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Algeria

Executive Summary

Algeria is a multiparty republic whose president, the head of state, is elected by popular vote for a five-year term. The president has the constitutional authority to appoint and dismiss cabinet members and the prime minister, who is the head of government. A 2016 constitutional revision requires the president to consult with the parliamentary majority before appointing the prime minister. Presidential elections took place in 2014, and voters re-elected President Abdelaziz Bouteflika for a fourth term. Presidential term limits, which were eliminated in 2008, were reintroduced in the 2016 revision of the constitution and limit the president to two five-year terms. Elections for the lower chamber of parliament were held in May 2017 and did not result in significant changes in the composition of the government. Foreign observers characterized the 2017 legislative elections as largely well organized and conducted without significant problems on election day, but noted a lack of transparency in vote-counting procedures.

Civilian authorities generally maintained effective control over the security forces.

Human rights issues included unlawful interference with privacy; laws prohibiting certain forms of expression, which were often vague, as well as criminal defamation laws; limits on freedom of the press; restrictions on the freedom of assembly and association including of religious groups; official corruption, including perceptions of lack of judicial independence and impartiality; criminalization of consensual same sex sexual conduct and security force sexual abuse of lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and intersex (LGBTI) persons; and trafficking in persons.

The government took steps to investigate, prosecute, or punish public officials who committed violations. Impunity for police and security officials remained a problem, but the government provided information on actions taken against officials accused of wrongdoing.

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

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

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

Some terrorist groups remained active in the country, including al-Qaida in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM) and an ISIS affiliate, Jund al-Khilafah. These groups targeted security services personnel in periodic but small-scale attacks. Notably, terrorists killed seven soldiers in an ambush on July 30 in Skikda.

b. Disappearance

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

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

The law prohibits torture and prescribes prison sentences of between 10 and 20 years for government agents found guilty of torture. According to the Ministry of Justice, there were six prosecutions of law enforcement officers for torture during the year. Human rights activists said police sometimes used excessive force against suspects, including protestors.

The General Directorate of National Security (DGSN) stated that it received 131 complaints of violence or threats by officers and conducted 163 investigations into those threats. As a result, officials suspended six individuals.

Local and international NGOs asserted that police impunity was a problem. Local human rights activists reported that prisoners feared reprisals if they reported abuse by authorities during detention or the interrogation process.

Prison and Detention Center Conditions

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

The penal code prohibits the detention of suspects in any facilities not designated for that purpose and declared to the local prosecutor, who has the right to visit such facilities at any time.

Physical Conditions: There were no major concerns regarding physical conditions in the country’s 48 prisons and detention centers. According to statistics provided in September, the Ministry of Justice’s General Directorate for Prison Administration and Resettlement (DGAPR) had responsibility for approximately 63,000 prisoners. Convicted terrorists had the same rights as other inmates but were held in prisons of varying degrees of security, determined by the danger posed by the prisoners. The DGAPR separates vulnerable persons but provides no consideration for sexual orientation. The DGAPR has no legal protections for LGBTI persons in prison arguing that civil protections extend to all people regardless of gender orientation.

The government used specific facilities for prisoners age 27 and younger. The DGAPR maintained different categories of prisons that separated prisoners according to the lengths of their sentences. The government acknowledged that some detention facilities were overcrowded but said it used alternatives to incarceration such as releasing prisoners with electronic bracelets, conditional release, and replacing prison terms with mandatory community service to reduce overcrowding. The Ministry of Justice said cell sizes exceeded international standards set by the United Nations’ Nelson Mandela Rules. Some observers, including government-appointed human rights officials, attributed overcrowding in pretrial detention facilities to continued overuse of pretrial detention, despite reforms in 2015 that sought to reduce the practice.

Authorities generally transferred pretrial detainees, after presenting them before the prosecutor, to prisons rather than holding them in separate detention facilities. The government said pretrial detainees were normally held in cellblocks separate from those that housed the general prison population.

Administration: Authorities conducted investigations into allegations of mistreatment and took administrative actions against officers it deemed to have committed abuses. Religious workers reported that they had access to prisoners during the year and authorities allowed detainees access to religious observance.

Independent Monitoring: The government allowed the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) and local human rights observers to visit prisons and detention centers. ICRC staff visited prisons, and police and gendarme stations under the jurisdiction of the Ministry of Justice, and an administrative detention center operated by the Ministry of Interior. During the year the ICRC hosted training sessions on human rights standards related to arrest, detention, and interrogation procedures for judicial police from the DGSN and National Gendarmerie, as well as for judges.

Improvements: Authorities improved prison conditions to meet international standards. The government said that it closed 11 facilities and opened one new facility to improve prison conditions in the last year but argued that they have alleviated overcrowding by increasing the use of minimum-security centers that permit prisoners to work and by using electronic monitoring. The DGSN’s human rights office, created in July 2017, reported that it was leading seminars and workshops with the National Human Rights Council to provide additional human rights training to its officers.

d. Arbitrary Arrest or Detention

Security forces routinely detained individuals who participated in unauthorized protests. Arrested individuals reported that authorities held them for four to eight hours before releasing them without charges. Overuse of pretrial detention remained a problem. A detainee has the right to appeal a court’s order of pretrial detention, and if released, seek compensation from the government.

ROLE OF THE POLICE AND SECURITY APPARATUS

The 130,000-member National Gendarmerie, which performs police functions outside of urban areas under the auspices of the Ministry of National Defense, and the approximately 218,000-member DGSN or national police, organized under the Ministry of Interior, share responsibility for maintaining law and order. Intelligence activities fall under three intelligence directorates reporting to a presidential national security counselor and performing functions related specifically to internal, external, and technical security.

Civilian authorities maintained effective control over the security forces. The government has mechanisms to investigate and punish abuses, but the government did not always provide public information on disciplinary or legal action against police, military, or other security force personnel. The government suspended six of 100 investigated security officers for abuse. During the year the DGSN conducted nine training sessions on human rights, including for all new cadets.

ARREST PROCEDURES AND TREATMENT OF DETAINEES

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

If authorities need more than 48 hours to gather additional evidence, they may extend a suspect’s authorized time in police detention with the prosecutor’s authorization in the following cases: if charges pertain to an attack on data processing systems, they may extend the time in detention once; if charges relate to state security, they may do so twice; for charges concerning drug trafficking, organized and transnational crime, money laundering, and other currency-related crimes, they may do so three times; and for charges related to terrorism and other subversive activities, they may do so five times for a maximum of 12 days. The law stipulates that detainees should immediately be able to contact a family member and receive a visit, or to contact an attorney.

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

In nonfelony cases and in cases of individuals held on charges of terrorism and other subversive activities that exceed a 12-day period plus any authorized extension, the law calls for the release of suspects on provisional liberty, referred to as “judicial control,” while awaiting trial. Under provisional liberty status, authorities subjected suspects to requirements such as reporting periodically to the police station in their district, stopping professional activities related to the alleged offense committed, surrendering all travel documents, and, in some terrorism-related cases, residing at an agreed-upon address. The law provides that foreigners may be required to furnish bail as a condition of release on provisional liberty status, while Algerian citizens may be released on provisional liberty without posting bail.

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

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

On August 12, about 30 members of the Mouwatana movement held a sit-in in Algiers to denounce the fifth term of President Bouteflika. Police arrested and interrogated some of the demonstrators and released them after about an hour. Some of those arrested, reported being “brutalized.” On September 8, several leaders were prevented from marching in Constantine. Several members were arrested on September 13 in Bejaia, including the leader of political party Jil Jadid, Soufiane Djilali.

Pretrial Detention: Prolonged pretrial detention remained a problem. Nongovernmental observers believed pretrial detainees comprised a significant portion of the total detainee and prisoner population but did not have specific statistics. According to the Ministry of Justice, approximately 12 percent of the prison population was in pretrial detention.

The law limits the grounds for pretrial detention and stipulates that before it can be imposed, a judge must assess the gravity of a crime and whether the accused is a threat to society or a flight risk. Judges rarely refused prosecutorial requests to extend pretrial detention. Most detainees had prompt access to a lawyer of their choice as accorded by law, and the government provided legal counsel to indigent detainees. Human rights activists and attorneys, however, asserted that some detainees were held without access to lawyers.

The law prohibits pretrial detention for crimes with maximum punishments of less than three years imprisonment, except for infractions that resulted in deaths or to persons considered a “threat to public order.” In these cases, the law limits pretrial detention to one month. In all other criminal cases, pretrial detention may not exceed four months. Amnesty International alleged that authorities sometimes detained individuals on security-related charges for longer than the 12-day prescribed period.

Authorities have been holding journalist, Said Chitour, in pretrial detention since June 2017 without trial. He was charged with “sharing intelligence with a foreign power.”

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

e. Denial of Fair Public Trial

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

On July 13, the Ministry of Justice removed a public prosecutor and his deputy from a court in Boudouaou for their alleged involvement in the legal proceedings following the discovery of 701 kilograms of cocaine in the port of Oran on May 29.

TRIAL PROCEDURES

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

In July 2017 authorities freed Kamel Eddine Fekhar, a human rights activist. After violent clashes between Ibadis in Ghardaia and security forces, Fekhar wrote a letter to UN Secretary-General Ban Ki Moon asking the UN to save the local Ibadite population from persecution by the government. Authorities arrested Fekhar in 2015 and held him for 22 months without a trial. In May 2017 Fekhar was sentenced to five years imprisonment but in July 2017 a court in Medea reduced that sentence to two years. Fekhar was released shortly thereafter, two years after his initial arrest.

Defendants may confront or question witnesses against them and present witnesses and evidence on their behalf. Defendants have the right not to be compelled to testify or confess guilt, and they have the right to appeal. The testimony of men and women has equal weight under the law.

POLITICAL PRISONERS AND DETAINEES

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

Intelligence services arrested journalist Said Chitour in June 2017 and accused him of sharing intelligence with a foreign power. Chitour has been detained in El Harrach prison since then without trial and faces life imprisonment if convicted. According to his lawyers, authorities have not provided any evidence to support the charges. Several human rights NGOs condemned his arrest as an example of harassment and threats to pressure journalists.

CIVIL JUDICIAL PROCEDURES AND REMEDIES

The judiciary was not always independent or impartial in civil matters and lacked independence in some human rights cases. Family connections and status of the parties involved influenced decisions. Individuals may bring lawsuits, and administrative processes related to amnesty may provide damages to the victims or their families for human rights violations and compensation for alleged wrongs. Individuals may appeal adverse decisions to international human rights bodies, but their decisions would not have the force of law.

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

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

In 2016 the government established an anticybercrime agency charged with coordinating anticybercrime efforts and engaging in preventive surveillance of electronic communications in the interests of national security. Falling under the purview of the Ministry of Justice, the agency has exclusive authority for monitoring all electronic surveillance activities, but the decree did not provide details regarding the limits of surveillance authority or corresponding protections for persons subject to surveillance. The Ministry of Justice said the agency was subject to all existing judicial controls that apply to law enforcement agencies.

Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:

a. Freedom of Speech and Press

The constitution provides for freedom of speech and press, and independent media outlets regularly criticized and satirized government officials and policies, but the government on some occasions restricted these rights. The government’s actions included harassment of some critics; arbitrary enforcement of vaguely worded laws; informal pressure on publishers, editors, advertisers, and journalists; and control of an estimated 20 percent of the country’s advertising money and printing capabilities. Some media figures alleged the government used its control over most printing houses and large amounts of public sector advertising preferentially, and that the lack of clear regulations over these practices permitted it to exert undue influence on press outlets.

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

Nongovernmental organizations (NGO’s) reported during the year that following suppression of public activities in years past, they no longer hold events outside of private locations. They also report that owners of public gathering spaces have been told not to rent their locations to certain NGOs.

Press and Media Freedom: The National Agency for Publishing and Advertising (ANEP) controls public advertising for print media. According to the NGO Reporters without Borders, private advertising existed but frequently came from businesses with close links to the ruling political party. Although ANEP said in September that it represented only 19 percent of the total advertising market, nongovernmental sources assessed the majority of daily newspapers depended on ANEP-authorized advertising to finance their operations. ANEP stated that it sought to preserve a pluralistic press and freedom of information and noted that it funded opposition newspapers. The government’s lack of transparency over its use of state-funded advertising, however, permitted it to exert undue influence over print media.

Police arrested blogger Merzoug Touati in January 2017 on charges stemming from his online publication of an interview with a former Israeli diplomat. In May a court sentenced him to 10 years in prison.

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

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

In September the Ministry of Communication stated there were 268 accredited written publications. Of the daily printed publications, the ministry stated six were state-operated.

The ministry’s Media Directorate is responsible for issuing and renewing accreditations to foreign media outlets operating in the country. Although this accreditation is required to operate legally, the vast majority of foreign media were not accredited. While the government tolerated their operations in the past, the Ministry of Communication said in 2016 it would limit the number of private satellite channels to 13 and foreign-based unaccredited television outlets would be shut down. Regulations require the shareholders and managers of any radio or television channel to be Algerian citizens and prohibit them from broadcasting content that offends “values anchored in Algerian society.”

The ministry also issues and renews accreditation of foreign correspondents reporting in the country. According to the ministry, there were 14 accredited foreign press agencies reported during the year. In addition, six private domestic television channels, 12 foreign broadcasting channels, and one foreign radio station–the BBC–operated throughout the year.

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

Censorship or Content Restrictions: Some major news outlets faced direct and indirect retaliation for criticism of the government. Press outlets report taking extra caution before publishing articles critical of the government or government officials for fear of losing revenue from ANEP.

During a media interview, Omar Belhouchet, the editor of El Watan, an independent daily newspaper, said that media companies self-censor regarding certain topics. According to Belhouchet, the government has a monopoly on advertising that it uses to punish those who criticize the government and thus, weakens freedom of expression.

Libel/Slander Laws: NGOs and observers criticized the law on defamation as vaguely drafted and said the definitions in the law failed to comport with internationally recognized norms. The law defines defamation as “any allegation or imputation of a fact offending the honor or consideration of a person, or of the body to which the fact is imputed.” The law does not require that the fact alleged or imputed be false or that the statement be made with malicious intent to damage another individual’s reputation. Defamation is not a crime but carries a fine ranging from 100,000 Algerian dinars (DZD) to DZD 500,000 ($850 to $4,252). The Ministry of Justice did not provide information on the percentage of defamation claims that originated from private citizens, as opposed to government officials. Defamation laws specify that former members of the military who make statements deemed to have damaged the image of the military or to have “harmed the honor and respect due to state institutions” may face prosecution.

Printed editions of the monthly news magazine Jeune Afrique have not been available in the country since April 23. At the end of March, the distributor received a notification from the Ministry of Communication to stop importing Jeune Afrique and other titles published by Jeune Afrique Media Group (The Africa Report and La Revue). The Ministry authorized the import of only 350 copies of Jeune Afriquefor delivery to various institutions. Jeune Afrique online remained available.

The law criminalizes statements denigrating Islam or insulting the Prophet Muhammed or “messengers of God.” In 2016 police in Setif arrested Slimane Bouhafs, a Christian convert, for posting statements on his Facebook page questioning the morals of the Prophet Muhammed. A court sentenced him to five years in prison, plus a DZD 100,000 ($850) fine. His sentence was subsequently reduced to three years in prison, and he was released in April.

INTERNET FREEDOM

The government monitored certain email and social media sites.

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

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

By law ISPs face criminal penalties for the material and websites they host, especially if subject matters are “incompatible with morality or public opinion.” The Ministries of Justice, Interior, and Post, Information Technology, and Communication have oversight responsibilities. The law provides sentences of six months to five years in prison and fines between DZD 50,000 and DZD 500,000 ($425 and $4,252) for users who do not comply with the law, including the obligation to cooperate with law enforcement authorities against cybercrime.

For a second year, the government blocked access to social media sites, including Facebook and Twitter, for several days during nationwide high school exams. The decision was in response to previous leaks of exam materials, which were posted on social media.

According to the International Telecommunication Union, 45 percent of the population used the internet in 2017.

ACADEMIC FREEDOM AND CULTURAL EVENTS

Academic seminars generally occurred with limited governmental interference. The Ministry of Culture reviewed the content of films before they could be shown, as well as books before importation. The Ministry of Religious Affairs did the same for all religious publications. The law gives the authorities broad power to ban books that run counter to the constitution, “the Muslim religion and other religions, national sovereignty and unity, the national identity and cultural values of society, national security and defense concerns, public order concerns, and the dignity of the human being and individual and collective rights.” It further prohibits books that “make apology for colonialism, terrorism, crime, and racism.”

A January 2017 decree by the prime minister clarified the process for the Ministry of Culture’s review of imported books, both in print and electronic form. According to the decree, importers must submit to the ministry the title, author’s name, editor’s name, edition, year, International Standard Book Number, and number of copies to be imported. Importers of books covering the “national movement and the Algerian Revolution” must submit the entire text of the books for review, including a secondary review by the Ministry of the Moudjahidine (veterans of the Revolution). The Ministry of Culture can also require a full content review of books on other topics if it chooses. The ministry has 30 days to review the importation application; in the absence of a response after 30 days, the importer may proceed with distribution of the publication. After making a determination, the ministry notifies the customs service of the decision to allow or ban the importation of the publication. Appeals may be made to the ministry, with no independent or judicial review provided for in the decree.

A January 2017 decree established a commission within the Ministry of Religious Affairs to review imports of the Quran. This decree requires all applications to include a full copy of the text and other detailed information. The ministry has three to six months to review the text, with the absence of a response after that time constituting a rejection of the application. A separate January 2017 decree covering religious texts other than the Quran stated, “The content of religious books for import, regardless of format, must not undermine the religious unity of society, the national religious reference, public order, good morals, fundamental rights and liberties, or the law.” The importer must submit the text and other information, and the ministry must respond within 30 days. A nonresponse after this period of time is considered a rejection. Religious texts distributed without authorization may be seized and destroyed.

On May 14, local authorities prohibited a gathering by novelist Hiba Tayda in Tizi Ouzou. Local authorities refused the follow on request for another event.

b. Freedom of Peaceful Assembly and Association

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

FREEDOM OF PEACEFUL ASSEMBLY

The constitution provides for the right of peaceful assembly, but the government continued to curtail this right. A ban on demonstrations in Algiers remained in effect. Authorities utilized the ban to prohibit assembly within the city limits. Nationwide, the government required citizens and organizations to obtain permits from the national government-appointed local governor before holding public meetings or demonstrations. The government restricted licenses to political parties, NGOs, and other groups to hold indoor rallies or delayed permission until the eve of the event, thereby impeding publicity and outreach efforts by organizers.

Hotels in Algiers and other major cities continued their practice of refusing to sign rental contracts for meeting spaces with political parties, NGOs, and civil associations without a copy of written authorization from the Ministry of Interior for the proposed gathering. NGOs reported instances of not receiving the written authorization in time to hold planned meetings. NGOs reported that the government threatened hotel and restaurant owners with penalties if they rented rooms to NGOs without official authorization. In most cases, the NGOs continued to hold their meetings and police came to the hotels to end the gatherings.

In July, Algerian League for the Defense of Human Rights (LADDH) and 15 representatives from other NGOs gathered at a hotel in Oran to discuss migration. Security services prevented the meeting from taking place “in the absence of an official authorization.” The attendees moved their meetings elsewhere and were followed by police who ordered them to disperse.

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

In September a group of military veterans organized a protest in Algiers, prompting a crackdown by authorities. Press reported 107 protestors were injured along with 51 police and gendarmes.

FREEDOM OF ASSOCIATION

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

The law’s extensive requirements and uneven enforcement served as major impediments to the development of civil society. The law grants the government wide-ranging oversight of and influence in the day-to-day activities of civil society organizations. It requires national-level civil organizations to apply to the Ministry of Interior for permission to operate. Once registered, organizations must inform the government of their activities, funding sources, and personnel, including notification of personnel changes. The law imposes an additional requirement that associations obtain government preapproval before accepting foreign funds. If organizations fail to provide required information to the government or attempt to operate with or accept foreign funds without authorization, they are subject to fines between DZD 2,000 and DZD 5,000 ($17 and $43) and up to six months’ imprisonment.

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

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

Many organizations reported that they never received a deposit slip and that even with the receipt; it was difficult to conduct necessary administrative tasks without formal accreditation. Other organizations reported they never received any written response to their application request even after calling the ministry and trying to register at local police stations. The ministry maintained that organizations that were refused accreditation or that did not receive a response within the specified time period could appeal to the State Council, the administrative court responsible for cases involving the government.

The ministry did not renew the accreditations of the NGOs SOS Disparus (SOS Disappeared), Djazairouna, the LADDH, the National Association for the Fight Against Corruption, and the Youth Action Movement, all of which submitted their renewal applications in prior years.

The government issued licenses and subsidies to domestic associations, especially youth, medical, and neighborhood associations. According to the Ministry of Interior, there were 108,940 local and 1,293 national associations registered as of 2016. Unlicensed NGOs remained active, but rarely received government assistance, and citizens at times hesitated to associate with these organizations.

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

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

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

Abuse of Migrants, Refugees, and Stateless Persons: In June the Associated Press (AP) reported that the government had forced an estimated 13,000 migrants over the previous 14 months to walk from Guezzam, Algeria, to Assamakka, Niger as part of the repatriation process. According to AP reports, some migrants died during the 20-kilometer desert march.

In-country Movement: The constitution provides citizens “the right to freely choose their place of residence and to move throughout the national territory.” The government requires that foreign diplomats and private sector personnel have armed security escorts from the government should members of these groups travel outside of Algiers wilaya (province), El-Oued, and Illizi, near hydrocarbon industry installations and the Libyan border, respectively. Citing the threat of terrorism, the government also prevented overland tourist travel between the southern cities of Tamanrasset, Djanet, and Illizi. Newspapers reported that the government restricted foreign tourists from traveling through trails in Tassili and Hoggar, as well as certain areas in and around Tamanrasset, due to security concerns.

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

PROTECTION OF REFUGEES

According to UNHCR’s March report on Sahrawi refugees in Tindouf, the government protected a significant number of refugees in five camps in Tindouf and a smaller urban refugee population, primarily in Algiers. The report noted the refugee population included Syrians, (an estimated 85 percent), Yemenis, Congolese, Ivoirians, Palestinians, Malians, Central Africans, and other nationalities. UNHCR, the World Food Program (WFP), UNICEF, the Algerian Red Crescent, the Sahrawi Red Crescent, and other organizations assisted Sahrawi refugees. The government said that a drop in aid from international donors led to worsening conditions for Sahrawi refugees, and that it had increased its own contributions as a result.

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

According to the International Organization for Migration (IOM), the government repatriated 35,113 Nigeriens (including 16,478 women and children) from December to August, pursuant to a bilateral agreement at the request of the Nigerien government. Various international humanitarian organizations and observers criticized the operations, citing unacceptable conditions of transport, primarily on the Niger side of the border, and what they described as a lack of coordination among the Algerian Red Crescent, the government of Niger, and the Red Cross of Niger. The National Human Rights Committee (CNDH) said the government had dedicated $12 million to ensure the human rights of migrants during repatriation operations (to include accommodation, food, clothing, health care, medicines, and transportation). The repatriations were conducted in coordination with consular officials from the countries of origin of the migrants, but the migrants were not permitted to challenge their removal. The government said that it maintained a policy of not removing migrants registered with UNHCR, and that in a few cases it worked with UNHCR to return registered refugees who were mistakenly removed.

According to a 2018 report by the IOM, Algeria has expelled 35,600 Nigeriens to Niger since 2014–more than 12,000 in 2018–as well as more than 8,000 migrants from other African countries.

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

UNHCR registered more than 10,000 Syrians, but fewer than 7,000 remained registered with UNHCR as of September. The Algerian Red Crescent, which is subordinate to the Ministry of Solidarity, maintained “welcome facilities” that provided food and shelter for those Syrians without means to support themselves. The facilities were located in Sidi Fredj. The government did not grant UNHCR access to these reception centers but reported that by 2016 most Syrians no longer used the centers.

The Ministry of Interior reported in March to a Senate session that approximately 500 illegal migrants try to enter the country daily along the country’s southern borders.

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

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

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

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

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

Benin

Executive Summary

Benin is a stable constitutional presidential republic. In 2016 voters elected Patrice Talon to a five-year term as president in a multiparty election, replacing former president Thomas Boni Yayi, who served two consecutive five-year terms. In 2015 authorities held legislative elections in which former president Yayi’s supporting coalition, Cowry Force for an Emerging Benin, won 33 of 83 seats in the National Assembly, and the coalition allied with four independent candidates held 37 seats (a decrease from 41 in the prior legislature). International observers viewed both the 2016 presidential and 2015 legislative elections as generally free, fair, and transparent.

Civilian authorities generally maintained effective control over the security forces.

Human rights issues included incidents of torture; harsh and life-threatening prison conditions; rape and violence against girls and women with inadequate government action for prosecution and accountability; and child labor.

Impunity was a problem. Although the government made an effort to control corruption and abuses, including by prosecuting and punishing public officials, sometimes officials engaged in corrupt practices with impunity.

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

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

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

b. Disappearance

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

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

The law and constitution prohibit such practices, but such incidents occurred. According to the December 2017 report of a journalist who conducted an investigation of the country’s prisons, established inmates subjected new detainees to physical abuse, torture, and other degrading treatment. The report indicated that prison staff were aware of this situation, but the prison service denied the allegation.

On February 19, five police officers in Parakou beat a man to death who fled after being stopped for using a cell phone while driving. The police officers were arrested the day of the incident and charged with assault and battery causing death. On April 17, they appeared before a judge of the Court of Parakou who ordered they be held pending further investigation of the case. The officers remained in prison at year’s end.

In 2017 the United Nations received one allegation of sexual exploitation and abuse concerning a Beninese police officer serving with the UN Stabilization Mission in Haiti. The investigation determined the allegation to be substantiated. The United Nations repatriated the individual, who was subsequently jailed in Benin.

Prison and Detention Center Conditions

Prison conditions were harsh and life threatening due to overcrowding, inadequate food, and inadequate sanitary conditions and medical care.

Physical Conditions: Overcrowding and lack of proper sanitation, potable water, and medical facilities posed risks to prisoners’ health. Authorities held juveniles at times with adults and pretrial detainees with convicted prisoners, although not with the most violent convicts.

According to a 2017 Benin Bar Association report on the country’s prisons, conditions in the country’s 10 civil prisons were inhuman, with overcrowding, malnutrition, poor sanitation, and disease common. The inmate populations of eight of these prisons significantly exceeded capacity. There were deaths due to lack of medical care, neglect, and poor ventilation in cramped and overcrowded cells. Lighting was inadequate. Prisoners with mental disabilities lacked access to appropriate disability-related support. Prison authorities forced prisoners to pay “bed taxes” for spaces to sleep and made sick prisoners in the civil prison of Cotonou pay to visit the hospital.

The bar association report stated that the prison population as of November 2017 totaled 7,358 inmates (including pretrial detainees and convicted prisoners) and that pretrial detainees constituted 90 percent of the population. The numbers of detainees held in police stations and in military detention centers, however, were not included in these data.

Administration: Prison authorities allowed visitors, but, according to Watchdog on the Justice System in Benin, they charged visitors amounts ranging from 500 CFA francs to 1,000 CFA francs ($1 to $2).

Independent Monitoring: The government permitted prison visits by human rights monitors. Religious groups and nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) visited prisons, although some NGOs complained credentials were not systematically granted when they submitted requests to make visits. Organizations that visited prisons included the local chapter of Prison Fellowship, Caritas, Prisons Brotherhood, Christian Action for the Abolition of Torture, the French Development Agency, Rotaract (Rotary International), the International Committee of the Red Cross, Amnesty International, and Prisoners without Borders.

Improvements: The government made several improvements to detention conditions during the year. On August 29, Minister of Justice Severin Quenum oversaw the donation of medical equipment to prison health clinics. During the year the government established a pilot psychological assistance unit to provide mental health services to Cotonou Prison inmates; this was the first of several planned prison system units. Completion of construction of the Savalou Prison reduced overcrowding, increasing the total number of prisons in the country to 11.

d. Arbitrary Arrest or Detention

The constitution and law prohibit arbitrary arrest and detention; however, security forces occasionally failed to observe these prohibitions. A person arrested or detained, regardless of whether on criminal or other grounds, is entitled to file a complaint with the liberty and detention chamber of the relevant court. The presiding judge may order the individual’s release if the arrest or detention was unlawful.

ROLE OF THE POLICE AND SECURITY APPARATUS

The Beninese Armed Forces (FAB) are responsible for external security. The Republican Police, formed during the year through a merger of police and gendarmes, are under the Ministry of Interior and have primary responsibility for enforcing law and maintaining order in urban and rural areas.

Civilian authorities maintained effective control over the security forces, and the government has mechanisms to investigate and punish abuses. Impunity was a problem, however. Police leadership often did not punish and sometimes protected officers who committed abuses. Individuals may file complaints of police abuse with police leadership, the lower courts, the mediator of the republic (ombudsman), or the Constitutional Court. In 2016, in an attempt to increase police accountability, the minister of interior established two telephone “Green Lines” that individuals may call to report police wrongdoing. The inspector general of the Republican Police Investigation Division is responsible for investigating serious, sensitive, and complex cases involving police personnel. The mandate of the division is to conduct administrative and judicial investigations involving police and to advise the director of the Republican Police on disciplinary action.

On March 1, the Constitutional Court ruled that the Republican Police Anti-Crime Squad in the city of Parakou and its commander violated the constitution and the African Charter of Human and People’s rights related to the inviolability of human life. The ruling was based on the fact that two individuals died and the Anti-Crime Squad seriously injured three others when it dispersed persons attending the induction ceremony of the king of Parakou, deemed illegal by the mayor of Parakou. The court also ruled that victims were entitled to reparations.

On May 2, the minister of interior and public security dismissed 27 heads of police and gendarme units following an audit that found they had mismanaged government funds. The audit stated the 27 police officers and gendarmes diverted the funds for purposes other than their intended purposes or used the funds without proper justification.

Military disciplinary councils deal with minor offenses committed by members of the military. The councils have no jurisdiction over civilians. The country has no military tribunal, so civilian courts deal with serious crimes involving the military.

ARREST PROCEDURES AND TREATMENT OF DETAINEES

The constitution requires arrest warrants based on sufficient evidence and issued by a duly authorized judicial official, and requires a hearing before a magistrate within 48 hours, but this requirement was not always observed. After examining a detainee, the judge has 24 hours to decide whether to continue to detain or release the individual. Under exceptional circumstances, or in arrests involving illegal drugs including narcotics, the judge may authorize detention beyond 72 hours not to exceed an additional eight days. Warrants authorizing pretrial detention are effective for six months and may be renewed every six months until a suspect is brought to trial. Detainees have the right to prompt judicial determination of the legality of detention, which was generally observed. Detainees were promptly informed of charges against them. Detainees awaiting judicial decisions may request release on bail; however, the attorney general must agree to the request. They have the right to prompt access to a lawyer. The government provided counsel to indigents in criminal cases. Suspects were not detained incommunicado, held under house arrest, or without access to an attorney.

There were credible reports gendarmes and police often exceeded the legal limit of 48 hours of detention before a hearing, sometimes by as much as a week. Authorities often held persons indefinitely “at the disposal of” the Public Prosecutor’s Office before presenting the case to a magistrate.

Arbitrary Arrest: Arbitrary arrests and detentions occurred. In January 2017 the Constitutional Court ruled that police violated the 48-hour limit on holding a suspect in a commercial dispute without a hearing before a magistrate. The court ruled that suspects may only be held for more than 48 hours if accused of violating a criminal law and only after appearing before a judge who must authorize the extension. On October 18, the Constitutional Court ruled on the pretrial detention of a detainee held since 2011 violated the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights because it was arbitrary and disregarded the detainee’s right to be tried within a reasonable time.

Pretrial Detention: The law defines the maximum length of pretrial detention for felony cases as no more than five years and for misdemeanors as no more than three years. Approximately 90 percent of inmates were pretrial detainees; 20 percent of pretrial detainees were held in excess of five years, according to a 2017 Benin Bar Association report. Inadequate facilities, poorly trained staff, and overcrowded dockets delayed the administration of justice. The length of pretrial detention frequently exceeded the maximum sentence for conviction of the alleged crime.

e. Denial of Fair Public Trial

The constitution and law provide for an independent judiciary, but the government did not always respect this provision. Prosecuting officials at the Public Prosecutor’s Office are government appointed, making them susceptible to government influence. The judicial system was also subject to corruption, although the government made substantial anticorruption efforts, including the dismissal and arrest of government officials allegedly involved in corruption scandals. Authorities respected court orders.

On May 18, the National Assembly passed two bills amending and supplementing the judicial system and the criminal procedure code to create a specialized antiterrorism, drugs, and financial crimes court (CRIET). CRIET verdicts may be appealed to the Supreme Court, but its mandate is limited to considering whether procedures were followed and relevant laws applied. Observers within the judicial sector raised concerns that the bills establishing CRIET may have violated judicial impartiality, the right of appeal, and due-process principles.

TRIAL PROCEDURES

While the constitution provides for the right to a fair trial, judicial inefficiency and corruption impeded the exercise of this right.

The legal system is based on French civil law and local customary law. A defendant is presumed innocent. Defendants enjoy the right to be informed promptly and in detail of the charges, with free interpretation as necessary, to a fair, timely, and public trial, to be present at trial, and to representation by an attorney. The court provides indigent defendants with counsel upon request in criminal cases. Government-provided counsel, however, was not always available, especially in cases handled in courts located in the north, since most lawyers lived in the south. Defendants who cannot understand or speak French are entitled to free interpretation services as necessary from the moment charged through all appeals. Defendants enjoy the right to adequate time and facilities to prepare a defense; to confront witnesses; to present witnesses and evidence on their own behalf; and to not to be compelled to testify or confess guilt. Defendants may appeal criminal convictions to the Court of Appeals and the Supreme Court, after which they may appeal to the president for a pardon. Trials are open to the public, but in exceptional circumstances, the president of the court may decide to restrict access to preserve public order or to protect the parties. The government extends the above rights to all citizens without discrimination.

POLITICAL PRISONERS AND DETAINEES

There were no reports of political prisoners or detainees.

CIVIL JUDICIAL PROCEDURES AND REMEDIES

The judiciary exercised independence in civil matters. If administrative or informal remedies are unsuccessful, a citizen may file a complaint concerning an alleged human rights violation with the Constitutional Court. The Constitutional Court’s ruling is not binding on courts; citizens, however, may use rulings from the Constitutional Court to initiate legal action against offenders in regular courts. Adverse court rulings other than those of the Constitutional Court may be appealed to the Economic Community of West African States’ Court of Justice and the African Court on Human and People’s Rights. In 2016 the government filed a declaration with the African Union Commission recognizing the competence of the African Court on Human and Peoples’ Rights to receive cases from NGOs and individuals.

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

The constitution and law prohibit such actions, and the government generally respected these prohibitions.

Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:

a. Freedom of Speech and Press

The constitution provides for freedom of expression, including for the press, and the government generally respected these rights.

There were a large number of public and private media outlets, including two public and seven private television stations, three public and 50 private radio stations, and approximately 175 newspapers and periodicals. Many of these refrained from openly criticizing government policy.

There were reports the government inhibited freedom of the press.

Press and Media Freedom: The press and media were closely regulated, and the government considered itself to have an essential role in preventing the press from behaving in an “irresponsible” or “destabilizing” way. The High Authority for Audiovisual and Communication (HAAC) is a quasigovernmental commission with members appointed by the president, private media, and the legislature. HAAC has a dual and perhaps inherently contradictory role of providing for press freedom and a mandate to protect the country against “inflammatory, irresponsible, or destabilizing” media reporting.

On May 24, HAAC suspended the newspaper La Nouvelle Tribune (LNT) for publishing “abusive, outrageous, detrimental, and intrusive” language deemed offensive regarding the president’s private life. On June 3, LNT Editor-in-Chief Vincent Foly stated that the newspaper was specifically targeted for publishing opinion pieces criticizing Talon administration policy, not for criticism of the president personally. The local press, civil society, and press-watchdog organizations objected to LNT’s suspension. Editor Foly filed a civil suit alleging wrongdoing against HAAC President Adam Boni Tessi with the Court of Cotonou. On October 12, the court announced that the case was not within its jurisdiction.

In May 2017 the Court of Cotonou ordered HAAC to authorize the reopening of Sikka TV affiliate Ideal Production, which it had suspended in 2016. The court ordered HAAC to pay 50 million CFA francs ($90,252) in damages. The court decision did not allow Sikka TV to resume direct broadcasting; its broadcasts, however, were available via satellite or internet.

Independent media were generally active and expressed a variety of views without restriction; however, the press tended to criticize the government less freely and frequently than in previous years. An independent nongovernmental media ethics commission censured some journalists for unethical conduct, such as reporting falsehoods or inaccuracies or releasing information that was embargoed by the government.

The government owned and operated the most influential media organizations. HAAC controlled broadcast range and infrastructure. Private television and radio coverage was poorer due to inadequate equipment and limited broadcast ranges awarded to them by HAAC.

Most citizens were illiterate, lived in rural areas, and generally received news via radio. The state-owned National Broadcasting Company broadcast in French and in 18 local languages.

Censorship or Content Restrictions: HAAC publicly warned media outlets against publishing information related to legal cases pending before criminal courts because this could be interpreted as an attempt to influence court rulings. It was possible to purchase and thus influence the content of press coverage. HAAC warned media against such practices. Some journalists practiced self-censorship because they were indebted to government officials who granted them service contracts. Other journalists practiced self-censorship due to fear the government would suspend their media outlets. HAAC held public hearings on alleged misconduct by media outlets during the year.

Libel/Slander Laws: By law journalists may not be prosecuted for libel and slander but may face prosecution and fines for incitement of violence and property destruction, compromising national security through the press, or a combination of the two.

INTERNET FREEDOM

The government did not restrict or disrupt access to the internet. The digital code, however, criminalizes use of social media for “incitements to hatred and violence.” On October 2, the Court of Cotonou convicted Sabi Sira Korogone of incitement of hatred and violence, incitement of rebellion, and “racially motivated slander” for statements posted on a social media sites. The court sentenced him to imprisonment for one year and a fine of three million CFA francs ($5,415). There were no credible reports the government monitored private online communications without appropriate legal authority. According to the International Telecommunication Union, 14.4 percent of the population used the internet in 2017.

ACADEMIC FREEDOM AND CULTURAL EVENTS

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

b. Freedom of Peaceful Assembly and Association

The constitution and law provide for the freedoms of assembly and association. Advance notification is required for demonstrations and other public gatherings. The government generally respected these rights. There were no instances of denial on political grounds.

FREEDOM OF PEACEFUL ASSEMBLY

The constitution and law provide for freedom of peaceful assembly, and the government generally respected this right.

The government requires advance notification for use of public places for demonstrations. Authorities sometimes cited “public order” to prevent demonstrations by opposition groups, civil society organizations, and labor unions.

On May 22, the Constitutional Court ruled that the prefect of Littoral Modeste Toboula Department violated the constitution and the African Charter on Human and People’s Rights related to freedom of assembly and public liberties. The court ruled he did so by issuing a decree on March 13 that restricted antigovernment demonstrations by requiring prior registration and approval by the Ministry of Interior. The court stated that requiring registration with the Ministry of Interior violated the enjoyment of fundamental liberties.

FREEDOM OF ASSOCIATION

The constitution and law provide for freedom of association, and the government generally respected this right. There were, however, instances where the government violated freedom of association.

In March 2017 the Constitutional Court overturned a Council of Ministers decree banning the activities of university student groups as a violation of the right to freedom of association. The decree claimed that student groups were engaged in military training and intended to disrupt public security and peace. The court ruled that the government’s public order concerns did not justify the suspension of citizens’ constitutional rights.

Burkina Faso

Executive Summary

Burkina Faso is a constitutional republic led by an elected president. In 2015 the country held peaceful and orderly presidential and legislative elections, marking a major milestone in a transition to democracy. President Roch Mark Christian Kabore won with 53 percent of the popular vote, and his party–the People’s Movement for Progress–won 55 seats in the 127-seat National Assembly. National and international observers characterized the elections as free and fair.

Civilian authorities generally maintained effective control over security forces.

Human rights issues included arbitrary deprivation of life by violent extremist organizations; torture and degrading treatment by security forces and vigilante groups; arbitrary detention by security personnel; life-threatening detention conditions; official corruption; violence against women; and forced labor and sex trafficking, including of children.

The government investigated and punished some cases of abuse, but impunity for human rights abuses remained a problem. The government investigated alleged violations by vigilante groups and security forces but in most cases did not prosecute them.

More than 50 terrorist attacks throughout the country resulted in dozens of deaths, particularly of security personnel and local government officials, kidnappings, and the displacement of civilians, especially in the Sahel Region, located in the northernmost part of the country. As of May forced closures of more than 473 schools affected more than 64,659 students.

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

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

Unknown assailants, but assumed to belong in some capacity to violent extremist organizations, waged attacks on security forces throughout the year. These included attacks on law enforcement, military, customs, and park ranger outposts, patrols, and the use of improvised explosive devices (IEDs) detonated under security vehicles. On March 2, in downtown Ouagadougou, terrorist organization Jama’at Nasr al-Islam wal Muslimin (JNIM) attacked National Army Headquarters and the French embassy, killing eight security personnel. Between August and October, dozens of Burkinabe, including three civilians, died in attacks conducted in the Est Region.

b. Disappearance

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

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

The constitution and law prohibit such practices; in 2014 the National Assembly adopted a law to define and prohibit torture and all related practices.

On February 19, a provincial director of the national police, Alexandres Kawasse, assaulted an 11-year-old girl at his residence. His subordinates reported him, resulting in his arrest on February 23. Authorities relieved him of his duties and charged him with assault on a minor; a judicial police investigation was ongoing at year’s end.

Prison and Detention Center Conditions

Conditions in prisons and detention facilities were harsh and at times life threatening due to overcrowding and inadequate sanitary conditions and medical care.

Physical Conditions: Authorities held pretrial detainees with convicted prisoners. Female prisoners had better conditions than those of men, in large part due to less crowding. Prisoners received two meals a day, but diets were inadequate, and inmates often relied on supplemental food from relatives. In some prisons overcrowding or severe overcrowding exacerbated inadequate ventilation, although some cells had electricity and some inmates had fans. Sanitation was rudimentary.

According to prison administration officials and medical staff, no prisoner deaths occurred during the year at the Central Prison in Ouagadougou (MACO) or the High Security Prison in Ouagadougou.

There were no appropriate facilities or installations for prisoners or detainees with disabilities, who relied on other inmates for assistance.

A human rights nongovernmental organization (NGO) reported that prison guards at the MACO occasionally used excessive physical force, inflicting injuries on prisoners.

Food, potable water, sanitation, heating, ventilation, lighting, and medical care were inadequate in the majority of detention facilities across the country. Tuberculosis, HIV, AIDS, and malaria were the most common health problems among prisoners. For example, at the High Security Prison, there were three nurses employed to treat 673 detainees and prisoners, with no doctor present on site but available on an on-call basis. Detention conditions were better for wealthy or influential citizens, or detainees considered nonviolent.

Local media regularly reported on cases of detainees who had spent more than one year without trial.

Administration: There were no reports that authorities failed to investigate credible allegations of inhuman prison conditions.

Independent Monitoring: The government permitted monitoring by independent nongovernmental observers. Prison authorities regularly granted permission to representatives of local and international human rights groups, media, foreign embassies, and the International Committee of the Red Cross to visit prisons without advance notice.

Improvements: In November 2017 the Ministry of Justice, Human Rights, and Civic Promotion sent a team to assess prison conditions and interview detainees, convicted prisoners, and prison guards in 95 percent of the country’s prisons and detention centers. Throughout the year the government funded an awareness and training campaign for prison administration staff. To address overcrowding, the government funded a building expansion at the prison in Bobo-Dioulasso. As of October, however, there was no evidence that these measures effectively reduced overcrowding. During the year the ministry also appointed a special advisor for gender and vulnerable populations in prisons.

To improve detention conditions, improve prisoner health, and facilitate social reintegration of prisoners, the Ministry of Justice, Human Rights, and Civic Promotion launched a three-year prison reform project with EU support. Prison administration officials allowed NGOs and religious organizations regular access to prisoners to provide supplementary psychological and medical care.

d. Arbitrary Arrest or Detention

The constitution and law prohibit arbitrary arrest and detention and provide for the right of persons to challenge the lawfulness of their arrest or detention in court. Arbitrary arrests occurred, and judicial corruption and inadequate staffing of the judiciary deterred detainees from challenging the lawfulness of their arrest in court.

ROLE OF THE POLICE AND SECURITY APPARATUS

The Ministry of Internal Security and the Ministry of Defense are responsible for internal security. The Ministry of Internal Security includes the National Police and the gendarmerie. The army, which operates within the Ministry of Defense, is responsible for external security but sometimes assists with missions related to domestic security. Use of excessive force, corruption, widespread impunity, and lack of training contributed to police ineffectiveness. The government announced some investigations were in progress, and others had resulted in prosecutions. Inadequate resources also impeded police effectiveness.

The Military Justice Administration examines all cases involving killings by military personnel or gendarmes to determine whether they occurred in the line of duty or were otherwise justifiable. The administration refers cases deemed outside the line of duty or unjustifiable to civilian courts. Civilian courts automatically handle killings involving police. The gendarmerie is responsible for investigating abuse by police and gendarmes, but it rarely made public the results of its investigations.

NGOs and the Ministry of Justice, Human Rights, and Civic Promotion conducted numerous training activities on human rights for security forces throughout the year.

ARREST PROCEDURES AND TREATMENT OF DETAINEES

By law police and gendarmes must possess a court-issued warrant based on sufficient evidence before apprehending a person suspected of committing a crime, but authorities did not always follow these procedures. Authorities did not consistently inform detainees of charges against them. By law detainees have the right to expeditious arraignment, bail, access to legal counsel, and, if indigent, access to a lawyer provided by the government after being charged. A judge may order temporary release without bail pending trial. Authorities seldom respected these rights. The law does not provide detainees access to family members, although authorities generally allowed detainees such access through court-issued authorizations.

The law limits detention without charge for investigative purposes to a maximum of 72 hours, renewable for a single 48-hour period. In terrorism investigations, the law allows detention for a 10-day period. In cases not related to terrorism, police rarely observed the law, and the average time of detention without charge (preventive detention) was one week. Once authorities charge a suspect, the law permits judges to impose an unlimited number of consecutive six-month preventive detention periods while the prosecutor investigates charges. Authorities often detained defendants without access to legal counsel for weeks, months, or even years before the defendant appeared before a magistrate. There were instances in which authorities detained suspects incommunicado.

Arbitrary Arrest: On August 29, elite security forces arrested political and web activist Safiatou Lopez, an outspoken critic of the government, without a warrant, encircling her house at nightfall and flying an intelligence drone overhead. Without presenting any evidence, authorities charged her with an attempt to “destabilize the state.” At year’s end she remained in detention.

Pretrial Detention: Authorities estimated 46 percent of prisoners nationwide were in pretrial status. In some cases authorities held detainees without charge or trial for longer periods than the maximum sentence for conviction of the alleged offense. A pretrial release (release on bail) system exists, although the extent of its use was unknown.

Detainee’s Ability to Challenge Lawfulness of Detention before a Court: The law provides persons arrested or detained the right to challenge in court the legal basis or arbitrary nature of their detention. Prisoners who did so, however, reportedly faced difficulties due to either judicial corruption or inadequate staffing of the judiciary.

e. Denial of Fair Public Trial

The constitution and law provide for an independent judiciary, but the judiciary was corrupt, inefficient, and subject to executive influence, according to NGOs. There were no instances in which the trial outcomes appeared predetermined, and authorities respected court orders. Legal codes remained outdated, there were not enough courts, and legal costs were excessive. Citizens’ poor knowledge of their rights further weakened their ability to obtain justice.

Military courts try cases involving military personnel charged with violating the military code of conduct. Rights provided in military courts are equivalent to those in civil criminal courts. Military courts are headed by a civilian judge, hold public trials, and publish verdicts in the local press.

TRIAL PROCEDURES

The law presumes defendants are innocent. Defendants have the right to be promptly informed and in detail of the charges, with free assistance of an interpreter. Trials are public but may be delayed. Judicial authorities use juries only in criminal cases. Defendants have the right to be present at their trials and to legal representation, consultation, and adequate time and facilities to prepare a defense. Defendants have the right to provide evidence. Defendants have the right not to be compelled to testify or confess guilt, but a refusal to testify often resulted in harsher decisions. Defendants may challenge and present witnesses, and they have the right of appeal. In civil cases where the defendant is destitute and files an appeal, the state provides a court-appointed lawyer. In criminal cases court-appointed lawyers are mandatory for those who cannot afford one. The law extends these rights to all defendants, but the government did not always respect these rights, due in part to popular ignorance of the law and a continuing shortage of magistrates and court-appointed lawyers.

The Ministry of Justice, Human Rights, and Civic Promotion claimed courts usually tried cases within three months, although human rights organizations reported major case backlogs. The 2011 “processing of criminal penalties in real time” reform to shorten pretrial detention allows the prosecutor and investigators (police and gendarmerie) to process a case prior to the criminal hearing. This countrywide approach allows authorities to inform defendants of the charges and trial date before authorities release them pending trial.

POLITICAL PRISONERS AND DETAINEES

There were no reports of political prisoners or detainees during the year, although some arrests and detentions may have been politically motivated.

In December 2017 security forces arrested and detained Colonel Auguste Denise Barry on charges of “conspiracy to destabilize the state,” although the government did not provide any evidence to justify his arrest. On August 29, authorities provisionally released him without a trial.

CIVIL JUDICIAL PROCEDURES AND REMEDIES

There is an independent judiciary in civil matters, but it was often inefficient, corrupt, and subject to executive influence. As a result, citizens sometimes preferred to rely on the Office of the Ombudsman (see section 5, Government Human Rights Bodies) to settle disputes with the government.

The law provides for access to a court to file lawsuits seeking damages for, or cessation of, a human rights violation, and both administrative and judicial remedies were available for alleged wrongs. Victims of human rights violations may appeal directly to the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) Court of Justice, even before going through national courts. For civil and commercial disputes, authorities may refer cases to the ECOWAS Common Court of Justice and Arbitration in Abidjan, Cote d’Ivoire. The courts issued several such orders during the year.

There were problems enforcing court orders in sensitive cases involving national security, wealthy or influential persons, and government officials.

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

The constitution and law prohibit such actions, and the government generally respected these prohibitions. In cases of national security, however, the law permits surveillance, searches, and monitoring of telephones and private correspondence without a warrant.

Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:

a. Freedom of Speech and Press

The constitution and law provide for freedom of expression, including for the press, but the government did not always respect this right. A 2015 law decriminalizes press offenses and replaces prison sentences with penalties ranging from one million to five million CFA francs ($1,800 to $9,200). Some editors complained that few newspapers or media outlets could afford such fines.

Despite the advent of the 2015 law, journalists occasionally faced criminal prosecution for libel and other forms of harassment and intimidation.

Freedom of Expression: The law prohibits persons from insulting the head of state or using derogatory language with respect to the office. On June 14, authorities arrested web activist Naim Toure after he criticized the government in a Facebook post for failing to deliver adequate medical care to soldiers recently wounded in the line of duty. On July 3, a judge sentenced Toure to two months in jail.

Press and Media Freedom: There were numerous independent newspapers, satirical weeklies, and radio and television stations, some of which strongly criticized the government. Foreign radio stations broadcast without government interference. Government media outlets–including newspapers, television, and radio–sometimes displayed a progovernment bias but allowed significant opposition participation in their newspaper and television programming.

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

Censorship or Content Restrictions: In addition to prohibitions on insulting the head of state, the law also prohibits the publication of shocking images or material that demonstrates lack of respect for the deceased. Journalists practiced self-censorship, fearing that publishing blatant criticism of the government could result in arrest or closure their newspaper.

INTERNET FREEDOM

The government did not restrict or disrupt access to the internet, although the CSC monitored internet websites and discussion forums to enforce compliance with regulations. According to the International Telecommunication Union, 16 percent of the population used the internet in 2017.

ACADEMIC FREEDOM AND CULTURAL EVENTS

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

b. Freedom of Peaceful Assembly and Association

FREEDOM OF PEACEFUL ASSEMBLY

The constitution and law provide for freedom of peaceful assembly, and the government generally respected this right.

In October 2017 national police arrested Pascal Zaida, a civil society leader and open government critic, for holding a demonstration to protest against the administration without a permit. National police issued a statement that they had denied his three prior requests to protest because the protest presented “a risk of disturbing public order.” Authorities released Zaida in November 2017 after 37 days in pretrial detention.

Political parties and labor unions may hold meetings and rallies without government permission, although advance notification and approval are required for public demonstrations that may affect traffic or threaten public order. If a demonstration or rally results in violence, injury, or significant property damage, penalties for the organizers include six months to five years’ imprisonment and fines of between 100,000 and two million CFA francs ($180 and $3,600). These penalties may be doubled for conviction of organizing an unauthorized rally or demonstration. Demonstrators may appeal denials or imposed modifications of a proposed march route or schedule before the courts.

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

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

In-country Movement: The government required citizens to carry a national identity document (ID), and it authorized officials to request the ID at any time. Without a national ID card, citizens could not pass between certain regions of the country and were subject to arrest and fines. On September 2, in Bobo Dioulasso, local police fired warning shots to stop vehicles in a wedding procession, resulting in the injury and hospitalization of two women.

Armed terrorists restricted movement of thousands of rural people in the north. In response to dozens of attacks by unknown armed assailants presumed to be terrorists, local authorities instituted a ban on motorcycle traffic from 7 p.m. until 5 a.m. in the Est and Nord Regions.

INTERNALLY DISPLACED PERSONS (IDPS)

Attacks in the Nord and Est Regions caused a steep increase in the number of IDPs from 3,600 in October 2017 to 39,731 registered in October 2018, according to the UN Office of Humanitarian Affairs. In response, the Ministry of Justice, Human Rights, and Civic Promotion organized a training session August 29-31 in the northern town of Dori to educate development partners on the international human rights standards afforded to IDPs. The majority of IDPs were located in the Sahel, Nord, and Centre-Nord Regions.

PROTECTION OF REFUGEES

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

In 2012 fighting resumed in northern Mali between government forces and Tuareg rebels, resulting in the flight of more than 250,000 Malians to neighboring countries, including Burkina Faso. According to UNHCR, approximately 50,000 Malians–most of them Tuaregs and Arabs–fled across the border to Burkina Faso and registered with local authorities as displaced persons. Authorities granted all displaced persons from Mali prima facie refugee status, pending the examination of all applications individually. Authorities settled most of the refugees in Soum and Oudalan Provinces in the Sahel Region. The ministry, aided by CONAREF, was the government’s focal point to help coordinate all national and international efforts. During the year, refugees received an undetermined amount of government assistance.

STATELESS PERSONS

According to UNHCR, more than 700,000 habitual residents were legally or de facto stateless, mostly due to a lack of documentation. During the year the Ministry of Justice, Human Rights, and Civic Promotion worked with UNHCR to deploy mobile courts to remote villages in order to issue birth certificates and national identity documents to residents who qualified for citizenship. The goal was to register 32,000 during the year, but no final statistics were available.

Cameroon

Executive Summary

Cameroon is a republic dominated by a strong presidency.  The country has a multiparty system of government, but the Cameroon People’s Democratic Movement (CPDM) has remained in power since its creation in 1985.  In practice the president retains the power to control legislation.  On October 7, citizens reelected CPDM leader Paul Biya president, a position he has held since 1982.  The election was marked by irregularities, including intimidation of voters and representatives of candidates at polling sites, late posting of polling sites and voter lists, ballot stuffing, voters with multiple registrations, and alleged polling results manipulation.  On March 25, the country conducted the second senate elections in its history.  They were peaceful and considered generally free and fair.  In 2013 simultaneous legislative and municipal elections were held, and most observers considered them free and fair.  New legislative and municipal elections were expected to take place during the year; however, in consultation with the parliament and the constitutional council, President Biya extended the terms of office of parliamentarians and municipal councilors for 12 months, and general elections were expected to take place in fall 2019 or early 2020.

Civilian authorities at times did not maintain effective control over the security forces, including police and gendarmerie.

The sociopolitical crisis that began in the Northwest and Southwest Regions in late 2016 over perceived marginalization developed into an armed conflict between government forces and separatist groups.  The conflict resulted in serious human rights violations and abuses by government forces and Anglophone separatists.

Human rights issues included arbitrary and unlawful killings by security forces as well as armed Anglophone separatists; forced disappearances by security forces, Boko Haram, and separatists; torture by security forces and Anglophone separatists; prolonged arbitrary detentions including of suspected Anglophone separatists by security forces; harsh and life-threatening prison conditions; arbitrary or unlawful interference with privacy; violence and harassment targeting journalists by government agents; periodic government restrictions on access to the internet; laws authorizing criminal libel; substantial interference with the right of peaceful assembly; refoulement of refugees and asylum seekers by the government; restrictions on political participation; violence against women, in part due to government inaction; unlawful recruitment or use of child soldiers by Anglophone separatists, government-supported vigilance committees, and Boko Haram; violence or threats of violence targeting lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and intersex (LGBTI) persons, and criminalization of consensual same-sex relations; child labor, including forced child labor; and violations of workers’ rights.

Although the government took some steps to identify, investigate, prosecute, or punish officials who committed human rights abuses in the security forces and in the public service, it did not often make public these proceedings, and some offenders, including serial offenders, continued to act with impunity.

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

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

There were several reports that the government or its agents committed arbitrary and unlawful killings through excessive use of force in the execution of official duties.

In July, Human Rights Watch reported that, during government operations in 12 villages in the Northwest and Southwest Regions between January and April, government security forces shot and killed more than a dozen civilians, including at least seven persons with intellectual or developmental disabilities who had difficulty fleeing.  On May 25, in Menka-Pinyin, Santa Subdivision of the Northwest Region, elements of the Gendarmerie, the 51st Motorized Infantry Brigade, and the Special Operations Group of the National Police carried out a raid on a location believed to harbor Anglophone activists, killing 27 persons, according to official sources.  Security forces battling Anglophone secessionists in the Northwest and Southwest Regions allegedly killed two clerics.  Anglophone separatists attacked and killed several dozen civilians considered loyal to the central government and members of defense and security forces in these two regions.  According to the government’s Emergency Humanitarian Assistance Plan, as of June 11, the death toll attributed to separatists within defense and security forces was 84, including 32 members of defense forces, 42 gendarmes, seven policemen, two prison guards, and one Eco-guard, some of whom were mutilated or decapitated and their bodies exhibited on social media.  Civilian victims included the following:  the chief of Esukutan in Toko Subdivision of the Southwest Region, murdered on February 5; the divisional officer for Batibo in the

Northwest, abducted on February 11 and subsequently killed; and Ashu Thomas Nkongho, discipline master of the government bilingual high school in Kossala, Meme Division of the Southwest Region, killed on school premises on April 25.  Unidentified gunmen killed a local chief in a church and a priest, supposedly because of their alleged opposition to secession by the Northwest and Southwest Regions.

Boko Haram and ISIS-West Africa (ISIS-WA) continued killing civilians, including members of vigilance committees, which were organized groups of local residents cooperating with government forces in the fight against Boko Haram, and members of defense and security forces in the Far North Region.  According to the L’Oeil du Sahel newspaper, as of June 30, at least 153 civilians and 12 members of defense and security forces had been killed in the attacks.

b. Disappearance

Government security forces were widely believed to be responsible for disappearances of suspected Anglophone separatists, with reports of bodies dumped far from the site of killings to make identification difficult.  According to credible nongovernmental organizations (NGOs), the government did not readily account for some of the activists arrested in connection with the Anglophone crisis.  Family members and friends of the detainees were frequently unaware of the missing individuals’ location in detention for a month or more.  For example, authorities held incommunicado Ayuk Sisiku Tabe, the “interim president” of the so-called Republic of Ambazonia, along with 46 other Anglophone separatists, from January 29 until late June when they were allowed to meet with their lawyers and the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC).

In an August 24 release, Ekombo Favien, vice president of human rights NGO

Frontline Fighters for Citizen Interests (FFCI), announced the disappearance of FFCI national president Franklin Mowha.  According to the release, Mowha arrived in Kumba, Southwest Region, on August 2 to monitor human rights abuses.  He was last seen leaving his hotel room on August 6.  Ekombo indicated that authorities had previously targeted Mowha on several occasions because of his human rights reporting.

Boko Haram insurgents kidnapped civilians, including women and children, during numerous attacks in the Far North Region.  According to L’Oeil du Sahel, as of June 30, at least 51 civilians had been victims of Boko Haram abductions, and some of them remained unaccounted for.

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

Although the constitution and law prohibit such practices, there were reports that security force members beat, harassed, or otherwise abused citizens, including separatist fighters.  Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch documented several cases in which security forces severely mistreated suspected separatists and detainees.

Amnesty International reported in July 2017 on the cases of 101 individuals whom security forces allegedly tortured between March 2013 and March 2017 in detention facilities run by the Rapid Intervention Battalion (BIR) and the General Directorate of Counter Intelligence (DGRE).  While most of the cases documented involved persons arrested in 2014 and 2015 and allegedly tortured between 2014 and 2016, Amnesty International asserted that the practice continued into 2017.  It stated that torture took place at 20 sites, including four military bases, two intelligence centers, a private residence, and a school.  Specific sites named in the report included the BIR bases in Salak, Kousseri, and Kolofata in the Far North Region, and DGRE facilities in Yaounde.  As of October the government had not shared results of its internal investigations but claimed it had investigated some, if not all, of the allegations.

Human Rights Watch documented the case of 22-year-old Fredoline Afoni, a thirdyear student at the Technical University of Bambili whom security forces beat to death on January 29.  Witnesses told Human Rights Watch that Fredoline was home near Kumbo in the Northwest Region when he received a telephone call requesting that he pick up luggage at a nearby junction.  Once at the location, persons dressed in civilian clothes forcefully took him away by truck.  A truck belonging to the gendarmerie subsequently drove through the same junction with Fredoline sitting in the back, naked and handcuffed, with signs of having been badly beaten.  Individuals reportedly appeared at a relative’s home and collected Fredoline’s laptop and cell phone.  Fredoline’s uncle subsequently discovered that he was in gendarmerie custody.  The uncle reportedly told Human Rights Watch that he discovered the victim’s naked and decaying corpse outside the local mortuary three days later.  After a postmortem examination, the medical professional who examined the body told Human Rights Watch that Fredoline died as a result of his beatings.

Social media diffused a video in June showing security force members at the

Cameroon Protestant College of Bali in the Northwest Region forcing two girls to crawl through the mud while referring to them as Ambazonian spies.  Media reports indicated that the gendarmes were arrested and placed in detention and were awaiting trial by the military tribunal, but there was no further information on the case.

Press reporting indicated there were cases of rape and sexual abuse by persons associated with the government and separatists in Anglophone regions.  For example, there were credible reports that on July 3, during security operations in Bamenda, Northwest Region, first-class soldier Mbita Arthur allegedly raped a female victim he called aside for a routine national identity check.  The soldier was arrested, although there was no further information on the case.

During the year the United Nations reported that it received five allegations of sexual exploitation and abuse against peacekeepers from Cameroon deployed in the UN Multidimensional Integrated Stabilization Mission in the Central African Republic (MINUSCA).  Three cases alleged sexual exploitation (exploitative relationship, transactional sex), and three cases sexual abuse (rape), one of which involved minors.  Several allegations each referred to more than one alleged perpetrator, more than one victim, or both.  Investigations both by the United Nations and the government were pending.  Interim action by the United Nations was taken in one case.  Nine allegations reported previously were pending.

Prison and Detention Center Conditions

Prison conditions were harsh and life threatening.

Physical Conditions:  Overcrowding remained a significant problem in most prisons, especially in major urban centers.  Officials held prisoners in dilapidated, colonial-era prisons, where the number of inmates was as much as five times the intended capacity.  Prisons generally had separate wards for men, women, and children.  Authorities often held detainees in pretrial detention and convicted prisoners together.  In many prisons toilets were nothing more than common pits.  In some cases women benefitted from better living conditions, including improved toilet facilities and less crowded living quarters.  Authorities claimed to hold sick persons separately from the general prison population, but this was often not the case.

According to prison administration officials, the country had 79 operational prisons, with an intended capacity of 17,915 but which held close to 30,000 inmates as of June.  For example, the central prison in Ngaoundere, Adamawa Region, was initially designed to accommodate 150 inmates.  Successive expansions raised the capacity to 500 inmates.  As of June 19, the prison held 1,600 inmates, more than two-thirds of whom had not been convicted of any crime.  A third of the inmates were awaiting trial, hearings had begun for another third, and one-third had been convicted.

The quality of food, access to potable water, sanitation, heating, ventilation, lighting, and medical care were inadequate.  As a result illness was widespread.  Malnutrition, tuberculosis, bronchitis, malaria, hepatitis, scabies, and numerous other untreated conditions, including infections, parasites, dehydration, and diarrhea, were rampant.  The number of deaths associated with detention conditions or actions of staff members or other authorities was unknown.

Physical abuse by prison guards and prisoner-on-prisoner violence were problems.  Corruption among prison personnel was reportedly widespread.  Visitors were at times forced to bribe wardens to be granted access to inmates.  Prisoners bribed wardens for special favors or treatment, including temporary freedom, cell phones, beds, and transfers to less crowded areas of the prisons.  Due to their inability to pay fines, some prisoners remained incarcerated after completing their sentences or after they had received court orders of release.

Administration:  Independent authorities often investigated credible allegations of mistreatment.  Visitors needed formal authorization from the state counsel; without authorization, they had to bribe prison staff to communicate with inmates.  In addition visits to Boko Haram suspects were highly restricted.  Some detainees were held far from their families, reducing the possibility of visits.  Authorities allowed prisoners and detainees to observe their religions without interference.

As in 2017, authorities allowed NGOs to conduct formal education and other literacy programs in prisons.  At the principal prison in Edea, Littoral Region, the NGO Christian Action for the Abolition of Torture sponsored a Literacy and Social Reintegration Center that provided primary and lower secondary education to inmates.  Because of the sociopolitical unrest in the Southwest Region, Human IS Right, a Buea-based civil society organization, and the NGO Operation Total Impact discontinued their formal education and reformation education program in the principal prisons in Buea and Kumba.  The central prison in Garoua, North Region, continued to run a full-cycle primary school.

Independent Monitoring:  Unlike in the previous year, the government restricted international humanitarian organizations’ access to prisoners in official prisons.

For example, as of June authorities had not allowed the ICRC access to its target prisons and detention centers.  On July 3, however, the ICRC was able to visit the 47 Anglophone separatists repatriated from Nigeria, and some of the detainees delivered messages through the organization to their families.  The National Commission on Human Rights and Freedoms (NCHRF) and the Commissions for Justice and Peace of the Catholic archdioceses also conducted prison visits but were denied access to some detention centers.  In January NCHRF members visited prisons in Monatele in the Center Region; Bertoua, Doume, and AbongMbang in the East Region; and Maroua in the Far North Region.  The NCHRF reported that it did not have access to some prisons in Yaounde, including those hosting the 47 suspected separatists repatriated from Nigeria.  The NCHRF also alleged authorities did not grant access to a victim who was shot and admitted at the Yaounde Emergency Center.

d. Arbitrary Arrest or Detention

The constitution and law prohibit arbitrary arrest and detention and provide the right to challenge the lawfulness in court of an arrest or detention.  The law states that, except in the case of an individual discovered in the act of committing a felony or misdemeanor, the officials making the arrest shall disclose their identity and inform the person arrested of the reason.  The law also provides that persons arrested on a warrant shall be brought immediately before the examining magistrate or the president of the trial court who issued the warrant, and that the accused persons shall be given reasonable access to contact their family, obtain legal advice, and arrange for their defense.  The law provides that any person who has been illegally detained by the police, the state counsel, or the examining magistrate may receive compensation.  On several occasions the government did not respect these provisions.

ROLE OF THE POLICE AND SECURITY APPARATUS

The national police, DGRE, Ministry of Defense, Ministry of Territorial Administration, and, to a lesser extent, presidential guard are responsible for internal security.  The Ministry of Defense–which includes the gendarmerie, army, and the army’s military security unit–reports to the Office of the Presidency, resulting in strong presidential control of security forces.  The army is responsible for external security, while the national police and gendarmerie have primary responsibility for law enforcement.  Historically the gendarmerie has responsibility in rural areas.  Increasingly in the Anglophone regions, responsibility for security in the rural areas is left to another security force, the BIR.  The BIR falls outside the purview of conventional forces.  The national police–which includes public security, judicial, territorial security, and frontier police–reports to the General Delegation of National Security (DGSN), which is under the direct authority of the presidency.  The government took some steps to hold police accountable for abuses of power.  Police remained ineffective, poorly trained, and corrupt.  Impunity continued to be a problem.

Civilian authorities maintained some control over the police and gendarmerie, and the government had some mechanisms in place to investigate and punish abuse and corruption.  The DGSN and gendarmerie investigated reports of abuse and forwarded cases to the courts.  Lesser sanctions were handled internally.  The DGSN, Ministry of Defense, and Ministry of Justice stated that members of security forces were sanctioned during the year for committing abuses, but few details were known about investigations or any subsequent accountability.

The national gendarmerie and the army have special offices to investigate abuse.  The secretary of state for defense and the minister delegate at the presidency are in charge of prosecuting abusers.  The minister delegate of defense refers cases involving aggravated theft, criminal complicity, murder, and other major offenses to the military courts for trial.

In March authorities opened an investigation into the case of taxi driver Jean Nga Mvondo, who died a few hours after the Ngousso gendarmerie brigade in Yaounde released him from detention.  Pending the outcome of the investigation, on March 23, the secretary of state in charge of the National Gendarmerie (SED) relieved the brigade commander of his duties.

As reported above, on July 24, the minister delegate for defense announced that the gendarmerie in Bamenda, Northwest Region, arrested first class soldier Mbita Arthur and referred him to the office of the Bamenda military court prosecutor.  The minister also promised to take disciplinary action against the soldier in accordance with the law.  Mbita Arthur allegedly raped a female victim on July 23.

ARREST PROCEDURES AND TREATMENT OF DETAINEES

The law requires police to obtain a warrant before making an arrest, except when a person is caught in the act of committing a crime, but police often did not respect this requirement.  The law provides that detainees be brought promptly before a magistrate, although this often did not occur.  Police may legally detain a person in connection with a common crime for up to 48 hours, renewable once.  This period may, with the written approval of the state counsel, be exceptionally extended twice before charges are brought.  Nevertheless, police and gendarmes reportedly often exceeded these detention periods.  The law also permits detention without charge for renewable periods of 15 days by administrative authorities such as governors and civilian government officials serving in territorial command.  The law provides for access to legal counsel and family members, although police frequently denied detainees access to both.  Contrary to the wide-reaching antiterror law, civilian law prohibits incommunicado detention, but it occurred, especially in connection with the sociopolitical unrest in the two Anglophone regions.  The law permits bail, allows citizens the right to appeal, and provides the right to sue for unlawful arrest, but these rights were seldom respected.  On August 8, Supreme Court Chief Judge Daniel Mekobe Sone commissioned the first members of the Compensation Commission for Illegal Detention, a body created to provide citizens with recourse if they believe they were wrongfully detained.

Arbitrary Arrest:  Police, gendarmes, BIR soldiers, and government authorities reportedly continued to arrest and detain persons arbitrarily, often holding them for prolonged periods without charge or trial and at times incommunicado.  “Friday arrests,” a practice whereby individuals arrested on a Friday typically remained in detention until at least Monday unless they paid a bribe, continued.  There were several reports by media and NGOs that police or gendarmes arrested persons without warrants on circumstantial evidence alone, often following instructions from influential persons to settle personal scores.  There were also credible reports that police or gendarmes arbitrarily arrested persons during neighborhood sweeps for criminals and stolen goods or arrested persons lacking national identification cards, especially in connection with the Anglophone crisis and the fight against Boko Haram.

There were credible reports that authorities held some suspects in the Anglophone crisis for long periods without notifying them of the charges.  For example, authorities detained Sisiku Ayuk Tabe, the president of the Anglophone separatist movement, and 46 others incommunicado and without official charge for close to six months.  The suspects were arrested in Nigeria on January 5 and extradited to Cameroon on January 25.  Defense lawyers considered the arrest and extradition illegal and filed an application for immediate release with the Mfoundi High Court in Yaounde.  On August 30, the judge dismissed the application on procedural grounds.  The court eventually heard the case on November 1 and delivered a verdict denying the release of Sisiku Ayuk Tabe and the nine other leaders of the Anglophone separatist movement on November 15.

Pretrial Detention:  The law provides for a maximum of 18 months’ detention before trial, but many detainees waited years to appear in court.  No comprehensive statistics were available on pretrial detainees.  According to prison authorities, as of June the central prison in Ngaoundere, Adamawa Region, housed approximately 1,600 inmates, two-thirds of whom were pretrial detainees and appellants.  Some pretrial detainees had been awaiting trial for more than two years.  The increase in pretrial prison populations was due in large part to mass arrests of Anglophone activists and persons accused of supporting Boko Haram, staff shortages, lengthy legal procedures, lost files, administrative and judicial bottlenecks, including procedural trial delays, corruption, negligence, and court fees.

The NGO Human IS Right documented the case of 24-year-old Beng Pascal Ngong, who was detained without judgement at the Buea Central Prison for more than 26 months.  Police arrested Beng in 2015 for allegedly not possessing a national identity card, an offense punishable with imprisonment from three to 12 months, a fine of 50,000 to 100,000 CFA francs ($85 to $170), or both.  Following a habeas corpus request filed by the NGO Human IS Right, judicial authorities ultimately released Beng on March 21, after more than double the duration of the sentence he would have served had he been prosecuted and convicted.  Until his release Beng Pascal had never appeared before a judge.

e. Denial of Fair Public Trial

The constitution and law ostensibly provide for an independent judiciary, but the judiciary is under and often controlled by the president and, by proxy, the ruling party.  Individuals reportedly accused innocent persons of crimes, often due to political motivations, or caused trial delays to settle personal scores.  Authorities generally enforced court orders.

Musa Usman Ndamba, the national vice president of the Mbororo Social and

Cultural Development Association (MBOSCUDA), was prosecuted for

“propagation of false information” and “false oath,” although he submitted strong evidence that he was not associated with the offense.  He continued to suffer judicial harassment by Baba Ahmadou Danpullo, a businessman and member of the central committee of the ruling CPDM, who pressured the court to continue to hear the case after various instances in which it had been dismissed.  On May 11, the Court of First Instance in Bamenda sentenced Usman Ndamba to six months’ imprisonment and a fine of 500,000 CFA francs ($850) after more than 60 hearings that began in 2013.  Human rights defenders believed Danpullo used the judicial system to discourage Usman Ndamba from defending the rights of the minority Mbororo community of nomadic cattle herders.

Despite the judiciary’s partial independence from the executive and legislative branches, the president appoints all members of the bench and legal department of the judicial branch, including the president of the Supreme Court, and may dismiss them at will.  The court system is subordinate to the Ministry of Justice, which in turn is under the president.  The constitution designates the president as “first magistrate,” thus “chief” of the judiciary, making him the legal arbiter of any sanctions against the judiciary.  The constitution specifies the president is the guarantor of the legal system’s independence.  He appoints all judges, with the advice of the Higher Judicial Council.  While judges hearing a case are technically to be governed only by the law and their conscience as provided for by the constitution, in some matters they are subordinate to the minister of justice or to the minister in charge of military justice.  With approval from the minister of justice, the Special Criminal Court may drop charges against a defendant who offers to pay back the money he is accused of having embezzled, which essentially renders the act of corruption free of sanctions.

Military courts may exercise jurisdiction over civilians for offenses including the following:  offenses committed by civilians in military establishments; offenses relating to acts of terrorism and other threats to the security of the state, including piracy; unlawful acts against the safety of maritime navigation and oil platforms; offenses relating to the purchase, importation, sale, production, distribution, or possession of military effects or insignia as defined by regulations in force; cases involving civil unrest or organized armed violence; and crimes committed with firearms, including gang crimes, banditry, and highway robbery.

TRIAL PROCEDURES

The constitution and law provide for the right to a fair and public hearing, without undue delay, in which the defendant is presumed innocent, but authorities did not always respect the law.  Criminal defendants have the right to be informed promptly and in detail of the charges, with free assistance of an interpreter.  Many pretrial suspects were treated as if they were already convicted, frequently held in the same quarters as convicted criminals, and denied visits.  Defendants have the right to be present and to consult with an attorney of their choice, but in many cases the government did not respect this right, particularly in cases of individuals suspected of complicity with Boko Haram or Anglophone separatists.  When defendants cannot pay for their own legal defense, the court may appoint counsel at the public’s expense; however, the process was often burdensome and lengthy, and the quality of legal assistance was poor.  Authorities generally allowed defendants to question witnesses and to present witnesses and evidence on their own behalf.  Defendants have the right to adequate time and facilities to prepare a defense and not to be compelled to testify or confess guilt.  Defendants may appeal convictions.  In at least one case, authorities did not give the victim a chance to confront the offender and present witnesses and evidence to support his case.

In August the High Court for Mfoundi in Yaounde allegedly released a person suspected of trafficking in persons who had been in pretrial detention since 2016.  The victim, Lilian Mbeng Ebangha, returned from Kuwait in 2015 and filed a lawsuit against her alleged trafficker, a pastor of Shiloh Liberation Ministries International.  After preliminary investigations the case was sent to trial in 2016 and thereafter had more than 20 adjournments.  Each time a hearing was scheduled in Yaounde, Ebangha travelled from Douala to attend.  The alleged offender was released in August or September, but it was unconfirmed whether there was a court decision on the matter.  The victim stated that her trafficker had called her to inform her of his release.

POLITICAL PRISONERS AND DETAINEES

There were no reports of newly identified political prisoners or detainees, and no statistics were available on the number of political prisoners.  Previously reported political prisoners were detained under heightened security, often in SED facilities.

Some were allegedly held at DGRE facilities and at the principal prisons in Yaounde.  The government did not permit access to such persons on a regular basis, or at all, depending on the case.

Former minister of state for territorial administration Marafa Hamidou Yaya, convicted in 2012 on corruption charges and sentenced to 25 years’ imprisonment, remained in detention.  In May 2016 the Supreme Court reduced the sentence to 20 years.  In June 2016 the UN Working Group on Arbitrary Detention issued a decision qualifying Marafa’s detention “a violation of international laws” and asked the government to immediately free and compensate him for damages suffered.  The United Nations noted there were multiple irregularities in the judicial procedure.

CIVIL JUDICIAL PROCEDURES AND REMEDIES

Citizens and organizations have the right to seek civil remedies for human rights violations through administrative procedures or the legal system; both options, however, involved lengthy delays.  Individuals and organizations may appeal adverse decisions domestically or to regional human rights bodies.  There were no reports that the government had failed to comply with civil case court decisions pertaining to human rights.  A number of labor rights-related cases involving government entities were ongoing as of the end of August.

PROPERTY RESTITUTION

The government continued to compensate relocated families over the past few years in connection with infrastructure projects, including the Kribi Sea Port and the Yaounde-Douala highway projects.  There were no reported developments in the cases of corrupt officials who had misappropriated money the government had earmarked for compensation previously.  There was no report of intentional targeting of particular groups for discriminatory treatment.

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

Although the constitution and law prohibit arbitrary interference with privacy, family, home, or correspondence, these rights were subject to restriction for the “higher interests of the state,” and there were credible reports police and gendarmes abused their positions by harassing citizens and conducting searches without warrants.

The law permits a police officer to enter a private home during daylight hours without a warrant only if pursuing a person suspected of or seen committing a crime.  Police and gendarmes often did not comply with this provision and entered private homes without warrant whenever they wished.

An administrative authority, including a governor or senior divisional officer, may authorize police to conduct neighborhood sweeps without warrants, and this practice occurred.

Police and gendarmes sometimes sealed off a neighborhood, systematically searched homes, arrested persons, sometimes arbitrarily, and seized suspicious or illegal articles.  For example, in the early hours of July 10, police and gendarmes conducted a cordon-and-search operation in the neighborhoods of Ndobo at Bonaberi in the Douala IV Subdivision, Littoral Region, arrested dozens of individuals, and detained those found in possession of, or consuming, narcotics.  On July 26, police conducted a similar operation in the neighborhood of Biyem Assi in Yaounde 6 Subdivision.  They searched houses, requested residents to produce receipts for appliances found in their possession and in some cases confiscating those for which the occupants could not produce receipts, and arrested dozens of individuals.  In both cases security forces detained citizens without national identity cards until their identities could be established.  The areas in question have a high concentration of Anglophones, and most of the individuals arrested in the July 10 and 26 incidents were Anglophones.  Anecdotal reports suggested that with the protracted insecurity in some regions, authorities often forcefully accessed private communications and personal data by exploiting the telephones and computer devices of targeted individuals, during both cordon-andsearch and regular identity-control operations.

On September 28 police and gendarmes conducted raids in various neighborhoods in Yaounde.  Police raided neighborhoods with heavy Anglophone populations, setting up temporary checkpoints and requesting citizens to provide identification.  Some individuals were required to enter a security vehicle and were brought to local police stations, where their identities were verified once more before being released.

Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:

a. Freedom of Speech and Press

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

Freedom of Expression:  Government officials penalized individuals or organizations that criticized or expressed views at odds with government policy.  Individuals who criticized the government publicly or privately frequently faced reprisals.  On several occasions the government used the law requiring permits or government notification of public protests to stifle discourse, and many civil society and political organizations reported increased difficulty in obtaining approval to organize public gatherings.  The government attempted to impede criticism by monitoring political meetings.

During the year the divisional officer for Yaounde V banned public conferences that Hilaire Kamga, an elections expert, intended to organize at Felydac Hotel on February 15 and June 13 to address the issues of voter registration and peaceful transition.  The divisional officer claimed the event was likely to disturb public order.

In September the senior divisional officer for Mfoundi, which encompasses the greater Yaounde area, pressured Hilton Hotel management to cancel a symposium entitled “Digital Rights and Elections in Cameroon,” organized by Paris-based Internet without Borders and Lagos-based Paradigm Initiative, days before it was to take place.  Eventually, organizers secured a different hotel without any difficulty.

On June 15, authorities prevented the opposition party, the Cameroon Renaissance

Movement (CRM), from presenting a documentary on presidential candidate Maurice Kamto.  The CRM booked Massago Hotel in Yaounde as the venue for the event.  Hotel management asked CRM leaders to leave the premises a few hours before the beginning of the documentary showing, allegedly following intimidation and threats from authorities.

Press and Media Freedom:  Independent media was active and expressed a wide variety of views, although there were restrictions especially on editorial independence, in part due to stated security concerns related to the fight against Boko Haram and the crisis in the two Anglophone regions.  Journalists reported practicing self-censorship to avoid repercussions for criticizing the government, especially on security matters.  According to the 2018 Press Freedom Index by Reporters without Borders, authorities imposed a climate of fear and selfcensorship on media practitioners.  Journalists faced significant hurdles, some of which led to exorbitant fines, and in some cases, jail terms.

According to the Committee to Protect Journalists, at least seven journalists were in prison.  One was Thomas Awah Junior, who was arrested in Bamenda, Northwest Region, on January 2.  He wrote for the monthly Aghem Messenger magazine and was sentenced to 11 years in prison on May 25 for acts of terrorism against the nation, secession, revolution, and propagation of disinformation through digital means.  Awah Junior was incarcerated at Kondengui Central Prison in Yaounde.  Pictures of a severely emaciated Awah were widely circulated on social media in September.  At the end of September, he was transported to a hospital in Yaounde to be treated for tuberculosis and pneumonia.

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

As in the previous year, authorities arrested journalists in connection with their reporting on the Anglophone crisis.  According to reports by credible organizations, including the Committee to Protect Journalists, on March 20, police arrested Akumbom Elvis McCarthy, a news broadcaster for Abakwa FM Radio, a privately owned media outlet based in Bamenda, Northwest Region.  McCarthy was allegedly taking pictures of police harassing taxi drivers.  He reported in Pidgin English for the Media House, which also publishes news on its Facebook page.  Judicial police detained the news broadcaster for three weeks before referring him to the military tribunal.  The tribunal decided to remand McCarthy into custody for a renewable six-month period while police investigated claims that he reported separatist propaganda.

Censorship or Content Restrictions:  Based on a 1990 law on social communication, the Ministry of Communication requires editors to deposit two signed copies of their newspapers within two hours after publication.  Journalists and media outlets practiced self-censorship, especially if the National

Communication Council (NCC) had suspended them previously.  The NCC issued warnings and suspensions during the year.  It declared that radio and television broadcasts of political debates during the period of March 10-24 were suspended, alleging that such discussions might cause conflict ahead of the March 25 senate election.  It later clarified that this directive applied only to state-owned media outlets.  Magic FM, a private media outlet, decided to broadcast its Magic Attitude political discussion program.  Galaxy FM, another private media outlet, also continued broadcasting political discussion shows through its popular Frenchlanguage political program, Au Coeur de la Republique.

On March 15, the NCC issued eight separate decisions, warning or suspending journalists, media outlets, and programs for one to three months.  Most were sanctioned for publishing statements deemed unfounded and offensive, which was considered a breach of professional ethics in mass communication.  The media outlets included WB1 Radio, L’Orphelin, Horizon Plus, l’Essentiel du Cameroon, and Watch Dog Tribune.  In all cases the alleged breaches occurred in 2017.

Libel/Slander Laws:  Press freedom is further constrained by strict libel laws.  These laws authorize the government, at its discretion and the request of the plaintiff, to criminalize a civil libel suit or to initiate a criminal libel suit in cases of alleged libel against the president or other high government officials.  Such crimes are punishable by prison terms and heavy fines.  The libel law places the burden of proof on the defendant.  The government contended libel laws were aimed at safeguarding citizens whose reputations could be permanently damaged by defamation.  There were no reports the government or public figures used laws against libel or slander to restrict public discussion during the year.

INTERNET FREEDOM

According to Internet World Stats (IWS), there were 6,128,422 Internet users in December 2017, representing penetration rates of 24.8 percent.  There are currently no credible reports that the government monitored private online communications without appropriate legal authority.  The government, however, has repeatedly disrupted access to the internet.

The country experienced its first internet shutdown in January 2017, after Anglophone teachers, lawyers, and students went on strike over alleged social bias in favor of Francophones.  The government issued a countrywide internet shutdown, which lasted 93 days.  Educational, financial, and health-care institutions as well as businesses that relied on internet access were stunted.  International bodies applied pressure to the government to restore internet access.  Despite internet access being restored in April 2017, there were continuing reports of network instability.

In October 2017 the government effected a second internet blockade, targeting social media and apps such as WhatsApp and Facebook.  This continued to affect the country economically, and many citizens were forced to travel back and forth to regions with internet access for business or information.

ACADEMIC FREEDOM AND CULTURAL EVENTS

Although there were no legal restrictions on academic freedom or cultural events, state security informants reportedly continued to operate on university campuses.

There were a few reports of security personnel disrupting student extracurricular activities.

b. Freedom of Peaceful Assembly and Association

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

FREEDOM OF PEACEFUL ASSEMBLY

Although the law provides for freedom of peaceful assembly, the government often restricted this right.  The law requires organizers of public meetings,

demonstrations, and processions to notify officials in advance but does not require prior government approval of public assemblies, nor does it authorize the government to suppress public assemblies that it has not approved in advance.  Nevertheless, officials routinely asserted the law implicitly authorizes the government to grant or deny permission for public assemblies.  The government often refused to grant permits for gatherings and used force to suppress assemblies for which it had not issued permits.  Authorities typically cited “security concerns” as the basis for deciding to block assemblies.  The government also prevented civil society organizations and political parties from holding press conferences.  Police and gendarmes forcibly disrupted meetings and demonstrations of citizens, trade unions, and political activists throughout the year, arrested participants in unapproved protests, and blocked political leaders from attending protests.

On March 9, in Yaounde, police arrested approximately 20 women who participated in a rally, holding up a banner that read, “Stand Up for Cameroon.”  According to the organizers of the rally, including Edith Kabang Walla, the president of the Cameroon People’s Party (CPP), the event was aimed to call attention to the deteriorating sociopolitical situation in the country.  Police released the women after keeping them for a few hours at the judicial police’s regional headquarters.

Authorities also banned some political rallies.  In April the divisional officer of Fokoue in Menoua Division, West Region, banned a meeting meant to encourage voter registration by the CRM opposition party.  The CRM claimed they notified the divisional officer that they were organizing an event on April 11.  This event would have been 10th in a series organized in conjunction with Elections Cameroon, the organization that oversees and administers elections, to encourage more persons to register to vote.  The divisional officer initially told CRM leaders the meeting might not be authorized because April 11 was a market day.  On April 9, he reportedly changed his mind and instead referred CRM’s leaders to the mayor, whom he said had control over the market place.  Organizers said they had contacted the mayor, who said she had planned to conduct a tax collection exercise in the market that day and turned down the request.  Further, in June the mayor of Bagangte banned a rally by the CRM at the local ceremonial ground and reportedly justified his decision by saying that the ceremonial ground was meant only for exceptional events and official ceremonies.  CRM officials said the ruling CPDM held a meeting at the venue a few days earlier.  Authorities also banned rallies by the CRM in Baham and Bandjoun in the West Region.

FREEDOM OF ASSOCIATION

The constitution and law provide for freedom of association, but the law also limits this right.  On the recommendation of the senior divisional officer, the Ministry of Territorial Administration may suspend the activities of an association for three months on the grounds that the association is disrupting public order.  The minister may also dissolve an association if it is deemed a threat to state security.  National associations may acquire legal status by declaring themselves in writing to the ministry, but the ministry must explicitly register foreign associations and religious groups.  The law imposes heavy fines for individuals who form and operate any such association without ministry approval.  The law prohibits organizations that advocate a goal contrary to the constitution, laws, and morality, as well as those that aim to challenge the security, territorial integrity, national unity, national integration, or republican form of the state.

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

Unlike in 2017 the government did not ban any organizations during the year.  On July 18, however, Minister of Territorial Administration Paul Atanga Nji unilaterally designated three political figures as spokespersons for three opposition political parties, disregarding these parties’ own hierarchies and internal elections.  The minister stated the three parties, the Cameroon People’s Party (CPP), the

Union of the Peoples of Cameroon (UPC), and the African Movement for a New Independence and Democracy (Manidem), were suffering from persistent internal crises.  He urged administrative command officers nationwide to authorize only events organized by the appointees.  On July 20, all three appointed leaders joined 17 other nominally “opposition” leaders to rally with their parties behind President Biya for the October 7 presidential election.

Central African Republic

Executive Summary

The Central African Republic (CAR) is a presidential republic. Voters elected Faustin-Archange Touadera president in a February 2016 run-off. Despite reports of irregularities, international observers reported the February 2016 presidential and legislative elections were free and fair. The 2016 constitution established a bicameral parliament, with a directly elected National Assembly and an indirectly elected Senate. The National Assembly convened in May 2016. Elections for the Senate had not taken place by year’s end.

Civilian authorities’ control over the security forces continued to improve, but remained weak. State authority beyond the capital improved over the last year with the deployment of prefects and security services, in particular, in the western part of the country; armed groups, however, still controlled significant swaths of territory throughout the country and acted as de facto governing institutions, taxing local populations, providing security services, and appointing armed group members to leadership roles.

Human rights issues included arbitrary and unlawful killings, forced disappearance, and sexual violence, including rape by ex-Seleka, Anti-balaka, and other armed groups;[1] arbitrary detention; delays in holding criminal sessions in the judicial system, resulting in prolonged pretrial detention; harsh and life-threatening prison conditions, particularly in cities not controlled by the government and in illegal detention facilities not operated by the government; seizure and destruction of property and use of excessive and indiscriminate force in internal armed conflict by armed groups; restrictions on freedom of movement; widespread corruption; lack of prosecution and accountability in cases of violence against women and children, including sexual violence and rape; criminalization of same-sex conduct; forced labor, including forced child labor; and use of child soldiers by armed groups.

The government started to take steps to investigate and prosecute officials in the security forces and in the government for alleged human rights violations. A climate of impunity, however, and a lack of access to legal services remained. There were allegations that United Nations Multidimensional Integrated Stabilization Mission in the Central African Republic (MINUSCA) peacekeepers sexually abused children and sexually exploited adults. The United Nations investigated alleged perpetrators and the number of reported incidents decreased over previous years (see section 1.c.).

Intercommunal violence and targeted attacks on civilians by armed groups escalated during the year. Armed groups perpetrated serious abuses of human rights and international humanitarian law during the internal conflicts. Both ex-Seleka and the Anti-balaka committed unlawful killings, torture and other mistreatment, abductions, sexual assaults, looting, and destruction of property.

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

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

There were no reports that the government or its agents committed arbitrary or unlawful killings during the year. There were, however, several reports that armed groups committed arbitrary or unlawful killings in which government agents were implicated, according to reports by MINUSCA.

Armed rebel groups, particularly members of the various factions of ex-Seleka and Anti-balaka, killed civilians, especially persons suspected of being members or sympathizers of opposing parties in the conflict (see section 1.g.). The killings, often reprisals in nature, included summary executions and deliberate and indiscriminate attacks on civilians.

In May members of an armed group killed 26 persons and wounded more than 200 others in an attack on the Notre Dame Church of Fatima in the sixth district of Bangui. Separate confrontations on May 14 and 15 between the Union for Peace (UPC) and Anti-balaka elements in Bambari resulted in 32 dead and 23 wounded civilians and armed group members. Clashes among rival groups in Bangui’s PK5 neighborhood on May 23 resulted in deaths of 12 civilians.

There were numerous killings of civilians by the Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA), a Ugandan rebel group that operated in eastern regions of the country, and other armed groups including the Anti-balaka, Reclamation, Return, and Rehabilitation (3R), Revolution and Justice (RJ), the Patriotic Movement for the Central African Republic (MPC), UPC, the Popular Front for the Renaissance in the Central African Republic (FPRC), and the Democratic Front of the Central African People (FDPC) (see section 1.g.).

According to the nongovernmental organization (NGO) Invisible Children, the LRA perpetrated at least 22 attacks on civilians in the Mbomou Uele border region in January. Five civilians were killed and 26 abducted. In February the LRA reportedly committed 30 attacks, killing at least 15 civilians and abducting 25 others.

The 3R, MPC, UPC, FPRC, and Anti-balaka groups participated in ethnic killings related to cattle theft (see section 6).

b. Disappearance

There were no reports of disappearances by or on behalf of government authorities. There were reports that forces from the ex-Seleka, Anti-balaka, and other armed groups were responsible for politically motivated disappearances. Those abducted included police and civilians (see section 1.g.).

There were many reports of disappearances committed by the LRA for the purposes of recruitment and extortion (see section 1.g.).

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

Although the law prohibits torture and specifies punishment for those found guilty of physical abuse, there were reports from NGOs that soldiers of the Central African Armed Forces (FACA), gendarmes, and police were responsible for torture.

In February the Central Office for the Repression of Banditry (OCRB) in Damala assaulted a 40-year-old woman after she came to plead for the release of her son who had been arrested following the theft of a motorcycle. A medical report documented the woman’s injuries.

There were reports of impunity for inhuman treatment, including torture, according to credible NGO sources, and abuse and rape of civilians, that resulted in deaths by forces from the ex-Seleka, Anti-balaka, LRA, and other armed groups (see section 1.g.).

The United Nations reported that it received eight allegations between January and August of sexual exploitation and abuse by UN peacekeepers that were deployed to MINUSCA. These allegations involved peacekeepers from Cameroon, Morocco, Niger, and Burundi. Of the eight allegations, seven involved minors and all were pending investigations by the United Nations or the troop contributing country.

According to the United Nations, three allegations of sexual exploitation and abuse against MINUSCA peacekeepers from Mauritania reported in 2017 were pending. Two cases alleged sexual abuse (sexual assault or rape), involving minors. In both cases the United Nations repatriated the peacekeepers in question. The other case alleged sexual exploitation (exploitative relationship). Investigations by the Mauritanian government were pending.

Prison and Detention Center Conditions

According to the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) independent expert and international NGOs, detention conditions in prisons did not generally meet international norms and were often inhuman.

MINUSCA detained and transferred to government custody several medium and high-level armed group members.

Physical Conditions: The government operated three prisons in or near Bangui: Ngaragba Central Prison, its high-security Camp de Roux annex for men, and the Bimbo Women’s Prison. A combination of international peacekeepers, FACA, prison officers trained by MINUSCA and the Ministry of Justice, and judicial police guarded both men’s and women’s prisons. Six prisons were operational outside the Bangui area: Bouar, Berberati, Bimbo, Bossangoa, Bambari, and Mbaiki. In other locations including Bossembele and Boda, police or gendarmes kept prisoners in custody. Most prisons were extremely overcrowded. Necessities, such as food, clothing, and medicine, were inadequate and were often confiscated by prison officials. Prisons lacked basic sanitation and ventilation, electricity, basic and emergency medical care, and sufficient access to potable water. Diseases were pervasive in all prisons. Official statistics regarding the number of deaths in prison were not available. Conditions were life threatening and substantially below international standards. The national budget did not include adequate funds for food for prison inmates.

Authorities sometimes held pretrial detainees with convicted prisoners, juveniles with adults, and failed to separate prisoners by gender. In Bangui, however, prisoners were separated by gender. Smaller prisons in cities such as Bouar, Mbaiki, Berberati, and Bossangoa segregated male from female prisoners, but conditions were substantially below international standards. Female prisoners were placed in facilities without ventilation or electricity. All detainees, including pregnant women, slept on thin straw mats on concrete floors.

There were no detention centers or separate cells in adult prisons for juvenile offenders. The Ngaragba Prison reported 32 juveniles held there. The accusations ranged from murder to witchcraft and petty crimes. Police and gendarmes held individuals beyond the statutory limits for detention before imposing formal charges.

Administration: MINUSCA is extensively involved in the administration of prisons. MINUSCA personnel staffed the prisons in Bangui, Boura, and Bambari. Prison detainees have the right to submit complaints of mistreatment, but victims rarely exercised this option due to the lack of a functioning formal complaint mechanism and fear of retaliation from prison officials. Authorities seldom initiated investigations of abuse in prisons.

Prisons were consistently underfunded with insufficient operating resources for the care of prisoners. There were reports that complainants paid police or gendarmes fees for their complaints to be heard. Additionally, prison guards and administrators were accused of charging prisoners, prisoners’ family members, and other visitors unofficial fees.

Independent Monitoring: In January, February, and July, the government permitted monitoring by UNHCR independent experts and international donors. The government also permitted monitoring by the UN Office of the High Commission for Human Rights and the UN Human Rights Council Independent Expert on Human Rights in the CAR.

Improvements: In April the government and agencies of the United Nations launched a nationwide recruitment of 300 new prison officers.

d. Arbitrary Arrest or Detention

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

The judicial system had gradually expanded its presence beyond Bangui to other cities, notably Bouar, Berberati, Bossangoa, and Mbaiki. There were, however, reports of arbitrary detention and lengthy pretrial detention. Ongoing challenges included a lack of affordable legal representation and an unresponsive judiciary system.

ROLE OF THE POLICE AND SECURITY APPARATUS

Police and gendarmes have responsibility for enforcing law and maintaining order. Prior to the conflict, police and gendarmes maintained limited or no presence in many areas. During the violence that commenced in 2013, police and gendarmes were targeted by Seleka forces, prompting their withdrawal from the interior. Since 2014 the police and gendarmerie have gradually increased their presence in several previously vacated towns. Deployed officers, however, remained poorly trained, under resourced and supplied with poorly functioning arms and insufficient ammunition for their tasks. Local commanding officers purchased necessities and office supplies with their own funds.

Impunity remained persistent throughout the country. Contributing factors included poorly trained officials, inadequate staffing, and insufficient resources. Additionally, claims of corruption among top government officials, delayed receipt of salaries for law enforcement and judiciary employees, and threats from local armed groups if officials arrested or investigated members persisted.

MINUSCA’s uniformed force of 11,846 military personnel, police officers, and military observers were tasked to protect the civilian population from physical violence within its capabilities and areas of deployment. MINUSCA’s 1,896 police officers were authorized to make arrests and transfer persons to national authorities.

In March the CAR internal security forces launched their first training program since 2009 for new police and gendarme recruits. The program had 250 police recruits, 60 of whom were women, and 250 gendarmes, 56 of whom were women.

The Mixed Unit for Rapid Intervention and Repression of Sexual Violence against Women and Children (UMIRR) arrested three police officers from the OCRB for torturing a woman (see section 1.c.).

ARREST PROCEDURES AND TREATMENT OF DETAINEES

Judicial warrants are not required for arrest. The law, however, stipulates that authorities must inform detainees of their charges and present them before a magistrate within 72 hours. This period is renewable once, for a total of 144 hours. The only exceptions are suspects involving national security. Authorities often did not respect these deadlines, in part due to poor recordkeeping, inefficient and slow judicial procedures, and insufficient number of judges.

Authorities sometimes followed legal procedures in cases managed by gendarmes or local police. Many detainees could not afford a lawyer. Although the law provides that a lawyer be provided for those unable to pay in felony cases where a sentence of 10 years or more could be imposed, lawyers are not provided for nonfelony cases. Remuneration for state-provided attorneys was 5,000 CFA francs ($8.85) per case, which deterred many lawyers from taking such cases. Led by the CAR bar association, defense lawyers protested and went on strike for higher remuneration, and the government negotiated an increased rate. For individuals detained by ex-Seleka and Anti-balaka and placed in illegal detention centers, legal procedures were not followed and access to lawyers was not provided.

Prosecution of persons subject to sanctions by the UN Sanctions Committee seldom occurred.

Arbitrary Arrest: The constitution prohibits arbitrary arrest and detention. Arbitrary arrest was a serious problem, however, and some ex-Seleka and Anti-balaka groups arbitrarily targeted and detained individuals.

Pretrial Detention: Prolonged pretrial detention was a serious problem; specific reliable data was not available.

Although recordkeeping of arrests and detentions was poor, the slow investigation and processing of a case was the primary cause of pretrial detention. The judicial police force charged with investigating cases was poorly trained, understaffed, and had few resources, resulting in poorly processed cases with little physical evidence. The court system did not hold the constitutionally mandated two criminal sessions per year. The judges resisted holding sessions out of security concerns and insisted on receiving stipends beyond their salaries.

Detainee’s Ability to Challenge Lawfulness of Detention before a Court: Although the law provides detainees the right to challenge the lawfulness of their detention in court, in practice, many detainees were not able to exercise this right due to a lack of affordable legal services and an unresponsive justice system.

e. Denial of Fair Public Trial

Although the constitution provides for an independent judiciary, there was a lack of independence between the judiciary and political actors. In 2013 the Seleka destroyed court buildings and records throughout the country, leaving the judicial system barely functional. In March 2017 the president issued a decree that appointed eight members to the Constitutional Court, four of whom, including the president of the court, were women. The courts in Bangui and some other major cities, notably Bouar, Berberati, Bossangoa, Mbaiki, Boda, and Bimbo, resumed operation, but the deployment of magistrates and administrators outside Bangui was limited. Many judges were unwilling to leave Bangui, citing security concerns, the inability to receive their salaries while in provincial cities, and the lack of office spaces and housing.

Corruption was a serious problem at all levels. Courts suffered from inefficient administration, understaffing, shortages of trained personnel, salary arrears, and lack of resources. Authorities, particularly those of high rank, did not always respect court orders.

In May the National Assembly adopted the rules of procedure and evidence for the Special Criminal Court (SCC); the SCC officially launched investigations in October. The SCC was established by law in 2015 in the domestic judicial system, which operates with both domestic and international participation and support. The SCC has jurisdiction over serious violations of human rights and international humanitarian law, including genocide, crimes against humanity, and war crimes.

Operations of the Courts of Appeals for criminal courts in two of the country’s three judicial districts, Western district based in Bouar and Central district based in Bangui, held criminal sessions during the year. The Bouar criminal session adjudicated 65 cases involving 108 individuals, with 20 accused appearing in court and 88 convicted in absentia. In December 2017 the criminal session in Bangui adjudicated 27 criminal cases, and the July-August session adjudicated 26 cases. Fifteen cases went to trial and 11 were retained for the next criminal session.

TRIAL PROCEDURES

The constitution and law provide for the right to a fair and public trial, and an independent judiciary generally enforced this right. The penal code presumes defendants innocent until proven guilty. Trials are public, and defendants have the right to be present and consult a public defender. Criminal trials use juries. The law obliges the government to provide counsel for indigent defendants; this process delayed trial proceedings due to the state’s limited resources. Defendants have the right to question witnesses, present witnesses and evidence on their own behalf, and file appeals. The government sometimes complied with these requirements. Defendants have the right to be informed promptly and in detail of the charges (with free interpretation as necessary) from the moment charged through all appeals, to receive adequate time and facilities to prepare a defense, and not to be compelled to testify or confess guilt. Authorities however, seldom respected these rights.

With the assistance of MINUSCA and international donors, the government began the process of establishing the SCC, which is tasked to investigate and prosecute serious human rights violations. It has a focus on conflict-related and gender-based crimes. The internationally nominated chief prosecutor for the court took office in May 2017. More than a dozen international and national positions within the court, including judges, prosecutors, and clerks, were filled.

Criminal hearings resumed in Bouar and in Kaga-Bandoro.

POLITICAL PRISONERS AND DETAINEES

There were no reports of political prisoners or detainees.

CIVIL JUDICIAL PROCEDURES AND REMEDIES

The constitution provides for an independent judiciary in civil matters, but citizens had limited access to courts in order to file lawsuits seeking damages for, or cessation of, a human rights violation. In 2015 the civil courts resumed operations with regular sessions. There is no system for protecting victims and witnesses from intimidation and insecurity. Consequently, victims, who often lived side-by-side with perpetrators, were reluctant to testify against perpetrators because there was no guarantee of their safety and a credible judicial process.

In January the Criminal Court of Bangui found former Anti-balaka leader Rodrigue Ngaibona, also known as “Andilo,” guilty of five counts of criminal acts including assassinations, aggravated theft, criminal conspiracy, illegal possession of weapons, and theft. He was sentenced to life in prison with forced labor.

The court found another armed group leader, Ahmad Tidjani, and 10 members of the former Seleka guilty of criminal conspiracy, possession of weapons of war, undermining the internal security of the State and rebellion.

Several civil courts were operational in Bangui and other prefectures in the western region.

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

The law prohibits searches of homes without a warrant in civil and criminal cases, and there were no reports the government failed to respect these prohibitions.

Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:

a. Freedom of Speech and Press

The constitution and law provide for freedom of expression and the press. The government generally respected these rights.

Press and Media Freedom: Independent media were active and expressed a wide variety of views without restriction. All print media in the country were privately owned. Radio was the most widespread medium of mass communication. There were a number of alternatives to the state-owned radio station, such as Radio Centrafrique. Independent radio stations operated freely and broadcast organized debates and call-in talk shows that were critical of the government, election process, ex-Seleka, and Anti-balaka militias. International media broadcast within the country.

Public discussion and political debates were generally free from state authorities’ influence. Freedom of expression, however, was inhibited due to the risk of retaliation by armed groups for expressing opinions opposing their ideologies.

The government monopolized domestic television broadcasting, with coverage typically favorable to government positions.

In July unknown actors killed three Russian journalists near Sibut, a city 124 miles north of the capital. The motivation for the killing is still unknown.

INTERNET FREEDOM

The government did not restrict or disrupt access to the internet or censor online content. There were no credible reports that the government monitored private online communications without appropriate legal authority. According to the International Telecommunication Union, approximately 4 percent of the population used the internet in 2017.

ACADEMIC FREEDOM AND CULTURAL EVENTS

There were no reports that the government restricted academic freedom or cultural events. The country’s sole university was open.

b. Freedom of Peaceful Assembly and Association

FREEDOM OF PEACEFUL ASSEMBLY

The constitution provides for the freedoms of peaceful assembly and association, including the right to participate in political protests. The government, however, denied most requests to protest that were submitted by civil society groups, citing insecurity in Bangui.

FREEDOM OF ASSOCIATION

A law prohibiting nonpolitical organizations from uniting for political purposes remained in place. In May the government briefly detained opposition leader Joseph Bendounga following a march in Bangui. The attorney general reiterated that the detention was justified because the march was not authorized.

Chad

Executive Summary

Chad is a centralized republic in which the executive branch dominates the legislature and judiciary. In 2016 President Idriss Deby Itno, leader of the Patriotic Salvation Movement (MPS), was elected to a fifth term in an election that was neither free nor fair. During the 2011 legislative elections, the ruling MPS won 118 of the National Assembly’s 188 seats. International observers deemed that election legitimate and credible. Since 2011 legislative elections have been repeatedly postponed for lack of financing or planning.

Civilian authorities at times did not maintain effective control of the security forces.

Human rights issues included arbitrary killings by the government or its agents; torture by security forces; arbitrary and incommunicado detention by the government; harsh and potentially life-threatening prison conditions; denial of fair public trial; political prisoners; censorship of the press and restrictions on access to social network sites by the government; arrest and detention of persons for defamation by the government; substantial interference with the rights of peaceful assembly and freedom of association; significant restrictions on freedom of movement; restrictions on political participation; corruption; violence against women, including rape and female genital mutilation/cutting (FGM/C), with government negligence a factor; criminalization of same-sex sexual conduct; and child labor including forced and other worst forms; and trafficking in persons, particularly children.

There was only one occasion on which the government took steps to prosecute or punish officials who committed abuses, whether in the security services or elsewhere in the government, and impunity remained a problem.

Members of Boko Haram, the Nigerian militant terrorist group, killed numerous persons in the country, often using suicide bombers. Officials and local newspapers reported four attacks by Boko Haram between April and September. Those attacks resulted in the deaths of 34 persons, including civilians and military troops.

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

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

There were reports that the government or its agents committed arbitrary and unlawful killings. Human rights groups credibly accused security forces of killing and torturing with impunity, according to Freedom House.

Interethnic violence resulted in deaths (see section 6).

In April, following recommendations of judges investigating the cases, a court authorized the release of 118 Boko Haram suspects whom the government had insufficient evidence to detain. The remaining detainees with alleged terrorist charges were in Koro-Toro prison awaiting trial. The approximately 16 children and women the government held in 2017 in the Amsinene prison were released in June. The children had been kept in custody not because of their involvement in any criminal offense, but because no other child care was available.

b. Disappearance

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

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

Although the constitution prohibits such practices, there was anecdotal evidence that the government continued to employ them.

General Mahamat Abdoulkader Oumar, aka Baba Ladehe, a former Chadian rebel arrested in 2014 by UN forces in the Central African Republic (CAR) and turned over to Chadian authorities, remained imprisoned in Koro-Toro pending hearings. According to his lawyers, he was denied access to medical treatment while his health deteriorated. In August, Radio France Internationale (RFI) reported the representative of the International Federation of Human Rights (FIDH) was concerned about Baba Ladehe’s health and questioned Ladehe’s continued detention after an order of President Deby amnestied all rebels on the proclamation of the Fourth Republic. Baba Ladehe was accused of armed robbery, illegal possession of weapons, assassination, rebellion, and criminal conspiracy. He had spent more than four years in prison without trial.

In April Amnesty International decried authorities’ use of torture, describing a case in which ruling party authorities beat journalist and activist “Mahadine” and subjected him to electric shocks while he was in detention.

On October 3, the Chadian Convention for the Defense of Human Rights (CTDDH) denounced the acts of General Mahamat Saleh Brahim, commander of the Chadian National Nomadic Guard operating in Ngouri, Lake Chad region. According to the secretary general of the CTDDH, General Saleh Brahim arrested 15 village chiefs because they refused to sign a document to renounce their right of land ownership. General Brahim had previously put the village chiefs in the sun for more than four hours before sending them to prison, subjecting them to humiliating and degrading treatment.

Security forces used excessive force against demonstrators.

On September 17, former government employees demonstrated in front of the public treasury in N’Djamena, claiming salary arrears. National police dispersed them with tear gas. Witnesses and local newspapers reported that police arrested and wounded several protesters.

According to the United Nations, two allegations of sexual exploitation and abuse against peacekeepers from Chad reported prior to 2018 were pending. The cases alleged sexual exploitation (exploitative relation) and sexual assault (against a child) involving peacekeepers deployed in the UN Stabilization Mission in Haiti (MINUSTAH). Investigations by both the United Nations and Chad were pending.

Prison and Detention Center Conditions

Conditions in the country’s 41 prisons remained harsh and potentially life threatening due to food shortages, gross overcrowding, physical abuse, and inadequate sanitary conditions and medical care.

Physical Conditions: According to a Justice Ministry official, there were approximately 8,700 inmates. They were vulnerable to diseases such as HIV, tuberculosis, and malaria. Prison overcrowding remained a serious problem. Despite the near doubling of the prison population since 2012, no new facilities had been constructed. Authorities did not separate juveniles from adult male prisoners, and sometimes held children with their inmate mothers. Authorities did not always separate male and female prisoners, and held pretrial detainees with convicted prisoners. Regional prisons were crumbling, overcrowded, and without adequate protection for women and youth. They reportedly received insufficient funding to feed inmates.

Local nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) reported food, potable water, sanitation, and health services were inadequate. Prison guards, who were not regularly paid, sometimes released prisoners if bribed. Provisions for heating, ventilation, and lighting were inadequate or nonexistent. The law stipulates a doctor must visit each prison three times a week, but authorities lacked resources to comply. The few prisons that had doctors lacked medical supplies. Family members of detainees frequently provided them with food, soap, medicine, and other supplies. NGOs reported that government officials forced prisoners to work on their private enterprises as a source of free labor.

No estimate of deaths in prisons or detention centers was available.

After a 2017 visit, President Deby stated that he had observed alarming conditions at Amsinene prison. In a press conference, he stated the prison was seriously overcrowded and the situation had deteriorated. The director of the penitentiary reported the prison held 2,027 inmates, including 92 underage detainees and 49 women. He said poor conditions contributed to the physical and mental deterioration of most detainees, which was compounded by socioeconomic and cultural factors that impacted an inmate’s chance to receive food or medicine from a family or tribal network.

Administration: There was no functioning mechanism by which prisoners could submit complaints about prison conditions to judicial authorities. Although NGOs denounced prison conditions, they did not file a case against the government, and there is no formal complaint process outside of the courts. There was no data available on prisoner access to the requirements of religious observance or practice.

Independent Monitoring: The government permitted the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) to visit prisons, and the ICRC conducted such visits during the year. At the maximum-security Koro-Toro prison, where few families visited due to its distance from N’Djamena, the ICRC visited every four to six weeks.

d. Arbitrary Arrest or Detention

The constitution and law prohibit arbitrary arrest and detention, but the government did not always observe these prohibitions. The law does not provide for the right of persons to challenge the lawfulness of their arrest or detention in court, or to obtain prompt release and compensation if found to have been unlawfully detained. In its Freedom in the World 2018 report, Freedom House stated security forces “routinely ignore” constitutional protections regarding detention. Police and gendarmes also detained individuals for civil matters, contrary to law. There were reports that officials held detainees in police cells or in secret detention facilities.

The director of Air Inter One, a private airline company, Mathias Tsarsi, had been detained since September 2017. He was charged with financing terrorism, money laundering, forgery, and the use of forgery. Tsarsi was also accused of using an A-340 Airbus aircraft registered in Chad for arms trafficking between Syria, Kazakhstan, and the United States. According to his lawyers, the alleged Airbus A-340 did not belong to Air Inter One.

ROLE OF THE POLICE AND SECURITY APPARATUS

The military (ANT), gendarmerie, national police, the Chadian National Nomadic Guard (GNNT), and National Security Agency (ANS) are responsible for internal security. A specialized gendarmerie unit, the Detachment for the Protection of Humanitarian Workers and Refugees (DPHR), is responsible for security in refugee camps for both refugees and humanitarian workers. The ANT reports to the Ministry of Defense. The national police, GNNT, and DPHR are part of the Ministry of Public Security and Immigration. The ANS reports directly to the president.

Security forces were corrupt and involved in extortion. According to media reports, police also were involved in violence and arms trafficking. Impunity was a problem. Local media and civil society organizations reported that members of the judicial police, an office within the national police with arrest authority, did not always enforce domestic court orders against military personnel or members of their own ethnic groups. There were isolated reports of former soldiers posing as active-duty soldiers and committing crimes with government-issued weapons.

On May 22, following an ordinance for release of three detainees against whom no charges were made, a commander of gendarmes carried out an assassination attempt on a lawyer and his clients, allegedly under the instruction of the governor of Doba, who believed the court mismanaged the case, RFI reported. After Governor of Doba Adam Nouky Charfadine was sentenced to five years’ imprisonment in July, the Appeals Court delivered its verdict. Adam Nouky Charfadine was convicted of infringement of freedom, encroaching on justice and discrediting a court decision. He was sentenced to two years’ suspended prison time and a fine of 500,000 CFA francs ($850). His codefendants were sentenced to the same suspended prison time penalty and fined 250,000 CFA francs ($425) each.

Two gendarmerie entities, the National Judiciary Investigations Section and the Special Intervention Squad of the Gendarmerie, investigate all gendarmerie, GNNT, and army killings to determine whether they occurred in the line of duty or were otherwise justifiable. The Judicial Police investigate police killings.

ARREST PROCEDURES AND TREATMENT OF DETAINEES

Although the law requires a judge to sign and issue arrest warrants before arrests may take place, this did not always occur, according to local media. By law detainees must be charged within 48 hours or released, unless the procurer (investigating magistrate) authorizes an extension of detention for investigative purposes. Nevertheless, authorities often did not make judicial determinations promptly. According to justice representatives, at least 20 to 25 percent of inmates were in long-term pretrial detention. The law allows for bail and access to counsel, but there were cases in which authorities provided neither. In some cases authorities denied detainees visits from doctors. While the law provides for legal counsel for indigent defendants and prompt access to family members, this rarely occurred, according to justice representatives. Authorities occasionally held detainees incommunicado.

Arbitrary Arrest: Security forces arbitrarily arrested journalists, demonstrators, critics of the government, and other individuals, according to local media.

Le Visionaire newspaper reported that on August 4, police arrested the director of Radio FM Nada, Beinde Bessande Sylver; the CEO of the English Learning Center, Bendiguim Eric; and the director of the Poly Handicraft Institute of Chad, Mbaihoremem Joachim. They reportedly trained 1,000 young persons in digital technology, reproductive health, and entrepreneurship, which led to their arrest. The prefect of Moundou accused the men of usurping the title of journalist, saying, “They are not allowed to train young people, it is illegal.” All three were released on September 7, following the decision of the public prosecutor of the court of Moundou.

Pretrial Detention: Lengthy pretrial detention remained a problem, despite government efforts to address it. Authorities sometimes held pretrial detainees without charge for years, particularly for felonies allegedly committed in the provinces, because the court system only had the capacity to try criminal cases in the capital, according to a Ministry of Justice official. The length of detention sometimes equaled or exceeded the sentence for conviction of the alleged crime. Lengthy pretrial detention was exacerbated by an overworked and underresourced judiciary susceptible to corruption.

e. Denial of Fair Public Trial

Although the constitution and law provide for an independent judiciary, the judiciary was underfunded, overburdened, corrupt, and subject to executive interference. Members of the judiciary sometimes received death threats or were demoted for not acquiescing to pressure from officials, according to representatives of the bar association. Government personnel, particularly members of the military, often were able to avoid prosecution. Courts were generally weak and in some areas nonexistent. Judicial authorities did not always respect court orders.

In July the prosecutor of the republic at the court of Iriba, in the eastern region, was threatened with death after the assassination of two defendants in that court. Minister of Justice Djimet Arabi told the French Press Agency that “while the prosecutor was speaking to an alleged criminal in his office during a hearing, men came to shoot the defendant. Then they went out to shoot another one who also came for a hearing,” according to the minister. Threatened by the relatives of the two victims, “The prosecutor took refuge with the prefect, whom we asked to protect him,” said Djimet Arabi.

“We deplore and condemn the threats hanging over the Chadian magistrates,” said Djonga Arafi, secretary general of the Trade Union of Magistrates of Chad.

On May 22, following an ordinance for release of three detainees against whom no basis for arrest was found, a commander of gendarmes carried out an assassination attempt on a lawyer and his clients allegedly under the instructions of the governor of Doba, who believed the court mismanaged the case, according to RFI. After the governor of Doba, Adam Nouky Charfadine, was sentenced to five years’ imprisonment in July, the Appeals Court delivered its verdict. Adam Nouky Charfadine was convicted of infringement of freedom, encroaching on justice, and discrediting a court decision. He was sentenced to two years’ suspended imprisonment and a fine of 500,000 CFA francs ($850). His codefendants were sentenced to the same suspended confinement penalty and 250,000 CFA francs each ($425). According to a representative of the bar association, the sentences were very lenient compared to previous sentences.

A judicial oversight commission has the power to investigate judicial decisions and address suspected injustices. The president appointed its members, increasing executive control of the judiciary.

The legal system is based on the French civil code, but the constitution recognizes local customary law in places where it is long established, provided it does not interfere with public order or constitutional provisions for equality of citizens. Courts tended to blend the formal French-derived legal code with traditional practices. Local customs often supersede Napoleonic law. Residents of rural areas and refugee/internally displaced persons (IDPs) camps often lacked access to formal judicial institutions, and legal reference texts were unavailable outside the capital or in Arabic. In minor civil cases, the population often relied on traditional courts presided over by village chiefs, canton chiefs, or sultans. Penalties in traditional courts sometimes depended on the clan affiliations of the victim and perpetrator. Decisions of traditional courts may be appealed to a formal court.

The constitution enacted in April states that there is a military court system. It comprises two courts: the Military Court, similar to the First Instance Court, and the High Military Court, acting as an appellate court.

TRIAL PROCEDURES

The law provides for a presumption of innocence. Defendants have the right to be informed promptly and in detail of the charges against them and to be provided free interpretation; these rights, however, were seldom respected, according to local media. Trials are public. Only criminal trials used juries, but not in politically sensitive cases. While defendants have the right to consult an attorney in a timely manner, this did not always occur. By law indigent persons have the right to legal counsel at public expense in all cases, although this seldom occurred, according to legal experts. Human rights groups sometimes provided free counsel to indigent clients. Defendants have the right to adequate time and facilities to prepare a defense. Defendants and their attorneys have the right to question witnesses and present witnesses and evidence. Defendants have the right not to be compelled to testify or confess guilt, but the government did not always respect this right, according to lawyers. Defendants have the right to appeal court decisions.

In some areas growing Islamic legal tradition influenced local practice and sometimes impacted legal interpretation. For example, local leaders may apply the Islamic concept of dia, which involves a payment to the family of a crime victim. The practice was common in Muslim areas. Non-Muslim groups challenged the practice, asserting it was unconstitutional.

POLITICAL PRISONERS AND DETAINEES

According to the NGO Movement Citizen Action for the Integral Application of Amnesty in Chad (ACAIAT) November report, there were at least 72 political detainees. The list released by ACAIAT showed some detainees had spent seven years and seven months in prison, while the shortest time in prison was one year. All were awaiting trial. According to criminal law, the detainees should have been released because of their lengthy pretrial detention. The representative of ACAIAT said was a politically motivated detention.

Media reported the secret detention of two high-ranking intelligence officers by the government, but further verification was not possible.

Unlike in the previous year, there were no confirmed reports of new political prisoners or detainees.

CIVIL JUDICIAL PROCEDURES AND REMEDIES

Lawsuits for human rights violations may be brought before a criminal court, but compensation is addressed by a civil court. Administrative and judicial remedies, such as mediation, are available. The judiciary was not always independent or impartial in civil matters, and some legal professionals were coerced in order to manipulate legal decisions, according to representatives of the bar association.

PROPERTY RESTITUTION

Unlike in the previous year, there were no reports of the government demolishing homes without due process.

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

Although the constitution provides for the right to privacy and inviolability of the home, the government did not always respect these rights. It was common practice for authorities to enter homes without judicial authorization and seized private property without due process. Security forces routinely stopped citizens to extort money or confiscate goods.

A government decree prohibits possession and use of satellite telephones.

Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:

a. Freedom of Speech and Press

The constitution provides for freedom of opinion, expression, and press, but the government severely restricted these rights, according to Freedom House. Authorities used threats and prosecutions to curb critical reporting, after ruling party powers were expanded under the constitution of the fourth republic.

Freedom of Expression: The law prohibits “inciting racial, ethnic, or religious hatred,” which is punishable by up to two years in prison and a fine of one million to three million CFA francs ($1,700 to $5,100).

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

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

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

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

According to NGOs, human rights defenders and journalists were threatened, harassed, and intimidated by either anonymous individuals or those identifying themselves as members of the security services.

Censorship or Content Restrictions: The government penalized those who published items counter to government guidelines, sometimes by closing media outlets, such as a local radio station in the southern town of Bongor, which reopened in July. Some journalists and publishers practiced self-censorship.

Libel/Slander Laws: Despite a 2010 media law that abolished prison sentences for defamation or insult, authorities arrested and detained persons for defamation.

INTERNET FREEDOM

The government restricted and disrupted access to the internet and directly censored online content, such as Facebook. There was widespread speculation that the government monitored private online communications, as when activists were arrested for postings on social media.

Beginning in March the internet connection was heavily restricted so that users could no longer connect to the most-used social networks. According to lawyers for internet service providers, the decision to restrict access to the internet followed instructions given by authorities. RFI reported the Telecommunication Regulatory Authority stated it had received an order from the Ministry of the Interior to implement this censorship on social networks.

On April 6, a court in N’Djamena ordered the release of journalist Tadjadine Mahamat Babouri, known as Mahadine, who had been detained since 2016 after having posted several videos on Facebook criticizing the government’s mismanagement of public funds. In March the government dropped the original charges of undermining the constitutional order, threatening territorial integrity and national security, and collaborating with an insurrection movement for the much lesser charge of defamation, and the court recognized that he had long passed the limit for preventive detention and ordered his release.

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

According to the International Telecommunication Union, approximately 6.5 percent of the population used the internet in 2017.

ACADEMIC FREEDOM AND CULTURAL EVENTS

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

b. Freedom of Peaceful Assembly and Association

The government limited freedoms of peaceful assembly and association.

FREEDOM OF PEACEFUL ASSEMBLY

Although the constitution provides for freedom of peaceful assembly in limited circumstances, the government did not respect this right. The government regularly interfered with opposition protests and civil society gatherings. The law requires organizers to notify the Ministry of Public Security and Immigration five days in advance of demonstrations, although groups that provided advance notice did not always receive permission to assemble. The law also requires opposition political parties to meet complicated registration requirements for party gatherings. Following the 2015 Boko Haram attacks, the ministry often denied permission for large gatherings, including social events such as weddings and funerals.

The Ministry of Administration, Public Security, and Local Governance banned the peaceful march planned by lawyers and notaries for June 16, and it did not happen. The march was intended to demand the government turn former governor of Logone Oriental and his accomplices over to the justice system. Former governor Adam Nouky Charfaddine and some military personnel were accused of the assassination attempt on a lawyer, as well as kidnapping and illegally detaining three individuals released by courts.

FREEDOM OF ASSOCIATION

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

Equatorial Guinea

Executive Summary

Equatorial Guinea is nominally a multiparty constitutional republic. Since a military coup in 1979, President Teodoro Obiang Nguema Mbasogo has dominated all branches of government in collaboration with his clan and political party, the Democratic Party of Equatorial Guinea (PDGE), which he founded in 1991. President Obiang received a claimed 93.7 percent of the vote in an election that many considered neither free nor fair in April 2016.

In November 2017 the country held legislative and municipal elections that lacked independent domestic or international monitoring and verification of the voter census, registration, and the tabulation of ballots. The ruling PDGE party and its 14 coalition parties won 92 percent of the vote, taking all 75 Senate seats, 99 of 100 seats in the lower chamber, and all except one seat in municipal councils. The voter registration process was not transparent. The government restricted opposition party access to the media and blocked access to social media and opposition websites during the electoral campaigns. Official observer communication was restricted on the day of the elections by a shutdown of the internet.

Civilian authorities did not maintain effective control over the security forces.

Human rights issues included reports of unlawful or arbitrary killings by government agents; torture and arbitrary detention by government agents; harsh and life-threatening prison conditions; political prisoners; censorship and site blocking; criminal libel; substantial interference with the rights of peaceful assembly and freedom of association, such as overly restrictive nongovernmental organization (NGO) laws; significant restrictions on freedom of movement; severe restrictions on political participation; corruption; trafficking in persons; crimes involving violence targeting lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and intersex persons; violence against women, including rape, with limited government action to investigate or prosecute those responsible; and forced labor.

The government took few steps to prosecute or punish officials who committed abuses, whether in the security forces or elsewhere in the government, and impunity was a serious problem.

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

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

There were several reports that the government or its agents committed arbitrary or unlawful killings. On April 3, Santiago Ebee Ela, 41, member of the outlawed opposition party Citizens for Innovation (CI), died at Malabo Central Police Station, reportedly because of “cruel torture.” Government authorities did not confirm the death, nor did state media report it. CI alleged that Ebee Ela was arrested at home on the night of January 2 and was one of more than 200 party activists authorities detained since December 2017 as part of a crackdown following the mid-November 2017 elections. The majority of the CI members were released quickly. The final 36 received a pardon on October 10 and were released that month. Judge Jose Esono Ndong Bidang died in a police station in Malabo on July 23 after he was denied medical attention in police custody.

b. Disappearance

There were reports of at least two disappearances by or on behalf of government authorities. Foreign press reported that Equatoguinean-Italian citizen Fulgencio Obiang Esono and Equatoguinean citizen (and Spanish resident) Francisco Micha Obama disappeared from Togo. Reports suggest that the government may have ordered their rendition and that both were later brought to Malabo’s infamous “Black Beach” prison.

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

The law prohibits such practices, but there were reports that both police and military personnel in Malabo and in Bata used excessive force during traffic stops, house-to-house searches, and interrogations, sometimes including sexual assault, robbery, and extortion. Police also tortured opposition members, according to opposition leaders.

On January 4, approximately 150 members of the CI political party were arrested and detained in both Malabo and Bata without notification of a crime committed. CI leaders asserted they were tortured by soldiers and held for days without access to food and water (see section 1.e., Political Prisoners). On October 10, the president pardoned 169 prisoners, including the 36 members of the CI party who were still in prison. These were among the first prisoners released by October 22.

Police reportedly beat and threatened detainees to extract information or to force confessions.

Authorities routinely harassed, intimidated, arbitrarily arrested, detained, and deported foreigners–primarily African immigrants–without due process (see section 2.d.).

Military personnel and police reportedly raped, sexually assaulted, and beat women, including at checkpoints. Senior government officials took no steps to address such violence and were themselves sometimes implicated in the violence.

Prison and Detention Center Conditions

Conditions in the country’s three prisons and 12 police station jails were harsh and life threatening due to abuse, overcrowding, disease, inadequate food, poorly trained staff, and lack of medical care.

Physical Conditions: In 2016 there were approximately 475 adult male inmates and 25 adult female inmates in police station jails; no data was available on the number of inmates in prisons. There was no information available on the number of juvenile detainees.

Statistics on prisoner deaths were unavailable.

Men, women, and minors had separate sleeping quarters and bathrooms but shared a common area for meals. Pretrial and convicted prisoners were held separately, although they shared a common area.

Lawyers and other observers who visited prisons and jails reported serious abuses, including beatings.

Prison cells were overcrowded, dirty, and lacked mattresses. Up to 30 detainees shared one toilet facility that lacked toilet paper and a functioning door. Inmates rarely had access to exercise. Diseases including malaria, typhoid, tuberculosis, hepatitis C, and HIV/AIDS were serious problems. Authorities sporadically provided a limited number of prisoners and detainees with medical care as well as basic meals, but food was generally insufficient and of poor quality. Ventilation and lighting was not always adequate, and rodent infestations were common. Jails did not provide food to detainees, but authorities generally allowed families and friends to deliver meals twice daily, although police did not always pass on the food to detainees. Visitors had to pay guards small bribes to see detainees and to provide them with food.

In addition, the Ministries of Justice and National Security operated civilian prisons for civilians on military installations, with military personnel handling security around the prisons and civilians providing security and other services within the prisons. There was little information on conditions in those prisons.

Administration: Authorities did not investigate credible allegations of mistreatment. Visitors and religious observance were restricted for political prisoners.

Independent Monitoring: There was no independent monitoring of prisons or detention centers. The government allowed UNICEF to visit youth rehabilitation centers in Centro Sur and Riaba but did not permit monitoring by media or local human rights groups.

Improvements: On July 27, the government inaugurated a new, modern maximum-security correctional facility located in Oveng Asem, on the mainland, with a capacity for more than 500 prisoners.

d. Arbitrary Arrest or Detention

The law prohibits arbitrary arrest and detention and provides for the right of any person to challenge the lawfulness of his or her arrest or detention in court, but the government rarely observed these requirements. Authorities held detainees incommunicado, denied them access to lawyers, and jailed them for long periods without charge, beyond the 72 hours allowed by law.

ROLE OF THE POLICE AND SECURITY APPARATUS

The vice president asserts overall control over the security forces. Police generally are responsible for maintaining law and order in the cities, while gendarmes are responsible for security outside cities and for special events. Both entities report to the minister of national security. Military personnel, who report to the minister of defense, also fulfill police functions in border areas, sensitive sites, and high-traffic areas. Additional police elements are in the Ministries of Interior (border and traffic police), Finance (customs police), and Justice (investigative/prosecuting police). Presidential security officials also exercise police functions at or near presidential facilities. The military often carried out police functions and, in some cases, mixed units of police and military operated together.

Civilian authorities did not maintain effective control over the security forces. Police, gendarmes, and military personnel were poorly trained, ineffective, and corrupt. Impunity was a problem. Security force members, who often were inebriated, extorted money from citizens and foreigners at police checkpoints and during routine traffic stops. The government did not maintain effective internal or external mechanisms to investigate and punish security force abuses.

No government body examines security force killings to evaluate whether they occurred in the line of duty or were otherwise justifiable. Nevertheless, in some high-profile cases, prosecutors and the judiciary performed show trials to exonerate the accused.

ARREST PROCEDURES AND TREATMENT OF DETAINEES

The constitution requires arrest warrants unless a crime is in progress or in cases that affect national security. Members of the security forces frequently arrested persons in violation of the warrant requirement. A detainee has the right to a judicial determination of the legality of detention within 72 hours of arrest, excluding weekends and holidays, but determination of the legality of detention often took longer, sometimes several months. NGOs indicated the majority of detainees were not charged and that judges typically failed to issue a writ of habeas corpus within the legal time limit of 36 hours.

Some foreigners complained of detention and deportation without prior notification of the charges against them. Courts rarely approved bail. The bar association supplied public defenders to those who could not afford private counsel but only at the time they were charged. Authorities occasionally denied access to lawyers, particularly to political detainees. The law prohibits incommunicado detention, but local police chiefs did not always respect this prohibition.

Arbitrary Arrest: The government arbitrarily arrested immigrants, opposition members, businesspersons, and others. Many detainees complained that bribes had to be paid to obtain release.

Police detained foreigners and took them into custody even when they provided proper documentation. Police raided immigrant communities. Reliable sources reported that police abused, extorted, or detained legal and irregular immigrants during raids. Diplomatic representatives in the country criticized the government for the harassment, abuse, extortion, and detention of foreign nationals and for not renewing residence and work permits in a timely manner, making foreign nationals vulnerable to such abuse.

There were numerous reported cases of arbitrary arrest. Professor Julian Abaga Ncogo was detained in December 2017, allegedly for discussing what he perceived as an untenable political, economic, and social situation in the country. Somehow, the message got to some authorities who had him arrested. He was released in July, just before the National Political Dialogue.

Pretrial Detention: Lengthy pretrial detention remained a problem and was often politically motivated. Inefficient judicial procedures, corruption, lack of monitoring, and inadequate staffing contributed to the problem.

Detainee’s Ability to Challenge Lawfulness of Detention before a Court: By law detainees have the right to challenge their detention and obtain release, although there is no provision for compensation if a detainee is found to have been unlawfully detained. Nevertheless, authorities did not respect this right, and detainees could not challenge the validity of the charges against them in practice. The 150 CI party members arrested in early January were detained for a month without access to lawyers and were only allowed representation after their convictions.

e. Denial of Fair Public Trial

The constitution does not provide for an independent judiciary. Instead, the president is designated the “first magistrate of the nation” and chair of the Judicial Council responsible for appointing judges and magistrates.

Members of the government often influenced judges in sensitive cases. Judges sometimes decided cases on political grounds; others sought bribes. Authorities did not always respect court orders, and many persons turned to the parliament, the Constitutional Court, or the president as first magistrate of the nation for enforcement of civil judgments on matters such as employment, land, and personal injury disputes.

The military justice system, based entirely on the system in effect in Spain when the country gained its independence in 1968, provided defendants with fewer procedural safeguards than the criminal court system. The code of military justice states that a military tribunal should judge any civilian or member of the military who disobeys a military authority or who is accused of committing a crime that is considered a “crime against the state.” A defendant in the military justice system may be tried in absentia, and the defense does not have the right to cross-examine an accuser. Such proceedings were not public, and defendants had no right of appeal to a higher court.

In rural areas tribal elders adjudicated civil claims and minor criminal matters in traditional courts. Traditional courts conducted cases according to customary law that does not afford the same rights and privileges as the formal system. Persons dissatisfied with traditional judgments could appeal to the civil court system.

TRIAL PROCEDURES

The law provides for the right to a fair public trial, but the judiciary generally did not enforce this right. The law provides for the presumption of innocence, and defendants have the right to be informed promptly and in detail of charges against them with free interpretation as necessary from the moment charged through all appeals, and to have adequate time and facilities to prepare a defense but the courts did not respect these rights. Defendants have the right to a public trial without undue delay, and most trials for ordinary crimes were public. Defendants have the right to be present at their trials but unless they could afford private counsel rarely were able to consult promptly with attorneys. A defendant unable to afford a lawyer is entitled to request a government-appointed lawyer but only after first appearing in court, which generally did not occur within the mandated 72 hours. The law provides for defendants to confront and question witnesses and present their own witnesses and evidence but courts seldom enforced this right. Defendants have the right not to be compelled to testify or confess guilt and the right to appeal. The law extends these rights equally to all citizens, but authorities did not respect the law.

POLITICAL PRISONERS AND DETAINEES

There were reports of political prisoners or detainees, but no data was available on their number. They were held at Black Beach prison where they remained without charge or trial and without access to attorneys for several months.

On March 8, political activist and cartoonist Ramon Nse Esono Ebale was released from prison after being acquitted for counterfeiting and money laundering, crimes that he was charged with in December 2017 due to false testimony by a police officer, the state’s main witness.

After the early January arrest of 150 members of the opposition CI party, on February 23, the High Court in Mongomo convicted and sentenced 31 CI members to 41 years in prison for sedition, undermining authority, damaging government property, and physical injury. The court also ordered the dissolution of the CI political party and imposed a fine of 138 million CFA francs ($235,000). CI’s Jesus Mitogo Oyono Andeme, the only opposition party member elected to the legislature in the November 2017 elections, was among those convicted. All 31 were released on October 22 as part of the amnesty ordered by the president on October 10.

CIVIL JUDICIAL PROCEDURES AND REMEDIES

Courts ruled on civil cases submitted to them, some of which involved human rights complaints. Civil matters were often settled out of court, and in some cases tribal elders adjudicated local disputes.

The government sometimes failed, for political reasons, to comply with domestic court decisions pertaining to human rights, including political rights.

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

The constitution and law prohibit such actions, but the government often did not respect these prohibitions. Search warrants are required unless a crime is in progress or for reasons of national security. Nevertheless, security force members reportedly entered homes without required warrants and arrested alleged criminals, foreign nationals, and others; they confiscated property and demanded bribes with impunity. Many break-ins were attributed to military and police personnel. In 2017 a Chinese citizen was killed by a group attempting to rob his house. One of the perpetrators dropped his identity card as he fled the scene, which showed he was a member of the military. In prior years, military members had been killed while they attempted break-ins.

Authorities reportedly monitored opposition members, NGOs, journalists, and foreign diplomats, including through internet and telephone surveillance. The government blocked employment of known members of opposition parties. Members of civil society have reported both covert and overt surveillance by security services.

Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:

a. Freedom of Speech and Press

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

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

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

The government owned the only national radio and television broadcast system, Radio-Television of Equatorial Guinea. The president’s eldest son, Vice President Teodoro Nguema Obiang Mangue, owned the only private broadcast media, Television Asonga and Asonga Radio. Journalists who worked for these entities could not report freely. During the legislative and municipal elections in November 2017 the government censored all international channels.

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

International news agencies did not have correspondents or regular stringers in the country.

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

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

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

Libel/Slander Laws: The government used laws against libel and slander, both of which are criminalized, to restrict public discussion.

INTERNET FREEDOM

The government restricted and disrupted access to the internet and censored online content. During the November 2017 legislative and municipalities elections, the government blocked all access to the internet for approximately 10 days.

In December 2017 cell phone access to WhatsApp resumed while access to Facebook, Diario Rombe, and Radio Macuto continued to be generally restricted throughout the year.

Users attempting to access political opposition sites were redirected to the government’s official press website or received a message that the websites did not exist. WhatsApp and the internet were the primary ways that the opposition expressed and disseminated their views.

According to the International Telecommunication Union, 26.2 percent of the population used the internet in 2017.

ACADEMIC FREEDOM AND CULTURAL EVENTS

The government restricted academic freedom and cultural events. Faculty, students, and members of opposition political parties complained of government interference in the hiring of teachers, the employment of unqualified teachers, and official pressure on teachers to give passing grades to failing students with political connections. Teachers with political connections but no experience or accreditation were employed and reportedly seldom appeared at the classes they were assigned to teach. Most professors practiced self-censorship. In December the press reported the minister of education fired a teacher from the opposition Convergence for Social Democracy Party (CPDS), allegedly because he was promoting his political ideology in his classes. Opposition blogs alleged the teacher was fired because he criticized a rule requiring female students to cut their hair to a certain length.

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

b. Freedom of Peaceful Assembly and Association

The government restricted freedoms of peaceful assembly and association, although the constitution and law provide for these freedoms.

FREEDOM OF PEACEFUL ASSEMBLY

The constitution and law provide for the right of peaceful assembly, but regulatory provisions effectively undermined this right, and the government routinely restricted freedom of assembly. The government formally abolished permit requirements for political party meetings within party buildings but requires prior permission for public events, such as meetings in other venues or marches, and frequently denied these permit requests. The government frequently dispersed peaceful, preapproved public gatherings if a participant asked a question that could be construed as criticism of the government or the PDGE.

In contrast, authorities pressured citizens to attend progovernment demonstrations and rallies. For example, various citizen groups, government employees, and others were required to participate in the annual Independence Day parade.

FREEDOM OF ASSOCIATION

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

Politically motivated crackdowns on civil society organizations remained a problem, including the temporary detention of civil society activists without charge.

The law prohibits the formation of political parties along ethnic lines. Only one labor organization was believed to be registered by the end of the year, but the registry was inaccessible due to a change in leadership at the Ministry of Labor and Social Security (see section 7.a.).

Despite laws that authorities stated were designed to facilitate the registration of political parties, the government prevented the registration of opposition parties. Although elected officials from the CI opposition party were released from prison on October 22 after a presidential pardon, they were not immediately allowed to return to their positions in local and national offices because the party had been deregistered early in the year.

During the 2017 legislative and municipal electoral campaign season, public gatherings were closely monitored and tightly controlled. Political parties required government authorization to hold rallies. Authorities prohibited political parties from campaigning in the same location at the same time as the official PDGE party. The PDGE received preferential treatment. On election day security forces prevented voters from forming large groups (see section 3).

A 1999 law on NGOs limits to approximately 53,000 CFA francs ($90) per year the amount of funding civil society organizations can receive from foreign sources. The government has also pressured civil society organizations, especially those focused on human rights, through both overt and covert means (see sections 1.d. and 5 for additional information).

Ghana

Executive Summary

Ghana is a constitutional democracy with a strong presidency and a unicameral 275-seat parliament. Presidential and parliamentary elections conducted in 2016 were peaceful, and domestic and international observers assessed them to be transparent, inclusive, and credible.

Civilian authorities generally maintained effective control over the security forces.

Human rights issues included arbitrary or unlawful killings by the government or its agents; harsh and life-threatening prison conditions; corruption in all branches of government; lack of accountability in cases of violence against women and children, including female genital mutilation/cutting; infanticide of children with disabilities; criminalization of same-sex sexual conduct, although rarely enforced; and exploitative child labor, including forced child labor.

The government took some steps to address corruption and abuse by officials, whether in the security forces or elsewhere in the government. This included the establishment of the Office of the Special Prosecutor (OSP). Impunity remained a problem, however.

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

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

There were a few reports that the government or its agents committed arbitrary or unlawful killings. In some cases authorities described these killings as having taken place in an “exchange of fire.”

In July police killed seven persons near Kumasi in an incident that sparked riots when authorities claimed the victims were suspected robbers. In September the ministerial committee established to investigate the circumstances that led to the deaths submitted its initial report to officials. After studying the report, in a statement issued in November by the minister of information, the government directed that 21 police officers be suspended and made subjects of criminal investigations. According to the statement, the government determined there was no evidence the victims were armed robbers. News coverage indicated that police headquarters had not yet received a copy of the committee’s investigative report.

As of November authorities had not been able to provide any further updates regarding police service enquiries concerning four officers implicated in the 2016 killing by police of a suspect in Kumasi. The government did not prosecute any officers for the incident, but it dismissed one officer and reprimanded five others.

b. Disappearance

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

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

While the constitution and law prohibit such practices, there were credible reports police beat and otherwise abused detained suspects and other citizens. Victims were often reluctant to file formal complaints. Police generally denied allegations or claimed the level of force used was justified. By September the Police Professional Standards Bureau (PPSB) had received 77 cases of police brutality and investigated 14 of those reports.

In December the Commission on Human Rights and Administrative Justice (CHRAJ) completed an investigation into the brutal assault by military personnel against a 16-year-old boy in April 2016 for allegedly stealing a phone. The CHRAJ investigated the case according to the constitution and the UN Convention Against Torture among other related charters and conventions, and ultimately recommended payment to the victim of 30,000 Ghanaian cedis (approximately $6,400) and that the military personnel be tried according to the Armed Forces Act.

In February the United Nations reported that it received a complaint of sexual exploitation and abuse against peacekeepers from Ghana deployed in the UN Mission in South Sudan. The United Nations investigated allegations that members of the unit were having sexual relations with women at one of the protection camps. Forty-six Ghanaian police officers were subsequently repatriated on administrative grounds. Ghanaian authorities continued to investigate.

Prison and Detention Center Conditions

Prison conditions were generally harsh and sometimes life threatening due to physical abuse, food shortages, overcrowding, inadequate sanitary conditions, and lack of medical care.

Physical Conditions: Ghana Prisons Service statistics available in September indicated that it held 14,985 prisoners (14,827 men and 158 women) in prisons designed to hold 9,875. Although authorities sought to hold juveniles separately from adults, there were reports detainees younger than age 18 were held with adults. Authorities held pretrial detainees in the same facilities as convicts but generally in separate cells, although due to overcrowding in convict blocks, Nsawam Prison began holding some convicts in blocks designated for pretrial detainees. The Prisons Service held women separately from men. No prison staff specifically focused on mental health, and officials did not routinely identify or offer treatment or other support to prisoners with mental disabilities.

In October foreign diplomatic representatives observed that several prisons suffered from severe overcrowding, inadequate medical care, poor sanitation, and limited rehabilitation programs. Although the government continued to reduce the population of individuals in pretrial detention, prison overcrowding remained a serious problem, with certain prisons holding approximately two to four times more inmates than designed capacity. In July, following two days of hearings, a judge at the Kumasi Central Prison granted bail to 53 of 105 remand prisoners who had applied under the Justice for All program. According to reports, officials were still working to release remand prisoners who received bail in 2017 but who remained in custody because they could not meet the bail terms. Civil society organizations estimated Kumasi Prison alone had more than 400 remand prisoners.

The government reported 30 deaths in custody through September. Causes of death included severe anemia, pulmonary tuberculosis, chronic hepatitis B, infection, heart failure, severe hypertension, liver cirrhosis, and septicemia.

While prisoners had access to potable water, food was inadequate. Meals routinely lacked fruit, vegetables, or meat, forcing prisoners to rely on charitable donations and their families to supplement their diet. The Prisons Service facilitated farming activities for inmates to supplement feeding. The Prisons Service procured five pieces of equipment, including four mechanical planters, to improve agricultural production. Construction of a new camp prison was reportedly making progress as part of efforts to improve food production and decongest the prisons. Officials held much of the prison population in buildings that were originally colonial forts or abandoned public or military buildings, with poor ventilation and sanitation, substandard construction, and inadequate space and light. The Prisons Service periodically fumigated and disinfected prisons, but sanitation remained poor. There were not enough toilets available for the number of prisoners, with as many as 100 prisoners sharing one toilet, and toilets often overflowed with excrement.

Medical assistants, not doctors, provided medical services, and they were overstretched and lacked basic equipment and medicine. At Nsawam a medical officer was recruited to operate the health clinic. All prison infirmaries had a severely limited supply of medicine. All prisons were supplied with malaria test kits. Prisons did not provide dental care. Prison officials referred prisoners to local hospitals to address conditions prison medical personnel could not treat on site, but the prisons often lacked ambulances to properly transport inmates off-site. To facilitate treatment at local facilities, the Prisons Service continued to register inmates in the National Health Insurance Scheme. The Ankaful Disease Camp Prison held at least three prisoners with the most serious contagious diseases.

Religious organizations, charities, private businesses, and citizens often provided services and materials, such as medicine and food, to the prisons.

Although persons with disabilities reported receiving medicine for chronic ailments and having access to recreational facilities and vocational education, a study released in 2016 found that construction of the prisons disadvantaged persons with disabilities, as they faced challenges accessing health care and recreational facilities.

Administration: There was no prison ombudsperson or comparable independent authority to respond to complaints; rather, each prison designated an officer-in-charge to receive and respond to complaints. As of September the Prisons Service reported receipt of 1,381 complaints on various issues, including communication with relatives, health, food rations, sanitation, and court proceedings and appeals. In April a public relations officer from the Ghana Prisons Service wrote an opinion piece for an online newspaper, disputing claims inmates received food only once a day and were subjected to forced labor. The author, however, also called for bolstering resources for inmate meals and recognized overcrowding remained a serious difficulty. Information available in September indicated there was one report of two officers physically abusing a prisoner. They were tried administratively and awaiting a final verdict.

Independent Monitoring: The government permitted independent monitoring of prison conditions. Local nongovernmental organizations (NGOs), which were independent of government influence, worked on behalf of prisoners and detainees to help alleviate overcrowding, monitor juvenile confinement, and improve pretrial detention, bail, and recordkeeping procedures to ensure prisoners did not serve beyond the maximum sentence for the charged offenses and beyond the 48 hours legally authorized for detention without charge. Local news agencies also reported on prison conditions.

d. Arbitrary Arrest or Detention

The constitution and law provide for protection against arbitrary arrest and detention, but the government frequently disregarded these protections. The law also provides for the right of any person to challenge the lawfulness of his or her arrest or detention in court, but lack of legal representation for detainees inhibited fulfillment of this right.

ROLE OF THE POLICE AND SECURITY APPARATUS

The police, under the Ministry of the Interior, are responsible for maintaining law and order, but the military continued to participate in law enforcement activities in a support role, such as by protecting critical infrastructure. A separate entity, the Bureau of National Investigations, handles cases considered critical to state security and answers directly to the Ministry of National Security. Police maintained specialized units in Accra for homicide, forensics, domestic violence, economic crimes, visa fraud, narcotics, and cybercrimes. Such services were unavailable outside the capital due to lack of office space, vehicles, and other equipment. Police maintained specialized antihuman trafficking units in all 11 police administrative regions.

Police brutality, corruption, negligence, and impunity were problems. While the constitution and law prohibit such practices, there were credible reports police beat and otherwise abused suspects and other citizens. There were delays in prosecuting suspects, reports of police collaboration with criminals, and a widespread public perception of police ineptitude. Police often failed to respond to reports of abuses and, in many instances, did not act unless complainants paid for police transportation and other operating expenses. There were credible reports police extorted money by acting as private debt collectors, setting up illegal checkpoints, and arresting citizens in exchange for bribes from disgruntled business associates of those detained. A study by the Ghana Integrity Initiative, conducted in 2016 and released in February 2017, indicated that 61 percent of respondents had paid a bribe to police. There were multiple reports police failed to prevent and respond to societal violence, in particular incidents of “mob justice.” In July police killed seven suspected robbers, stirring outcry when the local Zongo (predominantly Muslim enclave) community maintained the young men were innocent. In November the minister of information called for 21 police officers to be suspended and made subjects of criminal investigations.

The Office of the Inspector General of Police and PPSB investigate claims of excessive force by security force members. The PPSB also investigates human rights abuses and police misconduct. Through August the PPSB had recorded 1,144 complaints, of which 210 investigations were completed and 934 remained under investigation. Over this period the PPSB investigated 233 reports of unprofessional handling of cases, 217 of misconduct, 201 of unfair treatment, 160 of undue delay of investigation, 59 of unlawful arrest and detention, 77 of police brutality, 34 of harassment, 14 of fraud, 37 of extortion, and one of rape. As of September the CHRAJ had not received any reports of police beating detainees.

ARREST PROCEDURES AND TREATMENT OF DETAINEES

The law requires detainees be brought before a court within 48 hours of arrest in the absence of a judicial warrant, but authorities frequently detained individuals without charge or a valid arrest warrant for periods longer than 48 hours. Officials detained some prisoners for indefinite periods by renewing warrants or simply allowing them to lapse while an investigation took place. The constitution grants a detained individual the right to be informed immediately, in a language the person understands, of the reasons for detention and of his or her right to a lawyer. Most detainees, however, could not afford a lawyer. While the constitution grants the right to legal aid, the government is not required to provide it, although legal counsel is generally provided to those charged with first-degree felonies. As of September the government employed only 20 full-time legal aid lawyers, who handled criminal and civil cases, and 45 paralegals, who handled civil matters. Defendants in criminal cases who could not afford a lawyer typically represented themselves. The law requires that any detainee not tried within a “reasonable time,” as determined by the court, must be released either unconditionally or subject to conditions necessary to ensure the person’s appearance at a later court date. Officials rarely observed this provision. The government sought to reduce the population of prisoners in pretrial detention by placing paralegals in some prisons to monitor and advise on the cases of pretrial detainees, and by directing judges to visit prisons to review and take action on pretrial detainee cases.

The law provides for bail, but courts often used their unlimited discretion to set bail prohibitively high. In 2016 the Supreme Court struck down a portion of the law that denied bail to those accused of specific serious crimes, including murder, rape, and violations of the Narcotic Drugs Law.

Arbitrary Arrest: There were reports of arbitrary arrests by police. Unlawful arrests and detentions accounted for 5 percent of all complaint cases PPSB received through August.

Pretrial Detention: Lengthy pretrial detention remained a serious problem. Prisons Service statistics available in September indicated 1,944 prisoners, just under 13 percent of all prisoners, were in pretrial status. The government kept prisoners in extended pretrial detention due to police failing to investigate or follow up on cases, slow trial proceedings marked by frequent adjournments, detainees’ inability to meet bail conditions that were often set extremely high even for minor offenses, and inadequate legal representation of criminal defendants. The length of pretrial detention exceeded the maximum sentence for the alleged crime in numerous instances. Inadequate record keeping contributed to prisoners being held in egregiously excessive pretrial detention, some for up to 10 years.

e. Denial of Fair Public Trial

While the constitution and law provide for an independent judiciary, it was subject to unlawful influence and corruption. Judicial officials reportedly accepted bribes to expedite or postpone cases, “lose” records, or issue favorable rulings for the payer.

Following a 2015 report by an investigative journalist into corruption in the judiciary, the chief justice constituted a five-member committee headed by a Supreme Court judge to investigate the allegations, resulting in the dismissal later that year of 12 high court judges, 22 lower court judges, and 19 judicial service staff. In May the president suspended four additional high court judges who were implicated by the report. In December, the president fired those four judges, three of whom had cases pending before the ECOWAS court.

Despite alternative dispute resolution (ADR) procedures to decongest the courts and improve judicial efficiency, court delays persisted. Professional mediators trained to conduct ADR worked in various district courts throughout the country to resolve disputes and avoid lengthy trials. Nevertheless, even in fast-track courts established to hear cases to conclusion within six months, trials commonly went on for years.

A judicial complaints unit within the Ministry of Justice headed by a retired Supreme Court justice addressed complaints from the public, such as unfair treatment by a court or judge, unlawful arrest or detention, missing trial dockets, delayed trials and rendering of judgments, and bribery of judges.

TRIAL PROCEDURES

The constitution and law provide for the right to a fair hearing, and an independent judiciary generally enforced this right. Criminal hearings must be public unless the court orders them closed in the interest of public morality, public safety, public order, defense, welfare of persons under the age of 18, protection of the private lives of persons concerned in the proceedings, and as necessary or expedient where publicity would prejudice the interests of justice.

Defendants are presumed innocent and have the right to be informed promptly and in detail of charges against them, with free assistance of an interpreter as necessary. Defendants have the right to a fair and public trial without undue delay, but trials were often delayed. Defendants have the right to be present at their trials, be represented by an attorney, have adequate time and facilities to prepare their defense, present witnesses and evidence, and confront prosecution or plaintiff witnesses. In his statement following his visit in April, however, UN Special Rapporteur on Extreme Poverty and Human Rights Philip Alston wrote, “Ghana’s constitutional right to legal aid is meaningless in the great majority of cases because of a lack of resources and institutional will to introduce the needed far-reaching reforms.” Defendants have the right not to be compelled to testify or confess guilt, although generally defendants are expected to testify if the government makes a sufficient case. Defendants have the right to appeal. Authorities generally respected these safeguards, and the law extends these rights to all citizens.

Military personnel are tried separately under the criminal code in a military court. Military courts, which provide the same rights as civilian courts, are not permitted to try civilians.

Village and other traditional chiefs can mediate local matters and enforce customary tribal laws dealing with such matters as divorce, child custody, and property disputes. Their authority continued to erode, however, because of the growing power of civil institutions, including courts and district assemblies.

POLITICAL PRISONERS AND DETAINEES

There were no reports of political prisoners or detainees.

CIVIL JUDICIAL PROCEDURES AND REMEDIES

There is an independent and impartial judiciary in civil matters, and citizens had access to a court to bring lawsuits seeking damages for, or cessation of, human rights violations.

Fast-track ADR courts and “automated” commercial courts, whose proceedings were expedited through electronic data management, continued efforts to streamline resolution of disputes, although delays were common. Authorities established additional automated courts across the country, and selecting their judges randomly helped curb judicial corruption.

The constitution states the Supreme Court is the final court of appeal. Defendants, however, may seek remedies for allegations of human rights violations at the Economic Community of West African States Court of Justice.

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

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

Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:

a. Freedom of Speech and Press

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

Violence and Harassment: The Media Foundation for West Africa counted 17 cases of attacks on journalists from January 2017 to March 2018. Earlier in the year, police assaulted a reporter who had visited the Criminal Investigations Department headquarters to report on the arrest of a political party official. The reporter sustained fractures to his skull. Officials reported an investigative report was submitted to administrators in May and provided no further information as of September. In June there were reports that a member of parliament criticized and incited violence against a prominent journalist whose investigative crew produced a film about corruption in Ghana soccer, including involvement by government officials.

INTERNET FREEDOM

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

The internet was accessible in Accra and other large cities. There was limited but growing internet access in other areas. According to the International Telecommunication Union, approximately 38 percent of the population used the internet in 2017.

ACADEMIC FREEDOM AND CULTURAL EVENTS

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

b. Freedom of Peaceful Assembly and Association

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

Guinea

Executive Summary

Guinea is a constitutional democratic republic in the early stages of a transition from decades of authoritarian rule. In 2015 President Alpha Conde won re-election with 58 percent of the vote. The election was generally regarded as free and fair. The last round of legislative elections was held in 2013 and regarded as free and fair. Municipal elections, originally scheduled for 2010, took place in February. The elections were generally considered free and fair, despite allegations of fraud. Protests erupted throughout the country following the release of the results, and opposition parties alleged the ruling party, the Guinean People’s Assembly, conspired to commit voter fraud. At year’s end, most elected officials had not assumed office.

Despite tighter rules of engagement and a prohibition on the use of lethal force during street protests, elements of the security forces on occasion acted independently of civilian control.

Human rights issues included use of excessive force against civilians by security forces; alleged torture by government security forces to extract confessions; arbitrary arrest by government security personnel; endemic corruption at all levels of government; frequent rape and violence against women and girls, which rarely led to prosecution; forced and early marriage; criminalization of same-sex sexual conduct; human trafficking; and forced labor, including forced child labor.

Impunity by government authorities remained a problem. The government took minimal steps to prosecute or punish officials who committed abuses during the year or in years past.

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

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

There continued to be unsubstantiated reports the government or its agents committed arbitrary or unlawful killings.

The investigation into the 2016 death of Thierno Hamidou Diallo and injury to three individuals during a peaceful opposition march in Conakry continued. The police officer arrested in connection with the death was awaiting trial, with the court scheduled to reconvene in January 2019.

Impunity persisted for abuses perpetrated by state actors in past years, including security force killings by the previous military regime of at least 150 opposition demonstrators and the rape of more than 100 women and girls in the 2009 stadium massacre. Two of the indicted alleged ringleaders of the massacre–Colonel Claude Pivi and Colonel Moussa Tiegboro Camara–remained in high-level government posts. General Mathurin Bangoura, a person of interest whose indictment was dismissed following a judicial review, remained governor of Conakry.

In December 2017 the minister of justice announced the closing of the years-long investigation into crimes committed during the September 2009 massacre. The minister also announced the establishment of a steering committee to organize the trial of those responsible. The mission of the 12-member committee is to study and outline the logistics of the trial. The committee is also charged with determining how to address other issues surrounding the massacre, such as establishment of a compensation mechanism for victims. Authorities took no action to exhume the bodies reportedly buried by security forces in mass graves. By year’s end it remained unclear what progress, if any, the committee had made.

b. Disappearance

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

The government closed the investigation and announced it had established a steering committee to organize the trial of those from the previous military regime responsible for the disappearance of dozens of prodemocracy demonstrators during the 2009 stadium massacre. The Association for the Victims of September 2009 estimated 84 persons were still missing and presumed dead.

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

Although the constitution and law prohibit torture and other cruel, inhuman, or degrading punishment, human rights observers stated government officials continued to employ such practices with impunity. In 2016 the legislature promulgated a new criminal code that reconciles national law with international conventions on torture.

Abuse of inmates in prisons and in judicial police and gendarme detention centers continued at previous levels. Gendarmes and police designated as “judicial police officers” (OPJs) routinely abused detainees to coerce confessions. Human rights activists noted the most egregious abuses occurred during arrest or in gendarme detention centers. Human rights associations indicated the complainants often presented evidence of abuse and prison wardens did not investigate these complaints. According to nongovernmental organizations (NGOs), guards abused detainees, including children, and coerced some women into exchanging sex for better treatment.

In 2012 two civil society NGOs submitted a complaint on behalf of 16 individuals for arbitrary detention and torture committed in 2010 at the Gendarmerie of Hamdallaye. The trial finally started in April. The accused included, among others, a former chief of staff of the army and a former governor of Conakry. They were charged with arresting and torturing approximately 17 persons in 2010.

Prison and Detention Center Conditions

Conditions in civilian prisons, which are under the supervision of the Ministry of Justice, remained harsh and life threatening. Abuse, poor sanitation, malnutrition, disease, and lack of medical attention were pervasive throughout the prison system, and worse in gendarme and police detention facilities.

Physical Conditions: Overcrowding remained a problem in all prisons. An EU-financed survey revealed that prison management and operations remained deficient. Government-funded rehabilitation programs were nonexistent, and NGOs performed the work. A Spanish government program to build a new central prison was sidelined as the contractor was convicted of embezzlement of project funds in Spain.

Authorities held minors in a separate sections at prisons and detention facilities, where they slept on iron bunk beds with no mattresses or on the floor because it was too hot on the upper bunks below the building’s metal roof. Prison officials did not separate pretrial detainees from convicted prisoners, and the prison system often was unable to track pretrial detainees after arrest.

In the two main prisons outside of Conakry and in gendarmerie detention centers, men and women were intermingled. There was no juvenile detention system, and officials generally held juveniles with adults in prisons outside the capital. Men, women, and children were intermingled at gendarmerie detention centers, sometimes with women sleeping in hallways outside the prison cells. Violence and the need to bribe guards for miscellaneous services continued to be problems.

Lack of health-care personnel and medicine in prisons, combined with malnutrition and dehydration, made infection or illness life threatening; cases of beriberi were recorded, and the deaths of prisoners were seldom investigated. Only two of the 31 prisons had a full-time doctor and medical staff, but they lacked adequate medicine and funds. The Conakry Central Prison (CCP) had a sick ward where approximately 30 patients were crowded into a room 15 by 30 feet. Prisoners relied on family members, charities, or NGOs to bring medication, but visitors often had to pay bribes to provide the medicine to prisoners. There were reports of detainees’ deaths. As of September at least nine prisoners had died at the CCP. The circumstances around their deaths remained unclear. Mismanagement, neglect, and lack of resources were prevalent. Toilets did not function, and prisoners slept and ate in the same space used for sanitation purposes. Access to drinking and bathing water was inadequate. Many prisons were former warehouses with little ventilation. Temperatures were stifling, and electricity was insufficient.

NGOs reported endemic malnutrition throughout the prison system. Authorities provided food at the CCP, but most prison directors relied on charities, the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC), and NGOs to provide food for inmates. The CCP claimed it began providing two meals a day to all inmates in 2011; however, NGOs reported prisoners in Conakry and elsewhere still received only one meal per day and that many relied on food from their families or other outside sources. Relatives often abandoned prisoners due to the difficulty and cost of travel to prisons and because guards often demanded bribes for delivering food, which they then frequently confiscated.

In May the Ministry of Health and the Ministry of Justice agreed to create a national prison health strategy as part of the national public health system.

The UN Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights in Guinea and NGOs noted that conditions at gendarmerie detention centers, intended to hold detainees for not more than two days while they awaited court processing, were much worse than in prisons. Such “temporary” detention could last from a few days to several months, and facilities had no established system to provide meals or medical treatment. As in the case of prisons, gendarmerie facilities were dank and fetid. The government routinely suspended habeas corpus.

Although the Ministry of Justice administered civilian prisons, at times prisoners controlled cell assignments and provided better conditions to prisoners who were able to pay. In addition prison administrators and gendarmes at the detention centers reported receiving directives from their military or gendarme superiors, even when they directly conflicted with orders from the Ministry of Justice. Rumors persisted that guards ignored court orders to free prisoners until bribes were paid.

Administration: Prison authorities did not investigate credible allegations of abuse or inhuman prison conditions. An inspector general of prisons in the Ministry of Justice had responsibility for handling complaints, but this rarely occurred. Prisoners and detainees have the right to submit complaints but seldom did so due to possible reprisals from prison guards or gendarmes. Prisoners must use a lawyer to file a complaint, but lawyers were scarce and expensive. The local NGO Equal Rights for All (MDT) stated religious practice was restricted at prisons other than the CCP.

Independent Monitoring: The government permitted prison visits by local humanitarian and religious organizations that offered medical care and food to those in severe need. Local NGOs–such as MDT and the Association for the Support of Refugees, Displaced Persons, and Detainees–as well as volunteers and religious groups received regular and unimpeded access to the CCP. The ICRC had regular access to all civilian prisons and detention facilities and continued partnership programs with prison and other security authorities to improve civilian prison conditions. The government also allowed international organizations and NGOs access to detention centers operated by the gendarmerie.

Conditions in military prisons, which were under the Ministry of Defense, could not be verified since the government denied access to prison advocacy groups and international organizations. Although military authorities claimed they did not hold civilians at military prisons, previous cases contradicted this assertion. Reports indicated a prison continued to exist at a military camp on Kassa Island, but authorities refused to permit independent monitoring.

According to the United Nations, an allegation of sexual exploitation and abuse against a police peacekeeper from Guinea reported in 2017 was pending. The Ministry of Security reported that the individual had been disciplined. The case alleges sexual exploitation (transactional sex) involving a police officer deployed in the UN Organization Stabilization Mission in the Democratic Republic of the Congo. UN payment was suspended; investigations by the United Nations and the government of Guinea were pending.

d. Arbitrary Arrest or Detention

The constitution and law prohibit arbitrary arrest and detention, but the government did not always observe these prohibitions.

The law provides for the right of any person to challenge the lawfulness of his/her arrest or detention, but few detainees chose this option due to the difficulties they would face.

ROLE OF THE POLICE AND SECURITY APPARATUS

The Ministry of Defense oversees the gendarmerie, and the Ministry of Security oversees the National Police. The gendarmerie and National Police share responsibility for internal security, but only the gendarmerie can arrest police or military officials. The army is responsible for external security but also plays a role in domestic security.

There are also special police or gendarme units, such as the Anti-Criminal Bureau and the Secretariat General of the Presidency in Charge of Special Services in the Fight against Drugs and Organized Crime. OPJs–mixed units of police and gendarmes with special training in investigative techniques–investigate specific crimes.

There were instances in which security forces failed to prevent or respond to violence. Police forces were largely ineffective, poorly paid, and inadequately equipped. There were multiple reports of security service units disregarding their orders and resorting to excessive force, often because they lacked appropriate training and equipment.

Corruption remained widespread. Administrative controls over police were ineffective, and security forces rarely followed the penal code. Few victims reported crimes due to the common perception that police were corrupt, ineffective, and dangerous.

The government continued to implement reform policies, focusing on the standardization of uniforms, provision of identity cards, and removal of individuals impersonating security officials. The new National Police Academy provided for professional training of new cadets and in-service training of police officers. The gendarmerie continued to receive improved training and equipment. The government established strict rules of engagement for protest marches, with standing orders to allow destruction of property–including police stations–rather than resorting to lethal force.

There were limited internal and external mechanisms to investigate abuses by security forces. The mechanisms available were ineffective due to low government capacity and an ineffective judicial system.

Government impunity remained a widespread problem, and the government took only minimal steps to prosecute or punish officials who committed abuses.

ARREST PROCEDURES AND TREATMENT OF DETAINEES

Although the law requires arrest warrants, police did not always follow this protocol. The law also provides that detainees be charged before a magistrate within 48 hours, renewable once if authorized by a judge, but many detainees were held for longer periods. Authorities held most prisoners in the three main prisons indefinitely and without trial. In cases involving national security, the law allows the length of detention to be increased to 96 hours, renewable once.

The law precludes the arrest of persons in their homes between 9 p.m. and 6 a.m., but night arrests between those times occurred. After being charged, the accused may be held until the conclusion of the case, including a period of appeal. Authorities must inform detainees of charges against them within 48 hours. Authorities routinely ignored the legal provision entitling defendants to an attorney and did not provide indigent defendants with an attorney at state expense.

Although the law prohibits incommunicado detention, it occurred. Release on bail is at the discretion of the magistrate under whose jurisdiction the case falls. The law allows detainees prompt access to family members, but access was sometimes denied or restricted until families paid the guards a bribe (see section 1.c.).

Arbitrary Arrest: Many arrests took place without warrants and in violation of other due process protections provided in the law. Police arbitrarily arrested and detained opposition members. Authorities also arrested family members for offenses allegedly committed by their relatives.

For example, following a fatal car accident in a suburb of Conakry in June, the driver fled and tried to hide from police. In response, police officers arrested multiple family members of the driver, including his mother. The family members were detained at the central prison of Conakry. According to police, this was a means to coerce the driver out of hiding.

Pretrial Detention: According to an NGO working on prisoners’ issues, the 2016 reform of the justice sector decreased the length of pretrial detention by 65 percent. Despite progress, pretrial detainees constituted 60 percent of the prison population. The reform transferred many responsibilities previously held by the High Court to lower courts, resulting in more cases being heard. In addition, the Ministry of Justice directed the review of pretrial cases, resulting in additional prisoners being released.

e. Denial of Fair Public Trial

Although the constitution and law provide for an independent judiciary, the judicial system lacked funding and judicial independence, and corruption plagued the system. Budget shortfalls, a shortage of qualified lawyers and magistrates, an outdated and restrictive penal code, nepotism, and ethnic bias limited the judiciary’s effectiveness. Often domestic court orders were not enforced. For example, some prisoners freed by the courts remained in detention, because they failed to pay “exit fees” to guards. On the other hand, politically connected criminals often evaded prosecution.

Many citizens, wary of judicial corruption or with no other choice, relied on traditional systems of justice at the village or urban neighborhood level. Litigants presented their civil cases before a village chief, a neighborhood leader, or a council of “wise men.” The dividing line between the formal and informal justice systems was vague, and authorities sometimes referred a case from the formal to the traditional system to assure compliance by all parties. Similarly, a case not resolved to the satisfaction of all parties in the traditional system could be referred to the formal system for adjudication. In the traditional system, evidence given by women carried less weight.

TRIAL PROCEDURES

Trials are public, and defendants have the right to be present and to consult with an attorney in a timely manner. The prosecution prepares a case file, including testimony and other evidence, and provides a copy for the defense. Defendants have the right to confront and question prosecution witnesses and to present witnesses and evidence on their own behalf. The law provides for the presumption of innocence of accused persons, the independence of judges, the equality of citizens before the law, the right of the accused to counsel (but only for major crimes), and the right to appeal a judicial decision, but these rights were not consistently observed.

Authorities must inform defendants of charges. Defendants are entitled to free assistance from an interpreter, if necessary. Authorities must charge or release defendants within 48 hours, but they did not consistently observe this requirement. Defendants generally had adequate time but lacked resources, such as access to a lawyer, to prepare a defense. Most cases never came to trial. Officials may not hold defendants for more than four months to a year (depending on the charge) before trial. Authorities frequently denied defendants these rights.

Although the government was responsible for funding legal defense costs in serious criminal cases, it rarely disbursed funds for this purpose. The attorney for the defense, if there was one, frequently received no payment. Authorities allowed detainees’ attorneys access to their clients, but often on condition that prison guards or gendarmes be present. The law provides that defendants have the right not to be compelled to testify or confess guilt, but torture or other harsh treatment and conditions in detention centers undermined this protection.

POLITICAL PRISONERS AND DETAINEES

The government arrested or summoned individuals as “political intimidation” but released them shortly thereafter. The government permitted access to such persons on a regular basis by the ICRC.

In March 2017 the Supreme Court overturned the 2013 High Court verdict that sentenced Fatou Badiar to 15 years and Commander Alpha Oumar Boffa Diallo to life in prison for complicity in the 2011 attack on the president’s residence. After a long delay, authorities reopened the case in April.

CIVIL JUDICIAL PROCEDURES AND REMEDIES

The law provides for a judicial procedure in civil matters, including lawsuits seeking damages for human rights violations. Judicial process lacked independence and impartiality. Bribes and political and social status often influenced decisions. There were few lawsuits seeking damages for human rights violations, in part due to public fear of suing security force members and lack of confidence in the competence and impartiality of the judiciary. Domestic court orders often were not enforced. NGOs that filed cases for civilians in 2012, 2013, and 2014–ranging from complaints of torture to indefinite detention–claimed their cases had yet to be heard. NGOs subsequently began opting to lodge complaints with the Economic Community of West African States Court of Justice.

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

The constitution and law prohibit such actions, but police reportedly ignored legal procedures in the pursuit of criminal suspects, including when it served their personal interests. Authorities sometimes removed persons from their homes at all hours, stole their personal belongings, and demanded payment for their release.

The government continued to punish family members for alleged offenses committed by relatives.

Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:

a. Freedom of Speech and Press

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

Press and Media Freedom: Independent and opposition-owned media were active and generally expressed a wide variety of views. Print media had limited reach due to the low literacy rate (41 percent) and the high cost of newspapers. Radio remained the most important source of information for the public, and numerous private stations broadcast throughout the country. FM radio call-in shows were popular and allowed citizens to express broad discontent with the government. An increase in online news websites reflected the growing demand for divergent views. Nevertheless, libels and allegations could result in government reprisals, including suspensions and fines.

In November 2017 journalists called for the release of the Gangan Radio TV Group television coordinator who had been arrested for allegedly announcing the death of Alpha Conde. The journalists maintained that the arrest was arbitrary and without cause. During a protest at the Matam detention center in Conakry, clashes broke out between journalists and gendarmes. Gendarmes injured some journalists and destroyed their equipment.

Violence and Harassment: There were reports of physical attacks on, and harassment and intimidation of, journalists by members of the Guinean People’s Assembly (RPG) political party, affiliated with the government, and law enforcement agents.

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

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

In November 2017 the Communications High Authority (HAC) suspended the accreditation of Mouctar Bah, a correspondent for Radio France International and Agence France Presse, until February 2019. The HAC responded to a complaint of defamation lodged by the minister of national defense. The minister alleged that a report by Bah on violence that occurred in Conakry involving the military did not adhere to journalist ethics rules.

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

INTERNET FREEDOM

The government did not restrict or disrupt access to the internet or censor online content, and there were no credible reports the government monitored private online communications without appropriate legal authority. According to the International Telecommunication Union, 11 percent of individuals used the internet in 2017.

ACADEMIC FREEDOM AND CULTURAL EVENTS

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

b. Freedom of Peaceful Assembly and Association

The constitution provides for the freedoms of peaceful assembly and association, but the government did not always respect these rights.

FREEDOM OF PEACEFUL ASSEMBLY

The constitution provides for freedom of peaceful assembly, but the government restricted this right. The law bans any meeting that has an ethnic or racial character or any gathering “whose nature threatens national unity.” The government requires a 72-working-hour advance notification for public gatherings. The law permits local authorities to prohibit a demonstration or meeting if they believe it poses a threat to public order. Authorities may also hold event organizers criminally liable if violence or destruction of property occurs.

The government did not respect the right of freedom peaceful assembly. In August the government announced a blanket ban on political protests.

In February security forces arrested 15 peacefully demonstrating civil society activists who were demanding dialogue between the government and the union of teachers. The demonstrators were subsequently released. Police use of excessive force to disperse demonstrators–often protesting poor public services–resulted in deaths and injuries (see section 1.a.).

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

FREEDOM OF ASSOCIATION

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

Guinea-Bissau

Executive Summary

Guinea-Bissau is a multiparty republic. President Jose Mario Vaz took office in 2014 after a general election that included all 102 seats in the National Assembly. International observers considered the elections free and fair. The country has endured prolonged political gridlock punctuated by periods of turmoil. Aristides Gomes is the seventh prime minister since President Vaz dismissed Domingos Simoes Pereira in 2015.

Civilian authorities maintained control over the security forces.

Human rights issues included life-threatening prison conditions; lack of judicial independence and due process; official corruption exacerbated by government officials’ impunity and suspected involvement in drug trafficking; lack of investigation and accountability in cases of violence and discrimination against women, including domestic and female genital mutilation/cutting (FGM/C); trafficking in persons; and child labor, including worst forms.

While the government took steps to investigate and punish officials who committed abuses, impunity in general remained a serious problem.

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

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

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

b. Disappearance

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

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

The constitution and law prohibit such practices, and the armed forces and police generally respected these prohibitions.

Prison and Detention Center Conditions

Prison conditions varied widely. In the makeshift detention facilities for pretrial detainees, conditions were harsh and life threatening.

Physical Conditions: Conditions of confinement were poor. Except in the prisons in Bafata and Mansoa, electricity, potable water, and space were inadequate. Detention facilities generally lacked secure cells, running water, adequate heating, ventilation, lighting, and sanitation. Detainees’ diets were poor, and medical care was virtually nonexistent. At the pretrial detention center in Bissau, detainees relied on their families for food. Officials held pretrial detainees with convicted prisoners and juveniles with adults. There were no reported deaths in police custody.

Administration: Authorities did not investigate allegations of inhuman conditions. There was no prison ombudsman to respond to prisoners’ complaints or independent authorities to investigate credible allegations of inhuman conditions. The National Commission for Human Rights (CNDH) recommended the closure of four detention centers (Cacine, Catio, Bigene, and Bissora) due to a lack of humane conditions.

Independent Monitoring: The government permitted independent monitoring of detention conditions by local and international human rights groups.

d. Arbitrary Arrest or Detention

The constitution and law prohibit arbitrary arrest and detention, and the government usually observed these prohibitions. Detainees may challenge the lawfulness of detention before a court through a regular appeals process, obtain prompt release, and obtain compensation if found to have been unlawfully detained.

ROLE OF THE POLICE AND SECURITY APPARATUS

The country is divided into 37 police districts. An estimated 3,500 police personnel in nine different police forces reported to seven different ministries. The Judicial Police, under the Ministry of Justice, has primary responsibility for investigating drug trafficking, terrorism, and other transnational crimes. The Public Order Police, under the Ministry of Interior, is responsible for preventive patrols, crowd control, and maintenance of law and order. Other police forces include the State Information Service (intelligence), Border Police (migration and border enforcement), Rapid Intervention Police, and Maritime Police. According to the constitution, the armed forces may be called upon to assist police in emergencies.

Police were generally ineffective, poorly and irregularly paid, and corrupt. They received no training and had insufficient funding to buy fuel for police vehicles. Traffic police often demanded bribes from drivers. Lack of police detention facilities frequently resulted in prisoners leaving custody during investigations. Impunity was a serious problem. The attorney general was responsible for investigating police abuses; however, employees of that office were also poorly paid and susceptible to threats, corruption, and coercion.

Civilian authorities generally maintained effective control over police and armed forces, although the government had few mechanisms to investigate and punish abuse.

In February, Judicial Police inspectors openly denounced the political intimidation of the Judicial Police and political interference in their work. Six of the officers who complained were suspended, threatened, and harassed for denouncing the lack of transparency in investigations, the recruitment process, and political pressure on police forces. The Bissau Regional Court declared the suspension illegal, and the inspectors were reintegrated in April. The government named a new Judicial Police director in May.

The Guinea-Bissau Human Rights League (LGDH) denounced two cases of sexual violence against women perpetrated by police personnel. Nine officers were involved in those cases. One of the victims presented charges, and LGDH reported police obstruction to the case and bribing the family of the victim. No one was charged.

ARREST PROCEDURES AND TREATMENT OF DETAINEES

The law requires arrest warrants, although warrantless arrests often occurred, particularly of immigrants suspected of crimes. By law detainees must be brought before a magistrate within 48 hours of arrest and released if no indictment is filed, but this standard was not always met. Authorities informed detainees of charges against them. The law provides for the right to counsel at state expense for indigent clients; lawyers did not receive compensation for their part-time public defense work and often ignored state directives to represent indigent clients. There was a functioning bail system. Pretrial detainees had prompt access to family members. Authorities usually held civilian suspects under house arrest.

Arbitrary Arrest: There were reports police occasionally arrested persons arbitrarily and detained them without due process.

e. Denial of Fair Public Trial

The constitution and law provide for an independent judiciary, but the judiciary was subject to political manipulation. Judges were poorly trained, inadequately and irregularly paid, and subject to corruption. A lack of resources and infrastructure often delayed trials, and convictions were extremely rare. Authorities respected court orders, however.

Ten military officials were arrested for conspiracy related to a planned assassination of Chief of Staff of the Armed Forces General Biague Na N’Tam in late December 2017. Authorities detained them without trial, and at year’s end their detention continued. LGDH and the defendants claimed there was no evidence in the case and called for immediate release of the accused.

TRIAL PROCEDURES

The law provides for the right to a fair and public trial, and an independent judiciary generally enforced this right. The court system, however, did not often provide fair trials and reflected the actions of the corrupt judges who sometimes worked in concert with police. It was not unheard of for cases to be delayed without explanation, or for fines to be directly taken out of defendants’ bank accounts without their knowledge.

Citizens have the right to a presumption of innocence; to be informed promptly of the charges, with free interpretation as necessary, from the moment charged through all appeals; to a fair trial without undue delay; to be present at their trial; and to communicate with an attorney of choice or have one provided at court expense from the moment charged and through all appeals. The law provides for the right to confront witnesses and present witnesses and evidence, not to be compelled to testify against oneself or to admit guilt, and to appeal. Defendants generally have adequate time and facilities to prepare a defense; however, most cases never came to trial. There is no trial by jury. Trials in civilian courts are open to the public.

POLITICAL PRISONERS AND DETAINEES

There were no reports of political prisoners or detainees.

CIVIL JUDICIAL PROCEDURES AND REMEDIES

Individuals may seek civil remedies for human rights violations; however, there was no specific administrative mechanism to address human rights violations.

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

The constitution and law prohibit such actions, but the government did not always respect these prohibitions. Police routinely ignored privacy rights and protections against unreasonable search and seizure.

Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:

a. Freedom of Speech and Press

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

Press and Media Freedom: Independent media were active and expressed a wide variety of views without restriction. There were several private newspapers in addition to the government-owned newspaper No Pintcha, but the state-owned printing house published all of them.

Violence and Harassment: The government took no steps to preserve the safety and independence of media or to prosecute individuals who threatened journalists. Several incidents between journalists and government officials occurred during the year. A member of parliament (MP) harassed a journalist from a national radio broadcaster, Bombolom FM, for criticizing his actions in parliament. The incident ended with official apologies from both the MP and the president of the National Assembly. In the region of Cacheu, a high-ranking National Guard official physically assaulted a journalist. The case went to court but was dismissed because the parties reached an out-of-court settlement.

Censorship or Content Restrictions: State television service TGB produced content biased in favor of the government.

INTERNET FREEDOM

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

According to the International Telecommunication Union, 3.9 percent of the population used the internet in 2017. Lack of infrastructure, equipment, and education severely limited access to the internet.

ACADEMIC FREEDOM AND CULTURAL EVENTS

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

b. Freedom of Peaceful Assembly and Association

The constitution and law provide for the freedoms of peaceful assembly and association, and the government failed to respect these rights.

In January the African Party for the Independence of Guinea and Cabo Verde’s (PAIGC) congress was suspended by a judicial order, allegedly for not respecting the internal procedures of the party. Police prohibited PAIGC members from entering their headquarters, injuring 11 persons. The congress eventually took place a few days later, but observers believed that political interference in the justice sector was behind the suspension.

During the year several protests by a civil society group, the Movement of Nonconforming Citizens (MCCI), were prohibited by authorities, who claimed the movement did not have a legal structure or because the protest would occur near public places. In May the MCCI filed a complaint against the government for violation of freedom of peaceful protest to the Economic Community of West African States Community Court of Justice. The case continued at year’s end.

Libya

Executive Summary

Libya is a parliamentary democracy with a temporary Constitutional Declaration that allows for the exercise of a full range of political, civil, and judicial rights. Citizens elected the interim legislature, the House of Representatives (HoR), in free and fair elections in 2014. The Libyan Political Agreement, which members of the UN-facilitated Libyan political dialogue signed in 2015, created the internationally recognized Government of National Accord (GNA), headed by Prime Minister Fayez al-Sarraj. Political mediation efforts led by the United Nations aim to support passing a constitution and holding new elections to replace interim bodies that have governed Libya since the 2011 revolution with permanent state institutions.

The government had limited effective control over security forces.

Human rights issues included arbitrary and unlawful killings, including of politicians and members of civil society, by extralegal armed groups, ISIS, criminal gangs, and militias, including those affiliated with the government; forced disappearances; torture perpetrated by armed groups on all sides; arbitrary arrest and detention; harsh and life threatening conditions in prison and detention facilities, some of which were outside government control; political prisoners held by nonstate actors; unlawful interference with privacy, often by nonstate actors; undue restrictions on free expression and the press, including violence against journalists and criminalization of political expression ; widespread corruption; trafficking in persons; criminalization of sexual orientation; and use of forced labor.

Impunity from prosecution was a severe and pervasive problem. Divisions between political and security apparatuses in the west and east, a security vacuum in the south, and the presence of terrorist groups in some areas of the country severely inhibited the government’s ability to investigate or prosecute abuses. The government took limited steps to investigate abuses; however, constraints on the government’s reach and resources, as well as political considerations, reduced its ability or willingness to prosecute and punish those who committed such abuses. Although bodies such as the Ministry of Justice and the Office of the Attorney General issued arrest warrants, levied indictments, and opened prosecutions of abuses, limited policing capacity and fears of retribution prevented orders from being carried out.

Conflict continued during the year in the west between GNA-aligned armed groups and various nonstate actors. The Libyan National Army (LNA), under its commander Khalifa Haftar, is not under the authority of the internationally recognized GNA. Haftar controlled territory in the east and parts of south. Extralegal armed groups filled security vacuums across the country, although several in the west aligned with the GNA as a means of accessing state resources. The GNA formally integrated some of the armed groups into the Ministry of Interior during the year. ISIS maintained a limited presence, primarily in the central desert region, areas south of Sirte and in Bani Walid, and in urban areas along the western coast. Al-Qaida and other terrorist groups also operated in the country, particularly in and around Derna and in the southwest.

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

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

There were numerous reports that GNA-aligned armed groups, nonstate actors, LNA units, Chadian and Sudanese rebel groups, tribal groups, ISIS fighters, and other terrorist groups committed arbitrary or unlawful killings (see section 1.g.). Alliances, sometimes temporary, among elements of the government, non-state actors, and former or active officers in the armed forces participating in extralegal campaigns made it difficult to ascertain the role of the government in attacks by armed groups.

Reports indicated terrorist organizations, criminal gangs, and militias played a prominent role in targeted killings and suicide bombings perpetrated against both government officials and civilians. Criminal groups or armed elements affiliated with both the government and its opponents may have carried out other such attacks. Shelling, gunfire, airstrikes, and unexploded ordinances killed scores of persons during the year, including in the capital, Tripoli. In the absence of an effective judicial and security apparatus, perpetrators remained unidentified, and most of these crimes remained unpunished.

Between January and October, the UN Support Mission in Libya (UNSMIL) documented the deaths of more than 177 civilians. Shelling injured or killed the largest number of victims.

b. Disappearance

GNA-aligned forces and armed groups acting outside GNA control committed an unknown number of forced disappearances (see section 1.g.). The GNA made few effective efforts to prevent, investigate, or penalize forced disappearances.

Kidnappings were common throughout the year, typically carried out by criminal gangs or trafficking groups that exploited the country’s ungoverned spaces and ransomed victims for money.

On April 20, Salem Mohamed Beitelmal, a professor at the University of Tripoli, was driving to work when local militias abducted him on the outskirts of western Tripoli. On June 6, his captors released him.

Many disappearances that occurred during the Qadhafi regime, the 2011 revolution, and the post-revolutionary period remained unresolved. Due to the continuing conflict, weak judicial system, legal ambiguity regarding amnesty for revolutionary forces, and the slow progress of the National Fact-finding and Reconciliation Commission, law enforcement authorities and the judiciary made no appreciable progress in resolving high-profile cases.

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

While the Constitutional Declaration and post-revolutionary legislation prohibit such practices, credible sources indicated personnel operating both government and extralegal detention centers tortured prisoners (see section 1.g.). While judicial police controlled many facilities, the GNA continued to rely primarily on armed groups to manage prisons and detention facilities. Furthermore, armed groups, not police, initiated arrests in most instances. According to Human Rights Watch (HRW), armed groups held detainees at their discretion prior to placing them in official detention facilities. Treatment varied from facility to facility and typically was worst at the time of arrest. National Committee for Human Rights in Libya (NCHRL) reported abuses included beatings with belts, sticks, hoses, and rifles; administration of electric shocks; burns inflicted by boiling water, heated metal, or cigarettes; mock executions; suspension from metal bars; and rape.

On November 14, Director of the Patrol Department of the Public Security Service under the Qadhafi regime, Brigadier General Nuri al-Jalawawi, died after being tortured in Al-Hadhba prison in Tripoli, according to human rights activists and press reports. Nuri was arrested after the 2011 revolution and held in Al-Hadhba prison, which is under the control of the Tripoli Revolutionary Brigades (TRB). In 2015 the Tripoli Appellate Court suspended the case against him and ordered his transfer to Al-Razi Psychiatric Hospital in Gargaresh; however, he was never transferred or released.

According to the testimony of former detainees held in Mitiga Prison, Special Deterrence Force (SDF) prison administrators subjected detainees to torture. Former Mitiga detainees reported suspension from their shoulders for many hours leading to dislocations; beatings that lasted up to five hours; beatings with PPV tubes; beatings of their feet in a torture device called the “al-Falqa” cage; and broken noses and teeth. SDF leaders Khalid al-Hishri Abuti, Moadh Eshabat, Hamza al-Bouti Edhaoui, Ziad Najim, Nazih Ahmed Tabtaba, as well as SDF head Abdulrauf Kara and prison directors Usama Najim and Mahmoud Hamza supervised the prison according to a former detainee in the facility.

Prison and Detention Center Conditions

Prisons and detention facilities are often overcrowded, harsh, and life threatening, falling well short of international standards. Many prisons and detention centers were outside government control see section 1.g.).

According to the International Organization for Migration (IOM) and the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), migrant detention centers, operated by the GNA Ministry of Interior’s Department to Combat Irregular Migration, also suffered from massive overcrowding, extremely poor sanitation conditions, lack of access to medical care, and significant disregard for the protection of the detainees. According to press reports, detainees experienced discrimination on the basis of their religion. IOM did not, however, receive complaints during the year about migrants prevented from engaging in religious observances while detained.

Physical Conditions: In the absence of an effective judicial system or release of prisoners, overcrowding and limited access to health care reportedly continued during the year. Many prison facilities need infrastructural repairs. Accurate numbers of those incarcerated, including a breakdown by holding agency, were not available.

Detention conditions were sometimes substantially different for types of detainees; according to reports by the NCHRL, ISIS detainees and other terrorist suspects were detained in less crowded conditions due to security concerns.

A large number of detainees were foreigners, mostly migrants. Facilities that held irregular migrants generally were of poorer quality than other facilities. The Libyan Young Lawyer’s Association (LYLA) reported poor conditions at the government detention center in Zawiya. According to UNHCR, as of September, there were between 8,000 and 9,000 migrants and refugees housed in the 20 active official detention center’s run by the GNA’s Department for Combatting Irregular Migration (Ministry of Interior), down from 20,000 in late 2017. A large number of additional migrant detainees were reportedly held in nongovernment centers, although numbers were unknown. Officials, local militias, and criminal gangs moved migrants through a network of detention centers with little monitoring by the government or international organizations.

There were reportedly no functioning juvenile facilities in the country, and authorities held juveniles in adult prisons, although sometimes in separate sections. There were separate facilities for men and women.

There were reports of killings and deaths in detention centers. Due to security conditions that limited monitoring, the exact number of those killed in prisons, jails, pretrial detention, or other detention centers was unknown.

Makeshift detention facilities existed throughout the country. Conditions at these facilities varied widely, but reports indicated the conditions in most were below international standards. Consistent problems included overcrowding, poor ventilation, and the lack of basic necessities.

Administration: The Judicial Police Authority, tasked by the GNA Ministry of Justice to run the prison system, operates from its headquarters in Tripoli. It remained administratively split, however, with a second headquarters in al-Bayda that reports to a separate, rival, eastern Ministry of Justice that provides oversight to prisons in eastern Libya and Zintan. During the year the ratio of detainees and prisoners to guards varied significantly. Monitoring and training of prison staff by international organizations remained largely suspended, although training of judicial police continued during the year.

Independent Monitoring: The GNA permitted some independent monitoring and permitted IOM and UNHCR increased access to transit facilities. Nevertheless, the lack of clarity regarding who ran each facility and the sheer number of facilities made it impossible to gain a comprehensive view of the system.

Reports also questioned the capability and professionalism of local human rights organizations charged with overseeing prisons and detention centers.

Due to the volatile security situation, few international organizations were present in the country monitoring human rights. UNSMIL monitored the situation through local human rights defenders, members of the judiciary, and judicial police. The absence of a sustained international presence on the ground made oversight problematic; however, UNSMIL relocated most of its staff to Tripoli by the end of the year to engage in more effective monitoring of Libyan human rights developments. The International Committee for the Red Cross (ICRC) did undertake efforts to monitor conditions of detention facilities.

d. Arbitrary Arrest or Detention

Nonstate actors detained and held persons arbitrarily in authorized and unauthorized facilities, including unknown locations, for extended periods and without legal charges or legal authority.

The prerevolutionary criminal code remains in effect. It establishes procedures for pretrial detention and prohibits arbitrary arrest and detention, but these procedures were often not enforced. Throughout the year the government had weak control over police and GNA-aligned armed groups providing internal security, and some armed groups carried out illegal and arbitrary detentions unimpeded. The lack of international monitoring meant that there were no reliable statistics on the number of arbitrary detainees.

ROLE OF THE POLICE AND SECURITY APPARATUS

Government agencies had limited control over the national police and other elements of the security apparatus. The national police force, which reports to the GNA Ministry of Interior, has official responsibility for internal security. The military under the GNA Ministry of Defense, led by Prime Minister al-Sarraj in an acting capacity since July, has as its primary mission the defense of the country from external threats, but it also supported Ministry of Interior forces on internal security matters. The situation varied widely from municipality to municipality contingent upon whether police organizational structures from Qadhafi-era Libya remained intact. In some areas, such as Tobruk, police functioned, but in others, such as Sebha, they existed in name only. Civilian authorities had only nominal control of police and the security apparatus, and security-related police work generally fell to disparate armed groups, which received salaries from the Libyan government and exercised law enforcement functions without formal training or supervision and with varying degrees of accountability.

Impunity was a serious problem. The government’s lack of control led to impunity for armed groups on all sides of the conflict. There were no known mechanisms to investigate effectively and punish abuses of authority, abuses of human rights, and corruption by police and security forces. Unclear chains of command led to confusion regarding responsibility for the actions of armed groups, including those nominally under GNA control. In these circumstances police and other security forces were usually ineffective in preventing or responding to violence perpetrated by armed groups.

ARREST PROCEDURES AND TREATMENT OF DETAINEES

The law stipulates an arrest warrant is required, but authorities may detain persons without charge for as long as six days and may renew detention for up to three months, provided there is “reasonable evidence.” The law also specifies authorities must inform detainees of the charges against them and have a detainee appear before a judicial authority every 30 days to renew a detention order. The law gives the government power to detain persons for up to two months if considered a “threat to public security or stability” based on their “previous actions or affiliation with an official or unofficial apparatus or tool of the former regime.”

Although the Constitutional Declaration recognizes the right to counsel, the vast majority of detainees did not have access to bail or a lawyer. Government authorities and armed groups held detainees incommunicado for unlimited periods in official and unofficial detention centers.

Arbitrary Arrest: Authorities frequently ignored or were unable to enforce the provisions of the criminal code prohibiting arbitrary arrest and detention. Various armed groups arbitrarily arrested and detained persons throughout the year. According to HRW and local human rights organizations, including the Arab Organization for Human Rights (AOHR), prison authorities and militias held thousands of detainees without charges or due process.

Pretrial Detention: While authorities must order detention for a specific period not exceeding 90 days, the law in practice results in extended pretrial detention. An ambiguity in the language of the law allows judges to renew the detention period if the suspect is of “interest to the investigation.” Additionally, limited resources and court capacity resulted in a severe backlog of cases. According to international nongovernmental organizations (NGOs), there were numerous inmates held in GNA-controlled prisons in pretrial detention for periods longer than the sentences for the minor crimes they allegedly committed; however, the GNA Ministry of Justice is working to improve practices by training the judicial police on international standards for pretrial detention. Some individuals detained during the 2011 revolution remained in custody, mostly in facilities in the west.

Armed groups held most of their detainees without charge and outside the government’s authority. With control of the security environment diffused among various armed groups and a largely nonfunctioning judiciary, circumstances prevented most detainees from accessing a review process. According to AOHR and NCHRL, individuals affiliated with armed groups were routinely able to avoid detention or judicial penalty.

Detainee’s Ability to Challenge Lawfulness of Detention before a Court: The law allows a detained suspect to challenge pretrial detention before the prosecutor and a magistrate judge. If the prosecutor does not order release, the detained person may appeal to the magistrate judge. If the magistrate judge orders continued detention following review of the prosecutor’s request, and despite the detainee’s challenge, there is no further right to appeal the assigned detention order. A breakdown in the court system and difficulties securely transporting prisoners to the courts limited detainee access to the courts.

Amnesty: The GNA did not clarify whether it believed there was a blanket legal amnesty for revolutionaries’ actions performed to promote or protect the 2011 revolution.

e. Denial of Fair Public Trial

The Constitutional Declaration provides for an independent judiciary and stipulates every person has a right of recourse to the judicial system. Nonetheless, thousands of detainees lacked access to lawyers and information concerning the charges against them. Judges and prosecutors contended with threats, intimidation, violence, and under-resourced courts and thus struggled to deal with complex cases. Judges and prosecutors in various parts of the country cited concerns regarding the overall lack of security in and around the courts, further hindering the rule of law. Some courts, including in Tripoli and in the east, continued to operate during the year. Throughout the rest of the country, however, courts operated sporadically depending on local security conditions.

TRIAL PROCEDURES

The Constitutional Declaration provides for the presumption of innocence and the right to legal counsel, provided at public expense for the indigent. During the year GNA-affiliated and nonstate actors did not respect these standards, according to LYLA. There were multiple reports of individuals denied fair and public trials, choice of attorney, language interpretation, the ability to confront plaintiff witnesses, protection against forced testimony or confessions, and the right to appeal.

According to reports from international and local NGOs, arbitrary detention and torture by armed groups, including those operating nominally under government oversight, contributed to a climate of lawlessness that made fair trials elusive. Armed groups and families of the victims or the accused regularly threatened lawyers, judges, and prosecutors.

Amid threats, intimidation, and violence against the judiciary, the GNA did not take steps to screen detainees systematically for prosecution or release; however, the GNA made efforts during the year to release individuals convicted of petty crimes due to lack of prison capacity. In September the GNA announced the release of 83 nonsecurity inmates from the over-crowded Mitiga prison facility in Tripoli. The courts were more prone to process civil cases, which were less likely to invite retaliation, although capacity was limited due to a lack of judges and administrators.

POLITICAL PRISONERS AND DETAINEES

Armed groups, some of which were nominally under GNA authority, held persons on political grounds, particularly former Qadhafi regime officials and others accused of subverting the 2011 revolution, in a variety of temporary facilities.

The lack of international monitoring meant that there were no reliable statistics on the number of political prisoners.

CIVIL JUDICIAL PROCEDURES AND REMEDIES

The Constitutional Declaration provides for the right of citizens to have recourse to the judiciary. The judicial system did not have the capacity to provide citizens with access to civil remedies for human rights violations. The Law of Transitional Justice provided for fact-finding, accountability, and reparations for victims, but the judicial system has not implemented it in practice. Courts did process civil, administrative, family, commercial, and land and property law matters. Lack of security, intimidation of armed groups, and intimidation from outside sources challenged the ability of authorities to enforce judgements.

Impunity for the state and for armed groups also exists in law. Even if a court acquits a person detained by an armed group, that person has no right to initiate a criminal or civil complaint against the state or the armed group unless “fabricated or mendacious” allegations caused the detention.

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

The Constitutional Declaration considers correspondence, telephone conversations, and other forms of communication inviolable unless authorized by a court order. Reports in the news and on social media indicated armed groups, terrorist groups, and GNA-affiliated actors violated these prohibitions by entering homes without judicial authorization, monitoring communications and private movements, and using informants.

Invasion of privacy left citizens vulnerable to targeted attacks based on political affiliation, ideology, and identity. Extrajudicial punishment extended to targets’ family members and tribes. Armed groups arbitrarily entered, seized, or destroyed private property with impunity.

Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:

a. Freedom of Speech and Press

The Constitutional Declaration provides for freedom of opinion, expression, and press, but various armed groups, including those aligned with the GNA, exerted significant control over media content, and censorship was pervasive. Unidentified assailants targeted journalists and reporters for political views.

Freedom of Expression: Freedom of speech was limited in law and practice. The law criminalizes acts that “harm the February 17 revolution of 2011.” The HoR, since its election in 2014, and the GNA, since taking its seat in Tripoli in 2016, did little to change restrictions on freedom of speech. Observers noted civil society practiced self-censorship because Salafist-leaning armed groups, among others, threatened and killed activists. Widespread conflict in major urban areas deepened the climate of fear and provided cover for armed groups to target vocal opponents with impunity.

International and local human rights organizations claimed that human rights defenders and activists faced continuing threats–including physical attacks, detention, threats, harassment, and disappearances–by armed groups, both those aligned with and opposed to the GNA.

Observers reported that individuals censored themselves in everyday speech, particularly in locations such as Tripoli.

Press and Media Freedom: Press freedoms, in all forms of media, were limited. Additional restrictions on press freedom were promulgated during the year. Beginning in January the GNA’s Foreign Media Department (FMD) of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs directed its staff to monitor and track the movements of foreign journalists and severely restricted approvals of journalist visas. On April 2, the GNA issued a decree imposing additional licensing restrictions on foreign press organizations. Authorities associated with the FMD revoked valid foreign press credentials and required foreign media organizations to apply for authorization from the Libyan Embassy in the country where the organization was headquartered. The FMD also required foreign media organizations to provide the names of the agency’s foreign and local staff. Journalists said the regulations were designed to increase the costs of operating in the country, as well as to provide a legal justification for shutting organizations that did not meet the requirements.

Violence and Harassment: The international NGO Reporters Without Borders reported that all sides used threats and violence to intimidate journalists to prevent publication of information. Harassment, threats, abductions, violence, and killings made it nearly impossible for media to operate in any meaningful capacity in areas of conflict.

Impunity for attacks on media exacerbated the problem, with no monitoring organizations, security forces, or a functioning judicial system to constrain or record these attacks. In some exceptional cases, however, GNA authorities such as the Attorney General’s Office were able to intervene to see journalists released.

On March 20, armed men from the GNA-aligned TRB abducted and arbitrarily detained Juma al-Asi, director of the Al-Asima Television Channel, from his home in the Andalusia neighborhood of Tripoli. The TRB gave no reason for his arrest, nor the legal basis for his detention. On March 27, the Attorney General’s Office intervened and referred al-Asi’s case to the Public Prosecutor’s Office. In the absence of any legal case against him, he was released. None of the TRB members involved in his kidnapping was charged in connection with his illegal detention.

On July 30, forces in Abu Sitta Abusetta Naval Base, which falls under the control of the GNA-aligned al-Nawasi Brigade, detained four journalists during a rescue operation for migrants in Tripoli. The Reuters and Agence-France Presse journalists were released after 10 hours of interrogations.

In March 2017 Annabaa TV stopped broadcasting after its Tripoli headquarters were set on fire by an unidentified Tripoli-based militia. This crime remained unsolved as of year’s end.

Censorship or Content Restrictions: Journalists practiced self-censorship due to the lack of security and intimidation. The unstable security situation created hostility towards civilians and journalists associated with opposing armed groups or political factions.

According to social media reports, the LNA confiscated books it claimed promoted Shi’ism, secularism, or moral perversion.

Libel/Slander Laws: The penal code criminalized a variety of political speech, including speech considered to “insult constitutional and popular authorities” and “publicly insulting the Libyan Arab people.” It, and other laws, also provides criminal penalties for conviction of defamation and insults to religion. Most reports attributed infringement of free speech to intimidation, harassment, and violence.

National Security: The penal code criminalized speech considered to “tarnish the [country’s] reputation or undermine confidence in it abroad,” but the GNA did not enforce this provision of the code during the year.

Nongovernmental Impact: Armed groups, terrorist groups, and individual civilians regularly harassed, intimidated, or assaulted journalists. While media coverage focused on the actions of Salafist or Islamist-affiliated armed groups, other armed groups also limited freedom of expression.

On July 31, the body of Musa Abdulkareem, a journalist and photographer working for Fasanea, a Sabha-based newspaper, was found in the al-Thanawia neighborhood of Sabha. Abdulkareem’s body showed signs of torture, including burns, and 13 gunshot wounds. His murder remained unsolved.

INTERNET FREEDOM

The GNA generally did not restrict or disrupt access to the internet or widely censor online content. Selective filtering or blocking of access did exist, despite the fact that no reliable public information identified those responsible for censorship. There were no credible reports that the GNA restricted or disrupted internet access or monitored private online communications without appropriate legal authority during the year.

Facebook pages were regularly hacked by unknown actors or closed due to mass reporting and complaints.

Social media, such as YouTube, Facebook, and Twitter, played a critical role in official and unofficial government and nongovernmental communications. Facebook remained the main platform government officials, ministries, and armed groups used to transmit information to the public. In September unknown entities blocked access to Facebook for several days in Tripoli during clashes between rival armed groups in the capital, hampering the ability of government officials to transmit information. A large number of bloggers, online journalists, and citizens reported practicing self-censorship due to instability, intimidation by armed groups, and the uncertain political situation.

Internet penetration outside urban centers remained low and frequent electrical outages resulted in limited internet availability in the capital and elsewhere.

According to the International Telecommunication Union, 21.8 percent of the population used the internet in 2017.

ACADEMIC FREEDOM AND CULTURAL EVENTS

There were no reported government restrictions on academic freedom or cultural events. Security conditions in the country, however, restricted the ability to practice academic freedom and made cultural events rare; of the 20 universities active in 2011, only 12 were still operational in during the year.

In 2017 Al-Fanar Media reported the case of a professor, Ahmed bin Suwaid of Tripoli University Medical School, who resigned his position and left the country after students affiliated with armed groups beat him; they attacked bin Suwaid after he refused to provide the students questions for a qualifying examination in advance of the test.

b. Freedom of Peaceful Assembly and Association

FREEDOM OF PEACEFUL ASSEMBLY

The Constitutional Declaration provides for a general right to peaceful assembly, and the GNA generally respected this right. The law on guidelines for peaceful demonstrations, however, fails to include relevant assurances and severely restricts the exercise of the right of assembly. The law mandates protesters must inform the government of any planned protest at least 48 hours in advance and provides that the government may notify the organizers that a protest is banned as little as 12 hours before the event.

Throughout the year the Libyan Movement for the Voice of the People, led by Mohammed al-Boa, held several protests in Tripoli opposing the role militia groups played in the capital (see section 1.g.). Police authorities generally cooperated with the group’s requests, coordinating with the group to issue permits and provide security at protest sites.

FREEDOM OF ASSOCIATION

The Constitutional Declaration includes freedom of association for political and civil society groups. The government lacked capacity, however, to protect freedom of association, and targeted attacks on journalists, activists, and religious figures severely undermined freedom of association. Civil society organizations also complained about a lack of a legal framework for organizing and implementing their activities. The FMD (see FMDs section 2.a.) and the Ministry of Culture Civil Society Commission took steps to regulate the activity of civil society organizations. Other organizations, including the NCHRL and the AOHRL, were able to register and to interact freely with GNA officials.

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

The Constitutional Declaration recognizes freedom of movement, including foreign travel, emigration, and repatriation, although the government has the ability to restrict freedom of movement. The law provides the government with the power to restrict a person’s movement if it views that person as a “threat to public security or stability,” based on the person’s “previous actions or affiliation with an official or unofficial apparatus or tool of the former regime.”

Abuse of Migrants, Refugees, and Stateless Persons: According to UNHCR migrants were subjected to unlawful killings, arbitrary detention, including in nongovernmental detention centers (see section 1.d.), torture, sexual exploitation, and other abuses. Conditions in detention included severe overcrowding, insufficient access to toilets and washing facilities, malnourishment, and lack of potable water.

Women migrants faced especially difficult conditions, and international organizations received consistent reports of rape and other sexual violence.

Instability in the country and lack of government oversight made human trafficking profitable. Armed groups, criminal gangs, and terrorist organizations were involved in human smuggling activities.

Numerous media reports during the year suggested that traffickers had caused the death of migrants. In July Al-Jazeera reported that eight migrants, including six children, were found dead after suffocating from gas exhaust while packed into a truck container on the western coast near Zuwara. Another 90 migrants were injured and taken to a hospital for treatment.

Migrants were also exploited for forced labor and suffered extortion at the hands of smugglers, traffickers, and the personnel of GNA institutions and GNA-aligned armed groups running GNA facilities. International organizations reported many cases of migrants’ disappearance due in part to the practice of selling migrants to human traffickers.

In November 2017 the government set up an ad hoc investigative committee, under the auspices of the Anti-Illegal Immigration Authority, to investigate reports of migrants sold into slavery; however, as of year’s end, the committee had made no indictments.

In June the UN Security Council and a western government imposed international and domestic sanctions against six persons, four Libyans and two Eritreans; Fitiwi Abdelrazak, Ahmad Oumar al-Dabbashi, Ermias Ghermay, Mohammed Kachlaf, Abd al-Rahman al-Milad, and Mus’ab Abu Qarin, for involvement in the trafficking and smuggling of migrants in Libya. The GNA was supportive of the sanctions and took independent action in response to the levying of these sanctions during the year, including public statements of condemnation against the trafficking and smuggling of migrants and in support of human rights.

In January the GNA launched an investigation into trafficking in persons and the abuse of migrants and refugees and vowed to bring the perpetrators to justice. During the year the GNA authorized UNHCR, the IOM, and other international agencies to open offices in the country, assist refugees and migrants, repatriate those who wished to return to their home countries, and access detention centers in areas controlled by the GNA. These international organizations encouraged the GNA to adopt a system for registering the arrivals of migrants in Libya; of the hundreds of thousands of illegal migrants in Libya, only a few thousand have been registered.

There were approximately 20 official detention centers operational during the year. At year’s end 6-8,000 refugees and migrants were housed in centers under the auspices of the GNA Ministry of Interior’s Department for Combatting Irregular Migration.

According to IOM the number of migrants who arrived in Europe via Libya during the first half of the year decreased significantly from the equivalent period in 2017, from approximately 85,000 to 16,700 individuals. Over 1,000 migrants died attempting to make the crossing via the central Mediterranean route during this period. Conditions on vessels departing for Europe were poor, and human smugglers abandoned many migrants in international waters with insufficient food and water. Boats were heavily over-loaded, and there was a high risk of sinking. The number of migrants rescued or intercepted by the Libyan Coast Guard, while still in the country’s territorial waters, greatly increased during the year. There were reports of physical abuse of refugees by the Coast Guard, including beatings with whips and chains.

In-country Movement: The GNA did not exercise control over internal movement in western Libya, although GNA-aligned armed groups set up some checkpoints. The LNA established checkpoints around Benghazi and Derna and in the south to intercept members of extremist organizations. These checkpoints were occasional targets of attacks by terrorist organizations. There were reports that armed groups controlling airports within the country conducted checks on citizens wanting to travel to other areas within the country or abroad since Libya lacked a unified customs and immigration system.

Armed groups controlled movement within their territories through checkpoints. These checkpoints and those imposed by ISIS, AQIM, and other terrorist organizations impeded internal movement and, in some areas, prohibited women from moving freely without a male escort.

There were multiple reports of women who could not depart from the country’s western airports controlled by GNA-aligned militias because they did not have “male guardians,” which is not a legal requirement in the country.

Citizenship: The Qadhafi regime revoked the citizenship of some inhabitants of the Saharan interior of the country, including many Tebu and some Tuareg minorities, after the regime returned the Aouzou strip to Chad. As a result many nomadic and settled stateless persons lived in the country. Additionally, due to a lack of state control of the southern borders, a large number of irregular migrants of Tebu background entered the country, some of whom reportedly applied for and obtained documents attesting to nationality, including national identification numbers.

The Nationality Law states that citizens may lose citizenship if they obtain a foreign citizenship without receiving permission beforehand from authorities. Authorities have not established processes for obtaining permission, however. Authorities may revoke citizenship if obtained based on false information, forged documents, and withheld relevant information concerning one’s nationality. The state lacked the capacity, however, to investigate the authenticity of citizenship applications.

If a father’s citizenship is revoked, the citizenship of his children is also revoked. The law does not specify if only minor children are susceptible to losing their nationality in this way or if loss of nationality would apply to adult children as well.

INTERNALLY DISPLACED PERSONS (IDPS)

Limited access for local and international assistance organizations into areas affected by fighting between rival armed groups and to official and unofficial detention centers within the country hampered efforts to account for and assist the displaced.

In September IOM and UNHCR estimated there were 192,000 IDPs in the country. Most of the citizens displaced were from Sirte or Benghazi; however, due to tribal violence in the south, displacement in Sabha and neighboring southern towns increased during the year. More than 30,000 members of the Tawerghan community remained displaced, the largest single IDP population; however, in August the GNA provided support that allowed several hundred Tawerghan families to return to their hometown. These efforts followed a reconciliation agreement between representatives of Tawergha and the city of Misrata that aimed to end ongoing violence between the two communities dating to 2011; however, delays in implementation of the agreement, which provided for safe return for all Tawerghan IDPs to the town of Tawergha, have prevented some members of the community from returning.

IOM identified more than 19,000 persons who were internally displaced during clashes in Tripoli in late August and early September.

IDPs were vulnerable to abuses. The government struggled to facilitate the safe, voluntary return of IDPs to their place of origin. Due to the lack of adequate laws, policies, or government programs, international organizations and NGOs assisted IDPs to the extent possible in the form of cash payments and provision of health services to IDPs, including to those with disabilities.

PROTECTION OF REFUGEES

Access to Asylum: The country is not party to the 1951 Refugee Convention or its 1967 protocol, although the Constitutional Declaration recognizes the right of asylum and forbids forcible repatriation of asylum seekers. The GNA did not establish a system for protecting refugees or asylum seekers. Absent an asylum system, authorities could detain and deport asylum seekers without their having the opportunity to request asylum. UNHCR, IOM, and other international agencies operated within the country and were allowed to assist refugees and immigrants and repatriate those who wish to return to their countries. UNHCR monitored and publicly reported on the situation of refugees and migrants in the country, including those detained in GNA detention centers. On December 4, UNHCR, in coordination with Libyan authorities, evacuated 133 refugees from Libya to Niger. The GNA allowed only seven nationalities to register as refugees with UNHCR: Syrians, Palestinians, Iraqis, Somalis, Sudanese (Darfuris), Ethiopians (Oromo), Eritreans, Yemenis, and South Sudanese. The GNA did not legally recognize asylum seekers without documentation as a class distinct from migrants without residency permits. The GNA cooperated with the refugee task force formed by the African Union, EU, and the United Nations.

In July 2017 Libyan authorities proposed that UNHCR rehabilitate an abandoned facility in the Tarek Al Sika area in Tripoli to accommodate persons of concern temporarily. UNHCR completed rehabilitation on July 19, and the center has a capacity of 1,000 persons. Although UNHCR planned to begin receiving refugees at this Gathering and Departure Facility in August, armed clashes in Tripoli postponed its opening until December.

Safe Country of Origin/Transit: IOM estimated that the overall number of migrants in Libya grew 70 percent from an estimated 400,000 in August 2017 to approximately 680,000 by September. The majority of migrants came from Niger, Egypt, Chad, Ghana, and Sudan. UNHCR has registered approximately 55,600 refugees and asylum seekers in the country since 2011.

During the year UNHCR, ICRC, and IOM provided basic services directly and through local implementing partners to refugees and asylum seekers. Despite security challenges humanitarian organizations enjoyed relatively good access, with the exception of the coastal city of Derna and the Fezzan region in the south.

Sub-Saharan Africans reportedly entered the country illegally through unguarded southern borders. Treatment of detained migrants depended upon their country of origin and the offense for which authorities held them. Migrants and refugees faced abduction, extortion, violent crime, and other abuses, exacerbated by entrenched racism and xenophobia. GNA-aligned and nonstate armed groups held refugees and asylum seekers in detention centers alongside criminals or in separate detention centers under conditions that did not meet international standards.

Access to Basic Services: Refugees registered with UNHCR may access basic protection and assistance from UNHCR and its partners; however, during the year the GNA did not provide refugees universal access to healthcare, education, or other services given the limitations of its health and education infrastructure.

STATELESS PERSONS

By law children derive citizenship only from a citizen father. Children born to a citizen father and a noncitizen mother are automatically considered citizens even if they were born abroad. Citizen mothers alone were unable to transmit citizenship to their children, but there are naturalization provisions for noncitizens. The law permits female nationals to confer nationality to their children in certain circumstances, such as when fathers are unknown, stateless, of unknown nationality, or do not establish paternity. In instances where the father is a noncitizen, the children produced from that union are effectively stateless and banned from travel abroad and certain educational opportunities. Without citizenship stateless persons are unable to obtain legal employment.

Due to the lack of international monitoring and governmental capacity, there was no credible data on the number of stateless persons.

Mali

Executive Summary

Mali is a constitutional democracy. President Ibrahim Boubacar Keita won reelection to a second five-year term on August 12 in national elections deemed to have met minimum acceptable standards by international observers despite some irregularities and limited violence. Parliamentary elections originally scheduled for October were delayed until at least June 2019 ostensibly to allow time to enact electoral reforms.

Civilian authorities did not always maintain effective control over the security forces.

Unlike in previous years the government, the Platform of Northern Militias (Platform), and the Coordination of Movements of Azawad (CMA) respected the ceasefire agreed to in the 2015 Algiers Accord for Peace and Reconciliation. Two terrorist organizations: al-Qaida coalition Jama’at Nasr al-Islam wa Muslimin (Support to Islam and Muslims, JNIM), and the Islamic State in the Greater Sahara (ISGS) are not parties to the peace process. JNIM carried out attacks on security forces, armed groups, UN peacekeepers, international forces, humanitarian actors, and civilian targets throughout northern and central Mali. ISGS carried out attacks on civilians, security forces, and CMA and Platform elements along and near Mali’s border with Niger and Burkina Faso.

Human rights issues included reports of unlawful or arbitrary killings by both government and nonstate actors; forced disappearance by government forces; torture by government forces; harsh and life-threatening prison conditions; arbitrary detention by government forces; unlawful recruitment and use of child soldiers by nongovernmental armed groups, some of which received support from the government; criminal libel; interference with the right of peaceful assembly; violence against women and children which was rarely investigated; and trafficking in persons. Authorities and employers often disregarded workers’ rights, and exploitative labor, including child labor, was common.

The government made little or no effort to investigate, prosecute, or punish officials who committed violations, whether in the security forces or elsewhere in the government, and impunity was a problem. The 2012 coup leader Amadou Sanogo, first arrested in 2013, remained under arrest awaiting trial. Sanogo’s trial began in Sikasso in 2016, but the presiding judge accepted a defense motion to delay the trial until 2017. At year’s end, the case was pending at the Court of Appeals, awaiting results of a DNA analysis. Impunity for serious crimes committed in the North and Center of the country continued. A magistrate strike, which began on July 25 and ended on November 5, severely slowed prosecutions and extended the length of pretrial detentions.

Despite the 2015 peace accord, elements within the Platform–including the Imghad Tuareg and Allies Self-defense Group (GATIA), the Arab Movement for Azawad-Platform (MAA-PF), and the Coordination of Patriotic Resistance Forces and Movements (CMFPR)–and elements in the CMA–including the National Movement for the Liberation of the Azawad (MNLA), the High Council for the Unity of Azawad (HCUA), and the Arab Movement of Azawad (MAA)–committed serious human rights abuses, including summary executions, torture, and the recruitment and use of child soldiers. Extremist groups, including affiliates of the Islamic State in the Greater Sahel and al-Qaeda conglomerate JNIM kidnapped and killed civilians and military force members, including peacekeepers. The government, in collaboration with French military forces, conducted counterterrorism operations in northern and central Mali leading to the detention of extremists and armed group elements accused of committing crimes. Reports of abuses rarely led to investigations or prosecutions.

Accusations against Chadian peacekeepers from the UN Multidimensional Integrated Stabilization Mission in Mali (MINUSMA), who were accused of numerous human rights abuses in the Kidal Region, including killings, abductions, and arbitrary arrests in 2016, remained unresolved.

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

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

There were several reports that the government or its agents committed arbitrary or unlawful killings (see section 1.g.).

Human Rights Watch (HRW) reported that on April 5, 14 Fulani men suspected of terrorism were killed by the Malian Armed Forces (FAMA). The FAMA issued a statement saying that 14 men had died while attempting to escape; however, witnesses believed that these men were executed by the FAMA. On May 19, a Malian battalion assigned to the G5 Sahel Joint Force summarily and arbitrarily executed 12 civilians at the Boulikessi livestock market in an act of retaliation, according to a MINUSMA investigation.

Signatory armed groups and violent extremist groups committed numerous arbitrary killings related to internal conflict. Clashes between ISGS and a government and French Barkhane-supported MSA-GATIA coalition killed numerous civilians in the Menaka and Kidal regions. On July 15, 12 civilians were killed during clashes in Injagalane in the Menaka Region. The MSA-GATIA coalition reportedly received equipment and logistical support from the government and French Barkhane forces during this period.

Terrorist elements, including JNIM affiliates, launched frequent attacks, killing civilians as well as national and international security force members. For example, on June 29, a suicide bomber attacked the G5 Joint Force headquarters in Sevare, killing two Malian soldiers and one civilian. In the attack 11 soldiers from Burkina Faso, Mauritania, and Niger were wounded. Four suspects were arrested. The suspects remained in custody awaiting trial at year’s end. JNIM claimed responsibility for the attack.

Attacks by bandits and Islamist extremist groups increasingly expanded from the traditional conflict zone in the North to the Mopti and Segou regions in the central part of the country. These attacks targeted government and international security force members.

There was limited progress in the prosecution of suspects, including coup leader Sanogo, in the 2012 disappearance, torture, and killing of 21 Red Berets, including former junta member Colonel Youssouf Traore. The case was initially brought to trial in 2016. Following a defense objection to the admissibility of DNA evidence, however, the trial remained suspended pending new DNA analysis.

b. Disappearance

There were several reports of disappearances. For example, the MINUSMA Human Rights and Protection Division reported the forced disappearance of one man in the village of Dia, Tenenkou Circle, by security forces on April 28.

On June 15, three common graves believed to contain the remains of at least 25 men executed after their detention by soldiers were discovered in Nantaka and Kombaga in the Mopti Region. The Ministry of Defense and Veterans Affairs released a statement recognizing the existence of the graves and the involvement of military personnel in the events. Foreign governments and several human rights organizations, including the National Commission for Human Rights (CNDH) and the Malian Association for Human Rights (AMDH), called for impartial and independent investigations. As of November investigations were ongoing.

Since February 2018 HRW has documented the alleged summary execution in the central region of at least 66 suspected members of Islamist armed groups, a dozen cases of enforced disappearances, and numerous cases of ill treatment and torture in which the detainees were last seen in the custody of security forces. The Ministry of Defense publicly announced plans to investigate these incidents and instructed the Mopti military prosecutor to investigate the Boulikessi, Nantaka, and Kombaga cases. As of November investigations were ongoing.

Human rights observers were unable to verify the whereabouts of dozens of prisoners purportedly detained in connection with the northern conflict due to possible unreported deaths in custody, alleged surreptitious releases, and suspected clandestine transfer of prisoners to the government’s intelligence service, the General Directorate of State Security (DGSE). Human rights organizations estimated the DGSE held 60 unacknowledged detainees.

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

The constitution and statutory law prohibit torture and other cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment or punishment, but there were reports that soldiers employed them against individuals with suspected links to extremist groups including Ansar al-Dine, al-Murabitoun, and the Macina Liberation Front (see section 1.g.). There were reports that Islamist groups perpetrated sexual violence.

According to HRW, on March 8 and 12, armed forces members tortured five men they suspected of supporting Islamist armed groups. The detainees were allegedly hogtied, beaten, lashed with belts, burned, and repeatedly threatened with death. Physical wounds were present on the detainees’ bodies.

Also according to HRW, on March 12, FAMA arrested two men ages 57 and 42, whom they accused of supporting armed Islamists. The captors allegedly threatened to kill the elders, severely beat them, and threatened to behead them.

Prison and Detention Center Conditions

Prison conditions were harsh and life threatening due to overcrowding and inadequate sanitary conditions and medical care. The government took steps to improve staff training. By year’s end a nine billion CFA ($16.5 million) construction project for a new prison in Kenioroba, 30 miles south of Bamako was ongoing. The prison was designed to hold 2,500 inmates and to meet international standards for detainees’ human rights.

Physical Conditions: As of July the Bamako Central Prison held 2,217 prisoners in a facility designed to hold 400. Detainees were separated by gender. Detention conditions were better in women’s prisons than in those for men. Authorities held pretrial detainees with convicted prisoners. Authorities detained 155 persons arrested on charges related to terrorism in the high-security division of Bamako Central Prison and in Koulikoro. The magistrate strike, which began July 25 and ended on November 5, made prison conditions worse by increasing the numbers of pretrial detainees and preventing the release of prisoners who completed their sentences. Gendarmerie and police detention centers were at maximum capacity at year’s end. Authorities may hold arrested individuals for up to 72 hours in police stations, where there was no separate holding area for men, women, or children.

As of July, 11 prisoners and detainees had died in custody. The CNDH, an independent entity within the Ministry of Justice, attributed the deaths to unhealthy prison conditions. Three died from heart attacks; the remainder died from malaria, HIV/AIDS, and dehydration. Inadequate security mechanisms and a general lack of resources limited the ability of authorities to maintain control of prisons.

Prison food, when provided, was insufficient in both quality and quantity, and medical facilities were inadequate. Lack of sanitation continued to pose the most significant threat to prisoners’ health. Buckets served as toilets. Not all prisons had access to potable water. Ventilation, lighting, and temperature were comparable with many poor urban homes.

Administration: There were no prison ombudsmen. Authorities, however, permitted prisoners and detainees to submit complaints, either directly or through the Office of the Ombudsman of the Republic, to judicial authorities without censorship to request investigation of credible allegations of inhuman conditions. Although prisoners made verbal complaints during prison inspections by the CNDH, prisoners filed no formal complaints due to illiteracy, lack of knowledge regarding complaint mechanisms, skepticism regarding the utility of making such complaints, and fear of retaliation. The CNDH, charged with visiting prisons and ensuring humane conditions, visited prisoners in Bamako Central Prison within one week of request. The CNDH did not regularly visit prisons outside of Bamako, and its last visit to a military detention center occurred in 2012. The government’s Directorate for National Penitentiary Administration investigated and monitored prison and detention center conditions. Detainees had reasonable access to visitors and could observe their religious practices.

Independent Monitoring: The government permitted visits by human rights monitors, and human rights organizations conducted visits during the year. The government required nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) and other monitors to submit a request to the prison director, who then forwarded it to the Ministry of Justice. The Malian Association for Human Rights visited prisons in Kati, Bamako, and other locations outside the North. Human rights observers with MINUSMA and the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) regularly visited the centers holding CMA and Platform members. ICRC officials also visited prisons in Bamako, Kayes, Sikasso, Koulikoro, Gao, and Timbuktu.

d. Arbitrary Arrest or Detention

The constitution and statutory law generally prohibit arbitrary arrest and detention. Nevertheless, government security forces, Platform, CMA forces, and terrorist armed groups detained and arrested numerous individuals in connection with the ongoing conflict in the North and the Center, particularly in the wake of clashes between CMA, GATIA, and ISGS in Menaka and terrorist attacks in the Timbuktu, Mopti, and Segou regions. Security forces also arbitrarily arrested those suspected of supporting Islamist armed groups, primarily in the center of the country (see section 1.g.).

The law allows detainees to challenge the legal basis or arbitrary nature of their detention in court. Individuals are generally released promptly if they win the challenge, but the law does not provide for compensation or recourse against the government.

ROLE OF THE POLICE AND SECURITY APPARATUS

Security forces include the National Police, the FAMA, the National Gendarmerie, National Guard, and the DGSE. FAMA, the National Gendarmerie, and the National Guard are administratively under the Ministry of Defense, although operational control of the National Guard and National Gendarmerie is shared with the Ministry of Internal Security and Civil Protection. Police officers have responsibility for law enforcement and maintaining order in urban areas, while gendarmes have that responsibility in rural areas. The army occasionally performed domestic security operations in northern areas where police and gendarmes were absent. The National Guard has specialized border security units, which were largely ineffective. The responsibilities of the Ministry of Internal Security and Civil Protection include maintaining order during exceptional circumstances, such as national disasters or riots. The DGSE has authority to investigate any case and temporarily detain persons at the discretion of its director general. It usually did so only in terrorism and national security cases.

The National Police lacked resources and training. Corruption was a problem, and traffic police officers frequently arrested and released drivers in exchange for bribes.

MINUSMA’s mandate includes ensuring security, protecting civilians, assisting the reestablishment of government authority, and the rebuilding of the security sector. The mission worked to expand its presence, including through longer-range patrols, in northern regions beyond key population centers, notably in areas where civilians were at risk. MINUSMA’s mandate also includes providing specific protection for women and children affected by armed conflict and addressing the needs of victims of sexual and gender-based violence in armed conflict. MINUSMA’s role extended to anticipating, preventing, mitigating, and resolving issues related to the northern conflict by monitoring violence, assisting in investigations, and reporting to the UN Security Council on abuses or violations of human rights or international humanitarian law committed in the country.

The French military counterterrorism operation Barkhane continued. The operation had a regional focus, undertaking counterterrorism activities in Mali, Chad, Burkina Faso, Mauritania, and Niger. Approximately 2,500 soldiers conducted counterterrorism operations in collaboration with FAMA in northern Mali.

Civilian authorities failed at times to maintain effective control over the security forces. Particularly in the Center, there were many reports of impunity involving security forces. Mechanisms to investigate and punish abuse and corruption by security forces generally were not effective.

A commission of inquiry established in 2014 by the Ministry of Defense investigated security force killings to determine whether they constituted violations of the military code of justice or of criminal law. The commission referred cases involving human rights abuse to the prosecutor general for criminal trial. By year’s end, however, the commission had completed no investigations into alleged human rights abuses committed by soldiers redeployed to the north.

ARREST PROCEDURES AND TREATMENT OF DETAINEES

The law requires judicial warrants for arrest. The law requires police officers to charge suspects or release them within 48 hours. While police usually secured warrants based on sufficient evidence, and a duly authorized official issued the warrant, this did not always occur. The law provides for the transfer of detainees from police stations to the prosecutor’s office within 72 hours of arrest, but authorities sometimes held detainees longer in police stations. Authorities may grant detainees, who have limited rights of bail, conditional liberty, particularly for minor crimes and civil matters. Authorities occasionally released defendants on their own recognizance.

Detainees have the right to a lawyer of their choice or a state-provided lawyer if indigent. Nevertheless, a shortage of lawyers–particularly outside Bamako and Mopti–often prevented access to legal representation.

Arbitrary Arrest: On April 5, security forces arrested 14 Fulani men in Dioura by before shooting and killing them. The government described the incident as an alleged escape attempt, but a number of civil society and human rights groups, most notably Tabital Pulaaku, called the incident a summary execution. The detainees were held because security forces suspected them of supporting Islamist armed groups.

Following the August presidential election, the DGSE arrested two campaign workers for opposition candidate Soumaila Cisse, Paul Ismael Boro and Moussa Kimbiri. Both remained detained for well over the constitutionally mandated 72-hour limit before appearing before a prosecutor. After protest from the Cisse campaign and human rights groups, both were transferred to Gendarmerie Camp 1 in Bamako, where they remained for several days before being released.

Human rights organizations reported widespread allegations of arbitrary arrest and detention. In many cases gendarmes detained suspects on DGSE orders and then transferred them for questioning to the DGSE, which generally held suspects for hours or days. The transfer process itself, however, sometimes took more than a week, during which time security services did not inform detainees of the charges against them. Authorities did not provide released detainees transport back to the location of their arrest, a trip that often required several days of travel. These detentions often occurred in the wake of attacks by bandits or terrorists and targeted members of the ethnic group suspected of carrying out the raids.

Pretrial Detention: The law provides for trial for charged detainees within three months for misdemeanors and within one year for felonies, but lengthy pretrial detention was a problem. Judicial inefficiency, the large number of detainees, corruption, and staff shortages contributed to the problem. Individuals sometimes remained in prison for several years before their cases came to trial. Approximately 80 percent of inmates awaited trial.

e. Denial of Fair Public Trial

The constitution and law provide for an independent judiciary, but the executive branch continued to exert influence over the judicial system. Corruption and limited resources affected the fairness of trials. Bribery and influence peddling were widespread in the courts, according to domestic human rights groups.

There were problems enforcing court orders. Sometimes judges were absent from their assigned areas for months at a time. Village chiefs and justices of the peace appointed by the government decided the majority of disputes in rural areas. Justices of the peace had investigative, prosecutorial, and judicial functions. These traditional systems did not provide the same rights as civil and criminal courts.

TRIAL PROCEDURES

The constitution provides for the right to a fair trial, and the judiciary generally enforced this right. Nevertheless, proceedings often were delayed, and some defendants waited years for their trials to begin. The law presumes defendants are innocent and have the right to prompt and detailed information on the charges against them, with free interpretation as necessary from the moment charged through all appeals. Except in the case of minors and sensitive family cases, trials generally were public.

Defendants have the right to communicate with an attorney of their choice (or to have one provided at public expense in felony cases and those involving minors). When a court declares a defendant indigent, it provides an attorney at public expense and the court waives all fees. Administrative backlogs and an insufficient number of lawyers, particularly in rural areas, often prevented prompt access. Defendants and their attorneys have the right to adequate time and facilities to prepare a defense, access government-held evidence, confront witnesses, and present one’s own witnesses and evidence. The government generally respected these rights. Defendants may not be compelled to testify against themselves or confess guilt and may appeal decisions to the Appellate Court and the Supreme Court. The law extends these rights to all citizens.

POLITICAL PRISONERS AND DETAINEES

There were reports of political prisoners or detainees.

According to the National Directorate for Penitentiary Administration, as of July authorities had detained 155 persons in connection with the conflict in the northern and central parts of the country. Some of those detained were believed to be political prisoners. The government typically detained conflict-related prisoners in higher-security facilities within prisons and provided them the same protection as other prisoners. International human rights and humanitarian organizations had access to most of these centers, but not to detainees held in facilities operated by the DGSE.

CIVIL JUDICIAL PROCEDURES AND REMEDIES

Individuals and organizations may seek civil remedies for human rights violations. They may appeal their cases to the Economic Community of West African States Court of Justice and the African Court on Human and Peoples’ Rights. In cases of traditional slavery, there were reports that civil court orders were sometimes difficult to enforce.

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

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

Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:

a. Freedom of Speech and Press

The constitution provides for freedom of speech and press, but the government occasionally restricted those rights.

Freedom of Expression: The government restricted freedom of expression and information, particularly during the presidential election period. A radio station that hosts an opposition talk show was abruptly closed. The government claimed security reasons for closing the station. Internet interruptions also occurred during the presidential election period.

Press and Media Freedom: Malian law imposes fines and prison sentences for defamation. It also criminalizes offenses such as undermining state security, demoralizing the armed forces, offending the head of state, sedition, and consorting with the enemy. On August 1, Bamako Governor Colonel Deberekoua Soara issued a decree that ordered radio station 98.1 Renouveau FM to cease all operations following a July 31 broadcast of controversial radio announcer Yousouf Mohamed Bathily’s (a.k.a. Ras Bath) Cartes Sur Table (Cards on the Table) radio program. According to the decree, Bath’s statements during the broadcast “incited revolt and hatred.” On August 10, the high authority regulating communications ordered the reopening of the radio but prohibited the show Cards on the Table.

Violence and Harassment: Renouveau TV and Radio directors Antoine Solange Dembele and Djibril Sacko stated that on the morning of August 2, two armed police officers arrived at Renouveau FM and posted a closure notification on the door. Shortly thereafter, Dembele recounted, a “truck of armed police, carrying tear gas” arrived to prevent anyone from entering the building.

Journalists had difficulty obtaining military information deemed sensitive by the government and often were unable to gain access to northern locations.

Financial considerations also skewed press coverage. Most media outlets had limited resources. Journalists’ salaries were extremely low, and many outlets could not pay the transportation costs for their journalists to attend media events. Journalists often asked event organizers to pay their transportation costs, and the terms “transportation money” and “per diem” became euphemisms for a pay-for-coverage system, with better-financed organizations often receiving better press coverage.

INTERNET FREEDOM

Digital rights NGO Internet without Borders condemned the blocking of access to social media and published on August 1 a detailed analysis conducted by the Open Observatory of Network Interference, which demonstrated that, beginning July 29, “access to certain platforms and websites,”–including Twitter and WhatsApp, were blocked by Orange Mali, the country’s primary mobile carrier. Embassy staff, foreign diplomats, the public, and media sources reported experiencing disrupted internet access and limited transmission on social media platforms such as Facebook, WhatsApp, and Twitter from July 29 to more than one week after the second round of the election on August 12. Internet access was restored following the presidential election.

There were no credible reports the government monitored private online communications without appropriate legal authority. There were numerous internet cafes in Bamako, but home internet access remained limited due to the expense. Outside Bamako, access to the internet was very limited. According to the International Telecommunication Union, 12.7 percent of residents used the internet in 2017.

ACADEMIC FREEDOM AND CULTURAL EVENTS

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

b. Freedom of Peaceful Assembly and Association

FREEDOM OF PEACEFUL ASSEMBLY

The constitution and law provide for freedom of assembly, but the government did not always respect this. Security forces used tear gas to break up a June 2 march led by leading opposition politicians and activists. The governor of Bamako used State of Emergency powers, in effect since 2015, to deny the organizers’ formal request to hold the march. March organizers held the march despite this denial. More than 30 protesters, including presidential candidates, were injured during the violence. A reported 16 protesters were admitted to Hospital Gabriel Toure, with unconfirmed reports of two critically injured, of whom one died from his wounds on June 3. The government claimed three security force members also suffered injuries. The government denied that live ammunition was used and defended the actions of the security forces. The political opposition condemned the violence and called for another march on June 8, which the government permitted without restrictions. The June 8 march occurred peacefully.

FREEDOM OF ASSOCIATION

The constitution provides for freedom of association, although the law prohibits associations deemed immoral. The government generally respected freedom of association except for members of the lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and intersex (LGBTI) community.

Mauritania

Executive Summary

Mauritania is a highly centralized Islamic Republic with a president as head of state and a constitution grounded in French civil law and sharia (Islamic law). The National Assembly exercises legislative functions but was weak relative to the executive. Voters elect deputies at the National Assembly, municipal mayors, and regional councilors. Voters reelected President Mohamed Ould Abdel Aziz to a second and constitutionally mandated-final five-year term in 2014. In August 2017 the government organized a referendum on constitutional amendments, which passed with 85 percent of the vote. One of the amendments led to the dissolution of the Senate and the transformation of the legislative system into a unicameral one. The number of seats at the new National Assembly increased from 147 to 157. In September the Union for the Republic (UPR), the president’s party, won 95 of 157 seats in the National Assembly in legislative elections.

Civilian authorities maintained effective control over the security forces.

Human rights issues included allegations of torture by law enforcement officers; arbitrary and politically motivated arrests; harsh and life-threatening prison conditions; restrictions on freedom of assembly, association, and religion; widespread corruption; rape and domestic violence against women with few victims seeking legal recourse; ethnic discrimination by government actors; criminalization of same-sex sexual conduct; continued existence of slavery and slavery-related practices with antislavery organizations subjected to restrictions on freedom of expression, association, and assembly; trafficking in persons; and minimal efforts to combat child labor.

The government took modest steps to punish officials who committed violations and prosecuted a number of violators, but officials frequently acted with impunity. Civil society organizations objected to the scant number of indictments handed down by the authorities.

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

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

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

b. Disappearance

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

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

The constitution prohibits torture. Additionally, in 2015 the government adopted a law against torture that requires the establishment of a mechanism for its prevention. This law considers torture, acts of torture, and inhuman or degrading punishments as crimes against humanity not subject to a statute of limitations. The law specifically covers activities in prisons, rehabilitation centers for minors in conflict with the law, places of custody, psychiatric institutions, detention centers, areas of transit, and border crossing points. Despite this statute, nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) reported security and law enforcement officials tortured NGO members. Methods of abuse reportedly included beatings and stripping of clothing. There were credible reports of torture, beatings, and abuse in police detention centers and several prisons throughout the country, and in gendarmerie and military facilities.

For example, on June 13, the family of Mohamed Ould Brahim Maatalla alleged he died of cardiac arrest after police tortured him. On June 14, Minister of Interior and Decentralization Ahmedou Ould Abdallah publicly denied the allegation.

In 2016 the government created the National Mechanism for Prevention of Torture (MNP) as an independent governmental body charged with investigating credible allegations of torture. The MNP had not launched any investigation since its inception.

The UN special rapporteur on torture visited the country in January-February 2017 and went to several prisons. The rapporteur encouraged the judiciary to redouble its efforts in implementing safeguards against torture. He expressed concern over the lack of investigations into allegations of torture and called on prosecutors to bring cases against those accused of torture.

The Committee against Torture of the UN Human Rights Council noted with concern in its August 6 report that, even though the government denied the existence of places of unofficial detention, the special rapporteur on torture was denied access to one of these places during his visit.

On June 15, a prisoner, Bouchama Ould Cheikh, committed suicide in his cell in Dar Naim prison to protest the bad conditions he experienced in the prison. The prison suffered from overcrowding and filth. The National Human Rights Commission and several international organizations described the conditions of prisoners as catastrophic.

According to the United Nations, two allegations of sexual exploitation and abuse against peacekeepers from Mauritania reported in 2017 were pending. Both cases involved military personnel deployed in the United Nations Multidimensional Integrated Stabilization Mission in the Central African Republic. One case alleged sexual abuse (sexual assault) involving a child. The other case alleged sexual exploitation (exploitative relationship). The United Nations repatriated the peacekeepers in question. Investigations by Mauritania were pending. One additional allegation reported in 2017 was substantiated with both the United Nations and Mauritania taking action against the perpetrators.

Prison and Detention Center Conditions

Prison conditions were harsh and life threatening due to overcrowding, food shortages, violence, inadequate sanitary conditions, and lack of medical care.

Physical Conditions: Prisons remained overcrowded. As of October the main civil prison in Nouakchott had a capacity of 350 inmates but held 943, of whom 460 were convicted prisoners and 483 pretrial detainees. Authorities frequently held pretrial detainees with convicted and often dangerous prisoners. Male guards frequently monitored female inmates in the women’s prison of Nouakchott, a practice criticized by the National Commission on Human Rights (CNDH). Conditions of detention for women were generally better than for men. According to prison officials, the women’s prison in Nouakchott was less crowded.

Prison authorities kept a mixed population of prisoners in prison facilities throughout the country regardless of their sentences. Drugs were often trafficked among prisoners, which the government acknowledged was caused by lax security for visitors. Prisoners often rebelled and disobeyed authorities in protest against violence and inhuman treatment meted out by jailers. Poor security conditions and dangerous inmates sharing cells with less dangerous ones obliged prisoners to live in a climate of violence, and some had to pay bribes to other prisoners to avoid brutalization and harassment. Human rights groups continued to report prisons lacked adequate sanitation and medical facilities.

Local NGOs reported that in Dar Naim (largest prison in the country), inmates controlled one wing of the prison while staff secured the other half. Narcotics, weapons, and cash circulated freely because staff could not effectively screen what came into the prison and could not safely enter some areas.

The Mauritanian Human Rights Watch (MHRW) continued to denounce the poor conditions in prisons. There were two separate prisons for women, one in the capital, Nouakchott, and the other in the second largest city, Nouadhibou. Most supervisors were men; there was a severe shortage of female supervisors. Male guards provided security at women’s prisons because the all-male National Guard was assigned this task nationwide. There were some women supervisors in prisons, but they were not from the National Guard. An Italian NGO operated a detention center for minors, the only facility that came close to meeting international standards. These prisons were in addition to detention centers located in police stations throughout the country.

On September 3, the Directorate of Penal Affairs and Prison Administration reported that 77 children between the ages of 15 and 17 were in the Nouakchott Central Prison and seven in the prison in Nouadhibou. On October 3, a separate youth detention center opened, and it held 69 minors.

Authorities reported that 10 persons died in custody during the year. One death by suicide occurred inside the prison. All other cases involved chronic diseases such as tuberculosis and AIDS. No families asked for an autopsy of their family members.

In December 2017 Salafist prisoners complained of mistreatment at the Central Civil Prison of Nouakchott, indicating the government prevented their families from visiting them. They also complained of malnutrition because of inadequate food. According to the MHRW, medical facilities and staff were similarly inadequate, particularly in the Dar Naim men’s prison and at the Central Prison. The government allocated a budget of 50 ouguiyas ($1.40) a day for each prisoner for food and medical supplies. Generalized corruption in the prison system, smuggling of medicines, and lack of skilled medical staff accounted for most deficiencies. Ventilation, lighting, and potable water in many cells and holding areas ranged from inadequate to nonexistent.

Administration: Authorities permitted prisoners to file allegations of abuse with the CNDH and MNP. Regulations also allowed inmates to choose one of their own to represent them in dealings with the administration, and prisoners occasionally made use of this opportunity. The government acknowledged allegations regarding inhuman conditions but rarely took corrective action.

Independent Monitoring: The government permitted prison and detention center visits by NGOs, diplomats, and international human rights observers. The International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) had unlimited access to prisons and conducted multiple visits, including visits to terrorism suspects. The partners to the Directorate of the Penal Affairs and Prison Administration, in particular the ICRC, Noura Foundation, and Caritas-Mauritania, contributed to the improvement of conditions in the detention centers under a partnership agreement with the administration. The ICRC helped to improve infrastructure, hygiene, and health conditions in detention centers and rehabilitated the sanitation network of the prison of Dar-Naim. It also implemented a program to combat malnutrition in prisons in Aleg and Dar-Naim by rehabilitating the kitchen facilities and periodically providing medicines and other hygiene products.

d. Arbitrary Arrest or Detention

The constitution and law prohibit arbitrary arrest and detention, but authorities did not observe these prohibitions. A detainee has the ability to challenge the lawfulness of his or her detention before a court under two circumstances. If a person remains arrested after the end of his or her legal period of detention, the detainee has the right to complain before a court against the administration of the prison or the penitential authority that arrested the detainee. Second, if the detainee disagrees with his or her sentence, he or she has the right to file an appeal before a court of appeal or the Supreme Court.

In some cases authorities arbitrarily arrested and detained protesters, human rights activists, and journalists (see section 2.a.).

ROLE OF THE POLICE AND SECURITY APPARATUS

Under the Ministry of Interior and Decentralization, the National Police is responsible for enforcing the law and maintaining order in urban areas. The National Guard, under the same ministry, performs limited police functions in keeping with its peacetime role as the guarantor of physical security at government facilities, including prisons. For instance, regional authorities may call upon it to restore civil order during riots and other large-scale disturbances. The gendarmerie, a specialized paramilitary organization under the Ministry of Defense, is responsible for maintaining civil order around metropolitan areas and providing law enforcement services in rural areas. The Ministry of Interior and Decentralization’s newest police force, the General Group for Road Safety, maintains security on roads and operates checkpoints throughout the country.

Police and gendarmes were poorly paid, trained, and equipped. Corruption and impunity were serious problems. Police and gendarmes reportedly regularly sought bribes at nightly roadblocks in Nouakchott and at checkpoints between cities. There were numerous reports police at such roadblocks arbitrarily detained individuals, often without probable cause, for several hours or overnight.

ARREST PROCEDURES AND TREATMENT OF DETAINEES

The law requires duly authorized arrest warrants, although their issuance was uncommon. Authorities generally did not inform detainees of the accusations against them until the conclusion of an investigation. The law requires that in most cases courts review the legality of a person’s detention within 48 hours of arrest, but police may extend the period for an additional 48 hours. On July 28, al-Akhbar, a news website, reported that the Committee against Torture in Geneva recommended the duration of police custody not exceed 48 hours. According to the committee, the nonworking days were not counted in the duration of police custody, thus often extending the period of detention. Under the law against terrorism, the duration of custody could reach 45 working days without possibility of challenge or appeal. The report noted that the records of detention in police stations were poorly maintained. Only after the prosecutor submits charges does a suspect have the right to contact an attorney. By law indigent defendants are entitled to an attorney at state expense, but frequently either legal representation was unavailable or attorneys did not speak a defendant’s language. There was a bail system, but judges sometimes refused such requests arbitrarily or set inordinately high bail.

Arbitrary Arrest: There were cases of arbitrary arrest and detention of journalists. Police arrested a number of human right activists and journalists without charge or hearings.

In November 2017 the Nouadhibou Court of Appeals ordered the release of Mohamed Cheikh Ould Mohamed Ould Mkheytir (MKheytir), a blogger who was sentenced to death in 2014 for apostasy after he allegedly posted statements on social media critical of the Prophet Mohammed. In March 2017 the Supreme Court ruled the court of appeals had improperly sentenced MKheytir to death for apostasy, since he had properly recanted his statements. Despite the appeals court’s release order, MKheytir remained in an unknown location, with the government citing concerns for his safety and public order if released.

In August the news website Tawary reported that authorities arrested and subsequently released two journalists, Babacar Baye N’Diaye from the news website Cridem and Mahmoudi Ould Saibott from the news website Taqadoum, following a defamation complaint by a Mauritanian lawyer based in Paris, Jamal Ould Mohamed, who was considered to be close to the government.

Pretrial Detention: Lengthy pretrial detention was a problem, although no statistics on the average length of detention were available. Security force members sometimes arrested demonstrators and held them longer than regulations allow, often due to lack of capacity to process cases in a timely manner, or to obtain confessions. By law authorities may hold a minor for no more than six months while the detainee awaits trial. Nevertheless, there were reports many individuals, including minors, remained in pretrial detention for excessively long periods due to judicial inefficiency.

e. Denial of Fair Public Trial

The constitution and law provide for an independent judiciary, but the judiciary was not autonomous. The executive branch continued to exercise significant influence over the judiciary through its ability to appoint and remove judges. Observers often perceived many judges to be corrupt and unskilled.

TRIAL PROCEDURES

The law provides for due process, and defendants enjoy a presumption of innocence. The law requires that authorities inform defendants of the charges against them, but the government did not normally respect this provision. Defendants did not often learn of the charges until the investigation was complete. Authorities generally provided defendants with free interpretation as required; however, the quality of these services was generally poor. Defendants have the right to a fair and public trial. They also have the right to be present during trial. All defendants, including the indigent, have the right to legal counsel, but authorities rarely respected this right. Likewise, defendants may confront or question witnesses and present witnesses and evidence in both civil and criminal cases. Defendants generally had adequate time and facilities to prepare their defense. Defendants enjoy the right not to be compelled to testify or confess guilt and have the right of appeal. These rights extend to minorities and men but do not extend equally to women. Court proceedings are by law conducted in Arabic, and interpreters are not always available for those defendants who do not understand that language. Some bilingual judges speak with defendants in French.

Sharia is, in part, the basis for law and court procedures. Courts did not treat women equally with men in some cases.

A special court hears cases involving persons younger than age 18. Children who appeared before the court received more lenient sentences than adults and extenuating circumstances received greater consideration. The minimum age for a child to stand trial is 12 years. Several NGOs expressed concern regarding the holding of youthful offenders in the general population, including with more dangerous inmates, at Nouakchott Central Prison; however, these concerns were addressed when the new youth detention center opened in October.

POLITICAL PRISONERS AND DETAINEES

On August 15, al-Akhbar, a news website, reported that Amnesty International called on the authorities to stop pre-election arrests of journalists and opposition figures, including antislavery activists. The president of the Initiative for the Resurgence of the Abolitionist Movement (IRA), Biram Dah Abeid, was arrested at his home on August 7. Biram was in the middle of his ultimately successful campaign for parliament. Abdallahi El Housein Messaoud, another member of the IRA, was questioned two days later. Biram Dah Abeid and Abdellahi El Houssein Messoud were arrested in connection with a complaint filed by a journalist accusing Biram of threatening him. Opposition political parties and several international and domestic organizations denounced Biram’s continued detention as politically motivated.

CIVIL JUDICIAL PROCEDURES AND REMEDIES

Complaints of human rights violations fall within the jurisdiction of the Administrative Court. Individuals or organizations may appeal decisions to international regional courts. NGO representatives stated they collaborated with the Administrative Court but added it was not impartial. There are administrative remedies through the social chamber of a court of appeals and the Supreme Court. Persons may sue at the Administrative Court and appeal to the court of appeals and then to the Supreme Court.

PROPERTY RESTITUTION

Real property ownership in the southern regions has been controversial since the government expelled tens of thousands of non-Arab sub-Saharans from communities based in the Senegal River Valley (Halpulaar, Soninke, and Wolof) from 1989 to 1991 amid tensions with neighboring Senegal. Many non-Arabs were dispossessed of their land, which regional officials subsequently sold or ceded to Beydane (“Arabo-Berbers” or “White Moors” (see section 6, National/Racial/Ethnic Minorities)). Although the government continued to make modest efforts to indemnify returning deportees, it did not fully restore their property rights. The government reimbursed some in cash and provided jobs for others.

For example, in November 2017 the defense minister reaffirmed the government’s commitment to provide compensation to victims of the 1989-91 events. To this end, it allocated more than 124.3 million ouguiyas ($3.5 million) to fund pensions of soldiers who were expelled from the army from 1981 to 2004.

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

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

Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:

a. Freedom of Speech and Press

The constitution provides for freedom of speech, including for the press, and the government generally respected this right; however, it sometimes arbitrarily and selectively applied regulations to suppress individuals or groups of individuals who opposed government policies. Individuals were generally free to criticize the government publicly or privately but were occasionally subject to retaliation. The constitution and law prohibit racial or ethnic propaganda. The government used these provisions against political opponents, accusing them of “racism” or “promoting national disunity” for speaking out against the extreme underrepresentation in government of Haratines and sub-Saharan Africans.

Freedom of Expression: There were no major restrictions on freedom of opinion and expression. Local NGOs and bloggers, among other observers, reported the government’s actions in recent years discredited its image and reputation. For example, it arrested journalists who were sympathizers to prominent government opposition figures.

On September 15, the news website al-Akhbar reported that police arrested several opposition bloggers and activists at the headquarters of the political party Tawassoul in the city of Zoueirate in the northern part of the country. Included in the arrests was a youth caravan coming from Nouakchott to support the opposition candidates.

Press and Media Freedom: Several independent daily publications generally expressed a wide variety of views with limited restrictions. Throughout the year incidents of government retaliation against media deemed too outspoken increased.

In June 2017 the National Assembly passed a bill imposing harsh penalties on journalists who publish “incendiary” articles. The law describes possible financial penalties for journalists publishing articles or statements that may, according to government, incite discrimination, hatred, violence, or insult based on origin, ethnicity, or nationality.

Independent media remained the principal source of information for most citizens, followed by government media. Government media focused primarily on official news but provided some coverage of opposition activities and views.

Violence and Harassment: On October 8, political parties from the hardline opposition, as well as many international and national organizations, denounced the government’s repression and harassment of the protests organized by the IRA.

Censorship or Content Restrictions: Some opposition leaders asserted they had no effective access to official media. The government made payment of back taxes, at times unpaid for years with official complicity, a matter of priority, threatening the solvency of several independent stations.

In October 2017 Tele Diffusion Mauritania (TDM) briefly shut down five private television channels. TDM explained that its decision to suspend the private television stations’ operations was intended to force these outlets to pay their overdue royalties and broadcasting dues. TDM claimed to have made several attempts at finding an amicable solution but said they were either rebuffed or ignored by the owners of the private television stations.

On August 3, TDM again notified private channels and radio stations to pay their debts. According to the local press, TDM gave one week for these media outlets to settle, otherwise, they would be closed again. The media outlets did not pay, but they were not suspended.

INTERNET FREEDOM

The government did not restrict or disrupt access to the internet or censor online content, and there were no credible reports that the government monitored private online communications without appropriate legal authority. According to the International Telecommunication Union, in 2017 approximately 21 percent of the population used the internet.

ACADEMIC FREEDOM AND CULTURAL EVENTS

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

b. Freedom of Peaceful Assembly and Association

FREEDOM OF PEACEFUL ASSEMBLY

The constitution provides for freedom of peaceful assembly. Registered political parties are not required to seek permission to hold meetings or demonstrations. The law requires NGO organizers to apply to the local administrative chief for permission to hold large meetings or assemblies. Authorities usually granted permission but on some occasions denied it in circumstances that suggested the application of political criteria.

On several occasions officials with the IRA and other organizations reported security force members arrested their activists for failing to obtain the local prefect’s permission before holding a rally.

On August 29, the news website Sahara Media reported that police dispersed an opposition rally in Nouakchott in advance of the September elections. Police objected to the rally on the grounds of a complaint filed by Al-Najah Company, which owned the old airport (site of the rally). According to opposition leaders, they had previously received approval from the government to hold the rally.

After parliament opened on October 8, the IRA organized several largely peaceful protests against the continued detention of their leader and newly elected parliamentarian Biram Dah Abeid. Police response to some protests was violent.

FREEDOM OF ASSOCIATION

The law provides for freedom of association, and the government generally, but not in every instance, respected this right.

All local NGOs must register with the Ministry of Interior and Decentralization. Generally, if the ministry fails to respond within 45 days to a request to establish an NGO, the NGO may proceed with its work, although it was not considered officially registered.

Since 2014 Amnesty International documented 43 cases in which NGOs working in the human rights domain had not received a response from the government on their registration requests, meaning the NGOs were not authorized to operate in the country.

The government encouraged locally registered NGOs to join the government-sponsored Civil Society Platform. Approximately 6,000 local NGOs did so.

Morocco

Executive Summary

Morocco is a constitutional monarchy with a parliamentary national legislative system under which ultimate authority rests with King Mohammed VI, who presides over the Council of Ministers. The king shares executive authority with Head of Government (prime minister) Saadeddine El Othmani. According to the constitution, the king appoints the head of government from the political party with the most seats in parliament and approves members of the government nominated by the head of government. International and domestic observers judged the 2016 parliamentary elections credible and relatively free from irregularities.

Civilian authorities maintained effective control over security forces.

Human rights issues included allegations of torture by some members of the security forces, although the government condemned the practice and made substantial efforts to investigate and address any reports; allegations that there were political prisoners; undue limits on freedom of expression, including criminalization of libel and certain content that criticized Islam, the monarchy, and the government’s position regarding territorial integrity; limits on freedom of assembly and association; corruption; and criminalization of lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, or intersex (LGBTI) conduct.

There were few examples of investigations or prosecutions of human rights abuses by officials, whether in the security services or elsewhere in the government, which contributed to the widespread perception of impunity.

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

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

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

b. Disappearance

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

According to the annual report from the UN Working Group on Enforced Disappearances, from May 2017 to May 2018, the UN Working Group referred 20 cases to the government of disappearances between 1956 and 1992. The National Council on Human Rights (CNDH), a publicly funded national human rights institution, continued to cooperate with the UN Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) on unresolved cases of disappearance dating to the 1950s through the 1990s. The CNDH continued to investigate individual claims, but since 2009 shifted its overall focus from individual claims to community reparation projects. According to the CNDH, the government allocated additional funds during the year to the CNDH for reparations to individuals (or their living beneficiaries) not previously compensated due to technical errors in the work of the now-defunct Truth and Reconciliation Commission. In addition to direct financial compensation, the government funded professional reinsertion and medical assistance programs as well as recovered stolen assets as reparations to individuals or their living family members that the commission identified. (For information on reparation claims in Western Sahara, see the Department of State’s annual Country Reports on Human Rights for Western Sahara.)

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

The constitution and the law prohibit such practices, and the government denied it authorizes the use of torture. In May, during a television program, Human Rights Minister Mustafa Ramid acknowledged that, while the government did not condone torture, some incidents of torture still occurred in the country without government approval. He denied, however, its use was systematic or as prevalent as in the past. The law defines torture and stipulates that all government officials or members of security forces who “make use of violence against others without legitimate motive, or incite others to do the same, during the course of their duties shall be punished in accordance with the seriousness of the violence.”

In the event of an accusation of torture, the law requires judges to refer a detainee to a forensic medical expert when the detainee or lawyer requests it or if judges notice suspicious physical marks on a detainee. In some cases judges have refused to order a medical assessment when a detainee made an allegation of abuse. The UN Working Group on Arbitrary Detention, human rights nongovernmental organizations (NGOs), and media documented cases of authorities’ failure to implement provisions of the antitorture law, including failure to conduct medical examinations when detainees alleged torture.

In February 2017 a court of first instance (trial court) in Kenitra ruled to hold in preventative detention a royal gendarme accused of raping a detainee with a baton in the same month. According to the government, the individual remained in preventative detention pending a ruling by the court of appeals in Kenitra.

The National Police Force (DGSN) reported that, between September and December 2017, three police officers were implicated in three cases involving torture allegations and nine were implicated in five cases involving inappropriate use of violence; the outcomes of these cases were unknown. The three cases noted by the DGSN were likely among those included in the Minister of Justice Mohammed Aujjar’s report to parliament in December 2017, which stated that, as of August 2017, 151 individuals reported experiencing torture and were examined by medical personnel and that two officials had since been prosecuted. The outcomes of the cases were unknown at year’s end.

According to the DGSN, from January through August, the police internal mechanism for investigation of possible torture or mistreatment addressed 19 cases, six of which were dismissed due to unfounded allegations. In the remaining 13 cases, 20 officers were reprimanded for their actions through administrative sanctions. Four additional cases were brought before the court alleging 10 police officers were involved in torture and mistreatment. According to the Ministry of Justice, as of November, in accordance with the law against torture, judges made requests for the medical examination of 99 detainees who alleged torture; 77 of the examinations were in progress at year’s end, while the results of the 22 completed examinations were unknown. It was unclear whether the cases reported by the DGSN were included in the Ministry of Justice’s statistics through November. Judicial investigations into the allegations of torture were ongoing at year’s end.

In February parliament unanimously voted to broaden the CNDH’s mandate to include a National Preventative Mechanism (NPM), in line with the requirements of the Optional Protocol to the Convention against Torture. Consultations were underway to staff the NPM at year’s end.

In March the DGSN issued instructions to police-affiliated provisional detention centers, such as local jails, reminding police detention officials that they must respect the law and human rights and refrain from any actions that denigrate or humiliate detainees or face sanctions. The DGSN also revised its curriculum to include additional human rights training.

In April a court of appeals upheld a court of first instance ruling against three prison officials implicated in three cases of torture of detainees after the CNDH referred the cases to the Ministry of Justice in October 2017. The court of appeals, however, altered the court of first instance sentences for each prison official from four months in prison to a four-month suspended sentence and a fine of 500 dirhams ($52). In April the Prison Administration (DGAPR) also distributed guidelines to all prison personnel on preventing torture in custody, as part of a three-month training. The CNDH also organized training in April for members of the Royal Gendarmerie and provided them information on the national and international mechanisms for the prevention of torture.

According to the CNDH, in October the Ministry of Justice launched independent investigations into 2016 and 2017 complaints made by Hirak movement detainees alleging torture or mistreatment by police or prison officials. The CNDH had previously referred 35 individual forensic reports to the ministry from 19 detainees held in the Ain Sebaa prison and 16 in the Al Hoceima prison. According to the Ministry of Justice, after a court in September 2017 ordered investigations into allegations that police from the National Brigade of Judicial Police had abused 32 individuals detained in Al Hoceima, a judge requested medical exams for 22 of the detainees alleging torture. The forensic medical examiner concluded that three of the 22 individuals had been exposed to physical violence. The Ministry of Justice, however, did not take further action on the cases involving the three individuals. According to the ministry, the lawyers representing the three detainees visited the individuals 64 times and did not report allegations of torture.

According to the government, there were two new allegations submitted during the year of sexual exploitation and abuse by Moroccan peacekeepers deployed to UN peacekeeping operations for events that occurred in previous years. Morocco and the UN jointly investigated two other allegations submitted in 2017 against Moroccan peacekeepers and determined the allegations to be unsubstantiated.

Prison and Detention Center Conditions

Prison conditions improved during the year but in some cases did not meet international standards.

Physical Conditions: The Moroccan Observatory of Prisons (OMP), an NGO focused on the rights of prisoners, continued to report that some prisons were overcrowded and failed to meet local and international standards. Since 2008 the DGAPR has built 31 new prisons to international standards. In the new prisons, pretrial detainees and convicted prisoners are held separately. As the DGAPR completed construction of each new prison, it closed older prisons and moved inmates to the new locations; during the year it closed two older prisons and opened four new ones. Older prisons remained overcrowded, however, resulting in authorities frequently holding pretrial detainees and convicted prisoners together. According to government sources and NGOs, prison overcrowding was due in large part to an underutilized system of bail or provisional release, a severe backlog in cases, and lack of judicial discretion to reduce the length of prison sentences for specific crimes. Government sources stated that administrative requirements also prevented prison authorities from transferring individuals in pretrial detention or the appeals phase to facilities outside the jurisdiction where their trials were to take place.

In March the DGSN issued instructions to police-affiliated provisional detention centers, such as local jails, calling for adequate furnishing of facilities with mattresses, provision of medical care by police doctors for injured or ill detainees, and an invitation for officers to visit the detention area regularly.

The law provides for the separation of minors. In all prisons, officials classify youth offenders into two categories, both of which are separated from other prisoners: minors under 18 and youthful offenders 18 to 20 years old. According to authorities minors are not held with prisoners older than 20 years. The DGAPR had four dedicated juvenile “centers for reform and education” but maintained separate, dedicated youth detention areas for minors in all prisons. The government reported that, in cases where a juvenile court judge ruled that detention was necessary, minors less than 14 years old were detained separately from minors 15 to 18 years old. In cases where a minor is ordered detained, a judge must follow up on a monthly basis.

A 2016 CNDH study noted less access to health facilities and vocational training opportunities for female prisoners, as well as discrimination by prison staff.

Local NGOs asserted that prison facilities did not provide adequate access to health care and did not accommodate the needs of prisoners with disabilities, although government sources stated that a nurse and a psychologist examined each prisoner on arrival and received care upon request. According to the DGAPR, prisoners received five general and one dental consultations with a medical professional per year, in addition to psychological or other specialist care, and that all care was provided free of charge.

The DGAPR provided food to inmates at no cost, certified by the Ministry of Health as meeting the nutritional needs of the average adult male. Prison commissaries stocked fresh fruit and vegetables for purchase. Some Jewish community leaders reported that, since the DGAPR phased out the delivery of family food baskets in November 2017, some Jewish prisoners were unable to access kosher foods. According to the DGAPR, the penitentiary system accommodates the special dietary needs of prisoners suffering from illnesses and of prisoners with religious dietary restrictions. In addition the DGAPR authorizes religious observances and services provided by religious leaders for all prisoners, including religious minorities.

NGOs frequently cited cases where prisoners protested the conditions of their detention with hunger strikes. According to Amnesty International, prisoners launched hunger strikes to protest prison conditions, including poor hygiene and sanitation, inadequate health care, overcrowding, and detention far from their families, as well as limited visiting rights and access to education. The CNDH and the DGAPR regularly addressed requests for transfer based on family proximity, and the DGAPR sometimes granted such requests. At other times the DGAPR informed the detainee that the requested transfer was not possible, often because of overcrowding at the requested location.

Some human rights activists have asserted that the prison administration reserved harsher treatment for Islamists who challenged the king’s religious authority and for those accused of “questioning the territorial integrity of the country.” The DGAPR denied that any prisoners received differential treatment and asserted that all prisoners received equal treatment in accordance with the Prison Act.

Administration: While authorities generally permitted relatives and friends to visit prisoners, there were reports that authorities denied visiting privileges in some instances. The DGAPR assigned each prisoner to a risk classification level, which determined visiting privileges. According to the DGAPR’s prisoner classification guide, the DGAPR placed restrictions on the level of visits, recreation, and types of educational programming for higher-risk prisoners. At all classifications prisoners may receive visits, although the length, frequency, and number of visitors may vary. Most prisons assigned each prisoner a designated “visit day” to manage the number of visits to the prison.

The CNDH and the DGAPR investigated allegations of inhuman conditions. The CNDH and the DGAPR effectively served the function of an ombudsman, and a system of “letterboxes” operated in prisons to facilitate prisoners’ right to submit complaints regarding their imprisonment. Detainees could submit complaints without censorship to the DGAPR Delegate General’s Office for processing, as well as to the CNDH. The DGAPR reported that it conducted investigations into 367 complaints of mistreatment and six of extortion by prison personnel but that none of the allegations were substantiated. The DGAPR also reported 451 complaints associated with transfer requests, health care, and educational or vocational training.

Independent Monitoring: The government permitted some NGOs with a human rights mandate to conduct unaccompanied monitoring visits. Government policy permitted NGOs that provided social, educational, or religious services to prisoners to enter prison facilities. According to prison officials, various NGOs conducted more than 350 monitoring visits through August and at least 22 of the visits through September were by the OMP. The CNDH conducted an average of 300 monitoring visits per year.

Improvements: To alleviate overcrowding and improve overall conditions, government authorities reported opening four new detention facilities during the year (see section 1.c., Physical Conditions). The government reported increasing the number of vocational and educational training programs it administers in prisons. The Mohammed VI Foundation for the Reinsertion of Prisoners provided educational and professional training in 58 prisons to inmates approaching their release date. As part of a required six-month training program for all of its new officials, the DGAPR trained 430 new recruits on human rights and 710 DGAPR officials on collaboration with outside partners. In September the DGAPR launched a radio station in one prison that offered prisoners and prison staff the opportunity to discuss issues related to prison operations and rehabilitation.

d. Arbitrary Arrest or Detention

The law prohibits arbitrary arrest and detention and provides for the right of any person to challenge in court the lawfulness of his or her arrest or detention. Observers indicated that police did not always respect these provisions or consistently observe due process, particularly during or in the wake of protests. According to local NGOs and associations, police sometimes arrested persons without warrants or while wearing civilian clothing. Individuals have the right to challenge the legal basis or arbitrary nature of their detention and request compensation by submitting a complaint to the court.

ROLE OF THE POLICE AND SECURITY APPARATUS

The security apparatus includes several police and paramilitary organizations with overlapping authority. The National Police (“Direction Generale de la Surete Nationale”–DGSN) manages internal law enforcement in cities and reports to the Ministry of Interior. The Auxiliary Forces also report to the Ministry of Interior and support gendarmes and police. The Royal Gendarmerie, which reports to the Administration of National Defense, is responsible for law enforcement in rural regions and on national highways. The judicial police (investigative) branches of both the Royal Gendarmerie and the National Police reports to the royal prosecutor and have the power to arrest individuals. The Department of Royal Security is a branch of the National Police that provides protection for the king and royal family members. The Directorate General of Territorial Surveillance has intelligence-gathering responsibilities without arrest powers and reports to the Ministry of Interior.

There are mechanisms to investigate and punish abuse and corruption. Nevertheless, in the past international and domestic human rights organizations claimed that authorities dismissed many complaints of abuse and relied only on police statements.

Authorities investigated some low-level incidents of alleged abuse and corruption among security forces. The judicial police investigated allegations, including those against security forces, and advised the court of their findings. Cases at times languished in the investigatory or trial phases.

As of August the government conducted 36 administrative investigations into 14 allegations of corruption, 10 of extortion, five of collusion with drug traffickers, and seven of misappropriation of seized objects. As a result, 26 police officers received disciplinary sanctions, three cases were referred to the courts, and 20 cases were dismissed for unfounded allegations. The government also referred 17 corruption cases that implicated 29 police officers to the national judicial police for criminal investigations. Nine police officers were dismissed from duty for corruption during the year, compared to eight in 2017.

ARREST PROCEDURES AND TREATMENT OF DETAINEES

By law police may arrest an individual after a general prosecutor issues an oral or written warrant. The law permits authorities to deny defendants’ access to counsel or family members during the initial 96 hours of detention under terrorism-related laws or during the initial 24 hours of detention for other charges, with an optional extension of 12 hours with the approval of the Prosecutor’s Office. Authorities did not consistently respect these provisions. Reports of abuse generally referred to these initial detention periods, when police interrogated detainees. According to the government, it trained 1,010 police officers on security and human rights in partnership with civil society. The Royal Gendarmerie also trained 1,660 gendarmes and 2,875 gendarme trainees.

In ordinary criminal cases, the law requires police to notify a detainee’s next of kin of an arrest immediately after the above-mentioned period of incommunicado detention, unless arresting authorities applied for and received an extension from a magistrate. Police did not consistently abide by this provision. Authorities sometimes delayed notifying the family or did not inform lawyers promptly of the date of arrest, and the families and lawyers were not able to monitor compliance with detention limits and treatment of the detainee.

The law states, “in the case of a flagrant offense, the Judicial Police Officer has the right to keep the suspect in detention for 48 hours. If strong and corroborated evidence is raised against this person, [the officer] can keep them in custody for a maximum of three days with the written authorization of the prosecutor.” For common crimes, authorities can extend this 48-hour period twice, for up to six days in detention. Under terrorism-related laws, a prosecutor may renew the initial detention by written authorization for a total detention time of 12 days. According to the Antiterrorism Act, there is no right to a lawyer during this time except for a half-hour monitored visit at the midpoint of the 12-day period. Observers widely perceived the 2015 law on counterterrorism as consistent with international standards.

At the conclusion of the initial detention period in police custody, a detainee must be presented to a prosecutor, who may issue provisional charges and order additional investigation by an investigatory judge in preparation for trial. The investigative judge has four months, plus a possible one-month extension, to interview the individual and determine what charges, if any, to file for trial. An individual may be detained in investigatory detention or at liberty during this phase. At the end of five months (if an extension is granted), the investigative judge must either file charges, decline to file charges and drop the case, or release the individual pending an additional investigation and a determination of whether to file. Authorities generally followed these timelines.

NGO sources stated that some judges were reticent to use alternative sentences permitted under the law, such as provisional release. The law does not require written authorization for release from detention. In some instances judges released defendants on their own recognizance. A bail system exists; the deposit may be in the form of property or a sum of money paid to court as surety to ensure the defendant’s return to future court proceedings. The amount of the deposit is subject to the discretion of the judge, who decides depending on the offense. Bail may be requested at any time before the judgment. According to the law, defendants have the right to attorneys; if a defendant cannot afford private counsel, authorities must provide a court-appointed attorney when the criminal penalty exceeds five years in prison. Authorities did not always provide effective counsel.

Arbitrary Arrest: Security forces often detained groups of individuals, took them to a police station, questioned them for several hours, and released them without charge. Under the penal code, any public official who orders an arbitrary detention may be punished by demotion and, if it is done in a private interest, by imprisonment for 10 years to life. An official who neglects to refer a claimed or observed arbitrary or illegal detention to his superiors may be punished by demotion. There was no available information as to whether these provisions were applied during the year.

Pretrial Detention: Although the government claimed that authorities generally brought accused persons to trial within two months, prosecutors may request as many as five additional two-month extensions of pretrial detention. Pretrial detentions can last as long as one year; in the past there were reports that authorities routinely held detainees beyond the one-year limit. The government reported there were no cases where detainees were held beyond the one-year limit during the year. Government officials attributed these delays to the large backlog of cases in the justice system. The government stated that a variety of factors contributed to this backlog: a lack of resources devoted to the justice system, both human and infrastructure; the lack of plea bargaining as an option for prosecutors, lengthening the amount of time to process cases on average; rare use of mediation and other out-of-court settlement mechanisms allowed by law; and the absence of legal authority for alternative sentencing. The government reported that, as of November, 42 percent of detainees were in pretrial detention awaiting their first trial. In some cases detainees received a sentence shorter than the time they spent in pretrial detention, particularly for misdemeanors.

e. Denial of Fair Public Trial

The constitution provides for an independent judiciary, and, as in previous years, NGOs asserted that corruption and extrajudicial influence weakened judicial independence. The Supreme Judicial Council, mandated by the 2011 constitution, manages the courts and day-to-day judicial affairs in place of the Ministry of Justice. The president of the Court of Cassation (the highest court of appeals) chairs the 20-member body. Additional members include the president of the First Chamber of the Court of Cassation; the prosecutor general (equivalent of the attorney general); the mediator (national ombudsman); the president of the CNDH; 10 members elected by the country’s judges; and five members appointed by the king. In October the Supreme Judicial Council established its internal mechanisms and began the process of taking over day-to-day management and oversight from the Ministry of Justice, although the activities of the Supreme Judicial Council experienced delays due to administrative and legal impediments. While the government stated the aim of creating the council was to improve judicial independence, its effect on judicial independence was not clear. According to media reports and human rights activists, outcomes of trials in which the government had a strong interest, such as those touching on Islam as it related to political life and national security, the legitimacy of the monarchy, and Western Sahara, sometimes appeared predetermined.

TRIAL PROCEDURES

The law provides for the right to a fair and public trial with the right of appeal, but this did not always occur. The law presumes that defendants are innocent. Defendants are informed promptly of potential charges after the initial arrest and investigation period. Defendants are then informed of final charges at the conclusion of the full investigatory period, which may last several months. Trials are conducted in Arabic, and foreigners have the right to request interpretation if they do not speak Arabic.

Defendants have the right to be present at their trial and to consult in a timely manner with an attorney. Defendants have the right to refuse to participate in their trial, and a judge may decide to continue the proceedings in the defendant’s absence while providing a detailed summary to the defendant. Authorities often denied lawyers timely access to their clients and, in the some cases, lawyers met their clients only at the first hearing before the judge. Authorities are required to provide attorneys in cases where the potential sentence is greater than five years, if the defendant is unable to afford one. Publicly provided defense attorneys were often poorly paid and neither properly trained in matters pertaining to juveniles nor provided to defendants in a timely fashion. The appointment process for public defenders was lengthy, often resulting in a defendant arriving to trial before a court-appointed attorney was designated. In these cases the judge may ask any attorney present to represent the defendant. This practice often resulted in inadequate representation. Many NGOs provided attorneys for vulnerable individuals (minors, refugees, victims of domestic violence), who frequently did not have the means to pay. Such resources were limited and specific to larger cities. The law permits defense attorneys to question witnesses. Despite the provisions of the law, some judges reportedly denied defense requests to question witnesses or to present mitigating witnesses or evidence.

The law forbids judges from admitting confessions made under duress. NGOs reported that the judicial system often relied on confessions for the prosecution of criminal cases, and authorities pressured investigators to obtain a confession from suspects in order for prosecution to proceed. Human Rights Watch (HRW) and local NGOs charged that judges, at their discretion, sometimes decided cases based on forced confessions.

The courts were moving away from a confession-based system to an evidence-based system. Since 2016 the National Police have had evidence preservation centers throughout the country to secure evidence collected at crime scenes and to ensure compliance with chain of custody procedures. According to the Ministry of Justice, legal clerks manage the evidence preservation centers and coordinate the court’s and the defense’s access to evidence. The Kenitra Royal Police Institute has trained 23,280 police officers in crime scene management and preservation since 2014. Police were working with the courts to demonstrate the utility of evidence preservation rooms as a means to increase judges’ confidence in evidence presented at trials and decrease the pressure on investigators to obtain confessions.

POLITICAL PRISONERS AND DETAINEES

The law does not define or recognize the concept of a political prisoner. The government did not consider any of its prisoners to be political prisoners and stated that it had charged or convicted all individuals in prison under criminal law. Criminal law covers nonviolent advocacy and dissent, such as insulting police in songs or “defaming Morocco’s sacred values” by denouncing the king and regime during a public demonstration. NGOs, including the Moroccan Association for Human Rights (AMDH) and Sahrawi organizations, asserted that the government imprisoned persons for political activities or beliefs under the cover of criminal charges.

Some NGOs alleged that a group of 24 Sahrawis, convicted in 2017 in connection with the deaths of 11 members of Moroccan security forces during the 2010 dismantlement of the Gdeim Izik protest camp and subsequent violence in Laayoune, Western Sahara, were political prisoners. In November 2017 the CNDH published a report on the 2017 trial hearings and determined that the trial met the conditions of a fair trial as provided in the country’s Constitution and Article 14 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights. For more information see the Department of State’s Country Reports on Human Rights for Western Sahara.

CIVIL JUDICIAL PROCEDURES AND REMEDIES

Although individuals have access to civil courts for lawsuits relating to human rights violations and have filed lawsuits, such lawsuits were frequently unsuccessful due to the courts’ lack of independence on politically sensitive cases or lack of impartiality stemming from extrajudicial influence and corruption. The Supreme Judicial Council is tasked with ensuring ethical behavior by judicial personnel (see section 4). There are administrative as well as judicial remedies for alleged wrongs. Authorities sometimes failed to respect court orders in a timely manner.

The Institution of the Mediator (national ombudsman) helped to resolve civil matters that did not clear the threshold to merit involvement of the judiciary. Although it faced backlogs, it gradually expanded the scope of its activities and subjected complaints to in-depth investigation. The mediator retransmitted to the CNDH for resolution cases specifically related to allegations of human rights abuses by authorities. The CNDH continued to be a conduit through which citizens expressed complaints regarding human rights abuses and violations.

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

While the constitution states an individual’s home is inviolable and that a search may take place only with a search warrant, authorities at times entered homes without judicial authorization, monitored without legal process personal movement and private communications–including email, text messaging, or other digital communications intended to remain private–and employed informers.

Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:

a. Freedom of Speech and Press

The constitution and law generally provide for freedom of expression, including for the press, although they criminalize and restrict some freedom of expression in the press and social media–specifically criticism of Islam, the institution of the monarchy, or the government’s positions regarding territorial integrity and Western Sahara. Such criticism can result in prosecution under the penal code, with punishments ranging from fines to prison time, despite the freedom of expression provided for in the 2016 press code. The press code applies only to journalists accredited by the Ministry of Communication for speech or publications in the line of work; private speech by accredited journalists remains punishable under the penal code. According to a Freedom House report in January, the press enjoys a significant degree of freedom when reporting on economic and social policies, but authorities used an array of financial and legal mechanisms to punish critical journalists. International and domestic human rights groups criticized criminal prosecutions of journalists and publishers as well as libel suits, claiming that the government principally used these laws to restrict independent human rights groups, the press, and social media.

Freedom of Expression: The law criminalizes criticism of Islam, of the legitimacy of the monarchy, of state institutions, of officials such as those in the military, and of the government’s positions regarding territorial integrity and Western Sahara. The government sometimes prosecuted persons who expressed criticism on these topics. According to government figures, 10 individuals were charged under the penal code during the year for content they published or expressed and 16 individuals were specifically charged for criminal speech, including defamation, slander, and insult (see Libel/Slander Laws and National Security).

On February 8, the court of first instance in Al Hoceima sentenced defense lawyer for Hirak protesters Abdessadek El Bouchtaoui to 20 months in prison and a 500 dirhams ($52) fine for insulting officials and representatives of authority while on duty, undermining the authority of justice, incitement to commit crimes, public incitement via Facebook to participate in unauthorized protests and crimes, and participation in unauthorized protests. According to Amnesty International, the government’s charges were based on 114 posts on El Bouchtaoui’s Facebook account and comments he made on national media criticizing the security forces’ use of force against Hirak protesters. El Bouchtaoui appealed the sentence and left the country.

Press and Media Freedom: Independent media, as well as partisan media, were active and expressed a wide variety of views within the restrictions of the law. In 2016 parliament passed a press code that limits punishments for accredited journalists to fines. Two journalists were prosecuted under the press code during the year, compared with three in 2017. The first was fined 10,000 dirhams ($1,050) and the other was fined 50,000 dirhams ($5,250); the charges against the journalists were unspecified. According to the Ministry of Justice, Tawfiq Bouachrine and Hamid al-Mahdawi were the only accredited journalists in prison for criminal acts outside of their role as journalists. The ministry also reported that 28 journalists faced charges during the year under the press code, mostly due to complaints of defamation, publishing false information, and invasion of privacy.

Journalists denounced the cumbersome administrative procedures and the long wait times to receive accreditation under the 2016 press code. Some members of the press claimed that journalists from outlets close to the government and Palace received their credentials sooner than journalists from independent outlets. They claim journalists waiting for their credentials had to operate without a press card in a legally ambiguous status, as the protections of the press code are only available to accredited journalists.

Many contributors working for online news outlets, and many online news outlets themselves, were unaccredited and therefore not covered under the press code for their publications. They remained subject to provisions of the antiterrorism law and the penal code that permit the government to jail and impose financial penalties on anyone who violates restrictions related to defamation, libel, and insults.

On February 1, the Rabat Court of Appeals sentenced Abdelkabir al-Horr, founder and editor of the Rassdmaroc news website, to four years in prison under the criminal code for condoning terrorism, inciting a banned demonstration, and insulting state authority in connection with his coverage of the Hirak protests in the northern Rif region. The government asserted that al-Horr was not a registered journalist in 2017 or 2018 and tried him under the penal code.

According to media reports, on May 7 and 8, directors of Yabiladi and LeDesk announced on Twitter that journalists from these online news outlets were denied accreditation after a seven-month wait. The government issued accreditation cards two days later when Head of Government Saadeddine El Othmani intervened and the directors of the publications met with a Communication Ministry official.

The government also enforced strict procedures governing journalists’ meetings with NGO representatives and political activists. Foreign journalists needed, but did not always receive, approval from the Ministry of Communication before meeting with political activists.

The trial for seven members of the Moroccan Association for Investigative Journalism, including Hicham Mansouri, Maati Monjib, and Hisham Almiraat, has been repeatedly postponed since 2015; the next hearing is scheduled for January 30, 2019. According to the Ministry of Justice, the four individuals were suspected of accepting foreign funds intended for acts threatening the internal security and territorial integrity of Morocco. The individuals were charged for posing a threat to the internal security of the country, fraud, managing an association exercising unauthorized acts, and accepting unauthorized foreign funds. The seven remained free but reported hardships due to the open case.

Violence and Harassment: Authorities subjected some journalists to harassment and intimidation, including attempts to discredit them through harmful rumors about their personal lives. Journalists reported that selective prosecutions served as a mechanism for intimidation.

According to media reports, authorities expelled at least three international journalists during the year because they lacked valid permits. The government stated that foreign media representatives who comply with local laws are allowed to perform their duties without interference and that allegations that authorities expelled foreign journalists were unsubstantiated.

Censorship or Content Restrictions: Self-censorship and government restrictions on sensitive topics remained serious hurdles to the development of a free, independent, and investigative press. Publications and broadcast media require government accreditation, and the government may deny and revoke accreditation as well as suspend or confiscate publications that breach public order or criticize Islam, the institution of the monarchy, or the government’s positions on territorial integrity. The press code lists threats to public order as one of the criteria for censorship. While the government rarely censored the domestic press, it exerted pressure by pursuing legal cases that resulted in heavy fines and suspended publication. Such cases encouraged editors and journalists to self-censor. The government denies restricting content on media outlets.

According to media reports, in February the Ministry of Culture withdrew 25 books from the Casablanca Book Fair because they included content that negatively portrayed Islam, Judaism, or Christianity or maps of Morocco without Western Sahara included as part of the country. The ministry denied these allegations and reported that the book fair took place without any restrictions or censorship.

Libel/Slander Laws: The press code includes provisions that permit the government to impose financial penalties on accredited journalists and publishers who violate restrictions related to defamation, libel, and insults. A court may impose a prison sentence if an accredited journalist is unable or unwilling to pay the fine.

Individuals who were not registered as journalists may be charged for defamation, libel, and slander under the criminal code, as can accredited journalists for their private actions.

National Security: The antiterrorism law provides for the arrest of individuals, including journalists, and filtering websites deemed to “disrupt public order by intimidation, terror, or violence.”

On June 26, a criminal court in Casablanca sentenced Hamid El Mahdaoui, editor of the online news website badil.info, to three years in prison and fined him 3,000 dirhams ($315) for failing to report a national security threat. Although El Mahdaoui was an accredited journalist, he was prosecuted under the penal code for activities outside his official duties. Authorities alleged that El Mahdaoui received information that an individual intended to smuggle weapons into the country for use in protests but failed to report it to the police. El Mahdaoui’s defense denied the allegation and claimed that even if it had occurred, there would have been no need to report such information because El Mahdaoui knew it would be impossible to smuggle in weapons. According to Reporters without Borders, authorities arrested El Mahdaoui in July 2017 while filming a banned protest in Al Hoceima in the Rif region. The government reported no one could verify that El Mahdaoui was in the act of filming during his arrest. Some media reports stated that El Mahdaoui was arrested while speaking with citizens in the street about the protests and their social-economic grievances.

INTERNET FREEDOM

The government did not disrupt access to the internet, but it did apply laws governing and restricting public speech and the press on the internet. The press code stipulates that online journalism is equivalent to print journalism. Laws on combatting terrorism permit the government to filter websites. According to Freedom House’s 2018 Freedom on the Net report, the government did not block or filter any political, social, or religious websites during that year. Social media and communication services including YouTube, Facebook, and Twitter were available in the country, as were international blog-hosting services. Freedom House claimed, however, that unfair disbursement of advertising money, strict self-censorship, and ongoing trials of journalists have prevented the emergence of a vibrant online media environment. According to the government, funds for advertisements derive from the private sector not from the public sector. The government also repeatedly reminded online journalists to obey the law. On November 24, the Ministry of Communication issued a statement warning that it considered online media outlets that do not comply with the press code illegal and urged them to stop publishing to avoid prosecution. The government also prosecuted individuals for expressing certain ideological views online, particularly related to protests in the northern Rif region.

According to the International Telecommunication Union, 61.8 percent of the population used the internet in 2018.

ACADEMIC FREEDOM AND CULTURAL EVENTS

The law permits the government to criminalize presentations or debate questioning the legitimacy of Islam, the legitimacy of the monarchy, state institutions, and the status of Western Sahara. The law restricts cultural events and academic activities, although the government generally provided more latitude to political and religious activism confined to university campuses. The Ministry of Interior approved appointments of university rectors.

b. Freedom of Peaceful Assembly and Association

The government limited freedoms of peaceful assembly and association.

FREEDOM OF PEACEFUL ASSEMBLY

The law provides for the right of peaceful assembly. The government generally allowed authorized and unauthorized peaceful demonstrations to occur. Under the law groups of more than three persons require authorization from the Ministry of Interior to protest publicly. Security forces intervened on occasion to disband both authorized and unauthorized protests when officials deemed the demonstration a threat to public security.

Some NGOs complained that authorities did not apply the approval process consistently and used administrative delays and other methods to suppress or discourage unwanted peaceful assembly. According to Human Rights Watch’s World Report 2018, police allowed many protests demanding political reform and protesting government actions, but often forcibly dispersed peaceful protests or prevented demonstrations from occurring. According to the government, there was an average of 20,000 demonstrations per year. While the majority of protests proceeded peacefully, on several occasions violence erupted between protestors and police. According to the CNDH, during some unauthorized demonstrations in Tan-Tan, the security forces intervened in a “disproportionate manner.”

Security forces were generally present both in and out of uniform at protests, particularly if the protest was expected to address a sensitive issue. In general, officers were under orders to observe and not intervene, unless the demonstration becomes unruly, threatening to bystanders, or overflows into public highways. In those cases, under standard operating procedures, officers are required to give the crowd three warnings that force will be used if they do not disperse. Security forces then attempt to force protestors to leave the area, using riot shields to push standing protestors into a designated area or carrying seated protestors to the designated area. If such lower-level tactics fail, security forces may escalate to the use of batons, water cannons, or tear gas to clear the area and restore order. Security force tactics did not differ significantly, whether the protest was authorized or unauthorized, although the decision on whether to intervene sometimes depended on whether the protest was authorized. According to the government, if officers intervene in a protest, a police judiciary officer not involved in the intervention and under the supervision of the attorney general must produce a statement documenting the circumstances of the case, the number of victims, and the material damage due to the operation. The police judiciary officer must address the statement to the Attorney General’s Office with a copy to the governor of the territorial jurisdiction where the incident transpired. The government organized ongoing training on human rights-based methods to manage crowds throughout the year.

In December 2017, two brothers were found dead inside a coal pit in the northeast province of Jerada where they mined illegally. According to media reports, their deaths sparked protests over social disparities, economic grievances, and unemployment. According to the government, from December 2017 to August, approximately 300 protests involving nearly 55,000 persons total took place, injuring 29 civilians and 247 members of the security forces in violence that erupted during interventions.

On March 14, online media sources released a video showing four police vehicles driving close to protesters and severely injuring a minor during an unauthorized protest in Jerada. The government reported that security forces accidentally hit the minor while attempting to disperse the crowds. As of December authorities arrested 94 people in connection with the Jerada protests. According to press reports, several protest leaders and three minors were among the detained. According to the government, 51 were sentenced to prison, 31 of whom were sentenced to prison terms of one to five years. Some detainees were sentenced for destruction of public goods, incitement to commit crimes, and or involvement in unauthorized protests. More than 40 cases continued at year’s end.

On June 26, the Casablanca Court of Appeal convicted and issued sentences to protest leader Nasser Zefzafi and 52 other members of the Hirak protest movement. Four detainees, including Zefzafi, were sentenced to 20 years’ imprisonment on charges including threatening national security. Other sentences varied from 15 years’ imprisonment to suspended sentences and fines. The detainees appealed the convictions; no updates were available at year’s end. According to the Ministry of Justice, authorities implicated 578 persons in crimes related to the Hirak protests, of whom 306 were sentenced, 204 pardoned, 39 acquitted of all charges, and 29 were awaiting trial as of November.

FREEDOM OF ASSOCIATION

The constitution and the law provide for freedom of association, although the government sometimes restricted this freedom. The government prohibited or failed to recognize some political opposition groups by deeming them unqualified for NGO status. While the government does not restrict the source of funding for NGOs operating in the country, NGOs that receive funding from foreign sources are required to report the amount and its origins to the government within 30 days from the date of receipt. The government denied official recognition to NGOs that it considered advocates against Islam as the state religion or questions the legitimacy of the monarchy or the country’s territorial integrity. Authorities obstructed the registration of a number of associations perceived to be critical of the authorities by refusing to accept their registration applications or to deliver receipts confirming the filing of applications (see section 5).

The Ministry of Interior required NGOs to register before being recognized as legal entities, but there was no comprehensive national registry publicly available. A prospective organization must submit its objectives, bylaws, address, and photocopies of members’ identification cards to the ministry. The ministry issues a receipt to the organization that signifies formal approval. Organizations without receipts are not formally registered, although the government tolerated activities of several organizations without these receipts. Unregistered organizations could not access government funds or legally accept contributions.

The National Federation of Amazigh Associations, an organization supporting the inclusion of the Amazigh (Berber) population in public life, reported that, as of October, the nine Amazigh organizations denied registration in 2017 continued to be denied registration during the year, including the federation itself (see section 6, National/Racial/Ethnic Minorities).

According to the CNDH, the Tan-Tan branch of the CNDH received one complaint from an organization denied registration during the year. The branch contacted government authorities, and following mediation the government registered the organization.

Authorities continued to monitor Justice and Charity Organization activities.

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

The law provides for freedom of internal movement, foreign travel, emigration, and repatriation, and the government generally respected these rights although it limited movement to areas experiencing widespread unrest. The government denied entry to individuals it believed threatened the stability of the country. The government cooperated with the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) and other humanitarian organizations in providing protection and assistance to refugees, returning refugees, asylum seekers, and other persons of concern. The government also provided funding to humanitarian organizations to provide social services to migrants, including refugees.

The government continued to make travel documents available to Sahrawis, and there were no reported cases of authorities preventing Sahrawis from traveling. The government encouraged the return of Sahrawi refugees from Algeria and elsewhere if they acknowledged the government’s authority over Western Sahara.

Abuse of Migrants, Refugees, and Stateless Persons: Refugees and asylum seekers, as well as migrants, were particularly vulnerable to abuse. Europe-bound human smuggling and human trafficking increased in part due to restrictions on migration via the central and eastern Mediterranean. Moroccan authorities, however, cooperated with Spanish and EU authorities to thwart trafficking networks and arrest traffickers. Parliament passed legislation in 2016 to improve protections for victims. There were reports of government authorities arresting or detaining migrants, particularly around the Spanish enclave cities of Melilla and Ceuta, and forcibly relocating them to other parts of the country to deter attempts to cross illegally into Spanish territory.

In-country Movement: According to Amnesty International, since July law enforcement authorities seized an estimated 5,000 persons, including thousands of sub-Saharan migrants, and forcibly relocated them from areas neighboring the straits of Gibraltar and the Spanish enclaves of Melilla and Ceuta to the south of the country or near the Algerian border. According to Amnesty International, these included 14 asylum-seekers and four refugees registered with UNHCR in the country who authorities forcibly transferred to the south. At a press conference on August 30, government spokesperson Mustapha Khalfi stated the operations transferring migrants to other cities were in accordance with national laws that fight illegal immigration. The Ministry of Interior also affirmed the authorities relocated migrants without legal status from the north to other parts of Morocco in accordance with the law after local authorities had given notice to the migrants to relocate due to national security concerns.

PROTECTION OF REFUGEES

Access to Asylum: The law provides for the granting of refugee status. The government has historically deferred to UNHCR as the sole agency in the country entitled to perform refugee status determinations and verify asylum cases. UNHCR referred cases that meet the criteria for refugee recognition to the government’s interministerial Commission in Charge of Hearings for Asylum Seekers within the Bureau of Refugees and Stateless Persons. The government recognizes two types of asylum status: refugees designated according to the UNHCR statute and the “exceptional regularization of persons in irregular situation” under the 2016 migrant regularization program. The government continued to grant status to UNHCR-recognized refugees and temporary status to registered Syrians. There were 755 refugees registered in the country. During the year the commission held one hearing on January 25 for 36 asylum seekers referred by UNHCR; the eight asylum seekers who attended the hearing were granted legal status. According to the Ministry of Interior, as of August, UNHCR Rabat referred 803 asylum seekers to the commission, of whom about 60 percent were Syrian nationals.

Access to Basic Services: Recognized refugees and migrants were generally able to work and access health care and education services, including publicly funded professional and vocational training. Requests on behalf of women and children receive automatic approval, with immediate access to education and healthcare. Asylum seekers were, however, sometimes unable to access the national health care system and continued to have little access to the judicial system until recognized as refugees.

Durable Solutions: According to the government, during the second phase of its migrant regularization program from December 2016 to December 2017, the government granted legal status to 27,660 applicants. The government initially denied 14,898 applicants, of whom 9,328 reapplied and reviewing committees established at the local level reviewed these applications and granted those 9,328 legal status. The reviewing committees were composed of government officials, authorities, and representatives from the CNDH and migrant-serving NGOs. The program, similar to the 2014 campaign, granted legal status to foreign spouses and children of citizens and other legal residents of the country as well as to individuals with at least five years of residence in the country, a valid work contract, or chronic illness. From 2014 through 2017, the government granted legal status to more than 50,756 migrants, approximately 85 percent of the migrants who applied. Migrants and refugees may obtain Moroccan nationality if they meet the legal requirements of the Nationality Law and submit a request to the Ministry of Justice. The government facilitated voluntary returns in cooperation with UNHCR and, when necessary, the resettlement of recognized refugees to third countries. Since 2004 the government and the International Organization for Migration (IOM) have cofunded for the voluntary return of an estimated 26,000 migrants to their countries of origin. According to the government, it assisted with the voluntary return to the country of origin of an average of 2,000 to 3,000 migrants per year.

Temporary Protection: The government also provided temporary protection to individuals who may not qualify as refugees. Syrians and Yemenis benefited from “exceptional regularization” outside of the more permanent migrant regularization program. From December 2017 to February, 23,464 migrants benefited from exceptional regularization.

Niger

Executive Summary

Niger is a multiparty republic. President Issoufou Mahamadou won a second term in 2016. He won 92 percent of the vote in a second round boycotted by the opposition. The African Union certified the election as free and fair despite the criticism of some domestic observers who noted the jailing of the leadership of the lead opposition party among other irregularities. The government refused to follow a Constitutional Court ruling in 2017 for a parliamentary election in the district of Maradi to replace a representative who had died. The political opposition boycotted a political mediation council and the newly formed National Independent Electoral Commission through much of the year.

Civilian authorities maintained effective control over the security forces.

Human rights issues included unlawful killings and forced disappearances by the government, allied militias, terrorists, and armed groups; arbitrary arrest and detention by government security forces and armed groups; harsh and life-threatening prison and detention center conditions; political prisoners; substantial interference with the rights of peaceful assembly and freedom of association; reported government support of Malian armed groups accused of unlawful recruitment or use of child soldiers; trafficking in persons; lack of accountability for cases of violence against women due in part to government inaction; caste-based slavery and forced labor, especially forced or compulsory or child labor.

The government took some steps to prosecute officials who committed abuses, but impunity remained a problem.

Terrorist groups targeted and killed civilians and recruited child soldiers. The government reportedly provided some limited material and logistical support in Niger to a Mali-based militia, the Imghad Tuareg and Allies Self-Defense Group (GATIA), a group that has been reported to recruit and use child soldiers. The government was involved in campaigns against terrorist groups on its borders with Mali, Nigeria, Cameroon, and Chad, and it was wary of increasing terror attacks in Burkina Faso and spillover from insecurity in Libya.

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

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

There were reports that the government and its agents committed arbitrary or unlawful killings. For example, the armed forces were accused of sometimes executing persons believed to be fighting with extremist groups in both Diffa and Tillabery Regions rather than holding them in detention. There was evidence in Tillabery Region that the government allowed Malian militia groups to operate in Nigerien territory and may have at times collaborated with or provided limited material and logistical support to them. Malian militia groups the Movement for the Salvation of Azawad and GATIA were accused of committing human rights abuses on Nigerien soil, including kidnapping and killing persons believed to be collaborating with extremist groups.

The governmental National Human Rights Commission (CNDH) reported receiving several complaints about arbitrary and unlawful killings attributed to security forces and to Malian militias operating within conflict areas of the country. The CNDH had limited resources to investigate the complaints.

Armed terrorist groups including Boko Haram and groups affiliated with al-Qaida, ISIS in the Greater Sahara (ISIS-GS), and ISIS-West Africa (ISIS-WA) attacked and killed civilians and security forces (see section 1.g.).

b. Disappearance

There were some reports of disappearances perpetrated by security forces in both Tillabery and Diffa Regions. For example, unidentified sources alleged that soldiers detained some youths who returned to a town in the Diffa area the day after it had been the focus of a Boko Haram attack, and the youths were reportedly not seen again.

There were also several instances of kidnappings by armed groups and bandits (see section 1.g). For example, unidentified armed persons kidnapped the mother and sister of a parliamentarian in the Diffa Region on September 3. The kidnappers released the two on September 16, probably after the payment of a ransom.

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

The constitution and law prohibit such practices; however, there were reports security forces beat and abused civilians, especially in the context of the fight against terrorism in Diffa and Tillabery Regions. Security forces were also accused of rape and sexual abuse, which the government claimed to investigate. For example, the government reported that the state prosecutor was investigating three rapes attributed to agents of local security forces in the Diffa Region.

There were indications that security officials were sometimes involved in abusing or harming detainees, especially members of the Fulani minority or those accused of affiliation with Boko Haram or other extremist groups. There were allegations that security forces and local leaders in the Diffa Region would harass or detain citizens they accused of collusion with Boko Haram, forcing the citizens to pay a “ransom” to end the harassment.

As of October the CNDH, to the extent that resources allowed, was investigating allegations that security forces or agents of the government had committed extrajudicial killings, abuse, and disappearances. The government and military reportedly also investigated these accusations, although no information was available on their conclusions.

Prison and Detention Center Conditions

Conditions in the prisons were harsh and life threatening due to food shortages, overcrowding, and inadequate sanitary conditions and medical care.

Physical Conditions: The government reported in October there were 39 prisons designed to hold 10,005 persons. According to the government, prisons held 9,570 inmates; however, human rights observers stated that overcrowding remained a widespread problem. For example, in Kollo Prison, prisoners slept outside in the courtyard due to lack of space inside the wards. Prison officials held female inmates in separate quarters that were less crowded and relatively cleaner than men’s quarters. They generally held juveniles separately in special rehabilitation centers or in judicially supervised homes, although they held some juvenile prisoners with adult prisoners. The prison system made no provision for special services for detainees with disabilities. Authorities held pretrial detainees with convicted prisoners.

Prison deaths occurred regularly, some from malaria, meningitis, and tuberculosis, but no statistics were available.

Nutrition, sanitation, potable water, and medical care were poor, although officials allowed inmates to receive supplemental food, medicine, and other items from their families. Basic health care was available, and authorities referred patients with serious illness to public health-care centers.

Administration: Judicial authorities and the CNDH investigated and monitored prison and detention center conditions and followed up on credible allegations of inhuman conditions. Prison management generally permitted prisoners and detainees to submit complaints to judicial authorities without censorship.

Independent Monitoring: Authorities generally granted the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC), the CNDH, and human rights groups access to most prisons and detention centers, including police station jails, and these groups conducted monitoring visits during the year.

Improvements: The Ministry of Justice stated that access to fresh water had improved in some prisons. The government built two new detention centers in the Maradi Region.

The ICRC worked with local prison administration to facilitate family visits for those detained in connection with the conflict in Tillabery and Diffa Regions and imprisoned far from their families in Niamey.

d. Arbitrary Arrest or Detention

The constitution and law prohibit arbitrary arrest and detention, and the law prohibits detention without charge for more than 48 hours, but police occasionally violated these provisions. The law allows individuals accused of terror-related crimes to be detained without charge for a longer period. Persons arrested or detained are entitled to challenge in court the legal basis or arbitrary nature of their detention.

ROLE OF THE POLICE AND SECURITY APPARATUS

The national police, under the Ministry of Interior, Public Security, Decentralization, and Customary and Religious Affairs (Ministry of Interior), is responsible for urban law enforcement. The gendarmerie, under the Ministry of National Defense, has primary responsibility for rural security. The National Guard, also under the Ministry of Interior, is responsible for domestic security and the protection of high-level officials and government buildings. The armed forces, under the Ministry of National Defense, are responsible for external security and, in some parts of the country, for internal security. Every 90 days the parliament reviews the state of emergency (SoE) declaration in effect in the Diffa Region and in parts of Tahoua and Tillabery (most recently expanding the SoE to three new parts of Tillabery on November 30 and renewing the SoE in all existing areas on December 17). On November 30, the council of ministers declared a new SoE in three additional departments of Tillabery (Torodi, Tera, and Say). Civilian authorities generally maintained effective control over security forces, although at times individual soldiers and police acted independently of the command structure.

Police effectiveness was limited due to a lack of basic supplies, such as vehicle fuel, radios, and other investigatory and law enforcement equipment. Patrols outside of Niamey were sporadic. Police training was minimal, and only specialized police units had advanced weapon-handling skills. National Guard troops were assigned rotationally as prison guards for six months at a time but had little or no prison-specific training. A law passed in 2017 created a specialized cadre of prison police, and the police system had reportedly launched a first round of training but had not fully implemented the law. Citizens complained security forces did not adequately police border regions, remote rural areas, and major cities. Corruption remained a problem.

The gendarmerie and the police inspector general are responsible for the investigation of police abuses; nevertheless, police impunity remained a problem.

ARREST PROCEDURES AND TREATMENT OF DETAINEES

The constitution and law require arrest warrants. The law allows individuals to be detained for 48 hours without charge and an additional 48 hours if police need more time to gather evidence, although authorities sometimes held detainees implicated in sensitive cases longer than legally permitted. Under the Terrorism Law, individuals detained on suspicion of committing terrorism-related offenses may be detained for 10 days, extendable once for an additional 10 days. This 10-day period begins once suspects reach the Niamey Central Service for the Fight against Terrorism; terror suspects apprehended in the rural Diffa Region may spend days or weeks in custody before officials transport them to Niamey. Security forces usually informed detainees promptly of the charges against them. There was a functioning bail system for crimes carrying a sentence of less than 10 years. Authorities must notify those arrested of their right to a lawyer within 24 hours. The constitution calls for the government to provide a lawyer for indigents in civil and criminal cases, although this did not always occur. Widespread ignorance of the law and lack of funds prevented many defendants from exercising their rights to bail and an attorney. Except for detainees suspected of terrorism, authorities did not detain suspects incommunicado.

Arbitrary Arrest: Police occasionally conducted warrantless sweeps to detain suspected criminals. Police and other security force members sometimes rounded up persons accused of being members of, or supporting terrorist groups, based on circumstantial evidence, subsequently holding them for months or even years (see section 1.g.). In 2015-16, following the government’s implementation of a SoE in Diffa, the security forces used their authority to arrest at least 1,400 individuals for violating state-of-emergency restrictions and curfews, or in response to denunciations. Lacking investigations and evidence, most of these prisoners remained in detention, mostly in Kollo Prison in Niamey far from their families, until the government prioritized a trial procedure starting in 2017. The cases of approximately 800 individuals had been brought to trial by the end of the year, with many trials leading to acquittal for lack of evidence.

Pretrial Detention: Lengthy pretrial detention was a problem. Although the law provides for maximum pretrial confinement of 30 months for serious crimes and 12 months for less serious offenses (with special extensions in certain sensitive cases, including terrorist-related offenses), some detainees waited as long as five years to be tried. A majority of prisoners were awaiting trial, with one nongovernmental organization (NGO) stating the percentage was as high as 75 percent. Judicial inefficiency, inadequate resources, staff shortages, corruption, and executive branch interference lengthened pretrial detention periods. Civil society activists and members of opposition political parties appeared to be especially subject to irregular implementation of their due process rights, including prolonging of pretrial detention to allow prosecutors time to assemble evidence. By contrast some high-profile detainees benefited from extended provisional release.

Saidou Bakari, Ide Kalilou, and Mallah Ari, all associated with the main opposition party the Democratic Movement for an African Federation (MODEN-FA Lumana), were arrested in 2016 on allegations of misappropriating humanitarian assistance in 2005. At the end of the year, they remained in jail awaiting trial, despite being cleared of wrongdoing by a gendarmerie investigation commissioned by the government.

e. Denial of Fair Public Trial

Although the constitution and law provide for an independent judiciary, the executive branch sometimes interfered with the judicial process. The government reassigned some judges to low-profile positions after they asserted independence in handling high-profile cases or rendered decisions unfavorable to the government. There were allegations the government interfered or attempted to interfere in high-profile court cases involving opposition leaders. Judicial corruption–exacerbated by low salaries and inadequate training–and inefficiency remained problems. There were reports family and business ties influenced lower-court decisions in civil matters. Judges granted provisional release pending trial to some high-profile defendants, who were seldom called back for trial and had complete freedom of movement, including departing the country, and could run as candidates in elections.

Customary courts and traditional mediation did not provide the same legal protections as the formal court system. Traditional chiefs may act as mediators and counselors. They have authority to arbitrate many customary law matters, including marriage, inheritance, land, and community disputes, but not all civil issues. Chiefs received government stipends but had no police or judicial powers.

Customary courts, based largely on Islamic law, try only civil law cases. A legal practitioner with basic legal training, advised by an assessor with knowledge of Islamic traditions, heads these courts. Formal law does not regulate the judicial actions of chiefs and customary courts, although defendants may appeal a verdict to the formal court system. In contrast with the formal court system, women do not have equal legal status with men in customary courts and traditional mediation, nor do they enjoy the same access to legal redress.

TRIAL PROCEDURES

The law affirms the presumption of innocence. Defendants have the right to be informed promptly and in detail of the charges against them. The law also provides free interpretation for defendants who do not speak French, the official language, from the moment charged through all appeals. Trials are public, and defendants have the right to be present at their trial. Defendants have the right to counsel, which is at public expense for minors and indigent defendants charged with crimes carrying a sentence of at least 10 years’ imprisonment. Officials provided defendants adequate time and facilities to prepare a defense. Defendants have the right to confront witnesses and present witnesses and evidence on their own behalf. They are not compelled to testify or confess guilt. Defendants may appeal verdicts, first to the Court of Appeals and then to the Supreme Court.

Although the constitution and law extend these rights to all citizens, widespread ignorance of the law prevented many defendants from taking advantage of these rights. Judicial delays due to the limited number of jurisdictions, staff shortages, and lack of resources were common.

POLITICAL PRISONERS AND DETAINEES

There were reports of political prisoners who remained incarcerated during the year. Saidou Bakari and Ide Kalilou, members of the leading opposition party, and Mallah Ari, an assistant to the president of the leading opposition party, have been jailed since 2016 on corruption charges dating back to 2005, although a gendarmerie investigation found no proof of wrongdoing. Critics alleged their continued jailing was political in nature.

The trial of 11 military officers and one civilian arrested in 2015 on accusations of plotting a coup concluded on January 26, with 15-year sentences for the three alleged leaders of the coup plot, General Souleymane Salou, Lieutenant Ousmane Awal Hambaly, and Captain Issa Amadou Kountche.

The court gave five- and 10-year sentences to six other soldiers. The court acquitted two soldiers and gave the single civilian in the case, Niandou Salou, son of accused ringleader General Salou, five years in prison. All of the charges linked those found guilty to “fomenting between November and December 2015 a conspiracy to attack the authority or security of the state.” Critics alleged that the government fabricated the coup attempt to justify the arrest, along with these 12 persons tried in 2018, of virtually all the opposition leaders in the lead-up to the 2016 presidential election, most of whom were eventually released without charge.

Authorities generally granted the ICRC, the CNDH, and human rights groups access to political prisoners, and these groups conducted visits during the year.

CIVIL JUDICIAL PROCEDURES AND REMEDIES

Individuals or organizations may seek civil remedies for human rights violations. They may also appeal decisions to the Court of Justice of the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS). Individuals and organizations may appeal adverse domestic court decisions to regional human rights bodies, such as the ECOWAS Court of Justice.

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

The constitution and law generally prohibit such actions, but there were exceptions. Police may conduct searches without warrants when they have a strong suspicion a house shelters criminals or stolen property. Under state-of-emergency provisions in the Diffa, Tahoua, and Tillabery Regions, authorities may search houses at any time and for any reason.

Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:

a. Freedom of Speech and Press

The constitution and law provide for freedom of speech, including for the press, but the government sometimes threatened journalists and members of the media.

Freedom of Expression: The government arrested civil society activists and pressured journalists who expressed criticism of the government.

The CNDH expressed concern over attacks on freedom of expression. International human rights-related NGOs–including Publish What You Pay, the Open Society Initiative for West Africa, Amnesty International, Reporters without Borders, and Oxfam–also issued statements of concern, related to the detention of civil society activists. The Association of West African Journalists issued a statement in August about the closure of media outlets for alleged nonpayment of taxes.

Violence and Harassment: Authorities occasionally subjected journalists and civil society activists to harassment apparently linked to their reporting. The government broadly excluded opposition journalists from official press conferences and events. The owner of an opposition television station reported being regularly called in to the government communications office for running content critical of the government, although no punitive measures were taken. Opposition media outlets also complained of a disproportionate number of tax audits.

On January 15, at a Niamey high school where students were reportedly planning a protest against education shortcomings, the National Guard briefly confiscated the camera of a private television station, Tenere TV, and deleted footage of alleged security violence toward the student planners. Media representatives said National Guard soldiers also confiscated and damaged a Labari TV camera following a violent altercation with the camera operator, Chaibou Guisso.

On September 17, the Tax Office (Direction Generale des Impots–DGI) confiscated publishing materials from and closed the combined offices of opposition newspapers Le CourrierLe Canard en Furie, and Le Monde d’Aujourd’hui in connection with a 10-million West African CFA francs (CFA) ($18,000) tax bill allegedly owed by Le Courrier. The paper’s owner and publisher, Ali Soumana,, faced charges dating to June 2017 for the illicit procurement of court documents related to the so-called Uraniumgate scandal, which alleged that high-placed government officials used an offshore account to profit from Niger’s state uranium mining company. DGI also closed six television stations and two newspapers for tax nonpayment in July. Although most reopened quickly, two opposition television stations remained closed for more than a month before they were able to negotiate resolution with the tax office.

Censorship or Content Restrictions: Journalists believed they did not practice self-censorship, but they admitted there were topics that were taboo. Opposition journalists reported sometimes encountering pressure against antigovernment speech. Public media generally did not cover the statements or activities of opposition parties and civil society organizations critical of the government.

National Security: The declaration of the state of emergency in Diffa, Tillabery, and Tahoua Regions grants the government special authority over the media for security reasons.

INTERNET FREEDOM

The government did not restrict or disrupt access to the internet, but it did monitor online content and used Facebook postings as a basis to charge civil society activists with crimes. For example, civil society organization leaders Moussa Tchangari and Nouhou Arzika had posted on their Facebook pages that there would be a demonstration on March 25 in spite of the government’s ban. Prosecutors used these postings as a basis for the arrest of Tchangari and Arzika on March 25 on charges they had encouraged participation in an illegal demonstration.

According to the International Telecommunication Union, approximately 10 percent of the population used the internet in 2017.

ACADEMIC FREEDOM AND CULTURAL EVENTS

The government proposed a new system for government appointment of university chancellors instead of election by university professors and staff. By year’s end the proposal had not been put into practice. The unions representing university teachers, staff, and student unions went on strike or boycotted regularly during the year to protest lack of salary payments, poor facilities, shortage of books and supplies, unpaid stipends, and other issues. Five student leaders at Niamey’s Abdou Moumouni University were expelled on March 17 following a February 7 altercation between a teacher and elements of the Student Union’s Social and Security Committee (CASO), a group that provided self-appointed security services at the university. In response to violent student demonstrations that ensued, the government closed universities nationwide from April 23 through resolution of the conflict on May 15.

b. Freedom of Peaceful Assembly and Association

The government at times restricted freedoms of peaceful assembly and association.

FREEDOM OF PEACEFUL ASSEMBLY

Although the constitution and law provide for freedom of assembly, police sometimes forcibly dispersed demonstrators. The government retained authority to prohibit gatherings under tense social conditions or if organizers did not provide 48-hour advance notice.

There were several instances of police restrictions and government bans on protests. On April 18, students blocked the road to the main campus of Niamey’s Abdou Moumouni University to demand reinstatement of the five senior student leaders who had been expelled on March 17. Police intervened with tear gas, and according to the union, 32 protesters were injured and six hospitalized, including one in critical condition (numbers of injured were not reliably reported in the press, and independent verification of the extent and seriousness of the injuries was not available). An official government announcement noted damage to six vehicles and university offices. On April 23, the government declared that university campuses nationwide would remain closed until CASO, accused of general and long-term violence and misconduct, was disbanded. Negotiations led to reopening the university on May 15 without the disbanding of CASO.

The government regularly banned planned civil society-organized gatherings from April to August. Municipal authorities often denied official permission for opposition demonstrations and rallies without responding to organizers’ requests within the 48-hour timeline required by regulations. There was an instance in Maradi where the government did not implement a court order that supported the organizers’ right to protest.

On March 23, the government banned a civil society protest of new tax laws planned for March 25. Organizers encouraged their supporters to demonstrate despite the ban, arguing the constitution gave them a right to protest. On the morning of March 25, before the protest had begun, police arrested two civil society leaders at their offices: Moussa Tchangari and Ali Idrissa. Later in the day, activist Nouhou Arzika was arrested at his lawyer’s office, and television commentator Lirwana Abdourahamane was arrested at Labari Television after making a call for individuals to stand up for their rights. Authorities shuttered the television station for five days. Police arrested another 19 demonstrators the same day, charging them with organizing or participating in an illegal demonstration, damaging property, acts of violence and assault, and assault and battery.

The group of 23 went to trial in July after four months of pretrial detention. On July 24, a Niamey judge convicted the four civil society leaders of inciting a banned protest and gave them three-month suspended jail sentences. The judge acquitted 11 of the defendants and found another eight guilty of participating in a banned protest, sentencing them to one year in prison, with six months suspended.

FREEDOM OF ASSOCIATION

The constitution and law provide for freedom of association, and the government generally respected this freedom; however, government representatives accused human rights-related civil society organizations of being “putschist” or intending to overthrow the government. Police on several occasions, without a legal warrant, blocked access to offices of the NGO Alternative Citizen Spaces in Niamey and Zinder. The law does not permit political parties based on ethnicity, religion, or region.

Nigeria

Executive Summary

Nigeria is a federal republic composed of 36 states and the Federal Capital Territory (FCT). In 2015 citizens elected President Muhammadu Buhari of the All Progressives Congress party to a four-year term in the first successful democratic transfer of power from a sitting president in the country’s history.

Civilian authorities did not always maintain effective control over the security services.

The insurgency in the Northeast by the militant terrorist groups Boko Haram and the Islamic State in West Africa (ISIS-WA) continued. The groups conducted numerous attacks on government and civilian targets that resulted in thousands of deaths and injuries, widespread destruction, the internal displacement of approximately 1.8 million persons, and external displacement of an estimated 225,000 Nigerian refugees to neighboring countries, principally Cameroon, Chad, and Niger. Widespread violence across rural Nigeria, including conflict over land and other resources between farmers and herders, resulted in an estimated 1,300 deaths and 300,000 persons internally displaced between January and July, according to the International Crisis Group (ICG).

Human rights issues included unlawful and arbitrary killings by both government and nonstate actors; forced disappearances by both government and nonstate actors; torture by both government and nonstate actors and prolonged arbitrary detention in life-threatening conditions particularly in government detention facilities; harsh and life threatening prison conditions including civilian detentions in military facilities, often based on flimsy or no evidence; infringement on citizens’ privacy rights; criminal libel; substantial interference with the rights of peaceful assembly and freedom of association, in particular for lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and intersex (LGBTI) persons; refoulement of refugees; corruption; progress to formally separate child soldiers previously associated with the Civilian Joint Task Force (CJTF); lack of accountability concerning violence against women, including female genital mutilation/cutting, in part due to government inaction/negligence; trafficking in persons, including sexual exploitation and abuse by security officials; crimes involving violence targeting LGBTI persons and the criminalization of status and same-sex sexual conduct based on sexual orientation and gender identity; and forced and bonded labor.

The government took steps to investigate alleged abuses but fewer steps to prosecute officials who committed violations, whether in the security forces or elsewhere in the government. Impunity remained widespread at all levels of government. The government did not adequately investigate or prosecute most of the major outstanding allegations of human rights violations by the security forces or the majority of cases of police or military extortion or other abuse of power.

The Borno State government provided financial and in-kind resources to the CJTF, a nongovernmental self-defense militia that coordinated and at times aligned with the military to prevent attacks against civilian populations by Boko Haram and ISIS-WA. Human rights organizations and press reporting charged the CJTF with committing human rights abuses. The government took few steps to investigate or punish CJTF members who committed human rights abuses.

Boko Haram and ISIS-WA conducted numerous attacks targeting civilians. Boko Haram recruited and forcefully conscripted child soldiers and carried out scores of suicide bombings, many by young women and girls forced into doing so — and other attacks on population centers in the Northeast and in Cameroon, Chad, and Niger. Abductions by Boko Haram and ISIS-WA continued. Both groups subjected many women and girls to sexual and gender-based violence, including forced marriages, sexual slavery, and rape. The government investigated attacks by Boko Haram and ISIS-WA and took steps to prosecute their members, although the majority of suspected insurgent group supporters were held in military custody without charge.

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

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

There were several reports the government or its agents committed arbitrary and unlawful killings. The national police, army, and other security services used lethal and excessive force to disperse protesters and apprehend criminals and suspects and committed other extrajudicial killings. Authorities generally did not hold police, military, or other security force personnel accountable for the use of excessive or deadly force or for the deaths of persons in custody. State and federal panels of inquiry investigating suspicious deaths generally did not make their findings public. In August 2017 the acting president convened a civilian-led presidential investigative panel to review compliance of the armed forces with human rights obligations and rules of engagement, and the panel submitted its findings in February. As of November no portions of the report had been made public.

As of September there were no reports of the federal government further investigating or holding individuals accountable for the 2015 killing and subsequent mass burial of members of the Shia group Islamic Movement of Nigeria (IMN) and other civilians by Nigerian Army (NA) forces in Zaria, Kaduna State. In 2016 the government of Kaduna made public the Kaduna State judicial commission’s nonbinding report, which found the NA used “excessive and disproportionate” force during the 2015 altercations in which 348 IMN members and one soldier died. The commission recommended the federal government conduct an independent investigation and prosecute anyone found to have acted unlawfully. It also called for the proscription of the IMN and the monitoring of its members and their activities. In 2016 the government of Kaduna State published a white paper that included acceptance of the commission’s recommendation to investigate and prosecute allegations of excessive and disproportionate use of force by the NA. As of September, however, there was no indication that authorities had held any members of the NA accountable for the events in Zaria. It also accepted the recommendation to hold IMN leader Sheikh Ibrahim Zakzaky responsible for all illegal acts committed by IMN members during the altercations and in the preceding 30 years. In 2016 a federal court declared the continued detention without charge of Zakzaky and his wife illegal and unconstitutional. The court ordered their release by January 2017. The federal government did not comply with this order, and Zakzaky, his spouse, and other IMN members remained in detention. In April the Kaduna State government charged Zakzaky in state court with multiple felonies stemming from the death of the soldier at Zaria. The charges include culpable homicide, which can carry the death penalty. As of December the case was pending. In July a Kaduna High Court dismissed charges of aiding and abetting culpable homicide against more than 80 IMN members. As of September the Kaduna State government had appealed the ruling. Approximately 100 additional IMN members remained in detention.

In October security forces killed 45 IMN members that were participating in processions and protests, according to Amnesty International (AI) (see section 2.b.).

In January AI reported that the Nigerian Air Force used excessive force in responding to intercommunal violence in December 2017 in Numan local government area (LGA) in Adamawa State. According to the report, hundreds of herdsmen attacked eight villages in Adamawa in response to a massacre by farming communities of up to 51 herders, mostly children, in Kikan village the previous month. The Nigerian Air Force said it responded at the request of relevant security agencies for show of force flights to disperse the “hoodlums” engaged in ransacking and burning villages, and subsequently aimed to shoot in front of crowds to deter them from attacking Numan. AI reported that the Air Force response resulted in a fire and destruction in the town, and that Air Force rockets and bullets hit civilian buildings directly and resulted in multiple civilian deaths. The report also stated it was not possible to establish conclusively how much of the death and destruction was attributable to the Air Force’s actions and how much to the concurrent attack by herdsmen. The Air Force denied the claims in a statement but reportedly ordered an investigation. As of September it was unclear if the investigation had been concluded.

In January 2017 the air force mistakenly bombed an informal internally displaced persons (IDP) settlement in Rann, Borno State, which resulted in the killing and injuring of more than 100 civilians and humanitarian workers. Army personnel also were injured. The government and military leaders publicly assumed responsibility for the strike and launched an investigation. The air force conducted its own internal investigation, but as of December the government had not made public its findings. No air force or army personnel were known to have been held accountable for their roles in the event.

There were reports of arbitrary and unlawful killings related to internal conflicts in the Northeast and other areas (see section 1.g.).

b. Disappearance

After more than two years of incommunicado detention by the State Security Service (SSS) without trial, access to counsel, or family visitation, the publisher of Bayelsa State-based tabloid the Weekly Source, Jones Abiri, was released on bail in August. The Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) reported Abiri was accused of being a member of a Niger Delta militant group but was not formally charged, and said Abiri’s detention was in response to critical coverage from the July 2016 edition of the Weekly Source. Following an open letter from the CPJ and significant public outcry, Abiri was arraigned and eventually released on bail. Abiri told reporters that he was blindfolded, held in an underground cell for most of the two years, and did not have access to medication in detention (see section 2.a.).

In August AI issued a statement on the International Day of the Disappeared, calling on the government to end unlawful arrests and incommunicado detentions, including the reported disappearances of more than 600 members of the IMN, and an unknown number of individuals in the Northeast where Boko Haram had been active. In August the National Human Rights Commission (NHRC) signed the mandate documents and a standard operating procedure to establish a database of missing persons in the country, with technical advice from the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC). As of September the database was not operational.

Criminal groups abducted civilians in the Niger Delta and the Southeast, often to collect ransom payments. Maritime kidnappings remained common as militants turned to piracy and related crimes to support themselves. On March 26, for example, Nigerian pirates boarded a fishing vessel off the coast of Ghana, kidnapping three Korean sailors and taking them by speedboat back to the Niger Delta. The pirates reportedly released the sailors after the Ghanaian parent company paid a ransom.

Other parts of the country experienced a significant number of abductions. Prominent and wealthy figures were often targets of abduction. For example, in January a member of the Taraba State House of Assembly, Hosea Ibi, was abducted and killed by unknown assailants.

Boko Haram and ISIS-WA conducted large-scale abductions in Borno and Yobe States (see section 1.g.).

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

The constitution and law prohibit torture and other cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment. In December 2017, the president signed the Anti-Torture Act, which defines and specifically criminalizes torture. The Act prescribes offences and penalties for any person, including law enforcement officers, who commits torture or aids, abets, or by act or omission is an accessory to torture. It also provides a basis for victims of torture to seek civil damages. The Administration of Criminal Justice Act (ACJA), passed in 2015, prohibits torture and cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment of arrestees; however, it fails to prescribe penalties for violators. Each state must also individually adopt the ACJA for the legislation to apply beyond the FCT and federal agencies. As of November the states of Akwa Ibom, Anambra, Cross Rivers, Delta, Ekiti, Enugu, Kaduna, Lagos, Ogun, Ondo, Oyo, and Rivers had adopted ACJA-compliant legislation.

The Ministry of Justice previously established a National Committee Against Torture (NCAT). Lack of legal and operational independence and lack of funding, however, prevented NCAT from carrying out its work effectively.

The law prohibits the introduction into trials of evidence and confessions obtained through torture. Authorities did not respect this prohibition, however, and, according to credible international organizations, the Special Antirobbery Squad (SARS) often used torture to extract confessions later used to try suspects. Police also repeatedly mistreated civilians to extort money.

In 2016 AI reported police officers in the SARS regularly tortured detainees in custody as a means of extracting confessions and bribes. In response to AI’s findings, the inspector general of police reportedly admonished SARS commanders and announced broad reforms to correct SARS units’ failures to follow due process and their use of excessive force. Allegations of widespread abuse by SARS officers, however, continued throughout the year. In late 2017 citizens began a social media campaign (#EndSARS) to document physical abuse and extortion by SARS officers and demand SARS units be disbanded. In December 2017 the inspector general of police announced plans to reorganize SARS units, but complaints of abuse continued. Several SARS officers were dismissed from the force and, in some instances, prosecuted, and the National Police Force (NPF) sought technical assistance for investigations of SARS officers. The vast majority of misconduct cases, however, went uninvestigated and unpunished. In August then-acting President Yemi Osinbajo ordered the inspector general of police to overhaul the management and activities of SARS, and ordered the NHRC to set up a “Special Panel” with public hearings on SARS abuses. The panel’s work was ongoing at the end of the year and it had not yet issued a report.

Local nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) and international human rights groups accused the security services of illegal detention, inhuman treatment, and torture of criminal suspects, militants, detainees, and prisoners. Military and police reportedly used a range of torture methods including beatings while bound, rape and other forms of sexual violence. According to reports, security services committed rape and other forms of violence against women and girls, often with impunity. As of December the government had not held any responsible officials to account for reported incidents of torture in detention facilities in the Northeast, including Giwa Barracks.

Police used a technique commonly referred to as “parading” of arrestees, which involved walking arrestees through public spaces and subjecting them to public ridicule and abuse. Bystanders often taunted and hurled food and other objects at arrestees.

The sharia courts in 12 northern states may prescribe punishments such as caning, amputation, and death by stoning. The sharia criminal procedure code allows defendants 30 days to appeal sentences involving mutilation or death to a higher sharia court. Statutory law mandates state governors treat all court decisions equally, including amputation or death sentences, regardless of whether issued by a sharia or a nonsharia court. Authorities, however, often did not carry out caning, amputation, and stoning sentences passed by sharia courts because defendants frequently appealed, a process that could be lengthy. Federal appellate courts had not ruled on whether such punishments violate the constitution because no relevant cases reached the federal level. Although sharia appellate courts consistently overturned stoning and amputation sentences on procedural or evidentiary grounds, there were no challenges on constitutional grounds.

There were no reports of canings during the year. Defendants generally did not challenge caning sentences in court as a violation of statutory law. In the past sharia courts usually carried out caning immediately. In some cases convicted individuals paid fines or went to prison in lieu of caning.

The United Nations reported that it had received four allegations of sexual exploitation and abuse against peacekeepers from Nigeria deployed to the United Nations Mission in Liberia. The cases involve both sexual exploitation (three allegations) and abuse (one allegation). Investigations both by the United Nations and Nigeria were pending. Three allegations were reported in 2017.

Prison and Detention Center Conditions

Prison and detention center conditions remained harsh and life threatening. Prisoners and detainees reportedly were subjected to torture, gross overcrowding, inadequate medical care, food and water shortages, and other abuses; some of these conditions resulted in deaths. The government often detained suspected militants outside the formal prison system (see section 1.g.).

Physical Conditions: Overcrowding was a significant problem. Although the total designed capacity of the country’s prisons was 50,153 inmates, as of July they held 73,631 prisoners. Approximately 68 percent of inmates were in pretrial detention or remanded. As of July there were 1,475 female inmates. Authorities sometimes held female and male prisoners together, especially in rural areas. Prison authorities often held juvenile suspects with adults.

Prisoners and detainees were reportedly subjected to torture, gross overcrowding, food and water shortages, inadequate medical treatment, deliberate and incidental exposure to heat and sun, and infrastructure deficiencies that led to wholly inadequate sanitary conditions that could result in death. Guards and prison officials reportedly extorted inmates or levied fees on them to pay for food, prison maintenance, transport to routine court appointments, and release from prison. Female inmates in some cases faced the threat of rape.

Most of the 240 prisons were 70 to 80 years old and lacked basic facilities. Lack of potable water, inadequate sewage facilities, and severe overcrowding resulted in dangerous and unsanitary conditions. For example, according to press reports from December 2017, Agodi Minimum Security Prison, in Oyo State, had 1,104 inmates despite a maximum capacity of 390. Port Harcourt Prison, designed to hold 800 inmates, held approximately 5,000, while Kirikiri Maximum Security Prison in Lagos, with a capacity of 956 inmates, held approximately 2,600.

Disease remained pervasive in cramped, poorly ventilated prison facilities, which had chronic shortages of medical supplies. Inadequate medical treatment caused many prisoners to die from treatable illnesses, such as HIV/AIDS, malaria, and tuberculosis. In April 2017 the Lagos State Controller of Prisons stated that 32 inmates died in 2016 in a single Lagos prison due to lack of access to medical care. The House of Representatives confirmed more than 900 inmates died in prisons across the country in 2016 due to severe lack of drugs and health care. Although authorities attempted to isolate persons with communicable diseases, facilities often lacked adequate space, and inmates with these illnesses lived with the general prison population. There were no reliable statistics on the total number of prison deaths during the year.

Only prisoners with money or support from their families had sufficient food. Prison officials routinely stole money provided for prisoners’ food. Poor inmates often relied on handouts from others to survive. Prison officials, police, and other security force personnel often denied inmates food and medical treatment to punish them or extort money.

In general prisons had no facilities to care for pregnant women or nursing mothers. Although the law prohibits the imprisonment of children, minors–many of whom were born in prison–lived in the prisons. The NGO Citizens United for the Rehabilitation of Errants (CURE)-Nigeria reported children in some cases remained with their inmate mothers up to at least age six. While the total number of children living in prison with their mothers was unknown, CURE-Nigeria’s April 2017 survey of 198 of the country’s women inmates found more than 30 women with children in just three prisons. Approximately 10 percent of survey respondents reported they were pregnant. Results of surveys of women and children in prisons conducted by CURE-Nigeria revealed many children in custody did not receive routine immunizations, and authorities made few provisions to accommodate their physical needs, to include hygiene items, proper bedding, proper food, and recreation areas. According to its 2016 report, female inmates largely relied on charitable organizations to obtain hygiene items.

Generally prisons made few efforts to provide mental health services or other accommodations to prisoners with mental disabilities (see section 6).

Several unofficial military prisons continued to operate, including the Giwa Barracks facility in Maiduguri, Borno State. Although conditions in the Giwa Barracks detention facility reportedly marginally improved, detainees were denied due process and subjected to arbitrary and indefinite detention in conditions that remained harsh and life threatening (see section 1.g.). An AI report released in May documented multiple cases where women determined their husbands had died in custody in previous years. The same report also documented the arbitrary detention of women and children at Giwa Barracks. AI reported that citizens were generally not able to access any information about the fate or welfare of family members in military detention, or whether they were in fact detained. There were no reports of accountability for past reported deaths in custody, nor for earlier reports from AI alleging that an estimated 20,000 persons in the region were arbitrarily detained between 2009-15 with as many as 7,000 dying of thirst, starvation, suffocation, disease due to overcrowding, lack of medical attention, the use of fumigation chemicals in unventilated cells, torture, or extrajudicial execution.

After multiple releases during the year (see Improvements sub-subsection), it was unclear how many children or adults remained in detention at Giwa Barracks or other unofficial detention facilities. According to press and NGO reporting, the military continued to arrest and remand to military detention facilities, including Giwa Barracks, additional persons suspected of association with Boko Haram or ISIS-WA.

The government continued to arrest and, in some cases, inappropriately detain for prolonged periods, women and children removed from or allegedly associated with Boko Haram and ISIS-WA. They included women and girls who had been forcibly married to or sexually enslaved by the insurgents. The government reportedly detained them for screening and their perceived intelligence value. A credible international organization, however, reported the typical length of time spent in detention shortened during the year. Separately, an AI report from May documented severe restrictions on freedom of movement for IDPs held in satellite camps in many parts of Borno State. According to the report, restrictions on entry and exit confined IDPs, in some instances, to conditions constituting de facto detention for prolonged periods.

Administration: While prison authorities allowed visitors within a scheduled timeframe, few visits occurred, largely due to lack of family resources and travel distances.

The ACJA provides that the chief judge of each state, or any magistrate designated by the chief judge, shall conduct monthly inspections of police stations and other places of detention within the magistrate’s jurisdiction, other than prisons, and may inspect records of arrests, direct the arraignment of suspects, and grant bail if previously refused but appropriate.

The NHRC conducts prison audits. Despite an expressed willingness and ability to investigate credible allegations of inhuman conditions, however, the NHRC has not publicly released an audit report since 2012. In June the NHRC announced it was beginning a nationwide audit of all detention facilities. As of October the audit was not complete. Through its Legal Aid Council, the Ministry of Justice reportedly provided some monitoring of prisons through the Federal Government Prison Decongestion Program.

Independent Monitoring: There was limited monitoring of prisons by independent nongovernmental observers. The International Committee of the Red Cross had access to police detention, Nigerian Prisons Services (NPS), and some military detention facilities.

Improvements: An international organization reported that at least 2,486 persons were released from Giwa Barracks during the year. The majority were transferred to a rehabilitation center run by the Borno State government in Maiduguri. Another 159 were transferred to a deradicalization program in Gombe State, under the auspices of Operation Safe Corridor (OPSC). For the first time OPSC graduated 91 former low-level Boko Haram affiliate members and former Giwa Barracks detainees from its deradicalization program. Some OPSC graduates faced difficulty in reintegrating into communities due to stigmatization from being associated with Boko Haram, and 46 graduates originally from Gwoza LGA were initially “rejected” by their communities. The Gwoza LGA subcommittee on reintegration was actively working with the community to reintegrate them.

d. Arbitrary Arrest or Detention

Although the constitution and law prohibit arbitrary arrest and detention, police and security services employed these practices. According to numerous reports, since 2013 the military arbitrarily arrested and detained–often in unmonitored military detention facilities–thousands of persons in the context of the fight against Boko Haram in the Northeast (see section 1.g.). According to AI, freedom of movement restrictions in IDP camps in Borno State, in some instances, constituted de facto detention (see section 1.c.). In their prosecution of corruption cases, law enforcement and intelligence agencies often failed to follow due process and arrested suspects without appropriate arrest and search warrants.

ROLE OF THE POLICE AND SECURITY APPARATUS

The NPF is the country’s largest law enforcement agency. An inspector general of police, appointed by and reporting directly to the president, commands the NPF. In addition to traditional police responsibilities of maintaining law and order in communities in each of the states and the FCT, the inspector general oversees law enforcement operations throughout the country involving border security, marine (navigation) matters, and counterterrorism. A state commissioner of police, nominated by the inspector general and approved by the state governor, commands NPF forces in each of the states and the FCT. Although administratively controlled by the inspector general, operationally the state commissioner reports to the governor. In the event of societal violence or emergencies, such as endemic terrorist activity or national disasters requiring deployment of law enforcement resources, the governor may also assume operational control of these forces.

The Department of State Services (DSS) is responsible for internal security and reports to the president through the national security adviser. Several other federal organizations have law enforcement components, such as the Economic & Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC), Attorney General’s Office, Ministry of Interior, and federal courts.

Due to the inability of law enforcement agencies to control societal violence, the government continued to turn to the armed forces to address internal security concerns. The constitution authorizes the use of the military to “[s]uppress insurrection and act in aid of civil authorities to restore order.” Armed forces were part of continuing joint security operations in the Niger Delta, Middle Belt, and Northwest.

Police, DSS, and military reported to civilian authorities but periodically acted outside civilian control. The government lacked effective mechanisms and sufficient political will to investigate and punish most security force abuse and corruption. Police remained susceptible to corruption, committed human rights violations, and operated with widespread impunity in the apprehension, illegal detention, and torture of suspects. In September the NPF Public Complaint and Rapid Response Unit reported it had recovered approximately 1.1 million naira ($3,038) in bribery payments and dismissed 10 officers in the past two years. Dismissals of low-level officers, however, did not deter continuing widespread extortion and abuse of civilians. The DSS also reportedly committed human rights abuses. In some cases private citizens or the government brought charges against perpetrators of human rights abuses, but most cases lingered in court or went unresolved after an initial investigation. In the armed forces, a soldier’s commanding officer determined disciplinary action, and the decision was subject to review by the chain of command according to the Armed Forces Act. In 2016 the army announced the creation of a human rights desk to investigate complaints of human rights violations brought by civilians, and set up a standing general court martial in Maiduguri. The human rights desk in Maiduguri coordinated with the NHRC and Nigerian Bar Association to receive and investigate complaints, although their capacity and ability to investigate complaints outside of major population centers remained limited. As of September the court martial in Maiduguri had reached verdicts in 39 cases since inception, some of which resulted in convictions for rape, murder, and abduction of civilians. Many credible accusations of abuses, however, remained uninvestigated and unpunished.

ARREST PROCEDURES AND TREATMENT OF DETAINEES

Police and other security services have the authority to arrest individuals without first obtaining warrants if they have reasonable suspicion a person committed an offense, a power they often abused. The law requires that, even during a state of emergency, detainees must appear before a magistrate within 48 hours and have access to lawyers and family members. In many instances government and security officials did not adhere to this regulation without being bribed. Police held for interrogation individuals found in the vicinity of a crime for periods ranging from a few hours to several months, and after their release, authorities frequently asked the individuals to return for further questioning. The law requires an arresting officer to inform the accused of charges at the time of arrest, transport the accused to a police station for processing within a reasonable time, and allow the suspect to obtain counsel and post bail. Families were afraid to approach military barracks used as detention facilities. Police routinely detained suspects without informing them of the charges against them or allowing access to counsel and family members; such detentions often included solicitation of bribes. Provision of bail often remained arbitrary or subject to extrajudicial influence. Judges often set exceedingly stringent bail conditions. In many areas with no functioning bail system, suspects remained incarcerated indefinitely in investigative detention. Authorities kept detainees incommunicado for long periods. Numerous detainees stated police demanded bribes to take them to court hearings or to release them. If family members wanted to attend a trial, police often demanded additional payment.

Arbitrary Arrest: Security personnel arbitrarily arrested numerous persons during the year, although the number remained unknown. In the Northeast the military and members of vigilante groups, such as the CJTF, rounded up individuals during mass arrests, often without evidence.

Security services detained journalists and demonstrators during the year (see sections 2.a. and 2.b.).

Pretrial Detention: Lengthy pretrial detention remained a serious problem. According to NPS figures released in March, approximately 70 percent of the prison population consisted of detainees awaiting trial, often for years. The shortage of trial judges, trial backlogs, endemic corruption, bureaucratic inertia, and undue political influence seriously hampered the judicial system. In many cases multiple adjournments resulted in years-long delays. Many detainees had their cases adjourned because the NPF and the NPS did not have vehicles to transport them to court. Some persons remained in detention because authorities lost their case files. Prison officials did not have effective prison case file management processes, to include a databases or cataloguing systems. In general, the courts were plagued with inadequate, antiquated systems and procedures.

Detainee’s Ability to Challenge Lawfulness of Detention before a Court: Detainees may challenge the lawfulness of their detention before a court and have the right to submit complaints to the NHRC.

Nevertheless, most detainees found this approach ineffective because, even with legal representation, they often waited years to gain access to court.

e. Denial of Fair Public Trial

Although the constitution and law provide for an independent judiciary, the judicial branch remained susceptible to pressure from the executive and legislative branches. Political leaders influenced the judiciary, particularly at the state and local levels. Understaffing, underfunding, inefficiency, and corruption prevented the judiciary from functioning adequately. Judges frequently failed to appear for trials. In addition the salaries of court officials were low, and they often lacked proper equipment and training.

There was a widespread public perception that judges were easily bribed and litigants could not rely on the courts to render impartial judgments. Citizens encountered long delays and received requests from judicial officials for bribes to expedite cases or obtain favorable rulings.

Although the Ministry of Justice implemented strict requirements for education and length of service for judges at the federal and state levels, no requirements or monitoring bodies existed for judges at the local level. This contributed to corruption and the miscarriage of justice in local courts.

The constitution provides that, in addition to common law courts, states may establish courts based on sharia or customary (traditional) law. Sharia courts functioned in 12 northern states and the FCT. Customary courts functioned in most of the 36 states. The nature of a case and the consent of the parties usually determined what type of court had jurisdiction. In the case of sharia courts in the North, the impetus to establish them stemmed at least in part from perceptions of inefficiency, cost, and corruption in the common law system.

The constitution specifically recognizes sharia courts for “civil proceedings,” but they do not have the authority to compel participation, whether by non-Muslims or Muslims. Non-Muslims have the option to have their cases tried in the sharia courts if they wish.

The constitution is silent on the use of sharia courts for criminal cases. In addition to civil matters, sharia courts also hear criminal cases if both complainant and defendant are Muslim and agree to the venue. Sharia courts may pass sentences based on the sharia penal code, including for “hudud” offenses (serious criminal offenses with punishments prescribed in the Quran) that provide for punishments such as caning, amputation, and death by stoning. Despite constitutional language supporting only secular criminal courts and the prohibition against involuntary participation in sharia criminal courts, a Zamfara State law requires that a sharia court hear all criminal cases involving Muslims.

Defendants have the right to challenge the constitutionality of sharia criminal statutes through the common law appellate courts. As of November no challenges with adequate legal standing had reached the common law appellate system. The highest appellate court for sharia-based decisions is the Supreme Court, staffed by common-law judges who are not required to have any formal training in the sharia penal code. Sharia experts often advise them.

TRIAL PROCEDURES

Pursuant to constitutional or statutory provisions, defendants are presumed innocent and enjoy the rights to: be informed promptly and in detail of charges (with free interpretation as necessary from the moment charged through all appeals); receive a fair and public trial without undue delay; be present at their trial; communicate with an attorney of choice (or have one provided at public expense); have adequate time and facilities to prepare a defense; confront witnesses against them and present witnesses and evidence; not be compelled to testify or confess guilt; and appeal.

Authorities did not always respect these rights, most frequently due to a lack of capacity and resources. Insufficient numbers of judges and courtrooms, together with growing caseloads, often resulted in pretrial, trial, and appellate delays that could extend a trial for as many as 10 years. Although accused persons are entitled to counsel of their choice, there were reportedly some cases where defense counsel absented himself or herself from required court appearances so regularly that a court might proceed with a routine hearing in the absence of counsel, except for certain offenses for which conviction carries the death penalty. Authorities held defendants in prison awaiting trial for periods well beyond the terms allowed by law (see section 1.c.).

Human rights groups stated the government denied terror suspects detained by the military their rights to legal representation, due process, and to be heard by a judicial authority. In October 2017 the government announced it had begun hearings in front of civilian judges at the Kainji military facility for 1,669 detained persons and intended to do so for 651 held at Giwa Barracks in Maiduguri. Human rights groups generally welcomed the initiative as a step towards delivering justice for victims of Boko Haram, but raised serious concerns regarding potential due process violations of the accused. Subsequent rounds of hearings took place in February and July, with increasing access for national and international monitoring organizations and somewhat improved process. Rights groups including Human Rights Watch (HRW); however, expressed concerns regarding inadequate access to defense counsel, a lack of interpreters, and inadequate evidence leading to an overreliance on confessions. It was unclear if confessions were completely voluntary. According to a credible international organization, the three rounds of hearings resulted in 366 convictions for terrorism-related offenses, primarily based on confessions and guilty pleas; 421 cases at or awaiting trial, primarily involving individuals who pled not-guilty; and 882 individuals whose cases were dismissed because the state had insufficient evidence to bring charges. Those whose cases were dismissed, however, reportedly remained in detention without clear legal authority.

By common law women and non-Muslims may testify in civil or criminal proceedings and give testimony that carries the same weight as testimony of other witnesses. Sharia courts usually accorded the testimony of women and non-Muslims less weight than that of Muslim men. Some sharia court judges allowed different evidentiary requirements for male and female defendants to prove adultery or fornication. Pregnancy, for example, was admissible evidence of a woman’s adultery or fornication in some sharia courts. In contrast, sharia courts could convict men only if they confessed or there was eyewitness testimony. Sharia courts, however, provided women some benefits, including increased access to divorce, child custody, and alimony.

Military courts tried only military personnel, but their judgments could be appealed to civilian courts. Members of the military are subject to the Armed Forces Act regarding civil and criminal matters. The operational commanding officer of a member of the armed forces must approve charges against that member. The commanding officer decides whether the accusation merits initiation of court-martial proceedings or lower-level disciplinary action. Such determinations are nominally subject to higher review, although the commanding officer makes the final decision. If the case proceeds, the accused is subject to trial by court-martial. The law provides for internal appeals before military councils as well as final appeal to the civilian Court of Appeals.

POLITICAL PRISONERS AND DETAINEES

There were no reports of political prisoners or detainees.

CIVIL JUDICIAL PROCEDURES AND REMEDIES

The constitution and law provide for an independent judiciary in civil matters, but the executive and legislative branches, as well as business interests, exerted influence and pressure in civil cases. Official corruption and lack of will to implement court decisions also interfered with due process. The law provides for access to the courts for redress of grievances, and courts may award damages and issue injunctions to stop or prevent a human rights violation, but the decisions of civil courts were difficult to enforce.

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

The law prohibits arbitrary interference, but authorities infringed on this right during the year, and police entered homes without judicial or other appropriate authorization. There were reports of warrantless arrests of young men in the Niger Delta region on suspicion of having links with militant groups. In their pursuit of corruption cases, law enforcement agencies reportedly carried out searches and arrests without warrants.

State and local governments forcibly evicted some residents and demolished their homes, often without sufficient notice or alternative compensation, and sometimes in violation of court orders. Justice & Empowerment Initiatives noted that the practice was an ongoing concern. For example, in September 2017 the Lagos State government, at the request of the University of Lagos, demolished 220 houses in Iwaya, a small, informal settlement abutting the University of Lagos campus. The demolitions occurred despite a 2017 Lagos State High Court injunction banning further demolition. According to Justice & Empowerment Initiatives, members of these 220 households were rendered homeless after the demolitions and have since settled in nearby slum communities.

Press reporting indicated that the army was responsible for burning villages in areas where Boko Haram was suspected to have been operational and possibly supported by the local population. These actions reportedly contributed to the high number of internally displaced persons in the Northeast.

Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:

a. Freedom of Speech and Press

Although the constitution and law provide for freedom of speech and press, the government frequently restricted these rights. In an August press release, HRW expressed concern over threats to press freedom, saying recent arrests and detentions of journalists and activists in the country suggested a disturbing trend toward repressing freedom of expression.

Freedom of Expression: The constitution entitles every individual to “freedom of expression, including freedom to hold opinions and to receive and impart ideas and information without interference.” Although federal and state governments usually respected this right, there were reported cases in which the government abridged the right to speech and other expression.

Press and Media Freedom: Freedom House’s annual survey of media independence, Freedom of the Press 2018, described the press as “partly free.” A large and vibrant private domestic press frequently criticized the government, but critics reported being subjected to threats, intimidation, and sometimes violence.

Violence and Harassment: Security services increasingly detained and harassed journalists, sometimes for reporting on sensitive problems such as political corruption and security. Security services including the SSS and police occasionally arrested and detained journalists who criticized the government. Moreover, army personnel in some cases threatened civilians who provided, or were perceived to have provided, information to journalists or NGOs on misconduct by the military.

On August 14, police arrested and detained Premium Times journalist Samuel Ogundipe. The Premium Times had published a confidential report submitted by Inspector General of Police Ibrahim Idris to Vice-President Yemi Osinbajo over SSS conduct in barricading the entrance to the National Assembly complex, reportedly in an attempt to arrest Senate President Bukola Saraki. Police insisted Ogundipe reveal the source of the article, which he refused to do. He was released on bail August 17. In a public statement, the Premium Times reported Ogundipe was secretly arraigned before a magistrate court without legal representation and charged with criminal trespass and theft from police.

In August, after more than two years of incommunicado detention by the SSS without trial, access to counsel, or family visitation, the publisher of Bayelsa State-based tabloid the Weekly Source, Jones Abiri, was released on bail (see section 1.b).

Censorship or Content Restrictions: The government controlled much of the electronic media through the National Broadcasting Commission (NBC), which is responsible for monitoring and regulating broadcast media. The law prohibits local television stations from transmitting programming from other countries except for special religious programs, sports programs, or events of national interest. Cable and satellite transmission was less restricted. For example, the NBC permitted live transmission of foreign news and programs on cable and satellite networks, but they were required to dedicate 20 percent of their programming time to local content.

Journalists practiced self-censorship. Local NGOs claimed security services intimidated newspaper editors and owners into censoring reports of killings and other human rights abuses.

Libel/Slander Laws: Libel and slander are civil offenses and require defendants to prove truthfulness or value judgment in news reports or editorials or pay penalties. The requirement limited the circumstances in which media defendants could rely on the common law legal defense of “fair comment on matters of public interest,” and it restricted the right to freedom of expression. Defamation is a criminal offense carrying a penalty for conviction of up to two years’ imprisonment and possible fines.

Allegations of libel were also used as a form of harassment by government officials in retaliation for negative reporting.

INTERNET FREEDOM

There were few government restrictions on access to the internet, but challenges with infrastructure and affordability persisted.

Civil society organizations expressed concern regarding the broad powers provided by the Cybercrimes Act of 2015. The act has been used by some local and state governments to arrest opponents and critics for alleged hate speech. Those arrested were typically detained only briefly because the Cybercrimes Act had yet to be fully tested in the courts. There was increasing legislative interest and calls for regulating social media due to concerns it plays a role in accelerating rural and electoral violence.

The National Assembly passed the Digital Rights and Online Freedom bill in December 2017. The legislation seeks to provide fundamental digital freedoms and protections to citizens, but was not expected to clarify what constitutes hate speech. As of August President Buhari had not assented to the bill becoming law.

According to the International Telecommunication Union, 27.7 percent of individuals in the country used the internet in 2017, more than half of whom were between the ages of 15 and 24.

ACADEMIC FREEDOM AND CULTURAL EVENTS

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

b. Freedom of Peaceful Assembly and Association

FREEDOM OF PEACEFUL ASSEMBLY

Although the constitution and law provide for freedom of assembly, the government occasionally banned and targeted gatherings when it concluded their political, ethnic, or religious nature might lead to unrest. Open-air religious services held away from places of worship remained prohibited in many states, due to fear they might heighten interreligious tensions. From October 27-30, members of the IMN carried out a series of religious processions across northern Nigeria, while also protesting the continued detention of their leader, Sheikh Ibrahim El-Zakzaky. Police and military officials set up roadblocks and used other means to confront protestors in and around the capital city of Abuja. In the ensuring altercations, security forces shot and killed a number of IMN members. According to HRW, on October 28, soldiers shot into a procession in Zuba, a bus terminal northwest of Abuja, killing six persons. The army acknowledged in a statement that three persons were killed at Zuba, but said the soldiers were responding to an attack. According to international press reports and various human rights groups, on October 29, soldiers at a military checkpoint shot at an IMN procession at Karu, northeast of Abuja, as the group sought to continue their march into the capital. The New York Times and multiple rights groups reported that video evidence showed, and witness statements confirmed, that soldiers shot indiscriminately into the crowd of protestors, including in some cases while protestors attempted to flee. In a statement, the army said protestors attacked the soldiers. In total, the government said six IMN members were killed; AI said 45 were killed; and the IMN said 49 of its members were killed. According to a New York Times report, the soldiers involved were primarily from the Seventh Battalion of the Guards Brigade.

In areas that experienced societal violence, police and other security services permitted public meetings and demonstrations on a case-by-case basis.

Security services used excessive force to disperse demonstrators during the year (see section 1.a.).

FREEDOM OF ASSOCIATION

The constitution and law provide for the right to associate freely with other persons in political parties, trade unions, or other special interest organizations. While the government generally respected this right, on occasion authorities abrogated it for some groups. The government of Kaduna State continued its proscription of the IMN, alleging the group constituted a danger to public order and peace.

The Same Sex Marriage Prohibition Act (SSMPA), a law prohibiting marriages and civil unions among persons of the same sex, criminalizes the free association of any persons through so-called gay organizations. Citizens suspected of same-sex activities are frequently harassed, intimidated, and arrested. In August six men were arrested in Abia State on suspicion of engaging in same-sex activity. Later in the month, 57 men attending a party in Lagos were also arrested and detained by police on similar allegations. In both cases, the men were subsequently charged for lesser offences rather than under the SSMPA, but rights groups reported that the SSMPA had a significant chilling effect on free association.

Republic of the Congo

Executive Summary

The Republic of the Congo (ROC) is a presidential republic in which the constitution, promulgated in 2015, vests most decision-making authority and political power in the president and prime minister. In 2015 the Republic of the Congo adopted a new constitution, that extended previous maximum presidential term limits to three terms of five years, and provided complete immunity to former presidents. In April 2016 the Constitutional Court proclaimed the incumbent, Denis Sassou N’Guesso, winner of the March 2016 presidential election despite complaints of electoral irregularities. The government held the most recent legislative and local elections in July 2017. While the country has a multiparty political system, members of the president’s Congolese Labor Party (PCT) and its allies retained almost 90 percent of legislative seats, and PCT members occupied almost all senior government positions.

Civilian authorities generally maintained effective control over the security forces.

During the year the country experienced significant positive changes regarding internal peace and security. In December 2017 the government and representatives of the Nsiloulou faction of the Ninja rebel militia group agreed to a ceasefire, thereby ending the conflict in the Pool region that had been ongoing since 2016. In June government and UN sources stated approximately 80-90 percent of the 161,000 persons displaced by the conflict had returned to their homes and villages.

Human rights issues included reports of unlawful or arbitrary killings; forced disappearance; arbitrary detention by the government; harsh and life threatening prison conditions; political prisoners; infringement of citizens’ privacy rights; restrictions on freedoms of assembly and association; restrictions on the ability of citizens to change their government peacefully; corruption on the part of officials; violence against women, including rape, domestic violence, and child abuse; trafficking in persons; and child labor, including worst forms.

The government seldom took steps to prosecute or punish officials who committed abuses, and official impunity was a problem.

According to the United Nations, the security situation in the Pool region improved significantly. In contrast with 2017, reports of human rights abuses against civilians in the conflict zone committed either by government-controlled or rebel forces declined significantly as the security situation improved. The government did not take steps to investigate, prosecute, or punish perpetrators of human rights abuses committed during the Pool conflict by government-controlled or rebel forces in 2016 and 2017. In August the government, rebel leaders, and the United Nations Development Program announced a joint program to conduct disarmament, demobilization, and reintegration (DDR) activities in the Pool region.

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

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

There were several reports on social media of the government or its agents committing arbitrary or unlawful killings; however, for most such reports of killings besides those specified below, no independent confirmation was possible, leading to uncertainty regarding the frequency of the incidents and the total number of persons arbitrarily deprived of life.

Human rights nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) continued to report deaths resulting from abuse in prisons and pretrial detention centers (see sections 1.c. and 1.g.).

On July 23, 13 persons between the ages of 12 and 22 died in police custody in the Chacona police station in Brazzaville. Significant public backlash contributed to a shifting government narrative of the incident. The government’s public prosecutor originally announced that the deaths resulted from armed street violence between rival gangs. On July 26, however, the minister of interior admitted before Parliament that the young men died in unclear circumstances in police custody. In the days following the incident, the government announced it would launch an investigation into the incident, detained members of the police unit that worked at the Chacona police station, and paid families 2,000,000 Central African Francs each ($3,530). As of December 10, a judicial review was underway but not yet complete.

b. Disappearance

There were no new reports of politically motivated disappearances. There was no new information on the February 2017 disappearances of Nimi Ngoma Guedj, Akonga Hosny Normand, and Awambi Elmich, who were arrested and detained at the Poto-Poto 2 police jail facility.

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

The constitution prohibits torture, and the law contains a general prohibition against assault and battery, but there is no legal framework specifically banning torture under the criminal code. There were reports of cases of cruel, inhuman, and degrading treatment.

In January authorities released Dongui Christ, an activist, from custody. Authorities had accused Christ of spreading false information and disturbing the public order and subjected him to cruel, inhuman, and degrading treatment during his detention.

The United Nations reported that during the year it received two allegations of sexual exploitation and abuse against peacekeepers from the Republic of the Congo deployed in the UN Multidimensional Integrated Stabilization Mission in the Central African Republic (MINUSCA). One case alleged sexual assault (rape), the other allegation reported sexual exploitation (exploitative relationships involving 13 peacekeepers and 11 victims). Investigations by both the UN and the ROC government were pending. Four allegations were reported in 2017, of which two were pending (and one was unsubstantiated). Ten allegations dating back to 2015 were pending. In 2017 a UN review of the deployment of uniformed personnel from the ROC in MINUSCA found that the nature and extent of allegations of sexual exploitation and abuse pointed to systemic problems in command and control, leading the Republic of the Congo to withdraw its military personnel deployed in MINUSCA.

In June the government convicted three ROC military personnel accused of committing war crimes in the Central African Republic (CAR). A court sentenced the three military personnel to three years in prison before releasing them for time served. The armed forces reportedly imposed nonjudicial punishments on personnel accused of sexual exploitation and abuse in the CAR.

Prison and Detention Center Conditions

Prison and detention center conditions were harsh and life threatening due to inadequate sanitary conditions, gross overcrowding, and a severe deficit of medical and psychological care.

Physical Conditions: As of September the Brazzaville Prison, built in 1943 to accommodate 150 inmates, held more than 1,016, including 33 women and 17 minors. The Pointe-Noire Prison, built in 1934 to hold 75 inmates, held an estimated 325 persons. Police stations regularly housed individuals in their limited incarceration facilities beyond the maximum statutory holding period of 72 hours. In addition to these official prisons, the government’s intelligence and security services operated several secret detention centers and security prisons, which were inaccessible for inspection.

Authorities generally maintained separate areas within facilities for minors, women, and men in Brazzaville and Pointe-Noire. In Brazzaville, while these areas were separate, they were sometimes easily accessible with no locked entryways. In the other 10 prisons, authorities sometimes held juvenile detainees with adult prisoners.

Prison conditions for women were generally better than those for men. There was less crowding in the women’s cells than in those for men. Authorities held pretrial detainees with convicted prisoners. In Brazzaville, authorities housed and treated prisoners with illnesses in one area but allowed them to interact with other inmates.

In the Brazzaville Prison, conditions for wealthy or well connected prisoners generally were better than conditions for others.

There were several reported deaths resulting from abuse, neglect, and overcrowding in prisons and pretrial detention centers. As in 2017, a local NGO reported that figures on the number and causes of death while in custody were unavailable.

In Brazzaville and Pointe-Noire, most inmates slept on the floor on cardboard or thin mattresses in small, overcrowded cells that exposed them to disease. The prisons lacked drainage and ventilation, and they had poorly maintained lighting with wiring protruding from the walls. Basic and emergency medical care was limited. Medical personnel at the Brazzaville Prison cited tuberculosis, dysentery, malaria, and HIV as the most common maladies affecting prisoners. Authorities did not provide specialized medical care to prisoners with HIV/AIDS, nor were HIV tests available in prisons. Authorities took pregnant women to hospitals to give birth, and authorities sometimes allowed them to breastfeed their infants in prison. Access to social services personnel was severely limited due to insufficient staffing, overcrowding, and stigmatization of those with mental health issues. Prisoners had weekly access to Christian religious services only. Prison authorities permitted outdoor exercise intermittently.

Prison inmates reportedly received, on average, two daily meals consisting of rice, bread, and fish or meat. The food provided in prisons did not meet minimum caloric or nutrition requirements; however, prison authorities usually permitted inmates’ families to supply them with additional food. Authorities permitted women to cook over small fires built on the ground in a shared recreational space. The Pointe-Noire Prison occasionally had running water. All of the prisons supplied potable water to inmates in buckets.

Administration: Prison rules provide for prisoners and detainees to submit complaints to judicial authorities without censorship, but officials did not respect this right. Authorities did not investigate credible allegations of inhuman conditions brought to them by NGOs and detainees’ families.

Access to prisoners generally required a communication permit from a judge. The permit allowed visitors to spend five to 15 minutes with a prisoner, although authorities usually did not strictly enforce this limit. In most cases, visits took place either in a crowded open area or in a small room with one extended table where approximately 10 detainees sat at a time. A new permit is technically required for each visit, but families were often able to return for multiple visits on one permit. Since many prisoners’ families lived far away, visits often were infrequent because of the financial hardship of travel.

Independent Monitoring: The government provided domestic and international human rights groups with limited access to prisons and detention centers. Observers generally considered the primary local NGO focused on prison conditions independent; authorities, however, denied it access to the interior of several different prisons on multiple occasions throughout the year.

Throughout the year, human rights NGOs that monitored detention conditions requested letters of permission from the Ministry of Justice to visit prisons. Their repeated requests went unanswered.

Representatives of religiously affiliated charitable organizations visited prisons and detention centers for charitable work and religious counseling. Authorities granted diplomatic missions’ access to both prisons and police jails to provide consular assistance to their citizens.

d. Arbitrary Arrest or Detention

The constitution and law prohibit arbitrary arrest and detention, but local NGOs report arbitrary arrest continued to be a problem. The constitution and law provide detainees the right to challenge the legal basis of their detention before a competent judge or authority, but the government generally did not observe the law.

ROLE OF THE POLICE AND SECURITY APPARATUS

Security forces consist of police, the gendarmerie, and the military. Police and the gendarmerie are responsible for maintaining internal order, with police primarily operating in cities and the gendarmerie mainly in other areas. Military forces are responsible for territorial security, but some units also have domestic security responsibilities. For example, the specialized Republican Guard battalion provides protection for the president, government buildings, and diplomatic missions. The Ministry of Defense oversees the military and gendarmerie, and the Ministry of the Interior and Decentralization oversees the police.

A civilian police unit under the Ministry of Interior and Decentralization is responsible for patrolling the borders. Separately, a military police unit reports to the Ministry of Defense and is composed of military and police officers responsible for investigating professional misconduct by members of any of the security forces.

Civilian authorities generally maintained effective control over the security forces; however, there were members of the security forces who acted independently of civilian authority, committed abuses, and engaged in malfeasance. The law charges both the military police and the Office of the Inspector General of Police with investigating reports of misconduct by security forces. The civilian justice system is responsible for conducting trials of military force members accused of crimes.

ARREST PROCEDURES AND TREATMENT OF DETAINEES

The constitution and law require that a duly authorized official issue warrants before making arrests, a person be apprehended openly, a lawyer be present during initial questioning, and detainees be brought before a judge within three days and either charged or released within four months. The government habitually violated these provisions. There is a bail system, but with 70 percent of the population living in poverty, most detainees could not afford to post bail. There is an option for provisional release, but officials usually denied these requests, even for detainees with serious medical conditions. Authorities sometimes informed detainees of charges against them at the time of arrest, but filing of formal charges often took at least one week. There were reports that authorities arrested detainees secretly and without judicial authorization and sometimes detained suspects incommunicado or put them under de facto house arrest. Police at times held persons for six months or longer before filing charges due to the political nature of the case or administrative errors. Observers attributed most administrative delays to lack of staff in the Ministry of Justice and the court system. Family members sometimes received prompt access to detainees but often only after payment of bribes. The law requires authorities to provide lawyers to indigent detainees facing criminal charges at government expense, but this usually did not occur.

The penal code states authorities may hold a detainee for a maximum of 48 to 72 hours in a police jail before an attorney general reviews the case. Thereafter, authorities must decide to release or to transfer the individual to a prison for pretrial detention. Authorities generally did not observe the 72-hour maximum and frequently held detainees for several weeks before an attorney general freed or transferred them to a prison to await trial. The criminal code states that a defendant or accused person may apply for provisional release at any point during his or her detention, from either an investigating judge or a trial court, depending on the type of case. The law states that provisional release should generally be granted, provided that the judicial investigation is sufficiently advanced, that the accused does not pose a risk of subornation of witnesses, and does not pose a threat of disturbance to public order caused by the offense initially alleged; however, this law was not respected in practice.

Arbitrary Arrest: Reports suggest that arbitrary and false arrests continued to occur.

In November 2017 plain-clothes members of the security forces arrested Steve Bagne Batongo, a lawyer, in Brazzaville. Authorities arrested Bagne in his law office in violation of Article 53 of Congolese Law 026-92 on the Organization of Professional Lawyers. Authorities held Bagne in custody without charge longer than the 72 hours allowed under Article 48 of the penal code. In January authorities released Bagne from detention without trial.

Prostitution is legal. Under the law procuring (arranging the prostitution of another for financial gain) and sex trafficking are illegal. In November, the Brazzaville police arrested a Cameroonian national accused of procuring prostitution. In December, the Ministry of Women’s Promotion conducted job training for 20 former female prostitutes to encourage them to pursue other types of employment. There were unconfirmed reports that police arrested prostitutes, including gay men, for alleged illegal activity.

Pretrial Detention: The penal code sets a maximum of four months in pretrial detention. Under the law pretrial detention is extendable for two additional months with judicial approval. The penal code is not clear whether the two-month extension is renewable. Judges often renewed the two-month extension of pretrial detainees. Between 60 and 75 percent of detainees in the prisons were pretrial detainees. Prison authorities stated the average provisional detention for noncriminal cases lasted one to three months and for criminal cases at least 12 months. Human rights activists, however, stated the average was much longer, commonly exceeding a year, and sometimes exceeding the maximum sentence for the alleged crime.

For example, in November 2015 authorities arrested British citizen Paulin Makaya, president of the opposition United for Congo Party, for “incitement to public disorder” for organizing and participating in an unauthorized demonstration in October 2015 against the constitutional referendum. Makaya remained in pretrial detention for two years and eight months under the charge of disturbing public order. On March 18, authorities charged Makaya with inciting disorderly conduct. His trial took place in July, and the court sentenced Makaya to one year in jail and eligible for release based on time served as of September 15. The government released Makaya on September 17.

Lengthy pretrial detentions were due to the judicial system’s lack of capacity, and a lack of political will to address the issue. The penal code defines three levels of crime: misdemeanors (punishable by less than one year in prison), the delicts (punishable by one to five years in prison), and felonies (punishable by more than five years in prison). Criminal courts try misdemeanor and delict cases regularly. The judicial system, however, suffered from a serious backlog of felony cases. By law criminal courts must hear felony cases four times per year. Due to a lack of funding, no felony cases took place from 2014 until March. Authorities held in pretrial detention those accused of felonies for the duration of this period. From March to May, criminal courts held felony sessions throughout the country. Brazzaville’s criminal court heard 132 felony cases.

Detainee’s Ability to Challenge Lawfulness of Detention before a Court: The constitution and law prohibit arbitrary arrest, arbitrary detention, and false arrest and provide detainees the right to challenge the legal basis of their detention before a competent judge or authority. If an investigating judge determines a detainee to be innocent, his or her release is promptly ordered, and he or she is entitled to file suit with the Administrative Court. The government, however, generally did not observe this law. Local human rights NGOs reported numerous occasions when officials denied detainees in Brazzaville the right to challenge their detention.

e. Denial of Fair Public Trial

The constitution and law are the framework for an independent judiciary. High caseload, lack of financial resources, political influence, and corruption remained problematic. Authorities generally abided by court orders; however, judges did not always issue direct court orders against accused authorities.

In rural areas traditional courts continued to handle many local disputes, particularly property, inheritance, and witchcraft cases, and domestic conflicts that could not be resolved within the family.

TRIAL PROCEDURES

The constitution provides for the right to a fair trial presided over by an independent judiciary, but authorities did not always respect this right. In 2011, the Ministry of Justice began to decentralize the trial process. Appeals courts existed in five departments–Brazzaville, Pointe-Noire, Dolisie, Owando, and Ouesso–and each had authority to try felony cases brought within its jurisdiction.

Under the law all defendants must be informed promptly and in detail of the charges, with free interpretation as necessary and have a right to a fair and public trial in all criminal cases and felony cases. Defendants in all criminal trials have the right to be present at their trials and to consult with an attorney in a timely manner, although this did not always occur. The law obligates the government to provide legal assistance to any indigent defendant facing serious criminal charges, but such legal assistance was not always available because the government did not generally pay for public defenders.

Defendants have the right to adequate time and facilities to prepare a defense. They also have the right to confront or question accusers and witnesses against them and present witnesses and evidence on their own behalf. Defendants have the right not to be compelled to testify or confess guilt and have the right to appeal. The law extends these rights to all citizens, and the government generally abided by these provisions, except in highly politicized cases.

POLITICAL PRISONERS AND DETAINEES

During the year, authorities released numerous prisoners and detainees. According to local NGOs, approximately 70 persons remained in detention for political reasons. On June 26, authorities released 81 supporters of the leader of the Ninja militia, Pasteur Ntumi to solidify the December 23 ceasefire agreement signed between the government and rebel forces.

In December 2017 authorities released an American citizen who served 20 months of prison time for political reasons.

Former presidential candidates Jean-Marie Michel Mokoko and Andre Okombi Salissa remained in jail as of November 14. On October 19, however, authorities released senior members of their staff including Jean Ngouabi, Jacques Banagandzala, Anatole Limbongo Ngoka, Christine Moyen, Dieudonne Dhird, and Raymond Ebonga.

The government permitted limited access to political prisoners by international human rights and humanitarian organizations and diplomatic missions.

CIVIL JUDICIAL PROCEDURES AND REMEDIES

The judiciary heard felony court cases from March to May for the first time since September 2014. Brazzaville’s felony court tried 132 pending cases.

Civil courts continued to review cases on a regular basis throughout the year. Civil courts experienced long delays, although shorter than felony courts. Individuals may file a lawsuit in court on civil matters related to human rights, including seeking damages for or cessation of a human rights violation. The public, however, generally lacked confidence in the judicial system’s ability to address human rights problems.

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

The constitution and law prohibit such actions; the government, however, did not always respect these prohibitions.

There were reports government authorities entered homes without judicial or other appropriate authorization, monitored private movements, and employed informer systems.

Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:

a. Freedom of Speech and Press

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

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

Press and Media Freedom: Press and media outlets regularly published criticism and satire of the government and senior officials. Most citizens obtained their news from local retransmission of international media and local radio or television stations. There was greater space in electronic media for open discussion of government policy, including critical discussion. International radio broadcasts and satellite television services were available and encouraged discussions of public policy.

Violence and Harassment: There were reports of direct and indirect intimidation of journalists by the government. For example, in June Fortunat Ngoualali, a 36-year-old journalist for VoxTV, was held in police custody for four days for publishing a readout of a closed-door meeting of the ruling Congolese Labor Party (PCT) on social media.

In July authorities released Ghys Fortune Dombe Bemba, a journalist arrested in January 2017 for publishing a manifesto by rebel leader Frederic Bintsamou a.k.a. Pastor Ntumi. Dombe Bemba’s release fulfilled a key demand of the Ninja militia that was identified in the December 23 cease-fire agreement ending the Pool region conflict.

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

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

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

There were no reports that the government revoked journalists’ accreditations if their reporting reflected adversely on the government’s image. The CSLC suspended the operations and circulation of at least two newspapers during the year. The CSLC suspended “Le Nouveau Regard” in July and “Le Troubador” in September. The CSLC accused both newspapers of printing information that was untrue or unverified. Several journalists have expressed a fear of termination from their positions for reporting on politically sensitive topics.

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

National Security: There were no reports of government actions to restrict foreign media criticism during the reporting period.

INTERNET FREEDOM

There were reports government authorities monitored private digital communications without appropriate legal authority, including email, text messaging, or other digital communications intended to remain private. Government officials often corresponded with opposition or diaspora figures using social media accounts encouraging online discourse of major current events.

According to the International Telecommunication Union, 8.6 percent of individuals used the internet in 2017.

ACADEMIC FREEDOM AND CULTURAL EVENTS

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

Self-censorship was common in academia and at cultural events, especially in universities, where there was little room for public discourse on politically sensitive topics. Many university-level professors held second jobs as close advisors to government officials, possibly influencing their intellectual independence.

b. Freedom of Peaceful Assembly and Association

The government restricted freedoms of peaceful assembly and association.

FREEDOM OF PEACEFUL ASSEMBLY

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

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

Local NGOs and political groups reported restrictions on freedom of assembly throughout the year. For example, in May security forces arrested 23 activists from the political youth activist movement Ras-le-Bol (“enough is enough”), including coordinator Frank Nzila, for “association with criminals and participation in an unauthorized demonstration” following their demonstration in Pointe-Noire on May 7 calling on the government to release political prisoners. In July the government released Ras-le-Bol’s members from custody. Ras-le-Bol’s members also reported numerous direct threats from police to stop their activities, and police harassment targeting their families and friends to ascertain their whereabouts.

FREEDOM OF ASSOCIATION

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

Senegal

Executive Summary

Senegal is a republic dominated by a strong executive branch. In 2012 voters elected Macky Sall as president for a seven-year term, in elections local and international observers considered to be free and fair. In July 2017 Sall’s coalition won the majority of seats in the National Assembly. Local and international observers viewed the legislative election as largely free and fair despite significant irregularities.

Civilian authorities generally maintained effective control over the security forces.

Human rights issues included torture and arbitrary arrests by security forces; harsh and potentially life-threatening prison conditions; criminal libel; lack of judicial independence; corruption, particularly in the judiciary, police, and elsewhere in the executive branch; lack of accountability in cases involving violence against women and children, including female genital mutilation/cutting (FGM/C); trafficking in persons; criminalization of same-sex sexual conduct and violence against lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex (LGBTI) persons, and forced labor.

The government took steps to investigate, prosecute, and punish officials who committed abuses, whether in the security forces or elsewhere in the government, but impunity for abuses existed.

In the southern Casamance region, situated between The Gambia and Guinea-Bissau, a de facto ceasefire between security forces and armed separatists continued for a sixth year. Sporadic incidents of violence occurred in the Casamance, but they were associated more with criminal activity than directly with the separatist conflict. Individuals associated with various factions of the separatist Movement of Democratic Forces of the Casamance (MFDC) continued to rob and harass local populations. There were occasional accidental contacts and skirmishes between security forces and MFDC units, leading to deaths and injuries of rebels and harm to civilians, and the Senegalese military conducted operations in response to a massacre of 14 individuals in the Casamance by unidentified individuals. Mediation efforts continued in search of a negotiated resolution of the conflict, which began in 1982.

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

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

There was at least one report that the government or its agents committed arbitrary or unlawful killings. On May 15, a gendarmerie (paramilitary) unit leader shot and killed Fallou Sene, a second-year university student, during a clash between students and security forces at Gaston Berger University in Saint-Louis. Authorities opened an investigation into the killing, which remained pending; no arrest had been made by year’s end.

b. Disappearance

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

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

The constitution and law prohibit such practices. Human rights organizations noted examples of physical abuse committed by law enforcement, including excessive use of force as well as cruel and degrading treatment in prisons and detention facilities. In particular, they criticized strip search and interrogation methods. Police reportedly forced detainees to sleep on bare floors, directed bright lights at them, beat them with batons, and kept them in cells with minimal access to fresh air. The government claimed these practices were not widespread and that it usually conducted formal investigations into allegations of abuse. Investigations, however, often were unduly prolonged and rarely resulted in charges or indictments.

In June Mamadou Diop, a young merchant, died in police custody after officers arrested him in his apartment in the Dakar district of Medina on charges of handling stolen goods. Postmortem examinations revealed his death was caused by head injuries. Investigations into the case were pending at year’s end.

According to the United Nations, three allegations of sexual exploitation and abuse against peacekeepers from Senegal prior to 2018 were pending. Two cases reported in 2017 alleged exploitative sexual relationships involving police officers deployed with the UN Organization Stabilization Mission in the Democratic Republic of the Congo and the United Nations Multidimensional Integrated Stabilization Mission in the Central African Republic respectively. One allegation was substantiated, according to the UN investigation. The United Nations repatriated one police officer, and the UN investigation on the other case was pending. Investigations by Senegal remained pending. A third allegation reported in 2016 also remained pending.

Prison and Detention Center Conditions

Prison and detention center conditions were harsh and potentially life-threatening due to food shortages, overcrowding, poor sanitation, and inadequate medical care.

Physical Conditions: Overcrowding was endemic. For example, Dakar’s main prison facility, Rebeuss, held more than twice the number of inmates for which it was designed. Female detainees generally had better conditions than males. Pretrial detainees were not always separated from convicted prisoners. Juvenile boys were often housed with men or permitted to move freely with men during the day. Girls were held together with women. Infants and newborns were often kept in prison with their mothers until age one, with no special cells, additional medical provisions, or extra food rations.

In addition to overcrowding, the National Organization for Human Rights, a nongovernmental organization (NGO), identified lack of adequate sanitation as a major problem. Poor and insufficient food, limited access to medical care, stifling heat, poor drainage, and insect infestations also were problems throughout the prison system.

According to 2016 government statistics, the most recent available, 25 inmates died in prisons and detention centers in 2016. While perpetrators may have been subject to internal disciplinary sanctions, no prosecutions or other public actions were taken against them.

On February 19, Balla Basse, a pretrial detainee, died at Aristide Le Dantec Hospital in Dakar of natural causes.

Administration: Authorities did not always conduct credible investigations into allegations of mistreatment. Ombudsmen were available to respond to complaints, but prisoners did not know how to access them or file reports. Authorities permitted prisoners and detainees to submit complaints to judicial authorities without censorship and to request investigation of credible allegations of inhuman conditions, but there was no evidence that officials conducted any follow-up investigations.

Independent Monitoring: The government permitted prison visits by local human rights groups, all of which operated independently, and by international observers. The National Observer of Detention Facilities had full and unfettered access to all civilian prison and detention facilities, but not to military and intelligence facilities. The national observer lacked funds to monitor prisons throughout the country. It previously published an annual report, but reports for 2015-17 had not been published by year’s end.

Members of the International Committee of the Red Cross visited prisons in Dakar and the Casamance.

d. Arbitrary Arrest or Detention

The constitution and law prohibit arbitrary arrest and detention; however, the government did not always observe these prohibitions. Detainees are legally permitted to challenge in court the legal basis or arbitrary nature of their detention and obtain prompt release and compensation if found to have been unlawfully detained; however, this rarely occurred due to lack of adequate legal counsel.

ROLE OF THE POLICE AND SECURITY APPARATUS

Police and gendarmes are responsible for maintaining law and order. The army shares that responsibility in exceptional cases, such as during a state of emergency. The National Police are part of the Interior Ministry and operate in major cities. The Gendarmerie is part of the Ministry of Defense and primarily operates outside major cities.

Civilian authorities generally maintained effective control over police, gendarmes, and the army, but the government did not have effective mechanisms to punish abuse and corruption. The Criminal Investigation Department (DIC) is in charge of investigating police abuses but was ineffective in addressing impunity or corruption.

An amnesty law covers police and other security personnel involved in “political crimes” committed between 1983 and 2004, except for killings in “cold blood.”

The Regional Court of Dakar includes a military tribunal, which has jurisdiction over crimes committed by military personnel. The tribunal is composed of a civilian judge, a civilian prosecutor, and two military assistants to advise the judge, one of whom must be of equal rank to the defendant. The tribunal may try civilians only if they were involved with military personnel who violated military law. The military tribunal provides the same rights as a civilian criminal court.

ARREST PROCEDURES AND TREATMENT OF DETAINEES

Unless a crime is “flagrant” (just committed or discovered shortly after being committed), police must obtain a warrant from a court to arrest or detain a suspect. In practice, police treat most cases as “flagrant” offenses and make arrests without warrants, invoking the law that grants them broad powers to detain prisoners for long periods before filing formal charges. The DIC may hold persons up to 24 hours before releasing or charging them. Authorities did not promptly inform many detainees of the charges against them. Police officers, including DIC officials, may double the detention period from 24 to 48 hours without charge if they can demonstrate substantial grounds for a future indictment and if a prosecutor so authorizes. If such extended detention is authorized, the detainee must be brought in front of the prosecutor within 48 hours of detention. For particularly serious offenses, investigators may request that a prosecutor double this period to 96 hours. Authorities have the power to detain terrorist suspects for an initial 96 hours, and with renewals for a maximum of 12 days. The detention period does not formally begin until authorities officially declare an individual is being detained, a practice Amnesty International criticized for the resulting lengthy detentions.

Bail was rarely available, and officials generally did not allow family access. In 2016 the government amended the criminal code and criminal procedure code, giving defense attorneys access to suspects from the moment of arrest and allowing them to be present during interrogation; this provision, however, was not regularly implemented. In theory an attorney is provided at public expense in felony cases to all criminal defendants who cannot afford one after the initial period of detention. In many cases, however, the appointed counsel rarely shows up, especially outside of Dakar. Indigent defendants did not always receive attorneys in misdemeanor cases. A number of NGOs provided legal assistance or counseling to those charged with crimes.

Pretrial Detention: According to a 2014 EU-funded study, more than 60 percent of the prison population consisted of pretrial detainees. According to official statistics, approximately 4,200 of the approximately 10,000 registered prisoners in 2017 were pretrial detainees. The law states an accused person may not be held in pretrial detention for more than six months for minor crimes; however, authorities routinely held persons in custody until a court demanded their release. Judicial backlogs and absenteeism of judges resulted in an average delay of two years between the filing of charges and the beginning of a trial. In cases involving allegations of murder, threats to state security, and embezzlement of public funds, there were no limits on the length of pretrial detention. In many cases pretrial detainees were held longer than the length of sentence later imposed. The 2016 modification to the criminal code created permanent criminal chambers to reduce the backlog of pretrial detainees, with some success.

On July 19, Imam Alioune Badara Ndao was acquitted of terrorism charges but sentenced to a one-month suspended sentence for illegal possession of weapons. Fourteen of his co-defendants were also acquitted and released. All had spent nearly three years in pretrial detention.

e. Denial of Fair Public Trial

Although the constitution and law provide for an independent judiciary, the judiciary was subject to corruption and government influence. Magistrates noted overwhelming caseloads, lack of adequate space and office equipment, and inadequate transportation, and they openly questioned the government’s commitment to judicial independence. According to Freedom in the World 2016, “inadequate pay and lack of tenure expose judges to external influences and prevent the courts from providing a proper check on the other branches of government. The president controls appointments to the Constitutional Council.” Authorities did not always respect court orders.

On several occasions the Union of Senegalese Judges and Prosecutors complained about the influence of the executive over the judiciary, in particular through the presence of the president and the minister of justice in the High Council of Magistrates, which manages the careers of judges and prosecutors. In response Justice Minister Ismaila Madior Fall defended existing systems, including the High Council of Magistrates, and stated the executive did not interfere in judicial affairs. To address the complaints, however, in February President Sall instructed the minister to propose changes to strengthen judicial independence, taking the union’s recommendations into account. No proposed changes had been adopted by year’s end.

TRIAL PROCEDURES

The constitution provides for all defendants to have the right to a fair and public trial, and for an independent judiciary to enforce this right. Defendants enjoy a presumption of innocence and have the right to be informed promptly and in detail of the charges against them. They have the right to a fair, timely, and public trial, to be present in court during their trial and to have an attorney (at public expense if needed) in felony cases, and they have the right to appeal. They also have the right to sufficient time and facilities to prepare their defense, and to receive free interpretation as necessary from the moment charged through all appeals. Defendants enjoy the right to confront and present witnesses and to present their own witnesses and evidence.

While defendants cannot be compelled to testify against themselves or confess guilt, the country’s long-standing practice is for defendants to provide information to investigators and testify during trials. In addition, case backlogs, lack of legal counsel (especially in regions outside of Dakar), judicial inefficiency and corruption, and lengthy pretrial detention undermined many of the rights of defendants.

Evidentiary hearings may be closed to the public and press. Although a defendant and counsel may introduce evidence before an investigating judge who decides whether to refer a case for trial, police or prosecutors may limit their access to evidence against the defendant prior to trial. A panel of judges presides over ordinary courts in civil and criminal cases.

The right of appeal exists in all courts, except for the High Court of Justice. These rights extend to all citizens.

In March 2017 authorities in Dakar arrested the city’s then mayor Khalifa Sall (no relation to President Sall), an opposition leader, on charges of fraudulent use of public funds. Sall was elected to the National Assembly in July 2017 while still in custody and has since remained in custody. On March 30, Sall was convicted of fraudulent use of public funds and forgery of administrative documents and sentenced to five years in prison. Opposition figures and human rights advocates alleged Sall’s arrest and conviction, despite his election and subsequent parliamentary immunity, were politically motivated. On June 29, the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) Court of Justice agreed the government had violated Sall’s rights, including his parliamentary immunity, by not releasing him upon his election to the legislature. The ECOWAS court ordered the government to pay damages to Sall and his codefendants. Despite these irregularities, on August 30, an appeals court upheld the lower court’s decision, and on August 31, President Sall issued a decree formally removing Khalifa Sall as the mayor of Dakar.

POLITICAL PRISONERS AND DETAINEES

There were no reports of political prisoners or detainees.

CIVIL JUDICIAL PROCEDURES AND REMEDIES

Citizens may seek cessation of and reparation for human rights violations in regular administrative or judicial courts. Citizens may also seek administrative remedies by filing a complaint with the ombudsman, an independent authority. Corruption and lack of independence hampered judicial and administrative handling of these cases. At times prosecutors refused to prosecute security officials, and violators often went unpunished. In matters related to human rights, individuals and organizations may appeal adverse decisions to the ECOWAS Court of Justice.

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

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

Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:

a. Freedom of Speech and Press

The constitution and law provide for freedom of expression, including for the press, but the government occasionally limited these freedoms.

Freedom of Expression: Blasphemy, security, and criminal defamation laws are in place and were occasionally enforced.

On March 30, authorities arrested Barthelemy Dias, a former member of the National Assembly and current mayor of the Dakar district of Mermoz-Sacre Coeur, and prominent supporter of Khalifa Sall. After Sall’s conviction earlier that day, Dias made inflammatory remarks against the country’s judiciary and called on the crowd of Sall supporters gathered outside the court to continue the fight. In April a court in Dakar convicted Dias on charges of contempt and of provoking a potentially disruptive, unauthorized gathering; it sentenced Dias to six months in jail.

Press and Media Freedom: Independent journalists regularly criticized the government without reprisal. Private independent publications and government-affiliated media were available in Dakar, although their distribution in rural areas was irregular.

Radio was the most important medium of mass information and source of news due to the high illiteracy rate. There were approximately 200 community, public, and private commercial radio stations. Although an administrative law regulates radio frequency assignments, community radio operators claimed a lack of transparency in the process.

Although the government continued to influence locally televised information and opinion through Radio Television Senegal (RTS), more than 10 privately owned television channels broadcast independently. By law the government holds a majority interest in RTS, and the president directly or indirectly controlled selection of all members of the RTS executive staff. Beyond RTS all other public media outlets including the Senegalese Press Agency and the Le Soleil daily journal were controlled by members of President Sall’s ruling party, appointed by Sall; reporting by these outlets often carried a progovernment bias.

On September 3, a gendarme on duty physically attacked and injured Mamadou Sakine, a reporter from Le Quotidien newspaper, for photographing him assaulting a woman outside the Court of Appeals in Dakar. The gendarme first confiscated Sakine’s camera, then attacked Sakine for protesting his camera’s seizure. After pressure from other journalists, the gendarme returned the camera. Authorities did not announce an investigation into the incident nor sanctions against the officer.

Censorship or Content Restrictions: Journalists occasionally practiced self-censorship, particularly in government-controlled media.

INTERNET FREEDOM

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

According to the International Telecommunication Union, approximately 58 percent of individuals used the internet.

ACADEMIC FREEDOM AND CULTURAL EVENTS

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

b. Freedom of Peaceful Assembly and Association

The government sometimes restricted freedom of peaceful assembly but generally respected freedom of association.

FREEDOM OF PEACEFUL ASSEMBLY

The constitution and law provide for the freedom of assembly, but the government sometimes restricted this right. Some groups complained of undue delays in response to authorization requests for public demonstrations. Other groups were denied such authorization.

In April the government denied a permit to opposition activists to protest the National Assembly’s vote on a law changing the eligibility requirements for presidential candidates and used force to disperse opposition supporters trying to hold the protest despite the ban. The government also detained several opposition leaders for several hours before releasing them without pressing charges.

South Sudan

Executive Summary

South Sudan is a republic operating under the terms of a peace agreement signed in August 2015 and renewed in September. President Salva Kiir Mayardit, whose authority derives from his 2010 election as president of what was then the semiautonomous region of Southern Sudan within the Republic of Sudan, is chief of state and head of government. International observers considered the 2011 referendum on South Sudanese self-determination, in which 98 percent of voters chose to separate from Sudan, to be free and fair. Since then all government positions have been appointed rather than elected.

Civilian authorities routinely failed to maintain effective control over the security forces.

In 2013 a power struggle within the ruling Sudan People’s Liberation Movement (SPLM) party erupted into armed conflict. President Salva Kiir accused then first vice president Riek Machar Teny of plotting a coup. The two leaders appealed to their respective ethnic communities, and the conflict spread primarily to the northwest of the country. The parties signed several ceasefire agreements, culminating in the 2015 peace agreement. A ceasefire generally held from 2015 to July 2016, when fighting broke out in Juba, eventually spreading to the rest of the country. The major warring factions signed a “revitalized” peace agreement in September, which was still holding at year’s end.

Human rights issues included government-perpetrated extrajudicial killings, including ethnically based targeted killings of civilians; forced disappearances and the mass forced displacement of approximately 4.4 million civilians; torture; arbitrary detention; harsh and life-threatening prison conditions; political prisoners; violence against, intimidation, and detention of journalists, closure of media houses, censorship, and site blocking; substantial interference with freedom of association; significant restrictions on freedom of movement; restrictions on political participation; corruption; unlawful recruitment and use of approximately 19,000 child soldiers; widespread rape of civilians targeted as a weapon of war; trafficking in persons; criminalization of LGBTI conduct, and violence against the LGBTI community.

Security force abuses occurred throughout the country. Despite one successful prosecution, impunity was widespread and remained a major problem.

Opposition forces also perpetrated serious human rights abuses, which, according to the United Nations, included unlawful killings, abduction, rape, sexual slavery, and forced recruitment.

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

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

The United Nations, international ceasefire monitors, human rights organizations, and media reported the government or its agents committed numerous arbitrary or unlawful killings. Security forces, opposition forces, armed militias affiliated with the government and the opposition, and ethnically based groups were also responsible for widespread extrajudicial killings in conflict zones (see section 1.g.).

There were numerous reported unlawful killings similar to the following example: According to the Ceasefire and Transitional Security Arrangements Monitoring Mechanism (CTSAMM), on February 26, SPLA forces attacked the town of Modit in Northern Jonglei. According to eyewitness reports, the soldiers looted and burned numerous properties, including those belonging to an international NGO. Reportedly, the SPLA targeted a tukul (a South Sudanese hut), in which a number of schoolchildren had sought refuge. According to witnesses, SPLA soldiers set it alight with the children inside and stood at the door of the tukul to ensure the children were eventually burnt to death.

b. Disappearance

Security and opposition forces, armed militias affiliated with the government or the opposition, and ethnically based groups abducted an unknown number of persons, including women and children (see section 1.g.).

There were numerous reported disappearances similar to the following: In January opposition official Marko Lokidor Lochapio was abducted from Kakuma Refugee Camp in Kenya. Human rights groups alleged Lokidor was illegally extradited to South Sudan and held in detention without charge at the National Security Service (NSS) headquarters in Juba. In February Information Minister Michael Makuei categorically denied  the government had custody of Lochapio; however, the government later admitted this was a lie and Lochapio was released from NSS Headquarters on October 25.

There were no updates in the cases of Samuel Dong Luak and Aggrey Idris Ezbon, who were forcibly abducted from Kenya and illegally extradited to South Sudan in 2017. While human rights groups alleged the NSS is holding them without charge, their whereabouts remained unknown.

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

The transitional constitution prohibits such practices, but security forces mutilated, tortured, beat, and harassed political opponents, journalists, and human rights workers (see sections 2.a. and 5). Government and opposition forces, armed militia groups affiliated with both, and warring ethnic groups committed torture and abuses in conflict zones (see section 1.g.).

One ex-detainee interviewed by Amnesty International described his detention by the NSS by saying, “if they thought you had misbehaved, they would beat you. If the soldiers come in drunk, they would beat you. The torturing there is beyond (words). Some people are tortured even with electricity. People are beaten to the point of collapsing.”

There were numerous reported abuses including sexual and gender-based violence, beating and torture of detainees, and harassment and intimidation of human rights defenders and humanitarian workers. According to Amnesty International, throughout the year thousands of persons were victims of sexual violence by government forces, including “rape, gang rape, sexual slavery, sexual mutilation, torture, castration, or forced nudity”.

Prison and Detention Center Conditions

Prison conditions were harsh and life threatening. Overcrowding and inadequate medical care at times resulted in illness and death. While some prisons employed doctors, medical care was rudimentary, and prison physicians often had inadequate training and supplies. There were reports of abuse by prison guards.

Physical Conditions: Men and women were generally, but not always, held in separate areas, but male and female inmates often mixed freely during the day due to space constraints. Due to overcrowding, authorities did not always hold juveniles separately from adults and rarely separated pretrial detainees from convicted prisoners. Children, especially infants, often lived with their mothers in prison.

Nonviolent offenders are kept with violent offenders because of resource and spatial constraints. In 2016 the National Prison Service (NPS) reported holding 162 inmates with mental disabilities. Persons determined by a judge to be sufficiently dangerous (and “mentally ill”) following referral by family or the community, are incarcerated, medicated, and remain in detention until a medical evaluation determines they are no longer a threat and can be released.

Health care and sanitation were inadequate, and basic medical supplies and equipment were lacking. According to nongovernmental organizations (NGOs), prisoners received one meal per day of low nutritional value and relied on family or friends for additional food. Potable water was limited. In some locations prisoners slept in overcrowded open hallways and buildings lined with bunk beds. Ventilation and lighting were inadequate.

Malnutrition and lack of medical care contributed to inmate deaths, although no statistics were available.

Detention centers were under the control of local tribal or state authorities, and conditions were uniformly harsh and life threatening. Many facilities in rural areas consisted of uncovered spaces where authorities chained detainees to a wall, fence, or tree, often unsheltered from the sun. As with state-run prisons, sanitary and medical facilities were poor or nonexistent, and potable water was limited. Detainees sometimes spent days outdoors but slept inside in areas that lacked adequate ventilation and lighting.

Conditions in SPLA-run detention facilities were similar, and in some cases worse, with many detainees held outdoors with poor access to sanitary or medical facilities.

The United Nations Mission in South Sudan (UNMISS) maintained facilities at Protection of Civilian (PoC) sites in Juba, Malakal, Bentiu, and Bor to hold internally displaced persons (IDPs) who were criminal suspects. Authorities did not intend the holding facilities to house IDPs for more than 72 hours, but they sometimes held IDP suspects longer due to delays in determining how to treat individual cases, or due to the inability to reintroduce offenders into PoC sites because of threats from their victims, or the threat the offender posed to the greater community. UNMISS observed prisoners daily and offered medical treatment for serious complications. Prisoners received food twice a day.

The NSS operated a detention facility in Juba that held civilian prisoners (see section 1.d.).

Administration: The NPS continued reporting of prisoner totals from all state prisons to its Juba headquarters, including statistics on juveniles and persons with mental disabilities (see section 1.d.). There were no prison ombudsmen.

The NPS allowed prisoner’s access to visitors and permitted them to take part in religious observances, but NSS and SPLA authorities were less likely to do so. The NPS allowed prisoners to submit complaints to judicial authorities without censorship and to request investigation of allegations of inhuman conditions. Prison authorities sometimes investigated such allegations, although they seldom took action.

Independent Monitoring: The NPS permitted visits by independent human rights observers, including UNMISS human rights officers, nongovernmental observers, international organizations, and journalists. Authorities sometimes permitted monitors to visit detention facilities operated by the SPLA. International monitors were denied permission to visit facilities operated by the NSS, which held both military prisoners and civilians without legal authority.

d. Arbitrary Arrest or Detention

The transitional constitution prohibits arbitrary arrest and detention without charge. The government, however, arrested and detained individuals arbitrarily. The law provides for the right of any person to challenge the lawfulness of his or her arrest or detention, but there were no known cases where an appellant successfully sought compensation for wrongful detention.

Since the beginning of the crisis in 2013, there were regular reports that security forces conducted arbitrary arrests, including of journalists, civil society actors, and supposed political opponents (see sections 1.a., 1.c., and 1.g.). While not legally vested with the authority, the SPLA often arrested or detained civilians. The NSS also routinely detained civilians. Security services rarely reported such arrests to police, other civilian authorities, or, in the case of foreigners arrested, diplomatic missions. Police also routinely arrested civilians based on little or no evidence prior to conducting investigations and often held them for weeks or months without charge or trial.

There were numerous reported arbitrary arrests or detentions similar to the following examples: On July 28, prominent South Sudanese academic and activist Dr. Peter Biar Ajak was arrested at Juba International Airport. As of December he was still being held with no access to legal counsel or other visitors.

ROLE OF THE POLICE AND SECURITY APPARATUS

Civilian authorities did not maintain effective control over any of the security forces, and the government has no effective mechanisms to investigate and punish abuse.

The South Sudan National Police Service, under the Ministry of Interior, is responsible for law enforcement and maintenance of order. Consisting largely of former SPLA soldiers, it was poorly trained, corrupt, and widely distrusted. Authorities often based detentions on accusations rather than investigations. They rarely investigated complaints of police abuse. Police often went months without pay; they solicited bribes or sought compensation, often in the form of food or fuel, for services rendered to civilians.

A recent nationwide citizen security poll, however, conducted in November through the South Sudanese Network for Democracy and Elections, a national network of local civil society actors, stated that 78 percent of those polled said they go to the police when they are a victim or witness a crime.

The SPLA is responsible for providing security throughout the country and ostensibly operates under the Ministry of Defense and Veterans’ Affairs; current and former military personnel staffed the ministry. The SPLA does not have law enforcement authority, unless acting at the request of civil authorities. Nevertheless, the SPLA regularly exercised police functions, in part due to the limited presence and general ineffectiveness of law enforcement in many areas. It routinely detained persons, including in SPLA-run detention facilities to which monitors generally had little or no access. The SPLA’s approach to internal security and civilian disarmament was often unsystematic and disproportionate, contributing to conflict within and between communities while undermining the government’s legitimacy in conflict areas. The law requires cases of SPLA abuse of civilians to be heard in civilian courts, but there were no reports of cases being referred. Following the July 2016 attack on civilians at the Terrain Hotel compound in Juba, the government pursued a high-profile court-martial against 12 SPLA soldiers, obtaining the conviction in September of some low-level soldiers who participated in the attack. The 10 soldiers convicted were a fraction of the total number believed to have been involved in the attack, even according to the government’s report on the incident, and no high-ranking officers were investigated based on their command responsibilities.

The NSS, which has arrest and detention authority only in matters relating to national security, often detained civil society activists, businesspersons, NGO personnel, journalists, and others to intimidate them, particularly if the NSS believed they supported opposition figures. Authorities rarely investigated complaints of arbitrary detention, harassment, excessive force, and torture.

The South Sudan Wildlife Service has jurisdiction over national parks and wildlife trafficking crimes. They often assume general law enforcement jurisdiction in rural areas.

Impunity of the security services was a serious problem. Reportedly, although some internal investigations within the army and police were launched during the year, no cases of security sector abuse were referred to civilian courts, and undue command influence over the military justice system was a persistent problem.

ARREST PROCEDURES AND TREATMENT OF DETAINEES

While the law requires police to bring arrested persons before a public prosecutor, magistrate, or court within 24 hours, there were no public prosecutors or magistrates available below the county level in most areas. Court dockets often were overwhelmed, and cases faced long delays before coming before a judge. Police may detain individuals for 24 hours without charge. A public prosecutor may authorize an extension of up to one week, and a magistrate may authorize extensions of up to two weeks. Authorities did not always inform detainees of charges against them and regularly held them past the statutory limit without explanation. Police sometimes ignored court orders to bring arrested persons before the court. Police, prosecutors, defense lawyers, and judges were often unaware of the statutory requirement that detainees appear before a judge as quickly as possible. Police commonly conducted arrests without warrants, and warrants were often irregular, handwritten documents. Warrants were commonly drafted in the absence of investigation or evidence. There were multiple reports of arrests in civil cases, where a complainant exerted influence upon police to influence them to arrest someone as a negotiation tactic. The government routinely failed to notify embassies when detaining citizens of other countries, even when the detainee requested a consular visit.

The code of criminal procedure allows bail, but this provision was widely unknown or ignored by justice-sector authorities, and they rarely informed detainees of this possibility. Because pretrial appearances before judges often were delayed far past statutory limits, authorities rarely had the opportunity to adjudicate bail requests before trial. Those arrested had a right to an attorney, but the country had few lawyers, and detainees were rarely informed of this right. The transitional constitution mandates access to legal representation without charge for the indigent, but defendants rarely received legal assistance if they did not pay for it. Authorities sometimes held detainees incommunicado.

Arbitrary Arrest: Security forces arbitrarily arrested opposition leaders, civil society activists, businesspersons, journalists, and other civilians due to ethnicity or possible affiliation with opposition forces. The SPLA and NSS often abused political opponents and others whom they detained without charge. Ignorance of the law and proper procedures also led to many arbitrary detentions. Many justice sector actors, including police and judges, operated under a victim-centric approach that prioritized restitution and satisfaction for victims of crime, rather than following legal procedure. This approach led to many arbitrary arrests of citizens who were simply in the vicinity when crimes occurred, were of a certain ethnicity, or were relatives of suspects. For example, there were numerous reports women were detained when their husbands, accused of having unpaid debts, could not be located. In May NSS officers arrested and detained local businessman Kerbino Wol Agok, and he remained detained on unknown or unfiled charges at year’s end. On October 7, Kerbino and other detainees led a strike within the NSS detention facility in protest of these arbitrary detentions without charges. After briefly seizing control of the facility, the prisoners laid down arms. Following their surrender, Kerbino and others have been denied visits by family members and lawyers.

Pretrial Detention: Lengthy pretrial detention was a problem, due largely to the lack of lawyers and judges; the difficulty of locating witnesses; misunderstanding of constitutional and legal requirements by police, prosecutors, and judges; and the absence of a strong mechanism to compel witness attendance in court. The length of pretrial detention commonly equaled or exceeded the sentence for the alleged crime. Estimates of the number of pretrial detainees ranged from one-third to two-thirds of the prison population. The chronic lack of access to law enforcement officers and judicial systems became even more severe as armed conflict displaced officials (see section 1.g.).

Detainee’s Ability to Challenge Lawfulness of Detention before a Court: Detainees have very little ability to challenge the lawfulness of their detention before a court or magistrate, despite having the right to do so under the law.

Amnesty: On August 8, President Salva Kiir declared a “general amnesty to the leader of SPLM-IO Dr. Riek Machar Teny and other estranged groups who waged war against the Government of the Republic of South Sudan from 2013 to date.” The government, however, continued to hold political prisoners who should have been released according to this order, and most of the opposition remained outside of the country. This general grant of amnesty also potentially posed serious impediments to achieving justice and accountability for the victims of atrocity crimes.

e. Denial of Fair Public Trial

The transitional constitution provides for an independent judiciary and recognizes customary law. While the law requires the government to maintain courts at federal, state, and county levels, lack of infrastructure and trained personnel made this impossible, and few statutory courts existed below the state level.

In the majority of communities, customary courts remained the principal providers of justice services. Customary courts maintained primary authority to adjudicate most crimes other than murder. Customary courts can deal with certain aspects of murder cases if judges remit the cases to them to process under traditional procedures and determine compensation according to the customs of the persons concerned. If this happens, the judge can sentence the individual who commits a killing to no more than 10 years. Government courts also heard cases of violent crime and acted as appeals courts for verdicts issued by customary bodies. Legal systems employed by customary courts varied, with most emphasizing restorative dispute resolution and some borrowing elements of sharia (Islamic law). Government sources estimated customary courts handled 80 percent of all cases due to the capacity limitations of statutory courts.

Political pressure, corruption, discrimination toward women, and the lack of a competent investigative police service undermined both statutory and customary courts. Patronage priorities or political allegiances of traditional elders or chiefs commonly influenced verdicts in customary courts. Despite numerous pressures, some judges appeared to operate independently.

TRIAL PROCEDURES

Under the transitional constitution defendants are presumed innocent and have the right to be informed promptly and in detail of charges (with free interpretation as necessary), be tried fairly and publicly without undue delay, be present at any criminal trial against them, confront witnesses against them, present witnesses and evidence, not be compelled to incriminate themselves, and to legal counsel.

Despite these protections, law enforcement officers and statutory and customary court authorities commonly presumed suspects to be guilty, and suspects faced serious infringements of their rights. Free interpretation was rarely, if ever, offered. Most detainees were not promptly informed of the charges against them. Prolonged detentions often occurred, and defendants generally did not have adequate access to facilities to prepare a defense. While court dates were set without regard for providing adequate time to prepare a defense, long remands often meant detainees with access to a lawyer had sufficient time to prepare. Magistrates often compelled defendants to testify, and the absence of lawyers at many judicial proceedings often left defendants without recourse.

Public trials were the norm both in customary courts, which usually took place outdoors, and in statutory courts. Some high-level court officials opposed media access to courts and asserted media should not comment on pending cases. The right to be present at trial and to confront witnesses was sometimes respected, but in statutory courts, the difficulty of summoning witnesses often precluded exercise of these rights. No government legal aid structure existed.

Defendants did not necessarily have access to counsel or the right of appeal, and discrimination against women was common. Some customary courts, particularly those in urban areas, had fairly sophisticated procedures, and verdicts were consistent. Some customary court judges in Juba kept records that were equal to or better than those kept in government courts.

Defendants accused of crimes against the state were usually denied these rights.

POLITICAL PRISONERS AND DETAINEES

Reportedly, in an effort to intimidate or stifle opposition, and despite a public pledge to release political prisoners as part of the peace agreement, there were reports of dozens of political prisoners and detainees held by authorities from a few hours to a few days or weeks prior to release, and usually without charge. Prominent political prisoners were often held for extended periods of time and were sometimes sentenced to death.

For example, in February, during separate trials for conspiracy to overthrow the government, opposition members James Gatdet Dak and William John Endley were sentenced to death, among other charges. President Kiir pardoned both of them during the peace celebration on October 31, and they were released.

CIVIL JUDICIAL PROCEDURES AND REMEDIES

Statutory and customary courts provided the only options for those seeking to bring claims to address human rights violations, and these claims were subject to the same limitations that affected the justice sector in general.

PROPERTY RESTITUTION

The government rarely provided proportionate and timely restitution for the government’s confiscation of property. Human rights organizations documented instances, where the population was perceived to be antigovernment, of government forces systematically looting abandoned property in conflict areas.

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

The transitional constitution prohibits interference with private life, family, home, and correspondence. Authorities, however, reportedly violated these prohibitions.

To induce suspects to surrender, officials at times held family members in detention centers.

Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:

a. Freedom of Speech and Press

The transitional constitution provides for freedom of expression, including for the press. The government and its agents frequently violated these rights in the name of national security, however, and the downward trend in respect for these freedoms since 2011 continued.

Freedom of Expression: Civil society organizations must register with the government under the 2013 NGO Act (and the subsequent 2016 Act). The government regularly attempted to impede criticism by monitoring, intimidating, harassing, arresting, or detaining members of civil society who publicly criticized the government.

Press and Media Freedom: The government maintained strict control of media, both print and electronic. The government suppressed dissenting voices, forcing some civil society organizations and media houses to shut down or flee the country. Government officials or individuals close to the government regularly interfered in the publication of articles and broadcasting of programs, and high-level government officials stated press freedom should not extend to criticism of the government or soliciting views of opposition leaders.

During the year the governmental Media Authority rejected the accreditation of 20 foreign journalists whose past reporting they deemed to be inaccurate, to tarnish the image of the country, or to incite violence. Most organizations practiced self-censorship to ensure their safety, and authorities regularly censored newspapers, directly reprimanded publishers, and removed articles deemed critical of the government. Many print media outlets reported NSS officers forcing the removal of articles at the printing company (where all newspapers are printed), often leaving a blank spot where the article was originally meant to appear. For example, on May 24, the NSS removed an article from The Dawn, even though that newspaper is known for progovernment sentiment.

Since the outbreak of conflict in 2013, the government tried to dictate media coverage of the conflict and threatened those who tried to publish or broadcast views of the opposition. NSS regularly harassed, intimidated, and summoned journalists for questioning. The environment for media workers remained precarious throughout the year.

On March 9, the media regulatory body, the Media Authority, announced its intention to shut down Miraya FM, run by UNMISS, for “persistent noncompliance.” The Media Authority stated it was not censoring the station, but rather monitoring for “hate speech and incitement.” Because Miraya FM’s transmitter is located within a UN compound, the government was unable to take it off the air, although for most of the year, the government broadcast its own signal over Miraya’s frequency in order to disrupt its broadcasts.

Violence and Harassment: Security forces commonly intimidated or detained journalists whose reporting they perceived as unfavorable to the military or government. Security forces confiscated or damaged journalists’ equipment and restricted their movements. During the year journalists were interrogated, harassed, detained, and imprisoned, and there were instances of severe violence. NSS representatives frequently harassed journalists by detaining them at NSS headquarters or local police stations without formal charges. Government harassment was so pronounced that several journalists chose to flee the country. Journalists and media agencies that reported on news of the opposition could expect questioning and possibly closure. Journalists in Juba experienced threats and intimidation and routinely practiced self-censorship. On several occasions, high-level officials publicly used intimidating language directed toward media outlets and representatives.

There were numerous reports of such abuses similar to the following example: On February 6, security operatives covering a progovernment protest physically assaulted two western journalists.

There continued to be no credible investigation into the killing of freelance journalist Christopher Allen in August 2017.

INTERNET FREEDOM

The government’s South Sudan National Communication Authority (SSNCA) blocks access to certain websites, such as two popular news websites, Tamazuj and Sudan Tribune, and two blogs, Paanluel Wel and Nyamilepedia, disseminating “nonpeace” messages considered not to be “in the best interest of peace building in this country.” There were credible reports the government monitored private online communications without appropriate legal authority. The government also targeted and intimidated individuals who were critical of the government in open online forums and social media.

The internet was unavailable in most parts of the country due to lack of electricity and communication infrastructure. Only approximately 7 percent of the population used the internet, according to the International Telecommunication Union.

ACADEMIC FREEDOM AND CULTURAL EVENTS

The government restricted cultural activities and academic workshops. In several parts of the country, NSS authorization is required for public events including academic workshops, which particularly affected NGOs and other civic organizations. To obtain permission, NSS sometimes requested a list of national and international staff members employed by the organizations and names of participants. Permission was often predicated upon the expectation the NSS would be able to monitor the events.

b. Freedom of Peaceful Assembly and Association

The government generally respected freedom of peaceful assembly but restricted freedom of association.

FREEDOM OF PEACEFUL ASSEMBLY

The transitional constitution provides for freedom of peaceful assembly, and the government generally respected this right, but many citizens did not gather due to fear of targeted violence. Security officials lacked nonviolent crowd control capabilities and at times fired live ammunition into the air to disperse crowds.

In February security officials disrupted and dispersed a meeting of the South Sudan Civil Society Forum, which had met to discuss the peace process.

FREEDOM OF ASSOCIATION

The transitional constitution provides for freedom of association, but the government did not respect this right for those suspected of associating with or having sympathies for opposition figures (see section 1.g.). Some civil society leaders interpreted the 2012 Political Parties Act as an attempt to suppress opposition to the SPLM (see section 3).

A law passed in 2016 strictly regulating the activity and operations of civil society was widely enforced throughout the year. The law focused particularly on NGOs working in the governance, anticorruption, and human rights fields, and it imposed a range of legal barriers including limitations on the types of activities in whichorganizations can engage, onerous registration requirements, and heavy fines for noncompliance. Human rights groups and civil society representatives reported NSS officials continued surveillance and threats against civil society organizations.

Sudan

Executive Summary

Sudan is a republic with power concentrated in the hands of authoritarian President Omar Hassan al-Bashir and his inner circle. The National Congress Party (NCP) continued approximately three decades of nearly absolute political authority. The country last held national elections (presidential and National Assembly) in 2015. Key opposition parties boycotted the elections when the government failed to meet their preconditions, including a cessation of hostilities, holding of an inclusive “national dialogue,” and fostering of a favorable environment for discussions between the government and opposition on needed reforms and the peace process. Prior to the elections, security forces arrested many supporters, members, and leaders of boycotting parties and confiscated numerous newspapers, conditions that observers said created a repressive environment not conducive to free and fair elections. Only 46 percent of eligible voters participated in the elections, according to the government-controlled National Electoral Commission (NEC), but others believed the turnout was much lower. The NEC declared al-Bashir winner of the presidential election with 94 percent of the vote.

Civilian authorities at times did not maintain effective control over the security forces. Some armed elements did not openly identify with a particular security entity, making it difficult to determine under whose control they operated.

The government repeatedly extended its 2016 unilateral cessation of hostilities (COH) in Blue Nile and South Kardofan states (the “Two Areas”) and an end to offensive military action in Darfur. Clashes between the Sudan Liberation Army/Abdul Wahid (SLA/AW) and government forces resumed, however, in April and continued through July, and there were credible reports that villages in Darfur’s Jebel Marra mountain range were targeted for attack during these clashes, resulting in thousands of newly displaced civilians. Nevertheless, the COH did allow for periods of increased stability and an overall improvement in the human rights situation in Darfur and the Two Areas. As part of its UN Security Council-mandated reconfigurations, the African Union/United Nations Hybrid operation in Darfur (UNAMID) established a Jebel Marra Task Force and a temporary operating base in Golo to monitor the humanitarian and security situation in the area. In Darfur weak rule of law persisted, and banditry, criminality, and intercommunal violence were main causes of insecurity in Darfur.

Human rights issues included unlawful or arbitrary killings, forced disappearance, torture, and arbitrary detention, all by security forces; harsh and life-threatening prison conditions; political prisoners; arrests and intimidation of journalists, censorship, newspaper seizures, and site blocking; substantial interference with the rights of peaceful assembly and freedom of association, such as overly restrictive nongovernmental organization (NGO) laws; restrictions on religious liberty; restrictions on political participation; corruption; lack of accountability in cases involving violence against women, including rape and female genital mutilation/cutting (FGM/C); trafficking in persons; outlawing of independent trade unions; and child labor.

Government authorities did not investigate human rights violations by the National Intelligence and Security Services (NISS), the military, or any other branch of the security services, with limited exceptions relating to the Sudanese Armed Forces (SAF). Impunity remained a problem in all branches of the security forces and government institutions.

In Darfur and the Two Areas, paramilitary forces and rebel groups continued to commit killings, rape, and torture of civilians. Local militias maintained substantial influence due to widespread impunity. There were reports of both progovernment and antigovernment militias looting, raping, and killing civilians. Intercommunal violence spawned from land tenure and resource scarcity continued to result in civilian deaths, particularly in East, South, and North Darfur. The government continued its national arms collection campaign, which began in October 2017, mostly in Darfur.

There were some human rights abuses in Abyei, a region claimed by both Sudan and South Sudan, generally stemming from tribal conflict between Ngok Dinka and Misseriya. Reports were difficult to verify due to limited access.

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

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

There were numerous reports that the government or its agents committed arbitrary or unlawful killings.

Security forces used lethal excessive force against civilians, demonstrators, and detainees, including in conflict zones (see section 1.g.). On January 6, in El Geneina, West Darfur, Rapid Support Forces (RSF) used live ammunition against a large group of high school and university students protesting poor economic conditions in front of the regional governor’s office. Several students were severely wounded and 19-year-old student Alzubair Ahmed Alsukairan died from a gunshot wound to the chest. The governor promised the police would investigate the student’s death. As of year’s end, no information on the investigation had been made public.

In response to protests that broke out on December 19 and spread throughout the country, security forces fired live ammunition in Gadaref city, Atbara city, and the Al haj Youssef neighborhood in Khartoum, resulting in credible reports of at least 30 deaths (see sections 1.c., 1.d., and 2.a.).

There were multiple reports during the year of deaths resulting from torture, including of a student who disappeared in January when participating in protests (see section 1.b.).

b. Disappearance

There were reports of disappearances by or on behalf of government authorities. As in prior years, this included disappearances in both nonconflict and conflict areas. Security forces detained political opponents incommunicado and without charge. NISS held some political detainees in isolation cells in regular prisons, and many were held without access to family or medical treatment and reportedly suffered physical abuse. Human rights activists asserted NISS ran “ghost houses” where it detained opposition and human rights figures without acknowledging they were being held. Such detentions were prolonged at times.

According to the government, NISS maintained public information offices to address inquiries about missing or detained family members. Families of missing or detained persons reported such inquiries often went unanswered.

The body of a 23-year-old Darfuri student was found in Barabar, River Nile State, on January 22. The student was reportedly last seen being arrested by NISS on January 16 upon his return to Wadi Alnil University in Barabar from Khartoum, where he participated in and documented protests against commodity price hikes. Local police confirmed that his body was found on the banks of the Nile River on January 22. Human rights activists reported that the student was killed in NISS custody and that his body showed signs of torture.

Peaceful protesters were regularly detained. In January and February, hundreds of demonstrators at largely peaceful protests against commodity price increases were arrested. While many protestors were released on the day of arrest, security services detained opposition and human rights leaders for longer periods. At least 150 human rights defenders faced prolonged detentions, usually in unknown NISS facilities and without access to family visits or legal counsel for various periods up to five months.

Government forces, armed opposition groups, and armed criminal elements were responsible for the disappearance of civilians in conflict areas (see section 1.g.).

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

The 2005 Interim National Constitution prohibits torture and cruel, inhuman, and degrading treatment, but security forces reportedly tortured, beat, and harassed suspected political opponents, rebel supporters, and others.

In accordance with the government’s interpretation of sharia (Islamic law), the penal code provides for physical punishments, including flogging, amputation, stoning, and the public display of a body after execution, despite the constitution’s prohibitions. Courts routinely imposed flogging, especially as punishment for indecent dress and the production or consumption of alcohol.

The law requires police and the attorney general to investigate deaths on police premises, regardless of suspected cause. Reports of suspicious deaths in police custody were sometimes investigated but not prosecuted. On January 12, a pharmacist at Gireida Hospital in South Darfur died in police custody after spending two days in detention. He was arrested along with five colleagues for alleged involvement in the black market trade of prescription medications. The pharmacist’s colleagues were released after one night’s detention; all five showed signs of physical abuse. After the pharmacist’s death, his family demanded an autopsy. A forensic doctor from Khartoum conducted the autopsy and reported that the deceased’s body showed signs of severe torture, including a ruptured kidney, missing fingernails, and a cut in the spinal cord. Following his burial, a forensic doctor connected with the hospital in which he was treated issued a second report stating that the pharmacist died of natural causes. The deceased’s family attempted to file a complaint, but local police reportedly refused to accept it. A committee chaired by the Gireida legislative council speaker and commissioner then publicly encouraged the family to accept government compensation in the amount of 300,000 SDG ($6,380).

In May the Sudan News agency reported that Akasha Mohamed Ahmed, a businessman who was in NISS custody on corruption charges, committed suicide in prison. Ahmed, a known member of the NCP, was called into NISS’ economic department after a dispute with the party. NISS said Ahmed made a confession and that the police were informed of this prior to his alleged suicide. His body was delivered to his family. There was no known investigation into Ahmed’s death by year’s end.

Civil society activists in Khartoum, former detainees, and NGOs all reported that government security forces (including police, NISS, SAF Directorate of Military Intelligence (DMI) personnel, and the RSF) tortured persons in detention, including members of the political opposition, civil society, and journalists. Reported forms of torture and other mistreatment included prolonged isolation, exposure to extreme temperature variations, electric shock, and the use of stress positions.

On February 5, Nasreldin Mukhtar Mohammed, a student at Omdurman’s Holy Koran University and former head of the Darfur Students Association, was released from NISS custody. Mohammed had spent six months in solitary confinement in an unknown NISS facility. NISS arrested him in August 2017 for alleged involvement in protests at his university. During his detention, Mohammed’s family, the Darfur Bar Association, and the Darfuri Students Association issued numerous statements expressing concern for Mohammed’s prolonged detention without regular access to family visits or legal counsel.

Government authorities detained other members of the Darfur Students Association during the year. Upon release, many showed visible signs of severe physical abuse and reported they had been tortured. Darfuri students also reported being attacked by NCP student-wing members during protests. There were no known repercussions for the NCP youth that participated in violence against Darfuri students. There were numerous reports of violence against student activists’ family members. At years end, the trial of nine Darfuri students from Bakht al Rida University in White Nile State accused of murdering two police officers during violent clashes between police officers and protesting students in May 2017 continued. The students were held for almost a year before the trial began.

Human rights groups alleged that NISS regularly harassed and sexually assaulted many of its female detainees.

The law prohibits indecent dress and punishes it with a maximum of 40 lashes, a fine, or both. The law does not specify what constitutes indecent dress. Officials acknowledged authorities applied these laws more frequently against women than men and applied them to Muslims and non-Muslims. Most women were released following payment of fines.

In February human rights activist and journalist Wini Nawal Omer was arrested with three friends at a private residence in Khartoum and charged with attempting to commit an offense, possessing alcohol, and prostitution. At year’s end their trial was ongoing. Omer was previously arrested in December 2017 for indecent dress after she attended a high profile public order hearing for 24 women arrested in December 2017 at a private residence for indecent dress.

Prison and Detention Center Conditions

The Ministry of Interior generally does not release information on physical conditions in prisons. Information about the number of juvenile and female prisoners was unavailable.

Physical Conditions: Prison conditions throughout the country remained harsh and life threatening; overcrowding was a major problem. The Prisons and Reform Directorate, a branch of the national police that reports to the Ministry of Interior, oversees prisons. According to human rights activists and released detainees, RSF and DMI officials also detained civilians on military installations, especially in conflict areas.

Overall conditions, including food, sanitation, and living conditions, were reportedly better in women’s detention facilities and prisons, such as the Federal Prison for Women in Omdurman, than at equivalent facilities for men, such as the main prison in Khartoum, Kober, or Omdurman Prisons. In Khartoum juveniles were not held in adult prisons or jails, but they were reportedly held with adults elsewhere. During the year there was an unconfirmed report of a child dying in detention.

Authorities generally provided food, water, and sanitation, although the quality of all three was basic. Prison health care, heating, ventilation, and lighting were often inadequate, but varied from facility to facility. Some prisoners did not have access to medications or physical examinations. While prisoners previously relied on family or friends for food, during the year policy changed and families were no longer allowed to provide food or other items to family members. Most prisoners did not have beds. Former detainees reported needing to purchase foam mattresses.

There were reports of deaths due to negligence in prisons and pretrial detention centers, but comprehensive figures were not available. Local press reported deaths resulting from suspected torture by police (see section 1.a.). Human rights advocates reported that deaths resulted from harsh conditions at military detention facilities, such as extreme heat and lack of water.

Some former detainees reported security forces held them incommunicado; beat them; deprived them of food, water, and toilets; and forced them to sleep on cold floors. Released detainees also reported witnessing rapes of detainees by guards.

Political prisoners were held in separate sections of prisons. Kober Prison contained separate sections for political prisoners, those convicted of financial crimes, and those convicted of violent crimes. NISS holding cells in Khartoum North prisons were known to local activists as “the fridges” due to the extremely cold temperatures and the lack of windows and sunlight.

Political detainees reported facing harsher treatment, although many prominent political detainees reported being exempt from abuse in detention. Numerous high profile political detainees reported being held next to rooms used by security services to torture individuals.

Administration: Authorities rarely conducted proper investigations of credible allegations of mistreatment.

While police allowed some visitors, including lawyers and family members, while prisoners were in custody and during judicial hearings, political detainees and others held in NISS custody were seldom allowed visits. Authorities also regularly denied foreign prisoners held in NISS facilities visits from foreign government representatives.

Christian clergy held services in prisons. Access varied across prisons. In Omdurman Women’s Prison, church services were held six times a week, but regularity of services in other prisons was not verified. Sunni imams were granted access to facilitate Friday prayers. Shia imams were not allowed to enter prisons to conduct prayers. Detained Shia Muslims were permitted to join prayers led by Sunni imams.

The police inspector general, the minister of justice, and the judiciary are authorized to inspect prisons.

Independent Monitoring: The government did not permit unrestricted monitoring by independent nongovernmental observers such as the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC). The ICRC was not allowed to visit prisons during the year.

Diplomatic missions were allowed limited monitoring access to prisons during the year. A group of representatives from diplomatic missions in Khartoum visited a prison in Abyei during an official trip to the area. The diplomats observed harsh treatment of detainees and prisoners.

The Ministry of Justice occasionally granted UNAMID access to government prisons in Darfur, but with restrictions. The government in most cases denied access to specific files, records, and prisoners. Consequently, UNAMID was unable to verify the presence or status of inmates who reportedly were held illegally as political prisoners. The human rights section had physical access to general prisons (excepting NISS and DMI detention centers) in South, North, East, and West Darfur, but in Central Darfur (where most of the conflict occurred during the year) UNAMID had no access to any prison or detention center.

The UN Independent Expert on the Situation of Human Rights in the Sudan (IE) was allowed access to Alshala Prison in El Fasher, North Darfur during the IE’s April trip to the country.

ROLE OF THE POLICE AND SECURITY APPARATUS

Several government entities have responsibility for internal security, including the Ministry of Interior, which oversees the police agencies; the Ministry of Defense; and NISS. Ministry of Interior police agencies include the security police, Special Forces police, traffic police, and the combat-trained Central Reserve police. There was a police presence throughout the country.

The government attempted to respond to some interethnic fighting and, in a few instances, was effective in mediating peaceful solutions. The government had a poor record, however, in preventing societal violence. Numerous residents in Darfur, for example, routinely complained of a lack of governing presence or authority that could prevent or deter violent crime.

The law provides NISS officials with legal protection from criminal or civil suits for acts committed in their official capacity; the government reported NISS maintained an internal court system to address internal discipline and investigate and prosecute violations of the National Security Act, including abuse of power. Penalties included up to 10 years in prison, a fine, or both for NISS officers found in violation of the act. During the year the government provided more information about how many cases it had closed. A key national dialogue recommendation was to rescind unilateral additions to the constitution that exempt NISS from the national judicial system. Despite promises to implement all national dialogue recommendations, the government did not include NISS reforms as part of the national dialogue package of laws it presented to the National Assembly.

In February President Bashir appointed Salah Abdallah Mohamed Saleh, known as Salah “Gosh,” as the head of NISS. His first major act was to release about 80 political detainees arrested for supporting protests against the deteriorating economic situation, following a directive from President Bashir.

NISS is responsible for internal security and most intelligence matters. It functions independently of any ministry. Constitutional amendments passed in 2015 expanded NISS’s mandate to include authorities traditionally reserved for the military and judiciary. Under the amendments NISS may establish courts and is allowed greater latitude than other security services in making arrests.

The Ministry of Defense oversees all elements of the SAF, including the RSF, Border Guards, and DMI units.

The RSF is only nominally under the SAF; in fact it reports directly to the president. The RSF continued to play a significant role in government campaigns against rebel movements and was implicated in the majority of reports of human rights violations against civilians. The government tightly controlled information about the RSF, and public criticism of the RSF often resulted in arrest or detention (see section 2.a.).

On February 12, the RSF killed Khidir Mohamed, a businessman, in front of his home in Kassala City. The incident reportedly occurred after RSF soldiers took the personal belongings of a group of young men and then chased the young men into Kassala, where they ran into the home owned by Mohamed. Mohamed reportedly died immediately. Later in the month, citizens of Eastern Sudan put out a petition demanding the immediate withdrawal of RSF soldiers from Red Sea, Kassala, and Gedaref states. They cited the Mohamed case and warned that the RSF were jeopardizing the regions’ prospects of peace and development. The RSF has been present in Eastern Sudan since December 2017.

Impunity remained a serious problem throughout the security forces, although crimes involving child victims were prosecuted more regularly. Aside from the inconsistent use of NISS’ special courts (see above), the government rarely lifted police immunity or pressed charges against SAF officers. The government also generally failed to investigate violations committed by any branch of the security forces.

d. Arbitrary Arrest or Detention

The Interim National Constitution prohibits arbitrary arrest and detention and requires that individuals be notified of the charges against them when they are arrested. Arbitrary arrests and detentions, however, remained common under the law, which allows for arrest by the NISS without warrants and detention without charge for up to four and one-half months. Authorities often released detainees when their initial detention periods expired but took them into custody the next day for an additional period. Authorities, especially NISS, arbitrarily detained political opponents and those believed to sympathize with the opposition (see section 1.e.). The law does not provide for the right of persons to challenge the lawfulness of their arrest or detention in court.

ARREST PROCEDURES AND TREATMENT OF DETAINEES

Under the National Security Act warrants are not required for an arrest. The law permits the police to detain individuals for three days for the purpose of inquiry. A magistrate can renew detention without charge for up to two weeks during investigation. A superior magistrate may renew detentions for up to six months for a person who is charged.

The law allows NISS to detain individuals for up to 45 days before bringing charges. The NISS director may refer certain cases to the Security Council and request an extension of up to three months, allowing detentions of up to four and one-half months without charge. Authorities often released detainees when their detentions expired and rearrested them soon after for a new detention period, so that detainees were held for several months without charge and without official extensions.

The constitution and law provide for an individual to be informed in detail of charges at the time of arrest, with interpretation as needed, and for judicial determination without undue delay, but these provisions were rarely followed. Individuals accused of threatening national security routinely were charged under the national security law, rather than the criminal code, and frequently detained without charge.

The law allows for bail, except for those accused of crimes punishable by death or life imprisonment. There was a functioning bail system; however, persons released on bail often awaited action on their cases indefinitely.

Suspects in common criminal cases, such as theft, as well as in political cases were often compelled to confess guilt while in police custody through physical abuse and police intimidation of family members.

The law provides for access to legal representation, but security forces often held persons incommunicado for long periods in unknown locations. By law any person may request legal assistance and must be informed of the right to counsel in cases potentially involving the death penalty, imprisonment lasting longer than 10 years, or amputation. Accused persons may also request assistance through the legal aid department at the Ministry of Justice or the Sudanese Bar Association. The government was not always able to provide legal assistance, and legal aid organizations and lawyers partially filled the gap.

Arbitrary Arrest: NISS, police, and the DMI arbitrarily arrested and detained persons. Authorities often detained persons for a few days before releasing them without charge, but many persons were held much longer. The government often targeted political opponents and suspected rebel supporters (see section 1.e.).

NISS officials frequently denied holding individuals in their custody or refused to confirm their place of detention. In lieu of formal detention, NISS increasingly called individuals to report to NISS offices for long hours on a daily basis without a stated purpose. Many human rights observers considered this a tactic to harass, intimidate, and disrupt the lives of opposition members and activists, prevent “opposition” activities, and avoid the recording of formal detentions.

In response to mid-December protests, the government detained hundreds of persons, including students, Darfuris, opposition members, and journalists (see sections 1.a. and 2.a.).

The government sometimes sought the repatriation of Sudanese citizens living abroad who actively criticized the government online. Saudi Arabian security services arrested Sudanese human rights defender Hisham Ali at his home in Jeddah at the request of Sudanese security services and deported him to Khartoum on May 29. Ali had a large social media following under his pseudonym Wad Galiba; he used social media to write posts critical of the Sudanese government. Ali was also a founding member of the November 27th Movement, a loosely affiliated Sudanese civil society group. Upon arriving in Khartoum, Ali was held incommunicado and denied access to family visits or legal counsel. On July 15, Ali was charged with four crimes against the state: undermining the constitution, waging war against the state, espionage, and entering and photographing military areas and works. No trial date had been announced by year’s end.

Unlike in prior years, no local NGOs reported that women were detained because of their association with men suspected of being supporters of the Sudan People’s Liberation Movement-North (SPLM-N) (see section 1.g.).

Pretrial Detention: Lengthy pretrial detention was common. The large number of detainees and judicial inefficiency resulted in trial delays.

Detainee’s Ability to Challenge Lawfulness of Detention before a Court: Persons arrested or detained, regardless of whether on criminal or other grounds, were not entitled to challenge in court the legal basis or arbitrary nature of their detention and, therefore, were not able to obtain prompt release or compensation if unlawfully detained.

e. Denial of Fair Public Trial

Although the constitution and relevant laws provide for an independent judiciary, courts were largely subordinate to government officials and the security forces, particularly in cases of alleged crimes against the state. On occasion courts displayed a degree of independence. Political interference with the courts, however, was commonplace, and some high-ranking members of the judiciary held positions in the Ministry of Interior or other ministries.

The judiciary was inefficient and subject to corruption. In Darfur and other remote areas, judges were often absent from their posts, delaying trials.

States of emergency continued in Darfur, Blue Nile, Southern Kordofan, North Kordofan, West Kordofan, and Kassala to facilitate the national arms collection campaigns. The states of emergency allowed for the arrest and detention of individuals without trial.

TRIAL PROCEDURES

The constitution and law provide for a fair and public trial as well as a presumption of innocence; however, this provision was rarely respected. Trials are open to the public at the discretion of the judge. In cases of national security and offenses against the state, trials are usually closed. The law stipulates that the government is obligated to provide a lawyer for indigents in cases in which punishment might exceed 10 years’ imprisonment or include execution or amputation.

By law criminal defendants must be informed promptly of the charges against them at the time of their arrest and charged in detail and with interpretation as needed. Individuals arrested by NISS often were not informed of the reasons for their arrest.

Defendants generally have the right to present evidence and witnesses, be present in court, confront accusers, and have access to government-held evidence relevant to their cases. Some defendants reportedly did not receive legal counsel, and counsel in some cases could only advise the defendant and not address the court. Persons in remote areas and in areas of conflict generally did not have access to legal counsel. The government sometimes did not allow defense witnesses to testify.

Defendants have the right to appeal, except in military trials. Defendants were sometimes permitted time and facilities to prepare their defense, although in more political cases, charges could be disclosed with little warning and could change as the trial proceeded.

Lawyers wishing to practice are required to maintain membership in the government-controlled Sudanese Bar Association. The government continued to arrest and harass lawyers whom it considered political opponents.

Military trials, which sometimes were secret and brief, lacked procedural safeguards. The lawsubjects any civilians in SAF-controlled areas believed to be rebels or members of a paramilitary group to military trials. NISS and military intelligence officers applied this amendment to detainees in the conflict areas.

Three-person security courts deal with violations of constitutional decrees, emergency regulations, and some sections of the penal code, including drug and currency offenses. Special courts composed primarily of civilian judges handled most security-related cases. Defendants had limited opportunities to meet with counsel and were not always allowed to present witnesses during trial.

Due to long distances between court facilities and police stations in conflict areas, local mediation was often the first resort to try to resolve disputes. In some instances tribal courts operating outside the official legal system decided cases. Such courts did not provide the same protections as regular courts.

Sharia strongly influenced the law, and sharia in some cases was applied to Christians against their wishes in civil domestic matters such as marriage, divorce, and inheritance.

POLITICAL PRISONERS AND DETAINEES

The government continued to hold political prisoners and detainees, including protesters. Due to lack of access, the numbers of political prisoners and detainees could not be confirmed. Government authorities detained Darfuri students and political opponents, including opposition members, throughout the year, often reportedly subjecting them to torture. The government severely restricted international humanitarian organizations’ and human rights monitors’ access to political detainees.

Hundreds of demonstrators were arrested in the waves of protests against commodity price hikes in January and February. The government initiated two major releases of political detainees in connection with the protests. On February 18, following a directive from President Bashir, NISS announced that “all political detainees” held for supporting protests would be released. In reality, an estimated 80 detainees were released and the government followed up with an announcement that the release of the remaining political detainees, who were mainly from the larger opposition parties, would be contingent upon the “good behavior” of the opposition parties. On April 11, President Bashir issued another decree ordering the release of “all” political detainees. Since then the government has maintained that it does not hold political prisoners. Human rights groups continued, however, to regularly report the arrests of activists and opposition members for political reasons.

During the start of the price hike protests in January, security services placed some opposition leaders under what human rights groups called “preventative detention” following their parties’ calls for civil disobedience. Between January 7 and 18, security services arrested four Sudan Congress Party leaders, four Communist Party leaders, and one Baath Party leader. None of the party leaders had attended protests. Human rights groups allege that the government arrested them due to concern they would be influential in calling for protests. Their arrests occurred in addition to arrests of demonstrators.

On July 17, security services arrested Ahmed Aldai Bushara at his Khartoum home two days after Bushara posted a video on Facebook criticizing the bad economic situation and showing a long line of people waiting to purchase bread in his neighborhood. Bushara had a large social media following and was arrested two previous times. On August 25, Bushara began a hunger strike to protest his prolonged detention without charge. He was released on September 17. No charges were ever formally brought against him.

On August 13, the Supreme Court commuted the death sentence of Asim Omer for killing a police officer during 2016 protests at Khartoum University, and ordered a retrial, which began on September 18. Human rights groups alleged that the charges were due to Omer’s activism on behalf of Darfuri students’ right to education and his membership in an opposition party.

CIVIL JUDICIAL PROCEDURES AND REMEDIES

Persons seeking damages for human rights violations had access to domestic and international courts. The domestic judiciary, however, was not independent. There were problems enforcing domestic and international court orders. According to the law, individuals and organizations may appeal adverse domestic decisions to regional human rights bodies. Some individuals, however, reported they feared reprisal (see section 2.d.).

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

The Interim National Constitution and law prohibit such actions, but the government routinely violated these rights. Emergency laws in Darfur, Blue Nile, Southern Kordofan, North Kordofan, West Kordofan, and Kassala States legalize interference in privacy, family, home, and correspondence for purposes of maintaining national security.

Security forces frequently searched and targeted persons suspected of political crimes. NISS often confiscated personal computers and other private property. Security forces conducted multiple raids on Darfuri students’ housing throughout the year. During the raids NISS confiscated students’ belongings, including laptops, school supplies, and backpacks. As of year’s end, the students’ belongings had not been returned.

The government monitored private communications, individuals’ movements, and organizations without due legal process. A wide network of government informants conducted surveillance in schools, universities, markets, workplaces, and neighborhoods.

Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:

a. Freedom of Speech and Press

The Interim National Constitution provides for freedom of expression, including for the press “as regulated by law,” but the government heavily restricted this right.

Freedom of Expression: Individuals who criticized the government publicly or privately were subject to reprisal, including arrest. The government attempted to impede such criticism and monitored political meetings and the press.

In January and February, at least 18 journalists were arrested in and around Khartoum while covering protests against the declining economic situation and bread price increases. Arrested journalists included employees of Agence France Presse, Reuters, and the BBC. Most were released shortly after arrest, but several from Sudanese media outlets were held up to two months in detention, including Al Midan correspondent Kamal Karrar. No formal charges were ever brought against any of the journalists.

Journalist Mohamed Osman Babiker was arrested and taken from his home in El Gezira on July 31, after Kassala state authorities filed a complaint against him under the Information Act of 2015 for criticizing the state’s branch of the National Congress Party on social media. Babiker was transferred from a jail in Khartoum to Kassala to await trial.

The government also curtailed public religious discussion if proselytization was suspected and monitored religious sermons and teachings (see the Department of State’s International Religious Freedom Report at www.state.gov/religiousfreedomreport/).

Press and Media Freedom: The Interim National Constitution provides for freedom of the press, but authorities prevented newspapers from reporting on issues they deemed sensitive. Throughout the year the government verbally warned newspapers of “red line” topics on which the press could not report. Such topics included corruption, university protests, the weak economy and declining value of the Sudanese pound, deaths of persons in detention, the fuel crisis, government security services, and government action in conflict areas. Measures taken by the government included regular and direct prepublication censorship, confiscation of publications, legal action, and denial of state advertising. Confiscation after printing in particular inflicted financial damage on newspapers already under financial strain due to low circulation.

The government influenced radio and television reporting through the permit process, as well as by offering or withholding government payments for advertisements, based on how closely affiliated they were with the government.

The government controlled media through the National Council for Press and Publications (NCPP), which administered mandatory professional examinations for journalists and oversaw the selection of editors. The council had authority to ban journalists temporarily or indefinitely. The registration of journalists was handled primarily by the Sudanese Journalists Network, which estimated there were 7,000 registered journalists in the country, although fewer than 200 of them were believed to be actively employed as journalists. The remainder were members of the government and security forces working on media issues, who received automatic licenses.

On June 10, the Parliament approved a new Combatting Cybercrimes Act for 2018. The new act makes spreading anything deemed to be “fake news” illegal and carries a punishment of up to three years’ imprisonment. On October 11, the act was applied after a judge sentenced a man in White Nile State to two years imprisonment and a fine of 10,000 SDG ($215) for creating a fake Facebook account and posting indecent photographs. Human rights activists were concerned about the potential use of the law to further censor content in news and social media, but there have not been any known cases against human rights activists as of November.

Violence and Harassment: The government continued to arrest, harass, intimidate, and abuse journalists and vocal critics of the government. NISS required journalists to provide personal information, such as details on their ethnic group, political affiliation, and family.

Censorship or Content Restrictions: The government continued to practice direct prepublication and prebroadcast censorship of all forms of media. Confiscations of print runs was the censorship method most frequently used by NISS, This was an incentive to self-censorship.. On June 10, authorities confiscated the full run of Al Tayar newspaper for publishing an article about the economic situation. The same day, NISS asked the article’s author, journalist Shamile al Noor, to report to NISS for questioning. He was questioned for three hours and then told to report back the following day, when NISS told him to stop commenting publicly on President Bashir. On October 4, NISS seized print runs of two newspapers and summoned their editors-in-chief for a meeting after the editors met with foreign ambassadors and charges. NISS summoned the editors for a second meeting on October 24.

Authorities used the Press and Publications Court, specializing in media issues and “newspaper irregularities” and established under the Press and Publications Act, to prosecute “information crimes.”

In early August the Speaker of the National Assembly met with editors-in-chief of major newspapers and instructed them to comply with red line topics and, in exchange, NISS would no longer confiscate newspapers. The NCPP would then take on the responsibility of monitoring newspaper content. Some human rights groups expressed concern that this was a move by the government to further encourage self-censorship.

On July 31, the chief editor of Al-Jareeda newspaper, Ashraf Abdelaziz stated publically that NISS prevented the newspaper from being distributed for seven straight days, thus inflicting a huge financial loss on the paper.

Following the December protests, government censorship of media tightened, resulting in the arrests of several journalists and near daily confiscations of entire newspaper print runs. The NISS declared news on the protests a “red line” topic and then pre-censored newspapers to stop the publication of news on the protests.

Libel/Slander Laws: The law holds editors in chief criminally liable for all content published in their newspapers. In April Muhsin Musa was arrested in Kadugli, South Kordofan for defamation after he posted critisicm of the fuel crisis and general economic conditions on his Twitter account. A few days later, police arrested Awadia Abdulrahman in Khartoum North for sharing Musa’s posts.

National Security: The law allows for restrictions on the press in the interest of national security and public order. It contains loosely defined provisions for bans for encouraging ethnic and religious disturbances and incitement of violence. The criminal code, National Security Act, and emergency laws were regularly used to bring charges against the press. Human rights activists called the law a “punishment” for journalists.

NISS initiated and continued legal action against journalists for stories critical of the government and security services.

INTERNET FREEDOM

The government regulated licensing of telecommunications companies through the National Telecommunications Corporation. The agency blocked some websites and most proxy servers judged offensive to public morality, such as those purveying pornography. There were few restrictions on access to information websites, but authorities sporadically blocked access to YouTube and “negative” media sites. On December 21, the government suspended service for key social media platforms including WhatsApp, Facebook and YouTube to disrupt communication among protestors. According to the International Telecommunication Union, approximately 28 percent of individuals used the internet in 2016.

Freedom House continued to rank the country as “not free” in its annual internet freedom report. According to the report, arrests and prosecutions under the Cybercrime Act grew during the year, reflecting a tactical shift in the government’s strategy to limit internet freedom. The report noted that many journalists writing for online platforms published anonymously to avoid prosecution, while ordinary internet users in the country had become more inclined to self-censor to avoid government surveillance and arbitrary legal consequences.

ACADEMIC FREEDOM AND CULTURAL EVENTS

The government restricted academic freedom, determining the curricula and appointing vice chancellors responsible for administration at academic and cultural institutions. The government continued to arrest student activists and cancel or deny permits for some student events. Youth activists reported some universities discouraged students from participating in antigovernment rallies and treated NCP students favorably. Some professors exercised self-censorship. On April 15, Esmatt Mahmoud, a philosophy professor at the University of Khartoum, was arrested after the university filed a complaint against him for a Facebook post he wrote criticizing the university’s handling of personnel issues. The Public Order Police monitored cultural events, often intimidating women and girls, who feared police would arrest them for “indecent” dress or actions.

On May 28, NISS prevented a theater troupe, Al Samandal, from performing a play entitled “The Worker’s Revolution” during a theater festival in Port Sudan.

b. Freedom of Peaceful Assembly and Association

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

FREEDOM OF PEACEFUL ASSEMBLY

Although the Interim National Constitution and law provide for freedom of peaceful assembly, the government severely restricted this right. The criminal code makes gatherings of more than five persons without a permit illegal. Organizers must notify the government 36 hours prior to assemblies and rallies.

On March 9, a Public Order Court convicted 12 youths of gross indecency, committing an indecent or immoral act, and alcohol and drug consumption. The individuals were arrested at Burri Beach in Khartoum and accused of belonging to a sunworshipping cult, after they had brought mattresses to sleep on the beach with the intention, reportedly, of waking early to watch the sunrise and then slaughter a sheep.

The government continued to deny permission to Islamic orders associated with opposition political parties, particularly the Ansar (Umma Party) and the Khatmiya (Democratic Unionist Party), to hold large gatherings in public spaces, but parties regularly held opposition rallies on private property. Government security agents occasionally attended opposition meetings, disrupted opposition rallies, or summoned participants to security headquarters for questioning after meetings. Opposition political parties claim they were almost never granted official permits to hold meetings, rallys, or peaceful demonstrations. Security forces used tear gas and other heavy-handed tactics against largely peaceful protests at universities or involving university students. NISS and police forces regularly arrested Darfuri students at various universities for publicly addressing civilians).

FREEDOM OF ASSOCIATION

The Interim National Constitution and law provide for freedom of association, but the government severely restricted this right. The law prohibits political parties linked to armed opposition groups. The government closed civil society organizations or refused to register them on several occasions.

Government and security forces continued arbitrarily to enforce legal provisionsthat strictly regulate an organization’s ability to receive foreign financing and register public activities. The government maintained its policy of “Sudanization” of international NGOs. Many organizations reported they faced administrative difficulties if they refused to have progovernment groups implement their programs at the state level.

The Gambia

Executive Summary

The Gambia’s constitution enumerates a full range of provisions and assurances for a multiparty democratic republic. In 2016 Adama Barrow, the candidate of a coalition of seven political parties, defeated incumbent president Yahya Jammeh in what international observers deemed a peaceful and credible election. After initial acceptance of the results, the former president subsequently rejected them, claiming voter fraud and irregularities. This led to a six-week political impasse that was resolved largely through peaceful regional and international intervention, including by Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) member countries. President Barrow was officially sworn into office in January 2017 in Dakar, Senegal, amid security concerns due to his predecessor’s refusal to accept the election results. In February he was sworn into office again in Gambia after the political impasse with the former president was resolved. In the April 2017 parliamentary elections, the United Democratic Party (UDP) won 31 of the 53 seats contested. International and domestic observers considered the parliamentary elections to be free and fair.

Civilian authorities maintained effective control over the security forces. ECOWAS military personnel remained in the country at the invitation of the president.

Human rights issues included harsh and potentially life threatening prison conditions; lack of accountability in cases involving violence against women, including rape and female genital mutilation/cutting (FGM/C); trafficking in persons; and child labor.

The government took steps to prosecute or punish some individuals who committed abuses. Nevertheless, impunity and the lack of consistent enforcement remained problems.

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

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

Unlike in prior years, there were no reports the government or its agents committed arbitrary or unlawful killings. On June 18, however, police officers in Faraba Banta village, Kombo East District shot and killed four stone-throwing protesters who attacked them during a protest that turned violent. According to media reports, the police officers in question panicked and failed to follow official procedures regarding the use of lethal force. On September 17, a commission of inquiry into the incident reported to the president but did not release its findings to the public. Three of the officers involved in the shootings were in detention but had not been charged by year’s end.

On June 6, charges against Yusupha Jammeh, one of nine former National Intelligence Agency officials charged with murder in the 2016 killing of UDP politician Solo Sandeng, were dropped for lack of evidence. Of the remaining eight charged, on October 10, Louis Gomez, former operations director of the National Intelligence Agency died in hospital, and the seven others remained in detention pending completion of their trial.

b. Disappearance

There were no reports of disappearances by or on behalf of government authorities. Families of individuals detained during the Jammeh regime continued to demand information on their missing relatives. The whereabouts of U.S.-Gambian dual nationals Alhagie Ceesay and Ebrima Jobe, both of whom disappeared in 2013, remained unknown.

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

The constitution and the law prohibit such practices, and there were no confirmed reports that government officials employed them during the year. The United Nations reported that it received one allegation of sexual exploitation (exploitative relationship) and abuse against a Gambian peacekeeper deployed with the UN Mission in Liberia. The incident in question dated from 2013-2015. Investigations by UN and Gambian authorities were pending at year’s end.

Prison and Detention Center Conditions

Prison conditions were harsh and potentially life threatening due to food shortages, gross overcrowding, physical abuse, and inadequate sanitary conditions and medical care.

Physical Conditions: Gross overcrowding was a problem, particularly in the remand wing of the Mile 2 prison in Banjul, where detainees were held pending trial. Food quality and access to potable water, sanitation, ventilation, lighting, and medical care were inadequate.

Administration: Authorities did not conduct proper investigations of credible allegations of mistreatment. On September 5, however, authorities met with prisoners to discuss grievances and agreed to investigate them. By year’s end no information on specific complaints or follow-up action taken had been released.

Independent Monitoring: The government granted to the Office of the Ombudsman unrestricted access to all detention centers as well as to local and international nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) with prior permission.

d. Arbitrary Arrest or Detention

The constitution and law prohibit arbitrary arrest and detention and provide for the right of any person to challenge the lawfulness of arrest or detention in court. Unlike in prior years, security forces did not arbitrarily arrest citizens and the government generally respected citizens’ rights.

ROLE OF THE POLICE AND SECURITY APPARATUS

The national police maintain internal security and report to the minister of interior. The army is responsible for external security but also has some domestic security responsibilities. It reports to the chief of defense staff who reports to the president in his role as commander in chief.

Unlike in prior years, there were no reports of impunity involving the security forces during the year.

Civilian authorities maintained effective control over the Gambia Police Force and the Gambia Armed Forces, and the government has effective mechanisms to investigate and punish abuse.

ARREST PROCEDURES AND TREATMENT OF DETAINEES

The law requires authorities to obtain a warrant before arresting a person, but police officers often arrested individuals without a warrant. Military decrees enacted prior to the adoption of the constitution in 1997 give the National Intelligence Agency and the interior minister broad powers to detain individuals indefinitely without charge “in the interest of national security.” Although these detention decrees are inconsistent with the constitution, they were not legally challenged. The government claimed it no longer enforced the decrees, but such detentions occasionally occurred.

Periods of detention generally ranged from two to 72 hours, the legal limit after which authorities are required by law to charge or release detainees; however, there were numerous instances of detentions exceeding the 72-hour limit. There was a functioning bail system that generally required at least two sureties in addition to cash.

Officials in some cases did not allow detainees prompt access to a lawyer or family members, although officials generally allowed convicted prisoners to meet privately with an attorney. The judiciary provided lawyers at public expense only to indigent persons charged with capital crimes such as murder, for which a conviction can include the death penalty.

Pretrial Detention: Backlogs and inefficiency in the justice system resulted in lengthy pretrial detentions. A large number of inmates in the remand wing of the state central prison awaited trail, in some instances for a number of years. According to the United Nations, approximately 60 percent of the total prison population was in pretrial detention.

In November 2017, 12 military personnel were charged with “mutinous acts, defamatory, scandalous, and unethical behavior.” Their trial by military court continued at year’s end.

e. Denial of Fair Public Trial

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

TRIAL PROCEDURES

The law provides for the right to a fair and public trial, and an independent judiciary generally enforced this right. Criminal defendants were presumed innocent until proven guilty. Officials did not always properly inform defendants of the charges against them. The law provides for a trial without undue delay; however, case backlog hampered the right to a timely trial. Defendants enjoyed the right to be present at trial and to communicate with an attorney of their choice or if indigent and charged with a capital crime to have a lawyer at public expense. Defendants had adequate time and facilities to prepare a defense. Officials provided free interpretation in defendants’ local languages as necessary from the moment charged through all appeals. Defendants and their lawyers had the right to confront prosecution or plaintiff witnesses and present their own witnesses and evidence. Defendants may not be compelled to testify or confess guilt. They may appeal verdicts to a higher court.

The judicial system also recognizes customary law and sharia (Islamic law).

Customary law covers marriage and divorce for non-Muslims, inheritance, land tenure, tribal and clan leadership, and other traditional and social relations. District chiefs preside over local tribunals that administer customary law at the district level. Customary law recognizes the rights of all citizens regardless of age, gender, and religion; however, it requires women to show respect for their husbands and children for their parents.

Sharia applies in domestic matters, including Muslim marriage, divorce, and inheritance. Qadi courts and district tribunals do not offer standard legal representation to the parties in a case, since lawyers are not trained in Islamic or customary law.

POLITICAL PRISONERS AND DETAINEES

Unlike in prior years, there were no reports of political prisoners or detainees.

CIVIL JUDICIAL PROCEDURES AND REMEDIES

The High Court hears civil and human rights cases. Individuals may also seek redress through the Office of the Ombudsman, which has the mandate to investigate such cases.

Individuals and organizations may appeal adverse domestic decisions to regional human rights bodies.

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

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

Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:

a. Freedom of Speech and Press

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

National Security: On May 9, the Supreme Court ruled the sedition law constitutional. The sedition law prohibits “exciting disaffection against the person of the President or the government.” Penalties for conviction include fines and a minimum prison sentence of one year.

Actions to Expand Freedom of Expression, Including for the Media: On May 9, the Supreme Court ruled the defamation laws unconstitutional.

INTERNET FREEDOM

The government did not restrict or disrupt access to the internet or censor online content, and there were no credible reports that the government monitored private online communications without appropriate legal authority. According to the International Telecommunication Union, 19.8 percent of the population used the internet in 2017.

ACADEMIC FREEDOM AND CULTURAL EVENTS

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

b. Freedom of Peaceful Assembly and Association

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

Togo

Executive Summary

Togo is a republic governed by President Faure Gnassingbe, whom voters re-elected in 2015 in a process international observers characterized as generally free and fair. On December 20, parliamentary elections took place under peaceful conditions. The Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) considered them reasonably free and transparent, despite a boycott by the opposition. On December 31, the country’s Constitutional Court announced the ruling Union for the Republic party (UNIR) won 59 of 91 seats; the government-aligned party, Union of Forces for Change (UFC), won seven seats; independent candidates aligned with the government and smaller parties split the remaining 25 seats.

Civilian authorities at times did not maintain effective control over the security forces.

Human rights issues included harsh and life-threatening conditions in prisons and detention centers; criminal libel; interference with freedoms of peaceful assembly and association; violence against women and inadequate government efforts to investigate, prosecute, or otherwise hold perpetrators accountable; criminalization of consensual same-sex sexual conduct; trafficking in persons; and forced child labor.

The government took limited steps to prosecute or punish officials who committed abuses. Impunity was a problem.

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

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

There was one report that the government or its agents committed arbitrary or unlawful killings.

On May 15, media reported 10 prison guards beat a detainee to death in the Kpalime Civil Prison. The government detained the guards. One was released and nine remained in detention in Lome but had not been charged by year’s end.

b. Disappearance

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

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

The constitution and law prohibit such practices. There were several reports, however, that government officials employed cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment. In February civil society associations reported that police units detained dozens of protesters in Lome and chained them together in a field next to a police station. Police left the detainees without shelter overnight before releasing them.

Prison and Detention Center Conditions

Prison conditions and detention center conditions remained harsh and potentially life threatening due to serious overcrowding, poor sanitation, disease, and unhealthy food.

Physical Conditions: Overcrowding was a problem. As of October 10, there were 5,109 convicted prisoners and pretrial detainees (including 165 women) in 13 prisons and jails designed to hold 2,720. Men often guarded women. There were 66 juveniles held in the Brigade for Minors facility. Authorities placed the infants of female pretrial detainees and convicted prisoners in the care of government-supported private nurseries. Officials held pretrial detainees together with convicted prisoners.

From January to October 10, there were 28 prison deaths from various causes, including malaria. Medical facilities, food, sanitation, ventilation, and lighting were inadequate or nonexistent, prisoners did not have access to potable water, and disease was widespread.

Administration: There were no ombudsmen to assist in resolving the complaints of prisoners and detainees. Although authorities allowed prisoners and detainees to submit complaints to judicial authorities without censorship and to request investigation of credible allegations of inhuman conditions, they rarely investigated complaints and, when they did, did not release any findings. The government rarely monitored and investigated allegations of inhuman prison and detention center conditions.

Independent Monitoring: Representatives of local nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) accredited by the Ministry of Justice visited prisons. Such NGOs were generally independent and acted without government interference. Authorities generally denied requests by journalists to visit prisons. The government required international NGOs to negotiate an agreement to obtain access. The International Committee of the Red Cross and other international human rights organizations had access through such agreements. The government holds an annual Week of the Detainee program, during which all prisons are open to the public, allowing visitors to witness the harsh, sometimes deplorable, realities of prison life.

d. Arbitrary Arrest or Detention

The constitution and law prohibits arbitrary arrest and detention and provide for the right of any person to challenge in court the lawfulness of his or her arrest or detention. The government did not always observe these requirements.

ROLE OF THE POLICE AND SECURITY APPARATUS

The national police and the gendarmerie are responsible for law enforcement and maintenance of order within the country. The gendarmerie is also responsible for migration and border enforcement. The National Intelligence Agency provided intelligence to police and gendarmes but did not have internal security or detention facility responsibilities. Police are under the direction of the Ministry of Security and Civil Protection, which reports to the prime minister. The gendarmerie falls under the Ministry of Defense but also reports to the Ministry of Security and Civil Protection on many matters involving law enforcement and security. The Ministry of Defense, which reports directly to the president, oversees the military.

Civilian authorities did not always maintain effective control over the armed forces, gendarmerie, and police, and government mechanisms to investigate and punish abuse were often not effective. Corruption and inefficiency were endemic among police, and impunity was a problem. There were reports of police misusing arrest authority for personal gain. Abuses by security forces were subject to internal disciplinary investigations and criminal prosecution by the Ministry of Justice, but investigation and prosecution seldom occurred. The government generally neither investigated nor punished effectively those who committed abuses.

ARREST PROCEDURES AND TREATMENT OF DETAINEES

There were no reports of persons arbitrarily detained in secret without warrants. The law authorizes judges, senior police officials, prefects, and mayors to issue arrest warrants. Detainees have the right to be informed of the charges against them, and police generally respected this right. The law provides for a suspect to be brought before a judicial officer within 72 hours of arrest. Although the law stipulates that special judges conduct a pretrial investigation to examine the adequacy of evidence and to decide on bail, authorities often held detainees without bail for lengthy periods regardless of a judge’s decision. Attorneys and family members have the right to see a detainee after 48 to 96 hours of detention, but authorities often delayed, and sometimes denied, access. All defendants have the right to an attorney, and the bar association sometimes provided attorneys for indigents charged with criminal offenses. The law gives indigent defendants the right to free legal representation, but the government provided only partial funding for implementation. No detainees were held incommunicado.

Arbitrary Arrest: On October 4, police detained nine civil society members who were distributing pamphlets encouraging participation in a protest. Although authorities stated police were only checking their identities, the nine were held for 12 hours before release.

Pretrial Detention: Pretrial detainees and persons in preventive detention totaled 3,212, or 63 percent of the total prison population. A shortage of judges and other qualified personnel, as well as official inaction, often resulted in pretrial detention for periods exceeding the time detainees would have served if tried and convicted, in many cases for more than six months.

Detainee’s Ability to Challenge Lawfulness of Detention before a Court: The constitution and law provide for the right of an arrested or detained person to challenge the lawfulness of detention, regardless of whether on criminal or other grounds. An individual found to have been unlawfully detained may file for damages.

e. Denial of Fair Public Trial

The constitution and law provide for an independent judiciary, but the government did not always respect judicial independence and impartiality. The executive branch exerted control over the judiciary, and judicial corruption was a problem. There was a widespread perception lawyers bribed judges to influence the outcome of cases. The court system remained overburdened and understaffed.

TRIAL PROCEDURES

The constitution provides for the right to a fair and public trial, but executive influence on the judiciary limited this right. The judicial system employs both traditional law and the Napoleonic Code in trying criminal and civil cases. Defendants enjoy a presumption of innocence and the right to be informed promptly and in detail of the charges against them, with free interpretation as necessary from the moment charged through all appeals. They have a right to a trial without undue delay, to be present at their trial, to communicate with an attorney of their choice or be provided with one at public expense if unable to pay, and to adequate time and facilities to prepare a defense. Trials were open to the public and juries were used. Defendants have the right to confront prosecution witnesses and to present witnesses and evidence on their own behalf. Defendants have the right not to testify or confess guilt. Those convicted have the right to appeal. Authorities generally respected these rights, which are extended to all defendants including women, members of indigenous groups, older persons, and persons with disabilities.

In rural areas the village chief or a council of elders has authority to try minor criminal and civil cases. Those who reject traditional authority may take their cases to the regular court system.

POLITICAL PRISONERS AND DETAINEES

There were was one report of a political prisoner or detainee.

On August 22, authorities arrested civil society leader Folly Satchivi–spokesperson of the human rights organization Under No Circumstances that promotes setting presidential term limits–for conducting an unauthorized press conference. The government charged Satchivi with disruption of public order and other offenses. He was denied bail and no trial date had been set by year’s end.

CIVIL JUDICIAL PROCEDURES AND REMEDIES

The constitution and law provide for civil and administrative remedies for human rights violations, but the judiciary did not respect such provisions, and most citizens were unaware of them.

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

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

Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:

a. Freedom of Speech and Press

Although the constitution provides for freedom of speech, including for the press, the government restricted these rights. The law imposes penalties on journalists deemed to have committed “serious errors” as defined in the media code.

Press and Media Freedom: Independent media were active and expressed a wide variety of views.

Censorship or Content Restrictions: The High Authority of Audiovisuals and Communications is a constitutionally mandated body charged with allocating frequencies to private television and radio stations and providing for press freedom and ethical standards of journalism. For violations of the press code, it has the power to impose penalties, including suspending publications for up to six months, withdrawing press cards, and seizing equipment from journalists.

Libel/Slander Laws: On April 4, the government arrested the president of the political association Youth Movement for Democracy and Development after the organization published a report on the repression of protests in which it claimed the government had killed approximately 100 demonstrators. The government charged the president with libel for spreading false news, insulting authorities, and calling for genocide. By year’s end the case had yet to be prosecuted and the president remained incarcerated.

INTERNET FREEDOM

Unlike in prior years, the government did not restrict or disrupt access to the internet or censor online content. There were media reports the government acquired sophisticated electronic eavesdropping equipment from a foreign provider; however, there were no credible reports, the government eavesdropped without appropriate judicial authority.

On December 7, the National Assembly passed a cybersecurity law that criminalizes the dissemination of false information and the production and sharing of data that undermine “order, public security, or breach human dignity.” A person convicted of violating the law may be sentenced to three years’ imprisonment.

According to the International Telecommunication Union, 12.4 percent of the population used the internet in 2017.

ACADEMIC FREEDOM AND CULTURAL EVENTS

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

b. Freedom of Peaceful Assembly and Association

The constitution and law provide for the freedoms of peaceful assembly and association, and the government did not consistently respected these rights.

FREEDOM OF PEACEFUL ASSEMBLY

The constitution and law provide for the freedom of peaceful assembly, and the government generally respected this right. Organizers of demonstrations must obtain permission from the Ministry of Territorial Affairs, which may prescribe the route marchers may take. In September 2017 the government implemented a ban on public demonstrations in the cities of Sokode, Bafilo, and Mango, citing a risk of violence. The ban continued during the year.

For example, citing a law prohibiting the disruption of political campaigns, during the two weeks prior to the December 20 parliamentary elections, the government banned all gatherings and demonstrations of political parties promoting a boycott of the elections.

Tunisia

Executive Summary

Tunisia is a constitutional republic with a multiparty, unicameral parliamentary system and a president with powers specified in the constitution. In 2014 the country held free and fair parliamentary elections that resulted in the Nida Tounes (Call of Tunisia) Party winning a plurality of the votes. President Beji Caid Essebsi of the Nida Tounes Party came to office in 2014 after winning the country’s first democratic presidential elections. Nida Tounes formed a coalition government with the Nahda Party and several smaller parties. On May 6, Tunisians voted in the country’s first democratic municipal elections. Domestic and international observers reported the elections were free and fair, with only isolated accounts of electoral law violations that did not affect the overall results or credibility of elections. Voter turnout was 35.7 percent with independent candidates winning the majority of seats nationwide followed by the Nahda and Nida Tounes political parties.

Civilian authorities maintained effective control over the security forces.

Human rights issues included reports of unlawful or arbitrary killings, primarily by terrorist groups; allegations of torture by government agents; arbitrary arrests and detentions of suspects under antiterrorism or emergency laws; undue restrictions on freedom of expression and the press, including criminalization of libel; corruption, although the government took steps to combat it; criminalization of consensual same-sex sexual conduct that resulted in arrests and abuse by security forces, including the continued use of forced and coerced anal examinations; and societal violence and threats of violence targeting lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and intersex (LGBTI) persons.

The government took steps to investigate officials who allegedly committed abuses, but investigations into police, security force, and detention center abuses lacked transparency and frequently encountered long delays and procedural obstacles. The country’s first transitional justice case for gross violations of human rights commenced on May 29, advancing the process from the Truth and Dignity Commission (IVD) to the Ministry of Justice.

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

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

Media and civil society reported the deaths of several individuals in detention as a result of suspected mistreatment or inadequate medical care. In its 2017 report, the independent Tunisian Organization against Torture (OCTT) noted 80 registered cases of torture and mistreatment of prisoners or detainees, including five cases of suspicious death during detention, a nearly 50-percent decline from the previous year.

In one example, the OCTT reported that Lotfi Arfaoui died in the custody of the Laarousa National Guard station in December 2017 following his arrest on December 9. Witnesses described to the OCTT that a medical responder’s vehicle had been outside of the detention center, although Arfaoui’s family was not provided a cause of death. An investigative judge initiated an investigation into his death, leading to the issuance of arrest orders for several of the National Guard officers. As of September the case remained underway.

In March authorities charged 17 police officers in the death of a young man who drowned after being chased into a stream by police following a soccer match at a stadium in a Tunis suburb. According to media reports of witnesses’ accounts, 19-year-old Omar Labidi had shouted to police that he did not know how to swim as the police stood by without offering assistance.

During the year, six National Guard officers were killed and dozens more security force personnel were injured both in terrorist attacks and in civil unrest. On July 8, terrorists attacked a National Guard patrol in the northwestern Jendouba governorate, killing six and wounding three.

b. Disappearance

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

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

Although the law prohibits such practices, police reportedly subjected detainees to harsh physical treatment, according to firsthand accounts provided to national and international organizations. Several prominent local human rights lawyers decried the practice of torture in police stations and detention centers. Human rights nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) criticized the government for its application of the antiterrorism law, the appearance of impunity for abusers, and for reluctance to investigate torture allegations. In a presentation for the International Day in Support of Victims of Torture in Tunis on June 27, the National Authority for the Prevention of Torture (INPT) stated  that abuse and ill treatment of detainees in police and National Guard detention centers has continued despite an overall decrease in instances of torture in prisons.

According to a poll conducted by the INPT in 2017, 14.4 percent of Tunisians reported they had experienced cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment by public authorities during their lifetimes, while 3.3 percent reported having been a victim of an act of torture committed by a public official.

On February 22, police arrested Ameur Balaazi in Ben Arous (a suburb of Tunis) on suspicion of being involved in a carjacking. Through his lawyer, Balaazi alleged that the officers tortured him after his arrest, prompting the prosecutor for Ben Arous to authorize the INPT to conduct its own investigation. Shortly thereafter, the INPT published its findings, including a medical report and photographs showing that Balaazi had suffered injuries to different parts of his body. In the days that followed, three police officers were arrested and charged with torture, only to be released after police unions staged a protest at the court where the officers were being arraigned. Several prominent national lawyers’ and judges’ associations immediately published communiques condemning the police unions’ actions, arguing that the officers’ presence served to intimidate the judiciary and undermine its independence. As of September the case remained open.

According to the OCTT, on April 11, 16-year-old Mohamed Louay was arrested in Tunis for delinquency and taken to a nearby police station. Louay’s lawyer later contended that the authorities conducted a preliminary interrogation without his legal guardian or his lawyer, violating Louay’s legal rights. The day after his arrest, Louay’s mother was charged with insulting an officer during the exercise of his duties following an altercation when she was denied access to see him. She was subsequently sentenced to one year in prison, although she remained free pending an appeal. On April 16, Louay informed his mother that after his arrest, he was handcuffed, placed in solitary confinement, and physically assaulted by police officers. His mother filed a complaint for torture, leading the INPT to initiate an investigation into Louay’s case and to seek medical attention for him. As of September Louay remained in detention awaiting his trial.

Media reported that on June 8, a police officer and two friends sodomized a 32-year-old man in Monastir governorate using a police baton. The man filed a complaint with his local police station, which the LGBTI rights Shams Association published online. According to media reports, after the man filed a complaint against the officers, authorities requested that he undergo an anal examination to collect evidence with which to charge him with violating Article 230, which criminalizes sodomy. Police officers reportedly escorted the man to the examination room. As of September there was no verdict on his case.

Prison and Detention Center Conditions

Prison and detention center conditions were below international standards, principally due to overcrowding and poor infrastructure.

Physical Conditions: As of September the following prisons had high rates of overcrowding: Morneg (148 percent), Kairouan (80 percent), Sfax (47 percent), and Monastir (70 percent).

The law requires pretrial detainees to be held separately from convicted prisoners, but the Ministry of Justice reported that overcrowding forced it to hold pretrial detainees together with convicts. The prison system lacked sufficient resources to transport detainees to court hearings securely.

Most prisons were originally constructed for industrial use and then converted into detention facilities, and, as a result, suffered from poor infrastructure, including substandard lighting, ventilation, and heating.

Of the country’s 27 prisons, one is designated solely for women, and five prisons contain separate wings for women (Sawaf, Harboub, Gafsa, Messadine, and El Kef). The Ministry of Justice has five juvenile centers located in Mejaz El Bab, Meghira, El Mourouj, Souk El Jedid, and Sidi El Hani. Minor convicts were strictly separated from adults; the majority of minors were detained in separate correctional facilities or rehabilitation programs.

Health services available to inmates were inadequate. Very few prisons had an ambulance or medically equipped vehicle. Officials mentioned they lacked equipment necessary for the security of guards, other personnel, and inmates.

Administration: According to prison officials, lengthy criminal prosecution procedures led to extended periods of pretrial detention, understaffing at prisons and detention centers, difficult work conditions, and low pay.

Authorities allowed prisoners to receive one family visit per week. A minority of adult prisoners reportedly had access to educational and vocational training programs, due to limited capacity.

As part of the Ministry of Justice’s rehabilitation program for countering violent extremism (CVE), the Directorate General for Prisons and Rehabilitation (DGPR) has a memorandum of understanding with the Ministry of Religious Affairs to permit vetted and trained imams to lead religious sessions with prisoners who were classified as extremists, in an effort to deradicalize their religious beliefs. As part of CVE measures, organized, communal prayers were prohibited, but prisons permitted individual detainees to have religious materials and to pray in their cells.

The INPT, an administratively independent body established in 2013 to respond to allegation of torture and mistreatment, reported increasing cooperation by government authorities and improved access to prisons and detention centers during the year. Its members have the authority to visit any prison or detention center without prior notice and at any time to document torture and mistreatment, to request criminal and administrative investigations, and to issue recommendations for measures to eradicate torture and mistreatment.

On February 27, INPT released its first public investigation report on alleged torture of a suspect by police in Ben Arous.

Independent Monitoring: The government granted access to prisons for independent nongovernmental observers, including local and international human rights groups, NGOs, local media, the International Committee of the Red Cross, the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, and the OCTT. The Tunisian League for Human Rights (LTDH) may conduct unannounced prison visits and issue reports about conditions inside prisons. On September 5, the LTDH signed a memorandum of understanding with the Ministry of Interior to permit unannounced LTDH visits to all detention facilities under ministry control. Other organizations were issued a permit after a case-by-case examination of their requests.

Improvements: The DGPR continued to renovate and build new prisons to manage the prison population and improve the conditions of confinement. In April the minister of justice and director general of the DGPR inaugurated a new wing in the Messadine prison, with capacity for approximately 200 inmates.

The Ministry of Justice and the DGPR refurbished many prisons and added a new health-care center to one, increasing their capacity to accommodate additional inmates in new wings of the prisons in Sfax, Mahdia, Monastir, Messadine Sousse, and Borj el Roumi.

In an effort to reduce the potential for violence and mistreatment of detainees by prison staff, early in the year, the DGPR established an Emergency Response Unit composed of 200 law enforcement officers who are to be trained to intervene peacefully in significant security events within the prison system.

Throughout the year, the DGPR trained prison officials on a code of ethics and emergency management. The DGPR also opened a prison legal aid office and mental health unit in Messadine Sousse Prison. In addition, the DGPR began to classify inmates according to their level of threat, enabling prisoners to have access to vocational programs according to their classification.

d. Arbitrary Arrest or Detention

The law prohibits arbitrary arrest and detention, although security forces did not always observe these provisions. The law provides for the right of any person to challenge the lawfulness of his or her arrest or detention in court. Human rights organizations expressed concern that the government used its powers under the state of emergency to place citizens under house arrest with limited evidence or foundation for suspicion.

ROLE OF THE POLICE AND SECURITY APPARATUS

The Ministry of Interior holds legal authority and responsibility for law enforcement. The ministry oversees the National Police, which has primary responsibility for law enforcement in the major cities, and the National Guard (gendarmerie), which oversees border security and patrols smaller towns and rural areas. The Ministry of Interior has three inspectorate general offices that conduct administrative investigations into the different ministry structures. These offices play a role in both onsite inspections to ensure officers’ appropriate conduct and investigations in response to complaints received by the public. They can hold agents accountable and issue administrative reprimands even before the courts announce a final verdict. Investigations into prisoner abuse lacked transparency and often lasted several months and, in some cases, more than a year.

On March 13, several weeks after the incident in Ben Arous, 15 Tunisian and international organizations published an open letter urging authorities to ensure “an end to the impunity that prevails for human rights violations by the Tunisian security forces.”

ARREST PROCEDURES AND TREATMENT OF DETAINEES

The law requires police to have a warrant to arrest an alleged suspect, unless a crime is in progress or the arrest is for a felony offense. The 2015 counterterrorism law allows for five days of incommunicado prearraignment detention for detainees suspected of terrorism, which can be renewed for two five-day extensions with the court’s approval. Arresting officers must inform detainees of their rights, immediately inform detainees’ families of the arrest, and make a complete record of the times and dates of such notifications. Media and civil society reported that police failed at times to follow these regulations and, on occasion, detained persons arbitrarily.

Detainees can exercise their right to representation by counsel and can request medical assistance immediately upon detention. Arresting officers must inform detainees of their rights and the accusations against them, immediately inform detainees’ families of the arrest, and make a complete record of the times and dates of such notifications. Police must also inform the lawyer of all interrogations and interactions between the accused and witnesses or victims of the alleged offense and allow the lawyer to be present, unless the accused explicitly waives the right to a lawyer, or unless the lawyer does not arrive at the prearranged time of questioning. The only exception is for terrorism suspects, who may be held without access to counsel for 48 hours. Media and civil society reported that police failed at times to follow these regulations and, on occasion, detained persons arbitrarily.

The law permits authorities to release accused persons on bail, and the bail system functioned. By law, the prosecutor provides legal representation in case of criminal offenses and for underage offenders. A lawyer may be assigned in a criminal case even if the accused person did not ask for one during the investigation. For those who cannot afford a lawyer, judicial aid is provided at the expense of the government if certain conditions are met. In civil cases, both parties can request judicial aid. In criminal cases, however, legal aid is only provided to nationals if the minimum possible sentence is at least three years and if the person on trial is not a recidivist, and to foreigners under conditions outlined by law. Judicial aid is also extended to administrative matters once the police investigation has been completed and the case goes to court. The military code of justice gives the same rights to detainees for assigning a legal counsel as described in the penal code, although it was unclear whether the government consistently provided this service. At arraignment, the examining magistrate may decide to release the accused or remand the detainee to pretrial detention.

In cases involving crimes for which the sentence may exceed five years or that involve national security, pretrial detention may last six months and may be extended by court order for two additional four-month periods. In cases involving crimes for which the sentence may not exceed five years, the court may extend the initial six-month pretrial detention only by three months. During this stage, the court conducts an investigation, hears arguments, and accepts evidence and motions from both parties.

A Human Rights Watch (HRW) report issued on June 1 found that weak enforcement of the 2016 law resulted in systematic violations of detainees’ rights. While HRW praised the new law for the rights it grants precharge detainees to legal counsel and medical assistance, in practice, HRW found that police largely failed to inform suspects of these rights. HRW identified common violations of the law, alleging documented cases in which the police forcibly pressured detainees to waive their rights and, in some instances, even signed these waivers unbeknownst to the detainees.

The report also identified other legislative gaps that produce situations denying detainees their rights to a fair trial and humane treatment as guaranteed by the constitution. HRW asserted that the law does not provide sufficient protections to prevent authorities from interrogating detainees prior to the arrival of their lawyers. Similarly, HRW stated that the law does not sufficiently provide individuals convicted of certain minor crimes the right to a free public defender, thereby restricting poorer individuals’ ability to exercise their right to legal counsel. In January, Lawyers without Borders began working with the Tunisian Lawyers’ Association and the Ministry of Justice to provide public defenders to individuals accused of felonies or minor crimes. As part of this pilot project, 100 pro bono lawyers worked to represent defendants accused of felonies.

Arbitrary Arrest: NGOs criticized the use of the emergency law to put under house arrest any individual suspected of representing a threat to state security, often without offering these individuals access to the court orders that led to their initial arrest.

While praising new efforts to crack down on corruption, civil society observers claimed that in a handful of cases, in making arrests, authorities disregarded laws on due process and respect for human rights (see section 4).

Pretrial Detention: The length of pretrial detention remained unpredictable and could last from one month to several years, principally due to judicial inefficiency and lack of capacity.

In January, as part of a pilot project, the Sousse Probation Office began to promote alternatives to incarceration by imposing community service sentences in lieu of prison sentences for more than 300 cases in which the original prison sentence would have been less than one year. Through this program, judges worked with probation officers to substitute two hours of community service for each day of the jail sentence. Following this pilot program, the Ministry of Justice began expanding alternate sentencing programs to six other governorates.

e. Denial of Fair Public Trial

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

TRIAL PROCEDURES

The law provides for the right to a fair and public trial, and an independent judiciary generally enforced this right, although defendants complained authorities did not consistently follow the law on trial procedures. In civilian courts, defendants have the right to a presumption of innocence. They also have the right to consult with an attorney or to have one provided at public expense, to confront witnesses against them, to present witnesses and evidence, and to appeal verdicts against them. The law stipulates defendants must be informed promptly and in detail of the charges against them, with free interpretation if necessary. They must also be given adequate time and facilities to prepare their defense and not be compelled to testify or confess guilt.

The 2015 counterterrorism law stipulates that in cases involving terrorism, judges may close hearings to the public. Judges may also keep information on witnesses, victims, and any other relevant persons confidential, including from the accused and his or her legal counsel. The counterterrorism law also extends the amount of time that a suspect may be held without access to legal counsel from five to 15 days, with a judicial review required after each five-day period. Human rights organizations objected to the law for its vague definition of terrorism and the broad leeway it gives to judges to admit testimony by anonymous witnesses.

Military courts fall under the Ministry of Defense. Military tribunals have authority to try cases involving military personnel and civilians accused of national security crimes. A defendant may appeal a military tribunal’s verdict. A first appeal can be made to the military court of appeal, and a second appeal to the civilian second court of appeal. Human rights advocates argued that national security crimes are too broadly defined but acknowledged that, following the 2011 reform of military courts, defendants in military courts have the same rights as those in civilian courts. These include the right to choose legal representation, access case files and evidence, conduct cross-examinations, call witnesses, and appeal court judgments. There is no specialized code for military courts.

POLITICAL PRISONERS AND DETAINEES

There were no reports of political prisoners or detainees.

CIVIL JUDICIAL PROCEDURES AND REMEDIES

Citizens and organizations may seek civil remedies for human rights violations through domestic courts; however, military courts handle claims for civil remedies for alleged security force abuses in civil disturbances during the revolution. Civilian courts heard cases involving alleged abuse by security forces during the year. Some cases did not move forward because security force officials, and occasionally civilian judges, failed to cooperate in the investigations. According to HRW, the lack of provisions criminalizing command dereliction, which would hold senior officers liable for crimes committed by subordinates with explicit or tacit approval, contributed to military courts’ light sentences for security force members.

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

The constitution provides for the right to privacy. The country’s counterterrorism law establishes the legal framework for law enforcement to use internationally recognized special investigative techniques, including surveillance and undercover investigations. The law allows interception of communications, including recording of telephone conversations, with advance judicial approval for a period not to exceed four months. Government agents are subject to a one-year prison sentence if they conduct surveillance without judicial authorization.

Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:

a. Freedom of Speech and Press

The constitution and law provide for freedom of expression, including for the press, and the government mainly respected this right, although there were constraints. An independent press and a functioning democratic political system contributed to an environment generally conducive to this freedom. Some media outlets and civil society expressed concerns about occasional government interference in media and the concentration of media ownership in the hands of a few political parties or families.

Freedom of Expression: Public speech considered offensive to “public morals” or “public decency,” terms undefined in the law, continued to be treated as criminal acts. Provisions of the penal and telecommunications codes, for example, criminalize speech that causes “harm to the public order or public morals” or intentionally disturbs persons “in a way that offends the sense of public decency.” During several demonstrations, authorities presented inconsistent policies pertaining to the display of the rainbow flag, a symbol associated with rights for LBGTI individuals. In January authorities authorized a demonstration in Tunis demanding greater individual freedoms; however, they reportedly qualified this approval with a request that the organizers not raise rainbow flags. When participants raised the flag during their approved demonstration, police dispersed the crowd, reportedly “for their own security.” During an August 13 demonstration in central Tunis in support of the fundamental freedoms and equality, activists raised rainbow flags without incident or attempts by security forces to restrict this symbolic speech.

Press and Media Freedom: Activists expressed concern about government interference in media and in the concentration of media ownership. NGOs continued to call for reforms to the penal code and military justice code, which NGOs stated were used to target journalists, lawyers, and civil society activists. The codes criminalize defamation, false allegations against members of an administrative or judicial authority, and attacks against the “dignity, reputation, or morale of the army.”

On January 27, the Tunisian Union of Journalists (SNJT) issued a statement denouncing the “return of repressive practices against journalists” and limits to freedom of expression posed by the improper or illegal use of surveillance of the media sector. Subsequently, on January 29, then minister of interior Lotfi Brahem stated during a hearing before parliament that the ministry was monitoring journalists, including one whose conversation with a protester was wiretapped.

Violence and Harassment: Violence and harassment against journalists continued, according to human rights organizations.

The SNJT reported 245 violations relating to physical assault, detention, and confiscation of equipment against journalists between March 2017 and March 2018, with public service employees responsible for 106 of those violations and security officers responsible for 50. In its monthly report for January (the same month as countrywide social movements), the SNJT documented 18 cases of violations committed against journalists. The report found security officers and members of security unions were responsible for 11 of the 18 documented violations, which included physical assault, detention, and confiscation of equipment.

The SNJT issued a statement condemning assaults against six journalists on August 8. According to the SNJT, three security officers verbally and physically assaulted journalists who were attending a press conference on the margins of a cultural event in Djerba. Media reported that these police officers were not originally from Djerba and that the local police commissioner apologized to the journalists on their behalf.

The SNJT and other rights groups documented that police detained and questioned several journalists in relation to their coverage of the protests, including two French journalists–Michel Picard, a freelance journalist, and Mathieu Galtier, a reporter for the Paris-based daily Liberation. On January 14, police briefly detained and questioned Picard after he reported on President Beji Caid Essebsi’s inauguration of a youth center in Cite Ettadhamen. On January 11, one day after Galtier covered protests in Tebourba, police officers took him from his home to a police station for questioning. Galtier reported the police did not show him a warrant for his arrest and that they insisted on learning the names of his sources in Tebourba.

Censorship or Content Restrictions: The government penalized individuals who published items counter to government guidelines or who published items deemed to defame government officials. While online and print media frequently published articles critical of the government, journalists and activists at times practiced self-censorship to avoid violence targeting journalists, mainly from security forces or other anonymous attackers, according to the NGO Tunis Center for Press Freedom.

On April 18, blogger Mohamed Hammami was sentenced to eight months in prison and a fine of 120 dinars ($43) for criticizing then minister of civil society, human rights, and constitutional bodies Mehdi Ben Gharbia. In another example, on March 9, a court of first instance sentenced blogger Sahbi al-Omri to 18 months in prison after he published information on Facebook accusing Adel Shoushan, a security director in Tunis, of abuse of authority in that position. Released pending an appeal on this first charge, al-Omri was arrested on September 18, reportedly for defaming a member of the Supreme Judicial Council in a Facebook post.

Libel/Slander Laws: Various civil society organizations expressed concern about the use of criminal libel laws to stifle freedom of expression. The 2017 adoption of decree laws maintaining the separation between protection of freedom of expression and regulation of the communications and media sector rolled back the prerevolution regime of censorship and secrecy; however, many media actors and activists expressed concern that these decree laws did not go far enough to protect press freedoms and freedom of expression. Several media actors and civil society groups argued the need for more comprehensive media reforms to comply with the country’s international obligations.

National Security: Military courts have the power under the law to try civilians for “insulting the honor of the armed forces.” In March a military court sentenced Yassine Ayari, a Tunisian activist elected to parliament in December 2017, in absentia to 16 days’ imprisonment for “insulting the military” and “offending the president of the republic” as a result of a Facebook post published in February 2017 in which he mocked the appointment of a senior military commander. In a separate case, on June 26, the military court sentenced Ayari to three months in prison for “insulting the military” and “offending the president of the republic” following another Facebook post. Ayari waived his parliamentary immunity, although as of November, he has yet to serve his sentences.

INTERNET FREEDOM

The government did not restrict or disrupt access to the internet, and there were no credible reports the government monitored private online communications without legal authority. There was no censorship of websites, including those with pornographic content, with the exception of websites linked to terrorist organizations. According to Internet World Stats, 68 percent of the population used the internet.

ACADEMIC FREEDOM AND CULTURAL EVENTS

There were no reports of government restrictions on academic freedom.

b. Freedom of Peaceful Assembly and Association

The law provides for the rights of freedom of peaceful assembly and association, but the government did not always respect the right of association. The state of emergency law grants the government the right to limit the right of assembly, although the government rarely applied this law during the year. On July 27, parliament adopted a law mandating the establishment of a more comprehensive business registration system, with the aim to combat terrorism finance and money laundering that also included requirements for nonprofit associations to submit financial data to a newly created registry. This National Center for the Registry of Institutions would be responsible for collecting and maintaining the financial and administrative data of all “economic actors,” including nonprofit associations. Several prominent civil society organizations (CSOs) issued a public statement contending that this registry would duplicate existing requirements, place an undue burden on CSOs, and potentially threaten freedom of association. The government contends that the law does not prevent either the registration or the operations of CSOs.

FREEDOM OF PEACEFUL ASSEMBLY

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

In January the government authorized civil society groups throughout the country to organize peaceful protests against the new budget law as well as price increases and subsidy cuts. Media reported that authorities detained some of the organizers of the social movement #Fech_Nestanew (What Are We Waiting For) on charges including graffiti, destruction of property, and “inciting riots” through the distribution of flyers calling for more protests. All were subsequently released without charge, according to human rights groups. With this notable exception, human rights groups reported that the police respected the protesters’ rights to peaceful assembly.

In several cities, these peaceful social movements gave way to instances of opportunistic crime, including episodes of vandalism and looting masquerading as protests that led to small-scale clashes with security forces. On January 13, the Ministry of Interior stated that authorities arrested more than 930 individuals for criminal charges that the ministry reported were unrelated to the legitimate and authorized protest movements; many of these individuals were subsequently released. The ministry also reported that more than 50 police officers were injured during the protests and one civilian died of asphyxiation as a result of an asthma attack prompted by the tear gas used by police to clear protesters.

Subsequent social movements, including several large protests in downtown Tunis during the summer, took place without major incidents or reports of interference by security forces. In several smaller protests throughout southern Tunisia to demand greater economic development, security forces responded proportionately to violent incidents using riot control techniques and tear gas to disperse crowds that had blocked access to border posts.

FREEDOM OF ASSOCIATION

The law provides for the right of freedom of association, but the government did not always respect it. A 2011 law on associations eliminated penalties in the previous law, as well as the prohibition on belonging to, or serving in, an unrecognized or dissolved association. The law eased the registration procedure, making it more difficult for government entities to hinder or delay registration. According to the 2011 law, only the judiciary has the authority to suspend or dissolve an association. Several independent monitoring organizations asserted, however, that the government delayed registration of associations through unnecessary bureaucratic hurdles, at times for political reasons, a practice counter to the law.

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

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

In-country Movement: As of September the Tunisian NGO Observatory for Rights and Freedoms (ODL) estimated that more than 100,000 individuals were on a border-control order list known as “S17.” Originally created to restrict individuals’ movement outside the country, civil society groups report that the government has restricted individuals’ internal travel as well. Amnesty International concluded in an October report that the Ministry of Interior had issued the original S17 directive without independent judicial oversight and that authorities have subsequently applied the directive in a discriminatory and disproportionate manner to restrict movement. Based on research conducted into the application of S17 measures between April 2017 and August 2018, Amnesty found that “as of January 2018, the ministry had prevented 29,450 people from traveling to conflict areas on the basis of S17 measures since 2013.”

Without a clear understanding of the directive’s legal basis and scope, individuals on this list are unable to effectively appeal their inclusion on the list or seek legal redress. Civil society reported that the ministry systematically and discriminatorily included individuals on the “S17” list if they have a conservative appearance or were arrested on suspicion of connection to terrorist groups, even if they were subsequently released without charge. According to the ODL, despite a court order to the contrary, the Ministry of Interior refused to grant individuals access to the orders that led them to be included on the “S17” list. Even in the case of a court mandated suspension or lifting of the travel restrictions, individuals have remained on the list.

Since 2014 more than 500 individuals filed complaints with the ODL, claiming the government prevented them from traveling due to suspicions of extremism, and, in some cases, apparently based on the travelers’ religious attire. The group added that some persons were prevented from traveling despite not having a criminal record, because they were related to a terrorist suspect. In other cases, the observatory claimed that women were prevented from traveling if suspected of prostitution, often based on appearance alone.

Foreign Travel: The law requires that authorities promptly inform those affected by travel restrictions or who have had their passports seized of the reasons for these decisions. In addition, the law provides that the affected individuals have the right to challenge the decision and sets a maximum of 14 months during which their travel can be restricted before requiring another court order. Human rights groups noted the law was not consistently applied and that security forces did not always respect court decisions to reverse travel restrictions.

PROTECTION OF REFUGEES

Access to Asylum: The country does not have a law for granting asylum or refugee status. The Ministry of Interior noted it coordinated regularly with UNHCR in spite of the absence of this legal framework. Pending the creation of a legal framework, UNHCR is the sole entity conducting refugee status determination. UNHCR provided assistance to registered refugees for primary medical care and, in some cases, for basic education. The government granted access to schooling and basic public health facilities for registered refugees.

Temporary Protection: In August authorities received a boat carrying 40 irregular migrants (32 men and eight women) that had been stranded off the coast of Tunisia after being refused entry by several other countries. The secretary of state for immigration and Tunisians abroad, Adel Jarboui, headed the delegation that met the migrants at the port of Zarzis prior to their transfer to a migrant shelter in Medenine. The government announced it would work with the migrants’ countries of origin to facilitate their right to return.

Western Sahara

Executive Summary

The Kingdom of Morocco claims the territory of Western Sahara and administers the estimated 75 percent of that territory that it controls. The Popular Front for the Liberation of Saguia el Hamra and Rio de Oro (POLISARIO), an organization that seeks the territory’s independence, disputes Morocco’s claim to sovereignty over the territory. Moroccan and POLISARIO forces fought intermittently from 1975, when Spain relinquished colonial authority over the territory, until a 1991 cease-fire and the establishment of a UN peacekeeping mission. The United Nations convened an initial roundtable meeting on December 5-6, which UN Personal Envoy of the Secretary-General Horst Koehler labeled a step towards a renewed political process on the future of Western Sahara.

Morocco administers the territories in Western Sahara by the same laws and structures governing the exercise of civil liberties and political and economic rights as in internationally recognized Morocco. Morocco is a constitutional monarchy with a parliamentary national legislative system under which ultimate authority rests with King Mohammed VI, who presides over the Council of Ministers. The king shares executive authority with the head of government (prime minister) Saadeddine El Othmani. According to the constitution, the king appoints the head of government from the political party with the most seats in parliament and approves members of the government nominated by the head of government. International and local observers judged the 2016 parliamentary elections, held in both internationally recognized Morocco and Western Sahara, credible and relatively free from irregularities.

Moroccan civilian authorities maintained effective control over security forces.

Human rights issues were predominantly the same as those in internationally recognized Morocco, including allegations of torture by some members of the security forces, although the government condemned the practice and made substantial efforts to investigate and address any reports; allegations that there were political prisoners; undue limits on freedom of expression, including criminalization of certain content that criticized the monarchy and the government’s position regarding territorial integrity; limits on freedom of assembly and association; and corruption.

The lack of reports of investigations or prosecutions of human rights abuses by Moroccan officials in Western Sahara, whether in the security services or elsewhere in the government, contributed to a widespread perception of impunity.

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

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

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

b. Disappearance

There were no reports of disappearances by or on behalf of Moroccan government authorities during the year.

During the year the Laayoune branch of the National Council on Human Rights (CNDH), a publicly funded Moroccan national human rights institution, continued to investigate individual claims of disappearances dating from the 1970s through the 1980s. When warranted, the CNDH recommended reparations in the form of money, health care, employment, or vocational training to victims of forced disappearance (or victims’ families) from previous years. According to the CNDH, the government allocated additional funds this year to the CNDH for reparations to individuals (or their living beneficiaries) not previously compensated due to technical errors in the work of the now-defunct Truth and Reconciliation Commission. In addition to direct financial compensation, the government funded professional reinsertion and medical assistance programs as well as recovered stolen assets as reparations to individuals or their living family members that the commission identified.

The International Committee of the Red Cross worked as a neutral intermediary with the parties and families regarding the cases of persons still unaccounted for. For more information on unresolved disappearances dating from the 1970s, see the Department of State’s 2018 Country Reports on Human Rights for Morocco.

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

Moroccan law and practice apply. The Moroccan constitution and Moroccan law prohibit such practices, and the government of Morocco denies it authorizes the use of torture.

In the event of an accusation of torture, Moroccan law requires judges to refer a detainee to a forensic medical expert when the detainee or lawyer requests it or if judges notice suspicious physical marks on a detainee. Local and international human rights advocates claimed that Moroccan courts often refused to order medical examinations or to consider medical examination results in such cases. According to local and international nongovernmental organizations (NGOs), Moroccan authorities did not always investigate complaints, and medical personnel sometimes failed to document traces of injuries from torture and abuse.

Reports of torture have declined over the last several years, although Moroccan government institutions and NGOs continued to receive reports about the mistreatment of individuals in official custody. Reports of mistreatment occurred most frequently in pretrial detention. Most accusations stated that degrading treatment occurred during or following proindependence demonstrations or protests calling for the release of alleged political prisoners.

The October 3 UN secretary-general’s report noted that the OHCHR continued to receive reports alleging lack of accountability for human rights violations, including allegations of torture. The Laayoune branch of the CNDH received five complaints relating to allegations of torture or mistreatment and sent letters about these claims to the local branches of the Moroccan Prison Administration (DGAPR), which oversees prisons in the territory. The status of investigation into these allegations was unknown at year’s end.

Prison and Detention Center Conditions

Prison and detention center conditions generally mirrored those in internationally recognized Morocco. Conditions improved during the year, but in some cases they did not meet international standards. For more information, see the Department of State’s 2018 Country Reports on Human Rights for Morocco.

Physical Conditions: Prison and detention center conditions generally were similar to those in internationally recognized Morocco.

Families of detainees from Western Sahara charged that they faced unusually harsh prison conditions. The DGAPR contested this claim and asserted that prisoners in Western Sahara and Sahrawi prisoners in internationally recognized Morocco received the same treatment as all other prisoners under DGAPR authority.

Police arrested 23 Sahrawi individuals during the 2010 dismantling of the Gdeim Izik Camp and subsequent violence in Laayoune that resulted in the death of 11 members of the security forces; the individuals have been detained since their arrest. In 2016 the UN Committee against Torture declared that Morocco had violated its treaty obligations in Gdeim Izik detainee Naama Asfari’s case, alleging that he was convicted by the military court based on a confession obtained under torture and that no adequate investigation was conducted. In 2017 the civilian court, as part of the new trial, offered medical exams in accordance with the Istanbul Protocol to look for residual signs of torture to the 21 individuals who remained in detention from the group’s 2010 arrests and interrogations; however, Asfari declined to participate. Reports on the 15 detainees who willingly participated in the exams were admitted as evidence at the trial, and no link was found between the detainees’ complaints and the alleged torture. As of October 1, the Court of Cassation was in the process of reviewing the appeals to the verdicts the Court of Appeals in Rabat issued in July 2017.

On February 13, Asfari was placed in solitary confinement. On July 31, the Committee’s rapporteur on reprisals decided to continue a dialogue with the government on the case. On August 13, the UN secretary general released an annual report on allegations of reprisals and intimidation saying that Asfari’s treatment in detention had reportedly deteriorated.

For more information, see the Department of State’s 2018 Country Reports on Human Rights for Morocco.

Administration: Moroccan law and practice apply. While authorities generally permitted relatives and friends to visit prisoners, there were reports that authorities denied visiting privileges in some instances. The DGAPR assigned each prisoner to a risk classification level, which determined visiting privileges. At all classifications, prisoners may receive visits, although the length, frequency, and number of visitors may vary. Most prisons assigned each prisoner a designated “visit day” to manage the number of visits to the prison. The DGAPR authorizes religious observances and services provided by religious leaders for all prisoners, including religious minorities.

Independent Monitoring: The CNDH conducted 24 monitoring visits to prisons in or near Western Sahara from April 2017 to March. According to the DGAPR, various NGOs conducted 20 monitoring visits from January through June.

The CNDH received two complaints of prison staff mistreating detainees in the local prison in Laayoune and conducted five site visits. The CNDH found the prison to be overcrowded and insufficiently equipped to provide appropriate living conditions to the detainees and recommended that the government build a new prison in the city.

Improvements: According to the CNDH, in December 2017 the government built a new prison in the city of Smara and built a new healthcare facility staffed by a permanent doctor at Taouerta prison in Dakhla. For more information, see the Department of State’s 2018 Country Reports on Human Rights for Morocco.

d. Arbitrary Arrest or Detention

Moroccan law and practice apply. Moroccan law prohibits arbitrary arrest and detention and provides for the right of any person to challenge in court the lawfulness of his or her arrest or detention. Observers indicated that police did not always respect these provisions or consistently observe due process, particularly during and in the wake of protests. According to local NGOs and associations, police sometimes arrested persons without warrants or while wearing civilian clothing. The October 3 UN secretary-general’s report on Western Sahara cited claims by some local NGOs alleging a lack of accountability for human rights violations perpetrated against Sahrawis, including arbitrary arrests.

On June 29, the UN Working Group on Arbitrary Detention released an opinion in favor of the appeal submitted by Freedom Now and the Robert F. Kennedy Human Rights Foundation on behalf of Mohamed al-Bambary. Al-Bambary was arrested in 2015 and sentenced to 12 years for charges including forming a criminal gang and participating in a murder during riots that followed a 2011 football match. In 2016 the Laayoune Appeals Court of Second Instance upheld the 2015 conviction, but reduced the sentence to six years. The UN working group concluded that al-Bambary’s arrest and detention constituted an arbitrary deprivation of liberty. According to the May 2017 petition submitted by Freedom Now and the Robert F. Kennedy Human Rights Foundation, al-Bambary is a media activist (not a registered journalist) and was arrested in 2015 without being presented an arrest warrant or informed of the charges against him.

ROLE OF THE POLICE AND SECURITY APPARATUS

Moroccan law and practice apply. For more information, see the Department of State’s 2018 Country Reports on Human Rights for Morocco.

Human rights organizations continued to track alleged abusers who remained in leadership positions or who had been transferred to other positions. International and local human rights organizations claimed that authorities dismissed many complaints of abuse and relied only on police statements. Government officials generally did not provide information on the outcome of complaints. The CNDH and the Prison Administration reported human rights training for prison officials and members of the security forces in Western Sahara.

ARREST PROCEDURES AND TREATMENT OF DETAINEES

Moroccan law and practice apply. For more information, see the Department of State’s 2018 Country Reports on Human Rights for Morocco.

Arbitrary Arrest: Security forces often detained groups of individuals, took them to a police station, questioned them for several hours, and released them without charge.

NGOs reported several cases of alleged arbitrary arrest and detention, particularly following proindependence demonstrations, although there were fewer allegations than in previous years. Authorities argued that such temporary detentions without charges were not arbitrary but legal under Moroccan law, which allows detention of suspects without charge for preliminary investigations for up to six days for non-terrorism-related crimes, and 12 days for terrorism-related crimes. Detentions noted by local NGOs were generally less than six days.

Pretrial Detention: Conditions generally were similar to those in internationally recognized Morocco, with large proportions of detainees in pretrial detention; the government of Morocco does not disaggregate statistics for Western Sahara. For more information, see the Department of State’s 2018 Country Reports on Human Rights for Morocco.

Detainee’s Ability to Challenge Lawfulness of Detention before a Court: Moroccan law and practice apply. For more information, see the Department of State’s 2018 Country Reports on Human Rights for Morocco.

e. Denial of Fair Public Trial

Moroccan law and practice apply. The Moroccan constitution provides for an independent judiciary, and, as in previous years, NGOs asserted that corruption and extrajudicial influence weakened judicial independence. The Supreme Judicial Council, mandated by the 2011 constitution, manages the courts and day-to-day judicial affairs in place of the Ministry of Justice. The president of the Court of Cassation (the highest court of appeals) chairs the 20-member body. Additional members include the president of the First Chamber of the Court of Cassation; the prosecutor general (equivalent of the attorney general); the mediator (national ombudsman); the president of the CNDH; 10 members elected by the country’s judges; and five members appointed by the king. In October the Supreme Judicial Council established its internal mechanisms and began the process of taking over day-to-day management and oversight from the Ministry of Justice, although the activities of the Supreme Judicial Council experienced delays due to administrative and legal impediments. While the government stated the aim of creating the council was to improve judicial independence, its effect on judicial independence was not clear. According to media reports and human rights activists, outcomes of trials in which the government had a strong interest, such as those touching on Islam as it related to political life and national security, the legitimacy of the monarchy, and Western Sahara, sometimes appeared predetermined.

As of October 1, the Court of Cassation was in the process of reviewing the appeals to the verdicts the Court of Appeals in Rabat issued in July 2017 against 23 Sahrawi individuals arrested during the 2010 dismantling of the Gdeim Izik Camp. The sentences the civilian Court of Appeals in Rabat issued ranged from time already served to life imprisonment. The individuals had been previously convicted in a military trial in 2013. A 2015 revision of the Code on Military Justice eliminated military trials for civilians, and in 2016 the Court of Cassation ruled on appeal that the group should receive a new civilian trial. Two received reduced sentences (from 25 years to 4.5 years and 6.5 years) and were released, joining two others whose 2013 sentences of time served were confirmed by the civilian court. Two other individuals also received reduced sentences (from 30 years to 25 years and from 25 years to 20 years). In November 2017 the CNDH determined that the December 2016 to July 2017 trial hearings met the conditions of a fair trial as indicated in the Moroccan Constitution and Article 14 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights.

TRIAL PROCEDURES

Moroccan law and practice apply. For more information, see the Department of State’s 2018 Country Reports on Human Rights for Morocco.

POLITICAL PRISONERS AND DETAINEES

Moroccan law and practice apply. Moroccan law does not define or recognize the concept of a political prisoner. The Moroccan government did not consider any of its prisoners to be political prisoners and stated it had charged or convicted all individuals in prison under criminal law. For more information, see the Department of State’s 2018 Country Reports on Human Rights for Morocco.

Human rights and proindependence groups considered a number of imprisoned Sahrawis to be political prisoners. This number included the Gdeim Izik prisoners (see section 1.e.) as well as members of Sahrawi rights or proindependence organizations.

CIVIL JUDICIAL PROCEDURES AND REMEDIES

Moroccan law and practice apply. For more information, see the Department of State’s 2018 Country Reports on Human Rights for Morocco.

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

Moroccan law and practice apply. For more information, see the Department of State’s 2018 Country Reports on Human Rights for Morocco.

Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:

a. Freedom of Speech and Press

Moroccan law and practice apply. The Moroccan constitution and Moroccan law generally provide for freedom of expression, including for the press, although they criminalize and restrict some freedom of expression in the press and social media–specifically criticism of Islam, of the institution of the monarchy, and of the government’s positions regarding territorial integrity and Western Sahara. Such criticism can result in prosecution under the penal code, with punishments ranging from fines to jail time, despite the freedom of expression provided for in the 2016 press code. The press code applies only to journalists accredited by the Ministry of Communication for speech or publications in the line of work; private speech by accredited journalists remains punishable under the penal code. Authorities were sensitive to any reporting not in line with the state’s official position on the territory’s status, and they continued to expel, harass, or detain persons who wrote critically on the issue. According to the October 3 UN secretary-general’s report on Western Sahara, the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) continued to be concerned by reports alleging excessive surveillance of human rights defenders and journalists in Western Sahara.

Freedom of Expression: Moroccan law criminalizes criticism of Islam, of the legitimacy of the monarchy, of state institutions, of officials such as those in the military, and of the Moroccan government’s position regarding territorial integrity and Western Sahara. Sahrawi media outlets and bloggers with opposing views to the government often practiced self-censorship on these issues.

On October 2, a court in Laayoune sentenced two unregistered journalists, a blogger, and a photographer, to two years in prison for “forming an organization to commit delinquent acts” and “organizing a violent demonstration.” According to media sources, the two individuals were documenting a demonstration on March 27 for their media outlet on Facebook “Smara News,” when they were arrested and detained. The government reported that the individuals were part of a violent demonstration injuring several officers.

For more information, see the Department of State’s 2018 Country Reports on Human Rights for Morocco.

Censorship and Content Restrictions: Moroccan law and practice apply. Self-censorship and government restrictions remained serious hurdles to the development of a free, independent, and investigative press. Publications and broadcast media require government accreditation, and the government may deny and revoke accreditation as well as suspend or confiscate publications. For more information, see the Department of State’s 2018 Country Reports on Human Rights for Morocco.

The government of Morocco enforced strict procedures governing journalists’ meetings with NGO representatives and political activists. Foreign journalists needed, but did not always receive, approval from the Ministry of Communication before meeting with political activists.

Local and international media, including satellite television and POLISARIO-controlled television and radio from the Sahrawi refugee camps in Algeria, were available in the territory.

Moroccan government practices concerning press and media freedom, violence and harassment, libel or slander, and national security issues were the same as those in internationally recognized Morocco. For more information on these subheadings, see the Department of State’s 2018 Country Reports on Human Rights for Morocco.

INTERNET FREEDOM

Moroccan law and practice apply. For more information, see the Department of State’s 2018 Country Reports on Human Rights for Morocco.

ACADEMIC FREEDOM AND CULTURAL EVENTS

Moroccan law and practice apply. For more information, see the Department of State’s 2018 Country Reports on Human Rights for Morocco.

b. Freedom of Peaceful Assembly and Association

Moroccan law applies. As in internationally recognized Morocco, the Moroccan government limited freedoms of peaceful assembly and association.

FREEDOM OF PEACEFUL ASSEMBLY

Moroccan law provides for the right of peaceful assembly. The government generally permitted authorized and unauthorized peaceful demonstrations to occur. According to Moroccan law, groups of more than three persons require authorization from the Ministry of Interior to protest publicly. As in internationally recognized Morocco, some NGOs complained that the government used administrative delays and other methods to suppress or discourage unwanted peaceful assembly. Security forces intervened on occasion to disband both authorized and unauthorized protests when officials deemed the demonstration a threat to public security. The October 3 UN secretary-general’s report on Western Sahara cited claims by some local NGOs that Moroccan security forces had forcibly dispersed demonstrations related to the right to self-determination, the disposal of natural wealth and resources, and the rights of detainees.

Several proindependence organizations and some human rights NGOs stated that in recent years the submission of applications for permits to hold demonstrations declined because police rarely granted them. In most cases the organizers proceeded with planned demonstrations in the absence of authorization, and there was no discernable difference in security forces’ reaction to authorized or unauthorized protests. Violent confrontations between security forces and protesters were less common than in previous years, according to several local NGOs, although violent dispersals did occur on occasion. Security force practices were similar to those in internationally recognized Morocco; however, in Western Sahara there was often a higher ratio of members of security forces to protesters.

The CNDH’s three regional commissions monitored 52 demonstrations from April 2017 to March and concluded that the security forces’ use of violence to disperse demonstrations decreased during the year.

FREEDOM OF ASSOCIATION

Moroccan law and practice apply. Generally, the government denied official recognition to NGOs that it considered advocates against Islam’s status as the state religion, the legitimacy of the monarchy, or Morocco’s territorial integrity. Authorities noted that 418 organizations were registered in Laayoune and 288 in Dakhla, the two largest cities in Western Sahara. The Laayoune branch of the CNDH reported that it received complaints from three organizations that were denied registration during the year. The branches contacted government authorities and following mediation, one of the organizations in Laayoune was in the process of being registered. According to the CNDH, of the 10 organizations denied registration in 2017, five were registered, one was in the process of being registered, two were referred to judiciary, and two did not receive a response as of September.

The government tolerated activities of several unregistered organizations.

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

Moroccan law and practice applies. Moroccan law provides for freedom of internal movement, foreign travel, emigration, and repatriation, and the government generally respected these rights. NGOs and activists alleged that Moroccan authorities sometimes restricted access to Western Sahara for foreign visitors, including journalists and human rights defenders. The government of Morocco claimed it only restricted access when such visits challenged Morocco’s territorial integrity or were perceived to be a threat to internal security and stability. According to the government, authorities granted access to 13,844 foreigners traveling to Laayoune from January to August 2018. As of September several human rights organizations reported that authorities denied access to five foreigners traveling to Laayoune. The government confirmed it expelled six foreigners from Laayoune in 2017 for threatening internal stability and failing to meet immigration requirements.

On May 11, Moroccan authorities denied two Swedish activists entry into Western Sahara to meet with the Sahrawi Association of Victims of Grave Human Rights Violations Committed by the Moroccan State (ASVVDH). According to media reports, the activists planned to conduct a field visit as representatives of Emmaus Stockholm, their Swedish organization, which funded an ASVVDH project in 2017. The government reported the activists were denied entry in accordance with immigration law and in the interest of maintaining public order in the territory. The government reported the activists had ties with POLISARIO and that their visit was political, to document local activists observing the 45th anniversary of the creation of POLISARIO.

The government continued to make travel documents available to Sahrawis, and there were no reported cases of authorities preventing Sahrawis from traveling. The government of Morocco encouraged the return of Sahrawi refugees from abroad if they acknowledged the government’s authority over Western Sahara. Those refugees wishing to return must obtain the appropriate travel or identity documents at a Moroccan consulate abroad, often in Mauritania.

PROTECTION OF REFUGEES

Moroccan law and practice apply. For more information, see the Department of State’s 2018 Country Reports on Human Rights for Morocco.