China (includes Tibet, Hong Kong, and Macau) – Hong Kong

Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:

The law provides for freedom of expression, including for the press, and the government generally respected this right. An independent press, an effective judiciary, and an unfettered internet combined to permit freedom of expression, including for the press, on most matters. During the year, however, SAR and central government actions and statements raised the perceived risks associated with expressing dissenting political views.

Freedom of Expression: There were some legal restrictions on the ability of individuals to criticize the government publicly without reprisal. A new national law passed by the central government in September criminalizes any action mocking the Chinese national anthem and requires persons attending public events to stand at attention and sing the anthem in a solemn manner when it is played. The central government’s National People’s Congress voted to add the law to the Basic Law’s Annex III, which obliges the SAR government to adopt local legislation. SAR officials said the law would be implemented after the LegCo passes local implementing legislation. In September a court found LegCo member Cheng Chung Tai guilty of desecrating both the national and Hong Kong SAR flags after he turned several Chinese and Hong Kong SAR flags upside down on the desks of other LegCo members. The court ordered Cheng to pay a fine of 5,000 Hong Kong dollars (HK$) ($640).

The SAR and central government called for restrictions on discussion of Hong Kong independence. Before Chinese president Xi Jinping’s July visit to the SAR, police told the proindependence Hong Kong National Party it would not be permitted to hold any public event, according to a Hong Kong Free Press article. In September students at several universities in the SAR hung banners in support of Hong Kong independence. In response Mathew Cheung, the SAR’s chief secretary for administration (the second-most senior executive official), stated “there is no room for discussion” of Hong Kong independence. A mainland government-controlled media outlet called on SAR authorities to take legal action to forbid persons from advocating for independence. On September 19, at a rally calling for the dismissal of Benny Tai, a coorganizer of the large-scale 2014 “Occupy” protests from Hong Kong University, LegCo member Junius Ho supported another protester’s call to “kill” independence advocates by saying “with no mercy” into his microphone.

Observers feared that requirements for electoral candidacy and for taking the oath of office limited free speech in the political arena. In July 2016 the Electoral Affairs Commission instituted a new requirement that all LegCo candidates sign a pledge stating that the SAR is an “inalienable part” of China in order to run for office.

The NPCSC’s November 2016 interpretation of Basic Law Article 104 barred legislators-elect from taking office if they refused to take the oath, altered the wording of the oath, or failed to demonstrate sufficient “sincerity” or “solemnity” when taking the oath. As of year’s end, the government had used the NPCSC’s interpretation to disqualify six legislators for making oaths that did not conform to the NPCSC’s interpretation. On August 25, the Court of Final Appeal dismissed the appeal bids of two of the six lawmakers. Two additional lawmakers appealed their cases on September 11; their appeals were pending at year’s end. The final two lawmakers declined to appeal their disqualification.

Press and Media Freedom: Independent media were active and expressed a wide variety of views; however, some journalists expressed concerns about increasing self-censorship.

Violence and Harassment: In February the home of a senior staff member at Sing Pao Daily News was splashed with red paint after staff members spotted suspicious persons following the newspaper’s managers, according to the Hong Kong Journalists Association’s annual report.

Censorship or Content Restrictions: Reports of media self-censorship continued during the year. Many media outlets were owned by companies with business interests on the mainland, which led to claims they were vulnerable to self-censorship, with editors deferring to perceived concerns of publishers regarding their business interests. Mainland interests reportedly owned most bookstores in the SAR and restricted the sale of politically sensitive books.

Libel/Slander Laws: In March then chief executive C. Y. Leung sued LegCo member Kenneth Leung for defamation over remarks Kenneth Leung made about a HK$50 million ($6.4 million) payment the former chief executive received from an Australian engineering firm.

Actions to Expand Freedom of Expression, Including for the Media: In September the SAR lifted its ban on online-only media attending government press conferences.

INTERNET FREEDOM

The SAR government did not restrict or disrupt access to the internet or censor online content, although activists claimed central government authorities closely monitored their email and internet use. The internet was widely available and used extensively.

There were reports of politically motivated cyberattacks against private persons and organizations. In September hackers replaced the regular content on the prodemocracy political party Demosisto’s website with promainland government messages and images mocking Demosisto’s secretary general, Joshua Wong.

ACADEMIC FREEDOM AND CULTURAL EVENTS

Some suggested Hong Kong-based academics and cultural figures practiced self-censorship to preserve opportunities in the mainland.

In 2016 Hong Kong’s Tiananmen Museum closed after two years of operation. The museum had been the only museum in the country commemorating the 1989 Tiananmen Square massacre. According to CNN and Time, the Hong Kong Alliance, a prodemocracy group that operated the museum, stated the closure was due to pressure from the owners’ committee of the building, which made it difficult for the museum to operate by restricting visitor numbers, filing a lawsuit disputing the usage of the space as a museum, and forcing visitors to provide their names and personal information–a requirement that discouraged visitors from the mainland. The museum operators also cited high rent and other fundraising challenges but kept the museum’s exhibits and said they hoped to move to a new and bigger location in the future. They temporarily reopened the museum from April to June but still did not have a new permanent location.

Hong Kong-based international NGOs expressed concern about pro-Beijing media outlets’ sustained criticism of their activities, which the newspapers characterized as interference by “foreign forces.” NGO staff members reported that these efforts to discredit their work in the SAR made it difficult for the groups to continue their existing partnerships with academic institutions and their public outreach. NGOs also expressed concern about the mainland’s Foreign NGO Management Law, which went into effect on January 1, noting the law imposed onerous restrictions on their ability to operate and implement social services delivery, advocacy work, and aid services in the mainland. The law specifically defines Hong Kong-based organizations as covered by the law’s requirements.

b. Freedom of Peaceful Assembly and Association

The law provides for the freedoms of peaceful assembly and association, but government actions, including prosecutions of activists, increased the perceived risks associated with participating in political protest.

FREEDOM OF PEACEFUL ASSEMBLY

The law provides for freedom of peaceful assembly, and the government generally respected this right. Police routinely issued the required “letter of no objection” for public meetings and demonstrations–including those critical of the SAR and central governments–and most protests occurred without serious incident.

On June 4, tens of thousands of persons peacefully gathered without incident in Victoria Park to commemorate the 28th anniversary of the Tiananmen Square crackdown. The annual vigil and a smaller annual event in Macau were reportedly the only sanctioned events in China to commemorate the Tiananmen Square anniversary. Figures varied for participation in the annual July 1 prodemocracy demonstration, held on the anniversary of the 1997 transfer of sovereignty over Hong Kong to China. Police estimated 14,500 protesters; an independent polling organization estimated 27,000, and organizers claimed 60,000. Police did not interfere with the legally permitted rally.

Several government prosecutions of protesters and attempts to seek harsher penalties against protesters raised the perceived cost of protesting government policies, which could have a chilling effect on political protest in the SAR. For example, in 2016 authorities found prodemocracy activists Joshua Wong and Alex Chow guilty of participating in an illegal assembly. The charge arose after they led a group of persons over a fence into a closed SAR government complex where protests had traditionally been held at the start of the 2014 Occupy protests. In connection with the same event, prodemocracy activist Nathan Law was found guilty of inciting others to participate in an illegal assembly. Wong and Law were originally sentenced to perform 80 and 120 hours of community service, respectively, while Chow was given a suspended sentence of three weeks’ imprisonment. The government filed a timely appeal of the sentences, and Wong and Law completed their community service sentences while the appeal was pending.

On August 17, the Court of Appeal overturned the lower court’s sentences and ordered Wong, Law, and Chow to serve six, eight, and seven months in prison, respectively. The Court of Appeal argued the lower court’s sentences were inadequate and stiffer sentences were required to deter such acts in the future, which the court characterized as violent. Wong and Law were imprisoned from August through October, when they were released on bail, pending the outcome of their appeal. Chow was imprisoned in August and released on bail in November, also pending the outcome of his appeal. On August 20, tens of thousands of persons protested the prison sentences, which would bar the three from running in local elections for five years, according to SAR law. Some commentators claimed the SAR government sought stiffer penalties against the trio in order to stifle dissent and prevent the three defendants from running for office. Two UN special rapporteurs and prominent international lawyers expressed public concern the prison sentences were inconsistent with freedoms of expression and assembly. The SAR government denied any political motivation for seeking stiffer penalties against the trio and argued the cases were handled in accordance with the law. Wong, Law, and Chow appealed their sentences.

FREEDOM OF ASSOCIATION

SAR law provides for freedom of association, and the government generally respected it. Nonetheless, officials did not approve prodemocracy political party Demosisto’s application to register as a legal entity, even though the application had been pending for more than one year. The mainland Foreign NGO Management Law, which came into effect on January 1 and also applies to NGOs based in the SAR, imposes onerous restrictions on NGOs’ ability to operate in the mainland.

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

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

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

There continued to be claims the Immigration Department refused entry to a small number of persons traveling to the SAR for political reasons. In June, shortly before Chinese president Xi Jinping’s visit to the SAR, two Macau-based prodemocracy activists reported they were denied entry. In October Benedict Rogers, deputy chairman of the British Conservative Party’s Human Rights Commission, was refused entry to the SAR. The Immigration Department, as a matter of policy, declined to comment on individual cases. Activists and other observers contended that the refusals, usually of persons holding views critical of the central government, were made at the behest of mainland authorities.

Foreign Travel: Most residents easily obtained travel documents from the SAR government, although central government authorities in the past have not permitted some human rights activists, student protesters, and prodemocracy legislators to visit the mainland. Some students who participated in the 2014 protest movement previously alleged the central government’s security agencies surveilled the protests and blacklisted them.

PROTECTION OF REFUGEES

Refoulement: Under the “one country, two systems” framework, the SAR continued to administer its own immigration and entry policies and make determinations regarding “nonrefoulement” claims independently. The government’s Unified Screening Mechanism (USM) consolidated the processing of claims based on risk of return to persecution, torture, or cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment or punishment. From 2009 to the end of December, 110 of the more than 15,000 nonrefoulement claims adjudicated were substantiated, according to government statistics. Also according to government statistics, at year’s end there were 5,899 nonrefoulement claims pending adjudication.

Persons wishing to file a nonrefoulement claim cannot do so while they have legally entered the SAR and must instead wait until they overstay the terms of their entry before they can file such a claim, which typically results in a period of detention followed by release on recognizance. Persons whose claims are pending are required to appear periodically before the Immigration Department.

Applicants and activists continued to complain about the slow processing of claims, which can take several years, a shortage of government-provided interpretation services, and limited government subsidies available to applicants. Activists and refugee rights groups also expressed concerns about the very low rate of approved claims, suggesting the government’s threshold for approving claims was far higher than other developed jurisdictions.

Access to Asylum: The SAR is not a signatory to the 1951 UN Refugee Convention or its 1967 protocol. Under the “one country, two systems” framework, these international agreements are not extended to Hong Kong even though the central government is a signatory. Persons whose nonrefoulement claims are substantiated through the USM do not obtain a status that allows them to permanently live and work in the SAR. Instead, they are referred to UNHCR for possible recognition as refugees and resettlement to a third country. Some nonrefoulement claimants had waited in the SAR for resettlement for years.

Employment: The government defines nonrefoulement claimants as illegal immigrants or “overstayers” in the SAR, and as such they have no legal right to work in the SAR while claims are under review.

Access to Basic Services: Persons with nonrefoulement claims under the USM were eligible to receive publicly funded legal assistance, including translation services, as well as small living subsidies. The children of nonrefoulement claimants could usually attend SAR public schools.

Costa Rica

Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:

The constitution provides 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.

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 communications without appropriate legal authority. The International Telecommunication Union reported that 72 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 provides for the freedoms of peaceful assembly and association, and the government generally respected these rights.

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

The constitution and law provide for freedom of internal movement, foreign travel, emigration, and repatriation, and the government generally respected these rights. The government cooperated with UNHCR and other humanitarian organizations in providing protection and assistance to refugees, asylum seekers, stateless persons, or other persons of concern.

PROTECTION OF REFUGEES

Access to Asylum: The law provides for the granting of asylum or refugee status, and the government has an established system for providing protection to refugees. The law requires authorities to process the claims within three months of receipt, but decisions took an average of 14 months and an additional 12 months for the appeals process.

The number of persons seeking asylum increased significantly. The Immigration Office handled a growing number of migrants requesting refugee status, the majority from Nicaragua. According to immigration authorities, from April to September, Nicaraguans filed 8,000 claims and authorities gave migrants more than 15,000 more appointments to file their requests, up from fewer than 100 applications from Nicaraguans in all of 2017. The government leased additional office space and opened a call center to process appointments and disseminate information better.

As of August the Appeals Tribunal, which adjudicates all migration appeals, had a backlog of 476 asylum cases. UNHCR provided support to the Refugee Unit and the Appeals Tribunal to hire additional legal and administrative personnel to assist with reduction of the backlog.

Employment: Refugee regulations provide asylum seekers an opportunity to obtain work permits if they have to wait beyond the three months the law allows for a decision on their asylum claim (which occurs in virtually all cases). On August 10, the Labor Ministry, the Chamber of Commerce, and UNHCR launched a program to assist asylum seekers and refugees to find jobs.

Access to Basic Services: By law asylum seekers and refugees have access to public services and social welfare programs, but access was often hampered by lack of knowledge about their status in the country and feelings of xenophobia among some service providers. For example, asylum seekers without employers (who constituted the majority of asylum seekers) faced restrictions when enrolling voluntarily as independent workers in the public health system.

Asylum seekers received provisional refugee status documents legalizing their status after appearing for an interview with the General Directorate of Immigration, for which the estimated wait time was eight months. Provisional refugee ID cards do not resemble other national identity documents, so while government authorities generally accepted them, many private citizens did not. Upon receiving refugee status, which typically took another nine months, refugees could obtain an identity document similar to those used by nationals at a cost of 39,000 colones ($68), renewable every two years.

Durable Solutions: The government continued to implement a “Protection Transfer Arrangement” in coordination with UNHCR and the International Organization for Migration for refugee resettlement in third countries. The government was committed to local integration of refugees both legally and socially and to facilitating their naturalization process. In partnership with UNHCR, on April 23, the government awarded “Living Integration” certifications to 20 public and private organizations to help refugees and asylum seekers earn a livelihood.

Temporary Protection: There were no programs for temporary protection beyond refugee status. Due to low recognition rates (approximately 8 percent of applicants received asylum during the first six months of the year), UNHCR had to consider a number of rejected asylum seekers as persons in need of international protection. UNHCR provided support and access to integration programs to individuals still pursuing adjudication and appeals. The individuals requesting refugee status were mainly from Nicaragua, Venezuela, El Salvador, and Colombia; the majority were male adults and extended families.

STATELESS PERSONS

There continued to be problems of statelessness of indigenous children and children of seasonal workers in the border areas with Panama and Nicaragua derived from the difficulties linked to birth registrations. Members of the Ngobe-Bugle indigenous group from Panama often worked on Costa Rican farms and occasionally gave birth there. In these cases parents did not register Ngobe-Bugle children as Costa Rican citizens at birth because they did not think it necessary, although the children lacked registration in Panama as well. Approximately 1,200 children were affected. Government authorities worked together with UNHCR on a program of birth registration and provision of identification documents to stateless persons known as “Chiriticos.” Mobile teams went to remote coffee-growing areas for case identification and registration. The National Civil Registry appointed a permanent officer in the regional offices of Coto Brus, Talamanca, and Tarrazu to provide follow-up services. From May 27 to June 3, authorities from Costa Rica and Panama collaborated to register citizens from the southern area of Punta Burica as part of the Chiriticos project. UNHCR and the National Civil Registry continued a project along the northern border for individuals of Nicaraguan origin to facilitate procedures for late birth registration.

Cote d’Ivoire

Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:

The constitution and law provide for freedom of speech and press, but the government restricted both. The National Press Authority, the government’s print media regulatory body, briefly suspended or reprimanded newspapers and journalists for statements it contended were false, libelous, or perceived to incite xenophobia and hate.

Freedom of Expression: The law prohibits incitement to violence, ethnic hatred, rebellion, and insulting the head of state or other senior members of the government. In January Michel Gbagbo, son of former president Laurent Gbagbo, was charged with disclosing false information, stemming from comments he made to a news website in 2016, when he said 250 persons were still in prison following the 2010-11 political crisis.

In January a local politician of Lebanese origin, “Sam l’Africain,” was released from Abidjan’s main central prison. He was arrested in March 2017 after proclaiming at a political rally that he, with an Ivoirian wife, was just as Ivoirian as President Ouattara, who has a French wife and had a parent from Burkina Faso. He was sentenced to six months in prison for insult and slander towards “people belonging to an ethnic group,” then fined and sentenced to another five years and revocation of his civic rights for fraud.

Press and Media Freedom: The independent media were active and expressed a wide variety of views. A law bans “detention of journalists in police custody, preventive detention, and imprisonment of journalists for offense committed by means of press or by others means of publication.” The law, however, provides “fines ranging from one million to three million CFA francs ($1,800 to $5,400) for anybody found guilty of committing offenses by means of press or by others means of publication.” Newspapers aligned politically with the opposition frequently published inflammatory editorials against the government or fabricated stories to defame political opponents. The High Audiovisual Communications Authority oversees the regulation and operation of radio and television stations. There were numerous independent radio stations. The law prohibits transmission of political commentary by community radio stations, but the regulation authority allows community radio stations to run political programs if they employ professional journalists.

Censorship or Content Restrictions: The government influenced news coverage and program content on television channels and public and private radio stations. Journalists with the state-owned media regularly exercise self-censorship to avoid sanctions or reprisals from government’s officials.

National Security: Libel deemed to threaten the national interest is punishable by six months to five years in prison.

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, approximately 44 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, but the government sometimes restricted the freedom of peaceful assembly.

FREEDOM OF PEACEFUL ASSEMBLY

The law provides for freedom of peaceful assembly, but the government did not always respect this right. The law requires groups that wish to hold demonstrations or rallies in stadiums or other enclosed spaces to submit a written notice to the Ministry of Interior three days before the proposed event. Numerous opposition political groups reported denials of their requests to hold political meetings and alleged inconsistent standards for granting public assembly permissions. In some instances public officials stated they could not provide for the safety of opposition groups attempting to organize both public and private meetings.

In May, 21 students protesting poor living conditions were arrested following a clash with police in Abidjan and released after several days. In September stone-throwing students affiliated with a student union clashed with police on the campus of Houphouet-Boigny University in Abidjan as they protested education fees. The students disrupted traffic throughout the city, and police forces fought back using tear gas and sound grenades.

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

The constitution and law do not specifically provide for freedom of movement, foreign travel, emigration, or repatriation, but the government generally respected these rights. The government cooperated with the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) and other humanitarian organizations in providing protection and assistance to internally displaced persons, refugees, returning refugees, asylum seekers, stateless persons, or other persons of concern.

In-country Movement: There were impediments to internal travel. Security forces and unidentified groups erected and operated roadblocks, primarily along secondary roads outside of Abidjan. Although some roadblocks served legitimate security purposes, racketeering and extortion were common. FACI occupied some checkpoints at border crossings, but fewer than in previous years. Discrimination against perceived foreigners and descendants of Burkinabe migrants, including difficulty obtaining nationality and identity documentation, remained an obstacle to free movement of stateless persons and those at risk of statelessness in the country.

INTERNALLY DISPLACED PERSONS (IDPS)

Most IDPs were in the western and northeastern regions and in Abidjan and surrounding suburbs; no estimates of the total number of IDPs were available. Most IDPs were displaced due to the 2010-11 postelectoral crisis and evictions from illegally occupied protected forests in 2016. The 51,000 persons evicted in 2016 from Mont Peko National Park, where they had been living and farming illegally, continued to face problems of housing and food security in the surrounding areas where they had largely integrated into local communities. These were largely economic migrants, likely including many stateless persons.

The African Union Convention for the Protection and Assistance of Internally Displaced Persons in Africa (Kampala Convention) commits the government to protect the rights and well-being of persons displaced by conflict, violence, disasters, or human rights abuses and provides a framework of durable solutions for IDPs. The government respected the principle of voluntary return but provided limited assistance to IDPs; the United Nations and international and local NGOs worked to fill the gaps. While many of those displaced returned to their areas of origin, difficult conditions, including lack of access to land, shelter, and security, prevented others’ return. Host communities had few resources to receive and assist IDPs, who often resorted to living in informal urban settlements.

PROTECTION OF REFUGEES

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

Durable Solutions: Refugee documents allowed refugees to move freely in the country, with refugees younger than age 14 included on their parents’ documents. Refugees also had access to naturalization, although UNHCR reported many refugees had been in the naturalization process for more than five years.

Temporary Protection: The government also provided temporary protection for individuals who no longer qualified as refugees under the relevant UN conventions. Persons awaiting status determination received a letter, valid for three months, indicating they were awaiting a decision on their status. The letter provided for temporary stay and freedom of movement only. Holders of the letter did not qualify for refugee assistance such as access to education or health care.

STATELESS PERSONS

Statelessness in the country was believed to be extensive, although precise statistics were not available. The government estimated there were more than 700,000 stateless persons (a figure that likely underestimated the true scope of the problem), as a result of administrative hurdles, difficulty verifying nationality, and discrimination. The government never registered many of the children of migrants born in the country, thus placing them at risk of statelessness. With birth registration as a requirement for citizenship, unregistered children who lacked birth certificates were at risk of statelessness. Five children of unknown parentage received nationality documents, but UNHCR estimated there were possibly as many as 300,000 abandoned children and foundlings, who because they could not prove their citizenship through their parents, as required under the law, were stateless. Stateless children were thus deprived as they grew up of the opportunity to attend high school, get a formal job, open a bank account, own land, travel freely, or vote. Stateless persons faced numerous significant additional difficulties, such as access to health services, ability to wed legally, receive inheritance, and enjoy political rights, as well as exposure to exploitation and arbitrary detention. Social stigma and general harassment can also accompany statelessness.

The government put in place measures to resolve the status of certain stateless groups. These measures, however, were largely ineffective. Only 7,000 persons received Ivoirian nationality through a naturalization program that ended in January 2016, and a decision on an additional 123,810 cases was pending. In May the National Assembly created a working group, the Network of Ivoirian Members of Parliament for Migration, Refugees, and Stateless People, to address the issue of statelessness and recommend solutions. The government, in partnership with UNHCR, worked to identify stateless persons and persons at risk of statelessness.

Croatia

Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:

The constitution and law provide for freedom of expression, including for the press, and the government generally respected this right. An independent press, an effective judiciary, and a functioning democratic political system combined in most cases to promote freedom of expression, including for the press. NGOs reported, however, that the government did not adequately investigate or prosecute cases in which journalists or bloggers received threats.

Freedom of Expression: The law sanctions individuals who act “with the goal of spreading racial, religious, sexual, national, ethnic hatred, or hatred based on the color of skin or sexual orientation or other characteristics.” The law provides for six months to five years imprisonment for conviction of such “hate speech.” Conviction for internet hate speech is punishable by six months to three years imprisonment. Although the law and recent Constitutional Court decisions technically impose restrictions on symbolic speech considered “hate speech,” including the use of Nazi- and Ustasha (the World War II regime)-era symbols and slogans, NGOs and advocacy groups complained that enforcement of those provisions remained inadequate.

Press and Media Freedom: Independent media were active and expressed a wide variety of views without restriction. Restrictions on material deemed hate speech apply to print and broadcast media. Many private newspapers and magazines were published without government interference. Observers said, however, that information regarding actual ownership of some local radio and television channels was not always publicly available, raising concerns about bias, censorship, and the vulnerability of audiences in the country to malign influence.

On February 22, the Sisak city council prohibited Croatian Radio Television (HRT) journalist Igor Ahmetovic from entering an open city council session for reporting purposes. The Croatian Journalists’ Association (CJA) publicly demanded Sisak overturn that prohibition, stating the prohibition was a violation of the constitutional right to free reporting and access to information. A lawsuit filed by Ahmetovic against the city remained ongoing at year’s end.

Violence and Harassment: NGOs reported that physical attacks and threats, especially online threats, against journalists had an increasingly chilling effect on media freedom and that the government was insufficiently addressing this problem.

For example, in July the Zadar district attorney indicted soccer player Jakov Surac on charges he committed battery and made death threats against journalist Hrvoje Bajlo. The indictment stated Surac committed the crime specifically because of Bajlo’s work as a journalist. The case was ongoing.

Additionally, in August the Split district attorney declined to press criminal charges against war veteran Stipe Perkovic Tabak for online statements that Index.hr journalists should be killed. The CJA condemned this decision, stating the court allowed Perkovic Tabak’s veteran status to give him immunity.

Censorship or Content Restrictions: Members of the press reported practicing self-censorship for fear of receiving online harassment, upsetting politically connected individuals, or losing their jobs for covering certain topics.

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, 67 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.

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

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

The government in most cases cooperated with the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) and other humanitarian organizations in providing protection and assistance to internally displaced persons, refugees, returning refugees, asylum seekers, stateless persons, and other persons of concern. In August, however, UNHCR criticized the government for violent pushbacks of illegal migrants; the government stated that approximately 2,500 refugees and migrants were turned back at the border during the first eight months of the year.

Abuse of Migrants, Refugees, and Stateless Persons: International and domestic NGOs reported police violence against asylum seekers and migrants, particularly on the country’s border with Bosnia and Herzegovina (BiH).

UNHCR and several NGOs published reports alleging border police subjected migrants to degrading treatment, including verbal epithets and vulgarities, destruction of property, and beatings, including of vulnerable persons such as asylum seekers, minor children, persons with disabilities, and pregnant women. NGOs reported several migrants alleged border guards beat them while they were holding their infants or toddlers. One female migrant told NGOs male border police officers subjected her to a strip search in the forest in the presence of adult male migrants.

NGOs reported cases in which authorities kept families of asylum seekers detained in correctional facilities rather than in asylum reception centers. They stated police confined the families in cells for long periods, and children did not have access to outdoor exercise, education, books, or age-appropriate toys. In April the ECHR ordered the government to release one family from detention and allow them freedom of movement. In September the Council of Europe’s commissioner for human rights called on the government to launch prompt and independent investigations regarding allegations of police violence and theft against refugees and migrants and of collective expulsion.

Domestic NGOs working on migrants’ rights reported police pressure, such as extensive surveillance and questioning of employees’ close associates and family members. Similarly, the ombudsperson’s 2017 report described pressure imposed on her office by some high-ranking officials from the Ministry of the Interior who said she should not have discussed nor debated cases in public. In October the ombudsperson said the Ministry of the Interior had repeatedly denied her access to information on police treatment of migrants. The Ministry of the Interior stated it adequately responded to the ombudperson’s requests.

The Ministry of the Interior publicly denied all allegations of violence or inhuman treatment of migrants and all allegations of pressuring humanitarian workers. In response to a query from the Council of Europe Human Rights Commissioner, Minister of the Interior Davor Bozinovic wrote that the Ministry of the Interior investigated all complaints received but had not found enough concrete data to warrant a criminal investigation.

PROTECTION OF REFUGEES

Access to Asylum: The law provides for the granting of asylum and refugee status, and the government has established a system for providing protection to asylum seekers. NGOs reported authorities at the border between Serbia and BiH prevented some migrants from applying for international protection, although officials denied these reports.

In June, claiming insufficient evidence, state prosecutors declined to prosecute a criminal case against police in the November 2017 death of a six-year-old Afghan girl killed by a train on the border with Serbia. The ombudsperson publicly called for an independent investigation into the actions of border police.

The Ministry of the Interior, in cooperation with several NGOs, provided applicants for international protection with housing and board, legal counseling, and psychological and humanitarian support. NGOs reported good cooperation with the Ministry of the Interior in the two asylum reception centers, Porin and Kutina, and asserted quality of services was generally good, giving education and medical services as positive examples. NGOS identified a need for increased psychiatric support, including for post-traumatic stress disorder, suicidal ideation, and drug/alcohol dependence.

In August the Ministry of the Interior adopted a comprehensive Protocol to provide assistance to unaccompanied minors.

In November 2017 the government began refurbishment of the Zagreb Reception Center for Asylum Seekers at Porin, which remained operational, transferring some residents temporarily to Kutina Center.

Durable Solutions: The government committed to receive 1,583 refugees and asylum seekers (1,433 under an EU relocation plan and 150 under an EU resettlement plan). As of August the country had received 81 refugees from Greece and Italy and resettled 105 Syrian refugees from Turkey.

The government continued to participate in a five-year joint regional housing program (RHP) with the governments of BiH, Montenegro, and Serbia. The RHP aimed to contribute to the resolution of the protracted displacement situation of the most vulnerable refugees and displaced persons following the 1991-95 conflict. As of August, the RHP had provided housing to 229 families incorporating 510 individuals in the country.

Temporary Protection: The Ministry of the Interior reported that from January to August, the government granted subsidiary protection to 20 persons who did not qualify as refugees.

STATELESS PERSONS

UNHCR estimated there were approximately 290 persons stateless or at risk of statelessness in the country. Many of these persons were Roma who lacked citizenship documents. The Ministry of the Interior is responsible for granting stateless individuals residency and eventual citizenship. Leaders from the Romani community reported stateless individuals faced significant barriers to employment, education, property ownership, and access to medical services.

Cuba

Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:

The constitution provides for freedom of expression, including for the press, only insofar as it “conforms to the aims of socialist society.” Laws banning criticism of government leaders and distribution of antigovernment propaganda carry penalties ranging from three months to 15 years in prison.

Freedom of Expression: The government had little tolerance for public criticism of government officials or programs and limited public debate of issues considered politically sensitive. State security regularly harassed the organizers of independent fora for debates on cultural and social topics to force them to stop discussing issues deemed controversial. The forum’s organizers reported assaults by state security, video surveillance installed outside of venues, and detention of panelists and guests on the days they were expected to appear. In addition, human rights activists, independent journalists, and artists were prohibited from traveling outside the country to attend events in international fora related to human rights and democracy in the country.

Government workers reported being fired, demoted, or censured for expressing dissenting opinions or affiliating with independent organizations. Several university professors, researchers, and students reported they were forced from their positions, demoted, or expelled for expressing ideas or opinions outside of government-accepted norms. The civic group Cuba Posible reported that during the year authorities harassed researchers who contributed to its projects and several contributors were fired from their state jobs.

On October 23, State Security agents interrogated Maylet Serrano, a student at Amadeo Roldan Conservatory and wife of graffiti artist Yulier P, whom police previously threatened and detained for his art in Havana. State Security agents threatened to hold back her graduation due to her husband’s activities. The director of the conservatory, Enrique Rodriguez Toledo, arranged the encounter.

During the year some religious groups reported greater latitude to express their opinions during sermons and at religious gatherings, although most members of the clergy continued to exercise self-censorship. Religious leaders in some cases criticized the government, its policies, and the country’s leadership without reprisals. The Roman Catholic Church operated a cultural and educational center in Havana that hosted debates featuring participants expressing different opinions about the country’s future.

Press and Media Freedom: The government directly owned all print and broadcast media outlets and all widely available sources of information. News and information programming was generally uniform across all outlets. The government also controlled nearly all publications and printing presses. The party censored public screenings and performances. The government also limited the importation of printed materials. Foreign correspondents in the country had limited access to and often were denied interviews with government officials. They also struggled to gather facts and reliable data for stories. Despite meeting government vetting requirements, official journalists who reported on sensitive subjects did so at personal risk, and the government barred official journalists from working for unofficial media outlets in addition to their official duties.

On June 13, authorities denied Fernando Ravsberg, a foreign freelance journalist and founder of the independent blog Cartas Desde Cuba (Letters from Cuba), renewal of his press credentials. During his 20 years of reporting, Ravsberg published articles that questioned government policies. He ceased reporting from the country after his press credentials expired.

Violence and Harassment: The government does not recognize independent journalism, and independent journalists sometimes faced government harassment, including detention and physical abuse. Most detentions involved independent journalists who filmed arrests and harassment of Todos Marchamos activists or otherwise attempted to cover politically sensitive topics. Community members and journalists for the Cuban Institute for Freedom of Expression and of the Press reported increased repression since President Diaz-Canel took office. Independent reporters experienced harassment, violence, intimidation, aggression, and censorship, and several were prevented from traveling abroad. On May 16, July 30, and September 22, government officials prevented independent journalist Anay Remon Garcia from boarding an airplane to leave the country. They did not cite a reason and did not accuse her of any crime.

Censorship or Content Restrictions: The law prohibits distribution of printed materials considered “counterrevolutionary” or critical of the government. Foreign newspapers or magazines were generally unavailable outside of tourist areas. Distribution of material with political content–interpreted broadly to include the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, foreign newspapers, and independent information on public health–was not allowed and sometimes resulted in harassment and detention. In February the government blocked direct online access to the independent magazine El Estornudo (The Sneeze). Government officials also confiscated or destroyed cameras and cell phones of individuals to prevent them from distributing photographs and videos deemed objectionable.

The government sometimes barred independent libraries from receiving materials from abroad and seized materials donated by foreign governments, religious organizations, and individuals.

Libel/Slander Laws: The government used defamation of character laws to arrest or detain individuals critical of the country’s leadership.

Authorities sentenced independent union leader Eduardo Hernandez Toledo to one year in prison for “verbal disrespect” following his negative references to Fidel and Raul Castro at a September 27 celebration by the Committee for the Defense of the Revolution.

On February 6, authorities detained rap singer and composer Henry Laso on charges of “disrespect.” Authorities accused him in January after his song El Rey Falso, (The False King) critical of the late Fidel Castro, went viral, but they did not arrest him due to mediation by the Roman Catholic Church in Cienfuegos. Medical authorities subsequently diagnosed Laso as schizophrenic and moved him to multiple hospital prisons. The government released Laso in October.

Human rights activists reported government internet trolls tracking their social media accounts and reported on the government’s practice to send mass text messages warning neighbors to avoid association with dissidents. On August 11, in the Havana suburb of San Isidro, residents received a text message calling independent artist Luis Manuel Otero a “disgrace for the neighborhood” and warned he would bring police action to the community.

INTERNET FREEDOM

The government restricted access to the internet, and there were reports the government monitored without appropriate legal authority citizens’ and foreigners’ use of email, social media, internet chat rooms, and browsing. The government controlled all internet access, except for limited facilities provided by a few diplomatic missions and a small but increasing number of underground networks.

While the International Telecommunication Union reported that 49 percent of citizens used the internet in 2017 and the government estimated 53 percent of the population used the internet during the year, this included many whose access was limited to a national network that offered only government-run email and government-generated websites, at a fraction of the price of internet available to the public.

The government selectively granted in-home internet access to certain areas of Havana and sectors of the population consisting mostly of government officials, established professionals, some professors and students, journalists, and artists. Others could access email and internet services through government-sponsored “youth clubs,” internet cafes, or Wi-Fi hot spots approved and regulated by the Ministry for Information, Technology, and Communications. Users were required to purchase prepaid cards to access the internet.

During the year the government increased the number of Wi-Fi hot spots to more than 700 countrywide, and on December 6 it launched 3G mobile service that allowed persons for the first time to access the internet on their cell phones without needing to connect to public Wi-Fi, but the cost was still beyond the means of most citizens. In addition to public Wi-Fi hot spots, citizens and foreigners could buy internet access cards and use hotel business centers. Authorities reviewed the browsing history of users, reviewed and censored email, and blocked access to websites it considered objectionable. The number of websites blocked fluctuated, with approximately 20 websites blocked on a regular basis, including independent media outlets such as CubaNet and Marti Noticias and websites critical of the government’s human rights record.

While the law does not set specific penalties for unauthorized internet use, it is illegal to own a satellite dish that would provide uncensored internet access. The government restricted the importation of wireless routers, actively targeted private wireless access points, and confiscated equipment.

The use of encryption software and transfer of encrypted files are also illegal. Despite poor access, harassment, and infrastructure challenges, a growing number of citizens maintained blogs in which they posted opinions critical of the government, with help from foreign supporters who often built and maintained the blog sites overseas. The government blocked local access to many of these blogs. In addition, a small but growing number of citizens used Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, and other social media to report independently on developments in the country, including observations critical of the government. Like other government critics, bloggers faced government harassment, including detention and physical abuse.

Human rights activists reported frequent government monitoring and disruption of cell phone and landline services prior to planned events or key anniversaries related to human rights. The government-owned telecommunications provider Empresa de Telecomunicaciones SA frequently disconnected service for human rights organizers, often just before their detention by state security or to disrupt planned activities.

ACADEMIC FREEDOM AND CULTURAL EVENTS

The government restricted academic freedom and controlled the curricula at all schools and universities, emphasizing the importance of reinforcing “revolutionary ideology” and “discipline.” Some academics refrained from meeting with foreigners, including diplomats, journalists, and visiting scholars, without prior government approval and, at times, the presence of a government monitor. Those permitted to travel abroad were aware that their actions, if deemed politically unfavorable, could negatively affect them and their relatives back home. During the year the government allowed some religious educational centers greater latitude to operate.

Outspoken artists and academics faced some harassment and criticism orchestrated by the government. On July 21, authorities arrested Luis Manuel Otero Alcantara for protesting against Decree 349, which regulates artistic and cultural activity, legalizes censorship, and prevents independent artists from presenting their work in public spaces. Otero Alcantara, Yanelys Nunez Leyva, Amaury Pacheco, Iris Ruiz, Soandry Del Rio, and Jose Ernesto Alonso organized the campaign “Cuban Artists against Decree 349” that included various artistic protest performances. On August 1, state security and police personnel surrounded Otero Alcantara’s home and arrested him again, along with Nunez Leyva, for planning a concert and open-microphone event to protest the decree. In December authorities arrested several artists who organized a sit-in at the Ministry of Culture to protest the decree, including Otero Alcantara, Pacheco, Tania Bruguera, Nunez Leyva, and Michel Matos.

During the year universities adopted new admissions criteria to give greater weight to prospective students’ ideological beliefs.

Public libraries required citizens to complete a registration process before the government granted access to books or information. Citizens could be denied access if they could not demonstrate a need to visit a particular library. Libraries required a letter of permission from an employer or academic institution for access to censored, sensitive, or rare books and materials. Religious institutions organized small libraries. Independent libraries were illegal but continued to exist, and owners faced harassment and intimidation.

b. Freedom of Peaceful Assembly and Association

The government restricted freedoms of peaceful assembly and association.

FREEDOM OF PEACEFUL ASSEMBLY

Although the constitution grants a limited right of assembly, the right is subject to the requirement that it may not be “exercised against the existence and objectives of the socialist state.” The law requires citizens to request authorization for organized meetings of three or more persons, and failure to do so could carry a penalty of up to three months in prison and a fine. The government tolerated some gatherings, and many religious groups reported the ability to gather without registering or facing sanctions.

Independent activists faced greater obstacles, and state security forces often suppressed attempts to assemble, even for gatherings in private dwellings and in small numbers. The government did not grant permission to independent demonstrators or approve public meetings by human rights groups or others critical of any government activity.

The government also continued to organize “acts of repudiation” in the form of mobs organized to assault and disperse those who assembled peacefully. Participants arrived in government-owned buses or were recruited by government officials from nearby workplaces or schools. Participants arrived and departed in shifts, chanted progovernment slogans, sang progovernment songs, and verbally taunted those assembled peacefully. The targets of this harassment at times suffered physical assault or property damage. Government security officials at the scene, often present in overwhelming numbers, did not arrest those who physically attacked the victims or respond to victims’ complaints and instead frequently orchestrated the activities or took direct part in physical assaults.

FREEDOM OF ASSOCIATION

The government routinely denied citizens freedom of association and did not recognize independent associations. The constitution proscribes any political organization not officially recognized. A number of independent organizations, including opposition political parties and professional associations, operated as NGOs without legal recognition.

Recognized churches (including the Roman Catholic humanitarian organization Caritas), the Freemason movement, and a number of fraternal and professional organizations were the only organizations legally permitted to function outside the formal structure of the state or the CP. Religious groups are under the supervision of the CP’s Office of Religious Affairs, which has the authority to deny permits for religious activities and exerted pressure on church leaders to refrain from including political topics in their sermons.

Groups must register through the Ministry of Justice to receive official recognition. Authorities continued to ignore applications for legal recognition from new groups, including several new religious groups as well as women’s rights and gay rights organizations, thereby subjecting members to potential charges of illegal association.

The government continued to afford preferential treatment to those who took an active part in CP activities and mass demonstrations in support of the government, especially when awarding valued public benefits, such as admissions to higher education, fellowships, and job opportunities.

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

There continued to be restrictions on freedom of movement within the country, foreign travel, and migration with the right of return. The government also controlled internal migration from rural areas to Havana.

Individuals seeking to migrate legally stated they faced police interrogation, fines, harassment, and intimidation, including dismissal from employment. Government employees who applied to migrate legally to the United States reportedly sometimes lost positions when their plans became known. Some family members of former government employees who emigrated from the island lost public benefits or were denied passports to travel and join their family members abroad.

The law provides for imprisonment of up to three years or a fine of 500 nonconvertible pesos (CUP) ($20) for first-time “rafters” (those who attempted to depart clandestinely, commonly using homemade vessels). Most persons caught attempting unauthorized departures via sea were detained briefly. In the case of military or police defectors, or those traveling with children, the punishment could be more severe.

Under the terms of the 1994-95 U.S.-Cuba migration accords, the government agreed not to prosecute or retaliate against migrants returned from international or U.S. waters, or from the Guantanamo U.S. Naval Station, after attempting to emigrate illegally if they had not committed a separate criminal offense. Some would-be migrants alleged harassment and discrimination, such as fines, expulsion from school, and job loss.

In-country Movement: Although the constitution allows all citizens to travel anywhere within the country, changes of residence to Havana were restricted. The local housing commission and provincial government authorities must authorize any change of residence. The government may fine persons living in a location without authorization from these bodies and send them back to their legally authorized place of residence. There were reports authorities limited social services to illegal Havana residents. Police threatened to prosecute anyone who returned to Havana after expulsion.

The law permits authorities to bar an individual from a certain area within the country, or to restrict an individual to a certain area, for a maximum of 10 years. Under this provision authorities may internally exile any person whose presence in a given location is determined to be “socially dangerous.” Dissidents frequently reported authorities prevented them from leaving their home provinces or detained and returned them to their homes even though they had no written or formal restrictions placed against them.

Foreign Travel: The government continued to require several classes of citizens to obtain permission for emigrant travel, including highly specialized medical personnel; military or security personnel; many government officials, including academics; and many former political prisoners and human rights activists. It also used arbitrary or spurious reasons to deny permission for human rights activists to leave the island to participate in workshops, events, or training programs. The Patmos Institute published a list of 64 human rights activists to whom the government denied permission for foreign travel as of July. Activists reported interrogations and confiscations at the airport when arriving from outside the country.

On April 12, airport authorities detained Marthadela Tamayo and Juan Antonio Madrazo, members of the independent NGO Committee for Racial Integration who were traveling to Geneva to participate in a session of the UN Universal Periodic Review, and barred them from leaving the country. In April the government prevented several members of independent civil society from traveling to Peru to participate in the Summit of the Americas. In May authorities prevented Berta Soler and Leticia Ramos of the Damas de Blanco from traveling to New York to receive an award for promoting liberty.

PROTECTION OF REFUGEES

Access to Asylum: The constitution provides for the granting of asylum to individuals persecuted for their ideals or actions involving a number of specified political grounds. The government has no formal mechanism to process asylum for foreign nationals and is not a signatory to the 1951 Refugee Convention.

Temporary Protection: On the small number of cases of persons seeking asylum, the government worked with the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees to provide protection and assistance, pending third-country resettlement. In addition, the government allowed foreign students who feared persecution in their home countries to remain in the country after the end of their studies until their claims could be substantiated or resolved.

Cyprus

Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:

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

Freedom of Expression: The law criminalizes incitement to hatred and violence based on race, color, religion, genealogical origin, national or ethnic origin, or sexual orientation. Such acts are punishable by up to five years’ imprisonment, a fine of up to 10,000 euros ($11,500), or both. During the year police examined three complaints of verbal assault or hate speech based on ethnic origin, religion, sexual orientation, or color. The investigations were ongoing at year’s end.

Press and Media Freedom: The law penalizes the use of geographical names and toponyms in the country other than those included in the gazetteer the government presented at the 1987 Fifth UN Conference on the Standardization of Geographical Names. According to the law, anyone who publishes, imports, distributes, or sells maps, books, or any other documents in print or digital form that contain geographical names and toponyms on the island other than those permitted, commits an offense punishable by up to three years in prison, a fine of up to 50,000 euros ($57,500), or both.

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 law criminalizes the use of computer systems to incite and promote racism, xenophobia, prejudice, racial discrimination, hate speech, and violence. Such acts are punishable by up to five years’ imprisonment, a fine of up to 35,000 euros ($40,250), or both. The use of computer systems to commit offenses related to child pornography is criminalized and punishable by up to 10 years’ imprisonment and/or a fine of up to 42,500 euros ($48,875).

According to the International Telecommunication Union, approximately 81 percent of the population used the internet in 2017.

ACADEMIC FREEDOM AND CULTURAL EVENTS

In September the artistic director and four musicians in the Cyprus Symphony Orchestra canceled their voluntary participation in an international music festival in the “TRNC” after some members of parliament publicly called for them to be fired if they participated.

b. Freedom of Peaceful Assembly and Association

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

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

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

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

Abuse of Migrants, Refugees, and Stateless Persons: An NGO reported some Social Welfare Service officers and judges subjected asylum seekers to racist verbal abuse. Foreign nationals sentenced to a few months’ imprisonment for entering the country illegally were generally deported as soon as their travel documents were ready.

The government’s policy was not to hold irregular migrants in detention for long periods and to release them and provide them residency permits if they were not deported within 18 months. An NGO reported immigration authorities pressured migrant detainees to sign a voluntary return consent by threatening them with indefinite detention.

The ombudsman received complaints of continuing detention despite the absence of prospect of deportation. The ombudsman recommended the release of such detainees and reported that authorities implemented those recommendations in some cases.

In-country Movement: The government did not restrict Greek Cypriots from traveling to the area administered by Turkish Cypriots, but the Ministry of Foreign Affairs warned foreigners against spending the night at Greek Cypriot properties occupied by Turkish Cypriots or Turks, gambling in the area administered by Turkish Cypriots, or buying or developing property there. NGOs reported the government prohibited recognized non-Cypriot refugees with temporary residence status and asylum seekers from crossing to the area administered by Turkish Cypriots, asserting it could not assure their safety in an area not under its control.

INTERNALLY DISPLACED PERSONS (IDPS)

The government considers Greek Cypriots displaced as a result of the 1974 division of the island to be refugees, although they fell under the UN definition of IDPs. As of October there were 233,330 such individuals and their descendants. UNHCR provided assistance to Greek and Turkish Cypriot IDPs from 1974-88, after which it transferred assistance programs to UNFICYP and other UN agencies. Because UNHCR no longer extended assistance to these displaced persons, it officially considered the IDP population to be zero, consistent with UNHCR statistical reporting guidelines. Depending on their income, IDPs were eligible for financial assistance from the government. They were resettled, had access to humanitarian organizations, and were not subject to attack, targeting, or mandatory return under dangerous conditions.

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 ombudsman and NGOs reported delays in the examination of asylum applications and delays in the examination of appeals against rejections of asylum applications.

Employment: Authorities allowed asylum seekers whose cases were awaiting adjudication to work after a waiting period. In October the Ministry of Labor reduced the waiting period for work authorization from six months to one month. The law restricts asylum seekers to employment in fisheries, the production of animal feed, waste management, gas stations and car washes, freight handling in the wholesale trade, building and outdoor cleaning, distribution of advertising and informational materials, and food delivery.

A UNHCR report released in May noted long waiting periods for work authorization aggravated by limited areas in which asylum seekers were eligible to seek employment.

There were reports of racism by Labor Department officers who met with valid residency applicants seeking a contract of employment. From January to September, the Ministry of Labor and Social Insurance approved 380 labor contracts for asylum seekers and 34 contract renewals. The Ministry of Labor reported it had approved all submitted contracts.

Access to Basic Services: Since 2016 the living conditions of asylum seekers have deteriorated as the numbers of applicants increased. The only permanent reception center for asylum seekers, located in Kofinou, was completely full, and the majority of asylum seekers lacked proper housing.

In April UNHCR noted a high number of asylum seekers facing homelessness and destitution. It reported a number of homeless men, women, and families with young children from Syria, Cameroon, Somalia, and Iraq were either sleeping in outdoor parks or temporarily staying with friends, relatives, or strangers, often sleeping on floors and unable to access hygiene facilities. NGOs attributed what they described as unsanitary living conditions to Ministry of Interior mismanagement of the Kofinou reception center.

Asylum seekers who refused an available job could be denied state benefits. To obtain welfare benefits, asylum seekers also needed a valid address, which was not possible for homeless applicants. UNHCR, NGOs, and asylum seekers reported delays and inconsistencies in the delivery of benefits to eligible asylum seekers.

The ombudsman and NGOs reported the system of providing welfare support to asylum seekers via coupons did not take into account or appropriately accommodate the special needs of vulnerable groups among them. The coupons could be redeemed only in specific shops that may lack some supplies, were usually more expensive than other grocery stores, and were often inconveniently located. An NGO reported the procedure to enable access of asylum seekers to state medical care was cumbersome and time consuming.

A UNHCR report released in May noted considerable limitations in reception conditions, insufficient and delayed financial support and social welfare assistance, and constraints in access to psychosocial support services. It noted the voucher scheme was insufficient to cover recipients’ basic needs and provided fewer benefits to asylum seekers than support packages for recognized refugees and Cypriot citizens. The report highlighted that once asylum seekers secured employment, authorities terminated the provision of welfare assistance without determining whether the remuneration was sufficient to cover the basic and special needs of the applicants and their family members.

Temporary Protection: The government also provided temporary protection, called subsidiary protection, to individuals who may not qualify as refugees. Authorities granted subsidiary protection to 755 persons in the first eight months of the year.

The government provides subsidiary protection status for citizens or residents of Syria who entered the country legally or illegally. All persons seeking such status were required to provide a Syrian passport or other identification.

Cyprus – the Area Administered by Turkish Cypriots

Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:

The “law” provides for freedom of expression, including for the press, and authorities generally respected this right. Individuals were usually able to criticize authorities publicly without reprisal, with some exceptions.

Freedom of Expression: While there is no “law” restricting the use of non-”TRNC” flags or symbols, some individuals who have flown flags of the Republic of Cyprus have been publicly criticized and put on trial on charges of “disturbing the peace” or “provocative actions.”

Press and Media Freedom: While authorities usually respected press freedom, at times they obstructed journalists in their reporting. One media representative complained that press and media representatives were prevented from getting close enough to conduct on site reporting during incidents or to follow up reporting at “court” hearings.

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

A journalist association reported some journalists were verbally and physically attacked by detainees or their families or friends. Journalists also reported they were at times prevented from doing their jobs, verbally assaulted, and their equipment damaged while at “courts,” hospitals, and police stations.

In January, Turkish President Erdogan condemned the Afrika newspaper for republishing in December 2017 a cartoon of a Greek statue urinating on Erdogan’s head and for publishing on January 21 an article sharply critical of Turkish military operations in Syria. He called for action against the paper. In response, 500 demonstrators staged a protest in front of the newspaper’s office. According to press reports, demonstrators threw rocks, glass bottles, and eggs, causing 16,450 Turkish lira ($3,130) in damage. Police arrested six demonstrators for rioting, gathering illegally, and deliberately destroying private property. The six demonstrators received jail sentences ranging from two to six months. Afrika’s chief editor reported in August that he continued to receive threats, and a journalist association reported that press and media groups who covered the attack also received threats.

In July a police officer in Famagusta reportedly ordered his subordinates to “inflict violence” on journalists who were trying to take photos of suspects being brought to the Famagusta “courts.” The police officers hit journalists trying to report from outside the court. The journalists filed a complaint against the police officer who ordered the attack. The “Attorney General’s Office” reported police started an investigation, which continued at year’s end.

Censorship or Content Restrictions: Journalists cannot interview or report on persons under control of the armed forces. The Turkish Cypriot Journalists Association reported authorities used these restrictions to prevent journalists from investigating valid subjects, such as suicides or allegations of police torture or battery within the military or police systems.

Journalists practiced self-censorship for fear of losing their jobs. A journalist reported some press representatives censored themselves when reporting on Turkey’s role in Cyprus and on the Turkish leadership.

In March police officers charged the Afrika newspaper with instigating violence, insulting Turkish President Erdogan, and trying to set the “TRNC” against Turkey. At a May hearing, Afrika’s editor and columnist were charged with several crimes, including insulting foreign state representatives, insulting religion, and publishing false news relating to a cartoon, three articles, and editorials. The trial began in October and continued at year’s end.

Separately, Afrika newspaper opened a lawsuit against President Erdogan for instigating attacks on the newspaper. The “court” dismissed the case, ruling that foreign heads of state were immune from prosecution.

INTERNET FREEDOM

Authorities did not restrict or disrupt access to the internet or censor online content, and there were no credible reports that they monitored private online communications without appropriate legal authority. Although technological developments improved delivery methods, journalists reported continued difficulties in accessing public information.

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, but the “government” sometimes limited both.

FREEDOM OF PEACEFUL ASSEMBLY

A teachers union reported police obstructed unions and civil society organizations from demonstrating and opening banners in front of the Turkish “embassy” during demonstrations and protests.

A labor union reported police interfered in demonstrations and used force against peaceful demonstrators. The labor union also reported police used force and pepper gas to disperse demonstrators during the Animal Producer Association’s demonstration in September.

FREEDOM OF ASSOCIATION

While the “law” provides for the freedom of association, and while the “government” usually respected this right, some organizations faced lengthy registration processes.

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

The “law” provides for freedom of movement within the area administered by the Turkish Cypriot “authorities,” foreign travel, emigration, and repatriation. Authorities generally respected these rights. An intermediary NGO handled cooperation between the office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees) (UNHCR) and Turkish Cypriot authorities. Because no “law” exists regarding the handling of asylum applications, UNHCR representatives in the Republic of Cyprus assessed asylum claims by applicants in the area administered by Turkish Cypriot authorities.

Abuse of Migrants, Refugees, and Stateless Persons: UNHCR reported that, with few exceptions, asylum seekers generally were treated as illegal migrants because an official framework for asylum does not exist. Most were either denied entry or deported, irrespective of the risk of refoulement.

In-country Movement: Authorities required Greek Cypriots and Turkish Cypriots to show identification cards when crossing the “Green Line.”

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

INTERNALLY DISPLACED PERSONS (IDPS)

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

PROTECTION OF REFUGEES

Refoulement: Authorities did not provide protection against the expulsion or return of refugees to countries where their lives or freedom could be threatened. According to NGOs, authorities at “ports” often denied entry to asylum seekers.

Human rights associations continued to work with authorities, including UNHCR, to provide protection for asylum seekers from refoulement, at times without success. With the involvement of these organizations, several asylum seekers gained access to asylum procedures in Turkey or in the government-controlled area.

Access to Asylum: There is no “law” or system in place for dealing with asylum seekers or the protection of refugees. Turkish Cypriot authorities generally cooperated with UNHCR’s NGO implementing partner, SOS Children’s Village.

There were reports Turkish Cypriot authorities deported numerous asylum seekers during the year before UNHCR’s implementing partner could interview them to obtain information necessary for assessing their asylum claims. Some potential asylum seekers who attempted to enter the area administered by Turkish Cypriot authorities illegally were arrested, taken to “court,” and deported after serving their prison sentences.

Freedom of Movement: Asylum seekers could not travel abroad because they would be unable to return due to their lack of “legal” status.

Employment: According to immigration “law,” employers need official permission from the “Department of Labor” to register foreign workers. Authorities prohibited entry or deported irregular migrants without work permits. Persons holding a UNHCR certificate receive the same access to the labor market as third country nationals.

A “regulation” provides that any employer of illegal workers may be fined 2,620 Turkish lira ($500) or face closure of their business for two months. As of September, the “Labor Authority” had inspected 973 workplaces, and identified 1,254 illegal workers. Authorities fined employers 639,000 Turkish lira ($122,000).

Access to Basic Services: Persons holding a UNHCR certificate could access basic services, including primary health care and education, but persons of concern to UNHCR lacked access to residence permits or welfare assistance, which rendered them at risk of exploitation and put vulnerable individuals at risk of destitution.

Czech Republic

Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:

The law provides 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. The law provides for some limitations to this freedom, including in cases of hate speech, Holocaust denial, and denial of communist-era crimes.

Freedom of Expression: The law mandates prison sentences of six months to three years for persons who deny communist-era crimes or the Holocaust. The law prohibits speech that incites hatred based on race, religion, class, nationality, or other group affiliation and provides for prison sentences of up to three years for violations.

Press and Media Freedom: Independent media were active and expressed a wide variety of views. Concerns that consolidated ownership of Czech media outlets could influence politics increased after the May 2017 release of audio recordings allegedly showing the then-finance minister and present prime minister, Andrej Babis, instructing a reporter at one of Babis’ newspapers to write a negative article about a political rival. Babis denied any wrongdoing.

In October 2017 President Milos Zeman attacked the media at a news conference, where he brandished a dummy Kalashnikov rifle bearing the inscription “for journalists.” In May he “joked” that a few journalists should be “liquidated” because “there are too many of them.”

The law providing limits on denial of communist-era crimes and the Holocaust and on hate speech applies to the print and broadcast media as well as online newspapers and journals.

INTERNET FREEDOM

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

The law prohibits, among others, speech that denigrates a nation, race, ethnic or other group of persons; incites hatred towards a group of persons or advocates the restriction of their civil rights; and publicly denies, questions, endorses, or vindicates genocide.

According to Czech Statistical Office data from 2017, 77 percent of households had internet access but only 30 percent had high-speed internet during the year.

ACADEMIC FREEDOM AND CULTURAL EVENTS

There were no government restrictions on academic freedom or cultural events. In 2017 the Constitutional Court sided with President Zeman in his refusal to appoint three professors in 2015, despite that the law requires the president to do so, and all nomination requirements were fulfilled. The court ruled that a letter sent by the president to the minister of education rejecting the three appointments was sufficient despite that it did not provide a justification for the decision.

b. Freedom of Peaceful Assembly and Association

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

FREEDOM OF PEACEFUL ASSEMBLY

The government may legally restrict or prohibit gatherings, including marches, demonstrations, and concerts, if they promote hatred or intolerance, advocate suppressing individual rights, or jeopardize the safety of the participants.

FREEDOM OF ASSOCIATION

The law requires organizations, associations, foundations, and political parties to register with the Ministry of Interior. The courts may dissolve or ban, and the Ministry of Interior may refuse to register, groups that incite hatred based on race, religion, class, nationality, or other affiliation or that use prohibited symbols.

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

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

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

Abuse of Migrants, Refugees, and Stateless Persons: Acts of physical intimidation and, vandalism, remained a serious concern. NGOs focusing on migration issues reported an increase in telephone and email threats, including death threats (see section 6, Other Societal Violence and Discrimination).

PROTECTION OF REFUGEES

Access to Asylum: The law provides for the granting of asylum, and the government has an established system for providing protection to refugees and other specifically endangered foreigners.

According to Ministry of Interior statistics for the first eight months of the year, the average length of asylum procedures was 67 days. The length of asylum procedures in 92.6 percent of all cases met the requirements of the Law on Asylum. In the remaining cases, applicants for asylum received information about the new deadline for completing the asylum procedure in compliance with the law. Under the law, the Ministry of Interior should decide on asylum cases within six months of the date of the asylum application if the applicant has submitted all required documents.

Safe Country of Origin/Transit: The country generally adheres to the Dublin III Regulation, which calls for authorities to return asylum seekers to the first EU country they entered. The Ministry of Interior accepted asylum applications from persons arriving from or through countries deemed to be safe, as defined by law. Authorities usually did not grant international protection to these applicants but reviewed all cases individually.

Freedom of Movement: As a result of the implementation of a voluntary returns system, the length of detention of illegal migrants and rejected asylum seekers in detention was shortened. Under the law migrants facing deportation or waiting for voluntary repatriation because of ordered deportation can be detained for a maximum of 180 days. If there were children accompanying the adults, the deportation procedure could last no more than 90 days with no possibility of further extension. Vulnerable persons, including families, cannot be detained if they apply for international protection.

According to a Ministry of Interior report in September, there were approximately 70 migrants detained in facilities in the country. According to the report, during the year there were five persons in a detention facility specifically designed for vulnerable groups of persons, single women without children, and families with children. The Interior Ministry reported there were no displaced children in the country during the year.

Durable Solutions: A national resettlement and integration program managed by the government in close cooperation with UNHCR continued. Under the State Integration Plan, beneficiaries of international protection are entitled to temporary accommodation, social services, Czech language training, and assistance with finding employment and permanent housing. Children are entitled to school education.

The government agreed to resettle 400 refugees from the Middle East, including Turkey, based on voluntary EU quotas. In June 2017 the government decided, however, to suspend this resettlement program, citing security concerns.

The Ministry of Interior effectively used the system of voluntary returns. In January 2017, faced with increasing numbers of foreigners in difficult economic situations willing to return home, the ministry started its own program of assisted voluntary returns from the Czech Republic to the countries of origin in addition to the voluntary return program managed by the International Organization for Migration. In 2017 the ministry assisted approximately 400 persons to return to their country of origin. In the first seven months of the year, approximately 225 persons were voluntarily returned to their countries of origin.

Temporary Protection: The government also provided temporary protection (called “subsidiary protection” in the EU) to individuals who may not qualify as refugees. As of September 1, subsidiary protection was granted to 90 persons. Under EU guidelines individuals granted subsidiary protection are eligible for temporary residence permits, travel documents, access to employment, equal access to health care and housing, and school education for children.

STATELESS PERSONS

According to UNHCR statistics, there were approximately 1,500 stateless persons in the country at the end of 2017. The Ministry of Interior reported 12 stateless persons who applied for international protection during the year. The country did not grant refugee status to stateless persons but provided subsidiary protection in six cases by September. Under certain circumstances stateless persons can obtain citizenship.

Democratic Republic of the Congo

Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:

The law provides for freedom of speech, including for the press. The press frequently and openly criticized public officials and public policy decisions. Individuals generally could criticize the government, its officials, and other citizens in private without being subject to official reprisals. Public criticism, however, of government officials, the president, or government policies regarding elections, democracy, and corruption sometimes resulted in intimidation, threats, and arrest. The government also prevented journalists from filming or covering some protests and refused to renew or grant visas for several foreign media correspondents.

Freedom of Expression: The law prohibits insulting the head of state, malicious and public slander, and language presumed to threaten national security. Authorities sometimes detained journalists, activists, and politicians when they publicly criticized the government, the president, or the SSF. Plainclothes and uniformed security agents allegedly monitored political rallies and events.

Press and Media Freedom: The law mandates the High Council for the Audiovisual and Communications (CSAC) to provide for freedom of the press and equal access to communications media and information for political parties, associations, and citizens. A large and active private press functioned predominantly in Kinshasa, although with some representation across the country, and the government licensed a large number of daily newspapers. Radio remained the principal medium of public information due to limited literacy and the relatively high cost of newspapers and television. The state owned three radio stations and three television stations, and the president’s family owned two additional television stations. Government officials, politicians, and to a lesser extent church leaders, owned or operated the majority of media outlets.

The government required newspapers to pay a one-time license fee of 250,000 Congolese francs ($156) and complete several administrative requirements before publishing. Broadcast media were also subject to a Directorate for Administrative and Land Revenue advertisement tax. Many journalists lacked professional training, received little or no set salary, could not access government information, and exercised self-censorship due to concerns of harassment, intimidation, or arrest.

In November local NGO Journalists in Danger (JED) reported 121 cases of attacks on media from November 2017 to October and attributed 77 percent of these attacks to government agents, including nearly half to state security forces. JED reported that the number of attacks on media had not changed from 2017. JED reported 53 cases of arrests of journalists, including 15 who remained in detention for more than the legal limit of 48 hours without being charged. In September the District Court of Kinshasa found editor of satirical newspaper Le Grognon Tharcisse Zongia guilty by default of criminal defamation charges for accusing Barthelemy Okito, secretary general of the Sports Ministry, of embezzling public funds meant for the national football team. He was sentenced to one year in prison.

Violence and Harassment: Local journalists were vulnerable to intimidation and violence by the SSF. On July 6, Bukavu correspondent for Africanews Gael Mpoyo and his family went into hiding after receiving multiple death threats for posting a documentary film concerning the forcible eviction of residents in Mbobero from a property belonging to President Kabila.

The 121 documented press freedom violations reported by JED included 53 journalists detained or arrested, 30 cases of journalists threatened or attacked, and 21 instances of authorities preventing the free flow of information. Other incidents included efforts to subject journalists to administrative, judicial, or economic pressure. At year’s end the government had not sanctioned or charged any perpetrator of press freedom violations.

Censorship or Content Restrictions: While the CSAC is the only institution with legal authority to restrict broadcasts, the government, including the SSF and provincial officials, also exercised this power. Some press officers in government agencies allegedly censored news articles by privately owned publications. Privately owned media increasingly practiced self-censorship due to fear of potential suppression and the prospect of the government shutting them down as it had done previously to a handful of major pro-opposition media outlets.

Media representatives reported they were pressured by the government not to cover events organized by the opposition or news concerning opposition leaders.

Libel/Slander Laws: The national and provincial governments used criminal defamation laws to intimidate and punish critics. For example, during the year Minister of Kasai Oriental Alphonse Ngoyi Kasanji charged television journalist Eliezer Ntambwe with defamation for an accusation during an interview that the governor had stolen a 35-carat diamond. Ntambwe was arrested on April 2, but released on April 11 after the governor withdrew his charge.

National Security: The national government used a law that prohibits anyone from making general defamatory accusations against the military to restrict free speech.

Nongovernmental Impact: RMGs and their political wings regularly restricted press freedom in the areas where they operated.

INTERNET FREEDOM

Some private entrepreneurs made moderately priced internet access available through internet cafes in large cities throughout the country. Data-enabled mobile telephones were an increasingly popular way to access the internet. According to the International Telecommunication Union, 8.6 percent of individuals in the country used the internet in 2017.

According to Freedom House, there were reports that government authorities disrupted access to news coverage to prevent critical reports on the government and government figures.

On December 30, 2017, the day before planned protests calling on President Kabila to step down, Posts and Telecommunications Minister Emery Okundi Ndjovu directed internet providers and cell phone companies to “suspend” short message service and internet service throughout the country “for reasons of State security.” On January 1, internet access was restored. The government cut most internet service from January 21 to January 24 during church-led protests calling on the government to hold elections and implement the December 2016 Agreement. The government cut internet service again on February 25 during additional protests. On December 31, the day after nationwide elections, the government cut internet again. The internet remained blocked at year’s end. Authorities continued to reserve the right to implement internet blackouts, citing a 2002 act that grants government officials the power to shut down communications and conduct invasive surveillance. Additionally, the Criminal Code of 1940 and Press Freedom Act of 1996 have been used to restrict freedom of expression.

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, but the government frequently restricted this right and prevented those critical of the government from exercising their right to peaceful assembly. The law requires organizers of public events to notify local authorities in advance of the event. The government maintained that public events required advance permission and regularly declined to authorize public meetings or protests organized by opposition parties or civil society groups critical of the government. The government did, however, authorize protests and assemblies organized by progovernment groups and political parties. During the year the SSF beat, detained, or arrested persons participating in protests, marches, and meetings. The SSF also used tear gas, rubber bullets, and at times live ammunition, resulting in numerous civilian deaths and injuries.

According to MONUSCO there were 633 violations of democratic space from January through August. These included restrictions on freedom of assembly, the right to liberty and security of person, and of the right to freedom of opinion and expression.

On March 19, a joint report of the UNJHRO and the OHCHR for 2017 stated that the SSF used illegal, systematic, and disproportionate force against protesters, resulting in 47 civilian deaths and several hundred wounded during protests. The report stressed the illegality of government prohibitions on public demonstrations and accused the FARDC’s 11th Rapid Reaction Brigade and the Republican Guard of grave violations of human rights for indiscriminately using live rounds specifically against civilians in August 2017 after members of the RMG Bundu dia Kongo separatist group attacked police and civilians in Kinshasa. The report also cited instances of threats and intimidation against protestors by government officials and outlined specific attacks and restrictions against UNJHRO personnel. The report confirmed at least nine deaths during December 2017 demonstrations, at least 98 wounded, and 185 arbitrarily arrested. For the January 21 demonstrations, the report cited at least seven persons killed, 67 wounded, and at least 121 persons arbitrarily arrested, including four children. The report also stressed that security force members were rarely, if ever, held accountable for disproportionate use of force during protests. It stated the United Nations was aware of only a few instances in which security force members were held accountable, including the case of one police officer who was sentenced to three years’ imprisonment in Bukavu for conviction related to his actions during a protest in July 2017.

In March government and civil society representatives released a report of investigations into abuses related to protests during December 2017, on January 21, and on February 25, alleging 14 deaths, 65 injuries, and 40 persons arrested, detained, and in some cases tortured.

In Kinshasa opposition parties were regularly allowed to hold political rallies. On April 24, the opposition UDPS party held a rally in the capital. On September 29, opposition parties held a rally in Kinshasa, but reports and photographs showed that the government sought to deter attendance by halting public transportation, raising fuel prices, and dumping garbage near the site of the rally.

The government, which must simply be informed of nonviolent demonstrations and is not vested with authorizing their occurrence, consistently prohibited nonviolent demonstrations elsewhere in the country, notably in Lubumbashi, Kananga, and Goma. On October 13, government officials and the SSF blocked opposition leaders from organizing a political rally in Lubumbashi to highlight concerns regarding the electoral process. The SSF prevented opposition leaders from accessing a residence of the rally leader and fired live ammunition into the air while opposition members attempted to reach the planned rally point. From November 21 to election day on December 30, the JHRO recorded 16 election-related deaths. This included three deaths in Lubumbashi on December 11, one death in Tanganyika on December 12, one death in Mbuji-Mayi on December 13, one death in Kisangani on December 14, one death in Tshikapa on December 18, one death in Lubumbashi on December 19, six deaths in Tanganyika on December 27, one death in Beni on December 28, and one death in South Kivu province on election day on December 30.

FREEDOM OF ASSOCIATION

The constitution provides for freedom of association, and the government generally respected this right. Civil society organizations and NGOs are required to register with the government and may receive funds only through donations; they may not generate any revenue, even if it is not at a profit. The registration process is burdensome and very slow. Some groups, particularly within the LGBTI community, reported the government had denied their registration requests.

During an interactive dialogue with civil society in Kinshasa in March 2016, the minister of justice and human rights stated that only 63 of more than 21,000 NGOs in the country were formally registered. Many NGOs reported that, even when carefully following the registration process, it often took years to receive legal certification. Many interpreted registration difficulties as intentional government obstacles for impeding NGO activity.

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

The law provides for freedom of internal movement, foreign travel, emigration, and repatriation. The government sometimes restricted these rights.

The government occasionally cooperated with the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) and other humanitarian organizations in providing protection and assistance to IDPs, refugees, returning refugees, asylum seekers, stateless persons, or other persons of concern. In August and September, authorities forcibly closed three IDP camps in Tanganyika Province despite repeated concerns expressed by humanitarian agencies.

In 2016 the country sent one of several delegations from African nations, UNHCR, and the African Union that, after seven years of negotiations, reached an agreement on steps to end the protracted Rwandan refugee situation by the end of 2017. Between January and August, more than 2,460 Rwandans voluntarily repatriated from the country. As of August 31, UNHCR estimated there were 217,766 Rwandan refugees in the country.

In August the government allegedly took steps to prevent political opposition leader Moise Katumbi from returning to the country and registering himself as a presidential candidate. The government allegedly failed to provide landing clearance for his private plane and then closed the land border with Zambia to prevent him from crossing the border by road. The government denied these allegations.

In November 2017 the Directorate General of Migration confiscated the passport of opposition UDPS party secretary general Jean Marc Kabund Kabund at Kinshasa’s airport and prevented him from leaving the country. As of September 22, Kabund did not have a passport, although human rights lawyer Georges Kapiamba received his passport in March after it was similarly confiscated in November 2017.

Abuse of Migrants, Refugees, and Stateless Persons: Continuing conflict in North Kivu, Ituri, and Tanganyika provinces harmed refugees and IDPs in the region, with attacks often resulting in deaths and further displacement. In August the government forcibly closed three IDP camps in Tanganyika Province, displacing approximately 24,000 IDPs, and denied the humanitarian community access to the sites during and subsequent to their closure. The armed conflict sometimes exacerbated ethnic tensions and clashes among communities and displaced groups.

In-country Movement: The SSF and RMGs established barriers and checkpoints on roads and at airports and markets, ostensibly for security reasons, and routinely harassed and extorted money from civilians for supposed violations, sometimes detaining them until they or a relative paid. The government required travelers to submit to control procedures at airports and ports during domestic travel and when entering and leaving towns.

Local authorities continued to collect illegal taxes and fees for boats to travel on many parts of the Congo River. There also were widespread reports that FARDC soldiers and RMG combatants extorted fees from persons taking goods to market or traveling between towns (see section 1.g.).

The SSF sometimes required travelers to present travel orders from an employer or government official, although the law does not require such documentation. The SSF often detained and sometimes exacted bribes from individuals traveling without orders.

Foreign Travel: Because of inadequate administrative systems, passport issuance was irregular. As of January only fully biometric DRC passports were recognized. Officials accepted bribes to expedite passport issuance, and there were reports the price of fully biometric passports varied widely. There were also credible reports that the government refused to issue passports to civil society activists and opposition members critical of the government. On September 25, ACAJ director Georges Kapiamba reported that he was able to travel after his passport was confiscated in 2017.

INTERNALLY DISPLACED PERSONS (IDPS)

In November the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) reported that there were 1.37 million IDPs in the country. This was a reduction of 3 million IDPs from the previous year. This reduced number stemmed from agreement between OCHA and the government to change the way in which IDPs were defined. Under this new formula, individuals displaced for more than 12 months were no longer counted as IDPs. The government was unable to protect or assist IDPs adequately but generally allowed domestic and international humanitarian organizations to do so. UNHCR and other international humanitarian organizations worked to close IDP sites where the security situation was relatively stable.

Conflict, insecurity, poor infrastructure and a change in government policy adversely affected humanitarian efforts to assist IDPs. From August to September, the government forcibly closed three IDP camps in Tanganyika province, displacing approximately 24,000 persons. Population displacements continued throughout the year, particularly in the east. Many areas continued to experience insecurity, such as North Kivu’s Beni Territory, Ituri province, South Kivu’s Fizi Territory, and Tanganyika Province. Intercommunal violence and fighting among armed groups in the East resulted in continued population displacement and increased humanitarian needs for IDPs and host communities.

Due to the remote location of the Kasai region, humanitarian access was difficult, and IDPs lived in poor conditions without adequate shelter or protection. Women and girls were particularly vulnerable to sexual violence, including gang rape. In October and November, an Angolan government policy led to the return of nearly 400,000 Congolese to Kongo Central, Kwango, Kasai Central, Kasai Oriental and Lualaba provinces. Included among the returnees were more than 2,000 refouled Congolese refugees, most of whom intended to remain in DRC.

Combatants and other civilians abused IDPs. Abuses included killings, sexual exploitation of women and children (including rape), abduction, forced conscription, looting, illegal taxation, and general harassment.

More than one million IDPs returned to their areas of origin in 2017 according to UNHCR. This included 491,000 returnees in Kasai-Central, 270,000 in North Kivu, 154,000 in Tanganyika, 121,000 each in Lomami and South Kivu, and 45,000 each in Maniema and Ituri. In the Kasai provinces, UNHCR reported that more than one million IDPs started to return to their homes in 2017, but continued insecurity, abuses by the SSF and RMGs, as well as thorough destruction of homes impeded returns. UNHCR considered most of the returnees to be living in extremely precarious conditions.

PROTECTION OF REFUGEES

As of August 31, UNHCR reported 536,271 refugees in the country from seven adjacent countries, of which approximately 218,000 were from Rwanda.

Access to Asylum: The law provides for the granting of asylum or refugee status, and the government established a rudimentary system for providing protection to refugees. The system granted refugee and asylum status and provided protection against the expulsion or return of refugees to countries where their lives or freedom would be threatened on account of their race, religion, nationality, membership in a particular social group, or political opinion.

As of August 31, there were 3,546 asylum seekers in the country. The government cooperated with UNHCR and other humanitarian organizations in assisting refugees and asylum seekers with welfare and safety needs. The government assisted in the safe, voluntary return of refugees to their homes by allowing their entry into the country and facilitating immigration processing. In establishing security mechanisms, government authorities did not treat refugees differently than citizens.

Durable Solutions: Through the application of the cessation clauses of the 1951 Convention and the 1969 Organization of African Unity Convention, Angolans who fled the Angolan civil war (which ended in 2002) ceased to be refugees in 2012. In 2014 UNHCR launched the final assisted voluntary repatriation of former Angolan refugees. From January through September 2015, 3,916 Angolans returned home; another 21,290 Angolans in Kinshasa, Kongo Central, and Upper Katanga provinces awaited return. UNHCR helped another 18,638 Angolan refugees to file for local integration in 2015, including paying for their residency permits. As of June, 494 Angolan refugees remained in the country.

The country has not invoked the cessation clause effective in 2013 for Rwandan refugees who fled Rwanda before the end of 1998. In 2016 the government joined other refugee-hosting countries and UNHCR to commit to facilitating repatriation of Rwandans from countries of asylum through December 31. To implement the tripartite agreement from 2014, the National Commission on Refugees (CNR) and UNHCR began in 2016 the process of biometrically registering Rwandan refugees. The FDLR impeded the process in North Kivu, where most of the refugees were located. UNHCR and the CNR suspended biometric registration following FDLR attacks on UNHCR-supported registration teams in 2016, during which the teams lost all of their data. An effort during the year registered 42,000 Rwandan refugees in South Kivu. UNHCR continued to support voluntary repatriation and between January and April it assisted in repatriating 1,347 Rwandan refugees.

Temporary Protection: The government provided temporary protection to an undetermined number of individuals who may not qualify as refugees (see section 1.g.).

Denmark

Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:

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

Freedom of Expression: The law prohibits any public speech or the dissemination of statements or other pronouncements that threaten, deride, or degrade a group because of gender, race, skin color, national or ethnic background, religion, or sexual orientation. Authorities may fine offenders or imprison them for up to two years.

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 online communications without appropriate legal authority.

According to 2017 statistics compiled by the International Telecommunication Union, 97 percent of the population in Denmark and 95 percent in the Faroe Islands were internet users; statistics on Greenland were not available.

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, and the government respected these rights.

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

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

The government did not participate with the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees in its program to resettle refugees. In 2017 parliament determined that the Minister of Immigration and Integration has the authority to determine how many refugees the country will accept.

PROTECTION OF REFUGEES

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

Safe Country of Origin/Transit: The country employs the EU’s Dublin III regulation, which permits authorities to turn back or deport individuals who attempt to enter the country through a “safe country of transit” or are registered in another Dublin regulation state.

Temporary Protection: Through the end of May, the government provided temporary protection to 151 persons who may not qualify as refugees. The figure was 789 persons for all of 2017.

Djibouti

Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:

The constitution and law allow for freedom of expression, including for the press, provided the exercise of these freedoms complies with the law and respects “the honor of others.” The government did not respect these rights. The law provides prison sentences for media offenses.

Freedom of Expression: Individuals who criticized the government publicly or privately could face reprisals. Plainclothes security agents in mosques monitored the content of sermons during Friday prayers.

In separate instances in May, SDS personnel arrested Chehem Abdoulkader Chehem (Renard) and Mahmoud Ali for posting their plays criticizing the government on Facebook. In June authorities dismissed their cases after allegedly seizing their passports. On September 1, Ali was arrested again for publishing a post on Facebook that criticized the government’s decision to mandate school uniforms for public schools. He was subsequently released without charge.

Press and Media Freedom: There were no privately owned or independent newspapers in the country. Printing facilities for mass media were government owned, which created obstacles for those wishing to publish criticism of the government. The principal newspaper, La Nation, maintained a monopoly on domestic news.

Opposition political groups and civil society activists circulated newsletters and other materials that criticized the government via email and social media sites.

On March 10, SDS personnel arrested Djiboutian Armed Forces communications officer Captain Rashid Hachi Youssouf, and detained him for one week for sharing the first chapter of his novel, The Al Capone of Milk, online. The title is an apparent reference to Ainanche Ismail Omar Guelleh’s (son of the president) exclusive control of the country’s milk market. On March 14, Youssouf was released. The president dishonorably discharged him from the army. He fled overseas, where he resided at year’s end.

The government owned the only radio and television stations, operated by Radio Television Djibouti. The official media generally did not criticize government leaders or policy, and opposition access to radio and television time remained limited. Foreign media broadcast throughout the country, and cable news and other programming were available via satellite.

The Ministry of Communication in 1992 authorized the creation of the Communication Commission to distribute licenses to nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) wishing to operate media outlets. In 2017 the commission received an office and hired staff. The commission has not issued any licenses, but it reported it had not received any applications. The commission intervened during the February legislative elections to enforce balanced coverage of majority and opposition parties by local state-owned media (television, newspaper, and the radio). The opposition parties engaged in the race characterized media coverage as fair.

Violence and Harassment: The government harassed journalists.

Censorship or Content Restrictions: Media law and the government’s harassment and detention of journalists resulted in widespread self-censorship. Some opposition members used pseudonyms to publish articles.

Before a newspaper may begin circulation, it requires authorization from the Communication Commission, which requires agreement from the National Security Service. The National Security Service reportedly investigates funding sources and the newspaper staff’s political affiliations.

Libel/Slander Laws: The government used laws against slander to restrict public discussion.

INTERNET FREEDOM

There were few government restrictions on access to the internet, although the government monitored social networks to prevent demonstrations or overly critical views of the government.

Djibouti Telecom, the state-owned internet provider, blocked access to websites of the Association for Respect for Human Rights in Djibouti and radio station La Voix de Djibouti that often criticized the government. According to the International Telecommunication Union, 56 percent of the population used the internet in 2017.

ACADEMIC FREEDOM AND CULTURAL EVENTS

There were government restrictions on academic and cultural events. For example, the government restricted research in the northern region of the country for security reasons.

b. Freedom of Peaceful Assembly and Association

The government restricted freedoms of peaceful assembly and association.

FREEDOM OF PEACEFUL ASSEMBLY

Although the constitution provides for freedom of assembly, the government restricted this right. The Ministry of Interior requires permits for peaceful assemblies. The ministry allowed opposition groups to host events and rallies. Security authorities occasionally restricted this right.

FREEDOM OF ASSOCIATION

The constitution and law allow for freedom of association provided community groups register and obtain a permit from the Ministry of Interior. Nevertheless, the ministry ignored the petitions of some groups (see section 5). The government harassed and intimidated opposition parties, human rights groups, and labor unions.

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

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

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

In March the president signed an implementing decree for the 2017 law that provides refugees’ rights to health, education, and work.

The government allegedly refused to renew the passport of opposition leader Abdourahman Mohamed Guelleh, president of the unauthorized Rally for Democratic Action and Ecological Development (RADDE) political party.

Abuse of Migrants, Refugees, and Stateless Persons: The government maintained an increased police presence at the Ali Addeh refugee camp following the 2014 attack on La Chaumiere restaurant. Separately, gendarmes maintained a presence at the Markazi refugee camp. With the passage of a refugee law, authorities expanded legal protections for refugees.

Refugees, however, reported abuse and attacks to the National Office for Assistance to Refugees and Populations Affected by Disaster (ONARS) and UNHCR. With the support of the local National Union of Djiboutian Women (UNFD), mobile courts traveled to the largest camp, Ali Addeh, to hear the backlog of pending cases. In 2017 the UNFD also placed a full-time staff member in all refugee camps to provide support for domestic violence victims. International media reported cases of domestic violence in refugee camps, although the status of subsequent investigations was unknown. Impunity remained a problem.

The government detained and deported large numbers of irregular migrants, primarily from Ethiopia. The government sometimes gave individual irregular migrants the opportunity to claim asylum status, after which the National Eligibility Commission (NEC) was supposed to determine their status. Despite legal requirements to meet regularly, the commission met only twice during the year, processing on average 10 cases per session. More than 10,157 asylum seekers awaited decisions on their asylum claims.

In-country Movement: Due to the continuing border dispute with Eritrea, certain areas in northern Djibouti remained under military control.

Foreign Travel: Citizens and opposition members reported immigration officials refused to renew their passports and prevented them from boarding international flights.

PROTECTION OF REFUGEES

Refoulement: The government did not routinely grant refugee or asylum status to groups other than southern Somalis and–beginning in 2015–Yemenis. A backlog in asylum status determinations put individuals waiting for their screening at risk of expulsion to countries where they might be threatened.

Access to Asylum: The law provides for the granting of asylum or refugee status. Asylum seekers from southern Somalia and Yemen were prima facie considered eligible for asylum or refugee status. The NEC, which falls under the Ministry of Interior and consists of staff from ONARS and several ministries, must review all other asylum claims; UNHCR participates as an observer.

According to UNHCR, the country hosted 27,697 refugees and asylum seekers, primarily from south and central Somalia, Ethiopia, Yemen, and Eritrea. In two refugee camps in the southern region of Ali Sabieh, the country hosted more than 20,702 refugees and asylum seekers. An additional estimated 4,863 refugees from Ethiopia, Yemen, Somalia, and other countries lived in urban areas, primarily in Djibouti City. Due to Ethiopia’s instability in late 2017, the government permitted more than 7,000 Ethiopians, particularly those from the Oromia region, to register as asylum seekers.

In conjunction with UNHCR, ONARS registered 1,000 Somali refugees from Ali Addeh and Holl-Holl camps for voluntary repatriation. On June 26, July 2, and July 3, the initial group of 68 Somalis returned safely to Mogadishu on three flights.

The country also continued to host refugees fleeing violence in Yemen. ONARS and UNHCR registered approximately 4,398 refugees from Yemen, at least 2,132 of whom lived in a refugee camp in the northern region of Obock.

Employment: Scarce resources and employment opportunities limited local integration of refugees. By law documented refugees are allowed to work without a work permit in contrast to previous years, and many (especially women) did so in jobs such as house cleaning, babysitting, or construction. The law provides little recourse to challenge working conditions or seek fair payment for labor.

Access to Basic Services: The Ali Addeh camp was overcrowded, and basic services such as potable water were inadequate. The Holl-Holl camp was not overcrowded and had better access to potable water than the Ali Addeh camp. The government issued birth certificates to children born in the Ali Addeh and Holl-Holl refugee camps. In late April the minister of health collaborated with the IOM to incorporate migrants into the national health system and stop the outbreak of acute diarrhea among migrants traversing the North of the country.

The Markazi camp provided Yemeni refugees with basic services such as water, food, shelter, and medical services. The government issued birth certificates to children born in the Markazi refugee camp. ONARS and UNHCR also began issuing identification cards to Yemeni refugees.

For the first time, for the 2017-18 academic year, the government provided a Ministry of Education-accredited English curriculum for first grade refugee youth. Previously UNHCR provided refugees in the Ali Addeh and Holl-Holl refugee camps with a Kenya-adapted curriculum taught in English and French that was not recognized by Kenyan and Djiboutian authorities. In September 2017 the minister of education attended a school year kick-off ceremony. The visit was the first by an official of the Ministry of Education and marked the beginning of the integration of refugees into the country’s education system.

For the 2018-19 academic year, the government expanded the English curriculum to serve first, second, and sixth grades.

Refugees in the Markazi camp had access to instruction based on a Yemeni and Saudi curriculum taught in Arabic.

Durable Solutions: In conjunction with the IOM, the government supported vocational training for young refugees. These training programs resulted in a small number of refugees finding local employment.

Temporary Protection: The government provided temporary protection to a limited number of individuals who may not qualify as refugees. Authorities often jailed economic migrants attempting to transit the country to enter Yemen and returned them to their countries of origin. The government worked with the IOM to provide adequate health services to these migrants while they awaited deportation. The minister of health stationed two doctors in the country (one in the north and one in the south) to support migrants and citizens. The Coast Guard continued to operate a migrant transit center in Khor Angar that functioned as a first response center for migrants stranded at sea.

Dominica

Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:

The constitution provides 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.

Press and Media Freedom: Government officials at times did not permit journalists to attend parliamentary sessions.

Libel/Slander Laws: Defamation is a criminal offense punishable by imprisonment or fines. While there were no active defamation suits against local journalists, there was one active libel case against the leader of the opposition. Media representatives reported that public and private threats of lawsuits were used against media outlets and individual reporters, leading to some self-censorship.

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

FREEDOM OF PEACEFUL ASSEMBLY

Following the February 2017 opposition political party’s public meeting and subsequent riot, the government denied the opposition a number of permits to hold public meetings, citing public safety. There were no reports that the government denied permits during the year.

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

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

PROTECTION OF REFUGEES

Access to Asylum: The law provides for asylum or refugee status. The government has not established a system for determining when to grant asylum or for providing protection to refugees in general.

Dominican Republic

Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:

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

Freedom of Expression: Individuals and groups were generally able to criticize the government publicly and privately without reprisal, although there were several incidents in which authorities intimidated members of the press.

Press and Media Freedom: Independent media were active and expressed a wide variety of views, although there were some restrictions. In April the president of the Dominican Society of Dailies said members of media had limited access to cabinet members and government institutions and often reporters were not permitted to ask questions beyond the scope of what government officials wanted to promote or communicate, citing institutions such as the Office of the Presidency and National Police. The government responded that ministers, vice ministers, and agency directors had done 950 interviews in the year between print, radio, and television. In August the three hosts of the daily talk show Enfoque Matinal announced they were resigning after station management reportedly attempted to install two new, openly progovernment members on the talk show’s cast. The journalists said they were leaving as the direct result of pressure from the Attorney General’s Office after they denounced irregularities in the appointment process of district attorneys and prosecutors.

Violence and Harassment: Journalists and other persons who worked in media were occasionally harassed or physically attacked. Some media outlets reported that journalists, specifically in rural areas, received threats for investigating or denouncing criminal groups or official corruption. The Inter American Press Association reported that journalists suffered violent attacks from military and police security details of government officials, particularly while covering civil society-led protests. In April a court sentenced Matias Avelino Castro to 20 years in prison for his role in the 2011 murder of journalist Jose Agustin Silvestre. Before the sentencing, the Committee to Protect Journalists issued a statement calling on authorities to protect the journalist Alicia Ortega of the news channel Noticias SIN, alleging she was harassed after she broadcast a segment about Avelino Castro. The Attorney General’s Office disclosed that it opened a criminal investigation into the allegations. As of October no arrests were made.

Censorship or Content Restrictions: The constitution provides for protection of the confidentiality of journalists’ sources and includes a “conscience clause” allowing journalists to refuse reporting assignments. Nonetheless, journalists practiced self-censorship, particularly when coverage could adversely affect the economic or political interests of media owners. Some media outlets chose to omit the bylines of journalists reporting on drug trafficking and other security matters to protect the individual journalists.

Libel/Slander Laws: The law criminalizes defamation and insult, with harsher punishment for offenses committed against public or state figures than for offenses against private individuals. The Dominican College of Journalists reported that journalists were sued by politicians, government officials, and the private sector to pressure them to stop reporting. In 2016 the Constitutional Tribunal annulled several articles in the Law on Freedom of Expression that criminalized statements denouncing events that were of public interest and that authorities considered damaging. The court also ruled that media outlets, executive staff, and publishers are not liable for libel suits against individual journalists. While some observers proclaimed this relieved pressure on journalists by business interests that controlled much of the mainstream media, others described the ruling as benefiting business interests’ ability to distance themselves from protecting their editors and journalist teams. The law continues to penalize libel for statements concerning the private lives of certain public figures, including government officials and foreign heads of state.

INTERNET FREEDOM

The government did not restrict or disrupt access to the internet or censor online content without appropriate legal authority; however, there were allegations that the government monitored private online communications.

According to the International Telecommunication Union, 65 percent of citizens 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.

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

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

Abuse of Migrants, Refugees, and Stateless Persons: Civil society organization representatives said deportations of Haitian migrants and Dominicans of Haitian descent continued. They said some deportations were arbitrary and consisted of taking persons across the border without any record of doing so. IOM border monitoring found that some of those deported were unaccompanied children. In October 2017 the Center for Migration Observation and Social Development in the Caribbean reported concern regarding the lack of information on accountability mechanisms stipulating that migration officials and other members of state security adhere to legal provisions for due process and other rights of migrants during deportations. The center reported that abuses appeared to be greater when the deportations were carried out by military personnel than by officials of the General Directorate of Migration. In addition to deportation, undocumented Haitian victims faced increased vulnerability to trafficking.

The IOM reported cases of individuals deported because authorities did not permit them to retrieve immigration or citizenship documents from their residences as well as deportations of women who left children behind in their residences.

A 2017 National Statistics Office and UN Population Fund study estimated the total Haitian population in the country at 750,150, of whom 497,800 were identified as Haitian immigrants and 252,350 were categorized as persons of Haitian descent. The exact number of undocumented persons was unclear.

The 2014 National Regularization Plan enabled undocumented migrants in the country to apply for temporary legal residency. In July 2016 the government extended the expiration date of the temporary resident cards issued under the plan, marking the third time the government had done so. The plan granted temporary residency status to more than 260,000 irregular migrants (98 percent Haitian).

UN officials accompanied immigration authorities during interception procedures conducted in different provinces. According to the United Nations, deportation procedures were generally orderly, legal, and individualized, in compliance with applicable international human rights standards, although there were reports of arbitrary detentions and deportations of Haitian migrants and their descendants, as well as persons perceived as such.

PROTECTION OF REFUGEES

Access to Asylum: The law provides for the granting of asylum or refugee status. While the government has established a system for providing protection to refugees, it has not effectively implemented it. A 1983 decree created the National Office of Refugees in the Migration Directorate of the National Commission for Refugees (CONARE). CONARE is an interministerial body, composed of the Foreign Ministry, National Department of Investigations, and General Directorate of Migration, that adjudicates asylum claims.

A 2013 CONARE resolution requires individuals to apply for asylum within 15 days of arrival in the country. Under this resolution, if an asylum seeker is in the country for more than 15 days and does not apply for asylum, the individual permanently loses the right to apply for asylum. The resolution also rejects any asylum application from an individual who was in, or proceeds from, a foreign country where the individual could have sought asylum. Thus, the government makes inadmissibility determinations administratively before an asylum interview or evaluation by CONARE.

According to refugee NGOs, there was no information posted at ports of entry to provide notice of the right to seek asylum or of the timeline or process for doing so. Furthermore, the NGOs reported that immigration officials did not know how to handle asylum cases. UNHCR protection officers were occasionally and unpredictably granted access to detained asylum seekers. CONARE policies do not provide for protection screening in the deportation process. By law the government must afford due process to detained asylum seekers, and those expressing a fear of return to their country of nationality or habitual residence should be allowed to apply for asylum under the proper procedures. Nonetheless, there was generally neither judicial review of deportation orders nor any third-party review to provide for protection screening.

UN officials said a lack of due process resulted in arbitrary and indefinite detention of persons of concern with no administrative or judicial review and a 96 percent rejection rate of asylum applications submitted to CONARE since 2013. As a result, asylum seekers and refugees in the country were at risk of refoulement and prolonged detention.

According to UNHCR, as of June the country hosted 865 asylum seekers and 583 refugees, of whom only 11 were recognized by CONARE. Of the more than 300 asylum-seeker cases between 2012 and 2016 that received a final decision, the government rejected 99 percent with the vague justification of “failure of proof.” NGOs concluded this alone was evidence of systemic discrimination, as 99 percent of asylum seekers were also of Haitian origin.

High costs and tedious renewal procedures made it unsustainable for refugees to stay in the country with valid migratory documents.

The border police and immigration officials were not adequately trained for gender-sensitivity and nondiscriminatory practices when dealing with female asylum seekers and refugees, according to UNHCR. The country failed to implement a gender-sensitive identification system for female asylum seekers and refugees that was not based on prejudices and stereotyped notions of women, including victims of trafficking or sexual exploitation.

CONARE did not provide rejected asylum seekers details of the grounds for the rejection of their initial application for asylum or information regarding the process for appeal. Rejected applicants received a letter informing them that they had 30 days to leave the country voluntarily. Per government policy, rejected asylum seekers have seven days from receipt of notice of denial to file an appeal; however, the letter providing notice of denial did not mention this right to appeal.

During the year government authorities involved in screening at points of entry and at detention centers, including immigration officers, members of the armed forces, judicial authorities, and police officers, participated in UNHCR-sponsored training designed to ensure that asylum procedures are fair, efficient, and gender sensitive.

Freedom of Movement: The government issued travel documents to approved refugees for a fee of 3,150 pesos ($63). Refugees commented that the travel document listed their nationality as “refugee” and not their country of origin. Asylum seekers with pending cases had only a letter to present to avoid deportation, which deterred freedom of movement.

Refugees recognized by CONARE underwent annual re-evaluation of their need for international protection, a procedure counter to international standards, and were issued one-year temporary residence permits that could not be converted to a permanent residence permit. Some refugees recognized by CONARE were also issued travel documents that were not accepted in visa application processes, or they were not issued travel documents at all.

Although the constitution prohibits administrative detention and the law establishes that asylum seekers should not be detained under any circumstance, UNHCR officials reported that the lack of access and monitoring of detention centers resulted in the frequent, arbitrary, and indefinite detention of persons in need of international protection.

Employment: The government prohibited asylum seekers with pending cases from working. This situation was further complicated by the long, sometimes indefinite, waiting periods for pending cases to be resolved. Lack of documentation also precluded refugees from certain employment. Employment was nonetheless a requirement for the government to renew refugees’ temporary residency cards.

Access to Basic Services: Approved refugees receive the same rights and responsibilities as legal migrants with temporary residence permits. This provided refugees the right to access education, employment, health care, and other social services. Nonetheless, UNHCR reported that problems remained. Only those refugees able to afford health insurance were able to access adequate health care. Refugees reported their government-issued identification numbers were not recognized, and thus they could not access other services, such as opening a bank account or entering service contracts for basic utilities, and instead had to rely on friends or family for such services. Refugees who did not receive migratory permits lived on the margins of the migratory system. Foreigners often were asked to present legal migratory documents to obtain legal assistance or access the judicial system; therefore, many refugees and asylum seekers were unable to find legal remedies for predicaments they faced under criminal, labor, family, or civil law.

STATELESS PERSONS

Prior to 2010 the constitution bestowed citizenship upon anyone born in the country except children born to diplomats and children born to parents who are “in transit.” The 2010 constitution added an additional exception for children born in the country to parents without migratory status. In 2013 the Constitutional Tribunal ruled that undocumented migrants were considered “in transit” for purposes of citizenship transmission, and thus all children born to undocumented migrant parents were not Dominican citizens. The ruling retroactively revised the country’s citizenship transmission laws and stripped citizenship from approximately 135,000 persons, mostly the children of undocumented Haitian migrants, who had been conferred citizenship by virtue of jus soli since 1929.

Until 2012 the Haitian constitution did not permit dual citizenship. Therefore, individuals of Haitian descent who obtained Dominican citizenship at birth by virtue of birth on Dominican soil forfeited their right to Haitian citizenship. The 2013 Constitutional Tribunal ruling therefore stripped nearly all of those affected of the only citizenship they held. The Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR), UNHCR, and Caribbean Community criticized the 2013 tribunal judgment. The IACHR found that the 2013 ruling implied an arbitrary deprivation of citizenship and that it had a discriminatory effect, stripped citizenship retroactively, and led to statelessness for individuals not considered citizens.

In 2014 President Medina signed and promulgated a law to regularize and (re)issue identity documents to individuals born in the country between June 16, 1929, and April 18, 2007, to undocumented migrant parents, who were previously registered in the civil registry (Group A), recognizing them as Dominican citizens from birth. Based on an audit of the national civil registry archives, that population was estimated to total 60,000. By the end of 2017, according to the civil registry, 20,872 Group A persons had been issued birth certificates or national identity cards.

The 2014 law also creates a special path to citizenship for persons born to undocumented migrant parents who never registered in the civil registry, including an estimated 45,000-75,000 undocumented persons, predominantly of Haitian descent (Group B). Group B individuals were able to apply for legal residency under this law and apply for naturalized citizenship after two years. The law granted Group B individuals 180 days to apply for legal residency, an application window that closed on January 31, 2015. A total of 8,755 Group B individuals successfully applied before that deadline. NGOs and foreign governments expressed concern for the potentially large number of Group B persons who did not apply before the deadline. The government committed to resolve any unregistered Group B cases but did not identify the legal framework under which that commitment would be fulfilled. The government also committed not to deport anyone born in the country.

In 2015 the civil registry (known as the Central Electoral Board or JCE) announced it had transferred the civil records of the 54,307 individuals identified in Group A to a separate civil registry book and annulled their original civil registrations. The JCE invited those on the list to report to JCE offices and receive a reissued birth certificate. In 2015 civil society groups reported that many Group A individuals experienced difficulties obtaining reissued birth certificates at JCE offices. NGOs documented cases of individuals they determined qualified as Group A but were not included in the JCE’s audit results list. In response to complaints, the government created channels for reporting missing cases, delays, or failures to issue Group A nationality documents in JCE satellite offices, including a telephone line and social media accounts. NGOs reported the measures led to improved document issuance rates for Group A.

UN officials and NGOs said the law on nationality had a disproportionate and negative impact on women and their children. They reported that mothers, especially unmarried mothers of Haitian origin, were unable to register their children on an equal basis as the fathers. The law requires a different birth certificate for foreign women who do not have documentation of legal residency. This led to discrimination in the ability of children born to foreign women with Dominican citizen fathers to obtain Dominican nationality, especially if they were of Haitian descent. This was not true in the reverse situation when children were born to a Dominican citizen mother with a foreign-born father.

Dominican-born persons of Haitian descent without citizenship or identity documents faced obstacles traveling both within and outside the country. In addition, undocumented persons may not obtain national identification cards or voting cards. Persons who did not have a national identification card or birth certificate had limited access to electoral participation, formal-sector jobs, public education, marriage and birth registration, formal financial services such as banks and loans, courts and judicial procedures, and ownership of land or property.

Between 2015 and September 2018, officials from the IOM identified 20 Group A or B beneficiaries who were deported by government authorities. UNHCR reported during the year that it was able to prevent the deportation of 12 Group A or B beneficiaries by coordinating with the General Directorate of Migration.

In March the IACHR removed the country from a black list reserved for countries with the most egregious violations of human rights, where it had been placed in 2017 because of its treatment of Dominicans of Haitian descent. The removal was due to the government agreement to create a working group with civil society participation that would address 12 issues the IACHR identified as priorities, such as the impact of the 2013 Constitutional Tribunal decision that disproportionately deprived black, ethnically Haitian Dominicans of citizenship based on their race and national origin.

Ecuador

Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:

The constitution provides for freedom of expression, including for the press, but other laws restrict this right. The Committee to Protect Journalists reported the 2013 communication law “institutionalized repressive mechanisms, established state regulation of editorial content, and gave authorities the power to impose arbitrary sanctions and censor the press.” During a visit in August, the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) rapporteur for freedom of expression, Edison Lanza, highlighted improvements in freedom of expression but said the 2013 law would remain a “freedom of expression guillotine” unless adequately reformed. The rapporteur also noted the need for reforms to the criminal code’s treatment of “slander” and “insult,” which do not meet international standards. A Constitutional Court ruling in August to repeal 2015 constitutional amendments re-established communication as a right and not a public service.

Freedom of Expression: Individuals could usually discuss matters of general public interest publicly or privately without reprisal, although various civil society groups, journalists, and academics argued the law limited their freedom of expression and restricted independent media. Under the 2013 law, media outlets are legally responsible for the opinions of their contributors. The 2014 criminal code prohibits citizens from threatening or insulting the president or executive branch, and penalties for violators range from six months’ to two years’ imprisonment or a fine of $16 to $77. There were no reports the government invoked these laws to restrict freedom of expression during the year.

Press and Media Freedom: Independent media were active and expressed a wide variety of views, including those critical of the government.

On January 16, independent watchdog organization Freedom House classified the country as partially free. Although the 2013 law remains in place, journalists reported attacks on the media decreased and that government-aligned public media outlets were more objective and balanced in both their news reporting and editorial pages. The domestic freedom of expression watchdog group Fundamedios registered 156 attacks on freedom of expression from May 2017 to May 2018. This was down from 499 and 491 attacks on freedom of expression reported in 2015 and 2016, respectively.

The law limits the ability of media to provide election coverage during the official campaign period. A constitutional court ruling in 2012 affirmed the right of the press to conduct interviews and file special reports on candidates and issues during the campaign period, but it left in place restrictions on “direct or indirect” promotion of candidates or specific political views.

The law includes the offense of inciting “financial panic” with a penalty of imprisonment for five to seven years for any person who divulges false information that causes alarm in the population and provokes massive withdrawals of deposits from a financial institution that places at risk the institution’s stability.

The law mandates the broadcast of messages and reports by the president and his cabinet free of charge. President Moreno reduced the amount of time required for presidential broadcasts to one 15-minute weekly program from the three- to four-hour weekly program by his predecessor. In July 2017 President Moreno replaced the general editor of the state-owned newspaper El Telegrafo, which traditionally strongly advocated for the Correa administration and its policies.

The law calls for the redistribution of broadcast frequencies to divide media ownership between private media (33 percent), public media (33 percent), and community media (34 percent). In August 2017 the redistribution of frequencies was suspended following protests by opposition groups about the lack of transparency in the government-run tendering process for airwaves. On May 28, the Office of the Comptroller General annulled the awarding of broadcast frequencies from 2016 to August 2017, citing multiple irregularities. During a visit in August, the IACHR freedom of expression rapporteur noted that under former president Correa there were obvious irregularities in the awarding of broadcast frequencies and emphasized that the state did not need one-third of the available frequencies to inform the public.

Violence and Harassment: On July 20, two reporters from online political news blog La Posta began to receive threatening telephone calls and online attacks against their website following their announcement of a crowdfunding campaign for a trip to Belgium to investigate former president Correa. The harassment included the posting of pictures of their residences and personal telephone numbers in addition to threats of harm against them and their family members. On July 24, the reporters filed a complaint with the Office of the Public Prosecutor.

Censorship or Content Restrictions: In contrast with 2017, the government did not penalize those who published items counter to government guidelines described by the law. There also were no reports of direct or indirect government censorship of media. On May 14, President Moreno announced the elimination of the Superintendence of Information and Communication (SUPERCOM). This control entity issued 429 monetary fines against media outlets and reporters between 2014 and 2017. On March 7, the T-CPCCS unanimously dismissed the former head of SUPERCOM, Carlos Ochoa, based on a December 2017 ruling by the Comptroller General’s Office that found Ochoa guilty of improper use of public resources and fined him $115,810 for his purchase of a private vehicle with funds from a state television station.

The law requires the media to “cover and broadcast facts of public interest” and defines the failure to do so as a form of prior censorship. The law also imposes local content quotas on the media, including a requirement that a minimum of 60 percent of content on television and 50 percent of radio content be produced domestically. Additionally, the law requires that advertising be produced domestically and prohibits any advertising deemed to be sexist, racist, or discriminatory in nature. Furthermore, the Ministry of Public Health must approve all advertising for food or health products.

Libel/Slander Laws: In contrast with 2017, there were no reports the government used libel laws against media companies, journalists, and private individuals. Libel is a criminal offense under the law, with penalties of up to three years in prison, plus fines. The law assigns responsibility to media owners, who are liable for opinion pieces or statements by reporters or others, including readers, using their media platforms. The law includes a prohibition of “media lynching,” described as the “coordinated and repetitive dissemination of information, directly or by third parties through the media, intended to discredit a person or company or reduce its public credibility.” The exact terms of this rule remained vaguely defined but threatened to limit the media’s ability to conduct investigative reporting.

Nongovernmental Impact: On April 13, President Moreno confirmed the deaths of three members of a local news team who were kidnapped on March 26 by a narcoguerrilla group called the Oliver Sinisterra Front, led by Walter Arizala, alias “Guacho.” The team was kidnapped while reporting on drug-related violence in Esmeraldas Province along the northern border with Colombia. President Moreno requested the IACHR’s technical support for investigation of the incident. In July the IACHR established a special mechanism, with the support of the government, that provided access to information and facilitated discussions with security personnel and the families of the victims. Some journalists expressed concern actions by organized-crime groups on the northern border could lead to self-censorship.

Actions to Expand Freedom of Expression, Including for the Media: President Moreno publicly highlighted the important role the press plays in fighting corruption. He promoted a national dialogue between civil society representatives and government agencies to address differences in opinion regarding the 2013 communications law. On July 12, the Committee to Protect Journalists issued a press release underscoring the government’s efforts “in working to improve relations with the press, encouraging investigative journalists, and vowing to reform the repressive communication law.”

President Moreno invited IACHR Special Rapporteur for Freedom of Expression Edison Lanza to visit the country to verify the country’s compliance with its international obligations on promoting and protecting the right to freedom of expression. This was the first visit by the IACHR special rapporteur in more than a decade. The IACHR’s 2014 request to visit the country had been denied by the previous government. Following an August 23 meeting between President Moreno and Lanza, the government announced the creation of a Committee for the Protection of Journalists, charged with drafting security protocols, providing training, and ensuring that threats against journalists are investigated. Lanza noted the IACHR put in place a special mechanism with the support of the government to investigate the kidnapping and killing of the El Comercio team.

INTERNET FREEDOM

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

A government regulation requires that internet service providers comply with all information requests from the superintendent of telecommunications, allowing access to client addresses and information without a judicial order. The law holds a media outlet responsible for online comments from readers if the outlet has not established mechanisms for commenters to register their personal data (including national identification number) or created a system to delete offensive comments. The law also prohibits media from using information obtained from social media unless they can verify the author of the information.

According to the International Telecommunication Union, 57 percent of the population used the internet in 2017.

Early in the year, the Pichincha Provincial Prosecutor’s Office recommended the closure of the Ministry of Interior’s investigation into Luis Vivanco, former editor in chief of La Hora, for his tweets that “attempt[ed] to disparage the actions carried out by the government in its permanent fight against corruption.” As of October 31, authorities had not informed Vivanco if they would close the case.

Following his October visit, UN Special Rapporteur for Freedom of Expression David Kaye noted the Moreno administration appeared to have turned away from the previous administration’s efforts to restrict and punish online activity.

ACADEMIC FREEDOM AND CULTURAL EVENTS

There were no government restrictions on academic freedom or cultural events. In August the National Assembly passed a set of reforms effectively repealing a 2016 law that had eliminated public funding for research at universities operating under international agreements.

b. Freedom of Peaceful Assembly and Association

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

FREEDOM OF PEACEFUL ASSEMBLY

The law provides for freedom of peaceful assembly, and the government generally respected this right. Public rallies require prior government permits, which authorities usually granted.

FREEDOM OF ASSOCIATION

The law provides for freedom of association. In October 2017 President Moreno issued Decree 193 to replace executive Decrees 16 and 739 that regulated freedom of association. NGOs claimed former president Correa used the latter two decrees–which required all social organizations, including NGOs, to reregister in a new online registration system within one year of the decree or face dissolution–to stymie opposition and limit foreign influence. Following implementation of the new decree, the government allowed the reincorporation of two organizations Correa had dissolved.

Decree 193 simplifies the application process to obtain and maintain legal status for NGOs and social groups by relaxing and eliminating some bureaucratic hurdles. The decree closes loopholes exploited by the former government to infiltrate and fracture NGOs, including the elimination of a clause forcing groups to provide membership to any person, even against the will of the other members. International NGOs faced fewer restrictions on working in the country under the new decree. It ends the policy requiring government entities to collect information through the country’s diplomatic missions abroad on the “legality, solvency, and seriousness” of foreign NGOs before they are allowed to work in the country. Civil society representatives said the new decree was a step in the right direction but lamented that it leaves in place some Correa-era policies, including the right of the government to dissolve organizations for poorly defined reasons.

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

The law provides for freedom of internal movement, foreign travel, emigration, and repatriation, and the government generally respected these rights. The 2017 Human Mobility Law codifies protections guaranteed to migrants in the constitution, advances the protection of refugees and asylum seekers, and establishes provisions such as equal treatment before the law for migrants, nonrefoulement, and noncriminalization of irregular migration. As of September the government was developing regulations to implement the law. During the year large numbers of migrants and asylum seekers, and the country’s economic slowdown, strained the government’s immigration and social services, which worked closely with local, international, and civil society organizations to cover assistance gaps. The government cooperated with the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) and other humanitarian organizations in providing protection and assistance to internally displaced persons, refugees, asylum seekers, stateless persons, or other persons of concern.

Abuse of Migrants, Refugees, and Stateless Persons: Migrants and refugees, especially women and children, occasionally experienced sexual and gender-based violence. UNHCR and local NGOs reported that refugee women and children were susceptible to violence and trafficking in persons for the purposes of sex trafficking and forced labor. They also reported the forced recruitment of adolescents into criminal activity, such as drug trafficking and robbery, on the northern border, particularly by organized-crime gangs that also operated in Colombia. Government authorities provided basic protection for vulnerable populations; however, the influx of migrants and refugees during the year placed a significant strain on the government’s capacity to address and prevent abuses against migrants and refugees.

The government cooperated with UNHCR, the International Organization for Migration, and other humanitarian organizations in providing protection and assistance to migrants, internally displaced persons, refugees, asylum seekers, stateless persons, and other vulnerable persons of concern.

INTERNALLY DISPLACED PERSONS (IDPS)

From January to April, a series of attacks by a narcoguerrilla group against military and police personnel and installations in Esmeraldas Province, including the bombing of a police station, led persons to leave the area for security concerns. The Catholic Church provided shelter to the internally displaced families, with local government assistance. On April 17, Economic and Social Inclusion Minister Berenice Cordero reported that 158 families displaced by the attacks received government assistance.

On July 8, government officials reported the closure of the last shelter for families affected by the 2016 earthquake in the province of Manabi. The government noted all families had a place to live due to reconstruction efforts and the housing assistance provided by the Ministry of Urban Development.

PROTECTION OF REFUGEES

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

The country’s population of recognized refugees and asylum seekers, mostly Colombians, numbered more than 64,300. During the first 10 months of the year, the Ministry of Interior registered more than 700,000 Venezuelans entering the country, more than double the number (288,000) who entered in all of 2017. As of September authorities estimated that 250,000 Venezuelans were residing in Ecuador and had issued more than 100,000 Union of South American Nations (UNASUR) temporary residency visas to Venezuelans, with 50,000 more being processed.

UNHCR reported an increase in Colombians seeking asylum during the year. Venezuelans were the second-highest nationality of asylum seekers, with approximately 9,000 Venezuelan asylum cases recorded during the first nine months of the year, according to UNHCR. An international organization reported many Venezuelans did not apply for asylum because they were unfamiliar with the process or did not know how long they would stay.

Access to Basic Services: Of refugees and asylum seekers, 40 percent resided in isolated regions with limited basic services, primarily along the northern border, or in poor urban areas of major cities such as Quito and Guayaquil. According to UNHCR and NGOs, refugees encountered discrimination in employment and housing. A 2016 agreement between UNHCR and the Directorate General of Civil Registry enables recognized refugees to receive national identification cards that facilitate access to education, employment, banking, and other public services. A nonprofit organization reported the Civil Registry began issuing national identification cards for refugees in November 2017 but offered this service in only three cities, which resulted in refugees incurring additional expenses for travel. The Civil Registry also requires authorization from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Human Mobility, and often refugees were required to return to the ministry if the information on their records contained errors.

Durable Solutions: The government accepted refugees for resettlement and offered naturalization to refugees, although few refugees were able to naturalize as citizens or gain permanent resident status due to an expensive and lengthy legal process. Discrimination, difficulty in obtaining adequate documentation, and limited access to formal employment and housing affected refugees’ ability to assimilate into the local population.

Temporary Protection: While there is no legal provision for temporary protection, the government and NGOs provided humanitarian aid and additional services, such as legal, health, education, and psychological assistance, to individuals recorded as having crossed the border during the year.

As a member of UNASUR and an associate member of the Southern Common Market (MERCOSUR), Ecuador issues temporary visas to citizens of Argentina, Bolivia, Brazil, Chile, Colombia, Paraguay, Peru, Uruguay, and Venezuela, and the government waived the visa application fee for Colombian and Paraguayan citizens. Foreigners in an irregular migratory status in the country were eligible to apply for the visa. While the UNASUR and MERCOSUR visas do not provide a safeguard against forced repatriation, UNHCR noted that many persons opted for these visas, since the procedure was faster than the refugee process and carried less social stigma. Visa recipients are able to work and study for two years. The visas are renewable based upon the same guidelines as the initial application, with only the additional requirement that the applicant provide an Ecuadorian Criminal Records Certificate.

Egypt

Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:

The constitution provides for freedom of expression, including for the press, but includes a clause stating, “It may be subject to limited censorship in times of war or public mobilization.” The government frequently did not respect this right.

Freedom of Expression: Citizens expressed their views on a wide range of political and social topics. Nonetheless, the government investigated and prosecuted critics for alleged incitement of violence, insults to religion, insults to public figures and institutions such as the judiciary and the military, or violation of public morals. Individuals also faced societal and official harassment for speech viewed as sympathetic to the MB, such as using a hand gesture showing four fingers, a reference to the 2013 security operation to disperse the sit-in at Rabaa al-Adawiya Square.

The law provides a broad definition of terrorism, to include “any act harming national unity or social peace.” The president stated that lying is a form of terrorism. Human rights observers expressed concern that authorities could use the ambiguous definition to stifle nonviolent speech and nonviolent opposition activity.

On May 11, authorities arrested Amal Fathy on charges of abusing a means of communication and publishing a video containing false news after she uploaded a video to her personal Facebook account in which she described her experiences with sexual harassment in the country. Fathy was convicted and received a suspended two-year prison sentence and fine on September 29. Authorities also referred her to State Security Prosecution on charges including joining a banned group and using a website to promote ideas and beliefs advocating the commission of terrorist acts. On December 30, an appeals court upheld the conviction.

On May 30, a Cairo criminal court ordered the travel ban against author Ahmed Naji lifted; after several months’ delay, authorities allowed him to travel in September. The order followed the conclusion of his retrial on April 24 in which authorities fined him 20,000 Egyptian pounds (LE) ($1,120). In 2016 authorities sentenced Naji to two years in prison on charges of violating public morals based on the publication of an excerpt of his novel, The Use of Life, which contained explicit descriptions of sexual acts and illegal drug use. In May 2017 the Court of Cassation cancelled the sentence against Naji and ordered his retrial.

Press and Media Freedom: Independent media were active and expressed a variety of views but with significant restrictions. Independent media reported that entities wholly or partially owned by the intelligence services assumed control of several independent media companies throughout the year. The constitution, penal code, and media and publications law govern media issues. The government regulated the licensing of newspapers and controlled the printing and distribution of a majority of newspapers, including private newspapers and those of opposition political parties. The law does not impose restrictions on newspaper ownership.

The more than 20 state-owned media outlets broadly supported official state policy. The National Press Authority holds the power to appoint and dismiss editorial leadership of state-owned print outlets. The governmental Egyptian Radio and Television Union appointed the heads of state-owned radio and television channels. Both state-owned and private media (including television and online journalism) occasionally broadcast and published mild criticism of government policies, but dominant media narratives supported the president and his policy initiatives.

On September 1, the president ratified a new media regulation law. Egyptian and international rights organizations criticized elements of the law, including the size of the registration fees, as well as a requirement to treat social network accounts with more than 5,000 followers as media outlets. Under the law the Supreme Media Regulatory Council could block or shut such social media accounts if it deemed they published or broadcast false news. In October the council announced it would begin accepting applications, although the government had not yet issued executive implementing regulations. In response on November 5, Katib, a site launched by the Arabic Network for Human Rights Information in June documenting rights violations, announced it was freezing operations indefinitely in protest of what it considered an opaque registration process.

As of December the Committee to Protect Journalists reported there were 25 imprisoned journalists in the country.

According to press reports and human rights defenders, between February 4 and May 23, authorities detained at least 18 journalists, bloggers, researchers, and students on charges including spreading false news and joining a banned group. The defendants were charged under two cases, 621/2018 and 441/2018, and included prominent blogger Wael Abbas; documentary filmmaker Momen Hassan; University of Washington, Seattle, doctoral student Walid al-Shobaky; satirist Shady Abu Zeid; chief editor of the Masr al-Arabiya news site Adel Sabri; and former Constitution Party leader Shady al-Ghazaly Harb. According to rights groups, several of the detainees were forcibly disappeared. Several remained in custody at year’s end, and detention renewal hearings continued. On December 3, a Cairo appellate court upheld a verdict to release Abbas, Hassan, and al-Shobaky on probation pending investigations.

On September 24, security forces raided the headquarters of privately owned al-Mesryoon newspaper and placed it under the managerial and editorial control of the governmental Akhbar El Youm Foundation. The raid followed a September 11 decision by the Inventory, Seizure, and Management Committee of Terrorist Groups Funds to seize the assets of the newspaper’s publishing company.

On May 22, a military court sentenced journalist Ismail Alexandrani to 10 years in prison. Authorities had detained the Egyptian investigative researcher in 2015 at Hurgada Airport upon his return from Berlin. In 2016 a court ordered his release, but authorities successfully appealed the release order. In December 2017 State Security Prosecution referred Alexandrani’s case to the military prosecutor. According to local rights groups, Alexandrani was under investigation for “reporting false news” and “joining a banned group.” Alexandrani’s reporting and scholarly work focused on Sinai.

On December 3, a court ordered a 45-day extension to al-Jazeera journalist Mahmoud Hussein’s pretrial detention. In 2016 authorities arrested Hussein in Cairo, accusing him of disseminating false news and receiving monetary funds from foreign authorities to defame the state’s reputation. Subsequently, authorities have held him in pretrial detention, and, according to press reports, he has yet to face formal charges.

Violence and Harassment: According to media reports and local and international human rights groups, state actors arrested and imprisoned, harassed, and intimidated journalists. Foreign correspondents reported cases where the government denied them entry, deported them, and delayed or denied issuance of media credentials; some claimed these actions were part of a government campaign to intimidate foreign media.

On February 20, authorities detained Bel Trew, a British reporter with the Times of London who had been living in Cairo since 2013, and deported her to London. According to press reports and the government, authorities arrested her after she conducted an interview with the relative of a man who died on a migrant boat to Europe. According to Trew’s public statements, authorities said she could stay for a military trial or leave the country. The government stated that Trew did not have the proper permit to conduct journalistic activities at the time. Trew said that she had applied for a 2018 annual press permit, but the government had not yet issued these, instead requiring journalists to apply for monthly temporary permits in the intervening time.

Censorship or Content Restrictions: Official censorship occurred. The SOE empowered the president to monitor newspapers, publications, editorials, drawings, and all means of expression and to order the seizure, confiscation, and closure of publications and print houses.

On April 12, State Security Prosecution summoned the editor in chief of al-Masry al-Youm and seven of the newspaper’s correspondents as part of investigations into a headline the paper published during presidential elections. The headline, “The State is Amassing Voters on Final Day of Polling,” appeared in the first edition of the March 29 paper. Authorities released the group pending further investigations. On April 1, the Supreme Council for Media Regulation fined the paper LE 150,000 ($8,380), ordered the paper to publish an apology, and referred the editor in chief to investigation by the Journalists’ Syndicate. On April 4, the paper’s board of directors ordered his dismissal.

Some activists and many journalists reported privately they self-censored criticism of the government or comments that could be perceived as sympathetic to the MB, due to the overall anti-MB and progovernment media environment. Publishers were also wary of publishing books that criticized religious institutions, such as al-Azhar, or challenged Islamic doctrine.

In January the Censorship of Artistic Works Authority confirmed to media it would confiscate any books at the annual Cairo International Book Fair that included MB or terrorist ideology.

Libel/Slander Laws: Local and international rights groups reported several cases of authorities charging and convicting individuals with denigrating religion under the so-called blasphemy law, primarily targeting Christians but also Muslims.

On May 3, police arrested blogger Sherif Gaber and detained him for four days on denigration of Islam charges. A Salafist lawyer had filed a complaint against him a few weeks prior accusing him of insulting the Islamic religion and sharia, disrupting communal peace, inciting strife in society, denying the definite truth of Islam, and criticizing the Prophet Muhammad in his YouTube videos. Gaber was arrested for similar charges in 2015 and 2013.

National Security: The law allows government censors to block the publication of information related to intelligence and national security.

The law imposes a fine on any person who “intentionally publishes…or spreads false news.” The fine is many times the average annual salary of most local journalists. In March authorities established hotlines for members of the public to call or leave text messages reporting fake news in either traditional or social media that endangers state security.

Judges may issue restraint orders to prevent media from covering court cases considered sensitive on national security grounds. Rights groups stated authorities sometimes misused the orders to shield government, police, or military officials from public scrutiny. Citing safety and security, the government and military restricted media access to many parts of North Sinai.

In August prosecutors ordered satirical blogger Islam al-Refai, known as Khorm, detained for 15 days. Khorm, who ran a satirical Twitter account with 75,000 followers, had been detained since November 2017 in a separate case involving charges of belonging to a banned group and spreading false news. He was due for release on bail when prosecutors added him to Case 441/2018 (see above). According to his lawyer, a State Security investigation report accused Khorm of “communication with AI and HRW from his place of detention” and described the two organizations as having an “antagonistic position [to the Egyptian state].” He remained in detention at year’s end.

On July 15, HRW published a report claiming that authorities used counterterrorism and state-of-emergency laws and courts unjustly to prosecute journalists, activists, and critics for their peaceful criticism. The report documented nine ongoing court cases since 2017 involving 36 defendants, including activists, bloggers, and journalists, who authorities detained and investigating under the country’s counterterrorism law.

INTERNET FREEDOM

The constitution protects the right to privacy, including on the internet. The constitution provides for the confidentiality and “inviolability” of postal, telegraphic, and electronic correspondence; telephone calls; and other means of communication. They may not be confiscated, revealed, or monitored except with a judicial order, only for a definite period, and only in cases defined by law. The constitution prohibits the government from “arbitrarily” interrupting, disconnecting, or depriving citizens seeking to use all forms of internet communications.

Despite legal protections, the government restricted and disrupted access to the internet and censored online content. There were credible reports the government monitored private online communications without appropriate legal authority. Law enforcement agencies restricted or disrupted individuals’ access to the internet, and the government monitored social media accounts and internet usage, relying on a law that only allows targeted interception of communications under judicial oversight for a limited period and does not permit indiscriminate mass surveillance. The public prosecutor prosecuted individuals accused of posting “insulting” material.

The counterterrorism law criminalizes the use of the internet to “promote ideas or beliefs that call for terrorist acts” or to “broadcast what is intended to mislead security authorities or influence the course of justice in relation to any terrorist crime.” The law also authorizes the public prosecutor and investigators to monitor and record online communications among suspects in terrorism cases for a period of 30 days, renewable in 30-day increments. The law does not specify a maximum period.

The cybercrime law, ratified by the president in August, states, “the relevant investigating authority may, when the evidence indicates that a website is broadcasting phrases, numbers, pictures, videos, or any promotional material, that constitutes one of the crimes enshrined in this law, and poses a threat to national security or endangers the security or economy of the country, order the blocking of the website.” The government did not issue implementing regulations for the law by year’s end.

On May 26, an administrative court issued a final ruling ordering regulators to block YouTube for one month. In 2013 a lower court ordered the site blocked for hosting a short film purportedly denigrating the Prophet Muhammad, but the National Telecommunications Regulatory Authority appealed. The ruling has not yet been enforced.

There were reports the government temporarily blocked access to internet messaging applications. On February 2, authorities blocked the Accelerated Mobile Pages Project, a Google-led open source website publishing tool.

On July 7, a Cairo misdemeanor court sentenced Lebanese tourist Mona el-Mazbouh to eight years in prison on charges of defaming religion, insulting the president, and insulting the Egyptian people. The sentence was appealed and reduced to a one-year suspended sentence on September 9. The charges stemmed from a video she posted to her Facebook account in May in which she complained about sexual harassment and used profane language to describe the country. In June authorities arrested El-Mazbouh at the airport as she prepared to depart the country.

The government attempted to disrupt the communications of terrorist groups operating in Sinai by cutting mobile services, internet, and sometimes landlines. Cuts generally occurred daily from 6 a.m. to 6 p.m. Networks were again fully accessible at approximately 8 p.m. and sometimes later. Cuts also disrupted operations of government facilities and banks.

The law obliges internet service providers and mobile operators to allow government access to customer databases, allowing security forces to obtain information regarding activities of specific customers, which could lead to lack of online anonymity. Individuals widely used social media sites, such as Twitter and Facebook, to spread criticism of the government and security forces.

There were reports authorities monitored social media and internet dating sites to identify and arrest lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and intersex (LGBTI) individuals (see section 6, Acts of Violence, Discrimination, and Other Abuses Based on Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity).

As of September the government had blocked more than 490 websites without providing a clear legal basis or authority responsible for the blocks, according to the Association for Freedom of Thought and Expression. The blocked sites included international NGOs, local human rights NGOs, and numerous virtual private network services. Some blockages appeared to respond to critical coverage of the government. For example, on June 25, the Arabic Network for Human Rights Information launched a website, Kateb, focusing on human rights violations. It was blocked nine hours later.

In 2017 the news website Mada Masr sued the government seeking information on why it was blocked. On September 30, the Court of Administrative Justice referred the case for technical review by the Justice Ministry’s Authority of Experts. Defense lawyers claimed it could take years to examine the case.

According to the International Telecommunication Union, 39 percent of the population used the internet in 2017. Media reported 1.7 million active users on Twitter and stated 37 million persons used Facebook.

ACADEMIC FREEDOM AND CULTURAL EVENTS

There were reports of government restrictions on academic freedom and cultural events. The removal of references to the country’s 2011 and 2013 revolutions from high school history class curricula continued after a 2017 decree from the Ministry of Education. According to media and local rights groups, a degree of self-censorship, similar to that reported by nonacademic commentators, existed when academics publicly commented on sensitive political and socioeconomic issues. Faculty members needed security agency approval to travel abroad for academic purposes. Faculty and officials at public universities and research centers also must obtain Ministry of Foreign Affairs permission to travel abroad.

There was censorship of cultural events. A prime ministerial decree issued in June declares it unlawful to hold a special event or festival without “prior license from the Ministry of Culture and liaising with relevant state entities.” This new requirement added to existing regulations, under which organizations must obtain a permit from the Ministry of Culture’s Censorship Board, as well as permits from the Ministry of Interior and the relevant artists’ union for concerts, performances, and other cultural events. The Ministry of Culture must approve all scripts and final productions of plays and films. The ministry censored foreign films to be shown in theaters but did not censor the same films sold as DVDs.

On February 18, authorities arrested film editor Ahmed Tarek. According to his lawyer, authorities held Tarek incommunicado at National State Security headquarters until February 21. Tarek faced charges of spreading false news and joining a group established contrary to the provisions of the law. The charges stemmed from his work on a documentary, Minus 1,095 Days, which sought to rebut claims in a state-produced film highlighting President Sisi’s accomplishments called 1,095 Days. He remained in pretrial detention as of December 19.

On June 14, the Central Administration for the Control of Audiovisual Works reversed a decision to ban the film Karma after deciding to withdraw its screening license several days earlier for undisclosed reasons. Karma addressed several controversial topics, including interfaith marriage and corruption. In response to the initial ban, members of the Film Committee of the Supreme Council of Culture had threatened to resign.

b. Freedom of Peaceful Assembly and Association

The government restricted freedoms of peaceful assembly and association.

FREEDOM OF PEACEFUL ASSEMBLY

The constitution provides for freedom of assembly “according to notification regulated by law.” Authorities implemented an amended 2013 demonstrations law that includes an expansive list of prohibited activities, giving a judge the authority to prohibit or curtail planned demonstrations after submitting an official memorandum. Domestic and international human rights organizations asserted the law did not meet international standards regarding freedom of assembly. In 2017 the government imposed an exclusion zone of 2,600 feet (790 meters) around vital governmental institutions in which protests are prohibited.

There were protests throughout the year, mostly small, and some occurred without government interference. In most cases the government rigorously enforced the law restricting demonstrations, in some cases using force, including in cases of small groups of protesters demonstrating peacefully.

The number of persons arrested under the protest law was not publicly available, although research center Daftar Ahwal reported at least 37,000 cases of individuals stopped, arrested, or charged under the protest law between November 2013 and September 2016. Authorities charged 15,491 individuals under the protest law, resulting in 6,382 convictions and 5,083 acquittals.

On May 12, police arrested 22 persons protesting increased metro fares but released 12 of them the same day. The remaining 10 faced charges of disrupting public transport. Authorities released them on May 16. On May 14, State Security ordered 20 more persons detained for playing a role in the protests. They faced charges of disturbing the peace and obstructing public facilities. Among those arrested was lawyer and labor activist Haytham Mohamedeen, who was released on October 30, although charges remain pending.

Thousands of persons whom authorities arrested during 2013 and 2014 due to their participation in demonstrations (some of which were peaceful) remained imprisoned; however, authorities released others who had completed their sentences. Authorities held such individuals under charges of attending an unauthorized protest, incitement to violence, or “blocking roads.” This included prominent activist Alaa Abdel Fattah, who was convicted in 2015 of breaking the demonstrations law related to his participation in a protest in front of the Shura Council in 2013. In 2017 the Court of Cassation reduced the prison sentence of prominent activist Abdel Fattah from five years’ “rigorous” imprisonment to five years’ imprisonment followed by five years of probation. No further appeals are possible. In 2015 the Cairo Criminal Court sentenced Abdel Fattah to five years in prison on charges of breaking the demonstrations law related to his participation in a protest in front of the Shura Council in 2013.

Human rights groups claimed authorities inflated or used these charges solely to target individuals suspected of being members of groups in opposition to the government or those who sought to exercise the rights to free assembly or association.

Since their release from prison in January 2017 after completing three-year sentences for violating the protest law, activists Ahmed Maher and Mohamed Adel remained on probation with terms requiring them to reside in the local police station from 6 p.m. to 6 a.m. each day. On June 19, when Adel reported for his nightly stay, he was detained after a local storeowner filed a legal complaint accusing Adel of inciting antistate sentiments in 14 posts on Facebook. In July he was sentenced to a 15-day detention order.

According to press reports, student groups focused on entertainment while political activities virtually disappeared in light of pressure from authorities and the threat of arrest. Authorities allowed students to protest the move of the U.S. Embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem, but authorities tightly controlled and managed such protests. Universities held student union elections in December 2017 for the first time in two years.

FREEDOM OF ASSOCIATION

The constitution provides for freedom of association. The law governing associations, however, significantly restricts this right.

In 2017 the government enacted a new NGO law, which remained unimplemented by year’s end. Local and international NGOs stated the law if implemented could make it impossible for them to operate independently. In November, President Sisi stated he recognized the law’s shortcomings and directed the Ministry of Social Solidarity to chair a committee to draft amendments in consultation with civil society and submit the amendments to parliament. The 2017 law includes the creation of a new administrative body that includes members of security services and can regulate all NGOs that receive foreign funding and reject registration applications by not responding for 60 days; rules targeting all aspects of NGO work; and prison sentences among the penalties for violations. Throughout the year the Ministry of Social Solidarity continued to apply the previous NGO law on international and domestic organizations receiving international funding, denying government approval of programs that domestic and international organizations sought to implement, or granting governmental approval after lengthy delays (which in some cases amounted to effective denials). Rights groups reported several incidents of security services ordering cancellation of planned training programs or other events. On June 2, the Supreme Constitutional Court ruled an article of the previous NGO law, which gives the Minister of Social Solidarity the right to dissolve NGOs, was unconstitutional.

The penal code criminalizes the request for or acceptance of foreign funds, materiel, weapons, ammunition, or “other things” from states or NGOs “with the intent to harm the national interest.” Those convicted may be sentenced to life in prison (or the death penalty in the case of public officials) for crimes committed during times of war or with “terrorist purpose.”

In a series of raids on November 1, security forces arrested Hoda Abdel Moneim, a former member of the NCHR and at least 30 others, including staff members of the human rights NGO ECRF and unaffiliated lawyers and activists. ECRF subsequently announced it was suspending its operations citing the arrest of Abdel Moneim as well the March arrest of ECRF leader Ezzat Ghoneim (see section 2.b.).

Ibrahim Metwally Hegazy, founder of the Association of the Families of the Disappeared, remained in detention. Authorities arrested him in September 2017, at the Cairo International Airport and initially held him incommunicado. Hegazy was traveling to Geneva to participate in the UN Working Group on Enforced and Involuntary Disappearances. The charges against him included “communicating with a foreign body to harm the Egyptian national interest.” In September 2017 Hegazy told his lawyers authorities tortured him during the first three days they held him.

On April 5, the Court of Cassation overturned the conviction of 16 mostly foreign NGO workers sentenced in 2013 for operating unlicensed organizations and receiving foreign funding without government permission. They were to be retried along with 27 other NGO workers convicted in their absence in the same case. On December 20, a court acquitted 41 defendants; the status of the remaining two was unclear as of the end of the year.

The MB, the MB-affiliated Freedom and Justice Party, and its NGO remained illegal, and the MB was a legally designated terrorist organization.

Authorities continued investigations of local NGOs that received foreign funding under a case originally brought in 2011. On June 20, authorities released Nazra for Feminist Studies founder Mozn Hassan on bail; her charges included receiving foreign funding to harm national security in connection with her NGO. On May 27, authorities questioned Magda Adly and Suzanne Fayyad, founders of the el-Nadeem Center for the Rehabilitation of Victims of Violence, on charges of establishing an entity in violation of the civil society law and publishing information that was harmful to the state.

On May 21, authorities released Hossam Eddin Ali, executive director of the Egyptian Democratic Institute, on bail. He faced charges of harming national security and receiving foreign funds.

In February 2017 authorities closed the offices of el-Nadeem Center for the Rehabilitation of Victims of Violence (also registered under the name el-Nadeem for Psychological Rehabilitation), which documents torture and other forms of abuse and provides counseling for torture and rape victims. In early 2016 the center received administrative closure orders from three governmental bodies, and in late 2016 authorities froze its assets. The organization asserted the closure was politically motivated, targeting el-Nadeem because of its work on torture, deaths in detention, and impunity for these crimes. A court case brought by Nadeem challenging the closure order continued; the most recent hearing was December 5, wherein the court postponed a decision until December 26. The organization continued to operate in a limited capacity.

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

The law provides for freedom of internal movement, foreign travel, emigration, and repatriation, and the government generally respected these rights, albeit with some exceptions, including the handling of potential refugees and asylum seekers. The government cooperated with the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) and other humanitarian organizations in providing protection and assistance to refugees, asylum seekers, stateless persons, and other persons of concern. Authorities maintained a “no-fly” list that prevented some defendants in court cases from fleeing the country.

Abuse of Migrants, Refugees, and Stateless Persons: Media, NGOs, and UNHCR staff reported multiple cases of attacks against refugees, particularly women and children. According to UNHCR, refugees sometimes reported harassment, sexual harassment, and discrimination. Refugee women and girls, particularly sub-Saharan Africans, faced the greatest risk of societal, sexual, and gender-based violence.

According to UNHCR and press reports, police security sweeps increased in neighborhoods known to house Syrian, Sudanese, and other African refugees, as well as migrants, resulting in increased detentions. Detainees reported authorities subjected them to verbal abuse and poor detention conditions.

In-country Movement: Citizens and foreigners may not travel freely in areas of the country designated as military zones. The government sought to prevent private individuals, journalists, civil society figures, and international organizations from entering North Sinai, stating it was to protect their safety, although it began organizing some supervised visits for journalists to North Sinai in July.

Foreign Travel: The constitution states, “No citizen may be prevented from leaving the State territory.”

Nonetheless, men who have not completed compulsory military service and have not obtained an exemption may not travel abroad or emigrate. National identification cards indicated completion of military service.

Authorities required citizens between ages 18 and 40 to obtain permission from the Interior Ministry to travel to 16 countries: Guinea, Indonesia, Iraq, Jordan, Lebanon, Libya, Malaysia, Qatar, South Africa, South Korea, Sudan, Syria, Thailand, Turkey, Georgia, and Yemen. Enforcement of these regulations was sporadic. The government stated it intended these regulations to make it more difficult for citizens to join terrorist groups and to stop flight of criminals. These regulations also affected the ability of other individuals to travel outside the country.

The government increasingly imposed travel bans on human rights defenders and political activists charged with offenses or under investigation. In 2016 Mada Masr reported there had been 554 cases of politically motivated banned entry and exit imposed by authorities in airports since 2011. Local human rights groups maintained authorities used travel bans to intimidate and silence human rights defenders, including individuals connected with NGOs facing investigation as part of the reopened NGO foreign-funding case. A September 4 court ruling stated a travel ban “does not require the investigation of certain facts and their certainty,” but there must be “serious evidence that there are reasons for it and that the decision to prevent travel is due to security reasons and the interests of the state.”

Democracy activist Esraa Abdel Fattah remained unable to depart the country. In 2015 authorities prevented Abdel Fattah from departing the country and informed her that authorities had issued a travel ban in her name. She filed a lawsuit to challenge the ban, but the court dismissed the suit. In September 2017 authorities referred a case regarding comments she made on social media for military prosecution. No further information on the case was available.

Exile: There was no government-imposed exile, and the constitution prohibits the government from expelling citizens or banning citizens from returning to the country. Some Mubarak- and Morsi-era politicians lived outside the country by choice and stated they faced government threats of prosecution.

PROTECTION OF REFUGEES

Refoulement: On November 8, authorities in Sudan announced criminal charges against an activist named Mohamed Boshi for espionage and crimes against the state, which carry the death penalty. On November 15, HRW released a report alleging that Egyptian authorities had detained Boshi on October 10, while he was in Egypt as an asylum seeker, held him incommunicado, and subsequently refouled him to Sudan. Human Rights Watch stated that Boshi’s family told them Sudanese security officials contacted them on October 13 to say he was in their custody.

Although the government often contacted UNHCR upon detaining unregistered migrants and asylum seekers, authorities reportedly sometimes encouraged unregistered detainees to choose to return to their countries of origin or a neighboring country to avoid continued detention, even in cases where the individuals expressed a fear of return. The number of these cases was unknown.

Compared with previous years, fewer Palestinian refugees from Syria entered the country illegally, intending to travel to Europe. In a number of cases, in the absence of valid travel documents or inability to confirm their identities, they faced more difficulties, including higher chances of detention or deportation.

Access to Asylum: The constitution provides for the protection of political refugees, but the laws do not provide for granting asylum or refugee status, and the government has not established a comprehensive legal regime for providing protection to refugees. The government granted UNHCR authority to make refugee status determinations. UNHCR does not register Libyan citizens; neither does it register nor assist Palestinian refugees in the country.

According to UNHCR, as of August 31, there were more than 235,000 registered refugees and asylum seekers in the country, coming mainly from Syria, as well as from Sudan, South Sudan, Ethiopia, Eritrea, and Yemen. Since 2017 the number of Syrian nationals registered as refugees has increased, although at a slower pace than in 2016. Observers attributed the increase to relaxed family reunification visa requirements, increased economic hardship faced by unregistered Syrians already residing in the country, young men attempting to avoid conscription in the national military or armed groups, and an increased fear of raids targeting unregistered migrants. Most Syrians continued to arrive by way of Sudan, which remained the only neighboring country to which Syrians could travel without visas. The number of African refugees also increased during the year, according to UNHCR, particularly among Ethiopian, Eritrean, and South Sudanese populations.

Starting in mid-2013, the government applied a system of visa and security clearance requirements for Syrian nationals and Palestinian refugees from Syria, thus assuring no direct entries from Syria since Egypt lacked consular services there. Following the UNHCR high commissioner’s visit in January 2017, the country relaxed its visa requirements for Syrians seeking family reunification.

Reports of irregular movements of individuals, including asylum seekers, and detention of foreign nationals attempting to depart the country irregularly via the Mediterranean remained low during the year, according to UNHCR, following parliament’s passage and enforcement of a law that dramatically increased patrols on the country’s Mediterranean coast in 2016.

UNHCR and its partners usually had regular access, by request, to detained registered refugees and asylum seekers along the north coast. Local rights groups faced continued resistance from the government when trying to interview detainees at Qanater men’s and women’s prisons outside Cairo, which housed the majority of detained refugees and asylum seekers. Authorities generally granted UNHCR access to asylum seekers at all prison and detention facilities. Authorities generally released asylum seekers registered with UNHCR, although frequently did not do so for detained migrants, many of whom were Ethiopian, Eritrean, Sudanese, and Somali (and may have had a basis for asylum claims). Detained migrants–as unregistered asylum seekers–did not have access to UNHCR. Authorities often held them in in police stations until UNHCR or other aid agencies assisted them, although sometimes authorities sent them to regular prisons alongside convicted criminals or deported them.

The government has never recognized UNHCR’s mandate to offer services to Palestinians outside of the fields of operations of the UN Relief and Works Agency, reportedly due to a belief that allowing UNHCR registration would negate Palestinian refugees’ alleged right of return. Approximately 2,900 Palestinian refugees from Syria were also present in the country, the majority reportedly in Cairo. The Palestinian Authority mission in the country provided limited assistance to this population, who were not able to access UNHCR assistance provided to Syrians due to governmental restrictions. The Swiss Red Cross also provided some humanitarian assistance to Palestinian refugees from Syria.

Employment: No law grants or prohibits refugees the right to work. Those seeking unauthorized employment were challenged by lack of jobs and societal discrimination, particularly against sub-Saharan Africans. Refugees who found work took low-paying jobs in the informal market, such as domestic servants, and were vulnerable to financial and sexual exploitation by employers.

Access to Basic Services: Refugees, in particular non-Arabic-speaking refugees from sub-Saharan Africa, received limited access to some services, including health care and public education. According to UNHCR refugees can fully access public-health services, although many do not have the resources to do so. The Interior Ministry restricted some international organizations seeking to assist migrants and refugees in Sinai. UNHCR was unaware of any migrants detained in Sinai since 2016. UNHCR provided some refugees with modest support for education and health care, as well as small monthly financial assistance grants for particularly vulnerable refugees. The International Organization for Migration provided additional assistance to particularly vulnerable migrants and individual asylum cases either rejected or being processed by UNHCR.

Refugee children not enrolled in public schools mainly attended refugee-run schools, private schools, or were home schooled. The law requires government hospitals to provide free emergency medical care to refugees, but many hospitals did not have adequate resources to do so. In some cases hospitals insisted that refugees provide payment in advance of receiving services or refused to provide services to refugees. In response to the influx of Syrians, the government allowed Syrian refugees and asylum seekers access to public education and health services. The Ministry of Education estimated that 35,000 school age Syrian children (approximately 90 percent) enrolled successfully in the public school system.

STATELESS PERSONS

Most of the eight stateless persons known to UNHCR were Armenians displaced for more than 50 years. According to a local civil society organization, the number of stateless persons in the country was likely higher than the number recorded by UNHCR. The government and UNHCR lacked a mechanism for identifying stateless persons, including those of disputed Sudanese/South Sudanese nationality and those of disputed Ethiopian/Eritrean nationality. A majority of the approximately 70,000 Palestinian refugees were stateless.

El Salvador

Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:

The constitution provides for freedom of expression, including for the press, and the government generally respected this right. The law permits the executive branch to use the emergency broadcasting service to take over all broadcast and cable networks temporarily to televise political programming.

Press and Media Freedom: There continued to be allegations that the government retaliated against members of the press for criticizing its policies. There were reports the Ministry of Labor conducted arbitrary labor inspections and financial audits of news organizations.

Both the Nationalist Republican Alliance (ARENA) and Farabundo Marti Liberation Front (FMLN) parties steered funding, including public funds, to journalists in exchange for positive coverage. The online news outlet El Faro reported during the year that former president Antonio Saca funneled $665,000 (currency is the U.S. dollar) to media contacts in exchange for positive coverage from 2004 until 2009, while former president Mauricio Funes continued the practice of using a secret fund to corrupt journalists from 2009 through 2014.

Violence and Harassment: On May 22, the Salvadoran Journalist Association (APES) reported that former youth secretary Carlos Aleman threatened El Faro journalist Gabriel Labrador after he published a report that accused Aleman of benefiting from illegal salary increases during the Saca administration. APES also reported that journalist Milagro Vallecillos received a call asking him where he would like a body disposed after he criticized the police investigation into the killing of journalist Karla Turcios.

In relation to reporting on the March 4 municipal and legislative assembly elections, APES recorded 15 complaints against civil servants, mayors, unions, and gang members. The incidents included three verbal threats, two physical assaults, one property damage claim, and three suspicious incidents. On March 19, online news outlet Diario 1 journalist Miguel Lemus was physically attacked by members of the San Salvador city employees’ union.

Minister of Defense Munguia reportedly visited media offices unannounced and accompanied by armed soldiers.

Censorship or Content Restrictions: Government advertising accounted for a significant portion of press advertising income. According to APES, media practiced self-censorship, especially in reporting on gangs and narcotics trafficking.

Nongovernmental Impact: APES noted journalists reporting on gangs and narcotics trafficking were subject to kidnappings, threats, and intimidation. Observers reported that gangs also charged print media companies to distribute in their communities, costing media outlets as much as 20 percent of their revenues.

INTERNET FREEDOM

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

The International Telecommunication Union reported 31 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 provides for the freedoms of peaceful assembly and association, and the government generally respected these rights.

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

The constitution provides for freedom of internal movement, foreign travel, emigration, and repatriation. The government generally respected these rights, although in many areas the government could not guarantee freedom of movement due to criminal gang activity. As of July 31, the PDDH received two complaints of restrictions from freedom of movement, one against the PNC and the other against a court in Jiquilisco. Both cases involved subjects being detained without charge. The government cooperated with the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) and other humanitarian organizations in providing protection and some assistance to internally displaced persons, refugees, returning refugees, asylum seekers, stateless persons, and other persons of concern, although this was often difficult in gang-controlled neighborhoods.

In-country Movement: The major gangs controlled their own territory. Gang members did not allow persons living in another gang’s controlled area to enter their territory, even when travelling via public transportation. Gangs forced persons to present government-issued identification cards (containing their addresses) to determine their residence. If gang members discovered that a person lived in a rival gang’s territory, that person risked being killed, beaten, or not allowed to enter the territory. Bus companies paid extortion fees to operate within gang territories, often paying numerous fees for the different areas in which they operated. The extortion costs were passed on to customers.

INTERNALLY DISPLACED PERSONS (IDPS)

On July 13, the Constitutional Chamber of the Supreme Court ruled that the government violated the constitution by not recognizing forced displacement or providing sufficient aid to IDPs. The ruling followed several lawsuits brought by victims, including members of the PNC. The court ordered the Legislative Assembly to pass legislation addressing internal displacement and officially recognize internal displacement. The court also called on the government to retake control of gang territories, develop protection protocols for victims, and uphold international standards for protecting victims.

As of July the PDDH reported 69 complaints of forced displacement from January to May. Nearly all of the complaints were from gang-controlled territories, with 51 cases from San Salvador. As of October the government acknowledged that 1.1 percent of the general population was internally displaced. UNHCR estimated there were 280,000 IDPs. UNHCR reported the causes of internal displacement included abuse, extortion, discrimination, and threats.

PROTECTION OF REFUGEES

Access to Asylum: The law provides for the granting of asylum or refugee status, including an established system for providing protection to refugees. As of July 31, four petitions had been submitted, with three resulting in denial and one still under consideration.

Equatorial Guinea

Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:

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).

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

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

The government did not generally cooperate with the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees and other humanitarian organizations in providing protection and assistance to internally displaced persons (IDPs), refugees, returning refugees, asylum seekers, stateless persons, or other persons of concern. In December 2017 the navy intercepted and impounded a boat carrying 205 West African migrants in the Port of Malabo. Authorities transferred the migrants to Malabo’s central police station, where they received shelter, food, and access to consular services. The government hosted the African Union Commission on Refugees, IDPs, and Counter Terrorism to discuss region-wide solutions in October.

In-country Movement: Police at roadblocks routinely checked travelers and engaged in petty extortion. Frequent roundups of foreigners also occurred at roadblocks that the government claimed were necessary to counter irregular immigration, delinquent activities, and coup attempts. Tourists require permits for visiting many locations, especially those near government installations.

Foreign Travel: The government has been known to issue temporary travel prohibitions on government officials due to alleged national security concerns.

Exile: The law prohibits forced internal or external exile, but at year’s end, opposition party political leader Gabriel Nze Obiang of CI still had his movements restricted to the capital and was not allowed to travel to the mainland.

PROTECTION OF REFUGEES

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

Eritrea

Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:

Although the law and unimplemented constitution provide for freedom of speech, including for the press, the government severely restricted these rights.

Freedom of Expression: The government severely restricted the ability of individuals to criticize the government in public or in private through intimidation by national security forces.

Press and Media Freedom: The law bans private broadcast media and foreign ownership of media and requires submission of documents, including books, to the government for approval prior to publication. The government controlled all domestic media, including one newspaper published in four languages, three radio stations, and two television stations.

The law requires journalists to be licensed. The law restricts printing and publication of materials. The printing of a publication by anyone lacking a permit and the printing or dissemination of prohibited foreign publications are both punishable under the law. Government approval is required for distribution of publications from religious or international organizations.

In July Ethiopian journalists working as stringers for the Associated Press were informed they would be denied visas on arrival to cover the visit of the Ethiopian prime minister to the country, and as a result, the airline did not allow them to board the inaugural flight from Ethiopia to Eritrea carrying officials, business persons, and other journalists. In August international journalists from Deutsche Welle were allowed access during a visit by Germany’s development minister.

The government did not prevent persons from installing satellite dishes that provided access to international cable television networks and programs. The use of satellite dishes was common nationwide in cities as well as villages. Access to South Africa’s Digital Satellite Television (DStv) required government approval, and a subscriber’s bill could be paid only in hard currency. Satellite radio stations operated by diaspora Eritreans reached listeners in the country. Citizens could also receive radio broadcasts originating in Ethiopia. In July following the peace agreement with Ethiopia, public places displayed Ethiopian television stations, and telephone services between Eritrea and Ethiopia were re-established.

Violence and Harassment: The government did not provide information on the location or health of journalists it detained in previous years and who were held incommunicado.

Censorship or Content Restrictions: Most independent journalists remained in detention or lived abroad, which limited domestic media criticism of the government. Authorities required journalists to obtain government permission to take photographs. Journalists practiced self-censorship due to fear of government reprisal.

National Security: The government repeatedly asserted national security concerns were the basis of limitations on free speech and expression.

INTERNET FREEDOM

The government monitored some internet communications, including email, without appropriate legal authority. Government informants frequented internet cafes. In order to use an internet cafe, patrons must present proof they had completed national service. The government discouraged citizens from viewing some opposition websites by labeling the sites and their developers as saboteurs. Some citizens expressed fear of arrest if caught viewing such sites. Nonetheless, the sites were generally available. In October 2017 after protests in Akhria, communication channels, internet access, and the telephone system were temporarily cut or jammed.

Eritel, a government-owned corporation, has a monopoly on providing land-based internet service. The use of internet cafes with limited bandwidth in Asmara and other large communities was widespread, but the vast majority of persons did not have access to the internet. According to most recent International Telecommunication Union data, 1.3 percent of the population used the internet in 2017. Internet users who needed larger bandwidth paid prices beyond the reach of most individuals.

ACADEMIC FREEDOM AND CULTURAL EVENTS

The government restricted academic freedom and cultural events.

Authorities monitored activities at private secondary schools and in some cases arbitrarily denied visas to foreign teachers or presented impediments to school administration, including restricting the import of teaching materials. Some parents of students in private schools charged that educational quality suffered because of disputes between government officials and school administrators.

With few exceptions, secondary school students must complete their final year of high school at the government’s Sawa National Training and Education Center. Students also had to complete military training at Sawa to be allowed to take entrance exams for institutions of higher education (see section 6, Children).

The government sometimes denied passports or exit visas to students and faculty who wanted to study or do research abroad. Some persons claimed authorities scrutinized academic travel for consistency of intent with government policies.

The government censored film showings and other cultural activities. It monitored libraries and cultural centers maintained by foreign embassies and in some instances questioned employees and users. The government directly sponsored most major cultural events or collaborated with various embassies and foreign cultural institutions in sponsoring musical performances by international performers. In late 2017, however, and early during the year, the embassies of two Western countries received public recognition for sponsoring cultural performances, and a group from one of the countries was broadcast on national television during the New Year celebrations.

b. Freedom of Peaceful Assembly and Association

The government restricted freedoms of peaceful assembly and association.

FREEDOM OF PEACEFUL ASSEMBLY

The law and unimplemented constitution provide for freedom of assembly, but the government restricted this right. For some public gatherings, the government intermittently required those assembling to obtain permits. Authorities subjected gatherings of large groups of persons without prior approval to investigation and interference, with the exception of events that occurred in the context of meetings of government-affiliated organizations, were social in nature, or were events such as weddings, funerals, and religious observances of the four officially registered religious groups. During the October 2017 and March protests, the government did not provide any official data in connection with the arrests and detentions, or the number of persons injured or requiring treatment because of the excessive use of force by the security apparatus.

FREEDOM OF ASSOCIATION

The unimplemented constitution provides citizens the right to form organizations for political, social, economic, and cultural ends. It specifies that their conduct must be open and transparent and that they must be guided by principles of national unity and democracy. The government did not respect freedom of association. It did not allow any political parties other than the PFDJ. It also prohibited the formation of civil society organizations except those with official sponsorship. The government generally did not allow local organizations to receive funding and other resources from or to associate with foreign and international organizations.

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

The law and unimplemented constitution provide for freedom of internal movement, foreign travel, emigration, and repatriation, but the government restricted all these rights. It often denied citizens passports and exit visas because they had not completed their military duties or arbitrarily for no given reason. The government restricted travel of children with foreign passports whom it considered Eritrean nationals.

The government cooperated with the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) to provide protection and assistance in some areas, but it restricted UNHCR activities in others. The government defined refugee status differently than do the 1951 Convention and its 1967 Protocol relating to the Status of Refugees. It did not recognize Ethiopians or Sudanese as refugees, although it allowed them to remain in the country and granted them residency permits. The government routinely provided protection to Somali refugees.

In-country Movement: The government requires citizens to notify local authorities when they change residence, although many did not. When traveling within the country, particularly in remote regions or near borders, authorities required citizens to provide justification for travel at the few checkpoints.

Travel restrictions on noncitizens lawfully in the country remained in effect. The government required all diplomats, international humanitarian workers, UN staff, and foreigners to request permission from the government at least 10 days in advance to travel more than 15.5 miles (25 kilometers) outside of Asmara. Authorities gave UNHCR staff a monthly permit to visit Umkulu Refugee Camp and permitted diplomats to visit the site in June to accompany the UN special envoy for the Somali refugee situation, Ambassador Mohamed Affey.

Foreign Travel: The government restricted foreign travel. The government required citizens, sometimes including dual nationals, to obtain exit visas. The government restricted travel of children with foreign passports whom it considered Eritrean nationals. Requirements for obtaining passports and exit visas were inconsistent and nontransparent. The government often denied citizens passports and exit visas because they had not completed their military or national service duties. Authorities generally did not give exit visas to children older than age five. Authorities granted few adolescents exit permits; many parents avoided seeking exit permits for children approaching national service draft age due to concern authorities might also deny the parents’ permission to travel. Categories of persons most commonly denied exit visas included men younger than age 40, lowered from 54, regardless of whether they had completed the military portion of national service, and women younger than 30, unless they had children. The government did not generally grant exit permits to members of the citizen militia, although some whom authorities demobilized from national service or who had permission from their zone commanders were able to obtain them. Those citizens who previously qualified for international travel were permitted to travel to and from Ethiopia when flights between the two countries resumed. In September the president and Ethiopian prime minister opened two border-crossing points. For nationals of both countries, crossing these points does not require an entry visa, and Eritreans do not require exit visas or other travel documents. It was not clear how long this procedure would remain in effect.

The SR reported in June that instances of extrajudicial killings at the border continued and referred to the arbitrary killing of a young man who was trying to cross the border in July 2017. In 2017 Doctors without Borders also reported on the experience of some Eritreans who were shot trying to cross the border with Ethiopia.

Exile: There were reports of citizens who left the country without exit visas being denied re-entry. Many other citizens who fled the country remained in self-imposed exile due to their religious and political views and fear they would be conscripted into national service if they returned. Others reported there were no consequences for returning citizens who had residency or citizenship in other countries.

In general citizens had the right to return, but citizens residing abroad had to show proof they paid the 2 percent tax on foreign earned income to be eligible for some government services and documents, including exit permits, birth or marriage certificates, passport renewals, and real estate transactions. The government enforced this requirement inconsistently. Persons known to have broken laws abroad, contracted serious contagious diseases, or been declared ineligible for political asylum by other governments had their entry visas and visa requests considered with greater scrutiny. In August, Minister of Foreign Affairs Osman Saleh Mohammed stated in a press interview that Eritrean citizens “can come back voluntarily at any time.”

Citizenship: Most members of Jehovah’s Witnesses who did not perform military service continued to be unable to obtain official identification documents. They were not eligible for jobs in the formal economy or for ration coupons to buy essentials at government-subsidized prices.

PROTECTION OF REFUGEES

Access to Asylum: The law does not provide for the granting of asylum or refugee status, and the government has not established a system for providing protection to new refugees. The government has an Office of Refugee Affairs that works with UNHCR. Most refugees in the country were Somali. The government did not grant Ethiopians or Sudanese asylum, although it allowed them to remain in the country. The government required Ethiopians to pay an annual fee of 600 nakfa ($40) for a residency card. The card demonstrated the holder was not indigent.

Freedom of Movement: Most Somalis were restricted to Umkulu Refugee Camp.

Employment: There did not appear to be discrimination based on nationality in terms of employment or entitlements with the exception of that directed at resident Ethiopians, some of whom the government viewed as potential security risks. Refugees were not granted formal work permits but were allowed to work informally.

Access to Basic Services: Persons of Ethiopian and Sudanese origin living in the country sometimes claimed they received social entitlements commensurate with the perceived degree of their loyalty to the government, including ration coupons to buy essentials at government-subsidized prices.

Ethiopians, Sudanese, and Somalis were able to access basic government services upon procuring and presenting residency permits. UNHCR reported the suspension in the issuance of exit visas for Somali refugees in Umkulu Refugee Camp continued, and it raised concerns with the government regarding the implementation of durable solutions.

Durable Solutions: The government did not grant persons of Ethiopian and Sudanese origin asylum or refugee status; however, authorities permitted them to remain in the country and to live among the local population instead of in a refugee camp. Authorities granted them residency permits that enabled them to access government services. Authorities granted Sudanese and Ethiopians exit visas to leave the country for resettlement and study.

Estonia

Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:

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

INTERNET FREEDOM

The government did not restrict or disrupt access to the internet or censor online content, and there were no credible reports that the government monitored private online communications without appropriate legal authority. According to statistics compiled by the International Telecommunication Union, 88.1 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 provides for freedom of peaceful assembly, and the government generally respected these freedoms.

The annual remembrance ceremony commemorating the Battle of Sinimae mentioned in previous years’ reports again occurred.

FREEDOM OF ASSOCIATION

While the constitution provides for freedom of association, the law specifies that only citizens may join political parties. There were no restrictions on the ability of noncitizens to join other civil groups.

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

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

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

PROTECTION OF REFUGEES

Access to Asylum: The law provides for the granting of asylum or refugee status, and the government has established a system for providing protection to refugees. The NGO Estonian Human Rights Center (EHRC) and other NGOs provided legal and social assistance to asylum seekers in cooperation with authorities. Government officials indicated that access to legal aid was available at every stage of the asylum procedure. The EHRC continued to raise concerns about the prolonged detention of asylum seekers during adjudication of cases.

Safe Country of Origin/Transit: The government has a policy of denying asylum to applicants from a “safe” country of origin or transit. Authorities asserted that they granted interviews to all individual asylum seekers.

Durable Solutions: The government assisted in the safe, voluntary return of some refugees to their countries of origin under a program of the International Organization on Migration. The country worked with the EU and UNHCR to implement a refugee resettlement program. Naturalization is open to all permanent residents of the country after five years’ residence, provided they pass mandatory citizenship and language examinations.

Temporary Protection: The government provided temporary protection to individuals who may not qualify as refugees. The government granted temporary protection via residence permits to 10 individuals during the first seven months of the year.

STATELESS PERSONS

UNHCR categorized 85,301 persons as stateless as of the end of 2015. As of January 1, according to government statistics, there were 75,628 residents of undetermined citizenship, or 5.7 percent of the population. Nearly all were ethnic Russians, Ukrainians, or Belarusians. These persons are eligible to apply for naturalized citizenship, and some of them may hold Russian, Ukrainian or Belarusian citizenship.

There are statutory procedures that offer persons over the age of 18 opportunities for obtaining citizenship by naturalization, but some human rights observers regarded them as inadequate, and their rate of naturalization remained low. To facilitate acquisition of citizenship, authorities adopted such policies as funding civics and language courses and simplifying naturalization for persons with disabilities. The government also simplified the Estonian language requirements so that applicants older than 65 are no longer required to take a written language examination, although they still must pass an oral one. The government also provides citizenship, without any special application by the parents, to persons younger than 15 who were born in the country and whose parents were not citizens of Estonia or of any other country, and had lived in Estonia for five years at the time of the birth of the child.

Eswatini

Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:

The constitution and law provide for freedom of expression, including for the press, but the government restricted this right, particularly with respect to press freedom and matters concerning the monarchy. Although no law bans criticism of the monarchy, the prime minister used threats and intimidation to restrict such criticism.

Press and Media Freedom: The law empowers the government to ban publications if it deems them “prejudicial or potentially prejudicial to the interests of defense, public safety, public order, public morality, or public health.” Many journalists practiced self-censorship. Journalists expressed fear of reporting on matters involving the monarchy.

Daily newspapers criticized government corruption and inefficiency but generally avoided criticizing the royal family.

Broadcast media remained firmly under state control. Most persons obtained their news from radio broadcasts. Access to speak on national radio is generally restricted to government officials, although a leader of the Trade Union Congress of Swaziland received an opportunity in September to share trade union frustrations and demands. Despite invitations issued by the media regulatory authority for parties to apply for licenses, no licenses were awarded. Stations practiced self-censorship and hesitated to broadcast anything perceived as critical of the government or the monarchy.

Censorship or Content Restrictions: Some journalists practiced self-censorship due to fear of reprisals, such as losing paid government advertising, if their reporting was perceived as critical of the monarchy.

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, 30 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 the freedoms of peaceful assembly and association, and the government generally respected these rights.

In June, August, and September, REPS officials used nonlethal measures to control and disperse crowds when protesters deviated from agreed routes or provoked the police by throwing stones or trying to enter government facilities without authorization. Some protesters experienced non-life-threatening injuries during these incidents.

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

The law provides for freedom of internal movement, foreign travel, emigration, and repatriation, and the government generally respected these rights. During the year the government enacted the Refugees Act, which improved recognition of and protection for refugees in the country while domesticating the 1951 Convention relating to the Status of Refugees, its 1967 Protocol, and the 1969 Organization of African Unity Convention Governing the Specific Aspects of Refugee Problems in Africa.

The government cooperated with the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees and other humanitarian organizations in providing protection and assistance to refugees, asylum seekers, stateless persons, and other persons of concern. By traditional law and custom, chiefs have the power to decide who may reside in their chiefdoms; evictions occurred due to internal conflicts, alleged criminal activity, or opposition to the chief.

PROTECTION OF REFUGEES

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

Durable Solutions: The government permanently resettled refugees in the country. It allowed some refugees to compete for jobs and granted them work permits and temporary residence permits. The government also provided refugees with free transportation twice a week to buy and sell food in local markets. Refugees who live in the country more than five years are eligible for citizenship. The government continued to implement a psychological support program that provided counseling to refugees. Refugees could visit the neighboring countries of Mozambique and South Africa with ease.

Ethiopia

Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:

The constitution and law provide for freedom of speech and press; however, SOE regulations included restrictions on these rights, giving legal cover for continued efforts to harass and intimidate journalists that predated the SOE. Upon the end of the SOE and with the encouragement of Prime Minister Abiy, a number of new and returned diaspora media outlets were able to register and begin operations in the country.

Freedom of Expression: The SOE regulations contained several prohibitions that restricted freedom of speech and expression and subsequently resulted in the temporary detention of some independent voices. The regulations, interpreted broadly, prohibited any covert or overt agitation and communication that could incite violence and unrest. Restricted activities also included any communication with designated terrorist groups or antipeace forces, storing and disseminating texts, storing and promoting emblems of terrorist groups, incitement in sermons and teaching in religious institutions to induce fear or incite conflict, and speech that could incite attacks based on identity or ethnicity.

Under the SOE it was illegal to carry out covert or public incitement of violence in any way, including printing, preparing, or distributing writings; performing a show; demonstrating through signs or making messages public through any medium; or importing or exporting any publication without permission. The SOE also prohibited exchanging any message through the internet, mobile telephones, writing, television, radio, social media, or other means of communication that may cause a riot, disturbance, suspicion, or grievance among persons. Police used suspicion of individuals possessing or distributing such media as a premise to enter homes without a warrant.

The SOE prohibited any individual from exchanging information with a foreign government in a manner that undermined national sovereignty and prohibited political parties from briefing journalists in a manner deemed unconstitutional or that undermined sovereignty and security. Individuals self-censored because of these prohibitions.

The protests and demands for change were driven by the EPRDF’s attempts to impede criticism through intimidation, including continued detention of journalists, those who express critical opinions online, and opposition figures. Additionally, the government monitored and interfered in activities of political opposition groups. Some citizens feared authorities would retaliate against them for discussing security force abuses. Authorities arrested and detained persons who made public or private statements deemed critical of the government under a provision of the law pertaining to inciting the public through false rumors.

Upon taking office Prime Minister Abiy stated that freedom of speech is essential to the country’s future. NGOs subsequently reported that practices such as arrests, detention, abuse, and harassment of persons for criticizing the government dramatically diminished.

Press and Media Freedom: Independent journalists reported access to private, affordable, independent printing presses was generally limited to a single government-owned facility, citing government intimidation. At least one outlet attempted to import a printing press for private use but was allegedly unable to secure permission to make it operational. Independent media cited limited access as a major factor in the small number, low circulation, and infrequent publication of news.

In Addis Ababa six independent newspapers had a combined weekly circulation of approximately 43,000 copies; there were in addition two sports-focused newspapers. There were no independent newspapers outside of the capital. Eight independent weekly, monthly, and bimonthly magazines published in Amharic and English had a combined circulation estimated at 28,000 copies. State-run newspapers had a combined daily circulation of approximately 50,000 copies. Most newspapers were printed on a weekly or biweekly basis, except state-owned Amharic and English dailies and the privately run Daily Monitor. Government-controlled media closely reflected the views of the government and ruling EPRDF party. The government controlled the only television station that broadcast nationally, which, along with radio, was the primary source of news for much of the population. There were two government-owned radio stations that covered the entire country, seven private FM radio stations broadcast in the capital, one FM radio station in the Tigray Region, and 28 community radio stations broadcast in other regions. State-run Ethiopian Broadcasting Corporation had the largest broadcast range in the country, followed by Fana Broadcasting Corporate, generally regarded as affiliated with the ruling party. There were a few private satellite-based television stations, including the Ethiopian Broadcast Service.

The law prohibits political and religious organizations, as well as foreigners from owning broadcast stations.

Violence and Harassment: The government’s arrest, harassment, and prosecution of journalists sharply declined and imprisoned journalists were released. As of April no high-profile journalist remained in detention. On January 9 and 10, the Federal Prison Administration released 14 Muslim activists and journalists, including Darsema Sorri and Khalid Mohammed, from prison. The release followed the Supreme Court’s decision in December 2017 that reduced jail terms of the defendants convicted for violation of the ATP.

Censorship or Content Restrictions: Many private newspapers reported informal editorial control by the government. Examples of government interference included requests regarding specific stories and calls from government officials concerning articles perceived as critical of the government. Private sector and government journalists routinely practiced self-censorship. Several journalists, both local and foreign, reported an increase in self-censorship during the SOE.

National Security: Under the SOE–February 15 to June 5–the government used the SOE laws to suppress criticism. On July 5, the parliament legally removed the Oromo Liberation Front (OLF), ONLF, and PG7 from the list of terrorist organizations. Journalists, both state and private, were less afraid of reporting on these groups following their delisting.

Nongovernmental Impact: On July 13, an unidentified group of youths in the town of Meisso reportedly attacked a team of journalists travelling from Dire Dawa to Addis Ababa to cover the Eritrean president’s state visit to Ethiopia. Five of the crewmembers were employees of state-owned Dire Dawa Mass Media Agency. The driver of the van died from injuries on July 19 at a hospital in Harar.

Prime Minister Abiy invited diaspora media outlets to return as part of broader reforms to open up political dialogue. Major outlets and bloggers returned and began operations without incident. Media outlets were careful in testing the limits of their new freedoms. Several outfits printed hard-hitting and carefully investigated pieces exposing problems without repercussions.

INTERNET FREEDOM

The government periodically restricted and disrupted access to the internet and blocked various social media sites. The government shut down mobile internet in towns outside of Addis Ababa, especially in Oromia and Amhara between February and April, when the SOE was in force. Authorities restored internet connectivity in April while unblocking more than 260 websites that were previously unavailable inside the country. These included blogs, opposition websites, websites of PG7, the OLF, and the ONLF, and news sites such as al-Jazeera, the BBC, and RealClearPolitics. Authorities briefly shut off mobile internet data in and around Addis Ababa in September and October while responding to unrest.

In early August the government temporarily shut down broadband and mobile internet in Dire Dawa, Harar, and Jijiga in the eastern part of the country following an outbreak of violence. In September internet and mobile data were temporarily turned off again in Addis Ababa when protests turned violent. There were credible reports the government monitored private online communications without appropriate legal authority. State-owned Ethio Telecom was the only internet service provider in the country.

The law on computer crimes includes some provisions that are overly broad and could restrict freedom of speech and expression. This included, for example, a provision that provides for imprisonment for disseminating through a computer system any written, video, audio, or any other picture that incites violence, chaos, or conflict among persons. The SOE regulations included prohibitions on agitation and communication to incite violence and unrest through the internet, text messaging, and social media.

Authorities monitored communication systems and took steps to block access to Virtual Private Network providers that let users circumvent government screening of internet browsing and email. There were reports such internet surveillance resulted in arrests.

According to the International Telecommunication Union, 18.6 percent of the population used the internet in 2017.

ACADEMIC FREEDOM AND CULTURAL EVENTS

The government restricted academic freedom, primarily via controlling teachers’ appointments and curricula. Authorities frequently restricted speech, expression, and assembly on university and high school campuses. SOE regulations prohibited strikes in educational institutions, giving authorities the power to order educational institutions to take measures against any striking student or staff member and providing law enforcement officers the authority to enter educational institutions and take measures to control strikes or protests.

According to multiple reports, the ruling EPRDF, via the Ministry of Education, continued to favor students loyal to the party in assignment to postgraduate programs. Some university staff members noted that students who joined the party received priority for employment in all fields after graduation. Numerous anecdotal reports suggested inadequate promotions and lack of professional advancement were more likely for non-EPRDF member teachers. There continued to be a lack of transparency in academic staffing decisions, with numerous complaints from academics alleging bias based on party membership, ethnicity, or religion.

A separate Ministry of Education directive prohibits private universities from offering degree programs in law and teacher education. The directive also requires public universities to align their curriculum with the ministry’s policy of a 70/30 ratio between science and social science academic programs. As a result the number of students studying social sciences and the humanities at public institutions continued to decrease; private universities, however, focused heavily on the social sciences.

Reports stated there was a pattern of surveillance and arbitrary arrests of Oromo university students based on perceived dissent, participation in peaceful demonstrations, or both. According to reports, there was a buildup of security forces, both uniformed and plainclothes, embedded on university campuses preceding student protests, especially in Oromia, in response to student demonstrations.

b. Freedom of Peaceful Assembly and Association

The government limited freedoms of peaceful assembly and association.

FREEDOM OF PEACEFUL ASSEMBLY

The constitution and law provide for freedom of assembly; SOE regulations, however, prohibited demonstrations and town hall meetings that did not have approval from the Command Posts, in some cases federal and in other cases more local bodies. After the lifting of the SOE, security forces’ response to protests showed signs of increasing restraint. In July and August Federal Police and Addis Ababa police provided security to at least three large peaceful demonstrations staged without prior notification to the authorities in Addis Ababa.

Prior to the SOE, organizers of public meetings of more than two persons or demonstrations had to notify the government 48 hours in advance and obtain a permit. Authorities could not refuse to grant a permit but could require changing the location or time for reasons of public safety or freedom of movement. If authorities require an event be moved to another place or time, by law authorities must notify organizers in writing within 12 hours of their request.

The EPRDF used its own conference centers in Addis Ababa, the regional capitals, and government facilities for meetings and events. Following the imposition of the SOE, the prohibition on unauthorized demonstrations or town hall meetings severely limited the organization of meetings, training sessions, and other gatherings, especially for civil society and opposition political parties, who repeatedly reported being intimidated by authorities concerning organizing under SOE regulations.

FREEDOM OF ASSOCIATION

Although the law provides for freedom of association and the right to engage in unrestricted peaceful political activity, the government severely limited this right (see sections 3 and 5).

The SOE and the accompanying regulations restricted the ability of labor organizations to operate (see section 5). Regulations prohibited exchanging information or having contact with a foreign government or NGOs in a manner that undermines national sovereignty and security, and this reduced communication between local and international organizations.

The Charities and Societies Proclamation (CSP), also called the Civil Society Organizations (CSO) law, bans anonymous donations to NGOs and political parties. All potential donors were therefore aware their names would be on the public record. A 2013 report by the UN special rapporteur on the rights to freedom of peaceful assembly and association stated, “The enforcement of these provisions has a devastating impact on individuals’ ability to form and operate associations effectively.” For example, international NGOs seeking to operate in the country had to submit an application via the country’s embassies abroad, which the Ministry of Foreign Affairs then submitted to the government’s Charities and Societies Agency for approval. Prime Minister Abiy prioritized the reform of the CSP, along with the ATP and media law, as a mechanism to foster change in a process managed by the attorney general.

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

The law provides for freedom of internal movement, foreign travel, emigration, and repatriation. The government cooperated with the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) and other humanitarian organizations in providing protection and assistance to internally displaced persons (IDPs), refugees, returning refugees, asylum seekers, stateless persons, and other persons of concern. At times authorities or armed groups limited the ability of humanitarian organizations to operate in areas of insecurity, such as on the country’s borders.

In-country Movement: Under the SOE some regions of the country and the borders were restricted. Those restrictions ceased once the SOE ended.

Foreign Travel: A 2013 government prohibition on unskilled workers travelling to the Middle East for employment remained in force. The ban did not affect citizens travelling for investment or other business reasons. The government stated it issued the ban to prevent harassment, intimidation, and trauma suffered by those working abroad, particularly in the Middle East, as domestic employees.

Exile: The prime minister’s call for reconciliation, parliament’s removal of groups from the terrorist list, as well as the passing of the amnesty proclamation, encouraged many dissident groups, activists, journalists, and politicians in exile to return to the country and participate in reform efforts.

INTERNALLY DISPLACED PERSONS (IDPS)

According to the International Organization for Migration (IOM), communal clashes between locals of Gedeo Zone in SNNPR and West Guji Zone in Oromia that started in April led to displacement of 970,000 persons. The number of IDPs in Gedeo Zone reached 820,000, while those in West Guji numbered 150,000. The Gedeo-Guji crisis occurred alongside existing displacement in other parts of the country. In May and June, IOM identified 1,777,000 IDPs in the country, with 1,205,000 displaced due to conflict mostly from the Oromia-Somali conflict in 2017, while 536,000 were displaced by drought and other climate-related factors.

There were 1,391,000 new IDPs, primarily due to conflicts along the border areas of Oromia and SNNPR Regions and border areas of Oromia and Somali Regions.

Authorities attributed the majority of internal displacements to conflict, particularly interregional and interclan conflicts due to lack of governance and property disputes. IDPs’ rights to alternative livelihoods, skill development, compensation, and access to documentation that determine their opportunity to participate in civic and political action was often limited. In some instances the government strongly encouraged returns of IDPs without adequate arrangements for security and sustainability. The government reportedly used food to induce returns, leading to secondary and tertiary displacements.

PROTECTION OF REFUGEES

As of April the country hosted approximately 915,000 refugees. Major origin countries were South Sudan (440,000), Somalia (256,000), Eritrea (168,000), Sudan (44,000), and Yemen (1,800).

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

Employment: Under this year’s Ethiopian Refugee Regulation, the government does not grant work permits to refugees, a regulation updated in early 2019 to change this, and other, refugee policies. The government supports an Out of Camp policy for those deemed self-sufficient and/or sponsored by an Ethiopian citizen, which allowed some refugees to live outside camps and engage in informal livelihoods.

Durable Solutions: The government welcomed refugees to settle in the country but did not offer a path to citizenship or provide integration. Refugee students who passed the required tests could attend university with fees paid by the government and UNHCR.

Returnees: During the year tens of thousands of refugees returned from Saudi Arabia and required humanitarian assistance. According to IOM, assistance for these returnees upon arrival was limited due to resource constraints.

Fiji

Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:

The constitution provides for freedom of expression, including for the press, but it grants the government authority to restrict these rights for a broad array of reasons. These include preventing hate speech and insurrection; maintaining national security, public order, public safety, public morality, public health, and the orderly conduct of elections; protecting the reputation, privacy, dignity, and rights of other persons; enforcing media standards; and regulating the conduct of media organizations. The POA also gives the government power to detain persons on suspicion of “endangering public safety” and to “preserve the peace.” The law on media prohibits “irresponsible reporting” and provides for government censorship of media.

Freedom of Expression: The law includes criticism of the government in its definition of the crime of sedition. This includes statements made in other countries by any person whom authorities may prosecute on their return to the country.

The POA defines as terrorism any act designed to advance a political, religious, or ideological cause that could “reasonably be regarded” as intended to compel a government to do or refrain from doing any act or to intimidate the public or a section thereof. It also makes acts of religious vilification and attempts to sabotage or undermine the country’s economy offenses punishable by a maximum fine of 10,000 Fijian dollars (F$) ($4,720) or five years in prison.

The law on flag protection deems any use of the country’s flag to “demean, disrespect, or insult the state, the government or any member of government, or the general public” an offense punishable by a maximum 10 years’ imprisonment and a fine of F$20,000 ($9,450). By law, “the onus of proof shall be on the defendant to prove his or her innocence.”

Press and Media Freedom: Independent media were somewhat active; however, journalists practiced self-censorship on sensitive political or communal topics because of restrictions in the media law and monitoring by the Media Industry Development Authority (MIDA).

In May the Suva high court acquitted three staff of the Fiji Times: Editor in Chief Fred Wesley, General Manager Hank Arts, and indigenous-language editor Anare Ravula, as well as Josaia Waqabaca, of sedition for the 2016 publication of Waqabaca’s letter to the editor in the Fiji Times’ indigenous-language newspaper Nai Lalakai. The public prosecutor announced he would appeal the decision; however, the appellate court did not set a date for the appeal. Although the court exonerated the defendants, media observers and human rights activists expressed concern the long investigation and trial stifled free speech.

Violence and Harassment: In February police questioned three journalists from Island Business magazine after it published details of an employment contract of a magistrate presiding over a labor dispute. Authorities claimed the publication breached the POA.

Censorship or Content Restrictions: The media law contains a provision authorizing the government to censor all news stories before broadcast or publication. Although the government ceased formal media censorship in 2012, journalists and media organizations continued to practice varying degrees of self-censorship due to the threat of prosecution for contempt of court or under provisions of the media law. Despite this, media published several paid opinion articles by academics and commentators perceived as antigovernment, although the publishers took care to include disclaimers.

By law directors and 90 percent of local media shareholders must be citizens and permanently reside in the country. MIDA is responsible for enforcing these provisions and has power to investigate journalists and media outlets for alleged violations, including powers of search and seizure of equipment. The law requires the government to establish a media tribunal to hear complaints referred by MIDA, with power to impose maximum fines of F$25,000 ($11,810) for publishers and editors, and F$100,000 ($47,200) for media organizations. Despite this, media contacts reported the government had not yet established a media tribunal. If established the tribunal would consist of a single judge and would not be bound by formal rules of evidence. The law strips the judiciary of power to review decisions or findings of MIDA, the tribunal, or the information minister.

The code of ethics in the law requires that media publish balanced material. It obligates media to give any individual or organization an opportunity to reply to comments or provide materials for publication. Journalists reported this requirement did not restrict reporting as much as in past years but said they continued to practice self-censorship.

The law on television requires television station operators to conform to the media law’s code of ethics.

Libel/Slander Laws: The constitution includes the need to protect the reputation of persons as a permissible limitation to freedom of expression, including of the press. The threat of prosecution for contempt of court or under provisions of the media law and the POA was sufficient incentive for media to continue to practice self-censorship.

INTERNET FREEDOM

The government did not restrict or disrupt access to the internet or censor online content; however, there were some reports the government monitored private online communications without legal authority.

In May parliament enacted the Online Safety Act in what it described as an effort to protect minors from offensive online behavior, cybercrime, and cyber bullying. The law penalizes offenders with a maximum fine of F$20,000 ($9,450) and/or a maximum five years’ imprisonment for posting an electronic communication that causes harm to a person. Since enacting the law, the government filed two defamation lawsuits against political opponents for posting comments critical of the government on social media. In September Supervisor of Elections Mohammed Saneem filed a lawsuit against Fiji citizen Shailendra Raju, a vocal government critic residing in New Zealand, for allegedly posting defamatory remarks against Saneem’s family on social media. The F$1 million ($473,000) civil suit was the first of its kind against a person not resident in the country. In May the prime minister and attorney general filed a defamation suit against two members of opposition political parties for social media posts alleging the two orchestrated several Hindu temple break-ins around the country to plant fear in the Indo-Fijian community and thereby gain their political support.

All telephone and internet users must register their personal details with telephone and internet providers, including name, birth date, home address, left thumbprint, and photographic identification. The law imposes a maximum fine of F$100,000 ($47,200) on providers who continued to provide services to unregistered users and a maximum fine of F$10,000 ($4,720) on users who did not update their registration information as required.

The internet was widely available and used in and around urban centers, but its availability and use were minimal or nonexistent in rural areas. The International Telecommunication Commission estimated more than 46 percent of the population had access to the internet in 2016.

ACADEMIC FREEDOM AND CULTURAL EVENTS

The constitution provides for academic freedom, although contract regulations of the University of the South Pacific effectively restricted most university employees from running for or holding public office or holding an official position with any political party. Persons who enter the country on tourist visas to conduct research must notify and seek permission from the government.

b. Freedom of Peaceful Assembly and Association

The constitution provides for the freedoms of peaceful assembly and association; however, the government may restrict these freedoms in some cases.

FREEDOM OF PEACEFUL ASSEMBLY

The constitution provides for freedom of peaceful assembly but allows the government to limit this right in the interests of national security, public safety, public order, public morality, public health, and the orderly conduct of elections. The constitution also allows the government to limit freedom of assembly to protect the rights of others and imposes restrictions on a public official’s right to freedom of assembly.

The POA allows the government to refuse permit applications for any meeting or demonstration deemed to prejudice peace, public safety, and good order or to sabotage or attempt to undermine the economy. It also allows authorities to use whatever force necessary to prohibit or disperse public and private meetings after “due warning” to preserve public order.

Although event organizers said authorities were sometimes very slow to issue permits, they granted permits for public rallies in support of UN Human Rights Day and the 16 Days of Activism against Domestic Violence Campaign but denied a permit for a public service union to protest.

FREEDOM OF ASSOCIATION

The constitution provides for freedom of association but limits this right in the interests of national security, public order, and morality and also for the orderly conduct of elections. It allows the government to regulate trade unions and collective bargaining processes, strikes and lockouts, and essential industries in the interests of the economy and population (see section 7.a.). The government generally did not restrict membership in NGOs, professional associations, and other private organizations.

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

Under the POA, the government may restrict freedom of internal movement, foreign travel, emigration, and repatriation.

The government cooperated with the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees 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 POA authorizes the government to prohibit, restrict, or regulate the movement of persons, but there were no reports the government restricted any person’s in-country movement during the year.

Exile: In 2017 opposition parties called on the government to lift travel bans on all existing and former citizens, including former citizen and academic Brij Lal. The Immigration Department has stated Lal could reapply for re-entry into the country; however, the ban reportedly remained in place at the end of the year.

PROTECTION OF REFUGEES

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

Finland

Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:

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

Freedom of Expression: Public speech intended to incite discrimination against any national, racial, religious, or ethnic group is a crime. Hate speech is not a separate criminal offense, but may constitute grounds for an aggravated sentence for other offenses.

Press and Media Freedom: The distribution of hate material intended to incite discrimination against any national, racial, religious, or ethnic group in print or broadcast media, books, or online newspapers or journals is a crime.

Independent media were active and expressed a wide variety of views with little restriction.

Violence and Harassment: Journalists who covered sensitive topics, including immigration, far-right organizations, and terrorism, reported ongoing extragovernmental harassment. While prosecutors initiated cases related to the harassment of reporters, the Union of Journalists in Finland released a public statement criticizing the prosecutor’s office for its failure to protect journalists. In one notable case, a reporter who wrote about the role of an Afghan asylum seeker who rendered first aid to victims of a 2017 domestic terror attack was subjected to such intense harassment she relocated to Helsinki. Police declined to press charges against her harassers, who included members of anti-immigrant groups.

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 law provides for everyone to have a “subjective right to a telephone subscription and an internet connection.” According to International Telecommunication Union statistics, an estimated 88 percent of the population used the internet in 2017.

Courts can fine persons found guilty of inciting racial hatred on the internet. There were a few reports that individuals incurred fines for publishing and distributing such material via the internet. On June 26, Ilja Janitskin, founder of the anti-immigrant website MV-lehti, was freed to await a verdict in his trial on charges of ethnic agitation and defamation. On October 18, the Helsinki District Court found Janitskin guilty on multiple counts of aggravated incitement against an ethnic group and sentenced him to 22 months in prison.

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.

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

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

Abuse of Migrants, Refugees, and Stateless Persons: There were several reports of violence against asylum seekers. In January an asylum seeker at the Joutseno migrant reception center committed suicide while awaiting deportation, sparking protest among other residents at the converted prison facility. Right-wing extremist groups hostile to asylum seekers and immigrants, including the neo-Nazi Nordic Resistance Movement (NRM) and the vigilante group Soldiers of Odin, maintained an active presence both online and in street demonstrations.

PROTECTION OF REFUGEES

Refoulement: Lawyers specializing in asylum cases alleged the government deported asylum seekers to countries where they are likely to face persecution or torture, most notably Iraq and Afghanistan. In September the Immigration Service announced it would suspend deportations to Afghanistan following new guidance from UNHCR regarding safety conditions in the country.

Access to Asylum: The law provides for the granting of asylum or refugee status, and the government has established a system for providing protection to refugees. Parliament sets an annual quota for refugee admissions, and the government decides its allocation. Asylum seekers have the right to free legal representation throughout their application procedure. There were numerous reports by media and civil society organizations, including the president of the Supreme Administrative Court responsible for reviewing asylum decision appeals, that asylum seekers lacked adequate access to legal assistance during the initial stages of the asylum application process and during subsequent appeals.

Safe Country of Origin/Transit: The government adheres to the EU’s Dublin III Regulation that establishes which EU member state is responsible for examining the asylum application. The government does not, however, return asylum seekers to Greece or Hungary under the Dublin Regulation.

Employment: Asylum seekers who have valid travel documents, but do not yet have a valid residence permit, are allowed to begin working three months after they have submitted their asylum application. Asylum seekers who do not have valid travel documents must wait six months after they have submitted their asylum application before they can begin working.

Durable Solutions: According to UNHCR the government accepted 1,094 refugees for resettlement during 2017, a number similar to previous years. The government also assisted in the safe, voluntary return of migrants to their home countries. Between January and June, the Finnish Immigration Service and the International Organization for Migration helped more than 480 persons to return voluntarily to their homes in 29 different countries.

Temporary Protection: From January to May the government provided temporary protection to 191 individuals who did not qualify as refugees but who were deemed to qualify for subsidiary protection. From January to May, the government also offered protection to 209 individuals based on “other grounds,” including medical and compassionate grounds.

STATELESS PERSONS

According to UNHCR 2,749 stateless persons resided in the country at the end of 2017. Involuntarily stateless persons and certain other special groups, such as refugees, have a shorter residency requirement–four years instead of six–than other persons before they are eligible to apply for citizenship. A child may obtain citizenship from either the mother or father regardless of the place of birth and may also acquire citizenship if the child is born in the country and would otherwise be stateless.

France

Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:

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

Freedom of Expression: While individuals could criticize the government publicly or privately without reprisal, there were some limitations on freedom of speech. Strict antidefamation laws prohibit racially or religiously motivated verbal and physical abuse. Written or oral speech that incites racial or ethnic hatred and denies the Holocaust or crimes against humanity is illegal. Authorities may deport a noncitizen for publicly using “hate speech” or speech constituting a threat of terrorism.

UN Special Rapporteur Fionnuala Ni Aoilain expressed concern that counterterrorism legislation passed in October 2017 restricted freedom of religion, movement, and expression. After a week-long visit in May, Ni Aoilain stated “the scope of these measures constitutes a de facto state of qualified emergency” in ordinary law.

Press and Media Freedom: While independent media were active and generally expressed a wide variety of views without restriction, print and broadcast media, books, and online newspapers and journals were subject to the same antidefamation and hate speech laws that limited freedom of expression.

The law provides protection to journalists, who may be compelled to reveal sources only in cases where serious crimes occurred and access to a journalist’s sources was required to complete an official investigation.

INTERNET FREEDOM

The government did not restrict or disrupt access to the internet or censor online content, and there were no credible reports that the government monitored private online communications without appropriate legal oversight. According to International Telecommunication Union statistics, 85 percent of the population used the internet during the year.

Under the law intelligence services have the power to monitor suspected threats to public order and detect future terrorists. The law also provides a legal framework for the intelligence services’ activities. Laws against hate speech apply to the internet.

On May 30, the National Commission on Informatics and Liberties (CNIL), the government’s data protection authority, released its annual report. The report showed a significant increase in the number of requests made to authorities to remove online terrorist and child-pornography-related content. The report, which covered the period between March 2017 and February 2018, also stated the Central Office for the Fight against Crime Related to Information and Communication Technology (OCLCTIC) issued 35,110 withdrawal requests, an increase of 1,270 percent from the previous year. Of these, 93 percent concerned terrorist content and 7 percent child pornography. CNIL underscored that the significant increase in withdrawal requests did not necessarily indicate more offensive material posted online, but rather that a large number of newly hired investigators at OCLCTIC allowed the unit to identify and report more content.

On October 10, parliament adopted a bill cracking down on “fake news,” allowing courts to rule whether reports published during election periods are credible or should be taken down. The law allows election candidates to sue for the removal of contested news reports during election periods and to force platforms such as Facebook and Twitter to disclose the source of funding for sponsored content.

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, subject to certain security conditions, and the government generally respected these rights.

FREEDOM OF PEACEFUL ASSEMBLY

In February Amnesty International released a report claiming “prefects (representatives of the French state at local level; the most senior central government officials) continued to resort to emergency measures to restrict the right to freedom of peaceful assembly. In particular they adopted dozens of measures restricting the freedom of movement of individuals to prevent them from attending public assemblies. Authorities imposed these measures on vague grounds and against individuals with no apparent connection to any terrorism-related offense.”

FREEDOM OF ASSOCIATION

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

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

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

On June 19, the National Consultative Commission for Human Rights (CNCDH), an independent government agency, stated it was “deeply shocked” by the treatment of migrants in the “border areas…where the Republic (France) violates fundamental rights.” For example, the border police station in Col de Montgenevre had a facility for sheltering migrants overnight that had no running water or camp beds and whose outdoor latrines were submerged under three feet of snow at the time of the CNCDH visit. The commander stated he fed the migrants from the stocks on hand but had no funds allocated to feed them.

In-country Movement: The law requires persons engaged in itinerant activities with a fixed domicile to obtain a license that is renewable every four years. Itinerant persons without a fixed abode must possess travel documents.

PROTECTION OF REFUGEES

Refoulement: The government usually provided protection against the expulsion or return of persons to countries where they would be likely to face persecution or torture. On January 8, then interior minister Gerard Collomb announced the government had deported 26,000 persons in 2017, a 17 percent increase over 2016. Authorities returned approximately 2,330 persons to the EU-member state through which they first entered the EU, in line with the Dublin Regulation. This included some who were returned to Greece, where the European Court of Human Rights found that persons could be subject to persecution. The human rights group La Cimade criticized the government’s strict implementation of deportation laws, including detaining persons prior to ordered expulsion and during the initial asylum claims process.

Access to Asylum: The country’s laws provide for the granting of asylum or refugee status, and the government has a system for providing protection to refugees. The system was active and accessible to those seeking protection. The Office for the Protection of Refugees and Stateless Refugees (OFPRA) provided asylum application forms in 24 languages, including English, Albanian, Russian, Serbo-Croatian, Turkish, Tamil, and Arabic. Applicants, however, must complete them in French, generally without government-funded language assistance.

On August 1, parliament adopted an asylum and immigration bill intended to reduce the average time for processing asylum applications to six months and shortens from 120 to 90 days the period asylum seekers have to make an application. It also includes measures to facilitate the removal of aliens in detention, extends from 45 to 90 days the maximum duration of administrative detention, and from 16 to 24 hours the duration of administrative detention to verify an individual’s right to stay. The new law extends the duration of residence permits for subsidiary and stateless refugees from one year to four years and enables foreigners who have not been able to register for asylum to access shelter. It includes measures to strengthen the protection of girls and young men exposed to the risk of sexual mutilation, states that a country persecuting LGBTI persons cannot be considered “safe,” and adopts protective provisions on the right to remain for victims of domestic violence.

On July 6, the Constitutional Council, the country’s highest court, ruled that providing humanitarian assistance to undocumented migrants on the country’s territory was not a crime. The case against the government was brought by Cedric Herrou, an activist farmer who was sentenced for providing assistance to migrants in 2017. The court stated that the freedom to help for humanitarian reasons should apply to “all assistance provided with a humanitarian aim.” On July 6, then interior minister Collomb issued a statement that the court’s decision was in line with the government’s efforts to exempt from prosecution individuals who only provide humanitarian assistance to migrants.

Asylum applications rose by 17 percent in 2017 to 100,412, according to provisional data released on January 8 by OFPRA, with 36 percent of applicants approved for asylum or refugee status. OFPRA stated that priority attention was given to female victims of violence, persons persecuted on the basis of their sexual orientation, victims of human trafficking, unaccompanied minors, and victims of torture, particularly in the context of asylum seekers from Libya.

Safe Country of Origin/Transit: The government considered 16 countries to be “safe countries of origin” for purposes of asylum. A “safe country” is one that provides for compliance with the principles of liberty, democracy, rule of law, and fundamental human rights. This policy reduced the chances of an asylum seeker from one of these countries obtaining asylum but did not prevent it. While individuals originating in a safe country of origin may apply for asylum, they may receive only a special form of temporary residence status that allows them to remain in the country. Authorities examined asylum requests through an emergency procedure that may not exceed 15 days. Countries considered “safe” included Albania, Armenia, Benin, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Cabo Verde, Georgia, Ghana, India, Macedonia, Mauritius, Moldova, Mongolia, Montenegro, Senegal, Serbia, and Kosovo.

Freedom of Movement: Authorities maintained administrative holding centers for foreigners who could not be deported immediately. Authorities could hold undocumented migrants in these facilities for a maximum of 90 days. There were 26 holding centers on the mainland and three in the overseas territories with a total capacity of 1,970 persons.

On July 3, five refugee/migrant assistance associations (Association Service Social Familial Migrants, Forum-Refugies-Cosi, France Terre d’Asile, Cimade, and Ordre de Malte) released a joint annual report that estimated 47,000 undocumented migrants were placed in administrative holding centers in 2017, representing a slight increase from 45,937 in 2016.

According to an annual report published on July 3 by six domestic NGOs, government detention of migrant children on the country’s mainland territory increased by 70 percent in 2017, compared with 2016. The report noted, however, that the duration of detentions was often short. Since the law prohibits the separation of children from their parents, they were detained together. Civil society organizations criticized the provision of the new asylum and immigration bill adopted during the year that doubles the maximum detention time for foreigners subject to deportation to up to 90 days.

On May 30, for the 35th time since mid-2015, authorities dismantled a large migrant tent camp in Paris. The government forcibly resettled evacuees–937 men and 87 women and children, all of whom, according to press reports, originated in Sudan, Somalia, and Eritrea–in gymnasiums and other public facilities in Paris and the surrounding region while they waited for the government to register and review their eligibility for asylum. Two large tent camps remained in Paris–one reportedly holding about 800 persons (mainly from Afghanistan) and the other holding 300-400 individuals.

According to a report published on June 27 by Cimade, a domestic NGO that provides advice and legal support to migrants, refugees, and asylum seekers, the number of migrants refused entry at the country’s border rose to 85,408 in 2017, a 34 percent increase from 2016 (63,845).

Durable Solutions: The government has provisions to manage a range of solutions for integration, resettlement, and return of migrants and unsuccessful asylum seekers. The government accepted refugees for resettlement from other countries and facilitated local integration and naturalization, particularly of refugees in protracted situations. The government assisted in the safe, voluntary return of migrants and unsuccessful asylum seekers to their home countries. In 2017 the government voluntarily repatriated 7,110 undocumented migrants to their countries of origin. On July 25, the Ministry of the Interior announced an increase of financial return aid to foreigners (except those from the EU or visa-exempt countries) from 1,000 euros ($1,150) to 2,500 euros ($2,870).

Temporary Protection: Authorities may grant individuals a one-year renewable permit and can extend the permit for an additional two years. According to OFPRA, the government did not grant temporary protection in 2017.

Refoulement: The government usually provided protection against the expulsion or return of persons to countries where they would be likely to face persecution or torture. On January 8, then interior minister Gerard Collomb announced the government had deported 26,000 persons in 2017, a 17 percent increase over 2016. Authorities returned approximately 2,330 persons to the EU-member state through which they first entered the EU, in line with the Dublin Regulation. This included some who were returned to Greece, where the European Court of Human Rights found that persons could be subject to persecution. The human rights group La Cimade criticized the government’s strict implementation of deportation laws, including detaining persons prior to ordered expulsion and during the initial asylum claims process.

Access to Asylum: The country’s laws provide for the granting of asylum or refugee status, and the government has a system for providing protection to refugees. The system was active and accessible to those seeking protection. The Office for the Protection of Refugees and Stateless Refugees (OFPRA) provided asylum application forms in 24 languages, including English, Albanian, Russian, Serbo-Croatian, Turkish, Tamil, and Arabic. Applicants, however, must complete them in French, generally without government-funded language assistance.

On August 1, parliament adopted an asylum and immigration bill intended to reduce the average time for processing asylum applications to six months and shortens from 120 to 90 days the period asylum seekers have to make an application. It also includes measures to facilitate the removal of aliens in detention, extends from 45 to 90 days the maximum duration of administrative detention, and from 16 to 24 hours the duration of administrative detention to verify an individual’s right to stay. The new law extends the duration of residence permits for subsidiary and stateless refugees from one year to four years and enables foreigners who have not been able to register for asylum to access shelter. It includes measures to strengthen the protection of girls and young men exposed to the risk of sexual mutilation, states that a country persecuting LGBTI persons cannot be considered “safe,” and adopts protective provisions on the right to remain for victims of domestic violence.

On July 6, the Constitutional Council, the country’s highest court, ruled that providing humanitarian assistance to undocumented migrants on the country’s territory was not a crime. The case against the government was brought by Cedric Herrou, an activist farmer who was sentenced for providing assistance to migrants in 2017. The court stated that the freedom to help for humanitarian reasons should apply to “all assistance provided with a humanitarian aim.” On July 6, then interior minister Collomb issued a statement that the court’s decision was in line with the government’s efforts to exempt from prosecution individuals who only provide humanitarian assistance to migrants.

Asylum applications rose by 17 percent in 2017 to 100,412, according to provisional data released on January 8 by OFPRA, with 36 percent of applicants approved for asylum or refugee status. OFPRA stated that priority attention was given to female victims of violence, persons persecuted on the basis of their sexual orientation, victims of human trafficking, unaccompanied minors, and victims of torture, particularly in the context of asylum seekers from Libya.

Safe Country of Origin/Transit: The government considered 16 countries to be “safe countries of origin” for purposes of asylum. A “safe country” is one that provides for compliance with the principles of liberty, democracy, rule of law, and fundamental human rights. This policy reduced the chances of an asylum seeker from one of these countries obtaining asylum but did not prevent it. While individuals originating in a safe country of origin may apply for asylum, they may receive only a special form of temporary residence status that allows them to remain in the country. Authorities examined asylum requests through an emergency procedure that may not exceed 15 days. Countries considered “safe” included Albania, Armenia, Benin, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Cabo Verde, Georgia, Ghana, India, Macedonia, Mauritius, Moldova, Mongolia, Montenegro, Senegal, Serbia, and Kosovo.

Freedom of Movement: Authorities maintained administrative holding centers for foreigners who could not be deported immediately. Authorities could hold undocumented migrants in these facilities for a maximum of 90 days. There were 26 holding centers on the mainland and three in the overseas territories with a total capacity of 1,970 persons.

On July 3, five refugee/migrant assistance associations (Association Service Social Familial Migrants, Forum-Refugies-Cosi, France Terre d’Asile, Cimade, and Ordre de Malte) released a joint annual report that estimated 47,000 undocumented migrants were placed in administrative holding centers in 2017, representing a slight increase from 45,937 in 2016.

According to an annual report published on July 3 by six domestic NGOs, government detention of migrant children on the country’s mainland territory increased by 70 percent in 2017, compared with 2016. The report noted, however, that the duration of detentions was often short. Since the law prohibits the separation of children from their parents, they were detained together. Civil society organizations criticized the provision of the new asylum and immigration bill adopted during the year that doubles the maximum detention time for foreigners subject to deportation to up to 90 days.

On May 30, for the 35th time since mid-2015, authorities dismantled a large migrant tent camp in Paris. The government forcibly resettled evacuees–937 men and 87 women and children, all of whom, according to press reports, originated in Sudan, Somalia, and Eritrea–in gymnasiums and other public facilities in Paris and the surrounding region while they waited for the government to register and review their eligibility for asylum. Two large tent camps remained in Paris–one reportedly holding about 800 persons (mainly from Afghanistan) and the other holding 300-400 individuals.

According to a report published on June 27 by Cimade, a domestic NGO that provides advice and legal support to migrants, refugees, and asylum seekers, the number of migrants refused entry at the country’s border rose to 85,408 in 2017, a 34 percent increase from 2016 (63,845).

Durable Solutions: The government has provisions to manage a range of solutions for integration, resettlement, and return of migrants and unsuccessful asylum seekers. The government accepted refugees for resettlement from other countries and facilitated local integration and naturalization, particularly of refugees in protracted situations. The government assisted in the safe, voluntary return of migrants and unsuccessful asylum seekers to their home countries. In 2017 the government voluntarily repatriated 7,110 undocumented migrants to their countries of origin. On July 25, the Ministry of the Interior announced an increase of financial return aid to foreigners (except those from the EU or visa-exempt countries) from 1,000 euros ($1,150) to 2,500 euros ($2,870).

Temporary Protection: Authorities may grant individuals a one-year renewable permit and can extend the permit for an additional two years. According to OFPRA, the government did not grant temporary protection in 2017.

STATELESS PERSONS

OFPRA reported there were 1,370 stateless persons in the country at the end of 2016. It attributed statelessness to various factors, including contradictions among differing national laws, government stripping of nationality, and lack of birth registration. As the agency responsible for the implementation of international conventions on refugees and stateless persons, OFPRA provided benefits to stateless persons. OFPRA’s annual report stated that it granted stateless status to 179 persons in 2017. The government provided a one-year residence permit marked “private and family life” to persons deemed stateless that allowed them to work. After two permit renewals, stateless persons could apply for and obtain a 10-year residence permit.

The law affords persons the opportunity to gain citizenship. A person may qualify to acquire citizenship if: either of the person’s parents is a citizen; the person was legally adopted by a citizen; the person was born in the country to stateless parents or to parents whose nationality does not transfer to the child; or the person marries a citizen. A person who has reached the legal age of majority (18) may apply for citizenship through naturalization after five years of habitual residence in the country. Applicants for citizenship must have good knowledge of both the French language and civics.

Gabon

Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:

The constitution and law provide for freedom of expression, including for the press, and the government generally respected this right. Nevertheless, the High Authority of Communication (HAC) suspended several media outlets, including the newspaper Echos du NordEchos du Nord was suspended twice during the year, once for failing to be represented at a hearing regarding publication of a “tendentious article” critical of the president and a second time for publishing an article regarding the purchase of a luxury car by the vice president that he disputed.

Press and Media Freedom: Independent media were active, but authorities occasionally used libel and slander laws to restrict media criticism of the government. The country’s sole major daily newspaper, L’Union, was progovernment. Approximately 131 privately owned weekly or monthly newspapers represented independent views and those of political parties, but only 30 newspapers were published regularly. All newspapers, including government-affiliated ones, criticized the government and political leaders of both opposition and progovernment parties. The country had both progovernment and opposition-affiliated broadcast media, although the main opposition-affiliated television station did not have the technical means to broadcast countrywide. According to NGO Reporters without Borders, domestic law on freedom of expression and media freedom did not meet international standards.

Violence and Harassment: Unlike in 2017 there were no cases of journalists being harassed or intimidated, although some journalists were reportedly warned not to investigate the cause of death of children suspected of being the victims of ritual killings.

Censorship or Content Restrictions: Most newspaper owners had either a progovernment or a pro-opposition political bias. Print journalists practiced occasional self-censorship to placate owners. Pro-opposition content on television was limited.

Libel/Slander Laws: Libel and slander may be treated as either criminal or civil offenses. Editors and authors of articles ruled libelous in a court of law may be jailed for two to six months and fined 500,000 to five million CFA francs ($850 to $8,500). Penalties for conviction of libel, disrupting public order, and other offenses also include a one- to three-month publishing suspension for a first offense and a three- to six-month suspension for repeat offenses.

There was evidence that in several cases libel laws were applied to discourage or punish critical coverage of the government. For example, HAC issued two one-month suspensions in July and October to Echos du Nord.

INTERNET FREEDOM

There were no restrictions on internet and social media access during the year.

According to the International Telecommunication Union, 50.3 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 freedom of peaceful assembly.

FREEDOM OF PEACEFUL ASSEMBLY

The constitution and law provide for freedom of assembly; however, the government did not consistently respect this right. In August 2017 parliament enacted a law that placed restrictions on freedom of assembly. On August 28, authorities prohibited union leaders from holding a march to protest austerity measures. Authorities detained several individuals who attempted to march but released them after a few hours without charge. There were reports the government failed to approve permits for public meetings. Some civil society activists stated they did not submit requests to hold public meetings because they expected the government would deny them.

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

The constitution and law provide for freedom of internal movement, foreign travel, emigration, and repatriation. The government prevented opposition leader Jean Ping from traveling abroad during the year. In 2017 the government suspended these rights for several weeks for members of the political opposition.

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. According to UNHCR, there were no known internally displaced persons or stateless persons in the country.

Abuse of Migrants, Refugees, and Stateless Persons: Despite efforts by the government and UNHCR to reduce discrimination, refugees complained of harassment and extortion by security force members. Some security force members harassed asylum seekers or refugees working as merchants, service-sector employees, and manual laborers and, in order to extort bribes, refused to recognize valid documents held by refugees and asylum seekers.

In-country Movement: Although there were no legal restrictions on freedom of internal movement, military and police members and gendarmes stopped travelers at checkpoints to check identity, residence, or registration documents and on some occasions to solicit bribes. Refugees required a travel document endorsed by UNHCR and government authorities to circulate freely within the country.

Foreign Travel: The law requires a married woman to have her husband’s permission to obtain a passport and to travel abroad. The law prohibits individuals under criminal investigation from leaving the country. Most holders of a residence permit and refugees need a no-fee exit visa to leave from and return to the country. Exit visas were not issued promptly, which impeded persons’ ability to depart.

On January 12, authorities banned opposition leader Jean Ping from traveling abroad. As of December the travel ban remained in effect.

PROTECTION OF REFUGEES

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

Access to Basic Services: The law provides refugees equal access to public services, although there were reports that in some cases school and hospital employees improperly required refugees to pay additional fees. The National Health Insurance and Social Welfare Fund did not serve refugees.

Durable Solutions: The nationality code allows refugees to apply for naturalization; however, the process is long and expensive, costing 1.2 million CFA francs ($2,040). At age 18 children born in the country of refugee parents may apply for citizenship.

Georgia

Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:

The constitution and law provide for freedom of expression, including for the press, and citizens generally were free to exercise this right, although there were allegations the government at times did not adequately safeguard that freedom. During the year journalists, NGOs, and the international community raised concerns about the environment for media pluralism.

Press and Media Freedom: Independent media were very active and expressed a wide variety of views. On October 17, independent Iberia Television suspended broadcasting. The station’s owner alleged that the station’s financial problems were linked to government pressure. Iberia’s closure, and the 2017 merger of three television stations decreased media pluralism and increased the concentration of media outlets in favor of the ruling party. NGOs have criticized the close relationship between the heads of the Georgian Public Broadcaster (GPB) and Georgian National Communications Commission (GNCC) and the ruling party and media monitoring organizations report GPB’s editorial bias in favor of the ruling party.

On February 21, Parliament overrode President Margvelashvili’s January 15 veto of controversial amendments to the Law on Broadcasting that Parliament initially passed in December 2017. While the GNCC supported the amendments that had been initiated by GPB management, NGOs, private television stations, and opposition parties heavily criticized the amendments for enabling the GPB to receive additional revenue from commercial advertising and rendering the station’s restructuring process opaque.

Members of the GPB board elected by the ruling party frequently criticized NGOs, particularly in response to a July 2017 letter a group of 24 NGOs sent to high-level foreign officials that cited a “deteriorated media environment.” GPB published a series of articles deriding the civil sector for this critique, prompting the Media Advocacy Coalition to issue a statement in defense of the civil sector in February.

By law, media outlets are obligated to disclose information about their owners. While media ownership transparency allowed consumers to judge the objectivity of news, laws obliging broadcasters to disclose information about their financial sources were not fully enforced.

Some media outlets, watchdog groups, and NGOs continued to express concern regarding media pluralism and political influence in the media, especially against those critical of the government. Concerns persisted concerning government interference with and criticism of pro-opposition bias in some media outlets, in particular in the country’s most widely viewed television station, Rustavi 2. In March 2017, the ECHR suspended the Supreme Court’s decision to transfer Rustavi 2’s ownership to a former owner, Kibar Khalvashi. The ECHR’s review of the case remained pending at year’s end. Rustavi 2 struggled financially because of frozen assets and an overdue tax bill. In April a number of NGOs and rights groups reaffirmed their support for the ECHR’s interim measure on Rustavi 2 because it allowed the station to maintain its editorial independence.

Violence and Harassment: Crimes against media professionals, citizen reporters, media outlets were rare; however, during the year there were at least three reports of such violence. For example, in March members of the far-right group Georgian March damaged a car and injured a Rustavi 2 journalist during a protest against the station’s high-profile anchor, Giorgi Gabunia, who had referenced Jesus Christ in an on-the-air joke about Georgian Dream Party chairman Bidzina Ivanishvili’s tree collection. Georgian March filed a complaint to the station and demanded Gabunia’s apology for insulting their religious sentiment. NGOs and human rights advocates considered the protesters’ actions criminal offenses, such as coercion, illegal restriction of liberty, violence, damage of property, and unlawful interference with the journalist’s professional activities. GYLA called upon the relevant bodies to investigate the matter. The Ministry of Internal Affairs opened an investigation and arrested several individuals for hooliganism, all of whom were subsequently released on bail. The pretrial hearings continued as of November 7.

Nongovernmental Impact: Media observers, NGO representatives, and opposition politicians alleged that Georgian Dream party chair and former Prime Minister Bidzina Ivanishvili exerted a powerful influence over the government and judiciary, including in court decisions against Rustavi 2.

While there was a relatively greater diversity of media in Abkhazia than in South Ossetia, media in both occupied regions remained restricted by de facto authorities and Russian occupying forces.

INTERNET FREEDOM

The government did not restrict or disrupt access to the internet or censor online content, but concerns remained about unauthorized surveillance. Surveillance laws introduced in 2017 attracted criticism for allowing excessive access to user data (see section 1.f.).

According to International Telecommunication Union statistics, approximately two-thirds of the population used the internet. High prices for services and inadequate infrastructure limited access, particularly for individuals in rural areas or with low incomes.

Insufficient information was available about internet freedom in Abkhazia and South Ossetia.

ACADEMIC FREEDOM AND CULTURAL EVENTS

NGOs continued to raise concern that the government improperly pressured schools that Turkish authorities alleged to be linked to the Gulen movement, which they accused of responsibility for the 2016 coup attempt. After the 2017 closure of two secondary schools and arrest of their general director, Mustafa Cabuk, on a Turkish government extradition request (Cabuk was released in February, see section 2.d.), officials began to impose administrative pressure on the International Black Sea University, a leading private institution, citing tax liens on the university’s properties as a reason to prevent it from taking on new students.

b. Freedom of Peaceful Assembly and Association

The constitution and law provide for the freedoms of peaceful assembly and association; government respect for those rights was uneven.

FREEDOM OF PEACEFUL ASSEMBLY

The constitution and law generally provide for freedom of assembly. Human rights organizations expressed concern, however, about provisions in the law, including the requirement that political parties and other organizations give five days’ notice to local authorities to assemble in a public area, thereby precluding spontaneous demonstrations. NGOs reported that police sometimes restricted freedom of assembly. For example, on December 17, 14 NGOs accused the authorities of restricting opposition access to the site of a planned Inauguration Day demonstration on December 16. The government responded that it had provided an area for demonstrations, but that protestors had refused to use it. As of mid-December, two supporters of Georgian Dream and one opposition activist were in detention after inauguration day incidents. Two Georgian Dream activists were arrested after allegedly assaulting an opposition activist in Velistsikhe, and opposition leader Davit Kirkitadze was arrested after he reportedly assaulted a police officer who was blocking the highway with a bus. Kirkitadze and his supporters claimed his arrest was politically motivated. NGOs also stated police abused the administrative offences code to detain participants of peaceful assemblies based on articles 166 (petty hooliganism), 173 (non-compliance with a lawful order of a law enforcement officer), and 150 (defacing the appearance of a self-governing unit).

There were several protests in May, including those against raids on popular nightclubs and in support of the International Day Against Homophobia, Transphobia, and Biphobia (IDAHOT). In May LGBTI organizations were unable to hold a sanctioned IDAHOT rally due to safety concerns following large rallies attended in part by far right groups that threatened violence against LGBTI supporters. Several LGBTI activists still met in front of the State Chancellery under heavy police presence. The PDO reported violence against LGBTI individuals, whether in the family or in public spaces, was a serious problem, and that the government has been unable to respond to this challenge.

FREEDOM OF ASSOCIATION

There were reports that some government representatives and supporters of the ruling party pressured political opposition figures and supporters and state employees (see Section 3).

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

The law provides for freedom of internal movement, foreign travel, emigration, and repatriation of citizens, but de facto authorities and Russian occupying forces limited this freedom in Abkhazia and South Ossetia.

The government cooperated with the UN High Commission for Refugees (UNHCR) and other humanitarian organizations in providing protection and assistance to IDPs, refugees, returning refugees, asylum seekers, stateless persons, and most other persons of concern. The Public Defender’s Office and NGOs, however, alleged that authorities made politically motivated decisions on asylum and other requests affecting selected Turkish and Azerbaijani citizens.

In-country Movement: There were substantial impediments to freedom of internal movement due to a lack of access to the breakaway regions of Abkhazia and South Ossetia. The majority of the approximately 300,000 IDPs from Abkhazia and South Ossetia wished to return to their areas of origin but lacked adequate security provisions and political, human, economic, and movement rights absent a political resolution to the conflicts.

Foreigners were restricted from moving in and out of South Ossetia but could access Abkhazia with approval from the de facto authorities. There were reports that late in the year citizens of Commonwealth of Independent States countries were prohibited from entering Abkhazia except from Russia, which violated Georgian law. This placed additional restrictions on international humanitarian access to Abkhazia. Crossing permits introduced by de facto South Ossetian authorities were the only document that allowed movement across the South Ossetia ABL to or from Tbilisi-administered territory (TAT).

Some residents of Abkhazia who used their Georgian passports had to obtain permission from de facto security services to cross the Abkhazia ABL to or from TAT. Georgian passport holders could cross a checkpoint if they possessed invitation letters cleared by the de facto state security services allowing them to enter Abkhazia. The latter did not consistently provide permission to cross and limited movement to specific areas. In August de facto authorities suddenly declared older Soviet-era passports, used by thousands of ethnic Georgians living in Abkhazia, to be no longer valid for crossing, threatening the livelihood of many residents. De facto authorities then blocked some ethnic Georgians who had used Soviet-era passports to cross into TAT from returning to Abkhazia. De facto authorities claimed that residents without valid crossing documents would be allowed to apply for residence permits, which would enable them to cross, but it remained unclear how these new regulations would be implemented.

Georgian law prohibits entry into and exit from the breakaway regions through the territory of neighboring states (i.e., Russia).

Russian and Abkhaz de facto authorities limited international organizations’ ability to operate in Abkhazia. Russian and South Ossetian de facto authorities limited international organizations, including humanitarian organizations, access to South Ossetia; however, the Co-Chairs of the Geneva International Discussions–representing the United Nations, the OSCE, and the EU Special Representative for the South Caucasus and the Crisis in Georgia–visited South Ossetia quarterly prior to each round of the discussions, accompanied by UNHCR. The ICRC office in Tskhinvali was the only international organization representation in South Ossetia.

De facto authorities and Russian forces in the Russian-occupied territories also restricted the movement of the local population across the ABL, although they showed flexibility for travel for medical care, pension services, religious services, and education. Villagers who approached the line or crossings risked detention by Russian Federation “border guards.” Russian border guards along the ABL with Abkhazia typically enforced the boundary-crossing rules imposed by de facto authorities through detentions and fines. Along the South Ossetia ABL, Russian border guards frequently transferred individuals to de facto authorities. The SSSG reported that detentions by de facto authorities typically lasted two to three days until the detainee paid “fines” set by the de facto “court,” although some sentences for “violations of the state border” carried considerably longer terms.

The European Union Monitoring Mission was aware of 14 individuals detained along the ABL with Abkhazia and 92 detained along the line with South Ossetia as of November. There were credible reports based on local sources that, on several occasions, local South Ossetian or Russian “border guards” crossed into government-controlled territory to detain an individual. There were also reports of arbitrary arrests of ethnic Georgians by de facto authorities, particularly in the Tskhinvali and Gali regions of South Ossetia and Abkhazia, respectively. Most often, the arrested individuals were accused of violating the “state border.” According to EUMM, many detainees were obliged to sign documents in Russian that they did not understand.

De facto authorities continued to expand fencing and other physical barriers along the ABL between the government-administered area and South Ossetia. This expansion of the Russian “borderization” policy further restricted movement, creating physical barriers and obstructing access to agricultural land, water supplies, and cemeteries. In November, Russian occupation forces in South Ossetia erected fencing along a one-kilometer line at the village of Atotsi, Kareli Municipality. Local residents reported they had already tilled and sowed the land that was then taken away, and they would not be able to reap the harvest.

In March 2017 Abkhaz de facto authorities closed two crossing points across the ABL, leaving crossing points open only at the Enguri Bridge and Saberio-Pakhulani. As access to government-administered territory became more restricted and visits to family and friends living across the ABL much more difficult to arrange, the closure of crossing points further impoverished and isolated the population in lower Gali and contributed to a growing sense of isolation. The closure also prevented children from attending classes in their native Georgian language across the ABL.

INTERNALLY DISPLACED PERSONS (IDPS)

As part of a broader consolidation plan, the government abolished the Ministry for Refugees, Accommodation, and Internally Displaced Persons in August, dividing the ministry’s responsibilities among the Ministries of Interior, Labor, Health, and Social Affairs, as well as the State Ministry for Reconciliation and Civic Equality. According to the government, as of August, there were approximately 280,000 IDPs from the 1992-93 and 2008 conflicts. UNHCR estimated 235,176 persons were in an “IDP-like” situation, some 50,000 of whom were in need of protection and humanitarian assistance. This number included individuals who have returned to Abkhazia and South Ossetia, as well as those displaced in the 2008 conflict who subsequently were relocated, or have obtained housing or cash compensation.

Most persons displaced in 2008 received formal IDP status in accordance with national legislation, although some individuals who were not displaced by the 2008 conflict and lived close to the ABL were officially described as being in an “IDP-like situation.” The government provided monthly allowances to persons recognized as IDPs, promoted their socioeconomic integration, and sought to create conditions for their return in safety and dignity.

Despite their 1994 agreement with Georgia, Russia, and UNHCR that called for the safe, secure, and voluntary return of IDPs who fled during the 1992-93 war, Abkhaz de facto authorities continued to prevent the return of those displaced by the war. Between 45,000 and 60,000 IDPs have returned since that time to the Gali, Ochamchire, and Tkvarcheli regions of lower Abkhazia, but Abkhaz de facto authorities refused to allow the return of IDPs to other regions. De facto authorities prevented IDPs living elsewhere in the country from reclaiming homes in Abkhazia, based on a “law” that expropriated all “abandoned property” from the 1992-93 war. IDPs who returned were allowed to sell but were barred from buying property.

Ethnic Georgians living in Abkhazia lacked fundamental rights and confronted onerous registration requirements that threatened their continued status. De facto authorities continued to pressure ethnic Georgians to acquire a “foreign residency permit,” which allows the holder to cross the ABL and remain in Abkhazia for a period of five years. An applicant must, however, accept the status of an alien (i.e., a Georgian living as a foreigner in Abkhazia), may not purchase property, may not transfer residency rights of property to children born in de facto controlled territory, may not vote, and must accept a lack of other basic rights. As of December 31, de facto authorities continued to allow ethnic Georgians to cross the ABL with “Form Number Nine,” an administrative pass that de facto authorities had previously threatened to discontinue.

PROTECTION OF REFUGEES

Access to Asylum: A 2017 law remained in effect guaranteeing access to international protection, including access to asylum or refugee status. NGOs, however, alleged that executive and judicial authorities made politically motivated decisions in response to asylum requests by some Turkish citizens and a number of Azerbaijani citizens.

The law distinguishes among three types of protection: a) refugee status (as per the 1951 Refugee Convention), b) protected humanitarian status (complementary protection), and c) temporary protection. In 2017, the government’s acceptance rate for granting refugee or humanitarian status was 18 percent. During the first six months of the year, the overall acceptance rate was 6.8 percent (25 were recognized as eligible for refugee or humanitarian status while 343 were rejected).

In February, authorities released on bail a Turkish citizen, Mustafa Emre Cabuk. The release followed a statement by the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe’s co-rapporteurs for Georgia questioning the use of pretrial detention for asylum seekers and urging that asylum requests “should be based only on humanitarian and human rights law, including the European Convention on Human Rights, whose requirements should be fully applied.” In July 2017, the government had denied asylum Cabuk and his family after it detained him following a Turkish government extradition request, which accused him of being a member of a terrorist organization.

The Public Defender’s Office and local and international NGOs continued to raise concerns about the government’s refusal to grant asylum, other protected status, or residency permits to a number of Azerbaijani journalists and activists. The NGOs claimed the individuals were politically persecuted in Azerbaijan and accused the Georgian government of rejecting the asylum and residence permit requests despite continued pressure against activists by the Azerbaijani government. The NGOs reported the government based its refusal of asylum and residence permits on national security interests without giving clear reasons or citing relevant legislation. In 2017 three NGOs reported that Azerbaijani dissidents no longer viewed the country as a safe haven.

The Public Defender’s Office reported it found several unreasonable instances of refusal to grant citizenship, asylum/refugee status, and residency permits to foreigners on national security grounds after reviewing the government’s confidential considerations in some cases.

Employment: Asylum seekers (from the start of the asylum procedure) and persons under international protection have legal access to the labor market. Foreigners, including persons under international protection, can register at the “Worknet” state program for vocational training and skills development.

Access to Basic Services: The government provided limited assistance to persons with protected status. In 2017 the government opened an integration center to provide structured integration programs for such persons. The country’s reception center had adequate services for asylum seekers and had capacity for approximately 150 persons.

The law enables refugees and asylum seekers to receive a temporary residence permit during the entirety of their asylum procedure as well as documentation necessary to open a bank account and register a business or property. Refugees receive a renewable temporary residence permit for three years, while protected humanitarian status holders receive a permit for one year, renewable upon a positive assessment of the need for continued protection. Access to education remained a problem due to the language barrier, notwithstanding the government’s provision of Georgian language classes.

Durable Solutions: The government offered a path to naturalization for refugees residing on its territory. The naturalization process began in 2009, when there were 1,200 Chechen refugees in Pankisi. As of November, 58 percent (699) applied for citizenship. Out of these applications, the government naturalized 78 percent (545) and rejected 22 percent (154). Approximately 17.5 percent (211) of the initial refugee population remained in Pankisi and had yet to be naturalized, including several whose applications authorities rejected because they failed to pass the required language and history tests. Authorities purportedly denied others naturalization based on national security concerns.

Temporary Protection: The law provided for avenues to temporary protection to individuals who may not qualify as refugees. The law provided temporary residence permits, but these permits are not a form of international protection per se in the meaning of refugee law. The Ministry of Internal Affairs may grant these temporary permits to individuals who meet the criteria for refugee status or humanitarian protection, but who were rejected on national security grounds. From January to June, 433 persons applied for asylum and authorities granted humanitarian status to three percent (13). In the first six months of 2017, 379 individuals applied for asylum and authorities granted humanitarian status to six percent (22).

STATELESS PERSONS

According to government statistics, as of October, authorities granted 22 percent of the year’s applications for stateless status (eight out of 32).

The law defines a stateless person in line with the 1954 UN Convention relating to the Status of Stateless Persons and lists specific rights and responsibilities of stateless persons. The law provides that an adult can be granted citizenship if he or she has permanently resided on the country’s territory during the previous five years; knows the state language; is familiar with the country’s history and laws and able to pass the relevant tests; and has a job or owns real estate on the country’s territory, conducts business, or owns shares in a Georgian company or industry. In exceptional cases, the president may grant citizenship to individuals who do not satisfy these requirements.

Germany

Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:

The constitution provides 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. The law bans Nazi propaganda, Holocaust denial, and fomenting racial hatred.

Freedom of Expression: While the government generally respected these rights, it imposed limits on groups it deemed extremist. The government arrested, tried, convicted, and imprisoned a number of individuals for speech that incited racial hatred, endorsed Nazism, or denied the Holocaust (see also section 6, Anti-Semitism).

Press and Media Freedom: Independent media were active and expressed a wide variety of views with few restrictions. The limitations on press freedom are similar to those on expression.

Authorities banned 72 CDs, five books, and 26 journal articles for right-wing extremist, anti-Semitic, or racist content in 2017.

In January the Bild daily newspaper defied a Frankfurt court order and published an uncensored picture of an alleged looter during the 2017 G20 Summit in Hamburg. The court had ruled in July 2017 that Bild had either to stop publishing or to censor pictures of the individual Bild photographed stealing items, and the court upheld this ruling in December 2017. Bild argued that the “mission of the press” was to depict crimes committed at major events. In May a Frankfurt court ordered Bild to pay a 50,000 euro ($57,500) fine for defying the court order.

Violence and Harassment: In August representatives of the anti-Islam Patriotic Europeans Against the Islamization of the Occident (PEGIDA) movement and the AfD party protested Chancellor Angela Merkel’s visit to Dresden (Saxony). During the demonstration a demonstrator (an off-duty police employee) claimed that privacy laws prohibited a camera team covering the demonstration from filming him, and he filed a complaint with police on the spot. Despite an exception to the privacy law allowing for coverage of public demonstrations, police held the journalists for 45 minutes, reportedly to verify their identities. The journalists stated that police hindered their coverage of the event. The complaint remained under investigation at year’s end. While Saxony’s minister-president denied any wrongdoing by police, Chancellor Merkel issued a statement in support of press freedom and noted that demonstrators should expect that they may be filmed.

Actions to Expand Freedom of Expression, Including for the Media: In August the Entertainment Software Self-Regulation Body introduced new regulations for video games permitting Nazi-related symbols such as swastikas to be displayed if they serve a teaching or artistic purpose, or cover current affairs or history.

On January 1, the repeal of the law protecting heads of state and foreign government institutions from public insults entered into force.

INTERNET FREEDOM

The government did not restrict or disrupt access to the internet or censor online content, with one notable exception, and there were no credible reports that the government monitored private online communications without appropriate legal authority. The law permits the government to take down websites that belong to banned organizations or include speech that incites racial hatred, endorses Nazism, or denies the Holocaust. Authorities worked directly with internet service providers and online media companies to monitor and remove such content. As of July authorities monitored several hundred websites and social media accounts associated with right-wing extremists.

On January 1, legislation to combat hate speech on social networking sites went into effect. Social media companies are responsible for identifying hate speech and deleting content, and the law imposes short deadlines and financial penalties for noncompliance. Journalists and press organizations, as well as digital policy groups, voiced concerns that social media companies seeking to comply with the law may delete more content than necessary or install filters to block problematic content, and asserted this would result in a broad and chilling effect on freedom of speech. On January 23, the Committee to Protect Journalists reported that, to avoid legal entanglement, Twitter suspended the account of the online magazine Titanic when it posted a satirical parody of AfD politician Beatrix von Storch’s anti-Muslim statement. The German Association of Journalists criticized the suspension, stating it was censorship and limited the freedom of the press. In June the Ministry of Justice stated that it had received 400 complaints about hate speech on social media, far below the 25,000 complaints it anticipated receiving after the law went into effect. Critics argued these statistics were evidence that social media companies were aggressively blocking content. In June, two politicians from the FDP complained in Cologne’s administrative court that the law violates their freedom of communication.

In February the higher state court of Baden-Wuerttemberg sentenced a man to two and a half years in prison for operating the neo-Nazi website “Altermedia” under statutes criminalizing hate speech. The website, which the interior ministry removed in 2016, served as a platform for right-wing extremist networks and carried speech promoting Holocaust denial, as well as promoting hatred of foreigners, refugees, and Jews.

According to International Telecommunication Union statistics, 84 percent of the country’s population used the internet in 2017.

ACADEMIC FREEDOM AND CULTURAL EVENTS

There were some government restrictions on academic freedom and cultural events supporting extreme right-wing neo-Nazism.

b. Freedom of Peaceful Assembly and Association

While the constitution provides for the freedoms of peaceful assembly and association, the government restricted these freedoms in some instances.

FREEDOM OF PEACEFUL ASSEMBLY

While the constitution provides for the freedom of peaceful assembly, the government restricted this freedom in some instances. Groups seeking to hold open-air public rallies and marches must obtain permits, and state and local officials may deny permits when public safety concerns arise or when the applicant is from a prohibited organization, mainly right-wing extremist groups. In rare instances during the year, authorities denied such applications to assemble publicly. Authorities allowed several nonprohibited, right-wing extremist, or neo-Nazi groups to hold public rallies or marches when they did so in accordance with the law.

It is illegal to block officially registered demonstrations. Many anti-Nazi activists refused to accept such restrictions and attempted to block neo-Nazi demonstrations or to hold counterdemonstrations, resulting in clashes between police and anti-Nazi demonstrators. In October the immunity of the Green party Bundestag member Canan Bayran was lifted, and the Berlin police opened an investigation to determine whether she had blocked a demonstration. In February she reportedly blocked an antiabortion rally. The investigation continued at year’s end.

Police detained known or suspected activists when they believed such individuals intended to participate in illegal or unauthorized demonstrations. The length of detention varied from state to state.

Foreign politicians may not hold rallies in Germany if they are election candidates in their country within three months of the proposed rally. In the months preceding the Turkish presidential election in June, local authorities canceled a number of rallies that featured Turkish cabinet ministers or politicians.

FREEDOM OF ASSOCIATION

While the constitution provides for the freedom of association, the government restricted this freedom in some instances. The law permits authorities to prohibit organizations whose activities the Constitutional Court or federal or state governments determine to be opposed to the constitutional democratic order or otherwise illegal. While only the Federal Constitutional Court may prohibit political parties on these grounds, both federal and state governments may prohibit or restrict other organizations, including groups that authorities classify as extremist or criminal in nature. Organizations have the right to appeal such prohibitions or restrictions.

The federal and state OPCs monitored several hundred organizations. Monitoring consisted of collecting information from public sources, written materials, and firsthand accounts but also included intrusive methods, such as the use of undercover agents who were subject to legal oversight. The FOPC and state OPCs published lists of monitored organizations, including left- and right-wing political parties. Although the law stipulates that surveillance must not interfere with an organization’s activities, representatives of some monitored groups, such as Scientologists, complained that the publication of the organizations’ names contributed to prejudice against them.

The FOPC monitored approximately 16,500 so called Reichsbuerger (“citizens of the empire”) and Selbstverwalter (self-administrators), a significant increase from the 10,000 monitored in 2016. These individuals denied the existence of the Federal Republic of Germany and rejected its legal system. The FOPC considered the groups to represent a potential threat due to their affinity for weapons and their contempt for national authorities. In 2017 members of Reichsbuerger and Selbstverwalter groups committed 911 politically motivated crimes; of these, authorities categorized 783 crimes as extremist and 130 as violent.

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

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

Abuse of Migrants, Refugees, and Stateless Persons: Authorities in various states continued to detain for up to 18 months some asylum seekers whose applications were rejected pending their deportation. Courts permit authorities also to deport rejected asylum seekers without advance notification. Authorities could only detain asylum seekers, refugees, and migrants awaiting deportation to a country within the EU under the Dublin III regulation if there was evidence they posed a flight risk. In March authorities were holding 82 rejected asylum seekers pending deportation.

The government deported asylum seekers while their applications were pending review. One Uighur had an asylum hearing scheduled for the day he was returned to China, but state-level officials stated they did not receive a notification fax from the Federal Office for Migration and Refugees (BAMF) (see below, Refoulement). On August 13-15, the Council of Europe’s Committee to Prevent Torture monitored treatment of unsuccessful asylum seekers during a charter flight returning them to Afghanistan.

Assaults on refugees, asylum seekers, and migrants; and attacks on government-provided asylum homes continued during the first half of the year. In February a man stabbed three refugees in the city of Heilbronn, Baden-Wuerttemberg. The attack severely injured a 25-year-old Iraqi man, and the other two men sustained minor injuries. In June prosecutors charged the suspect with attempted murder.

In-country Movement: Authorities issued three types of travel documents to stateless individuals, those with refugee and asylum status, and foreigners without travel documents. Stateless individuals received a “travel document for the stateless.” Those with recognized refugee and asylum status received a “travel document for refugees.” Foreigners from non-EU countries received a “travel document for foreigners” if they did not have a passport or identity document and could not obtain a passport from their country of origin.

Several states had an assigned residence rule requiring refugees with recognized asylum status to live within a specific city for a period of three years. As of April the states of Bavaria, Baden-Wuerttemberg, Hesse, North Rhine-Westphalia, Saarland, Saxony, and Saxony-Anhalt implemented the residence rule. Local authorities who supported the rule stated it facilitated integration and enabled authorities to plan for increased infrastructure needs, such as schools. In September the administrative court in Muenster, North Rhine-Westphalia, ruled that, while North Rhine-Westphalia could require those with recognized refugee status to live within the state, it could not require them to live in a specific city.

PROTECTION OF REFUGEES

Refoulement: In August, Bavarian authorities deported a 22-year-old Uighur man to China (see above Abuse of Refugees, Migrants, and Stateless Persons) prior to his asylum hearing. The asylum seeker’s lawyer was unable to establish contact with his client following his deportation and feared that Chinese authorities had detained him. In December the Ministry of Foreign Affairs confirmed the Uighur man had been arrested in China, and that they were working to have him returned to Germany.

In June the government lifted its deportation ban for Afghanistan, and three states began deportations to that country. Previous federal policy only permitted deportations of convicted criminals and those deemed a security risk. In August, 700 demonstrators in Munich protested the policy change. NGOs including Amnesty International criticized the policy as a breach of the principle of refoulement.

Access to Asylum: The law provides for the granting of asylum or refugee status, and the government has established a system for providing protection to refugees. The country faced the task of integrating approximately 1.3 million asylum seekers, refugees, and migrants who arrived between 2015 and 2017 as well as an additional 110,324 who requested asylum during the first six months of the year. The heavy influx of asylum seekers, refugees, and migrants taxed the country’s infrastructure and resources.

The NGO Pro Asyl criticized the “airport procedure” for asylum seekers who arrive at the country’s airports. Authorities stated the airport procedure was used only in less complex cases, and that more complex asylum cases were referred for processing through regular BAMF channels. Authorities maintained that only persons coming from countries that the government identified as “safe”–the member states of the European Union, as well as Albania, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Ghana, Kosovo, Macedonia, Montenegro, Senegal, and Serbia–and those without valid identification documents could be considered via the “fast track procedure.” The “fast track procedure” enabled BAMF to decide on asylum applications within a two-day period, during which asylum applicants were detained at the airport. If authorities denied the application, the applicant had the right to appeal. Appeals were processed within two weeks, during which the applicant was detained at the airport. If the appeal was denied, authorities deported the applicant. The NGO Fluechtlingsrat Berlin criticized a similar “fast track” or “direct” procedure applied to some asylum seekers in Berlin. The organization claimed asylum applicants were not provided with sufficient time and access to legal counsel.

In April, BAMF suspended the head of its Bremen branch amid allegations the official improperly approved up to 2,000 asylum applications. According to media reports, the official colluded with three lawyers and a translator between 2013 and 2017 to divert Yazidi applicants to Bremen. In May the Chief Public Prosecutor in Nuremberg announced an investigation of BAMF President Jutta Cordt for failing to prevent the practices in Bremen. The Federal Court of Auditors is currently auditing BAMF, and the allegations prompted a large-scale internal BAMF review of 2018 asylum cases.

In August the government resumed issuance of family reunification visas for those with subsidiary protection, a measure suspended in late 2016. The government is authorized to approve reunification visas for up to 1,000 family members per month–defined as spouses, minor children, or parents–of individuals who have subsidiary protection.

In February a Yazidi woman with refugee status living in Schwaebisch Gmuend (Baden-Wuerttemberg) reportedly encountered the ISIS member who tortured and raped her in Iraq in 2014. The case raised concerns about the government’s ability to protect refugees and screen migrants for ties to ISIS and other terror groups. The woman reported the case to the police, who opened an investigation. Police stated, however, that they were unable to locate the perpetrator, who was not registered as a refugee or resident in Baden-Wuerttemberg. The woman reported she felt unsafe, and she returned to Iraq. In June the federal attorney general’s office in Karlsruhe opened an investigation in the case, which continued at year’s end. The Baden-Wuerttemberg interior ministry’s spokesperson reported there were seven reports of Yazidi women encountering their attackers in Germany, one of which was found to be unsubstantiated.

Safe Country of Origin/Transit: The country adheres to the EU’s Dublin III regulation, which permits authorities to turn back or deport individuals who entered the country through the “safe countries of transit,” which include the EU member states, Switzerland, Norway, Iceland, and Liechtenstein. The government did not return asylum seekers to Syria. The government defines “safe countries of origin” to include Albania, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Ghana, Kosovo, Macedonia, Montenegro, Senegal, Serbia, and EU states. The NGO Pro Asyl pointed out that refugees who under the Dublin III regulation fell into another EU state’s responsibility but could not be returned to that country, often remained in a legal grey zone. They were not allowed to work or participate in integration measures including German language classes.

Employment: Persons with recognized asylum status were able to access the labor market without restriction; asylum seekers whose applications were pending were generally not allowed to work during their first three months after applying for asylum. According to the Federal Employment Agency, approximately 482,000 refugees were unemployed as of July. Refugees and asylum seekers faced several hurdles in obtaining employment, including lengthy review times for previous qualifications, lack of official certificates and degrees, and limited German language skills.

The law excludes asylum seekers from countries considered “safe countries of origin” and unsuccessful asylum seekers who cannot be returned to the country through which they first entered the area covered by the Dublin III regulation from certain refugee integration measures, such as language courses and access to employment opportunities. The government did not permit asylum seekers and persons with a protected status from “safe countries of origin” to work if they applied for asylum after August 2015.

Access to Basic Services: State officials retain decision-making authority on how to house asylum seekers, refugees, and migrants, and whether to provide allowances or other benefits.

Pro Asyl criticized a refugee center in Manching, Bavaria, that was converted into a “transit center” in May. The center housed more than 1,000 refugees and could process asylum applicants in one location from start to finish. Critics claimed the center’s isolated location in an industrial area and a policy that did not allow NGOs to access the center made it difficult for refugees to seek legal counsel and enroll in education and language programs.

Several states, including Berlin, Brandenburg Bremen, Hamburg, Schleswig-Holstein, and Thuringia, provided medical insurance cards for asylum seekers. The insurance cards allow asylum seekers to visit any doctor of their choice without prior approval by authorities. In other states asylum seekers received a card only after 15 months, and community authorities had to grant permits to asylum seekers before they could consult a doctor. The welfare organization Diakonie, however, criticized the medical insurance card system, which only enabled asylum seekers to access emergency treatment. Local communities and private groups sometimes provided supplemental health care.

Durable Solutions: The government accepted for resettlement and facilitated the local integration (including naturalization) of refugees who had already fled their countries of origin, particularly for refugees belonging to vulnerable groups. Such groups included women with children, refugees with disabilities, victims of trafficking in persons, and victims of torture or rape. Authorities granted residence permits to long-term migrants, asylum seekers, refugees, and migrants who could not return to their countries of origin.

The government assisted with the safe and voluntary return to their homes of asylum seekers, refugees, and migrants. In the first half of the year, authorities provided financial assistance to 1,500 individuals to facilitate voluntary returns to their country of origin. Beneficiaries were either rejected asylum seekers or foreigners without valid identification. The number of voluntary return beneficiaries decreased during the year, which BAMF attributed to the overall decrease in asylum seekers in the country.

The government also offered a return bonus of 800 to 1,200 euros ($920 to $1,380) per person to asylum seekers whose applications are pending but who are unlikely to have their applications approved. Among others, refugees from Iraq and Afghanistan extensively used the program.

Temporary Protection: The government provides two forms of temporary protection–subsidiary and humanitarian–for individuals who may not qualify as refugees. In the first six months of the year, the government extended subsidiary protection to 15,542 persons. This status is usually granted if a person does not qualify for refugee or asylum status but might face severe danger in his or her country of origin due to war or conflict. During the same period, 6,639 individuals were granted humanitarian protection. Humanitarian protection is granted if a person does not qualify for any form of protected status, but there are other humanitarian reasons the person cannot return to his or her country of origin (for example, unavailability of medical treatment in their country of origin for a health condition). Both forms of temporary protection are granted for one year and may be extended. After five years a person under subsidiary or humanitarian protection can apply for an unlimited residency status if he or she earns enough money to be independent of public assistance and has a good command of German.

STATELESS PERSONS

UNHCR reported 13,458 stateless persons in the country at the end of 2017. Some of these persons lost their previous citizenship when the Soviet Union collapsed or Yugoslavia disintegrated. Others were Palestinians from Lebanon and Syria whom the government registered as stateless.

Laws and policies provide stateless persons the opportunity to gain citizenship on a nondiscriminatory basis. Stateless persons may apply for citizenship after six years of residence. Producing sufficient evidence to establish statelessness could often be difficult, however, because the burden of proof is on the applicant. Authorities generally protected stateless persons from deportation to their country of origin or usual residence if they faced a threat of political persecution there.

Ghana

Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:

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

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.

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

The constitution provides for freedom of internal movement, foreign travel, emigration, and repatriation and the government generally respected these rights. In an effort to curb human trafficking, however, the government in 2017 imposed a ban on labor recruitment to Gulf countries after increased reports of abuse endured by migrant workers. Media investigations during the year revealed some recruitment agencies continued their operations despite the ban.

Abuse of Migrants, Refugees, and Stateless Persons: Gender-based violence remained a problem. According to the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), as of the end of October, there were 36 incidents of sexual and gender-based violence (SGBV) reported from refugee camps, in addition to 46 cases of verbal assaults and threats. UNHCR worked with Department of Social Welfare personnel and the Ghana Health Service psychosocial counselors to provide medical, psychosocial, security, and legal assistance where necessary in all the cases reported. Obstacles to holding perpetrators of SGBV accountable for acts conducted in the camps included ineffective access to civil and criminal legal counseling for victims; poor coordination among the Department of Social Welfare, the Legal Aid Scheme, and police; and lack of representation for the alleged perpetrator and presumed victims.

PROTECTION OF REFUGEES

Access to Asylum: The law provides for the granting of asylum or refugee status, and the government has established a system for providing protection to refugees. The law allows rejected asylum seekers to appeal and remain in the country until an appeal is adjudicated. A four-member appeals committee, appointed by the minister of the interior, is responsible for adjudicating the appeals, but the process continued to be subject to delays. As of November the government had a backlog of 1,192 asylum seekers whose petitions were pending adjudication, plus another 43 individual asylum seekers who are awaiting a second decision following an initial rejection of their petition.

Employment: Refugees could apply for work permits through the same process as other foreigners; however, work permits were generally issued only for employment in the formal sector, while the majority of refugees worked in the informal sector.

Durable Solutions: In 2011 nearly 18,000 residents of Cote d’Ivoire fled to Ghana because of political instability following Cote d’Ivoire’s disputed 2010 presidential election. From January to early November, UNHCR assisted in the voluntary repatriation of 258 Ivoirian refugees–a slow but steady increase the agency attributed to better assistance packages and better information provided to Ivoirians about the situation in their home country. Although the government granted Ivoirian refugees prima facie refugee status during the initial stages of the emergency, by the end of 2012, the government had transitioned to individual refugee status determination for all Ivoirians entering thereafter.

In late November a group of Sudanese refugees began camping outside the UNHCR office in Accra, calling for improved assistance related to health, shelter, food, and resettlement. The population is part of a protracted backlog of cases. A decision from the Ministry of Interior regarding possible integration as a durable solution remained pending.

In 2012 UNHCR and the International Organization for Migration assisted with the voluntary repatriation of more than 4,700 Liberians from Ghana. Approximately 3,700 Liberians opted for local integration. UNHCR and the Ghana Refugee Board continued to work with the Liberian government to issue the Liberians passports, enabling them to subsequently receive a Ghanaian residence and work permit. As of May the Liberian government had issued 352 passports to this population. As of November an estimated 200 Liberians were still awaiting passports. The Ghana Immigration Service also supported the process by issuing reduced-cost residency permits, including work permits for adults, to locally integrating former Liberian refugees.

Greece

Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:

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

Freedom of Expression: The constitution and law protect freedom of expression but specifically allow restrictions on speech inciting discrimination, hatred, or violence against persons or groups based on their race, color, religion, descent, national or ethnic origin, sexual orientation, gender identity, or disability, or who express ideas insulting to persons or groups on those grounds. On March 11, local media reported a court sentenced a blogger in Veroia, northern Greece, to 18 months in prison and a fine of 5,500 euros ($6,325) for inciting hatred toward Syrian refugees residing in a local reception camp. In 2016 the blogger had falsely claimed, “Illegal migrants buried a small church inside the camp so as not to be insulted [by seeing it].”

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

Violence and Harassment: Journalists were subjected to physical attack, harassment, or intimidation due to their reporting in at least seven instances. Several attacks were led by members of far-right groups. In some instances, police arrested the perpetrators.

On June 19, a group of ultrarightists attacked a photojournalist in Athens, according to the Journalists’ Union of the Athens Daily Newspapers (ESHEA). Unidentified perpetrators also stole his camera equipment. ESHEA claimed police present at the scene did not attempt to prevent the attack or to arrest the attackers.

On June 1, a Chios court sentenced a local Golden Dawn party member to six months in prison and a 2,000 euros ($2,300) fine for attacking a journalist in September 2017. The attack took place while the journalist was covering a protest rally against refugees and migrants on the island. In a separate case, a court sentenced the same perpetrator to 18 months in prison for instigating racially motivated violence against refugees.

A bomb caused extensive damage to private television station SKAI in Athens early December 17, but no injuries. Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras immediately condemned the bombing, calling it “an attack by cowardly and dark forces against democracy itself;” however, SKAI Media Group President Yannis Alafouzos blamed the government coalition for inspiring the attack through threats and boycotts. Police launched an investigation, but had not made any arrests as of December 18.

Censorship or Content Restrictions: The government did not censor media. The government maintains an online register of local websites’ legal status, number of employees, detailed shareholder information, and the tax office they fall under. Once registered, these websites are accredited to accept funding through state advertising, to cover official events, and to benefit from research and training programs of the National Center of Audiovisual Works. All registered websites had to display their certification on their homepage. Although registering was an open and nonobligatory process, outlets failing to do so could be excluded from the accreditation benefits.

Libel/Slander Laws: The law provides criminal penalties for defamation. On February 26, police arrested and briefly detained journalist and publisher Kostas Vaxevanis following a lawsuit filed by former prime minister Antonis Samaras, who accused Vaxevanis of defamation. A week earlier the journalist had accused Samaras on social media of lying about his alleged involvement in a scandal concerning Swiss pharmaceutical company Novartis’s alleged bribes to medical doctors and politicians.

On September 22, police detained three journalists after Minister of Defense Panos Kammenos accused them of defamation. The journalists had published an article accusing Kammenos of large-scale mismanagement of European Union migration funds. The following morning the public prosecutor ordered a preliminary investigation into the incident and the immediate release of the three journalists. No further information on the case was available as of November 30.

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 citizens’ online communications without appropriate legal authority.

ACADEMIC FREEDOM AND CULTURAL EVENTS

There were no government restrictions on academic freedom or cultural events. In February, two Orthodox Metropolitans filed separate lawsuits requesting the theatrical performance of “Jesus Christ Superstar” be banned for blasphemy. The theater company continued to stage performances despite daily and at times violent demonstrations outside the theater by individuals opposed to the production. Actors and staff criticized authorities for failing to adequately protect their lives and property, reporting that protestors threatened “to burn down the theater,” assaulted actors and audience members, and threw paint on staff cars and the theater, but no arrests were made.

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.

FREEDOM OF ASSOCIATION

Although the constitution and law provide for freedom of association, the government continued to place legal restrictions on the names of associations of nationals who self-identified as ethnic Macedonian or associations that included the term “Turkish” as indicative of a collective ethnic identity (see section 6). Such associations, despite the lack of legal recognition, continued to operate.

On July 12, the Thrace appeals court rejected a request from the unofficial “Turkish Union of Xanthi” to reinstate its legal status. The association submitted this petition following a European Court of Human Rights ruling that the Greek court’s decision violated the right of association as protected by the European Convention of Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms and a 2017 law allowing the reexamination of such previously rejected requests.

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

The constitution and law provide for freedom of internal movement, foreign travel, emigration, and repatriation, and the government generally respected these rights. The government cooperated with UNHCR, the International Organization for Migration (IOM), 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: According to a wide range of credible sources, including international organizations and NGOs, authorities did not always provide adequate security or physical protection to migrants and asylum seekers, particularly those residing in RICs. The RVRN recorded 34 incidents involving racially motivated verbal and physical violence against refugees and migrants in 2017. (See also section 6, “National/Racial/Ethnic Minorities.”)

Separation and protection of vulnerable groups was not implemented at some sites. Credible reports described several incidents of violence involving asylum seekers, including fistfights, stabbings, and gender-based violence. The International Rescue Committee assessed that more than 70 individuals were sexually abused at the RIC in Moria from March to October. Several incidents of gender-based violence, including domestic violence, sexual harassment, and rape, were also recorded in organized facilities on the mainland. Doctors without Borders reported that two victims of sexual abuse in the Moria RIC were under five years of age.

Media reported on April 28 that police arrested a refugee residing at a reception facility in Serres, northern Greece, after his 15-year-old daughter accused him of repeated rape.

On November 9, authorities arrested a male refugee in Agia Eleni camp in northern Greece on charges of sexually abusing a three-year-old boy inside the camp.

Refugee and migrant women who were victims of gender-based violence were legally eligible for temporary shelter in government-run homes and for legal and psychosocial assistance but few of them reported the abuse. Some NGO representatives said that even after victims reported rapes to the authorities, some victims continued residing in the same camp with the perpetrators.

NGOs noted inadequate psychological care for refugees and asylum seekers, especially in the six RICs. Doctors without Borders reported that 25 percent of the children they worked with in Moria RIC on Lesvos island from February to June had either self-harmed, attempted suicide, or had thought about committing suicide.

PROTECTION OF REFUGEES

During the year the flow of migrants and asylum seekers to the country from Africa, Asia, and the Middle East continued. As of October 31, UNHCR figures indicated 67,100 migrants and asylum seekers resided throughout the country.

Refoulement: The government provided some protection against the expulsion or return of refugees to countries in which their lives or freedom would be threatened due to race, religion, nationality, membership in a particular social group, or political opinion. In February the NGO Greek Council for Refugees (GCR) published a compilation of testimonies of migrants and refugees who claimed they had been forcibly returned to Turkey despite their desire to claim asylum. On February 25, a GCR lawyer and coordinator of the GCR legal team who had previously served as secretary general for migration argued in an opinion article in a local newspaper that allegations of refoulement were not being properly investigated despite appeals by UNHCR, the Council of Europe human rights commissioner, and other organizations. On May 3, GCR accused the government “of a systematic tactic of irregular forced returns in the Evros region, in violation of international law.” Government officials denied any authorized unlawful returns.

Access to Asylum: The law provides for the granting of asylum or refugee status, and the government has established a system for providing legal protection to refugees through an autonomous asylum service under the authority of the Ministry of Migration Policy. The law requires that applicants have access to certified interpreters and allows applicants to appeal negative decisions and remain in the country while their appeals are examined.

Authorities worked with NGOs, international organizations, and the European Asylum Support Office to inform undocumented migrants awaiting registration in the asylum system, as well as non-EU foreign national detainees, about their rights and asylum procedures and IOM-assisted voluntary return programs. UNHCR also assisted the government with briefings and distribution of multilingual leaflets and information packages on asylum and asylum procedures.

On July 18, media reported the case of a Guinean national who was deported prior to having the chance to appeal the initial denial of asylum. His attorneys claimed that even though they communicated the applicant’s intent to file an appeal, authorities deported the applicant without prior notification. The government did not issue a public response.

Human rights activists and NGOs working with asylum applicants reported long waits for asylum appeals decisions due to time-consuming processes, gaps in the payment of certified interpreters, backlogs in the appeals process, and a limited number of appeals committees. On May 22, parliament passed new legislation to accelerate the examination of asylum requests by reducing gaps in interpreter payments and introducing additional and more flexible means of communication between applicants and authorities. Despite changes in the law, structural problems in the asylum process continued to exist.

Asylum applicants from countries other than Syria complained that their asylum applications were delayed while Syrian applications were prioritized. Many asylum seekers also complained about difficulty scheduling an appointment and connecting with the Asylum Service system via Skype. NGOs, international organizations, and human rights activists reiterated concerns related to the asylum system, including the lack of adequate staff and facilities; difficulties in registering claims; questions about the expedited nature and thoroughness of the examination of initial claims and appeals; insufficient welfare, integration, counseling, legal, and interpretation services; discrimination; and detention under often inadequate and overcrowded conditions inside the RICs.

Safe Country of Origin/Transit: The country adheres to the Dublin III Regulation, according to which authorities may return asylum seekers to the EU member state of first entry for adjudication of asylum claims.

According to a 2016 agreement between the EU and Turkey, every undocumented migrant crossing from Turkey into the Greek islands would be confined to an RIC for up to 25 days, during which time the individual would have the opportunity to apply for asylum in Greece. Individuals opting not to apply for asylum or whose applications were deemed unfounded or inadmissible would be returned to Turkey under the terms of the agreement.

Freedom of Movement: Undocumented migrants arriving at Greek islands were subjected to special border reception and registration procedures, and were not allowed to leave accommodation centers for up to 25 days. After this period undocumented migrants remaining in those facilities were generally allowed to enter and exit but were prohibited from travelling to the mainland unless they filed asylum applications deemed admissible by the asylum authorities or were deemed “vulnerable.” Once asylum applications were filed, found admissible, and in process, migrants could move to an accommodation center on the mainland, space permitting. There was no restriction on movement in or out of the mainland accommodation centers.

On April 24, 21 local and international NGOs issued a statement condemning the government’s practice of confining migrants and asylum seekers to certain “hotspot” islands for initial processing.

Unaccompanied minors were placed under “protective custody” due to lack of space in specialized shelters. (See section 1, Prison and Detention Center Conditions, Physical Conditions.)

Employment: Recognized refugees and holders of asylum-seeker papers were entitled to work, although this right was not widely publicized or consistently enforced. In March the managing board of the Greek Manpower Organization (OAED) extended the right to register for the official unemployment to migrants and refugees residing in shelters or with no permanent address, allowing them to benefit from training programs and state allowances.

Access to Basic Services: Legally, services such as shelter, health care, education, and judicial procedures were granted to asylum seekers in possession of a valid residency permit; however, staffing gaps, lack of interpreters, and overcrowded migrant sites limited certain asylum seekers’ access to these services. Legal assistance was limited and was usually offered via NGOs, international organizations, and volunteer lawyers and bar associations.

RICs on islands and in the Evros region continued to be overcrowded with inadequate shelter, healthcare, wash facilities, and sewer connections, creating security and health concerns. Housing conditions at reception facilities elsewhere on the mainland were generally better. The general rapporteur of the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe (PACE) Committee on Migration, Refugees and Displaced Persons visited Athens, Kavala, Drama, and Lesvos from July 10-12. The rapporteur found that in contrast to the acceptable accommodation centers in Kavala and Drama, Lesvos RIC conditions “continued to be appalling,” with persons suffering from “severely overcrowded accommodation facilities.”

Unaccompanied minors living in “protective custody” in police stations had limited or no access to health care or medical services. (See section 1, Prison and Detention Center Conditions, Physical Conditions.)

Many vulnerable asylum-seeking individuals were eligible to be sheltered in apartments via a housing framework implemented by UNHCR in cooperation with some NGOs and local municipalities. Conditions in the apartments were significantly better than in reception facilities.

Administrative and facility management staff in reception centers were usually permanent state employees, eight-month government-contracted personnel, and NGO and international organization-contracted staff. Media reported cases, especially in the islands, in which assigned staff was inadequate or improperly trained.

Everyone in the country is entitled to emergency medical care regardless of legal status. Medical volunteers, NGO-contracted doctors, the Hellenic Center for Disease Control and Prevention (KEELPNO), and army medical doctors provided basic health care in reception centers, referring emergencies and complex cases to local hospitals, which were often overburdened and understaffed. Some individuals suffering from chronic diseases continued to face problems with obtaining proper medication. According to a July 27 HRW report, pregnant women in Evros reception and detention facilities had no access to proper medical and prenatal care.

Domestic and international NGOs continued to criticize authorities for failing to identify asylum seekers with nonvisible vulnerabilities, such as victims of torture. In a 2018 annual review, HRW noted that authorities’ failure to properly identify vulnerable asylum seekers for transfer to the mainland had “impeded their access to proper care and services.” HRW argued that official policies, living conditions, and the uncertainty of the slow asylum claim decision-making process contributed to deteriorating mental health for some asylum seekers and other migrants on the islands.

Durable Solutions: Recognized refugees may apply for naturalization after three years of residence in the country under this status. The government continued to process family reunification applications for asylum seekers with relatives in other countries. IOM offered voluntary returns to rejected asylum seekers and those who renounced their asylum claims.

Temporary Protection: As of June 30, the government provided temporary protection to approximately 1,102 individuals who may not qualify as refugees.

Grenada

Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:

The law provides for freedom of expression, including for the press, and the government generally respected this right. Independent media were active and expressed a wide variety of views without restriction.

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, 59 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.

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

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

PROTECTION OF REFUGEES

Access to Asylum: The law does not provide for the granting of asylum or refugee status, and the government has no established formal channels for providing protection to refugees or asylum seekers. There were no reports of refugees attempting to enter the country in 2017.

Guatemala

Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:

The constitution and law provide for freedom of expression, including for the press, and the government generally respected this right. The intimidation of and violence against journalists resulted in significant self-censorship, however.

Freedom of Expression: Following President Morales’ August 31 press conference announcing he would not renew CICIG’s mandate, several prominent human rights defenders and activists reported the PNC visited them ostensibly to inquire about their protection measures. Several journalists also reported suspected surveillance of their homes and offices in the days following the August 31 press conference. The activists and journalists interpreted these actions as an effort to intimidate them from criticizing the administration’s measures with respect to CICIG.

Press and Media Freedom: There were no legal restrictions on the editorial independence of the media. Reporters covering organized crime, including its links to corrupt public officials, acknowledged practicing self-censorship, recognizing the danger investigative journalism posed to them and their families. Independent media were active and expressed a wide variety of views. Since August 31, public security forces have imposed more stringent identification checks on journalists covering government events and activities.

Violence and Harassment: Online attacks against independent journalists and media outlets increased throughout the year. These included hacking of journalists’ private accounts, publishing stolen or falsified personal information, and apparent coordinated attempts to undermine specific journalists and the press. Members of the press continued to report threats and violence from public officials and criminal organizations, which impaired the practice of free and open journalism. The government failed to establish a journalist protection program, a voluntary commitment the country accepted in 2012 during the Universal Periodic Review of the UN Human Rights Council.

According to the Public Ministry, 54 complaints were filed for attacks or threats against journalists, and two journalists were killed from January through the end of August, compared with 116 complaints and three killings in all of 2017.

In November 2017 the Supreme Court lifted the parliamentary immunity of Congressman Julio Antonio Juarez Ramirez based on allegations from the Public Ministry and CICIG that he ordered the killing of journalist Danilo Efrain Zapon Lopez in 2015 in Mazatenango, Suchitepequez. Journalist Federico Benjamin Salazar Geronimo was also killed in the attack and reporter Marvin Tunches was injured. At year’s end the case was at the intermediary public trial phase.

The Public Ministry employed a unit dedicated to the investigation of threats and attacks against journalists, but the NGO Center for Reporting in Guatemala noted it had few prosecutions.

Censorship or Content Restrictions: Members of the press reported receiving pressure, threats, and retribution from public officials regarding the content of their reporting. Some owners and members of media accused the government of following a discriminatory advertising policy that penalized or rewarded print and broadcast media based on whether the government perceived the news or commentary as supportive or critical. Significant self-censorship occurred as a result.

Nongovernmental Impact: Organized crime exerted influence over media outlets and reporters, frequently threatening individuals for reporting on criminal activities.

INTERNET FREEDOM

The daily newspaper elPeriodico experienced a two-day denial of service attack and another three-day attack starting on September 1. The source of the attacks remained unknown.

A local newspaper reported former president Otto Perez Molina’s administration created a surveillance network in 2012 to access social media accounts of diplomats, government officials, politicians, journalists, students, and academics.

According to the International Telecommunication Union, 41 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 provides for the freedoms of peaceful assembly and association, and the government generally respected these rights, with a few exceptions.

FREEDOM OF PEACEFUL ASSEMBLY

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

On September 12, the congressional spokesperson reported that more than 2,100 police were present at Congress during a commemoration of the country’s independence, led by President Morales. A protest scheduled to converge at Congress on the same day was not able to approach the perimeters of Congress. The heavy police presence ostensibly serving as presidential security and crowd control received widespread criticism and media as a form of intimidation against the protesters. Civil society groups expressed concern over the presence of Kaibiles, military special forces who were implicated in war crimes during the country’s internal armed conflict from 1960-96.

On September 14, when President Morales and his cabinet attended a ceremony at the cathedral on the central plaza, NGOs and journalists accused the government of using excessive security measures to intimidate citizens and restrict their right to assemble. Observers stated security measures included the deployment of antiriot military police; the registration of all pedestrians entering the plaza, including children; and excessive security checks. On September 14, a Public Ministry prosecutor stated publicly he would investigate for possible violations of freedom of movement.

FREEDOM OF ASSOCIATION

The law provides for freedom of association, and the government generally respected this right. There were reports, however, of significant barriers to organizing in the labor sector (see section 7.a.).

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

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

An immigration law in effect since 2017 overhauled the country’s migration system and defined the term “refugee” as well as listing refugees’ rights in accordance with international instruments. The preparation of regulations to implement the law, including on the refugee application process and refugee rights, was underway at year’s end. Government agencies made limited progress in implementing the Protection Council mandated by the new migration code, which would support the protection, reception, and reintegration of returned children.

The government cooperated with the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) and other humanitarian organizations in providing protection and assistance to refugees, returning refugees, asylum seekers, stateless persons, or other persons of concern, including during the mid-October surge of Central American migrants that passed through the country.

INTERNALLY DISPLACED PERSONS (IDPS)

The country does not have laws in place to protect IDPs in line with the UN Guiding Principles on Internal Displacement. UNHCR expressed concern regarding violence against IDPs and strengthened its efforts to monitor the problem and provide assistance to the displaced. The country does not officially recognize the existence of IDPs within its borders, with the exception of those displaced by climate change and natural disasters. The Inter-American Commission on Human Rights characterized as IDPs 400 farmers the government evicted from the Maya Biosphere Reserve in 2017. Media and civil society groups reported the evictees did not receive government assistance in a timely manner.

PROTECTION OF REFUGEES

Access to Asylum: The laws provide for the granting of asylum or refugee status, and the government has established a system for providing protection to refugees. UNHCR, however, reported that identification and referral mechanisms for potential asylum seekers were inadequate. Both migration and police authorities lacked adequate training concerning the rules for establishing refugee status.

Access to Basic Services: UNHCR reported access to education for refugees was challenging due to the country’s onerous requirements for access to formal education, including documentation from the country of origin.

Guinea

Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:

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.

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

The constitution and law provide for freedom of internal movement, foreign travel, emigration, and repatriation, and the government generally respected these rights. Police and security forces, however, continued to detain persons at roadblocks to extort money, impeding the free movement of travelers and threatening their safety. The government cooperated with the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) and other humanitarian organizations in providing protection and assistance to refugees, stateless persons, and asylum seekers.

In-country Movement: The government required all citizens older than 18 to carry national identification cards, which they had to present on demand at security checkpoints.

In 2012 the government announced the elimination of all roadblocks on the highways but declared it would maintain checkpoints along the borders and on certain strategic routes in Conakry. Police and gendarmes, however, set up random checkpoints throughout the capital and the country and routinely asked drivers to pay “tolls” or other illegal fees. Police and gendarmes occasionally robbed and beat travelers at these checkpoints and sometimes threatened them with death. High-level government officials acknowledged that the practice continued but claimed to be powerless to stop it.

PROTECTION OF REFUGEES

The country hosted refugees from neighboring countries including Cote d’Ivoire, Liberia, and Sierra Leone. As of January 2017 UNHCR recorded 5,300 persons of concern, most of them Ivoirian refugees. The end of the Ebola epidemic resulted in the reopening of the border with Cote d’Ivoire and allowed UNHCR to resume voluntary repatriation.

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

STATELESS PERSONS

There were a few hundred effectively stateless persons, who originally came from Sierra Leone. These persons did not meet any of the criteria for Guinean citizenship–birth within the country, marriage, naturalization, or parental heritage. According to UNHCR these refugees requested neither repatriation nor local integration after the invocation of the cessation clause for refugees from Sierra Leone. Some of this population lived in abandoned refugee camps, while others moved from former refugee sites in Kissidougou to artisanal gold-mining areas in the northeast of the country.

Guinea-Bissau

Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:

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.

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

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

PROTECTION OF REFUGEES

The country hosted thousands of long-term refugees and asylum seekers from Senegal’s Casamance Region. Many residents maintain ethnic and family ties on both sides of the country’s poorly marked northern border with the Casamance, rendering the nationality of many individuals in the region unclear.

Access to Asylum: The law provides for granting of asylum or refugee status. The government did not grant refugee status or asylum during the year, and there were no reported requests for either. The UNHCR office in Bissau facilitated the issuance of refugee cards.

Durable Solutions: In December 2017 the government announced it would grant nationality to between 4,000 and 10,000 refugees, many of whom had lived in the country for decades. Most of these refugees were originally from Senegal’s Casamance region, with a minority from Liberia and Sierra Leone. On December 14, President Vaz signed a decree for the integration of long-term refugees, granting citizenship to linguistically and culturally assimilated refugees living in the country for more than 25 years. The decree is in conformity with international agreements on migration and asylum.

Guyana

Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:

The constitution provides for freedom of expression, including for the press, and the government generally respected this right. Independent media were active and at times expressed a wide variety of views without restriction.

Censorship or Content Restrictions: A 2015 directive from the prime minister determines that all headlines in state-owned print media be approved by the Office of the Prime Minister before publication.

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, 37 percent of citizens 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.

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

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

Abuse of Migrants, Refugees, and Stateless Persons: NGOs reported some displaced Venezuelan women experienced rights violations, including sexual exploitation, by government officials. NGOs also reported displaced Venezuelans received a lower standard of health and social care, but the government denied these reports.

In-country Movement: The law requires that local village councils grant permission in advance for travel to indigenous areas, but most individuals traveled in these areas without a permit.

PROTECTION OF REFUGEES

Access to Asylum: The law does not provide for protection of asylum seekers. Although the government is not a signatory to the 1951 Convention on Refugees, the government reported that it did not prosecute or deport Venezuelans seeking refuge. In the absence of national legislation and requisite government capacity, UNHCR assumed the main responsibility for determination of refugee status.

Haiti

Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:

The constitution guarantees freedom of expression and press. Government officials and private actors sometimes restricted this freedom.

Press and Media Freedom: There were isolated incidents of actions against journalists by national and local government officials. As a result, some independent media believed they were unable to criticize the government freely.

On March 14, Vladjimir Legagneur, an independent journalist, went missing after entering Grand-Ravine, a gang-controlled area of Port-au-Prince, to pursue a story about gang activities. Following his disappearance, journalists organized marches and called for a full investigation. On April 5, police announced two arrests in the case while waiting for results from forensic testing on “fresh” human remains found in the area where Legagneur was last seen. The results of the forensic exam were still pending as of October. As of September 15, the HNP had arrested four persons, including a schoolteacher in the area where Legagneur disappeared, in connection with the case.

Violence and Harassment: Some journalists were subjected to threats, harassment, and physical assault allegedly due to their reporting. In some instances government authorities participated in these acts.

On August 20, government officials alleged parliament had been attacked by persons with small arms fire and a grenade. Within a few days, however, various media establishments questioned the official narrative, since a preliminary investigation concluded the shots had likely come from inside the building. During the investigation tensions flared between police investigators and parliamentary security personnel, and the latter attempted to bar journalists from covering those exchanges by grabbing and blocking their cameras to prevent them from filming the incident. In the melee security agent Ernst Lee Raphael allegedly assaulted journalist Frantz Cineus of Television Pacific and damaged a camera. The presidents of both chambers of parliament publicly apologized after the initial events, and Raphael was fired. Following the incident, several journalists noted what they described as constant threats from security agents at the parliament who blamed journalists for the public’s negative perception of parliament.

Censorship or Content Restrictions: There were few allegations of censorship by the government. In March the National Telecommunications Board closed 10 radio stations accused of operating without a license. One such station, Radio Planete, alleged the decision was politically motivated, since one of their journalists hosted a show critical of the government handling of Petro Caribe financing (see section 4). The telecommunications board’s president denied the accusations and reiterated his determination to combat “pirate” stations.

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 authorization. Socioeconomic and infrastructure hurdles contributed to the dominance of radio and, to a lesser extent, television, over the internet.

According to the International Telecommunication Union, approximately 12 percent of citizens used the internet in 2017.

ACADEMIC FREEDOM AND CULTURAL EVENTS

In May an NGO focused on rights for lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and intersex (LGBTI) persons said it was barred from hosting a panel discussion on LGBTI issues at the Cap-Haitian State University campus, a government university, even though payment had been accepted for the event.

b. Freedom of Peaceful Assembly and Association

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

FREEDOM OF PEACEFUL ASSEMBLY

The constitution provides for freedom of assembly, and the government generally respected this right. There were several instances when police used force to impose order during demonstrations. Citizens must apply for a permit to hold legal demonstrations. Although impromptu political demonstrations in some instances provoked aggressive law enforcement responses, police generally responded to these protests in a professional and effective manner.

Following the July 6-7 protests against the government’s decision to increase fuel prices, Port-au-Prince prosecutor Dameus ordered the arrest of 64 individuals accused of looting. These individuals included three who were living on property owned by opposition senator Antonio Cheramy. Some members of the opposition called the arrests politically motivated and illegal because a prosecutor can arrest only individuals caught in the process committing a crime. Dameus denied the allegations of “political persecution” and stated the persons arrested were caught carrying numerous items that had been looted from various stores. The detainees were subsequently released.

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

The law provides for freedom of internal movement, foreign travel, emigration, and repatriation, and the government generally respected these rights. The government cooperated with international and humanitarian organizations, as well as other countries, in providing protection and assistance to internally displaced persons (IDPs), refugees, returning refugees, asylum seekers, stateless persons, or other persons of concern.

INTERNALLY DISPLACED PERSONS (IDPS)

Of all the IDP camps created following the 2010 earthquake, 3 percent remained. Nearly all IDPs were in the Port-au-Prince metropolitan area, although several hundred persons also remained displaced by Hurricane Matthew’s destruction of the country’s South Department in 2016. The International Organization for Migration (IOM) estimated that more than 37,500 individuals (more than 9,000 households) still resided in IDP camps as of September.

Although the IOM reported progress in the relocation of nearly all Hurricane Matthew IDPs, the rate of camp closures and relocation remained slow. According to a May estimate, 90 percent of those residing in the camps had limited or no access to basic hygiene and health services. IOM statistics showed that the overall post-2010 earthquake IDP population had decreased more than 97 percent from its peak in 2010.

MINUJUSTH’s police force presence in the country did not include a mobile team for IDP camp security patrols, which left the HNP to administer security in the remaining IDP camps. The IOM reported the HNP did not patrol IDP camps, but instead responded only in cases of emergency. Overall, there had not been a stable security force presence in the IDP camps since the departure of MINUSTAH forces in late 2017, although IDP camp residents formed committees to monitor their communities at night and to address cases of gender-based violence. The IOM reported that IDPs liaised directly with the HNP during emergencies.

PROTECTION OF REFUGEES

Access to Asylum: The law provides for the granting of refugee status or asylum through Haitian missions or consulates abroad. Third-country nationals can also petition for asylum through the local office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR). According to the UNHCR representative, there were fewer than 20 such cases in process.

STATELESS PERSONS

A lack of coordination between the various ministries that administer the dysfunctional civil registry system and weak consular capacity made obtaining documentation difficult for individuals living inside or outside the country. Due to these systemic deficiencies, many Haitians living abroad without other citizenship or permanent residency were effectively stateless or at risk of statelessness in their country of residence. Undocumented persons of Haitian descent continued to face difficulties in establishing their legal residency or citizenship in countries such as the Dominican Republic and the Bahamas, which occasionally resulted in the deportation or spontaneous return of individuals with a claim to non-Haitian citizenship. Despite improved passport delivery domestically, obtaining nationality documents from the Haitian government remained particularly challenging for Haitian migrants living in the Dominican Republic (DR) seeking to participate in the DR’s migrant regularization plan.

Honduras

Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:

The law provides for freedom of expression, including for the press, with some restrictions, and the government generally respected this right. A small number of powerful business magnates with intersecting commercial, political, and family ties owned most of the major news media.

Freedom of Expression: The law includes a provision to punish persons who directly, or through public media, incite discrimination, hate, contempt, repression, or violence against a person, group, or organization for reasons of gender, age, sexual orientation, gender identity, political opinion or affiliation, marital status, race or national origin, language, nationality, religion, family affiliation, family or economic situation, disability, health, physical appearance, or any other characteristic that would offend the victim’s human dignity.

In September congress repealed Article 335-B of the law, which criminalized hate speech and language inciting terrorism, due to concern that this article could be used to target journalists and members of civil society for expressing views critical of the government. Media associations and NGOs praised the congressional action.

Violence and Harassment: There were continued reports of harassment and threats against journalists, media figures, and bloggers. NGO Peace Brigades International registered a significant increase in reports of harassment against journalists and social communicators since 2017. They registered 41 security incidents involving journalists and social commentators between January and August, nearly twice the number of complaints registered during the same period in 2017. Reports linked most of these instances of harassment and threats to organized criminal elements and gangs.

Government officials at all levels publicly denounced violence and threats of violence against media members and social communicators. UNAH’s Violence Observatory reported no killings of journalists and social communicators during the first six months of the year, as compared with two such killings in 2017. There were many reports of intimidation and threats against media members and their families, including from members of the security forces and organized crime. It was usually unclear whether violence and threats against journalists were linked to their work or were products of generalized violence.

Human rights defenders, including indigenous and environmental rights activists, political activists, labor activists, and representatives of civil society working to combat corruption, reported threats and acts of violence. Civil society organizations, including students, agricultural workers groups, and indigenous rights groups, criticized the government and its officials for allegedly criminalizing and stigmatizing social protest. Members of the Police Purge Commission, National Anticorruption Council (CNA), and Public Ministry’s anticorruption unit (UFECIC) all reported receiving threats. The Agroindustrial Worker’s Federation, a labor syndicate, reported two cases of threats against union leaders (see section 7.a.).

The government allocated a budget of nearly 25 million lempiras ($1.04 million) for the operation of its protection mechanism. By August it had 34 permanent and contract staff. The mechanism approved 219 protection cases, including 131 human rights defenders, 39 journalists, 30 social commentators, and 19 justice-sector workers. As of August 31, the mechanism had received 122 new requests for protection, of which 104 met legal requirements and were accepted. Of the 104 accepted cases, eight were closed during the year. The remaining 96 cases included 52 human rights defenders, 14 journalists, 21 social commentators, and 9 justice-sector workers. Some NGOs continued to express concern about weak implementation of the law and limited resources available to operate the government’s protection mechanism for human rights defenders. Civil society organizations continued to criticize the government’s failure to investigate threats against activists and journalists adequately.

The HNP’s Violent Crimes Task Force investigated crimes against high-profile and particularly vulnerable victims, including judges, journalists, human rights activists, and members of the LGBTI community. As of November the task force had submitted 19 cases to the Public Ministry, arrested 42 persons, and obtained six convictions.

Censorship or Content Restrictions: Media members and NGOs stated the press self-censored due to fear of retaliation from organized crime or corrupt government officials.

Libel/Slander Laws: Citizens, including public officials, may initiate criminal proceedings for libel and slander.

National Security: The Organization of American States (OAS) Mission to Support the Fight against Corruption and Impunity in Honduras (MACCIH) continued to raise concerns regarding the law for the classification of public documents related to defense and national security (the Secrets Law). MACCIH called on the government either to amend the law or pass a new one. According to MACCIH representatives, the law prohibits authorities from fully investigating government contracts and funds, enabling government institutions to misuse an overly broad classification system under the guise of “national security” to hide potential illicit activity in such areas as the security tax fund, water authority, and social security administration. Civil society organizations supported MACCIH’s calls to reform the law.

Nongovernmental Impact: Some journalists and other members of civil society reported threats from members of organized crime. It was unclear how many of these threats were related to the victims’ professions or activism. Several anonymous social media sites, possibly linked to political parties, criticized activists, civil society organizations, and journalists who were critical of the government or opposition party policies.

INTERNET FREEDOM

The government did not restrict or disrupt access to the internet or censor online content, but there were credible reports that the government monitored private online communications. According to the International Telecommunication Union, in 2017 approximately 32 percent of the population used the internet.

ACADEMIC FREEDOM AND CULTURAL EVENTS

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

b. Freedom of Peaceful Assembly and Association

FREEDOM OF PEACEFUL ASSEMBLY

The law provides for freedom of peaceful assembly, and the government generally respected this right. The law requires a judge to issue an eviction order for individuals occupying public and private property if security forces had not evicted the individuals within a specified period of the occupation. Some local and international civil society organizations, including students, agricultural workers groups, political parties, and indigenous rights groups, alleged that members of the security forces used excessive force to break up demonstrations. The IACHR reported that the government at times used a policy of arbitrary detentions or arrests to inhibit protest.

Law enforcement evictions of protesters, land rights activists, and others were generally conducted peacefully, although injuries to both protesters and law enforcement officers were occasionally reported. The NGO Peace Brigades International reported several instances of threats and intimidation by security forces, including a heavy military presence in disputed areas. Conversely, media sources reported in October that two soldiers were ambushed and killed near Tocoa, Colon, as they sought peacefully to remove protesters from blocking a road. No suspects were arrested, and it is unclear if the shooters were related to the protesters or linked with illicit groups.

FREEDOM OF ASSOCIATION

The law provides for freedom of association, and the government generally respected this right. The law prohibits illicit association, defined as gatherings by persons bearing arms, explosive devices, or dangerous objects with the purpose of committing a crime, and prescribes prison terms of two to four years and a fine of 30,000 to 60,000 lempiras ($1,250 to $2,500) for anyone who convokes or directs an illicit meeting or demonstration. There were no reports of such cases during the year, although authorities charged some protesters with sedition. Public-sector unions expressed concern over some officials refusing to honor bargaining agreements and firing union leaders. The law prohibits police from unionizing (see section 7.a.).

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

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

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

Abuse of Migrants, Refugees, and Stateless Persons: Transiting migrants were vulnerable to abuse by criminal organizations.

In-country Movement: There were areas where authorities could not assure freedom of movement because of criminal activity and a lack of significant government presence.

INTERNALLY DISPLACED PERSONS (IDPS)

In 2017 the Internal Displacement Monitoring Center estimated there were approximately 190,000 IDPs in the country. In 2017 the National Human Rights Commission identified 339 cases of forced displacement and 349 cases of individuals at risk of forced displacement. Internal displacement was generally caused by violence, national and transnational gang activity, and human trafficking. Official data on forced internal displacement was limited in part because gangs controlled many of the neighborhoods that were sources of internal displacement (see section 6, Displaced Children).

The government maintained the Interinstitutional Commission for the Protection of People Displaced by Violence, and within the newly created Ministry of Human Rights, the government created the Directorate for the Protection of Persons Internally Displaced by Violence. Both the ministry and the commission focused on developing policies to address IDPs. Following up on the Comprehensive Refugee Response Framework conference that the government hosted in October 2017, the participants, including governments from across the region, agreed to the Regional Integral Framework for Protection and Solutions. Under the framework the government pledged to strengthen its capacity to provide services to key population groups, including refugees and returned migrants, through 14 commitments and 28 specific actions between 2018 and 2020.

PROTECTION OF REFUGEES

The government cooperated with UNHCR and other humanitarian organizations to provide protection and assistance to refugees and other persons of concern.

Access to Asylum: The law allows for the granting of asylum or refugee status. The government has established a system to provide protection to refugees, but at times there were significant delays in processing provisional permits for asylum applicants.

Hungary

Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:

The constitution provides for freedom of expression, including for members of the press, and the media were active and expressed a wide range of views, although there were some formal restrictions on content related to “hate speech” and allegations that government action helped consolidate media outlets in the hands of progovernment owners.

Freedom of Expression: The law provides that any person who publicly incites hatred against any national, ethnic, racial, or religious group or certain other designated groups of the population may be prosecuted and convicted of a felony punishable by imprisonment for up to three years. The constitution includes hate speech provisions to “protect the dignity of the Hungarian nation or of any national, ethnic, racial, or religious community.” The public denial of, expression of doubt about, or minimization of the Holocaust, genocide, and other crimes of the National Socialist (Nazi) and communist regimes is prohibited by law and is punishable by a maximum sentence of three years in prison. The law also prohibits as a petty offense the wearing, exhibiting, or promoting of the swastika, the logo of the Nazi SS, the symbols of the Arrow Cross, the hammer and sickle, or the five-pointed red star in a way that harms human dignity or the memory of the victims of dictatorships. Judicial remedies exist for damage to individuals and communities that results from hate speech.

According to the Action and Protection Foundation (TEV) of the World Zionist Organization, in the first four months of the year there were 23 instances of anti-Semitic hate acts, including 15 that qualified as hate crimes, of which nine were categorized as hate speech. No police reports were filed. In June a man was sentenced to a 150,000 forint ($600) fine in a nonbinding court ruling for denying the Holocaust in a Facebook comment in 2016.

In 2017 parliament passed a law prohibiting discounted pricing of billboard space for state-financed entities, including political parties. Several opposition parties challenged the law in the Constitutional Court, charging that it was designed to limit their freedom of expression. On December 12, the Constitutional Court rejected the legal challenge.

On July 25, parliament passed a law imposing a 25 percent tax on all civil entities that aid or promote illegal immigration, including groups that support media campaigns deemed to aid or promote immigration. Several NGOs sharply criticized the law, noting that it penalizes the public expression of opinions different from that of the government (see also section 5).

Press and Media Freedom: Independent media were active and expressed a wide variety of views without formal restriction. Media consolidation resulted in further expansion of government-friendly enterprises and reduction in other media voices, primarily in print and broadcast media. In April, citing financial problems, a prominent businessman and political opponent of Prime Minister Orban closed several of his government-critical media outlets and transferred others to a government-friendly owner. In November the owners of 476 government-friendly media outlets, comprising what experts estimate as approximately 85 percent of all Hungarian media outlets nationally, transferred these outlets to the Central European Press and Media Foundation (KESMA), led by Fidesz media expert Gabor Liszkay. On December 5, Prime Minister Orban signed a decree declaring KESMA of strategic national interest and exempting it from scrutiny by the country’s Competition Authority, and by extension, its Media Council. In light of the developments with KESMA, media watchdog Mertek Media Monitor said it made “little sense to speak about freedom of the press in Hungary,” claiming KESMA would enhance the ability of government-friendly media to further squeeze independent media out of the market.

In its final report on the parliamentary elections, the OSCE Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights (ODIHR) concluded that “the ability of contestants to compete on an equal basis was significantly compromised by the government’s excessive spending on public information advertisements that amplified the ruling coalition’s campaign message,” and that “the media is largely dependent on their owners’ financial subsidies and/or government advertisements. Government advertisements are distributed to selected media outlets through restricted public tenders and lack sufficient transparency and robust audit measures. Such a media environment limits space for critical reporting and pluralism” (see section 3, Elections and Political Participation).

The National Media and Info-Communications Authority (NMHH), subordinate to parliament, is the central state administrative body for regulating the media. The authority of the NMHH includes overseeing the operation of broadcast and media markets as well as “contributing to the execution of the government’s policy in the areas of frequency management and telecommunications.” The NMHH president serves as the chair of the five-member Media Council, the decision-making body of the NMHH that supervises broadcast, cable, online, and print media content and spectrum management. The NMHH consisted exclusively of persons named by the governing parties.

The state news agency, MTI, is mandated by law to provide balanced, objective, nonpartisan coverage. Media watchdogs and independent outlets criticized the state media for concealing facts and opinions unfavorable to the government.

National Assembly speaker Laszlo Kover’s 2010 ban on parliamentary access by several dozen persons, mainly journalists, for alleged violation of parliamentary rules remained in force. In May Kover informed the reporters he banned from entering parliament at any point during the 2014-18 parliamentary cycle that they would not be allowed to enter parliament to cover the inaugural parliamentary session. At year’s end, the 2016 appeal by the Hungarian Civil Liberties Union (HCLU) to the ECHR to overturn Kover’s decision remained pending. The OSCE representative on freedom of the media stated that “accrediation for an event should not be used as a tool to curb the content of critical reporting.”

Violence and Harassment: There were no reports of violence against journalists or of physical or legal harassment. Nevertheless, government officials and government-aligned media regularly referred to independent journalists or media as the “Soros media” or “foreign agents.”

Censorship or Content Restrictions: The law provides content regulations and standards for journalistic rights, ethics, and norms that are applicable to all media, including news portals and online publications. It prohibits inciting hatred against nations; communities; ethnic, linguistic, or other minorities; majority groups; and churches or religious groups. It provides for maintaining the confidentiality of sources with respect to procedures conducted by courts or authorities.

The law mandates that every media service provider that delivers news to the public must report in a balanced manner, and it states in particular that public service media providers should pursue balanced, accurate, detailed, objective, and responsible news and information services. These requirements were widely disregarded, including by the public media.

The Media Council may impose fines for violations of content regulations, including on media services that violate prohibitions on inciting hatred or violating human dignity or regulations governing the protection of minors. The council may impose fines of up to 200 million forints ($800,000), depending on the nature of the infringement, type of media service, and audience size. It may also suspend the right to broadcast for up to one week. Defendants may appeal Media Council decisions but must appeal separately to prevent implementation of fines while the parties litigate the substantive appeal.

As of September 1, the Media Council had issued 205 resolutions concerning various alleged violations of the media law, imposing fines totaling nearly 8.8 million forints ($35,000) on 83 media service providers. The most common citations were for unlawful advertising methods violating the dignity of a person or group.

Libel/Slander Laws: Journalists reporting on an event may be judged criminally responsible for making or reporting false statements. Both individuals and media outlets may be sued for libel for their published statements or for publicizing libelous statements made by others. Plaintiffs may litigate in both civil and criminal courts.

Public officials and individual public figures continued to use libel and defamation laws in response to criticism from citizens and journalists, and the HCLU reported the libel laws had a chilling effect on journalists reporting about politicians.

After the April 8 parliamentary elections, three opposition politicians successfully sued multiple progovernment media outlets for libel, accusing them of deliberately spreading false information about them before the election.

INTERNET FREEDOM

The government did not restrict or disrupt access to the internet and generally did not censor online content. There were no substantiated reports that the government monitored private online communications without appropriate legal authority.

In cooperation with internet service providers, the NMHH maintained a nonpublic database to block websites that violate the law, including content-related legislation. The system also blocked websites suspected of violating such laws, based on preliminary court rulings.

According to the International Telecommunication Union, 76.8 percent of the population used the internet in 2017.

ACADEMIC FREEDOM AND CULTURAL EVENTS

In 2017 parliament used a fast-track procedure to amend the higher education law regarding the operation of foreign universities in the country. The amendment includes a provision requiring universities from non-EU countries operating in Hungary to have a physical presence in their countries of origin, operate under an intergovernmental agreement between Hungary and the other country of accreditation, and ensure that the name of the university in Hungarian reflects an exact translation of the name in the country of origin. Three U.S.-accredited universities active in the country were found to violate the new requirements: Central European University (CEU), McDaniel College, and Boston University. In 2017 the government signed an agreement allowing the continued operation of McDaniel College.

In 2017 a legal opinion by the Venice Commission called on the government to exempt foreign universities already operating in the country from the obligation to provide education in their country of origin and challenged other provisions. Opposition MPs also filed a suit challenging aspects of the law in the Constitutional Court. The European Commission referred Hungary to the European Court of Justice, arguing that the higher education amendment violates EU rules on the freedom of education and enterprise, provision of services, and scientific activity. The lawsuit remained pending at year’s end. On June 5, the Constitutional Court postponed its proceedings to review the legislation, stating it would wait for the ruling of the European Court of Justice.

In October 2017 parliament voted to extend until the end of 2018 the deadline for foreign higher education institutions to comply with the amended higher education law. Government officials pointed to the extension as responding in part to the Venice Commission’s opinion. CEU established a presence and conducted courses at Bard College in New York, and the Hungarian government and State of New York negotiated the required intergovernmental agreement. The government argued, however, that CEU had not sufficiently complied with the provisions of the law and declined to sign the agreement that would allow it to stay. On December 3, CEU announced it would move its U.S.-accredited programs to Vienna.

A government decree effective as of October 13 eliminated gender studies from the list of master’s degree programs (both state- and private-funded) that could be accredited in Hungary. The decree stated that enrolled students could finish their studies, but gender studies programs can accept no new students in the academic year beginning in 2019. Two Hungarian universities issued degrees in gender studies–Eotvos Lorand University (ELTE) and CEU.

b. Freedom of Peaceful Assembly and Association

The constitution and law provide for the freedom of peaceful assembly, and the government generally respected this right. By law demonstrations do not require a police permit, but event organizers must inform police of a planned assembly in a public place at least three days in advance. The law authorizes police to prohibit any gathering if it seriously endangers the peaceful operation of representative bodies or courts or if it is not possible to provide for alternate routes for traffic. Police may not disband a spontaneous, unauthorized assembly that remains peaceful and is aimed at expressing opinion on an event that was unforeseeable, but organizers must inform police immediately after organizing has begun. Police are required to disband an assembly if it commits a crime or incites the commission of a crime, results in the violation of the rights of others, involves armed participants, or is held despite a preliminary official ban. A police decision to prohibit or disband a public demonstration is open for judicial review. The police may disband public events in the geographic area affected by a terrorist act that has occurred or one that is threatened.

On June 20, parliament adopted a constitutional amendment that includes a provision to strengthen the protection of privacy by stipulating that freedom of expression and the exercise of the right of assembly shall not harm others’ private and family life and their homes. Critics asserted this would be used to ban unwanted protests in public spaces near politicians’ homes and could be used to ban protests in many other public spaces that have apartments nearby.

On July 20, parliament also amended the law on assembly to give more power to the government to regulate public demonstrations, including the ability to hold organizers liable for damages caused by their events and to ban protests in advance. According to the amended law, authorities may ban or dissolve gatherings that unnecessarily and disproportionately harm others’ human dignity, the dignity of the Hungarian nation, or other national, ethnic, or religious communities. The new rules also permit police to prevent demonstrations that hinder diplomats from performing their duties, threaten public order, or disturb others’ rights to free movement. Although the police’s decision is not subject to appeal, the organizers may contest it in court within three days. The police can fine demonstration organizers if they fail to restore a demonstration site to its original state or clean it up. The new legislation also criminalizes the nonviolent disturbance or impediment of a demonstration.

On July 20, parliament amended the criminal code to make harassment of “official persons” (including members of parliament, judges, and prosecutors) when they are not performing public duties a crime punishable by up to three years’ imprisonment.

FREEDOM OF ASSOCIATION

The constitution and law provide for freedom of association, and the government generally respected it, with some exceptions.

During the year the government passed legislation that introduced new criminal and financial penalties for migration-related work of NGOs and their staff (see section 5).

On July 23, the Budapest local municipality ordered the Aurora Civil and Cultural Center–which provides office space for several NGOs–to close, claiming Aurora’s lease was invalid because it predates the center’s registration; Aurora claimed that it had not violated any rules and that the issue with the date was an administrative mistake. This was the second attempt to shut down the center within one year.

The Fidesz-dominated city assembly of Pecs passed a resolution in December 2017 calling on local residents, businesses, and organizations not to rent or provide any space within the city to the NGO With the Strength of Humanity because it received an approximately $490,000 grant from the Open Society Foundations (OSF) to support community building in the region. The NGO sued the city mayor for libel but lost the case in a July ruling. The NGO said it would appeal the decision. In March a local municipality-owned company rejected an attempt by the same NGO to rent premises for an event. The Equal Treatment Authority fined the company in June.

A 2011 law on religion deregistered more than 300 religious groups and organizations that had previously held incorporated church status; most were required to reapply for registration. The government had not approved any applications for incorporated church status since it amended the same law in 2012, but many applications were approved allowing for status as a lesser religious organization. On December 20, parliament passed an amendment to the law that creates four different statuses for religious organizations. Observers noted that while the amendment provides a simpler procedure for religious entities to gain an intermediate level religious status, it only restores some of the rights they had before 2011.

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

The constitution and law provide for freedom of internal movement, foreign travel, emigration, and repatriation, and the government generally respected these rights. In 2017-2018, asylum and border management laws underwent significant legal modifications and limited access to asylum procedures.

Abuse of Migrants, Refugees, and Stateless Persons: Human rights advocates, the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), and the European Commission criticized the government’s treatment of migrants and asylum seekers. Specifically, these organizations reported that migrants and asylum seekers were pushed back to the external side of the border fence on the Serbian-Hungarian border, even if they had not entered Hungary through Serbia. Reports included instances of police violence against refugees and migrants attempting to cross from Serbia to Hungary.

Domestic and international human rights organizations reported fewer complaints regarding the excessive use of police force and abuse against refugees and migrants while the number of asylum seekers decreased, compared with previous years. Human rights organizations, however, stated that in most cases, the government did not take formal action against alleged perpetrators and noted that few victims were willing to lodge formal complaints.

The law permits the detention of rejected asylum seekers for a maximum of 12 months (30 days in cases of families with children). Immigration detention generally took place in immigration detention centers.

The asylum law requires mandatory detention of all asylum seekers other than unaccompanied minors younger than 14. All new asylum seekers were detained in two guarded transit zones (Roszke and Tompa) on the Serbian-Hungarian border, which they could not leave without abandoning their asylum claims.

PROTECTION OF REFUGEES

Refoulement: In 2015 two Bangladeshi asylum seekers, Ilias Ilias and Ali Ahmed, filed suit against the government, asking for release from a transit detention zone and a halt to their expulsion to Serbia. Authorities kept the men in the transit zone for more than three weeks before sending them back to Serbia, considered a safe country under a 2015 government decree. In 2017 the ECHR ruled the men’s return to Serbia as well as their detention was unlawful, but the government appealed the ruling. The ECHR’s Grand Chamber heard the case on April 18; a final judgement remained pending.

Access to Asylum: The law provides for asylum and establishes a procedure for persons in the country to apply for it, but often little or no opportunity to apply was afforded. Since 2017 police were allowed to push back to the Serbian side of the border fence any migrants who could not prove their right to stay in the country, regardless of whether or not they entered the country from Serbia. There is no judicial remedy concerning such “push-backs.”

On June 20, parliament adopted a legislative package that introduced new criminal penalties, including a prison sentence of up to a year, for “facilitating illegal migration.” It criminalizes providing assistance to asylum seekers who were not subject to persecution in their home country or who had already transited a safe country to submit asylum claims; conducting human rights-focused border monitoring activities; or issuing or distributing information leaflets about asylum procedures. Parliament also modified the constitution to state that persons arriving in Hungary “through a country where he or she was not exposed to persecution or a direct risk of persecution should not be entitled to asylum.”

UNHCR and the Council of Europe Commissioner for Human Rights said the law restricts the ability of NGOs and individuals to support asylum seekers and refugees. On June 25, the Venice Commission and the OSCE published a joint opinion on the law, asserting it seriously hindered the operation of legitimate civil groups. On July 19, the European Commission initiated an infringement procedure against Hungary for violating EU and international laws with the introduction of new nonadmissibility grounds for asylum applications and curtailing the right to asylum. In July the European Commission also referred Hungary to the European Court of Justice, asserting its asylum and return legislation did not comply with EU law, namely for holding asylum applicants too long in transit zones at the border and failing to give them proper access to asylum procedures and legal safeguards.

The government provided UNHCR and the International Federation of Red Cross access to refugees and asylum seekers. Cooperation with UNHCR and other humanitarian organizations in providing protection and assistance (as opposed to access) varied (also see Access to Basic Services, below). Access by other humanitarian organizations was more limited. A few domestic NGOs were provided access to the transit zones, and a few other NGOs were provided access only when asylum seekers specifically requested their assistance. Human rights NGOs alleged the government granted access only to certain cooperative organizations, making it difficult to verify information.

Safe Country of Origin/Transit: The government issued lists of “safe countries of origin” and “safe third countries.” Both lists included Serbia, Bosnia and Herzegovina, and Kosovo. UNHCR repeatedly objected to the government’s recognition of Serbia as a safe third country on the grounds that it does not have effective asylum procedures.

Freedom of Movement: In 2015 the government set up two transit zones at the country’s southern border with Serbia, capable of hosting 200-300 persons each, where asylum seekers were required to wait while their requests for refugee status were processed. The government also closed reception facilities for asylum seekers, so that by summer only the facility in Vamosszabadi remained open. The Vamosszabadi facility hosted persons granted international protection for up to 30 days.

Access to Basic Services: In 2016 parliament amended the law to reduce benefits and assistance to those given international protection on the grounds they should not have more advantages than Hungarian citizens. The law requires mandatory and automatic revision of refugee status at least every three years, sets the maximum period at 30 days of stay in open reception centers after recognition, and establishes an eligibility period of six months for basic health-care services following recognition. Authorities do not provide housing allowances, educational allowances, or monthly cash allowances to asylum seekers or beneficiaries of subsidiary protection.

The two transit zones for migrants provided clothes, soap, meals, water, and shelter. Charities provided some educational and social activities in English or Hungarian, as well as supplemental nutrition for children. The government also provided basic medical assistance on site. Between November 2017 and June, a psychologist visited the transit zones for six hours per week without any translation available; the psychologist was subsequently allowed to use government translators. Officials denied transit zone access to certain NGOs and a UNHCR contractor, which prevented several migrants who had previously suffered torture and asylum seekers suffering from posttraumatic stress disorder from receiving specialized care. At the beginning of the year, a government-funded psychiatrist started visiting the two transit zones once per week.

Based on new asylum rules that went into effect July 1 regarding transit by asylum seekers through countries the government considered safe (including Serbia) prior to entering Hungary, immigration authorities rejected all post-June 30 asylum requests heard by December 14. They also interpreted the new rules to mean no food should be given to asylum seekers who appeal their denials, with the exception of children and nursing mothers. The ECHR granted interim measures in five cases in August and ordered the country to feed the asylum seekers. The government subsequently began providing meals to all rejected asylum seekers who appealed.

Durable Solutions: Refugees are allowed to naturalize, but research by the Hungarian Helsinki Committee (HHC) in 2015 (commissioned by UNHCR) found that the applications of refugees and stateless persons were approved at a dramatically lower rate than those of other naturalization seekers. High fees (for example, for certified translations) made the naturalization process more difficult. The government applied preferential conditions to applicants with Hungarian ancestry (via the so-called simplified naturalization process), but not to refugees or stateless persons. The HHC criticized the procedural framework for naturalization, noting decisions were not explained to applicants and no appeal of rejections is allowed.

There were no reported cases of onward refugee resettlement from the country to other states.

Temporary Protection: The law provides for a specific temporary protection status for situations of mass influx, but organizations working on the problem reported that it was not used in practice. Under the law, all forms of international protection (refugee status, subsidiary protection, tolerated stay, stateless status, etc.) are temporary by nature, with periodic review of the entitlement to protection.

STATELESS PERSONS

The country operates a dedicated statelessness determination procedure and provides a humanitarian residence permit to persons recognized as stateless. According to UNHCR, 139 stateless persons lived in the country at the end of 2017, and the government maintained what UNHCR characterized as a good stateless-person determination process. The law provides for naturalization by stateless persons.

Iceland

Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:

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

Freedom of Expression: The law establishes fines and imprisonment for up to two years for “[a]nyone who publicly mocks, defames, denigrates, or threatens a person or group of persons by comments or expressions of another nature, for example, by means of pictures or symbols for their nationality, color, race, religion, sexual orientation, or gender identity, or disseminates such materials.”

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

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.

In July new data protection legislation came into force to transpose the EU’s General Data Protection Regulation into domestic law. The law provides greater oversight role for the Data Protection Authority and strengthens individual rights and discretionary powers over their one’s own information.

According to the International Telecommunication Union, 98 percent of households used 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.

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

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

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

PROTECTION OF REFUGEES

Access to Asylum: The law provides for the granting of asylum or refugee status, and the government has established a system for providing protection to refugees. It allows for accelerated refusal by the Ministry of Justice’s Directorate of Immigration of applications deemed to be “manifestly unfounded.” An independent regulatory committee, the Immigration and Asylum Appeals Board, adjudicated asylum cases rejected by the directorate.

Safe Country of Origin/Transit: The country adheres to the EU’s Dublin III regulation, which allows for the return of asylum seekers to the country of entry into the EU. The country did not return asylum seekers to EU member states Greece and Hungary unless they already received protection in these countries. In certain cases the country also did not return vulnerable asylum seekers to Italy.

Employment: Asylum seekers needed to have assured housing for authorities to issue work permits. An asylum seeker may be fined or face deductions of benefits by the Directorate of Immigration if found to be working without proper authorization.

Access to Basic Services: All asylum seekers had access to the health-care system as part of a package of benefits when living in housing provided by the Directorate of Immigration. Some asylum seekers without a national identification number experienced delays in receiving health services. Critics asserted that full access to the health-care system should be extended on arrival to any asylum seeker who opts to live outside of the Directorate of Immigration’s facilities or who starts work during a six-month waiting period. Critics also called for increased access for asylum seekers to better mental healthcare services because of a marked increase of asylum seekers from countries with ongoing conflicts, such as Syria, Afghanistan, and Iraq.

The number of asylum applications during the year, coupled with a housing shortage in the Reykjavik area and in Reykjanesbaer near the international airport, made it difficult for the Directorate of Immigration to provide adequate housing for all asylum applicants.

Durable Solutions: The government adequately provides for the support of durable solutions, including local integration and resettlement. In June parliament extended the right to apply for citizenship until the age of 21 in certain cases, rather than 18, and reduced the number of years of residency needed to apply for citizenship from seven to five years in cases of statelessness.

During the year the country resettled 52 refugees from Syria, Iraq, and Uganda. The government offered naturalization to refugees who met citizenship requirements and facilitated voluntary returns in individual cases.

Temporary Protection: The government provided temporary protection to individuals who may not qualify as refugees and provided subsidiary protection to 21 persons and humanitarian protection to six others.

India

Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:

The constitution provides for freedom of expression, but it does not explicitly mention freedom of the press. The government generally respected this right, although there were several instances in which the government or actors considered close to the government allegedly pressured or harassed media outlets critical of the government, including through online trolling. There were also reports of extremists perpetrating acts of killing, violence, and intimidation against journalists critical of the government.

Freedom of Expression: Individuals routinely criticized the government publicly and privately. According to HRW, however, sedition and criminal defamation laws were sometimes used to prosecute citizens who criticized government officials or opposed state policies. In certain cases local authorities arrested individuals under laws against hate speech for expressions of political views. Freedom House, in its most recent report, asserted that freedom of expression was eroding in the country noted the government’s silence regarding direct attacks on free speech. In some instances the government reportedly withheld public-sector advertising from outlets that criticized the government, causing some outlets to practice self-censorship. According to media watchdog The Hoot, media freedom continued to deteriorate in the first quarter of the year. Between January and April, The Hoot detailed three journalists killed, 13 attacks on journalists, 50 instances of censorship, seven defamation cases, and more than 20 instances of suspension of internet services, as well as the taking down of online content. In 2017 reporting by The Hoot detailed 11 journalists killed, 46 alleged attacks on journalists, 77 internet shutdowns, and 20 sedition cases against 335 individuals.

On July 2, Tamil Nadu police registered a case against a human rights activist and a documentary filmmaker following the launch of a trailer for her upcoming documentary Orutharum Varala (“No one came”), which focused on the plight of victims of Cyclone Ockhi, a storm that hit Tamil Nadu in November 2017. Police charged her for promoting enmity between groups and insulting the national flag. According to media reports, police personnel searched her house without a warrant. At year’s end she remained under conditional bail.

In September 2017 Akhil Gogoi, a right to information activist and president of the anticorruption organization Krishak Mukti Sangram Samiti, was arrested in Assam on charges of sedition and labelled a Maoist by the government a day after he gave a speech criticizing various policies of the ruling BJP party. In December 2017 Guwahati High Court ordered Gogoi’s release.

Press and Media Freedom: Independent media were active and generally expressed a wide variety of views. The law prohibits content that could harm religious sentiments or provoke enmity among groups, and authorities invoked these provisions to restrict print media, broadcast media, and publication or distribution of books.

According to a number of journalists, press freedom declined during the year. There were a number of reports, including from journalists and NGOs, that government officials, both at the local and national levels, were involved in silencing or intimidating critical media outlets through physical harassment/attacks, pressuring owners, targeting sponsors, and encouraging frivolous lawsuits.

The 2018 World Press Freedom Index identified physical attacks on journalists and online “trolls” as major areas of concern, noting, “with Hindu nationalists trying to purge all manifestations of ‘anti-national’ thought from the national debate, self-censorship is growing in the mainstream media and journalists are increasingly the targets of online smear campaigns by the most radical nationalists, who vilify them and even threaten physical reprisals.” The report also noted at least three journalists were killed in 2017 in connection with their work, as well as three in March. The report highlighted the use of Section 124a of the penal code, which includes sedition punishable by life imprisonment, to gag journalists.

The Editors Guild of India claimed the government limited press freedom by exerting political pressure and blocking television transmissions. In January Chandigarh-based The Tribune reported on privacy and security flaws in the government’s Aadhaar identity program, leading to the subsequent firing of its editor in chief Harish Khare after government pressure reportedly was brought to bear on the newspaper. Starting in January, Tamil Nadu media reported state-run Arasu Cable Network blocked several television channels’ live coverage of antigovernment protests for periods varying from a day to several months, and on May 22, it blocked coverage of police firing on protesters at a demonstration against the Sterlite copper smelting plant in Thoothukudi, Tamil Nadu.

The government maintained a monopoly on AM radio stations, limiting broadcasting to the state-owned All India Radio, and restricted FM radio licenses for entertainment and educational content. Widely distributed private satellite television provided competition for Doordarshan, the government-owned television network. There were some accusations of political interference in the state-owned broadcasters. State governments banned the import or sale of some books due to material that government censors deemed could be inflammatory or provoke communal or religious tensions.

Violence and Harassment: There were numerous instances of journalists and members of media being threatened or killed in response to their reporting. Police rarely identified suspects involved in the killing of journalists. A 2017 report by the Press Council of India highlighted that at least 80 journalists had been killed since 1990 and only one conviction had been made.

In March, Sandeep Sharma, a News World channel reporter investigating illegal sand mining in Madhya Pradesh, was run over by a dump truck shortly after filing an intimidation complaint against a police officer whom he accused of being in league with local criminal organizations. In July, Ahmedabad police beat DNA India photographer Praveen Indrekar while he was reporting on a police crackdown on illegal liquor sales.

Reporters were also attacked while covering elections. On April 9, Biplab Mondal, a photojournalist with the Times of India, and Manas Chattopadhyay, a reporter with regional television channel ETV Bharat, along with several other journalists, were assaulted by alleged Trinamool Congress loyalists while covering the process of filing nomination papers for local elections in West Bengal.

Online and mobile harassment was especially prevalent, and incidents of internet “trolling,” or making deliberately offensive or provocative online posts with the aim of upsetting someone, continued to rise. Journalists were threatened with violence and, in the case of female journalists, rape. On May 22, Rana Ayyub, a Mumbai-based independent journalist, wrote in the New York Times that after she criticized the prime minister’s policies towards minorities and lower-caste groups, she was targeted by “a coordinated social media campaign that slut shames, deploys manipulated images with sexually explicit language, and threatens rape.”

In September 2017 senior journalist and activist Gauri Lankesh was shot and killed by three assailants at her home in Bengaluru. At year’s end 16 individuals were arrested in connection with the case, without formal charges being filed, and the investigation continued.

Censorship or Content Restrictions: In August internet news portal The Wire reported the government disrupted the broadcast signal of ABP News and pressured the outlet into sidelining several of its journalists, including its editor in chief, in response to a story that claimed inaccuracies in one of the prime minister’s speeches. ABP anchor Punya Prasoon Vajpai and editor Milind Khandekar resigned, and the Editors Guild of India demanded action against officials for “throttling media freedom.”

Libel/Slander Laws: Individuals continued to be charged with posting offensive or derogatory material on social media. The NGO Freedom House noted that more than 20 individuals were detained for online comments about religion or political issues ranging from a water dispute between Karnataka and Tamil Nadu to the government’s demonetization policy. In August a 24-year-old was arrested for posting “abusive” comments against Karnataka Chief Minister H.D. Kumaraswamy on social media.

National Security: In some cases government authorities cited laws protecting national interest to restrict media content. In August numerous outlets reported that the Indian Department of Telecom was seeking the views of telecom companies, industry associations, and other stakeholders on how to block mobile apps, including Facebook, WhatsApp, Telegram, and Instagram, “in cases where national security or public order are under threat.”

INTERNET FREEDOM

There were government restrictions on access to the internet, disruptions of access to the internet, and censorship of online content. There were also reports the government occasionally monitored users of digital media, such as chat rooms and person-to-person communications. The law permits the government to block internet sites and content and criminalizes sending messages the government deems inflammatory or offensive. Both central and state governments have the power to issue directions for blocking, intercepting, monitoring, or decrypting computer information.

In 2015 the Supreme Court overturned some provisions of information technology law that restricted content published on social media, but it upheld the government’s authority to issue orders to block online content “in the interest of sovereignty and integrity of India, defense of India, security of the State, and friendly relations with foreign states or public order” without court approval. In August 2017 the Ministry of Communications announced new rules allowing the government to shut telephone and internet services temporarily during a “public emergency” or for “public safety.”

According to media reports, as of August central and state governments temporarily shut down the internet in different locations across the country 95 times, the highest figure recorded and more than the total figure for 2017. Internet access and services were frequently curtailed during periods of violence and curfew in the state of Jammu and Kashmir and occasionally in other parts of the country, particularly Rajasthan, Uttar Pradesh, Maharashtra, and Bihar. According to HRW, authorities sometimes failed to follow legal procedures and in some instances ordered shutdowns unnecessarily.

Requests for user data from internet companies continued to rise, and according to Facebook’s Transparency report, the government made 22,024 data requests in 2017, a 61.7-percent rise from 2016. Google also highlighted an increase in government requests for user data in its 2017 Transparency Report, receiving 14,932 user-data disclosure requests. Twitter reported 576 account information requests from the government during the same period.

In July the government announced that as many as 1,662 defamatory websites had been blocked on social media platforms following requests from law enforcement agencies. Officials stated the government blocked 956 sites on Facebook, 409 on Twitter, and 152 on YouTube, among others. The number of blocked URLs has grown annually, with more than double the number of URLs blocked in 2017 compared with previous years.

Freedom House, in its 2018 India Country Report, rated the country “partly free” with respect to internet user rights. The report documented arrests of internet users and group administrators for content distributed on social media accounts, including WhatsApp, and stated officials detained more than 20 individuals for online comments about religious or political issues.

The Central Monitoring System (CMS) continued to allow governmental agencies to monitor electronic communications in real time without informing the subject or a judge. The CMS is a mass electronic surveillance data-mining program installed by the Center for Development of Telematics, a government-owned telecommunications technology development center. The CMS gives security agencies and income tax officials centralized access to the telecommunication network and the ability to hear and record mobile, landline, and satellite telephone calls and Voice over Internet Protocol, to read private emails and mobile phone text messages, and to track geographical locations of individuals in real time. Authorities can also use it to monitor posts shared on social media and track users’ search histories on search engines, without oversight by courts or parliament. This monitoring facility was available to nine security agencies, including the Intelligence Bureau, the Research and Analysis Wing, and the Ministry of Home Affairs. The law governing interception and monitoring provides an oversight mechanism to prevent unauthorized interceptions. Punishment for unauthorized interception includes fines, a maximum prison sentence of three years, or both.

ACADEMIC FREEDOM AND CULTURAL EVENTS

The government occasionally applied restrictions on the travel and activities of visiting foreign experts and scholars. Academics continued to face threats and pressure for expressing controversial views. In July, The Wire reported the Delhi University administration canceled a magazine launch and panel discussion by Delhi University students on the freedom of expression allegedly due to pressure from the Akhil Bharatiya Vidyarthi Parishad, a Hindu right-wing student association.

b. Freedom of Peaceful Assembly and Association

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

FREEDOM OF PEACEFUL ASSEMBLY

The law provides for freedom of assembly. Authorities often required permits and notification before parades or demonstrations, and local governments generally respected the right to protest peacefully. The state of Jammu and Kashmir was an exception, where the state government sometimes denied permits to separatist political parties for public gatherings, and security forces reportedly occasionally detained and assaulted members of political groups engaged in peaceful protest (see section 1.g.). During periods of civil unrest in the state of Jammu and Kashmir, authorities used the law to ban public assemblies and impose curfews.

Security forces, including local police, often disrupted demonstrations and reportedly used excessive force when attempting to disperse protesters. On May 22, Tamil Nadu police opened fire on protesters who were demanding the closure of the Sterlite copper smelting plant at Thoothukudi, Tamil Nadu, killing 15 individuals. The Tamil Nadu government claimed the police only fired on individuals who used logs and petrol bombs to set fire to vehicles during the protests.

There were sometimes restrictions on the organization of international conferences. Authorities required NGOs to secure approval from the central government before organizing international conferences. Authorities routinely granted permission, although in some cases the approval process was lengthy. Some human rights groups claimed this practice provided the government tacit control over the work of NGOs and constituted a restriction on freedoms of assembly and association.

FREEDOM OF ASSOCIATION

The law provides for freedom of association. While the government generally respected this right, the government’s increased monitoring and regulation of NGOs that received foreign funding caused concern. In certain cases the government required “prior approval” for some NGOs to receive foreign funds, suspended foreign banking licenses, or froze accounts of NGOs that allegedly received foreign funding without the proper clearances or that mixed foreign and domestic funding, and in other instances canceled or declined to renew Foreign Contributions (Regulation) Act (FCRA) registrations. On April 3, Minister of State for Home Affairs Kiran Rijiju informed the lower house of parliament that the government had canceled the registration of more than 14,000 NGOs in the last four years, although some of the cancellations reportedly pertained to defunct organizations. Some human rights organizations claimed these actions were sometimes used to target specific NGOs.

Some NGOs reported an increase in random FCRA compliance inspections by Ministry of Home Affairs officials who they said were purportedly under pressure to demonstrate strict enforcement of the law. FCRA licenses were also reportedly canceled periodically based on nonpublic investigations by the Intelligence Bureau. On June 1, the Ministry of Home Affairs launched an online tool to facilitate real-time monitoring of foreign funds deposited into NGO bank accounts. On June 5, it announced NGOs found in violation of FCRA provisions would be assessed a civil fine instead of having their licenses canceled or suspended. The rules, however, were not applicable retroactively. Some NGOs reported the new rules would severely affect smaller organizations that would be unable to pay the steep penalties–amounting to 10 percent of their total funds–and that did not have the compliance expertise, leaving only large entities able to maintain their FCRA licenses.

Some NGOs alleged they were targeted as a reprisal for their work on “politically sensitive” issues like human rights or environmental activism. The Center for Promotion of Social Concerns (CPSC) and its partner program unit People’s Watch continued court proceedings against the nonrenewal of their FCRA license. A September 12 report by the UN secretary general cited the use of FCRA regulations to “restrict the work of NGOs cooperating with the United Nations, for example by a refusal to renew or grant licenses, including for the CPSC.”

On October 25, the Enforcement Directorate (ED), a government agency that investigates financial crimes, raided the premises of Amnesty International India’s Bengaluru office and froze its bank accounts on suspicion that it had violated foreign funding guidelines. Aakar Patel, Amnesty International India’s executive director stated, “The Enforcement Directorate’s raid on our office today shows how the authorities are now treating human rights organizations like criminal enterprises, using heavy-handed methods that are commonly found in repressive states. Our staff have been harassed and intimidated.” The searches came days after the ED searched the premises of environmental nonprofit Greenpeace India in Bengaluru on October 12, also for allegedly violating foreign funding rules. Greenpeace India refuted the allegations stating, “This seems to be part of a larger design to muzzle democratic dissent in the country.”

In February the Public Health Foundation of India (PHFI), a public-health advocacy group, was placed in the “prior permission” category, requiring the organization to seek permission from the Ministry of Home Affairs each time it wanted to receive and use funds from foreign sources. The Ministry of Home Affairs indicated the center and state governments would review PHFI’s use of foreign funds quarterly and that the investigation into PHFI’s alleged FCRA violations would continue.

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

The law provides for freedom of internal movement, foreign travel, emigration, and repatriation. The government generally respected these rights. In 2015 the implementation of a land-boundary agreement between India and Bangladesh enfranchised more than 50,000 previously stateless residents, providing access to education and health services.

The country hosts a large refugee population, including 108,005 Tibetan refugees and approximately 90,000 refugees from Sri Lanka. The government generally allows the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) to assist asylum seekers and refugees from noncontiguous countries and Burma. In many cases refugees and asylum seekers under UNHCR’s mandate reported increased challenges regularizing their status through long-term visas and residence permits. Rohingya refugees were registered by UNHCR but not granted legal status by the government.

Abuse of Migrants, Refugees, and Stateless Persons: The law does not contain the term “refugee,” treating refugees like any other foreigners. Undocumented physical presence in the country is a criminal offense. Persons without documentation were vulnerable to forced returns and abuse.

The courts protected refugees and asylum seekers in accordance with the constitution.

Refugees reported exploitation by nongovernment actors, including assaults, gender-based violence, fraud, and labor exploitation. Problems of domestic violence, sexual abuse, and early and forced marriage also continued. Gender-based violence and sexual abuse were common in camps for Sri Lankans. Most urban refugees worked in the informal sector or in occupations such as street vending, where they suffered from police extortion, nonpayment of wages, and exploitation.

UNHCR and NGOs observed an increase in antirefugee (specifically anti-Rohingya) rhetoric throughout the year in advance of state and 2019 national elections, which reportedly led to an increased sense of insecurity in refugee communities. On October 4, the Supreme Court rejected a plea to stop the deportation of seven Rohingya immigrants from Assam. The court noted the individuals, held in an Assam jail since 2012, were arrested by Indian authorities as illegal immigrants and that Burma was ready to accept them as their nationals. According to media reports, the nationality of the immigrants was confirmed after the Burmese government verified their addresses in Rakhine State. Rights groups said the government’s decision to deport them placed them at risk of oppression and abuse. According to HRW, the government deported the seven ethnic Rohingya Muslims to Burma where “they are at grave risk of oppression and abuse.” HRW further noted, “The Indian government has disregarded its long tradition of protecting those seeking refuge within its borders.”

In-country Movement: The central government relaxed restrictions on travel by foreigners to Arunachal Pradesh, Nagaland, Mizoram, Manipur, and parts of Jammu and Kashmir, excluding foreign nationals from Pakistan, China, and Burma. The Ministry of Home Affairs and state governments required citizens to obtain special permits upon arrival when traveling to certain restricted areas.

Foreign Travel: The government may legally deny a passport to any applicant for engaging in activities outside the country “prejudicial to the sovereignty and integrity of the nation.”

The trend of delaying issuance and renewal of passports to citizens from the state of Jammu and Kashmir continued, sometimes up to two years. The government reportedly subjected applicants born in the state of Jammu and Kashmir, including children born to military officers deployed in the state, to additional scrutiny and police clearances before issuing them passports.

Citizenship: On July 31, the government of Assam published the final draft of the National Register of Citizens (NRC), a document intended to define individuals with a claim to citizenship in a state that experienced an influx of foreigners in 1971. In 1985 the government declared that anyone who entered Assam without proper documentation after March 24, 1971, would be declared a foreigner. The names of four million residents were excluded from the final draft list, leading to uncertainty over the status of these individuals, many of whose families had lived in the state for several generations. Individuals will be required to go through an appeals process to have their names included in the final list of Indian citizens. The Supreme Court is overseeing the process, and four million individuals were given 60 days from September 25 to file a claim or objection. On September 24, ruling BJP party president Amit Shah called Bangladeshis who may be in Assam “termites” who will be struck from the list of citizens.

INTERNALLY DISPLACED PERSONS

Authorities located IDP settlements throughout the country, including those containing groups displaced by internal armed conflicts in the state of Jammu and Kashmir, Maoist-affected areas, the northeastern states (see section 1.g.), and Gujarat. The 2018 annual report of the Internal Displacement Monitoring Center asserted 806,000 individuals were displaced because of conflict and violence as of December 2017, with 78,000 new displacements due to conflict in 2017. Estimating precise numbers of those displaced by conflict or violence was difficult, because the government does not monitor the movements of displaced persons, and humanitarian and human rights agencies had limited access to camps and affected regions. While authorities registered residents of IDP camps, an unknown number of displaced persons resided outside the camps. Many IDPs lacked sufficient food, clean water, shelter, and health care (see section 1.g., Other Conflict-related Abuse).

National policy or legislation did not address the issue of internal displacement resulting from armed conflict or from ethnic or communal violence. The welfare of IDPs was generally the purview of state governments and local authorities, allowing for gaps in services and poor accountability. The central government provided limited assistance to IDPs, but they had access to NGOs and human rights organizations, although neither access nor assistance was standard for all IDPs or all situations.

NGOs estimated Gotti Koya tribe members displaced due to prior paramilitary operations against Maoists numbered 50,000 in Chhattisgarh and 27,000 in Telangana and Andhra Pradesh. In October 2017 the Hyderabad High Court directed the Telangana government not to displace the Gotti Koya tribal members or demolish their dwelling units.

PROTECTION OF REFUGEES

Refoulement: The government detained Rohingya in many of the northeastern states of the country. For example, after serving the allotted time for illegal entry into the country, the government obtained travel permits for seven Rohingya refugees from Burmese authorities and, according to media reports on October 4, the seven Rohingya were transported from prison to the border town of Moreh in Manipur state to be deported.

In July, Minister of State Kiren Rijiju informed the lower house of parliament that the Ministry of Home Affairs instructed state governments to identify Rohingya migrants through the collection of biometric data. The Ministry of Home Affairs directed state governments to monitor Rohingya and restrict their movements to specific locations. The government advocated for the return of Rohingya migrants to Burma.

Access to Asylum: Absent a legal framework, the government sometimes granted asylum on a situational basis on humanitarian grounds in accordance with international law. This approach resulted in varying standards of protection for different refugee and asylum seeker groups. The government recognized refugees from Tibet and Sri Lanka and honored UNHCR decisions on refugee status determination for individuals from other countries, including Afghanistan.

UNHCR did not have an official agreement with the government but maintained an office in New Delhi where it registered refugees and asylum seekers from noncontiguous countries and Burma, made refugee status determinations, and provided some services. The office’s reach outside of New Delhi was limited, however. The government permitted UNHCR staff access to refugees in other urban centers and allowed it to operate in Tamil Nadu to assist with Sri Lankan refugee repatriation. Authorities did not permit UNHCR direct access to Sri Lankan refugee camps, Tibetan settlements, or asylum seekers in Mizoram, but it did permit asylum seekers from Mizoram to travel to New Delhi to meet UNHCR officials. Refugees outside New Delhi faced added expense and time to register their asylum claims.

The government generally permitted other NGOs, international humanitarian organizations, and foreign governments access to Sri Lankan refugee camps and Tibetan settlements, but it generally denied access to asylum seekers in Mizoram. The government denied requests for some foreigners to visit Tibetan settlements in Ladakh.

After the end of the Sri Lankan civil war, the government ceased registering Sri Lankans as refugees. The Tamil Nadu government assisted UNHCR by providing exit permission for Sri Lankan refugees to repatriate voluntarily. The benefits provided to Sri Lankan Tamil refugees by the state government of Tamil Nadu were applicable only within the state. The central government approved the extension of funding to run the camps until 2020.

Employment: The government granted work authorization to many UNHCR-registered refugees, and others found employment in the informal sector. Some refugees reported discrimination by employers.

Access to Basic Services: Although the country generally allowed recognized refugees and asylum seekers access to housing, primary and secondary education, health care, and the courts, access varied by state and by population. Refugees were able to use public services, although access became more complicated during the year because many refugees were unable to acquire the digitized identity (Aadhaar) card necessary to use some services. In cases where refugees were denied access, it was often due to a lack of knowledge of refugee rights by the service provider. In many cases UNHCR was able to intervene successfully and advocate for refugee access. The government allowed UNHCR-registered refugees and asylum seekers to apply for long-term visas that would provide work authorization and access to higher education, although the rate of renewal for long-term visas slowed significantly. For undocumented asylum seekers, UNHCR provided a letter upon registration indicating the person was under consideration for UNHCR refugee status.

The government did not fully complete a 2012 Ministry of Home Affairs directive to issue long-term visas to Rohingya. It has reportedly slowed renewals for those with long-term visas significantly, limiting access to formal employment in addition to education, health services, and bank accounts.

Sri Lankan refugees were permitted to work in Tamil Nadu. Police, however, reportedly summoned refugees back into the camps on short notice, particularly during sensitive political times such as elections, and required refugees or asylum seekers to remain in the camps for several days.

Government services such as mother and child health programs were available. Refugees were able to request protection from police and courts as needed.

The government did not accept refugees for resettlement from other countries.

STATELESS PERSONS

By law parents confer citizenship, and birth in the country does not automatically result in citizenship. Any person born in the country on or after January 26, 1950, but before July 1, 1987, obtained Indian citizenship by birth. A child born in the country on or after July 1, 1987, obtained citizenship if either parent was an Indian citizen at the time of the child’s birth. Authorities consider those born in the country on or after December 3, 2004, citizens only if at least one parent was a citizen and the other was not illegally present in the country at the time of the child’s birth. Authorities considered persons born outside the country on or after December 10, 1992, citizens if either parent was a citizen at the time of birth, but authorities do not consider those born outside the country after December 3, 2004, citizens unless their birth was registered at an Indian consulate within one year of the date of birth. Authorities can also confer citizenship through registration under specific categories and via naturalization after residing in the country for 12 years. Tibetans reportedly sometimes faced difficulty acquiring citizenship despite meeting the legal requirements.

The Assam state government began a process to update the NRC to determine who has legal claim to citizenship in the country, and who is determined to have migrated illegally per a 2014 Supreme Court order. According to official reports, the government has excluded an estimated four million persons from the NRC draft list published on July 30. The central and state governments indicated that all persons not listed were able to file claims and objections for 60 days from September 25. The future legal status of those excluded is not clear. Many individuals may be declared citizens at the end of the process, while others may be at risk of statelessness.

According to UNHCR and NGOs, the country had a large population of stateless persons, but there were no reliable estimates. Stateless populations included Chakmas and Hajongs, who entered the country in the early 1960s from present-day Bangladesh, and groups affected by the 1947 partition of the subcontinent into India and Pakistan. In September 2017 the central government stated it would appeal to the Supreme Court to review its 2015 order to consider citizenship for approximately 70,000 Chakma and Hajong refugees. Media quoted Minister of State for Home Affairs Kiren Rijiju saying the Supreme Court order was “unimplementable.”

Children born in Sri Lankan refugee camps received Indian birth certificates. While Indian birth certificates alone do not entitle refugees to Indian citizenship, refugees may present Indian birth certificates to the Sri Lankan High Commission to obtain a consular birth certificate, which entitles them to pursue Sri Lankan citizenship. According to the Organization for Eelam Refugees’ Rehabilitation, approximately 16,000 of 27,000 Sri Lankan refugee children born in the refugee camps have presented birth certificates to the Sri Lankan Deputy High Commission in Chennai. According to UNHCR, the Sri Lankan Deputy High Commission issued 2,858 birth certificates during the year.

UNHCR and refugee advocacy groups estimated that between 25,000 and 28,000 of the approximately 90,000 Sri Lankan Tamil refugees living in Tamil Nadu were “hill country” Tamils. While Sri Lankan law allows “hill country” refugees to present affidavits to secure Sri Lankan citizenship, UNHCR believed that until the Sri Lankan government processes the paperwork, such refugees were at risk of becoming stateless.

Indonesia

Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:

The constitution broadly provides for freedom of expression while including some limitations. Some elements within the government, the judiciary, and police used laws against defamation and blasphemy to detain, prosecute, and convict individuals and to restrict freedom of expression, including for the press. The government used laws against advocacy of separatism to restrict the ability of individuals to advocate peacefully for independence.

Freedom of Expression: The hate speech law criminalizes content deemed insulting to a religion or that advocates separatism and could inhibit an individual’s freedom of speech and expression. A 2015 police circular defines hate speech as insult, libel, defamation, unpleasant acts, provocation, incitement, and dissemination of false news through media, internet, or person-to-person.

Elements within the government and society selectively cited criminal defamation laws in ways that intimidated people and restricted freedom of speech. For example, in North Sumatra the hardline Islam Defenders Front (FPI) reported a 21-year-old Christian student for a Facebook post that likened the Prophet Muhammad to a pig, resulting in the Medan district court sentencing the student to four years in prison for committing hate speech.

Under the law, “spreading religious hatred, heresy, and blasphemy” is punishable by a maximum of five years in prison. Protests by Islamic groups or conservative clerical councils often prompted local authorities to take action under the law.

On August 21, a Buddhist woman of Chinese descent was sentenced to 18 months in prison for complaining about the volume of loudspeakers at a mosque in Tanjung Balai, North Sumatra. Vice President Kalla and leading Muslim organizations subsequently spoke out against the verdict, and the Ministry of Religious Affairs issued a circular with guidelines on how and when the Islamic call to prayer should be broadcast by mosques.

Press and Media Freedom: The independent media was active and expressed a wide variety of views. The government, however, sometimes used regional and national regulations to restrict media. Some foreign journalists reportedly received permits for travel to Papua and West Papua provinces, while others reported bureaucratic delays or denials, ostensibly for safety reasons. In February authorities expelled an Australian journalist from Papua Province’s Asmat district after the journalist uploaded a critical social media post of a photo of instant noodles and sweet biscuits reportedly supplied by the government in response to a child malnutrition crisis. Advocates for press freedom alleged that a governmental interagency group, including the TNI and intelligence services, continued to review requests by foreign journalists to visit the region. The constitution protects journalists from such interference, and the law requires that anyone who deliberately prevents journalists from doing their job shall face a maximum prison sentence of two years or a fine of Indonesian rupiah (IDR) 500 million ($34,300).

Violence and Harassment: The Alliance of Independent Journalists reported 34 cases of violence directed at journalists and media offices between January and April.

In May a video circulated online of two police officers in Papua’s Nabire district physically assaulting Papuan journalist Abraham Amoye You and civil servant Mando Mote during a political debate in advance of the June 27 regional executive elections.

Censorship or Content Restrictions: The Attorney General’s Office has authority to monitor written material and request a court order to ban written material. The Indonesian Broadcasting Commission has authority to act as a regulator in public, private, and community institutions’ broadcasts.

Human rights activists reported that news portal Suara Papua, which authorities blocked in 2016 for unspecified “negative content,” continued to be temporarily and intermittently blocked without advance notification.

Although the Papua Special Autonomy Law permits flying a flag symbolizing Papua’s cultural identity, a government regulation prohibits the display of the Morning Star flag in Papua, the Republic of South Maluku flag in Molucca, and the Free Aceh Movement (GAM) Crescent Moon flag in Aceh. The central government repeatedly declared it does not accept the provincial flag and that the raising of the GAM flag is prohibited.

Libel/Slander Laws: Defamation provisions of the criminal code prohibit libel and slander, which are punishable with five-year prison terms. Journalist Muhammad Yusuf died of an apparent heart attack in June after spending five weeks in detention on defamation charges related to a series of articles he had written on local land issues involving a major palm oil company.

Nongovernmental Impact: Hardline Muslim groups sometimes intimidated perceived critics of Islam in order to limit their speech rights. The Southeast Asia Freedom of Expression Network reported dozens of cases of harassment of victims who allegedly insulted Islam Defenders Front leader Rizieq Shihab, whom authorities arrested on pornography charges.

INTERNET FREEDOM

The government prosecuted individuals for free expression under a law that bans online crime, pornography, gambling, blackmail, lies, threats, and racism and prohibits citizens from distributing in electronic format any information deemed defamatory. The law carries maximum penalties of six years in prison, a fine of IDR one billion ($68,600), or both.

According to the country’s internet service providers (ISP) association, there are approximately 143 million internet users in the country, a 6 percent increase from 2017.

The Ministry of Communications and Information Technology continued to request that ISPs block access to pornographic websites and other content deemed offensive. A failure to enforce these restrictions could result in the revocation of an ISP’s license. The government also intervened with social media, search engines, app stores, and other websites to remove offensive and extremist content and revoke licenses that did not promptly comply with government demands.

ACADEMIC FREEDOM AND CULTURAL EVENTS

The government generally did not place restrictions on cultural events or academic freedom, but it occasionally disrupted sensitive cultural events or activities or failed to prevent hardline groups from doing so. Universities and other academic institutions also sometimes succumbed to pressure from hardliners seeking to restrict sensitive events and activities.

In early July government security personnel in Malang (East Java) and Surabaya disbanded a Papuan Students Alliance (AMP)-organized film screening and a peaceful discussion organized by the AMP to commemorate a sensitive human rights anniversary, respectively.

During the year the government-supervised Film Censorship Institute continued to censor domestic and imported movies for content deemed pornographic and religiously or otherwise offensive.

b. Freedom of Peaceful Assembly and Association

The law provides for freedom of assembly, and the government generally respected this right. The law requires demonstrators to provide police with a written notification three days before any planned demonstration and for police to issue a receipt for the written notification. This receipt acts as a de facto license for the demonstration. Police in Papua routinely refused to issue receipts of notification to would-be demonstrators because the demonstrations would likely include calls for independence, an act that is prohibited under the same law. Papua provincial police issued a decree in 2016 prohibiting rallies by seven organizations labeled as proindependence groups, including the National Committee of West Papua, the United Liberation Movement for West Papua, and the Free Papua Movement. There were fewer large-scale Papua-related demonstrations during the year than in previous years.

On April 5, police from Papua’s provincial capital Jayapura raided a University of Cenderawasih dormitory that police alleged was a venue for a separatist declaration, rounding up at least 44 students for their involvement in the event. Police later released all of them except for three who they held on unrelated charges.

FREEDOM OF PEACEFUL ASSEMBLY

The constitution and laws provide for freedom of association, which the government generally respected.

By law to receive official registration status, foreign NGOs must have an MOU with a government ministry. Some organizations reported difficulties obtaining these MOUs and claimed the government was withholding them to block their registration status, although cumbersome bureaucracy within the Ministry of Law and Human Rights was also to blame.

Some LGBTI advocacy groups reported encountering difficulties when attempting to register their organizations.

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

The law provides for freedom of internal movement and generally allows for travel outside of the country, but the constitution allows the government to prevent persons from entering or leaving the country. The law gives the military broad powers in a declared state of emergency, including the power to limit land, air, and sea traffic. The government did not use these powers during the year.

The government cooperated with the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), the International Organization for Migration (IOM), 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: Restrictions on foreign journalists travelling to Papua and West Papua Provinces remained (see section 2.a.).

Foreign Travel: The government prevented arrivals and departures at the request of police, the Attorney General’s Office, the KPK, and the Ministry of Finance. Some of those barred from entering and leaving the country were delinquent taxpayers, convicted or indicted persons, individuals implicated in corruption cases, and persons otherwise involved in legal disputes.

INTERNALLY DISPLACED PERSONS (IDPS)

The government collects data on displacement caused by natural hazards and conflict through the National Disaster Management Authority, although the lack of systematic monitoring of return and resettlement conditions made it difficult to estimate reliably the total number of IDPs.

The law stipulates the government must provide for “the fulfillment of the rights of the people and displaced persons affected by disaster in a manner that is fair and in line with the minimum service standards.”

The National Disaster Management Authority reported that from January through October, 3,548 persons died or were missing and more than 3,057,787 were displaced by natural disasters.

More than 300 Shia residents from Madura remained housed on the outskirts of Surabaya after communal violence forced them from their homes in 2012. Despite numerous reconciliation attempts by the central government, officials have not effectively resolved issues with hardliners who refused to allow the displaced Shia to return to their homes. Approximately 200 Ahmadi Muslims remained internally displaced in apartments in Mataram, the capital of West Nusa Tenggara, after a mob expelled them from their Lombok village in 2006.

PROTECTION OF REFUGEES

Access to Asylum: The country is not party to the 1951 Convention relating to the Status of Refugees or its 1967 Protocol, and it does not have a refugee or asylum status determination system. UNHCR processes all claims for refugee status in the country. The government does not accept refugees for resettlement or facilitate local integration or naturalization. Authorities refer migrants seeking to return to their country of origin to the IOM for access to its Assisted Voluntary Return Program.

A government regulation on refugee management outlines the specific roles and responsibilities of government ministries and local authorities, including on search and rescue, shelter, security, and immigration; the Coordinating Ministry of Political, Legal, and Security Affairs has the lead on refugee issues. In April provincial authorities in Aceh granted access to UNHCR to conduct refugee status determinations for two groups of Rohingya migrants whom authorities rescued off the coast of Aceh. Local authorities provided them shelter and essential supplies, as well as health and psychosocial services, in line with the government’s refugee management decree. Donations from the local community and assistance from the IOM supplemented provincial and local support.

Employment: The government prohibits refugees from working, although it did not strictly enforce this prohibition.

Access to Basic Services: The government does not generally prohibit refugees from accessing public elementary education, although many barriers prevented enrollment of more than a small number of refugee children, including a lack of access for refugee children to government-issued student identification numbers. A small number of refugees enrolled in language and other classes in private, refugee-run schools or in NGO-sponsored programs. Refugees have access to basic public health services through local health clinics, which the government subsidizes. Treatment for more serious conditions or hospitalization, however, is not covered under this program.

Iran

Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:

The constitution provides for freedom of expression, including for the press, except when words are deemed “detrimental to the fundamental principles of Islam or the rights of the public.” According to the law, “anyone who engages in any type of propaganda against the Islamic Republic of Iran or in support of opposition groups and associations shall be sentenced to three months to one year of imprisonment.”

Article 26 of the 2016 Charter on Citizens’ Rights acknowledges the right of every citizen to freedom of speech and expression. The charter grants citizens the right freely to seek, receive, publish, and communicate views and information, using any means of communication, but it has not been implemented.

The law provides for prosecution of persons accused of instigating crimes against the state or national security or “insulting” Islam. The government severely restricted freedom of speech and of the press and used the law to intimidate or prosecute persons who directly criticized the government or raised human rights problems, as well as to bring ordinary citizens into compliance with the government’s moral code.

Freedom of Expression: Authorities did not permit individuals to criticize publicly the country’s system of government, supreme leader, or official religion. Security forces and the judiciary punished those who violated these restrictions, as well as those who publicly criticized the president, cabinet, and parliament.

The government monitored meetings, movements, and communications of its citizens and often charged persons with crimes against national security and of insulting the regime, citing as evidence letters, emails, and other public and private communications. Authorities threatened arrest or punishment for the expression of ideas or images they viewed as violations of the legal moral code.

Press and Media Freedom: The government’s Press Supervisory Board issues press licenses, which it sometimes revoked in response to articles critical of the government or the regime, or it did not renew them for individuals facing criminal charges or incarcerated for political reasons. During the year the government banned, blocked, closed, or censored publications deemed critical of officials.

The Ministry of Culture and Islamic Guidance (Ershad) severely limited and controlled foreign media organizations’ ability to work in the country. The ministry required foreign correspondents to provide detailed travel plans and topics of proposed stories before granting visas, limiting their ability to travel within the country, and forced them to work with a local “minder.”

Under the constitution private broadcasting is illegal. The government maintained a monopoly over all television and radio broadcasting facilities through IRIB, a government agency. Radio and television programming, the principal source of news for many citizens, particularly in rural areas with limited internet access, reflected the government’s political and socioreligious ideology. The government jammed satellite broadcasts as signals entered the country, a continuous practice since at least 2003. Satellite dishes remained illegal but ubiquitous. Those who distributed, used, or repaired satellite dishes faced fines up to 90 million rials ($2,100). Police, using warrants provided by the judiciary, launched campaigns to confiscate privately owned satellite dishes throughout the country.

Under the constitution the supreme leader appoints the head of the audiovisual policy agency, a council composed of representatives of the president, judiciary, and parliament. The Ministry of Culture reviews all potential publications, including foreign printed materials, prior to their domestic release and may deem books unpublishable, remove text, or require word substitutions for terms deemed inappropriate.

Independent print media companies existed, but the government severely limited their operations.

Violence and Harassment: The government and its agents harassed, detained, abused, and prosecuted publishers, editors, and journalists, including those involved in internet-based media, for their reporting. The government also harassed many journalists’ families.

Reporters without Borders (RSF) reported that the government arrested an estimated 10 citizen-journalists for covering the nationwide protests that began in December 2017. According to RSF, several citizen journalists were beaten and arrested while recording renewed protests in Tehran on June 25-26. Authorities banned national and international media outlets from covering the demonstrations in an attempt to censor coverage of the protests and to intimidate citizens from disseminating information about them.

In February, RSF reported that several employees of the Sufi news website Majzooban Nor were arrested while covering clashes between security forces and Gonabadi Dervishes. Majzooban Nor was the only independent website covering the dervishes, and most of the arrested journalists were reportedly severely beaten by police and militia members. In July and August, Majzooban Norjournalists were sentenced for lashes and prison terms of up to 26 years in connection for their work covering the dervishes’ protests.

According to CHRI, in August the Mizan News Agency, which functions as the official news website of the judiciary, published statements that human rights activists interpreted as a call for vigilante violence against BBC journalists and their families. The BBC had filed a complaint at the UN Human Rights Council in March against Iranian authorities for their campaign of harassment against BBC Persian staff.

Censorship or Content Restrictions: The law forbids government censorship but also prohibits dissemination of information the government considers “damaging.” During the year the government censored publications that criticized official actions or contradicted official views or versions of events. “Damaging” information included discussions of women’s rights, the situation of minorities, criticism of government corruption, and references to mistreatment of detainees.

In September media reported that General Prosecutor Mohammad Jafar Montazeri ordered the closure of Sedayeh Eslahat, a reformist newspaper, on charges of insulting Shia Islam. According to reports, the newspaper had published an article on female-to-male sex reassignment surgery, titling the article, “Ruqayyah became Mahdi after 22 years.” Ruqayyah was the daughter of Hussein, a revered Shia Imam, while Mahdi, according to Shia beliefs, is the name of the 12th Shia Imam. Montazeri also called for the punishment of the newspaper’s editor.

Officials routinely intimidated journalists into practicing self-censorship. Public officials often filed criminal complaints against newspapers, and the Press Supervisory Board, which regulates media content and publication, referred such complaints to the Press Court for further action, including possible closure, suspension, and fines. IRNA determined the main topics and types of news to be covered and distributed topics required for reporting directly to various media outlets, according to the IHRDC.

Libel/Slander Laws: The government commonly used libel laws or cited national security to suppress criticism. According to the law, if any publication contains personal insults, libel, false statements, or criticism, the insulted individual has the right to respond in the publication within one month. By law “insult” or “libel” against the government, government representatives, or foreign officials while they are on Iranian soil, as well as “the publication of lies” with the intent to alter, but not overthrow, the government are considered political crimes and subject to certain trial and detention procedures (see section 1.e.). The government applied the law throughout the year, often citing statements made in various media outlets or on internet platforms that criticized the government, in the arrest, prosecution, and sentencing of individuals for crimes against national security.

INTERNET FREEDOM

The government restricted and disrupted access to the internet, monitored private online communications, and censored online content. Individuals and groups practiced self-censorship online.

The Ministries of Culture and of Information and Communications Technology are the main regulatory bodies for content and internet systems in the country. The Supreme Leader’s Office also includes the Supreme Council of Cyberspace, charged with regulating content and systems. The government collected personally identifiable information in connection with citizens’ peaceful expression of political, religious, or ideological opinion or beliefs.

According to the International Telecommunication Union, 60 percent of the population used the internet in 2017. According to the Ministry of Culture, 70 percent of youth between the ages of 15 and 29 used the internet. NGOs reported the government continued to filter content on the internet to ban access to particular sites and to filter traffic based on its content. The law makes it illegal to distribute circumvention tools and virtual private networks, and Minister of Information and Communications Technology Jahromi was quoted in the press stating that using circumvention tools is illegal.

The Ministry of Culture and Islamic Guidance must approve all internet service providers. The government also requires all owners of websites and blogs in the country to register with the agencies that compose the Commission to Determine the Instances of Criminal Content (also referred to as the Committee in Charge of Determining Unauthorized Websites or Committee in Charge of Determining Offensive Content), the governmental organization that determines censoring criteria. These agencies include the Ministry of Culture and Islamic Guidance, Ministry of Information and Communications Technology, the Intelligence Ministry, and the Tehran Public Prosecutor’s Office.

Ministry of Information and Communications Technology regulations prohibit households and cybercafes from having high-speed internet access. The government periodically reduced internet speed to discourage downloading material.

According to media reports, former minister of information and communications technology Mahmoud Vaezi announced in 2017 that the government had improved methods to control the internet and had shut down a number of online platforms. The government’s decade-long project to build a National Information Network (NIN) resulted in its launch in 2016. The NIN enabled officials to allow higher speed and easier access on domestic traffic, while limiting international internet traffic. RSF reported that the NIN acted like an intranet system, with full content control and user identification. Authorities may disconnect this network from global internet content, and they reportedly intended to use it to provide government propaganda and disrupt circumvention tools. During nationwide protests in December 2017, authorities used NIN technology to cut off access to the global internet for 30 minutes.

Authorities continued to block online messaging tools, such as Facebook, YouTube, and Twitter, although the government operated Twitter accounts under the names of Supreme Leader Khamenei, President Rouhani, Foreign Minister Zarif, and other government-associated officials and entities.

Government organizations, including the Basij “Cyber Council,” the Cyber Police, and the Cyber Army, which observers presumed to be controlled by the IRGC, monitored, identified, and countered alleged cyberthreats to national security. These organizations especially targeted citizens’ activities on officially banned social networking websites such as Telegram, Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, and Flickr, and they reportedly harassed persons who criticized the government or raised sensitive social problems.

According to a report by CHRI, in May the Judiciary (the prosecutor of Branch 2 of the Culture and Media Prosecutor’s Office in Tehran) blocked the popular messaging app Telegram. Telegram, used by approximately half the population as a platform for a wide variety of personal, political, business, and cultural content, had become a primary internet platform. As a foreign-owned company with servers outside the country, Telegram was not under the control of national censors. Many officials blamed Telegram for the spread of protests in December 2017. After the ban on Telegram, the Ministry of Information and Communications Technology began to disrupt access to circumvention tools used to access blocked applications or sites.

RSF reported that several bloggers and online journalists were arrested during the year for their expression. Blogger Hengameh Shahidi was arrested in May for tweets about her previous detention. Mohammad Hossien Hidari, the editor of the Dolat e Bahar news website, was arrested in May. His families and lawyers did not know what he had been charged with, and his website was inaccessible after his arrest. Amir Hossein Miresmaili, a journalist with the daily newspaper Jahan Sanat (Industry World), was sentenced to 10 years in prison on August 22 for a tweet criticizing a mullah in Mashhad. Miresmaili’s sentence also included a two-year ban on journalistic activity on social networks after his release from prison. According to his lawyer, Miresmaili was charged with “insulting the sacredness of Islam,” “insulting government agents and officials,” “publishing false information designed to upset public opinion,” and “publishing immoral articles contrary to public decency.”

ACADEMIC FREEDOM AND CULTURAL EVENTS

The government significantly restricted academic freedom and the independence of higher education institutions. Authorities systematically targeted university campuses to suppress social and political activism by banning independent student organizations, imprisoning student activists, removing faculty, preventing students from enrolling or continuing their education because of their political or religious affiliation or activism, and restricting social sciences and humanities curricula.

According to a July HRW report, following the protests of December 2017 and January 2018, intelligence officers arrested at least 150 students and courts sentenced 17 to prison terms. Many of the arrested students did not participate in the protests but were preemptively detained, according to reports. HRW reported that as of mid-July, revolutionary courts had sentenced at least eight student protesters from universities in Tehran and Tabriz to prison sentences of up to eight years. Some students were banned from membership in political parties or participating in media, including social media, for two years.

Authorities barred Bahai students from higher education and harassed those who studied through the unrecognized online university of the Bahai Institute for Higher Education. According to a HRANA report in September, more than 50 Bahai college applicants had been denied enrollment for their religious affiliation (see the Department of State’s International Religious Freedom Report at www.state.gov/religiousfreedomreport/).

The government maintained controls on cinema, music, theater, and art exhibits and censored those productions deemed to transgress Islamic values. The government censored or banned films deemed to promote secularism, non-Islamic ideas about women’s rights, unethical behavior, drug abuse, violence, or alcoholism.

According to the IHRDC, the nine-member film review council of the Ministry of Culture and Islamic Guidance, made up of clerics, former directors, former parliamentarians, and academics, must approve the content of every film before production and again before screening. Films may be barred arbitrarily from screening even if all the appropriate permits were received in advance.

According to media reports, renowned film director Jafar Panahi was banned again from traveling to the 2018 Cannes film festival. Panahi has been barred from traveling since 2010, when he was charged with generating “propaganda against the Islamic Republic.”

Officials continued to discourage teaching music in schools. Authorities considered heavy metal and foreign music religiously offensive, and police continued to repress underground concerts and arrest musicians and music distributors. The Ministry of Culture must officially approve song lyrics, music, and album covers as complying with the country’s moral values, although many underground musicians released albums without seeking such permission.

According to media reports in February, Benyamin Bahadori, a pop singer and composer, cancelled a concert in Kerman after female members of his music group were banned from appearing on stage. In April, according to media reports, the head of the Ministry of Culture and Islamic Guidance in Mashhad was arrested for undermining public decency and disrespecting laws when videos surfaced on social media networks showing young men and women dancing at a concert at a shopping center in the city.

b. Freedom of Peaceful Assembly and Association

The government severely restricted freedoms of peaceful assembly and association.

FREEDOM OF PEACEFUL ASSEMBLY

The constitution permits assemblies and marches of unarmed persons “provided they do not violate the principles of Islam.” In order to prevent activities it considered antiregime, the government restricted this right and closely monitored gatherings such as public entertainment and lectures, student and women’s meetings and protests, meetings and worship services of minority religious groups, labor protests, online gatherings and networking, funeral processions, and Friday prayer gatherings.

According to activists, the government arbitrarily applied rules governing permits to assemble, with proregime groups rarely experiencing difficulty, while groups viewed as critical of the regime experienced harassment regardless of whether authorities issued a permit.

The government cracked down on small protests that began in the city of Mashhad in December 2017 and continued into 2018. These protests subsequently spread across the country and included broader economic and political grievances with the nation’s leadership. International media and human rights organizations widely covered the government’s crackdown on protests. According to media reports, at least 20 protesters were killed as of January, and thousands more were arrested throughout the year. Official government sources cited 4,970 arrested, 90 percent of whom were younger than 25 years old. Over the year, as protests arose across the country among various groups and by individuals expressing diverse grievances and demands, actions by security forces resulted in hundreds of additional arrests and further alleged deaths.

CHRI reported that authorities denied detainees access to attorneys and threatened them with charges that carried the death penalty if they sought counsel. There were multiple reports of detainees beaten while in custody. Several human rights organizations, including CHRI, reported that detainees were given pills of unknown substance, including methadone, to portray them as drug addicts. According to CHRI, at least two detainees died under suspicious circumstances while in detention, while the death of a third detainee was labeled a “suicide” (see section 1.a.).

In February security forces violently cracked down on a group of Gonabadi Sufi dervishes in Tehran who were protesting to demand the release of a 70-year-old fellow Sufi, Nematollah Riahi, who protesters believed was unjustly detained because of his religious affiliation. According to CHRI and reports from Sufi news sites, at least 300 hundred Gonabadi Sufis were arrested and imprisoned in the Great Tehran Penitentiary and Qarchak Prison, with numerous deaths reported at the hands of security forces. Reports indicated that the government’s crackdown continued in various cities throughout the country and that Sufis were subjected to torture and forced confessions in detention centers prior to their transfer to prisons.

According to an August HRW report, revolutionary courts sentenced at least 208 Gonabadi Sufi dervishes, from the hundreds detained, in unfair trials to prison terms ranging from four months to 26 years, flogging, internal exile, travel bans, and a ban on membership in social and political groups. Authorities did not allow the defendants to choose their legal representation and repeatedly insulted and questioned their faith during trials that lasted as little as 15 minutes. More than 40 dervishes received sentences in absentia.

In August Great Tehran Penitentiary authorities conducted a “brutal” attack, according to CHRI, on Gonabadi Sufis prisoners who were peacefully protesting the harsh treatment of female Gonabadi Sufi prisoners at Qarchak Prison. According to the report, several detainees were badly injured and suffered broken bones, while female prisoners in Qarchak Prison were reportedly subjected to torture and beatings by prison officials.

FREEDOM OF ASSOCIATION

The constitution provides for the establishment of political parties, professional and political associations, and Islamic and recognized religious minority organizations, as long as such groups do not violate the principles of freedom, sovereignty, national unity, or Islamic criteria, or question Islam as the basis of the country’s system of government. The government limited the freedom of association through threats, intimidation, the imposition of arbitrary requirements on organizations, and the arrests of group leaders and members.

The government barred teachers from commemorating International Labor Day and Teachers’ Day. Several prominent teachers and union activists either remained in prison or were awaiting new sentences, including Mahmoud Beheshti Langroudi and Esmail Abdi (see section 7.a.).

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

The law provides for freedom of internal movement, foreign travel, emigration, and repatriation, and the government generally respected these rights, with some exceptions, particularly concerning migrants and women. The government cooperated with the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) with regard to refugees from Afghanistan and Iraq.

In-country Movement: Judicial sentences sometimes included internal exile after release from prison, which prevented individuals from traveling to certain provinces. Women often required the supervision of a male guardian or chaperone to travel and faced official and societal harassment for traveling alone.

Foreign Travel: The government required exit permits for foreign travel for all citizens. Citizens who were educated at government expense or received scholarships had to either repay the scholarship or receive a temporary permit to exit the country. The government restricted the foreign travel of some religious leaders, members of religious minorities, and scientists in sensitive fields.

Several journalists, academics, opposition politicians, human and women’s rights activists, and artists remained subject to foreign travel bans and had their passports confiscated during the year. Married women were not allowed to travel outside the country without prior permission from their husbands.

Exile: The law does not provide for forced exile abroad. Many citizens practiced self-imposed exile to express their beliefs freely or escape government harassment.

PROTECTION OF REFUGEES

According to UNHCR, the government had granted registration to 950,142 Afghan and 28,268 Iraqi refugees under a system known as amayesh, through which authorities provide refugees with cards identifying them as legally registered refugees. The cards enable refugees to access basic services and facilitate the issuance of work permits. In addition to registered refugees, the government estimated it hosted 450,000 Afghans who hold Afghan passports and Iranian visas and 1.5 million undocumented Afghans.

HRW and other groups reported that the government continued its mistreatment of many Afghans, including physical abuse by security forces, deportations, forced recruitment to fight in Syria (see section 1.g.), detention in unsanitary and inhuman conditions, forced payment for transportation to and accommodation in deportation camps, forced labor, forced separation from families, restricted movement within the country, and restricted access to education or jobs.

Refoulement: According to activist groups and NGOs, authorities routinely arrested Afghans without amayesh cards and sometimes threatened them with deportation. According to the International Organization for Migration, from the beginning of the year to August, more than 219,254 undocumented Afghans returned to Afghanistan, with many claiming they were pressured to leave. In addition more than 273,089 were deported there throughout the year.

Access to Asylum: The law provides for the granting of asylum or refugee status to qualified applicants. While the government reportedly has a system for providing protection to refugees, UNHCR did not have information regarding how the country made asylum determinations. According to HRW, the government continued to block many Afghans from registering to obtain refugee status.

Afghans not registered under the amayesh system who had migrated in the past decades of conflict in their home country continued to be denied access to an asylum system or access to register with the United Nations as refugees. NGOs reported many of these displaced asylum seekers believed they were pressured to leave the country but could not return to Afghanistan because of the security situation in their home provinces.

Freedom of Movement: Refugees faced restrictions on in-country movement and faced restrictions from entering certain provinces, according to UNHCR.

Employment: Only refugees with government-issued work permits were able to work. NGO sources reported that amayesh cards were difficult to renew and were often prohibitively expensive for refugees to maintain due to steep annual renewal fees.

Access to Basic ServicesAmayesh cardholders had access to primary education and received primary health care, including vaccinations, prenatal care, maternal and child health, and family planning from the Ministry of Health. They also benefited from a universal basic health insurance package for hospitalization and paraclinical services (medicine, doctor’s visits, radiology, etc.) similar to citizens, and those with qualifying “special diseases” received comprehensive coverage.

In 2017 more than 112,000 vulnerable refugees enrolled in the Universal Public Health Insurance scheme providing coverage for 12 months, and in 2018 92,000 vulnerable refugees were expected to benefit from subsidized premium support from UNHCR.

The government claimed to grant refugees access to schools. More than 420,000 refugee children were enrolled in primary and secondary school, out of whom 103,000 were undocumented Afghan children. According to media reporting, however, Afghans continued to have difficulty gaining access to education. The government sometimes imposed fees for children of registered refugees to attend public schools.

There were barriers to marriage between citizens and displaced Afghans. Authorities required Afghans to obtain documentation from their embassy or government offices in Afghanistan to register their marriage in the country, according to media reporting. The law states, “Any foreigner who marries an Iranian woman without the permission of the Iranian government will be sentenced to two to five years in prison plus a cash penalty.” Furthermore, authorities considered children born from such unions eligible for citizenship only if the child’s father is a citizen and registers the child as his, potentially leaving many children stateless.

Most provinces’ residency limitations on refugees effectively denied them access to public services, such as public housing, in the restricted areas of those provinces.

STATELESS PERSONS

There were no accurate numbers on how many stateless persons resided in the country. Stateless persons included those without birth documents or refugee identification cards. They were subjected to inconsistent government policies and relied on charities, principally domestic, to obtain medical care and schooling. Authorities prohibited stateless persons from receiving formal government support or travel documents.

Women may not directly transmit citizenship to their children or to noncitizen spouses. Only children born to Iranian mothers and non-Iranian fathers who reside in Iran for 18 years and whose parents’ marriage is officially registered with the government are eligible to apply for citizenship. According to media reports, between 400,000 and one million persons lacked Iranian nationality despite having an Iranian citizen mother, due to limitations on citizenship transmission (see section 6, Children).

The Gambia

Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:

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

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

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

In-country Movement: Police and immigration personnel frequently set up security checkpoints. Individuals found to be without proper identification documentation were subject to detention or forced to pay bribes.

PROTECTION OF REFUGEES

Access to Asylum: The law provides for granting refugee status. The Gambia Commission for Refugees worked with UNHCR on protection of refugees.