Democratic People’s Republic of Korea

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

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

There were numerous reports the government committed arbitrary and unlawful killings.

Defector reports noted instances in which the government executed political prisoners, opponents of the government, forcibly returned asylum seekers, government officials, and others accused of crimes. The law prescribes the death penalty for the most “serious” or “grave” cases of “antistate” or “antination” crimes, which include: participation in a coup or plotting to overthrow the state; acts of terrorism for an antistate purpose; treason, which includes defection or handing over of state secrets, broadly interpreted to include providing information about economic, social, and political developments routinely published elsewhere; suppression of the people’s movement for national liberation; and “treacherous destruction.” Additionally, the law allows for capital punishment in less serious crimes such as theft, destruction of military facilities and national assets, fraud, kidnapping, distribution of pornography, and trafficking in persons. The government reportedly executed individuals for sleeping during patriotic events. Defectors also reported that the government carried out infanticide in cases of political prisoners, persons with disabilities, and where the mother was repatriated from China.

NGOs and press reports indicated that border guards had orders to shoot to kill individuals leaving the country without permission, and prison guards were under orders to shoot to kill those attempting to escape from political prison camps.

In February the Republic of Korea (ROK or South Korea) press reported that DPRK authorities executed five Ministry of State Security officials in a political purge.

It was widely reported that, on February 13, two women, working on behalf of the government, assassinated Kim Jong Nam, Kim Jong Un’s half-brother, at Kuala Lumpur International Airport using VX nerve agent, a chemical weapon banned under the 1992 Chemical Weapons Convention.

The state also subjected private citizens to public executions. According to the Institute for National Security Strategy, the state held 340 public executions from 2012 to 2016, including executions of 140 government officials between 2013 and 2016. A 2016 survey found that 64 percent of defectors had witnessed public executions.

During the year a defector reported being pulled from school to witness the public execution of 11 musicians accused of making a pornographic video. The defector described a brutal process including antiaircraft artillery, used to kill the prisoners, and tanks, which were used to run over the bodies postmortem.

b. Disappearance

NGO, think tank, and press reports indicated the government was responsible for disappearances.

During the year there was no progress in the investigation into the whereabouts of 12 Japanese citizens believed to have been abducted by the DPRK. The DPRK suspended bilateral negotiations on the abductions issue in 2015, citing Japan’s move to raise the issue in a UN Human Rights Council resolution.

ROK government and media reports noted the DPRK also kidnapped other foreign nationals from locations abroad in the 1970s and 1980s. The DPRK continued to deny its involvement in the kidnappings. The ROK Ministry of Unification reported that an estimated 517 of its civilians, abducted or detained by DPRK authorities since the end of the Korean War, remained in the DPRK. South Korean NGOs estimated that during the Korean War the DPRK abducted 20,000 civilians who remained in the North or who had died.

According to The Committee for Human Rights in North Korea (HRNK), the state closed Hoeryong kwanliso (Camp 22) in late 2012 and demolished the Sirmchon/Kumchon-ri zone with Yodok kwanliso (Camp 15) in late 2014. The whereabouts of the former prisoners of these facilities remained unknown. During the year South Korean media reported that DPRK Ministry of State Security agents were dispatched to cities near the DPRK border in China to kidnap and forcibly return refugees. According to international press reports, North Korea may have also kidnapped defectors who relocated to South Korea and then were on travel in China. In some cases North Korea reportedly forced these defectors’ family members to encourage the defectors to return to China in order to capture them.

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

The penal code prohibits torture or inhuman treatment, but many sources reported these practices continued. Numerous defector accounts and NGO reports described the use of torture by authorities in several detention facilities. Methods of torture and other abuse reportedly included severe beatings; electric shock; prolonged periods of exposure to the elements; humiliations such as public nakedness; confinement for up to several weeks in small “punishment cells” in which prisoners were unable to stand upright or lie down; being forced to kneel or sit immobilized for long periods; being hung by the wrists; water torture; and being forced to stand up and sit down to the point of collapse, including “pumps,” or being forced to repeatedly squat and stand with the person’s hands behind their back. Mothers were in some cases reportedly forced to watch the infanticide of their newborn infants. Defectors continued to report many prisoners died from torture, disease, starvation, exposure to the elements, or a combination of these causes.

The White Paper on Human Rights in North Korea, published by the Korea Institute for National Unification (KINU), a South Korean government-affiliated think tank, and the 2014 UN Commission of Inquiry (COI) report stated that officials had in some cases prohibited live births in prison and ordered forced abortions as recently as 2013. Detainees in re-education through labor camps reported the state forced them to perform difficult physical labor under harsh conditions (see section 7.b.).

The KINU white paper found that, in some cases of live birth, the prison guards killed the infant or left the baby to die, and it reported cases of guards sexually abusing or exploiting female prisoners.

Prison and Detention Center Conditions

NGO, defector, and press reports noted there were several types of prisons, detention centers, and camps, including forced labor camps and separate camps for political prisoners. NGO reports documented six types of detention facilities: kwanliso (political penal-labor camps), kyohwaso (correctional or re-education centers), kyoyangso (labor-reform centers), jipkyulso (collection centers for low-level criminals), rodong danryeondae (labor-training centers), and kuryujang or kamok (interrogation facilities or jails). According to the 2017 KINU white paper, the Ministry of State Security administered kwanliso camps and either it or the Ministry of People’s Security administered the other detention centers.

There were reportedly between 5,000 and 50,000 prisoners per kwanliso. Defectors claimed the kwanliso camps contained unmarked graves, barracks, worksites, and other prison facilities. NGOs reported the existence of five kwanliso facilities, including Gaecheon (Camp 14), Hwaseong/Myeonggan (Camp 16), Pukchang (Camp 18), and Cheongjin (Camp 25). During the year reports continued to indicate that areas of Yodok (Camp 15) in South Hamkyung Province were closed or operating at a reduced capacity.

Kwanliso camps consist of total control zones, where incarceration is for life, and “rerevolutionizing zones,” from which prisoners may be released. Reports indicated the state typically sent those sentenced to prison for nonpolitical crimes to re-education prisons where authorities subjected prisoners to intense forced labor. Those the state considered hostile to the government or who committed political crimes reportedly received indefinite sentencing terms in political prison camps. In many cases the state also detained all family members if one member was accused or arrested. The government continued to deny the existence of political prison camps.

Reports indicated conditions in the prison camp and detention system were harsh and life threatening and that systematic and severe human rights abuse occurred. Defectors noted they did not expect many prisoners in political prison camps and the detention system to survive. Detainees and prisoners consistently reported violence and torture. Defectors described witnessing public executions in political prison camps. According to defectors, prisoners received little to no food or medical care in some places of detention. Sanitation was poor, and former labor camp inmates reported they had no changes of clothing during their incarceration and were rarely able to bathe or wash their clothing. The South Korean and international press reported that the kyohwaso held populations of up to thousands of political prisoners, economic criminals, and ordinary criminals.

Both the kyohwaso re-education camps and kwanliso prison camps host extremely brutal conditions, according to HRNK’s 2016 report North Korea: Kyohwaso No. 12, Jongori. The report noted, “The brutality affects both those convicted of actual offenses and those sentenced for essentially political offenses.”

According to the Hidden Gulag IV report, since late 2008 Jongori (formerly referred to as Camp 12) in North Hamkyung Province was expanded to include a women’s annex, which held approximately 1,000 women, most of whom the state imprisoned after forcibly returning them from China. Satellite imagery and defector testimony corroborated the existence of this women’s annex. Defector testimony also cited food rations below subsistence levels, forced labor, and high rates of death due to starvation at Jongori.

According to HRNK’s 2016 report North Korea: Flooding at Kyohwaso No. 12, Jongori, the kyohwaso or re-education center No. 12, Jongori is located approximately 300 miles northeast of Pyongyang and 15 miles south of Hoeryong City. The report estimated the prison population at kyohwaso No. 12 had ranged from 1,300 in the late 1990s to approximately 5,000 in recent years.

Physical Conditions: Estimates of the total number of prisoners and detainees in the prison and detention system ranged between 80,000 and 120,000. Physical abuse by prison guards was systematic. Anecdotal reports from the NGO Database Center for North Korean Human Rights and the 2014 COI report stated that in some prisons authorities held women in separate units from men and often subjected the women to sexual abuse. The COI report added, “Cases of rape are a direct consequence of the impunity and unchecked power that prison guards and other officials enjoy.”

There were no statistics available regarding deaths in custody, but defectors reported deaths were commonplace as the result of summary executions, torture, lack of adequate medical care, and starvation. The COI report cited “extremely high rate of deaths in custody,” due to starvation and neglect, arduous forced labor, disease, and executions.

Defectors also reported that in Camp 14, prisoners worked 12 hours a day during the summer and 10 hours a day during the winter, with one day off a month. The camps observed New Year’s Day and the birthdays of Kim Il Sung and Kim Jong Il. Children age 12 or older worked, and guards gave light duty to prisoners over 65 years of age. According to HRNK report Gulag, Inc., three political prison camps and four re-education camps contained mines where prisoners worked long hours with frequent deadly accidents. One prisoner reported suffering an open foot fracture and being forced to return to the mine the same day. Prisoners provided supervision over other prisoners and worked even when they were sick. Prisoners who failed to meet work quotas reportedly faced reduced meals and violence. Those caught stealing faced arbitrary and serious violence.

NGO and press reports estimated there were between 182 and 490 detention facilities in the country.

By law the state dismisses criminal cases against a person under age 14. The state applies public education in case of a crime committed by a person above age 14 and under age 17, but little information was available regarding how the law was actually applied. Authorities often detained juveniles along with their families and reportedly subjected them to torture and abuse in detention facilities.

Administration: There was little evidence to suggest prisoners and detainees had reasonable access to visitors. In past years refugees reported authorities subjected Christian inmates to harsher punishment if the prisoners made their faith public, but no information was available regarding religious observance. No information was available on whether authorities conducted proper investigations of credible allegations of abuse.

Independent Monitoring: There was no publicly available information on whether the government investigated or monitored prison and detention conditions. The 2015 HRNK Imagery Analysis of Camp 15 noted officials, especially those within the Korean People’s Army and the internal security organizations, clearly understand the importance of implementing camouflage, concealment, and deception procedures to mask their operations and intentions. The government did not allow the UN special rapporteur on the human rights situation in the DPRK into the country to assess prison conditions. The government did not permit other human rights monitors to inspect prisons and detention facilities.

d. Arbitrary Arrest or Detention

The law prohibits arbitrary arrest and detention, but reports pointed out that the government did not observe these prohibitions.

ROLE OF THE POLICE AND SECURITY APPARATUS

The internal security apparatus includes the Ministries of People’s Security, State Security, and the Military Security Command. Impunity was pervasive. The security forces did not investigate possible security force abuses. The government did not take action to reform the security forces. In February the ROK Ministry of Unification announced that DPRK Minister of State Security Kim Won Hong was removed from his position after reports of human rights abuses in his ministry, but it remained unclear whether his dismissal was for that reason or merely part of a reorganization of leadership. These organizations all played a role in the surveillance of citizens, maintaining arresting power, and conducting special purpose nonmilitary investigations. A systematic and intentional overlap of powers and responsibilities existed between these organizations. Kim Jong Un continued to enforce this overlap to prevent any potential subordinate consolidation of power and assure that each unit provides a check and balance on the other.

ARREST PROCEDURES AND TREATMENT OF DETAINEES

Revisions to the criminal code and the criminal procedure code in 2004, 2005, and 2009 added shortened periods of detention during prosecution and trial, arrest by warrant, and prohibition of collecting evidence by forced confessions. Confirmation that the state applied these changes has not been verified.

Members of the security forces arrested and reportedly transported citizens suspected of committing political crimes to prison camps without trial. According to a South Korean NGO, beginning in 2008, the Ministry of People’s Security received authorization to handle criminal cases directly without the approval of prosecutors. Prosecutorial corruption reportedly necessitated the change. An NGO reported that investigators could detain an individual for the purpose of investigation for up to two months. No functioning bail system or other alternatives for considering release pending trial exists.

There were no restrictions on the government’s ability to detain and imprison persons at will or to hold them incommunicado. Family members and other concerned persons reportedly found it virtually impossible to obtain information on charges against detained persons or the lengths of their sentences. Judicial review or appeals of detentions did not exist in law or practice. According to an opinion adopted in 2015 by the UN Working Group on Arbitrary Detention, family members have no recourse to petition for the release of detainees accused of political crimes, as the state may deem any such advocacy for political prisoners an act of treason against the state. No known information on a bail system and no information on detainees receiving a lawyer was available.

Arbitrary Arrest: Arbitrary arrests reportedly occurred.

Detainee’s Ability to Challenge Lawfulness of Detention before a Court: According to defectors there was no mechanism for persons to challenge the lawfulness of detention before a court.

e. Denial of Fair Public Trial

The constitution states courts are independent and that courts will carry out judicial proceedings in strict accordance with the law; however, an independent judiciary does not exist. According to the 2017 KINU white paper, there were many reports of bribery and corruption in the investigations or preliminary examination process and in detention facilities, as well as by judges and prosecutors in the trial stage.

TRIAL PROCEDURES

Little information was available on formal criminal justice procedures and practices, and outside access to the legal system was limited to trials for traffic violations and other minor offenses.

The constitution contains elaborate procedural protections, providing that cases should be public, except under circumstances stipulated by law. The constitution also states that the accused has the right to a defense, and when the government held trials, they reportedly assigned lawyers. Some reports noted a distinction between those accused of political, as opposed to nonpolitical, crimes and claimed that the government offered trials and lawyers only to the latter. The Ministry of State Security (MSS) conducted “pretrials” or preliminary examinations in all political cases, but the court system conducted the trial. Some defectors testified that the MSS also conducted trials. There was no indication that independent, nongovernmental defense lawyers existed. According to the 2013 Hidden Gulag report, most inmates were sent to prison camps without trial, without knowing the charges against them and without having legal counsel. There were no indications authorities respected the presumption of innocence. According to the UN COI report, “the vast majority of inmates are victims of arbitrary detention, since they are imprisoned without trial or on the basis of a trial that fails to respect the due process and fair trial guarantees set out in international law.”

POLITICAL PRISONERS AND DETAINEES

While the total number of political prisoners and detainees remained unknown, the 2017 KINU white paper reported the state detained between 80,000 and 120,000 in the kwanliso. Guards held political prisoners separately from other detainees. NGOs and media reported political prisoners were subject to harsher punishments and fewer protections than other prisoners and detainees. The government considered critics of the regime to be political criminals. The government did not permit access to persons by international humanitarian organizations or religious organizations resident in China. Reports from past years described political offenses as including attempting to defect to South Korea, sitting on newspapers bearing Kim Il Sung’s or Kim Jong Il’s picture, mentioning Kim Il Sung’s limited formal education, or defacing photographs of the Kims. The UN COI report noted that many “ordinary” prisoners are, in fact, political prisoners, “detained without a substantive reason compatible with international law.”

CIVIL JUDICIAL PROCEDURES AND REMEDIES

According to the constitution, “citizens are entitled to submit complaints and petitions. The state shall fairly investigate and deal with complaints and petitions as fixed by law.” Under the Law on Complaint and Petition, citizens are entitled to submit complaints to stop encroachment upon their rights and interests or seek compensation for the encroached rights and interests. Reports noted government officials did not respect these rights. Individuals and organizations do not have the ability to appeal adverse domestic decisions to regional human rights bodies.

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

The constitution provides for the inviolability of person and residence and the privacy of correspondence; however, the government did not respect these provisions. The regime subjected its citizens to rigid controls. The regime reportedly relied upon a massive, multilevel system of informants to identify those it sees as critics. Authorities sometimes subjected entire communities to security checks, entering homes without judicial authorization.

The government appeared to monitor correspondence, telephone conversations, emails, text messages, and other digital communications. Private telephone lines operated on a system that precluded making or receiving international calls; international telephone lines were available only under restricted circumstances.

A 2015 survey conducted by InterMedia found that 28 percent of respondents (recent defectors and North Korean businesspersons in China) had owned a domestic cell phone in North Korea. Citizens must go through a lengthy bureaucratic process to obtain a mobile phone legally, and authorities strictly monitored mobile phone use. Additionally, 14 percent of defectors reported owning a Chinese mobile phone. DPRK authorities frequently jammed cellular phone signals along the China-DPRK border to block the use of the Chinese cell network to make international phone calls. The Ministry of State Security reportedly engaged in real-time surveillance of mobile phone communications. Authorities arrested those caught using such cell phones with Chinese SIM cards and required violators to pay a fine or face charges of espionage or other crimes with harsh punishments, including lengthy prison terms. Testimonies recorded by NGOs indicated prisoners could avoid punishment through bribery of DPRK officials.

The government divided citizens into strict loyalty-based classes known as “songbun,” which determined access to employment, higher education, place of residence, medical facilities, certain stores, marriage prospects, and food rations.

Numerous reports noted authorities practiced collective punishment. The state imprisoned entire families, including children, when one member of the family was accused of a crime. Collective punishment reportedly can extend to three generations.

NGOs reported the eviction of families from their places of residence without due process.

Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:

The constitution provides for freedom of speech and press, but the government prohibited the exercise of these rights.

Freedom of Expression: There were numerous instances of persons interrogated or arrested for saying something construed as negative towards the government.

The constitution provides for the right to petition, but the government did not respect this right. For example, when individuals submitted anonymous petitions or complaints about state administration, the Ministries of People’s Security and State Security sought to identify the authors and subject them to investigation and punishment.

Press and Media Freedom: The government sought to control virtually all information; independent media does not exist. The government tightly controlled print media, broadcast media, book publishing, and online media through the Propaganda and Agitation Department. Within the department, the Publication and Broadcasting Department controls all media content, including content used on television, in newspapers, and on the radio. The government carefully managed visits by foreigners, especially journalists. More than 100 foreign journalists visited the DPRK in April to report on celebrations for Kim Il Sung’s birthday, but the government strictly limited their access.

Violence and Harassment: Domestic journalists had no freedom to investigate stories or report freely. During visits by foreign leaders, authorities permitted groups of foreign journalists to accompany official delegations and file reports. In all cases, the state strictly monitored journalists. Government officials generally prevented journalists from talking to officials or to persons on the street.

Censorship or Content Restrictions: Strict enforcement of domestic media censorship continued, with no toleration for deviation from the official government line. The government prohibited listening to foreign media broadcasts except by the political elite, and violators were subjected to severe punishment. Radios and television sets, unless altered, are set to receive only domestic programming; officials similarly altered radios obtained from abroad. Elite citizens and facilities for foreigners, such as hotels, had access to international television broadcasts via satellite. The government continued attempts to jam all foreign radio broadcasts. Officials imprisoned and punished citizens for listening to foreign radio or watching foreign television broadcasts and, in some cases, for simply owning radio or television sets able to receive nongovernment broadcasts.

INTERNET FREEDOM

Internet access for citizens was limited to high-ranking officials and other designated elites, including selected university students. The Korea Computer Center, which acts as the North Korean gatekeeper to the internet, granted access only to information it deemed acceptable, and employees constantly monitored users’ screens. A tightly controlled and regulated “intranet” was reportedly available to a slightly larger group of users, including an elite grade school; selected research institutions, universities, and factories; and a few individuals. The NGO Reporters Without Borders reported some email access existed through this internal network. Government employees sometimes had closely monitored access to the internet and had limited, closely monitored access to email accounts. While the North Korean cell phone network is 3G-capable, most users’ data access is limited to a few state sanctioned functions through North Korea’s intranet such as reading the government newspaper.

In April 2016 the government formally announced it would block foreigners from visiting Facebook, YouTube, Twitter, and South Korean websites. Nevertheless, some foreign journalists utilized social media from Pyongyang in February and April 2017.

South Korean media reports indicated an increase in cyber hacking by North Korea during the year. Specifically, international press reported that a January hacking attempt targeted defectors and advocates for North Korean human rights.

ACADEMIC FREEDOM AND CULTURAL EVENTS

The government restricted academic freedom and controlled artistic works. Curriculum was highly controlled by the state. The government severely restricted academic travel. The primary function of plays, movies, operas, children’s performances, and books was to buttress the cult of personality surrounding the Kim family and support the regime.

The state carried out systematic indoctrination through the mass media, schools, and worker and neighborhood associations. Indoctrination continued to involve mass marches, rallies, and staged performances, sometimes including hundreds of thousands of persons.

The government continued its attempt to limit foreign influence on its citizens. Listening to foreign radio and watching foreign films are illegal. Individuals accused of viewing or possessing foreign films were reportedly subjected to imprisonment and possibly execution. According to the 2016 KINU white paper, a 2015 survey revealed that defectors witnessed proclamations posted indicating that that those caught watching South Korean movies or listening to South Korean music would be sentenced to death, in accordance with instructions announced by the regime in 2013. According to the 2017 KINU white paper, the number of people executed for watching or distributing South Korean video content increased during the last few years.

Based on defector interviews conducted in 2015, InterMedia estimated as many as 29 percent of defectors listened to foreign radio broadcasts while inside North Korea and that approximately 92 percent of defectors interviewed had seen foreign DVDs in North Korea.

The government intensified its focus on preventing the import of South Korean popular culture, especially television dramas. According to media and NGO reports, in enforcing restrictions on foreign films, authorities authorized police to search homes for contraband DVDs. According to InterMedia, the government added a software-based censorship program known as the “signature system” to all domestic mobile phones. This system makes it impossible to view foreign media on the phones. Mobile phones are randomly inspected physically for illegal media, and a history of all activity on the device is available for export upon inspection through monitoring software called “TraceViewer.” Daily NKreported that Kim Jong Un created a special police unit to restrict and control the flow of outside information into the country.

FREEDOM OF PEACEFUL ASSEMBLY

While the constitution provides for freedom of peaceful assembly, the government did not respect this provision and continued to prohibit public meetings not previously authorized and not under government control.

FREEDOM OF ASSOCIATION

The constitution provides for freedom of association, but the government failed to respect this provision. There were no known organizations other than those created by the government. Professional associations existed primarily to facilitate government monitoring and control over organization members.

c. Freedom of Religion

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

The law provides for the “freedom to reside in or travel to any place”; however, the government did not respect this right. The government continued to control internal travel carefully. The government did not cooperate with the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees or other humanitarian organizations in providing protection and assistance to internally displaced persons, refugees, forcibly returned refugees, asylum seekers, stateless persons, or other persons.

In-country Movement: The government continued to restrict freedom of movement for those lawfully within the state. Only members of a very small elite class and those with access to remittances from overseas reportedly had access to personal vehicles. A lack of infrastructure hampered movement, as did security checkpoints on main roads at entry and exit points from every town.

The government strictly controlled permission to reside in, or even to enter, Pyongyang, where food availability, housing, health, and general living conditions were much better than in the rest of the country. Foreign officials visiting the country observed checkpoints on the highway leading into Pyongyang.

Foreign Travel: The government also restricted foreign travel. The government limited issuance of exit visas for foreign travel to officials and trusted businesspersons, artists, athletes, academics, and workers. Short-term exit papers were available on a very limited basis for some residents to visit with relatives, undertake short-term work opportunities, or to engage in small-scale trade.

Exile: The government reportedly forced the internal exile of some citizens. In the past, it forcibly resettled tens of thousands of persons from Pyongyang to the countryside. Sometimes this occurred as punishment for offenses and included those judged to be politically unreliable based on the social status of their family members.

PROTECTION OF REFUGEES

Refoulement: The government did not allow emigration, and reports stated that it increased its severe, tight security on the border, dramatically limiting the flow of persons crossing into China without required permits. NGOs reported strict patrols and surveillance of residents of border areas and a crackdown on border guards who may have been aiding border crossers in return for bribes.

In September 2016 international press reported China constructed a new facility to detain North Koreans without proper documentation. News reports in 2015 stated the DPRK had erected additional barbed-wire fencing on its side of the Tumen River.

The government maintained orders to shoot to kill those attempting to leave without official permission. NGOs reported that Kim Jong Un called for stricter punishments for those suspected of illegal border crossing. The law criminalizes defection and attempted defection. Individuals, including children, who cross the border with the purpose of defecting or seeking asylum in a third country are subject to a minimum of five years of “labor correction.” In “serious” cases, the state subjects asylum seekers to indefinite terms of imprisonment and forced labor, confiscation of property, or death. Many would-be refugees returned involuntarily from foreign states received imprisonment under harsh conditions. Some sources indicated authorities reserved particularly harsh treatment for those who had extensive contact with foreigners, including those with family members resettled in South Korea.

According to the 2017 KINU white paper, a defector reported that a 16-year-old victim of human trafficking in China was forcibly returned in 2014 and subsequently died due to malnourishment during a MSS investigation.

Past reports from refugees noted the government differentiated between persons who crossed the border in search of food (who might be sentenced only to a few months of forced labor or in some cases merely issued a warning) and persons who crossed repeatedly for “political” purposes (who were sometimes sentenced to harsh punishment, including death). This included persons who had alleged contact with religious organizations based on the Chinese border. The law stipulates a sentence of up to two years of “labor correction” for the crime of illegally crossing the border.

Access to Asylum: The law does not provide for granting asylum or refugee status, and the government has not established a system for providing protection for refugees. The government did not grant refugee status or asylum. The government had no known policy or provision for refugees or asylees and did not participate in international refugee fora.

Section 3. Freedom to Participate in the Political Process

Citizens do not have the ability to choose their government peacefully.

Elections and Political Participation

Recent Elections: The most recent national elections to select representatives to the Supreme People’s Assembly (SPA) occurred in 2014. These elections were neither free nor fair. The government openly monitored voting, resulting in a reported 100 percent participation rate and 100 percent approval of the preselected government candidates. Local elections on July 2015 were likewise neither free nor fair. The government reported a 99.97 percent turnout, with 100 percent approval for the government candidates.

Political Parties and Political Participation: The government has created several “minority parties.” Lacking grassroots organizations, the parties existed only as rosters of officials with token representation in the SPA. The government regularly criticized the concept of free elections and competition among political parties as an “artifact of capitalist decay.”

Participation of Women and Minorities: As of 2016 women constituted approximately 3.1 percent of members and 2.8 percent of candidate members of the Central Committee of the Workers’ Party of Korea (WPK) and held few key WPK leadership positions. The 2014 UN COI report indicated only 10 percent of central government officials are women.

The country is racially and ethnically homogenous. There are officially no minorities.

Israel, Golan Heights, West Bank, and Gaza

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 a report the government or its agents committed an arbitrary or unlawful killing. On January 18, during a police action to demolish homes in the unrecognized Bedouin village of Umm al-Hiran in the Negev region of southern Israel, police shot local resident Yaqub Musa Abu al-Qian. Abu al-Qian’s car subsequently struck and killed one police officer. Abu al-Qian died of his injuries shortly thereafter. NGOs alleged, based on an autopsy report leaked to Israel Channel 10, that he bled to death after authorities denied him immediate medical treatment. Police also fired sponge-tipped bullets at protesters, injuring Joint List Chairman Member of Knesset (MK) Ayman Odeh. The Department for Investigations of Police Officers had not completed its investigation into the incident as of October 15.

According to the government and media reports, during the year terrorist attacks killed seven persons and injured 23 others. The locations of attacks included Jerusalem, Yavne, Petah Tikva, Tel Aviv, and Arad. Most of the attackers were Palestinians from the West Bank, and two were Arab citizens of Israel.

In April authorities indicted Koren Elkayam and Tamir Bartal on charges of terrorism targeting Arab citizens of Israel in a series of attacks, including a stabbing, in Be’er Sheva that began in December 2016. According to the indictment, on several occasions, the defendants assaulted men who they thought were Arab to deter them from dating Jewish women.

On October 4, police discovered the body of Reuven Schmerling, a 70-year-old Israeli man, who had been stabbed to death. Authorities arrested West Bank residents Yusef Khaled Mustafa Kamil and Muhammad Ziad Abu al-Roub for the killing and on October 29 indicted them for premeditated murder and entering Israel illegally, according to media reports.

b. Disappearance

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

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

The law does not refer to a specific crime of torture but prohibits assault and pressure by a public official. In 1999 the Supreme Court ruled that, although torture and the application of physical or psychological pain were illegal, Israeli Security Agency (ISA) interrogators may be exempt from criminal prosecution if they used “exceptional methods” in extraordinary cases determined to involve an imminent threat, such as the “ticking bomb” scenario, as long as such methods did not amount to torture. Human rights organizations such as the Public Committee Against Torture in Israel (PCATI), Defense for Children International-Palestine, and Military Court Watch reported that “physical interrogation methods” permitted by the law and used by security personnel could amount to torture. Methods documented by the organizations included beatings, forcing an individual to hold certain stress positions for long periods, sleep deprivation, threatening an illegal act against the detainee or a family member, and painful pressure from shackles or restraints. The government stated that ISA rules, procedures, and methods of interrogation are confidential for security reasons, but they are subject to governmental supervision from within and outside of the ISA.

Authorities continued to state the ISA held detainees in isolation only in extreme cases and when there was no alternative option, and that the ISA did not use isolation as a means of augmenting interrogation, forcing a confession, or punishment. An independent Inspector for Complaints Against ISA Interrogators in the Ministry of Justice handled complaints of misconduct and abuse in interrogations. The decision to open an investigation against an ISA employee is at the discretion of the attorney general.

The government established the Turkel Commission to implement the findings of the 2010 report of the Public Commission to Examine the Maritime Incident, which concerned the interception and capture by the Israeli Navy of ships carrying humanitarian aid bound for Gaza. This led to the 2015 “Ciechanover Report,” which deferred a decision to impose responsibility on military commanders and civilian superiors for offenses committed by their subordinates. The report instead recommended that: “[T]he question of the explicit anchoring of the responsibility of military commanders and civilian superiors in Israeli law would continue to be examined by the relevant parties before being decided.” The report also recommended increasing and clarifying civilian oversight (via the attorney general) of the military justice system. In July 2016 the security cabinet adopted the report’s recommendations. In the context of the Ciechanover report, and in response to more than 60 complaints of violent acts by soldiers that the military closed without response since 2014, the Supreme Court ruled in September 2016 that complaints should be examined within 14 weeks. The government did not publish the number of complaints it examined during the year.

In criminal cases investigated by police involving crimes with a maximum imprisonment of 10 years or more, regulations require recording interrogations; however, an extended temporary law exempts the General Security Services from audio and video recording of interrogations of suspects related to “security offenses.” In December 2016 the Knesset passed an amendment to the Criminal Procedure (Interrogation of Suspects) Law whereby the questioning of a suspect in relation to a security offense is subject to random inspections by a supervising authority, which may supervise any interrogation of such suspects, at any time, without advance notice and without the interrogator’s awareness.

The Ciechanover report recommended installing closed-circuit cameras in all ISA interrogation rooms that broadcast to a control room in real time. The government’s implementation team recommended that this control room be located in an ISA facility in which interrogations are not conducted and that it be accessible and available to a supervising entity from the Ministry of Justice at any time. According to the recommendation, the supervising entity would prepare a concise memorandum on what the observer saw, but no other record would be kept. In the event that the supervising entity believes that interrogators used illegal means during the interrogation, the observer would be required to report the matter to the Office of the Inspector for Complaints against ISA Interrogators in the Ministry of Justice. The government had not finished preparations to implement this mechanism as of September. Human rights NGOs criticized this mechanism as insufficient to prevent and identify torture, arguing there is no recording of interrogations for later accountability and judicial review. NGOs submitted a petition to the Supreme Court opposing the recommendation in 2015. The court rejected the petition on January 17 on the grounds that it was outdated, following significant legal changes.

According to PCATI, as of October the government had never opened a criminal investigation nor indicted an ISA interrogator for torture during an investigation–despite more than 1,100 complaints of torture by detainees in the country since 2001, in some of which cases the government acknowledged that “exceptional measures” were used. The government stated none of these complaints led to a criminal investigation due to insufficient evidence. Nonetheless, some preliminary examinations led to disciplinary measures, changes in procedures, and changes in methods of interrogation. The government noted 139 open cases as of June, of which one-half were received between 2013 and 2015. PCATI reported the preliminary examinations of complaints averaged 28 months, and all but one complaint the organization submitted regarding incidents in 2014 remained unanswered as of September. PCATI submitted 48 new cases of alleged torture or cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment for the year as of October 24.

In its May 2016 review of the country’s compliance with the UN Convention Against Torture, the UN Committee Against Torture recommended (among 50 other recommendations) that the government provide for independent medical examinations for all detainees. In a September 2017 response, the government listed the services available to detainees by the medical staff of the Israel Prison Service (IPS) and stated that requests from prisoners for independent examination at the prisoner’s expense are reviewed by an IPS medical team. PCATI added that professional training for medical personnel to identify, document, and report all allegations and evidence of torture had not been implemented as of October.

PCATI stated the government’s system for investigating allegations of mistreatment of detainees was complex and fragmented. For example, allegations against police and the ISA are investigated by two separate departments of the Police Investigation Department in the State Attorney’s Office of the Ministry of Justice, each with different procedures. The National Prison Wardens Investigation Unit is responsible for investigating allegations against members of the IPS. PCATI reported this fragmentation created a disorganized system characterized by widely varying response times and professional standards. PCATI noted victims often did not know the institutional affiliations of the perpetrators and that complaints were often passed from one organization to another for months or years with each authority denying jurisdiction in the case.

In May 2016 plainclothes Border Police officers beat an Arab citizen, Maysam Abu Alqian, outside the supermarket in which he was working in central Tel Aviv. After requesting to see his identification, the officers beat Alqian severely. The officers alleged Alqian attacked them, but the Tel Aviv District Court ordered him released the day after his arrest. Authorities dropped the criminal charges against the police officers during the year. On March 30, the Department for Investigations of Police Officers (DIPO) in the Ministry of Justice ordered disciplinary actions against one officer, Ben Edri, for “unreasonable use of force and improper behavior.”

Prison and Detention Center Conditions

The law provides prisoners and detainees the right to conditions that do not harm their health or dignity. Conditions in permanent detention facilities run by the IPS generally met international standards, according to the International Commission of the Red Cross (ICRC). For information about the Holot detention facility for irregular migrants, see section 2.d.

Physical Conditions: As of October 19, according to the government, there were 9,279 Israeli citizens held in IPS facilities (5,432 Jewish and 3,847 non-Jewish, the latter predominantly Arab citizens). IPS facilities also held 3,494 prisoners who were legal residents of Israel (including Palestinian residents of East Jerusalem), and 6,552 Palestinian prisoners from the West Bank or Gaza. The prison population included 157 minors who were citizens or residents of Israel–most of them Palestinians from East Jerusalem–and 282 Palestinian minors from the West Bank or Gaza. Of the total prisoner population, 5,821 were characterized as “security prisoners” (those convicted or suspected of nationalistically motivated violence). These prisoners often faced harsher conditions than those for prisoners characterized as criminals, including increased incidence of administrative detention, restricted family visits, ineligibility for temporary furloughs, and solitary confinement.

The vast majority of the security prisoners held in Israel were Palestinian residents of the West Bank; there were a small number of Israeli citizens and Palestinian residents of Gaza. Extraterritorial detention of Palestinians in Israel imposed heavy logistical burdens on family members who wished to visit them. Additionally, because the two Israeli military courts that try Palestinian suspects were both located in the West Bank, detention of Palestinians in Israel led to extensive delays for Palestinian prisoners due to transportation to and from each hearing.

A June report on 62 prisons by the Public Defender’s Office described physical neglect and harsh living conditions. The report also cited a shortage of treatment and rehabilitation groups for non-Hebrew-speaking prisoners, lack of social workers in some prisons, excessive shaking of detainees during transportation, and extended stays in court detention facilities beyond the duration of legal proceedings.

The percentage of minors of Ethiopian origin in prison was significantly higher than their proportion of the population, comprising 14 percent of the inmates in Ofek Prison for juveniles as of October. Data from the Public Defender’s Office reported by the newspaperHa’aretz in September 2016 revealed that the proportion of Ethiopian-Israeli minors convicted of crimes and sentenced to prison instead of treatment was nearly 90 percent, three times the percentage for non-Ethiopian-Jewish minors and almost double that of minors who are Arab citizens of Israel.

On June 13, following a petition by the Association of Civil Rights in Israel (ACRI) and the Academic Center for Law and Business in Ramat Gan, the Supreme Court ruled that within 18 months, prisons must allocate a living space of 48 square feet to each prisoner, including toilet and shower, or 43 square feet, not including toilet and shower. According to ACRI each prisoner is currently allocated 33 square feet, including toilet and shower, and approximately 40 percent of the prisoners were imprisoned in an area that amounted to less than 32 square feet per person.

In 2015 the Knesset passed a law authorizing force-feeding of hunger-striking prisoners under specific conditions; however, the Israel Medical Association declared the legislation unethical and urged doctors to refuse to implement it. The government had not applied this law as of October. Approximately 1,500 Palestinian prisoners participated in all or part of a hunger strike between April 17 and May 27. The prisoners’ principal demands were reinstatement of a second monthly family visit and an end to administrative detention (detention without charge).

In February the IPS installed heaters in the cells of Palestinian security prisoners at Gilboa prison, following a letter from the Arab legal rights NGO Adalah alleging that excessively cold temperatures in prisoners’ cells during the winter months constituted inhuman treatment.

During the year, according to the government, 17 prisoners died in IPS custody, including seven in prisons and 10 in hospitals.

Administration: While authorities usually allowed visits from lawyers and stated that every inmate who requested to meet with an attorney was able to do so, this was not always the case. NGOs alleged authorities did not allow Palestinian detainees, including minors, access to a lawyer during their initial arrest. Travel restrictions on entry into Israel from the West Bank and Gaza affected the access of lawyers and family visitors to some Palestinian prisoners held extraterritorially in Israel. The government granted permits to family members from the West Bank on a limited basis and restricted those entering from Gaza more severely.

After MK Basel Ghattas smuggled items to security prisoners, the Knesset House Committee decided in December 2016 to ban MKs from visiting security prisoners, with limited exceptions for parliamentary oversight of prison conditions. As of August 31, the government authorized two MKs from the coalition and two from the opposition to visit security prisoners. The Public Defender’s Report published in June 2016 cited difficulties in holding meetings between detainees and their lawyers in detention facilities in Jerusalem, Tiberias, Nazareth, Petah Tikva, and Be’er Sheva.

On April 25, Adalah complained that the IPS prevented seven lawyers from meeting Palestinian prisoners regarding their hunger strike. On May 3, following a petition to the Supreme Court, the IPS, and Adalah reached an agreement allowing the prisoners to meet their lawyers under restricted conditions.

Independent Monitoring: The ICRC monitored all facilities in accordance with its standard modalities, except for urgent or isolated cases that the ICRC raised bilaterally with the concerned authorities (that is, relating to the composition of the visiting team and the conditions for interviews without witnesses). PCATI and other organizations continued to press for structural reforms, including mandatory audio-video recordings of interrogations. The Public Defender’s Office is officially responsible for monitoring and reporting on prison conditions, which it does every two years (see above).

d. Arbitrary Arrest or Detention

The law prohibits arbitrary arrest and detention and provides for the right of any person to challenge the lawfulness of his/her arrest or detention in court, and the government generally observed these requirements. Authorities subjected non-Israeli residents of the Israeli-occupied Golan Heights to the same laws as Israeli citizens. Noncitizens of Palestinian origin detained on security grounds fell under military jurisdiction as applied by Israel to Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza, even if detained inside Israel (see “West Bank and Gaza” section).

With regard to irregular migrants, the most recent amendment to the Prevention of Infiltration Law allows the government to detain migrants and asylum seekers who arrived after December 2014 for three months in the Saharonim Prison facility “for the purpose of identification and to explore options for relocation of the individual.” The law also states authorities must bring irregular migrants taken into detention to a hearing within five days and inform them of their rights, including the right to legal counsel. After three months in Saharonim, the government may then hold them for 12 months in Holot, a remote, semiopen facility run by the IPS (see section 2.d.). The law also allows authorities to send those who fail to renew their visas on time to Holot for up to 120 days. It prohibits, however, detention in Holot based on certain factors including age, health, gender, or other protected status. Authorities can send those who violated rules at Holot to Saharonim Prison and reportedly transferred two or three detainees per day, on average. A policy dating to 2014 authorizes the government to detain without trial and for an indefinite period irregular migrants who were “implicated in criminal proceedings.” The NGO Hotline for Refugees and Migrants noted this policy enabled indefinite detention even in cases in which there is insufficient evidence to try a suspect, including for relatively minor crimes, as well as cases of migrants who completed a sentence following conviction. The Office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) stated this policy is “at variance with international human rights and refugee law,” and called for migrants suspected of crimes to be treated equally under Israel’s existing criminal laws. On January 4, the Supreme Court ruled that the legality of this policy requires additional review. It had not issued any new guidance as of October 27.

ROLE OF THE POLICE AND SECURITY APPARATUS

Under the authority of the prime minister, the ISA combats terrorism and espionage in Israel and the West Bank. The national police, including the border police and the immigration police, are under the authority of the Ministry of Public Security. The Israeli Defense Forces (IDF) have no jurisdiction over Israeli citizens. ISA forces operating in the West Bank and East Jerusalem fall under the IDF for operations and operational debriefing. The Ciechanover report (see section 1.c.) clarified that the Ministry of Justice and its investigators and the IDF and its investigators would divide investigative and prosecutorial responsibilities in incidents in which police operated under the authority of the military.

Civilian authorities maintained effective control over the ISA and police forces, and the government has effective mechanisms to investigate and punish abuse and corruption. The government took steps to investigate allegations of the use of excessive force by police and military.

PCATI continued to criticize the extremely low number of indictments issued relative to the number of investigations opened, the reliance on internal disciplinary measures instead of criminal charges, and the high percentage of cases closed due to investigation failures by military police.

DIPO is responsible for investigating complaints against ISA bodies, including incidents involving police and the border police that do not involve the use of a weapon. On April 5, the state comptroller published a report criticizing DIPO for investigating complaints narrowly on criteria of individual criminal or disciplinary violations rather than broadly on criteria of systemic or organizational problems. According to its annual report DIPO published in February, after reviewing 2,945 cases in 2016, DIPO filed criminal indictments in 110 cases (4 percent), ordered disciplinary proceedings in 128 cases (4 percent), closed 974 cases without further investigation (33 percent), and closed 843 cases following a preliminary examination (29 percent). In 2016 courts in Israel ruled on 86 cases brought by DIPO and issued 67 convictions.

Investigative responsibility for alleged abuses by the IDF, including incidents involving a weapon in which police units were operating under IDF authority in the West Bank and East Jerusalem, remains with the Military Police Criminal Investigations Department of the Ministry of Defense.

Human rights NGOs, including Human Rights Watch (HRW) and Amnesty International (AI), continued to allege that accountability mechanisms precluded serious internal investigations by the military and were marred by severe structural flaws.

ARREST PROCEDURES AND TREATMENT OF DETAINEES

Police must have warrants based on sufficient evidence and issued by an authorized official to arrest a suspect. The following applies to detainees, excluding those in administrative detention: Authorities generally informed such persons promptly of charges against them; the law allows authorities to detain suspects without charge for 24 hours prior to bringing them before a judge, with limited exceptions allowing for up to 48 hours; authorities generally respected these rights for persons arrested in the country; there was a functioning bail system, and detainees could appeal decisions denying bail; and authorities allowed detainees to consult with an attorney in a timely manner, including one provided by the government for the indigent and to contact family members promptly. (Further information on arrest procedures under military law can be found in the West Bank and Gaza section.)

Authorities detained most Palestinian prisoners within Israel. The government stated that the establishment of new prisons in the West Bank could adversely affect detainees’ living conditions. Authorities prosecuted Palestinian noncitizens held in Israel under Israeli military law, a practice Israel has applied since the 1967 occupation. According to the circumstances of each case, such as the severity of the alleged offense, status as a minor, risk of escape, or other factors, authorities either granted or denied bail to noncitizens of Palestinian origin detained for security violations.

Authorities may prosecute persons detained on security grounds criminally or hold them as administrative detainees or illegal combatants, according to one of three legal regimes. First, under a temporary law on criminal procedures, repeatedly renewed since 2006, the IPS may hold persons suspected of a security offense for 48 hours prior to bringing them before a judge, with limited exceptions allowing the IPS to detain a suspect for up to 96 hours prior to bringing the suspect before the senior judge of a district court. In security-related cases, authorities may hold a person for up to 35 days without an indictment (versus 30 days for nonsecurity cases), and the law allows the court to extend detentions on security grounds for an initial period of up to 20 days for interrogation without an indictment (versus 15 days for other than security-related cases). Authorities may deny security detainees access to an attorney for up to 60 days under military regulations or 21 days under Israeli civilian procedures.

Second, the Emergency Powers Law allows the Ministry of Defense to detain persons administratively without charge for up to six months, renewable indefinitely. As of May 31, according to data provided to the NGO B’Tselem by the IPS, 475 Palestinians including two minors were in administrative detention.

Third, the Illegal Combatant Law permits authorities to hold a detainee for 14 days before review by a district court judge, deny access to counsel for up to 21 days with the attorney general’s approval, and allow indefinite detention subject to twice-yearly district court reviews and appeals to the Supreme Court. As of May 31, according to B’Tselem based on IPS data, no Palestinian prisoners were held under this law.

While international law allows the use of administrative detention in rare “ticking time bomb” scenarios, civil society organizations and some MKs continued to criticize the government for using it excessively, adding that the practice was undemocratic since there was no due process. In its September submission regarding compliance with the UN Convention Against Torture, the government claimed it issued administrative detention orders “as a preventive measure where there is a reasonable basis to believe that the detention is absolutely necessary for clear security purposes. Administrative detention is not employed where the security risk can be addressed by other legal alternatives, especially criminal prosecution.” The government further emphasized the role of military judges in reviewing administration detention orders and noted that 395 such orders were appealed to the Supreme Court as of September 10.

Arbitrary Arrest: The annual report of the Office of the Public Defender in 2016 highlighted indictments on problems of trivial importance or against persons who break the law to obtain basic needs such as food, electricity, water, or housing. Allegations continued of arbitrary arrests of Arab citizens during protests, as well as of Ethiopian-Israelis. The NGO Human Rights Defenders Fund reported police detained nine lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, intersex (LGBTI) participants in a July 20 protest (see section 6) and strip-searched seven of them at the police station. In response to a complaint, the Tel Aviv District Police legal advisor wrote that the search was not in accordance with regulations and that the officers involved would face disciplinary action.

Pretrial Detention: Administrative detention continued to result in lengthy pretrial detention for security detainees (see above).

Detainees’ Ability to Challenge Lawfulness of Detention before a Court: By law persons arrested or detained on criminal or other grounds are entitled to challenge in court the legal basis or arbitrary nature of their detention and any delay in obtaining judicial rulings. If the court finds persons to have been detained unlawfully, they are entitled to prompt release, compensation, or both. An administrative detainee has the right to appeal any decision to lengthen detention to a military court of appeals and then to the Supreme Court. All categories of detainees routinely did so, including citizens, legal residents, and Palestinian noncitizens. Military courts may rely on classified evidence denied to detainees and their lawyers when determining whether to prolong administrative detention. There is no system whereby authorities may clear a defense team member to view classified information used to justify holding an administrative detainee.

For information on procedures related to the detention of irregular migrants, including refugees and asylum seekers, see section 2.d.

e. Denial of Fair Public Trial

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

TRIAL PROCEDURES

The law provides for the right to a fair public trial, and an independent judiciary generally enforced this right. Exceptions to the right for a public trial include national security concerns, protection of the interest of a minor or an individual requiring special protection, and safeguarding the identity of an accuser or defendant in a sex-offense case.

Defendants enjoy the rights to a presumption of innocence, to be informed promptly and in detail of the charges against them, to a fair and public trial without undue delay, and to be present at their trial. They may consult with an attorney or, if indigent, have one provided at public expense. They have adequate time and facilities to prepare their defense. Defendants who cannot understand or speak the language used in court have the right to free interpretation as necessary from the moment charged through all appeals. Defendants have the right to confront witnesses against them and to present witnesses and evidence on their behalf. They may not be compelled to testify or confess guilt and may appeal to the Supreme Court.

The prosecution is under a general obligation following an indictment to provide all evidence to the defense. The government may on security grounds withhold from defense lawyers evidence it has gathered but will not use in its case against the accused. The Supreme Court (with regard to civilian courts) and the Court of Appeals (with regard to military courts) can scrutinize the decision to withhold such evidence. The rules of evidence in espionage cases tried in criminal court do not differ from the normal rules of evidence, and no use of secret evidence is permissible.

In August 2016, in response to a wave of attacks, many perpetrated by minors, that began in September 2015, the Knesset passed a “Youth Law” legalizing imprisonment of children as young as 12 years old if convicted of serious crimes such as murder, attempted murder, or manslaughter. The government reported no child had been imprisoned under this law as of October.

Military court trials are open to the public, but, since authorities conduct them in a military camp, members of the public require an entry permit from the military. Authorities conducted certain trials in a closed setting, not open to the public, for reasons of security or for the protection of the identity of a minor.

The evidentiary rules governing military trials of noncitizen Palestinians, all of whom are subject to military law, are the same as evidentiary rules in criminal cases. According to the Ministry of Justice, the law does not permit convictions based solely on confessions. Counsel may assist the accused in such trials, and a judge may assign counsel to defendants. Indigent detainees do not automatically receive free legal counsel for military trials, but almost all detainees had counsel, even in minor cases. Court indictments were read in Hebrew and, unless the defendant waived this right, in Arabic. Authorities translated all military court indictments into Arabic. At least one interpreter was present for simultaneous interpretation in every military court hearing, unless the defendant waived that right. Various human rights organizations claimed the availability and quality of Arabic interpretation was insufficient; most interpreters were bilingual Israelis performing mandatory military service. Defendants may appeal through the Military Court of Appeals and then to the Supreme Court. (Further information on military court proceedings against Palestinians and others can be found in the West Bank and Gaza section, Political Prisoners and Detainees.)

POLITICAL PRISONERS AND DETAINEES

Some human rights organizations claimed that Palestinian security prisoners held in Israel should be considered political prisoners. The government described security prisoners as those convicted or suspected of nationalistically motivated violence.

ACRI petitioned the Supreme Court in 2013 regarding a practice by the ISA of calling in Israeli political activists suspected of “subversive” activity unrelated to terror or espionage for questioning under caution, meaning they might be charged with a crime. In response the government confirmed a classified secret procedure regulates Israel National Police assisting the ISA in the summoning process. In February the Supreme Court imposed the following restrictions on this process: Summoning will be carried out only after consultation with the legal advisor of the ISA; police and the ISA will clarify that questioning is voluntary and the person summoned is not required to appear; and the ISA will clarify during questioning that the suspect’s statements cannot be used in court for other proceedings.

CIVIL JUDICIAL PROCEDURES AND REMEDIES

An independent and impartial judiciary adjudicates lawsuits seeking damages for, or cessation of, human rights violations. Administrative remedies exist, and court orders usually were enforced. By law noncitizen Palestinians may file suit in civilian courts to obtain compensation through civil suits in some cases, even when a criminal suit is unsuccessful and the actions against them considered legal.

PROPERTY RESTITUTION

In 35 unrecognized Bedouin villages in the Negev inhabited by approximately 70,000 persons, the government viewed all buildings as illegal and subject to demolition. The government maintained a program to encourage Bedouins to relocate from unrecognized villages, which lacked basic infrastructure, to established towns by providing low-cost land. It offered compensation for demolition of illegal structures for those willing to move to designated permanent locations. Bedouins often refused to participate because they asserted they owned the land or that the government had given them prior permission to settle in their current locations.

According to a 2016 report from the state comptroller, from 2008-14 the Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development resolved only 3 percent of ownership claims through settlement agreements and legal proceedings. In cases of demolitions with no agreement from the residents to relocate, the government levied fines against residents to cover expenses incurred in the course of demolitions. On August 16, the Be’er Sheva Magistrate’s Court ruled that six residents of al-Araqib (see below) must pay 262,000 shekels ($73,400) for the costs of demolitions of their village from July to December 2010 and 100,000 shekels ($27,800) for the expenses of the state’s lawyer. On December 24, following a trial that lasted four years, a Be’er Sheva court sentenced the head of al-Araqib, Sheikh Sayyah al-Turi, to 10 months in prison and a fine of 36,000 shekels ($10,000) for charges relating to residence in the village, including trespassing and entering public space against the law. Many Bedouins whose residences or structures were subject to demolition orders elected to demolish them themselves to avoid fines.

According to the NGO Negev Coexistence Forum for Civil Equality (NCF), Jewish citizens reside in 126 out of 144 communities in the Negev, in addition to approximately 60 family farms, alongside 18 government-approved communities for Bedouin citizens. According to the NCF, 115 of the 126 Jewish communities maintained admission committees to screen new residents, effectively excluding non-Jewish residents. Authorities approved plans for new Jewish communities called Hiran (see below), Daya, and Neve Gurion to replace existing Bedouin villages. Authorities planned Daya to replace the unrecognized Bedouin village of al-Qatamat, and Neve Gurion was to replace some houses in the recognized village of Bir Haddaj. In June the government completed registration of 44,500 acres of land in the Negev, effectively nullifying approximately 600 land claims filed by Bedouin citizens in the 1970s. As of October it was unclear whether the Bedouin plaintiffs would accept monetary compensation the government offered as restitution. The NCF noted the Negev was sparsely populated, with only 8 percent of the country’s population living on 60 percent of the land, so there was ample room to establish new communities without razing existing ones.

Authorities halted efforts to demolish homes in the unrecognized Bedouin village of Umm al-Hiran, in preparation for replacing it with a Jewish community called Hiran, after protests and a fatal police shooting in January (see section 1.a.). Construction in the area surrounding Umm al-Hiran stopped after this incident, then resumed in July, but the government had not conducted any further demolitions in the village as of October 24. In January 2016 the Supreme Court ruled that eviction orders issued against the residents of Umm al-Hiran, where the Israeli government had moved them in 1956, were valid. The government offered plots of land and cash compensation to villagers willing to accept resettlement to the nearby Bedouin town of Hura, three miles away. Village leaders had rejected this option because, according to the Hura local council, there was insufficient space for natural growth in the town, and due to fears it would force the villagers to abandon a traditional rural lifestyle for an urban one. Village leaders expressed openness to almost any option that would allow them to remain in place, including living side by side with Jewish neighbors in an expanded community. On August 7, Adalah wrote a letter to the National Planning and Building Council objecting to bylaws drafted by the Hiran cooperative association that would allow only Orthodox Jews to live in Hiran. A group of 35 Jewish families sponsored by the OR Movement (an organization dedicated to expanding the Jewish population of the Negev region) who planned to move to Hiran remained in the forest outside Umm al-Hiran living in mobile homes donated by the Jewish National Fund (JNF), while waiting to obtain the land.

The NCF recorded 1,158 demolitions in 2016, the highest number since they began tracking in 2013. Demolitions by Israeli authorities increased to 412 in 2016 from 365 in 2015, while Bedouins demolished the remaining structures to avoid fines. In May 2016 a report from the state comptroller stated: “The ongoing circle of construction for housing and demolition of these structures deepens the alienation of the Bedouin residents of the Negev towards the state and does not contribute to the regulation of their settlement.” The report recommended the government act to settle land claims as early as possible, plan resettlement of Bedouin citizens in cooperation with the Bedouin community, develop infrastructure in recognized Bedouin communities, and formulate an enforcement policy regarding illegal construction.

One week before the January demolitions in Umm al-Hiran, the government demolished 11 homes in the Arab city of Qalansawe, which Prime Minister Netanyahu applauded in a Facebook posting. The demolitions in Qalansawe and Umm al-Hiran, as well as planned demolitions in the northern Druze town of Maghar, led thousands of Arab and Druze citizens to protest in multiple locations from January 21 to 24. (For details about housing construction and demolitions, see section 6.)

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

The law prohibits such actions, and the government generally respected those prohibitions.

Separate religious court systems adjudicate matters such as marriage and divorce for the Jewish, Muslim, Christian, and Druze communities. The country lacks a civil marriage law. In order to be considered legal, civil marriages, marriages of some non-Orthodox Jews, marriages in non-Orthodox ceremonies, same-sex marriages, marriages of a Jew to a non-Jew, or marriages of a Muslim woman to a non-Muslim must take place outside the country to be considered legal, because religious courts refuse to conduct these marriages. Approximately 11 percent of marriages registered with the Ministry of the Interior in 2015 occurred abroad, according to the Central Bureau of Statistics.

The majority of Jewish citizens objected to exclusive Orthodox control over aspects of their personal lives, including marriage and “kashrut “(Jewish dietary laws), according to a survey of 800 Jewish Israelis published in September by the NGO Hiddush. The Orthodox Rabbinate did not consider to be Jewish approximately 337,000 Israeli citizens who considered themselves Jewish and who immigrated either as Jews or as family members of Jews; therefore, these citizens could not be married or buried in Jewish cemeteries. The Orthodox Rabbinate had the authority to handle divorces of any Jewish couple regardless of how they were married. The government stated that 24 cemeteries in the country served immigrants not considered Jewish by the Orthodox Rabbinate. Authorities did not fully implement a law requiring the government to establish civil cemeteries.

The 2003 Law of Citizenship and Entry, which is renewed annually, prohibits non-Jewish Iranians, Iraqis, Syrians, Lebanese, and Palestinians from the West Bank or Gaza, including those who are spouses of Israeli residents or citizens, from obtaining resident status in Jerusalem or Israel unless the Ministry of the Interior makes a special determination, usually on humanitarian grounds. AI and other human rights organizations repeatedly called on the government to repeal this law and resume processing of family unification applications. The law allows the entry of spouses of Israelis on a “staying permit” if the male spouse is age 35 or older and the female spouse is age 25 or older. The NGO Mossawa reported this law impacts approximately 30,000 Arab families in Israel.

Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:

a. Freedom of Speech and Press

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

The law imposes tort liability on any person who knowingly issues a public call for an economic, cultural, or academic boycott of the State of Israel, or of institutions or entities in areas under its control in the West Bank. Plaintiffs must prove direct economic harm to claim damages under the “antiboycott” legislation. In 2015 the Supreme Court upheld the constitutionality of this law.

The law also permits the finance minister to institute regulations imposing administrative sanctions on those calling for such a boycott, including restrictions on participating in tenders for contracts with the government and denial of government benefits. On March 6, the Knesset passed an amendment barring entry to the country to visitors (excluding permanent residents) who called for such a boycott. Criteria published on July 24 by the Population and Immigration Authority restricted enforcement of this law to prominent activists promoting a boycott individually or as a leader of an organization. Adalah criticized the law for making political opinions a factor in decisions about whether to allow noncitizens entry to the country. Since immigration authorities already had broad powers to deny entry, and they do not routinely provide visitors who are denied entry with the statute under which they were refused, it is unknown how many times this law has been applied.

Freedom of Expression: The law prohibits hate speech and content liable to incite to violence or discrimination on grounds of race, origin, religion, nationality, and gender.

In July 2016 the Knesset passed a law increasing the penalty for desecrating the Israeli flag from one year to three years in prison and increased the fine from the equivalent of eight dollars to 58,400 shekels ($16,400).

In cases of speech that are defined as incitement to violence or hate speech, the law empowers police to limit freedom of expression.

Authorities repeatedly attempted to obstruct events by the NGO Breaking the Silence in public facilities. For example, on February 7, at the request of Culture Minister Miri Regev, Jerusalem Mayor Nir Barkat tried to prevent a speech by Breaking the Silence by ordering the eviction from a government-owned building of an art gallery in which the speech was scheduled to take place. The art gallery refused to cancel the event, and it proceeded as planned on February 8 (see also Press and Media Freedom below). Independent media were active and expressed a wide variety of views without restriction.

Press and Media Freedom: In December 2016 ACRI published a report detailing a variety of legislative and rhetorical attacks on media throughout the year by elected officials, especially Prime Minister Netanyahu, and expressed concern about the chilling effect of these attacks on press freedom. On October 23, President Reuven Rivlin said, “It is one thing to work to remedy the problems of the media…and quite another thing to try to control it. … How can it be in the interest of the State of Israel–or of any democracy and Israel’s democracy in particular–to have a weak media begging for its life?” Reactions to the president’s speech included death threats on social media and hate graffiti, according to media reports.

In February, Prime Minister Netanyahu gave up the position of communications minister after a petition to the Supreme Court objected to his holding the communications portfolio while being investigated for corruption relating to his dealings with media companies. In May he appointed MK Ayoob Kara to the position of communications minister.

On July 31, Prime Minister Netanyahu ordered Communications Minister Kara to close the offices of the news outlet al-Jazeera, accusing the network of incitement to violence during a crisis on the Temple Mount/Haram al-Sharif. As of October the government had not closed al-Jazeera. Media reported on September 7, however, that Prime Minister Netanyahu banned al-Jazeera’s bureau chief Walid al-Omari from a government seminar on freedom of speech.

Censorship or Content Restrictions: All media organizations must submit to military censors any material relating to specific military issues or strategic infrastructure problems, such as oil and water supplies. Organizations may appeal the censor’s decisions to the Supreme Court, and the censor may not appeal a court judgment. In July the Israel Democracy Institute stated that power to prohibit publication of news should be transferred from the military censor to the judicial system.

News printed or broadcast abroad is subject to security censorship. The government regularly enacted restrictive orders on sensitive security information and continuing investigations, and required foreign correspondents, as well as local media, to abide by these orders. According to data provided by the military at the request of +972 MagazineMekomit and the NGO Movement for Freedom of Information, from 2011 through August 2016, the military censor banned the publication of 1,936 articles and redacted information from 14,196 articles. Ha’aretz reported on October 2 that the national police legal advisor issued new guidelines increasing the police’s authority to bar journalists from entering an area based on “fear that the journalist’s entry will inflame a violent atmosphere to a level that is liable to endanger people’s lives” or possibly violate a gag order. Previous gag orders restricted only publication, not journalists’ presence.

In January 2016 the State Attorney’s Office sought a court order to compel the NGO Breaking the Silence to reveal the identity of an individual who served in the IDF during 2014’s Operation Protective Edge and who testified to the organization about alleged war crimes during the operation. Breaking the Silence claimed the investigation was politically motivated and that providing this information would effectively force the organization to ends its operations. In March, Breaking the Silence and the state reached a compromise in which the NGO would transfer to the government original source materials for its report on Operation Protective Edge but withhold the names of its sources. As of the end of the year, the case remained pending at the Petah Tikva Magistrate’s Court.

National Security: The Counterterrorism Law, which took effect in November 2016, criminalizes as “terrorist acts” speech supporting terrorism, including public praise of a terrorist organization, display of symbols, expression of slogans, and “incitement.” There were at least 11 convictions under the law as of the end of the year, according to media reports.

On August 15, police arrested Sheikh Raed Salah, head of the Northern Islamic Movement, which the government outlawed in 2015 under the emergency law, an act for which it was criticized by Arab-Israeli politicians who had claimed the decision to outlaw the Northern Islamic Movement appeared to have motivated by politics rather than a threat to national security. Authorities indicted Salah for incitement to terrorism and supporting an illegal association.

INTERNET FREEDOM

The government monitored email and social media platforms and censored online content; according to Adalah, the government monitored private online communications without appropriate legal authority.

The government monitored email, internet chat rooms, and the popular texting application WhatsApp for security purposes. On July 17, the Knesset passed a law authorizing district court judges to restrict access to internet sites to prevent the commission of crimes. The state attorney’s cyber unit’s end-of-year report for 2016 stated that requests to social media outlets to remove content based on its assessment that the content is illegal under the law led to the removal of 1,554 online postings.

Internet access was widely available, and approximately 73 percent of the country’s inhabitants used it regularly.

ACADEMIC FREEDOM AND CULTURAL EVENTS

The law prohibits institutions that receive government funding from engaging in commemoration of the Nakba, or “catastrophe,” the term used by Palestinians to refer to the displacement of Palestinians during Israel’s 1948 War of Independence.

On June 9, Education Minister Naftali Bennett presented a new draft code of ethics to prevent academics from engaging in “political activity,” defined as supporting or opposing a party, political figure, or position on a topic under debate in the Knesset. Academics and a Supreme Court justice condemned Bennett’s initiative as an assault on academic freedom and freedom of speech. The government did not implement the code of ethics as of October 19.

b. Freedom of Peaceful Assembly and Association

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

FREEDOM OF PEACEFUL ASSEMBLY

The law provides for this right, and the government generally respected it.

In January, Adalah wrote letters to the attorney general and police commissioner objecting to police efforts to prevent Arab secondary school students from participating in street protests. According to Adalah police summoned Arab school principals to a Haifa police station and sent WhatsApp messages to students falsely claiming the planned protests were illegal and would lead to clashes with police.

In 2015 thousands of Ethiopian-Israelis and their supporters gathered to protest police brutality and discrimination following the publication of a video showing police beating Ethiopian IDF soldier Demas Fekadeh in the Tel Aviv suburb of Holon. The demonstrations at some points resulted in clashes with police. The police committee created to investigate the events led to several steps toward reform in partnership with an Ethiopian-Israeli NGO, including a pilot project for police body cameras, which ended in June, and new guidelines and training at police stations near Ethiopian-Israeli communities.

FREEDOM OF ASSOCIATION

The law provides for this right, and the government generally respected it.

The law prohibits registration of an association or a party if its goals include denial of the existence of the State of Israel or the democratic character of the state. A political party will not be registered if its goals include incitement to racism or support of an armed struggle, enemy state, or terror organization against Israel.

Israeli and Palestinian NGOs, particularly those focused on human rights problems and critical of the government, asserted the government sought to intimidate them and prevent them from receiving foreign government funding. According to media reports, in meetings February 6 and 7, Prime Minister Netanyahu requested that British Prime Minister Theresa May and Belgian Prime Minister Charles Michel stop funding Israeli NGOs that are “hostile to Israel” and “act against IDF soldiers.” Prime Minister Netanyahu canceled a meeting with German Foreign Minister Sigmar Gabriel after Gabriel refused to cancel his April 26 meetings with NGOs Breaking the Silence and B’Tselem. On June 11, Netanyahu proposed to ban all foreign-government funding of Israeli NGOs. Israeli human rights NGOs, which generally receive more foreign-government funding than other Israeli organizations, stated this would cause many of them to close. In October, Netanyahu tasked Tourism Minister Yariv Levin with drafting a bill on this topic. Media reports indicated it would target NGOs with “political” agendas and possibly ban Breaking the Silence. The Knesset did not take action on this proposal by October 25 (see also section 5).

On March 22, the Knesset passed an amendment to the National Service law mandating additional scrutiny on requests for National Service volunteers from NGOs that received more than one-half of their funding from foreign governments. A 2016 law requires such NGOs to state this fact in all their official publications, applications to attend a Knesset meeting, and any communications with the public (on television, radio, billboards, or emails). A report is due from NGOs to the Ministry of Justice in July 2018. The law fines NGOs that violate these rules 29,200 shekels ($8,180). The Ministry of Justice claimed that 27 NGOs received more than one-half their funding from foreign governments; of these, 25 were human rights organizations. NGOs criticized the 2016 law as stigmatizing left-wing organizations, which more commonly received international funding from foreign governments, while not imposing similar reporting requirements for NGOs funded by private international donors, which was more common among right-wing organizations.

c. Freedom of Religion

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

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

The government cooperated with UNHCR and other humanitarian organizations in providing protection and assistance to refugees, asylum seekers, stateless persons, or other persons of concern, except as noted below.

Abuse of Migrants, Refugees, and Stateless Persons: Communities with a large concentration of African migrants were occasionally targets of violence. The Tel Aviv municipality dedicated a special police unit to combat violence and crime in the migrant community. Additionally, the nature of government policies on the legality of work (see Employment section below) forced many refugees to work in “unofficial” positions, making them more susceptible to poor treatment and questionable work practices by their employers.

In December 2016 the government charged two Israeli citizens, Dennis Barshivatz and a minor, with killing Sudanese asylum seeker Babikar Ali Adham after they beat him for 75 minutes in the city of Petah Tikva in November 2016. Adham died from brain-stem bleeding four days later. The case continued as of November.

In-country Movement: Authorities prohibited asylum seekers released from the Holot facility from going to Eilat and Tel Aviv, in part to keep them from working there, and municipal officials in other areas stated they would oppose asylum seekers’ relocating to their communities.

Foreign Travel: Citizens generally were free to travel abroad provided they had no outstanding military obligations and no administrative restrictions. The government may bar citizens from leaving the country based on security considerations, due to unpaid debts, or in cases in which a Jewish man refuses to grant his wife a Jewish legal writ of divorce. Authorities do not permit any citizen to travel to any state officially at war with Israel without government permission. This restriction includes travel to Iran, Iraq, Lebanon, Saudi Arabia, Syria, and Yemen,

The government requires all citizens to have a special permit to enter “Area A” in the West Bank (the area, according to the Interim Agreement, in which the Palestinian Authority exercises civil and security responsibility). But the government allowed Arab citizens of Israel access to Area A without permits, and Yediot Yerushalayim reported on August 25 that an increasing number of Jewish Israelis entered Area A without permits for entertainment and tourism.

A case filed by two NGOs in Be’er Sheva District Court in October 2016 objected to the government’s motion to dismiss a tort lawsuit on behalf of a Palestinian teenager whom the Israeli military shot and injured in his Gaza home in 2014. Adalah claimed that a 2012 amendment to Israel’s Civil Wrongs Law, which exempted from damages “persons who are not citizens or residents of Israel, and … are residents of declared ‘enemy territory’” imposed nearly insurmountable obstacles to access to courts, accountability, and redress for civilians harmed by Israeli security forces in the West Bank and Gaza. In June the court asked the Knesset to join the case as a respondent. The case remained pending as of October 19.

Citizenship: The 2011 amendment to the Nationality Law allows revocation of citizenship from a person on grounds of “breach of loyalty to the State of Israel.” In May 2016 Minister of the Interior Aryeh Deri filed a motion with the Haifa District Court to revoke the citizenship of Alaa Zayoud, whom the courts convicted of four counts of attempted murder in a 2015 car-ramming attack. On August 6, the Haifa District Court ruled to revoke Zayoud’s citizenship, but the Supreme Court issued a temporary injunction preventing revocation of his citizenship on October 26. The case continued at year’s end.

Additionally, in June 2016 Minister Deri requested that the attorney general approve a request to petition the courts to revoke the citizenship of Luqman Atun and the permanent residency of Jerusalem resident Khalil Adel Khalil, following their attempts to join the Islamic State in Syria. The attorney general denied both requests.

PROTECTION OF REFUGEES

Refoulement: The government provided some protection against expulsion or return of refugees to countries where their lives or freedom could be threatened and stated its commitment to the principle of nonrefoulement. The government maintained three policies to induce departure of irregular migrants and asylum seekers who entered the country without permission, almost all of whom were from Eritrea and Sudan. As of September there were approximately 38,000 irregular migrants and asylum seekers in the country, of whom approximately 500 entered as unaccompanied minors and approximately 7,000 were women, according to NGOs.

The first policy, announced in 2015, allows deportation of migrants and asylum seekers who refuse to depart the country “voluntarily.” On August 28, the Supreme Court ruled that in principle migrants can be deported to a third country against their will but ruled the government cannot detain migrants for more than 60 days to persuade them to accept “voluntary departure.” As of December 31, no migrants were known to have been jailed under this policy.

The second policy is to offer irregular migrants incentives to “voluntarily depart” the country to one of two unspecified third countries in Africa, sometimes including a $3,500 stipend (paid in U.S. dollars). The government claimed the third-country governments provided for full rights under secret agreements with Israel. The government provided most returnees with paid tickets to either Uganda or Rwanda, but NGOs and UNHCR confirmed that migrants who arrived in Uganda and Rwanda did not receive residency or employment rights. During the year approximately 4,000 irregular migrants departed the country, compared with 3,607 in 2016 and 3,381 in 2015. In 2015 a Be’er Sheva court upheld the legality of the secrecy of these agreements in response to a petition by NGOs. Prior to departure the Population and Immigration Authority and the Custody Review Tribunal reviewed mandatory recorded video interviews and written statements of those who opted to participate in the voluntary return program to verify they were departing voluntarily. NGO advocates for asylum seekers claimed the policy led to abuses in the receiving countries, and that this transfer could amount to refoulement. UNHCR and NGOs reported the policy led to many individuals’ quickly leaving again to other countries or returning to their country of origin because the foreign countries in which they arrived did not accord them protection, residency, and employment rights. HRW and the HRM documented the treatment of some returnees whom Sudanese and Eritrean authorities arrested upon their return to Sudan and Eritrea, reporting that authorities surveilled, beat, threatened, and in some cases tortured them. The Israeli government affirmed it maintained a series of mechanisms to monitor the conditions of those who departed “voluntarily.” Authorities stated they had successfully contacted by telephone more than 80 percent of those who departed, and the majority of those individuals had no complaints.

The third policy is detaining irregular migrants without conviction in the Holot or Saharonim detention facilities (see below).

Access to Asylum: The law provides for granting of asylum or refugee status. The government has established a system for providing protection to refugees, but it has rarely done so. In 2008 authorities began giving the majority of asylum seekers a “conditional release visa” that requires renewal every one to four months. Only two Ministry of the Interior offices in the country, located in Tel Aviv and Eilat–the two cities where migrants are forbidden to live after gaining release from the Holot facility–renew these visas. The Ministry of the Interior closed a third visa renewal office, in Be’er Sheva, during the year, and the Supreme Court rejected a petition against the closure of that office in September. The government provided these individuals with a limited form of group protection regarding freedom of movement, protection against refoulement, and some informal access to the labor market. Access to health care, shelter, and education was inconsistently available. The protection environment significantly deteriorated following the adoption in late 2011 of policies and legislation aimed at deterring future asylum seekers by making life difficult for those already in the country. These actions further curtailed the rights of the population and encouraged its departure.

Refugee status determination (RSD) recognition rates were extremely low. In the 2012-17 period, the government received 44,752 asylum applications, including 19,292 from citizens of Ukraine and Georgia from January 1, 2016, to October 26, 2017. As of October 26, the government had received 3,950 applications from citizens of other countries. During the year the government approved no asylum requests. The government granted refugee status to a Sudanese applicant for the first time in June 2016. Authorities stated the reason for the high proportion of unresolved applications is that the Ministry of the Interior’s RSD unit has been overwhelmed with applications. NGOs rejected this explanation, pointing to government statements and policies pressuring irregular migrants to depart the country.

In June the government announced it would issue A/5 humanitarian visas to 200 Sudanese migrants from Darfur. While this represented an improvement over the 2A5 “conditional release” status, NGOs cautioned that even these 200 migrants would continue to lack the full protections of refugee status. In February the Population and Immigration Authority issued new guidelines to RSD adjudicators to increase their sensitivity to gender problems. The new guidelines did not create new protection categories or lead to an increase in RSD approvals.

In September 2016 an administrative appeals tribunal ruled that asylum applications from Eritreans should not be rejected out of hand on the basis of fleeing military conscription, but a district court later overturned the ruling. In response to a November 2016 ruling by another administrative appeals tribunal, which overturned the government’s blanket rejection of applications submitted more than one year after arrival, the government agreed to reopen those applications.

Data that the HRM received under the Freedom of Information Law revealed that as of 2015 there were 16 migrants who had been detained for more than three years, 30 migrants detained between two to three years, and 31 migrants detained between one to two years. In July 2016, following a court order, authorities released an asylum seeker from Guinea detained in Saharonim Prison for 10 years. Migrants who were unable to prove their citizenship, including those claiming to be Eritrean or Sudanese, were subject to the same policy of indefinite detention as migrants from countries eligible for deportation. UNHCR reported more than 30 migrants with undetermined or disputed citizenship in long-term detention as of October. During the year the government released two Eritrean human trafficking victims whom prison authorities had detained for more than five years because they were unable to prove they were Eritrean citizens, according to the HRM.

Despite a stated nondeportation policy preventing refoulement of irregular migrants and asylum seekers to Eritrea and Sudan, government officials and media outlets continued to refer to asylum seekers from Eritrea and Sudan as “infiltrators.” The government and media did not apply those descriptions to the large number of asylum seekers from Ukraine and Georgia, who mostly entered on tourist visas before applying for asylum. On February 26, the Population and Immigration Authority (PIBA) announced a fast-track procedure to reject asylum applications from applicants whose country of citizenship the Ministry of the Interior had determined is safe for return and began applying it to Georgian applicants. PIBA expanded the fast-track procedure to Ukrainian applicants on October 17.

UNHCR expressed continuing concerns for Palestinian residents of the West Bank who claimed to be in a life-threatening situation due to their sexual orientation and who requested legal residency status in Israel. There is no mechanism for granting such persons legal status, leaving those who cannot return to the West Bank due to fear of persecution vulnerable to human traffickers, violence, and exploitation. The government stated that an interministerial committee headed by the Prime Minister’s Office recommended the Coordinator of Government Activities in the Territories welfare coordinator only handle “extreme cases where a person claims to be threatened for reasons other than collaboration” with the Israeli authorities.

Freedom of Movement: The Prevention of Infiltration Law defines all irregular border crossers as “infiltrators” and permits authorities to detain irregular migrants, including asylum seekers and their children. Under the Law of Entry, the government can detain irregular migrants based on an administrative order rather than through the legal process. In 2014 the Supreme Court struck down the section of the law that allowed irregular migrants, including refugees and asylum seekers, to be detained in the Holot facility indefinitely, and in 2015 the Supreme Court set the limit at one year. The government may still hold irregular migrants, including refugees and asylum seekers, in Saharonim Prison for three months on arrival and then move them to Holot for 12 months.

As a semiopen facility, authorities closed Holot from 10 p.m. to 6 a.m. daily and required check-in at 10 p.m. Authorities did not confine detainees to their rooms during the night, but they could not leave the facility.

In February, African migrants and asylum seekers detained in the Holot detention facility complained of poor medical care. Authorities provided detainees with a bed, clothes, clean towels, food, free medical care, and air-conditioned living quarters. Dental care was not available in Holot. Beginning during the year, a psychiatrist was available once a week. Detainees received a monthly allowance of 480 shekels ($134), but authorities regularly docked detainees’ monthly allowance for minor infractions. In response to a lawsuit by a human rights NGO against overcrowding of 10 detainees into each room in the Holot facility, the Supreme Court ruled in June that each room must be limited to six individuals by March 2018.

An amendment to the Prevention of Infiltration Law, passed in 2014, excluded from summoning to Holot all women and children, men who could prove that they have a wife or children in Israel for whom they provide, persons over age 60, and those whose health could be negatively affected by detention in Holot. The amendment also excluded from summoning recognized victims of trafficking, but did not exclude survivors of torture who do not meet the criteria of trafficking victims. The government reported it released one trafficking victim from the Holot facility in 2016, as well as 13 from the Givon facility. UNHCR reported it was aware of many cases in which authorities did not exempt victims of torture, as well as several cases involving individuals with serious physical or mental health problems. In January the HRM filed a case to the Supreme Court against detention of torture survivors at Holot, and the case continued as of October.

Employment: The few recognized refugees received renewable work visas. In 2015 many asylum seekers who once had B/1 work visas had this status downgraded, and most held a 2A5 visa, which explicitly reads, “This is not a work visa.” The government allowed asylum seekers to work in the informal sector but not to open their own businesses or register to pay value-added tax, although the law does not prohibit these activities. Despite the lack of a legal right to employment, the government’s published policy was not to indict asylum seekers or their employers for their employment. In September, however, the Supreme Court ruled that asylum seekers are included as “foreign workers,” a category prohibited by Finance Ministry regulations from working on government contracts, including local government contracts for cleaning and maintenance, which often employed irregular migrants.

The Prevention of Infiltration Law, which took effect May 1, requires employers to deduct 20 percent of irregular migrants’ salaries for deposit in a special fund and adds another 16 percent from the employer’s funds. The employee can only access the funds upon departure from the country, and the government may deduct a penalty for each day that the employee is in the country without a visa. In October an organization assisting irregular migrants reported a 20-percent increase in requests for food aid after the law took effect. NGOs such as Kav LaOved and the HRM criticized the law for pushing vulnerable workers’ already low incomes below minimum wage, and leading employers and employees to judge it to be more profitable to work on the black market. As of October technical problems prevented those who departed the country from receiving the accumulated funds. A coalition of NGOs petitioned the Supreme Court against the law, and the first hearing was on July 26. The case continued as of November 1.

Detainees in the Holot facility are prohibited from working outside the facility, but some worked inside the facility for less than the minimum wage. Some of the facility’s services depended on detainee labor.

The law bars migrants from sending money abroad, limits to the minimum wage for the number of months they resided in the country the amount they may take with them when they leave, and defines taking money out of the country as a money-laundering crime.

Access to Basic Services: Access to health care, shelter, and education was available on an inconsistent basis. The few recognized refugees received social services, including access to the national health-care system, but the government did not provide asylum seekers with public social benefits such as health insurance, public housing, or income assistance to the most vulnerable individuals, including children, single parents, and persons with disabilities. The NGO Physicians for Human Rights Israel reported that the lack of health insurance for persons without civil status in the country made them dependent on limited solutions, such as those offered by the Ministry of Health or humanitarian organizations. The government stated it provided infirmary services, including laboratory services, medical imaging, and general and mental hospitalization services in the Holot facility for individuals held there, including asylum seekers. UNHCR reported, however, that when a detainee accessed health services, another detainee often provided translation, compromising confidentiality and potentially affecting the quality of treatment. The government sponsored a mobile clinic, and mother and infant health-care stations in south Tel Aviv, which were accessible to migrants and asylum seekers. The clinic provided health and dental services, evaluation and treatment of sexually transmitted disease, and prenatal and infant medical care. Hospitals provided emergency care to migrants but often denied follow-up treatment to those who failed to pay for their emergency care, according to NGOs.

Temporary Protection: The government provided temporary protection primarily to Eritrean and Sudanese asylum seekers, as described above.

STATELESS PERSONS

Despite being eligible for Israeli citizenship since 1981, an estimated 23,000 Druze living in territory captured from Syria in 1967 largely refused to accept it, and their status as Syrian citizens was unclear. They held Israeli identification cards, which listed their nationality as “undefined.”

In August media reported the Ministry of the Interior had retroactively canceled the citizenship of 2,600 Bedouin citizens since 2010, alleging that a “registration error” had mistakenly granted citizenship to their ancestors between 1948-51. Cancellation of their citizenship left these individuals stateless. On August 28, according to press reports, the Ministry of the Interior stated it was taking steps to rectify the problem. As of October 17, the problem was not resolved.

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: Observers considered parliamentary elections held in March 2015 free and fair. In 2014 a change in the law raised the electoral threshold from 2 percent of votes to 3.25 percent of votes, a move some civil society organizations criticized for its limitation on freedom of representation and its potential effect on parties representing the Arab minority. The four Arab-majority parties represented in the Knesset united into one faction, the Joint List, winning 13 seats and becoming the third-largest faction in the Knesset.

Political Parties and Political Participation: The Basic Laws prohibit the candidacy of any party or individual that denies the existence of the State of Israel as the state of the Jewish people or the democratic character of the state or that incites racism. Otherwise, political parties operated without restriction or interference. The Northern Islamic Movement, banned in 2015, continued its practice of prohibiting its members from running for local or national office and boycotting elections.

In March the Knesset passed a law restricting the funding of individuals and groups that engage in “election activity” during the period of a national election, which is typically three months. The law’s sponsors described it as an effort to prevent organizations and wealthy individuals from bypassing election-funding laws, but some civil society organizations expressed concern the law would stifle political participation.

In July 2016 the Knesset passed a law enabling dismissal of an MK for the remainder of the term if 90 of 120 MKs voted for expulsion, following a request of 70 MKs, including at least 10 from the opposition. The party of an expelled member could replace the MK with the next individual on its party list, and the expelled member could run in the next elections. Joint List MK Yousef Jabareen and two NGOs petitioned the Supreme Court against the law in December 2016, arguing the government intended the law to target Arab legislators and that it harmed democratic principles such as electoral representation and freedom of expression. The case continued as of year’s end.

Participation of Women and Minorities: No laws limit participation of women and/or members of minorities in the political process, and they did participate. The law provides an additional 15 percent in campaign funding to municipal party lists composed of at least one-third women. Although senior political and social leaders often came from among veterans of the predominantly male IDF officer corps, women participated widely in politics, including in leadership positions. Women faced significant cultural barriers in political parties representing conservative religious movements and the Arab minority, although the 2015 elections resulted in two female Arab MKs from the Joint List winning seats. As of September the 120-member Knesset had 33 female members and 17 members from ethnic or religious minorities (13 Muslims, three Druze, and one Christian). As of September the 23-member cabinet included four women and one Druze minister. One woman was a deputy minister; there were no Arabs. For the first time, an Arab citizen of Israel, Aida Touma Suliman, chaired a permanent committee in the Knesset, the Committee on the Status of Women. Four members of the 15-member Supreme Court were women, and one was Arab.

According to Adalah, the recognized Bedouin village of al-Fura’a, with approximately 6,000 residents, had not been assigned to a regional council, meaning that residents were unable to vote for a local government.

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

A variety of domestic and international human rights groups generally operated without government restriction, investigating and publishing their findings on human rights cases. Government officials were generally responsive to their views, and MKs routinely invited NGOs critical of the government to participate in Knesset hearings on proposed legislation. Human rights NGOs have standing to petition the Supreme Court directly regarding governmental policies and may appeal individual cases to the Supreme Court.

Israeli and Palestinian NGOs, particularly those focused on human rights problems and critical of the government, asserted that the government sought to intimidate and stigmatize them. Breaking the Silence, a group of military veterans whose goal is to create transparency on how the IDF interacts with Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza, was the target of intensely negative rhetoric during the year. For example, in an interview on IDF Radio on April 26, Deputy Minister of Foreign Affairs Tzipi Hotovely compared the NGO to the terrorist organization Hamas, describing it as “an enemy that harms the State of Israel.” On June 22 and July 24, at the request of Justice Minister Ayelet Shaked, police questioned Breaking the Silence spokesperson Dean Issacharoff on charges relating to his claim that he assaulted a Palestinian man while serving in the IDF. In November the state’s attorney closed the investigation, concluding that the incident had not occurred. Authorities reopened the case in December after Breaking the Silence provided evidence that police had interviewed the wrong victim, according to media reports. In October media reported that Prime Minister Netanyahu tasked Tourism Minister Yariv Levin with drafting a bill to ban organizations seeking to prosecute IDF soldiers, especially Breaking the Silence.

On February 20, the Ministry of the Interior denied a work permit application for an HRW researcher, accusing HRW of spreading “Palestinian propaganda.” The Ministry of the Interior subsequently approved his visa on April 26.

The Ministry of the Interior continued to deny entry into the country to foreign nationals affiliated with certain NGOs that the government stated called for a boycott of the state of Israel, one of its institutions, or entities in areas under its control. (For information about boycotts against Israel and Israeli settlements in the West Bank, see section 2.a.)

The staffs of Israeli NGOs, particularly those calling for an end to Israel’s military presence in the West Bank, received death threats, which spiked during periods in which government officials spoke out against their activities. On September 4, prosecutors indicted a man from Bnei Brak on charges of vandalism, extortion, and preparation of dangerous substances in six separate incidents, including vandalism of a Reform synagogue in Ra’anana in November 2016 and planning arson against the headquarters of Breaking the Silence.

Following a series of incidents in which government officials declined or canceled their participation at events organized by human rights NGOs from 2014 to 2017, ACRI submitted a complaint to the attorney general on August 16. The attorney general’s reply on September 19 encouraged government ministries to engage in dialogue with civil society, including through participation in conferences.

The United Nations or Other International Bodies: The government generally cooperated with the United Nations and other international bodies. The government continued its participation in the UN Human Rights Council, including the Universal Periodic Review process. Following a July 7 UNESCO vote designating the Tomb of the Patriarchs in Hebron as a Palestinian world heritage site, Prime Minister Netanyahu announced the government would cut one million dollars in membership fees to the United Nations and repurpose the money to establish a museum of Jewish heritage in Kiryat Arba and Hebron and other similar projects. On October 12, Netanyahu instructed the Ministry of Foreign Affairs to make preparations for Israel’s withdrawal from UNESCO. The government continued its policy of nonengagement with the UN Human Rights Council’s “special rapporteur on the situation in the Palestinian territories occupied since 1967.”

Government Human Rights Bodies: The state comptroller also served as ombudsman for human rights problems. The ombudsman investigated complaints against statutory bodies that are subject to audit by the state comptroller, including government ministries, local authorities, government enterprises and institutions, government corporations, and their employees. The ombudsman is entitled to use any relevant means of inquiry and has the authority to order any person or body to assist in the inquiry.

Israel, Golan Heights, West Bank, and Gaza – West Bank and Gaza

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 the West Bank, there were no reports of disappearances by or on behalf of government authorities. Some detainees registered complaints with the PA’s Independent Commission for Human Rights (ICHR) that their arrests were arbitrary. In Gaza, Hamas security operatives carried out extrajudicial detentions based on political affiliation. Information concerning the whereabouts and welfare of those detained was not consistently or reliably available. Hamas denied due process or access to family and legal counsel to many of those detained. There was no new information on the disappearances in 2014 and 2015 of two Israeli citizens who crossed into Gaza and whom Hamas reportedly apprehended and held incommunicado.

b. Disappearance

In the West Bank, there were no reports of disappearances by or on behalf of government authorities. Some detainees registered complaints with the PA’s Independent Commission for Human Rights (ICHR) that their arrests were arbitrary. In Gaza, Hamas security operatives carried out extrajudicial detentions based on political affiliation. Information concerning the whereabouts and welfare of those detained was not consistently or reliably available. Hamas denied due process or access to family and legal counsel to many of those detained. There was no new information on the disappearances in 2014 and 2015 of two Israeli citizens who crossed into Gaza and whom Hamas reportedly apprehended and held incommunicado.

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

The PA basic law prohibits torture or use of force against detainees; however, international and local human rights groups reported that torture and abuse remained a problem.

Palestinian detainees held by PASF registered complaints of abuse and torture with the ICHR. Reported abuses by PA authorities in the West Bank included forcing prisoners, including those accused of affiliation with Hamas, to sit in a painful position for long periods, beating, punching, flogging, intimidation, and psychological pressure. Independent observers assessed abuse was not systematic or routinely practiced in PA prisons, although some prisoners experienced abuse during arrest or interrogation. The PA Corrections and Rehabilitation Centers Department, under the authority of the Ministry of Interior, continued to maintain a mechanism for reviewing complaints of prisoner abuse in civil prisons but reported no cases of inmate abuse by its staff.

Detainees held by Hamas filed claims of torture and abuse with the ICHR. Other human rights organizations reported that Hamas internal security tortured detainees. According to a media report, Hamas security officials tortured Mohammad Sufian al-Qassas, a 30-year-old Palestinian living in Gaza, after his arrest on September 18. Al-Qassas was arrested following complaints that some of his internet cafe clients were “insulting God.” On September 19, 19-year-old Khalil Abu Harb from Gaza died after falling from a window in an interrogation room in the district prosecutor’s office, after authorities arrested him on charges of theft. Hamas claimed Abu Harb committed suicide. The incident prompted local human rights groups to call for an end to torture in Gazan prisons.

Human rights organizations such as the Public Committee Against Torture in Israel (PCATI) reported that “special interrogation methods” used by Israeli security personnel against Palestinian security detainees in the West Bank and East Jerusalem could amount to torture. The methods reportedly included beatings, forcing an individual to hold a stress position for long periods, threats of rape and physical harm, and painful pressure from shackles or restraints applied to the forearms. According to a Haaretz media report based on a freedom of information request to the Ministry of Justice, as of January the Ministry of Justice unit that handles complaints about interrogations against Shin Bet officers had in no case opened a criminal investigation against or indicted any of its personnel implicated by such allegations, despite the fact that more than 1,100 complaints had been submitted since 2001. The Ministry of Justice did not accept any appeal against the closure of such an investigation since the appeals process was established in 2013. PCATI further noted that preliminary examinations into complaints continue to take an average of 28 months. As of November 21, all except one complaint filed since 2014 awaited initial responses from the Ministry of Justice.

Israeli officials stated they did not use techniques that could amount to torture. Israeli and Palestinian NGOs continued to criticize Israeli detention practices they termed abusive, including isolation and prolonged solitary confinement, sleep deprivation, lack of food, exposure to the elements, and psychological abuse, including threats to interrogate spouses, siblings, or elderly parents, or to demolish family homes.

Israeli authorities reportedly used similar tactics on Palestinian minors. Military Court Watch (MCW), Hamoked, and other human rights NGOs claimed Israeli security services continued to employ abuse, and in some cases torture, to coerce confessions from minors arrested on suspicion of stone throwing or others acts of violence. In May the MCW released a briefing note that reported 93 percent of Palestinian children arrested by the ISF during the year were hand-tied, 80 percent blindfolded, 58 percent subjected to physical abuse, and 90 percent denied access to a lawyer prior to questioning. According to the latest Israeli Prison Service data, the ISF as of May held in detention 331 Palestinian children between ages 12 and 17, an 82-percent increase from the monthly average for 2015.

Prison and Detention Center Conditions

Physical conditions in prisons and detention centers in the West Bank were reportedly poor. The PA Corrections and Rehabilitation Centers Department, under the authority of the Ministry of Interior, continued to maintain a mechanism for reviewing complaints of prisoner abuse in civil prisons but reported no cases of inmate abuse by its staff.

The basic conditions of prisons in Gaza were reportedly poor and prison cells were overcrowded.

ISF detention centers for security detainees were less likely than Israeli civilian prisons to meet international standards, according to PCATI and the Association for Civil Rights in Israel (ACRI). Authorities detained extraterritorially in Israel most Palestinian prisoners who had been arrested by the ISF in the West Bank and Gaza. According to the MCW, as of November 21, Israeli government authorities transferred and held 5,986 Palestinians detainees, or an average of 82 percent of all prisoners from the West Bank, in prisons inside (the 1949 Armistice line) Israel.

According to PCATI and Physicians for Human Rights in Israel, Israeli medics and doctors routinely ignored bruises and injuries resulting from violent arrests and interrogations. On one occasion prison health professionals were called to an interrogation room after a Palestinian detainee fainted during the interrogation, but they allowed the interrogation to continue unchecked. Although the Israeli Prison Service (IPS) directives provided for private doctor visitations for external medical second opinions, the IPS regularly denied access of external doctors to evaluate Palestinian prisoners.

NGOs reported PA, Israeli, and Gazan prisons lacked adequate facilities and specialized medical care for detainees and prisoners with disabilities.

Physical Conditions: Some PA prisons continued to be crowded and lacked ventilation, heating, cooling, and lighting systems conforming to international standards. Authorities at times held male juveniles with adult male prisoners. Security services used separate detention facilities. Conditions for women were virtually identical to those for men.

Most Israeli government facilities provided insufficient cell space. NGOs, including PCATI and the MCW, stated that authorities appeared to use poor conditions or exposure to weather as an interrogation or intimidation method. Prisoners also continued to claim inadequate medical care. PCATI, Hamoked, B’Tselem, and the MCW noted that most reports of abuse or poor conditions occurred during arrest and interrogation, generally within the first 48 hours following arrest.

Female prisoners and detainees reported harassment and abuse during arrest and in detention by the ISF. According to PCATI there was no investigation into these complaints.

Administration: By PA law any person sentenced to imprisonment for a term of not more than three months may petition the PA public prosecutor to be put to work outside the prison instead of imprisonment, unless the judgment deprives him of that option. Although the law allows for this option, the legal system did not have the capacity to implement such a process. The PA investigated allegations of mistreatment.

Little information was available about Hamas prison administration in the Gaza Strip.

NGOs, including the MCW and Hamoked, alleged Israeli authorities did not allow Palestinian detainees, including minors, access to a lawyer during their initial arrest. Human rights groups such as the PCHR reported families of imprisoned Palestinians, particularly Gazans, had only limited ability to visit prisoners due to their detention inside Israel and the lack of entry permits to Israel for most Palestinians.

PCATI claimed there was a systematic failure to investigate abuse claims made by Palestinians held in various Israeli interrogation and detention facilities. PCATI reported no torture complaint resulted in a criminal investigation, prosecution, or conviction. PCATI claimed the government regularly dismissed complaints of abuse following a preliminary examination by an Israeli Security Agency (ISA) employee. Authorities exempted ISA facilities from regular independent inspections. NGOs reported investigations of abuse at ISF and Israeli police facilities were slow and ineffective and rarely led to prosecutions. Of more than 200 complaints filed by PCATI between 2007 and 2017 regarding ISF violence against detainees in the West Bank, three complaints resulted in an indictment against an Israeli soldier on assault charges.

Independent Monitoring: In the West Bank, the PA permitted the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) access to detainees to assess treatment and conditions in accordance with the ICRC’s standard modalities. Human rights groups, humanitarian organizations, and lawyers indicated that, as in previous years, there were some difficulties in gaining access to specific detainees held by the PA depending on which PA security organization managed the facility.

In Gaza the ICRC was given access to detainees to assess treatment and conditions in accordance with the ICRC’s standard modalities. Human rights organizations conducted monitoring visits to some prisoners in Gaza, but Hamas authorities denied representatives permission to visit high-profile detainees and prisoners.

The Israeli government permitted visits by independent human rights observers. The government permitted the ICRC to monitor treatment and prison conditions, including at detention centers, in accordance with the ICRC’s standard modalities. NGOs sent representatives to meet with Palestinian prisoners–including those on hunger strikes–and inspect conditions in Israeli prisons, detention centers, and some ISF facilities. Security prisoners held by the ISA remained inaccessible to independent monitors. Palestinian families and human rights groups reported delays and difficulties in gaining access to specific detainees from Israeli authorities. They also reported transfers of detainees without notice and claimed Israeli authorities at times used transfer practices punitively against prisoners engaging in hunger strikes.

d. Arbitrary Arrest or Detention

PA law prohibits arbitrary arrest and detention, and PA prosecutors generally charged suspects prior to detaining them. Nonetheless, the PA criminal justice system often did not provide a prompt and speedy trial. There were instances of PA detention without charge or trial for selected security detainees in PASF custody.

Hamas reportedly practiced widespread arbitrary detention in Gaza, particularly of Fatah members, civil society activists, journalists, and those accused of publicly criticizing Hamas. Fatah officials claimed Hamas arrested several Fatah members for their participation in January demonstrations against electricity shortages in Gaza.

Since the 1967 occupation, Israel has prosecuted Palestinian residents of the West Bank under military law, based on orders from the Israeli military commander. Since 1967 the Israeli Knesset has since extended criminal and civil law protections to Israeli settlers in the West Bank. Israel applies Israeli civil law to all residents of Jerusalem, both Israeli and Palestinian.

Under Israeli military law, the IPS may hold adults suspected of a security offense for four days prior to bringing them before a judge, with limited exceptions that allow the IPS to detain a suspect for up to eight days prior to bringing the suspect before the senior judge of a district court. For minors, Israeli military law differentiates by age among those suspected of a security offense. Suspects between ages 12-14 can be held up to one day, with a possible one-day extension. Those age 14-16 can be held up to two days, with a possible two-day extension. Those age 16-18 can be held up to four days, with a possible four-day extension.

Under military law, in security-related cases, Israeli authorities may hold adults for 20 days prior to an indictment, with the possibility of additional 15-day extensions up to 75 days. An Israeli military appeals court can then extend the detention up to 90 days at a time. Prior to an indictment in security-related cases, authorities may hold minors for 15 days, with the possibility of 10-day extensions up to 40 days. An Israeli military appeals court can then extend the detention up to 90 days at a time.

The Emergency Powers Law allows the Israeli Ministry of Defense to detain persons administratively without charge for up to six months, renewable indefinitely. According to IPS statistics, as of November 30 there were 425 Palestinians in administrative detention, including two Palestinian minors over the age of 14.

The Illegal Combatant Law permits Israeli authorities to hold a detainee for 14 days before review by a district court judge, deny access to counsel for up to 21 days with the attorney general’s approval, and allow indefinite detention subject to twice-yearly district court reviews and appeals to Israel’s Supreme Court.

ROLE OF THE POLICE AND SECURITY APPARATUS

West Bank Palestinian population centers mostly fall into Area A, as defined by the Oslo-era agreements. In Area A, which contains 55 percent of the Palestinian population on approximately 18 percent of West Bank land, the PA has formal responsibility for security and civil control. Nevertheless, since the Second Intifada in 2002, Israeli security forces have regularly conducted security operations in Area A, often without coordinating with the PASF. These incursions, which increased at the outbreak of violence beginning in 2015, continued throughout the year. PA officials claimed Israeli incursions in Area A increased to approximately 50 per week in September. The PA has civil control, and the PA and Israel maintain joint security control of Area B territory in the West Bank, which contains 41 percent of the population on approximately 21 percent of the land. Israel retains full civil and security control of Area C, which comprises approximately 4 percent of the Palestinian population and 61 percent of the land of the West Bank. Approximately 400,000 Israelis live in Area C Israeli settlements.

Six PA security forces operate in the West Bank. Several are under the PA Ministry of Interior’s operational control and follow the prime minister’s guidance. The Palestinian Civil Police have primary responsibility for civil and community policing. The National Security Force conducts gendarmerie-style security operations in circumstances that exceed the capabilities of the civil police. The Military Intelligence Agency handles intelligence and criminal matters involving PASF personnel, including accusations of abuse and corruption; it can refer cases to court. The General Intelligence Service is responsible for external intelligence gathering and operations. The Preventive Security Organization is responsible for internal intelligence gathering and investigations related to internal security cases (for example, antiterrorism, weapons violations, and money laundering). The Presidential Guard protects facilities and provides dignitary protection. The ICHR continued to report accusations of abuse and torture at the hands of the PASF.

The PA maintained effective control over its security forces and has mechanisms to investigate and punish abuse and corruption.

In the Gaza Strip, Hamas forces exercised de facto control. Press and NGO reports suggested Hamas enforced strict control across all sectors of society. Impunity remained a problem. There were numerous instances when Hamas forces failed to prevent or deter violence, such as rocket attacks into Israel by rival Salafist groups.

Israeli authorities maintained a West Bank security presence through the ISF, the ISA, the INP, and Border Guard. According to organizations such as Yesh Din, PCATI, and B’Tselem, Israeli authorities took some steps to investigate and punish abuse and corruption, but there were reports of failure to take disciplinary action in cases of abuse (see section 1.a.). The ISF stated it continued to open investigations automatically into claims of abuse of Palestinians in Israeli military police custody. Yesh Din claimed the automatic opening of investigations applied only to some Israeli military activity in the West Bank, but not to Palestinians reporting abuse in custody. NGOs such as Yesh Din, PCATI, and B’Tselem reported that impunity among Israeli security forces remained a problem, in part because mechanisms for investigating allegations were not effective. Reports of abuse go to the Israeli Attorney General’s Office; PCATI reported Israeli authorities systematically disregarded abuse allegations. In May 2016 B’Tselem announced it would no longer refer Palestinian complaints of abuse or injury by the ISF to Israeli military investigators and the MAG, citing a desire to avoid contributing to what the NGO called the pretense of an Israeli military law enforcement system in the West Bank.

NGOs such as Yesh Din and Rabbis for Human Rights also criticized Israeli efforts and accountability in investigating reports of Israeli security forces killing Palestinian civilians, noting that only one case since 2011 has resulted in an indictment. Israeli law restricts the ability of Palestinians to seek compensation in Israeli courts for harm by Israeli security forces. In January 2016 the State Attorney’s Office filed an indictment on charges of reckless and negligent use of a firearm against two soldiers who shot and killed a 16-year-old in the village of Budrus who was reportedly trying to flee a restricted area. The State Attorney’s Office proposed (inter alia) that the soldiers pay damages to the families, but the soldiers’ attorney rejected the offer. As of October the case remained pending.

According to Israeli and Palestinian NGO and press reports, the ISF did not respond sufficiently to violence perpetrated against Palestinians by Israeli settlers in the West Bank. The number of Israeli settler attacks perpetrated against Palestinians increased for the first time in three years, according to the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (UNOCHA). As of August, UNOCHA had identified 89 incidents of Israeli settler violence that resulted in Palestinian fatalities, injuries, or property damage, an 88-percent increase in the monthly average compared with 2016. The Israeli NGO Yesh Din, citing Israeli security forces and MAG figures, reported that Israeli authorities closed 75 percent of investigative files into alleged Israeli settler violence due to police investigators’ failure to locate suspects or find sufficient evidence to enable an indictment. Yesh Din claimed that failures in Israeli law enforcement procedure and management led to the limited results in terms of indictment and conviction of offenders.

In January the Israel Central District Attorney’s Office indicted two Israeli suspects on charges connected with a July 2015 “price tag” arson attack on a Palestinian home in the West Bank village of Douma, which killed a toddler and his parents, and severely injured his four-year-old brother. A perpetrator also spray-painted “Revenge!” and a Star of David on the wall of the home. One Israeli was charged with murder and another was charged with conspiring to commit a crime. The trial continued throughout the year without reaching a verdict. In May relatives of the Palestinian family killed in the attack filed a lawsuit against the Israeli government seeking admission of responsibility and damages.

ACRI and other NGOs stated Israeli security and justice officials operating in predominantly Palestinian neighborhoods in East Jerusalem–such as Issawiya, Silwan, Ras Alamud, At-Tur, Sheikh Jarrah, and the Old City–used excessive force or displayed bias against Palestinian residents in investigating incidents involving Palestinian and Israeli actors.

According to ACRI, during various security raids in Palestinian-majority neighborhoods in Jerusalem, the ISF fired sponge bullets at the head and upper torso of Palestinians (including minors) at close range, in violation of Israeli police rules of engagement. There were multiple reports of blinding and serious injury from synthetic black sponge bullets. On July 12, Israeli border guards shot and injured 13-year-old Nour al-Din Mustafa while he was sitting outside his home in East Jerusalem’s Issawiya neighborhood. Israeli security forces had reportedly entered the area due to a conflict between two Palestinian families and used crowd control weapons after local Palestinian residents threw stones. Israeli police said they were investigating this and other incidents. Palestinians claimed Israeli authorities closed most investigations of injury from sponge bullets for lack of evidence. Relaxed rules of engagement adopted in June 2016 also enabled the INP and Border Guard forces, which constitute the primary security forces operating in Palestinian-majority neighborhoods of Jerusalem, to use live fire as a first resort against suspects engaged in throwing Molotov cocktails, shooting fireworks, or using slingshots.

ARREST PROCEDURES AND TREATMENT OF DETAINEES

PA law generally requires a warrant for arrest and provides for prompt judicial determination of the legality of detention. These provisions were largely–but not uniformly–observed in areas of the West Bank under PA control. There are exceptions that allow for PA arrest without a warrant. PA law allows police to hold detainees for 24 hours if there is sufficient evidence to charge a suspect, and for up to 45 days with court approval. PA authorities held some prisoners detained by order of Palestinian governors in lengthy pretrial detention, according to complaints received by the ICHR. PA law requires that a trial start within six months, or authorities must release the detainee. While some PA security forces reportedly detained Palestinians outside appropriate legal procedures, including without warrants and without bringing them before judicial authorities within the required time, there were no known PA detentions extending beyond the time limit without trial. PA authorities generally informed detainees of the charges against them, albeit sometimes not until interrogation. Bail and conditional release were available at the discretion of judicial authorities. PA authorities granted detainees access to a lawyer. PA courts consistently afforded the right to counsel to indigents charged with felony offenses. Indigent defendants charged with misdemeanors often did not receive counsel, although NGO efforts to represent indigent juveniles and adults in misdemeanor cases were at times successful. The Palestinian Bar Association (PBA) regulates the professional conduct of lawyers in the West Bank. In May the PBA adopted a policy that restricted lawyers’ ability to represent indigents free of charge. An NGO challenged this ruling in court, and in October the PBA rescinded this policy. AI reported that the PASF failed to provide prompt access to legal counsel to some detainees, effectively holding them incommunicado during interrogation.

The PA Military Intelligence Organization (PMI) operated de facto, without a service-specific mandate, to investigate and arrest PA security force personnel and civilians suspected of “security offenses,” such as terrorism. The PMI conducted these activities in a manner consistent with the other PA security services. Hamas continued to charge that the PA detained individuals during the year solely due to their Hamas affiliation. The PA stated it charged many of these individuals with criminal offenses under PA civil or military codes.

In Gaza, Hamas reportedly detained a large number of persons during the year without recourse to legal counsel, judicial review, or bail. There also were instances in which de facto Hamas authorities retroactively issued arrest warrants and used military warrants to arrest Gaza residents.

Israeli military law applied to Palestinians in the West Bank, while Israeli civil law was applied to Israelis living in the West Bank. Under Israeli military law as applied to Palestinians in the West Bank, Israeli authorities can hold detainees for up to 60 days without access to a lawyer. According to the most recent official data, Israeli military courts had a conviction rate of more than 95 percent for Palestinians. Israeli authorities informed Palestinian detainees of the charges against them during detention, but did not always inform minors and their families of the reasons for arrest at the time of arrest, according to the MCW. Israeli authorities stated their policy was to post notification of arrests within 48 hours, but senior officers could delay notification for up to 12 days, effectively holding detainees incommunicado during the interrogation process. An Israeli military commander may request that a judge extend this period. In accordance with law, Israeli authorities generally provided Palestinians held in Israeli military custody inside Israel access to a lawyer of their choice (and provided lawyers for the indigent). Nonetheless, Palestinian detainees often obtained lawyers only after initial interrogations, and 76 percent of minors did not see a lawyer prior to interrogation. Impediments to movement on West Bank roads or at Israeli-operated crossings often made legal consultation difficult and delayed trials and hearings. According to the MCW, most Palestinian detainees saw their lawyer for the first time when they appeared before an Israeli military court. Israeli military courts denied bail to Palestinians in most cases, including for minors. Israeli authorities delayed or deprived some Palestinian detainees of visits by their families or lawyers.

NGOs such as the MCW and Hamoked claimed Israeli authorities in the West Bank frequently failed to inform Palestinian parents why their children had been detained or where they had been taken. Israeli authorities stated their policy was to provide written notification about the arrest to parents when they arrested a child at home; however, this occurred only in 19 percent of cases. Legally, minors who are 16 and 17 years old can be held for 96 hours before seeing a judge, the same period applied to adults. In 2013 an Israeli military order reduced the time that authorities can detain Palestinian children between the ages of 12 and 15 before appearing before a military court judge, although there was no change for minors ages 16 and 17. In 2014 Israeli authorities amended the law to mandate audiovisual recording of all interrogations of minors in the West Bank but limited this requirement to nonsecurity-related offenses. That excluded approximately 95 percent of cases involving Palestinian minors in Israeli military courts. The ISF entered Palestinian homes at night to arrest or to take pictures of minors. Human rights organizations alleged this treatment could amount to torture in some cases. Israeli officials denied these allegations. Israeli military authorities began providing translations into Arabic of some recent changes to military laws affecting Palestinian minors.

As of November 30, there was a drop in Israeli detention rates of Palestinian minors, compared with an all-time high in 2016, but the rate remained significantly higher than 2011-2015 levels. From October 2015 through March 2016, there was a marked increase in Palestinian attacks and attempted attacks against the ISF and Israeli civilians. As of November 30, Israel detained 310 Palestinian minors. NGOs anecdotally reported a high number of arrests of Palestinian minors in December, but official statistics were not yet available. On December 15, the ISF arrested 16-year-old Palestinian Ahed Tamimi and charged her with assault after she was filmed slapping an Israeli soldier in the West Bank town of Nabi Saleh. NGOs criticized the nighttime arrest and charges, arguing that Tamimi did not pose a true threat. Tamimi remained in custody at the end of the year.

Israeli legislation approved in August 2016 effectively lowered the minimum age in Israel for criminal responsibility for serious crimes, such as attempted murder, from 14 to 12. In Jerusalem, where Palestinian residents are subject to Israeli civil law, NGOs reported that increased sentences and mandatory minimum sentences introduced in late 2015 for rock throwing led to increased use of pretrial detention and longer sentences for Palestinian minors. NGOs submitted a petition in 2016 challenging an Israeli civil law that revokes social welfare benefits for the parents of Palestinian minors convicted of security offenses. On January 28, Israel’s High Court of Justice (HCJ) issued a temporary injunction on the new law and required the government to prove the law was not discriminatory. As of November 21, there was no formal response from the Israeli government, but Jerusalem-based families of Palestinian children currently in prison continued to receive social welfare benefits.

Nighttime arrest raids by Israeli authorities in Palestinian-majority neighborhoods such as Issawiya and Silwan, including those resulting in detention of Palestinian minors, were routine in the West Bank and Palestinian-majority neighborhoods in Jerusalem. The MCW reported little substantive improvement since the publication of a 2013 report by the UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF) that stated, “Mistreatment of Palestinian children in the Israeli military detention system appears to be widespread, systematic, and institutionalized.” The MCW said data from more than 400 MCW detainee testimonials collected between 2013-17 confirmed UNICEF’s conclusion that mistreatment by Israeli authorities of Palestinian child detainees in the West Bank was widespread.

The ISA continued its practice of incommunicado detention of Palestinians, including isolation from outside monitors, legal counsel, and family throughout the duration of interrogation. NGOs including the MCW, Hamoked, and B’Tselem reported Israeli authorities used isolation to punish or silence politically prominent Palestinian detainees. According to the Israeli government, the IPS did not hold Palestinian detainees in separate detention punitively or to induce confessions. The Israeli government stated it uses separate detention only when a detainee threatens himself or others, and authorities have exhausted other options–or in some cases during interrogation, to prevent disclosure of information. In such cases, Israeli authorities maintained the detainee had the right to meet with ICRC representatives, IPS personnel, and medical personnel, if necessary.

Arbitrary Arrest: In the West Bank, the ICHR reported that the PA continued to perform arbitrary detentions, in which Palestinian detainees were held without formal charges or proper procedures, particularly in arrests based on political affiliation with Hamas. There were numerous reports the PASF improperly detained Palestinian journalists, as well as reports PA security officials arrested and physically abused Palestinians who posted criticism of the PA online.

The ICHR received complaints of arbitrary arrests by Hamas in Gaza. Many of these arrests and detentions by de facto Hamas authorities appeared to be politically motivated, targeting political opponents and those suspected of ties to Israel.

According to human rights NGOs, including the MCW, B’Tselem, and Hamoked, throughout the year there were reports Israeli security forces in both Jerusalem and the West Bank arbitrarily arrested and detained Palestinian protesters and activists, particularly those participating in demonstrations against the security barrier or against killings of Palestinians.

Pretrial Detention: PA law allows police to hold detainees for 24 hours if there is sufficient evidence to charge a suspect, and for up to 45 days with court approval. It requires a trial to start within six months, or authorities must release the detainee.

It was unclear how long detainees in Hamas custody stayed in pretrial detention or what legal means, if any, Hamas used to detain individuals.

Israeli authorities continued to detain Palestinians administratively (hold indefinitely without presenting charges or going to trial). As of November, Israeli authorities held 425 Palestinians on security grounds (including two minors) for renewable six-month sentences. Security offenses included alleged incitement to violence on social media. Many NGOs, including HRW, AI, and various Palestinian and Israeli NGOs called for an immediate end to Israeli administrative detention. An Israeli military court must approve an administrative detention order. Palestinian detainees may appeal the ruling to the Israeli Military Appeals Court and the Israeli HCJ. The HCJ did not free any Palestinians under administrative detention during this period.

Detainee’s Ability to Challenge Lawfulness of Detention before a Court: Palestinian detainees held by Israel and the PA faced barriers to their ability 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. Palestinians held by Israeli authorities in administrative detention have no right to trial and can only challenge their detention before a military court judge in a closed setting. In cases in which the evidence substantiating the charges against a detainee is classified, the detainee has no means of examining the evidence (and, in some cases, to examine the charges) in order to challenge his or her detention. Detainees held in PA custody faced delays in the enforcement of court rulings regarding their detention, especially regarding the PA’s obligation to release suspects who have met bail.

e. Denial of Fair Public Trial

The PA basic law provides for an independent judiciary. The PA generally respected the judicial independence and impartiality of the High Judicial Council and maintained authority over most court operations in the West Bank. PA-affiliated prosecutors and judges stated that ISF prohibitions on movement in the West Bank, including Israeli restrictions on the PA’s ability to transport detainees and collect witnesses, hampered their ability to dispense justice.

Since 2011 the PA has mandated that Palestinian civilians appear before civilian courts. PA security services continued to pressure PA military justice court personnel to detain West Bank civilians charged with state security violations.

The PA civil, magistrate, and religious courts handle civil suits in the West Bank and provide an independent and impartial judiciary in most matters. There were unconfirmed reports of various Palestinian political factions’ attempting to influence PA judicial decisions. Palestinians have the right to file suits against the PA but rarely did so. Seldom-used administrative remedies are available in addition to judicial remedies. PA authorities did not always execute court orders.

In the Gaza Strip, Hamas-appointed prosecutors and judges operated de facto courts which the PA considered illegal.

Gaza residents can file civil suits. Unofficial, anecdotal reports claimed some Gaza courts operated independently of the Hamas government and were at times impartial. HRW reported Hamas internal security regularly tried civil cases in military courts.

Israeli law provides for an independent judiciary, and the government generally respected Israeli civil courts’ independence and impartiality. The ISF tried Palestinian residents of the West Bank accused of security offenses (ranging from rock throwing to membership in a terrorist organization to incitement) in Israeli military courts, which some NGOs claimed were inadequate and unfair. Israeli law defines security offenses to include any offense committed under circumstances that might raise a suspicion of harm to Israel’s security and which the ISF believes may link to terrorist activity.

TRIAL PROCEDURES

PA law provides for the right to a fair and public trial, and an independent judiciary generally enforced this right in the West Bank. Trials are public, except when the court determines PA security, foreign relations, a party’s or witness’ right to privacy, protection of a victim of a sexual offense, or an “honor crime” requires privacy. If a court orders a session closed, the decision may be appealed to a higher PA court. Defendants enjoy a presumption of innocence and the right to prompt and detailed information regarding the charges, with free interpretation as necessary, from the moment charged through all appeals. AI reported that PA political and judicial authorities sometimes failed to adhere to basic due process rights, including promptly charging suspects. PA law provides for legal representation, at public expense if necessary, in felony cases during the trial phase. Defendants have the right to be present and to consult with an attorney in a timely manner during the trial, although during the investigation phase, the defendant only has the right to observe. Defendants have the right to adequate time and facilities to prepare a defense. Suspects and defendants in the PA justice system have a right to remain silent when interrogated by the prosecutor according to the law. Defendants also have a legal right to counsel during interrogation and trial. They have the right to appeal. PA authorities generally observed these rights.

To address case backlogs, the PA piloted new processing techniques in public prosecutors’ offices (PPOs) in six of 11 governorates in the West Bank. From January 2016, when the PA began collecting statistics, until August, PA case backlogs (that is, misdemeanor case processing over three months, or felony processing over six months) declined by an average of 49.5 percent in the PPOs in the Ramallah, Jericho, Salfit, Bethlehem, Tulkarem, and Nablus Governorates.

Hamas authorities in Gaza followed the same criminal procedure law as the PA in the West Bank but implemented the procedures inconsistently.

Israeli authorities tried Israelis living in West Bank settlements under Israeli civil law in the nearest Israeli district court. Israeli military trials were provided for Palestinians in the West Bank. In Jerusalem both Israeli and Palestinian residents were subject to civil law proceedings. The same evidentiary rules used in Israeli criminal cases apply in both Israeli military and civilian proceedings; for example, Israeli authorities cannot base convictions solely on confessions. Indigent detainees do not automatically receive free legal counsel for military trials, but almost all detainees had counsel, in part because NGOs, such the Human Rights Defenders Fund funded their representation. Israeli military courts use Hebrew, but Palestinian defendants have the right to simultaneous interpretation at every hearing. Various human rights organizations claimed the availability and quality of Arabic interpretation was insufficient; most interpreters were bilingual Israelis performing mandatory military service. Defendants can appeal through the Military Court of Appeals and petition Israel’s HCJ. Israeli military courts rarely acquitted Palestinians charged with security offenses, although they occasionally reduced sentences on appeal.

Several NGOs, including ACRI and the MCW, claimed Israeli military courts were not equipped to adjudicate cases properly. NGOs and lawyers reported many Palestinian defendants elected to plead guilty and receive a reduced sentence rather than maintain innocence and go through a military trial that could last months, if not more than a year. Human rights lawyers also reported the structure of military trials–which take place in Israeli military facilities with Israeli military officers as judges, prosecutors, and court officials, and with tight security restrictions–limited Palestinian defendants’ rights to public trial and access to counsel.

The MCW reported that Israeli authorities continued to use confessions signed by Palestinian minors and written in Hebrew, a language most Palestinian minors could not read, as evidence against them in military courts. The MCW reported that 76 percent of Palestinian minors were shown or made to sign documentation written in Hebrew at the conclusion of their interrogation. PCATI reported that authorities coerced confessions during interrogations. Israeli authorities disputed these findings, asserting that interrogations of Palestinians took place only in Arabic and that authorities submitted no indictments based solely on a confession written in Hebrew.

POLITICAL PRISONERS AND DETAINEES

NGOs reported arrests of Palestinians on political grounds occurred in both the West Bank and Gaza. There was no reliable estimate of the number of political prisoners the PA held in the West Bank during the year.

In Gaza, Hamas allegedly detained several hundred persons because of political affiliation, public criticism of Hamas, or suspected collaboration with Israel and held them for varying periods. Observers associated numerous allegations of denial of due process with these detentions. The ICRC and NGOs had limited access to these prisoners.

The Palestinian NGO Addameer reported that Israel continued to hold PLC members in administrative detention without charges, most of whom had some affiliation with Hamas.

CIVIL JUDICIAL PROCEDURES AND REMEDIES

A Palestinian resident of the West Bank can file suit against the PA, including on matters related to alleged abuses of human rights, but this was uncommon.

A Palestinian resident of Gaza can file suit against de facto Hamas authorities, including on matters related to alleged abuses of human rights, but this was also uncommon.

PROPERTY RESTITUTION

The Israeli government conducted multiple demolitions of Palestinian property in East Jerusalem and the West Bank on the basis of lack of permits, use of the property by the ISF, or as punishment. Israeli authorities pursued efforts through Israeli courts to demolish homes built by Palestinian Bedouin tribes in the West Bank villages of Khan al-Ahmar and Susiya, among several others (see section 1.f.).

Israeli authorities sometimes charged demolition fees for demolishing a home; this at times prompted Palestinians to destroy their own homes to avoid the higher costs associated with Israeli demolition. Palestinians had difficulty verifying land ownership in Israeli courts, according to Israeli requirements for proof of land ownership.

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

The PA penal procedure code generally requires the PA attorney general to issue warrants for entry and searches of private property; however, PA judicial officers may enter Palestinian houses without a warrant in case of emergency. There were no specific reports the PA harassed family members for alleged offenses committed by an individual, although NGOs reported this tactic was common.

Hamas de facto authorities in Gaza frequently interfered arbitrarily with personal privacy, family, and home, according to reporting from local media and NGO sources. Hamas authorities reportedly searched homes and seized property without warrants. They targeted Palestinian journalists, Fatah loyalists, civil society members, youth activists, and those whom Hamas security forces accused of criminal activity. Hamas forces monitored private communications systems, including telephones, email, and social media sites. They demanded passwords and access to personal information and seized personal electronic equipment of detainees. While Hamas membership did not appear to be a prerequisite for obtaining housing, education, or government services in Gaza, authorities commonly reserved employment in some government positions, such as those in the security services, for Hamas members. In several instances Hamas detained individuals for interrogation and harassment, particularly prodemocracy youth activists, based on the purported actions of their family members.

The ISF frequently raided Palestinian homes, including in areas designated as areas under PA security control by Oslo-era accords, according to media and PA officials. These raids often took place at night, which the ISF stated was due to operational necessity. Under Israeli occupation orders, only ISF officers of lieutenant colonel rank and above can authorize entry into Palestinian private homes and institutions in the West Bank without a warrant, based upon military necessity.

In the West Bank and Palestinian-majority neighborhoods in Jerusalem like Beit Hanina, Silwan, Shuafat, Wadi al-Joz, Sheikh Jarrah, Issawiya, Jabal al-Mukabber, and Sur Bahir, the Israeli Civil Administration (ICA), part of Israel’s Ministry of Defense; the Jerusalem municipality; and the Ministry of Interior continued to demolish homes, cisterns, and other buildings and property constructed by Palestinians in areas under Israeli civil control on the basis that these buildings lacked Israeli planning licenses. Properties close to the security barrier, ISF military installations, or firing ranges also remained subject to a heightened threat of demolition or confiscation. Demolition operations by the Israeli authorities focused on three major regions: the South Hebron Hills, the Ma’ale Adumim area, and the Jordan Valley. According to UNOCHA, as of October, the number of demolitions and seizures in Area C had declined compared with the record highs in 2016, but demolitions in Palestinian-majority neighborhoods in Jerusalem continued at nearly the same rates recorded in 2016, which were the highest since 2000.

Organizations such as UNOCHA, Ir Amim, and Peace Now expressed concern at the high rate of demolitions of Palestinian structures in Jerusalem. As of September 30, the ICA destroyed 39 structures in Palestinian-majority neighborhoods of Jerusalem, displacing 126 Palestinians and affecting many more. In both Jerusalem and the West Bank, the ICA targeted commercial structures and infrastructure in addition to residences. In August the ICA seized six caravans used as classrooms in the Palestinian community of Jubbet ad Dhib, in the Bethlehem governorate. The ICA also seized two solar panel systems in the Palestinian communities of Jabal al-Baba and Abu Nuwar, in the Jerusalem governorate. In a majority of demolitions in Area C, the ICA claimed that structures lacked Israeli building permits or were illegally located in a closed military zone (large parts of Area C were declared closed military zones after 1967).

The ISF continued punitive demolitions of the homes of the families of Palestinians implicated in attacks against Israelis. As of October 8, Israeli authorities partially or fully demolished five family homes of Palestinians who had carried out attacks on Israelis since 2014. These actions often also rendered other dwellings near the demolished homes uninhabitable. Punitive demolitions displaced 36 Palestinians, including 19 children, according to the United Nations. NGOs such as AI, HRW, and several Palestinian and Israeli NGOs widely criticized punitive demolitions as collective punishment. The Israeli government asserted such demolitions have a deterrent effect on would-be assailants.

On August 10, Israeli authorities demolished three homes in the Palestinian community of Deir Abu Mashaal, near Ramallah. The homes belonged to the families of the Palestinians who killed an Israeli border police officer in an attack near the Old City’s Damascus Gate in Jerusalem on June 16.

The Israeli government advanced efforts to demolish Palestinian homes in the West Bank Area C villages of Khan al-Ahmar and Susiya, both located near Israeli settlements. Khan al-Ahmar is a 145-person Bedouin community in E-1, an area that territorially connects Israeli settlements in the West Bank and East Jerusalem. On March 5, the ICA changed 42 stop-work orders issued against 42 Khan al-Ahmar structures to demolition orders. These 42 structures comprised the entire village. All were built without ICA building permits (residents are not able to receive permits, as the Israeli government has not approved a master plan for the area). On September 13, ICA representatives entered Khan al-Ahmar and proposed the community evacuate and relocate to an ICA-built Jabal West transfer site about five miles away. In documents provided to the Israeli High Court, the ICA said it planned to move the Khan al-Ahmar residents and demolish the village in April 2018. The case continued at year’s end. Separately, the ICA proposed in 2016 that Palestinian residents of the Area C village of Susiya move to an area bordering PA-controlled Area A. Israeli residents of a nearby settlement continued to advocate that the ICA carry out demolition orders in Susiya. In August 2016 the Israeli High Court ordered the Israeli government to submit its position on the evacuation of the village and the government’s proposed demolition of 30 Palestinian houses. On November 22, the Israeli government submitted its position to the HCJ, stating its intent to demolish 20 structures–approximately 20 percent of the community. The case continued at year’s end.

Palestinians and human rights NGOs such as Yesh Din reported the ISF were largely unresponsive to Israeli settlers’ actions against Palestinians in the West Bank, including destruction of Palestinian property and agriculture (see section 6, National/Racial/Ethnic Minorities).

Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:

a. Freedom of Speech and Press

The PA basic law generally provides for freedom of expression, but it does not specifically provide for freedom of the press. The PA enforced legislation that NGOs claimed restricted press and media freedom in the West Bank. The PASF continued to restrict freedom of expression in the West Bank, including for the Palestinian press–most notably through harassment, intimidation, and arrest.

In Gaza, Hamas restricted press freedom through frequent arrests and extended interrogations of journalists, as well as harassment and limitations on access and movement for some journalists. These restrictions led journalists to self-censor.

Israeli civil and military law provides limited protections of freedom of expression and press for Palestinian residents of Jerusalem and the West Bank. Israeli authorities continued to restrict press coverage and placed limits on certain forms of expression–particularly by restricting Palestinian journalists’ movement, as well as through violence, arrests, closure of media outlets, and intimidation, according to media reports and the Palestinian Center for Development and Media Freedoms.

Freedom of Expression: Although no PA law prohibits criticism of the government, media reports indicated PA authorities arrested West Bank Palestinian journalists and social media activists who criticized, or covered events that criticized, the PA. Additionally, there were several complaints during the year that the PA prevented journalists from covering events favorable to Hamas in the West Bank.

Palestinian President Abbas approved a law known as the “Cybercrime Law” or the “Electronic Crimes Law” on June 24. The law imposes imprisonment and fines for the publication of material that would endanger “the integrity of the Palestinian state” or “public order,” or for the publication of material that attacks “family principles or values.” Based on this law, the PA arrested West Bank journalists and blocked websites associated with political rivals. On June 12, the Palestinian attorney general ordered the West Bank-based internet service providers to block access to more than two dozen websites. Eleven of these sites were affiliated with political parties, including Hamas or other opposition groups critical of the Fatah-controlled PA.

In Gaza, Palestinians publicly criticizing Hamas authorities risked reprisal by Hamas, including arrest, interrogation, seizure of property, and harassment. Media practitioners accused of publicly criticizing Hamas, including civil society and youth activists, social media advocates, and journalists, faced punitive measures, including raids on their facilities and residences, arbitrary detention, and denial of permission to travel outside Gaza. In July, Hamas security forces summoned 12 Gaza-based journalists and social media activists for questioning based on anti-Hamas social media posts. Human rights NGOs reported that Hamas interrogators subjected several of those detained to harassment and violence.

De facto Hamas authorities also imposed restrictions on the work of foreign journalists in the Gaza Strip, including lengthy interrogations of foreign journalists at entry points to the Gaza Strip and refusal or long delays in providing permits to enter the Gaza Strip. Some of this harassment appeared to be punitive reaction to what Hamas perceived as critical reporting.

In Jerusalem, Israeli authorities prohibited displays of Palestinian political symbols, such as the Palestinian flag, as well as public expressions of anti-Israeli sentiment, which were punishable by fines or imprisonment. Israeli authorities did not always enforce these restrictions. Israeli security officials prohibited PLO- or PA-affiliated groups from meeting in Jerusalem. They also restricted media coverage of incidents that might provoke criticism of Israeli policies.

Press and Media Freedom: Independent Palestinian media operated under restrictions in Jerusalem, the West Bank, and Gaza. The PA Ministry of Information requested that Israeli reporters covering events in the West Bank register with the ministry. According to the PA deputy minister of information, the ministry provides permits to Israeli journalists only if they do not live in a settlement. While officially the PA was open to Israeli reporters covering events in the West Bank, at times Palestinian journalists reportedly pressured Israeli journalists not to attend PA events.

Previously Hamas had modestly loosened some restrictions on PA-affiliated or pro-PA publications in Gaza, although significant restrictions remained. In 2014 Hamas lifted its ban on three West Bank-based newspapers–al-Qudsal-Ayyam, and al-Hayat al-Jadida. Hamas authorities permitted broadcasts within Gaza of reporting and interviews featuring PA officials. Hamas allowed, with some restrictions, the operation of non-Hamas-affiliated broadcast media in Gaza. For instance, the PA-supported Palestine TV reportedly operated in Gaza.

Hamas sought to restrict the movement of journalists both at crossing points into Gaza and within Gaza. In a few cases, authorities refused reporters permits, provided permits of untenably brief duration, or told reporters their permits were conditional on not working with specific Palestinian journalists. In some cases Hamas rejected permit applications for or arrested international reporters in retaliation for unfavorable news coverage.

On June 18, Hamas security forces arrested Hasan Jaber of the al-Ayyam daily and questioned him regarding his report on an anti-Hamas group in Gaza. He was released later that night.

In areas of the West Bank to which Israel controls access, Palestinian journalists claimed Israeli authorities restricted their freedom of movement and ability to cover stories. The ISF does not recognize Palestinian press credentials or credentials from the International Federation of Journalists. Few Palestinians held Israeli press credentials, following Israel’s revocation of the vast majority of these credentials during the Second Intifada, which began in 2000.

Israel does not issue Palestinian journalists special press permits to travel into Jerusalem or west of the security barrier. Palestinian journalists who were able to obtain entry permits on other grounds, as well as Jerusalem-based Palestinian journalists, reported incidents of harassment, racism, and occasional violence when they sought to cover news in Jerusalem, especially in the Old City and its vicinity.

In April 2016 Israeli authorities arrested Palestinian journalist and deputy head of the Palestinian Journalists Syndicate Omar Nazzal at an Israeli-Jordanian border crossing as he traveled to Sarajevo to attend a meeting of the European Federation of Journalists. The Israeli government alleged that Nazzal was involved in unlawful activity and association with the terrorist group Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine. He was released on February 20 after serving 10 months in Israeli prison under administrative detention.

Violence and Harassment: There were numerous reports that the PASF harassed, detained (occasionally with violence), prosecuted, and fined journalists in the West Bank during the year. Since January the number of violations against freedom of press by the PA in the West Bank and the Hamas de facto government in Gaza significantly increased. The PA arbitrarily arrested, harassed, or intimidated a number of Palestinian journalists and activists. In Gaza, Hamas authorities arrested several journalists, including those who criticized Hamas for its handling of the continuing electricity crisis.

On July 6, PA Preventive Security agents arrested journalist Jihad Barakat of Palestine Today TV, for taking a picture of the PA prime minister’s motorcade as it stopped at an Israeli checkpoint near Tulkarm, in the West Bank. Authorities charged Barakat with “being at a public place, at such time and in such circumstances for an unlawful or improper purpose.” On July 9, authorities released Barakat, but his case was still pending.

PA security forces also at times reportedly demanded deletion of footage showing PA security personnel. For example, according to the Palestinian Center for Development and Media Freedoms, on August 27, PA security forces detained photographer Hazem Nasser of Transmedia and reporter Mujahed Saadi of Media Port for two hours after they covered a sit-in in front of the Palestinian Preventive Security facilities in Jenin. PA security forces deleted all photos of the sit-in saved on their camera hard drives.

The PA also occasionally obstructed the West Bank activities of media organizations with Hamas sympathies and limited media coverage critical of the PA.

The PA also had an inconsistent record of protecting Israeli and international journalists in the West Bank from harassment by Palestinian civilians or their own personnel.

In Gaza, Hamas at times arrested, harassed, and pressured journalists, sometimes violently. Reportedly Hamas summoned and detained Palestinian and foreign journalists for questioning to intimidate them. Hamas also constrained journalists’ freedom of movement within Gaza during the year, attempting to ban access to some official buildings as well as to several prodemocracy protests.

On June 4, the Hamas Magistrate’s Court in Gaza sentenced journalist Hajar Abu Samra in absentia to six months in jail. The charges came a few months after Abu Samra published an investigative report about corruption in the Medical Referrals Department of the Ministry of Health in Gaza. On June 11, Hamas convicted Mohammad al-Talouli, an activist against Hamas policies, of misusing technology and distributing misleading information to the public in comments he posted on Facebook. He was released on bail and was awaiting trial.

Throughout the year there were dozens of reports of Israeli actions that prevented Palestinian or Arab-Israeli journalists from covering news stories in the West Bank, Gaza, and Jerusalem. These actions included harassment by Israeli soldiers and acts of violence against journalists. Palestinian journalists also claimed that Israeli security forces detained Palestinian journalists and forced them to delete images and videos under threat of violence or arrest/administrative detention.

On May 18, an Israeli settler shot and seriously wounded Associated Press photographer Majdi Mohammad Eshtayeh while he covered a disturbance in Hawara, in the West Bank. According to the Associated Press, citing video footage, the settler fired his gun after Israeli soldiers arrived and dispersed the protesters. The Israeli-based Foreign Press Association stated the photographer was clearly identified as a journalist, with a protective helmet and vest with the word “Press” in large letters. Israeli police said they were still investigating the incident as of November 21.

On April 28, Israeli police prevented international photographers from covering a demonstration near the Damascus Gate of Jerusalem’s Old City. According to the Foreign Press Association, police kicked and shoved journalists; a Reuters reporter required hospital treatment after the incident. The border police also used horses to charge photographers and cameramen without warning, leading to injuries of an Agence France-Presse (AFP) photographer.

There were many reports of Palestinian journalists injured by rubber-coated steel bullets and live fire or tear gas while covering demonstrations and clashes in the West Bank between Palestinian protesters and Israeli security forces.

Censorship or Content Restrictions: The PA prohibits calls for violence, displays of arms, and racist slogans in PA-funded and controlled official media. There were no confirmed reports of any legal action against, or prosecution of, any person publishing items counter to these PA rules. Media throughout the West Bank, Gaza, and Jerusalem reported practicing self-censorship. There were reports of PA authorities seeking to erase images or footage from journalists’ cameras or cell phones.

In Gaza civil society organizations reported Hamas censored television programs and written materials, such as newspapers and books.

On January 12, plainclothes Hamas security officers detained an Associated Press reporter covering a demonstration in Gaza and forced him at gunpoint to surrender his mobile phones to them. In a separate instance, Hamas uniformed police officers beat an AFP photographer after he refused to surrender his camera. Police confiscated the camera’s memory card and arrested him.

While Israeli authorities retain the right to censor the printing of all Jerusalem-based Arabic publications for material perceived as a security concern (as Israeli authorities also do with Israeli media), anecdotal evidence suggested Israeli authorities did not actively review the Jerusalem-based al-Quds newspaper or other Jerusalem-based Arabic publications. Jerusalem-based publications reported they engaged in self-censorship as a result.

The Israeli government continued to raid and close West Bank Palestinian media sources, primarily on the basis of allegations they incited violence against Israeli civilians or security services. On October 18, the ISF launched a coordinated nighttime raid of seven branch offices of three Palestinian media service support companies located in Area A of the West Bank due to allegations of “broadcasting calls and incitement to terrorist acts.” The companies rented out space to numerous customers, including media funded by Hamas and Palestinian Islamic Jihad. Additionally, the ISF have raided and shut seven other Palestinian media outlets since 2015.

Israeli military law governs Palestinian incitement in the West Bank. Acts of incitement under military law are punishable by up to 10 years imprisonment. NGOs and other observers said Israeli military regulations were vaguely worded and open to interpretation. The ISF generally cited two laws in its military orders when closing Palestinian radio stations–the 1945 Defense Emergency Regulations and the 2009 Order Concerning Security Provisions. These laws generally define incitement as an attempt to influence public opinion in a manner that could harm public safety or public order.

West Bank Palestinian broadcaster Wattan TV continued to attempt to retrieve from the Israeli government foreign-funded equipment confiscated in 2012 by the ISF from its Ramallah Studio, under allegations that Wattan TV had “disturbed various communication systems.” Wattan TV’s lawyers were not permitted to view evidence nor testimony presented against the media broadcaster and complained of an opaque legal process that left West Bank Palestinian broadcasters with no realistic legal recourse. An Israeli court was scheduled to rule on Wattan’s request for compensation in January 2018.

Libel/Slander Laws: There were some accusations of slander or libel against journalists and activists in the West Bank.

On September 4, Palestinian security forces in the West Bank arrested human rights activist Issa Amro after he criticized the PA in a Facebook post for its arrest of another Palestinian journalist, Ayman Qawasmeh. PA security services had detained Qawasmeh on September 4 for calling in a social media video for PA President Abbas and Prime Minister Hamdallah to resign. Amro was released on bail from PA custody on September 10.

On June 6, PA security forces arrested Palestinian journalist Taher Shamali in the West Bank. Authorities charged him with “insulting higher authorities and causing strife” in an article he wrote criticizing Palestinian President Abbas. He was subsequently released.

National Security: There were some accusations of suppression of journalists on national security grounds.

On August 8, undercover PA security agents arrested five journalists from Hamas-affiliated media outlets in the West Bank for “leaking sensitive information to hostile security services.” PA authorities released the five journalists on August 14, after posting bail; they were awaiting trial as of November 9.

INTERNET FREEDOM

Internet was generally accessible throughout the West Bank, Gaza, and Jerusalem. Frequent power outages in Gaza interrupted accessibility. A 2015 agreement between the Israeli government, the PA, and telecommunications companies that would allow import of 3G and newer telecommunications technologies into the West Bank was implemented, leading to fewer limitations on mobile internet access.

While there were no PA restrictions on access to the internet, there were reports the PA actively monitored social media, pressuring and harassing activists and journalists. There were instances the PA arrested or detained Palestinians because of their posts on social media.

Gaza-based Palestinian civil society organizations and social media practitioners stated Hamas de facto authorities monitored the internet activities of Gaza residents and took action to intimidate or harass them. On January 1, the Hamas public prosecutor’s office arrested and interrogated Ramzi Hirzallah, a former Hamas member, on the basis of allegations he had insulted Hamas officials on Facebook. Hamas security officials confiscated his cell phone and computers and prevented human rights representatives from meeting with him. Hamas authorities released Hirzallah a few days later with a warning not to insult Hamas officials.

Israeli authorities monitored Palestinians’ online activities and arrested a number of Palestinians in the West Bank and Jerusalem for social media statements they categorized as incitement. In November, Israeli authorities arrested Jerusalem resident Amin Syam because he posted on social media lyrics from a song using the term “martyr.” Israeli authorities said they believed the post was a call to violence. Syam was detained for four days and released.

ACADEMIC FREEDOM AND CULTURAL EVENTS

The PA did not restrict academic freedom in the West Bank, and there were no known reports of PA censorship of school curricula, plays, films, or exhibits. Palestinian law provides for academic freedom, but individuals or officials from academic institutions reportedly self-censored curricula. Faculty members reported PA security elements present on university campuses among the student body and faculty, which may have contributed to self-censorship.

Public schools as well as UN Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA) schools in Gaza followed the same curriculum as West Bank schools. Palestinians in Gaza reported limited interference by Hamas in public schools at the primary, secondary, or university levels. Hamas did reportedly interfere in teaching methodologies or curriculum deemed to violate Islamic identity, the religion of Islam, or “traditions,” as defined by Hamas. Hamas also interfered if there were reports of classes or activities that mixed genders. UNRWA reported no Hamas interference in the running of its Gaza schools.

Hamas authorities sought to disrupt some educational, cultural, and international exchange programs. They routinely required Palestinians to obtain exit permits prior to departing Gaza. Students participating in certain cultural and education programs (including programs sponsored by foreign governments and international organizations) faced questioning from de facto Hamas authorities. Hamas authorities denied exit permits for some Palestinians through the Rafah and Erez crossings.

Hamas authorities also interfered in local cultural programs. There were continued reports the de facto government suppressed cultural expression that might offend Hamas’ interpretation of religious and cultural values and identity.

Israeli restrictions on movement adversely affected academic institutions and access to education and cultural activities for Palestinians (see section 2.d. and section 6).

There were reports the Israeli government prevented copies of the PA curriculum from entering Jerusalem for use in schools in Palestinian-majority neighborhoods and that the Jerusalem Municipality instead provided an edited/censored version of the PA curriculum that deleted information on Palestinian history and culture. In August, Israeli police blocked the delivery of textbooks bearing the PA logo to schools located on the Haram al-Sharif/Temple Mount compound in the Old City of Jerusalem. Local officials complained to Western diplomats about reported efforts by the Israeli Ministry of Education to tie funding of Palestinian schools to the use of Israeli curriculum and to “Israelize” the curriculum. In September, three schools in the East Jerusalem neighborhoods of Silwan, al-Issawiya, and Shuafat went on strike to protest the condition of the schools’ infrastructure and the Israeli government’s attempts to impose the Israeli curriculum as a condition for repairing the infrastructure.

b. Freedom of Peaceful Assembly and Association

Authorities in Jerusalem, the West Bank, and Gaza limited and restricted Palestinian residents’ freedoms of peaceful assembly and association.

FREEDOM OF PEACEFUL ASSEMBLY

PA law permits public meetings, processions, and assemblies within legal limits. It requires permits for rallies, demonstrations, and large cultural events, which the PA rarely denied. Both the PA and Hamas security forces selectively restricted or dispersed peaceful protests and demonstrations in the West Bank and Gaza during the year.

According to a Hamas decree, any public assembly or celebration in Gaza requires prior permission, in contradiction of the PA basic law. Following large-scale January protests against electricity cuts in Gaza, Hamas used violent tactics to disperse crowds, including live ammunition and batons. Hamas at times allowed Fatah members to hold rallies when it was politically advantageous for them to do so, such as during high-profile meetings on Palestinian reconciliation. Activists reported Hamas harassed women in public and impeded their ability to assemble peacefully. Hamas also attempted to impede criticism of Hamas policies by imposing arbitrary demands for the approval of meetings on political or social topics.

The ISF continued to use a 1967 Israeli military order that effectively prohibits Palestinian demonstrations and limits freedom of speech in the West Bank. The order stipulates that a “political” gathering of 10 or more persons requires a permit from the regional commander of military forces–which Israeli commanders rarely granted. The penalty for a breach of the order is up to 10 years’ imprisonment or a heavy fine. Israeli military law as applied to Palestinians in the West Bank prohibits obstructing or insulting a soldier, participating in an unpermitted rally, and “incitement” (encouraging others to engage in civil disobedience). In February 2016 an Israeli military court indicted Palestinian human rights activist Issa Amro on 18 charges dating back to 2010. Human rights organizations such as the Human Rights Defenders Fund and AI stated Amro’s actions during these incidents were consistent with nonviolent civil disobedience. Amro’s trial, which began in November 2016, continued through the end of the year.

ACRI claimed that the ISF did not respect freedom of assembly and often responded aggressively to Palestinian demonstrators. Israeli security forces sometimes used force, including live fire, against Palestinians and others involved in demonstrations in the West Bank and Jerusalem, resulting in the deaths of Palestinian civilians (see section 1.a.). The ISF used force against weekly Palestinians protests in or near Israeli West Bank settlements. The ISF responded to protests with military crowd-control techniques, including tear gas and stun grenades, that led to Palestinian casualties. On July 10, a Palestinian child died after suffering from tear-gas inhalation during May 19 clashes between Palestinian protesters and the ISF in Ramallah. A group had gathered to express support for hunger-striking Palestinian prisoners; when the protest turned violent, the ISF responded by firing tear-gas canisters close to the child’s home.

The IDF Central Command declared areas of the West Bank to be “closed military zones,” in which it prohibited Palestinian public assembly. It maintained the same designation on Fridays for areas adjacent to the security barrier in the Palestinian villages of Bil’in and Ni’lin during hours in which Palestinian, Israeli, and international activists regularly demonstrated there. There were frequent skirmishes between protesters and ISF personnel. The ISF stationed on the West Bank side of the barrier during weekly protests in those villages responded to rock throwing with nonlethal force.

FREEDOM OF ASSOCIATION

PA law allows freedom of association. PA authorities sometimes imposed limitations in the West Bank, including on labor organizations (see section 7.a.). NGOs said a 2015 regulation subjecting “nonprofit companies” to PA approval prior to receiving grants impeded their independence and threatened the ability of both local and international nonprofits to operate freely in the West Bank.

In Gaza, Hamas attempted to prevent various organizations from operating. These included some it accused of being Fatah-affiliated, as well as private businesses and NGOs that Hamas deemed to be in violation of its interpretation of Islamic social norms. The Hamas “Ministry of Interior” claimed supervisory authority over all NGOs, and its representatives regularly harassed NGO employees and requested information on staff, salaries, and activities. There were instances when Hamas temporarily closed NGOs that did not comply. Activists reported women’s rights groups faced significant pressure from Hamas.

Israel maintained prohibitions on some prominent Jerusalem-based Palestinian institutions, such as the Jerusalem Chamber of Commerce and Orient House, which had been the de facto PLO office. Israeli authorities renewed a military closure order initiated in 2001 for these and other institutions on the grounds they violated the Oslo Accords by operating on behalf of the PA in Jerusalem.

c. Freedom of Religion

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

The PA basic law provides for freedom of movement, but the PA at times effectively restricted freedom of movement into Israel for Gazans by declining to make referrals to Israeli authorities on their behalf. Between April and June, the PA Ministry of Health decreased the number of referrals it issued to Gazan residents in need of medical care in Israel. Following the death of three infants unable to leave Gaza for medical care, the PA reversed its permit cuts. The PA basic law does not specify regulations regarding foreign travel, emigration, or repatriation.

Until the PA deployed personnel to Gaza’s border crossings on November 1 and Hamas authorities departed the crossings, Hamas authorities restricted some foreign travel into and out of Gaza and required exit permits for Palestinians departing through the Gaza-Israel Erez crossing. Hamas closed the Erez crossing for a week in March/April, stranding international aid workers inside Gaza. Hamas also prevented some Palestinians from exiting Gaza for reasons related to the purpose of their travel or to coerce payment of taxes and fines. There were some reports unmarried women faced restrictions on their travel out of Gaza.

The ISF regularly imposed significant restrictions on Palestinians’ movement within the West Bank, into and out of Gaza, and foreign travel. At times the ISF increased restrictions on the movement of Palestinians citing security justifications.

A key barrier to Palestinian movement was the security barrier that divides the majority of the West Bank from Israel, most parts of East Jerusalem, and some parts of the West Bank. The barrier runs up to 11 miles (18 kilometers) east of the Green Line in some places, isolating an estimated 25,000 West Bank Palestinians living in communities west of the barrier from the remainder of the West Bank. Other significant barriers to Palestinian movement included internal ISF road closures and Israeli restrictions on the movement of Palestinian persons and goods into and out of the West Bank and Gaza Strip. Israeli restrictions on movement affected virtually all aspects of Palestinian life, including access to places of worship, employment, agricultural lands, schools, and hospitals, as well as the conduct of journalism and humanitarian and NGO activities.

Additional restrictions on Palestinian activities and development in Area C zones of the West Bank included Israeli confiscation of postdemolition assistance. Such restrictions affected both nonrefugees and refugees.

The PA, Hamas, and Israel generally cooperated with humanitarian organizations in providing protection and assistance to internally displaced persons and refugees. Nonetheless, Israeli officials imposed controls on movement of materials, goods, and persons into and out of Gaza and, as a result, constrained UNRWA’s ability to operate in Gaza. AI and HRW reported difficulties by foreign workers in obtaining Israeli visas, which affected the delivery of humanitarian assistance in the West Bank and Gaza. AI and HRW also reported that the Israeli government denied their employees permits to enter Gaza. On October 30, the Israeli government denied entry to the West Bank to an AI employee who planned to visit relatives in the West Bank and Israel. AI claimed the employee was questioned about his work with AI prior being denied entry on public security grounds.

During the year Israeli authorities imposed movement restrictions on UNRWA staff, resulting in the loss of 1,261 UNRWA workdays in the West Bank and Jerusalem. The majority were due to increased Israeli demands to search UNRWA vehicles at checkpoints between Bethlehem and Jerusalem, especially UNRWA buses transporting 100 UN personnel to UNRWA West Bank Field Office in Jerusalem.

Humanitarian organizations continued to raise concerns about the “shrinking operational space” for international NGOs in Gaza following Israel’s publication of allegations that staff of international NGOs had diverted goods and funds to Hamas. In one case in 2016, Israeli authorities arrested an employee of an international NGO returning to Gaza from Israel through the Erez crossing and held him for 21 days before he had access to a lawyer of his choosing. He claimed he was physically and psychologically tortured and gave a false confession under duress, according to representatives of the NGO. Israeli authorities held the employee in detention for a total of 50 days before filing charges against him. Israeli authorities held several hearings, but there was no resolution at the end of the year.

Abuse of Migrants, Refugees, and Stateless Persons: Israeli security operations in the West Bank and Jerusalem led to 13 refugee fatalities as of September, of whom six were allegedly killed while conducting an attack on the ISF or Israeli civilians. Most injuries were caused by Israeli use of live ammunition. There were 134 Palestinians reported injured by Israeli authorities in West Bank refugee camps, according to UNRWA, of whom 70 were injured by live ammunition.

According to UNRWA, between November 2016 and April 30, at least 25 tear-gas canisters used by ISF personnel landed in UNRWA installations during confrontations between ISF and Palestinians. UNRWA reported a significant increase in the use of tear gas by the ISF in and around densely populated refugee camps, in particular in the Aida, Jalazone, and Dheisheh camps. UNRWA also reported instances in which ISF personnel entered UNRWA facilities. On April 3, Israeli police entered the UNRWA Shu’fat Boys’ School in Shu’fat refugee camp in East Jerusalem and threw two stun grenades and two tear-gas canisters. The incident affected 23 UNRWA staff members and more than 300 students, including a third-grade student whose leg was injured.

On January 10, the ISF fatally shot 33-year-old Mohammad Subhi Ahmad Khamis Salhi during an ISF search and arrest operation in El Fara’ Camp. A Palestinian eyewitness claimed Salhi was shot without cause by a group of soldiers who entered the family home. Israeli media, citing ISF sources, claimed Salhi was shot because he tried to stab soldiers with a kitchen knife.

In-country Movement: PA authorities did not interfere with Palestinians’ movement within the West Bank.

Hamas authorities did not enforce routine restrictions on internal movement within Gaza, although there were some areas of Gaza to which Hamas prohibited access. Increased pressure to conform to Hamas’s interpretation of Islamic norms generally restricted movement by women.

The ISF routinely detained for several hours Palestinians residing in Gaza who had permits to enter Israel for business, and subjected them to interrogations and strip searches at Israeli-controlled checkpoints.

Israel imposed significant restrictions on Palestinian movement in the West Bank and between the West Bank and Jerusalem. Israeli authorities frequently prohibited travel between some or all Palestinian West Bank towns and deployed “flying” (temporary) checkpoints. Palestinians who lived in affected villages stated that “internal closures” continued to have negative economic effects. During periods of potential unrest, including on some major Israeli, Jewish, and Muslim holidays, Israeli authorities enacted “comprehensive external closures” that precluded Palestinians from leaving the West Bank and Gaza. These closures also resulted in Palestinian economic losses. For example, the 11-day extended closure enacted by the Israeli government during the Sukkot holiday in October resulted in estimated economic losses of up to $86 million, according to the Palestinian Central Bureau of Statistics. The bulk of these losses comprised lost wages for Palestinian laborers working inside Israel. Israeli authorities also imposed movement restrictions on Palestinian towns and villages.

From September 26-27, Israeli authorities blocked the main and bypass road entrances to the Palestinian town of Beit Surik, on the outskirts of Jerusalem, while conducting arrest operations. Israeli authorities damaged Palestinian property while conducting raids, sealed off entries and exits, and confiscated vehicles. The Israeli government stated collective restrictions were imposed only if a military commander was convinced there was a military necessity for the action and that the imposition on the everyday lives of Palestinian civilians was not disproportionate.

Israeli authorities restricted or prohibited Palestinian travel on 41 roads and sections of roads throughout the West Bank, including many of the main traffic arteries. These restrictions on Palestinian travel affected a total of more than 400 miles of roads on which Israelis may travel freely. The ISF also imposed temporary curfews confining Palestinians to their homes during ISF arrest operations. During the Muslim holy month of Ramadan, Israeli authorities eased restrictions on Palestinians entering Jerusalem and Israel, allowing Muslim men over the age of 30 who applied for and obtained special prayer permits, as well as Muslim men over 40 without permits, to visit the Haram al-Sharif/Temple Mount for religious services.

The Israeli government continued construction of the security barrier, which ran largely inside the West Bank and along parts of the 1967 Green Line. Israeli authorities extended the barrier in the Cremisan Valley near Bethlehem and began land clearing to extend the barrier through Walajah village, also near Bethlehem. By use of special permits, Israel continued to restrict movement and development near the barrier, including access by some international organizations. Palestinian lawyers reported that Israeli authorities allowed many Palestinians who had been separated by the barrier from their land access to their property for only a few days each year.

Private security companies employed by the Israeli government controlled many points of access through the security barrier. International organizations and local human rights groups claimed these security companies did not respond to requests to allow movement of goods or NGO representatives through the barrier. Many Palestinians and NGOs reported higher levels of mistreatment at checkpoints run by security contractors than at those staffed by IDF soldiers.

The barrier affected the commute of Palestinian children to school in Jerusalem and some farmers’ access to land and water resources. Palestinian farmers continued to report difficulty accessing their lands in Israeli-controlled Area C of the West Bank and in the seam zone, which is a closed area between the security barrier and the Green Line. NGOs and community advocates reported numerous Palestinian villages owned land in the seam zone rendered inaccessible by the barrier. A complicated Israeli permit regime (requiring more than 10 different permits) prevented these Palestinians from fully using their lands.

Israel eased restrictions limiting access to farmland in Gaza to 328 feet (100 meters) from the boundary with Israel. Despite this easing, reports indicated Israel continued to enforce “buffer zone” restrictions on nonfarmers attempting to enter within 328 feet (100 meters) of the land boundary between Gaza and Israel and that Israeli authorities sprayed pesticides into Gaza across the border fence, onto lands cleared by the ICRC for farmers to return. The extent to which authorities permitted access along the border remained unclear. UNOCHA reported Palestinians in Gaza considered areas up to 984 feet (300 meters) from the perimeter fence to be a “no-go” area, and up to 3,280 feet (1,000 meters) to be “high risk,” which discouraged farmers from cultivating their fields. UNOCHA estimated nearly 35 percent of the Gaza Strip’s cultivable land was located in the restricted area. The Palestinian human rights NGO al-Mezan reported that as of October 20 Israeli authorities arrested 119 farmers, and shot and injured another 13 for cultivating land in or near the buffer zone.

Gaza’s fishing waters were largely inaccessible to Palestinians due to Israeli restrictions that allowed fishing only within six nautical miles of land. The Israeli government stated these restrictions were necessary for security reasons. Israeli authorities eased the naval blockade in May, extending fishing limits from six to nine nautical miles. The extension was temporary and returned to six nautical miles in June. The United Nations reported the nautical restriction was “of particular concern.” Israeli naval patrol boats strictly enforced the new limit, which represented a reduction from the 20-nautical-mile limit established in the 1994 Agreement on the Gaza Strip and Jericho Area. Israeli naval forces regularly fired warning shots at Palestinian fishermen entering the restricted sea areas, in some cases directly targeting the fishermen, according to UNOCHA. Israeli armed forces often confiscated fishing boats intercepted in these areas and detained the fishermen. Palestinian fishermen reported confusion over the exact limits of the new fishing boundaries.

During the year Israeli security forces restricted movement in Palestinian-majority neighborhoods of Jerusalem and Jerusalem’s Old City. Israeli security forces periodically blocked entrances to the East Jerusalem neighborhoods of Issawiya, Silwan, and Jabal Mukabber. In the West Bank, Israeli military authorities continued to restrict Palestinian vehicular and foot traffic and access to homes and businesses in downtown Hebron, citing a need to protect several hundred Israeli settlers resident in the city center. The ISF continued to occupy rooftops of private Palestinian homes in Hebron as security positions, forcing families to leave their front door open for soldiers to enter.

Following the July 14 attack by three Arab Israelis that killed two Israeli police at the Haram al-Sharif/Temple Mount, Israeli police closed the compound and cancelled Friday prayers at the al-Aqsa Mosque for the first time since 1969. Following the compound’s reopening two days later, Israeli police erected new security screening equipment, including metal detectors, at entrances to the site used by Muslim worshippers. The Waqf (the government of Jordan Islamic trust and charitable entity that administers the site) rejected these changes, characterizing them a violation of the status quo at the holy site. Muslim worshippers refused to enter the site pending full revocation of all newly imposed security measures, triggering a wave of popular protests in Jerusalem and the West Bank that continued until the INP removed the equipment on July 27.

Visits by Jewish activists to the Haram al-Sharif/Temple Mount, some facilitated by Israeli authorities, increased to record levels during the year. A single-day record 1,079 Jewish activists visited on Tisha b’Av (August 1), which commemorates the destruction of the Jewish Temples. Over the week-long Jewish holiday of Sukkot, activists conducted 2,266 visits, a 40-percent increase over the number of visits conducted during Sukkot in 2016. The Israeli government, in accordance with the status quo understanding with the Jordanian authorities managing the site, prohibits non-Muslim worship at the Haram al-Sharif/Temple Mount. But police have become more permissive of silent Jewish prayer and other religious rituals performed on the site in violation of this understanding, according to the Jerusalem Islamic Waqf, Jewish Temple Mount groups, and local media. Israeli authorities, citing security concerns, mostly prevented Knesset members (MKs) and government ministers from visiting the Haram al-Sharif/Temple Mount; however, for the first time since October 2015, Israeli PM Netanyahu ordered Israeli police to permit MK visits for one day on August 29. Police subsequently permitted Israeli MK Yehuda Glick to visit the Haram al-Sharif/Temple Mount on October 25, according to the Waqf. The Israeli government, citing security concerns, also continued to impose intermittent restrictions on Palestinian access to certain religious sites, including the Haram al-Sharif/Temple Mount. Waqf officials said Israeli police increased restrictions on Waqf operations, and renovation and repair projects at the site. Travel restrictions, including limited access to Jerusalem during major Jewish holidays, as well as continued construction of Israel’s security barrier, impeded the movements of Palestinian Muslims and Christians in the West Bank.

Foreign Travel: PA authorities did not limit West Bank residents’ foreign travel. The PA does not control border crossings into or out of the West Bank.

Hamas authorities in Gaza enforced movement restrictions on Palestinians attempting to exit Gaza to Israel via the Erez Crossing and to Egypt via the Rafah Crossing. Israeli authorities often denied Palestinian applications for travel permits through the Erez Crossing. Entry and exit from the Gaza Strip at the Erez Crossing was largely limited by Israel to humanitarian cases. According to the NGO Gisha, there were 5,819 average monthly exits from Gaza between January and October, a significant drop compared with the monthly average in 2016 (12,150). This prevented Palestinians from transiting to Jerusalem for visa interviews, to Jordan (often for onward travel) via the Allenby Bridge, and to the West Bank for work or education.

During the year the Israeli Supreme Court continued to uphold with few exceptions the Israeli ban imposed in 2000 on students from the Gaza Strip attending West Bank universities. Students in the Gaza Strip generally did not apply to West Bank universities because they understood Israeli authorities would deny permits.

Increased Israeli travel restrictions also allowed fewer students than the previous year in the West Bank and Gaza to participate in cultural programming within the Palestinian Territories, as well as study programs abroad. Delays in permit approvals by Israeli officials caused Palestinians to miss the travel dates for their exchange programs abroad or for cultural programming in Jerusalem or the West Bank. In some cases authorities asked students to submit to security interviews prior to receiving permits. In the past two years, Israeli authorities detained some students indefinitely without charge following their security interview, which caused other students to refuse to attend these interviews due to fear of detention.

Permit denials increased for staff of international organizations and for some categories of medical care inside Israel, according to Israeli NGOs. There were several reports that Gazans in need of urgent medical care could not get permits from the Israeli government in sufficient time. Aya Khalil Abu Metlaq, a five-year-old girl, died from a metabolic disorder on April 17 while waiting for a permit to exit Gaza for medical treatment in Jerusalem. The NGO Gisha claimed many of the security holds placed by Israeli authorities on Palestinians seeking to exit Gaza for work, education, or family events were arbitrary. Israeli border officials increased rates of detention and interrogation of Palestinians from Gaza seeking business permits.

Because Egyptian authorities also maintained the closure of the Rafah Crossing for all but 28 days of the year (as of December 5) except for special categories of travelers, Palestinians in Gaza remained virtually confined. Egyptian authorities enforced movement restrictions on Palestinians attempting to exit Gaza via the Rafah Crossing. The Egyptian government periodically allowed border crossings for a few days at a time–and mostly only in one direction–for passenger travel and humanitarian aid.

Restrictions on access to Jerusalem had a negative effect on Palestinian patients and medical staff trying to reach the six Palestinian hospitals in Jerusalem that offered specialized care unavailable in the West Bank. According to Palestine Red Crescent Society (PRCS), IDF soldiers at checkpoints at times harassed and delayed ambulances from the West Bank or refused them entry into Jerusalem, even in emergency cases. When ambulances lacked access, medics moved patients across checkpoints from an ambulance on one side to a second ambulance (usually one of five East Jerusalem-based ambulances) or a private vehicle on the other side. The PRCS reported hundreds of such actions impeding humanitarian services during the year. Most included blocking access to those in need, preventing their transport to specialized medical centers, or imposing delays at checkpoints lasting up to two hours.

Palestinians possessing Jerusalem identity cards issued by the Israeli government needed special documents to travel abroad. The Jordanian government issued passports to Palestinians on the basis of individual requests.

According to NGOs such as Ir Amim and B’Tselem, residency restrictions prevented family reunification, particularly between East Jerusalem Palestinian residents of Jerusalem and West Bank-based spouses or children. Israeli authorities permitted children in the Gaza Strip access to a parent in the West Bank only if no other close relative was resident in the Gaza Strip. Israeli authorities did not permit Palestinians who were abroad during the 1967 War or whose residence permits the Israeli government subsequently withdrew to reside permanently in the occupied territories. It was difficult for foreign-born spouses and children of Palestinians to obtain residency. Authorities required Palestinian spouses of Jerusalem residents to obtain a residency permit with reported delays of several years to obtain them.

Exile: Continued Israeli revocation of Jerusalem identity cards amounted to forced exile of Palestinian residents of Jerusalem to the West Bank, Gaza, or abroad, according to HRW. According to HRW the Israeli Ministry of Interior renewed “temporary” orders authorizing the revocation of Jerusalem residency rights from legal residents. Between 1967 and 2016, Israel revoked the residency status of 14,595 Palestinian residents of Jerusalem. Revocations continued in recent years, averaging approximately 100 per year, but not approaching the high point of 2008, when Israel revoked the Jerusalem identity cards of 4,577 individuals. In 2015 Israel revoked the status of 84 Palestinian residents of Jerusalem. Reasons for revocation included acquiring residency or citizenship in another country by Palestinian residents of Jerusalem; living “abroad” (including in the West Bank or Gaza) for more than seven years; or, most commonly, being unable to prove a “center of life” (interpreted as full-time residency) in Jerusalem. Some Palestinians who were born in Jerusalem but studied abroad reported losing their Jerusalem residency status. On September 13, the Israeli HCJ ruled that the Israeli government could not revoke Palestinian residence for “breach of loyalty.” The ruling followed then interior minister Roni Bar’s 2006 revocation of the residency of four Jerusalem residents elected to the PLC.

INTERNALLY DISPLACED PERSONS (IDPS)

UNOCHA estimated that, at the end of 2016, 47,200 persons in Gaza remained displaced due to destruction caused by the 2014 war. Reconstruction progressed slowly. The Gaza Reconstruction Mechanism enabled the entry of construction materials to rebuild 8,000 of the 11,000 individual homes destroyed in Gaza, but more than 3,000 homes were not yet rebuilt.

According to UNOCHA, Israeli settlement activity was a driver of displacement in the West Bank and Jerusalem. In the West Bank and Jerusalem, authorities demolished hundreds of Palestinian homes and other Palestinian structures due to residents’ lack of difficult-to-obtain Israeli building permits. According to UNOCHA, ACRI, and other NGOs, Israeli restrictions made it almost impossible for Palestinians to obtain permits in Area C and Jerusalem, while providing preferential treatment for Israeli settlers in these areas. UNOCHA noted that in many cases Palestinian displacement resulted from a combination of factors including settler violence, movement restrictions, and restricted access to permits, services, and resources. Israeli authorities displaced Palestinians in Jerusalem by revoking residency status and through forced evictions. In some cases Israeli authorities facilitated takeover of Palestinian property by Israeli organizations via court actions asserting a claim to Palestinian properties owned by Jews before 1948.

UNRWA and other humanitarian organizations provided services to IDPs in the Gaza Strip and West Bank, with some limitations due to Israeli restrictions on movement and border access.

PROTECTION OF REFUGEES

Access to Asylum: According to UNRWA, as of the end of 2016, there were 818,535 registered Palestinian refugees in the West Bank and more than 1.3 million in the Gaza Strip. Almost one-quarter (24 percent) of Palestinian refugees in the West Bank lived in camps, as did approximately 40 percent in Gaza. Some Palestinians, registered with UNRWA as refugees, who lived in Syria prior to the Syrian civil war were reportedly living in Gaza. In addition, Syrians of Palestinian descent (without UNRWA refugee status) were also reportedly living in Gaza after fleeing the Syrian civil war.

Access to Basic Services: All UNRWA projects in the West Bank and Gaza Strip required Israeli government permits, but UNRWA does not apply for permits in refugee camps.

Palestinian refugees in the West Bank and Gaza were eligible to access UNRWA schools and primary health care clinics, although in some cases, movement restrictions limited access to UNRWA services and resources in the West Bank.

Beginning in 2014 Israeli authorities required that UNRWA trucks use only commercial crossings into Jerusalem, at which they faced significant delays, long detours, and increased search demands. UNRWA continued to seek to use standard checkpoint crossings instead of commercial crossings, with mixed results. UNRWA reported that service delivery was problematic in the area between the security barrier and the Green Line, particularly near Bartaa, in three refugee communities near Qalqilya, and in four communities northwest of Jerusalem.

The deterioration of socioeconomic conditions during the year in Gaza severely affected refugees. UNRWA reported that food security continued to be at risk. A continuing shortage of UNRWA school buildings in Gaza during the year resulted in a double-shift system and shorter school hours.

Essential infrastructure in Gaza, including water and sanitation services, continued in a state of severe disrepair. Israeli restrictions limited the import of spare parts and components. Israeli import restrictions on certain commodities considered to be dual use continued to impede humanitarian operations in Gaza, including those directed toward refugees. In December 2016 Israeli authorities introduced a requirement whereby approval of UNRWA projects remains valid for only one year. As project implementation timelines often exceeded one year, this new requirement necessitated applications for re-approval of projects, which hampered implementation and increased transaction costs for multiple UNRWA projects.

STATELESS PERSONS

According to NGOs, 40,000 to 50,000 Palestinians in Gaza lacked identification cards recognized by Israel. Some were born in Gaza, but Israel never recognized them as residents; some fled Gaza during the 1967 war; and some left Gaza for various reasons after 1967 but later returned. A small number lacking recognized identification cards were born in the Gaza Strip and never left, but had only Hamas-issued identification cards. The Israeli government controlled the Palestinian Population Registry, which allows stateless persons to obtain status.

Section 3. Freedom to Participate in the Political Process

The PA basic law provides Palestinians the ability to choose their government and vote in periodic free and fair elections held by secret ballot and based on universal, equal suffrage. The PA has not held national elections in the West Bank or Gaza since 2006; Israeli authorities have banned the PA from conducting political activities in East Jerusalem. Residents of the Gaza Strip, which has been under Hamas control since 2007, were unable to choose their own government or hold it accountable. Civil society organizations in Gaza stated Hamas and other Islamist groups did not tolerate public dissent, opposition, civic activism, or the promotion of values contrary to their political and religious ideology.

Elections and Political Participation

Recent Elections: Authorities scheduled municipal elections in both the West Bank and Gaza on May 13; however, the PA postponed municipal elections in Gaza. Hamas and the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine boycotted the May 13 elections in the West Bank. According to election observers, voting generally proceeded without incidents of violence or voter intimidation. As required by Palestinian law, 20 percent of candidates on the lists were women.

There have been no national elections in the West Bank and Gaza since 2006, when Palestinian voters elected the 132-member Palestinian Legislative Council in a vote that international observers concluded generally met democratic standards and provided Palestinians the ability to choose their government peacefully. As of year’s end, no date was set for new national or municipal elections in the West Bank or Gaza.

Palestinian residents of Jerusalem who possess permanent residency status may vote in Jerusalem municipal elections and seek municipal office. Palestinian residents of Jerusalem have repeatedly boycotted municipal elections. In the most recent municipal election in 2013, 99 percent of eligible Palestinian voters in Jerusalem boycotted and did not vote, according to NGO reports. Palestinians with permanent residency status in Jerusalem cannot vote in Knesset elections or serve in the Knesset.

Palestinian residents of Jerusalem were able to vote in PA elections held in 2006 from East Jerusalem polling stations, but they have not voted in PA elections since.

Political Parties and Political Participation: The PA allowed a diversity of political parties to exist in the West Bank but limited the ability of Hamas members to campaign and organize rallies. In Gaza, Hamas allowed other political parties to exist but severely restricted their activities.

Participation of Women and Minorities: No PA laws limit participation of women or members of minorities in the political process, and they did participate. Legally women and minorities can vote and participate in political life on the same basis as men and nonminority citizens, although women faced significant social and cultural barriers in both the West Bank and Gaza. There were 16 women in the 132-member PLC, which represented West Bank, Gaza, and East Jerusalem districts, and there were three women in the 23-member PA cabinet. There were seven Christians in the PLC and three in the PA cabinet.

Hamas generally excluded women from leadership positions in the de facto ministries in Gaza.

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

Palestinian human rights groups and international organizations generally operated without PA restriction in the West Bank, and PA officials cooperated with their efforts to monitor the PA’s human rights practices. Several PA security services, including General Intelligence and the Palestinian Civil Police, appointed official liaisons who worked with human rights groups.

Israeli and Palestinian human rights NGOs, including B’Tselem, Rabbis for Human Rights, and Breaking the Silence, operating in East Jerusalem, the West Bank, and Gaza reported harassment from Israeli settlers and anonymous sources. NGOs reported continued telephonic harassment following widespread publication of a video naming and vilifying activists or supporters of four NGOs that reported on Palestinian human rights issues. B’Tselem, Rabbis for Human Rights, and Breaking the Silence reported some of their employees were subject to intimidation, death threats, or physical assault.

On August 23, Israeli security forces arrested Salah Hammouri, a Palestinian field researcher of the NGO Addameer at his home in the East Jerusalem neighborhood of Kufr Aqab. Authorities subsequently ordered him detained for six months in administrative detention without charges.

Both Palestinian and Israeli human rights NGOs operating in the West Bank, Gaza, and Jerusalem reported they faced sophisticated cyberattacks on their websites, servers, and internal databases.

In Gaza, Hamas routinely harassed civil society groups, including by dissolving and closing peaceful organizations. Gaza-based NGOs reported that Hamas representatives appeared at their offices to seek tax payments, demand beneficiary lists and salary information, and summon NGO representatives to police stations for questioning.

Palestinian, Israeli, and international NGOs monitored the Israeli government’s practices in the West Bank, Gaza, and Jerusalem and published their findings, although movement and access restrictions in the West Bank and Gaza made it difficult to work. Israeli authorities permitted some human rights groups to hold and publish press conferences and provided the ICRC with access to most detainees.

The United Nations or Other International Bodies: PA and Israeli officials generally cooperated with and permitted visits by representatives of the United Nations and organizations such as the ICRC, although there were numerous reports Israeli authorities blocked the delivery of humanitarian aid, especially to Gaza. There were numerous reports Hamas harassed members of international organizations.

In 2015 the International Criminal Court Office of the Prosecutor (OTP) opened a preliminary examination to determine whether crimes had been committed within the court’s jurisdiction on the territory of the “State of Palestine.” Israeli officials strongly opposed the preliminary examination but maintained communication with the OTP. Palestinian officials indicated they continued to respond to requests from the OTP by submitting information. Palestinian human rights groups proactively submitted information regarding alleged crimes to the OTP.

Government Human Rights Bodies: The ICHR continued serving as the PA’s ombudsperson and human rights commission. The ICHR issued monthly and annual reports on human rights violations within PA-controlled areas; the ICHR also issued formal recommendations to the PA. The ICHR was generally independent but faced resource shortages that limited its ability to work effectively. Local and international human rights NGOs cooperated with the ICHR.

Macedonia

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 disappearances by or on behalf of government authorities.

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

The law prohibits such practices, but there were reports that police abused detainees and prisoners and used excessive force. During the first six months of the year, the Ministry of Interior’s Sector for Internal Control and Professional Standards Unit reported receiving 11 complaints against police officers for use of excessive force. It took disciplinary action against two officers for those offenses. From January through September, the Ombudsman’s Office received nine complaints against police for unlawful or excessive use of force.

On October 12, the Council of Europe’s Committee for the Prevention of Torture (CPT) released a report on its December 2016 visit to the country. During the visit the CPT reported receiving a number of consistent allegations of deliberate physical mistreatment of inmates by prison officers at Idrizovo Prison, the country’s largest penitentiary. The reported mistreatment consisted mainly of slaps, punches, kicks, and blows to various parts of the body and was reportedly used by prison staff as a disciplinary tool, as unofficial punishment for infractions, and as a reaction to inmate requests and complaints. The CPT also noted reports prison officers deliberately incited prisoners to mistreat convicted sex offenders and Romani individuals as well as allegations that prison officers themselves hit convicted sex offenders with batons (see Prison and Detention Center Conditions). The CPT also reported receiving a few allegations of mistreatment of inmates by officers at Stip Prison.

In its October 12 report, the CPT stated, “The violence at Idrizovo Prison is integrally linked to the endemic corruption that has pervaded the whole prison and implicates prison officers, including officers of all grades up to the most senior officers, and educators.” The report noted, “At Idrizovo Prison, every aspect of imprisonment is up for sale, from obtaining a place in a decent cell, to home leave, to medication, to mobile phones and drugs.” In one example of violence linked to corruption and payments to prison officers at Idrizovo Prison, prison officers severely beat an inmate in September 2016; the CPT confirmed the case was under investigation by the Skopje Public Prosecutor’s Office.

In July 2016, six of 37 defendants accused of participating in the 2015 armed clashes with police in Kumanovo that left 18 persons dead asked the court for medical assistance after claiming police brutality during their transport from detention facilities to the court. Lawyers for the defendants requested an indefinite postponement of the trial, claiming, “Torture of the defendants is evident and it has been happening from the first day they were arrested until the last hearing.” The court informed the suspects’ lawyers that a medical report confirmed the physical abuse of two defendants and recognized minor injuries. The former minister of interior, Mitko Chavkov, asserted an investigation into the claims found no evidence of torture and that no charges were filed against accused police and prison guards, despite repeated complaints and calls for action by defense counsel and the ombudsman. In December 2016 the Ministry of Interior announced it would reopen the investigation. As of September 1, there were 14 police officers and prison guards under investigation for the alleged abuses. In October the ombudsman confirmed allegations of torture perpetrated by Ministry of Interior employees in charge of transporting the defendants to court. An investigation continued into one defendant’s claim that a member of the “Tigers” police unit sexually assaulted him.

During the year the European Roma Rights Center, a human rights nongovernmental organization (NGO), alleged “institutional violence” was perpetrated against Romani individuals in prisons and that there were several cases of Romani individuals being mistreated in detention facilities, resulting in their deaths.

Prison and Detention Center Conditions

The country’s prisons and detention centers failed to meet international standards and in some cases, according to the CPT, conditions could be described as amounting to inhuman and degrading treatment. Endemic corruption, high rates of overcrowding, mistreatment by prison guards, interprisoner violence, unsafe and unhygienic conditions, insufficient staffing, and inadequate training of guards and personnel remained serious problems, particularly at Idrizovo Prison, which held more than three-fifths of the country’s prison population.

Physical Conditions: The country had 11 prisons and three juvenile correctional facilities; seven prisons also housed pretrial detainees. The prisons were designed to hold 2,036 adults, 43 juveniles, and 450 pretrial detainees. As of September 1, the system held 2,767 individuals–2,507 adults, 235 pretrial detainees, and 25 juveniles.

According to the Ombudsman’s Office, poor conditions gave rise to what it called the “inhuman and degrading treatment of prisoners and detainees.”

In addition to mistreatment of inmates at Idrizovo Prison by prison staff (see section 1.c.), the CPT reported that interprisoner violence remained a serious problem at the prison. In one reported case, newly arrived prisoners sentenced for sexual offenses were repeatedly subjected to punches and blows with hard objects (such as brooms) by groups of inmates. Prison staff reportedly did not take any measures to protect these prisoners, and there were allegations that prison officers deliberately incited prisoners to mistreat sex offenders. Some prisoners claimed they were beaten by other inmates because they were unable to pay off debts incurred while in prison.

Prison authorities identified prison overcrowding as a core problem that gave rise to many secondary problems, including inadequate housing conditions for inmates, insufficient and substandard health care, difficult conditions for personal and general hygiene, and poor sanitation. Idrizovo Prison, which was built to hold 800 inmates but held more than 1,800, had especially bad conditions. In its October 12 report, the CPT noted sanitary annexes were in an “appalling state (filthy, foul-smelling, damaged, and leaking), many of the showers did not work and there was hardly any provision of hot water.” At the time of the December 2016 visit, the CPT reported that heating was working only a few hours a day. Provision of health care at Idrizovo and Skopje Prisons was inadequate. The CPT also observed that many prisoners were suffering from insect bites and infections such as scabies.

Insufficient staffing and inadequate training of prison guards and other personnel continued to be problems at all facilities.

Administration: In its October 12 report, the CPT noted it found no functioning internal complaint system in the three establishments it visited, including Idrizovo Prison. In general the ombudsman found that correctional authorities’ investigations into allegations of mistreatment and abuse of prisoners were ineffective. Most offenders continued to abuse with impunity and when criminal charges were filed, the cases were not handled promptly or efficiently. As of September the ombudsman received 157 complaints concerning treatment in correctional facilities and was investigating 44.

The Department for Enforcement of Sanctions received 14 notifications of the use of force against inmates by prison police. One case was under investigation at year’s end.

Independent Monitoring: The law allows physicians, diplomatic representatives, and representatives from the CPT and the International Committee of the Red Cross access to pretrial detainees with the approval of the investigative judge. The government usually only granted independent humanitarian organizations, such as the country’s Helsinki Committee for Human Rights, access to convicted prisoners upon the prisoners’ requests.

The ombudsman regularly visited the country’s prisons and investigated credible allegations of problematic conditions, although on some occasions prisons turned away the ombudsman’s staff because prison administrators were on vacation or medical leave. The UN Subcommittee on the Prevention of Torture visited a variety of detention facilities in April. In a press release about the visit, it highlighted the under resourcing of the ombudsman’s office as a critical deficiency in the prevention of torture in correctional facilities.

d. Arbitrary Arrest or Detention

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

ROLE OF THE POLICE AND SECURITY APPARATUS

The army is responsible for external security, and the president is the supreme commander of the Army. The national police maintain internal security, including migration and border enforcement, and report to the Ministry of the Interior. Civilian authorities have not yet addressed gaps in oversight over law enforcement personnel, particularly in the Ministry of Interior’s Department of Security and Counterintelligence (UBK), which, without legal authorization, allegedly intercepted the communications of more than 20,000 individuals over a multiyear period (see section 1.f.). On September 12, Minister of Interior Oliver Spasovski announced plans to reform the UBK and improve its reputation and professionalism. Planned reforms include a system designed to reduce the chances of abusing the legal wiretap authorities. The ombudsman received nine complaints of unlawful or excessive use of force while performing official duties. International observers, embassies, and local NGOs cited corruption, lack of transparency, and political pressure within the ministry as hindering efforts to fight crime, particularly organized crime.

Civilian authorities maintained effective control over the Army and the Ministry of Interior, and the government has effective mechanisms to investigate and punish abuse. There were no reports of impunity involving the security forces during the year.

The working group tasked with investigating the Ministry of Interior’s role in the April 27 attack on the parliament found legal and operational shortcomings within the ministry stemming from improper political and criminal influence over officials, including police officers. In response to the election of the new speaker of the parliament on April 27, approximately 200 demonstrators broke through a police cordon, entered the parliament building, and attacked journalists and parliament members. A Ministry of Interior investigation into the events of April 27 concluded that certain employees usurped their official position and failed to adequately protect members of the parliament and journalists. As a result of the investigation, 180 police officers were questioned, eight were dismissed, 43 were suspended, and 70 disciplinary procedures remained in progress.

In addition to investigating alleged police mistreatment, the Ministry of Interior’s Professional Standards Unit conducted all internal investigations into allegations of other forms of police misconduct. The unit has authority to impose administrative sanctions, such as temporary suspension from work, during its investigations. The unit cannot take disciplinary measures, which require a ruling from a disciplinary commission, nor can it impose more serious criminal sanctions, which require court action. During the first half of the year, the unit initiated disciplinary action against 175 police personnel and filed six criminal charges against ministry employees for criminal acts, including “abuse of official position,” “deceit,” and “mistreatment in performing a duty.”

ARREST PROCEDURES AND TREATMENT OF DETAINEES

The law requires that a judge issue warrants for arrest and detention of suspects based on evidence, and police generally followed this requirement. The law states that prosecutors must arraign a detainee within 24 hours of arrest. A pretrial procedure judge, at the request of a prosecutor, may order detention of suspects for up to 72 hours before arraignment. Police generally adhered to these procedures. Authorities generally informed detainees promptly of the charges against them. Detention prior to indictment may last a maximum of 180 days. Following indictment, pretrial detention may last a maximum of two years.

In the majority of cases, the courts adhered to the law for pretrial detention procedures. The selectivity and lack of transparency courts used when evaluating requests for pretrial detention or detention during trials were problematic. Government statistics indicated that prosecutors requested detention orders in 5 percent of all cases. The Skopje Criminal Court granted 80 percent of pretrial detention requests by the Public Prosecutor’s Office and the Organized Crime and Corruption Prosecutor’s Office. At the same time, the courts denied 89 percent of similar requests for detention and other precautionary measures submitted by the Special Prosecutor’s Office. Over the previous year, courts also rejected additional requests from the Special Prosecutor’s Office for precautionary measures, including house arrest and passport seizure. In some cases the court’s denials allowed high-profile suspects to evade prosecution.

On June 30, the Special Prosecutor’s Office requested a 30-day pretrial detention order for defendants in the “Target” and “Fortress II” cases, Goran Grujevski and Nikola Boshkovski. The Skopje Criminal Court denied the request on June 1. On June 17, the Skopje Appellate Court upheld the detention order pending a Supreme Court decision. On July 26, the Supreme Court upheld the appellate court’s ruling and issued an international arrest warrant against the two, which the Ministry of Interior disseminated through Interpol channels. On October 19, Greek police detained the defendants in Thessaloniki for possession and use of false Bulgarian passports and identification documents. On November 8, Grujevski was tried in absentia in the Fortress II case and sentenced to 18 months in prison. As of December both individuals were awaiting extradition.

The courts sometimes failed to provide appropriate justification for prolonging, substituting, or terminating pretrial detention.

On May 12, the Supreme Court reversed the Skopje Criminal Court’s detention order against Sead Kocan, which was originally requested by the Special Prosecutor’s Office. Media reported Supreme Court president Jovo Vangelovski delayed signing and transmitting the detention order to the Ministry of Interior, allowing the defendant to flee. Kocan, along with three other businessmen, was suspected of falsifying documents in 2011 to win a tender of 17 million euros ($20 million) from the state power company to extract coal from a mine near the city of Bitola.

There is an operating bail system. The law allows defendants to communicate with an attorney of their choice, but authorities did not always inform detainees properly of this right and did not always allow them to consult with an attorney prior to arraignment. Indigent detainees have the right to a state-provided attorney, and authorities generally respected this right. Judges usually granted permission for attorneys to visit their clients in detention. Police reportedly called suspects and witnesses to police stations for “informative talks” without notifying them of their rights and without the presence of legal counsel. Authorities did not practice incommunicado detention but sometimes held suspects under house arrest.

Arbitrary Arrest: The ombudsman received two complaints of arbitrary arrest, and a number of high-profile cases from previous years have not been resolved due to continuous trial postponements.

On November 28, the Criminal Court of Skopje ordered the arrest of 36 suspects for questioning in connection with investigations into the violent attacks in parliament on April 27. After initial questioning, the court ordered 21 individuals remanded to 30-day pretrial detention, including the former chief of public security and members of parliament (MPs). Due to their parliamentary immunity, the MPs were released pending a parliamentary decision on the immunity. On December 1, parliament lifted the immunity of the MPs at the court’s request, citing the nature of the alleged crime; on December 5, the Skopje Criminal Court ordered 30-day detentions of three VMRO-DPMNE MPs and house arrest for the other three. Opposition party VMRO-DPMNE called the detentions politically motivated and its supporters protested on multiple occasions over the course of several weeks. On December 28, in response to a petition by 33 VMRO-DPMNE MPs asking the ombudsman to determine whether the rights of the MPs were violated, the ombudsman announced police had violated the rights to parliamentary immunity and presumption of innocence of the six MPs. He recommended that the Ministry of Interior open an investigation into the conduct of the officers involved and questioned whether the court had authority to issue an arrest warrant for individuals with parliamentary immunity without their immunity being lifted beforehand. On December 29, the minister of interior stated, “during the detainment of the MPs, the police acted legally–upon an order issued by the court,” adding that he provided documentation on the case to the ombudsman. On December 27, the detentions of the MPs were renewed for another 30 days.

Detainees’ Ability to Challenge Lawfulness of Detention before a Court: Arrested suspects, their attorneys, or close family members can petition the court to decide the lawfulness of their detention or obtain court-ordered release as well as to obtain compensation for persons unlawfully detained.

e. Denial of Fair Public Trial

The constitution provides for “autonomous and independent” courts, supported by an independent and autonomous Judicial Council. The judiciary failed to demonstrate independence and impartiality, however, and judges were subject to political influence and corruption. The outcomes of many judicial actions appeared predetermined, particularly in cases where the defendants held views or took actions in opposition to the government. Inadequate funding of the judiciary continued to hamper court operations and effectiveness. A number of judicial officials accused the government of using its budgetary authority to exert control over the judiciary.

According to the ombudsman’s annual report for 2016, the second greatest number of citizen complaints (577 or 15 percent) received by the ombudsman concerned the judicial system. As of September the ombudsman had received 363 complaints concerning the judicial system during the year. The ombudsman’s report stated citizens complained about long trials, bias, selective justice, and undue pressure on judges. A significant portion of court budgets reportedly went to paying damages for violations of citizens’ right to trial within a reasonable time. The report indicated court decisions were sometimes considerably delayed due to administrative deficiencies or judges exceeding the legally prescribed deadlines for issuing written judgments.

In a report released in 2015, the European Commission’s Senior Experts Group highlighted the “atmosphere of pressure and insecurity within the judiciary. Many judges believed that promotion within the ranks of the judiciary was reserved for those whose decisions favor the political establishment.” The update to this report, released September 14, noted that within the judiciary, “many of the practices denounced in the 2015 report have continued.” The report specifically asserted, “The control and misuse of the judicial system…to serve and promote political interests has not diminished by any significant respect.”

While there were strict rules regulating the assignment of cases to judges that were implemented through an electronic case management system, the European Commission’s Senior Experts Group’s September 14 report noted, “there are credible indications that this system has frequently been interfered with in order to ensure the allocation of sensitive files to particular judges.” In its 2016 annual enlargement progress report, the European Commission found allegations of direct interference by judicial authorities in the use of the Automated Court Case Management Information System (ACCMIS) to assign judges to handle specific procedures initiated by the special prosecutor. Initial findings of the government’s ACCMIS audit, released December 7, found the system had been manipulated, substantiating longstanding rumors of abuse. The Ministry of Justice indicated it would submit the results to the Judicial Council and Public Prosecutor for action.

On February 20, the president of the Skopje Criminal Court, Tatjana Mihajlova, transferred 20 (out of a total 67) judges presiding over high-level criminal cases to the misdemeanor and juvenile divisions of the court. Multiple members of the judiciary claimed the transfers were in retaliation for rulings favorable to the Special Prosecutor’s Office. Judges also alleged that Mihajlova and her successor, Stojance Ribarev, only assigned judges with a record of obstructing the special prosecutor to oversee the cases brought by the Special Prosecutor’s Office.

A 2015 report by the European Commission’s Senior Experts Group raised concerns about the fairness of the conviction of Zvonko Kostovski, a defendant in the “Coup” case. Kostovski, a counterintelligence officer in the Ministry of Interior, pleaded guilty to espionage and illegal interception of communications and was sentenced to three years’ imprisonment. Kostovski claimed he wiretapped compromising conversations for the opposition SDSM party leader, Zoran Zaev, in order to blackmail former prime minister Nikola Gruevski into including the SDSM in the government. In its report the Senior Experts Group expressed concern that it was impossible to know to what extent the facts supported the plea and whether the light sentence the judge conferred may have been a reward for participating in a cover-up of the involvement of others. In October 2016 the Special Prosecutor’s Office requested an extraordinary Supreme Court review of Kostovski’s plea bargain. On July 12, the special prosecutor obtained the original copy of Kotovski’s plea bargain and appealed the plea before the Supreme Court, citing substantive procedural violations. As of December 1, the Supreme Court’s review was pending.

TRIAL PROCEDURES

The constitution and law provide for the right to a fair trial, although political interference in the work and appointment of the judiciary frequently undermined this right.

In 2015 a law took effect that contains updated sentencing guidelines designed to address inconsistent sentencing among different courts. Legal analysts expressed concern that the law seriously hampered judicial discretion to decide sentences according to the facts in individual cases and provided too much power to prosecutors to influence sentences.

The law presumes defendants innocent until proven guilty. Defendants have the right to be informed promptly and in detail of the charges (with free interpretation as necessary), but authorities did not always respect this right. Trials were generally open to the public. High-profile trials were subject to frequent delays. The ombudsman cited delayed court proceedings as a violation of citizens’ rights and noted the number of complaints regarding delayed court proceedings increased during the year, compared with 2016.

Defense attorneys and human rights activists claimed that closing significant portions of high-profile trials to the public reduced transparency and contributed to declining public confidence in the courts, especially among the ethnic Albanian population. The defense in the “Monster” case and the Kumanovo trial, most of the proceedings of which were held behind closed doors, repeatedly raised such concerns.

For certain criminal and civil cases, judicial panels of three to five individuals, led by a professional judge, are used. Authorities did not always grant defendants adequate time and facilities to prepare a defense. Free assistance of an interpreter is provided. Defendants may question witnesses and present evidence on their own behalf. Authorities may not compel defendants to testify or confess guilt. Both the prosecution and defendants have the right to appeal verdicts.

POLITICAL PRISONERS AND DETAINEES

On July 14, journalist Zoran Bozinovski was released from detention after 15 months in custody. In April 2016 Serbian authorities approved his extradition to Macedonia on an Interpol arrest warrant accusing him of criminal association, espionage, and extortion amid allegations that he was part of a spy ring working for foreign governments. The Association of Journalists of Macedonia had called Bozinovski’s arrest and detention “politically motivated and aimed at silencing journalists who had the courage to expose scandals about the authorities.”

Bozinovski had reportedly moved to Serbia out of concern for his safety after posting articles critical of the former government, the VMRO-DPMNE party, and former prime minister Gruevski.

CIVIL JUDICIAL PROCEDURES AND REMEDIES

Citizens had access to courts to bring lawsuits seeking damages for human rights violations. Individuals may file human rights cases in the criminal, civil, or administrative courts, and the Constitutional Court, depending upon the type of human rights violation in question and its alleged perpetrator. Individuals also may appeal adverse decisions. The law provides the right to timely adjudication of cases and a legal basis for appealing excessive judicial delays to the Supreme Court. The government generally complied with civil decisions of domestic courts. Individuals may appeal cases involving alleged state violations of the European Convention on Human Rights to the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) after exhausting all domestic legal options.

The ombudsman’s 2016 annual report noted continuing problems regarding the right to trial in a reasonable time. According to the report, protracted civil and administrative court cases, as well as insufficient civil enforcement practices, resulted in violations of citizens’ rights.

PROPERTY RESTITUTION

The ability to apply for restitution of property confiscated during the Holocaust is limited to Macedonian citizens. Holocaust-era restitution is no longer a significant issue in the country, particularly after the 2000 Denationalization Law and 2007 compensation agreement.

The 2000 Denationalization Law accorded the right to denationalization of property seized after August 1944 to former owners and their successors, in accordance with the provisions related to the right to inherit. It required claimants to have Macedonian citizenship at the time of the law entering force.

The 2007 Compensation Agreement was between the government, the Holocaust Fund, and the Jewish Community and allowed for the payment of 21.1 million euros ($25 million) between June 2009 and June 2018. To date 15.6 million euros ($18.7 million) has been paid. One of its major results was the construction of the Holocaust Memorial Center of the Jews from Macedonia, which officially opened in 2011.

The government has no laws or mechanisms in place related to the resolution of Holocaust-era claims by foreign citizens.

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

The law prohibits such actions, although there were reports that the government failed to respect these prohibitions during the year.

The government continued to deal with the repercussions of revelations of a widespread, illegal wiretapping campaign allegedly carried out over multiple years inside the UBK headquarters. The campaign was first reported by the then opposition SDSM party in February 2015. In its September 14 report, the European Commission’s Senior Experts Group stated, “Urgent measures to prevent illegal wiretapping have not been addressed” and noted that illegal interceptions may have continued after June 2015. According to the report, the UBK still holds a monopoly over interception of communications for both security purposes and criminal investigations, which interfered with the autonomy of police forces. The report also noted concerns remained regarding the lack of respect for basic human rights and data protection rules within the UBK. On October 31, the government established an expert working group to reform the system for legal interception, headed by deputy director of the UBK, Siljan Avramovski.

The European Commission’s Senior Experts Group criticized the Directorate for Personal Data Protection, the agency responsible for overseeing the government’s handling of personal information, for its delay in responding to the “apparent lack of data protection, the potential improper and uncontrolled registration of telephone numbers, as well as the invasion of the right to privacy through potentially unauthorized surveillance.” In late 2016 the directorate performed four inspections of the UBK and initiated a control inspection on July 24 to measure implementation of the 11 recommendations it made during 2016 inspections. A compliance report published by the directorate on November 24 stated that the Ministry of Interior fully complied with 10 recommendations and partially with one recommendation.

In May 2016 the ruling coalition passed, through an expedited procedure, amendments to the Law on the Protection of Privacy that prohibit the possession, processing, and publishing of any content, including wiretapped conversations, that violate the right to privacy with regard to personal or family life. The amendments, which entered into force in July, also prohibit the use of such materials in election campaigns or for other political purposes.

Lustration, the process of publicly identifying individuals who collaborated with the secret services during the communist era and prohibiting them from holding public office and receiving other government benefits, was discontinued during the year. On August 29, a report about the Lustration Commission’s activities from 2009 to 2017 was submitted to the parliament. On September 13, the parliament terminated the commission without debate. The ECHR has ruled twice, most recently in April, that the country’s lustration procedures violated the European Convention on Human Rights.

Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:

The constitution provides for freedom of expression, including for members of the press, but government pressure on the media, impunity for perpetrators of violence against journalists and other members of media, and a media market divided along political party lines continued to be a problem.

The international human rights organization Freedom House characterized the media landscape as “not free” for the second year in a row. A 2016-17 Metamorphosis Foundation survey published August 10 found that only 5 percent of citizens claimed they fully trusted the media.

On April 28, six media organizations, including the European Center for Press and Media Freedom and the Association of Journalists of Macedonia (AJM), released a statement that expressed concerns about the rising trend in violence against journalists. Members of the national and international media community, including the AJM and the European Federation of Journalists, accused the previous government of failing to respect freedom of speech and the press and of taking no responsibility for the protection of journalists.

Freedom of Expression: The law prohibits speech that incites national, religious, or ethnic hatred and provides penalties for violations. Individuals may criticize the government publicly or privately. Although most government advertising was suspended in 2015, there were reports that the previous government attempted to impede media criticism during the year by directing political advertising purchases toward progovernment outlets prior to the formation of the new government in May.

Press and Media Freedom: A limited number of independent media voices actively expressed a variety of views without explicit restriction. Media outlets and reporting continued to be divided along political lines. Laws that restrict speech inciting national, religious, or ethnic hatred also cover print and broadcast media, publication of books, and online newspapers and journals.

Freedom House reported on February 2, “Many private outlets are owned by businesspeople who used their media holdings as tools to promote commercial interests or curry favor with the government.” According to the April edition of AJM’s Summary of the Media Situation in Macedonia, which evaluated the media landscape prior to the formation of the new government, both central and local government entities spent public funds on media. The Ministry of Information Society and Administration reportedly spent the greatest amount, mainly by subsidizing national television stations to produce local programming.

As the government was traditionally one of the largest purchasers of advertising in the country, many media outlets remained financially dependent on its spending and therefore subject to pressure to avoid criticizing it. In its 2015 enlargement progress report, the European Commission noted government advertising provided the largest single source of funding for media outlets and had a major influence on the media market at both the national and local level. There were credible reports that the former government abused its market power to influence media content.

On August 22, the government terminated all government-paid advertisements in commercial media, including broadcast, print, billboards and internet portals, with the exception of social media. This policy became mandatory for all state agencies and was encouraged for local governments as well.

On September 19, the parliament abolished the monthly public broadcasting fee of 190 denars (four dollars) paid by every household. The fee was used to help fund the public broadcaster, Macedonia Radio Television (MRTV). Under the new law, MRTV will receive direct funding amounting to 0.5 percent of the annual state budget.

A September 14 report by the European Commission’s Senior Experts Group noted journalists often failed to meet ethical standards. The group further reported there were allegations of self-censorship and selective reporting among some journalists, which resulted from corrupt practices and a lack of necessary professional skills. Media experts reported that intimidation, absence of good labor conditions for journalists, and financial instability of media companies made them vulnerable to government pressure and reliant on government advertising.

The OSCE observation mission’s final report on the December 2016 elections noted concerns regarding the independence of public broadcaster MRTV and the Agency for Audio and Audiovisual Media Services, intimidation and threats against journalists, and the failure of media outlets to provide balanced and impartial coverage of the election.

Beginning August 7, the Agency for Audio and Audiovisual Media released reports on media coverage of the October local elections every 10 days during the campaign period. In a December 15 report summarizing its findings, the agency asserted that seven stations committed 14 violations of the electoral code, including exceeding the allowable time for paid political advertising, broadcasting an unsourced poll, and not providing balanced coverage in their daily news shows.

Violence and Harassment: Several journalists reported threats and intimidation directed against them, allegedly including by government officials.

In June the AJM released a report, The Cases of Violations of Rights of Journalists and the Reactions of Institutions in Macedonia. The report documented 14 incidents of violent behavior against journalists or damage to their property since the beginning of the year.

On June 7, unidentified individuals threatened the editor in chief of an Albanian language news website, Elida Zylbeari, after she published an article on alleged misconduct by Blerim Bexheti during his time as mayor of Saraj. An investigation into the case had not been completed by September. The AJM claimed the attack and harassment of Zylbeari was indicative of an environment in which aggression was used to silence journalists.

According to the AJM and the NGO Civicus, continued threats against critics of the former ruling party, VMRO-DPMNE, were reported during the year. On June 16, journalist Branko Trichkovski received a death threat online from actor Toni Mihajlovski. The actor told followers on Facebook he would kill Trichkovski “without blinking an eye.” Trichkovski previously suffered harassment and intimidation by activists affiliated with the former ruling party and individuals purportedly affiliated with the former ruling party accosted him at his home in March.

In addition to acts of violence and harassment, there were credible reports that journalists encountered other obstructions as they attempted to inform the public of breaking news events. For example, 21 journalists were threated or barred from reporting, and six journalists were beaten while covering a demonstration that later resulted in the storming of the parliament building on April 27. Dimitar Tanurov, a reporter for the independent Meta news agency told the Committee to Protect Journalists that angry protesters threatened him and instructed him to stop taking pictures during the April 27 demonstration at the parliament. According to Tanurov, “when they saw my press card and the outlet I worked for, they called me a traitor, took my phone, and continued to beat and kick me while I was lying on the floor.”

On February 27 and March 10, unknown perpetrators attacked journalists reporting from “For a United Macedonia” protests.

Media watchdog groups stated the authorities did not properly investigate, charge, or convict perpetrators of violence against journalists. This created an overall environment of impunity.

Censorship or Content Restrictions: There were reports that the previous government pressured journalists into self-censorship. Journalists reported far greater official interference when covering topics sensitive to the previous government. Privately owned media claimed they routinely received calls from authorities at the highest levels of government dictating how and what to report with regard to political issues.

Libel/Slander Laws: Persons found guilty of defamation, libel, and slander were subject to fines according to a schedule based on nonmaterial damage. Some editors and media owners expressed concern the steep fines would promote further self-censorship. There were also claims the former government used the statute as a tool to target political opponents.

According to the AJM, as of November 23, there were approximately 39 defamation cases involving journalists, editors, and/or media managers or owners pending before the courts. Information about pending cases from previous years was incomplete.

INTERNET FREEDOM

The government did not restrict or disrupt access to the internet or censor online content. There were no official reports that the government monitored private online communications without appropriate legal authority. In the wake of the 2015 wiretapping scandal; however, there was widespread public sentiment that the government was monitoring internet traffic on a regular basis. This belief prompted many citizens to use messaging applications that offered end-to-end encryption, including Viber, WhatsApp, Facebook Messenger, Signal, and Telegram. The State Statistical Office estimated that 75 percent of households had access to the internet in the first quarter of the year, up from 69 percent in 2016.

ACADEMIC FREEDOM AND CULTURAL EVENTS

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

FREEDOM OF PEACEFUL ASSEMBLY

The law provides for the freedom of peaceful assembly, and the government generally respected it.

On July 28, police detained four members of the political party Levica while they protested a public event in Skopje following a joint military exercise involving foreign forces. The NGO Civil released a video of the incident that showed a police officer issuing an order for the group to disperse and then detaining one party member after the group unfurled a banner that read, “Against war for profits.” The Ministry of Interior reported the individuals were briefly detained at the scene and then released without charges. An investigation by the Sector for Internal Control and the Professional Standards Unit continued at year’s end.

FREEDOM OF ASSOCIATION

The law provides for the freedom of association, and the government generally respected it.

c. Freedom of Religion

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

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

The 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, asylum seekers, migrants, stateless persons, and other persons of concern.

Abuse of Migrants, Refugees, and Stateless Persons: According to the Ministry of Labor and Social Policy, as of September, 38 migrants were housed in transit centers located at the northern and southern border crossings with Serbia and Greece, respectively. In an April report, the Macedonian Young Lawyers Association estimated there were 350 displaced migrants in the country and that 200 were not housed in government-run facilities.

During the year the Helsinki Committee for Human Rights registered 11 hate crimes against migrants, which included beating, torture, and robbery. The committee also noted that, in response to calls for local referendums on migrant settlement, “The public debate was followed by a high amount of xenophobic hate speech towards refugees, identifying them with terrorists, calling for the prevention of their settlement in the country with offensive and humiliating messages. Several civic initiatives aimed at collecting signatures of citizens against migrants have been initiated, which have constantly encouraged and provoked hate speech.”

Foreign Travel: The constitution provides for freedom of movement, and the government may only restrict it when necessary to protect national security, criminal investigations, or public health.

During the year the ombudsman and the Helsinki Committee for Human Rights received some complaints, especially from Romani individuals, that state authorities denied their freedom of movement solely based on their ethnic, racial, and/or religious profile, although the number of complaints was lower than in previous years.

On September 11, Basic Court Skopje II ruled that the Ministry of Interior violated two Romani families’ right to equal treatment by imposing a travel restriction on their national identity cards. The court awarded the defendants 200,000 denars ($3,800) in damages.

INTERNALLY DISPLACED PERSONS (IDPS)

The government reported that 183 persons remained displaced from the 2001 internal conflict, 27 of whom lived in collective centers and 156 with host families.

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. UNHCR reported, however, that the mechanism for adjudicating refugee status failed to provide basic procedural guarantees and proper determinations as prescribed in the law. The Helsinki Committee for Human Rights estimated 69 migrants applied for asylum in the first nine months of the year. Numerous cases of individuals who were not allowed to submit an application for asylum, even after expressly stating their intention to do so, were reported, however. As of September 7, 19 asylum applications were in process, zero migrants had been granted asylum, and four had been granted subsidiary protection. The government continued rejecting most asylum applications, mainly on the grounds that the applicant posed a threat to national security.

Asylum seekers from countries with active conflicts, such as Libya and Yemen, were reportedly denied entry. UNHCR stated that these “push-backs” violated the 1951 Refugee Convention as well as Protocol 4 to the European Convention on Human Rights. The government issued identity documents to recognized refugees and persons under subsidiary protection, but authorities frequently delayed or failed to issue identification documents to new asylum seekers.

Safe Country of Origin/Transit: The law contains a broad definition of “safe third country” that includes any member state of the EU, NATO, or the European Free Trade Area, effectively precluding any migrant entering the country by land from countries other than Kosovo and Serbia from seeking asylum.

Durable Solutions: As of October, 98 individuals from the 1999 conflict in Kosovo had returned to Kosovo. UNHCR continued to assist rejected asylum seekers from Kosovo, whom the government allowed to stay in the country. The government issued them provisional identification documents to secure their access to services. The Ministry of Labor and Social Policy provided integrated, durable solutions with the support of UNHCR for approximately 530 refugees who had applied for integration into the country.

Temporary Protection: The government provides subsidiary protection to individuals who may not qualify as refugees and provided it to 377 persons during the year through November.

STATELESS PERSONS

Some habitual residents were legally stateless, in spite of fulfilling one or more criteria for citizenship. As of July 2016, UNHCR reported there were 585 persons in the country under its statelessness mandate, primarily Roma who lacked civil registration and documentation. Children born in the country to stateless persons are considered nationals and have access to birth registration and certification.

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 December 2016 election for seats in the parliament had a record high turnout and only minor confirmed irregularities. According to the OSCE/ODIHR report, although the State Election Commission struggled with election preparations, election day was generally well administered and orderly. While ODIHR found that fundamental freedoms were generally respected and candidates were able to campaign freely, it noted that the elections took place “in an environment characterized by a lack of public trust in institutions and the political establishment, and allegations of voter coercion.” According to ODIHR, the elections failed to meet some important OSCE commitments for a democratic electoral process, including voter intimidation, widespread pressure on civil servants, vote buying, coercion, and misuse of administrative resources. Municipal elections were held on October 15, with a second round on October 29. According to the OSCE/ODIHR preliminary report, the elections took place in a competitive environment, voter’s fundamental freedoms were respected, and the elections “contributed to strengthening confidence in the democratic process.” Problems observed during the pre-election period included credible allegations of vote buying, voter pressure, and isolated cases of violence. OSCE/ODHIR found that despite organizational challenges, election day generally proceeded in an orderly fashion.

Political Parties and Political Participation: There are few restrictions on forming or joining political parties, which are subject to the same laws as ordinary citizens. While membership in a political party is not mandatory, there is an active patronage system in the country through which parties confer special benefits and advantages to their members. The opposition VMRO-DPMNE party accused the government of continuing these practices, alleging that educational and professional qualifications prescribed by law for public administration positions were not followed. On July 6, Spase Gligorov was appointed to lead the nonpartisan Agency for Administration after his resignation from the SDSM Executive Committee. The appointment of Ivan Barbov as acting director of the University Clinic of Neurology in Skopje was also considered controversial. Barbov was convicted and given a suspended sentence in 2012 for participating in a group that charged patients for illegal insurance papers that granted disability pensions. Multiple sources alleged, however, that some defendants in the case were subjects of politically motivated prosecutions by the former VMRO-DPMNE government. Legal analysts noted that in some high profile cases, if there was the risk of an acquittal due to weak or insufficient evidence, judges would issue guilty verdicts with suspended sentences. This was reportedly done to avoid negative publicity and prevent defendants from suing for damages stemming from unjust detention cases.

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. The law requires gender diversity in each political party’s candidate list for parliamentary and municipal elections. No more than two-thirds of a party’s candidates may be the same gender. As of September 28, 41 of the 120 members of the parliament were women, and four women served as ministers in the president’s 25-member cabinet. Men dominated leadership ranks in political parties. Of the 208 candidates for mayoral positions in the October 15 elections, only 12 were women. Six women won mayoral contests on October 15, four of whom were incumbents.

Ethnic Albanians and other ethnic minorities continued to complain of inequitable representation within government and discriminatory practices that excluded them from political participation, such as selective withholding of security clearances.

Namibia

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 disappearances by or on behalf of government authorities.

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

The constitution and law prohibit such practices, but the law does not define “torture” or separately classify it as a crime. Torture is prosecuted under criminal provisions such as assault or homicide. Although the Ombudsman’s Office stated that it received some reports of police mistreatment of detainees, there were no complaints of torture.

Prison and Detention Center Conditions

Prison conditions improved during the year, although some prison buildings remained dilapidated.

Physical Conditions: Conditions in detention centers and police holding cells remained poor. Conditions were often worse in pretrial holding cells than in prisons. Human rights bodies and government officials reported overcrowding in holding cells. Overcrowding was less of a problem in prisons. Five of the country’s 13 prisons were overcrowded, while the remaining eight had excess capacity. As of August prisons built to confine a maximum of 5,147 persons held 3,993 inmates. These included 100 women and eight juveniles.

In pretrial holding cells, sanitation remained insufficient, tuberculosis was prevalent, and on-site medical assistance was inadequate.

Prison and holding cell conditions for women were generally better than for men. Female prisoners were permitted to keep their babies with them until age two and received food and clothing for them from prison staff.

There were limited programs to prevent HIV transmission in prisons.

The law does not permit holding juvenile offenders with adults. Prison authorities reported they generally confined juvenile offenders separately, but police occasionally held juveniles with adults in rural detention facilities because of a lack of pretrial detainee facilities for juveniles.

Administration: The Office of the Ombudsman, an independent authority, investigated credible allegations of inhuman conditions, and reported close cooperation with police in resolving complaints and responding promptly to inquiries.

Independent Monitoring: The government granted local and international nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) access to prisons and prisoners but required them to obtain permission from the commissioner general of prisons. The International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) visited detainees of the Caprivi treason trial in both Windhoek Central Prison and Oluno Prison and helped arrange family visits.

Improvements: During the year police continued to improve detention conditions by refurbishing older facilities and by building additional holding cells. At year’s end prison holding capacity exceeded the prison population in eight of the country’s 13 prisons.

d. Arbitrary Arrest or Detention

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

ROLE OF THE POLICE AND SECURITY APPARATUS

The Namibian Police Force (NamPol) has approximately 16,500 uniformed officers and operates under the Ministry of Safety and Security. The Namibian Defense Force, with an estimated 22,000 active duty members, is part of the Ministry of Defense. NamPol is responsible for internal security, while the defense force provides supplemental assistance in response to some natural disasters.

NamPol reported it had decentralized policing activities to make regional commands responsible for executing directives of the inspector general of police. Civilian authorities maintained effective control over NamPol, and the government had effective mechanisms to investigate and punish abuse and corruption. In contrast to prior years, there were no reports of impunity involving the security forces.

ARREST PROCEDURES AND TREATMENT OF DETAINEES

Arrest warrants are not required in all cases, including when authorities apprehend a suspect in the course of committing a crime. Authorities must inform persons arrested of the reason for their arrest, and police generally informed detainees promptly of the charges against them. Authorities must arraign arrested persons within 48 hours of their detention. The government did not always meet this requirement, especially in rural areas far from courts. The constitution stipulates the accused are entitled to defense by legal counsel of their choice, and authorities respected this right.

The state-funded Legal Aid Directorate (LAD) provided free legal assistance for indigent defendants in criminal cases and, depending on resource availability, in civil matters. The LAD provided assistance in approximately 70 percent of all criminal cases.

There was a functioning bail system. Officials generally allowed detainees prompt access to family members. The constitution permits detention without trial during a state of emergency but requires publication of the names of detainees in the government’s gazette within 14 days of their apprehension. An advisory board appointed by the president on the recommendation of the Judicial Service Commission (the constitutional body that recommends judges to the president for appointment) must review their cases within one month of detention and every three months thereafter. The constitution requires such advisory boards to have no more than five members of which at least three must be “judges of the Supreme Court or the High Court or qualified to be such.” The advisory board has the power to order the release of anyone detained without trial during an emergency.

Pretrial Detention: Lengthy pretrial detention remained a significant problem. A shortage of qualified magistrates and other court officials, the inability of many defendants to afford bail, the lack of a plea-bargaining system, slow or incomplete police investigations, the frequency of appeals, and procedural postponements resulted in a large backlog in the prosecution of criminal cases. Delays between arrest and trial could last for years. There were lengthy delays in criminal appeals as well. According to the Office of the Prosecutor General, however, pretrial detention did not exceed the maximum sentence of an alleged crime.

Detainee’s Ability to Challenge Lawfulness of Detention before a Court: Persons arrested or detained 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 courts acted independently at times, making judgments and rulings critical of the government. Inefficiency and lack of resources, however, hampered the judicial system.

Customary courts hear many civil and petty criminal cases in rural areas. The law delineates the offenses the customary system may handle. Customary courts deal with infractions of local customary law among members of the same ethnic group. The law defines the role, duties, and powers of traditional leaders and states customary law inconsistent with the constitution is invalid. Cases resolved in customary courts were sometimes tried a second time in government courts.

TRIAL PROCEDURES

The constitution and law provide for the right to a fair public trial, but long delays in courts hearing cases and the uneven application of constitutional protections in the customary system compromised this right. Defendants are presumed innocent. The law provides for defendants to be informed promptly and in detail of the charges against them, in a language they understand, and of their right to a public trial.

All defendants have the right to be present at trial and to consult with an attorney of their choice in a timely manner. Defendants receive free interpretation as necessary from their first court appearance through all appeals. Although indigent defendants are entitled to a lawyer provided by the state in criminal and civil cases, this sometimes did not occur due to an insufficient number of public defenders, insufficient state funds to pay private lawyers to represent indigent defendants, or because the LAD did not accept the application for representation from an accused.

Defendants may confront witnesses, present witnesses and evidence on their behalf, and have the right of appeal. The law extends these rights to all citizens. The courts provided defendants adequate time and facilities to prepare their defense. Defendants have the right not to testify against themselves or confess guilt.

POLITICAL PRISONERS AND DETAINEES

There were no reports of political prisoners or detainees.

CIVIL JUDICIAL PROCEDURES AND REMEDIES

The law provides for access to a court to file lawsuits seeking damages for or cessation of human rights violations. The constitution provides for administrative procedures to correct, as well as judicial remedies to redress, wrongs. Civil court orders were mostly well enforced.

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:

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

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

Violence and Harassment: Unlike in 2016, there were no reports of harassment of journalists.

Censorship or Content Restrictions: There were reports journalists working for state-owned media practiced self-censorship in favor of the government and Swapo.

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 communication without appropriate legal authority. According to the International Telecommunication Union, 31 percent of individuals used the internet in 2016.

ACADEMIC FREEDOM AND CULTURAL EVENTS

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

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

c. Freedom of Religion

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

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

PROTECTION OF REFUGEES

Refoulement: Unlike in 2016, there were no reports of forced repatriation.

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

Refugees were required to live at the government’s Osire refugee settlement. The government cooperated with the NGO Komeho Namibia to provide food, shelter, water, and sanitation at the settlement. The government issued identification cards and exit permits allowing refugees to leave the settlement to travel to a specified place for a limited period. The government maintained strict control over civilian access to the Osire refugee settlement but provided regular unrestricted access to the ICRC, UNHCR, and UNHCR’s NGO partners.

Employment: The government maintained restrictive measures on refugees’ ability to work, stating it was seeking to protect the jobs of citizens. Refugees wishing to work outside Osire Camp were required to seek government permission and work permits.

Durable Solutions: In 2015 UNHCR brokered a deal (which was never completed) for 600 Angolan refugees to be resettled in Namibia, but there were no known plans to give any other refugees Namibian residency. The majority of refugees in the Osire Camp are waiting for resettlement in foreign countries.

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: In the 2015 regional and local council elections, the ruling Swapo party won 112 of 121 regional council seats and gained control of 54 of 57 local districts. Voting proceeded in an orderly and effective manner with no reports of politically motivated violence or voter intimidation. In the 2014 presidential and parliamentary elections, voters elected Swapo candidate Hage Geingob president with 87 percent of the vote. Swapo candidates won 77 of the 96 elected seats (there are also eight appointed seats) in the National Assembly, the lower house of parliament. International observers characterized the elections in 2014 and 2015 as generally free and fair.

Participation of Women and Minorities: No laws limit participation of women and members of minorities in the political process, and they did participate. Ruling party policy–the Zebra system–provides for 50 percent of Swapo candidates for parliament to be women. Virtually all of the country’s ethnic minorities had representatives in parliament and in senior positions in the cabinet. The president is from the minority Damara ethnic group. Historic economic and educational disadvantages, however, limited the participation in politics of some ethnic groups, such as the San and Himba.

Nauru

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 disappearances by or on behalf of government authorities.

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

There were no significant reports regarding prison conditions that raised human rights concerns. International human rights organizations criticized conditions for asylum seekers, especially for women and children refugees, at Australia’s Regional Processing Center operated by Australian contractors (see section 2.d.).

Physical Conditions: There were no major concerns in prisons and detention centers regarding physical conditions. There were no reports of prisoner deaths.

Administration: The government rejected several visa applications from journalists requesting access to the refugee community and the Regional Processing Center.

There is no formal legal provision for traditional reconciliation mechanisms. As a mitigating factor in sentencing, however, apologies and reconciliation frequently played an informal role in criminal proceedings.

Independent Monitoring: The government permits prison and detention center monitoring visits by independent human rights observers, and several such visits occurred.

The Regional Processing Center continued to attract substantial regional and international attention. International human rights NGOs including Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch visited the center frequently. There were no reports of journalists from foreign media visiting the center during the year.

d. Arbitrary Arrest or Detention

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

ROLE OF THE POLICE AND SECURITY APPARATUS

The police force, under the Minister for Police and Emergency Services, maintains internal security and, as necessary, external security. The country has no military force. Civilian authorities maintained effective control over the police, and the government has 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

Authorities made arrests based either on warrants issued by authorized officials or for proximate cause by a police officer witnessing a crime. Police may hold a person for a maximum of 24 hours without a hearing before a magistrate. Authorities informed detainees promptly of the charges against them. The bail system functioned properly. The law provides for accused persons to have access to legal assistance, but qualified assistance was not always readily available.

Detainee’s Ability to Challenge Lawfulness of Detention before a Court: The constitution allows persons arrested or detained to challenge their detention in the Supreme Court, if there is a potential violation of fundamental rights and freedoms.

e. Denial of Fair Public Trial

The constitution provides for an independent judiciary, and the government generally respected judicial independence and impartiality. Some outside of government circles alleged instances of government pressure on the judiciary in cases related to a 2015 protest that turned violent.

TRIAL PROCEDURES

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

There continues to be criticism that government officials pressured the judiciary in cases related to a 2015 protest involving 16 persons that turned violent. In August a former cabinet minister who is one of those accused over the protest claimed that the government continued to pressure the courts not to issue subpoenas requested by the defense. Attorney-General David Adeang denied the claims and argued that the decision to recruit a foreign judge belies accusations of political interference.

English common law provides the basis for procedural safeguards. Safeguards include the presumption of innocence, the right to be present at one’s own trial, adequate time and facilities to prepare a defense, the right to free interpretation as necessary from the moment charged through all appeals, and prohibitions on double jeopardy and forced self-incrimination. Defendants have the right to be informed promptly of charges and consult with an attorney or have one provided at public expense as necessary “in the interest of justice.” Defendants also have the right to confront witnesses, present evidence, not be compelled to testify or confess guilt, and appeal convictions. In many cases officials used bail and traditional reconciliation mechanisms rather than the formal legal process, usually by choice but sometimes under communal pressure. The law extends these rights to all suspects.

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 access to a court by individuals or organizations to bring lawsuits seeking damages for, or cessation of, human rights violations.

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

The constitution and law provide for freedom of expression, including for the press; however, the government owned all media and exercised editorial control over content.

Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:

The constitution and law provide for freedom of expression, including for the press; however, the government owned all media and exercised editorial control over content.

Press and Media Freedom: Authorities continued to apply a 2014 policy under which they charged Australian dollars (AUD) 8,000 ($5,750) for journalist visas, which critics assert discouraged foreign journalists from visiting the country. The government stated that the fee increase was enacted to raise revenue. In September the government indicated it may waive this fee ahead of a regional Pacific Islands Forum summit to be held in country in 2018.

Censorship or Content Restrictions: All media was government owned, giving the government significant control over all published and broadcast content.

Libel/Slander Laws: The 2016 Crimes Act created new criminal offenses for “unlawful vilification” and “criminal defamation.” Violations of this offense are punishable by a maximum sentence of three years’ imprisonment. There were no reports of arrests for breach of the 2016 Crimes Act, though critics contended that the new offenses could inhibit free speech.

INTERNET FREEDOM

The government sometimes restricted or disrupted access to the internet and continued to enforce a 2015 cyber-crime law by blocking Facebook, citing concerns about child pornography. Nongovernmental organizations (NGOs), international organizations, and embassies raised concerns that the ban on Facebook unduly limited freedom of speech. There were no credible reports that the government monitored private online communications without appropriate legal authority.

The 2015 Cyber Crime Act created new offenses related to child pornography and illegal access to computers or program data. The law also applies to information related to national security, enforcement of criminal law, provision of services related to public infrastructure, and the protection of public safety.

Approximately 50 percent of the population had access to the internet, and it was widely used.

ACADEMIC FREEDOM AND CULTURAL EVENTS

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

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

c. Freedom of Religion

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

Neither the constitution nor law specifically provides for freedom of internal movement, foreign travel, emigration, and repatriation, but the government generally respected these rights for its citizens. The government cooperated with the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees 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.

Abuse of Migrants, Refugees, and Stateless Persons: Human Rights Watch claimed numerous incidents of abuse targeting the country’s refugee community, including assaults, rapes, and harassment.

The Guardian reported that authorities denied overseas medical treatment for approximately 50 refugees and asylum seekers at the Regional Processing Center. Three of the refugees were women seeking overseas transfer to terminate their pregnancy because terminations are illegal on the island. The Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights and other international human rights organizations repeatedly called for the government and the Australian government to end offshore detention in the country.

In August police arrested and charged a security guard for allegedly assaulting a 27-year-old refugee at the temporary refugee center. In the same month, police arrested several refugees for staging protests at the refugee center. During the protests witnesses alleged that police assaulted two refugees.

PROTECTION OF REFUGEES

Access to Asylum: The law provides for the granting of asylum or refugee status, and the government has established a system for providing protection to refugees. The law includes a provision for nonrefoulement. As of December 22, there were approximately 970 refugees and 130 asylum seekers living in the country.

Durable Solutions: In 2012 Australia and the government signed a memorandum of understanding for the government to operate a center to process persons seeking asylum in Australia, and the Regional Processing Center received its first group of asylum seekers in 2012. By August the government had accepted 1,200 asylum seekers including 173 children as temporary refugees in the country. The government grants five-year visas to asylum seekers after they receive refugee determination.

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: International observers considered the most recent parliamentary election held in July 2016 to be free and fair. Opposition figures alleged, however, that some changes made to the election law prior to the polls disadvantaged nongovernment candidates. The 19-member parliament then re-elected President Baron Waqa, who was also a member of parliament (MP).

Political Parties and Political Participation: Although political parties have the legal right to operate without outside interference, there were no formal parties. The government suspended five opposition MPs indefinitely and without pay in 2014. Three of the MPs were suspended pending apologies or retractions of comments they made to international media alleging a breakdown of the rule of law in the country. The other two members were cited for disruptive conduct while in parliament. Of the five suspended MPs, four participated in the 2016 parliamentary election and one was re-elected. Three of the former MPs continued to face criminal charges for their roles in a 2015 political protest.

Participation of Women and Minorities: No laws limit participation of women or members of minorities in the political process, and they did participate; however, the participation of women was significantly less than that of men. Four women ran in the 2016 general election and, for only the third time in the country’s history, voters elected a woman to parliament.

The country has a small and almost entirely homogenous Micronesian population. There were no members of minorities in parliament or the cabinet.

Nepal

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 that the government or its agents committed arbitrary or unlawful killings. On March 6, five individuals were killed and dozens injured when the Armed Police Force (APF) intervened in a protest in Saptari district that became violent. The protesters, who had staged a rally to protest election-related campaigning by an opposition party, reportedly burned tires, threw Molotov cocktails, blocked road traffic, and vandalized vehicles outside the political program. According to human rights organizations, including Human Rights Watch (HRW) and Amnesty International (AI), the APF used indiscriminate and excessive force in attempting to subdue protestors. Reports also alleged that the APF failed to follow the Local Administration Act, which requires security forces to aim below the knee unless there is an imminent threat to human life, and other guidelines on escalating the use of force. In March the government appointed a three-member committee to investigate the killings and approved Nepali rupees (NRs) 1 million ($10,000) payments to the families of each of the victims, which the government declared as martyrs. As of October the committee, which had 15 days to complete its investigation, had not produced a report, nor had the government taken any action against those responsible. The government, however, had distributed the compensation to the victims’ families.

Human rights groups demanded the establishment of an independent commission to investigate allegations of excessive use of force by the Nepal Police and APF against civilians during months of unrest related to the promulgation of the constitution in 2015. In response the government formed the High Level Enquiry Commission (HLEC) in August 2016. Between December 2016, when the HLEC began accepting complaints, and August, the HLEC received 3,031 complaints.

There were developments in a few emblematic conflict-era cases. As an illustrative example, in April the Kavre District Court convicted in their absence three of the four Nepal Army (NA) officers accused of killing 15-year-old Maina Sunuwar in 2004 and sentenced them to life in prison (in the country, a “life sentence” is considered 20 years). Lieutenant Colonel Niranjan Basnet, the only convicted officer still serving with the NA, was acquitted. Although human rights groups praised the court’s decision, which they stated was a partial victory for conflict victims and justice, they also said the district attorney’s decision not to appeal Basnet’s acquittal represented a failure to pursue criminal accountability. They also questioned the willingness or ability of the government to implement the court’s decision, particularly because some of those convicted may no longer reside in the country. As of August the government did not take action to pursue the return of the three convicted persons from their presumed location abroad.

The government did not enforce a 2016 Supreme Court ruling that overturned the 2011 pardon of Bal Krishna Dhungel, a Maoist politician convicted of killing Ujjan Kumar Shrestha in 1998. Despite the Supreme Court decision and order for his apprehension, Dhungel had remained free and was observed attending social functions and publicly criticizing Supreme Court justices. In response to a contempt of court case filed against Dhungel, on April 13, the Supreme Court had ordered the Inspector General of Police to arrest Dhungel within one week. Dhungel was arrested on October 31.

b. Disappearance

There were no reports of disappearances by or on behalf of government authorities during the year. The new criminal code, which parliament passed in July but will not come into effect until 2018, criminalized disappearance. In 2016 the government faced accusations of involvement in the disappearance of Kumar Tamang, a laborer temporarily living in Tatopani. An investigation initiated by police in March 2016 had not reached a conclusion as of October.

The fate of most of those who disappeared during the 1996-2006 civil conflict remained unknown. According to the National Human Rights Commission, approximately 840 unresolved cases of disappearances remain unresolved, 594 of which may have involved state actors. As of August the government did not prosecute any government officials, current or former, for involvement in conflict-era disappearances, nor had it released information on the whereabouts of the 606 persons the National Human Rights Commission (NHRC) identified as having been disappeared by state actors. The NHRC reported that Maoists were believed to be involved in 149 unresolved disappearances during the conflict. As of August the government had not prosecuted any Maoists for involvement in disappearances.

In June the CIEDP formed five teams to begin investigating complaints of disappearances filed by conflict-era victims. The commission has before it 2,769 registered cases. By contrast the International Committee of the Red Cross listed 1,335 names of missing persons in August.

Human rights organizations expressed concern over flaws related to the CIEDP. According to the International Commission of Jurists, CIEDP investigations suffer from inadequate human and financial resources to handle the large number of cases, opaque appointment processes of investigators, and a lack of measures to ensure confidentiality and security of victims and witnesses. Victims also have expressed concern that investigators in many districts have asked about their interest in reconciliation.

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

Contrary to requirements in the 2015 constitution, torture is not explicitly criminalized, and the law does not have clear guidelines for punishing offenders. The Torture Compensation Act provides for compensation for victims of torture. The victim must file a complaint and pursue the case through the courts.

According to human rights activists and legal experts, police resorted to severe abuse, primarily beatings, to force confessions. Local human rights nongovernmental organization (NGO) Advocacy Forum (AF) reported no evidence of major changes in police abuse trends across the country, but AF stated that police increasingly complied with the courts’ demand for preliminary medical checks of detainees, in part because the courts refused to extend the period of legal police custody without such medical checks.

The Terai Human Rights Defenders Alliance (THRDA), another local NGO, stated that torture victims often were hesitant to file complaints due to police or other official intimidation and fear of retribution. In some cases victims settled out of court under pressure from the perpetrators. According to THRDA the courts ultimately dismissed many cases of alleged torture due to a lack of credible supporting evidence, especially medical documentation. In cases where courts awarded compensation or ordered disciplinary action against police, the decisions were rarely implemented according to THRDA and other NGOs. In one noteworthy case in Banke district in March, however, the Chief District Officer compensated two torture victims in line with a district court award in 2013.

According to AF’s latest report on torture published in 2016, 17.2 percent of the 1,212 detainees AF interviewed in 2015 were subjected to some form of physical abuse compared with 16.2 percent in 2014. The same study indicated a slightly higher rate of reported torture among detainees identified as “indigenous.” In a separate study, THRDA reported that 24 percent of detainees in police detention centers in 19 districts in the country’s southern Terai belt had been subjected to some form of physical and/or mental abuse. According to the Nepal Police Human Rights Commission, the vast majority of alleged incidents were not formally reported or investigated.

There have been no cases brought to the criminal justice system of torture committed during the civil conflict.

In February 2016 the UN reported one allegation of sexual exploitation and abuse against a Nepali peacekeeper in South Sudan for an incident that reportedly involved three adult victims. The complainants accused the peacekeeper of sexual assault and transactional sex. The government continues to investigate the allegation.

Prison and Detention Center Conditions

Prison conditions, especially those in pretrial detention centers, were poor and did not meet international standards according to human rights groups.

Physical Conditions: There was overcrowding in the prison system. During the year a monitoring report by the Office of the Attorney General (OAG) indicated that in 51 of the 75 districts, 47 prisons designed to hold 5,594 inmates held 9,592 convicted prisoners. THRDA stated that overcrowding also remained a serious problem in detention centers. According to the OAG report, most prisons and detention centers had sufficient windows, daylight, and air, with a few exceptions.

Authorities generally held pretrial detainees separately from convicted prisoners. Due to a lack of adequate juvenile detention facilities, authorities sometimes incarcerated pretrial detainee children with adults or allowed children to remain in jails with their incarcerated parents.

The OAG report indicated that of 76 detention centers the OAG monitored, 14 lacked separate facilities for women. According to THRDA most prisons lacked separate facilities for women, children, and persons with disabilities.

According to AF and THRDA, medical examinations for detainees generally were perfunctory. AF also reported medical care was poor for detainees with serious conditions. According to the OAG, the government did not implement a 2016 Supreme Court decision ordering it to provide more than 700 grams of rice and 45 NRs (45 cents) per day to each prisoner. According to AF some detainees slept on the floor due to lack of beds and had access only to unfiltered and dirty water and inadequate food, and many detention centers had poor ventilation, lighting, heating, and bedding.

According to the NGO Child Workers in Nepal, minors housed in adult facilities often faced bullying from adult detainees and received poor treatment by police. Hygiene was poor, and police and adult detainees often made minors clean the toilets.

Administration: There were no alternatives to imprisonment or fines, or both, for nonviolent offenders.

Independent Monitoring: There was no official institutional mechanism to monitor prisons or detention centers. The government generally allowed prison and pretrial detention center visits by the OAG, NHRC, the National Women’s Commission, and the National Dalit Commission as well as by lawyers of the accused. THRDA and AF reported that while they and some other NGOs were often prevented from meeting with detainees or accessing detention facilities, some independent human rights observers, including the United Nations and international organizations, were given such access. Media had no access to prisons or detention centers. The NHRC could request government action, but authorities often denied such requests.

Improvements: In May the Department of Prison Management launched the Prison Management Information System software. The new system aimed to better track prisoner biodata, sentencing details, and other records. According to the NHRC, however, implementation of the new system was ineffective during the year.

d. Arbitrary Arrest or Detention

The law prohibits arbitrary arrest and detention, but security forces reportedly conducted arbitrary arrests during the year. The law gives chief district officers wide latitude to make arrests, and human rights groups contended that police abused their 24-hour detention authority by holding persons unlawfully, in some cases without proper access to counsel, food, and medicine, or in inadequate facilities.

ROLE OF THE POLICE AND SECURITY APPARATUS

The Nepal Police is responsible for enforcing law and order across the country while the APF is responsible for combating terrorism, providing security during riots and public disturbances, assisting in natural disasters, and protecting vital infrastructure, public officials, and the borders. In 2015 the government gave the APF the authority to issue warrants to suspects they detain before turning them over to the Nepal Police. Generally, the Nepal Police and the APF executed search and arrest warrants without any prosecutorial or judicial review.

The Nepal Police and APF have human rights commissions (HRCs) and the NA has a human rights directorate (HRD). The NAHRD and Nepal Police HRC have independent investigative powers. The NA’s investigations were not fully transparent according to human rights NGOs. NA HRD representatives stated that nearly all of its cases derived from the Maoist insurgency, and that full transparency could come only in the context of a functioning TRC. The Nepal Police also proposed that conflict-era allegations of abuse should be handled in the context of a functioning TRC.

In contrast with prior years, the Nepal Police did not provide statistics on how many complaints of human rights violations it received. The Nepal Army HRC stated it received no complaints of human rights violations during the year. All security forces received human rights training prior to deployments on UN peacekeeping operations. The NA incorporated human rights training into professional military education, and conducted ongoing training in all units. Each brigade has a designated human rights officer, and divisions have larger human rights staff. At the Army headquarters, a brigadier general, who reports directly to the Chief of Staff, heads the HRD. Similarly, the Nepal Police and APF incorporated training on human rights into their overall training curricula for security forces. The APF and Nepal Police HRCs issued booklets outlining human rights best practices to most police officers.

Police corruption and lack of punishment or accountability for police abuses remained problems.

ARREST PROCEDURES AND TREATMENT OF DETAINEES

The law stipulates that, except in cases involving suspected security and narcotics violations, or when the crime’s punishment would be more than three years’ imprisonment, authorities must obtain an arrest warrant and present the suspect to a court within 24 hours of arrest (not including travel time). THRDA reported that illegal and arbitrary arrests were prevalent, with police failing to bring 14 percent of detainees to court within 24 hours. According to AF, however, there was significant progress in courts demanding to see an initial medical examination before extending the period of remand.

If the court upholds a detention, the law generally authorizes police to hold the suspect for up to 25 days to complete an investigation. In special cases (such as for suspected acts of corruption), a suspect can be held for up to six months. The constitution provides for access to a state-appointed lawyer or one of the detainee’s choice, even if charges have not been filed. Few detainees could afford their own lawyer, and the justice system does not receive sufficient funding to provide free and competent counsel to indigent defendants.

Detainees have the legal right to receive visits by family members, but family access to prisoners varied from prison to prison. Authorities routinely denied defense attorneys access to defendants in custody. AF, which provides legal assistance to detainees, reported an increase in restrictions on access to pretrial detention facilities. While a system of bail exists, bonds are too expensive for most citizens. The accused have the option of posting bail in cash or mortgaging their property to the court. Unless prisoners are released on recognizance (no bail), no alternatives to the bail system exist to assure a defendant’s appearance in court.

Arbitrary Arrest: Leaders of the Rastriya Janata Party-Nepal (RJP-N) claimed that security personnel arrested hundreds of their party cadres in various districts–including Nawalparasi, Dhanusha, Kailali, Kanchanpur, Bardiya, Banke, Kapilvastu, Sunsari, Siraha, and Morang–for participating in public protests before the second round of local elections in June. According to THRDA police released all the protesters within a few days of arrest. THRDA also reported that four individuals associated with the RJP-N were seriously injured in Nawalparasi district when police fired rubber bullets into a crowd of protestors on June 17. In response to both reports, the NHRC issued a public statement urging the government to exercise restraint and refrain from arresting individuals without cause.

Pretrial Detention: Time served is credited to a prisoner’s sentence, but pretrial detention occasionally exceeded the length of the ultimate sentence following trial and conviction.

Under the Public Security Act, security forces may detain persons who allegedly threaten domestic security and tranquility, amicable relations with other countries, or relations between citizens of different castes or religious groups. The government may detain persons in preventive detention for as long as 12 months without charging them with a crime as long as the detention complies with the act’s requirements. The court does not have any substantive legal role in preventive detentions under the act.

Other laws, including the Public Offenses Act, permit detention without charge for as long as 25 days with extensions. This act covers crimes such as disturbing the peace, vandalism, rioting, and fighting. Human rights monitors expressed concern that the act vests too much discretionary power in the chief district officer.

According to human rights groups, in some cases detainees appeared before judicial authorities well after the legally mandated 24-hour limit, allegedly to allow injuries from police mistreatment to heal. AF estimated in a 2015 report that 41 percent of detainees did not appear before judicial authorities within 24 hours of their arrests. THRDA stated police frequently circumvented the 24-hour requirement by registering the detainee’s name only when they were ready to produce the detainee before the court.

Detainee’s Ability to Challenge Lawfulness of Detention before a Court: Those arrested or detained are entitled to challenge in court the legal basis or arbitrary nature of their detention through habeas corpus. According to human rights lawyers, however, no individuals received compensation for an illegal or arbitrary arrest or detention.

e. Denial of Fair Public Trial

The constitution and law provide for an independent judiciary, but courts remained vulnerable to political pressure, bribery, and intimidation. The Supreme Court has the right to review the constitutionality of laws.

Authorities did not consistently respect and implement court orders, including Supreme Court decisions, particularly decisions referring to conflict-era cases as discussed above.

In April the two ruling parties, the Nepali Congress and the Communist Party of Nepal (Maoist Center), filed an impeachment motion against Supreme Court Chief Justice Sushila Karki soon after the court overturned the government’s choice for Inspector General of Police, the country’s top police officer. According to HRW the move violated the principle that an independent judiciary should be free from political interference. The UN High Commissioner for Human Rights stated the attempt to remove Karki raised concerns about the government’s commitment to the rule of law. The parties withdrew the impeachment case on May 29, just as Karki was due to retire upon reaching the age limit for the position.

TRIAL PROCEDURES

The law provides for the right to counsel, equal protection under the law, protection from double jeopardy, protection from retroactive application of the law, public trials, and the right to be present at one’s own trial, but these rights were not always applied. Defendants enjoy the presumption of innocence, except in some cases, such as human trafficking and drug trafficking, where the burden of proof is on the defendant. The law provides detainees the right to legal representation and a court-appointed lawyer, a government lawyer, or access to private attorneys. The government provided legal counsel to indigent detainees only upon request. Persons who are unaware of their rights, in particular lower-caste individuals and members of some ethnic groups, are thus at risk of being deprived of legal representation. Defense lawyers reported having insufficient time to prepare their defense. A 2016 Supreme Court directive ordered that the courts must provide free interpretation services to those who do not speak Nepali (the 2011 national census lists 123 languages spoken as a mother tongue). Defense lawyers may cross-examine accusers. All lower-court decisions, including acquittals, are subject to appeal. The Supreme Court is the court of last resort.

Military courts adjudicate cases concerning military personnel under the military code, which provides military personnel the same basic rights as civilians. The Army Act requires that soldiers accused of rape or homicide be transferred to civilian authorities for prosecution. Under normal circumstances the army prosecutes all other criminal cases raised against soldiers under the military justice system. Nevertheless, the NA has told the government it is willing to cooperate with the TRC and CIEDP and will not “hide” behind the Army Act. Military courts cannot try civilians for crimes, even if the crimes involve the military services; civilian courts handle these cases.

POLITICAL PRISONERS AND DETAINEES

THRDA reported that 25 civilians charged in connection with the killing of eight security personnel and a child during protests in Tikapur, Kailali district in 2015 remained in detention. According to THRDA and some political parties, several of the 25 were targeted because they were political leaders and activists of the ethnic Tharu community. On May 19, the government announced its plan to withdraw cases filed against a number of the detained individuals. The government did not specify the number of individuals it planned to release, but it stated it would withdraw “false cases” against those who did not have a connection to the Tikapur incident while continuing to pursue criminal action against those responsible. Indigenous rights groups welcomed the decision to withdraw cases against activists promoting indigenous rights. Legal and human rights experts, however, questioned the government’s decision to circumvent the judicial process. The NHRC stated the government’s decision promoted impunity and politicized a criminal incident. It urged the government to investigate, take legal action against the culprits, and provide compensation to the victims. Separately, in response to a writ petition filed at the Supreme Court against the decision, the court ordered the government to explain its decision. As of August the government had taken no action to implement its plan to withdraw cases.

CIVIL JUDICIAL PROCEDURES AND REMEDIES

Individuals or organizations could seek remedies for human rights violations in national courts.

PROPERTY RESTITUTION

The Maoists and their affiliate organizations have returned some previously seized property as required by the 2006 Comprehensive Peace Accord that ended the civil conflict, but they kept other illegally seized lands and properties. According to the Asia Foundation’s report this year, a significant number of conflict-era land disputes remained outstanding.

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

The law prohibits arbitrary interference with privacy, family, home, and correspondence. The government generally respected these prohibitions.

The law allows police to conduct searches and seizures without a warrant if there is probable cause to believe that a crime has been committed, in which case a search may be conducted as long as two or more persons of “good character” are present. If a police officer has reasonable cause to believe that a suspect may possess material evidence, the officer must submit a written request to another officer to conduct a search, and there must be another official present who holds at least the rank of assistant subinspector. Some legal experts claimed that by excluding prosecutors and judges from the warrant procedure, there are relatively few checks against police discretion.

Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:

a. Freedom of Speech and Press

The constitution and the law provide for freedom of speech and press, and the government generally respected these rights. In some cases the government failed to enforce the law effectively. Human rights lawyers and some journalists stated that the 2015 constitution enables the government to restrict freedom of speech and press in ways they considered vague and open to abuse. For example, the constitution lists a number of circumstances under which laws curtailing freedom of speech and press may be formulated. These include acts that “jeopardize harmonious relations between federal units” and acts that assist a foreign state or organization to jeopardize national security. The constitution prohibits any acts “contrary to public health, decency, and morality” or that “disturb the public law and order situation.” The same provision of the constitution also prohibits persons from converting other persons from one religion to another or “disturbing the religion” of others.

Freedom of Expression: Citizens generally believed they could voice their opinions freely and often expressed critical opinions in print and electronic media without restriction. In July the government limited freedom of expression for the members of Kathmandu’s Tibetan community by rejecting requests from the Tibetan Buddhist community to celebrate the Dalai Lama’s birthday publicly. Although Tibetan Buddhists were allowed to hold small private events in homes or monasteries, police asked celebrants at one site to remove photos of the Dalai Lama and printed banners from public view.

Press and Media Freedom: The independent media were active and expressed a wide variety of views without restriction, with a few exceptions. Several editors and journalists reported they faced intimidation by police and the Election Commission of Nepal in their coverage of the first two phases of local elections in May and June.

Journalists also stated they increasingly received vague threats and retribution from officials in response to their investigative reporting on corruption. For example, on August 17, the managing director of the Nepal Oil Corporation (NOC) Gopal Khadka filed a defamation case against Nagarik, a leading Nepali daily, for its reporting on allegations of corruption by the NOC in its procurement of land for storage depots.

Violence and Harassment: According to the Federation of Nepali Journalists (FNJ), the government did not make sufficient efforts to preserve the safety and independence of the media and rarely prosecuted individuals who attacked journalists. The FNJ also stated that some members of the security forces and the Election Commission of Nepal attempted to prevent the press from freely covering the local elections.

Censorship or Content Restrictions: The constitution prohibits prior censorship of material for printing, publication or broadcasting, including electronically. The constitution also provides that the government cannot revoke media licenses, close media houses, or seize material based on the content of what is printed, published, or broadcast. The constitution, however, also provides for “reasonable restrictions” of these rights for acts or incitement that “may undermine the sovereignty, territorial integrity, nationality of Nepal, or harmonious relations between the federal units or harmonious relations between the various castes, tribes, religions, or communities.” Speech amounting to treason, defamation, or contempt of court is also prohibited.

Media professionals expressed concern regarding an additional provision in the constitution that allows the government to formulate laws to regulate media. They argued that such laws could be used to close media houses or cancel their registration. The constitution also includes publication and dissemination of false materials as grounds for imposing legal restrictions on press freedom. Media experts reported, however, that these provisions have not been enforced against any media houses.

Although by law all media outlets, including government-owned stations, operate independently from direct government control, indirect political influence sometimes led to self-censorship. This was particularly true of stories that could be considered politically provocative.

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. The 2008 Electronic Transaction Act prohibits publication in electronic form of material that may be “contrary to the public morality or decent behavior,” may “spread hate or jealousy,” or may “jeopardize the harmonious relations subsisting among the peoples of various castes, tribes and communities.” There were several incidents in which authorities took action under the Electronic Transaction Act in response to material posted on social media. According to press reports, on August 2, police arrested Nirab Gyawali for allegedly posting defamatory remarks on Facebook against Renu Dahal, the daughter of former Prime Minister Pushpa Kamal Dahal. Gyawali, whose father was running against Dahal in the Bharatpur municipality mayoral election, was charged under the Electronic Transactions Act for an insulting Facebook posting about Dahal. On August 3, the Kathmandu District Court released Gyawali on bail of NRs 25,000 ($250) pending further judicial proceedings.

On March 20, the government issued an amended Online Media Operation Directive, which requires all country-based online news and opinion websites to be registered. The directive gives the government the authority to block websites based on content if it lacks an “authoritative source,” creates “a misconception,” or negatively affects international relationships. The government also has the authority to block content that threatens the country’s sovereignty, territorial integrity, nationality, or harmonious relations. Online sedition, defamation, contempt of court, or indecent and immoral content may also be blocked. The new version makes the registration, license renewal, and content production provisions for online platforms more complicated, including by requiring a copy of a site’s Value Added Tax or Permanent Account Number registration certificate. Renewals now require online platforms to provide updated human resource and payroll records annually. The FNJ expressed concern that the directive’s vague language gives the government power to censor online content. On March 26, Prabesh Subedi, a journalist, filed a writ petition against the directive at the Supreme Court requesting its repeal for its violation of the right to freedom of expression. As of August the Supreme Court had not heard the case.

ACADEMIC FREEDOM AND CULTURAL EVENTS

The law provides for the freedom to hold cultural events. Government permits are required to hold large public events. During the year the Tibetan community did not request permission for a number of small events confined to their settlements or within monasteries; they did not face repercussions although they faced restrictions (see section 2.b.). Authorities granted approval to the Tibetan community to organize a ceremony for the third day of the Tibetan New Year on February 11, but in July government officials rejected requests from the Tibetan Buddhist community to celebrate the Dalai Lama’s birthday publicly. With the exception of the Dalai Lama’s birthday, Tibetans attended such events with minimal reports of restrictions on movement.

b. Freedom of Peaceful Assembly and Association

The law provides for the freedoms of assembly and association; however, the government sometimes restricted freedom of assembly.

FREEDOM OF PEACEFUL ASSEMBLY

Freedom of assembly generally was respected for citizens and legal residents, but there were some restrictions. The law authorizes chief district officers to impose curfews when there is a possibility that demonstrations or riots could disturb the peace.

In March security forces opened fire on a crowd of protestors in Saptari district, killing five and injuring dozens (see section 1.a.). Human rights organizations also reported that in June police arbitrarily arrested and detained and, in some cases, used excessive force against those who were protesting against the second round of elections in the Terai (see section 1.d.).

FREEDOM OF ASSOCIATION

The law provides for freedom of association, and the government generally respected this right. NGOs, however, stated the existing legal framework does not adequately recognize the independence of civil society and opens the door to the exercise of excessive discretion by the government. They added that the registration process for civil society organizations (CSOs) is restrictive and cumbersome, the government has wide discretion to deny registration, and requirements vary among various registration authorities, with some entities requiring documents not mentioned in existing laws on an ad hoc basis. Additionally, the Association Registration Act empowers the government to give directions to associations and to terminate associations if they refuse to follow directions. To receive foreign or government resources, CSOs must seek separate and additional approval from the Social Welfare Council (SWC), the government entity responsible for overseeing CSOs. The SWC requires that CSOs allocate at least 80 percent of their budgets for hardware or tangible development outputs by placing undue restrictions on CSOs that focus on advocacy issues.

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, except for most refugees, whose freedom of movement within the country is legally limited. Constraints on refugee movements were enforced unevenly. 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 and asylum seekers.

Some political groups attempted to restrict freedom of movement, including through forced general strikes known locally as “bandhs,” to pressure the government and civil society. Terai-based Madhesi political parties in particular used strikes throughout the year to draw attention to, and gain support for, their political demands. For example, in June the Rastriya Janata Party-Nepal launched a multiday strike to protest the second round of local elections. Although the protests were largely peaceful, protesters reportedly threw rocks at vehicles to enforce a ban on movement. The protests resulted in the closure of schools, businesses, and roads in some areas.

Abuse of Migrants, Refugees, and Stateless Persons: Police reportedly conducted checks of identity documents of Tibetans, including monks and nuns, at checkpoints.

In-country Movement: The government has not issued personal identification documents to Tibetan refugees in more than 20 years, leaving the majority of this refugee population without recourse to present required documents at police checkpoints or during police stops. Some refugees reported being harassed or turned back by police at checkpoints.

Foreign Travel: In an attempt to protect women from being trafficked or abused, the government maintained a minimum age of 24 for women traveling overseas for domestic employment. NGOs and human rights activists viewed the age ban as discriminatory and counterproductive because it impelled some women to migrate through informal channels across the Indian border.

INTERNALLY DISPLACED PERSONS (IDPS)

The 2015 earthquake and its aftershocks caused widespread devastation and displaced millions of individuals, particularly in the 14 most-affected districts. According to Oxfam International, as of May 31, 83 active sites were hosting 13,594 individuals (3,063 households) in eight districts, including 1,463 children under age five.

It is not known what proportion of this population is unable or unwilling to return to their homes. Many remained in camps or informal settlements because they did not hold a title to land and were occupying it illegally when the earthquake occurred. Others stayed because their homes remained vulnerable to or were destroyed by subsequent landslides. In May the government approved a policy to provide approximately NRs 200,000 ($2,000) for the purchase of new land for landless households and those that required relocation due to natural hazards. As a medium-term solution, the government began building community shelters to house multiple families of earthquake-displaced populations. As of August the Ministry of Urban Development and the NA had constructed 82 such structures. Humanitarian agencies expressed concern that housing multiple families in the same unit could exacerbate many challenges faced by IDPs, particularly a lack of privacy and security for women and girls; insufficient access to toilets and bathing and changing areas; complicated family sleeping arrangements; and difficulties dealing with menstruation and pregnancy. Other common challenges faced by IDPs included insufficient protection from the weather, limited access to water and food, emotional stress, and elevated vulnerability to trafficking.

In a report published in April, AI stated the government’s reconstruction policies, which require persons to provide land ownership documents to qualify for assistance, have reinforced the marginalization of women, the disadvantaged, and landless groups.

Although the government and the Maoists agreed to support the voluntary return in safety and dignity of conflict-displaced IDPs to their homes following the 10-year civil war, the agreement has not been fully implemented. The Ministry of Peace and Reconstruction estimated that 78,700 persons were displaced from 1996 to 2006, but an estimated 50 thousand were unwilling or unable to return home. The reasons included unresolved land and property issues, lack of citizenship or ownership documentation, and security concerns since the land taken from IDPs by Maoists during the conflict was often sold or given to landless or tenant farmers.

The government provided relief packages for the rehabilitation and voluntary return of conflict-era IDPs. Many of those still displaced preferred to integrate locally and live in urban areas, mostly as illegal occupants of government land along riversides or together with the landless population. The absence of public services and lack of livelihood assistance also impeded the return of IDPs.

PROTECTION OF REFUGEES

Access to Asylum: The law does not provide for the determination of individual refugee or asylum claims or a comprehensive legal framework for refugee protection. The government recognized large numbers of Tibetans as refugees and supported resettlement to foreign countries of certain refugees claiming Bhutanese citizenship. The government does not provide for local integration as a durable solution.

The government officially restricted freedom of movement and work for the approximately 10,000 refugees asserting claims to Bhutanese citizenship residing in the two remaining refugee camps in the eastern part of the country, but those restrictions were largely unenforced for this population. The government officially does not allow these refugees to work or have access to public education or public health clinics, but it allows UNHCR to provide parallel free education and health services to refugees in the camps. In 2007 the government agreed to permit third-country resettlement for these refugees. Since resettlement began more than 109,000 refugees claiming Bhutanese citizenship have been resettled in foreign countries.

The government does not recognize Tibetans who arrived in the country after 1990 as refugees. Most Tibetans who arrived since then transited to India although an unknown number remained in the country. The government has not issued refugee cards to Tibetan refugees since 1995. UNHCR estimated more than half of the 15,000 to 20,000 resident Tibetan refugees remained undocumented. After China heightened security in 2008 along its border and increased restrictions on internal freedom of movement for ethnic Tibetans, the number of Tibetans who transited through the country dropped significantly. UNHCR reported that 120 Tibetans transited the country in 2016, and 23 from January through July. The government issued UNHCR-facilitated exit permits for recent arrivals from Tibet who were transiting while traveling to India.

Access to Basic Services: Most Tibetan refugees who lived in the country, particularly those who arrived after 1990 or turned 16 after 1995, did not have documentation, nor did their locally born children. Even those with acknowledged refugee status had no legal rights beyond the ability to remain in the country. The Nepal-born children of Tibetans with legal status often lacked documentation. The government allowed NGOs to provide primary- and secondary-level schooling to Tibetans living in the country. Tibetan refugees had no entitlement to higher education in public or private institutions and were denied the right to work officially. They were unable legally to obtain business licenses, driver’s licenses, bank accounts, or to own property, or consistently document births, marriages, and deaths. Some in the Tibetan community resorted to bribery to obtain these services. While Nepal-based Tibetans with refugee certificates were eligible to apply for travel documents to leave the country, the legal process was often arduous, expensive, and opaque. A 2016 government directive authorized chief district officers to skip the verification step, which required witnesses and a police letter, for Tibetans who had previously been issued a travel document.

More than 500 refugees and asylum seekers from other countries, including Pakistan, Burma, Afghanistan, Sri Lanka, Bangladesh, Somalia, Iran, Iraq, and Democratic Republic of the Congo, lived in the country. The government continued to deny these groups recognition as refugees, even when recognized as such by UNHCR, and levied prohibitive fines $5 per day out of status–and a discretionary penalty of up to NRs 50,000 (approximately $500) to obtain an exit permit. The government waived the fines for 41 individuals in July, but it did not change its policy to enable other registered refugees destined for resettlement or repatriation to obtain exit permits without paying these fines. The government allowed UNHCR to provide some education, health, and livelihood services to these refugees, but the refugees lacked legal access to public education and the right to work.

STATELESS PERSONS

An estimated 5.4 million individuals (24 percent of the population age 16 and over) lacked citizenship documentation. Citizenship documents, which are issued at age 16, are required to register to vote, register marriages or births, buy or sell land, appear for professional exams, open bank accounts, or gain access to credit and receive state social benefits. Prior to the 2013 constituent assembly election, the government deployed citizenship/voter registration mobile teams to remote areas to issue citizenship cards and register new voters. The Home Ministry reported issuing more than 600,000 new citizenship cards during the exercise.

Constitutional provisions, laws, and regulations governing citizenship discriminated by gender, which contributed to statelessness. The constitution states that citizenship is derived from one Nepali parent, but it also stipulates that a child born to a Nepali mother and a non-Nepali father may obtain citizenship only through naturalization. Mothers faced extreme difficulties in securing citizenship papers for children of Nepali parents, even when they possessed Nepali citizenship documents, except in cases in which the child’s father supported the application. These difficulties persisted despite a 2011 Supreme Court decision granting a child Nepali citizenship through the mother if the father was unknown or absent.

The constitution states that the children of unidentified fathers may obtain citizenship through their mothers, but if it is later determined that the father is a foreign citizen, the child will lose citizenship by descent and be eligible for naturalization. In practice many single women face difficulties registering their children as citizens by descent. The Supreme Court ruled in May that government authorities must not deny the registration of birth and citizenship of children of Nepali mothers and fathers who cannot be traced. According to human rights lawyers, although this provision applies to the children of single mothers, including rape and trafficking victims, it does not address situations in which the father is known but refuses to acknowledge paternity. The legal and practical restrictions on transferring citizenship imposed particular hardships on children whose fathers were deceased, had abandoned the family, or (as was increasingly common) departed the country to work abroad.

Since naturalization is not a fundamental right under the constitution, although it could be an option for those not eligible for citizenship by descent, it is subject to state discretion. Although they lack specific data, human rights lawyers reported that the government has processed few applications for naturalization of children in recent years.

For women and girls to obtain citizenship by descent for themselves, regulations require a married woman to submit a formal attestation from her husband, father, or husband’s family (if widowed) that she qualifies for citizenship and has his or their permission to receive it. This requirement makes a woman’s right to citizenship contingent on her father’s or husband’s cooperation. In many cases husbands refused to provide their wives this attestation. Preventing women from obtaining citizenship documentation precludes their access to the courts and thus their ability to make legal claims to land and other property, which permits the husband or male relatives free to stake their own claims.

While stateless persons did not experience violence, they experienced discrimination in employment, education, housing, health services, marriage, birth registration, identity documentation, access to courts and judicial procedures, migration opportunities, land and property ownership, and access to earthquake relief and reconstruction programs.

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 government held parliamentary and provincial elections in two phases–November 26 and December 7–based on geography. Completion of these elections completed the required three tiers of elections necessary to bring the new federal system of government into force in advance of the January 21, 2018, constitutional deadline. Preliminary statements from international observers, for example, the Carter Center, indicated that these parliamentary and provincial assembly elections were generally “well-conducted,” despite some violent incidents, “political tensions, logistical, and operational challenges, and tight timelines for executing the elections.” The Carter Center “expressed concern about the lack of representation for women and minorities and noted that voter education efforts were insufficient.” The EU stated that the elections, “…demonstrated that political freedoms, such as association, assembly, and expression, prevailed over the violent attacks of the election campaign period,” but noted that “while the ECN successfully organized in a very short timeframe the logistical aspects of the election in two phases, there was a notable lack of transparency in the work of the ECN, which affected the electoral process.”

The government held local elections for the first time since 1997, with voting conducted in three phases based on geography in May, June, and September. According to domestic observer groups, the elections were free, fair, and peaceful and saw high voter turnout. There were three reports, however, of individuals being killed by police and sporadic reports of interparty clashes or assaults, vandalism, and small improvised explosive devices and hoax bombs. Observers also stated that insufficient voter education, discrepancies between identification documents and voter rolls, and other procedural challenges stemming from the short period between the government’s announcement of elections and election day resulted in a significant number of void ballots and persons reportedly being denied the right to vote. Election officials and security personnel supporting the conduct of elections were also often unable to vote, resulting in at least half a million individuals who could not participate in the elections.

In November 2013 citizens participated in the country’s second Constituent Assembly elections, which international and domestic observers deemed essentially credible, free, and fair. In an effort to obstruct the 2013 elections, a breakaway Maoist faction, the Communist Party of Nepal-Maoist, committed acts of political violence and intimidation and attempted to enforce a 10-day transportation ban. Despite such efforts the Election Commission reported that more than 74 percent of registered voters participated, the highest figure in the country’s history. According to domestic and international observers, including the Carter Center and the EU, authorities conducted elections that generally were free of major irregularities.

Participation of Women and Minorities: No laws limit participation of women or minorities in the political process, and they did participate in local, provincial, and national elections. The constitution mandates that at least one third of all members of the lower house of the federal parliament must be women and requires inclusion of various minority groups in the list of candidates in the 40 percent of seats chosen through a proportional representation system. The constitution also stipulates representation requirements for the upper house of the federal parliament. For the 56 members chosen by an electoral college, the eight members from each of the seven provinces must include at least three women, one member of the Dalit caste, and one person with a disability or member of a minority group. Additionally, of the remaining three members of the upper house chosen by the president, at least one must be a woman.

Tradition and relative socioeconomic disadvantage limited the participation of women, some castes, and some ethnic groups in the political process, including as elected officials. The larger political parties had associated women’s wings, youth wings, trade unions, and social organizations. Women, youth, and minorities complained that party leaders, mostly upper-caste men from the central hills, prohibited meaningful political participation despite the existence of certain quotas for participation.

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

While domestic and international human rights groups generally were free to operate, investigate, and publish their findings on human rights cases, the government placed administrative burdens on some international NGOs by complicating procedures for obtaining visas and compelling them to sign asset control documents.

Government Human Rights Bodies: The NHRC investigated allegations of abuses, but resource constraints, insufficient staff (95 out of 309 positions were vacant as of August, a decrease from 232 vacant positions in August 2016), and limitations on its mandate led some activists to view the body as ineffective and insufficiently independent. The NHRC claimed the government helped promote impunity by failing to implement its recommendations fully. The NHRC stated that from its establishment in 2000 through the current year, it had made recommendations for prosecution and reparations in 818 cases (as of July). More than three-quarters of these involved conflict-era incidents. The NHRC noted the government had fully implemented 14 percent of these recommendations by carrying out prosecution and awarding reparations and partially implemented 48 percent through reparations alone. In the remaining cases, the government did not implement the NHRC’s recommendations for prosecution or reparations.

The government and judiciary have not significantly addressed conflict-era human rights and humanitarian law violations committed by the NA, Nepal Police, APF, and Maoist parties. Human rights advocates continue to express concern that several sub judice cases of conflict-era abuses by such actors before criminal courts would be removed from judicial jurisdiction and inappropriately “transferred” to the TRC or CIEDP despite a Supreme Court ruling that this would be improper. In this scenario the TRC or CIEDP would review the cases as it would with any other registered complaint and decide whether to recommend prosecution.

The TRC and CIEDP began their initial two-year terms in February 2015. Shortly before their original tenure was set to expire, the government extended their tenures by one year. In June the TRC established branch offices in each of the country’s seven provinces to decentralize and simplify for victims the process of investigating nearly 60 thousand complaints. Similarly, the CIEDP formed five teams in June to begin investigating 2,769 complaints of conflict-era disappearance. As of September human rights experts reported that neither the TRC nor the CIEDP had made significant progress on investigations.

Local human rights advocates cite a number of legal shortcomings that pose obstacles to a comprehensive and credible transitional justice process in the country. For example, the law does not criminalize torture or enforced disappearance, and the statute of limitations for rape is only 180 days.

Additionally, the law does not specifically recognize war crimes or crimes against humanity, although the constitution recognizes as law treaties to which the country is a party. Critics also cite a number of instances in which parliament has failed to implement Supreme Court decisions. For example, in a 2015 ruling, the court nullified provisions of the TRC and CIEDP Act that would have granted the commissions discretionary power to recommend amnesty for serious crimes because amnesty would violate the then-interim constitution and international obligations. As of September parliament had not amended the act to bring it in line with the Supreme Court decision, although the commissions have stated they intend to abide by the Court’s rulings.

Netherlands

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 disappearances by or on behalf of government authorities.

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

The law prohibits such practices, and 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 in the Netherlands that raised human rights concerns. According to a 2015 report by the Council of Europe’s Committee to Prevent Torture (CPT), the most recent independent assessment available, prison conditions in Aruba, Curacao, and Sint Maarten were substandard due to insufficient medical care and physical conditions. The report documented beatings of detainees after arrest, delays in accessing legal counsel, and unsanitary conditions of detention in some facilities.

Physical Conditions: According to the CPT report, medical resources at facilities in Aruba, Curacao, and Sint Maarten were limited. The report started that in Aruba authorities did not meet the dietary requirements of prisoners, and prisoners with mental health problems and other vulnerable prisoners were housed in poor conditions.

Administration: Agencies that make up the national preventive mechanism in the Netherlands investigated credible allegations of mistreatment.

Detainees held on terrorism charges at two maximum-security facilities at Vught and Rotterdam in the Netherlands protested the terms of their confinement, including lack of privacy, constant observation, and frequency of full-body searches. In response the authorities implemented a more individualized approach to address some of their grievances. Amnesty International and Open Society Justice Initiative published a report on October 31 echoing the same grievances and concluding measures the government has taken did not fully address the human rights concerns in terrorism prisons.

Independent Monitoring: The kingdom’s governments permitted monitoring by independent nongovernmental observers, such as human rights groups, the media, and the International Committee of the Red Cross, as well as by international bodies such as the CPT, UN Subcommittee on Prevention of Torture, and UN Working Group for People of African Descent.

Improvements: In response to the CPT report, authorities on Aruba and Curacao opened new police holding cells facilities that met CPT requirements.

Aruba continued its prison guard training plan as proposed in the CPT report. International prison standards were part of the curriculum.

Authorities in Curacao implemented additional measures, such as new observation cameras, the use of a drone, and additional detection ports, to suppress illegal activities among inmates and to ensure the safety of inmates and staff. Renovation and upgrade projects at the Curacao Center for Correction and Detention continued, including renovation of toilet facilities, changing locks of the cells, and renovation of the roof and kitchen.

In Sint Maarten authorities provided an infirmary and qualified nurses. They also contracted medical doctors to provide care in the prison facilities. The prison authorities started to provide in-house dental care, and the Mental Health Foundation provided psychological care on a weekly basis.

d. Arbitrary Arrest or Detention

The law prohibits arbitrary arrest and detention and provides for the right of any person to challenge the lawfulness of his/her arrest or detention in court, and the governments generally observed these requirements.

ROLE OF THE POLICE AND SECURITY APPARATUS

In the Netherlands the Ministry of Justice and Security oversees law enforcement organizations, as do the justice ministries in Aruba, Curacao, and Sint Maarten. The military police (Marechaussee) are responsible for border control in the Netherlands. The Border Protection Service (immigration), police, and the Dutch Caribbean Coast Guard share the responsibility for border control in Sint Maarten, Aruba, and Curacao.

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

ARREST PROCEDURES AND TREATMENT OF DETAINEES

A prosecutor or senior police officer must order the arrest of any person, other than one apprehended on the spot, for alleged crimes. Arrested persons have the right to appear, usually within a day, before a judge, and authorities generally respected the right. Authorities informed detainees promptly of charges against them. The kingdom’s law also allows persons to be detained on the order of a judge pending investigation. In these cases no charges are filed. There is no bail system.

In the Netherlands in terrorism-related cases, the examining magistrate may initially order detention for 14 days on the lesser charge of “reasonable suspicion” rather than “serious suspicion” required for other crimes.

In all parts of the kingdom, the law provides suspects the right to consult an attorney. In March an EU directive on the right to access a lawyer became part of national law. It grants all criminal suspects the right to have their lawyers present at police interrogation. Previously, with some exceptions, suspects could consult with their lawyers only prior to first police questioning. In Aruba and Curacao, any criminal suspect is entitled to consult his or her lawyer only prior to the first interview on the substance of the case. In the case of a minor, the lawyer can be present during interviews but cannot actively participate.

Detainee’s Ability to Challenge Lawfulness of Detention before a Court: By law persons arrested or detained are entitled to challenge in court the legal basis or arbitrary nature of their detention and any delay in obtaining judicial ruling. If the court finds persons to have been detained unlawfully, they are entitled to prompt release and/or compensation.

e. Denial of Fair Public Trial

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

TRIAL PROCEDURES

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

Defendants enjoy the right to a presumption of innocence, and the right to be informed promptly of the charges. Trials take place without undue delay in the presence of the accused. The law provides for prompt access of defendants to attorneys of their choice, including at public expense if the defendant is unable to pay. Defendants generally have adequate time and facilities to prepare for a defense. If required, the court provides interpreters throughout the judicial process free of charge. The accused is not present when the examining magistrate examines witnesses, but an attorney for the accused has the right to question them. In most instances defendants and their attorneys may present witnesses and evidence for the defense. In certain cases involving national security, the defense has the right to submit written questions to witnesses whose identity is kept confidential. Defendants may not be compelled to testify or confess guilt and have the right to appeal.

POLITICAL PRISONERS AND DETAINEES

There were no reports of political prisoners or detainees.

CIVIL JUDICIAL PROCEDURES AND REMEDIES

Individuals may bring lawsuits for damages for human rights violations in the regular court system or specific appeal boards. If all domestic means of redress are exhausted, individuals may appeal to the European Court of Human Rights. Citizens of Sint Maarten and Curacao may also seek redress through the ombudsperson if the government is accused of human rights violations.

PROPERTY RESTITUTION

The Netherlands has laws and/or mechanisms in place, and NGOs and advocacy groups reported that the government made significant progress on resolution of Holocaust-era claims, including for foreign citizens. The Dutch comply with the goals of the Terezin Declaration. A legal process exists for claimants to request the return of property looted during the Holocaust, although some advocates say that bureaucratic procedures and poor record keeping have been key barriers to restitution efforts. In 2016 Amsterdam allocated $11 million to Jewish causes–an estimate of the total taxes paid by survivors following the war. In February, The Hague’s executive board advised the city government to offer $2.75 million for property tax restitution to Holocaust survivors and heirs. As of July the national railway company Nederlandse Spoorwegen has not paid restitution for the equivalent of $2.7 million it received from the Nazis to transport Jews to a concentration camp.

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

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

Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:

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

Freedom of Expression: It is a crime “verbally or in writing or image deliberately to offend a group of people because of their race, their religion or beliefs, their sexual orientation, or their physical, psychological, or mental disability.” The statute does not consider statements that targeted a philosophy or religion, as opposed to a group of persons, as criminal hate speech. The penalties for violating the law include imprisonment for a maximum of two years, a fine of up to 8,100 euros ($9,700), or both. In Aruba the penalties for this offense are imprisonment for a maximum of one year or a fine of 10 thousand Aruban florins ($5,600). In the Netherlands there are restrictions on the sale of the book Mein Kampf and the display of the swastika symbol with the intent of referring to Nazism.

In January the Amsterdam district court convicted four men of offending and discriminating against Jewish persons in connection with a demonstration during which members of the ultrarightist Netherlands People Party (NVU) carried banners with texts such as “Defend Europe” and signs of the “Combat 18” neo-Nazi group, and wore anti-Jewish nose stickers. The four individuals were fined and sentenced to community service.

In December 2016 a court convicted Freedom Party leader Geert Wilders for encouraging his supporters to chant “fewer Moroccans” at a 2014 political rally. The court decided that Wilders had “crossed a line” but did not impose a sentence.

Press and Media Freedom: Independent media in the kingdom were active and expressed a wide variety of views without restriction. The restrictions on “hate speech” applied to the media but only occasionally were enforced. Disputes occasionally arose over journalists’ right to protect their sources.

INTERNET FREEDOM

The governments did not restrict or disrupt access to the internet or censor online content, and there were no credible reports that the governments monitored private online communications without appropriate legal authority. The internet was widely available in the kingdom and used by citizens. According to the International Telecommunication Union, in 2016 just more than 90 percent of the Netherlands’ population and 94 percent of Arubans used the internet.

Authorities continued to pursue policies to prevent what they considered incitement to discrimination on the internet. They operated a hotline for persons to report discriminatory phrases and hate speech with the principal aim of having them removed. On May 18, the Amsterdam District Court convicted 20 persons for using inflammatory, threatening, and offensive language against a black politician on social media. The court sentenced four of them to community service and fined 16 others.

ACADEMIC FREEDOM AND CULTURAL EVENTS

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

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

c. Freedom of Religion

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

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

The governments 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 laws on asylum vary in different parts of the kingdom. In general the law in the Netherlands provides for the granting of asylum or refugee status, and the government has an established system for providing protection to refugees.

Sint Maarten does not recognize asylum seekers. Foreigners requesting asylum are processed as foreigners requesting a humanitarian residence permit. UNHCR aided authorities in those cases and determined whether the asylum case was justified and whether Sint Maarten needed to provide protection. If so, the asylum seekers received a humanitarian residence permit; if not, authorities deported them to their country of origin or a country where they would be accepted. In Curacao and Aruba, asylum seekers were referred to UNHCR.

Safe Country of Origin/Transit: Authorities in the Netherlands denied asylum to persons who came from so-called safe countries of origin or who had resided for some time in safe countries of transit. They used EU guidelines to define such countries. Applicants had the right to appeal all denials.

Consistent with a 2011 ruling by the European Court of Human Rights, the government processed the applications of third-country applicants arriving from Greece under the asylum procedures of the Netherlands instead of sending them back to Greece. The government stated such applicants would only be returned to Greece once the Greek asylum system meets European human rights standards. For similar reasons, authorities do not return asylum seekers under the Dublin III regulation to Hungary and Belgium.

Freedom of Movement: Government guidelines require that authorities not detain denied asylum seekers longer than three months, but they exceeded this term in several cases. In the Netherlands the national ombudsperson, Amnesty International, and other nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) asserted that persons denied asylum and irregular migrants were regularly subjected to lengthy detention before deportation even when no clear prospect of actual deportation existed.

Durable Solutions: In the Netherlands the government accepted up to 500 refugees per year for resettlement through UNHCR. These refugees came mainly from UN refugee camps, and many were Syrians arriving from camps in Lebanon and Jordan. The government also provided financial and in-kind assistance to refugees who sought to return to their home country voluntarily. The laws in all parts of the kingdom provide the opportunity for non-Dutch persons to gain citizenship.

Temporary Protection: The Netherlands government provided temporary protection to individuals who may not qualify as refugees. According to Eurostat data, in 2016 it provided subsidiary protection to 10,705 persons and humanitarian status to 365 others. In the Dutch Caribbean, individuals who do not qualify as refugees are immediately returned to their country of origin.

STATELESS PERSONS

According to 2016 UNHCR statistics, 1,951 persons in the Netherlands fell under UNHCR’s statelessness mandate. Stateless persons in the Netherlands included Palestinians from Syria, Romani immigrants, and some Malaccans, who declined both Dutch and Indonesian citizenship for historical and political reasons. UNHCR acknowledged that the 2016 statistics on stateless persons in the Netherlands were inaccurate because not every stateless person was properly registered. According to government statistics, more than five thousand stateless persons applied for asylum in 2014-16, most of them Palestinians from Syria. Almost all of them were granted a residency permit.

The laws in all parts of the kingdom provide the opportunity for stateless persons to gain citizenship.

Section 3. Freedom to Participate in the Political Process

The constitution and laws in the entire kingdom 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 the March elections for seats in the Netherlands’ Second Chamber (the lower chamber of parliament) to be free and fair, as were the governmental elections in Curacao, Aruba, and Sint Maarten.

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

New Zealand

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 disappearances by or on behalf of government authorities.

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

The law prohibits such practices, and there were no reports government officials employed them. The Ombudsman’s Office inspects places of detention such as prisons and mental health facilities to prevent cruel and inhuman treatment, in line with national standards and the country’s international obligations.

Prison and Detention Center Conditions

Civil society and government watchdog groups highlighted the disproportionate rates of incarceration of indigenous peoples, excessive restraint and other treatment of prisoners who risked self harm, and prisoner-on-prisoner violence (see section 6, Indigenous People).

Physical Conditions: Persons accused of a crime who are 17 years or older are tried as adults and, if convicted, sent to adult prisons. Authorities held male prisoners younger than 17 years in four separate detention facilities operated by the national Child and Youth Welfare Agency. There was no separate facility for juvenile female prisoners because there were very few such prisoners. In March the Ombudsman’s Office reported that the Department of Corrections had breached national legislation and the Convention Against Torture in restraining at risk prisoners by excessive use of tie-down beds and waist cuffs. As a result, the Department of Corrections is undertaking a review of its At Risk Prisoner program.

Transgender prisoners who had the gender on their birth certificates changed to reflect their preferred gender were generally housed in accordance with their preferred gender and may begin gender reassignment treatment/surgery while incarcerated.

Administration: Inmates could make uncensored complaints to statutory inspectors or the ombudsperson. The Ombudsman’s Office reports to parliament annually on its findings about prison conditions. The law provides for specified rights of inspection, including by members of parliament and justices of the peace, and information was publicly available on complaints and investigations, subject to the provisions of privacy legislation.

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

d. Arbitrary Arrest or Detention

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

ROLE OF THE POLICE AND SECURITY APPARATUS

The New Zealand Police, under the Ministry of Police, is responsible for internal security, and the armed forces, under the Ministry of Defense, are responsible for external security. Civilian authorities maintained effective control over police and the armed forces, and the government has 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 may arrest a suspect without a warrant if there is reasonable cause; however, a court-issued warrant is usually required. Police officers may enter premises without a warrant to arrest a person if they reasonably suspect the person committed a crime on the premises or found the person committing an offense and are in pursuit. Police must inform arrested persons immediately of their legal rights and the grounds for their arrest.

After arresting and charging a suspect, police may release the person on bail until the first court appearance. Except for more serious offenses, such as assault or burglary, bail is normally granted and frequently does not require a deposit of money. Suspects have the right to appear promptly before a judge for a determination of the legality of the arrest and detention. After the first court appearance, the judge typically grants bail unless there is a significant risk the suspect would flee, tamper with witnesses or evidence, or commit a crime while on bail. Authorities granted family members timely access to detainees and allowed detainees prompt access to a lawyer of their choice and, if indigent, to a lawyer provided by the government. The government did not detain suspects incommunicado.

Pretrial Detention: Approximately 25 percent of prisoners were held in custody on remand, while they await trial or sentencing. The number of prisoners held on remand increased three-fold in 20 years, primarily due to increased time required to complete cases, and stricter bail restrictions. The median duration of prisoners’ time held in remand is approximately two months.

Detainee’s Ability to Challenge Lawfulness of Detention before a Court: Arrested persons have additional legal protections, including the right to initiate habeas corpus proceedings to decide the lawfulness of their detention, to be charged and tried without “undue delay,” and to obtain compensation if unlawfully detained.

e. Denial of Fair Public Trial

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

TRIAL PROCEDURES

The law provides for the right to a fair public trial, and an independent judiciary generally enforced this right. Defendants enjoy a presumption of innocence and the right to counsel. By law authorities must inform defendants promptly and in detail of the charges, and provide adequate time and facilities to prepare a defense. Defendants cannot be compelled to testify or confess guilt, but they have the right to be present at their trial. Defendants also have the right to present witnesses and evidence, confront witnesses against them, appeal convictions, and receive free interpretation as necessary from the moment charged through all appeals. The government provides a lawyer at public expense if the defendant cannot afford counsel. 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

Individuals and organizations may seek civil judicial remedies for human rights violations, including access to the Human Rights Review Tribunal. There are also administrative remedies for alleged wrongs through the Human Rights Commission (HRC) and the Office of Human Rights Proceedings.

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:

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

ACADEMIC FREEDOM AND CULTURAL EVENTS

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

The law provides for freedoms of peaceful 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/.

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 United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees and other humanitarian organizations in providing protection and assistance to refugees, asylum seekers, stateless persons, and other persons of concern.

Section 3. Freedom to Participate in the Political Process

The law 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: Following the most recent general election held on September 23, the former opposition Labour Party formed a coalition government with the New Zealand First Party, with Green Party support, led by Labour Party leader Jacinda Ardern as prime minister. Although the ruling National Party won the greatest number of seats in parliament, 58 of 120, it was unable to form a coalition and became the official parliamentary opposition.

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

Voter turnout in the general election was 79 percent, while turnout in designated Maori electorates was lower and ranged from 60-69 percent. In South Auckland electorates with a high percentage of Pacific Island voters, turnout was 69 percent.

Nicaragua

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, including during confrontations with armed groups (both criminal organizations and possibly antigovernment groups), in the north-central and Caribbean regions of the country. Human rights organizations and independent media alleged some killings were politically motivated, an allegation that was difficult to confirm in view of the absence of official investigations. In some cases the individuals killed by military or police personnel were members of groups, or relatives of members of groups, that have identified themselves on social media as politically motivated and taking up arms against the government. Organizations reported that common attributes in the killings of such group members included police accusations against the victims of possession of drugs in small quantities after the killings, lack of judicial proceedings, and unwillingness on behalf of police authorities to register investigation requests.

On September 18, the “Ecological Battalion,” a military unit created to guarantee citizen security in rural areas and protect agricultural producers, killed three individuals in Siuna, a community in the Northern Caribbean Autonomous Region (RACN). In its only statement on the case, the military reported the deceased individuals belonged to a group of “delinquents” found in possession of weapons and an unknown quantity of marijuana. A self-proclaimed politically motivated armed group reported that two of the three individuals killed belonged to their movement and called the incident an extrajudicial killing. There was no indication the government investigated those claims, and military personnel did not offer additional statements on the accusations. On November 12 an army unit shot and killed six individuals, including a known opposition figure, his brother, and two minors, after tracking them for nine days in the municipality of La Cruz de Rio Grande in the Southern Caribbean Autonomous Region (RACS).

Reports of killings were increasingly common in the north-central regions and the RACN. These killings were widely believed to be related to the army’s pursuit of what many referred to as armed antigovernment groups in the north-central region, although the army admitted only the presence of criminals and/or delinquents.

There were no investigations or other developments in the 2016 killing of Andres Cerrato or the 2015 killing of Modesto Duarte Altamirano (see also section 1.d., Role of the Police and Security Apparatus).

b. Disappearance

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

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

Although the law prohibits such practices, numerous reports alleged police abused suspects during arrest, used excessive force, and engaged in degrading treatment. In the first six months of 2016, the period for which the most recent data were available, the NGO Nicaraguan Human Rights Center (CENIDH) received 610 complaints against the Nicaraguan National Police (NNP) for excessive force, arbitrary detention, and cruel or degrading treatment, including in prisons. CENIDH was able to confirm abuse in 391 of those complaints.

There were numerous claims of torture by agents of the Directorate of Judicial Assistance (DAJ), a special police investigations unit, in its jail commonly referred to as “El Chipote,” especially during arrests related to organized crime.

There were allegations that the bodies of individuals or groups of individuals killed in clashes with the Nicaraguan army showed signs of torture, including two of three persons killed in Siuna on September 18 and six killed in La Cruz de Rio Grande, RACS, on November 22.

Prison and Detention Center Conditions

Prison conditions were harsh and potentially life threatening. Overcrowding, poor sanitation, difficulties obtaining medical care, and violence among prisoners remained serious problems in prison facilities.

Physical Conditions: Overcrowding remained a problem. In September the government reported holding 17,196 prisoners in facilities with a capacity of 9,008. Due to overcrowding, pretrial detainees often shared cells with convicted prisoners and juveniles shared cells with adults.

Prison conditions continued to deteriorate due to antiquated infrastructure and increasing inmate populations. Many prisoners suffered mistreatment from prison officials and other inmates. Inmates also suffered from parasites, inadequate medical attention, frequent food shortages, contaminated water, and inadequate sanitation. Released prisoners and family members of prisoners reported poor ventilation and lighting in the DAJ jail located in Managua. In March spouses of prisoners held a protest at the entrance of La Modelo prison to complain about poor living conditions and lack of access to health care. They also claimed the prison had cut off service for the internet, cell phones, and landline telephones.

Conditions for female inmates were generally better than those for men but were nevertheless unsafe and unhygienic.

Conditions in jails and temporary holding cells were also harsh. Most facilities were physically decrepit and infested with vermin; had inadequate ventilation, electricity, or sewage systems; and lacked potable water. The government estimated approximately 26 percent of detainees in preventive holding cells should be in formal prisons.

Administration: Although prisoners and detainees could submit complaints to judicial authorities without censorship and request investigation of credible allegations of inhuman conditions, authorities often ignored or did not process complaints. The extent to which the government investigated allegations of poor prison conditions was unknown. The government ombudsman could serve on behalf of prisoners and detainees to consider such matters as informal alternatives to incarceration for nonviolent offenders, although this generally did not occur. In certain instances the government restricted prisoners’ access to visitors, attorneys, and physicians. Staff members of human rights organizations were not allowed access to the prison system or to prisoners in custody.

Independent Monitoring: The government denied prison visits by local human rights groups as well as media. The government denied requests from human rights organizations to access all prison facilities when they attempted to investigate reports of hazardous conditions. NGOs generally received complaints through family members of inmates and often were unable to follow up on cases until after the release of the prisoner due to lack of access.

d. Arbitrary Arrest or Detention

The law prohibits arbitrary arrest and detention, but the government and its agents did not always comply with or enforce the law. Human rights NGOs noted several cases of arbitrary arrests by the NNP and army. These cases included irregular arrests and detentions while the NNP and army investigated armed opposition groups or other violent crimes in the north-central regions of the country. The law provides for the right of any person to challenge the lawfulness of his/her arrest or detention in court, but the government generally did not observe this requirement.

ROLE OF THE POLICE AND SECURITY APPARATUS

The constitution establishes the NNP as an apolitical, nonpartisan institution protecting all citizens equally under the law, but the government did not treat it as a nonpartisan institution. The NNP Office of Internal Affairs is responsible for investigating complaints and abuses regarding police officers or internal police activities. The NNP responds directly to the president as commander in chief, as established by the constitutional changes in 2014. Human rights organizations alleged the NNP, and particularly the DAJ, served the interest of the Ortega family and its associates and thus operated under a chain of authority that did not follow the standard procedures of a police force. The Ministry of Interior and the NNP each have law enforcement and internal security responsibilities throughout the country. The Ministry of Interior oversees the General Directorate for Migration and Foreigner Services, which works together with police to oversee topics of migration and border security.

The army is responsible for external security but also has some domestic responsibilities, including countering illicit trafficking in narcotics and human trafficking and providing for the transportation of election-related materials, including ballots. The army was also involved in detaining irregular migrants and supported efforts to hold and transport them to the last point of entry. Many informed observers in civil society and the independent press regarded the army as a functionally autonomous force responding directly to the president pursuant to constitutional and military code reforms enacted in 2014. The Office of the Inspectorate General is responsible for investigating abuses and corruption in the army, but limited public information was available on its activities.

Civilian authorities at times did not maintain effective control over the NNP and the military. There continued to be numerous reports of impunity involving the NNP, and there were instances in which the government failed to investigate and punish abuse and corruption. The government reported that between January 2016 and August 2017, it received 1,864 reports of police misconduct or of human rights violations by police officers. Although the government reported having investigated all of the reports and dishonorably discharging 587 officers, among other administrative disciplinary actions, as a result of the investigations, observers reported the government did not investigate all instances of abuse and corruption.

The NNP Office of Internal Affairs, and to a lesser extent the Office of the Inspector General, are responsible for investigating police abuse; however, corruption, inefficiency, and lack of transparency of the justice system contributed to a public perception of police impunity. In June approximately 40 police officers were detained and investigated for petty corruption. According to independent observers, this investigation was undertaken not to exert the rule of law, but to give a public image of fighting internal corruption, to purge political opposition within the force, and to reduce the amount of severance pay provided to the officers by dishonorably discharging them. There was no official information on the outcome of the detentions or whether the officers under investigation were discharged. Due to limited information on the activities of the Office of Internal Affairs and a general lack of access to government information, human rights organizations and security experts found it difficult to assess how the NNP investigated allegations of abuses and human rights violations by its members.

Observers noted the politicization of the NNP, exemplified by the continued tenure of the national chief of police, making her the longest standing police chief since 1990. The last extension was legal under changes to the constitution in 2014, but the president had previously extended her term through a 2011 executive decree that allegedly violated term limits prescribed in law at the time. The NNP continued to use symbols associated with the FSLN party, including an emblem with party figurehead Sandino’s silhouette as part of the officer’s uniform, and the ubiquitous use of the FSLN party flag at police facilities and celebrations. NGOs and the press alleged the NNP continued to provide preferential treatment for progovernment and FSLN rallies.

Human rights organizations and civil society activists continued to express strong concern regarding the 2015 Sovereign Security Law, which significantly broadened the definition of state sovereignty and security and established a National Committee of Sovereign Security, an executive-level committee with the enforcement backing of the military. The law includes “any other factor that creates danger to the security of the people, life, family, and community, as well as the supreme interests of the Nicaraguan nation” when it outlines potential risks and threats to the country’s sovereign security. Human rights NGOs argued that while the Sovereign Security Law was not cited in cases including the obstruction or prevention of political opposition or civil society rallies, this law was implicitly used.

Impunity remained a problem, and the government took no action nor provided training to increase respect for human rights by security forces. There was no indication the government investigated claims that three members of a self-proclaimed politically motivated armed group in Siuna, RACN, had been tortured and killed extrajudicially, and military personnel did not offer additional statements on these accusations. Likewise, as of December no investigation had begun of the army unit involved in the November 12 killing of six individuals in the municipality of La Cruz de Rio Grande in the RACS.

There were also no developments in the 2012 death of former Contra Santos Guadalupe Joyas Borge (“Pablo Negro”) or in the 2012 case of community leaders Pedro Ramon Castro and Miguel Angel Oliva, allegedly killed by four NNP members in the municipality of Pantasma.

ARREST PROCEDURES AND TREATMENT OF DETAINEES

The law requires police to obtain a warrant from a judicial authority prior to detaining a suspect and to notify family members of the detainee’s whereabouts within 24 hours. While the law also stipulates a prosecutor accompany police making an arrest, human rights organizations claimed irregularities in arrest procedures led to arbitrary arrest and detention.

Police may hold a suspect legally for 48 hours before arraignment, when they must bring the person before a judge. A judge then must order the suspect released or transferred to jail for pretrial detention. The suspect is permitted family member visits after the initial 48 hours. The detainee has the right to bail unless a judge deems there is a flight risk. A change to the criminal code during the year expanded a list of crimes that may be tried by a judge without a jury and that would not qualify for bail or house arrest during the duration of the trial. In most instances detainees were informed of charges against them, although there were instances when this did not occur, and at other times there were delays. Detainees have the right to an attorney immediately following their arrest, and the state provides indigent detainees with a public defender. There were numerous reports detainees did not have immediate access to an attorney or legal counsel and were not afforded one during their 48-hour detention. In several instances authorities denied having detainees under custody in a specific jail, even to their family members or legal counsel. This occurred particularly in the DAJ jail.

Arbitrary Arrest: According to NGOs and other human rights groups, arbitrary arrests occurred regularly. Numerous reports claimed authorities used DAJ jail cells for arbitrary arrests beyond the prescribed 48 hours of detention legally allowed. Additionally, the number of detainees from other localities brought to the DAJ jail for periods longer than the prescribed 48 hours of detention increased. Many arrests were allegedly made without warrants and without informing family members or legal counsel. Human rights organizations indicated delays in the release of prisoners after finishing prison terms led to many cases of arbitrary continuation of a state of arrest.

Pretrial Detention: Lengthy pretrial detention continued to be a problem, especially in the RACN and the RACS. Observers attributed delays to limited facilities, an overburdened judicial system, judicial inaction, and high crime rates. No information was available on the percentage of the prison population in pretrial detention or the national average length of pretrial detention.

Detainee’s Ability to Challenge Lawfulness of Detention before a Court: While the law provides detainees the ability to challenge the legality of their detention before a court, procedural information for doing so was not publicly available. There were reports on the obstacles legal counsels faced when they attempted to invoke constitutional protections for detainees, including habeas corpus, and courts frequently ignored their requests.

e. Denial of Fair Public Trial

Although the law provides for an independent judiciary, the judicial system did not function independently. The law requires vetting of new judicial appointments by the CSJ, a process unduly affected by nepotism, personal influence, and political affiliation. Once appointed, many judges submitted to political pressure and economic inducements for themselves or family members that compromised their independence. NGOs complained of delayed justice caused by judicial inaction and widespread impunity, especially regarding family and domestic violence and sexual abuse. In many cases trial start times were changed with no information provided to one or both sides of the trial, according to human rights organizations. Authorities occasionally failed to respect court orders.

TRIAL PROCEDURES

The constitution provides for the right to a fair and public trial, but the judiciary did not always enforce this right. According to the constitution, defendants are presumed innocent until proven guilty; however, observers claimed changes to the criminal and procedural codes enacted in June potentially restrict this right. Under the changes to the law, jury trials would be denied in a wider range of cases, judges could deny bail or house arrest based on unclear rules, and judges could arbitrarily move a case from other judicial districts to Managua, to the disadvantage of defendants, their families, or their counsel. Defendants have the right to be fully and promptly informed of the charges against them and the right to a fair trial. While the law establishes specific time periods for cases to come to trial, most cases encountered undue delay. Trials are public, but in some cases involving minors or at the victim’s request, they may be private. The law requires defendants must be present at their trial, although this was not always respected.

Defendants have the right to legal counsel, and the state provides public defenders for indigent persons. Defendants have the right to adequate time and facilities to prepare a defense. Although the constitution recognizes indigenous languages, defendants were not always granted court interpreters or translators. Defendants may confront and question witnesses and have the right to appeal a conviction. Defendants may present their own witnesses and evidence in their defense; however, some judges refused to admit evidence on behalf of the defense. Defendants may not be compelled to testify or confess guilt.

Women’s rights organizations perceived that the court system continued to operate under unofficial orders to forego jail time or pretrial detention in domestic violence cases. This order reportedly applied only to domestic violence cases considered mild.

POLITICAL PRISONERS AND DETAINEES

Human rights NGOs characterized Marvin Vargas as a political prisoner. Vargas is a former Sandinista fighter from the 1980’s civil war who in 2011 led protests against the Sandinista administration for allegedly not fulfilling promises established in post-civil war peace accords to aid former Sandinista fighters. Shortly after these protests, Vargas was convicted of fraud, allegedly without due process. Vargas claimed he was beaten, kept under maximum security, and held in solitary confinement during most of his prison term. Vargas was not afforded alternatives to incarceration or early release on account of good behavior, both established in law for the type of crime for which he was convicted. He finished his full term in 2016 but remained imprisoned, reportedly under solitary confinement and maximum security. In June he was convicted of smuggling drugs into the prison and sentenced to an additional 12-year term. Human rights NGOs claimed that again due process was not followed and that there was no further investigation into prison authorities or of the methods Vargas could have used to smuggle drugs into and within the prison.

CIVIL JUDICIAL PROCEDURES AND REMEDIES

Individuals and organizations may file suit in civil courts to seek damages for human rights violations, but authorities did not always respect court orders.

The lack of an effective civil law system resulted in some civil matters being pursued as criminal cases because criminal cases were often resolved more quickly. In a number of instances, individuals and groups appealed to the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR), which passed their cases to the Inter-American Court of Human Rights.

PROPERTY RESTITUTION

While the government resolved some property claims during the year, it regularly failed to enforce court orders with respect to seizure, restitution, or compensation of private property. Enforcement of court orders was frequently subject to nonjudicial considerations. Members of the judiciary, including those at senior levels, were widely believed to be corrupt or subject to political pressure. The government failed to evict those who illegally took possession of private property.

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

While the law prohibits such actions, several domestic NGOs, Roman Catholic Church representatives, journalists, and opposition members alleged the government monitored their email and telephone conversations. In April, shortly after presidential adviser Eden Pastora made a public appeal to identify specific political opposition and civil society members as traitors, a government-affiliated internet site published personal profiles of more than 20 opposition party members, human rights defenders, and civil society members containing car license plate numbers, home addresses and telephone numbers, names of known family members and associates, and pictures of their houses. Civil society members alleged the personally identifiable information was provided by government offices.

Inhabitants in northern towns, particularly in the departments of Nueva Segovia, Jinotega, and Madriz, as well as the RACS and the RACN, alleged repeated government interrogations and searches without cause or warrant, related to supposed support for armed groups, while government officials claimed they were confronting common criminals.

The ruling party reportedly required citizens to demonstrate party membership in order to obtain or retain employment in the public sector and have access to public social programs.

Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:

a. Freedom of Speech and Press

The constitution provides for freedom of expression, including for the press, but the government used administrative, judicial, and financial means to limit the exercise of this right. Although the law provides that the right to information may not be subjected to censorship, it also establishes retroactive liability, including criminal penalties for libel and slander.

Freedom of Expression: Some individuals suffered reprisals for expressing opinions in public on matters of special importance to the ruling party. There were a number of incidents throughout the year in which public officials, including at the ministerial, congressional, and local government levels, were reportedly ousted for expressing their opinions through the independent media or on social media.

Press and Media Freedom: Independent media faced official and unofficial restrictions, reprisals, and harassment but were generally allowed to express a variety of views. The government restricted media freedom through harassment, censorship, and use of arbitrary justifications. Private individuals sympathetic to the government also harassed the media for criticizing the government.

In April the radio show Onda Local was taken off the air by radio station La Primerisima, which was owned by FSLN members. The Onda Local director publicly accused the station owners of acting at the behest of the vice president. The radio show was known for investigative journalism on social topics like women’s issues and protests over worker’s rights, mining corporations, and construction of a proposed interoceanic canal. The station owners did not comment on or provide a justification for the decision to cancel the show.

The government continued to use direct and indirect means to pressure and seek to close independent media outlets, allegedly for political reasons. Independent media owners continued to express concern that incidents of vandalism, seizure of broadcast equipment, and fear of criminal defamation charges created a climate of self-censorship, which the government could exploit to limit press freedom. An independent television station was fined an amount the owner believed was disproportionate due to administrative procedures. The station owner repeatedly expressed concern due to pressure from government officials because of the station’s independent stance. Other media harassment came through continued financial audits performed by the Directorate General of Revenue, which resulted in cases being brought to the consideration of the Customs and Administrative Tax Court. Independent news outlets reported they were generally not permitted to attend official government events, were denied interviews by government officials, and received restricted or no direct access to government information. Official media, however, were not similarly restricted.

Since 2008 the General Law (Law 200) on Telecommunications has been in review in the National Assembly. Until the reforms are approved or denied, media outlets are unable to apply for new broadcasting licenses. Nevertheless, the government granted licenses in a discretionary manner and extended the validity of existing licenses indefinitely. Human rights groups and independent media continued to criticize the legal insecurity created by the lack of telecommunications legislation, since Law 200 regulates routine administrative processes, such as the purchase and import of goods related to broadcasting and license adjudication. Furthermore, independent radio owners continued to defer long-term investments due to the lack of updated licenses.

The Communications Research Center of Nicaragua reported that control over television media by the FSLN and President Ortega continued throughout the year. National television continued to be largely controlled either by business associates of the president or directly owned and administered by his family members. Eight of the 10 basic channels available were under direct FSLN influence or owned and controlled by persons with close ties to the government.

Generally, media stations owned by the presidential family limited news programming and served as outlets for progovernment or FSLN propaganda and campaign advertisements. Press and human rights organizations claimed the use of state funds for official media, as well as biased distribution of government advertising dollars, placed independent outlets at an unfair disadvantage. Independent media asserted the moratorium on granting new government broadcasting licenses, combined with the uncertainties of the National Assembly’s protracted telecommunications review, contributed to legal insecurity and shrinking opportunities for private investment. Some independent media owners also alleged the government exerted pressure on private firms to limit their advertising in the independent media, although other observers believed the lack of advertising was the result of self-censorship by private companies or a business decision based on circulation numbers.

Violence and Harassment: One of the largest daily newspapers, opposition-leaning La Prensa, claimed government officials and supporters regularly intimidated its journalists, actively hindered investigations, and failed to respond to questions on a variety of problems, particularly those involving the constitution, rule of law, and corruption. There were several reported cases of threats against the press.

Censorship or Content Restrictions: Many journalists practiced self-censorship, fearing economic and physical repercussions for investigative reporting on crime or official corruption. Additionally, media outlet owners exercised self-censorship by choosing not to publish news that affected public perceptions of the government or the FSLN.

The government continued to enforce inequitably the controversial Law 528, or “Ley Arce,” which established high tariffs and bureaucratic delays on the importation of ink, paper, machinery, and other printing necessities, despite constitutional provisions protecting the right to freedom from tariffs for media. Although the law applies to all print media, print media owners and international NGOs claimed the government specifically applied it to La Prensa, which operated one of the few printing operations not controlled by the government. Journalist organizations expressed concern regarding the lack of government support for the media sector and their organizations.

Libel/Slander Laws: Although during the year the government did not use libel laws or cite national security to suppress publications, independent media reported engaging in self-censorship due to the government’s previous use of libel laws. Slander and libel are both punishable under the law with fines ranging from 120 to 300 times the minimum daily wage.

INTERNET FREEDOM

The government did not restrict or disrupt access to the internet or censor online content; despite this, several NGOs claimed the government monitored their email and online activity without appropriate legal authority. Additionally, paid government supporters used social media and website commentary spaces to harass prominent members of civil society, human rights defenders, and a well-known journalist.

The International Telecommunication Union reported approximately 25 percent of citizens used the internet in 2016.

ACADEMIC FREEDOM AND CULTURAL EVENTS

There were some government restrictions on academic freedom, and many academics and researchers reported pressure to censor themselves. There were no government restrictions on cultural events.

Human rights NGOs and civil society groups reported authorities required students in elementary and secondary public schools to participate in progovernment rallies while schools were in session. Political propaganda for the ruling party was posted inside public schools. Teacher organizations and NGOs alleged continuing FSLN interference in the school system through the use of school facilities as FSLN campaign headquarters, favoritism shown to members of FSLN youth groups or children of FSLN members, politicized issuance of scholarships, and the use of pro-FSLN education materials.

b. Freedom of Peaceful Assembly and Association

The law recognizes the right to public assembly, demonstration, and mobilization but requires demonstrators to obtain permission for a rally or march by registering its planned size and location with police. CENIDH and the Permanent Commission for Human Rights reported police generally protected or otherwise gave preferential treatment to progovernment FSLN demonstrations while disrupting or denying registration for opposition groups. In many cases police did not protect opposition protesters when progovernment supporters harassed or attacked them.

On April 22 groups opposing the planned construction of an interoceanic canal organized a nationwide protest centered in Juigalpa. Police arbitrarily stopped protesters and prevented their participation using tactics that included heavily deploying antiriot police at key rural intersections leading to the city, using heavy machinery to block bridges and roads near communities where protesters lived, and threatening to revoke licenses or seize buses and trucks from companies transporting demonstrators. The government announced a countermarch to mark Earth Day, on the same date, time, and place. The NNP provided protection to that gathering and opened traffic for buses arriving for the government-sponsored march while continuing to block the independent march.

The NNP interfered with a November 25 rally organized by women’s rights groups to commemorate the International Day for the Elimination of Violence Against Women. The NNP and other government officials claimed the groups did not have the appropriate permission to hold the rally, closed streets surrounding the rallying point, and stopped buses carrying additional participants en route from Masaya, Chinandega, and the northern areas of Ocotal, Jinotega, and Matagalpa.

FREEDOM OF ASSOCIATION

The law provides for freedom of association, including the right to organize or affiliate with political parties; nevertheless, the Supreme Electoral Council (CSE) and National Assembly used their accreditation powers for political purposes. National Assembly accreditation is mandatory for NGOs to receive donations. Domestic NGOs complained the Ortega administration’s control of access to funding from foreign donors reduced their ability to operate.

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 for citizens, and the government generally respected these rights. The government strictly controlled the entry of persons affiliated with some groups, specifically humanitarian and faith-based organizations.

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. Only the executive branch or the country’s embassies abroad may grant asylum for political persecution. The Nicaraguan National Commission for Refugees had not met since 2015. Data from the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees between January 2015 and September 2017 suggested more than 300 registered asylum applications from El Salvador, Guatemala, and Honduras. Data showed asylum claims had been lodged but not yet addressed.

Freedom of Movement: The government enforced strict controls for northbound migrants seeking to cross the country from Costa Rica.

Durable Solutions: The government recognized 61 persons for refugee status in 2015, the most recent year for which information was available.

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 and conducted by secret ballot; however, the government restricted the exercise of this ability.

Elections and Political Participation

Recent Elections: The November 5 municipal elections were marred by allegations of institutional fraud. The Organization of American States electoral observation mission issued recommendations to strengthen balance within the political party system, improve the selection of election councils at all levels, establish an adequate legal framework for civil society, and promote broad and inclusive domestic electoral observation. Opposition party members reported government officials transported supporters of the ruling party to voting centers. Opposition party members and observers claimed the ruling party used its control over the CSE to commit fraud. There were reports of public-sector employees being pressured to vote and show proof the next day at work that they had voted. National observers and opposition representatives claimed opposition poll watchers were denied accreditation, FSLN-affiliated poll watchers posed as opposition poll workers, and votes were not counted in accordance with the law.

Several isolated and violent postelection clashes between supporters of competing political parties, and with Nicaraguan security forces, left at least six dead on November 5 and 6. A larger, sustained confrontation between supporters of the indigenous party YATAMA and the ruling FSLN left several buildings ransacked or torched, at least one dead, and dozens injured. The NNP arrested approximately 55 opposition party members to face trial on charges associated with the postelectoral violence.

Civil society groups stated concerns over the lack of a transparent and fair electoral process leading up to the November elections for mayors and municipal council seats. Electoral experts, business leaders, representatives of the Catholic Church, and civil society organizations reported that a lack of accredited domestic observation, the ruling party’s control over an overwhelming majority of the official electoral structures, and the ruling party’s control over all branches of government impeded a free and fair election.

Political Parties and Political Participation: The FSLN used state resources for political activities to enhance its electoral advantage in recent elections. Independent media, human rights groups, and opposition parties reported President Ortega’s administration used public funds to provide subsidized food, housing, vaccinations, access to clinics, and other benefits directly through either the FSLN-led “family cabinets” (community-based bodies that administer social government programs) or the party-controlled Sandinista leadership committee (CLS) system, which reportedly often coerced citizens into FSLN membership and denied services to opposition members. The FSLN also made party membership mandatory for an increasing number of public sector employees. Observers noted government employees continued to be pressured into affiliating with the FSLN and to participate in party activities.

The FSLN also used its authority to decide who could obtain national identity cards (cedulas). Persons seeking to obtain or retain public sector employment, national identity documents, or voter registration were obliged to obtain recommendation letters from CLS block captains. Persons without identity cards had difficulty participating in the legal economy, conducting bank transactions, or voting. Such persons also were subject to restrictions in employment, access to courts, and land ownership. Civil society organizations continued to express concern about the politicized distribution of identity cards, alleging this was how the FSLN attempted to manipulate past elections and that the CSE failed to provide identity cards to opposition members while widely distributing them to party loyalists.

Starting on August 20, members of the FSLN party protested in up to 13 municipalities when candidates for local government positions reflected central party preferences instead of local choices. FSLN leadership carried out surveys to select their candidates, but protesters claimed the surveys were manipulated to favor candidates selected by the president or vice president. Among their complaints, protesters accused presumed candidates of fraud and ineffective governance.

In September the government passed an electoral reform bill that allowed unregistered voters to vote in any polling center matching the address on their voter identity card. While the reform allowed more persons to vote, observers expressed concern it could also lead to double voting and manipulation of the voter lists. Observers also noted the reform responded mainly to concerns of low FSLN voter turnout in the November 2016 election due to discontent within the party.

Participation of Women and Minorities: No laws limit participation of women and/or members of minorities in the political process, and they did participate, although observers noted most women in elected positions at the municipal or national level held limited power or influence within their respective bodies.

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

A variety of domestic and international human rights groups operated in the country. Humanitarian organizations faced obstacles to operating or denial of entry, and government officials harassed and intimidated domestic and international NGOs that were critical of the government or the FSLN. Some NGOs reported intimidation by government officials created a climate of fear intended to suppress criticism. The government continued to prevent non-FSLN-affiliated NGOs and civil society groups from participating in government social programs, such as Programa Amor and Hambre Cero, and it frequently used FSLN-controlled family cabinets (community-based bodies that administer government social programs) and party-controlled CLSs to administer these programs. Increased government restrictions on domestic NGOs’ ability to receive funding directly from international donors seriously hindered the NGOs’ ability to operate. Additionally, increased control over the admission of foreign visitors or volunteer groups into the country hindered the work of humanitarian groups and human rights NGOs. Some groups reported difficulties in moving donated goods through customs.

Domestic NGOs under government investigation reported problems accessing the justice system and delays in filing petitions, as well as pressure from state authorities. Many NGOs believed comptroller and tax authorities audited their accounts as a means of intimidation. While legally permitted, spot audits were a common form of harassment and often used selectively, according to NGOs. NGOs reported difficulties in scheduling meetings with authorities and in receiving official information due to a growing culture of secrecy. Local NGOs reported having to channel requests for meetings with ministry officials and for public information through the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. These requests were generally not processed. NGOs also reported government hostility or aggression when questioning or speaking with officials on subjects such as corruption and the rule of law. Groups opposing the construction of a proposed interoceanic canal also reported being harassed and placed under surveillance.

The United Nations or Other International Bodies: The government did not send a representative to the March or September hearings of the IACHR, which convened public hearings regarding the situation of the right to freedom of expression and the situation of female human rights defenders in Nicaragua, respectively. The IACHR had requested to visit the country several times in previous sessions and had received a promise from the government to process its request. The IACHR commissioner and rapporteur on the rights of children, Esmeralda Arosemena de Tritino, cancelled a planned November 20 trip when informed the government had not given consent for the visit.

Government Human Rights Bodies: In 2016 the administration named Corina Centeno as head of the Office of the Ombudsman for Human Rights (PDDH). Human rights organizations responded to her appointment with criticism, noting her prior experience working with health labor unions and her affiliation with the FSLN. The PDDH was perceived as politicized and ineffective.

Niger

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

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

Unlike in the previous year, there were no reports that the government or its agents committed arbitrary or unlawful killings.

Armed terrorist groups including Boko Haram and groups affiliated with al-Qaida and ISIS-West Africa attacked and killed civilians and security officers (see section 1.g.).

b. Disappearance

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

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

The constitution and law prohibit such practices; however, there were reports security forces beat and abused civilians. Security forces were also accused of rape and sexual abuse, which the government claimed to investigate.

There were indications that security officials were sometimes involved in abusing or harming detainees, especially members of the Fulani minority or those accused of affiliation with Boko Haram. The government and military reportedly investigated these accusations, although no information was available on their conclusions.

On April 10, a university student protest turned violent when police fired tear gas to disperse students. An August 18 report by a government-convened commission confirmed that a student, Mallah Bagale, died due to injuries received when hit in the head with a tear gas canister. On August 22, a court found three police officers guilty of using brutality against the protesters and sentenced them to one year in prison and a fine of 15 million CFA francs ($27,575). The gendarme allegedly responsible for firing the tear gas canister that killed Bagale had not been named nor had he faced charges, and the gendarmerie refused to cooperate with the investigative committee.

Prison and Detention Center Conditions

Conditions in the prisons were harsh and life threatening due to food shortages, gross overcrowding, and inadequate sanitary conditions and medical care.

Physical Conditions: Overcrowding was a problem in most prison facilities. For example, in Kollo Prison, prisoners slept outside in the courtyard due to lack of space inside the wards. Large numbers of individuals detained and charged with terror offenses continued to exacerbate overcrowding in Diffa, Niamey, Koutakale, and Kollo prisons and the Central Service for the Fight against Terrorism (SCLCT) detainee processing centers in Niamey and Diffa. Prison officials held female inmates in separate quarters that were less crowded and relatively cleaner than men’s quarters. They generally held juveniles separately in special rehabilitation centers or in judicially supervised homes, although they held some juvenile prisoners with adult prisoners. Authorities held pretrial detainees with convicted prisoners.

Prison deaths occurred regularly, some from malaria, meningitis, and tuberculosis, but no statistics were available.

Nutrition, sanitation, potable water, and medical care were poor, although officials allowed inmates to receive supplemental food, medicine, and other items from their families. Basic health care was available, and authorities referred patients with serious illness to public health-care centers.

Administration: Judicial authorities and the governmental National Human Rights Commission (CNDH) investigated and monitored prison and detention center conditions and followed up on credible allegations of inhuman conditions. Prison management generally permitted prisoners and detainees to submit complaints to judicial authorities without censorship.

Independent Monitoring: Authorities generally granted the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC), the CNDH, and human rights groups access to most prisons and detention centers, including police station jails, and these groups conducted visits during the year.

Improvements: During the year the government increased the number of meals for inmates from two to three in accordance with a law passed on March 31 and improved prisoner access to fresh water. The government reported building five new detention centers meeting the norms established by the new law, and improving the equipment, including surveillance cameras, in four existing prisons.

d. Arbitrary Arrest or Detention

The constitution and law prohibit arbitrary arrest and detention, and the law prohibits detention without charge for more than 48 hours, but police occasionally violated these provisions. The law allows individuals accused of terror-related crimes to be detained without charge for a longer period. Persons arrested or detained are entitled to challenge in court the legal basis or arbitrary nature of their detention.

ROLE OF THE POLICE AND SECURITY APPARATUS

The national police, under the Ministry of Interior, Public Security, Decentralization, and Customary and Religious Affairs (Ministry of Interior), is responsible for urban law enforcement. The gendarmerie, under the Ministry of National Defense, has primary responsibility for rural security. The National Guard, also under the Ministry of Interior, is responsible for domestic security and the protection of high-level officials and government buildings. The armed forces, under the Ministry of National Defense, are responsible for external security and, in some parts of the country, for internal security. During the year the government renewed a state of emergency in Diffa Region and declared a new and continuing state of emergency on March 3 in the Tillabery and Tahoua Regions. Civilian authorities generally maintained effective control over security forces, although at times individual soldiers and police acted independently of the command structure.

Police were largely ineffective due to a lack of basic supplies, such as vehicle fuel, radios, and other investigatory and law enforcement equipment. Patrols were sporadic, and the emergency response time in Niamey could be 45 minutes or more. Police training was minimal, and only specialized police units had basic weapon-handling skills. National Guard troops were assigned rotationally as prison guards for six months at a time but had little or no prison-specific training. A law passed in March created a specialized cadre of prison police, the first representatives of whom were undergoing training at year’s end. Citizens complained security forces did not adequately police border regions, remote rural areas, and major cities. Corruption remained a problem.

The gendarmerie is responsible for the investigation of police abuses; nevertheless, police impunity remained a problem.

ARREST PROCEDURES AND TREATMENT OF DETAINEES

The constitution and law require arrest warrants. The law allows individuals to be detained for 48 hours without charge and an additional 48 hours if police need more time to gather evidence, although authorities sometimes held detainees implicated in sensitive cases longer than legally permitted. Under the Terrorism Law, individuals detained on suspicion of committing terrorism-related offenses may be detained for 10 days, extendable once for an additional 10 days. This 10-day period begins once suspects reach the Niamey SCLCT; terror suspects apprehended in the rural Diffa Region may spend days or weeks in custody before officials transport them to Niamey. Security forces usually informed detainees promptly of the charges against them. There was a functioning bail system for crimes carrying a sentence of less than 10 years. Authorities must notify those arrested of their right to a lawyer within 24 hours. The constitution calls for the government to provide a lawyer for indigents in civil and criminal cases, although this did not always occur. Widespread ignorance of the law and lack of funds prevented many defendants from exercising their rights to bail and an attorney. Except for detainees suspected of terrorism, authorities did not detain suspects incommunicado.

Arbitrary Arrest: Police occasionally conducted warrantless sweeps to detain suspected criminals. Police and other security force members often rounded up persons accused of being members of, or supporting terrorist groups, based on circumstantial evidence, subsequently holding them for months or even years (see section 1.g.).

Pretrial Detention: Lengthy pretrial detention was a problem. Although the law provides for maximum pretrial confinement of 30 months for serious crimes and 12 months for less serious offenses (with special extensions in certain sensitive cases, including terrorist-related offenses), some detainees waited as long as five years to be tried. A majority of prisoners were awaiting trial, with one nongovernmental organization (NGO) stating the percentage was as high as 75 percent. Judicial inefficiency, inadequate resources, staff shortages, corruption, and executive branch interference lengthened pretrial detention periods. By contrast, high-profile detainees benefited from extended provisional release.

e. Denial of Fair Public Trial

Although the constitution and law provide for an independent judiciary, the executive branch sometimes interfered with the judicial process. The government reassigned some judges to low-profile positions after they asserted independence in handling high-profile cases or rendered decisions unfavorable to the government. There were allegations the government interfered or attempted to interfere in high-profile court cases involving opposition leaders. Judicial corruption–exacerbated by low salaries and inadequate training–and inefficiency remained problems. There were reports family and business ties influenced lower-court decisions in civil matters. Judges granted provisional release pending trial to some high-profile defendants, who were seldom called back for trial and had complete freedom of movement, including departing the country, and could run as candidates in elections.

Customary courts and traditional mediation did not provide the same legal protections as the formal court system. Traditional chiefs may act as mediators and counselors. They have authority to arbitrate many customary law matters, including marriage, inheritance, land, and community disputes, but not all civil issues. Chiefs received government stipends but had no police or judicial powers.

Customary courts, based largely on Islamic law, try only civil law cases. A legal practitioner with basic legal training, advised by an assessor with knowledge of the traditions, heads these courts. Formal law does not regulate the judicial actions of chiefs and customary courts, although defendants may appeal a verdict to the formal court system. In contrast with the formal court system, women do not have equal legal status with men in customary courts and traditional mediation, nor do they enjoy the same access to legal redress.

TRIAL PROCEDURES

The law affirms the presumption of innocence. Defendants have the right to be informed promptly and in detail of the charges against them. The law also provides free interpretation for defendants who do not speak French, the official language, from the moment charged through all appeals. Trials are public, and defendants have the right to be present at their trial. Defendants have the right to counsel, which is at public expense for minors and indigent defendants charged with crimes carrying a sentence of at least 10 years’ imprisonment. Officials provided defendants adequate time and facilities to prepare a defense. Defendants have the right to confront witnesses and present witnesses and evidence on their own behalf. They are not compelled to testify or confess guilt. Defendants may appeal verdicts, first to the Court of Appeals and then to the Supreme Court.

Although the constitution and law extend these rights to all citizens, widespread ignorance of the law prevented many defendants from taking advantage of these rights. Judicial delays due to the limited number of jurisdictions, staff shortages, and lack of resources were common.

POLITICAL PRISONERS AND DETAINEES

A small number of individuals who could be categorized as political prisoners remained incarcerated during the year. In the lead-up to the 2016 presidential election, the government detained 13 members of the opposition party the Democratic Movement for an African Federation (MODEN-FA Lumana), including party head Hama Amadou. Three of the group remained jailed, on trial on corruption charges related to their management of a food assistance program in 2005. Authorities released several others without charge on March 24. They subsequently alleged the government arrested and held them through the election season to reduce their party’s success in the polls. Amadou was allowed medical release and departed for France in 2016. He was tried in absentia and sentenced on March 13 to a year in prison on charges of participating in a baby-smuggling operation.

Seven military officers of the nine arrested in 2015 on accusation of plotting a coup remained in jail pending trial. One civilian detained in connection with the alleged coup plot also remained in jail. On September 22, one of the officers held in the Tera Prison alleged a reported prison break attempt was intended as a cover for an assassination attempt on his life. He had also been reporting harassment from other inmates.

Authorities generally granted the ICRC, the CNDH, and human rights groups access to political prisoners, and these groups conducted visits during the year.

CIVIL JUDICIAL PROCEDURES AND REMEDIES

Individuals or organizations may seek civil remedies for human rights violations. They may also appeal decisions to the Court of Justice of the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS). Individuals and organizations may appeal adverse domestic court decisions to regional human rights bodies, such as the ECOWAS Court of Justice.

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

The constitution and law generally prohibit such actions, but there were exceptions. Police may conduct searches without warrants when they have a strong suspicion a house shelters criminals or stolen property. Under state-of-emergency provisions in Diffa Region, authorities may search houses at any time and for any reason.

The regional fight against the terrorist group Boko Haram continued in the east, while extremist groups linked to the conflict in Mali terrorized the west of the country. Several groups with links to al-Qaida and ISIS were active in the country during the year.

Killings: Criminals and extremist groups conducted attacks in the western regions of Tillabery and Tahoua, leading to 80 deaths in the first 10 months of the year. According to tracking by international groups, terror attacks in the Diffa Region during the first 10 months of the year killed an estimated 152, most of them civilians. The government reported 27 civilian fatalities and seven injuries caused by Boko Haram during the first eight months of the year.

Abductions: The government reported Boko Haram abducted 57 civilians during the first eight months of the year, and that 47 of them remained unaccounted for as of September. Armed groups in northern Tillabery Region also abducted several villagers during the year. The status of one U.S. citizen abducted in Tahoua in late October remained undetermined.

Physical Abuse, Punishment, and Torture: Boko Haram militants often targeted noncombatants, including women and children, and used violence, intimidation, theft, and threats to get what they wanted from local villages.

Child Soldiers: Boko Haram recruited and used children in both combatant and noncombatant roles. There were reports of forced marriages to Boko Haram militants.

Also see the Department of State’s annual Trafficking in Persons Report at www.state.gov/j/tip/rls/tiprpt/.

Other Conflict-related Abuse: Aid organizations in Diffa Region were sometimes unable to obtain the required security escorts to travel outside of Diffa town for aid distribution; security forces deemed certain areas insufficiently secure for humanitarian access and at times did not have sufficient resources to provide escorts. Boko Haram militants burned homes and villages, displacing civilians.

Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:

The constitution and law provide for freedom of speech, including for the press, but the government sometimes threatened and arrested journalists and members of the media.

Freedom of Expression: The government cracked down on civil society activists and some journalists who expressed criticism of the government. On May 14, police arrested civil society activist Insar Abdourahmane in Agadez on charges of inciting violence based on his Facebook posts related to the so-called Uraniumgate scandal (wherein the government stands accused of price-fixing its uranium reserves with the French nuclear energy company Areva) and criticizing the government’s unwillingness to allow peaceful demonstrations on the subject. A court sentenced Abdourahmane to a six-month suspended sentence on June 8.

The CNDH expressed concern over attacks on freedom of expression. International media watchdog organizations also issued statements of concern. The Association of West African Journalists issued a statement in April, and Reporters Without Borders put out a statement in July.

Violence and Harassment: Authorities occasionally subjected journalists and civil society activists to arrest apparently linked to their reporting.

On September 11, a judge granted Ali Soumana, managing director and owner of the independent daily newspaper Le Courier, provisional release after he had served more than two months of pretrial detention on charges of “obtaining judicial documents through fraudulent means.” Authorities had first detained him on June 29. His case was related to Le Courrier’s role in publishing a court document regarding a breach-of-contract issue between the government and the Lebanese document company Africard. Press Freedom watchers alleged the charges against Soumana were a violation of the 2010 press law, which protects journalists from charges related to their work.

Censorship or Content Restrictions: Journalists generally did not practice self-censorship, although they reported sometimes encountering pressure against antigovernment speech. Public media generally did not cover the statements or activities of opposition parties and civil society organizations critical of the government.

National Security: The declaration of the state of emergency in Diffa, Tillabery, and Tahoua Regions grants the government the authority to censor media for security reasons.

INTERNET FREEDOM

Authorities detained activists and charged them for expressing political opinions on social media. On August 27, police detained civil society activist Sirajo Issa, opposition civil society activist and president of the Youth Movement for the Emergence of Niger, for distributing communications deemed insulting to the government. The charge against him, insulting a public officer, was connected with a WhatsApp conversation claiming members of the country’s Islamic Council had accepted a bribe to select a Saturday instead of Friday date for the annual Eid al-Adha celebration (locally called “Tabaski”). On September 11, during the week following the Eid celebration, a judge ruled for his release without charge.

According to the International Telecommunication Union, approximately 4.3 percent of the population used the internet in 2016.

ACADEMIC FREEDOM AND CULTURAL EVENTS

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

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

FREEDOM OF PEACEFUL ASSEMBLY

Although the constitution and law provide for freedom of assembly, police sometimes forcibly dispersed demonstrators. The government retained authority to prohibit gatherings under tense social conditions or if organizers did not provide 48-hour advance notice.

The government banned planned opposition political rallies and civil society-organized gatherings in January and May. Municipal authorities often denied official permission for opposition demonstrations and rallies.

FREEDOM OF ASSOCIATION

The constitution and law provide for freedom of association, and the government generally respected this freedom. The law does not permit political parties based on ethnicity, religion, or region.

c. Freedom of Religion

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

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

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

Abuse of Migrants, Refugees, and Stateless Persons: There were widespread reports that immigration and security service members demanded bribes from migrants.

In-country Movement: Security forces at checkpoints throughout the country monitored the movement of persons and goods, particularly near major population centers, and sometimes demanded bribes. Transportation unions and civil society groups continued to criticize such practices.

INTERNALLY DISPLACED PERSONS (IDPS)

UNHCR estimated there were more than 127,000 IDPs in Diffa Region and 14,500 displaced returnees as a consequence of Boko Haram-instigated violence. These IDPs resided mainly in out-of-camp settings in the region. Heavy seasonal rains left several thousand individuals homeless in July and August throughout the country. The government worked with foreign donors, international aid organizations, and NGOs to supply IDPs with shelter, food, water, and other necessities. The government engaged in efforts to promote the safe voluntary return or resettlement of IDPs.

Refugees and IDPs in Diffa Region were vulnerable to armed attacks and unlawful recruitment of child soldiers by Boko Haram.

International humanitarian organizations reported that intercommunal conflict between farmers and herders and between rural communities and bandits, especially in northern Tillabery Region, resulted in displacement. Competition for scarce resources–spurred by desertification and population growth–resulted in periodic conflict between farmers and herders. Incursions by armed rebels from Mali and sporadic acts of banditry on main roads also caused residents to flee.

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.

As of August UNHCR-managed sites hosted approximately 57,280 Malian refugees in Tillabery and Tahoua Regions. UNHCR also managed one camp in Diffa Region for refugees and one camp in Diffa Region for IDPs. UNHCR estimated there were more than 106,000 Nigerian refugees in Diffa Region, along with more than 400 refugees from Chad or other countries who lived mostly in spontaneous settlements. More than 92 percent of the refugees in Diffa Region resided outside of formal camps.

In the western part of the country, the government estimated 60,000 registered Malian refugees with prima facie refugee status lived primarily in three camps (Tabareybarey, Mangaize, and Abala) and one official “refugee zone” (Intekan), where the refugees could settle freely with their livestock and thus maintain their traditional pastoral way of life.

Temporary Protection: The government provided temporary protection to an unknown number of individuals who may not qualify as refugees under the 1951 Refugee Convention or its 1967 protocol.

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: President Issoufou of the Nigerien Party for Democracy and Socialism (PNDS) won his second mandate in the 2016 presidential election, while a coalition led by the PNDS won 118 of 171 National Assembly seats in the legislative elections. The opposition MODEN-FA Lumana party secured 25 seats, and the National Movement for the Development of Society won 20 seats. PNDS party member Brigi Rafini retained his post as prime minister. The African Union certified the election as free and fair over the criticism of some domestic observers, who noted the jailing of the entire leadership of the lead opposition party, among other irregularities.

In anticipation of presidential elections in 2016, the government postponed local elections scheduled for 2015. Subsequent legislation allowed the government to authorize the continued service of locally elected officials who should have run for election in 2015 but had not by year’s end.

The Constitutional Court ruled in May that an election should be held in Maradi Region to name a replacement for a National Assembly seat after the incumbent died in January. In July the government announced it would not hold the required election, stating the cost was too high. The lead opposition coalition maintained that President Issoufou was in breach of the constitution for failing to implement the decision and should be removed from office, but the Constitutional Court declined to act.

The government also removed several locally elected mayors in different incidents during the year. The law allows the national government to remove mayors who are not performing the required functions of their jobs or who have violated the law. The law does not specify due process in such cases, and allows the government to replace the mayors with nominees of its own choosing. Most of the mayors removed belonged to the main opposition political party, and critics charged that their removal was politically motivated.

Political Parties and Political Participation: The government intermittently banned opposition political party activities and limited opposition access to state media. Opposition parties and civil society groups criticized voter registration efforts, noting some citizens were not able to register and citing concerns regarding inflated registration figures in some regions.

Participation of Women and Minorities: No laws limit the participation of women and members of minorities in the political process, and women and minorities participated. Cultural factors, however, limited women’s political participation. The law mandates that women fill at least 30 percent of senior government positions and at least 15 percent of elected seats. There were eight female ministers in the 43-member cabinet (19 percent). Women held 28 of 171 National Assembly seats (16 percent). All major ethnic groups had representation at all levels of government. There were eight seats in the National Assembly designated for representatives of “special constituencies,” specifically ethnic minorities and nomadic populations.

Nigeria

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 and unlawful killings. The national police, army, and other security services used lethal and excessive force to disperse protesters and apprehend criminals and suspects and committed other extrajudicial killings. Authorities generally did not hold police, military, or other security force personnel accountable for the use of excessive or deadly force or for the deaths of persons in custody. State and federal panels of inquiry investigating suspicious deaths generally did not make their findings public. In August the acting president convened a civilian-led presidential investigative panel to review compliance of the armed forces with human rights obligations and rules of engagement. As of November the panel had not issued a report.

In September the military reportedly clashed with supporters of the separatist Indigenous People of Biafra (IPOB) movement, a secessionist group, in Abia State during military exercises. These clashes allegedly resulted in injuries to some protestors and the death of at least one police officer. Human rights groups expressed concern regarding the response and the National Human Rights Commission (NHRC) urged the military to respect its rules of engagement and stated it would investigate allegations of human rights abuses.

As of November the government had not adequately investigated or held police or military personnel accountable for extrajudicial killings of supporters of IPOB movement in 2016. Amnesty International (AI) reported that security forces killed at least 150 IPOB members or supporters and arbitrarily arrested hundreds from August 2015 to August 2016. The Nigerian Army (NA) reportedly investigated the incidents as part of a broader Board of Inquiry (BOI), but its full report was not made public. There have been no reports of discipline or prosecution of police or military personnel.

As of November there were no reports of the federal government further investigating or holding individuals accountable for the 2015 killing and subsequent mass burial of members of the Shia group Islamic Movement of Nigeria (IMN) and other civilians by NA forces in Zaria, Kaduna State. The federal government had indicated it would wait for the results of a Kaduna State judicial commission of inquiry before taking further action to investigate or hold those responsible to account. In July 2016 the government of Kaduna made public the commission’s nonbinding report, which found the NA used “excessive and disproportionate” force during the 2015 altercations in which 348 IMN members and one soldier died. The commission recommended the federal government conduct an independent investigation and prosecute anyone found to have acted unlawfully. It also called for the proscription of the IMN and the monitoring of its members and their activities. In December 2016 the government of Kaduna State published a white paper that included acceptance of the commission’s recommendation to investigate and prosecute allegations of excessive and disproportionate use of force by the NA. As of November, however, there was no indication that authorities had held any members of the NA accountable for the events in Zaria. It also accepted the recommendation to hold IMN leader Sheikh Ibrahim Zakzaky responsible for all illegal acts committed by IMN members during the altercations and in the preceding 30 years. In December 2016 a federal court declared the continued detention without charge of Zakzaky and his wife illegal and unconstitutional. The court ordered their immediate and unconditional release but gave authorities 45 days to carry it out, reasoning that the government needed that time to provide the couple with a dwelling to replace the one destroyed following the 2015 Zaria incidents. As of November the federal government had not complied with this order and Zakzaky and his spouse remained in detention. As of November more than 200 imprisoned IMN members awaited trial on charges of conspiracy and culpable homicide.

In January the air force mistakenly bombed an informal Internally Displaced Persons (IDP) settlement in Rann, Borno State, which resulted in the killing and injuring of more than 100 civilians and humanitarian workers. Army personnel were also injured. The government and military leaders publicly assumed responsibility for the strike and launched an investigation. The air force conducted its own internal investigation, but as of November the government had not made public its findings. No air force or army personnel were known to be held accountable for their role in the event.

There were reports of arbitrary and unlawful killings related to internal conflicts in the Northeast and other areas (see section 1.g.).

b. Disappearance

In August, AI issued a report on the International Day of the Disappeared, calling on the government to investigate several unexplained disappearances, including the reported disappearances of more than 600 members of the IMN, more than 200 pro-Biafra protesters in the Southeast, and an unknown number of individuals in the Northeast where Boko Haram had been active.

According to AI, in August 2016 armed men in a sport utility vehicle bearing government license plates abducted pro-Biafra activist Sunday Chucks Obasi outside his home in Amuko Nnewi, Anambra State. In response to inquiries by his family, police in Anambra stated Obasi was not in their custody. In April, AI reported Obasi had been held incommunicado by the Department of State Services (DSS) and stated he was tortured during interrogation concerning the IPOB movement. In December 2016 he was released and charged with obstructing DSS officials. His trial was pending at year’s end.

Criminal groups abducted civilians in the Niger Delta and the Southeast, often to collect ransom payments. There was also an increase in maritime kidnappings as militants turned to piracy and related crimes to support themselves. On February 8, for example, pirates boarded a cargo ship off the coast of Bayelsa State, kidnapping seven Russians and one Ukrainian on board. The pirates reportedly released the sailors after the parent company paid a ransom.

Other parts of the country experienced a significant number of abductions. Prominent and wealthy figures were often targets of abduction. For example, in May a member of the House of Representatives from Kano State, Garba Durbunde, was kidnapped on the Abuja-Kaduna highway. According to press reports, he was released after paying a ransom.

Boko Haram conducted large-scale abductions in Adamawa, Borno, and Yobe States (see section 1.g.).

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

The constitution and law prohibit torture and other cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment. The Administration of Criminal Justice Act (ACJA), passed in 2015, prohibits torture and cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment of arrestees; however, it fails to prescribe penalties for violators. Each state must also individually adopt the ACJA for the legislation to apply beyond the FCT and federal agencies. As of November only the states of Anambra, Cross Rivers, Ekiti, Enugu, Lagos, Ondo, and Oyo had adopted ACJA-compliant legislation. In July both houses of the National Assembly passed an antitorture bill, which was waiting for the president’s signature.

The Ministry of Justice previously established a National Committee against Torture (NCAT). Lack of legal and operational independence and lack of funding, however, prevented NCAT from carrying out its work effectively.

The law prohibits the introduction into trials of evidence and confessions obtained through torture. Authorities did not respect this prohibition, however, and police often used torture to extract confessions later used to try suspects. Police also repeatedly mistreated civilians to extort money.

In September 2016 AI reported police officers in the Special Antirobbery Squad (SARS) regularly tortured detainees in custody as a means of extracting confessions and bribes. For example, SARS officers in Enugu State reportedly beat one victim with machetes and heavy sticks, releasing him only after payment of 25,500 naira ($81). In response to AI’s findings, the inspector general of police reportedly admonished SARS commanders and announced broad reforms to correct SARS units’ failures to follow due process and their use of excessive force Allegations of widespread abuse by SARS officers, however, continued throughout the year. In response to videos showing apparent abuse of civilians by SARS officers, a social media campaign developed and demanded SARS units be disbanded. In December the inspector general of police responded by announcing plans to reorganize–but not to disband–SARS units. At year’s end it was unclear what form the purported reorganization would take.

Local nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) and international human rights groups accused the security services of illegal detention, inhuman treatment, and torture of demonstrators, criminal suspects, militants, detainees, and prisoners. Military and police reportedly used a wide range of torture methods, including beatings, shootings, nail and tooth extractions, rape, and other forms of sexual violence. According to reports, security services committed rape and other forms of violence against women and girls, often with impunity. As of September the government apparently had not held any responsible officials to account for reported incidents of torture in detention facilities in the Northeast, including Giwa Barracks.

Police used a technique commonly referred to as “parading” of arrestees, which involved walking arrestees through public spaces and subjecting them to public ridicule and abuse. Bystanders often taunted and hurled food and other objects at arrestees.

The sharia courts in 12 northern states may prescribe punishments such as caning, amputation, and death by stoning. The sharia criminal procedure code allows defendants 30 days to appeal sentences involving mutilation or death to a higher sharia court. Statutory law mandates state governors treat all court decisions equally, including amputation or death sentences, regardless of whether issued by a sharia or a nonsharia court. Authorities, however, often did not carry out caning, amputation, and stoning sentences passed by sharia courts because defendants frequently appealed, a process that could be lengthy. Federal appellate courts had not ruled on whether such punishments violate the constitution because no relevant cases reached the federal level. Although sharia appellate courts consistently overturned stoning and amputation sentences on procedural or evidentiary grounds, there were no challenges on constitutional grounds.

There were no reports of canings during the year. Defendants generally did not challenge caning sentences in court as a violation of statutory law. Sharia courts usually carried out caning immediately. In some cases convicted individuals paid fines or went to prison in lieu of caning.

Prison and Detention Center Conditions

Prison and detention center conditions remained harsh and life threatening. Prisoners and detainees reportedly were subjected to torture, gross overcrowding, inadequate medical care, food and water shortages, and other abuses; some of these conditions resulted in deaths. The government often detained suspected militants outside the formal prison system (see section 1.g.).

Physical Conditions: Overcrowding was a significant problem. Although the total designed capacity of the country’s prisons was 50,153 inmates, as of June they held 68,259 prisoners. Approximately 68 percent of inmates were in pretrial detention or remanded. As of January there were 1,225 female inmates. Authorities sometimes held female and male prisoners together, especially in rural areas. In 2013 the Nigerian Prison Service (NPS) reported there were 847 juvenile inmates in juvenile detention centers, but prison authorities often held juvenile suspects with adults.

Prisoners and detainees were reportedly subjected to extrajudicial execution, torture, gross overcrowding, food and water shortages, inadequate medical treatment, deliberate and incidental exposure to heat and sun, and infrastructure deficiencies that led to wholly inadequate sanitary conditions that could result in death. Guards and prison officials reportedly extorted inmates or levied fees on them to pay for food, prison maintenance, transport to routine court appointments, and release from prison. Female inmates in some cases faced the threat of rape.

Most of the 240 prisons were 70 to 80 years old and lacked basic facilities. Lack of potable water, inadequate sewage facilities, and severe overcrowding resulted in dangerous and unsanitary conditions. Disease remained pervasive in cramped, poorly ventilated prison facilities, which had chronic shortages of medical supplies. Inadequate medical treatment caused many prisoners to die from treatable illnesses, such as HIV/AIDS, malaria, and tuberculosis. In April the Lagos State Controller of Prisons stated that 32 inmates died in 2016 in a single Lagos prison due to lack of access to medical care. The House of Representatives confirmed that more than 900 inmates died in prisons across the country in 2016 due to severe lack of drugs and health care. Although authorities attempted to isolate persons with communicable diseases, facilities often lacked adequate space, and inmates with these illnesses lived with the general prison population. There were no reliable statistics on the total number of prison deaths during the year.

Only prisoners with money or support from their families had sufficient food. Prison officials routinely stole money provided for prisoners’ food. Poor inmates often relied on handouts from others to survive. Prison officials, police, and other security force personnel often denied inmates food and medical treatment to punish them or extort money.

In general, prisons had no facilities to care for pregnant women or nursing mothers. Although the law prohibits the imprisonment of children, minors–many of whom were born in prison–lived in the prisons. The NGO Citizens United for the Rehabilitation of Errants (CURE)-Nigeria reported children in some cases remained with their inmate mothers up to at least age six. While the total number of children living in prison with their mothers was unknown, CURE-Nigeria’s April survey of 198 of the country’s approximately 1,225 women inmates found more than 30 women with children in just three prisons. Approximately 10 percent of survey respondents reported they were pregnant. Results of surveys of women and children in prisons conducted by CURE-Nigeria revealed many children in custody did not receive routine immunizations, and authorities made few provisions to accommodate their physical needs, to include hygiene items, proper bedding, proper food, and recreation areas. According to its March 2016 report, female inmates largely relied on charitable organizations to obtain hygiene items.

Generally prisons made few efforts to provide mental health services or other accommodations to prisoners with mental disabilities (see section 6).

Several unofficial military prisons reported by domestic and international human rights groups–including the Giwa Barracks facility in Maiduguri, Borno State–operated (see section 1.g.). In May 2016 AI reported that at least 149 individuals, including 12 children and babies, had died since January 2016 at Giwa Barracks. According to the report, overcrowding coupled with disease and inadequate access to food and water were the most likely causes of the increase in mortality at the installation. The military reportedly detained many of those at Giwa Barracks during arbitrary mass arrests based on random profiling rather than reasonable suspicion of supporting Boko Haram. The military publicly denied the findings of the report but worked with UNICEF, and by October 2016 had released 876 children from the facility. Subsequently in April, 484 persons were released from Giwa to a rehabilitation center run by the Borno State government. In October, 752 persons were released from Giwa, the total reportedly comprising 626 women and girls, 69 boys, and 57 elderly men. It was unclear following the releases how many other children or adults remained in detention at Giwa Barracks or other unofficial detention facilities. In addition, according to press and NGO reporting, the military arrested and remanded to military detention facilities persons suspected of associations with Boko Haram or ISIS-WA.

In 2014 AI reported the mass extrajudicial executions of more than 600 recaptured prisoners at Giwa Barracks following an escape attempt. In 2013 AI had revealed the existence of previously unknown military detention facilities in the Northeast–including Giwa Barracks, and the Sector Alpha (also called “Guantanamo”) and Presidential Lodge (also called “the Guardroom”) facilities in Damaturu, Yobe State. According to AI the military subjected detainees to inhuman and degrading treatment; hundreds allegedly died due to extrajudicial killings, beatings, torture, or starvation. According to army statements to the press, its internal BOI investigated these allegations. As of September the full BOI report had not been made public and no one had been held accountable.

Administration: While prison authorities allowed visitors within a scheduled timeframe, few visits occurred, largely due to lack of family resources and travel distances.

The ACJA provides that the chief judge of each state, or any magistrate designated by the chief judge, shall conduct monthly inspections of police stations and other places of detention within the magistrate’s jurisdiction, other than prisons, and may inspect records of arrests, direct the arraignment of suspects, and grant bail if previously refused but appropriate.

The NHRC conducts prison audits. Despite an expressed willingness and ability to investigate credible allegations of inhuman conditions, however, the NHRC has not publicly released an audit report since 2012. Through its Legal Aid Council, the Ministry of Justice reportedly provided some monitoring of prisons through the Federal Government Prison Decongestion Program.

Independent Monitoring: There was limited monitoring of prisons by independent nongovernmental observers. The International Committee of the Red Cross had access to police detention and NPS facilities. Both the committee and UNICEF were also able to visit some military detention facilities.

d. Arbitrary Arrest or Detention

Although the constitution and law prohibit arbitrary arrest and detention, police and security services employed these practices. According to numerous reports, since 2013 the military arbitrarily arrested and detained–often in unmonitored military detention facilities–thousands of persons in the context of the fight against Boko Haram in the Northeast (see section 1.g.). In their prosecution of corruption cases, law enforcement and intelligence agencies often failed to follow due process and arrested suspects without appropriate arrest and search warrants.

ROLE OF THE POLICE AND SECURITY APPARATUS

The National Police Force (NPF) is the country’s largest law enforcement agency. An inspector general of police, appointed by and reporting directly to the president, commands the NPF. In addition to traditional police responsibilities of maintaining law and order in communities in each of the states and the FCT, the inspector general oversees law enforcement operations throughout the country involving border security, marine (navigation) matters, and counterterrorism. A state commissioner of police, nominated by the inspector general and approved by the state governor, commands NPF forces in each of the states and the FCT. Although administratively controlled by the inspector general, operationally the state commissioner reports to the governor. In the event of societal violence or emergencies, such as endemic terrorist activity or national disasters requiring deployment of law enforcement resources, the governor may also assume operational control of these forces.

The DSS is responsible for internal security and reports to the president through the national security adviser. Several other federal organizations have law enforcement components, such as the Economic & Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC), Attorney General’s Office, Ministry of Interior, and federal courts.

Due to the inability of law enforcement agencies to control societal violence, the government increasingly turned to the armed forces to address internal security concerns. The constitution authorizes the use of the military to “[s]uppress insurrection and act in aid of civil authorities to restore order.” Armed forces were part of continuing joint security operations in the Niger Delta, Middle Belt, and Northwest.

The police, DSS, and military reported to civilian authorities but periodically acted outside civilian control. The government lacked effective mechanisms and sufficient political will to investigate and punish security force abuse and corruption. Police and the military remained susceptible to corruption, committed human rights abuses, and operated with widespread impunity in the apprehension, illegal detention, torture, and extrajudicial execution of suspects. The NPF Public Complaint and Rapid Response Unit reported dismissals of low-level police officers following public complaints of extortion. The DSS also reportedly committed human rights abuses. In some cases, private citizens or the government brought charges against perpetrators of human rights abuses, but most cases lingered in court or went unresolved after an initial investigation. In the armed forces, a soldier’s commanding officer determined disciplinary action, and the decision was subject to review by the chain of command according to the Armed Forces Act. In March 2016 the army announced the creation of a human rights desk to investigate complaints of human rights violations brought by civilians, although as of November few investigations had formally commenced and reportedly none led to accountability.

ARREST PROCEDURES AND TREATMENT OF DETAINEES

Police and other security services have the authority to arrest individuals without first obtaining warrants if they have reasonable suspicion a person committed an offense, a power they often abused. The law requires that, even during a state of emergency, detainees must appear before a magistrate within 48 hours and have access to lawyers and family members. In many instances government and security officials did not adhere to this regulation without being bribed. Police held for interrogation individuals found in the vicinity of a crime for periods ranging from a few hours to several months, and after their release, authorities frequently asked the individuals to return for further questioning. The law requires an arresting officer to inform the accused of charges at the time of arrest, transport the accused to a police station for processing within a reasonable time, and allow the suspect to obtain counsel and post bail. Families were afraid to approach military barracks used as detention facilities. Police routinely detained suspects without informing them of the charges against them or allowing access to counsel and family members; such detentions often included solicitation of bribes. Provision of bail often remained arbitrary or subject to extrajudicial influence. Judges often set exceedingly stringent bail conditions. In many areas with no functioning bail system, suspects remained incarcerated indefinitely in investigative detention. Authorities kept detainees incommunicado for long periods. Numerous detainees stated police demanded bribes to take them to court hearings or to release them. If family members wanted to attend a trial, police often demanded additional payment.

Arbitrary Arrest: Security personnel arbitrarily arrested numerous persons during the year, although the number remained unknown. In the Northeast the military and members of vigilante groups, such as the CJTF, rounded up individuals during mass arrests, often without evidence.

Security services detained journalists and demonstrators during the year (see sections 2.a. and 2.b.).

Pretrial Detention: Lengthy pretrial detention remained a serious problem. According to NPS figures released in March, 69 percent of the prison population consisted of detainees awaiting trial, often for years. The shortage of trial judges, trial backlogs, endemic corruption, bureaucratic inertia, and undue political influence seriously hampered the judicial system. In many cases multiple adjournments resulted in years-long delays. Many detainees had their cases adjourned because the NPF and the NPS did not have vehicles to transport them to court. Some persons remained in detention because authorities lost their case files.

Detainee’s Ability to Challenge Lawfulness of Detention before a Court: Detainees may challenge the lawfulness of their detention before a court and have the right to submit complaints to the NHRC.

Nevertheless, most detainees found this approach ineffective because, even with legal representation, they often waited years to gain access to court.

e. Denial of Fair Public Trial

Although the constitution and law provide for an independent judiciary, the judicial branch remained susceptible to pressure from the executive and legislative branches. Political leaders influenced the judiciary, particularly at the state and local levels. Understaffing, underfunding, inefficiency, and corruption prevented the judiciary from functioning adequately. Judges frequently failed to appear for trials. In addition the salaries of court officials ware low, and they often lacked proper equipment and training.

There was a widespread public perception that judges were easily bribed and litigants could not rely on the courts to render impartial judgments. Citizens encountered long delays and received requests from judicial officials for bribes to expedite cases or obtain favorable rulings.

Although the Ministry of Justice implemented strict requirements for education and length of service for judges at the federal and state levels, no requirements or monitoring bodies existed for judges at the local level. This contributed to corruption and the miscarriage of justice in local courts.

The constitution provides that, in addition to common law courts, states may establish courts based on sharia or customary (traditional) law. Sharia courts functioned in 12 northern states and the FCT. Customary courts functioned in most of the 36 states. The nature of a case and the consent of the parties usually determined what type of court had jurisdiction. In the case of sharia courts in the North, the impetus to establish them stemmed at least in part from perceptions of inefficiency, cost, and corruption in the common law system.

The constitution specifically recognizes sharia courts for “civil proceedings,” but they do not have the authority to compel participation by non-Muslims. Non-Muslims have the option to have their cases tried in the sharia courts if involved in civil disputes with Muslims.

The constitution is silent on the use of sharia courts for criminal cases. In addition to civil matters, sharia courts also hear criminal cases if both complainant and defendant are Muslim and agree to the venue. Sharia courts may pass sentences based on the sharia penal code, including for “hudud” offenses (serious criminal offenses with punishments prescribed in the Quran) that provide for punishments such as caning, amputation, and death by stoning. Despite constitutional language supporting only secular criminal courts and the prohibition against involuntary participation in sharia criminal courts, a Zamfara State law requires that a sharia court hear all criminal cases involving Muslims.

Defendants have the right to challenge the constitutionality of sharia criminal statutes through the common law appellate courts. As of November no challenges with adequate legal standing had reached the common law appellate system. The highest appellate court for sharia-based decisions is the Supreme Court, staffed by common-law judges who are not required to have any formal training in the sharia penal code. Sharia law experts often advise them.

TRIAL PROCEDURES

Pursuant to constitutional or statutory provisions, defendants are presumed innocent and enjoy the rights to: be informed promptly and in detail of charges (with free interpretation as necessary from the moment charged through all appeals); receive a fair and public trial without undue delay; be present at their trial; communicate with an attorney of choice (or have one provided at public expense); have adequate time and facilities to prepare a defense; confront witnesses against them and present witnesses and evidence; not be compelled to testify or confess guilt; and appeal.

Authorities did not always respect these rights, most frequently due to a lack of capacity and resources. Insufficient numbers of judges and courtrooms, together with growing caseloads, often resulted in pretrial, trial, and appellate delays that could extend a trial for as many as 10 years. Although accused persons are entitled to counsel of their choice, there were reportedly some cases where defense counsel absented himself or herself from required court appearances so regularly that a court might proceed with a routine hearing in the absence of counsel, except for certain offenses for which conviction carries the death penalty. Authorities held defendants in prison awaiting trial for periods well beyond the terms allowed by law (see section 1.c.).

Human rights groups stated the government denied terror suspects detained by the military their rights to legal representation, due process, and to be heard by a judicial authority. In October the government announced it had begun hearings in front of civilian judges at the Kainji military facility for approximately 1,670 detained persons and intended to do so for 651 held at Giwa Barracks in Maiduguri. Human rights groups generally welcomed the initiative as a step towards delivering justice for victims of Boko Haram, but raised serious concerns regarding potential due process violations of the accused. Groups expressed concerns regarding access to counsel, lack of supporting evidence, protections for witnesses and defendants, and the lack of transparency in the process. The proceedings were held behind closed doors, and it was unclear if the NHRC or any other group was allowed to monitor the hearings, raising serious questions concerning the fairness of the trials. According to a government statement, of the 575 suspects arraigned in the initial proceedings, 45 pled guilty to various charges and were sentenced to between three and 31 years in prison; 468 persons were ordered to undergo a deradicalization and rehabilitation program before being released; 34 cases were dismissed; and 28 cases were remanded for trial in civilian courts elsewhere in the country.

By common law women and non-Muslims may testify in civil or criminal proceedings and give testimony that carries the same weight as testimony of other witnesses. Sharia courts usually accorded the testimony of women and non-Muslims less weight than that of Muslim men. Some sharia court judges allowed different evidentiary requirements for male and female defendants to prove adultery or fornication. Pregnancy, for example, was admissible evidence of a woman’s adultery or fornication in some sharia courts. In contrast, sharia courts could convict men only if they confessed or there was eyewitness testimony. Sharia courts, however, provided women some benefits, including increased access to divorce, child custody, and alimony.

Military courts tried only military personnel, but their judgments could be appealed to civilian courts. Members of the military are subject to the Armed Forces Act regarding civil and criminal matters. The operational commanding officer of a member of the armed forces must approve charges against that member. The commanding officer decides whether the accusation merits initiation of court-martial proceedings or lower-level disciplinary action. Such determinations are nominally subject to higher review, although the commanding officer makes the final decision. If the case proceeds, the accused is subject to trial by a four-member court-martial. The law provides for internal appeals before military councils as well as final appeal to the civilian Court of Appeals.

POLITICAL PRISONERS AND DETAINEES

There were no reports of political prisoners or detainees. Persons arrested in previous years for alleged treason remained in detention at year’s end.

CIVIL JUDICIAL PROCEDURES AND REMEDIES

The constitution and law provide for an independent judiciary in civil matters, but the executive and legislative branches, as well as business interests, exerted influence and pressure in civil cases. Official corruption and lack of will to implement court decisions also interfered with due process. The law provides for access to the courts for redress of grievances, and courts may award damages and issue injunctions to stop or prevent a human rights violation, but the decisions of civil courts were difficult to enforce.

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

The law prohibits arbitrary interference, but authorities infringed on this right during the year, and police entered homes without judicial or other appropriate authorization. There were reports of warrantless arrests of young men in the Niger Delta region on suspicion of having links with militant groups. In their pursuit of corruption cases, law enforcement agencies reportedly carried out searches and arrests without warrants.

State and local governments forcibly evicted thousands of residents and demolish their homes, generally without sufficient notice or alternative compensation, and sometimes in violation of court orders. In March and April, for example, the Lagos State Government demolished houses in Otodo Gbame, a fishing village along the Lagos lagoon, despite a Lagos State High Court order forbidding the demolition and ordering the parties to explore an out-of-court settlement. According to press reports, the demolitions left 4,700 homeless and at least two dead while freeing up the land for commercial development. According to Justice & Empowerment Initiatives, approximately 30,000 Otodo Gbame residents were rendered homeless during the state’s first attempt to demolish the settlement in November 2016. In June a Lagos State High Court found that the evictions were a violation of the residents’ constitutional rights and ordered the government to consult with residents to plan for resettlement.

Press reporting indicated that the army was responsible for burning villages in areas where Boko Haram was suspected to have been operational and possibly supported by the local population. These actions reportedly contributed to the high number of internally displaced persons in the Northeast.

Killings: Units of the NA’s Third, Seventh, and Eighth Divisions, the NPF, and the DSS carried out operations against the terrorist groups Boko Haram and ISIS-WA in the Northeast. Some military forces allegedly killed suspected members of the groups and engaged in retaliatory tactics against civilians believed to have harbored or be associated with the groups. Security forces also committed mass arrests of men and boys for suspected collaboration with or tacit support of the insurgents. A 2015 AI report asserted that between 2013 and 2014, the military committed more than 1,200 extrajudicial killings in the course of operations against Boko Haram.

In February the New York Times newspaper, citing sources in the community, reported that in June 2016 unidentified elements of the military executed more than 100 unarmed men in two villages in the Marte area of Borno State. As of September there were no public reports of investigations or prosecutions related to these incidents.

In 2014 press and NGOs reported the NA illegally detained and killed suspected members of Boko Haram in Giwa Barracks, in one instance executing 622 prisoners following a Boko Haram attack on the installation. NGOs and former detainees stated that starvation and other forms of torture by the military resulted in detainee deaths at military detention facilities, including Giwa Barracks. In a 2015 report, AI stated that security forces arbitrarily arrested approximately 20,000 persons in the region between 2009-15. Of these, AI estimated more than 7,000 died of thirst, starvation, suffocation, disease due to overcrowding, lack of medical attention, the use of fumigation chemicals in unventilated cells, and torture.

On March 8, the army convened a BOI to investigate allegations of human rights violations committed by the army during campaigns against the insurgency in the Northeast, including in its detention centers. On May 18, the BOI presented its findings to the chief of army staff. While the full report was not publicly available, the board briefed the press on some of the report’s conclusions and recommendations. The board documented conditions at military detention facilities, including the center at Giwa Barracks, and found instances of overcrowded cells and unsanitary conditions. The BOI concluded that these detention conditions, and delays in trials of alleged Boko Haram members, sometimes resulted in deaths in custody. The BOI also found that the denial of access to legal representation is a violation of human rights. The board, however, reportedly found no evidence of arbitrary arrests or extrajudicial executions of detainees. The board also stated it was “unable to substantiate” any of the allegations against senior officers, claiming a lack of documents or other forensic evidence. The BOI reportedly did not find any individual member of the NA at fault for any human rights violation in military detention facilities, nor did it recommend prosecutions or other accountability measures for any member of the Armed Forces of Nigeria or other government entity. Notably, however, the BOI did not meet internationally accepted best practices for investigations. In particular, the board lacked full independence, did not have forensic or other evidentiary expertise, and did not consult testimonies from victims of human rights violations in compiling its evidence, thus calling into question some of its conclusions. In August acting President Osinbajo announced a civilian-led presidential investigative panel to review compliance of the armed forces with human rights obligations and rules of engagement.

Boko Haram and ISIS-WA attacked population centers and security actors in the states of Adamawa, Borno, and Yobe. These groups also targeted anyone perceived as disagreeing with the groups’ political or religious beliefs or interfering with their access to resources. While Boko Haram no longer controls as much territory as it once did, the two insurgencies nevertheless maintain the ability to stage forces in rural areas and launch attacks against civilian and military targets across the Northeast. From these areas of influence, the groups were still capable of carrying out complex attacks on military positions, and they deployed large numbers of roadside improvised explosive devices.

Boko Haram employed hundreds of suicide bombings against the local population. Women and children carried out many of the attacks. According to a study by UNICEF, nearly one in five suicide attacks by Boko Haram used a child, and more than two-thirds of these children were girls. As of August, UNICEF reported that Boko Haram used 83 children to carry out suicide attacks; of those, 55 were girls. On August 15, three female suicide bombers dispatched by Boko Haram detonated their suicide vests in the market area of Konduga town, killing 16 civilians and injuring 82 others. There were multiple reports of Boko Haram killing entire villages suspected of cooperating with the government.

ISIS-WA targeted civilians with attacks or kidnappings less frequently than Boko Haram. ISIS-WA employed targeted acts of violence and intimidation against civilians in order to expand its area of influence and gain control over critical economic resources. As part of a violent and deliberate campaign, ISIS-WA also targeted government figures, traditional leaders, and contractors. For example, on July 25, ISIS-WA ambushed a Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation convoy escorted by the CJTF and NPF in Magumeri Local Government Area (LGA), Borno State, killing at least 48 persons and kidnapping three contractors.

Abductions: As of September, NGO and activist allegations of thousands of enforced civilian disappearances by security forces in the Northeast remained uninvestigated by the government.

Boko Haram abducted men, women, and children, often in conjunction with attacks on communities. The group forced men, women, and children to fight on its behalf. Women and girls abducted by Boko Haram were subjected to physical and psychological abuse, forced labor, forced marriage, forced religious conversions, and sexual abuse, including rape and sexual slavery. Boko Haram also forced women and girls to participate in military operations. Most female suicide bombers were coerced in some form and were often drugged. Boko Haram also used women and girls to lure security forces into ambushes, force payment of ransoms, and leverage prisoner exchanges.

While some NGO reports estimated the number of Boko Haram abductees at more than 2,000, the total count of the missing was unknown since abductions continued, towns repeatedly changed hands, and many families were still on the run or dispersed in IDP camps. Many abductees managed to escape Boko Haram captivity, but precise numbers remained unknown.

Approximately half of the students abducted by Boko Haram from the Chibok Government Girls Secondary School in 2014 remained in captivity. The government successfully negotiated the release of 82 of the kidnapped women in May, in addition to the 21 women released in October 2016.

Physical Abuse, Punishment, and Torture: Security services used excessive force in the pursuit of Boko Haram and ISIS-WA suspects, often resulting in arbitrary arrest, detention, or torture (see section 1.c.).

Arbitrary mass arrests continued in the Northeast, and authorities held many individuals in poor and life-threatening conditions. There were reports some of the arrested and detained included children believed to be associated with Boko Haram, some of whom may have been forcibly recruited. Conditions in Giwa Barracks reportedly marginally improved during the reporting period, as the military periodically released small groups of women and children, and less frequently men, from the facility to state-run rehabilitation centers; however, deaths in detention continued. According to army statements to the press, the BOI report made numerous recommendations for improving the detention conditions and judicial processes for suspected Boko Haram and ISIS-WA members. As of August, however, no one had been held accountable for abuses in Giwa Barracks or other military detention facilities.

Boko Haram engaged in widespread sexual violence against women and girls. Those who escaped or that security services or vigilante groups rescued faced ostracism by their communities and had difficulty obtaining appropriate medical and psychosocial treatment and care.

Reports indicated government officials, security forces, and others committed sexual exploitation–including sex trafficking–and such exploitation was a major concern in state-run IDP camps, informal camps, and local communities in and around Maiduguri, the Borno State capital, and across the Northeast. “Gatekeepers” in control of some IDP camps, at times in collusion with police officers and soldiers, reportedly forced women and girls to provide sex acts in exchange for food and services in the camps; in July 2016 an NGO reported camp leaders, policemen, soldiers, and vigilante groups exploited 37 women and children in sex trafficking among seven IDP camps in Maiduguri. During the reporting period, the government arrested several individuals accused of trafficking in the camps, and their cases were pending as of year’s end.

Child Soldiers: Children under age 18 participated in Boko Haram attacks. The group paid, forcibly conscripted, or otherwise coerced young boys and girls to serve in its ranks and perpetrate attacks and raids, plant improvised explosive devices, serve as spies, and carry out suicide bombings. According to UNICEF 83 children were used as “human bombs” from January to August, a number that was four times higher than it was for all of 2016. Of those, 55 were girls, most of whom were under age 15. Twenty-seven were boys, and one was a baby strapped to a girl. In April the United Nations reported it had verified recruitment during the year of 563 children by Boko Haram, although the majority of these cases occurred in prior years. Boko Haram used children to conduct suicide attacks in the country, Cameroon, and Chad. The group also used abducted girls as sex slaves and forced them to work for the group.

Although the government prohibited the recruitment and use of child soldiers, reports from a credible international organization indicated that, in 2016, elements of the NA used children in support roles as messengers, porters, and guards. During the year reports indicated that the military coordinated closely on the ground with the CJTF, which used children in support roles, and in some isolated cases directed children associated with the CJTF in support roles during joint operations. The CJTF recruited and used 175 children in support roles in 2016. During the year at least 23 children were confirmed to have been used as of September, although the CJTF reportedly ceased recruiting children. The children were reportedly used to staff checkpoints, conduct patrols, spy, and apprehend suspected insurgents.

The Borno State government provided financial and in-kind resources to some CJTF members. According to government officials, community members in the Northeast, and some international NGOs, only CJTF members who had been part of the Borno State Youth Empowerment Program–a state-sponsored training and employment program whose participants underwent vetting to establish they were more than age 18–received any kind of support.

In the 2016 annual report of the UN Secretary-General, the CJTF was listed as responsible for recruitment and use of children. In September the United Nations and the CJTF signed an action plan to end and prevent the recruitment and use of children. Among other actions, the plan committed the CJTF to issue written standing orders to all members banning recruitment and use of anyone under age 18, establish a Disciplinary Committee to respond to any violations, and establish Child Protection units throughout the CJTF. The United Nations and CJTF also agreed to provide support to rehabilitate and reintegrate children previously associated with the CJTF. As of November the CJTF and United Nations had begun implementing the action plan. The United Nations monitored compliance and provided technical support and training.

Also see the Department of State’s annual Trafficking in Persons Report at www.state.gov/j/tip/rls/tiprpt/.

Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:

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

Freedom of Expression: The constitution entitles every individual to “freedom of expression, including freedom to hold opinions and to receive and impart ideas and information without interference.” Although federal and state governments usually respected this right, there were reported cases in which the government abridged the right to speech and other expression.

Press and Media Freedom: Freedom House’s annual survey of media independence, Freedom of the Press 2017, described the press as “partly free.” A large and vibrant private domestic press frequently criticized the government, but critics reported being subjected to threats, intimidation, and sometimes violence. Because newspapers and television were relatively expensive and literacy levels low, radio remained the most important medium of mass communication and information.

Violence and Harassment: Security services increasingly detained and harassed journalists, sometimes for reporting on sensitive problems such as political corruption and security. Security services including police occasionally arrested and detained journalists who criticized the government.

On June 2, the publisher and editor of the People’s Consciencenewspaper, Charles Otu, was abducted and beaten by unknown assailants in Abakaliki, Ebonyi State. Otu claims the men who beat him did so because he wrote a Facebook post criticizing the governor of Ebonyi, David Umahi Nweze, for failing to live up to his campaign promises. According to Otu, the men read from the post as they beat him.

A May Transparency International publication cited a June 2016 case in which the minister of defense condemned media reports regarding the chief of army staff’s links to high-end property developers, describing them as “disgruntled and unpatriotic elements” and warning media that they should show more professionalism when reporting on security matters. Following that statement, in September 2016, soldiers and officers of the State Security Services allegedly stripped and beat 10 journalists and media workers with barbed wire before arresting them.

In September, Emmanuel Atswen, a journalist with the state-run News Agency of Nigeria, was detained in Benue State for reporting that relief materials were allegedly being diverted from a camp for flood victims. He was reportedly arrested because of alleged defamation of character and falsehood directed at a commissioner involved in the relief efforts.

Censorship or Content Restrictions: The government controlled much of the electronic media through the National Broadcasting Commission (NBC), which is responsible for monitoring and regulating broadcast media. The law prohibits local television stations from transmitting programming from other countries except for special religious programs, sports programs, or events of national interest. Cable and satellite transmission was less restricted. For example, the NBC permitted live transmission of foreign news and programs on cable and satellite networks, but they were required to dedicate 20 percent of their programming time to local content.

Journalists practiced self-censorship. Local NGOs claimed security services intimidated newspaper editors and owners into censoring reports of killings and other human rights abuses.

Libel/Slander Laws: Libel and slander are civil offenses and require defendants to prove truthfulness or value judgment in news reports or editorials or pay penalties. The requirement limited the circumstances in which media defendants could rely on the common law legal defense of “fair comment on matters of public interest,” and it restricted the right to freedom of expression. Defamation is a criminal offense carrying a penalty for conviction of up to two years’ imprisonment and possible fines.

Allegations of libel are also used as a form of harassment by government officials in retaliation for negative reporting. For example, in January police raided the offices of the Premium Times, a leading online newspaper, and arrested editor Dapo Olorunyomi and reporter Evelyn Okakwu. The arrests came after the newspaper declined to retract stories regarding the army and its operations that the Chief of Army Staff’s Office reportedly found defamatory. The case garnered significant media attention, and authorities quickly released the journalists. The incident was evidence of the occasional use of government entities to harass or intimidate members of the news media.

INTERNET FREEDOM

There were few government restrictions on access to the internet, but challenges with infrastructure and affordability persisted.

Civil society organizations expressed concern regarding the broad powers provided by the Cybercrimes Act of 2015. The act has been used by some local and state governments to arrest opponents and critics for alleged hate speech. Those arrested were typically detained only briefly because the Cybercrimes Act had yet to be fully tested in the courts.

The National Assembly was considering the Digital Rights and Online Freedom bill. The legislation seeks to provide for fundamental digital freedoms and protections to citizens, but was not expected to clarify what constitutes hate speech. As of September it had not been passed.

According to the International Telecommunication Union, 25.7 percent of individuals in the country used the internet in 2016. It estimated more than half of citizens ages 15 to 24 used the internet.

ACADEMIC FREEDOM AND CULTURAL EVENTS

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

FREEDOM OF PEACEFUL ASSEMBLY

Although the constitution and law provide for freedom of assembly, the government occasionally banned and targeted gatherings when it concluded their political, ethnic, or religious nature might lead to unrest. Open-air religious services held away from places of worship remained prohibited in many states, due to fear they might heighten interreligious tensions. In September several northern states enacted restrictions on religious activities shortly before the Shia commemoration of Ashura. In November press reports indicated that three persons were killed in Kano after police shot at participants in an IMN procession commemorating Ashura.

In areas that experienced societal violence, police and other security services permitted public meetings and demonstrations on a case-by-case basis.

Security services used excessive force to disperse demonstrators during the year (see section 1.a.).

FREEDOM OF ASSOCIATION

The constitution and law provide for the right to associate freely with other persons in political parties, trade unions, or other special interest organizations. While the government generally respected this right, on occasion authorities abrogated it for some groups. The government of Kaduna State proscribed the IMN, alleging the group constituted a danger to public order and peace.

The Same Sex Marriage Prohibition Act (SSMPA), a law prohibiting marriages and civil unions among persons of the same sex, criminalizes the free association of any persons through so-called gay organizations. In August a hotel owner and two of his staff were charged under the SSMPA, the first time the government brought charges under the act since it was passed in 2014 (see section 6, Acts of Violence, Discrimination, and Other Abuses Based on Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity).

c. Freedom of Religion

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

The constitution and law provide for freedom of internal movement, foreign travel, emigration, and repatriation, but security officials restricted freedom of movement at times by imposing curfews in areas experiencing terrorist attacks and ethnoreligious violence.

The government cooperated with the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) and other humanitarian organizations in assisting refugees and asylum seekers through the National Commission for Refugees, Migrants, and IDPs. Cooperation included signing a tripartite agreement with UNHCR and Cameroon in March to ensure that any Nigerian refugees in Cameroon returning to Nigeria were fully informed and gave their consent. As of October, however, the tripartite agreement had yet to be fully implemented.

In-country Movement: The federal, state, or local governments imposed curfews or otherwise restricted movement in the states of Adamawa, Borno, and Yobe in connection with operations against Boko Haram. Other states imposed curfews in reaction to events such as ethnoreligious violence.

Police conducted “stop and search” operations in cities and on major highways and, on occasion, set up checkpoints. Upon assuming office, the new inspector general of police renewed his predecessor’s order to dismantle all checkpoints. Nonetheless, many checkpoints operated by military and police remained in place.

Exile: There are no legal grounds for forced exile, and there were no examples of formal legal proceedings to exile a citizen. Some citizens chose self-exile for political reasons or due to fear for their personal security.

INTERNALLY DISPLACED PERSONS (IDPS)

As of October the International Organization for Migration (IOM) reported there were approximately 1.8 million persons displaced in the states of Adamawa, Bauchi, Borno, Gombe, Taraba, and Yobe. Insurgency was the main reason for displacement, followed by communal clashes. IOM estimated approximately 37 percent of IDPs lived in camps and camp-like settings and 63 percent with host families. More than half of the IDP population was female and 56 percent of children were under age 18, of which 48 percent were under age five. The true number of IDPs was likely much higher, as IOM’s efforts did not encompass all states and did not include inaccessible areas of the Northeast.

Food was one of the IDPs’ greatest immediate needs, with 68 percent of IDPs listing it as their main concern. In mid-March the Cadre Harmonise–a food security analysis tool unique to West Africa–reaffirmed that the humanitarian crisis in the Northeast had significantly disrupted food security and nutrition conditions. Through at least August, a projected 5.2 million persons in Adamawa, Borno, and Yobe States faced acute food insecurity. In addition to food, IDPs faced shortfalls in clean water, health care, and shelter.

IDPs, especially those in the Northeast, faced severe protection problems, including widespread sexual abuse of women and girls, some of which constituted sex trafficking. In April 2016, UNHCR published the results of a rapid protection assessment of IDPs in camps, settlements, and host communities in Maiduguri, Dikwa, and Damboa. In Maiduguri more than half of areas surveyed reported instances of survival sex in exchange for food or freedom to move in and out of IDP camps. Nearly half of all the areas surveyed reported rapes of women and girls in their camps and communities. Various NGOs and news outlets reported that children in IDP camps were victims of labor and sex trafficking, and some stated that government officials managing the camps were complicit in these activities. A report by Human Rights Watch (HRW) in October 2016 documented cases of rape and sexual exploitation of IDP women and girls committed by government officials and other authorities, including camp leaders, vigilante groups, police officers, and soldiers. The government initially responded quickly to HRW’s findings, indicating it had already ordered investigations into the matter. In November 2016 the inspector general of police announced establishment of a special panel to investigate all the cases reported by HRW. Shortly after, the Borno Police Command announced it had deployed 100 female police officers to IDP camps. In December 2016 the inspector general announced the arrest of two police officers, one prison warden, two CJTF members, one civil servant, and three service members suspected of sexual misconduct toward IDPs. As of August, however, none of those reportedly arrested had been prosecuted. Government officials rarely investigated allegations of rape or sexual abuse or prosecuted perpetrators.

Slightly more than one-third of all sites in the UNHCR rapid protection assessment reported cases in which security services arrested and detained suspected Boko Haram members at IDP camps and in host communities; most families had not heard from the detainees since their arrest. Other protection concerns among respondents included attacks or bombings, lack of accountability and diversion of humanitarian aid, drug abuse, hostility and insecurity, harassment of women and girls, and lack of humanitarian assistance for host communities.

NGOs reported having insufficient resources available to IDP victims of sexual and gender-based violence, who had limited access to safe, confidential psychosocial counseling and medical services or safe spaces. Women and girls abducted by Boko Haram, as well as the babies born as a result of rape during their captivity, faced stigmatization and community isolation.

PROTECTION OF REFUGEES

Refoulement: According to UNHCR the government participated in the forced return of Nigerian refugees from Cameroon. For example, in June some 887 Nigerian refugees, most of them children, were repatriated in six trucks provided by the Nigerian military and Cameroonian police from the Kolofata border site. The refugees were forcibly removed to Banki in Nigeria. Insecurity in Nigeria prevented most forced returnees from returning to their places of origin. According to UNHCR most remained in camps in Banki, where resources were already scarce for the more than 45,000 internally displaced men, women, and children already there. Many did not have access to basic facilities such as shelter, drinking water, sanitation, or medical care.

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. According to UNHCR, as of October there were approximately 1,525 refugees and 2,247 asylum seekers (including 1,200 Cameroonian asylum seekers). Asylum seekers originated mainly from Cameroon, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, the Central African Republic, Mali, Cote d’Ivoire, Togo, Sudan, and Guinea, with a majority living in urban areas in Lagos and Ijebu Ode in Ogun State.

Employment: Refugees could move and work freely in the country but, like most citizens, had few opportunities for employment.

Access to Basic Services: Refugees, like citizens, had poor access to police and the courts.

Durable Solutions: The country received a high number of returnees, both voluntary and forced, primarily in the Northeast. Accurate information on the number of returnees was not available. The government was generally unable to take action to reintegrate returning refugees. Many returnees did not find durable solutions, and were forced into secondary displacement.

Temporary Protection: The government provided temporary protection to a few hundred individuals who may not qualify as refugees.

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 and conducted by secret ballot. The constitution and law allow the free formation of political parties. As of July, 45 parties were registered with the Independent National Electoral Commission, an increase from the previous 40. The constitution requires political party sponsorship for all election candidates.

Elections and Political Participation

Recent Elections: INEC is the independent electoral body responsible for overseeing elections by regulating the process and preventing electoral misconduct. From November 2015 to August 2016, INEC conducted 139 elections, including end of tenure and by-elections. There were allegations of malpractices in some elections, and INEC suspended 22 of them due to violence. Since that time INEC has conducted 26 more elections, most of which were during the year.

Many elections, such as the Ondo State gubernatorial election in November 2016, were relatively peaceful. Significant violence and intimidation of voters and election officials by political operatives, however, marred several of the off-cycle and rerun elections. As a result INEC postponed elections in some states. Elections during the year, however, were generally peaceful and conclusive.

No elections were postponed during the year. There were several instances of INEC canceling, postponing, and rerunning gubernatorial or state legislative elections in 2016. In July 2016, INEC postponed rerun legislative elections in Rivers State. In the commission’s view, incidents of violence in several of Rivers’ LGAs, inflamed political rhetoric, and attacks against INEC facilities in the state threatened the exercise. The elections had originally taken place in 2015, but an election petition tribunal cancelled the results and ordered a rerun in response to a suit alleging intimidation of voters, unavailability of results sheets, the disappearance of electoral materials, and noncollation of results in several LGAs. According to NGO observers, serious irregularities marred the Three Rivers rerun elections in December 2016. These included breach of the code of conduct and rules of engagement by the security forces and overt bias by electoral managers and others. There were serious cases of violence perpetrated by the NPF, NA, and DSS that resulted in several deaths. At least one voter and one police officer were killed. There was evidence of election malpractice and ballot hijacking by party agents despite the presence of INEC and security agents.

Civil society organizations reported no legal restrictions on their ability to comment or observe parts of the electoral process. They reported aspects of the electoral process, however, remained opaque, allegedly because of deliberate attempts to undermine or circumvent the integrity of the process by stakeholders or because of INEC’s financial or logistical constraints. According to some civil society organizations, attempts to disenfranchise voters were on the rise through circumvention of permanent voter card procedures and targeted electoral violence. In response to some of these trends, INEC regularly cancelled votes from polling units that failed to use card readers properly.

Participation of Women and Minorities: No laws limit participation of women or members of minorities in the political process, and they did participate. Observers attributed fewer leadership opportunities for women in major parties and government, particularly in the North, to religious and cultural barriers. Women occupied approximately 5 percent of National Assembly seats, and six of the 36 cabinet members were women. Few women ran for elected office at the national level: in the most recent federal elections in 2015, women constituted just 128 of the 746 total candidates (17 percent) for the Senate, and 270 of the 1,772 candidates for the House of Representatives (15 percent).

Norway

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

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

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

b. Disappearance

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

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

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

Prison and Detention Center Conditions

While prisons and detention centers generally met international standards, reports regarding conditions at the Trandum detention center raised human rights concerns.

Physical Conditions: NGOs, including Amnesty International Norway and the Norwegian Organization for Asylum Seekers (NOAS), reported concerns with conditions for migrant families and children at the Trandum detention center. The parliamentary civilian ombudsman, who visited the center in March, expressed concerns with the use of solitary confinement and alleged unnecessary force at the center. The center’s manager responded that such force was necessary in specific cases.

Spot counts by prison authorities revealed an average of almost 200 prisoners in solitary confinement (in an average prison population of 3,700). As of June 2016, the latest data available, the Correctional Services Directorate received five reports of cases where the total period of solitary confinement for a prisoner exceeded 42 days (after which authorities must evaluate the status every 14 days).

NGOs criticized the government for leasing Norgerhaven Prison in the Netherlands for convicts from Norway because prisoners there did not have access to the same educational resources and opportunities for visits from family members as in Norway.

On June 8, the Supreme Court rejected the final appeal by convicted murderer Fjotolf Hansen (formerly Anders Breivik) that his treatment in prison violated the provisions of the European Convention on Human Rights prohibiting inhuman and degrading treatment.

Independent Monitoring: The government permitted visits, including unannounced visits, by independent human rights observers, including the Council of Europe’s Committee for the Prevention of Torture.

d. Arbitrary Arrest or Detention

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

ROLE OF THE POLICE AND SECURITY APPARATUS

The national police have primary responsibility for internal security. Police may call on the armed forces for assistance in crises. In such circumstances the armed forces operate under police authority. The National Police Directorate oversees the police force.

Civilian authorities maintained effective control over the national police, and the government has 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

The law requires warrants authorized by a prosecutor for arrests. The police may make an arrest without a warrant if any delay would entail risk to the police. If police arrest a person without a warrant, a prosecutor must consider as soon as possible whether to uphold the arrest. Detainees must be informed of the charges against them immediately after an arrest, and, if the prosecutor wishes to detain suspects, he or she must arraign them no later than three days after arrest. The arraigning judge determines whether the accused should be held in custody or released pending trial. There is a bail system, but it was rarely utilized. Officials routinely released defendants accused of minor crimes pending trial, including nonresident foreigners. Defendants accused of serious or violent crimes usually remained in custody until trial. Before interrogation, authorities allowed arrested persons access to a lawyer of their choice or, if the requested lawyer was unavailable, to an attorney appointed by the government. The government pays the attorney fees in all cases. Authorities usually allowed arrested persons access to family members.

The law mandates that detainees be transferred from a temporary police holding cell to a regular prison cell within 48 hours. Authorities did not always observe this time limit.

The law provides that a court must supervise whether and how long a detainee may be held in solitary confinement during pretrial detention.

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

e. Denial of Fair Public Trial

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

TRIAL PROCEDURES

The constitution and the law provide for the right to a fair and public trial, and an independent judiciary generally enforced this right. Defendants enjoy a presumption of innocence and the right to be informed promptly of the charges against them. Trials are held without undue delay. Defendants have the right to be present at their trials. Defendants also have the right to counsel at public expense, to have adequate time and facilities to prepare a defense, to free interpretation as necessary from the moment charged through all appeals, to confront and question adverse witnesses, to present their own evidence and witnesses, and to appeal. Defendants may not be compelled to testify or to confess guilt.

POLITICAL PRISONERS AND DETAINEES

There were no reports of political prisoners or detainees.

CIVIL JUDICIAL PROCEDURES AND REMEDIES

Individuals or organizations may seek civil remedies for human rights violations through domestic courts. They may appeal cases alleging violations of the European Convention on Human Rights by the government to the European Court of Human Rights after exhausting all avenues of appeal in domestic courts.

PROPERTY RESTITUTION

The government, the Holocaust Center, and the Jewish Community report that Holocaust-era restitution has not been an issue and that no litigation or restitution claims regarding real or immovable property covered by the Terezin Declaration, to which the government is signatory, were pending before authorities.

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

Freedom of Expression: The law prohibits “threatening or insulting anyone, or inciting hatred or repression of or contempt for anyone because of his or her: a) skin color or national or ethnic origin; b) religion or life stance; c) sexual orientation or lifestyle; or d) disability.” Violators are subject to a fine or imprisonment not to exceed three years. According to the government ombudsman for equality and discrimination (LDO), hate speech on the internet against ethnic minorities, religious groups, women, and LGBTI persons continued to be a problem. Beginning in 2017, hate crime statistics were to include prosecuted cases and final convictions.

Press and Media Freedom: Independent media were active and expressed a wide variety of views without restriction. The prohibitions against hate speech applied also 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 the International Telecommunication Union, 97 percent of the population used 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 and law provide for the freedoms of peaceful 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 internally displaced persons, refugees, returning refugees, asylum seekers, stateless persons, or other persons of concern.

PROTECTION OF REFUGEES

Refoulement: Authorities deported unsuccessful asylum seekers and others who had no legal right to stay in the country to Russia, Nigeria, Iraq, Somalia, Afghanistan, and other countries. NGOs criticized the government for returning some unsuccessful asylum seekers to areas in their home countries different from where they originated, as frequently occurred for returnees to Afghanistan. NGOs also criticized the government for rejecting a high percentage of the asylum claims for Afghans.

Access to Asylum: The law provides for the granting of asylum or refugee status, and the government has established a system for providing protection to refugees. The government continued to implement regulations associated with a more restrictive immigration policy pursuant to parliament’s 2016 amendment of immigration laws.

NOAS reported there is no system for automatically reassessing cases of unaccompanied minors granted temporary residence after they turn 18. It noted that many of these unaccompanied minors, fearing their applications would be denied, “disappeared” rather than apply for permanent residency. NOAS also criticized the government for lacking a fully independent appeals system for asylum seekers whose applications are rejected.

Safe Country of Origin/Transit: The country is party to the EU’s Dublin III regulation, which allows the government to transfer asylum seekers to the European country determined to be responsible under the regulation for adjudicating the case. As of August the government requested other countries within the Schengen area to accept 344 persons under the regulation, including 22 to Greece and 67 to Italy.

Freedom of Movement: The law permits detention of migrants to establish their identity or to affect their removal from the country if authorities deem it likely the persons would evade an order to leave.

Asylum seekers residing in an asylum reception center may not be absent from the center for more than three days without potentially losing their place at the center and all concomitant financial support from the government. Centers were often located in remote areas of the country, and long travel times and a lack of money to pay for public transport effectively limited asylum seekers’ ability to move freely. Residents may apply for permission to live away from the reception center temporarily. Rejected asylum seekers were generally permitted to remain in asylum centers while awaiting voluntary return, assisted return, or deportation.

Employment: Asylum seekers may not work while their cases are under evaluation unless their identity can be documented through a valid travel document or a national identification card. NOAS and other NGOs reported that few asylum seekers possessed these documents, and thus relatively few were allowed to work.

Durable Solutions: The government also offered resettlement for refugees in cooperation with UNHCR. The government’s Directorate of Immigration (UDI) had several programs to settle refugees permanently in the country. According to the UDI, as of August the country accepted 1,923 refugees for resettlement.

Through the International Organization for Migration and other government partners, the government assisted the return of unsuccessful asylum seekers to their countries of origin through voluntary programs that offered financial and logistical support for repatriation. Identity documents issued by either the Norwegian or the returnee’s government are required in order to use this program. The government continued routinely to offer migrants cash support in addition to airfare to encourage persons with weak or rejected asylum claims to leave the country voluntarily.

Individuals granted refugee status can apply for citizenship when they meet the legislative requirements, that include a minimum length of residence of seven out of the last 10 years, completion of language training, and successful completion of a Norwegian language test and a course on Norwegian society.

Temporary Protection: The government also provided temporary humanitarian protection to individuals who may not qualify as refugees and provided it to 337 individuals through the end of August. The permits may be renewed and become permanent. The government also provided temporary protection to 360 unaccompanied minors, who were granted residence permits in the country until the age of 18.

STATELESS PERSONS

According to authorities, 2,424 stateless persons lived in the country at the end of 2016; they were not counted as refugees. According to the UDI, at the end of August, an additional 306 stateless asylum seekers lived in receiving centers, a decrease of 38 percent from the same period in 2016. Of these, 101 persons had permission to stay, and 56 were under orders to leave the country. The remainder continued the asylum application process.

Citizenship is derived from one’s parents, and children born in the country do not automatically become citizens. The government effectively implemented laws and policies to provide stateless persons the opportunity to gain nationality on a nondiscriminatory basis.

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: Observers considered the parliamentary elections held on September 11 to be free and fair.

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

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

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

Government Human Rights Bodies: The country has ombudsmen for public administration (the parliamentary ombudsman), children, and equality and the LDO. The parliamentary ombudsman is appointed by parliament, while the government appoints the others. All ombudsmen enjoyed the government’s cooperation and operated without government interference. The parliamentary ombudsman and the LDO hear complaints against actions by government officials. Although the ombudsmen’s recommendations are not legally binding, authorities usually complied with them.

Parliament’s Standing Committee on Scrutiny and Constitutional Affairs reviews the reports of the parliamentary ombudsman, while the Standing Committee on Justice is responsible for matters relating to the judicial system, police, and the penal, civil, and criminal codes.

The Norwegian National Human Rights Institution reports directly to parliament on the human rights situation in the country. It makes recommendations to help ensure that the country’s international human rights obligations are fulfilled by advising the government, disseminating public information, promoting education and research on human rights, and facilitating cooperation with relevant public bodies. The organization submits an annual report on human rights in the country.

Oman

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

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

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

b. Disappearance

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

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

The country’s law prohibits such practices; however, some prisoners occasionally reported sleep deprivation, exposure to extreme temperatures, beatings, and solitary confinement.

Prison and Detention Center Conditions

Prison and detention center conditions generally met international standards.

Physical Conditions: There were no major concerns in prisons and detention centers regarding physical conditions.

Administration: There was no established prison authority to which prisoners could bring grievances concerning prison conditions. There is no ombudsman to serve on behalf of prisoners and detainees; this responsibility falls under the Public Prosecutor’s jurisdiction. Prisoners and detainees did not always have regular access to visitors.

Independent Monitoring: The Oman Human Rights Commission (OHRC), a quasi-independent government-sanctioned body, investigated and monitored prison and detention center conditions through site visits. OHRC authorities investigated claims of abuse but did not publish the results of their investigations, purportedly to protect the privacy of the individuals involved. The law permitted visits by independent human rights observer groups, yet none existed in the country, and there were no reports of independent, nongovernmental observers from abroad requesting to visit the country. Consular officers from some embassies reported difficulties in meeting with prisoners, or delayed notification about detained citizens.

d. Arbitrary Arrest or Detention

The law prohibits arbitrary arrest and detention, but the law permits the government to detain suspects for up to 30 days without charge. Persons arrested or detained are entitled to challenge in court the legal basis of their detention.

ROLE OF THE POLICE AND SECURITY APPARATUS

The Ministry of the Royal Office controls internal and external security and coordinates all intelligence and security policies. Under the Royal Office, the Internal Security Service (ISS) investigates all matters related to domestic security. The Royal Oman Police (ROP), including the ROP Coast Guard, is also subordinate to the Royal Office and performs regular police duties, provides security at points of entry, and serves as the country’s immigration and customs agency. The Ministry of Defense, particularly the Royal Army of Oman (RAO), is responsible for securing the borders and has limited domestic security responsibilities. The Sultan’s Special Force (SSF) facilitates land and maritime border security in conjunction with the ROP, including rapid reaction anti-smuggling and anti-piracy capabilities. Civilian authorities maintained effective control over the ISS, the SSF, the RAO, and the ROP. There were no reports of judicial impunity involving the security forces during the year.

ARREST PROCEDURES AND TREATMENT OF DETAINEES

The law does not require the ROP to obtain a warrant before making an arrest, but it stipulates that police must either release the person or refer the matter to the public prosecution within specified timeframes. For most crimes, the public prosecutor must formally arrest or release the person within 48 hours of detention; however, in cases related to security, which is broadly defined, authorities can hold individuals for up to 30 days without charge. The law requires those arrested be informed immediately of the charges against them. There was a functioning bail system. Detainees generally had prompt access to a lawyer of their choice. The state provided public attorneys to indigent detainees, as required by law. Authorities generally allowed detainees prompt access to family members. In cases involving foreign citizens, police sometimes failed to notify the detainee’s local sponsor or the citizen’s embassy.

Arbitrary Arrest: The law prohibits arbitrary arrest and detention; however, individuals can be held for up to 30 days without charge.

e. Denial of Fair Public Trial

Although the law provides for an independent judiciary, the sultan may act as a Court of Final Appeal and exercise his power of pardon as chairman of the Supreme Judicial Council, the country’s highest legal body, which is empowered to review all judicial decisions. Principles of sharia (Islamic law) inform the civil, commercial, and criminal codes. The law allows women to serve as judges. Civilian or military courts try all cases. There were no reports judicial officials, prosecutors, and defense attorneys faced intimidation or engaged in corruption.

TRIAL PROCEDURES

The law provides for the right to a fair trial and stipulates the presumption of innocence. Citizens and legally resident noncitizens have the right to a public trial, except when the court decides to hold a session in private in the interest of public order or morals; the judiciary generally enforced this right. While the vast majority of legal proceedings were open to the public, authorities sometimes closed cases concerning corruption, especially cases involving senior government officials and members of the royal family. The government did not uniformly provide language interpretation for non-Arabic speakers.

Defendants have the right to consult with an attorney. Courts provide public attorneys to indigent detainees and offer legal defense for defendants facing prison terms of three years or more. The prosecution and defense counsel direct questions to witnesses through the judge. Defendants have the right to be present, submit evidence, and confront witnesses at their trials. There is no known systemic use of forced confession or compulsion to self-incriminate during trial proceedings in the country. Those convicted in any court have one opportunity to appeal a jail sentence longer than three months and fines of more than 480 rials ($1,250) to the appellate courts. The judiciary enforced these rights for all citizens; some foreign embassies claimed these rights were not always uniformly enforced for noncitizens, particularly migrant workers.

POLITICAL PRISONERS AND DETAINEES

There were no corroborated public reports of political prisoners or detainees; however, in an interview with Saudi newspaper Okaz in October 2016 and in response to a question on the number of political detainees, Minister Responsible for Foreign Affairs Yusuf bin Alawi stated that the government held a “small number.”

CIVIL JUDICIAL PROCEDURES AND REMEDIES

Civil laws govern civil cases. Citizens and foreign residents could file cases, including lawsuits seeking damages for human rights violations, but no known filings occurred during the year. The Administrative Court reviews complaints about the misuse of governmental authority. It has the power to reverse decisions by government bodies and to award compensation.

Appointments to this court are subject to the approval of the Administrative Affairs Council. The court’s president and deputy president are appointed by royal decree based on the council’s nomination. Citizens and foreign workers may file complaints regarding working conditions with the Ministry of Manpower for alternative dispute resolution. The ministry may refer cases to the courts if it is unable to negotiate a solution.

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

The law does not require police to obtain search warrants before entering homes, but they usually obtain warrants from the Public Prosecutor’s Office. The government monitored private communications, including cell phone, email, and internet chat room exchanges. The government blocked most voice-over internet protocol sites, such as Skype and FaceTime. Authorities blocked the import of certain publications, e.g., pornography and religious texts without the necessary permit. Shipping companies claimed that customs officials sometimes confiscated these materials.

The Ministry of Interior requires citizens to obtain permission to marry foreigners, except nationals of Gulf Cooperation Council countries, whom citizens may marry without restriction; authorities do not automatically grant permission, which is particularly difficult for Omani women to obtain. Citizen marriage to a foreigner abroad without ministry approval may result in denial of entry for the foreign spouse at the border and preclude children from claiming citizenship and residency rights. It also may result in a bar from government employment and a fine of 2,000 rials ($5,200).

Despite legal protections for women from forced marriage, deeply embedded tribal practices ultimately compel most citizen women towards or away from a choice of spouse.

Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:

a. Freedom of Speech and Press

The law provides for limited freedom of speech and press, but authorities did not always respect these rights. Journalists and writers exercised self-censorship.

Freedom of Expression: The law prohibits criticism of the sultan in any form or medium, as well as any “material that leads to public discord, violates the security of the state, or abuses a person’s dignity or his rights;” “messages of any form that violate public order and morals or are harmful to a person’s safety;” and “defamation of character.” Therefore, it is illegal to insult any public official or private citizen. Authorities have prosecuted individuals for writing about the sultan in a way the government perceived to be negative.

Press and Media Freedom: Media did not operate freely. Authorities tolerated limited criticism in privately owned newspapers and magazines; however, editorials generally were consistent with the government’s views. Although mainstream social debate occurred in media, the government and privately owned radio and television stations did not generally broadcast political material criticizing the government.

In October the Supreme Court upheld previous court rulings and permanently shut down al-Zaman, an independent newspaper. In September 2016 a court had temporarily shut down the publication after it published an article detailing alleged corruption in the Supreme Court. The court sentenced the managing editor, Yousef al-Hajj to one year in prison and chief editor Ibrahim al-Maamari to six months. Journalist Zaher al-Abri was acquitted on appeal. Al-Maamari was released in April, and al-Hajj was released in October.

Authorities required journalists to obtain a license to work; freelance journalists were ineligible for a license.

Violence and Harassment: Some journalists reported near-daily harassment by high-level government officials for printing stories perceived as critical of their particular ministries.

Censorship or Content Restrictions: Headlines in both public and private media print outlets were subject to an official, nontransparent review and approval process before publication. Journalists and writers exercised self-censorship. The law permits the Ministry of Information to review all media products and books produced within or imported into the country. The ministry occasionally prohibited or censored material from domestic and imported publications viewed as politically, culturally, or sexually offensive. In May a court sentenced a local author to three years in prison for “insulting the Sultan,” and “undermining the status of the country” in books published in 2014 and 2016 on the country’s history. Some books were not permitted in the country. There is only one major publishing house in the country, and publication of books remained limited. The government required religious groups to notify the Ministry of Endowments and Religious Affairs before importing any religious materials and submit a copy for the ministry’s files.

Libel/Slander Laws: The government used libel laws and national security concerns as grounds to suppress criticism of government figures and politically objectionable views. Libel is a criminal offense, which allows for a heavy fine and prison sentence.

National Security: The government prohibited publication of any material that “violates the security of the state.”

INTERNET FREEDOM

The law restricts free speech exercised via the internet, and the government enforces the restrictions. The government’s national telecommunications company and private service providers make internet access available for a fee to citizens and foreign residents. Internet access is available via schools, workplaces, wireless networks at coffee shops, and other venues, especially in urban areas.

Authorities monitored the activities of telecommunications service providers and obliged them to block access to numerous websites considered pornographic, or culturally or politically sensitive. The criteria for blocking access to internet sites were not transparent or consistent. Authorities sometimes blocked blogs as well as most video and audio chat technologies, such as Skype.

The Law to Counter Information Technology Crimes allows authorities to prosecute individuals for any message sent via any medium that “violates public order and morals.” The law details crimes that take place on the internet that “might prejudice public order or religious values” and specifies a penalty of between one month and a year in prison and fines of not less than 1,000 rials ($2,600). Authorities also applied the law against bloggers and social media users who insult the sultan.

The government placed warnings on websites informing users that criticism of the sultan or personal criticism of government officials would be censored and could lead to police questioning, effectively increasing self-censorship. During times of regional turmoil, the government also shared posters in social media encouraging users to report others who sought to disturb the peace.

Website administrators or moderators were cautious concerning content and were reportedly quick to delete potentially offensive material in chat rooms, on social networking fora, and on blog postings. Some website administrators posted warnings exhorting users to follow local laws and regulations.

According to the International Telecommunication Union, 70 percent of individuals used the internet in 2016.

ACADEMIC FREEDOM AND CULTURAL EVENTS

The government restricted academic freedom and cultural events. Academics largely practiced self-censorship. Colleges and universities were required to have permission from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and the Ministry of Higher Education before meeting with foreign diplomatic missions or accepting money for programs or speakers. In June a Western diplomatic mission sought permission to host a college fair for students but was told by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs that interaction with students was forbidden. In October the Ministry allowed foreign diplomatic missions to participate in a government-hosted college fair.

The government censored publicly shown films, primarily for sexual content and nudity, and placed restrictions on performances in public venues. Dancing in restaurants and entertainment venues without a permit also was forbidden by law.

In August 2016 the government closed the AMIDEAST Muscat office, which had prepared local students for education abroad. The office had also facilitated cultural exchange.

b. Freedom of Peaceful Assembly and Association

FREEDOM OF PEACEFUL ASSEMBLY

The law provides for limited freedom of assembly, but the government restricted this right. Government approval more than one month in advance was necessary for all public gatherings of more than nine persons, although the mechanism to obtain approval for public demonstrations was unclear. Authorities enforced this requirement sporadically. A 2014 report from the UN special rapporteur on rights to freedom of peaceful assembly expressed concern with government attempts to limit assembly and association rights and stated individuals seeking reform were “afraid to speak their minds, afraid to speak on the telephone, afraid to meet.”

Private-sector employees in the energy and industrial manufacturing sectors threatened strikes in isolated cases. However, company leadership used incentives like promises of job security and other material benefits to persuade organizers to call off strikes (see section 7.a.).

FREEDOM OF ASSOCIATION

The law provides for freedom of association for undefined “legitimate objectives and in a proper manner.” Examples of such associations include registered labor unions and social groups for foreign nationalities, such as the Indian Social Group. The Council of Ministers limited freedom of association in practice by prohibiting associations whose activities it deemed “inimical to the social order” or otherwise inappropriate. A royal decree in 2014 promulgated a new nationality law that stipulates citizens joining groups deemed harmful to national interests could be subject to revocation of citizenship.

Associations must register with their corresponding ministries, which approve all associations’ bylaws and determine whether a group serves the interest of the country. The time required to register an association ranged from two months to two years. Approval time varied based on the level of preparedness of the applying organization, the subject matter of the organization, its leadership, and the organization’s mission. Formal registration of nationality-based associations was limited to one association for each nationality.

Associations are forbidden from receiving funding from international groups or foreign governments without government approval. Individuals convicted of accepting foreign funding for an association may receive up to six months in jail and a fine of 500 rials ($1,300). Foreign diplomatic missions are required to request meetings with nongovernmental associations through the Ministry of Foreign Affairs by diplomatic note. Associations may not meet with foreign diplomatic missions and foreign organizations without prior approval from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. The government enforced this law, and all foreign-funded educational and public diplomacy programs required prior government review.

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 and repatriation and the government generally respected these rights. Citizens could generally travel freely outside the country, although that right is not codified. Citizens related to citizens living abroad who criticized the government reportedly were told not to leave the country. The Office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) occasionally visited the country but did not maintain an office or personnel locally.

Abuse of Migrants, Refugees, and Stateless Persons: Oman has a large number of female migrant workers from India, Pakistan, Nepal, Bangladesh, Sri Lanka, Ethiopia, Indonesia, and the Philippines, many of whom are employed as domestic workers. NGOs based outside of Oman, such as Human Rights Watch, and embassies of labor-sending countries allege that domestic workers face discrimination, to include physical, sexual, and psychological abuse. The country criminalizes slavery and trafficking, but enforcement is weak. Although forced labor is punished under the country’s labor law, domestic workers are excluded from that law’s protections. Authorities prosecuted six individuals for forced labor, but it was unclear whether any of those cases involved domestic workers.

The government did not allow refugees to remain in the country. Refugees escaping conflict areas, such as Yemen, were allowed to remain in a border camp for a few days and then returned to their country of citizenship, where they could face persecution or torture. In the case of Syrians fleeing conflict in Yemen, the government allowed them to choose a third country as a destination.

In-country Movement: There are no official government restrictions on internal travel for any citizen. The government must approve official travel by foreign diplomats to the Dhofar and Musandam regions. There were reports of many migrant domestic workers having their passports confiscated by employers, who sponsor the foreign workers.

Employers have a great amount of control over these workers. The country’s visa-sponsorship system (kafala) ties migrant workers to their employers and prevents them from changing jobs without their sponsor’s consent. Migrant workers cannot work for a new employer in Oman within a two-year period without the permission of their current employer, even if they complete their contract and the current employer is abusive. Employers can have a worker’s visa canceled arbitrarily. Workers who leave their jobs without the consent of their employer can be punished with fines, deportation, and/or reentry bans.

Foreign Travel: Some foreigners must obtain an exit visa from their employer prior to leaving the country. Exit visas may be denied when there is a dispute over payment or work remaining, leaving the foreign citizen in country with recourse only through local courts. Courts provided recourse to workers denied exit visas, but the process was opaque. In a few cases in 2016, travel bans–through confiscation of passports–were imposed on citizens involved in political activism.

PROTECTION OF REFUGEES

Refoulement: The government did not provide protection to refugees from involuntary returns to countries where their lives or freedom could be threatened. Tight control over the entry of foreigners effectively limited access to protection for refugees and asylum seekers. Authorities apprehended and deported presumed economic migrants from Somalia, Ethiopia, and Eritrea who sought to enter the country illegally by land and sea from the south. Afghans and Pakistanis generally came to the country by boat via Iran. Authorities generally detained these persons in centers in Salalah or the northern port city of Sohar, where they were held an average of one month before deportation to their countries of origin.

Access to Asylum: The laws provide for the granting of asylum or refuge for internally displaced persons, and the government has established a system for providing protection. The ROP’s system for granting asylum and resettlement is not transparent, and the law does not specify a timeframe in which the ROP must adjudicate an asylum application. It is current policy not to recognize refugees from conflict zones, such as Yemen, although temporary medical care to certain Yemeni citizens was provided by the government.

Access to Basic Services: Without an official sponsor, it was difficult for economic migrants to access basic services, such as health care. Many applied to their embassies for repatriation. Some asylum seekers developed strong relationships within their community that informally provided for them while they sought new employment.

Section 3. Freedom to Participate in the Political Process

The law does not provide citizens the ability to choose their government in free and fair periodic elections based on univer