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China (Includes Hong Kong, Macau, and Tibet)

Section 1. Respect for the Integrity of the Person

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

There were numerous reports that the government or its agents committed arbitrary or unlawful killings. In many instances few or no details were available. In an April 21 report, Amnesty International declared the country executed potentially thousands of individuals in 2020.

In Xinjiang there were reports of custodial deaths related to detentions in the internment camps. There were multiple reports from Uyghur family members who discovered their relatives had died while in internment camps or within weeks of their release. In January, Radio Free Asia (RFA) reported the 82-year-old Uyghur poet Haji Mirzahid Kerimi died in prison while serving an 11-year sentence for writing books that were later blacklisted. According to RFA, Kerimi was arrested in 2017 as part of the People’s Republic of China’s (PRC) campaign to censor “dangerous” literature. RFA also reported Kurbanjan Abdukerim died in February shortly after his release from an internment camp. During the three years of his detainment, Abdukerim family reported he had lost more than 100 pounds and that the cause of his death was unknown.

b. Disappearance

Disappearances through multiple means continued at a nationwide, systemic scale.

The primary means by which authorities disappeared individuals for sustained periods of time is known as “Residential Surveillance at a Designated Location” (RSDL). RSDL codifies in law the longstanding practice of the detention and removal from the public eye of individuals the state deems a risk to national security or intends to use as hostages. The primary disappearance mechanism for public functionaries is known as liuzhi. Per numerous reports, individuals disappeared by RSDL and liuzhi were subject to numerous abuses including but not limited to physical and psychological abuse, humiliation, rape, torture, starvation, isolation, and forced confessions.

The government conducted mass arbitrary detention of Uyghurs, ethnic Kazakhs, Kyrgyz, and members of other Muslim and ethnic minority groups in Xinjiang. Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch, and other nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) alleged these detentions amounted to enforced disappearance, since families were often not provided information concerning the length or location of the detention.

Amnesty International reported in April that Ekpar Asat, also known as Aikebaier Aisaiti, a Uyghur journalist and entrepreneur, had been held in solitary confinement since 2019 in Aksu Prefecture. He was reportedly detained in Xinjiang in 2016 shortly after participating in a program in the United States and subsequently sentenced to up to 15 years in prison.

In July officials at Tongji University in Shanghai confirmed that Uyghur research scientist Tursunjan Nurmamat had been detained after Nurmamat suddenly went silent on social media in April. Further details on Nurmamat’s case and whereabouts were unknown.

Professional tennis player Peng Shuai disappeared from public view for approximately three weeks after her November 2 accusation on social media that former Politburo Standing Committee member and vice premier Zhang Gaoli had sexually assaulted her. Her reappearance, via what appeared to be tightly controlled and staged video clips, raised concerns that authorities were controlling her movement and speech (see section 6, Women).

Former lawyer Tang Jitian, a long-time advocate for Chinese citizens, has been held incommunicado since December 10, reportedly in connection with his plans to attend Human Rights Day events in Beijing. Subsequently there were reports that authorities had sent a video to his former wife telling his family to remain quiet.

In 2020, four citizen journalists disappeared from public view after authorities in Wuhan took them into custody. Chen Qiushi, Li Zehua (who was released after two months in April 2020), Zhang Zhan, and Fang Bin had interviewed health-care professionals and citizens and later publicized their accounts on social media during the initial COVID-19 outbreak and subsequent lockdown in Wuhan. Media reported November 24 that Fang Bin was in custody in Wuhan, the first news of his location since his arrest in February 2020. On September 30, Chen Qiushi appeared on social media but said he could not talk about what happened to him. In November according to reports from her family and lawyer in media, Zhang Zhan, who had been sentenced in December 2020 to four years’ imprisonment, remained in detention and has been on an intermittent hunger strike.

The government still had not provided a comprehensive, credible accounting of all those killed, missing, or detained in connection with the violent suppression of the 1989 Tiananmen demonstrations. Many activists who were involved in the 1989 demonstrations and their family members continued to suffer official harassment. The government made no efforts to prevent, investigate, or punish such harassment.

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

The law prohibits the physical abuse and mistreatment of detainees and forbids prison guards from coercing confessions, insulting prisoners’ dignity, and beating or encouraging others to beat prisoners. The law excludes evidence obtained through illegal means, including coerced confessions, in certain categories of criminal cases. There were credible reports that authorities routinely ignored prohibitions against torture, especially in politically sensitive cases.

Numerous former prisoners and detainees reported they were beaten, raped, subjected to electric shock, forced to sit on stools for hours on end, hung by the wrists, deprived of sleep, force-fed, forced to take medication against their will, and otherwise subjected to physical and psychological abuse. Although prison authorities abused ordinary prisoners, they reportedly singled out political and religious dissidents for particularly harsh treatment.

Zhang Zhan, sentenced to four years’ imprisonment in December 2020 for her activities as a citizen journalist during the COVID-19 outbreak in Wuhan, was not allowed family visits by Shanghai prison authorities. When Zhang went on a hunger strike, prison officials force-fed her, tying and chaining her arms, torso, and feet.

In August after 21 months in detention, human rights lawyer Ding Jiaxi was indicted. Ding was detained in 2019 on suspicion of “inciting subversion of state power” for participating in a meeting in Xiamen, Fujian Province, to organize civil society activities and peaceful resistance to Chinese Communist Party (CCP) rule. Ding’s wife posted on Twitter that Ding was tortured in a detention center in Beijing, including being subjected to sleep deprivation tactics such as shining a spotlight on him 24 hours per day.

On March 22, Zhang Wuzhou was sentenced to two years and nine months in prison for “obstructing official duty, provoking quarrels and stirring up trouble.” Following her arrest in June 2020, Zhang was tortured in the Qingxin District Detention Center in Qingyuan (Guangdong Province), according to her lawyer’s July 2020 account as reported by Radio Free Asia. Zhang said that detention center authorities handcuffed her, made her wear heavy foot shackles, and placed her in a cell where other inmates beat her. The Qingyuan Public Security Bureau detained Zhang on charges of “provoking quarrels and stirring up troubles” two days after she held banners at Guangzhou Baiyun Mountains to mark the anniversary of the Tiananmen massacre.

As of November human rights activist and lawyer Yu Wensheng remained in a Nanjing prison serving a four-year sentence. In April he was treated in a hospital for nerve damage from an unknown incident suffered in prison. He was convicted in June 2020 for “inciting subversion of state power” and was held incommunicado for 18 months before and after his conviction. Yu reported he was repeatedly sprayed with pepper spray and was forced into a stress position for an extended period.

As of November human rights lawyer Chang Weiping, who was reportedly tortured while in RSDL, was still in pretrial detention. Chang, known for his successful representation of HIV and AIDS discrimination cases, was detained in October 2020 after posting a video to YouTube detailing torture he suffered during a January 2020 round of RSDL.

In December 2020 Niu Tengyu was sentenced to a 14-year jail term by the Maonan District People’s Court in Guangdong for “picking quarrels and stirring up trouble,” “violating others’ privacy,” and “running an illegal business” in a case that has been linked to the leak of the personal information of President Xi’s daughter. According to RFA, Niu’s lawyers alleged that prior to the trial, Niu was stripped, suspended from the ceiling, and his genitals burned with a lighter. They also alleged he was beaten so badly that he lost use of his right hand.

Members of the minority Uyghur ethnic group reported systematic torture and other degrading treatment by law enforcement officers and officials working within the penal system and the internment camps. Survivors stated that authorities subjected individuals in custody to electric shock, waterboarding, beatings, rape, forced sterilization, forced prostitution, stress positions, forced administration of unknown medication, and cold cells (see section 6, Systemic Racial or Ethnic Violence and Discrimination). In an October report on CNN, a former PRC police detective now living in Europe who had multiple tours of duty in Xinjiang confirmed many of these specific allegations in what he described as a systematic campaign of torture.

In March, Newlines Institute for Strategy and Policy released a comprehensive assessment of the PRC’s actions in Xinjiang to examine “whether China bears State responsibility for breaches of Article II of the Genocide Convention, in particular, whether China is committing genocide against the Uyghurs as defined by Article II of the Convention.” The report included contributions of more than 30 scholars and researchers and found that the PRC has implemented a campaign designed to eliminate Uyghurs, in whole or in part. The report stated, “[h]igh-level officials gave orders to ‘round up everyone who should be rounded up,’ ‘wipe them out completely,’ ‘break their lineage, break their roots, break their connections and break their origins.’” The report noted the PRC has also pursued a “dual systematic campaign of forcibly sterilizing Uyghur women of childbearing age and interning Uyghur men of child-bearing years, preventing the regenerative capacity of the group.”

In June, Amnesty International released a report that documented the accounts of more than 50 former detainees regarding the torture, mistreatment, and violence inflicted on them in camps in Xinjiang. The report detailed the systematic use of detainment and “re-education” centers to target Uyghurs and members of other ethnic minorities living in Xinjiang. The report concluded, “according to the evidence Amnesty International has gathered, corroborated by other reliable sources, members of the predominantly Muslim ethnic minorities in Xinjiang have been subjected to an attack meeting all the contextual elements of crimes against humanity.” Further, it elaborated on violence and detention stating, “Amnesty International believes the evidence it has collected provides a factual basis for the conclusion that the Chinese government has committed at least the following crimes against humanity: imprisonment or other severe deprivation of physical liberty in violation of fundamental rules of international law; torture; and persecution.”

The treatment and abuse of detainees under the liuzhi detention system, which operates outside the judicial system as a legal tool for the government and the CCP to investigate corruption and other offenses, featured custodial treatment such as extended solitary confinement, sleep deprivation, beatings, and forced standing or sitting in uncomfortable positions for hours and sometimes days, according to press reports.

The law states psychiatric treatment and hospitalization should be “on a voluntary basis,” but the law also allows authorities and family members to commit persons to psychiatric facilities against their will and fails to provide meaningful legal protections for persons sent to psychiatric facilities. The law does not provide for the right to a lawyer and restricts a person’s right to communicate with those outside the psychiatric institution.

Official media reported the Ministry of Public Security directly administered 23 psychiatric hospitals for the criminally insane.  While many of those committed to mental health facilities were convicted of murder and other violent crimes, there were also reports of activists, religious or spiritual adherents, and petitioners involuntarily subjected to psychiatric treatment for political reasons.  Public security officials may commit individuals to psychiatric facilities and force treatment for “conditions” that have no basis in psychiatry.

Impunity was a significant problem in the security forces, including the Ministry of Public Security, the Ministry of State Security, and the Ministry of Justice, which manages the prison system.

Prison and Detention Center Conditions

Conditions in penal institutions for both political prisoners and criminal offenders were generally harsh and often life threatening or degrading.

Physical Conditions: Authorities regularly held prisoners and detainees in overcrowded conditions with poor sanitation. Food often was inadequate and of poor quality, and many detainees relied on supplemental food, medicines, and warm clothing provided by relatives when allowed to receive them. Prisoners often reported sleeping on the floor because there were no beds or bedding. In many cases provisions for sanitation, ventilation, heating, lighting, and access to potable water were inadequate.

The lack of adequate, timely medical care for prisoners remained a serious problem, despite official assurances prisoners have the right to prompt medical treatment. Prison authorities at times withheld medical treatment from political prisoners. Multiple NGOs and news agencies reported detainees at “re-education” centers or long-term extrajudicial detention centers became seriously ill or died.

Political prisoners were sometimes held with the general prison population and reported being beaten by other prisoners at the instigation of guards. Some reported being held in the same cells as death row inmates. In some cases authorities did not allow dissidents to receive supplemental food, medicine, and warm clothing from relatives.

Conditions in administrative detention facilities were similar to those in prisons. Deaths from beatings occurred in administrative detention facilities. Detainees reported beatings, sexual assaults, lack of proper food, and limited or no access to medical care.

In Xinjiang authorities expanded internment camps for Uyghurs, ethnic Kazakhs, and other Muslims. Buzzfeed reported in July that the map of detention centers “neatly fits the geography of counties and prefectures across Xinjiang, with a camp and detention center in most counties and a prison or two per prefecture.” The report estimated that the government had built enough detention space to hold up to 1.01 million individuals. The Australian Strategic Policy Institute’s Xinjiang Data Project satellite analysis indicated that Xinjiang has 385 detention centers. In some cases authorities used repurposed schools, factories, and prisons to hold detainees. The Associated Press reported in October that authorities have closed or repurposed the makeshift detention centers found in cities, but in their place have built larger detention centers outside the cities. According to Human Rights Watch, these camps focused on “military-style discipline and pervasive political indoctrination of the detainees.” Detainees reported pervasive physical abuse and torture in the camps and overcrowded and unsanitary conditions.

In July the Associated Press estimated one detention center in Dabancheng, Xinjiang could hold 10,000 persons. Associated Press reported that during a tour of the facility it observed detainees “in uniform rows with their legs crossed in lotus position and their backs ramrod straight” where they watched videos of CCP propaganda. In October, CNN interviewed a former Chinese police officer who served multiple tours in Xinjiang and was directly involved in the severe physical mistreatment and violence undertaken against Uyghurs and other ethnic minority communities. The officer stated, “We took (them) all forcibly overnight. If there were hundreds of people in one county in this area, then you had to arrest these hundreds of people.” During interrogations, police officers would “kick them, beat them (until they’re) bruised and swollen, … Until they kneel on the floor crying.” “Interrogation” methods included shackling persons to a metal or wooden “tiger chair” (rendering them immobile), sexual violence against men and women, electrocutions, and waterboarding. The source said inmates were forced to stay awake for days and denied food and water. The former police officer stated that 150,000 police officers had been recruited to participate in the province-wide “strike hard” campaign and that there were arrest quotas they had to meet. Authorities accused detainees of terror offenses, but the source said he believed “none” of the hundreds of prisoners he was involved in arresting had committed a crime.

Administration: The law states letters from a prisoner to higher authorities of the prison or to the judicial organs shall be free from examination; it was unclear to what extent the law was observed. While authorities occasionally investigated credible allegations of inhuman conditions, their results were not documented in a publicly accessible manner. Authorities denied many prisoners and detainees reasonable access to visitors and correspondence with family members. Some family members did not know the whereabouts of their relatives in custody. Authorities also prevented many prisoners and detainees from engaging in religious practices or gaining access to religious materials.

Independent Monitoring: Authorities considered information about prisons and various other types of administrative and extralegal detention facilities to be a state secret, and the government did not permit independent monitoring.

Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties

a. Freedom of Expression, Including for Members of the Press and Other Media

The constitution states citizens “enjoy freedom of speech, of the press, of assembly, of association, of procession and of demonstration.” Authorities limited and did not respect these rights, however, especially when their exercise conflicted with CCP interests. Authorities continued to impose ever-tighter control of all print, broadcast, electronic, and social media and regularly used them to propagate government views and CCP ideology. Authorities censored and manipulated the press, social media, and the internet, particularly around sensitive anniversaries and topics such as public health.

Freedom of Expression: Citizens could discuss specific policies but often avoided discussing broader political issues, leaders, or “sensitive” topics for fear of official punishment. Authorities routinely took harsh action against citizens who questioned the legitimacy of the CCP or criticized President Xi’s leadership. Some independent think tanks, study groups, and seminars reported pressure to cancel sessions on sensitive topics. Many others confirmed authorities regularly warned them against meeting with foreign reporters or diplomats, and to avoid participating in diplomatic receptions or public programs organized by foreign entities.

Those who made politically sensitive comments in public speeches, academic discussions, or remarks to media, or who posted sensitive comments online, remained subject to punitive measures, as did members of their family. In addition an increase in electronic surveillance in public spaces, coupled with the movement of many citizens’ routine interactions to the digital space, signified the government was monitoring an increasing percentage of daily life. Conversations in groups or peer-to-peer on social media platforms and via messaging applications were subject to censorship, monitoring, and action from authorities. An increasing threat of peer-to-peer observation and possible referral to authorities further eroded freedom of speech.

The popular communication app WeChat remained heavily censored. Posts regarding sensitive topics such as PRC politics disappeared when sent to or from a China-registered account. Authorities continued to use the app to monitor political dissidents and other critics, some of whom were detained by police or sentenced to prison for their communications. Chinese citizens moving abroad who continued to use an account created in China were still subject to censorship.

On June 5, Gao Heng, a Christian, was detained by authorities for “picking quarrels and provoking troubles” after taking a picture of himself on the Guangzhou Metro holding a small sign that read “June 4th: Pray for the Country.”

On July 6, multiple WeChat accounts run by lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer, or intersex (LGBTQI+) societies at several universities were closed, with past posts scrubbed and replaced with a notice stating “All content has been blocked and the use of the account has been stopped” for violations of unspecified social media regulations.

On July 23, veteran petitioner Li Yufeng went on trial at the Jiaozuo City Central Station People’s Court on the charge of “picking quarrels and provoking trouble.” Li was detained in 2019 after she accompanied a friend to Beijing to file a petition at the Supreme People’s Court.

Prominent poet Wang Zang and his wife Wang Li remained in detention on the charge of “inciting subversion of state power.” Wang Zang, taken from his home in May 2020, and Wang Liqin, detained in June 2020, were indicted by the Chuxiong Yi Autonomous Prefecture People’s Procuratorate in September 2020. Police “evidence” against Wang Zang included his poetry, performance art, and views expressed on social media.

In October veteran journalist Luo Changping and a social media user identified by the surname Zuo were detained for making critical comments online regarding The Battle of Changjin Lake, a state-sponsored film set during the Korean War. Since the new code took effect in March, reports indicated that the law has been used at least 15 times to punish those who questioned the party’s version of history.

Authorities arrested or detained countless citizens for “spreading fake news,” “illegal information dissemination,” or “spreading rumors online.” These claims ranged from sharing political views or promoting religious extremism to sharing factual reports on public health concerns, including COVID-19.

This trend was especially stark in Xinjiang, where the government ran a multifaceted system of physical and cyber controls to stop individuals from expressing themselves or practicing their religion or traditional beliefs. Beyond the region’s expansive system of internment camps, the government and the CCP operated a system to limit in-person and online speech. In Xinjiang police regularly stopped Muslims and members of non-Han ethnic minorities and demanded to review their cell phones for any evidence of communication deemed inappropriate.

During the year the government extensively used mobile phone apps, cameras, and other electronics to monitor all speech and movement. Authorities in Xinjiang employed a comprehensive database that tracked the movements, mobile app usage, and even electricity and gasoline consumption of inhabitants in the region.

The government also sought to limit criticism of their Xinjiang policies even outside the country, disrupting academic discussions and intimidating human rights advocates across the world. Government officials in Xinjiang detained the relatives of several overseas activists. In February the government blocked Clubhouse, a foreign software platform designed to promote open conversations, after only a few days of operation. Before Clubhouse was blocked, Chinese citizens had participated in discussions concerning topics the PRC considers sensitive, including Xinjiang and Taiwan.

Numerous ethnic Uyghurs and Kazakhs living overseas were intimidated into silence by threats from government officials against members of their family who lived in China, threats sometimes delivered in China to the relatives, and sometimes delivered by Chinese government officials in the foreign country. (See section 1.e., Politically Motivated Reprisal against Individuals Located Outside the Country.)

The government restricted the expression of views it found objectionable, even when those expressions occurred abroad. Online, the government expanded attempts to control the global dissemination of information while also exporting its methods of electronic information control to other nations’ governments. During the year there was a rise in reports of journalists in foreign countries and ethnic Chinese living abroad experiencing harassment by Chinese government agents due to their criticisms of PRC politics. This included criticisms posted on platforms such as Twitter that were blocked within China.

The government sought to limit freedom of expression in online gaming platforms. The popular Chinese-made online game Genshin Impact continued to censor the words “Taiwan” and “Hong Kong” among others in its in-game chat program. Users noted the program’s censorship covered all users, regardless of the country of citizenship or where the game was being played.

Freedom of Expression for Members of the Press and Other Media, Including Online Media: The CCP and government continued to maintain ultimate authority over all published, online, and broadcast material. Officially, only state-run media outlets have government approval to cover CCP leaders or other topics deemed “sensitive.” While it did not dictate all content to be published or broadcast, the CCP and the government had unchecked authority to mandate if, when, and how particular issues were reported or to order they not be reported at all. The government’s propaganda department issued daily guidance on what topics should be promoted in all media outlets and how those topics should be covered. Chinese reporters working for private media companies confirmed increased pressure to conform to government requirements on story selection and content.

The Cyberspace Administration of China (CAC) directly manages internet content, including online news media, and promotes CCP propaganda. A CCP propaganda department deputy minister ran the organization’s day-to-day operations. It enjoyed broad authority in regulating online media practices and played a large role in regulating and shaping information dissemination online.

The CCP continued to monitor and control the use of non-Mandarin languages in all media within the country. Since January 1, Mongolian-language content, previously broadcast on state media, was replaced with Chinese cultural programs that promote a “strong sense of Chinese nationality common identity.”

All books and magazines continued to require state-issued publication numbers, which were expensive and often difficult to obtain. Nearly all print and broadcast media as well as book publishers were affiliated with the CCP or the government. There were a small number of print publications with some private ownership interest but no privately owned television or radio stations. The CCP directed the domestic media to refrain from reporting on certain subjects, and traditional broadcast programming required government approval.

Journalists operated in an environment tightly controlled by the government. Only journalists with official government accreditation were allowed to publish news in print or online. The CCP constantly monitored all forms of journalist output, including printed news, television reporting, and online news, including livestreaming. Journalists and editors self-censored to stay within the lines dictated by the CCP, and they faced increasingly serious penalties for crossing those lines, which could be opaque. While the country’s increasingly internet-literate population demanded interesting stories told with the latest technologies, government authorities asserted control over technologies such as livestreaming and continued to pressure digital outlets and social media platforms.

Because the CCP did not consider internet news companies “official” media, they were subject to debilitating regulations and barred from reporting on potentially “sensitive” stories.

Violence and Harassment: The government frequently impeded the work of the press, including citizen journalists. Journalists reported being subjected to physical attack, harassment, monitoring, and intimidation when reporting on sensitive topics. Government officials used criminal prosecution, civil lawsuits, and other punishment, including violence, detention, and other forms of harassment, to intimidate authors and journalists and to prevent the dissemination of unsanctioned information on a wide range of topics.

Family members of journalists based overseas also faced harassment, and in some cases detention, as retaliation for the reporting of their relatives abroad. Dozens of Uyghur relatives of overseas-based journalists working for Radio Free Asia’s Uyghur Service remained disappeared or detained in Xinjiang. In March, RFA reported that authorities had detained two brothers of Uyghur Service editor Eset Sulaiman since 2018.

Restrictions on domestic and foreign journalists by central and local CCP propaganda departments increased significantly.

Journalists faced the threat of demotion or dismissal for publishing views that challenged the government. In many cases potential sources refused to meet with journalists due to actual or feared government pressure. The scope of censorship was vast, with several Chinese journalists noting “an atmosphere of debilitating paranoia.” For example long-standing journalist contacts continued to decline off-the-record conversations, even concerning nonsensitive topics. So-called taboo topics included not only Tibet, Taiwan, and corruption, but also natural disasters and the #MeToo movement.

During the year authorities imprisoned numerous journalists working in traditional and new media. The government also silenced numerous independent journalists by quarantining them under the guise of pandemic response. Reporters Without Borders, in a report released on December 7, tallied at least 127 journalists (professional and nonprofessional) detained in the country. Of these, 71 – or more than one-half the journalists imprisoned – were Uyghur.

On January 7, investigative journalist Li Xinde, who founded and ran the China Public Watchdog Network anticorruption website, was convicted of “illegal business activity” and received a five-year prison sentence. He was initially detained in 2019 after publishing on his website a report that a court in Tianjin had wrongfully convicted a businessman.

On January 8, former journalist Zhang Jialong was sentenced to 18 months’ imprisonment by the Nanming District Court in Guiyang City on charges of “picking quarrels and provoking trouble.” Zhang, while a journalist with Tencent, met with then secretary of state John Kerry in 2014 and asked him to “tear down this great firewall that blocks the Internet.”

On May 11, citizen journalists Chen Mei and Cai Wei were put on trial at Beijing’s Chaoyang District Court, after more than a year in detention, on the charge of “picking quarrels and provoking trouble.” The two volunteered for a website archive, Terminus 2049, that documented censored COVID-19 outbreak information, among other topics. On August 13, Chen and Cai were convicted on the “picking quarrels and provoking trouble” charge but were then released on August 15 for time served.

A CCP organization in Henan Province issued a call on social media to confront a BBC journalist covering flooding in Zhengzhou, Henan Province. The Foreign Correspondents’ Club of China cited the incident as an example of the “growing hostility against foreign media in China,” thanks to rising Chinese nationalism sometimes “directly encouraged by Chinese officials and official entities.”

The Foreign Correspondents’ Club of China’s annual report on media freedoms, released in March, found that authorities and the CCP used “all arms of state power” – including surveillance systems introduced to curb COVID-19 – to harass and intimidate journalists, their Chinese colleagues, and those whom the foreign press sought to interview. For the third consecutive year, not a single correspondent said that working conditions improved.

The survey reported 88 percent of correspondents had requests for interviews declined because subjects needed prior permission to speak to a foreign journalist or because they were not permitted to speak to foreign journalists at all, an increase from 76 percent in 2019. Nearly 40 percent of correspondents said they were aware of sources being harassed, detained, called in, or questioned for interacting with a foreign journalist, an increase from 25 percent in 2019. Nearly one-half the correspondents said the fear of digital or in-person surveillance regularly affected their ability to adequately interview and communicate with sources or carry out their reporting. Almost 60 percent said their Chinese colleagues were subject to intimidation, compared with 44 percent in 2019.

Authorities used the visa renewal process to challenge journalists and force additional foreign reporters out of the country.  A Reporters Without Borders report released December 7 tallied 18 foreign reporters who were forced to leave the country in 2020 due to surveillance and visa blackmail.

In March, BBC journalist John Sudworth left the country following threats of legal action, obstruction, and intimidation. A state-sponsored propaganda campaign targeted the BBC and Sudworth to discredit them and push back against international criticism regarding issues such as Xinjiang and Hong Kong. According to the Australian Strategic Policy Institute, the government’s targeting of the BBC began after the BBC published a report detailing allegations of systematic rape in internment camps where Muslims were detained in Xinjiang.

Local employees working for foreign press outlets reported increased harassment and intimidation, in addition to authorities’ continued tight enforcement of restrictions on these employees. Foreign news bureaus are prohibited by law from directly hiring Chinese citizens as employees and must rely on personnel hired by the Personnel Service Corporation, a subordinate unit of the Diplomatic Service Bureau affiliated with the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. The code of conduct threatens dismissal and loss of accreditation for those citizen employees who engage in independent reporting. It instructs them to provide their employers with information that projects “a good image of the country.” Multiple foreign outlets reported a continuing inability to hire the number of local staff members that they wished, saying authorities continued to impose an unofficial cap of one local researcher per foreign correspondent from media outlets out of favor with authorities. Some outlets even reported trouble getting the Diplomatic Service Bureau’s permission to hire a single local researcher per correspondent. New staff were wary of taking on responsibilities that might be considered politically sensitive, limiting their portfolios and contributions.

Government harassment of foreign journalists was particularly aggressive in Xinjiang. According to the 2020 Foreign Correspondents’ Club report, all foreign reporters who traveled to Xinjiang were openly followed, denied access to public places, and were asked or forced to delete photographs and other data from devices. Reporters documented cases of staged traffic accidents, road blockages, hotel closures, and cyberattacks. They reported constant surveillance while they worked in Xinjiang, with government agents stepping in to block access to some areas, intimidating local inhabitants from talking to the journalists, and stopping the journalists – sometimes many times per day – to seize their cameras and force them to erase pictures. Reporters noted local contacts warned them any resident seen talking to foreigners would almost certainly be detained, interrogated, or sent to a “re-education camp.”

Government officials also sought to suppress journalism outside their borders.  While in past years these efforts largely focused on Chinese-language media, during the year additional reports emerged of attempts to suppress media critical of China regardless of language or location.

Censorship or Content Restrictions: Regulations grant broad authority to the government at all levels to restrict publications based on content, including mandating if, when, and how particular issues are reported.

According to Freedom House, on February 5, the China Association of Performing Arts (an industry association under the Ministry of Culture and Tourism) released new restrictions that required performances to promote the “party line,” not “undermine national unity,” nor “endanger national security.” Performers who violated the rules would face suspensions or a permanent ban from the industry.

Official guidelines for domestic journalists were often vague, subject to change at the discretion of propaganda officials, and enforced retroactively. Propaganda authorities forced newspapers and online media providers to fire editors and journalists responsible for articles deemed inconsistent with official policy and suspend or close publications. Self-censorship was prevalent among journalists, authors, and editors, particularly with post facto government reviews carrying penalties.

The CCP Central Propaganda Department ordered media outlets to adhere strictly to the information provided by official departments. Directives warned against reporting on issues related to COVID-19 outbreaks, the official response, and international inquiries, as well as party and official reputation, health and safety in general, and foreign affairs.

The government sought to exercise complete control over public and private commentary regarding the COVID-19 outbreak, undermining local and international efforts to report on the virus’s spread. COVID-19 information on Chinese social media was closely guarded from the outbreak’s earliest manifestation. Popular livestreaming and messaging platforms WeChat and YY continued censorship protocols, including on words related to the virus causing COVID-19, SARS, and potential disease vectors.

In the run-up to the 100th anniversary of the CCP’s founding on July 1, the government sought to tighten control over how citizens discuss history on the country’s heavily censored internet, releasing legal amendments stipulating that persons who “insult, slander or infringe upon” the memory of the country’s national heroes and martyrs faced jail time of up to three years.

In April the CAC vowed to crack down on “historical nihilists” and launched a hotline for internet users to report “illegal” comments that “distorted” the CCP’s historical achievements and attacked the country’s leadership. The tip line allowed individuals to report fellow citizens who “distort” the party’s history, attack its leadership and policies, defame national heroes, and “deny the excellence of advanced socialist culture” online.

Also in April authorities in Jiangsu Province detained a 19-year-old man after he made “insulting” comments online regarding Japan’s 1937 occupation of Nanjing.

In early May a regulatory official reported authorities had dealt with a large number of accounts deemed to be propagating “historical nihilism” and that they directed online platforms to clean up more than two million posts the CAC deemed illegal.

Some private companies censored content without explicit orders from authorities. In late March streaming platforms in the country began to censor the logos and symbols of brands such as Adidas that adorn items worn by contestants performing dance, singing, and standup-comedy routines, following a feud between the government and international companies that said they would avoid using cotton produced in Xinjiang. Although government officials may not have ordered the shows to obscure the brands, the video streaming sites apparently felt pressured or obliged to publicly distance themselves from Western brands involved in the feud.

In May, Chinese video platforms censored a Friends reunion television special, removing appearances by music stars Lady Gaga, Justin Bieber, and the K-pop group BTS, all of whom had previously engaged in activity that reportedly angered the Chinese government.

The government increased efforts to screen out unsanctioned information and align online content with the state’s agenda. In August the CCP’s Central Propaganda Department, along with the state-backed bodies for state-approved artists and authors, the Ministry of Culture and Tourism, and State Administration of Radio and Television, as well as the China Federation of Literary and Art Circles and Chinese Writers Association, issued policy guidelines urging better “culture and art reviews,” partly by limiting the role of algorithms in content distribution. Under the guidelines, all domestic content creators and distributors are told to “adhere to the correct direction, strengthen Marxist literary theory and criticism, and pay attention to the social effects of literary criticism … and not to contribute to the spread of low, vulgar and pandering content or quasi-entertainment content.”

Citizen journalists faced an increasingly difficult climate, with the CAC and other authorities seeking to strengthen control over content published through social media, including “self-media” accounts. Also known as “we-media,” these accounts are typically blogs operated independently on social media without official backing from established outlets. Self-media had become one of the biggest emerging trends, with a report by the State Information Center noting that in 2020 online media accounted for 80 percent of the country’s media market. The tightened restrictions online had the effect of further clamping down on self-employed reporters, who also could not be accredited by the National Press and Publication Administration, which administers tests and grants the licenses required for citizens to work in the profession. Unaccredited reporters can face legal fallout or even criminal charges. The campaign to clean up self-media accounts also targeted social media trending charts, push notifications, and short-video platforms. The CAC was also exploring measures to control the distribution of information across all internet platforms to end “disruption to the order of internet broadcasts.”

In January the National Press and Publication Administration announced that it had made it a priority to stop reporters from running their own self­media accounts, as part of its annual review of journalists’ accreditation.

In February the CAC implemented new rules on managing public internet accounts, the first change since 2017. The rules specified the type of content platforms should ban, including those deemed to be engaged in fabricating information, inciting extreme emotions, plagiarism, cyberbullying, blackmailing, and artificially inflating the number of clicks. This represented a fresh crackdown on “fake news” and other online activities perceived to be harmful. The new rules to “protect the security of content and maintain a healthy cyberspace” aimed to curb independent reporting and reposting of information considered illegal while promoting government-sanctioned stories.

The new rules also broadened the definition of harmful online information. In addition to information that authorities considered to endanger national security, leak state secrets, or subvert state power, the new rules banned online information that “disrupts financial market order.” False information regarding disasters, epidemics, emergencies, and food and drug safety was also banned. On top of possible criminal charges and other punishments, websites spreading such information could be shut down, and individuals working for such sites could be held liable and subject to heavy fines.

In July the government launched a campaign to crack down on “fake news” and clean up online content. The CCP’s Central Propaganda Department announced the campaign would target “illegal news activities” by news organizations and staff, internet platforms and public accounts, as well as unaccredited social organizations and individuals.

Control over public depictions of President Xi was severe, with censors aggressively shutting down any depiction that varied from official media storylines. Censors continued to block images of the Winnie the Pooh cartoon character on social media because internet users used it to represent Xi. Social media posts did not allow comments related to Xi Jinping and other prominent Chinese leaders.

Domestic films were subject to government censorship. The CCP continued to call for films to highlight Chinese culture and values and promote the country’s successful growth. On October 9, former news editor and journalist Luo Chang Ping was detained in Hainan for a post on Weibo critical of a film’s depiction of the country’s role in the Korean War on suspicion of “impeaching the reputation of heroes and martyrs.”

Foreign movies shown in the country were also subject to censorship. The scheduled PRC release of Nomadland, a foreign movie directed by China-born filmmaker Chloe Zhao, was postponed following a controversy concerning comments Zhao made in 2013 regarding censorship in China; many online mentions of Nomadland were censored by authorities.

In October, Chinese broadcaster Tencent blocked Boston Celtics (National Basketball Association) games from its platform after a member of the team, Enes Kanter, posted social media posts critical of the PRC’s policies in Tibet.

Newscasts from overseas news outlets, largely restricted to hotels and foreign residence compounds, were subject to censorship. Individual issues of foreign newspapers and magazines were occasionally banned when they contained articles deemed too sensitive. Articles on sensitive topics were removed from international magazines. Television newscasts were often blacked out during segments on sensitive subjects. For example in February, authorities banned the BBC World News television channel in apparent retaliation after the United Kingdom revoked the license of the state-owned Chinese broadcaster CGTN.

Government regulations restrict and limit public access to foreign television shows, which are banned during primetime, and local streamers had to limit the foreign portion of their program libraries to less than 30 percent.

Authorities continued to ban books with content they deemed inconsistent with officially sanctioned views. The law permits only government-approved publishing houses to print books. Newspapers, periodicals, books, audio and video recordings, or electronic publications may not be printed or distributed without the approval of central authorities and relevant provincial publishing authorities. Individuals who attempted to publish without government approval faced imprisonment, fines, confiscation of their books, and other punishment. The CCP also exerted control over the publishing industry by preemptively classifying certain topics as state secrets.

Government rules ban the sale of foreign publications without an import permit. This includes sales on online shopping platforms, which are banned from offering “overseas publications,” including books, movies, and games that do not already have government approval.  The ban also applies to services related to publications.

New rules from the Ministry of Education went into effect April 1, banning from libraries books that favored the “West” at the expense of China. Nikkei Asia reported that the order would impact 240 million primary and secondary school students and also require students to begin studying “Xi Jinping Thought.” According to Nikkei Asia, books that conveyed political, economic, and cultural ideas from democratic nations could be banned.

Libel/Slander Laws: By law defamation can be punished by up to three years’ imprisonment; truth is not a defense.

In February police in the Shapingba District of Chongqing issued a criminal detention warrant for a 19-year-old Chinese citizen living overseas in connection for his posts on the Sina Weibo microblogging platform. Police claimed the blogger posted a comment defaming People’s Liberation Army (PLA) martyrs that had a “severe negative social impact.” Official state media reported that at least six other Chinese domestic internet users had been under criminal or administrative detention for “stirring up trouble” by publishing defamatory comments concerning PLA martyrs on social media platforms.

In May at least seven citizens were detained for “defaming” Yuan Longping, revered as the “Father of Hybrid Rice” in China, who died on May 22. Media reports noted that local police had responded to complaints of insulting remarks regarding Yuan on social media and determined the posts had caused a “seriously bad” impact on the society. Five of the detained faced criminal investigations; two were detained under administrative procedures. Sina Weibo announced on May 24 that it would permanently close the accounts of 64 users who were found to have spread insults and attacks on Yuan.

In October a woman identified in court only by her last name, Xu, was sentenced to seven months in prison for violating a newly amended criminal code that makes “impeaching the reputation of heroes and martyrs” a crime. Xu had mocked online some internet users who had imagined themselves as Dong Cunrui, a war hero who died during China’s civil war in 1949.

National Security: Authorities often justified restrictions on expression on national security protection grounds. Government leaders cited the threat of terrorism to justify restricting freedom of expression by Muslims and other religious minorities. These justifications were a baseline rationale for restrictions on press movements, publications, and other forms of repression of expression.

c. Freedom of Religion

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

Section 3. Freedom to Participate in the Political Process

The constitution states, “all power in the People’s Republic of China belongs to the people” and the organs through which citizens exercise state power are the NPC and the people’s congresses at provincial, district, and local levels. In practice the CCP dictated the legislative agenda to the NPC. While the law provides for elections of people’s congress delegates at the county level and below, citizens could not freely choose the officials who governed them. The CCP controlled all elections and continued to control appointments to positions of political power. The CCP used various intimidation tactics, including house arrest, to block independent candidates from running in local elections.

Elections and Political Participation

Recent Elections: In 2018 the NPC’s 2,980 delegates elected the president and vice president, the premier and vice premiers, and the chairman of the Central Military Commission. The NPC Standing Committee, which consists of 175 members, oversaw the elections and determined the agenda and procedures for the NPC. The selection of NPC members takes place every five years, and the process is controlled by the CCP.

The NPC Standing Committee remained under the direct authority of the CCP. All important legislative decisions required the concurrence of the CCP’s seven-member Politburo Standing Committee. Despite its broad authority under the state constitution, the NPC did not set policy independently or remove political leaders without the CCP’s approval.

According to Ministry of Civil Affairs 2019 statistics, almost all the country’s more than 600,000 villages had implemented direct elections by ordinary citizens for members of local subgovernmental organizations known as village committees. The direct election of officials remained narrow in scope and was strictly confined to the lowest rungs of local governance. Corruption, vote buying, and interference by township-level and CCP officials continued to be problems. The law permits each voter to cast proxy votes for up to three other voters.

Election law governs legislative bodies at all levels, although compliance and enforcement varied across the country. Under the law citizens have the opportunity every five years to vote for local people’s congress representatives at the county level and below, although in most cases higher-level government officials or CCP cadres controlled the nomination of candidates. At higher levels, legislators selected people’s congress delegates from among their own ranks. For example, provincial-level people’s congresses selected delegates to the NPC. Local CCP secretaries generally served concurrently within the leadership team of the local people’s congress, thus strengthening CCP control over legislatures.

Political Parties and Political Participation: Official statements asserted “the political party system [that] China has adopted is multiparty cooperation and political consultation” under CCP leadership. The CCP, however, retained a monopoly on political power, and the government forbade the creation of new political parties. The government officially recognized nine parties founded prior to 1949, and parties other than the CCP held 30 percent of the seats in the NPC. These non-CCP members did not function as a political opposition. They exercised very little influence on legislation or policymaking and were only allowed to operate under the direction of the CCP United Front Work Department.

No laws or regulations specifically govern the formation of political parties. The China Democracy Party remained banned, and the government continued to monitor, detain, and imprison its current and former members. China Democracy Party founder Qin Yongmin, detained with his wife Zhao Suli in 2015, has been in Hubei’s Qianjiang Prison since 2018 for “subversion of state power.”

Participation of Women and Members of Minority Groups: Women and members of minority groups held few positions of significant influence in the government or CCP structure. Among the 2,987 appointed delegates to the 13th NPC in 2018, 742 (25 percent) were women. Following the 19th Party Congress in 2017, one member of the CCP Central Committee’s 25-member Politburo was a woman. There were no women in the Politburo Standing Committee.

Election law provides a general mandate for quotas for female and ethnic minority representatives, but achieving these quotas often required election authorities to violate the election law.

A total of 438 delegates from 55 ethnic minorities were members of the 13th NPC, accounting for 16 percent of the total number of delegates. All of the country’s officially recognized minority groups were represented. The 19th Party Congress elected 15 members of ethnic minority groups as members of the 202-person Central Committee. There was no ethnic minority member of the Politburo, and only one ethnic minority member was serving as a party secretary of a provincial-level jurisdiction, although a handful of ethnic minority members were serving as leaders in provincial governments. An ethnic Mongolian woman, Wang Lixia, served as chair of the Inner Mongolia Autonomous Region, equivalent to a provincial governor. An ethnic Hui woman, Xian Hui, served as chair of the Ningxia Hui Autonomous Region. An ethnic Bai woman, Shen Yiqin, served as party secretary of Guizhou Province.

Section 6. Discrimination and Societal Abuses

Women

Rape and Domestic Violence: Rape of women is illegal and carries a sentence that ranges from three years in prison to death. The law does not safeguard same-sex couples or survivors of marital rape. A separate law on sexual assault includes male victims but has a lesser maximum penalty of five years in prison. Of the reported cases, most allegations of rape were closed through private settlement rather than prosecution. Some persons convicted of rape were executed.

Domestic violence remained a significant problem. Some scholars said victims were encouraged to attempt to resolve domestic violence through mediation. Societal sentiment that domestic violence was a personal, private matter contributed to underreporting and inaction by authorities when women faced violence at home. The law defines domestic violence as a civil, rather than a criminal, offense. The web publication Sixth Tone reported in 2019 that 25 percent of families had experienced domestic violence.

The government supported shelters for survivors of domestic violence, and some courts provided protections to survivors, including through court protective orders prohibiting a perpetrator of domestic violence from coming near to a survivor. Nonetheless, official assistance did not always reach survivors, and public security forces often ignored domestic violence. Legal aid institutions working to provide counseling and defense to survivors of domestic violence were often pressured to suspend public activities and cease all forms of policy advocacy, an area that was reserved only for government-sponsored organizations.

According to women’s rights activists, a recurring problem in the prosecution of domestic violence cases was a failure by authorities to collect evidence, including photographs, hospital records, police records, or children’s testimony. Witnesses seldom testified in court.

On November 2, professional tennis player Peng Shuai in a since-deleted post on Weibo accused former Politburo Standing Committee member and vice premier Zhang Gaoli of sexually assaulting her in 2018. Peng said she and Zhang previously had an extramarital relationship and that she went to Zhang’s house “about three years ago” at his invitation to play tennis with him and his wife, when he sexually assaulted her. International media said this was the first such public accusation against a senior CCP official. Peng disappeared from public view following her post, and her social media accounts were blocked. Her disappearance sparked an international outcry, and a subsequent series of public sightings were criticized as staged propaganda intended to defuse international criticism.

Courts’ recognition of domestic violence improved, making spousal abuse a mitigating factor in crimes committed in self-defense.

Sexual Harassment: The law prohibits sexual harassment against women. The law defines behaviors included in the definition of harassment, eliminates the statute of limitations of minors seeking to sue on sexual harassment grounds, and requires employers to make affirmative efforts to prevent and address sexual harassment in the workplace. It remained difficult for victims to file a sexual harassment complaint and for judges to reach a ruling on such cases. Human Rights Watch cited one statistic showing nearly 40 percent of women said they experienced sexual harassment in the workplace. Many women, however, remained unwilling to report incidents of sexual harassment, believing the justice system was ineffectual, according to official media. Several prominent media reports of sexual harassment were widely shared on social media, helping to raise awareness of the problem, particularly in the workplace.

In August a female employee of Hangzhou-based Alibaba wrote she had been sexually assaulted by her manager and a client and that Alibaba had not initially taken the matter seriously. Alibaba subsequently fired the accused manager, and two other senior employees resigned for not properly handling the allegations. The criminal case against the accused manager was ultimately dropped by prosecutors who said the “forcible indecency” committed by the man was not a crime.

On September 14, the Haidian District Court in Beijing ruled against plaintiff Zhou Xiaoxuan (also known as Xianzi) in a high-profile sexual harassment case, stating there was insufficient evidence to support her claims that China Central Television personality Zhu Jun had groped and forcibly kissed her in 2014 when she was an intern working for him.

The law allows victims to file a sexual harassment complaint with their employer, authorities, or both. Employers who failed to take effective measures to prevent sexual harassment could be fined.

Some women’s NGOs that sought to increase public awareness of sexual harassment reported harassment by public security and faced challenges implementing their programs.

Reproductive Rights: Through law and policy the CCP and government limit the rights of parents to choose the number of children they have. The law restricts most married couples to three children (increased from two in May) and allows couples to apply for permission to have a fourth child if they meet local and provincial requirements. In August the NPC formally passed the law raising the number of children permitted, including several provisions aimed at boosting the birth rate and “reducing the burden” of raising children. These provisions included abolishing the “social maintenance fee” that was a fine for having children beyond the previous limit, encouraging local governments to offer parental leave, and increasing women’s employment rights.

Enforcement of population control policy relied on social pressure, education, propaganda, and economic penalties, as well as on measures such as mandatory pregnancy examinations, contraception and, less frequently, forced sterilizations and, in some provinces, coerced abortions. Penalties for exceeding the permitted number of children were not enforced uniformly and varied by province. The law as implemented requires each woman with an unauthorized pregnancy to abort or to pay a social compensation fee, which can reach 10 times a person’s annual disposable income. Those with the financial means often paid the fee to ensure their children born in violation of the birth restrictions would have access to a wide array of government-provided social services and rights. Some avoided the fee by hiding such children with friends or relatives. The law only mentions the rights of married couples, which means unmarried women are not authorized to have children. They consequently have social compensation fees imposed on them if they give birth “outside of the policy,” and they could be subject to the denial of legal documents such as birth documents and the hukou residence permit, although local governments rarely enforced these regulations.

While authorities have liberalized population control measures for members of the Han majority since 2016, birth control policies directed toward Uyghurs became more stringent. Ethnic and religious minority women were often subject to coercive population control measures. Government targeting of ethnic and religious minorities in Xinjiang with intensified coercive family-planning measures resulted in plummeting birth rates since 2018. Most Xinjiang prefectures reported large increases in sterilizations and implantation of intrauterine devices (IUD), with Hotan Prefecture alone more than doubling its female sterilization numbers from 2017 to 2018. There were widespread reports of coercive population control measures – including forced abortions, forced sterilizations, involuntary IUD insertions, and pregnancy checks – occurring at detention centers in the region and targeting minority groups, primarily Uyghurs and ethnic Kazaks. Parents judged to have exceeded the government limit on the number of children (three or more) risked being sent to detention centers unless they paid exorbitant fines. In a January post later removed by Twitter, the PRC Embassy in the United States claimed, “Study shows that in the process of eradicating extremism, the minds of Uygur women in Xinjiang were emancipated and gender equality and reproductive health were promoted, making them no longer baby-making machines. They are more confident and independent.”

Since national family planning law mentions only the rights of married couples, local implementation was inconsistent, and unmarried persons were required to pay for contraception.

Sexual and reproductive health services including emergency contraception were available for survivors of sexual violence at public hospitals.

Discrimination: The constitution states “women enjoy equal rights with men in all spheres of life.” The law provides for equality in ownership of property, inheritance rights, access to education, and equal pay for equal work. Nonetheless, women reported that discrimination, unfair dismissal, demotion, and wage discrepancies were significant problems.

On average women earned 35 percent less than men who did similar work. This wage gap was greater in rural areas. Women were underrepresented in leadership positions, despite their high rate of participation in the labor force.

Authorities often did not enforce laws protecting the rights of women. According to legal experts, it was difficult to litigate sex discrimination suits because of vague legal definitions. Some observers noted the agencies tasked with protecting women’s rights tended to focus on maternity-related benefits and wrongful termination due to pregnancy or maternity leave rather than on sex discrimination, violence against women, or sexual harassment.

Women’s rights advocates indicated that in rural areas women often forfeited land and property rights to their husbands in divorce proceedings. The civil code includes a provision for a 30-day “cooling off” period in cases of uncontested divorce; some citizens expressed concern this leaves those seeking escape from domestic violence susceptible to further abuse. Rural contract law and laws protecting women’s rights stipulate women enjoy equal rights in cases of land management, but experts asserted this was rarely the case due to the complexity of the law and difficulties in its implementation.

Gender-biased Sex Selection: The most recent information from the State Council Information Office stated the boy-girl birth ratio had dropped from 113.5 in 2015 to 110.1 boys per 100 girls in 2019.

Nonmedical fetal sex diagnosis and aborting a pregnancy based on gender selection are illegal.  Private and unregistered clinics, however, provided these services. Provincial health commissions made efforts to crack down on sex-selective abortions.

Egypt

Section 1. Respect for the Integrity of the Person

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

There were numerous reports the government or its agents committed arbitrary or unlawful killings that occurred while making arrests or holding persons in custody or during disputes with civilians.

There were also reports of civilians killed during military operations in North Sinai.

There were reported instances of persons tortured to death and other allegations of killings in prisons and detention centers by security forces. The government charged, prosecuted, and convicted perpetrators in some cases, but lack of accountability remained a problem.

On May 25, an Italian judge ordered four senior members of the country’s security services to stand trial in Italy concerning their suspected role in the killing of Italian graduate student Giulio Regeni, who was found dead in Cairo in 2016 bearing what forensics officials said were signs of torture. On June 15, the prosecutor general gave the Italian ambassador a document for the Italian court outlining a lack of evidence in the case. On October 14, the Italian judge suspended the trial and sent the case back to a preliminary hearings judge to determine whether the defendants knew they had been charged. According to Italian media, a hearing before the preliminary hearings judge was scheduled for January 2022.

There were several reports of groups of suspected terrorists and other suspected criminals killed during security raids conducted by security forces. On August 5, Amnesty International called on the country’s Public Prosecution to investigate a video released on August 1 by the armed forces spokesperson allegedly showing two extrajudicial killings in North Sinai.

ISIS-Sinai Province (formerly known as Ansar Bayt al-Maqdis) conducted deadly attacks on government, civilian, and security targets in North and South Sinai. Other terrorist groups, including Harakat al-Suwad Misr, reportedly continued to operate. There were no official, published data on the number of victims of terrorist violence during the year. A combination of local and international press reporting, government press releases, and social media accounts tracking events in Sinai suggested terrorist groups killed or wounded more than 90 civilians in 2020. Approximately 15 of these civilians were reported to have been killed by booby traps left by ISIS-Sinai Province between October and December 2020.

b. Disappearance

International and local human rights groups reported continuing large numbers of enforced disappearances, alleging authorities utilized this tactic to intimidate critics.

Authorities detained individuals without producing arrest or search warrants. According to a local nongovernmental organization (NGO), authorities detained many of these individuals in unspecified National Security Sector offices and police stations, but they were not included in official registers. Authorities held detainees incommunicado and denied their requests to contact family members and lawyers.

Photojournalist Hamdy al-Zaeem was arrested on January 4 and held without knowledge of his whereabouts by his family or attorneys until he appeared on January 17 before the Supreme State Security Prosecution (State Security Prosecution), a branch of the Public Prosecution specialized in investigating national security threats, who ordered his detention pending investigation into charges of spreading false news, joining an unspecified banned group, and misusing social media. Journalist Ahmed Khalifa was arrested on January 6, the day after he covered a labor protest, and was held without knowledge of his whereabouts by his family or attorneys until he appeared on January 16 before the State Security Prosecution, who ordered his detention pending investigation into the same allegations as al-Zaeem. Khalifa was released in July, while Zaeem remained in pretrial detention at year’s end.

On June 25, 1,000 days after the 2018 disappearance of former parliamentarian Mustafa al-Naggar, 15 local and international organizations called on the government to investigate and disclose information on his whereabouts, as ordered by the Administrative Court in 2020.

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

The constitution states that no torture, intimidation, coercion, or physical or moral harm shall be inflicted upon a person whose movements are restricted or whom authorities have detained or arrested. The penal code forbids torture to induce a confession from a detained or arrested suspect but does not account for mental or psychological abuse against persons whom authorities have not formally accused, or for abuse occurring for reasons other than securing a confession. The penal code also forbids all public officials or civil servants from “employing cruelty” or “causing bodily harm” under any circumstances. Nonetheless, there were reports that government officials employed them.

Local rights organizations reported torture was systemic, including deaths that resulted from torture. According to domestic and international human rights organizations, police and prison guards resorted to torture to extract information from detainees, including minors. Reported techniques included beatings, electric shocks, psychological abuse, and sexual assault. On July 15, Human Rights First issued a report documenting alleged abuses, including torture, by security forces based on testimony from prisoners released between 2019 and 2021. Human Rights First characterized torture and other abuse as pervasive in prisons.

On March 1, detained activist Alaa Abdel Fattah, who was sentenced to five years in prison on December 20, claimed during a pretrial detention hearing that he had been subjected to incidents of intimidation after he reported hearing fellow prisoners being subjected to torture with electric shocks.

The government released journalist Solafa Magdy and her photographer husband Hossam el-Sayed on April 14 and journalist Esraa Abdel Fattah on July 18 from pretrial detention. International organizations reported that Magdy and Abdel Fattah were abused while in pretrial detention following their 2019 arrests. The abuse reportedly included beatings and suspension from a ceiling.

On September 17, a local human rights attorney said that secretary general of the Foundation for the Defense of the Oppressed, Ahmed Abd-al-Sattar Amasha, had been deprived of visits, exercise, sunlight, and access to health care for more than a year. He had been detained since his June 2020 arrest and was previously arrested in 2017, allegedly abused, and released in 2019. He joined an international campaign in 2016 urging authorities to close the maximum-security branch of Tora Prison and cofounded the League of Families of the Disappeared in 2014.

There were reports that prisoners detained on politically motivated charges were held in prolonged and indefinite solitary confinement. Local media reported that the state detained Strong Egypt party deputy president Mohamed el-Kassas in solitary confinement and had prevented him from exercising, reading, or listening to the radio since his initial arrest in 2018 on allegations of joining an unspecified banned group and spreading false news. El-Kassas was re-arrested in three new cases during continuous confinement without release, all on similar charges in 2019, in August 2020, and again on July 28.

According to human rights activists, impunity was a significant problem in the security forces. The Prosecutor General’s Office (for Interior Ministry actions) and the Military Prosecution (for military actions) are responsible for pursuing prosecutions and investigating whether security force actions were justifiable.

On April 4, the Court of Cassation upheld as a final verdict a 2019 acquittal of six police officers and two noncommissioned police personnel charged with torturing to death a citizen and forging official documents inside a police station in 2017. According to local media, the victim was arrested with his brother on charges of murdering and robbing their grandmother.

On April 10, a criminal court reconvicted, in absentia, two noncommissioned police personnel on charges of torturing to death Magdy Makeen, a donkey-cart driver, in a Cairo police station in 2016. In December 2020 a criminal court sentenced a police officer and eight other noncommissioned personnel to three years in prison in this case. A police corporal also charged in the case was acquitted.

On August 5, a criminal court acquitted 11 police officers in a retrial that challenged their suspended one-year prison sentences and their convictions for the killing of protesters during the January 25 revolution in 2011.

On December 28, a court ruled that the family of Khaled Said, who died of police brutality in 2010, would receive one million Egyptian pounds (EGP) ($62,500) in compensation. Two police officers were convicted of the crime in 2011.

According to the Conduct in UN Field Missions online portal, there were two allegations submitted during the year of sexual exploitation and abuse by the country’s peacekeepers deployed to the UN Multidimensional Integrated Stabilization Mission in the Central African Republic (MINUSCA). This follows one allegation of attempted transactional sex in 2020 and another of sexual assault in 2016, both of which also occurred in MINUSCA. As of September investigations into the three most recent allegations were pending. A separate investigation substantiated the 2016 allegation, leading to the repatriation and, imprisonment of the perpetrator.

Human rights organizations said the Public Prosecution continued to order forced medical exams in “family values” or “debauchery” cases. On July 5, the New York Times published testimony from women who claimed sexual abuse in detention by police, prison guards, and state-employed doctors, including forced stripping, invasive examinations, so-called virginity tests, and forced anal examinations in front of onlookers (see section 6).

Prison and Detention Center Conditions

Prison conditions were harsh and life threatening due to widespread overcrowding and lack of adequate access to medical care, proper sanitation and ventilation, food, and potable water.

Physical Conditions: According to domestic and international NGO observers, prison cells were overcrowded On April 11, a local human rights organization estimated the total prison population at more than 119,000 located in an estimated 78 prisons, including approximately 82,000 convicted prisoners and 37,000 pretrial detainees. Human rights groups and international observers maintained the government detained or imprisoned between 20,000 and 60,000 individuals on politically motivated grounds.

Authorities did not always separate juveniles from adults and sometimes held pretrial detainees with convicted prisoners. In a March 24 report based on research conducted between February 2020 and November 2020 from the experiences of 67 individuals (10 of whom had died in custody) in 16 prisons (three for women and 13 for men) in seven governorates, a local human rights organization reported that conditions in prisons and detention centers included medical negligence; solitary confinement; and the denial of visits, telephone calls, academic studies, and the provision of outside food, or some kinds of foods, to prisoners and detainees.

In July, Human Rights First released a report alleging recruitment by ISIS in the prison system. The report said that prisoners were more susceptible to recruitment in part because of poor prison conditions.

The large number of arrests and the use of pretrial detention during the year exacerbated harsh conditions and overcrowding, contributing to a significant number of deaths in prisons and detention centers. Human rights groups and the families of some deceased prisoners claimed that prison authorities denied prisoners access to potentially life-saving medical care and in some cases denied requests to transfer the prisoners to the hospital, leading to deaths in prison.

On January 5, an Interior Ministry security source denied social media accounts of the spread of COVID-19 among prison inmates and the deaths of several inmates from COVID-19. On May 17, the Minister of Health announced the government’s intent to give COVID-19 vaccines to prisoners across the country. On June 26, the Interior Ministry filed a court document in response to several lawsuits, stating that it had vaccinated 5,000 prison inmates, officers, and those working in prisons, according to local media. On August 23, the Administrative Court denied a request for COVID-19 vaccines for researcher Patrick Zaki, lawyer Mohamed Elbakr, and other high-profile detainees and prisoners, according to local media. Zaki was released on December 8 pending trial (see section 2.b.). At year’s end it remained unclear whether Elbakr had received the COVID-19 vaccine.

On July 24, imprisoned former presidential candidate and Strong Egypt Party leader Abdel Moneim Aboul Fotouh survived a “severe heart attack” but did not receive medical treatment despite calling out for help, according to statements by Aboul Fotouh’s son on social media. Aboul Fotouh’s son said that in the weeks prior to his heart attack, Aboul Fotouh had been prevented from buying anything from the prison canteen and from receiving injections for spinal pain. According to an August 18 report by four international organizations, 10 detainees died in custody between July 6 and August 11. Activist Mona Seif quoted her brother, imprisoned activist Alaa Abdel Fattah, saying that one of his prison mates, Ahmad Sabir, died in prison on July 11 after Sabir became ill and his cellmates shouted to guards for medical help without any response for five hours.

Inmates often relied upon outside visitors for food and other supplies or were forced to purchase those items from the prison canteen at significantly inflated prices, according to local NGOs. In September a local human rights organization reported that skin diseases were widespread among prisoners in high security prisons due to unhygienic conditions and a lack of sunlight, and in the Qanater women’s prison due to lack of clean water and overcrowding. Provisions for temperature control and lighting generally were inadequate. Reports that guards abused prisoners, including juveniles in adult facilities, were common. Prison conditions for women were reported to be marginally better than those for men. Media reported some prisoners protested conditions by going on hunger strikes.

Local media reported that the Interior Ministry’s social protection sector sent medical providers from various specialties to eight prisons (male and female) in July and August to provide medical services to prisoners. According to reports, 55 prisoners received medical evaluations and medications at Mansoura prison and 39 prisoners received limb prostheses at the Borg al-Arab prison.

There were reports authorities sometimes segregated prisoners accused of crimes related to political or security matters from other prisoners accused of nonpolitical crimes and subjected the former to verbal or physical abuse and punitive solitary confinement. On May 11, Amnesty International called for the release of political activist Ahmed Douma after what it called a “grossly unfair and politically motivated” trial that resulted in a 15-year prison sentence in 2020. Since his arrest in 2015, Douma had been held in solitary confinement for more than 2,200 days.

The law authorizes prison officials to use force against prisoners who resist orders.

Administration: Prisoners could request investigation of alleged inhuman conditions, but NGO observers claimed prisoners were reluctant to do so due to fear of retribution from prison officials. The government did not investigate most of these allegations. As required by law, the public prosecutor inspected prisons and detention centers.

The criminal procedure code and the law regulating prisons ostensibly provide for reasonable access to prisoners, but according to NGO observers and relatives, the government regularly prevented visitors’ access to detainees. Rights groups also claimed that state security emergency court hearings and trials were not accessible to family or legal counsel and detainees lacked full access to legal counsel and documents related to their charges. Authorities cited restrictions put in place during the year as part of COVID-19 preventive measures.

Independent Monitoring: The government arranged visits between January and May for delegations of local and foreign media correspondents, representatives of human rights organizations, religious leaders, and the National Council for Human Rights to Tora Prison, Borg al-Arab Prison, El Marag General Prison, Wadi al-Natroun Prison, Fayoum Prison, and three prisons in Minya Governorate.

Improvements: In October the country opened its new Wadi al-Natroun Reform and Rehabilitation Center, which included new medical facilities, vocational training spaces, and worship areas including a mosque and a church. Officials stated inmates from 12 aging prisons planned for closure would be transferred to the new prison, and the new prison will provide improved onsite medical care, including treatment for addiction and mental health, psychological therapy and services, dialysis, dental treatment, dermatology, and computerized tomography scans.

Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties

a. Freedom of Expression, Including for Members of the Press and Other Media

The constitution provides for freedom of expression, including for members of the press and other media, but includes a clause stating, “It may be subject to limited censorship in times of war or public mobilization.” The government frequently did not respect this right. Human rights defenders, journalists, activists, and others regularly faced criminal prosecution on charges that observers assessed were brought in response to criticism of the government. Government failure to investigate or prosecute attacks on human rights defenders and peaceful protesters led to de facto restrictions on freedom of assembly and association. According to the law, newspapers are required to print their issues at licensed printing houses registered with the Supreme Council for Media Regulation; news websites must host their servers in the country; newspapers must submit 20 copies of each printed issue to the council; and news websites and television outlets must keep copies of all published or broadcast material online for one year and submit a copy of their published or broadcast material to the council every month. The law also prohibits any recording, filming, or interviews in public places with the intention of broadcasting them on a media outlet without a permit issued by the council.

Freedom of Expression: Citizens expressed their views on a wide range of political and social topics. The government initiated investigations and prosecutions based on allegations of incitement of violence, insults to religion, insults to public figures and institutions such as the judiciary and the military, or abuse of public morals.

The law provides a broad definition of terrorism, to include “any act harming national unity or social peace.” Human rights observers noted that authorities regularly used the ambiguous definition to stifle nonviolent speech and nonviolent opposition activity.

On January 6, the General Authority for Health Insurance banned photography inside hospitals and banned mobile phones from intensive care units. The decision reportedly came after citizens published videos from hospitals showing deaths and suffering of COVID-19 patients due to alleged shortages in the oxygen supplies. The government denied oxygen shortages had contributed to COVID-19-related deaths.

Housing rights researcher Ibrahim Ezzedine remained in pretrial detention since 2019, more than the two years permitted by law. According to a local human rights organization, he was detained after criticizing the government’s urban slums policies and appeared in 2019 before the State Security Prosecution, where he was accused of joining a banned group and spreading false news.

Between January and June, a local organization that tracks freedom of association and speech recorded 65 abuses of the freedoms of media and artistic and digital expression. For example, in 2019 several political figures, including former member of parliament Ziyad el-Aleimy and journalists Hossam Moanes and Hisham Fouad, were arrested on criminal charges of joining a banned group and spreading false news after they met to form the Alliance of Hope political group to run in parliamentary elections. On July 14, they were referred to trial before a misdemeanor emergency court. On November 17, the emergency court sentenced el-Aleimy to five years in prison and a fine, and Moanes and Fouad to four years in prison and a fine, all for spreading false news inside and outside the country. On November 24, the prime minister, as President Sisi’s delegate, ratified the sentences. The defense team told local press that “many legal violations took place in this case” and claimed they were not given access to more than 1,000 prosecution documents. Local human rights lawyers said the sentences issued by the emergency court could not be appealed and that only the president or his delegate could choose to annul, amend, or not implement the sentences. At year’s end the three remained imprisoned. On July 14, the Court of Cassation upheld an April 2020 ruling to include 13 Alliance of Hope defendants on the terrorism list, including el-Aleimy and activist Ramy Shaath, for alleged collaboration with the banned Muslim Brotherhood.

According to media reports, on February 22, the State Security Prosecution transferred Hazem Hosni, spokesperson for Sami Anan’s 2018 presidential campaign and Cairo University political science professor, to house arrest pending further investigations. On June 27, a human rights lawyer announced the criminal court reduced Hosni’s house arrest from seven to three days per week. Hosni had been held in pretrial detention since his 2019 arrest.

Sinai activists Ashraf al-Hefni and Ashraf Ayoub were released on May 27, according to local media. Al-Hefni, who advocated for human rights and the rights of residents of Sinai but publicly rejected “normalization” with Israel, was detained in 2019. Ayoub had been detained since August 2020.

After a criminal court ordered human rights lawyer Mohamed Ramadan’s release on June 13, Ramadan appeared on June 15, still detained, before the State Security Prosecution in a new case on allegations of joining a banned group and spreading false news. Ramadan had been arrested in 2018 for “inciting social unrest” after he posted a photograph of himself wearing a yellow vest akin to those worn by political protesters in France. As of year’s end, he remained in pretrial detention.

Freedom of Expression for Members of the Press and Other Media, Including Online Media: Independent media expressed a variety of views but with significant restrictions. The constitution, penal code, and the media and publications law govern media topics. The government regulated the licensing of newspapers and controlled the printing and distribution of most newspapers, including private newspapers. The law does not impose restrictions on newspaper ownership.

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

Police arrested several journalists during the year for covering politically sensitive topics, some of whom were released, while others remained in detention. Photojournalist Hamdy al-Zaeem was arrested on January 4, one day after he covered worker protests at a chemical plant. Al-Zaeem appeared before the State Security Prosecution on January 16, where he was detained pending trial on allegations of joining a terrorist group and spreading false news on social media, according to local media. At year’s end he remained in pretrial detention.

Journalist Hamdy Atef Hashem Abdel Fattah was arrested on January 4, after publishing a video showing lack of oxygen for COVID-19 patients at a hospital in Gharbia Governorate. He appeared before the State Security Prosecution on January 11 and was subsequently detained on charges of joining a terrorist group and spreading false news on social media, according to media. At year’s end he remained in pretrial detention.

According to a local NGO, cartoonist Ashraf Hamdy was released between August and September pending trial on allegations of misusing social media and spreading false information. He was arrested on January 25 after posting a video on the 10th anniversary of the January 25 revolution.

Business News company owner Mustafa Saqr was released on March 8. He had been held in pretrial detention on allegations of colluding with a terrorist organization, spreading false news, and misusing social media since his April 2020 arrest after publishing an article that discussed the impact of COVID-19 on the economy. On March 8, Islam al-Kalhy, a journalist affiliated with Daarb news website, who was arrested while covering a demonstration in Monieb, Giza, in September 2020, and freelance journalist Hassan al-Qabbani, who was arrested in 2019, were also released.

On April 13, the State Security Prosecution released journalist and former al-Dostour Party leader Khaled Dawoud pending investigation of charges of colluding with a terrorist group, spreading false news, and misusing social media. Dawoud had been held in pretrial detention since his arrest in 2019.

According to the organization, a plainclothes security officer arrested laborer Ahmed al-Araby on May 12 in Banha based on political social media posts he made. The organization added that during the 19 days after his arrest, al-Araby was subjected to beating and electric shocks, interrogated as to whether he had links to the Muslim Brotherhood, and forced to confess involvement in street demonstrations, which he later recanted. He remained in pretrial detention pending trial on allegations of joining a terrorist group, spreading false news, and misusing social media.

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

Violence and Harassment: According to media reports and local and international human rights groups, state actors arrested, imprisoned, harassed, and intimidated journalists. The family of detained journalist Mohamed Salah said on social media that Salah had been subjected to severe physical assault and abuse in pretrial detention on January 9. Human rights organizations added that the abuse included stripping Salah and his cell mates of their clothes, hanging them in a hallway, and beating them with metal objects. Amnesty International reported in May that Salah was arrested in 2019, beaten at a police station in December 2020, ordered released, and rearrested in a new case without release. At year’s end he remained in pretrial detention.

Censorship or Content Restrictions: Official censorship occurred. The emergency law allows the president to censor information during a state of emergency.

On January 25, an administrative court ordered the Media Regulating Authority to ban YouTube channels that broadcast a film produced in 2013 regarding the Prophet Mohammed that was found to be offensive. On June 30, authorities asked al-Maraya Publishing House to not display and sell a book by imprisoned political activist Ahmed Douma at the Cairo International Book Fair, according to local media.

Media rights organizations said the government blocked thousands of websites, including 127 news websites, including Mada Masr, alManassa, and Daarb.

The law considers websites and social media accounts with at least 5,000 subscribers to be media outlets, requires them to pay a licensing fee, and grants the Supreme Council for Media Regulation broad discretion to block their content. On August 23, the council announced that it blocked some websites it said failed to apply for such a license.

The number of arrests for social media posts reportedly had a chilling effect on online speech. Some activists and many journalists reported privately they self-censored criticism of the government or comments that could be perceived as sympathetic to the Muslim Brotherhood, due to the government designating the Muslim Brotherhood as a terrorist organization and the progovernment media environment. Publishers were also wary of publishing books that criticized religious institutions, such as al-Azhar, or challenged Islamic doctrine. Online journalists were also reluctant to discuss sensitive topics.

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

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

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

On May 29, former ambassador to Venezuela Yehia Negm was arrested on allegations of joining a terrorist group, spreading false news, and misusing social media after he posted a tweet criticizing the government’s management of the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam topic.

Atef Hasballah, editor in chief of Alkarar Press website, was released during the year on precautionary measures pending trial, according to a local NGO. Hasballah was arrested in March 2020 following a post on his Facebook page questioning official statistics on the spread of COVID-19 cases in the country.

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

Internet Freedom

The constitution prohibits the government from “arbitrarily” interrupting, disconnecting, or depriving citizens seeking to use all forms of internet communications.

Telecommunications services and internet service providers are regulated by the National Telecommunications Regulatory Authority under the telecommunication regulation law. The law does not guarantee the independence of the National Telecommunications Regulatory Authority. The government centralized internet infrastructure and fiber-optic cables, allowing considerable state control over internet access, including restricting and disrupting user access and censoring online content. Law enforcement agencies restricted or disrupted individuals’ access to the internet, and the government monitored social media accounts and internet usage. 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 for this surveillance.

The cybercrime law 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.”

On January 12, the Cairo Economic Appeals Court annulled the two-year sentences of TikTok influencers Haneen Hossam and Mawada Eladhm and three other defendants. The court also annulled Hossam’s fine but upheld the same fine for the other defendants. Charges included violating family values, inciting “debauchery,” publishing content deemed inappropriate, and recruiting others to commit similar crimes. On June 20, in a separate case, the Cairo Criminal Court sentenced Hossam in absentia to 10 years in prison and a fine, and Eladhm and three others to six years in prison and fines. All five were convicted on charges of human trafficking, running social media accounts with the aim of recruiting young women for video sharing online, and publishing video content deemed inappropriate by authorities. The objectionable content included dancing and lip-syncing, which are common on the platform. After being sentenced in absentia, Hossam posted a video on June 22 in which she asked President Sisi to order a retrial and was subsequently arrested in Cairo. On November 4, a court ordered a retrial in her case, which was scheduled for January 18, 2022. In August 2020 a criminal court upheld an administrative decision to freeze the assets of Hossam and Eladhm.

TikTok influencer Manar Samy remained imprisoned serving her September 2020 sentence of three years in prison with hard labor for “inciting debauchery and violating family values” for content she posted on social media. On July 4, the Benha Criminal Court acquitted members of Samy’s family, who had been arrested in 2020 for resisting authorities. On June 13, the Economic Misdemeanor Court of Appeals upheld the Economic Misdemeanor Court’s September 30 convictions of TikTok influencers Sherifa Rifaat, known as “Sherry Hanim,” and her daughter Zumoroda for assaulting family values and inciting prostitution, based on photographs posted to social media. The court of appeals reduced their sentences from six years in prison to five years and fined each of them.

There were reports the government temporarily blocked access to internet messaging applications.

The government attempted to disrupt the communications of terrorist groups operating in Sinai by cutting mobile services, internet, and sometimes landlines.

As part of investigations, security forces may apply for warrants from the prosecutor general to access mobile phone company databases to obtain information regarding activities of specific customers, which observers noted could lead to lack of online anonymity.

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

On May 3, a local media rights organization reported that the state had blocked hundreds of websites, including 127 news websites. 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 or to disrupt antigovernment political activity or demonstrations.

In 2017 the news website Mada Masr sued the government seeking information on why it was blocked. In 2018 the Court of Administrative Justice referred the case for technical review by the Justice Ministry’s Authority of Experts. This review remained pending without resolution at year’s end. According to a local human rights organization, in April the Media Regulating Authority issued licenses for 40 private news websites, including Cairo 24, while not acting on the license requests of 110 other websites. This was part of a legal requirement to regulate the status of electronic press websites in the country.

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 and Technical 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 matters. University faculty members and Ministry of Education employees (including teachers) needed security agency approval to travel abroad for academic or professional purposes. Faculty and officials at public universities and research centers also had to obtain Ministry of Foreign Affairs’ permission to travel abroad for any reason. Some public universities restricted campus visits of foreign speakers or delegations or required a faculty chaperone for delegations of university students traveling to the United States.

In May the prosecutor general renewed University of Washington doctoral student Walid Salem’s travel ban, according to a statement by local and international human rights organizations. Their statement added that Salem was also prevented from traveling in May 2020 when authorities at Cairo International Airport confiscated his passport. Salem had been on probation since 2018 pending trial on charges of spreading false news and belonging to a terrorist group.

On July 12, authorities released Alia Mossallam, a postdoctoral fellow at the Alexander von Humboldt Foundation in Berlin, on bail pending trial on allegations of joining a terrorist group, spreading false news, and misusing social media after they arrested her at the Cairo International Airport on July 11 upon her arrival from Berlin, according to a human rights lawyer. Mosallam was researching the history of the country’s social and political movements through popular memory, according to local media.

On November 17, authorities reportedly released Ayman Mansour Nada pending trial on allegations of insulting the president of Cairo University and several university officials and using social media to commit the crime. Nada, a Cairo University media professor, was arrested in September after he criticized the government-appointed president of Cairo University and government-aligned media professionals.

There was censorship of cultural events. A prime ministerial decree 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 requirement adds to existing regulations, under which organizations must obtain a permit from the Ministry of Culture’s Censorship Board, as well as permits from the Interior Ministry 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 June 27, the Musicians Syndicate banned five singers of Mahraganat music, a popular street-music genre, from performing in the country because they did not obtain a permit to work or belong to the syndicate. The syndicate banned nine others on November 17 for the same reasons.

On July 25, the Administrative Court ordered the Central Administration for Censorship of Audio and Audiovisual Works to grant the film The Last Days of the City, which deals with the January 25 revolution, a license to be shown inside the country. According to local media, the ruling was final and had to be implemented. The film, which was produced in 2016 and won several international film festival awards, was first denied presentation in the country at the 2016 Cairo International Film Festival.

c. Freedom of Religion

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

Section 3. Freedom to Participate in the Political Process

The constitution provides citizens the ability to choose their government in free and fair periodic elections held by secret ballot and based on universal and equal suffrage. Constraints on freedom of expression, association, and assembly, however, limited citizens’ ability to do so.

Elections and Political Participation

Recent Elections: There were two rounds of elections in 2020 for the 200 elected seats in the re-established 300-seat upper house, called the Senate, and for the 568 elected seats of the House of Representatives. A progovernment coalition won an overwhelming majority of the Senate’s 200 elected seats; the president appointed the remaining 100 seats. Election observers documented visible judicial supervision, a tight security presence, and COVID-19 precautions in place. Local media noted higher than expected participation by women and youth voters. One political coalition alleged instances of vote rigging and bribery that advantaged an opponent political party during the House of Representatives’ elections. Some opposition parties questioned the youth turnout, especially in poorer areas, and claimed young persons were “bussed in” to vote. No significant acts of violence or disturbances to the election processes were observed.

Domestic and international organizations expressed concern that government limitations on freedoms of speech, association, and assembly severely constrained broad participation in the political process. On July 12, the Public Prosecution referred Egyptian Initiative for Personal Rights executive director Hossam Bahgat to court on charges of insulting the National Elections Authority, spreading false rumors alleging electoral fraud, and using social media accounts to commit crimes, based on a tweet Bahgat posted in December 2020 criticizing the 2020 parliamentary elections as marred with widespread abuses. Bahgat was not detained in the case. In November the court found Bahgat guilty of insulting the National Elections Authority and fined him. Bahgat’s lawyers announced they planned to appeal.

Political Parties and Political Participation: The constitution grants citizens the ability to form, register, and operate political parties. The law requires new parties to have a minimum of 5,000 members from each of at least 10 governorates. The constitution also states: “No political activity may be practiced and no political parties may be formed based on religion or discrimination based on gender, origin, or sectarian basis or geographic location. No activity that is hostile to democratic principles, secretive, or of military or quasi-military nature may be practiced. Political parties may not be dissolved except by virtue of a court judgment.”

On November 18, the Court of Cassation rejected the appeals of former presidential candidate and Strong Egypt Party leader Abdel Moneim Aboul Fotouh, Strong Egypt Party deputy Mohamed el-Kassas, lawyer Mohamed Elbakr, activist Alaa Abdel Fattah, and others challenging their placement on the terrorism list for five years. Aboul Fotouh was placed on the terrorism list. On August 31, the State Security Prosecution referred Aboul Fotouh, el-Kassas, and others to criminal trial on charges of leading a terrorist group, financing a terrorist group, possessing weapons and ammunition, promoting the ideas of a terrorist group, and deliberately broadcasting false news, statements, and rumors at home and abroad. Aboul Fotouh and el-Kassas had reportedly been held in solitary confinement in pretrial detention since their 2018 arrests.

The Freedom and Justice Party, the political wing of the banned Muslim Brotherhood, and the Islamist Building and Development Party, remained banned. Authorities did not ban other Islamist parties, including the Strong Egypt Party.

On June 19, local media reported that the Supreme Administrative Court refused to hear two lawsuits demanding the cessation of all activities of the Bread and Freedom Party and the Strong Egypt Party on the grounds that the leaders were members of banned groups.

The government does not broadcast or publish parliamentary sessions in the House of Representatives or Senate. On May 26, a local human rights organization filed a lawsuit challenging this as violating the constitution’s provisions on holding parliamentary sessions in public.

In September 2020 the National Election Authority disqualified Mohamed Anwar Sadat, head of the Reform and Development Party, from running in the 2020 House of Representatives elections, citing Sadat’s failure, as a military school graduate, to obtain approval from the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces to run in the election as required by law for active or retired military personnel before running in presidential, parliamentary, or local council elections. In October 2020 the Administrative Court rejected Sadat’s lawsuit to challenge the decision.

Participation of Women and Members of Minority Groups: The law requires that women receive at least 10 percent of Senate seats and 25 percent of House seats. Women held 40 seats in the 300-seat Senate (13 percent) and 148 seats in the 568-seat House of Representatives (26 percent).

No laws limit participation of women or members of minority groups in the political process, and they did participate. Social and cultural barriers, however, limited women’s political participation and leadership in most political parties and some government institutions.

Eight women led cabinet ministries, including one Christian woman, and two women served as deputy ministers. There were two Christians (in Ismailia and Damietta Governorates) among the appointed governors of the 27 governorates. In 2018 authorities appointed Manal Awad Michael, a Christian woman, governor of Damietta. On June 2, President Sisi announced that for the first time, women could work at the State Council and the Public Prosecution starting on October 1. On June 14, the Administrative Prosecution Authority appointed two female chief administrative prosecutors (in Menoufia and Qena Governorates), which it stated brought to 24 the number of female chief administrative prosecutors appointed since June 2020. In December 2020 a female academic was appointed as deputy to the president of the Supreme Constitutional Court. In September 2020 the General Assembly of the Cairo Economic Court appointed for the first time a female judge as the head of civil division circuit of an appellate court. In 2018 the Supreme Judiciary Council promoted 16 female judges to higher courts, including the Qena Appeals Court. Legal experts stated there were approximately 66 female judges serving in family, criminal, economic, appeals, and misdemeanor courts; that total was less than 1 percent of judges. Several senior judges were Christian.

Section 6. Discrimination and Societal Abuses

Women

Rape and Domestic Violence: The law criminalizes rape, prescribing penalties of 15 to 25 years’ imprisonment, or life imprisonment for cases of rape involving armed abduction. Spousal rape is not illegal. The government improved its enforcement of the law. Civil society organizations reported instances of police pressuring survivors not to pursue charges.

On April 11, the Cairo Criminal Court convicted Ahmed Bassam Zaki and sentenced him to eight years’ total imprisonment – seven years for sexual assault on three minor girls and one year for drug use. The court acquitted Zaki of violating the privacy of survivors, threatening survivors, and abusing social media and telecommunications. The Cairo Economic Court convicted Zaki in a separate case in December 2020 for misuse of social media and sexual assault and sentenced him to three years in prison with labor. On March 15, an appeals court heard Zaki’s appeal in this separate case, but a decision had not been reported by year’s end. Zaki’s July 2020 arrest, after more than 50 women accused him online of rape, sexual assault, and harassment dating back to 2016, gave rise to what media referred to as the country’s #MeToo movement.

On May 11, the Public Prosecution announced that none of the men it ordered arrested in 2020 for allegedly gang raping a woman at the Fairmont Nile City hotel in 2014 would be tried, due to a “lack of evidence,” and that it had released the men it detained in the case. Prosecutors pointed to a six-year lag between the incident and its being reported, the difficulty in identifying individuals based on photographs made available, the inability of the prosecution to access a video clip of the rape, and inconsistent and recanted testimony as factors that impaired efforts to bring the case to trial. In a separate rape case, the North Cairo Criminal Court on November 9 sentenced two of the defendants released in the Fairmont Nile City case to life in prison and a third to 15 years in prison. On August 10, the Shubra El-Kheima Criminal Court sentenced a doctor to seven years in prison for drugging and sexually assaulting a schoolteacher receiving treatment at his clinic.

Domestic violence was a significant problem. The law does not prohibit domestic violence or spousal abuse, but authorities may apply provisions relating to assault with accompanying penalties. The law requires that an assault survivor produce multiple eyewitnesses, a difficult condition for domestic abuse survivor. Police often treated domestic violence as a family matter rather than as a criminal matter.

The Interior Ministry includes a unit responsible for combating sexual and gender-based violence. The NCW was responsible for coordinating government and civil society efforts to empower women. In September the prime minister issued a decree to establish the country’s first integrated governorate-level units to serve survivors of violence. These units are mandated to coordinate and improve integrated survivor-centered services to women. An NCW study found that approximately 1.5 million women reported domestic violence each year. According to NCW and UNICEF data, the COVID-19 pandemic increased the risks of violence and economic hardships for women.

Female Genital Mutilation/Cutting (FGM/C): FGM/C is illegal, and the government strengthened legislation banning the practice, but it remained a serious problem. Although declining, FGM/C continued to be widely practiced. The prevalence, however, was reportedly much higher among older age groups. Type 3 FGM/C (infibulation) was more prevalent in the South (Aswan and Nubia), and in some cases was associated with difficulty in giving birth, obstructed labor, and higher rates of neonatal mortality. The government enlisted the support of religious leaders to combat cultural acceptance of FGM/C and encourage family planning. According to international and local observers, the government took steps to enforce the FGM/C law. In 2019 the government formed a national task force to end FGM/C, led by the National Council for Women and the National Council for Childhood and Motherhood.

On April 28, President Sisi ratified amendments to the penal code that increase FGM/C minimum sentences from one to 15 years to five to 20 years in prison, removed the “medical exception” in the law, introduced bans for medical providers and medical institutions from providing medical services for a period after involvement in the crime, and extended criminal liability to anyone supporting the crime, including family members of the survivor. On March 28, a local human rights organization said the extended criminal liability to anyone involved in the crime could inhibit some survivors and family members from reporting the crime due to fear their relatives might be arrested.

According to local media reports, authorities arrested a father and a retired nurse on February 2 after they allegedly conducted FGM/C on a 15-year-old girl at her home in a poor district in Qalyoubia Governorate. The father took his daughter, who suffered severe complications, to a nearby hospital, where the attending physician reported the incident to the Public Prosecution, resulting in the two arrests. National Council for Women head Maya Morsi praised the quick action of authorities and called on parliament to quickly pass draft legislation (formally introduced on January 24 and ratified April 28), to sharpen the FGM/C penalties.

On September 25, using the new FGM/C law, a criminal court sentenced a nurse to 10 years in prison, the longest sentence ever given in the country for FGM/C. In the same case, the court also sentenced the father to three years in prison for subjecting his eight-year-old daughter to FGM/C.

On October 13, the Public Prosecution detained a doctor who reportedly performed FGM/C operations in Beni Suef pending investigation and released the mother of an FGM/C survivor on bail.

Other Harmful Traditional Practices: The law allows leniency towards men who kill their wives upon discovering them in an act of adultery. The law does not specifically address “honor” crimes, which authorities treated as any other crime. In January a local NGO said there were at least 14 “honor killings” in the country in 2020. In March local media reported that the Cairo Criminal Court sentenced a man to five years in prison for killing his sister because he believed she committed “inappropriate” and “suspicious” acts. On May 9, a court in Abbasiya sentenced three defendants to 10 years in prison for the death of a female doctor who was thrown to her death from the balcony in her Cairo apartment after she invited a man to her apartment. On November 17, an Assiut criminal court sentenced a man to three years in prison for killing his mother after a video reportedly showed her in an “immoral relationship” with another person.

Sexual Harassment: While the government took several steps to prevent sexual harassment, it remained a serious problem. On August 18, the president ratified amendments to the penal code that upgrade sexual harassment to a felony offense, increase minimum sentences to two to seven years in prison (up from six months to five years), increase minimum fines, and add a provision that repeat offenders may face double the prison time. On October 17, under the new amendments, a misdemeanor court sentenced a young man accused of harassing a girl at a Cairo Metro station to three years and six months in prison.

Media and NGOs reported that sexual harassment by police was also a problem and that the potential for further harassment, lengthy legal procedures, and lack of survivor protections further discouraged women from filing complaints. On November 9, the North Cairo Criminal Court sentenced physician Michael Fahmy to life imprisonment for forcibly molesting six girls inside his clinic. The court acquitted his wife. Charges against the two included the kidnapping of six girls by luring them to his residence and a private clinic and making them believe that they needed “special treatment and examination.” Some survivors spoke out regarding harassment on social media in September 2020.

On July 15, the Cairo Criminal Court sentenced dentist Bassem Samir to 16 years in prison for sexual harassment and misconduct against male patients and visitors to his clinic, including actor Abbas Aboul Hassan and singer Tameem Youness.

On October 31, the Mansoura Economic Misdemeanors Court convicted two lawyers for defamation of and threats against the survivor of mass harassment in Mit Ghamr in December 2020. One lawyer was sentenced to two years in prison and a fine, and the other lawyer to six months in prison and a fine. Media reported the two lawyers published videos and personal photographs of the survivor with the aim of threatening her to change her statements against their clients, who were accused of sexual assault but acquitted by the Mansoura Criminal Court on March 21 on a procedural error. On March 23, local media quoted the survivor saying during the trial that she was threatened with murder, maiming, and rape. The prosecution appealed the verdict on May 17 that acquitted the seven defendants.

Reproductive Rights: There were no reports of coerced abortion or involuntary sterilization on the part of government authorities. There were no reports regarding the ability of vulnerable populations (individuals with disabilities, members of minorities, etc.) to provide informed consent to medical treatment affecting reproductive health, including for sterilization.

The Ministry of Health and Population distributed contraception and assigned personnel to attend births, offer postpartum care to mothers and children, and provide treatment for sexually transmitted diseases at minimal or no cost. The government also did not restrict family-planning decisions. Gender norms and social, cultural, economic, and religious barriers inhibited some women’s ability to make reproductive decisions and to access contraceptives. Some women lacked access to information on reproductive health, and the limited availability of female health-care providers reduced access to skilled health attendance during pregnancy and childbirth, in view of the preference many women had for female health-care providers for social and religious reasons.

There was limited information on government assistance to survivors of sexual assault, including whether emergency contraception was available as part of clinical management of rape.

Discrimination: The constitution provides for equal rights for male and female citizens. While the government took steps to improve their situation, women did not enjoy the same legal rights and opportunities as men, and discrimination was widespread. Aspects of the law and traditional societal practices disadvantaged women in family, social, and economic life.

Women faced widespread societal discrimination, threats to their physical security, and workplace bias in favor of men, thus hindering women’s social and economic advancement.

Laws affecting marriage and personal status generally corresponded to an individual’s religious group. A female Muslim citizen cannot legally marry a non-Muslim man. If she were to do so, authorities could charge her with adultery and consider her children illegitimate. Under the government’s interpretation of Islamic law, any children from such a marriage could be placed in the custody of a male Muslim guardian. Khula (divorce) allows a Muslim woman to obtain a divorce without her husband’s consent, provided she forgoes all her financial rights, including alimony, dowry, and other benefits. The Coptic Orthodox Church permits divorce only in rare circumstances, such as adultery or conversion of one spouse to another religion. Other Christian churches permitted divorce on a case-by-case basis.

On January 3, the Supreme Constitutional Court ruled that the penal code unconstitutionally discriminates against women by stipulating longer prison terms for adultery for women, in hearing the appeal of a women sentenced to two years in prison for adultery.

The law follows sharia in matters of inheritance; therefore, a Muslim female heir generally receives one-half the amount of a male heir’s inheritance, and Christian widows of Muslims have no inheritance rights. A sole Muslim female heir receives one-half her parents’ estate, and the balance goes to the siblings of the parents or the children of the siblings if the siblings are deceased. A sole male heir inherits his parents’ entire estate.

In marriage and divorce cases, a woman’s testimony must be judged credible to be admissible. Usually, the woman accomplishes credibility by conveying her testimony through an adult male relative or representative. The law assumes a man’s testimony is credible unless proven otherwise.

In a June 2 meeting with top judicial figures, President Sisi announced that for the first time in the country’s history women would be allowed to work at the State Council and the Public Prosecution, starting on October 1. He also announced that the State Lawsuits Authority would be required to state a reason for rejecting any judicial applicants, and that personnel of the same rank in the State Council, Administrative Prosecution, State Lawsuits Authority, and judiciary would receive the same financial entitlements, including equal wages. A local NGO said in a Facebook statement on August 22 that the Supreme Judicial Council approved the prosecutor general’s request to transfer 11 female judges, including one Copt, to work in the Public Prosecution for the judicial year from September until September 2022.

Section 7. Worker Rights

a. Freedom of Association and the Right to Collective Bargaining

The law provides for the rights of workers to form and join independent unions, bargain collectively, and strike, but it imposes significant restrictions. The constitution provides for freedom of association. The law prescribes union elections every four years and imposes a strict hierarchy for union formation consisting of a company-level trade union committee, a profession or industry-level general union, and a national-level union. The government did not effectively enforce applicable laws or levy penalties commensurate with those for other laws involving denials of civil rights, such as discrimination. However, penalties for engaging in illegal strikes were more stringent. The law requires centralized tripartite negotiations that include workers, represented by a union affiliated with the Egyptian Trade Union Federation (Union Federation), business owners, and the Ministry of Manpower overseeing and monitoring negotiations and agreements. The government seldom followed the requirement for tripartite negotiations in collective disputes, leaving workers to negotiate directly with employers, typically after resorting to a strike. In March 2020 workers from al-Masryia Company for Weaving and Textile struck for alleged unpaid raises and bonuses. Media reported in late December 2020 that management and worker representatives reached an agreement on compensation and back pay without the participation of the Ministry of Manpower.

The constitution provides for the right to “peaceful” strikes, and the law permits them but imposes significant restrictions, including prior approval by a general trade union affiliated with the Union Federation. In April the International Labor Organization (ILO) removed the country from the preliminary list of cases for discussion by the ILO Committee on the Application of Standards, which discusses discrepancies between a country’s law and practice and ILO conventions the country has ratified.

In July more than 1,200 workers at the Nile Linen Group, based in Alexandria’s special economic zone, went on strike concerning the company’s refusal to implement agreed-upon wage increases and add workers’ family members to company health insurance policies. Four days later, local media reported that the Nile Linen Group’s union committee reached an agreement with management regarding certain aspects of the wage dispute and agreed to resume negotiations on the remaining demands.

The law prohibits antiunion discrimination and provides for the reinstatement of workers fired for union activity. In March the head of the union at the Alexandria Spinning and Weaving Company, Ashraf Abdel Moneim, alleged that the company had transferred seven committee members to new positions in retaliation for the workers’ refusal to implement the company’s decision to stop production and dismiss workers. According to media reports, Lord International Company terminated 84 workers in August following strikes by approximately 2,000 workers demanding that the company comply with the country’s minimum wage laws.

The Ministry of Manpower and affiliated directorates did not allow trade unions to adopt any bylaws other than those provided in the law. This position, according to local workers’ rights organizations, was contrary to the law, which states that unions may use the statutory bylaws as guidance to develop their own.

The government occasionally arrested workers who staged strikes or criticized the government, and it rarely reversed arbitrary dismissals. On January 22, local media reported that the government released two doctors arrested in 2020 for posting comments to Facebook critical of the government’s coronavirus response. Labor union activist Khalil Rizk was released on May 21 pending trial on charges of spreading false news, misuse of social media, and membership in a banned group. Authorities had first arrested Rizk in 2019 while he was advocating for workers in a pharmaceutical factory engaged in a dispute with management concerning wages.

In March the Ministry of Manpower announced, without stating when, that it had previously established a trade union grievance committee to examine complaints submitted by trade union organizations and provide unions with technical assistance in meeting regulatory requirements.

Independent unions continued to face pressure to dissolve. In many cases the Ministry of Manpower delayed responding to unions’ applications for legal status, leaving many in legal limbo. In other instances the Ministry of Manpower refused to legalize proposed unions if a Union Federation-affiliated counterpart existed.

Workers sometimes staged sit-ins on government and private property, often without obtaining the necessary permits. In July the Court of Cassation ruled that prison sentences for organizing protests without permits would apply to protest organizers and participants.

For a period of 12 months ending in August, a monthly 1 percent deduction was made from the net income of all public-sector employees and 0.5 percent of the net income of pensioners to fund efforts to address the economic repercussions of the COVID-19 pandemic.

b. Prohibition of Forced or Compulsory Labor

The constitution states no work may be compulsory except by virtue of a law. The law prohibits and criminalizes all forms of forced or compulsory labor. The government did not effectively enforce the prohibition. The government conducted awareness-raising activities for migrant laborers, and domestic workers, a population vulnerable to trafficking, and worked with NGOs to provide some assistance to survivors of human trafficking, including forced labor. Penalties were not commensurate with those for analogous serious crimes, such as kidnapping.

Also see the Department of State’s Trafficking in Persons Report at https://www.state.gov/trafficking-in-persons-report/.

c. Prohibition of Child Labor and Minimum Age for Employment

The law does not prohibit or criminalize all the worst forms of child labor or provide sufficient protection for children from exploitation in the workplace, including limitations on working hours, and occupational safety and health restrictions.  Children were subjected to the worst forms of child labor, including in commercial sexual exploitation, sometimes as a result of human trafficking, quarrying limestone, and organized begging.  The law sets the minimum age for regular employment at age 15 and at age 13 for seasonal employment.  The constitution defines a child as anyone younger than 18.  A Ministry of Manpower decree bars children younger than 18 from 44 specific hazardous occupations, while the law prohibits employment of children younger than 18 from work that “puts the health, safety, or morals of the child into danger.”  Provincial governors, with the approval of the minister of education, may authorize seasonal work (often agricultural) for children age 13 and older, provided duties are not hazardous and do not interfere with schooling.  The law limits children’s work hours and mandates breaks.

The government did not effectively enforce child labor laws.  The maximum penalties for violating laws against child labor were fines and therefore not commensurate with those for other analogous serious crimes, such as kidnapping.  The Ministry of Manpower, in coordination with the National Council for Childhood and Motherhood and the Interior Ministry, enforced child labor laws in state-owned enterprises and private-sector establishments through inspections and supervision of factory management.  Labor inspectors generally operated without adequate training on child labor matters, although the Ministry of Manpower offered some child labor-specific training.  The government did not inspect noncommercial farms for child labor, and there were very limited monitoring and enforcement mechanisms for children in domestic service.  Authorities implemented several social, educational, and poverty reduction programs to reduce children’s vulnerability to exploitative labor.  The National Council for Childhood and Motherhood, working with the Ministries of Education and Technical Education and of Social Solidarity, sought to provide working children with social security safeguards and to reduce school dropout rates by providing families with alternative sources of income.

Estimates on the number of child laborers varied. According to the 2012 joint International Labor Organization and Central Agency for Public Mobilization and Statistics child labor survey, of the 1.8 million children working, 1.6 million were engaged in hazardous or unlawful forms of labor, primarily in the agricultural sector in rural areas but also in domestic work and factories in urban areas, often under hazardous conditions. Children also worked in light industry, the aluminum industry, limestone production, construction sites, brick production, and service businesses such as auto repair. According to government, NGO, and media reports, the number of street children in Cairo continued to increase due to deteriorating economic conditions. Such children were at greater risk of sexual exploitation or forced begging. In some cases employers abused or overworked children.

Also see the Department of Labor’s Findings on the Worst Forms of Child Labor at https://www.dol.gov/agencies/ilab/resources/reports/child-labor/findings .

Hong Kong

Section 1. Respect for the Integrity of the Person

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

There were no credible reports that the Special Administrative Region (SAR) or its agents committed arbitrary or unlawful killings.

b. Disappearance

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

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

The law prohibits such practices and there were few reports of such abuse. According to a June Amnesty International report, prisoners in detention did not report abuse due to fear of retaliation. Other observers in direct contact with those in the detention facilities did not report witnessing or seeing evidence of abuse in the facilities.

Prison and Detention Center Conditions

There were reports of prison or detention center conditions that raised human rights concerns.

Wall-fare, an independent prisoners’ rights organization, submitted a petition signed by 100,000 persons requesting that in very hot weather, prisoners have access to cold water, better ventilation, and extra showers, as some facilities lacked air conditioning. Wall-fare disbanded in September after the security secretary announced that some groups were giving prisoners items such as chocolates and hair clips to recruit them to endanger national security.

In October, one individual detained under the National Security Law (NSL) accused the agency responsible for the SAR’s prisons and detention centers of intercepting letters sent to her on the grounds that they would “affect order in the prison,” arguing that the agency’s standards had become stricter on political grounds.

Physical Conditions: Some activists raised credible concerns that individuals in pretrial detention for charges related to the NSL were kept in solitary confinement for extended periods of time. In some cases, activists alleged these individuals were subjected to 24-hour lighting, excessively hot or cold temperatures, or other degrading conditions.

Administration: The government investigated allegations of problematic conditions and documented the results in a publicly accessible manner. There was an external Office of the Ombudsman.

Independent Monitoring: The government generally permitted legislators and justices of the peace to conduct prison visits. Justices of the peace may make suggestions and comments on matters, such as physical conditions, overcrowding, staff improvement, training and recreational programs and activities, and other matters affecting the welfare of inmates.

The Independent Police Complaints Council is the Hong Kong police watchdog, responsible for investigating alleged corruption or abuses. The SAR government announced in November 2020 that it would appeal a court ruling that month that declared the complaints council incapable of effective investigation, as it lacked necessary powers and was inadequate to fulfill the SAR’s obligations under the Basic Law to provide an independent mechanism to investigate complaints against the Hong Kong police.

Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties

a. Freedom of Expression, Including for Members of the Press and Other Media

Despite provisions of the Basic Law and government claims, the PRC and SAR governments increasingly encroached upon freedom of expression. Attacks on independent media included the coerced closures of Apple Daily and Stand News; the restructuring of public broadcaster Radio Television Hong Kong (RTHK) to gut its editorial independence and to delete previous online content considered politically sensitive; pressure applied to a prominent journalists’ labor union; and acts to encourage self-censorship by other media outlets and public opinion leaders.

Freedom of Expression: There were legal restrictions on the ability of individuals to criticize the government publicly without reprisal. Expressing views perceived to be critical of the PRC or SAR prompted charges of sedition or NSL violations for prodemocratic activists and politicians. On June 4, Chow Hang-tung, the vice chair of the Hong Kong Alliance in Support of Patriotic Democratic Movements of China, was arrested and later charged for inciting unauthorized assembly, because she urged members of the public to “turn on the lights wherever you are – whether on your telephone, candles, or electronic candles” in remembrance of the Tiananmen Square massacre.

Requirements for electoral candidacy and for taking the oath of office also limited free speech in the political arena. The overhauled electoral system (see section 3) requires all elected officials to swear an oath of allegiance and to adhere to “patriotic” standards with respect to the PRC and SAR. Even with the signed pledge and oath of office, the Electoral Affairs Commission chose to disqualify 49 seated members of local District Councils and one remaining non-pro-Beijing legislative councilor, questioning their patriotism based on past statements or actions, despite their adherence to the requirements of office. There was no judicial recourse.

The government requires all civil servants to swear an oath of allegiance. According to media reports, civil servants may lose their jobs if they refuse to swear the oath and may face criminal charges, including under the NSL, if they later engage in behavior, including speech, deemed to violate the oaths. SAR authorities and Beijing officials insinuated that interactions with foreign diplomats could be considered “collusion” under the NSL. One former pan-democratic politician facing NSL charges was denied bail in part based on an email invitation from a foreign consulate, while another was denied bail in part based on interviews and text messages with international press.

Any speech critical of the central or local government or its policies may be construed as advocating secession or subversion in violation of the NSL, or inciting hate against the government in violation of a colonial-era sedition law. Prosecutors argued in multiple court hearings that the phrase “Liberate Hong Kong, Revolution of Our Times,” a common slogan of the 2019 prodemocracy protests, contained an inherent meaning of support for independence, a change in the SAR’s constitutional status, or both. To date, courts have convicted two individuals under the NSL in part on that basis. Scholars and activists have argued that the courts’ decisions failed to take into consideration protections for freedom of expression enshrined in the Basic Law, the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, and the NSL itself.

In May SAR authorities passed legislation that criminalized inciting others not to vote in elections or to cast blank ballots. Violators are subject to up to three years’ imprisonment and a fine. The SAR anticorruption agency arrested at least 10 individuals in November and December for allegedly urging, on social media, others to cast blank votes. On December 16, two of the 10 were the first to be prosecuted under this law. Legal experts described the legislation as disproportionate and out of line with common law norms that criminalize incitement only when the behavior incited is itself illegal. SAR officials have also claimed that inciting others to boycott elections or cast blank votes may violate the NSL.

SAR legislation prohibits acts deemed to abuse or desecrate the PRC national flag or anthem. In September SAR authorities amended the legislation to criminalize desecrating the national flag or anthem online, such as by posting an image of a “defiled” national flag on social media. At least one individual was convicted during the year for desecrating the national flag, and at least three others were arrested for allegedly desecrating the flag or insulting the national anthem.

Freedom of Expression for Members of the Press and Other Media, Including Online Media: The operating space for independent media shrank considerably. The SAR targeted independent media that expressed views it construed as not progovernment. Pro-Beijing media and politicians accused government-owned public broadcaster RTHK of exercising insufficient editorial oversight, opposing police and the government, and thus potentially standing in violation of the NSL. The SAR government subsequently forced out the managing director and replaced him with a pro-Beijing civil servant with no broadcasting experience. RTHK’s civil service employees were given a deadline to swear loyalty oaths, leading many to resign. Under its new management, RTHK also fired presenters, cancelled shows, and censored content based on political perspective.

The SAR systematically dismantled Apple Daily, an independent newspaper and online news platform. On June 17, national security police officers arrested five executives of Next Digital, the parent company of Apple Daily. The same day, police searched Apple Daily offices and froze its assets. During the search, police documented each staff member on site. Following the freeze of its assets, on June 24, Apple Daily issued its last online reports and newspaper edition. Three members of the editorial staff, including a senior editor prohibited from boarding a flight at the airport, were subsequently arrested under the NSL. Cheung Kim-hung, CEO of Apple Daily parent company Next Digital, was denied bail based in part on public statements made by foreign governments, over which the defendant had no control.

On December 29, national security police officers arrested seven individuals affiliated with prodemocracy online media outlet Stand News on charges of “conspiracy to print or distribute seditious materials” under a colonial-era sedition law. The same day, police raided its office, seized journalistic materials, and froze its assets. Police also raided the home of Stand News deputy editor and chairman of the Hong Kong Journalists Association Ronson Chan, who was taken in for questioning but later released. Stand News subsequently announced on its social media page the resignation of its chief editor, the layoff of all staff, and the immediate cessation of all its operations.

Violence and Harassment: The pro-Beijing media and SAR officials began in September to accuse the Hong Kong Journalists Association of potential NSL violations. The association released a report in July titled Freedom in Tatters outlining the worrisome loss of journalistic freedom. The report expressed concern that police force national security offices would begin scrutinizing its activities using tactics like those used against trade unions and other professional associations. The Hong Kong Journalists Association is a frequent target of SAR government officials’ and pro-Beijing media criticism. In November the Foreign Correspondents’ Club issued the results of a member survey showing that 83 percent of respondents believed the NSL caused the media environment to change for the worse. This spurred the PRC Ministry of Foreign Affairs office in the city to condemn the club for smearing the city’s press freedom and interfering in the territory’s affairs.

Censorship or Content Restrictions: Reports of media self-censorship and suspected content control continued. Public libraries and universities culled their holdings, including archives, to comply with the NSL; it was unclear if this was based on a request from SAR officials or if the institutions chose to self-censor. Public libraries removed past issues of Apple Daily and books authored by prodemocratic activists. After the closure of Apple Daily and the increased scrutiny of RTHK, Stand News removed articles and columns from its website in June to reduce risks that SAR authorities would accuse the media outlet of breaking the NSL or other laws.

In July officers in the Hong Kong police’s National Security Department arrested and later charged five members of a labor union with “conspiring to publish seditious publications” after the union published a series of children’s books that referred to the 2019-20 protest movement. Police also froze more than 160,000 Hong Kong dollars ($20,000) of the union’s assets. In August SAR authorities announced they were canceling the union’s registration for alleged activities inconsistent with the union’s stated objectives. SAR officials accused the books of “inciting hatred” and “poisoning” children’s minds against the PRC and SAR governments.

In October the Legislative Council passed a film censorship law that empowers SAR authorities to revoke a film’s license if “found to be contrary to national security interests.” Violators are liable for up to three years’ imprisonment.

Internet Freedom

The SAR government generally did not restrict or disrupt access to the internet or censor online content, although activists claimed central government authorities actively monitored their internet activity. There were also numerous reports of unexplained problems with access to certain websites associated with the prodemocracy movement. There were reports that public access was blocked to certain websites, including those associated with the prodemocracy movement and a museum focused on the 1989 Tiananmen Square massacre, although SAR authorities refused to confirm the reports. Prosecutors cited social media posts as evidence, including against those charged with NSL violations or inciting an unlawful assembly. NGOs and some media outlets reported focusing on digital security to protect their privacy, partners, and sources.

When investigating NSL violations, the national security divisions of the police force may require a person who published information or opinions or the relevant service provider to remove the content or assist the national security divisions by providing information on the user. Facebook, WhatsApp, and Twitter reported denying the SAR government’s user information and content takedown requests. Google reported releasing data to the SAR authorities on three occasions during the year, once due to a credible threat to life and twice in connection with suspected trafficking in persons; Google reported it had not complied with many political requests.

The antidoxing amendment raised concerns among civil society, the press, and online platforms that the vague amendment would be used to prosecute journalists reporting on matters of public interest. The amendment applies the same standard of consent to disclose data to private individuals and public officials alike and does not include carve outs for issues of public interest or for already publicly available information.

Academic Freedom and Cultural Events

There was a significant increase in restrictions on academic freedom and cultural events. The PRC and SAR authorities claimed that a lack of “patriotic education” was a root cause of the 2019 antiextradition bill protests and targeted the Hong Kong Professional Teachers Union, which dissolved under political pressure in August (see section 2.b., Freedom of Association).

In February the SAR’s Education Bureau announced the incorporation of “national security” into the SAR government-approved curriculum at all levels, beginning at the kindergarten level. New guidelines require all schools following the official SAR curriculum to limit political expression and activities on school campuses and to submit periodic reports regarding their implementation of so-called national security education. Activists decried the guidelines as restricting freedom of expression on campuses. The Education Bureau announced guidelines in October that require all SAR-run and subsidized schools to hold weekly flag raising ceremonies.

In July police raided the office of the student union at the University of Hong Kong after the union’s council passed a motion expressing “sadness” at the death of an individual who attacked a police officer on the July 1 anniversary of the SAR’s handover to PRC sovereignty. The union later apologized and retracted the motion. Under pressure from SAR authorities, university leadership barred the students who attended the council meeting from campus and severed ties with the student union. In August police arrested four members of the student union on suspicion of “advocating terrorism,” a crime under the NSL.

In June a museum dedicated to memorializing the 1989 Tiananmen Square massacre operated by the Hong Kong Alliance in Support of Patriotic Democratic Movements of China was raided following allegations that the museum did not have the appropriate license. Under this pressure, the museum closed later that month.

In December, three universities removed sculptures and artworks commemorating the 1989 Tiananmen Square massacre from their campuses. The University of Hong Kong removed a memorial to the victims of the massacre called “Pillar of Shame,” the Chinese University of Hong Kong removed a statue of “The Goddess of Democracy,” and Lingnan University removed a wall relief portraying the massacre. The universities cited unspecified legal risks, and the University of Hong Kong and Chinese University of Hong Kong also claimed that their management had never approved the presence of the statues, which had stood on the campuses since 1997 and 2010, respectively.

c. Freedom of Religion

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

Section 3. Freedom to Participate in the Political Process

The Basic Law limits the ability of residents to change their government. The National People’s Congress Standing Committee March decision to overhaul the SAR’s electoral system further limited this ability, in contradiction to provisions in the Basic Law that describe the election of the chief executive and Legislative Council via universal suffrage as the “ultimate aim.”

Voters do not enjoy universal suffrage in elections for the chief executive or equal suffrage in Legislative Council elections. PRC central authorities made broad changes to the electoral system, thereby ensuring that only candidates vetted and approved by Beijing would be allowed to hold office at any level.

September 19 elections for seats in the Chief Executive Election Committee (CEEC), the first after the PRC’s overhaul of the SAR’s political system in March, by design produced a near unanimous sweep for pro-Beijing “patriots.” More than 1,100 of the 1,500 seats in the expanded CEEC were predetermined and not up for election. For the few competitive seats, regulations limited the franchise and moved the SAR farther from the one-person, one-vote principle. Only one nominally independent candidate was elected to any of those seats. Although the CEEC was historically considered a “closed circle election,” the September contest limited the number of voters eligible to cast ballots to fewer than 5,000 individuals, 97 percent smaller than the previous CEEC election in 2016. Following Beijing-imposed changes to the electoral system, all candidates for the Legislative Council are required to pass through a labyrinthine application process for vetting their “patriotic” bona fides. Per the new law, voters directly elect 20 of the expanded Legislative Council’s 90 seats, or 22 percent; in contrast, in the 2016 Legislative Council election, voters directly elected 40 of the 70 seats (57 percent). Forty seats are selected by the CEEC directly, while 30 are selected as representatives of “functional constituencies” for various economic and social sectors. In the December 19 Legislative Council elections, pro-Beijing candidates won 89 of the 90 seats, including all 20 of the directly elected seats. None of the major prodemocracy parties fielded any candidates.

Under the Basic Law, only the SAR government, not members of the legislature, may introduce bills that affect public expenditure, the political structure, or government policy.

The SAR sends 36 deputies to the National People’s Congress and has approximately 200 delegates in the Chinese People’s Political Consultative Conference – bodies that operate under the direction of the Chinese Communist Party and do not exercise legislative independence. The approval of the chief executive, two-thirds of the Legislative Council, and two-thirds of the SAR’s delegates to the legislature are required to place an amendment to the Basic Law on the legislative agenda, which has the sole power to amend the Basic Law.

Elections and Political Participation

Recent Elections: On December 19, the SAR held elections for the expanded Legislative Council. Pro-Beijing candidates won 89 of the 90 seats, including all 20 of the directly elected seats in the geographical constituencies. Only one nonestablishment moderate won a seat in the social welfare constituency. The SAR government had earlier postponed the election originally scheduled for September 2020 citing COVID-19 concerns, a decision seen by the prodemocracy opposition as an attempt to thwart its electoral momentum and avoid the defeat of pro-Beijing candidates. Several activists also called on voters to boycott the election, arguing it was a sham election. About 1.3 million voters cast ballots in the election, a record low turnout rate of 30.2 percent. Approximately 2 percent of ballots cast were blank or otherwise invalid, a record high. In contrast the 2016 election had a turnout rate of 58.3 percent. In 2017 the 1,194-member CEEC, dominated by proestablishment electors, selected Carrie Lam to be the SAR’s chief executive.

In September the SAR held elections for the CEEC, which elected 40 members of the Legislative Council in December and is scheduled to elect the chief executive in March 2022. Approximately 75 percent of the CEEC seats were filled by ex officio holders of various government positions, through nominations by Beijing-controlled bodies, or by uncontested candidates. Only one candidate not explicitly aligned with either the pro-Beijing or proestablishment camp won a seat. A total of 4,380 ballots were cast compared with more than 250,000 ballots in the 2016 election.

Political Parties and Political Participation: Since the imposition of the NSL, numerous leaders of prodemocracy political parties, protest organizing groups, and civil society organizations have been arrested for their involvement in nonviolent political activities. For example, in January, 55 prodemocracy politicians and activists, including former members of the Legislative Council and elected local District Council members, were arrested under the NSL for their involvement in the July 2020 unofficial pan-democratic primary election. No political party was subjected to an outright ban, but many prodemocracy political parties and organizations disbanded because of pressure from SAR authorities or concern they or their members would be subjected to political repression.

In May SAR authorities passed legislation requiring all elected members of local District Councils to swear loyalty oaths to Beijing. Many activists argued the move was designed to break the opposition pan-democratic camp’s hold over the District Councils, the SAR’s only representative bodies elected solely through universal suffrage, after pan-democratic politicians won 388 of 479 seats in the councils in 2019 local elections and won overall control over 17 of the 18 councils. After passage of the legislation, anonymous SAR officials were cited in local media as saying that District Council members who took the loyalty oath and were subsequently disqualified might be required to reimburse the SAR for up to hundreds of thousands of Hong Kong dollars in salary and expenses. More than 260 District Council members resigned in response. Subsequently, SAR authorities administered loyalty oaths to the remaining District Council members in September and October, then disqualified 49 pan-democratic District Council members without the possibility of appeal. The disqualified members are ineligible to run for election for five years.

In August, the chief secretary ruled that Cheng Chung-tai, one of two remaining Legislative Council members who did not caucus with the pro-Beijing or proestablishment camp, was ineligible to serve on the CEEC. Cheng was subsequently disqualified from his legislative seat as well, although the PRC Ministry of Foreign Affairs had praised him in 2020 for remaining in the legislature after the disqualifications and resignations of nearly all other pan-democratic representatives. In September Cheng announced the dissolution of his political party, Civic Passion.

Since the National People’s Congress Standing Committee decision in March created a labyrinthine nomination and vetting process for all candidates for political office designed to ensure “loyalty” to Beijing, and after the resignation and disqualification of hundreds of opposition District Council members, many opposition politicians and groups announced that they would not field candidates in the December Legislative Council elections. For example, the Democratic Party, the SAR’s largest opposition party, announced in October that none of its members had received sufficient nominations from within the party to run.

Participation of Women and Members of Minority Groups: No law limits participation of women or members of minority groups in the political process, and they did participate. Following December Legislative Council elections, there were 17 women Legislative Council members (approximately 19 percent). In 2017 Carrie Lam was selected to be the SAR’s first female chief executive.

There is no legal restriction against members of historically marginalized or ethnic minority groups running for electoral office or serving as electoral monitors. There were, however, no members of ethnic minority groups in the Legislative Council, and members of such groups reported they considered themselves unrepresented.

Section 6. Discrimination and Societal Abuses

Women

Rape and Domestic Violence: The law criminalizes rape against women, including spousal rape, but does not explicitly criminalize rape against men. Support organizations for sexual and domestic violence reported an increase in gender-based violence based on the larger volume of calls to their hotlines and requests for mental health-care assistance. Activists expressed concern that rape was underreported, especially within ethnic minority communities.

The law does not directly criminalize domestic violence, but the government regarded domestic violence against women as a serious concern. Abusers may be liable for criminal charges under laws on offenses against the person, sexual assault, and child mistreatment, depending on which act constituted domestic violence. The government effectively prosecuted violators under existing criminal violations.

The law allows survivors to seek a three-month injunction, extendable to six months, against an abuser. The ordinance covers abuse between spouses, heterosexual and homosexual cohabitants, former spouses or cohabitants, and immediate and extended family members. It protects victims younger than 18, allowing them to apply for an injunction in their own right, with the assistance of an adult guardian, against abuse by parents, siblings, and specified immediate and extended family members. The law also empowers courts to require that an abuser attend an antiviolence program. In cases in which the abuser caused bodily harm, the court may attach an arrest warrant to an existing injunction and extend the validity of both injunctions and arrest warrants to two years.

The government maintained programs provided intervention, counseling, and assistance to domestic violence survivors and abusers.

Sexual Harassment: The law prohibits sexual harassment or discrimination based on sex, marital status, and pregnancy. The law applies to both men and women, and police generally enforced it effectively. There were multiple reports, however, of sexual harassment in housing, the workplace, and universities.

Reproductive Rights: There were no reports of coerced abortion or involuntary sterilization on the part of government authorities.

The government provides access to sexual and reproductive health services, including emergency contraception, for survivors of sexual violence.

Discrimination: Women enjoy the same legal status and rights as men. The SAR’s sexual discrimination ordinance prohibits discrimination based on sex or pregnancy status, and the law authorizes the Equal Opportunities Commission to work towards the elimination of discrimination and harassment as well as to promote equal opportunity for men and women. Although the government generally enforced these laws, women reportedly faced some discrimination in employment, salary, welfare, inheritance, and promotion.

Section 7. Worker Rights

a. Freedom of Association and the Right to Collective Bargaining

The law provides for workers to form and join unions, but the SAR and PRC authorities took repeated actions that violated the principle of union independence. The law does not protect the right to collective bargaining or obligate employers to bargain. The law prohibits civil servants from bargaining collectively.

The law prohibits firing an employee for striking and voids any section of an employment contract that punishes a worker for striking. The commissioner of police has broad authority to control and direct public gatherings, including strikes, in the interest of national security or public safety.

By law an employer may not fire, penalize, or discriminate against an employee who exercises his or her union rights and may not prevent or deter the employee from exercising such rights. Penalties for violations of laws protecting union and related worker rights include fines as well as legal damages paid to workers. Penalties were commensurate with those under other laws involving the denial of civil rights.

The law was not effectively enforced, and the government repressed independent unions and their confederations. SAR and national authorities publicly claimed that strikes and other union-organized activities during the prodemocracy movement in 2019-20 were “anti-China” in nature, and pressure from officials and from PRC-supported media outlets led many unions to disband.

In August, the Hong Kong Professional Teachers’ Union, the city’s largest professional trade union with approximately 95,000 members, decided to dissolve after facing pressure from PRC-supported media, which called the union a “poisonous tumor” to be eradicated, and the announcement hours later by the Hong Kong Education Bureau that it would cease working with the union.

On October 3, the Hong Kong Confederation of Trade Unions voted to dissolve. Founded in 1990, the confederation included more than 80 unions from a variety of trades and grew to more than 100,000 members. Chairman Wong Tik-yuen reported that union members received threats against their personal safety if union operations were to continue.

b. Prohibition of Forced or Compulsory Labor

The law does not prohibit all forms of forced or compulsory labor, nor do laws specifically criminalize forced labor. Instead, the SAR uses its Employment and Theft Ordinances to prosecute forced labor and related offenses. Because these violations are typically civil offenses with fines, penalties for these offenses were not commensurate with those for analogous serious crimes, such as kidnapping, which violate the Crimes Ordinance and carry prison terms.

NGOs expressed concerns that some migrant workers, especially domestic workers in private homes, faced high levels of indebtedness assumed as part of the recruitment process, creating a risk they could be subjected to forced labor through debt-based coercion. Domestic workers in the SAR were mostly women and mainly came from the Philippines, Indonesia, and other Southeast and South Asian countries. The SAR allows for the collection of maximum placement fees of 10 percent of the first month’s wages, but some recruitment firms required large up-front fees in the country of origin that workers struggled to repay. Some locally licensed employment agencies were suspected of colluding with local money lenders and agencies overseas to profit from debt schemes, and some local agencies illegally withheld the passports and employment contracts of domestic workers until they repaid the debt.

SAR authorities stated they encouraged aggrieved workers to file complaints and make use of government conciliation services, and that they actively pursued reports of any labor violations (see section 7.e., Acceptable Conditions of Work).

See also the Department of State’s Trafficking in Persons Report at https://www.state.gov/trafficking-in-persons-report/.

c. Prohibition of Child Labor and Minimum Age for Employment

The law prohibits the worst forms of child labor. Regulations prohibit employment of children younger than 15 in any industrial establishment. Children younger than 13 are prohibited from taking up employment in all economic sectors. Children who are 13 or older may be employed in nonindustrial establishments, subject to certain requirements, such as parental written consent and proof the child has completed the required schooling.

The Labor Department effectively enforced these laws and regularly inspected workplaces to enforce compliance with the regulations. Penalties for child labor law violations include fines and legal damages and were not commensurate with those for analogous serious crimes, such as kidnapping, that violate the Crimes Ordinance and carry prison terms.

India

Section 1. Respect for the Integrity of the Person

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

There were reports that the government or its agents committed arbitrary or unlawful killings, including extrajudicial killings of suspected criminals and terrorists.

Military courts are primarily responsible for investigating killings by security forces and paramilitary forces.

Reports of prisoners or detainees who were killed or died in police and judicial custody continued. In March the National Campaign Against Torture reported the deaths of 111 persons in police custody in 2020. The report stated 82 of the deaths were due to alleged torture or foul play. Uttar Pradesh and Gujarat reported the highest number of custodial deaths at 11 each, followed by Madhya Pradesh with 10 deaths. A separate Prison Statistics of India (PSI) report from the National Crime Records Bureau (NCRB) documented 1,887 inmate deaths in judicial custody in 2020. The report attributed most prison deaths to natural causes and stated the highest number of custodial deaths occurred in Uttar Pradesh and West Bengal.

In September the National Human Rights Commission required Assam’s director general of police to compile a report in connection with a complaint alleging that police committed extrajudicial killings of more than 20 petty criminals.

On June 18, a Dalit woman collapsed and died while in police custody for suspected theft. The Telangana High Court ordered an investigation into allegations the victim was beaten to death. The Telangana government fired three police officers for their involvement in the custodial death and provided compensation to family members.

On July 22, Ravi Jadav and Sunil Pawar, two members of a tribal community accused of involvement in a bicycle theft case, were found hanging inside a police station in the Navsari District of Gujarat. Three police officials were arrested in connection with the custodial deaths, and on September 18, Navsari police provided compensation to family members of the victims.

In September 2020 the Central Bureau of Investigation filed charges against nine police officials in connection with the custodial deaths of Ponraj and Beniks Jeyaraj in Tamil Nadu. The two men were arrested in June 2020 for violating COVID-19 regulations; police allegedly beat them while in custody, and they subsequently died. The Tamil Nadu government arrested and held without bail 10 police officials alleged to be involved in the deaths, but one official has since died from COVID-19. The trial of the remaining nine was underway.

Killings by government and nongovernment forces were reported in Jammu and Kashmir, northeastern states, and Maoist-affected areas of the country (see section 1.g.). The South Asia Terrorism Portal reported the deaths of 23 civilians throughout the country as a result of terrorism as of November 27.

In July police arrested five persons in connection with the 2018 killing of Rising Kashmir editor in chief Shujaat Bukhari and his two police bodyguards. A police investigation alleged that terrorists belonging to Lashkar-e-Tayyiba targeted Bukhari in retaliation for his support of a government-backed peace effort.

Terrorists committed numerous killings. Maoist terrorists in Jharkhand and Bihar continued to attack security forces and infrastructure facilities, including roads, railways, and communication towers.

Terrorists killed 10 political party leaders in Jammu and Kashmir. On August 9, terrorists fatally shot Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) leader Gulam Rasool Dar and his wife in Anantnag District. Apni Party leader Ghulam Hassan Lone was killed by terrorists on August 19 in Kulgam District.

b. Disappearance

There were allegations police failed to file required arrest reports for detained persons, resulting in unresolved disappearances. Police and government officials denied these claims. The central government reported state government screening committees informed families regarding the status of detainees. There were reports that prison guards sometimes required bribes from families to confirm the detention of their relatives.

Disappearances attributed to government forces, paramilitary forces, and terrorists occurred in areas of conflict during the year (see section 1.g.).

On March 31, UN special rapporteurs asked the central government to provide details regarding allegations of arbitrary detention, extrajudicial killings, and disappearances in Jammu and Kashmir, including the status of Naseer Ahmad Wani, who disappeared in 2019 after being questioned by army soldiers.

The Association of Parents of Disappeared Persons, Kashmir (APDP) reported two cases of disappearances during the year, one in Bandipora District of North Kashmir in July and another in Baramullah in June. Both persons remained missing, and the APDP claimed the National Human Rights Commission declined to investigate the cases.

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

The law prohibits torture, but there were reports that police forces employed such practices.

Police beatings of prisoners resulted in custodial deaths (see section 1.a.).

The law does not permit authorities to admit coerced confessions into evidence, but nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) alleged authorities used torture to coerce confessions. Authorities allegedly also used torture to extort money or as summary punishment.

There were reports of abuse in prisons at the hands of guards and inmates, as well as reports that police raped female and male detainees.

On May 23, Karnataka police suspended Subinspector Arjun Honkera after Punith K.L, a Dalit man, filed a complaint against Honkera for forcing him to lick the urine of another inmate while he was in police custody. The complainant also alleged police beat him for hours. The Criminal Investigation Department of the Karnataka police arrested Honkera on September 2.

The government authorized the National Human Rights Commission (NHRC) to investigate rape cases involving police officers. By law the NHRC may also request information regarding cases involving the army and paramilitary forces, but it has no mandate to investigate those cases. NGOs claimed NHRC statistics undercounted the number of rapes committed in police custody. Some rape victims were unwilling to report crimes due to social stigma and fear of retribution if the perpetrator was a police officer or official. There were reports police officials refused to register rape cases.

Victims of crime were sometimes subjected to intimidation, threats, and attacks.

There were reports of security forces acting with impunity, but members were also held accountable for illegal actions. In December 2020 the army indicted an officer and two others for extrajudicial killings in Jammu and Kashmir; a court trial was underway. Jammu and Kashmir police also filed local charges against the accused.

Prison and Detention Center Conditions

Prison conditions were frequently life threatening, most notably due to inadequate sanitary conditions, lack of medical care, and extreme overcrowding.

Physical Conditions: Prisons were often severely overcrowded, and food, medical care, sanitation, and environmental conditions frequently were inadequate. Potable water was not universally available. Prisons and detention centers remained underfunded and understaffed and lacked sufficient infrastructure. Prisoners were sometimes physically mistreated.

According to the PSI 2020 report released in December, there were 1,306 prisons in the country with a total authorized capacity of 414,033 persons. The actual incarcerated population was 488,511. Persons awaiting trial accounted for approximately 76 percent of the prison population. The law requires detention of juveniles in rehabilitative facilities, but at times authorities detained juveniles in adult prisons, especially in rural areas. Authorities often held pretrial detainees with convicted prisoners. The PSI 2020 report acknowledged overcrowding as “one of the biggest problems faced by prison inmates.”

According to the India Justice Report 2020, in Uttar Pradesh each correctional officer is responsible for more than 25,000 inmates. In 21 states and union territories, the occupancy rate for prisons was more than 100 percent. The most crowded prisons were Delhi (at 175 percent of capacity), Uttar Pradesh (at 168 percent), and Uttarakhand (at 159 percent).

In May the Odisha Directorate of Prisons set up an exclusive ward in Bhubaneswar to house up to 10 transgender persons. The ward had beds, separate washroom blocks, a hall, and a reading room. State officials announced that similar exclusive wards for transgender persons will be opened in all other prisons in a phased manner. A representative of the transgender community welcomed the move, pointing out that there were previous reports of sexual harassment of transgender inmates held in the regular wards.

On May 7, the Supreme Court ordered state law enforcement agencies to reduce arrests and decongest prisons. The Supreme Court issued a similar ruling in March 2020, which ordered states and union territories to release certain prisoners on parole or interim bail. The state governments of Goa, Chhattisgarh, Madhya Pradesh, Gujarat, and Maharashtra independently ordered their prison systems to parole or furlough inmates to reduce prison overcrowding during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Administration: Authorities permitted prisoners to register complaints with state and national human rights commissions, but the authority of the commissions extended only to making recommendations. Government officials reportedly often failed to comply with a Supreme Court order instructing the central government and local authorities to conduct regular checks on police stations to monitor custodial violence.

Authorities permitted visitors limited access to prisoners, but some family members claimed authorities denied access to relatives, particularly in areas experiencing high levels of violence, including Jammu and Kashmir.

Independent Monitoring: The NHRC received and investigated prisoner complaints of human rights violations throughout the year. Civil society representatives believed few prisoners filed complaints due to fear of retribution from prison guards or officials.

The NHRC made unannounced visits to monitor state prisons in multiple states. NHRC special rapporteurs visited state prisons on a regular basis throughout the year to verify that authorities provided medical care to all inmates. The NHRC has not publicly released reports on their findings. NHRC jurisdiction does not extend to military detention centers.

Courts sometimes ordered prisoners released on bail to receive medical treatment.

Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties

a. Freedom of Expression, Including for Members of the Press and Other Media

The constitution provides for freedom of expression, but it does not explicitly mention freedom of the press. The government generally respected this right, but there were 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 terrorists and extremists perpetrating killings, violence, and intimidation against journalists critical of the government.

Freedom of Expression: Individuals routinely criticized the government publicly and privately via online platforms, television, radio, or in print media. According to the HRW World Report 2021, the government “increasingly harassed, arrested, and prosecuted rights defenders, activists, journalists, students, academics, and others critical of the government or its policies.” Harassment and detainment of journalists critical of the government in their reporting or social media messaging continued.

Freedom House’s Freedom in the World 2021 report downgraded the country’s ranking from “Free” to “Partly Free,” due in part to “a crackdown on expressions of dissent by media, academics, civil society groups, and protesters.” The Freedom House report stated authorities used security, defamation, sedition, and hate speech laws, as well as contempt-of-court charges, to curb critical voices. Media contacts said that some media outlets practiced self-censorship in response to the government reportedly withholding public-sector advertising from some outlets critical of the government.

On January 1, Madhya Pradesh police arrested stand-up comedian Munawar Faruqui and four other persons for offending religious sentiments with jokes he allegedly planned to perform. The Supreme Court granted Faruqui bail in February, stating the allegations against him were vague.

On February 1, the government ordered Twitter to block accounts belonging to journalists covering the protests against agricultural reform laws, stating the order was to prevent a potential escalation of violence. Twitter initially complied with the government’s request, but subsequently restored access to the accounts after conducting an internal review.

On May 13, Manipur police arrested social activist Erendro Leichombam for a Facebook post critical of a BJP leader who advocated cow dung and cow urine as cures for COVID-19. On July 19, the Supreme Court granted bail to Leichombam, who was previously kept in preventive detention under the National Security Act after being granted bail by a lower court.

On July 24, Tamil Nadu police arrested Father George Ponnaiah, a Catholic priest, for alleged hate speech against the prime minister and home minister. The priest was attending a July 18 meeting honoring deceased tribal rights activist Father Stan Swamy. The court remanded Ponnaiah to judicial custody for 15 days, and the Madras High Court granted conditional bail on August 10.

Freedom of Expression for Members of the Press and Other Media, Including Online Media: 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; digital media platforms, including streaming services; and publication or distribution of books.

There were reports from journalists and NGOs that government officials at both the local and national levels were involved in intimidating critical media outlets through physical harassment and attacks, pressuring owners, targeting sponsors, encouraging frivolous lawsuits, and in some areas blocking communication services, such as mobile telephones and the internet, and constraining freedom of movement.

NGOs alleged criminal prosecutions and investigations were used to intimidate journalists critical of the government.

The Reporters without Borders 2021 World Press Freedom Index described the country as very dangerous for journalists, with press freedom violations by police, political activists, criminal groups, and local officials. The report also identified “coordinated hate campaigns waged on social networks,” encouraging threats against journalists as a major area of concern. Harassment and violence were particularly acute for female journalists. Journalists working in Jammu and Kashmir continued to face barriers to free reporting through communications and movement restrictions.

In Jammu and Kashmir at least six journalists were assaulted, detained, or questioned by police through August according to the Jammu Kashmir Coalition of Civil Society. In 2020 the government introduced a new media regulation in Jammu and Kashmir empowering local administration to determine “fake and antinational news” and to initiate criminal charges against journalists. The Kashmir Press Club protested the policy and alleged that the government was institutionalizing intimidation by exploiting the policy against media platforms critical of the government.

In January, Uttar Pradesh, Haryana, Gujarat, Karnataka, and New Delhi police filed charges against India Today anchor Rajdeep Sardesai; National Herald senior consulting editor Mrinal Pande; Qaumi Awaz editor Zafar Agha; the Caravan founder Paresh Nath, editor Anant Nath, and executive editor Vinod K. Jose; and Member of Parliament Shashi Tharoor. The charges included sedition, intent to cause riot, and other charges through their coverage of a violent January 26 protest. The Supreme Court granted the individuals a stay of arrest on February 9.

On March 5, journalists Shafat Farooq and Saqib Majeed said they were beaten by police during a protest in Srinagar. On July 17, Kashmiri journalist Aakash Hassan was allegedly assaulted by police. In August, Jammu and Kashmir police detained and questioned journalist Irfan Malik concerning tweets critical of the Jammu Kashmir government’s film promotion policy.

On April 7, Jammu and Kashmir Police inspector general Vijay Kumar issued a warning that police would file criminal charges against journalists who approached ongoing police counterterrorism operations, on the grounds that such reporting was “likely to incite violence” or promote “antinational sentiment.” The Editors Guild of India criticized the prohibitions as “draconian and undemocratic.”

Media reported criminal charges were filed against individuals who posted requests for oxygen supplies via social media during the second wave of the COVID-19 pandemic. On April 28, police in Amethi, Uttar Pradesh, filed charges against 26-year-old Shashank Yadav for tweeting a plea for oxygen for his grandfather. On April 30, the Supreme Court warned that states should protect citizens’ right to communicate their grievances regarding the COVID-19 pandemic on social media.

On June 15, Uttar Pradesh police filed charges against Twitter; online news platform The Wire; journalists Rana Ayyub, Saba Naqvi, and Mohammad Zubair; and Congress leaders Salman Nizami, Masqoor Usmani, and Sama Mohammad for “stoking communal unrest” by posting video footage of the assault of an elderly Muslim man.

On July 22, the Income Tax Department searched 32 office and residential locations affiliated with the Dainik Bhaskar Group, publisher of Dainik Bhaskar, the country’s second-most-read Hindi language newspaper. The Income Tax Department also raided the offices of Hindi language television station Bharat Samachar. Government sources asserted the raids were a result of alleged tax evasion by the media groups. The media groups claimed the raids were conducted as retaliation for investigative reporting during the second wave of the COVID-19 pandemic.

In February the Kashmir Press Club stated security agencies had routinely deployed intimidation tactics such as threats, summonses, and physical attacks on journalists in Jammu and Kashmir. On February 8, police summoned journalists Naseer Ganai and Haroon Nabi to the police facility, where they were questioned for reporting on a statement by the Jammu Kashmir Liberation Front.

In June the Jammu and Kashmir government released Media Policy 2020, a policy which authorizes the Directorate of Information and Publication Relations to “examine” the content of print, electronic, and other forms of media for “fake news, plagiarism, and unethical or antinational activities” in the name of law and order. Under the new media policy, government action could range from legal proceedings against journalists for “indulging in fake news, unethical or antinational activities, or plagiarism” to withholding advertisements from any media that “incite or tends to incite violence, question sovereignty and the integrity of India, or violate the accepted norms of public decency and behavior.”

On June 13, Uttar Pradesh authorities charged Scroll.in executive editor Supriya Sharma for a news report critical of the COVID-19 lockdown; she was charged with violating the Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes (Prevention of Atrocities) Act, 1989, and sections of the penal code regarding printing defamatory matter and negligent acts likely to spread infection of disease dangerous to life. Police also charged the Mumbai-based editor in chief of Scroll.in. On August 26, the Allahabad High Court granted Sharma protection from immediate arrest in the case but allowed the investigation to continue.

On July 1, UNESCO director general Audrey Azoulay called for authorities to end “gunpoint censorship” and prosecute those responsible for the killing of Shubham Mani Tripathi, a journalist for the newspaper Kampu Mail. Tripathi died on June 19 when he was shot six times by two gunmen in Uttar Pradesh. His killing was allegedly in retaliation for his investigative reports into connections between illegal sand mining and corruption allegations. The two assailants, along with a third individual, were arrested.

The government maintained a monopoly on AM radio stations, limiting broadcasting to the state-owned All India Radio, and restricted FM radio licenses to entertainment and educational content. Widely distributed private satellite television provided competition for Doordarshan, the government-owned television network. There were accusations of political interference in the state-owned broadcasters. State governments banned the import or sale of selected books that contained material government officials deemed could be inflammatory or provoke communal or religious tensions.

On May 14, Andhra Pradesh police filed sedition charges against Telugu news channels TV5 and ABN Andhra Jyothi for broadcasting the speeches and statements of Member of Parliament K. Raghu Ramakrishna Raju that allegedly “promoted enmity and hatred among different communities.” Police arrested Raju and filed sedition charges against him. On May 21, the Supreme Court granted bail to the lawmaker; on May 31, the Supreme Court blocked Andhra Pradesh police from acting against the two channels.

Violence and Harassment: The Committee to Protect Journalists reported five journalists were killed during the year. Journalists were threatened online with violence and, in the case of female journalists, rape.

On March 24, Syandan Patrika journalist Bikash Das was assaulted in Tripura while covering a story on corruption. A group of assailants attacked Das, inflicting serious injuries before he was able to escape.

On June 13, Uttar Pradesh journalist Sulabh Srivastava was found dead under mysterious circumstances. On the day before his death, Sulabh wrote to seek protection from Uttar Pradesh police, claiming he faced danger after reporting on organized crime in the city. Police reported the cause of Srivastava’s death as a motorcycle accident.

In July photojournalist Masrat Zahra, who relocated to Germany after UAPA charges were filed against her, alleged her parents were beaten by Jammu and Kashmir police because of her work.

On August 8, journalist Chennakeshavalu was stabbed to death by two suspects allegedly for his reporting on illegal gambling activities in Andhra Pradesh. Police arrested Venkata Subbaiah, a police officer, and his brother Nani for suspected murder.

Online and mobile harassment was prevalent, and reports of internet “trolling,” continued to rise. In some instances police used information provided by anonymous social media users as a pretext to initiate criminal proceedings against journalists.

Censorship or Content Restrictions: Citizens generally enjoyed freedom of speech, but the government continued to censor and restrict content based on broad public and national interest provisions in Article 19 of the constitution.

On February 25, the government published new regulations to govern social media platforms, messaging services, and streaming service that delivers content directly to the consumer over the internet. Human rights advocates and journalists expressed concerns that these rules would curtail freedom of speech and expression, and several media organizations filed legal actions against the regulations. They contended that parts of IT Rules 2021 are unconstitutional and contrary to the necessity and proportionality standard laid down by the Supreme Court in the 2018 Puttaswamy v. India decision guaranteeing the right to privacy in the constitution. In response to one such challenge on August 14, the Mumbai High Court ordered a stay on implementation of Rules 9(1) and 9(3) of the IT Rules 2021, which require digital news media and online publishers to adhere to a prescribed code of ethics and establish a three-tier grievance redressal mechanism.

Libel/Slander Laws: Individuals continued to face legal action for posting offensive or derogatory material on social media. In January the Delhi High Court dismissed a criminal defamation case filed by a former senior official against Priya Ramani, accusing Ramani of sexual harassment. The court noted, “a woman cannot be punished for raising her voice against sexual abuse.”

National Security: In some cases government authorities cited laws protecting national interest to restrict media content. The government banned more than 200 Chinese mobile apps because they were “prejudicial” to the sovereignty and security of the country.

Internet Freedom

There were government restrictions on access to the internet, disruptions of access to the internet, censorship of online content, and there were 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 directives for blocking, intercepting, monitoring, or decrypting computer information. The government temporarily blocked telecommunications and internet connections in certain regions during periods of political unrest.

In January 2020 the Supreme Court declared access to the internet a fundamental right guaranteed by the constitution. In 2015 the Supreme Court overturned some provisions of the information technology law that restricted content published on social media but upheld the government’s authority 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. The government may shut telephone and internet services temporarily during a “public emergency” or for “public safety.” A suspension order can be issued by a “competent authority” at either the federal or the state level.

NGO Software Freedom Law Center reported the central and state governments conducted localized internet shutdowns 36 times as of October. For example, according to Jammu Kashmir Coalition of Civil Society, Jammu and Kashmir experienced 19 instances of internet shutdown as of August.

Press outlets reported instances in which individuals and journalists were arrested or detained for online activity. Police continued to arrest individuals based on the Information Technology Act for legitimate online activity, despite a 2015 Supreme Court ruling striking down the statute as unconstitutional; experts claimed the arrests were an abuse of legal processes.

The Central Monitoring System continued to allow government agencies to monitor electronic communications in real time without informing the subject or a judge. The monitoring system is an indigenous mass electronic surveillance data mining program installed by the Center for Development of Telematics, a government-owned telecommunications technology development center.

Academic Freedom and Cultural Events

Contacts reported a few Kashmiri academics attempting to travel internationally to attend academic conferences or pursue professional assignments were prohibited from leaving the country.

In January the Ministry of Education issued guidelines for holding virtual conferences and seminars that required local universities to seek government approval for any virtual discussions, including approval of the names of all participants, and prohibited virtual events related to security matters. The academic community, including the country’s two largest science academies representing 1,500 scientists, protested and requested the elimination of these regulations. In February the government withdrew the guidelines and left in place a 2008 rule that only concerned in-person conferences.

In July, Madhya Pradesh police warned the administration of Dr. Harisingh Gour University of possible action based on the national penal code “if religious and caste sentiments are hurt” during an international webinar titled Culture and Linguistic Hurdles in the Achievement of Scientific Temper. The police warning was prompted by a complaint from the Akhil Bharatiya Vidyarthi Parishad, which objected to the topic as well as past statements and “antinational mentality” of the academic participants.

c. Freedom of Religion

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

Section 3. Freedom to Participate in the Political Process

The constitution provides citizens the ability to choose their government in free and fair periodic elections held by secret ballot and based on universal and equal suffrage.

Elections and Political Participation

Recent Elections: The Election Commission is an independent constitutional body responsible for administering all elections at the central and state level throughout the country. In May 2019 voters re-elected the BJP-led National Democratic Alliance in the country’s general elections, which involved more than 600 million eligible voters. During the year state assembly elections took place in Tamil Nadu, Kerala, Puducherry, West Bengal, and Assam. Observers considered these elections free and fair.

Political Parties and Political Participation: The constitution provides for universal voting rights for all citizens 18 and older. There are no restrictions placed on the formation of political parties or on individuals of any community from participating in the election process. The election law bans the use of government resources for political campaigning, and the Election Commission effectively enforced the law. The commission’s guidelines ban opinion polls 48 hours prior to an election and exit poll results may not be released until completion of the last phase (in a multiphase election).

Participation of Women and Members of Minority Groups: No laws limit participation of women or members of minority groups in the political process, and they freely participated. The law reserves one-third of the seats in local councils for women. Religious, cultural, and traditional practices prevented women from proportional participation in political office. Nonetheless, women held many high-level political offices, including two positions as cabinet ministers. This represented a decline from the first Modi government when nine women served in the cabinet. The 2019 general election resulted in 78 women elected to the lower house of parliament, compared with 66 in the 2014 general election. The sole female chief minister leads West Bengal.

The constitution stipulates that, to protect historically marginalized groups and provide for representation in the lower house of parliament, each state must reserve seats for Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes in proportion to their population in the state. Only candidates belonging to these groups may contest elections in reserved constituencies. Members of minority populations had previously served or currently served as prime minister, president, vice president, cabinet ministers, Supreme Court justices, members of parliament, and state chief ministers.

Section 6. Discrimination and Societal Abuses

Women

Rape and Domestic Violence: The law criminalizes rape in most cases, but marital rape is not illegal when the woman is older than 15. According to legal experts, the law does not criminalize rape of adult men. Rape of minors is covered by the gender-neutral Protection of Children from Sexual Offenses Act (POCSO). Official statistics reported rape as one of the country’s fastest-growing crimes, prompted at least in part by the increasing willingness of survivors to report rapes, but observers believed the number of rapes remained vastly underreported.

Law enforcement and legal recourse for rape survivors were inadequate, and the judicial system was unable to address the problem effectively.  Police sometimes worked to reconcile rape survivors and their attackers.  In some cases they encouraged female rape survivors to marry their attackers.

The NGO International Center for Research on Women noted low conviction rates in rape cases was one of the main reasons sexual violence continued unabated and at times unreported. NGOs observed the length of trials, lack of victim support, and inadequate protection of witnesses and survivors remained major concerns and were more pronounced during the COVID-19 pandemic. The government sought to expedite cases involving women by setting up more than a thousand fast-track special courts to handle pending rape cases. In addition, several high courts have also directed state governments to establish more fast-track courts to promptly dispose of pending rape cases.

Civil society organizations provided awareness and survivor-centered, nonstigmatizing, confidential and free care to victims of violence and facilitate referrals to tertiary care, social welfare, and legal services. Some also provided short-term shelter for women and child survivors of rape. These services were intended to encourage women and children to come forward and report cases.

Additionally, the central government implemented interventions to improve the safety and security of women while reporting violence. This includes centers for reporting and accessing health support, women help desks at police stations to facilitate reporting, emergency response support system via a mobile application for reporting emergencies, and training programs for police, prosecutors, medical officers, and the judiciary to respond to victims in compassionate and respectful ways.

Rape continued to be a persistent problem, including gang rape, rape of minors, rape against lower-caste women or women from religious and nonreligious minority communities by upper-caste men, and rape by government officials.

The minimum mandatory punishment for rape is 10 years’ imprisonment. The minimum sentence for the rape of a girl younger than age 16 is between 20 years’ and life imprisonment; the minimum sentence of gang rape of a girl younger than 12 is either life imprisonment or the death penalty. The Investigation Tracking System for Sexual Offenses monitors sexual assault investigations. According to latest government data, 77 cases of rape per day were reported across the country in 2020.

On April 7, a 24-year-old Delhi woman was gang raped by five men in Gurugram, Haryana. The woman was raped repeatedly and left near Farrukhnagar, Haryana. To date, no suspects have been arrested.

On June 11, two minor tribal girls in Assam’s Kokrajhar District were found hanging from a tree after they were raped and killed. Police arrested seven suspects.

On August 1, a nine-year-old Dalit girl was allegedly raped, suffocated to death, and her body cremated in New Delhi. Police arrested and charged four suspects, two of whom admitted to raping her because she was a Dalit.

Women in areas such as in Jammu and Kashmir, northeastern states, Jharkhand, and Chhattisgarh, as well as vulnerable Dalit or tribal women, were often victims of rape or threats of rape. National crime statistics indicated Dalit women were disproportionately victimized. Domestic violence continued to be a problem. The COVID-19 pandemic and lockdown led to increased instances of domestic violence. Women and children were more vulnerable due to loss of livelihood of the perpetrator and the family being forced to remain indoors, where victims were locked in with their abusers with limited means to escape or access to resources.

Local authorities made efforts to address the safety of women. The NCRB’s 2021 Crime in India report revealed that overall crime against women fell by 8 percent from 405,326 cases in 2019 to 371,503 cases in 2020. West Bengal and Odisha reported the highest increase in crimes against women while Uttar Pradesh recorded a 17 percent decline in registered cases. Madhya Pradesh reported the largest number of domestic violence cases while Rajasthan reported the highest number of rapes.

Female Genital Mutilation/Cutting (FGM/C): No national law addresses the practice of FGM/C. According to human rights groups and media reports, between 70 and 90 percent of Dawoodi Bohras, a population of approximately one million persons concentrated in the states of Maharashtra, Gujarat, Rajasthan, and Delhi, practiced FGM/C.

Other Harmful Traditional Practices: The law forbids the acceptance of marriage dowries, but many families continued to offer and accept dowries, and dowry disputes remained a serious problem. NCRB data showed a total of 7,045 dowry-related deaths in 2020 as compared with 7,141 in 2019. The highest number of cases were registered in Uttar Pradesh with 2,302 victims. Most states employed dowry prohibition officers. A 2010 Supreme Court ruling mandates all trial courts to charge defendants in dowry death cases with murder.

Acid attacks against men and women continued to cause death and permanent disfigurement. On April 16, a man from Patiala threw acid on his wife for not giving birth to a son. The woman sustained burns on nearly 58 percent of her body in the acid attack. Police charged the man with attempted murder and voluntarily causing grievous hurt.

On May 21, a woman contracted to have acid thrown on her boyfriend after he rejected her marriage proposal. Police arrested the perpetrator.

So-called honor killings remained a problem, especially in Punjab, Uttar Pradesh, and Haryana; they were usually attributable to the victim marrying against his or her family’s wishes.

In August, Gwalior police in Madhya Pradesh arrested the father and brother of a 22-year-old woman found hanging at her home after a reported “honor killing.” Police also charged the woman’s uncle and two cousins with murder, as the family had opposed her choice to marry outside of her community.

Andhra Pradesh police registered a case of suspicious death as murder in response to a complaint that the parents of an 18-year-old girl allegedly killed and cremated her when she refused to end her relationship with a man of another caste.

The Telangana High Court questioned police statistics that reported only four “honor killings” and three cases of assault on individuals who married outside of their caste in the preceding four years in the state. A social activist filed a petition alleging 36 “honor killings” took place in the state in recent years.

There were reports women and girls in the devadasi system of symbolic marriages to Hindu deities (a form of so-called ritual prostitution) were victims of rape or sexual abuse at the hands of priests and temple patrons, including sex trafficking. This practice was found in Karnataka, Maharashtra, Andhra Pradesh, and Tamil Nadu, and almost always targeted girls from Scheduled Caste and Scheduled Tribe communities. NGOs suggested families exploited some girls from lower castes to mitigate household financial burdens and the prospect of marriage dowries. The practice deprived girls of their education and reproductive rights and subjected them to stigma and discrimination.

Tamil Nadu, Andhra Pradesh, Karnataka, and Maharashtra have legislation that prohibits the devadasi system and provides rehabilitation services to women and girls affected by the practice. Enforcement of these laws remained lax.

In February police rescued a 19-year-old girl from Karnataka after she alerted them to her parents’ plan to force her into the devadasi system. Officials noted the victim’s mother was a former devadasi and insisted her daughter join the practice.

No federal law addresses accusations of witchcraft; however, authorities may use other legal provisions as an alternative for an individual accused of witchcraft. The NCRB reported 88 deaths with witchcraft listed as the motive in 2020. Madhya Pradesh registered 17 cases of murder against those accused of witchcraft. Bihar, Odisha, Chhattisgarh, Rajasthan, Assam, and Jharkhand have laws criminalizing accusing others of witchcraft.

On March 9, a woman’s dismembered body was found buried in Jharkhand. According to police, villagers suspected the woman of practicing witchcraft.

On May 25, a group of villagers in Assam’s Baksa District beat a 50-year-old tribal man to death. Police suspected a case of witch hunting and detained five persons.

Sexual Harassment: Sexual harassment remained a serious problem. Authorities required all state departments and institutions with more than 50 employees to operate committees to prevent and address sexual harassment, often referred to as “eve teasing.” By law sexual harassment includes one or more unwelcome acts or behavior, such as physical contact, a request for sexual favors, making sexually suggestive remarks, or showing pornography.

Reproductive Rights: There were reports of coerced and involuntary sterilization. The government promoted female sterilization as a form of family planning for decades. Some women, especially poor and lower-caste women, reportedly were pressured by their husbands and families to have tubal ligations or hysterectomies. The government provided monetary compensation for the wage loss, transportation costs, drugs and dressing, and follow-up visits to women accepting contraceptive methods, including voluntary sterilization. There were no formal restrictions on access to other forms of family planning; however, despite recent efforts to expand the range of contraceptive choices, voluntary sterilization remained the preferred method due to the costs and limited availability of alternative contraceptive choices.

Policies and guidelines that penalized families with more than two children were not widely enforced but remained in place in various states. Certain states continued to maintain quotas for government jobs and subsidies for adults with no more than two children. For example, Assam linked a two-child norm to accessing state government benefits and running for certain offices.

Many states promoted female sterilization as a family planning method, which resulted in risky, substandard procedures and limited access to nonpermanent methods. The central government does not have the authority to regulate state public health policies. Some women, particularly poor and lower-caste women, were reportedly pressured to have tubal ligations, hysterectomies, or other forms of sterilization.

The government recognized the role of health-care professionals in treating survivors of sexual violence and implemented protocols that meet international standards for such medical care. Government directives instruct health facilities to ensure survivors of all forms of sexual violence receive immediate access to health care services, including emergency contraception, police protection, emergency shelter, forensic services, and referrals for legal aid and other services. Implementation of the guidelines was uneven, however, due to limited resources and social stigma.

In February the Ministry of Health and Family Welfare released the Sample Registration Report for Maternal Mortality Rates between 2016 and 2018, which estimated that the maternal mortality ratio declined to 113 deaths per 100,000 live births in 2016-18, compared with 130 such deaths per 100,000 live births in 2014-16. The report indicated Assam’s maternal mortality rate, at 215 per 100,000 live births, was the highest in the country, while Kerala recorded the lowest maternal mortality ratio at 43 per 100,000 live births.

Care received by women, especially those from marginalized and low-income groups, at public health facilities was often inadequate, contributing to a reluctance to seek treatment. Government initiatives resulted in a significant increase in institutional births, but there were reports that health facilities continued to be overburdened, underequipped, and undersupplied.

Policies penalizing families with more than two children remained in place in seven states, but some authorities did not enforce them. There were reports these policies created pressure on women with more than two children to use contraception, including permanent methods such as sterilization, or even termination of subsequent pregnancies.

To counter sex selection, almost all states introduced “girl child promotion” plans to promote the education and well-being of girls; some plans required a certificate of sterilization for the parents to collect benefits.

Discrimination: The law prohibits discrimination in the workplace and requires equal pay for equal work, but employers reportedly often paid women less than men for the same job, discriminated against women in employment and credit applications, and promoted women less frequently than men. The government did not effectively enforce discrimination laws.

Many tribal land systems, including in Bihar, deny tribal women the right to own land. Other laws or customs relating to the ownership of assets and land accord women little control over land use, retention, or sale.

Gender-biased Sex Selection: The law bans sex determination tests, the use of all technologies for the purpose of selecting a fetus’s gender, and sex-based abortions; however, NGOs claimed the practice of abortion based on sex was widely practiced across the country despite government efforts to enforce the legislation. This resulted in a sex ratio of 889 females per 1,000 males (or 112 males per 100 females) per the 2011 census.

States implement “girl child promotion” programs to counter prenatal sex selection. In 2015 the national government launched the Beti Bachao Beti Padhao program to arrest the decline in the child sex ratio. According to government data, the sex ratio at birth improved from 918 girls per 1,000 boys in 2014-15 (109 boys per 100 girls) to 934 girls per 1,000 boys in 2019-20 (107 boys per 100 girls).

According to media reports, fear of giving birth to a girl child drove some women toward sex-selective abortion or attempts to sell baby girls.

Section 7. Worker Rights

a. Freedom of Association and the Right to Collective Bargaining

The law provides for the right to form and join unions and to bargain collectively, but there is no legal obligation for employers to recognize a union or engage in collective bargaining. In Sikkim, trade union registration was subject to prior permission from the state government. The law limits the organizing rights of federal and state government employees.

The law provides for the right to strike but places restrictions on this right for some workers. As an example, in export-processing zones (EPZs), a 45-day notice is required because of the EPZs’ designation as a “public utility.” The law also allows the government to ban strikes in government-owned enterprises and requires arbitration in specified “essential industries.” Definitions of essential industries vary from state to state. The law prohibits antiunion discrimination and retribution for involvement in legal strikes and provides for reinstatement of employees fired for union activity. Union leaders generally operated free from threats and violence from government and employers. Employers rarely refused to bargain with worker led unions.

On February 3, industrial workers across the country observed a day of protest against the government’s plans to privatize state-owned companies and to press for the repeal of labor codes passed by parliament in September 2020. In September approximately 25 million workers across the country went on a day-long strike in support of the farmers’ protest demanding the repeal of farm reform legislation.

Enforcement of the law varied from state to state and from sector to sector. Enforcement was generally better in the larger, organized-sector industries. Authorities generally prosecuted and punished individuals responsible for intimidation or suppression of legitimate trade union activities in the industrial sector. Civil judicial procedures addressed abuses because the Trade Union Act does not specify penalties for such abuses. Penalties were commensurate with those for other laws involving denials of civil rights, such as discrimination. Specialized labor courts adjudicate labor disputes, but there were long delays and a backlog of unresolved cases.

Employers generally respected freedom of association and the right to organize and bargain collectively in the formal industrial sector but not in the larger, informal economy. Most union members worked in the formal sector, and trade unions represented a small number of agricultural and informal-sector workers. Membership-based organizations such as the Self-Employed Women’s Association successfully organized informal-sector workers and helped them to gain higher payment for their work or products.

An estimated 80 percent of unionized workers were affiliated with one of the five major trade union federations. Unions were independent of the government, but four of the five major federations were associated with major political parties.

State and local authorities sometimes impeded registration of unions, repressed independent union activity, and used their power to declare strikes illegal and force adjudication. Labor groups reported that some employers continued to refuse to recognize established unions, and some instead established “workers’ committees” and employer-controlled unions to prevent independent unions from organizing. EPZs often employed workers on temporary contracts. Additionally, employee-only restrictions on entry to the EPZs limited union organizers’ access.

In November 2020 a nationwide general strike took place. More than 250 million public- and private-sector workers participated in the strike, called by 10 central trade unions and hundreds of worker associations and federations. Trade union leaders demanded that the government repeal certain labor codes and three recently passed farm laws. In November parliament passed a law to repeal three agricultural reform laws after farmers largely concentrated in Punjab, Haryana, and Uttar Pradesh protested for their repeal. The Indian National Trade Union Congress congratulated the farmers’ union for their protests.

In January labor and Dalit activists Shiv Kumar and Nodeep Kaur were arrested after their protest against the alleged harassment of factory workers in the Kundli Industrial Area in the state of Haryana, which turned violent on January 12. While in police custody, the families of both activists alleged they were subject to physical abuse. Nodeep Kaur was granted bail on February 26, and on March 4, a judge granted bail to Shiv Kumar.

b. Prohibition of Forced or Compulsory Labor

The law prohibits all forms of forced or compulsory labor, but forced labor, including bonded labor for both adults and children (see section 7.c.), remained widespread. Internal forced labor constituted the country’s largest labor-trafficking problem; traffickers use debt-based coercion (bonded labor) to compel men, women, and children to work in agriculture, brick kilns, rice mills, embroidery and textile factories, and stone quarries. Women and children from the Dalit and tribal communities were vulnerable to forced labor, as were children of migrant laborers. The increase in economic insecurity and unemployment due to the pandemic further increased vulnerability to forced labor.

Enforcement and compensation for victims is the responsibility of state and local governments and varied in effectiveness. Some local governments did not effectively enforce laws related to bonded labor or labor trafficking laws, such as the Bonded Labor System (Abolition) Act. When inspectors referred violations for prosecution, court backlogs, inadequate preparation, and a lack of prioritization of the cases by prosecuting authorities sometimes resulted in acquittals. In addition, when authorities reported violations, they sometimes reported them to civil courts to assess fines and did not refer them to police for criminal investigation of labor trafficking. Legal penalties varied based on the type of forced labor and included fines and prison terms; penalties were not commensurate with those for analogous serious crimes, such as kidnapping. For example, bonded labor is specifically criminalized by the Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes (Prevention of Atrocities) Act, which prescribes sufficiently stringent penalties, and the Bonded Labor System (Abolition) Act, which prescribes penalties that were not sufficiently stringent.

Investigations, prosecutions, and case convictions of traffickers decreased in 2020. NGOs estimated at least eight million trafficking victims in the country, mostly in bonded labor, and reported that police often did not file reports. Authorities penalized some adult and child victims for crimes their traffickers compelled them to commit.

On July 22, officials in Tamil Nadu’s Virudhunagar District rescued 14 adolescent bonded laborers from two plastics factories; three had been trafficked from Bihar.

On August 26, Thane District officials in Maharashtra rescued 43 individuals belonging to a traditional tribal group who were kept in bondage at a stone quarry. Police also opened an investigation after two of the rescued women accused the quarry owners of sexual abuse.

Scheduled Caste and Scheduled Tribe members lived and worked under traditional arrangements of servitude in many areas of the country. The central government had long abolished forced labor servitude, but these social groups remained impoverished and vulnerable to forced exploitation.

In May the National Human Rights Commission (NHRC) issued three advisories to states and union territories, recommending measures to address the mental health of vulnerable populations, release and rehabilitation of bonded laborers, and safeguarding rights of informal workers. The NHRC noted that all levels of government must ensure that medical resources are provided to bonded laborers.

Also see the Department of State’s Trafficking in Persons Report at https://www.state.gov/trafficking-in-persons-report/

c. Prohibition of Child Labor and Minimum Age for Employment

All the worst forms of child labor were prohibited. The law prohibits employment of children younger than 14. The law also bans the employment of children between 14 and 18 in hazardous work. Children are barred from using flammable substances, explosives, or other hazardous material, as defined by the law. In 2017 the Ministry of Labor and Employment added 16 industries and 59 processes to the list of hazardous industries where employment of children younger than 18 is prohibited and where children younger than 14 are precluded from helping, including family enterprises.

Despite evidence that children worked in unsafe and unhealthy environments for long periods of time in spinning mills, garment production, carpet making, and domestic work, not all children younger than 18 are prohibited from working in occupations related to these sectors. The law permits employment of children in family-owned enterprises involving nonhazardous activities after school hours. Nevertheless, child labor remained common.

Law enforcement agencies took actions to combat child labor. State governments enforced labor laws and employed labor inspectors, while the Ministry of Labor and Employment provided oversight and coordination. Nonetheless, gaps existed within the operations of the state government labor inspectorate that hindered adequate labor law enforcement. Violations remained common. The law establishes penalties that are not commensurate with those for other analogous serious crimes, such as kidnapping, and authorities sporadically enforced them. The fines collected are deposited in a welfare fund for formerly employed children.

The International Labor Organization estimated there were 10 million child workers between ages five and 14 in the country. Most of the child labor occurred in agriculture and the informal economy, particularly in stone quarries, in the rolling of cigarettes, and in informal food-service establishments. Children were also exploited in domestic service and in the sugarcane, construction, textile, cotton, and glass-bangle industries in addition to begging.

Commercial sexual exploitation of children occurred (see section 6, Children).

Forced child labor, including bonded labor, also remained a serious problem. Employers engaged children in forced or indentured labor as domestic servants and beggars, as well as in quarrying, brick kilns, rice mills, silk-thread production, and textile embroidery. Children typically entered debt bondage along with their entire family, and trafficked children were also employed in cotton farms, home-based embroidery businesses, and roadside restaurants.

In July, Telangana police rescued 172 child workers as part of a campaign to detect child labor and locate missing children. Police arrested 37 persons for employing children and filed 18 cases against employers.

In June, UNICEF reported it expected that COVID-19 and subsequent economic distress would have increased the risk of child labor. The closure of 1.5 million schools due to the pandemic and lockdowns increased the risk of child labor and unsafe migration for children enrolled in elementary and secondary schools.

Also see the Department of Labor’s Findings on the Worst Forms of Child Labor at https://www.dol.gov/agencies/ilab/resources/reports/child-labor/findings  and the Department of Labor’s List of Goods Produced by Child Labor or Forced Labor at https://www.dol.gov/agencies/ilab/reports/child-labor/list-of-goods 

Japan

Section 1. Respect for the Integrity of the Person

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

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

b. Disappearance

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

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

The law prohibits such practices, and there were no reports that government officials employed them.

The government continued to deny death row inmates advance information about the date of execution until the day the sentence was to be carried out. The government notified family members of executions after the fact. The government held that this policy spared prisoners the anguish of knowing when they were going to die.

Authorities by law hold prisoners condemned to death in solitary confinement until their execution but allowed visits by family, lawyers, and others. The length of such solitary confinement varied from case to case and may extend for several years.

Impunity was not a significant problem in the security forces.

Prison and Detention Center Conditions

Prison conditions generally met international standards, although some prisons continued to lack adequate medical and mental health care, and sufficient heating in the winter or cooling in the summer. Prisoners in the Tokyo area presented chilblains-affected fingers and toes of varying severity resulting from long-term exposure to cold. Meals were strictly rationed and were often considered insufficient, leading to significant weight loss, according to independent observers. Prisons and detention centers routinely held prisoners and detainees alone in their cells for extended periods. While not generally applied punitively, this resulted in what was effectively solitary confinement. Prisoners routinely spent up to 24 hours a day in their cells, with exercise periods not consistently allowed.

Long-term detention of foreign nationals at immigration centers continued to be a concern. In response to COVID-19, the Ministry of Justice granted temporary release to many detainees, reducing the population in immigration facilities from more than 1,000 in April 2020 to 346 as of June 2. Of the 346, approximately 60 percent had been detained for more than six months, some for as long as eight years. Detention practices led to an increasing number of protests, including hunger strikes, among detainees. Some facilities imposed forceful control of detainees, including women, and failed to protect detainees’ privacy.

Once sentenced, convicted prisoners generally had no access to telephones.

Physical Conditions: Authorities held women separately from men, and juveniles younger than age 20 separately from adults in prisons, other correctional facilities, and immigration facilities.

From April 2019 through March 2020, third-party inspection committees of prisons and immigration detention centers documented inadequate medical care as a major concern. Inspection committees also called for providing prison officers with additional human rights education, enhancing COVID-19 preventive measures, and improving heating and cooling systems. According to the Ministry of Justice, in 2020 there were 292 doctors working at correctional institutions, approximately 90 percent of the required staffing level.

On March 6, 33-year-old Ratnayake Liyanage Wishma Sandamali, detained at an immigration facility in Nagoya for more than six months for overstaying her visa, died at a hospital from an unidentified disease, according to an Immigration Services Agency report. Wishma began complaining of stomach pain and other symptoms in January and continued applying for provisional release for hospital treatment. She requested a physical exam at a hospital outside the facility in late February, but the request was never relayed to management and was not met. Instead, the facility conducted an exam at a hospital’s psychiatric department on March 4. The Nagoya facility had only a part-time doctor who worked twice a week for two hours each shift. No medical personnel were available on Saturdays, the day on which Wishma died. The Immigration Services Agency attributed the facility’s delay in placing an emergency call to the absence of consultation with a medical professional. On August 10, the Immigration Services Agency established a 20-member team to promote reform; four officials who oversaw Wishma’s detention were given verbal warnings. The nongovernmental organizations (NGO) Arbitrary Detention Network, Human Rights Now, and Foreign Human Rights Law Liaison Committee issued a statement protesting the report, calling its study of the cause of death and its recommendations for preventive measures insufficient. They also voiced concerns about insufficient medical resources, communication failures, the facility’s staffers’ disregard for the detainee’s complaint, and lack of proper oversight their rights.

Administration: Most authorities permitted prisoners and immigration detainees to submit complaints to judicial authorities and to request investigation of alleged problems. Legal experts and human rights NGOs, however, continued to raise concerns that authorities controlled the complaint process at immigration detention centers. Complainants were, for example, required to notify detention officers about complaints. Authorities provided the responses to prisoners and immigration detainees in a letter offering little detail beyond a final determination.

Independent Monitoring: The government generally allowed scheduled visits by elected officials, NGOs, members of the media, and international organizations.

By law the Ministry of Justice appointed members to inspection committees for government-run prisons and immigration detention centers from outside of the national government. Authorities permitted the committees, which include physicians, lawyers, local municipal officials, local citizens, and experts, to interview detainees without the presence of prison and immigration detention center officers. Prisons and immigration detention centers generally acted upon or gave serious consideration to their recommendations.

Legal experts and human rights NGOs, however, raised concerns about aspects of the inspection process and the teams’ makeup. Police supervisory authorities and prefectural public safety commissions appointed the members of inspection committees for police detention facilities, albeit from outside of the police force. Authorities also accepted some recommendations by NGOs in selecting inspection committee members. Legal experts and human rights NGOs also continued to voice concern that undisclosed selection criteria and the members themselves impeded nongovernmental experts’ ability to evaluate whether the selected members were appropriately qualified. In immigration detention facilities, detention officers were also responsible for scheduling on-site inspections by the inspection committees and determining the time allowed for committees to interview detainees.

NGOs and the UN Committee against Torture also continued to raise concerns about the inspection process. For instance, they cited concerns about the requirement to submit advance notifications to facility authorities. They also raised concerns about a lack of transparency in the selection of committee members.

Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties

a. Freedom of Expression, Including for Members of the Press and Other Media

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

Freedom of Expression: There is a hate speech law designed to eliminate hate speech against persons originating from outside the country by developing government consultation systems and promoting government awareness efforts. The law, however, neither penalizes nor prohibits hate speech, so as not to impede freedom of speech. Legal and civil society experts acknowledged a continued decrease in hate speech at street demonstrations since the law, and subsequent municipal ordinances, went into effect in 2016. In contrast hate speech increased in propaganda and online, while crimes targeting members of specific ethnicities also continued, according to experts who called on the government to implement more effective deterrent measures and conduct a survey on hate speech incidents. Eight local governments have ordinances to prevent hate speech – Osaka City in Osaka Prefecture; Setagaya Ward, Kunitachi City, and Komae City in Tokyo Prefecture; Kijo Town in Miyazaki Prefecture; Kobe City, and Kawasaki City. Kawasaki is the first and only government with an ordinance imposing fines as a criminal penalty.

Freedom of Expression for Members of the Press and Media, Including Online Media: Independent media were active and expressed a wide variety of views without restriction. While no such cases have ever been pursued, the law enables the government to prosecute those who publish or disclose government information that is a specially designated secret. Those convicted face up to five years’ imprisonment with work and a substantial fine.

Censorship or Content Restrictions: Domestic and international observers continued to express concerns that the system of kisha (reporter) clubs attached to government agencies may encourage self-censorship. These clubs are established in a variety of organizations, including government ministries, and may block nonmembers, including freelance and foreign reporters, from covering the organization.

Libel/Slander Laws: Libel is a criminal as well as civil offense. The law does not accept the truthfulness of a statement as a defense. There was no evidence the government abused these laws to restrict public discussion.

c. Freedom of Religion

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

Section 3. Freedom to Participate in the Political Process

The law provides citizens the ability to choose their government in free and fair periodic elections held by secret ballot and based on universal and equal suffrage.

Elections and Political Participation

Recent Elections: An election for the Lower House of the Diet in October was free and fair according to international observers. Upper House elections in 2019 were also considered free and fair.

On November 1, lawyers filed lawsuits in 14 high courts and their branches around the country seeking to nullify the results of the Lower House election in all electoral districts. The lawyers stated that the disparity in the weight of a single vote between the most and least populated electoral districts was unconstitutionally wide. In a similar lawsuit, the Supreme Court ruled in 2020 that the 2019 Upper House elections were constitutional while expressing concern that the Diet made little progress to rectify the vote weight disparity.

Participation of Women and Members of Minority Groups: No laws limit participation of women and members of historically marginalized or minority groups in the political process if they are citizens, and they did participate. Women voted at rates equal to or higher than men. Women, however, have not been elected to any level of office at rates reflecting this.

The number of the elected women in both the national parliament and local assemblies remained low. At a national level, female Lower House members accounted for 9.7 percent of the total following the October Lower House election. In the Upper House, the percentage of elected female members was 22.6 percent. The percentages of women’s representation in both houses dropped from the previous elections, down from 10.1 percent in the Lower House and 23.1 percent in the Upper House. In local assemblies, the average percentage of the elected women in 2020 was 14.5 percent, according to the Cabinet Offices’ Gender Equality Bureau.

The number of female candidates was low as well. Women made up 17 percent of the candidates for the October Lower House elections, down from 17.8 percent from the previous election. A law calls on political parties to make their best efforts to have equal numbers of male and female candidates on the ballot in national and local elections. Separately, a government plan encourages political parties to make their best efforts to raise the number of female candidates to 35 percent of all candidates in national and local elections by 2025. Neither the law or the government plan imposes mandatory quotas for the female candidates, nor do they punish failure to meet these goals.

In an April by-election, a female candidate reported numerous instances of gender discrimination during her campaign, including when the ruling LDP accused her of being too arrogant by assuming she could run for a Diet seat as an untested, “ignorant” female candidate. There were also reports of voters inappropriately touching and sexually harassing female candidates while they were campaigning.

Very few individuals with disabilities ran as candidates.

Some ethnic minority group members of mixed heritage served in the Diet, but their numbers were difficult to ascertain because they did not always self-identify.

Section 6. Discrimination and Societal Abuses

Discrimination based on race, ethnicity, nationality, sexual orientation, or gender identity is not prohibited.

Women

Rape and Domestic Violence: The law criminalizes various forms of rape, regardless of the gender of a survivor and defines the crime as vaginal, anal, or oral penile penetration by force or through intimidation. Only men can be charged with rape, and the law does not recognize anything other than the use of male genitalia as rape. Forcible penetration with any other body part or object is considered forcible indecency, not rape. The age of consent is 13, which made prosecution for child rape difficult. The law also criminalizes custodial rape of a minor younger than age 18. The law does not deny the possibility of spousal rape, but no court has ever ruled on such a case, except in situations of marital breakdown (i.e., formal or informal separation, etc.). The law mandates a minimum sentence of five years’ imprisonment for rape convictions. Prosecutors must prove that violence or intimidation was involved or that the survivor was incapable of resistance. The penalty for forcible indecency is imprisonment for not less than six months or more than 10 years. Domestic violence is also a crime and survivors may seek restraining orders against their abusers. Convicted assault perpetrators face up to two years’ imprisonment or a modest fine. Convicted offenders who caused bodily injury faced up to 15 years’ imprisonment or a modest fine. Protective order violators faced up to one year’s imprisonment or a moderate fine. The National Police Agency received 82,643 reports of domestic violence in 2020, a record high after consecutive annual increases since 2003.

In October the Cabinet Office’s Gender Equality Bureau reported a decrease in domestic violence inquiries compared with the same period in 2020. From April to September, it reported receiving 90,843 inquiries compared with 96,132 inquiries in the same period in 2020. The Ministry of Health, Labor and Welfare allowed survivors fleeing domestic or sexual violence to receive public services from their municipality of actual residence rather than from that of their residence of record.

Rape and domestic violence were significantly underreported crimes. Observers attributed women’s reluctance to report rape to a variety of factors, including fear of being blamed, fear of public shaming, a lack of support, potential secondary victimization through the police response, and court proceedings that lack empathy for rape survivors.

In March a 43-year-old female company board official was arrested on suspicion of indecent behavior with a 17-year-old boy. Police said the woman and the survivor met on social media.

Survivors of abuse by domestic partners, spouses, and former spouses could receive protection at shelters run by either the government or NGOs.

Sexual Harassment: The law requires employers to make efforts to prevent sexual harassment in the workplace; however, such sexual harassment persisted (see section 7.d.).

Sexual harassment also persisted in society. Men groping women and girls on trains continued to be a problem. The NGO Japan National Assembly of Disabled People’s International reported continued sexual harassment and stalking of women in wheelchairs or with visual impairment on trains and at stations, calling on some railway companies to stop announcing that persons with physical disabilities were boarding trains; such announcements sometimes also included the car or station involved. Some railway companies reportedly used such announcements so that train station attendants and train crew could prevent accidents. The assembly noted the announcement, however, helped would-be offenders locate female passengers with physical disabilities. On the request of the NGO, the Ministry of Land, Infrastructure, Transport and Tourism in July issued a request that railway companies consider using alternative communication means. In August the ministry hosted a virtual meeting where representatives of more than 60 railway companies learned from assembly representatives about the harassment and stalking of women with disabilities on trains and at stations. As of the end of August, the assembly reported continued announcements by some railway companies, primarily in the greater Tokyo area.

In August the gender council of a youth group consisting mainly of high school and university students held an online petition campaign “NoMoreChikan,” demanding that the government take more fundamental and serious steps to prevent chikan (groping). At a press conference in late August, the group called on the government to conduct an in-depth survey of chikan, to increase awareness and education in schools including teaching students how to react when they are victimized, and to set up correctional programs for offenders. The group collected more than 27,000 signatures on a petition with its requests sent to the Ministry of Education, political parties, and the Tokyo Metropolitan Assembly in September.

Reproductive Rights: There were no reports of coerced abortion or involuntary sterilization on the part of government authorities.

The law requires transgender persons to be without reproductive capacity, effectively requiring surgical sterilization for most persons to have their gender identity legally recognized. (See subsection “Acts of Violence, Criminalization, and Other Abuses Based on Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity” below for more information.)

The law requires spousal consent to terminate a pregnancy.

In March the Ministry of Health issued new guidelines to allow survivors of domestic violence to terminate a pregnancy without spousal consent. There were reports that rape survivors were denied abortions without consent of the perpetrator. The Japan Medical Association instructed gynecologists to request documentation like a bill of indictment or a court sentence from sexual assault survivors seeking an abortion.

The government subsidized sexual or reproductive health-care services for survivors of sexual violence when the survivors seek help from police or government-designated centers supporting sexual violence survivors located in each prefecture. These services included medical examinations and emergency contraception.

Discrimination: The law prohibits discrimination based on sex and generally provides women the same rights as men. The Gender Equality Bureau in the Cabinet Office continued to examine policies and monitor developments.

Despite the law and related policies, NGOs continued to allege that implementation of antidiscrimination measures was insufficient, pointing to discriminatory provisions in the law, unequal treatment of women in the labor market (see section 7.d.), and low representation of women in elected bodies.

Calls for the government to allow married couples to choose their own surnames continued. The civil code requires married couples to share a single surname. According to the government, 96 percent of married couples adopt the husband’s family name. On June 23, the Supreme Court ruled that the legal provision requiring married couples to use the same surname is constitutional. The ruling upheld a 2015 decision and recommended the issue be discussed in the Diet.

In February Mori Yoshiro, chairperson of the Tokyo Olympic and Paralympics organizing committees and a former prime minister, was forced to resign after saying that meetings with women take too long because women talk too much.

Three high school students collected more than 7,500 signatures on a petition urging a major convenience store to change the name of its readymade food line from Okaasan Shokudo (Mom’s Diner). They argued there is an inherent gender bias in the name, implying that a wife’s job is to do the cooking and housework, possibly deepening social biases.

According to National Police Agency statistics, 7,026 women committed suicide in 2020, a 15 percent increase from the previous year. In February the prime minister elevated the issue to the cabinet level, assigning it to the minister for regional revitalization. A member of the ruling LDP’s “loneliness and isolation” taskforce attributed the increase to stresses arising from the pandemic, including the increased presence tin the home of spouses and children; record levels of domestic violence; and multiple high-profile celebrity suicides. The government also reported the number of working women who committed suicide rose to 1,698 in 2020 compared with an annual average of 1,323 from 2015 to 2019. The government attributed the more than 28 percent increase to the COVID-19 pandemic, in which women were disproportionally dismissed from their employment. The number of men and nonworking or self-employed women committing suicide declined. In response the bureau continued 24-hour hotline services and consultation services via social network services in Japanese and 10 foreign languages.

Section 7. Worker Rights

a. Freedom of Association and the Right to Collective Bargaining

The law provides for the right of private-sector workers to form and join unions of their choice without previous authorization or excessive requirements and protects their rights to strike and bargain collectively.

The law restricts the right of public-sector workers and employees of state-owned enterprises to form and join unions of their choice. Public-sector employees may participate in public-service employee unions, which may negotiate collectively with their employers on wages, hours, and other conditions of employment. The International Labor Organization continued to raise concerns that the law restricts some public-sector employees’ labor rights. Public-sector employees do not have the right to strike; trade union leaders who incite a strike in the public sector may be dismissed and fined or imprisoned. Firefighting personnel and prison officers are prohibited from organizing and collectively bargaining.

Workers in sectors providing essential services, including electric power generation and transmission, transportation and railways, telecommunications, medical care and public health, and the postal service, must give 10 days’ advance notice to authorities before conducting a strike. Employees involved in providing essential services do not have the right to collective bargaining.

The law prohibits antiunion discrimination and provides for the reinstatement of workers fired for legal union activities.

The government effectively enforced laws providing for freedom of association, collective bargaining, and legal strikes. Government oversight and penalties were commensurate with those for other laws involving denials of civil rights. Collective bargaining was common in the private sector.

In the case of a rights violation, a worker or union may lodge an objection with the Labor Committee, which may issue a relief order requiring action by the employer. If the employer fails to act, a plaintiff may then take the matter to a civil court. If a court upholds a relief order and determines that a violation of that order has occurred, it may impose a fine, imprisonment, or both.

The increasing use of short-term contracts undermined regular employment and frustrated organizing efforts.

b. Prohibition of Forced or Compulsory Labor

The law prohibits all forms of forced or compulsory labor. The law, however, does not expressly define what would constitute forced or compulsory labor, allowing for prosecutorial discretion when pursuing such cases.

Although the government generally effectively enforced the law, enforcement was lacking in some sectors, especially those in which foreign workers were commonly employed. Legal penalties for forced labor varied depending on its form, the victim(s), and the law used to prosecute such offenses. Some were not commensurate with those for other analogous serious crimes. For example, the law criminalizes forced labor and prescribes penalties of up to 10 years’ imprisonment, but it also allows for moderate fines in lieu of incarceration. NGOs argued that reliance on multiple and overlapping statutes hindered the government’s ability to identify and prosecute trafficking crimes, especially for cases involving forced labor with elements of psychological coercion.

Indications of forced labor persisted in the manufacturing, construction, and shipbuilding sectors, primarily in small- and medium-size enterprises employing foreign nationals through the Technical Intern Training Program (TITP). This program allows foreign workers to enter the country and work for up to five years in a de facto guest-worker program that many observers assessed to be rife with vulnerabilities to trafficking and other labor abuses.

Workers in the TITP experienced restrictions on freedom of movement and communication with persons outside the program, nonpayment of wages, excessive working hours, high debt to brokers in countries of origin, and retention of identity documents, despite government prohibitions on these practices. The Organization for Technical Intern Training oversees the TITP, including conducting on-site inspections of TITP workplaces. The organization maintained its increased workforce, including inspectors, but labor organizations continued to cite concerns that it was understaffed, insufficiently accessible to persons who do not speak Japanese, and ineffective at identifying labor rights violations.

Also see the Department of State’s Trafficking in Persons Report at https://www.state.gov/trafficking-in-persons-report/.

c. Prohibition of Child Labor and Minimum Age for Employment

The law prohibits all the worst forms of child labor. Children ages 15 to 18 may perform any job not designated as dangerous or harmful, such as handling heavy objects or cleaning, inspecting, or repairing machinery while in operation. They are also prohibited from working late night shifts. Children ages 13 to 15 years may perform “light labor” only, and children younger than age 13 may work only in the entertainment industry.

The government effectively enforced these laws. Penalties for child labor violations included fines and imprisonment and were commensurate with those for other analogous serious crimes.

Children were subjected to commercial sexual exploitation (see section 6, Children).

Philippines

Section 1. Respect for the Integrity of the Person

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

There were numerous reports that government security agencies and their informal allies committed arbitrary or unlawful killings in connection with the government-directed campaign against illegal drugs. Various government bodies conducted a limited number of investigations into whether security force killings were justifiable, such as the national police Internal Affairs Service, the armed forces’ Center for Law of Armed Conflict (formerly Human Rights Office), and the National Bureau of Investigation. Impunity remained a problem, however. Killings of activists, judicial officials, local government leaders, and journalists by government allies, antigovernment insurgents, and unknown assailants also continued.

In March, nine human rights activists were killed and six arrested in an operation conducted by security forces in Laguna, Rizal, and Batangas Provinces, dubbed afterwards by the media as “Bloody Sunday.” The crackdown happened two days after public remarks by President Duterte encouraged law enforcement authorities to kill communist rebels, saying, “If there’s an encounter and you see them armed, kill, kill them, don’t mind human rights, I will be the one to go to prison, I don’t have qualms.” Justice Secretary Menardo Guevarra announced that investigating the operation would be a priority for the government’s Inter-Agency Committee on Extra-Legal Killings, Enforced Disappearances, Torture, and Other Grave Violations of the Right to Life, Liberty, and Security of Persons (also known as the AO35 committee). As of July, however, human rights organizations reported no significant developments in the case and the completion of one crime scene investigation related to the AO35 committee’s work.

Law enforcement authorities conducted approximately 20,000 antidrug operations from January to August 1, according to government data. The Philippine Drug Enforcement Agency, one of the lead agencies implementing the government’s drug war alongside the Philippine National Police (PNP), reported on the government’s official drug war tracker (#RealNumbersPH) 180 suspects killed and 34,507 arrested during drug operations conducted from January to August.

The reported number of extrajudicial killings varied widely, as the government and nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) used different definitions. The Commission on Human Rights (CHR), an independent government agency responsible for investigating possible human rights violations, investigated 100 new complaints of alleged extrajudicial or politically motivated killings as of August. The cases involved 130 victims and allegedly were perpetrated by 39 PNP and eight Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) personnel, five insurgents, three local government officials, and 45 unidentified persons. The commission also investigated 49 specifically drug-related extrajudicial killings with 53 victims, and suspected PNP or Philippine Drug Enforcement Agency involvement in 45 of these new complaints and unidentified persons in four cases.

In July media reported on a study on extrajudicial killings by the Violence, Democracy, and Human Rights in the Philippines project of the University of the Philippines’ Third World Studies Center. The study assessed state violence in the country, noting that drug-related killings “remained persistent across the years,” with 2016, 2018, and 2021 recognized as the “bloodiest years,” averaging two to three persons killed a day. The study also highlighted that drug war hotspots remained consistent: Metro Manila, Bulacan, Rizal, Cavite, Laguna, and Nueva Ecija Provinces. During the year there were notably intensified operations in West Mindanao, particularly in Davao del Sur and South Cotabato Provinces. From January to June, the NGO Children’s Legal Rights and Development Center documented 18 deaths of minors in antidrug operations.

Media reported continued attacks on human rights defenders. In July, hours before President Duterte’s State of the Nation address, two activists, Marlon Napire and Jaymar Palero, who were spray painting Duterte Ibagsak (Oust Duterte) on a bridge in Albay, Bicol Province, were shot and killed by police. Police asserted that Palero, a member of a farmer’s organization in Albay, and Napire, a member of human rights organization Karapatan’s Bicol chapter, were armed, which led police to shoot them. Karapatan condemned the killing, asserting that the two activists were unarmed and carrying only cans of paint. Witnesses claimed not hearing any gunshots when the police officers left the area with Palero and Napire in custody. Palero’s mother questioned police claims of a shootout and, having recovered the body hours later, insisted her son’s battered face, removed nails, and gunshot wounds showed signs of torture.

Local and international human rights organizations such as Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch described widespread impunity for killings. There were no prosecutions or convictions for extrajudicial killings in the year to October and three since the start of the drug war in 2016. In June 2020 the Department of Justice formed a committee to investigate drug-related deaths from police operations. As of October, the committee investigated and established administrative liability in 52 of the 61 cases the PNP opened for the committee’s review. The departmental investigation, while being conducted just for show according to many in civil society, released information pushing back against the PNP self-defense narrative, as the early investigation results uncovered incomplete police records and that many victims tested negative for gunpowder residue. The PNP’s Internal Affairs Service investigated killings of 463 suspects from 400 antidrug operations from January to July.

Civil society organizations accused police of planting evidence, tampering with crime scenes, unlawfully disposing of the bodies of drug suspects, and other actions to cover up extrajudicial killings. In April, seven police officers from the Valencia City, Bukidnon Province police drug enforcement unit were relieved from duty for allegedly planting evidence on a suspect killed in a buy-bust operation; all were under investigation as of October. The PNP Northern Mindanao Regional Internal Affairs Service also recommended the relief of the Valencia City police chief over the incident. On March 10, a video circulated online showing a man, said to be a police officer, putting a revolver beside a corpse. The Regional Internal Affairs Service stated the person who uploaded the video reported the incident happened on February 20 in Barangay Batangan in Valencia City.

President Duterte continued to maintain lists (“narco-lists”) of persons he claimed were suspected drug criminals, including government, police, military, and judicial officials. In June a former Maguindanao town mayor, who was on a government narco-list, was killed after allegedly grabbing his police escort’s service firearm while enroute to the Philippine National Police headquarters after his arrest in Batangas City.

b. Disappearance

The armed forces’ Center for Law of Armed Conflict, formerly the Human Rights Office but with the same functions, reported no cases of forced disappearance attributed to or implicating the armed forces from January to July. The CHR, however, reported eight persons were victims of abduction and forced disappearance from January to August. Armed forces members perpetrated two of these cases; communist insurgents, another two; national police members, one; alleged members of the National Bureau of Investigation, one; and those responsible for the remaining cases were unidentified.

In September, Karapatan confirmed the body of farmers’ group organizer Elena Tijamo was found in Manila. In June 2020 unidentified individuals in civilian clothing removed Tijamo from her home on Bantayan Island. Tijamo was an executive with an agricultural organization that the military in 2019 had declared to be a front for the Communist Party of the Philippines’ New People’s Army (NPA). Tijamo’s family said they were still able to communicate with her after her abduction and that she said her abductors would release her after the pandemic lockdowns ended.

Kidnappings were common and predominantly for criminal purposes (i.e., ransom); in the past they were carried out for both pro- and antigovernment political motives as well. Terrorist groups were implicated in many Mindanao kidnappings. In July the PNP’s Anti-Kidnapping Group reported that seven men, later identified as five policemen and two civilians, kidnapped and burned to death Muslim businesswoman Nadia Casar. Her body was found 11 days after the kidnapping. The involved policemen were dismissed and as of October were in police custody along with one of the civilian suspects. The other civilian remained at large.

The law allows family members of alleged victims of disappearances to compel government agencies to provide statements in court about what they know about the circumstances surrounding a disappearance (or extrajudicial killing) and the victim’s status. Evidence of a kidnapping or killing requires the filing of charges, but in many past cases evidence and documentation were unavailable or not collected. Investigative and judicial action on disappearance cases was insufficient.

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

The law prohibits torture, and evidence obtained through its use is inadmissible in court. According to the CHR, however, members of the security forces and police were accused of routinely abusing and sometimes torturing suspects and detainees. Common forms of abuse during arrest and interrogation reportedly included electric shock, cigarette burns, and suffocation.

As of August, the CHR had investigated 21 cases of alleged torture involving 25 victims; it suspected police involvement in 17 of the cases. The NGO Task Force Detainees of the Philippines monitored one torture case as of October, which happened in 2012 but was reported to the task force in early 2021.

In July the CHR investigated the death and alleged torture of Carlo Layaoag, a person with a mental disability who was accused of stealing cable wires in Barangay 3, Coron, Palawan Province. In a video shared by police, two men, one reportedly a town councilor, were seen publicly harassing Layaoag. Another video showed a man trying to use a handsaw to cut Layaoag, who was brought to the police station afterwards. Police noticed Layaoag’s condition and took him to the hospital where he died the next day. Torture charges were filed against the town councilor and the others involved after the results of the report were released.

NGOs and media reported local governments and law enforcement authorities used physical and psychological abuse, including shaming, as punishment for community quarantine curfew violators. Under the torture statutes, the public parading or shaming of a person is illegal when used to undermine a person’s dignity and morale. In April village officials in General Trias, Cavite Province, detained 28-year-old Darren Penaredondo for curfew violations. According to media reports, Penaredondo and others were taken to the local municipal plaza by police, made to do 100 push-ups, and then forced to repeat the exercise because they were not in sync, ultimately completing 300 repetitions. Penaredondo then reportedly struggled to walk home, where he lost consciousness and died hours later.

Reports of rape and sexual abuse of women in police or protective custody continued. On April 5, authorities accused 11 Cebu City police officers of robbery, extortion, and the rape of two women detained separately at the Cebu City police station for alleged possession of firearms and illegal drugs. One woman claimed that the officers searched her house without a warrant, took her belongings and, after not finding any firearms, arrested her, and brought her into a secret room, instead of a detention cell. She was later forced by one of the police officers, Staff Sergeant Celso Colita, to withdraw money. Colita took the cash from her and allegedly brought her to a motel where she was raped. The second woman claimed she was physically tortured by officers who attempted to submerge her head in a pail of water to force her to confess where she kept her “drug money.” The PNP Central Visayas Unit and the CHR began investigating the complaints, and the police station chief was relieved from duty. On April 19, however, the woman allegedly raped by Sergeant Colita was shot and killed. The CHR Central Visayas office revealed she had been receiving threats from Colita. Police stated Colita took his own life while being questioned about the complainant’s death.

Impunity was a significant problem in the security forces, particularly in the PNP. Human rights groups continued to express concern about abuses committed by the national police and other security forces and noted little progress in reforms aimed at improving investigations and prosecutions of suspected human rights violations. The AFP’s Center for Law of Armed Conflict reported that, from January to October, no member of the military was under investigation for alleged extrajudicial killings, forced disappearances, or other rights abuses.

In April the Office of the Ombudsman cleared officers from the Manila Police District’s Raxabago Station 1 of involvement in a 2017 incident in which 12 individuals were found detained in a secret cell hidden behind a bookshelf, citing “not enough proof of bad faith.” The CHR insisted, however, that the Manila police clearly violated human rights standards, as well as the PNP mandate to “serve and protect,” and characterized the decision as a setback in the efforts to stop police abuse and improve accountability.

Human rights groups continued to express concern about the contribution of corruption to abuses committed by the PNP and other security forces and noted little progress in implementing and enforcing reforms aimed at improving investigations and prosecutions of suspected human rights violations.

The national police’s institutional deficiencies and the public perception that corruption in the police was endemic continued. The PNP’s Internal Affairs Service remained largely ineffective. The PNP, however, reported that its internal cleansing program led to 166 persons facing disciplinary sanctions between March and August; 75 of the 166 were dismissed from service, 48 penalized with one rank demotion, and 43 suspended.

In October the Quezon City Regional Trial Court acquitted 19 police officers, led by Police Superintendent Marvin Marcos, allegedly involved in the 2016 killing of former Albuera, Leyte, mayor Roland Espinosa while the mayor was in police custody. Media and other observers widely criticized the decision as unjust and corrupt. The 19 officers were charged with killing Espinosa in his cell after President Duterte tagged him as a drug criminal along with many other government, police, and judicial officials. Marcos, the former chief of the PNP’s Criminal Investigation and Detection Group Region 8, was promoted to chief of the 12th Region group 15 months after the Espinosa killing.

To try to ensure dismissed personnel would not be rehired, in August, PNP chief Eleazar ordered the Directorate for Personnel and Records Management to create a database of officers removed from service and that all appeals filed by dismissed personnel be immediately resolved. The PNP’s Counter-Intelligence Task Force also monitored police personnel suspected of illegal activities.

Efforts continued to reform and professionalize the national police through improved training, expanded community outreach, and salary increases. Human rights modules were included in all PNP career courses, and the police Human Rights Affairs Office conducted routine training nationwide on human rights responsibilities in policing. Several NGOs suggested that national police training courses should have a follow-up mechanism to determine the effectiveness of each session.

The military routinely provided human rights training to its members, augmented by training from the CHR. Successful completion of these courses is required to complete basic training and for induction, promotion, reassignment, and selection for foreign schooling opportunities. According to the AFP’s Center for Law of Armed Conflict, internal human rights training was conducted from the general headquarters level down to battalion units, totaling hundreds of training exercises annually. From January to August, various military service units conducted human rights-related training programs, seminars, or workshops with the CHR, the International Committee of the Red Cross, and other NGOs.

The Congressional Commission on Appointments determines whether senior military officers selected for promotion have a history of human rights violations and solicits input from the CHR and other agencies through background investigations. The congressional commission may withhold a promotion indefinitely if it uncovers a record of abuses. Violations, however, do not preclude promotion.

Witnesses to abuses were often unable to obtain protection. The CHR operated a small witness protection program that was overburdened by witnesses to killings in the drug war. The loss of family income due to the relocation of a family member was also, in some cases, a barrier to witnesses’ testimony. The Office of the Ombudsman also reported that witnesses often failed to come forward or to cooperate in police abuse or corruption cases. This problem sometimes followed pressure on witnesses and their families or arose from an expectation of compensation for their cooperation.

According to the Conduct in UN Field Missions online portal, as of September the government continued to investigate two cases of child rape involving Philippine peacekeepers in Liberia in 2017 and Haiti in 2020.

Prison and Detention Center Conditions

Prison conditions were often harsh and life-threatening and included gross overcrowding, inadequate sanitary conditions, physical abuse, and a chronic lack of resources including medical care and food.

NGOs reported abuse by prison guards and other inmates was common, but they stated that prisoners, fearing retaliation, generally declined to lodge formal complaints.

Gang activity was rampant in most prisons. Domestic and foreign media reports suggested that, given inadequate staffing levels, gangs effectively served as the de facto sources of discipline and many services. Violence between gangs and individual members of different gangs was common.

Physical Conditions: The Bureau of Corrections, under the Department of Justice, administered seven prisons and penal farms nationwide for individuals sentenced to prison terms exceeding three years. Bureau of Corrections facilities operated at four times their operating capacity of 11,981, holding 48,337 prisoners.

The Bureau of Jail Management and Penology, under the Department of the Interior and Local Government and the PNP, controlled 470 city, district, municipal, and provincial jails that held pretrial detainees, persons awaiting final judgment, and convicts serving sentences of three years or less. The bureau reported its jails operated at 397 percent over designated capacity as of July. The Dasmarinas City jail for men in Cavite Province was one of the most congested jails in the country; with an official capacity of 53 inmates, as of July it held 1,191 detainees. The Commission on Audit annual report for 2020, released in September, noted that jail congestion remained the biggest problem in the justice system and highlighted the most overcrowded Bureau of Jail Management and Penology (BJMP) detention centers: those in Zamboanga Peninsula (921 percent over capacity) and Metro Manila (745 percent). The audit commission noted that although the total jail population decreased from 2018 to 2019, the congestion rate only decreased by 1 percent, possibly attributable to the temporary closure of various jail facilities nationwide for reconstruction or redevelopment.

Persistent congestion resulted in health and sanitation problems among inmates. Overcrowding in detention facilities contributed to the continued spread of COVID-19 among inmates. From January to July, the BJMP reported 20 COVID-19-related deaths while the Bureau of Corrections reported 32 confirmed and suspected COVID-19-related inmate deaths. COVID-19 vaccines were made available to inmates in Bureau of Corrections and BJMP facilities.

Prison authorities did not uniformly enforce regulations that require holding male and female inmates in separate facilities and, in national prisons, overseeing them with guards of the same sex. In some facilities authorities did not fully segregate juveniles from adults. The prison services reported insufficient custodial and escort personnel, especially in large jails, with a national average of approximately 55 prisoners assigned to each custodial staff member. In larger prisons the ratio was higher; for example, in the New Bilibid Prison, one prison guard oversaw 135 prisoners.

Opportunities for prisoner recreation, education, and self-improvement were rare.

Poor sanitation, inadequate ventilation, poor access to natural lighting, and a lack of potable water were chronic problems in detention and correctional facilities and contributed to health problems. From January to July, the prison services reported 1,045 total inmate deaths. There were some reported deaths of high-profile prisoners due to COVID-19, most notably of two witnesses against Senator Leila de Lima (see section 1.e., Political Prisoners and Detainees).

Prison authorities reported that most deaths resulted from illness. Authorities provided Bureau of Corrections inmates with medical care; however, some medical services and treatments were not available. In such cases authorities referred inmates to an outside hospital. Inmates received a medicine allowance of 15 pesos ($0.30) per day.

Juveniles younger than 18 were typically released by court order or following a petition by the Public Attorney’s Office, the inmate’s private lawyer, or through NGO-led appeals. As of July juveniles made up less than 1 percent of the prison population.

The law exempts minors from criminal liability. Drug syndicates often used minors as runners, traffickers, cultivators, or drug den employees. Rescued minors are turned over to the custody of the Department of Social Welfare and Development (social welfare department). Police stations had youth relations officers to attempt to ensure that authorities treated minor suspects appropriately, but in some cases they ignored procedural safeguards, and facilities were not child friendly. The law mandates that the social welfare department provide shelter, treatment, and rehabilitation services to these children. The Juvenile Justice and Welfare Council, an agency supervised by the Department of Justice, reported conditions in its rehabilitation centers (called Bahay Pag-asa or Houses of Hope) were worse than in jails, citing the lack of furniture such as beds and cabinets in some centers. There were 85 Bahay Pag-asa centers in the country, 82 run by local government units and three by NGOs. Additionally, several local governments established and managed youth centers that provided protection, care, training, and rehabilitation for these children and other at-risk youth.

Administration: Prisoners, their families, and lawyers may submit complaints to constitutionally established independent government agencies, and the CHR referred complaints it received to the appropriate agency.

Prison services suspended visits since March 2020 due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Previously, however, authorities generally allowed prisoners and detainees to receive visitors, but local NGOs reported that authorities periodically restricted family visits for some detainees accused of insurgency-related crimes. Prison officials noted that security concerns and space limitations at times also restricted prisoner access to visitors.

Muslim officials reported that while Muslim detainees could observe their religion, Roman Catholic mass was often broadcast by loudspeaker to prison populations of both Roman Catholic and non-Roman Catholic prisoners and detainees.

Independent Monitoring: Authorities permitted international monitoring groups, including the International Committee of the Red Cross, and other civil society groups, such as the Philippine Center for Investigative Journalism, free and timely access to jails and prisons. The constitution grants the CHR authority to visit jails, prisons, or detention facilities to monitor the government’s compliance with international treaty obligations. The commission continued its jail visitation program throughout the year but with additional pandemic-related restrictions and protocols required by jail management, such as wearing personal protective equipment and presenting a negative RT-PCR COVID-19 test. Some jails in areas under certain community quarantine classifications also allowed virtual jail visitation.

Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties

a. Freedom of Expression, Including for Members of the Press and Other Media

The constitution explicitly provides for freedom of expression, including for members of the press and other media, and the government sometimes respected this right. Threats and actions by government, allied groups, and powerful individuals against journalists, media organizations, government critics, and others continued.

Freedom of Expression: On the surface individuals could criticize the government publicly or privately and discuss matters of general public interest. Observers and NGOs, however, stated that President Duterte’s public tirades against individuals, organizations, and international bodies who criticized his policies continued to have a chilling effect on free speech and expression. A Social Weather Stations survey released in March noted that six in 10 Filipinos agreed that it is “dangerous to print or broadcast anything critical” of the administration “even if it is the truth.”

NGOs and opposition lawmakers also continued to express concern that recent legislation, such as the Anti-Terrorism Act and The Bayanihan “To Heal As One” Act (both enacted in 2020), could be used to suppress speech using broad provisions against inciting terrorism and spreading false information, respectively. In May several media organizations signed a joint statement saying the Anti-Terrorism Act will “reduce this country to a field of submissive and unquestioning individuals, to be herded like sheep by the police and military.”

Freedom of Expression for Members of the Press and Other Media, Including Online Media: Media generally remained free, active, and able to voice criticism of the government, despite the chilling effect caused by pressure on specific major media organizations.

Two media entities continued to face what appeared to many as politically motivated restrictions and legal challenges: online news website Rappler and broadcast giant ABS-CBN. President Duterte publicly called out both organizations for alleged wrongdoings: Rappler for its supposed reporting bias and foreign ownership and ABS-CBN for alleged crimes, including failure to show Duterte’s political advertisements during the 2016 presidential election, violations of labor laws, unpaid taxes, foreign ownership, and financial irregularities.

Many observers believed government pressure on Rappler, including legal and administrative actions, was in response to Rappler’s critical coverage of the government. Its Chief Executive Officer Maria Ressa and other staff were subjected to at least 11 cases and complaints since Duterte came into office. The administration also issued at least 10 arrest warrants against her in the last two years. In March she took the witness stand for the first time on tax evasion charges. Three libel cases against Rappler were dropped in the year to October.

In May, ABS-CBN marked the first anniversary of the shutdown of its broadcast operations following the nonrenewal of its broadcast franchise and a cease-and-desist order from the National Telecommunications Commission halting its operations. The network was forced to close regional stations across the country that offered independent information to human rights activists and communities. Center for Media Freedom and Responsibility Executive Director Melinda De Jesus called it “an unprecedented act of state power which struck at the core of the media system …, leaving the community shaken by the experience.” “If this can happen to ABS-CBN, then it can happen to any of the others,” she said. Calling it a “contagion,” De Jesus noted that Duterte’s “animosity toward the free press spread among government officials at all levels, who adopted the president’s own bullying stance, initiating an array of actions against the press.”

France-based Reporters Without Borders included Duterte in its “Press Freedom Predators” list and declared, “local media quickly became collateral victims of his brutal methods, which tolerate no criticism or even nuanced coverage of his policies.”

Violence and Harassment: Journalists continued to face harassment and threats of violence, including from individual politicians, government authorities, and powerful private persons critical of their reporting.

According to Freedom House, “impunity remains the norm for violent crimes against activists and journalists” in the country. On July 22, radio commentator Renante Cortes was shot and killed outside his station in Cebu, an incident which police stated was most likely because of his “hard-hitting commentaries.”

In December 2020 authorities arrested Manila Today editor Lady Ann Salem and six others for illegal possession of firearms and explosives. In February a court dismissed the case and voided the search warrant. Manila Today was among media entities red-tagged by the administration.

Also in February retired general Antonio Parlade, Jr. attacked Inquirer.net journalist Tetch Torres-Tupas for her story about efforts by imprisoned activists’ from the indigenous Aetas community on Luzon to join in a case against the Anti-Terrorism Act at the Supreme Court. In their petition, the Aetas prisoners alleged that members of the military tortured them for six days. Parlade, in a Facebook post, said Torres-Tupas could be “aiding terrorism by spreading lies” and that her story could be grounds for a case against her. Reporters covering the justice beat condemned Parlade’s threat and called it “utterly unacceptable.”

The Center for Media Freedom and Responsibility stated that red-tagging “endangers victims, including journalists, of being hauled to court on trumped up charges.” It noted that of the 51 cases of intimidation from June 2016 to April 2021, 30 were incidents of red-tagging. It added that at least five incidents of surveillance were recorded, which includes police visits and vehicle tailing.

The International Center for Journalists stated Duterte’s verbal attacks against female journalists, particularly Rappler chief executive Maria Ressa, created an environment that encouraged online attacks against them, including death and rape threats and misogynistic abuse.

In the provinces local media also faced unique challenges. In February, Visayas-based radio station Baskog Radyo sought an injunction against the Capiz provincial government’s order to demolish its broadcast antenna. Station manager Jay Layapiez said the order was clearly “intimidation, muzzling of speech, and the suppression of media from fulfilling their duty and public service” due to the station’s critical reporting on alleged corruption in the province.

Censorship or Content Restrictions: News organizations generally were spared official censorship attempts, but journalists and media watchdogs noted several instances of alleged government interference, with the pandemic also limiting media’s access to reliable information.

Reporters Without Borders stated that along with online harassment campaigns, cyberattacks were launched against the National Union of Journalists of the Philippines and alternative news sites “in order to block them.” Sweden-based digital forensics group Quirium Media Foundation revealed in June that it recorded “brief but frequent denial attacks” by the government against alternative news organizations Bulatlat and Altermidya. Bulatlat declared it was not surprised by the results but was “angered that taxpayer money is being spent to bring down our website and to deny our readers access to our reportage.”

In April the Presidential Communications Operations Office admitted it directed all state-run media to portray the country as “faring better than many countries in addressing the pandemic.” In August the private national newspaper Daily Tribune signed an agreement with the government information agency to disseminate “accurate, timely, and relevant information to the public.”

Libel/Slander Laws: Laws stipulate criminal penalties for libel, which authorities have used to harass, intimidate, and retaliate against journalists.

The National Union of Journalists called for the decriminalization of libel, saying the law “creates a chilling effect discouraging journalists to report truthful, relevant, and critical information.”

Internet Freedom

Except for mobile communications blocked during special events for security purposes, the government did not restrict or disrupt access to the internet. While the government did not overtly censor online content, there was pushback against the efforts of social media platforms such as Facebook to remove false or incendiary posts and deny access to malicious users.

Two lawmakers, representatives Michael Defensor and Bernadette Herrera, questioned Facebook’s efforts to block suspected troll farms that were supposedly spreading disinformation. Herrera said Facebook’s removal of content “tends to undermine the freedom of expression that is guaranteed under the Philippine Constitution.” Defensor said, “considering Facebook’s huge influence in our country’s moral, political, national security, and also in securing private corporate interests, there is a need to clarify its information censorship methods.”

The clamor to investigate Facebook came after the Reuters Institute for the Study of Journalism’s 2021 Digital News Report revealed that almost nine in 10 Filipinos relied on online platforms as their source of news during the COVID-19 pandemic. Facebook was the top source of news in the study and also the key source of online misinformation.

Academic Freedom and Cultural Events

There were no national government restrictions on academic freedom or cultural events; however, the government kept some schools for indigenous Lumad people in Mindanao closed (see section 6, Indigenous Peoples).

c. Freedom of Religion

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

Section 3. Freedom to Participate in the Political Process

The law provides citizens the ability to choose their government by secret ballot in free and fair periodic elections based on universal and equal suffrage. Candidates, including for the presidency, frequently had their legal right to run for office challenged by political opponents based on alleged criminal history, citizenship, or other disqualifying conditions. These cases were sometimes pursued to the Supreme Court. Political candidates were allowed to substitute placeholders for themselves if unable to complete the registration process on time.

Elections and Political Participation

Recent Elections: The country conducted nationwide midterm elections in 2019 for national and local officials. International and national observers viewed the elections as well organized and generally free and fair, but they noted vote buying continued to be widespread and that dynastic political families continued to monopolize elective offices. The PNP reported 60 incidents of election-related violence that led to 23 killings in the month leading up to the election and a 55 percent drop in violent incidents on election day compared with the 2016 national elections. Election officials described the polls as relatively peaceful. International Alert, however, reported 144 election-related incidents in the BARMM alone, mostly fistfights and small-scale bombings. President Duterte’s release of his “narco-list” ahead of the 2019 midterms as a tool to defeat opposition candidates was of uncertain effect, as the Philippine Drug Enforcement Agency confirmed that 25 of 46 politicians on it won in the midterm polls.

In 2019 President Duterte signed into law a bill postponing the next barangay and youth council elections, previously scheduled for 2021, to December 2022 to align the schedule with barangay elections.

There was concern that COVID-19 restrictions were preventing millions of potential voters from registering for the May 2022 national elections. Lawmakers compelled the extension of voter registration by one month. An August 2020 Commission on Elections resolution stated that voter registration cannot reopen in areas under the highest levels of COVID-19-related quarantine or lockdown.

Participation of Women and Members of Minority Groups: No laws limit participation of women or members of minority and historically marginalized groups in the political process, and they did participate. At the national level, women constituted nearly 30 percent of the legislature. Participation by these groups did not change significantly compared with previous elections.

Men dominated the political scene, although the number of women holding elected positions in government rose after the 2019 elections. Media commentators expressed concern that political dynasties limited opportunities for female candidates not connected to political families.

There were no Muslim or indigenous Senate members, but there were 11 Muslim members of the House of Representatives, mostly from Muslim-majority provinces, and at least three members of indigenous descent. Muslims, indigenous groups, and others maintained that electing senators from a nationwide list favored established political figures from the Manila area.

The law provides for a party-list system, designed to ensure the representation of marginalized and underrepresented sectors of society, for 20 percent of the seats in the House of Representatives.

Section 6. Discrimination and Societal Abuses

Women

Rape and Domestic Violence: Rape, including spousal rape, is illegal, with penalties ranging from 12 to 40 years’ imprisonment with pardon or parole possible only after 30 years’ imprisonment. Conviction may also result in a lifetime ban from political office. The law applies to both men and women. Penalties for forcible sexual assault range from six to 12 years’ imprisonment. The law criminalizes physical, sexual, and psychological harm or abuse to women (and children) committed by spouses, partners, or parents. Penalties depend on the severity of the crime and may include imprisonment or significant fines.

Difficulty in obtaining rape convictions impeded effective enforcement on rape cases. NGOs noted that in smaller localities perpetrators of abuse sometimes used personal relationships with local authorities to avoid prosecution.

Statistics were unavailable on prosecutions, convictions, and punishments for cases filed by the national police. As of August the PNP’s Women and Children Protection Center recorded 4,424 cases of rape during the year, a slight increase from the number recorded during the same period of 2020, involving female and child victims. Of these, 2,202 were referred to prosecutors, 952 were filed in court, 1,252 remained under investigation, and 74 were referred to another agency. As of July the Bureau of Corrections had 7,958 inmates convicted of rape.

Domestic violence against women remained a serious and widespread problem. According to the national police, reported acts of domestic violence against women decreased from 7,093 in January to July 2020 versus 5,282 for the same period during the year. Local and international organizations observed an alarming rise of cases of abuse against women and children during the community quarantine.

NGOs reported that cultural and social stigma deterred many women from reporting rape or domestic violence. NGOs and media reported that rape and sexual abuse of women in police or protective custody continued. In August a new police officer and a local official were accused of sexually molesting and raping a 19-year-old female quarantine violator who was accosted at a quarantine control point in Mariveles, Bataan Province. The woman was taken to the police officer’s boarding house and reportedly raped.

The PNP and the Social Welfare Department both maintained help desks to assist survivors of violence against women and to encourage reporting. The national police’s Women and Children Protection Center also operated a national hotline for reports of violence against women and children. In addition the social welfare department operated residential centers and community-based programs to assist women and children who were victims of rape, domestic violence, and other abuse. By the end of the second quarter, the department reported it had assisted 41 women and girls who were specifically victims of sexual abuse, of whom 27 were raped. With the assistance of NGOs, the CHR, and the Philippine Commission on Women, law enforcement officers received gender sensitivity training to deal with victims of sexual crimes and domestic violence. The national police maintained a women and children’s unit in approximately 1,784 police stations throughout the country with 1,905 help desks to deal with abuse cases. The PNP assigned 4,882 officers to the desks nationwide, almost 98 percent of them women. The law provides 10 days of paid leave for domestic violence victims.

Sexual Harassment: The law prohibits sexual harassment, and violations are punishable by imprisonment from one to six months, a moderate fine, or both. Sexual harassment remained widespread and underreported, including in the workplace, due to victims’ fear of losing their jobs.

Relevant law is intended to prevent and punish acts of sexual harassment in public places, online workplaces, and educational institutions. Despite the president’s support for a law preventing sexual harassment, local organizations observed that on multiple occasions Duterte’s rhetoric promoted violence against women.

In a July 17 Facebook post and official statement, the Center for Women’s Resources group criticized an official at the Department of Interior and Local Government’s Emergency Operations Command for allegedly harassing and mistreating women related to victims of the government’s drug war during a July 16 protest at the department. The center urged the department and other concerned government agencies to act against the official for violating the Safe Spaces Act.

Reproductive Rights: There were no reports of coerced abortion or involuntary sterilization on the part of government authorities.

Although the law requires that women in non-life-threatening situations secure spousal consent to obtain reproductive health care, the Supreme Court has ruled that the constitution upholds the basic right of couples and individuals to decide freely the number, spacing, and timing of their children and to have the information and means to do so, free from discrimination, coercion, and violence.

Although the law provides for universal access to methods of contraception, sexual education, and maternal care, it also allows health practitioners to deny reproductive health services based on their personal or religious beliefs in nonemergency situations; requires spousal consent for women in non-life-threatening situations to obtain reproductive health care; requires minors in non-life-threatening situations to get parental consent before obtaining reproductive health care; and does not require private health-care facilities to provide access to family-planning methods.

Provision of health-care services is the responsibility of local governments, and disruptions in the supply chain, including procurement, allocation, and distribution of contraceptives, reduced their availability to the poor, although modern forms of contraception were available on the market in most areas.

The government provided access to sexual and reproductive health services for survivors of sexual violence and protection for rape victims, including emergency contraception.

According to the 2020 UN Human Development Report, the maternal mortality ratio was 121 per 100,000 live births, and skilled attendants participated in 84 percent of births. The Philippine Commission on Population and Development attributed the increase in maternal deaths to mothers not getting optimal care in hospitals and other birthing facilities during the pandemic. The UN Population Fund reported, based on its 2016 analysis of maternal death review, that poverty, remote locations, and a lack of education exacerbated delays in seeking potentially life-saving maternal medical care; that midwives at times had little formal training; and that medical personnel routinely mistreated and denied proper care to women who sought assistance for complications from unsafe abortions.

The World Bank reported in 2019 that the adolescent birth rate was 55 per 1,000 for women between ages 15 and 19. A June 25 executive order implementing measures to address the rise in adolescent pregnancy noted, “girls already living in dysfunctional homes spend more time with their households as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic and are thereby more exposed to abuse.” International media and women’s health NGOs cited limited access to adequate sex education and contraceptives as a driving factor of adolescent births. Experts estimated the pandemic lockdowns will cause more than five million women in the country to lose access to reproductive health care. The University of the Philippines and the UN Population Fund warned of a “baby boom” resulting from this loss of access to health care.

In 2019 the UN Population Fund stated that reaching displaced pregnant women to provide critical health services in conflict and crisis-affected areas, particularly Mindanao, was a challenge.

Discrimination: In law although not always in practice, women have most of the rights and protections accorded to men, and the law seeks to eliminate discrimination against women. The law accords women the same property rights as men. In Muslim and indigenous communities, however, property ownership law or tradition grants men more property rights than women.

No law mandates nondiscrimination based on gender in hiring, although the law prohibits discrimination in employment based on sex. Nonetheless, women continued to face discrimination on the job as well as in hiring.

The law does not provide for divorce. Legal annulments and separation are possible, and courts generally recognized divorces obtained in other countries if one of the parties was a foreigner. These options, however, were costly, complex, and not readily available to the poor. The Office of the Solicitor General is required to oppose requests for annulment under the constitution. Informal separation was common but brought with it potential legal and financial problems. Muslims have the right to divorce under Muslim family law.

Section 7. Worker Rights

a. Freedom of Association and the Right to Collective Bargaining

The law provides for the rights of certain workers, except for the military, police, short-term contract employees, and some foreign workers, to form and join independent unions, bargain collectively, and conduct strikes; it prohibits antiunion discrimination and requires reinstatement of workers fired for union activity. The law, however, places several restrictions on these rights. Threats and violence against trade union leaders continued.

Laws and regulations provide for the right to organize and bargain collectively in both the private sector and corporations owned or controlled by the government. The law prohibits organizing by foreign national or migrant workers unless a reciprocity agreement exists with the workers’ countries of origin specifying that migrant workers from the Philippines are permitted to organize unions there. The law also bars temporary or outsourced workers and workers without employment contracts from joining a union. The law requires the participation of 20 percent of the employees in the bargaining unit where the union seeks to operate; the International Labor Organization (ILO) called this requirement excessive.

The law subjects all labor and employment disputes to mandatory mediation-conciliation for one month. The Department of Labor provides mediation services through a board, which settles most unfair labor practice disputes. Through the National Conciliation and Mediation Board, the department also works to improve the functioning of labor-management councils in companies with unions.

If mediation fails, the union may issue a strike notice. Strikes or lockouts must be related to acts of unfair labor practice, a gross violation of collective bargaining laws, or a collective bargaining deadlock. The law provides for a maximum prison sentence of three years for participation in an illegal strike, although there has never been such a conviction. The law also permits employers to dismiss union officers who knowingly participate in an illegal strike.

For a private-sector strike to be legal, unions must provide advance strike notice (30 days for collective bargaining matters and 15 days for unfair labor practice matters), respect mandatory cooling-off periods, and obtain approval from a majority of members. The Department of Labor and Employment’s National Conciliation and Mediation Board reported 351 mediation-conciliation cases from January to July. Of these, 271 cases were filed under preventive mediation and 80 under notices of strike or lockout. The National Conciliation and Mediation Board attributed the 76 percent increase of filed cases to the relaxing of COVID-19 protocols during the year, which increased workforce activity compared with the same period in 2020.

The law prohibits government workers from joining strikes under the threat of automatic dismissal. Government workers may file complaints with the Civil Service Commission, which handles administrative cases and arbitrates disputes. Government workers may also assemble and express their grievances on the work premises during nonworking hours.

The secretary of the Department of Labor and in certain cases the president may intervene in labor disputes by assuming jurisdiction and mandating a settlement if either official determines that the strike-affected company is vital to the national interest. Essential sectors include hospitals, the electric power industry, water supply services (excluding small bottle suppliers), air traffic control, and other activities or industries as recommended by the National Tripartite Industrial Peace Council. Labor rights advocates continued to criticize the government for maintaining definitions of essential services that were broader than international standards.

In most cases the government respected freedom of association and collective bargaining and made some efforts to enforce laws protecting these rights. The Department of Labor has general authority to enforce laws on freedom of association and collective bargaining. The National Labor Relations Commission’s labor arbiter may also issue orders or writs of execution for reinstatement that go into effect immediately, requiring employers to reinstate the worker and report compliance to it. Allegations of intimidation and discrimination in connection with union activities are grounds for review by the quasi-judicial commission, as they may constitute possible unfair labor practices. If there is a definite preliminary finding that a termination may cause a serious labor dispute or mass layoff, the labor secretary may suspend the termination and restore the status quo pending resolution of the case.

Penalties under the law for violations of freedom of association or collective bargaining laws were generally not commensurate with similar crimes. Antiunion discrimination, especially in hiring, is an unfair labor practice and may carry criminal or civil penalties that were not commensurate with analogous crimes, although generally civil penalties were favored over criminal penalties.

Administrative and judicial procedures were subject to lengthy delays and appeals.

The tripartite industrial peace council serves as the main consultative and advisory mechanism on labor and employment for organized labor, employers, and government on the formulation and implementation of labor and employment policies. It also acts as the central entity for monitoring recommendations and ratifications of ILO conventions. The Department of Labor, through the industrial peace council, is responsible for coordinating the investigation, prosecution, and resolution of cases alleging violence and harassment of labor leaders and trade union activists pending before the ILO.

Workers faced several challenges in exercising their rights to freedom of association and collective bargaining. Some employers reportedly chose to employ workers who could not legally organize, such as short-term contract and foreign national workers, to minimize unionization and avoid other rights accorded to “regular” workers. The nongovernmental Center for Trade Union and Human Rights contended that this practice led to a decline in the number of unions and workers covered by collective bargaining agreements. Employers also often abused contract labor provisions by rehiring employees shortly after the expiration of the previous contract. The Department of Labor reported multiple cases of workers alleging employers refused to bargain.

Unions continued to claim that local political leaders and officials who governed the Special Economic Zones explicitly attempted to frustrate union organizing efforts by maintaining union-free or strike-free policies. Unions also claimed the government stationed security forces near industrial areas or Special Economic Zones to intimidate workers attempting to organize and alleged that companies in the zones used frivolous lawsuits to harass union leaders. Local zone directors claimed exclusive authority to conduct their own inspections as part of the zones’ privileges intended by the legislature. Employers controlled hiring through special zone labor centers. For these reasons, and in part due to organizers’ restricted access to the closely guarded zones and the propensity among zone establishments to adopt fixed term, casual, temporary, or seasonal employment contracts, unions had little success organizing in the Special Economic Zones. The Department of Labor does not have data on compliance with labor standards in the zones.

Threats and violence against union members continued. In March the Department of Interior and Local Government ordered its regional offices to compile lists of employees who belong to two trade unions, the Confederation for Unity Recognition and Advancement of Government Employees, the Alliance of Concerned Teachers, and the union of Philippine Senate employees. The department alleged that these were affiliated with the Communist Party.

On March 7, “Bloody Sunday” (see section 1.a.), among those whom police shot and killed was human rights and labor activist Manny Asuncion, shot outside the Workers’ Assistance Center office in Cavite. A former factory worker, Asuncion had advocated for increases in the minimum wage. On March 28, the president of the trade union at an electronics manufacturing company in Cavite and vice-chairperson of a regional labor federation, Dandy Miguel, was shot eight times by an unidentified assailant shortly after leaving work wearing a union T-shirt reading “fight for wages, work, rights.” Similar attacks on nine other activists occurred within a month of Miguel’s killing.

b. Prohibition of Forced or Compulsory Labor

The law prohibits all forms of forced or compulsory labor. Although legal penalties were commensurate with similar crimes, the government did not effectively enforce the law.

The government continued awareness-raising activities, especially in the provinces, to prevent forced labor. The Department of Labor’s efforts included an orientation program for recruits for commercial fishing vessels, who were among the workers most vulnerable to forced labor conditions.

Reports of forced labor by adults and children continued, mainly in fishing and other maritime industries, small-scale factories, gold mines, domestic service, agriculture, and other areas of the informal sector (see section 7.c.). According to NGOs and survivors, unscrupulous employers subjected women from rural communities and impoverished urban centers to domestic service, forced begging, and forced labor in small factories. They also subjected men to forced labor and debt bondage in agriculture, including on sugar cane plantations and in fishing and other maritime industries. Trade unions reported that continued poor compliance with the law was due in part to the government’s lack of capacity to inspect labor practices in the informal economy.

There were reports some persons who voluntarily surrendered to police and local government units in the antidrug campaign were forced to do manual labor or other activities that could amount to forced labor without charge, trial, or finding of guilt under law. Inmates were only allowed to perform manual labor within prisons at the inmates’ request.

Also see the Department of State’s Trafficking in Persons Report at https://www.state.gov/trafficking-in-persons-report/.

c. Prohibition of Child Labor and Minimum Age for Employment

The law prohibits employing children younger than age 15, including for domestic service, except under the direct and sole responsibility of parents or guardians, and sets the maximum number of working hours for them at four hours per day and no more than 20 hours per week. The law also prohibits all the worst forms of child labor.

Children between 15 and 17 are limited to eight working hours per day, up to a maximum of 40 hours per week. The law forbids the employment of persons younger than 18 in hazardous work. The minimum age for work is lower than the compulsory education age, enticing some children to leave school before the completion of their compulsory education.

The government did not effectively enforce the law. Although the government imposed fines and instituted criminal prosecutions for child labor law violations in the formal sector, for example in manufacturing, it did not do so effectively or consistently. Fines for child labor law violations were not commensurate with analogous crimes.

From January to July, the Department of Labor, through its Sagip Batang Manggagawa (Rescue Child Laborers) program, conducted nine operations and removed 18 minors from hazardous and exploitative working conditions. As of July the department issued a temporary closure order on a construction business for violating child labor laws, rescuing six minors. Operations under the Sagip Batang Manggagawa program were conducted in karaoke bars, massage parlors, saunas, bathhouses, and farms to target child labor and were in addition to the standard labor inspection process. They were unable to search private homes for underage workers employed for domestic work or in home-based businesses.

The government, in coordination with domestic NGOs and international organizations, continued to implement programs to develop safer options for children, return them to school, and offer families viable economic alternatives to child labor. The Department of Labor continued efforts to reduce the worst forms of child labor and to remove children from hazardous work under the Convergence Program. Inspections as of October found four establishments employing 24 minors. All four establishments were found to have violated the Anti-Child Labor Law and were immediately corrected.

Despite these efforts, child labor remained a widespread problem. Cases reported to the Department of Labor focused on domestic service and the agricultural sector, notably in the fishing, palm oil, and sugar cane industries. Most child labor occurred in the informal economy, often in family settings. Child workers in those sectors and in activities such as gold mining, manufacturing (including of fireworks), domestic service, drug trafficking, and garbage scavenging faced exposure to hazardous working environments.

NGOs and government officials continued to report cases in which family members sold children to employers for domestic labor or sexual exploitation.

Online sexual exploitation of children and child soldiering also continued to be a problem (see sections 6 and 1.g., respectively).

Also see the Department of Labor’s Findings on the Worst Forms of Child Labor at https://www.dol.gov/agencies/ilab/resources/reports/child-labor/findings .

Poland

Section 1. Respect for the Integrity of the Person

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

There were several reports that the government or its agents committed arbitrary or unlawful killings. On July 30, police took a 25-year-old intoxicated Ukrainian man in Wroclaw to a sobering-up station after being notified by paramedics that the man was acting aggressively in public. According to video recordings of the incident, after the man began to behave aggressively in the presence of police, several officers beat and choked the man until he stopped breathing and died. In September and October, the Wroclaw police commander expelled three police officers from the force because of these actions. On October 8, the Szczecin district prosecutor’s office, which was investigating the case, announced charges against nine persons in relation to the case, including four police officers. Three police officers were charged with abuse of powers, abusing a detained person, and fatal beating, and the fourth officer was charged with allowing physical abuse of a detained person, which was against his official duties.

On August 6, a 34-year-old man under the influence of drugs died after being detained by police in the town of Lubin. Video of the events showed that when the man attempted to escape detention, four police officers beat and kicked him, kneeled on his body until he lost consciousness, and did not attempt to resuscitate him. He was later declared dead at a hospital. At year’s end, the Lodz district prosecutor’s office was investigating the case.

b. Disappearance

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

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

The constitution and law prohibit such practices. There were reports of problems, however, with police misconduct towards detainees. The law lacks a clear legal definition of torture, but all actions that could be considered torture are prohibited under the law and prosecuted, consistent with the country’s obligations under international treaties and conventions prohibiting torture. The law outlines disciplinary actions for police, including reprimand, demotion in rank, and dismissal. According to the Helsinki Foundation for Human Rights, there was growing concern over ill-treatment of persons taken into police custody. The foundation indicated police may lack sufficient knowledge on proper techniques to use against persons under the influence of drugs or other intoxicants, which may lead to excessive use of force against detainees.

According to an October 2020 report by the Council of Europe’s Committee to Prevent Torture (CPT) based on a 2019 visit to the country (the most recent CPT report), police abuse of detainees was a problem. According to the CPT, “The ill-treatment allegedly consisted mainly of violently pushing a person face down to the ground (or facing towards a wall), kneeling over the person including on his/her face or stepping on him/her, occasionally accompanied by slaps, kicks and/or punches. There were also numerous allegations of painful and prolonged handcuffing behind one’s back, and some persons alleged having been lifted by the handcuffs and/or dragged on the ground while cuffed. The delegation also heard a small number of allegations of physical ill-treatment consisting of slaps and, in one case, kicks in the course of questioning inside the police establishment.”

On September 2, the European Court for Human Rights ruled the country violated Article 3 of the European Convention on Human Rights, which prohibits torture and inhuman and degrading treatment and punishment. The ruling concerned the 2015 arrest of two men who were beaten by police while in custody. A prosecutorial investigation did not lead to any charges. The court assessed the force used by police was excessive and disproportionate and caused serious suffering to the applicants amounting to inhuman treatment. The court ordered the government to pay damages to each of the applicants.

Impunity was not a significant problem in the security forces.

Prison and Detention Center Conditions

According to civil society organizations and the human rights ombudsperson’s National Preventive Mechanism (NPM), overcrowding, insufficient prison medical staff, and limited prisoner access to specialized medical treatment continued to be problems.

Physical Conditions: According to civil society groups and the NPM, the minimum cell space regulation of 32 square feet per prisoner is less than international standards. While authorities generally separated juveniles from adults, the law allows shared housing in prisons and detention centers in exceptional cases. Juveniles were at times held with adult prisoners. Authorities usually sent to pretrial detention persons between the ages of 17 and 21 accused of serious crimes.

According to the Helsinki Foundation for Human Rights, deficiencies included inadequate medical staffing, poor quality of medical care offered by prison personnel, and limited access to specialized medical care outside prison facilities. The office of the human rights ombudsperson, which receives prisoners’ complaints, noted the COVID-19 pandemic caused a significant increase in the number of complaints from prisoners regarding their medical care. The complaints included limited access to specialists and delays in performing scheduled visits and scheduled hospital treatment in nonprison health-care facilities. Prisoners also complained of ineffective medical treatment offered by the prison health service. The law permits authorities to commit prisoners to the National Center for the Prevention of Dissocial Behaviors. This may be applied when the prisoners have served their prison sentences and have undergone a custodial therapy program but continue to have mental disabilities believed to create a high probability they would commit another serious crime against a person.

Administration: Authorities investigated credible allegations of inhuman conditions and made their findings publicly accessible. The country’s human rights ombudsperson may join proceedings in civil and administrative courts on behalf of prisoners and detainees, either when they file a complaint or when information obtained otherwise leads to an allegation of inhuman conditions. The ombudsperson administered the NPM, an independent program responsible for monitoring conditions and treatment of detainees in prisons and detention facilities. During the COVID-19 pandemic, some prisons reduced access to in-person religious services for prisoners, although access to virtual or broadcast services was generally retained.

Independent Monitoring: The government allowed on a regular basis independent monitoring of prison conditions and detention centers by local human rights groups, the NPM, and the Council of Europe’s Committee for the Prevention of Torture and Inhuman or Degrading Treatment. Prison authorities limited access to prisons during the COVID-19 pandemic due to sanitary restrictions, making visits less frequent than in previous years. Some visits took place virtually.

Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties

a. Freedom of Expression, Including for Members of the Press and Other Media

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

Freedom of Expression: The law prohibits hate speech, including the dissemination of anti-Semitic literature, the public promotion of fascism, communism, or other totalitarian systems, and the intentional offense of religious feelings.

In January the Warsaw district prosecutor’s office initiated an investigation into independent newspaper Gazeta Wyborcza for the potential offense of religious feelings. The investigation was based on complaints by conservative lawmakers concerning an image the newspaper published in December 2020 of the Virgin Mary wearing the symbols of All-Poland Women’s Strike (a feminist organization that opposes abortion restrictions). As of November the investigation continued. On February 16, the Warsaw-Mokotow regional court imposed a fine on Adam Darski, a heavy metal musician known as “Nergal,” for offending religious feelings. Darski had posted a photograph of a damaged painting of the Virgin Mary with a shoe on her face on his Facebook page. Darski appealed the verdict and on August 18, the Warsaw-Mokotow regional court dismissed the case, finding Darski did not intend to offend religious feelings. The district prosecutor appealed the decision to the district court. On December 8, the Warsaw District Court struck down the Warsaw-Mokotow regional court’s decision to dismiss the case.

On March 2, the Plock regional court acquitted three lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer, and intersex (LGBTQI+) rights activists charged with offending religious sentiment in 2019. The activists had created and posted on various sites in the city of Plock images of the Virgin Mary with her halo painted in the colors of the rainbow flag. Some posters were allegedly placed on trash cans and portable toilets. The court noted the activists’ actions were intended as a denunciation of a Catholic church in Plock for its Easter display describing “LGBT” as a sin. The court found the activists did not intend to offend religious sentiment and had exercised their freedom of expression. An appeal against the verdict was pending at year’s end.

Freedom of Expression for Members of the Press and Other Media, Including Online Media: On March 1, state-controlled energy company PKN Orlen completed its purchase of regional publishing house Polska Press, which owns most of the country’s regional newspapers. On March 5, the human rights ombudsperson asked the Warsaw District Court to halt the takeover, asserting that a state-controlled company would unduly influence the editorial policies of regional media. The ombudsperson argued that “a company controlled by the State Treasury, and through it by politicians exercising power, can easily influence the overall activities of individual editorial offices. In this way, they can transform the free press, whose inherent feature is honest and factual criticism of public authorities and persons holding public office, into news and propaganda newsletters that depend on that authority.” On April 8, the Warsaw District Court suspended antitrust approval for PKN Orlen to purchase Polska Press. PKN Orlen said in response that its acquisition of Polska Press was effective before the court issued a decision and that the ruling did not restrict PKN Orlen in exercising its ownership rights from shares in Polska Press. By year’s end PKN Orlen had replaced editors at almost all of the newspapers owned by Polska Press.

On August 11, the lower house of parliament (Sejm) voted to approve a draft amendment to the country’s broadcasting law that would prohibit non-European Economic Area (EEA) companies from owning majority stakes in media, including through EEA holding companies. The government said the bill was intended to limit the malign influence of Russia and China. Media, opposition politicians, and civil society observers interpreted the legislation as targeting private television station TVN and its news channel TVN24, owned by U.S. company Discovery Inc. through its subsidiary registered in the Netherlands. TVN, the country’s largest independent broadcaster, is the only broadcaster with majority foreign ownership and is considered critical of the existing government. In response to the Sejm’s approval of the legislation, spontaneous demonstrations took place in cities and towns around the country. On September 9, the Senate rejected the bill and sent it back to the Sejm. On December 17, the Sejm overrode the Senate’s rejection and passed the legislation. Spontaneous demonstrations against the bill and supporting media freedom again took place in cities and towns around the country. President Duda vetoed the legislation on December 27, citing the consequences the legislation would have on the country’s media freedom, investment climate, and international image.

In October, TVN Discovery Group filed a complaint with the Warsaw Provincial Administrative Court regarding the excessive length of proceedings by the National Broadcasting Council to approve an extension of news channel TVN24’s broadcast license. The proceedings to extend the license lasted more than 19 months, with approval granted on September 22, four days before TVN24’s license was to expire. TVN officials said there was no legal or formal justification for the “unprecedented” delay. The Code of Administrative Procedure obliges the Council to issue a decision “immediately,” and within 60 days in particularly complicated cases. TVN officials and civil society organizations alleged the delay in approving the license was part of a government pressure campaign against TVN for its critical coverage of the governing party. The human rights ombudsperson said there was no legal rationale for the delay. At the same time it issued TVN24’s license, the National Broadcasting Council released a nonbinding resolution claiming the law barred licensing to entities whose non-EEA ownership exceeded 49 percent, including through subsidiaries registered in the EEA, and indirectly called for Discovery to reduce its share of TVN’s ownership. Media and civil society observers said the resolution was an attempt to bypass the legislative process and implement the provisions of the stalled broadcasting legislation.

On September 2, in response to an extraordinary increase of forced irregular border crossings by third-country migrants from Belarus, the government declared a 30-day state of emergency for 183 cities, towns, and villages in two provinces near the border with Belarus, which prohibited travel to the affected areas by nonresidents, including journalists. On October 1, the government extended the state of emergency for another 60 days. On September 13, Reporters Without Borders declared “a press freedom state of emergency” in the country and criticized “arbitrary” restrictions on press freedom imposed by the government as part of the state of emergency, as well as the legislation to amend the country’s broadcasting law. On December 1, the revised law on the protection of state borders, which allowed limited media access to the border zone, entered into force. Under the new rules, media representatives were permitted to visit the Poland-Belarus border with permits issued by the commander of the relevant border guard post. The visits took place in an organized format and under the care of border guard officers. Some journalists criticized the restricted nature of the visits. More than 100 journalists participated in the trips by year’s end, according to the Center for Monitoring Press Freedom at the Association of Polish Journalists.

Violence and Harassment: On January 19, the Warsaw District Court upheld a February 2020 ruling by the Warsaw regional court that fined Michal Majewski, a reporter for the weekly Wprost, for protecting sources of information. The conviction referred to a 2014 incident when Internal Security Agency officers tried to seize forcefully a laptop of one of the journalists who revealed a wiretapping scandal involving leading politicians. The Center for Monitoring Press Freedom at the Association of Polish Journalists criticized the conviction as a clear violation of freedom of speech. The ruling was final.

In mid-July prosecutors discontinued an investigation into a November 2020 incident in which police shot a photojournalist in the face with a rubber bullet while he was covering violent clashes between police and groups of hooligans during the annual Independence March in Warsaw. Prosecutors claimed the journalist was not intentionally targeted. The photojournalist filed a complaint against the prosecutor’s decision with the Warsaw regional court.

On September 28, police detained two reporters working for the French-German television station ARTE and a journalist working for Agence France-Presse, all of whom claimed they mistakenly entered the area covered by the state of emergency near the Poland-Belarus border. Police seized their computers and mobile phones and detained them overnight. The following day the Sokolka regional court ruled the journalists violated the state of emergency, but the court did not impose a fine. In an October 8 letter to the chief commander of the national police, the human rights ombudsperson noted the police actions might raise “doubts” from the perspective of the constitutionally guaranteed freedom of the press and the principle of protecting journalist confidentiality.

According to the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ), between November 14 and November 23, police detained at least seven journalists attempting to cover the situation at the border. For example, according to CPJ, on November 16, near the village of Wiejki (located outside of the emergency zone) a group of soldiers stopped a car carrying journalists Maciej Nabrdalik, Maciej Moskwa, and Martin Divisek. The soldiers forcibly pulled the journalists out of the car, handcuffed them, and held them for an hour while they searched the car, their mobile phones, and their cameras, and took notes related to the telephone numbers and other incoming information displayed on the lock screens of the journalists’ mobile phones. The government claimed the journalists’ vehicle did not have press markings, the journalists were taking photographs of a military installation without prior permission, and the journalists attempted to leave the scene when asked to cease taking pictures. The government also alleged that the journalists did not identify themselves as members of the press after being detained, but according to CPJ, audio recordings of the incident appeared to contradict this. In a November 20 interview, the minister of defense praised the soldiers’ behavior, saying “it is their duty to be firm.”

On October 2, police entered the apartment of a journalist from the newspaper Gazeta Wyborcza and seized his computer equipment over alleged criminal threats sent to a member of parliament from the governing party. Warsaw police said police data indicated the threats came from a specific internet protocol and physical address. Police claimed no advance knowledge that the apartment belonged to a journalist and said regulations permitted them to conduct searches and seize equipment without a warrant. According to Gazeta Wyborcza, the journalist was ordered to hand over his work laptop, which contained material protected by journalistic confidentiality. Police also seized the journalist’s other laptops and his mobile phone. On the same day, the newspaper’s editorial team issued a statement that criticized the police action against the journalist, claiming it was an attempt to intimidate free media. The human rights ombudsperson’s office has sought an official explanation from Warsaw police.

Censorship or Content Restrictions: The constitution prohibits censorship of the press or social communication. Nevertheless, laws regulating broadcasting and media prohibit, under penalty of fines, license revocation, or other authorized sanctions, the promotion of activities endangering health or safety, or the promotion of views contrary to law, morality, or the common good. The law also requires that all broadcasts “respect the religious feelings of the audiences and, in particular, respect the Christian system of values.” In September the National Broadcasting Council (KRRiT) fined the private television channel Zoom TV for broadcasting a dating game show titled “Naked Attraction,” in which contestants compete naked. The spokesperson for KRRiT explained the Council decided the broadcasting of the show violated the standards specified in the law with respect to the prohibition on promoting attitudes and views contrary to morality and the social good. KRRiT cited the presentation of scenes and content depicting men and women as sexual objects, which it said violated the human dignity of both sexes.

Critics alleged persistent progovernment bias in state television news broadcasts.

Libel/Slander Laws: Defamation by print and broadcast journalists is a criminal offense punishable by up to a one-year prison term. Defamation outside media is punishable by a fine and community service. In addition to defamation laws, laws cover public insult or slander of the president, members of parliament, government ministers and other public officials, the Polish nation, foreign heads of state and ambassadors, and private entities and persons, as well as insult or destruction of the national emblem, the flag, other state symbols, monuments, and sites that commemorate historical events or persons. The law also criminalizes offending religious sentiment by publicly insulting an object of religious worship or a place dedicated to public observance of religious services. Penalties for public insult range from a fine and community service for insulting a monument to up to a three-year prison term for slandering the president, foreign heads of state, the Republic of Poland, and the Polish nation. The courts rarely applied maximum penalties, and persons convicted of defamation and public insult generally faced fines or community service. Even if a court case ended with a conviction without punishment or with a small penalty, the person convicted had an official criminal record, which limited the person’s ability to hold public positions or access public funds. According to the Helsinki Foundation for Human Rights, a growing number of defamation and public insult cases, especially with respect to offending religious sentiment, posed a real risk of limiting freedom of expression and could stifle free public debate.

On June 10, the Lublin District Court sentenced the pastor of a small evangelical church in the city of Lublin to eight months of community service and ordered him to cover court fees for publicly insulting the president and the Polish nation and for offending the religious feelings of Catholics. The conviction resulted from offensive statements the pastor made on his internet television channel.

On October 27, the Opole District Court ordered a former deputy agricultural minister and former politician with the Polish People’s Party to pay a fine for publicly insulting the president by posting offensive comments regarding him on social media during the 2020 presidential election campaign. The verdict was subject to appeal.

In January the Warsaw district prosecutor’s office discontinued an investigation against three persons charged with desecrating monuments and offending religious sentiment by placing rainbow flags on several monuments around Warsaw in July 2020, including on an historic religious statue in front of a Roman Catholic Church associated with Warsaw’s occupation. Prosecutors determined the charged persons were not responsible for placing the flags.

The Helsinki Foundation for Human Rights reported that journalists convicted of defamation had never received the maximum penalty. According to the Helsinki Foundation, however, the criminal defamation law does have a chilling effect on journalists, especially in local media, because local authorities may use the law against journalists. Media owners, particularly of small local independent newspapers, were aware that potentially large fines could threaten the financial survival of their publications. According to the Helsinki Foundation, there was a considerable increase in the number of convictions under the criminal defamation law over the last several years. The foundation observed that those seeking to protect their reputations were more likely to pursue criminal defamation charges than civil litigation.

In March the Warsaw-Srodmiescie local prosecutor’s office indicted Jakub Zulczyk, a writer, for publicly insulting the president by posting a message on his Facebook account in which he referred to the president as a “moron.” If convicted, Zulczyk could face up to a three-year prison term. The trial began on November 16.

On June 29, the Kalisz regional court sentenced three men to two months of community work and a fine for publicly insulting the president by shouting offensive slogans against the president and trying to burn an election banner featuring the president at a high school graduation event.

According to the Helsinki Foundation for Human Rights and Court Watch Poland, there was an increasing problem with strategic lawsuits against public participation (SLAPPs), which are used by public institutions and officials, media companies, politicians, and individuals to suppress opposing opinions. The civil society organizations claim the use of SLAPPs created an unfriendly environment for media to operate and had a “chilling effect” on journalists, who may be reluctant to tackle sensitive topics for fear of being prosecuted. According to the Journalism Society’s report published in May, the government or state-controlled institutions undertook 187 legal actions, both criminal and civil, against journalists over the last six years, of which the report categorized 66 as SLAPP litigation.

Nongovernmental Impact: On January 28, a reporter and a camera operator working for National Media (a right-wing outlet affiliated with the nationalist Independence March Association) reported they were attacked by demonstrators during an All-Poland’s Women’s Strike demonstration on January 27. According to National Media’s director, demonstrators physically attacked the camera operator and damaged his equipment, and the reporter was temporarily stunned. On January 28, another reporter working for public radio in the city of Poznan reported he was attacked by demonstrators during a similar demonstration in Poznan.

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 or email without appropriate legal authority. The law authorizes the Internal Security Agency to block websites without a prior court order in cases relating to combating, preventing, and prosecuting terrorist crimes; shut down telecommunications networks when there is a terrorist threat; and conduct surveillance of foreign nationals for up to three months without a court order. During the year there were no reports by media or NGO sources that the Internal Security Agency blocked websites.

The law against defamation and all other public insult laws apply to the internet.

Academic Freedom and Cultural Events

On March 5, according to press and NGO reports, the Ministry of Culture and National Heritage suspended an online film festival called Herstorie for Women’s Day, which was scheduled to take place on the website of the government-run National Film Archive-Audiovisual Institute (FINA). Deputy Minister of Culture Jaroslaw Sellin reportedly ordered FINA director Dariusz Wieromiejczyk to remove the festival from the FINA website because it contained two films the ministry found objectionable – You are Overreacting, on domestic violence, and Vibrant Village, on a sex toy factory in Hungary. According to media reports, when Wieromiejczyk refused to comply, Culture Minister Piotr Glinski fired him. The film festival found a new partner and took place as scheduled. Both FINA and the Ministry of Culture made statements denying any connection between suspension of the festival and the content of the films. The Ministry of Culture stated that it fired Wieromiejczyk because he had allegedly violated labor law, the Public Finance Act, and other laws.

c. Freedom of Religion

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

Section 3. Freedom to Participate in the Political Process

The constitution provides citizens the ability to choose their government in free and fair periodic elections held by secret ballot and based on universal and equal suffrage.

Elections and Political Participation

Recent Elections: According to a report of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) on the first round of the 2020 presidential election, the decision to continue with the election during the pandemic necessitated legal and practical adjustments that put at risk “the stability and clarity of the otherwise suitable election legislation.” The report stated the changes “had practical implications for candidate registration, campaigning and campaign finance, voting methods, and resolution of election disputes.” The report stated the election campaign was characterized by “negative and intolerant rhetoric further polarizing an already adversarial political environment.” It also stated the public broadcaster “failed to ensure balanced and impartial coverage, and rather served as campaign tool for the incumbent.” The OSCE noted that the second round of elections was well-managed and candidates were “able to campaign freely in a competitive runoff, but hostility, threats against media, intolerant rhetoric, and cases of misuse of state resources detracted from the process. The polarized media environment, and particularly the biased coverage by the public broadcaster, remained a serious concern.”

According to the OSCE report, the 2019 parliamentary elections were well prepared and there was overall confidence in the election administration, but media bias – particularly in the public media – and intolerant rhetoric in the campaign, including instances of nationalist and homophobic rhetoric, were of significant concern. According to the OSCE, the dominance of the governing Law and Justice Party in public media (via changes made in 2015 and 2016 allowing for more direct political influence over the country’s public broadcasters) amplified its electoral advantage.

Participation of Women and Members of Minority Groups: No laws limit participation of women or members of minority groups in the political process, and they did participate. Women’s political participation remained low, with women accounting for 9 percent of ministerial positions, 29 percent of local legislature positions, and 27 percent of national legislature (Sejm and Senate) positions.

Section 6. Discrimination and Societal Abuses

Women

Rape and Domestic Violence: Rape, including spousal rape, is illegal and punishable by up to 12 years in prison. While domestic violence is illegal and courts may sentence a person convicted of domestic violence to a maximum of five years in prison, most of those found guilty received suspended sentences. The law permits authorities to place restraining orders without prior approval from a court on spouses to protect against abuse.

On September 16, the Council of Europe’s Expert Group on Action against Violence against Women and Domestic Violence published its first evaluation report on the implementation of the Council of Europe’s Convention on Preventing and Combatting Violence against Women and Domestic Violence (so-called Istanbul Convention). The report praised a November 2020 law that introduced an immediate restraining order that may be issued by police who respond to a domestic dispute. Under the new law, the perpetrator must immediately leave the location where the violence took place. The Women’s Rights Center noted that during the first six months since the law’s entry into force, police used the new mechanism in only a small fraction of documented instances of domestic violence. According to the foundation, this may indicate police were not properly trained in the use of the new mechanism. The Women’s Rights Center reported that police were occasionally reluctant to intervene in domestic violence incidents, sometimes arguing there was no need for police intervention. The law requires every municipality in the country to set up an interagency team of experts to deal with domestic violence.

Centers for survivors of domestic violence operated throughout the country. The centers provided social, medical, psychological, and legal assistance to survivors; training for personnel who worked with survivors; and “corrective education” programs for abusers.

Sexual Harassment: The law prohibits sexual harassment, and violations carry penalties of up to three years’ imprisonment. According to the Women’s Rights Center, sexual harassment continued to be a serious and underreported problem.

Reproductive Rights: There were no reports of coerced abortion or involuntary sterilization on the part of government authorities.

The law obliges both central and local governments to provide citizens with unrestricted access to methods and means serving “conscious procreation,” implemented by the government as gynecological counseling for women and girls and access to contraception. While there were no legal restrictions on the right to obtain contraceptives, a patient’s ability to obtain them was limited, according to NGOs. The Federation for Women and Family Planning noted the government excluded almost all prescription contraceptives from its list of subsidized medicines, making them less affordable, especially for poor women in rural areas. The law also provides that doctors may refrain from performing health services inconsistent with their conscience. According to a 2020 report by the Central and Eastern European Network for Sexual and Reproductive Health and Rights, doctors regularly used the conscience clause to refuse to write prescriptions for contraceptives. The report also noted that some pharmacies did not stock or sell contraceptives.

The law does not permit voluntary sterilization. Although women have the right to comprehensive medical services before, during, and after childbirth, home birth, while legal, is not subsidized by the National Health Fund. Women had access to emergency health care, including services for the management of complications arising from abortion. According to the Childbirth with Dignity Foundation, standards for perinatal and postnatal care written into the laws are adequate, but the government failed to enforce them effectively. A 2018 report by the Supreme Audit Office indicated women living in rural areas had limited access to medical services related to childbirth due to an insufficient number of gynecological and obstetric clinics in smaller towns and villages.

The government provided access to sexual and reproductive health services for sexual violence survivors, including emergency contraception for survivors of rape. According to women’s rights NGOs, access was limited due to survivors’ fear of social stigma, some legal constraints, and the use of the conscience clause by medical doctors who refused to provide such services. According to a September report by the Council of Europe Expert Group on Action against Violence against Women and Domestic Violence, the country lacked rape crisis and sexual violence centers offering medical care, high-quality forensic examination, and immediate short- and long-term trauma support delivered by trained professionals.

Discrimination: The constitution provides for the same legal status and rights for men and women and prohibits discrimination against women, although few laws exist to implement the provision. The constitution requires equal pay for equal work, but discrimination against women in employment existed (see section 7.d.).

Section 7. Worker Rights

a. Freedom of Association and the Right to Collective Bargaining

The law provides for the rights of workers to form and join independent trade unions, bargain collectively, and conduct legal strikes. The law prohibits antiunion discrimination and provides legal measures under which workers fired for union activity may demand reinstatement. Individuals who are self-employed or in an employment relationship based on a civil law contract are permitted to form a union.

Government workers, including police officers, border guards, prison guards, and employees of the Supreme Audit Office, are limited to a single union. Workers in services deemed essential, such as security forces, the Supreme Audit Office, police, border guards, and fire brigades, do not have the right to strike. These workers have the right to protest and to seek resolution of their grievances through mediation and the court system.

Trade unions are registered when at least 10 eligible persons adopt a resolution to form a trade union. Newly established trade unions must appoint a founding committee consisting of three to seven persons. A new trade union must register with the National Court Registry within 30 days of the resolution. The court may remove a trade union from the registry only if a trade union adopts a resolution to dissolve; is no longer able to operate due to the bankruptcy, liquidation, or reorganization of the company in which the trade union operated; or if a trade union has fewer than 10 members for more than three months.

Legal strike ballots require the support of a majority of union voters. To allow for mandatory mediation, a strike may not be called fewer than 14 days after workers present their demands to an employer. The law obligates employers to report workplace group disputes to the district inspection office in their region. Cumbersome procedures made it difficult for workers to meet all of the technical requirements for a legal strike. What constitutes a strike under the law is limited to strikes regarding wages and working conditions, social benefits, trade union rights, and worker freedoms. The law prohibits collective bargaining for key civil servants, appointed or elected employees of state and municipal bodies, court judges, and prosecutors.

According to trade unions, existing legal provisions regarding freedom of association and the right to collective bargaining are adequate but there are concerns with enforcement. The government did not effectively enforce applicable laws. The penalties for obstructing trade union activity range from fines to community service. They were not commensurate with the penalties for other laws related to the denial of civil rights. Resources, inspections, and remediation efforts were not adequate, and according to trade unions, the penalties allowed by law were too small to deter future violations. Administrative and judicial procedures were subjected to lengthy delays and appeals.

Trade union representatives stated that violations of freedom of association and the right to collective bargaining occurred. While many workers exercised the right to organize and join unions, several large international companies discriminated against those who attempted to organize. Union discrimination typically took the forms of intimidation, attempts to challenge the legality of trade union activity, or termination of work contracts without notice or without a justified reason. For example, media reported banking company mBank fired Mariusz Lawnik on November 17 for allegedly “harassing employees” after Lawnik posted a message regarding a newly established trade union on the company’s intranet.

b. Prohibition of Forced or Compulsory Labor

The law prohibits all forms of forced or compulsory labor. Nevertheless, forced labor occurred.

The government effectively enforced the law. Penalties for forced labor violations were commensurate with those of other serious crimes. In 2020, the most recent year for which statistics were available, the government assisted in removing 70 victims from forced labor.

There were reports that foreign and Polish men and women were subjected to forced labor in agriculture, restaurants, construction, domestic work, and the garment and fish processing industries, and that children were subjected to forced begging (see section 7.c.).

Also see the Department of State’s Trafficking in Persons Report at https://www.state.gov/trafficking-in-persons-report/.

c. Prohibition of Child Labor and Minimum Age for Employment

The law prohibits all the worst forms of child labor. The law prohibits the employment of children younger than 16, with exceptions in the cultural, artistic, sporting, and advertising fields when parents or guardians and the local labor inspector give their permission. The labor inspector issues a permit on the basis of psychological and medical examinations. Child labor is not allowed if the work may pose any threat to life, health, or physical and mental development of the child, or may conflict with the child’s education. The government effectively enforced applicable law prohibiting employment of children younger than 16, and penalties were commensurate with those of other serious crimes.

Some children younger than 18 engaged in hazardous work in agriculture, primarily on private family farms. Romani children, primarily from Romania, were subjected to forced begging. Commercial sexual exploitation of children also occurred (see section 6, Children).

Saudi Arabia

Section 1. Respect for the Integrity of the Person

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

There were no reports that the government or its agents committed arbitrary or unlawful killings. The Public Prosecutor’s Office, which reports to the king, is responsible for investigating whether security force actions were justifiable and pursuing prosecutions. Capital punishment may be imposed for a range of nonviolent offenses, including apostasy, sorcery, and adultery, although in practice death sentences for such offenses were rare and usually reduced on appeal.

On December 30, media reported that at least three of the individuals convicted in connection with the killing of Jamal Khashoggi, including Salah al-Tubaigy, Mustafa al-Madani, and Mansour Abahussein, were seen living in luxury villas in a government compound near Riyadh. There was no further action on the case during the year.

In September 2020 the Public Prosecutor’s Office announced a final verdict in the murder trial of journalist Jamal Khashoggi, killed at the Saudi consulate in Istanbul, Turkey, in 2018.

In January the Saudi Human Rights Commission (HRC) announced a moratorium on the death penalty for drug-related offenses, but as of November the government had not published the relevant changes.

Discretionary (tazir) death penalty sentences for those who committed crimes as minors are forbidden, and minors’ prison sentences are capped at 10 years under an April 2020 royal decree. (The 2018 Juvenile Law sets the legal age of adulthood at 18 based on the Hijri calendar.) Minor offenders, however, who are convicted in qisas, a category of crimes that includes various types of murder, or hudud, crimes that carry specific penalties under the country’s interpretation of Islamic law, still face the death penalty.

On February 8, Human Rights Watch (HRW) reported prosecutors were seeking 10-year prison sentences, rather than the death penalty originally sought, for four men convicted of crimes committed as minors: Ahmad al-Faraj, Ali al-Batti, Ali al-Faraj, and Mohammed al-Faraj. They were arrested in 2017 and 2018 on protest-related charges.

On June 15, the government executed Mustafa Hashem al-Darwish, a 26-year-old Shia citizen convicted of terrorism charges. According to human rights organizations, he was detained in 2015 for alleged participation in riots between 2011 and 2012. The official charge sheet did not specify the dates his alleged crimes took place, making it unclear whether he had turned 18 by that time. Government officials claimed he was executed for other crimes committed as an adult but provided no further information.

On November 10, the Supreme Court overturned the death sentence conviction against Abdullah al-Huwaiti, arrested at age 14 and sentenced to death three years later on murder and armed robbery charges. Although no longer at risk of imminent execution, al-Huwaiti could still be sentenced to death at a later stage, since the case remained open, according to the European-Saudi Organization for Human Rights (ESOHR).

On October 27 and November 16, authorities released Shia prisoners Ali al-Nimr and Abdullah al-Zaher following completion of their 10-year prison sentences. Al-Nimr and al-Zaher, along with Dawood al-Marhoun who remained imprisoned, were arrested in 2012 as minors when they participated in political protests in 2011. In February all three had their death sentences commuted to 10 years in prison with credit for time served.

On November 10, the Supreme Court overturned the death sentence conviction against Abdullah al-Huwaiti, arrested at age 14 and sentenced to death three years later on murder and armed robbery charges.

On November 11, the ESOHR said at least four individuals accused of crimes committed as minors continued to face the possibility of capital punishment, including Sajjad al-Yassin, Jalal al-Labbad, Yusuf al-Manasif, and Hasan Zaki al-Faraj.

b. Disappearance

There were reports of disappearances carried out by or on behalf of government authorities.

According to the human rights organization al-Qst (ALQST) and Prisoners of Conscience, the whereabouts of physician and internet activist Lina al-Sharif were unknown since her arrest in May. The groups claimed al-Sharif was arrested for comments on social media regarding national politics and human rights issues.

There were no updates during the year regarding the whereabouts of several members of the royal family detained in March 2020, including the former crown prince Mohammed bin Nayef Al Saud, Prince Ahmed bin Abdulaziz Al Saud, and Prince Nayef bin Ahmed Al Saud, a former head of army intelligence. The government did not announce their detentions, but Reuters reported that the princes were accused of “contact with foreign powers to carry out a coup d’etat.” In June NBC News reported the former crown prince was being held at a government compound in Riyadh, but there was no subsequent confirmation. According to the report, he had lost significant weight, could no longer walk unaided due to serious injuries from beatings, and was deprived of pain medication needed for previous injuries.

There was also no information during the year regarding the whereabouts of Prince Faisal bin Abdullah Al Saud, former head of the Saudi Red Crescent Society, also detained by security forces in March 2020.

On April 5, the Specialized Criminal Court sentenced Abdulrahman al-Sadhan to 20 years’ imprisonment, followed by a 20-year travel ban, on terrorism financing and facilitation charges. After his arrest in 2018, al-Sadhan was detained incommunicado for two years before being allowed to speak with his family. Legal proceedings against him began on March 3 in a process that Amnesty International said was marred by rights violations. Al-Sadhan reportedly tweeted comments critical of the government and sympathetic to ISIS, which family members claimed were satirical in nature. Family members alleged that al-Sadhan was physically abused during his detention and that he was unable to present a proper legal defense during his trial.

In July representatives of the family of Princess Basmah bint Saud reportedly filed an appeal to the Special Procedures experts at the UN Human Rights Council requesting their intervention to demand that authorities provide proof that she was alive. Detained since 2019, media and rights groups reported the princess had health problems, including heart issues and osteoporosis. On May 29, Forbes reported she had a brief telephone call with a relative.

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

The law prohibits torture and makes officers who are responsible for criminal investigations liable for any abuse of authority. Sharia, as interpreted in the country, prohibits judges from accepting confessions obtained under duress. Statutory law states that public investigators shall not subject accused persons to coercive measures to influence their testimony. There were, however, reports by human rights organizations, the United Nations, and independent third parties of torture and other cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment or punishment.

Officials from the Ministry of Interior, Public Prosecutor’s Office, and HRC, which is responsible for coordinating with other government entities to investigate and respond to alleged human rights violations (see section 5), claimed that rules prohibiting torture prevented such practices from occurring in the penal system, but human rights organizations, the United Nations, and independent third parties said there were reports of torture and mistreatment of detainees by law enforcement officers. Amnesty International assessed in August that the Specialized Criminal Court “routinely condemns defendants to lengthy prison terms and even death sentences following convictions based on ‘confessions’ extracted through torture.” It alleged that Mustafa al-Darwish’s June execution resulted from confessions obtained by torture (see section 1.a.). Amnesty International reported that former detainees in Mabahith-run facilities alleged abuse, including beatings, sleep deprivation, and long periods of solitary confinement for nonviolent detainees.

On January 15, three UN special rapporteurs sent a letter to the government regarding Ali Hassan al-Rabea, expressing concern at the alleged use of torture and mistreatment to extract confessions and other evidence. In December 2020 the Supreme Court sentenced al-Rabea to death in a final ruling, not subject to appeal. As of year’s end, the sentence was pending King Salman’s approval. Al-Rabea was arrested in 2013, charged with participating in demonstrations, chanting antigovernment slogans, and possessing weapons. The primary evidence reportedly presented against him was the confession allegedly made after being subjected to torture and mistreatment.

In July HRW reported anonymous accounts from prison guards alleging torture of political detainees, including of prominent activists Loujain al-Hathloul and Mohammed al-Rabea. They alleged women’s rights activists and others were subjected to electric shocks, beatings, whippings, and sexual abuse. In February, following her sentencing and conditional release, al-Hathloul’s family reported that an appeals court rejected a lawsuit regarding her claims of torture. In December 2020 the Riyadh Criminal Court had previously dismissed her claim, citing a lack of evidence.

On July 28, the Washington Post reported that former interior ministry official Salem al-Muzaini was whipped, starved, beaten with iron bars, and subjected to electric shocks while held at two Saudi prisons and the Ritz-Carlton hotel from September 2017 until January 2018. He was originally detained in Dubai in 2017 and transferred to Saudi Arabia. Following his release in 2018, al-Muzaini allegedly disappeared in August 2020 after visiting a senior Saudi security official. Al-Muzaini was married to Hissah al-Muzaini, the daughter of Saad al-Jabri, a former high-ranking intelligence official who fled the country in 2016 (see sections 1.e. and 1.f.).

Courts continued to sentence individuals to corporal punishment. In March the Supreme Court clarified that the April 2020 royal decree that effectively eliminated flogging in most cases could be applied retroactively to sentences predating the decree. While flogging may no longer be used as a discretionary ta’zir sentence, it can still be used for three hudud crimes: drunkenness, sexual conduct between unmarried persons, and false accusations of adultery.

In March local media reported that the appeals court in Jeddah issued a final decision to overturn a sentence of 5,000 lashes for an individual convicted on drug trafficking charges. Reportedly the man instead received five years in prison, a five-year travel ban, and a large fine.

No additional information was available whether the remainder of the discretionary flogging element of activist Raif Badawi’s sentence had been dropped. Badawi was sentenced to 1,000 lashes, 10 years in prison, and a 10-year travel ban in 2014 for insulting Islam, among other charges. He received 50 lashes in 2015, but further floggings were delayed due to health concerns.

Impunity was a problem in the security forces. Activists questioned the impartiality of procedures to investigate detainees’ complaints of torture and maltreatment. The Ministry of Interior stated it installed surveillance cameras to record interrogations of suspects in some criminal investigation offices, police stations, and prisons where such interrogations occur. The government provided human rights training to security forces, but HRW continued to highlight concerns regarding abuse and deplorable conditions in detention centers.

Prison and Detention Center Conditions

Prison and detention center conditions varied, and some did not meet international standards; reported problems included overcrowding and inadequate conditions.

Physical Conditions: A July 7 ALQST report alleged that detention and deportation facilities suffered from overcrowding, poor hygiene and sanitation, and medical and administrative neglect. On August 14, the ESOHR estimated that at least 20 persons had died due to prison conditions since 2010, adding that some of them appeared to have been tortured. The years of individual deaths were not provided.

Juveniles constituted less than 1 percent of detainees and were held in separate facilities from adults, according to available information.

Authorities held pretrial detainees together with convicted prisoners. They separated persons suspected or convicted of terrorism offenses from the general population. Activists alleged that authorities sometimes detained individuals in the same cells as individuals with mental disabilities as a form of punishment and said authorities mistreated persons with disabilities.

Authorities differentiated between violent and nonviolent prisoners, sometimes pardoning nonviolent prisoners to reduce the prison population. Shia inmates were in some cases held in separate wings of prisons and reportedly faced worse conditions than Sunnis.

Prisoners convicted on terrorism-related charges were often required to participate in government-sponsored rehabilitation programs before consideration of their release.

In February Attorney General Saud bin al-Mu’jab issued directives to prevent the spread of COVID-19 among prisoners and detainees. On April 22, local media reported that approximately 68 percent of detainees in state security prisons were vaccinated against COVID-19. Rights organizations said Zaheer Ali contracted COVID-19 during a prison outbreak in April and died, which they attributed to medical negligence by prison authorities. Allegedly arrested for his writings in 2017, Ali died on May 8 in al-Ha’ir Prison, the United Kingdom-based rights groups Sanad and ALQST reported.

On October 12, ALQST reported academic and activist Musa al-Qarni, who was arrested in 2007 along with several other activists and charged with forming a secret organization and spreading anarchy, was beaten to death by fellow inmates. No information was available whether any inmates were charged in connection with his killing.

Online activists reported that at least five members of an outlawed human rights organization, the Saudi Civil and Political Rights Association (ACPRA), along with 25 other detainees in al-Ha’ir Prison, participated in a hunger strike between March 7 and March 14, reportedly to protest denied family contact, poor food quality, and attacks by prisoners suffering from mental illness. ACPRA members Mohammed al-Qahtani, Fawza al-Harbi, Issa al-Nukhaifi, Fahad al-Arani, and Mohammed al-Hudaif participated, with Abdulaziz al-Sunaidi joining from Onayza Prison in al-Qassim. On March 14, Prisoners of Conscience announced that the strike was suspended after prison administrators agreed to meet their demands. On August 15, al-Qahtani restarted his hunger strike to protest prison administrators’ alleged reneging on the March agreement.

Administration: There was no information available on whether prisoners were able to submit allegations of mistreatment to prison or prosecutorial authorities without censorship or whether authorities responded or acted upon complaints. There were multiple legal authorities for prisons and detention centers. The General Directorate of Prisons administered approximately 91 detention centers, prisons, and jails, while the Mabahith administered approximately 20 regional prisons and detention centers for security prisoners. The law gives the Public Prosecutor’s Office the authority to conduct official visits of prisons and detention facilities “within their jurisdictional areas to ensure that no person is unlawfully imprisoned or detained.”

The law provides that “any prisoner or detainee shall have the right to submit, at any time, a written or verbal complaint to the prison or detention center officer and request that he communicate it to a member of the [former] Bureau of Investigations and Public Prosecution [now the Public Prosecutor’s Office].” Prisoners submitted complaints to the HRC, which had offices in a number of prisons, and to the quasi-governmental National Society for Human Rights (NSHR) for follow-up. Inmates, however, required approval from prison authorities to submit complaints to an HRC office.

The Public Prosecutor’s Office announced in July the launch of the Ma’akom system, which allows citizens and residents to submit complaints directly regarding illegal detention or violations of detainee rights, using the online platform Absher, a hotline telephone number, or in person. The Ministry of Interior-run website (Nafetha) provided detainees and their relatives access to a database containing information regarding the legal status of the detainee, including any scheduled trial dates.

Authorities generally permitted relatives and friends to visit prisoners twice a week, although certain prisons limited visitation to once or twice a month. Prisoners were typically granted at least one telephone call per week. There were reports that prison, security, or law enforcement officials denied this privilege in some instances, often during pretrial investigations. The families of detainees could access the Nafetha website for applications for prison visits, temporary leave from prison (generally approved around post-Ramadan Eid holidays), and release on bail (for pretrial detainees). Starting on October 31, families of detainees who received two doses of an approved coronavirus vaccine could apply for prison visits. Family members of detained persons under investigation or in pretrial detention said family visits were typically not allowed, while others said visits or calls were extremely brief (less than five minutes). Authorities at times reportedly denied some detainees their weekly call for several months or years. Some family members of prisoners complained authorities canceled scheduled visits with relatives without reason.

Independent Monitoring: Independent institutions were not permitted to conduct regular, unannounced visits to places of detention, according to the UN Committee against Torture. Foreign diplomats regularly requested to attend non-consular trials of high-profile detainees but were not admitted into courtrooms. In a limited number of cases, foreign diplomats were granted consular visits to individuals in detention, but the visits took place in a separate visitors’ center where conditions may differ from those in the detention facilities holding the prisoners.

The government permitted the HRC and quasi-governmental NSHR to monitor prison conditions. The organizations stated they visited prisons throughout the country and reported on prison conditions. On July 7, local media reported the HRC conducted 1,538 prison visits during the fiscal year 2020-21, including visits to public prisons, security prisons, and various detention centers as well as “social observation centers” and girls’ welfare institutions.

Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties

a. Freedom of Expression, Including for Members of the Press and Other Media

The law does not provide for or protect freedom of expression, including for members of the press and other media. The law specifies, “Mass media and all other vehicles of expression shall employ civil and polite language, contribute towards the education of the nation, and strengthen unity. Media are prohibited from committing acts that lead to disorder and division, affect the security of the state or its public relations, or undermine human dignity and rights.” Authorities are responsible for regulating and determining what speech or expression undermines internal security. The government can ban or suspend media outlets if it concludes they violated the press and publications law, and it monitored and blocked hundreds of thousands of internet sites. There were frequent reports of restrictions on free speech.

The counterterrorism law’s definition of terrorism includes “any conduct…intended to disturb public order…or destabilize the state or endanger its national unity.” The law also penalizes “anyone who challenges, either directly or indirectly, the religion or justice of the king or crown prince…or anyone who establishes or uses a website or computer program…to commit any of the offenses set out in the law.” Local human rights activists, international human rights organizations, and the UN special rapporteur on human rights and counterterrorism criticized the law for its overly broad and vague definitions of terrorism and criticized the government for using it to prosecute peaceful expression and dissent.

Freedom of Expression: The government monitored public expressions of opinion and used legal controls to impede the free expression of opinion and restrict individuals from engaging in public criticism of the government. The law forbids apostasy and blasphemy, which can carry the death penalty, although there were no recent instances of death sentences being carried out for these crimes (see section 1.a.). Statements that authorities construed as constituting defamation of the king, monarchy, governing system, or Al Saud family resulted in criminal charges for citizens advocating government reform. The government prohibits public employees from directly or indirectly engaging in dialogue with local or foreign media or participating in any meetings intended to oppose state policies.

The government detained a number of individuals for crimes related to their exercise of free speech during the year.

Prisoners of Conscience reported that authorities arrested journalist Fahid al-Shammari on March 3 for publishing videos with “false information” regarding food products. Prisoners of Conscience claimed that the true reason for al-Shammari’s arrest was a video mocking General Entertainment Authority chairman Turki Al al-Sheikh. Al-Samara first published the video in 2019, but it recirculated on social media early in the year.

On October 27 and again on October 30, police in Mecca detained and released with a warning a foreign national for wearing a T-shirt reading, “Pray for the end of China’s genocide & occupation in East Turkistan.” He was released three days later and departed the country.

Between May and June, multiple rights groups reported blogger Abdullah Jilan and two Twitter pseudonymous users, Ladon and Lioness, were arrested for tweets regarding social justice, equitable distribution of wealth, and job creation in the country. The groups stated the three were affiliated with Canada-based dissident Omar Abdulaziz and murdered journalist Jamal Khashoggi.

On November 17, Reporters Without Borders called for the immediate release of Yemeni journalist Ali Aboluhom, who received a 15-year prison sentence for tweets that, according to the Saudi authorities, promoted apostasy, atheism, and blasphemy. According to the Gulf Center for Human Rights, on October 26, the criminal court in Najran sentenced Aboluhom to 10 years in prison after convicting him of apostasy and atheism and another five years in prison for publishing his writings on social media networks that “would prejudice public order, religious values, and morals.”

Freedom of Expression for Members of the Press and Other Media, Including Online Media: The law governs printed materials; printing presses; bookstores; the import, rental, and sale of films; television and radio; foreign media offices and their correspondents; and online newspapers and journals. Media fall under the jurisdiction of the Ministry of Media. The ministry may permanently close “whenever necessary” any means of communication – defined as any means of expressing a viewpoint that is meant for circulation – that it deems is engaged in a prohibited activity, as set forth in the law.

Government policy guidance instructs journalists in the country to uphold Islam, oppose atheism, promote Arab interests, and preserve cultural heritage. The press law requires all online newspapers and bloggers to obtain a license from the ministry. The law bans publishing anything “contradicting sharia, inciting disruption, serving foreign interests that contradict national interests, and damaging the reputation of the grand mufti, members of the Council of Senior Religious Scholars, or senior government officials.”

The law states that violators can face substantial fines for each violation of the law, which doubles if the violation is repeated. Other penalties include banning individuals from writing banned material. While the Violations Considerations Committee in the Ministry of Media has formal responsibility for implementing the law, the Ministry of Interior, the CPVPV, and judges considered these issues regularly and exercised wide discretion in interpreting the law. It was unclear which of these institutional processes accords with the law.

Although unlicensed satellite dishes were illegal, the government did not enforce restrictions on them, and their use was widespread. Many foreign satellite stations broadcast a wide range of programs into the country in Arabic and other languages, including foreign news channels. Access to foreign sources of information, including via satellite dishes and the internet, was common. Foreign media and some privately owned satellite networks headquartered outside the country maintained local offices; they were subject to licensing requirements from the Ministry of Media and could not operate freely.

Violence and Harassment: Authorities subjected journalists, writers, and bloggers to arrest, imprisonment, and harassment during the year (see section 1.c., Prison and Detention Center Conditions). NGOs, academics, and the press claimed the government targeted dissidents using automated social media accounts to ensure that progovernment messages dominated social media trend lists and effectively silenced dissenting voices. Automated account activity was reportedly accompanied by online harassment by progovernment accounts in some instances.

The Jeddah Criminal Court sentenced Ahmad Ali Abdelkader, a Sudanese media personality and journalist, to four years’ imprisonment on June 8 for criticizing in tweets and media interviews Saudi actions in Sudan and Yemen.

On March 1, Reporters Without Borders filed a criminal complaint in Germany against the Saudi crown prince for his alleged role in the 2018 killing of journalist Jamal Khashoggi in Turkey and the arbitrary detention of 34 journalists in Saudi Arabia. According to the complaint, 33 journalists, including blogger Raif Badawi, continued in detention.

In July Prisoners of Conscience reported the release of journalist Aql al-Bahili and writer Abdulaziz al-Dukhail without charges. The two were arrested in April 2020, along with activist Sultan al-Ajmi, reportedly for tweeting condolences on the death of imprisoned reformer and rights activist Abdullah al-Hamid. As of November, there were no updates on the status of al-Ajmi.

Censorship or Content Restrictions: The government reportedly penalized those who published items counter to government guidelines and directly or indirectly censored media by licensing domestic media and by controlling importation of foreign printed material.

All newspapers, blogs, and websites in the country must be government licensed. The Ministry of Media must approve the appointment of all senior editors and has authority to remove them. The government provided guidelines to newspapers regarding controversial issues. The Saudi Press Agency reported official government news. The government owned most print and broadcast media and book publication facilities in the country, and members of the royal family owned or influenced privately owned and nominally independent operations, including various media outlets and widely circulated pan-Arab newspapers published outside the country. Authorities prevented or delayed the distribution of foreign print media covering issues considered sensitive, effectively censoring these publications.

The government censored published online and print material it considered blasphemous, extremist, racist, offensive, or inciting chaos, violence, sectarianism, or harm to the public order, as well as criticism of the royal family or its allies among the Gulf Arab states.

In May the Public Prosecutor’s Office warned against producing, sending, or storing materials in information networks and computers that might “affect public order and go against religious values and morals.” Local media reported in July the office issued an arrest warrant against an individual who shared on social media parts of a television program that allegedly spread tribal intolerance and hatred. Following the arrest, the office stressed that hatred and intolerance disturb public order and that related actions are punishable by five-year sentences and substantial fines.

Online self-censorship was reportedly pervasive, as social media users were extremely cautious regarding what they posted, shared, or “liked” due to the threat of harassment or prosecution under broadly worded antiterrorism and other laws. The government closely monitored and often targeted users who expressed support for minority rights or political reform, in addition to those who exposed human rights violations. Social media users were reportedly reluctant to express support for outspoken activists who were detained or received prison sentences. Questioning religious doctrine was strictly taboo, particularly content related to the Prophet Muhammad.

In some cases, however, individuals criticized specific government bodies or actions publicly without repercussions.

Libel/Slander Laws: The cybercrimes law provides for a maximum penalty of one year’s imprisonment for “defamation and infliction of damage upon others through the use of various information technology devices,” including social media and social networks.

National Security: Authorities used the cybercrimes law and the counterterrorism law to restrict freedom of expression, including by prosecuting numerous individuals under these laws on charges related to statements made on social media. On April 25, ALQST reported that activist Khaled al-Omair was sentenced to seven years’ imprisonment for charges that included launching a hashtag on Twitter titled “the people want a new constitution.”

On October 18, local media reported that authorities arrested a Palestinian national in Riyadh after he appeared in a video clip insulting Saudi Arabia and its leaders. Authorities deemed these comments as aimed to harm the country’s national security and public order.

c. Freedom of Religion

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

Section 3. Freedom to Participate in the Political Process

The law does not provide citizens the ability to choose their national government in free and fair periodic elections held by secret ballot and based on universal and equal suffrage; it establishes an absolute monarchy led by the Al Saud family as the political system. The Allegiance Council, composed of up to 34 senior princes appointed by the king, is formally responsible for selecting a king and crown prince upon the death or incapacitation of either. Only select members of the ruling family have a voice in the choice of leaders, the composition of the government, or changes to the political system.

The law provides citizens the right to communicate with public authorities on any matter and establishes the government on the principle of consultation (shura). The king and senior officials, including ministers and regional governors, are required to be available through majlis, open-door meetings where any male citizen or noncitizen may express an opinion or a grievance without an appointment. Senior leaders were typically unavailable to the public, but their representatives or lower-level officials continued this traditional practice. Officials may also be reached through written petitions, such as an appeal of decisions from the legal system.

Elections and Political Participation

Recent Elections: In 2015 elections were held for two-thirds of the 3,159 seats on 284 municipal councils; the government appointed the remaining third. Council members serve until the next election – nominally for four-year terms – but there was no public announcement of conducting municipal elections during the year. Women were allowed to vote and run as candidates for the first time in 2015. The voting age was also lowered to 18. The Ministry of Municipal and Rural Affairs actively encouraged women’s participation in the municipal elections. Election regulations prohibited candidates from contesting under party affiliation. Twenty-one women won seats, and 17 were appointed to seats, totaling approximately 1 percent of all available seats.

The NSHR observed the elections, and select international journalists were also permitted to observe. Independent polling station observers identified no irregularities with the election. Prior to the election, several candidates reported they were disqualified for “violating the rules and regulations” without further explanation. They had the right to appeal, and some were reinstated in time for the elections. Uniformed members of the security forces, including the military and police, were ineligible to vote.

Political Parties and Political Participation: There were no political parties or similar associations. The law does not protect the right of individuals to organize politically and specifically bans a number of organizations with political wings, including the Muslim Brotherhood, as terrorist groups. The government continued to regard human rights organizations, such as the Saudi Civil and Political Rights Association (ACPRA), as illegal political movements and treated them accordingly.

Participation of Women and Members of Minority Groups: The law permits women and men to engage in political activities on an equally limited basis. Women may vote and run for office in municipal elections and serve on the Shura council. Women served in a small number of senior positions within government ministries. On April 18, Inas al-Shahwan became the country’s third female ambassador. In August local media reported the appointment of two women, Al-Anoud al-Aboud and Fatima al-Rashoud, to top senior leadership positions at the General Presidency for the Affairs of the Two Holy Mosques. Women expanded participation in the military, security forces, and other major institutions. On July 13, soldier Abeer al-Rashed became the first woman to conduct the security forces briefing for Hajj, in September the first class of female soldiers graduated from the Armed Forces Women’s Training Center, and in October the first 30 Saudi female pilots received their licenses from OxfordSaudia Flight Academy.

There were no women on the High Court or Supreme Judicial Council and no female judges or public prosecutors. In January the undersecretary for women’s empowerment at the Ministry of Human Resources and Social Development claimed in an interview that the appointment of female judges was forthcoming, but by year’s end no women had been appointed and no specific plans to do so had been released.

No laws prevent male citizens from minority groups from participating in political life on the same basis as other male citizens. Societal discrimination, however, marginalized the Shia Saudi population, and tribal factors and long-standing traditions continued to dictate many individual appointments to positions. Government authorities were unlikely to appoint a Bedouin tribesman to a high-ranking ministerial-level position or the senior-most positions in the armed forces. All Council of Ministers members from tribal communities were members of urbanized “Hamael” tribes, rather than Bedouin tribes. While the religious affiliation of Shura Council members was not known publicly, the council included an estimated seven or eight Shia members. The Council of Ministers contained one religious minority member, Mohammad bin Faisal Abu Saq, a Shia Ismaili, who had held the position of minister of state for Shura affairs since 2014. Multiple municipal councils in the Eastern Province, where most Shia Saudis resided, had large proportions of Shia Saudis as members to reflect the local population, including a majority in Qatif and 50 percent in al-Hassa. Eastern Province Shia judges dealing with intra-Shia personal status and family laws operated specialized courts.

Section 6. Discrimination and Societal Abuses

Women

Rape and Domestic Violence: Rape is a criminal offense under sharia with a wide range of penalties, from flogging to execution. The law does not recognize spousal rape as a crime. The government enforced the law based on its interpretation of sharia, and in some cases courts punished victims as well as perpetrators for illegal “mixing of genders,” even when there was no conviction for rape. Survivors must prove that a rape was committed, and a woman’s testimony in court was not always accepted.

Due to these legal and social obstacles, authorities brought few cases to trial. Statistics on incidents of, and prosecutions, convictions, or punishments for rape were not available. Most rape cases were likely unreported because survivors faced societal and familial reprisal, including diminished marriage opportunities, criminal sanctions up to imprisonment, or accusations of adultery or sexual relations outside of marriage, which are punishable under sharia. There were reports that domestic abuse in the form of incest occurred but was seldom reported to authorities due to fears of societal repercussions, according to local sources.

The law against domestic violence defines domestic abuse broadly and criminalizes domestic abuse with penalties of one month to one year of imprisonment or a fine unless a court provides a harsher sentence.

Researchers stated it was difficult to gauge the magnitude of domestic abuse, which they believed to be widespread. Recent studies varied widely, finding the rate of domestic abuse among women to be anywhere between 15 to 60 percent. In July, referencing a Ministry of Health report, local media reported authorities were investigating more than 2,700 domestic violence cases, in which 75 percent of the alleged survivors were female. The National Family Safety Program, a quasi-governmental organization under the Ministry of National Guard, is charged with spreading awareness of and combatting domestic violence, including child abuse, and continued to report abuse cases.

Officials stated the government did not clearly define domestic violence and procedures concerning cases, including thresholds for investigation or prosecution, and thus enforcement varied from one government body to another. Some women’s rights advocates were critical of investigations of domestic violence, claiming investigators were hesitant to enter a home without permission from the male head of household, who may also be the perpetrator of violence. Activists reported the situation had improved in recent years, with greater awareness of resources for domestic violence survivors, such as the domestic violence hotline managed by the Ministry of Human Resources and Social Development. They also noted a continued increase in authorities’ willingness to investigate and prosecute domestic violence perpetrators, but they expressed concern that some police departments continued to neglect domestic violence cases.

On January 27, Prisoners of Conscience reported that a woman known only as Manal was arrested after publishing details on the disappearance and death of her 26-year-old sister, Qamar, allegedly at the hands of their two brothers. Manal stated on Twitter that her two brothers killed Qamar for setting up a public Snapchat account. Authorities in al-Kharj stated they arrested two individuals in connection with the murder on January 21. As of November, Manal’s whereabouts were unknown.

The government made some efforts to reduce domestic violence. The Ministry of Human Resources and Social Development administered government-supported family-protection shelters, although women reported that remaining in the shelters was not always voluntary. On March 29, the HRC and the Mawaddah Charitable Association signed a memorandum of understanding to increase coordination and antidomestic violence awareness efforts. It would establish an independent body to research domestic violence, propose changes to the legal framework, and develop specialized centers for survivors, local media reported. No additional information on implementation of the memorandum was available as of December.

Female Genital Mutilation/Cutting (FGM/C): The official government interpretation of sharia prohibits the practice; however, some studies indicated up to 18 percent of women reported having undergone some type of FGM/C.

Sexual Harassment: The extent of sexual harassment was difficult to measure, with little media reporting and no official government data. No statistics were available on the incidence of sexual harassment due to reluctance to report violations.

On January 12, the Council of Ministers approved an amendment to the antiharassment law that allows for the public release of names of those convicted for harassment, as a deterrent and to prevent offenders’ employment in certain jobs. The law criminalizing sexual harassment carries a maximum penalty of five years in prison and a substantial fine. The HRC stated that a legal punishment against sexual harassment is irreversible, even if the victim renounced his or her own rights or did not file a legal complaint.

Local media reported a number of incidents of harassment during the year. In March the Public Prosecutor’s Office ordered the arrest of a man seen in a video insulting and assaulting two young women in the streets of Riyadh and filed a criminal suit against him. On February 22, local media reported that former shura council member Iqbal Dandari won a case against a man for cyberharassment. Details regarding the case were unknown. On September 26, local media reported a number of sexual harassment incidents during National Day celebrations. Security authorities arrested and referred to the Public Prosecutor’s Office three Saudi citizens in Medina, a Saudi and an Egyptian resident in Riyadh, and a Saudi citizen in Taif for harassing women.

In April the HRC launched a specialized group for confidential support of victims of sexual harassment and their families with psychological counseling and educational, social, and legal guidance.

Reproductive Rights: There were no reports of coerced abortion or involuntary sterilization on the part of government authorities.

Premarital sex is illegal under sharia law, and hospitals and health centers may report extramarital pregnancies to police. Access to most contraceptives required a prescription, but condoms were available at pharmacies and supermarkets for over-the-counter purchase. According to 2020 estimates by the UN Population Fund, 15 percent of all women and 23 percent of married women between the ages of 15 and 49 used a modern method of contraception.

In some cases women may be discouraged from making certain reproductive health decisions due to cultural and religious beliefs, social pressure, and lack of awareness of their rights.

Almost all women had access to skilled health attendants during pregnancy and childbirth. The most recent UN Population Fund estimates reported that skilled health personnel attended 99 percent of births between 2010 and 2019. While some women in rural areas had to travel to the closest medical facility to receive treatment, others received health services from Ministry of Health-sponsored mobile health clinics. According to the government, women are entitled to medical assistance during pregnancy and delivery; the right to decide the details of their deliveries; and obtain maternity care in a language she understands and is appropriate to her cultural and religious beliefs. Adult women also have the right to consent to any medical procedures.

Governmental and quasi-governmental agencies provided medical care to sexual violence survivors as well as psychological and social support. The Ministry of Human Resources and Social Development’s Center for Protection Against Abuse runs a 24-hour hotline and shelters across the country with access to medical care for victims of sexual violence, while the quasi-governmental National Family Safety Program agency provided medical support to sexual abuse victims. (See sections 2.g. and 6, Children, for issues related to legal status for children born outside of marriage.)

Discrimination: Women continued to face discrimination under law and custom. A series of regulations issued from 2019 through year’s end, however, granted women many of the same rights enjoyed by men pertaining to travel abroad, civil status, and employment.

Most restrictions under the guardianship system, which had required women to have permission from close male relatives to conduct certain actions, were eliminated. There were reports, however, that government and nongovernment entities, primarily in rural areas, continued to require women to obtain guardian permission prior to providing services.

Women older than 18 have the right to perform several actions pertaining to civil status that were previously limited to men. These included registering the birth of a child; registering the death of a spouse or close relative; registering a marriage or divorce (whether initiated by the husband or wife); and being designated “head of household,” thereby allowing women to serve as the guardian of their minor children. Women can also obtain from the Civil Status Administration a “family registry,” which is official documentation of a family’s vital records that verifies the relationship between parents and children. This reform allows mothers to perform administrative transactions for their children, such as registering them for school or obtaining services at a hospital.

In June judicial authorities amended the absenteeism law, or taghayyub, to allow all unmarried, divorced, or widowed women to live alone without the consent of a male guardian. The amendment followed a July 2020 court decision in which a court ruled in favor of Maryam al-Otaibi, a Saudi woman who lived independently in Riyadh, despite prosecutors’ attempt to convict her for absenteeism. Under the previous absenteeism law, guardians could report the unauthorized absence of anyone under their guardianship, which could lead to the arrest, detention, or forcible return of the individual.

In advance of Hajj in July, authorities ended the male guardian requirement for women to participate in the annual pilgrimage.

Adult women may legally own property and are entitled to financial support from their husbands or ex-husbands. They can make their own determinations concerning hospital care and no longer need a male guardian’s permission to start a business.

By law women have equal rights to employment. On January 14, the Ministry of Human Resources and Social Development banned employee discrimination on the basis of race, color, gender, age, or disability, citing reforms to human resources laws. Commenting on a job advertisement that contained gender discriminatory language, the ministry stated it violated the labor law, stressing that citizens have equal employment rights without any form of discrimination, including gender.

On February 21, the Ministry of Defense began allowing women to serve in the army, air defense, navy, strategic missile force, and armed forces medical services as enlisted personnel, but not as officers. In November data from the Ministry of Human Resources and Social Development’s National Labor Observatory showed women constituted 60 percent of Saudi youth who joined the local employment market during the first nine months of the year.

Women no longer require a guardian’s permission to exit prisons after completing their terms.

The law permits women to transmit citizenship to their children under certain circumstances (see section 2.g. and section 6, Children). The country’s interpretation of sharia prohibits Muslim women from marrying non-Muslims, but Muslim men may marry non-Muslim women. Women require government permission to marry noncitizens; men must obtain government permission if they intend to marry citizens from countries other than Gulf Cooperation Council-member states (Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, Kuwait, Oman, Qatar, and the United Arab Emirates). Regulations prohibit men from marrying women from Bangladesh, Burma, Chad, and Pakistan. The government additionally requires Saudi men wishing to marry a second wife who is a foreigner to submit documentation attesting to the fact that his first wife was disabled, had a chronic disease, or was sterile.

Few businesses still required or pressured women to sit in separate, specially designated family sections in public places.

Cultural norms selectively enforced by state institutions require women to wear an abaya (a loose-fitting, full-length cloak) in public. Female foreigners, like males, were only required to dress “modestly.”

Women faced discrimination in courts, where in some cases the testimony of a woman equals one-half that of a man. Women have begun practicing law, but all judges are male. In divorce proceedings, women must demonstrate legally specified grounds for divorce, but men may divorce without giving cause, citing “irreconcilable differences.” In doing so, men must pay immediately an amount of money agreed at the time of the marriage that serves as a one-time alimony payment. Men may be forced, however, to make subsequent alimony payments by court order. The government began implementing an identification system based on fingerprints, designed to provide women more access to courts, even if they chose to cover their faces with the niqab covering.

In February 2020 the Justice Ministry ended the so-called secret divorce, whereby men could divorce their wives without the woman’s consent or knowledge. The ministry also canceled an article in the marriage law that gave a husband the right to force his wife to return to her home against her will.

A woman needs a guardian’s permission to marry or must seek a court order in the case of adhl (male guardians refusing to approve the marriage of women under their charge). In such cases the judge assumes the role of the guardian and may approve the marriage. During the year courts executed marriage contracts for women whose male guardians refused to approve their marriage, according to informed judicial sources quoted by local media. According to local media in 2020, courts considered an average of 750 marriage contract cases annually.

In February the crown prince announced forthcoming legal reforms that would impact the personal status law and expand protections for women. On October 24, Minister of Justice Walid al-Samaani stated the personal status draft law would address a woman’s agreement to marriage, preserving her and her children’s financial and alimony rights, as well as other issues related to divorce requests. Additional details regarding these reforms were not made public by year’s end.

Courts routinely awarded custody of children when they attain a specified age (seven years for boys and nine years for girls) to the divorced husband or the deceased husband’s family. In some cases former husbands reportedly prevented divorced noncitizen women from visiting their children.

Sharia-based inheritance laws discriminate against women, giving daughters one-half the inheritance awarded to their brothers.

According to recent surveys, women constituted 52 percent of public education and higher education students. Segregated education through the university level was standard. Some private universities, such as -Faisal University, offered partially segregated classes with students receiving instruction from the same teacher and able to participate together in class discussion, but with the women and men physically separated by dividers. A few other government universities offered coeducation in selected programs, largely in the sciences. Private international and national schools may offer coeducation at any grade; most private international schools are coeducational, while most private national schools are segregated. Primary public schools offered mixed-gender education up to the third grade.

Section 7. Worker Rights

a. Freedom of Association and the Right to Collective Bargaining

The law does not provide for the right of workers to form and join independent unions; however, trade unions and labor committees existed. The law does not provide for the right to collective bargaining or the right to conduct legal strikes. Workers faced potential dismissal, imprisonment, or, in the case of migrant workers, deportation for unsanctioned union activities.

The government allowed citizen-only labor committees in workplaces with more than 100 employees, but it placed undue limitations on freedom of association and was heavily involved in the formation and activities of these committees. For example, the Ministry of Human Resources and Social Development approves the committee members and authorizes ministry and employer representatives to attend committee meetings. Committee members must submit the minutes of meetings to management and then transmit them to the minister; the ministry can dissolve committees if they violate regulations or are deemed to threaten public security. Regulations limit committees to making recommendations to company management that are limited to improvements to working conditions, health and safety, productivity, and training programs.

The law does not prohibit antiunion discrimination or require reinstatement of workers fired for union activity. There was little information on government efforts to enforce applicable laws and whether penalties were commensurate with those for other laws involving denials of civil rights, such as discrimination.

b. Prohibition of Forced or Compulsory Labor

The law does not prohibit or criminalize all forms of forced or compulsory labor, and forced labor occurred, especially among migrant workers, notably domestic workers. Conditions indicative of forced labor experienced by foreign workers reportedly included withholding of passports, nonpayment of wages, restrictions on movement, and verbal, physical, and sexual abuse. The law prohibits the confiscation of passports and nonpayment of wages. Penalties for violations of labor laws were not commensurate with those for other analogous serious crimes, such as kidnapping. The government improved enforcement of the law, including electronic systems to monitor and ensure compliance. On March 14, the government announced the Labor Reform Initiative, which eliminated the need for many private-sector workers to obtain their employer’s permission to obtain an exit and re-entry visa, obtain a final exit visa, or change employers at the conclusion of their contract or after one year. This provided increased freedom of movement and lessened the risks of forced labor for seven million private-sector workers. According to the Human Resources Ministry, as of November, 65,000 workers had successfully changed employers. The Labor Reform Initiative does not apply to domestic workers (see section 2.d.).

Many migrant workers, particularly female domestic workers, who are not covered under the labor law, were unable to exercise the right to terminate their employment contract, change employers, or leave the country without undue restrictions. Employers may require a trainee to work for them upon completion of training for a period not to exceed twice the duration of the training or one year, whichever is longer.

The government expanded to all private-sector companies the implementation of the Wage Protection System, which requires employers to pay foreign workers by electronic transfer through a Saudi bank. The government also implemented a mandatory e-contract system that includes type of work, salary, duration of contract, working hours, and annual leave. Contracts were verified by both the employer and employee. The government reported it used the Mudad platform to track Wage Protection System and e-contract compliance in real-time and imposed penalties for any firm that failed to maintain at least 80 percent compliance on a monthly basis.

Also see the Department of State’s Trafficking in Persons Report at https://www.state.gov/trafficking-in-persons-report/.

c. Prohibition of Child Labor and Minimum Age for Employment

The law prohibits and criminalizes all the worst forms of child labor and provides for a minimum age of employment. The law provides that no person younger than 15 may legally work unless that person is the sole source of support for the family. Children between the ages of 13 and 15 may work if the job is not harmful to health or growth and does not interfere with schooling. A ministerial decree provides that hazardous operations, such as use of power-operated machinery, or harmful industries, such as mines and quarries, may not employ legal minors. Children younger than 18 may not be employed for shifts exceeding six hours a day. There is no minimum age for workers employed in family-owned businesses or other areas considered extensions of the household, such as farming, herding, and domestic service.

The HRC and NSHR are responsible for monitoring enforcement of child labor laws. There was little information on government efforts to enforce applicable laws and whether penalties were commensurate with those for other analogous serious crimes, such as kidnapping. Authorities mostly enforced the law in response to complaints regarding children begging on the streets.

Most child labor involved children from other countries, including Yemen and Ethiopia, forced into begging rings, street vending, and working in family businesses.

Also see the Department of Labor’s Findings on the Worst Forms of Child Labor at https://www.dol.gov/agencies/ilab/resources/reports/child-labor/findings .

Singapore

Section 1. Respect for the Integrity of the Person

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

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

b. Disappearance

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

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

The law prohibits such practices, and the government generally respected these prohibitions.

The law mandates imprisonment and mandatory caning for approximately 30 offenses, such as certain cases of rape, robbery, and drug trafficking. Caning is discretionary for convictions on other charges involving the use of force, such as kidnapping or voluntarily causing grievous hurt. Caning also may be used as a punishment for legally defined offenses while in prison if a review by the Institutional Discipline Advisory Committee deems it necessary and the commissioner of prisons approves. Women and girls, men older than 50 years and boys younger than 16, men sentenced to death whose sentences were not commuted, and persons determined medically unfit were exempt from caning.

Impunity was not a significant problem in the security forces. The government took active steps to investigate and file charges against members of the security services when it deemed their behavior inappropriate or illegal.

The trial of Central Narcotics Bureau officer Vengedesh Raj Nainar Nagarajan began in late 2020 and was still underway as of December. Nainar was charged with three counts of voluntarily causing hurt by seeking to extort a confession concerning drugs found in a suspect’s possession in 2017.

Prison and Detention Center Conditions

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

Physical Conditions: There were no major concerns regarding physical conditions or inmate abuse in prisons and detention centers.

Administration: Prisoners may file complaints alleging mistreatment or misconduct with judicial authorities without censorship and may request investigation of credible allegations of problematic conditions. When called upon, the Provost Unit investigates complaints. Criminal charges may be brought against government officials.

The Board of Visiting Justices, composed of justices of the peace appointed by the home affairs minister, examines the prison system and oversees any investigations undertaken by the Provost Unit. The board conducts regular prison inspections to monitor prisoners’ basic welfare and adherence to prison regulations. It may also conduct random visits. All inmates have access to the visiting justices. Authorities documented the results of investigations in a publicly accessible manner. Members of the Board of Visiting Justices visited prisons at least once a month.

The Institutional Discipline Advisory Committee renders an opinion to the commissioner of prisons on whether an instance of corporal punishment (which is permitted) was excessive.

The status of the suspect or convict determined the frequency and type of permitted visits. In general, authorities allowed family members and close relatives to visit inmates. Prison authorities must approve visits from nonrelatives.

Independent Monitoring: Authorities allowed members of the press to visit prisons with prior approval. It was not known if there were any visits during the year. The Ministry of Home Affairs also appointed a nongovernmental body composed of citizens to conduct regular prison inspections.

Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties

a. Freedom of Expression, Including for Members of the Press and Other Media

The constitution provides for freedom of expression but allows parliament to impose such restrictions on freedom of speech as it “considers necessary or expedient in the interest of the security of the country or any part thereof, friendly relations with other countries, public order or morality and restrictions designed to protect the privileges of Parliament or to provide against contempt of court, defamation or incitement to any offence.”

Freedom of Expression: The government significantly restricted any public statements that it contended would undermine social or religious harmony, or that did not safeguard national or public interest. Government pressure to conform influenced some journalists and users of the internet. Freedom House reported that self-censorship occurred in media and among academics.

In previous years international and regional human rights organizations criticized the government’s use of the law to bring contempt of court charges as a means to curtail speech. In August the Attorney-General’s Chambers started proceedings against Terry Xu, editor of alternative news website the Online Citizen, for contempt of court under the Administration of Justice Act. In January the Online Citizen published a post on its website and Facebook page questioning the equitability of the justice system and by doing so allegedly impugned the integrity of the judiciary.

The law gives the minister for home affairs discretion to authorize special police powers if a “serious incident” such as a terrorist attack is occurring or there is a threat of one. These powers allow the commissioner of police to prohibit anyone from taking or transmitting photographs or videos in a defined area, or from making text or audio messages concerning police operations if these actions could compromise the effectiveness and safety of the law enforcement operations. A breach of the order may lead to imprisonment for up to two years, a substantial fine, or both.

The law prohibits the public display of any foreign national emblems, including flags or symbols of political organizations or leaders. The law restricts the use of the coat of arms, flag, and national anthem.

The government-approved Speakers’ Corner was the only outdoor venue where citizens or Singapore-registered entities could give public speeches without a police permit, provided certain criteria were met. Speakers’ Corner may be used for exhibitions, performances, assemblies, and processions. All event organizers must, however, preregister online with the National Parks Board and must provide the topic of their event. Regulations state that the event should not be religious in nature or cause feelings of enmity, ill will, or hostility between different racial or religious groups. The commissioner of parks and recreation has the right to cancel or disallow any event or activity that he or she believes may endanger, cause discomfort to, or inconvenience other park users or the general public. Only citizens or permanent residents of the country are allowed to attend events at Speakers’ Corner. If a police permit was obtained for an event there, non-resident foreigners may also attend.

Citizens need a permit to speak at indoor public gatherings if the topic refers to race or religion. Indoor private events are not subject to the same restrictions. Organizers of private events, however, must prevent inadvertent access by uninvited guests, or they may be cited for noncompliance with the rules regarding public gatherings.

Freedom of Expression for Members of the Press and Other Media, Including Online Media: According to the ISA and other legislation, the government may restrict or place conditions on publications that incite violence, counsel disobedience to the law, have the potential to arouse tensions in the country’s diverse population, or threaten national interests, national security, or public order.

Government leaders openly urged news media to support the government’s goals and help maintain social and religious harmony. The government enforced strict defamation and press laws, likely resulting in journalists and editors moderating or limiting what they published. The government also strictly enforced laws protecting racial and religious harmony. In October the government passed a bill repealing the 1938 Sedition Act, which criminalized conduct with seditious tendencies and allowed the courts to suspend the publication and circulation of newspapers and publications containing seditious content. The government argued that newer laws better covered the offenses; it also amended the Penal and Criminal Procedure Codes to include offenses from the repealed Sedition Act that were not covered by more recent laws.

There were no legal bans on owning or operating private press outlets, although in practice government managerial and financial control strongly influenced all print and some electronic media. Two companies, Singapore Press Holdings Limited and Mediacorp, owned all general circulation newspapers in the four official languages of English, Chinese, Malay, and Tamil. In September, Singapore Press Holdings, a publicly listed company with close ties to the government, transformed its media business into a not-for-profit company, SPH Media, independent of Singapore Press Holdings. The new company was to continue publishing the country’s main newspaper, the Straits Times, as well as Chinese, Malay, and Tamil newspapers, and other digital and print products. Besides initial funding from Singapore Press Holdings, the Ministry of Communications and Information proclaimed its willingness to provide funding to SPH Media. Khaw Boon Wan, who held several government cabinet positions in the past, was named SPH Media’s chairman. Both developments raised questions regarding the new media company’s editorial independence and integrity. For instance, at Singapore Press Holdings the government had to approve (and could remove) the holders of management shares, who appointed or dismissed the firm’s management. The country’s other major newspaper owner, Mediacorp, was wholly owned by Temasek Holdings, the government investment company. As a result, its coverage of domestic events and reporting of sensitive foreign relations topics usually closely reflected official policies and views.

Government-linked companies and organizations operated all domestic broadcast television channels and almost all radio stations. Only one radio station, the BBC’s World Service, was completely independent of the government. Residents could receive some Malaysian and Indonesian television and radio programming, but with a few exceptions, authorities prohibited satellite dishes. Cable television was widespread, and subscribers had access to numerous foreign television shows and a wide array of international news and entertainment channels. The government did not censor international news channels, but entertainment programs must meet the content codes of the state’s Infocomm Media Development Authority (IMDA). Broadcasters often censored or edited content they anticipated would breach the IMDA code, such as content that normalized or positively portrayed lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer, and intersex (LGBTQI+) relationships. Residents routinely accessed uncensored international radio and television content via the internet.

The government may limit broadcasts or the circulation of publications by “gazetting” (listing) them under the Broadcasting Act and may ban the circulation of domestic and foreign publications. The law empowers the minister for communications and information to gazette or place formal restrictions on any foreign broadcaster it assesses to be reporting on domestic politics in a one-sided or inaccurate manner.

The government may require a gazetted broadcaster to obtain express permission from the minister to continue broadcasting. The government may impose restrictions on the number of households receiving a broadcaster’s programming and may impose a substantial fine on a broadcaster for failing to comply.

Censorship or Content Restrictions: The IMDA, under the Ministry of Communications and Information, regulates broadcast, print, and other media, including movies, video materials, computer games, and music. Most banned publications were sexually oriented materials but also included some religious and political publications. On November 1, the IMDA banned the book Red Lines: Political Cartoons and the Struggle Against Censorship by Hong Kong-based Singaporean academic Cherian George and Singaporean cartoonist Sonny Liew under the Undesirable Publications Act for containing 29 images that were found to be offensive and to denigrate Islam, Hinduism, and Christianity. Among the images in question were the 2006 Charlie Hebdo cartoons of Prophet Muhammad.

The IMDA stated it had banned six other publications in the past five years for denigrating various religious communities. The IMDA develops censorship standards including age-appropriate classification of media content with the help of various citizen advisory panels. The law allows the banning, seizure, censorship, or restriction of written, visual, or musical materials if authorities determine that such materials threaten the stability of the state, contravene moral norms, are pornographic, show excessive or gratuitous sex and violence, glamorize or promote drug use, or incite racial, religious, or linguistic animosities. The law gives IMDA officers power to enter and search premises and seize evidence without a warrant for “serious offenses,” such as those involving films prohibited on public interest grounds or the unlicensed public exhibition of a film. The IMDA has the power to sanction broadcasters for transmitting what it believes to be inappropriate content. All content shown between 6 a.m. and 10 p.m. must be suitable for viewers of all ages.

Libel/Slander Laws: Defamation is a criminal offense and may result in a maximum prison sentence of two years, a fine, or both. Critics charged that government leaders used defamation lawsuits or threats of such actions to discourage public criticism, coerce the press, and intimidate opposition politicians.

In March the Attorney-General’s Chambers ended criminal defamation proceedings against lawyer Ravi Madasamy after Ravi removed a November 2020 Facebook post suggesting that Home Affairs and Law Minister K. Shanmugam “wields influence over the Chief Justice” and “calls the shots”; issued an apology accepting that the allegations were false; and published an undertaking not to repeat them. The Attorney-General’s Chambers did not acquit Ravi but issued a 24-month conditional warning, allowing authorities to revive the charge if Ravi breached any of the conditions.

In November the Online Citizen website editor Terry Xu and site contributor Daniel De Costa were convicted of criminal defamation for a 2018 article accusing the People’s Action Party (PAP) leadership of “corruption at the highest echelons.”

In March a court found government critic and blogger Leong Sze Hian guilty in a 2018 civil defamation suit filed by Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong and ordered him to pay the prime minister 133,000 Singapore dollars (S$) ($97,200) in damages. In 2018 Leong had shared a news article on his Facebook page that alleged a secret deal between Lee and then Malaysian prime minister Najib Razak. The article alleged local banks assisted in laundering money from 1Malaysia Development Berhad. The judge reasoned that sharing the article was an act of “publishing.” In April the court ordered Leong to pay the prime minister an additional S$129,000 ($94,300) in disbursements and legal fees.

In September the High Court awarded Prime Minister Lee a total of S$210,000 ($153,000) in damages in two separate civil defamation lawsuits against Xu and the Online Citizen writer Rubaashini Shunmuganathan for a 2019 article repeating allegations arising from a dispute between Lee and his two siblings. In October the court ordered Xu to pay the prime minister an additional S$87,800 ($64,200) for costs and disbursements for the lawsuit.

c. Freedom of Religion

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

Section 3. Freedom to Participate in the Political Process

The law provides citizens the ability to choose their government in open and free periodic elections held by secret ballot and based on universal and equal suffrage. In five decades of continuous rule, however, the PAP employed a variety of measures that effectively limited the ability of the opposition to mount a serious challenge to its hold on power. In recent years the opposition won additional seats, although it still held a small fraction of seats in parliament.

Elections and Political Participation

Recent Elections: The law provides for the popular election of the president to a six-year term from among candidates approved by two committees selected by the government. The constitution also requires multiracial representation in the presidency. The office of the president is reserved for a member of a specific racial community (Chinese, Malay, or Indian and other minority communities) if no person belonging to that community had held the office of the president for any of the last five terms of office. The 2017 presidential election was thus restricted to eligible Malay candidates. In 2017 former speaker of parliament Halimah Yacob became president without a vote because she was the only candidate; two other applicants were ruled ineligible according to criteria applicable to private- sector candidates.

The 2020 parliamentary general election was free and open. In addition to the governing PAP, 10 opposition parties participated in the election, and all seats were contested for the second time since independence. The general elections operate according to a first-past-the-post system, and there are both single-member and group constituencies. The PAP won 61 percent of the popular vote, capturing 83 of 93 seats in parliament. The opposition Workers’ Party won 10 seats, the most seats won by the opposition since independence. Because a constitutional provision mandates at least 12 opposition members in parliament, two losing candidates from the newly founded Progress Singapore Party were also seated as nonconstituency members of parliament, chosen from the highest finishing runners-up in the general election.

In September police issued a “stern warning” to Dr. Thum Ping Tjin, director of Observatory Southeast Asia and publisher of sociopolitical website New Naratif, for “unauthorized paid election advertisements” published on the website during the 2020 general election campaign. Police opened an investigation following a report filed by the Elections Department concerning five paid advertisements New Naratif was not authorized to publish, a potential breach of the law. Police found the advertisements “were intended to prejudice the electoral prospects of a political party” but, in consultation with the Attorney-General’s Chambers, issued a stern warning “in lieu of prosecution.”

Political Parties and Political Participation: The opposition criticized the PAP for its abuse of incumbency to restrict opposition parties. The PAP maintained its political dominance in part by circumscribing political discourse and action. For example, government-appointed and predominantly publicly funded community development councils, which provide welfare and other services, strengthened the PAP’s position. The PAP also had an extensive grassroots system and a carefully selected, highly disciplined membership. The constitutional requirement that members of parliament resign if expelled from their party helped promote backbencher discipline.

The PAP controlled key positions in and out of government, influenced the press, and benefited from structural advantages such as the group constituency system and short campaign period that disadvantaged smaller opposition parties, according to some human rights groups. While the PAP’s methods were consistent with the law and the prerogatives of parliamentary government in the country, the overall effect was to perpetuate PAP power. The government created the institutionalized position of an official leader of the opposition in parliament following the 2020 general election, which the Workers’ Party accepted.

Although political parties were legally free to organize, authorities imposed strict regulations on their constitutions, fundraising, and accountability, including a ban on receiving foreign donations and a requirement to report donations. There were 33 registered political parties, 14 of which were active.

Participation of Women and Members of Minority Groups: No law limits the participation of women and members of historically marginalized or minority groups in the political process, and they did participate. Three of the 20 members of the cabinet were women, and seven were members of a minority group. The country’s female president was a minority-group member. Presidential elections may be reserved for certain racial communities. There are no other restrictions in law or practice against voting or political participation by members of minority groups; they were well represented throughout the government and civil service, except in some sensitive national security positions in the armed forces and intelligence community. The country’s group representation constituency system also requires at least one candidate from a racial minority group in each group constituency to provide representation in parliament.

Section 6. Discrimination and Societal Abuses

Women

Rape and Domestic Violence: Under the law rape is a crime, with maximum penalties of 20 years’ imprisonment and the possibility of caning. There is no marital immunity for rape and the definition of rape is gender neutral. The law imposes up to twice the maximum penalty for offenses affecting the human body – “rape, hurt, or wrongful confinement” – committed by partners in a close or intimate relationship (even if unmarried) than it imposes for these offenses committed outside such relationships. Domestic violence is a crime. Victims may obtain court orders restraining the respondent and barring a spouse or former spouse from the victim’s home until the court is satisfied the spouse has ceased aggressive behavior. The government enforced the laws on rape and domestic violence.

Identity protection orders are mandatory for sexual crimes or child abuse even before a police report is lodged. Victims of sexual crimes may video-record their testimony instead of having to recount it in person. Victims may testify in closed-door hearings, with physical screens to shield them from the accused person. Lawyers may not ask questions concerning a victim’s sexual history unless the court grants them permission to do so.

Several voluntary welfare organizations that assisted abused women noted gender-based violence was underreported but that the number of reported incidents was increasing, which they stated was the result of advocacy campaigns to address social stigma.

Releasing statistics on family violence for the first time, police in January disclosed that in 2020, 5,135 reports were made, of which 1,115 were referred to family service centers or family violence specialist centers. Reported abuses included causing hurt, using criminal force, assault, criminal intimidation, and wrongful confinement. The Ministry of Home Affairs saw a 10 percent increase in family violence cases every month between April and December 2020, which it attributed to the COVID-19 pandemic. In October a court sentenced a man to 29 years’ imprisonment and 24 strokes of the cane for raping his 13-year-old daughter and forcing his 15-year-old son to rape his biological mother. The judge termed the man’s acts “an assault on the basic values of being human.”

In January the Ministry of Social and Family Development launched the country’s first 24-hour national helpline dedicated to addressing family violence and other cases of abuse and neglect, providing support in the country’s four main languages. The helpline received 3,700 calls from January to June. Another 10 helplines to report child abuse and family violence remained in operation.

Female Genital Mutilation/Cutting (FGM/C): Types I (a) and IV (as classified by the World Health Organization) FGM/C were practiced among a portion of the Muslim population. There was no legislation banning FGM/C and no official data on how prevalent the practice was, but 75 percent of Muslim women indicated they had undergone FGM/C, according to an End FGC Singapore survey with a sample size of 360 women in late 2020. Some medical clinics offer the procedure, requiring parents to consent and go through counseling, according to the Singapore Muslim Women’s Association. This medicalization, however, contravenes the global normative guidance by the World Health Organization and the UN Population Fund on this harmful practice. End FGC Singapore, a community-based movement, criticized the practice as covert and stated girls often may not know they underwent the procedure until later in life.

Sexual Harassment: Harassment is a crime, and the law covers harassment within and outside the workplace, cyberbullying, and bullying of children. The law also prescribes mandatory caning and imprisonment (see below) on conviction of any charge for “outraging modesty” that causes the victim to fear death or injury. The law also subjects to a fine persons convicted of using threatening, abusive, or insulting words or behavior. It also provides a range of self-help measures, civil remedies, and enhanced criminal sanctions to protect against harassment. Additionally, stalking is an offense punishable by a fine, imprisonment for up to 12 months, or both.

The law makes technology-related crimes such as voyeurism and sexual exposure criminal offenses. Doxing (publishing private information regarding a person or organization on the internet with the intent to harass) is also an offense.

In June amendments to the Protection from Harassment Act took effect, increasing protections for victims. It became easier to obtain protection orders; if a person was convicted of any previous harassment or hurt-related offense against the victim, the requirement to show that a provision under the act was contravened is deemed to be satisfied, and a protection order can be granted. Judges granting expedited protection orders must consider whether a criminal investigation is warranted and, if so, refer cases for police investigation. Breaches of orders are arrestable if harm was caused. Protection orders can be extended to persons related to the victim who might be harassed by the perpetrator. Domestic exclusion orders can be granted to protect victims residing with the harasser. The amendment also established a specialized Protection from Harassment Court to hear all criminal and civil harassment cases, such as doxing and threatening behavior, to provide faster relief. Applications for protection orders and orders relating to falsehoods are eligible for simplified court processes through an online portal and may be heard within 24 hours if actual violence or risk of violence is involved. Those who repeatedly breach protection orders are subject to up to twice the normal maximum penalty.

In September amendments to the Penal Code increased penalties for outrage of modesty from two to three years. According to police statistics, outrage of modesty incidents decreased by 17.8 percent in 2020 to 1,320 incidents.

The women’s rights advocacy group AWARE reported a 36 percent increase in technology-facilitated sexual violence in 2020 with 191 cases. Total cases of sexual violence increased from 777 in 2019 to 967 cases in 2020. In July AWARE and the National Youth Council jointly funded a new website to educate the community on the most common types of online harassment and to provide assistance.

A November 2020 national survey by AWARE found that two in five of the 1,000 respondents had experienced sexual harassment in the workplace and that 13 percent had been touched physically. Only one in three victims reported such incidents.

Media gave significant coverage to sexual harassment convictions throughout the year. The government ran awareness campaigns encouraging women to report molestation, and several members of parliament urged the government to address sexual harassment in the workplace more actively.

Following several sexual harassment cases in recent years, the National University of Singapore reported in August that from January through June, one researcher was dismissed for making inappropriate sexual remarks, sending inappropriate videos to two students, and touching one of them without consent; two students were expelled for sexual misconduct; and there were eight other cases of alleged sexual misconduct involving students.

Reproductive Rights: There were no reports of coerced abortion or involuntary sterilization on the part of government authorities. The government provided access to sexual and reproductive health services, including emergency contraception, for survivors of sexual violence.

Discrimination: Women enjoy the same legal rights as men, including civil liberties, employment, commercial activity, and education. Women were well represented in many professions (see section 7.d.).

Polygyny is permitted for Muslim men but is limited and strictly regulated by the Registry of Muslim Marriages, which oversees Muslim marriages and other family law matters. Polygynous marriages constituted 0.2 percent of Muslim marriages.

Section 7. Worker Rights

a. Freedom of Association and the Right to Collective Bargaining

The law provides for the right of most workers to form and join trade unions, with limits on union independence. Workers have the legal right to strike and to bargain collectively. The law prohibits antiunion discrimination.

Parliament may impose restrictions on the right of association based on security, public order, or morality grounds. The Ministry of Manpower also has broad powers to refuse to register a union or to cancel a union’s registration. Refusal may occur when a trade union already exists in an industry or occupation. Laws and regulations restrict freedom of association by requiring any group of 10 or more persons to register with the government. The law also restricts the right of uniformed personnel and government employees to organize, although the president may grant exemptions. Foreigners and those with criminal convictions generally may not hold union office or become employees of unions, but the ministry may grant exemptions.

The law requires the majority of affected unionized workers to vote in favor of a strike by secret ballot, as opposed to the majority of those participating in the vote. Workers in “essential services” are required to give 14 days’ notice to an employer before striking, and there is a prohibition on strikes by workers in the water, gas, and electricity sectors.

The government effectively enforced applicable laws. Penalties were commensurate with those under other laws involving denial of civil rights, such as discrimination.

Unions were unable to carry out their work without interference from the government. The law limits how unions may spend their funds, prohibiting, for example, payments to political parties, or the use of funds for political purposes.

Almost all unions were affiliated with the National Trade Union Congress (hereafter trade union congress), an umbrella organization with a close relationship with the government and the ruling PAP. Trade union congress policy prohibited union members who supported opposition parties from holding office in its affiliated unions.

Collective bargaining was a routine part of labor-management relations in the private sector. Because nearly all unions were affiliates, the trade union congress had almost exclusive authority to exercise collective bargaining power on behalf of employees. Union members may not reject collective agreements negotiated between their union representatives and an employer. Although transfers and layoffs are excluded from the scope of collective bargaining, employers consulted with unions on both matters.

Foreign workers constituted approximately 15 percent of union members. Labor NGOs also filled an important function by providing support for migrant workers, including legal aid and medical care, especially for those in the informal sector and during the COVID-19 pandemic.

b. Prohibition of Forced or Compulsory Labor

The law does not define “forced labor,” but the government has accepted as law the definition found in International Labor Organization Convention 29. Under the law, destitute persons could be compelled to work if they resided in one of the 10 welfare homes managed by voluntary organizations as government agents, and if a medical and social assessment found them fit for work; no resident was forced to work under the relevant law during the year.

The government enforced the law, although it was more likely to prosecute employers for less serious charges than domestic servitude or bonded labor. Penalties included prison terms and fines, which were commensurate with those for analogous serious crimes, such as kidnapping. The government investigated fewer forced labor allegations in 2020 and received fewer reports due to COVID-19 but imposed fines on some employment agencies for illegal practices. In March the Ministry of Manpower charged three companies of the MES Group and its five directors with 553 counts of employment offenses, such as illegal employment of foreigners, excessive overtime hours, and making false salary declarations. The case continued as of October. In September the ministry arrested 18 persons for suspected illegal labor importation through a syndicate that obtained work passes through false declarations. In view of the number of low-paid foreign workers in the country, however, outside observers speculated that many cases of abuse continued to go undetected.

Practices indicative of forced labor, including withholding of wages and passports, occurred. Migrant workers in low-wage and unskilled sectors such as domestic work, hospitality, and construction were vulnerable to labor exploitation.

The law caps the fees payable by foreign domestic workers to employment agencies in the country at one month’s salary per year of the employment contract, not to exceed two months’ salary irrespective of the duration of the contract. Observers noted that unscrupulous agencies in migrant workers’ countries of origin could charge exorbitant fees.

Some observers also noted that the country’s employer sponsorship system made legal migrant workers vulnerable to forced labor because there were limited circumstances in which they may change employers without the consent of their employer.

Also see the Department of State’s Trafficking in Persons Report at https://www.state.gov/trafficking-in-persons-report/.

c. Prohibition of Child Labor and Minimum Age for Employment

The law prohibits all the worst forms of child labor. The law prohibits employment of children younger than age 13. A child age 13 or older may engage in light, nonindustrial work, subject to medical clearance. Exceptions exist for family enterprises; a child 13 or older may work in such an industrial undertaking if it employs members of his or her family. Ministry of Manpower regulations prohibit night employment of children and restrict industrial work for children between ages 15 and 16. Children younger than 15 may not work on commercial vessels, with moving machinery, on live electrical apparatus lacking effective insulation, or in any underground job, and normally they are prohibited from employment in the industrial sector.

The Ministry of Manpower effectively enforced these laws and regulations. Employers who violated laws related to child labor were subject to fines, imprisonment, or both. Penalties were not commensurate with those for analogous serious crimes, such as kidnapping. Government officials asserted that child labor was not a significant problem.

The incidence of children in formal employment was low, although some children worked in family enterprises.

South Korea

Section 1. Respect for the Integrity of the Person

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

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

b. Disappearance

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

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

The law prohibits such practices, but there were a few reports that government officials employed them; the Center for Military Human Rights Korea, a local nongovernmental organization (NGO), reported some instances of violence and cruel treatment in the military.

The Ministry of National Defense reported no instances of bullying in the military, although local NGOs believed bullying, hazing, and violence played a role in some suicides in the military. NGOs expressed concern over suicides in the military, particularly among lower-ranked officers and noncommissioned officers. In 2020 the military reported 42 suicides by military personnel, an all-time low. In the first half of the year, there were 41 suicides. The Ministry of National Defense stated it added approximately 50 training instructors dedicated to suicide prevention in 2020. The Center for Military Human Rights also reported a slight increase in reported instances of physical violence in the military in 2020.

NGOs and media reported hazing and mistreatment of subordinates by more senior military personnel, as well as credible allegations of sexual harassment and assault. A service member in the 18th Fighter Wing reported repeated hazing, physical and verbal abuse, and torture over a four-month period from April to July. This included lighting the victim’s clothing on fire and locking him in a storage unit. In May a noncommissioned officer in the air force committed suicide after a peer allegedly sexually harassed her. The air force initially reported her death to the defense ministry without reporting the harassment allegations. The perpetrator pled guilty to harassment on August 13. In August a navy sergeant who reported sexual harassment by a superior was found dead in her quarters. She told a superior about the alleged incident in May, but the navy only opened an investigation in August after the victim informed a separate commanding officer. In neither case did superiors take immediate actions to protect the safety of the officers, such as separating them from the alleged perpetrators. The air force incident led to the resignation of the air force chief of staff, and the president ordered an investigation of both cases.

As in previous years, the Center for Military Human Rights’ hotline counselors responded to complaints of physical abuse, verbal abuse, and sex crimes. The Ministry of National Defense trains human rights instructors with support from the National Human Rights Commission of Korea (NHRCK). From January to August, it trained 382 instructors. Impunity was not a significant problem in the security forces.

Prison and Detention Center Conditions

Prison and detention center conditions were generally adequate, and detainees had access to relief measures. There were allegations of excessive use of force against an inmate at Hwaseong Immigration Detention Center.

Physical Conditions: Physical conditions in detention centers were generally adequate and there were few concerns regarding inmate abuse. In September the Duroo Association for Public Interest Law alleged that its client, a Moroccan man detained at Hwaseong Immigration Detention Center, had been subject to inhuman treatment. Media reports included a photo of the man on the floor of his cell with his hands and legs bound behind his back and protective gear taped on his head. A coalition of civic groups held a press conference in front of the NHRCK calling for the detainee’s release. The man had reportedly protested conditions at the facility and requested medical treatment. After physical conflicts with correctional officers, he was placed in solitary confinement. The Ministry of Justice investigated the incident and, in October, acknowledged a human rights violation had occurred. The ministry said it would revise its procedures and follow NHRCK recommendations to prevent a recurrence.

Administration: Authorities investigated all reports of mistreatment and reported that inmates have several relief procedures available to them for any perceived violations of their rights. There were 54 reports of alleged abuse filed with the Ministry of Justice from August 2020 to July 2021. Authorities completed full investigations of 51 cases and did not find any correctional officers at fault; three cases were pending at the end of July.

Following COVID-19 cases at several prisons and detention centers, including an outbreak that infected more than 1,000 inmates and staff at Seoul Dongbu Detention Center in late 2020, the ministry restricted inmates’ access to visitors at all facilities nationwide as a health and safety measure. Media reported that although officials restored limited visits for inmates in prisons in May, those in detention centers did not receive similar access until June – and only after filing a complaint with the NHRCK.

Independent Monitoring: There were no reports of problems in accessing prison facilities. The NHRCK and NGOs have access to correctional facilities to investigate reported cases of human rights violations.

Section 3. Freedom to Participate in the Political Process

The law provides citizens the ability to choose their government in free and fair periodic elections held by secret ballot and based on universal and equal suffrage.

Elections and Political Participation

Recent Elections: The presidential election in 2017 and legislative elections in 2020 were considered free and fair. The 2017 presidential election was held early because of the impeachment of former president Park Geun-hye.

Political Parties and Political Participation: In January the Constitutional Court struck down a provision in election law that required citizens to use real names for online posts about forthcoming elections. Civil society groups had opposed the provision, asserting that such laws prohibited the electorate from freely expressing views, imparting information, and supporting campaigns.

By law the government rigorously and extensively regulates political expression by public officials and teachers, even in their private lives and regardless of their job duties. Public officials are also prohibited from joining political parties.

The law requires political parties to maintain a headquarters in Seoul and have at least five branch offices in other cities or provinces. A party’s registration is automatically cancelled if it fails to win a National Assembly seat or 2 percent of the vote.

Participation of Women and Members of Minority Groups: No laws prevent the participation of women or members of minority groups in the political process, and they did participate. A quota system requires political parties to put forth a gender-balanced candidate list for proportional representation seats in the National Assembly and for local council elections. Women were elected to 19 percent of seats in the National Assembly in April 2020, the most ever. Civil society and government research institutes said informal political power networks were still male dominated.

Section 6. Discrimination and Societal Abuses

Women

Rape and Domestic Violence: The law criminalizes rape of women; rape not involving vaginal sexual intercourse is considered “imitative rape.” The penalty for rape ranges from a minimum of three years’ to life imprisonment, while “imitative rape” carries a minimum penalty of two years’ imprisonment. Rape and “imitative rape” are defined in law as involving the use of violence. The legal definition of rape is based on whether the perpetrator used violence or intimidation and does not consider the victim’s consent. The Supreme Court acknowledged marital rape as illegal. The law defines domestic violence as a serious crime and offenders may be sentenced to a maximum of five years in prison plus fines for domestic violence offenses. Due to the narrow legal definitions, the existence of laws criminalizing defamation, and prevalent discrimination toward women, rape and domestic violence continued to go underreported and underprosecuted. Civic groups criticized the perceived lenience of the judicial system toward offenders, with many receiving light or suspended sentences. Within this context, however, police generally responded promptly to reported incidents, and the judicial system effectively enforced the law.

Digital sex crimes were a significant concern; they constituted 23 percent of reported sexual violence in 2020. Digital sex crimes may involve perpetrators capturing hidden camera footage without the victim’s consent, nonconsensual sharing of images that had been captured with consent, or sharing images that have been faked or manipulated to damage the victim’s reputation. According to a June Human Rights Watch report, victims in digital sex crime cases were mostly female, and perpetrators were overwhelmingly male. Although digital sex crime cases that moved forward normally resulted in convictions (in 2020, only 12 of 1,849 cases resulted in acquittal), most defendants received only a suspended sentence or a fine. In June the Ministry of Justice appointed prosecutor Seo Ji-hyun to lead a task force of 10 legal, media, and information technology experts in updating existing criminal justice and human rights frameworks to combat digital sex crimes.

Several NGOs said the government had taken some positive steps to address digital sex crimes but emphasized the need to provide better support for victims. A Digital Sex Crime Victim Support Center, created in 2018, assists victims in requesting the deletion of images and videos from websites and supports victims in collecting evidence and filing police reports. It also makes referrals for free legal services and provides financial assistance for medical expenses. (For more on sex crimes facilitated by the internet, see “Sexual Exploitation of Children” below.)

Domestic violence remained a significant and underreported problem. According to official statistics, 222,046 cases of domestic violence were reported in 2020, a 7 percent decrease from 2019. Foreign brides of Korean men (often in rural areas) brought to the country by brokers since the early 1990s experienced domestic violence at a higher rate than the rest of the female population. These women, in recent years primarily Vietnamese, Cambodian, and Filipina, were more vulnerable to human rights abuses due to language barriers and the lack of a support network in the country. The Ministry of Gender Equality and Family continued to operate support centers and shelters to provide protection for foreign brides who were victims of sexual or domestic violence.

The Gender Equality Ministry operated the Special Center for Reporting Sexual Harassment and Sexual Assault. In 2020 sexual violence counseling centers provided 258,410 counseling services to victims. There were 104 centers supported by central and local governments, 34 sexual violence victim protection facilities, and 39 “sunflower centers” that provided counseling, medical care and therapy, caseworkers, and legal assistance. The volume of services provided represented a 6 percent decrease compared with 2019, which the centers attributed to a decrease in in-person services during the COVID-19 pandemic. According to NGOs, sunflower centers generally provided adequate support to victims of sexual assault.

Sexual Harassment: The law obligates companies and organizations to take preventive measures against sexual harassment. The government generally enforced the law effectively. The national police classify sexual harassment as “indecent acts by compulsion.” The NHRCK reported that victims of workplace sexual harassment who relied on in-house grievance mechanisms faced stigma and other difficulties, including, in some cases, losing their jobs. Victims who took their cases to court, as well as those who testified on behalf of victims at sexual harassment trials, were also subject to stigma.

Sexual harassment was a significant social problem, and there were numerous allegations of sexual harassment, including high-profile cases involving public officials, reported in media throughout the year. The National Assembly passed a law in March increasing penalties for stalking, which had previously been treated as a misdemeanor offense. Offenders now face up to three years in prison and a significant fine, and up to five years in prison if they use a weapon. While activists welcomed the increased penalties, they said the law does not address single-incident stalking – only stalking that occurs repeatedly.

In June a district court in Busan sentenced the city’s former mayor, Oh Geo-don, to three years in prison for sexually abusing two female subordinates during his tenure. Oh resigned in April 2020 after admitting to “unnecessary physical contact” with one of the two employees.

Reproductive Rights: There were no reports of coerced abortion or involuntary sterilization on the part of government authorities.

The government provided access to sexual and reproductive health services for sexual violence survivors, including emergency contraception as clinical management of rape.

Discrimination: Women enjoy the same legal rights under the constitution as men. Women, however, experienced societal abuses and employment discrimination (see section 7.d.).

Section 7. Worker Rights

a. Freedom of Association and the Right to Collective Bargaining

The law provides for the right of most workers to form and join independent unions, conduct strikes within strict limits, and bargain collectively, but certain limitations apply.

The law recognizes most workers’ right to strike. Labor and employers in businesses deemed to be “essential services” are required to agree on a plan to maintain a minimum level of services for the public interest during a strike. Essential services include railroads, air transport, communications, water supply, and hospitals. The trade union law prohibits the use of replacement workers to conduct general business disrupted by legal strikes, but in essential services employers may hire replacements for up to 50 percent of striking workers.

By law parties involved in a “labor dispute” must first undergo third-party mediation through the National Labor Relations Commission (NLRC) before registering to strike. Strikes initiated following this period are legal if they obtain majority support from union membership. The law narrowly defines “labor dispute,” which makes strikes on many issues falling under managerial control, such as downsizing and layoffs, illegal. Strikes not specifically pertaining to labor conditions, wages, benefits, or working hours are illegal. Participating in strikes falling outside of the legally prescribed definition may result in imprisonment or a fine for the organizers and participants.

Laws banning education workers from engaging in certain political activities, such as joining a political party or openly endorsing a political party or candidate, constrained unions’ abilities to advocate for their positions. An amended law took effect in July allowing dismissed workers to maintain their union membership. The previous administration had used this rule to decertify or prevent legal recognition of unions with dismissed workers among their ranks, namely the Korean Teachers and Education Workers Union and the Korean Government Employees Union. Both unions regained legal recognition under the current administration.

The law permits workers to file complaints of unfair labor practices against employers who interfere with union organizing or who discriminate against union members. The law prohibits retribution against workers who strike legally, and the NLRC may order employers to reinstate workers fired for lawful union activities.

The government generally enforced legislation related to freedom of association, collective bargaining, and collective action, including legal strikes, and the penalties were commensurate with those for other laws involving denials of civil rights. In addition, an employer may be penalized for noncompliance with a labor relations commission order to reinstate a worker. The law sets penalties in the form of fines or imprisonment against employers who refuse unions’ lawful requests for bargaining.

Labor organizations generally operated without government interference.

Some “dispatched workers” (those on temporary contracts) said they faced increased risk of nonrenewal of their work contract if they joined unions or engaged in industrial disputes. Some undocumented foreign workers avoided participating in union activities due to fear of exposing themselves to arrest and deportation.

b. Prohibition of Forced or Compulsory Labor

The law prohibits and criminalizes all forms of forced or compulsory labor. The government generally enforced the law effectively but did not consistently identify cases of forced labor; penalties were not commensurate with those for analogous serious crimes, such as kidnapping.

NGOs continued to report that some migrant workers were subject to forced labor, particularly those who had incurred thousands of dollars in debt for payment of recruitment fees, making them vulnerable to debt bondage. Some migrant workers in the agriculture, livestock, and fishing industries faced conditions indicative of forced labor, including deceptive recruiting practices, confiscation of passports, and nonpayment of wages.

The Ministry of Ocean and Fisheries issued rules in January to better regulate the recruitment system, prevent excessive working hours, set a minimum salary, and ensure the provision of necessities such as clean drinking water for migrant seafarers who worked aboard Korean deep-sea fishing vessels. NGOs reported harsh conditions for migrant seafarers, including some who endured 18-hour workdays and physical and verbal abuse from Korean captains and other crew. NGOs also called for stricter enforcement and penalties for violators.

Stakeholders reported that enforcement activities were limited by jurisdictional disputes between the Ministry of Employment and Labor and the Ministry of Oceans and Fisheries.

The government also investigated instances of abuse, including forced labor, against workers with intellectual disabilities.

Also see the Department of State’s Trafficking in Persons Report at https://www.state.gov/trafficking-in-persons-report/.

c. Prohibition of Child Labor and Minimum Age for Employment

The law prohibits the worst forms of child labor. The law provides a minimum age for employment of 15 but has an exception for work by children younger than 15 if they have an authorization certificate from the Ministry of Employment and Labor. Authorities issued few such certificates for full-time employment because education is compulsory through the end of middle school. Children ages 15 to 18 may work with the consent of at least one person with parental authority or a guardian, for limited hours and are prohibited from night work. Workers younger than age 18 may not work in employment that is detrimental to their health or “morality.” Employers in industries considered harmful or hazardous to a minor’s morals or health may not hire them and face fines or imprisonment for violations.

The maximum penalty for child labor, three years’ imprisonment, was not commensurate with that for analogous serious crimes, such as kidnapping, which is penalized by up to 10 years’ imprisonment, but prosecutors could apply other criminal statutes in such a case. Through September the government reported no violations of child labor laws. The government generally effectively enforced the law.

There were some reports of commercial sexual exploitation of children (see section 6, Children).

Thailand

Section 1. Respect for the Integrity of the Person

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

Unlike previous years, there were no reports that the government or its agents committed arbitrary or unlawful killings.

Police reportedly abused numerous individuals in custody.  On August 5, a video showed seven police officers from Mueang Nakhon Sawan apparently torturing and suffocating to death a hooded suspect later identified as 24-year-old Chiraphong Thanapat.  The officers were reportedly interrogating the victim to extort a two-million-baht ($61,000) bribe.  The chairperson of the Nakhon Sawan office of the Lawyers Council of Thailand reported that police detained the victim for a preliminary interrogation immediately after his arrest, when he was not yet legally entitled to counsel.  The provincial police chief ordered an investigation; all seven officers allegedly involved in the incident were in custody as of August (see section 4).

Earlier cases of arbitrary or unlawful killings remained unsolved. As of November, for example, the investigation continued into the 2020 incident where a police officer shot and killed Charoensak Rachpumad, a suspect in drug and weapons dealing, in Ron Phibun District, Nakhon Si Thammarat Province. Witnesses said Charoensak was raising his arms to surrender while surrounded by approximately 10 policemen. The policeman who killed him contended Charoensak was charging at him with a knife.

There were reports of killings by both government and insurgent forces in connection with the conflict in the southernmost provinces (see section 1.g.).

b. Disappearance

There were no official reports of disappearances by or on behalf of government authorities from January to November (see section 1.e., Politically Motivated Reprisal against Individuals Located Outside the Country).

Most cases from prior years remained unresolved. In August the Department of Special Investigation requested the Office of the Attorney General to reverse the January 2020 decision to drop murder charges against four Kaeng Krachan National Park employees for the 2014 killing of Porlajee “Billy” Rakchongcharoen, a Karen-rights activist. The Office of the Attorney General subsequently ordered the Department of Special Investigation to conduct further investigations to prove the murder and kidnaping allegations; as of December the investigation continued.

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

The constitution states, “Torture, acts of brutality, or punishment by cruel or inhumane means shall not be permitted.” Nonetheless, an emergency decree in effect in the southernmost provinces since 2005 effectively provides immunity from prosecution to security officers for actions committed during the performance of their duties. As of August the cabinet had renewed this emergency decree every three months since 2005, and it applied at that point to all but seven districts in the three southernmost provinces: Si Sakhon, Su-ngai Kolok, and Sukhirin in Narathiwat Province; Betong and Kabang in Yala Province; and Mai Kaen and Mae Lan in Pattani Province.

There were reports police abused and extorted prisoners and detainees, generally with impunity. Few complaints alleging police abuse resulted in punishment of alleged offenders, and there were numerous examples of investigations lasting years without resolution of alleged security force abuses.

Representatives of nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) and legal entities reported police and military officers sometimes tortured and beat suspects to obtain confessions, and newspapers reported numerous cases of citizens accusing police and other security officers of brutality. On January 13, a police officer in Koh Samui allegedly pulled a Burmese migrant worker out of a holding cell and sexually assaulted her in his office. After the victim’s family filed a complaint, the police officer, Watcharin Sinsamoson, was arrested and charged with rape.

As of November the seven soldiers who confessed to beating two brothers in Nakhon Phanom during a 2020 interrogation related to drug-trafficking charges were not indicted. One brother was later transferred to a hospital where he died, while the other was found seriously injured in a separate location.

There were reports of hazing and physical abuse by members of military units. In January, five recruits reported they were beaten and tortured by their commander after he discovered marijuana in their possession. Two escaped the base and filed a complaint. The case was closed after the victims and their families settled the case out of court with compensation to the victims.

Impunity in the security forces was a problem, especially in the southern provinces where martial law remained in effect. The Ministry of Defense requires service members to receive human rights training. Routine training occurred at various levels, including for officers, noncommissioned officers, enlisted personnel, and recruits. The Royal Thai Police requires all cadets at its national academy to complete a course in human rights law.

Prison and Detention Center Conditions

Conditions in prisons and various detention centers – including drug rehabilitation facilities and immigration detention centers (IDCs) where authorities detained undocumented migrants, refugees, asylum seekers, and foreign nationals who violated immigration laws – were poor, and most were overcrowded, leading to a surge in COVID-19 cases among detainees. Child refugees and asylum seekers were detained in the IDCs or temporarily in local police stations, despite the government’s pledge to end or provide alternatives to detention. The Ministry of Justice’s Department of Corrections is responsible for monitoring prison conditions, while the Royal Thai Police Immigration Bureau monitors conditions in the IDCs.

The government continued to hold some civilian suspects at military detention facilities, despite instructions in 2019 mandating the transfer of all civilian cases from military to civilian courts. According to the Department of Corrections, as of November there were at least two civilians at the Thung Song Hong Subdistrict temporary detention facility north of Bangkok.

Physical Conditions: Prison and detention-facility populations were approximately 50 percent larger than designed capacity. As of November authorities held 285,182 persons in prisons and detention facilities with a maximum designed capacity of 210,000 to 220,000 persons.

In some prisons and detention centers, sleeping accommodations were insufficient, and there were persistent reports of overcrowding and poor facility ventilation. Serious problems included a lack of medical care. Authorities at times transferred seriously ill prisoners and detainees to provincial or state hospitals.

By May more than 2,000 prisoners in Bangkok tested positive for COVID-19, including several high-profile protest leaders who were denied bail pending trial. In April, Parit “Penguin” Chiwarak and Panusaya “Rung” Sittijirawattanakul were detained for 93 and 60 days respectively, during which they engaged in a hunger strike to protest the court’s persistent denial of bail. Parit was hospitalized with suspected gastrointestinal bleeding before his eventual release. In August, Parit was rearrested and subsequently tested positive for COVID-19. The Department of Corrections denied a request from Parit’s mother to transfer her son to a private hospital, stating he had recovered.

Conditions at the IDCs are not subject to many of the regulations that govern the regular prison system. NGOs, international organizations, and detainees at some IDCs reported overcrowding and unhealthy conditions such as poorly ventilated rooms, lack of outdoor time, lack of access to telephones or other means of communication, and inadequate medical care. In response to multiple COVID-19 outbreaks in IDCs, during the year the Immigration Bureau informally relaxed restrictions on bail, allowing dozens of migrant and refugee detainees from the IDCs in Bangkok to pay bail and temporarily leave detention.

NGOs reported that authorities occasionally held men, women, and children together in police station cells, particularly in small or remote police stations, pending indictment or immigration processing. According to the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), as of August there were 21 persons holding valid UNHCR refugee or asylum-seeker status in detention. During the year there were multiple reports that IDC authorities placed juveniles older than 14 with adults.

By law authorities may hold aliens without legal authorization to stay in the country, including refugees and asylum seekers or those who otherwise have violated immigration law, in the IDCs for years unless they are bailed out or pay a fine and the cost of their transportation home. The Immigration Bureau mostly held migrant mothers and children in separate, more spacious detention facilities, but continued to restrict their freedom of movement. Immigration authorities regularly placed older male children together with adult males rather than in facilities designated for families. NGOs reported complaints, especially by Muslim detainees in the IDCs, of inadequate halal food.

Administration: Authorities permitted prisoners or their representatives to submit complaints to ombudspersons but not directly to judicial authorities. The law allows prison authorities to examine the contents of complaints and petitions before sending them to outside organizations. Ombudspersons in turn may consider and investigate complaints and petitions received from prisoners and provide recommendations to the Department of Corrections, but they are not empowered to act on a prisoner’s behalf, nor may they involve themselves in a case unless a person files an official complaint. Complaint and oversight mechanisms were not available to detainees in IDCs.

Independent Monitoring: The government facilitated monitoring of prisons by the National Human Rights Commission of Thailand, including meetings with prisoners without third parties present and repeat visits. According to human rights groups, no external or international inspection of the prison system occurred, including of military facilities such as Bangkok’s 11th Military Circle.

Representatives of international organizations had limited access to detainees in the IDCs across the country for service delivery and resettlement processing, in part due to COVID-19-related restrictions. Access to individual IDCs varied from province to province.

Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties

a. Freedom of Expression, Including for Members of the Press and Other Media

The constitution provides for freedom of expression, including for members of the press and other media. This right, however, was restricted by laws and government actions. For example the government imposed legal restrictions on criticism of the government and monarchy, favored progovernment media organizations in regulatory actions, harassed antigovernment critics, monitored media and the internet, and blocked websites.

Freedom of Expression: The lese majeste prohibition makes it a crime, punishable by minimum of three years’ and a maximum of 15 years’ imprisonment for each offense, to criticize, insult, or threaten the king, queen, royal heir apparent, or regent. The law also allows citizens to file lese majeste complaints against one other.

As of August lese majeste charges were filed against 102 individuals. Those so charged often also faced other charges, including for sedition and violating the COVID-19 emergency decree.

On January 19, the Bangkok criminal court sentenced a former civil servant to 43 years in prison on 29 separate counts of lese majeste for posting audio clips made by an activist which contained comments critical of the monarchy.

On March 30, police charged opposition politician Thanathorn Juangroongruangkit with lese majeste after he livestreamed a Facebook event accusing the government of favoring a company owned by the palace-controlled Crown Property Bureau to produce the country’s supply of COVID-19 vaccines. The criminal court rejected a request from the Ministry of Digital Economy and Society to remove the online footage of the event. In its ruling the court determined that the content was critical of the government’s COVID-19 vaccine plan but not of the royal institution itself.

Freedom of Expression for Members of the Press and Other Media, Including Online Media:  Independent media were active but faced significant impediments to operating freely.

The government owned all spectrum used in media broadcast and leased it to private media operators, allowing the government to exert indirect influence on the media landscape. Media firms sometimes practiced self-censorship. On August 13, the Ministry of Digital Economy and Society announced it would require service providers and social media platforms such as Clubhouse and Telegram to collect and keep user data for government to access if requested, including user identities, user activity, records of attempts to access systems, accessed files, and transaction records.

Censorship or Content Restrictions: Laws allow the National Broadcasting and Telecommunications Commission to suspend or revoke the licenses of radio or television operators broadcasting content deemed false, defamatory to the monarchy, harmful to national security, or unnecessarily critical of the government.  As of November there were no known cases of authorities revoking licenses.  Authorities monitored media content from all media sources, including international press.  Local practice leaned toward self-censorship, particularly regarding anything that might be critical of the monarchy or members of the royal family.

The emergency decree in the violence-affected southernmost provinces empowers the government “to prohibit publication and distribution of news and information that may cause the people to panic or with an intention to distort information.” It also authorizes the government to censor news it considers a threat to national security.

Libel/Slander Laws: In addition to the lese majeste laws, defamation is a criminal offense punishable by a fine and two years’ imprisonment. Military and business figures filed criminal defamation and libel cases against political and environmental activists, human rights defenders, journalists, and politicians.

In July the Government Pharmaceutical Organization filed a defamation suit against Boon Vanasinpro, the chairman of a private hospital, and Loy Chunpongthong for criticizing the government’s procurement of the Moderna vaccine. The company alleged Boon and Loy provided false information by claiming that the company, as coordinator for Moderna vaccines for private hospitals, was reaping profits.

In August the Southern Bangkok Criminal Court accepted a defamation case brought in late 2019 by poultry firm Thammakaset against human rights defender Angkhana Neelaphaijitin. The complaint alleged that Angkhana defamed the company in two social media posts in 2018 and 2019 expressing support for other human rights defenders facing lawsuits brought by Thammakaset. In March NGOs reported that since 2016 Thammakaset filed civil and criminal defamation cases against 23 human rights defenders, journalists, and former employees (see section 7).

National Security: Various orders issued by the National Council for Peace and Order (NCPO) junta continued to provide authorities the right to restrict distribution of material deemed to threaten national security.

Internet Freedom

The government continued to restrict internet access and penalize those who criticized the monarchy or shared information deemed false regarding the spread of COVID-19. The government also monitored social media and private communications for what it considered false content and “fake news.” There were reports that the government monitored private online communications without appropriate legal authority.

By law the government may impose a maximum five-year prison sentence and a substantial fine for posting false content on the internet found to undermine public security, cause public panic, or harm others, based on vague definitions.  The law also obliges internet service providers to preserve all user records for 90 days in case authorities wish to access them.  Any service provider that gives consent to or intentionally supports the publishing of illegal content is also liable to punishment.  By law authorities must obtain a court order to ban a website, although officials did not always respect this requirement.

Although individuals and groups generally were able to engage in peaceful expression of views via the internet, there were numerous restrictions on content. Civil society reported the government used prosecution or the threat of prosecution as a tool to suppress speech online. Authorities targeted for prosecution individuals posting a range of social media commentary, from COVID-19 updates to lese majeste, criticism of the government’s operations, reporting on government scandals, and warning of government surveillance.

The government closely monitored and blocked websites and social media posts and accounts critical of the monarchy. Newspapers restricted access to their public-comment sections to minimize exposure to possible lese majeste or defamation charges. The National Broadcasting and Telecommunications Commission also lobbied foreign internet content creators and service providers to remove or censor locally lese majeste content.

In April, petition site Change.org became available again after a six-month ban for hosting a petition that called for Germany to declare the king “persona non grata.” The petition attracted 130,000 signatures before the site was blocked in 2020.

In July a graduate student was arrested for editing the Wikipedia entry for virologist Yong Poovorawan to include that Yong is a “Sinovac salesman for the Prayut Chan-o-cha administration.” The student faced charges of criminal defamation and computer crimes.

Academic Freedom and Cultural Events

University authorities, civil society groups, and media reported the regular presence of security personnel on campus, attending student political events or rallies. There were reports of authorities arresting students for exercising freedom of speech and expression, although these arrests generally occurred off campus and few resulted in formal charges. Universities reported self-censorship; with an increasing number of virtual classes, more academics reported fear of security personnel monitoring their instruction, leading to greater self-censorship. On March 8, amid antigovernment protests and local demonstrations against the coup in Myanmar, the Asian Institute of Technology warned that foreign students involved in any protests would face revocation of their visas and immigration blacklisting. The government denied any involvement.

In August the NGO iLaw reported 79 cases of harassment of high school and university students, both by police and school administrators, in schools across the country.

On August 4, the vice president of student affairs sent a letter threatening disciplinary action against Chulalongkorn University student union president Netiwit Chotiphatphaisal after he invited activists Panusaya “Rung” Sithijirawattanakul and Parit “Penguin” Chiwarak, who were accused of lese majeste, to speak about freedom of expression on July 20. The student union’s new students’ handbook, which included material on freedom of speech and other social issues, was subsequently denounced by the university’s department of student affairs.

Large universities, including Kasetsart, Silpakorn, Srinakharinwirot, and Chulalongkorn Universities, generally allowed use of campuses for protests as long as the students received permission beforehand. Many high schools and universities, however, explicitly forbade protests calling for reform of the monarchy.

c. Freedom of Religion

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

Section 3. Freedom to Participate in the Political Process

The constitution provides citizens the ability to choose their government in free and fair periodic elections held by secret ballot and based on universal and equal suffrage. In 2019 the country held national elections after five years of rule by the military-led NCPO following a 2014 coup. The campaign was mostly peaceful, with many political parties competing for seats and conducting political rallies for the first time in five years. A restrictive legal framework and selective enforcement of campaign regulations by the Election Commission, however, impacted the outcome in favor of the parties aligned with the Phalang Pracharath Party.

Elections and Political Participation

Recent Elections: The country held national elections in March 2019, following five years of military rule. In July 2019 Prayut Chan-o-Cha’s cabinet was sworn in, officially disbanding the junta NCPO. In December 2020 the government held local elections for the first time since the 2014 coup.

There were few reports of election irregularities during the 2019 national elections, although there were frequent reports of vote buying by both government and opposition parties. The NGO Asian Network for Free Elections (ANFREL) – the only global organization allowed by the government to observe the election – found the election “partly free, not fair.” ANFREL noted many positive aspects of the election primarily related to election-day activities, including high voter turnout, free access to the polls, and peaceful conditions during the campaign and on election day. ANFREL also found, however, that a restrictive and biased legal framework and lack of transparency by the Election Commission meant authorities “failed to establish the healthy political climate that lies at the heart of free and fair electoral process.”

Political Parties and Political Participation: Critics complained that police and courts unfairly targeted opposition parties for legal action. In 2020 the Constitutional Court dissolved the opposition Future Forward Party (FFP), citing an illegal loan to the party from its leader, Thanathorn Juangroongruangkit, and banned all members of the party’s 16-person executive committee from politics for 10 years. Prodemocracy activists alleged the decision was part of a politically motivated effort to weaken a key opposition party. In April, two members of the Thai Pakdee Party filed a lawsuit against Thanathorn and another former FFP leader, Pannikar Wanich, accusing them of mismanaging a COVID-19 assistance fund. Thanathorn and other former FFP leaders remained under indictment in more than 20 other cases, many of which carry potential prison sentences.

Participation of Women and Members of Minority Groups: No law limits participation of women and members of historically marginalized or minority groups in the political process; however, their participation was limited. There were 76 female members of parliament in the elected lower house out of 487 members and 26 female senators out of 250 members. There were four women in the 35-member cabinet, all in deputy minister positions. There were four lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer, and intersex (LGBTQI+) individuals in parliament and one member of the Hmong ethnic group.

Section 6. Discrimination and Societal Abuses

Women

Rape and Domestic Violence: Rape of men and women is illegal, although the government did not always enforce the law effectively. The law narrowly defines rape as acts in which male sex organs were used to physically violate victims, thereby leaving victims assaulted by perpetrators in other ways without legal remedies. The law permits authorities to prosecute spousal rape, and prosecutions occurred. The law specifies penalties for conviction of rape or forcible sexual assault ranging from four years’ imprisonment to the death penalty as well as fines.

NGOs said rape was a serious problem and that victims underreported rapes and domestic assaults, in part due to a lack of understanding by authorities that impeded effective implementation of the law regarding violence against women.

According to NGOs, agencies tasked with addressing the problem were underfunded, and victims often perceived police as incapable of bringing perpetrators to justice.

Domestic violence against women was a significant problem. The Ministry of Public Health operated one-stop crisis centers to provide information and services to victims of physical and sexual abuse throughout the country. The law establishes measures designed to facilitate both the reporting of domestic violence complaints and reconciliation between the victim and the perpetrator. Moreover, the law restricts media reporting on domestic-violence cases in the judicial system. NGOs expressed concern that the law’s family unity approach put undue pressure on a victim to compromise without addressing safety problems and led to a low conviction rate.

Authorities prosecuted some domestic-violence crimes under provisions for assault or violence against a person, where they could seek harsher penalties. The government operated shelters for domestic-violence victims, one in each province. The government’s crisis centers, located in all state-run hospitals, cared for abused women and children.

Female Genital Mutilation/Cutting (FGM/C): No specific law prohibits this practice. NGOs and international media reported Type IV FGM/C occurred in the Muslim-majority south, although statistics were unavailable. There were no reports of governmental efforts to prevent or address the practice.

Sexual Harassment: Sexual harassment is illegal in both the public and private sectors. The law specifies a fine and a jail term of one month for sexual harassment, while abuse categorized as an indecent act may result in a fine and a maximum 15 years’ imprisonment. Sexual harassment in the workplace may be punished by modest fines. The law governing the civil service also prohibits sexual harassment and stipulates five levels of punishment: probation, docked wages, salary reduction, suspension, and termination. NGOs claimed the legal definition of harassment was vague and prosecution of harassment claims difficult, leading to ineffective enforcement of the law.

Reproductive Rights: There were no reports of coerced abortion or involuntary sterilization on the part of government authorities. (See the Female Genital Mutilation/Cutting subsection for additional information.)

The government provided access to sexual and reproductive health services for survivors of sexual violence, including emergency contraception.

Discrimination: The constitution provides that “men and women shall enjoy equal rights and liberties. Unjust discrimination against a person on the grounds of differences in origin, race, language, sex, age, disability, physical or health condition, personal status, economic or social standing, religious belief, education or political view, shall not be permitted.”

Human rights advocates expressed concern regarding lengthy delays in reviewing individual discrimination complaints and a lack of awareness among the public and within the ministry’s provincial offices.

Women generally enjoyed the same legal status and rights as men but sometimes experienced discrimination, particularly in employment. The law imposes a maximum jail term of six months, a fine, or both, for anyone convicted of gender discrimination. The law mandates nondiscrimination based on gender and sexual identity in policy, rule, regulation, notification, project, or procedure by government, private organizations, and any individual, but it also stipulates two exceptions criticized by civil society groups: religious principles and national security.

Women were unable to confer citizenship to their noncitizen spouses in the same way as male citizens.

Women comprised approximately 12 percent of the country’s military personnel. Ministry of Defense policy limits the percentage of female officers to not more than 25 percent in most units, with specialized hospital or medical, budgetary, and finance units permitted 35 percent. Military academies (except for the nursing academy) refused admission to female students, although a significant number of instructors were women.

Women are barred from applying to the police academy. The Royal Thai Police continued to list “being a male” as a requirement in an employment announcement for police investigators and other positions, although in 2020 police did permit 300 women (and 700 men) to take police investigator examinations.

Section 7. Worker Rights

a. Freedom of Association and the Right to Collective Bargaining

The constitution provides that a person shall enjoy the liberty to unite and form an association, cooperative, union, organization, community, or any other group. The law provides for the right of workers in certain private-sector and state-owned enterprises (SOEs) to form and join independent trade unions. The law does not allow migrant workers to organize trade unions. Civil servants may assemble as a group, provided that such assembly does not affect the efficiency of national administration and continuity of public services and does not have a political objective. The law provides for the right of certain workers to bargain collectively with restrictions. The right to conduct legal strikes was suspended due to COVID-19.

By law only workers with the same employer or in the same industry may form a union. Subcontract workers, even if doing the same job as permanent workers in the same factory, may not join the same union because they are classified as belonging to the service industry while fulltime workers come under the manufacturing industry. The inability of subcontract workers and fulltime workers to join the same union limited the unions’ ability to bargain collectively as a larger group. In addition short-term contract workers were less likely to join unions, fearing antiunion retaliation in the form of nonrenewal of their contracts. Labor advocates claimed that many companies hired subcontract workers to undermine unionization efforts. A survey of the auto parts and electronics industries found that more than 45 percent of the workforce consisted of subcontract workers, approximately half on short-term contracts.

The law does not protect union members against antiunion discrimination by employers until their union is registered. To register a union, at least 10 workers must submit their names to the Department of Labor Protection and Welfare. The verification process of vetting the names and employment status with the employer exposed the workers to potential retaliation before registration was complete. Moreover, the law requires that union officials be full-time employees of the company or SOE and prohibits permanent union staff. The law allows one union per SOE. SOEs operated in various sectors of the economy: banking, rail and air transportation, airports, marine ports, and postal services. If an SOE union’s membership falls below 25 percent of the eligible workforce, regulations require dissolution of the union. The law restricts formal links between unions of SOEs and their private-sector counterparts because they are governed by two separate laws.

The law requires unions to have 20 percent membership to bargain collectively. The law allows employees at workplaces without a union to submit collective demands if at least 15 percent of employees are listed as supporting that demand. Employees in private enterprises with more than 50 workers may establish “employee committees” or “welfare committees.” Employee and welfare committees may offer employers suggestions regarding employee benefits and nonfinancial issues and are barred from submitting labor demands or going on strike.

The law prohibits employers from taking adverse actions against workers on these committees and from obstructing committee work. Union leaders often join employee committees to avail themselves of this legal protection.

In May 2020 the minister of labor issued an order prohibiting employer lockouts and employee strikes while the emergency decree to contain the COVID-19 outbreak was in effect. The decree required any labor dispute to be arbitrated by a Labor Relations Committee to maintain public safety and ease industrial relations conflicts during the COVID-19-induced recession. NGOs criticized the order for violating the rights of workers to bargain collectively, while the government and certain union leaders viewed the decree as a means to promote negotiations to find ways to prevent business closures and mass layoffs.

Before its suspension the law provided workers with the right to strike if they notify authorities and employers 24 hours in advance and if the strike does not include a demonstration on public roads. The government may block private-sector strikes with national security implications or with negative repercussions on the population at large. Strikes and lockouts are prohibited at SOEs, and penalties for violations include imprisonment, fines, or both.

The law prohibits termination of employment of legal strikers but permits employers to hire temporary workers or use subcontract workers to replace strikers. The legal requirement to call a general meeting of trade-union members and obtain strike approval from at least 50 percent of union members constrained strike action because many factories use shift workers, making it difficult to attain a quorum.

Labor courts or the Labor Relations Committee can make determinations on complaints of unfair dismissals or labor practices and can require compensation or reinstatement of workers or union leaders with wages and benefits equal to those received prior to dismissal. The Labor Relations Committee consists of representatives of employers, government, and workers groups, and there are associate labor court judges who represent workers and employers.

Noncitizen migrant workers, whether registered or undocumented, do not have the right to form unions or serve as union officials. Migrants can join unions organized and led by Thai citizens. Migrant-worker participation in unions was low due to language barriers, weak understanding of legal rights, frequent changes in employment status, membership fees, restrictive union regulations, and segregation of citizen workers from migrant workers by industry and by zones (particularly in border and coastal areas) as well as due to migrants’ fears of losing their jobs due to their support for a union. Unregistered associations, community-based organizations, and religious groups often represented the interests of migrant workers. In workplaces where most workers were migrants, migrant workers were sometimes elected to the welfare committees and employee committees. NGOs reported few cases, however, where migrant workers’ collective demands were successful in effecting change, particularly along the border areas. For example migrant workers at a chicken-processing factory conducted a work stoppage in March after the factory terminated 32 Cambodian workers in response to their demands for better working conditions.

The law protects employees and union members from criminal or civil liability for participating in negotiations with employers, initiating a strike, organizing a rally, or explaining labor disputes to the public, except where such activities cause reputational harm.

The law does not protect employees and union members from criminal charges for reputational damage, and reputational damage charges have been used to intimidate union members and employees. The law does not prohibit lawsuits intended to censor, intimidate, or silence critics through costly legal defense and these tactics have been used by employers in multiple instances. The law provides some protection to defendants in frivolous libel cases from prosecution and by law a court can dismiss a defamation lawsuit if it is considered dishonest.

Labor law enforcement was inconsistent and sometimes ineffective in protecting workers who participated in union activities. Penalties include imprisonment, a fine, or both and were commensurate with those for other laws involving denials of civil rights; however, authorities rarely applied penalties against employers found guilty of labor violations.

There were reports of workers dismissed for engaging in union activities, both before and after registration. Rights advocates reported that judges and provincial labor inspectors often attempted to mediate cases, even when labor rights violations requiring penalties had been found. In some cases labor courts ordered workers reinstated, although employers did not always comply with court orders. There were reports from unions and NGOs that employers attempted to negotiate terms of reinstatement after court orders were issued, offering severance packages for voluntary resignation, denying reinstated union leaders access to work, or demoting workers to jobs with lower wages and benefits. In some cases judges awarded compensation in place of reinstatement when employers or employees claimed they could not work together peacefully. Only 34 of 77 provinces had any labor unions.

Unions and NGOs reported that employers used various techniques to weaken labor-union association and collective-bargaining efforts. These included replacing striking workers with subcontractors, which the law permits as long as strikers continue to receive wages; delaying negotiations by failing to show up at Labor Relations Committee meetings or sending nondecision makers to negotiate; threatening union leaders and striking workers; pressuring union leaders and striking workers to resign; dismissing union leaders, ostensibly for business reasons, violation of company rules, or negative attitudes toward the company; prohibiting workers from demonstrating in work zones; inciting violence, then using a court order to clamp down on protests; transferring union leaders to other branches, thus making them ineligible to participate in employee or welfare committees; transferring union leaders and striking workers to different, less desirable positions or stripping them of management authority; and supporting the registration of competing unions to circumvent established unions.

Employers sometimes filed lawsuits against union leaders and strikers for trespass, defamation, and vandalism. Private companies also continued to pursue civil and criminal lawsuits against NGOs and journalists as well as workers (see section 2.a., Libel/Slander Laws). As of August, since 2016 Thammakaset, a poultry farm owner in Lopburi Province, filed at least 39 criminal and civil cases against 14 former employees, labor rights activists, and journalists on various charges such as criminal defamation, theft of timecards, and computer crime.

NGOs and labor advocates reported incidents in which their staff members were followed or threatened by employers after they had been seen advocating for labor rights.

b. Prohibition of Forced or Compulsory Labor

The law prohibits all forms of forced or compulsory labor, except in the case of national emergency, war, martial law, or imminent public calamity. Penalties were commensurate with those for other analogous serious crimes, such as kidnapping. The government did not effectively enforce the law.

In 2019 the government amended the Anti-Trafficking in Persons Act for the third time in five years. The new amendment added a separate provision specifically addressing “forced labor or services” and prescribed penalties of up to four years’ imprisonment. More severe penalties can be pursued under the previously existing human trafficking statute or if victims were seriously injured. The government did not complete implementing guidelines for the new forced labor provision, which contributed to a lack of understanding of how to interpret and implement the law.

There were reports forced labor continued in commercial fishing and related industries, garment production, agriculture, manufacturing, domestic work, and street begging. Many workers paid high fees to brokers, recruitment agencies, other others before and after they arrive. Traffickers often used debt-based coercion, deceptive recruitment practices, retention of identity documents and bank cards, illegal wage deductions, physical violence, and other means to subject victims to forced labor. Workers in the seafood processing and fishing sectors increasingly faced forced overtime because of increasing demand for shelf-stable seafood during the pandemic; they also faced unsafe working conditions.

COVID-19 movement restrictions in 2020 and during the year limited the ability of law enforcement to conduct surveillance and compliance activities. Penalties were commensurate with those for other analogous serious crimes, such as kidnapping.

While NGOs acknowledged a decline in the most severe forms of labor exploitation in the fishing sector, reports of exploitation and indicators of forced labor persisted, and the number of crewmembers who went missing at sea continued to increase. Some NGOs noted inconsistencies in enforcing labor law continued, particularly for irregular or delayed payment of wages, illegal wage deductions, illegal recruitment fees, withholding of documents, and not providing written contracts in a language that workers understand (see section 7.e.).

Also see the Department of State’s Trafficking in Persons Report at https://www.state.gov/trafficking-in-persons-report/.

c. Prohibition of Child Labor and Minimum Age for Employment

The law does not prohibit all of the worst forms of child labor. The law protects children from sex and labor trafficking, and use in illicit activities, but it does not meet the international standard for prohibiting military recruitment of children by nonstate armed groups. The law regulates the employment of children younger than age 18 and prohibits employment of children younger than 15. Children younger than 18 are prohibited from work in any activity involving metalwork, hazardous chemicals, poisonous materials, radiation, extreme temperatures, high noise levels, toxic microorganisms, operation of heavy equipment, and work underground or underwater.

The law also prohibits children younger than 18 from workplaces deemed hazardous, such as slaughterhouses, gambling establishments, places where alcohol is sold, massage parlors, entertainment venues, sea-fishing vessels, and seafood processing establishments. As such, children ages 15 to 17 may legally engage in hazardous “homework” (work assigned by the employer representing an industrial enterprise to a homeworker to be produced or assembled outside of the workplace). The law provides limited coverage to child workers in some informal sectors, such as agriculture, domestic work, and home-based businesses. Self-employed children and children working outside of employment relationships, defined by the existence of an agreement or contract and the exchange of work for pay, are not protected under labor law, but they are protected under laws on child protection and trafficking in persons.

Penalties for violations of the law may include imprisonment or fines. These penalties were commensurate with those for other analogous serious crimes, such as kidnapping. Parents of victims whom the court finds were “driven by unbearable poverty” may be exempt from penalties. The government effectively enforced the law related to the worst forms of child labor but was less effective enforcing laws on the minimum age of work and hazardous work.

In 2020 the government reported a slight increase in the number of labor inspectors and interpreters directly employed by the Ministry of Labor. During the year labor inspections targeted fishing ports and high-risk workplaces, including garment factories, shrimp and seafood processing, poultry and pig farms, auto repair shops, construction sites, and service-sector businesses like restaurants, karaoke bars, hotels, and gas stations; inspections often were based on information received from civil society partners. Labor inspections, however, remained infrequent.

The participation of children in traditional Thai kickboxing “Muay Thai” continued to be an area of concern. Children participating in paid and nonpaid Muay Thai (Thai boxing) competitions are not protected under labor law, and it was unclear whether child-protection legislation sufficiently protects child Muay Thai participants.

Government and private-sector entities used bone-density checks and dental examinations to identify potentially underage job applicants. Such tests, however, were not always conclusive. Labor inspectors used information from civil society to target inspections for child labor and forced labor.

The Department of Labor Protection and Welfare implementing regulations came into force in 2020 related to safety and health in diving work, which set the minimum age for workers employed in diving work at 18 years old.

The Department of Labor Protection and Welfare is the primary agency charged with enforcing child labor law and policies. NGOs reported child labor violations found by the department’s labor inspectors were usually referred to law enforcement officers for further investigation and prosecution. NGOs reported families whose children suffered from trafficking or forced labor received some support, but little support was provided to children found working in violation of other child labor laws (minimum working age, hazardous work limits).

NGOs reported that some children from within the country, Burma, Cambodia, Laos, and ethnic minority communities were working in informal sectors and small businesses, including farming, home-based businesses, restaurants, street vending, auto services, food processing, construction, domestic work, and begging. Some children were forced to work in prostitution, pornography, begging, and the production and trafficking of drugs.

In March the Ministry of Labor signed a memorandum of understanding regarding the prevention and correction of child labor and forced labor with 13 organizations representing the seafood, garment, and sugarcane industries. The main objective of the memorandum was to promote public awareness and create a self-policing system for the industry associations to monitor and eliminate this problem.

The Department of Labor Protection and Welfare reported in 2020 there were 24 criminal litigations for child labor offenses with 50 offenders. Seven of these cases resulted in fines, and the remaining 17 cases were still under investigation or in trial. The most common child labor violations were failing to report the hiring of a laborer between ages 15 and 18, allowing child labor during prohibited hours, hiring children younger than age 15, and letting children work in prohibited workplaces such as gambling halls.

Observers noted several limiting factors in effective enforcement of child-labor law, including insufficient labor inspectors, insufficient interpreters during labor inspections, ineffective inspection procedures (especially in hard-to-reach workplaces like private residences, small family-based business units, farms, and fishing boats), and a lack of official identity documents among young migrant workers from neighboring countries.

Over the past two years, COVID-19 related movement restrictions also limited the ability of labor inspectors to conduct inspections. NGOs also reported insufficient protection for child-labor victims, including lack of legal assistance for claiming compensation and restitution, inadequate protection and counseling mechanisms, and a lack of safe repatriation (especially for migrant children). The NGOs alleged that while there were clear mechanisms for the protection and repatriation of child trafficking victims, there was no such mechanism for child-labor victims. A lack of public understanding of child-labor law and standards was also an important factor.

In 2019 the government published its first national working-children survey, using research methodology in line with international guidelines. This survey was the product of cooperation among the Ministry of Labor, the National Statistical Office, and the ILO. The survey revealed that 3.9 percent of 10.5 million children ages five to 17 were working children, including 1.7 percent who were child laborers (exploited working children) – 1.3 percent in hazardous work and an additional 0.4 percent in nonhazardous work. Most child laborers were doing hazardous work in household or family businesses (55 percent), in the areas of agriculture (56 percent), service trades (23 percent), and manufacturing (20 percent). Boys worked in child labor more than girls, and more than half of child laborers were not in school. Of the top three types of hazardous work that children performed, 22 percent involved lifting heavy loads, 8 percent working in extreme conditions or at night, and 7 percent being exposed to dangerous chemicals and toxins.

Also see the Department of Labor’s Findings on the Worst Forms of Child Labor at https://www.dol.gov/agencies/ilab/resources/reports/child-labor/findings  and the Department of Labor’s List of Goods Produced by Child Labor or Forced Labor at https://www.dol.gov/agencies/ilab/reports/child-labor/list-of-goods .

Tibet

Section 1. Respect for the Integrity of the Person

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

There were public reports or credible allegations the government or its agents committed arbitrary or unlawful killings.

Human Rights Watch (HRW) reported in January that Buddhist monk Tenzin Nyima died in late December 2020 or early January after suffering severe beatings over the course of many months. Sources told HRW that the beatings and other mistreatment left Tenzin in a coma, severely malnourished, and likely paralyzed when he died. Phayul.com reported in May that Norsang (no last name), held incommunicado after his 2019 detention for refusing to participate in People’s Republic of China (PRC)-led political re-education training, was allegedly tortured to death. According to the report, Norsang died in 2019 while in the custody of local security officials, who did not reveal his death until May.

b. Disappearance

There were no credible reports of disappearances, although the whereabouts of many persons detained by security officials was unknown (see information on incommunicado detention in section 1.c., below).

Gen Sonam, a senior manager of the Potala Palace, was reportedly detained in 2019, and his whereabouts remained unknown.

The whereabouts of the 11th Panchen Lama, Gedhun Choekyi Nyima, the second most prominent figure after the Dalai Lama in Tibetan Buddhism’s Gelug school, remained unknown. Neither he nor his parents have been seen since they were disappeared, allegedly by or on behalf of PRC authorities in 1995, when he was six years old.

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

According to sources, police and prison authorities employed torture and cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment or punishment in dealing with some detainees and prisoners. There were reports that PRC officials severely beat some Tibetans who were incarcerated or otherwise in custody. In February the Tibet Sun reported Kunchok Jinpa, a political prisoner serving a 21-year sentence, died in a hospital shortly after his release from prison. According to the report, Kunchok died from a severe brain hemorrhage resulting from beatings he endured in prison.

Reports from released prisoners indicated some were permanently disabled or in extremely poor health because of the harsh treatment they endured in prison. Former prisoners also reported being isolated in small cells for months at a time and deprived of sleep, sunlight, and adequate food. Radio Free Asia (RFA) reported in March that Gangbu Rikgye Nyima, serving a 10-year sentence for participation in protests, was released in February, a year early. According to RFA, the release came about because Gangbu’s health had deteriorated badly due to beatings and torture in prison.

RFA reported in September that Tibetan monk Thabgey Gyatso was released after serving 12 years of his 15-year sentence. Sources told RFA that “due to harsh treatment in the prison, his vision and overall health have become very weak.”

Impunity for violations of human rights was pervasive. There were no reports that officials investigated or punished those responsible for unlawful killings and other abuses in previous years.

Prison and Detention Center Conditions

Physical Conditions: Prison conditions were harsh and potentially life threatening due to inadequate sanitary conditions and medical care. According to individuals who completed their prison terms in recent years, prisoners rarely received medical care except in cases of serious illness.

Administration: Independent observers with access to members of the Tibetan community believed that in many cases officials denied visitors, including attorneys, access to detained and imprisoned persons.

Independent Monitoring: There was no evidence of independent monitoring or observation of prisons or detention centers.

Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties

a. Freedom of Expression, Including for Members of the Press and Other Media

Neither in law nor practice were constitutional provisions for freedom of expression respected.

Freedom of Expression: Authorities in the TAR and other Tibetan regions punished persons for the vaguely defined crime of “creating and spreading rumors.” Voice of America reported in March that three Tibetans were arrested for “violating regulations” by establishing a WeChat group. Tibetans who spoke to foreigners or foreign reporters, attempted to provide information to persons outside the country, or communicated information regarding protests or other expressions of discontent, including via mobile phones and internet-based communications, were subject to harassment or detention for “undermining social stability and inciting separatism.”

The Tibet Post reported in March that Rinchen Tsultrim, a Tibetan monk from the TAR, was sentenced to four and a half years for contacting Tibetans overseas. Tibet.net reported in August that PRC authorities arrested three men for posting photographs on their social media accounts and charged them with sharing information with overseas Tibetans.

RFA reported in August that authorities in Sichuan Province arrested 60 Tibetans for allegedly having photos of the Dalai Lama on their mobile phones. Security officials held a community meeting three days later to inform the local populace that they were prohibited from having photographs of the Dalai Lama.

In September RFA reported that two Tibetans in Qinghai were detained for discussing China’s Sinicization policy. The two men had apparently discussed on WeChat PRC policies and how they related to Tibet, resulting in their arrest.

According to multiple observers, security officials often cancelled WeChat accounts carrying “sensitive information,” such as discussions about Tibetan language education, and interrogated the account owners.

During the year, the TAR carried out numerous propaganda campaigns to encourage pro-CCP speech, thought, and conduct. These included a “TAR Clear and Bright 2021” program, designed to crack down on persons “misusing” the internet, including by making “wrong” comments on the party’s history and “denigrating” the country’s “heroes and martyrs.” The TAR Communist Party also launched specialized propaganda campaigns to counter support for “Tibetan independence” and undermine popular support for the Dalai Lama. The PRC’s continuing campaign against organized crime also targeted supporters of the Dalai Lama, who were considered by police to be members of a criminal organization. In August Politburo Standing Committee member Wang Yang and TAR Communist Party secretary Wu Yingjie publicly urged everyone to follow Xi Jinping and avoid the Dalai Lama “clique” and separatist forces.

A re-education program called “Unity and Love for the Motherland” continued to expand. Participants in the program received state subsidies and incentives for demonstrating support for and knowledge of CCP leaders and ideology, often requiring them to memorize party slogans and quotations from past CCP leaders and to sing the national anthem. These tests were carried out in Mandarin. In June Reuters reported observing a broadening of China’s political education campaign among lay individuals and religious figures in the TAR. The report included monks indicating that President Xi was their “spiritual leader.” Reuters also reported that Tibet’s College of Buddhism began focusing on political and cultural education aligned with CCP teaching.

Freedom of Expression for Members of the Press and Other Media, Including Online Media: Authorities tightly controlled journalists who worked for the domestic press and could hire and fire them based on assessments of their political reliability. CCP propaganda authorities were in charge of journalist accreditation in the TAR and required journalists working there to display “loyalty to the party and motherland.” The deputy head of the TAR Propaganda Department simultaneously held a prominent position in the TAR Journalist Association, a state-controlled professional association to which local journalists must belong.

Throughout the year, the TAR implemented its “Regulations on Establishing a Model Area for Ethnic Unity and Progress,” which mandated media organizations to cooperate with ethnic unity propaganda work and criminalized speech or spreading information “damaging to ethnic unity.”

In June TAR party secretary Wu Yingjie held a special region-wide mobilization conference on propaganda and political ideological topics; some journalists and media workers in the region reported they had officially promised to implement the CCP’s line and resolutely fight separatism and “reactionary press and media” overseas.

Foreign journalists may visit the TAR only after obtaining a special travel permit from the government, and authorities rarely granted such permission. When authorities permitted journalists to travel to the TAR, the government severely limited the scope of reporting by monitoring and controlling their movements and intimidating and preventing Tibetans from interacting with them.

Violence and Harassment: PRC authorities arrested and sentenced many Tibetan writers, intellectuals, and singers for “inciting separatism.” Numerous prominent Tibetan political writers, including Jangtse Donkho, Kelsang Jinpa, Buddha (no last name), Tashi Rabten, Arik Dolma Kyab, Gangkye Drupa Kyab, and Shojkhang (also known as Druklo), reported security officers closely monitored them following their releases from prison between 2013 and 2021 and often ordered them to return to police stations for further interrogation, particularly after they received messages or calls from friends overseas or from foreigners in other parts of the PRC. Some of these persons deleted their social media contacts or shut down their accounts completely.

RFA reported in April that six influential Tibetan writers, monks, and cultural figures were arrested in Sichuan. Four of the individuals, Gangkye Drubpa Kyab, Sey Nam, Gangbu Yudrum, and Gang Tsering Dolma, were named in the RFA report, but two of the individuals remained unknown.

Censorship or Content Restrictions: Authorities prohibited domestic journalists from reporting on repression in Tibetan areas. Authorities promptly censored the postings of bloggers and users of WeChat who did so, and the authors sometimes faced punishment. Authorities banned some writers from publishing; prohibited them from receiving services and benefits, such as government jobs, bank loans, and passports; and denied them membership in formal organizations.

The TAR Internet and Information Office maintained tight control of a full range of social media platforms.

The PRC continued to disrupt radio broadcasts of RFA’s Tibetan- and Mandarin-language services in Tibetan areas, as well as those of the Voice of Tibet, an independent radio station based in Norway.

In addition to maintaining strict censorship of print and online content in Tibetan areas, PRC authorities sought to censor the expression of views or distribution of information related to Tibet in countries and regions outside mainland China.

In March, police in the TAR city of Shigatse seized and destroyed “illegal publications” as well as illegal equipment for satellite signal reception.

c. Freedom of Religion

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

Section 3. Freedom to Participate in the Political Process

According to law, Tibetans, like other Chinese citizens, have the right to vote in some local elections. The PRC government, however, severely restricted its citizens’ ability to participate in any meaningful elections. Citizens could not freely choose the officials who governed them, and the CCP continued to control appointments to positions of political power.

The TAR and many Tibetan areas strictly implemented the Regulation for Village Committee Management, which stipulates that the primary condition for participating in any local election is the “willingness to resolutely fight against separatism”; in many cases this condition was interpreted to require candidates to be CCP members and denounce the Dalai Lama.

Recent Elections: Not applicable.

Political Parties and Political Participation: TAR authorities have banned traditional tribal leaders from running their villages and often warned those leaders not to interfere in village affairs. The top CCP position of TAR party secretary continued to be held by a Han Chinese, as were the corresponding positions in the vast majority of all TAR counties. Within the TAR, Han Chinese persons also continued to hold a disproportionate number of the top security, military, financial, economic, legal, judicial, and educational positions. The law requires CCP secretaries and governors of ethnic minority autonomous prefectures and regions to be from that ethnic minority; nonetheless, party secretaries were Han Chinese in eight of the nine autonomous prefectures in Gansu, Qinghai, Sichuan, and Yunnan Provinces. One autonomous prefecture in Qinghai had an ethnic Tibetan party secretary.

Participation of Women and Members of Minority Groups: There were no formal restrictions on women’s participation in the political system, and women held many lower-level government positions. Nevertheless, women were underrepresented at the provincial and prefectural levels of party and government.

Section 6. Discrimination and Societal Abuses

Women

Rape and Domestic Violence: See section 6, Women, in the Country Reports on Human Rights Practices for 2021 for China.

Sexual Harassment: See section 6, Women, in the Country Reports on Human Rights Practices for 2021 for China.

Reproductive Rights: See section 6, Women, in the Country Reports on Human Rights Practices for 2021 for China.

Discrimination: See section 6, Women, in the Country Reports on Human Rights Practices for 2021 for China.

Section 7. Worker Rights

See section 7, Worker Rights, in the Country Reports on Human Rights Practices for 2021 for China.

United Arab Emirates

Section 1. Respect for the Integrity of the Person

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

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

b. Disappearance

Human rights organizations reported instances of enforced disappearances by government authorities. Abdul Rahman al-Nahhas, a Syrian human rights activist sentenced in September to 10 years in prison on charges of terrorism and insulting the prestige of the state, reportedly was forcibly disappeared, threatened, tortured, held incommunicado, and denied access to his legal representative; he remained in prison at year’s end.

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

The constitution prohibits such practices, but there were some reports of occurrences during the year. Based on reports from released prisoners and their family members, diplomatic observers, and human rights organizations, UN human rights experts found that some individuals imprisoned for suspected state security and criminal offenses were subjected to torture or mistreatment. In June the UN special rapporteur for the situation of human rights defenders stated that five of the approximately 60 imprisoned members of the UAE 94, a group of Emirati scholars, activists, lawyers, and doctors who were sentenced to 10 years’ imprisonment in 2013 for signing a petition two years earlier calling for greater democratic reforms, faced prison conditions that could constitute torture. She cited allegations that the men were held for long periods in solitary confinement, left without air conditioning as outside temperatures rose above 105 degrees Fahrenheit, and prevented from seeing sunlight.

Although legal reforms in 2020 made it illegal for authorities to use evidence obtained through torture or degrading treatment, human rights groups alleged that abuses took place during interrogations and as inducement for signed confessions.

Reforms to the legal code in 2020 and 2021 removed flogging as a permissible form of punishment under the federal penal code; however, sharia (Islamic) courts, which adjudicate criminal and family law cases, still impose flogging as punishment for adultery, prostitution, consensual premarital sex, pregnancy outside marriage, defamation of character, and drug or alcohol charges.

Prison and Detention Center Conditions

Prison conditions varied widely among the individual emirates and between regular prisons (which hold those accused of nonpolitical crimes such as drug trafficking, money laundering, and killings) and state security detention facilities (which hold political activists or those the government defines to be terrorists). There continued to be allegations of overcrowding, long waits for health-care access, and poor sanitary conditions.

Physical Conditions: The government did not release statistics on prison demographics and capacity. Diplomatic observers and UN human rights experts reported that in Abu Dhabi, some prisoners reported overcrowding, particularly in drug units, poor temperature control, retaliation for raising complaints to their embassies, and inadequate sanitary conditions and medical care.

There were reports that individuals in state security detention facilities were mistreated, abused, and tortured. Prisoners complained to embassy representatives that they witnessed routine abuse of fellow prisoners, including long periods of solitary confinement and imprisonment in noncooled spaces where temperatures could reach upwards of 100 degrees Fahrenheit for most months of the year.

In February Human Rights Watch reported that government authorities had denied a British national access to critical medication and adequate health care throughout his 10-year detention on a six-year criminal sentence, ignoring his 2014 pardon.

According to diplomatic observers, overcrowding was periodically a problem in prisons in Dubai and the northern emirates. In particular, prisoners awaiting transfer to Abu Dhabi for federal prosecution experienced long stays in police holding cells equipped only for short-term incarceration. In June the minister of interior reported that the COVID-19 pandemic led to a reduction in serious crimes and a decrease of more than 20 percent in the country’s prison population compared with 2020. The minister stated that 4 percent of the country’s prison population tested positive for COVID-19. Prevention measures in prisons included mandatory vaccination, careful sanitization of facilities, a 15-day quarantine for new inmates, and awareness-raising sessions in different languages.

Some prisoners were not permitted exercise or reading materials. There were reports that some prisoners did not have access to outside areas and exposure to sunlight. According to human rights organizations, imprisoned activist Abdelsalam al-Marzooqi was held in solitary confinement in a secret location for eight months and denied visiting and contact rights for more than a year. In Abu Dhabi there also were reports of dangerously hot conditions when air conditioners broke during periods of extreme high temperatures.

While medical care was generally adequate in regular prisons, HIV-positive noncitizen detainees reported not being given regular and uninterrupted access to antiretroviral treatment and experiencing other forms of discrimination, such as being held in segregated units or solitary confinement. Other prisoners reported prolonged delays in receiving medical treatment and difficulty obtaining necessary medication, including insulin for diabetics.

The Gulf Centre for Human Rights blamed the death in February of Jordanian journalist and writer Tayseer al-Najjar, two years after his release from prison, on health complications caused by the conditions during his confinement, which al-Najjar’s wife supported. His sentence ended in December 2018, but he remained imprisoned until February 2019 due to his inability to pay a large fine, which local authorities eventually waived at the time of his release.

Prisons attempted to accommodate persons with disabilities based on their specific needs, such as placing wheelchair users on a lower floor. Some reports alleged inconsistencies in providing support for prisoners with mental disabilities. In Dubai and to some extent in Abu Dhabi, prison officials worked with mental-health professionals to provide support and administer needed medication. Training and facilities to accommodate prisoners with mental disabilities were allegedly less well developed in the other emirates. It reportedly was common for authorities to grant a humanitarian pardon in cases where a person with a disability had been convicted of a minor offense.

Administration: Some state security detainees were not permitted access to visitors or had more limited access than other prisoners. Although prisoners had a right to submit complaints to judicial authorities, details about whether any investigations into complaints took place were not publicly available, and there were no independent authorities to investigate allegations of poor conditions. Inmates reported retaliation from authorities after raising issues regarding prison conditions with diplomatic missions.

There were standard weekly visiting hours in regular prisons, but unmarried and unrelated visitors of the opposite sex had to receive permission from a prosecutor. As a result of COVID-19, some prisons throughout the country used teleconferencing measures in lieu of in-person visitations. Dubai police adopted a remote visual communication service between inmates in Dubai prisons and their families inside and outside the country.

Prison authorities required Muslims to attend weekly Islamic services, and non-Muslims reported some pressure to attend ostensibly nonmandatory lectures and classes regarding Islam. Some Christian clergy raised concerns regarding lack of worship space for incarcerated Christians. In several emirates Christian clergy were not able to visit Christian prisoners.

Independent Monitoring: The government permitted charitable nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) to visit prisons and provide material support on a limited basis. Authorities did not grant access to independent human rights groups, media, or international monitoring bodies, and prohibited regular consular access for State Security Department detainees.

Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties

a. Freedom of Expression, Including for Members of the Press and Other Media

The constitution provides for freedom of expression, including for members of the press and other media, but the law prohibits criticism of national rulers and speech that may create or encourage social unrest. The government regularly restricted freedom of speech and the press, and human rights organizations reported that the government continues to detain political activists and human rights defenders. Media outlets conformed to unpublished government guidelines. Editors and journalists were aware of government “red lines” for acceptable media content, stipulated in federal libel and slander laws. On other socially sensitive topics, they commonly practiced self-censorship. In January the government introduced the National Policy for the Quality of Digital Life aimed at encouraging positive digital citizenship by promoting “tolerance, coexistence, and pluralism” in the curriculum of government schools.

Freedom of Expression: After the onset of widespread regional popular uprisings in 2011, authorities severely restricted freedom of expression by prohibiting any public criticism of the government and individual ministers. The government continued to make arrests or impose other restrictions for speech related to and in support of Islamist political activities, calls for democratic reforms, criticism of or perceived insults against the government and government institutions, and, in rarer cases, criticism of individuals. Both verbal and written insults online are a prosecutable offense.

In other cases authorities brought individuals to trial for posting material on social media platforms that was considered a violation of privacy or personally insulting to acquaintances, colleagues, employers, or religions.

Freedom of Expression for Members of the Press and Media, Including Online Media: International NGOs categorized the press, both in print and online, as not free. Except for regional media outlets located in Dubai and Abu Dhabi’s free-trade zones, the government owned and controlled most newspapers, television stations, and radio stations. Journalists reported the government maintained unpublished guidelines for acceptable media content. Regulations for electronic media, including rules for publishing and selling advertising, print, video, and audio material, require those benefitting monetarily from social media advertising to purchase a license from the National Media Council (NMC).

Censorship or Content Restrictions: By law the NMC, whose chair the president appoints, licenses, and censors all publications, including private association publications. Domestic and foreign publications were censored to remove any criticism of the government, ruling families, or friendly governments. Online content was often removed without transparency or judicial oversight. Domain hosts or administrators are liable if their websites are used to “prompt riot, hatred, racism, sectarianism, or damage the national unity or social peace or prejudice the public order and public morals.” Censorship also extends to statements that “threaten social stability” and materials considered pornographic or excessively violent. The government in December introduced a new “21+” rating for films with mature content, allowing “international versions” of films to be screened in the country. Prior to the announcement of the new rating system, authorities reportedly banned or edited films for “mature” content, which it considered to include representations of lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer, and intersex (LGBTQI+) individuals.

Government and private institutions must obtain a license before publishing or broadcasting media or advertising content, or face penalties. This requirement applies to any media or advertising activity and to any person or entity that issues any type of publication, including clubs, associations, diplomatic missions, foreign centers, and movie theaters.

Government officials allegedly warned journalists who published or broadcast material deemed politically or culturally sensitive. Editors and journalists commonly practiced self-censorship due to fear of government retribution, particularly since most journalists were foreign nationals and could be deported. Authorities did not allow importation or publication of some books they viewed as critical of the government, Islam, and local culture, as well as books that supported the Muslim Brotherhood or its ideology.

Internet and television providers continued to block Qatari-funded al-Jazeera’s website and most Qatari broadcasting channels at the direction of government authorities.

Libel/Slander Laws: The government used libel and slander laws to suppress criticism of its leaders and institutions. The law criminalizes acts that defame others online or through information technology, including communication applications such as WhatsApp; punishment is either imprisonment or a fine. In July a Ras al-Khaimah court ordered a woman to pay a former Federal National Council member AED 20,000 ($5,450) as compensation after she allegedly insulted him and damaged his reputation on social media.

Those convicted of libel face up to two years in prison. The maximum penalty for libel against the family of a public official is three years in prison.

The law also criminalizes any form of expression the government interprets as blasphemous or offensive toward “divine recognized religions,” inciting religious hatred or insulting religious convictions.

National Security: Authorities often cited the need to protect national security as the basis for laws that prohibit and punish criticism of the government or expression of dissenting political views. For example, the country’s cybercrime laws include broad limitations on using electronic means to promote disorder or “damage national unity.” Human rights groups criticized these laws for excessively restricting freedom of expression.

Internet Freedom

The Ministry of Interior lists 10 broad categories of online activities it considers illegal under the cybercrime law: defaming or disrespecting others, violating privacy, filming persons or places and posting these videos without permission, spreading false news and rumors, manipulating personal information, engaging in blackmail and threats, establishing websites or accounts that violate local regulations, inciting immoral acts, posting work-related confidential information, and establishing or managing websites or accounts to coordinate with terrorist groups. The law imposes fines and sentences up to life imprisonment depending on the nature of the alleged offense. In February HRW contended that the Abu Dhabi Court of Appeals’ October 2020 sentencing of a Jordanian national to 10 years’ imprisonment was based solely on “peaceful” Facebook posts critical of the Jordanian government. Prosecutors had asserted that the posts could endanger national security, harm the social order, and damage relations with Jordan.

The government restricted access to some websites and conducted widespread surveillance of social media, instant messaging services, and blogs with little to no judicial oversight. Virtual private networks (VPNs) are permitted for use by companies, institutions, and banks for internal purposes only; use by private individuals is forbidden. The usage of VPN technology for illegal means is considered a serious offense under the law. Authorities threatened to imprison individuals for misusing the internet. Self-censorship was apparent on social media. There were reports the Ministry of Interior monitored internet use, and access to the Clubhouse social media application was allegedly deliberately interrupted by telecom operators, although the Telecommunications Regulatory Authority denied these claims to an international media outlet. There were numerous documented instances of online surveillance used to track dissidents in the country and abroad. This included reports the government had purchased spyware, including NSO Group’s Pegasus spyware, and employed foreign cyber-experts to bolster its own hacking capabilities. NGOs and media outlets reported that activists, journalists, politicians, and dissidents were targeted in systematic hacking campaigns.

The country’s two internet service providers, both majority owned by the government’s sovereign wealth fund, used a proxy server to block materials deemed inconsistent with the country’s values, as defined by the Ministry of Interior and overseen by the Telecommunications Regulatory Authority. Blocked material included sites with LGBTQI+ content; atheism; negative critiques of Islam; testimonies of former Muslims who converted to Christianity; gambling; promotion of illegal drug use; pornography; and postings that explained how to circumvent the proxy servers. International media sites, accessed using the country’s internet providers, contained filtered content. The government also blocked some sites containing content critical of the government or laws of the country, and other states in the region.

The Telecommunications Regulatory Authority operated with no oversight or transparency in identifying which sites it blocked. Service providers did not have the authority to unblock sites without government approval. The government also blocked most voice-over-internet-protocol (VoIP) applications and the use of VoIPs through VPNs. Convictions for unauthorized use of VoIPs can lead to significant fines, imprisonment, or both. With the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic the Telecommunications Regulatory Authority temporarily approved a set of VoIP applications to support teleworking and distance learning.

The Federal Public Prosecution for Information Technology Crimes investigated criminal cases involving use of information technology, including the use of the internet with the intent to “damage public morals,” the promotion of “sinful behavior,” illegal collections of donations, trafficking in persons, calling for or abetting the breach of laws, and the organization of demonstrations.

The NMC requires social media influencers who accept payment in money or high-value goods and services in return for endorsing products to join a social media management agency or obtain an e-commerce license for a small fee and a trade license, for which the price varies by emirate. Unlicensed paid social media influencers face a moderate fine.

Academic Freedom and Cultural Events

The government restricted academic freedom, including speech both inside and outside the classroom by educators, and censored academic materials for schools. The government required official permission for conferences and submission of detailed information on proposed speakers and topics of discussion. The same procedure applied to on-campus events at private schools. Some organizations found it difficult to secure meeting space for public events that dealt with contentious topics.

c. Freedom of Religion

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

Section 3. Freedom to Participate in the Political Process

The law does not provide citizens the ability to choose their government in free and fair periodic elections based on universal and equal suffrage. Federal executive and legislative power is in the hands of the Federal Supreme Council, a body composed of the hereditary rulers of the seven emirates. It selects from its members the country’s president and vice president. Decisions at the federal level generally are by consensus among the rulers, their families, and other leading families. The ruling families, in consultation with other prominent tribal figures, also choose rulers of the emirates.

Citizens may express their concerns directly to their leaders through an open majlis, a traditional consultative mechanism. On occasion, women were permitted to attend a majlis. If a majlis was closed to women, men sometimes expressed concerns as proxies on behalf of women. In addition, authorities sometimes held a women-only majlis or a majlis focused specifically on women’s issues.

Elections and Political Participation

Recent Elections: In 2019 an appointed electorate of more than 330,000, representing just under one-quarter of the total citizen population, elected 20 members of the Federal National Council (FNC), a 40-member consultative body with some legislative authority. Approximately 35 percent of eligible voters participated. The size of the appointed electorate increased by approximately 50 percent from the 2015 election. Each emirate receives seats in the FNC based on population. In a nontransparent process, each emirate ruler appoints that emirate’s portion of the other 20 FNC members. As mandated by a 2018 decree, female representation in the FNC stands at 50 percent, to include both directly elected and appointed members.

Political Parties and Political Participation: Citizens did not have the right to form political parties, which are prohibited by law.

Participation of Women and Members of Minority Groups: No laws limit participation of women or members of minority groups in the political process, although cultural practices and norms discouraged women from engaging in political life. The government prioritized women’s participation in government. There were nine female ministers in the 31-member cabinet and 20 women in the FNC (seven elected).

Except in the judiciary and military, members of non-Muslim and racial minority groups did not serve in senior federal positions. Many judges were contracted foreign nationals.

Section 6. Discrimination and Societal Abuses

Women

Rape and Domestic Violence: The law criminalizes rape, which is defined as coerced sexual intercourse with a woman or sodomy with a man. Rape is punishable by death under the penal code. Changes to the penal code announced in November made rape of women generally punishable by life imprisonment but still punishable by death in certain cases. The penal code does not prohibit spousal rape. In sharia courts, which are primarily responsible for civil matters between Muslims, the extremely high burden of proof for a rape case contributed to a low conviction rate. There were reports employers raped or sexually assaulted foreign domestic workers. The government rarely prosecuted these cases, and those that did led to few convictions.

In November 2020 the government decriminalized consensual extramarital sex. Changes to the penal code announced in November, however, stipulated that consensual extramarital sex is punishable by six months’ imprisonment if a complaint is filed by a husband or guardian of either of the parties. Updates to the penal code also criminalized indecent assault by coercion, threat, or deceit, and cover instances where the victim is incapable of providing consent due to mental incapacity. Sexual relations with a person younger than the age of consent, 14 years old, is punishable as indecent assault. Changes to the penal code announced in November raised the age of consent to 18. If the perpetrator is related to the victim, responsible for their upbringing or care, or has authority over them, the punishment may be up to life imprisonment.

In February the Ras al-Khaimah Criminal Court of Appeal upheld the life sentence of two Gulf nationals convicted of kidnapping and raping an unidentified person described only as “a youth.” Also in February the Abu Dhabi Criminal Court sentenced three male nationals of a Gulf country to life imprisonment on charges including attempted rape. In April the Dubai Court of Appeals upheld a life sentence against an Indian salesman for raping a housewife inside her home and threatening her with a knife.

The penal code outlaws multiple forms of domestic abuse, including mental, sexual, and financial abuse. Public prosecutors may issue protective orders for victims, and abusers may be subject to prison or monetary fines. In June a criminal court in Dubai sentenced a man to life in prison for killing his wife.

Victims of domestic abuse may file complaints with police units stationed in major public hospitals. Social workers and counselors, usually female, also maintained offices in public hospitals and police stations. There are domestic abuse centers in Abu Dhabi, Dubai, Ras al-Khaimah, and Sharjah.

While the government has not yet fully implemented the Family Protection Policy, adopted in 2019, it did coordinate with social organizations to increase awareness of domestic violence, conduct seminars, educational programs, symposiums, and conferences. The Dubai Foundation for Women and Children sought to increase awareness of domestic violence through social media, television, radio programming, and advertising; by hosting workshops; and by sponsoring a hotline. In light of the COVID-19 pandemic, the Foundation, which operated a shelter, also launched a project with the L’Oreal Fund for Women to construct a medical screening and quarantine facility for domestic abuse survivors. The Aman Shelter for Women and Children in Ras al-Khaimah also maintains a hotline for domestic abuse survivors.

Female Genital Mutilation/Cutting (FGM/C): The law does not prohibit FGM/C, and although the Ministry of Health prohibits hospitals and clinics from performing the procedure, private clinics and ritual/traditional circumcisers continued to carry it out. The type of FGM/C most prevalent in the country was performed during infancy and childhood. FGM/C was practiced by some tribal groups and was reportedly declining as a traditional custom, although little information was available. Foreign residents from countries where FGM/C is prevalent undertook the practice.

Other Harmful Traditional Practices: In November 2020 the government repealed an article in the penal code allowing men to receive lighter sentences for killing a female relative found in the act of extramarital sex. The country employs judicial supervision for individuals considered at risk from relatives threatening to commit honor crimes against or otherwise harming them. Judicial supervision typically included providing housing to individuals for their safety and well-being and family mediation and reconciliation.

Sexual Harassment: The government has prosecuted sexual harassment. The legal definition of sexual harassment includes repetitive harassment through action, words, or signs, and acknowledges that men can be victims of sexual harassment. The penal code stipulates punishment by a prison term of at least one year, a fine of 100,000 AED ($27,250), or both. If a criminal judgement is rendered against a foreigner, it is to include a prison term followed by deportation.

Conviction of “disgracing or dishonoring” a person in public is punishable by a minimum of one year and up to 15 years in prison if the victim is younger than age 14. Conviction for “infamous” acts against the rules of decency is punishable by a penalty of six months in prison, and “dishonoring a woman by word or deed on a public roadway” is also a punishable offense. The government generally enforced this law.

Reproductive Rights: There were no reports of coerced abortion or involuntary sterilization on the part of government authorities.

According to changes to the penal code announced in November, pregnancy outside marriage is punishable by two years’ imprisonment unless the parents marry or one or both acknowledge the child and obtain identification papers and travel documents in accordance with the laws of the country of which either parent is a national. Unmarried noncitizen women who become pregnant have faced difficulties registering births and obtaining identity documents for children, complicating the ability for such children to remain in the country.

While reproductive health care is available, it was more challenging to access for unmarried and noncitizen women, who represented a significant majority of the female population. Additionally, there were restrictions to health-care access based on health insurance. Although the government provides free health care to citizens, including access to contraception, obstetric and gynecologic services, prenatal care, and delivery care to married female citizens, insurance plans for unskilled laborers often did not offer prenatal or postnatal care, and the government did not provide free postnatal care for noncitizen pregnant women. Foreign residents with no health insurance benefits may use public hospitals for a fee and sometimes relied on charity to cover these costs. Access to limited pharmacological contraception options was available only through medical prescription. Oral contraceptive prescriptions are legal for single women as treatment for menstrual issues. Most health insurance plans did not cover insertion and removal of intrauterine devices and contraceptive implants.

Abortion is generally illegal. It is permitted only when the pregnancy endangers the woman’s life, or when there is evidence that the baby will be born with deformities and will not survive.

There were no reports that virginity tests were practiced in the country. Hospitals must report rape cases to police, and rape victims were usually provided with medical care. Emergency contraception was reportedly available with a doctor’s prescription and in some cases required spousal consent.

Discrimination: Women in general faced legal and economic discrimination, with noncitizen women at a particular disadvantage. In November Abu Dhabi passed a new personal status law for non-Muslims related to marriage, divorce, custody of children, and inheritance that would limit discrimination against non-Muslim women.

The government’s interpretation of sharia applies in personal status cases and family law. Muslim women must have the consent of their guardians to marry. Local interpretation of sharia prohibits Muslim women from marrying non-Muslims and Muslim men from marrying women “not of the book,” generally meaning adherents of religions other than Islam, Christianity, and Judaism. In addition, the law permits a man to have as many as four wives. Non-Muslim women normally inherit less than men, and a son’s inheritance may be double that of a daughter under sharia law. The reforms announced in November in Abu Dhabi would entitle non-Muslim women to larger inheritances than previously. Legal reforms in 2019 allow women to apply for a passport without the written consent of her husband. In 2019 the government began allowing women to be head of household.

To obtain a divorce with a financial settlement, a woman must prove her husband inflicted physical or moral harm upon her, abandoned her for at least three months, or did not provide for her or their children’s upkeep. Physical abuse claims require medical reports and two male witnesses. It is up to the judge’s discretion to consider women as full witnesses or half witnesses. Alternatively, women may divorce by paying compensation or surrendering their dowry to their husbands. In April, Sharjah passed a decree providing female citizens additional protections against eviction from their marital home in cases of divorce. According to the decree, a divorced citizen woman cannot be evicted if the home was given as government aid or if she has children.

The strict interpretation of sharia does not apply to child custody cases, and courts applied the “the best interests of the child” standard. According to federal law, a divorced woman may lose custody of her children to their father once daughters reach age 13 and sons age 11. are permitted to file for continued custody until a daughter is married or a son finishes his education. Under federal law, fathers are permitted to seek custody of a son younger than age 11 if they believe the child has become “too soft.” The new family law for non-Muslims in Abu Dhabi, issued in November, grants parents joint custody, unless a parent waives their right or submits a request to deny the other parent custody on grounds of “ineligibility,” potential danger to the child, or failure to perform parental duties.

In March a criminal case against a resident who gave birth out of wedlock in 2020 was dismissed on the grounds that the decriminalization of consensual premarital sex rendered the act “unpunishable.” The legal reforms did not address the civil status of births out of wedlock, however, and many residents were not able to register their children without a marriage certificate.

Despite these changes to federal laws, local laws may still penalize adultery or consensual premarital sex. In August the Supreme Federal Court rejected the appeal of a woman from Sharjah accused of consensual premarital sex, finding that local laws remained applicable despite the absence of a federal penalty.

While the law mandates equal access to education for all, federal law prohibits coeducation in public universities, except in the United Arab Emirates University’s executive MBA program and in certain graduate programs at Zayed University. Many private schools, private universities, and institutions, however, were coeducational. According to officials, local women represented more than 70 percent of national higher education students.

The government excluded women from certain social and economic benefits, including land grants for building houses, because tribal family law often designates men as the heads of families.

The government has a Gender Balance Council to promote a greater role for female citizens, but not noncitizens, working outside the home. In 2020 the president issued a law stipulating equal wages for women and men in the private sector.

Section 7. Worker Rights

a. Freedom of Association and the Right to Collective Bargaining

The law neither provides for the right to organize, strike, or bargain collectively nor permits workers to form or join unions. The labor law forbids strikes by public-sector employees, security guards, and migrant workers. The law does not entirely prohibit strikes in the private sector but allows an employer to suspend an employee for striking. The government generally enforced labor laws, but penalties were not commensurate with those for other laws involving denials of civil rights, such as discrimination.

In the private sector, the Ministry of Human Resources and Emiratization must approve and register individual employment contracts. The labor law does not apply to public-sector employees, agricultural workers, or most workers in export-processing zones. Domestic workers fall under a separate labor law but are regulated by the Ministry of Human Resources and Emiratization. Persons with a claim to refugee status but who lacked legal residency status, including those with either short-term visitor visas or expired visas, were generally not eligible for employment.

Private-sector employees may file collective employment dispute complaints with the Ministry of Human Resources and Emiratization, which by law acts as mediator between the parties. Employees may then file unresolved disputes within the labor court system, which forwards disputes to a conciliation council. Public-sector employees may file an administrative grievance or a case in a civil court to address a labor-related dispute or complaint. Administrative remedies are available for labor complaints, and authorities commonly applied them to resolve issues such as delayed wage payments, unpaid overtime, or substandard housing.

All foreign workers have the right to file labor-related grievances with the Ministry of Human Resources and Emiratization. Reports on the length of administrative procedures varied, with workers citing both speedy and delayed processes. The ministry sometimes intervened in foreign workers’ disputes with employers and helped negotiate private settlements. The law allows employers to request the government to cancel the work permit of, and deport for up to one year, any foreign worker on a work-sponsored residency visa for unexcused absences of more than seven consecutive days or for participating in a strike. The law prohibits unauthorized demonstrations or the expression of opinions deemed “false, or hurtful to the country’s public image.” Changes to the penal code announced in November mandated deportation of noncitizen workers inciting or participating in a strike. In June Abu Dhabi set up a fast-track court to handle labor disputes and cases concerning unpaid wages for claims of less than AED 500,000 ($136,000). Plaintiffs must register their cases with the Abu Dhabi Judicial Department, and the courts are obligated to hear cases and issue rulings within 15 days. Rulings on claims less than AED 50,000 ($13,600) may not be appealed.

Abu Dhabi police directed private security personnel at several camps for laborers to surveil gatherings of laborers and report if they discussed security, social, and religious-related concerns.

Professional associations were not independent, and authorities had broad powers to interfere in their activities. For example, the Ministry of Human Resources and Emiratization had to license and approve professional associations, which were required to receive government approval for international affiliations and travel by members. The government granted some professional associations with majority citizen membership a limited ability to raise work-related matters, petition the government for redress, and file grievances with the government.

Foreign workers may belong to local professional associations; however, they do not have voting rights and may not serve on association boards. Apart from these professional associations, in a few instances some foreign workers came together to negotiate with their employers on issues such as housing conditions, nonpayment of wages, and working conditions.

The threat of deportation discouraged noncitizens from expressing work-related grievances. Nonetheless, occasional protests and strikes took place. The government did not always punish workers for nonviolent protests or strikes, but it dispersed such protests and sometimes deported noncitizen participants. Following the mandatory closure of many businesses in response to the COVID-19 pandemic, the government gave employers the ability to reduce wages or place workers on unpaid leave with the workers’ consent. There were instances of employers exploiting these changes illegally to reduce salaries or furlough workers without their consent.

In Dubai the CDA regulates and provides licensing services to nonprofit civil society organizations and associations that organize ongoing social, cultural, artistic, or entertainment activities. All voluntary organizations and individual volunteers are required to register with the CDA within six months. In addition, all voluntary activities require a CDA permit, but there are no prescribed penalties for noncompliance.

b. Prohibition of Forced or Compulsory Labor

The law prohibits and criminalizes all forms of forced or compulsory labor, but the government did not effectively enforce the law, particularly in the domestic-worker sector. Penalties were not commensurate with those for analogous serious crimes, such as kidnapping.

The government took steps to prevent forced labor through continued implementation of the Wages Protection System (WPS) (see section 7.e.). In April the Ministry of Human Resources and Emiratization increased the penalty for private-sector companies that do not pay salaries on time. Upon recruiting a new employee, the employer has the option either to submit a bank guarantee on behalf of the employee or to insure them for two years. In case of a company’s bankruptcy or failure to pay benefits, employees receive insurance coverage of end-of-service benefits, vacation allowance, overtime allowance, unpaid wages, return air tickets, and compensation for any work injuries certified by a court ruling. Some employers subjected migrant domestic workers, and to a lesser degree construction and other manual labor workers, to conditions indicative of forced labor. Contract substitution remained a problem. Workers experienced nonpayment of wages, unpaid overtime, failure to grant legally required time off, withholding of passports, threats, and in some cases psychological, physical, or sexual abuse.

Contrary to the law, employers routinely withheld employees’ passports, thus restricting their freedom of movement and ability to leave the country or change jobs. There were media reports that employees were coerced to surrender their passports for “safekeeping” and sign documentation that the surrender was voluntary. In most cases individuals reported they were able to obtain their travel documents without difficulty when needed, but this was not always the case. With domestic workers, passport withholding frequently occurred, and enforcement against this practice was weak. In labor camps it was common practice for passports to be kept in a central secure location, accessible with 24 to 48 hours’ notice. In June a group of Indian migrant workers became stranded without jobs after they were reportedly duped by an agent who confiscated their passports.

Some employers forced migrant workers in the domestic and agricultural sectors to compensate them for hiring expenses such as visa fees, health exams, and insurance, which the law requires employers to pay, by withholding wages or having these costs deducted from their contracted salary. Some employers did not pay their employees contracted wages even after they satisfied these “debts.”

There were reports from community leaders that employers refused to apply for a residency visa for their domestic workers, rendering them undocumented and thus more vulnerable to exploitative labor practices.

Although charging workers recruitment fees was illegal, workers in both the corporate and domestic sectors often borrowed money to pay recruiting fees in their home countries, and as a result they spent most of their salaries trying to repay home-country labor recruiters or lenders. These debts limited workers’ options to leave a job, sometimes trapped them in exploitive work conditions, and increased their vulnerability to labor trafficking through debt-based coercion. The Ministry of Human Resources and Emiratization oversees recruitment of domestic workers through one-stop Tadbeer Centers at which recruitment agencies register their services, workers undergo interviews and receive training, and visas and identification documents are distributed.

Also see the Department of State’s annual Trafficking in Persons Report at https://www.state.gov/trafficking-in-persons-report/.

c. Prohibition of Child Labor and Minimum Age for Employment

The law prohibits and criminalizes all the worst forms of child labor, but penalties were not commensurate with those for analogous serious crimes, such as kidnapping. The law prohibits employment of persons younger than 15 and includes special provisions regarding children ages 15 to 18. Under the labor law, teenagers are not allowed to work at night in industrial enterprises, be hired to do hazardous or strenuous jobs, or work overtime or on holidays. The law excludes agricultural work, leaving underage workers in these sectors unprotected. Under the law governing domestic workers, 18 is the minimum age for legal work. The Ministry of Human Resources and Emiratization is responsible for enforcing the regulations and generally did so effectively.

In September the government announced a juvenile work permit, issued by the Ministry of Human Resources and Emiratization, allowing individuals aged 15 to 18 to apply for a part-time permit provided they receive approval from their parents, hold valid residency, and continue their education. The permit allows youth to work six hours a day, with a one-hour break, for up to six months, or for a few hours during a year. A training permit allows those older than 12 to work in the private sector as summer hires.

Vietnam

Section 1. Respect for the Integrity of the Person

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

There were reports that the government or its agents committed arbitrary or unlawful killings.  At least six deaths attributed to abuse in custody were alleged; authorities attributed these deaths to suicide or medical problems or offered no cause of death.  There were no reliable data on overall death rates and causes in prisons.  According to the Ministry of Public Security, there were 36 deaths while in custody or incarceration, including 21 by diseases, nine by suicide, four by accidents, and two from injuries incurred in fights between prisoners.

Authorities sometimes harassed and intimidated families who questioned the police determination of cause of death. In a small number of cases in prior years, the government held police officials responsible, typically several years after the death. Despite guidance from the Supreme People’s Court to charge police officers responsible for deaths in custody with murder, such officers typically faced lesser charges. Police conducted their own internal affairs investigations to determine whether deaths in custody were justified.

On January 6, a 23-year-old man detained since November 2020 for “disrupting public order” died in Chi Hoa Temporary Detention Center in Ho Chi Minh City. Police attributed the death to suicide, but the man’s family reportedly found bruises on his body.

On September 25, Phan Van Lan died at the Ha Lam village police office, Dạ Huoai District, Lam Dong Province, three hours after responding to a summons for an alleged violation of COVID-19 mitigation restrictions. According to police Lan was drunk and aggressive when he reported to the police station. Although the cause of death has not been determined, Lan’s brother, Phan Van Thuan, witnessed the autopsy, which revealed heavy bruising. The Ministry of Public Security was investigating the case as of year’s end.

b. Disappearance

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

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

The constitution and law prohibit torture, violence, coercion, corporal punishment, or any form of treatment harming the body and health, or the honor and dignity of persons detained or incarcerated. Nonetheless, suspects commonly reported mistreatment and torture by police or plainclothes security officials during arrest, interrogation, and detention.

Activists reported Ministry of Public Security officials assaulted political prisoners to extract confessions or used other means to induce written confessions, including instructing fellow prisoners to assault them or making promises of better treatment. Abusive treatment was not limited to activists or persons involved in politics. Human rights monitoring groups issued multiple reports of police using excessive force while on duty, and investigators allegedly torturing detainees.

On August 12, the head of the economic police and two other officers of District 3, Ho Chi Minh City, reportedly assaulted journalist Mai Quoc An at the police station. Police reportedly summoned An to discuss his work as the director of a social enterprise providing COVID-19 relief. Police beat An after he refused to sign meeting minutes prepared by police.

In December a family member of jailed land rights activist Trinh Ba Phuong reported prison guards physically abused him while in pretrial confinement, “taking turns harshly beating [him] over all parts of his body, including his genitals.” The family member reported prison officials threatened to place Phuong in a cell with mental patients if he continued to refuse to confess to his alleged crime of “making, storing, or disseminating propaganda against the state.”

In October international media reported that, according to a lawyer associated with the case, jailed land rights activist Trinh Ba Tu was beaten badly by investigators following his June 2020 arrest; he sustained injuries to his kidney and was hospitalized.

Although impunity in the security forces was a significant problem, and police, prosecutors, and government oversight agencies seldom investigated specific reports of mistreatment, authorities did prosecute some police officers for abuse of authority. In July the Hanoi People’s Court sentenced police officers Pham Hai Dang, Pham Trinh Duc Anh, and Nguyen Tien Anh to 30, 24, and 20 months in jail respectively for abusing detainees in custody. On December 13, authorities arrested Captain Nguyen Doan Tu and detained him for four months, accusing him of using “corporal punishment” against a prisoner at a prison in Ham Tam District, Binh Thuan Province.

The Ministry of Public Security reported it trained police on citizens’ rights and human rights of detainees.

Prison and Detention Center Conditions

Prison conditions varied substantially by prison and province. In most cases they were austere but generally not life threatening. Insufficient and unclean food, overcrowding, lack of access to potable water, poor sanitation, and excessive heat during the summer remained serious problems.

Physical Conditions: Authorities generally held men and women separately, with some reported exceptions in local detention centers. Authorities generally held juveniles in an area separate from adults. The law allows children younger than age three to stay with imprisoned mothers in a separate area of the prison. In these cases the prisoners were allowed appropriate time for taking care of their children. By law pretrial detainees are to be held separately from convicted prisoners. Media and activists reported there were cases in which detainees were held in the same cells with convicted prisoners.

Prison officials failed to prevent prisoner-on-prisoner violence. On July 26, Tran Tan Thanh allegedly beat and kicked his fellow inmate Nguyen Quoc Tuan after they had a conflict during their labor session at My Phuoc Prison in Tien Giang Province. Tuan reportedly died a few hours after being taken to the prison’s emergency room.

Some former and serving prisoners and their families reported prisoners received insufficient, poor-quality food. Family members continued to make credible claims that prisoners received extra food or other preferential treatment by paying bribes to prison officials. Prisoners had access to basic health care, although obtaining necessary medicines was difficult because of poor prison care and the inability to see outside medical experts.

Some prison authorities refused to allow any items sent to prisoners from outside the prison system, including supplemental food and medication, citing COVID-19-related concerns. Authorities placed prisoners in solitary confinement for standard periods of three months, reportedly only after less rigorous punishments had been imposed. Family members of Trinh Ba Phuong reported that he was kept in solitary confinement in excess of three months.

On July 6, Ho Chi Minh City police confirmed a riot broke out inside Chi Hoa Temporary Detention Center, reportedly sparked by prisoner concerns regarding a COVID-19 outbreak at the prison following the July 3 death of a suspect in a drug case, reportedly from COVID-19.

Administration: According to the law, the National Assembly, people’s councils, and the Communist Party of Vietnam’s (CPV) Vietnam Fatherland Front (VFF) – an umbrella group that oversees the country’s government-sponsored social organizations – oversee the execution of criminal judgments. There was no active system of prison ombudsmen with whom prisoners could file complaints. The Ministry of Public Security reported that prisoners may file formal complaints with a prosecutor’s office. Since these complaints must first go through the same prison officials who were often the focus of the complaint, however, most observers considered this process flawed.

The law allows prisoners’ family members to visit for one to three hours per month and for prisoners to make up to four 10-minute phone calls per month. Authorities, however, generally limited prisoners to one family visit of no longer than an hour per month. Family members of prisoners reported prison authorities frequently limited political prisoners to two calls, each normally five to seven minutes in length, per month. The family of political prisoner Le Dinh Luong reported many of his calls were barely long enough for him to read a list of medications and necessities that he was requesting from the family. Detention officials monitored and censored calls, abruptly ending them if the conversations addressed negative reports concerning detention conditions. Family members were generally permitted to provide various items, including money, supplemental food, and bedding, to prisoners.

Authorities at many prisons cancelled all family visits during the year, citing COVID-19 mitigation efforts. Prisoner’s families reported that their requests for additional and longer calls to compensate for their inability to visit were generally refused by prison authorities.

While families of current prisoners reported improved prisoner access to religious texts such as the Bible, some family members of existing and former prisoners and lawyers continued to report some prison authorities restricted or hindered prisoners’ access to such publications despite the law providing for such access.

On April 14, Ho Chi Minh City police arrested former Thu Duc Prison guard Le Chi Thanh on charges of “resisting a law enforcement officer” in what international human rights observers asserted was retribution for exposing systemic corruption on his YouTube channel. Thanh, who was fired in July 2020, criticized what he called a culture of corruption within the prison system. On April 18, Thu Duc prison authorities also disciplined police captain Nguyen Doan Tu who worked in the same unit with Thanh and witnessed the behavior Thanh described online and in meetings with international organizations. Tu wrote on his Facebook page that he always wanted to tell the truth but was continuously bullied, disciplined, and isolated within his unit.

On October 4, Quang Nam Province police suspended Captain Tran Dinh following allegations on social media that he had assaulted a detainee with an electric baton. The case remained under investigation.

Independent Monitoring: The Ministry of Public Security, the government entity that manages prisons, did not allow access to international monitors. Local and regional International Committee of the Red Cross officials neither requested nor carried out prison visits during the year.

Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties

a. Freedom of Expression, Including for Members of the Press and Other Media

The constitution and law provide for freedom of expression, including for members of the press and other media; however, the government did not respect these rights, and several laws specifically encroach on freedom of expression. The government also continued to use broad national security and antidefamation provisions in the law to restrict freedom of expression. Such provisions establish crimes such as “sabotaging the infrastructure of socialism,” “sowing divisions between religious and nonreligious people,” and “propagandizing against the state” as serious offenses against national security. The law also expressly forbids “taking advantage of democratic freedoms and rights to violate the interests of the state or lawful rights and interests of organizations or individuals.”

Freedom of Expression: The government continued to restrict speech that criticized individual government leaders or the party, promoted political pluralism or multiparty democracy, or questioned policies on sensitive matters, such as human rights, religious freedom, or sovereignty disputes with China.

Representatives from state-run organizations and progovernment groups visited activists’ residences and attempted to propagandize or intimidate them into supporting government policies, according to social media and activists’ reports. Family members of activists also reported numerous incidents of physical harassment, intimidation, and questioning by Ministry of Public Security officials.

On April 23, a court in Phu Yen Province sentenced Tran Thi Tuyet Dieu to eight years in prison for spreading “antistate propaganda.” According to the indictment she posted 25 articles and nine videos on Facebook and YouTube starting in 2019 until April 2020 “with content opposing the State of the Communist Republic of Vietnam.” Dieu was a former reporter at the province’s official newspaper Phu Yen.

On September 2, Ho Chi Minh City police and the Department of Information and Communications fined Facebook user Nguyen Thi Thuy Duong five million dong ($220) for “sharing untruthful content” by criticizing the government’s handling of COVID-19. According to media reports, Duong posted a video on July 22 and claimed that Binh Trung Dong Ward did not provide sufficient food, aid, and care for individuals under lockdown.

Freedom of Expression for Members of the Press and Other Media, Including Online Media: The CPV, government, and party-controlled mass media organizations exercised legal authority over all print, broadcast, online, and electronic media, primarily through the Ministry of Information and Communications under the overall guidance of the CPV Propaganda and Education Commission. The law requires editors in chief to be CPV members; many outlets applied this to additional managers as well.

Many nongovernmental entities, however, produced and distributed publications by subcontracting, joint publishing, or buying permits from government or other public publishing entities. State-run media reported private entities produced more than 90 percent of all publications in the country, although outright private ownership or operation of any media outlet or publishing house was prohibited. Media independent of government authority operated on a limited basis online, primarily via blogs and social media, but independent journalists faced government harassment.

Authorities further consolidated government control over media outlets, including requiring them to be affiliated with a government body. In Ho Chi Minh City, the party committee assumed the role of the governing agency for two major newspapers, Nguoi Lao Dong (Laborers) and Phu Nu (Women), previously under the management of the Labor Federation and the Women’s Union respectively. Similarly the People’s Committee took over four popular city-based publications, Phap Luat (Law), Du Lich (Tourism), Giao Duc (Education) and Kinh Te Saigon (Saigon Economic Times), previously managed by the committee’s departments. The magazine Doanh Nhan Saigon (Saigon Entrepreneurs) was also transferred to the People’s Committee from the Ho Chi Minh City Business Association.

On June 24, Hanoi police arrested Mai Phan Loi and Bach Hung Duong, the chairman and director of the nongovernmental Media and Education Center; Dang Dinh Bach, director of the NGO Law and Policy of Sustainable Development; and at least two other persons, one of them an accountant and director at the Media and Education Center, for tax evasion. Loi produced and shared many critical programs and reports concerning a variety of topics, notably the environment, on social media.

On June 30, police arrested Dung Le Van (also known as Dung Vova), a freelance journalist who runs Chan Hung Nuoc Viet, a Facebook and YouTube-based outlet that covers politics, social topics, and corruption, according to news reports. Authorities issued a warrant for Dung’s arrest in late May for purportedly violating provisions of the penal code that bar “making, storing, distributing or spreading” news or information against the state.

In a closed trial on July 9, a Hanoi court sentenced independent journalist Pham Chi Thanh to six years and six months in jail for “creating, storing and disseminating information against the state.” Thanh was famous for criticizing and making fun of many high-ranking communist party and state officials on his Facebook page Ba Dam Xoe (Lady Liberty) and in other social media. The conviction reportedly was mostly for his book published in late 2019 criticizing Party General Secretary Nguyen Phu Trong.

On October 28, a court in Can Tho sentenced five members of anticorruption group Bao Sach (Clean Journalism) to more than 14 years’ imprisonment in total on charge of “abusing democratic freedoms.” The indictment accused Truong Chau Huu Danh, Nguyen Phuoc Trung Bao, Nguyen Thanh Nha, Doan Kien Giang‎, and Le The Thang of publishing 47 articles on the Bao Sach Facebook page with “negative and biased information.” By law the government may fine journalists and newspapers for failing to cite their sources of information or for using “documents and materials from organizations and personal letters and materials from individuals.”

Online news site Dan Tri was fined for inaccurately reporting that a student had died of COVID-19 when the student was still being treated. Dan Tri was not the sole outlet to publish the information but was the only one fined because it was the first to publish the story. Journalists interpreted the sanctions as an attempt to discourage local media outlets from publishing stories critical of the government’s handling of the pandemic or even stories on the pandemic deemed too negative.

The law allows the government to punish publishers if they publish “untruthful information” in the fields of statistics; atomic energy; management of prices, charges, fees, and invoices; education; civil aviation; vocational training; hydrometeorology; cartography; and health.

The law limits satellite television access to senior officials, foreigners, luxury hotels, and the press, but persons throughout the country accessed foreign programming via home satellite equipment or cable.

The government permitted journalists employed by foreign-based media outlets to operate under significant restrictions. Foreign journalists required formal permission to travel outside Hanoi for reporting. The law also requires “live” foreign television programming to run on a 30- to 60-minute delay to enable content monitoring.

Viewers reported obstruction of coverage of various commentaries, documentaries, and movies on human rights incidents in the country, the Vietnam War, the Cold War, the Soviet era, or reports involving trade tensions. The information ministry may revoke the licenses of foreign publishers; foreign publishers must renew their licenses annually.

The government also sought to impede criticism by monitoring journalists’ meetings and communications.

Violence and Harassment: Independent journalists faced restrictions on freedom of movement, other forms of harassment, and physical attacks, if they reported on sensitive topics.

Censorship or Content Restrictions: The Ministries of Information and Communications, Public Security, National Defense and the CPV Propaganda and Education Commission frequently intervened directly with media to dictate or censor a story.

Propaganda officials forced editors of major media outlets to meet with them regularly to discuss what topics were off-limits for reporting. More often pervasive self-censorship, including among independent journalists and bloggers, due to the threat of dismissal and possible arrest, enabled the party and government to control media content. The government punished journalists for failing to self-censor, including by revoking journalists’ press credentials.

Libel/Slander Laws: Defamation is a criminal offense, and the laws were enforced.

On March 31, a court in Lam Dong Province in the Central Highlands sentenced Vu Tien Chi to 10 years in prison. The court alleged Chi shared nearly 340 “antistate” articles and conducted 181 social media livestreams in which he “defamed senior communist leaders, including President Ho Chi Minh.” On the same day, a court in Khanh Hoa sentenced Nguyen Thi Cam Thuy to nine years, Ngo Thi Ha Phuong to seven years, and Le Viet Hoa to five years in prison. Thuy, a former schoolteacher fired for expressing “antistate” political opinions, was accused of burning the national flag and cutting up pictures of senior leaders including Ho Chi Minh on her Facebook page.

National Security: The law allows significant fines to be levied against journalists, newspapers, and online media that publish or broadcast information deemed harmful to national interests or for disseminating information considered to distort history and the revolution’s achievements. In some cases these “violations” may lead to criminal proceedings. No such cases were reported, although editors noted that publications and journalists must be careful of national security laws, contributing to self-censorship.

Citing laws protecting national security, police arrested and ordered journalists to restrict criticism of government policies or officials.

c. Freedom of Religion

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

Section 3. Freedom to Participate in the Political Process

Citizens could not choose their government through free and fair elections based on universal and equal suffrage and conducted by a secret ballot that guaranteed free expression and the will of the people. Although the constitution provides the ability to elect representatives to the National Assembly, people’s councils, and other state agencies directly, constitutional and legal provisions established a monopoly on political power for the CPV, and the CPV oversaw all elections.

Elections and Political Participation

Recent Elections: The May 23 National Assembly elections allowed limited competition among CPV-vetted candidates but were neither free nor fair, and the government did not allow NGO monitoring. The CPV’s Fatherland Front chose and vetted all candidates through an opaque, multistage process. CPV candidates won 485 of the 499 seats. The remaining 14 were non-CPV candidates unaffiliated with any party; nine of the 14 were self-nominated. There were no candidates from a party other than the CPV.

According to the government, 99 percent of eligible voters cast ballots in the May 23 election, a figure activists and international observers considered improbably high. Voters may cast ballots by proxy, and officials charged local authorities with ensuring that all eligible voters cast ballots by organizing group voting and verifying that all voters within their jurisdiction had voted.

The law allows citizens to “self-nominate” as National Assembly candidates and submit applications for the VFF election-vetting process. A total of 74 non-CPV, self-nominated candidates received VFF approval and ran in the May 23 National Assembly elections, down from 97 in the 2016 election. The independent candidates consisted of legal reformers, journalists, academics, activists, and human rights defenders, and included the country’s first openly lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer, or intersex (LGBTQI+) candidate, who ran unsuccessfully in Hanoi. In contrast to the party’s candidates, these candidates actively used Facebook and social media to advertise their policy platforms.

On March 9, Ninh Binh police arrested Tran Quoc Khanh on a charge of “conducting antistate propaganda.” Khanh previously announced through social media his intention to run for a seat in the National Assembly as an independent candidate. Before this arrest local police questioned Khanh on multiple occasions regarding his blogging, his announced candidacy for the National Assembly, and his application to a prodemocracy civil society organization called Democracy Association.

On March 25, Hanoi police arrested prospective self-nominated National Assembly candidate Le Trong Hung and charged him with “conducting antistate propaganda.” At the time of his arrest, Hung had submitted preliminary paperwork to run in the May elections but had not yet been formally screened by the VFF. Hung was a long-time human rights advocate who focused his civil rights advocacy on social injustice by distributing copies of the country’s constitution. He was also critical of many incumbent legislators and other state and party leaders on his Facebook page.

Political Parties and Political Participation: Political opposition movements and other political parties are illegal. Although the constitution states that “all Party organizations and members of the CPV operate within the framework of the constitution and the laws,” the CPV politburo in fact functioned as the supreme national decision-making body, although technically it reported to the CPV Central Committee.

Participation of Women and Members of Minority Groups: No laws limit participation of women or members of minority groups in the political process, and they did participate. The law sets a target of 35 percent of final candidates for the National Assembly and provincial people’s councils to be women and 18 percent to be from minority groups. The 151 women in the National Assembly comprise 30 percent of the body; the 89 ethnic minority delegates comprise 18 percent of the assembly.

Section 6. Discrimination and Societal Abuses

Women

Rape and Domestic Violence: The law prohibits using or threatening violence against women, including rape, spousal rape, “other sexual contacts,” and “forced sex crimes.” It also criminalizes the rape of men. Conviction for rape is punishable by imprisonment of up to 15 years, depending on the severity of the case. The Ministry of Public Security reported 244 rapes with 252 suspects of which police investigated 230 cases and 246 suspects.

Authorities treated domestic violence cases as civil cases unless the survivor suffered injuries to more than 11 percent of the body. The law specifies acts constituting domestic violence and stipulates punishments for convicted perpetrators ranging from warnings to imprisonment for up to three years.

Domestic violence against women was common. The Women’s Union reported in 2019 that at least 58 percent of married women worried about domestic violence and that 87 percent did not seek help. Officials acknowledged domestic violence was a significant social concern, and media discussed it openly. Social stigma prevented many survivors from coming forward due to fear of harassment from their spouses or family.

While police and the legal system generally remained unequipped to deal with cases of domestic violence, the government, with the help of international and domestic NGOs, continued to train police, lawyers, community advocates, and judicial officials in the law; supported workshops and seminars that aimed to educate women and men regarding domestic violence and women’s rights; and highlighted the problem through public-awareness campaigns.

Sexual Harassment: The law specifically prohibits sexual harassment only in the workplace. The Labor Code that came into effect in January allows workers to terminate a labor contract immediately without prior notice if the worker is sexually harassed in the workplace. The new Labor Code also requires employers to include sexual harassment in their “labor regulations.” Perpetrators of sexual harassment outside of the workplace may be fined.

In serious cases survivors may sue offenders under a law that deals with “humiliating other persons” and specifies punishments for conviction that include a warning, noncustodial reform for up to two years, or a prison term ranging from three months to two years.

Reproductive Rights: There were no reports of coerced abortion or involuntary sterilization on the part of government authorities. Coercive population policies restricted reproductive rights. The constitution stipulates that society, families, and all citizens implement “the population and family planning program.” By law couples or individuals are limited to giving birth to one or two children, with exceptions based on government decree. Regulatory penalties apply to CPV members and public-sector officials.

The CPV, certain ministries, and some localities issued their own regulations, applicable only to party members and government officials, regarding family size. A politburo decree subjects party members to reprimand if they have three children, removes them from a ranking position if they have four, and expels them from the CPV if they have five. Violating the decree also decreases the likelihood of promotion and may lead to job termination. The CPV did not enforce these provisions consistently.

Access to sexual and reproductive health services was provided to all persons, including survivors of sexual violence, and included emergency contraception as part of the clinical management of rape.

Discrimination: The law provides for gender equality, but women continued to face societal discrimination. Despite the large body of law and regulation devoted to protecting women’s rights in marriage and the workplace as well as provisions that call for preferential treatment, women did not always receive equal treatment in employment, education, or housing, particularly in rural areas.

Although the law provides for equal inheritance rights for men and women, a son was more likely to inherit property than a daughter, unless otherwise specified by a legal document such as a will.

Gender-biased Sex Selection: According to 2019 data (the latest available) from the Ministry of Health, the average male to female sex ratio at birth was 111.5 boys to 100 girls, far greater than the natural norm of 104-106 boys to 100 girls. To address the topic of gender-biased sex selection, the government prohibits gender identification prior to birth and prohibits gender-based violence and discrimination. Abuses of these provisions were subject to fines or imprisonment. At the local or provincial level, some authorities awarded cash incentives for giving birth to girls. For example, Hau Giang provincial authorities awarded couples that have two girls a one-time payment of 390,000 to 1.3 million dong ($17 to $57).

Section 7. Worker Rights

a. Freedom of Association and the Right to Collective Bargaining

The law provides for the right of workers who are citizens to form and join unions under the Vietnam General Confederation of Labor (VGCL), a CPV-run organization. The VGCL, however, answered directly to the VFF, which did not protect trade unions from government interference in or control over union activity. The new labor code, which came into force in January, allows workers to form or join an independent employee representative organization of their choosing (workers’ representative organization) that does not have to be affiliated with the VGCL; however, some of the implementing decrees needed to operationalize the new code remained pending.

The Trade Union Law limits freedom of association by not allowing trade unions full autonomy in administering their affairs. All unions must follow the organizational and operational guidelines prescribed by the CPV and law. The law confers on the VGCL ownership of all trade-union property and gives it the right to represent lower-level unions. By law trade union leaders and officials are not elected by union members but are appointed.

The law requires that if a workplace trade union does not exist, the next level “trade union” must perform the tasks of a grassroots union, even where workers have not so requested or have voluntarily elected not to organize.

The new labor code includes provisions for collective bargaining on any matter of concern to both parties in order to regulate working conditions and relationships between the parties and to develop progressive, harmonious, and stable labor relations. The law requires bargaining to commence within seven days of a party’s request and provides 90 days to reach an agreement.

Collective bargaining is allowed at the enterprise, multienterprise, and sectoral levels but has additional requirements, such as establishment of the collective bargaining council by the people’s committee of the province where the headquarters of the enterprise is located, or in the case of multiple enterprises, in the province they select.

The law prohibits strikes by workers in businesses the government considers essential to the national economy, defense, or public order. “Essential services” include electricity production; post and telecommunications; maritime and air transportation; navigation; public works; and oil and gas production. The law also grants the chairmen of provincial people’s committees the right to suspend a strike considered detrimental to the national economy or public safety.

The new labor code provides workers who have the right to collective bargaining through the VGCL or their workers’ representative organization with the right to strike with substantive and procedural restrictions. The law limits strikes to cases that arise from a collective labor dispute and cases when collective bargaining is not undertaken within the legal timeframes or when a labor arbitration board has not been established. Workers must also provide five days’ prior notification to the employer and the provincial and district level people’s committee labor agents before a strike. Strikes that do not adhere to the process outlined by law are illegal.

The law states the executive committee of a trade union may issue a decision to go on strike only when at least 50 percent of workers support it. Workers must request and exhaust an extensive and cumbersome process of mediation and arbitration before a lawful strike may occur. Unions or workers’ representatives may either appeal decisions of provincial arbitration councils to provincial people’s courts or strike. The law stipulates strikers may not be paid wages while they are not at work. The law prohibits retribution against legal strikers. By law individuals participating in strikes declared illegal by a people’s court and found to have caused damage to their employer are liable for damages, although this has never been enforced.

The law includes provisions that prohibit antiunion discrimination and imposes administrative sanctions and fines for violations. The law does not distinguish between workers and managers, however, and fails to prohibit employers’ agents, such as managers, from participating as union leadership or interfering in union activity.

The government did not effectively enforce applicable laws. Penalties were not commensurate with similar laws.

There were few strikes due to COVID-19 restrictions on movement and gatherings. None of the strikes followed the authorized conciliation and arbitration process and thus authorities considered them illegal “wildcat” strikes. The government, however, took no action against the strikers.

Because it was illegal to establish or seek to establish independent labor unions prior to the new labor code, there were no registered domestic NGOs involved in labor organizing. Local, unregistered labor NGOs, however, supported efforts to raise awareness of worker rights and occupational safety and health matters and to support internal and external migrant workers. Multiple international labor NGOs collaborated with the VGCL to train VGCL-affiliated union representatives in labor organizing, collective bargaining, and other trade union issues. The International Labor Organization (ILO)-International Finance Corporation (IFC) Better Work project reported management participation in trade union activities was a significant concern in apparel and footwear factories.

b. Prohibition of Forced or Compulsory Labor

The constitution and law prohibit forced or compulsory labor. The labor code’s definition of forced labor, however, does not explicitly include debt bondage. The law criminalizes all forms of labor trafficking of adults and children younger than 16. The government does not effectively enforce the law. The penalties were not commensurate with those for analogous serious crimes; in fact, the law does not provide any penalty for violating provisions prohibiting forced labor. NGOs continued to report the occurrence of forced labor of men, women, and children (see also section 7.c.).

Labor recruitment firms, most affiliated with state-owned enterprises, and unlicensed brokers reportedly charged workers seeking overseas employment higher fees than the law allows. In 2020 the Ministry of Labor inspected 84 enterprises sending workers abroad, fined 32 for administrative violations, and revoked six licenses for violations. Despite these actions and ministry awareness-raising workshops, problems continued. Workers seeking overseas employment incurred high debts and were thus more vulnerable to forced labor, including debt bondage, in the receiving countries. In addition there continued to be reports indicating forced labor in the informal apparel industry.

Also see the Department of State’s Trafficking in Persons Report at https://www.state.gov/trafficking-in-persons-report/.

c. Prohibition of Child Labor and Minimum Age for Employment

The law prohibits the worst forms of child labor. The new labor code states a worker older than 15 and younger than 18 shall not perform work that might damage the physical or intellectual development and dignity of the minor, such as lifting heavy objects or dealing with alcohol or dangerous chemicals or gases. A minor worker from ages 13 to 15 may perform light jobs included in a list from the Ministry of Labor, War Invalids and Social Affairs. Children younger than age 13 may work in art and sports in certain circumstances for no more than 20 hours per week. Minor workers must have the permission of their parents.

The government did not effectively enforce the law, and penalties were not commensurate with those for analogous serious crimes.

Illegal child labor was reported in labor-intensive sectors, such as construction, garments and textiles, bricks, fish, furniture, footwear, and leather goods, agriculture, and some other manufacturing. Local media also reported children working as beggars in gangs whose leaders abused the children and took most of their income. Some children started work as young as 12, and nearly 55 percent of child workers did not attend school.

In the informal garment sector, children as young as age six reportedly worked in conditions of forced labor. The most recently available information from government raids, NGOs, and media reports indicated this was most common in small, privately owned informal garment factories and workshops.

The Ministry of Labor is responsible for enforcing child labor laws and policies. Government officials may fine and, in cases of criminal violations, prosecute employers who violate child labor laws.

Also see the Department of Labor’s List of Goods Produced by Child Labor or Forced Labor at https://www.dol.gov/agencies/ilab/reports/child-labor/list-of-goods .