marches, and frequently denied these permit requests. The government frequently dispersed peaceful, preapproved public gatherings if a participant asked a question that could be construed as criticism of the government or PDGE. For example, on June 23, the government ordered the cessation of a press conference at the conclusion of an opposition CPDS party meeting at the 4 Ases Restaurant in Malabo; it had earlier forbidden invited foreign diplomats from attending. In April 2016 security forces used live ammunition and tear gas to disperse an unauthorized, nonviolent political rally of approximately 200 demonstrators at the headquarters of the opposition CI party. They shot six individuals who were hospitalized along with other injured demonstrators. Security forces laid siege to the CI headquarters for five days, trapping those inside and limiting their access to food, water, and electricity.

By contrast, authorities pressured citizens to attend progovernment demonstrations and rallies. On June 20, the government ordered its employees to demonstrate in front of the French Embassy in opposition to the “ill-gotten gains” trial in France of Vice President Teodoro Obiang Mangue.

FREEDOM OF ASSOCIATION

The constitution and law provide for freedom of association, but the government severely restricted this right. All political parties, labor unions, and other associations must register with the government, but the registration process was costly, burdensome, opaque, and slow. During the year the government continued to reduce funding for civil society organizations and distributed remaining funds among a few mostly progovernment organizations close to the president’s inner circle. Grant funding decisions were arbitrary and nontransparent.

Politically motivated crackdowns on civil society organizations remained a problem. For example, in March 2016 the Ministry of Interior suspended CEID for violating a public order. CEID had conducted a peaceful youth forum where a participant allegedly spoke negatively of the government. In April CEID tried to rejoin the government effort to resume the country’s participation in the Extractive Industries Transparency Initiative activities. Its president and vice president were arrested and detained for two weeks (see section 1.e.).

The law prohibits the formation of political parties along ethnic lines. Only one labor organization was believed to be registered at year’s end; the registry was inaccessible due to a change in leadership at the Ministry of Labor and Social Security.

Despite laws that authorities stated were designed to facilitate the registration of political parties, the government prevented the registration of opposition parties. In 2016 the government refused to register Gabriel Nse Obiang’s Independent Candidacy Party until it changed its name to the Innovation of Equatorial Guinea Party, and excluded him from the ballot because he had not met the five-year residency requirement mandated by law–in contrast it allowed the Spanish citizen National Democratic Party (PND) candidate who resided in Spain to run. The government also prevented the registration of the PND, the National Congress of Equatorial Guinea (CNGE), and the National Union for Democracy and Social Policies (UNDPSGE) but allowed their leaders–PND leader Benedicto Obiang Mangue, CNGE leader Agustin Masoko, and UNDPSGE leader Tomas Mba Muanabang–to run as independent presidential candidates. By July 27, the government legalized all of the parties and permitted a total of 18, including the PDGE, to run in the November legislative elections.

During the legislative and municipal electoral campaign season, public gatherings were closely monitored and tightly controlled. Political parties required government authorization to hold rallies. Authorities prohibited political parties from campaigning in the same location at the same time. The PDGE received preferential treatment. On November 12, election day, voters were prevented from forming into large groups.

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

Although the law provides for freedom of internal movement and repatriation, the government often restricted these rights.

In-country Movement: Police at roadblocks routinely checked travelers and engaged in petty extortion. Frequent roundups of foreigners also occurred at roadblocks that the government claimed were necessary to counter irregular immigration, delinquent activities, and coup attempts.

Foreign Travel: Unlike in prior years, there were no instances of foreign travel being restricted.

Exile: The law prohibits forced internal or external exile. Opposition party political leaders Guillermo Nguema Ela and Luis Nzo Ondo remained in internal exile at year’s end on the mainland, unable to join their families in Malabo.

PROTECTION OF REFUGEES

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

Eritrea

Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:

Although the law and unimplemented constitution provide for freedom of speech and press, the government severely restricted these rights.

Freedom of Expression: The government severely restricted the ability of individuals to criticize the government in public or in private through intimidation by national security forces.

Press and Media Freedom: The law bans private broadcast media and foreign ownership of media and requires submission of documents, including books, to the government for approval prior to publication. The government controlled all domestic media, including one newspaper published in four languages, three radio stations, and two television stations.

The law requires journalists to be licensed. The law restricts printing and publication of materials. The printing of a publication by anyone lacking a permit and the printing or dissemination of prohibited foreign publications are both punishable under the law. Government approval is required for distribution of publications from religious or international organizations.

The government did not prevent persons from installing satellite dishes that provided access to international cable television networks and programs. The use of satellite dishes was common in Asmara, Massawa, and other cities, and increasingly in the countryside. Access to South Africa’s Digital Satellite Television (DStv) required government approval and a subscriber’s bill could only be paid in hard currency. Satellite radio stations operated by diaspora Eritreans reached listeners in the country. Citizens could also receive radio broadcasts originating in Ethiopia.

Violence and Harassment: The government did not provide information on the location or health of journalists it detained in previous years and who were held incommunicado.

Censorship or Content Restrictions: Most independent journalists remained in detention or lived abroad, which limited domestic media criticism of the government. Authorities required journalists to obtain government permission to take photographs. Journalists practiced self-censorship due to fear of government reprisal.

National Security: The government repeatedly asserted national security concerns were the basis of limitations on free speech and expression.

INTERNET FREEDOM

The government monitored some internet communications, including email, without appropriate legal authority. Government informants frequented internet cafes. In order to use an internet cafe, patrons must present proof they had completed national service. The government discouraged citizens from viewing some opposition websites by labeling the sites and their developers as saboteurs. Some citizens expressed fear of arrest if caught viewing such sites. Nonetheless, the sites were generally available.

Eritel, a government-owned corporation, has a monopoly on providing land-based internet service. The use of internet cafes with limited bandwidth in Asmara and other large communities was widespread, but the vast majority of persons did not have access to the internet. According to most recent International Telecommunication Union data, 1.18 percent of the population used the internet in 2016. Internet users who needed larger bandwidth paid prices beyond the reach of most individuals.

ACADEMIC FREEDOM AND CULTURAL EVENTS

The government restricted academic freedom and cultural events.

Authorities monitored activities at private secondary schools and in some cases arbitrarily denied visas to foreign teachers or presented impediments to school administration, including restricting the import of teaching materials. Some parents of students in private schools charged that educational quality suffered because of disputes between government officials and school administrators.

With few exceptions, secondary school students must complete their final year of high school at the government’s Sawa National Training and Education Center. Students also had to complete military training at Sawa to be allowed to take entrance exams for institutions of higher education (see section 6, Children).

The government sometimes denied passports or exit visas to students and faculty who wanted to study or do research abroad. Some persons claimed authorities scrutinized academic travel for consistency of intent with government policies.

The government censored film showings and other cultural activities. It monitored libraries and cultural centers maintained by foreign embassies and in some instances questioned employees and users. The government directly sponsored most major cultural events or collaborated with various embassies and foreign cultural institutions in sponsoring musical performances by international performers.

The government restricted freedoms of peaceful assembly and association.

FREEDOM OF PEACEFUL ASSEMBLY

The law and unimplemented constitution provide for freedom of assembly, but the government restricted this right. For some public gatherings, the government intermittently required those assembling to obtain permits. Authorities subjected gatherings of large groups of persons without prior approval to investigation and interference, with the exception of events that occurred in the context of meetings of government-affiliated organizations, were social in nature, or were events such as weddings, funerals, and religious observances of the four officially registered religious groups.

FREEDOM OF ASSOCIATION

The unimplemented constitution provides citizens the right to form organizations for political, social, economic, and cultural ends. It specifies that their conduct must be open and transparent and that they must be guided by principles of national unity and democracy. The government did not respect freedom of association. It did not allow any political parties other than the PFDJ. It also prohibited the formation of civil society organizations except those with official sponsorship. The government generally did not allow local organizations to receive funding and other resources from or to associate with foreign and international organizations.

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

The law and unimplemented constitution provide for freedom of internal movement, foreign travel, emigration, and repatriation, but the government restricted all these rights. It often denied citizens passports and exit visas because they had not completed their military duties or arbitrarily for no given reason. The government restricted travel of children with foreign passports whom it considered Eritrean nationals.

The government cooperated with the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) to provide protection and assistance in some areas, but it restricted UNHCR activities in others. The government defined refugee status differently than do the 1951 Convention and its 1967 Protocol relating to the Status of Refugees. It did not recognize Ethiopians or Sudanese as refugees, although it allowed them to remain in the country and granted them residency permits. It routinely provided protection to Somali refugees but continued to deny exit permits to Somalis in the Umkulu Refugee Camp who had been identified for resettlement in third countries or who sought repatriation.

In-country Movement: The government requires citizens to notify local authorities when they change residence, although many did not. When traveling within the country, particularly in remote regions or near borders, authorities required citizens to provide justification for travel at the few checkpoints.

Travel restrictions on noncitizens lawfully in the country remained in effect. The government required all diplomats, international humanitarian workers, UN staff, and foreigners to request permission from the government at least 10 days in advance to travel more than 15.5 miles outside of Asmara. Authorities gave UNHCR staff a monthly permit to visit Umkulu Refugee Camp and permitted diplomats to visit the site in May.

Foreign Travel: The government restricted foreign travel. The government required citizens, sometimes including dual nationals, to obtain exit visas. The government restricted travel of children with foreign passports whom it considered Eritrean nationals. Requirements for obtaining passports and exit visas were inconsistent and nontransparent. The government often denied citizens passports and exit visas because they had not completed their military duties or arbitrarily for no given reason. Authorities generally did not give exit visas to children over the age of five. Authorities granted few adolescents exit permits; many parents avoided seeking exit permits for children approaching national service draft age due to concern authorities might also deny the parents permission to travel. Categories of persons most commonly denied exit visas included men under age 54, regardless of whether they had completed the military portion of national service, and women younger than 30, unless they had children. The government did not generally grant exit permits to members of the citizen militia, although some whom authorities demobilized from national service or who had permission from their zone commanders were able to obtain them.

In 2015 the COI reported the government, largely the armed forces and particularly the border surveillance division, had implemented a shoot-to-kill policy for a “considerable period of time.” In its June 2016 report, the COI stated it had “reliable evidence” the policy still existed but was “not implemented as rigorously as in the past.” Despite requests to the government, the COI was denied access to visit the country. Doctors without Borders reported during the year it was common for Eritreans crossing the border into Ethiopia to be shot at or to witness others being fired upon.

Exile: There were reports of citizens who left the country without exit visas being denied re-entry. Many other citizens who fled the country remained in self-imposed exile due to their religious and political views and fear they would be conscripted into national service if they returned. Others reported there were no consequences for returning citizens who had residency or citizenship in other countries.

In general citizens had the right to return, but citizens residing abroad had to show proof they paid the 2 percent tax on foreign earned income to be eligible for some government services and documents, including exit permits, birth or marriage certificates, passport renewals, and real estate transactions. The government enforced this requirement inconsistently. Persons known to have broken laws abroad, contracted serious contagious diseases, or been declared ineligible for political asylum by other governments had their entry visas and visa requests considered with greater scrutiny.

Citizenship: Members of Jehovah’s Witnesses who did not perform military service continued to be unable to obtain official identification documents. They were not eligible for jobs in the formal economy or for ration coupons to buy essentials at government-subsidized prices.

PROTECTION OF REFUGEES

Access to Asylum: The law does not provide for the granting of asylum or refugee status, and the government has not established a system for providing protection to new refugees. The government has an Office of Refugee Affairs that works with UNHCR. Most refugees in the country were Somali. The government did not grant Ethiopians or Sudanese asylum, although it allowed them to remain in the country. The government required Ethiopians to pay an annual fee of 600 nakfa ($39) for a residency card. The card demonstrated the holder was not indigent.

Freedom of Movement: Most Somalis were restricted to Umkulu Refugee Camp.

Employment: There did not appear to be discrimination based on nationality in terms of employment or entitlements with the exception of that directed at resident Ethiopians, some of whom the government viewed as potential security risks. Refugees were not granted formal work permits but were allowed to work informally.

Access to Basic Services: Persons of Ethiopian and Sudanese origin living in the country sometimes claimed they received social entitlements commensurate with the perceived degree of their loyalty to the government, including ration coupons to buy essentials at government-subsidized prices.

Ethiopians, Sudanese, and Somalis were able to access basic government services upon procuring and presenting residency permits. UNHCR reported the suspension in the issuance of exit visas for Somali refugees in Umkulu Refugee Camp continued, and it raised concerns with the government regarding the implementation of durable solutions.

Durable Solutions: The government did not grant persons of Ethiopian and Sudanese origin asylum or refugee status; however, authorities permitted them to remain in the country and to live among the local population instead of in a refugee camp. Authorities granted them residency permits that enabled them to access government services. Authorities granted Sudanese and Ethiopians exit visas to leave the country for resettlement and study.

Ethiopia

Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:

The constitution and law provide for freedom of speech and press; however, SOE regulations included restrictions on these rights, giving legal cover for continued efforts to harass and intimidate journalists that predated the SOE. Government officials harassed, arrested, detained, charged, and prosecuted journalists and bloggers perceived as critical of the government, creating an environment of fear and self-censorship. The Committee to Protect Journalists’ 2016 prison census found the country to be among the top five worst jailers of journalists worldwide. An intensifying crackdown on media included the arrest of journalists, including bloggers, in 2016, according to the committee.

Freedom of Expression: The SOE regulations contained several prohibitions that restricted freedom of speech and expression and subsequently resulted in the detention or disappearance of numerous independent voices. The regulations, interpreted broadly, prohibited any covert or overt agitation and communication that could incite violence and unrest. For example, authorities included the popular Oromo protest sign of crossed arms above one’s head. Restricted activities also included any communication with designated terrorist groups or antipeace forces, storing and disseminating texts, storing and promoting emblems of terrorist groups, incitement in sermons and teaching in religious institutions to induce fear or incite conflict, and speech that could incite attacks based on identity or ethnicity.

Under the SOE, it was illegal to carry out covert or public incitement of violence in any way, including printing, preparing or distributing writings; performing a show; demonstrating through signs or making messages public through any medium; or importing or exporting any publication without permission. The SOE also prohibited exchanging any message through internet, mobile telephones, writing, television, radio, social media, or other means of communication that may cause riot, disturbance, suspicion, or grievance among persons. Suspicion of individuals possessing or distributing such media was used as a premise to enter homes without a warrant.

Finally, the SOE prohibited any individual from exchanging information with a foreign government in a manner that undermined national sovereignty and security and prohibited political parties from briefing journalists in a manner deemed anticonstitutional or that undermined sovereignty and security. Individuals self-censored because of these prohibitions.

Authorities regularly arrested, detained, and harassed persons for criticizing the government. NGOs reported the torture of individuals critical of the government. The government attempted to impede criticism through intimidation, including continued detention of journalists, those who express critical opinions online, and opposition figures. Additionally, the government monitored and interfered in activities of political opposition groups. Some citizens feared authorities would retaliate against them for discussing security force abuses. Authorities arrested and detained persons who made public or private statements deemed critical of the government under a provision of the law pertaining to inciting the public through false rumors.

Press and Media Freedom: On March 15, the SOE Command Post lifted the provision that allowed for monitoring of media and communications.

Independent journalists reported access to private, independent printing presses was generally limited to a single government-owned facility, citing government intimidation. At least one outlet attempted to import a printing press for private use, but it was unable to secure permission to make it operational. Independent media cited this limited access as a major factor in the small number, low circulation, and infrequent publication of news.

In Addis Ababa seven independent newspapers had a combined weekly circulation of approximately 45,000 copies; there were in addition two sports-focused newspapers. There were no independent newspapers outside of the capital. Seven independent weekly, monthly, and bimonthly magazines published in Amharic and English had a combined circulation estimated at 18,000 copies. State-run newspapers had a combined daily circulation of approximately 50,000 copies. Most newspapers were printed on a weekly or biweekly basis, except state-owned Amharic and English dailies and the privately run Daily Monitor. Government-controlled media closely reflected the views of the government and ruling EPRDF party. The government controlled the only television station that broadcast nationally, which, along with radio, was the primary source of news for much of the population. There were two government-owned radio stations that covered the entire country, seven private FM radio stations broadcast in the capital, one FM radio station in the Tigray Region, and 28 community radio stations broadcast in other regions. State-run Ethiopian Broadcasting Corporation had the largest broadcast range in the country, followed by Fana Broadcasting Corporate, which was affiliated with the ruling party. There were a few private satellite-based television stations, including the Ethiopian Broadcast Service.

The government periodically jammed foreign broadcasts, including the entire bandwidth for Voice of America. The law prohibits political and religious organizations as well as foreigners from owning broadcast stations.

Violence and Harassment: The government continued to arrest, harass, and prosecute journalists. As of October, four journalists remained in detention.

There were numerous reports of arrest, harassment, and prosecution of the press similar to the following: On January 3, the Federal High Court sentenced journalists Khalid Mohammed and Darsema Sorri along with 17 Muslim activists after finding them guilty of terrorism crimes. The court sentenced Khalid to a prison term of five years and six months and Darsema to four years and five months. Authorities arrested the two journalists in 2015.

Censorship or Content Restrictions: Government harassment caused journalists to avoid reporting on sensitive topics. Many private newspapers reported informal editorial control by the government. Examples of government interference included requests regarding specific stories and calls from government officials concerning articles perceived as critical of the government. Private sector and government journalists routinely practiced self-censorship. Several journalists, both local and foreign, reported an increase in self-censorship, especially after the October 2016 implementation of the SOE. The government reportedly pressured advertisers not to advertise in publications that were critical of the government.

National Security: The government used the antiterrorism law and the SOE laws to suppress criticism. Journalists feared covering five groups designated by the parliament in 2011 as terrorist organizations (Ginbot 7, the Ogaden National Liberation Front (ONLF), the Oromo Liberation Front (OLF), al-Qaida, and al-Shabaab), citing ambiguity whether reporting on these groups might be punishable under the law.

INTERNET FREEDOM

The government restricted and disrupted access to the internet. It periodically blocked social media sites. At times the government blocked access throughout the country. There were credible reports the government monitored private online communications without appropriate legal authority. State-owned Ethio Telecom was the only internet service provider in the country.

The law on computer crimes includes some provisions that are overly broad and could restrict freedom of speech and expression. This included, for example, a provision that provides for imprisonment for disseminating through a computer system any written, video, audio, or any other picture that incites violence, chaos, or conflict among persons. The SOE regulations included prohibitions on agitation and communication to incite violence and unrest through the internet, text messaging, and social media.

The government imposed a nationwide internet blackout from May 30 through June 8, the period during which students sat for national exams. The shutdown came 11 months after the government blocked social media sites throughout the country following an online leak of national exam papers, which eventually forced the government to postpone exam dates. The government stated blocking these sites was necessary to provide for an “orderly exam process.”

Between early October 2016 and June the government shut down mobile access to the internet in Addis Ababa, most parts of Oromia Region, and other regions. The government also denied wired access for many popular websites. These included social media sites, such as Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, YouTube, Skype, WhatsApp, and Viber, news websites such as the Washington Postand the New York Times, and many other sites, including foreign university homepages and online shopping sites such as Amazon.

The government periodically and increasingly restricted access to certain content on the internet and blocked numerous websites, including blogs, opposition websites, websites of Ginbot 7, the OLF, and the ONLF, and news sites such as al-Jazeera, the BBC, andRealClearPolitics. Several opposition diaspora group blogs and websites were not accessible. These included Ethiopian Review,NazretCyberEthiopia, Quatero Amharic Magazine, and theEthiopian Media Forum.

Authorities monitored communication systems and took steps to block access to Virtual Private Network providers that let users circumvent government screening of internet browsing and email. There were reports such internet surveillance resulted in arrests. According to the International Telecommunication Union, 15.4 percent of the population used the internet in 2016.

ACADEMIC FREEDOM AND CULTURAL EVENTS

The government restricted academic freedom, including student enrollment, teachers’ appointments, and curricula. Authorities frequently restricted speech, expression, and assembly on university and high school campuses. SOE regulations prohibited strikes in educational institutions, giving authorities the power to order educational institutions to take measures against any striking student or staff member and provided law enforcement officers the authority to enter educational institutions and take measures to control strikes or protests.

The ruling EPRDF party, via the Ministry of Education, continued to favor students loyal to the party in assignment to postgraduate programs. Some university staff members commented that students who joined the party received priority for employment in all fields after graduation.

Numerous anecdotal reports suggested that inadequate promotions and lack of professional advancement were more likely for non-EPRDF member teachers. There were reports of non-EPRDF members being summarily dismissed for failure to attend party meetings. There continued to be a lack of transparency in academic staffing decisions, with numerous complaints from academics alleging bias based on party membership, ethnicity, or religion.

A separate Ministry of Education directive prohibits private universities from offering degree programs in law and teacher education. The directive also requires public universities to align their curriculum with the ministry’s policy of a 70/30 ratio between science and social science academic programs. As a result the number of students studying social sciences and the humanities at public institutions continued to decrease; private universities, however, focused heavily on the social sciences.

Reports stated there was a pattern of surveillance and arbitrary arrests of Oromo university students based on perceived dissent participation in peaceful demonstrations, or both. According to reports, there was an intense buildup of security forces, both uniformed and plainclothes, embedded on university campuses preceding student protests, especially in Oromia, and in response to student demonstrations.

The government limited freedoms of peaceful assembly and association.

FREEDOM OF PEACEFUL ASSEMBLY

The constitution and law provide for freedom of assembly; SOE regulations, however, prohibited demonstrations and town hall meetings that did not have approval from the Federal Command Post. The government did not respect freedom of assembly, including prior to the SOE, and killed, injured, detained, and arrested numerous protesters throughout the year (see also sections 1.a-e.).

In April the EHRC reported to parliament on its investigations into the death of several persons in a stampede at the Irrechaa festival in Bishoftu in October 2016. The commission recommended bringing to account local and regional officials in Oromia who failed to stop the festival in advance. The commission also blamed diaspora-based media house Oromo Media Network (OMN) for fueling the unrest that led to the incident. In March authorities brought terrorism charges against OMN in absentia. The EHRC report held opposition political group Oromo Federalist Congress (OFC) as well as the OLF, a parliament-designated terrorist group, responsible for protests in July and August 2016.

For the 2017 Irrechaa festival, the main ceremony ended in mid-morning, much earlier than recent previous ceremonies. Breaking from tradition, neither the Abba Geddas (the traditional leaders and elders who have historically organized the event) nor government officials offered remarks or blessings. The Abba Geddas arrived at the sacred space with security force protection, which was an additional security measure employed for the event.

Prior to the SOE, organizers of public meetings of more than two persons or demonstrations had to notify the government 48 hours in advance and obtain a permit. Authorities could not refuse to grant a permit but could require changing the location or time for reasons of public safety or freedom of movement. If authorities determined an event should be held at another place or time, under the law authorities must notify organizers in writing within 12 hours of their request.

Opposition party organizers stated that authorities interfered in most of their gatherings, and changed the dates or locations of several of the protests and rallies. Protest organizers disputed the credibility of the government’s public safety concerns. Local government officials, who were generally EPRDF members, controlled access to municipal halls, and there were many complaints from opposition parties that local officials denied or otherwise obstructed the scheduling of opposition parties’ use of those spaces for lawful political rallies.

There were numerous credible reports from opposition organizations of hotels and other large facilities citing internal rules forbidding non-EPRDF affiliated political parties from utilizing their spaces for gatherings. Regional governments, including the Addis Ababa regional administration, were reluctant to grant permits or provide security for large meetings. EPRDF uses its own conference centers in Addis Ababa and the regional capitals and also utilizes government facilities for these meetings and events. Following the imposition of the SOE, the prohibition on unauthorized demonstrations or town hall meetings severely limited the organization of meetings, training sessions, and other gatherings. For example, authorities interrupted a fundraiser organized by the independent rights group HRCO in October 2016 at a hotel in Addis Ababa. Security officers who stopped the event claimed the SOE Command Post had not authorized the event. The organizers had secured written permission from the government’s Charities and Societies Agency.

FREEDOM OF ASSOCIATION

Although the law provides for freedom of association and the right to engage in unrestricted peaceful political activity, the government severely limited this right (see sections 3 and 5).

The SOE and the accompanying regulations restricted the ability of organizations to operate (see section 5). Regulations prohibited exchanging information or having contact with a foreign government or NGOs in a manner that undermines national sovereignty and security, and this reduced communication between local organizations and international organizations.

The Charities and Societies Proclamation (CSP), also called the Civil Society Organizations (CSO) law, bans anonymous donations to NGOs and political parties. All potential donors were therefore aware their names would be public knowledge. A 2013 report by the UN special rapporteur on the rights to freedom of peaceful assembly and association stated, “The enforcement of these provisions has a devastating impact on individuals’ ability to form and operate associations effectively.” For example, international NGOs seeking to operate in the country had to submit an application via the country’s embassies abroad, which the Ministry of Foreign Affairs then submitted to the government’s Charities and Societies Agency for approval.

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

Although the law provides for freedom of internal movement, foreign travel, emigration, and repatriation, SOE regulations temporarily restricted internal movements for refugees and diplomats. The SOE prohibited refugees from leaving camps without authorization and prohibited entry into the country without visas. Diplomats were prohibited from traveling farther than 24 miles from Addis Ababa. The government also restricted foreign travel.

The government cooperated with the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) and other humanitarian organizations in providing protection and assistance to internally displaced persons (IDPs), refugees, returning refugees, asylum seekers, stateless persons, and other persons of concern. At times authorities or armed groups limited the ability of humanitarian organizations to operate in areas of insecurity, such as on the country’s borders.

In-country Movement: Under the SOE some regions of the country and the borders were restricted. Those restrictions ceased once the SOE ended.

Foreign Travel: A 2013 government prohibition on unskilled workers travelling to the Middle East for employment remained in force. The ban did not affect citizens travelling for investment or other business reasons. The government stated it issued the ban to prevent harassment, intimidation, and trauma suffered by those working abroad, particularly in the Middle East, as domestic employees.

Exile: As in past years, citizens including journalists and others fled and remained abroad in self-imposed exile due to fear of government retribution should they return.

INTERNALLY DISPLACED PERSONS (IDPS)

According to the International Organization for Migration (IOM), as of July there were 1,056,738 IDPs, including protracted and new cases. Of these IDPs, 577,711 resided in Somali Region; 367,557 in Oromia; 52,523 in Afar; 28,954 in Tigray, 17,472 in Gambella; 8,921 in Amhara; and 3,600 in Harar.

The two largest contributing factors were conflict and drought. IDP numbers increased compared with previous years, with 450,160 IDPs newly displaced during the year. Of the IDPs, conflict affected 588,531 of them while drought affected 375,074 others. The majority of internal displacements at the national level were attributed to conflict, particularly interregional and interclan conflicts due to lack of governance and property disputes. IDPs’ rights to alternative livelihoods, skill development, compensation, and access to documentation that determine their opportunity to participate in civic and political action often were limited while they were displaced.

In September and October there were armed border conflicts along the Oromia-Somali border, with incidents in the far south of that border in Moyale, through the Bale Mountains, up to East Haraege in the north, and to the west of Dire Dawa in Mossie. The government mobilized the ENDF to respond. The extent of the violence was difficult to verify, but reports indicated that at a minimum dozens of persons lost their lives, including local government officials. There were credible reports that more than 300,000 IDPs resulted from this conflict.

The government, through the Disaster Risk Management Food Security Sector (DRMFSS), continued to play an active role in delivering humanitarian assistance to IDPs. Federal and local DRMFSS officials coordinated with IOM and its partners in monitoring IDP populations.

PROTECTION OF REFUGEES

As of August 31, the country hosted 852,721 refugees. Major origin countries include South Sudan (388,086), Somalia (252,036), Eritrea (161,941), and Sudan (42,967). Among the South Sudanese population, an estimated 17 percent of the refugees were unaccompanied or separated minors.

Access to Asylum: The law provides for the granting of asylum or refugee status, and the government used a refugee-status-determination system for providing services and protection to refugees.

Employment: Under the existing Ethiopian Refugee Regulation, the government does not grant work permits to refugees. The government supports an Out of Camp policy for those deemed self-sufficient, which allowed some refugees to live outside camps and engage in informal livelihoods.

Durable Solutions: The government welcomed refugees to settle in the country but did not offer a path to citizenship or provide integration. Refugee students who passed the required tests could attend university with fees paid by the government and UNHCR.

Gabon

Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:

The constitution and law provide for freedom of expression, including for the press, and the government generally respected these rights, although it suspended the Echos du Nord newspaper from June through August for publishing “defamatory” articles.

Press and Media Freedom: Independent media were active, but authorities occasionally used libel and slander laws to restrict media criticism of the government. The country’s sole major daily newspaper was affiliated with the government. Approximately 131 privately owned weekly or monthly newspapers represented independent views and those of political parties, but only 30 newspapers published regularly. All newspapers, including government-affiliated ones, criticized the government and political leaders of both opposition and progovernment parties. The country had both progovernment and opposition-affiliated broadcast media, although the main opposition-affiliated television station did not have the technical means to broadcast countrywide. According to NGO Reporters without Borders, domestic law did not meet international standards on freedom of expression and media freedom.

Violence and Harassment: There were several reports of journalists being harassed and intimidated similar to the following example. On June 17, a broadcast journalist was jailed and beaten during his incarceration for an interview critical of the national education system. He was convicted of defamation and contempt of court, fined, and sentenced to a prison term.

Censorship or Content Restrictions: Most newspaper owners had either a progovernment or a pro-opposition political bias. Print journalists practiced occasional self-censorship to placate owners. Pro-opposition content on television was limited. On August 23, independent television station Radio Television Nazareth was barred from broadcasting any political commentary for one month after it broadcast a speech by opposition leader Jean Ping.

Libel/Slander Laws: Libel and slander may be treated as either criminal or civil offenses. Editors and authors of articles ruled libelous in a court of law may be jailed for two to six months and fined 500,000 to five million CFA francs ($883 to $8,840). Penalties for conviction of libel, disrupting public order, and other offenses also include a one- to three-month publishing suspension for a first offense and a three- to six-month suspension for repeat offenses. The National Communication Council (CNC) advocated for the removal of criminal penalties for libel.

There was evidence that in several cases libel laws were applied to discourage or punish critical coverage of the government. For example, the CNC suspended two publications. In June authorities fined Echos du Nord and suspended it from June through August for criticizing the government. On October 3, the CNC issued a two-month suspension of the newspaper Mibana because it published calls for a military takeover.

INTERNET FREEDOM

Unlike in 2016, there were no restrictions on internet and social media access during the year.

In August 2016, following the disputed presidential election, the government blocked public access to the internet and social media for one month.

According to the International Telecommunication Union, 48 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 government limited freedom of peaceful assembly.

FREEDOM OF PEACEFUL ASSEMBLY

The constitution and law provide for freedom of assembly; however, unlike prior to 2016, the government did not consistently respect this right. In August parliament enacted Law 001/2017 that placed restrictions on freedom of assembly. For example, on September 4, authorities employed these restrictions to prevent opposition leaders from meeting in a privately owned facility. There were reports the government failed to approve permits for public meetings. Some civil society activists stated they did not submit requests to hold public meetings because they expected the government would deny them.

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

The constitution and law provide for freedom of internal movement, foreign travel, emigration, and repatriation. Unlike in prior years, the government suspended these rights for several weeks to restrict members of the political opposition from foreign travel.

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, and other persons of concern. According to UNHCR, there were no known internally displaced persons or stateless persons in the country.

Abuse of Migrants, Refugees, and Stateless Persons: Despite efforts by the government and UNHCR to reduce discrimination, refugees complained of harassment and extortion by security force members. Some security force members harassed asylum seekers or refugees working as merchants, service sector employees, and manual laborers and, in order to extort bribes, refused to recognize valid documents held by refugees and asylum seekers.

In-country Movement: Although there were no legal restrictions on freedom of internal movement, military and police members and gendarmes stopped travelers at checkpoints to check identity, residence, or registration documents and to solicit bribes. Refugees required a travel document endorsed by UNHCR and government authorities to circulate freely within the country.

Foreign Travel: The law requires a married woman to obtain her husband’s permission to receive a passport and to travel abroad. The law prohibits individuals under criminal investigation from leaving the country. Most holders of a residence permit and refugees need a no-fee exit visa to leave from and return to the country. Exit visas were not issued promptly, which impeded persons’ ability to depart.

From September 3-9, authorities banned opposition political leaders from foreign travel on public order and internal security grounds. Prior to the official announcement, authorities prevented former presidential candidate Albert Ondo Ossa and former prime minister Casimir Oye Mba from boarding international flights.

PROTECTION OF REFUGEES

Access to Asylum: The law provides for the granting of asylum or refugee status, and the government has established a system for providing protection to refugees.

Access to Basic Services: The law provides refugees equal access to public services, although there were reports that in some cases school and hospital employees improperly required refugees to pay additional fees. The National Health Insurance and Social Welfare Fund did not serve refugees.

Guinea

Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:

The constitution and law provide for freedom of speech, including for the press, but the government restricted press freedom.

Press and Media Freedom: Independent and opposition-owned media were active and generally expressed a wide variety of views. Print media had limited reach due to the low literacy rate (41 percent) and the high cost of newspapers. Radio remained the most important source of information for the public, and numerous private stations broadcast throughout the country. FM radio call-in shows were popular and allowed citizens to express broad discontent with the government. An increase in online news websites reflected the growing demand for divergent views. Nevertheless, libels and allegations could result in government reprisals, including suspensions and fines. In June the Communication High Authority (HAC) suspended the broadcast of a popular talk show for five days and barred the participation of one host for a month after he made disparaging comments about children of polygamist parents.

Violence and Harassment: There were reports of direct physical attacks, harassment, and intimidation of journalists by members of the Rally of the Guinean People (RPG) political party affiliated with the government and law enforcement agents. In June, RPG party members attacked a journalist after he took pictures of a brawl at party headquarters.

Censorship or Content Restrictions: The government penalized media outlets and journalists who broadcast items criticizing government officials and their actions.

Some journalists accused government officials of attempting to influence the tone of their reporting with inappropriate pressure and bribes. Others hired bodyguards, and many practiced self-censorship.

On July 27, the reception of a Radio France International talk show about a possible, yet unconstitutional, third presidential term was blocked. The jamming ended immediately after the show, and the HAC denied any involvement or knowledge of the incident.

Libel/Slander Laws: Libel against the head of state, slander, and false reporting are subject to heavy fines. Officials used these laws to harass opposition leaders.

INTERNET FREEDOM

The government did not restrict or disrupt access to the internet or censor online content, and there were no credible reports the government monitored private online communications without appropriate legal authority. According to the International Telecommunication Union, 26.5 percent of individuals had access to 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, but the government did not always respect these rights.

FREEDOM OF PEACEFUL ASSEMBLY

The constitution provides for freedom of peaceful assembly, but the government restricted this right. The law bans any meeting that has an ethnic or racial character or any gathering “whose nature threatens national unity.” The government requires 72-working-hour advance notification for public gatherings. The law permits local authorities to prohibit a demonstration or meeting if they believe it poses a threat to public order. Authorities may also hold event organizers criminally liable if violence or destruction of property occurs. Police arrested two musicians and political activists while the latter were leading protests against corruption and government policies and charged them with unauthorized assembly. As of September they were awaiting trial.

Police use of excessive force to disperse demonstrators–often protesting poor public services–resulted in deaths and injuries (see section 1.a.).

Part of the 2013 and 2015 political accords promised an investigation into the political violence that resulted in the deaths of more than 50 persons in 2012 and 2013, punishment of perpetrators, and indemnification of victims. The government had taken no action on these promises by year’s end.

FREEDOM OF ASSOCIATION

The constitution provides for freedom of association, and authorities generally respected this provision. Requirements to obtain official recognition for public, social, cultural, religious, or political associations were not cumbersome, although bureaucratic delays sometimes impeded registration.

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

The constitution and law provide for freedom of internal movement, foreign travel, emigration, and repatriation, and the government generally respected these rights. Police and security forces, however, continued to detain persons at roadblocks to extort money, impeding the free movement of travelers and threatening their safety. The government cooperated with UNHCR and other humanitarian organizations in providing protection and assistance to refugees, stateless persons, and asylum seekers.

In-country Movement: The government required all citizens over age 18 to carry national identification cards, which they had to present on demand at security checkpoints.

In 2012 the government announced the elimination of all roadblocks on the highways but declared it would maintain checkpoints along the borders and on certain strategic routes in Conakry. Police and gendarmes, however, set up random checkpoints throughout the capital and the country and routinely asked drivers to pay “tolls” or other illegal fees. Police and gendarmes occasionally robbed and beat travelers at these checkpoints and sometimes threatened them with death. High-level government officials acknowledged that the practice continued but claimed to be powerless to stop it.

PROTECTION OF REFUGEES

The country hosted refugees from neighboring countries including Cote d’Ivoire, Liberia, and Sierra Leone. As of January UNHCR recorded 5,176 persons of concern, most of them Ivoirian refugees. The end of the Ebola epidemic resulted in the reopening of the border with Cote d’Ivoire and allowed UNHCR to resume voluntary repatriation.

Access to Asylum: The law provides for the granting of asylum or refugee status, and the government has established a system for providing protection to refugees.

STATELESS PERSONS

There were a few hundred effectively stateless persons, who originally came from Sierra Leone. These persons did not meet any of the criteria for Guinean citizenship–birth within the country, marriage, naturalization, or parental heritage. According to UNHCR these refugees requested neither repatriation nor local integration after the invocation of the cessation clause for refugees from Sierra Leone. Some of this population lived in abandoned refugee camps, while others moved from former refugee sites in Kissidougou to artisanal gold-mining areas in the northeast of the country.

Guinea-Bissau

Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:

The constitution and law provide for freedom of speech, including for the press; however, there were reports the government did not always respect this right.

Press and Media Freedom: Independent media were active and expressed a wide variety of views without restriction. There were several private newspapers in addition to the government-owned newspaper No Pintcha, but the state-owned printing house published all of them. In July, the Portuguese state radio station RDP and state television and radio station RTP had their licenses suspended, ostensibly for a lapse of governmental agreements between Portugal and Guinea-Bissau. Many believe, however, that they were targeted for providing airtime to the political opposition.

Violence and Harassment: The government took no steps to preserve the safety and independence of media or to prosecute individuals who threatened journalists.

Censorship or Content Restrictions: There were reports of journalists receiving threats and practicing self-censorship. In September union officials at the Guinea-Bissau state television service TGB presented a petition to the government signed by 88 employees that denounced attempted censorship, in overt or other forms.

INTERNET FREEDOM

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

According to the International Telecommunication Union, 3.8 percent of the population used the internet in 2016. Lack of infrastructure, equipment, and education severely limited access to the internet.

ACADEMIC FREEDOM AND CULTURAL EVENTS

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

The constitution and law provide for the freedoms of peaceful assembly and association, and the government generally respected these rights. In April a march by an opposition political faction in Bissau clashed with police, resulting in 18 injuries to police and protesters.

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

The constitution and law provide for freedom of internal movement, foreign travel, emigration, and repatriation, and the government generally respected these rights. The government cooperated with the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) and other humanitarian organizations in providing protection and assistance to internally displaced persons, refugees, asylum seekers, stateless persons, and other persons of concern.

PROTECTION OF REFUGEES

The country hosted thousands of long-term refugees and asylum seekers from Senegal’s Casamance Region. Many residents maintain ethnic and family ties on both sides of country’s poorly marked northern border with the Casamance, rendering the nationality of many individuals in the region unclear.

Access to Asylum: The law provides for granting of asylum or refugee status. The government did not grant refugee status or asylum during the year, and there were no reported requests for either. The UNHCR office in Bissau facilitated the issuance of refugee cards.

Durable Solutions: On December 6, the government announced that it would grant nationality to between 4,000 and 10,000 refugees, many of whom had lived in the country for decades. Most of these refugees were originally from Senegal’s Casamance region, with a minority from Liberia and Sierra Leone.

Republic of the Congo

Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:

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

Freedom of Expression: Individuals could criticize the government publicly or privately but risked reprisal. The constitution provides for freedom of expression in all forms of communication and prohibits censorship. The constitution, however, criminalizes speech that incites ethnic hatred, violence, or civil war and makes it punishable by no less than five years in prison. It also criminalizes any act or event that promotes racism or xenophobia.

Press and Media Freedom: Press and media outlets regularly published criticism and satire of the government and senior officials. Most citizens obtained their news from local retransmission of international media and local radio or television stations. In contrast with the previous year, there was greater space in electronic media for open discussion of government policy, including critical discussion. Satellite television services were available for the few who could afford them.

Violence and Harassment: There were reports of direct and indirect intimidation by the government. For example, on the morning of January 11, security forces arrested Ghys Fortune Dombe Bemba, the head of the Talassa newspaper, at Brazzaville’s airport. Talassahad published a manifesto by Pastor Ntumi, and the government accused Bemba of undermining national security and complicity with Ninja/Nsiloulou militia leader Pastor Ntumi. Bemba remained in detention in the Brazzaville Prison as of September.

Additional reports of alleged intimidation included the following: police use of nonlethal force against journalists attempting to report on sensitive events, telephone calls from official and anonymous persons warning journalists not to use footage of politically sensitive events, and pressure on news outlets not to run certain stories or footage.

Censorship or Content Restrictions: Media outlets were required to register with the Superior Council for Liberty of Communication, an official regulatory body. Media outlets that violated council regulations were subject to financial sanctions. The president appoints the director of the council.

Many journalists and editors practiced self-censorship and promoted the editorial views of media owners. Newspapers published open letters written by government opponents.

There were no reports that the government revoked journalists’ accreditations if their reporting reflected adversely on the government’s image. Some journalists reported a fear of termination from their government positions for doing so.

Libel/Slander Laws: The press law provides for monetary penalties and suspension of a publication’s permission to print for defamation and incitement to violence.

National Security: Journalists reported authorities employed immigration law and regulations to restrict foreign media criticism of government policies or public officials. For example, Reporters Without Borders reported that on March 15, citing a lack of “press visas,” two Italian journalists, Luca Chianca and Paolo Palermo, were arrested by plainclothes officers of the Directorate for Territorial Surveillance (intelligence arm of the police) in Pointe-Noire. The two were working on an investigative program regarding alleged corruption involving relatives of President Denis Sassou N’Guesso.

INTERNET FREEDOM

Unlike in previous election cycles in 2015 and 2016, the government did not cut internet service during the legislative and local elections during the year.

There were reports government authorities monitored private digital communications without appropriate legal authority, including email, text messaging, or other digital communications intended to remain private.

According to the International Telecommunication Union, approximately 8 percent of individuals used the internet in 2016.

ACADEMIC FREEDOM AND CULTURAL EVENTS

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

Self-censorship was common in academia and at cultural events, especially in universities, where there was little room for public discourse on politically sensitive topics. University-level professors were not always intellectually independent, since many held second jobs as close advisors to government officials.

The government restricted freedoms of peaceful assembly and association.

FREEDOM OF PEACEFUL ASSEMBLY

The constitution and law provide for freedom of peaceful assembly; however, the government often did not respect this right.

The government required groups that wished to hold public assemblies to seek authorization from the Ministry of Interior and Decentralization and appropriate local officials. Both the ministry and local officials sometimes withheld authorization for meetings they claimed might threaten public order. They also created unnecessary obstacles to gaining authorization and called police to disperse meetings they claimed had not received proper authorization.

For example, on June 8, authorities stopped IDC-FROCAD from holding a peaceful march in Brazzaville to condemn the incarceration of opposition leaders and to urge the government to stop the security operation underway in the Pool region. Similar events on July 16 and July 30 were disrupted. Security forces prevented persons from gathering in public locations.

Local NGOs reported restrictions on freedom of assembly throughout the year. For example, members of Ras-le-Bol (“enough is enough”)–a political youth activist group whose members had been arrested for politically oriented activities in the past–reported numerous direct threats from police to stop their activities. Other members reported that police harassed their families and friends to ascertain their whereabouts. On May 20, authorities deployed police to prevent members of Ras-le Bol and the Congolese Human Rights Observatory from holding a briefing on human rights with citizens in Brazzaville.

FREEDOM OF ASSOCIATION

The constitution and law provide for freedom of association, and the government sometimes respected this right. Political, social, or economic groups or associations were required to register with the Ministry of Interior and Decentralization. Authorities sometimes subjected registration to political influence. According to a local NGO, groups that spoke openly against the government encountered overt or veiled threats and found the registration process more time-consuming.

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

The constitution and law provide for freedom of internal movement, foreign travel, emigration, and repatriation. The government generally respected these rights for refugees and asylum seekers, but not for undocumented immigrants from the DRC in the country’s larger cities. The government attempted to restrict foreign travel of opposition figures during the year.

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

Abuse of Migrants, Refugees, and Stateless Persons: Authorities harassed and arrested refugees during the year. Police arrested at least 217 refugees and asylum seekers, including 108 in Brazzaville and 109 in the northern town of Betou. According to UNHCR, the primary reason for arrest of refugees or asylum seekers was theft. In March police conducted a raid in the Ouenze neighborhood of Brazzaville that led to the arrest of 26 refugees from the CAR. Following the raid, UNHCR conducted training sessions on international protection with representatives from law enforcement representing the immigration, judiciary, and local police, leading to a drop in the number of arrests of refugees in the second half of the year.

UNHCR reported 20 cases of rape from January through October at a refugee camp in Betou, 16 of which involved rape of a minor. Rape and sexual abuse commonly occurred during the initial flight; many women and girls engaged in survival sex in exchange for protection, material goods, or money. Women often remained with abusive partners who offered protection during the flight and subsequently reported domestic abuse and marital rape. The vast majority of gender-based violence incidents went unreported because complaints could take three or more years before courts examined them. Families of victims often preferred settlements through traditional justice mechanisms of negotiating directly with the perpetrators. UNHCR’s protection officers and medical partners provided medical, psychosocial, and legal assistance to victims of gender-based violence, including rape. There was a national shortage of rape kits and HIV testing to respond to victims. Refugees had equal access to community health centers and hospitals but reported discriminatory treatment at some hospitals, including insults by medical personnel and not being treated in priority order relative to their medical condition. Refugees had equal legal recourse for criminal complaints (for example, rape) and civil disputes.

Foreign Travel: The law provides for freedom of internal movement, foreign travel, emigration, and repatriation, but the government repeatedly violated these rights. The government attempted to restrict foreign travel of opposition politicians and supporters trying to depart the country by using administrative or bureaucratic delays.

By law all citizens are eligible for a national passport. The government, however, lacked the capacity to produce passports in sufficient numbers to meet demand and prioritized providing passports to those individuals who could demonstrate imminent need to travel or who had strong government connections. Obtaining a passport was a time-consuming and difficult process for most persons.

INTERNALLY DISPLACED PERSONS (IDPS)

Internal conflict began in the Pool region in April 2016 and affected more than 81,000 IDPs. A humanitarian relief organization’s nutrition survey indicated acute malnutrition levels of 17 percent or higher among displaced persons, exceeding emergency thresholds. Affected populations received only limited assistance, in part owing to insecurity that limited humanitarian access to conflict-affected areas.

PROTECTION OF REFUGEES

Access to Asylum: The law provides for the granting of asylum or refugee status, and the government has a system for providing protection to refugees but not asylum seekers. There are no laws recognizing asylum seekers nor any laws implementing the protections afforded in the 1951 Refugee Convention, to which the government is a signatory. According to UNHCR, the country hosted 53,200 refugees and 3,100 asylum seekers during the year.

The National Refugee Assistance Committee (CNAR), a joint committee under the Ministry of Social Affairs and Humanitarian Action, Ministry of Justice, and Ministry of Foreign Affairs, handled applications for refugee status. The CNAR received most of its operating budget from UNHCR.

According to UNHCR, the CNAR eligibility board processed 207 asylum cases during the year; it granted refugee status to 1,004, put six cases on hold for further processing, and denied refugee status in 216 cases.

The country saw an influx of persons fleeing violence in the CAR beginning in 2012. According to UNHCR, as of October 20, the country hosted 36,183 CAR refugees and asylum seekers.

As of July 2015 the government stopped granting prima facie status to refugees fleeing from the CAR. During the year UNHCR registered 4,523 CAR asylum seekers. With the support of UNHCR, the CNAR adopted an expedited procedure to process asylum requests. As of October the government registered 2,652 asylum-seeking families from the CAR.

Local integration for refugees in the country was particularly difficult due to the cost of acquiring a residence permit. According to UNHCR, the government intermittently enforced a 1996 law requiring the monetary value of a return ticket to a refugee’s country of origin as a deposit for a residence permit. UNHCR was not aware of any refugees who obtained a residency card or alternative status as of October 20.

Employment: The law does not address employment for refugees, but various government decrees prohibit foreigners, including refugees, from practicing small trade activities and working in the public transportation sector. Following the operation to expel undocumented migrants in 2014, police aggressively implemented these laws, resulting in sudden and mass unemployment of refugees.

According to NGOs, on multiple occasions during the year, refugees in Brazzaville reported police arbitrarily confiscated items they were selling, such as eggs and fruit, under threat of arrest or demand for a bribe.

Several rural localities banned foreigners from continuing their farming activities. According to customary laws, property owners may require foreigners to pay an extra licensing fee to lease property or land.

In recent years anecdotal evidence suggested quotas and excessive work permit fees limited refugee employment opportunities in the formal sector. Authorities required refugees to obtain two-year work permits that cost approximately 150,000 CFA francs ($265), approximately equivalent to three months’ salary.

Many refugees worked informally in the agriculture sector to obtain food. Some refugees farmed land that belonged to local nationals in exchange for a percentage of the harvest or a cash payment.

Access to Basic Services: UNHCR-funded primary schooling was accessible to most refugees. During the academic year, primary schools enrolled 6,291 refugee children, including 3,152 girls. Authorities severely limited access to secondary and vocational education for refugees. Most secondary education teachers at such schools were refugees who either volunteered to teach or were paid by parents of refugee children.

Durable Solutions: As of September 27, the country hosted 10,424 Rwandan refugees, 55 percent of whom were born in the Republic of the Congo. According to UNHCR, approximately 2,000 children of Rwandan refugees were unable to obtain birth certificates due to administrative delays, particularly in the Likouala Department. According to UNHCR, the government voluntarily repatriated 12 Rwandan refugees during the year, making a total of 475 repatriations since 2004.

At a tripartite meeting on April 3-4 in Kigali, Rwanda, the governments of the Republic of the Congo and Rwanda, with UNHCR, agreed to invoke a cessation clause that would revoke the refugee status of Rwandans in the country beginning on December 31, 2017. As of that date, the agreement requires Rwandan refugees to return to Rwanda, formalize their legal status in the Congo, or apply for refugee status based on individual claims due to particular circumstances. UNHCR reported that 4,029 Rwandans subject to the cessation clause filed exemption requests with the government. A UNHCR-run office in Brazzaville acted as a one-stop shop to assist refugees with paperwork and bureaucratic processes.