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Afghanistan

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

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

There were credible reports the government or its agents committed arbitrary or unlawful killings. For example, in February UNAMA received a report of Afghan Local Police (ALP) members detaining, torturing, and executing a shepherd after an IED killed two ALP members.

NGOs, UNAMA, and media throughout the year charged progovernment forces with extrajudicial killings. Although the government investigated and prosecuted some cases of extrajudicial killing, an overall lack of accountability for security force abuses remained a problem.

There were numerous reports of politically motivated killings or injuries by the Taliban and other insurgent groups. According to UNAMA’s October 19 report, there were 8,397 conflict-related civilian casualties (2,562 deaths and 5,835 injured) between January 1 and September 30, representing a 1 percent decrease from the same period in 2015. The conflict continued to affect the most vulnerable, including women and children. In this same period, UNAMA documented 2,461 child casualties (639 deaths and 1,822 injured), an increase of 15 percent compared with 2015. UNAMA attributed 61 percent of all civilian casualties to nongovernmental elements and 23 percent to progovernment forces.

In July, Human Rights Watch and UNAMA reported that the Afghan army and Junbesh militia forces carried out an operation against the Taliban in Northern Faryab in June in which militia forces killed 13 civilians and wounded 32 others. Human Rights Watch interviewed villagers who said Junbesh fighters entered the villages and targeted those they believed sided with the Taliban.

b. Disappearance

There were reports of disappearances attributed to security forces, and insurgent groups were reportedly also responsible for disappearances and abductions (see section 1.g.).

On November 25, First Vice President General Abdul Rashid Dostum allegedly kidnapped Uzbek tribal elder and political rival Ahmad Ishchi. Before detaining Ishchi, Dostum let his bodyguards brutally beat him during a traditional “buzkashi” match in Jowzan Province. After being held for a number of days, Ishchi later publicized allegations that he was beaten and tortured by Dostum and his men during his detention. The Attorney General’s Office opened an investigation into the allegations.

On June 1, Taliban militants kidnapped 17 members of the Hazara Shiite minority community in Sar-e-Pul Province. Although all were subsequently freed, the Taliban continued to target and kidnap members of the Hazara ethnic community, executing Hazara hostages in certain instances. On September 1, Taliban members stopped a car in Dawlat Abad district of Ghor Province and kidnapped five Hazara university students. They killed one of the students and released the other four weeks later.

On August 7, two professors, working for the American University of Afghanistan were kidnapped; at year’s end they were still in captivity.

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

Although the constitution prohibits such practices, there were reports government officials, security forces, detention center authorities, and police committed abuses. NGOs reported security forces continued to use excessive force, including torturing and beating civilians.

According to local media reports, on July 30, Afghan National Police (ANP) personnel beat civilians in the Speen Ghebarga area of Qalat district in Zabul Province on the site of a recent explosion. The Ministry of Interior suspended three police personnel for the offense.

According to reports, some security officials and persons connected to the ANP raped children with impunity. NGOs reported incidents of sexual abuse and exploitation of children by the Afghan National Defense and Security Forces (ANDSF); however, cultural taboos against reporting such crimes made it difficult to determine the extent of the problem. UNAMA reported it continued to receive allegations of sexual violence against children. In the first half of the year, UNAMA verified two incidents in which ALP used boys for sexual purposes in Baghlan and Kunduz. In one of the cases, an ALP commander in Kunduz kidnapped a 16-year-old boy from his home, brought him to his ALP checkpoint, and raped him for three days. In another case an ALP unit in Baghlan used at least one boy as a bodyguard and for sexual exploitation. There were reports of other boys being abused in the same unit.

There were reports of abuses of power by “arbakai” (untrained local militia) commanders and their followers. According to UNAMA many communities used the terms ALP and arbakai interchangeably, making it difficult to attribute reports of abuses to one group or the other. Nevertheless, credible accounts of killing, rape, assault, the forcible levy of informal taxes, and the traditional practice of “baad” (the transfer of a girl or woman to another family to settle a debt or grievance) were attributed to the ALP.

There were numerous reports of torture and other abuses by the Taliban and other insurgent groups. In March the Afghan Independent Human Rights Commission (AIHRC) reported the Taliban killed a woman in Jowzjan Province for committing adultery, after her husband and his family accused her of having an extramarital affair. Due to security concerns, neither the AIHCRC nor the government was able to investigate the case. In May a video appeared in social media of a woman in Jowzjan Province being tried in an informal Taliban court and later shot in the back of the head and killed.

Prison and Detention Center Conditions

The General Directorate of Prisons and Detention Centers (GDPDC), part of the Ministry of Interior, has responsibility for all civilian-run prisons (for both men and women) and civilian detention centers, including the large national prison complex at Pul-e Charkhi. The Ministry of Justice’s Juvenile Rehabilitation Directorate (JRD) is responsible for all juvenile rehabilitation centers. The ANP, which is under the Ministry of Interior, and the National Directorate for Security (NDS), under the ANDSF, also operated short-term detention facilities at the provincial and district levels, usually collocated with their headquarters facilities. The Ministry of Defense runs the Afghan National Detention Facilities at Parwan.

There were reports of private prisons run by members of the ANDSF and used for abuse of detainees.

Physical Conditions: Media and other sources continued to report common inadequacies in food and water and poor sanitation facilities in prisons. Some observers, however, found food and water to be sufficient throughout the GDPDC prisons. The GDPDC’s nationwide program to feed prisoners faced a severely limited budget. Many prisoners’ families provided food supplements and other necessary items.

Authorities generally lacked the facilities to separate pretrial and convicted inmates, or to separate juveniles according to the seriousness of the charges against them, with the exception of some juvenile facilities that separately housed juveniles imprisoned for national security reasons. According to the UN April 20 Report on Children in Armed Conflict, security forces detained hundreds of children on suspicion of being Taliban fighters, attempting suicide attacks, manufacturing or placing IEDs, or assisting insurgent armed groups. In the same report, the United Nations stated the Ministry of Justice reported 214 boys detained in juvenile rehabilitation centers on national security-related charges as of December 2015. There were reports the Parwan detention facility, operated by the Ministry of Defense, held 145 children for security-related offenses ay year’s end, a threefold increase compared with the previous year.

Overcrowding in prisons continued to be a serious, widespread problem; 28 of 34 provincial prisons for men were severely overcrowded, based on standards recommended by the International Committee of the Red Cross. As of July men’s prison facilities were at approximately 190 percent of capacity across the country. The Kapisa provincial prison for men was the most overcrowded, housing 340 inmates, more than 10 times the 29 prisoners for which it was designed. The country’s largest prison, Pul-e Charkhi, held 12,398 prisoners as of September, which was more than double the number it was designed to house.

In a March assessment on the country’s prison health services, UNAMA reported that few prisoners had access to medical check-ups or psychiatric services. The report also suggested the 26 provincial prisons did not have the female medical staff necessary to treat female prisoners. As a result, many children, up to the age of seven, accompanied their mothers to prison. In the same assessment, UNAMA reported that 336 children were accompanying female prisoners held in provincial prisons. While many women opted to keep their children with them in prison (ages seven and under), many others enrolled their children in Child Support Centers (CSCs). There were three CSCs: in Kabul, Mazar, and Herat.

In March, after authorities moved the Kabul Female Prison and Detention Center from a renovated building in the city to an allegedly subpar facility in the Pul-e Charkhi prison complex, a group of female prisoners set the facility on fire to protest their new living conditions.

Administration: The law provides prisoners with the right to leave prison for up to 20 days for family visits. Most prisons did not implement this provision, and the law is unclear in its application to different classes of prisoners.

Independent Monitoring: The AIHRC, UNAMA, and International Committee of the Red Cross continued to have access to detention facilities of the NDS and the Ministries of Interior, Justice, and Defense, and NATO Mission Resolute Support had access to NDS, ANP, and Ministry of Defense facilities. Security constraints and obstruction by authorities occasionally prevented visits to some places of detention. UNAMA and the AIHRC reported difficulty accessing NDS places of detention when unannounced. While Resolute Support did not experience the same level of difficulty, authorities denied unannounced access on several occasions at NDS and ANP facilities. The AIHRC reported NDS officials usually required the AIHRC to submit a formal letter requesting access at least one to two days in advance of a visit. NDS officials continued to prohibit AIHRC and UNAMA monitors from bringing cameras, mobile phones, recording devices, or computers into NDS facilities, thereby preventing AIHRC monitors from properly documenting physical evidence of abuse, such as bruises, scars, and other injuries. The NDS assigned a colonel to monitor human rights conditions in its facilities. In February and May, members of parliament visited GDPDC prison facilities to conduct monitoring and oversight of prison conditions, with a focus on conditions for women. The Justice Ministry’s JRD also produced an annual report in March on juvenile justice problems, drafted by the JRD’s Monitoring and Evaluation Office.

d. Arbitrary Arrest or Detention

The law prohibits arbitrary arrest or detention, but both remained serious problems. Authorities detained many citizens without respecting essential procedural protections.

According to NGOs, law enforcement officers continued to detain citizens arbitrarily without clear legal authority or due process. Local law enforcement officials reportedly detained persons illegally on charges not provided for in the penal code. In 2012 the Attorney General’s Office (AGO) ordered a halt to the prosecution of women for “running away,” which is not a crime under the law. Reports indicated that prosecutors instead charged women who had left home with “attempted zina” (extramarital sexual relations) for being outside the home in the presence of nonrelated men, which is also not a crime under the law. In some cases authorities wrongfully imprisoned women because they deemed it unsafe for the women to return home or because women’s shelters were not available to provide protection in the provinces or districts at issue (see section 6, Women).

ROLE OF THE POLICE AND SECURITY APPARATUS

Three ministries have responsibility for providing security in the country, the Ministry of Interior, the Ministry of Defense, and the NDS. The ANP, under the Interior Ministry, has primary responsibility for internal order and also has responsibility for the ALP, a community-based self-defense force. The Afghan National Army (ANA), under the Ministry of Defense, is responsible for external security, but its primary activity is fighting the insurgency internally. The NDS functions as an intelligence agency and has responsibility for investigating criminal cases concerning national security. The investigative branch of the NDS operated a facility in Kabul, where it held national security prisoners awaiting trial until their cases were transferred to prosecutors. In some areas insurgents, rather than the ANP or ANA, maintained control.

There were reports of impunity and lack of accountability by security forces throughout the year. According to observers, ALP and ANP personnel were largely unaware of their responsibilities and defendants’ rights under the law. Accountability of NDS and ANP officials for torture and abuse was weak, not transparent, and rarely enforced. Independent judicial or external oversight of the NDS and ANP in the investigation and prosecution of crimes or misconduct, including torture and abuse, was limited. Police corruption remained a serious problem (see section 4).

NGOs and human rights activists reported widespread societal violence, especially against women (see section 6). In many cases police did not prevent or respond to violence and, in some cases, arrested women who reported crimes committed against them, such as rape.

ARREST PROCEDURES AND TREATMENT OF DETAINEES

UNAMA, the AIHRC, and other observers reported arbitrary and prolonged detention frequently occurred throughout the country. Authorities often did not inform detainees of the charges against them.

The law provides for access to legal counsel and the use of warrants, and it limits how long authorities may hold detainees without charge. Police have the right to detain a suspect for 72 hours to complete a preliminary investigation. If police decide to pursue a case, they transfer the file to the AGO. With court approval the investigating prosecutor may continue to detain a suspect while continuing the investigation, with the length of continued detention depending on the severity of the offense. The investigating prosecutor may detain a suspect for a maximum of 10 additional days for a petty crime, 27 days for a misdemeanor, and 75 days for a felony. The prosecutor must file an indictment or release the suspect within those deadlines, and no further extension of the investigatory period is permitted if the defendant is in detention. Prosecutors often ignored these limits.

Incommunicado imprisonment remained a problem, and prompt access to a lawyer was rare. Prisoners generally were allowed access to their families, but there were exceptions, and access was frequently delayed.

The criminal procedure code does provide for release on bail; however, in practice, the bond system was not always used. Authorities at times continued to detain defendants who had been acquitted by the courts on the grounds that defendants who were released pending the prosecution’s appeal often disappeared. In many cases authorities did not rearrest defendants they released pending the outcome of an appeal, even after the appellate court convicted them in absentia.

According to international monitors, prosecutors filed indictments in cases transferred to them by police, even where there was a reasonable belief no crime was actually committed.

According to the juvenile code, the arrest of a child “should be a matter of last resort and should last for the shortest possible period.” Reports indicated children in juvenile rehabilitation centers across the country lacked access to adequate food, health care, and education. Like adult detainees, detained children frequently were denied basic rights and many aspects of due process, including the presumption of innocence, the right to be informed of charges, access to defense lawyers, and protection from self-incrimination. The law provides for the creation of special juvenile police, prosecution offices, and courts. Due to limited resources, special juvenile courts functioned in only six provinces (Kabul, Herat, Balkh, Kandahar, Nangarhar, and Kunduz). Elsewhere, children’s cases fall under the ordinary courts. The law mandates that authorities handle children’s cases confidentially and, as with all criminal cases, may involve three stages: primary, appeals, and the final stage at the Supreme Court.

Some children in the criminal justice system were victims rather than perpetrators of crime. In some instances authorities chose to punish victims because they brought shame on the family by reporting an abuse. In the absence of sufficient shelters for boys, authorities detained abused boys and placed them in juvenile rehabilitation centers because they could not be returned to their families and shelter elsewhere was unavailable. There were also allegations that authorities allegedly treated children related to a perpetrator as proxies and imprisoned them.

Police and legal officials often charged women with intent to commit zina to justify their arrest and incarceration for social offenses, such as running away from home, rejecting a spouse chosen by her family, fleeing domestic violence or rape, or eloping. Article 130 of the constitution provides that in cases not explicitly covered by the provisions of the constitution or other laws, courts may, in accordance with Hanafi jurisprudence (a school of sharia, or Islamic law) and within the limits set by the constitution, rule in a manner that best attains justice in the case. Although observers stated this provision was widely understood to apply only to civil cases, many judges and prosecutors applied Article 130 to criminal matters. Observers reported officials used this article to charge women and men with “immorality” or “running away from home,” neither of which is a crime. Police often detained women for zina at the request of family members.

Authorities imprisoned some women for reporting crimes perpetrated against them and detained some as proxies for a husband or male relative convicted of a crime on the assumption the suspect would turn himself in to free the family member.

Authorities placed some women in protective custody to prevent violence by family members. They also employed protective custody (including placement in a detention center) for women who had experienced domestic violence, if no shelters were available to protect them from further abuse. The presidential decree on the Elimination of Violence Against Women (EVAW)–commonly referred to as the EVAW law–obliges police to arrest persons who abuse women. Implementation and awareness of the EVAW law was limited, however.

Arbitrary Arrest: Arbitrary arrest and detention remained a problem in most provinces. Observers reported some prosecutors and police detained individuals without charge for actions that were not crimes under the law, in part because the judicial system was inadequate to process detainees in a timely fashion. UNAMA reported police detained individuals for moral crimes, breach of contract, family disputes, and to extract confessions. Observers continued to report those detained for moral crimes were almost exclusively women.

Pretrial Detention: The law provides a defendant the right to object to his or her pretrial detention and receive a court hearing on the matter. Nevertheless, lengthy pretrial detention remained a problem.

Many detainees did not benefit from any or all of the provisions of the criminal procedure code, largely due to a lack of resources, limited numbers of defense attorneys, unskilled legal practitioners, and corruption. The law provides that, if the investigation cannot be completed or an indictment is not filed, within the code’s 10-, 27-, or 75-day deadlines, the defendant must be released. Many detainees, however, were held beyond those periods, despite the lack of an indictment.

Amnesty: The Afghanistan Peace and Reintegration Program, which existed between 2010 and 2016, was a mechanism for bringing combatants off the battlefield. The program document stated the program “is not a framework for pardoning all crimes and providing blanket amnesty,” and reintegration candidates were informed prior to enrollment that entry into the program did not amount to blanket immunity from prosecution.

In September the government concluded a peace accord with the Hezb-e Islami Gulbuddin group. As part of the agreement, the government pledged to release certain prisoners in its custody. At year’s end the government was vetting prisoners for possible release.

As of September 2015, prison industries offered more jobs and vocational training to enhance employment opportunities after release. In December 2015 President Ghani visited Badam Bagh prison in Kabul to inquire about the situation of female inmates. Ghani said he personally oversaw the drafting of pardon and parole decrees and ordered the creation of an impartial delegation composed of female representatives from civil society to look into female prisoners’ cases. The delegation, comprising nine women, was reviewing female inmate cases to ensure those eligible were released. By year’s end, 235 women had been released, and 307 had their sentences reduced.

e. Denial of Fair Public Trial

The law provides for an independent judiciary, but the judiciary continued to be underfunded, understaffed, inadequately trained, largely ineffective, and subject to threats, bias, political influence, and pervasive corruption.

Bribery, corruption, and pressure from public officials, tribal leaders, families of accused persons, and individuals associated with the insurgency continued to impair judicial impartiality. Most courts administered justice unevenly, employing a mixture of codified law, sharia, and local custom. Traditional justice mechanisms remained the main recourse for many, especially in rural areas. There was varying adherence to codified law, with courts often disregarding applicable statutory law in favor of sharia or local custom. Corruption was common within the judiciary, and often criminals paid bribes to obtain their release or a reduction in sentence (see section 4).

The formal justice system was relatively strong in urban centers, where the central government was strongest, and weaker in rural areas, where approximately 76 percent of the population lived. Courts and police forces continued to operate at less than full strength nationwide. The judicial system continued to lack the capacity to absorb and implement the large volume of new and amended legislation. A lack of qualified judicial personnel hindered the courts. Some municipal and provincial authorities, including judges, had minimal training and often based their judgments on their personal understanding of sharia without appropriate reference to statutory law, tribal codes of honor, or local custom. The number of judges who were graduates of law school, many from universities with sharia faculties, continued to increase. Access to legal codes and statutes increased, but their limited availability continued to hinder some judges and prosecutors.

In March 2015 a mob killed Farkhunda Malikzada after a local religious cleric falsely accused her of burning a copy of the Quran. Following protests after Farkhunda’s death, the government promised swift and exemplary justice but showed little progress in holding the attackers accountable. A court prosecuted some of the attackers and sentenced some to the death penalty. In March 2016, however, the Supreme Court voted to reduce the sentences of those convicted. The reasoning was that the death penalty can be imposed only where the accused are found to be the “main perpetrators” of the death. The Supreme Court held it could not find sufficient evidence that any of the four men were the direct cause of Farkhunda’s death.

Following the Supreme Court decision to uphold the reduced sentences, President Ghani established an investigatory committee to look into Farkhunda’s case. More than 40 civil society and women’s organizations formed an alliance to demand that the Supreme Court decision be investigated and revisited. As an example, the Women’s Political Participation Committee, a civil society organization, held a press conference on March 19 to call on the government to reassess the Supreme Court’s decision and ensure more transparency in the process.

There was a widespread shortage of judges, primarily in insecure areas. UNAMA reported Taliban attacks against judicial authorities and prosecutors significantly increased following the government’s execution on May 8 of six Taliban prisoners. Following the executions, the Taliban carried out major attacks against judicial officials. On May 25, a Taliban suicide bomber attacked a government shuttle bus transporting Maidan Wardak provincial court staff members, killing 12 civilians, including two judges, and injuring nine others. On June 1, the Taliban attacked Ghazni’s provincial appellate court and killed four civilians, including two court staff, and injured 15 others, including the head of the court.

In major cities, courts continued to decide criminal cases as mandated by law. Civil cases continued to be frequently resolved using the informal system or, in some cases, through negotiations between the parties facilitated by judicial personnel or private lawyers. Because the formal legal system often was not present in rural areas, local elders and shuras (consultative gatherings, usually of men selected by the community) were the primary means of settling both criminal matters and civil disputes. They also imposed punishments without regard to the formal legal system.

In some areas the Taliban enforced a parallel judicial system based on a strict interpretation of sharia. Punishments could include execution or mutilation. For example, in August in Kapisa Province, the Taliban accused a 20-year-old student of spying, kidnapped him, and killed him a week later. UNAMA reported death sentences, lashings, and beatings resulted in 29 civilian casualties (24 deaths and five injuries) in the first half of the year, a 28 percent increase over the same period in the previous year.

TRIAL PROCEDURES

The constitution provides the right to a fair and public trial, but the judiciary rarely enforced this provision. The administration and implementation of justice varied in different areas of the country. The government formally uses an inquisitorial legal system. By law all citizens are entitled to a presumption of innocence, and those accused have the right to be present at trial and to appeal, although these rights were not always respected. In some provinces public trials were held, but this was not the norm. Three-judge panels decide criminal trials, and there is no right to a jury trial under the constitution. Prosecutors rarely informed defendants promptly and in detail of the charges brought against them. An indigent defendant has the right to consult with an advocate or counsel at public expense when resources allow. This right was applied inconsistently, in large part due to a severe shortage of defense lawyers. Citizens often were unaware of their constitutional rights. Defendants and attorneys were entitled to examine physical evidence and documents related to a case before trial, although observers noted court documents often were not available for review before cases went to trial, despite defense lawyers’ requests.

Criminal defense attorneys reported justice system officials were slowly demonstrating increased respect and tolerance for the role of defense lawyers in criminal trials, but at times defendants’ attorneys experienced abuse and threats from prosecutors and other law enforcement officials.

The criminal procedure code establishes time limits for the completion of each stage of a criminal case, from investigation through final appeal, when an accused is in custody. The code also allows for the accused persons to be released temporarily on bail, but this was rarely used. An addendum to the code provides for extended custodial limits in cases involving crimes committed against the internal and external security of the country. Courts at the Justice Center in Parwan elected to utilize the extended time periods. If the deadlines are not met, the law requires the accused be released from custody. In many cases courts did not meet these deadlines, but detainees nevertheless remained in custody.

In cases where no clearly defined legal statute applied, or where judges, prosecutors, or elders were unaware of the statutory law, judges and informal shuras enforced customary law. This practice often resulted in outcomes that discriminated against women.

POLITICAL PRISONERS AND DETAINEES

There were no reports the government held political prisoners or detainees.

CIVIL JUDICIAL PROCEDURES AND REMEDIES

Citizens had limited access to justice for constitutional and human rights violations. The state judiciary did not play a significant or effective role in adjudicating civil matters due to corruption and lack of capacity, although the judiciary frequently adjudicated family law matters.

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

The law prohibits arbitrary interference in matters of privacy, but authorities did not always respect its provisions. The criminal procedure code contains additional safeguards for the privacy of the home, prohibiting night arrests and strengthening requirements for body searches. The government did not always respect these prohibitions.

Government officials continued to enter homes and businesses of civilians forcibly and without legal authorization.

There were reports that government officials monitored private communications, including telephone calls and other digital communications, without legal authority or judicial warrant.

Authorities imprisoned relatives, male and female, of criminal suspects and escaped convicts in order to induce the persons being sought to surrender (see section 1.d.).

Insurgents continued to intimidate cell phone operators to shut down operations. Reports of destruction of mobile telephone towers, bribing of guards, and disconnecting of networks at night were particularly common in the southwestern, southern, and eastern provinces.

Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:

a. Freedom of Speech and Press

The constitution provides for freedom of speech and of the press, but the government sometimes restricted these rights to varying degrees.

Freedom of Speech and Expression: While the law provides for freedom of speech, which was widely exercised, there were reports authorities at times used pressure, regulations, and threats to silence critics. Freedom of speech was also considerably more constrained at the provincial level, where local power brokers, such as former mujahedin-era military leaders, exerted significant influence and authority to intimidate or threaten their critics, both private citizens and journalists.

Press and Media Freedoms: While media reported independently throughout the year, often openly criticizing the government, full press freedoms were lacking. At times authorities used pressure, regulations, and threats to silence critics. Politicians, security officials, and others in positions of power arrested, threatened, or harassed journalists because of their coverage. Freedom of speech and an independent media were even more constrained at the provincial level, where many media outlets had links to specific personalities or political parties, to include former mujahedin military leaders who owned many of the broadcasting stations and print media and influenced their content.

Print media continued to publish independent magazines, newsletters, and newspapers. A wide range of editorials and dailies openly criticized the government. There were concerns, however, that media independence and safety remained at high risk in light of increased attacks. Due to high levels of illiteracy, television and radio were the preferred information source for most citizens. Radio remained more widespread due to its relative accessibility, with approximately 75 percent radio penetration, compared with approximately 50 percent for television.

The Ministry of Information and Culture has authority to regulate the press and media. In 2015 the ministry dissolved the Media Violations Investigation Commission, whose evaluations of complaints against journalists were criticized as biased and not based on the law. Human Rights Watch reported the ministry routinely ignored officials who threatened, intimidated, or even physically attacked members of the press. While the ministry has legal responsibility for regulating media, the council of religious scholars (the Ulema Council) had considerable influence over media affairs.

In January the information ministry created the Independent Mass Media Commission. The commission is responsible for reregistering all media outlets in the country. Media activists condemned the new reregistration process, citing the high fees to undergo the process would hurt media outlets, particularly the smaller radio and television stations in the provinces. As of September media advocates had been able to delay the implementation of the new reregistration regulation.

In February, after the president issued a decree to implement current media laws and strengthen freedom of expression, the executive created a committee to investigate cases of violence against journalists. The committee met multiple times in the first half of the year and identified 432 cases eligible for investigation. The committee sent the cases to the appropriate government institutions associated with the violations for investigation, including the Ministry of Interior and NDS forces. As of September none of the government institutions had started an investigation or provided a response to the committee.

In May parliament members criticized the lack of full implementation of the 2014 Access to Information law. The Commission on Monitoring Access to Information stated a lack of budget and lack of government support resulted in weak implementation of the law.

Violence and Harassment: Government used threats, violence, and intimidation to silence opposition journalists, particularly those who spoke out about impunity, war crimes, government officials, and powerful local figures. The AJSC reported that 50 percent of 101 incidents of attacks against journalists, including 13 cases of killings, 30 cases of beatings, 35 cases of intimidation, 17 cases of abuse, and six cases of injury, were attributed to government officials. In an October 30 press conference, Nai, an NGO supporting media freedom, reported that violence against media workers had increased to approximately 370 cases, in comparison with 95 cases in 2015. According to Nai, nearly 300 journalists left their jobs during the year due to threats. For example, according to reports, on June 5, police beat a reporter from Kawoon Ghag Radio while he reporting on an event where donations were distributed to poor families.

On August 29, while the president visited Bamyan Province to inaugurate the refurbished provincial airport, progovernment forces, including the president’s protective detail, allegedly harassed and beat protesters and journalists. Some journalists reported government security forces used violence against them and removed film or digital photographs from their equipment. Human Rights Watch received reports of NDS forces detaining journalists and activists for 24 hours. The Presidential Palace first rejected claims of journalists being beaten or detained during the August Bamyan visit, but later the president ordered an investigation.

On August 28, the leading independent daily newspaper, Hasht-e-Subh, intentionally left an entire page empty of content in all Herat city editions to highlight censorship of a news feature detailing corruption and smuggling allegations against Herat provincial council chief Kamran Alizai. The newspaper’s editor in chief, Parwiz Kawa, publicly stated the blank page demonstrated what he termed was a “preventive and protective” protest against an unnamed “powerful official.” He said editors were responding to threats against their regional offices by Alizai, who also maintained an illegal private militia. On the following day, Hasht-e-Subh published an article claiming the AGO assured editors that Alizai was under investigation, had been suspended from his duties, and had been banned from leaving the country. In the meantime the president’s deputy spokesperson, Shah Hussain Murtazawi, told Hasht-e-Subh, “Anyone who challenges independent media would be harshly confronted by the government.”

Prevailing security conditions created a dangerous environment for journalists, even when they were not specific targets. Media organizations and journalists operating in remote areas were more vulnerable to violence and intimidation because of the increased level of insecurity and pronounced fear from insurgents, warlords, and organized criminals. They also reported local governmental authorities were less cooperative in facilitating access to information.

On August 24, the National Security Council approved a new set of guidelines to address cases of violence against journalists. The new initiative entails the creation of a joint national committee in Kabul and separate committees in provincial capitals, a coordination center to investigate and identify perpetrators of violence against journalists, and a support committee to be run by the NDS to identify threats against journalists. The joint committee, to be chaired by the second vice president, was expected to register new cases, call for support from judicial bodies to prosecute perpetrators, and publicly share statistics on cases. Activists welcomed the government’s initiative.

An independent organization focused on the safety of journalists continued to operate a safe house for journalists facing threats. It reported law enforcement officials generally cooperated in assisting journalists who faced credible threats, although limited investigative capacity meant many cases remained unresolved. The Afghan Independent Bar Association established a media law committee to provide legal support, expertise, and services to media organizations.

Women constituted approximately 20 percent of media workers, compared with 30 percent in 2015. Some women oversaw radio stations across the country, and some radio stations emphasized almost exclusively female concerns. Nevertheless, female reporters found it difficult to practice their profession. Poor security, lack of training, and unsafe working conditions limited the participation of women in the media. The AJSC released a special report in March on the situation of female journalists, noting that sexual harassment continued to be wide spread in the media industry. If not subjected to sexual harassment and abuse at work, female journalists often faced pressure by their families to leave the media profession or at least not to show their faces on television.

Censorship or Content Restrictions: The government reportedly sought to restrict reporting on topics deemed contrary to the government’s messaging.

Some media observers claimed journalists reporting on administrative corruption, land embezzlement, and local officials’ involvement in narcotics trafficking engaged in self-censorship due to fear of violent retribution by provincial police officials and powerful families. Fearing retribution by government officials, media outlets sometimes preferred to quote from foreign media reports on sensitive topics and in some cases fed stories to foreign journalists.

Nai conducted a survey in Kabul and five different provinces that revealed 94 percent of local social media users practiced self-censorship, fearing security threats and intimidation,

Libel Laws: The penal code and the mass media law prescribe jail sentences and fines for defamation. Authorities sometime used defamation as a pretext to suppress criticism of government officials.

National Security: Journalists complained government officials frequently invoked the national interest exception in the Access to Information law to avoid disclosing certain information.

Nongovernmental Impact: Journalists continued to face threats from the Taliban and other insurgents. Some reporters acknowledged they avoided criticizing the insurgency and some neighboring countries in their reporting because they feared Taliban retribution. In February, two Afghan Adib radio workers in Pol-e Khomri in Baghlan Province were brutally attacked, leaving one in a coma. Taliban forces reportedly were behind the attack, although no group claimed responsibility.

The Committee to Protect Journalists reported local and foreign reporters continued to be at risk of kidnapping.

The Taliban continued to threaten journalists associated with two privately owned Afghan television outlets, ToloNews TV, and 1TV. The Taliban’s military commission designated both outlets as “military objectives” due to their perceived disrespectful coverage and claims that they broadcast propaganda, ridiculed religion, and injected the minds of youth with immorality. The Taliban for the first time openly threatened ToloNews in 2015, after the news channel reported allegations of executions, rape, kidnappings, and other abuses by the Taliban when Kunduz fell to the antigovernment group. On January 20, a Taliban suicide bomber in Kabul targeted and struck a minibus carrying Kaboora production staff, an affiliate of ToloNews, killing seven. On June 8, unknown gunmen launched a grenade attack on Enikas Radio in Jalalabad, just three days after an American journalist and a translator embedded in a local security forces convoy were killed by an ambush in Helmand Province on June 5.

INTERNET FREEDOM

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

Media outlets and activists routinely used social media to discuss political developments, and Facebook was widely used in urban areas. The Taliban used the internet and social media (for example, Twitter) to spread its messages. Internet usage remained relatively low due to high prices, inadequate local content, and illiteracy.

ACADEMIC FREEDOM AND CULTURAL EVENTS

There were no reports that the government imposed restrictions on academic freedom or cultural events during the year.

b. Freedom of Peaceful Assembly and Association

FREEDOM OF PEACEFUL ASSEMBLY

The government generally respected citizens’ right to demonstrate peacefully. Numerous public gatherings and protests took place during the year. In May a mass demonstration took place in Kabul over the government’s decision on routing of an electricity line from Turkmenistan to Kabul. Although government forces placed shipping containers to provide security and limited the areas in which the demonstration took place, protesters were allowed to march on the streets of Kabul. On July 23, protesters gathered again to protest the same electricity line but were attacked by insurgents with a bomb that killed 80 and injured an additional 250 protesters. After Da’esh claimed responsibility, the Ministry of Interior banned street protests for 10 days.

In September, Tajik supporters assembled to rebury the remains of a former king on a hill important to the Uzbek community in Kabul, leading to a standoff. After an agreement was reached, the reburial took place, although some criticized the government for not handling the issue properly.

FREEDOM OF ASSOCIATION

The right to freedom of association is provided in the constitution, and the government generally respected it. The 2009 law on political parties obliges them to register with the Ministry of Justice and to pursue objectives consistent with Islam. By law a political party must have 10,000 registered members to register with the ministry.

In 2012 the Council of Ministers approved a regulation requiring political parties to open offices in at least 20 provinces within one year of registration. The regulation provides for removal of parties failing to do so from the Justice Ministry’s official list. In 2015 the ministry conducted a nationwide review of provincial political party offices. It found 10 political parties not in compliance with the regulation and deregistered all 10 of them. There were a total of 57 political parties registered with the ministry.

c. Freedom of Religion

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, which the government generally respected, although it sometimes limited citizens’ movement for security reasons.

The government cooperated with the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), the International Organization for Migration, and other humanitarian organizations in providing protection and assistance to internally displaced persons (IDPs), refugees, returning refugees, and other persons of concern. Government ability to assist vulnerable persons, including returnees from Pakistan and Iran, remained limited, and it continued to rely on the international community for assistance.

In-country Movement: Taxi, truck, and bus drivers reported security forces or insurgents sometimes operated illegal checkpoints and extorted money and goods from travelers.

The greatest barrier to movement in some parts of the country was the lack of security. In many areas insurgent violence, banditry, land mines, and IEDs made travel extremely dangerous, especially at night.

Armed insurgents operated illegal checkpoints and extorted money and goods. The Taliban imposed nightly curfews on the local populace in regions where it exercised authority, mostly in the southeast.

Social custom limited women’s freedom of movement without male consent or a male chaperone.

Emigration and Repatriation: Refugee returns to the country rose in the last half of the year. As of mid-November UNHCR had assisted the return of more than 370,000 registered refugees (99 percent of whom returned from Pakistan), greatly surpassing the 58,460 returns in 2015. According to UNHCR surveys of returnees at arrival centers, many returnees claimed they left Pakistan due to increased rates of harassment and extortion and because they no longer believed they could stay in their homes safely or find jobs. Other reasons they cited included maintaining family unity with undocumented Afghans following their deportation, enhanced border controls, and uncertainty about legal status. Former refugees constituted more than 20 percent of the total country population, yet the government lacked the capacity to integrate large numbers of new arrivals due to continuing insecurity, limited employment opportunities, poor development, and budgetary constraints.

Undocumented Afghan refugees also returned in large numbers. The International Organization for Migration reported that about 230,000 had returned from Pakistan as of mid-November and projected that approximately 300,000 undocumented Afghans would return by the end of 2016. Approximately 391,000 undocumented Afghans returned from Iran during the same period; most of these returns resulted from deportation by Iranian authorities.

INTERNALLY DISPLACED PERSONS (IDPS)

Internal population movements increased, mainly triggered by increasing armed conflict. The United Nations estimated there were 1.2 million IDPs in the country. According to the UN Office for Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, 486,000 new IDPs fled their homes from January to November. Most IDPs left insecure rural areas and small towns seeking relatively greater safety and government services in larger towns and cities in the same province. All 34 provinces hosted IDP populations.

Limited humanitarian access caused delays in identifying, assessing, and providing timely assistance to IDPs and led to estimates of the total number of IDPs that were significantly larger than official figures. IDPs continued to lack access to basic protection, including personal and physical security and shelter. Many IDPs, especially in households with a female head, faced difficulty obtaining basic services because they did not have identity documents. Many IDPs in urban areas reportedly faced discrimination, lacked adequate sanitation and other basic services, and lived in constant risk of eviction from illegally occupied displacement sites, according to the Internal Displacement Monitoring Center. Women in IDP camps reported high levels of domestic violence. Limited opportunities to earn a livelihood following the initial displacement often led to secondary displacement, making tracking of vulnerable persons difficult. Even IDPs who had access to local social services sometimes had less access than their non-IDP neighbors, due to distance from the services or other factors.

PROTECTION OF REFUGEES

Access to Asylum: Laws do not provide for granting asylum or refugee status, and the government has not established a system for providing protection to refugees from other countries. Nonetheless, the government worked closely with the international community to protect and respond to the needs of Pakistani refugees, including an estimated 100,000 refugees who remained in UNHCR camps in Khost and Paktika Provinces after being displaced in 2014 following Pakistani military operations against insurgents across the border.

Section 3. Freedom to Participate in the Political Process

The constitution provides citizens the opportunity to choose their government in free and fair periodic elections held by secret ballot and based on universal and equal suffrage. Citizens exercised this ability in the 2014 presidential and provincial elections and the 2010 parliamentary elections. The Taliban and political actors attempted to use violence to intimidate voters during the 2014 presidential elections, which were also marred by allegations of widespread fraud and corruption. Parliamentary elections are mandated by the constitution to be held every five years; however, the regularly scheduled elections were not held in 2015, as the government had yet to complete promised electoral reforms. As a result members of the Wolesi Jirga (lower house of parliament) remained in office past the June 2015 expiration of their five-year terms by virtue of a presidential decree. In November the government replaced the members of its main electoral bodies–the Independent Election Commission (IEC) and the Independent Electoral Complaints Commission–a necessary first step in completing the anticipated reforms and proposing a new electoral calendar.

Elections and Political Participation

Recent Elections: According to the IEC, more than 6.8 million voters cast votes in the first round of the April 2014 presidential election. Although security incidents occurred throughout the country, they reportedly had only a modest impact on turnout, and there were no mass-casualty events. Of the eight presidential candidates who competed in the first round, former foreign minister Abdullah Abdullah and former finance minister Ashraf Ghani Ahmadzai received the most votes, 45 percent and 31.6 percent, respectively. Neither achieved the majority necessary, and a runoff election between the two was held in June 2014.

Allegations of fraud led to a dispute over the accuracy of the preliminary results announced by the IEC following the June 2014 runoff. Those results showed Ghani leading with 56.4 percent, compared with Abdullah’s 43.5 percent. Following a protracted standoff, the two candidates agreed to a 100 percent audit of the ballot boxes and committed to forming a National Unity Government, with the runner-up assuming a newly created chief executive officer (CEO) position in the government. According to media reporting of leaked IEC data, the audit invalidated more than 850,000 fraudulent ballots of an estimated eight million. The IEC completed the election audit and named Ghani the winner in September 2014. In accordance with the National Unity Government agreement, Ghani then created the CEO position by presidential decree and named Abdullah to the position. The audit results were released publicly in February.

Political Parties and Political Participation: Negative associations of past political activity with violent militia groups and the former communist regime, as well as allegations of persistent corruption and inefficiency among political elites, led many citizens to view political parties with suspicion. The Political Party Law granted parties the right to exist as formal institutions for the first time in the country’s history. The law requires parties to have at least 10,000 members from the country’s 34 provinces.

Parties were not always able to conduct activities throughout the country; in some regions antigovernment violence reduced security. As of November, 57 political parties were registered with the Ministry of Justice, and no party was deregistered during the year. According to the ministry, a deregistered party could meet and continue “informal” political activities, but candidates for political office could not run for office under the party’s name until it met the registration criteria.

Provincial party members continued to assert the ministry’s monitoring process was inconsistent. Some parties reported regular interactions with ministry officials and others had none at all. Political parties played a greater role in the 2014 presidential elections than in previous elections, and the organization, networks, and public support of the parties that supported Abdullah and Ghani contributed to their success as presidential candidates.

Participation of Women and Minorities: The constitution specifies a minimum number of seats for women and minorities in the two houses of parliament. For the Wolesi Jirga (lower house), the constitution mandates that at least two women shall be elected from each province (for a total of 68). In 2010 voters elected 69 women to the Wolesi Jirga. In the Meshrano Jirga (upper house), the constitution empowers the president to appoint one-third of the members. One-half of the presidential appointees must be women. Ten seats are also set aside in the Wolesi Jirga for members of the Kuchi minority (nomads). In the Meshrano Jirga, the president’s appointees must include two Kuchis and two members with physical disabilities. In practice, one seat in the Meshrano Jirga is reserved for the appointment of a Sikh or Hindu representative, although this is not mandated by the constitution.

Traditional societal practices continued to limit women’s participation in politics and activities outside the home and community, including the need to have a male escort or permission to work. These factors, in addition to an education and experience gap, likely continued to influence the central government’s male-dominated composition. The 2013 electoral law reduced quotas for women on provincial councils from 25 percent to 20 percent and eliminated women’s quotas entirely for district and village councils. Neither district nor village councils had been established by year’s end.

As did their male counterparts, women active in government and politics continued to face threats and violence and were the targets of attacks by the Taliban and other insurgent groups. In July the director of women’s affairs in Ghazni Province was attacked. She escaped unharmed, but another government employee was killed. Most female parliamentarians reportedly experienced some kind of threat or intimidation, and many believed the state could not or would not protect them.

No laws prevent minorities from participating in political life, although different ethnic groups complained they did not have equal access to local government jobs in provinces where they were in the minority. Individuals from the majority Pashtun ethnic group had more seats than any other ethnic group in both houses of parliament but did not have more than 50 percent of the seats. There was no evidence specific societal groups were excluded.

Albania

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

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

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

b. Disappearance

There were no reports of politically motivated disappearances.

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

While the constitution and law prohibit such actions, police and prison guards sometimes beat and abused suspects and detainees. Through September the Service for Internal Affairs and Complaints received complaints of police abuse and corruption that led to both administrative sanctions and criminal prosecutions.

On March 3, the Council of Europe’s Committee for the Prevention of Torture (CPT) released its report on its most recent visit to the country in 2014. As in 2010, the CPT reported receiving a significant number of credible reports from detained persons, including juveniles, of physical mistreatment by police officers, consisting mainly of slaps, punches, kicks, and truncheon blows.

Through September the ombudsman received 140 complaints from detainees. Nearly one quarter of the complaints alleged physical or psychological abuse; the office of the ombudsman forwarded three of these to prosecutors.

Prison and Detention Center Conditions

Lack of medical treatment, particularly for mental health issues, was a serious problem, as were overcrowded facilities and poor physical infrastructure. The Albanian Helsinki Committee (AHC) reported that conditions in certain detention facilities were so poor as to constitute inhuman treatment. Authorities improved some police detention facilities as part of a nationwide upgrade, but conditions remained poor outside of Tirana and other major urban centers. AHC research conducted among inmates through July showed the majority of complaints centered on poor living conditions, interference with private correspondence with family members, unresponsiveness to prisoner complaints and requests, delayed transfer of detainees from police stations to detention facilities, as well as physical or psychological abuse by prison staff or other inmates. As of July, six cases, or approximately 11 percent of all complaints, alleged physical or psychological abuse.

Physical Conditions: The prison population was on average 9 percent greater than the design capacity of prison facilities. Overcrowding was especially serious in pretrial detention centers. Conditions in prison and detention centers for women were generally better than those for men.

The government reported 12 deaths in prison through August; 10 were from natural causes, one from a fire incident in the Lezha Prison, and one from suicide. On July 30, a Lezha prison cell caught fire, resulting in the death of one inmate and the injury of five others and two guards. The General Directorate of Prisons fired 11 employees and disciplined 21 others as a result. On July 31, an inmate at Vaqarr prison was shot and injured in the prison yard. The inmate received medical assistance; the investigation continued at year’s end.

The majority of the 140 complaints received by the ombudsman from detainees through September dealt with the quality of health services. Detainees also complained about access to special leave programs, delays in the implementation of prison transfer orders, and undesirable transfers to other prisons. The AHC also reported an increased number of complaints about the quality of health services as well as transfer/nontransfer between detention facilities. The ombudsman and nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) reported that authorities detained inmates with mental disabilities in regular prisons, where access to mental health care was wholly inadequate.

Prison and detention center conditions varied significantly by age and type of facility. The AHC identified problems in both new and old structures, such as dampness in cells, poor hygiene, lack of bedding materials, and inconsistent water supply.

Conditions in facilities operated by the Ministry of Interior, such as police stations and temporary detention facilities, were inadequate, except for regional facilities in Tirana, Durres, Gjirokaster, and Korca, which the government renovated in 2014 and 2015. Most detention facilities were unheated during the winter. Some lacked basic hygienic amenities, such as showers or sinks. Facilities were cramped, afforded limited access to toilets, and had little or no ventilation, natural light, or beds and benches.

Administration: The Ministry of Justice managed the country’s prisons. The ombudsman reported prison and police officials generally cooperated with investigations. NGOs and the ombudsman noted inadequate recordkeeping in some institutions, particularly in small or rural police stations.

Corruption continued to be a serious problem in detention centers, particularly in connection with access to work and special release programs. NGOs reported that those involved in work programs received less than 125 leks (one dollar) per month and did not receive credit for social security.

Independent Monitoring: The government allowed local and international human rights groups, the media, as well as international bodies such as the CPT to monitor prison conditions. The ombudsman conducted frequent unannounced inspections of detention facilities. In September the ombudsman reportedly was denied access to Fier prison to investigate claims of violence against an inmate.

Improvements: During the year the ombudsman and NGOs reported improvements in conditions in some prisons and detention centers. The General Directorate of Prisons indicated that by July overall prison overcrowding had been reduced from 25 percent over full capacity in 2015 to 9 percent. NGOs reported that police and prison authorities continued to demonstrate greater sensitivity toward the rights of juvenile and female detainees. The ombudsman noted that authorities were more flexible in allowing juveniles in pretrial detention centers to meet with relatives. Tirana’s Jordan Misja detention facility, which closed in 2015 after the ombudsman deemed it unsuitable, reopened with substantially improved living conditions.

d. Arbitrary Arrest or Detention

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

ROLE OF THE POLICE AND SECURITY APPARATUS

The Ministry of Interior oversees the State Police, the Guard of the Republic, and the Border and Migration Police. The State Police are primarily responsible for internal security. The Guard of the Republic protects senior state officials, foreign dignitaries, and certain state properties. The Ministry of Defense oversees the armed forces, which also assist the population in times of humanitarian need. The State Intelligence Service (SIS) gathers information, carries out foreign intelligence and counterintelligence activities, and is responsible to the prime minister.

Civilian authorities generally maintained effective control over police, the Guard of the Republic, the armed forces, and the SIS, although officials periodically used state resources for personal gain and members of the security forces committed abuses.

Police did not always enforce the law equitably. Personal associations, political or criminal connections, poor infrastructure, lack of equipment, or inadequate supervision often influenced law enforcement. Low salaries, poor motivation and leadership, and a lack of diversity in the workforce contributed to continued corruption and unprofessional behavior. Authorities made efforts to address these problems by renovating police facilities, upgrading vehicles, introducing the use of in-car and body cameras, and publicly highlighting anticorruption measures.

Impunity remained a serious problem, although the government made greater efforts to address it, in particular by increasing the use of camera evidence to document and prosecute police misconduct. In April the Supreme Court upheld the one and three-year sentences handed down, respectively, to Guards of the Republic Ndrea Prendi and Agim Llupo, charged in the 2011 killings of four protesters.

While the government had mechanisms to investigate and punish abuse and corruption, police corruption remained a problem. The Service for Internal Affairs and Complaints conducted audits, responded to complaints, and carried out investigations with increased emphasis on human rights, prison conditions, and adherence to standard operating procedures. This office fielded 2,202 complaints, including 1,777 phone calls via the anticorruption “green line.” As of September authorities dealt with 34 cases involving 46 officers as administrative violations and handled eight cases involving eight officers as criminal offenses, forwarding them for prosecution. During the year the ombudsman also processed complaints against police officers, mainly relating to problems with arrests and detention.

Since 2014 the government has increased police salaries and instituted an open competition for new recruits, although the Albanian Security Academy reportedly exerted inappropriate influence over police hiring, firing, and promotions. Police were not compliant with special orders mandating women comprise 50 percent of new recruits, with the goal of reaching 30 percent female representation across the police force. The March appointment of a diversity specialist increased senior-level attention to the problem.

ARREST PROCEDURES AND TREATMENT OF DETAINEES

The law requires that, except for arrests made during the commission of a crime, police may arrest a suspect on criminal grounds only with a warrant issued by a judge and based on sufficient evidence. There were no reports of secret arrests. By law police must immediately inform the prosecutor of an arrest. The prosecutor may release the suspect or petition the court within 48 hours to hold the individual further. A court must decide within 48 hours whether to place a suspect in detention, require bail, prohibit travel, or require the defendant to report regularly to the police. Prosecutors requested, and courts ordered, detention in many criminal cases, although courts sometimes denied prosecutors’ requests for detention of well-connected, high-profile defendants.

The constitution requires authorities to inform detained persons immediately of the charges against them and their rights. Law enforcement authorities did not always respect this requirement. There was no effective system for handling the monetary aspect of bail. Instead, courts often ordered suspects to report to police or prosecutors on a weekly basis. While the law gives detainees the right to prompt access to an attorney, at public expense if necessary, NGOs reported interrogations often took place without the presence of a lawyer. Authorities placed many suspects under house arrest, often at their own request, because if convicted they received credit for time served.

By law police should transfer detainees to the custody of the Ministry of Justice, which has facilities more appropriate for long-term detention, if their custody will exceed 10 hours. Due to overcrowding in the penitentiary system, detainees, including juveniles, commonly remained in police detention centers for long periods.

Arbitrary Arrest: The constitution and law prohibit arbitrary arrest and detention. Although the government generally observed these prohibitions, there were instances when police detained persons for questioning for inordinate lengths of time without formally arresting them.

Pretrial Detention: While the law requires completion of most pretrial investigations within three months, a prosecutor may extend this period to two years or longer. The law provides that pretrial detention should not exceed three years; the government reported seven cases of pretrial detentions exceeding this limit. Extended pretrial detention often occurred due to delayed investigations, defense mistakes, or the intentional failure of defense counsel to appear. By law a judge cannot prevent such delaying actions by holding the offending attorney in contempt of court. Limited material resources, lack of space, poor court-calendar management, insufficient staff, and failure of attorneys and witnesses to appear prevented the court system from adjudicating cases in a timely fashion. As of September, approximately half of the prison and detention center population was in pretrial detention.

Detainee’s Ability to Challenge Lawfulness of Detention before a Court: The criminal procedure code requires that the court examine the necessity of a detention within three days. If the detention is not revoked, the detainee may appeal up to the Supreme Court. If no decision is made within a prescribed period, the detention becomes void. The criminal procedure code also requires the prosecutor to provide the court bi-monthly updates regarding information obtained following detention. This includes providing summaries of testimonial and documentary evidence received. If warranted, the judge may revoke the detention based on the new information.

Protracted Detention of Rejected Asylum Seekers or Stateless Persons: Authorities often detained irregular migrants who entered the country. By September authorities had detained approximately 500 migrants at the country’s southern border with Greece; those who did not request asylum were deported to Greece within 24 hours. Migrants detained further inland generally spent up to a month at the Karrec migrant detention facility awaiting deportation. The Office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) could monitor the processing, detention, and deportation of migrants. The government reported that less than 10 percent of migrants requested asylum, although NGOs maintained that some migrants who requested asylum might have been deported as well. UNHCR reported that conditions at the Karrec center were unsuitable, particularly for children. In August the government began moving some migrants to the Babrru open migrant facility, where conditions were better.

e. Denial of Fair Public Trial

Although the constitution provides for an independent judiciary, political pressure, intimidation, widespread corruption, and limited resources sometimes prevented the judiciary from functioning independently and efficiently. Court hearings were often not open to the public. Court security officers frequently refused to admit observers to hearings and routinely telephoned the presiding judge to ask whether to admit an individual seeking to attend a particular hearing. Some agencies exhibited a pattern of disregard for court orders. The politicization of appointments to the Supreme Court and Constitutional Court threatened to undermine the independence and integrity of these institutions. As of September, two vacancies in the Supreme Court remained unfilled after nearly three years, despite a considerable backlog of cases facing the court.

The Ministry of Justice generally did not vigorously pursue disciplinary measures against judges. When it did so, the High Council of Justice was reluctant to enact those measures. Through October the ministry had initiated disciplinary proceedings against eight judges. Of these, authorities dismissed one, suspended another, and transferred one to a different jurisdiction. At the request of the Prosecutor General’s Office, the High Court also ordered the suspension of a High Court judge. This judge was later charged with receiving a bribe, and the case was pending at year’s end.

TRIAL PROCEDURES

The law presumes defendants to be innocent until convicted. It provides for defendants to be informed promptly and in detail of the charges against them, with free interpretation as necessary, and to have a fair and public trial without undue delay. Defendants have the right to be present at their trial, consult an attorney and have one provided at public expense if they cannot afford one. The law provides defendants adequate time and facilities to prepare a defense, access to interpretation free of charge, and the right to access government-held evidence. Defendants have the right to confront witnesses against them and to present witnesses and evidence in their defense. Defendants may not be compelled to testify or confess guilt. Defendants have the right to appeal. The government generally respected these rights, although trials were not always public and access to a lawyer was at times problematic. Despite the statutory right to free legal aid, NGOs reported that very few individuals benefitted from this during the year.

POLITICAL PRISONERS AND DETAINEES

There were no reports of political prisoners or detainees.

CIVIL JUDICIAL PROCEDURES AND REMEDIES

While individuals and organizations may seek civil remedies for human rights violations, courts were susceptible to corruption, inefficiency, intimidation, and political tampering. Judges held many court hearings in their offices, demonstrating a lack of professionalism and providing opportunities for corruption. These factors undermined the judiciary’s authority, contributed to controversial court decisions, and led to an inconsistent application of civil law.

Persons who have exhausted remedies in domestic courts could appeal to the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR). As of September, 495 cases were pending before the ECHR, most related to nonenforcement of domestic judicial or administrative decisions. In many instances, authorities did not enforce ECHR rulings. A 2013 study by the Open Society Foundation for Albania–Soros Foundation found that lawyers, prosecutors, and judges had limited knowledge of ECHR jurisprudence.

Persons who were political prisoners under the former communist regime continued to petition the government for compensation. On several occasions, groups of former political prisoners protested the government’s failure to pay them legally mandated compensation. The law gives priority to compensating women, the elderly, those with serious illnesses, and those who had never received a payment. The government made some progress on disbursing compensation during the year.

PROPERTY RESTITUTION

Thousands of claims for private and religious property confiscated during the communist era remained unresolved with the government’s Agency for Property Treatment. Claimants may appeal cases to the ECHR and during the year hundreds of cases–many of them related to property–were pending review there.

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

The government’s National Inspectorate for the Protection of the Territory (NIPT) demolished some homes without due legal process as part of a wider campaign to demolish illegally constructed buildings. Through August the ombudsman received 16 citizen complaints against the NIPT, including failure to provide sufficient warning in writing, failure to consider a homeowner’s application for legalization of a property, and carelessness resulting in damage to other personal property, such as furniture and other structures.

Throughout the year residents of the Himara region complained of targeted heavy-handedness by the government that resulted in the partial or entire demolition of numerous houses and business with little warning and no legal recourse for adequate compensation. Authorities said the demolitions were needed for commercial development and cultural preservation. Residents claimed the government often did not recognize legal documentation of ownership and dispossessed home and landowners with minimal financial compensation.

Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:

a. Freedom of Speech and Press

The constitution provides for freedom of speech and press, and the government generally respected these rights. There were reports that the government, business, and criminal groups sought to influence the media in inappropriate ways.

Press and Media Freedoms: Independent media were active and expressed a wide variety of viewpoints, although there were some efforts to exert direct and indirect political and economic pressure on the media, including threats and violence against journalists who tried to investigate crime and corruption stories. Political pressure, corruption, and lack of funding constrained the independent print media, and journalists reportedly practiced self-censorship.

Online media saw a dramatic growth during the year, which added to the diversity of views. According to 2015 estimates, approximately 15 percent of the country’s 1,500 reporters worked in online media outlets.

In its annual Media Sustainability Index, the International Research and Exchanges Board indicated that the economic crisis continued to erode the independence of the media. At least one major newspaper closed for financial reasons. Funding for organizations that pushed for a more independent press remained limited, and the press was vulnerable to misuse under constant political and economic pressure.

The majority of citizens received their news from television and radio. The independence of the Audiovisual Media Authority, the regulator of the broadcast media market, remained questionable. The role of the authority remained limited, even after its board was fully staffed in mid-year.

In May the Constitutional Court decided in favor of a petition by the Albanian Electronic Media Association to abrogate a law that prevented an individual shareholder from owning more than a 40 percent share in a national broadcast media outlet. Some observers viewed the decision as paving the way to the potential monopolization of the already small number of national digital broadcast licenses. The EU, the Council of Europe, and the OSCE had previously criticized a 2015 attempt by the Assembly to annul the same article.

While private television stations generally operated free of direct government influence, most owners used the content of their broadcasts to influence government action toward their other businesses. Business owners also freely used media outlets to gain favor and promote their interests with political parties.

Violence and Harassment: There were reports of violence and intimidation against members of the media, and political and business interests subjected journalists to pressure. Intimidation of journalists through social media continued.

On May 9, the Union of Albanian Journalists denounced the severe beating of sports journalist Eduard Ilnica, allegedly for reporting on the violent behavior of a coach during a soccer match. Authorities arrested the coach and released him on bail. There were reports that Ilnica decided not to press charges after reaching a private agreement with the defendant, but the prosecutor’s office took the case to court; a trial was pending.

Censorship or Content Restrictions: Journalists often practiced self-censorship to avoid violence and harassment and as a response to pressure from publishers and editors seeking to advance their political and economic interests. A 2015 survey by the Balkan Investigative Regional Network Albania found that large commercial companies and important advertisers were key sources of pressure. Lack of economic security reduced reporters’ independence and contributed to bias in reporting. Albanian journalist unions continued to report significant delays in salary payments to reporters at most media outlets. Financial problems led some journalists to rely more heavily on outside sources of income.

On August 20, the Union of Albanian Journalists condemned the so-called arbitrary dismissal of Alida Tota, news director at A1 TV, allegedly for reporting the August death of a 17-year-old boy working in the Sharra landfill near Tirana. A letter from the station owner to Tota published in the media stated that she was employed for an indefinite trial period and would be terminated from her position. Tota claimed she was dismissed because the Sharra story held the municipality of Tirana responsible for the conditions of child labor in the landfill.

Libel/Slander Laws: The law permits private parties to file criminal charges and obtain financial compensation for insult or deliberate publication of defamatory information. NGOs reported that the fines, which could be as much as three million leks ($24,000), were excessive and, combined with the entry of a conviction into the defendant’s criminal record, undermined freedom of expression.

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 June data from Internet World Stats, 1.82 million persons, or approximately 60 percent of the population, used the internet. Approximately 35 percent of users accessed the internet through mobile telephones.

ACADEMIC FREEDOM AND CULTURAL EVENTS

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

b. Freedom of Peaceful Assembly and Association

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

c. Freedom of Religion

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

d. Freedom of Movement, Internally Displaced Persons, Protection of Refugees, and Stateless Persons

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

The government cooperated with UNHCR and other humanitarian organizations in providing protection and assistance to refugees, returning migrants, asylum seekers, stateless persons, and other persons of concern. Police allowed UNHCR to monitor the processing, detention, and deportation of some migrants.

In-country Movement: In order to receive government services, individuals moving within the country must transfer their civil registration to their new community of residence and prove the legality of their new domicile through property ownership, a property rental agreement, or utility bills. Many persons could not provide this proof and thus lacked access to public services. Other citizens, particularly Roma and Balkan-Egyptians, lacked formal registration in the communities where they resided. The law does not prohibit their registration, but it was often difficult to complete. Many Roma and Balkan-Egyptians lacked the financial means to register, and many lacked the motivation to go through the process.

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.

There were credible reports from NGOs and migrants and asylum seekers that authorities did not follow due process obligations for some asylum seekers and that in other cases those seeking asylum did not have access to the system. Through October some 740 migrants and asylum seekers–mostly Afghans and Syrians–entered the country. Authorities returned most to Greece, some immediately, others after weeks of detention in inadequate facilities. UNHCR was critical of the government’s migrant screening and detention procedures, particularly in view of the increased presence of children among migrants. Through October authorities responded by transferring 18 migrants from the Karrec closed migrant detention facility to the Babrru open asylum center, where living conditions were much more family friendly. Authorities also housed more than a dozen migrants awaiting return to Greece in hotels in lieu of the Karrec center.

The law on asylum requires authorities to grant or deny asylum within 51 days of an applicant’s initial request. Under the law, asylum seekers cannot face criminal charges of illegal entry if they contact authorities within 10 days of their arrival in the country. UNHCR reported that the asylum system lacked effective monitoring.

Safe Country of Origin/Transit: The law prohibits individuals from safe countries of origin or transit from applying for asylum or refugee status. UNHCR, however, reported that no asylum requests had been refused based on the government’s list of safe countries, which includes Greece.

Employment: The law permits refugees access to work. The limited issuance of refugee identification cards and work permits, however, meant few refugees actually worked.

Access to Basic Services: The law provides migrants, asylum seekers, and refugees access to public services, including education, health care, housing, law enforcement, courts/judicial procedures, and legal assistance. Migrants and asylum seekers often required the intervention of UNHCR or local NGOs to secure these services.

Durable Solutions: In September the government completed the process of receiving Iranian Mujahedin-e Khalq refugees from Iraq and continued to facilitate their local integration throughout the year.

Temporary Protection: The government also provided subsidiary and temporary protection to individuals who may not qualify as refugees. As of October, the government was providing subsidiary protection to three persons and temporary protection to 24.

STATELESS PERSONS

The number of stateless persons in the country was unclear. At the end of 2014, the most recent year for which statistics were available, UNHCR reported 7,443 stateless persons, most of whom were Romani or Egyptian children. According to UNHCR, 3,234 cases of statelessness have been resolved since 2011, but how many of these were part of the original 7,443 was unknown. Meanwhile, the risk of statelessness existed for unregistered children born abroad to returning migrant families and continued for Romani and Egyptian children. The law affords the opportunity to obtain nationality.

Section 3. Freedom to Participate in the Political Process

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

Elections and Political Participation

Recent Elections: The most recent national parliamentary elections took place in 2013. The OSCE observer mission to the elections reported they “were competitive with active citizen participation throughout the campaign and genuine respect for fundamental freedoms.” The OSCE further noted, “The atmosphere of distrust between the two main political forces tainted the electoral environment and challenged the administration of the entire electoral process.”

In September a special election was held for mayor of Diber Municipality following the dismissal of the previous mayor for abuse of office. International observers assessed election-day events as calm and well run. In the weeks prior to the election, however, the process was marked by accusations of vote-buying and voter intimidation by both political parties.

In June 2015 the country held local elections nationwide for mayors and municipal councils. While offering a generally positive assessment of election-day events, the OSCE noted that the legal framework “could have provided the basis for democratic elections” but that the main parties misused their extensive powers and responsibilities and lacked the political will to implement the legal framework effectively. In its final report, the OSCE observer mission reported widespread allegations of pressure on voters, which, together with observed instances on election day, raised concerns about voters’ ability to cast their vote freely. The observer mission also found the campaign environment to be peaceful, except for isolated incidents, and fundamental freedoms of expression and assembly were respected.

Participation of Women and Minorities: The participation of women in government steadily increased to a record of 23 percent women in parliament and 30 percent of ministers during the year. The law governing the 2013 parliamentary election required that 30 percent of candidates be women and that they occupy 30 percent of appointed and elected positions. According to the OSCE report on the elections, however, the three largest parties failed to meet the mandated 30 percent quota. The Central Election Commission fined these parties but nonetheless accepted their lists. The June 2015 local elections were held under a revised electoral code that requires parties to alternate male and female candidates on their lists. According to the OSCE final election report, women gained election to a greater proportion of places, approximately one-third, on local councils.

Civil registration requirements, including fees, and lack of identification made it difficult for many Roma to vote in the June 2015 local elections. Observers claimed that political parties offered to pay the registration fee in exchange for a vote. As of October, there were no Romani ministers or members of the Assembly.

Algeria

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

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

There were no reports that the government or its agents committed arbitrary or unlawful killings. In 2015 the deaths of two individuals in detention raised public concern. In September 2015 several newspapers reported that Benchikh Aissa died in a Ghardaia prison. His lawyers said he suffered from depression, and prison officials refused to provide necessary health services. Afari Baaouchi died several weeks earlier in a Laghouat prison. Authorities arrested both detainees in July 2015 in the wake of the clashes between Mozabite Ibadi Muslims and Arab Sunni Maliki Muslims in Ghardaia. The Algerian League for the Defense of Human Rights (LADDH) called for an official investigation into the deaths, but no public information was available at year’s end on whether the government conducted investigations.

Some terrorist groups remained active in the country, including al-Qaida in the Islamic Maghreb and a Da’esh affiliate, Jund al-Khilafah, and attacked security services personnel. On April 15, terrorists killed four soldiers in Constantine Province. On August 6, an improvised explosive device killed four civilians in Khenchela Province. Da’esh (also known as the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant) took credit for the October 28 killing of a police officer in Constantine. Terrorists reportedly killed two police officers and a civilian in a November 13 attack in Ain Defla.

b. Disappearance

There were no reports of politically motivated disappearances.

The government stated it was in discussion with the UN Human Rights Council Working Group on Enforced or Involuntary Disappearances regarding a visit to the country. The government regarded this as the next step to addressing cases of enforced or involuntary disappearances from the 1990s that the working group submitted to it in 2014.

Government officials declared there were 84 reported cases of child kidnapping in 2015 and 28 in the first half of 2016. Figures on total ransom payments were unavailable, since the government maintained a strict no-concessions policy with regard to individuals or groups holding its citizens hostage.

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

The law prohibits torture, but nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) and local human rights activists alleged that government officials sometimes employed torture and abusive treatment to obtain confessions. The government denied these charges. Government agents face prison sentences of between 10 and 20 years for committing such acts, and there were two convictions during the year. There were no other reported cases of prosecution of civil or military security service officials for torture or abusive treatment. Local and international NGOs asserted that impunity was a problem.

On May 12, the UN Human Rights Committee found the country to be in violation of article seven of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, which prohibits torture and cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment or punishment. The decision was based on the government’s failure to contest allegations made in the case of financial consultant Chani Medjoub, who was initially arrested in 2009 in connection with a corruption case and who alleged that members of the judicial police of the Intelligence and Security Department (DRS) tortured him.

On May 25, two police officers were convicted and sentenced to seven and 15 years in prison, respectively, following their May 2015 arrests for raping a woman during her detention in a police station.

In September, LADDH called for an investigation into reports that male police officers in Ain Benian, west of Algiers, forced a detained 29-year-old woman with developmental disabilities to undress in front of them in the local police station. The woman’s family reportedly filed a complaint with the local tribunal, but additional information was unavailable as of September.

The Surete Nationale (DGSN) stated that it did not receive any reports of abuse or misconduct from the public during the year. Information from the National Gendarmerie was not available.

Prison and Detention Center Conditions

Prison and detention center conditions generally met international standards.

A 2013 presidential decree dissolved the Central Bureau of the Judicial Police under the DRS, removing its authority to detain individuals and hold them in separate detention facilities. A 2014 presidential decree, however, reinstated this authority and permitted the DRS to manage prison facilities. A January 20 presidential decree dissolved the DRS and reorganized the intelligence services. The July 2015 amendment of the penal code prohibits police officers from detaining suspects in any facilities not designated for that purpose and declared to the local prosecutor, who has the right to visit such facilities at any time.

Physical Conditions: According to statistics provided in August, the Ministry of Justice’s General Directorate for Prison Administration and Resettlement (DGAPR) had responsibility for approximately 60,000 prisoners. Convicted terrorists had the same rights as other inmates but were held in prisons of varying degrees of security, determined by whether authorities considered the prisoners highly dangerous or of high, intermediate, or low risk.

The government used specific facilities for prisoners age 27 and younger. With support from the British, Canadian, and French governments, the DGAPR modernized its inmate classification system and maintained different categories of prisons that separated prisoners among facilities according to the general lengths of their sentences. Several detention facilities reportedly operated at 200 to 300 percent of capacity. Some observers, including government-appointed human rights officials, attributed overcrowding in pretrial detention facilities to “excessive use” of pretrial detention.

Authorities generally transferred pretrial detainees, after presenting them before the prosecutor, to prisons and did not hold them in separate detention facilities. In some prisons pretrial detainees were held in cellblocks separate from those that housed the general prison population.

Administration: No ombudsman existed to serve on behalf of prisoners or detainees. Prisoners may submit uncensored complaints to penitentiary administration, doctors, and their judge. It was unclear how frequently prison authorities collected the complaints or requests. Authorities permitted family members to visit prisoners in standard facilities weekly and to provide detainees with food and clothing, although the common practice of holding inmates in prisons very far from their families discouraged visits. In the majority of the prisons, nonfunctional telephones further exacerbated the difficulty for detainees to maintain regular contact with family.

Independent Monitoring: The government allowed the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) and local human rights observers to visit regular prisons and detention centers. ICRC staff visited prisons, police and gendarme stations under the jurisdiction of the Ministry of Justice, and an administrative detention center operated by the Ministry of Interior. By September the ICRC had visited 32 detention facilities, representing approximately one-third of the total prison population. Delegates paid special attention to vulnerable detainees, including foreigners, women, minors, persons in solitary confinement, and individuals held for security reasons by police and gendarmes. The ICRC provided the government confidential feedback, when applicable, to help authorities improve detainee treatment and living conditions, reinforce respect for judicial protections, and expand access to health care. During the year the ICRC hosted training sessions on human rights–as they relate to arrest, detention, and interrogation procedures–for judicial police from the DGSN and National Gendarmerie and judges.

Improvements: Authorities improved prison conditions to meet international standards. The Ministry of Justice’s Directorate of Penal Affairs and Pardons announced that since 2010, the government opened 31 new detention centers. Of the new facilities, 10 were minimum-security centers that held prisoners in cells and permitted them to work. Intelligent camera systems were installed in some pretrial detention facilities to allow the DGSN to monitor conditions of detention.

d. Arbitrary Arrest or Detention

Overuse of pretrial detention remained a problem. Security forces routinely detained individuals who conducted activities against the order of the state such as protesting, striking, or rioting. Arrested individuals reported that authorities held them for four to eight hours before releasing them without charges.

ROLE OF THE POLICE AND SECURITY APPARATUS

The 130,000-member National Gendarmerie, which performs police functions outside of urban areas under the auspices of the Ministry of National Defense, and the approximately 210,000-member DGSN or national police, organized under the Ministry of Interior, share general responsibility for maintaining law and order. A January 20 presidential decree dissolved the DRS, which had been subordinate to the Ministry of National Defense. It was replaced by three intelligence directorates reporting to a presidential national security counselor and performing functions related specifically to internal, external, and technical security.

Impunity remained a problem. The law provides mechanisms to investigate abuses and corruption, but the government did not always provide public information on disciplinary or legal action against police, military, or other security force personnel. The DGSN conducted a two-week training session for police officers specifically focusing on human rights practices in September and another two-day training session in November.

ARREST PROCEDURES AND TREATMENT OF DETAINEES

According to the law, police must obtain a summons from the Prosecutor’s Office to require a suspect to appear in a police station for preliminary questioning. With this summons police may hold a suspect for no more than 48 hours. Authorities also use summonses to notify and require the accused and the victim to attend a court proceeding or hearing. Police may make arrests without a warrant if they witness the offense. Public lawyers reported that authorities usually carried out procedures for warrants and summonses properly.

If authorities require time beyond the authorized 48-hour period for gathering additional evidence, they may extend a suspect’s authorized time in police detention with the prosecutor’s authorization in the following cases: once, if charges pertain to an attack on data processing systems; twice, if charges relate to state security; three times, for charges concerning drug trafficking, organized and transnational crime, money laundering, and other currency-related crimes; and five times (for a maximum of 12 days), for charges related to terrorism and other subversive activities. The law stipulates that detainees should immediately be able to contact a family member and receive a visit, or to contact an attorney. The 2015 report of the National Consultative Commission for the Promotion and Protection of Human Rights (CNCPPDH), a governmental human rights commission, criticized this provision for forcing detainees to choose between contacting their families and consulting an attorney.

The law provides detainees the right to see an attorney for 30 minutes if the time in detention has been extended beyond the initial 48-hour period. In these cases authorities permit the arrested person to contact a lawyer after half the extended time has expired. Authorities may use in court confessions and statements garnered during the period prior to access to an attorney–which a prosecutor’s application to a judge may extend. The court appearance of suspects in terrorism cases is public. At the end of the period of detention, the detainee has the right to request a medical examination by a physician of choice within the jurisdiction of the court. Otherwise, the judicial police appoint a doctor. Authorities enter the certificate of the medical examination into the detainee’s file.

In non-felony cases and in cases of individuals held on charges of terrorism and other subversive activities that exceed a 12-day period plus any authorized extension, the law calls for the release of suspects on provisional liberty, referred to as “judicial control,” while awaiting trial. Under provisional liberty status, authorities subjected suspects to requirements such as reporting periodically to the police station in their district, stopping professional activities related to the alleged offense committed, surrendering all travel documents required to leave the country, and, in some terrorism-related cases, residing at an agreed-upon address. The law provides that foreigners may be required to furnish bail as a condition of release on provisional liberty status.

Judges rarely refused prosecutorial requests to extend pretrial detention, which by law may be appealed. Should the detention be overturned, the defendant has the right to request compensation. Most detainees had prompt access to a lawyer of their choice as accorded by law, and the government provided legal counsel to indigent detainees. There were reports that authorities held some detainees without access to their lawyers and reportedly abused them physically and mentally.

Various press outlets reported that in October 2015 National Gendarmerie officers told a Cameroonian female migrant, who claimed a group of Algerian men assaulted and raped her, that they could not file charges because she was an illegal migrant. The victim reported that several hospitals refused to provide her treatment and to issue her a certificate documenting her sexual assault. After social media and local civil society organizations mobilized over the issue, authorities accepted her complaint and arrested two of the eight alleged actors. As of September the status of the investigation was not known.

Arbitrary Arrest: Although the law prohibits arbitrary arrest and detention, authorities sometimes used vaguely worded provisions, such as “inciting an unarmed gathering” and “insulting a government body,” to arrest and detain individuals considered to be disturbing public order or criticizing the government. Amnesty International (AI) and other human rights organizations criticized the law prohibiting unauthorized gatherings and called for its amendment to require only notification as opposed to application for authorization. These observers, among others, pointed to the law as a significant source of arbitrary arrests intended to suppress activist speech. Police arrested protesters in Algiers and elsewhere in the country throughout the year for violating the law against unregistered public gatherings.

On July 13, attorney and human rights activist Salah Debouz and six other activists were arrested at a cafe in Ghardaia and detained for eight hours for holding an unlawful gathering. The activists had been meeting near the local courthouse to discuss the case of one of Debouz’s clients. Debouz had also been arrested on February 6 during a meeting with labor union activists and subsequently released the same day.

Authorities arrested Youcef Ouled Dada in March 2014 for “harming a national institution” and “insulting a government body” when he posted a video on Facebook that captured three police officers engaged in looting during riots in the city of Ghardaia. In September 2014 a Ghardaia court reaffirmed the two-year prison term and DZD 100,000 ($916) fine it imposed in June 2014 on Dada. He was released March 27 after two years in prison.

Pretrial Detention: Prolonged pretrial detention remained a serious problem. Nongovernmental observers believed pretrial detainees comprised a significant portion of the total detainee and prisoner population but admitted they did not have specific statistics. The Ministry of Justice said that as of September, the proportion of detainees in preventive detention was 13.85 percent of the total detainee and prisoner population, compared with 15.02 percent during the same period in 2015, and that the proportion in police custody was 5.66 percent. Ministry statistics did not include prisoners whose cases were pending appeal. July 2015 changes to the penal code limit the grounds for pretrial detention and stipulate that before it can be imposed, a judge must assess the gravity of a crime and whether the accused is a threat to society or a flight risk.

AI alleged that authorities sometimes detained individuals on security-related charges for longer than the 12-day prescribed period.

Authorities held KBC TV journalists Mehdi Benaissa and Ryad Hartouf and Ministry of Culture official Nora Nedjai in pretrial detention for 26 days. They were arrested on June 22 in connection with the alleged unauthorized production of satirical television programs that were broadcast in July. All three received suspended prison sentences and were released July 18.

Police arrested Nacer Eddine Hadjadj, former mayor of Beriane municipality and member of the Rally for Culture and Democracy party, in July 2015. Press reports indicated authorities detained Hadjadj for questioning regarding the violent events that took place in Ghardaia, but the government did not confirm this. In August 2015 Hadjadj’s lawyer, Salah Debouz, denounced the government for not notifying him of his client’s hearing for provisional liberty. The judge rejected his request for provisional liberty, and he remained in pretrial detention as of September.

The government implemented changes adopted in 2015 to the criminal procedure code that prohibit the use of pretrial detention for crimes with maximum punishments of less than three years imprisonment. The revised law, however, exempts infractions that resulted in deaths and persons considered a “threat to public order.” In these cases the revised law limits the use of pretrial detention to one month, nonrenewable. The government also amended the criminal procedure code to state that in all other criminal cases, pretrial detention may not exceed four months. Representatives of the CNCPPDH said that the penal code amendments had succeeded in reducing the use of pretrial detention in 2016 but did not maintain their own statistics demonstrating a decrease from the previous year.

Judges rarely refused prosecutorial requests to extend pretrial detention, which by law may be appealed. Should the detention be overturned, the defendant has the right to request compensation. Most detainees had prompt access to a lawyer of their choice as accorded by law, and the government provided legal counsel to indigent detainees. There were reports that authorities held some detainees without access to their lawyers and reportedly abused them physically and mentally.

Detainee’s Ability to Challenge Lawfulness of Detention before a Court: The Code of Criminal Procedure grants pre-trial detainees the right to appeal a court’s order of pre-trial detention. The appeal must be filed within three days. A person released from custody following a dismissal or acquittal may apply to a civil commission to seek compensation from the government for “particular and particularly severe” harm caused by pre-trial detention. The person must submit an application for compensation within six months of the dismissal or acquittal.

e. Denial of Fair Public Trial

While the constitution provides for the separation of powers between the executive and judicial branches of government, the executive branch’s broad statutory authorities limited judicial independence. The constitution grants the president authority to appoint all prosecutors and judges. These presidential appointments are not subject to legislative oversight but are reviewed by the High Judicial Council, which consists of the president, minister of justice, chief prosecutor of the Supreme Court, 10 judges, and six individuals outside the judiciary chosen by the president. The president serves as the president of the High Judicial Council, which is also responsible for the appointment, transfer, promotion, and discipline of judges. The judiciary was not impartial and was often subject to influence and corruption.

TRIAL PROCEDURES

The constitution provides for the right to a fair trial, but authorities did not always respect legal provisions that protect defendants’ rights. The law presumes defendants are innocent and have the right to be present and to consult with an attorney provided at public expense if necessary. Most trials are public, except when the judge determines the proceedings to be a threat to public order or “morals.” The July 2015 amendment of the penal code guarantees defendants the right to free interpretation as necessary. Defendants have the right to be present during their trial but may be tried in absentia if they do respond to a summons ordering their appearance.

Defendants may confront or question witnesses against them or present witnesses and evidence on their behalf. There were a few reports that courts occasionally denied defendants and their attorneys’ access to government-held evidence. Defendants have the right not to be compelled to testify or confess guilt, and they have the right to appeal. The testimony of men and women has equal weight under the law.

POLITICAL PRISONERS AND DETAINEES

International and local observers alleged that authorities used antiterrorism laws and restrictive laws on freedom of expression and public assembly to detain political activists and outspoken critics of the government.

In March 2015 the National Coordination of Families of Political Prisoners called for the release of 160 persons who had remained incarcerated since the 1990s. In April 2015 Prime Minister Abdelmalek Sellal stated the government held no political prisoners. He declared that courts convicted the detainees in question of violent crimes, making them ineligible for government pardons under the National Charter for Peace and Reconciliation. The government permitted the ICRC to visit detainees held for “security reasons.”

On March 7, a Tamanrasset court convicted Committee for the Defense of the Rights of Unemployed Workers activist Abdelali Ghellam to a year in prison following his December 2015 arrest on charges of taking part in an unauthorized gathering and obstructing traffic. AI reported that seven other men were also arrested in connection with the same protest and received one-year sentences and DZD 50,000 ($458) fines.

CIVIL JUDICIAL PROCEDURES AND REMEDIES

The judiciary was neither independent nor impartial in civil matters and lacked independence in some human rights cases. Family connections and status of the parties involved influenced decisions. Individuals may bring lawsuits, and administrative processes related to amnesty may provide damages to the victims or their families for human rights violations and compensation for alleged wrongs. Individuals may appeal adverse decisions to international human rights bodies, but their decisions would not have the force of law.

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

The constitution provides for the protection of a person’s “honor” and private life, including the privacy of home, communication, and correspondence, although government authorities infringed on citizens’ privacy rights. According to human rights activists, citizens widely believed the government conducted frequent electronic surveillance of a range of citizens, including political opponents, journalists, human rights groups, and suspected terrorists. Security officials reportedly searched homes without a warrant. Security forces conducted unannounced home visits.

The government established a new anticybercrime agency charged with coordinating anticybercrime efforts and engaging in preventive surveillance of electronic communications in the interests of national security. Falling under the purview of the Ministry of Justice, the agency has exclusive authority for monitoring all electronic surveillance activities, but the decree did not provide details regarding the limits of surveillance authority or corresponding protections for persons subject to surveillance. The Ministry of Justice said the agency was subject to all existing judicial controls that apply to law enforcement agencies.

Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:

a. Freedom of Speech and Press

The constitution provides for freedom of speech and press, and independent media outlets criticized government officials and policies, but the government restricted these rights. The government’s techniques included harassment of some critics; arbitrary enforcement of vaguely worded laws; informal pressure on publishers, editors, advertisers, and journalists; and control of a significant proportion of the country’s advertising money and printing capabilities. Some media figures alleged the government used its control over most printing houses and large amounts of public sector advertising preferentially, and that the lack of clear regulations over these practices permitted it to exert undue influence on press outlets.

Freedom of Speech and Expression: Individuals were limited in their ability to criticize the government publicly without reprisal. Authorities arrested and detained citizens for doing so, and citizens practiced self-restraint in expressing public criticism. The law criminalizing speech about the conduct of the security forces during the internal conflict of the 1990s remained in force, although there were no cases of arrest or prosecution under the law during the year. The law provides for up to three years’ imprisonment for tracts, bulletins, or flyers that “may harm the national interest” or up to one year for defaming or insulting the president, parliament, army, or state institutions. Government officials monitored political meetings. Authorities used laws against slander of public officials to restrict public discussion.

On August 3, the government published a law passed by parliament that broadens laws on defamation to cover the conduct of retired military officers. The law specifies that retired officers who engage in a “dereliction of duty that harms the honor and respect due to state institutions constitutes an outrage and defamation” and can result in legal action under applicable laws. The law further prohibits speech that damages “the authority and the public image of the military institution.”

In March a court in Tlemcen issued human rights activist Zoulikha Belarbi a DZD 100,000 ($916) fine for posting a photograph on Facebook that was deemed insulting to President Bouteflika. The offending post showed a retouched image of the president and other political figures that made them look like characters from a Turkish television show, according to Human Rights Watch (HRW).

Press and Media Freedoms: The National Agency for Publishing and Advertising (ANEP) controls public advertising for print media. According to the NGO Reporters without Borders, private advertising existed but frequently came from businesses with close links to the ruling political party. In September 2015 ANEP stated it represented only half of the total advertising market, while nongovernmental sources assessed the majority of daily newspapers depended on ANEP-authorized advertising to finance their operations. Minister of Communication Hamid Grine stated in February that ANEP’s budget had been cut by 50 percent. The government’s lack of transparency over its use of state-funded advertising permitted it to exert undue influence over print media.

Activists and journalists criticized the government for criminally prosecuting two KBC TV journalists, Mehdi Benaissa and Ryad Hartouf, for allegedly making false statements in their applications for filming permits and their alleged unauthorized use of a television studio. The studio had previously belonged to Al-Atlas TV, which authorities shut down in 2014. In addition to the arrests of Benaissa and Hartouf, authorities shut down two of KBC’s political satire programs, which were filmed in the studio in question. Benaissa and Hartouf’s suspended sentences were announced on July 18, shortly after a court on July 13 canceled the sale of KBC’s parent company, El Khabar Group, to a subsidiary of a company owned by businessman Issad Rebrab, who has been critical of the government. The Ministry of Communication, which had sued to cancel the transaction, said the ruling was based on the law’s prohibition on one person owning multiple news outlets.

In October 2015 Algiers police raided the headquarters of El-Watan El-Djazairya, a private, foreign-based television station broadcasting in the country, and closed down the station upon orders of the Algiers mayor. Minister of Communication Grine accused the television station of “harming a state symbol” during an interview it transmitted on October 3, 2015, with the former emir of the Islamic Salvation Army, Madani Mezrag. During the interview Mezrag indirectly threatened President Bouteflika after the president affirmed the government would not let Mezrag form a political party due to his connection to terrorist activities. In September, Djaafar Chelli, the former owner of El Watan El-Djazairya, received a DZD 10 million ($91,575) fine for broadcasting the interview with Mezrag.

Many civil society organizations, government opponents, and political parties, including legal Islamist parties, had access to independent print and broadcast media and used them to express their views. Opposition parties also disseminated information via the internet and published communiques but stated they did not have access to the national television and radio. Journalists from independent print and broadcast media expressed frustration over the near impossibility of receiving information from public officials. With the exception of several daily newspapers, the majority of print media outlets relied on the government for physical printing materials and operations.

In January a court reclassified a charge against journalist and LADDH board member Hassan Bouras, resulting in his release from El Bayadh prison after three months in custody. Prosecutors had charged Bouras in October 2015 with insulting a government body and inciting armed conflict against the state. As of November charges against Bouras had not been dropped, according to his lawyer. Separately, in November an El Bayadh court indicted Bouras for producing a video alleging that certain police officials and judges were involved in corruption. The court on November 28 convicted Bouras of complicity in offending a judicial officer, law enforcement officers, and a public body and of unlawfully practicing a profession regulated by law, sentencing him to one year in prison plus fines. Bouras’s appeal remained pending at year’s end.

Organizations wishing to initiate regular publications must obtain authorization from the government. The law requires the director of the publication to hold Algerian citizenship. The law additionally prohibits local periodicals from receiving direct or indirect material support from foreign sources. The CNCPPDH noted in its 2014 annual report that lack of a law controlling advertising was the largest hurdle to improving transparency of the distribution of public advertising (see also section 5). In May CNCPPDH president Farouk Ksentini said that depriving certain newspapers of public advertising revenue was “contrary to democracy and a violation of the constitution.”

In September the Ministry of Communication stated there were 332 accredited written publications, which included 149 daily newspapers, 47 weekly and 75 monthly magazines, and other specialized publications. Of the daily printed publications, the ministry stated six were state-operated.

The ministry’s Media Directorate is responsible for issuing and renewing accreditations to foreign media outlets operating in the country. Although this accreditation is required to operate legally, the vast majority of foreign media were not accredited. While the government tolerated their operations in the past, Minister Grine stated in April the number of private satellite channels that would receive frequencies would be limited to 13. He said in September that foreign-based unaccredited television outlets would be shut down. As of year’s end, however, the government had not shut down any such outlets. On June 20, the government instated the Audiovisual Regulatory Authority (ARAV), a nine-member body that regulates television and radio. In August ARAV published regulations that require the shareholders and managers of any radio or television channel to be Algerian citizens and prohibits them from broadcasting content that offends “values anchored in Algerian society.”

The ministry also issues and renews accreditation of foreign correspondents reporting in the country. According to the ministry, 13 accredited foreign press agencies reported during the year. In addition to five private domestic television channels, 12 foreign broadcasting channels and two foreign radio stations operated throughout the year.

The law mandates that online news outlets must inform the government of their activities but does not require them to request authorization to operate.

Violence and Harassment: News sources critical of the government reported instances of government harassment and intimidation due to their reporting. Government officials arrested and temporarily detained journalists.

On June 27, police arrested Mohamed Tamalt, a freelance journalist and blogger based in the United Kingdom. He was charged with insulting President Bouteflika on Facebook and sentenced to two years in prison and a DZD 200,000 ($1,832) fine. On December 11, Tamalt died following a prolonged hunger strike protesting his arrest and continued imprisonment.

On June 21, police officers encircled the new headquarters of the El Watan daily newspaper and ordered its staff to vacate the building. Local officials said the building did not conform to the construction permits granted by the government. As of September El Watan had not been permitted to take occupancy of the building.

Censorship or Content Restrictions: Some major news outlets faced direct and indirect retaliation for criticism of the government.

Some observers viewed the July conviction of two KBC TV journalists and the cancelation of the sale of KBC’s parent company, El Khabar Group, as motivated by the political views expressed in KBC’s programming and by the owner of the company that attempted to purchase El Khabar Group.

On May 3, Minister Grine called on private companies to cease advertising in three unnamed newspapers, widely assumed to be the El KhabarEl Watan, and Liberte newspapers, viewed as critical of the government. In an interview published online that day, the director general of El Khabar said Minister Grine’s opposition to El Khabar was based on the fact that it “does not follow the editorial line that he wishes.”

In a May 23 speech calling for unaccredited foreign satellite channels to be shut down, Prime Minister Sellal criticized channels that “use misleading advertising, violate private life, strike a blow to the dignity of persons, spread disinformation, and worse still, attack the cohesion of Algerian society through calls for hatred, regionalism, and chaos.”

Libel/Slander Laws: NGOs and observers criticized the law on defamation as vaguely drafted and the definitions therein as failing to comport with internationally recognized norms. The law defines defamation as “any allegation or imputation of a fact offending the honor or consideration of a person, or of the body to which the fact is imputed.” The law does not require that the fact alleged or imputed be false or that the statement be made with malicious intent to damage another individual’s reputation. Defamation is not a crime but carries a fine ranging from DZD 100,000 to DZD 500,000 ($916 to $4,579). The Ministry of Justice did not provide information on the percentage of defamation claims that originated from private citizens, as opposed to government officials.

The law criminalizes statements denigrating Islam or insulting the Prophet Mohammed or “messengers of God.” On June 14, the National Gendarmerie published a press release saying it had “dismantled an international criminal network of blasphemers and anti-Muslim proselytizers on the internet.” News reports appeared to reference the case when they reported the arrests of Rachid Fodil and one or two other men in M’Sila Province, but the status of charges against them was unclear as of September. On July 31, police in Setif arrested Slimane Bouhafs, a Christian convert, for posting statements on his Facebook page questioning the morals of the Prophet Mohammed. A court tried and convicted Bouhafs the same day and sentenced him on August 7 to five years in prison, plus a DZD 100,000 ($916) fine. On September 6, his sentence was reduced to three years in prison.

Mohamed Chergui, a journalist for the El-Djoumhouria newspaper, was sentenced to three years in prison and a DZD 200,000 ($1,832) fine in February 2015 for a column he wrote in 2014 that was deemed offensive to the Prophet Mohammed and Islam. In April an appeals court in Oran overturned his conviction and ordered his release.

INTERNET FREEDOM

The government impeded access to the internet and monitored certain e-mail and social media sites. On June 18, state-run media reported the government planned to block access to social media sites, including Facebook and Twitter, on June 19-23 during nationwide high school exams. The decision was in response to previous leaks of exam results, which were posted on social media earlier in the month. On June 19-20, internet users reported that access to not only social media, but nearly all websites, was blocked. While internet service returned on June 20, access to social media was not fully restored until June 24.

In January police arrested an activist for the unemployed, Belkacem Khencha, and in May he was sentenced to six months in prison for posting a video on Facebook criticizing the judicial system’s handling of arrests of fellow activists.

In a July statement, the human rights organization Collective of Families of the Disappeared said the government had blocked Radio of the Voiceless, the online radio station it launched in June, making it inaccessible to the public.

Internet users regularly exercised their right to free expression and association online, including through online forums, social media, and e-mail. Activists reported that some postings on social media could result in arrest and questioning; observers widely understood that the intelligence services closely monitored the activities of political and human rights activists on social media sites, including Facebook.

The law on cybercrime establishes procedures for using electronic data in prosecutions and outlines the responsibilities of service providers to cooperate with authorities. Under the law the government may conduct electronic surveillance operations to prevent offenses amounting to terrorist or subversive acts and infractions against state security, pursuant to written authorization from a competent judicial authority.

By law internet service providers face criminal penalties for the material and websites they host, especially if subject matters are “incompatible with morality or public opinion.” The Ministries of Justice, Interior, and Post, Information Technology, and Communication have oversight responsibilities. The law provides sentences of six months to five years in prison and fines between DZD 50,000 and DZD 500,000 ($458 and $4,579) for users who do not comply with the law, including the obligation to cooperate with law enforcement authorities against cybercrime.

In September the government estimated there were 18,583,427 internet users in the country in 2015. According to the International Telecommunication Union, 38.2 percent of the population used the internet in 2015.

ACADEMIC FREEDOM AND CULTURAL EVENTS

Academic seminars and colloquia occurred with limited governmental interference. The Ministry of Culture reviewed the content of films before they could be shown, as well as books before publication or importation. The Ministry of Religious Affairs did the same for religious publications.

b. Freedom of Peaceful Assembly and Association

Although the constitution provides for freedom of assembly and association, the government severely restricted the exercise of these rights.

FREEDOM OF PEACEFUL ASSEMBLY

The constitution provides for the right of assembly, but the government continued to curtail this right. A ban on demonstrations in Algiers remained in effect. Authorities utilized the ban to prohibit assembly within the city limits. Nationwide, the government required citizens and organizations to obtain permits from the government-appointed local governor before holding public meetings or demonstrations. The government restricted licenses to political parties, NGOs, and other groups to hold indoor rallies or delayed permission until the eve of the event, thereby impeding publicity and outreach efforts by organizers. Nonetheless, in many cases authorities allowed unauthorized protests to proceed while negotiations continued regarding the protesters’ demands or when government attempts to disperse protests potentially risked igniting violence.

On March 21, media outlets reported that police shoved and kicked protesters gathered in front of the Central Post Office in Algiers to demand permanent positions for teachers working on fixed-term contracts. Two women sought hospital treatment for injuries, according to HRW. On April 4, police stopped hundreds of protesting teachers in Boudouaou, preventing them from completing the final leg of a 140-mile march from Bejaia to Algiers. Protesters remained camped in Boudouaou until April 18, at which point police grabbed and shoved some protesters and loaded them onto buses.

Hotels in Algiers and other major cities continued their historic practice of refusing to sign rental contracts for meeting spaces with political parties, NGOs, and civil associations without a copy of a written authorization from the Ministry of Interior for the proposed gathering.

Throughout the year police dispersed unauthorized gatherings or prevented marching groups of protesters from demonstrating. Police typically dispersed protesters shortly after a protest began and arrested and detained organizers for a few hours. HRW, AI, and other NGOs criticized the government’s use of the law to restrict peaceful assembly.

In July police reportedly arrested more than 100 communal guards arriving in Algiers en route to a planned demonstration outside of parliament. In June authorities arrested several Movement for the Autonomy of Kabylie (MAK) activists who were preparing to hold an unauthorized meeting in Larbaa Nath Irathen to mark the 15th anniversary of a Berber-led protest in Algiers. Clashes ensued when area residents gathered in the town center to demand the activists’ release, resulting in injuries to police and some demonstrators, according to press reports. In February MAK president Bouaziz Ait Chebib stated to the El Watan newspaper that approximately 100 MAK activists had been briefly arrested in Tizi Ouzou to prevent their attendance at the MAK’s national assembly.

FREEDOM OF ASSOCIATION

The constitution provides for the right of association, but the government severely restricted this right.

The law’s extensive requirements and uneven enforcement served as major impediments to the development of civil society. The law grants the government wide-ranging oversight of and influence in the day-to-day activities of civil society organizations. It requires national-level civil organizations to apply to the Ministry of Interior for permission to operate. Once registered, organizations must inform the government of their activities, funding sources, and personnel, including notification of personnel changes. The law imposes an additional requirement that associations obtain government preapproval before accepting foreign funds. If organizations fail to provide required information to the government or attempt to operate with or accept foreign funds without authorization, they are subject to fines between DZD 2,000 and DZD 5,000 ($18 and $46) and up to six months’ imprisonment. The law prohibits formation of a political party with a religious platform, but observers stated they knew some political parties were Islamist.

According to the law, associations that apply for accreditation as required by law are entitled to receive a response regarding their application within two months for national organizations, 45 days for interregional-level associations, 40 days for province-level associations, and 30 days for communal organizations. While the Ministry of Interior oversees the accreditation process for most associations, the president of a local assembly approves applications for communal associations.

The Ministry of Interior may deny a license to or dissolve any group regarded as a threat to the government’s authority or to public order, and on several occasions failed to grant in an expeditious fashion official recognition to NGOs, associations, religious groups, and political parties. According to the Ministry of Interior, organizations receive a deposit slip after submitting their application for accreditation, and after the time periods listed above, this slip is legally sufficient for them to begin operating, to open a bank account, and to rent office or event space. The law does not explicitly include this provision, however. If the application is approved, the Ministry of Interior issues a final accreditation document.

Many organizations reported that they never received a deposit slip and that even with the deposit slip it was difficult to conduct necessary administrative tasks without the formal accreditation. Other organizations reported that they never received any written response to their application request. The ministry maintained that organizations refused accreditation or that did not receive a response within the specified time periods were able to submit an appeal to the State Council, the administrative court responsible for cases involving the government.

During the year the Youth Action Movement, a civil society youth organization, was again unsuccessful in renewing its license despite submitting all documentation required by the Ministry of Interior. The ministry also did not renew the accreditations of the NGOs SOS Disparu (Missing) and LADDH, which submitted their renewal applications in 2013. According to members of the National Association for the Fight Against Corruption, the Ministry of Interior refused to approve the organization’s request for accreditation, stating that the application did comply with the law on associations but did not provide any further information. The organization first submitted its application for accreditation in 2012.

The government issued licenses and subsidies to domestic associations, especially youth, medical, and neighborhood associations. According to the Ministry of Interior, there were 108,940 local and 1,293 national associations registered. A 2015 study conducted by several prominent domestic civil society organizations found, however, that nearly two-thirds of the approximately 93,000 associations registered with the government when the law on associations went into force in 2012 were either inactive or no longer operating. Unlicensed NGOs did not receive government assistance, and citizens at times hesitated to associate with these organizations.

c. Freedom of Religion

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

d. Freedom of Movement, Internally Displaced Persons, Protection of Refugees, and Stateless Persons

The constitution provides for freedom of internal movement, foreign travel, emigration, and repatriation, but the government restricted the exercise of this right.

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

In-country Movement: The government maintained restrictions for security reasons on travel into the southern locales of El-Oued and Illizi, near hydrocarbon industry installations and the Libyan border, respectively. Citing the threat of terrorism, the government also prevented overland tourist travel between the southern cities of Tamanrasset, Djanet, and Illizi. Newspapers reported that the government restricted foreign tourists from traveling through trails in Tassili and Hoggar, as well as certain areas in and around Tamanrasset, due to security concerns. Civil society organizations reported that the authorities prevented sub-Saharan migrants in the areas around Tamanrasset from traveling north toward coastal population centers.

Foreign Travel: The law does not permit those under age 18 to travel abroad without a guardian’s permission. Married women under 18 may not travel abroad without permission from their husbands, but married women over 18 may do so. The government did not permit young men eligible for the draft, who had not completed their military service, to leave the country without special authorization, although the government granted such authorization to students and persons with special family circumstances. The Ministry of Interior affirmed that in 2014 the government ended its requirement for background checks on passport applicants.

PROTECTION OF REFUGEES

The government provided protection to an estimated 90,000 to 165,000 Sahrawi refugees who departed Western Sahara after Morocco took control of the territory in the 1970s. UNHCR, the World Food Program (WFP), the Algerian Red Crescent, the Sahrawi Red Crescent, and other organizations also assisted Sahrawi refugees. Neither the government nor the refugee leadership allowed UNHCR to conduct registration or complete a census of the Sahrawi refugees. In the absence of formal registration, UNHCR and the WFP based humanitarian assistance on a planning figure of 90,000 refugees with an additional 35,000 supplementary food rations.

Access to Asylum: While the law provides generally for asylum or refugee status, the government has not established a formal system through which refugees can request asylum. There were no reports that the government granted refugee status and asylum to new refugee applicants during the year. According to UNHCR, the government did not accept UNHCR-determined refugee status for individuals. UNHCR offices in Algiers reported an estimated 200 to 300 asylum requests per month, mostly from Syrian, Palestinian, and sub-Saharan African individuals coming from Mali, Guinea, Central African Republic, Cote d’Ivoire, and the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC). Those determined by UNHCR to have valid refugee claims were primarily from the DRC, Cote d’Ivoire, Iraq, and the Central African Republic. There was no evidence of any pattern of discrimination toward asylum applicants, but the lack of a formal asylum system made this difficult to assess.

As of September 2015 the Ministry of National Solidarity, Family, and the Status of Women reported that since the start of the conflict in Syria, it accepted more than 24,000 Syrian refugees. Other organizations estimated the number to be closer to 43,000 Syrians. Starting in January 2015 the government instituted visa requirements for Syrians entering the country. Since 2012 UNHCR registered more than 6,000 Syrians, but only approximately 5,000 remained registered with UNHCR as of September. The Algerian Red Crescent, which is subordinate to the Ministry of Solidarity, maintained “welcome facilities” that provided food and shelter for those Syrians without means to support themselves. The facilities were located at a summer camp in the seaside area of Algiers known as Sidi Fredj. The government did not grant UNHCR access to these reception centers but reported that by 2016 most Syrians no longer used the centers.

Since the outbreak of violence in northern Mali in 2012, international observers reported an influx of individuals into Algeria across the Malian border inconsistent with traditional migratory movements.

The Ministry of Interior estimated in August that there were 21,073 illegal migrants residing in the country, while other sources assessed there were 30,000 in Tamanrasset alone and as many as 100,000 in the country. As of July the Algerian Red Crescent had closed all four of the refugee camps it had been managing, including its camp housing 600 migrants, mostly from Mali, near the southern city of Bordj Badj Mokhtar.

Refoulement: The government provided some protection against the expulsion or return of refugees to countries where their lives or freedom would be threatened because of their race, religion, nationality, membership in a particular social group, or political opinion. In early December, however, the government gathered an estimated 1,400 sub-Saharan migrants in communities outside of Algiers and removed nearly 1,000 of them to Niger. The president of the Algerian Red Crescent said all returns were voluntary, adding that some migrants were permitted to remain in Tamanrasset. The removals followed a period of several years in which the government had largely refrained from deporting sub-Saharan migrants due to security concerns and the instability in northern Mali.

The government, led by the Algerian Red Crescent, repatriated a total of more than 17,000 Nigerien migrants to their country at the request of the government of Niger since 2014, in several repatriation operations. Various international humanitarian organizations and observers criticized the operations, citing unacceptable conditions of transport, primarily on the Niger side of the border, and what they described as a lack of coordination between the Algerian Red Crescent and the government and Red Cross of Niger. Observers also questioned whether all of the migrants were voluntarily repatriated. In August the government arranged the repatriation of approximately 500 Malians per a request from the Malian consulate in Tamanrasset.

Employment: UNHCR provided registered refugees with modest food assistance and lodging support. Because the government does not formally allow refugee employment, many worked in the informal market and were at risk of labor exploitation due to their lack of legal status in the country. Other migrants, asylum seekers, and Malians and Syrians who had a “special status” with the government, relied largely on remittances from family, the support of local family and acquaintances, and assistance from the Algerian Red Crescent and international aid organizations.

Access to Basic Services: Sahrawi refugees lived predominantly in five camps near the city of Tindouf, administered by the Popular Front for the Liberation of the Saguia el Harma and Rio de Oro (Polisario). The Polisario (through the Sahrawi Red Crescent Society), UNHCR, WFP, the UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF), and partner NGOs largely provided basic services including food aid, primary health care, and primary and secondary education, while the government invested heavily in developing the camps’ infrastructure and also provided free secondary and university educations, as well as advanced hospital care, to Sahrawi refugees. The remote location of the camps and lack of government presence resulted in a lack of access by police and courts. Other refugees, asylum seekers, and migrants had access to free public hospitals, but independent NGOs reported instances of migrants turned away.

In August 2015 the Ministry of Education instructed all school administrators to allow migrant and refugee children to enroll in primary school through high school and require only that they present their passport and documentation showing their level of schooling from their home country. International organizations reported the children had trouble in their attempts to integrate into the educational system but that migrants’ access to education was improving, particularly in the north of the country. These organizations reported that migrant parents were often reluctant to enroll their children in Algerian schools.

Durable Solutions: The government did not accept refugees from foreign countries for resettlement. The Sahrawi refugees had not sought local integration or naturalization during their 40-year stay in the refugee camps near Tindouf, and their ruling party, the Polisario, continued to call for a referendum on independence in Western Sahara.

Temporary Protection: The law does not address formal temporary protection, but authorities provided informal, temporary protection to groups such as Syrians and Malians.

Section 3. Freedom to Participate in the Political Process

The constitution provides citizens the ability to choose their government in free and fair periodic elections held by secret ballot and based on universal and equal suffrage. Restrictions on freedom of assembly and association as well as restrictions on political party activities greatly inhibited the activity of opposition groups.

Elections and Political Participation

The law states that members of local, provincial, and national assemblies are elected for five-year mandates and that presidential elections occur within 30 days prior to the expiration of the presidential mandate. Presidential term limits, which were eliminated in 2008, were reintroduced in a 2016 revision of the constitution and limit the president to two terms. The Ministry of Interior maintains oversight of the election and voting processes. Legislation passed by parliament in July established an independent electoral monitoring body. The president appointed the head of the monitoring body on November 6, but as of November the other members had not been appointed.

Recent Elections: Presidential elections took place in April 2014, and voters re-elected President Bouteflika for a fourth term. Although he did not personally campaign, Bouteflika won approximately 81 percent of the votes, while his main rival and former prime minister, Ali Benflis, placed second with slightly more than 12 percent.

Several hundred international election observers from the United Nations, Arab League, African Union, and Organization of Islamic Cooperation monitored voting. Foreign observers characterized the elections as largely peaceful but pointed to low voter turnout and a high rate of ballot invalidity. El Watan, an opposition-leaning daily newspaper, reported that almost 10 percent of ballots cast were invalid. The Ministry of Interior did not provide domestic or foreign observers with voter registration lists. The president of the Constitutional Council, Mourad Medelci, announced voter participation in the elections was just under 51 percent, a sharp drop from the slightly more than 74 percent turnout during the previous presidential election in 2009.

Ali Benflis rejected the results and claimed that fraud marred the elections. He appealed to the Constitutional Council without result. A coalition of Islamic and secular opposition parties boycotted the election, describing it as a masquerade and asserting that President Bouteflika was unfit to run due to his health. Several candidates withdrew from the race, claiming that the outcome was a foregone conclusion.

Elections for the lower chamber of parliament were held in 2012 and did not result in significant changes in the composition of the government. The government allowed international observation of the elections but did not permit local civil society organizations to do the same. Several opposition parties subsequently boycotted the opening session of parliament, alleging fraud during the elections.

Political Parties and Political Participation: The Ministry of Interior must approve political parties before they may operate legally.

The government maintained undue media influence and opposition political parties claimed they did not have access to public television and radio. Security forces dispersed political opposition rallies and interfered with the right to organize.

Pursuant to the constitution, all parties must have a “national base.” Under the previous electoral law, a party must have received 4 percent of the vote or at least 2,000 votes in 25 provinces in one of the last three legislative elections to participate in national elections, making it very difficult to create new political parties. The new electoral law adopted by parliament in July requires parties to have received 4 percent of the vote in the preceding election or to collect 250 signatures in the electoral district in order to appear on the ballot. Opposition parties from across the political spectrum criticized the new law for creating a more stringent qualification threshold for parties, as well as for establishing an electoral monitoring body whose members would be appointed by the president and parliament, which is controlled by a coalition headed by the president’s party.

The law prohibits parties based on religion, ethnicity, gender, language, or region, but there were various political parties commonly known to be Islamist, notably members of the Green Alliance. According to the Ministry of Interior, in August there were 71 registered political parties.

The law does not place significant restrictions on voter registration, but implementation of voter registration and identification laws proved inconsistent and confusing during past elections.

Membership in the Islamic Salvation Front, a political party banned since 1992, remained illegal. The law also bans political party ties to nonpolitical associations and regulates party financing and reporting requirements. According to the law, political parties may not receive direct or indirect financial or material support from any foreign parties. The law also stipulates the collection of resources from contributions by the party’s members, donations, and revenue from its activities, in addition to possible state funding.

As of September parliamentarian and founder of the Democratic and Social Union (UDS) party, Karim Tabbou, awaited authorization from the Ministry of Interior to hold his party’s congress. Originally scheduled in 2014, the UDS could not hold its congress because the party had not received the authorization for its required regional congresses.

In August a local government official in Tamanrasset sent the Rally for Culture and Democracy (RCD) political party a letter stating it may decline to authorize future RCD meetings after a gathering of RCD youth members turned disorderly. The party denied the allegation of disorderliness, asserting instead that security personnel were displeased because of the presence of an Amazigh flag beside the Algerian national flag and because organizers removed a portrait of President Bouteflika from the meeting hall.

On July 16 and September 17, the media reported that police prevented members of the ruling National Liberation Front (FLN) party, including members of parliament, from gathering. On both occasions party members who opposed the party’s secretary general planned to meet at the home of Senator Boualam Djaafar. The online news site Tout sur L’Algerie reported that Abderrahmane Belayat, a former minister and FLN secretary general who was a member of the group, said the intelligence services regularly monitored the group’s meetings.

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

Andorra

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

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

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

b. Disappearance

There were no reports of politically motivated disappearances.

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

The constitution and law prohibit such practices, and there were no reports that government officials employed them.

Prison and Detention Center Conditions

There were no significant reports regarding prison or detention center conditions that raised human rights concerns.

Physical Conditions: There were no reports of deaths in prison or in the pretrial detention center.

Independent Monitoring: The government permitted visits by independent human rights observers.

Improvements: As of May inmates had internet access, which allowed them to communicate with their families periodically. Inmates could also register to study online courses.

d. Arbitrary Arrest or Detention

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

ROLE OF THE POLICE AND SECURITY APPARATUS

The country’s only security forces are the police, prison officers, traffic police, and forestry officials. The Ministry of Social Affairs, Justice, and Interior maintained effective civilian control over the security forces, and the government has effective mechanisms to investigate and punish abuse and corruption. There were no reports of impunity involving security forces during the year.

ARREST PROCEDURES AND TREATMENT OF DETAINEES

The law requires warrants for arrest. Police legally may detain persons for 48 hours without a hearing, and police generally observed this time limit. The judge has up to 24 hours to charge the detainee with a crime or to release him or her. Police promptly informed detainees of charges against them. A bail system exists. The law provides detainees the right to legal counsel from the moment of arrest. Persons charged with a crime may choose their own lawyers or accept one designated by the government. Detainees generally had prompt access to family members.

Detainee’s Ability to Challenge Lawfulness of Detention before a Court: Persons arrested and detained are entitled to challenge in court the legal basis or arbitrary nature of their detention and to obtain prompt release and compensation if found to have been unlawfully detained. They may also seek to appeal to the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR).

e. Denial of Fair Public Trial

The constitution and law provide for an independent judiciary, and the government generally respected judicial independence.

TRIAL PROCEDURES

The constitution and law provide for the right to a fair public trial, and an independent judiciary generally enforced this right. Defendants enjoy a presumption of innocence and receive prompt, detailed notification of the charges against them. The government provides an interpreter, if needed, from the moment charged through all appeals. Trials are fair and public and for the most part without delay. Defendants have the right to be present and consult in a timely manner with an attorney of their choice. If a defendant cannot afford an attorney, the government must appoint a public attorney. Defendants and their attorneys have adequate time and facilities to prepare a defense. Defendants and attorneys have access to government-held evidence in their cases. Defendants can confront or question witnesses against them and present witnesses and evidence on their behalf. Defendants cannot be compelled to testify or confess guilt, and they have the right to appeal. The law extends the above rights to all defendants.

POLITICAL PRISONERS AND DETAINEES

There were no reports of political prisoners or detainees.

CIVIL JUDICIAL PROCEDURES AND REMEDIES

The judiciary is independent and impartial in all jurisdictions, including civil matters. Plaintiffs may bring lawsuits seeking damages for, or cessation of, a human rights violation. Individuals and organizations may appeal adverse domestic decisions to the ECHR. The national ombudsman also serves to protect and defend basic rights and public freedom on behalf of citizens.

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

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

Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:

a. Freedom of Speech and Press

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

Actions to Expand Press Freedom: In February the Barcelona hate crimes prosecutor gave the first-ever training on hate crimes and discrimination to Andorran judges, prosecutors, and attorneys. In July the Andorran prosecutor’s office delivered a similar training to justice staff members.

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, 38 percent of the population had a fixed broadband subscription to the internet, and 97 percent of the population used the internet in 2015.

ACADEMIC FREEDOM AND CULTURAL EVENTS

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

b. Freedom of Peaceful Assembly and Association

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

c. Freedom of Religion

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

d. Freedom of Movement, Internally Displaced Persons, Protection of Refugees, and Stateless Persons

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

The country has cooperated with the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees and other international refugee relief organizations.

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 refugees, preferring to deal with them on an ad hoc basis. There is a lack of domestic legislation on asylum seekers and refugees, and in particular on measures to protect unaccompanied and refugee children. According to the Ministry of Social Affairs, Justice, and Interior, no requests were received during the year.

Section 3. Freedom to Participate in the Political Process

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

Elections and Political Participation

Recent Elections: Observers considered parliamentary elections held in March 2015 to be free and fair.

Participation of Women and Minorities: No laws limit the participation of women in the political process, and they did participate. Citizens were ethnically and linguistically homogeneous but as of 2015 represented only 46 percent of the country’s population. The majority of the population consisted of immigrants, largely from Spain, Portugal, and France. The law requires 15 to 20 years of residency for naturalization. Because only citizens have the right to hold official positions, there were no members of minorities in government.

Angola

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

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

In carrying out law enforcement activities, the government or its agents used excessive and sometimes deadly force.

For example, on August 6, security force members reportedly shot and killed a 14-year-old boy, Rufino Antonio, after they demolished his family’s and other allegedly illegally built homes in a suburban Luanda zone, according to media sources and several NGOs (see section 1.e.). The government and the national ombudsman launched separate investigations into the shooting death, both of which remained ongoing at year’s end.

On April 5, the Huambo provincial court sentenced Jose Kalupeteka, the leader of the Light of the World religious sect, to 28 years in prison for the 2015 clashes between members of his group and police that left 13 civilians and nine police officers dead, according to official figures, although opposition parties continued to allege a higher casualty rate. On August 9, new clashes between police and Light of the World followers in Kwanza Sul Province reportedly resulted in the deaths of five church members and three police officers, and a similar confrontation on August 13 resulted in an unknown number of casualties. The government stated the Attorney General’s Office (PGR) was investigating.

On August 21, media reported that an officer of Alfa 5 Security Services, a private security company affiliated with the government’s diamond enterprise, Endiama, allegedly killed 17-year-old Gabriel Mufugueno, in Lucapa, Lunda Norte Province. According to a relative of the victim, police detained the Alfa 5 officer allegedly responsible for the shooting. The incident elicited protests from artisanal miners in the area.

b. Disappearance

There were no reports of politically motivated disappearances.

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

The constitution and law prohibit all forms of torture and cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment or punishment, but the government did not always enforce these prohibitions. Periodic reports of beatings and other abuses of persons on the way to and in police stations during interrogations continued. The government acknowledged that at times members of the security forces used excessive force when apprehending individuals. Police authorities openly condemned some acts of violence or excessive force against individuals and asked that victims report abuses to the national police or the Office of the Public Defender (Ombudsman).

On September 1, Jose Padrao Loureiro, suspected of belonging to a gang, was beaten and killed by police inside Rangel Police Station, following his arrest on August 31, according to press reports. During the one-day detention, Loureiro was allegedly tortured and killed. National Police Spokesperson Mateus Rodrigues said an autopsy revealed the victim was severely beaten. Authorities opened an investigation on September 5 and detained five police officers.

Security forces reacted harshly and sometimes violently to public demonstrations against the government. Several media and NGO accounts reported police around the country, in particular in the provinces of Luanda, Malanje, Benguela, and the city of Lobito, beat protesters. The visible presence of security forces was enough to deter significantly what were deemed by the government to be unlawful demonstrations. Authorities claimed known agitators who sought only to create social instability organized many of the public demonstrations.

The media reported that, on August 20, during a protest in Luanda calling for the resignation of President dos Santos and for the release of activist Dago Nivel, police allegedly beat several protesters and used the police canine brigade to disrupt the protest; dogs wounded three protesters. The media provided photographs of the incident, including of men with visible bite wounds. Police reportedly later drove a group of protesters, including the men wounded by the canine brigade, to the outskirts of the city and left them there. The General Command of the National Police denied any knowledge of the case.

There were reports of abuses by private security companies in diamond producing regions.

For example, on April 21, in the Cafunfo diamond area, in Lunda-Norte province, private security guards working for a private company allegedly severely beat 10 artisanal miners with machetes, according to a media report that included a video of the incident.

Prison and Detention Center Conditions

Prison and detention center conditions were harsh and potentially life threatening. Domestic NGOs, activists, and the media continued to highlight corruption, violence, overcrowding, a lack of medical care, and generally poor conditions.

Physical Conditions: In April Antonio Fortunato, director general of penitentiary services, acknowledged overcrowding in prisons was a serious problem.

Authorities frequently held pretrial detainees with sentenced inmates, and short-term detainees with those serving long-term sentences for violent crimes, especially in provincial prisons.

Prison conditions varied widely between urban and rural areas. Prisons in rural areas were less crowded and reportedly had better rehabilitation, training, and reintegration services. Prisons did not always provide adequate medical care, sanitation, potable water, or food, and it was customary for families to bring food to prisoners. Local NGOs stated prison services were insufficient. In 2015 Fortunato acknowledged that approximately five prisoners died each month in the country’s prisons from diseases such as HIV/AIDS, malaria, and tuberculosis.

In April, Fortunato acknowledged that Viana Jail (on the outskirts of Luanda) lacked adequate potable water and food for inmates. On September 14, activist Nuno Dala published photos allegedly taken inside Viana Jail depicting severely overcrowded conditions and several inmates suffering from malnutrition and tuberculosis due to a lack of food and potable water. On September 16, the newspaper Novo Jornal published a report on the allegedly deplorable conditions; the report included photographs of prisoners who appeared to be malnourished. Novo Jornal also reported that the Rapid Intervention Police (PIR) and the Special Prison Services Detachment (DESP) tortured one of the prisoners allegedly for his role in sharing photos with persons outside the jail. Observers generally regard the newspaper as credible; however, its reporting on conditions inside Viana Jail could not be independently verified.

According to a press report, female inmates accused two officials from the Human Resources and Penal Control Units of the Kwanza Sul Jail of coercing them to have sex in order to be released from prison under the new Amnesty Law. Authorities launched an investigation, and on September 26, the PGR announced the investigation concluded the claims of sexual abuse were false and there were no irregularities in the prison’s inmate release procedures.

Administration: The Ministry of Interior claimed that adequate statistics were available in each facility and that authorities were able to locate every prisoner.

The government investigated and monitored prison and detention center conditions. There was no prison ombudsperson.

Some offenders, including violent offenders, reported paying fines and bribes to secure their freedom but it was unclear how prevalent this practice was.

Independent Monitoring: The government permitted visits to prisons by independent local and international human rights observers and foreign diplomats. For example, the government permitted foreign diplomats to visit the “15 + 2” activists during their imprisonment (section 1.d.). Nevertheless, civil society organizations faced difficulties in contacting detainees, and prison authorities undermined civil society work in the prisons.

Members of opposition parties visited prisons around the country on a regular basis and reported uneven improvements in living conditions and rehabilitation programs. A local NGO that provides pro bono legal services to inmates said prison officials were trying to improve conditions but overcrowding limited results. According to the Ministry of Justice and Human Rights, the ministry made monthly visits to detention centers with representatives of the Office of the Public Defender, the PGR, and members of the National Assembly to assess prisoners’ living conditions.

d. Arbitrary Arrest or Detention

The law prohibits arbitrary arrest and detention; however, security forces did not always respect these prohibitions.

According to several NGO and civil society sources, police arbitrarily arrested individuals without due process and routinely detained persons who participated, or were about to participate, in antigovernment protests, despite this right being protected by the constitution. They often released the detainees after a few hours. For example, on August 21, in Lobito, police beat and arrested activists Paulo Vinte-Cinco and Francisco Catraio of the Revolutionary Movement while they participated in a weekly meeting with other youth to discuss politics. More than 20 police officers broke up the meeting and dispersed the participants. Police released the two activists the next day.

ROLE OF THE POLICE AND SECURITY APPARATUS

The national police, controlled by the Ministry of Interior, are responsible for internal security and law enforcement. The Expatriate and Migration Services (SME), also in the Ministry of Interior, is responsible for migration law enforcement. The state intelligence and security service reports to the presidency and investigates sensitive state security matters. The Angolan Armed Forces (FAA) are responsible for external security but also had domestic security responsibilities, including border security, expulsion of irregular migrants, and small-scale actions against Front for the Liberation of the Enclave of Cabinda separatists in Cabinda.

Civilian authorities maintained effective control over the FAA and the national police, and the government has mechanisms to investigate and punish abuse and corruption. The security forces generally were effective, although sometimes brutal, at maintaining stability. The national police and FAA have internal mechanisms to investigate security force abuses, and the government provided some training to reform the security forces. Impunity for security force abuses remained a problem, however.

Local population generally welcomed police presence in neighborhoods and on streets as enhancing general safety and security. Police officers, however, were believed routinely to extort civilians to supplement their income. Corruption and impunity remained serious problems. The national police handled most complaints internally through opaque disciplinary procedures, which sometimes led to formal punishment including dismissal. The national police participated in a television series designed to show a gamut of interactions between police and civilians. The goal of the show was to encourage the population to collaborate with police while discouraging security force members’ procurement of bribes or their payment. The PGR has an anticorruption unit, charged with oversight of police wrongdoing. The government disclosed publicly the results of some investigations that led to disciplinary action. On September 17, authorities terminated two police officers for extorting money from drivers during traffic stops, according to a press report. On September 13, the government announced the deployment of 400 newly trained police officers as part of an effort to eliminate corruption from the police force.

Police participated in professional training with law enforcement officials from several countries in the region.

ARREST PROCEDURES AND TREATMENT OF DETAINEES

In December 2015 a new law on pretrial procedures (Law 25/15) entered into force.

The law requires a magistrate or judge to issue a warrant before an arrest may be made, although a person caught committing an offense may be arrested immediately without a warrant. Authorities, however, did not always procure warrants before making an arrest.

By law the public prosecutor must inform the detainee of the legal basis for his or her detention within 48 hours; however, NGO sources reported authorities often did not respect this requirement. If the public prosecutor is unable to determine whether there is a legal basis for the detention within 48 hours, the prosecutor has the authority to release the person or, depending on the seriousness of the case, require the person to submit to one or more pretrial procedures prescribed by law such as posting bail, periodic appearance before authorities, or house arrest.

If the public prosecutor determines a legal basis exists for the detention, a person can be held in pretrial detention for up to four months without charge and up to 12 months before a judge is required to rule on the case. Cases of special complexity regarding crimes punishable by eight or more years allow for pretrial detention without charge for up to six months and up to 14 months before a judge is required to rule on the case. Under the law, the period of pretrial detention counts toward the total amount of time served.

The law states that all detainees have the right to a lawyer, either chosen by them or appointed by the government on a pro-bono basis. The lack of lawyers in certain provinces at times impeded this right. On September 24, the head of the Angolan Bar Association (ABA) stated there were 1,700 lawyers in the country, an insufficient number to handle the volume of criminal cases, and the geographical distribution of lawyers throughout the country was a problem, as most lawyers were concentrated in Luanda. In 2015 the Ministry of Justice and Human Rights reported that all municipal courts were staffed with licensed lawyers, but at the same time recognized access to a lawyer, especially in the provinces and in rural areas, remained a problem. Several lawyers and NGOs noted that even in Luanda most poor defendants do not have access to lawyers during their first appearance before a judicial authority or during their trial.

The law allows family members prompt access to detainees, but prison officials occasionally ignored this right or made it conditional upon payment of a bribe. The law requires detainees be held incommunicado for up to 48 hours until being presented to a public prosecutor, except they may communicate with their lawyer or a family member.

A functioning but ineffective bail system, widely used for minor crimes, existed. Prisoners and their families reported that prison officials demanded bribes to release prisoners.

Arbitrary Arrest: Unlawful arrest and detention remained serious problems. According to the PGR, allegations of government wrongdoing on arrest practices made by local and international NGOs were due to a lack of understanding of national laws.

Pretrial Detention: Excessively long pretrial detention continued to be a serious problem. An inadequate number of judges and poor communication among authorities contributed to the problem. In some cases, authorities held inmates in prison for up to two years before their trials began. The Ministry of Interior reported during the year that 11,000 inmates were pretrial detainees, approximately 45 percent of the total inmate population. The government often did not release detainees confined beyond the legal time limit, claiming previous releases of pretrial detainees had resulted in an increase in crime.

Detainees’ Ability to Challenge Lawfulness of Detention before a Court: The constitution provides the right of habeas corpus to citizens to challenge their detention before a court. On June 29, the Supreme Court granted the group of activists known as the “15+2” a writ of habeas corpus, ruling that following their March conviction and sentencing to between two and eight years in prison by the Luanda Provincial Court the appeal lodged by their lawyers had a suspensive effect and required their release pending the outcome of their appeal. Judge Domingos Januario, the judge of first instance for the Luanda Provincial Court, was later accused of concealing the activists’ petition for habeas corpus from the Supreme Court. The attorney general launched an investigation of the judge’s handling of the case, which remained ongoing as of September.

The case against the “15+2” began in June 2015 in Luanda, when 15 activists were arrested by security forces during a book discussion. In September 2015, after 102 days of pretrial detention, they and two other individuals were charged with engaging in “preparatory acts to incite rebellion and for planning the overthrow of the president and other institutions of the state.” The activists are collectively referred to as the “15+2.” The Ministry of Justice and Human Rights and the PGR claimed the legal process to detain and charge the activists had been conducted within the law.

Amnesty: On July 20, the National Assembly passed the Amnesty Law (11/16), providing a general amnesty to criminals convicted prior to November 11, 2015, of nonviolent crimes whose sentences were 12 or fewer years in prison. Government representatives stated that the law, proposed by the president in honor of the country’s fortieth anniversary of independence in 2015, was also intended to ease overcrowding in prisons. As of September 23, more than 2,500 prisoners were released under the new law.

e. Denial of Fair Public Trial

The constitution and law provide for an independent and impartial judiciary. Institutional weaknesses in the judicial system, however, such as political influence in the decision-making process, were problems. The Ministry of Justice and Human Rights and the PGR worked to improve the independence of prosecutors and judges. The National Institute for Judicial Studies conducted capacity-building programs on the importance of an independent judicial system.

There were long trial delays at the Supreme Court. Criminal courts also had a large backlog of cases, which resulted in major delays in hearings. There were only 22 municipal courts for 163 municipalities. To increase access to justice, the PGR in 2014 established offices of legal counsel in most municipalities.

Informal courts remained the principal institutions through which citizens resolved civil conflicts in rural areas, such as disputes over a bartering deal. Each community in which informal courts were located established local rules, creating disparities in how similar cases were resolved from one community to the next. Traditional leaders (known as “sobas”) also heard and decided local civil cases. Sobas do not have the authority to resolve criminal cases; only courts can hear criminal cases.

Both the national police and the FAA have internal court systems that generally remained closed to outside scrutiny. Although members of these organizations can be tried under their internal regulations, cases that include violations of criminal or civil laws can also fall under the jurisdiction of provincial courts. Both the PGR and the Ministry of Justice and Human Rights have civilian oversight responsibilities over military courts.

In November 2015 the judge presiding over the case of the “15+2” activists charged with “preparatory acts to incite rebellion and for planning the overthrow of the president and other institutions of the state” ordered closure of the public trial to independent observers such as members of the diplomatic corps and local NGOs due to the high level of interest in the proceedings and space constraints. Attendance by the public was limited to two family members per defendant. He made special accommodations for reporters to follow the trial in a separate room via closed circuit television. Independent observers were present in other high-profile and sensitive trials such as the 2015 libel and defamation case of Rafael Marques and the 2015 rebellion case against Marcos Mavungo.

TRIAL PROCEDURES

Although the law provides all citizens the right to a fair trial, authorities did not always respect this right. Defendants enjoy the right to a presumption of innocence until proven guilty. Authorities must inform defendants of the charges levied against them in detail within 48 hours of their detention. Defendants have the right to free language interpretation during all legal proceedings from the moment charged through all appeals. By law trials are usually public, although each court has the right to close proceedings. Defendants have the right to be present and consult with an attorney, either chosen by them or appointed by the state, in a timely manner. According to the Ministry of Justice and Human Rights, all public defenders are licensed lawyers. Defendants do not have the right to confront their accusers. They may question witnesses against them and present witnesses and evidence on their own behalf. Defendants have the right to sufficient time and facilities to prepare a defense. The law protects defendants from providing self-incriminating testimony. Individuals have the right to appeal their convictions. Authorities did not always respect these trial procedure rights.

Defendants and their attorneys have the right to access government-held evidence relevant to their cases, but authorities did not always uphold this right. For example, in March 2015 political activist Marcos Mavungo was arrested on suspicion of plotting an act of violence against the provincial government of Cabinda. In September 2015, more than 200 days after his arrest, Mavungo was convicted of charges of rebellion against the state and sentenced to six years in prison. His lawyers complained publicly they did not have access to the evidence the government claimed it had to prove guilt; however, the Ministry of Justice and Human Rights and the PGR stated that Mavungo’s case was conducted within appropriate parameters for a case involving national security and that the sentence reflected the seriousness of the crime. Mavungo appealed his sentence. On May 20, the Supreme Court ruled in his favor, acquitting the activist of the charge of rebellion against the state. The Supreme Court cited in its ruling a lack of sufficient evidence to uphold the charge.

A separate juvenile court is designated for children’s affairs. The juvenile court hears cases of minors between the ages of 12 and 16 accused of committing a criminal offense. Minors over age 16 accused of committing a criminal offense are tried in regular courts. In many rural municipalities, there is no provision for juvenile courts, so offenders as young as 12 can be tried as adults. In many cases traditional leaders have state authority to resolve disputes and determine punishments for civil offenses, including offenses committed by juveniles. Traditional authorities are defined in the constitution as ad hoc units of the state.

The president appoints Supreme Court justices for life terms without confirmation by the National Assembly. The Supreme Court generally hears cases concerning alleged political and security crimes.

POLITICAL PRISONERS AND DETAINEES

The Ministry of Justice and Human Rights denied there were political prisoners in the country. Opposition political parties, however, often claimed their members were detained because of their political affiliations. Media reports of opposition parties’ members being harassed and detained for up to 48 hours were common but difficult to confirm.

CIVIL JUDICIAL PROCEDURES AND REMEDIES

Damages for human rights violations may be sought in municipal or provincial courts and appealed to the Supreme Court.

PROPERTY RESTITUTION

The constitution recognizes the right to housing and quality of life, and the law states that persons relocated should receive fair compensation. Under the constitution all untitled land belongs to the state. Throughout the year the government used eminent domain laws to raze housing settlements and other buildings to carry out urban redevelopment projects. According to NGO sources and multiple press reports, security forces demolished hundreds of allegedly illegal, privately built homes in Zango, a suburban Luanda zone that falls within the restrictive perimeter of the Luanda-Bengo Economic zone. These demolitions reportedly displaced thousands of persons and resulted in several deaths during the year. In addition to the shooting death of a 14-year-old boy in August (section 1.a.), the demolitions resulted in the accidental decapitation of an infant in April and the deaths of two individuals with medical conditions in August. Some persons forced to move did not receive fair compensation, at times due to lack of clear title or permits for the destroyed property. Relocated persons who received new housing units often complained their units were located far from their jobs or places of business, or were of substandard quality. There was no new information on the status of a 2015 investigation into reports security forces harassed activists working for SOS Habitat, an NGO dealing with land rights.

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

The constitution and law prohibit such actions, but the government did not always respect these prohibitions. Civil organizations and politically active individuals, including government critics, members of opposition parties, and journalists, complained the government maintained surveillance of their activities and membership. These groups also frequently complained of threats and harassment based on their affiliations with groups that were purportedly or explicitly antigovernment. On July 29, Monica Almeida, the wife of “15+2” activist Luaty Beirao, was stopped by two police vehicles while driving in Luanda. Almeida alleged that police blocked her cell phone to prevent her from calling for help and ordered her to drive with the police vehicles for three hours as they proceeded aimlessly around the city, according to press reports. The police responsible later claimed they had mistaken Almeida for a suspected criminal and announced an investigation into the incident.

Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:

a. Freedom of Speech and Press

The constitution and law provide for freedom of speech and press; however, state dominance of most media outlets and self-censorship by journalists limited the practical application of these rights. Most private media organizations were located in the capital.

Freedom of Speech and Expression: Individuals reported practicing self-censorship but generally were able to criticize government policies without fear of direct reprisal. Social media was widely used in the larger cities and provided an open forum for discussion. There are no laws restricting the use or content of social media.

Press and Media Freedoms: Private radio and print media criticized the government openly and harshly. Authorities occasionally threatened journalists and publishers with harassment and arrest for covering sensitive stories. Journalists routinely complained of lack of transparency and communication from government press offices and other government officials. This often led to one-sided reporting, with opposition and civil society figures frequently voicing their opinions in privately owned media outlets while government officials kept silent even on noncontroversial issues. During the year, the government created a senior-level department to coordinate government communication with the media and established the practice of weekly briefings during which journalists could question a government minister. The briefings were broadcast on television and radio.

Official news outlets, including Angolan Public Television, Radio Nacional, and the Jornal de Angolanewspaper, favored the ruling party and gave only limited coverage to opposition political parties. Opposition parties received only limited coverage of their legislative participation in the National Assembly. During the year, however, official news outlets made a noticeable effort to include opposition party members and other commentators in nationally televised debates on issues such as politics, the rule of law, and the economy.

Violence and Harassment: Authorities arrested, harassed, and intimidated journalists. For example, on August 30, security forces stopped a team of journalists from the newspaper Novo Jornal driving within the Zango demolition site (section 1.e.), according to an article published in the newspaper September 2. Security force members allegedly searched the journalists’ vehicle and confiscated their belongings. They then allegedly transported the journalists in a military vehicle and threatened to beat and try them in court. One journalist allegedly was beaten. The security force members released the journalists after six hours and returned their belongings, with the exception of a video camera and 20,000 kwanza ($118).

Censorship or Content Restrictions: Journalists practiced self-censorship. Security force members at times did not allow journalists to digitally record police violence against civilians. For example, on May 24, journalist and foreign news service stringer Coque Mukuta was beaten and detained by local police outside of Luanda, after witnessing an altercation between street vendors (zungeiras), police, and Criminal Investigation Service agents and trying to interview one of the street vendors involved in the incident. Mukuta alleged that police forced him into a police vehicle, beat him, confiscated his possessions, and detained him for 12 hours. Mukuta filed a formal complaint against the policeman who beat him.

The minister of social communication, spokesperson of the presidency, and the national director of information maintained significant decision-making authority over the media. It was commonly understood these individuals actively vetted news stories in the state-controlled print, television, and radio media and exercised considerable authority over some privately owned outlets. State-controlled media and private media outlets owned by those close to the government rarely published or broadcast stories critical of the ruling party, government officials, or government policies.

Libel/Slander Laws: Defamation is a crime punishable by imprisonment or a fine, and unlike in most cases in which defendants are presumed innocent until proven guilty (see section 1.e.), defendants in defamation cases have the burden of proving their innocence by providing evidence of the validity of the allegedly damaging material.

Several journalists in print media, radio, and political blogs faced libel and defamation lawsuits. Journalists complained the government used libel laws to limit their ability to report on corruption and nepotistic practices. According to the PGR, some journalists abused their positions and published inaccurate stories about government officials without verifying the facts or providing the accused the right of reply. In May 2015, a judge found journalist and human rights activist Rafael Marques guilty of criminal libel and gave him a six-month suspended sentence, which could be reinstated at any point up to two years from the date of sentencing if Marques committed another crime.

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 oversight. According to the International Telecommunication Union, in 2015 approximately 12 percent of residents had access to the internet. In 2014 the government started the program Angola On-line, a free Wi-Fi service.

ACADEMIC FREEDOM AND CULTURAL EVENTS

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

b. Freedom of Peaceful Assembly and Association

FREEDOM OF ASSEMBLY

The constitution and law provide for the right of assembly, but the government regularly restricted this right.

The law requires written notification to the local administrator and police three days before public assemblies are to be held. For public assemblies during a workday, the law requires the events to start after 7 p.m. The law, however, does not require government permission for such events. The government at times prohibited events based on perceived or claimed security considerations. Police and administrators did not interfere with progovernment gatherings. Nonpartisan groups intending to criticize the government or government leaders, however, often met a heavy police presence and government excuses preventing them from holding the event. Usually authorities claimed the timing or venue requested was problematic or that the proper authorities had not received notification.

According to press reports and NGO sources, on July 23, police detained 35 members of the protest movement “Revolutionary Movement” or “Revus” in Benguela as they traveled to a demonstration to protest the rising price of food in the province. The governor of Benguela denied the request to organize the protest, but the organizers decided to proceed, and police set up checkpoints on main roads to intercept and detain protesters. Police released the protesters the same day.

The government at times arbitrarily restricted the activities of associations it considered subversive by refusing to grant permits for organized activities. Opposition parties generally were permitted to organize and hold meetings; nevertheless, opposition officials continued to report obstructions to the free exercise of their parties’ right to meet.

FREEDOM OF ASSOCIATION

The constitution and law provide for the right of association, but the government did not always respect this right (see also section 7.a.). Extensive delays in the NGO registration process continued to be a problem. NGOs that had not yet received registration were nevertheless allowed to operate.

The government published a new NGO regulation in March 2015 that civil society criticized as potentially restrictive and intrusive. For example, the new regulation requires NGOs to obtain approval from the government before the implementation of any project, imposes local authorities as the supervisors of NGO projects within their municipalities, and requires frequent financial reports of NGO activities to the government. The government stated this regulation is part of its strategy to combat money-laundering and terrorist financing.

c. Freedom of Religion

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

d. Freedom of Movement, Internally Displaced Persons, Protection of Refugees, and Stateless Persons

The constitution and law provide for freedom of internal movement, foreign travel, emigration, and repatriation; however, the government at times restricted these rights.

Abuse of Migrants, Refugees, and Stateless Persons: The government sometimes cooperated with the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), the International Organization for Migration, and other humanitarian organizations in providing protection and assistance to internally displaced persons (IDPs), refugees, returning refugees, asylum seekers, stateless persons, or other persons of concern. UN Special Rapporteur on the human rights of migrants, Francois Crepeau, visited the country at the invitation of the government from May 3-10. Crepeau’s report, issued subsequent to his visit, criticized the government for its lack of adequate protections for refugees, asylum seekers, and migrants and cited government failure to implement key elements of the 2015 Asylum Law, which had the effect of impeding refugee and asylum seekers’ access to basic services and documents such as birth certificates for children of foreign-born parents. Several NGOs that work with refugee populations also cited security force harassment of the refugee and asylum seeker community. In diamond-rich Lunda Norte Province, NGOs and the media reported several acts of violence and degrading treatment, including rape and sexual abuse of Congolese migrants. In response to the allegations of sexual violence, President dos Santos created a commission that included UN representatives to improve the situation around the borders. The commission performed regular verification missions to assess progress at the border crossing points.

In-country Movement: Police maintained roadside checkpoints throughout the country. Reports by local NGOs suggested some police officers extorted money from civilians at checkpoints and during regular traffic stops. Reports from the diamond mining provinces of Lunda Norte and Lunda Sul indicated some government agents restricted the movements of local communities.

In 2013 the Angolan and the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) governments agreed on a special laissez-passer program for their nationals that allows for increased legal movement of persons and products between Lunda Norte and the DRC province then known as Katanga.

Emigration and Repatriation: In 2012 UNHCR and regional governments agreed to a cessation of prima facie refugee status for Angolans on the grounds that asylum and protection for most Angolans was no longer required. On September 30, the Ministry of Assistance and Social Integration stated the government would no longer acknowledge refugee status for citizens living outside of the country, citing the completion of its voluntary repatriation program, which allowed 525,871 citizens to return between 2003 and 2015. During the year Angolan former refugees returned spontaneously from Zambia and the DRC.

PROTECTION OF REFUGEES

The government did not provide adequate protection to refugees and asylum seekers.

Access to Asylum: The Asylum Law provides specific procedures for the submission of an asylum application and guidance on the determination of asylum and refugee cases. UNHCR and several NGOs reported that the law did not function in practice during the year and asylum seekers and refugees did not have a mechanism to apply for or resolve their status. The law changed the role of the Committee for the Recognition of the Right to Asylum (COREDA), the former implementing mechanism to identify, verify, and legalize asylum seekers, to that of an advisory board; however, by September the government had not put into practice an alternative mechanism to adjudicate asylum and refugee cases in COREDA’s place. The law also established the creation of reception centers for refugees and asylum seekers where they are supposed to receive assistance until the government makes a decision on their cases. There were three reception centers.

Employment: Formal restrictions on a refugee’s ability to seek employment existed. Regulation 273/13 restricted refugees from obtaining the mandatory business license, “Alvara commercial,” required to own and operate a business. Refugees often faced difficulty obtaining employment due inability to obtain legal documents required to work in the formal sector. These difficulties were compounded by a general lack of acceptance of the refugee card and lack of knowledge about the rights it was intended to safeguard.

Access to Basic Services: Persons with recognized refugee status could at times obtain public services; however, UNHCR, NGOs, and refugees reported that refugees were unable to obtain legal documents following passage of the Asylum Law and at times faced difficulty accessing public services such as health care and education. Corruption by officials compounded these difficulties.

Section 3. Freedom to Participate in the Political Process

The constitution and law provide citizens the ability to choose their government through free and fair periodic elections based on universal and equal suffrage and conducted by secret ballot guaranteeing the free expression of the will of the people. Citizens exercised this ability at the national level, but did not have that ability at the provincial or municipal levels.

According to the 2010 constitution, presidential and legislative elections should be held every five years. In 2012 citizens elected legislative representatives and the president. The constitution calls for the first-ever local elections; however, the right to elect local leaders remained restricted, and local elections did not occur.

Elections and Political Participation

Recent Elections: In 2012 the government held legislative elections and the country’s first postwar presidential election. The ruling MPLA won 71.8 percent of the vote in the legislative elections. Domestic and international observers reported polling throughout the country was peaceful and generally credible, although the ruling party enjoyed advantages due to state control of major media and other resources. Opposition parties contested aspects of the electoral process and the results but accepted their seats in the National Assembly. In 2012 the constitutional court rejected opposition appeals and certified the election results as free and fair.

The central government appoints the provincial governors, and the constitution does not specify a timeline for implementing municipal-level elections. By year’s end, government and ruling party officials had not announced a target date for the municipal elections postponed in 2015. Opposition parties and some members of civil society were dissatisfied with the slow pace and claimed the ruling party lacked the political will to organize municipal elections.

Political Parties and Political Participation: The ruling MPLA party dominated all political institutions. Political power was concentrated in the presidency and the Council of Ministers, through which the president exercised executive power. The council can enact laws, decrees, and resolutions, assuming most functions normally associated with the legislative branch. The National Assembly consists of 220 deputies elected under a party list proportional representation system. This body has the authority to draft, debate, and pass legislation, but the executive branch often proposed and drafted legislation for the assembly’s approval. After the 2012 legislative elections, opposition deputies held 20 percent of parliamentary seats, up from 13 percent in 2008.

Political parties must be represented in all 18 provinces, but only the MPLA, UNITA, and the Broad Convergence for the Salvation of Angola, to a lesser extent, had truly national constituencies. By law no political party could limit party membership based on ethnicity, race, or gender.

Several altercations between MPLA and opposition parties’ supporters reportedly occurred during the year. On May 25, a delegation comprising UNITA parliamentarians and local party representatives was attacked in Benguela Province, allegedly by MPLA supporters and local residents, resulting in the deaths of four individuals, including two MPLA supporters and one UNITA supporter. UNITA initiated a parliamentary inquiry into the incident. The Ministry of the Interior referred the case to the PGR, which launched an investigation. On July 1-2, a UNITA party office in the Ramiros neighborhood of Luanda was vandalized and the party flag burned. UNITA party officials and several press reports alleged the vandals responsible were MPLA supporters. On July 1, President dos Santos publicly called on political parties, citizens, and associations to avoid engaging in political intolerance and report incidents of intolerance to appropriate authorities. Opposition politicians alleged a lack of interest by the national police, especially in the provinces, to investigate alleged violence against opposition political parties. The Ministry of Justice and Human Rights stated many of the complaints by opposition parties were under investigation.

Participation of Women and Minorities: There are no laws limiting the participation of women and minorities in the political process and women and minorities did participate. Of the 220 deputies in the national assembly, 79 were women. Two women served as governors (out of 18 nationwide), and five women were cabinet ministers (out of 35). The country has multiple linguistic groups, many of which were represented in government.

Antigua and Barbuda

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

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

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

b. Disappearance

There were no reports of politically motivated disappearances.

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

The constitution specifically prohibits such practices, but there were multiple reports that police employed them.

In August a foreign citizen alleged police illegally detained him and beat him so severely that he required surgery. Government officials denied the allegation and presented a different version of events.

Prison and Detention Center Conditions

Prisoners in Her Majesty’s Prison, the country’s only prison, faced severe conditions and extreme overcrowding.

Physical Conditions: Her Majesty’s Prison, designed to hold a maximum of 150 inmates, held 349 male and 22 female prisoners as of September. Authorities separated remanded prisoners from convicted prisoners when space was available. Remanded inmates faced the harshest conditions, since their cells were often at double capacity. As of August the prison held five juveniles–three sentenced and two remanded–at a separate offsite facility. Police moved the juveniles back into the prison in early September, citing inadequate guard stations at the temporary juvenile facility, which was supported by a nongovernmental organization (NGO).

Extremely poor ventilation caused cell temperatures to remain very high, and standards of hygiene were inadequate. Staff reported that dehydration was the most common medical problem, in effect forcing inmates to buy bottled water from the prison commissary because of a problem with water pipes and a rusted cistern. There were several catchments for rainwater and a well, but prison staff reported that the water in each was likely contaminated. The prison had inadequate toilet facilities, with slop pails used in all cells except for those of the female prisoners. The men’s section had no showers; inmates used buckets to wash themselves. The women’s section of the prison had two showers, and prison staff provided feminine hygiene products to women, although most female inmates’ families provided for this need. Conditions in the kitchen were unsanitary, including the presence of insects and stray cats (to catch rodents).

Inmates with mental disabilities were held in the prison, in large part because the island’s psychiatric facility was also overcrowded. The prison superintendent reported that inmates had access to a mental health professional. Medical staff reported three outbreaks of disease, with staphylococcus bacteria and MRSA infections in the spring, followed by an outbreak of chicken pox, which infected one-third of the inmates in November 2015. In each instance diagnosed prisoners were quarantined in the prison’s chapel but shared toilet and bathing areas with noninfected inmates, further contributing to the spread of the diseases. The superintendent reported that bribery and corruption were common in the prison, with guards allegedly taking bribes and smuggling contraband, liquor, cell phones, and marijuana to prisoners.

The prison had a work release program for men, and inmates were selected for participation based on their good conduct. Female inmates did not have a comparable program.

Conditions at the police holding facility in Saint John’s Station were also deficient. Inmates did not have ready access to potable water and were fed one meal of crusty bread and sausage each day. Toilets were inadequate, and a rusty smell permeated the facility. Like Her Majesty’s Prison, the building was very old and appeared to be in a state of disrepair.

Administration: Prison recordkeeping was done in a hard-copy format and appeared adequate although cumbersome. Complaints were handled in several ways, including a prison welfare officer, a complaints committee, and a prisoner appointed to lodge complaints.

Independent Monitoring: The government permitted prison visits by independent human rights observers, although no such visits occurred during the year.

Improvements: Prison staff reported the establishment of Men against Negative Attitudes, a support group for inmates, to serve as a foundation for future sentence rehabilitation or sentence reduction programs.

d. Arbitrary Arrest or Detention

The constitution prohibits arbitrary arrest and detention, and the government generally observed these prohibitions. Prisoners on remand, however, often remained in jail for an average of three to four years before their cases came to trial, according to the director of the Office Public Prosecutions.

ROLE OF THE POLICE AND SECURITY APPARATUS

Security forces consist of a police force; a prison guard service; immigration, airport, and port security; the small Antigua and Barbuda Defense Force; and the Office of National Drug Control and Money Laundering Policy. Police fall under the responsibility of the attorney general, who is also the minister of justice, legal affairs, public safety, and labor. Immigration falls under the minister of foreign affairs, international trade, and immigration. The prime minister can call for an independent investigation into an incident as needed. The Professional Standards Department, which investigates complaints against police, is headed by the deputy police commissioner and decides whether an investigation is conducted. Senior authorities typically held police accountable for their actions.

Civilian authorities maintained effective control over the security forces, and the government has effective mechanisms to investigate and punish abuse and corruption. There were reports of impunity involving the security forces during the year.

In October a 13-year-old girl complained of sexual assault by a senior police officer. The father of the victim and media alleged the police commissioner alerted the officer so that he could flee the country before charges were filed. The police department subsequently filed charges against the officer, and a court granted him bail on November 14. In a separate incident, also in October, another 13-year-old girl claimed that her father, a police officer, had raped her. The police did not charge the officer.

ARREST PROCEDURES AND TREATMENT OF DETAINEES

The law permits police to arrest without a warrant persons suspected of committing a crime. NGOs and victims reported that the police often abused this provision. Criminal defendants have the right to a prompt judicial determination of the legality of their detention. Police must bring detainees before a court within 48 hours of arrest or detention, but NGOs reported that victims were often held for 96 hours. Authorities allowed criminal detainees prompt access to counsel and family members. The system requires those accused of more serious crimes to appeal to the High Court for bail, removing this responsibility from lower court magistrates.

Several persons alleged the police detained them without charges. NGOs reported a case in which police instigated an argument with a young man and detained him overnight without pressing charges.

Detainee’s Ability to Challenge Lawfulness of Detention before a Court: Persons arrested or detained, regardless of whether on criminal or other grounds, are legally permitted to challenge in court the legal basis or arbitrary nature of their detention and obtain prompt release and compensation if found to have been unlawfully detained.

e. Denial of Fair Public Trial

The constitution provides for an independent judiciary, and the government generally respected judicial independence.

TRIAL PROCEDURES

The constitution provides for criminal defendants to receive a fair, open, and public trial, and an independent judiciary generally enforced this right. Trials are by jury. Defendants enjoy a presumption of innocence, have timely access to counsel, may confront adverse witnesses, access government-held evidence, present their own witnesses and evidence, and have the right to appeal. In murder trials the government provides legal assistance at public expense to persons without the means to retain a private attorney. Defendants have the right to free interpretation as necessary from the moment charged through all appeals. The law extends these rights to all persons.

POLITICAL PRISONERS AND DETAINEES

There were no reports of political prisoners or detainees. The government, however, pursued charges against seven members of the opposition. The court dismissed two of the cases and chose to proceed with one of the cases. As of October, five of the seven cases were awaiting trial.

CIVIL JUDICIAL PROCEDURES AND REMEDIES

Individuals and organizations may seek civil remedies for human rights violations through domestic courts. They may apply to the High Court for redress of alleged violations of their constitutional rights. They may appeal adverse domestic decisions to regional human rights bodies.

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

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

Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:

a. Freedom of Speech and Press

The constitution provides for freedom of speech and press, but the government respected these rights on a somewhat limited basis.

In February an opposition spokesperson claimed on the radio that he possessed evidence of corruption in the government-operated Citizenship by Investment Program. The police detained him to compel him to provide evidence for his public claims. When the spokesperson refused to provide evidence, the police charged him with public mischief and making a false claim. The magistrate’s court dismissed the case in September.

Press and Media Freedoms: Privately owned print media, including daily and weekly newspapers, were active and offered a range of opinions. There were claims, however, that the government did not allow fair access to opposition and independent media.

Libel/Slander Laws: As of June no libel cases had been filed, unlike in previous years, when politicians in both parties often filed libel cases against individual members of the other party.

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 2014 International Telecommunication Union data, the most recent available, 64 percent of the population had access to the internet.

ACADEMIC FREEDOM AND CULTURAL EVENTS

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

b. Freedom of Peaceful Assembly and Association

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

c. Freedom of Religion

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. The government generally respected these rights. The government cooperated with the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees, the International Organization for Migration, and other humanitarian organizations in assisting refugees and asylum seekers.

PROTECTION OF REFUGEES

Access to Asylum: The country does not have any laws or legal procedures governing asylum or refugee status. The government handles asylum requests on an ad hoc basis.

Section 3. Freedom to Participate in the Political Process

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

Elections and Political Participation

Recent Elections: In the June 2014 elections, the ABLP won 14 of 17 seats in the House of Representatives and took over the government. The then incumbent United Progressive Party won three seats. The Organization of American States observer group reported the elections were generally free and fair.

Participation of Women and Minorities: No laws or traditional practices limit the participation of women or minorities in the political process, and women and minorities participated.

Argentina

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

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

There was no information available during the year regarding arbitrary or unlawful killings by police.

The Center for Legal and Social Studies (CELS) reported 126 deaths during 2015 as a result of police using unwarranted or excessive force in the metropolitan area of Buenos Aires.

In February authorities elevated to a criminal cause of action the April 2015 killing of a youth in San Martin, Buenos Aires Province, by a police officer on patrol. The officer chased two youths who were suspected of stealing a motorcycle and shot at them as they fled on the motorcycle, killing the passenger. Following the incident authorities dismissed the officer for excessive use of force.

b. Disappearance

There were no reports of politically motivated disappearances.

Authorities continued to investigate and prosecute individuals implicated in disappearances, killings, and torture committed during the 1976-83 military dictatorship. On August 25, the Cordoba Federal Oral Courthouse No. 1 sentenced former Third Army Corps commander Luciano Benjamin Menendez to an additional life term in prison for murder, torture, and crimes against humanity, bringing his full sentence to 14 prison terms and 12 consecutive life sentences for human rights violations. Menendez was one of 43 defendants in the La Perla megatrial. Six defendants were acquitted, while the others received sentences ranging from two years to life imprisonment. On March 29, the Salta Federal Oral Court convicted former bus company owner Marcos Levin for conspiring with two former police officers to kidnap and torture a former employee in 1977. The court sentenced Levin to 12 years in prison, making him the first businessman to be sentenced for crimes against humanity during the military dictatorship era.

Judicial authorities continued to investigate cases of kidnapping and illegal adoption of children born to detained dissidents by members of the former military dictatorship. On October 4, the NGO Abuelas de la Plaza de Mayo reported that the 121st missing grandchild of the estimated 500 persons born to detained and missing dissidents during the dictatorship and illegally adopted by former military officials had been identified and made aware of his background.

The Argentine Forensic Anthropology Team continued cooperation with the National Institute of Industrial Technology, which provides technical support and assistance in the identification of remains of victims of the military junta.

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

The law prohibits torture and other cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment or punishment and provides penalties for torture similar to those for homicide. NGOs, CELS, the Prosecutor General’s Office, the Penitentiary Authority (an independent government body that monitors prison conditions), and the Buenos Aires Provincial Memory Commission’s Committee against Torture (an autonomous office established by the provincial government) reported complaints of torture perpetrated by provincial and federal prison officials.

No unified registration system to record acts and victims of torture exists at the federal level.

The Buenos Aires Provincial Criminal Court of Cassation’s Office of Public Defenders reported that from January to April there were 221 complaints of torture and mistreatment by law enforcement officers during arrest or institutional confinement, of which 52 cases involved minors. A 2015 Santa Fe Provincial Office of Public Defenders survey, the latest available information, reported 503 alleged victims of abuse, mistreatment, and human rights violations committed by provincial security force personnel in the penitentiary system. According to the report, 21 percent of the victims were 18 years old or younger, and mistreatment most frequently occurred in detention centers and while in transit.

On July 18, a court sentenced five police officers from the Buenos Aires Provincial Police to life imprisonment for the torture and murder of detainee Gaston Duffau in the locality of Ramos Mejia in 2008.

Prison and Detention Center Conditions

Prison conditions often were harsh due to overcrowding, poor medical care, and unsanitary conditions. Particularly in the province of Buenos Aires, there were reports of forced transfers and the recurrent use of solitary confinement as a method of punishment.

Physical Conditions: While prison capacity in federal penitentiaries was marginally adequate (approximately 103 percent of capacity), prisoners in Buenos Aires provincial penitentiaries exceeded facility capacity by an estimated 87 percent, according to a CELS report during the year. Many pretrial detainees were held with convicted prisoners.

Inmates in many facilities suffered from overcrowding; poor nutrition; inadequate medical and psychological treatment; inadequate sanitation, heating, ventilation, and light; limited family visits; and frequent degrading treatment, according to reports by human rights organizations and research centers.

Overcrowding in juvenile facilities often resulted in minors being held in police station facilities, although some NGOs and the national prison ombudsman noted the law prohibited doing so.

Women’s prisons were generally less violent, dangerous, and crowded than men’s prisons. Pregnant prisoners were exempted from work and rigorous physical exercise and were transferred to the penitentiary clinic prior to their delivery date. Children born to women in prison may remain in a special area of the prison with the mother until the age of four and receive daycare.

According to the Penitentiary Prosecutors Office of the Nation, 257 cases of torture and mistreatment were registered in the Federal Penitentiary Service during the first semester of the year; however, only 42 percent of the complaints of torture and bad treatment resulted in criminal investigations.

The Federal Penitentiary Service reported 20 inmate deaths in federal prisons, seven of which were violent, between January and June; however, CELS statistics for the province of Buenos Aires for 2015 reflected 50 prisoners died from violence, while another 89 died from health problems and lack of medical attention.

Administration: Information on the adequacy of recordkeeping was unavailable. Authorities permitted prisoners and detainees to submit complaints to judicial authorities without censorship and to request investigation of credible allegations of inhuman conditions. Local NGOs noted, however, that access to a public defender was sometimes limited and that prisoners occasionally did not submit complaints to authorities due to fear of reprisal.

Independent Monitoring: The government usually permitted monitoring by independent local and international human rights observers.

d. Arbitrary Arrest or Detention

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

On October 21, the UN Working Group on Arbitrary Detention called for the release of Tupac Amaru social activist Milagro Sala, opining that her preventive detention was arbitrary. On January 16, authorities arrested Sala as she led a protest against the Jujuy provincial government’s reforms to social spending. Authorities initially charged Sala with sedition; however, the Jujuy province prosecutor later dropped the sedition count and brought new charges of assault, fraud, and embezzlement of public funds. International NGOs criticized the detention and the provincial government’s rejection of the UN Working Group’s opinion. On December 28, a federal court convicted Sala of “aggravated material damages” and sentenced her to a three-year suspended prison sentence. On December 29, Sala was convicted by a state court of civil disturbances charges. She was fined 4,363 pesos ($235) and prohibited from holding office in any civil organization.

ROLE OF THE POLICE AND SECURITY APPARATUS

The federal police generally have jurisdiction for maintaining law and order in the federal capital and for federal crimes in the provinces. Other federal police authorities include the airport security police, the Gendarmerie, the Coast Guard, and the Bureau of Prisons. All federal police forces fall under the authority of the Ministry of Security. Each province, including the city of Buenos Aires, also has its own police force that responds to a provincial (or municipal) security ministry or secretariat. Individual forces varied considerably in their effectiveness and respect for human rights. The armed forces fall under the Ministry of Defense and by law do not participate in internal security. Through executive decree the government sought to expand the scope of the armed forces to provide logistics support and surveillance of national borders. The federal security forces have authority to conduct internal investigations into alleged abuses and to dismiss individuals who allegedly committed a human rights violation. In September the minister of security dispatched additional federal security force personnel to Santa Fe Province for one year to combat complex crime and corruption.

The federal government can file complaints about alleged abuses with the federal courts, and provincial governments can do the same for provincial security forces. Members of security forces convicted of a crime were subject to stiff penalties. Authorities generally administratively suspended officers accused of wrongdoing until their investigations were completed. Authorities investigated and in some cases detained, prosecuted, and convicted the officers involved; however, impunity at the federal and provincial level remained a problem.

ARREST PROCEDURES AND TREATMENT OF DETAINEES

Police generally apprehended individuals openly with warrants based on sufficient evidence and issued by a duly authorized official. Police may detain suspects for up to 10 hours without an arrest warrant if authorities have a well-founded belief they have committed or are about to commit a crime or police are unable to determine the suspect’s identity. Human rights groups reported that police occasionally arrested persons arbitrarily and detained suspects longer than 10 hours.

The law provides detainees with the right to a prompt determination of the legality of their detention by a lower criminal court judge, who determines whether to proceed with an investigation. In some cases there were delays in this process and in informing detainees of the charges against them.

The law provides for the right to bail except in cases involving flight risk or risk of subornation of justice.

Authorities allowed detainees prompt access to counsel and provided public defenders if they were unable to afford counsel. In some cases such access was delayed due to an overburdened system.

Arbitrary Arrest: Police on occasion arrested and detained citizens arbitrarily.

Pretrial Detention: The law provides for investigative detention of up to two years for indicted persons awaiting or undergoing trial; the period may be extended by one year in limited circumstances. The slow pace of the justice system often resulted in lengthy detentions beyond the period stipulated by law. A June census carried out by the Federal Penitentiary Service revealed that in Buenos Aires Province prisons, 61 percent of prisoners were either in pretrial confinement or awaiting a final sentence. According to several human rights organizations, 30 percent of pretrial detainees were eventually acquitted. A convicted prisoner usually receives credit for time served.

Detainee’s Ability to Challenge Lawfulness of Detention before a Court: Persons arrested or detained, regardless of whether on criminal or other grounds, are entitled to challenge in court the legal basis or arbitrary nature of their detention and obtain prompt release and compensation if found to have been unlawfully detained.

e. Denial of Fair Public Trial

While the constitution and law provide for an independent judiciary, the government did not always respect judicial independence. According to local NGOs, judges in some federal criminal and ordinary courts were subject at times to political manipulation. NGOs also criticized all three branches of the government for use of inappropriate procedures for selecting judges and for manipulating the assignment of judges to specific cases.

A law enacted in June 2015 allowed the Magistrates’ Council to designate “substitute judges” from congressionally approved lists of judges, attorneys, and court secretaries, circumventing the normal qualifying and order of merit criteria reserved for permanent appointments. Media reported that the government selected substitute judges sympathetic to its interests. In November 2015 the Supreme Court ruled the law providing for the appointment of substitute judges was unconstitutional. Nonetheless, the civil society organization Fores reported that almost 25 percent of judges remained “substitute” or temporary judges.

TRIAL PROCEDURES

The law provides for the right to a fair trial, and an independent judiciary generally enforced this right.

Trials are generally public. In federal and provincial courts, all defendants enjoy a presumption of innocence and have the right to legal counsel and free interpretation from the moment charged through all appeals, to remain silent, to call defense witnesses, and to appeal. If needed, a public defender is provided at public expense when defendants face serious criminal charges. During the investigative stage, defendants can submit questions in writing. A panel of judges decides guilt or innocence. Although defendants and their attorneys have access to government-held evidence, local NGOs indicated defendants sometimes experienced obstacles or delays in obtaining such evidence. Defendants can present witnesses and provide expert witness reports, in addition to the defendant’s own evidence. Defendants have the right to be present at their hearings, and there is no trial in absentia. The law extends the above rights to all defendants.

Lengthy delays, procedural logjams, long gaps in the appointment of permanent judges, inadequate administrative support, and general inefficiency hampered the judicial system. Judges’ broad discretion on whether and how to pursue investigations contributed to a public perception that many decisions were arbitrary.

Federal and provincial courts continued the transition to trials with oral arguments in criminal cases, replacing the old system of written submissions. Cordoba, Neuquen, Chaco, and Buenos Aires provinces provide defendants accused of certain serious crimes the right to a trial by jury. Additionally, Chaco and Neuquen provinces approved legislation in September 2015 to include special provisions establishing a reserved quota for women and indigenous representatives.

In 2014 Congress enacted supplementary legislation implementing a new criminal procedure code, but the government delayed full implementation until 2017. The law transforms the country’s hybrid federal inquisitive system into a full accusatory system, with expanded prosecution under the authority of the attorney general and trial by jury. The new criminal code imposes time limitations on prosecutions (most cases under the new system must be disposed of in three years), expands victims’ rights, and provides for expedited deportations of foreigners in lieu of prosecution. The code also creates direct interaction between security forces and prosecutors, who will assume prosecutorial responsibilities currently exercised by investigating magistrates.

POLITICAL PRISONERS AND DETAINEES

There were no reports of political prisoners or detainees.

CIVIL JUDICIAL PROCEDURES AND REMEDIES

Citizens have access to the courts to bring lawsuits seeking damages or the protection of rights provided by the constitution.

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

The constitution prohibits such actions, and the government generally respected these prohibitions. On July 25, the National Administration for Social Security (ANSES) and the Secretariat of Public Communications under the Chief of Staff’s Office officially announced an interagency information-sharing agreement. The agreement would make the ANSES database of citizen personal information available to facilitate government public-service communications to the population. A group of citizens, including some opposition legislators, filed a criminal complaint alleging the practice constituted a violation of the right to privacy. On September 7, a lower federal court dismissed the charge, stating the facts alleged failed to constitute a crime. On September 8, a prosecutor appealed the decision, and at year’s end the case remained on appeal.

Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:

a. Freedom of Speech and Press

The constitution provides for freedom of speech and press, and the government generally respected these rights. Independent newspapers, radio and television outlets, and internet sites were numerous and active, expressing a wide variety of views.

Press and Media Freedoms: On August 24, the government issued a resolution limiting the use of advertising funds for political purposes and established criteria in line with inter-American standards. Thereafter, some newspapers, magazines, and websites that benefited from the distribution of public advertising money during the former administration–which multiple observers asserted was unbalanced and discriminatory in favor of media sources that supported government policies–either shut down or faced serious economic problems.

Violence and Harassment: There were reports of physical attacks, threats, and harassment against journalists in relation to their reporting, most of which covered cases of official corruption.

On April 11, unknown assailants attacked a journalist from television Channel TN who was covering former president Cristina Kirchner’s departure from Santa Cruz. The following day assailants attacked Radio Mitre reporters while they reported Kirchner’s appearance in court in Buenos Aires.

On September 4, an anonymous individual threatened well-known journalist Luis Majul via text message while he was interviewing a protected witness in a legal case involving former administration officials.

Two armed assailants who broke into the home of radio journalist Sergio Hurgado in December 2015 remained in pretrial detention while their criminal prosecution continued. Hurtado regularly reported on drug use and trafficking in San Antonio Areco, Buenos Aires Province. The assailants, known to local residents for selling drugs, issued Hurtado a warning: “Stop talking about drugs on the radio. We had orders to kill you.” Both assailants raped Hurtado’s wife, with the journalist’s children sleeping nearby, before stealing money and property.

Censorship or Content Restrictions: On March 20, Roberto Navarro of television station C5N alleged that his program Politica Economica was cancelled for one day for “political reasons.” Navarro said that he planned to broadcast a special report portraying a business partner of President Mauricio Macri in a negative light.

Actions to Expand Press Freedom: On April 6, Congress eliminated the former Audiovisual Communications Enforcement Authority and another media oversight agency and created a single National Communications Authority. President Macri introduced the changes to the Audiovisual Communications Services Act by way of an executive decree in December 2015.

On September 29, the government established a protocol to protect journalists in cases where their activities entail risks, allowing journalists to request protective measures from the Ministry of Security. Measures include confidentiality of the subject matter, nature, scope, and details of the research as well as the protection of personal data of the journalists or third parties related to the investigation.

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. Individuals and groups could engage in the expression of views via the internet, including the use of e-mail and social networks. The World Bank reported that 69 percent of citizens used the internet in 2015.

ACADEMIC FREEDOM AND CULTURAL EVENTS

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

b. Freedom of Peaceful Assembly and Association

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

c. Freedom of Religion

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

d. Freedom of Movement, Internally Displaced Persons, Protection of Refugees, and Stateless Persons

The constitution provides 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 and other humanitarian organizations in providing protection and assistance to refugees, asylum seekers, and other persons of concern.

PROTECTION OF REFUGEES

Access to Asylum: The law provides for the granting of refugee status, and the government has established a system for providing protection to refugees. Decisions on asylum petitions may take up to two years to adjudicate.

Section 3. Freedom to Participate in the Political Process

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

Elections and Political Participation

Recent Elections: The country held a first round of presidential and legislative elections in October 2015 and conducted the run-off election for the presidency in November 2015. Voters elected more than one-half of the members of the Chamber of Deputies, representing all of the provinces and the city of Buenos Aires, and one-third of the members of the Senate, representing eight provinces. In 22 of the 24 provinces, citizens elected new governors. Local and international observers considered the elections generally free and fair.

Participation of Women and Minorities: No laws limit participation of women and minorities in the political process, and they did participate. Three of 22 cabinet ministers were women; 38.5 percent of Deputies and 41.7 percent of Senators in the National Congress were women. The composition of women legislators in the country’s 24 provinces ranged from a low of 20 percent in Santa Fe to a high of 47 percent in Tierra del Fuego. On October 3, the province of Buenos Aires enacted the Gender Parity Law, which requires that any electoral list of candidates for Buenos Aires provincial and municipal bodies must contain equal percentages of male and female gender candidates. The law states that gender is determined by the national identity document, in which a person may register gender of preference regardless of their biological sex. It also states that in the case of resignation, leave of office, or death of elected official, the replacement must be the same gender.

Armenia

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

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

Separatists, with Armenia’s support, continued to control most of Nagorno-Karabakh and seven other Azerbaijani territories. The final status of Nagorno-Karabakh remained the subject of international mediation by the OSCE Minsk Group, cochaired by France, Russia, and the United States. There was an increase in violence along the Line of Contact and Armenian-Azerbaijan international border April 1-5. The heavy clashes led to the highest death toll since the signing of the 1994 cease-fire agreement. There were allegations of atrocities committed by the sides during the outbreak of violence. The sides to the conflict also submitted complaints to the European Court of Human Rights accusing each other of committing atrocities during this period.

Noncombat deaths in the military remained a problem. On April 26, the Investigative Committee of Armenia reported the death of Private Hovhannes Petrosyan, whose body was found with two gunshot wounds to the head in the trunk of a military truck. Authorities initiated a criminal investigation into his death as an induced suicide. According to press interviews, Petrosyan’s family did not believe he committed suicide, claiming that his strained relations with an officer in his unit, whom Petrosyan reportedly prevented from stealing fuel from an official vehicle, led to his killing. As of November no suspects had been arrested; the investigation continued at year’s end.

Human rights observers asserted that authorities presented sanitized versions of reported incidents of noncombat deaths in the military and focused their follow-up investigations on reinforcing the initial versions. In a March 2015 report on a wide range of human rights concerns, the commissioner for human rights of the Council of Europe, Nils Muiznieks, stated that he was “struck by the high level of distrust of the families of the victims and civil society in relation to such investigations.”

On July 17, the armed group Sasna Tsrer occupied a police compound in Yerevan, demanding political changes. During the two-week standoff that followed, Sasna Tsrer took police and medical personnel hostage for several days and allegedly killed three police officers during the incident: one in the attack, another during the standoff, and a third from the injuries sustained in the attack (see section 1.c., 2.a., and 2.b.).

The Special Investigative Service (SIS) launched an investigation into the case based on articles of the criminal code proscribing seizure of buildings and illegal procurement and usage of weapons. According to official information, SIS charged 62 persons (including 33 who carried out the armed attack), of whom 44 were detained as of October 25, and the investigation continued at year’s end. Authorities also charged group members with individual offenses such as murder and hostage taking. During the attack, Sasna Tsrer allegedly killed police colonel Arthur Vanoyan, injured several others, and took several police officers as hostages, releasing them all by July 23. On August 13, one of the injured police officers Gagik Mkrtchyan died from injuries sustained in the attack. A Sasna Tsrer member, Armen Bilyan, was charged with Mkrtchyan’s murder. According to police, one of the attackers Smbat Barseghyan shot and killed police officer Yura Tepanosyan on July 30. Barseghyan and the rest of the armed group denied their involvement in the killing of Tepanosyan. From July 27 to 30, the group took medical personnel hostage. There were no reports that any of the hostages, either police or medics, were subjected to any abuse or mistreatment while captured (also see sections 1.d., 2.a., and 2.b.).

b. Disappearance

There were no reports of politically motivated disappearances.

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

The law prohibits such practices. Nevertheless, there were reports that members of the security forces regularly engaged in mistreating individuals in their custody.

Police abuse of suspects during their arrest, detention, and interrogation remained a significant problem. According to human rights nongovernmental organizations (NGOs), most victims did not report abuses due to fear of retaliation. Mistreatment occurred most often in police stations, which, unlike prisons and police detention facilities, were not subject to public monitoring. According to the Public Observer’s Group of Police Detention Facilities (POG), a coalition of NGOs that inspected police detention cells with permission of authorities, police used arrest itself as a form of punishment. In his March 2015 report, the Council of Europe’s human rights commissioner expressed concern regarding “persisting reports of torture and mistreatment by police and other law enforcement agencies–often with the purpose of obtaining confessions–and the related problem of impunity.”

During political protests related to Sasna Tsrer’s July 17 seizure of the Erebuni police compound, there were numerous credible reports from local NGOs such as the Helsinki Committee of Armenia, Protection of Rights Without Borders, and the Helsinki Association of Human Rights that security forces engaged in cruel, inhuman, and degrading treatment of participants of assemblies, journalists, civic and political activists, and ordinary citizens (see sections 2.a. and 2.b.).

On July 29, police used excessive force against protesters, nonprotesters (including minors), and journalists in two locations in Yerevan near the occupied Erebuni police building. While negotiations in Sari Tagh continued between some opposition leaders and the chief of Yerevan police, Ashot Karapetyan, the national chief of internal police troops, Levon Yeranosyan, gave a command, after which uniformed police threw grenades into the crowd, causing numerous shrapnel injuries, severe burns, and gas poisoning. Simultaneously, armed civilians carrying improvised clubs charged the protesters and journalists covering the event, not allowing protesters a clear path to leave the area. According to human rights NGOs and those observing the protests, while police warned the leaders that the crowd had to disperse, officials did not provide enough time for them to do so. Instead, according to multiple accounts, law enforcement officers surrounded protesters with the apparent aim of punishing, injuring, and detaining them, thereby ending the protests. In addition armed civilians, some of whom were later identified as members of the security details of the chief of police and of the neighborhood’s National Assembly deputy physically, assaulted protesters and journalists.

According to official information, police detained more than 700 persons between July 17 and July 30 in connection with the standoff between police and the armed group Sasna Tsrer and associated protests. In many instances individuals were detained simply for being at a certain location, regardless of whether they participated in a protest. In some cases their rights to legal representation were not respected, and they were held in premises not intended for detentions and beyond the legal three-hour limit, without charges or access to a lawyer. In some cases family members of activists were among those detained; when the activists appeared at police stations, police allegedly urged them to stop protesting or detained them for hours. During this period, 51 police sought medical help for gunshot wounds and gas poisoning.

Following the July events, police suspended five officers for using excessive force and took disciplinary actions against 13 others for failure to prevent violent attacks on protesters and journalists during the events in Sari Tagh. Four police officers, including Yerevan police chief Ashot Karapetyan, were later dismissed from their positions. The SIS investigation of the criminal case into allegations of official abuse during the events continued at year’s end.

On August 12, the NGO Helsinki Association for Human Rights published testimonies of victims of alleged police violence. For example, Arsen Tadevosyan testified about his detention on the night of July 20, during which he stated police abuse resulted in a broken jaw and other injuries, and the refusal of the Shengavit police to provide him medical assistance. The SIS considered him a victim in the investigation of police mistreatment of citizens.

On August 18, another NGO, the Helsinki Committee, published an extensive report detailing experiences of individuals detained by police after a July 17 rally. For example, a participant reported that police took him and at least 50 other rally participants to a gym in the Police Academy, where they were forced to walk between two rows of police who beat them. While there, police with submachine guns periodically threatened the detainees, denied them access to water and toilets, and did not allow them to talk to other detainees. During the entire period, they remained handcuffed. Individuals who did not obey and tried to move or talk to other detainees, were taken to another room, beaten, and then brought back to the gym. On July 18, activists Andranik Aslanyan, Davit Sanasaryan, and Artur Minasyan were reportedly beaten severely when detained. Police continued to kick them while in transit to a police military unit, where they were abused further. Sanasaryan was kicked in the head until he lost consciousness and was later diagnosed with a concussion.

Although there were no reliable statistics on the extent of abuse in the military services, substandard living conditions, corruption, and commanders’ lack of accountability contributed to mistreatment and injury of soldiers by their peers or superiors. According to human rights organizations, a subculture based on “a criminal value system” undermined military discipline and resulted in a concept of “manly behavior” that overrode statutory rules. According to the Ministry of Defense, this subculture led soldiers to underreport criminal behavior and abuse. While the military leadership recognized the problem and sought to overcome it, some observers maintained that certain military commanders regarded it, as well as violence towards conscripts in general, as an effective way to maintain discipline.

Drawing on interviews with 38 former military personnel for its 2015 annual report, the Helsinki Committee found that military police subjected soldiers in their custody to physical and other abuse, included beating, kicking, punching, hitting with rubber truncheons, and humiliating treatment. Soldiers’ families claimed that corrupt officials controlled many military units, and there were media reports during the year that the government conscripted soldiers with serious health conditions that should have disqualified them.

Prison and Detention Center Conditions

Prison conditions were marked by poor sanitation, inadequate medical care, and corruption; overcrowding in some facilities remained problems, and conditions in some cases were harsh and life threatening. Prisons generally lacked accommodations for inmates with disabilities.

Physical Conditions: Overcrowding was one of the most serious problems facing some prisons, especially the largest, Nubarashen Prison.

According to official data, 24 prisoners died during the first 10 months of the year, 17 due to illness and seven from suicide. According to human rights organizations, in addition to the poor physical condition of the facilities, an organized criminal structure that dominated prison life, hierarchical relations between inmates, and negligence in providing health care contributed to the death rate. Human rights observers also noted there were no proper investigations of these deaths.

On March 1, the government reported the suicide of Mkhitar Sargsyan, an inmate of the Nubarashen Prison. Sargsyan’s wife, Satenik Hovsepyan, believed her husband was killed for refusing to take responsibility for the abuse of cellmate and civic activist Vardges Gaspari. On August 17, according to the NGO representing the victim’s family, the Helsinki Citizens’ Assembly Vanadzor (HCAV), the Investigative Committee suspended the investigation into Sargsyan’s death due to failure to find those who induced him to suicide. According to the head of the HCAV, the investigation was insufficiently thorough to justify the conclusion that the case was a suicide rather than a homicide.

According to a report during the year by the NGO Protection of Rights without Borders on conditions at the Abovyan Prison, the facility did not meet the gender-specific needs of female inmates, such as appropriate medical care, sanitation, nutrition, and psychological services. Other problems included inedible food, insufficient restrooms and showers, limited access to running water, insufficient heating in winter, poor ventilation, no access to medical services, adequate medicine or exercise facilities, and limited job opportunities.

Most other prisons had similar problems. The Prison Monitoring Group (PMG) noted prison medical personnel lacked independence and had to obtain administrative approval to transfer an inmate to a hospital, record a physical injury in a prisoner’s file, or perform similar actions. There was also at least one media report of medical neglect that led to a death of an inmate.

According to the PMG and other human rights activists, LGBTI individuals experienced the worst prison conditions. They were frequent targets for discrimination, violence, and sexual abuse, and were forced by other inmates to perform degrading labor. Prison administrators reinforced and condoned such treatment and held them in segregated cells, with terrible conditions. According to the 2014 PMG report, physical violence and degrading treatment were common, with solitary confinement and beating with batons the most common forms of punishment. The PMG noted that homosexual males, those associating with them, and inmates convicted of crimes such as rape were segregated from other inmates and forced to perform humiliating jobs and provide sexual services.

Administration: Authorities did not conduct credible investigations nor take actions to address in a meaningful manner problems related to treatment of prisoners, relations between inmates, and widespread corruption. No information was available on the adequacy of overall recordkeeping by prison authorities. The early release program and release on medical grounds remained a matter of concern, due to systemic gaps in legislation and implementation. Convicts and detainees did not always have reasonable access to visitors due to the lack of suitable space for visitations. Heads of prisons and detention facilities used their discretion arbitrarily to deny prisoners and detainees visitation, contact with families, or the ability to receive periodicals.

Prisons did not have ombudsmen, and prisoners lacked effective mechanisms to report problems with their confinement. Authorities did not always permit prisoners and detainees to submit uncensored appeals to authorities concerning credible allegations of inhuman conditions.

Independent Monitoring: The government generally permitted domestic and international human rights groups, including the Council or Europe’s Committee for the Prevention of Torture, to monitor prison and detention center conditions, and they did so regularly. Their representatives could speak to prisoners privately. The government permitted the International Committee of the Red Cross to visit both prisons and pretrial detention centers.

Prison authorities did not allow PMG monitors to visit detained members of the Sasna Tsrer group until December (see sections 1.d. and 2.b.).

d. Arbitrary Arrest or Detention

While the law prohibits arbitrary arrest and detention, police arbitrarily detained citizens, including participants in demonstrations.

ROLE OF THE POLICE AND SECURITY APPARATUS

The national police force is responsible for internal security, while the National Security Service (NSS) is responsible for national security, intelligence activities, and border control. The SIS is a separate agency specializing in preliminary investigation of cases involving suspected abuses by public officials. The Investigative Committee is responsible for conducting pretrial investigations into criminal cases and incorporates investigative services. The president appoints the heads of all these bodies.

Impunity was a problem, and no independent entity was dedicated exclusively to investigating police abuses. According to human rights NGOs, law enforcement officers viewed themselves as defenders of authority rather than servants of the law and the public. There were reports of impunity in connection with police use of excessive force during public protests in support of Sasna Tsrer’s political demands (see section 1.c.).

The Ministry of Defense made efforts to improve discipline, including using the civilian legal system rather than administrative discipline to enforce regulations, training officers in human rights, and providing social, psychological, and legal training for military service. In November 2015 the Ministry of Defense established the Center for Human Rights and Building Integrity, with a mandate to protect human rights, strengthen integrity, promote ethics, implement anticorruption policy, and make management changes, as well as coordinate with international organizations.

ARREST PROCEDURES AND TREATMENT OF DETAINEES

Although the law requires law enforcement to obtain warrants or exercise reasonable suspicion in arrests, authorities on occasion detained and arrested suspects without warrants or reasonable suspicion. By law an investigative body must either arrest or release individuals within three hours of taking them into custody. Within 72 hours, the investigative body must release the arrested person or file charges and obtain a detention warrant from a judge. Judges rarely denied police requests for detention warrants or reviewed police conduct during arrests. According to the POG report, police did not keep accurate records and either backdated or failed to fill out protocols of detention and arrest.

The law requires police to inform detainees of the reasons for their detention or arrest as well as their right to remain silent and to make a telephone call. Bail was a legal option, but judges employed it rarely and selectively. In practice the judicial system and the law enforcement bodies placed the burden of proof on suspects to demonstrate they did not present a flight risk or would otherwise hamper the investigation, when determining the form of pretrial preventive measure.

Defendants were entitled to representation by an attorney from the moment of arrest. The law entitles detainees to public defenders if they are indigent. According to POG, few detainees were aware of their right to legal representation. Observers indicated police often avoided granting individuals their due-process rights by summoning and holding, rather than formally arresting, them, under the pretext that they were material witnesses rather than suspects. Police could thereby question individuals without giving them the benefit of a defense attorney.

Arbitrary Arrest: According to international organizations and human rights observers, police, NSS personnel, and border guards often detained or arrested individuals without a warrant. Human rights organizations stated such detentions were often a way to begin an investigation, with authorities hoping the suspect would confess and make further investigation unnecessary.

According to the preliminary findings of the fact-finding mission of the Civic Solidarity Platform conducted July 28 to August 1, there were cases in which plainclothes police seized protesters and took them to a police station. The report cited the testimony of Ara Petrosyan, who was walking in the neighborhood of the standoff when an unmarked car stopped and four plainclothes police forced him into the car without explanation, beat him, and then took him to the Erebuni Police Department. Police released him after several hours.

Pretrial Detention: Lengthy pretrial or preventive detention remained a chronic problem. According to official statistics, as of October 31, 9.6 percent of the prison population consisted of pretrial detainees, and an additional 22.7 percent were detainees whose trials were in progress or who were awaiting verdicts to enter into force. Some observers saw police use of excessive pretrial detention as a means of inducing defendants to confess or to reveal self-incriminating evidence. On October 20, the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) in the case of Ara Harutyunyan v. Armenia ruled that the country violated the European Convention on Human Rights by failing to provide relevant and sufficient reasons for the applicant’s detention. The ECHR noted in its ruling that the use of stereotyped formulae when imposing and extending detention appeared to be a recurring problem in the country.

The overuse of detention applied also to juvenile offenders. According to the Council of Europe’s human rights commissioner, juveniles were especially vulnerable in the criminal justice system and were not protected from violations of their rights.

Although the law requires prosecutors to present a well-reasoned justification every two months for extending pretrial custody, judges routinely extended detention on unclear grounds. Authorities generally complied with the six-month limit in ordinary cases and 12-month limit for serious crimes in terms of the total time in pretrial detention. Once prosecutors forward their cases to court for trial, the law does not provide time limits on further detention but indicates only that a trial must be of “reasonable length.” Prosecutors regularly requested and received trial postponements from judges on the grounds needing more time to prepare. Prosecutors tended to blame trial delays on defense lawyers and their requests for more time to prepare a defense. Severely overburdened judicial dockets at all court levels also contributed to lengthy trials.

Detainee’s Ability to Challenge Lawfulness of Detention before a Court: According to legal experts, suspects had no real opportunities to appeal the legality of their arrests. In cases where the courts ruled on a pretrial detention, another court was unlikely to challenge its ruling.

e. Denial of Fair Public Trial

Although the law provides for an independent judiciary, the judiciary did not generally exhibit independence. Administrative courts, however, were relatively more independent than others. There were reports the Court of Cassation dictated the outcome of all significant cases to lower-court judges. According to observers, the Court of Cassation’s control over judicial decisions remained an overarching problem affecting judicial independence.

In an October 27 ruling, the ECHR described the conduct of the chairman of the Court of Cassation in an eminent domain case as “lacking in the necessary detachment demanded by the principle of judicial neutrality” and stated he “raised an objectively justified fear that he lacked impartiality when deciding the applicant’s case.”

Judges remained subject to political pressure from every level of the executive branch, especially from law enforcement agencies, as well as from the judicial hierarchy. Lacking life tenure, they were vulnerable to dismissal and had no effective legal remedies if executive, legislative, or more senior judicial officials decided to punish them.

According to legal experts, the practice of investigators to request pretrial detentions that courts then felt compelled to satisfy, undermined judicial independence and reinforced the impression that courts were simply tools and that investigators actually determined the length of a detention. According to lawyers, past dismissals of certain judges for independent decisions still had a chilling effect on the judiciary as a whole.

In his March 2015 report, the Council of Europe’s human rights commissioner, reflecting the concerns of human rights observers, stated that authorities used disciplinary proceedings unfairly against judges to influence their decisions or retaliate against them. He also noted the involvement of the minister of justice in disciplinary proceedings against judges, a practice incompatible with judicial independence.

Authorities generally complied with court orders.

Trials usually complied with procedural standards but were often unfair in substance, because many judges felt compelled to work with prosecutors to achieve convictions.

NGOs reported judges routinely ignored defendants’ claims that their testimony was coerced through physical abuse. In his March 2015 report, the Council of Europe’s human rights commissioner expressed serious concern about the reliance of courts on evidence that defendants claimed was obtained under duress, especially when such evidence was the basis for a conviction.

Human rights NGOs highlighted violations of the human rights of persons serving life sentences. According to these NGOs, individuals serving such sentences lacked the opportunity to have their sentences meaningfully reviewed by courts when changes in criminal law could possibly have resulted in less severe punishment. According to human rights groups, one of the greatest obstacles to justice for those serving life sentences was the court-ordered destruction of case files and evidence. This action deprived convicts of the opportunity to have their cases reviewed based on forensic analysis using technologies, such as DNA testing.

TRIAL PROCEDURES

The constitution and laws provide for the right to a fair trial, but the judiciary lacked independence to enforce this right.

The law provides for presumption of innocence, but suspects usually did not enjoy this right. During trials authorities informed defendants in detail of the charges against them, and the law provided free language interpretation for non-Armenian speakers when necessary.

The law requires that most trials be public but permits exceptions, including in the interest of “morals,” national security, and the “protection of the private lives of the participants.” Defendants have the right to counsel of their own choosing, and the law requires the government to provide them with a public defender upon request. A shortage of defense lawyers sometimes led to denial of this right outside of Yerevan.

The law limits the defendant’s right and time available to prepare a defense at the pretrial stage by permitting the accused and the defense access to investigative material only after the preliminary investigation was completed. By law defendants may confront witnesses, present evidence, and examine the government’s case in advance of a trial, but defendants and their attorneys had very little ability to challenge government witnesses or police, while courts tended to accept prosecution materials routinely. In particular, the law prohibits police officers from testifying in their official capacities unless they were witnesses or victims in a case. Judges were reluctant to challenge police experts, hampering a defendant’s ability to mount a credible defense. Judges’ control over witness lists and over the determination of the relevance of potential witnesses in criminal cases also impeded the defense. Defense attorneys complained that judges at times did not allow them to request the attendance at trial of defense witnesses. According to lawyers and domestic and international human rights observers, including the Council of Europe’s human rights commissioner, the prosecution retained a dominant position in the criminal justice system.

Human rights lawyers expressed concern regarding a December 2015 constitutional amendment that prohibits the use in court of evidence obtained in violation only of fundamental rights. Prior to the amendment, the constitution had a broader prohibition against the use of evidence obtained in violation of any law.

Defendants, prosecutors, and injured parties have the right of appeal and often exercised it.

There was an expectation that judges would find the accused guilty in almost every case, and the vast majority of criminal cases sent to trial, including many weak cases, resulted in conviction. According to court statistics, the acquittal rate during the first 10 months of the year was approximately 4 percent.

In a rare acquittal, on April 15, trial judge Narine Hovakimyan acquitted and released from detention Karen Kungurtsev, who had spent more than two and one-half years in prison after trial awaiting a verdict on charges of attempted murder. The victim’s family supported Kungurtsev’s claim of innocence, convinced that the real killer of Davit Hovakimyan was the son of a NSS official who had used his position to influence police and the prosecutors to pin the crime on Kungurtsev. The prosecution appealed the acquittal, and as of November 28, the appeal trial continued.

POLITICAL PRISONERS AND DETAINEES

According to human rights’ NGOs and the political opposition, there were political prisoners and detainees in the country.

Human rights organizations considered Gevorg Safaryan, a member of the New Armenia political movement, a political detainee. On January 1, authorities arrested him, after a scuffle between police and a number of activists, including Safaryan, for attempting to put a festive tree in Yerevan’s Freedom Square. Safaryan, who maintained he and others suffered from police brutality, was detained for violence towards police and faced a maximum sentence if convicted of five years’ imprisonment. As of November 28, his trial continued, with witnesses presenting conflicting testimonies.

Human rights NGOs among others also considered as political detainees many of those who faced criminal charges in connection with the July 17-30 events, with the exception of the armed group members who occupied the police building. For example, on July 29 and 30, police detained three members of the Heritage Party (Armen Martisoryan, Hovsep Khurshudyan, and David Sanasaryan) and political activists Andrias Ghukasyan and Davit Hovhannisyan, allegedly for organizing mass disorders. Authorities claimed that the political figures were instigating violence and leading the crowd to join the armed men in the occupied police building but reportedly could not corroborate the charge. On August 17, 19, and 24, separate courts released Martirosyan, Sanasaryan and Khurshudyan on bail; Hovhannisyan and Ghukasyan remained in custody as of November 28. On November 14, the prosecutor general’s office announced that it would combine the criminal case on the organization of mass disorders on July 29, with the criminal case against the Sasna Tsrer group and file charges.

Volodia Avetisyan, a war veteran who, prior to his 2018 arrest, was actively engaged in veterans’ protests for improved social protection, continued to serve a six-year sentence for a conviction of fraud at year’s end. He maintained his innocence and claimed authorities targeted him after he refused to accept bribes in exchange for stopping his civic activism.

CIVIL JUDICIAL PROCEDURES AND REMEDIES

Although citizens had access to courts to file lawsuits seeking damages for human rights violations, the courts were widely perceived as corrupt. Citizens also had access to the ombudsman’s office as well as the possibility of challenging in the Constitutional Court the constitutionality of laws and legal acts that violated their fundamental rights and freedoms. While the Constitutional Court exercised its power to determine the constitutionality of statutes in dozens of cases, lower courts, which are subordinate to the Court of Cassation rather than to the Constitutional Court, enforced its decisions unevenly.

Citizens who exhaust domestic legal remedies may appeal cases involving alleged government violations of the European Convention on Human Rights to the ECHR. The government generally complied with ECHR awards of monetary compensation but did not meaningfully review the cases on which the ECHR had ruled. When ruling on a case to which a prior ECHR decision applied, courts often did not follow the applicable ECHR precedent.

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

The constitution prohibits unauthorized searches and provides for the rights to privacy and confidentiality of communications. Law enforcement organizations did not always abide by these prohibitions.

Authorities may not legally wiretap telephones, intercept correspondence, or conduct searches without obtaining the permission of a judge based on compelling evidence of criminal activity. The constitution, however, stipulates exceptions when confidentiality of communication may be restricted without a court order when necessary to protect state security and conditioned by the special status of those in communication. Although law enforcement bodies generally adhered to legal procedures, attorneys claimed judges often authorized wiretaps, the interception of correspondence, and searches without receiving the compelling evidence required by law, rendering the legal procedures largely a formality. Authorities reportedly tapped the telephone communications, e-mail, and other digital communications of individuals the government wanted to keep under scrutiny, including human rights defenders, activists and political figures.

Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:

a. Freedom of Speech and Press

The constitution and law provide for freedom of speech and press, but the government’s respect for these rights was uneven. Print, online, and broadcast media generally expressed views sympathetic to their owners or advertisers, a mix of government officials and oligarchs. There were several instances of violence toward journalists in connection with their coverage of peaceful protests.

Freedom of Speech and Expression: While most individuals were able to criticize the government publicly or privately and discuss matters of general public interest without fear of reprisal, members of media often exercised self-censorship to avoid official harassment.

On August 7, the independent media portal Medialab.am organized an open-air exhibit of its political cartoons following refusals from various hall owners in Yerevan to rent it exhibition space. On the night of the show, Medialab director Marianna Grigoryan’s car was burglarized, and all posters and T-shirts with the cartoons intended to be displayed during the weeklong show were stolen. On September 30, police suspended the investigation after failing to identify the perpetrators.

Press and Media Freedoms: Print and broadcast media generally lacked diversity of political opinion and objective reporting. Private individuals or groups owned most newspapers, and newspapers, with limited circulation, tended to reflect the political leanings of proprietors and financial backers, who in turn were often close to the government. Broadcast media, particularly national television, remained the primary source of news and information for the majority of the population. Politicians in the ruling party and politically connected executives owned most stations, and the stations presented one-sided views of events. Regional television channels provided some alternative viewpoints, often through externally produced content. On politically sensitive topics, however, media overwhelmingly provided only government-supported views and analysis.

The few independent media outlets, mostly online, were not self-sustainable and survived through international funding. During the year one such outlet, Armenia Now, regarded by media experts and the public as providing professional and unbiased content, closed after donations from an American-Armenian philanthropist ended. According to media experts, even a permanent readership was insufficient to save an outlet from financial collapse in an environment where financial patronage often controlled content.

In December 2015, the National Assembly changed the law regulating the issuance of channels on the digital broadcast network. Media watchdogs criticized the amendments, asserting they sought to consolidate progovernment outlets’ control over the media market.

The government did not generally control the content of online media, which together with social networks, served as an important alternative source of information. Unlike broadcast media, online media and social networks tended to provide diverse political opinions. The livestreaming of important political events gained in importance among the online media outlets, especially during public protests. Nevertheless, online media also showed signs of the influence by politically connected owners and advertisers. There were credible reports that both online and broadcast media outlets were in the hands of a few government-affiliated individuals. Traditional and online media ownership remained nontransparent.

Violence and Harassment: Police targeted journalists covering public protests and subjected them to violence. As of August 9, authorities charged four police officers with violence against journalists. Investigations continued at year’s end.

On July 29, police and armed civilians acting in coordination with them used stun grenades, wooden clubs, and metal bars against journalists and damaged or seized their equipment while dispersing a rally of persons sympathetic with the demands of the Sasna Tsrer group. As a result, 24 reporters and operators suffered injuries. Before the rally’s dispersal, police instructed the journalists to move away from the main crowd for safety. According to numerous accounts, after journalists complied, police fired the first stun grenades toward them.

The Prosecutor General’s Office and SIS initiated criminal investigations into the violence. Police also announced that they were seeking to identify the civilians who beat the journalists. While police searched for those involved, reporters and social media users posted photos of three such “civilians”, identifying one as Arshak Hakobyan, the head of security for national Chief of Police Vladimir Gasparyan, and two others as Gasparyan’s personal bodyguards. According to official information eight civilians were charged in connection with this case, four of whom–Seyran Karapetyan, Vladmir Mkhitaryan, Davit Sargsyan, and Karen Grigoryan–were convicted and sentenced to one year in prison and fined 200,000 drams ($420). Authorities forwarded the cases against three others, Gor Khachatryan, Garegin Hovsepyan, and Tigran Aharanoyan, to the courts, while the case against Sargis Sahakyan remained under investigation. As of November 25, no law enforcement officers had been charged and the investigation continued at year’s end (see sections 1.c., 1.d., and 2.b.).

On August 9, more than a year after police beat and detained journalists while dispersing a peaceful June 2015 protest in downtown Yerevan, SIS announced it had charged four police officers, Davit Perikhanyan, Kostan Budaghyan, Tachat Noratunkyan, and Artur Ayvazyan, with obstructing the activities of four reporters in this case. Media NGOs considered the decision inadequate, in view of the fact that two dozen journalists had suffered from police abuse, which, they maintained, high-ranking police officials had ordered. As of November 28, the trial against the four officers and the investigation into the other instances of abuse continued.

Censorship and Content Restrictions: Media outlets, particularly broadcasters, feared reprisals for reports critical of the government. Such reprisals could include lawsuits, the threat of losing a broadcast license, selective tax investigation, or loss of revenue when advertisers learned an outlet was in disfavor with the government. Fear of retribution resulted in media self-censorship. The escalation of the armed conflict with Azerbaijan in April was marked by a higher degree of self-censorship by media outlets as well as social media users, who uncritically presented only government or de facto Nagorno-Karabakh authorities’ reports on the conflict.

INTERNET FREEDOM

Individuals and groups could generally engage in the expression of views via the internet, including by e-mail. Some human rights activists and opposition party members claimed, however, that authorities monitored their e-mail and other internet communications (see section 1.f.). On the morning of July 17, the first day of the armed takeover of the Erebuni police compound, access to Facebook was inexplicably unavailable for approximately 45 minutes. This was the only case of possible government disruption of internet access during the year.

The International Telecommunication Union estimated that 58 percent of the population used the internet in 2015.

ACADEMIC FREEDOM AND CULTURAL EVENTS

There were some reports of government restrictions on academic freedom and cultural events.

Both the administration and student councils of the most prominent state universities were politicized and affiliated with the RPA. For example, the president of the Board of Trustees of Yerevan State University, Serzh Sargsyan, was president of the country. Government ministers led, or were members of, the boards of trustees of other universities. According to human rights observers, student councils in most universities experienced various forms of pressure to support the interests of the university rather than those of the student body and to keep the student body focused on nonpolitical and less sensitive issues.

During elections as well as the December 2015 referendum, authorities used public educational institutions (schools, universities, and even kindergartens) to support RPA activities to influence the youth. Lack of employment opportunities for teachers and scholars limited their willingness to refuse to engage in such political activity. During the December 2015 constitutional referendum, there were numerous reports of school principals pressing employees to promote the “yes” campaign for constitutional changes pushed by the ruling party. Many school administrators also participated in referendum commissions, creating a potential for election violations. Media reported on one teacher, Karpis Pashoyan, who lost his job for refusing to promote the “yes” campaign and trying to prevent referendum fraud.

b. Freedom of Peaceful Assembly and Association

FREEDOM OF ASSEMBLY

The constitution and the law provide for freedom of assembly. While many small-scale gatherings occurred without interference during the year, in multiple instances the government used violence and excessive force against demonstrators or detained them arbitrarily and otherwise hampered peaceful gatherings.

From July 17 to July 30 and subsequently, while the Sasna Tsrer group held hostage the Patrol-Guard Service Regiment of the Erebuni Police in Yerevan, persons sympathetic to the group or their political demands held numerous demonstrations. Protesters mainly gathered on Freedom Square or on Khorenatsi Street and staged marches in the streets of Yerevan. Police interfered with the marches, used force, and arbitrarily detained hundreds of individuals participating in the protests, subjecting many to violence, often asserting that the gatherings lacked a permit. In its report on the events between July 17 and August 5, the Helsinki Committee of Armenia stated the rallies “were accompanied by brutal interventions and unprecedented violations committed by police.”

The Brussels-based NGO International Partnership for Human Rights (IPHR) within the framework of Civic Solidarity Platform (CSP), an international coalition of human rights NGOs, conducted a fact-finding mission to the country from July 28 to August 1 and described the demonstrations as largely peaceful. CSP monitors also observed the efforts by demonstration leaders to restrain the public from acts of violence. The CSP looked into two instances in which police used nonlethal weapons against demonstrators on July 20 and July 29, concluding that such weapons were justified on July 20, when the crowd acted aggressively. The CSP concluded that police used excessive force subsequently, after the demonstrators had dispersed. According to the CSP, police use of rocket-projected or hand-held stun grenades on July 29 was disproportionate, excessive, and indiscriminate and employed without advance warning.

According to legal experts, the police practice of arbitrarily detaining peaceful demonstrators constituted a de facto application of “administrative detention” that was outlawed in 2005. According to the legal experts and IPHR, police employed detention primarily as a means of stopping what were largely peaceful protests.

The Helsinki Committee, in a report covering the observation of 126 assemblies between July 2015 and June, noted that police presence at those rallies was disproportionate to the number of participants and that police used blanket restrictions to ban rallies in certain venues, such as in front of the president’s office. The report cited significant police interference in 29 cases, including arrests, violence, and forcible removal of participants from one venue to another. The report also questioned the arbitrary interpretation by police of freedom of assembly laws as well as police methods, such as giving orders or instructions to participants without an accompanying justification or reason and then charging them with resisting a “lawful demand” when they did not comply.

According to official sources, as of November 25, SIS had not charged anyone or identified any suspects in connection with the charges of abuse of official authority related to the alleged abuses by law enforcement officers during the July protests.

FREEDOM OF ASSOCIATION

The constitution and law provide this right, and the government generally respected it. The government did not provide a legal framework to support the financial sustainability of NGOs. The law does not permit such organizations to charge fees for their services, create endowments, or engage directly in profit-generating activities to fund their operations and achieve their statutory goals. As a result NGOs were dependent on grants and donations.

c. Freedom of Religion

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.

Abuse of Migrants, Refugees, and Stateless Persons: Authorities did not generally release asylum seekers serving sentences for illegal entry into the country after registering their asylum applications. Instead, they required them to remain in pretrial detention pending the outcome of their asylum application or to serve the remainder of their sentences, despite a provision in the criminal code exempting asylum seekers from criminal liability. The Office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) reported that authorities detained two Afghan asylum seekers for illegal border crossing on October 2015. The detention took place despite their application for asylum almost immediately after their apprehension at the border and despite the fact that a final decision on their asylum claims was pending as of November 28. Due to their prolonged detention, both individuals developed severe physical and psychological health problems. On November 15, a trial court convicted both asylum seekers for illegally crossing the border and sentenced them to three years’ imprisonment, the minimum sentence for this offense.

According to UNHCR, while the overall quality of procedures and decision making for determination of refugee status improved, concerns remained regarding adjudication of cases of asylum seekers of certain religious profiles. UNHCR observed that security considerations permeated all aspects of the asylum procedure and implementation of refugee policies. UNHCR noted with concern the increasing influence of NSS on asylum decision making by the State Migration Service and cases of prolonged detention of non-Christian asylum seekers who had entered the country illegally. For example, starting at the end of 2015, authorities applied stricter approaches to asylum seekers from Iraq who were not ethnically Armenian.

According to UNHCR, questions remained as to the circumstances of the departure of one asylum seeker from Bahrain who had been detained in the country in connection with an Interpol Red Notice. Human rights NGOs reported that authorities had forced the asylum seeker to agree to depart for a third country as an alternative to extradition.

Authorities cooperated with UNHCR and other humanitarian organizations in providing protection and assistance to internally displaced persons (IDPs), refugees, returning refugees, asylum seekers, stateless persons, or other persons of concern.

Foreign Travel: Citizens must obtain exit visas to leave the country on either a temporary or a permanent basis. Citizens could routinely purchase exit visas for temporary travel outside the country within one day of application for approximately 1,000 drams ($2.10) for each year of validity.

INTERNALLY DISPLACED PERSONS

As of May 2015, according to the Internal Displacement Monitoring Center, approximately 8,400 IDPs of the roughly 65,000 households evacuated during 1988-94 were still living in displacement. Some of the country’s IDPs and former refugees lacked adequate housing and had limited economic opportunities.

PROTECTION OF REFUGEES

Access to Asylum: The law provides for granting asylum or refugee status, and the government has established a system for providing protection to refugees. The law takes into account of specific needs of children, persons with mental disabilities and trauma survivors. The amended law also allows detention centers to receive asylum applications.

The increase in violence along the Line of Contact and Armenia-Azerbaijan international border April 1-5 led to displacement of civilians from villages close to the Line of Contact. Some of the displaced remained in Nagorno-Karabakh, while others entered Armenia to seek refuge. According to UNHCR observers, the overwhelming majority of displaced persons consisted of women, children, and elderly persons, primarily from the villages close to the Line of Contact. UNHCR estimated the total numbers of displaced at approximately 2,300 at the peak of displacement, with approximately 540 remaining in the country as of November 8.

Access to Basic Services: Authorities continued to offer ethnic Armenians from Syria who remained in the country a choice of various protection options, namely expedited naturalization, a residence permit, or refugee status. Quick access to citizenship gave persons displaced from Syria the same legal rights to health care and most other social services as other citizens. Housing allocated to refugees was often in limited supply and in poor condition and remained the biggest concern for them, as well as employment. Many displaced families relied on a rental subsidy program supported by UNHCR and diaspora organizations. In 2015 authorities opened an integration house with places for 29 refugees and offered refugees accommodation free of charge during the first months after they acquired refugee status. Language differences with Syrian-Armenian refugees who spoke a different dialect created barriers to employment and, initially, education. In addition refugees faced many of the same social and economic hardships that confronted the general population. Refugees who were not ethnic Armenians needed three years of legal residence in the country to be naturalized.

Durable Solutions: Authorities offered ethnic Armenians from Syria who remained in the country the option of expedited naturalization. On July 21, the government adopted a concept document outlining its goals concerning the integration of persons granted asylum and refugee status as well as of long-term migrants. According to UNHCR, while in principle a welcome step to enhance the legal framework for the protection of refugees, the concept did not cover Syrians who had obtained Armenian citizenship, thus excluding from coverage the majority of displaced Syrians who had arrived in country since the beginning of the conflict. The concept also does not address critical aspects of integration, such as language needs and access to education.

STATELESS PERSONS

As of June 30, according to the police passport and visas department, there were approximately 300 stateless persons in the country. In addition authorities considered approximately 1,400 refugees from Azerbaijan to be stateless. In May amendments to citizenship legislation contributed to the prevention and reduction of statelessness. The amendments provided Armenian nationality to stateless children born on the country’s territory, including children born of foreigners who held Armenian citizenship but did not meet the requirement for transmission to their children. These changes de facto affected those born on the territory of Nagorno-Karabakh, who had access to Armenian identity documents when requested. There was anecdotal evidence that some persons without documents were stateless or at risk of being stateless because they had entered the country irregularly or lived in remote areas and still held Soviet documents. Rejected applicants for naturalization did not have the right to appeal. There was no clear procedure for the determination of statelessness and no national legislation on the rights of stateless persons.

Section 3. Freedom to Participate in the Political Process

Although the constitution and laws provide citizens the ability to choose their government in free and fair periodic elections based on universal and equal suffrage and conducted by secret ballot, the government continued to interfere throughout the electoral process via practices designed to ensure the dominance of the ruling RPA.

In December 2015 the country held a constitutional referendum, which, in conjunction with subsequent amendments to the electoral code, resulted in shifting the state structure from a semipresidential to a parliamentary republic, eliminating direct election of the president and mayors of two major cities and introducing a complex proportional electoral system that many characterized as semimajoritarian.

Elections and Political Participation

Recent Elections: The country held a presidential election in 2013 and National Assembly elections in 2012. The OSCE’s Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights (ODIHR) described the presidential election as well administered but with shortcomings, including an uneven playing field, serious election-day violations, and concerns about the integrity of the electoral process. Reports of bribery of voters, large-scale administrative abuses favoring incumbents, evidence of impostors voting in place of absentee voters, and the presence of unauthorized organized groups at many precincts undermined the process and further discredited the institution of elections in the public eye. Similar flaws marred the 2012 National Assembly elections, in which OSCE/ ODIHR found credible allegations of vote buying, deficiencies in the complaints and appeals process, and shortcomings in the electoral code despite improvements.

In December 2015 citizens voted in a referendum, initiated by the president, to amend the constitution and move from a semipresidential to a parliamentary system of government. Many civil society organizations and some opposition political forces contended the constitutional changes did not respond to any demand in society and represented an effort by the ruling party to prolong the power of the country’s existing leadership. The conduct of the constitutional referendum was peaceful, but there were credible media reports indicating systemic fraud by those affiliated with the government. There were also reports that officials threatened and pressured employees in the large state-run sector to vote for the referendum.

Domestic observers and media noted such irregularities during the referendum as ballot box stuffing, vote buying, multiple voting by the same individuals, and fraudulent vote tabulation. The government initiated numerous investigations related to referendum fraud and violations, none of which resulted in a prison sentence. In the 42 cases tried, 36 persons were sentenced to fines and 10 received a suspended sentence, with one other person acquitted at the appeals court level.

Political Parties and Political Participation: While the law does not overly restrict the registration or activity of political parties, authorities suppressed political pluralism in other ways.

Continuing complaints that the government used its administrative and legal resources to discourage financial contributions to opposition parties, including by selective tax investigations, served to limit their activities. Civil society organizations reported incumbents abused government resources during election campaigns, including by threatening to deprive families of social benefits and students of scholarships as punishment for refusing to vote for the incumbent or support the constitutional reform.

Affiliation with the ruling party reportedly helped individuals maintain and further their careers in both the public and private sectors. Numerous reports from local observers indicated some community leaders who ran as independents either joined the RPA or became RPA loyalists after they were elected, due to concern they could not function effectively otherwise. Local communities depended in part on state funding, and reports suggested the level of support community leaders received from the state budget often depended on their party affiliation. Similarly, within public schools, universities, state medical facilities, and other publically funded institutions, there were allegations that individuals had to be RPA members or loyalists to attain leadership positions and resources. According to media and other reports, becoming a ruling party member or loyalist paved the way for better grades, scholarships, and other types of favorable treatment. The ruling party and its candidates allegedly abused administrative resources at public and some private enterprises to intimidate employers and to ensure their support.

Media reports, human rights NGOs, and some opposition political party leaders alleged that authorities created, managed, and coopted opposition parties and politicians. The allegations–whether justified or not–were yet another factor diminishing public trust in the overall political process.

There were complaints that well-connected business owners funneled a portion of their profits to the ruling party or to parties affiliated with the ruling political elite in return for economic advantage in the form of limited or no taxation. There were also allegations that the government discriminated against members of opposition political parties in hiring decisions.

Participation of Women and Minorities: The hierarchical and patriarchal nature of society inhibited participation by women in political life and in decision-making positions in the public sector. At year’s end there were 13 women in the 131-seat National Assembly, three in the cabinet of 18 ministers, and no female governors in the country’s 10 regions. Only 10 of the 65 elected Yerevan City Council members were women.

Australia

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

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

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

b. Disappearance

There were no reports of politically motivated disappearances.

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

The law prohibits such practices, and the government generally respected these provisions. There were occasional claims police and prison officials mistreated suspects in custody.

In July an investigative news program revealed that from 2010 until 2015, some juveniles at the Don Dale Detention Center in the Northern Territory were tear-gassed, physically assaulted, stripped naked, shackled, and hooded. A spokesperson for the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) stated the mistreatment at the detention center may breach two human rights conventions, and could amount to torture. Northern Territory Chief Minister Adam Giles removed the Corrections Minister, brought responsibility for the detention center under the Chief Minister’s Office, and vowed to build a new youth detention center. In July, Prime Minister Turnbull announced a joint royal commission into juvenile detention in the Northern Territory, and the reports have prompted calls for the commission to look into alleged abuses in other states.

In November 2015 the government investigated the death of an indigenous woman in police custody in Western Australia. The coroner investigated claims of mistreatment and neglect of the woman in custody and the “failure to respond with sufficient urgency” by police to the woman’s deteriorating health. A Western Australian Police senior detective told the inquest that police did not directly cause the woman’s death; however, their neglect “may have contributed to her demise.” The senior constable responsible for the woman while in custody received an administrative warning from the assistant police commissioner and an internal police investigation found 11 police officers failed to comply with appropriate police regulations. The government did not conclude its official inquiry by year’s end.

Prison and Detention Center Conditions

Prison and detention center conditions generally met international standards.

Physical Conditions: In June 2015 the Australian Institute of Criminology reported 53 deaths in prison in 2012-13. Of the 53 deaths, 32 were from natural causes, nine from hanging, five from external/multiple trauma, one from head injury, one from drugs, and one from other/multiple causes. The report excluded four cases due to missing data.

In November 2015 media reported that a New South Wales Auditor-General’s report found the state’s prisons held an average of 11,011 inmates a day, while there was capacity for only 9,829. In June the Queensland Corrective Services Minister said an increase in prisoner-on-prisoner assaults was “partly due to overcrowding in the state’s prison system.”

In July the Office of the Inspector of Custodial Services in Western Australia released findings into its 2015 inspection of Hakea Prison. The acting inspector reported overcrowding resulted in violence within the prison and “inadequate appreciation of human rights,” particularly for pretrial detainees.

As of May 31, there were 1,254 persons in immigration detention facilities in the country, including 177 on Christmas Island. As part of the government’s Operation Sovereign Borders (OSB), a multi-agency initiative launched in 2013 aimed at preventing the arrival of asylum seekers by boat, the governments of Papua New Guinea and Nauru operated immigration detention centers on behalf of the Australian government where the respective host governments processed applications for intercepted asylum seekers. As of July 31, there were 411 asylum seekers on Nauru and 833 on Papua New Guinea’s Manus Island. On April 28, a 23-year-old Iranian male asylum seeker died in a Brisbane hospital after setting himself on fire at the Nauru detention center. On May 2, a Somali female asylum seeker set herself on fire at the Nauru detention center and authorities transferred her to a Brisbane hospital where she remained in a critical condition.

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

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

d. Arbitrary Arrest or Detention

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

ROLE OF THE POLICE AND SECURITY APPARATUS

The armed forces, under the minister for defense, are responsible for external security. The Australian Federal Police (AFP)–under the minister for justice–and state and territorial police forces are responsible for internal security. The AFP enforces national laws, and state and territorial police forces enforce state and territorial laws. The Department of Immigration and Border Protection and the Australian Border Force are responsible for migration and border enforcement.

Civilian authorities maintained effective control over the armed forces and police, and the government had effective mechanisms to investigate and punish abuse and corruption. There were no reports of impunity involving the security forces during the year.

ARREST PROCEDURES AND TREATMENT OF DETAINEES

Police officers may seek an arrest warrant from a magistrate when a suspect cannot be located or fails to appear, but they also may arrest a person without a warrant if there are reasonable grounds to believe the person committed an offense. Police must inform arrested persons immediately of their legal rights and the grounds for their arrest, and must bring arrested persons before a magistrate for a bail hearing at the next session of the court. The law permits police to hold individuals in preventive detention without charge for up to 48 hours under federal law and up to 14 days under state and territory laws if a senior police official finds it is “reasonably necessary to prevent a terrorist act or preserve evidence of such an act.” Police may detain individuals for an additional 24 hours under court order.

The law states that 24 hours is the maximum investigation period police may hold and question a person without charge, unless extended by court order. In the case of a terrorism suspect, however, police may detain a person for up to seven continuous days and police can question the suspect for a maximum period of 24 hours, or 48 hours if an interpreter is needed.

A separate provision of law permits the attorney general to grant the Australian Security Intelligence Organization (ASIO) authority to detain a person for a continuous period of up to 168 hours (seven days) in special circumstances, such as “reasonable grounds for believing that issuing the warrant to be requested will substantially assist the collection of intelligence that is important in relation to a terrorism offense.” The ASIO, however, reportedly has not used this authority.

The law permits a judge to authorize “control orders” on persons suspected of involvement with terrorism-related activities. These orders may include a range of measures, such as monitoring of suspects and house arrest, and may be in effect for up to one year without filing criminal charges. Authorities can renew a control order after one year with a new court order. In February police arrested a Sydney man for accessing terrorist propaganda videos in violation of his control order stemming from a previous arrest in August 2014 at Sydney Airport for allegedly seeking to fight for the Islamic State. In June the court denied him bail.

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

Bail generally is available to persons facing criminal charges unless authorities consider the person a flight risk or the charges carrying a penalty of 12 months’ imprisonment or more. Authorities granted attorneys and families prompt access to detainees. Government-provided attorneys are available to give legal advice to detainees who cannot afford counsel. Arrested persons enjoy additional legal protections, such as the ability to challenge the lawfulness of their detention and to apply for compensation if unlawfully detained.

Detainee’s Ability to Challenge Lawfulness of Detention before a Court: Persons arrested or detained, regardless of whether on criminal or other grounds, are entitled to challenge in court the legal basis or arbitrary nature of their detention and obtain prompt release and compensation if found to have been unlawfully detained.

Protracted Detention of Rejected Asylum Seekers or Stateless Persons: A small number of asylum seekers remained in long-term detention despite having exhausted the appeal process. Authorities could not return them to their home country because they lacked travel documents or could not obtain necessary transit visas.

e. Denial of Fair Public Trial

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

TRIAL PROCEDURES

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

POLITICAL PRISONERS AND DETAINEES

There were no reports of political prisoners or detainees.

CIVIL JUDICIAL PROCEDURES AND REMEDIES

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

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

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

Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:

a. Freedom of Speech and Press

Although the constitution does not explicitly provide for freedom of speech or press, the High Court has held that the constitution implies a right to freedom of expression, and the government generally respected these rights. An independent press, an effective judiciary, and a functioning democratic political system combined to promote freedom of speech and press.

INTERNET FREEDOM

The government did not restrict or disrupt access to the internet or censor online content, and there were no credible reports the government monitored private online communications without appropriate legal authority. The internet was widely available to and used by citizens. In February the Australia Bureau of Statistics (ABS) reported that 86 percent of households had access to the internet at home in 2014-15.

Law enforcement agencies require a warrant to intercept telecommunications, including internet communications. In emergencies the director general of the ASIO may issue a warrant for this purpose without prior judicial authorization, but the attorney general must be informed.

The Australian Communications and Media Authority (ACMA) maintained a list of “refused classification” website content, primarily pertaining to child pornography, sexual violence, and other activities illegal in the country, compiled because of a consumer complaints process. The ACMA may issue a notice to the internet service provider to remove domestically hosted “refused classification” material, or links to such material, that is the subject of a complaint if an investigation concludes the complaint is justified. The list is available to providers of filtering software. An owner or operator of such a website can appeal an ACMA decision to the Administrative Appeals Tribunal (AAT), an executive body that reviews administrative decisions by government entities. Since 2010 three major telecommunications providers voluntarily blocked websites on Interpol’s list of child-abuse links.

ACADEMIC FREEDOM AND CULTURAL EVENTS

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

b. Freedom of Peaceful Assembly and Association

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

c. Freedom of Religion

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.

Abuse of Migrants, Refugees, and Stateless Persons: In August, The Guardian leaked 2,000 reports of abuse of asylum seekers on Nauru, some involving accusations of assault, sexual abuse, and abuse of children.

The government cooperated with the Office of the United Nations 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.

PROTECTION OF REFUGEES

The government maintains a humanitarian refugee program that includes several types of visas available to refugees for resettlement in the country. UNHCR identifies and refers the majority of applicants considered under the program. For the fiscal year that began on July 1, the intake remained at 13,750. In 2015-16 authorities reserved at least 1,000 places for women at risk and at least 1,500 for Syrians. In September 2015 the government announced it would accept an additional 12,000 refugees from Syria and Iraq for permanent resettlement, in addition to the annual refugee intake of 13,750.

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

The number of asylum seekers arriving by sea significantly increased between 2008 and 2013, putting pressure on detention center capacity, processing times, and the capacity of the humanitarian refugee program. In the 2012-13 fiscal year, the government recorded 25,750 such arrivals. As of May 31, 28,329 asylum seekers were living in the community while authorities processed their cases. The country retained third party processing of asylum seekers in Nauru and Papua New Guinea for asylum seekers who arrived after July 19, 2013. Authorities continued their policy of not settling those arrivals in the country and forced intercepted boats carrying smuggled persons back into the territorial waters of their country of embarkation when safe to do so. Since the inception of OSB in 2013, authorities have transferred 2,125 asylum seekers to Nauru and Papua New Guinea’s Manus Island as of May 31, and there were 537 voluntary returns to country of origin during this period. In June the immigration minister reported that authorities had turned back 28 boats transporting asylum seekers since 2013.

The law authorizes the immigration minister to designate a country as a regional offshore processing center, if the minister determines it is in the national interest to do so, and requires the minister to notify parliament, which may then disapprove the proposed designation within five working days of notification. The law states that such a designation “need not be limited by reference to the international obligations or domestic law of that country.” Under the government’s policy on asylum processing for unauthorized maritime arrivals, asylum seekers transferred to third countries for regional processing have their asylum claims assessed by the country in which the claim is processed.

In 2013 the previous Labor government entered into a Regional Resettlement Arrangement with Papua New Guinea to send all unauthorized maritime arrivals to Papua New Guinea for assessment and to resettle those found to be refugees in Papua New Guinea. In 2013 Nauru became part of the arrangement. The government then began transferring all unauthorized maritime asylum seeker arrivals to Papua New Guinea and Nauru for processing. As of September Papua New Guinea had not approved any permanent resettlement arrangements but had granted refugee status to at least 50 individuals for release into the local community to receive support services at an open facility, including language training, cultural orientation, and case support. In 2014 the government reached agreement with Cambodia to resettle refugees on a voluntary basis from the processing center in Nauru. Of the five refugees settled in Cambodia, four voluntarily returned to their country of origin. In October 2015 the Nauruan government announced it would expedite processing for the 600 outstanding refugee claims and claimants would be able to move freely around the island, while maintaining access to assistance from the regional processing center.

In 2014 parliament passed a law that the government stated, “fundamentally changes Australia’s approach to managing asylum seekers” and was partly aimed at addressing a backlog of approximately 30,000 asylum applications. The legislation provided additional clarity and consistency in the powers to detain and move vessels and persons; introduced three-year temporary protection visas (TPV) for those who arrived between August 13, 2012 and December 31, 2013; and introduced a “fast-track” assessment process for those who arrived during this period. It also established a Safe Haven Enterprise Visa (SHEV) that enabled TPV holders to apply for five-year visas to work in non-metropolitan areas. After holding a SHEV for three and a half years, an applicant would be eligible to apply for other onshore visas, such as a permanent skilled visa.

There is a statutory obligation for the government to facilitate access to legal representation for persons in immigration detention. In March 2014 the federal government tightened access to government-funded legal assistance to only those that arrived through authorized channels.

In May there were 399 persons in immigration detention for longer than 730 days and the average duration authorities held them in detention facilities was 459 days.

There were no children (younger than 18 years) in immigration detention in the country as of May 31, compared with 118 in 2014. There were 50 children on Nauru and none on Manus Island. In 2014 the government announced arrangements to enable more minors to reside in the community while authorities processed their applications.

On May 2, UNHCR stated, “There is no doubt that the current policy of offshore processing and prolonged detention is immensely harmful…Despite efforts by the Governments of Papua New Guinea and Nauru, arrangements in both countries have proved completely untenable….The situation of these people has deteriorated progressively over time, as UNHCR has witnessed firsthand over numerous visits since the opening of the centers.”

In February the Australian High Court threw out a challenge to the existence of the country’s offshore immigration detention center on Nauru. In March protests occurred in major cities after authorities prepared to return a one-year-old girl to Nauru 24 hours after her transfer to a Brisbane hospital for severe burns. Doctors refused to release the infant and the Victorian government issued a public letter to the prime minister criticizing the federal government’s stance on children in detention, and offered to resettle the refugees in Victoria.

More than 1,800 academics urged the prime minister to call a summit to create a more “just and humane approach” to handling asylum seekers arriving by sea. The Supreme Court of Papua New Guinea ruled in April that the detention of asylum seekers at the Manus Island processing center was illegal. The Australian government stated in August it intended to close the Manus Island Center, but did not reveal a specific date.

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

Section 3. Freedom to Participate in the Political Process

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

Elections and Political Participation

Recent Elections: The country held a free and fair federal parliamentary election in July. Voters re-elected the Liberal-National Party Coalition government and Malcolm Turnbull remained prime minister. The coalition won 76 seats in the 150-seat House of Representatives, the Labor Party 69, and others five.

Participation of Women and Minorities: There are no legal impediments to voting or holding public office for women or minorities.

Indigenous persons and other minorities generally were underrepresented relative to their share of the population. In 2010 voters elected an indigenous person to the federal House of Representatives for the first time; voters elected the first indigenous woman to the Senate in 2013; and voters elected the first indigenous woman to the House of Representatives in the recent election. An indigenous woman succeeded another indigenous woman as senator for the Northern Territory and voters elected an indigenous man as senator for Western Australia. Five indigenous persons served in the federal parliament. In September 2015 the prime minister named an indigenous member of parliament as the assistant minister for health, making him the first indigenous person on the parliamentary front bench; he retained this portfolio after the election. There were two indigenous persons in the Western Australia state parliament and six in the Northern Territory legislative assembly, which included the Northern Territory’s chief minister and the first indigenous state-level head of government. The Tasmania and New South Wales state parliaments and the Australian Capital Territory legislative assembly each had one indigenous member.

Austria

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

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

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

b. Disappearance

There were no reports of politically motivated disappearances.

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

The law prohibits such practices, but there were some reports that police used excessive force with detainees and psychiatric patients.

In November 2015 the Council of Europe’s Committee for the Prevention of Torture (CPT) released a report on its 2014 visit to police establishments, prisons, and a psychiatric establishment in the country. While the vast majority of detainees interviewed by the CPT had been treated correctly by police, the CPT also received a few allegations of excessive use of force.

The government investigated allegations of such practices and prosecuted cases in which credible evidence existed. In March a Vienna court acquitted a police officer charged with bodily injury when he apprehended a suspected pickpocket in July 2015. The officer asserted that he had attempted to prevent an attack on his colleague. The Human Rights Advisory Council and the federal ombudsmen monitored police respect for human rights and made recommendations to the minister of the interior.

Prison and Detention Center Conditions

There were no significant reports regarding prison or detention center conditions that raised human rights concerns.

Physical Conditions: The reported incidence of death in prisons and pretrial detention centers was low, although specific numbers were not available. In its November 2015 report, the CPT expressed “serious concern” about the almost total lack of medical confidentiality in all the establishments visited and the fact that prison officers with only basic health care training performed health-related tasks normally reserved for qualified nurses.

In the course of a restructuring of the prison system administration in 2015, a unit in the justice ministry took over the overall management and supervision.

Administration: The government investigated and monitored prison and detention center conditions. The federal ombudsman’s office may investigate allegations of inhuman conditions on behalf of prisoners and detainees.

Independent Monitoring: Nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) monitored detainees on a regular basis. Human rights groups continued to criticize the incarceration of nonviolent offenders, including persons awaiting deportation, in single cells or inadequate facilities designed for temporary detention. The CPT conducted periodic visits to the country, most recently in September-October 2014, to examine the treatment of persons in police custody and prison as well as detention center conditions for migrants. The CPT also visited a psychiatric hospital to examine the use of physical restraints.

d. Arbitrary Arrest or Detention

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

ROLE OF THE POLICE AND SECURITY APPARATUS

Civilian authorities maintained effective control over the police and army, and the government had effective mechanisms to investigate and punish abuse and corruption. The federal police maintain internal security and report to the Ministry of the Interior. The army is responsible for external security but also has some domestic security responsibilities and reports to the Defense Ministry. The criminal courts are responsible for investigating police violations of the law.

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

ARREST PROCEDURES AND TREATMENT OF DETAINEES

Authorities base arrests on sufficient evidence and legal warrants issued by a duly authorized official. Authorities bring the arrested person before an independent judiciary. In criminal cases the law allows investigative or pretrial detention for no more than 48 hours, during which time a judge may decide to grant a prosecution request for extended detention. The law specifies the grounds for investigative detention and conditions for bail. There were strict checks on the enforcement of pretrial detention restrictions and bail provisions, and a judge is required to evaluate investigative detention cases periodically. The maximum duration for investigative detention is two years. There is a functioning bail system. Police and judicial authorities generally respected these laws and procedures. There were isolated reports of police abuse, which authorities investigated and, where warranted, prosecuted.

Detainees have the right to a lawyer. Although indigent criminal suspects have the right to an attorney at government expense, the law requires appointment of an attorney only after a court decision to remand such suspects into custody (96 hours after apprehension). Criminal suspects are not legally required to answer questions without an attorney present. Laws providing for compensation for persons unlawfully detained were enforced.

In its November 2015 report, the CPT found it unacceptable that authorities were continuing the practice of subjecting juveniles, some as young as 14, to police questioning and asking them to sign statements without a lawyer or a trusted person present. The report also noted that indigent persons could not usually benefit from the presence of a lawyer during police questioning.

Detainee’s Ability to Challenge Lawfulness of Detention before a Court: Persons arrested on criminal charges are entitled to challenge the arrest in court and can obtain prompt release and compensation if found to have been unlawfully detained.

Protracted Detention of Rejected Asylum Seekers or Stateless Persons: In rare cases authorities detained unsuccessful applicants for asylum pending deportation. Some NGOs criticized the government for protracted detention in such cases. The government provided free legal counsel for persons awaiting deportation.

e. Denial of Fair Public Trial

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

TRIAL PROCEDURES

The law provides for the right to a fair public trial, and an independent judiciary generally enforced this right.

The law presumes persons charged with criminal offenses are innocent until proven guilty; authorities inform them promptly and in detail of the charges. Trials must be public and conducted orally; defendants have the right to be present at their trial. Attorneys are not mandatory in cases of minor offenses, but legal counsel is available at no charge for needy persons in cases where attorneys are mandatory. The law grants defendants and their attorneys adequate time and facilities to prepare a defense and access to government-held evidence relevant to their cases. Defendants can confront or question witnesses against them and present witnesses and evidence on their own behalf. Free interpretation is available from the moment a defendant is charged, through all appeals. Suspects cannot be compelled to testify or confess guilt. A system of judicial review provides multiple opportunities for appeal.

The law extends the above rights to all defendants regardless of sex, gender, race, ethnicity, age, religion, or mental or physical disability.

POLITICAL PRISONERS AND DETAINEES

There were no reports of political prisoners or detainees.

CIVIL JUDICIAL PROCEDURES AND REMEDIES

There is an independent and impartial judiciary in civil matters, including an appellate system. These institutions are accessible to plaintiffs seeking damages for human rights violations. Administrative and judicial remedies were available for redressing alleged wrongs. Individuals and organizations may appeal domestic decisions to regional human rights bodies.

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

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

Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:

a. Freedom of Speech and Press

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

Freedom of Speech and Expression: The law prohibits incitement, insult, or contempt against a group because of its members’ race, nationality, religion, or ethnicity if the statement violates human dignity, and imposes criminal penalties for violations. The government strictly enforced these laws (see section 6, Anti-Semitism).

Press and Media Freedoms: The law prohibits public denial, belittlement, approval, or justification of the Nazi genocide or other Nazi crimes against humanity in print media, broadcast media, the publication of books, and online newspapers or journals, and provides criminal penalties for violations. The government strictly enforced these laws (see section 6, Anti-Semitism).

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

INTERNET FREEDOM

With limited exceptions, 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. Authorities continued to restrict access to websites containing information that violated the law, such as neo-Nazi sites. The law barring neo-Nazi activity provides for one- to 10-year prison sentences for public denial, belittlement, approval, or justification of National Socialist crimes. The criminal code provision on incitement provides for prison sentences of up to five years. Authorities restricted access to prohibited websites by trying to shut them down and by forbidding the country’s internet service providers from carrying them.

ACADEMIC FREEDOM AND CULTURAL EVENTS

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

b. Freedom of Peaceful Assembly and Association

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

c. Freedom of Religion

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.

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

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

PROTECTION OF REFUGEES

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

The law gives the Federal Office for Immigration and Asylum (BFA) responsibility for handling asylum applications. The BFA operated nine regional directorates (one in each federal state) and three reception centers. In addition to processing asylum applications, the BFA is responsible for alien police matters (return decisions and custody pending deportation) and certain decisions on humanitarian stays. The Federal Administrative Court in Vienna is the appeals body for decisions of the BFA and had branches in Linz, Graz, and Innsbruck. Access to the administrative high court is limited to cases involving principal legal policy questions.

Following the filing of a record of more than 88,000 asylum applications in 2015, administrative proceedings on the requests of asylum seekers from Syria, Iraq, Afghanistan, and other countries were often lengthy. The number of applications dropped significantly during the year, with approximately 28,800 applications filed between January and July.

In April the parliament passed a law that limits the number of asylum requests accepted for routine processing at 37,500 applications a year; the law entered into force in May. Once the cap is reached, authorities may grant asylum at the border only on the basis of specific criteria. Under this procedure authorities may accept asylum applications only from persons who argue successfully that their lives would be in danger or that they would face a real risk of torture or inhuman or degrading treatment in a neighboring country or who have a nuclear family member already in Austria. Appeals against returns would be possible only after deportation has taken place. The UN high commissioner for human rights expressed concern that asylum applicants could be rejected under the expedited procedure without having had sufficient assessment of possible grounds for asylum. NGOs and some legal experts within the country also questioned whether such measures complied with international human rights standards.

Safe Country of Origin/Transit: EU regulations provide that asylum seekers who transited a country determined to be “safe” on their way to Austria be returned to that country to apply for refugee status. Authorities considered signatories to the 1951 refugee convention and its 1967 protocol to be safe countries of transit. In response to a ruling by the European Court of Human Rights and recommendations of the UN special rapporteur on torture, the government in 2011 effectively halted the return of asylum seekers to Greece. This practice remained in effect during the year. The Federal Administrative Court ruled that deportations to Hungary would also have to be examined on an individual basis, due to the possibility of human rights violations in Hungary.

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

Durable Solutions: There are provisions for integration, resettlement, and returns, which the country was cooperating with UNHCR and other organizations to improve. The integration section in the Ministry for Foreign Affairs and Integration, together with the Integration Fund and provincial and local integration offices, coordinate measures for integration of refugees. The country has a resettlement program in place for Syrian refugees. The country has bilateral agreements with several countries on implementing the return of rejected asylum seekers.

Temporary Protection: According to the Interior Ministry, in 2015 the government provided temporary protection to 6,803 individuals who might not qualify as refugees.

STATELESS PERSONS

According to UNHCR there were 570 persons in the country under its statelessness mandate at the end of 2014. Stateless persons in the country were largely Austrian-born children of foreign nationals who are unable to acquire citizenship through their parents due to the laws in their parents’ country of origin. Authorities did not deport them because they lacked a home country. The law allows some stateless persons to gain nationality. A stateless person born in the country may be granted citizenship within two years of reaching age 18 if he or she has lived in the country for a total of 10 years, including five years continuously before application, and are able to demonstrate sufficient income. Stateless persons could receive temporary residence and work permits that must be renewed annually.

Section 3. Freedom to Participate in the Political Process

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

Elections and Political Participation

Recent Elections: The country held national parliamentary elections in 2013 and presidential elections in 2016. There were no reports of serious abuse or irregularities in the 2013 election, and credible observers considered both the 2013 and the 2016 election free and fair.

In July the Constitutional Court found procedural irregularities in the May runoff vote of the presidential election that resulted in the improper counting of more than 77,900 absentee ballots. The court found no evidence of manipulation of ballots. Authorities set a repeat of the runoff election for October 2, but technical problems later discovered in voting envelopes caused authorities to delay the vote to December 4. The December repeat second round of the presidential election was generally considered to be properly administered, free, and fair. On the invitation of the government, the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe’s Office of Democratic Institutions and Human Rights deployed an election expert team for the December 4 election, but their report was not available at the end of the year.

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

Azerbaijan

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

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

Separatists, with Armenia’s support, continued to control most of Nagorno-Karabakh and seven other Azerbaijani territories. The final status of Nagorno-Karabakh remained the subject of international mediation by the OSCE Minsk Group, cochaired by France, Russia, and the United States. There was an increase in violence along the Line of Contact and Armenia-Azerbaijan international border April 1-5. The heavy clashes led to the highest death toll since the signing of the 1994 cease-fire agreement. There were allegations of atrocities committed by the sides of the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict during an April 1-5 outbreak of violence. The sides in the conflict also submitted to the European Court of Human Rights complaints accusing each other of committing atrocities during this period.

Both the government and human rights monitors reported a drop in harmful hazing practices in the military. As of November 20, local human rights organizations reported at least 36 noncombat-related deaths in security forces, including suicides and soldiers killed by fellow service members. On February 20, for example, another conscript shot and killed State Border Service (SBS) member Sanan Mehdizade. The SBS refused to comment on the death to media outlets. No further details were available.

b. Disappearance

There were no reports of politically motivated disappearances.

As of July 5, the State Committee on the Captive and Missing reported that 3,866 citizens were registered as missing persons because of the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict. The International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) processed cases of persons missing in connection with the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict and worked with the government to develop a consolidated list of missing persons. According to the ICRC, more than 4,496 persons remained unaccounted for because of the conflict.

The ICRC assisted prisoners of war and civilian internees and conducted regular visits throughout the year to ensure protection of prisoners under international humanitarian law. The ICRC regularly facilitated the exchange of messages between them and their families to help them re-establish and maintain contact.

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

While the constitution and criminal code prohibit such practices and provide for penalties for conviction of up to 10 years’ imprisonment, credible allegations of torture and other abuse continued. In 2014, the most recent year for which data was available, domestic human rights monitors reported receiving 324 complaints of such abuse by security forces.

The UN Working Group on Arbitrary Detention reported receiving a large number of statements during its May 16-25 visit to the country from current and former juvenile, female, and male detainees it interviewed alleging that they had been subjected to torture and mistreatment. According to the working group, interviewees “described having a gun pointed at their head, severe beatings, sometimes lasting several hours, verbal abuse and psychological pressure, practices such as standing on one’s knees for long hours, threats of physical and sexual abuse as well as threats to arrest family members.”

Human rights defenders and media outlets reported at least four cases of torture or other physical abuse during the year that led to death. There was no single source to confirm the exact number of such cases. On April 27, for example, Sumgayit City police detained 37-year-old Rashad Mehdiyev, who died two days later, reportedly from abusive treatment at the police station. Police claimed Mehdiyev died due to a head injury incurred when he accidentally fell. Mehdiyev’s family refuted the claims and released photographs of him with multiple bruises on his body, which they alleged indicated torture. There were no reports on the results of a subsequent investigation.

Reports from the UN Working Group on Arbitrary Detention and human rights activists indicated that most mistreatment took place while detainees were in police custody, where authorities reportedly used abusive methods to coerce confessions. In one prominent example, on August 12, police arrested N!DA youth activist Elgiz Gahraman for alleged drug possession after he disparaged a proposed constitutional change that would remove the age limit for presidential candidates. Gahraman was held incommunicado for six days at the Ministry of Internal Affairs’ Organized Crime Department. Gahraman later stated that during his detention he was subjected to torture and forced to sign a confession.

In November 2015 law enforcement forces arrested a large group of religious individuals in Nardaran, including the head of the Muslim Unity Movement, Taleh Baghirzada, on charges of alleged involvement in an effort to overthrow the government and put in place an Islamic state. During the trial of 17 of the individuals, Baghizada and 16 other Nardaran residents charged in the case informed the court they were tortured while police interrogated them at the Ministry of Internal Affairs’ Organized Crime Department. The defendants specifically claimed that police officer Shahlar Jafarov beat detainee Farahim Bunyadov to death in custody and subjected them to physical abuse. Authorities did not investigate the claims.

Authorities reportedly maintained a de facto ban on independent forensic examinations of detainees who claimed mistreatment and delayed their access to an attorney, practices that made it easier for officers to mistreat detainees with impunity. For example, imprisoned Muslim Unity Movement leader Taleh Baghirzada and his lawyers stated that police tortured him for days in an attempt to force him to renounce his beliefs and provide false accusations against secular opposition leaders Dr. Jamil Hasanli and Ali Kerimli. The Ministry of Internal Affairs’ Organized Crime Unit reportedly denied him access to his attorney for more than a month.

In another prominent case, imprisoned N!DA youth movement activists Bayram Mammadov and Giyas Ibrahimov stated during their trial that police subjected them to torture while in custody. The two youths claimed that officers beat them, forced them to disrobe, and threatened to rape them with truncheons and bottles if they did not confess to charges of drug possession after closed-circuit television footage showed them painting graffiti on a statue of former president Heydar Aliyev. Their attorney reportedly was only able to meet with them after they had signed the coerced drug possession confessions. Despite physical evidence of abuse displayed by Mammadov and Ibrahimov during the trial and appeals to the Prosecutor General’s Office and Ombudsman’s Office in Baku, authorities failed to investigate their allegations.

There were media reports of police violence against citizens not involved in political activity. For example, Bakhtiyar Ismayilov reported that police from the Barda Police Department detained and subjected him to inhumane treatment on the night of September 16 for mistakenly stopping a police car instead of a taxi. He showed numerous bodily injuries after allegedly being beaten at the police department and claimed that police employees warned him not to report the incident. After his public statements, media outlets reported additional allegations of abuse at the same police department from individuals who previously were afraid to speak.

According to official data, the Prison Service investigated 334 complaints against prison system officials for torture or mistreatment between 2009 and 2013. The Ministry of Internal Affairs received 984 such complaints between 2010 and 2013, and the Office of the Prosecutor General received 678 similar complaints between 2010 and 2013. According to the UN Committee against Torture, this was a strong indication that torture investigations were not conducted in a prompt, efficient, and impartial manner.

Although there were reports of a decrease in abusive hazing practices, local observers reported bullying and abuse in military units during the year. The Ministry of Defense set up a telephone hotline for soldiers to report incidents of mistreatment in order to hold unit commanders responsible, which reportedly resulted in improved conditions throughout the armed forces.

Prison and Detention Center Conditions

According to a reputable prison-monitoring organization, prison conditions were sometimes harsh and potentially life threatening due to overcrowding, inadequate nutrition, deficient heating and ventilation, and poor medical care. While the government continued to construct facilities, some Soviet-era facilities still in use did not meet international standards. Gobustan Prison, Prisons 3 and 14, and the penitentiary tuberculosis-treatment center reportedly had the worst conditions. Former prisoners and family members of imprisoned activists reported that prisoners often had to pay bribes to use toilets or shower rooms or to receive food. Detainees also complained of inhumane conditions in the crowded basement detention facilities of local courts where they awaited trial. They reported those facilities lacked ventilation and proper sanitary conditions.

Physical Conditions: Authorities held men and women together in pretrial detention facilities in separate blocks, but housed women in separate prison facilities after sentencing. Local NGO observers reported that female prisoners typically lived in better conditions than male prisoners, were monitored more frequently, and had greater access to training and other activities, but that women’s prisoners suffered from many of the same problems as prisons for men. Human rights monitors reported four cases of children under the age of seven living in adult prison facilities with their incarcerated mothers. Convicted juvenile offenders may be held in juvenile institutions until they are 20.

During the year the Ministry of Justice reported 122 deaths in ministry facilities, 81 of which occurred in medical treatment facilities. The ministry reported the majority of death cases occurred from various illnesses including cancer, cardiovascular pathology, and tuberculosis. The Ministry of Internal Affairs reported one death by suicide in its detention facilities in 2016. According to the ministry, as a result of an internal investigation, two police officers were dismissed for neglect of their official duties and one person was subjected to disciplinary action.

Prisoners at times claimed they endured lengthy confinement periods without opportunity for physical exercise. They also reported instances of cramped, overcrowded conditions; inadequate ventilation; poor sanitary facilities; and insufficient access to medical care. Although the law permits detainees to receive daily packages of food to supplement the food officially provided, authorities at times reportedly restricted access of prisoners and detainees to family-provided food parcels. Some prisons and detention centers did not provide access to potable water.

Human rights advocates reported that guards punished prisoners with beatings or by holding them in isolation cells. Local and international monitors reported markedly poorer conditions at the maximum security Gobustan Prison.

Administration: While most prisoners reported that they could submit complaints to judicial authorities and the Ombudsman’s Office without censorship, prison authorities regularly read prisoners’ correspondence, and domestic NGOs reported some prisoners in high-security facilities experienced difficulty submitting complaints. While the Ombudsman’s Office reported conducting systematic visits and investigations into complaints, NGOs reported that the office was insufficiently active in addressing prisoner complaints by, for example, failing to investigate allegations of torture by N!DA activists Bayram Mammadov and Giyas Ibrahimov.

Authorities at times limited visits by attorneys and family members, especially to prisoners widely considered to be incarcerated for political reasons.

Independent Monitoring: The government permitted some prison visits by international and local organizations, including the ICRC, the Council of Europe’s Committee for the Prevention of Torture, the president of the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe, and parliamentarians and diplomats from European countries. Authorities generally permitted the ICRC access to prisoners of war and civilian internees held in connection with the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict as well as to detainees held in facilities under the authority of the Ministries of Justice, Internal Affairs, and the National Security Services.

A joint government-human rights community prison-monitoring group known as the Public Committee was allowed access to prisons without prior notification to the Penitentiary Service. On some occasions, however, other groups that reportedly gave prior notification experienced difficulty obtaining access.

d. Arbitrary Arrest or Detention

Although the law prohibits arbitrary arrest and detention, the government generally did not observe these prohibitions, and impunity remained a problem. On May 25, the UN Working Group on Arbitrary Arrests expressed concern about the conditions in the special facilities for persons with disabilities and over the ongoing prosecution of human rights defenders, journalists, and political opposition.

In one of the more prominent examples of arbitrary arrest during the year, according to activists, authorities detained 185 individuals prior to, during, and after authorized rallies held on September 11, 17, and 18 in opposition to the September 26 referendum on amending the constitution.

ROLE OF THE POLICE AND SECURITY APPARATUS

The Ministry of Internal Affairs and the State Security Service are responsible for security within the country and report directly to the president. The Ministry of Internal Affairs oversees local police forces and maintains internal civil defense troops. In December 2015 the Ministry of National Security, which oversaw intelligence and counterintelligence activities and had a separate internal security force, was dissolved by presidential order. Its functions were split between the State Security Service, dealing with domestic matters, and the Foreign Intelligence Service, focused on foreign intelligence and counterintelligence issues. NGOs reported that both services detained individuals who exercised their rights to fundamental freedoms, including freedom of expression. The State Migration Service and the State Border Service are responsible for migration and border enforcement.

Police crowd-control tactics varied during the year. In some cases police detained peaceful protesters and used excessive force against them.

While security forces generally acted with impunity, the Ministry of Internal Affairs stated that in the first nine months of the year, it took administrative disciplinary action against 259 employees for violation of human rights and freedoms(197 cases), unjustified detentions (12 cases), and rude treatment (62 cases).

Corruption among law enforcement officers was a problem. Low wages contributed to police corruption. In the first nine months of the year, the Ministry of Internal Affairs reported it took disciplinary action against 16 employees in connection with eight cases of corruption, dismissing seven from their institutions, and reassigning nine others. It did not hold any of the employees criminally liable, however.

ARREST PROCEDURES AND TREATMENT OF DETAINEES

The law provides that persons detained, arrested, or accused of a crime be accorded due process, including being advised immediately of their rights and the reason for their arrest. The government did not always respect these provisions.

According to the law, detainees are to be brought before a judge within 48 hours of arrest and the judge may issue a warrant placing the detainee in pretrial detention, place the detainee under house arrest, or release the detainee. The initial 48-hour arrest period may be extended to 96 hours under extenuating circumstances. During pretrial detention or house arrest, the Prosecutor General’s Office is to complete its investigation. Pretrial detention is limited to three months but may be extended by a judge up to 18 months, depending on the alleged crime and the needs of the investigation. Authorities at times detained individuals for several days without warrants, and legal experts asserted that judges sometimes issued warrants after a person was detained. There were reports of detainees not being promptly informed of the charges against them.

On March 22, Sumgayit city police mistakenly detained Rashad Abbasov and used physical force against him until he falsely confessed to stabbing another person. Police later identified the true perpetrator of the crime and released Abbasov, who was immediately hospitalized due to numerous bodily injuries. Abbasov’s family stated that police also used electric shock to force him to admit to the crime. Authorities did not investigate the mistreatment.

The law provides for access to a lawyer from the time of detention, but there were reports that authorities frequently denied lawyers’ access to clients in both politically motivated and routine cases. Access to counsel was poor, particularly outside Baku. Although entitled to legal counsel by law, indigent detainees often did not have such access. In one case, attorneys for arrested youth activists Bayram Mammadov and Giyas Ibrahimov reported they were denied access to their clients for two days, from their May 10 detention until minutes before their May 12 trial. During this period police held the two activists incommunicado.

Police at times held politically sensitive and other suspects incommunicado for periods that ranged from several hours to several days. On August 18, for example, authorities detained opposition Popular Front Party (PFP) youth activist Fuad Ahmadli and held him incommunicado for approximately 10 days. In another notable example, in November 2015 law enforcement forces arrested a large group of religious individuals, including the head of the Muslim Unity Movement, Taleh Baghirzada, (see section 1.c.). Following Baghirzada’s arrest, authorities detained more than 70 persons in different parts of the country. As of November 25, a working group of 24 activists considered 52 of those detained to have been arrested arbitrarily due to lack of evidence provided during court proceedings and were reviewing an additional 20 cases as possible arbitrary arrests.

Prisoners’ family members reported that authorities occasionally restricted visits, especially to persons in pretrial detention, and withheld information about detainees. Days sometimes passed before families could obtain information about detained relatives. Authorities sometimes used family members as leverage to put pressure on individuals to turn themselves in to police or to stop them from reporting police abuse.

A formal bail system existed, but judges did not utilize it during the year.

Arbitrary Arrest: Authorities often made arrests based on spurious charges such as resisting police, illegal possession of drugs or weapons, tax evasion, illegal entrepreneurship, abuse of authority, or inciting public disorder. Local NGOs and international groups such as Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch criticized the government for arresting individuals exercising their fundamental rights and noted that authorities frequently fabricated the charges against them. In particular, police detained individuals who peacefully sought to exercise freedom of expression. For example, on November 7, police in Agstafa District detained PFP youth activist Vusal Zeynalov and charged him with resisting police. The local court sentenced Zeynalov to 30 days of administrative detention. The party headquarters reported that Zeynalov’s critical posts on social networking sites prompted authorities to detain him.

Pretrial Detention: According to the Ministry of Justice, the prison population numbered 23,311 persons, including 730 women. Of these, 3,102 were in pretrial detention. Authorities held persons in pretrial detention for up to 18 months. The Prosecutor General’s Office routinely extended the initial three-month pretrial detention period permitted by law in successive increments of several months until the government completed an investigation.

Detainee’s Ability to Challenge Lawfulness of Detention before a Court: By law, persons arrested or detained, regardless of whether on criminal or other grounds, are entitled to challenge in court the legal basis or arbitrary nature of their detention and obtain prompt release and compensation if found to have been unlawfully detained.

Amnesty: On March 18, the president pardoned 148 prisoners. NGOs considered 14 to have been political prisoners, including Anar Mammadli, chairman of the Election Monitoring and Democracy Studies Center; N!DA activists Rashadat Akhundov, Rashad Hasanov, Mammad Azizov, and Omar Mammadov; journalists Hilal Mammadov and Parviz Hashimli; human rights activist Rasul Jafarov; and the deputy chairman of Musavat Party, Tofig Yagublu. Also released were activists Taleh Khasmammadov, Nemat Panahli, Yadigar Sadigov, and Siraj Karimov. There were reports that authorities pressed some of the released prisoners to write letters seeking forgiveness for past “mistakes” as a condition of their pardon. Several prisoners, such as the chair of the opposition REAL movement, Ilgar Mammadov, reported that authorities used physical abuse, placement into isolation cells, assaults by other prisoners, and threats to family members to extract such letters.

e. Denial of Fair Public Trial

Although the constitution provides for an independent judiciary, judges did not function independently of the executive branch. The judiciary remained largely corrupt and inefficient. Many verdicts were legally insupportable and largely unrelated to the evidence presented during the trial. Outcomes frequently appeared predetermined. Courts often failed to investigate allegations of torture and inhumane treatment of detainees in police custody.

The Ministry of Justice controlled the Judicial Legal Council. The council appoints a judicial selection committee (six judges, a prosecutor, a lawyer, a council representative, a Ministry of Justice representative, and a legal scholar) that administers the judicial selection examination and oversees the long-term judicial training and selection process.

Credible reports indicated that judges and prosecutors took instruction from the Presidential Administration and the Ministry of Justice, particularly in cases of interest to international observers. There were credible allegations that judges routinely accepted bribes.

TRIAL PROCEDURES

The law provides for public trials except in cases involving state, commercial, or professional secrets or confidential, personal, or family matters. The law provides for: the presumption of innocence in criminal cases; the right to be informed promptly of charges; the right to free interpretation as necessary from the moment charged through all appeals; the right to review evidence, confront witnesses, and present evidence at trial; the right of indigent defendants to a court-approved attorney; the rights to adequate time and facilities to prepare a defense; the right not to be compelled to testify or confess guilt; and the right of both defendants and prosecutors to appeal. Authorities did not always respect these provisions.

Judges at times failed to read verdicts publicly or to give the reasoning behind their decisions, leaving defendants without knowledge of the reasoning behind the judgment. Judges also limited the defendant’s right to speak. In the trial of Bayram Mammadov, for example, judges ordered Mammadov to stop speaking and left the chamber when Mammadov asserted his right to make a final statement.

The courts often limited independent observation of trials. Civil society activists and defendants asserted that authorities filled the courtroom with paid agents to occupy more seats. Information regarding trial times and locations was generally available, although there were some exceptions, particularly in the Baku Court of Grave Crimes.

Although the constitution prescribes equal status for prosecutors and defense attorneys, judges often favored prosecutors when assessing motions, oral statements, and evidence submitted by defense counsel, without regard to the merits of their respective arguments. Lawyers for the accused in the Nardaran case noted that judges and prosecutors left the courtroom together to discuss a defense motion before it was denied. Judges also reserved the right to remove defense lawyers in civil cases for “good cause.” In criminal proceedings, judges may remove defense lawyers because of a conflict of interest, such as the placement of defense lawyers onto the witness list, or if a defendant requests a change of counsel.

The law limits representation in criminal cases to members of the country’s government-influenced Collegium (bar association). The number of defense lawyers willing and able to accept sensitive cases reportedly declined during the year due to various measures taken by authorities, including by the Collegium’s presidium, its managing body. Such measures included disbarment or threats of disbarment. For example, the Collegium disbarred lawyer Muzaffar Bakhishov after he criticized Supreme Court chairman Ramiz Rzayev. There were reports of Collegium pressure on lawyers. On April 1, the Collegium strongly reprimanded lawyers Bahruz Bayramov and Elchin Sadigov for “disrespect” when they objected to the court hearing the case of their client, Parviz Hashimli, in his absence. There were also reports of police physically intimidating lawyers, pressure from prosecutors and police, and occasional harassment of family members. Most of the country’s human rights defense lawyers practiced in Baku, which made it difficult for people living outside of Baku to receive timely and quality legal service.

The constitution prohibits the use of illegally obtained evidence. Despite some defendants’ claims that authorities obtained testimony through torture or abuse, courts did not dismiss cases based on claims of abuse, and there was no independent forensic investigator to substantiate allegations of abuse. Human rights monitors reported judges often ignored claims of police mistreatment. Examples during the year of judges ignoring such claims included the “Nardaran case” and the case against N!DA activists Bayram Mammadov and Giyas Ibrahimov (see section 1.c.). According to the UN Working Group on Arbitrary Detention, whereas it received “a large number of testimonies” of torture and mistreatment during its May visit to the country, none of the country’s officials or detainees with whom the group met indicated that a judge had questioned a detainee on his/her treatment in custody.

Investigations often focused on obtaining confessions rather than gathering physical evidence against suspects. Serious crimes brought before the courts most often ended in conviction, since judges generally sought only a minimal level of proof and collaborated closely with prosecutors.

With the exception of the Baku Court of Grave Crimes, human rights advocates also reported courts often failed to provide interpreters despite the constitutional right of an accused person to interpretation. Courts are entitled to contract interpreters during hearings, with expenses covered by the state budget.

There were no verbatim transcripts of judicial proceedings. Although some of the newer courts in Baku made audio recordings of proceedings, courts did not record most court testimonies, oral arguments, and judicial decisions. Instead, the court recording officer generally decided the content of notes, which tended to be sparse.

The country has a military court system with civilian judges. The Military Court retains original jurisdiction over any case related to war or military service.

POLITICAL PRISONERS AND DETAINEES

In addition to the presidential pardons of 14 individuals widely considered political prisoners (see section 1.d.), authorities released three others in the spring: journalists Rauf Mirkadirov and Khadija Ismayilova, and defense lawyer Intigam Aliyev. Despite the release of these 17 individuals, local NGO activists estimated the number of political prisoners and detainees to range from 119 to 160. According to Human Rights Watch, at least 25 government critics remained incarcerated for politically motivated reasons at year’s end. NGO lists included the following incarcerated individuals, many of whom Amnesty International considered prisoners of conscience (also see sections 1.f., 2.a., 2.c., 3, 4, and 5).

On June 28, the Baku Court of Grave Crimes sentenced Rufat Zahidov and Rovshan Zahidov to six years in prison on charges of alleged possession of illegal drugs. Human rights activists and their lawyer stated that both defendants were imprisoned for being relatives of exiled opposition journalist and former political prisoner Ganimat Zahid. Editor in chief of Azadliq newspaper Zahid resided in France and published articles critical of Azerbaijani authorities on his online news outlet, Azerbaycan saati (Azerbaijan hour).

On April 19, authorities allowed prominent activists Leyla and Arif Yunus to leave the country for medical treatment after a number of court appeals. In August 2015 the Baku Court of Grave Crimes sentenced Leyla Yunus to eight and one-half years in prison for fraud, tax evasion, illegal entrepreneurship, and forging official documents, and her husband, Arif Yunus, to seven years in prison for fraud.

On October 25, the Baku Court of Grave Crimes sentenced N!DA youth activist Giyas Ibrahimov to 10 years’ imprisonment for alleged drug possession. Authorities had arrested him and fellow youth activist Bayram Mammadov in May, after closed-circuit television footage showed them defacing a monument of former president Heydar Aliyev with graffiti. NGOs reported that, while in custody, they were tortured into confessing to drug possession charges (see section 1.c.). On December 9, the Court of Grave Crimes sentenced Mammadov to 10 years on similar charges.

Individuals considered by activists to be political detainees included Muslim Unity Movement leader Taleh Baghirzada (see section 1.c. and the Department of State’s International Religious Freedom Report, www.state.gov/religiousfreedomreport/) and deputy chairman of the opposition Popular Front party Fuad Gahramanli (see section 3). NGO lists also included individuals convicted in previous years, including REAL movement chair Ilgar Mammadov, who remained incarcerated despite a 2014 ruling by the European Court of Human Rights calling for his release; N!DA activist Ilkin Rustamzade; and journalist Seymur Hazi.

By law political prisoners are entitled to the same rights as other prisoners, although restrictions on them varied. Authorities provided international humanitarian organizations access to political prisoners.

CIVIL JUDICIAL PROCEDURES AND REMEDIES

Citizens have the right to file lawsuits seeking damages for, or cessation of, human rights violations. The law does not provide for a jury trial in civil matters; a judge decides all civil cases. District courts have jurisdiction over civil matters in their first hearing; the Court of Appeals and then the Supreme Court address appeals. As with criminal trials, all citizens have the right to appeal to the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) within six months of exhausting all domestic legal options, including an appeal to and ruling by the Supreme Court.

Citizens exercised the right to appeal local court rulings to the ECHR and brought claims of government violations of commitments under the European Convention on Human Rights. The government’s compliance with ECHR decisions was mixed. For example, it implemented the part of one 2014 ECHR judgment requiring it to pay 22,000 euros ($24,200) in compensation to Ilgar Mammadov for violating his rights but failed to release Mammadov as stipulated by the judgment.

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

The law prohibits arbitrary invasions of privacy and monitoring of correspondence and other private communications. The government generally did not respect these legal prohibitions.

While the constitution allows for searches of residences only with a court order or in cases specifically provided for by law, authorities often conducted searches without warrants. It was widely reported that the State Security Service and the Ministry of Internal Affairs monitored telephone and internet communications, particularly those of foreigners, youth figures active online, some political and business figures, and persons engaged in international communication. There were indications the postal service monitored certain politically sensitive mail. For example, the postal service reportedly twice “lost” Popular Front deputy chairman Fuad Gahramanli’s appeal of his case to the European Court of Human Rights.

Police continued to intimidate, harass, and sometimes arrest family members of suspected criminals, independent journalists, political opposition members and leaders, as well as employees and leaders of certain NGOs. For example, Elnur Seyidov, opposition Popular Front Party chairman Ali Kerimli’s brother-in-law, remained incarcerated since 2012 on charges widely viewed as politically motivated. In February the Ministry of Internal Affairs of the Nakhchivan Autonomous Republic threatened to arrest the family members of exiled businessman Mammad Gurbanov if he did not stop criticizing authorities. Gurbanov left Nakhchivan after reportedly experiencing long-standing harassment and physical abuse by police.

There were several examples of the use of politically motivated incarceration of relatives as a means of pressuring exiles. In the summer of 2015, authorities arrested Rufat and Rovshan Zahidov, relatives of the exiled editor of the opposition newspaper Azadliq, Ganimat Zahidov. In November the two incarcerated relatives publicly denounced Ganimat Zahidov, but he had not been released as of year’s end. In July 2015 authorities also incarcerated Nazim Aghabeyov, the brother-in-law of well-known journalist in exile Emin Milli. Aghabeyov was conditionally released on April 22. On September 29, opposition leader Jamil Hasanli’s daughter, Gunel Hasanli, was released from prison after serving nine months on charges that activists considered were politically motivated.

In September, prior, during, and after rallies against the referendum on constitutional amendments, police interrogated and reportedly intimidated family members of political and human rights activists as well as of independent journalists.

There were also reports that authorities fired individuals from their jobs or had individuals fired in retaliation for the political or civic activities of family members.

NGOs reported that authorities did not respect the laws governing eminent domain and expropriation of property. Homeowners often received compensation well below market value for expropriated property and had little legal recourse. NGOs also reported that many citizens did not trust the court system and were therefore reluctant to pursue compensation claims.

Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:

a. Freedom of Speech and Press

While the law provides for freedom of speech and press and specifically prohibits press censorship, the government habitually violated these rights. The government limited freedom of speech and media independence. Journalists faced intimidation and at times were beaten and imprisoned. NGOs considered at least six journalists and bloggers to be political prisoners or detainees as of year’s end. During the year authorities continued pressure on media, journalists in exile, and their relatives.

Freedom of Speech and Expression: The constitution provides for freedom of speech, but the government continued to repress subjects considered politically sensitive. For example, in the period leading up to the September constitutional referendum, authorities arrested selected activists who criticized the referendum. Arrests included that of opposition activist and economist Natig Jafarli, the executive secretary of the opposition REAL Movement, on August 12. Activists who were arrested were secular democratic opposition figures, although authorities cited alleged ties to Muslim cleric Fethullah Gulen, who was accused by Turkey of having organized the failed July 15 coup attempt there, to justify some of the arrests. Activists whose arrests were based on such alleged ties included Fuad Ahmadli of the opposition Popular Front Party, and Faiq Amirov, the financial director of opposition newspaper Azadliq, who was also the assistant to Popular Front Party chair Ali Karimli.

In October Human Rights Watch reported the government continued to crack down on critics and dissenting voices, including through the politically motivated arrests of at least 20 political and youth activists during the year. The incarceration of persons who attempted to exercise freedom of speech raised concerns about authorities’ use of the judicial system to punish dissent. In addition, the government attempted to impede criticism by threatening some peaceful activists who spoke out against politically motivated imprisonments–including those in the Nardaran case (see section 1.c.)–and by monitoring political and civil society meetings.

The constitution prohibits hate speech, defined as “propaganda provoking racial, national, religious and social discord and animosity.” Under the September constitutional referendum, “hostility based on any other criteria” also is prohibited.

Press and Media Freedoms: A number of opposition and independent print and online media outlets expressed a wide variety of views on government policies. Newspaper circulation rates remained low, not surpassing 5,000 in most cases.

Beginning in 2014 the government blocked the sale of newspapers in the metro and on the street, limiting sales to government-approved kiosks. During the year the government restricted the sale of opposition newspapers at such kiosks. Credible reports indicated opposition newspapers were available outside Baku only in limited numbers due to the refusal of a number of distributors to carry them. In September the opposition newspaper Azadlig discontinued its print edition when it was unable to conduct banking operations following the arrest of its financial director, who was also an active member of the Popular Front Party. Authorities then prevented the newspaper from continuing payment on loans.

The law allows authorities to close media outlets deemed to be broadcasting extremist propaganda or discriminating on ethnic grounds, among other offenses. On July 29, the Baku Court of Appeals revoked the license of the semi-independent privately owned ANS television station based on a lawsuit filed by the National Television and Radio Council (NTRC). The lawsuit was initiated after ANS announced its intention to air an interview with exiled Turkish religious figure Fethullah Gulen and Turkish authorities protested the planned broadcast after accusing Gulen of plotting the July 15 coup attempt in Turkey. The NTRC accused ANS of propagating terrorism and violating the law. ANS appealed; on September 21, the Supreme Court upheld the Court of Appeals verdict, resulting in the closure of what had been the country’s sole independent television station until late 2006, when its independence began to decline. It had operated for 25 years.

Foreign services, including Voice of America, Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty (RFE/RL), and the BBC, remained prohibited from broadcasting on FM radio frequencies, although the Russian service Sputnik was allowed to broadcast news on a local radio network.

While authorities released six journalists and bloggers during the year, local NGOs considered at least seven journalists and bloggers and two writers/poets to be political prisoners or detainees as of year’s end. For example, on January 29, the Absheron District Court sentenced opposition Azadlig newspaper journalist Seymur Hazi to five years in prison. Authorities continued exerting pressure on leading media rights organizations similar to that applied to other NGOs in the country.

During the year authorities continued pressure on independent media outlets outside the country and those associated with them in the country. For example, authorities continued the criminal case against Meydan TV initiated in August 2015. The Prosecutor General’s Office investigated more than 15 individuals in the case for alleged illegal entrepreneurship, tax evasion, and abuse of power. Official pressure on journalists also included the incarceration of relatives of journalists in exile, including Azadliq editor in chief Ganimat Zahidov’s nephew and cousin, and bans on an increasing number of journalists and some relatives of journalists in exile from traveling outside the country (see section 2.d.).

Violence and Harassment: Local observers reported 33 physical assaults on at least 21 journalists during the year. The attacks mainly targeted journalists from Radio Liberty, Azadliq and other newspapers, Meydan TV, and Obyektiv Television. For example, on November 26, police detained journalist Teymur Karimov from internet-based TV Kanal 13 after an unknown person attacked Karimov while he was preparing a video report on water supply problems in the Barda District. Police threatened the journalist with filing a criminal case on charges of assault if he did not erase all his recordings.

Impunity for assaults against journalists remained a problem. The Institute for Reporters’ Freedom and Safety (IRFS) reported in August that more than nine out of every 10 cases of physical attacks on journalists remained unsolved. There were no indications authorities held police officers accountable for physical assaults on journalists in prior years.

Journalists and media rights leaders continued to call for full accountability for the August 2015 beating and death of journalist and IRFS chairman Rasim Aliyev, who reported receiving threatening messages three weeks earlier; the 2011 killing of journalist Rafiq Tagi, against whom Iranian cleric Grand Ayatollah Fazel Lankarani issued a fatwa; and the 2005 killing of independent editor and journalist Elmar Huseynov.

Lawsuits suspected of being politically motivated were used also to intimidate journalists and media outlets. During the year approximately 29 court cases were initiated against journalists or media outlets, with plaintiffs demanding 1.3 million manat ($720,000) in compensation; courts ultimately imposed 95,000 manat ($53,000) in fines.

The majority of independent and opposition newspapers remained in a precarious financial situation and experienced problems paying wages, taxes, and periodic court fines. Most relied on political parties, influential sponsors, or the State Media Fund for financing.

The government prohibited some state libraries from subscribing to opposition and independent newspapers, prevented state businesses from buying advertising in opposition newspapers, and put pressure on private businesses not to advertise in them. As a result, paid advertising was largely absent in opposition media. Political commentators noted these practices reduced the wages that opposition and independent outlets could pay to their journalists, which allowed progovernment outlets to hire away quality staff. In addition, international media monitoring reports indicated that intimidation by Ministry of Taxes authorities further limited the independence of media.

Censorship or Content Restrictions: Most media practiced self-censorship and avoided topics considered politically sensitive due to fear of government retaliation. The NTRC required that local, privately owned television and radio stations not rebroadcast complete news programs of foreign origin.

On June 12, police seized the work of the Ganun Publishing House in Baku under the pretext of having received a bomb threat to the building. Civil society activists reported that authorities raided the publishing house after it printed posters advocating the release of imprisoned head of the REAL democratic movement, Ilgar Mammadov. The director of the publishing house, Shahbaz Khuduoghlu, reported that police took some published materials and printing molds from the office.

Libel/Slander Laws: Libel is a criminal offense and covers written and verbal statements. The law provides for large fines and up to three years’ imprisonment for persons convicted of libel. Conviction of defamation is punishable by fines ranging from 100 to 1,000 manat ($55.60 to $556) and imprisonment for six months to three years.

INTERNET FREEDOM

The websites of Voice of America, RFE/RL, and Germany-based opposition media outlet Meydan TV were intermittently blocked during the year.

Radio Liberty and the opposition newspaper Azadlig reported denial of access to their Internet-based resources on November 28 and December 2 for publicizing critical online articles on proposed legislative amendments in the parliament. These outages became chronic by mid-December, with Voice of America and RFE/RL becoming only sporadically available inside Azerbaijan. Although the government denied involvement, the outages originated from within Delta Telecom, a company with close ties to the government that controlled over 90 percent of Internet traffic in Azerbaijan. The government also required internet service providers to be licensed and have formal agreements with the Ministry of Communications and High Technologies. According to International Telecommunication Union statistics, approximately 77 percent of the country’s population used the internet in 2015.

The law imposes criminal penalties for conviction of libel and insult on the internet. On November 29, the Milli Mejlis passed new articles to the criminal code that expand those penalties. Article 148-1, stipulates fines of from 1,000 to 1,500 manat ($556 to $833), or public works from 360 to 480 hours, or corrective work up to two years or one year imprisonment for insults and slander through using fake web nicknames or Internet profiles. A second new provision, Article 323, stipulates fines from 1,000 up to 1,500 manat ($556 to $833) or imprisonment up to three years for insulting the honor and dignity of the president.

There were strong indications that the government monitored the internet communications of democracy activists. For example, after detaining Popular Front deputy chairman Fuad Gahramanli in December 2015, authorities prosecuted him on charges related to his exercise of freedom of expression on Facebook (see section 1.e.). In addition, many youth activists who were questioned, detained, or jailed frequently had posted criticism of alleged government corruption and human rights abuses online. The activists included video blogger Husseyn Azizoghlu, who had posted videos online that mocked police officers for planting drugs and falsifying evidence and was detained for 15 days on January. Other cases involved Popular Front Party member Fizuli Huseynov, who received 30 days’ detention on January 27 after having criticized the government on Facebook, and blogger Mehman Huseynov, who was briefly detained in September and threatened with physical abuse if he did not stop posting video and images of police violence.

The Freedom House annual Freedom on the Net report, covering the period June 2015 through May, stated that the government “demonstrated its willingness to shutdown connectivity in times of civil unrest, disconnecting the entire village of Nardaran from the internet for several days following police clashes.” The report acknowledged that the government did not extensively block online content, while noting that “netizens” (citizens of the net) and their families faced arrest and intimidation.

ACADEMIC FREEDOM AND CULTURAL EVENTS

The government on occasion restricted academic freedom. Opposition party members continued to report difficulties finding jobs teaching at schools and universities. Authorities fired most known opposition party members teaching in state educational institutions in previous years. NGOs reported local executive authorities occasionally prevented the expression of minority cultures, for example, by prohibiting cultural events at local community centers and the teaching of local dialects.

b. Freedom of Peaceful Assembly and Association

FREEDOM OF ASSEMBLY

While the law provides for freedom of assembly, the government severely restricted the right. Authorities at times responded to peaceful protests and assemblies by using force and detaining protesters.

While the constitution stipulates that groups may peacefully assemble after notifying the relevant government body in advance, the government continued to interpret this provision as a requirement for prior permission. Local authorities required all rallies to be preapproved and held at designated locations, often at inconvenient sites, although a site often used in the outskirts of Baku was easily accessible by metro and bus. Most political parties and NGOs found the requirements unacceptable and believed them to be unconstitutional. Authorities throughout the country routinely refused to acknowledge notifications of planned public rallies, thereby effectively denying the freedom to assemble.

As modified by the September 26 referendum, the constitution provides that public gatherings not disrupt “public order and public morals.” The Venice Commission’s September 20 preliminary opinion on the proposed constitutional amendments noted that it is “almost inevitable” that peaceful gatherings may disrupt public order (for example, by disturbing traffic) or disturb someone’s views on morality and yet be permissible under the European Convention on Human Rights. The commission concluded, “The State should allow such gatherings and even facilitate them provided that those disturbances are not excessive and help convey the message of the public event.”

Early in the year, the devaluation of the local currency (manat) and worsening economic conditions sparked protests in different parts of the country, beginning on January 6 in the town of Saatli. On January 12, after dispersing a protest in Lankaran, police detained opposition Popular Front Party activist Nazim Hasanov and Musavat Party activist Imanverdi Aliyev. Both were sentenced to 30 days’ detention on charges of inciting people to public disorder. On January 13, Interior Ministry security forces used tear gas to disperse protesters in Siyazan. Police later reported that 55 persons were detained for participation in the various protests.

Activists reported that police harassed and/or detained 185 persons before, during, and after authorized rallies on September 11, 17, and 18 against the referendum on constitutional amendments. The courts subsequently sentenced 12 opposition activists to administrative detention that ranged from eight to 30 days, allegedly for resisting police, and fined one opposition activist 200 manat ($111) for violating public order.

The law permits administrative detention for up to three months for misdemeanors and up to one month for resisting police. Punishment for those who fail to follow a court order (including failure to pay a fine) may include fines of 500 to 1,000 manat ($278 to $556) and punishment of up to one month of administrative detention.

FREEDOM OF ASSOCIATION

The constitution provides for freedom of association, but the law places some restrictions on this right, and amendments enacted during 2014 severely constrained NGO activities. Citing these amended laws, authorities conducted numerous criminal investigations into the activities of independent organizations, froze bank accounts, and harassed local staff, including incarcerating and placing travel bans on some NGO leaders. Consequently, a number of NGOs were unable to operate.

A number of legal provisions allow the government to regulate the activities of political parties, religious groups, businesses, and NGOs, including requiring NGOs to register with the Ministry of Justice if they seek “legal personality” status. Although the law requires the government to act on NGO registration applications within 30 days of receipt (or within an additional 30 days, if further investigation is required), vague, onerous, and nontransparent registration procedures continued to result in long delays that limited citizens’ right to associate. Other laws restrict freedom of association, for example, by requiring deputy heads of NGO branches to be citizens if the branch head is a foreigner. Authorities routinely rejected the registration applications of NGOs whose names contained the words “human rights,” “democracy,” “institute,” and “society.”

Laws affecting grants and donations imposed a de facto prohibition on NGOs receiving cash donations and made it nearly impossible for NGOs to receive anonymous donations or to solicit contributions from the public.

In 2014 the president approved a number of amendments to the administrative code and the laws on NGOs, grants, and registration of legal entities that imposed additional restrictions on NGO activities and closed several loopholes for the operations of unregistered, independent, and foreign organizations. The laws make unregistered and foreign NGOs vulnerable to involuntary dissolution, intimidated and dissuaded potential activists and donors from joining and supporting civil society organizations, and restricted their ability to provide grants to unregistered local groups or individual heads of such organizations.

A resolution detailing new grant registration implementing regulations, enacted by the Council of Ministers in June 2015, sets a 15-day limit for NGOs to register their grants with the appropriate ministry, 15 days for the ministry to approve or deny the registration, and an extension of 15 days if further investigation by the ministry is needed. Based on extensive authority provided in the 2014 amendments, the Ministry of Justice put into effect new rules on monitoring NGO activities in February. The rules empower the ministry to conduct intrusive inspections of NGOs, with few provisions protecting the rights of NGOs and the potential of harsh fines if they do not cooperate.

A far-reaching criminal investigation opened in 2014 into the activities of numerous domestic and international NGOs and local leadership continued during the year. The investigation covered prominent independent organizations focused on human rights and transparency in natural resource governance, as well as international organizations providing assistance to citizens. As a result of the investigation, at least 32 organizations closed rather than subject their staff to continued pressure and the prospect of incarceration. Authorities froze dozens of NGO bank accounts as well as the personal accounts of a number of organization heads. Domestic and international NGOs described the criminal investigations, arrests, bank account closures, and other pressure as a crackdown on civil society unprecedented for the country (see section 5). A few activists affiliated with the Extractive Industries Transparency Initiative (a civil society coalition) reported that the government lifted the freeze on their bank accounts. Others affiliated with the coalition reported government constraints on their ability to operate.

The government continued to implement rules pursuant to a law that requires foreign NGOs wishing to operate in the country to sign an agreement and register with the Ministry of Justice. Foreign NGOs wishing to register a branch in the country are required to demonstrate they support “the Azerbaijani people’s national and cultural values” and commit not to be involved in religious and political propaganda. The decree does not specify any time limit for the registration procedure and effectively allows for unlimited discretion of the government to decide whether to register a foreign NGO. As of year’s end, no foreign NGOs had been able to register under these rules.

The Ministry of Justice reported it registered 99 NGOs and did not observe the practice of nonacceptance of applications during the year. The Ministry of Justice registered the human rights-focused NGO of Oktay Gulaliyev immediately before the Extractive Industries Transparency Initiative board meeting in October, but it changed its name and removed all references to human rights. Some experts estimated 1,000 NGOs remained unregistered.

c. Freedom of Religion

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; however, the government limited freedom of movement for an increasing number of activists and journalists.

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.

Foreign Travel: The number of activists and journalists whom the authorities prevented from traveling outside the country increased compared to the previous year. Examples included Popular Front Party chairman Ali Kerimli (since 2006), blogger Mehman Huseynov, investigative journalist Khadija Ismayilova, lawyers Intigam Aliyev and Asabali Mustafayev, opposition REAL members Natig Jafarli and Azer Gasimli, Emin Milli’s brother-in-law Nazim Agabeyov, and at least 15 freelance journalists who filed material with Meydan TV.

The law requires men of draft age to register with military authorities before traveling abroad. Authorities placed some travel restrictions on military personnel with access to national security information. Citizens charged with or convicted of criminal offenses but given suspended sentences were also not permitted to travel abroad.

INTERNALLY DISPLACED PERSONS

UNHCR reported 613,129 registered IDPs in the country as of December 31, including persons in IDP-like situations. The vast majority fled their homes between 1988 and 1993 as a result of the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict.

The IDPs were initially required to register their places of residence with authorities and could live only in approved areas. This “propiska” registration system, which formally ceased to exist after the breakup of the Soviet Union, was enforced mainly against persons who were forced from their homes after separatists, with Armenia’s support, took control of Nagorno-Karabakh and seven surrounding Azerbaijani territories. The government asserted that registration was needed to keep track of IDPs to assist them.

According to the Internal Displacement Monitoring Center, many IDPs who resided in Baku were unable to register their residences or gain access to formal employment, government assistance, health care, education, or pensions and had difficulty buying property.

Significant numbers of IDPs remained in overcrowded collective centers, where they were socially marginalized with limited employment opportunities and high rates of poverty. The law requires IDPs to register in the districts where they reside, and registration is necessary to obtain IDP status. Temporary registration where IDPs reside does not restrict migration within the country.

According to the government, it allocated 290 million manat ($161 million) to the State Committee for IDPs during the year. UNHCR reported that during the year the government rehoused 1,620 families, representing approximately 7,000 individuals, primarily in Fizuli, Sabirabad, Baku, Gazakh, and Zagatala.

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 some refugees through the Refugee Status Determination Department at the State Migration Service, which is responsible for all refugee matters. Although UNHCR noted some improvements, the country’s refugee-status determination system did not meet international standards. International NGOs continued to report that the service remained inefficient and did not operate transparently.

Safe Country of Origin/Transit: According to UNHCR, the country did not allow Russian citizens fleeing the conflict in Chechnya access to the national asylum procedure. UNHCR noted, however, that the country tolerated the presence of Chechen asylum seekers and accepted UNHCR’s role in providing for their protection and humanitarian needs.

Access to Basic Services: The estimated 1,193 refugees in the country lacked access to social services.

STATELESS PERSONS

Amendments to the constitution adopted by referendum on September 26 allow Azerbaijani citizenship to be removed “as provided by law.” Previously, the constitution explicitly prohibited the loss of citizenship.

According to UNHCR statistics, there were 3,585 persons in the country under UNHCR’s statelessness mandate at the end of the year. According to the State Migration Service, 245 foreigners and stateless persons were granted citizenship during the year, and citizenship was restored to two persons. The vast majority of stateless persons were ethnic Azeris from Georgia or Iran. NGOs stated there were many other undocumented stateless persons, with estimates ranging from hundreds to tens of thousands.

While the law provides for the right to apply for stateless status, some persons could not obtain the documentation required for the application and therefore remained formally unrecognized. The law on citizenship makes it difficult for foreigners and stateless persons to obtain citizenship.

For the most part, stateless persons enjoyed freedom of movement. The law permits stateless persons access to basic rights, such as access to health care and employment. Nevertheless, their lack of legal status at times hindered stateless persons’ access to these rights.

Section 3. Freedom to Participate in the Political Process

Although the constitution provides citizens the ability to choose their government through free and fair elections based on universal and equal suffrage, held by secret ballot, the government continued to restrict this ability by interfering in the electoral process. While the law provides for an independent legislative branch, the Milli Mejlis exercised little initiative independent of the executive branch.

Elections and Political Participation

Recent Elections: The OSCE Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights (ODIHR) cancelled its observation of the November 2015 legislative elections when the government refused to accept ODIHR’s recommended number of election observers. Without ODIHR participation, it was impossible to assess properly the fairness of the elections.

Independent local and international monitors who observed the election alleged a wide range of irregularities throughout the country, including blocking observers from entering polling stations, ballot stuffing, carousel voting, and voting by unregistered individuals; opposition monitors also alleged such irregularities. The country’s main opposition parties boycotted the election.

The 2013 presidential election fell short of international standards. In their joint statement of preliminary findings and conclusions on the election, ODIHR and the OSCE Parliamentary Assembly highlighted serious shortcomings that needed to be addressed for the country to meet its OSCE commitments fully. On election day, OSCE Parliamentary Assembly and ODIHR observers noted procedural irregularities, including ballot box stuffing, serious problems with vote counting in 58 percent of observed polling stations, and failure to record the number of ballots received. The ODIHR report noted that, prior to election day, the government maintained a repressive political environment that did not provide the fundamental freedoms of assembly, association, and expression necessary for a free and fair electoral competition. Authorities interfered with the media and civil society routinely, sometimes violently interrupted peaceful rallies and meetings before and occasionally during the 23-day campaign period, and jailed a number of opposition and youth activists. Neither the election administration nor the judiciary provided effective redress for appeals. Credible NGOs reported similar shortcomings.

On September 26, the government conducted a referendum on 29 proposed constitutional amendments, with voters having the option to vote on each proposed amendment separately. Amendments included provisions extending the presidential term from five to seven years, permitting the president to call early elections if twice in one-year legislators pass no-confidence measures in the government or reject presidential nominees to key government posts. The amendments also authorized the president to appoint one or more vice presidents, designating the senior vice president as first in the line of presidential succession in place of the prime minister, who is approved by parliament.

After polls closed, the Central Electoral Commission (CEC) announced that all 29 amendments were approved by 69.8 percent of registered voters. While observers from the Council of Europe’s Parliamentary Assembly reported the referendum was well executed, independent election observers who were unaccredited identified numerous instances of ballot stuffing, carousel voting, and other irregularities, many of which were captured on video. They also observed significantly lower turnout than was officially reported by the CEC.

Political Parties and Political Participation: While there were 50 registered political parties, the ruling Yeni Azerbaijan Party dominated the political system. Domestic observers reported that membership in the ruling party conferred advantages, such as preference for public positions. The Milli Mejlis has not included representatives of the country’s main opposition parties since 2010.

Opposition members were more likely than other citizens to experience official harassment and arbitrary arrest and detention. Members of the N!DA youth movement and the Youth Committee of the Popular Front Party were arrested and sentenced to administrative detention after making social media posts critical of the government. Authorities also attempted to smear the Popular Front Party by insinuating that the PFP was connected to extreme Shiism during the prosecution of the party’s deputy chairman, Fuad Gahramanli, for his support of the rights of Muslim Unity Movement members. Authorities similarly alleged ties to Sunni Gulenism when they arrested PFP chairman Ali Karimli’s assistant, Faig Amirli.

According to domestic NGOs’ joint list of political prisoners, several political detainees or prisoners were opposition party or movement members. At least 12 opposition members were considered to be political prisoners, such as REAL movement chairman Ilgar Mammadov, who was convicted in 2015 and sentenced to seven years’ imprisonment for allegedly inciting civil unrest (see section 5). At least 10 opposition figures were considered to be political detainees, including Popular Front deputy chairman Fuad Gahramanli, who was detained in December 2015 on charges that appeared connected with his exercise of freedom of expression (see section 2.a.).

Regional party members often had to conceal the purpose of their gatherings and held them in remote locations. Opposition party members reported police often dispersed small gatherings at teahouses and detained participants for questioning. Opposition parties continued to have difficulty renting office space, reportedly because landlords feared official retaliation; some parties operated from their leaders’ apartments.

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

Bahrain

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

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

There were some reports government security forces committed arbitrary or unlawful killings.

The Ministry of Interior Ombudsman’s annual report detailed its investigations into seven detainee deaths that occurred from May 2015 to May. Investigators determined one prisoner died of a drug overdose, one committed suicide, four died from complications to preexisting medical conditions, and one died from injuries sustained when police attempted to arrest the individual. The government’s investigations into the death of 17-year-old Ali Abdulghani during arrest and 35-year-old Hassan al-Hayki in police custody continued as of year’s end (see section 1.c.).

Violent extremists perpetrated dozens of attacks against security officers and government officials during the year, killing one and injuring other security officers. On June 30, a remotely detonated bomb planted on Sitra highway near the village of Eker killed a woman and injured three of her children; no group claimed responsibility for the bombing.

b. Disappearance

There were no reports of politically motivated disappearances.

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

The constitution prohibits “harm[ing] an accused person physically or mentally.” Some domestic and international human rights organizations, as well as former detainees, reported instances of torture, abuse, and other cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment or punishment. Human rights groups reported prisoner accounts alleging security officials beat them, placed them in stress positions, humiliated them in front of other prisoners, deprived them of sleep and prayers, insulted them based on their religious beliefs, and subjected them to sexual harassment, including removal of clothing and threat of rape. Officials reportedly kept some detainees in solitary confinement, sometimes in extreme temperatures; poured cold water on them; and forced them to stand for long periods. Human rights organizations also reported authorities prevented some detainees from using toilet facilities, withheld food and drink, and denied medical treatment to injured or ill detainees and prisoners. Detainees also reported that security forces committed some abuses during searches, arrests at private residences, and during transportation. Detainees reported intimidation took place at the Ministry of Interior’s Criminal Investigation Directorate (CID). In a report based on an unannounced visit to Jaw Prison in November 2015, the Commission on Prisoner and Detainee Rights (PDRC) confirmed allegations that prison staff had physically assaulted prisoners. The ministry denied torture and abuse were systemic. The government reported it had equipped all interrogation rooms, including those at local police stations and the CID, with closed-circuit television cameras monitored at all times. The PDRC repeatedly noted in reports released 2014-16 that many facilities had areas without video monitoring.

Some detainees at the CID reported security officials used physical and psychological mistreatment to extract confessions and statements under duress or to inflict retribution and punishment. The PDRC made an unannounced visit to the CID in 2014 and found that officials kept some prisoners handcuffed for the duration of their time at the facility, provided food at irregular times, and restricted prisoner access to a single toilet. It has not been made public whether the PDRC visited the facility since 2014.

The Ministry of Interior’s ombudsman reported it received 68 complaints against the CID and 65 against Jaw Prison from May 2015 to May. The ombudsman referred 28 of the cases against the CID and 23 against Jaw Prison for criminal or disciplinary procedures; 37 additional cases were still under investigation.

Human rights groups reported authorities subjected children, sometimes under the age of 15, to various forms of mistreatment, including beating, slapping, kicking, and verbal abuse. The age of majority in the country is 15 years old, and the law considers all persons over this age to be adults. Authorities held detainees under the age of 15 at the Juvenile Care Center. The Ministry of Interior reported police arrested 31 children under the age of 15 from January to September; as of September there was one child at the Juvenile Care Center awaiting trial and 11 more serving their sentences. The PDRC visited the CID in 2014 and found that staff was not trained to treat special needs suspects or to treat those between the ages of 15 and 18 differently than adults.

On April 4, 17-year-old Ali Abdulghani died in the hospital from head injuries sustained during his March 31 arrest in the village of Shahrakkan. The government reported that police pursued Abdulghani based on a five-year sentence he had received in his absence. During the pursuit the government claimed Abdulghani entered a building under construction and either fell or jumped to his death. Critics disputed the government’s version of events and alleged a police car had intentionally hit Abdulghani. According to press reports, the ombudsman and Special Investigative Unit (SIU) investigated and determined police acted appropriately.

Prison and Detention Center Conditions

Human rights activists reported conditions in prisons and detention centers were harsh and sometimes life threatening due to overcrowding, physical abuse, and inadequate sanitary conditions and medical care. Detainees and human rights organizations also reported abuse in official pretrial detention centers, as well as in Jaw Prison and Dry Dock Detention Center.

Physical Conditions: Human rights organizations and prisoners reported gross overcrowding in detention facilities, which placed a strain on administration and led to a high prisoner-to-staff ratio. Observers reported that from 2013 to year’s end, the Jaw Prison population increased, perhaps to as high as 3,600 at times, while the ombudsman reported the number of prison guards remained the same, at 23 for the day shift. In October 2015 the Ministry of Interior reported it had opened four new buildings at Jaw Prison during the year and transferred inmates under the age of 21 to new buildings for convicted youth at the Dry Dock facility. PDRC reports from 2015 detailed concerns about prison conditions including overcrowding, unsanitary conditions, and lack of access to basic supplies. Human rights organizations noted their concern about the health of prisoners with chronic medical conditions, including cancer.

Social media estimated there were up to 400 school-age youth in prison. The ministry held detainees under the age of 15 at the Juvenile Care Center, which, according to a PDRC report, was under capacity at the time of the commission’s unannounced visit in January 2015. As of June 2015, convicted males between the ages of 15 and 21 were housed in newly constructed buildings located on the grounds of the Dry Dock facility, but they were kept separate from pretrial detainees. The ministry separated prisoners under the age of 18 from those between the ages of 18 and 21. Upon reaching the age of 21, prisoners are transferred to the general population at Jaw Prison. In September 2015 the Royal Charity Organization opened a branch of the Nasser Center for Rehabilitation and Vocational Training at Jaw Prison with space for 50 inmates to participate; this program continued to operate.

The ombudsman’s annual report detailed its investigations into the seven detainee deaths that occurred from May 2015 to May. Investigators determined one prisoner died of a drug overdose, one committed suicide, four died from complications to preexisting medical conditions, and one died from injuries sustained when police attempted to arrest the individual.

The ombudsman and the SIU also reported their investigations into the July 31 death of 35-year-old Hassan al-Hayki. Authorities announced he died of a heart attack shortly after arriving at a hospital from the Dry Dock pretrial detention facility; opposition activists alleged al-Hayki was mistreated following his arrest. Al-Hayki had been in custody since his July 13 arrest on suspicion of involvement in the June 30 bombing in Eker (see section 1.a.).

Although the government reported potable water was available for all detainees, and there were water coolers in all detention centers, there were reports of lack of access to water for drinking and washing, lack of shower facilities and soap, and unhygienic toilet facilities. There were also reports of air conditioning units not running in extremely hot weather. Human rights organizations reported food was adequate for most prisoners; however, those prisoners needing dietary accommodations due to medical conditions had difficulty receiving special dietary provisions. Other detainees reported physical abuse, verbal assault, and threats of sexual assault, as well as denial of sleep, prayer, and bathroom access.

There were no accommodations for persons with disabilities in prisons and detention centers. Human rights groups reported prisoners who became physically or mentally disabled while in custody relied on fellow prisoners for their care.

Prisoners needing medical attention reported difficulty in alerting guards to their needs, and medical clinics at the facilities were understaffed. Prisoners with chronic medical conditions including sickle-cell anemia, diabetes, and gout had difficulty accessing regular medical care. Those needing transportation to outside medical facilities reported delays in scheduling offsite treatment, especially those needing follow-up care for complex or chronic conditions. The PDRC noted numerous deficiencies with health services at most facilities. There were outbreaks of communicable diseases that spread quickly and severely, due to overcrowded conditions, lack of sanitation, and understaffed medical clinics.

In March 2015 hundreds of prisoners at Jaw Prison participated in a riot that caused significant damage to the prison and injured 245 inmates and police. The prison kept some prisoners in tents in the yard for up to three months after the riot, with limited access to showers. There were also reports authorities partially shaved prisoners’ heads to humiliate them, placed them in stress positions, made them mimic animals, and beat them. Detainees reported police who abused them self-identified as Jordanian Special Police Force (known as the Darak). Prosecutors charged more than 50 inmates in connection with the rioting. Although authorities reported the SIU continued to investigate alleged abuse, as of years’ end, it had not brought any disciplinary or criminal proceedings against police or security forces allegedly involved in abuses during and after the riot.

Administration: The Ministry of Interior reported authorities registered the location of detainees from the moment of arrest. Authorities generally allowed prisoners to file complaints to judicial authorities without censorship, and officials from the ombudsman were available to respond to complaints. Human rights groups, however, reported some prisoners faced reprisals from prison staff for lodging complaints. Prisoners had access to visitors at least once a month, often more frequently, and authorities permitted them 30 minutes of calls each week, although authorities reportedly denied prisoners communication with lawyers and family members at times. Authorities generally permitted prisoners to practice their religion, but there were reports authorities sometimes denied prisoners access to religious services and prayer time.

Independent Monitoring: Authorities permitted access for the quasi-governmental National Institution for Human Rights (NIHR) and PDRC, as well as the government’s ombudsman and SIU. Some local and international human rights organizations expressed concern regarding the degree of independence of the domestic groups.

The SIU, formed in 2012, acted as a mechanism for the public to complain about prisoner mistreatment or conditions in prisons and detention facilities. The SIU reported it received 137 complaints through August, five of which it referred to court; the others remained under investigation. The ombudsman began monitoring prisons and detention centers in 2013, conducting announced and unannounced visits and accepting written and in-person complaints. From May 2015 until May, the office received 305 complaints and an additional 687 requests for assistance. The ombudsman had complaint boxes at most Ministry of Interior detention facilities and staffed a permanent office at Jaw Prison to receive complaints. The ombudsman reported it was able to get evidence preserved on more than one occasion after receiving a complaint about mistreatment.

In December 2015 the NIHR published its third annual report, which covered 2015. The NIHR reported it received 88 complaints representing 119 complainants for 2015 and an additional 124 requests for assistance and legal advice. Separately, the NIHR reported it visited Jaw prison and interviewed more than 40 prisoners, and it had followed complaints from inmates’ families regarding alleged denial of medical treatment.

From the end of 2014 throughout the year, the PDRC conducted unannounced visits at a number of detention facilities, including Jaw Prison, the CID, Juvenile Care Center, Women’s Detention Center, Women’s Reformation and Rehabilitation Center, and four police directorates; it posted reports on these facilities on its website.

d. Arbitrary Arrest or Detention

The constitution prohibits arbitrary arrest and detention, although local and international human rights groups continued to report the practice of detaining individuals without notifying them at the time of the arrest of the legal authority of the person conducting the arrest, the reasons for the arrest, and the charges against them. Human rights groups claimed the Ministry of Interior conducted many arrests at private residences without either presenting an arrest warrant or presenting an inaccurate or incomplete one, but government sources disputed these claims.

In 2013 the king tightened penalties for those involved in terrorism, banned demonstrations in the capital, allowed for legal action against political associations accused of inciting and supporting violence and terrorism, and granted security services increased powers to protect society from terrorism, including the ability to declare a State of National Safety. Human rights groups asserted the 2013 laws conflicted with protections against arbitrary arrest and detention, including for freedom of speech.

In 2014 authorities detained leading opposition society Wifaq secretary general Sheikh Ali Salman over concerns about political statements. Authorities charged him with four crimes: inciting a change of government by force, inciting hatred of a segment of society, inciting others to break the law, and insulting the Ministry of Interior. In June 2015 a criminal court acquitted Salman of inciting political change by force but sentenced him to four years on the other three charges. Both Salman and the prosecution appealed. On May 30, the appeals court convicted him on all charges, including the one on which the lower court had acquitted him, and sentenced him to nine years in prison. In October the Court of Cassation threw out the appeals court decision and sent the case back to have another appeals court review the case. At that review on December 12, the appeals court reinstated Salman’s nine-year sentence; Salman remained in custody at Jaw Prison at year’s end. His legal team claimed the prosecution entered falsified evidence, including altered transcripts of speeches, and that prison officials had prevented the team from passing legal documents to Salman, complicating their ability to mount a defense. Evidence presented against Salman in court consisted solely of public statements he made in sermons or speeches. In November 2015 the UN working group on arbitrary detention determined that authorities had arbitrarily detained Salman. On September 15, police questioned Salman at the CID in connection with a letter submitted with his name to the UN high commissioner for human rights, Zeid Ra’ad al-Hussein (see section 5), but as of year’s end, no new charges have been filed.

ROLE OF THE POLICE AND SECURITY APPARATUS

The Ministry of Interior is responsible for internal security and controls the public security force and specialized security units responsible for maintaining internal order. The coast guard is also under its jurisdiction. The Bahrain Defense Force is primarily responsible for defending against external threats, while the Bahrain National Guard is responsible for both external and internal threats. Security forces effectively maintained order and generally responded in a measured way to violent attacks.

Civilian authorities maintained effective control over security forces during the year, although impunity remained a problem. In 2012 the government established the SIU to investigate and refer cases of security force misconduct to the appropriate court, which includes civilian criminal courts, the ministry’s Military Court, and administrative courts. As of August the SIU reported it had received and investigated 137 new complaints since the beginning of the year. The SIU submitted five of these cases, with a total of 11 defendants, to civilian criminal court, and had one officer and two enlisted men convicted, with one sentenced to a year in prison. The SIU also referred some cases to the ministry’s administrative and military courts. As of September the ministry reported 41 police officers were in jail, another nine were in detention awaiting trial, and 190 had received reprimands. The ministry generally did not release the names of officers convicted, demoted, reassigned, or fired for misconduct. Many human rights groups asserted that investigations into police abuse were slow and ineffective.

Unidentified individuals conducted numerous attacks aimed at security personal during the year, which the perpetrators often filmed and posted to social media. These videos showed attackers using Molotov cocktails and other improvised weapons against police patrols and stations, including in close proximity to bystanders. Police avoided responding with deadly force.

In 2012 the king ordered the creation of the Bahrain National Security Agency’s (BNSA) Office for the Inspector General and the Ministry of Interior Ombudsman. While both offices were responsible for addressing cases of mistreatment and abuse, there was little public information available about the BNSA inspector general’s activities.

In 2012 the minister of interior approved a new police code of conduct that requires officers to abide by 10 principles, including limited use of force and zero tolerance for torture and mistreatment. According to government officials, the code forbids the use of force “except when absolutely necessary.” The Royal Police Academy included the code in its curriculum in 2012 and provided new recruits with copies in English and Arabic. The ministry reported it took disciplinary action against officers who did not comply with the code.

The Ombudsman maintained a hotline for citizens to report police abuse, but human rights groups reported many citizens hesitated to report abuse for fear of retribution. As of September, the police hotline had received 260 calls. The Ombudsman reported a reduction in the number of complaints it received about the riot police from 15 in the 2014-2015 reporting cycle to two in 2015-2016.

Local activists and human rights organizations claimed that the demographics of the police and security forces were not representative of Bahrain’s communities. To address these concerns and in response to a BICI recommendation on integrating Shia citizens into the police force, the government established the community police program, which recruits individuals to work in their own neighborhoods, in 2012. In 2012, the government graduated 577 new police from its academy and said that the majority would be “working in the community.” In October 2015, the government reported 504 community police officers graduated from the same community policing program in 2015, bringing the total number of community police that have graduated from the Royal Police Academy to 1500. As of September, the government reported it had not hired any additional community police in 2016, leaving the total number of community police at approximately 1,400, of which 320 were women. Community members have confirmed that Shia have been among those integrated into the community police and the police cadets, but not in significant numbers; information is not available on recruitment rates of Shia into other security forces.

ARREST PROCEDURES AND TREATMENT OF DETAINEES

The law stipulates law enforcement officials may arrest individuals without a warrant only if they are caught committing certain crimes for which there is sufficient evidence to press charges. Local activists reported police sometimes made arrests without presenting a warrant.

By law the arresting authority must interrogate an arrested individual immediately and cannot detain the person for more than 48 hours, after which authorities must either release the detainee or transfer the person to the Public Prosecution Office (PPO) for further questioning. The PPO is required to question the detainee within 24 hours, and the detainee has the right to legal counsel during questioning. To hold the detainee longer, the PPO must issue a formal detention order based on the charges against the detainee. Authorities may extend detention up to seven days for further questioning. If authorities require any further extension, they must bring the detainee before a judge, who may authorize a further extension not exceeding 45 days. The High Criminal Court must authorize any extensions beyond that period and any renewals at 45-day intervals. In the case of alleged acts of terror, law enforcement officials may detain individuals for questioning for an initial five days, which the PPO can extend up to 60 days. A functioning system of bail provides maximum and minimum bail amounts based on the charges; however, judges often denied bail requests without explanation, even in nonviolent cases. The bail law allows the presiding judge to determine the amount within these parameters on a case-by-case basis.

Attorneys reported difficulty in gaining access to their clients in a timely manner through all stages of the legal process, including reports defense attorneys had difficulty registering themselves as a detainee’s legal representative because of arbitrary bureaucratic hurdles, had their qualifications arbitrarily questioned by police, were not notified of their client’s location in custody, were directed to seek a court order to meet with their client, were prohibited from meeting their client in private, were prohibited from passing legal documents to their client, were told at short notice when their client would be questioned by the PPO, were not allowed to be present during questioning by police or prosecutor, and were not provided access or allowed to consult with their clients in court. While the state provides counsel to indigent detainees, there were reports detainees never met with their state appointed attorney before or during their trial.

According to reports by local and international human rights groups, authorities held some detainees for weeks with limited access to outside resources. The government sometimes withheld information from detainees and their families about the detainees’ whereabouts for days.

On October 24, Sayed Alawi Hussain Alawi from Diraz went missing, and his family filed a missing person’s report with police that night. The family then received a call from an individual who identified himself as being from the CID, who said police had arrested Alawi. According to social media reports, police prevented Alawi’s lawyer from meeting with his client and prevented Alawi from calling his family until December 1.

In August 2015 authorities arrested former opposition member of parliament, Sheikh Hassan Isa, at the airport upon his return from abroad. According to Wifaq CID investigators prohibited Isa’s lawyers from speaking to him and from being present during his questioning. Authorities allowed Isa to meet with his lawyers only after the lawyers filed multiple requests. As of year’s end, his trial continued.

Arbitrary Arrest: Human rights groups reported the Ministry of Interior sometimes arrested individuals for activities such as calling for and attending protests and demonstrations, expressing their opinion either in public or on social media, and associating with persons of interest to law enforcement. Some of these detained individuals reported arresting forces did not show them warrants. Authorities arrested dozens of participants in a nonviolent, long-term sit-in protesting the revocation of Sheikh Isa Qassim’s citizenship outside of his residence in Diraz (see Section 2.b., Freedom of Assembly). The government maintained that police only summoned, questioned, and detained individuals who had broken the law.

In July 2015 police summoned former president of the capital governorate’s municipal council, Majeed Milad, to the Houra Police Station and arrested him. A criminal court found him guilty of “incitement of hatred against the regime,” during a speech he gave at a Ramadan gathering, and gave him a one-year sentence. Authorities released him from prison on July 1. (See section 2.a, for information about the arrest and detention of human rights activist Nabeel Rajab.)

Detainee’s Ability to Challenge Lawfulness of Detention before a Court: The constitution prohibits arbitrary arrest and detention, although local and international human rights groups continued to report the practice of detaining individuals without notifying them at the time of the arrest of the legal authority of the person conducting the arrest, the reasons for the arrest, and the charges against them. There were reports that authorities sometimes delayed or limited an individual’s access to an attorney. There were no reports of courts finding individuals to have been unlawfully detained and recommending compensation.

e. Denial of Fair Public Trial

Although the constitution provides for an independent judiciary, the judiciary remained vulnerable to political pressures, especially in cases involving political opposition figures. The judiciary has two branches: the civil law courts deal with all commercial, civil, and criminal cases, including family issues of non-Muslims, and the sharia law courts handle personal status cases of Muslims. The government subdivided the sharia courts into Sunni and Shia sharia courts. Many of the country’s approximately 160 judges were foreign judges serving on limited-term contracts (which are subject to government approval for renewal and residence in the country). The Supreme Judicial Council is responsible for supervising the work of the courts, including judges, and the PPO.

TRIAL PROCEDURES

The constitution presumes defendants are innocent until proven guilty. By law authorities should inform detainees of the charges against them upon arrest. Civil and criminal trial procedures provide for a public trial. A panel of three judges makes the rulings. Defendants have the right to consultation with an attorney of their choice within 48 hours (unless the government charges them pursuant to counterterrorism legislation); however, there are reports that defendants and their lawyers have had difficulty getting police, public prosecutor, and courts to recognize or register representation by an attorney. The government provides counsel at public expense to indigent defendants. No law governs defendants’ access to government-held evidence, and such evidence was available at the discretion of the court. Defendants have the right to present witnesses and evidence on their behalf. While defendants have the right to question witnesses against them, the judges can declare the questions to be irrelevant and prohibit a line of questioning without providing reasoning. Prosecutors rarely present evidence orally in court but provide it in written and digital formats to judges in their chambers. In criminal trials prosecutors and judges walk into the courtroom together. Defendants are not compelled to testify or to confess guilt and have the right to appeal. The government frequently tries defendants in their absence.

Family status law varied according to Shia or Sunni interpretations of Islamic law, especially for women (see section 6).

POLITICAL PRISONERS AND DETAINEES

The government denied holding any political prisoners, although it acknowledged holding several dozen high-profile individuals, including leaders or prominent members of political societies and organizations and others who were publically critical of government institutions or government actions prior to their arrests. Human rights organizations and opposition groups asserted there were more than 4,000 political prisoners in the country, but this number could not be confirmed. According to the PDRC, the total number of individuals in custody charged with all types of crimes is 3,700 and includes 700 foreigners. Authorities held some high-profile prisoners separately from the general prison population. Activist Nabeel Rajab remained in detention as the only prisoner held at the East Riffa Police Station, and human rights organizations raised concerns that he was not consistently provided prompt access to medical care (see section 2.a.). There were some reports authorities held political prisoners in better conditions compared to other prisoners and detainees.

In March 2015 the Ministry of Interior arrested Fadhel Abbas, secretary general of the Democratic Unity Gathering Society (al-Wahdawi), in relation to a tweet sent by the al-Wahdawi political society that criticized the country’s military involvement in Yemen. A criminal court sentenced him in June 2015 to five years in prison for “spreading false information that could harm the military operations of Bahrain and its allies.” On October 27, an appeals court reduced his sentence to three years, and at year’s end he remained in Jaw Prison.

Authorities released several prominent politicians and activists arrested in 2011 from prison at the completion of their prescribed sentences, including Mohammed Ali al-Mahfoodh on April 30, Mahdi Abu Deeb on April 1, and Salah al-Khawaja on March 19. In June 2015 authorities pardoned and released former Wa’ad secretary general Ibrahim Sharif, but police rearrested him on new charges 23 days later, and he spent another year in jail (see section 2.a.).

(See section 1.d. for information about the arrest and detention of Wifaq secretary general Sheikh Ali Salman. See section 2.a. for more information about the arrest and detention of activists Nabeel Rajab and Zainab al-Khawaja.)

CIVIL JUDICIAL PROCEDURES AND REMEDIES

Citizens may bring civil suits before a court seeking cessation of or damages for some types of human rights violations. In many such situations, however, the law prevents citizens from filing civil suits against security agencies.

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

Although the constitution prohibits such actions, the government violated prohibitions against interference with privacy, family, home, or correspondence. Human rights organizations reported security forces sometimes entered homes without authorization and destroyed or confiscated personal property. The law requires the government to obtain a court order before monitoring telephone calls, e-mail, and personal correspondence. Many citizens and human rights organizations believed police used informer networks, including ones that targeted or used children under 18 years of age.

Reports also indicated the government used computer programs to spy on political activists and members of the opposition inside and outside the country.

According to local and international human rights groups, security officials sometimes threatened detainees’ family members with reprisals for the detainee’s unwillingness to cooperate during interrogations and refusal to sign confession statements.

Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:

a. Freedom of Speech and Press

The constitution provides for freedom of speech and press, “provided that the fundamental beliefs of Islamic doctrine are not infringed, the unity of the people is not prejudiced, and discord and sectarianism are not aroused.” In practice the government limited freedom of speech and press through active prosecution of individuals under libel, slander, and national security laws that targeted civilian and professional journalists and by passing legislation to limit speech in print and social media.

Freedom of Speech and Expression: The law forbids any speech that infringes on public order or morals. While individuals openly expressed critical opinions regarding domestic political and social issues in private settings, those who publicly expressed such opinions often faced repercussions. During the year the government took steps against what it considered acts of civil disobedience, which included critical speech, under charges of unlawful assembly or “insulting the king.” A 2014 amendment to the penal code increased penalties to no less than one year and no more than seven years in prison, plus a fine, for anyone who “offends the monarch of the Kingdom of Bahrain, the flag, or the national emblem.”

On June 13, police arrested Bahrain Center for Human Rights (BCHR) president Nabeel Rajab for tweets released in April 2015 criticizing Saudi-led coalition’s military operations in Yemen and treatment of prisoners in Jaw Prison. Police initially arrested Rajab on these charges in April 2015 but released him from prison in July 2015 when he received a pardon in connection with a previous arrest. Rajab’s trial on the latter charges began in July and continued as of year’s end. At his hearing on December 28, the judge ordered Rajab released on bail; however, on the same day, the public prosecutor announced that Rajab would remain in detention under investigation on separate charges stemming from “publishing false news and statements” for statements in a New York Times op-ed published in Rajab’s name on September 4 and another article attributed to Rajab that was published in the French newspaper Le Monde on December 19. That case had not gone to trial as of year’s end, and Rajab remained in custody.

In July 2015 authorities arrested Ibrahim Sharif after he delivered a speech calling for reforms and making reference to the “embers of revolution.” This arrest came 23 days after the king pardoned him for a conviction stemming from involvement in the 2011 unrest, for which Sharif had spent more than four years in prison. In the 2015 case, the prosecutor charged Sharif with “promoting political change through forceful means.” On February 24, a criminal court found him guilty of “inciting hatred against the regime” and sentenced him to one year in jail. The authorities released him on July 11. On November 7, the appeals process concluded with no additional jail time for Sharif, although a travel ban remained in effect at year’s end. Authorities also brought charges of “inciting hatred and contempt against the regime” against Sharif on November 13 after he gave an interview to the Associated Press in which he said that the November visit by United Kingdom Prince Charles and wife Camilla could “whitewash” the ongoing crackdown on dissent. Sharif was not taken into police custody, and the charges were dropped on November 24.

On June 21, an appeals court upheld a one-year jail sentence against women’s rights activist Ghada Jamsheer in conjunction with a series of tweets about corruption at a local hospital and a physical altercation that happened when she was in pretrial detention in 2014. Authorities arrested Jamsheer on August 15 when she returned from a trip abroad. She was released from prison on December 14 under the agreement that she would perform community service in lieu of serving the remaining time on her sentence.

On February 2, an appeals court upheld a nine-month sentence issued against activist Zainab al-Khawaja in June 2015 for trespassing. In October 2015 a different appeals court reduced a separate sentence against her for tearing up a picture of the king in court from three years to one year. Al-Khawaja claimed she tore up the picture as a political statement, while the government maintained the charge against her was for contempt of court. Police took al-Khawaja into custody on March 14 to serve these two sentences, but authorities released her on May 31 for “humanitarian reasons” after she served 2.5 months of her 21-month sentence. She subsequently left the country and at year’s end remained abroad.

Press and Media Freedoms: The government did not own any print media, but the Ministry of Information Affairs and other government entities exercised considerable control over privately owned domestic print media.

The government owned and operated all domestic radio and television stations. Audiences generally received radio and television broadcasts in Arabic, Farsi, and English from countries in the region, including by satellite, without interference. The ministry reviewed all books and publications prior to issuing printing licenses. The Ministry of Justice and Islamic Affairs reviewed books that discussed religion.

The Ministry of Information Affairs did not renew the accreditation of three journalists who worked for international media agencies, Nazeha Saeed, Reem Khalifa, and Hasan Jamali. The ministry did not give reason for its decision, nor was recourse available. It brought criminal complaints against journalists who continued to work without accreditation.

Violence and Harassment: According to local journalists, authorities harassed, arrested, or threatened journalists and photographers due to their reporting. Authorities claimed, however, that some individuals who identified themselves as journalists and photographers associated with violent opposition groups and produced propaganda and recruiting videos for these groups. International media representatives reported difficulty in obtaining visas to work as journalists. The government arrested or deported individuals who were in the country on other types of visas and who engaged in even limited journalistic activities. The government sentenced several journalists and bloggers arrested in 2015-16 to prison for social media postings.

Censorship or Content Restrictions: Government censorship occurred. Ministry of Information Affairs personnel actively monitored and blocked stories on matters deemed sensitive, especially those related to sectarianism, national security, or criticism of the royal family, the Saudi royal family, or the judiciary. Journalists widely practiced self-censorship. Some members of media reported government officials contacted editors directly and told them to stop writing about certain subjects or told them not to publish a press release or story.

The press and publications law prohibits anti-Islamic content in media and mandates imprisonment for “exposing the state’s official religion for offense and criticism.” The law states, “any publication that prejudices the ruling system of the country and its official religion can be banned from publication by a ministerial order.”

Index on Censorship, an international NGO that supports freedom of expression, reported the ministry’s Press and Publications Directorate banned and confiscated all copies of the book, Political Organizations and Societies in Bahrain, coauthored by Bahraini writer Abbas al-Murshid, and another book by al-Murshid, Bahrain in the Gulf Gazetteer. Additionally, a number of books remained banned from 2010, including the Arabic translation of The Personal Diary of Charles Belgrave and Unbridled Hatreds: Reading in the Fate of Ancient Hatreds, by Bahraini author Nader Kadim.

Libel/Slander Laws: The government enforced libel and national security-related laws restricting freedom of the press. The penal code prohibits libel, slander, and “divulging secrets”; and it stipulates a punishment of imprisonment for no more than two years or a fine of no more than 200 dinars ($540). Application of the slander law was selective.

National Security: National security-related law provides for fines of as much as 10,000 dinars ($27,000) and prison sentences of at least six months for criticizing the king or inciting actions that undermine state security, as well as fines of up to 2,000 dinars ($5,400) for 14 related offenses. Punishable activities include publicizing statements issued by a foreign state or organization before obtaining ministry approval, publishing any reports that may adversely affect the dinar’s value, reporting any offense against a head of a state that maintains diplomatic relations with the country, and publishing offensive remarks about an accredited representative of a foreign country due to acts connected with the person’s position.

INTERNET FREEDOM

More than 90 percent of citizens had access to the internet. The government restricted internet freedom and monitored individuals’ online activities, including via social media, leading to degradation of internet and mobile phone services for some neighborhoods and to legal action against some internet users.

On January 4, police arrested optometrist, Dr. Saeed al-Samahiji, for tweets critical of Saudi Arabia’s execution of Shia cleric and political activist Nimr al-Nimr. On April 7, a criminal court sentenced him to a one-year prison term for “insulting a neighboring country.” The appeals court upheld the conviction on September 7. He remained in Jaw Prison at year’s end.

Three days after a sit-in outside of Sheikh Isa Qassim’s house in Diraz began in late June, residents complained that mobile phone networks and internet services were significantly reduced each evening. The offshore-based Bahrain Watch organization concluded two of the three main Internet Service Providers in the country deliberately restricted access for some users each day during certain times.

In 2013 the Ministry of Communication blocked 70 websites in accordance with laws passed following parliament’s recommendations. The government stated that it took this action to prevent access to “terrorist materials,” but NGOs asserted many of the websites featured only political speech. As of year’s end, the websites were intermittently accessible.

ACADEMIC FREEDOM AND CULTURAL EVENTS

The government restricted academic freedom and cultural events. Some academics engaged in self-censorship, avoiding discussion of contentious political issues.

Human rights advocates claimed government officials unfairly distributed university scholarships and were biased against Shia, for both political and religious reasons, when admitting students into certain programs. In 2011 the government instituted interviews into the university selection process, partially to correct for grade inflation, as there is no national standardized test to account for different grading practices across secondary schools; however, students reported authorities asked them about their and their families’ political beliefs as part of the interviews. The government maintained it distributed all scholarships and made all placements based on merit.

b. Freedom of Peaceful Assembly and Association

FREEDOM OF ASSEMBLY

The constitution provides for the right of free assembly, but the law restricts the exercise of this right. The government limited and controlled political gatherings and denied permits for organized demonstrations. For the second year, there were no authorized demonstrations, although the Ministry of Interior generally did not intervene in peaceful, unauthorized demonstrations. The ministry reported it did not approve any major demonstrations during the year due to past failures by organizers to control their own events. Political societies, however, reported the ministry refused even to accept permit requests, whether delivered by hand, by registered post, or by fax. The opposition group Wifaq reported that despite many new requests, its last approval for a march came in 2014.

According to the Ministry of Interior, three persons from the locality where an event will take place must submit a signed request to the chief of public security three days in advance, to receive permission to hold a public gathering. The law outlines the locations and times during which it prohibits functions, including areas close to hospitals, airports, commercial locations, security-related facilities, and downtown Manama. In addition to the locations listed in the law, the chief of public security may change the time, place, or route of the event if there is a possibility that it would cause a breach of public order. The law states mourners may not turn funeral processions into political rallies, and that security officials may be present at any public gathering.

The law states every public gathering shall have a committee consisting of a head and at least two members. The committee is responsible for supervising and preventing any illegal acts during the function. According to the law, the Ministry of Interior is not obligated to justify why it approves or denies requests to allow protests. The penal code penalizes any gathering “of five or more individuals” that is held for the “purpose of committing crimes or inciting others to commit crimes.” Lawyers asserted authorities should not prevent demonstrations in advance based on assumptions crimes would be committed. Authorities prohibited the use of vehicles in any demonstration, protest, or gathering unless organizers obtained special written permission from the head of public security.

Organizers of an unauthorized gathering faced prison sentences of three to six months. The minimum sentence for participating in an illegal gathering is one month, and the maximum is two years. Authorities gave longer sentences for cases where demonstrators used violence in an illegal gathering. The maximum fine is 200 dinars ($540). The law regulates election campaigning and prohibits political activities at worship centers, universities, schools, government buildings, and public institutions. The government did not allow individuals to use mosques, maatams (Shia religious community centers), or other religious sites for political gatherings. During the year authorities questioned and detained some political society officials for discussing political matters in religious venues.

Police arrested or summoned several dozen individuals, including Shia clerics, in relation to their alleged participation in the Diraz sit-in, which began June 20 following the revocation of Sheikh Isa Qassim’s citizenship. On July 30, police arrested Shia cleric Sheikh Sayed Majeed al-Mashaal, head of the banned Islamic Ulema Council, on allegations he participated on June 30 in the sit-in. On August 31, a court sentenced al-Mashaal to two years in prison on these charges and transferred him to Jaw Prison. On December 1, an appeals court reduced an additional one-year sentence he received on October 7 on other charges stemming from his participation in the sit-in on July 19.

FREEDOM OF ASSOCIATION

The constitution provides for freedom of association, but the government limited this right. The government required all groups to register: civil society groups with the Ministry of Social Development, political societies with the Ministry of Justice and Islamic Affairs, and labor unions with the Ministry of Labor. The government decided whether a group was social or political in nature, based on its proposed bylaws. The law prohibits any activity by an unlicensed society, as well as any political activity by a licensed civil society group. A number of unlicensed societies were active in the country (see also section 3).

A civil society group applying for registration must submit its bylaws signed by all founding members, together with minutes of the founding committee’s meetings containing the names, professions, places of residence, and signatures of all founding members. The law grants the Ministry of Social Development the right to reject the registration of any civil society group if it finds the society’s services unnecessary, already provided by another society, contrary to state security, or aimed at reviving a previously dissolved society. Associations whose applications the authorities rejected or ignored may appeal to the High Civil Court, which may annul the ministry’s decision or refuse the appeal.

Many NGOs and civil society activists asserted the Ministry of Social Development routinely exploited its oversight role to stymie the activities of NGOs and other civil society organizations. While some local NGOs asserted bureaucratic incompetence characterized the ministry’s dealings with NGOs, many others stated officials actively sought to undermine some groups’ activities and imposed burdensome bureaucratic procedures on NGO board members and volunteers. The Ministries of Justice and Interior must vet funding from international sources, and authorities sometimes did not authorize it.

(For information on the closure of the Wifaq political society, see section 3, Political Parties and Political Participation.)

c. Freedom of Religion

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

d. Freedom of Movement, Internally Displaced Persons, Protection of Refugees, and Stateless Persons

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

The government generally 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.

Foreign Travel: The law provides the government may reject for “reasonable cause” applications to obtain or renew passports, but the applicant has the right to appeal such decisions before the High Civil Court. Individuals, including citizens of other countries, reported authorities banned them from travel out of the country due to unpaid debt obligations or other fiduciary responsibilities with private individuals or with lending institutions. The government launched an online website during the year that allowed individuals to check their status before they traveled. Authorities relied on determinations of “national security” when adjudicating passport applications. During the year the authorities prevented a number of activists from leaving the country without providing options for legal recourse.

Starting in June approximately 40 individuals, including activists and opposition figures, reported customs agents stopped them from leaving the country. Individuals reportedly under “travel bans” claimed the government had not informed them of the ban, provided them with an official document citing the reason, or allowed them to present an appeal. In November police summoned some of these individuals to question them regarding allegations they participated in the Diraz sit-in. Critics alleged the authorities tried to build cases against the individuals retroactively to give the travel bans the appearance of legality. Observers noted the travel bans prevented activists from participating in UN Human Rights Council (HRC) sessions and other international events. In July the NIHR urged the government to stop issuing travel bans without a judicial order.

On November 10, authorities charged human rights lawyer, Mohamed al-Tajer, with insulting government institutions, inciting hatred of a religious sect, and misusing a telecommunications device, in part based on statements critical of the government that he made on a social media network. Al-Tajer had been banned from travel to the June HRC session. He was not detained, and the case had not gone to trial as of year’s end.

Exile: There were no reports the government prohibited the return of individuals whom the government maintained were Bahraini citizens. The government, however, prohibited the return of those whose citizenship it formally revoked, or those it no longer considered citizens. There were reports of individuals who lived in self-imposed exile, often to avoid jail time for convictions imposed in their absence.

Citizenship: As a punitive measure, the government continued to revoke citizenship for both criminal and political cases. The minister of interior may also request that the cabinet approve revoking citizenship from a naturalized citizen who has violated specific conditions. The government has not implemented a comprehensive legal review process concerning citizen revocation, as recommended by the NIHR in 2015, to assure the government protected the rights of individuals and their family members. The government did not consider whether individuals may become stateless by these actions and has at times threatened to halt payments of pensions, or remove families from government-assisted housing if a head-of-household loses his citizenship. Some family members, especially females and minor children, reported difficulties renewing their passports and residence cards and obtaining birth certificates for children. During the year the government issued a number of individuals, whose citizenship it had revoked, limited validity Bahraini passports and deported them to Iraq, Iran, and Lebanon. There is no procedure for accused persons to mount a defense prior to having their citizenship revoked.

On June 20, the Bahrain News Agency (BNA) announced the government had revoked Shia cleric Sheikh Isa Qassim’s citizenship. Government sources reported Qassim had the right to appeal the decision, but he declined to do so. On that same day, authorities raided his offices and froze his bank accounts. Authorities indicted him and two staff, Mirza al-Dirazi and Sheikh Hussain al-Mahrous, on money laundering charges citing large transfers of funds overseas that allegedly bypassed banks to avoid detection. Qassim denied the charges and has not attended any court proceedings. His supporters claimed the government targeted Qassim because of his status in the Shia community and asserted Qassim’s office collected the funds and spent them according to Shia customs and obligations. As of December Qassim remained at his home in the village of Diraz. Supporters maintained a sit-in/vigil outside of his house in response to fears police would arrest him. Security forces have limited entrance into and egress out of the village to Diraz residents.

In January 2015 the BNA named 72 individuals who had their citizenship revoked but did not specify what violation each committed. The BNA instead provided a list of violations that may have led the authorities to act, including defaming the image of the regime and defaming brotherly countries. Authorities did not notify these individuals, who learned about the decision from the press. Some of the individuals had previously been involved in activism or in the political opposition. During the year the authorities gave at least three of these individuals limited validity passports and immediately deported them, including Sheikh Mohammed Khojasta on February 22, Hussein KhairAllah Mahood on February 24, and Masaud Jahromi on March 7.

In 2014 the Interior Ministry’s Nationality, Passports, and Residence Directorate summoned 10 Bahrainis, whose citizenship the government revoked for politically motivated reasons in 2012 and against whom it filed criminal lawsuits, requesting them to defend their legal status and indicate whether they had found other citizens willing to sponsor them. Later in 2014, a court found them guilty of being in the country without sponsors and fined each 100 dinars ($270). Their appeal hearing continued in December 2015. On April 17, they lost their appeal. Authorities deported Taimoor Karimi to Iraq on June 26. Human rights organizations reported the remaining nine were at risk to be deported.

In 2014 a court adjourned an appeal brought by Ibrahim Karimi, who filed a constitutional challenge to his citizenship revocation–the only one to do so among the 31 whose citizenship was revoked in 2012. In September 2015 authorities arrested him on new charges related to social media postings and searched his house; authorities also again charged him with living in the country illegally. His trial on the new charges began January 31, and on March 31, he was sentenced to two years in prison. His appeal continued at year’s end. Separately, on March 8, the appeals court upheld the original deportation order against him, putting him at risk of deportation once he completes his current sentence.

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 refugees. The government at times 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; however, this was mostly limited to those who had been able to obtain and maintain employment in the country. Such individuals generally had access to health care and education services while employed but were at risk of being deported if they became unemployed or if their country of origin revoked their passports. The foreign minister told media in September 2015 that Bahrain had accepted “thousands” of Syrian refugees; however, UNHCR reported that as of June, there were 355 refugees registered with the agency.

STATELESS PERSONS

Individuals generally derive citizenship from the father, but the king may confer or revoke it. Since the government only considers the father’s citizenship when determining citizenship, it does not grant children born to a non-Bahraini father citizenship, even if they were born in Bahrain to a Bahraini mother. Likewise, the government does not provide a path to citizenship for foreign men married to Bahraini women, unlike the process by which foreign women married to Bahraini men may become citizens. Human rights organizations reported that these laws have resulted in stateless children, particularly when the foreign father is unable or unwilling to pursue citizenship from his country of origin for his children, or when the father himself was stateless, deceased, or unknown. It was unknown how many stateless persons resided in the country. Stateless persons had limited access to social services, education, and employment. There were reports authorities refused applications for birth certificates and passports for children whose Bahraini fathers were in prison because the fathers were not able to submit the applications in person (see section 6, Children).

The government charged individuals whose citizenship it revoked with violating immigration law.

Section 3. Freedom to Participate in the Political Process

Citizens have limited ability to choose their government and their political system. The constitution provides for a democratically elected Council of Representatives, the lower house of parliament. A constitutional amendment ratified in 2012 permits the king to dissolve the Council of Representatives, but it requires that he first consult the presidents of the upper and lower houses of parliament as well as the head of the Constitutional Court. The king also has the power to amend the constitution and to propose, ratify, and promulgate laws.

Elections and Political Participation

Recent Elections: Approximately 52 percent of eligible voters participated in parliamentary elections held in November 2014. Turnout was significantly lower in opposition districts, due to a decision to boycott by the main opposition political societies, who expressed a lack of confidence that the elections would produce a parliament that they believed would address their concerns in a fully representative way. Among these concerns the opposition contended the government delineated voter districts to provide for its desired electoral outcomes and marginalize opposition-majority districts. Prior to the election, in January 2014 the government relaunched the National Dialogue, which served as a forum for the government, legislature, and political societies to discuss political solutions to such issues, but it ended eight months later with little progress.

The government did not permit international election monitors. Domestic monitors generally concluded that authorities administered the elections without significant irregularities. There were, however, broader concerns regarding voting district boundaries and limitations on freedom of expression and association.

Violent oppositionists intimidated candidates, including through arson attacks on their personal property and businesses. Boycotters pressured other candidates to withdraw from the race.

Political Parties and Political Participation: The government did not allow the formation of political parties, but more than a dozen “political societies” developed political platforms, held internal elections, and hosted political gatherings. To apply for registration, a political society must submit its bylaws signed by all founding members, a list of all members and copies of their residency cards, and a financial statement identifying the society’s sources of funding and bank information. The society’s principles, goals, and programs must not run counter to sharia or national interest, as interpreted by the judiciary, nor may the society base itself on sectarian, geographic, or class identity. A number of societies operated outside of these rules, and some functioned on a sectarian basis.

The government authorized registered political societies to run candidates for office and to participate in other political activities. On May 22, parliament passed an amendment to the political societies’ law, which banned serving clerics from membership in political societies (including in leadership positions) and involvement in political activities, even on a voluntary basis.

In 2013 the justice minister issued an order stipulating political societies should coordinate their contacts with foreign diplomatic or consular missions, foreign governmental organizations, or representatives of foreign governments with the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, which can elect to send a representative to the meeting. In 2014 the government actively enforced the order when it summoned two leaders of Wifaq for questioning for meeting a visiting foreign official without seeking government permission. There were no further reports of government enforcing this order.

On June 14, the Ministry of Justice filed a motion against the Wifaq political society, requesting the administrative court issue an emergency order to shut down the group and accusing the society of creating “an environment for terrorism, extremism, and violence.” The judge agreed to the immediate suspension of Wifaq’s activities. Authorities sealed Wifaq’s buildings, removed its signs, froze its bank accounts, and blocked its website. Days later, the ministry announced an additional motion to dissolve Wifaq on an expedited basis. On June 28, judges denied Wifaq’s legal team access to records at its headquarters and additional time to prepare its defense. Wifaq’s lawyers resigned in protest, but the case continued before the court. On July 17, the judges formally ordered Wifaq closed and its assets seized, which the administrative appeals court upheld on September 22. On October 26, the ministry announced it would auction off items seized from Wifaq’s headquarters on November 7; but it then put the auction on hold when Wifaq appealed the case to the Court of Cassation on October 30. As of year’s end, the Court of Cassation had not set a date for the hearing.

Individuals active with opposition political society groups also faced repercussions during the year (see section 1.e., Political Prisoners).

Participation of Women and Minorities: The 2014 elections selected three women to parliament’s 40-member lower elected house. Also in 2014 the royal court appointed nine women to the Shura Council, the appointed 40-member upper house, and the prime minister appointed a woman to the 26-seat cabinet. During the year the government appointed two additional women as judges, bringing the total to eight. There were also five female prosecutors.

Shia and Sunni citizens have equal rights before the law, but Sunnis dominated political life, while the majority of citizens are Shia. The 2014 elections brought 13 Shia members to parliament. The appointed Shura Council included 17 Shia members, one Jewish member, and one Christian member. Five of the 26 appointed cabinet ministers were Shia, including one of the deputy prime ministers.

Bangladesh

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

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

The constitution provides for the rights to life and personal liberty. Media and local and international human rights organizations reported the government or its agents committed numerous arbitrary or unlawful killings.

Suspicious deaths occurred during raids, arrests, and other law enforcement operations. Often security forces claimed they took a suspect in custody to a crime scene or hideout late at night to recover weapons or identify conspirators and that the suspect was killed when his conspirators shot at police. The government usually described these deaths as “crossfire killings,” “gunfights,” or “encounter killings,” terms used to characterize exchanges of gunfire between RAB or police units and criminal gangs, although the media sometimes also used these terms to describe legitimate uses of police force. Human rights organizations and media outlets claimed many of these “crossfire” incidents actually constituted extrajudicial killings (EJKs), In some cases, human rights organizations claimed that law enforcement units would detain, interrogate, and torture suspects, bring them back to the scene of the original arrest, execute them, and ascribe the death to lawful self-defense in response to violent attacks. One human rights organization reported that 150 individuals were killed in “crossfire” incidents in the first nine months of the year, including 34 by RAB, 11 by the Detective Branch of police, one by the Bangladesh Border Guard (BGB), three in a joint SWAT operation, and 61 by other police forces. Another human rights organization reported that security forces killed 118 individuals in the first nine months of the year.

Authorities claim that on August 5 a suspected Islamic extremist named Shafiul Islam Don was killed in a gunfight that occurred when attackers fired on a RAB vehicle transporting the suspect. RAB officials claim that Don confessed in custody to participating in a July 7 attack on an Eid ceremony in Sholakia. Similarly, Ghulam Faijullaha Fahim died in police custody on June 18 when officers allegedly took him to capture his associates, who then attacked police. Local persons had apprehended Fahim when he attempted to attack a mathematics teacher on June 15, and they turned him over to police. Other suspects were killed when police tried to apprehend them. For example, on June 19 police killed Shariful Islam Shihab, a suspect in the murder of the blogger Avijit Roy. Authorities stated that Shariful and two accomplices opened fire on the police as they tried to flee on a motorbike; the two accomplices reportedly escaped.

Although not as numerous or widespread as 2015, politically motivated killings continued by both members of the ruling and opposition parties. A human rights organization reported that political violence resulted in 209 deaths. Violence committed by student and youth wings of political parties was a problem. Violence also occurred between supporters of the ruling party. In July, one person died when two factions of the Bangladesh Chhatra League clashed at Comilla University over placing wreaths at the portrait of founding leader Sheikh Mujibur Rahman.

As of October, groups claiming affiliation with transnational terrorist organizations, including Da’esh and AQIS, claimed to have killed 39 individuals, including members of religious minorities, academics, foreigners, LGBTI activists, and members of security forces. Another 31 attacks were unclaimed. Members of the Hindu minority population constituted a significant portion of the victims.

b. Disappearance

Human rights groups and media reported that multiple disappearances and kidnappings continued, some committed by security services. The government made limited efforts to prevent or investigate such acts. The United Nations Working Group on Enforced or Involuntary Disappearances contacted the government on March 9 concerning the “reportedly alarming rise of the number of cases of enforced disappearances in the country” and had 34 outstanding cases under review as of May 18, but the working group did not receive a response. Following alleged disappearances, security forces released some individuals without charge, arrested some, some were found dead, and others were never found. A human rights organization claimed that individuals in law enforcement uniforms or claiming to be law enforcement “kidnapped” 84 individuals in the first 11 months of the year. Targets of disappearances included individuals affiliated with opposition political parties.

On the night of August 22, Abdullahil Amaan Azmi, son of convicted war criminal and former Jamaat leader Ghulam Azam, was allegedly abducted from his Dhaka apartment by men in plain clothes who reportedly identified themselves as members of the Detective Branch. Unlike his father, Azmi was never an official member of Jamaat. He is a known figure in Bangladesh politics and active on social media, however, and his Facebook posts were often critical of the government. Similarly, on August 9, Mir Ahmed Bin Quasem, son of top Jamaat leader and convicted war criminal Mir Quasem Ali, was allegedly abducted. Mir Ahmed had been serving as the legal representative for Jamaat until his abduction. On August 4, Hummam Quader Chowdhury, son of senior Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP) leader and executed war criminal Salauddin Quader Chowdhury, was also reportedly picked up by unidentified men. They are widely reported to remain in government detention.

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

Although the constitution and law prohibit torture and other cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment or punishment, local and international human rights organizations and the media reported security forces, including RAB, intelligence services, and police, employed torture and physical and psychological abuse during arrests and interrogations. Security forces reportedly used torture to gather information from alleged militants although members of political opposition parties claimed that security forces also targeted activists within their parties. Security forces reportedly used threats, beatings, kneecappings, and electric shock, and law enforcement officers sometimes committed rapes and other sexual abuses. Two prominent human rights organizations stated that security forces tortured eight persons to death in the first nine months of the year.

The law contains provisions allowing a magistrate to place a suspect in interrogative custody, known as remand, during which questioning of the suspect can take place without a lawyer present. Human rights organizations alleged that many instances of torture occur during this remand period as a means of obtaining information from the suspect. On November 10, the Supreme Court issued guidelines for arrest without warrant and interrogation of suspects on remand, aimed at preventing legal detention of citizens not charged with a crime. In its bid to reduce custodial torture, the court issued guidelines for law enforcement personnel as well as the courts regarding medical checks for detainees on remand and probes into allegations of torture. The court also asked the government to amend certain sections of the Criminal Procedure Code (CrPC) to reduce police abuse of citizens (see section 1.d).

A human rights organization claimed that law enforcement personnel shot 16 detainees in the legs during the first 11 months of the year. A Human Rights Watch report released in September detailed the cases of 25 individuals shot in the legs by security forces since 2013, including one case in 2016 when a news reporter and human rights organization volunteer Mohammad Afzal Hossain was shot in the leg by security forces while reporting on voting irregularities in an election between two Awami league candidates in Rajapur. On January 15, Anwar Hossain Mahbub, Joint Secretary of a ward-level BNP unit, was arrested and allegedly tortured in prison, leading to his death on February 16. Idris Ali, a madrassa teacher and two-time local council chairman candidate for Jamaat, was reportedly kidnapped by plain-clothes security officials on August 4 and found dead on August 12 with alleged signs of torture, including broken hands and legs and cut tendons. On June 8, police in Jessore reportedly tortured a 16-year-old boy named Ainul Haque Rohit for allegedly stealing a motorbike. A human rights organization stated that police detained Rohit for 30 hours during which they blindfolded him; beat his joints, fingers, toes, and soles of his feet with a wooden rod; stuffed his vest in his mouth; and poured water in his nose for 10 minutes. The police reportedly released Rohit after receiving a bribe from his family. There was no accountability for these specific actions, and the government rarely charged, convicted, or punished those responsible for similar abuses.

Security forces at times committed rape and other sexual abuse of detainees and others. On May 22, assistant sub-inspector Delwar Hossain of Dagonbhuiyan Police Station, with assistance from officer Abdul Mannan, raped a woman who went to the station to file a complaint over a family dispute. The woman later filed a case under the Women and Children Repression Prevention Act and the authorities brought the two men to court, where they were found guilty and sent to prison.

Starting in January, the government investigated allegations that two Bangladeshi peacekeepers sexually abused a minor in the Central African Republic in 2015. One was dismissed from service and sentenced to one year in prison, and the allegations against the second peacekeeper were found to be unsubstantiated. The government continues to investigate an allegation, which came to light in February 2016, that a Bangladeshi peacekeeper sexually exploited an adult in the Democratic Republic of the Congo in late 2015/early 2016. The government made the example of the peacekeeper sentenced for sexual abuse in the Central African Republic available as part of an awareness-raising campaign and incorporated it into the pretraining peacekeeping deployment curriculum.

Prison and Detention Center Conditions

Prison conditions remained harsh and at times life threatening due to overcrowding, inadequate facilities, and lack of proper sanitation. Odhikar stated these conditions contributed to custodial deaths, with 54 prisoners dying in prison in the first 11 months of the year.

Physical Conditions: According to the Department of Prisons, in October there were 78,578 prisoners in a system designed to hold 36,614 inmates. Authorities often incarcerated pretrial detainees with convicted prisoners.

Due to overcrowding, prisoners slept in shifts and did not have adequate toilet facilities. According to GIZ, the prisons do not meet minimum standards for adequate light, air, decency, and privacy. Human rights organizations and the media stated some prisoners did not receive medical care or water although prison authorities stated that each prison has access to water. Water available in prisons was comparable with water available in the rest of the country, which was frequently not potable. Human Rights Commission Chairman Kazi Reazul Hoque told the media on August 23 after visiting the newly built Dhaka Central Jail in Keraniganj that human rights are being violated in the prison. He further said, “We will visit the prison every three months to improve the situation.” Despite the new facility, there were still problems there. Prisoners at the new Dhaka Central Jail told the media in May that they must pay approximately 30,000 taka ($381) per month for food, bathing and toilet use, places to sleep, and other services. Authorities reportedly charged additional fees for visits with family members.

Conditions in prisons, and often within the same prison complex, varied widely, because authorities lodged some prisoners in areas subject to high temperatures, poor ventilation, and overcrowding. The law allows individuals designated as VIPs to access “division A” prison facilities with improved living conditions and food, more frequent family visitation rights, and provision of a poorer prisoner to serve as an aide in their cell.

While the law requires holding juveniles separately from adults, many juveniles were incarcerated with adults. Children were sometimes imprisoned (occasionally with their mothers) despite laws and court decisions prohibiting the imprisonment of minors.

Authorities routinely held female prisoners separately from men. Although the law prohibits women in “safe custody” (usually victims of rape, trafficking, and domestic violence) from being housed with criminals, officials did not always provide separate facilities. Women were not permitted to leave this custody without permission from the authorities.

Although Dhaka’s new central jail has facilities for people with mental disabilities, specific provisions generally do not exist for people with disabilities. Judges may, however, reduce punishments for persons with more significant disabilities on humanitarian grounds and jailors may make special arrangements, for example, transferring inmates with more significant disabilities to the prison hospital. The prison hospital accommodates people with physical disabilities, the elderly, and those with broken limbs and cardiac problems, among other issues.

Administration: There were no prison ombudsmen for prisoners to submit complaints. Prison authorities indicated that they are constrained by significant staff shortages. The scope for retraining and rehabilitation programs was extremely limited.

Independent Monitoring: The government permitted visits from the International Committee of the Red Cross and assistance from some international donors. The government allowed the Bangladesh Red Crescent Society to visit foreign detainees. Government-appointed committees composed of prominent private citizens in each prison locality monitored prisons monthly but did not publicly release their findings. District judges occasionally visited prisons.

Improvements: On July 29, prison authorities transferred 6,511 inmates from the 200-year old Dhaka Central Jail to a new location in Keraniganj on the outskirts of Dhaka. The new facility was built to accommodate 4,590 inmates, meaning the new facility was immediately overcrowded, but less so than the old jail. Those on trial are housed in six buildings while convicts are in two similar structures. Four buildings house more dangerous criminals, such as those convicted of violent crime, militants, and terrorists. There are 16 special cells for VIP prisoners, which include current and former ministers, members of parliament, senior civil servants, and individuals of similar status.

The new jail has facilities for 200 female inmates, 100 male adolescents, 40 female adolescents, 30 male prisoners with mental disabilities, and 20 female prisoners with mental disabilities. The jail has 60 classified wards and 400 cells for dangerous prisoners. The new jail also has a 200-bed hospital and a daycare center.

Other facilities, such as the Old Dhaka Central Jail, have poorer light, sanitation, ventilation, and other conditions and do not meet UN/Mandela standards.

d. Arbitrary Arrest or Detention

The constitution prohibits arbitrary arrest and detention. The law permits authorities to arrest and detain persons suspected of criminal activity without an order from a magistrate or a warrant. Authorities sometimes held detainees without a charge sheet, without divulging their whereabouts or circumstances to family or legal counsel, or without acknowledging having arrested them in the first place.

ROLE OF THE POLICE AND SECURITY APPARATUS

Police, who fall under the jurisdiction of the Ministry of Home Affairs (MOHA), have a mandate to maintain internal security and law and order. The Police Special Branch enforces immigration law while the BGB and the Bangladesh Coast Guard (BCG)–also under MOHA–enforce the country’s borders. Both Dhaka Metropolitan Police’s Detective Branch and the Criminal Investigation Department conduct investigations. The Counter Terrorism and Transnational Crime Unit, which began operating during the year under the Dhaka Metropolitan Police but has now nationwide jurisdiction, has taken a leading role in counterterrorism efforts. RAB, composed of forces drawn from the police and military, also has a counterterrorism role in addition to other duties. The military, organized under the Prime Minister’s Office, is responsible for external security, but it can be called to help as a back-up force with a variety of domestic security responsibilities when required in aid to civil authority. This includes responding to instances of terrorism. For example, elite military units based in Chittagong and Sylhet traveled to Dhaka to support local police to end an 11-hour terrorism hostage incident on July 1. The Directorate General of Forces Intelligence and National Security Intelligence are the primary means by which the government gathers information on topics of interest, including national security matters.

Civilian authorities maintained effective control over the military and other security forces, and the government has mechanisms to investigate and punish abuse and corruption within the security forces. These mechanisms were not regularly employed, however. The government took steps to improve police professionalism, discipline, training, and responsiveness and to reduce corruption. Police basic training continued to incorporate instruction on the appropriate use of force as part of efforts to implement community-based policing.

According to police policy, all significant uses of force by police, including actions that resulted in serious physical injury or death, trigger an automatic internal investigation, usually by a professional standards unit that reports directly to the Inspector General of Police (IGP). The government, however, neither released statistics on total killings by security personnel nor took comprehensive measures to investigate cases despite previous statements by high-ranking officials that the government would show “zero tolerance” and fully investigate all extrajudicial killings by security forces that occurred in 2016. Some human rights groups expressed skepticism over the independence of the professional standards units conducting these assessments. In the few known instances in which the government brought charges, those found guilty generally received only administrative punishment. Some members of the security forces acted with impunity. For example, authorities did not make progress in a case regarding the alleged rape and murder of Sohagi Jahan Tonu, a second-year student of Comilla Victoria College, whose body was discovered March 20 in the Comilla military cantonment, a military base where she lived with her family. Tonu’s parents alleged that an army sergeant and a soldier committed the act. Despite two autopsies including DNA samples, authorities have not arrested the perpetrators, which sparked widespread condemnation and student protests. In another case, on November 13 a court in Kushtia issued arrest warrants for three policemen, including an officer in charge, for allegedly killing a farmer in a “crossfire” in 2007 after they tried unsuccessfully to extort money from his family.

Despite such efforts, security forces, including RAB, continued to commit abuses with impunity. Plaintiffs were reluctant to accuse police in criminal cases due to lengthy trial procedures and fear of retribution. Reluctance to bring charges against police also perpetuated a climate of impunity. Officers loyal to the ruling party occupied many of the key positions in the law enforcement agencies.

The government continued support of an Internal Enquiry Cell (IEC) within the paramilitary unit RAB that investigates cases of human rights abuses. The IEC investigated 12 cases during the year compared to 16 the previous year. The most common complaints in the 63 cases investigated since 2012 were “abuse of authority,” physical harassment, and bribery. Of the 63 cases since 2012, the IEC confirmed the truth of allegations of abuse in 20 cases. As of December 2016, RAB has two cases under active review, including one investigation the IEC self-initiated following media reporting.

Security forces failed to prevent societal violence (see section 6).

ARREST PROCEDURES AND TREATMENT OF DETAINEES

Police may arrest individuals on a court-issued warrant, on observation of a crime in progress, or in an attempt to preserve security and public order under the Special Powers Act. The government or a district magistrate may order a person detained for 30 days to prevent the commission of an act that could threaten national security; however, authorities sometimes held detainees for longer periods. A magistrate must inform a detainee of the grounds for detention within 15 days, and regulations require an advisory board to examine a detainee’s case after four months. Detainees have the right to appeal.

On May 24, the Appellate Panel of the Supreme Court upheld an April 7, 2003, High Court decision ordering the government to amend sections 54 and 167 of the CrPC, which permit arrests without warrant and interrogation in custody known as “remand.” The Appellate Panel in its full verdict released on November 10 issued guidelines for application of these sections, which will be binding on all courts and authorities (see Section 1.d and 1.c). Pending issuance of the guidelines, government security forces continued to detain citizens without a warrant and subordinate courts granted “remand” for interrogation without following safeguards established by the High Court in its 2003 verdict.

The highest court’s guidelines issued on November 10 for the law enforcement agencies include preparation of a memorandum of arrest with signature of the arrested person with date and time. Police must inform a relative or a friend of the arrest within 12 hours, and enter in a diary the ground of the arrest, the name of the relative or friend who has been informed, and the name of the officer who has custody of the arrested person. The officer must show his/her identity card to the person arrested and others present during the arrest. The guidelines made official registration of a criminal case with the court essential for holding a detainee in law enforcement or judicial custody and specifically ordered a halt to arrest under Section 54 for the purpose of detention under the Special Powers Act. Under the guidelines, the officer who makes the arrest must record any visible injury on the person arrested and reasons for such injury, take the person to the nearest hospital for treatment, and obtain a certificate from the attending doctor. The guidelines stipulate a written report be given to an arrestee’s relative or friend within 12 hours of arrest. If an investigation cannot be completed within 24 hours, the officer must explain why not if they want to continue to hold a suspect without a court order, and why the accusation or information against the person is considered well founded. The officer must also transmit a copy of the relevant case diary to the court.

The guidelines for judicial magistrates require them to release an arrested person if he/she is produced before the court with a petition for detention without producing a copy of the entries in the diary made during the arrest. Magistrates are required to reject the petitions of police officers if the arrested person is not produced before the court or if the allegations were not “well founded.” The magistrates cannot allow remand of any arrested person for more than 15 days and could prosecute law enforcement officers under the Torture and Custodial Death (Prohibition) Act 2009 if a medical board finds evidence of custodial torture or death (see section 1.c)

There is a functioning bail system in the regular courts. Authorities granted criminal detainees charged with crimes access to attorneys. The government sometimes provided detainees with state-funded defense attorneys. The few legal aid programs for detainees that existed were underfunded. Authorities generally permitted defense lawyers to meet with their clients only after formal charges were filed in the courts, which in some cases occurred weeks or months after the initial arrest.

Despite a May 9 explicit directive from the Supreme Court’s Appellate Division prohibiting rearrest of accused persons when they are released on bail and arresting them in new cases without producing them in court, police routinely used these mechanisms to detain suspects indefinitely. Media report that Jamaat’s assistant secretary for Dhaka city Shafiqul Islam Masud was originally arrested in August 2014, and rearrested at the gate of Dhaka Central Jail twice, on December 25, 2015 and April 24, 2016, immediately after having received bail in more than 50 cases relating to violence during general strikes.

Arbitrary Arrest: Arbitrary arrests occurred, often in conjunction with political demonstrations, or as part of security force responses to terrorist activity, and the government held persons in detention without specific charges, sometimes in an attempt to collect information about other suspects. Police engaged in a mass arrest campaign from June 10 to 16 before the Eid holidays during which security forces reportedly arrested 14,000 individuals, including a purported 2,000 opposition-party activists. Although some government spokespersons justified the effort as an anti-militancy drive following killings of secular bloggers and religious minority leaders, security forces reportedly detained approximately 150 confirmed militants. Human rights organizations and other observers asserted that the arrest campaign largely served as a means for police to raise money through bribes and bail from arrested individuals, and to intimidate members of political opposition groups. Following the July 1 terrorist attack on Holey Bakery, security forces detained two of the released hostages, Hasnat Karim and Tahmid Khan, for their alleged role in the attack. Human rights organizations assert that unknown security forces secretly detained the two individuals for interrogation for 34 days before police officially arrested them although the government denied this allegation.

Pretrial Detention: Arbitrary and lengthy pretrial detention continued to be a problem due to bureaucratic inefficiencies, limited resources, lax enforcement of pretrial rules, and corruption. According to court sources, approximately three million civil and criminal cases were pending in 2016. In some cases, the length of pretrial detention equaled or exceeded the sentence for the alleged crime. Seventy-four percent of detainees were in pretrial detention or undergoing trial. A media report in October stated that more than 500 prisoners have spent more than five years in prison without trial. For example, authorities detained a prisoner named Shipon for more than 17 years without trial in a murder case until he was finally released on November 15 due to media attention to his case.

Observers further stated that a high-level government official pressured lawyers to decline to represent the individuals due to government interest in the case. Tahmid was granted bail on October 2, but Hasnat remained in prison at the end of the year. Authorities denied Hasnat temporary bail to attend the funeral of his father in November.

e. Denial of Fair Public Trial

The law provides for an independent judiciary, but corruption, political interference, and a substantial backlog of cases hindered the court system. A provision of the constitution that accords the executive branch authority over judicial appointments to lower courts and over compensation and assignments for judicial officials undermines full judicial independence. The 16th constitutional amendment giving parliament impeachment power over high court judges was passed in 2014, but in August the High Court found it to be unconstitutional.

Corruption and a substantial backlog of cases hindered the court system, and the granting of extended continuances effectively prevented many defendants from obtaining fair trials due to witness tampering, victim intimidation, and missing evidence. Human rights observers stated that magistrates, attorneys, and court officials demanded bribes from defendants in many cases, or ruled based on influence by or loyalty to political patronage networks. Observers noted that judges who made decisions unfavorable to the government risked being transferred to other jurisdictions. There were allegations of political influence over court decisions.

The Bangladeshi International Crimes Tribunal (ICT) continued to prosecute individuals indicted for committing war crimes during the 1971 independence war. On May 11, authorities executed Matiur Rahman Nizami, Amir (president) of Jamaat, the country’s largest Islamist party, at Dhaka central jail. On September 3, authorities executed another Jamaat leader, Mir Quasem Ali, at Kashimpur prison in Gazipur. The defendants claimed that the court process was tainted by irregularities, and that the judges ignored exculpatory evidence. In total, five individuals were executed by the ICT since it was established in 2010–four from Jamaat and one from BNP.

TRIAL PROCEDURES

The law provides for the right to a fair public trial, but the judiciary did not always protect this right due to corruption, partisanship, and weak personnel and institutional capacities. Lower court judges received base pay from 30,935 taka ($386) to 78,000 taka ($975) per month, depending on seniority. A High Court division judge of the Supreme Court receives a monthly base pay of 95,000 taka ($1,213) and an appellate division judge is paid 100,000 taka ($1,277). Lower court prosecutors’ low monthly retainer of 3,000 taka ($37.50) plus 200 taka ($2.50) per day spent in court led some to accept bribes to influence the outcome of a case.

Defendants are presumed innocent and have the right to appeal and to see the government’s evidence. Defendants also have the right to be informed promptly and in detail of the charges against them. The Speedy Trial Act was intended to prevent undue delay of proceedings for certain offenses, such as murder, sexual assault, and robbery, but frequent adjournments contributed to the backlog of cases. The accused are entitled to be present at their public trial where judges decide cases. Indigent defendants have the right to a public defender. Trials are conducted in the Bengali language and free interpretation is not provided by the government. Defendants also have the right to adequate time to prepare a defense. Accused persons have the right to representation by counsel, review accusatory material, call and question witnesses, and appeal verdicts. The government frequently did not respect these rights, and some government officials reportedly discouraged lawyers from representing defendants in controversial cases important to the state.

Mobile courts headed by executive branch magistrates rendered immediate verdicts that often included prison terms to defendants who were not afforded the opportunity for legal representation. In a July 26-28 conference in Dhaka, Deputy Commissioners from all 64 districts requested that the government expedite the passage of an amendment to the Mobile Court Act of 2009 giving the executive magistrates increased judicial powers. The act had not moved forward by the end of the year.

On September 20, the High Court summoned an executive magistrate and the officer in charge of a police station in Tangail district to investigate their use of a mobile court to jail a boy using the Information and Communication Technology (ICT) Act, which is not within the jurisdiction of the mobile courts. Media had reported that the boy was sentenced to prison for two years for a Facebook posting criticizing a local AL Member of Parliament (MP). Appearing before the High Court on September 27, the boy said the MP hit him, the officer in charge beat him, and the executive magistrate kicked him. Under the threat of being killed in “crossfire,” the boy admitted to threatening the MP in the Facebook post. On October 18, the High Court declared the mobile court’s decision illegal, acquitting the boy of charges and directing the secretaries of Public Administration and Home Affairs and the police to withdraw the officer in charge and the executive magistrate so they could be investigated. On October 26, the Supreme Court stayed the order to withdraw the individuals after they petitioned the court.

POLITICAL PRISONERS AND DETAINEES

There were reports of political prisoners or detainees. Political affiliation at times appeared to be a factor in the arrest and prosecution of members of the opposition parties, including through spurious charges under the pretext of responding to national security threats. Former prime minister Khaleda Zia, chairperson of the largest opposition political party, was charged with sedition for her public comment on the number of individuals people killed during the 1971 War of Independence. The government has not detained her pending trial. Opposition party members claimed that security forces arrested approximately 2,000 of their members during mass arrests in early June, although in general they were not charged or imprisoned; some were reportedly released after paying bribes.

CIVIL JUDICIAL PROCEDURES AND REMEDIES

Individuals and organizations may seek administrative and judicial remedies for human rights violations; however, the civil court system was slow, cumbersome, and marked by public distrust, deterring many from filing complaints. The government did not interfere with civil judicial procedures. Corruption and outside influence were problems in the civil judicial system. Alternative dispute resolution for civil cases allowed citizens to present their cases for mediation. According to government sources, the wider use of mediation in civil cases accelerated the administration of justice, but there was no assessment of its fairness or impartiality.

PROPERTY RESTITUTION

The government did not amend the 2001 Vested Property (Return) Act to accelerate the process of return of land to primarily Hindu individuals (see section 2.d.). The Vested Property Act allows the government to confiscate property of anyone that the government declares to be an enemy of the state. It was often used to seize property abandoned by minority religious groups when they fled the country, particularly after the 1971 independence war.

Minority communities reported many land ownership disputes that disproportionately displaced minorities, especially in areas near new roads or industrial development zones where land prices had recently increased. They also claimed that local police, civil authorities, and political leaders were sometimes involved or shielded politically influential land grabbers from prosecution (see section 6.). In August, the government amended the Chittagong Hill Tracts (CHT) Land Dispute Resolution Commission Act, which may allow for land restitution for indigenous people living in the CHT (see section 2.d).

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

The law does not prohibit arbitrary interference with private correspondence. Intelligence and law enforcement agencies may monitor private communications with the permission of MOHA. In practice, police rarely obtained warrants from the courts to monitor private correspondence, and authorities did not punish officers who violated these procedures. Human rights organizations alleged the Special Branch of police, the National Security Intelligence, and the Directorate General of Forces Intelligence employed informers to conduct surveillance and report on citizens perceived to be critical of the government. The Bangladesh Telecommunication Regulatory Commission (BTRC) tracked online content through its monitoring unit, and on November 6 it announced a decision to require internet cafes to install CCTV cameras to prevent “offensive content” from being uploaded. The government also routinely conducted surveillance on opposition politicians. Human rights organizations and news outlets reported police sometimes entered private homes without judicial or other appropriate authorization.

Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:

a. Freedom of Speech and Press

The constitution provides for freedom of speech and press, but the government sometimes failed to respect these rights. There were significant limitations on freedom of speech. Some journalists self-censored their criticisms of the government due to harassment and fear of reprisal.

Freedom of Speech and Expression: The constitution equates criticism of the constitution with sedition. Punishment for sedition ranges from three years’ to life imprisonment. Several high profile individuals were charged with sedition, including BNP leader Khaleda Zia, TV personality Mahmudur Rahman Manna, and reporter Kanok Sarwar, but the government did not proceed with prosecutions. The law limits hate speech but does not define clearly what constitutes hate speech, leaving the government with broad powers of interpretation. The government may restrict speech deemed to be against the security of the state; against friendly relations with foreign states; and against public order, decency, or morality; or that constitutes contempt of court, defamation, or incitement to an offense.

Press and Media Freedoms: Both print and online independent media were active and expressed a wide variety of views; however, media outlets that criticized the government experienced negative government pressure. For example, independent journalists alleged that intelligence services influenced media outlets in part by withholding financially important government advertising and pressing private companies to withhold their advertising as well.

The government maintains editorial control over the Bangladesh public television station (BTV), and private channels were mandated to air government content at no cost. Civil society said that there was political interference in the licensing process, as all television channel licenses granted by the government were for stations supporting the ruling party.

Violence and Harassment: Authorities, including intelligence services on some occasions, subjected journalists to physical attack, harassment, and intimidation. In February, members of the ruling party initiated 79 sedition and defamation cases in multiple courts against Mahfuz Anam, editor of The Daily Star, for publishing reports of corruption involving Prime Minister Hasina in 2007 and 2008. Hasina publicly stated Anam’s newspaper and its sister media outlet, Prothom Alo, would be punished for publishing the reports.

The government imprisoned several prominent editors affiliated with the BNP, including the arrest of 81-year-old journalist Shafiq Rehman in April on charges relating to his alleged role in a plot to cause harm to Hasina’s son. On September 6, the Supreme Court granted him three-month conditional bail after four and a half months of detention. The government continued to pursue charges against the editor of Amar Desh, Mahmudur Rahman, whom police arrested in 2013 for publishing Skype conversations between the Chairman of the ICT and a private consultant on ICT cases. Although the High Court granted Rahman bail on September 8, the Appellate Court chamber judge stayed his bail until October 30, further prolonging his detention of nearly four years. Rahman was released on bail on November 23.

Censorship or Content Restrictions: Privately owned newspapers usually enjoyed broad freedom to carry diverse views. Political polarization and self-censorship in an atmosphere of fear remained a problem, however. The media generally favored one of the two major political parties. Ownership of the media is influenced by politics, and both the government and big businesses used advertising as a weapon to control the media.

The government sought to censor the media indirectly through threats and harassment. On multiple occasions, government officials asked privately owned television channels not to broadcast the opposition’s activities and statements. One talk show host reported overt censorship from Directorate General of Forces Intelligence personnel, who intimidated and threatened the host and the channel until owners finally cancelled the program. When the host continued working on another program, he reported receiving word for word instructions from security forces for behavior on air and being subject to surveillance and death threats via text, letter, and voice messages. The host was ultimately forced to flee the country. The well regarded newspapers Prothom Alo and Daily Star were denied access to prime-ministerial events because they published reports critical of the government and prime minister.

Both the government and businesses used the threat of pulling advertising dollars to pressure the media to avoid unfavorable coverage.

According to some journalists and human rights NGOs, journalists engaged in self-censorship, particularly due to fear of security-force retribution. Although public criticism of the government was common and vocal, some media figures expressed fear of harassment by the government.

The government did not subject foreign publications and films to stringent review and censorship. Some international media outlets reported delays and difficulties in obtaining visas. One television producer reported that the government would only issue a visa if the government were allowed to review and approve their coverage. A government-managed film censorship board reviewed local and foreign films and had the authority to censor or ban films on the grounds of state security, law and order, religious sentiment, obscenity, foreign relations, defamation, or plagiarism, but it was less strict than in the past. In January the Bangladesh Censor Board upheld a ban on the movie “Rana Plaza,” originally set to premier in September 2015. The film told the story of a garment factory worker’s 17-day fight to survive under debris following the April 24, 2013 eponymous factory collapse. Video rental libraries and DVD shops stocked a wide variety of films, and government efforts to enforce censorship on rentals were sporadic and ineffective.

The government at times censored objectionable comments regarding national leaders. In April, the government refiled a criminal defamation complaint against news editor Probir Sikder for “tarnishing the image” of a minister.

National Security: In some cases, the government criticized media outlets for reporting that allegedly compromised national security. The prime minister and other government officials criticized local media for their live telecast of government counter terrorism efforts during the July 1 Holey Bakery terrorist attack and, following the incident, the government enacted a blanket ban on live television news coverage of terrorist attack and disaster rescue operations.

Nongovernmental Impact: Atheist, secular, and LGBTI writers and bloggers reported they continued to receive death threats from extremist organizations. Following his inclusion in a “hit list” of 34 individuals published online by Ansar al-Islam (a purported AQIS affiliate) in November 2015, one blogger reported frequent threats via Facebook messenger and persistent surveillance, including an incident in April when four masked individuals with weapons followed him before being scared away by police. On April 7, blogger Najimuddin Samad was killed in Dhaka; investigation into the murder was ongoing.

A journalist at a prominent newspaper reported receiving frequent death threats since September 2015, including from persons claiming affiliation with Da’esh. The journalist reported receiving almost daily text messages with threats and passages from the Quran describing death, such as “consider doomsday as if tomorrow,” and “all will see the Prophet at the graveyard.” Several other outlets experienced similar threats, some of which culminated in bias-based murders.

INTERNET FREEDOM

There were isolated incidents of government restriction and disruption of access to the internet and censorship of online content. Approximately 14.4 percent of the population has access to the internet according to the International Telecommunication Union. The BTRC reported approximately 63.9 million internet subscriptions in July, including roughly 60 million mobile internet subscriptions (one individual may have more than one subscription). Virtual Private Networks (VPNs) and Voice Over Internet Protocol (VOIP) telephony were illegal, but the laws were rarely enforced against individuals.

There were several incidents of government interference in internet communications, filtering or blocking of access, restricting content, and censoring websites or other communications and internet services. Many websites were suspended or closed based on vague criteria, or with explicit reference to their pro-opposition content in violation of legal requirements. The BTRC is charged with the regulation of telecommunications. It carries out law enforcement and government requests to block content by ordering internet service providers to take action. In May the BTRC blocked encrypted communication applications Threema and Wickr as well as several blogs and Facebook posts it deemed to be crafted in “malice to Islam.” The BTRC Chairman later stated that the BTRC only blocks websites or services upon the request of law enforcement or MOHA and does not take independent action to block any websites or services. In July, the BTRC carried out a directive of the Dhaka Metropolitan Police to block 30 websites and Facebook pages for allegedly inciting militancy or running anti-religion propaganda. On August 2, the BTRC initiated a temporary shutdown of internet and mobile telephone services in a section of Dhaka city. BTRC officials stated that the exercise, the first in a series of temporary shutdowns, was to test the agency’s ability to restrict access to communications to protect public safety in the event of an emergency, such as a terror attack. On August 4, the BTRC carried out a directive to block 35 news websites that had published material critical of the government and current political leaders or were perceived to feature overt support for political opposition groups. Many of the sites remained blocked at the end of the year.

Facebook’s “biannual government requests report” for January to June 2016 showed the government made nine requests for data pursuant to legal process regarding eight users or accounts and one emergency request for data regarding one user or account in that period. Facebook reported producing some data in response to one request pursuant to legal process and one emergency request. The 10 total requests for data regarding nine users or accounts made by the government in the first half of 2016 is a slight decrease from the 12 requests for data regarding 31 users or accounts made in second half of 2015. Facebook further reported that two pieces of content were restricted at the BTRC’s request in the first half of 2016, due to alleged violation of local law regarding blasphemy and the Bangladesh Information and Communications Technology Act.

Google’s biannual transparency report for July to December 2015 showed the government made two requests for removal of two YouTube videos in that period. One request was related to alleged defamation and the other was related to alleged copyright violation. Google, which owns YouTube, did not comply with either request. Twitter’s biannual Transparency Report for January to June 2016 showed no requests for data or content removal from the government. In Twitter’s July to December 2015 report, the government made 10 requests for account information regarding 25 accounts, all pursuant to emergency disclosure requests. Law enforcement officers may submit an emergency disclosure request to Twitter on the basis of an exigent emergency that involves the danger of death or serious physical injury to a person that Twitter may have information necessary to protect. Twitter provided some information in response to six of those requests.

Individuals and groups generally engaged in the expression of views via the internet, although some activists stated that fear of prosecution under the Information and Communication Technology Act (ICTA) limited their online speech. The government used the ICTA and the threat of sedition charges, which carry a possible death penalty, to limit online activity and curtail freedom of expression online. The Bangladesh Telecommunication Regulatory Commission filtered internet content that the government deemed harmful to national unity and religious beliefs. The ICTA was amended in 2013 to increase penalties for cybercrime, make more offenses ineligible for bail, and give law enforcement officers broader authority to arrest violators without a court order. Opponents of the ICTA stated that section 57, which criminalizes the posting online of inflammatory or derogatory information against the state or individuals, stifles freedom of speech and is unconstitutional. The High Court previously rejected pleas challenging the constitutionality of section 57. The Cabinet approved a draft of the controversial digital security act in August, which includes a provision for life imprisonment for spreading negative propaganda through digital devices regarding the country’s independence war and founding leader. The law was under review by the Law Ministry at the year’s end.

ACADEMIC FREEDOM AND CULTURAL EVENTS

Although the government placed few restrictions on academic freedom or cultural events, media groups reported authorities discouraged research on sensitive religious and political topics that might fuel possible religious or communal tensions. Academic publications on the 1971 independence war were also subject to scrutiny and government approval. Appointment of teachers in universities continued to be politicized, and in September the Ministry of Education suggested that police or intelligence agencies should review teachers’ personal information to ensure that they are not involved in antigovernment or criminal activities.

b. Freedom of Peaceful Assembly and Association

The constitution provides for the freedoms of assembly and association, but the government did not respect these rights for opposition political parties. The government limited both freedom of assembly and association for political reasons, ostensibly in the interest of national security.

FREEDOM OF ASSEMBLY

The government generally permitted rallies of nonpolitical entities and its political allies, but on occasion, it prevented political opposition groups from holding meetings and demonstrations. The law authorizes the government to ban assemblies of more than four persons. A Dhaka Metropolitan Police order requires advance permission for gatherings such as protests and demonstrations. According to human rights NGOs, authorities increasingly used this provision, and preemptively banned gatherings around the election anniversary. Occasionally, police or ruling party activists used force to disperse demonstrations.

On April 4, police fired upon a crowd after an alleged attack by demonstrators gathered to protest the planned construction of a coal-fired power plant to Chittagong District, killing four villagers and injuring 60. Following the protest, local authorities filed a legal case against 6,000 protesters for attacking the police and obstruction of law enforcers. The government, including the prime minister, supported construction of the power plant despite local concerns regarding economic and environmental impacts to the region. On July 28, police in Dhaka dispersed a march toward the prime minister’s office to protest similarly the planned Rampal power plant near the ecologically sensitive Sunderbans. Police used tear gas and batons, injuring more than 50 individuals.

Police prevented opposition party members from holding events in several cases. For example, police allegedly stopped BNP rallies on July 27 in four sub-districts of Narayanganj, which were organized to protest the sentencing of BNP’s senior vice chairman, Tarique Rahman, on corruption charges. Police prevented another BNP rally on October 2 to protest a government action against a BNP leader despite having given initial permission for the event.

FREEDOM OF ASSOCIATION

The law provides for the right of citizens to form associations, subject to “reasonable restrictions” in the interest of morality or public order, and the government generally respected this right. The government’s NGO Affairs Bureau sometimes withheld its approval for foreign funding to NGOs working in areas the bureau deemed sensitive such as human rights, labor rights, indigenous rights, or humanitarian assistance to Rohingya refugees (see sections 2.d., 5, and 7.a.).

On October 5, Parliament passed the Foreign Donations (Voluntary Activities) Regulation Act, which places additional restrictions on the receipt of foreign funds by NGOs or government officials and provides for punishment of NGOs making any ‘derogatory’ comments regarding the constitution or constitutional institutions (see section 5).

c. Freedom of Religion

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 movement within the country, foreign travel, emigration, and repatriation, and the government generally respected these rights, except in two sensitive areas–the CHT and Cox’s Bazar. The government enforced some restrictions on foreigners’ access to the CHT.

Abuse of Migrants, Refugees, and Stateless Persons: UNHCR reported cases of refugee abuse, including rape, assault, and domestic violence, deprivation of food, arbitrary detention, and documentation problems. From January to September, UNHCR reported a total of 168 cases of sexual and gender-based violence in the two official camps, including 129 cases of domestic violence and 14 cases of rape. According to a June IOM report, 53.5 percent of those surveyed in Rohingya populations living in makeshift settlements also experienced violence. Of those, 50.5 percent said they experienced physical violence, 6.5 percent said they experienced sexual violence, 3.8 percent said they experienced mental abuse, and 2.8 percent said they experienced food deprivation. These reports continued at year’s end.

The government did not fully cooperate with the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) or other humanitarian organizations in providing protection and assistance to refugees, asylum seekers, stateless persons, and other persons of concern. For example, the government did not allow UNHCR access to all individuals whom UNHCR deemed persons of concern, particularly the undocumented Rohingya population living in the towns and villages outside of the two official refugee camps in Cox’s Bazar district. UNHCR was also not allowed unrestricted access to a new influx of Rohingya migrants during the last three months of the year although the International Organization for Migration (IOM) was allowed to provide services.

Foreign Travel: Some senior opposition officials reported extensive delays in getting their passports renewed; others reported harassment and delays at the airport when departing the country. Authorities barred one BNP official from leaving the country to attend a party event in Bahrain while another was detained at the airport before being allowed to board a plane. Another opposition leader required High Court intervention in order to obtain his passport from the government after nearly a year of delays.

The international travel ban continued on war-crimes suspects from the 1971 independence war.

The country’s passports are invalid for travel to Israel according to Bangladesh policy.

INTERNALLY DISPLACED PERSONS

Societal tensions and marginalization of indigenous people continued in the CHT as a result of a government policy during the 1973-1997 low-level armed conflict there of relocating landless Bengalis from the plains to the CHT with the unstated objective of changing the demographic balance in the CHT toward a Bengali majority, which displaced tens of thousands of indigenous persons.

The internally displaced persons (IDPs) in the CHT had limited physical security. Indigenous community leaders maintained that settlers’ violations of indigenous persons’ rights, sometimes with the involvement of security forces, were widespread.

The IDPs in the CHT also lacked sufficient access to courts and legal aid. The CHT Commission composed of experts from inside and outside the country, who sought to promote respect for rights in the CHT, found that a lack of information and lawyers to assist indigenous persons hindered IDP access to justice. The commission reported settlers expropriated indigenous land using false titles, intimidation, force, fraud, and manipulation of government eminent-domain claims (see section 6).

In August the government amended the Chittagong Hill Tracts (CHT) Land Dispute Resolution Commission Act curtailing the unilateral authority of the commission chair to make decisions on behalf of the commission and harmonizing the provisions with the CHT Peace Accord signed between the government and the Parbatya Chattagram Jana Samhati Samiti (PCJSS), a political party representing indigenous and tribal people of the CHT. Some Bengali groups, however, observed general strikes in CHT to protest the amendment, saying that it failed to recognize their rights as citizens of the country. They demanded inclusion of their representatives in the commission.

The number of IDPs in the CHT remained disputed. In 2000, a government task force estimated the number to be 500,000, which included nonindigenous as well as indigenous persons. The CHT Commission estimated that there were slightly more than 90,000 indigenous IDPs. The prime minister pledged to resolve outstanding land disputes in the CHT to facilitate the return of the IDPs and to close the remaining military camps, but the task force on IDPs remained unable to function due to a dispute over classifying settlers as IDPs. The commission reported that authorities displaced several indigenous families to create border guard camps and army recreational facilities. No land disputes were resolved during the year.

PROTECTION OF REFUGEES

As of August, the government and UNHCR provided temporary protection and basic assistance to 32,967 registered Rohingya refugees from Burma living in two official camps (Kutupalong and Nayapara). The government and UNHCR estimated that an additional 200,000 to 500,000 undocumented Rohingya lived in various villages and towns outside the two official refugee camps. Most of these undocumented Rohingya lived at unofficial sites among the local population in Teknaf and Ukhyia subdistricts of Cox’s Bazar District. These sites included approximately 35,000 at the Kutupalong Makeshift site adjacent to the official Kutupalong refugee camp, 15,000 at a site called Leda, and 10,000 at the Shamlapur site. Starting in October, a new wave of more than 34,000 migrants entered Bangladesh, seeking refuge from violence in Rakhine state. Led by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, the government continued to implement a national strategy on Rohingya with six key elements: border management, addressing security threats, humanitarian assistance, strengthened engagement with Burma, internal coordination on Rohingya problems, and surveying the undocumented Rohingya.

Starting in May, the government funded and implemented a survey of the undocumented Rohingya population in the six districts where they are most populous. As part of an awareness-raising campaign, the government stated that the survey would be used to improve services available to the undocumented Rohingya population. Other key messages of the awareness-raising campaign included that the survey was voluntary, would not lead to refugee status, and would not be used to force repatriation. Some NGOs and donor countries expressed concerns regarding how the survey will affect some portions of the undocumented Rohingya population, particularly children with one Bangladeshi and one Rohingya parent. The government stated its intent to issue “information cards” to those enumerated through the process, which can be used as proof of identity to authorities.

Access to Asylum: The law does not provide for granting asylum or refugee status, nor has the government established a formal system for providing protection to refugees. The government provided some protection to Rohingya refugees from Burma already resident in the country, but it continued to deny asylum to the undocumented Rohingya, whom it categorized as illegal economic migrants. The government cooperated with UNHCR in providing temporary protection and basic assistance to registered refugees already resident in two official camps. Although significant protection problems remained, delivery of humanitarian assistance to the undocumented Rohingya has continued through implementation of the national strategy.

Refoulement: Continued violence and human rights abuses against the Rohingya in Burma prevented them from safely and voluntarily returning to their homes. Between January and September, according to UNHCR, Bangladeshi authorities forcibly turned back an estimated 3,487 Rohingya to Burma, compared with 4,719 during the same period in 2015. According to UNHCR, which maintained a field presence in both countries, many of these individuals were likely entitled to refugee status and protection. Despite these expulsions, the border remained porous, and UNHCR noted the existence of considerable daily cross-border movement for trade, smuggling, and illegal migration. The government of Bangladesh, including Prime Minister Hasina, engaged Burmese leader Aung San Suu Kyi regarding a durable solution to the Rohingya issue although these diplomatic efforts have not resulted in increased cooperation.

Freedom of movement: There were restrictions on refugees’ freedom of movement. By law, refugees are not permitted to move outside of the two camps. Police can punish with detention any movement without valid documentation, including illegal entry and departure from the country.

Employment: The government did not authorize Rohingya refugees living in the country to work locally. Despite their movement restrictions, some refugees worked illegally as manual laborers or rickshaw pullers in the informal economy. Undocumented Rohingya also worked illegally, mostly in day-labor jobs.

Access to Basic Services: Working with UNHCR, the government continued to improve some aspects of the official refugee camps following findings in recent years that sanitation, nutrition, and shelter conditions had fallen below minimum international standards. Some basic needs remained unmet, and the camps remained overcrowded, with densities on par with the country’s urban slums. A 2014 nutrition survey report from UNHCR and World Food Program stated the prevalence of malnourished (stunted) and underweight children in refugee camps remained higher than in the rest of the country and above the emergency threshold levels set by the World Health Organization.

Public education, while mandatory as of 2010 through eighth grade throughout the country, was offered only through seventh grade in the camps, compared with fifth grade in previous years. The government agreed to allow international NGOs to provide Rohingya outside the camps with access to informal education, starting with a group of 10,000 students. Government authorities did not allow refugees outside the camps to attend school, but some did so.

Government authorities did not allow registered or unregistered Rohingya formal and regular access to public health care. Instead, UNHCR and NGOs provided basic health services in the official camps to registered refugees, and IOM provided health services to the unregistered Rohingya in the makeshift sites. Although NGOs provided humanitarian assistance to registered Rohingya refugees, undocumented Rohingya, and the local population, the government’s restrictions on NGO activities outside the camps limited the unregistered population’s access to basic medical care and other services.

Four international NGOs provided basic services to undocumented Rohingya and to surrounding impoverished host communities. As with other NGOs, these organizations faced challenges working with the NGO Affairs Bureau. Some reported delays as long as three or four months in obtaining necessary permits for working with the Rohingya, which required coordinating with government officials at the local and national level.

Registered refugees did not have access to the formal legal system although they were able to take legal complaints to a local camp official who could mediate disputes. Members of the unregistered population had no legal protection and were sometimes arrested because the government viewed them as illegal economic migrants. Rohingya were sometimes harassed by security forces due to a perception among some groups, including the government, as well as members of indigenous groups in the CHT, that the Rohingya were responsible for perpetrating a range of criminal and terrorist activities in Southeastern Bangladesh, including through the Rohingya Solidarity Organization (RSO). For example, following the May 13 attack on security forces near the Nayapara official camp, authorities responded by detaining and questioning five Rohingya refugees, including an NGO volunteer.

STATELESS PERSONS

The Rohingya in Bangladesh are legally stateless. Government and UNHCR estimates indicate that between 200,000 and 500,000 undocumented Rohingya are present in Bangladesh. They cannot derive citizenship from birth in the country, marriage with local citizens, or any other means.

Section 3. Freedom to Participate in the Political Process

The constitution provides citizens the ability to choose their government in free and fair periodic elections held by secret ballot and based on universal and equal suffrage, but recent elections were marred by government tampering and violence. Government restriction on freedom of expression and freedom of assembly limited the ability of opposition party members to participate effectively in the democratic process.

Elections and Political Participation

Recent Elections: BNP, the main opposition party, boycotted the January 2014 parliamentary elections, leaving more than half of all seats uncontested and many more only nominally contested, thereby decreasing the people’s access to meaningful electoral choice. Prime Minister Hasina and the ruling AL party retained power with 235 of 300 elected seats. After its boycott of the elections, the BNP held no seats in parliament. The official opposition party, the Jatiya Party, which had 36 elected seats, was also part of the ruling coalition. Parties that supported the government held most of the remaining seats. Sheikh Hasina’s cabinet included representatives from the other parties in her coalition. Most international observers regarded these elections as flawed.

During the year, in six rounds of union council elections in May and June, more than 126 people were killed and approximately 9,000 were injured as a result of electoral violence. Opposition parties and independent observers repeatedly challenged the credibility of the Election Commission. In October, the general secretary of the AL rejected the prospect of dialogue with the BNP on creation of an independent election commission. On November 29, the Election Commission publicly apologized to the high court for not investigating any of the grievances associated with this year’s local elections, demonstrating a pronounced lack of independence.

Political Parties and Political Participation: The government mobilized law enforcement resources to level civil and criminal charges against opposition party leaders, including BNP leader Khaleda Zia and Senior Vice Chairman Tarique Rahman. Jamaat leaders could not operate openly, as they were harassed by law enforcement and were blamed by the AL for the recent increase in terrorism. Media outlets critical of the government and AL were subject to government intimidation, lawsuits, and forced closure. AL-affiliated organizations (such as the student wing) reportedly carried out violence and intimidation around the country, including against individuals affiliated with opposition groups.

In some instances the government interfered with the right of opposition parties to organize public functions and restricted the broadcasting of opposition political events. Jamaat’s appeal of a 2012 Supreme Court decision cancelling the party’s registration continued in the midst of new draft legislation banning any organization found guilty of war crimes, pending at year’s end.

Participation of Women and Minorities: There is no provision to reserve parliamentary seats for minorities. Women have 50 reserved parliamentary seats out of a total of 350. Those who hold the 50 seats are appointed by the parties rather than directly elected by constituents.

Barbados

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

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

There was one report that the government or its agents allegedly committed an arbitrary or unlawful killing. According to media reports, on July 26, police shot and killed Romario Lashley while executing an arrest warrant. As of October the matter was under investigation.

b. Disappearance

There were no reports of politically motivated disappearances.

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

The constitution prohibits such practices, but there continued to be complaints against the police alleging assault, intimidation, and other unprofessional conduct. According to human rights activists, suspects occasionally accused police of beating them to obtain confessions, and suspects often recanted their confessions during trial. In many cases the only evidence against the accused was a confession. Suspects and their family members continued to allege coercion by police, but there was no evidence of systematic police abuse.

Activists reported that police brutality cases received coverage in the news only when the victim had some form of evidence, such as a photograph. As of October only one case had received media coverage, and it was under investigation.

Prison and Detention Center Conditions

There were no significant reports regarding prison or detention center conditions that raised human rights concerns.

Administration: Two agencies–the Office of the Ombudsman and the Prison Advisory Board–are responsible for investigating credible allegations of inhuman conditions. There were no such allegations during the year.

Independent Monitoring: Although prison officials reported there was no monitoring by either governmental or nongovernmental agencies, human rights organizations stated they were allowed access and monitored prison conditions.

d. Arbitrary Arrest or Detention

The constitution prohibits arbitrary arrest and imprisonment, and the government generally observed these prohibitions.

ROLE OF THE POLICE AND SECURITY APPARATUS

The Royal Barbados Police Force (RBPF) is responsible for internal law enforcement, including migration and border enforcement. The Barbados Defense Force (BDF) protects national security and may be called upon to maintain public order in times of crisis, emergency, or other specific needs. The RBPF reports to the attorney general, and the BDF reports to the minister of defense and security. Although police were largely unarmed, special RBPF foot patrols in high-crime areas carried firearms. An armed special rapid response unit continued to operate. The law provides that police may request BDF assistance with special joint patrols.

Civilian authorities maintained effective control over the RBPF and BDF, and the government has effective mechanisms to investigate and punish abuse and corruption. Allegations against police were investigated and brought to the Police Complaints Authority, a civilian body in the Office of Professional Responsibility. Two police officers were awaiting trial for indecent assault and misconduct in public office for assaulting tourists and demanding money.

ARREST PROCEDURES AND TREATMENT OF DETAINEES

The law authorizes police to arrest persons suspected of criminal activity; a warrant issued by a judge or justice of the peace based on evidence is typically required. Police procedure permits authorities to hold detainees without charge for up to five days, but once persons are charged, police must bring them before a court within 24 hours, or the next working day if the arrest occurred during the weekend. There was a functioning bail system. Criminal detainees received prompt access to counsel and were advised of that right immediately after arrest. Authorities generally permitted family members access to detainees.

Police procedures provide for police to question suspects and other persons only at a police station, except when expressly permitted by a senior divisional officer to do otherwise. An officer must visit detainees at least once every three hours to inquire about their condition. After 24 hours the detaining authority must submit a written report to the deputy commissioner. Authorities must approve and record all movements of detainees between stations.

Detainee’s Ability to Challenge Lawfulness of Detention before a Court: By law detainees or arrested persons, regardless of whether on criminal or other grounds, are entitled to challenge in court the legal or arbitrary nature of their detention. If the court finds persons to have been detained unlawfully, they are entitled to prompt release, compensation, or both.

e. Denial of Fair Public Trial

The constitution provides for an independent judiciary, and the government generally respected judicial independence.

TRIAL PROCEDURES

The constitution provides that persons charged with criminal offenses receive a fair public hearing without unnecessary delay by an independent, impartial court and a trial by jury. The government generally respected these rights, although prosecutors expressed concerns about the increasing delays before a defendant is tried. Civil society representatives reported that wait times could be as long as five or six years before trial. Defendants have the right to be present and to consult with an attorney of their choice in a timely manner. The government provided free legal aid to the indigent in family matters (excluding divorce), child support cases, serious criminal cases such as rape or murder, and all cases involving minors. The constitution prescribes that defendants have adequate time and facilities to prepare a defense. These timelines may be set by the court on arraignment. In court defendants may confront and question witnesses and present witnesses and evidence on their own behalf. Defendants and their attorneys have access to government-held evidence relevant to their case. Defendants are presumed innocent until proven guilty, have the right of appeal, and cannot be compelled to testify or confess guilt. Defendants have the right to free interpretation as necessary from the moment charged through all appeals. The law extends these rights to all defendants.

POLITICAL PRISONERS AND DETAINEES

There were no reports of political prisoners or detainees.

CIVIL JUDICIAL PROCEDURES AND REMEDIES

Magistrates’ courts have civil and criminal jurisdiction, but the civil judicial system experienced heavy backlogs. Citizens primarily sought redress for human rights or other abuses through the civil system, although human rights cases were sometimes decided in the criminal court. Individuals and organizations may appeal adverse domestic decisions to regional human rights bodies.

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

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

Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:

a. Freedom of Speech and Press

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

Press and Media Freedoms: Independent media were active and expressed a wide variety of views. Civil society representatives, however, reported that journalists who were overly critical of the government would be denied access to press conferences or denied the opportunity to ask questions of government officials.

Censorship or Content Restrictions: Civil society representatives reported media practiced self-censorship in matters relating to corruption due to fear that making allegations could invite a defamation lawsuit.

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, 76 percent of citizens used the internet in 2015.

ACADEMIC FREEDOM AND CULTURAL EVENTS

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

b. Freedom of Peaceful Assembly and Association

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

c. Freedom of Religion

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

d. Freedom of Movement, Internally Displaced Persons, Protection of Refugees, and Stateless Persons

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

The government was prepared to cooperate with the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees and other humanitarian organizations in assisting refugees, asylum seekers, or other persons of concern.

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 refugees. The Immigration Department was responsible for considering refugee or asylum claims.

Section 3. Freedom to Participate in the Political Process

The constitution provides citizens the ability to choose their government in free and fair periodic elections.

Elections and Political Participation

Recent Elections: In the 2013 general elections, the Democratic Labour Party (DLP) won 16 of the 30 seats in Parliament’s House of Assembly, and DLP leader Freundel Stuart retained his post as prime minister. Observers considered the elections to be in accordance with international standards.

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

Belarus

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

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

During the year there were no reports that the government or its agents committed arbitrary or unlawful killings and no reports of deaths from torture.

b. Disappearance

There were no developments in the reportedly continuing investigations into the 2000 disappearance of journalist Zmitser Zavadski and the 1999 disappearances of former deputy prime minister Viktar Hanchar, businessman Anatol Krasouski, and former interior minister Yuri Zakharanka. There was evidence of government involvement in the disappearances, but authorities continued to deny any connection with them.

In 2014 a senior Investigations Committee officer informed Zakharanka’s mother that by law it was impossible to apply the statute of limitations in the case unless a suspect was identified and charged, and thus the case of her son could not be closed as she had requested. The committee also refused the mother’s request to study case materials, citing that it was only possible upon completion of the preliminary investigation.

In May a Minsk court suspended the civil suit of Zakharanka’s mother asking for the court to recognize Zakharanka’s death until the criminal case about his disappearance was closed. The lawyer for Zakharanka’s mother told the court, “given the fact that for 16 years the investigation has produced no results, it deprives the citizen the opportunity to realize her rights. In fact, it is a denial of justice.”

On August 1, a Minsk city court refused the request of Zakharanka’s mother to declare her son deceased. Zakharanka’s mother repeatedly has asked the authorities to declare him dead and/or suspend the investigation, which would allow her access to the case materials and his property. In October authorities again extended the investigation into Zakharanka’s disappearance until December 24.

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

The law prohibits such practices. Nevertheless, the Committee for State Security (KGB), riot police, and other security forces, often unidentified and in plain clothes, continued to beat detainees occasionally. Security forces also reportedly mistreated individuals during investigations. During arrests police occasionally beat criminal suspects and citizens.

Human rights advocates, opposition leaders, and activists released from detention facilities continued to report maltreatment and other forms of physical and psychological abuse of suspects during criminal and administrative investigations.

On January 12, various media reported that a Hrodna district court sentenced in closed hearings two senior police officers to four years and six years in jail, respectively, for “committing crimes related to violence, torture or abuse of suspects.” Authorities also banned the two from holding any positions in law enforcement agencies for five years after their release from prison.

On January 25, during the opening of the trial in a Minsk district court of three individuals in the so-called graffiti case, authorities detained and then allegedly beat two youth activists, Paval Siarhei and Maksim Shytsik, after they unfolded a banner that read, “No to Political Persecution” and shouted, “Art is No Crime.” Security officers removed the two activists from the courtroom. Paval Dabravolski, a journalist from the news portal tut.by, followed the activists and police from the courtroom. According to accounts from the activists and Dabravolski, police knocked the three to the ground, and punched and kicked them for some 20 minutes. Individuals standing outside the room could reportedly hear the assault. Security officers also removed all the footage from Dabravolski’s media files. Police charged the three with resisting police orders, minor hooliganism, and contempt of court. Ultimately, the court fined the three. One of the unidentified officers who reportedly beat the three testified against them in court.

On February 19, Minister of Information Liliya Ananich claimed that Dabravolski had prevented police officers from performing their duties. The minister added that while the media law affords journalists certain rights, it also requires them to respect the rights and legitimate interests of other individuals and observe regulations. She referred to the Interior Ministry’s claim that Dabravolski interfered with the police officers’ conduct of their professional duties and was subsequently fined for that. The minister urged journalists to comply with the media law, the criminal code, and the norms of professional ethics.

On April 29, the Investigations Committee informed Dabravolski that it had denied his appeal to open a criminal investigation into alleged misuse of force by police officers against him and two opposition activists in the January 25th incident. The committee explained that the police officers’ actions did not constitute elements of a crime and were aimed at “stopping Dabravolski’s illegal actions.” According to the committee, injuries inflicted on Dabravolski and the two activists and the traces of blood on their clothes “objectively fit” the policemen’s testimony of their actions, and the committee’s inquiry did not register any evidence of officers mistreating or using excessive force against the three individuals, who were not subjected “to brutal and inappropriate” treatment. The committee also accused Dabravolski of attacking an officer, refusing to identify himself as a journalist, illegally recording the detention of the two activists on a cell phone camera, and insulting police and threatening them with trouble at work by publishing defamatory information. ‎

As in the previous year, observers reported a few isolated cases of new recruit hazing that included beatings and other forms of physical and psychological abuse. Observers believed there might have been fewer cases because of the government’s increased prosecution of offenders. For example, on August 17, a district court in Brest sentenced a senior army servant to a 18 months of khimiya, a form of internal exile, for extorting money and personal belongings from new recruits, beating, and threatening to kill them. Authorities denied all appeals in this case in October.

Prison and Detention Center Conditions

Prison and detention center conditions remained poor and in many cases posed threats to life and health.

Physical Conditions: According to local activists and human rights lawyers, there were shortages of food, medicine, warm clothing, and bedding as well as inadequate access to basic or emergency medical care and clean drinking water. Ventilation in cells and overall sanitation were poor, and authorities failed to provide conditions necessary for maintaining proper personal hygiene. Prisoners frequently complained of malnutrition and low-quality uniforms and bedding. Some former political prisoners reported psychological abuse and sharing cells with violent criminals. The law permits family and friends to bring detainees food and hygiene products and to send them parcels by mail, but authorities did not always allow this.

Overcrowding of holding facilities and prisons continued to be a problem, although an amnesty, which began in June 2015, reduced the number of inmates. Ministry of Internal Affairs officials dismissed reports of overcrowding. Authorities allowed persons sentenced to a form of internal exile (khimiya) to work outside detention facilities; these individuals were required to return at night to prison barracks, where they lived under strict conditions and supervision.

Although there were isolated reports that police placed underage suspects in pretrial detention facility cells with adult suspects and convicts, authorities generally held juvenile prisoners separately from adults at juvenile penal colonies, arrest houses, and pretrial holding facilities. In general, conditions for female and juvenile prisoners were slightly better than for male prisoners.

According to human rights NGOs and former prisoners, authorities routinely abused prisoners. In cases of death of suspects or inmates resulting from alleged abuse or torture by prison officials, authorities continued to deny families of suspects or inmates a fair and transparent investigation and prosecution of reported incidents. After an outcry in independent media, for example, authorities in Zhodzina opened an investigation and a criminal case into the death from a reported heart failure of Ihar Barbaschynski, a 37-year-old retired army major, in a local jail on September 20. Barbaschynski’s mother told the press that police originally arrested Ihar and his brother in Slutsk in March while they were walking home from a nightclub. Authorities reportedly accused the brothers of drinking in a public place. The following morning an ambulance took the two men from detention facilities to a hospital with multiple rib fractures and bruises, but they were neither charged nor detained in March. The brothers subsequently filed a complaint about police brutality to the local police department. In May police rearrested them on charges of allegedly using violence against police officers, and Barbaschynski remained in detention until his death in September.

On September 16, a Minsk district court started hearing a criminal case against a doctor, Aliaksandr Krylou, charged with negligence for the 2013 death of 21-year-old prisoner Ihar Ptichkin, who suffered a heart attack after an alleged beating. On October 21, the court sentenced Krylou to three years in jail. In the period 2013-16, Ptichkin’s family filed numerous appeals to bring criminal charges against the prison’s doctors, as well as to challenge multiple denials to investigate the case and bring it to prosecution.

Credible sources maintained that prison administrators employed inmates to intimidate political prisoners and compel confessions. They also reported that authorities neither explained nor protected political prisoners’ legal rights and excessively penalized them for minor violations of the prison rules.

Given the poor medical care, observers believed tuberculosis, pneumonia, HIV/AIDS, and other communicable diseases were widespread in prisons. In 2014 a senior tuberculosis control officer reported that tuberculosis infection in prisons was quadruple the national average but claimed that only up to 4 percent of the 7,400 tuberculosis patients across the country were in prisons.

Human rights NGOs reported that prison inmates and individuals held in internal exile often complained of lack of employment opportunities or low pay. On August 18, the head of the Interior Ministry’s Corrections Department, Siarhei Daroshka, stated that of the average 510-ruble ($205) salary, inmates would get only 10 percent and the rest would go to fund the costs of their imprisonment and to repay any debts or damages ordered by the court.

Administration: As in the previous year, authorities claimed to have conducted annual or more frequent investigations and monitoring of prison and detention center conditions. Human rights groups, however, asserted that such inspections, even if they did occur, lacked credibility given the absence of an ombudsman and the inability of reliable independent human rights advocates to visit prisons or provide consultations to prisoners.

Prisoners and detainees had limited access to visitors, and denial of meetings with families was a common punishment for disciplinary violations. Authorities often denied or delayed political prisoners’ meetings with family as a means of pressure and intimidation.

Although the law provides for freedom of religion, and there were no reports of egregious infringements, authorities generally prevented prisoners from holding religious services and performing ceremonies that did not comply with prison regulations.

Former prisoners reported that prison officials often censored or did not forward their complaints to higher authorities and that prison administrators either ignored or selectively considered requests for investigation of alleged abuses. Prisoners also reported that prison administration frequently refused to provide them with copies of responses to their complaints, which further complicated their defense. Complaints could result in retaliation against prisoners who spoke out, including humiliation, death threats, or other forms of punishment and harassment.

Corruption in prisons was a serious problem, and observers noted that parole often depended on bribes to prison personnel or a prisoner’s political affiliation.

Independent Monitoring: Despite numerous requests to the Ministries of Internal Affairs and Justice, government officials continued to refuse to meet with human rights advocates or approve requests from NGOs to visit detention and prison facilities. In its 2015 response to Paval Sapelka of the human rights NGO Vyasna, the Interior Ministry’s Corrections Department claimed it would be “inexpedient” for him to visit detention facilities and monitor their conditions.

d. Arbitrary Arrest or Detention

The law limits arbitrary detention, but the government did not respect these limits. Authorities continued to arrest or detain individuals for political reasons and to use administrative measures to detain political activists before, during, and after protests and other major public events.

ROLE OF THE POLICE AND SECURITY APPARATUS

The Ministry of Internal Affairs exercises authority over police, but other bodies outside of its control, for example, the KGB, the Financial Investigations Department of the State Control Committee, the Investigation Committee, and presidential security services exercise police functions. The president has the authority to subordinate all security bodies to his personal command. Impunity among law enforcement personnel remained a serious problem. Individuals have the right to report police abuse to a prosecutor, although the government often did not investigate reported abuses or hold perpetrators accountable.

ARREST PROCEDURES AND TREATMENT OF DETAINEES

By law police must request permission from a prosecutor to detain a person for more than three hours, but police usually ignored this procedure and routinely detained and arrested individuals without warrants. Authorities may hold a criminal suspect for up to 10 days without filing formal charges and for up to 18 months after filing charges. Under the law prosecutors, investigators, and security service agencies have the authority to extend detention without consulting a judge. Detainees have the right to petition the court system regarding the legality of their detention, but authorities frequently suppressed or ignored such appeals.

Arbitrary Arrest: Authorities detained opposition and civil society activists for reasons widely considered politically motivated. In isolated cases, authorities used administrative measures to detain political activists before, during, and after planned demonstrations and protests, as well as other public events.

From January through March, scores of market vendors, opposition leaders, activists, and their supporters held unsanctioned demonstrations in Minsk to protest a presidential edict that banned the selling of clothing and footwear without certification of compliance with the Customs Union’s safety requirements. While police did not interfere with the demonstrations, authorities routinely detained various regional activists en route to Minsk to prevent their participation in the demonstrations.

On September 11, the day of the parliamentary elections, authorities arrested Leanid Kulakou after the polls closed and on the next day sentenced him to three days in jail on minor hooliganism charges. Kulakou had monitored voting and tabulation on the day of the election.

Pretrial Detention: Authorities may hold a criminal suspect for up to 10 days without filing formal charges. Prior to being charged, the law provides detainees with no access to their families or to outside food and medical supplies, both of which are vital given poor conditions in detention facilities. Police routinely held persons for the full 10-day period before charging them.

Police often detained individuals for several hours, ostensibly to confirm their identity; fingerprinted them; and then released them without charge. Police and security forces frequently used this tactic to detain members of the democratic opposition and demonstrators, to prevent the distribution of leaflets and newspapers, or to break up civil society meetings and events. For example, on September 8, police detained four opposition activists, including Malady Front leader Zmitser Dashkevich, Volha Mikalaichyk, and Uladzimir Yaromenak, ahead of a planned protest in front of the Russian Embassy to mark the 502nd anniversary of the Battle of Orsha. Dashkevich was reportedly grabbed and beaten by plainclothes police officers in the courtyard of his apartment, while Mikalaichyk was forcefully detained when she approached the Russian embassy. Police released the four activists after several hours without filing charges.

Detainee’s Ability to Challenge Lawfulness of Detention before a Court: Detainees have the right to petition the court system regarding the legality of their detention, but authorities frequently suppressed or ignored such appeals. By law courts have 24 hours to issue a ruling on a detention and 72 hours on an arrest. Courts hold closed hearings in these cases, which the suspect, a defense lawyer, and other legal representatives may attend. Prosecutors, suspects, and defense lawyers can appeal to higher courts the decision of the lower court within 24 hours of the ruling. Higher courts have three days to rule on appeals, and their rulings cannot be challenged. Further appeals can only be filed when investigators extend the period of detention.

e. Denial of Fair Public Trial

The constitution provides for an independent judiciary, but authorities did not respect judicial independence. Observers believed corruption, inefficiency, and political interference with judicial decisions were widespread. Courts convicted individuals on false and politically motivated charges brought by prosecutors, and observers believed that senior government leaders and local authorities dictated the outcomes of trials.

As in previous years, according to human rights groups, prosecutors wielded excessive and imbalanced authority because they may extend detention periods without the permission of judges. They also noted a power imbalance between the prosecution and the defense. Defense lawyers were unable to examine investigation files, be present during investigations and interrogations, or examine evidence against defendants until a prosecutor formally brought the case to court. Lawyers found it difficult to challenge some evidence because the Prosecutor’s Office controlled all technical expertise. According to many defense attorneys, this power imbalance persisted throughout the year, especially in politically motivated criminal and administrative cases. Courts did not exonerate criminal defendants except in rare circumstances during the year.

By law bar associations are independent, and licensed lawyers are permitted to establish private practices or bureaus. All lawyers, however, must be licensed by the Ministry of Justice and must renew their licenses every five years.

In the past the justice ministry used disbarment as a tool in political cases; the ministry accused the disbarred lawyers of distorting information about the investigations of their clients, their state of health, and their conditions of detention. During the year there were no new disbarments, but no disbarred lawyers had their licenses restored.

TRIAL PROCEDURES

The law provides for the presumption of innocence. Nevertheless, the lack of judicial independence, the state media practice of reporting on high-profile cases as if guilt were already certain, and widespread limits on defense rights frequently placed the burden of proving innocence on the defendant.

The law also provides for public trials, but authorities occasionally closed trials and frequently held them in judges’ offices, where attendance was limited. Judges adjudicate all trials. For the most serious cases, two civilian advisers assist the judge.

The law provides defendants the right to attend proceedings, confront witnesses, and present evidence on their own behalf, but authorities did not always respect these rights.

The law provides for access to legal counsel for detainees and requires that courts appoint a lawyer for those who cannot afford one. Although by law defendants can ask for their trials to be conducted in Belarusian, most judges and prosecutors were not fluent in Belarusian, rejected motions for interpreters, and proceeded in Russian. The law provides for the right to choose legal representation freely; however, a presidential decree prohibits NGO members who are lawyers from representing individuals other than members of their organizations in court. The government’s disbarment of attorneys who represented political opponents of the regime further limited defendants’ choice of counsel. The government also required defense attorneys to sign non-disclosure statements that limited their ability to release any information about the case to the public, media, and even defendants’ family members.

Courts often allowed statements obtained by force and threats of bodily harm during interrogations to be used against defendants. Some defendants were tried in absentia. For example, on January 19, a district court in Minsk fined in absentia Paval Sevyarynets, co-chair of the unregistered Belarusian Christian Democracy Party, 525 rubles ($250) for participating in an unsanctioned demonstration in November 2015. During the demonstration, up to 110 individuals marched from a department store to the Central Election Committee’s building in Minsk to mark the 1996 referendum that stripped the powers of the parliament and expanded the powers of the president.

Defendants have the right to appeal convictions, and most defendants did so. Nevertheless, appeals courts upheld the verdicts of the lower courts in the vast majority of cases.

POLITICAL PRISONERS AND DETAINEES

Local human rights organizations reported several different lists of political prisoners in the country. These included individuals who were facing criminal charges and others who were already incarcerated. Leading local human rights groups, including Vyasna and the Belarusian Helsinki Committee, either recognized these individuals as prisoners of conscience or noted serious due process violations that they suggested required, at the very least, a retrial.

On October 12, for example, a Minsk district court convicted Dzmitry Palienka, an opposition and anarchist movement activist and participant of the “Critical Mass” ride on April 29, of using violence against a traffic police officer during his detention and of distributing pornographic images in social media. The judge sentenced Palienka to a two-year-suspended sentence, as well as forced rehabilitation for alcoholism. The activist was released in court. Human rights advocates welcomed the “government’s restraint” in not imprisoning Palienka but recognized him as a political prisoner when he was in pretrial detention.

Eduard Palchys, blogger and editor of the 1863x.com website, was detained in January and charged in June with inciting racial, ethnic, or religious hatred and producing and distributing pornographic materials. The prosecution against Palchys focused on nine articles published on his website that were highly critical of Russia and the “Russkiy Mir” concept. Palchys was also accused of distributing pornographic materials for reposting a Russian-website’s post critical of Belarusian culture and independence, which included a photo of a nude woman. Palchys claimed the post was to demonstrate the amount of anti-Belarusian sentiment in Russia and was not meant to be seen as pornography. His trial was closed to the press and observers. Several domestic human rights groups recognized Palchys as a political prisoner on October 5. On October 28, Palchys was found guilty of inciting racial, ethnic, or religious hatred and distributing pornographic materials, but he was given a suspended 21-month sentence and was subject to a travel ban. Prior to his trial, some human rights groups recognized him as a political prisoner. Human rights groups welcomed his release but noted that the government continued to restrict the freedom of speech.

On August 10, human rights advocates, including the human rights center Vyasna and the Belarusian Helsinki Committee, recognized Uladzimir Kondrus as a political prisoner. Authorities arrested Kondrus on June 14 and charged him under the Criminal Code’s provision dealing with mass protests, which has a 10-year statute of limitations. Kondrus was alleged to have been involved in the postelection demonstrations in December 2010, when he was allegedly seen holding a large piece of wood and breaking windows at the parliament building, as well as attacking riot police officers during the protests. Human rights groups called for his immediate release and the suspension of the criminal prosecution against him, claiming that his actions in 2010 could only qualify as hooliganism, which carries a five-year statute of limitations, and not as a violation of the Criminal Code’s prohibition on mass protests, which has a 10-year statute of limitations. On November 16, the first day of his trial, Kondrus purported to attempt to slit his writs, and the judge ordered him to undergo a psychiatric assessment. On December 26, the court sentenced Kondrus to 18 months of “restricted freedom”; he was released from detention following the hearing. The psychiatric assessment reportedly alleged that Kondrus had a psychiatric condition, and the court ordered him to undergo mandatory psychiatric treatment during his period of restricted freedom.

In August 2015 President Lukashenka released six individuals considered political prisoners by human rights organizations, including 2010 presidential candidate Mikalai Statkevich.

During their court hearings, defendants in politically motivated cases reported threats against associates and family members to compel testimony against the defendants, as well as pressure to sign confessions.

Prison authorities often confiscated and censored mail of political prisoners, reportedly to exert pressure by further isolating prisoners and limiting their contacts with families and associates.

Former political prisoners who had been pardoned continued to be unable to exercise some civil and political rights at year’s end. For example, on July 9, the Central Electoral Commission refused to register the initiative group supporting the candidacy for parliament of former political prisoner and 2010 presidential candidate Mikalai Statkevich because any individual in prison or with a criminal record is prohibited by law from being a candidate.

Authorities removed restrictions against several prominent former political prisoners. For example, on February 4, police in Vaukavysk lifted preventive supervision limitations against anticorruption activist Mikalai Autukhovich, who previously was not permitted to travel outside the city without official permission. In a separate case, on March 9, investigators dropped all criminal charges and a subsequent travel ban against former presidential candidate Ales Mikhalevich in connection with 2010 postelection demonstrations.

CIVIL JUDICIAL PROCEDURES AND REMEDIES

The law provides that individuals can file lawsuits seeking damages for a human rights violation, but the civil judiciary was not independent and was rarely impartial in such matters.

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

The law prohibits such actions, but the government did not respect these prohibitions. Authorities used wiretapping, video surveillance, and a network of informers that deprived persons of privacy.

By law persons who obstruct law enforcement personnel in the performance of their duties can be penalized or charged with an administrative offense, even if the “duties” are inconsistent with the law. “Obstruction” could include any effort to prevent KGB or law enforcement officers from entering the premises of a company, establishment, or organization; refusing to allow KGB audits; or denying or restricting KGB access to information systems and databases.

The law requires a warrant before, or immediately after, conducting a search. Nevertheless, some democratic activists believed the KGB entered their homes unannounced. The KGB has the authority to enter any building at any time, as long as it applies for a warrant within 24 hours after the entry.

Security forces continued to target prominent opposition and civil society leaders with arbitrary searches and interrogations at border crossings and airports. For example, on September 8, border officials detained co-chairman of the Belarusian Christian Democracy Party Vital Rymasheuski and leader of the United Civic Party Anatol Lyabedzka for about an hour at the Belarus-Lithuania border. The two were on their way to a conference in Vilnius, and the border guards seized several dozen election campaign leaflets that Lyabedzka had with him, but eventually authorities let the two proceed and apologized for the delay.

On November 8, customs officers confiscated five copies of a book authored by Andrei Sannikau, 2010 presidential candidate and former political prisoner who lives in the United Kingdom, from his spouse and prominent journalist Iryna Khalip. She was returning to Belarus from Poland with their son and carrying copies of the book My Story: Belarusian Amerikanka or Elections Under Dictatorshipinscribed by the author to various friends and supporters. Officials told her the books would be examined by experts for at least a month before they could be returned to her. The book tells the story of Sannikau’s arrest for participating in the December 2010 postelection demonstration in Minsk, his experiences in prison, his release in 2012, as well as international media coverage of his imprisonment.

While the law prohibits authorities from intercepting telephone and other communications without a prosecutor’s order, authorities routinely monitored residences, telephones, and computers. Nearly all opposition political figures and many prominent members of civil society groups claimed that authorities monitored their conversations and activities. The government continued to collect and obtain personally identifiable information on independent journalists and democratic activists during raids and by confiscating computer equipment.

The law allows the KGB, the Ministry of Internal Affairs, special security services, financial intelligence personnel, and certain border guard detachments to use wiretaps. Wiretaps require the permission of a prosecutor, but the lack of prosecutorial independence rendered this requirement meaningless.

The Ministry of Communications has the authority to terminate the telephone service of persons who violate their telephone contracts, which prohibit the use of telephone services for purposes contrary to state interests and public order. Cell phone providers are banned from selling cell phone cards to customers who do not produce their passports or to foreigners who are not registered with local immigration services.

Authorities continued to harass family members of NGO leaders and civil society and opposition activists through selective application of the law.

Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:

a. Freedom of Speech and Press

The constitution provides for freedom of speech and the press. The government did not respect these rights and enforced numerous laws to control and censor the public and the media. Moreover, the state press propagated views in support of President Lukashenka and official policies, without giving room for critical voices.

Freedom of Speech and Expression: Individuals could not criticize President Lukashenka and the government publicly or discuss matters of general public interest without fear of reprisal. Authorities videotaped political meetings, conducted frequent identity checks, and used other forms of intimidation. Authorities also prohibited wearing facemasks, displaying unregistered or opposition flags and symbols, and displaying placards bearing messages deemed threatening to the government or public order.

On January 29, a Minsk district court fined three men, Maksim Pekarski, Viachaslau Kasinerau, and Vadzim Zheromski, in the so-called graffiti case; the fines ranged from 630 rubles ($300) to 1,050 rubles ($500) on the charges of property damage. While the judge dropped the criminal charges of hooliganism and vandalism, the three were convicted of painting graffiti with patriotic slogans, such as, “Belarus should be Belarusian,” that police deemed to be “promoting violence in society and disregard of universally accepted rules of conduct.” Police brutally detained the three men and their two associates, who were later released without charge, in August 2015, and Kasinerau told the press in September 2015 that during his detention, police bundled him into a bus, and an officer hit him in the face, fracturing his jaw. When they arrived at the police precinct, investigators pressured him to plead guilty and showed him records of his private phone conversations with his spouse, which were reportedly wiretapped months before the arrest. Although authorities opened an investigation into his reported beating, there were no developments during the year in bringing any charges related to police brutality.

The law also limits free speech by criminalizing actions such as giving information to a foreigner about the political, economic, social, military, or international situation of the country that authorities deem false or derogatory.

Press and Media Freedoms: Government restrictions limited access to information and often resulted in media self-censorship. State-controlled media did not provide balanced coverage and overwhelmingly presented the official version of events. Appearances by opposition politicians on state media were limited, primarily to those required by law during election campaigns. Authorities warned, fined, detained, and interrogated members of media.

Under the law, the government may close a publication, printed or online, after two warnings in one year for violating a range of restrictions on the press. Additionally, regulations give authorities arbitrary power to prohibit or censor reporting. The Information Ministry can suspend periodicals or newspapers for three months without a court ruling. The law also prohibits the media from disseminating information on behalf of unregistered political parties, trade unions, and NGOs.

On March 2, the Information Ministry announced that it issued warnings to two independent, internet publications: the online newspaper Yezhednevnik and the online version of the print newspaper Nasha Niva. The former purportedly violated the media law by using images of World War II German military equipment in an article about the armed forces’ readiness checks, which, according to the ministry “discredited the army.” Nasha Niva was warned for violating the law by publishing an article about the demographic situation in the country, which reportedly did not comply with figures released by the National Statistics Committee, and discredited the “successful” demographic policies of the government. The independent Belarusian Association of Journalists condemned the warnings as far-fetched penalties, violations of media freedom, and an unacceptable measure to censor publications.

Limited information was available in the state-run press about the September parliamentary election, including about independent candidates. Although authorities did not generally censor the publication of candidates’ programs in print media, some opposition candidates complained that local television channels refused to televise their addresses. For example, in Hrodna Mikalai Ulasevich, a United Civic Party member and antinuclear activist, accused authorities of not broadcasting his speech, which included criticism of the country’s nuclear power plant project and discussion of corruption and lack of local governance. In another case, Siarhei Kalyakin, leader of the Just World Belarusian Party of the Left, complained to the regional election commission that the text of his biography was edited without his authorization on the official poster listing the biographies of all candidates in the Orsha district. The printed text of Kalyakin’s biography was missing a sentence referring to Kalyakin’s efforts as an MP to impeach President Lukashenka in 1996. State media otherwise provided only limited coverage of the campaign, focusing largely on the activities of the president and other state officials as well as political statements of the Central Election Commission chairperson.

On February 7, Information Minister Liliya Ananich warned media about criticizing the government and against publicizing inaccurate information, in particular taking remarks or statements out of a broader context, and fomenting negative sentiments, which she described as “destructive.” She committed to continue tight monitoring of the internet and printed media, so “they serve [the cause of] consolidation of society.” Ananich stated that any media violating the country’s laws would receive official warnings and subsequently be blocked.

The Information Ministry continued to deny registration to independent media outlets. In spite of the lack of registration, independent media, including newspapers, magazines, and internet news websites, sought to provide coverage of events. They operated, however, under repressive media laws, and most faced discriminatory publishing and distribution policies, including limiting access to government officials and press briefings, controlling the size of press runs of papers, and raising the cost of printing.

State-owned media dominated the information field and maintained the highest circulation through generous subsidies and preferences. There was no countrywide private television. The state-owned postal system, Belposhta, and the state-owned kiosk system, Belsayuzdruk, continued to refuse to deliver or sell numerous independent newspapers that covered politics. For example, on September 14, Aksana Kolb, an editor of the Novy Chas independent weekly newspaper, told the press that Belposhta and Belsayuzdruk had refused to distribute the newspaper through their subscription and retail chains, respectively. Novy Chas is a Belarusian-language weekly that publishes materials about national culture, history, identity, and information related to reinforcing the country’s sovereignty. The exclusion of the independent printed press from the state distribution system and the requirement that private stores secure registration to sell printed media effectively limited the ability of the independent press to distribute their publications.

Although authorities continued to allow the circulation of Narodnaya Volya and Nasha Niva, two independent national newspapers, through state distribution systems, they remained subject to restrictions on the number of copies allowed to circulate.

Several independent newspapers, including Vitsyebski KuryerSalidarnascBDG, and Bobruysky Kuryer, disseminated internet-only versions due to printing and distribution restrictions.

International media continued to operate in the country but not without interference and prior censorship. Euronews and the Russian channels First Channel, NTV, and RTR were generally available, although only through paid cable services in many parts of the country and then with a lag time that allowed the removal of news deemed undesirable by authorities. At times authorities blocked, censored, or replaced their international news programs with local programming.

Violence and Harassment: Authorities continued to harass and detain local and foreign journalists routinely.

Security forces continually hampered efforts of independent journalists to cover demonstrations and protests in Minsk and across the country. The independent Belarusian Association of Journalists reported that, as of November 11, police detained at least six journalists while performing their professional duties.

The government routinely denied accreditation to journalists who work with foreign media. As of November 1, at least two journalists had been fined in 10 cases for not having government accreditation or cooperating with a foreign media outlet.

Agnieszka Romaszewska-Guzy, director of the Warsaw-based Belarusian-language channel Belsat, told media on June 1 that the Ministry of Foreign Affairs did not respond to its application to accredit 10 local journalists. The ministry was supposed to respond to the accreditation application by May 21. She pledged that the unregistered Minsk-based office and journalists across the country would continue their operations and would “not adjust our reporting to meet the Belarusian authorities’ wishes because we represent free journalism.”

Independent journalist and military expert Aliaksandr Alesin was detained in November 2014 and faced charges of cooperating with foreign intelligence sources, which carry a maximum penalty of two years’ imprisonment. He was released in December 2014, although he was banned from leaving the country. On January 20, he told the press that authorities suspended the criminal charges brought against him for allegedly “establishing cooperation on a confidential basis with a foreign security or intelligence service.”

Censorship or Content Restrictions: The government exerted pressure on the vast majority of independent publications to exercise self-censorship, warning them not to report on certain topics or criticize the government. The government tightly and directly controlled the content of state broadcast and print media. Local independent television stations operated in some areas and reported local news, although most were under government pressure to forgo reporting on national and sensitive issues or risk censorship.

Authorities allowed only state-run radio and television networks to broadcast nationwide. The government used this national monopoly to disseminate its version of events and minimize alternative or opposing viewpoints. Authorities banned state media from citing works and broadcasting music by independent local and well-known foreign musicians, artists, writers, and painters who were named on an alleged, unofficial nationwide blacklist for speaking in support of political prisoners and opposition or democratic activists.

Authorities warned businesses not to advertise in newspapers that criticized the government. As a result, independent media outlets operated under severe budgetary constraints.

Journalists reporting for international media that gave extensive coverage to the country, such as the Warsaw-based independent satellite channel Belsat TV and Radio Racyja, were denied press accreditation and received warnings from the Prosecutor’s Office and heavy fines.

Libel/Slander Laws: Libel is a criminal offense. There are large fines and prison sentences of up to four years for defaming or insulting the president. Penalties for defamation of character make no distinction between private and public persons. A public figure who is criticized for poor performance while in office may sue both the journalist and the media outlet that disseminated the critical report.

On September 23, a Minsk city court declined an appeal in the case of Aliaksandr Lapitski, who was convicted on April 12 of “committing socially dangerous acts” and violating Article 368 (“insulting the President of the Republic of Belarus”), Article 369 (“insulting the authorities”), Article 391 (“insulting a judge or a lay judge”) of the Criminal Code of Belarus. The charges against Lapitski stem from e-mails and blog posts he wrote that, according to the authorities, insulted the president. Authorities alleged that Lapitski suffered from mental illness and sentenced him to a period of compulsory psychiatric treatment. Human rights group Vyasna called on authorities to end prosecution for defamation offenses and claimed that Lapitski’s involuntary hospitalization infringed on his personal freedom.

National Security: Authorities frequently cited national security as grounds for censorship of media.

INTERNET FREEDOM

The government interfered with internet freedom by reportedly monitoring e-mail and internet chat rooms. While individuals, groups, and publications were generally able to engage in the peaceful expression of views via the internet, including by e-mail, all who did so risked possible legal and personal repercussions, and at times were believed to practice self-censorship. Opposition activists’ e-mails and other web-based communications were likely to be monitored.

In January 2015 authorities introduced media law amendments making news websites and any internet information sources subject to the same regulations as print media. Under the amended law, online news providers must remove content and publish corrections if ordered to do so by the authorities and must adhere to a prohibition against “extremist” information. Amendments also restricted access to websites whose content includes promotion of violence, wars, “extremist activities”; materials related to illicit weapons, explosives, and drugs; trafficking in persons; pornography; and information that can harm the national interests of the country. Authorities may block access to sites that fail to obey government orders, including because of a single violation of distributing prohibited information, without a prosecutor or court’s mandate. In addition, owners of internet sites may be held liable for users’ comments that carry any prohibited information, and these sites may be blocked. The amended law also mandates the creation of a database of news websites. If a news website receives two or more formal warnings from the authorities, it may be removed from the database and lose its right to distribute information. Amendments also prohibit foreign states and foreign individuals from holding more than a 20 percent stake in local media companies.

While the list of blocked internet resources remained unavailable to the public, from January 2015 to March 2016 the Ministry of Information reportedly blocked access to 46 internet sites for drug trafficking, for distributing extremist materials, for illicit promotion of medications, for child pornography or for other content violations. Independent online media outlets were not generally blocked during the year, however, the election monitoring mission of the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe’s Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights (OSCE/ODIHR) stated in a postelection press conference that its observers monitoring online news noted at least four online news sources, including popular news portal tut.by, had unexplained outages on election day, September 11.

The authorities reportedly monitored internet traffic. By law the telecommunications monopoly, Beltelekam, and other organizations authorized by the government have the exclusive right to maintain internet domains.

A presidential edict requires registration of service providers and internet websites, and requires the collection of information on users at internet cafes. It requires service providers to store data on individuals’ internet use for a year and provide that information to law enforcement agencies upon request. Violations of the edict are punishable by prison sentences.

State companies and organizations, which included the workplaces of up to 70 percent of the country’s workers, reportedly had internet filters.

In response to the government’s interference and internet restrictions, many opposition groups and independent newspapers switched to internet domains operating outside the country. Observers said the few remaining independent media sites with domestic “.BY” (Belarus) domain suffixes practiced self-censorship at times.

On several occasions, cyberattacks of unknown origin temporarily disabled independent news portals and social networking sites.

According to various media sources, the number of internet users reached more than seven million persons, of which approximately 90 percent used the internet daily or numerous times a month. Internet penetration was approximately 83 percent among users 15 to 50 years of age.

ACADEMIC FREEDOM AND CULTURAL EVENTS

The government restricted academic freedom and cultural events.

Educational institutions were required to teach an official state ideology that combined reverence for the achievements of the former Soviet Union and of Belarus under the leadership of Lukashenka. Government-mandated textbooks contained a heavily propagandized version of history and other subjects. Authorities obligated all schools, including private institutions, to follow state directives to inculcate the official ideology and prohibited schools from being led by opposition members. The education minister has the right to appoint and dismiss the heads of private educational institutions.

Use of the word “academic” was restricted, and NGOs were prohibited from including the word “academy” in their titles. Opportunities to receive a higher education in the Belarusian language (vice Russian) in the majority of fields of study were scarce. The administrations of higher educational institutions made no effort to accommodate students wishing to study in Belarusian-language classes.

The Belarusian Republican Youth Union (BRYU), an official organization modeled on the Soviet-era KOMSOMOL, urged university students to join the BRYU to receive benefits and dormitory rooms. Local authorities also pressured BRYU members to campaign on behalf of government parliamentary candidates and to vote early. Students from various universities and colleges reported to an independent election-monitoring group that their faculties were pressuring students into early voting by threatening them with eviction from their dormitories. Additionally, authorities at times reportedly pressured students to act as informants for the country’s security services.

According to an Education Ministry directive, educational institutions may expel students who engage in anti-government or unsanctioned political activity and must ensure the proper ideological education of students. School officials, however, cited poor academic performance or absence from classes as the official reason for expulsions. On January 20, Hleb Vaykul, a second-year student of the philology department, received final orders of his expulsion from the Belarusian State University. Earlier in January Vaykul announced he had been expelled, at which time the university stated the expulsion orders had not been signed. The student called his expulsion politically motivated as he was one of the organizers of a December 2015 student protest against the university’s decision to impose fees to retake exams. Authorities fined Vaykul 324 rubles ($175) for organizing through the “Students Against” community on the social networking website VKontakte and participating in the unsanctioned demonstration. The university administration stated Vaykul was expelled for failing to pass an examination on the psychology of literary works three times and not attending classes for the course during the fall semester.

The government continued to discourage and prevent teachers and activists from advancing the wider use of the Belarusian language and the preservation of Belarusian culture. A number of universities across the country continued not to enroll students in their undergraduate Belarusian linguistic programs for teachers of the Belarusian language and literature, citing low demand and a low number of applications in recent years.

The government also restricted cultural events, selectively approving performances of what they deemed opposition music groups at small concert halls. Approvals required groups to go through cumbersome and time-consuming procedures to receive permissions. The procedures continued to force some opposition theater and music groups out of public venues and into bars and private apartments by banning their performances.

Organizers of Theater Ch, an independent theater troupe, announced on January 20 that their two scheduled performances at the Modern Arts Center in Minsk were cancelled with short notice by the center’s administration. Opposition leaders, 2010 presidential candidates, and former political prisoners Uladzimir Nyaklyaeu and Mikalai Statkevich attended the premier of their play What to do with the Tiger? and took pictures with the cast after the performance. The administration of the Modern Arts Center claimed they cancelled the performances after only four tickets were sold, while Theater Ch’s managers reported that the two shows in January were sold out. The Polish Institute in Minsk sponsored the production of the play.

The government also restricted the activities of a nonofficial writers union, the independent Union of Belarusian Writers, and extensively supported the progovernment Union of Writers of Belarus. Authorities harassed distributors of books authored by critical and independent writers or written in the Belarusian language. Although sold at bookstores and online across the country, authorities did not allow printing houses and publishers to print copies of books by Sviatlana Aleksievich, winner of the Nobel prize for literature.

b. Freedom of Peaceful Assembly and Association

FREEDOM OF ASSEMBLY

The constitution provides for freedom of peaceful assembly; however, the government severely restricted this right. Authorities employed a variety of means to discourage demonstrations, disperse them, minimize their effect, and punish the participants.

Only registered political parties, trade unions, and NGOs could request permission to hold a demonstration of more than 1,000 persons. Authorities usually denied requests by independent and opposition groups. A general atmosphere of repression and the threat of imprisonment or large fines exercised a chilling effect on potential protest organizers. This appeared to have resulted in fewer and smaller demonstrations.

The law criminalizes the announcement of demonstrations via the internet or social media before official approval, the participation in the activities of unregistered NGOs, the training of persons to demonstrate, the financing of public demonstrations, or the solicitation of foreign assistance “to the detriment” of the country. Violations are punishable by up to three years in prison.

Organizers must apply at least 15 days in advance for permission to conduct a public demonstration, rally, or meeting, and government officials are required to respond no later than five days prior to the scheduled event. Authorities, however, generally granted permits only for opposition demonstrations if held far from city centers. Authorities used intimidation and threats to discourage persons from participating in demonstrations, openly videotaped participants, and imposed heavy fines or jail sentences on participants in unsanctioned demonstrations. In addition, authorities required organizers to conclude contracts with police, fire department, health, and sanitary authorities for their services during and after a mass event. In some localities, local officials told permit applicants that they must first secure these contracts before a permit could be issued. When the applicants asked the police, fire department, health, and sanitary authorities to sign contracts, however, they were told they first must have an approved permit. Any individual found guilty of violating the law on mass events may not apply for another permit for a year following the conviction. From January through March, local authorities across the country rejected a number of applications for permission for market vendors to stage small demonstrations to protest new regulations that ban vendors from selling clothing and footwear without documents certifying their compliance with the Customs Union’s safety requirements.

Opposition activists held dozens of unsanctioned rallies during the year and faced administrative charges and fines for allegedly violating the Law on Mass Events. Those who refused to pay fines, calling them politically motivated, potentially faced property confiscation and travel bans. Authorities regularly fined the same activists for their continuous political activity during the year. For example, on March 24, a Minsk district court fined approximately 11 opposition leaders and activists for participating in an unsanctioned February 28 demonstration in Minsk. Mikalai Statkevich, 2010 presidential candidate and former political prisoner, European Belarus campaign activist Maksim Vinyarski, and independent filmmaker Volha Mikalaichyk were tried in absentia and fined 105 rubles ($520) each. The court imposed similar fines on United Civic Party leader Anatol Lyabedzka and member Mikalai Kazlou, Belarusian Christian Democracy co-chair Vital Rymasheuski, market vendor Ales Makayeu, and European Belarus campaign activist Leanid Kulakou. Mikalai Autukhovich, a businessman from Vaukavysk and former political prisoner, and opposition activist Mikalai Kolas were fined 420 rubles ($210) each.

Authorities took various measures to limit how prodemocracy activists celebrated Freedom Day, the March 25 anniversary of the country’s 1918 declaration of independence (an event the government does not recognize), although Minsk city authorities authorized a demonstration. In the permit issued by Minsk authorities, the route requested by activists from central Minsk was changed to a remote park. While approximately 2,000 opposition and civil society activists participated in the sanctioned rally, approximately 600 defied the permit by marching to the central part of Minsk, laying flowers at the Yanka Kupala monument, and holding a demonstration with political speeches at the monument. For their activities during the unsanctioned-route march, authorities fined a number of activists. opposition leaders Paval Sevyarynets, Uladzimir Nyaklyaeu, Mikalai Statkevich, Anatol Lyabedzka, and several activists, including Leanid Kulakou, Maksim Vinyarski, Zmitser Dashkevich, and others received fines for their activities on March 25.

In spite of providing a permit to the opposition to demonstrate, authorities also fined a number of opposition leaders and activists for participating in the sanctioned rally and speaking at the assembly point of the March 25 sanctioned demonstration. Police alleged that activists, who addressed the crowd at the gathering point, violated the permit, which allowed participants to gather but not demonstrate at the assembly point and speak only at the venue of the actual demonstration at a remote park. For example, Ryhor Kastuseu, a Belarusian Popular Front deputy chair, told the press that he received a notice that on May 5 a district court fined him in absentia 630 rubles ($320) also for violating the Law on Mass Events, when he spoke at the assembly point of the March 25 Freedom Day sanctioned demonstration. Though Kastuseu was only at locations sanctioned by the city authorities, police claimed that since he spoke at the gathering point, it violated the permit.

On May 16, a court in Maladzechna convicted activist Paval Siarhei for holding an unsanctioned rally in front of the local government building on May 12 and sentenced him to seven days in jail. He was detained on May 14 and was kept in holding facilities pending trial. Siarhei and other activists protested the continuing construction of two large hog farms near the city on May 12.

FREEDOM OF ASSOCIATION

The law provides for freedom of association, but the government restricted it and selectively enforced laws and registration regulations to restrict the operation of independent associations that might criticize the government. Particularly since 2010, authorities have sought to close any legal loopholes they considered beneficial to NGOs.

All NGOs, political parties, and trade unions must receive Ministry of Justice approval to become registered. A government commission reviews and approves all registration applications; it based its decisions largely on political and ideological compatibility with official views and practices.

Actual registration procedures required applicants to provide the number and names of founders, along with a physical address in a nonresidential building for an office, an extraordinary burden in view of the tight financial straits of most NGOs, and individual property owners’ fears of renting space to independent groups. Individuals listed as members were vulnerable to reprisal. The government’s refusal to rent office space to unregistered organizations and the expense of renting private space reportedly forced most organizations to use residential addresses, which authorities could use as a reason to deny registration or to deregister. The law criminalizes activities conducted on behalf of unregistered groups and subjects group members to penalties ranging from large fines to two years in prison (also see section 7.a.).

Following the 2010 repression, authorities sought to close any legal loopholes they considered beneficial to NGOs. For example, the law on public associations prohibits NGOs from keeping funds for local activities at foreign financial institutions. The law also prohibits NGOs from facilitating provision of any support or benefits from foreign states to civil servants based on their political or religious views or ethnicity, a provision widely believed to be aimed at the Polish minority.

Only registered NGOs can legally accept foreign grants and technical aid and only for a limited set of approved activities. NGOs must receive approval from the Department for Humanitarian Affairs of the Presidential Administration and the Ministry of the Economy for technical aid before they can accept such funds or register the grants.

The government continued to deny registration to NGOs and political parties, which President Lukashenka frequently labeled as “the fifth column,” on a variety of pretexts, including “technical” problems with applications. Authorities frequently harassed and intimidated individuals who identified themselves as founding members of organizations in an effort to induce them to abandon their membership and thus deprive groups of the number of petitioners necessary for registration. Many of the rejected groups previously had been denied registration on multiple occasions.

On January 5, authorities in Hrodna refused to register an NGO called Mothers’ Movement 328, consisting of a group of mothers and wives who seek to defend the rights of their children and spouses, who were convicted under Article 328 of the Criminal Code for illegal drug trafficking and who, according to their families, received incommensurately long prison sentences. Larysa Zhygar, the leader of the NGO, said that authorities noted questions about the name of the group and its stated goals, which included charitable activities and assisting former prisoners and drug addicts, in their decision to reject the NGO’s application for registration.

The Supreme Court upheld the Justice Ministry’s decisions to deny registration to the Christian Democratic Movement, a nascent NGO affiliated with the unregistered Belarusian Christian Democracy party, and the Campaign for Fair Elections. On March 10, the Court denied an appeal filed by the campaign on the grounds that a letter of guarantee from an individual providing the organization with an office had not been notarized and that the banker’s order contained abbreviations. This was the campaign’s fourth registration denial. Separately, on March 14, the court also turned down an appeal from the Christian Movement to challenge the Justice Ministry’s denial, citing the lack of an office number in the organization’s legal address, among other grounds as a reason for the denial.

On April 18, the Supreme Court dismissed an appeal from the Belarusian Christian Democracy Party to challenge the Justice Ministry’s March 3 decision not to register the party, citing “gross violations” of procedures to establish a party. According to the ministry’s press release, a number of individuals, who were stated as founders of the party on the registration application, denied any connection to the party and claimed they did not participate in the party’s founding convention after they were reportedly pressured to withdraw and threatened to be dismissed from jobs or expelled from universities. Additionally, “certain individuals on the founders’ list were duplicated, and some of the personal information listed for founders was not valid,” the ministry explained. The ministry also claimed that some of the founders the party listed on its application were not citizens of Belarus This was the sixth time that the party has been denied registration.

On July 31, a show on the main state television channel, Belarus1, claimed that the Vilnius-registered Independent Institute for Social, Economic, and Political Studies (IISEPS) did not actually conduct polls in the country, but rather it put together falsified data. IISEPS announced on August 9 that it would suspend all polling in the country due to “authorities destroying the polling network.”

c. Freedom of Religion

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 movement, including the right to emigrate, but the government at times restricted the right of citizens, former political prisoners in particular to foreign travel. The government cooperated with the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) and other humanitarian organizations to provide protection and assistance to internally displaced persons, refugees, returning refugees, asylum seekers, stateless persons, and other persons of concern.

In-country Movement: Passports serve as a form of identity and authorities required them for permanent housing, work, and hotel registration. Police continued to harass selectively individuals who lived at a location other than their legal place of residence indicated in mandatory stamps in their passports.

The law also requires persons who travel to areas within 15 miles of the border (aside from authorized crossing points) to obtain an entrance pass.

Foreign Travel: The government’s database of persons banned from traveling abroad contained the names of individuals who possessed state secrets, faced criminal prosecution or civil suits, or had outstanding financial obligations. Authorities informed some persons by letter that their names were in the database; others learned only at border crossings. The Internal Affairs Ministry and security agencies, border and customs services, and financial investigation departments have a right to place persons on “preventive” surveillance lists.

Students required permission from the head of their educational institution to study abroad. Ostensibly intended to counter trafficking in persons, the Ministry of Internal Affairs is also required to track citizens working abroad, and employment agencies must report individuals who do not return from abroad as scheduled.

Exile: The law does not allow forced exile, but sources asserted that security forces continued to threaten some opposition members with bodily harm or prosecution if they did not leave the country, and many were in self-imposed exile.

Many university students who had been expelled or believed themselves to be under the threat of expulsion for their political activities opted for self-imposed exile and continued their studies abroad.

PROTECTION OF REFUGEES

Access to Asylum: The law provides for granting asylum or refugee status, complementary and temporary protection to foreign citizens and stateless persons. The government has established a procedure for determining refugee status and a system for providing protection to refugees. Additionally, the law provides for protection against refoulement, which is granted to foreigners who are denied refugee status or temporary protection, but cannot be returned to their countries of origin.

All foreigners except Russians have the right to apply for asylum. Under the terms of the Union Treaty with Russia, Russians can legally settle and obtain residence permits in the country based on their Russian citizenship and therefore do not need asylum. Overall, as of October 1, immigration authorities accepted 596 applications for asylum compared with more than 1,000 in 2015, including from 443 Ukrainians, 13 Syrians, 22 Afghans, and 20 Tajiks.

In addition to refugee status, the country’s asylum law provides for complementary protection and protection against refoulement (in the form of temporary residence for a one-year term). In the period January-September, 428 foreigners were granted complementary protection (395 Ukrainians, seven Syrians, one Libyan, 18 Yemenis, six Iraqi, and one Kyrgyz).

Freedom of Movement: Asylum seekers have freedom of movement within the country but must reside in the region where they filed their applications for refugee status and in a place known to authorities while their applications are being considered, including during appeals. Authorities reportedly often encouraged asylum seekers to settle in rural areas; however, the majority settled in cities and towns. Change of residence was possible with a notification to authorities. Authorities issue registered asylum seekers certificates that serve as documents to confirm their status of asylum-seekers and identity and protect them from expulsion. In accordance with the law, they also must register with local authorities at their place of residence.

Temporary Protection: Although the government may provide temporary protection (for up to one year) to individuals who may not qualify as refugees, it did not do so during the year.

STATELESS PERSONS

As of January 1, the Ministry of the Interior and UNHCR listed 5,635 stateless persons in the country; all had permanent residence according to authorities.

Permanently resident stateless persons held residence permits and were treated comparably to citizens in terms of access to employment, with the exception of a limited number of positions in the public sector and law enforcement that were available only to citizens. There were reports that stateless persons occasionally faced discrimination in employment, since authorities often encouraged them to settle in rural areas where the range of employment opportunities was limited. According to UNHCR, stateless persons could freely change their region of residence.

There is a path towards nationality or citizenship for this stateless population. The main requirement is at least seven years’ permanent residence. Authorities have a procedure for expedited naturalization procedures but mostly for individuals born or permanently residing in the country prior to the collapse of the Soviet Union, ethnic Belarusians, their spouses, and descendants. If a child is born into a family of stateless persons permanently residing in the country, the child is entitled to Belarusian citizenship. The decrease of the number of stateless individuals in the country was attributed to their naturalization.

Section 3. Freedom to Participate in the Political Process

The law provides citizens the ability to choose their government in free and fair periodic elections based on universal and equal suffrage, but the government consistently denied citizens this ability by not conducting elections according to international standards.

Since his election in 1994 to a four-year term as the country’s first president, Lukashenka steadily consolidated power in the executive branch to dominate all branches of government, effectively ending any separation of powers among the branches. Flawed referenda in 1996 and 2004 amended the constitution to broaden his powers, extend his term in office, and remove presidential term limits. Subsequent elections, including the presidential elections held in 2015 and parliamentary elections held in September, continued to deny citizens the right to express their will in an honest and transparent process including fair access to media and to resources.

Elections and Political Participation

Recent Elections: The September 11, 2016 parliamentary elections failed to meet international standards. However, for the first time in 12 years, alternative voices were seated in parliament. The elections were marred by a number of long-standing systemic shortcomings, according to the OSCE/ODIHR, the OSCE Parliamentary Assembly, and the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe international election observation mission intermediate report. While the observer missions and the international community welcomed visible efforts by authorities to make some procedural improvements, a number of key long-standing recommendations by the OSCE/ODIHR and Council of Europe Venice Commission remained unaddressed, underscoring the need for comprehensive electoral reform as part of the broader democratization process.

The OSCE report found that the legal framework restricts political rights and fundamental freedoms and was interpreted in an overly restrictive manner. While there was an overall increase in the number of candidates, including from the opposition, media coverage did not enable voters to make an informed choice and the campaign lacked visibility. As in past years, only a negligible number of election commission members were appointed from opposition nominees, which undermined confidence in their independence. The early voting, counting, and tabulation procedures continued to be marred by a significant number of procedural irregularities and a lack of transparency.

Out of the 630 nominated candidates, 484 eventually stood for election, including a significant number from the opposition. No candidate was elected unopposed Despite an overall increase in the number of candidates, the legal provisions for candidate registration allowed for selective implementation. Ninety-three prospective candidates were not permitted to register, mostly due to inaccuracies in asset and income declarations, an insufficient number of valid signatures in support of their candidacy, or the failure to submit supporting documentation. This approach was overly restrictive, posing disproportionate and unreasonable barriers to candidacy, the OSCE report read.

According to the OSCE report, restrictions on fundamental freedoms of association, expression, and assembly narrowed the public space and negatively affected the environment in which the elections were held. Although a high number of candidates chose not to campaign actively, contributing to broad voter apathy, most were generally able to campaign freely within the restrictive confines of the law. Unequal access to institutions and resources skewed the playing field for candidates, the OSCE assessed. Several candidates stated that the abolishment of government campaign financing in 2013 reduced their outreach capacities, which limited the choice available to voters and their ability to make an informed decision.

The majority of observers at local polling places appeared to be from government-sponsored NGOs. Many of them reportedly received instructions in advance to report to foreign observers that the proceedings were “in order” or to harass independent observers. These government-sponsored groups did not release any reports on their observation efforts or recommendations on how to improve the process.

The OSCE observation mission reported that during the five-day early voting period, “in 8 percent of the cases the ballot box was not sealed securely and in 45 percent it was not secured in a safe or metal box.” Contrary to the law, 16 percent of the observed precinct electoral commissions recorded the aggregated rather than the daily turnout figure in the daily protocols, in 17 percent the daily protocols were not posted publicly, and in some 7 percent of precinct electoral commissions observers were not allowed to make photos of them. At the close of early voting, authorities announced a turnout of 31 percent. The report read that turnout was significantly higher in precinct commissions assigned to voters in state enterprises and public institutions, including student dormitories, where there were credible allegations and observation of voters being coerced to vote. They also noted complaints made by independent domestic observers in a number of polling stations alleging discrepancies between reported turnout and the number of signatures in the voter lists, and inconsistent completion of daily protocols.

According to the OSCE observation mission report, observers assessed the counting process negatively in 24 percent of polling stations observed despite authorities’ resolution to enhance observer access to the count. In 27 percent of precinct election commissions, observers were not allowed close to the counting table and to observe without restrictions, and in 8 percent they were not allowed to make photographs of protocols. In many instances international observers reported that the count was hasty and lacked transparency, and in one-quarter of cases observers could not follow the procedures and see voters’ marks on the ballots. In approximately 20 percent of polling stations observed, the final result protocols were presigned, the validity of ballots was not determined in a consistent and reasonable manner, and spoiled ballots were not packed up and sealed. The tabulation process was observed in all 110 district electoral commissions and assessed negatively in about one-quarter of observations. In 12 percent of precincts there was a delay in transporting precinct protocols to district commissions. In 16 percent of precincts the data from precinct protocols were not entered in electronic summarized tables, and in 60 percent the data were not entered in ink. In one-half of the district electoral commissions, observers were not close enough to see data being entered and in one-third of cases were not able to observe the entire process. The government did not permit independent organizations to conduct exit polls.

Local human rights groups Vyasna and the Belarusian Helsinki Committee stated at a postelection press conference that based on their observation, the election fell short of international standards and did not fully abide by the country’s legislation. They especially noted their concern with early voting procedures, the lack of transparency in the vote-count process, and the domination of election commissions by progovernment organizations.

Amendments in 2013 to the electoral code introduced a simple majority system in the first round of elections for the National Assembly and ended government funding of campaigns while increasing the allowable amount of private funding. Some members of the democratic opposition alleged that the amendments disproportionately targeted the opposition, which had little access to private funds given President Lukashenka’s public statements that businesses should not finance the opposition or they would face punishment. Additionally, the amendments prohibit citizens from campaigning to disrupt elections and referenda or to have them cancelled, postponed, or boycotted. Other changes included regulations on who can appeal for a vote recount and what type of questions can be put to public referendum.

Political Parties and Political Participation: Authorities routinely harassed and impeded the activities of opposition political parties and activists. Some opposition parties lacked legal status because authorities refused to register them, and the government routinely interfered with the right to organize, run for election, seek votes, and publicize views. The government allowed approximately half a dozen largely inactive, but officially registered pro-Lukashenka political parties to operate freely.

On May 6, a Minsk district court fined United Civic Party Chair Anatol Lyabedzka 1,050 rubles ($525) and party members Volha Mayorava and Dzianis Krasochka 630 rubles ($315) each for violating the Law on Mass Events. Police charged the three with holding a picket while illegally distributing printed materials that allegedly contained information against the government, at the entrance of the Minsk Automobile Factory on April 14. Lyabedzka noted during the trial that under the Law on Political Parties registered parties are “from the moment of registration entitled to freely spread the information on their activities, advocate their ideas, aims and decisions.”

The law allows authorities to suspend parties for six months after one warning and close them after two. During the year political parties did not receive any formal warnings, but members of parties that authorities refused to register, such as the Belarus Christian Democracy Party, continued to be subjected to harassment and arbitrary checks. The law also prohibits political parties from receiving support from abroad and requires all political groups and coalitions to register with the Ministry of Justice.

Authorities continued to limit activities of the unrecognized Union of Poles of Belarus and harass its members.

Participation of Women and Minorities: No laws prevent women or minorities from voting or participating in political life on the same basis as men or nonminority citizens. In 2015 Tatsiana Karatkevich was the first woman to run for president, and on election day President Lukashenka told the press, “our president has numerous functions, from security to the economy. A person in a skirt is unlikely to be able to cope with them now.” He added that even if this were not the case, society was not ready for a female president.

Belgium

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

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

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

On March 22, terrorists conducted three coordinated suicide bombing attacks in the country: two at the Brussels airport in Zaventem and one at the Maalbeek metro station in central Brussels. The bombings killed 32 civilians and three perpetrators and injured more than 300 persons. Authorities found another bomb during a search of the airport.

b. Disappearance

There were no reports of politically motivated disappearances.

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

The law prohibits such practices, and there were no reports that government officials employed them.

Prison and Detention Center Conditions

Prison and detention center conditions met most international standards, although conditions in a number of prisons deteriorated sharply during a strike by prison guards in May.

Physical Conditions: Prison overcrowding remained a problem, despite a steady decrease in the number of inmates, the establishment of new prisons during the year, and the increased use of electronic home monitoring. According to Council of Europe (COE) annual penal statistics, as of January 1, the country’s prisons held 12,799 prisoners, including pretrial detainees, while the total capacity of penal institutions was 9,962. As of January 2015, COE statistics indicated there were 13,299 prisoners, including pretrial detainees, in the country’s prisons, while the total capacity of penal institutions was 10,135.

According to the media, conditions in a number of prisons deteriorated sharply during a strike by prison guards that began on April 26. On May 19, the COE’s commissioner for human rights, Nils Muiznieks, released a statement that he was “extremely concerned” about the situation in a number of the country’s prisons “where detainees’ living conditions have rapidly deteriorated following a strike carried out by prison guards during the last weeks.” Muiznieks noted that, in the most serious cases, “detainees have not been allowed to leave their cells for weeks, have not had access to lawyers or family visits, and have been unable to access medication and use health services.” He stated also that sanitary conditions in many cells raised serious concerns due to a lack of regular prisoner access to basic facilities like showers and bathrooms. On May 7 to 9, a delegation from the COE’s Committee for the Prevention of Torture (CPT) visited prisons where a large number of staff were absent due to the strike and presented its preliminary observations to the government. The report has not been released to the public.

In 2015 a total of 44 inmates died in prisons, including 16 suicides.

While heating, ventilation, lighting, and sanitary facilities generally were adequate, some older facilities experienced maintenance problems that contributed to poor detention conditions. Medical care was generally adequate, although lengthy wait times to see medical practitioners were sometimes reported. A report from an umbrella organization of nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) active in prisons, however, highlighted the poor level of health, training, and cultural services available to prisoners in francophone prisons, a situation that reportedly jeopardized rehabilitation of prisoners.

Administration: Authorities investigated credible allegations of inhumane conditions and documented these results in a publicly accessible manner. The government investigated and monitored prison and detention center conditions. Surveillance committees tasked with overseeing conditions of imprisonment were active in all the country’s prisons.

Independent Monitoring: The federal mediator acts as an ombudsman, allowing any citizen to address problems with prison administration. The federal mediator is an independent entity appointed by the Chamber of Representatives to investigate and resolve problems between citizens and public institutions. Authorities permitted the CPT to visit prisons and detention centers.

d. Arbitrary Arrest or Detention

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

ROLE OF THE POLICE AND SECURITY APPARATUS

The federal police are responsible for internal security and nationwide law and order, including migration and border enforcement, and report to the ministers of interior and justice. Civilian authorities maintained effective control over the federal and local police and the armed forces, and the government had effective mechanisms to investigate and punish abuse and corruption.

ARREST PROCEDURES AND TREATMENT OF DETAINEES

Under the constitution an individual may be arrested only while committing a crime or by a judge’s order carried out within 24 hours. The law provides detainees the right to prompt judicial determination of the legality of their detention, and authorities generally respected this right. Authorities promptly informed detainees of charges against them and provided access to an attorney (at public expense if necessary). Alternatives to incarceration included conditional release, community service, probation, and electronic monitoring. There was a functioning bail system, and a suspect could be released by meeting other obligations or conditions as determined by the judge. Arrested or detained persons are entitled to challenge in court the legal basis of their detention.

Detainee’s Ability to Challenge Lawfulness of Detention before a Court: Detainees have the right to challenge their pretrial detention before a court. They can do so within 24 hours of the notification of detention by the judge, and the court has to rule on the challenge within 15 days. The need for detention is reassessed every three months.

e. Denial of Fair Public Trial

The constitution and law provide for an independent judiciary, and the government generally respected judicial independence.

TRIAL PROCEDURES

The constitution provides for the right to a fair public trial, and an independent judiciary generally enforced this right. Defendants are presumed innocent and have the right to be informed promptly and in detail of the charges against them; to a fair and public trial without delay; to be present at their trial; to communicate with an attorney of choice; to have adequate time and facilities to prepare defense; free interpretation as necessary from the moment charged through all appeals; to access government-held evidence; to confront witnesses against them and present witnesses and evidence; not to be compelled to testify or confess guilt; and to appeal. The law extends these rights to all citizens.

The law gives domestic courts jurisdiction over war crimes and crimes against humanity that occurred outside the country when the victim or perpetrator was a citizen or legal resident of the country.

POLITICAL PRISONERS AND DETAINEES

There were no reports of political prisoners or detainees.

CIVIL JUDICIAL PROCEDURES AND REMEDIES

Individuals and organizations could seek civil remedies for human rights violations through the courts and appeal national-level court decisions to the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR).

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

The constitution and legal code prohibit such actions, and there were no reports that the government failed to respect these prohibitions.

Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:

a. Freedom of Speech and Press

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

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

In November 2015 a Liege court sentenced French stand-up comedian Dieudonne to two months of prison and a 9,000 euro ($9,900) fine for incitement to hatred, anti-Semitic and discriminatory statements, and Holocaust denial. Dieudonne made the statements during a 2012 one-man show he held in Liege. Police attended and recorded the show. Dieudonne appealed the ruling.

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

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 estimates compiled by the International Telecommunication Union, approximately 85 percent of the population had access to the internet in 2015.

ACADEMIC FREEDOM AND CULTURAL EVENTS

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

b. Freedom of Peaceful Assembly and Association

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

c. Freedom of Religion

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

d. Freedom of Movement, Internally Displaced Persons, Protection of Refugees, and Stateless Persons

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

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

PROTECTION OF REFUGEES

Access to Asylum: The law provides for the granting of asylum or refugee status, and the government has established a system for providing protection to refugees, including specific subsidiary protection that goes beyond asylum criteria established by the 1951 Convention relating to the Treatment of Refugees and its 1967 protocol.

Safe Country of Origin/Transit: The country denied asylum to asylum seekers who arrived from a safe country of origin or transit, pursuant to the EU’s Dublin III Regulation. Following an ECHR ruling, authorities ceased transferring asylum seekers to Greece if it was the first EU country the asylum seeker entered.

Durable Solutions: The country accepted refugees through UNHCR, including persons located in Italy and Greece, under the EU Emergency Relocation Mechanism. On September 22, one year after the EU agreement to spread refugees across EU countries to support Greece and Italy, Belgium had created 230 spaces for refugees and had effectively resettled 119.

The government facilitated local integration through language and other courses, counseling assistance, and the provision of most of the welfare benefits that other legal residents receive. The country also conducted a voluntary return program for migrants in cooperation with the International Organization for Migration.

Temporary Protection: The country provides temporary protection to individuals who do not satisfy the legal criteria for refugee status but who cannot return to their country of origin due to a real risk of serious harm. Under EU guidelines, individuals granted temporary protection (“subsidiary protection”) are entitled to temporary residence permits, travel documents, access to employment, and equal access to health care and housing. In 2015 authorities granted temporary protection to 1,365 persons. For the first half of the year, authorities granted temporary protection to 1,886 persons.

STATELESS PERSONS

According to UNHCR, at the end of 2015, there were 5,776 persons in the country who fell under UNHCR’s statelessness mandate. The country does not have a specific legal framework for the protection of stateless persons, and there are no specific procedural rules to determine who is stateless. As a result, authorities applied general texts of laws, such as the judicial code or the General Law on the Foreigners, to find the basis for a statelessness determination in order that the rights of stateless persons were respected on the country’s territory. In these general regulations, a person who wants to be qualified as a “stateless” has to file an application before the Tribunal of First Instance, of which there are two.

Section 3. Freedom to Participate in the Political Process

The constitution provides citizens the ability to choose their government in free and fair periodic elections held by secret ballot and based on universal and equal suffrage. Voting in all elections is compulsory; failure to vote is punishable by a nominal fine.

Elections and Political Participation

Recent Elections: Federal elections held in 2014 were considered free and fair.

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

Belize

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

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

There was one allegation that government agents committed an arbitrary or unlawful killing. Three police officers in San Pedro Town were initially charged with murder after they allegedly beat 30-year-old Edwin Ixpatac to death in March. According to the police report, two police officers responded to reports that Ixpatac had been drinking at a bar and was acting in a disorderly manner, and they found him injured. Police did not seek medical attention for him and detained him until the following morning, when authorities realized he was unconscious in his cell. Video footage showed he was abused by three officers, and the post mortem revealed that he died from a blow to the head, which investigators claimed he received during his detention. The Belize Police Department (BPD) admitted administrative neglect on the part of the officer in command but stated police authorities would deal with it internally. In October the Director of Public Prosecution downgraded the charges against the three officers from murder to manslaughter, and the men were released on bail awaiting trial.

b. Disappearance

There were no reports of politically motivated disappearances during the year.

In August 2015 three Belize City fishermen went missing while at sea. Family members claimed members of the Belize Coast Guard were involved in the disappearance of the men. A police investigation resulted in the detention of three members of the Coast Guard. There were no reports of further developments in the case.

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

The constitution prohibits torture or other inhuman punishment. There were reports that police used excessive force, and there were other allegations of abuse by security force personnel.

The government occasionally ignored reports of police abuse, delayed action, failed to take disciplinary action, or transferred accused officers to other areas within their department.

The Ombudsman’s Office stated that it received 217 new complaints of police abuse in 2015 and that 41 percent of these were either investigated, resolved, or under investigation. Police abuse was the most common complaint, in particular against members of the Gang Suppression Unit. The Office of the Ombudsman also noted an increase in complaints against the Immigration and Nationality Department. The BPD’s Professional Standards Branch (PSB) received complaints from all parts of the country, but the majority were from Belize City.

In one example an alleged victim from the Toledo District stated that police officers beat him when he intervened while police were attacking another individual. The alleged victim said that he was left on the roadside, where he was found the following day suffering from internal injuries. Members of the victim’s family claimed that when they approached the PSB with their complaints, the officers delayed in dealing with the matter. As of October the BPD had not acted on the matter.

Prison and Detention Center Conditions

Prison conditions did not meet all international standards. The Kolbe Foundation, a local Christian nonprofit organization, administered the country’s only central prison, but the government retained oversight and monitoring responsibility.

Physical Conditions: Prison officials held women and men in separate facilities. Conditions in the women’s area were significantly better than in the men’s compound. Officials used isolation in a small, unlit, unventilated punishment cell, called a “reflection room,” to discipline inmates.

There were no reported cases of officers abusing their power. During the year, however, prison authorities investigated seven cases of inmate-on-inmate assault involving “gross violence.” Because inmates were generally not willing to press criminal charges against their attackers, the prison’s internal tribunal system handled all cases. Penalties included temporary segregation or temporary suspension of privileges, depending on the severity of the assault.

Administration: Despite the fact that the law authorizes inmates to make complaints to the Ombudsman’s Office only through prison authorities, inmates (and sometimes their family members) continued to make complaints directly to the ombudsman, who could not fully investigate complaints. The prison administrator’s chief of security initially investigates allegations of excessive use of force. If the investigation discovers incriminating evidence, the accused officer is disciplined. If there is evidence of officer corruption, the investigation is passed to the administrator’s intelligence officer, who further investigates the matter.

Independent Monitoring: The prison administrator permitted visits from independent human rights observers, and, while the prison generally operated free from government interference, the Ministry of Home Affairs monitored it on site through the Office of Controller of Prisons. Observers had access to the prison grounds and could visit inmates.

d. Arbitrary Arrest or Detention

While the constitution and law prohibit arbitrary arrest and detention, there were several allegations made through the media and to the PSB that the government failed to observe these prohibitions. In addition, due to substantial delays and a backlog of cases in the justice system, the courts in some cases did not bring minors to trial until they reached 18 years; in such cases the defendants were tried as minors.

ROLE OF THE POLICE AND SECURITY APPARATUS

In July the government divided the Ministry of National Security (which oversaw the police, prison, and military) into the Ministry of Home Affairs (police and prison) and the Ministry of Defense (military). Although primarily charged with external security, the Belize Defense Force (BDF) also provides limited domestic security support to civilian authorities and has limited powers of arrest.

There were reports of impunity involving the security forces, including reports of police brutality and corruption (extortion cases primarily). The PSB investigates complaints against police, including regular officers, civilian police, and special constables. An assistant commissioner of police, supported by seven officers, heads the PSB. The law authorizes the police commissioner to place police personnel on suspension or interdiction (a modified suspension with lesser penalties if the case is still under investigation). As of October the PSB received 64 formal complaints of alleged severe police misconduct. The PSB reported 41 officers were on interdiction or on suspension, of which 16 suspensions took place during the year. Additionally, authorities use police investigations, coroner inquests, and the Director of the Public Prosecutions Office to evaluate allegations against police.

In April members of the BDF and a group of forest rangers on patrol near the border with Guatemala were involved in a shooting incident with Guatemalan civilians in which a Guatemalan minor was shot and killed. An Organization of American States (OAS) investigation revealed that the child’s injuries came from a firearm belonging to the forest rangers and that the Guatemalans had fired on the Belizean officials.

In August, two brothers accused the Gang Suppression Unit of shooting them both in the leg while in detention following a raid by the unit on an area well known for gang activity in Belize City. An investigation into the shooting was pending.

ARREST PROCEDURES AND TREATMENT OF DETAINEES

Police must obtain search or arrest warrants issued by a magistrate, except in cases of hot pursuit, when there is probable cause, or when the presence of a firearm is suspected. Police must inform a detainee of his rights at the time of arrest and of the cause of his detention within 48 hours of arrest. Police must also bring a detainee before a magistrate to be charged officially within 48 hours. The BPD faced allegations that its members arbitrarily detained persons beyond 48 hours without charge, did not take detainees to a police station in the required manner, and used detention as a means of intimidation.

The law requires police to follow the Judges’ Rules, a code of conduct governing police interaction with arrested persons. Although judges sometimes dismissed cases that involved violations of these rules, they more commonly deemed confessions obtained through violation of the rules to be invalid. Police usually granted detainees timely access to family members and lawyers, although there were occasional complaints from detainees that authorities denied a telephone call after arrest.

By law a police officer in charge of a station may grant bail to persons charged with minor offenses, but those charged with more serious crimes–including murder, gang activity, possession of an unlicensed firearm, and specified drug trafficking or sexual offenses–must apply to the Supreme Court for bail. The Supreme Court reviews the application within 10 working days.

Pretrial Detention: Lengthy trial backlogs remained, particularly for serious crimes such as murder. As of December 14, there were 528 persons on remand at the Belize Central Prison. Approximately 182 persons were awaiting trial at the Supreme Court, predominantly on homicide charges. Problems included police delays in completing their investigations, investigative follow-up, court delays in preparing depositions, and adjournments in the courts.

Judges occasionally were slow to issue rulings, in some cases taking a year or longer. The time lag between arrests, trials, and convictions ranged from six months to four years and in some cases up to seven years. Pretrial detention for persons accused of murder averaged three to four years.

Detainee’s Ability to Challenge Lawfulness of Detention before a Court: Persons arrested or detained, regardless of whether on criminal or other grounds, are entitled to challenge in court the legal basis or arbitrary nature of their detention and obtain prompt release and compensation if found to have been unlawfully detained.

e. Denial of Fair Public Trial

The constitution provides for an independent judiciary, and the government generally respected judicial independence.

TRIAL PROCEDURES

The law provides for the right to a fair public trial, and an independent judiciary generally enforced this right, although delays in holding trials occurred. A magistrate generally issued decisions and judgments for lesser crimes after deliberating on the arguments presented by the prosecution and defense.

The law stipulates that nonjury trials are mandatory in cases involving charges of murder, attempted murder, abetment of murder, and conspiracy to commit murder. Government officials stated that this law protects jurors from retribution. A single Supreme Court judge hears these cases.

Defendants enjoy a presumption of innocence and have the right to defense by counsel and appeal. The court has the authority to exclude defendants from the courtroom if it determines that the opposing party has a substantiated fear for his/her safety, in which case the court can grant interim provisions that both parties be addressed individually.

There is no requirement for defendants to have legal representation except in cases involving murder. The Supreme Court’s registrar has the responsibility of appointing an attorney to act on behalf of indigent defendants charged with murder. In lesser cases the court does not provide defendants an attorney, and defendants sometimes represented themselves rather than hire an attorney. The Legal Advice and Services Center, staffed by three attorneys, can provide legal services and representation for a range of civil and criminal cases, including cases of domestic violence and criminal cases up to attempted murder. Defendants are entitled to adequate time and facilities to prepare a defense or request an adjournment, often used by the defense as a delaying tactic. Defendants may not be compelled to testify against themselves or confess guilt. Defendants have the right to appeal their sentences to a higher court and the right to free interpretation as necessary from the moment charged through all appeals.

The law allows defendants to confront and question witnesses against them and present witnesses on their behalf, but written statements by witnesses may be admitted into evidence in place of court appearances. Judges generally admitted a statement if it was complemented by other evidence pointing to the defendant’s guilt, but they were sometimes reluctant to admit witness statements without the presence of the witness at the trial if it was the sole or main evidence suggesting guilt. The law allows the prosecution to submit the content of previous testimony as official statements when the witness is a hostile witness. Judges remained reluctant, however, to take this step. Judges and juries were less likely to convict solely on statements. Defendants have the right to produce evidence in their defense and examine evidence held by the opposing party or the court.

The rate of acquittals and cases withdrawn by the prosecution due to insufficient evidence continued to be high, particularly for sexual offenses, murder, and gang-related cases. These actions were often due to failure of witnesses to testify because of fear for life and personal safety.

POLITICAL PRISONERS AND DETAINEES

There were no reports of political prisoners or detainees.

CIVIL JUDICIAL PROCEDURES AND REMEDIES

Persons have the right to bring legal actions for alleged violations of rights protected under the constitution regardless of whether there is also implementing legislation. The Supreme Court hears most civil suits, but the magistrate’s courts have jurisdiction over civil cases involving sums of less than 5,000 Belize dollars (BZ$) ($2,500). In addition to civil cases, the Supreme Court has jurisdiction over cases involving human rights issues. The backlog of civil cases in the Supreme Court continued to be significant; 806 cases were filed in 2015. Mediation as an alternative method to settle disputes became part of the legal system in 2013, and judges have referred 115 cases for mediation since its inception in 2013. The National Mediation Committee was tasked with extending mediation to the magistrate’s and family courts.

Litigants may appeal cases to the Caribbean Court of Justice, the country’s highest appellate court.

PROPERTY RESTITUTION

During the year the government settled compensation claims with two foreign-owned major utility companies that it nationalized: Belize Telecommunication Limited (BTL) in 2009 and Belize Electricity Limited in 2011. In September the judiciary ruled on the final payment the government owed to the previous owner of BTL; only half of the payment was made as of the end of October.

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

The constitution prohibits such actions, and government authorities generally respected these prohibitions.

Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:

a. Freedom of Speech and Press

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

In an August session of the House of Representatives, four police officers forcibly removed a news reporter, which raised concerns about the treatment of the media. Other journalists were forcibly pushed out of the media gallery, allegedly under instructions from the Speaker of the House of Representatives. Reporters claimed it was an attempt to censor their coverage of the actions of police inside the chamber (when an opposition representative was also forcibly removed).

Libel/Slander Laws: Independent groups noted some concerns with defamation suits. In July Secretary General Myrtle Palacio of the opposition People’s United Party (PUP) sued the editor of the ruling UDP newspaper (The Guardian) for defamation of character after the newspaper published a cartoon depicting Palacio practicing and endorsing witchcraft. Palacio argued the cartoon was an attack on her reputation and her culture (Garifuna). The court sided with the newspaper’s editor and ordered Palacio to pay the defendant’s court costs of BZ$5,000 ($2,500).

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 Caribbean-based Broadband Commission for Digital Development, 20 percent of households were connected to broadband internet, but the telecommunication companies offering wireless internet service estimated that approximately 40 percent of the population had access to the internet by the end of 2015.

ACADEMIC FREEDOM AND CULTURAL EVENTS

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

b. Freedom of Peaceful Assembly and Association

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

c. Freedom of Religion

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

d. Freedom of Movement, Internally Displaced Persons, Protection of Refugees, and Stateless Persons

The constitution provides for freedom of internal movement, foreign travel, emigration, and repatriation, and the government generally respected these rights. After a nearly 20-year hiatus in accepting refugee claims, the government reconstituted its Refugee Eligibility Committee in November 2015 and reestablished its Refugee Department in March 2016. Prior to the establishment of the Refugee Department, the Immigration and Nationality Department handled individual cases but did not make any determinations on asylum claims in nearly 20 years. The UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) reactivated its presence in Belize in October 2015. Although the government committed to provide protection and assistance to refugees, asylum seekers, persons at risk of becoming stateless, or other persons of concern under the UN Convention on the Status of Refugees, the Belize Refugees Act, and the UN Convention for Statelessness, the government has yet to take action to meet the needs of these new cases.

In-country Movement: In April to defuse cross-border tensions and to ensure public safety, the government introduced a statutory instrument temporarily prohibiting citizens from accessing the Sarstoon River for 30 days. The statutory instrument’s constitutionality was widely questioned, and it was lifted four days before it was set to expire due to public pressure.

PROTECTION OF REFUGEES

Access to Asylum: The law provides for the granting of asylum or refugee status within 14 days, but of the more than 70 cases reviewed by the Refugee Eligibility Committee since the committee was reconstituted in November 2015, the government has not granted asylum status to anyone. The nongovernmental organization (NGO) Help for Progress, UNHCR’s implementing partner in the country, continued to assist with UNHCR’s persons of concern.

An increasing number of persons from Central America, particularly El Salvador, sought protection in Belize. As of December the Refugee Department received 1,400 asylum applications, although there were separate reports that approximately 3,000 applications were filed. In November 2015 the reactivated Refugee Eligibility Committee, responsible for reviewing refugee applications, met for the first time in 18 years. Moreover, the passports of those applying for asylum who did not meet the government’s 14-day deadline were unable to work legally in the country and their passports were stamped with a “Refugee Department” stamp. UNHCR recommended the government eliminate the use of stamps indicating the status of refugees or asylum seekers on passports. While the government stopped stamping passports for refugees, it continued the practice for asylum seekers.

Employment: Persons awaiting adjudication of their asylum cases and not meeting the government’s 14-day deadline were unable to work legally in the country.

Durable Solutions: When the refugee status of an asylum seeker is confirmed, refugees may be issued permanent residency with the possibility of obtaining citizenship after extensive stays.

Temporary Protection: The Immigration Department issued renewable special residency permits for periods of 60 to 90 days to asylum seekers who met the 14-day deadline.

Section 3. Freedom to Participate in the Political Process

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

Elections and Political Participation

Recent Elections: In November 2015 the UDP won 19 seats in the 31-seat National Assembly, equaling the majority with which it entered the election. The OAS observation team reported generally free and fair elections. The elected candidates in general represented a cross section of the races and cultures present in the country.

Participation of Women and Minorities: No laws limit the participation of women and minorities in the political process, but observers suggested cultural and societal constraints limited the number of women participating in government. While women remained a clear minority in government, both major parties declared they took steps to increase female participation. During the November 2015 general elections, 11 women ran for office and two were elected to the House of Representatives. The UDP appointed two women to the 12-person Senate, and the opposition PUP appointed one. For the first time, a woman was appointed to the position of attorney general. During the year the government named two of the female senators as ministers.

Benin

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

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

There were several reports the government or its agents committed arbitrary or unlawful killings, claiming self-defense.

On April 5, a police officer shot and killed Latifa Boukari in the city of Bassila (northwest Benin) following a complaint filed by an individual to whom Boukari allegedly owed CFA francs 30,000 ($51). Police stated that Boukari was resisting arrest when the officer shot him. In reaction to the killing, local residents burned alive the individual who filed the complaint with police. The police officer who killed Boukari reportedly fled Bassila following the killing.

On January 6, a sentry shot and killed Corporal Mohamed Dangou during an attempt to detain him for questioning at the Guezo military camp in Cotonou. Authorities stated that in December 2015 Dangou and four other peacekeeping troops serving in Cote d’Ivoire masterminded protests regarding the government’s withholding of bonus payment to its peacekeeping troops there. Chief of defense staff, General Awal Nagnimi, claimed in a press conference after the shooting that Dangou refused to be taken in for questioning by gendarmes, and the sentry posted at the entrance of the military camp shot Dangou while he tried to flee the camp. On April 22, Alfred Hamelo, the sentry who shot Dangou, was placed under court supervision (controle judicaire). On July 28, the Constitutional Court ruled that the military had violated article eight of the constitution related to the inviolability of the human person and, as an instrument of the state, its obligation to respect and protect that person. The court also ordered reparations for the violation.

b. Disappearance

There were no reports of politically motivated disappearances.

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

The constitution and law prohibit such practices, but such incidents occurred.

On April 28, the Constitutional Court ruled that the acting director of the Prison of Cotonou, Lieutenant Bariou Fatoumbi, violated article 18 of the constitution related to torture and other cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment. The court decision was based on evidence that Lieutenant Fatoumbi ordered a sick female prisoner handcuffed and chained to a bed for 12 days at the Teaching Hospital of Cotonou.

The United Nations reported that as of December 20, it received two allegations of sexual exploitation and abuse against Beninese peacekeepers. An allegation involving military personnel deployed to the UN Multidimensional Integrated Stabilization Mission in Mali was under Beninese government investigation at year’s end. An allegation regarding a 2015 incident involving Beninese UN police in Haiti was found to be unsubstantiated.

Prison and Detention Center Conditions

Prison conditions were harsh and life threatening due to inadequate food, overcrowding, and inadequate sanitary conditions and medical care.

Physical Conditions: Overcrowding and lack of proper sanitation, potable water, and medical facilities posed risks to prisoners’ health. The 2015 Watchdog on the Justice System in Benin report stated that conditions in the country’s 10 civil prisons were inhuman, with overcrowding, malnutrition, and disease common. Nine of the 10 civil prisons were filled far beyond capacity. There were deaths due to lack of medical care, neglect, and poor ventilation in cramped and overcrowded cells. Lighting was inadequate. Prisoners with mental disabilities lacked access to appropriate disability-related support and services. According to the 2015 report, prison authorities forced prisoners to pay “bed taxes” for spaces to sleep and made sick prisoners in the civil prison of Cotonou pay to visit the hospital.

On April 27, inmates at the Civil Prison of Abomey (in central Benin) staged a violent protest regarding harsh prison conditions, especially a weeklong lack of drinking water in the prison.

Prison overcrowding was a serious problem. According to the nongovernmental organization (NGO) Watchdog on the Justice System in Benin the prison population (including pretrial detainees, remand prisoners, and convicts) in 2015 totaled 5,820. Pretrial detainees and remanded prisoners represented 75 percent of the total prison population. These numbers did not include detainees held in police stations and in civilian and military detention centers. According to 2012 statistics from the International Center for Prison Studies, female prisoners constituted 5 percent of the prison population and juveniles 2 percent.

Authorities housed juveniles at times with adults and held pretrial detainees with convicted prisoners, although not with the most violent convicts.

Administration: Authorities did not use alternatives to incarceration for nonviolent offenders. There was no formal system to submit complaints without censorship to judicial authorities. According to the 2015 Watchdog on the Justice System in Benin Authorities report, prison authorities charged visitors amounts ranging from 500 CFA francs to 1,000 CFA francs (approximately $1 to $2).

Independent Monitoring: The government permitted prison visits by human rights monitors. Religious groups and NGOs visited prisons, although some NGOs complained credentials were not systematically granted when they submitted requests to make visits. Organizations that visited prisons included the local chapter of Prison Fellowship, Caritas, Prisons Brotherhood, Christian Action for the Abolition of Torture, the French Development Agency, Rotaract (Rotary International), and Prisoners without Borders.

Improvements: On June 16, the National Assembly passed a law to reduce prison overcrowding that provides for community service in lieu of prison sentences for first-time offenders convicted of minor offenses.

d. Arbitrary Arrest or Detention

The constitution and law prohibit arbitrary arrest and detention; however, security forces occasionally failed to observe these prohibitions.

ROLE OF THE POLICE AND SECURITY APPARATUS

Police, under the Ministry of Interior, have primary responsibility for enforcing law and maintaining order in urban areas; the gendarmerie, under the Ministry of Defense, performs the same functions in rural areas.

Police were inadequately equipped and poorly trained. The government responded to these problems by building more stations and modernizing equipment; however, problems remained.

Impunity was a problem. Police leadership often did not punish and sometimes protected officers who committed abuses, which led to the president’s personal involvement in the resolution of several cases of security force abuses. Individuals may file complaints of police abuse with the police leadership, the lower courts, the mediator of the republic (ombudsman), or the Constitutional Court. The inspector general of the National Police Investigation Division is responsible for investigating serious, sensitive, and complex cases involving police personnel. The mandate of the Investigation Division is to conduct administrative and judiciary investigations involving police and to advise the director of national police on disciplinary action.

On October 25, the Office of the President issued a statement in response to repeated complaints of police officers extorting money during security checks. The president announced the opening of telephone and internet hotlines for citizens to denounce such cases.

Military disciplinary councils deal with minor offenses committed by members of the military. The councils have no jurisdiction over civilians. The country has no military tribunal, so civilian courts deal with serious crimes involving the gendarmerie and the military.

ARREST PROCEDURES AND TREATMENT OF DETAINEES

The constitution requires arrest warrants based on sufficient evidence and issued by a duly authorized judicial official, and requires a hearing before a magistrate within 48 hours, but this requirement was not always observed. After examining a detainee, the judge has 24 hours to decide whether to continue to detain or release the individual. Under exceptional circumstances, or in arrests involving illegal drugs including narcotics, the judge may authorize detention beyond 72 hours but not to exceed an additional eight days. Warrants authorizing pretrial detention are effective for six months and may be renewed every six months until a suspect is brought to trial. Detainees have the right to prompt judicial determination of the legality of detention, which was generally observed. Detainees were promptly informed of charges against them. Detainees awaiting judicial decisions may request release on bail; however, the attorney general must agree to the request. They have the right to prompt access to a lawyer after being brought before a judge, which authorities also generally observed. They are allowed to have family visits (see section 1.c.). The government provided counsel to indigents in criminal cases. Suspects were not detained incommunicado or held under house arrest.

There were credible reports gendarmes and police often exceeded the legal limit of 48 hours of detention, sometimes by as much as a week. Authorities often held persons indefinitely “at the disposal of” the Public Prosecutor’s Office before presenting the case to a magistrate.

Arbitrary Arrest: Arbitrary arrests and detentions occurred. In February 2015 a judge at the Court of Porto-Novo ordered the immediate release of a prisoner who had completed a nine-year prison term on criminal charges. The prosecutor did not authorize the prisoner’s release for an additional one and one-half months. The prisoner filed a complaint with the Constitutional Court, which ruled that his continued detention violated constitutional provisions related to arbitrary detention.

Pretrial Detention: Approximately 75 percent of persons in prison were pretrial detainees; the length of excess pretrial detentions–any period over five years for felony cases and three years for misdemeanors–varied from two to 11 years, according to a mediator’s report. Inadequate facilities, poorly trained staff, and overcrowded dockets delayed the administration of justice. The law defines the maximum length of pretrial detention for felony cases as no more than five years and for misdemeanors as no more than three years. The government often exceeded these limits. In July 2015 the Criminal Court of Cotonou sentenced a defendant accused of killing an assailant in self-defense to six months in prison after the defendant had already spent five years in detention awaiting trial. Noting the five years he had already served in pretrial detention, the court ordered his immediate release.

Detainee’s Ability to Challenge Lawfulness of Detention before a Court: A person arrested or detained, regardless of whether on criminal or other grounds, is entitled to file a complaint with the liberty and detention chamber of the relevant court. The presiding judge may order the individual’s release if determined to have been unlawfully detained.

e. Denial of Fair Public Trial

The constitution and law provide for an independent judiciary, but the government did not always respect this provision. The government names judges at the Public Prosecutor’s Office, making them susceptible to government influence; however, there were no instances in which the outcome of trials appeared predetermined, and authorities respected court orders. The judicial system was also subject to corruption, although the government made substantial anticorruption efforts, including the creation in 2014 of an independent National Anti-Corruption Authority and the dismissal and arrest of government officials allegedly involved in corruption scandals.

TRIAL PROCEDURES

While the constitution provides for the right to a fair trial, judicial inefficiency and corruption impeded the exercise of this right.

The legal system is based on French civil law and local customary law. A defendant is presumed innocent. Defendants enjoy the right to be informed promptly and in detail of the charges with free interpretation as necessary. A defendant has the right to be present at trial and to representation by an attorney. The court provides indigent defendants with counsel upon request in criminal cases. Government-provided counsel, however, was not always available, especially in cases handled in courts located in the north, since most lawyers lived in the south. Defendants are entitled to free interpretation services as necessary from the moment charged through all appeals. Defendants enjoy the right to adequate time and facilities to prepare a defense. A defendant has the right to confront witnesses and to have access to government-held evidence. Defendants are allowed to present witnesses and evidence on their own behalf. Defendants enjoy the right not to be compelled to testify or confess guilt. Defendants may appeal criminal convictions to the Court of Appeals and the Supreme Court, after which they may appeal to the president for a pardon. Trials are open to the public, but in exceptional circumstances the president of the court may decide to restrict access to preserve public order or to protect the parties. The government extends the above rights to all citizens without discrimination.

POLITICAL PRISONERS AND DETAINEES

There were no reports of political prisoners or detainees.

CIVIL JUDICIAL PROCEDURES AND REMEDIES

The judiciary exercised independence in civil matters. If administrative or informal remedies are unsuccessful, a citizen may file a complaint concerning an alleged human rights violation with the Constitutional Court. The Constitutional Court’s ruling is not binding on courts; citizens, however, may use rulings from the Constitutional Court to initiate legal action against offenders in regular courts. Adverse court rulings other than those of the Constitutional Court may be appealed to the Economic Community of West African States’ Court of Justice and the African Court on Human and People’s Rights. On February 8, the government filed a declaration with the African Union Commission recognizing the competence of the African Court on Human and Peoples’ Rights to receive cases from NGOs and individuals.

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

The constitution and law prohibit such actions, and the government generally respected these prohibitions.

Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:

a. Freedom of Speech and Press

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

There were a large number of public and private media outlets, including two public and five private television stations, one public and 50 private radio stations, and approximately 175 newspapers and periodicals. Many of these were openly critical of authorities, nearly always without consequence.

Unlike in previous years, there were few reports the government inhibited freedom of the press.

Press and Media Freedoms: The press and media were closely regulated, and the government considered itself to have an essential role in ensuring the press did not behave in an “irresponsible” or “destabilizing” way. The High Authority for Audiovisual and Communication (HAAC) is a quasi-governmental commission with members appointed by the president, private media, and the legislature. HAAC has a dual–and perhaps inherently contradictory–role of ensuring press freedom and protecting the country against inflammatory, irresponsible, or destabilizing coverage. On February 3, HAAC banned private television broadcaster Golfe TV from any political reporting, including coverage of news on the presidential election. HAAC issued this decision because Golfe TV violated a previous HAAC decree restricting media coverage of events prior to the official opening of the presidential election campaign season. On February 9, HAAC lifted the suspension following a meeting with members of the Federation of Radio and Television Employers.

On February 2, HAAC issued two decrees to grant all 33 presidential candidates equal access to state-owned and private media for publicizing their political agenda.

The government typically countered accusations of infringing on press freedom with arguments stating the need to support press freedoms while also preventing press activity that may threaten the stability of the country or willfully misinform the public. In January 2015 the government banned the reprint and distribution of an issue of the French satirical newspaper, Charlie Hebdo. The statement condemned the terrorist attacks that took place in France that month while simultaneously noting the government’s responsibility to provide for public safety and respect of religious principles and public figures.

Independent media were active and expressed a wide variety of views without restriction. Publications criticized the government freely and frequently. A nongovernmental media ethics commission censured some journalists for unethical conduct, such as reporting falsehoods or inaccuracies or releasing information that was embargoed by the government.

The government owned and operated the most influential media organizations by controlling broadcast range and infrastructure. Private television and radio had poorer coverage due to inadequate equipment and limited broadcast ranges awarded to them by HAAC.

Most citizens were illiterate, lived in rural areas, and generally received news via radio. The state-owned National Broadcasting Company broadcast in French and in 18 local languages.

Censorship or Content Restrictions: HAAC publicly warned media outlets against publishing information related to legal cases pending before a criminal court because it could be interpreted as an attempt to influence the ruling of the court. It was possible to purchase and thus influence the content of press coverage. HAAC warned the media against such practices. Some journalists practiced self-censorship because they were indebted to government officials who granted them service contracts. Other journalists practiced self-censorship due to fear the government would suspend their media outlets. HAAC held public hearings on alleged misconduct by media outlets during the year.

Libel/Slander Laws: In January 2015, after years of lobbying by professional media associations, the National Assembly passed a revised press code, the Information and Communication Code, repealing the previous code that imposed prison sentences for conviction of certain abuses of freedom of expression. The press code, signed into law by the president in March 2015, disallows prison sentences for journalists charged with defamation and some other offenses. Although journalists may no longer be imprisoned for libel and slander, they may face legal prosecution and fines for incitement of crimes through the press.

In January 2015, prior to the enactment of the code, a broadcast journalist from the state-owned television station (ORTB) criticized a decision by the president to participate in a march in Paris against terrorism. He also called on the president to allow freedom of the press and political debates within public media. He was later suspended from doing live programs. Professional media associations, NGOs, and ethics groups denounced the measure as retaliatory. In response to trade union and NGO demonstrations, the ORTB director claimed the removal of the journalist was consistent with internal office regulations but then reinstated the television journalist.

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, 6.8 percent of the population used the internet in 2015.

ACADEMIC FREEDOM AND CULTURAL EVENTS

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

b. Freedom of Peaceful Assembly and Association

The constitution and law provide for the freedoms of assembly and association. Permits are required for demonstrations and other public gatherings. The government generally respected these rights. Although opposition groups cited instances in which they did not seek permits, anticipating they would be opposed, there were no instances of denial on political grounds.

FREEDOM OF ASSEMBLY

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

The government requires and generally granted permits for use of public places for demonstrations. Authorities sometimes cited “public order” to deny requests for permits from opposition groups, civil society organizations, and labor unions.

On July 12, security forces disbanded a peaceful demonstration to demand the replacement of obsolete medical equipment staged by health-care staff of the Abomey Hospital (central Benin). The mayor of Abomey declared the demonstration a “threat to public order.”

c. Freedom of Religion

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

d. Freedom of Movement, Internally Displaced Persons, Protection of Refugees, and Stateless Persons

The constitution and 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 assisting refugees and asylum seekers.

In-country Movement: The presence of police, gendarmes, and illegal roadblocks inconvenienced domestic movement. Authorities justified roadblocks as a means of enforcing vehicle safety and customs regulations, but police and gendarmes exacted bribes from travelers at many checkpoints.

Foreign Travel: The government maintained documentary requirements for minors traveling abroad as part of its continuing campaign against trafficking in persons. This was not always enforced, and trafficking of minors across borders continued.

The government’s policy toward the seasonal movement of livestock allowed migratory Fulani (Peul) herdsmen from other countries to enter and depart freely; the government did not enforce designated entry points.

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.

Durable Solutions: The government and UNHCR assisted former refugees and asylum seekers with obtaining documents from their countries of origin while granting their status as privileged residents. The government also facilitated naturalization of refugees as part of a local integration effort. The government involved civil society, the media, and academia in the process.

The government, in partnership with UNHCR, assisted in the safe, voluntary return of three Ivorian citizens to Cote d’Ivoire during the year.

STATELESS PERSONS

There were large communities of stateless individuals residing in eight villages along the border with Niger and Nigeria. These villages were returned to Benin following the resolution of land disputes among Benin, Niger, and Nigeria. The residents lacked the necessary identification documents to claim citizenship. During the year the Court of Natitingou, with the assistance of UNHCR, issued birth certificates to the residents of Kourou-koualou, a village along the border with Burkina Faso. In 2014, the most recent year for which information was available, the mayor of the commune of Karimama bordering Niger, informed UNHCR that there were 1,000 stateless persons in the vicinity of his commune.

Section 3. Freedom to Participate in the Political Process

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

Elections and Political Participation

Recent Elections: On March 6 and March 20, the country held the first and second rounds of the presidential election. The vote proceeded calmly and credibly despite minor technical irregularities. Local and international observers unanimously characterized the voting process as peaceful and orderly. Observers identified some delays in the provision of voting materials to polling stations and evidence of training gaps of polling agents but no anomalies that would put the fundamental integrity of the election into doubt. In April 2015 authorities conducted legislative elections to elect the 83 National Assembly members. Observers viewed the elections as generally free, fair, and transparent.

In June 2015, after more than two years of delays, long-awaited local and municipal elections took place in generally free and fair conditions despite minor irregularities and logistical challenges, including the omission on ballots of some parties and coalitions.

Participation of Women and Minorities: President Talon appointed only three female ministers to his 21-member cabinet and one woman among the prefects administering the country’s 12 geographic departments. By custom and tradition, women assumed household duties, had less access to formal education, and were discouraged from involvement in politics. No laws limit the participation of women and members of minorities in the political process, and they participated. Cultural factors, however, limited women’s political participation.

On June 28, human rights associations issued a joint statement to express concerns regarding the government’s failure to observe gender parity in its high-ranking appointments, noting a decrease in the number of women appointed to decision-making positions in the Talon administration.

Bhutan

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

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

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

b. Disappearance

There were no reports of politically motivated disappearances.

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

The constitution prohibits such practices, and there were no reports that government officials employed them.

Prison and Detention Center Conditions

Prison and detention center conditions generally met international standards.

Physical Conditions: According to police, there were no separate prisons designated for women and children.

Administration: Police administer the prison system; there was no available information regarding recordkeeping on prisoners.

Independent Monitoring: No international human rights groups sought access to monitor prisons during the year. The International Committee for the Red Cross (ICRC) has not renewed its memorandum of understanding with the Government of Bhutan since 2012 and did not request access to prisons during the reporting period.

d. Arbitrary Arrest or Detention

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

ROLE OF THE POLICE AND SECURITY APPARATUS

The Royal Bhutan Police (RBP) is responsible for internal security. The Royal Bhutan Army (RBA) is responsible for defending against external threats but also has responsibility for some internal security functions, including counterinsurgency operations, protection of forests, and security for prominent persons. The RBP reports to the Ministry of Home and Cultural Affairs, and the king is the supreme commander in chief of the RBA.

Civilian authorities maintained effective control over the army and police, and the government has effective mechanisms to investigate and punish abuse and corruption. There were no reports of impunity involving security forces during the year. The army and police have procedures to conduct internal investigations of alleged personnel misconduct. Official courts of inquiry adjudicate the allegations. The king or a senior official makes the final determination on the outcome of a case.

By law the Police Service Board, made up of senior police personnel and a Ministry of Home and Cultural Affairs representative, investigates cases of abuse. Police officers can face criminal prosecution for human rights violations. The RBP has institutional reviews, human rights training, and accountability procedures for its personnel. The Civil and Criminal Procedure Code (CCPC) also provides an avenue to check on any abuse of power in criminal investigations by an investigating officer of the RBP.

ARREST PROCEDURES AND TREATMENT OF DETAINEES

Under the law, police may only arrest a person with a court-issued warrant or probable cause. Police generally respected the law. Police may perform “stop and frisk” searches only with a reasonable suspicion that a crime has been committed. Arresting authorities must issue an immediate statement of charges and engage in reasonable efforts to inform the family of the accused. The law requires authorities to bring an arrested person before a court within 24 hours, exclusive of travel time from the place of arrest. The law provides for prompt access to a lawyer and government provision of an attorney for indigent clients. Bail is available depending on the severity of charges and the suspect’s criminal record, flight risk, and potential threat to the public. In addition, bail can be granted after the execution of the bail bond agreement. Remanded suspects can be held in police custody for 10 days pending investigation, which the court can extend to 49 days, and then again to 108 days in cases involving “heinous” crimes, should the investigating officer show adequate grounds. The law expressly prohibits pretrial detention beyond 108 days. Detainees may pursue a writ of habeas corpus to obtain a court-ordered release. Under the Anticorruption Act of Bhutan, an Anticorruption Commission is empowered to arrest without a warrant any person upon reasonable suspicion of the person having committed or about to commit an offense. The arrested individual must make a court appearance within 24 hours.

e. Denial of Fair Public Trial

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

TRIAL PROCEDURES

The law stipulates that defendants must receive fair, speedy, and public trials, and the government generally respected this right. A preliminary hearing must be convened within 10 days of registration of a criminal matter with the appropriate court. Before registering any plea, courts must determine whether the accused is mentally sound and understands the consequences of entering a plea. Defendants enjoy a presumption of innocence, have the right to confront witnesses, and cannot be compelled to testify; cases must be proved beyond a reasonable doubt to obtain convictions. The government has prescribed a standing rule for all courts to clear all cases within a year of the case filing. The country has an inquisitorial judicial system, and there is no trial by jury.

Defendants have the right to appeal to the High Court and may make a final appeal to the king, who traditionally delegates the decision to the Royal Advisory Council. Trials are conducted publicly although a court can order that press and the public be removed from the courtroom for part or all of the trial in the interest of justice. The law grants defendants and their attorneys access to state evidence. The court must provide the opportunity for the parties to present relevant evidence, including witness testimony. Prosecutors and defendants are allowed to conduct direct and cross-examination.

Cases are tried pursuant to the CCPC. State-appointed prosecutors for the attorney general generally are responsible for filing charges and prosecuting cases for offenses against the state. In some cases other government departments, such as the Anticorruption Commission (ACC), file charges and conduct prosecutions.

The law provides for the right to representation. Although this occurred frequently in criminal cases, in civil cases most defendants and plaintiffs represented themselves. The law states that criminal defendants may choose legal representation from a list of licensed advocates. The government promoted the use of judiciary websites for legal information as a means of self-help for defendants. There were no reports that the courts denied any groups the right to trial.

POLITICAL PRISONERS AND DETAINEES

Nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) claimed that 28 political prisoners remained in Chamgang Central Jail in Thimphu. Most political prisoners were Nepali-speaking persons associated with protests in the early 1990s. Bhutanese officials claim those remaining in prison were convicted of violent crimes during demonstrations. The government reported that as of December 2016, there were 57 prisoners serving sentences resulting from convictions under the National Security Act or its related penal code provisions. No international monitors sought access to these prisoners. Since 2010 the government has released 47 political prisoners, including one granted amnesty by the king.

CIVIL JUDICIAL PROCEDURES AND REMEDIES

The CCPC governs the resolution of criminal trials and civil litigation and states that a suit may be initiated by a litigant or a member of the litigant’s family. The CCPC also provides for compensation to those detained or subjected to unlawful detention but later acquitted. Often local or community leaders assisted in resolving minor disputes. As plaintiffs and defendants often represented themselves in civil matters, judges typically took an active role in investigating and mediating civil disputes. The CCPC does not include a provision for appeal to regional human rights bodies.

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

The constitution states that a person “shall not be subjected to arbitrary or unlawful interference with his or her privacy, family, home, or correspondence, or to unlawful attacks on the person’s honor and reputation.” The government generally respected these prohibitions.

Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:

a. Freedom of Speech and Press

The law provides for freedom of speech and press. Citizens could publicly and privately criticize the government without reprisal.

Freedom of Speech and Expression: The constitution provides for freedom of speech including for members of the press. Defamation can carry criminal penalties, and citizens were cautious in their expression, especially as it related to criticism of the royal family or government practices.

Press and Media Freedoms: The media law does not provide specific protections for journalists or guarantee freedom of information. The media law also prohibits media outlets from supporting political parties. Media sources suggested that while there was commitment to media freedom at the highest levels, some media professionals continued to find bureaucrats unwilling to share information, especially on issues of corruption and violations of the law. Independent media outlets relied heavily on government advertisements for revenue, and most news outlets struggled to generate sufficient revenue to operate.

Censorship or Content Restrictions: In its Freedom in the World 2016 report, Freedom House reported that a 2015 survey of 119 current and former Bhutanese journalists revealed general concerns about press freedom and access to information. Local contacts reported increased use of social media to raise complaints of official misconduct or abuse.

INTERNET FREEDOM

The government generally permitted individuals and groups to engage in peaceful expression of views via the internet. Government officials stated the government did not block access, restrict content, or censor websites. Freedom House reported the government occasionally blocked access to websites containing pornography or information deemed offensive to the state. Such blocked information typically did not extend to political content. The Annual Statistics 2015 of the Ministry of Information and Communications estimated the number of internet users at 61.15 percent of the population.

ACADEMIC FREEDOM AND CULTURAL EVENTS

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

b. Freedom of Peaceful Assembly and Association

FREEDOM OF ASSEMBLY

While the constitution provides for the right to assemble peacefully, the government restricted this right. The 1992 National Security Act permits the government to control the public’s right to assembly “to avoid breaches of the peace” by requiring licenses, prohibiting assembly in designated areas, and declaring curfew. The penal code prohibits “promotion of civil unrest” as an act that is prejudicial to the maintenance of harmony among different nationalities, racial groups, castes, or religious groups.

FREEDOM OF ASSOCIATION

The constitution provides for freedom of association, and the government permitted the registration of some political parties and organizations that were deemed “not harmful to the peace and unity of the country.” Many of the NGOs in the country maintained formal or informal connections to members of the royal family. In its Freedom in the World 2016 report, Freedom House stated the government did not permit the operation of NGOs working on the status of Nepali-speaking refugees. Under the law, all NGOs must register with the government. In order to register an NGO, an individual must be a Bhutanese citizen, disclose his or her family income and assets, disclose his or her educational qualifications, and disclose any criminal records.

c. Freedom of Religion

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, but the government limited freedom of movement and repatriation. Freedom of movement often was restricted along ethnic lines. Rules established differences in citizenship categories and determined whether a person may be granted a “route permit” to travel internally or obtain a passport for international travel. (Bhutanese citizens are required to obtain a security clearance certificate to obtain a passport.)

Foreign Travel: The law establishes different categories of citizenship under which foreign travel is restricted. NGOs reported these restrictions primarily affected ethnic Nepalis although children of single mothers who could not establish citizenship through a Bhutanese father were also affected.

Exile: The law does not address forced exile, and there were no reported cases of forced exile during the year. In the early 1990s, the government reportedly forced between 80,000 and 100,000 Nepali-speaking residents to leave the country, following a series of decisions taken during the 1970s and 1980s establishing legal requirements for Bhutanese citizenship.

As of September after years of international resettlement efforts, approximately 10,000 Nepali-speaking refugees remained in two refugee camps in Nepal administered by the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR). In its Freedom in the World 2016 report, Freedom House stated, 18,000 Nepali-speaking refugees remain in Nepal as of late 2015. The Bhutanese government claimed UNHCR failed to screen individuals who originally entered these camps to determine whether they had any ties to Bhutan.

Emigration and Repatriation: There continued to be delays in government consideration of claims to Bhutanese citizenship by refugees in Nepal.

Citizenship: Under the constitution, only children whose parents can both be proven to be citizens of Bhutan can apply for citizenship up to their first birthday, after which a petition must be filed with the king to be granted citizenship. NGOs reported that approximately 9,000 applicants have received citizenship since 2006. In May, 163 persons from Tashichhodzong and in August, 93 from Mongar were granted citizenship by the king. The law provides for revocation of the citizenship of any naturalized citizen who “has shown by act or speech to be disloyal in any manner whatsoever to the king, country, and people.” The law permits reapplication for citizenship after a two-year probationary period. The government can restore citizenship after successful completion of the probation and a finding that the individual was not responsible for any act against the government.

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 refugees.

The Central Tibetan Administration (CTA) reported that since the 1960s the country had sheltered Tibetan refugees who were initially located in seven settlements. The government reported that the Tibetans were integrated into society and that approximately 1,600 had applied for and received citizenship. As of July, there were 2,583 Tibetan refugees as per records maintained by the Department of Immigration. There are no current records of these refugees holding work permits. The CTA did not have an official presence in the country and did not provide social and economic assistance to Tibetans in Bhutan. The country’s border with China was closed, and Tibetans generally did not transit the country en route to India. The Tibetan population in the country appears stable. It is decreasing as Tibetan refugees adopt Bhutanese citizenship according to the Department of Immigration.

Employment: There were unconfirmed reports that some Tibetan refugees and some Nepali-speaking Bhutanese citizens could not obtain security clearances for government jobs, enroll in higher education, or obtain licenses to run private businesses. According to the government, all Bhutanese citizens are eligible for security clearances provided they do not have criminal records.

Access to Basic Services: The government stated that Tibetan refugees have the same access to government-provided health care and education as citizens, and access was given routinely. According to the CTA, 13 Tibetan refugees have received licenses to run businesses. The CTA also said that while Tibetan refugees are not eligible for government employment, a few Tibetan refugees worked as teachers and health-care providers under temporary government contracts. They reportedly have difficulties traveling within and outside the country.

Durable Solutions: Tibetan refugees could travel to India although many faced obstacles in obtaining travel permits. There were also reports the government did not provide the travel documents necessary for Tibetan refugees to travel beyond India. The government continued to delay implementing a process to identify and repatriate refugees with claims to Bhutanese residency or citizenship.

STATELESS PERSONS

A nationwide census in 1985 resulted in a determination that many Nepali-speaking persons in Bhutan were not citizens, effectively rendering them stateless. The government alleged that they were not citizens because they could not prove they had been resident in the country in 1958. The census was repeated in 1988-89 in the southern districts. During the second round of the census, those who were deemed not to be citizens in 1985 could apply for citizenship provided they met certain conditions. Those who did not meet the new criteria were categorized by the government as illegal immigrants and expelled. According to NGOs, an unknown number of Nepali-speaking stateless persons remained in the country, mainly in the south.

NGOs and media sources also highlighted the existence of stateless children born to unwed mothers who were unable to prove the identity of the father of the child. According to 2014 NGO reports, more than 700 children born in the country were not recognized as Bhutanese citizens because the nationality of their fathers was undocumented. Nonetheless, the Bhutanese government claimed that 20 children in the kingdom fell into this category.

Stateless persons cannot obtain “no objection certificates” and security clearance certificates, which are often necessary for access to public healthcare, employment, access to primary and secondary education, enrollment at institutions of higher education, travel documents, and business ownership. According to contacts, approximately 1,000 families are stateless. The National Commission for Women and Children stated children without citizenship were eligible for public educational and health services.

Section 3. Freedom to Participate in the Political Process

The constitution provides citizens the right to choose their government peacefully, and citizens exercised this right through periodic, free, and fair elections based on universal and equal suffrage.

Elections and Political Participation

Recent Elections: The government successfully held national elections in July 2013. Voters elected the country’s second National Assembly, the lower house of parliament. The opposition People’s Democratic Party won 32 of 47 seats, ousting the former ruling party, the Druk Phensum Tshogpa. International observers generally considered the elections free and fair; there were no reports of significant irregularities during the election process.

Political Parties and Political Participation: The constitution states that political parties shall promote national unity and shall not resort to regionalism, ethnicity, or religion to incite voters for electoral gain. Political parties are required to be broad-based, have a national membership, not be limited to a particular regional or other demographic constituency, and not receive money or other assistance from foreign sources. To run for office, party candidates must possess a university degree and resign from a civil service job if held. Individuals who resign from the civil service cannot re-enter the service. While only two political parties contested the 2008 national elections, five parties contested the 2013 elections. The government provided funding only for general elections and maintained rigid guidelines on party financing.

Participation of Women and Minorities: As part of the country’s strict separation of religion from politics, the law barred ordained members of the clergy, including Buddhist monks and nuns, from participating in politics, including voting and running for office. There were no other laws limiting the participation of women and members of minorities in the political process.

Bolivia

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

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

Several news outlets reported that national police officers committed unlawful killings in the shooting deaths of three miners during the course of August protests between the National Federation of Mining Cooperatives and police. The government’s decision to amend the Cooperatives Law to allow the unionization of subcontractors within the cooperative sparked the protests, which lasted from August 10 to August 26. Fermin Mamani, Severi Ichota, and Ruben Aparaya died of gunshot wounds during the protests, despite government claims that police used nonlethal bullets to quell the demonstrations. The Vice Minister of Interior, Rodolfo Illanes, was negotiating with the miners on behalf of the government when protesters captured, tortured, and eventually killed him. Authorities arrested 11 protest leaders in connection with the death of the vice minister. On October 6, the Ombudsman’s Office publicly stated that, under the authority of Minister of Government Carlos Romero, police used lethal ammunition against the miners. On October 27, Human Rights Ombudsman David Tezanos presented his office’s official findings to the State Prosecutor. Their investigations stated that “at least seven” police personnel used lethal firearms in the miner’s conflict. Two of the miners who were publicly implicated in the killing of Illanes called the findings of the Ombudsman’s office false.

b. Disappearance

There were no reports of politically motivated disappearances.

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

The constitution prohibits all forms of torture, coercion, and physical and emotional violence. Despite these regulations there were credible reports that government officials employed them. Although no laws specifically prohibit torture, it is more generally covered under penal code provisions on respecting the right to physical integrity. The penal code carries only minimum penalties for those found guilty; no public official has ever been found guilty under those provisions.

On August 17, police officers guarding prisoners in the Pando prison reportedly tortured multiple detainees in an attempt to gather information about an investigation underway at the time. As of October there was no official number of victims. Police reportedly beat the prisoners and subjected them to electric shocks and tear-gassing, and men, women, and children were all among the alleged victims of police violence. The Ministry of Justice and the Prosecutor’s Office were investigating the case. The Institute of Therapy and Investigation (ITEI), a credible nongovernmental organization (NGO), was also conducting an independent investigation.

ITEI stated that the most frequent perpetrators of torture and mistreatment were members of the Bolivian National Police and military officials. ITEI reports indicated that police relied heavily on torture as the first form of investigation to procure information and extract confessions. The majority of these abuses reportedly occurred while officials were transferring detainees to police facilities or while the prisoners were held in detention. According to credible reports from NGO employees who worked with prison populations, the most common forms of torture for detainees included the use of Tasers, asphyxiation, verbal abuse, and verbal threats of violence.

Within the military torture and mistreatment reportedly occurred both to punish and to intimidate trainees into submission and obedience. Reports indicated that military officials regularly verbally abused soldiers for minor infractions and perceived disobedience. In January a regimental commander was recorded on video verbally abusing a sergeant under his command for questioning one of the commander’s orders. The National Council of the Defense of the Constitution brought charges of discrimination (a criminal offense) against the commander for his actions. According to sources this type of verbal abuse and hazing in the armed forces was not uncommon. In January then human rights ombudsman Rolando Villena reported that at least 30 soldiers died in military service in the last three years.

On April 23, the then human rights ombudsman, Rolando Villena, reported his office received and processed 19,097 cases of “violations of human rights” in 2015, a 647 percent increase from 2014. Of the cases his office examined during 2015, the following violations occurred with the most frequency: 17 percent involved the right to due process and access to justice, 13 percent involved workers’ rights, 12 percent involved property and personal property, 8 percent involved the right to petition, and 7 percent involved a lack of accessibility for individuals wishing to obtain personal identification documents. Villena stated that officials working under the judiciary and police forces perpetrated the most abuses. The ombudsman also stated that despite the trend of rising violations against human rights, the legislature had never accepted his suggestions or projects, nor had it ever allowed him to deliver his annual report on the state of human rights during his tenure in office.

Prison and Detention Center Conditions

Prison conditions were harsh and life threatening due to gross overcrowding, lack of internal control, and poor sanitary conditions.

Physical Conditions: Prisons and detention centers were overcrowded and underfunded. Pretrial detainees were held with convicted prisoners in all major facilities for as long as five years, according to the NGO Pastoral Penitentiary. On March 9, Director of the Penitentiary System Jorge Lopez Arenas reported the total number of inmates was 13,940. Overcrowding was a serious structural and human rights problem in all major prisons and detention facilities. Palmasola, a prison located in the city of Santa Cruz, was designed to hold 1,800 prisoners but housed more than 5,400 inmates. While the maximum number of prisoners for most cells was four, there were up to 10 individuals in each cell. In the La Paz prison San Pedro, there were more than 2,000 inmates in a facility built to hold 500. The bathrooms were often connected to the living quarters, and the sewage system frequently did not work, causing sewage backups and other unsanitary conditions in living spaces.

Prisoners were largely responsible for paying for their own goods and services in prison because available services to sustain basic needs were inadequate. This included food, lodging, medical care, and transportation to and from court proceedings. Prisoners had access to potable water, but the standard prison diet was insufficient. Since the government’s daily allocation for a prisoner’s diet was eight bolivianos ($1.17), many prisons depended on donations from other organizations for food. Prisoners who could not afford their own lodging often had to convert bathrooms, hallways, kitchens, and other areas into sleeping quarters. Although the law provides that prisoners have access to medical care, the care was inadequate, and it was difficult for prisoners to