Afghanistan

Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties

The constitution provided for freedom of speech, including for the press, but the pre-August 15 government sometimes restricted this right. Following August 15, the Taliban used force against protesters and journalists and suppressed political discussion and dissent. Journalists reported a chilling effect on free speech and press in the country as a result of the Taliban’s policies, particularly following media reports of torture of two local journalists covering women’s protests after the Taliban takeover. The Taliban announced restrictive media regulations in September and additional guidelines in November, in line with the Taliban’s strict interpretation of sharia.

Freedom of Expression: The constitution provided for freedom of speech under the pre-August 15 government. There were reports that the pre-August 15 government officials at times used pressure, regulations, and threats to silence critics. Criticism of the pre-August 15 government was regular and generally free from restrictions, but criticism of provincial governments was more constrained, where local officials and power brokers exerted significant influence and authority to intimidate or threaten their critics, both private citizens and journalists.

Freedom of Expression for Members of the Press and Other Media, Including Online Media: Prior to the Taliban’s takeover, independent media were active and expressed a wide variety of views. Implementation of a law that provides for public access to government information remained inconsistent, and media reported consistent failure by the pre-August administration to meet the requirements of the law. Pre-August 15 government officials often restricted media access to official government information or simply ignored requests for information. UNAMA, HRW, and Reporters without Borders reported the government did not fully implement the law, and therefore journalists often did not receive access to information they sought. Furthermore, journalists stated pre-August 15 government sources shared information with only a few media outlets.

On September 16, Reporters Without Borders said that 103 journalists signed a joint statement asking the international community to take urgent action to help protect press freedom in the country. The journalists pled for international action to guarantee the protection of female journalists who sought to continue their work, resources for local media outlets to remain open, and material assistance for those who have fled abroad.

Reporters Without Borders and the Afghan Independent Journalists Association reported that approximately 200 media outlets have shut down, leaving almost 60 percent of journalists unemployed. Various factors, including financial constraints, fear, and departure of staff, also contributed to closures.

Violence and Harassment: Pre-August 15 government officials and private citizens used threats and violence to intimidate independent and opposition journalists, particularly those who spoke out against impunity, crimes, and corruption by powerful local figures. The Taliban insurgency continued to threaten, attack, and kill journalists and media organizations. The Taliban warned media would be targeted unless they stopped broadcasting what it called “anti-Taliban statements.” Increased levels of insecurity until August 15 created a dangerous environment for journalists, even when they were not the specific targets of violence. Media advocacy groups reported that many female journalists worked under pseudonyms in both print and social media to avoid recognition, harassment, and retaliation, especially after the Taliban takeover in August.

Many media workers fled to safe havens starting in January after the Taliban launched a campaign of violence against journalists in late 2020, as reported by UNAMA and independent media. Taliban violence continued to escalate against journalists throughout the year, and frequent reports of attacks continued after their occupation of the country in August. According to the UNESCO observatory of killed journalists, seven journalists were killed between January 1 and August 8, including four women.

On January 1, gunmen in Ghor Province opened fire on the car of journalist Bismillah Adil, killing him in an attack for which no one has claimed credit. On February 25, gunmen stormed Adil’s family home and killed three of his family members and wounded five children.

On June 3, unidentified assailants in Kabul detonated an explosive device attached to a van in which Ariana News TV Kabul anchor Mina Khairi was a passenger, killing her and two family members. An Ariana News TV manager said other station employees had received threats.

In response to increased concern regarding the targeting of journalists following the Taliban’s takeover in August, the UN Human Rights Council held an emergency session, and a group of UN human rights experts convened to issue a statement through the OHCHR. On September 3, the statement called on all member states to provide urgent protection to Afghan journalists and media workers who fear for their lives and are seeking safety abroad. Many of those journalists who remained in the country ceased their work and reported living in hiding to avoid targeted attacks. According to an al-Jazeera report in October, more than 30 instances of violence and threats of violence were reported by the Afghanistan National Journalists Union. Many journalists fled the provinces to Kabul and others departed the country.

Journalists faced the threat of harassment and attack by ISIS-K, the Taliban, and pre-August 15 government-linked figures attempting to influence how they were covered in the news. With the Taliban takeover of the country, the Committee for the Protection of Journalists (CPJ) in September reported numerous instances of Taliban physical violence against and detention of journalists, warning that an entire generation of reporters was at risk in the country.

On September 7, Taliban fighters detained a freelance photographer after he covered a protest in the western city of Herat, according to the Committee to Protect Journalists. At the end of the year, he had not been released.

On September 8, according to the CPJ, the Taliban detained and later released at least 14 journalists covering protests in Kabul. According to media sources, at least nine of the journalists were subjected to violence during their arrests or detention.

On September 18, an unidentified man shot journalist Mohammad Ali Ahmadi after accusing him of working for an “American radio station.” Ahmadi, a reporter and editor with national radio broadcaster Salam Watandar in Kabul, was shot twice in the leg and hospitalized.

CPJ reported in October that Taliban fighters assaulted at least three journalists covering a women’s protest in Kabul for demanding “work, bread, and education.” The fighters also attacked a photographer working with a French news agency, who captured some of the violence on camera.

According to UNAMA, two journalists were killed after August 15 – one by the ISIS-K and another by unknown actors.

Censorship or Content Restrictions: Media observers claimed journalists reporting on administrative corruption, land embezzlement, and local officials’ involvement in narcotics trafficking engaged in self-censorship due to fear of violent retribution by provincial police officials and powerful families. Most requests for information from journalists who lacked influential connections inside the pre-August 15 government or international media credentials were disregarded, and government officials often refused to release information, claiming it was classified.

On September 19, the Taliban issued a set of 11 media directives including a requirement that media outlets prepare detailed reports in coordination with the new “governmental regulatory body.” The directives prohibit media from publishing reports that are “contrary to Islam,” “insult national figures,” or “distort news content.” The directives also included prohibitions on “matters that could have a negative impact on the public’s attitude or affect morale should be handled carefully when being broadcast or published.” Journalists in Kabul reported being turned away from covering events of interest and being told to obtain individual permits from local police stations with jurisdiction over the area of reporting activity.

Tolo TV, a commercial television station broadcasting programming through major cities across the country, scaled back programming in September in an act of self-censorship with the Tolo TV CEO, saying, “we had to sacrifice music for survival,” with the process of self-censorship entailing the elimination of Turkish soap operas, adding programming featuring women scarved, and replacing musical programming with religious chants.

Journalists called the restriction and censorship of information by the Taliban the primary obstacle to reporting and said many media organizations stopped their activities in an act of self-censorship after the collapse of the pre-August 15 government.

The Taliban’s Ministry for the Promotion of Virtue and Prevention of Vice announced eight restrictive “religious guidelines” on November 21, including one recommending that women should not appear in television dramas or entertainment programs and another indicating that female journalists should wear head coverings. As of December the guidelines were not being enforced consistently.

Libel/Slander Laws: The pre-August 15 government’s laws prescribed prison sentences and fines for defamation. Pre-August 15 authorities sometimes used defamation as a pretext to suppress criticism of government officials.

National Security: Journalists complained pre-August 15 government officials frequently invoked the national interest exception in the relevant law to avoid disclosing information.

Nongovernmental Impact: Throughout the year some reporters acknowledged they avoided criticizing the Taliban and some neighboring countries in their reporting because they feared Taliban retribution. Insurgent groups coerced media agencies in insecure areas to prevent them from broadcasting or publishing advertisements and announcements of the security forces, entertainment programming, music, and women’s voices.

Women in some areas of the country said their freedom of expression in choice of attire was limited by conservative social mores and sometimes enforced by the Taliban in insurgent-controlled areas as well as by religious leaders.

The constitution provided for the freedoms of peaceful assembly and association, and the government generally respected these rights; however, the pre-August 15 government limited these freedoms in some instances. The Taliban generally did not respect freedom of peaceful assembly and association, although they allowed some limited protests and demonstrations to take place without interference.

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

The pre-August 15 government’s law provided for freedom of internal movement, foreign travel, emigration, and repatriation. The pre-August 15 government generally respected these rights. The Taliban generally respected these rights for citizens with sufficient identity documentation, including passports, but they prevented certain political figures associated with previous administrations from travelling abroad. Restrictions were also placed on women’s in-country movements.

In-country Movement: The pre-August 15 government generally did not restrict the right to freedom of movement within the borders of the country. Social custom limited women’s free movement in some areas without a male family member’s consent or a male relative chaperone (mahram). Prior to August 15, the greatest barrier to movement in some parts of the country remained the lack of security. Taxi, truck, and bus drivers reported security forces and insurgents sometimes operated illegal checkpoints and extorted money and goods from travelers. Prior to August 15, the Taliban regularly blocked highways completely or imposed illegal taxes on those who attempted to travel.

Through the year, Taliban checkpoints increasingly dotted the main highways leading in and out of Kabul, since many outposts were abandoned by pre-August 15 government security forces. Media workers and officials of the pre-August 15 government avoided in-country travel because they feared being identified by the Taliban and subjected to reprisals.

After the Taliban takeover in August, intercity travel was generally unobstructed. On December 26, the Taliban announced that women could not engage in long-distance travel without a mahram. Within populated areas, women could move more freely, although there were increasingly frequent reports of women without a mahram being stopped and questioned.

Foreign Travel: The country’s neighbors closed land borders to regular traffic after the Taliban takeover of Kabul in August, and travel by air decreased significantly due to capacity constraints and lack of functionality at the country’s airports. The Taliban stated they do not want citizens to leave the country but that those with foreign travel authorization and required documentation would be allowed to depart; Taliban leaders stated the right to travel is guaranteed by Islam. Enforcement of these “regulations” was inconsistent. Citizens with passports and visas for third countries were generally permitted to depart the country, and Pakistan was allowing pedestrians from Kandahar Province to cross into Pakistan and back for trade and day labor using only identity cards. The Taliban prevented certain political figures associated with previous administrations from travelling abroad due to concerns regarding possible political activities abroad. After August 15, most airlines flying commercial routes to and from Kabul International Airport cancelled flights, although Afghan airlines (Ariana and Kam) continued to fly commercial routes. Damaged equipment at Kabul International Airport limited aircraft takeoffs and landings to daylight hours under visual flight rules, which also required clear weather; these limitations made insurance costs for airlines prohibitive to operate and prevented the return of many commercial routes that existed prior to August 15.

In October the Taliban stated they would resume issuing passports, ending a months-long suspension that had diminished the limited ability of citizens to depart the country. According to local media, more than 170,000 passport applications received in August and September remained unadjudicated as of December 31. In December the Taliban announced that passport offices had opened in 25 provinces. Anecdotal reports suggested passports were not always issued impartially but rather reserved for individuals whom the Taliban deemed “unproblematic” or who could pay substantially higher prices for the passport. Some individuals associated with the previous administration reported being detained and beaten following their visit to passport offices.

In October Taliban authorities closed the Chaman-Spin Boldak border crossing into Pakistan. After a 27-day closure, the crossing reopened to pedestrians and trade. After the reopening, Pakistan reportedly permitted Kandahar tazkira (national identification card) holders – as well as individuals with medical reasons but without documentation – to cross the border.

Internal population movements continued because of armed conflict and natural disasters, including avalanches, flooding, and landslides. The Office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) stated that widespread intense fighting between pre-August 15 government security forces and the Taliban between May and August forced approximately 250,000 citizens to flee their homes. The UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) estimated a total of 669,682 persons were displaced between January and December 19, of whom 2 percent were displaced following August 15. Most internally displaced persons (IDPs) left insecure rural areas and small towns to seek relatively greater safety and government services in larger towns and cities in the same province. UNHCR estimated that 158,000 displaced persons returned home since fighting subsided following the Taliban takeover in August.

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

Protection concerns were increasingly reported to humanitarian partners, with growing protection needs for persons with disabilities, the elderly, female-headed households, and sexual and gender minorities. By October, food shortages and lack of access to basic services contributed to a widespread humanitarian crisis, with millions of individuals lacking basic life necessities as the country faced the onset of winter. The economic and liquidity crisis since the Taliban takeover, lower agricultural yield due to drought conditions, unreliable electricity supply and deteriorating infrastructure, and the continuing COVID-19 pandemic all combined to worsen the humanitarian crisis.

The pre-August 15 government cooperated with UNHCR, the International Organization for Migration (IOM), and other humanitarian organizations to provide protection and assistance to IDPs, returning refugees, and other persons of concern. The Taliban has cooperated to a limited extent with UNHCR, the IOM, or other humanitarian organizations. On September 13, UN Refugee Commissioner Filippo Grandi visited the country and met with the Taliban’s so-called interim minister of refugees and repatriation affairs Khalil-ur-Rahmen Haqqani. In an interview with the Washington Post, Grandi noted that humanitarian access had increased since August due to the cessation of hostilities and improved security.

Access to Asylum: The pre-August 15 government did not create a legal and programmatic framework for granting asylum or refugee status and had not established a legal framework for providing protection to refugees. Since the takeover, the Taliban also have not created a legal and programmatic framework for granting of asylum or refugee status.

Abuse of Migrants and Refugees: The pre-August 15 government’s ability to assist vulnerable persons, including returnees from Pakistan and Iran, remained limited, and it continued to rely on the international community for assistance. The Taliban’s “Ministry of Refugees and Repatriation Affairs” repatriated approximately 4,000 IDPs to their communities of origin, although the IOM estimated there were more than five million IDPs in the country. “Interim Minister” Khalil Haqqani told al-Jazeera that the Taliban had a plan to return all IDPs to their homes, assist in repairing damaged homes, and designate provincial support zones to assist returnees.

The IOM estimated that all returning migrants required humanitarian assistance. Between January and September, the IOM recorded a total of 866,889 undocumented Afghans returning or being deported from Iran and Pakistan. In the same time period, the IOM recorded 40,089 assisted returnees. UNHCR reported the number of registered refugees returning remained lower than in 2020, mainly due to the Taliban takeover. The country lacked the capacity to reintegrate successfully large numbers of returnees due to continuing insecurity, poor development, and high unemployment, exacerbated by COVID-19. Insecurity and lack of services meant most recent returnees could not return to their places of origin. While numbers of deportations or spontaneous voluntary returns were trending upwards, the seizure of Kabul by the Taliban in August disrupted accurate tracking of returnees.

NGOs noted the lack of official birth registration for refugee children in the country as a significant problem and protection concern, due to the risk of statelessness and potential long-term disadvantage.

Albania

Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties

The constitution provides for freedom of expression, including for members of the press and other media, and the government usually respected these rights, although defamation is a criminal offense. There were reports that the government, businesses, and criminal groups sought to influence media in inappropriate ways.

Independent media were active and expressed a wide variety of views. There were efforts to exert direct and indirect political and economic pressure on media, including by threats and violence against journalists who tried to investigate crime and corruption.

Business owners freely used their media outlets to gain favor and promote their interests with political parties. Most owners of private television stations used the content of their broadcasts to influence government action toward their other businesses. There were credible reports of senior media representatives using media outlets to blackmail businesses by threatening unfavorable media coverage. Political pressure, corruption, and lack of funding constrained independent print media, and journalists reportedly practiced self-censorship. Economic insecurity due to a lack of enforceable labor contracts reduced reporters’ independence and contributed to bias in reporting. The Albanian Journalists Union (AJU) continued to report significant delays in salary payments to reporters at many media outlets, in some cases up to 10 months. According to the journalist union, the pandemic worsened these delays. Financial problems led some journalists to rely more heavily on outside sources of income, leading to questions regarding the integrity of their reporting.

NGOs maintained that professional ethics were a low priority for some of the estimated 900-plus news portals in the country, raising concerns over the spread of false news stories that benefited specific financial, political, and criminal interests. The dramatic growth in online media outlets provided a diversity of views as well as opportunities for corruption.

In July parliament voted to elect a new chairperson of the Audiovisual Media Authority, an independent body that regulates broadcast media. The Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) and the EU had urged parliament to postpone the July vote until September to allow for the seating of the new parliament and the return of opposition parties that had boycotted parliament since February 2019. There were concerns regarding the independence of the chairwoman elected in July, as she had previously served as a spokeswoman for the Socialist Party before being appointed head of the state-owned Albanian Telegraphic Agency.

Violence and Harassment: Political and business interests reportedly subjected journalists to pressure. Through November, the AJU reported 11 cases of violence and intimidation against members of the media. For example, in April police detained Fax News reporter Preng Gjikola for several hours without explanation following a protest in Thirre, Mirdita. In July police participating in an ongoing operation briefly detained News 24 journalist Ergys Gjencaj, who was filming the operation.

Censorship or Content Restrictions: Journalists often practiced self-censorship to avoid violence and harassment. The AJU cited censorship and self-censorship as leading problems for journalists. A survey of 800 media professionals published in 2019 found that 62 percent of respondents thought there was interference from individuals or politics, 60 percent thought there was interference from media owners, 39 percent thought there was self-censorship, and 31 percent thought there was corruption in the media. Approximately 78 percent of media professionals thought there were journalists who engaged in corrupt practices to misreport stories.

In July, following criticism by reporters, media outlets, and journalists’ associations, parliament reversed its earlier decision to limit physical access of reporters to Assembly premises and meetings of its permanent committees.

Prior to the April parliamentary elections, media outlets and journalists’ associations complained regarding a lack of independent media access to campaign events held by political parties, which preferred to provide their own party-edited content to media outlets.

Libel/Slander Laws: The law permits private parties to file criminal charges and obtain financial compensation for insult or deliberate publication of defamatory information. NGOs reported that the fines were excessive and, combined with the entry of a criminal conviction into the defendant’s record, undermined freedom of expression. The AJU expressed concern that as of September, there were more than 20 lawsuits against journalists, mainly for defamation.

In 2019 the Assembly passed legislation, the so-called antidefamation package, which amended existing media laws to address defamation. NGOs and some international organizations criticized the amendments, sparking public debate, and the president returned the law to parliament. In June 2020 the Venice Commission found the law problematic and advised against its adoption as drafted. The legislation remained pending.

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

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

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

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

Not applicable.

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

In August the government, in coordination with private organizations, began accepting Afghan evacuees seeking protection following the change of the Afghanistan government. Over 2,400 Afghans were subsequently granted temporary protection status by the Albanian government.

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

In February a new law on asylum was adopted (Asylum Law no. 10/121) that extended the deadlines for granting or denying asylum requests from 51 days to six months from the date of application, with potential for three-month extensions up to 21 months, under certain circumstances.

As of August 31, five persons had applied for asylum with the Directorate for Asylum, Foreigners, and Citizenship. UNHCR supported the appeals of four rejected asylum applicants.

Police allowed UNHCR, the Office of the Ombudsman, and the NGO Caritas to monitor the access of arrivals to national procedures and return of persons to countries from which they arrived. Monitors reported prescreening procedures were often curtailed, raising concerns about access to asylum and identification of potential victims of trafficking. The ombudsman and Caritas were also allowed to monitor the detention of migrants.

UNHCR reported some cases of border police returning migrants to Greece despite indicating an intention to seek asylum. Authorities detained 6,521 irregular migrants who entered the country between January and August, mostly at the country’s southern border with Greece; most of those who did not request asylum were deported to Greece within 24 hours. Migrants detained further inland could spend several weeks at the Karrec closed migrant detention facility awaiting deportation.

Migrants who claimed asylum were housed at the Babrru National Reception Center for Asylum Seekers. Many of the irregular migrants placed in Babrru were later apprehended again attempting to cross into Montenegro and Kosovo rather than remaining in the country to pursue asylum requests. Karrec and Babrru centers faced funding constraints. In late 2020 UNHCR supported rehabilitation of a portion of Babrru capable of accommodating 30 asylum seekers and unaccompanied and separated children. In August the Ministry of Interior redistributed funds in the state budget, allocating approximately 56,500 euros ($65,000) for refurbishment and increasing reception capacity.

Safe Country of Origin/Transit: The law limits individuals from safe countries of origin or transit from applying for asylum or being granted refugee status. UNHCR reported that one asylum request had been refused based on the government’s list of safe countries, which included Greece.

Abuse of Migrants and Refugees: NGOs reported concerns regarding the unaccompanied foreign and separated children who faced increased risk of violence, abuse, neglect, and exploitation due to lack of strong protection system. The NGO Nisma ARSIS supported six cases of unaccompanied children who arrived in the country during the year through September.

NGOs considered the migrant detention facility in Karrec to be unsuitable for children and families. The government made efforts to avoid sending children there, sending them instead to the open asylum-seekers facility in Babrru.

Employment: Under the new law on asylum, refugees may seek employment authorization. If no decision has been communicated within nine months, employment authorization is automatically granted.

Access to Basic Services: The law provides refugees access to public services, including education, health care, housing, law enforcement, courts and judicial procedures, and legal assistance.

Police reported no stateless persons in the country as of August.

According to UNHCR statistics, approximately 700 persons at risk of statelessness were identified under the agency’s statelessness mandate as of November. Of these, approximately 380 were registered with the National Register of Civil Status. The government does not have data regarding the total number of stateless persons or persons at risk of statelessness in the country. The 2021 Law on Foreigners establishes a statelessness determination procedure. UNHCR and its partners provided technical support to the government with the implementation of the law.

Algeria

Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties

The constitution provides for freedom of expression, including for members of the press and other media. Independent media outlets regularly criticized and satirized government officials and policies, but the government on some occasions restricted these rights. The government’s actions included harassment of some critics, arbitrary enforcement of vaguely worded laws, and informal pressure on publishers, editors, advertisers, and journalists. Some media figures alleged the government used its control over most printing houses and significant funding of public-sector advertising preferentially, and that the lack of clear regulations over these practices permitted it to exert undue influence on press outlets.

Freedom of Expression: While public debate and criticism of the government were widespread, journalists and activists were limited in their ability to criticize the government on topics crossing unwritten “red lines.” Authorities arrested and detained citizens for expressing views deemed damaging to state officials and institutions, including the use of the Berber flag during protests, and citizens practiced self-censorship in expressing public criticism. The law criminalizing speech regarding security force conduct during the internal conflict of the 1990s remained in place, although the government stated there had never been an arrest or prosecution under the law. A separate law provides for up to three years’ imprisonment for publications that “may harm the national interest” or up to one year for defaming or insulting the president, parliament, army, or state institutions. Government officials monitored political meetings.

Authorities have summoned, arrested, and prosecuted journalist Mustapha Bendjama in at least six different cases for charges such as “offense to public bodies” and “undermining national unity.” On June 27, the court in Annaba convicted Bendjama, and the judge sentenced him to two months in prison and 2,500 dinars ($19) fine.

Police arrested former parliamentarian Nordine Ait-Hamouda on June 26 in Bejaia for making “inappropriate statements towards various important national figures.” On August 29, authorities released Ait-Hamouda from El-Harrach prison after two months of incarceration. The Court of Ruisseau in Algiers granted Ait-Hamouda’s provisional release, pending the completion of the investigation and determination of the trial date.

On June 30, security personnel arrested Fethi Ghares, national coordinator of the opposition party Democratic and Social Movement and searched his home. His wife, Messaouda Cheballah, posted a live video of her husband’s arrest and denounced the police’s “indiscreet search of her belongings.”

NGOs reported in 2020 that they stopped holding events outside private locations due to longstanding government suppression and pressure on owners of public gathering spaces.

Freedom of Expression for Members of the Press and Other Media, Including Online Media: The National Agency for Publishing and Advertising (ANEP) controlled public advertising for print media, and most daily newspapers depended on ANEP-authorized advertising to finance their operations. Press outlets reported taking extra caution before publishing articles critical of the government or government officials due to fear of losing revenue from ANEP. According to the NGO Reporters without Borders, private advertising existed but frequently came from businesses with close links to the ruling political party. ANEP stated its support for a pluralistic press and freedom of information and noted that it funded opposition newspapers.

In April 2020 parliament adopted amendments to the penal code that criminalize spreading “false news” that harms national unity. Penalties for convictions under the bill, which does not distinguish among news reports, social media, and other media, include prison terms of two to five years and fines. Civil society groups reported that the amendments gave authorities excessive power to prosecute activists and human rights defenders.

On May 10, authorities found journalist Khellaf Benhedda guilty in absentia and fined him 100,000 dinars ($750) for an “offense to the President.”

On May 14, police arrested Maghreb Emergent journalist Kenza Khatto during a Hirak march in Algiers on charges of “incitement to unarmed gathering,” “contempt of police,” and “noncompliance with the instruction of the wali (governor) of Algiers on the ban of marches.”

On May 18, authorities placed journalist El Kadi Ihsane, director of Radio M and Maghreb Emergent websites, on probation. The judge issued a travel ban and confiscated Ihsane’s passport. According to Radio M, authorities charged Ihsane with “undermining national security and territorial unity” and “sharing publications undermining national interest.” The CNLD said the charges emanated from a complaint filed by the Minister of Communication Ammar Belhimer.

On September 6, authorities arrested Hassan Bourras at his home in El Bayadh and charged him with “belonging to a terrorist organization,” “conspiracy against the security of the State to change the system of governance,” and “use of technical and media tools to enlist individuals against the authority of the State.” Bourras is a well known human rights’ activist with the Algerian League for the Defense of Human Rights (LADDH). According to the CNLD, authorities transferred Bourras on September 12 to a court in Algiers, which ordered him into pretrial detention.

On September 12, police arrested Mohamed Mouloudj, a reporter for Liberte, and raided his home. On September 14, the Sidi M’hamed Court in Algiers placed Mouloudj in custody and charged him with spreading false news, harming national unity, and belonging to a terrorist group. The court placed him in pretrial detention which was ongoing at year end.

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

Organizations wishing to initiate regular publications must obtain authorization from the government. The law requires the director of the publication to hold Algerian citizenship. The law additionally prohibits local periodicals from receiving direct or indirect material support from foreign sources.

The ministry’s Media Directorate is responsible for issuing and renewing accreditations to foreign media outlets operating in the country. Although this accreditation is required to operate legally, the ministry did not accredit most foreign media. Regulations require the shareholders and managers of any radio or television channel to be citizens and prohibit them from broadcasting content that offends “values anchored in Algerian society.”

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

Violence and Harassment: Authorities subjected some journalists to harassment and intimidation. Journalists reported that selective prosecutions served as a mechanism for intimidation. According to Reporters without Borders, the government intimidated activists and journalists. The government’s actions included harassment of some critics, arbitrary enforcement of vaguely worded laws, and informal pressure on publishers, editors, advertisers, and journalists.

Censorship or Content Restrictions: Some major news outlets faced direct and indirect retaliation from the Audiovisual Regulatory Authority (ARAV) for criticism of the government. According to state-run Algerie Presse Service (APS), in March, Algerian authorities warned France 24 to tone down its “biased Hirak coverage.”

On June 13, Communication Minister Ammar Belhimer cancelled France 24’s accreditation for its “clear and repeated hostility towards our country and its institutions.” Upon the withdrawal of France 24’s accreditation, several foreign news outlets said all journalists in Algeria – both foreign and local – faced bureaucratic hurdles and must navigate murky procedural processes to operate.

In June the ARAV suspended El Hayet TV for one week after it broadcast an interview with Nordine Ait Hamouda, the founding member of the opposition party Rally for Culture and Democracy and son of independence war hero Colonel Amirouche Ait Hamouda. During the interview, Nordine Ait Hamouda called several Algerian historical figures “traitors.” The interview prompted the Ministry of Communication to summon El Hayet TV director Habet Hannachi to the ARAV headquarters to explain his decision to broadcast the controversial interview. On June 26, authorities arrested Ait Hamouda and placed him in pretrial detention, although authorities granted his provisional release on August 29 pending trial on charges of “attacking symbols of the nation and the revolution.”

On July 31, the ARAV withdrew the accreditation of Saudi-funded al-Arabiya TV for “propagating misinformation.” In a statement the Ministry of Communication stated al-Arabiya failed to “respect the rules of professional ethics and practiced media misinformation and manipulation.”

On August 16, the Ministry of Communication announced “the immediate and final closure” of the private television channel Lina TV at the request of the ARAV. Communication Minister Ammar Belhimer stated the ARAV had previously warned Lina TV for its “noncompliance with ethical principles.” Belhimer characterized the channel as a “danger to national unity.” The Ministry added that Lina TV did not have the required accreditation to operate.

On August 23, the Ministry of Communication suspended the private progovernment television channel El Bilad TV for one week. The ARAV based its decision on “noncompliance with the requirements of public order” and due to legal proceedings against Ayoub Aissiou, a station shareholder who also owns El Djazairia One. The government accused Aissiou of violating the law on broadcast activity, which forbids holding shares in more than one television station.

On August 23, the Ministry of Communication shut down the private television channel El Djazairia One, after the ARAV recommended its immediate closure. On August 24, officials at the ARAV said El Djazairia One’s owners violated the law on audiovisual activity by purchasing shares in more than one television channel. The station’s owners, brothers Ayoub and Tayeb Aissiou, were close associates of former president Abdelaziz Bouteflika and Bouteflika-era prime minister Ahmed Ouyahia.

On August 24, the ARAV censured state-run EPTV after one of its reporters said the suspects arrested for lynching Djamel Bensmail were charged with belonging to a “terrorist region” instead of a “terrorist organization.” The ARAV stated this was “an unforgivable breach,” prompting EPTV to apologize and discipline the reporter.

Libel/Slander Laws: NGOs and observers criticized the law on defamation as vaguely drafted and stated the definitions in the law failed to comport with internationally recognized norms. The law defines defamation as “any allegation or imputation of a fact offending the honor or consideration of a person, or of the body to which the fact is imputed.” The law does not require that the fact alleged or imputed be false or that the statement be made with malicious intent to damage another individual’s reputation. Defamation is not a crime but a serious misdemeanor that carries a fine. The Ministry of Justice did not provide information on the percentage of defamation claims that originated from private citizens, as opposed to government officials. Defamation laws specify that former members of the military who make statements deemed to have damaged the image of the military or to have “harmed the honor and respect due to state institutions” may face prosecution.

The law criminalizes statements denigrating Islam or insulting the Prophet Muhammed or “messengers of God.”

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

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

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

In-country Movement: The constitution provides citizens “the right to freely choose their place of residence and to move throughout the national territory.” Citing the threat of terrorism, the government prevented overland tourist travel between the southern cities of Tamanrasset, Djanet, and Illizi.

Foreign Travel: The constitution states that citizens have the right to enter and exit the country. The law does not permit those younger than 18 to travel abroad without a guardian’s permission. Married women younger than 18 may not travel abroad without permission from their husbands, but married women older than 18 may do so. The government did not permit young men eligible for the draft who had not completed their military service to leave the country without special authorization. The government granted such authorization to students and persons with special family circumstances.

Not applicable.

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

The International Organization for Migration (IOM) estimated 90,000 migrants enter the country annually, and the Ministry of Interior reported approximately 100,000.

According to UNHCR’s September report on refugees in Algeria and Sahrawi refugees in Tindouf, there were 7,830 refugees in urban areas, 2,450 asylum seekers in urban areas, and an estimated 90,000 “vulnerable” Sahrawi refugees. The government protected a significant number of refugees in five large refugee camps in Tindouf and ran two other smaller camps near Tindouf, one surrounding a women’s boarding school, and another used for administrative purposes. UNHCR reported many Sahrawi refugees lost their jobs and other sources of income due to COVID-19. UNHCR, the World Food Program (WFP), UNICEF, the Algerian Red Crescent, the Sahrawi Red Crescent, and other organizations assisted Sahrawi refugees.

As of September, UNHCR continued registering asylum seekers, determining refugee status, issuing documentation, and advocating for the adoption of legislation to protect persons in need of international protection. Despite the ongoing border closures, asylum applications rose during the year, with 1,570 recorded in the first half of the year, an increase of 20 percent compared with 2020, due to the progressive easing of COVID-19 restrictions. UNHCR monitored and advocated for the release of refugees.

Access to Asylum: While the law generally provides for asylum or refugee status, the government has not established a formal system through which refugees can request asylum. There were no reports that the government granted refugee status and asylum to new refugee applicants during the year. According to UNHCR, the government did not accept UNHCR-determined refugee status for individuals. From the beginning of January to June, UNHCR recommended 35 refugees for resettlement to France, Canada, and Sweden, and submitted 41 refugees for resettlement to Canada and Sweden during the same period. UNHCR assisted eight refugees to depart Algeria for family and educational reasons. UNHCR reported the majority of its registered refugees came from Syria, the Palestinian Territories, Yemen, Mali, and other countries in sub-Saharan Africa. There was no evidence of any pattern of discrimination toward asylum applicants, but the lack of a formal asylum system made this difficult to assess.

Refoulement: The government provided some protection against the expulsion or return of refugees to countries where their lives or freedom would be threatened because of their race, religion, nationality, membership in a particular social group, or political opinion. Since the outbreak of violence in northern Mali in 2012, international observers reported an influx of individuals into Algeria across the Mali border inconsistent with traditional migratory movements.

In 2019 the National Human Rights Council stated the government had dedicated 1.6 billion dinars ($12 million) to ensure the human rights of migrants during repatriation operations (to include accommodation, food, clothing, health care, medicines, and transportation). Authorities conducted repatriations in coordination with consular officials from the migrants’ countries of origin, but the migrants were not permitted to challenge their removal. The government stated it maintained a policy of not removing migrants registered with UNHCR, and that in a few cases it worked with UNHCR to return registered refugees who were mistakenly removed. Air Algerie signed an agreement with the IOM agreeing to provide charter flights for humanitarian supplies and migrants returning voluntarily.

Since January the NGO Alarme Phone Sahara (APS) reported the government deported 18,749 individuals from Algeria to Niger, an increase from 4,722 individuals in 2020. APS reported two types of deportation convoys from Algeria to Niger: official deportation convoys and nonofficial deportation convoys. Official deportations from Algeria to Niger take place pursuant to a 2014 bilateral agreement for the deportation of Nigerien nationals. According to APS, however, Algeria also deports numerous nationals from other countries to Niger in nonofficial convoys, and the Nigerien authorities lacked the power or the will to stop this practice. Convoys also left citizens of various nationalities near Assamaka where they must walk the last 10 to 15 miles into Nigerien territory. APS reported the IOM, Doctors without Borders, and Nigerien security forces looked for deportees lost in the desert. According to APS, deportees includes nationals from Cote d’Ivoire, Benin, Burkina Faso, Cameroon, Central African Republic, Chad, Eritrea, Ghana, Guinea, Guinea Bissau, Liberia, Mali, Nigeria, Senegal, Sierra Leone, Sudan, and Togo.

In April the NGO Doctors Without Borders reported that authorities forcibly returned more than 4,000 migrants to Niger. Many migrants travelled on trucks that returned them to Agadez, a Nigerien city that has become a crossroads on the migration route.

On September 29, APS reported that the country deported 894 individuals in a nonofficial convoy to the Assamaka border post.

On October 1, APS reported an additional 1,275 individuals in an official convoy were transported to the Assamaka border post.

Abuse of Migrants, Refugees, and Stateless Persons: UNHCR reported refugees and migrants traversing land routes to and through the country continued to risk death, kidnapping, sexual- and gender-based violence, physical abuse, and other violence.

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

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

School administrators must allow migrant and refugee children to enroll in primary school through high school and require only that they present their passport and documentation showing their level of schooling from their home country. International organizations reported some children had trouble integrating into the educational system but that migrants’ access to education was improving, particularly in the north of the country. These organizations reported that migrant parents were often reluctant to enroll their children in Algerian schools due to language barriers or cultural differences. NGOs also indicated that some migrants were denied treatment at health-care facilities.

Durable Solutions: The government did not accept refugees from foreign countries for resettlement. The Sahrawi refugees have not sought local integration or naturalization during their over 40-year stay in the refugee camps near Tindouf, and the Polisario Front continued to call for a referendum on independence in Western Sahara. The IOM led an Assisted Voluntary Return and Reintegration program to help migrants return to their homes willingly with economic and social support, including personalized professional training and other socioeconomic assistance. Although the government was not a financial donor to the initiative, it did cooperate.

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

Andorra

Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties

The constitution and law provide for freedom of expression, including for members of the press and other media, and the government generally respected this right. An independent media, an effective judiciary, and a functioning democratic political system combined to promote freedom of expression, including for members of the media.

The constitution and law provide for the freedoms of assembly and association, and the government generally respected these rights. During the COVID-19 pandemic, the government temporarily restricted large gatherings and public assemblies according to the law.

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

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

Not applicable.

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

Access to Asylum: The law does not provide for the granting of asylum or refugee status, and the government has not established a system for providing protection to refugees, preferring to deal with refugees on an ad hoc basis. There is a lack of domestic legislation on asylum seekers and refugees and, in particular, on measures to protect unaccompanied and refugee children. The law, however, provides for a residency and work permit issued under the country’s temporary and transitional protection regime. The law provides for the temporary protection of asylum seekers and allows their entry, stay, and right to work for a two-year period, renewable for six additional months. After this period the beneficiary can either return to the country of origin, go to a third country, or stay in Andorra if the individual complies with all the immigration requirements. The government and the Community of Sant’Egidio maintained a humanitarian corridor from French and Spanish airports for refugees to enter the country. In June a Syrian family of three arrived in the country. Since the start of the corridor in 2018, eight Syrian refugees received legal, medical, psychological, social, and educational assistance.

Access to Basic Services: The law provides for housing, as well as access to social services, health care, and education. The government provided these benefits to the incoming refugees and Sant’Egidio refugees with the support of the Andorran Red Cross, Caritas, and the Association Open-Open Them (Associacio Obrim, Obrim-les).

Angola

Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties

The constitution and law provide for freedom of expression, including for members of the press and other media, but the government did not always respect this right. State media continued to be the primary source for news and generally reflected a progovernment view. Individuals were increasingly able to use private media and social media platforms to openly criticize government policies and practices. Reporting on corruption was the primary reason for attacks against journalists, which occurred with impunity.

Freedom of Expression: Individuals reported practicing self-censorship but generally were able to criticize government policies without fear of direct reprisal. Social media was widely used in the larger cities and provided an open forum for discussion.

Freedom of Expression for Members of the Press and Other Media, Including Online Media: In May the government ordered three television stations to cease broadcasting all content and accused the stations of failing to register properly. This further solidified government control of the country’s television stations, as several other private media outlets returned to state control in 2020 following a state corruption investigation conclusion that the outlets had been illegally funded with public funds through individuals with ties to former president Jose Eduardo dos Santos. Journalists and opposition parties said the seizure of the media outlets would limit independent journalism leading up to national elections in 2022. The government argued that the seized companies were in poor economic shape and needed to be restructured before offering them for sale to investors under the government’s privatization program.

Transmission licenses are granted by the minister of telecommunication, technology, and media. Journalists criticized the cost of licenses and said high costs impeded media pluralism and the emergence of new players. The base license to operate a television station was $1.4 million, while a radio license cost $136,000. Journalists also criticized the opacity of the process used by the government to grant transmission licenses.

Journalists routinely complained of lack of transparency and communication from government press offices and other government officials.

The president appoints the leadership of all major state-owned media outlets, and state control of these outlets often led to one-sided reporting. State news outlets, including Angolan Public Television (TPA), Radio Nacional, and the Jornal de Angola newspaper, favored the ruling party but increased their coverage of opposition political parties’ perspectives, as well as of social problems reflecting poor governance. TPA broadcast plenary sessions of the National Assembly live, including interventions by opposition parties. TPA also invited opposition politicians and civil society members to comment live on stories featured on nightly newscasts, but private stations were prohibited from filming parliament. Opposition parties received less overall coverage on state media than the ruling Popular Movement for the Liberation of Angola (MPLA) party, and it was often difficult to distinguish between communications of the government and those of the ruling party.

Violence and Harassment: Journalists reported more incidents of violence or harassment compared with the previous year.

In March an editor of a weekly newspaper was held for questioning and a criminal case was opened against him after he published an article critical of President Lourenco. In April a reporter for Radio Despertar, an opposition-run media outlet, was arrested for covering antieviction protests. He was held for five days, and his equipment was retained by authorities.

Censorship or Content Restrictions: The Regulatory Entity for Social Communication (ERCA) is a body composed of 11 counselors designated by political parties represented in the parliament, the government, and journalists. ERCA’s responsibility is to safeguard press freedom and lawful media activity and to issue regulations and decisions on those issues. Journalists and opposition political parties criticized ERCA for being controlled by the ruling MPLA and for issuing regulations that favored the government.

The Ethics and Credentialing Commission (ECC) is a body exclusively composed of journalists that is authorized to license and delicense journalists. In July the Ministry of Telecommunications, Technology, and Social Communication opened an office to support ECC operations. As of October any media outlets allowing a journalist to work without the credential faced a fine of approximately 23,100 kwanza ($42 dollars), which was approximately a journalist’s monthly salary. Journalists reported practicing self-censorship for political and financial reasons.

The minister of social communication, the spokesperson of the presidency, and the national director of information maintained significant decision-making authority over media. It was commonly understood these individuals actively vetted news stories in the state-controlled print, television, and radio media and exercised considerable authority over some privately owned outlets. State-controlled media rarely published or broadcast stories critical of the ruling party, government officials, or government policies. Coverage critical of the previous government of Jose Eduardo dos Santos and of senior-level officials who had been dismissed on allegations of corruption increased significantly during the year.

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

Several journalists in print media, radio, and political blogs faced libel and defamation lawsuits. Journalists complained the government used libel laws to limit their ability to report on corruption and nepotistic practices, while the government assessed that some journalists abused their positions and published inaccurate stories regarding government officials without verifying the facts or providing the accused with the right of reply.

In April defamation charges were brought against an editor and founder of a privately owned newspaper in Benguela. During the year criminal defamation charges were also brought against editors of several news outlets that had published articles on government corruption. In July government officials filed charges of defamation against two journalists after they reported on government corruption. An editor of an online news outlet was convicted of criminal defamation after he published articles on land appropriation and government corruption.

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

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

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

In-country Movement: Document checkpoints in domestic airports and on roads throughout the country were common. Reports by local NGOs suggested that, despite an incremental drop in cases, some police officers continued to extort money from civilians at checkpoints and during regular traffic stops. Reports from the diamond-mining provinces of Lunda Norte and Lunda Sul indicated some government agents restricted the movements of local communities.

During the year, due to a severe, prolonged drought in the southern provinces, approximately 15,000 internally displaced persons (IDPs) congregated around feeding centers in Cunene, Huila, and Namibe Provinces. As of late September the centers and camps were not organized or managed but consisted of organic congregations of persons numbering up to 2,000 in one location.

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

Access to Asylum: The law provides for the granting of asylum or refugee status, but the government had not fully implemented the law. The law provides specific procedures for the submission of an asylum application and guidance on the determination of refugee status. UNHCR and several NGOs, however, reported that asylum seekers did not have a mechanism to apply for or resolve their status. A 2015 law changed the role of the Committee for the Recognition of the Right to Asylum, the prior implementing mechanism to identify, verify, and legalize asylum seekers, to that of an advisory board. The government had not put into practice a mechanism to adjudicate asylum cases in the committee’s place. The law also authorized the creation of reception centers for refugees and asylum seekers where they were to receive assistance until the government decides on their cases, but the government had not yet established these centers.

Abuse of Migrants and Refugees: There were reports throughout the year that Lunda Norte provincial authorities exerted pressure on irregular migrants to return to the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC). The International Organization for Migration recorded more than 8,000 irregular migrants returning from Angola to the DRC in August and September. Departing irregular migrants often did not have access to water or shelter during their journey on foot to the border and were at risk of human rights abuses, including gender-based violence. The government permitted two female refugees within the irregular migrant group to remain in Angola. The government failed to provide adequate protection for asylum seekers and urban refugees in this area.

In 2018 security forces launched Operation Rescue, a nationwide law enforcement campaign to address violent crime, illegal migration, unlicensed commercial and religious activity, and road accidents. The campaign affected both legal and undocumented migrants, refugees, and stateless persons who relied on the informal markets to make a living, as job opportunities were limited and the law prohibits refugees from operating businesses. One NGO said Operation Rescue had not ended and the problems associated with the operation continued.

Under the law authorities should issue refugee cards with a five-year validity. According to UNHCR the government had not issued or renewed refugee cards since 2015, and no refugee possessed an unexpired, government-issued refugee card during the year. The minister of interior told UN officials that the government would begin to fully implement the law when COVID-19 restrictions were lifted. Refugees reported a general lack of acceptance of the refugee card and lack of knowledge concerning the rights it was intended to safeguard.

Freedom of Movement: UNHCR, NGOs, and refugees reported restrictions on freedom of movement in Lunda Norte Province. Police arbitrarily arrested or detained refugees and confiscated or destroyed their registration documents during periodic roundups, particularly in Dundo, the provincial capital. Refugees also reported periodic restrictions on freedom of movement from their resettlement site in Lovua, Lunda Norte Province, and cited such restrictions as a factor motivating them to return to the DRC.

Employment: The law does not allow refugees to work and restricted refugees from obtaining business licenses. A regulation restricted refugees from obtaining the business license required to own and operate a business. Refugees often faced difficulty obtaining employment due to their inability to obtain legal documents required to work in the formal sector. Authorities continued to harass asylum seekers and refugees working in the informal market.

Access to Basic Services: Persons with recognized refugee status could at times obtain public services. The government had not implemented key elements of the 2015 asylum law, such as refugee and asylum seekers’ access to basic services and issuance of documents, including new or renewed refugee cards and birth certificates for refugees’ children born in the country. UNHCR, NGOs, and refugees, however, reported that urban refugees were unable to obtain legal documents and at times faced difficulty accessing public services such as health care and education. Corruption by officials compounded these difficulties. Lack of documentation or expired documentation prevented refugees from owning land or vehicles in their name, purchasing cellular SIM cards, obtaining business licenses, and accessing education beyond primary school.

Durable Solutions: In 2020 the government cooperated with UNHCR and supported an organized voluntary repatriation of 2,912 refugees from Lunda Norte to the DRC. As of August 31, according to UNHCR, 6,801 refugees remained at its Lovua, Lunda Norte, resettlement camp. The government through the Migration and Foreigners Service and the Ministry of Social Action, Family, and Women’s Promotion (Ministry of Social Assistance) participated in the screening phase to ensure that those to be repatriated were refugees, processed the related repatriation documentation, facilitated family reunification for the purpose of returning, verified that those returning were on the Voluntary Repatriation (VolRep) manifest, and signed the VolRep manifest at the borders for handover to counterparts on the DRC side. The COVID-19 pandemic delayed further repatriation convoys.

The government estimated there were more than 12 million unregistered citizens in the country. Children of undocumented foreign parents born in the country may fall into a stateless status if the parents are unable to register them.

Antigua and Barbuda

Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties

The constitution provides for freedom of expression, including for the press and other media, and the government generally respected this right. An independent media, an effective judiciary, and a functioning democratic political system combined to promote freedom of expression, including for members of the media, on a somewhat limited basis.

Freedom of Expression for Members of the Press and Other Media, Including Online Media: There were no privately owned print media. There were claims that the government was hostile to independent broadcast media outlets and did not provide them equal access to government officials. Observers claimed that the government and the prime minister in particular owned media outlets that were used exclusively to disseminate government information. Prime Minister Browne stated that although he was the founder of Pointe FM radio, he was no longer a shareholder; however, he did not reveal the ownership. Senior government officials routinely refused to grant interviews to media outlets that were critical of the ruling party and instead used government media exclusively.

The constitution provides for the freedoms of peaceful assembly and association. In August police teargassed individuals protesting mandatory COVID-19 vaccinations. Police officials stated the protesters were breaking the law because they had not been issued the necessary permit and refused to disperse.

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.

Not Applicable.

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

Access to Asylum: The law does not provide for the granting of asylum or refugee status, and the government has not established a system for providing protection to refugees. The government handles asylum requests on an ad hoc basis.

Area Administered by Turkish Cypriots

Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties

The “law” provides for freedom of expression, including for members of the press and other media, and authorities generally respected this right. Libel and blasphemy are criminalized, but these “laws” are rarely enforced by “courts.” While individuals were sometimes able to criticize authorities publicly without reprisal, human rights defenders, NGOs, and press reported a marked increase in harassment and threats against critics of the “TRNC government,” of Turkish interference into Turkish Cypriot affairs, and of Turkish President Erdogan.

Freedom of Expression: It is a criminal offense to insult the “government,” the Turkish government, or “government” officials. This often led journalists and others to self-censor. According to NGOs, journalists, and human rights defenders, authorities advised some journalists not to criticize the Turkish government. An NGO reported that due to perceived pressure and potential reaction from Turkey, some journalists did not express their critical opinions and preferred to remain silent. According to a survey conducted by the Center for Migration, Identity, and Rights Studies, 63 percent of respondents said freedom of speech had declined in the past year.

According to media reports and human rights defenders, police prevented opposition political parties, NGOs, and unions from assembling in front of the Turkish “embassy” on March 12 and March 21 to demonstrate against the arrest of Leftist Movement member Abdullah Korkmazhan. Following complaints from the Turkish Justice and Reform Party youth branch, authorities arrested Korkmazhan and three others on March 12 on suspicion of vandalizing “Love Erdogan” billboards. Korkmazhan was charged with “conspiracy to create a secret alliance” and released, only to be detained again on March 19 after making remarks critical of “president” Tatar during a subsequent protest. Korkmazhan said that police confiscated his cell phone and charged him with insulting the “TRNC president.” The “president” formally asked the court to sentence Korkmazhan to five years in prison. The court released him on bail for 25,000 Turkish lira ($2,717 as of mid-October) and ordered him to report in-person to a police station weekly. As of November Turkish Cypriot police still had Korkmazhan’s cell phone in their possession. In March Tatar filed another defamation and slander lawsuit against Korkmazhan, seeking compensation of 100,000 Turkish lira ($10,870 as of mid-October) for the speech he delivered at the protest against Tatar. The charges against Korkmazhan were pending at year’s end, and he reportedly continued to appear at a police station every week.

This Country is Ours Platform, an umbrella organization for more than 25 trade unions and political parties that supports a federal solution to the Cyprus problem, released a statement criticizing Turkey’s suppression of freedom of expression in the area administrated by Turkish Cypriots. The Cyprus Press Council, a bicommunal umbrella organization for left-wing, pro-solution parties, issued a statement criticizing Korkmazhan’s arrest as an attempt to “muzzle” critics in northern Cyprus. In March several unions and left-wing political parties issued a joint statement expressing concern that increased suppression of freedom of expression in Turkey was having a spillover effect in the “TRNC.”

Freedom of Expression for Members of the Press and Other Media, Including Online Media: While authorities usually respected press and media freedom, at times they harassed, intimidated, or arrested journalists or otherwise obstructed their reporting.

In March the Turkish Cypriot Journalists Association and the Press Workers Union held a demonstration with approximately 200 participants in support of press freedom and freedom of expression. In their joint statement to the press, the association and the union stated there has been an increase of insults, pressure, mobbing, and violence against journalists in northern Cyprus, and that freedom of expression and freedom of the press was under threat.

Violence and Harassment: There were reports that defendants in some “court” cases allegedly threatened journalists, who also faced pressure to report favorably on companies that advertised in their publications.

A journalist association reported some journalists were verbally and physically attacked at “court” hearings by detainees or their families or friends. Other journalists reported being similarly assaulted while reporting at hospitals and police stations by individuals associated with detainees.

In October the Turkish Cypriot Journalist’s Association condemned the beating of journalist Suna Erden for attempting to photograph right-wing National Democratic Party leader Buray Buskuvutcu as he was entering the Kyrenia District “Court.” The association reported Erden was blocked by 15 individuals known to be Buskuvutcu’s security guards and physically attacked outside the “court.”

Censorship or Content Restrictions: Journalists cannot interview or report on persons under control of the armed forces.

Journalists practiced self-censorship to avoid losing their jobs. Journalists reported some press representatives censored themselves when reporting on Turkey’s role in Cyprus and on Turkish leadership. A labor union leader reported a journalist was dismissed from his job for reading and talking about an anti-Erdogan article on a local television channel operated by “president” Tatar’s wife.

Libel/Slander Laws: The “law” criminalizes libel and blasphemy, although “courts” often declined to convict defendants on those charges, citing free speech legal precedent.

The “government” sometimes limited freedoms of peaceful assembly and association.

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

The “law” provides for freedom of internal movement, foreign travel, emigration, and repatriation. Authorities generally respected these rights.

In-country Movement: Authorities required individuals to show identification when crossing the “Green Line.” Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, some checkpoint crossings on the island were closed during the year, at times causing altercations with authorities (see section 2.d. of the Republic of Cyprus report).

In January Turkish Cypriot workers who crossed the buffer zone daily to work in the government-controlled area of Cyprus held a series of demonstrations at “parliament” and at various buffer zone checkpoints. They protested the “Ministry of Health’s” COVID-19-related decision preventing Turkish Cypriot workers from crossing to the south of the Green Line for employment or other purposes without quarantine requirements.

Foreign Travel: Only Turkey recognizes travel documents issued by the “TRNC.” Some Turkish Cypriots used Turkish travel documents, but many obtained travel documents issued by the Republic of Cyprus government. Turkish Cypriots born after 1974 to parents who were both Republic of Cyprus citizens prior to 1974 obtained Republic of Cyprus passports with greater ease than Turkish Cypriots born after 1974 to only one Cypriot parent.

According to media reports and contacts, Turkish authorities barred some Turkish Cypriot critics from entering Turkey in early July and in October. Contacts reported the Turkish “embassy” in the “TRNC” created a list of politicians and writers supportive of a bizonal bicommunal federal (BBF) Cyprus solution and who were critical of Ankara’s policies. Media commentators claimed Ankara’s enforcement of an “entry blacklist” – purportedly introduced in September 2020 – was intended to intimidate BBF solution supporters and silence opposition against the Erdogan regime. Citing national security grounds, Turkish authorities denied entry to former “president” Akinci’s press officer Ali Bizden on July 5, to Turkish Cypriot intellectual and pediatrician, Dr. Ahmet Cavit on July 9, and to the chair of Basin-Sen (the Press Workers’ Union) and journalist Ali Kismir on October 10. Turkish immigration officials told all three they were denied entry for posing a security threat to Turkey. All were reportedly interrogated upon arrival and held overnight at Istanbul airport before being flown back to northern Cyprus.

Turkish Cypriots considered those displaced because of the island’s 1974 division to be refugees, although they fell under the UN definition of internally displaced persons (IDPs). At the time of the division, the number of IDPs in the north was approximately 60,000.

Turkish Cypriot authorities at times cooperated with the Refugee Rights Association (RRA), the NGO implementing partner of the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), and other humanitarian organizations in providing protection and assistance to refugees, returning refugees, or asylum seekers, as well as other persons of concern. UNHCR reported cooperation was more frequent during the first half of the year, when authorities allowed RRA lawyers to interview Syrian asylum seekers seeking access to international protection in Cyprus. Following the introduction of a new “visa” requirement for Syrian nationals in June, cooperation between Turkish Cypriot authorities and UNHCR was less frequent. With the assistance of these organizations, several asylum seekers gained access to asylum procedures in Turkey or in the government-controlled area.

Turkish Cypriot authorities shared information with RRA for locating and identifying Syrian asylum seekers in detention or in quarantine pending deportation. Authorities allowed RRA to access quarantine centers holding Syrian asylum seekers. As a result of RRA’s advocacy, Syrian asylum seekers arriving irregularly from Turkey, Lebanon, or Syria are no longer prosecuted but are instead quarantined pending return to Turkey.

According to human rights advocates, the few refugees residing in the north face racism, exploitation, and challenges achieving self-sufficiency and integration within society.

Access to Asylum: The “law” does not provide for the granting of asylum or refugee status, and authorities have not established a system for providing protection to refugees. An NGO reported that approximately 100 persons of concern to UNHCR were able to stay in the area administered by Turkish Cypriots with UNHCR protection papers.

One NGO reported asylum seekers arriving at legal entry points are generally not allowed entry into the “TRNC,” are detained, and subsequently deported to Turkey. Once returned to Turkey, those that do not have valid residence status face the risk of onward refoulement, particularly non-Syrians, as Turkish authorities continued efforts to deport those it claimed entered the country illegally before they were granted refugee status-determination interviews by Turkish migration authorities. The NGO also reported asylum seekers arriving irregularly are considered prohibited migrants by Turkish Cypriot authorities and are detained under deportation procedures in quarantine facilities.

There were reports Turkish Cypriot authorities continued to deport numerous asylum seekers during the year before UNHCR’s implementing partner could interview them to obtain information necessary for assessing their asylum claims. Some potential asylum seekers who attempted to enter the area administered by Turkish Cypriot authorities illegally were arrested, taken to “court,” and deported after serving their prison sentences. One NGO reported incidents of asylum seekers repeatedly being arrested for irregular entry as many as three times a week, and that these incidents went unreported in the press.

Refoulement: Authorities did not provide protection against the expulsion or return of asylum seekers or refugees to countries where their lives or freedom could be threatened. According to NGOs, authorities at ports often denied entry and extradited to Turkey asylum seekers, including a number of persons designated by the Turkish government as alleged members of the Gulen movement. Some observers considered these deportations refoulement, as the individuals were denied the opportunity to seek refuge in the territory of Cyprus and were at substantial risk of mistreatment in Turkey (also see section 2.f., Protection of Refugees, in the Country Reports on Human Rights Practices for Turkey).

Abuse of Migrants and Refugees: UNHCR reported asylum seekers generally were treated as illegal migrants because an official framework for asylum does not exist in the area administered by Turkish Cypriots. Most were either denied entry or deported, irrespective of the risk of refoulement.

In April, 26 Syrian asylum seekers, two boat captains, and three other accomplices were arrested while illegally entering through the Sadrazamkoy coast, on the northwest side of the island. All 31 were detained and appeared in “court.” The 26 Syrians were quarantined in a student dormitory in Lefke. Following the RRA’s intervention and interviews, 11 individuals were provided with clothing by “social welfare services,” two persons were given access to health care, and one received medication. After 19 days the group was returned to Turkey where they were readmitted and reportedly given access to asylum procedures.

In June police arrested 13 Syrian nationals for illegal entry into the north. The Syrians, all men, were identified at the Famagusta port inside a truck on June 6. They had arrived in a cargo truck from Turkey’s Mersin province and were placed in a student dormitory under police control. After 12 days the group was sent back to Turkey and reportedly given access to asylum procedures.

On July 9, 17 irregular migrants from Syria were discovered on the Taslica coast between Derince and Avtepe in the Karpaz region. Media outlets reported the group included six children, four women, and seven men. Police stated that the boat carrying the migrants was found stranded on the coastline. Following RRA’s intervention and interviews, all individuals were provided with clothing by “social welfare services.” After 19 days the group was returned to Turkey where they were readmitted and reportedly given access to asylum procedures.

Freedom of Movement: Asylum seekers in the area administered by Turkish Cypriots could not travel abroad because they would be unable to return due to their lack of “legal” status.

Employment: According to immigration “law,” employers need official permission from the “Department of Labor” to register foreign workers. Persons holding UNHCR protection papers receive the same access to the labor market as third country nationals, although NGOs reported that authorities refused to issue work permits to some individuals with UNHCR protection papers. UNHCR reported access to employment improved during the year after authorities lifted requirements that job seekers post a financial guarantee and hold a valid passport.

Access to Basic Services: Persons holding UNHCR protection papers and persons of concern to UNHCR who had not gone through a status determination procedure but were found to be of concern after screening could access basic services, including primary health care and education, but lacked access to residence permits or welfare assistance, which rendered them at risk of exploitation and put vulnerable individuals at risk of destitution.

Argentina

Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties

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

Freedom of Expression for Members of the Press and Other Media, Including Online Media: Independent media were active and expressed a wide variety of views without restriction.

The Committee to Protect Journalists, Argentine Media Corporations Association (ADEPA), and Argentine Journalism Forum (FOPEA) denounced President Fernandez’s March remarks before congress, in which he argued that there was “a perverse system in which judges, prosecutors, supposed spies, and journalists intermingle in order to illegally pursue detained persons and to mount judicial extortion.” Both organizations asserted that Fernandez’s comments were meant to intimidate and stigmatize the press and to discredit journalistic investigations.

In August a federal judge dismissed charges of illicit association and illegal espionage against journalist Daniel Santoro of the Clarin newspaper, citing lack of evidence. The allegations originated in 2019 following disclosure of Santoro’s connections with Marcelo D’Alessio, whom authorities charged with extortion after he allegedly posed as a lawyer and threatened individuals with negative media coverage. Santoro asserted that D’Alessio was a journalistic source. ADEPA and FOPEA repeatedly denounced the accusations against Santoro.

Violence and Harassment: There were reports of physical attacks, threats, and harassment against journalists.

In March a group of persons identified with a labor union attacked the offices of the newspaper Rio Negro in the city of General Roca. The attackers assaulted a photographer and receptionist, threatened staff, and damaged equipment after the newspaper published an article on its investigation into sexual abuse accusations against one of the union members.

In April Neuquen provincial police handcuffed and arrested journalist Agustin Aguilar while he was reporting live on radio regarding a violent incident incited by members from a local union inside the headquarters of his media organization, Grupo Prima.

FOPEA reported eight alleged physical attacks against journalists in 2020, compared with 27 in 2019. Six cases involved physical assaults on journalists covering demonstrations in the city of Buenos Aires and in the provinces of Corrientes, Mendoza, Cordoba, Santa Fe, and Rio Negro.

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

At times police used force to disperse demonstrators. On March 5, provincial authorities in the city of Formosa ordered local police to disperse demonstrators protesting restrictions implemented in response to the COVID-19 pandemic. Police used sticks, tear gas, and rubber bullets against demonstrators. National government officials, as well as local and international NGOs, expressed concern regarding the harsh measures.

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

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

Beginning in March 2020, the government of Formosa Province restricted the ability of residents and visitors to enter and circulate within the province due to the COVID-19 pandemic. In March a federal court in Formosa ordered the governor to allow free movement within the province to any individual with a negative test for the disease. The judges’ ruling noted that the “illegitimate and unreasonable” provincial actions threatened citizens’ human rights and conflicted with national law.

Not applicable.

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

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. Decisions on asylum petitions can take up to two years to adjudicate.

As of June the International Organization for Migration (IOM) reported 5,748 Venezuelan migrants had arrived in the country, while approximately 8,300 had departed. Between January and June, the IOM reported 49,852 Venezuelans received permanent residency status in Argentina and 9,020 received temporary residence. The National Commission for Refugees received 1,509 requests for refugee status in 2020, approximately 47 percent fewer than in 2019, and adjudicated 116.

Access to Basic Services: According to UNHCR’s regional representative, due to the COVID-19 pandemic and the resulting restrictions on freedom of movement and association, refugees and migrants continued to lose jobs and livelihoods. Many migrants did not have access to national social programs because they did not have the required documentation or did not meet the requisites.

In July the interior minister signed a change in regulations to allow approximately 6,800 Venezuelan minors to regularize their migration status and receive an identification card. With the card, the minors would be eligible for health, education, and work benefits, as well as a two-year residency permit.

Armenia

Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties

The constitution and law provide for freedom of expression, including for members of the press and other media. While the government generally respected this right, parliament enacted several restrictions during the year, amending the law to dramatically raise the maximum civil penalties for insult and defamation in March, criminalize grave insults and obscene or foul language in July, and significantly restrict accredited journalists covering of parliament in August.

Freedom of Expression: Individuals were generally free to criticize the government without fear of reprisal. On July 29, however, authorities indicted Yezidi human rights activist Sashik Sultanyan under Article 226 of the criminal code, which prohibits “actions aimed at the incitement of national, racial, or religious hatred or humiliation of national dignity” for expressing his view that the government was not doing enough to protect the country’s Yezidi minority from discrimination. If convicted, he faced three to six years in prison. A group of NGOs warned the case would “hinder any public discussion of problems related to discrimination or human rights of minorities…” Human Rights Watch called the prosecution malicious and the criminal indictment spurious. On August 6, the ombudsperson stated his office shared these concerns, noting that even if some of Sultanyan’s criticisms were inaccurate, he should not be held criminally liable.

On July 30, parliament adopted legislation that makes it a crime to voice a “grave insult” or offend a person’s dignity in an “extremely indecent manner” (see details under Libel/Slander Laws, below).

Freedom of Expression for Members of the Press and Other Media, Including Online Media: On August 18, citing security concerns, the National Assembly’s leadership adopted changes in procedures for accrediting journalists working in parliament, restricting them to certain areas of parliament and no longer allowing them to interview lawmakers coming out of parliament chambers or approaching their offices. Even before the official changes were adopted, parliament’s administrators applied the restrictions to journalists. On August 5, for example, Panorama.am photojournalist Lilian Galstyan was banned from entering the National Assembly and subsequently lost her National Assembly accreditation as a result of her photo-reportage from the security checkpoint of parliament. Local media watchdogs condemned the ban and actions of parliament’s leadership, noting that such initiatives were regressive and unsubstantiated, and they undermined efforts to establish civilized relations between authorities and the media. Galstyan’s accreditation was reinstated on August 17.

On August 11, during a scuffle between parliamentarians of the ruling party and the opposition, Speaker Alen Simonyan ordered the termination of the session’s live-stream broadcast. Security officers forbade accredited journalists and videographers from filming the incident from their allocated location in parliament. Media watchdogs condemned the speaker’s move, asserting he had exceeded his authority and that citizens had the right to be informed of what was happening in parliament.

During a scuffle between parliamentarians during an August 24 parliamentary session, security officers forcibly removed media representatives from the press booth, not allowing them to continue filming. The officers threatened to deprive News.am news website cameraman Hayk Tonoyan of his parliament accreditation if he continued to film and, according to Tonoyan, they deleted the video of the fight. A similar incident occurred on August 25 during another fight in parliament. In a statement released on August 25, media watchdogs condemned what they described as the continuous harassment of media representatives in parliament. The statement described the restrictions as illegal actions against freedom of speech and the right of the public to be informed.

Media outlets were politically polarized. Private individuals or groups, most of whom were reportedly tied to former authorities or parliamentary opposition parties, owned most broadcast media and newspapers, which tended to reflect the political leanings and financial interests of their proprietors. The number of government-linked outlets started to grow during the year with government officials or individuals tied to them reportedly acquiring new media outlets. These outlets similarly tended to reflect the viewpoints of those tied to them.

Broadcast media, particularly public television, remained one of the primary sources of news and information for the majority of the population. According to some media watchdogs, public television continued to present news and political debates from a progovernment standpoint, although it continued to remain accessible to opposition voices. Cases of bias on public television were especially obvious during the pre-election period. Media monitoring conducted by Yerevan Press Club on the eve of the June 20 parliamentary elections indicated that the public broadcaster paid the least attention to the main opposition force (Armenia bloc) in terms of the volume of allocated airtime. The report also underlined that public television made serious inroads in introducing the culture of pre-election debates.

Social media users freely expressed opinions concerning the government and former authorities on various social media platforms. Use of false social media accounts and attempts to manipulate media, however, continued to increase during the pre-election period but went down slightly following the elections. According to media watchdogs, individuals used manipulation technologies systematically, including hybrid websites, controversial bloggers, “troll factories,” anonymous Telegram channels, and fictional Facebook groups and stories, to attack the government. There were some reports of individuals linked with the government using fake accounts as well, although not as systematically. There was a particular spike in misinformation on COVID-19 and vaccination-related topics, which led to stronger fact-checking efforts by local watchdog organizations.

The country’s few independent media outlets, mostly online, were not self-sustainable and survived only through international donations and support, with limited revenues from advertising and subscription fees.

Media company ownership was mostly nontransparent. The country’s Fourth Action Plan of Open-Government Partnership Initiative of the Republic of Armenia (2018-2020) included commitments to improve ownership disclosure. On June 3, parliament adopted a series of laws on beneficial ownership disclosure that came into force on June 28. They require all limited liability companies to disclose their beneficial owners by January 2022, with media outlets having to comply by November 1.

Violence and Harassment: The local NGO Committee to Protect Freedom of Expression reported 18 cases of violence against journalists during the year, of which six were committed by government officials. The committee reported that 20 journalists and operators were injured. In one case a group of approximately 20 protesters harassed and assaulted RFE/RL reporter Artak Ghulyan and videographer Karen Chilingaryan in Yerevan on February 23. The journalists were broadcasting live from a rally demanding the resignation of Prime Minister Pashinyan when a group of protesters started yelling insults and curse words at them, saying that RFE/RL “will soon be closed down,” according to Ghulyan. When Chilingaryan asked protesters not to interfere with their work, the group punched and kicked Ghulyan and Chilingaryan in full view of police; this continued for five to 10 minutes before police intervened and broke up the scuffle. The journalists were bruised but not seriously injured. The attackers damaged their equipment, breaking a camera, according to reports. The Prosecutor General’s Office was investigating the incident.

Cases of officials using force against journalists or attempting to do so increased during the second half of the year. In most cases law enforcement authorities did not open criminal cases, claiming a lack of legal grounds. For example on March 18, Hakob Arshakyan, who was then minister of high-technology industry, was caught on camera punching Irakanum.am reporter Paylak Fahradyan in the face after the latter noticed him in a cafe and asked him what he was doing there during working hours. Arshakyan resigned following the incident but was later elected deputy speaker of parliament. The SIS did not open a criminal investigation of the incident, alleging lack of criminal grounds.

The SIS decided not to prosecute progovernment parliamentarian Hayk Sargsyan for taking the smartphone of Anush Dashtents, a reporter for opposition daily Hraparak, as she tried to interview him. Sargsyan took the smartphone, attempted to delete the video, and later left with it in his possession. The lawmaker defended his actions and accused Dashtents of violating his privacy. Leading local media NGOs demanded that the Office of the Prosecutor General overturn the SIS decision and order criminal proceedings against Sargsyan. “We maintain that the incident constituted an obstruction of legitimate professional activities,” they said in a joint statement. “But even if the investigators did not characterize [Sargsyan’s actions] in that way, illegally taking away a journalist’s property, breaching the secrecy of their personal data, and coercing them not to disseminate information are sufficient grounds for holding Hayk Sargsyan accountable.”

Libel/Slander Laws: In March the National Assembly amended the civil code to dramatically raise the maximum fines for insult and defamation offenses. Freedom House and local media watchdogs criticized the bill, saying it would “stifle media freedom and freedom of expression.” The amendments came into force on October 23 after the Constitutional Court ruled them constitutional on October 5.

On July 30, the outgoing parliament passed legislation making it a crime to utter a “grave insult” or offend a person’s dignity in an “extremely indecent manner.” Under the amendments, which entered into force August 30, penalties include fines up to 500,000 drams ($1,000) for a single offense of grave insult, up to one million drams ($2,000) for spreading a grave insult publicly or gravely insulting a person in connection with public activity, and if repeated, higher fines and up to three months in prison. The law is stricter for officials, who may also be deprived of the right to hold office. The My Step ruling faction held two readings of the draft and adopted it the same day. As of December 12, law enforcement bodies had opened 166 criminal investigations into alleged violations of the new law. On September 23, media reported that police launched the first criminal case under the new law, for writing an insulting comment under Prime Minister Pashinyan’s photograph on Facebook. In another early case, opposition figure Narek Samsonyan was arrested on December 14 for a social media post he made concerning Yerevan City Council member Davit Khazhakyan of Bright Armenia.

Nongovernmental Impact: According to Emergency 2020: Report on Human Rights Violations by the Police, published by HCAV on April 28, several new antidemocratic initiatives and movements that arose together with increased civil society activity after the 2018 revolution had a chilling effect on civil society. While they positioned themselves as civil society institutes, these organizations’ agendas focused on combating the promotion of human rights and democratic values and provoking hatred through violence and physical threats. Law enforcement bodies opened several investigations into the groups and some of their activities but did not prosecute any of their members.

The constitution and law provide for the freedoms of peaceful assembly and association. The government generally respected these rights, but there were some restrictions.

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

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

As of December 2020, according to the international NGO Internal Displacement Monitoring Center, approximately 2,700 internally displaced persons (IDPs) of the estimated 65,000 households evacuated in connection with the 1988-94 fighting were still living in displacement. Some of the country’s IDPs and refugees lacked adequate housing and had limited economic opportunities. The government did not have specific programs and policies aimed at promoting the safe, voluntary, dignified return, resettlement, or local integration of IDPs.

According to the government, the fall 2020 fighting displaced approximately 100,000 individuals from Nagorno-Karabakh and the surrounding territories, although some reportedly returned to their residences. As of August the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) estimated that approximately 37,000 of these displaced individuals remained in the county.

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

Access to Asylum: The law provides for granting asylum or refugee status, and the government has established a system for providing protection to refugees. During the COVID-19 state of emergency from March through September 2020, an electronic asylum system was introduced. In September 2020 the Migration Service returned to normal operation.

Applications to reopen closed asylum cases were treated as repeat applications requiring new elements, a practice that hindered access to asylum. While processing cases of individuals in detention was suspended temporarily in early 2020 due to the COVID-19 state of emergency, the processing of other cases continued. As of August, however, the cases of some applicants in detention remained suspended.

The law accounts for specific needs of asylum seekers who are children, persons with mental disabilities, and trauma survivors and allows detention centers to receive asylum applications. Authorities generally enforced the law, but only to the extent scarce resources allowed. Applicants with specific needs were mainly supported by UNHCR through its partner NGOs. Refugees who were not ethnic Armenians could apply for facilitated naturalization, which requires passing a constitutional knowledge test. Such citizenship, however, was rarely granted.

Shortcomings in asylum procedures included limited state funding for interpreters and deficiencies in training and capacity of eligibility determination officers, with no sustainable quality assurance mechanism and a lack of professional development of staff. Asylum seekers expressed concern regarding their access to legal aid. While the law provides for free legal assistance to asylum seekers through the Office of the Public Defender under the Chamber of Advocates, legal, capacity, and operational constraints reportedly hindered the exercise of this right. Legal aid to persons filing their initial asylum applications was limited to the provision of information and counselling, while legal assistance and representation were available to asylum seekers appealing negative asylum decisions. Legal representation at initial asylum hearings was available in only a limited number of cases and only when it was provided by the UNHCR partner NGO. Due to serious systemic constraints, including insufficient and inexperienced staff at the Public Defender’s Office and a lack of interpreter services, asylum seekers reportedly experienced serious difficulties accessing quality legal assistance when they attempted to appeal negative asylum decisions.

Judges exhibited more conservative approaches towards asylum claims, often referring to national security considerations in the abstract and rejecting appeals without thoroughly assessing asylum claims. As a result, unsubstantiated rejection of asylum claims for lack of credibility became more common. While procedures for determining refugee status improved over the past decade, there were concerns over how judges applied basic asylum concepts and the subjective attitudes of staff in assessing religion-based claims. Although some judges received additional training on asylum matters and practical implementation of decisions during the year, asylum cases continued to be assigned to judges lacking in-depth knowledge of relevant law. Judicial review remained a lengthy process as judges remained overloaded with cases.

In May the National Assembly amended the Law on Refugees and Asylum and the administrative procedure code to accelerate asylum procedures for applicants who crossed the border irregularly, were subject to outstanding requests for their extradition, or were subject to criminal prosecution in Armenia; the amendments entered into force in August. Given the obstacles faced by asylum seekers who attempt to obtain legal aid, some experts were concerned that the accelerated procedures could make it more difficult for some asylum applicants to achieve effective remedies.

Authorities continued to offer ethnic Armenians from Syria who remained in the country a choice of protection options, including expedited naturalization, a residence permit, or refugee status. Quick naturalization gave persons displaced from Syria the same legal right to health care and most other social services as other citizens. Many of the countrywide reforms, such as provision of increased social services, higher pensions, and more accessible health care also benefited refugees who became naturalized citizens.

Refugees who are not ethnic Armenians could apply for facilitated naturalization, which requires passing a test focused on knowledge of the constitution. UNHCR had no information of citizenship being granted in such cases.

Refoulement: There were several instances of alleged forced returns of Azerbaijanis who had sought asylum in the country.

Abuse of Migrants, Refugees, and Stateless Persons: There were reports of nonsystemic discrimination in the acceptance of applications and in detention of asylum seekers based on the country of origin, race, or religion of the asylum seeker, as well as difficulties with integration. Civil society contacts reported discriminatory attitudes and suspicion directed towards foreign migrants seeking employment.

Between January and August, seven foreigners seeking asylum were detained due to foreign extradition requests, and another asylum seeker was detained due to irregular entry and an extradition request. As of July, 11 asylum seekers were in detention, including five from Georgia; others were from Turkey, India, Russia, and Iran.

The law allows detention centers to receive asylum applications. Despite a provision in the law exempting asylum seekers from criminal liability for irregular border crossing, authorities required them to remain in detention pending the outcome of their asylum applications or to serve the remainder of their sentences. The new criminal code adopted by parliament in May reflected the nonpenalization clause of the 1951 Refugee Convention, specifically under the articles on irregular crossing of the state border and use of falsified documents. The criminal code was scheduled to come into force in July 2022.

Access to Basic Services: Many asylum seekers were unable to work or receive an education while their cases worked their way through the legal system, despite legal provisions protecting these rights, due to a lack of job openings, difficulty in accessing opportunities, and language barriers. Language differences created barriers to employment, education, and access to services otherwise provided for by law. The government reception center and integration house (a refugee housing facility where some asylum seekers were accommodated) provided some Armenian and Russian language classes.

Housing allocated to refugees was in limited supply, in poor condition, and remained, along with employment, refugees’ greatest concern. During the COVID-19 pandemic, close quarters in the refugee center (a housing facility where some asylum seekers were accommodated) also gave rise to fears of infection, although no COVID-19 cases were reported in the center during the year. Many displaced families relied on a rental subsidy program supported by UNHCR and diaspora organizations, which experts noted was only a temporary solution. Authorities operated an integration house with places for 29 refugees and offered refugees accommodation free of charge during the first months after they acquired refugee status. The conditions of public shelters were often substandard, which caused tensions among the refugees, as some of them received rental subsidy assistance and resided in private accommodations.

Overall, observers assessed refugee and asylum-seeker access to the health-care system as adequate but noted that asylum seekers faced difficulties because they did not have access to the e-health ArMed system, largely due to language barriers. This system permitted advance registration for medical examinations and services and provided information regarding vaccination records that were required for individuals’ travel outside of the country. One service provider noted that some institutions, such as polyclinics, banks, and private employers, did not recognize the Convention Travel Document (issued by Armenia to show that the holder is a refugee and has been granted asylum) as an identification document.

Access to education for many refugees was difficult due to language differences. Other barriers included expenses related to transportation, school supplies, and clothes and bullying by other students.

Durable Solutions: The government accepted refugees for resettlement and offered naturalization to refugees residing on its territory. In May the government adopted the Conceptual Framework for the State Management of Migration that envisaged development of the 2021-31 Integration Strategy and its action plan for 2021-26. The framework also offered integration programs to returnees from West European countries who either voluntarily returned or were deported by the host country.

According to official data, as of June 30, there were 892 stateless persons in country. There was limited information available on the number, geographic locations, and profile of stateless persons, persons at risk of statelessness, and undocumented persons. The citizenship law provides for the provision of nationality to stateless children born on the country’s territory. Amendments to the citizenship law were adopted by parliament on December 8 and were scheduled to come into force on June 25, 2022. The amendments were intended to help close the remaining gaps related to the naturalization of persons displaced from Azerbaijan in the 1990s as well as loss of citizenship issues.

Australia

Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties

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

National Security: In May a Senate Inquiry into Press Freedom released a report that tabled 17 recommendations, including on improving the freedom of information laws and amending the criminal code to reverse the onus on journalists to prove their stories are in the public interest. This followed the 2019 federal police raid on the home of a News Corp reporter seeking information about the publication of classified material, and a subsequent raid on the Australian Broadcasting Corporation headquarters over reporting of alleged war crimes in Afghanistan that sparked a national discussion on press freedom. A coalition of media organizations led the debate and calling for more legal protections for journalists and whistleblowers.

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

In July and August, thousands of protesters attended “Freedom Rally” demonstrations against stay-at-home orders and other public health measures adopted in response to the COVID-19 pandemic. Following a July 24 protest in Sydney, New South Wales, police reportedly issued hundreds of fines and charged dozens of protesters for violating public health orders. Some police officers were reportedly injured when protesters then began throwing objects; two men were arrested and charged after allegedly striking a police horse. In August a man was sentenced to eight months jail for his role in organizing antilockdown protests in Sydney.

Victoria police fired pepper-ball rounds during an August 21 protest in Melbourne and arrested more than 200 protesters during what the Victoria police commissioner called one of the most violent protests in 20 years. According to media reports, at least nine officers were taken to the hospital with minor injuries.

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

The law provides for freedom of internal movement, foreign travel, emigration, and repatriation and the government generally respected these rights. Public health orders enacted to control the spread of COVID-19, including internal and external border control measures, quarantine requirements, and lockdowns restricted movement.

In-country Movement: Most state and territory governments enacted interstate border control measures to combat the spread of COVID-19, either temporarily prohibiting movement or enforcing a mandatory 14-day quarantine period on arrival. Several jurisdictions at times prevented citizens from returning to their homes after travelling interstate when a COVID outbreak occurred. Most state and territory governments at times imposed strict lockdown measures to control the spread of COVID-19, requiring residents to stay at home unless commuting for a designated purpose, such as to purchase groceries or for essential work. Some governments temporarily restricted residents’ movements to a three-mile radius, imposed nighttime curfews, and required work permits for those undertaking essential work. Penalties for breaching stay-at-home orders included substantial fines. In August a man was jailed for two months for leaving Sydney in contravention of public health measures.

Some human rights groups expressed concerns about several public health measures imposed by subnational governments. On November 2, 2020, in the case of Loielo v Giles, the Supreme Court of Victoria ruled that a 9 p.m. to 5 a.m. curfew imposed in Victoria in August-September 2020 was lawful, ruling it proportionate to the public health threat and consistent with the state’s Charter of Human Rights.

Foreign Travel: In June a federal court rejected a legal challenge to the pandemic-related requirement for citizens to obtain an exemption from the Department of Home Affairs to leave the country. Citizens and permanent residents must provide evidence that travel supports a permitted purpose such as business, urgent medical treatment not available in the country, or the national interest. Human rights groups criticized pandemic-related health measures sharply reducing inbound international travel, claiming they effectively deprived citizens of the right to enter the country. In April two citizens brought a complaint to the UN Human Rights Committee accusing the government of breaching Article 12 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, a view echoed by some human rights groups. In May the government implemented a two-week ban on entry by individuals, including citizens, who had recently been in India due to concerns about the COVID-19 situation there. Failure to comply carried a penalty of five years’ imprisonment. Human rights groups and the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights criticized these restrictions.

Not applicable.

The government cooperated with the office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) and other humanitarian organizations in providing protection and assistance to refugees, returning refugees, or asylum seekers, as well as other persons of concern. UNHCR noted, however, that it continued to work with the government to overcome the organization’s concerns, including access to durable solutions. In a 2019 submission to a Senate committee, UNHCR detailed challenges such as prolonged detention of migrants and access to asylum and statelessness determination procedures.

Access to Asylum: The law provides for granting asylum or refugee status. The government maintains a humanitarian refugee program that includes several types of visas available to refugees and other humanitarian entrants for resettlement in the country. The Department of Home Affairs oversees refugee resettlement via the Refugee and Humanitarian Program, which distinguishes between “offshore” and “onshore” individuals. Individuals residing offshore – outside the country – can apply for a humanitarian visa if they are subject to persecution in their home country; meet the “compelling reasons” criterion; and satisfy health, character, and national security requirements. Individuals who arrived in the country legally and later seek protection can apply for a Permanent Protection visa. Persons who seek to enter the country without proper authorization are classified as illegal migrants and subject to detention in the country or, for unauthorized maritime arrivals, in a third country for offshore processing. Individuals who arrived illegally may be permitted to apply for a Temporary Protection visa or a Safe Haven Enterprise visa at the discretion and invitation of the responsible government minister but are precluded from applying for a Permanent Protection visa and it was generally very difficult for them to legalize their status.

UNHCR identifies and refers some applicants who are residing offshore to the government (usually the Department of Home Affairs) to be considered under the offshore component of the humanitarian program. While the Migration Act contains family reunification provisions, such requests from irregular migrants are given lowest priority.

The law allows the home affairs minister to designate and enter into an agreement with a third country as a regional processing country for migrants who attempt to enter the country illegally through maritime arrivals. By law any unauthorized maritime arrival entering the country’s waters is liable for transfer to a designated regional processing country for processing and resettlement.

Memoranda of understanding for refugee processing were signed with Papua New Guinea and Nauru. Centers were established in those countries; however, they were closed in October 2017 and March 2019, respectively. The settlement arrangements provide for third-country resettlement of unauthorized maritime arrivals that Nauru or Papua New Guinea assess as needing international protection. The assessments are conducted by the regional processing country under its domestic laws. On October 6, Australia and Papua New Guinea announced the refugee processing agreement between the two countries will end on December 31, and the remining refugees will be offered a permanent migration pathway if they wish to stay in Papua New Guinea. A memorandum of understanding for the resettlement of Nauru-determined refugees in Cambodia existed from 2014-18.

As of August 25, approximately 107 refugees or asylum seekers remained in Nauru, housed in community-based facilities funded by the Australian Government; another 125 remained in similar facilities in Papua New Guinea. Since 2019 all persons transferred to these countries reside in community-based accommodation pending third-country migration outcomes.

A detention facility on Christmas Island, an Australian territory, was reopened in 2020 to accommodate overflow in the country’s immigration detention network. As of August 29, the facility held approximately 250 persons, mostly individuals whose visas were cancelled for character reasons (i.e., persons who served 12 months or more in jail and were pending removal from the country). There were media reports asylum seekers were moved to the facility as early as 2019.

By law the government must facilitate legal representation to all persons in immigration detention in the country when requested. Some government-funded legal assistance remained available for visa applications for unauthorized maritime arrivals.

Abuse of Migrants and Refugees: Domestic and international organizations reported deteriorating mental health among migrants brought from Nauru and Papua New Guinea for medical treatment and detained in immigration facilities in the country. These organizations alleged some migrants held in these facilities lacked access to communal and outdoor areas and to adequate mental health and other medical services, increasing the risk of suicide and self-harm among those being treated. The government released some individuals from these facilities on short-stay visas or into community detention pending departure from the country. The government reported that it provided necessary services to refugees and denied claims of harsh conditions or lack of medical services. Protests in Brisbane and Melbourne seeking policy changes, including a change to community detention policy, continued during the year.

Approval of transfers of asylum seekers and refugees from Nauru and Papua New Guinea to Australia for medical treatment not available in the regional processing location is handled on a case-by-case basis subject to clinical advice.

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

Temporary Protection: The law permits two temporary protection options for individuals who arrived in the country without authorization and were not taken to regional processing countries: the Temporary Protection Visa and Safe Haven Enterprise Visa. The government must invite these migrants, who are otherwise barred from making a visa application due to their status as unauthorized arrivals, to apply for either visa. The Temporary Protection Visa is valid for three years, and visa holders can work, study, and reside anywhere in the country with access to support services. Once expired, Temporary Protection Visa holders may apply for another. The Safe Haven Enterprise Visa is valid for five years and is granted on the basis that the visa holder works or studies in nonmetropolitan areas. Safe Haven Enterprise Visa holders may apply for certain permanent or temporary visas after 42 months.

Austria

Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties

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

Freedom of Expression: The law prohibits incitement, insult, or contempt against a group because of its members’ race, nationality, religion, or ethnicity if the statement violates human dignity, and imposes criminal penalties for violations. The law prohibits public denial, belittlement, approval, or justification of the Nazi genocide or other Nazi crimes against humanity in print media, broadcast media, the publication of books, and online newspapers or journals, and provides criminal penalties for violations. The law also prohibits disparagement of religious teachings in public. The government strictly enforced these laws (see the Department of State’s International Religious Freedom Report at https://www.state.gov/religiousfreedomreport/.

Libel/Slander Laws: Libel, slander, defamation, and denouncement of religious teachings (blasphemy) are criminal offenses and are enforced. NGOs reported that strict libel and slander laws created conditions that discouraged reporting of governmental abuse. For example, many observers believed the ability and willingness of police to sue for libel or slander discouraged individuals from reporting police abuses.

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

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

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

In-country Movement: Asylum seekers’ freedom of movement was restricted to the district of the reception center assigned by authorities for the duration of their initial application process, until the country’s responsibility for examining the application was determined. By law asylum seekers must be physically present in the centers of first reception while administrative processing is underway, but no more than 120 hours during the initial application process. Authorities have 20 days in which to determine the country’s responsibility and jurisdiction for the case.

Concerns about the COVID-19 pandemic resulted in special requirements for movement within the country. Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the government imposed nationwide lockdowns from the beginning of the year through mid-May and from November 22 to December 12. On November 15, the government also imposed a nationwide lockdown for unvaccinated and nonrecovered individuals, requiring them to stay at home unless they needed to exercise, purchase items at essential retail outlets such as grocery stores and pharmacies, or go to work. The lockdown for unvaccinated and nonrecovered individuals continued after the nationwide lockdown ended on December 12. There were also some exit restrictions in provinces and municipalities throughout the country when infection or hospital rates became too high. For example, in September persons near Braunau, which had a high incidence of infection and a low rate of immunization, were required to be vaccinated or tested for COVID-19 with a negative result to leave that area.

Not applicable.

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

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.

Despite growing criticism by human rights NGOs, the government continued to deport unsuccessful asylum seekers to Afghanistan until August. In a legal challenge brought by an Afghan being held in custody prior to deportation, the Constitutional Court ruled on August 17 that given recent developments in Afghanistan, it was impossible to deport Afghan asylum seekers within any reasonable time. Subsequently, the ministers of interior and foreign affairs acknowledged deportations to Afghanistan were no longer possible and stressed that under EU and Schengen Zone rules, the government instead would return Afghans to the first EU country they entered on their way to Austria.

Safe Country of Origin/Transit: EU regulations provide that asylum seekers who transit an EU country determined to be “safe” on their way to Austria can be returned to that country to apply for refugee status. Authorities considered signatories to the 1951 Refugee Convention and its 1967 Protocol to be safe countries of transit.

Employment: While asylum seekers are legally restricted from seeking regular employment, they are eligible for seasonal work, low-paying community service jobs, or professional training in sectors that require additional apprentices. A work permit is required for seasonal employment but not for professional training. An employer must request the work permit for the prospective employee. Asylum seekers have access to health care services and school education is available to their children, but they do not receive other integration services, such as language classes or employment assistance, until their applications have been approved.

Durable Solutions: While the government processes and grants applications for asylum, there was no active program for resettlement of refugees, and UNHCR was not involved in the refugee or asylum process in the country. The integration section in the Ministry for Women, Family, Youth, and Integration at the Federal Chancellery, together with the Integration Fund and provincial and local integration offices, coordinated measures for integration of refugees.

Temporary Protection: According to the Ministry of Interior, in 2020 the government provided temporary protection to 2,524 individuals who might not qualify as refugees but were unable to return to their home countries. According to the Ministry of Interior, between January and July, the government provided temporary protection to 2,110 individuals.

According to the government’s statistical office, in January there were 17,992 persons in the country registered as stateless, that is, having undocumented or unclear citizenship. Stateless persons in the country were largely Austrian-born children of foreign nationals who were unable to acquire their parents’ citizenship due to the laws in their parents’ country of origin. Authorities did not deport them because they lacked a home country.

The law allows some stateless persons to gain Austrian nationality. A stateless person born in the country may be granted citizenship within two years of reaching the age of 18 if he or she has lived in the country for a total of 10 years, including five years continuously before application, and is able to demonstrate sufficient income. Stateless persons can receive temporary residence and work permits that must be renewed annually.

Azerbaijan

Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties

While the law provides for freedom of expression, including for members of the press and other media and specifically prohibits press censorship, the government habitually violated these rights. The government limited freedom of expression and media independence. Journalists, editors, and independent bloggers faced intimidation and at times were beaten and imprisoned. In addition, there were suspicious acts of violence outside the country (see section 1.e., Politically Motivated Reprisal against Individuals Located Outside the Country). During the year authorities continued to pressure media outlets, journalists, bloggers, and activists in the country and in exile, including their relatives, to refrain from criticizing the government.

Freedom of Expression: Although the constitution provides for freedom of expression, the government continued to repress or attempt to intimidate persons it considered political opponents or critics. The incarceration of such persons raised concerns regarding authorities’ abuse of the judicial system to punish dissent. As of December 10, human rights defenders considered five incarcerated journalists and bloggers to be political prisoners or detainees. A number of incarcerations were widely seen as connected to the exercise of freedom of expression.

Examples of attempts by authorities to intimidate individuals they considered to be government critics included repeated harassing text messages and images on the smart phones of selected activists, including Bakhtiyar Hajiyev. In Hajiyev’s case, the messages included threats to his life. Activists targeted for such harassment considered government authorities responsible based on the software platforms utilized for harassment and the significant financial requirements to carry out such harassment. Another indicator that authorities were involved in this harassment was the visible reluctance of law enforcement bodies to investigate these cases. The constitution prohibits hate speech, defined as “propaganda provoking racial, national, religious, and social discord and animosity” as well as “hostility and other criteria.” Propaganda, slander, and hate speech, however, were used against opposition leaders, bloggers, independent journalists, and dissidents with impunity.

Freedom of Expression for Members of the Press and Media, Including Online Media: Throughout the year government-owned and progovernment outlets continued to dominate broadcast and print media. A limited number of independent and semi-independent online media outlets expressed a wide variety of views on government policies, but authorities pressured them in various ways for doing so. The International Research and Exchanges Board (IREX) 2021 Vibrant Information Barometer noted that in 2020, media in the country stagnated or deteriorated due to COVID-19-related restrictions and the intensive fighting in the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict. According to the report, “During the 44 days of active fighting, internet speeds were regulated for security reasons, limiting access to news; media critical of the government were selectively blocked. Social media platforms remain the only space where freedom of expression can be observed; however, there is a high degree of self-censorship to avoid punishment on sensitive topics. Low media literacy, hate speech, and/or extreme nationalism clashing with the handful of progressive/liberal views still exist.” Journalists needed accreditation to work during the pandemic, but some independent news outlets said they had difficulty obtaining the necessary paperwork, according to the NGO Reporters Without Borders.

Authorities continued exerting pressure on major media rights organizations and independent media outlets outside the country, as well as on individuals in the country associated with those outlets. Foreign media outlets, including Voice of America and Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty (RFE/RL), were banned in 2009 and remained prohibited from broadcasting on FM radio frequencies. The Russian service Sputnik, which was also originally prohibited from broadcasting, was later allowed to freely broadcast news. Censorship of press websites, restricted visas, and outright bans for those journalists critical of the country’s human rights record continued for foreign outlets and foreign journalists.

In late December the National Assembly rushed approval of a new media law, ignoring the input of civil society, independent journalists, and the international community. The law was awaiting President Aliyev’s signature at year’s end.

Violence and Harassment: During the year police occasionally used force and other methods against journalists and bloggers to prevent their professional activities and limit press freedom. Local observers reported that journalists from independent media outlets were subjected to harassment and cyberattacks. The harassment mainly targeted journalists from Radio Liberty, Azadliq and other opposition and semi-independent newspapers, as well as Meydan TV, Obyektiv Television, and Mikroskop Media. For example, journalists Nargiz Absalamova and Ulviyya Ali reported that on August 6, police punched and insulted them and broke their equipment while the two were covering a peaceful protest. Civil society activists continued to call on the government to conduct effective investigations of the high-profile killings of journalists Rasim Aliyev in 2015, Rafiq Tagi in 2011, and Elmar Huseynov in 2005.

Most local media outlets relied on the patronage of individuals close to the government or the Media Development Agency for income. Those not benefitting from such support experienced financial difficulties, such as problems paying wages, taxes, and periodic court fines.

Censorship or Content Restrictions: Most media outlets practiced self-censorship and avoided topics considered politically sensitive due to fear of government retaliation. The National Radio and Television Council continued to require that local, privately owned television and radio stations not rebroadcast complete news programs of foreign origin. Foreign radio stations were generally banned from direct broadcast.

Libel/Slander Laws: Libel and slander are criminal offenses. The law provides for substantial fines and up to three years’ imprisonment for persons convicted of libel or slander. Conviction of insulting the president is punishable by up to two years’ corrective labor or up to three years’ imprisonment. Libel and slander laws were routinely used to silence government critics, including accredited journalists and bloggers. For example, on March 2, the Sheki Court of Appeal sentenced bloggers Elchin Hasanzade and Ibrahim Salamov Turksoy to eight months in prison. In November 2020 both bloggers were found guilty of alleged “slander” and “insult” and sentenced to six months of correctional labor by the Mingachevir City Court. Human rights activists attributed the bloggers’ arrests as retribution for having publicized alleged corruption by Mingachevir authorities.

National Security: On February 15, the Baku Court of Appeals upheld the November 2020 conviction of Polad Aslanov, the editor in chief of the Xeberman.com and Press-az.com news websites for alleged espionage on behalf of Iran. Aslanov was sentenced to 16 years in prison. Human rights defenders asserted the case was a reprisal for Aslanov’s public assertion that the State Security Service demanded bribes from Azerbaijani pilgrims seeking to travel to Iran.

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

See the Department of State’s International Religious Freedom Report at https://www.state.gov/international-religious-freedom-reports/.

The law provides for freedom of internal movement, foreign travel, emigration, and repatriation. The government generally respected many of these rights but continued its practice of limiting freedom of movement for some prominent opposition figures, activists, and journalists.

Foreign Travel: Authorities continued to prevent a number of opposition figures, activists, and journalists from traveling outside the country. For example, Azerbaijan Popular Front Party chairperson Ali Kerimli had been prohibited from traveling since 2006. The law requires men of draft age to register with military authorities before traveling abroad. Authorities placed some travel restrictions on military personnel with access to national security information. Citizens charged with or convicted of criminal offenses and given suspended sentences were not permitted to travel abroad until the terms of their suspended sentences had been met.

The Office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) reported 653,921 registered internally displaced persons (IDPs) in the country as of midyear.  The vast majority fled their homes between 1988 and 1994 as a result of the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict.

IDPs had access to education and health care, but their unemployment rate was higher than the national average. Some international observers continued to state the government did not adequately promote the integration of IDPs into society.

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

Access to Asylum: The law provides for the granting of asylum or refugee status, and the government has established a system for providing protection to some refugees through the Refugee Status Determination Department at the State Migration Service, which is responsible for refugee matters. Although UNHCR noted some improvements in conditions for refugees, including access to public education and the legal right to work, the country’s refugee-status determination system did not meet international standards. International NGOs continued to report the service remained inefficient and did not operate transparently.

Safe Country of Origin/Transit: Since 2019 all asylum seekers have had access to asylum procedures. Additionally, since 2020 all refugees under UNHCR’s mandate also have had legal access to the labor market and were covered by the national health services (including free Covid vaccination) on par with Azerbaijani nationals. All of these persons of concern, however, still lack a formal legal status.

Temporary Protection: The government did not provide temporary protection to asylum seekers during the year. Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, however, authorities did not return rejected asylum seekers to their countries of origin and extended their stay in the country.

According to UNHCR statistics, there were 3,585 persons, per Azerbaijan’s 2009 census, in the country under UNHCR’s statelessness mandate. According to UNHCR, there were 88 persons registered as at risk of statelessness during the year. Of these 88 persons, 10 were able to receive Azerbaijani citizenship or restore their documents. By the end of November, 78 individuals were awaiting legal proceedings. The vast majority of stateless persons were ethnic Azerbaijanis from Georgia or Iran. NGOs stated there were many other undocumented stateless persons, with estimates ranging from hundreds to tens of thousands.

While the law provides for the right to apply for stateless status, some persons could not obtain the documentation required for the application and, therefore, remained formally unrecognized. The law on citizenship makes it difficult for foreigners and stateless persons to obtain citizenship. The State Migration Service received 737 applications from foreigners and stateless persons (762 including children) requesting Azerbaijani citizenship. Citizenship was granted to 577 foreigners and stateless persons (596 including children).

Stateless persons generally enjoyed freedom of internal movement. Stateless persons were not, however, issued travel documents or readmitted if they left the country. The law provides stateless persons with access to the basic rights of citizens, such as access to health care and education, but not employment.

According to the national legislation, stateless persons have access to all rights and services available to the citizens and foreigners in the country except certain rights that are limited to citizens only. However, according to UNHCR, these rights and services were accessible to only those documented with Azerbaijani government statelessness identity cards (IDs) or UNHCR protection documents. Those who lacked any ID documents also lacked access to basic rights, especially because of the expansion of the country’s electronic governance system. As one example, in order to access a health facility, a stateless person must have an ID document with PIN code to be able to get vaccinated or benefit from the mandatory health insurance.

The constitution allows citizenship to be removed “as provided by law.” There were two cases in which citizenship was removed during the year when the individuals obtained citizenship of other countries.

Bahamas, The

Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties

The constitution provides for freedom of expression, including for members of the press and other media, 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 members of the media. Independent media were active and expressed a wide variety of views without restriction.

New press guidelines released by the Prime Minister’s Office in October drew criticism from local journalists, who called them “unnecessary” and “inappropriate.” According to the guidelines, journalists “should” wear business attire and use specific titles when addressing ministers. The guidelines limited simultaneous accreditation to two journalists and two videographers per media house and required that journalists who requested “specific responses to issues” communicate with the press secretary by 6 p.m. the night before the briefing. The government stated the guidelines were intended to ensure timely responses to journalists’ questions, expand access to new voices in journalism, and facilitate the observance of COVID-19 health protocols.

Libel/Slander Laws: The law criminalizes both negligent and intentional libel, with a penalty of six months’ imprisonment for the former and two years’ imprisonment for the latter. The government did not apply the criminal libel law during the year.

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

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

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

In April the government demolished 10 residential structures housing internally displaced citizens and migrants on the hurricane-ravaged island of Abaco. Before the government continued with its plan to remove more than 200 total structures, the Supreme Court issued an injunction, which remained under appeal. Officials made little to no effort to shelter the displaced residents. In one instance media reported that police confiscated personal property, including generators and small refrigerators. Nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) requested that the items be returned where proof of ownership existed, but the government did not respond.

In response to the demolition orders, the special UN rapporteur for human rights of internally displaced persons urged the government to “immediately cease further evictions and housing demolitions,” calling them “a serious violation of the human right to adequate housing.”

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

Access to Asylum: While the law does not provide protection for asylum seekers, the government may issue special refugee cards allowing them to work. It did not issue any such cards to the approximately 50 asylum seekers during the year. Access to asylum in the country was informal, since there is no legal framework under which legal protections and practical safeguards can be implemented. The lack of refugee legislation, formal policy, and a point of contact in the government complicated UNHCR’s work to identify and assist asylum seekers and refugees.

Government procedure required the Department of Immigration to forward approved applications to the cabinet for a final decision on granting or denying asylum. The government met with UNHCR to discuss pending asylum cases, including asylum seekers who were detained at Carmichael Road Detention Centre for more than one year.

Authorities did not systematically involve UNHCR in asylum proceedings but allowed UNHCR to interview detained asylum seekers.

Refoulement: The government had an agreement with the government of Cuba to expedite removal of Cuban detainees. The announced intent of the agreement was to reduce the amount of time Cuban migrants spent in detention; however, concerns persisted that the agreement heightened the risk of oppression of detainees and their families by the Cuban government.

Abuse of Migrants and Refugees: The government provided COVID-19 medical assistance to all, regardless of immigration status. For months, however, the government required individuals to present Bahamian identification to register for the COVID-19 vaccine; the government later lifted the requirement. The government’s lack of clear guidance enabled rumors and fear to spread among migrants that presenting oneself for vaccination would result in deportation. Migrants accused police and immigration officers of soliciting bribes. Human rights organizations alleged bias against migrants, particularly those of Haitian descent, including through eviction notices in informal settlements.

Not all individuals born in the country are automatically afforded citizenship. For example, children born in the country to non-Bahamian parents, to an unwed Bahamian father and a non-Bahamian mother, or outside the country to a Bahamian mother and a non-Bahamian father do not acquire citizenship at birth. The government did not effectively implement laws and policies to provide certain long-term residents the opportunity to gain nationality in a timely manner and on a nondiscriminatory basis. There was little progress in advancing legislation intended to address the issue of statelessness.

Under the constitution, Bahamian-born persons of foreign heritage must apply for citizenship during a 12-month period following their 18th birthday, but applicants sometimes waited many years for a government response. The short period for application, difficult documentary requirements, and long waiting times left multiple generations of persons, primarily persons of Haitian descent, without a nationality. Government policy allows individuals who missed the 12-month window to gain legal permanent resident status with the right to work, but some Haitian residents lacked the necessary documents.

There were no reliable estimates of the number of persons without a confirmed nationality. The government asserted a number of “stateless” individuals who had a legitimate claim to Haitian citizenship refused to pursue it due to fear of deportation or loss of future claim to Bahamian citizenship. Such persons often faced waiting periods of several years for the government to decide on their nationality applications and, as a result, in the interim lacked proper documentation to secure employment, housing, and other public services. The lack of a passport also prohibited students from accessing higher education outside the country.

In two separate cases, persons born in The Bahamas to non-Bahamian parents were still awaiting the government’s determination on their nationality – one had waited 19 years and another 21 years – after submitting their applications. In both situations the individual relied on their employer to sponsor and renew their work permits each year to maintain legal status.

Minors born in the country to non-Bahamian parents were eligible to apply for “belonger” status that entitled them to reside in the country legally and access public education and health insurance. Belonger permits were readily available. The government does not bar children without legal status from government schools. To facilitate online instruction during the COVID-19 pandemic, the Ministry of Education provided computer tablets to students enrolled in the government-subsidized school lunch program, including children without legal status. Community activists alleged some schools continued to discriminate by falsely claiming to be full to avoid admitting children of Haitian descent.

The law denies mothers the right to confer nationality to their children on an equal basis with men. Specifically, women with foreign-born spouses do not automatically transmit citizenship to their spouses or children. Many of the provisions that preclude full gender equality in nationality matters are entrenched in the constitution; to change them would require a constitutional referendum.

Bahrain

Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties

The constitution provides for freedom of speech and for members of the press and other media, “provided that the fundamental beliefs of Islamic doctrine are not infringed, the unity of the people is not prejudiced, and discord and sectarianism are not aroused.” This constitutional provision, however, does not extend protection to social media. The government limited freedom of expression and press freedom through prosecutions of individuals under libel, slander, and national security laws that targeted both professional and citizen journalists.

Freedom of Expression: The law forbids any speech that infringes on public order or morals. Speech was curtailed in both traditional media and social media. While individuals openly expressed critical opinions regarding domestic political and social issues in private settings, those who expressed such opinions publicly often faced repercussions. During the year the government took steps against what it considered acts of civil disobedience, which included critical speech. The penal code allows penalties of no less than one year and no more than seven years of imprisonment, plus a fine, for anyone who “offends the monarch of the Kingdom of Bahrain, the flag, or the national emblem.”

On January 21, authorities released Shia preacher Sheikh Abdul Mohsin Mulla Atiyya al-Jamri after a one-year prison sentence. Al-Jamri was convicted of delivering a sermon “disdaining a figure that is revered by a religious group,” according to the PPO.

On July 8, retired military officer and social media activist Mohamed al-Zayani was sentenced to a two-year noncustodial sentence after posting a video criticizing the PPO and the judiciary. Al-Zayani was an outspoken critic on sensitive topics, such as political prisoners and corruption.

International and local NGOs reported that police summoned three clerics in August during the days leading up to, and following, the Ashura religious rites. Authorities reportedly summoned and interrogated them for the content of their sermons, and specifically for “inciting sectarian hatred.” Police held two of them overnight; the third cleric remained in police custody as of year’s end.

Freedom of Expression for Members of the Press and Other Media, Including Online Media: The government did not own any print media, but the Ministry of Information Affairs and other government entities exercised considerable control over privately owned domestic print media.

The government owned and operated all domestic radio and television stations. Audiences generally received radio and television broadcasts in Arabic and English from stations based outside the country, including by satellite. The Ministry of Information Affairs reviewed all books and publications prior to issuing printing licenses. The Ministry of Justice, Islamic Affairs, and Endowments also reviewed those books that discussed religion.

Violence and Harassment: According to local journalists and human rights groups, authorities sometimes harassed, arrested, or threatened journalists, photographers, and “citizen journalists” active on social media due to their reporting. Authorities claimed, however, that some individuals who identified themselves as journalists and photographers were associated with violent opposition groups and produced propaganda and recruiting videos for these groups. International media representatives reported difficulty in obtaining visas to work as journalists.

In June authorities detained a Sunni former member of parliament, Osama al-Tamimi, who had been critical on social media and in parliament of the ruling family and the treatment of prisoners. He was in the hospital for medical treatment at the time of his arrest. On June 27, he posted a message from prison, accusing authorities of penalizing his family by laying off his siblings from their government jobs, expelling his children from school, conducting multiple raids on his house, and vandalizing his property. Al-Tamimi also accused authorities of seizing his assets, freezing his local bank accounts, and injecting him with toxic substances. He remained in prison without charges at year’s end.

Censorship or Content Restrictions: Government censorship occurred. Ministry of Information Affairs personnel actively monitored and blocked stories on matters deemed sensitive, especially those related to sectarianism, national security, or criticism of the royal family, the Saudi royal family, or the judiciary. Journalists widely practiced self-censorship. Some members of media reported government officials contacted editors directly and told them to stop publishing articles on certain subjects.

The press and publications law prohibits anti-Islamic content in media and mandates imprisonment for “exposing the state’s official religion to offense and criticism.” The law states, “Any publication that prejudices the ruling system of the country and its official religion may be banned from publication by a ministerial order.” In November, after a movie studio refused to edit out certain scenes, the Ministry of Information banned the screening of a film due to its portrayal of a lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer, or intersex (LGBTQI+) character and a same-sex relationship.

Libel/Slander Laws: The government enforced libel and national security-related laws restricting freedom of the press. The penal code prohibits libel, slander, and “divulging secrets,” and it stipulates a punishment of imprisonment of no more than two years or a fine. Application of the slander law was selective.

National Security: National security laws provide for substantial fines and prison sentences of at least six months for criticizing the king or inciting actions that undermine state security, as well as fines for 14 related offenses. Punishable activities include publicizing statements issued by a foreign state or organization without prior government approval, publishing reports that adversely affect the value of the dinar (BHD), the local currency, saying anything offensive against a head of state that maintains diplomatic relations with the country, and publishing offensive remarks concerning accredited representatives of foreign countries.

The government restricted freedoms of peaceful assembly and association.

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

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

Foreign Travel: The law provides that the government may reject for “reasonable cause” applications to obtain or renew passports, but the applicant has the right to appeal such decisions before the High Civil Court. Individuals, including citizens of other countries, reported authorities blocked them from leaving over unpaid debts or other fiduciary obligations to private individuals or lending institutions, as well as for open court cases. The government maintained an online website enabling individuals to check their status before travel, although some persons claimed the website’s information was unreliable. Authorities relied on determinations of “national security” when adjudicating passport applications. The government sometimes prevented civil society activists and others who publicly criticized the government from leaving the country, including for travel to Geneva and other western capitals that host UN agencies. Reports alleged that four minor children were denied issuance of passports in retaliation for their exiled family members’ activities.

Exile: There were no reports the government prohibited the return of individuals it considered citizens. The government, however, prohibited the return of those whose citizenship it had formally revoked, or those it no longer considered citizens.

Citizenship: The government may revoke citizenship in both criminal and political cases, including for natural-born citizens. Authorities maintained the revocation of citizenship of some opposition political and religious figures. The government did not consider whether individuals may become stateless by these actions. At times it threatened to halt payments of pensions or remove families from government-assisted housing if the head of household lost his citizenship. Some family members, especially women and adult and minor children, reported difficulties renewing or obtaining their own passports, residence cards, and birth certificates. The government did not report how many persons had their citizenship revoked during the year; international human rights NGOs placed the total number at more than 900 since 2012, with the government reinstating more than 55 percent of revoked citizenships as of 2019.

Not applicable.

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

Access to Asylum: The law does not provide for the granting of asylum or refugee status, and the government has not established a system for providing protection to refugees. The government at times provided protection against the expulsion or return of refugees to countries where their lives or freedom would be threatened on account of their race, religion, nationality, membership in a particular social group, or political opinion. Such protection was mostly limited to those who were able to obtain and maintain employment in the country. Such individuals generally had access to health care and education services while employed but were at risk of deportation if they became unemployed or their country of origin revoked their passports. UNHCR reported that as of October, there were 255 refugees and 123 asylum-seekers registered with the agency.

Individuals generally derive citizenship from the father, but the king may also confer or revoke citizenship. The government considers only the father’s citizenship; it does not generally grant citizenship to children born to citizen mothers and foreign fathers, even if they were born within the country (see section 6, Children). Similarly, the government does not provide a path to citizenship for foreign men married to citizen women, while allowing foreign women married to citizen men to become citizens. Human rights organizations reported these laws resulted in stateless children, particularly when the foreign father was unable or unwilling to secure citizenship for the child from the father’s country of nationality, or when the father was stateless, deceased, or unknown. The number of stateless persons residing in the country was unknown. Stateless persons had limited access to social services, education, and employment.

NGOs confirmed multiple cases of authorities refusing applications for birth certificates and passports for children whose fathers were in prison because the fathers were not able to submit the applications in person or if their father’s citizenship had been revoked (see section 6, Children).

The government charged individuals whose citizenship it revoked with violating immigration law if they remained in the country.

Bangladesh

Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties

The constitution provides for freedom of expression including for members of the press and other media, but the government frequently contravened this right. There were significant limitations on freedom of expression both online and offline. Members of media and bloggers self-censored their criticisms of the government due to harassment and fear of reprisal.

The constitution equates criticism of the constitution with sedition. Punishment for conviction of sedition ranges from three years’ to life imprisonment.

The law limits hate speech but does not define clearly what constitutes hate speech, which permits the government broad latitude to interpret it. The government may restrict speech deemed to be against the security of the state; against friendly relations with foreign states; and against public order, decency, or morality; or which constitutes contempt of court, defamation, or incitement to an offense. The law criminalizes any criticism of constitutional bodies.

The DSA, passed ostensibly to reduce cybercrime, provides for sentences of up to life imprisonment for spreading “propaganda” against the Bangladesh Liberation War, the national anthem, or the national flag. In 2020 the Ministry of Home Affairs issued a press release restricting “false, fabricated, misleading and provocative statements” regarding the government, public representatives, army officers, police, and law enforcement through social media in the country and abroad. The release stated legal action would be taken against individuals who did not comply, in the interest of maintaining stability and internal law and order in the country.

Throughout the year the government widely used the DSA against persons criticizing the government, including questioning the government’s handling of the pandemic. Increasingly, the law was used against speech found on social media, websites, and other digital platforms, including for commentators living outside of the country. The government also issued other restrictions on freedom of speech. Health officials remained banned from speaking with media members after media reports on the health system’s lack of preparation in managing the COVID-19 pandemic in 2020.

A March op-ed in the Dhaka Tribune reported the Cybercrime Tribunal in Dhaka faced 2,450 pending DSA and Information Communications Act cases, having delivered one DSA guilty verdict to date.

On March 2, the minister for law, justice and parliamentary affairs told news outlets the government was taking measures to review the DSA, develop a check and balance system for misuse or abuse, and change the law to prevent an accused from arrest or charges before a police investigation. Although the minister again stated publicly the law had been abused, as of December no revisions had been issued.

On July 25, Amnesty International released a 24-page report on the DSA and freedom of expression online and profiled 10 individuals as emblematic DSA cases, including Mushtaq Ahmed and Ahmed Kabir Kishore. The report stated more than 1,300 cases had been filed against 2,000 persons under the DSA and nearly 1,000 persons had been arrested since the law was enacted in 2018. More than 100 journalists were sued under the DSA between January 2019 and July 2020, and at least 40 of them were arrested. Of the DSA cases covered within the report, 80 percent were filed by lawmakers, members of the ruling party, or law enforcement officials. In all cases individuals were accused of publishing posts on social media critical of the government and ruling party politicians. Amnesty International called on the government to drop the DSA charges against those exercising their right to freedom of expression.

According to the Department of Prisons, authorities have imprisoned at least 433 individuals under the DSA through July. At least 185 of these individuals were held for allegedly publishing offensive and false information online. Local human rights organization Human Rights Culture Foundation reported at least 21 individuals were arrested in DSA cases in October.

On December 31, local human rights organization ASK reported at least 210 journalists faced harassment, physical torture, assault, threats, and lawsuits, including cases filed under the DSA. The organization stated there were at least 1,134 DSA cases during the year.

Both print and online independent media were active and expressed a wide variety of views; however, media outlets that criticized the government were pressured by the government. Independent media could not operate freely or without restrictions.

The government maintained editorial control over the country’s public television station and allegedly mandated that private channels broadcast government content free of charge. Civil society organizations stated political interference influenced the licensing process, since all television channel licenses granted by the government were for stations supporting the ruling party. A January Center for Governance Studies study, Who Owns the Media in Bangladesh, reported family ties, political affiliations, and business interests shaped the ownership pattern in the media landscape in the country. A total of 32 business entities owned 48 media outlets, including newspapers, radio, television stations, and web portals. According to the study, the ruling party provided television licenses to individuals directly involved with its party or whose loyalty to the regime is “unquestionable” since 2009.

On May 17, media reported the government arrested and charged investigative journalist Rozina Islam under the 1923 Official Secrets Act and sections of the penal code for investigating a corruption story involving the Ministry of Health. Authorities accused Islam of taking photos and stealing official documents from the ministry. Media outlets reported Islam was confined to a government office in Dhaka for five hours and, according to her family, physically harassed and mistreated. On May 21, 83 citizens, including journalists across the country, released a statement demanding her immediate release. On May 23, Islam was released from jail after a Dhaka court approved her interim bail until July 15, which civil society organizations asserted was due to international and “unprecedented” local pressure.

On September 19, the Chief Metropolitan Magistrate Court in Dhaka rejected Islam’s request for the return of her passport, two mobile phones, and press identification card, which were seized during her arrest. As of December 31, Islam faced charges if convicted of up to 14 years in prison or the death penalty. International and local human rights organizations and journalists criticized Islam’s arrest and charges and demanded the charges against her be dropped immediately. Local newspaper Prothom Alo’s associate editor called for the government to withdraw its case against Islam and said the high level of support from print, online, and electronic media journalists on Islam’s behalf was unprecedented.

Violence and Harassment: Authorities, including intelligence services and student affiliates of the ruling party, subjected journalists to physical attacks, harassment, and intimidation, especially when tied to the DSA, which human rights activists viewed as a government and ruling party tool to intimidate journalists. The Editors’ Council, an association of newspaper editors, stated the DSA stifled investigative journalism, and members published editorials stating so publicly. Individuals faced the threat of being arrested, held in pretrial detention, subjected to expensive criminal trials, fines, and imprisonment, as well as the social stigma associated with having a criminal record. Of 20 clauses of the law relating to crime and punishment, 14 are nonbailable, five are bailable, and one is negotiable, according to the Editor’s Council. On March 6, the Editors’ Council stated, “It is no exaggeration to say that in some cases, the implementation of the DSA is more concerning than we fear. Mushtaq Ahmed, a free-spirited writer, had to prove it with his life.”

On January 6, Rohingya refugee and photojournalist Abul Kalam was released on bail. In December 2020, Kalam, a Rohingya refugee from Burma who lived in Bangladesh for 28 years, was apprehended for covering the relocation of Rohingya refugees to the island of Bhasan Char in the Bay of Bengal. Kalam was taken to the police station in Cox’s Bazar where he was allegedly abused and held for more than 60 hours, despite the law limiting police custody to a maximum of 24 hours absent a statement of charges.

On March 4, media reported government authorities released cartoonist Ahmed Kabir Kishore on a six-month bail, one day after the High Court approved his bail and two days after the remarks of the minister for law, justice, and parliamentary affairs. In May 2020, Kishore and writer Mushtaq Ahmed were jailed on DSA charges for expressing critical commentary regarding the government’s management of the pandemic. Previously, Kishore and Ahmed’s bail petitions were denied six times. On February 25, Ahmed died in custody after being held in pretrial detention for 10 months, spurring nationwide protests on his custodial death and the DSA. Kishore alleged he and Ahmed experienced torture while in custody (see section 1.c.). From March 5 to 7, politicians and human rights organizations protested the DSA and urged the government to investigate Kishore’s claims. Kishore and six others accused in the same DSA case faced up to 10 years in prison and fines up to one million taka ($11,628) if convicted.

In July local media circulated photos of a journalist handcuffed to a hospital bed where he was receiving treatment for COVID-19 after he was taken into custody and charged under the DSA for “tarnishing the image of a local hospital.” He was one of three journalists arrested in the case under the DSA for reporting on corruption and irregularities in government-funded daily food rations allotted to patients in a hospital in Thakurgaon. After hearing the news of his arrest, local journalists staged a protest at a press club, demanding his release. The journalist was granted bail after his hospital stay but continued to face DSA charges.

Censorship or Content Restrictions: Independent journalists and media alleged intelligence services influenced media outlets in part by withholding financially important government advertising and pressing private companies to withhold their advertising as well. The government penalized media that criticized it or carried messages of the political opposition’s activities and statements. In September a group of media experts, nongovernmental organizations (NGOs), and journalists stated the downward trend of the rule of law and media freedom went hand in hand with government media censorship, which, in civil society’s view, translated to the government’s distrust of society.

Privately owned newspapers usually were free to carry diverse views outside politically sensitive topics or those that criticized the ruling party. Political polarization and self-censorship remained a problem. Investigative journalists often complained of their management and of editors “killing” reports due to fear of pressure from the government and its intelligence agencies. Some journalists received threats after publishing their stories.

On February 1, al-Jazeera’s Investigative Unit released a documentary “All the Prime Minister’s Men” (see section 4). Although the story was widely discussed internationally, local media barely referred to the report. Prominent newspapers ran editorials explaining why they did not cover the allegations raised in the report. An editor of the Daily Star, the country’s most prominent English-language daily newspaper stated, “If we were a free media today, we would have delved deeper into the widely-talked-about al-Jazeera report and analyzed it, point by point, and exposed it for what it really is, not a top-class work of investigative journalism.” The Dhaka Tribunes editorial explained the reason for its near silence, stating, “The current state of media and defamation law in Bangladesh, and how it is interpreted by the judiciary, makes it unwise for any Bangladeshi media house to venture into any kind of meaningful comment on the controversy.”

The first online newspaper, bdnews24.com, faced political pressure from a former ruling party member of parliament (MP) demanding removal of old reports on cases against him and his family. The MP, through a friend, tried to file a two billion-taka ($23.3 million) defamation suit against four senior editors of the newspaper, but a court in Barishal rejected the petition.

According to journalists and human rights groups, journalists engaged in self-censorship due to fear of security force retribution, prosecution under the DSA, and the possibility of being charged with politically motivated cases. Although public criticism of the government was common and vocal, some media figures expressed fear of harassment by the government.

Libel/Slander Laws: Libel, slander, defamation, and blasphemy are treated as criminal offenses, most employed against individuals speaking against the government, the prime minister, or other government officials. Laws referring to defamation of individuals and organizations were used to prosecute opposition figures and members of civil society.

On April 20, media reported that police arrested Abu Tayeb, the bureau chief of local broadcaster NTV and for Khulna Gazette and Dainik Loksomaj newspapers, after Khulna city mayor Talukder Khalek filed a DSA case against him alleging he spread false information on Facebook that defamed his character. On both April 22 and 28, a Khulna court denied Tayeb’s request for bail and jailed him pending an investigation into the complaint. The Committee to Protect Journalists stated Tayeb reported local news in Khulna and on corruption allegations. On May 12, he was freed from jail, but the case against him remained pending.

On April 25, the Rangpur city mayor sued Mominur Rahman Sarkar under the DSA, alleging Sarkar spread false information regarding him. Sarkar posted on social media an article concerning the mayor’s alleged connection to corruption and reported fearing being arrested for a Facebook post.

In a public statement on April 26, the United Kingdom-based international human rights organization Article 19 expressed deep concern regarding the widespread filing of cases and arrests of journalists under the DSA. The organization stated most of the cases filed belonged to the ruling party and the DSA’s “abuse during the pandemic had risen to worrying levels.”

National Security: Authorities stated the DSA was essential to protect national and cyber security and used the law to arrest or punish critics of the government or deter criticism of government policies or officials.

Nongovernmental Impact: Nongovernmental, societal pressures also limited freedom of expression, as atheist, secular, religious minorities, and lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer, and intersex (LGBTQI+) writers and bloggers reported they continued to receive death threats from alleged extremist organizations.

The government restricted freedoms of peaceful assembly and association.

See the Department of State’s International Religious Freedom Report at https://www.state.gov/2020-report-on-international-religious-freedom/ https://www.state.gov/religiousfreedomreport/.

The law provides for freedom of internal movement, emigration, and repatriation, and the government generally respected these rights, except in three sensitive areas: the CHT and the Rohingya camps in Cox’s Bazar and on the island of Bhasan Char in the Bay of Bengal. The government enforced restrictions on access to the CHT by foreigners and restricted movement of Rohingya refugees. The Rohingya camps in Cox’s Bazar were surrounded by barbed and concertina wire fencing with few pedestrian gates to allow the Rohingya to move among the camps or into the local community. The lack of pedestrian gates hampered egress during a large fire in some camps in March. Bhasan Char is an island with no regular links to the mainland. In August at least 11 Rohingya died after their boat capsized while trying to leave Bhasan Char, and hundreds more have attempted do so since transfers began in January. Authorities caught and arrested many Rohingya who tried to leave Bhasan Char and detained them on the mainland or returned them to the island.

While foreign travel is allowed, some senior civil society and international NGO representatives reported harassment and delays at the airport when applying for a visa, entering, or departing the country. The government prevented war crimes suspects from the 1971 independence war from leaving the country.

Throughout the year numerous lockdown periods and movement restrictions were enforced to curb the COVID-19 pandemic. While restrictions enforced applied to all citizens during any designated period, civil society reported individuals from poorer communities were disproportionately arrested or punished for violating quarantine rules. Allegations of bribes to avoid movements restrictions or penalties were also reported.

Societal tensions and marginalization of indigenous persons continued in the CHT because of a government policy initiated during an internal armed conflict from 1973-97. This policy relocated landless Bengalis to the CHT with the implicit objective of changing the demographic balance to make Bengalis the majority, displacing tens of thousands of indigenous persons.

The internally displaced persons (IDPs) in the CHT had limited physical security. Community leaders maintained indigenous persons faced widespread violation of their rights by settlers, sometimes supported by security forces (see section 6).

The number of IDPs in the CHT remained disputed. In 2000 a government task force estimated the number at 500,000, which included nonindigenous as well as indigenous persons. In 2020 the CHT Commission estimated slightly more than 90,000 indigenous IDPs resided in the area. The prime minister pledged to resolve outstanding land disputes in the CHT to facilitate the return of the IDPs and close remaining military camps, but the taskforce on IDPs remained unable to function due to a dispute regarding classifying settlers as IDPs. The commission reported authorities displaced several indigenous families to create border guard camps and army recreational facilities. No land disputes were resolved during the year.

The government cooperated with the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) and other humanitarian organizations in providing protection and assistance to Rohingya refugees.

The government is not a party to the 1951 Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees or the 1967 Protocol. As a result the government claimed it was not under legal obligation to uphold the basic rights enshrined in this treaty.

Prior to the 2017 Rohingya arrivals, the government and UNHCR provided temporary protection and basic assistance to approximately 33,000 registered Rohingya refugees from Burma living in two official camps (Kutupalong and Nayapara), while the government and the International Organization for Migration aided approximately 200,000 undocumented Rohingya living in makeshift settlements in Cox’s Bazar. In 2017 more than 750,000 Rohingya fled ethnic cleansing in neighboring Burma to seek safe haven in Bangladesh. As a result of this influx, more than 907,000 registered Rohingya refugees were living in refugee camps, makeshift settlements, and host communities. The government claimed actual numbers totaled more than one million. The government did not recognize the arrivals as refugees, referring to them instead as “forcibly displaced Burmese nationals,” but abided by many of the established UN standards for refugees. One notable exception was that the Rohingya did not enjoy full freedom of movement throughout the country. Government officials stated repatriation was the government’s only goal, stressing privileges such as freedom of movement, formal education, or livelihood opportunities could not be afforded to the Rohingya population.

A National Task Force of 25 ministries and department representatives and chaired by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs provided oversight and strategic guidance for the overall Rohingya response. The Ministry of Home Affairs coordinated and maintained law and order for the Rohingya response, with support from the Armed Police Battalion. At the local level, the Refugee, Relief, and Repatriation Commission, under the Ministry of Disaster Management and Relief, was responsible for the management of the Rohingya response.

As of December 31, Bhasan Char hosted nearly 17,000 Rohingya refugees. The government paused relocations for several months in the middle of the year, but it resumed the transfer of refugees from Cox’s Bazar to Bhasan Char at the end of November. Media reported the government spent more than 25.8 billion taka ($300 million) to prepare for the eventual transfer of 100,000 refugees to the island. The government rejected requests from international human rights groups to move Rohingya refugees to the mainland, asserting that living conditions were better on Bhasan Char than in the overcrowded Cox’s Bazar camps. In March authorities allowed UN and other international donors to visit the island in conjunction with local authorities. On October 9, authorities signed a memorandum of understanding (MOU) with UNHCR that outlines the humanitarian and protection framework underlying potential UN operational engagements on Bhasan Char. During the year the UN organizations conducted a series of assessments on Bhasan Char and worked with the government on the modalities of operations on the island.

On September 29, gunmen shot and killed Mohammad Mohib Ullah, chairman and founder of the Arakan Rohingya Society for Peace and Human Rights, in Cox’s Bazar. Media reports alleged that criminal groups carried out the attack, potentially in retribution for his work to advocate for rights for Rohingya in the country. Mohib Ullah was an advocate for Rohingyas’ human rights, worked to document the Burmese security forces’ crimes against Rohingya, and advocated for Rohingya in multiple international forums. As of December authorities had not publicly identified a motive or perpetrators.

Access to Asylum: The law does not provide for granting asylum or refugee status, nor has the government established a formal system for providing protection to refugees. The government provided significant protection and assistance to Rohingya refugees residing in the country. Prior to 2017 the government cooperated with UNHCR to provide temporary protection and basic assistance to registered refugees resident in two official camps. After the 2017 arrival of more than 750,000 additional Rohingya refugees, the government started to register the refugees biometrically and provided identity cards with their Burmese addresses. At the end of 2019, the government completed the second phase of its joint registration exercise with UNHCR to verify Rohingya refugees and issue identity cards that replaced prior cards and provided for protection of Rohingya refugees, consistent with the government’s stance against forced returns to Burma. Despite this documentation system, the lack of formal refugee status for Rohingya and clear legal reporting mechanisms in the camps impeded refugees’ access to the justice system.

On February 11, international media reported a boat carrying 90 Rohingya refugees with mostly women and children sailed from Cox’s Bazar towards Malaysia. After four days the boat’s engine failed in the Andaman Sea; nine refugees died, and after a 113-day journey, the 81 survivors landed on an Indonesian island. According to media reports, international humanitarian organizations and family members of those onboard appealed to India, Bangladesh, Burma, and Malaysia for information regarding the fate of the 81 survivors on the boat. Media reported the Bangladeshi government denied reentry to the 81 survivors.

The government mostly cooperated with UNHCR and other humanitarian organizations in providing protection and assistance to Rohingya refugees, although following the end of COVID-19 pandemic-related restrictions on humanitarian access in August, security concerns grew in the camps regarding high-profile killings. NGOs reported human trafficking was common in the camps with few cases prosecuted in the country’s judicial system. When discovered, government officials returned trafficking victims to the camps.

International organizations reported gender-based violence directed against women in the camps. Intimate partner violence comprised 90 percent of the cases. The reduced footprint of international organizations throughout the COVID-19 pandemic limited reporting and monitoring of gender-based violence.

Accountability for all crimes, including human trafficking, remained a problem. Rohingya relied on government officials responsible for each camp (also known as the Camps in Charge, or CiC) to address allegations of crime. The CiCs were largely autonomous and varied in terms of responsiveness to camp needs. According to international organizations, some CiCs were susceptible to corruption. International organizations alleged some border guard, military, and police officials were involved in facilitating trafficking of Rohingya women and children, ranging from “looking the other way,” to bribes for allowing traffickers to access Rohingya in the camps, to direct involvement in trafficking.

Human Rights Watch reported security forces on April 6, allegedly arrested and beat 12 refugees who were caught trying to leave Bhasan Char. On April 12, a sailor allegedly beat four refugee children with a polyvinyl chloride pipe for leaving their quarters to play with refugee children in another area. Human Rights Watch reported witnesses stated security forces allegedly beat refugees in the Bhasan Char police station.

On June 3, international media reported Rohingya refugees were allegedly beaten by security forces with batons after protesting lack of access to UNHCR officials during a high-level UN visit to Bhasan Char. Reuters reported two Rohingya refugees stated authorities blocked them from speaking to the UNHCR delegates. UNHCR expressed deep concern regarding the reported injuries and arbitrary arrests, detentions, and lack of freedom of movement afforded to refugees.

On June 7, Human Rights Watch published a report, An Island Jail in the Middle of the Sea, alleging the government misled Rohingya refugees and international donor communities regarding the conditions on Bhasan Char. Some refugees described being forced to relocate without informed consent. Other Rohingya refugees interviewed for the report agreed that the shelters on the island were superior to those in the Cox Bazar camps and contained more open space, but they reported food shortages, inadequate health services, lack of formal education opportunities, freedom of movement restrictions, and lack of livelihood opportunities. Some refugees alleged their relatives were arbitrarily detained and beaten for attempting to leave the island. Some also reported being beaten for trying to move outside their compound. Authorities have not investigated these reports. Local human rights organizations reported difficulty accessing the refugee community because of the island’s remote location.

On August 14, a boat carrying 40 to 45 Rohingya, including women and children, capsized while they were fleeing Bhasan Char. Authorities rescued 15 persons, but the capsized boat resulted in the deaths of 11 Rohingya while 15 remained unaccounted for. Reuters reported that refugees living in Bhasan Char claimed lack of work and inability to meet with family remaining in the camps prompted increased attempts at the dangerous maritime crossing journey.

The MOU between the United Nations and the government has provisions to improve protections and services for Rohingya refugees on Bhasan Char. The MOU proposes expanded access to services, such as education, skills and vocational training, livelihoods, health care, and uninterrupted telecommunication services, which may be funded by international donors through the 2022 Joint Response Plan.

There were restrictions on Rohingya freedom of movement. According to the 1993 MOU between Bangladesh and UNHCR, registered Rohingya refugees are not permitted to move outside official camps. After the 2017 influx, police set up checkpoints on the roads to restrict travel by both registered refugees and arrivals beyond the Ukhia and Teknaf subdistricts. Rohingya located at Bhasan Char had little means to exit the island or travel to camps in Cox’s Bazar, where many claimed to have family members, leading some human rights groups to characterize the Rohingya stay on the island as “detention.” At least 200 refugees have been arrested for trying to leave the island.

On March 22, a fire erupted in the Balukhali area of the Cox’s Bazar refugee camp, killing at least 15 refugees. UNHCR estimated the fire injured 550 refugees and left more than 48,000 homeless. While local fire and rescue teams and aid agencies responded, witnesses to the fire reported the barbed wire through and around the camps restricted the ability of refugees to flee and responders to reach them. UN News reported the frequent fires in the Cox’s Bazar camps left the refugee community traumatized.

In December authorities allowed 68 Rohingya from Bhasan Char to visit their family members on the mainland. A senior disaster management ministry official stated the government had decided to allow at least two trips per month from the island to the camps in Cox’s Bazar.

In 2019 the government began erecting watchtowers and fencing in the camps in Cox’s Bazar, stating the objective was to better secure the camp and protect Rohingya from migrant smuggling, while humanitarian agencies expressed concerns that fencing would hinder delivery of services to refugees and exacerbate tensions between refugees and host communities.

Many camp authorities introduced curfews and law enforcement patrols, particularly at night, in response to reported concerns regarding violent attacks, abductions, or kidnappings in the camps.

The government did not formally authorize Rohingya refugees in the country to work locally, although it allowed limited cash-for-work activities for Rohingya to perform tasks within the camps. In February the Office of the Refugee Relief and Repatriation Commissioner (RRRC) issued a letter requesting the UN heads of sub offices in Cox’s Bazar to regulate the recruitment of Rohingya volunteers for work in all sectors except sanitation and night guardianship. Pursuant to this letter, some CiCs reportedly delayed or refused to approve NGO needs assessments or to issue closure certificates upon the completion of projects, stopping some NGO activities midstream and delaying new projects. Despite their movement restrictions, some refugees worked illegally as manual laborers on the informal economy, where some were exploited as labor-trafficking victims.

Access to Basic Services: The rapid increase in the population strained services both inside and outside the designated camps and makeshift settlements. The UN-led Inter Sector Coordination Group (ISCG) coordinated the many actors and agencies providing basic services to the Rohingya. Donor agencies reported complex and ambiguous certification processes disrupted a timely humanitarian response. Nonetheless, according to the ISCG, refugees lived in congested sites that were poorly equipped to handle the monsoon rains and cyclone seasons. While agencies made significant efforts to move those most vulnerable, the shortage of land remained a central problem hindering the ability of Rohingya to access basic services.

Public education remained a problem. The government continued its policy prohibiting formal education but allowed informal education of Rohingya children. UNICEF led the education sector in developing a comprehensive learning approach to guide the education interventions of humanitarian partners in the camps. Primary education followed a learning framework developed by UNICEF and endorsed by the government; however, it did not confer recognition or certify students have attained a specific education level. Implementation of an education sector pilot program launched in 2020 to provide education using the Burmese national curriculum was to begin for 10,000 Rohingya refugee children by the end of the year. The program had previously been delayed due to COVID-19 pandemic-related closures of refugee learning centers. Authorities did not allow the distribution of remote learning materials throughout the COVID-19 pandemic. Beginning September 22, the RRRC allowed reopening of learning centers for levels two through four and in December expanded the reopening to include to level one.

Government authorities allowed registered and unregistered Rohingya regular access to public health care, but the Rohingya needed authorities’ permission to leave the camp. Humanitarian partners ensured their health-care expenses were covered and that they returned to the camps. The health sector maintained information on all the health facilities within the camps and the surrounding areas. Based on the data available, overall coverage met the minimum requirements.

Bhasan Char had primary health-care facilities but lacked secondary and tertiary facilities, necessitating referrals to medical facilities off the island for advanced-level care. The transfer of patients to mainland facilities was hampered by required authorizations to depart the island, weather conditions, and boat availability. In July the government announced plans to administer COVID-19 vaccines to Rohingya refugees, and the vaccinations began in August. The vaccination campaign, administered with the help of UN agencies, vaccinated Rohingya refugees older than age 55 as part of phase one. As of October, 36,943 refugees received their first dose and 33,386 received their second dose. In October phase two of the COVID-19 vaccination program targeting refugees older than age 50 started, and at year’s end health-care officials discussing with the government plans to expand access to other adults as more vaccines became available. In December the government expanded vaccinations to persons ages 18 to 54, with an estimated 393,193 eligible beneficiaries.

The government had not accepted refugees for resettlement or naturalization and continued to maintain that repatriation of refugees to Burma remained the only acceptable solution to the crisis.

The Rohingya in the country were legally or in fact stateless. They could not acquire citizenship, nor does the government of Burma recognize them as citizens.

Every individual born in Bangladesh is a citizen of the country by birth as per Bangladesh’s Citizenship Act of 1951. This provision is not afforded to Rohingya. A 2009 amendment to the Act allows anyone born in the country to either a Bangladeshi mother or father the right to claim citizenship. This amendment was not retroactively applied to Rohingya children born in the country to stateless fathers prior to 2009, who remain at risk of statelessness. There were cases in which children born to one Bangladeshi parent and one Rohingya parent were not recognized as citizens, despite the 2009 amendment.

Barbados

Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties

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

Libel/Slander Laws: Defamation is a criminal offense punishable with imprisonment. The local media association raised concerns about intimidation of media by government ministers due to the media’s reliance on income from government advertising. There were no reports of any defamation or libel cases initiated by any government officials against media personnel.

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

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

The law provides for freedom of internal movement, foreign travel, emigration, and repatriation, and the government generally respected these rights. Married women must provide a copy of their marriage certificate when applying for a passport; married men are not required to provide this.

Not applicable.

Information on the government’s cooperation with the UN High Commissioner for Refugees was unavailable.

Access to Asylum: The law does not provide for the granting of asylum or refugee status, and the government has not established a system for providing protection to refugees. The Immigration Department was responsible for considering refugee and asylum claims.

Belarus

Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties

The constitution provides for freedom of expression, including for members of the press and other media. The government did not respect these rights and selectively enforced numerous laws to control and censor the public and media. Authorities forced the closure of virtually all independent media outlets and labelled journalist and opposition voices “extremist,” giving authorities a legal pretext to detain and prosecute individuals for expressing opposition to the regime. The government passed laws to make it illegal to report or stream video from unauthorized mass events and eased authorities’ ability to close media outlets. The state press propagated views supportive of the president and official policies without giving room for critical voices and actively disparaged the regime’s opponents.

Freedom of Expression: Individuals could not criticize government officials or the government publicly or discuss matters of general public interest without fear of reprisal, including prosecution or forced exile. Authorities also prohibited displaying certain historical flags and symbols, including the historic white-red-white-striped flag adopted by the opposition, and displaying placards bearing messages deemed threatening to the government or public order.

Since May 2020 authorities undertook significant steps to suppress freedom of expression, regularly harassing opposition bloggers and social media users and detaining some of them on short-term jail sentences. Others received longer sentences or remained in pretrial detention through December. For example on April 14, a Brest court sentenced Syarhey Pyatrukhin and Alyaksandr Kabanau, two popular video bloggers on YouTube, to three years in prison on charges of “participating in activities in clear disobedience to the legitimate requirements of the authorities.” Both men were known for their political commentary critical of authorities and had been in detention since June 2020.

Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty consultant Ihar Losik spent exactly one year in pretrial detention between his arrest in June 2020 and the start of his trial on June 24. He was arrested for publicly supporting the opposition and criticizing the government. As of the end of November, his trial had continued for six months and was closed to the public. Family members and independent media representatives were denied access, but state-affiliated media outlets were allowed into the trial room and publicly broadcast images and content from the trial on television and social media afterwards. On December 14, Losik was sentenced to 15 years in prison.

Authorities dismissed hundreds of state employees who expressed political dissent or participated in protests after the presidential election, including those employed as television hosts, radio and other media personnel, teachers, civil servants, law enforcement officers, athletes, university administrators, hospital administrators, and diplomats. On May 4, Lukashenka signed a decree depriving 87 former military and law enforcement officers of their ranks and compensation due to their actions in support of the political opposition. Among those targeted by the decree were the founders of BYPOL, an organization created by former members of the security services who quit their service in protest of the regime’s postelection violence in 2020, had fled the country, and were documenting abuses committed by their former colleagues. Diplomats and law enforcement officers who resigned in protest of the government’s crackdown or spoke out and were fired, were stripped of their ranks, regalia, and pensions. For example on August 20, police in Iuye detained a pro-opposition former lieutenant colonel who served in the police force for 20 years, apparently for expressing his antiregime political opinions and exercising his freedom of expression. In May authorities stripped him and more than 80 former officers of their ranks for expressing political dissent. Another of these officers, former investigator Yauhen Yushkevich, was detained on April 19 on charges of terrorism and participating in mass riots, reportedly in retaliation for his support of the political opposition. As of November 18, he remained in pretrial detention.

Authorities fired athletes from national teams for expressing political dissent or apolitical criticism against government officials, as in the case of Olympic athlete Krystina Tsimanouskaya (see section 1.e.).

The law also limits free speech by criminalizing actions such as giving information that authorities deem false or derogatory to a foreigner concerning the political, economic, social, military, or international situation of the country. No individuals were identified as having been charged under this law, however.

The government prohibits calls to participate in “unsanctioned demonstrations” (see section 2.b., Freedom of Peaceful Assembly). On December 14, video blogger Uladzimir Tsyhanovich was convicted on charges of inciting social hatred and organizing mass riots and sentenced to 15 years in prison. Authorities also prohibited “extremist” information, which they defined as “information materials including printed, audio, visual, videos, placards, posters, banners and other visuals intended for public usage or distribution that seek the violent change of the constitutional order or the territorial integrity of the country; unconstitutional takeover of state powers; establishment of an illegal armed force; terrorist activities; inciting racial, ethnic, religious or other societal hatred; organizing mass riots; hooliganism and vandalism based on racial, ethnic, religious, or other societal hatred or discord; political and ideological hatred; promotion of supremacy of a group of residents based on their language, social, racial, ethnic, or religious background; and justification of Nazism, including the promotion, production, distribution, and displays of Nazi symbols.”

During the year the regime amended the law on “countering extremism,” which entered into force on June 14 and broadens the definition of “extremist activity” to include the distribution of information that authorities deemed “false,” organizing and holding events (i.e., assembling freely), and perceived insolence or attempts to discredit state institutions or officials. Among the activities authorities deemed “extremist” were regular independent journalism as well as efforts by the opposition, activists, and protesters to express their opinions or assemble peacefully. Authorities introduced individual liability for “extremist activities” and expanded the list of potential “extremist” organizations to include trade unions, NGOs, and media organizations. Law enforcement officials were also granted permission to use firearms at their discretion when “countering extremism” – viewed by independent observers as an open threat against journalists, protesters, activists, and the regime’s political opponents.

As of September the Ministry of Internal Affairs declared that more than 200 Telegram channels and online chat groups had been recognized as “extremist organizations” by the courts and warned that subscribing, storing materials, and reposting information from these channels would be punishable under the law.

On October 29, the Ministry of Internal Affairs declared the Telegram internet messenger channel NEXTA-Live, a platform used by opposition supporters to organize protests, to be an “extremist organization.” According to observers, as a result, under the amended extremism law, all of NEXTA’s nearly one million subscribers could be charged with “extremism,” which carries a sentence of up to seven years in prison. This “extremist” designation followed an October 2020 court decision declaring that the NEXTA logo was an “extremist” symbol and that the channel distributed “extremist materials.” On May 23, former NEXTA editor Raman Pratasevich was forcibly returned after the regime diverted his flight and forced it to land in the country (see section 1.e.).

On September 6, a Minsk court sentenced Maria Kalesnikava and Maksim Znak on charges of creating an “extremist organization,” causing harm to national security, and conspiring to unconstitutionally seize power. Kalesnikava and Znak were both detained in 2020 (see section 1.e., Political Prisoners and Detainees). The law does not provide penalties for displaying or keeping unregistered symbols, including opposition red and white flags, but it allows only registered symbols at authorized mass events. Although the “Pahonia” emblem is on a registry of the government’s historic and cultural symbols, the government expressed hostility toward protesters who carried red and white flags or the Pahonia symbol, and security forces detained demonstrators for doing so, as these symbols were generally identified with the opposition.

The regime introduced a new law on “preventing the rehabilitation of Nazism,” which entered into force on June 14 and expands the list of prohibited “Nazi symbols and attributes” to include symbols used to denote support for the opposition.

On March 10, prosecutors opened a criminal case against representatives of a Brest-based group of local Polish initiatives and Polish schools on charges of inciting social and ethnic hatred for allegedly “glorifying Nazism and justifying the genocide of the Belarusian nation.” The charges were in relation to an annual historical commemoration event for Polish soldiers who had fought against both Nazi and Soviet forces. After the event, police searched the premises of Polish organizations in Hrodna, Brest, Vaukavysk, and Lida and detained Hanna Panishava in Brest on March 12, Andzelika Borys in Hrodna on March 23, Andrzej Poczobut in Hrodna on March 25, Irena Biarnatskaya in Lida on March 25, and Maria Tsishkouskaya in Vaukavysk on March 29. On May 25, Biarnatskaya, Tsishkouskaya, and Panishava were released on their own recognizance and moved to Poland, while at year’s end Borys and Poczobut remained in pretrial detention. The annual event has been commemorated in Poland since 2011, and authorities had not previously opposed the event in the country.

Freedom of Expression for Members of the Press and Other Media, Including Online Media: Authorities limited access to information. State-controlled media did not provide balanced coverage and overwhelmingly presented the authorities’ version of events, including falsehoods and disinformation released by the Lukashenka regime. Appearances by opposition politicians on state media in 2020 were limited to those required by law during the 2020 presidential election campaign period, and state media minimized this coverage and maximized coverage of Lukashenka and his regime. During the year state media actively and routinely propagated the Lukashenka regime’s efforts to portray opposition politicians as enemies of the state or criminals. Authorities warned, fined, detained, interrogated, and stripped accreditation from members of the independent domestic media. Some state media journalists who quit were later detained, such as journalist Ksenia Lutskina, who remained in pretrial detention as of November after criticizing authorities in December 2020 (see section 1.e.).

State-owned media dominated the information field and maintained the highest circulation through generous subsidies and preferences. There was no countrywide private television, and broadcast media space was dominated by state-owned and Russian stations. Since August 2020 Russian state-media organizations largely controlled and managed Belarusian state-run channels, ensuring pro-Lukashenka and pro-Russian viewpoints continued to dominate the press.

Since October 2020 authorities allowed only nationals of the country where a media outlet is based to be accredited as correspondents. All Belarusian stringers for major Western outlets were stripped of accreditation in 2020 and were not reaccredited when they applied during the year. Some subsequently left the country.

The law prohibits media from disseminating information on behalf of unregistered political parties, trade unions, and NGOs. By August authorities had eliminated independent media outlets in the country through several rounds of targeted reprisals, closures, website blockages, or other efforts to incapacitate the organizations. On May 18, authorities raided the offices of Tut.by (the largest independent media outlet in the country), blocked its website, and arrested its journalists. Tut.by was originally stripped of its media license in December 2020. Other independent media outlets were subsequently closed in May and August, including reform.by, Nasha Niva, and Belapan. Authorities also closed regional and local media outlets, such as the September 16 decision to block Hrodna Life, which authorities claimed distributed “extremist” materials. Some media operations that were closed or blocked re-established and continued their operations from outside the country.

Violence and Harassment: Authorities continued to harass and detain local and foreign journalists routinely, particularly those operating as freelancers or working for foreign outlets without accreditation. Security forces continually hampered efforts of independent domestic and foreign journalists to cover demonstrations and protests in Minsk and across the country, used violence against journalists, brought false allegations against them, and sentenced them to jail terms for doing their jobs. As of November the independent Belarusian Association of Journalists reported it had recorded at least 220 cases of violence and harassment against local and foreign journalists since the start of the year, which included detentions, beatings, attacks, fines, and jail sentences.

On July 8, security officers detained and beat the chief editor of the independent newspaper Nasha Niva, Yahor Martsinovich. According to his spouse, Martsinovich suffered a head injury during detention, which was confirmed when doctors examined him in the investigators’ office. As of November Martsinovich remained in pretrial detention. During the year authorities targeted independent media outlets, individual editors and journalists, and NGOs that provided media development and training for harassment, intimidation, and arrest. The regime harassed members of the analytical community that regularly contributed articles or commentary to independent media on political and economic issues. As of November an estimated 29 media representatives remained in jail under various politically motivated charges, varying from calls to violate public order to tax evasion to coordinating protest activities.

On February 18, a Minsk court sentenced journalists from Poland-based independent media outlet Belsat to two years in prison. Darya Chultsova and Katsiaryna Andreyeva were charged with “organizing actions that grossly violated public order” for livestreaming a violent police crackdown on a peaceful protest in Minsk in November 2020.

On May 18, security officers raided the central and regional offices of Tut.by, the country’s most popular independent online resource, and detained several staff and management personnel, including Yuliya Charnyauskaya, the widow of Tut.by’s deceased founder. Authorities stated the raid was connected to alleged large-scale tax fraud by the outlet’s management, although harassment of the outlet and its journalists had been persistent since before the 2020 presidential election. As of December approximately 14 Tut.by employees or employees of affiliates, including chief editor Maryna Zolatava, remained in detention or under house arrest.

On July 16, law enforcement officers raided the Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty office in Minsk, smashing the doors and searching the apartments of several staff. On the same day police raided the Minsk and regional offices of Belsat and confiscated all storage media and other property.

On August 19, authorities released the head of the professional journalist development and media literacy group Press Club Belarus, Yuliya Slutskaya, who was detained in December 2020 with three other colleagues on charges of tax evasion. Slutskaya and three colleagues sought a pardon in which they were required to admit their guilt and pay damages. In an interview Slutskaya said she had needed to pay twice the amount of the alleged “damages” in order to secure her release, which required her to sell a property she owned in Minsk.

On August 27, the regime deregistered the Belarusian Association of Journalists based on a ruling by the Supreme Court after continued harassment of the organization that included raids of its office by security officials in February and July, seizure of documents without inventory or attendance by a representative from the NGO, and the forced closure of its office. Since authorities decided to hold the trial at the Supreme Court, the NGO was left without the ability to appeal the deregistration. The NGO continued its work from exile.

In the wake of the crackdown against the organizations, some outlets decided to withdraw their operations from the country due to concern about harassment and intimidation and continued working from abroad.

Censorship or Content Restrictions: By year’s end the government had succeeded in shutting down all major independent media in the country. By law the government may close a publication – printed or online – after two warnings in one year for violating a range of restrictions on the press. Regulations also give authorities arbitrary power to prohibit or censor reporting. The Ministry of Information may suspend periodicals or newspapers for three months without a court ruling.

The threat of government retaliation led independent media outlets still operating within the country to exercise self-censorship and avoid reporting on certain topics or criticizing the government. The government tightly and directly controlled the content of state-owned broadcast and print media. Television channels are required to broadcast at least 30 percent local content. Local independent television stations operated in some areas and were under government pressure to forgo reporting on national and sensitive topics or risk censorship. Authorities extensively censored the internet (see section 2.a., Internet Freedom).

The government penalized those who published items counter to government guidelines. Some private retail chains also refused to continue selling copies of independent newspapers due to government pressure, and state-run and private printing houses refused to print them, forcing editors to procure printing services abroad. This opportunity was also closed, however, after printers in Russia began refusing to print Belarusian independent newspapers during the year.

The independent Baranavichy-based Intex Press newspaper was inspected and fined three consecutive times by different authorities for having published an interview with Svyatlana Tsikhanouskaya in April, including a fine of approximately 4,000 rubles ($1,560) on May 5. The outlet’s chief editor was questioned for nearly five hours by police and given two administrative charges for allegedly violating the law on distributing “banned” information via media and the internet. He was also threatened with criminal charges for allegedly violating national security. In April, after the article was published, the Ministry of Information included the interview in its list of “extremist materials.” In May the government-controlled Belarusian Printing House unilaterally canceled its printing contract with the newspaper, ending its ability to publish and sell paper copies of its newspaper for the first time in 26 years. The outlet announced it would move its operation online.

Independent media outlets, including newspapers and internet news websites, faced discriminatory publishing and distribution policies, including limited access to government officials and press briefings and bans on printing paper copies, forcing some newspapers, such as the independent Narodnaya Volya, to switch to portable document format versions with paid subscriptions.

Authorities warned businesses not to advertise in newspapers that criticized the government. Private vendors, such as retail stores, conscious of tax inspections and other forms of economic pressure refused to sell independent newspapers. Advertisers continued to be pressured not to give their advertising dollars to out-of-favor, nonstate newspapers.

Libel/Slander Laws: Libel and slander are criminal offenses. The law provides large fines and prison sentences of up to four years for defaming or insulting the president. Penalties for defamation of character make no distinction between private and public persons. A public figure who is criticized for poor performance while in office may sue both the journalist and the media outlet that disseminated the critical report for defamation. Following a September 29 incident in which a KGB officer and an information technology worker were shot during a KGB raid, the KGB detained 200 persons for making comments critical of the KGB’s actions in the raid, and criminal cases were opened under the legal provision that prohibits insulting an official. After the Russian branch of Komsomolskaya Pravda released an article that included a comment from a friend of the technology worker offering a positive description of his character, Belarusian authorities blocked online access to its website and arrested Hienadz Mazheyka, the Belarusian author of the article. The Russian government criticized the action as a violation of media freedom, and the outlet decided to close its Belarus office and relocate staff to Russia.

National Security: Authorities frequently cited national security to arrest or punish critics of the government or deter criticism of government policies or officials. National security charges were used to punish political prisoners, including in court sentences against Kalesnikava and Znak in September (see section 1.e., Political Prisoners and Detainees).

The constitution provides for freedom of peaceful assembly, but the government severely restricted this right and employed a variety of means to discourage demonstrations, disperse them, minimize their effect, and punish participants. The law provides for freedom of association, but the government restricted it and selectively enforced laws and regulations to restrict the operation of independent associations that might criticize the government.

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

The law provides for freedom of internal movement, foreign travel, emigration, and repatriation, but the government at times restricted the right of citizens, particularly former political prisoners, to foreign travel. Following the 2020 presidential election, the government increased restrictions on the ability of citizens to return home from abroad.

In-country Movement: Passports serve as a form of identity, and authorities required them for permanent housing, work, and hotel registration. Police continued to selectively harass individuals who lived at a location other than their legal place of residence as indicated by mandatory stamps in their passports.

The law also requires persons who travel to areas within 15 miles of the border (aside from authorized crossing points) to obtain an entrance pass.

Foreign Travel: The government’s database of persons banned from traveling abroad contained the names of individuals who possessed state secrets, faced criminal prosecution or civil suits, or had outstanding financial obligations. Authorities informed some persons by letter that their names were in the database, while others learned only at border crossings. The Ministry of Internal Affairs and security agencies, border and customs services, and financial investigation departments have a right to place persons on “preventive” surveillance lists.

The Ministry of Internal Affairs is also required to track citizens working abroad, and employment agencies must report individuals who do not return from abroad as scheduled.

In December 2020 the government imposed exit restrictions on citizens seeking to leave the country by land, reportedly to limit the spread of COVID-19; NGOs and activists claimed the closures reduced options for those seeking to leave the country. The measures restricted the frequency of departures and the categories of persons who could depart. Authorities kept airports open to international travel during this period, although limited flight availability and high prices restricted options for those seeking to leave the country. Authorities permitted cross-border travel for most individuals once every six months. In September authorities modified these restrictions and allowed citizens who had foreign residency permits to cross the land border once every three months.

Exile: The law does not allow forced exile, but there were reports that security forces continued to threaten some opposition members with bodily harm or prosecution if they did not leave the country, particularly after the August 2020 election. Others were driven to the border by authorities and forced to cross.

The vast majority of individuals who were forced to leave the country in 2020 remained in forced exile during the year, including presidential hopeful Valery Tsapkala and opposition candidate Svyatlana Tsikhanouskaya. In August 2020 opposition activists Volha Kavalkova, Ivan Krautsou, and Anton Radnyankou were forced into exile.

Citizenship: On August 5, Lukashenka signed a decree expanding an amendment to the citizenship law that came into force on June 18. The decree allows naturalized citizens who are 18 and older to be stripped of their citizenship for participating in extremist activities or inflicting serious damage to the interests of the country, charges often used by authorities in politically motivated cases. The provision does not apply to citizens by birth.

Not applicable.

The government provided limited cooperation with the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) and other humanitarian organizations in providing protection and assistance to refugees, returning refugees, asylum seekers, stateless persons, and other persons of concern. Authorities either did not approve or delayed approval of requests made by UNHCR to provide assistance to irregular migrants in the country, including those located near the country’s borders with the EU.

Access to Asylum: The law provides for granting asylum or refugee status and complementary and temporary protection to foreign citizens and stateless persons, with some exceptions. The government has established a process for determining refugee status and a system for providing protection to refugees. The law provides for protection against refoulement granted to foreigners who are denied refugee status or temporary protection but are unable to return to their countries of origin.

All foreigners except Russians have the right to apply for asylum. According to the terms of the Union Treaty with Russia, Russian citizens may settle and obtain residence permits in the country. As of November 1, the government made an exception for a family of four Russian citizens who sought asylum for religious reasons.

Refoulement: There were reports that the government expelled or returned asylum seekers or refugees to countries where they were likely to face abuse.

According to credible press reports and a report published by Amnesty International on December 20, in November and December, in some cases authorities forced migrants to choose between deportation or additional attempts (often in dangerous conditions) to cross irregularly into the EU. Migrants and asylum seekers interviewed by media reported only some migrants left the country voluntarily, and many were detained in rented apartments or on the street, taken to the Minsk Airport, and deported against their will without due process to countries where they faced significant risk of abuse, such as Syria. In November Iraqi journalist Reben Sirwan told independent press that he had flown to the country to attempt to enter the EU and applied for asylum in the country after he failed. According to Sirwan, he feared for his life if he returned to Iraq and contacted UNHCR representatives in the country, who directed him to the Ministry of Internal Affairs Department of Citizenship and Migration in accordance with established procedure in asylum cases. When Sirwan requested asylum, he was told that he would be deported, and he claimed officials ignored his statements that he was a journalist and could be killed if returned to Iraq. After requesting asylum, Sirwan claimed security forces attacked him with a stun gun, beat him, and eventually forced him to board the first plane to Damascus, Syria, without being allowed to pack his belongings. Sirwan told press he was held for four days in Syria before being sent to Erbil, Iraq. He immediately fled again.

Abuse of Migrants and Refugees: Starting in late May, media reports indicated that authorities purposefully orchestrated irregular migration to the country from countries such as Iraq, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Cameroon, Syria, and Afghanistan, often through state-owned or state-affiliated travel agencies in partnership with travel agencies in the region, with the aim of facilitating these individuals’ onward travel overland to cross irregularly into the EU. Once the migrants and asylum seekers reached the country, authorities often organized their travel to the borders of neighboring countries of Latvia, Lithuania, and Poland and encouraged, and in many instances forced, the migrants to attempt irregular border crossing. When the migrants failed to enter the EU, security services reportedly beat them and forced them to remain at the border to attempt additional border crossings.

On May 26, Lukashenka threatened in a speech to the National Assembly to send irregular migrants to the EU in retaliation for sanctions against Belarus. Authorities eased the visa processes for migrants from third countries, assisted or organized migrants’ travel to the border, and assisted migrants with climbing over border fences or in identifying unguarded sections of the border. On October 4, the National Assembly voted to suspend an agreement with the EU on the readmission of persons not admitted into the EU following Lukashenka’s repeated statements that he intended to suspend the agreement.

When irregular migrants were unsuccessful in entering or refused entry into neighboring countries, there were credible reports that Belarusian security services beat them and coerced them into attempting again to enter the EU. For example, a November 24 report by Human Rights Watch (HRW) contained the account of a 21-year-old Syrian Kurd who border guards forced to attempt to cross the border into Poland four times. On his final attempt, border guards forced him and his friends to use an inflatable raft to cross a turbulent part of the Bug River into Poland, which capsized, resulting in the drowning of one of his friends. According to multiple press interviews with irregular migrants and asylum seekers in November, authorities physically abused migrants at the border in efforts to encourage them to attempt border crossings and forcefully prevented them from departing the area farther into Belarus when they were unsuccessful. For example on November 10, Syrian migrant Youssef Zatanna told Polish press that Belarusian officers broke his nose and cheek bone. Other migrants and asylum seekers shared similar stories of violence at the hands of Belarusian security forces. In a December 20 Amnesty International report, migrants and asylum seekers claimed authorities drove them to the border, beat them with batons, and then chased then with dogs, forcing them to cross.

Freedom of Movement: According to the November 24 HRW report, authorities in some cases confined migrants and asylum seekers who entered the country through state-affiliated travel agencies as part of the state-orchestrated migrant smuggling operation to “collection sites” – open-air locations without tents, shelters, or sanitation – near the border with Poland, Lithuania, and Latvia. Migrants and asylum seekers reported to HRW that authorities beat them if they attempted to leave the sites, where they were denied food and water and the ability to make fires. A Kurdish Syrian family interviewed in a December 20 Amnesty International report said they were forced to stay in the collection site for 20 days and received food at most once per day. Other individuals told Amnesty International they were allowed to leave the site only after bribing authorities.

Outside the context of the state-sponsored migrant smuggling that began in late May, asylum seekers have freedom of movement within the country but must reside in the region where they filed their applications for refugee status and in a place known to authorities while their applications are being considered, including during appeals. Authorities reportedly often encouraged asylum seekers to settle in rural areas; however, the majority settled in cities and towns. Change of residence was possible with a notification to authorities. Authorities issue registered asylum seekers certificates that serve as documents to confirm their status as asylum seekers and identity and protect them from expulsion. By law they also must register with local authorities at their place of residence.

Access to Basic Services: Adults who are seeking asylum must pay for higher education as well as for nonemergency medical services, while minors receive education and medical services free of charge. Free legal assistance, housing, and language training are not available to either asylum seekers or refugees. Once asylum seekers obtain asylum, they are treated as residents.

Durable Solutions: Naturalization of refugees was possible after seven years of permanent residence, as in the case of other categories of foreign residents.

Temporary Protection: Although the government may provide temporary protection (for up to one year) to individuals who may not qualify as refugees, it did not do so during the year.

As of June 30, the Ministry of Internal Affairs and UNHCR listed 5,985 stateless persons in the country. According to UNHCR, all had either temporary or permanent residence permits.

Permanent-resident stateless persons were treated comparably to citizens in terms of access to employment, except for a limited number of positions in the public sector and law enforcement bodies that were available only to citizens. There were reports that stateless persons occasionally faced discrimination in employment, since authorities often encouraged them to settle in rural areas where the range of employment opportunities was limited. According to UNHCR, stateless persons could freely change their region of residence.

There is a path to citizenship for the stateless population. The main requirement is at least seven years’ permanent residence. Authorities have a procedure for expedited naturalization but mostly for individuals born or permanently residing in the country prior to the collapse of the Soviet Union, ethnic Belarusians, their spouses, and descendants. If a child is born into a family of stateless persons permanently residing in the country, the child is entitled to citizenship.

Belgium

Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties

The constitution and law provide for freedom of expression, including for the members of the press and other media, 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 media.

Freedom of Expression: Holocaust denial, defamation, sexist remarks, and attitudes that target a specific individual, and incitement to hatred are criminal offenses, punishable by a minimum of eight days (for Holocaust denial) or one month (incitement to hatred and sexist remarks or attitudes) and up to one year in prison and fines, plus a possible revocation of the right to vote or run for public office. If the incitement to hatred was based on racism or xenophobia, the case is tried in the regular courts. If, however, the incitement stemmed from other motives, including homophobia or religious bias, a longer and more costly trial by jury generally is required. The government prosecuted and courts convicted persons under these laws.

Freedom of Expression for Members of the Press and Other Media, Including Online Media: The prohibition of Holocaust denial, defamation, sexist remarks, attitudes that target a specific individual, and incitement to hatred also applies to print and broadcast media, books, and online newspapers and journals.

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

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

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

Not applicable.

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

Access to Asylum: The law provides for the granting of asylum or refugee status, and the government has established a system for providing protection to refugees, including specific subsidiary protection that goes beyond asylum criteria established by the 1951 Convention relating to the Treatment of Refugees and its 1967 protocol. Refugee status and residence permits are limited to five years and become indefinite if extended.

In May more than 500 undocumented immigrants and asylum seekers, many with pending regularization applications, began a hunger strike in Brussels in the hopes of obtaining residence permits. By July approximately 200 individuals were still on hunger strike and began refusing water. State Secretary for Asylum and Migration Sammy Mahdi asserted that the country’s immigration policy would not be modified and there would be no collective regularization for the strikers. In July the UN special rapporteur on extreme poverty and human rights carried out an on-site evaluation of the situation and subsequently presented a report to the government stating that the country was not fulfilling its obligations within the framework of the UN Human Rights Council. In response to the worsening health conditions of the strikers, the green parties Ecolo and Groen and the francophone socialist party (Parti Socialiste) threatened to resign from the government if any of the hunger strikers were to die. On July 22, an agreement was reached between the protestors and Mahdi to evaluate asylum applications on case-by-case basis, ending the hunger strike.

Safe Country of Origin/Transit: The country denied asylum to asylum seekers who arrived from a safe country of origin or transit, pursuant to the EU’s Dublin III Regulation.

Durable Solutions: The country accepted refugees for resettlement through UNHCR, including persons located in Italy and Greece, under the EU Emergency Relocation Mechanism. The country also conducted a voluntary return program for migrants in cooperation with the International Organization for Migration.

Temporary Protection: The government also provided temporary “subsidiary” protection to individuals who did not satisfy the legal criteria for refugee status but who could not return to their country of origin due to the risk of serious harm. Under EU guidelines, individuals granted subsidiary protection are entitled to temporary residence permits, travel documents, access to employment, and equal access to health care, education, and housing.

According to UNHCR, at the end of 2019, the latest date for which data was available, there were 10,933 persons in the country who fell under UNHCR’s statelessness mandate. The country did not contribute to statelessness, as the legal framework for stripping an individual of his or her citizenship does not exist except in cases of dual citizenship with another country. Stateless persons may apply for nationality after meeting the requirements for legal residency in the country.

To be recognized as stateless, a requester must go through legal proceedings and obtain a court ruling on his or her stateless status. Family courts handle such requests; a requester may appeal the court’s ruling. Recognition of statelessness does not automatically afford a stateless person resident status in the country.

Belize

Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties

The law provides for freedom of expression, including for members of the press and other media, 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 members of the media.

The press was largely independent of government influence, although most radio stations, television stations, and newspapers had strong editorial ties to either the United Democratic Party or the People’s United Party. The press was often critical of government officials, with few signs of repercussions.

Violence and Harassment: In May police assaulted and falsely charged Vejea Alvarez, a reporter with Love FM radio, as he covered a protest by nurses at the Northern Regional Hospital. The protesting nurses invited the reporter and his cameraman to cover the event. At the hospital compound, a hospital security officer stopped them, stating they were not allowed to be there. When the reporter insisted on covering the event, police were called. Police sergeant Evaristo Cobb threatened to beat the reporter if he did not leave and punched him in the chest. The incident was captured on video. Alvarez continued to cover the protest from outside the compound. Cobb arrested Alvarez for assault and detained him at the police station. When Alvarez complained about the incident, he was ignored and then threatened by the officer in charge of the station. After reviewing the video, Commissioner of Police Chester Williams disciplined Cobb for lying about the incident and falsely accusing the reporter. The Professional Standards Branch investigation of the incident also led to internal disciplinary charges of “act to the prejudice of good order and discipline” against Corporal Gaspar Tuz and Constable Walter Leonardo.

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

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

The law provides for freedom of internal movement, foreign travel, emigration, and repatriation, and the government generally respected these rights. As part of the COVID-19 measures, land borders remained closed except for necessary travel for medical services, education, trade, and foreign tourist arrivals. During the year several foreign nationals who were imprisoned for immigration offenses were unable to exit the country due to the closures and were kept in prison beyond the end of their sentence.

Not applicable.

The government cooperated with the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), International Organization for Migration (IOM), and other international organizations to provide protection and humanitarian assistance to refugees, asylum seekers, stateless persons, vulnerable migrants, and other persons of concern. The Ministry of Human Development, Families, and Indigenous Peoples’ Affairs and the Ministry of Immigration share responsibility in handling the refugee process and in providing for their protection and needs.

Access to Asylum: The law provides for the granting of refugee status, and the government has established a system for providing protection to refugees. The government does not recognize a legal status of “asylum” and treats all applicants as potential refugees. The courts and executive offices use procedures for refugees to cover both refugees and asylum seekers.

The Ministry of Immigration’s Department of Refugees handled all refugee applications, investigations, and interviews. Previously, the department would not accept refugee applications from persons who had been in the country for more than 14 days. During the year, in response to a legal challenge from the HRCB and a subsequent court ruling, the department adjusted its procedures to accept applications from persons applying for refugee status beyond the law’s 14-day limit.

UNHCR and its partners had a resource center near the western border that provided information on the refugee process to new arrivals. UNHCR also provided limited basic services including shelter, clothing, food, counseling, and assistance with processing legal documents. Reports from NGOs indicated that during the year, groups of fewer than a dozen Haitians and Hondurans entered the country unofficially via Arenal and Calla Creek; the official border crossing in Benque Viejo del Carmen remained closed.

The Refugee Eligibility Committee, a nine-member taskforce made up of pertinent government agencies and social partners, reviews applications for refugee status. Once the committee recommends approval to the Ministry of Immigration, the file is sent for signature and formal approval. Despite the committee’s having recommended approval for 640 persons, the government granted refugee status to only 15 percent of them by the end of September. By October the Refugee Department registered 4,104 persons applying for refugee status. The HRCB stated that from June to August it registered six cases involving a total of 20 persons. HRCB claimed these persons were denied from applying for asylum because they entered the country illegally.

Through its Assisted Voluntary Return program, the IOM office assisted in the repatriation of 189 migrants between June 2020 and September 2021. The migrants were in an irregular status for more than three years: persons stranded by the pandemic, persons who were in the asylum-seeking process and decided to withdraw and return home, unaccompanied minors, and persons who were detained while transiting the country.

Employment: Persons awaiting adjudication of their refugee applications were unable to work legally in the country. Through a new government policy, however, 546 persons who were approved for refugee status and awaiting the minister’s decision were offered permits to work in the sugar, citrus, and banana industries.

Access to Basic Services: Refugees and asylum seekers were able to use the education system and the socialized medical system, but the government offered no assistance with housing or food except in extreme cases that involved children and pregnant women. UNHCR reported that several refugees claimed health providers discriminated against them when the refugees accessed public clinics and hospitals.

Temporary Protection: The Immigration Department issued renewable special residency permits for periods of 60 to 90 days to those who applied for refugee status. A government policy allowed for the renewal of protection status every three months for persons who had been approved by the Refugee Eligibility Committee but awaited the minister’s approval.

Benin

Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties

The constitution provides for freedom of expression, including for members of the press and other media, and the government generally respected this right. Media were not fully independent, however. There were reports the government inhibited freedom of the press through restrictions on and sanctioning of media members. Many public and private media outlets refrained from openly criticizing government policy.

Freedom of Expression for Members of the Press and Other Media, Including Online Media: The government regulated the press and online media. The High Authority for Audiovisual and Communication (HAAC) is a quasigovernmental commission with members appointed by the president, private media, and the legislature. HAAC has a dual role of providing for press freedom while protecting the country against “inflammatory, irresponsible, or destabilizing” media reporting.

On February 9, the Cotonou Court of First Instance sentenced journalist and blogger Jean Kpoton to 12 months in prison and a fine following his conviction of “harassment by electronic means” under the Digital Code. On April 7, police arrested journalist and blogger Nadine Okoumassoun. The CRIET charged Okoumassoun with terrorism and inciting violence. As of September 13, Okoumassoun had yet to be tried and awaits trial in prison.

On July 27, the Supreme Court upheld Benin Web TV journalist Ignace Sossou’s conviction. In 2019 a court convicted him of “harassment through electronic means” after posting to his person social media accounts quotes of the Cotonou prosecutor’s comments that were recorded during “anti-fake news” training organized by the French Media Development Agency. The Cotonou Court of First Instance sentenced Sossou to 18 months’ imprisonment and a substantial monetary fine. In May 2020 the Court of Appeals reduced his sentence to six months’ imprisonment, and in June 2020 he was released.

On August 4, the HAAC complied with a 2019 Court of Appeals ruling rescinding suspension of La Nouvelle Tribune. As of September, the newspaper had not resumed print publication. The HAAC had barred the newspaper from print in 2018. The HAAC continued its suspensions of Sikka TV and Soleil FM, outlets belonging to Sebastien Ajavon. On November 3, the HAAC reassigned Radio Soleil FM’s airwave to another radio station.

As of October 4, Casimir Kpedjo of the newspaper Nouvelle Economie had yet to be tried. According to the Committee to Protect Journalists, in 2019 police arrested Kpedjo for “spreading false information about the Beninese economy” and held him for five days. He was then charged by CRIET with publishing “false information,” and released.

Censorship or Content Restrictions: Public and private media refrained from openly criticizing government policy. Some journalists practiced self-censorship because they were indebted to government officials who granted them service contracts. Other journalists practiced self-censorship due to fear the government would suspend their media outlets. HAAC held public hearings on alleged misconduct by media outlets during the year.

Libel/Slander Laws: By law journalists may be prosecuted for libel and slander. Journalists may also be prosecuted for incitement of violence and property destruction, compromising national security through the press, or a combination of the two. Penalties for conviction include incarceration and fines. By law anyone convicted of “relaying false information against a person using electronic means” may be sentenced to between one and six months in prison and receive a substantial fine.

The constitution and law provide for the freedoms of peaceful assembly and association; the government respected the right of peaceful association but not that of peaceful assembly. Advance notification is required for demonstrations and other public gatherings. The government frequently restricted freedom of peaceful assembly on political grounds.

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

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

Foreign Travel: Authorities do not issue civil documents, including passports, national identity cards, and certificates of citizenship, to persons wanted on criminal charges. The government maintains documentary requirements for minors traveling abroad as part of its campaign against trafficking in persons. This was not always enforced and trafficking of minors across borders continued.

The government regulates the timing and length of seasonal movement of migratory Fulani (Peul) herdsmen and their livestock into and within the country. During the year the government also banned Burkinabe, Nigerian, and Nigerien herders from entering the country with their cattle.

According to the Internal Displacement Monitoring Center, throughout the year there were approximately 7,000 individuals temporarily displaced as a result of seasonal flooding in the Mono, Zou, and Alibori Departments. The government provided humanitarian assistance through its National Agency for Civil Protection and cooperated with humanitarian groups to aid internally displaced persons.

The government cooperated with the Office of UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) and other humanitarian organizations in providing protection and assistance to refugees, returning refugees, or asylum seekers, as well as other persons of concern. As of August 31, there were 1,441 refugees and 717 asylum seekers in the country. UNHCR received reports that humanitarian organizations could not assist many asylum seekers and persons of concern along the northern border due to security concerns. In October 2020 the French government’s Office of the Protection of Refugees and Stateless Persons removed Benin from its list of “countries of safe origin” due to the security situation. According to the French government, Benin’s removal is subject to a 12-month review.

Access to Asylum: The law provides for the granting of asylum or refugee status, and the government has established a system for providing protection to refugees. On July 23, UNHCR reported 179 registered Burkinabe asylum seekers in Benin. UNHCR received reports that thousands of Burkinabe were living in border areas outside the reach of humanitarian assistance organizations.

Durable Solutions: The government assisted refugees and asylum seekers with obtaining documents from their countries of origin while granting their status as privileged residents. The government also facilitated naturalization of refugees as part of a local integration effort. The government involved civil society, media, and academia in the process. The government National Commission of Assistance to Refugees cooperates with UNHCR through the UNHCR regional office in Dakar, Senegal.

Temporary Protection: The government also provided temporary protection to individuals who may not qualify as refugees; it provided this to approximately 606 persons during the year.

There were large communities of stateless individuals residing in eight villages along the border with Niger and Nigeria. These villages were returned to Benin following the resolution of land disputes among Benin, Niger, and Nigeria. The residents lacked the necessary identification documents to claim citizenship in any of these countries.

Bhutan

Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties

The constitution provides for freedom of expression, including for members of the press, and the government generally respected this right. An independent press, an effective judiciary, and a functioning democratic political system contributed to freedom of expression, including for members of media.

Freedom of Expression for Members of the Press and Other Media, Including Online Media: Independent media were active and generally expressed a variety of views. The law does not provide specific protections for journalists or stipulate freedom of information, although there were no official restrictions on media. The law also prohibits media outlets from affiliating with political parties and prohibits outlets from endorsing candidates during the election period.

Libel/Slander Laws: Conviction of defamation may carry criminal penalties. The Freedom in the World 2021 report noted, “powerful individuals can use defamation laws to retaliate against critics.”

The law includes provisions for the government to restrict freedoms of peaceful assembly and association, although the implementation of such measures was not common.

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

The law provides for freedom of internal movement, foreign travel, emigration, and repatriation, but the government limited freedom of movement and repatriation for some groups.

In-country Movement: The law establishes categories of residency, which determine whether a person requires a “route permit” to travel internally. Travel restrictions primarily affected resident foreigners, sometimes including the children of foreigners married to Bhutanese citizens.

Foreign Travel: Children of single mothers who could not establish citizenship through a Bhutanese father sometimes faced difficulties acquiring travel documents for travel outside the country. Citizens require a security clearance certificate from police in order to obtain a passport.

Exile: The government continued to delay consideration of claims for residency in the country by refugees in Nepal. In the early 1990s, the government reportedly forced between 80,000 and 100,000 Nepali-speaking residents to leave the country, following a series of decisions taken during the 1970s and 1980s establishing legal requirements for citizenship.

After years of international efforts resulting in the resettlement of thousands of refugees, the UN Office of the High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) reported that as of the end of the year, approximately 6,300 Nepali-speaking refugees remained in the two refugee camps it administered in Nepal. Approximately one-third of these refugees expressed interest in traveling to Bhutan.

Citizenship: Civil society groups noted barriers to retention of citizenship faced by Bhutanese spouses of noncitizens. According to the constitution, “If any citizen of Bhutan acquires the citizenship of a foreign State, his or her citizenship of Bhutan shall be terminated.” The citizenship of any naturalized citizen may also be revoked, if that naturalized citizen “has shown by act or speech to be disloyal in any manner whatsoever to the king, country, and people”.

Not applicable.

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

Access to Asylum: The law does not provide for the granting of asylum or refugee status, and the government has not established a system for providing protection to refugees; however, some refugees were deemed eligible for and received residence permits.

Since the 1960s Bhutan has sheltered Tibetan refugees who were initially located in seven settlements. According to the Central Tibetan Administration (CTA) 2017-18 annual report, the most up-to-date information available, 1,847 Tibetan refugees lived in the country; approximately 1,650 of them had refugee resident permits. The Tibetan refugee population was decreasing as Tibetan refugees adopted Bhutanese citizenship, according to the Department of Immigration.

Freedom of Movement: Some restrictions on movement exist based on categories of residency. Many Tibetan refugees faced obstacles in obtaining travel permits. There were reports the government did not provide the travel documents necessary for Tibetan refugees to travel beyond India.

Employment: While Tibetans and other noncitizens are not eligible for government employment, the CTA reported that several refugees received business licenses and others found public-sector employment through temporary government contracts.

Access to Basic Services: The government stated Tibetan refugees had the same access to government-provided health care and educations as citizens. There were reports, however, that some Tibetans were not permitted to enroll in public secondary and higher-level schools because they lacked security clearance certificates.

Durable Solutions: The government continued to delay implementing a process to review claims to Bhutanese residency by refugees located outside the country and did not accept referrals for voluntary repatriation from UNHCR.

For a child to qualify for citizenship, both parents must be Bhutanese citizens. NGOs and media sources highlighted the existence of stateless children born to unwed mothers who were unable to prove the identity of the child’s father.

Stateless persons may not obtain “no objection certificates” and police security clearance certificates, which were often necessary for access to public health care, employment, access to primary and secondary education, enrollment at institutions of higher education, travel documents, and business ownership. The National Commission for Women and Children (NCWC) stated, however, that children without citizenship were eligible for public educational and health services.

Bolivia

Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties

While the constitution provides for freedom of expression, including for members of the press and other media, the government retaliated against media outlets that expressed dissenting opinions. Some media outlets reported the government pressured and intimidated them to report favorably regarding government policies by withholding government advertising and imposing steep taxes.

Freedom of Expression for Members of the Press and Other Media, Including Online Media: On July 14, the National Association of Journalists of Bolivia and the Association of Journalists of La Paz issued a statement denouncing the Public Ministry’s “harassment” of the director of Radio Yungas, Eliana Ayaviri, and the director of Radio FM Bolivia, Galo Hubner, who covered clashes in the Yungas coca-growing sector. The statement claimed that prosecutor Odalis Leonor Penaranda violated rules governing press freedoms by ordering Ayaviri and Hubner to hand over lists of interviewees and copies of press reports they published on July 3-6. The statement further alleged the prosecutor’s demand expressed “a clear attitude of intimidation and pressure.”

Violence and Harassment: Journalists faced threats. According to open sources, on September 28, police arrested Carlos Quisbert, a journalist for the daily newspaper Pagina Siete, after a police officer ran over him with his motorcycle while Quisbert was covering a coca growers protest in the vicinity of the Minasa Terminal in La Paz. At the same event cameraman Santiago Limachi and his son Sergio claimed they were injured when police shot teargas canisters at them. In response to these reports, on September 29, the special rapporteur for freedom of expression of the IACHR issued a statement urging the government to allow journalists to perform their work unhindered.

One journalist accused authorities of being complicit in the burning of a radio station in a rural area in the department of Cochabamba, but no further information was available.

Examples of government harassment included sending hostile letters to journalists who published unfavorable stories and parking government vehicles outside their homes.

Censorship or Content Restrictions: In addition to fear of prosecution and harassment, journalists sometimes practiced self-censorship due to fear of losing their jobs or losing access to government sources.

According to the law, the government should provide goods and services to all media outlets in a nondiscriminatory manner, but sometimes the government did not purchase advertisements in certain media outlets because those media were considered opposed to the government’s policy positions.

Media outlets alleged the government pressured news organizations to report favorably on government policies. Media outlets also alleged the government retaliated against news organizations that did not comply with that pressure. The National Press Association of Bolivia and several journalists alleged the government’s retaliatory tactics included withdrawing advertisements and conducting excessive tax audits, which forced companies to spend significant time and resources to defend themselves.

The constitution provides for the freedoms of peaceful assembly and association. The government generally respected the right of freedom of association.

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

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

In-country Movement: The law prohibits travel on election days and on census days and restricts foreign and domestic travel for up to three months as a penalty for persons who do not vote.

Not applicable.

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

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 through the National Commission on Refugees. The country has a legal structure and framework to accommodate those seeking refuge and has a registry of refugees and stateless persons.

Employment: Refugees have the right to work once authorities grant their residency status but not while waiting on pending applications. IOM officials assisted with economic integration programs in coordination with the government to support entrepreneurs and small business owners from the Venezuelan community to create and maintain small businesses.

Durable Solutions: IOM and UNHCR officials reported a steady rise in the number of Venezuelan migrants electing to stay in Bolivia. Most migrants ended up in the larger cities of Santa Cruz, La Paz, El Alto, and Cochabamba seeking work and support services. Most migrants who arrived since January lacked legal status since they crossed the Peruvian border along irregular routes.

On September 1, the government passed Supreme Decree 4576, which provides migrants the ability to normalize their status without paying fines. Minister of Government Eduardo del Castillo explained the law was enacted because many foreign nationals were unable to properly adjust their status in 2020 due to COVID-19 pandemic restrictions.

Bosnia and Herzegovina

Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties

The law provides for freedom of expression, including for the press, but governmental respect for this right remained poor during the year. Violence, intimidation, harassment, and threats, including death threats, against journalists and media outlets continued during the year. BH Journalists, a professional association, noted that passive attitudes of institutions, primarily the judiciary and the prosecutor’s offices, left room for threats and pressure to continue and increase. Numerous restrictive measures introduced to deal with the COVID-19 pandemic continued to limit access to information. A considerable amount of media coverage was dominated by nationalist rhetoric and ethnic and political bias, often encouraging intolerance and sometimes hatred. The absence of transparency in media ownership remained a problem. Ownership of online media remained opaque in many instances. For many broadcast and print outlets, only information about nominal ownership was available.

The country’s laws provide for a high level of freedom of expression, but the implementation and application of the law seriously undermined press freedoms. The law prohibits expression that provokes racial, ethnic, or other forms of intolerance, including “hate speech,” but authorities enforced these restrictions only occasionally. In July the high representative for BiH amended the criminal code of the country to sanction genocide denial, the glorification of war crimes, and the incitement of racial, religious, or ethnic hatred, and violence, but as of November no persons had been indicted or prosecuted for these acts.

Data from the Free Media Help Line (FMHL) indicated that courts continued to fail to differentiate between different media formats (in particular, between news and commentary), while long court procedures and legal and financial battles were financially exhausting to journalists and outlets. The FMHL concluded that the number of defamation cases against journalists and editors remained high, especially in instances where journalists were investigating crime and corruption. Available data indicated that 80 percent of defamation cases were initiated by government officials or politicians. Continued incorrect implementation of the defamation laws caused direct pressure against journalists and media that jeopardized journalists’ right to freedom of expression. BH Journalists warned that the number of so-called SLAPP (strategic lawsuit against public participation) charges was increasing and that enormously high damage compensation claims were directed at undercutting the financial stability of media.

Independent media were active and expressed a wide variety of views, but sometimes this resulted in pressure or threats against journalists. Officials confronted with criticism intensified the practice of calling journalists traitors or labeling them as members or affiliates of opposition political parties, using harsh insults to discredit them. BH Journalists noted that gender-based attacks and pressure against journalists had increased since 2019. The law prohibiting expression that provokes racial, ethnic, or other forms of intolerance applies to print and broadcast media, the publication of books, and online newspapers and journals but was seldom enforced.

The Communications Regulatory Agency (CRA) received 11 complaints related to hate speech but did not determine any cases as hate speech in the broadcast media. The Press Council, which operates as a self-regulatory membership-based body for both online and printed media outlets across the country, registered 297 complaints related to hate speech, all of which were related to online media, one to an article published by a news agency, and seven related to content published on social media. Of the complaints, 295 were related to comments from web portal visitors. As of September, 136 complaints had been resolved through self-regulation.

The web portals Sejl.org and Bosnjaci.net conducted a yearlong slander campaign against media professional and University of Sarajevo professor Lejla Turcilo, accusing her of “poisoning Bosniak children” and labeling her a “genocide denier.” BH Journalists issued a statement condemning the attacks. As a result, BH Journalists general secretary Borka Rudic also became a target of similar attacks. Nationalist web portals accused both women of supporting war criminals and insulting the prophet Muhammed. Journalist and television presenter Nikola Vucic and N1 (a CNN affiliate) editor in chief Amir Zukic endured similar attacks due to efforts to address the smear campaign against Turcilo. Both were accused of supporting war criminals. Safe Journalists and the European Federation of Journalists strongly reacted to the campaign. Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) representative on freedom of the media Teresa Ribeiro condemned this targeted online hate campaign against media professionals in BiH, urging authorities to take effective measures to investigate and prosecute the perpetrators.

Political and financial pressure on media outlets continued. The negative economic effects of the pandemic further eroded the financial stability of media across the country, often forcing them to scale back their operations and making them more vulnerable to outside pressure. Some media outlets noted that allegations of tax evasion and elaborate financial controls continued to be powerful tools in attempts to intimidate and control outlets.

The number of attacks against journalists increased during the year. Attacks on journalists’ professional integrity and freedom of the press continued throughout the year. Public officials obstructed the work of journalists. This period was marked by attempts to restrict access to information in several areas. Restrictions imposed during the pandemic remained in place. They included government officials organizing press conferences broadcast by only one media outlet with no journalists present, making follow up questions impossible. Submission of questions remotely allowed officials to choose what questions they answered. Government release of pandemic-related data also varied, and some public hospitals shared information only with selected media outlets. Several instances of restricting the press while reporting on the migrant situation in the country were reported. In January a group of local and international correspondents were prevented from filming the Lipa migrant camp near Bihac. Although there were no signs prohibiting filming, inspectors from the Ministry of Security forced a group of journalists into their car, confiscated their documents, and required them to delete recorded materials. BH Journalists wrote to the Ministry of Security, urging it to respect freedom of access to information and freedom of movement. A television correspondent from O Kanal was prevented from filming outside a local refinery in Brod. After he refused to surrender recorded material to on-site security, police detained and threatened him with a lawsuit. Due to a swift reaction from BH Journalists, charges were never filed. Mostar-based journalists filed a complaint with FMHL in February because the city administration of Mostar prevented them from reporting on the election of the mayor of the city.

The practice of pressuring journalists to censor their reporting continued during the year. Reaction to investigative stories focusing on the corruption of high-level judicial officials and their lack of accountability continued generating pressure on journalists. After web portal Istraga.ba published a report exploring the credibility of alleged attempts to threaten the security of the BiH chief prosecutor, the chief prosecutor issued a public refutation accusing the author of “anti-civilized and barbaric discrediting” of her personality, of instigating “national and religious hatred,” and “paving the road for elimination of all those standing in the way of paramilitary circles.” BH Journalists condemned the pressure on the reporter. Sarajevo-based Face TV continued to face pressure coming from the ruling Bosniak ethno-nationalist Party of Democratic Action (SDA) because of its reporting on instances of corruption linked to this political party. In one of its responses, the SDA stated the reporting of Senad Hadzifejzovic, Face TV’s owner, was untruthful and motivated by “hurt vanity, anger, or some other motives.” BH Journalists underscored that continued political pressure against Face TV represented unacceptable interference in the outlet’s editorial policy and alleged that the objective was to label them as an “enemy, unpatriotic, and propaganda outlet.” News portal Bljesak.ba was pressured after they reported the filing of criminal charges against the minister of interior in Herzegovina Neretva Canton. The minister, who declined to comment to the outlet, called the editors after the story was published, accusing them of doing a story “for their own interests.” In a written reaction he labeled Bljesak.info unprofessional and irresponsible for publishing an “anonymous and untruthful pamphlet.”

Authorities continued exerting pressure on media outlets to discourage some forms of expression, and party and governmental control over some news outlets narrowed the range of opinions represented in both entities. Public broadcasters at the state (BHRT) and entity level (RTV FBiH and RTRS) continued to operate without stable and sustainable income that would enable independent editorial policy. Public broadcasters therefore remained vulnerable to strong pressure from government and political forces. They remained exposed to political influence, especially through politically controlled steering boards, because existing legal solutions failed to provide mechanisms that protect editorial independence. Independent analysts stated that limiting the competencies of entity parliaments in the process of the appointment of the steering boards of public broadcasters remained crucial for their editorial independence.

The institutional instability of the governing structures of RTV FBiH continued, as the broadcaster failed to elect a steering board or appoint organizational management and remained open to political influence. As a result, RTV FBiH continued to demonstrate a selective approach to news. The RS government continued to increase its direct control of RTRS, which strongly amplified the positions and narratives of the ruling coalition in the RS entity. BHRT yielded to increased political pressure and continued to censor its own reporting. Authorities remained subject to competing political interests and failed to establish a public broadcasting service corporation to oversee the operations of all public broadcasters in the country as provided by law.

The CRA, which regulates the audiovisual media market, lacked full financial and political independence. The mandate of the CRA Council expired at the end of 2017, but the parliamentary commission for the appointment of the council had not decided on its mandate renewal by the end of the year. CRA repeatedly warned that a major delay in switching from analogue to digital broadcasting could have dangerous consequences on media plurality in the country. During the year, Croatia demanded that BiH switch off several public and commercial terrestrial transmitters. CRA ordered the shutdown of terrestrial signal transmitters for several channels in BiH to be completed by the end of 2021 in the RS entity, including for Bijeljina-based BN TV, a non-RS government aligned media outlet branded “anti-Serb” by the Serb member of the BiH Presidency and SNSD leader Milorad Dodik.

Violence and Harassment: Intimidation, violence, and threats against journalists were recorded during the year. Intimidation and politically motivated litigation against journalists for their unfavorable reporting on government leaders and authorities also continued.

As of July the FMHL recorded 62 cases involving alleged violations of journalists’ rights and freedoms, including one death threat and two physical assaults. In one incident, bodyguards of the Serb member of BiH Presidency and SNSD party leader Milorad Dodik physically stopped a cameraman from the Insajder.in web portal and forced him to erase from his camera all footage of a gathering of the ruling SNSD party in Banja Luka in late September. In addition, a local SNSD official forced the cameraman to show his identification card, photographed it, and asked the cameraman for his home address. According to 2006 to 2020 data from BH Journalists, authorities prosecuted approximately 30 percent of criminal acts reported against journalists and investigated more than one-third of the alleged violations of journalists’ rights, illustrating that inefficient investigations into attacks against journalists by police and prosecutors’ offices continued.

In February a crew from Banja Luka-based Elta TV was prevented from doing an interview with a former RS Railroads company worker and was threatened by RS Railroads security guard Milenko Kicic. Kicic insulted his former colleague and threatened the television crew, saying he would smash their camera if they disobeyed his orders. Elta TV reported this incident to police, who filed a criminal complaint against Kicic. RS Railroad issued a statement that their worker Kicic was just doing his job, without threatening anyone, while the television crew was not authorized to make any recording of their company’s facilities.

Verbal attacks against journalists continued during the year, some of them also gender based. Serb member of the BiH Presidency Milorad Dodik repeatedly insulted media representatives and analysts, calling them “traitors, mercenaries, and hostile media” when they presented facts or opinions with which he disagreed. On May 24, he insulted political analyst Tanja Topic, Banja Luka-based employee of Friedrich Ebert Stiftung, calling her an “agent of the German intelligence service” and “a proven quisling.” Dodik also insulted her family members. BH Journalists and international community representatives condemned the attacks on Topic’s personal and professional integrity. In addition, on several occasions Dodik attacked BNTV representatives, calling them traitors. During an August 10 primetime interview on RTRS, Dodik called BNTV and its owner, Vlado Trisic, traitors who work against the interests of Republika Srpska. On September 30, during a press conference in East Sarajevo, he said the station was part of an “organized criminal enterprise.”

During the year several web portals experienced cyberattacks. In February web portals Zurnal.info and Buka.com were subjected to distributed denial-of-service (DDoS) cyberattacks, and on August 10, Nezavisne novine reported DDoS attacks against its website Nezavisne.com. Zurnal.info, an online media outlet focused on anticorruption and investigative journalism, was exposed to a four-day cyberattack that started February 18 and disabled access to the website. Zurnal’s server host said it had never experienced such a complex, carefully planned and executed cyberattack. At the same time similar cyberattacks were conducted against online media outlets Buka.com and Nomad.ba. The cyberattacks against Nezavisne.com started on August 10 and recurred for several days. The cyberattacks were reported to police. BH Journalists reacted in February, noting they had sent letters to the cybercrime departments of the Federation Police Administration and the RS Ministry of Interior asking for an efficient and thorough investigation of these cases. On February 25, following the cyberattacks on media portals Zurnal and Buka, the OSCE Mission to BiH, the EU Delegation and EU special representative, the Embassy of the United Kingdom, and the Office of the High Representative issued a statement calling on BiH authorities to investigate all attacks on media websites because they represent a clear danger to media freedom. Following the most recent DDoS cyberattack in August, the BH Press and Online Media Council’s Steering Board called on police and the prosecutor’s offices for an urgent response, condemned the hacker attack, recalled other such attacks against online media, and noted that the cyberattacks, in addition to denying the right to free reporting, also inflicted economic damage on media outlets.

Censorship or Content Restrictions: Multiple political parties and entity-level institutions attempted to influence editorial policies and media content through legal and financial measures. As a result some media outlets practiced self-censorship. Government institutions restricted access to information in some instances related to the COVID-19 crisis, coverage of the migrant situation in the country, and access to information related to ongoing cases of corruption. Cases of allowing only selected media representatives to cover events were noted. In some instances, media sources reported that officials threatened outlets with loss of advertising or limited their access to official information. Prevailing practices reflected close connections between major advertisers and political circles and allowed for biased distribution of advertising time. Public companies, most of which were under the control of political parties, remained the key advertisers. Outlets critical of ruling parties claimed they faced difficulties in obtaining advertising. The 2020 lockdown and numerous restrictions related to the pandemic had a direct negative impact on the finances of media in the country, making them more vulnerable to economic and political pressure.

Libel/Slander Laws: While the country has decriminalized defamation, many complaints continued to be brought before courts against journalists, often resulting in extremely high fines. Noteworthy court decisions against journalists included temporary bans on the posting or publication of certain information as well as extremely high and disproportionate compensatory payments. In June and July, the Municipal Court of Sarajevo issued two verdicts ordering payment of unusually high fines and penalties in defamation cases against two media outlets. Following a court order, more than 212,000 convertible marks (KM) ($127,000) were seized from the bank account of the publishing house Avaz-roto Press, based on a 2009 defamation case and a related 2016-2019 case about publishing the court ruling. Avaz-roto Press was found guilty and had previously already paid KM 5,000 ($3,000) in damages and covered additional accompanying court costs. In July the online media outlet Zurnal was ordered to pay more than KM 170,000 ($102,000) based on a first-instance court ruling in a defamation case. The BH Journalists association expressed concern that such excessive fines and penalties could seriously jeopardize the work and business of media outlets, noting the need to find a balance between the economic power of the media, the public interest, and the right to compensation. The Steering Board of the BiH Press and Online Media Council expressed concern, noting that such high fines and penalties are at odds with projecting journalistic integrity and endanger the work of the media.

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

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

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

In-country Movement: Although the law on asylum provides for freedom of movement for asylum seekers, authorities of Una-Sana Canton imposed restrictions without a legal basis. This resulted in asylum seekers – including some who were duly registered with the asylum authorities – being forcibly removed from public transport at the entrance of the canton. Unlike in the past, there was no exception on the restriction of movement for vulnerable categories including unaccompanied children, pregnant women, and persons with medical conditions. Restrictions on entry to and exit from temporary reception centers (TRCs) were put in place, and new admittances of persons to the Miral TRC in Velika Kladusa were barred and strictly enforced by local police. All restrictions on transport and reception in TRCs remained in force under the guise of COVID-19 mitigation measures. In addition, authorities in the RS entity regularly restricted the movement of migrants and asylum seekers within its territory and in some cases provided transport to the Interentity Boundary Line at Rudenice/Kljuc where they were not permitted access to Una-Sana Canton by local police, leaving them stranded at the checkpoint.

Ministry of Human Rights and Refugees statistics indicated that 96,305 individuals still held internally displaced person (IDP) status resulting from the 1992-95 conflict. The majority of Bosniaks and Croats fled the RS entity, while Serbs fled the Federation. At the beginning of the year, UNHCR was directly providing protection, assistance, or both to 479 IDPs. According to UNHCR an estimated 3,000 persons, including IDPs, continued to live in collective accommodations throughout the country. While the accommodations were meant to be temporary, some had been living in them for 20 or more years. A substantial number of IDPs and returnees lived in substandard conditions that affected their livelihoods.

The country’s constitution and laws provide for the voluntary return or local integration of IDPs consistent with the UN Guiding Principles on Internal Displacement. The government actively promoted the safe return of refugees and IDPs or the local integration of persons in their place of displacement, depending on their specific situations. The government allocated funding for returns and participated in internationally funded programs for return. Isolated attacks against minority returnees continued but were generally not investigated or prosecuted adequately, and there were no major developments with regards to improved access to rights and services – particularly the right to education in their language – for vulnerable IDPs and returnees.

The government cooperated with the Office of the High Commissioner for Refugees and other humanitarian organizations in providing protection and assistance to refugees, returning refugees, or asylum seekers, as well as other persons of concern.

Access to Asylum: The law provides for the granting of asylum (refugee or subsidiary protection status), and the government has established a system for providing protection to refugees. Asylum seekers with pending claims have a right to accommodation at the asylum center until the Ministry of Security makes a final and binding decision on their claims, although in practice only asylum-seeking families were accommodated, resulting in single men and unaccompanied children being accommodated in a limited number of temporary reception centers, limiting their access to asylum. In addition, the two centers specifically designated to accommodate asylum seekers – Asylum Center (AC) Delijas and Refugee Reception Center (RRC) Salakovac – remained underutilized. Accommodation in either is not based on asylum status or intention but instead on the capacity of the Usivak TRC where referrals are made and approved by the Ministry for Security, resulting in most families staying for brief periods before pursuing onward movement.

The overwhelming majority of refugees and migrants arriving in the country were issued an attestation on expressed intention to seek asylum (94 percent of 80,000 arrivals since January 2018) although very few intended to apply for asylum in the country. Accommodation in any of the reception centers is contingent on possession of this attestation document. This created a severe backlog in the asylum system, which has no mechanisms for identifying and prioritizing those with protection needs and a willingness to pursue international protection in the country over those pursuing onward movement. As a result there were extreme delays for persons wishing to register an asylum claim. For asylum claims registered between January and July, the average wait time between issuance of an attestation and registration with the Sector for Asylum was 182 days, and this was only for those who managed to register. The processing times for those who were registered were also excessive, averaging 422 days between registration and the issuance of a decision during the year, meaning that on average the asylum process can take up to two years from initial issuance of an attestation to issuance of a decision.

To register a claim, individuals must be invited by the Sector for Asylum. Asylum authorities currently only regularly invite unaccompanied children and families accommodated in the Usivak TRC and persons in private accommodation to register asylum claims. Single men in other TRCs, persons in Una-Sana Canton, and those accommodated in government-run centers – AC Delijas and RRC Salakovac – were not invited to register claims and thus effectively had limited or no access to the asylum procedure. The highly restrictive access to the asylum procedure and the lengthy and inefficient procedure for those registered resulted in many abandoning the asylum process, and authorities suspending most cases prior to issuing an initial decision (546 suspensions compared to 85 decisions in 2020 or 86.5 percent of cases being suspended).

Authorities also maintained a restrictive approach to assessing asylum claims, granting refugee status in just three cases since the start of the mixed movement surge in 2018. They instead granted subsidiary protection in cases when refugee status would likely be more appropriate – such as cases involving Syrian citizens – while most cases were denied outright at the first instance, including 27 of the 31 or 87 percent of the decisions issued during the year. Asylum seekers have the right to appeal a negative decision before the Court of BiH, although the court lacked specific expertise on asylum and often upheld the initial decision issued by the asylum authorities, while only intervening on issues related to the process rather than the content or quality of the decision. When appeals were upheld, they were returned to the Sector for Asylum for reexamination, although often the second decision remained unchanged. Gaps remained regarding access to rights and services for asylum seekers and beneficiaries of international protection, including education, healthcare, free legal aid, employment, and basic social services.

In reception centers, international organizations, NGOs, and volunteers provided services which varied depending on the facility. There were two government-run centers (AC Delijas and RRC Salakovac) which remained underutilized, while most asylum seekers and migrants resided in five temporary reception centers operated by the International Organization for Migration in cooperation with the Service for Foreigners’ Affairs in Sarajevo (Usivak and Blazuj) and Una-Sana Cantons (Borici, Miral, and Lipa). In response to a lack of accommodation for unaccompanied children, the Ministry of Security in cooperation with the IFS EMMAUS Center for Children and Youth in December 2020 began providing protection-sensitive accommodation in a center for migrant and asylum-seeking children. Due to the center’s location in Doboj East, away from the larger concentrations of asylum seekers and migrants in Sarajevo and Una-Sana Cantons, most children opted instead to seek accommodation in TRCs, particularly those designated for single adult males, exposing them to exploitation and abuse risks. There remained an acute lack of protection-sensitive accommodation for other vulnerable categories or persons with specific needs, including those with physical and mental disabilities, families with children, survivors of gender-based or domestic violence, persons with diverse sexual orientations and gender identities, elderly persons, and victims of human trafficking.

The COVID-19 pandemic continued to impede the asylum claim registration process.

As a result of the mass influx from 2018, authorities largely stopped the previous practice of detaining irregular migrants in the Immigration Center in Lukavica, mainly due to its limited capacity. NGOs including free legal aid providers continued to have limited access to the immigration detention and asylum centers, on the grounds of COVID-19 mitigation measures. Access to information, free legal aid, and asylum remained a concern for those detained in the Immigration Center, especially given the risk of return and refoulement for those detained.

Certain provisions of the laws on extradition give authorities the possibility of extraditing a person who has expressed the intention to seek asylum if the request was made after the country had received an extradition request.

Safe Country of Origin/Transit: The law provides for the application of the concept of “safe country of origin or safe third country.” Authorities may deny asylum to applicants who cannot prove they were unable to return to their country of origin or to any country of transit. The application of this concept would require that the BiH Council of Ministers make a list of safe third countries and countries of origin, which the Council of Ministers has not yet approved.

Durable Solutions: The legal framework provides a program for integration and return of refugees and displaced persons. The country was party to a regional housing program funded by international donors and facilitated in part by UNHCR and the OSCE to provide durable solutions for up to 74,000 refugees and displaced persons from four countries in the region, including 14,000 of the most vulnerable refugees, returnees, and IDPs from the country. The process of selecting program beneficiaries was protracted due to capacity and management problems that resulted in extended delays in the reconstruction of homes. Fragmented institutional arrangements added administrative delays to the process, as did the political imperative to select beneficiaries proportionally from among the country’s constituent peoples. The BiH Ministry of Human Rights and Refugees drafted a bylaw on practical support for greater integration of refugees and persons granted subsidiary protection in society.

The government provided subsidiary protection status to individuals who qualified as refugees. In the first seven months of the year, authorities provided subsidiary protection to four individuals, and by the end of July there were 50 persons with subsidiary protection status in the country. While subsidiary protection status affords individuals access to education, healthcare, labor, and social welfare, there remained problems accessing these rights in practice. Subsidiary protection status requires the annual review and confirmation of status by the authorities and does not include a pathway to permanent residency and ultimate naturalization, and beneficiaries of subsidiary protection are not issued travel documents and are not entitled to family reunification, therefore hindering local integration and achievement of durable solutions.

As of July UNHCR was aware of 69 persons, including Roma, children born to undocumented migrants and asylum seekers, persons born abroad without birth registration, and persons lacking birth certificates and citizenship registration at risk of statelessness. UNHCR continued to provide assistance to authorities to facilitate birth and citizenship registrations. From 2009 to August, UNHCR assisted 1,765 individuals in confirming their nationalities through its implementing partner, the NGO Vasa Prava BiH.

Botswana

Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties

The constitution and law provide for freedom of speech and press.

Freedom of Expression: The law restricts the speech of some government officials and fines persons found guilty of insulting public officials or national symbols. The law states, “Any person in a public place or at a public gathering (who) uses abusive, obscene, or insulting language in relation to the president, any other member of the National Assembly, or any public officer” is guilty of an offense and may receive a substantial monetary fine. The law also states that any person who insults the country’s coat of arms, flag, presidential standard, or national anthem is guilty of an offense and may receive a substantial monetary fine under the sedition clause. The Constitutional Court has not considered the constitutionality of the sedition clause.

Freedom of Expression for Members of the Press and Other Media, Including Online Media: The government dominated domestic broadcasting. The government owned and operated the Botswana Press Agency, which dominated the print media through its free, nationally distributed newspaper, Daily News, and two state-operated FM radio stations. State-owned media generally featured reporting favorable to the government and, according to some observers, were susceptible to political interference. Opposition political parties claimed state media coverage heavily favored the ruling party.

Independent media were active and generally expressed a wide variety of views, which frequently included strong criticism of the government; however, media members complained they were sometimes subject to government pressure to portray the government and country in a positive light. Private media organizations had more difficulty than government-owned media obtaining access to government-held information and access to official media events.

A 2008 law mandates registration of media outlets and journalists with the National Press Council and has been criticized by human rights and press freedom NGOs, although it has never been implemented.

Violence and Harassment: On January 28, the BPS in Phitshane arrested Tshepo Sethibe and Michelle Teise, two journalists employed by the news site Moeladilotlhoko News Boiler, along with three other persons. Police seized their phones and charged them with criminal trespass for entering two houses while investigating the disappearance of a local man, Obakeng Badubi. Authorities dropped the charges on April 15.

Censorship or Content Restrictions: Some members of civil society organizations stated the government occasionally censored stories it deemed undesirable in government-run media. Government journalists sometimes practiced self-censorship.

Libel/Slander Laws: There were no arrests or convictions under these laws (see the above subsection on Freedom of Expression) during the year, although Minister for Presidential Affairs Kabo Morwaeng told parliament in July that the law could be used against those “disrespecting” President Masisi regarding growing dissatisfaction with his government’s handling of the COVID-19 crisis.

The constitution and law provide for the freedoms of assembly and association, and the government generally respected these rights, although there were restrictions on the ability of labor unions to organize and strike (see section 7.a.).

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

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

In-country Movement: The government’s COVID-19 restrictions set limits on internal movement. A series of “extreme social distancing” periods (lockdowns) in 2020 forced most of the population to remain at home for weeks at a time. During the year the government imposed overnight curfews, some beginning as early as 6:00 p.m. Additionally, the government divided the country into nine zones, with permits required to pass from one zone to another. Regulations stated permits were meant only for exceptional travel, such as essential services or for funerals. The regulations resulted in authorities stopping some travelers without proper permits at zonal border checkpoints and not allowing the travelers to proceed. The online permit system also occasionally went offline around public holidays.

Not applicable.

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

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 system for granting refugee status was accessible but slow. The government generally provided protection against the expulsion or return of persons to countries where their lives or freedom would be threatened on account of their race, religion, nationality, membership in a particular social group, or political opinion.

The government held refugees and asylum seekers in the FCII immigration detention facility until the Refugee Advisory Committee, a governmental body, made a status recommendation. The committee met quarterly during the year. UNHCR representatives participated in advisory committee meetings as observers and technical advisers.

In 2020 and during the year, the government repatriated approximately 700 Zimbabwean refugees from the Dukwi Refugee Camp, using a combination of voluntary removals and deportation. Many of the Zimbabweans had been living at the camp for more than a decade. Following UNHCR intervention into the fast-tracked refugee status determination process for Zimbabweans, the government agreed to a more thorough process. The government determined, with UNHCR’s agreement, that 10 persons warranted further protection due to lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer, or intersex (LGBTQI+) status or because they were senior ranking members of Zimbabwean political opposition groups. Most of the remaining 171, who were deemed no longer needing international protection, left voluntarily, although the government ultimately deported 36 persons in April, including military deserters who expressed fear of retribution upon return.

Safe Country of Origin/Transit: The government applied the principle of first country of asylum; on that basis, in previous years it detained individuals, many of whom had refugee status in a third country and then claimed asylum.

Freedom of Movement: As a general policy, all registered refugees must reside in Dukwi Refugee Camp under a strict encampment policy, although the government may issue a residence permit to remain outside the camp in exceptional cases, such as for refugees enrolled at a university, in need of specialized medical care, or with unique skills.

Employment: In May UNHCR reported that most of the country’s 790 registered refugees were living in the Dukwi Refugee Camp and did not have the right to work outside the camp.

Access to Basic Services: Refugees at the Dukwi Refugee Camp had access to education and basic health-care services. In 2019 the government began allowing noncitizens, including refugees, to receive HIV and AIDS medication. UNHCR facilitated refugee and asylum seekers’ exit permit applications for medical referrals as necessary. Officials typically granted exit permits for three days; refugees found outside the camp without a permit were subject to arrest.

Asylum seekers with children are transferred to Dukwi Refugee Camp. International observers expressed concern that young children were sometimes separated from their parents while their cases were processed. In one case this included a family with eight minor children. International observers stated there was no access to education in the FCII, which, as of August, held 148 children younger than age 18. The center hosted a clinic, and a specialized nurse provided basic health care, while critical cases were referred to the Francistown city hospital.

The government considered the FCII to be a transit center for refugees, but acknowledged it was not ideal for longer term detention. There were reports of refugees who spent several years there while awaiting review of their cases. Although in 2019 the government moved remaining long-term residents to the nearby Dukwi Refugee Camp, there was no protocol in place to prevent arrivals from spending long periods in FCII while their cases were processed. International refugee groups reported that an average of 50 to 60 persons were held in the FCII at any given time while awaiting refugee processing.

Temporary Protection: The government provided temporary protection at the Dukwi Refugee Camp to individuals who may not qualify as refugees under the 1951 UN Refugee Convention or its 1967 Protocol. UNHCR provided food and other provisions to individuals under temporary protection.

Brazil

Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties

The constitution and law provide for freedom of expression, including for the press, but the government did not always respect this right.

The press maintained a confrontational relationship with the Bolsonaro administration. The press regularly published highly critical reporting on the government’s actions, and President Bolsonaro and members of his administration frequently criticized the press. According to Reporters Without Borders, President Bolsonaro criticized the press 87 times in the first half of the year, verbally or via social media – a 74 percent increase compared with the second half of 2020. Reporters Without Borders included the president in its 37-member “predators of the press freedom” gallery. The organization described the president’s tactics as “predatory methods” that used insults, humiliation, and vulgar threats against primarily women journalists, political analysts, and media networks. Despite these concerns, in general the press continued to operate freely.

In March media reported that police had subpoenaed more than 200 persons to provide depositions and, in some cases, arrested individuals after criticizing the president (including some who called for his assassination) using the 1983 National Security Law that was enacted during the military dictatorship. In February, STF minister Alexandre de Moraes used the same law to order the arrest of Federal Deputy Daniel Silveira for a video Silveira released defending the closing of the STF and expressing support for Institutional Act Number 5, the harshest instrument of repression during the military dictatorship, which removed mandates of antimilitary parliamentarians and suspended constitutional guarantees that eventually resulted in the institutionalization of torture. In September the president approved with five line-item vetoes a bill revoking the National Security Law and adding a series of crimes against democracy to the penal code – criminalizing attacks on national sovereignty, executing a coup d’etat, and spreading fake news during elections.

Violence and Harassment: Journalists were sometimes killed or subjected to harassment, physical attacks, and threats as a result of their reporting.

On April 4, a man riding a motorcycle fatally shot radio broadcaster Weverton Rabelo Froes in the Fazenda Guaribagion region of Planaltino, Bahia. On April 9, an unknown individual fatally shot television producer Jose Bonfim Pitangueiras in the Engenho Velho da Federacao district in Salvador, Bahia. As of October the Civil Police were investigating both crimes but had not identified a motive or suspect in either killing.

In August a journalist and a blogger were attacked in separate incidents less than one month apart in the municipality of Mage in Rio de Janeiro’s metropolitan area. In early August unidentified men set fire to blogger Eduardo César’s vehicle. Separately, on August 17, unidentified men opened fire on journalist Vinicius Lourenco’s vehicle. Neither victim was injured. Both were known for having previously exposed problems within the administration of Mage mayor Renato Cozolino.

In October the Public Ministry of Roraima State denounced state deputy Jalser Renier for eight crimes in the kidnapping of journalist Romano dos Anjos in October 2020. Renier, who was president of the Roraima state legislative assembly at the time, was charged as the mastermind of the kidnapping, for attempting to hinder the investigation, and for using his position to threaten the Roraima state governor. Eight additional military police officers and a former employee of the political party were also charged.

In instances of violence perpetrated by protesters or provocateurs during mass demonstrations, at times security forces injured journalists during crowd-control operations.

Censorship or Content Restrictions: National laws prohibit politically motivated judicial censorship, but there were reports of judicial censorship. In 2019, drawing on previous court precedent and in coordination with the National Police, the STF began using a law against defaming institutions to investigate cases of individuals or press criticizing the court’s members. These investigations expanded to numerous cases of investigating “fake news,” and on August 4, the STF added President Jair Bolsonaro to its investigation for spreading false statements related to the electoral process and the security of electronic voting machines.

Nongovernmental Impact: Nongovernmental criminal elements at times subjected journalists to violence due to their professional activities.

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

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

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

Not applicable.

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

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. By law refugees are provided official documentation, access to legal protection, and access to public services. The law codifies protections for asylum claimants and provides for a humanitarian visa and residency status that serves as an alternative to refugee claims for some categories of regional migrants, particularly from Venezuela.

As of October there were almost 273,000 Venezuelan refugees and migrants in the country who were highly vulnerable to sex trafficking and forced labor, many of whom arrived in the northern state of Roraima. The country had already officially recognized more than 61,000 refugees, of whom 48,800 were Venezuelans. The government continued the process of “interiorization” of Venezuelan refugees and asylum seekers, voluntarily relocating them from the border to other states to relieve pressure on the resource-strapped state of Roraima and provide increased opportunities for education and work.

In March 2020, due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the government closed its borders, including the border with Venezuela. During the border closure, migrants who arrived irregularly were unable to receive residency paperwork, limiting their ability to access social services and find work. On June 25, the government issued an ordinance permitting Venezuelan nationals to enter Brazil and to regularize their status through applications for asylum and residence permits, including the regularization of status for those who entered irregularly in the prior 15 months. As of October 15, the government had issued 22,033 entry permits pursuant to the ordinance.

Abuse of Migrants and Refugees: NGOs reported that refugees were susceptible to human trafficking for the purposes of forced prostitution and forced labor.

Employment: The interiorization program provided economic opportunities for voluntarily resettled Venezuelans by placing them in economic hubs in larger cities. As of October more than 60,000 Venezuelans had been relocated to cities away from the border. Resettled Venezuelans seeking employment reported difficulty obtaining Brazilian accreditation for foreign academic degrees and professional licenses, restricting their ability to work. Civil society organizations raised concerns that business closures due to COVID-19 disproportionately affected migrants and refugees, many of whom depended on informal jobs or work in the service sector.

Brunei

Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties

Under the law and emergency powers, the government restricted freedom of expression, including for media.

Freedom of Expression: There is no provision for freedom of speech in the constitution or laws. Members of the Legislative Council may “speak their opinions freely” on behalf of citizens, but they are prohibited from using language or exhibiting behavior deemed “irresponsible, derogatory, scandalous, or injurious.” Under the law it is an offense to challenge the royal family’s authority. The law also makes it an offense to challenge “the standing or prominence of the national philosophy, the Malay Islamic Monarchy concept.” This philosophy identifies Islam as the state religion and monarchical rule as the sole form of government to uphold the rights and privileges of the Brunei Malay race. The law also criminalizes any act, matter, or word intended to promote “feelings of ill will or hostility” between classes of persons or to “wound religious feelings.”

The SPC includes provisions barring contempt for or insult of the sultan, administration of sharia, or any law related to Islam. SPC sections provide, in certain circumstances, for death sentences for apostasy from Islam, deriding Islamic scriptures, and declaring oneself as God, among other offenses. There were no known cases of persons charged under these sections, but online criticism of the law was largely self-censored, and online newspapers did not permit comments or stories on these subjects.

The government interpreted the SPC to prohibit public celebration of religions other than Islam, including publicly displaying Christmas decorations. Some establishments, however, openly sold Christmas decorations or advertised Christmas-themed events. Christmas remained an official national holiday.

Freedom of Expression for Members of the Press and Other Media, Including Online Media: The law allows the government to close a newspaper without giving prior notice or showing cause. The law requires local newspapers to obtain operating licenses and prior government approval for hiring foreign editorial staff, journalists, and printers. The law also gives the government the right to bar distribution of foreign publications and requires distributors of foreign publications to obtain a government permit. Foreign newspapers generally were available. Internet versions of local and foreign media were generally available without censorship or blocking.

The government owns the only local television station. Three Malaysian television channels are also available, along with two satellite television services. Some content was subject to censorship based on theme or content, including religious content, but such censorship was not consistent.

In an unusual nod to transparency the government held regular COVID-19 press conferences on the situation in the country and allowed media to publicly question the health minister and other officials.

Censorship or Content Restrictions: The law provides for prosecution of newspaper publishers, proprietors, or editors who publish anything the government deems as having seditious intent. Punishments include suspension of publication for a maximum of one year; a prohibition on publishers, printers, or editors from publishing, writing for, or editing any other newspaper; and the seizure of printing equipment. Persons convicted under the law also face a significant fine and a maximum prison term of three years. Journalists deemed to have published or written “false and malicious” reports may be subject to fines or prison sentences.

Observers reported prohibitions against covering a variety of topics, such as Chinese aggression in the South China Sea and reporting on topics such as crime until the relevant government agency issued an official press release on the topic.

The SPC prohibits publication or importation of publications giving instruction about Islam contrary to sharia. It also bars the distribution to Muslims or to persons with no religion of publications related to religions other than Islam. The SPC bars the publication, broadcast, or public expression of a list of words generally associated with Islam (such as Quran) in a non-Islamic context. The SPC also prohibits religious teaching without written approval. There were no reports of charges under these regulations.

Journalists commonly reported practicing self-censorship because of social pressure, reports of government interference and pressure, and legal and professional concerns.

Libel/Slander Laws: The law prohibits bringing into hatred or contempt, or exciting disaffection against, the sultan or the government. Persons convicted under the law face a significant fine, a maximum of three years in prison, or both. There were no reports of such cases.

The government limited and restricted freedoms of peaceful assembly and association.

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

The government generally respected the legal right to freedom of internal movement and the right to emigrate but imposed restrictions on foreign travel and repatriation.

Foreign Travel: Government employees, including citizens and foreign residents working on a contractual basis, must apply for exit permits to travel abroad. Government guidelines state no government official may travel alone, and unrelated male and female officers may not travel together, but the government enforced this policy inconsistently. The country’s tourist passports state the bearer may not travel to Israel. Due to COVID-19 travel restrictions, the public are required to obtain permission from the Prime Minister’s Office to leave the country.

Exile: By law the sultan may forcibly exile, permanently or temporarily, any person deemed a threat to the safety, peace, or welfare of the country. There have been no cases of banishment since the country became fully independent.

Not applicable.

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

There were no recent, reliable statistics on the number of stateless persons in the country, but observers estimated there were tens of thousands, most of whom had permanent resident status. Most stateless residents were native born, of Chinese heritage, and from families that have resided in the country for generations. Other stateless residents included members of indigenous tribes, whose lands span Brunei and the neighboring Malaysian state of Sarawak, and the foreign wives of Malay Muslim men. Most stateless persons held a certificate of identity, which functions as a passport. Certificate holders have some rights like those of citizens, including to subsidized health care and education. There were no known reliable data on stateless persons who hold no form of residency or certificate of identity.

Stateless persons may apply for citizenship if they are adults born in the country and resident for 12 of the last 15 years, provided they pass a test demonstrating sufficient knowledge of Malay culture and language. Women married to citizens and the minor children of citizens who did not obtain citizenship at birth – such as children of citizen mothers and permanent resident fathers – may also apply. Members of the stateless community who passed the Malay culture and language test have for years reported a de facto suspension of citizenship approvals for stateless adult residents, with many reporting that although five to 10 years had elapsed since they passed their test, they still had not been granted citizenship. In March the minister of home affairs reported during the Legislative Council sessions that 1,975 applicants had been awarded citizenship since 2017. Most had married Malay Muslim citizens and were not members of the ethnic Chinese community.

Bulgaria

Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties

The constitution and law provide for freedom of expression, including for members of the press and other media, and the government generally respected this right. Concerns persisted, however, that corporate and political pressure, an ineffective and corrupt judiciary, and nontransparent government regulation of resources meant to support media (including EU funds), gravely damaged media pluralism. In April Amnesty International stated in its Report on the State of the Worlds Human Rights that “[m]edia freedom continued to deteriorate, with journalists who investigated organized crime and corruption facing intense political and prosecutorial pressure in the form of threats and intimidation.” In September Reporters without Borders (known by its French abbreviation, RSF) stated that the media environment was marked by “physical attacks and smear campaigns against journalists; impunity for crimes of violence against reporters and judicial harassment; public media bias, especially in the run-up to elections; corruption, disinformation, and lack of transparency about media ownership; media pluralism threatened by ownership concentration; and bias and opaqueness in the distribution of state aid to the media, to the detriment of independent media outlets.”

In July the Center for Media Pluralism and Media Freedom issued a report that identified significant risks to media pluralism. The report also listed serious problems with independence and sustainability for the local and regional media and problematic access to media for minorities, women, and persons with disabilities.

According to the BHC, freedom of expression “further deteriorated,” marked by “record low levels of independent funding and trust in media,” which has turned independent media into “easy prey for owners who have either political or economic connections with the government” and who can determine and steer the public discourse.

Freedom of Expression: Individuals generally criticized the government without official reprisal. The law provides for one to four years’ imprisonment for use of and incitement to “hate speech,” defined as instigation of hatred, discrimination, or violence based on race, ethnicity, nationality, religion, sexual orientation, marital status, social status, or disability.

According to RSF, “[t]he few outspoken journalists are constantly subjected not only to smear campaigns and harassment by the state, but also to intimidation and violence.” In its 2020 annual report presented in May, the BHC expressed “alarm” at “attempts by the state to conceal facts through repression as well as its blatant refusal to investigate and punish attacks on journalists.” In June investigative journalist Venelina Popova complained publicly that police had questioned her on how she devised topics for her political commentaries and collected information. Popova had been called to an interview as a witness in a vote-buying investigation, following up on her investigative report on the subject matter published in Dnevnik in April. Instead, police expressed interest in her March publication in Toest concerning businessman and newly re-elected National Assembly member Delyan Peevski. Popova noted she had written about Peevski before and alleged that the police interview was an attempt to intimidate her because she had dared to “write about those that are untouchable by justice and possess huge power and financial resources.”

Freedom of Expression for Members of the Press and Other Media, Including Online Media: The media were active and expressed a wide variety of views. Laws restricting “hate speech” also applied to print media. According to the Center for Media Pluralism and Media Freedom, there were “no regulatory or self-regulatory safeguards against commercial influence over decisions regarding appointments and dismissals of editors-in-chief” and despite “some legal and self-regulatory provisions against … interference in the production of media content, in practice commercial pressure over many news outlets persists, while journalistic and advertising contents are often intertwined.” Domestic and international organizations criticized both print and electronic media for editorial bias, lack of transparency in their financing and ownership, and susceptibility to political influence and economic incentives. Despite the legal requirement for media ownership disclosure, many outlets did not comply, and media ownership information was not entirely publicly available.

Independent media outlets were subject to open attacks from politicians at all levels and from administrative and judicial pressure. In May the former director of publicly funded Bulgarian National Radio, Andon Baltakov, said in a print interview the law favored political interference in the management of the media through controlled funding and accused the former government of harassment through deliberate budget cuts. RSF stated in its 2021 World Press Freedom Index that “politicians and oligarchs maintain relations marked by corruption and conflicts of interest in the progovernment media. Delyan Peevski, the oligarch who was the most notorious embodiment of this aberrant state of affairs, has sold his media outlets but his influence over the media continues to be problematic.”

Violence and Harassment: The BHC reported in May that “inconvenient” journalists suffered offenses, restrictions, and physical attacks by the authorities. According to RSF, “[j]ournalists are often summoned and questioned by police about their work” and “no one is interested in investigating or condemning violence against journalists.”

In February the specialized criminal court began trial proceedings against brothers Georgi and Nikola Asenov and Biser Mitrev for attacking and severely beating prominent investigative journalist and chief editor of the 168 Chasa weekly, Slavi Angelov, in March 2020. As of December the trial was ongoing, and the three defendants were out on bail.

In February district prosecutors in Silistra dropped the investigation against local activist and freelance journalist Dimitar Petsov, charged with possession and distribution of illegal drugs, acknowledging that the drugs had been planted in his car. In May 2020 police stopped Petsov, who had then recently investigated donations to the police and made him drive with them to the police precinct where they searched his car and claimed to have found drugs.

In May the private national broadcaster bTV issued a declaration expressing strong concern over the media environment in the country because “officials from every government keep having no problems attacking publicly journalists … with unfounded allegations.” This was in response to caretaker interior minister Boyko Rashkov’s statement on Bulgarian National Radio on May 17 concerning an interview he gave earlier on bTV, that if he were the owner, he would “remove” journalists Bilyana Gavazova and Zlatimir Yovchev who had interviewed him.

In September the caretaker Ministry of Interior sent a letter to the Association of European Journalists and the Anticorruption Fund which admitted that a repeat internal investigation found that police had applied undue violence, used handcuffs, and illegally arrested journalist Dimitar Kenarov while he was covering an antigovernment protest in September 2020. The letter also noted that the ministry referred the case to the regional prosecution service in Sofia. In January a Sofia city prosecutor refused to open a formal investigation based on a Sofia police internal investigation that had found no evidence of illegal use of force against Kenarov, despite his visible wounds and multiple witness statements.

Censorship or Content Restrictions: Journalists reported editorial prohibitions on covering specific persons and topics and the imposition of political points of view by corporate leaders with the implied support of the government.

The final report of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) mission to observe the April 4 National Assembly elections concluded that “judicial pressure and intimidation of investigative journalists” and “lack of full investigation of attacks against journalists” contributed to an “atmosphere of fear and impunity” and “widespread self-censorship.” The report also concluded that “public television mostly refrained from covering the contestants in the news and offered significant and extensive coverage of government officials. The limited editorial and news coverage, and the absence of investigative or analytical reporting, combined with paid-for political advertising portrayed as news, detracted from the ability of voters to make an informed choice.”

Libel/Slander Laws: Libel is illegal and punishable by a fine and public censure. According to a survey by the Association of European Journalists in October 2020, 49 percent of journalists viewed slander accusations and lawsuits against their publications as a major source of harassment against their work.

In May the Association of European Journalists stated that investigative journalist Nikolay Stoyanov had been subjected to “judicial harassment” in connection with three lawsuits filed against him for his articles on the former director of the Bulgarian Development Bank, Stoyan Mavrodiev. The association alleged the lawsuits were a “coordinated attack that will cost Stoyanov resources to defend himself and hinder his work.”

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

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

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

Not applicable.

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

Access to Asylum: The law provides for granting asylum or refugee status, and the government has a system for protecting refugees. The president may grant asylum to persons who are persecuted for their belief or activities advocating for internationally recognized rights and freedoms. Asylum seekers who cross the border irregularly are subject to detention. The BHC stated that border authorities had no mechanisms to distinguish between migrants and refugees and expressed concern that 19 percent of the persons who filed applications for international protection at the border were prosecuted and convicted for illegal entry. The BHC accused the State Agency for Refugees of refusing registration to asylum seekers who showed up at refugee reception centers and instead calling police to detain them. The agency disagreed, noting some individuals were sent to a migrant detention center due to lack of space in the refugee reception centers’ COVID-19 quarantine section.

Refoulement: Organizations noted several instances when Bulgarian authorities pushed back would-be migrants and asylum seekers (see next section).

Abuse of Migrants and Refugees: UNHCR reported increased cases of “pushback” violence, robbery, and humiliating practices against migrants and asylum seekers along the border with Turkey. As of December 5, the Ministry of Interior reported 50,779 attempts to enter the country irregularly across the border during which border authorities detained 2,349 persons. On September 2, the caretaker interior minister stated at a hearing in the National Assembly that “approximately 200 migrants were pushed back last night at the border and 10 to 15 were detained.” The BHC alleged that the government only detained migrants and asylum seekers when their detention could not be avoided, such as in NGO-monitored areas as well as on trains, but otherwise pushed back everyone else.

Freedom of Movement: The law restricts asylum seekers’ movement to the administrative region in which the reception center accommodating them is located. The restriction is valid until the protection status determination process is completed.

Access to Basic Services: Asylum seekers had access to state-sponsored school education, health care, and language instruction. Banks refused to open accounts for refugees, which impeded their ability to obtain legal jobs and receive benefits. The law authorizes mayors to sign integration agreements with persons who have refugee status, but not subsidiary protection holders (persons seeking asylum who do not qualify as refugees), specifying the services they will receive – housing, education, language training, health services, professional qualification, and job search assistance – as well as the obligations of the responsible institutions. NGOs claimed the government made inconsistent efforts to integrate refugees. A project called Together for Integration, implemented by the Sofia districts of Vitosha and Oborishte, the Bulgarian Red Cross, and the Nadja Center Foundation, worked to support the integration of 12 refugee families. According to the head of the Vitosha District’s Education, Social Activities, Culture, Sports, and Logistics Department, Milena Madjirska, as of January the district had concluded integration agreements with 13 families, none of which subsequently remained in the country longer than seven to eight months.

A safety zone for unaccompanied children seeking asylum was available at two reception centers in Sofia to provide 24-hour care and specialized services in an environment adapted to their needs.

Durable Solutions: The government accepted refugees for resettlement and relocation, offered naturalization to refugees residing on its territory, and assisted in their voluntary return to their homes. As of the end of the year, authorities had relocated 11 unaccompanied refugee children from Greece as part of the country’s commitment to accept 70 unaccompanied children.

Temporary Protection: The Council of Ministers may provide temporary protection in case of mass influx of foreign nationals driven by an armed conflict, civil war, violence, or large-scale human rights violations in their country of origin, as determined by the Council of the European Union. The government also provides humanitarian protection to individuals who may not qualify as refugees, doing so for 1,493 persons as of November.

Burkina Faso

Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties

The constitution and law provide for freedom of expression, including for the press, but the government did not always respect this right. In 2019 the National Assembly voted to amend the penal code banning journalists from reporting any security-related news to preserve national security and prevent the demoralization of the military “by any means.” Attempts to “demoralize” members of the military had previously been a crime.

A 2015 law decriminalized press offenses and replaced prison sentences with substantial monetary fines. Some editors complained that few newspapers or media outlets could afford such fines. Despite the reform, journalists occasionally faced criminal prosecution for libel and other forms of harassment and intimidation.

Freedom of Expression: The 2019 revision of the penal code criminalizes communicating the position or movements of defense forces, or sites of national interest or of a strategic nature, and the publication of any terrorist crime scene without authorization. The amendment significantly increases penalties for the crime of publicly insulting another person if electronic communications are used to publish the insult; the law had previously prohibited persons from insulting the head of state or using derogatory language with respect to the office. Local and international associations of journalists called for the rejection of the amendment as an unacceptable attempt to stifle freedom of speech.

On August 9, police detained and questioned activist Zakaria Sana regarding a Facebook post he had written that appeared to encourage a coup d’etat. Sana was released and received a six-month suspended jail sentence.

On the morning of August 13, judicial police arrested Pascal Zaida, a civil society activist, accusing him of “attempting to compromise state security, inciting a rebellion, and making subversive statements.” The arrest followed an August 12 press conference in which Zaida claimed “all the conditions are in place to bring down the government.” Members of the media condemned his arrest as an example of government restrictions on freedom of expression. The police dropped the charges and released Zaida on August 17.

Freedom of Expression for Members of the Press and Other Media, Including Online Media: Independent media were active and expressed a wide variety of views, albeit with some restrictions. Foreign radio stations broadcast without government interference.

All media are under the administrative and technical supervision of the Ministry of Communications, which is responsible for developing and implementing government policy on information and communication. The Conseil Superieur de la Communication monitored the content of local radio and television programs, newspapers, and internet websites to enforce compliance with standards of professional ethics and government policy. The council may summon journalists and issue warnings for subsequent violations. Hearings may concern alleged libel, disturbing the peace, inciting violence, or violations of state security.

Violence and Harassment: On March 15, investigative journalist Yacouba Ladji Bama was fined two million CFA francs ($3,500) after he lost a defamation suit brought against him by the ruling party. The defamation case against Bama, former editor in chief of the biweekly newspaper Courrier Confidentiel, originated from a December 2020 incident in which he claimed an attempt had been made on his life by the ruling party, allegedly in retaliation for Bama’s public assertions that the party had violated the electoral code when it distributed branded items at a campaign event in the period preceding the November 2020 presidential elections.

In March, four media organizations released a declaration expressing concern that six cases of violent attacks or other acts of intimidation against journalists in 2020 remained pending before the courts.

Censorship or Content Restrictions: In addition to prohibitions on publishing security-related information and insulting the head of state, the law prohibits the publication of shocking images or material that demonstrates lack of respect for the deceased. Journalists practiced self-censorship, fearing that publishing blatant criticism of the government could result in arrest or closure of their newspaper. Journalists were denied access to sites housing internally displaced persons during the year.

The law provides for the freedoms of peaceful assembly and association, but the government at times restricted these rights.

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

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

In-country Movement: The government required citizens to carry a national identity document, and it authorized officials to request the document at any time. Without a national identity card, citizens could not pass between certain regions of the country and were subject to arrest and fines.

Of the country’s 13 regions, 96 percent of registered IDPs were in six regions: Nord, Boucle du Mouhoun, Centre-Nord, Nord, Est, and Centre-Est. The Ministry of Women, National Solidarity, Family, and Humanitarian Affairs publicly stated that IDPs could not register in Ouagadougou, and humanitarian actors were prevented from providing assistance to IDPs in the capital city.

Armed extremists restricted movement of thousands of rural inhabitants throughout the country by planting IEDs on major highways, hijacking vehicles, and setting up checkpoints. In response to dozens of attacks by unknown armed groups presumed to be extremists, local authorities instituted a ban on motorcycle traffic from 7 p.m. to 5 a.m. in the Est, Sahel, and Nord Regions.

Recurrent armed attacks and interethnic clashes throughout the country resulted in the displacement of more than 1.42 million persons as of August 31, up from approximately 560,000 registered IDPs in December 2019 (see section 1.g.). The country registered more than 56,000 new IDPs in July. As of August 31, 60 percent of the internally displaced persons were children, 23 percent were women, and 16 percent were men. Protracted displacement and vulnerability exacerbated the conditions that caused food insecurity. More than 2.9 million persons were estimated to require emergency food assistance during the June-to-August lean season, when household food supplies are lowest, according to the World Food Program. IDPs were concentrated in urban areas, leading to overcrowding, pressure on basic services, and growing social tensions between IDPs and host communities. There were reports of sexual exploitation of IDPs by host community leaders in exchange for food.

The government promoted the safe, voluntary, and dignified return, resettlement, or local integration of IDPs. The government had policies and protections for IDPs in line with the UN Guiding Principles on Internal Displacement.

At times the government denied humanitarian NGOs or international organizations access to IDPs. During a September 13 press conference, the minister of humanitarian affairs criticized international NGOs that had criticized the government’s humanitarian response. The minister’s comments were a response to complaints by NGOs, including the Norwegian Refugee Council, that the government’s “slow and insufficient humanitarian response” was endangering IDPs and other vulnerable individuals. The Norwegian Refugee Council claimed local authorities did not have sufficient capacity to register IDPs in a timely manner, which prevented relief organizations from providing needed assistance. The minister responded that her ministry had “sole responsibility for the registration of IDPs.” In a September 22 letter, the minister suspended the Norwegian Refugee Council’s access to IDP sites for “discrediting the government.” The government lifted the suspension on October 21 following a public apology by the group.

Humanitarian partners continued to respond to the crisis with life-saving assistance targeting 2.9 million persons, or 14 percent of the country’s population. The government, through its National Council for Emergency Assistance and Rehabilitation, operated with the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs and its partners to assess, plan, and respond to the crisis.

Access to Asylum: The law provides for granting asylum or refugee status, and the government has established a system for providing protection to refugees. The Ministry of Women, National Solidarity, Family, and Humanitarian Affairs aided by the National Committee for Refugees, is the focal point for coordination of national and international efforts.

Abuse of Migrants and Refugees: The government cooperated with UNHCR and other humanitarian organizations in providing protection and assistance to refugees, as well as to returning refugees, asylum seekers, stateless persons, and other persons of concern. UNHCR recorded approximately 25,000 refugees as of December, the vast majority from Mali.

Freedom of Movement: According to UNHCR, police arbitrarily arrested Fulani refugees travelling from the Sahel Region to Ouagadougou on multiple occasions, sometimes holding them in detention overnight before releasing them.

Access to Basic Services: According to UNHCR, public institutions such as banks, schools, and hospitals occasionally refused service to refugees on a discriminatory basis. Refugee camps in Mentao effectively closed down in 2020 following attacks by violent extremist organizations. The government and UNHCR provided support to relocate the refugees to Goudebou camp, which officially reopened in December 2020 but was forced to close in November due to security concerns in the region. Approximately 13,000 refugees fled the camp, and most resettled in the area around Dori, where UNHCR provided them limited services.

Durable Solutions: In August, UNHCR reported that the number of Malian refugees who intended to repatriate dropped from more than 3,500 persons in 2020 to only five persons in July due to insecurity and unsuitable conditions in Mali. The government, UNHCR, and the Malian government engaged in tripartite discussions and established frameworks to pursue durable solutions for Malian refugees in the country.

Temporary Protection: The government agreed to offer temporary protection to individuals who did not qualify as refugees, but there were no such applicants during the year.

According to UNHCR, more than 700,000 habitual residents were legally or de facto stateless, mostly due to a lack of documentation. The Ministry of Justice, Human Rights, and Civic Promotion worked with UNHCR and other international NGOs to deploy mobile courts to remote villages to issue birth certificates and national identity documents to residents who qualified for citizenship.

Burma

Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties

The 2008 Constitution provides that “every citizen shall be at liberty in the exercise of expressing and publishing freely their convictions and opinions,” but it contains the broad and ambiguous caveat that exercise of these rights must “not be contrary to the laws enacted for national security, prevalence of law and order, community peace and tranquility, or public order and morality.” The postcoup regime led a full-scale crackdown on freedom of expression.

Freedom of Expression: Freedom of speech was severely limited. Those who spoke openly against the regime or in favor of the NLD, NUG, or democracy more broadly risked abuse and punishment by authorities. On September 4, poet and activist Maung Saungkha was convicted under Section 19 of this law after he placed a banner over a highway during a protest marking the one-year anniversary of restrictions on mobile internet communications in parts of Rakhine and Chin States. Maung Saungkha chose to pay a fine of 30,000 kyat ($22.50) rather than serve a 15-day prison sentence.

The regime used the Law Protecting the Privacy and Security of the Citizens to allow authorities to review content on individuals’ cell phones at checkpoints and during neighborhood raids. The regime reportedly employed violence and targeted killings to silence critics in civil society. Violence against persons engaged in speech deemed antiregime was allegedly used by proregime ultranationalist Buddhist groups as well as security forces and included maiming, kidnapping, and torture. The regime intimidated many prodemocracy voices among the public who previously spoke openly about politically sensitive topics. (See also “Internet Freedom,” below.)

A prodemocracy activist in Rangoon said during a media interview that regime security forces beat him as authorities transported him to a local interrogation center in February. The next morning, he was unable to eat due to injuries he had sustained during his first night in detention. He reported being tortured for days and only released after signing a statement denying the use of torture by the regime.

Freedom of Expression for Members of the Press and Other Media, Including Online Media: Prior to the coup, independent media outlets were active and able to operate despite many official and unofficial restrictions, economic hardship, and an uncertain business environment. After the coup, analysts reported the closure of 71 media outlets, ranging from well-known national, regional, and ethnic media to small Facebook pages. Regime crackdowns on media resulted in the arrest, detention, loss of work, and forced exile of more than 1,000 journalists, editors, and media staff – approximately 50 percent of pre-coup total. For example, two Kamayut Media journalists were arrested in March, one was released on June 15 and the other remained in detention at year’s end. In Mandalay the regime arrested and subsequently released freelance journalists. Eleven media and the Voice Daily self-censored and avoided criticism of the regime. The Myanmar Times and Union Daily have ceased publication, and Irrawaddy, Frontier, and Myanmar Now operated mostly in exile from outside the country.

In May the regime banned satellite dishes to restrict access to international news. The regime offered three public television channels – two controlled by the Ministry of Information and one controlled by the military. Two private companies that had strong links to the previous military regime continued to broadcast six free-to-air television channels. The regime and regime-linked businesspersons controlled eight FM radio stations. In August the NUG launched Radio NUG, a clandestine service that provided two 30-minute reports daily with prodemocracy content.

Violence and Harassment: The regime subjected journalists and other media workers to violence, harassment, detention, and intimidation for their reporting. According to AAPP, at least 95 journalists were unjustly arrested after February, and more than half of those remained in detention as of November. Among journalists detained by the regime were reporters from the Associated Press, the Ayeyarwady Times News, and many more outlets. In April the New York Times reported that many journalists stopped wearing helmets or vests marked with the word “PRESS,” did not publish under their own names, and avoided sleeping at home. On December 14, local media reported that freelance photojournalist and graphic designer Soe Naing died in regime custody after his arrest on December 10 while covering the “Silent Strike.” Soe Naing reportedly died after a violent interrogation, marking the first known death of a journalist while in regime custody since the coup.

Authorities arrested Polish photojournalist Robert Bociaga on March 11 in Shan State and deported him after he was held in detention for 13 days.

In April authorities detained Yuki Kitazumi, a Japanese freelance journalist, and accused him of supporting prodemocracy protests. Authorities released and deported Kitazumi in May.

Censorship or Content Restrictions: After the coup, the regime banned independent media outlets that did not self-censor reporting on the prodemocracy movement. The regime also banned using certain terminology in reporting, such as “junta,” “coup d’etat,” and “military council.” The Myanmar Times suspended publication on February 21 after many of its staff quit to protest the leadership’s decision to follow the regime order not to describe the military takeover as a “coup.” On March 8, the regime banned broadcast, online, and print media Mizzima, Democratic Voice Burma, Khit Thit Media, Myanmar Now, and 7Day News from broadcasting or reporting on any platform. Each of these media organizations had extensively covered the protests, including on their social media pages. The regime later revoked the licenses of three ethnic-minority-run outlets: Myitkyina News Journal from Kachin State, Tachileik News Agency from Shan State, and 74 other media outlets suspended their operations in response.

Libel/Slander Laws: Even before the coup, the military could and did use various legal provisions, such as a criminal defamation clause in the telecommunications law, to restrict freedom of expression. After the coup, the regime primarily relied on Section 505 of the penal code to prosecute journalists. Following his arrest on March 3 in Bago Region, a reporter covering prodemocracy protests from the radio and television company Democratic Voice Burma was the first after the coup to be charged under this section of the law. According to media reports, he was brutally beaten and seriously injured during his arrest. On May 3, he was sentenced to three years in prison. In June two other journalists were sentenced to two years in prison. According to the Committee to Protect Journalists, at least 24 journalists were facing charges under the broadened Section 505A that includes penalties for spreading “false news.”

National Security: Although the regime prosecuted some media critics using laws related to national security, in general the regime used other methods to pursue its critics. The regime designated the NUG and related prodemocracy groups as terrorist organizations but as of November had not arrested or tried any members of these on terrorist charges.

The regime curtailed the exercise of the freedoms of peaceful assembly and association.

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

The law does not protect freedom of internal movement, foreign travel, emigration, or repatriation. Local regulations limit the rights of citizens to settle and reside anywhere in the country. Authorized officials may require the registration of foreigners’ movements and require foreigners to register every change of address exceeding 24 hours.

In-country Movement: Regional and local orders, directives, and instructions restricted freedom of movement. The regime increased restrictions on freedom of movement after the coup. Numerous local media reports described regime security force roadblocks and the random searches of private cars and taxis. Nightly curfews in Rangoon and several other cities also restricted movement, as did a reinstated requirement that all visitors register with the local ward administrator. Local media reported that the regime harassed, including by seizing ambulances, health-care workers when medical emergencies required them to break curfew. Due to escalating conflict with the military, the NUG and EAOs warned civilians to travel only in case of an emergency. For example, the Thantlang Revolutionary Campaign informed residents in September not to go out after 7 p.m., not to go hunting or into the jungle unless absolutely necessary, and to take extra care when traveling. COVID-19 mitigation regulations also contributed to restriction of movement.

Limitations on freedom of movement for Rohingya in Rakhine State were unchanged. Rohingya may not move freely; they must obtain travel authorization to leave their township. In contrast to the pre-coup rule that Rohingya traveling without documentation could return to their homes without facing immigration charges, the regime’s General Administration Department issued a directive resuming legal actions against Rohingya traveling without permission in Sittwe and Kyauktaw.

Foreign Travel: The regime restricted foreign travel by prodemocracy supporters and expanded measures to increase oversight. According to an official order dated May 13, “The authorities have directed airlines that all bookings for departures from Myanmar must be made at least 10 days in advance of the intended departure and be shared with [the] Ministry of Foreign Affairs.” The regime also reportedly cancelled, or refused to issue, passports to prodemocracy supporters. The regime notified the diplomatic community in Thailand and India that it had taken this action against multiple prodemocracy leaders. Numerous prodemocracy supporters expressed concern for their security and safety if they tried to leave the country by air, and at least one person reported being denied boarding because she was related to an NLD member. COVID-19 mitigation efforts also restricted foreign travel.

The Office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) estimated that 296,000 recently arrived individuals were living as internally displaced persons (IDPs) as of December 17 due to postcoup violence in Southeast Burma, Kachin and Shan States, and Northwest Burma. A total of 666,000 persons were internally displaced in the country as of December 1. Decades of conflict between the central government and ethnic communities, exacerbated by the coup and the COVID-19 pandemic, resulted in large numbers of primarily ethnic-minority IDPs in ethnic-dominated parts of the country.

In June the United Nations estimated that more than 100,000 persons had fled their homes to escape conflict and risked starving in Kayah State alone. Myanmar Now reported on June 16 that the Karenni Nationalities Defense Force announced the temporary suspension of attacks on the military amid the growing crisis.

The regime has systematically obstructed humanitarian relief. In June local media reported that the military burned bags of rice, barrels of cooking oil, and other staples that locals from southern Shan State gathered to support those displaced from an escalation in fighting. In September, for example, amid an escalation in conflict, the military blocked humanitarian supply routes to 50,000 IDPs in Chin State, according to Radio Free Asia. According to local media, fighting erupted in Lay Kay Kaw Township, Karen State, the evening of December 14 between opposition forces and regime security, displacing at least 4,000 individuals including local residents and prodemocracy supporters seeking safe haven in the area. Democratic Voice Burma news reported that regime security forces continued to shoot at civilians as they fled for safety. HRW reported in December that the regime has imposed travel restrictions on humanitarian workers, blocked access roads and aid convoys, and destroyed nonmilitary supplies.

The regime did not always cooperate with UNHCR or other humanitarian organizations in providing protection and assistance to refugees, returning refugees, asylum seekers, or other persons of concern.

Access to Asylum: The law does not provide for granting asylum or refugee status, and the government has not established a system for providing protection to refugees. UNHCR did not register any asylum seekers during the year.

The law defines a “national ethnic group” as a racial and ethnic group that can prove origins in the country dating back to 1823, a year prior to British colonization, and the regime officially recognized 135 “national ethnic groups” whose members are automatically granted full citizenship. The law also establishes two forms of citizenship short of full citizenship: associate and naturalized. Citizens in these two categories are unable to run for political office; form a political party; serve in the military, police, or public administration; inherit land or money; or pursue certain professional degrees, such as medicine and law. Only members of the third generation of associate or naturalized citizens are able to acquire full citizenship.

Rohingya, most of whom are Muslim, are not recognized as a “national ethnic group” and the vast majority are stateless as a result. Following the forced displacement of more than 740,000 Rohingya to Bangladesh in 2017, up to 600,000 Rohingya were estimated to remain in Rakhine State. Some Rohingya may be technically eligible for full citizenship. The process involves additional official scrutiny and was complicated by logistical difficulties, including travel restrictions and significant gaps in understanding the Burmese language. In practice this also required substantial bribes to regime officials, and even then, it did not result in equality with other full citizens. In particular, only Rohingya were required to go through an additional step of applying for the National Verification Card, through which they receive identity documents that describe them as “Bengali.” Regime officials treat Rohingya with the presumption of noncitizenship. This could lead to discrimination in access to public services and a wide range of societal discrimination.

There were also significant numbers of stateless persons and persons with undetermined nationality, including persons of Chinese, Indian, and Nepali descent. Although these latter groups did not face the same level of official and social discrimination as Rohingya, the regime granted members of these groups only the lesser rights, and imposed the greater restrictions, of associate and naturalized citizenship. The regime did not single these groups out the same way as Rohingya when obtaining citizenship.

The law does not provide any form of citizenship (or associated rights) for children born in the country whose parents are stateless.

Burundi

Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties

The constitution and law provide for freedom of speech and press but ban “defamatory” speech regarding the president and other senior officials, material deemed to endanger national security, and racial or ethnic hate speech. Additional restrictions imposed in 2015 continued and were applied to all press outlets.

Freedom of Expression: The law prohibits racially or ethnically motivated hate speech. It is illegal for anyone to display drawings, posters, photographs, or other items that may “disturb the public peace.” Penalties for violations range from two months’ to three years’ imprisonment and fines.

Freedom of Expression for Members of the Press and Other Media, Including Online Media: While the government took some measures to loosen restrictions on members of the press and other media, the COI reported that the government continued to surveil and vilify critical journalists while others chose to self-censor.

The government owned and operated daily newspapers and a radio and television station. The CNDD-FDD operated a government-aligned radio station. Independent media existed but often self-censored and some were restricted. Radio Isanganiro was the country’s largest independent radio station. Iwacu, an independent newspaper that was generally critical of the government and its policies, continued to publish articles in French and English, although it faced harassment from the government.

Violence and Harassment: Journalists and outspoken critics reported harassment and intimidation by security services and government officials to prevent them from doing their work independently or covering sensitive topics. Some journalists were required to obtain permission from authorities prior to conducting domestic, and in some cases international, travel. Forces allied to the CNDD-FDD repressed media perceived as sympathetic to the opposition, including print and radio journalists, through harassment, intimidation, and violence. Most independent journalists fled the country during and after the political crisis and crackdown in 2015, and some remained in exile as of the end of the year. The government detained or summoned for questioning local journalists investigating subjects such as human rights abuses, corruption, or security incidents.

In January 2020 four Iwacu journalists were sentenced to two-and-a-half years in prison for “a failed attempt of complicity in undermining the security of the state.” Human Rights Watch described their arrest as an “attempt to intimidate and threaten other journalists from doing their work.” On December 24, 2020, President Ndayishimiye pardoned the journalists; they were released the same day.

In February the Supreme Court made public the conviction in absentia of seven journalists in exile who were sentenced to life imprisonment in connection with the attempted coup of May 2015 (see section 1.e, Trial Procedures).

On August 31, President Ndayishimiye criticized Esdras Ndikumana, a reporter for French public radio broadcaster Radio France Internationale (RFI), accusing Ndikumana of inflating the number of COVID-19 cases and using RFI’s platform to harm the country by focusing on poverty. Along with Ndikumana, Ndayishimiye referred to Iwacu director Antoine Kaburahe as one of two journalists destroying the country and tarnishing its image.

On September 24, police and military officers arrested Aime-Richard Niyonkuru, journalist of Radio Bonesha, while he was investigating a grenade attack in the Kamenge neighborhood of Bujumbura. According to media reports, Niyonkuru was tortured, harassed, and accused of collaboration with enemies of the country, but released 24 hours later.

On December 28, the director of Kanyosha Health Center in Bujumbura detained two journalists from Radio Isanganiro who were investigating the increasing number of COVID-19 cases and medical center capacity. The director ordered the release of the journalists a few hours later, after they agreed to delete all pictures they took of the center.

Censorship or Content Restrictions: The government censored media content through restrictive press laws established by the National Communications Council (CNC), an organization nominally independent but subject to political control and widely regarded as a tool of the executive branch. CNC decrees require all journalists to register annually with the body, limit the access granted to international journalists, and establish content restrictions on the products disseminated by outlets. The CNC continued to monitor the press closely. Broadly interpreted laws against libel, hate speech, endangering state security, and treason also fostered self-censorship, including by journalists working for the national broadcaster. The BHRI reported that most journalists working in the country exercised a degree of self-censorship. Self-censorship was especially pronounced on sensitive topics including high-level corruption, human rights abuses by government security forces or Imbonerakure, and other subjects that were seen as critical of the government. The CNC regulates both print and broadcast media, controls the accreditation of journalists, and enforces compliance with media laws. The president appoints all 15 CNC members, who were mainly government representatives and journalists from the state broadcaster.

Several journalists stated they were generally freer in their reporting online than on radio and other media more closely controlled by the government, particularly when posting in French or English rather than in local languages. Two radio stations that were closed in 2015 continued to broadcast radio segments abroad and publish articles online.

Libel/Slander Laws: The law protects public servants and the president against “words, gestures, threats, or writing of any kind” that is “abusive or defamatory” or would “impair the dignity of or respect for their office.”  The law prohibits the public distribution of information that exposes a person to “public contempt” and provides penalties of imprisonment and fines for violations.  The penalty for conviction of insulting the head of state is six months to five years in prison and a token monetary fine.  Some journalists and leaders of political parties and civil society stated the government used the law to intimidate and harass them.

Conviction of treason, which includes knowingly demoralizing the military or the country in a manner that endangers national defense during a time of war, carries a penalty of life imprisonment. It is a crime for anyone knowingly to disseminate or publicize rumors likely to alarm or excite the public against the government or to promote civil war.

National Security: The law requires journalists to reveal sources in some circumstances and prohibits the publication of articles deemed to undermine national security. Harassment in past years under national security provisions caused some journalists to self-censor during the year.

Nongovernmental Impact: Many members of the Imbonerakure collaborated with government security forces to inhibit freedom of expression. In some cases they were official members of mixed security councils, which consisted of police, local administration officials, and civilians.

Actions to Expand Freedom of Expression, Including for Members of the Media: On January 28, President Ndayishimiye committed to allowing a “free and responsible press to contribute to the development of the country” and requested the CNC to find solutions that would allow sanctioned media outlets to resume operations. Reporters Without Borders highlighted the country for “encouraging signs” in freedom of expression for members of media due to actions taken by President Ndayishimiye.

On February 11, the CNC reversed its 2018 decision that closed the comments section of Iwacu press group’s online newspaper, and on February 21, the CNC allowed Radio Bonesha, shuttered following the 2015 coup attempt, to reopen and dropped all sanctions against the station.

On June 16, the CNC lifted sanctions against online media outlet Ikiriho, which was suspended in 2018 after a private lawsuit was filed against the outlet for defamation. On the same day, the CNC invited BBC’s radio program, suspended since 2019, to reapply for an operating license.

The government limited freedoms of peaceful assembly and association.

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

The constitution and law provide for freedom of internal movement, foreign travel, emigration, and repatriation, and the government at times respected these rights (see also section 2.f., Protection of Refugees, for information on refugee returns to the country).

In-country Movement: According to several news sources, the government enforced the use of household logbooks, cahier or livret de menage, that listed the residents and domestic workers of each household in some neighborhoods of the capital. In numerous instances police arrested persons during neighborhood searches for not being registered in household booklets. Local governments established checkpoints on roads throughout the country on a widespread basis, officially for the collection of transit taxes on drivers and passengers; the checkpoints were often staffed by police or members of the Imbonerakure. Checkpoints were also established for security purposes. There were frequent allegations that those staffing the checkpoints sought bribes before allowing vehicles to proceed. In some instances members of the Imbonerakure were accused of using the checkpoints to deny free movement to individuals for political reasons, such as failing to demonstrate proof of contributions for the funding of the ruling party’s offices and activities. Refugees were required to obtain exit permits to travel outside refugee camps, although the law was inconsistently enforced.

Foreign Travel: Authorities required exit visas for foreigners who held nonofficial passports and who did not hold multiple-entry visas; these visas cost 48,000 Burundian francs ($25) per month to maintain. Most foreigners held multiple-entry visas and were not subject to this requirement.

In response to trafficking in persons concerns, the General Immigration Authority, which is responsible for issuing travel documents and border security, increased vigilance before granting travel documents to target demographic groups, such as young women and unaccompanied children. In January the immigration authority requested commercial airlines operating in the country to stop accepting citizen passengers travelling to all Gulf countries until further notice due to concerns regarding human trafficking; a special authorization from the immigration authority is required for such travel. These restrictions, however, may have increased travel via irregular channels as well as vulnerability to trafficking.

The International Organization for Migration (IOM) estimated there were 113,408 internally displaced persons (IDPs) in the country as of September, of whom 54 percent were children. According to the IOM, 83 percent of IDPs were displaced due to natural disasters while 17 percent were displaced for other reasons. Some IDPs reported believing themselves to be threatened because of their perceived political sympathies. Some IDPs returned to their homes, but the majority remained in IDP sites or relocated to urban centers. The government generally permitted IDPs at identified sites to be included in programs provided by the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), the IOM, and other humanitarian organizations, such as shelter and legal assistance programs.

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

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. Due to measures taken to prevent the spread of COVID-19, including border closures, the number of refugees entering the country was reduced compared with previous years.

Freedom of Movement: Refugees are required to obtain exit permits from the National Office for the Protection of Refugees and Stateless Persons in the Ministry of Interior to leave refugee camps, although the law was inconsistently enforced.

The government does not permit refugees and asylum seekers to work in the formal labor market. UNHCR and camp partners implemented some livelihood programs, such as cooperative-led sustainable year-round gardens, mask making, and small-scale soap making, and encouraged refugees to initiate income-generating activities. In response some refugees started hair salons, tailoring shops, and small markets inside their camps, although insufficient funds to promote their businesses and difficulties obtaining exit permits to sell their products outside the camps hampered their ability to expand their businesses.

Access to Basic Services: Refugees residing in camps administered by the government and by UNHCR and its partners had access to basic services. The large percentage of refugees residing in urban areas also had access to services, such as education, health care, and other assistance offered by humanitarian organizations.

Durable Solutions: Continuing violence in the DRC prevented Congolese refugees from returning. Efforts begun in 2015 to resettle Congolese refugees in third countries continued.

According to UNHCR, an estimated 783 persons at risk of statelessness lived in the country. All had lived in the country for decades, originally arriving from Oman, and were awaiting proof of citizenship from the government of Oman. Most of those who remained at risk of statelessness had refused an offer of Burundian citizenship from the government if they could not get Omani citizenship. Stateless persons faced limited freedom of movement because they were ineligible for driver’s licenses and passports.

Cabo Verde

Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties

The constitution and law provide for freedom of expression, including for members of the press and other media, 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 members of the media.

Censorship or Content Restrictions: Journalists practiced limited self-censorship, partly due to family and social connections that made investigative journalism difficult.

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

See the Department of State’s International Religious Freedom Report at https://www.state.gov/international-religious-freedom-reports/.

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

Not applicable.

The government has ratified but not implemented the 1951 UN Protocol on the Status of Refugees, and no central authority manages the extremely few cases of refugees and asylum seekers. The government has no policy for handling refugees or asylum seekers, and there was no coordination among different agencies on requests for refugee or asylum status. The country coordinates repatriation with the International Organization for Migration (IOM) when foreign citizens request such assistance.

Access to Asylum: The law does not provide for the granting of asylum or refugee status, and the government has not established a system for providing protection to refugees. The country has not established legislation or an institutional body for granting asylum or refugee status. Asylum applications are rare and there were no reports during the year of any applications. The actual number of asylum seekers is unknown since there is no systematic procedure in place to register and process asylum claims. Because the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) does not have an established presence in the country, the IOM refers asylum seekers who request protection and assistance to UNHCR’s regional representation for West Africa in Dakar, Senegal, which conducts refugee status determinations. Temporary protection mechanisms and access to basic services are in place for asylum seekers while they await a decision. Authorities permitted foreign victims of crime to remain in the country legally.

Cambodia

Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties

The April 2020 state of emergency law, which the prime minister claimed was necessary because of the COVID-19 pandemic, allows the government to ban or limit freedoms of travel, assembly, and information distribution and the ability to leave one’s home during a declared emergency. NGOs and UN experts condemned the law, arguing that it lacked an effective oversight mechanism and could be used to infringe on the rights of the people. As of November the government had not declared a state of emergency under this law.

The constitution provides for freedom of expression, including for members of the press and other media. In 2017, however, the government began carrying out a sustained campaign to eliminate independent news media and dissenting voices in the country and increasingly restrict free expression; many individuals and institutions reported widespread self-censorship.

The constitution grants freedom of speech except where it adversely affects public security. The constitution also declares the king is “inviolable.”

Election laws require civil society organizations to remain “neutral” during political campaigns and prohibit them from “insulting” political parties in media.

The government arrested and prosecuted citizens on disinformation and misdemeanor “incitement to commit a felony” charges. Judges may also levy fines, which could lead to jail time if not paid. Police and courts interpreted “incitement” broadly; authorities made several arrests for statements posted to social media, many related to the COVID-19 pandemic. For example in August a Phnom Penh court sentenced Ny Nak to 18 months in prison for “incitement” after he posted an apparently tongue-in-cheek message on Facebook saying he would give his chickens face masks to protect them from COVID-19. On September 2, a Phnom Penh court sentenced Thun Chanta and Mey Sophorn to the maximum sentence for “incitement” after the pair wrote Facebook posts questioning the government’s COVID-19 vaccination policies.

In a nine-month survey ending in January conducted by local NGOs, 70 percent of NGOs and unions reported they did not believe they were safe sharing information on social media. To avoid repercussions from the government, 16 percent of them “always” self-censored, 36 percent “regularly” self-censored, and 37 percent “sometimes” self-censored.

Freedom of Expression for Members of the Press and Other Media, Including Online Media: The government, military, and ruling party owned or otherwise influenced newspapers and broadcast media; there were few significant independent sources for news. The three largest progovernment newspapers did not criticize the government for politically motivated acts or human rights matters. In the first three months of the year, the government revoked the licenses of nine media outlets, according to researchers, accusing them of spreading fake information or “causing chaos” during the COVID-19 pandemic. Authorities terminated online news outlet TVFB’s license for quoting verbatim a comment by Prime Minister Hun Sen; revoked the license of radio station Rithysen 99.75 FM after a report on a land dispute involving powerful individuals; and terminated the license of news website CKV TV online after accusing it of disrespecting Buddhism, the state religion. On September 30, a court sentenced Youn Chiv, owner of the Koh Kong Hot News website, to a year in prison for “incitement” over posts on a land dispute, after Defense Minister Tea Banh – a Koh Kong native – initiated a legal case against him.

The National Election Committee code of conduct establishes a substantial fine for reporters who interview any voter near a polling station, publish news that could affect “political stability,” or cause the public to lose confidence in the election.

In January the National Police issued a directive prohibiting journalists from recording anything related to a criminal case under police investigation.

Violence and Harassment: Threats and violence against journalists and reporters remained common. In August police officers forced a reporter to delete photographs and videos of police destroying a house involved in a land conflict in Phnom Penh and confiscated the press credentials of another journalist at the scene.

Former Radio Free Asia journalists Yeang Sothearin and Uon Chhin remained subject to the terms of their release on bond, which included restrictions on their ability to travel and work. They were charged in 2017 with “collecting information illegally for a foreign nation” and in 2018 with distributing pornography. The penalty for the first charge is seven to 15 years in prison. NGOs and observers argued that the case was politically motivated and pointed to the prolonged trial and confiscation of the journalists’ passports as proof of government intimidation of media. Analysts researching the treatment of journalists found that in 2020, police and judicial authorities physically or verbally threatened 72 journalists over their coverage (for example, by confiscating their press badges) and detained, questioned, or jailed 42 of them.

Censorship or Content Restrictions: The law prohibits prepublication censorship, and no formal censorship system existed. The government, however, used other means to censor media, most notably through its control of permits and licenses for journalists and media outlets not controlled directly by the government or the CPP. Private media admitted to practicing self-censorship, in part from fear of government reprisal. Reporters claimed that newspaper editors told them not to write on topics that would offend the government and also reported self-censoring due to the chilling effect of recent criminal cases against journalists.

Libel/Slander Laws: The law limits expression that infringes on public security or libels or slanders the monarch, and it prohibits publishers and editors from disseminating stories that insult or defame the king, government leaders, or public institutions. The government used libel, slander, defamation, and denunciation laws to restrict public discussion on topics it deemed sensitive or against its interests.

National Security: The government continued to cite “national security” concerns to justify restricting and prosecuting criticism of government policies and officials.

On May 23, the Ministries of Information, Interior, and Post and Telecommunication formed a working group to protect national security by monitoring all news and social networking sites. Authorities arrested at least seven individuals for expressing critical opinions about the government’s COVID-19 restrictions, vaccination campaign, or humanitarian assistance. In February, Chinese journalist Shen Kaidong was deported after publishing a story in which multiple Chinese nationals in Cambodia said they had received a text message offering them the Sinopharm vaccine for a fee. In July a second journalist, Kao Piseth, was arrested and charged with “incitement” and “obstruction” for posts on Facebook criticizing the efficacy of Chinese-made vaccines and accusing the government of having a political motive in using them. The government also prosecuted at least three other individuals, including Korng Sambath, Nov Kloem, and Pann Sophy, for posting TikTok videos criticizing Chinese vaccines.

The government restricted freedoms of peaceful assembly and association.

See the Department of State’s International Religious Freedom Report at https://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 restricted the movement of persons into and out of certain “red zones” in several cities at various points throughout the year to prevent the spread of COVID-19, reportedly causing significant cash and supply shortages. On April 29, more than 100 Phnom Penh residents protested severe restrictions in the red zones, pointing to acute food shortages.

Not applicable.

The government cooperated with the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) and other humanitarian organizations in providing protection and assistance to internally displaced persons, refugees, returning refugees, asylum seekers, stateless persons, and other persons of concern. In August, at the request of an international NGO, Prime Minister Hun Sen agreed to accept up to 300 Afghan refugees for temporary stays in Cambodia until they could be resettled to a third country. On November 16, an initial group of 15 Afghan refugees arrived.

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 system, however, is not equally accessible to all refugees and asylum seekers and is not transparent. Asylum seekers who enter the country without documentation or overstay their visas are vulnerable to deportation. The government does not grant resident status or a resident “book” to refugees, only a “refugee card.”

Freedom of Movement: Authorities restricted the movement of refugees. For example, local authorities require Montagnards who have been granted refugee status to stay confined to their temporary homes, aside from shopping trips for groceries and other essential items. As of December the government had made no announcement about restrictions on Afghan refugees awaiting resettlement in the country.

Employment: The law allows refugees to work and operate a business. Refugees, however, are generally not provided with resident status or resident books, making it difficult to exercise these rights.

Access to Basic Services: The government’s refusal to grant resident status and resident books to refugees limited their access to basic services.

The country had habitual residents who were de facto stateless. According to UNHCR, there were an estimated 57,450 stateless persons in the country as of the end of 2019, primarily ethnic Vietnamese. On June 2, Phnom Penh authorities ordered 700 families living in boats or floating houses along the Tonle Sap River, most of whom were ethnic Vietnamese and had long lived in the area, to dismantle their homes and depart the vicinity immediately. The government did not effectively implement laws or policies to provide such persons the opportunity to acquire or document their Cambodian nationality (see section 6, Children). According to an NGO, individuals without proof of nationality often did not have access to formal employment, education, marriage registration, the courts, or the right to own land.

Cameroon

Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties

The law provides for freedom of expression, including for members of the press and other media, but the government often restricted this right, explicitly or implicitly. Government failure to investigate or prosecute attacks on human rights defenders and peaceful protesters led to de facto restrictions on the freedom of expression.

Freedom of Expression: Government officials penalized individuals or organizations that criticized or expressed views at odds with government policy. Individuals who criticized the government publicly or privately frequently faced reprisals. On several occasions the government invoked laws requiring permits or government notification of public protests to stifle discourse.

On January 20, during a meeting held at the governor’s office with traditional rulers of the West Region in Bafoussam, Minister of Territorial Administration Paul Atanga Nji criticized the traditional rulers because of a statement some of them issued in November 2020 concerning the sociopolitical situation in the country. In the statement the traditional rulers remarked that the military option to curb the Anglophone crisis had shown its limitations and suggested that a different avenue for peace was needed. Relaying the minister’s message, state-funded CRTV declared that “traditional rulers must not engage or allow their people to engage in the political struggle but should rather stimulate development through the decentralization process.”

Freedom of Expression for Members of the Press and Media, including Online Media: Private media were active and expressed a wide spectrum of viewpoints. The media landscape faced constraints on editorial independence, in part due to fear of reprisal from state and nonstate armed actors, including separatists connected to the crisis in the Northwest and Southwest Regions. Journalists reported practicing self-censorship to avoid repercussions, including extortion for criticizing or contradicting the government.

Violence and Harassment: Police, gendarmes, and other government agents arrested, detained, physically attacked, and intimidated journalists. The state’s failure to investigate or prosecute attacks on journalists created de facto restrictions.

The private daily newspaper Le Jour reported that on April 29, Yaounde V municipal police members assaulted two reporters of Canal 2 International while they were covering a protest by commercial bike riders. According to media reports, the Yaounde V police severely beat Canal 2 cameraman Bertrand Tchasse, seized and destroyed his working equipment, and threatened to kill him. Other team members, including a driver and a reporter, were threatened. A government spokesperson said Tchasse’s work equipment was seized because the journalists were encouraging motorbike riders to be disorderly in order to record additional footage for their report.

On April 14, the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) reported that six armed men in plainclothes arrested Mbombog Mbog Matip, director of the privately owned Climat Social newspaper, who also posts political commentary on social media, in August 2020. CPJ’s release indicated that Mbombog Mbog was held at the SED until September 2020, when a military court judge charged him with “propagation of false news,” and placed him on pretrial detention until March 7. Following the court hearing, the journalist was transferred to Kondengui Central Prison in Yaounde. CPJ stated that Mbombog Mbog remained in custody until March 7 without receiving any update regarding his case. CPJ reported that in the months before he was arrested, Mbombog Mbog was investigating an alleged coup attempt involving Colonel Joel Emile Bamkoui, the commander of the Department of Military Security. While Mbombog Mbog was detained at SED, Bamkoui reportedly beat and threatened him, according to CamerounWeb. CPJ further reported that the country had eight journalists in prison as of April, many of whom were arrested for being perceived as antigovernment.

On April 19, progovernment private television channel Vision 4 produced a report on J. Remy Ngono, a Cameroonian journalist who lived in France and participated in the Radio Foot International program on Radio France International. In the report Raoul Christophe Bia questioned Remy Ngono’s sexual orientation. Using photoshopped pictures as evidence, Christophe Bia explicitly compared Ngono to an animal. On September 16, Vision 4 television channel again featured the derogatory imagery in another report. Some observers believed the questioning of Ngono’s sexual orientation and the photoshopped images were in response to Ngono’s criticism of the government.

Censorship or Content Restrictions: By law the Ministry of Communication requires editors to submit two signed copies of their newspapers within two hours after publication. Journalists and media outlets reported practicing self-censorship, especially if the National Communication Council had suspended them previously.

Libel/Slander Laws: Libel, slander, defamation, and blasphemy are treated as criminal offenses. The law authorizes the government to initiate a criminal suit when the president or other senior government officials are the alleged victims. These laws place the burden of proof on the defendant, and crimes are punishable by prison terms and substantial fines. While the government may initiate criminal suits when the president or other senior government official are alleged victims, ordinary citizens may also file libel or slander suits, but the law is often applied selectively and privileges senior government officials and well connected individuals.

On June 17, the Court of First Instance in Mbanga, Littoral Region, sentenced Clement Ytembe Bonda, Andre Boris Wameni, and Flavy Kamou Wouwe to one year of imprisonment and a fine after declaring them guilty of joint contempt of the president of the republic, contempt of the civil authorities, and propagating fake news on social media. The three individuals were workers at the Plantations de Haut Penja (PHP) agricultural complex. They were arrested on June 11 after a video that was widely circulated on social network showed them lambasting the poor working conditions at PHP. In the video Bonda, the main speaker, used critical language to describe President Paul Biya and his government. He could be heard saying that they worked at the banana plantation from 6 a.m. to 6 p.m., under the rain and sun for a monthly salary of approximately 30,000 CFA francs ($55) while government ministers in Yaounde loitered and stole hundreds of billions from public coffers.

After more than two years in pretrial detention as the result of a defamation complaint filed by French Cameroonian writer Calixthe Beyala, Paul Chouta, who worked as a reporter for the privately owned Cameroon Web news website, was released on May 20, two days after his sentencing by the Mfoundi Court of First Instance to 23 months’ imprisonment. The court issued a post facto sentence to cover the time he was imprisoned without charge.

At a meeting in Yaounde on July 5 for its 28th Extraordinary Session, the National Communication Council sanctioned three journalists for what they deemed to be unprofessional conduct. The sanctions ranged from suspensions for one to six months and a warning. Stive Jocelyn Ngo, a DBS TV journalist, received a 30-day suspension for publishing unsubstantiated and “offensive” information concerning the president of France on April 21 during the program DBS Martin. Sismondi Barkev Bidjocka, publisher of Ris Radio, received a one-month suspension for “insufficient investigation” leading to the broadcast of unsubstantiated and “offensive” information against parliamentarian Cabral Libii. The publisher insinuated that Cabral was engaged in some malfeasance involving the procurement of public contracts for private gain related to the fight against the COVID-19 pandemic. Nynanssi Nkouya, publisher of Confidence Magazine, received a six-month suspension for publishing a flyer containing “offensive” information concerning Senator Sylvester Nghouchinghe.

National Security: Authorities often cited laws against terrorism or protecting national security to threaten critics of the government.

Nongovernmental Impact: There were no reported cases of armed separatist groups in the Southwest and Northwest Regions explicitly inhibiting freedom of expression, including for the press. Restrictions on movements by armed separatists, however, contributed to limiting freedom of the press. Also, some political and opinion leaders sought to inhibit freedom of expression by criticizing those who expressed views that were at odds with government policies.

The government limited and restricted freedoms of peaceful assembly and association. Government failure to investigate or prosecute attacks on human rights defenders and peaceful protesters led to de facto restrictions on the freedom of assembly and association.

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

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

In-country Movement: Using minor infractions as a pretext, police, gendarmes, and custom officers often extorted bribes and harassed travelers at roadblocks and checkpoints in cities and on most highways. Police frequently stopped travelers to check identification documents, including national identity cards, passports, residence permits, vehicle registrations, and tax receipts as security and immigration control measures. As in the previous year, humanitarian organizations cited difficulty in accessing certain areas and in some instances were harassed and denied passage by government authorities. Unaccompanied women were frequently harassed when traveling alone. Authorities restricted movements of persons and goods, including motorbikes, especially in the Northwest and Southwest Regions, citing security concerns. Armed separatists also restricted the movements of persons and goods in the Northwest and Southwest Regions, sometimes in a deliberate attempt to harass and intimidate the local population. They often used weekly lockdowns referred to as “ghost towns” to enforce restrictions on movement, in which the armed separatists demanded all businesses close and residents stay home. Violent crime, including kidnapping by terrorists, kidnapping for ransom, armed robbery, assault, and carjacking, were major impediments to in-country movement in the three northern regions and part of the East Region.

On July 20, Simon Emile Mooh, the senior divisional officer for Mezam in the Northwest Region, banned the operation of motorbikes in Bali subdivision. The officer indicated that the ban would last for three months and could be extended. The decision followed the killing of five police officers by suspected separatists riding motorbikes in Bali on July 18. On September 11, separatists aligned with a faction of the Interim Government of Ambazonia, signed a resolution instituting a lockdown of the Northwest and Southwest Regions beginning on September 15 and ending on October 1. During the lockdown period, all vehicles were banned from the roads in these regions. Separatists warned that any person or group of persons contravening the ban would be punished. According to media reports, streets and markets in Buea, Kumba, and Bamenda remained empty, and schools closed on September 16 following the declaration.

Foreign Travel: Citizens have the right to leave the country without arbitrary restrictions. The movement of some political opponents and debtors, however, was monitored, and their travel documents were often confiscated to confine them to the country. To obtain exit permits, citizens need a valid passport and visa for their country of destination.

According to estimates by the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), there were more than two million persons of concern as of December 31, and there were more than one million internally displaced persons (IDPs), of whom 358,000 were in the Far North Region and 711,000 in the Northwest and Southwest Regions. In addition the country had an estimated 477,500 formerly displaced persons who had returned to their place of origin. Humanitarian access remained very limited, since military officials maintained tight control over access. Insecurity due to armed groups in the Northwest and Southwest Regions also limited humanitarian access in some areas. UN Humanitarian Air Service flights to the Northwest Region were suspended due to security concerns. Additional factors driving displacements included the desire to flee from Boko Haram.

The government put in place Deradicalization, Demobilization, and Reintegration (DDR) centers to promote the safe, voluntary return, resettlement, or local integration of former combatants in the Far North, Northwest, and Southwest Regions. Reports suggested the government’s DDR centers were inadequately resourced, and some of the former combatants left. During the year, however, many former Boko Haram fighters reportedly joined the DDR centers in the Far North Region after their leader Abubakar Shekau died. As of the end of August, more than 1,102 former fighters had joined the DDR centers since January, according to official estimates. Provision of basic social services to IDPs and assistance to returnees were carried out by relief actors with minimal support from the government. Humanitarian actors mentioned on several occasions that the humanitarian community could not effectively implement its DDR programming without having a legal framework in place, which the government had thus far not implemented. In the Northwest and Southwest Regions, humanitarian actors mostly had access to urban centers. The government made some efforts to provide urgently needed in-kind assistance to crisis-affected IDPs in the Northwest and Southwest Regions based on its humanitarian assistance response plan. This assistance was reportedly distributed to populations without an assessment of their needs and only to persons in accessible urban areas.

The government generally cooperated with UNHCR and other humanitarian organizations in providing protection and assistance to refugees or asylum seekers, as well as other persons of concern. The country operated an open-door policy. This policy, however, was not translated into a progressive legal framework allowing refugees their rights as stated in various legal instruments.

Access to Asylum: The law provides for granting asylum or refugee status, and the government has established a system of providing protection to refugees, but the implementation of this system was weak. UNHCR continued to provide documentation and assistance to the refugee population, although local authorities did not always recognize the documents as official, which prevented refugees from travelling and engaging in business activities. UNHCR and the government continued to conduct biometric verification and registration of refugees in the Far North Region, including those not living in refugee camps.

Freedom of Movement: The government did not provide documents in a timely manner to refugees and other persons in need of primary documentation, which restricted movement.

Access to Basic Services: Refugees had limited access to health care, education, and employment opportunities. Their rural host communities faced similar problems, but the situation was somewhat worse for refugees. Access to these services varied according to the location of the refugees, with those in camps receiving more support through humanitarian assistance, while refugees living in host communities faced more difficulty receiving services. On May 25, the Ministry of Public Health and UNHCR signed a memorandum of understanding providing for the treatment of refugees in public health facilities. A strategic integration plan covers refugees from the Central African Republic (CAR) and Nigeria, and those displaced because of the crisis in the Northwest and Southwest Regions of the country. The agreement was intended to afford refugee and host population equitable access to quality primary health-care services and a referral system for secondary and tertiary care.

Durable Solutions: There was no evidence that the government accepted refugees for resettlement or offered naturalization to refugees residing on its territory. The government, however, assisted in the voluntary return of persons from CAR and Nigeria.

On February 10, the governments of Nigeria and Cameroon and UNHCR announced the planned voluntary return of 5,000 Nigerian refugees from the Minawao refugee camp in the Far North Region. On March 8, Minister of Territorial Administration Paul Atanga Nji donated relief packages from President Biya to the first contingent of more than 400 Nigerian refugees who voluntarily opted to return home. After 3,880 Nigerian refugees were voluntarily returned to Banki and Bama towns in Nigeria’s Borno State, returns were halted due to the COVID-19 pandemic, insecurity, and movement difficulties due to the rainy season. The private daily Le Jour indicated that the returns took place between January and March, within the framework of the regional strategy for stabilization, recovery, and resilience of the Lake Chad basin areas affected by the Boko Haram crisis. In October UNHCR reported that after meetings with Nigerian and Cameroonian officials, 7,000 Nigerians were scheduled to return home in 14 convoys of 500 persons during the rest of the year and in 2022.

Temporary Protection: The government continued to provide temporary and unofficial protection to individuals who might not qualify as refugees, extending this protection to hundreds of individuals, including third-country nationals who had fled violence in CAR. Due to their unofficial status and inability to access services or support, many of these individuals were subject to harassment and other abuses.

Canada

Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties

The law provides for freedom of expression, including for members of the press and other media, and the government generally respected this right. An independent media, an effective judiciary, and a functioning democratic political system combined to promote freedom of expression, including for members of the media. Independent media were active and expressed a wide variety of views without restriction.

Freedom of Expression: According to Supreme Court rulings, the government may limit speech to counter discrimination, foster social harmony, or promote gender equality. The court ruled that the benefits of limiting hate speech and promoting equality are sufficient to outweigh the freedom of speech clause in the Charter of Rights and Freedoms, the country’s constitutional bill of rights.

The criminal code prohibits public incitement and willful promotion of hatred against an identifiable group in any medium. Inciting hatred (in certain cases) or genocide is a criminal offense, but the Supreme Court sets a high threshold for such cases, specifying that these acts must be proven to be willful and public. Provincial-level film censorship, broadcast-licensing procedures, broadcasters’ voluntary codes curbing graphic violence, and laws against hate literature and pornography impose some restrictions on media.

Libel/Slander Laws: The law criminalizes defamatory libel with a maximum penalty of five years’ imprisonment, but courts seldom imposed such a punishment.

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

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

The law provides for freedom of internal movement, foreign travel, emigration, and repatriation, and the government generally respected these rights prior to the start of the global pandemic. Some provinces implemented measures to contain the spread of COVID-19 that restricted internal movement.

Not applicable.

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

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

Durable Solutions: The government accepted refugees for resettlement from third countries and facilitated local integration (including naturalization), particularly of refugees in protracted situations. The government assisted the safe, voluntary return of refugees to their homes.

Temporary Protection: The government also provided temporary protection (in the form of temporary residence permits) to individuals who may not qualify as refugees.

According to UNHCR, by the end of 2020 (latest available figures), there were 3,790 persons in the country who fell under the UN statelessness mandate; a total of 4,139 stateless persons were in the country, including forcibly displaced stateless persons. The law provides for access to citizenship for stateless persons who have a birth parent who was a citizen of the country at the time of the birth, meets age and physical presence requirements, and has not been convicted of specified criminal offenses. The minister of immigration has the discretion to grant citizenship to any person to alleviate cases of statelessness or of special and unusual hardship.

Central African Republic

Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties

Although the constitution and law provide for freedom of expression and the press, the government did not always respect these rights. The law allows criminal prosecutions for defamation of public officials (see Libel/Slander Laws below).

Freedom of Expression: Public discussion and political debates were generally free from state authorities’ influence. Public political debates known as patara were broadcast on private radio stations in Bangui and in most provincial capitals. In areas controlled by armed groups, freedom of expression, however, was inhibited due to the risk of retaliation.

Freedom of Expression for Members of the Press and Other Media, Including Online Media: Independent media were active and expressed a wide variety of views, with some restrictions. All print media in the country were privately owned. Radio was the most widespread medium of mass communication. There were alternatives to state-owned radio stations. Independent radio stations operated freely and broadcast organized debates and call-in talk shows that were critical of the government, the election process, ex-Seleka and Anti-balaka militias, the CPC, and Wagner Group elements. International media broadcast within the country. The High Commission for Communication is the regulatory body in charge of controlling the content of information broadcast or published in media. Opposition political candidates alleged that state-owned media favored the administration during the presidential election campaign. The government monopolized domestic television and national radio station broadcasting, with coverage typically favorable to government opinion.

Censorship or Content Restrictions: After the January 21 decree establishing the state of emergency, on February 16, the Ministry of Post and Telecommunications blocked access to two online newspapers, corbeaunews-centrafrique.com and letsunami.net. Both were accused of disseminating hate speech, disinformation, and fake news on social media. According to Reporters Without Borders, although the ministry did not cite specific reporting in its ban, both Corbeau News publisher Alain Nzilo and Le Tsunami publisher Edouard Yamalet claimed that their online publications were banned because of their coverage of abuses by Russian Wagner Group elements.

Libel/Slander Laws: On May 25, the Court of Justice of Bangui sentenced Jean Serge Wafio in absentia to four years’ imprisonment on allegations of defamation, outrage, and public insults against then prime minister Firmin Ngrebada. In addition, the Court ordered Wafio to pay five million CFA francs ($9,090) in damages to Ngrebada and 300,000 CFA francs ($545) in court costs. Wafio is president of the Central African Democratic Party and resided in France. In an April 9 statement on social media, Wafio accused then prime minister Ngrebada of attempting to kill political opponents, including Simplice Mathieu Sarandji of the United Hearts Movement (MCU), by poisoning. Sarandji was former prime minister Ngrebada’s predecessor. According to Maitre Zoumalde, Ngrebada’s lawyer, the court also issued an arrest warrant against Wafio, prohibiting him from exercising his civil and political rights, including eligibility to serve in public office for the next 10 years. Wafio is subject to enforcement of this warrant at any point he reenters the country. Many observers considered the ruling politically motivated. In another case journalist Landry Ulrich Nguema Ngokpele was arrested in June, pursuant to a complaint filed by local NGO president Harouna Douamba. The complaint cites a 2018 article by Ngokpele’s publication, Le Quotidien de Bangui, alleging that Douamba had swindled government authorities. Ngokpele was released in June after an outcry from civil society but later arrested again on national security charges for alleged connections to the CPC armed group.

Nongovernmental Impact: In areas controlled by armed groups, freedom of expression was inhibited due to the risk of retaliation.

The constitution and law provide for the freedoms of peaceful assembly and association, but the government did not always respect these rights.

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

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

In-country Movement: Armed groups, criminals, and Russian elements from the Wagner Group made in-country movement extremely dangerous. Government forces, Wagner Group elements, armed groups, and criminals frequently used illegal checkpoints to extort funds. Additionally, due to the significant number of police, gendarme, customs, FACA, and armed group checkpoints, it was difficult to move freely between Bangui and provincial cities. There were reports that members of the Peuhl ethnic group were singled out for particularly abusive treatment and heightened scrutiny at many checkpoints.

Foreign Travel: Between March and May, the Bangui prosecutor issued travel bans on opposition leaders, Anicet-Georges Dologuele, Martin Ziguele, Karim Meckassoua, and Aurelien Simplice Zingas. Border police executed the decision, preventing three from boarding flights at Bangui International Airport between March and June. Zingas challenged the decision before the Bangui Administrative Court. On May 25, in its ruling at first instance, the court ordered the lifting of the measures and restitution of his travel documents.

As of October OCHA noted there were 722,000 internally displaced persons (IDPs) in the country due to the armed conflict. Humanitarian actors aided IDPs and returnees and promoted the safe voluntary return, resettlement, or local integration of refugees. The government worked with the United Nations and the broader humanitarian community on safe, voluntary return of the country’s IDPs and refugees through a durable solutions working group. The government adopted and followed humanitarian principles for returnees. While there were no reports of forced returns, there were reports of forced evictions, such as a June eviction in Bambari (see below). There were multiple reports of instances in which government forces and Wagner Group elements also obstructed humanitarian organizations from providing services to civilians, including the displaced. Since April security incidents involving explosive devices in the western part of the country resulted in deaths of civilians and humanitarian workers and disrupted humanitarian access, prompting UN agencies and humanitarian actors to restrict movements. Even after reaching safe locations, IDPs frequently risked assault by criminals, including those associated with armed groups, when venturing outside of camps. Women and girls were often at risk of sexual violence in and outside IDP sites. In many affected areas, poor access and insecurity limited humanitarian assistance. From June to August humanitarian international NGOs had limited access to populations south of the town of Alindao due to military operations. When operations subsided in September, international NGOs were able to serve the affected populations. The presence of armed groups also delayed or obstructed humanitarian activities. OCHA reported that more than 8,500 individuals residing in an IDP site in the central town of Bambari, most of them ethnic Peuhl, were forcefully displaced by armed elements on June 4. MINUSCA’s human rights division reported that FACA and Wagner Group elements were responsible. Two days later the site was set afire in circumstances that remained to be clarified. With extremely limited capacity, the government relied on MINUSCA to provide protection and humanitarian actors to provide multisector services to IDPs. Humanitarian organizations remained concerned that armed group members continued to hide in IDP sites, carrying out recruitment activities and putting IDPs and humanitarian staff at risk. Violence increased humanitarian needs, which exceeded existing capacities. OCHA estimated that 2.8 million of the country’s approximately five million inhabitants required humanitarian assistance and protection. Security concerns related to criminality, as well as armed group, FACA, and Russian Wagner Group activity prevented aid organizations from operating in some areas, particularly in the northwest.

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

Access to Asylum: Internal conflicts made it difficult for the country to routinely provide security and protection for persons within its borders. The laws provide for the granting of asylum or refugee status, and the government has established a system for providing protection to refugees. Individuals who had fled their countries of origin and had prior criminal records, however, were immediately repatriated.

Durable Solutions: UNHCR restarted voluntary repatriations of refugees from the country living in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, many of whom fled across the Oubangui River during violence in 2013. An initial group of 250 was welcomed back at Bangui’s Port Amont during an October 22 ceremony presided over by Prime Minister Henri Dondra.

Chad

Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties

The constitution provides for freedom of expression, including for members of the press and other media, but the government severely restricted this right. According to Freedom House, authorities used threats and prosecutions to curb freedom of expression for members of the press and other media.

Freedom of Expression: The law prohibits “inciting racial, ethnic, or religious hatred,” which is punishable by up to two years in prison and fines. Space for open and free private discussion existed but tended to be self-censored due to fear of reprisal from the state.

During an October search of the opposition Les Transformateurs party headquarters, security forces seized a Chadian national flag flying within the premises, despite no law prohibiting flying of the flag.

Freedom of Expression for Members of the Press and Other Media, Including Online Media: Independent media were active and attempted to express a variety of views; however, authorities placed severe restrictions on them. The government subsidized Le Progres – the only daily newspaper – and owned the biweekly newspaper L’Info. Government and opposition newspapers had limited readership outside the capital due to low literacy rates and lack of distribution in rural areas.

Radio remained a critical source of information throughout the country. The government owned the Chadian National Radio station. Private stations faced high licensing fees. The number of community radio stations that operated outside of government control continued to grow, and radio call-in programs broadcast views of callers that included criticism of the government.

Violence and Harassment: Authorities reportedly harassed, threatened, arrested, and assaulted journalists for critical reporting regarding the government. Local media reported that journalists regularly faced arrest after publication of such reporting. Most were released quickly, but others were held in detention for weeks or months, and some severely mistreated, particularly when articles alleged government officials acted with impunity or criticized former president Deby or his associates. Journalists, as well as human rights defenders, reported being the victims of threats, harassment, and intimidation by anonymous individuals.

Local print and online news reported that on October 6, the governor of Tibesti Province physically assaulted a news cameraman, alleging that the cameraman lacked appropriate documentation required for access to Tibesti. The status of any investigation or accountability measures remained unclear.

Censorship or Content Restrictions: The government penalized those who published reports counter to government guidelines, sometimes by closing media outlets. According to Freedom House, private radio stations faced threat of closure for coverage critical of the government. Some journalists and publishers practiced self-censorship due to concerns regarding intimidation and arrest.

A member of the Union of Chadian Journalists said several newspapers suspended in 2020 were reauthorized in mid-January, but details regarding the number and names of these newspapers could not be obtained.

In February 2020 as it typically does in each election, the High Authority for Media and Broadcasting released a decree suspending all political programming on public and private networks until the April 2021 election. As rationale, officials cited a desire to maintain stability, noting networks lacked the technical and human resources to assure equitable network coverage for all political parties during a “sensitive” electoral period. Nevertheless, throughout the electoral period, state-owned radio and television outlets continued regularly broadcasting content in support of the ruling Patriotic Salvation Movement (MPS) party.

Libel/Slander Laws: Libel and slander are misdemeanors punishable by fines. Unlike in previous years, there were no reports of authorities having arrested or detained persons on charges of defamation. During the year there were no reports of government or individual public figures using libel or slander laws to restrict public discussion or retaliate against journalists or political opponents.

The government limited freedoms of peaceful assembly and association.

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

Although the constitution and law provide for freedom of internal movement, foreign travel, emigration, and repatriation, the government occasionally limited these rights.

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

Citing security reasons, authorities enacted a daily curfew from 6 p.m. to 5 a.m. from April 20, 2021 to April 21, 2021, and from 8 p.m. until 5 a.m. from April 21 until May 2, 2021. The government also implemented a COVID-19-based curfew, which it renewed every two weeks, from 7 p.m. to 6 a.m. starting on April 2, 2020, and ending on March 10.

Foreign Travel: Citing COVID-19 considerations, the government closed the country’s only international airport, Hassan Djamous International Airport, from March 18, 2020, to August 1, 2020. It also closed the airport, along with the borders with Cameroon, Nigeria, Sudan, and Libya for one day following the death of then president Idriss Deby in April.

According to the International Organization for Migration, in September more than 457,000 persons were internally displaced in Lake Chad Province in the west. Attacks by armed nonstate groups, including Boko Haram and ISIS-West Africa, were responsible for most internal displacement in the province. There were also approximately 90,000 displaced citizens who returned from the Central African Republic (CAR) in the south as of September due to attacks by nonstate armed groups in intercommunal tensions in CAR.

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

UNHCR confirmed reports that on August 15, violent intercommunal clashes in Cameroon between Shuwa Arab herders and Mousgoum fishermen concerning agricultural, fisheries, and pastoral resources resulted in the death of 45 individuals and a significant displacement of civilian population into the country. UNHCR estimated 11,000 persons fled from Cameroon to the country, with women and children accounting for more than 90 percent of the incoming refugees. UNHCR reported that communal clashes in December led to an estimated 50,000 additional refugees crossing over the border from Cameroon.

Access to Asylum: The law provides for asylum or refugee status. In December 2020 the country adopted its first-ever asylum law to provide refugees and asylum seekers freedom of movement, the right to work, and access to health care, education, and justice. Implementation of the law was underway, but refugees were reportedly able to access identification documents and work permits.

Abuse of Migrants, Refugees, and Stateless Persons: Within refugee camps, like much of the country, authorities rarely prosecuted perpetrators of sexual violence. survivors often chose not to report sexual crimes. The judicial system did not provide consistent and predictable recourse or legal protection. To overcome these problems, UNHCR enlisted a local NGO to support refugees through the judicial process. The Detachment for the Protection of Humanitarian Workers and Refugees was unable to provide humanitarian escorts consistently but was generally effective in providing protection inside refugee camps.

Durable Solutions: COVID-19 continued to affect the ability of authorities to resettle refugees. As durable solutions became more difficult to achieve, UNHCR explored helping refugees secure protection by receiving admission to third countries.

Chile

Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties

The constitution provides for freedom of expression, including for members of the press and other media, 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 members of the media.

Violence and Harassment: On July 7, PDI agents allegedly targeted journalists Vicente Rojas Lopez and Felipe Garcia with rubber bullets during a disturbance while Lopez and Garcia were covering the funeral procession of activist Luisa Toledo Sepulveda that passed in front of PDI headquarters in Santiago. No formal investigation was opened.

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

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

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

Not applicable.

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

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

China (Includes Hong Kong, Macau, and Tibet)

Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties

The constitution states citizens “enjoy freedom of speech, of the press, of assembly, of association, of procession and of demonstration.” Authorities limited and did not respect these rights, however, especially when their exercise conflicted with CCP interests. Authorities continued to impose ever-tighter control of all print, broadcast, electronic, and social media and regularly used them to propagate government views and CCP ideology. Authorities censored and manipulated the press, social media, and the internet, particularly around sensitive anniversaries and topics such as public health.

Freedom of Expression: Citizens could discuss specific policies but often avoided discussing broader political issues, leaders, or “sensitive” topics for fear of official punishment. Authorities routinely took harsh action against citizens who questioned the legitimacy of the CCP or criticized President Xi’s leadership. Some independent think tanks, study groups, and seminars reported pressure to cancel sessions on sensitive topics. Many others confirmed authorities regularly warned them against meeting with foreign reporters or diplomats, and to avoid participating in diplomatic receptions or public programs organized by foreign entities.

Those who made politically sensitive comments in public speeches, academic discussions, or remarks to media, or who posted sensitive comments online, remained subject to punitive measures, as did members of their family. In addition an increase in electronic surveillance in public spaces, coupled with the movement of many citizens’ routine interactions to the digital space, signified the government was monitoring an increasing percentage of daily life. Conversations in groups or peer-to-peer on social media platforms and via messaging applications were subject to censorship, monitoring, and action from authorities. An increasing threat of peer-to-peer observation and possible referral to authorities further eroded freedom of speech.

The popular communication app WeChat remained heavily censored. Posts regarding sensitive topics such as PRC politics disappeared when sent to or from a China-registered account. Authorities continued to use the app to monitor political dissidents and other critics, some of whom were detained by police or sentenced to prison for their communications. Chinese citizens moving abroad who continued to use an account created in China were still subject to censorship.

On June 5, Gao Heng, a Christian, was detained by authorities for “picking quarrels and provoking troubles” after taking a picture of himself on the Guangzhou Metro holding a small sign that read “June 4th: Pray for the Country.”

On July 6, multiple WeChat accounts run by lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer, or intersex (LGBTQI+) societies at several universities were closed, with past posts scrubbed and replaced with a notice stating “All content has been blocked and the use of the account has been stopped” for violations of unspecified social media regulations.

On July 23, veteran petitioner Li Yufeng went on trial at the Jiaozuo City Central Station People’s Court on the charge of “picking quarrels and provoking trouble.” Li was detained in 2019 after she accompanied a friend to Beijing to file a petition at the Supreme People’s Court.

Prominent poet Wang Zang and his wife Wang Li remained in detention on the charge of “inciting subversion of state power.” Wang Zang, taken from his home in May 2020, and Wang Liqin, detained in June 2020, were indicted by the Chuxiong Yi Autonomous Prefecture People’s Procuratorate in September 2020. Police “evidence” against Wang Zang included his poetry, performance art, and views expressed on social media.

In October veteran journalist Luo Changping and a social media user identified by the surname Zuo were detained for making critical comments online regarding The Battle of Changjin Lake, a state-sponsored film set during the Korean War. Since the new code took effect in March, reports indicated that the law has been used at least 15 times to punish those who questioned the party’s version of history.

Authorities arrested or detained countless citizens for “spreading fake news,” “illegal information dissemination,” or “spreading rumors online.” These claims ranged from sharing political views or promoting religious extremism to sharing factual reports on public health concerns, including COVID-19.

This trend was especially stark in Xinjiang, where the government ran a multifaceted system of physical and cyber controls to stop individuals from expressing themselves or practicing their religion or traditional beliefs. Beyond the region’s expansive system of internment camps, the government and the CCP operated a system to limit in-person and online speech. In Xinjiang police regularly stopped Muslims and members of non-Han ethnic minorities and demanded to review their cell phones for any evidence of communication deemed inappropriate.

During the year the government extensively used mobile phone apps, cameras, and other electronics to monitor all speech and movement. Authorities in Xinjiang employed a comprehensive database that tracked the movements, mobile app usage, and even electricity and gasoline consumption of inhabitants in the region.

The government also sought to limit criticism of their Xinjiang policies even outside the country, disrupting academic discussions and intimidating human rights advocates across the world. Government officials in Xinjiang detained the relatives of several overseas activists. In February the government blocked Clubhouse, a foreign software platform designed to promote open conversations, after only a few days of operation. Before Clubhouse was blocked, Chinese citizens had participated in discussions concerning topics the PRC considers sensitive, including Xinjiang and Taiwan.

Numerous ethnic Uyghurs and Kazakhs living overseas were intimidated into silence by threats from government officials against members of their family who lived in China, threats sometimes delivered in China to the relatives, and sometimes delivered by Chinese government officials in the foreign country. (See section 1.e., Politically Motivated Reprisal against Individuals Located Outside the Country.)

The government restricted the expression of views it found objectionable, even when those expressions occurred abroad. Online, the government expanded attempts to control the global dissemination of information while also exporting its methods of electronic information control to other nations’ governments. During the year there was a rise in reports of journalists in foreign countries and ethnic Chinese living abroad experiencing harassment by Chinese government agents due to their criticisms of PRC politics. This included criticisms posted on platforms such as Twitter that were blocked within China.

The government sought to limit freedom of expression in online gaming platforms. The popular Chinese-made online game Genshin Impact continued to censor the words “Taiwan” and “Hong Kong” among others in its in-game chat program. Users noted the program’s censorship covered all users, regardless of the country of citizenship or where the game was being played.

Freedom of Expression for Members of the Press and Other Media, Including Online Media: The CCP and government continued to maintain ultimate authority over all published, online, and broadcast material. Officially, only state-run media outlets have government approval to cover CCP leaders or other topics deemed “sensitive.” While it did not dictate all content to be published or broadcast, the CCP and the government had unchecked authority to mandate if, when, and how particular issues were reported or to order they not be reported at all. The government’s propaganda department issued daily guidance on what topics should be promoted in all media outlets and how those topics should be covered. Chinese reporters working for private media companies confirmed increased pressure to conform to government requirements on story selection and content.

The Cyberspace Administration of China (CAC) directly manages internet content, including online news media, and promotes CCP propaganda. A CCP propaganda department deputy minister ran the organization’s day-to-day operations. It enjoyed broad authority in regulating online media practices and played a large role in regulating and shaping information dissemination online.

The CCP continued to monitor and control the use of non-Mandarin languages in all media within the country. Since January 1, Mongolian-language content, previously broadcast on state media, was replaced with Chinese cultural programs that promote a “strong sense of Chinese nationality common identity.”

All books and magazines continued to require state-issued publication numbers, which were expensive and often difficult to obtain. Nearly all print and broadcast media as well as book publishers were affiliated with the CCP or the government. There were a small number of print publications with some private ownership interest but no privately owned television or radio stations. The CCP directed the domestic media to refrain from reporting on certain subjects, and traditional broadcast programming required government approval.

Journalists operated in an environment tightly controlled by the government. Only journalists with official government accreditation were allowed to publish news in print or online. The CCP constantly monitored all forms of journalist output, including printed news, television reporting, and online news, including livestreaming. Journalists and editors self-censored to stay within the lines dictated by the CCP, and they faced increasingly serious penalties for crossing those lines, which could be opaque. While the country’s increasingly internet-literate population demanded interesting stories told with the latest technologies, government authorities asserted control over technologies such as livestreaming and continued to pressure digital outlets and social media platforms.

Because the CCP did not consider internet news companies “official” media, they were subject to debilitating regulations and barred from reporting on potentially “sensitive” stories.

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

Family members of journalists based overseas also faced harassment, and in some cases detention, as retaliation for the reporting of their relatives abroad. Dozens of Uyghur relatives of overseas-based journalists working for Radio Free Asia’s Uyghur Service remained disappeared or detained in Xinjiang. In March, RFA reported that authorities had detained two brothers of Uyghur Service editor Eset Sulaiman since 2018.

Restrictions on domestic and foreign journalists by central and local CCP propaganda departments increased significantly.

Journalists faced the threat of demotion or dismissal for publishing views that challenged the government. In many cases potential sources refused to meet with journalists due to actual or feared government pressure. The scope of censorship was vast, with several Chinese journalists noting “an atmosphere of debilitating paranoia.” For example long-standing journalist contacts continued to decline off-the-record conversations, even concerning nonsensitive topics. So-called taboo topics included not only Tibet, Taiwan, and corruption, but also natural disasters and the #MeToo movement.

During the year authorities imprisoned numerous journalists working in traditional and new media. The government also silenced numerous independent journalists by quarantining them under the guise of pandemic response. Reporters Without Borders, in a report released on December 7, tallied at least 127 journalists (professional and nonprofessional) detained in the country. Of these, 71 – or more than one-half the journalists imprisoned – were Uyghur.

On January 7, investigative journalist Li Xinde, who founded and ran the China Public Watchdog Network anticorruption website, was convicted of “illegal business activity” and received a five-year prison sentence. He was initially detained in 2019 after publishing on his website a report that a court in Tianjin had wrongfully convicted a businessman.

On January 8, former journalist Zhang Jialong was sentenced to 18 months’ imprisonment by the Nanming District Court in Guiyang City on charges of “picking quarrels and provoking trouble.” Zhang, while a journalist with Tencent, met with then secretary of state John Kerry in 2014 and asked him to “tear down this great firewall that blocks the Internet.”

On May 11, citizen journalists Chen Mei and Cai Wei were put on trial at Beijing’s Chaoyang District Court, after more than a year in detention, on the charge of “picking quarrels and provoking trouble.” The two volunteered for a website archive, Terminus 2049, that documented censored COVID-19 outbreak information, among other topics. On August 13, Chen and Cai were convicted on the “picking quarrels and provoking trouble” charge but were then released on August 15 for time served.

A CCP organization in Henan Province issued a call on social media to confront a BBC journalist covering flooding in Zhengzhou, Henan Province. The Foreign Correspondents’ Club of China cited the incident as an example of the “growing hostility against foreign media in China,” thanks to rising Chinese nationalism sometimes “directly encouraged by Chinese officials and official entities.”

The Foreign Correspondents’ Club of China’s annual report on media freedoms, released in March, found that authorities and the CCP used “all arms of state power” – including surveillance systems introduced to curb COVID-19 – to harass and intimidate journalists, their Chinese colleagues, and those whom the foreign press sought to interview. For the third consecutive year, not a single correspondent said that working conditions improved.

The survey reported 88 percent of correspondents had requests for interviews declined because subjects needed prior permission to speak to a foreign journalist or because they were not permitted to speak to foreign journalists at all, an increase from 76 percent in 2019. Nearly 40 percent of correspondents said they were aware of sources being harassed, detained, called in, or questioned for interacting with a foreign journalist, an increase from 25 percent in 2019. Nearly one-half the correspondents said the fear of digital or in-person surveillance regularly affected their ability to adequately interview and communicate with sources or carry out their reporting. Almost 60 percent said their Chinese colleagues were subject to intimidation, compared with 44 percent in 2019.

Authorities used the visa renewal process to challenge journalists and force additional foreign reporters out of the country.  A Reporters Without Borders report released December 7 tallied 18 foreign reporters who were forced to leave the country in 2020 due to surveillance and visa blackmail.

In March, BBC journalist John Sudworth left the country following threats of legal action, obstruction, and intimidation. A state-sponsored propaganda campaign targeted the BBC and Sudworth to discredit them and push back against international criticism regarding issues such as Xinjiang and Hong Kong. According to the Australian Strategic Policy Institute, the government’s targeting of the BBC began after the BBC published a report detailing allegations of systematic rape in internment camps where Muslims were detained in Xinjiang.

Local employees working for foreign press outlets reported increased harassment and intimidation, in addition to authorities’ continued tight enforcement of restrictions on these employees. Foreign news bureaus are prohibited by law from directly hiring Chinese citizens as employees and must rely on personnel hired by the Personnel Service Corporation, a subordinate unit of the Diplomatic Service Bureau affiliated with the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. The code of conduct threatens dismissal and loss of accreditation for those citizen employees who engage in independent reporting. It instructs them to provide their employers with information that projects “a good image of the country.” Multiple foreign outlets reported a continuing inability to hire the number of local staff members that they wished, saying authorities continued to impose an unofficial cap of one local researcher per foreign correspondent from media outlets out of favor with authorities. Some outlets even reported trouble getting the Diplomatic Service Bureau’s permission to hire a single local researcher per correspondent. New staff were wary of taking on responsibilities that might be considered politically sensitive, limiting their portfolios and contributions.

Government harassment of foreign journalists was particularly aggressive in Xinjiang. According to the 2020 Foreign Correspondents’ Club report, all foreign reporters who traveled to Xinjiang were openly followed, denied access to public places, and were asked or forced to delete photographs and other data from devices. Reporters documented cases of staged traffic accidents, road blockages, hotel closures, and cyberattacks. They reported constant surveillance while they worked in Xinjiang, with government agents stepping in to block access to some areas, intimidating local inhabitants from talking to the journalists, and stopping the journalists – sometimes many times per day – to seize their cameras and force them to erase pictures. Reporters noted local contacts warned them any resident seen talking to foreigners would almost certainly be detained, interrogated, or sent to a “re-education camp.”

Government officials also sought to suppress journalism outside their borders.  While in past years these efforts largely focused on Chinese-language media, during the year additional reports emerged of attempts to suppress media critical of China regardless of language or location.

Censorship or Content Restrictions: Regulations grant broad authority to the government at all levels to restrict publications based on content, including mandating if, when, and how particular issues are reported.

According to Freedom House, on February 5, the China Association of Performing Arts (an industry association under the Ministry of Culture and Tourism) released new restrictions that required performances to promote the “party line,” not “undermine national unity,” nor “endanger national security.” Performers who violated the rules would face suspensions or a permanent ban from the industry.

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

The CCP Central Propaganda Department ordered media outlets to adhere strictly to the information provided by official departments. Directives warned against reporting on issues related to COVID-19 outbreaks, the official response, and international inquiries, as well as party and official reputation, health and safety in general, and foreign affairs.

The government sought to exercise complete control over public and private commentary regarding the COVID-19 outbreak, undermining local and international efforts to report on the virus’s spread. COVID-19 information on Chinese social media was closely guarded from the outbreak’s earliest manifestation. Popular livestreaming and messaging platforms WeChat and YY continued censorship protocols, including on words related to the virus causing COVID-19, SARS, and potential disease vectors.

In the run-up to the 100th anniversary of the CCP’s founding on July 1, the government sought to tighten control over how citizens discuss history on the country’s heavily censored internet, releasing legal amendments stipulating that persons who “insult, slander or infringe upon” the memory of the country’s national heroes and martyrs faced jail time of up to three years.

In April the CAC vowed to crack down on “historical nihilists” and launched a hotline for internet users to report “illegal” comments that “distorted” the CCP’s historical achievements and attacked the country’s leadership. The tip line allowed individuals to report fellow citizens who “distort” the party’s history, attack its leadership and policies, defame national heroes, and “deny the excellence of advanced socialist culture” online.

Also in April authorities in Jiangsu Province detained a 19-year-old man after he made “insulting” comments online regarding Japan’s 1937 occupation of Nanjing.

In early May a regulatory official reported authorities had dealt with a large number of accounts deemed to be propagating “historical nihilism” and that they directed online platforms to clean up more than two million posts the CAC deemed illegal.

Some private companies censored content without explicit orders from authorities. In late March streaming platforms in the country began to censor the logos and symbols of brands such as Adidas that adorn items worn by contestants performing dance, singing, and standup-comedy routines, following a feud between the government and international companies that said they would avoid using cotton produced in Xinjiang. Although government officials may not have ordered the shows to obscure the brands, the video streaming sites apparently felt pressured or obliged to publicly distance themselves from Western brands involved in the feud.

In May, Chinese video platforms censored a Friends reunion television special, removing appearances by music stars Lady Gaga, Justin Bieber, and the K-pop group BTS, all of whom had previously engaged in activity that reportedly angered the Chinese government.

The government increased efforts to screen out unsanctioned information and align online content with the state’s agenda. In August the CCP’s Central Propaganda Department, along with the state-backed bodies for state-approved artists and authors, the Ministry of Culture and Tourism, and State Administration of Radio and Television, as well as the China Federation of Literary and Art Circles and Chinese Writers Association, issued policy guidelines urging better “culture and art reviews,” partly by limiting the role of algorithms in content distribution. Under the guidelines, all domestic content creators and distributors are told to “adhere to the correct direction, strengthen Marxist literary theory and criticism, and pay attention to the social effects of literary criticism … and not to contribute to the spread of low, vulgar and pandering content or quasi-entertainment content.”

Citizen journalists faced an increasingly difficult climate, with the CAC and other authorities seeking to strengthen control over content published through social media, including “self-media” accounts. Also known as “we-media,” these accounts are typically blogs operated independently on social media without official backing from established outlets. Self-media had become one of the biggest emerging trends, with a report by the State Information Center noting that in 2020 online media accounted for 80 percent of the country’s media market. The tightened restrictions online had the effect of further clamping down on self-employed reporters, who also could not be accredited by the National Press and Publication Administration, which administers tests and grants the licenses required for citizens to work in the profession. Unaccredited reporters can face legal fallout or even criminal charges. The campaign to clean up self-media accounts also targeted social media trending charts, push notifications, and short-video platforms. The CAC was also exploring measures to control the distribution of information across all internet platforms to end “disruption to the order of internet broadcasts.”

In January the National Press and Publication Administration announced that it had made it a priority to stop reporters from running their own self­media accounts, as part of its annual review of journalists’ accreditation.

In February the CAC implemented new rules on managing public internet accounts, the first change since 2017. The rules specified the type of content platforms should ban, including those deemed to be engaged in fabricating information, inciting extreme emotions, plagiarism, cyberbullying, blackmailing, and artificially inflating the number of clicks. This represented a fresh crackdown on “fake news” and other online activities perceived to be harmful. The new rules to “protect the security of content and maintain a healthy cyberspace” aimed to curb independent reporting and reposting of information considered illegal while promoting government-sanctioned stories.

The new rules also broadened the definition of harmful online information. In addition to information that authorities considered to endanger national security, leak state secrets, or subvert state power, the new rules banned online information that “disrupts financial market order.” False information regarding disasters, epidemics, emergencies, and food and drug safety was also banned. On top of possible criminal charges and other punishments, websites spreading such information could be shut down, and individuals working for such sites could be held liable and subject to heavy fines.

In July the government launched a campaign to crack down on “fake news” and clean up online content. The CCP’s Central Propaganda Department announced the campaign would target “illegal news activities” by news organizations and staff, internet platforms and public accounts, as well as unaccredited social organizations and individuals.

Control over public depictions of President Xi was severe, with censors aggressively shutting down any depiction that varied from official media storylines. Censors continued to block images of the Winnie the Pooh cartoon character on social media because internet users used it to represent Xi. Social media posts did not allow comments related to Xi Jinping and other prominent Chinese leaders.

Domestic films were subject to government censorship. The CCP continued to call for films to highlight Chinese culture and values and promote the country’s successful growth. On October 9, former news editor and journalist Luo Chang Ping was detained in Hainan for a post on Weibo critical of a film’s depiction of the country’s role in the Korean War on suspicion of “impeaching the reputation of heroes and martyrs.”

Foreign movies shown in the country were also subject to censorship. The scheduled PRC release of Nomadland, a foreign movie directed by China-born filmmaker Chloe Zhao, was postponed following a controversy concerning comments Zhao made in 2013 regarding censorship in China; many online mentions of Nomadland were censored by authorities.

In October, Chinese broadcaster Tencent blocked Boston Celtics (National Basketball Association) games from its platform after a member of the team, Enes Kanter, posted social media posts critical of the PRC’s policies in Tibet.

Newscasts from overseas news outlets, largely restricted to hotels and foreign residence compounds, were subject to censorship. Individual issues of foreign newspapers and magazines were occasionally banned when they contained articles deemed too sensitive. Articles on sensitive topics were removed from international magazines. Television newscasts were often blacked out during segments on sensitive subjects. For example in February, authorities banned the BBC World News television channel in apparent retaliation after the United Kingdom revoked the license of the state-owned Chinese broadcaster CGTN.

Government regulations restrict and limit public access to foreign television shows, which are banned during primetime, and local streamers had to limit the foreign portion of their program libraries to less than 30 percent.

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

Government rules ban the sale of foreign publications without an import permit. This includes sales on online shopping platforms, which are banned from offering “overseas publications,” including books, movies, and games that do not already have government approval.  The ban also applies to services related to publications.

New rules from the Ministry of Education went into effect April 1, banning from libraries books that favored the “West” at the expense of China. Nikkei Asia reported that the order would impact 240 million primary and secondary school students and also require students to begin studying “Xi Jinping Thought.” According to Nikkei Asia, books that conveyed political, economic, and cultural ideas from democratic nations could be banned.

Libel/Slander Laws: By law defamation can be punished by up to three years’ imprisonment; truth is not a defense.

In February police in the Shapingba District of Chongqing issued a criminal detention warrant for a 19-year-old Chinese citizen living overseas in connection for his posts on the Sina Weibo microblogging platform. Police claimed the blogger posted a comment defaming People’s Liberation Army (PLA) martyrs that had a “severe negative social impact.” Official state media reported that at least six other Chinese domestic internet users had been under criminal or administrative detention for “stirring up trouble” by publishing defamatory comments concerning PLA martyrs on social media platforms.

In May at least seven citizens were detained for “defaming” Yuan Longping, revered as the “Father of Hybrid Rice” in China, who died on May 22. Media reports noted that local police had responded to complaints of insulting remarks regarding Yuan on social media and determined the posts had caused a “seriously bad” impact on the society. Five of the detained faced criminal investigations; two were detained under administrative procedures. Sina Weibo announced on May 24 that it would permanently close the accounts of 64 users who were found to have spread insults and attacks on Yuan.

In October a woman identified in court only by her last name, Xu, was sentenced to seven months in prison for violating a newly amended criminal code that makes “impeaching the reputation of heroes and martyrs” a crime. Xu had mocked online some internet users who had imagined themselves as Dong Cunrui, a war hero who died during China’s civil war in 1949.

National Security: Authorities often justified restrictions on expression on national security protection grounds. Government leaders cited the threat of terrorism to justify restricting freedom of expression by Muslims and other religious minorities. These justifications were a baseline rationale for restrictions on press movements, publications, and other forms of repression of expression.

The government restricted freedoms of peaceful assembly and association.

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

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

The government, often preemptively, harassed and intimidated individuals and their family members by denying them permission to travel, both internationally and domestically, keeping them under house arrest or submitting them to “forced travel” during politically significant holidays.

In-country Movement: Authorities continued to maintain tight restrictions on freedom of movement, particularly to curtail the movement of individuals deemed politically sensitive before key anniversaries, or during foreign country national days, visits by foreign dignitaries, or major political events, as well as to forestall demonstrations. Uyghurs faced draconian restrictions on movement within Xinjiang and outside the region. Although the use of “domestic passports” that called for local official approval before traveling to another area was discontinued in 2016, authorities still made identification checks for individuals entering or leaving cities and on public roads. In Xinjiang, security officials operated checkpoints managing entry into public places, including markets and mosques, that required Uyghurs to scan their national identity card, undergo a facial recognition check, and put baggage through airport-style security screening. Such restrictions were not applied to Han Chinese in these areas.

The government operated a national household registration system (hukou) and maintained restrictions on the freedom to change one’s workplace or residence, although many provinces and localities eased restrictions. While many rural residents migrated to the cities, where per capita disposable income was approximately three times the rural per capita income, they often could not change their official residence or workplace within the country. Most cities had annual quotas for the number of new temporary residence permits they could issue, and all workers, including university graduates, had to compete for a limited number of such permits. It was particularly difficult for rural residents to obtain household registration in provincial capitals, but outside those cities many provinces removed or lowered barriers to move from a rural area to an urban one.

The household registration system added to the difficulties faced by rural residents, even after they relocated to urban areas and found employment. According to the Statistical Communique of the Peoples Republic of China on 2019 National Economic and Social Development, published in February 2020 by the National Bureau of Statistics of China, 280 million individuals lived outside the jurisdiction of their household registration. Migrant workers and their families faced numerous obstacles regarding working conditions and labor rights. Many were unable to access public services, such as public education for their children or social insurance, in the cities where they lived and worked because they were not legally registered urban residents.

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

Foreign Travel: The government controlled emigration and foreign travel. Government employees and retirees, especially from the military, faced foreign travel restrictions. The government denied passport applications or used exit controls for departing passengers at airports and other border crossings to deny foreign travel to some dissidents and persons employed in government posts. Throughout the year many lawyers, artists, authors, and activists were at times prevented from exiting the country. Authorities also blocked the travel of some family members of activists, including foreign family members.

Border officials and police sometimes cited threats to “national security” as the reason for refusing permission to leave the country, although often authorities provided no reason for such exit bans. Authorities stopped most such persons at the airport at the time of their attempted travel.

Most citizens could obtain passports, although individuals the government deemed potential political threats, including religious leaders, political dissidents, petitioners, as well as their family members and members of ethnic minorities, routinely reported being refused passports or otherwise being prevented from traveling overseas.

Disbarred lawyers, rights activists, and families of “709” lawyers faced difficulties applying for passports or were barred from leaving the country. For example disbarred human rights lawyers Wang Yu (also a 709 lawyer) and Tang Jitian remained under exit bans. Yang Maodong, whose pen name is Guo Feixiong, was banned from boarding a flight out of Shanghai in January, was denied authorization to travel abroad throughout the year, and was detained by authorities in December. Family members of some 709 lawyers, such as Li Heping and Wang Quanzhang, had passport applications denied.

Uyghurs, particularly those residing in Xinjiang, reported great difficulty in getting passport applications approved. They were frequently denied passports to travel abroad. Since 2016 authorities ordered Xinjiang residents to turn in their passports or told residents no new passports were available. Foreign national family members of Uyghur activists living overseas were also denied visas to enter the country, in part due to COVID-19 travel restrictions although restrictions predated the pandemic. Authorities refused to renew passports for Uyghurs living abroad.

Exile: The law neither provides for a citizen’s right to repatriate nor addresses exile. The government continued to refuse re-entry to numerous citizens considered dissidents, Falun Gong activists, or “troublemakers.” Although in previous years authorities allowed some dissidents living abroad to return, dissidents released on medical parole and allowed to leave the country often were effectively exiled. Because of the COVID-19 pandemic, authorities greatly reduced the total number of travelers who could enter the country, including citizens.

Not applicable.

Although it restricted access to border areas, the government regularly cooperated with the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), which maintained an office in Beijing.

Access to Asylum: The law does not provide for the granting of refugee or asylum status. The government did not have a system for providing protection to refugees but generally recognized UNHCR-registered refugees in China. Asylum applicants and refugees remained in the country without access to education or social services and were subject to deportation at any time.

UNHCR reported that officials continued to restrict UNHCR access to border areas. Authorities sometimes detained and prosecuted citizens who assisted North Korean refugees and asylum seekers, as well as those who facilitated illegal border crossings.

Refoulement: The government continued to consider North Koreans as illegal “economic migrants” rather than refugees or asylum seekers and forcibly returned many of them to North Korea, where such migrants would face harsh punishments including torture, forced abortions, forced labor, sexual violence, or death. Entries of such migrants were reduced during the year due to border closures during the COVID-19 pandemic. As of July advocacy organizations believed PRC authorities detained 1,170 North Koreans, the majority of whom were refugees and asylum seekers. In July, PRC authorities forcibly returned approximately 50 North Korean refugees, resuming forcible repatriations which had been on hold since early 2020 after the North Korean government shut its borders due to COVID-19.

North Koreans detained by PRC authorities faced forcible repatriation unless they could pay bribes to secure their release. Family members wanting to prevent forced returns of their North Korean relatives were required to pay fees to Chinese authorities, purportedly to cover expenses incurred while in detention. While detained North Koreans were occasionally released, they were rarely given the necessary permissions for safe passage to a third country.

Access to Basic Services: Refugees generally did not have access to public health care, public education, or other social services due to lack of legal status.

Durable Solutions: The government largely cooperated with UNHCR when dealing with the local settlement in China of Han Chinese or members of ethnic minorities from Vietnam and Laos living in the country since the Vietnam War era. The government and UNHCR continued discussions concerning the granting of citizenship to these long-term residents and their children, many of whom were born in China.

According to international media reports, as many as 30,000 children born to North Korean women in China, most of whom were trafficked and married to Chinese spouses, had not been registered because their North Korean parent was undocumented, leaving the children de facto stateless. These children were denied access to public services, including education and health care, despite provisions in the law that provide citizenship to children with at least one PRC citizen parent. Chinese fathers reportedly sometimes did not register their children to avoid exposing the illegal status of their North Korean partners.

Colombia

Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties

The law provides for freedom of expression, including for members of the press and other media, and the government generally respected this right. NGOs and journalists alleged increased harassment and threats from state officials, including police officers, during coverage of the nationwide protests. Violence and harassment, as well as the criminalization of libel, inhibited freedom of the press, and the government frequently influenced the press, in part through its large advertising budgets. The independent media were active and expressed a wide variety of views without restriction.

Violence and Harassment: According to the domestic NGO Foundation for Press Freedom (FLIP), through September 6, there were 99 threats against journalists, some involving more than one target, for a total of 117 journalists affected by threats. FLIP reported 129 incidents of violence or harassment, affecting 158 journalists. According to multiple NGOs, including Amnesty International, journalists Jose Alberto Tejada and Jhonatan Buitrago began receiving death threats, and Tejada was the subject of a plot to kill him. NGOs alleged the threats against both journalists, which began with the onset of national protests in April, were connected to their coverage of the demonstrations. FLIP also reported that between January and August, 17 journalists were illegally detained. The Attorney General’s Office reported that from January through July, it had obtained no convictions in cases of homicides of journalists but had 21 open investigations involving alleged threats against journalists.

As of June 30, the NPU provided protection services to 187 journalists. Some NGOs raised concerns about perceived shortcomings in the NPU, such as delays in granting protection and the appropriateness of measures for addressing specific threats.

Censorship or Content Restrictions: FLIP alleged some journalists practiced self-censorship due to fear of being sued under libel laws or of being physically attacked, mostly by nongovernment actors. FLIP asserted the high degree of impunity for those who committed aggressions against journalists was also a factor.

Libel/Slander Laws: By law slander and libel are crimes. The government did not use prosecution to prevent media outlets from criticizing government policies or public officials. Political candidates, businesspersons, and others, however, publicly threatened to sue journalists for expressing their opinions, alleging defamation or libel. FLIP reported that through September 6, there were five cases of judicial harassment affecting journalists.

Nongovernmental Impact: Members of armed groups inhibited freedom of expression by intimidating, threatening, kidnapping, and killing journalists. National and international NGOs reported local media representatives regularly practiced self-censorship because of threats of violence from these groups.

The law provides for the freedoms of peaceful assembly and association, but the government did not always respect these rights. During mostly peaceful nationwide protests that began on April 28, protesters and NGOs alleged that members of the police force used excessive force to curb demonstrations, including killing protesters. Some of the protests were violent, including attacks on police officers, police stations, looting, and burning of government buildings and public transportation. Protesters also erected thousands of roadblocks, impeding the delivery of food, supplies, and emergency services.

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

The law provides for freedom of internal movement, foreign travel, emigration, and repatriation. The government generally respected these rights, although there were exceptions. Military operations and insecurity in certain rural areas restricted freedom of movement.

In-country Movement: The government required asylum seekers and individuals without regularized migration status to have a salvoconducto (safe passage document) to travel throughout the country. Armed groups continued to establish checkpoints on rural roads to establish their own curfews and movement restrictions to expand their territorial control.

International and civil society organizations also reported that armed groups confined rural communities through roadblocks, curfews, car bombs at egress routes, and improvised explosive devices in areas where illicit crop cultivation and narcotics trafficking persisted. According to the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA), by September, 40,000 persons lived in communities that suffered from confinement, limiting their access to essential goods and services due to armed incidents and geographical factors.

There were approximately eight million internally displaced persons (IDPs) in the country, largely a result of the armed conflict and continuing violence in rural areas. Threats posed by armed groups drove internal displacement in remote areas as well as urban settings. After the 2016 peace accord, FARC withdrawal resulted in a struggle for control by other armed groups, causing violence and internal displacement. The government, international organizations, and civil society groups identified various factors causing displacement, including threats, extortion, and physical, psychological, and sexual violence by armed groups against civilian populations, particularly women and girls. Other causes of displacement included competition and armed confrontation among and within armed groups for resources and territorial control; confrontations between security forces, guerrillas, and organized-crime gangs; and forced recruitment of children or threats of forced recruitment. Drug trafficking, illegal mining, and large-scale commercial ventures in rural areas also contributed to displacement. Local institutions often lacked the capacity in many areas to protect the rights of, and provide public services to, IDPs and communities at risk of displacement. Consequently, the government continued to struggle to provide adequate protection or humanitarian assistance to newly displaced populations.

OCHA reported that 25,366 persons were affected in 94 displacement events in 2020 and that 48,597 persons were affected in 98 displacement events between January and July. Departments with the highest rate of mass displacements included Antioquia, Cauca, Choco, Narino, and Norte de Santander.

The Victims’ Unit maintained the Single Victims Registry as mandated by law. Despite improvements in the government registration system, IDPs experienced delays in receiving responses to their displacement claims due to a large backlog of claims built up during several months, lack of the unit’s presence in rural areas, and other constraints. Government policy provides for an appeals process in the case of refusals.

The ELN and other armed groups continued to use force, intimidation, and disinformation to discourage IDPs from registering with the government. International organizations and civil society expressed concern regarding urban displacement caused by violence stemming from territorial disputes between criminal gangs, some of which had links to larger criminal and narcotics trafficking groups.

The Victims’ Unit cited extortion, forced recruitment by armed groups, killings, and physical and sexual violence as the primary causes of intraurban displacement. The Office of the UN High Commission for Refugees (UNHCR) reported that displacement disproportionately affected indigenous and Afro-Colombian groups.

As of June the government registered 483,260 IDPs who identified as indigenous, and 1,127,913 who identified as Afro-Colombian. Indigenous persons constituted approximately 6 percent and Afro-Colombians approximately 14 percent of new IDPs registered by the government.

The NGO National Association of Displaced Afrodescendants (AFRODES) stated that threats and violence against Afro-Colombian leaders and communities continued to cause high levels of forced displacement, especially in the Pacific Coast region. AFRODES and other local NGOs expressed concern that large-scale economic projects, such as agriculture and mining, contributed to displacement in their communities.

By law, 52 government agencies are responsible for assisting registered IDPs. In addition dozens of international organizations; international NGOs; domestic nonprofit groups; and multilateral organizations, including the International Organization for Migration, World Food Program, International Committee of the Red Cross, UNHCR, and Colombian Red Cross, coordinated with the government to provide emergency relief and long-term assistance to displaced populations.

International organizations and NGOs remained concerned regarding the slow and insufficient institutional response to displacement. As a result, NGOs took responsibility for providing humanitarian assistance to recently displaced individuals. International organizations and civil society reported that a lack of local capacity to accept registrations in high-displacement areas often delayed assistance to persons displaced individually or in smaller groups. Humanitarian organizations attributed the delays to a variety of factors, including the lack of personnel, funding, declaration forms, and training. Insecurity in communities affected by the conflict, including areas in the departments of Antioquia, Cauca, Choco, Narino, and Norte de Santander, often delayed national and international aid organizations from reaching newly displaced populations.

Despite several government initiatives to enhance IDP access to services and awareness of their rights, municipalities in many parts of the country did not have the resources or capacity to respond to new displacements and provide humanitarian assistance to IDPs. Many IDPs continued to live in poverty in unhygienic conditions and with limited access to health care, education, shelter, and employment. During the COVID-19 pandemic, some humanitarian organizations increased health promotion education and the distribution of hygiene supplies.

The government estimated that 400,000 to 500,000 Colombians, many of whom had been displaced by the conflict in Colombia and registered as refugees in Venezuela, prior to the signing of the 2016 peace accord, had returned from Venezuela as of August.

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

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. Of the approximately 37,000 applications received, the government reported it had approved 753 requests for recognition of refugee status from January 2017 through June. Venezuelans represented approximately 95 percent of applications during the year.

According to migration officials, as of August the country hosted more than 1.7 million Venezuelans. While the government generally provided access to the asylum process for persons who requested international protection, many opted for alternative migration status. The government continued to grant Colombian citizenship to Venezuelan children born in Colombia on or after August 19, 2015, and by August approximately 46,000 children born to Venezuelan parents in Colombia had received citizenship.

Temporary Protection: On February 8, the government announced the granting of a 10-year Temporary Protective Status (TPS) providing an immediate pathway to legal residence for nearly one million Venezuelans and extending legal protections to all 1.7 million Venezuelans in Colombia. TPS allows authorities to identify irregular Venezuelans in a biometric registry; grant Venezuelans formal access to work, health, and education; and facilitate participation in the national COVID-19 vaccination plan. As of October the government had preregistered nearly 1.4 million Venezuelans in TPS.

According to UNHCR, there were more than nine million persons of concern (including refugees, asylum seekers, IDPs, returned IDPs, returned refugees, stateless persons, and others of concern) residing in the country in 2018, compared with 7.7 million in 2017.

According to Colombia Migration, the national border control agency, in 2020 there were nearly 4,000 cases of irregular migrants, mostly Haitians, transiting Colombia en route to Central and North American countries. By August approximately 71,000 migrants had crossed from Colombia to Panama, and a large group of migrants on the northern Colombian coast numbered more than 20,000 persons. The flow consisted of Brazilians of Haitian descent, Chileans, Cubans, Haitians, and Venezuelans, in addition to a small number of migrants from other countries.

Comoros

Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties

The constitution and law provide for freedom of speech, including for the press although not explicitly for other media. Authorities imposed restrictions.

Freedom of Expression: Individuals may not criticize the government or raise matters of public interest without constraint. Authorities reportedly detained individuals for making public statements, including online statements, critical of the president.

Freedom of Expression for Members of the Press and Other Media, Including Online Media: Independent media were active and expressed a variety of views, but with a growing level of restriction and self-censorship due to government reprisal.

Violence and Harassment: Some journalists were subjected to violence or harassment by government authorities due to their reporting.

The former president of the Comoros’ Union of Journalists, Ali Abdou, was found dead in his home in Moroni in December 2020. The Moroni government prosecutor concluded Ali died a natural death. On February 27, the local website nationalmagazineweb.com claimed Ali’s body was found in his home covered with blood and signs of physical assault. The family stated the local authorities would not turn over the doctor’s death report and other materials. On March 15, the family filed a complaint with the court of Moroni claiming Ali was killed, but due to the prosecutor’s ruling of death by natural causes, the court rejected the complaint.

On January 7, authorities arrested Oubeid Mchangama, a journalist with the Facebook-based news service FCBK FM, and accused him of participating in an antigovernment demonstration he was covering in Moroni. On January 9, authorities arrested on similar charges his colleague Ali Akbou Mkouboi, who was covering another demonstration. Authorities released both after two days’ detention.

On September 3, gendarmes attacked and arrested journalists Hachim Mohamed and Oubeid Mchangama during a demonstration led by the French-based diaspora group Mabedja. Authorities released them 24 hours later.

On September 7, authorities denied two French journalists entry at the airport in Moroni and put them on the return flight of the same plane on which they arrived. Authorities believed the journalists had come to cover the Mabedja group demonstrations. The minister of interior claimed at a press conference the two journalists did not have the proper administrative documents needed to enter the country.

On September 21, the minister of finance threatened any journalist critical of him, declaring he would use “my militias” to turn the journalists “into pieces.” On September 23, a local radio station journalist received a telephone call from someone claiming he was paid by the minister of finance to “eliminate” him. Also in September men claiming to be politically connected threatened to destroy a local radio station if it did not close down.

Censorship or Content Restrictions: Some journalists practiced self-censorship due to violence and harassment, and other journalists, fearing retribution, self-censored discussions of political matters.

Libel/Slander Laws: The law criminalizes libel. Authorities did not enforce the law. The law also prohibits blasphemy, or the propagation of non-Islamic beliefs to Muslims. It was not enforced.

The constitution and law provide for the freedoms of peaceful assembly and association, but the government often did not respect the freedom of peaceful assembly.

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

The constitution and law provide for freedom of internal movement and foreign travel, and the government generally respected these rights. No specific constitutional or legal provisions deal with emigration and repatriation.

In-country Movement: Authorities allowed most persons to move freely between islands.

Not applicable.

The government did not regularly cooperate with UNHCR and other humanitarian organizations in providing protection and assistance to refugees, returning refugees, or asylum seekers, as well as other persons of concern.

Access to Asylum: The law does not provide for the granting of asylum or refugee status, and the government has not established a system for providing protection to refugees. UNHCR conducted refugee status determination interviews remotely for asylum seekers.

In October, 52 asylum seekers from the Democratic Republic of the Congo landed by boat in Anjouan. The government allowed the asylum seekers to reside in a vacant government building in safe and sanitary conditions. The International Organization for Migration conducted rapid screening of the 52 individuals and referred their cases to UNHCR.

The laws do not protect persons born in the country to unknown or stateless parents from becoming stateless.

Costa Rica

Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties

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

Censorship or Content Restrictions: In July the Constitutional Chamber of the Supreme Court partially ruled in favor of a daily newspaper that accused the government in 2020 of denying access to information during the daily coronavirus pandemic press briefings. On June 30, during the presentation of her annual report to the National Assembly, the ombudswoman expressed concerns that the president was declining interview requests to independent media outlets and not holding more press conferences. The minister of communications explained that weekly press briefings were exclusively for answering questions about the coronavirus pandemic.

Actions to Expand Freedom of Expression, Including for Members of the Media: An appeals judge urged the Attorney General’s Office to investigate a leakage to the press of evidence that judicial authorities obtained through wiretapping for a high-profile corruption scandal. The judge did not censor media outlets for publishing information of public interest but indicated that those responsible for maintaining confidentiality of court files should be held accountable.

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

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

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

Not applicable.

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

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. The law requires authorities to process the claims within three months of receipt, but decisions took an average of 24 months and an additional 12 months for the appeals process. Due to COVID-19 restrictions, the Migration Authority only conducted appointments scheduled through a call center. A 20 percent capacity limit at the Migration Authority caused delays in appointments. In June the Migration Authority’s Refugee Unit began handling a growing number of persons requesting asylum or refugee status, with the majority originating from Nicaragua.

As of July 1, the Appeals Tribunal, which adjudicates all migration appeals, had a backlog of 284 asylum cases but stated these figures would increase as pending claims moved to the appeals process. UNHCR provided support to the Refugee Unit and the Appeals Tribunal to hire additional legal and administrative personnel to assist with reduction of the backlog and to continue a process of regionalization of services.

Employment: Refugee regulations provide asylum seekers an opportunity to obtain work permits if they have to wait beyond the three months the law allows for a decision on their asylum claim (which occurred in virtually all cases). The waiting period for a work permit was compounded by the months-long delay most asylum seekers faced in obtaining an appointment to file an asylum application, at which point the three-month period begins. Refugees and asylum seekers reported that job opportunities were scarce. In the case of professionals, refugees and asylum seekers faced significant bureaucratic processes in obtaining a license to practice locally.

Access to Basic Services: By law asylum seekers and refugees have access to public services and social welfare programs, but access was often hampered by lack of knowledge about their status in the country, failure of service providers to recognize the identification provided to asylum seekers by the Migration Authority, and feelings of xenophobia among some service providers. For example, asylum seekers without employers (who constituted the majority of asylum seekers) faced restrictions when enrolling voluntarily as independent workers in the public health system.

Asylum seekers received provisional refugee status documents legalizing their status after appearing for an interview with the Migration Authority, for which the estimated wait time was eight months before the pandemic. Provisional refugee identity cards do not resemble other national identity documents, and although government authorities generally accepted them, many private citizens did not. Upon receiving refugee status, which typically took two years, refugees could obtain an identity document similar to those used by nationals at a cost of 43,000 colones ($68), renewable every two years.

Refugees and asylum seekers reported that access to health services was difficult. They qualified for public health services only if they were minors, pregnant, or facing a life-threatening emergency, but some individuals reported being denied services even in emergency situations. In February UNHCR announced an agreement to expand health insurance, which already covered 6,000 of the most vulnerable refugees, to cover an additional 4,000 refugees through the year.

Durable Solutions: The government implemented a Protection Transfer Arrangement in coordination with UNHCR and the International Organization for Migration for refugee resettlement in third countries. In June the government reestablished resettlement operations suspended in 2020 due to the COVID-19 pandemic. For those obtaining refugee status, the government was committed to their local integration both legally and socially and to facilitating their naturalization process.

Temporary Protection: In November 2020 the Migration Authority approved a temporary complementary protection program for Venezuelan, Nicaraguan, and Cuban immigrants who did not qualify for refugee status. As of July the government provided temporary protection to 1,213 persons through this program. The program, which went into effect in 2020 and would have ended on December 15, 2021, was extended until February 28, 2022.

Citizenship is obtained from birth within the country’s territory or can be derived if either parent is Costa Rican. There continued to be problems of statelessness of indigenous children and children of seasonal workers in the border areas with Panama and Nicaragua, derived from the difficulties linked to birth registrations. Members of the Ngobe-Bugle indigenous group from Panama often worked on Costa Rican farms and occasionally gave birth there. In these cases parents did not register Ngobe-Bugle children as Costa Rican citizens at birth because they did not think it necessary, although the children lacked registration in Panama as well. Government authorities worked with UNHCR on a program of birth registration and provision of identification documents to stateless persons. Mobile teams went to remote coffee-growing areas for case identification and registration. UNHCR and the National Civil Registry continued a project along the northern border for individuals of Nicaraguan origin to facilitate procedures for late birth registration. On January 14, the president signed an executive order issuing regulations to the 2019 law that protects the right to citizenship for transborder indigenous persons.

Cote d’Ivoire

Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties

The constitution and law provide for freedom of expression, including for members of the press and other media, but the government restricted this right.

Freedom of Expression: The law prohibits incitement to violence, ethnic hatred, and rebellion, as well as insulting the head of state or other senior members of the government. Sometimes the government took steps to remove such content from social media. Other times the application of this law raised questions of political influence.

In December 2020, during a concert in Abidjan, two popular singers questioned the impartiality of the public prosecutor’s investigation into violence committed during the presidential election period. Authorities detained the singers, and a court convicted them the next day of propagating false information, contempt of court, and discrediting the judicial system. Both were given a one-year suspended sentence and ordered to pay a substantial fine.

Freedom of Expression for Members of the Press and Other Media, Including Online Media: The independent media were active and expressed a wide variety of views. The law bans “detention of journalists in police custody, preventive detention, and imprisonment of journalists for offenses committed by means of press or by other means of publication.” The law, however, provides for substantial fines for anyone found guilty of committing offenses by means of press or by other means of publication.

Virtually all press outlets were government-affiliated or were owned by politicians or other wealthy individuals. Government-affiliated media frequently reflected the political views of the government. Newspapers aligned politically with the opposition frequently published editorials condemning the government. Journalistic standards were flouted by regime- and opposition-aligned media outlets, sometimes leading to allegations of defamation and subsequent claims that opposition media were more likely to be charged with that offense.

The High Audiovisual Communications Authority oversees the regulation and operation of radio and television stations and is generally viewed as supportive of the government and more likely to impose sanctions on media close to the opposition. Opposition groups and civil society criticized the government’s control over the main state-owned television station, claiming it gave far more coverage to the ruling party’s political activities. There were numerous local and national independent radio stations. The law prohibits transmission of political commentary by community radio stations, or smaller, local-level radio stations that are independently run. The regulatory authority, however, allowed community radio stations to run political programs if they employed professional journalists. These stations could also rebroadcast political content reported by other media outlets during official campaigning periods. The owners of these stations reported they often self-censored and avoided broadcasting political content, such as political debates and interviews with political leaders, because they feared being sanctioned or shut down by the communications authority.

Violence and Harassment: Journalists were sometimes subjected to violence, harassment, or intimidation by authorities due to their reporting.

In March while covering the funeral of the recently deceased prime minister in Seguela, journalist Jonas Baikeh attended a meeting at the ruling party’s headquarters. Baikeh witnessed the head of a state-owned company fall ill and nearly collapse. Baikeh reported the event on his newspaper’s website shortly after it occurred, which angered some ruling party supporters present. The supporters threatened to kill Baikeh if he did not leave the town by 6 p.m. that evening. Baikeh left the scene and hid before returning to Abidjan. Authorities took no action against the persons who threatened Baikeh.

Censorship or Content Restrictions: The government influenced news coverage and program content on television channels and public and private radio stations. Both independent journalists and journalists affiliated with the state-owned media stated they regularly exercised self-censorship to avoid sanctions or reprisals from government officials. The National Press Authority, the government’s print media regulatory body, briefly suspended or reprimanded newspapers and journalists for statements it contended were false, libelous, or perceived to incite xenophobia and hate. Human rights organizations reported legal intimidation had a chilling effect on media coverage of certain topics, and media often only published stories critical of the government after the same reporting had appeared in international publications.

Libel/Slander Laws: Defamation deemed to threaten the national interest is punishable by criminal prosecution. In addition to government prosecution, individuals can bring criminal defamation cases against other individuals.

In July authorities arrested Alerte Zatte, a cyberactivist, for publishing a video on social media critical of Simone Gbagbo, the wife of former president Laurent Gbagbo. In the video, Zatte accused Simone Gbagbo of hoping for Laurent Gbagbo’s death and ordering allies to insult him on social media. Authorities detained Zatte at the airport while she was waiting to board a flight to France, where she resided. A court sentenced Zatte to six months in prison and levied a substantial fine for defamation.

Nongovernmental Impact: In June the minister of national reconciliation visited the headquarters of the Democratic Party of Cote d’Ivoire, one of the country’s main opposition parties, as part of a series of meetings to encourage political dialogue. In response, four to five members of the party’s youth wing knocked over microphones set up for a postmeeting press conference and demanded that journalists covering the event leave. According to media reports, the youth-wing members were protesting the party’s normalization of relations with the government while several of the party’s members remained in prison. When the journalists refused to leave, the youth-wing members attacked the journalists, injuring several and destroying some of their equipment. After the incident the party issued a statement apologizing to the journalists and the minister of national reconciliation.

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

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

The constitution and law do not specifically provide for freedom of movement, foreign travel, emigration, or repatriation, but the government generally respected these rights.

In-country Movement: There were reports of impediments to internal travel. Although some roadblocks set up by security forces served legitimate security purposes, extortion of bribes was sometimes reported. Civil society organizations reported instances in which members of the security forces, deployed to the north of the country to interdict criminals and violent extremists, set up unofficial checkpoints in forests and other unpopulated areas and demanded bribes for travelers to pass.

In April international organizations and the government estimated there were 900 internally displaced persons (IDPs), down from 16,700 after the 2020 election. International organizations reported that the vast majority of IDPs who fled their homes because of feared or experienced violence associated with the 2020 presidential election had returned home voluntarily in the months following the election. The government actively coordinated with international organizations to register and deliver services to the IDPs.

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

Access to Asylum: Although there is no national asylum law, the country provides for asylum or refugee status, and the government has established an administrative system for providing protection to refugees. Asylum seekers awaiting adjudication of their application enjoy a full set of basic rights, including freedom of movement, health care, and education. Asylum seekers are not entitled to work until they receive refugee status.

Durable Solutions: UNHCR reported it is almost impossible for refugees to be naturalized, except through marriage to a citizen. UNHCR was aware of only one case of nonmarital naturalization: a resident living in the country for more than 20 years who was granted nationality through a presidential decree.

Temporary Protection: The government also provided temporary protection for individuals who did not qualify as refugees. Nationals of ECOWAS member states may remain in the country with a valid identification document (i.e., a national identity card or passport) from their country of origin. Non-ECOWAS African nationals and nationals of other countries must obtain a residency permit within 90 days of their asylum claim rejection or face deportation. To obtain a residency permit, non-ECOWAS African nationals must submit their asylum rejection letter and pay a substantial fee. Residency permit requirements for other nationals are based on reciprocity between the country and the applicant’s country of origin.

The government did not report the number of persons believed to be stateless. With birth registration a requirement for citizenship, all unregistered children were at risk of statelessness. UNHCR estimated 16,000 persons in the country were at “very high risk” of statelessness, out of an estimated 1.65 million persons living in the country without citizenship documents. This figure included an estimated 519,000 abandoned children and foundlings (i.e., abandoned children of unknown parentage), who were at risk of statelessness because they could not prove their citizenship through their parents, as required under the law. Such children were deprived of the opportunity to attend high school (which is legally compulsory until the age of 16, but also requires the presentation of identity documents as part of the enrollment process), and, as adults, would be unable to open a bank account, travel abroad freely, purchase land, gain lawful employment, or vote or exercise other political rights, such as running for office.

Stateless persons reportedly faced numerous significant additional difficulties, such as in accessing health services, marrying civilly, or receiving an inheritance. Social stigma and harassment can also accompany statelessness.

The government has policies to resolve the status of certain stateless persons. In 2020 the government formally established legal procedures for some individuals to petition the government for a formal determination of statelessness status. According to UNHCR a determination of statelessness would pave the way for an individual to receive identity documents and access to other legal processes. Also, according to UNHCR, a rejected application for stateless status means the adjudicating bodies believe the applicant is in fact entitled to a particular nationality.

In February the government inaugurated the governmental commissions tasked with adjudicating claims of statelessness and began training the adjudicators of these bodies. As of October, the commissions had not begun to adjudicate cases.

Crimea

Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties

See the Country Reports on Human Rights for Russia for a description of the relevant Russian laws and procedures the Russian government applied and enforced in occupied Crimea.

Occupation authorities significantly restricted the exercise of freedom of expression and subjected dissenting voices, including the press and other media, to harassment and prosecution. Occupation authorities’ reported failure to investigate or prosecute attacks on human rights defenders and peaceful protesters led to de facto restrictions on the exercise of freedoms of peaceful assembly and association.

Freedom of Expression: The HRMMU noted occupation authorities placed “excessive limitations on the freedoms of opinion and expression.” In July 2020 occupation authorities began enforcing a law that prohibits the unauthorized dissemination of information damaging to the FSB’s reputation without the FSB’s approval. Enforcement of this law in Crimea further deprived residents of the ability to exercise freedom of expression, by preventing them from publicly criticizing and disseminating information concerning reportedly unlawful actions of FSB officers and alleged violations or abuses of human rights.

Individuals could not publicly criticize the Russian occupation without fear of reprisal. Human rights groups reported the FSB engaged in widespread surveillance of social media, telephones, and electronic communication and routinely summoned individuals for “discussions” for speaking or posting opposition to the occupation. These unlawfully obtained recordings were often used against those who were arbitrarily arrested in closed trials.

Occupation authorities often deemed expressions of dissent “extremism” and prosecuted individuals for them. For example, according to press reports, on March 22, the Russia-controlled prosecutor’s office for the Nizhnegorsk district in Crimea formally warned Crimean Tatar Akhmadzhon Kadyrov that his recent public statements could constitute “extremism.” The written warning referenced a video posted to social media on March 7 in which Kadyrov denied that Crimean Tatars were terrorists and spoke about the suffering and injustices Crimean Tatars experienced under Russia’s occupation. The “prosecutor’s” warning claimed Kadyrov’s criticisms of Russia’s judicial proceedings and calls of support for Crimean Tatar political prisoners indicated a “negative attitude towards law enforcement and judicial officials.”

Occupation authorities continued to ban the display of Ukrainian or Crimean Tatar symbols as “extremist.” Human rights groups claimed violations of this law were rare during the year because of fewer residents displaying such symbols than in previous years, reportedly to avoid prosecution.

Occupation authorities deemed expressions of support for Ukrainian sovereignty over the peninsula to be equivalent to undermining Russian territorial integrity. For example on June 1, the Russia-controlled “supreme court” in occupied Crimea found Chairman of the Crimean Tatar Mejlis Refat Chubarov guilty of publicly calling for the violation of Russia’s territorial integrity and organizing “mass riots.” The court sentenced him in absentia to six years in prison. The charges were linked to Chubarov’s role in organizing a 2014 peaceful demonstration in front of the Crimean parliament in support of Ukraine’s territorial integrity.

There were multiple reports that occupation authorities detained and prosecuted individuals seeking to film raids on homes or court proceedings. For example, according to press reports, on October 25, Russian occupation authorities arrested 21 men, including two Crimean Solidarity journalists, who had gathered outside of a court in Simferopol to observe a hearing for three Crimean Tatar political prisoners. Crimean Solidarity journalists Ruslan Paralamov and Dlyaver Ibragimov, who were reporting on and filming the gathering, were charged with administrative offenses related to the violation of public order.

During the year occupation authorities prosecuted individuals for the content of social media posts. For example on July 22, occupation authorities arrested 27-year-old Crimean Tatar Abdulla Ibrahimov after conducting a search of his father’s home and the family’s store in Evpatoria. Occupation authorities reportedly filed administrative charges against Abdulla for publicly displaying the symbols of “extremist” organizations, in connection to his alleged posting of a symbol for Hizb ut-Tahrir on social media in 2013 (before Russia’s occupation of Crimea). Abdulla was released on July 25.

Freedom of Expression for Members of the Press and Other Media, Including Online Media: Independent print and broadcast media could not operate freely. Most independent media outlets were forced to close in 2015 after occupation authorities refused to register them. According to the Crimean Human Rights Group, after the occupation began, many local journalists left Crimea or abandoned their profession. With no independent media outlets left in Crimea and professional journalists facing serious risks for reporting from the peninsula, civic activists were a major source of information on developments in Crimea.

On April 20, occupation authorities fined Bekir Mamutov, the editor in chief of Crimean Tatar newspaper Qirim and member of the Crimean Tatar Mejlis, for his newspaper’s publishing of the 2020 UN secretary-general’s report on the human rights situation in Crimea, according to the HRMMU. Occupation authorities reportedly claimed the newspaper violated a Russian law that prohibits the press from publishing information regarding the Mejlis without noting that its activities are prohibited in Russia. Mamutov paid a fine of 4,000 rubles ($55).

Violence and Harassment: There were numerous cases of security forces or police harassing activists and detaining journalists in connection with their civic or professional activities. For example on May 19, the FSB searched the home of Crimean Solidarity journalist Zydan Adzhykelyamov. According to Adzhykelyamov, police inspected his Quran and notes from recent trials he had covered. Police reportedly also searched the adjacent home of his parents. Adzhykelyamov claimed police asked him to sign an administrative document related to the search, but he refused to do so without a lawyer present. Adzhykelyamov claimed police conducted the search in retaliation for his reporting on the May 11 killing of Nabi Rakhimov, who was fatally shot by FSB officers during a raid of his home (see section 1.a.).

Censorship or Content Restrictions: Following Russia’s occupation of Crimea, journalists resorted to self-censorship to continue reporting and broadcasting.

There were reports occupation authorities sought to restrict access to or remove internet content concerning Crimea they disliked. As of August 12, occupation authorities had blocked 27 Ukrainian websites in Crimea, including the websites of the Crimean Tatar Mejlis, Jehovah’s Witnesses, Hizb ut-Tahrir, the Ministry of Integration of the Temporarily Occupied Territories of Ukraine, and several independent Ukrainian news outlets, among others. Censorship of independent internet sites was widespread (see Internet Freedom).

Occupation authorities banned most Ukrainian and Crimean Tatar-language broadcasts, replacing the content with Russian programming. The Crimean Human Rights Group reported that occupation authorities continued to block Ukrainian FM radio stations in northern Crimea by broadcasting their stations on the same wavelength. The signal of Ukrainian FM radio stations was heard in only eight of the area’s 19 settlements.

Human rights groups reported occupation authorities continued to forbid songs by Ukrainian singers from playing on Crimean radio stations.

National Security: Occupation authorities cited laws protecting national security to justify retaliation against opponents of Russia’s occupation.

The Russian Federal Financial Monitoring Service included prominent critics of the occupation on its list of extremists and terrorists. Inclusion on the list prevented individuals from holding bank accounts, using notary services, and conducting other financial transactions.

Authorities frequently used the threat of “extremism,” “terrorism,” or other purported national security grounds to justify harassment or prosecution of individuals in retaliation for expressing opposition to the occupation. For example, in 2019 occupation authorities arrested Ukrainian citizen Oleh Prykhodko on charges of terrorism and possession of explosives after they purportedly found explosives in his garage, which human rights defenders maintained were planted there. Human rights groups claimed the charges were retaliation for Prykhodko’s displaying of Ukrainian and Crimean Tatar flags on his car, for which he was fined in 2019. On March 3, a Russian court sentenced the 62-year-old Prykhoko to five years’ imprisonment in a maximum-security penal colony.

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

Occupation authorities imposed restrictions on freedom of movement.

In-country Movement: Occupation authorities maintained a state “border” at the administrative boundary between mainland Ukraine and occupied Crimea. According to the HRMMU, the boundary and the absence of public transportation between Crimea and mainland Ukraine continued to undermine freedom of movement to and from the peninsula, affecting mainly the elderly and individuals with limited mobility. The Ukrainian government simplified crossing the administrative boundary for children in a decree that came into force on February 9. Children younger than 16 were allowed to cross the administrative boundary between mainland Ukraine and Crimea both ways if accompanied by one parent. Notarized permission of the second parent was no longer required. Children between the ages of 14 and 16 could cross the administrative line both ways unaccompanied if they studied at an educational institution located in mainland Ukraine and resided or were registered in Crimea.

There were reports occupation authorities selectively detained and at times abused persons attempting to enter or leave Crimea. According to human rights groups, occupation authorities routinely detained adult men at the administrative boundary for additional questioning, threatened to seize passports and documents, seized telephones and memory cards, and questioned them for hours.

In March 2020 Russian occupation authorities banned Ukrainian citizens from entering occupied Crimea, citing COVID-19 prevention as justification. Crimean residents traveling to mainland Ukraine were purportedly excepted from the ban if they provided proof that the purpose of their travel fell within authorized categories, which included medical treatment, education, or family visits. Occupation authorities often applied the criteria selectively. On May 18, Russian occupation authorities rescinded the ban, but human rights groups reported they continued to arbitrarily detain travelers. For example on August 5, occupation authorities detained blogger and activist Ludwika Papadopoulou, a Crimean resident, when she attempted to pass through an administrative boundary checkpoint for a planned trip to mainland Ukraine. Occupation officials reportedly informed Papadopoulou she had been charged with defamation for a 2019 social media post that criticized a Russian occupation official. Papadopoulou denied any involvement in the post. Occupation authorities placed Papadopoulou under house arrest until September 5. As of mid-September occupation authorities continued to impose travel restrictions on Papadopoulou.

Crimean residents with Russian passports seeking to re-enter Crimea were required to take a PCR test within three calendar days of their return to the peninsula and post the test results on the Unified Portal of Public Services. Occupation authorities continued to restrict entry of Ukrainian citizens who were not residents of Crimea; only certain categories of travel, such as medical treatment and family visits, were authorized for these individuals.

In other cases occupation authorities issued entry bans to Ukrainian citizens attempting to cross the administrative boundary.

Occupation authorities launched and continued to try criminal cases against numerous high-profile Crimean Tatar leaders, including Member of Parliament Mustafa Dzhemilev; Refat Chubarov, chairman of the Crimean Tatar Mejlis; Nariman Dzhelyal, deputy chairman of the Crimean Tatar Mejlis; and Aider Muzhdabayev, deputy director of ATR, the only Crimean Tatar-language television channel.

According to the HRMMU, Ukrainian law restricts access to Crimea to three designated crossing points and imposes penalties, including long-term entry bans, for noncompliance. Crimean residents lacking Ukrainian passports, who only possessed Russian-issued Crimean travel documents not recognized by Ukrainian authorities, often faced difficulties when crossing into mainland Ukraine.

Citizenship: Russian occupation authorities required all residents of Crimea to accept Russian passports. Those who refused Russian passports could be subjected to arbitrary expulsion. According to the Crimean Human Rights Group, since Russia’s occupation, approximately 2,000 Ukrainians were prosecuted for not having Russian documents, and approximately 530 persons were ordered to be “deported.”

According to the HRMMU, during the period from July 1, 2000, to June 30, Russia-controlled “courts” ordered “deportation” and forcible transfer of at least 72 Ukrainian citizens whose residence rights in Crimea were not recognized.

Residents of Crimea who chose not to accept Russian passports were considered foreigners, but in some cases they could obtain a residency permit. Persons without Russian passports holding a residency permit were deprived of key rights and could not own agricultural land, vote or run for office, register a religious congregation, or register a vehicle. Occupation authorities denied those who refused Russian passports access to “government” employment, education, and health care as well as the ability to open bank accounts and buy insurance, among other limitations.

According to the Crimean Human Rights Group, Russian authorities prosecuted private employers who continued to employ Ukrainians. Fines could be imposed on employers for every recorded case of employing a Ukrainian citizen without a labor license. Fines in such cases amounted to several million dollars.

In some cases authorities compelled Crimean residents to surrender their Ukrainian passports, complicating international travel, because many countries did not recognize “passports” issued by Russian occupation authorities.

Approximately 50,000 residents of Crimea were registered as IDPs by the Ukrainian government on the mainland, according to the Ministry of Social Policy. The Mejlis and local NGOs, such as Crimea SOS, believed the actual number could be as high as 100,000, as most IDPs remained unregistered. Many individuals fled due to fear that occupation authorities would target them for abuse because of their work as political activists or journalists. Muslims, Greek Catholics, and Evangelical Christians who left Crimea said they feared discrimination due to their religious beliefs.

Crimean Tatars, who made up the largest number of IDPs, said they left because of pressure on their community, including an increasing number of arbitrary searches of their homes, surveillance, and discrimination. In addition, many professionals left Crimea because Russian occupation authorities required them to apply for Russian professional licenses and adopt Russian procedures in their work.

Croatia

Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties

The constitution and law provide for freedom of expression, including for members of the press and other media, and the government generally respected this right. An independent media and a functioning democratic political system combined in most cases to promote freedom of expression, including for members of the media, but judicial ineffectiveness at times delayed resolution of cases.

Freedom of Expression: The law sanctions individuals who act “with the goal of spreading racial, religious, sexual, national, ethnic hatred, or hatred based on the color of skin or sexual orientation or other characteristics.” A conviction for internet hate speech is punishable by up to three years’ imprisonment. The law provides for six months’ to five years’ imprisonment for those who organize or lead a group of three or more persons to incite violence or hate via print media, radio, television, computer system or networks, during public gatherings or in other way against certain categories or groups. Under the law, libel and insult also represent criminal acts and are punishable by a fine. Insults shall not be criminally prosecuted if committed in the conduct of journalism, in a public interest, or for other justifiable reasons. Although the laws and recent Constitutional Court decisions technically impose restrictions on symbolic speech considered “hate speech,” including the use of Nazi and (the World War II [fascist, pro-Nazi] regime) Ustasha-era symbols and slogans, NGOs and advocacy groups complained that enforcement of those provisions remained inadequate, and that courts’ jurisprudence remained inconsistent.

Freedom of Expression for Members of the Press and Other Media, Including Online Media: Restrictions on material deemed hate speech apply to print and broadcast media. On October 1, parliament amended the Electronic Media Law to make providers of electronic publications responsible for the entire content published including user-generated content only if providers fail to register a user or fail to warn users in a clear and visible way concerning the rules regarding online comments. The amendments regulate the rights, obligations, and responsibilities of legal and natural persons that provide audio or audiovisual media services and services related to electronic publications and video platforms, transposing several EU directives into national legislation. The amendments also define mechanisms to determine jurisdiction over various providers of media services and increases transparency in the publication of information outlining the ownership structure of media service providers. The law was amended in cooperation with the Croatian Journalists’ Association (CJA) and the Association of Newspaper Publishers of the Croatian Employers’ Association.

The law bans inciting violence or hatred against groups or a member of a group on grounds of race, gender, language, religion, political or other beliefs, national or social origin, property status, trade union membership, education, social status, marital or family status, age, health, disability, genetic inheritance, gender identity, expression or sexual orientation, and anti-Semitism and xenophobia, ideas of fascist, Nazi, communist and other totalitarian regimes.

Violence and Harassment: NGOs reported intimidation and threats, especially online threats, against journalists. Organizations including the CJA, the European Federation of Journalists (EFJ), the Union of Croatian Journalists (SNH), and the Croatian Political Science Association condemned verbal attacks on the country’s media and called for more government engagement to address the issue. In May the EFJ joined their affiliates in the country, including the SNH and the CJA, in condemning President Milanovic’s calling journalists who work for public broadcaster Croatian Radio and Television (HRT) “tricksters,” “mercenaries,” and “an embarrassment to the country.” The EFJ also condemned remarks regarding media by Prime Minister Andrej Plenkovic.

Censorship or Content Restrictions: Members of the press reported practicing self-censorship due to fear of online harassment, lawsuits, upsetting politically connected individuals, or possible adverse employment effects for covering certain topics.

Libel/Slander Laws: The law criminalizes libel, but no criminal penalties were imposed. The country has both criminal and civil laws against libel. According to results of an annual survey conducted by the CJA, at least 924 lawsuits were filed against journalists and media, with claimed damages of almost 79 million kuna ($13 million). Of the 924 lawsuits, 892 were for civil alleged violations of honor and reputation against publishers, editors, and journalists, while 32 were criminal lawsuits. The CJA was defending itself against three active lawsuits. The HRT had active lawsuits against 36 of its own journalists, including the president of the CJA, Hrvoje Zovko, and the president of the CJA branch at the HRT, Sanja Mikleusevic Pavic.

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

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

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

Not applicable.

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

Access to Asylum: The law provides for the granting of refugee status and subsidiary protection status, and the government has established a system for providing protection to refugees and asylum seekers. Despite restrictions caused by the COVID-19 pandemic, the Ministry of the Interior reported it continued to work with asylum seekers and persons granted international protection, and it provided access to the asylum procedure in accordance with epidemiological measures and recommendations adopted by the European Commission.

Abuse of Migrants and Refugees: As in previous years, national and international NGO reports accused the country’s border police of violent pushbacks and abuse of irregular migrants.

The television network RTL released news footage on October 6 appearing to show masked men in Croatia forcefully pushing back migrants into Bosnia and Herzegovina (BiH). The footage was taken in collaboration with a consortium of European journalists associated with Lighthouse Reports as part of an eight-month investigation. The video showed masked men in vests and wielding batons used by Croatia’s riot police. Head of the Border Police Zoran Niceno said the Police Directorate formed a task force to investigate the incident, which reportedly took place in June, and emphasized that such physical violence had no place in police procedures, a sentiment echoed by Minister of Interior Davor Bozinovic. Prime Minister Plenkovic stressed the country’s duty to protect the border and to prevent illegal migration but noted everything must be in accordance with the law. Police Director General Nikola Milina said on October 8 that authorities suspended three police officers in connection with the incident and added that police were in close contact with the state prosecutors and the country’s Independent Monitoring Mechanism.

In the first half of the year, the NGO Danish Refugee Council alleged there were 3,629 pushbacks from Croatia to BiH, and 144 pushbacks from Croatia to Serbia, as well as 275 chain pushbacks from Slovenia, Italy, and Austria, through Croatia, to BiH. A significant increase in the number of alleged pushbacks from Croatia was recorded in the second quarter and mostly involved Afghan, Pakistani, Syrian, and Moroccan nationals. During the same period, the Croatian NGO Center for Peace Studies, an advocate for the rights of migrants, stated it received 224 inquiries from 178 groups of potential asylum seekers (including 82 that included children) and other migrants, involving at least 658 persons, requesting legal advice or other assistance.

In April media reported that an Afghan woman alleged that a border police officer sexually assaulted her, holding her at knifepoint and forcing her to strip during a search of a group of irregular migrants on the border with BiH. The Guardian newspaper reported the woman said she tried to cross the Croatian border with a group of four others, including two children, but they were stopped by an officer who allegedly pointed a rifle at them, and tore up their papers when they requested asylum. The European Commission described the reported incident as a “serious alleged criminal action” and urged Croatian authorities “to thoroughly investigate all allegations and follow up with relevant actions.” In response, the Ministry of Interior stated police would investigate the allegations but that based on preliminary checks there were no recorded dealings with “females from the population of illegal migrants” on the day in question.

On June 8, the Interior Ministry concluded an agreement to establish an Independent Mechanism for Monitoring the Conduct of Police Officers of the Ministry of the Interior in the Field of Illegal Migration and International Protection (the Mechanism). According to one of the implementers, the agreement was concluded with professional associations in medical and legal sciences, national societies dealing with humanitarian aid and protection, associations for the protection of human rights and promotion of a culture of dialogue, and prominent scholars dealing with the protection of human rights of migrants and seekers of international protection, who will conduct the monitoring.

The purpose of the Mechanism is to monitor the treatment of irregular migrants and seekers of international protection through announced and unannounced observations in police stations, shelters for foreigners, and announced visits to “other appropriate places” such as Croatia’s green border with BiH. In addition to individual observations, the Mechanism has the right to inspect final case files on complaints regarding the conduct of police officers. Reports on observations and other materials and documentation on the work of the Mechanism shall be consolidated in a semiannual and final report, which shall be made public. Some NGOs criticized the Mechanism for a lack of public information on the details of the agreement and insufficient oversight at the green border where they alleged most human rights violations occurred.

Durable Solutions: The government continued to participate in a joint regional housing program (RHP) with the governments of BiH, Montenegro, and Serbia. The RHP aimed to contribute to the resolution of the protracted displacement situation of the most vulnerable refugees and displaced persons following the 1991-95 conflict. As of September the RHP increased the number of assisted families and provided housing to 332 families (786 individuals) in the country.

In March the country offered to participate in the EU’s scheme to relocate unaccompanied minors from overcrowded reception centers in Greece. The Ministry of Interior reported 19 Afghan nationals affiliated with the EU delegation in Kabul arrived in Zagreb for resettlement on August 28. The group included three families (including 10 children), and one single person.

Temporary Protection: The country also has a mechanism for subsidiary protection for those who do not qualify for asylum, but no one was granted subsidiary protection during the year.

According to UNHCR, at the end of December 2020, an estimated 2,900 stateless persons lived in the county. Many of these persons were Roma who lacked citizenship documents. The Ministry of the Interior is responsible for granting stateless individuals who fulfill legal requirements residency and eventual citizenship.

Cuba

Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties

The constitution provides for freedom of expression, including for members of the press and other media, on the condition that the expression “conforms to the aims of socialist society.” The law bans criticism of government leaders and distribution of antigovernment propaganda, with penalties ranging from three months to 15 years in prison. On August 17, the government imposed a new law restricting online speech and dissent. Decree 35, enacted in response to the widespread July 11 antigovernment protests, penalizes categories of internet activity determined to be critical of the government and provides criminal penalties for violations. Network providers were obligated to report any such activity to the new Office of Security for Computer Networks. According to the NGO Proyecto Inventario, the government utilized another decree that prohibits the online publication of information contrary to the “social interest, morals, [and] good manners,” to target, temporarily detain, fine, and sometimes confiscate the telephones of 14 citizens, journalists, and activists. In addition to restricting access to the internet, authorities prohibited access to specific social media platforms, including WhatsApp, Facebook, Instagram, and Telegram.

Freedom of Expression: The government did not tolerate public criticism of government officials or programs, and it limited public debate of topics considered politically sensitive. Several laws criminalize aspects of freedom of expression, such as Decree 349, which empowers the Ministry of Culture to regulate all artistic and cultural activity. Rather than enforce these laws, police typically used other pretexts to harass and arrest persons exercising freedom of expression.

On January 28, security officials violently arrested more than 20 activists from the 27N movement, a collection of artists advocating for freedom of expression. Vice Minister of Culture Fernando Rojas had invited three 27N members, including artist Camila Lobon, to a private meeting that day under the guise of discussing artistic freedom. Prior to the meeting, the government arrested several other 27N activists on their way to a separate gathering. When Lobon and others gathered in protest in front of the Ministry of Culture, Rojas confronted the group, punching independent journalist Mauricio Mendoza, after which Ministry of Culture bureaucrats began attacking the protesters. Security officials violently arrested the protesters, breaking activist Alfredo Martinez’s finger. On a bus in transit to the police station, three security officials assaulted Lobon when she refused to surrender her cell phone. Another security official punched artist Celia Gonzalez for verbally protesting her detention. The activists were released within 24 hours, but their phones were returned with all data erased. The next day state media released a half-hour news program on the incident, attempting to defame the activists and independent journalists by alleging they went to the Ministry of Culture with the intention of provoking government employees. Among the individuals who protested these restrictive laws was Luis Manuel Otero Alcantara, an internationally recognized artist and leader of the San Isidro Movement, an organization promoting greater respect for civil rights and freedoms, especially for freedom of expression, as well as artistic rights. Otero Alcantara, who appeared in the video for the Latin Grammy Award-winning song “Patria y Vida” that became an anthem of the July 11 protests, had been arrested dozens of times previously and either detained or placed under house arrest.

On May 2, state security forces detained Otero Alcantara at his home, where he was on a hunger strike, and held him for more than four weeks before releasing him on May 31, under permanent surveillance. Police arrested him again during the July 11 protests and held him in the maximum-security prison in Guanajay, where he remained at year’s end. He went on a hunger strike again from September 27 to October 14 and then contracted COVID-19.

On May 18, state security forces arbitrarily detained rapper, fellow San Isidro activist, and “Patria y Vida” performer Maykel “Osorbo” Castillo. As of December, he remained in pretrial detention in Pinar del Rio, where he undertook a hunger and thirst strike and was kept in isolation. When Castillo publicly dedicated his Grammy to the Cuban people, prison officials responded by restricting his telephone calls for 30 days. They increased the restriction to 90 days after Castillo signed “Patria y Vida” under his name on the disciplinary measure, a document that prisoners are obliged to sign acknowledging they were punished.

State security regularly harassed the organizers of independent debates on cultural, political, economic, and social topics to force them to stop discussing matters deemed controversial. The organizers reported assaults by state security, video surveillance installed outside of venues, and detention of panelists and guests on the days they were expected to appear.

Government workers reported being fired, demoted, or censured for expressing dissenting opinions or for affiliating with independent organizations.

Alexander Jesus Figueredo Izaguirre was detained with others during the July 11 protests in Bayamo, Granma. A physician of 15 years, he was fired in May 2020 and no longer permitted to practice medicine for his social media postings calling for medicine and personnel, rather than restrictive measures alone, to combat COVID-19. Gremio Medico Cubano Libre, an organization dedicated to fighting for doctors’ rights to practice medicine without interference of politics or doctrine, reported that he was one of 11 doctors the regime punished.

Religious groups reported increased restrictions on expressing their opinions during sermons and at religious gatherings, with authorities sometimes using COVID-19 restrictions to prevent persons from worshipping. Most members of the clergy exercised self-censorship. Religious leaders in some cases criticized the government, its policies, and the country’s leadership without reprisals. Other religious groups, particularly those not officially state sanctioned, reported harassment and destruction of houses of worship. The Communist Party’s (PCC) Office of Religious Affairs directed government policies against religious groups.

Freedom of Expression for Members of the Press and Other Media, Including Online Media: The government or the PCC directly owned all print and broadcast media outlets and virtually all widely available sources of information. News and information programming were generally uniform across all government-controlled outlets. The government controlled all printing presses and nearly all publications. The party censored public screenings and performances. The government limited the importation of printed materials.

Foreign correspondents had limited access to and often were denied interviews with government officials. Foreign correspondents struggled to gather facts and reliable data for stories. The government harassed and denied access to correspondents who reported stories deemed critical of the government. On November 14, the day before the opposition had prepared to stage announced protests, the government revoked the media credentials of five journalists affiliated with the Spanish media agency EFE. Following engagement from the Spanish government, two of the journalists had their credentials reinstated the same day. As a result of self-censorship and lack of access, many foreign journalists rarely published stories on human rights violations while inside the country. Despite meeting government vetting requirements, journalists belonging to state media institutions who reported on sensitive subjects did so at personal risk, and the government barred them from working for unofficial media outlets in addition to their official duties. The government harassed and threatened any independent citizen journalists who reported on human rights violations.

On April 30, plainclothes security forces arrested Esteban Lazaro Rodriguez Lopez, an independent citizen journalist, and others during a peaceful demonstration in Havana. Rodriguez attempted to visit Otero Alcantara at his home, where the artist had gone on a hunger and thirst strike for several days, when military forces blocked access. Rodriguez reportedly sat on the ground and linked arms with other demonstrators in a nearby park, and agents arrested them by force. Habeas corpus appeals failed, and Rodriguez Lopez remained in detention as of November.

Security forces repeatedly threatened, detained, and harassed 22-year-old YouTuber Ruhama Fernandez for criticizing the government in online discussions of social and political issues. On October 24, when she traveled to Florida to visit her parents, security forces escorted Fernandez to her plane; she stated upon arrival in Florida that the government forced her to leave the country.

Violence and Harassment: The government did not recognize independent journalism, and independent journalists frequently faced government harassment, including detention and physical abuse. Most detentions were of independent journalists who filmed arrests and harassment of activists or otherwise attempted to cover politically sensitive topics. Community members and journalists for the Cuban Institute for Freedom of Expression and of the Press reported increased repression after President Diaz-Canel took office. Independent reporters experienced harassment, violence, intimidation, aggression, and censorship, and several were confined to their homes or prevented from traveling abroad. On July 11, police beat Associated Press reporter Ramon Espinosa while he was covering the protests in Havana. Photographs documented the journalist bleeding from his face. Security forces prevented dozens of independent journalists from leaving their homes on November 15 to keep them from covering planned civic marches called for that day. Many reported the state telecom provider cut off service to their cell phones.

Censorship or Content Restrictions: The law prohibits distribution of printed materials considered “counterrevolutionary” or critical of the government. Foreign newspapers and magazines were generally unavailable outside of tourist areas. Distribution of material with political content – interpreted broadly to include the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, foreign newspapers, and independent information on public health – was not allowed, and possession of these materials sometimes resulted in harassment and detention. Government officials also confiscated or destroyed cameras and cell phones of individuals to prevent them from distributing photographs and videos deemed objectionable.

The government sometimes barred independent libraries from receiving materials from abroad and seized materials donated by foreign governments, religious organizations, and individuals.

Libel/Slander Laws: The government used defamation of character law to arrest or detain individuals critical of the country’s leadership. Authorities frequently arrested and charged persons with the vague crime of “contempt of authority.”

The law allows for freedom of assembly and association. The government, however, restricted these freedoms in practice. The government routinely blocked any attempts to assemble that it opposed, such as by repressing peaceful gatherings and denying requests to hold marches for the release of political prisoners.

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

There were increased restrictions on freedom of movement within the country, foreign travel, and migration with the right of return. The government controlled internal migration from rural areas to Havana, sometimes arresting and expelling persons from Havana if authorities discovered their national identity card listed them as living in another city. These policies disproportionally affected Afro-Cubans from the eastern region of the country who resided in large numbers in marginalized communities in Havana without residential permits. The government also barred some citizens and persons of Cuban descent living abroad from entering the country, apparently on grounds that these visitors were critical of the government, had “abandoned” postings abroad as low-paid medical doctors, or had defected when they were abroad as athletes. The government prevented many Cubans who normally were residents in another country but who were in Cuba during the COVID-19 pandemic from leaving the country.

When former government employees emigrated from the country, sometimes their family members lost public benefits or were denied passports to travel and join their family members abroad. The law provides for imprisonment of up to three years or a moderate fine for first-time “rafters” (those who attempted to depart the country clandestinely, commonly using homemade vessels), although these attempts were less frequent than in previous years. Most persons caught attempting unauthorized departures via sea were detained briefly under quarantine as a precaution against COVID-19. In the case of military or police defectors or those traveling with children, the punishment could be more severe.

Under the terms of the 1994-95 U.S.-Cuba migration accords, the government agreed not to prosecute or retaliate against migrants returned from international or U.S. waters or from the Guantanamo U.S. Naval Station after attempting to emigrate illegally, assuming they had not committed a separate criminal offense.

In-country Movement: Although the constitution allows all citizens to travel anywhere within the country, establishing residence in Havana was restricted. The local housing commission and provincial government authorities must authorize any change of residence. The government may fine persons living in a location without authorization and send them back to their legally authorized residence. There were reports that authorities provided only limited social services to illegal Havana residents and at times restricted food purchases to a person’s official neighborhood of residence. Police threatened to prosecute anyone who returned to Havana after expulsion. Intraprovincial travel was also generally highly restricted.

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

Foreign Travel: The government continued to require persons from several professional and social categories to obtain permission to emigrate. The affected persons included highly specialized medical personnel; military or security personnel; many government officials, including academics; and many former political prisoners and human rights activists.

The government prohibited human rights activists, religious leaders, independent journalists, and artists from traveling outside the country to attend events related to human rights and democracy. The government used arbitrary or spurious reasons to deny permission for human rights activists and religious leaders to leave the country to participate in workshops, events, or training programs. Activists reported a significant increase in interrogations and confiscations at the airport when arriving from abroad.

The government arbitrarily designated some persons as regulados (regulated persons), meaning the government either prohibited them from receiving a passport or from leaving the country. The policy did not appear to be supported by a legal framework, and officials denied such a policy existed, declaring the law allows for freedom of movement. Because the government did not acknowledge that persons were prevented from leaving, those subject to the policy were left without any recourse for an appeal. The tactic served not only to restrict the movement of citizens but also their freedom of expression, because it was routinely applied when individuals attempted to travel to speak at conferences.

Exile: The government continued to pressure activists into exile to avoid extreme prison sentences or threats to their family, which was a growing trend.

On June 26, political dissident artist Hamlet Lavastida was arrested after returning from Poland where he had put on an art exhibit that was critical of the government. Authorities threatened him with a 15- to 20-year sentence for “fomenting rebellion” for an idea he had allegedly shared via private chat with an activist group, but never executed, to stamp symbols related to activist movements on Cuban money. As interrogations became more intense after the July 11 protests, and after three months in prison and believing he would not receive a fair trial, Lavastida agreed to go into exile in Poland with his partner, writer and activist Katherine Bisquet. After authorities released him from a state security facility, 20 agents escorted the couple directly to the airport, not allowing either of them to say goodbye to their families. Authorities told Lavastida that he would be arrested and sentenced to a long prison term if he continued to criticize the government and attempted to return.

Citizenship: The government regularly rendered citizens de facto stateless persons when it withheld consular services from employees and their families as punishment for abandoning a foreign work mission. There were reports of Cubans residing abroad who were refused a passport or other proof of identity or citizenship, including for direct return to Cuba. Children born abroad to Cuban citizens in these circumstances were unable to obtain recognition of their Cuban citizenship. Consular documents explicitly stated employees who were considered deserters for leaving their jobs, such as medical mission personnel, would be barred from reentering the country and reuniting with their family for eight years. Any citizen residing outside of the country for more than 24 months may lose full citizenship rights.

Not applicable.

The government allegedly cooperated with the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) and other humanitarian organizations in providing protection and assistance to refugees, returning refugees, asylum seekers, stateless persons, and other persons of concern. Information about the extent of that cooperation was not publicly available.

Access to Asylum: The constitution provides for the granting of asylum to individuals persecuted for their principles or actions involving several specified political grounds. The government has no formal mechanism, however, to process asylum for foreign nationals and is not a signatory to the 1951 Refugee Convention.

Temporary Protection: On the small number of cases of persons seeking asylum, the government worked with UNHCR to provide protection and assistance pending third-country resettlement.

Cyprus

Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties

The law provides for freedom of expression, including for the press and other media, 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 media.

Freedom of Expression: The law criminalizes incitement to hatred and violence based on race, color, religion, genealogical origin, national or ethnic origin, or sexual orientation. Such acts are punishable by up to five years’ imprisonment, a fine of up to 10,000 euros ($11,500), or both.

Freedom of Expression for Members of the Press and Other Media, Including Online Media: Independent media were active and expressed a wide variety of views without restriction.

The law penalizes the use of geographical names and toponyms in the country other than those included in the gazetteer the government presented at the 1987 Fifth UN Conference on the Standardization of Geographical Names. According to the law, anyone who publishes, imports, distributes, or sells maps, books, or any other documents in print or digital form that contain geographical names and toponyms on the island other than those permitted, commits an offense punishable by up to three years in prison, a fine of up to 50,000 euros ($57,500), or both.

The constitution and law provide for the freedoms of peaceful assembly and association, and the government generally respected the freedom of assembly but limited freedom of association.

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

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

In-country Movement: The government imposed restrictions on some movements through crossing points to the areas administered by Turkish Cypriots to prevent the spread of COVID-19, and these restrictions were applied equally to all. Buffer Zone checkpoints reopened on June 4 with a tiered testing procedure for crossing, which was the first time routine crossings had been possible since the checkpoints closed in March 2020 at the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic. Media outlets reported more than 1.2 million crossings during the year.

Prior to the COVID-19 pandemic, the government did not restrict Greek Cypriots from traveling to the area administered by Turkish Cypriots, but the Ministry of Foreign Affairs warned foreigners against spending the night at Greek Cypriot-owned properties occupied by Turkish Cypriots or Turkish citizens, gambling in the area administered by Turkish Cypriots, or buying or developing property there. Authorities at ports of entry occasionally denied admission to nonresidents who listed hotels in the area administered by Turkish Cypriots as their intended place of residence during their visit. NGOs reported the government prohibited recognized non-Cypriot refugees with temporary residence status and asylum seekers from crossing to the area administered by Turkish Cypriots, asserting it could not assure their safety in an area not under its control. Local media reported police officers at the crossing points occasionally harassed Greek Cypriots returning from the area under Turkish Cypriot administration.

The government considers Greek Cypriots displaced as a result of the 1974 division of the island to be refugees, although they fall under the UN definition of internally displaced persons (IDPs). As of December 2020, there were 221,466 such individuals and their descendants. Assistance programs for IDPs were conducted by the UN Peacekeeping Force in Cyprus and other UN agencies. Depending on their income, IDPs were eligible for financial assistance from the government. They were resettled, had access to humanitarian organizations, and were not subject to attack, targeting, or mandatory return under dangerous conditions.

UNHCR and other humanitarian organizations reported difficulty in cooperating with the government to provide protection and assistance to refugees and asylum seekers.

Access to Asylum: The law provides for granting asylum or refugee status, and the government has established a system for providing protection to refugees. Three Cameroonians became stranded in the buffer zone on May 24 after attempting to cross into Republic of Cyprus-controlled territory from the area under Turkish Cypriot administration. According to UNHCR and NGOs, police at the Ledra Palace crossing, where the Cameroonians presented themselves to apply for asylum, received instructions from the government not to accept their applications. In October, one of the three Cameroonians appeared at Pournara reception center and applied for asylum. The other two remained in the buffer zone until early December, continuing to live in tents and subsisting on food provided by UNHCR and diplomatic missions. During a December 2-4 visit, Pope Francis arranged to take 50 asylum seekers, including the two Cameroonians, to Italy under a special humanitarian program. They travelled to the Vatican on December 16. Apart from this case, NGOs did not receive complaints that other asylum seekers were denied access to the asylum process.

Due to a significant increase in asylum claims in recent years and long delays in the examination of applications, 18,322 asylum claims were pending as of November 30 – approximately the same number as at the end of 2020. The Asylum Service, the ombudsman, UNHCR, and NGOs reported some accelerated examination of asylum applications, but the backlog remained, and delays persisted in the appeals process. The government, UNHCR, and NGOs agreed that a significant proportion of registered asylum claims were not credible. In 2019 the government established an International Protection Administrative Court (IPAC) to streamline the examination of asylum appeals. NGOs reported the establishment of IPAC was an improvement of the previous system and that its decisions were fair, but the process was slow and a backlog of 7,000 appeals pending adjudication remained at year’s end.

Safe Country of Origin/Transit: In May 2020 the government published a list of 21 safe countries of return with the aim of examining all applications from safe countries under accelerated procedures. As of August the list included 28 countries: Albania, Algeria, Armenia, Bangladesh, Benin, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Egypt, Georgia, Ghana, India, Kenya, Moldova, Mongolia, Montenegro, Morocco, Nepal, Nigeria, North Macedonia, Pakistan, Philippines, Senegal, Serbia, Sri Lanka, The Gambia, Togo, Tunisia, Ukraine (not including the areas of Crimea, Luhansk, and Donetsk), and Vietnam.

Refoulement: Media outlets, NGOs, and UNHCR reported that authorities continued pushing back boats carrying irregular migrants, including potential asylum seekers. In a March 10 letter to Minister of Interior Nouris, the Council of Europe Human Rights Commissioner stated she had “received a number of reports indicating that boats carrying migrants, including persons who may be in need of international protection, have been prevented from disembarking in Cyprus, and summarily returned, sometimes violently, without any possibility for their passengers to access the asylum procedure.” From January to August authorities pushed back to Lebanon a total of five boats carrying Syrians. UNHCR and NGOs reported many of these individuals faced “chain” refoulement, as they were subsequently deported from Lebanon back to Syria. In a December 30 Report of the Secretary-General on the United Nations operation in Cyprus, Secretary-General Guterres confirmed that “pushbacks at sea increased during the reporting period,” July-December, “resulting in eight confirmed cases of collective refoulement and one person missing at sea.” NGOs and media outlets reported that irregular migrants, including women and children, were left at sea between two to five days, in high temperatures and with limited supplies. On May 16, authorities pushed back to Lebanon a boat carrying 56 individuals. On June 25, they pushed back a boat with 58 persons, and on July 25, pushed back a boat with 85 persons.

Maritime Police intercepted two boats carrying irregular migrants on August 22. UNHCR and NGO contacts reported both vessels departed from Lebanon and all individuals on board were Syrian nationals. The first boat, reportedly intercepted seven miles off Cape Greco, carried 69 persons. A second, carrying 19, was intercepted near Paralimni. According to media reports, five occupants of the boat jumped overboard as the Maritime Police approached. Four were rescued but a fifth, wearing a mask, flippers, and life preserver, reportedly swam to shore, where authorities were unable to locate him. UNHCR and NGO contacts reported a pregnant woman was separated from her family and transferred to shore, where she spent the night on a wooden bench. Authorities took her and an ill man to the hospital the next day, but chartered a vessel, and, under police escort, returned 85 of the 88 individuals to Lebanon, including the pregnant woman’s husband and two young children. The woman and her newborn were later transferred to Kofinou reception center for asylum seekers. NGOs, UNHCR, and the leader of the main opposition party made public statements requesting the government allow her family to join her. UNHCR stated the government was bound by EU law and international convention to abide by the principle of family unity.

Abuse of Migrants and Refugees: NGOs reported that some Social Welfare Service officers and police subjected asylum seekers to racist verbal abuse. The NGO KISA reported six cases of attacks against asylum seekers by security personnel at Social Welfare Services premises. On November 2, KISA made a formal complaint to the Independent Authority Investigating Complaints Against the Police that in all six cases, police failed to investigate, and in one case, police used excessive force against the complainants. On August 11, police officers of the Crime Investigation Unit were called to resolve an altercation between two Nigerian female asylum seekers and a local couple that had rented an apartment to them. The couple reportedly refused to allow them to move in after payment of two-months’ rent. The asylum seekers reported one police officer physically attacked them, grabbing one by the hair and pulling her out of the apartment. The same officer reportedly returned and grabbed the other woman by the neck, kicked her, and shouted “I will kill you.”

In an incident at the Lakatamia Welfare Office on October 18, KISA reported an asylum seeker waiting for several hours with her 11-month-old child for a scheduled appointment with her case worker was pushed and grabbed by the neck by a security guard. The asylum seeker told KISA she recorded the incident on her mobile phone and went to Lakatamia Police station to file a report. After seeing the video, police reportedly told her she was responsible because she touched the security guard. In a separate incident at the same welfare office, KISA reported a security guard used excessive force against a female asylum seeker on October 20. Police responded to the scene in response to a call from the asylum seeker and called an ambulance to take her to the hospital to treat her fractured leg. The asylum seeker told KISA that police at the scene refused to take her report, citing a need for a translator although they spoke to her in English. The government’s policy was to minimize the length of detention of irregular migrants. If unable to execute a court-ordered deportation order within 18 months, the government is required to release detained migrants and provide a temporary residency permit. An NGO reported immigration authorities pressured migrant detainees to sign a voluntary return consent by threatening them with indefinite detention. The same NGO reported that an asylum seeker from Kazakhstan was detained in 2019 for reasons of national security and continued to remain in detention at year’s end, despite Kazakh authorities withdrawing the Interpol notice that led to his arrest.

Freedom of Movement: The government restricted the exit of asylum seekers from the Pournara Migrant Reception Center in Kokkinotrimithia until March 2 as part of the country-wide COVID-19 lockdown. The restrictions resulted in severe overcrowding, with the center at times reaching nearly double its 1,000-person capacity.

NGOs and the ombudsman reported improved conditions for asylum seekers residing in the main compound of Pournara reception center. Increased arrivals and slow processing of applicants resulted in severe overcrowding of the center most of the year (see section 1.d., Arrest Procedures and Treatment of Detainees). The Cyprus Refugee Council reported that the average stay at the center for processing was 30 days. The ombudsman reported that many improvements were implemented during the year, including the lifting of exit restrictions and the transfer of residents with vulnerabilities to accommodations outside the center. CARITAS reported that vulnerable asylum seekers transferred from Pournara to Social Welfare Services accommodations before their applications were processed were often unable to return to the center to complete their asylum process because of inadequate public transportation links to the center. As a result, many of these individuals did not have access to benefits for months.

Employment: Authorities allowed asylum seekers whose cases were awaiting adjudication to work after a one-month waiting period. In October the Ministry of Labor, pressured by the Cyprus Chamber of Commerce and employers struggling with severe labor shortages, amended the process for employment of asylum seekers to allow employers to hire asylum seekers immediately, without waiting for approval of the contract by authorities. This effectively accelerated the permit process for the employment of asylum seekers from four to six months to one day, overcoming a significant hurdle that previously discouraged employers from employing asylum seekers.

During the year the Ministry of Labor and Social Insurance received 3,279 applications for asylum seeker labor contracts, and by year’s end had approved 3,199 applications and rejected 80.

Access to Basic Services: Recognized refugees had access to public services such as education, health care, and the courts. The only permanent reception center for asylum seekers, located in Kofinou, remained full, and the majority of asylum seekers lacked proper housing. UNHCR and local NGOs continued to report a high number of asylum seekers faced homelessness and destitution. They reported that many asylum seekers slept in outdoor parks or temporarily stayed with friends, relatives, or strangers, often sleeping on floors without adequate access to hygiene facilities. The growing number of new arrivals, the limited supply of affordable accommodations, delays in the provision of government financial support, and the backlog in the examination of asylum applications increased the risk of homelessness, according to local NGOs.

Emergency measures continued for part of the year to contain the spread of COVID-19, and included restrictions on freedom of movement, social distancing requirements, and limits on gatherings, as well as the closure of public spaces and certain businesses, government institutions, and facilities. NGOs and UNHCR reported that these actions had personal, public, economic, and social implications on the human rights and living conditions of refugees and asylum seekers. Primarily these included prolonged detention at overcrowded government reception facilities in poor conditions (see “Freedom of Movement” above); the loss of jobs and livelihoods (see “Employment” above); restrictions in access to healthcare; adverse mental health impacts; delays in social welfare payments; a lack of access to technology, education, and personal development opportunities; delays in asylum and migration procedures; and limited access to the legal and judicial systems.

NGOs reported long delays and inconsistencies in the delivery of welfare benefits to asylum seekers and payment of rent to landlords that in some cases led to evictions. The ombudsman reported that several complaints concerning the delivery of welfare support were resolved after her office mediated with the Ministry of Labor. An NGO reported exceptionally long delays of more than six months in Limassol and Paphos districts that left beneficiaries with only an emergency stipend of 100 euros ($115) per month. In March 2020 the Council of Ministers abolished the coupon system for welfare support provided to asylum seekers and replaced it with direct payments. In October 2020 the Social Welfare Services began printing and mailing benefit checks to asylum seekers or paying welfare benefits directly into beneficiaries’ accounts, in accordance with the new system. NGOs continued to complain that many asylum seekers lacked reliable, stable mailing addresses and the ability to cash checks, and noted that banks were unwilling or reluctant to open accounts for asylum seekers. Homeless asylum seekers faced difficulties in opening a bank account without a valid address.

Asylum seekers who refused an available job could be denied state benefits. The Ministry of Labor reported that it examined the reasons an asylum seeker declined a job offer, and if found valid, benefits remained in place.

Durable Solutions: The government offered recognized refugee status to 249 asylum seekers residing in the country and in collaboration with the International Organization of Migration assisted 274 migrants in their voluntary return to their homes.

Temporary Protection: The government also provided temporary protection, called subsidiary protection, to individuals who might not qualify as refugees. The government provided subsidiary protection status for citizens or residents of Syria who entered the country legally but only some who entered illegally. All persons seeking such status were required to provide a Syrian passport or other identification. Authorities granted subsidiary protection to 1,866 persons during the year.

Czech Republic

Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties

The law provides for freedom of expression, including for the press and other media, 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 media. The law provides for some limitations to this freedom, including in cases of hate speech, Holocaust denial, and denial of Communist-era crimes.

Freedom of Expression: The law prohibits speech that incites hatred based on race, religion, class, nationality, or other group affiliation. It also limits the denial of the Holocaust and Communist-era crimes. Individuals who are found guilty can serve up to three years in prison. The law is also applied to online, print, and broadcast media.

Freedom of Expression for Members of the Press and Other Media, Including Online Media: Independent media were active and expressed a wide variety of views. President Zeman, his spokesperson, and political parties on the far right and left publicly alleged bias in both public and private media outlets. The Freedom and Direct Democracy Party, the Communist Party, and to a lesser degree the governing ANO party openly sought to appoint politically polarizing figures to public media supervisory boards, raising concerns they were attempting to violate the political neutrality of these institutions. Observers raised concerns over the impartiality of some of the new members based on their public remarks skeptical of the need for independent media. In September parliament dismissed a member of the public media supervisory board due to her active involvement and candidacy for a political movement in the October elections.

The law prohibits elected officials from controlling media properties while in office. Prime Minister Babis, whose company Agrofert owned two prominent newspapers and other media outlets, placed control of these assets into trust funds in 2017. Observers maintained that this measure did not insulate media from the influence of the government. In September the municipal government with jurisdiction over Prime Minister Babis due to his place of residence found him in breach of the media ownership law and fined him 250,000 crowns ($11,300). The ruling was the result of the second administrative complaint filed by Transparency International in January, which alleged that Babis controlled media assets despite their placement into trusts. The regional government office, which in 2019 overturned a similar ruling based on Transparency International’s first complaint in 2018, annulled the decision of the municipal office on the grounds that the issue was addressed two years previously.

The constitution and law provide for the freedoms of peaceful assembly and association, and the government generally respected these rights. The government restricted freedoms of peaceful assembly or association in connection to COVID-19 pandemic under the state of emergency.

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

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

From October 2020 to April, the government declared a state of emergency due to the COVID-19 pandemic, with restrictions on freedom of movement inside the country and limitations on entry into the country.

Not applicable.

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

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

Some NGOs claimed statements from political leaders discouraged refugees from seeking asylum. The leaders, including Prime Minister Andrej Babis and Interior Minister Jan Hamacek, stated numerous times that asylum seekers did not wish to settle in the country and that the country did not accept “illegal migrants.” Babis stated in June that he “does not want a Muslim Europe.”

An NGO claimed that persons detained at the Prague airport from Syria, the Palestinian Territories, Afghanistan, and Turkey were denied entry into the country without being advised of their legal options and access to asylum. The NGO reported that the information was based on the reports by the passengers’ contacts or relatives. The Ministry of the Interior reported that the foreigners’ police provide each person seeking international protection at the airport (the country’s only non-EU point of entry) with an information leaflet available in several languages. The checkpoint at the airport through which all non-Schengen arrivals must pass also contains a UNHCR poster informing passengers of the right to seek international protection.

NGOs have reported concerns that the Interior Ministry would stop distributing grants for legal assistance to migrants under the European Commission’s Asylum, Migration, and Integration Fund, which constitute a large part of one NGO’s budget. The ministry would instead fund such assistance by awarding funds from its budget to private law firms. Negotiations regarding the extension of the fund program continued as of October.

The law governing appeals from asylum denials was amended, effective August 2. Under the new law, according to immigration attorneys, persons coming from “safe” countries must leave the country while awaiting the outcome of an appeal of initial asylum application denial absent a court order allowing them to stay; persons whose appeals are denied while waiting in the airport cannot file a second appeal to the Supreme Administrative Court, which will generally no longer entertain appeals beyond the second one.

Under the law, the Ministry of Interior must decide on asylum cases within six months if the applicant has submitted all required documents. According to the ministry, during the first eight months of the year the average length of asylum procedures was 75 days. The length of asylum procedures in more than 90 percent of cases met all legal requirements. In the remaining cases, asylum applicants received information about new deadlines for completing the asylum process in compliance with the law. Observers criticized the length and substance of some decisions.

The Interior Ministry reported that as of June all the remaining Chinese Christian asylum seekers, who originally applied for asylum in 2016 based on religious persecution and whose cases went through appeals and remands, received subsidiary protection. The ministry reported that some of the original applicants were no longer in the country, although an NGO reported that the applicants they represent have ceased communications with the government for fear of reprisals from the People’s Republic of China.

Safe Country of Origin/Transit: The country generally adheres to the Dublin III Regulation, which calls for authorities to return asylum seekers to the first EU country they entered. The Ministry of Interior accepted asylum applications from individuals arriving from or through countries deemed to be safe, as defined by law. Authorities reviewed all cases individually, but usually did not grant international protection to these applicants. There are 24 countries on the list of safe countries.

Abuse of Migrants and Refugees: The ombudsman visited detention centers for asylum seekers at the end of 2020 and concluded that individual rights were significantly restricted and the measures imposed to prevent the spread of COVID-19 were excessive. Neither women nor other at-risk groups were separated from men, and the detainees had limited access to fresh air and legal and psychological counselling. Another control visit was planned for the end of the year.

An NGO reported that two Vietnamese men were sexually abused at a refugee center by another detainee in July 2020 and that the administrators had not taken adequate measures, such as revising housing assignments, to prevent similar incidents. The Interior Ministry commented that the offender was sentenced later in the year to six years of prison and to nonmaterial damage compensation of 72,000 crowns ($3,300) and that various measures were implemented, such as 24/7 video surveillance, emergency telephones, and increased physical checks.

Freedom of Movement: Asylum seekers are generally not detained or limited in free movement within the country. By law, persons facing deportation may be detained for up to 180 days. If there are children accompanying the adults, detention can last no more than 90 days with no possibility of further extension. The average length of detention for illegal migrants and rejected asylum seekers was shortened to 55 days due to the government’s implementation of a voluntary return system. Vulnerable persons, including families, cannot be detained if they apply for international protection.

As of September there were 160 migrants in detention facilities in the country. A total of 10 migrants were in a detention facility specifically designed for at-risk groups, single women without children, and families with children. There were no forced returns of families with minors. The Interior Ministry reported there were no displaced unaccompanied children in the country.

Durable Solutions: The government generally rejected requests within the EU Relocation Scheme to accept designated numbers of refugees and asylum seekers.

In August the government transported 169 Afghan interpreters and other then and former employees of its diplomatic and military missions, as well as their families, to the country; 151 refugees filed for asylum; 118 received it; the rest moved to other countries. Some of the arrivals had residency permits. An NGO reported that the asylum cases were processed in approximately four weeks and that the evacuees entered a government-funded integration program. The Interior Ministry reported that it was assisting Afghan families with finding housing, which was a challenge due to a shortage of available apartments.

A national integration program managed by the government in close cooperation with UNHCR and NGOs continued. Under the State Integration Program, beneficiaries of international protection are entitled to temporary accommodation, social services, language training, and assistance with finding employment and permanent housing. Children are entitled to school education. The Ministry of Interior started its own assisted voluntary return program in 2017 and effectively used it to help 1,996 individuals return to their country of origin. As of September 1, approximately 202 individuals had been voluntarily returned to their countries of origin.

Temporary Protection: The government provided temporary protection to some individuals who may not qualify as refugees. In 2020 and 2021, following the unrest after presidential elections in Belarus in August 2020, the government assisted 89 citizens of Belarus under the Interior Ministry’s MEDEVAC Health and Humanitarian Program. In addition to transportation, health, rehabilitation, and psychological care, the government provided accommodation, meals, social worker services, interpreter services, seasonal clothing, and communication devices. The government provided five million crowns ($229,000) to the program. Some of the evacuees were enrolled in language programs that would enable them to enter the country’s universities.

The Ministry of Interior reported 503 stateless persons in the country at the end of 2020. UNHCR listed 1,502 persons as stateless in its 2019 statistics for the country. The ministry reported that 11 stateless persons applied for international protection and that seven were granted asylum or subsidiary protection in 2020.

In March the Supreme Administrative Court ruled that persons awaiting the outcome of their application for stateless status should enjoy the same governmental support (e.g., housing, health insurance, right to remain in the country) as refugees awaiting asylum application determinations. As of August the government amended the law governing foreigners to include a procedure for determining statelessness that, if successful, will result in granting long-term visas and an identity document. Some NGOs criticized the “shift” of procedures related to the determination of “statelessness” from the asylum laws to the laws governing foreign nationals due to lessened benefits to the applicants.

Democratic Republic of the Congo

Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties

The law provides for freedom of speech, including for members of the press and other media, but the government did not always respect this right. The press frequently and openly criticized public officials and public policy decisions. Individuals generally could criticize the government, its officials, and other citizens in private without being subject to official reprisals. Public criticism, however, of government officials and corruption sometimes resulted in intimidation, threats, or arrest. Provincial-level governments also prevented journalists from filming or covering certain protests.

The UNJHRO reported that journalists and human rights defenders were regularly targeted by arbitrary arrests. Members of the FARDC were also responsible for 18 violations of the right to freedom of opinion and expression and four violations of the right to peaceful assembly, according to the UNJHRO. The UNJHRO also reported that the PNC committed 19 violations of the right to freedom of opinion and expression, 15 violations of the right to freedom of assembly, and one violation of the right to freedom of association from January through June.

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

In January, Daniel Ngoy Mulunda, former chairman of the Independent National Electoral Commission (CENI), was arrested in Lubumbashi for antagonizing tribal tensions.

According to the UNJHRO, ANR agents arrested a journalist and facilitator of the program Bosolo Na Politik in April for criticizing politicians and the COVID-19-related curfew during a broadcast. The public prosecutor of the Gombe Court of First Instance released the journalist after he paid a fine.

According to local media reports, on December 17, a military court sentenced two musicians to prison time for songs calling government officials “crooks” and allegedly inciting violence against the FARDC and their families. The musicians were charged with four offenses, including offending the president, contempt against national deputies, creating false rumors, and failing to present their songs to the National Song and Entertainment Censorship Commission; they received sentences of two to 10 years in prison. At year’s end the musicians remained in detention and their lawyers were preparing appeals.

Freedom of Expression for Members of the Press and Other Media, Including Online Media: The law mandates the High Council for the Audiovisual and Communications to provide for freedom of the press and equal access to communications media and information for political parties, associations, and citizens. A large and active private press functioned in Kinshasa and in other major cities, and the government licensed many daily newspapers. Radio remained the principal medium of public information due to limited literacy and the relatively high cost of newspapers and television. The state owned three radio and three television stations, and the former president’s family owned two additional television stations. Government officials, politicians, and some church leaders, owned or operated most media outlets.

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

In February the National Union of the Congolese Press (UNPC) condemned the arrest of Radio Liberte Bikoro journalist Christophe Yoka Nkumu in Bikoro, Equateur Province. Reporters Without Borders reported in July that supporters of the Union for Democracy and Social Progress party physically attacked Canal Kin Television presenter Dosta Lutula in the street as he attempted to interview members of the public about the government’s COVID-19 restrictions limiting the number of persons allowed to travel in public buses or taxis in Kinshasa.

In mid-September Reporters Without Borders and Journaliste en Danger (JED) denounced the police for engaging in physical violence against Actu 24 CD journalist Louange Vangu and seizing his press card. According to the same report, police fired tear gas at the headquarters of RTVS1, a media outlet owned by Adophe Muzito, an opponent of the government and one of the protest organizers.

In late September the human rights organization Voice of the Voiceless issued a statement criticizing the governor of Kinshasa for banning protests on the road from Ndjili Airport to the area known as Pont Matete and in central Kinshasa, characterizing the ban as a violation of the constitution and a return to past practices of banning peaceful demonstrations. Also in late September, the chairman of the New Generation for Congo’s Emergence party, Constant Mutamba, was arrested in Kinshasa shortly after attempting to assemble with several party members to demonstrate against the government’s alleged efforts to hijack the electoral process, according to independent outlet Election-net.com.

In September RFI and local press reported the detention of journalist Sosthene Kambidi, in connection with the 2017 killings of UN experts Zaida Catalan and Michael Sharp in the Kasais. FARDC auditor general prosecutors stated that Kambidi was detained for questioning as a witness in the case of Catalan and Sharp’s deaths and was also being questioned as a suspect in the parallel investigation of the disappearance of the four Congolese nationals accompanying Catalan and Sharp. Kambidi was initially questioned in the presence of his attorney by both FARDC military prosecutors and legal personnel from the United Nations’ Follow-On Mechanism for inconsistencies in his account of how and when he obtained the video of the experts’ murders. On October 12, Kambidi was granted provisional release, and military prosecutors dropped the conspiracy, rebellion, and terrorism investigations but continued to investigate Kambidi for “culpable abstention.” Attorneys for the remaining detained witnesses began a trial boycott on October 12, demanding the release of fellow attorney and witness Prosper Kamalu as a condition of their return. Kamalu was released on October 29. The trial proceedings resumed on November 2.

Violence and Harassment: Local journalists were vulnerable to SSF intimidation and violence. According to the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ), one journalist, Joel Musavuli, was killed in the country during the year (see section 2.a, Nongovernmental Impact).

The UNJHRO reported that in January in Kasai-Central Province, five PNC agents kicked and slapped a journalist from a local television station as he was trying to cover a demonstration organized by LUCHA. Although the journalist was wearing a T-shirt of his media employer, the PNC confiscated two cell phones and a recorder while he was showing his business card. Following the intervention of a UNPC member, his equipment was returned, although PNC agents had deleted all images and videos taken during the march. The commander in charge of intelligence at the PNC station indicated an investigation was opened, but the UNJHRO reported in November that it had noted no progress in the investigation.

On February 13, Radio Liberte Lisala journalist Erick Ngunde was arrested in the station’s studio, reportedly at the behest of the interim governor of Mongala Province, Clementine Sole, according to local press. Before his arrest the reporter had hosted a program in which a close aide to the former governor of Mongala urged the population to remain “vigilant” regarding Sole’s actions.

In February JED condemned the arrest and subsequent conviction of six journalists working for a community radio station in Bumba, Mongala Province. The reporters were sentenced to three years in jail for denouncing the sexual harassment faced by some of their female colleagues and mismanagement practices at the station. They were not granted access to lawyers of their choosing.

The CPJ reported in June that at least 10 armed men, some of whom wore military uniforms, entered the home of a freelance journalist in Goma in response to his reporting on the government’s inadequate response to the Nyiragongo Volcano eruption. The armed men reportedly assaulted the journalist’s wife and aggressively questioned her regarding his whereabouts, threatened to kill him, and took a bag of his reporting equipment.

In July local press reported that JED condemned the intrusion of police officers into the facilities of Radio Sarah, in Mbandaka, Equateur Province. The police reportedly broke into the station’s studio during the broadcast of a debate on the possible removal of the governor of the province by the local parliament. Law enforcement officers reportedly destroyed the station’s generator and stole broadcasting equipment.

On September 17, PNC officers assaulted RFI correspondent Patient Ligodi while he was covering an unauthorized demonstration organized by the Lamuka coalition of political parties in Kinshasa. Ligodi was hospitalized and subsequently released. On the same day, the PNC announced the arrest of an officer for the assault.

Censorship or Content Restrictions: While the High Council for Audiovisual and Communications is the only institution with legal authority to restrict broadcasts, the government, including the SSF and provincial officials, also exercised this power. The National Song and Entertainment Censorship Commission, an independent body under the umbrella of the Ministry of Justice and composed of 11 members appointed by the minister, reviews content to ensure it does not “disturb public order or good morals” and does not contain racial slurs, tribal slurs, insults, slanderous language, or pornographic content. According to Article 13 of the commission’s rules, each artist must pay a tax of 630,000 to 1.2 million Congolese francs ($330 to $600) before their work can be released to the public.

On November 5, Congolese rap group Musique Populaire de la Revolution (MPR) released a new music video on their YouTube channel with lyrics and a video that referred to the hopelessness of many Congolese youth. Citing MPR’s failure to submit the song for review in advance, the National Song and Entertainment Censorship Commission banned the broadcast of the song. Two days later Minister of Justice Rose Mutombo declared the ban illegal and asked the commission to explain its decision, accusing it of acting without following its own rules to convene a quorum of its members.

Media representatives reported they were pressured by provincial government authorities not to cover events organized by the opposition or report news concerning opposition leaders. There were also reports the commission took longer to approve songs perceived as critical of the government.

Libel/Slander Laws: The law does not consider the veracity of reported facts in the case of a defamation complaint. Instead, the judge is to consider only the damage to the accused from revelations in a journalist’s work.

The national and provincial governments used defamation laws to intimidate and punish critics. On July 6, LUCHA activist Parfait Muhani was arrested on charges of “criminal association” for allegedly “having formed an association with the aim of discrediting persons and properties” and criminal defamation for posting a tweet denouncing allegations of misappropriated funds by the foundation of First Lady Tshisekedi. According to HRW, he faced the death penalty because of the charges. Although the death penalty had not been carried out in two decades, Muhani could still receive a life sentence. Muhani was provisionally released on November 6 after four months in detention.

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

The CPJ reported in April that the SSF threatened staff at two radio stations in Ituri Province after they broadcast a local human rights activist’s accusations that a senior military officer had overseen the detention and torture of adults and children.

The CPJ also reported in May that two uniformed men entered the home of a community broadcaster in Ituri Province, robbed him, and threatened to kill him for reporting allegations that military personnel had looted properties. One of the men also reportedly threatened to kill the journalist’s mother as she was witnessing the attack.

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

In July JED reported that Thomson Undji Batangalwa, a correspondent for the South African radio station Channel Africa and a reporter for the Tanganyika radio station Espoir des opprimes based in Fizi, received a series of death threats from unknown persons claiming to belong to the Banyamulenge tribe. He reportedly broadcast a story on Channel Africa about an attack by Ngumino and Twirwaneo rebels from the Banyamulenge communities on the FARDC base near Minembwe, South Kivu. Following the broadcast, the journalist received several threatening telephone calls, including one that accused him of being a “spokesperson for the FARDC.”

On August 13, days after Joel Musavuli broadcast a radio program in which he referred to human rights violations committed by different factions under the state of siege, unidentified intruders in Mambasa Territory in the northeastern province of Ituri broke into Musavuli’s home and stabbed him to death.

The government restricted freedoms of peaceful assembly and association.

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

The law provides for freedom of internal movement, foreign travel, emigration, and repatriation. The government sometimes restricted these rights.

In-country Movement: The SSF established barriers and checkpoints on roads and at airports and markets, both for security reasons and to track movement related to the Ebola and COVID-19 outbreaks. Checkpoints were put up at the time of curfew, which varied during the year from beginning at 8 p.m. earlier in the year, to beginning at 11 p.m. and ending at 4 a.m. as of September 20. Sometimes the SSF requested travel orders at checkpoints. Travel was significantly restricted due to regulations intended to reduce the spread of the COVID-19. The SSF routinely harassed and extorted money from civilians for supposed violations, sometimes detaining them until they or a relative paid. The government required travelers to submit to control procedures at airports and ports during domestic travel and when entering and leaving towns.

IAGs engaged in similar activity in areas under their control, routinely extorting civilians at checkpoints and holding them for ransom. MONUSCO confirmed curfews were in effect in various parts of the East and that those curfews were often associated with an earlier prohibition on motorbike travel with the justification that most attacks are carried out by men on motorbikes. For example, travel by motorbike was not allowed after 7 p.m. in Goma, a restriction that continued to year’s end. Movement between cities remained problematic because of insecurity. Local authorities continued to collect illegal taxes and fees for boats to travel on many parts of the Congo River. There also were widespread reports FARDC soldiers and IAG combatants extorted fees from persons taking goods to market or traveling between towns (see section 1.g.).

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

Foreign Travel: Due to inadequate administrative systems, passport issuance was irregular. Officials accepted bribes to expedite passport issuance, and there were reports the price of fully biometric passports varied widely.

The Office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) estimated that, including individuals displaced for longer than 12 months, there were 5.5 million IDPs in the country, more than half of whom were children. An additional 1.5 million persons were displaced during the year. The government was unable to consistently protect or assist IDPs adequately but generally allowed domestic and international humanitarian organizations to assist. The government sometimes closed IDP camps without coordinating with the international humanitarian community. In June UNHCR and other international humanitarian organizations worked to close three IDP sites in Kalemie, the capital of Tanganyika Province, by providing shelter and hygiene kits, along with transportation money and some food.

Conflict, insecurity, poor infrastructure, and a lack of funding adversely affected humanitarian efforts to assist IDPs. Insecurity and an inability to travel impeded some humanitarian access to certain zones in the eastern provinces. Intercommunal violence and fighting among armed groups in the East resulted in continued population displacement and increased humanitarian needs for IDPs and host communities.

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

On May 22, the Nyiragongo Volcano, located about seven miles north of Goma in North Kivu Province, erupted, causing as many as 40,000 residents to flee. Thereafter, the government ordered the evacuation of one-half the city with an estimated population of nearly one million. Most of these residents later returned home, but as many as 4,000 households remained displaced as of early November. The UNJHRO reported that most of the IDPs in Goma housed in various IDP camps and private residences were asked by the local authorities to return to their places of origin without prior assessment, contrary to international principles on internal displacement.

In May the UN Population Fund (UNFPA) described the experience of four internally displaced women and two young girls who were returning from a food distribution center in Bukavu when they were attacked and gang-raped by five men.

In Ituri Province, UNHCR noted that conflict-related activities of IAGs, including CODECO, FPIC, ADF, and Mai Mai armed groups, exacerbated long-standing community conflicts and threatened the safety of IDPs. Approximately 1.7 million IDPs relocated within the province: an estimated 80 percent lived with host families and 20 percent lived in 59 IDP sites, 25 of which were coordinated by UNHCR. The state of siege and intensification of military operations against IAGs contributed to the displacement of persons and affected the situation of IDPs. Through June there were 13,509 documented violations of physical integrity of IDPs in Ituri Province, with assault and battery cases constituting 76 percent of the violations, followed by homicide at 23 percent, and torture at 1 percent. IAGs committed 97 percent of these violations, while the FARDC were responsible for the remainder.

On November 21, 44 persons were killed at Tche, an IDP site in Drodro, Ituri Province, according to local news sources. After this attack nearly 20,000 IDPs fled to Rhoe, a site close to MONUSCO’s military base, doubling the site’s size.

According to the UNJHRO, ISIS-DRC activities in Irumu and Mambasa Territories led to massive population displacement, and ISIS-DRC carried out violent ambushes against IDP sites. The UNJHRO also reported that some youths attacked the IDP accommodation camps located at Neo Apostolic Church and Mubambiro, looted their food supplies, and threatened the IDPs with abduction. This led to a shortage of food supplies and posed security problems for the displaced.

Due to the remote location, weak civilian authority, and insecurity of the Kasai region, humanitarian access was difficult, and IDPs lived in poor conditions without adequate shelter or protection. Women and girls were particularly vulnerable to sexual violence, including gang rape.

Lack of shelter, low capacity for agricultural recovery, lack of basic infrastructure, and an absence of development partners all impeded the successful reintegration of IDPs. Some international relief workers warned that failure to integrate returnees and support livelihood activities and local infrastructure could lead to renewed inter-ethnic fighting over limited resources.

In an October briefing the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs noted that local authorities and civil society groups estimated nearly 100,000 individuals had fled Komanda, Ituri Province, and its surroundings following attacks since September 23. Among them were at least 95 percent of the 60,000 inhabitants of Komanda, Makayanga, and Mangiva and the 40,000 persons who had found refuge there in 2020 and had to flee again. The displaced had little access to food, water, shelter, and medicine.

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

Access to Asylum: The law provides for the granting of asylum or refugee status, and the government established a rudimentary system for providing protection to refugees. The law, which allows for flexibility, provides most fundamental rights to refugees and citizens on an equal basis. UNHCR worked with the government to bring its system up to international standards and increase its efficiency and effectiveness. Because the Appeals Commission had not been convened in years, rejected asylum seekers remained in limbo. UNHCR was assisting the government in scaling up its ability to undertake biometric registration of refugees and issue refugee identification cards. The government system granted refugee and asylum status and provided protection against the expulsion or return of refugees to countries where their lives or freedom would be threatened on account of their race, religion, nationality, membership in a particular social group, or political opinion.

The government cooperated with UNHCR and other humanitarian organizations in assisting refugees and asylum seekers with welfare and safety needs. The government assisted in the safe, voluntary return of refugees to their homes by allowing their entry into the country and facilitating immigration processing. In establishing security mechanisms, government authorities did not treat refugees differently from citizens. Returns occurred at a rate lower than originally expected due to COVID-19 restrictions.

Abuse of Migrants, Refugees, and Stateless Persons: Continuing conflict in North and South Kivu, Ituri, Upper Uele, and Tanganyika Provinces subjected refugees and IDPs to attacks, often resulting in deaths and further displacement. UNHCR reported Rwandan refugees in the Masisi Territory, North Kivu, were subject to cyclical displacement as a result of FARDC and IAG operations and were forced to relocate to South Kivu Province. As a result of conflict, refugees in Masisi reported a range of human rights violations and instances of forced displacement, according to UNHCR. Because of a perception that Rwandan refugees are aligned with or support the FDLR, they were discriminated against and harassed, and subject to arbitrary detention during military operations to a greater extent than the general population.

As of August UNHCR reported there were 221,694 refugees from the Central African Republic in the country. Gender-based violence continued to be a problem for refugees arriving from the Central African Republic. Most of these refugees lived in dire conditions in border areas, near the Ubangi River, although some were relocated to more secure areas. Refugees at the river’s edge, as well as many of the December 2020 arrivals lacked shelter, access to clean water, sanitation facilities, and sufficient food. Thousands of individuals had been biometrically registered, some had received refugee cards, and a small number had received COVID-19 vaccinations.

Incursions by South Sudanese forces into areas in the northern portions of the country continued during the year, with at least a dozen incidents as of December. All incursions as of December had occurred in the Aru Territory and Ituri Province and affected security for asylum seekers, refugees, and Congolese returnees, as well as local populations.

Durable Solutions: A smaller number of Congolese refugees returned home to the country than originally expected due to COVID-19 restrictions.

UNHCR worked with the government to implement a comprehensive strategy to facilitate the repatriation of Rwandan refugees and integrate those who choose to resettle in the country. In 2016 the government through the National Commission for Refugees and UNHCR launched a biometric registration, but this process was halted due to security concerns and problems of access. Local authorities estimated that approximately 75,000 Rwandan refugees of the 215,000 residing in the country were biometrically registered and an estimated 213,000 remained in the country as of November 1.

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

The country has a population of de facto stateless residents and persons at risk of statelessness, including persons of Sudanese origin living in the Northeast, Mbororo pastoralists in the far North, long-term migrants, forced returnees from Angola, former Angolan refugees, mixed-race persons who are denied naturalization, and Congolese citizens without civil documentation. There were no national statistics on stateless persons because such data are linked with the general population census process, which was last completed in 1984.

The law does not discriminate in granting citizenship on the grounds of gender, religion, or disability; however, the naturalization process is cumbersome and requires parliamentary approval of individual citizenship applications. Individuals lacking documentation were often denied identity documents, political rights, and employment. Persons whose names were not spelled according to local custom were often denied citizenship, as were individuals with lighter-colored skin. Persons without national identification cards were sometimes arbitrarily arrested by the SSF.

The law allows for the acquisition of citizenship through birth and residence in the country, marriage, adoption, and naturalization. Administrative practices for acquiring nationality through marriage, adoption, or naturalization were increasingly political and put more persons at risk of statelessness. The government has ratified neither the 1954 Convention Relating to the Status of Stateless Persons nor the 1961 Convention on the Reduction of Statelessness.

Authorities do not issue national identification cards for citizens. A voter card or passport serves as an identifying document. Most citizens did not have a passport, and only citizens 18 and older are eligible for a voter registration card. The lack of identification documents could hinder the ability to register at university, obtain a passport, or gain certain employment.

Denmark

Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties

The constitution and law provide for freedom of expression, including for members of the press and other media, 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 members of the media.

Freedom of Expression: The law prohibits any public speech or the dissemination of statements or other pronouncements that threaten, deride, or degrade a group because of gender, race, skin color, national or ethnic background, religion, or sexual orientation. Authorities may fine offenders or imprison them for up to two years.

In January police detained three individuals who allegedly made threatening remarks as an effigy of the prime minister was burned by antilockdown protesters. The protest was one of a series organized by Men in Black, a self-proclaimed “freedom” group that protested the government’s winter lockdown to hinder the spread of COVID-19. According to police, the group had strong ties to the hooligan soccer community. On March 12, the Copenhagen city court sentenced a woman associated with Men in Black to two years’ unconditional imprisonment for having called for violence during a demonstration on January 9. The court doubled her punishment due to a special section in the law allowing for the doubling of punishments for several crimes if the offense was connected to COVID-19 restrictions. Amnesty International Denmark expressed concern that the law was too vaguely worded regarding the connection between the crime and COVID-19. In June a higher-level court reduced the sentence to 60 days. Approximately 15 demonstrators from the same event also received the double sentence, and in two instances, after appeals, the High Court reversed the sentence.

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

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

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

Exile: On October 6, the government repatriated three mothers and their 14 children from northeastern Syria. Authorities also said they would repatriate five other children without their mothers, who had been stripped of their Danish citizenship.

Citizenship: In December 2020 parliament removed the “sunset” clause from a 2019 law allowing the revocation of citizenship without a court hearing for those who “acted in a manner which is seriously detrimental to the vital interests of the country.” This 2019 law was set to expire in 2021. The law does apply to those who would be rendered stateless by the revocation. Under this provision the government revoked the citizenship of 11 Danes.

Not applicable.

The government did not participate with the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) in its program to resettle refugees.

On June 3, parliament authorized the government to establish asylum centers in non-EU countries. The EU Commission called the law inconsistent with EU law. The government negotiated the establishment of asylum centers with potential partner countries, including Rwanda. The Danish Refugee Council criticized the amendments to the law on transferring asylum seekers to non-EU countries.

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 limits the rights of persons with subsidiary or temporary protection to family reunification, restrictions not applied to persons recognized as refugees. For example, persons with subsidiary or temporary protection must wait at least three years before applying for family reunification for their spouse or cohabitating partner and minor children. In contrast, persons with refugee status can apply for family reunification at any time.

The government does not consider Damascus, Syria, and the Rif Dimashq Governate surrounding it to be dangerous. The government did not forcibly return rejected asylum seekers to Syria. Those whose claims were rejected, however, lost their work permit and were required to live in an asylum center.

On July 9, the ECHR found the country violated its international human rights obligations by imposing a law that lengthened the amount of time a newly arrived refugee must wait before applying for family reunification. In the same case, the ECHR also concluded that the local authorities’ decision to deny a Syrian refugee family reunification was a breach of the European Convention on Human Rights. In 2015 the government granted a Syrian national temporary protection status for one year. When the Syrian applied for family reunification with his wife, the government denied it due to the three-year rule, which requires refugees to wait three years before applying for family reunification. Local courts upheld the denial.

Safe Country of Origin/Transit: The country employs the EU’s Dublin III regulation, which permits authorities to turn back or deport individuals who entered or attempted to enter the country through a “safe country of transit” or were registered in another state-party to the Dublin regulation.

Refoulement: As of September 30, the government has revoked the residency permits of 87 Syrian refugees since 2019 after the Danish Refugee Appeals Board deemed Damascus and its surrounding governorate to be safe. Most of these individuals have since departed Denmark for Syria or other destinations. In September a report by Amnesty International Denmark on the repatriation of Syrian nationals to Syria found one-third of human rights abuses in Syria took place in Damascus or in the surrounding area. Amnesty also stated that Syrian nationals whose residency permits were revoked could face torture, enforced disappearance, and arbitrary detention upon their return to Syria.

Abuse of Migrants and Refugees: The government stated all asylum seekers were offered a medical screening upon arrival in the country, reception center staff were sensitive to signs of torture, and it was the opinion of the government that the procedures in place to identify and assist victims of torture were sufficient. The government stated that if an asylum seeker’s condition was such that detention was deemed impossible, the police imposed less restrictive measures, but the fact that an alien had been subjected to torture generally did not exclude the use of detention. The UN Committee Against Torture subsequently regretted that medical examinations were performed at the sole discretion of immigration authorities.

Freedom of Movement: The law limits the initial period of immigration detention to six months, which can be extended to 18 months if special circumstances exist.

Access to Basic Services: The law allows municipalities to accommodate refugees only in temporary housing.

Durable Solutions: The government’s policy encouraged repatriation of refugees rather than their integration into society. The state provided financial assistance to refugees or asylum seekers who choose to return home. It paid for their travel and provided a small sum of money to help them resettle in their homeland. The government provided similar financial incentives to nonrefugee or non-asylum-seeking residents who choose to return to their homelands. This policy decreased the likelihood of long-term residency permits for refugees and asylum seekers as it encouraged repatriation over integration.

Temporary Protection: As of August, 111 refugees received temporary protection status in the country.

According to UNHCR, as of February, 11,655 stateless persons lived in the country. Stateless persons can apply for citizenship if they have lived in the country for at least eight years.

During the country’s UPR, UNHCR reported that stateless children born in the country are not entitled to Danish nationality by birth but could acquire nationality through naturalization, with requirements more stringent than those in the 1961 Convention on the Reduction of Statelessness.

Djibouti

Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties

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

Freedom of Expression: Individuals who criticized the government publicly or privately could face reprisals.

On January 13, eight young men published a video online expressing their dissatisfaction with their political representatives, and, by extension, the president’s plans to run for a fifth term. They were arrested and detained for one week, then freed with a warning.

On June 9, authorities detained Walid Hassan, a blogger, for eight days in an undisclosed location before sentencing him to jail for defamation.

Freedom of Expression for Members of the Press and Other Media, Including Online Media: Privately owned or independent newspapers were distributed on an irregular basis. Printing facilities for mass media were government-owned, which created obstacles for those wishing to criticize the government. The principal newspaper, La Nation, maintained a monopoly on authorized print media.

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

The National Communication Commission, a branch of the Ministry of Communication, started issuing licenses to political parties and private citizens aligned with the government, allowing them to operate social media accounts. The commission also issued identification cards to progovernment journalists. Political parties, journalists, and private citizens critical of the government were not issued licenses and identifications cards, which limited their ability to express themselves freely online. Foreign media outlets and journalists, including BBC and al-Jazeera, were not required to obtain a domestic license. They registered directly with the Ministry of Communication.

Violence and Harassment: The government harassed journalists. Several citizen journalists were arrested for posting pictures of protests or comments against the government.

On August 2, police arrested BBC stringer Mahamoud Osman Boulhan in Ali-Sabieh. Police detained him for three days, allegedly for his reports on civil unrest, and released him without bringing him before a judge or filing charges.

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

Libel/Slander Laws: The government used laws against libel and slander to restrict public discussion and retaliate against political opponents.

The government limited freedoms of peaceful assembly and association. Opposition members alleged security forces routinely cancelled or disrupted meetings and other political events.

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

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

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

Foreign Travel: On September 12, the Index on Censorship, a British organization supporting freedom of expression worldwide, included Kadar Abdi Ibrahim on a shortlist for an award for his activities as a journalist. Ibrahim was also the secretary-general of a (non-recognized) opposition party. He could not travel to participate in the ceremony, as the government seized his passport in 2017.

Not applicable.

The government collaborated 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, and stateless persons, as well as other persons of concern. By law refugees have the same rights to public services and employment as citizens, and the government actively implemented this law.

Access to Asylum: The law provides for granting asylum or refugee status. Asylum seekers from southern Somalia and Yemen were prima facie considered eligible for asylum or refugee status. Since November 2020, Tigrayans from Ethiopia are also considered prima facie eligible for asylum or refugee status. The National Office for Assistance to Refugees and Disaster Victims (ONARS) and UNHCR issued identification cards to Yemeni refugees. The National Eligibility Commission (NEC), which falls under the Ministry of Interior and consists of staff from ONARS and several ministries, must review all other asylum claims; UNHCR participates as an observer. Ethiopian and Eritrean asylum seekers claimed discrimination in the refugee status determination process, citing lengthy delays. The NEC hears 10 cases in each month’s session, but up to 10,000 asylum seekers await status determination.

Refoulement: In June the government returned three Somalis upon the request of the Somali government without having verified their refugee status. In May the government cooperated with Ethiopia to extradite three Tigrayans, including refoulement of two registered refugees (similarly without verifying their status due to an internal communications breakdown), citing Ethiopia’s allegation they had ties to the Tigray People’s Liberation Front.

Temporary Protection: The government provided temporary protection to a limited number of individuals who may not qualify as refugees, primarily unaccompanied minor migrants who were enrolled in a program of voluntary return to their country of origin.

Dominica

Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties

The constitution provides for freedom of expression, including for members of the press and other media, 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 members of the media.

Libel/Slander Laws: Defamation is a criminal offense punishable by imprisonment or fines. There were no active defamation suits against local journalists. Media representatives reported that public and private threats of lawsuits were made against media outlets and individual reporters, leading to some self-censorship.

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

Clashes between police and protesters occurred during an April 12 demonstration by a group of bus drivers who blocked a public roadway to advocate against a rise in fuel prices and for COVID-19 stimulus relief. Witnesses reported to media that police used excessive force to break up the demonstrations by firing rubber bullets and beating, kicking, and choking protesters. On July 15, police filed charges of assault, battery, obstruction of justice, and resisting arrest against bus driver Esrome George, alleging George assaulted a member of the police force during the protest. George, who pled not guilty, maintained he was a victim of police brutality.

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

The law provides for freedom of internal movement, foreign travel, emigration, and repatriation, and the government generally respected these rights. Individuals residing outside the Carib-Kalinago community must apply to the Carib Council for special access if they wish to live in the Kalinago Territory.

Not Applicable.

No information was available on the government’s cooperation with the UN High Commissioner for Refugees.

Access to Asylum: The law provides for granting asylum and refugee status, but the government has not established systems for determining when to grant asylum or protect refugees.

Dominican Republic

Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties

The constitution provides for freedom of expression, including for members of the press and other media, and the government generally respected this right. Media expressed a wide variety of views, but the government frequently influenced the press, in part through its large advertising budgets. The concentration of media ownership, weaknesses in the judiciary, and political influence also limited media’s independence.

Freedom of Expression: Individuals and groups were generally able to criticize the government publicly and privately without retaliation, although there were incidents in which authorities intimidated members of the press.

In March amid a public debate over proposed legislation to allow abortion in specific circumstances, the Public Ministry, on behalf of the National Council for Children and Adolescents (CONANI), notified Katherine Motyka, the founder and director of Jompeame (a crowdfunding foundation), that she must remove all images involving children and adolescents from her social media platforms or she would face legal charges. This was despite Motyka’s claim that all images were posted with full parental consent and that most of the children’s identities were not revealed in the posts. The Public Ministry made the request after Jompeame published the case of a 12-year-old girl who was sexually abused and became pregnant as a result of the rape. Civil society groups claimed political desires to influence the public debate and limit abortion in all cases motivated the directive. Later that month CONANI reported that Jompeame complied with the request of the Public Ministry and removed from its platform a video that, according to a Public Ministry press release, “violated the right to image and integrity” of a young girl who was the victim of a serious crime.

Censorship or Content Restrictions: Journalists practiced self-censorship, particularly when coverage could adversely affect the economic or political interests of media owners. Observers suggested the government influenced the press through advertising contracts. In July 2020 the government’s communications directorate published advertising expense reports that totaled more than 1.05 billion pesos ($18.5 million) over eight years.

Libel/Slander Laws: The law criminalizes defamation and insult, with harsher punishment for offenses committed against public or state figures than for offenses against private individuals. The law penalizes libel for statements concerning the private lives of certain public figures, including government officials and foreign heads of state.

On February 10, ruling party legislator Sergio “Gory” Moya filed a lawsuit against the private investigator Angel Martinez, based in Miami, for alleged defamation and insult. In August a judge issued an arrest order against Martinez based on allegations that Martinez violated the high-technology crimes law. Moya requested that the court sentence Martinez to one year in prison and require him to pay 10 million pesos ($177,000) for damages.

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

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

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

In-country Movement: Civil society representatives reported that citizens of Haitian descent, those perceived to be Haitian, and Haitian migrants faced obstacles while traveling within the country. NGO representatives reported that security forces at times asked travelers to show immigration and citizenship documents at road checkpoints throughout the country. Citizens of Haitian descent and migrants without valid identity documents reported fear of swift deportation when traveling within the country, especially near the border with Haiti (see also section 1.d.).

Not applicable.

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

On January 22, the government announced a plan to normalize the migration status of Venezuelan nationals residing in the country with irregular migratory status. The program applied to Venezuelans, including children, who entered the country legally between January 2014 and March 2020. The government allowed applicants to apply with expired Venezuelan passports. Starting on April 5, the individuals had 30 days to register with the government. Approximately 43,000 persons registered. Registered individuals received a 60-day extension of legal status. Venezuelan migrants who were approved for the 60-day extension could apply for a temporary work or education visa. This status may be automatically renewed until the National Council on Migration declares an end to the current extraordinary situation in Venezuela.

The government and NGOs estimated an additional 100,000 Venezuelans lived in the country in an irregular migration status. In 2019 the government instituted a regulation requiring Venezuelans to apply for a tourist visa before entering the country. Previously Venezuelans needed only a valid passport and could receive a tourist visa at the point of entry. Many Venezuelans in the country entered legally before the new regulation and stayed longer than the three-month allowance.

Venezuelan refugee and immigrant associations, with the support of the IOM, UNHCR, and the Coordination Platform for Refugees and Migrants from Venezuela (R4V Platform), coordinated with the government and civil society organizations to provide public-health and legal services for Venezuelan refugees and migrants. The R4V Platform was a regional interagency platform, led by the IOM and UNHCR, for coordinating the humanitarian response for refugees and migrants from Venezuela.

Access to Asylum: Presidential decrees from the 1980s established a system for granting asylum or refugee status; however, the system was not implemented through legislation and regulations. The constitution prohibits administrative detention for asylum seekers, and the law establishes that asylum seekers should not be detained under any circumstance. The system for providing protection to refugees was not effectively implemented. The government recognized and issued identity documents to very few refugees during the past few years. Rejection rates for asylum claims were close to 100 percent, and asylum applications often remained pending for several years.

The National Commission for Refugees (CONARE), an interministerial body led by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, is responsible for adjudicating asylum claims. The adjudication process requires individuals to apply for asylum within 15 days of arrival in the country. If an asylum seeker is in the country for more than 15 days without applying for asylum, the individual permanently loses the right to apply for asylum. The law also rejects any asylum application from an individual who was in, or who proceeds from, a foreign country where the individual could have sought asylum. Thus the government makes inadmissibility determinations administratively before an asylum interview or evaluation by CONARE.

NGOs working with refugees and asylum seekers reported there was no information posted at ports of entry to provide notice of the right to seek asylum, or of the timeline and process for doing so. Furthermore, NGO representatives reported that immigration and other security officials did not appear to understand how to handle asylum cases in a manner consistent with the country’s international commitments. By law the government must provide due process to asylum seekers. Persons expressing a fear of return to their country of nationality or habitual residence should be allowed to apply for asylum under the proper procedures. Nonetheless, there was generally neither judicial review of deportation orders nor any third-party review of “credible fear” determinations.

UN officials reported asylum seekers were not properly notified of inadmissibility decisions. CONARE did not provide rejected asylum seekers with details of the grounds for the rejection of their asylum application or with information on the appeal process. Rejected applicants received a letter stating they had 30 days to leave the country voluntarily. According to government policy, from the time they receive the notice of denial, rejected asylum seekers have seven days to file an appeal. The notice-of-denial letter does not mention this right of appeal.

UN officials stated a lack of due process in migration procedures resulted in arbitrary detention of persons of concern with no administrative or judicial review (see also section 1.d.). As a result asylum seekers and refugees in the country were at risk of refoulement and prolonged detention.

According to refugee NGOs, CONARE does not acknowledge that the 1951 Refugee Convention definition of refugee applies to persons who express a well founded fear of persecution perpetrated by nonstate agents. This lack of acknowledgement had a detrimental effect on persons fleeing sexual and gender-based violence, trafficking, sexual exploitation, and discrimination due to their sexual orientation or gender identity.

Refoulement: There were reports of persons potentially in need of international protection being denied admission at the point of entry and subsequently being deported to their countries of origin without being granted access to the asylum process (see also section 1.d.).

Freedom of Movement: Persons claiming asylum often waited months to receive a certificate as an asylum seeker and to be registered in the government database. The certificate had to be renewed every 30 days at the national office in Santo Domingo, forcing asylum seekers who lived outside Santo Domingo to return monthly to the capital, accompanied by all their family members, or lose their claim to asylum. Asylum seekers with pending cases had only this certificate, or sometimes nothing at all, to present to avoid deportation. This restricted their freedom of movement. In cases where asylum seekers were detained for lack of documentation, refugee and human rights organizations were able to advocate for their release.

Some refugees recognized by CONARE were issued travel documents that were not accepted in visa application processes, and some were not issued travel documents at all.

Employment: The government prohibited asylum seekers with pending cases from working. This situation was complicated by the long, sometimes indefinite waiting periods for pending asylum cases to be resolved. Some approved refugees lacked the documentation they needed in order to work. Employment was, nonetheless, a requirement by the government for renewing refugees’ temporary residency cards.

Access to Basic Services: Approved refugees have the same rights and responsibilities as legal migrants with temporary residence permits. Approved refugees have the right to education, employment, health care, and other social services. Nonetheless, refugee organizations reported that problems remained. Only those refugees able to afford health insurance were able to access adequate health care. Refugees reported their government-issued identification numbers were sometimes not recognized, and thus they could not open a bank account or begin service contracts for basic utilities. Refugees sometimes had to rely on friends or family for such services.

Temporary Protection: A plan adopted in 2013, and which remained in force until 2014, enabled undocumented migrants in the country to apply for temporary legal residency. Although the exact number of undocumented migrants was unknown, the law granted temporary residency status to more than 260,000 applicants, 97 percent of whom were Haitian. As of November 2020, the plan was in limbo, with 196,480 persons having expired temporary permits after applying for renewal in 2019 and 2020 and still waiting to receive updated documents. Of the initial 260,000 applicants, only 14,763 had a valid permit to legally stay in the country; of these permit holders, 8,847 persons were nonresident students and 5,916 were temporary residents. Civil society organizations expressed concern that many plan participants lacked passports and other identity documents that were not needed in the initial registration but were needed for renewal. Civil society organizations added that the rules for renewal were unclear both to government authorities and to plan beneficiaries. Government and business closures to mitigate the spread of COVID-19 made it even more difficult for recipients of this temporary protection to renew their status.

On November 1, the National Migratory Council announced it would suspend a student visa program for Haitians and launch an audit of the more than 200,000 foreigners who had been granted temporary residency status under the prior administration.

No temporary residence documents were granted to asylum seekers; those found to be admissible to the process were issued a certificate that provided them with protection from deportation but did not confer other rights. This certificate often took months to be delivered to asylum seekers. Due in part to this delay, both refugees and asylum seekers lived on the margins of the migration system. Foreigners often were asked to present legal migration documents to obtain legal assistance or to access the judicial system; therefore, the many refugees and asylum seekers who lacked these documents were unable to access legal help for situations they faced under criminal, labor, family, or civil law.

Refugees recognized by CONARE must undergo annual reevaluation of their need for international protection, a procedure contrary to international standards. Refugees were issued one-year temporary residence permits that could not be converted to a permanent residence permit.

A constitutional change in 2010 and a 2013 Constitutional Tribunal ruling revised the country’s citizenship laws. One effect was to strip retroactively Dominican citizenship from approximately 135,000 persons, mostly the children of undocumented Haitian migrants, who previously had Dominican citizenship by virtue of the jus soli (citizenship by birth within the country) policy in place since 1929.

The Inter-American Commission on Human Rights found that these legal revisions led to statelessness for the persons who lost their Dominican citizenship. UN officials and NGOs stated the legal changes had a disproportionate and negative impact on women and their children. They reported that mothers, especially unmarried mothers of Haitian origin, were unable to register their children the same way the fathers could. The law requires a special birth certificate for children born to foreign women who do not have documentation of legal residency. This led to discrimination in the ability of children born to foreign women and Dominican citizen fathers to obtain Dominican nationality, especially if they were of Haitian descent. This was not true in the reverse situation when children were born to a Dominican citizen mother and a foreign-born father.

These obstacles to timely birth registration, which was necessary to determine citizenship, put at risk children’s access to a wide range of rights, including the right to nationality, to a name and identity, and to equality before the law.

A 2014 law created a mechanism to provide citizenship papers or a naturalization process to stateless persons. The exact mechanism depends on the documentary status of the individual prior to the 2010 change in the constitution. In practice the new documentation mechanism was only partially successful. Many stateless persons did not register for the mechanism before its deadline.

In July 2020 the outgoing government approved the naturalization of 750 individuals, most of whom were minors who were stripped of their citizenship by the 2013 Constitutional Tribunal ruling and who were known as Group B. These 750 persons from Group B were the first to be approved for naturalization since the 2014 law was passed. In May President Abinader approved the naturalization of an additional 50 individuals from the same group. NGOs stated that while citizenship had been approved for the 800 individuals, none had received their documents as of October due to hurdles in different government agencies.

Through a mechanism outlined in the law for individuals with other circumstances (commonly known as Group A), the government identified and then issued birth certificates and national identity documents to approximately 26,000 individuals in 2014 and later that year identified an additional 34,900 individuals as potentially being part of Group A. As of October these individuals had not received an identity document confirming their Dominican nationality due to apparent concerns regarding the nature of the underlying documentation establishing citizenship. This placed them at a high risk of statelessness. The pool of individuals identified as potentially part of Group A extended back to individuals born as early as 1929. Because a number of those individuals had died or moved out of the country in the ensuing decades, the remaining number of eligible Group A individuals was likely substantially smaller than the 35,000 persons identified by the Central Electoral Board (JCE).

According to observers many stateless individuals falling under the Group B profile were unable or unwilling to register for the naturalization process during the 180-day application window. As of October there was no way for this group to secure Dominican nationality. In addition there were other individuals born in the country at specific times and in specific circumstances connected to their parents who were in legal limbo related to their citizenship.

Dominican-born persons without citizenship or identity documents faced obstacles traveling both within and outside the country. Beginning in 2015 authorities attempted to deport some of these persons but were prevented by UN agency intervention. Stateless persons do not have access to electoral participation, formal-sector jobs, marriage registration, birth registration, formal loans, judicial procedures, state social-protection programs, and property ownership. Their access to primary public education and health care was limited. In addition those able to receive an education do not receive official recognition, such as a diploma, for completed schooling.

Ecuador

Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties

The constitution provides for freedom of expression, including for members of the press and other media, but laws restrict this right. Experts cautioned that restrictive provisions to journalistic work found in a 2013 communication law, reformed in 2019, technically remained in effect, although on May 24, President Lasso ordered the implementing regulations of that law no longer be applied.

On January 26, the National Assembly reformed the communication law, reversing provisions that previously characterized media and communications as a public service, not a right, and required all journalists to hold university degrees. Some other restrictive provisions found in other laws, such as punishing opinions as slander, which carries a prison term of six months to two years, remained in force but were not applied in practice. Journalists and NGOs said the media environment under the new administration seemed less restrictive than in the past, although replacement legislation was necessary to repeal the previous, more restrictive framework and institutionalize reforms to facilitate greater freedom of expression.

Freedom of Expression: The law prohibits citizens from using “discrediting expressions,” treated as a misdemeanor with a 15- to 30-day prison term. There were no reports the government invoked this law to restrict freedom of expression during the year.

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

A presidential decree in May in effect eliminates the offense of inciting “financial panic,” which previously carried a penalty of imprisonment from five to seven years. It also eliminates mandates on time allocated for television and radio broadcast of messages and reports by the president and his cabinet, as well as provisions for the planned redistribution of broadcast frequencies between community media and private and public media. Indigenous political and community leaders were concerned that any future redistribution of broadcast frequencies, potentially in the open market, would reduce or eliminate access to free, public radio (in various native languages especially) in isolated areas inhabited by diverse indigenous populations.

The Agency for the Regulation and Control of Telecommunications (ARCOTEL) completed its competitive public tender to allocate 3,096 FM radio frequencies in November 2020. Media reported that between December 2020 and February, qualifying titles valid for 15 years were awarded to 340 participants. Fundamedios and other civil society groups continued to criticize the bidding process as lacking transparency and allowing two particular bidders to accumulate a disproportionate number of frequencies. These groups noted the potential agglomeration of radio frequencies under one domain threatened freedom of expression by inducing self-censorship among media outlets.

On January 12, ARCOTEL announced the start of separate public tenders for the concession of 2,347 additional FM radio and 3,016 broadcast television frequencies. On March 23, Fundamedios called on the government to further delay the bidding process, considering the proximity to the second round of presidential elections scheduled for April 11. The formal bidding process was pending as of October 27.

Violence and Harassment: On January 27, gunmen shot and killed popular television presenter Efrain Ruales Rios, allegedly for a string of social media posts critical of drug gangs reportedly linked to influential political families, especially that of former president Bucaram. Victor Gonzalez, the lead prosecutor investigating the Ruales killing, stated he started receiving death threats on July 6 after giving an interview in which he speculated on those allegedly responsible for Ruales’s death. Gonzalez added he had since received police protection. On November 26, a trial started against six persons accused in a conspiracy to murder Ruales.

Also on January 27, former president Bucaram, in an interview regarding the Ruales killing and in response to accusations about his family, issued death threats to several individuals, including national television journalist Dayanna Monroy, whose reporting he had criticized since October 2020. On February 3, then presidential spokesperson Caridad Vela stated the government rejected intimidation attempts against Monroy and other journalists and would offer police protection to Monroy.

On April 25, Blanca Moncada, a writer for the newspaper Diario Expreso, published an investigation critical of Guayaquil mayor Cynthia Viteri for perceived exorbitant city street cleaning expenditures. On April 28, a graphic circulated on digital platforms with Moncada’s photograph, describing her as an “Enemy of Guayaquil” and accusing her of being funded by “mafias” opposed to the local government. Moncada claimed to Fundamedios that a troll center from the Guayaquil mayor’s office was responsible for the graphic. On May 12, Moncada, writing for the same outlet, said Viteri justified supposed high salaries for public employees in the municipal government, with many of the highest-paying positions going to relatives of individuals also working in the municipality. Viteri responded to the claim of nepotism by stating she had never in public or private said such things and that Diario Expreso held a “political bias” against her administration.

Fundamedios condemned the National Police’s use of canines for crowd control during an August 11 incident in which independent photojournalist Juan Diego Montenegro was bit by a police dog while covering public protests in Quito. Montenegro claimed a police officer slackened the working dog’s leash to get within range to bite Montenegro.

Censorship or Content Restrictions: There were reports government officials tried to penalize those who published items critical of the government. Fundamedios reported eight potential censorship cases involving government officials as of September 9.

On January 12, the Pichincha Provincial Electoral Delegation ordered the immediate suspension of a political advertisement exclusively featuring former president Correa asking voters to support the Union for Hope (UNES) coalition linked to him. Under the constitution and in accordance with the terms of an April 2020 corruption conviction against him (see section 4), Correa had lost his political rights, so his likeness was prohibited from campaign materials for any political candidate or party. UNES presidential candidate Andres Arauz denounced the decision and alerted international observers to supposed censorship and arbitrary application of the law. The suspension was subsequently upheld, and election monitoring NGOs said Correa and the party flouted the restriction throughout the campaign period.

On September 2, unidentified individuals claiming to be agents from the Attorney General’s Office deleted photographs from La Posta digital outlet reporter Domenica Vivanco’s mobile telephone as she covered a story about a raid on offices tied to a construction company allegedly linked to favorable contracts with Quito mayor Jorge Yunda.

Libel/Slander Laws: Libel is a criminal offense under the law, with penalties of up to three years in prison, plus fines. The law assigns responsibility to media owners, who are liable for opinion pieces or statements by reporters or others, including readers, using their media platforms. Monitoring organizations reported the government did not use libel laws against journalists during the year.

The Law Against Digital Violence, approved by the National Assembly on July 9, expands the prohibition on expressions meant to “discredit or dishonor” another person to acts committed over digital mediums.

Nongovernmental Impact: Unknown persons conducted attacks against journalists throughout the year. Domestic and international media rights groups reported on a January 19 incident in which a gunman shot and wounded Sucumbios Province radio show host Marilu Capa in a Lago Agrio restaurant. Media reported an August 26 incident in which an individual on a bicycle threw and then remotely detonated an explosive object on the balcony of digital journalist Mario Pinto’s Machala home in El Oro Province, although nobody was injured. A previous, similar attempt on his home in December 2020 also resulted in no injuries. Pinto reported on crime in the city. Police were investigating both incidents, but no further developments were available as of December 1.

Stigmatization and hateful speech against journalists and media surged during the election campaign. According to journalists, phrases such as “corrupt press” and “sold-out press” were frequently replicated across broad sectors and on social media starting in January, particularly after former president Correa posted in response to damaging news stories about the Arauz presidential campaign or after publication of investigations into opaque public projects developed under the Correa administration. Investigations of corrupt practices by others (including former president Bucaram) also led to online insults and threats to journalists from the implicated individuals and their allies. NGOs and journalists reported the volume of threatening posts and overall feeling of stigmatization decreased significantly after the April 11 election of President Lasso.

Actions to Expand Freedom of Expression, including for Members of the Online Media: The National Committee for the Protection of Journalists, a joint government-civil society committee formed in 2019, met periodically in response to prominent instances of attacks against journalists. Groups including Fundamedios criticized the committee, saying it lacked strategic vision and planning and often did not follow up on cases in an integrated manner. The groups expressed concern that the haphazard and reactionary government approach to attacks on journalists gave the impression they could be threatened and attacked with relative impunity.

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

The government had declared and extended a broad state of emergency between March and September 2020 until a Constitutional Court decision in August 2020 prohibited the president from renewing the state of emergency using the same grounds as previous requests. The court ruled the state of emergency, which included de facto restrictions on freedom of assembly and association, “cannot be extended indefinitely” because the government needed to transition to a condition allowing “the enjoyment and exercise of constitutional rights threatened (under a state of emergency).”

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

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

Not applicable.

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

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.

Abuse of Migrants and Refugees: Migrants and refugees, especially women and children, sometimes experienced sexual and gender-based violence. UN agencies and local NGOs reported refugee women and children were susceptible to violence and human trafficking, including forced labor, sex trafficking, and the forced recruitment of individuals into criminal activity, such as drug trafficking and robbery, on the northern border, particularly by organized-crime gangs that also operated in Colombia. Government authorities provided basic protection for vulnerable populations; however, continued inflows of migrants and refugees at irregular crossings amid continued border closures complicated the government’s ability to address and prevent abuses against migrants and refugees.

Access to Basic Services: The law provides for access to health care, education, and other services to all individuals irrespective of their migration status. Nonetheless, most Venezuelan migrant and refugee children remained out of the school system, according to official government statistics. According to NGOs, barriers to the enrollment and retention of refugee and migrant children in school included a lack of information about universal access to education; hidden costs of schooling such as uniforms; lack of classroom space; and, in some instances, xenophobic attitudes towards Venezuelans. According to UN agencies and NGOs, refugees encountered discrimination in employment and housing. Recognized refugees received national identification cards that facilitated access to education, employment, banking, and other public services. Refugees and migrants reported that in certain instances, employers did not recognize government-issued documents that establish their right to work.

Durable Solutions: The government accepted refugees for resettlement and offered naturalization to refugees but had recognized very small numbers of Venezuelan refugees. Discrimination and limited access to formal employment and housing affected refugees’ ability to assimilate into the local population.

Temporary Protection: The government implemented a special humanitarian visa process for Venezuelans from September 2019 to December 2020, which led to the issuance of more than 56,000 two-year humanitarian visas. To uphold President Lasso’s June commitment to launch a new regularization process for Venezuelan migrants, the government began designing a new regularization process.

Egypt

Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties

The constitution provides for freedom of expression, including for members of the press and other media, but includes a clause stating, “It may be subject to limited censorship in times of war or public mobilization.” The government frequently did not respect this right. Human rights defenders, journalists, activists, and others regularly faced criminal prosecution on charges that observers assessed were brought in response to criticism of the government. Government failure to investigate or prosecute attacks on human rights defenders and peaceful protesters led to de facto restrictions on freedom of assembly and association. According to the law, newspapers are required to print their issues at licensed printing houses registered with the Supreme Council for Media Regulation; news websites must host their servers in the country; newspapers must submit 20 copies of each printed issue to the council; and news websites and television outlets must keep copies of all published or broadcast material online for one year and submit a copy of their published or broadcast material to the council every month. The law also prohibits any recording, filming, or interviews in public places with the intention of broadcasting them on a media outlet without a permit issued by the council.

Freedom of Expression: Citizens expressed their views on a wide range of political and social topics. The government initiated investigations and prosecutions based on allegations of incitement of violence, insults to religion, insults to public figures and institutions such as the judiciary and the military, or abuse of public morals.

The law provides a broad definition of terrorism, to include “any act harming national unity or social peace.” Human rights observers noted that authorities regularly used the ambiguous definition to stifle nonviolent speech and nonviolent opposition activity.

On January 6, the General Authority for Health Insurance banned photography inside hospitals and banned mobile phones from intensive care units. The decision reportedly came after citizens published videos from hospitals showing deaths and suffering of COVID-19 patients due to alleged shortages in the oxygen supplies. The government denied oxygen shortages had contributed to COVID-19-related deaths.

Housing rights researcher Ibrahim Ezzedine remained in pretrial detention since 2019, more than the two years permitted by law. According to a local human rights organization, he was detained after criticizing the government’s urban slums policies and appeared in 2019 before the State Security Prosecution, where he was accused of joining a banned group and spreading false news.

Between January and June, a local organization that tracks freedom of association and speech recorded 65 abuses of the freedoms of media and artistic and digital expression. For example, in 2019 several political figures, including former member of parliament Ziyad el-Aleimy and journalists Hossam Moanes and Hisham Fouad, were arrested on criminal charges of joining a banned group and spreading false news after they met to form the Alliance of Hope political group to run in parliamentary elections. On July 14, they were referred to trial before a misdemeanor emergency court. On November 17, the emergency court sentenced el-Aleimy to five years in prison and a fine, and Moanes and Fouad to four years in prison and a fine, all for spreading false news inside and outside the country. On November 24, the prime minister, as President Sisi’s delegate, ratified the sentences. The defense team told local press that “many legal violations took place in this case” and claimed they were not given access to more than 1,000 prosecution documents. Local human rights lawyers said the sentences issued by the emergency court could not be appealed and that only the president or his delegate could choose to annul, amend, or not implement the sentences. At year’s end the three remained imprisoned. On July 14, the Court of Cassation upheld an April 2020 ruling to include 13 Alliance of Hope defendants on the terrorism list, including el-Aleimy and activist Ramy Shaath, for alleged collaboration with the banned Muslim Brotherhood.

According to media reports, on February 22, the State Security Prosecution transferred Hazem Hosni, spokesperson for Sami Anan’s 2018 presidential campaign and Cairo University political science professor, to house arrest pending further investigations. On June 27, a human rights lawyer announced the criminal court reduced Hosni’s house arrest from seven to three days per week. Hosni had been held in pretrial detention since his 2019 arrest.

Sinai activists Ashraf al-Hefni and Ashraf Ayoub were released on May 27, according to local media. Al-Hefni, who advocated for human rights and the rights of residents of Sinai but publicly rejected “normalization” with Israel, was detained in 2019. Ayoub had been detained since August 2020.

After a criminal court ordered human rights lawyer Mohamed Ramadan’s release on June 13, Ramadan appeared on June 15, still detained, before the State Security Prosecution in a new case on allegations of joining a banned group and spreading false news. Ramadan had been arrested in 2018 for “inciting social unrest” after he posted a photograph of himself wearing a yellow vest akin to those worn by political protesters in France. As of year’s end, he remained in pretrial detention.

Freedom of Expression for Members of the Press and Other Media, Including Online Media: Independent media expressed a variety of views but with significant restrictions. The constitution, penal code, and the media and publications law govern media topics. The government regulated the licensing of newspapers and controlled the printing and distribution of most newspapers, including private newspapers. The law does not impose restrictions on newspaper ownership.

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

Police arrested several journalists during the year for covering politically sensitive topics, some of whom were released, while others remained in detention. Photojournalist Hamdy al-Zaeem was arrested on January 4, one day after he covered worker protests at a chemical plant. Al-Zaeem appeared before the State Security Prosecution on January 16, where he was detained pending trial on allegations of joining a terrorist group and spreading false news on social media, according to local media. At year’s end he remained in pretrial detention.

Journalist Hamdy Atef Hashem Abdel Fattah was arrested on January 4, after publishing a video showing lack of oxygen for COVID-19 patients at a hospital in Gharbia Governorate. He appeared before the State Security Prosecution on January 11 and was subsequently detained on charges of joining a terrorist group and spreading false news on social media, according to media. At year’s end he remained in pretrial detention.

According to a local NGO, cartoonist Ashraf Hamdy was released between August and September pending trial on allegations of misusing social media and spreading false information. He was arrested on January 25 after posting a video on the 10th anniversary of the January 25 revolution.

Business News company owner Mustafa Saqr was released on March 8. He had been held in pretrial detention on allegations of colluding with a terrorist organization, spreading false news, and misusing social media since his April 2020 arrest after publishing an article that discussed the impact of COVID-19 on the economy. On March 8, Islam al-Kalhy, a journalist affiliated with Daarb news website, who was arrested while covering a demonstration in Monieb, Giza, in September 2020, and freelance journalist Hassan al-Qabbani, who was arrested in 2019, were also released.

On April 13, the State Security Prosecution released journalist and former al-Dostour Party leader Khaled Dawoud pending investigation of charges of colluding with a terrorist group, spreading false news, and misusing social media. Dawoud had been held in pretrial detention since his arrest in 2019.

According to the organization, a plainclothes security officer arrested laborer Ahmed al-Araby on May 12 in Banha based on political social media posts he made. The organization added that during the 19 days after his arrest, al-Araby was subjected to beating and electric shocks, interrogated as to whether he had links to the Muslim Brotherhood, and forced to confess involvement in street demonstrations, which he later recanted. He remained in pretrial detention pending trial on allegations of joining a terrorist group, spreading false news, and misusing social media.

As of December the Committee to Protect Journalists reported 25 journalists were imprisoned in the country.

Violence and Harassment: According to media reports and local and international human rights groups, state actors arrested, imprisoned, harassed, and intimidated journalists. The family of detained journalist Mohamed Salah said on social media that Salah had been subjected to severe physical assault and abuse in pretrial detention on January 9. Human rights organizations added that the abuse included stripping Salah and his cell mates of their clothes, hanging them in a hallway, and beating them with metal objects. Amnesty International reported in May that Salah was arrested in 2019, beaten at a police station in December 2020, ordered released, and rearrested in a new case without release. At year’s end he remained in pretrial detention.

Censorship or Content Restrictions: Official censorship occurred. The emergency law allows the president to censor information during a state of emergency.

On January 25, an administrative court ordered the Media Regulating Authority to ban YouTube channels that broadcast a film produced in 2013 regarding the Prophet Mohammed that was found to be offensive. On June 30, authorities asked al-Maraya Publishing House to not display and sell a book by imprisoned political activist Ahmed Douma at the Cairo International Book Fair, according to local media.

Media rights organizations said the government blocked thousands of websites, including 127 news websites, including Mada Masr, alManassa, and Daarb.

The law considers websites and social media accounts with at least 5,000 subscribers to be media outlets, requires them to pay a licensing fee, and grants the Supreme Council for Media Regulation broad discretion to block their content. On August 23, the council announced that it blocked some websites it said failed to apply for such a license.

The number of arrests for social media posts reportedly had a chilling effect on online speech. Some activists and many journalists reported privately they self-censored criticism of the government or comments that could be perceived as sympathetic to the Muslim Brotherhood, due to the government designating the Muslim Brotherhood as a terrorist organization and the progovernment media environment. Publishers were also wary of publishing books that criticized religious institutions, such as al-Azhar, or challenged Islamic doctrine. Online journalists were also reluctant to discuss sensitive topics.

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

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

The law imposes a fine on any person who “intentionally publishes…or spreads false news.” The fine is many times the average annual salary of most local journalists. The government maintained hotlines for members of the public to call or leave text messages reporting fake news in either traditional or social media that endangers state security.

On May 29, former ambassador to Venezuela Yehia Negm was arrested on allegations of joining a terrorist group, spreading false news, and misusing social media after he posted a tweet criticizing the government’s management of the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam topic.

Atef Hasballah, editor in chief of Alkarar Press website, was released during the year on precautionary measures pending trial, according to a local NGO. Hasballah was arrested in March 2020 following a post on his Facebook page questioning official statistics on the spread of COVID-19 cases in the country.

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

The government restricted the freedoms of peaceful assembly and association.

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

The law provides for freedom of internal movement, foreign travel, emigration, and repatriation, and the government generally respected these rights, albeit with some exceptions, including the treatment of potential refugees and asylum seekers.

In-country Movement: Citizens and foreigners may not travel freely in areas of the country designated as military zones. The government sought to prevent private individuals, journalists, civil society figures, and international organizations from entering North Sinai on safety grounds, which the government stated were necessary restrictions in response to long-running counterterrorism operations. According to a local human rights organization, security forces set up security checkpoints in downtown Cairo and other locations around the anniversaries of street protests and conducted searches and arrests without warrants.

Foreign Travel: The constitution states, “No citizen may be prevented from leaving the State territory.” Nonetheless, men who have not completed compulsory military service and have not obtained an exemption may not travel abroad or emigrate. National identification cards indicated completion of military service.

Authorities required citizens between ages 18 and 40 to obtain permission from the Interior Ministry to travel to 16 countries: Georgia, Guinea, Indonesia, Iraq, Jordan, Lebanon, Libya, Malaysia, Qatar, South Africa, South Korea, Sudan, Syria, Thailand, Turkey, and Yemen. Enforcement of these regulations was sporadic. The government stated it intended these regulations to make it more difficult for citizens to join terrorist groups and to stop the flight of criminals. These regulations also affected the ability of other individuals to travel outside the country. Authorities maintained a “no-fly” list that prevented some defendants in court cases from fleeing the country.

The government imposed travel bans on some human rights defenders and political activists who were under investigation or formally charged. Local human rights groups maintained that authorities used travel bans to intimidate and silence human rights defenders. A 2018 court ruling stated a travel ban “does not require the investigation of certain facts and their certainty,” but there must be “serious evidence that there are reasons for it and that the decision to prevent travel is due to security reasons and the interests of the state.” Case 173 defendants who still had travel bans or asset freezes included Hossam Bahgat, Mohamed Zarea, Bahey Eldin Hassan, Abd El Hafez Tayal, and Mostafa El Hassan. On August 24, political science professor Hassan Nafaa posted on Twitter that hours before he intended to travel abroad that day, he learned that he had been banned from traveling. Nafaa appealed to the prosecutor general to reconsider the list of those banned from traveling, claiming the ban in general had changed from a precautionary measure into punishment outside the scope of the law. In March 2020 the State Security Prosecution released Nafaa along with 14 others.

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

On June 6, the Supreme Administrative Court ruled the Ministry of Foreign Affairs did not have to renew the passport of Ayman Nour, the president of the opposition New Ghad Party, who was living abroad. Nour had filed a lawsuit when the ministry refused to renew his passport at the country’s consulates in Turkey and Lebanon.

Not applicable.

The government cooperated with the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR)