Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:
While the constitution provides for freedom of speech and of the press, the government limited freedom of expression and exerted influence on media through a variety of means, including detention, imprisonment, criminal and administrative charges, laws, harassment, licensing regulations, and internet restrictions.
After her May visit to the country, UN Special Rapporteur on the Promotion and Protection of Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms While Countering Terrorism Fionualla Ni Aolain expressed deep concern at the use of counterterrorism and extremism laws to target, marginalize, and criminalize the work of civil society. “Nonviolent criticism of State policies can effectively constitute a criminal offense,” she wrote, “as the provisions on extremism and terrorism have been applied to criminalize the peaceful exercise of freedom of expression and of thought, which is incompatible with a society governed by rule of law and abiding by human rights principles and obligations.”
Journalists and media outlets exercised self-censorship to avoid pressure by the government. The law provides for additional measures and restrictions during “social emergencies,” defined as “an emergency on a certain territory caused by contradictions and conflicts in social relations that may cause or have caused loss of life, personal injury, significant property damage, or violation of conditions of the population.” In these situations, the government may censor media sources by requiring them to provide their print, audio, and video information to authorities 24 hours before issuance or broadcasting for approval. Political parties and public associations may be suspended or closed should they obstruct the efforts of security forces. Regulations also allow the government to restrict or ban copying equipment, broadcasting equipment, and audio and video recording devices and to seize temporarily sound-enhancing equipment.
Freedom of Expression: The government limited individual ability to criticize the country’s leadership, and regional leaders attempted to limit criticism of their actions in local media. The law prohibits insulting the president or the president’s family, and penalizes “intentionally spreading false information” with fines of up to 12.63 million tenge ($32,793) and imprisonment for up to seven years.
In May the Almaty City Court rejected the appeal of Almat Zhumagulov and Kenzhebek Abishev, who were sentenced to eight and seven years’ imprisonment respectively in December 2018 on charges of advocating for terrorism. Supporters and human rights advocates called the case against them politically motivated and asserted that the video of masked figures calling for jihad that served as the primary evidence for their conviction was fabricated by the government. Zhumagulov was a supporter of the banned DCK opposition organization. Abishev, who denied any connection to DCK, was an advocate for land reform and other political issues.
On April 21, authorities arrested activists Asya Tulesova and Beibarys Tolymbekov for displaying a banner with slogans urging free and fair elections during the Almaty marathon. Both were convicted of violating the law on organizing a rally and sentenced to 15 days in jail. Amnesty International recognized the activists as prisoners of conscience.
Press and Media, Including Online Media: Independent media was severely limited. Many privately owned newspapers and television stations received government subsidies. The lack of transparency in media ownership and the dependence of many outlets on government contracts for media coverage are significant problems.
Companies allegedly controlled by members of the former president Nazarbayev’s family or associates owned many of the broadcast media outlets that the government did not control outright. According to media observers, the government wholly or partly owned most of the nationwide television broadcasters. Regional governments owned several frequencies, and the Ministry of Information and Social Development distributed those frequencies to independent broadcasters via a tender system.
All media are required to register with the Ministry of Information and Social Development, although websites are exempt from this requirement. The law limits the simultaneous broadcast of foreign-produced programming to 20 percent of a locally based station’s weekly broadcast time. This provision burdened smaller, less-developed regional television stations that lacked resources to create programs, although the government did not sanction any media outlet under this provision. Foreign media broadcasting does not have to meet this requirement.
Violence and Harassment: Independent journalists and those working in opposition media or covering stories related to corruption and rallies or demonstrations reported harassment and intimidation by government officials and private actors. On July 22, a group of 20 women interfered with the work of and attacked journalists who were covering a news conference at the Kazakhstan International Bureau for Human Rights and Rule of Law in Almaty. They entered the building before a press conference regarding three women arrested on charges of participation in the DCK banned opposition movement, including Oksana Shevchuk. Five of the women punched and attacked a journalist and others destroyed or attempted to destroy the journalists’ equipment. Police determined the incident was “arbitrary behavior” and did not press charges.
Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty reporters Saniya Toiken and Svetlana Glushkova were separately taken to court in cases that human rights defenders called politically motivated. Toiken had been covering protests by unemployed workers in Zhanaozen in February, and Glushkova had reported on unsanctioned rallies following the transition of presidential power in March. Glushkova was found guilty of assault for allegedly pushing a 17-year-old girl during a protest in what observers called a fabricated charge.
Censorship or Content Restrictions: The law enables the government to restrict media content through amendments that prohibit undermining state security or advocating class, social, race, national, or religious discord. Owners, editors, distributors, and journalists may be held civilly and criminally responsible for content unless it came from an official source.
By law internet resources, including social media, are classified as forms of mass media and governed by the same rules and regulations. Authorities continued to charge bloggers and social media users with criminal violations due to their online posts.
On October 15, Saryarka District Court No. 2 in Nur-Sultan sentenced civil activist Serik Zhakhin to one year of restricted movement and a two-year ban on using social media or participating in rallies for using social media to support DCK, which is banned as an extremist organization. Restricted movement is a probation-like penalty, with a curfew and other limitations. According to the court, Zhakhin posted information about DCK on his Facebook page. The court also ordered that he pay a fine of 20,250 tenge ($53) and perform community service. Zhakhin denied the allegations and said he was not an extremist. Zhakhin had been under pretrial detention from June 7 until his release on restricted movement.
In September 2018 Ablovas Jumayev received a three-year prison sentence on conviction of charges of inciting social discord because he posted messages critical of the government to a 10,000-member Telegram messenger group and allegedly distributed antigovernment leaflets. Jumayev denied the leafleting charges, stating that the leaflets were planted in his car. On Telegram, he had criticized the president’s appointment of a regional police chief. On July 29, a court ruled to change Jumayev’s sentence to restricted movement and a restriction on political activism, and released him.
Libel/Slander Laws: The law provides enhanced penalties for libel and slander against senior government officials. Private parties may initiate criminal libel suits without independent action by the government, and an individual filing such a suit may also file a civil suit based on the same allegations. Officials used the law’s libel and defamation provisions to restrict media outlets from publishing unflattering information. Both the criminal and civil codes contain articles establishing broad liability for libel and slander, with no statute of limitation or maximum amount of compensation. The requirement that owners, editors, distributors, publishing houses, and journalists prove the veracity of published information, regardless of its source, encouraged self-censorship at each level.
The law includes penalties for conviction of defamatory remarks made in mass media or “information-communication networks,” including heavy fines and prison terms. Journalists and human rights activists feared these provisions would strengthen the government’s ability to restrict investigative journalism.
On September 24, the Saryagash City Court sentenced journalist Amangeldy Batyrbekov to two years and 10 months imprisonment on charges of libel. Batyrbekov published a post on his personal social media page with the title “Idiocy in Kelesi,” criticizing the head of the local department of education. The court determined that the Batyrbekov’s post insulted the honor of the official. Domestic NGO Adil Soz called Batyrbekov a “prisoner of freedom of speech,” and international NGO Reporters Without Borders included him on its 2019 list of imprisoned journalists.
National Security: The law criminalizes the release of information regarding the health, finances, or private life of the president, as well as economic information, such as data on mineral reserves or government debts to foreign creditors. To avoid possible legal problems, media outlets often practiced self-censorship regarding the president and his family.
The law prohibits “influencing public and individual consciousness to the detriment of national security through deliberate distortion and spreading of unreliable information.” Legal experts noted the term “unreliable information” is overly broad. The law also requires owners of communication networks and service providers to obey the orders of authorities in case of terrorist attacks or to suppress mass riots.
The law prohibits publication of any statement that promotes or glorifies “extremism” or “incites discord,” terms that international legal experts noted the government did not clearly define. The government subjected to intimidation media outlets that criticized the president; such intimidation included law enforcement actions and civil suits. Although these actions continued to have a chilling effect on media outlets, some criticism of government policies continued. Incidents of local government pressure on media continued.
In March authorities brought charges against Serikzhan Bilash, who led the Chinese ethnic Kazakh advocacy organization Atajurt, for inciting interethnic hatred. The basis for the charge was a video clip in which Bilash called for “jihad” against the Chinese. Bilash and his supporters said that in the full speech he immediately clarified that he meant not a violent jihad, but an informational campaign–a “jihad of words.” Faced with the likelihood of a long prison sentence, Bilash pled guilty to the offense August 16 and agreed to cease his activism, in exchange for his freedom.
The government exercised comprehensive control over online content. Observers reported the government blocked or slowed access to opposition websites. Many observers believed the government added progovernment postings and opinions in internet chat rooms. The government regulated the country’s internet providers, including majority state-owned Kazakhtelecom. Nevertheless, websites carried a wide variety of views, including viewpoints critical of the government.
In January 2018 amendments to the media law entered into force. The amended law prohibits citizens from leaving anonymous comments on media outlet websites, which must register all online commenters and make the registration information available to law enforcement agencies on request. As a result most online media outlets chose to shut down public comment platforms.
The Ministry of Digital Development, Innovations, and Aerospace Industry controlled the registration of “.kz” internet domains. Authorities may suspend or revoke registration for locating servers outside the country. Observers criticized the registration process as unduly restrictive and vulnerable to abuse.
The government implemented regulations on internet access that mandated surveillance cameras in all internet cafes, required visitors to present identification to use the internet, demanded internet cafes keep a log of visited websites, and authorized law enforcement officials to access the names and internet histories of users.
In several cases the government denied it was behind the blocking of websites. Bloggers reported anecdotally their sites were periodically blocked, as did the publishers of independent news sites.
The law allows the prosecutor general to suspend access to the internet and other means of communication without a court order. The prosecutor general may suspend communication services in cases where communication networks are used “for criminal purposes to harm the interests of an individual, society, or the state, or to disseminate information violating the Election Law…or containing calls for extremist or terrorist activities, riots, or participation in large-scale (public) activities carried out in violation of the established order.”
According to Freedom House’s Freedom on the Net 2019 report, where the country is listed as “not free,” “internet freedom in Kazakhstan deteriorated markedly” in the period from June 2018 to May 31, 2019, primarily in connection with unrest triggered by the presidential transition. The report noted that the government disrupted mobile internet connections, throttled access to social media, and temporarily blocked independent news websites.
During demonstrations in May and on election day, June 9, some users reported that access to the internet was intermittently, and at times completely, blocked, including access to VPN services. These outages coincided with protests in Nur-Sultan, Almaty, Shymkent, and elsewhere, eliminating the potential to livestream and share live updates from protest scenes on social media and internet news platforms. International cybersecurity NGO NetBlocks reported that these outages were consistent with in-country internet providers blocking the internet. International NGO Reporters Without Borders expressed concerns about censorship related to coverage of peaceful demonstrations. The government denied responsibility.
Government surveillance was also prevalent. According to Freedom House’s report, “the government centralizes internet infrastructure in a way that facilitates control of content and surveillance.” Authorities, both national and local, monitored internet traffic and online communications. The report stated that “activists using social media were occasionally intercepted or punished, sometimes preemptively, by authorities who had prior knowledge of their planned activities.”
On February 13, the Almaty City Court rejected the appeal of Aset Abishev, who was sentenced in November 2018 to four years’ imprisonment for supporting an extremist organization on the basis of Facebook posts he wrote or shared in support of the banned DCK opposition movement. Media reported that Abishev told the court he did not believe it was a crime to express opinions critical of the government. “If the desire for teachers to receive a decent salary or for children to study and be fed for free in schools is extremism, then I am guilty. But I have not committed any illegal or violent actions,” he said.
The government generally did not restrict academic freedom, although general restrictions, such as the prohibition on infringing on the dignity and honor of the president and his family, also applied to academics. Many academics practiced self-censorship. In September the Anti-Corruption Agency started an investigation into Karaganda Buketov State University, where the head of the university was suspected of offering a $5,000 (almost two million tenge) bribe to the chairman of the Board of Scientific Fund of the Ministry of Science and Education to get support for the university’s scientific projects and other undefined favors. The investigation was ongoing at year’s end.
The law provides for limited freedom of assembly, but there were significant restrictions on this right. The law defines unsanctioned gatherings, public meetings, demonstrations, marches, picketing, and strikes that upset social and political stability as national security threats.
The law includes penalties for organizing or participating in illegal gatherings and for providing organizational support in the form of property, means of communication, equipment, and transportation, if the enumerated actions cause significant damage to the rights and legal interests of citizens, entities, or legally protected interests of the society or the government.
By law organizations must apply to local authorities at least 10 days in advance for a permit to hold a demonstration or public meeting. Opposition figures and human rights monitors complained that complicated and vague procedures and the 10-day notification period made it difficult for groups to organize public meetings and demonstrations and noted local authorities turned down many applications for demonstrations or only allowed them to take place outside the city center.
During and just after the presidential election from June 9-13, police detained thousands of citizens across the country, and in particular in Nur-Sultan, Almaty, and Shymkent, for taking part in peaceful, although unsanctioned opposition rallies and demonstrations critiquing the presidential election. The Interior Ministry reported detention of about 4,000 citizens, 3,000 of whom were released within three hours; 677 citizens were sentenced to short-term imprisonments (five to 15 days) and 305 were fined. According to human rights activists and media, police and special forces indiscriminately detained those in the protest areas, sometimes with bodily force, including passers-by, senior citizens, and journalists. An Interior Ministry official called the protesters “radically-minded elements trying to destabilize public order.”
The law provides for limited freedom of association, but there were significant restrictions on this right. Any public organization set up by citizens, including religious groups, must be registered with the Ministry of Justice, as well as with the local departments of justice in every region in which the organization conducts activities. The law requires public or religious associations to define their specific activities, and any association that acts outside the scope of its charter may be warned, fined, suspended, or ultimately banned. Participation in unregistered public organizations may result in administrative or criminal penalties, such as fines, imprisonment, the closure of an organization, or suspension of its activities.
NGOs reported some difficulty in registering public associations. According to government information, these difficulties were due to discrepancies in the submitted documents. (See section 5 regarding government restrictions on the registration of human rights organizations.)
Membership organizations other than religious groups, which are covered under separate legislation, must have at least 10 members to register at the local level and must have branches in more than one-half the country’s regions for national registration. (See section 3 and section 7.a. for more information about political parties and labor unions, respectively.)
Under the 2015 NGO financing law, all “nongovernment organizations, subsidiaries, and representative offices of foreign and international noncommercial organizations” are required to provide information on “their activities, including information regarding the founders, assets, sources of their funds and what they are spent on….” An “authorized body” may initiate a “verification” of the information submitted based on information received in mass media reports, complaints from individuals and entities, or other subjective sources. Untimely or inaccurate information contained in the report, discovered during verification, is an administrative offense and may carry fines up to 63,125 tenge ($164) or suspension for three months if the violation is not rectified or is repeated within one year. In extreme cases criminal penalties are possible, which may lead to a large fine, suspension, or closure of the organization.
The law prohibits illegal interference by members of public associations in the activities of the government, with a fine of up to 404,000 tenge ($1,049) or imprisonment for up to 40 days. If committed by the leader of the organization, the fine may be up to 505,000 tenge ($1,311) or imprisonment for no more than 50 days. The law does not clearly define “illegal interference.”
By law a public association, along with its leaders and members, may face fines for performing activities outside its charter. The law is not clear regarding the delineation between actions an NGO member may take in his or her private capacity versus as part of an organization.
The law establishes broad reporting requirements concerning the receipt and expenditure of foreign funds or assets; it also requires labeling all publications produced with support from foreign funds. The law also sets out administrative and criminal penalties for noncompliance with these requirements and potential restrictions on the conduct of meetings, protests, and similar activities organized with foreign funds.
See the Department of State’s International Religious Freedom Report at https://www.state.gov/religiousfreedomreport/.
d. Freedom of Movement
The law provides for freedom of internal movement, foreign travel, emigration, and repatriation. Despite some regulatory restrictions, the government generally respected these rights.
In-country Movement: The government required foreigners who remained in the country for more than five days to register with migration police. Foreigners entering the country had to register at certain border posts or airports where they entered. Some foreigners experienced problems traveling in regions outside their registration area. The government’s Concept on Improving Migration Policy report covers internal migration, repatriation of ethnic Kazakh returnees, and external labor migration. In 2017 the government amended the rules for migrants entering the country so that migrants from Eurasian Economic Union countries may stay up to 90 days. There is a registration exemption for families of legal migrant workers for a 30-day period after the worker starts employment. The government has broad authority to deport those who violate the regulations.
Since 2011 the government has not reported the number of foreigners deported for gross violation of visitor rules. Individuals facing deportation may request asylum if they fear persecution in their home country. The government required persons who were suspects in criminal investigations to sign statements they would not leave their city of residence.
Authorities required foreigners to obtain prior permission to travel to certain border areas adjoining China and cities in close proximity to military installations. The government continued to declare particular areas closed to foreigners due to their proximity to military bases and the space launch center at Baikonur.
Foreign Travel: The government did not require exit visas for temporary travel of citizens, yet there were certain instances in which the government could deny exit from the country, including in the case of travelers subject to pending criminal or civil proceedings or having unfulfilled prison sentences, unpaid taxes, fines, alimony or utility bills, or compulsory military duty. Travelers who present false documentation during the exit process could be denied the right to exit, and authorities controlled travel by active-duty military personnel. The law requires persons who had access to state secrets to obtain permission from their employing government agency for temporary exit from the country.
Exile: The law does not prohibit forced exile if authorized by an appropriate government agency or through a court ruling.
Abuse of Migrants, Refugees, and Stateless Persons: The government cooperated with the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) and other humanitarian organizations in providing protection and assistance to internally displaced persons (IDPs), refugees, returning refugees, asylum seekers, stateless persons, and other persons of concern.
There were 561 recognized refugees in the country as of July, but there were no persons recognized as refugees during the first nine months of the year. Both the number of refugee applications and the approval rate by the government declined considerably during the last two years compared with prior years.
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. UNHCR legal partners may appeal to the government and intervene on behalf of individuals facing deportation. The law and several implementing regulations and bylaws regulate the granting of asylum and refugee status.
The Refugee Status Determination outlines procedures and access to government services, including the right to be legally registered and issued official documents. The Department of Migration Service of the Ministry of Internal Affairs conducts status determination procedures. Any individual located within the country who seeks asylum in the country has access to the asylum procedure. According to UNHCR, the refugee system falls short of the international standard regarding access to asylum procedures and access to the territory of Kazakhstan. Authorities remain reluctant to accept asylum applications at the border from persons who lack valid identity documents, citing security concerns. A person, however, who crosses the border illegally may be prosecuted in criminal court, and subsequently may be viewed as a person with criminal potential, a negative factor in the asylum decision.
In October 2018 migration authorities rejected the asylum claim of Sayragul Sauytbay, an ethnic Kazakh Chinese national, because she had not shown that she was persecuted while living in Xinjiang, China. Sauytbay subsequently appealed the rejection of her asylum through the courts, which had not made a final decision when she left Kazakhstan to seek asylum in Sweden in June.
A legislative framework does not exist to manage the movement of asylum seekers between the country’s borders and authorities in other areas. There are no reception facilities for asylum seekers. The government does not provide accommodation, allowances, or any social benefits to asylum seekers. The law does not provide for differentiated procedures for persons with specific needs, such as separated children and persons with disabilities. Asylum seekers and refugees with specific needs are not entitled to financial assistance. There are no guidelines for handling sensitive cases, including lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and intersex (LGBTI) cases.
Employment: Refugees faced difficulties in gaining employment and social assistance from the government. By law refugees have the right to work but cannot engage in individual entrepreneurship. Refugees faced difficulties in accessing the labor market due to local employers’ lack of awareness of refugee rights, with the result that most refugees work on the informal economy.
Access to Basic Services: All refugees recognized by the government receive a refugee certificate that allows them to stay in the country legally. The majority of refugees have been residing in the country for many years. Their status as “temporarily residing aliens” hinders their access to the full range of rights stipulated in the 1951 convention and the law. Refugee status lasts for one year and is subject to annual renewal. In 2018 it became possible for refugees to apply for permanent residency if they have a valid passport. Some refugees have already received permanent residency in 2018 and 2019, and they are to be eligible to become Kazakhstani citizens after five years. The law also lacks provisions on treatment of asylum seekers and refugees with specific needs. Refugees have access to education and health care on the same basis as citizens, but they have no access to social benefits or allowances.
UNHCR reported cordial relations with the government in assisting refugees and asylum seekers.
The government was generally tolerant in its treatment of local refugee populations.
Consistent with the Minsk Convention on Migration within the Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS), the government did not recognize Chechens as refugees. Chechens are eligible for temporary legal resident status for up to 180 days, as are any other CIS citizens. This temporary registration is renewable, but local migration officials may exercise discretion over the renewal process.
The government has an agreement with China not to tolerate the presence of ethnic separatists from one country on the territory of the other.
The constitution and law provide avenues to deal with those considered stateless, and the government generally took seriously its obligation to ease the burden of statelessness within the country. The country contributes to statelessness because application for Kazakhstani citizenship requires renunciation of citizenship of the country of origin, with no guarantee that Kazakhstani citizenship will be granted. As of July 1, 7,476 persons were officially registered by the government as stateless. The majority of individuals residing in the country with undetermined nationality, with de facto statelessness, or at heightened risk of statelessness, are primarily those who have no identity documents, have invalid identity documents from a neighboring CIS country, or are holders of Soviet-era passports. These individuals typically resided in remote areas without obtaining official documentation.
A 2017 law allows the government to deprive Kazakhstani citizenship to individuals convicted of a range of grave terrorism and extremism-related crimes, including for “harming the interest of the state.” According to UNHCR and the government, no one has yet been deprived of citizenship under this law. Instead, during the year the government repatriated hundreds of Kazakhstanis who joined international terrorist organizations and their families, prosecuting the fighters in criminal court and providing social services to family members.
According to UNHCR the law provides a range of rights to persons recognized by the government as stateless. The legal status of officially registered stateless persons is documented and considered as having permanent residency, which is granted for 10 years in the form of a stateless person certificate. According to the law, after five years of residence in the country, stateless persons are eligible to apply for citizenship. Children born in the country to officially recognized stateless persons who have a permanent place of residence are recognized as nationals. A legal procedure exists for ethnic Kazakhs; those with immediate relatives in the country; and citizens of Ukraine, Belarus, Russia, and Kyrgyzstan, with which the country has agreements. The law gives the government six months to consider an application for citizenship. Some applicants complained that, due to the lengthy bureaucratic process, obtaining citizenship often took years. In summary the law does not provide a simplified naturalization procedure for stateless persons. Existing legislation prevents children of parents without identity documents from obtaining birth certificates, which hindered their access to education, free health care, and freedom of movement.
Persons rejected or whose status of stateless persons has been revoked may appeal the decision, but such appeals involved a lengthy process.
Officially recognized stateless persons have access to free medical assistance on the level provided to other foreigners, but it is limited to emergency medical care and to treatment of 21 contagious diseases on a list approved by the Ministry of Health Care and Social Development. Officially recognized stateless persons have a right to employment, although not with the government. They may face challenges when concluding labor contracts, since potential employers may not understand or be aware of this legal right.
UNHCR reported that stateless persons without identity documents may not legally work, which led to the growth of illegal labor migration, corruption, and abuse of authority among employers. Children accompanying stateless parents were also considered stateless.
Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:
The law provides for freedom of expression, including for the press, but the government sometimes restricted this right.
Freedom of Expression: In 2017 a branch of the High Court declared unconstitutional Section 132 of the penal code that criminalized “undermining the authority of a public officer,” ruling the provision violated the fundamental right of freedom of expression. Other provisions of the constitution and the law prohibiting hate speech and incitement to violence remained in force. The Judicial Service Commission, however, reported many cases were withdrawn due to failure of witnesses to appear in court or to facilitate mediation. Cases that did proceed often failed to meet evidentiary requirements. Authorities arrested members of parliament (MPs) on incitement or hate speech charges. In June authorities arrested MP Charles Kanyi for incitement to violence after Kanyi allegedly threatened foreigners operating businesses in Nairobi. In September the Milimani chief magistrate acquitted four serving and former MPs of hate speech charges related to statements made in 2016.
Press and Media, Including Online Media: The government occasionally interpreted laws to restrict press freedom, and officials occasionally accused the international media of publishing stories and engaging in activities that could incite violence. Two laws give the government oversight of media by creating a complaints tribunal with expansive authority, including the power to revoke journalists’ credentials and levy debilitating fines. The government was media’s largest source of advertising revenue, and regularly used this as a lever to influence media owners. Most news media continued to cover a wide variety of political and social issues, and most newspapers published opinion pieces criticizing the government.
Sixteen other laws restrict media operations and place restrictions on freedom of the press. In 2016 the president signed into law the Access to Information Act, which media freedom advocates lauded as progress in government transparency. The government, however, has not issued regulations required to implement the act fully, and civil society organizations reported government departments failed in some instances to disclose information.
Violence and Harassment: Journalists alleged security forces or supporters of politicians at the national and county levels sometimes harassed and physically intimidated them. The government at times failed to investigate allegations of harassment, threats, and physical attacks on members of the media.
In February, Kenya Forest Service rangers assaulted four journalists while they were covering a ceremony in Naro Moru Forest Station. The cabinet secretary for the environment ordered the suspension of five officers involved in the assault.
In June, two Kenya Television Network (KTN) journalists were attacked and seriously injured by students and faculty of St. Stephen’s Girls Secondary School in Machakos County. The school’s principal was charged with assault and inciting the students to attack the journalists. The principal allegedly opposed the journalists investigating a case of a missing student.
Censorship or Content Restrictions: The mainstream media were generally independent, but there were reports by journalists government officials pressured them to avoid certain topics and stories and intimidated them if officials judged they had already published or broadcast stories too critical of the government. There were also reports journalists avoided covering issues or writing stories they believed their editors would reject due to direct or indirect government pressure.
Journalists practiced self-censorship to avoid conflict with the government on sensitive subjects, such as the first family or assets owned by the Kenyatta family.
Libel/Slander Laws: In 2017 a branch of the High Court declared unconstitutional a portion of the law that defined the offense of criminal defamation. Libel and slander remain civil offenses.
National Security: The government cited national or public security as grounds to suppress views it considered politically embarrassing.
Police arrested and detained for 14 days prominent social media blogger Robert Alai in June for posting pictures of police officers who were killed in a terror attack. Despite taking down the pictures as requested by police, he was arraigned in court and charged with two counts of treachery and disclosure of information in relation to terrorist activities. He was released on bail.
The government did not restrict or disrupt access to the internet or censor online content, and there were no credible reports the government monitored private online communications without appropriate legal authority. Authorities, however, monitored websites for violations of hate speech laws. According to the Freedom on the Net report, a number of citizens have been arrested for alleged hate speech or criticizing the government. In May 2018 President Kenyatta signed into law the Computer Misuse and Cybercrime Act, which was to come into force on May 30. Later in May 2018 the High Court suspended enforcement of 26 sections of the new law pending further hearings. The court based the suspension on complaints that the law was overly vague and subject to misuse, that it criminalized defamation, and that it failed to include intent requirements in key provisions and exceptions for public use and whistleblowers. The hearings remained pending as of the year’s end.
By law mobile telephone service providers may block mass messages they judge would incite violence. The National Cohesion and Integration Commission tracked bloggers and social media users accused of spreading hate speech. Leading up to the 2017 election season, online hate speech, disinformation, and surveillance were reported, and the Communications Authority of Kenya issued regulations that could limit disinformation online.
Privacy International reported the National Intelligence Service has direct access to the country’s telecommunications networks that allows for the interception of communications data. Furthermore, Privacy International reported the NPS also has surveillance powers, established in the National Police Service Act and the National Police Service Commission Act of 2011. Freedom House additionally reported authorities have used various types of surveillance technologies to monitor citizens. During the year the Citizen Lab published findings on the presence of Israeli-based NSO Group mobile phone spyware on two local internet service providers, Safaricom and SimbaNet.
There were no government restrictions on academic freedom or cultural events. A 2016 law provides for communities to receive compensation or royalties for the use of their cultural heritage.
Although the constitution and law provide for freedom of assembly, the government sometimes restricted this right. Police routinely denied requests for meetings filed by human rights activists, and authorities dispersed persons attending meetings that had not been prohibited beforehand. Organizers must notify local police in advance of public meetings, which may proceed unless police notify organizers otherwise. By law authorities may prohibit gatherings only if there is another previously scheduled meeting at the same time and venue or if there is a perceived specific security threat.
Police used excessive force at times to disperse demonstrators. The local press reported on multiple occasions that police used tear gas to disperse demonstrators or crowds of various types. On April 30, police used tear gas to disperse protesters who had gathered at Uhuru Park in Nairobi to protest widespread corruption. The security officer in charge of Nairobi central police station cautioned protesters that “there will be no marching outside Uhuru Park.”
On June 19, two human rights activists were arrested while taking part in a peaceful demonstration to express solidarity with the people of Sudan. Police using tear gas also dispersed hundreds of peaceful demonstrators. The arrests occurred despite the fact the activists had notified the central police station of their intention to protest and requested security. Two months earlier, activist Beatrice Waithera was arrested while participating in an anticorruption protest in Nairobi.
In November videos posted on social media showed police officers kicking and assaulting a student protesting at Jomo Kenyatta University of Agriculture and Technology. The cabinet secretary for the ministry of interior immediately condemned the incident. Four officers were suspended pending the outcomes of the investigations by IPOA and the IAU.
On July 9, local police dispersed a demonstration outside the South Sudan Embassy in Nairobi, even though organizers stated they had provided proper notification. Authorities charged three demonstrators with unlawful assembly, and they were released on bail. They reported to Amnesty International police beat them while in custody.
In March the government tabled a draft amendment to the Public Order Act (2014) that would impose criminal and civil liability on anyone who, while participating in an assembly, causes grievous harm or damage to property or loss of earnings. Civil society groups criticized the draft bill for imposing undue restrictions on the right to peaceful assembly.
The constitution and law provide for freedom of association, and the government generally respected this right, but there were reports authorities arbitrarily denied this right in some cases. A 2018 statement by the UN Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights noted reprisals faced by numerous human rights defenders and communities that raised human rights concerns. Reprisals reportedly took the form of intimidation, termination of employment, beatings, and arrests and threats of malicious prosecution. There were reports of restrictions on workers’ freedom of association, including in the agribusiness and public sectors. Trade unionists reported workers dismissed for joining trade unions or for demanding respect for their labor rights.
In December 2018 a report by the Defenders Coalition stated a majority of human rights activists who participated in a survey reported experiencing security breaches, including unlawful access of their social media and email accounts as well as telephone tapping.
The law requires every public association be either registered or exempted from registration by the Registrar of Societies. The law requires NGOs dedicated to advocacy, public benefit, or the promotion of charity or research register with the NGO Coordination Board. It also requires organizations employing foreign staff to seek authorization from the NGO Coordination Board before applying for a work permit.
Despite two court rulings ordering the government to operationalize the 2013 Public Benefits Organization Act, an important step in providing a transparent legal framework for NGO activities, the act had not been implemented by year’s end.
In July parliament passed an amendment to the Prevention of Terrorism Act that empowered the National Counter Terrorism Center (NCTC) to become an “approving and reporting institution for all civil society organizations and international NGOs engaged in preventing and countering violent extremism and radicalization through countermessaging or public outreach, and disengagement and reintegration of radicalized individuals.” Civil society leaders expressed concerns the broad language of the amendment may allow government authorities to exert undue oversight and control over the activities of NGOs. As of year’s end, the NCTC had not issued guidance to clarify implementation of the law. In November a consortium of civil society leaders filed a court case against the amendment, which continued to proceed through legal channels.
See the Department of State’s International Religious Freedom Report at https://www.state.gov/religiousfreedomreport/.
d. Freedom of Movement
The law provides for freedom of internal movement, foreign travel, emigration, and repatriation for citizens, and the government respected those rights, but it placed restrictions on movement for refugees.
In-country Movement: Refugees and asylum seekers require registration with the National Registration Bureau, and the law reiterates strict implementation of the encampment policy. The Interior Ministry’s Refugee Affairs Secretariat (RAS), responsible for refugee management in the country, continued to enforce the encampment policy requiring all refugees and asylum-seekers to reside in the designated refugee camps, despite a Court of Appeal decision to the contrary. RAS issues new arrival asylum seekers with registration documents and movement passes requiring them to report to the camps. Refugees needing to move outside the designated areas (Kakuma camp, Kalobeyei settlement, and the Dadaab refugee camp complex) must obtain a temporary movement pass issued by the RAS. Stringent vetting requirements and long processing times have delayed the issuance of temporary movement passes in the camps.
The law allows exemption categories for specific groups to live outside designated camp areas, including in protection and medical cases. The government granted limited travel permission to refugees to receive specialized medical care outside the camps, and to refugees enrolled in public schools. It made exceptions to the encampment policy for extremely vulnerable groups in need of protection. The government continued to provide in-country movement and exit permits for refugee interviews and departures for third-country resettlement.
Although there were no restrictions on movements of internally displaced persons (IDPs), stateless persons in the country faced significant restrictions on their movement (see section 1.g.).
The National Consultative Coordination Committee on IDPs (the committee) operates under the Ministry of Interior and Coordination of National Government. Most of the committee’s operations, including compensating victims, ceased at the end of 2017 when the terms of committee members lapsed. A new committee has not been reconstituted. As a result a key mechanism for implementing the 2012 IDP Act ceased to function. The NGO Internal Displacement Monitoring Centre estimated there were 162,000 IDPs in the country at the end of 2018.
Violence in Mandera County in 2014 between the communities of Mandera North District and Banisa District, and on the border between Mandera and Wajir counties, resulted in the displacement of an estimated 32,000 households. These communities remained displaced at year’s end.
State and private actors also conducted displacements, usually during the construction of dams, railways, and roads. There is no mechanism to provide compensation or other remedies to victims of these displacements. In addition some residents remained displaced during the year due to land tenure disputes, particularly in or around natural reserves (see section 1.e., Property Restitution).
Water and pasture scarcity exacerbated communal conflict and left an unknown number of citizens internally displaced, especially in arid and semiarid areas. IDPs generally congregated in informal settlements and transit camps. Living conditions in such settlements and camps remained poor, with rudimentary housing and little public infrastructure or services. Grievances and violence between IDPs and host communities were generally resource based and occurred when IDPs attempted to graze livestock. In the north IDP settlements primarily consisted of displaced ethnic Somalis and were targets of clan violence or involved in clashes over resources.
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 IDPs, refugees, asylum seekers, and other persons of concern. In 2017 the country pledged to apply the UNHCR Comprehensive Refugee Response Framework to enhance refugee self-reliance, increase access to solutions, and improve conditions in countries of origin for safe and voluntary returns. Implementation, however, has been lacking.
In 2017 the High Court blocked the government’s plan to close the Dadaab refugee camp complex, ruling the plan violated the principle of nonrefoulement and refugees’ constitutional rights to fair administrative action. While the court’s 2017 decision eased pressure on Somalis who feared the camp would close by the government-imposed deadline, during the year the government expressed a renewed interest in closing Dadaab, requesting UNHCR to relocate all refugees from Dadaab. The camp closure discussion created uncertainty for the more than 200,000 refugees residing there.
Abuse of Migrants, Refugees, and Stateless Persons: Police abuse, including detention of asylum seekers and refugees, continued, often due to a lack of awareness and understanding of the rights afforded to refugee registration card holders. Most detainees were released after a court appearance or intervention by organizations such as the Refugee Consortium of Kenya.
During the year the security situation in Dadaab improved but remained precarious. There were no attacks on humanitarian workers and no detonations of improvised explosive devices within 15 miles of the refugee complex during the year. The security partnership between UNHCR and local police remained strong and led to improvements in camp security through community policing and neighborhood watch initiatives.
Sexual and gender-based violence against refugees and asylum seekers remained a problem, particularly for vulnerable populations including women, children, and lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and intersex (LGBTI) refugees and asylum seekers. Reported incidents included domestic violence, rape, sexual assault, physical assault, psychological abuse, female genital mutilation mutilation/cutting (FGM/C), and early and forced marriage, particularly of Sudanese, South Sudanese, and Somali girls. Although there was increased community engagement to reduce sexual and gender-based violence and strengthened partnerships, including with the local authorities, sexual and gender-based violence continued to affect women and girls due to their low social and economic status in the community. Most urban refugees reside in slum areas where insecurity and sexual and gender-based violence is rampant. Female-headed households and young girls separated from families due to conflict are most at risk due to lack of male protection within their families. Girls and boys out of school are at risk of abuse, survival sex, and early marriage. Despite strong awareness programs in the camps, underreporting persisted due to community preference for maslaha, a traditional form of jurisprudence prevalent in the region, as an alternative dispute resolution mechanism; shortages of female law enforcement officers; limited knowledge of sexual and gender-based violence; and the medical forensic requirements for trying alleged rape cases.
Refugees have equal access to justice and the courts under the law. They were often unable, however, to obtain legal services because of the prohibitive cost and their lack of information on their rights and obligations. UNHCR continued to provide legal assistance and representation to refugees to increase their access to justice. The law specifically provides that refugees are eligible to receive legal aid services. The law, however, has not been fully operationalized.
Refugees generally dealt with criminality in accordance with their own customary law and traditional practices rather than through the country’s justice system. Other security problems in refugee camps included petty theft, banditry, ethnic violence, and the harassment of Muslim converts to Christianity, according to UNHCR.
Exploitation of refugees with false promises of assistance in the resettlement process or in securing movement passes remained a concern.
Refoulement: There were no confirmed cases of refoulement.
During the year UNHCR assisted more than 2,500 persons to return voluntarily to their places of origin, of whom 1,889 returned to Somalia and 737 returned to Burundi. Insecurity and unfavorable conditions in countries of origin such as South Sudan, Yemen, and Somalia hindered returns.
Access to Asylum: The law provides for the granting of asylum or refugee status, and the government has a system for providing protection to camp-based refugees. While the government generally coordinated with UNHCR to provide assistance and protection to refugees in the Dadaab and Kakuma refugee camps, cooperation was limited in urban areas. The government had yet to register more than 15,000 refugees and asylum seekers estimated to reside in Dadaab, the majority of whom were Somali. Pressure from UNHCR and the international community resulted in the government’s registration of a number of extremely vulnerable individuals. South Sudanese refugees maintain prima facie refugee status.
According to UNHCR, as of November the country hosted 488,867 registered refugees and asylum seekers, including 217,139 in the Dadaab refugee camp complex, 193,429 in Kakuma camp, and 78,299 in urban areas. Most refugees and asylum seekers were from Somalia (260,683) with others coming from South Sudan (119,110), the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) (43,186), Ethiopia (27,989), Burundi (14,674), and other countries (16,810). Most refugees arriving in Kakuma were from South Sudan, and the refugee population in Dadaab was primarily Somali. New arrivals also included individuals from Burundi, the DRC, Ethiopia, and Uganda. An agreement on voluntary repatriation between the country, Somalia, and UNHCR expired in November 2018, although it was still de facto in place. Since 2014 a total of 84,714 Somali refugees have voluntarily repatriated under the agreement.
The RAS, responsible for refugee management in the country, maintained a cooperative working relationship with UNHCR, which continued to provide technical support and capacity building to the RAS.
Freedom of Movement: Refugees’ freedom of movement was significantly restricted due to the country’s strict encampment policies (see section 2.d.).
Employment: Refugees are generally not permitted to work in the country.
Access to Basic Services: Despite the encampment policy, many refugees resided in urban areas, even though they lacked documentation authorizing them to do so. This affected their access to basic government services, including the National Health Insurance Fund, education, employment, business licenses, financial institutions, mobile phones, and related services. In addition they are subject to arrest, police harassment, and extortion.
The constitution and law provide for the protection of stateless persons and for legal avenues for eligible stateless persons to apply for citizenship. UNHCR estimated 18,500 stateless persons were registered in the country; the actual number was unknown.
Communities known to UNHCR as stateless include the Pemba in Kwale (approximately 5,000) and the Shona (an estimated 4,000). The 9,500 remaining include: persons of Rwandan, Burundian, or Congolese descent; some descendants of slaves from Zambia and Malawi; the Galjeel, who were stripped of their nationality in 1989; and smaller groups at risk of statelessness due to their proximity to the country’s border with Somali and Ethiopia, including the Daasanach and returnees’ from Somalia residing in Isiolo. Children born in the country to British overseas citizens are stateless due to conflicting nationality laws in the country and in the United Kingdom.
The country’s legislation provides protection, limited access to some basic services, and documentation to stateless persons and those at risk of statelessness. The constitution contains a progressive bill of rights and a revised chapter on citizenship, yet it does not include any safeguards to prevent statelessness at birth. The law provides a definition of a stateless person and opportunities for such a person as well as his or her descendants to be registered as citizens. Similar provisions apply to some categories of migrants who do not possess identification documents.
Stateless persons had limited legal protection and encountered travel restrictions, social exclusion, and heightened vulnerability to trafficking, sexual and gender-based violence, exploitation, forced displacement, and other abuses. UNHCR reported stateless persons faced restrictions on internal movement and limited access to basic services, property ownership, and registration of births, marriages, and deaths. Inadequate documentation sometimes resulted in targeted harassment and extortion by officials and exploitation in the informal labor sector.
National registration policies require citizens age 18 and older to obtain national identification documents from the National Registration Bureau. Failure to do so is a crime. Groups with historical or ethnic ties to other countries faced higher burdens of proof in the registration process. During the participatory assessments, UNHCR conducted in 2018 and during the year, stateless persons said they could not easily register their children at birth or access birth certificates as they lacked supporting documents. Formal employment opportunities, access to financial services and freedom of movement continued to be out of reach due to lack of national identity cards. Stateless persons without identity cards cannot access the National Health Insurance Fund, locking them out of access to subsidized health services, including maternity coverage.
Many stateless persons did not qualify for protection under the local refugee determination apparatus. Among these were Somali refugees born in the country’s refugee camps, as well as Sudanese and South Sudanese refugees.
In October the government pledged to recognize and register persons in the Shona community who have lived in the country since the 1960s. The Civil Registration Services Department began to issue birth certificates to Shona children and process birth certificates for Shona adults who were born in the country.
Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:
The constitution and law provide for freedom of expression, including for the press. While the government generally respected this right, credible reports persisted some public officials, politicians, businesses, and radical religious groups sought to intimidate media representatives. The media also encountered difficulties in obtaining information from the government and public institutions as provided by law and struggled to secure funding to remain independent. The Independent Media Commission regulates broadcast frequencies, issues licenses to public and private broadcasters, and establishes broadcasting policies.
Press and Media Including Online Media: Independent media were active and expressed a wide variety of views, generally without restriction. Nevertheless, reports persisted government officials, some political parties, businesses connected to the government, religious groups, and disgruntled individuals exerted pressure on media owners, individual editors, and reporters not to publish certain stories or materials. Some journalists refrained from critical investigative reporting due to fear for their physical or job security.
Financial difficulties of media outlets put the editorial independence of all media at risk. While some self-sufficient media outlets adopted editorial and broadcast policies independent of political and business interests, those with fewer resources sometimes accepted financial support in exchange for positive coverage or for refraining from publishing negative stories harmful to funders’ interests. According to some editors, funding was limited in part because of government reluctance to advertise its programs in media outlets that published material critical of it.
Violence and Harassment: As of September the Association of Journalists of Kosovo (AGK) and media outlets reported 17 instances of government officials, business interests, community groups, or radical religious groups violating press freedom by physically assaulting or verbally threatening journalists. In one example a journalist reporting on the demolition of an unlicensed shopping center faced violence from mall security and civilians who snatched his equipment, slapped him in the face, and prevented his reporting on the story.
Censorship or Content Restrictions: There were no reports of direct censorship of print or broadcast media, although journalists claimed pressure from politicians and organized criminal groups frequently resulted in self-censorship. Some journalists refrained from critical investigative reporting due to fear for their physical or job security. Journalists occasionally received offers of financial benefits in exchange for positive reporting or for abandoning an investigation.
According to the AGK, government officials as well as suspected criminals verbally threatened journalists for perceived negative reporting. According to some editors, government agencies and corporations withdrew advertising from newspapers that published material critical of them. In August the AGK denounced a Kosovo Democratic Party (PDK) statement denigrating the daily newspaper Gazeta Express as “fake.” AGK stated this PDK claim is consistent with previous statements targeting media and represents interference with the media. The AGK reported that in May, PDK chief and former Kosovo Assembly speaker Kadri Veseli called the editor in chief of Gazeta Express, Leonard Kerquki, in an attempt to influence the daily’s policies.
Journalists complained media owners and managers prevented them from publishing or broadcasting stories critical of the government, political parties, or particular officials. In some cases owners reportedly threatened to dismiss journalists if they produced critical reports. Journalists also complained that owners prevented them from reporting on high-level government corruption.
The government did not restrict or disrupt access to the internet or censor online content, and there were no credible reports the government monitored private online communications without appropriate legal authority.
There were no government restrictions on cultural events. The education system was subject to political appointments of school directors and teachers at all levels. Although the government introduced reforms, the political appointment of teachers resulted in poor execution, as they did not enjoy full support at either the central or local level. In September the Ministry of Education introduced an administrative instruction for election of elementary schools’ directors to depoliticize the employment process at that level.
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/.
d. Freedom of Movement
The law provides for freedom of movement within the country, foreign travel, emigration, and repatriation, and the government generally respected these rights.
The government did not consider Serbian-issued personal documents bearing Kosovo town names to be valid travel documents, making it difficult for many members of the Kosovo-Serb community to travel freely to and from the country, unless using the two border crossings with Serbia located in the Kosovo-Serb majority municipalities in the north. Improvements at the civil registry in 2018 greatly expanded Kosovo-Serb access to identity documents, and the number of Kosovo Serbs with these documents increased tremendously during the year.
In-country Movement: The primary bridge connecting Mitrovica/e North and South remained closed for vehicular traffic but was fully open to pedestrians. Other bridges connecting the two cities were fully open.
Exile: The return to the country by Ashkali, Balkan-Egyptian, and Romani refugees from the war remained a problem. Parliamentary representatives of these three communities reported social prejudice prevented the return of nearly 400 Ashkali, Balkan-Egyptians, and Roma who were formerly resident in the country and have informed the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) that they were ready to return from Serbia, North Macedonia, and Montenegro.
UNHCR estimated 90,000 persons displaced by the 1999 conflict in the country still had displacement-related needs in the region. Of these, 65,000 were estimated to be in Serbia, 16,406 in Kosovo, 729 in Montenegro, and 394 in North Macedonia. In all, 2,104 families with 8,367 displaced persons, primarily Kosovo Serbs, expressed interest in UNHCR-assisted return to the country. The government has not released information on how many individuals returned to the country during the year.
As of June the Ministry for Communities and Returns reported that 57 individuals, mostly Kosovo Serbs, had returned to their place of origin in the country. Obstacles to return included lack of land allocations for housing reconstruction, lack of economic prospects, and societal discrimination. According to UNHCR, the lack of a detailed census and adequate profiling data left displaced persons excluded from human rights protections and development plans.
During the year the Communities and Returns Ministry approved construction of 108 houses for returnees of Serb, Ashkali, Romani, and Balkan-Egyptian ethnicity. In 2018 and during the year, the government allocated more than $3.5 million for housing construction for all non-Serb ethnic communities, except Goranis, who caucus by agreement with ethnic Serb members of the Assembly.
The return process in some areas of the country continued to be marked by security incidents or local communities’ reluctance to accept return or visits of Serb community returnees. In January, Kosovo Albanians in Gjakove/Djakovica, including persons whose family members remain missing, protested the pilgrimage of displaced Serbs to the town’s Serbian Orthodox church.
The government promoted the safe and voluntary return of IDPs. Through the Communities and Returns Ministry, it promoted policies and protections for IDPs in line with EU policies and cooperated with domestic and international organizations to ensure IDPs access to their property and tools for their sustainable return. These include assistance repossessing property, land allocations for the housing, and improved socioeconomic prospects.
KP maintained its presence in areas with ethnic minorities and returnees as a confidence-building measure for returnees.
Refoulement: On June 24, the Assembly adopted the final report of its investigative committee into the March 2018 refoulement of six Turkish citizens legally residing in Kosovo. The committee’s report highlighted serious rule of law violations including the refoulement of one man who was not identified in the extradition request. The Assembly published its report despite months of political intimidation and interference.
While the Special Prosecution (SPRK) has not concluded its investigation, the Police Inspectorate of Kosovo (PIK) in August filed a criminal report against 22 police officers involved in the operation for criminal violations. The Turkish government had accused the Turkish citizens of alleged ties to the so-called Fethullah Terror Organization.
In September the Appellate Court affirmed a Basic Court of Pristina ruling the Ministry of Internal Affairs’ rationale for rescinding residence permits for the expelled Turkish nationals was baseless.
Access to Asylum: The law provides for granting of asylum or refugee status with subsidiary protection, a system for providing protection to refugees, and temporary admission of asylum seekers while their cases are adjudicated.
Reception facilities at the asylum center can host children, but the facility lacked standard operating procedures for the treatment of unaccompanied children seeking asylum and for determination of their eligibility for asylum. Although asylum cases have continued to increase, Kosovo is largely a transit country and those seeking asylum typically left the country and did not attend their hearings. The increasing number of asylum seekers has not yet overwhelmed the country’s capacity. Those seeking asylum in the country are housed at the asylum center throughout the year.
Access to Basic Services: UNHCR reported asylum seekers received accommodations, regular meals, and clothing, while UNHCR partner organizations provided psychological assessments, counseling services, and legal aid. The lack of interpretation services for several official languages at both central and local levels remained a problem. UNHCR claimed health care and psychological treatment were still inadequate.
Temporary Protection: The government provided temporary protection, called subsidiary protection, to individuals who may not qualify as refugees. Through June the government provided subsidiary protection to one person.
Official figures on stateless persons were not available. The law contains no discriminatory provisions that might cause groups or individuals to be deprived of or denied citizenship. Kosovo citizens convey citizenship to their children. Children born to noncitizen parents acquire citizenship by virtue of birth within the country; this situation most often occurs within minority communities with large numbers of undocumented residents. Government procedures provide for access to naturalization for those granted stateless or refugee status five years after the determination.
Laws relating to civil status permit stateless persons to register life events such as birth, marriage, and death, however implementation varied among municipalities. The government’s capacity to identify stateless persons and those with undetermined nationality remained inadequate.
During the year UNHCR assisted 900 “legally invisible” persons (due to inability to prove their birth location) from different ethnic groups, most of whom belong to the Romani, Ashkali, and Balkan-Egyptian communities, and approximately 100 to the Albanian community.
Unregistered residents do not receive social assistance benefits and pension rights and could not register property titles or retain rights to inherited or transferred property. Children born of parents displaced outside the country and who entered with their readmitted parents often lacked documentation, including birth certificates, from their place of birth. Authorities have not developed a systematic solution to this problem. UNHCR funded a campaign for civil registration of the country’s Roma, Ashkali, and Balkan-Egyptians throughout the year.
Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:
The constitution provides for freedom of expression, including for the press, although these rights were violated. The courts convicted more than one dozen individuals for expressing their opinions, particularly on social media. The law also imposes penalties on persons who create or send “immoral” messages and gives unspecified authorities the power to suspend communication services to individuals on national security grounds.
Freedom of Expression: The Press and Publications Law establishes topics that are off limits for publication and discussion, and builds on the precedent set by the penalty law. Topics banned for publication include insulting religion, in particular Islam; criticizing the amir; insulting members of the judiciary or displaying disdain for the constitution; compromising classified information; insulting an individual or his or her religion, sorcery, and publishing information that could lead to devaluing of the currency or creating false worries about the economy. The government generally restricted freedom of speech in instances purportedly related to national security, including the glorification of Saddam Hussein, and referring to the “Arabian Gulf” as the “Persian Gulf.”
Local activists reported they were regularly contacted by state security services and Ministry of Information officials after they published opinions deemed contrary to the government view. Activists also reported being contacted for the same reason by the Kuwaiti Embassy when they were residing abroad. In October the foreign minister stated he had directed “Kuwait’s diplomatic missions [abroad] to firmly pursue people offending Kuwait or its leaders.” As of November the Ministry of Foreign Affairs had received 52 such complaints from various embassies in Kuwait: 43 against bloggers and social media users, and the remainder against local newspapers and TV networks, according to press reports. The same reports indicated that Kuwaiti embassies overseas had reportedly filed 25 cases against bloggers and TV networks in host countries, accusing them of offending Kuwait, according to the ministry. Government authorities did not always take immediate action in the cases of social media posts to which they objected made by citizens while overseas, but under the law the government may take action once the author returns to the country. Under existing law there is broad latitude in the interpretation of what constitutes a crime when voicing dissent against the amir or the government, and activists can face up to seven years in prison for each count of the offense.
In May the Court of Appeals upheld a verdict sentencing 22 citizens, including media figures and political activists, to three years’ imprisonment for repeating the “anti-Amir” speech made by former opposition leader Musallam al-Barrak in 2012. The court also ordered each defendant to pay a bail of 3,000 KD ($10,000).
The courts continued to sentence political activists to harsh prison sentences for charges of speaking out against the amir, government, religion, or neighboring states. In one case a citizen was sentenced to 86 years in prison for voicing his antigovernment opinion on social media, and in another case a citizen received 75 years. Both citizens fled the country before the verdicts were handed down.
Political activist Sagar al-Hashash, who was out of the country in self-imposed exile, has been convicted multiple times (including twice during the year) on various charges that included defaming the amir, speaking out against the judiciary, or insulting neighboring countries such as Bahrain, Saudi Arabia, and the United Arab Emirates. Most recently, al-Hashash was sentenced to five additional years imprisonment for defaming the amir, bringing his total sentence to 92 years.
Press and Media, Including Online Media: Independent media were active and expressed a wide variety of views. All print media were privately owned, although the media’s independence was limited. The government did not permit non-Islamic religious publishing companies, although several churches published religious materials solely for their congregations’ use. The law allows for large fines and up to 10 years in prison for persons who use any means (including media) to subvert the state. The Ministry of Commerce and Industry may ban any media organization at the request of the Ministry of Information. Media organizations can challenge media bans in the administrative courts. Newspaper publishers must obtain an operating license from the Ministry of Information. Broadcast media, made up of both government and privately owned stations, are subject to the same laws as print media. In November a governmental committee tasked to investigate allegations of missing public funds ordered that their investigation remain confidential and prohibited the publication of any news about the investigation in all print, audio, and video media.
In October a civil court ruled that the Ministry of Interior must pay 60,000 KD ($200,000) to a journalist as compensation for assault by police while covering protests in 2010.
Censorship or Content Restrictions: The Ministry of Information censored all imported books, commercial films, periodicals, videotapes, CDs, DVDs, and other materials per the guidelines enumerated for speech and media. In May statistics issued by the Ministry of Information showed 3,766 books were banned from being imported between 2016 until 2018. Media outlets exhibited a range of opinions on topics relating to social problems, but all apparently self-censored, avoiding critical discussion on topics such as the amir, foreign policy, and religion, to avoid criminal charges or fines or to keep their licenses. Discussions of certain sensitive topics, such as the role of women in society and sex, were also self-censored. Authorities censored most English-language educational materials that mentioned the Holocaust and required educational material either to refer to Israel as “Occupied Palestine” or to remove such references entirely, although authorities did not censor these topics in news media. Widely available satellite dishes and virtual private networks allowed unfiltered media access.
Throughout the year publishers reportedly received pressure from the Ministry of Information, resulting in the publishers often restricting which books were available in the country. One author appealed to lift the ban on his book; the appeal was pending at year’s end. According to the Ministry of Information, the Ministry of Awqaf and Islamic Affairs reviewed books of a religious nature.
Libel/Slander Laws: The law mandates jail terms for anyone who “defames religion,” and any Muslim citizen or resident may file criminal charges against a person the complainant believes has defamed Islam. Any citizen may file a complaint with the authorities against anyone the citizen believes defamed the ruling family or harmed public morals.
National Security: The law forbids publication or transmission of any information deemed subversive to the constitutional system on national security grounds. The government prosecuted online bloggers, political activists, and social media outlets under the Cybercrime Law, the Printing and Publishing Law, and the National Security Law. On January 2, security forces arrested journalist and writer Aisha al-Rasheed under the Cybercrime Law following online posts about corruption of government officials. On January 6, the Public Prosecutor’s Office ordered her release on bail.
The cybercrime law criminalizes certain online activities, to include illegal access to information technology systems; unauthorized access to confidential information; blackmail; use of the internet for terrorist activity; money laundering; and utilizing the internet for human trafficking. As of December the Cybersecurity Department at the Ministry of Interior had received 4,000 complaints and the government had 288 pending cases under the cybercrime law.
The government’s E-Licensing program, processed under the government’s e-media law and not the aforementioned cybercrime law, requires bloggers and websites that provide news in the country to register with the Ministry of Information and apply for a license or face a fine. No such fines were issued during the year.
The government continued to monitor internet communications, such as blogs and discussion groups, for defamation and generalized security reasons. The Ministry of Communications blocked websites considered to “incite terrorism and instability” and required internet service providers to block websites that “violate [the country’s] customs and traditions.” The government prosecuted and punished individuals for the expression of political or religious views via the internet, including by email and social media, based on existing laws related to libel, national unity, and national security. The government prosecuted some online bloggers under the Printing and Publishing Law and the National Security Law. In March journalist Abdallah al-Hadlaq was sentenced to three years in prison for offending Shia and “fanning” sectarianism. In April the criminal court sentenced blogger Abdullah al-Saleh to five years in prison in absentia for insulting Saudi Arabia on social media and “spreading false news.”
The government filtered the internet primarily to block pornography and lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and intersex (LGBTI) material, and sites critical of Islam. Kuwait’s Communication and Information Technology Regulatory Authority was reported to have blocked 342 websites during the year.
In August, Kuwait and Egypt signed a memorandum of understanding for the arrest and extradition of social media users who commit “cybercrimes” that affect Egyptian and Kuwaiti national security.
The law provides for the freedoms of opinion and research, but self-censorship limited academic freedom, and the law prohibits academics from criticizing the amir or Islam.
The Ministry of Interior reserved the right to approve or reject public events and those it considered politically or morally inappropriate. In March the Ministry of Interior summoned owners of three venues that were scheduled to host week-long Bidoon cultural events. Ministry officials required the venue owners to sign statements promising they would not host any Bidoon cultural week events. The events were subsequently canceled.
The constitution provides for freedoms of peaceful assembly and association for citizens, but noncitizens and Bidoon are prohibited from demonstrating.
In July the Ministry of Interior announced that police were permitted to shoot at protesters’ legs if their safety is threatened, or if a fugitive was running away from authorities (the order explicitly said police could not shoot to kill under these circumstances).
Bidoon activists have reported that if they try to assemble peacefully or organize campaigns to gain equal rights, authorities regularly harass them. Some Bidoon activists indicated they were detained for questioning by authorities each time they planned campaigns or protests. In July the KSS arrested 15 Bidoon activists for organizing a peaceful sit-in at al-Hurriya Square in al-Jahra town near Kuwait City.
The constitution provides for freedom of association, but the government placed restrictions on this right. The law prohibits officially registered groups from engaging in political activities.
In July, Kuwait extradited eight Egyptian nationals at the request of the Egyptian government. Kuwaiti authorities announced the dissidents were being sought by the Egyptian government for their membership in the Muslim Brotherhood. NGO reports indicated that the eight Egyptians had been legally residing in Kuwait at the time of their extradition and did not commit any crimes in Kuwait. NGOs suggested the eight faced serious risks of torture and persecution in Egypt.
The government used its power to register associations as a means of political influence. The Ministry of Social Affairs can reject an NGO’s application if it deems the NGO does not provide a public service. Most charity closings resulted from improper reporting of fundraising activities, which included not getting permission from the ministry or failing to submit annual financial reports. Dozens of unlicensed civic groups, clubs, and unofficial NGOs had no legal status, and many of those chose not to register due to bureaucratic inconvenience, including inability to meet the minimum 50-member threshold. The Ministry of Social Affairs continued to reject some new license requests, contending established NGOs already provided services similar to those the petitioners proposed. Members of licensed NGOs must obtain permission from the ministry to attend international conferences as official representatives of their organization.
In May following the submission of a large number of applications from inactive NGOs to take part in activities abroad, the Ministry of Social Affairs’ NGOs Department set new regulations for NGO members to take part in conferences, lectures and seminars held outside the country, including limiting the maximum number of participants to two per NGO; ensuring the conference theme is part of the goals of the concerned organization’s establishment; and notifying the ministry at least one month in advance.
See the Department of State’s International Religious Freedom Report at https://www.state.gov/religiousfreedomreport/.
d. Freedom of Movement
The constitution generally provides for freedom of internal movement, but numerous laws constrain foreign travel.
Because there is no path to citizenship, all legal noncitizen workers are considered foreign residents rather than migrants.
Foreign Travel: Bidoon and foreign workers faced problems with, or restrictions on, foreign travel. The government restricted the ability of some Bidoon to travel abroad by not issuing travel documents, although it permitted some Bidoon to travel overseas for medical treatment and education, and to visit Saudi Arabia for the annual Hajj. The Ministry of Interior has not issued “Article 17” passports (temporary travel documents that do not confer nationality) to Bidoon except on humanitarian grounds since 2014. In August the Ministry of Interior said it would indefinitely suspend the issuance of “Article 17” passports.
The law also permits travel bans on citizens and noncitizens accused or suspected of violating the law, including nonpayment of debts, and it allows other citizens to petition authorities to impose one. This provision was sometimes imposed arbitrarily and resulted in delays and difficulties for citizens and foreigners leaving the country. The Ministry of Justice announced in July that it would not impose travel bans on those who owed “small amounts” (defined as 300 KD or $1,000). In December the Ministry of Justice announced that 65,888 travel bans were placed on Kuwaitis and foreigners during the year.
Citizenship: By law the government is prohibited from revoking the citizenship of an individual who was born a citizen unless that individual has taken a second nationality. Additionally, the government can revoke the citizenship of naturalized citizens for cause and can subsequently deport them. The justifications for such revocations include: felony conviction for “honor-related and honesty-related crimes,” obtaining citizenship dishonestly, and threatening to “undermine the economic or social structure of the country.” In March the cabinet approved the regranting of citizenship to former opposition figure Saad al-Ajmi. Al-Ajmi’s citizenship had been revoked by the government under Article 11 of the 1959 Kuwaiti Nationality Law and was restored only after he renounced other nationalities and submitted a written apology to the amir. According to the government, 376 individuals were granted citizenship during the year, and 106 had their citizenship revoked.
In May 2018 the Court of Cassation affirmed that it is not permissible to withdraw citizenship from any citizen without a legitimate reason, stressing that a final court ruling must justify any withdrawal of citizenship. There were, however, cases in which natural born citizens had their citizenship revoked, even when courts found it illegal.
Persons who had their citizenship revoked, and any family members dependent on that individual for their citizenship status, became stateless individuals. Authorities can seize the passports and civil identification cards of persons who lose their citizenship and enter a “block” on their names in government databases. This “block” prevented former citizens from traveling or accessing free health care and other government services reserved for citizens.
The law prohibits the granting of citizenship to non-Muslims, but it allows non-Muslim male citizens to transmit citizenship to their descendants.
The government may deny a citizenship application by a Bidoon resident based on security or criminal violations committed by the individual’s family members. Additionally, if a person loses citizenship, all family members whose status was derived from that person also lose their citizenship and all associated rights.
Abuse of Migrants, Refugees, and Stateless Persons: The government generally cooperated with UNHCR and other humanitarian organizations in providing protection and assistance to persons of concern.
Access to Basic Services: The government enacted policies making healthcare and education more expensive for foreign workers than for citizens. Human rights organizations reported the immediate effect of this policy was that many foreign workers and their families receiving medical treatment chose to be discharged from hospitals rather than receive treatment they could no longer afford.
According to the latest government figures, there were approximately 88,000 Bidoon in the country, while Human Rights Watch estimated the Bidoon population at more than 100,000. The law does not provide stateless persons, including the Bidoon, a clear path to acquire citizenship. According to the government, however, 813 Bidoon were granted citizenship between 2018 and 2019. The judicial system’s lack of authority to rule on the status of stateless persons further complicated the process for obtaining citizenship, leaving Bidoon with no access to the judiciary to present evidence and plead their case for citizenship.
In 2018 the Central Agency for Illegal Residents, tasked with overseeing Bidoon affairs, had tens of thousands of citizenship requests by Bidoon under review. Although Bidoon are by law entitled to government benefits including five-year renewable residency, free healthcare and education, and ration cards, community members have alleged it was often difficult for them to avail of those services due to bureaucratic red tape.
According to Bidoon advocates and government officials, many Bidoon were unable to provide documentation proving ties to the country sufficient to qualify for citizenship. The government alleged that the vast majority of Bidoon concealed their “true” nationalities and were not actually stateless. Agency officials have extended incentive benefits to Bidoon who disclose an alternate nationality, including priority employment after citizens, and the ability to obtain a driver’s license. As of March 2018 approximately 12,700 Bidoon had admitted having a claim on another nationality.
Bidoon leaders alleged that when some members of the Bidoon community attempted to obtain government services from the Central Agency, officials would routinely deceive them by promising to provide the necessary paperwork only if the Bidoon agreed to sign a blank piece of paper. Later, Bidoon reported, the agency would write a letter on the signed paper purportedly “confessing” the Bidoon’s “true” nationality, which rendered them ineligible for recognition or benefits as Bidoon.
According to contacts some Bidoon underwent DNA testing purportedly to “prove” their Kuwaiti nationality by virtue of blood relation to a Kuwaiti citizen. Bidoon are required to submit DNA samples confirming paternity to become naturalized, a practice critics said leaves them vulnerable to denial of citizenship based on DNA testing. Children of Bidoon fathers and Kuwaiti mothers are frequently rendered stateless, as the law does not allow women to transmit nationality.
Some Bidoon and international NGOs reported that the government did not uniformly grant some government services and benefits to Bidoon, including education, employment, medical care, and the issuance of civil documents, such as birth, marriage, and death certificates. Since the government treats them as illegal residents, Bidoon do not have property rights. In February press reports indicated that the Interior Ministry would not hire Bidoon in its uniform services until the National Assembly passed legislation on the Bidoon’s civil and social rights.
Bidoon advocates reported that many Bidoon families were unable to obtain birth certificates for their children due to extensive administrative requirements, which restricted the children’s ability to obtain government-issued identification cards, access adequate medical care, attend school, and be counted in official statistics. In April, Bidoon activists arranged a protest over tuition increases for all private schools in the town of al-Jahra, which is home to a large number of Bidoon residents. In June the Ministry of Education said it would refuse to pay the salaries of Bidoon teachers with expired civil identification documents (IDs) until they received new identification cards. Reports also indicated that the Central Agency for Illegal Residents asked some banks to close the accounts of Bidoon who did not provide the necessary documentation to renew their identification cards. In August the Ministry of Education suspended admission of Bidoon students, alleging lack of space in schools and advised Bidoon parents to consider enrolling their children in private school instead.
Many adult Bidoon lacked identification cards due to the many administrative hurdles they face, preventing them from engaging in legal employment or obtaining travel documents.
The restriction on identification cards also resulted in some Bidoon children not being able to register for public school and instead working as street vendors to help support their families. Since citizen children were given priority to attend public school, many Bidoon children whose families could afford it enrolled in substandard private schools.
The government previously amended the existing law on military service to allow the sons of soldiers who served in the military for 30 years and the sons of soldiers killed or missing in action to be eligible to join the military. According to the head of the Interior and Defense Parliamentary Committee, more than 27,000 Bidoons were awaiting enlistment.
Ayed Hamad Medath committed suicide on July 7, which human rights advocates pointed out occurred after the government denied him civil documentation needed to access employment, education, and other public services. During protests that occurred after Medath’s death, the State Security agency arrested at least 15 Bidoon activists between July 11 and 14. Those arrested included prominent human rights defender Abdulhakim al-Fadhli during a raid on his home in which authorities confiscated al-Fadhli’s and his family’s cellphones and computers. Authorities had arrested al-Fadhli several times in previous years for his peaceful activities advocating for the rights of the Bidoon community.
Some of the detained Bidoon activists engaged in a 12-day hunger strike beginning August 22 to protest the plight of their community. The hunger strike was called off because of deteriorating health of the activists. On September 10, the Criminal Court held its first hearing on the case against the Bidoon for organizing unlicensed protests and sit-ins. The court postponed the trial until September 17 and subsequently released five defendants on bail. Two additional public hearings were held on November 12 and November 26. On November 4, two separate Bidoon men committed suicide.
The detainees faced numerous charges, including joining a banned organization aimed at undermining basic systems and overthrowing the regime of the country; spreading false news; insulting friendly countries; misusing a phone; organizing and participating in gatherings and rallies without a license; and incitement to murder. All the defendants denied all charges.
Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:
The constitution and law provide for freedom of expression, including for the press, and the government generally respected this right. NGO leaders and media rights advocates acknowledged a more relaxed press environment under the Jeenbekov administration, noting a clear drop in libel lawsuits against independent media outlets and the withdrawal of existing cases launched under the previous administration. Self-censorship continued to be prevalent, and pressure reportedly existed from editors and political figures to bias reporting.
Freedom of Expression: Multiple civil society groups noted an increase in the application of Article 299 of the criminal code on the “incitement of interethnic, racial, religious, and interregional hatred.” Observers stated in some cases authorities broadly interpreted Article 299 to sanction speech, which tended to affect ethnic minorities and human rights defenders. According to NGOs, virtually all arrests under Article 299 resulted in convictions in 2018. Civil society organizations called the process to confirm violations of Article 299 arbitrary, politicized, and unprofessional. Article 314 of the penal code that came into force in January requires an intent to distribute extremist materials be proven in order to convict of a crime. Article 314 replaces the provisions found previously in Article 299.
Press and Media, Including Online Media: As in earlier years, some journalists reported intimidation related to coverage of sensitive topics, such as interethnic relations, “religious extremism,” or the rise of nationalism. The trend was particularly salient against Uzbek-language media outlets.
In recent years the government, security services, and oligarchs attempted to prevent independent media from operating freely in the country. The government continued its tight controls over news content on state television.
On August 14, OSCE Representative on Freedom of the Media Harlem Desir expressed his concern over the closure of the television channel April TV in Bishkek and called for respect for diversity in media. On August 9, the security services sealed off channel April TV’s headquarters in Bishkek as part of a security operation, shutting it down. “I am concerned by the seizure of assets of the television channel April and the suspension of its operations,” the representative said. “While I am fully aware of the exceptional circumstances under which this decision was taken, I call on the relevant authorities to review this decision.” The representative also said the safety of journalists who cover political events must be respected by all actors, after media worker Aida Djumashova was injured during the raid on former president Atambaev’s home on August 7 and protesters attacked reporters with Vesti.kg, April and Kloop.kg in Bishkek on August 8. On November 21, April TV received permission to resume broadcasting, but on December 7, the Military Prosecutor’s Office filed a lawsuit to prevent April TV from broadcasting further. The Media Policy Institute appealed to the court, asking that the ban on broadcasting be reversed. The institute released a statement asserting the Military Prosecutor’s Office did not have the authority to ban April TV from broadcasting.
Violence and Harassment: Journalists, especially those who are ethnic Uzbeks, reported harassment by police, and continuing pressure by local and national authorities to avoid reporting on sensitive issues, including ethnic conflicts, corruption, and political figures. Media members also reported that nonstate actors, particularly politically well connected and wealthy individuals, harassed them for reporting on those individuals’ alleged corruption and other kinds of wrongdoing. Journalists sometimes practiced self-censorship to avoid reprisals for their reporting.
Censorship or Content Restrictions: As in previous years, journalists and NGO leaders alleged some news outlets instructed their reporters not to report critically on certain politicians or government officials. The sources also reported some news outlets received requests from offices of the government to report in a particular way or to ignore specific news stories.
NGO leaders and media sources reported state-owned broadcasters remained under pressure to transmit stories promoting government policies and initiatives and develop narratives critical of NGOs, opposition figures, and civil society activists.
As the government transitions from an analog to a digital broadcasting system starting this year, individuals and news organizations can submit requests to the government to get a license for a television channel. The government controlled the licensing process, and civil society reported the government abused the licensing process by revoking licenses to individuals or organizations which broadcast content the government disagrees with. The government’s revocation of a license to operate a television channel can financially decimate a news outlet and shutter their operations.
Libel/Slander Laws: While libel is not a criminal offense except in narrowly prescribed instances, NGO leaders described the False Accusations Amendments, passed in 2014 as a practical “recriminalizing of libel.” Journalists noted the law exposed media to libel suits in civil courts that could bankrupt the outlets or journalists in their defense attempts. In 2015 the Constitutional Chamber narrowed the reach of the law, holding that henceforth it would apply only in cases of knowingly making false statements in a police report but not to statements in media, although subsequent decisions appeared to contradict that ruling. While slander and libel are not criminal offenses, civil lawsuits can result in defendants paying compensation for moral harm, which the law does not limit in size. Observers stated courts arbitrarily ruled on the amount of compensation and that failure to pay compensation could serve as a basis for criminal prosecution.
In the first half of the year, press reported that, despite the improvements in press freedom, attacks on media continued through the use of libel laws. The Supreme Court upheld a decision in the suit of Social Democratic Party of Kyrgyzstan Member of Parliament (MP) Kozhobek Ryspaev against the newspaper Achyk Sayasat. The newspaper had to pay Ryspaev 300,000 soms ($4,300) in compensation. The newspaper editor in chief Nazgul Mamytova said the newspaper was likely to close. MP Ryspaev sued the newspaper due to an article that was published in August 2018, which stated Ryspaev was moving from one political party to another, and the author called him a “chameleon.”
The Adilet Legal Clinic reported the organization defended journalists and media outlets charged with libel and slander and that members of media regularly feared the threat of lawsuits.
The government generally allowed access to the internet, including social media sites. There were no public credible reports the government monitored private online communications without appropriate legal authority. There were no reports during the year that the government blocked websites spreading “extremist” and terrorist materials without a court order. Media reported that, in August, courts blocked five social-media accounts and eight online-media channels, due to extremist content. In September, the Civic Initiative on Internet Policy reported on 359 internet resources that are subject for blockage by the government, including archive.org, soundcloud.com, and numerous links to Facebook and YouTube.
On November 24, the GKNB arrested Aftandil Jorobekov, a blogger and administrator of the popular Facebook page BespredelKG (LawlessnessKG), after he posted statements critical of President Jeenbekov and his relationship with former deputy state customs service head Raimbek Matraimov. The GKNB charged Jorobekov with inciting interregional discord under the criminal code. The charges against Jorobekov also cited posts written in response to his initial post by other users as evidence of his crime. According to the GKNB, “[Jorobekov’s posts] divided the users into opposing groups, provoked mutual insulting comments, which ultimately led to arousal in people of hatred towards each other in the form of inciting interregional hatred,” and it claimed that Jorobekov posted false and provocative information alleging the president was an accomplice in corruption. Jorobekov was released under house arrest on December 5. Numerous human rights organizations, including Human Rights Watch, criticized the arrest, calling it a blatant attempt to stifle criticism of the president.
There were no government restrictions on academic freedom. Institutions providing advanced religious education must follow strict reporting policies, but they reported no restrictions on academic freedom.
The law provides for the freedoms of peaceful assembly and association, and the government generally respected these rights.
The constitution provides for this right, although it took steps to limit peaceful assembly in Bishkek and Talas. Organizers and participants are responsible for notifying authorities of planned assemblies, but the constitution prohibits authorities from banning or restricting peaceful assemblies, even in the absence of prior notification. Local authorities, however, have the right to demand an end to a public action and, in the event of noncompliance, are empowered to take measures to end assemblies. In September the Pervomaisky District Court in Bishkek announced a ban on public assemblies in the center of Bishkek from September 17 to October 15. Press reported that in late September the GKNB investigated protesters in Talas under the criminal article forbidding the planning of violent activities against the state during preparations for peaceful protest on the environmental effects of mining.
The law provides for freedom of association, and the government generally respected it. NGOs, labor unions, political parties, and cultural associations must register with the Ministry of Justice. NGOs are required to have at least three members and all other organizations at least 10 members. The Ministry of Justice did not refuse to register any domestic NGOs. The law prohibits foreign-funded political parties and NGOs, including their representative offices and branches, from pursuing political goals.
The government continued to maintain bans on 21 “religiously oriented” groups it considered to be extremist, including al-Qa’ida, the Taliban, the East Turkestan Islamic Movement, the Kurdish People’s Congress, the Organization for the Liberation of Eastern Turkistan, Hizb ut-Tahrir, the Union of Islamic Jihad, the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan, the Unification (Mun San Men) Church, Takfir Jihadist, Jaysh al-Mahdi, Jund al-Khilafah, Ansarullah At-Takfir Val Hidjra, Akromiya, ISIS, Djabhat An Nusra, Katibat al-Imam al-Buhari, Jannat Oshiqlari, Jamaat al-Tawhid wal-Jihad, and Yakyn Incar. Authorities also continued the ban on all materials or activities connected to A. A. Tihomirov, also known as Said Buryatsky.
As in recent years, numerous human rights activists reported continued arrests and prosecution of persons accused of possessing and distributing Hizb ut-Tahrir literature (see section 1.d.). Most arrests of alleged Hizb ut-Tahrir members occurred in the southern part of the country and involved ethnic Uzbeks. The government charged the majority of those arrested with possession of illegal religious material. In some cases NGOs alleged police planted Hizb ut-Tahrir literature as evidence against those arrested.
See the Department of State’s International Religious Freedom Report at https://www.state.gov/religiousfreedomreport/.
d. Freedom of Movement
The law provides for freedom of internal movement, foreign travel, emigration, and repatriation, and the government generally respected these rights.
Foreign Travel: The law on migration prohibits travel abroad by citizens who have or had access to information classified as state secrets until the information is declassified.
Citizenship: The law on combating terrorism and extremism revokes the citizenship of anyone convicted of terrorist and extremist activities. The government did not use the law during the year.
The government cooperated with the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) and other organizations to provide some protection and assistance to refugees, asylum seekers, stateless persons, and other persons of concern. In April the State Migration Service reported there were 193 refugees in the country, including 87 from Afghanistan.
Access to Asylum: The law provides for the granting of asylum or refugee status, and the government has established a system for providing protection to refugees. The law on refugees includes nondiscrimination provisions covering persons who UNHCR did not grant refugee status to when they left their country of origin and extends the validity of documents until a final decision on status is determined by a court.
Employment: The government grants legal permission to work to individuals UNHCR has determined are refugees and to whom the government has granted official residency status in the country. Not all refugees qualify for residency status according to the government. Individuals who UNHCR has determined are refugees, but to whom the government has not conferred legal residency, are not legally permitted to work, access medical services, or receive identity documents. Therefore, they are susceptible to exploitation by employers paying substandard wages, not providing benefits, and not complying with labor regulations. They could not file grievances with authorities.
Access to Basic Services: The government deemed individuals whom UNHCR determined ineligible for refugee status, as well as asylum seekers who lacked official status, as ineligible to receive state-sponsored social benefits. Refugees with official status in the country have access to basic services.
In July, UNHCR confirmed the country did not have any stateless individuals documented within its borders. During the year the remaining 50 stateless persons living in the country received local passports and acquired similar rights to citizens. UNHCR reported the government had issued approximately 13,431 individuals local passports since 2014.
Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:
The law provides for freedom of expression, including for the press, but the government severely restricted political speech and writing and prohibited most public criticism it deemed harmful to its reputation.
Freedom of Expression: The law provides citizens the right to criticize the government but forbids slandering the state, distorting party or state policies, inciting disorder, or propagating information or opinions that weaken the state. On September 16, police arrested Houayheuang Xayabouly on charges of defaming the country when she criticized on Facebook the government’s response to flooding in Champassak and Salavan Provinces. She had previously used social media to criticize graft and greed among government officials. She pled guilty and in November was sentenced to five years in prison and a 20 million kip ($2,260) fine.
Nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) generally exercised self-censorship, particularly after the 2012 disappearance of an internationally respected civil society advocate. NGOs said they also tried to avoid saying anything that might further delay government approval of a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) needed to carry out their work. NGOs reported that citizens are taught at an early age not to criticize the government.
Press and Media, Including Online Media: The state owned and controlled most domestic print and electronic media. Local news reflected government policy. The government permitted publication of several privately owned periodicals of a nonpolitical nature, including ones specializing in business, society, and trade. By law foreign media must submit articles to the government before publication; however, authorities did not enforce these controls. The government did not allow foreign news organizations to set up bureaus in the country, except those from neighboring communist states China and Vietnam.
Although the government closely controlled domestic television and radio broadcasts, it did not interfere with broadcasts from abroad. Citizens had 24-hour access to international stations via satellite and cable television. The government required owners of satellite receivers to register them and pay a one-time licensing fee, largely as a revenue-generating measure, but otherwise made no effort to restrict their use.
The government restricted the activities of foreign journalists. Authorities denied journalists free access to information sources and at times required them to travel with official escorts.
Censorship or Content Restrictions: Officials reviewed all articles in privately owned periodicals after publication and by law could penalize those whose articles did not meet government approval. Publishers and journalists were generally aware of what content the government would approve for publication and practiced self-censorship. The Ministry of Information, Culture, and Tourism’s Mass Media Department did not confirm whether the government disapproved any publication during the year.
Authorities prohibited dissemination of materials deemed subversive of national culture or politically sensitive. Any person found guilty of importing a publication considered offensive to national culture was subject to a fine of one to three times the value of the item or imprisonment of up to one year.
The government controlled domestic internet servers and sporadically monitored internet usage but did not block access to websites. The government maintained infrastructure to route all internet traffic through a single gateway, thereby enabling it to monitor and restrict content, although the government’s technical ability to monitor internet usage was limited. The National Internet Committee under the Prime Minister’s Office administers the internet system. The office requires internet service providers to submit quarterly reports and link their gateways to facilitate monitoring.
The cybercrime law criminalizes dissent and puts user privacy at risk by requiring individuals to register on social media sites with their full names, making it difficult to share news articles or other information anonymously. Authorities continued to detain or arrest persons who criticized the government.
Authorities individually warned social media bloggers to stop posting stories that they perceived to be critical of government policies, including posts on the government’s response to flooding and corruption.
The law prohibits certain content on the internet, including deceptive statements and statements against the government and the LPRP. The Ministry of Posts and Telecommunications has authority to direct internet service providers to terminate internet services of users found violating the law.
The law provides for academic freedom, but the government imposed restrictions. The Ministry of Education tightly controlled curricula, including in private schools and colleges.
Both citizen and noncitizen academic professionals conducting research in the country may be subject to restrictions on travel, access to information, and publication. The government required exit stamps for state-employed academic professionals to travel for research or to obtain study grants.
The government requires producers to submit films and music recordings produced in government studios for official review. The Ministry of Information, Culture, and Tourism attempted to limit the influence of Thai culture on local music and entertainment, but these attempts had little effect.
The government restricted the freedoms of peaceful assembly and association.
The law does not provide for the right of freedom of peaceful assembly and prohibits participation in demonstrations, protest marches, or other acts that “cause turmoil or social instability,” without explicit government permission. Participation in such activities is punishable by a maximum five years’ imprisonment; however, this was infrequently enforced. In October 2018 police in Savannakhet shut down a benefit concert at which performers and attendees wore T-shirts with the slogan “No bribes for jobs.”
The law tightly restricts the right of freedom of association. For example, political groups other than organizations approved by the LPRP are prohibited. Moreover, the government occasionally influenced board membership of civil society organizations and forced some organizations to change their names to remove words it deemed sensitive, such as “rights.”
Government registration regulations apply to nonprofit civil society organizations, including economic, social welfare, professional, technical, and creative associations at the district, provincial, or national level, depending on their scope of work and membership. The registration process for NGOs was burdensome, in practice often taking over two years, and authorities restricted NGOs’ ability to disseminate information and conduct activities without interference. NGOs are also required to obtain Ministry of Foreign Affairs approval to receive foreign funding greater than $60,000. NGOs also must accept “advice and assistance” from the government to ensure their operations are in line with party policy and the law.
Taxation of NGOs, including nonprofit organizations, varied from organization to organization. Taxation requirements for international and local NGOs that receive foreign funding could be cumbersome and varied, depending heavily on prenegotiated MOUs.
Some ministries appeared more open to engagement with civil society organizations, illustrated by an increase in invitations to attend meetings at ministries, government participation in donor working group meetings, and ministries actively seeking input from NGOs as they draft legislation. The government also invited NGOs to the National Assembly’s intersession and plenary. Despite some positive steps, civil society organizations still faced many challenges to carrying out their roles.
See the Department of State’s International Religious Freedom Report at https://www.state.gov/religiousfreedomreport/.
d. Freedom of Movement
The government restricted freedom of internal movement, foreign travel, emigration, and repatriation.
In-country Movement: Citizens traveling for religious purposes, including to minister, give advice, or visit other churches are required to seek permission from central and provincial authorities. This process can take several weeks. Christian groups reported problems obtaining permission to travel within the country, although many chose to ignore this requirement.
The government’s policy for Hmong separatists who either surrendered internally or returned from Thailand was to offer them amnesty and return them to their community of origin whenever possible.
The absence of comprehensive and timely monitoring by international organizations and independent observers made it difficult to verify the number and condition of internally displaced persons (IDPs); their situation, protection, and reintegration; government restrictions on them; and their access to basic services and assistance. The collapse of a dam under construction in Attapeu Province in July 2018 displaced an estimated 6,000 persons; as of November approximately 1,000 remained displaced. Southern provinces experienced heavy flooding during the monsoon season, with up to 40,000 persons still displaced as of November. The government was working with international partners to provide housing for these persons.
The government continued to relocate some villagers to accommodate land concessions given to development projects and relocated highland farmers, mostly from ethnic minority groups, to lowland areas under its plan to provide better access to roads and health and education services, and to end opium production and slash-and-burn agriculture. Families frequently reported the government displaced them for government projects, for example a railway linking Vientiane with China. Others were forced to move away from productive agricultural land and lost their access to land and livelihoods in the process.
Ongoing hydropower projects also caused many families to relocate. In many cases, the government moved families to higher (and less productive) ground. In one case, 100 families were relocated to a hilly area to allow for construction of a dam were reportedly rehoused in homes in danger from landslides. A UN special rapporteur in March issued a report criticizing the government for focusing on “large scale initiatives including infrastructure projects and industrial plantations that have separated people from their land, often resulting in hardship and debt.”
The government relied on assistance from NGOs, bilateral donors, and international organizations to cover the needs of those it resettled, but aid was not available in all areas.
Abuse of Migrants, Refugees, and Stateless Persons: The government cooperated in some cases with the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) and other humanitarian organizations in providing protection and assistance to internally displaced persons, refugees, returning refugees, asylum seekers, stateless persons, and other persons of concern. For example, in August, four Thai activists living in Laos applied for and received asylum in France. As mentioned earlier (section 1.b.), however, Thai political activists living in the country have disappeared in recent years.
Access to Asylum: The law provides for the granting of asylum or refugee status, but the government has not established a system for providing protection to refugees. The Ministry of Public Security did not routinely grant refugee or asylum status but dealt with individuals on a case-by-case basis.
Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:
The constitution and the law provide for freedom of expression, including for the press, and the government generally respected this right. An independent press and judiciary, and a functioning democratic political system combined to promote freedom of expression, including for the press. The government legally restricts racial and ethnic incitement, denial, or glorification of crimes against humanity, and certain war crimes.
Freedom of Expression: Although the law generally provides for freedom of speech, it criminalizes incitement to racial or ethnic hatred and the spreading of false information about the financial system. The law forbids glorifying or denying genocide, crimes against humanity, and war crimes against the country perpetrated by the Soviet Union or Nazi Germany. Violation of these provisions can lead to a five-year prison sentence, community service, or a fine. There are also restrictions on speech deemed a threat to the country’s national security. The law criminalizes nonviolent acts committed against the state or that challenge its “independence, sovereignty, territorial integrity, or authority.”
As of October authorities investigated individuals for inciting national, ethnic, or racial hatred, but issued no indictments.
Press and Media Freedom, Including Online Media: Independent media were active and expressed a wide variety of views with few restrictions. The law requires that 65 percent of all television broadcast time in national and regional electronic media be in Latvian or be dubbed or subtitled. Extensive Russian-language programming was also available in all national and local media. Restrictions on speech that incites racial hatred, spreads false information about the financial system, or glorifies or denies genocide, crimes against humanity, or crimes against the country by the Soviet Union or Nazi Germany also apply to print and broadcast media, the publication of books, and online newspapers and journals.
Electronic media are legally required to present news and current affairs programs with due accuracy and impartiality. All companies, including the media and other publishers, are required to disclose their ownership, and this data is publicly available. Electronic mass media are required to disclose their ultimate beneficiaries and report any changes to the media regulator. NGOs stated that opaque ownership of many of the largest media outlets posed a threat to media independence and transparency.
The Latvian Journalists Association expressed concern about local newspapers’ independence and viability. Some municipalities provided funding to local newspapers in exchange for editorial control, or even published their own newspapers to drive independent competitors out of business.
The government did not restrict or disrupt access to the internet or censor online content, and there were no credible reports that the government monitored private online communications without appropriate legal authority. Internet speech was subject to the same restrictions as other forms of speech and the media.
There were no government restrictions on academic freedom or cultural events.
The constitution and law provide for the freedoms of peaceful assembly and association, and the government generally respected these rights.
The constitution and the law provide for freedom of peaceful assembly. The government generally respected this right, but there are some restrictions. Organizers of demonstrations typically must notify authorities 10 days in advance. Authorities can approve demonstrations within 24 hours if longer advance notice is “reasonably impossible.” Officials may deny or modify permits to prevent public disorder.
The constitution and the law provide for freedom of association, and the government generally respected this right. The law prohibits the registration of communist, Nazi, or other organizations that contravene the constitution or advocate the violent overthrow of the government.
See the Department of State’s International Religious Freedom Report at https://www.state.gov/religiousfreedomreport/.
d. Freedom of Movement
The constitution and law provide for freedom of internal movement, foreign travel, emigration, and repatriation, and the government generally respected these rights.
Access to Asylum: The law provides for the granting of asylum or refugee status, and the government has established a system to provide protection to refugees.
Safe Country of Origin/Transit: The country adheres to the EU’s Dublin III Regulation, which permits authorities to return asylum seekers to their country of first entry into the EU if they arrive from other EU member states, except in cases involving family reunification or other humanitarian considerations. The government made an exception to this policy to participate in the EU’s efforts to address high levels of migration into Europe.
Durable Solutions: Some observers expressed concern that the government did not take sufficient steps to integrate asylum seekers granted refugee status in the country. Refugee benefits fell well below the country’s poverty line.
Temporary Protection: In the first eight months of the year, the government provided no subsidiary protection status to any individual who did not qualify as a refugee.
The Office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) reported 225,572 stateless persons in the country at the end of 2018. This number included 224,666 persons the government considered “noncitizens.” The government recognized as stateless only those persons with no claim to foreign citizenship or noncitizen resident status. Persons categorized by authorities as stateless may pursue citizenship through naturalization after obtaining a permanent residence permit and lawfully residing in the country for five years.
UNHCR included most of the country’s noncitizen population in the stateless category, but as of 2018 also considered them persons to whom the 1954 Convention relating to the Status of Stateless Persons does not apply. The government preferred to designate this population as noncitizen residents, since they were eligible to naturalize under the law. Noncitizen residents, mostly persons of Slavic origin who moved to the country during the Soviet occupation and their descendants, did not automatically become citizens when the country regained independence in 1991. They have permanent residency status, equal protection in the country and consular protection abroad, the right to leave and return to the country, and the right to all government social benefits. They also have employment rights, except in some government and private-sector positions related to the legal system, law enforcement, and national security. Noncitizens may not vote in local or national elections and may not organize a political party without the participation of at least an equal number of citizens.
Noncitizen residents may seek naturalization in the country. From January to September, authorities received 714 naturalization applications; of these, 530 received their citizenship by September, and 31 failed to pass the language exam but can reapply. Of the other 153 applications, some did not yet take the test; some withdrew their applications, and some passed away. In public surveys of noncitizen residents, the majority of respondents who did not seek naturalization reported that, in addition to language barriers, their reasons for not doing so included political objections to the requirement and their understanding that Latvian citizenship was not necessary for them to travel to Russia and EU-member states.
A subset of these noncitizen permanent residents hold citizenship in a different country, such as Russia, although the exact number and percentage were unknown, and dual citizenship for noncitizen permanent residents older than age 25 is not legal. This subgroup while living in Latvia may not only travel in the Schengen area like other noncitizen permanent residents but may also travel visa-free to and from Russia.
A new law promulgated on November 5 grants automatic citizenship at birth to children of noncitizen residents born after January 1, 2020, resolving a long-standing dispute in the country.
Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:
The constitution provides for freedom of expression, including for the press, and stipulates that restrictions may be imposed only under exceptional circumstances. The government generally respected this right, but there were some restrictions, particularly regarding political and social issues.
Freedom of Expression: Individuals were generally free to criticize the government and discuss matters of public interest; however, several legal restrictions limited this right. The law prohibits discussing the dignity of the president or insulting him or the president of a foreign country. The military code of justice prohibits insulting the security forces, and the Military Court prosecuted civilians under this statute.
Press and Media, Including Online Media: The 1962 Publications Law regulates print media. The law holds journalists responsible for erroneous or false news; threats or blackmail; insult, defamation, and contempt; causing prejudice to the president’s dignity; insulting the president or the president of a foreign country; instigation to commit a crime through a publication; and sectarian provocation. The law further contains detailed rules governing the activities of printing houses, press media, libraries, publishing houses, and distribution companies. This law provides rules and conditions for becoming a journalist and for obtaining licenses for new publications. It also prohibits the press from publishing blasphemous content regarding the country’s officially recognized religions or content that may provoke sectarian feuds.
There was uncertainty regarding which legal framework is applicable to online news sites in the country. No specific laws regulate online speech. The penal code, however, contains a number of speech offenses, such as defamation of public officials, public entities, and individuals. Accordingly, authorities are able to prosecute individuals, journalists, and bloggers for what they express online.
On March 11, the Military Court sentenced al-Jadeed TV correspondent Adam Chamseddine in absentia to three months in prison for criticizing the GDSS in a Facebook post. On April 12, a military judge ruled that, because Chamseddine is a journalist, the Military Court did not have jurisdiction over the case and returned the file to the military prosecutor who subsequently dropped all charges. Authorities heard these cases in both civil and military courts; they generally carried sentences of between one and three years in prison, although typically they resulted in fines.
The law governing audiovisual media bans live broadcasts of unauthorized political gatherings and certain religious events, as well as any broadcast of “any matter of commentary seeking to affect directly or indirectly the well-being of the nation’s economy and finances, material that is propagandistic and promotional, or promotes a relationship with Israel.” Media outlets must receive a license from the Council of Ministers to broadcast any type of political news or programs. The law prohibits broadcasting programs that harm the state or its relations with foreign countries or have an effect on the well-being of such states. The law also prohibits the broadcast of programs that seek to harm public morals, ignite sectarian strife, or insult religious beliefs.
Violence and Harassment: Journalists continued to face intimidation and harassment. Political friction and tension led some outlets to fear entering certain “politically affiliated” areas to report without removing brandings and logos identifying the outlets. For example, MTV reporters have been known to remove their outlet’s logo when entering Hizballah-affiliated areas. Outlets that sought to report in areas under control of Hizballah were required to obtain special permission from Hizballah’s media arm.
Authorities continued to prosecute online, print, and television journalists for violations of the country’s publications law. NGOs and media watchdogs claimed such prosecutions were efforts to intimidate critics. Prosecutors sometimes referred these cases to criminal courts based on both private complaints and their own discretion, but more often they referred such cases to the Publications Court. Publications Court cases typically remained open for a year or more and typically ended with fines or dismissal.
Censorship or Content Restrictions: Authorities selectively applied elements of the law that permit censorship of pornographic material, political opinion, and religious material considered a threat to national security or offensive to the dignity of the head of state or foreign leaders. The DGS may review and censor all foreign newspapers, magazines, and books to determine admissibility into the country, but these reviews are mostly for explicit, pornographic content. Some journalists reported that political violence and extralegal intimidation led to self-censorship.
On September 18, the president of the Lebanese University, Fouad Ayoub, had the judiciary request on his behalf that at least 20 media outlets remove all news and media reports related to him from their websites in an apparent attempt to edit his appearance on search engines. Media outlets were still determining their responses as of December 19.
The law includes guidelines regarding materials deemed unsuitable for publication in a book, newspaper, or magazine. Any violation of the guidelines could result in the author’s imprisonment or a fine. Authors could publish books without prior permission from the DGS, but if the book contained material that violated the law, including material considered a threat to national security, the DGS could legally confiscate the book and put the author on trial. Publishing without prior approval a book that contained unauthorized material could put the author at risk of a prison sentence, fine, and confiscation of the published materials.
Authorities from any of the recognized religious groups could request that the DGS ban a book. The government could prosecute offending journalists and publications in the publications court. According to NGOs, as of September each of the 30 book-banning cases the government registered in the publications court in 2017–mainly from libel suits filed by politicians, political parties, and private citizens–was in the process of being resolved. Authorities occasionally also referred such cases to criminal courts, a process not established in law.
Libel/Slander Laws: In most cases criminal courts heard libel and defamation complaints, which can carry sentences of one to three years but typically resulted in fines or a promise to remove offending material from the internet. NGOs and activists reported increased prosecutions under such laws, and political figures or their representatives filed several complaints against critics throughout the year. Human rights NGO ALEF (Association Libanaise pour l’Education et la Formation) reported that in several dozen cases this year, criminal defamation suits were filed against journalists, bloggers, political activists, and private citizens, including for posting their opinions in WhatsApp groups or on Facebook. While these cases rarely, if ever, resulted in prolonged detentions or jail sentences, interrogations by police and lengthy, expensive trials created a chilling effect on political speech.
Following publication of intentionally provocative articles on September 12 that criticized President Aoun and sarcastically suggested that Iranian Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei is the true leader of Lebanon, editors of the newspaper Nidaa al-Watan were summoned to appear before the Office of the Prosecutor General for the State on charges of defamation of the president. On September 20, the case was referred to the Publications Court. On November 21, the editor was found not guilty.
Private citizens may file criminal complaints, which the law requires an investigating judge to consider, and many defamation cases were initiated via the allegations of private citizens. Politicians at times responded to allegations of wrongdoing leveled at them by filing criminal complaints alleging defamation. The military justice code also prohibits defamation of the army.
The ISF Cybercrimes Bureau reported that, as of May 15, they had received referrals of 432 defamation cases for investigation. The Cybercrimes Bureau reportedly investigated 1,451 defamation cases in 2018, an increase of 81 percent from 2017. In November Human Rights Watch reported a 325 percent increase in the number defamation cases investigated by authorities and noted prison sentences against at least three individuals in defamation cases between 2015 and 2019. On October 5, four lawyers filed a complaint against the Economist, accusing the magazine of damaging the country’s reputation and insulting the Lebanese flag in its article reporting on the country’s dollar shortage that was published the same day.
On May 13, the GDSS arrested social media activist Rasheed Jumblatt and detained him for four days over a Facebook video post that allegedly included provocative and sectarian comments and insults against Foreign Minister Gebran Bassil. Jumblatt was subsequently released after charges were dropped.
Nongovernmental Impact: Political and religious figures sometimes sought to rally public outcry aimed at inhibiting freedom of expression and the press, including through coercion and threats of violence. This included public statements by some political and religious figures calling for the cancellation of a concert by local indie rock band Mashrou’ Leila due to threats of violence or content of the band’s music they perceived as offensive (see Academic Freedom and Cultural Events).
The law does not restrict access to the internet. The government reportedly censored some websites to block online gambling, pornography, religiously provocative material, extremist forums, and Israeli websites, but there were no verified reports the government systematically attempted to collect personally identifiable information via the internet. On May 24, the Ministry of Telecommunications requested that its internet service provider block Grindr, a networking app used primarily by LGBTI communities, based on a judicial order.
Restrictions on freedom of speech concerning government officials applied to social media communications, which authorities considered a form of publication rather than private correspondence. Human rights groups reported that political parties and their supporters intimidated individuals online and in person in response to online posts deemed critical of political leaders or religious figures, such as in the Mashrou’ Leila case (see Academic Freedom and Cultural Events).
The ISF’s Cybercrime Bureau and other state security agencies summoned journalists, bloggers, and activists to question them about social media and blog posts, especially when they criticized political figures or religious sects. On July 15, Riad el-Assaad was summoned by the ISF Cybercrime Bureau in response to a post on his Facebook page referencing suspicion of corruption within the Syndicate of Lebanese Contractors. El-Assaad removed the post under threat of detention.
NGOs noted the number of known summonses might not be accurate since many individuals chose not to discuss or report their cases.
There were no government restrictions specific to academic freedom, but libel and slander laws apply.
The majority of private universities enjoyed freedom of expression, and students were free to hold student elections and organize cultural, social, and political activities.
On July 30, organizers of the Byblos International Festival canceled the performance of indie rock band Mashrou’ Leila, citing the need “to avoid bloodshed” after the band faced criticism from some political and religious figures, as well as some private citizens, for a four-year-old post on Facebook of an image that transposed the face of pop diva Madonna onto an image of the Virgin Mary. According to Human Rights Watch and other NGOs, on July 24, security officers interrogated two band members for six hours. The band removed two songs from its playlist and the offending image from Facebook, and it issued a July 31 statement expressing regret that some had been offended. Despite these steps, the concert was canceled by organizers who cited threats of violence as the official reason for the cancellation.
On July 19, the DGS Censorship Bureau requested the ban of two films, Hard Paint (2018) and Damascus Cover (2017), on the premise that they promoted homosexuality and the Israeli intelligence service, respectively. As of September 5, the Ministry of Interior had not issued final judgement. The DGS reviewed all films and plays, and there were complaints among the public that the DGS’s decision-making process lacked transparency and was influenced by the opinions of religious institutions and political groups.
The constitution provides for the freedoms of peaceful assembly and association, and the government generally respected these freedoms.
The constitution provides for the freedom of peaceful assembly with some conditions established by law. Organizers are required to obtain a permit from the Interior Ministry three days prior to any demonstration.
Security forces occasionally intervened to disperse demonstrations, usually when protesters caused property damage or clashes broke out between opposing protesters. Security forces generally allowed demonstrators to protest peacefully during large, widespread protests that began October 17. Security forces predominantly demonstrated restraint and professionalism in interactions with protesters. The ISF occasionally used tear gas and rubber bullets to disperse protesters who authorities alleged were engaging in violence or vandalism, and the LAF in some instances used nonlethal force to disperse protesters who resisted LAF efforts to clear key thoroughfares. Human Rights Watch reported security forces used excessive force against protesters as well as intimidating and, in some cases, beating those attempting to film abuses. On November 1, ISF officers arrested and allegedly beat Salim Ghadban, a protester who had objected to the officers arresting four protesters occupying the Banks Association building in downtown Beirut. Ghadban was taken into temporary custody overnight at el-Helou police station where he was reportedly unable to contact an attorney, his family, or a physician.
Amnesty International reported that on October 26 the LAF used live ammunition fired in the air to disperse protesters blocking a main road in the northern area of Beddawi, which resulted in the alleged wounding of two protesters. During the same incident, five officers were injured. As of November a military court was investigating the incident. Following Prime Minister Hariri’s October 29 resignation, security forces, under increasing pressure from political leaders and the public, began to clear main roads but otherwise allowed demonstrators to peacefully assemble. Some protesters were detained after altercations with security forces, and as of November 19, at least five protesters who had previously been involved in unrelated criminal activity were referred to the judiciary for investigation. On November 12, a LAF bodyguard opened fire from inside a military vehicle attempting to pass through protesters blocking a road in Khaldeh, killing one protester. The LAF arrested the shooter and an investigation into the incident continued as of December 19. Altercations between protesters and supporters of nonstate actor Hizballah occurred sporadically during the protests, and security forces attempted to separate the conflicting groups with varying levels of success. Confrontations escalated into violence the night of November 25, when Hizballah and Amal supporters on motorcycles threw rocks and intimidated protesters in Beirut and opened fire on protesters and destroyed tents in Tyre. Human Rights Watch reported on November 8 that more than three dozen protesters asserted they had seen or were victims of violent attacks, including in Beirut, Bint Jbeil, Nabatieh and Sour, and that security forces failed to intervene to protect them.
Protesters clashed with ISF riot police on the evenings of December 14 and 15 in Beirut, producing the largest numbers of protest-related injuries to both protesters and security forces recorded during the year. Amnesty International on December 19 reported the Lebanese Civil Defense said it had treated 72 individuals for injuries at the scene and that 20 ISF members were taken to the hospital on December 14. Amnesty International denounced the presence of masked men in civilian clothing who allegedly attacked protesters. A Lebanese lawyer filed a formal complaint with the UN Human Rights Council.
The constitution provides for freedom of association, with some conditions established by law, and the government generally respected the law.
No prior authorization is required to form an association, but organizers must notify the Ministry of Interior for it to obtain legal recognition, and the ministry must verify that the organization respects “public order, public morals, and state security.” In some cases the ministry sent an NGO’s notification papers to the security forces to initiate inquiries about an organization’s founding members. Organizations must invite ministry representatives to any general assembly where members vote on bylaws, amendments, or seats on the board of directors. The ministry must then validate the vote or election. Failure to do so can result in the dissolution of the organization by a decree issued by the Council of Ministers.
The cabinet must license all political parties (see section 3).
In areas under Hizballah’s sway, independent NGOs faced harassment and intimidation, including social, political, and financial pressures. Hizballah reportedly paid youth who worked in “unacceptable” NGOs to leave the groups.
See the Department of State’s International Religious Freedom Report at https://www.state.gov/religiousfreedomreport/.
d. Freedom of Movement
The law provides for freedom of internal movement, foreign travel, emigration, and repatriation. The government generally respected these rights for citizens but placed extensive limitations on the rights of refugee populations and asylum seekers, most of whom were from Palestine, Syria, and Iraq (see section 2.f. Protection of Refugees).
In-country Movement: Armed nonstate actors hindered or prevented movement in areas they controlled. Armed Hizballah members controlled access to some areas under Hizballah’s control, and the Palestinian Front for the Liberation of Palestine prevented access to a border area under its control, according to the security services. Armed supporters of Druze leader Walid Jumblatt sought to block the motorcades of the foreign minister and of a rival Druze minister on June 30, the latter blockade resulting in a shootout and two deaths. Within families, men sometimes exercised considerable control over female relatives, restricting their activities outside the home or their contact with friends and relatives.
Citizenship: Citizenship is derived exclusively from the father. A citizen mother married to a noncitizen father cannot transmit Lebanese citizenship to her children (see section 2.g. Stateless Persons).
Fighting in 2007 destroyed the Nahr el-Bared Palestinian refugee camp, displacing approximately 30,000 residents, of whom some 27,000 were registered Palestinian refugees. Many of the displaced resided in areas adjacent to the camp or in other areas of the country where United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA) services were available. As of September approximately 75 percent of the displaced families had returned to newly reconstructed apartments in the camp.
As of October there were nearly 920,000 Syrian refugees in Lebanon registered with the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR). Since the government instructed UNHCR to stop registering Syrian refugees in early 2015, this total did not include Syrian refugees who arrived after that time. There were no formal refugee camps in the country for Syrians. Most Syrian refugees resided in urban areas, many in unfinished, substandard, or nonresidential buildings. Approximately 20 percent lived in informal tented settlements, often adjacent to agricultural land, according to an October UN assessment. According to a UN study, refugees often took loans to cover even their most basic needs, including rent, food, and health care, putting nearly 90 percent of them in debt and leaving them food insecure.
In early 2015 the government banned the entry of all Syrian refugees except for undefined “humanitarian exceptions.” During the year the Ministry of Social Affairs approved a limited number of Syrian asylum cases, including unaccompanied and separated children, persons with disabilities, medical cases, and resettlement cases under extreme humanitarian criteria.
In addition to nearly 14,000 UNHCR-registered Iraqi refugees residing in the country, a limited number of additional Iraqis entered during the year to escape violence. As of June 30, UNHCR also registered more than 4,200 refugees or asylum seekers from Sudan and other countries.
During the year the government launched campaigns which limited refugees’ ability to reside or work in the country. These included forced compliance with building codes limiting the use of concrete and hardened materials in refugee shelters, increased arrests for residency-related offenses, and stepped-up enforcement of labor laws that targeted businesses employing refugees–which affected more than 6,600 refugees.
Abuse of Migrants, Refugees, and Stateless Persons: In April the Higher Defense Council (HDC), a body chaired by the president that includes cabinet ministers and security service heads, issued guidance to the security services to increase enforcement of building codes. This resulted in the destruction of thousands of refugee shelters. Security services forced refugees to destroy and replace hardened walls and roofs; alternatively security services did so themselves or entirely demolished noncompliant shelters. Although authorities generally cited violations of building, environmental codes, or both, there was insufficient judicial review or opportunity to legally challenge eviction or demolition actions.
On June 5, residents of an informal refugee settlement in Deir El Ahmar in Northwest Baalbek claimed that a Civil Defense member, responding to a fire in the camp, recklessly drove into the camp putting children’s lives at risk, which resulted in an altercation between camp residents and the driver, who ended up in the hospital. Following the incident, a group of approximately 50 local men, who had previously posted threats against refugees on social media, purportedly to protect the local population, returned to the camp and verbally threatened residents. Later that night the same group entered the camp and set fire to multiple refugee shelters, prompting local authorities to evacuate all 88 refugee families for their safety.
Labor laws were also enforced more strictly to fine employers who employed Syrians or Palestinians and to close illegal refugee-run businesses. Environmental regulations were cited more frequently in the eviction of refugees and bulldozing of dwellings in some locations. Refugee arrests and detentions also increased, and some NGOs funded by international donors to provide water and sanitation services to refugee settlements were sued by the government and fined for allegedly contributing to the pollution of the Litani River.
Multiple NGOs and UN agencies shared reports of sexual harassment and exploitation of refugees by employers and landlords, including paying workers below the minimum wage, working excessive hours, debt bondage, and pressuring families into early marriage for their daughters to relieve economic hardship. There were multiple reports of foreign migrant domestic workers (mainly from East Africa and Southeast Asia) tied to their employers through legal sponsorship, known as the kafala system, who faced physical, mental, and sexual abuse, unsafe working conditions, and nonpayment of wages. According to NGOs who assisted migrant workers in reporting these abuses to authorities, security forces and judges did not always adequately investigate these crimes; victims sometimes refused to file complaints or retracted testimony due to threats and fear of reprisals or deportation.
Refoulement: The government reaffirmed its commitment to the principle of nonrefoulement with respect to Syrians. Some political party representatives, however, employed antirefugee rhetoric, stating assistance to Syrian refugees in particular placed additional burden on the state already facing an economic crisis. The DGS coordinated with Syrian government officials to facilitate the voluntary return of approximately 16,000 refugees from 2017 to September 1, 2019. UNHCR did not organize these group returns but was present at departure points and found no evidence that returns were involuntary or coerced in the cases of those refugees whom they interviewed. Human rights groups including Amnesty International questioned government claims that refugee returns were entirely voluntary, calling the environment “coercive” and citing credible risk of persecution or other human rights abuses upon return to areas controlled by the Syrian regime.
An HDC decision in April required the deportation of anyone arrested and found to have entered the country illegally after April 24. As of September the DGS reported it had deported 2,731 individuals under this order. UN officials considered the government’s new deportation policy as creating a high risk of refoulement given the lack of a formal review process to assess credible fear of persecution or torture. Specifically, the HDC decision requiring the deportation of anyone arrested and found to have entered the country illegally after April 24 elevated the risk of refoulement. Human rights groups and the international community all raised concerns about the risk of turning over refugees to Syrian authorities. There were several anecdotal reports of Syrian refugees who were subsequently abused in detention after being turned over to Syrian authorities by Lebanese officials. Government officials maintained their policy only applied to illegal migrants, not refugees, although it did not appear there was sufficient due process to make such a determination. UNHCR and international donors urged the government to provide for a judicial or independent administrative review before carrying out deportations. The government maintained that while the law requires a court hearing on all deportation cases, it did not have the bandwidth to process the existing caseload.
Non-Syrian asylum seekers arrested due to irregular entry or residency faced administrative detention without being sentenced by a court. The DGS held these individuals in a migrant retention facility where officials processed their immigration files before making administrative deportation decisions. Most cases resulted in deportation of the detainee, except for some instances where UNHCR secured their resettlement to a third country. During the year two Sudanese asylum seekers and four Iraqis (three refugees and one asylum seeker) were deported. In addition, one Iraqi refugee and her two children were not allowed re-entry into Lebanon after they briefly returned to Iraq to obtain an official document.
Access to Asylum: The law does not provide for the granting of asylum or refugee status. Nonetheless, the country hosted an estimated 1.5 million refugees, the vast majority of them Syrian. In an effort to address the low number of refugees obtaining and renewing legal residency, since 2017 residency fees have been waived for refugees who had registered with UNHCR prior to 2015. This ruling excluded unregistered refugees or those who had renewed on the basis of Lebanese sponsorship. DGS implementation of the waiver continued to be inconsistent, and there was minimal improvement in the percentage of refugees with legal status. According to the United Nations, only 20 percent of the refugee population held legal residency as of September.
Due to the slow pace of implementation of residency determinations, the majority of Syrian refugees were unable to renew their legal documents, which significantly affected their freedom of movement owing to the possibility of arrests at checkpoints, particularly for adult men. While authorities released most detainees within a few days, some of the refugees said authorities required them to pay fines before releasing them or confiscated their identification documents (IDs). Syrian refugees faced barriers to obtaining Syrian ID documentation required to renew their residency permits in Lebanon because of the hostility of the Syrian government to the refugee population and because Syrian government embassies and consulates charge exorbitant fees. Obtaining and maintaining legal residency was also a challenge for refugees of other nationalities, particularly Iraqis, due to high renewal fees and sponsorship requirements. There is no official limitation of movement for Palestinian refugees from Syria (PRS) in the country; however, PRS without legal status faced limitations on their freedom of movement, mainly due to the threat of arrest at checkpoints.
Since 2014 authorities granted entry visas at the border only to PRS with either a verified embassy appointment in the country or a flight ticket and visa to a third country. Additionally, limited numbers of PRS secured visas to Lebanon by obtaining prior approval from the DGS, which required a sponsor in the country and could not be processed at border posts. UNRWA estimated that only 12 percent of the PRS in the country had arrived after 2016.
In 2017 the DGS issued a circular allowing the free, unlimited renewal of PRS residency for six months, with no fees for delayed submission. This circular has been consistently used since its issuance and applies to PRS who entered the country legally or who regularized their status before September 2016. The circular also granted temporary residency documents to PRS who turned 15 years old in the country, allowing them to use available documents such as an individual civil status card, instead of passports or national identity cards. Previously children were required to have an ID or valid travel document to be able to renew their residency. If they did not have one of these two documents, their legal status was revoked, and they became at risk of arrest and detention if they were stopped at any checkpoint. The circular, issued for residency renewal and not regularization, did not apply to PRS who entered the country through unofficial border crossings. Authorities issued a departure order to PRS who entered the country through official border crossings but who overstayed their temporary transit visa or failed to renew their visa.
Since 2017 the government waived the condition of valid residency for birth and marriage registration for PRS, expanding the application of a previous circular issued in September 2017 applicable to Syrians. Since March 2018 the Ministry of Interior waived the costly court proceedings to obtain birth registration of PRS and Syrian refugee children older than one year who were born in Lebanon between January 2011 and February 2018. The proof of marriage requirement remained in effect during the year.
Freedom of Movement: Authorities imposed curfews in a number of municipalities across the country, allegedly to improve security of all communities. Some international observers raised concerns that these measures may be discriminatory and excessive, since authorities typically enforced them for Syrian refugees, who mostly lack legal residency status and could face greater consequences if detained for a curfew violation. Municipalities and neighborhoods hosting Syrian refugee populations continued to impose movement restrictions through curfews, evictions, and threats of evictions. UN agencies reported that local municipal officials frequently used the threat of evictions to exert control over refugees or to appease host communities competing with refugees for jobs and other resources.
Police checkpoints and curfews imposed by municipalities restricted refugees’ movement. Cases of identity document confiscation and fines for breaking curfews continued, and a few violent incidents against refugees occurred. UNHCR staff reported restrictions on movement increasingly forced families to send children and young women, whom authorities are less likely to stop yet who are more vulnerable to exploitation and abuse, to perform family errands.
Employment: Authorities continued requiring Syrian refugees who wished to obtain residency permits to pledge to abide by the country’s laws, under which Syrians may work only in agriculture, construction, and cleaning. In July the Ministry of Labor stepped up enforcement and fined employers who hired refugees outside these sectors.
The law allows a special account to provide end-of-service indemnities or severance pay to Palestinian refugees who retire or resign. These benefits were available only to Palestinians working in the legal labor market. Palestinians did not benefit from national sickness and maternity funds or the family allowances fund. UNRWA continued to bear the cost of any medical, maternity, or family health-care expenses (excluding worker’s compensation).
Palestinian refugees received partial access to the benefits of the National Social Security Fund. They may not, however, work in at least 33 professions including medicine, law, and engineering and face informal restrictions on work in other industries. According to UN agencies, government officials, and Palestinian advocacy groups, Palestinian refugees consistently reported discrimination in hiring due to excessive bureaucracy and societal stigma. Lack of written contracts, lack of employment benefits, and insecure job tenure contributed to unstable working conditions.
Palestinian refugees were barred from employment in many fields, making refugees dependent upon UNRWA as the sole provider of education, health care, and social services. A 2010 law expanding employment rights and removing some restrictions on Palestinian refugees was not fully implemented, and Palestinians remained barred from working in most skilled professions, including almost all those that require membership in a professional association. A Ministry of Labor effort to restrict Syrian refugee access to employment led to closure of several businesses employing or owned by Palestinians, triggering three weeks of protests in July and August.
Access to Basic Services: The government did not consider local integration of any refugees a viable solution.
The law considers UNRWA-registered Palestinian refugees to be foreigners. UNRWA provides health, education, social services, and emergency assistance to registered Palestinian refugees residing in the country. The amount of land allocated to the 12 official Palestinian refugee camps in the country has changed only marginally since 1948, despite a fourfold increase in the population. Consequently, most Palestinian refugees lived in overpopulated camps, some of which suffered heavy damage in past conflicts. By agreement with the government, Palestinian security committees provided security for refugees in the camps.
A comprehensive, multi-year plan to rebuild the Nahr el-Bared Camp in eight stages began in 2008; the project continued at year’s end and was approximately 75 percent completed. Remaining reconstruction was not fully funded, with a 99 billion LBP ($66 million) shortfall remaining. Of the 27,000 Palestinians originally displaced following the camp’s destruction, UNRWA expected that approximately 21,000 would return. Many moved into completed apartments this year, and the temporary settlements that housed them near Nahr el-Bared Camp were decommissioned. The government did not permit UNRWA to install individual electricity meters in apartments, preferring that UNRWA pay a single bill rather than collecting from thousands of households, which limited access to electricity for residents.
Palestinian refugees typically could not access public health and education services or own land. A 2001 amendment to the law was designed to exclude Palestinians from purchasing or inheriting property. Palestinians who owned and registered property prior to the 2001 law entering into force could bequeath it to their heirs.
Palestinian refugees residing in the country could not obtain citizenship and were not considered citizens of any other country. Palestinian refugee women married to Lebanese citizens were able to obtain citizenship after one year of marriage. According to the country’s nationality law, the father transmits citizenship to children. Palestinian refugees, including children, had limited social and civil rights and no access to government-provided health, education, or other social services. Children of Palestinian refugees faced discrimination in birth registration, and many had to leave school at an early age to earn an income.
Palestinian refugees who fled Syria for Lebanon since 2011 received limited basic support from UNRWA, including food aid, cash assistance, and winter assistance, such as cash to purchase fuel for heating. Authorities permitted children of PRS to enroll in UNRWA schools and access UNRWA health clinics.
The Ministry of Education and Higher Education facilitated the enrollment of more than 200,000 non-Lebanese students, predominantly Syrian refugees, in public schools (basic education from kindergarten to grade nine) in the 2018-19 academic year. Authorities estimated there were almost 338,000 registered Syrians of school age (three to 14 years old) in the country. Donor funding to UN agencies covered school-related expenses, such as school fees, books, and uniforms. Syrian refugees had access to many nonprofit and private health centers and local clinics for primary care services, and UN agencies and NGOs funded the majority of associated costs with international donor support. Syrian refugees had access to a limited number of UNHCR-contracted hospitals for lifesaving and obstetric care.
Iraqi refugees had access to both the public and private education systems. Iraqi refugees also had access to the primary health-care system. UNHCR, through NGOs, provided secondary health care with donor support.
Citizenship is derived exclusively from the father, resulting in statelessness for children of a citizen mother and a noncitizen father when registration under the father’s nationality is not possible. This discrimination in the nationality law particularly affected Palestinians and increasingly Syrians from female-headed households. Additionally, some children born to Lebanese fathers did not have their births registered due to administrative obstacles or a lack of understanding of the regulations. There were no official statistics on the size of the stateless population.
Approximately 3,000-5,000 Palestinians were not registered with UNRWA or the government. These Palestinians began to arrive in the country during the 1960s and do not hold any formal valid identification documentation. The government does not recognize their legal status in the country. Without documentation and legal status, nonregistered Palestinians faced restrictions on movement, risked arrest or detention, and encountered obstacles completing civil registration procedures.
Undocumented Palestinians, not registered in other countries where UNRWA operates such as Syria or Jordan, were not necessarily eligible for the full range of services provided by UNRWA. Nonetheless, in most cases UNRWA provided primary health care, education, and vocational training services to undocumented Palestinians. The majority of these were men, many of them married to UNRWA-registered refugees or Lebanese citizen women, who could not transmit refugee status or citizenship to their husbands or children.
The Directorate of Political and Refugee Affairs is responsible for late registration of children of Palestinian refugees. According to the law, birth registration of children older than one year previously required a court procedure, proof of marriage, an investigation by the DGS, and a DNA test. A March 2 decree issued by the Ministry of Interior facilitated the required documentation for birth registration of PRS and Syrian children more than one year old and born in the country since 2011. In such cases authorities no longer required the court procedure and DNA tests to register these children; however, proof of marriage is still mandatory. This decree does not apply to the registration of Palestinian refugee children more than one year old.
Approximately 1,500 of an estimated 100,000 Kurds living in the country lacked citizenship, despite decades of family presence in the country. Most were descendants of migrants and refugees who left Turkey and Syria during World War I, but authorities continued to deny them citizenship to preserve the country’s sectarian balance. The government issued a naturalization decree in 1994, but high costs and administrative obstacles prevented many individuals from acquiring official status. Some individuals who had previously received official status had their citizenship revoked in 2011 under a presidential decree. Others held an “ID under consideration” document without a date or place of birth.
Stateless persons lacked official identity documents that would permit them to travel abroad and could face difficulties traveling internally, including detention for not carrying identity documents. They had limited access to the regular employment market and no access to many professions. Additionally, they could not access public schools or public health-care facilities, register marriages or births, or own or inherit property.