Australia

Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:

a. Freedom of Speech and Press

Although the constitution does not explicitly provide for freedom of speech or press, the High Court has held that the constitution implies a right to freedom of expression, and the government generally respected this right. An independent press, an effective judiciary, and a functioning democratic political system combined to promote freedom of expression, including for the press. Journalists expressed concern that strict defamation laws have had a “chilling effect” on investigative journalism and freedom of the press.

INTERNET FREEDOM

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

Law enforcement agencies require a warrant to intercept telecommunications, including internet communications.

The Australian Communications and Media Authority (ACMA) maintains a list of “refused classification” website content, primarily pertaining to child pornography, sexual violence, and other activities illegal in the country, compiled through a consumer complaints process. The ACMA may issue a notice to the internet service provider to remove domestically hosted “refused classification” material, or links to such material, that is the subject of a complaint if an investigation concludes the complaint is justified. The list is available to providers of filtering software. An owner or operator of such a website can appeal an ACMA decision to the Administrative Appeals Tribunal, an executive body that reviews administrative decisions by government entities.

According to the International Telecommunication Union, approximately 87 percent of the population used the internet in 2017.

ACADEMIC FREEDOM AND CULTURAL EVENTS

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

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

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

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

Abuse of Migrants, Refugees, and Stateless Persons: Domestic and international organizations expressed serious concern about credible allegations of abuse of migrants in the detention centers on Manus Island and Nauru. Abuses included inadequate mental health and other medical services, instances of assault, sexual abuse, suicide, self-harm, suspicious deaths, and harsh conditions. The government claimed to continue to provide necessary services to refugees.

PROTECTION OF REFUGEES

Refoulement: The UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) noted that immigration authorities in Australia and offshore detention centers forcibly deported refugees and asylum seekers and employed intimidation tactics so that detainees would voluntarily choose to return to their countries of origin. There were no reports of persecution or torture for returned refugees or asylum seekers, but NGOs and UNHCR considered it a possibility.

Access to Asylum: The law provides for granting asylum or refugee status. The government maintains a humanitarian refugee program that includes several types of visas available to refugees for resettlement in the country. UNHCR identifies and refers the majority of applicants considered under the program.

The law authorizes the immigration minister to designate a country as a regional offshore processing center. Parliament must be notified and then has five days to reject the proposed designation. Asylum seekers transferred to third countries for regional processing have their asylum claims assessed by the country in which the claim is processed. A 2013 agreement with Papua New Guinea ended in 2018. Agreements remained in effect with Nauru (2013) and Cambodia (2014), although the latter has been little used.

In some cases unauthorized arrivals determined not to be refugees who made it to Christmas Island, a small Australian island approximately 300 miles south of Jakarta, were sent to Sri Lanka with the cooperation of the Sri Lankan government. Authorities also occasionally forced intercepted boats carrying smuggled persons back into the territorial waters of their country of embarkation when safe to do so.

By law the government must facilitate access to legal representation for persons in immigration detention in country. Access to government-funded legal assistance is available only to those who arrived through authorized channels.

In June the immigration minister stated no refugee in Papua New Guinea or Nauru, including persons with close family ties to Australia, would be resettled in Australia. Representatives from UNHCR accused the government of breaking its promise to accept refugees with close family ties.

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

Temporary Protection: The law permits two temporary protection options for individuals who arrived in Australia and were not taken to regional processing centers in third countries. The temporary protection visa (TPV) is valid for three years, and visa holders are able to work, study, and reside anywhere in Australia with access to support services. Once expired, TPV holders are eligible to reapply for another TPV.

The Safe Haven Enterprise Visa (SHEV) is valid for five years and is granted on the basis that visa holders intend to work or study in nonmetropolitan areas. SHEV holders are eligible to apply for certain permanent or temporary visas after 42 months. As of October 1, the government had granted SHEVs to 11,676 persons.

France

Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:

a. Freedom of Speech and Press

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

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

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

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

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

INTERNET FREEDOM

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

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

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

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

ACADEMIC FREEDOM AND CULTURAL EVENTS

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

The constitution and law provide for the freedoms of peaceful assembly and association, subject to certain security conditions, and the government generally respected these rights.

FREEDOM OF PEACEFUL ASSEMBLY

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

FREEDOM OF ASSOCIATION

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

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

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

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

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

PROTECTION OF REFUGEES

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

STATELESS PERSONS

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

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

Guatemala

Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:

a. Freedom of Speech and Press

The constitution and law provide for freedom of expression, including for the press, and the government generally respected this right. The intimidation of and violence against journalists resulted in significant self-censorship, however.

Freedom of Expression: Following President Morales’ August 31 press conference announcing he would not renew CICIG’s mandate, several prominent human rights defenders and activists reported the PNC visited them ostensibly to inquire about their protection measures. Several journalists also reported suspected surveillance of their homes and offices in the days following the August 31 press conference. The activists and journalists interpreted these actions as an effort to intimidate them from criticizing the administration’s measures with respect to CICIG.

Press and Media Freedom: There were no legal restrictions on the editorial independence of the media. Reporters covering organized crime, including its links to corrupt public officials, acknowledged practicing self-censorship, recognizing the danger investigative journalism posed to them and their families. Independent media were active and expressed a wide variety of views. Since August 31, public security forces have imposed more stringent identification checks on journalists covering government events and activities.

Violence and Harassment: Online attacks against independent journalists and media outlets increased throughout the year. These included hacking of journalists’ private accounts, publishing stolen or falsified personal information, and apparent coordinated attempts to undermine specific journalists and the press. Members of the press continued to report threats and violence from public officials and criminal organizations, which impaired the practice of free and open journalism. The government failed to establish a journalist protection program, a voluntary commitment the country accepted in 2012 during the Universal Periodic Review of the UN Human Rights Council.

According to the Public Ministry, 54 complaints were filed for attacks or threats against journalists, and two journalists were killed from January through the end of August, compared with 116 complaints and three killings in all of 2017.

In November 2017 the Supreme Court lifted the parliamentary immunity of Congressman Julio Antonio Juarez Ramirez based on allegations from the Public Ministry and CICIG that he ordered the killing of journalist Danilo Efrain Zapon Lopez in 2015 in Mazatenango, Suchitepequez. Journalist Federico Benjamin Salazar Geronimo was also killed in the attack and reporter Marvin Tunches was injured. At year’s end the case was at the intermediary public trial phase.

The Public Ministry employed a unit dedicated to the investigation of threats and attacks against journalists, but the NGO Center for Reporting in Guatemala noted it had few prosecutions.

Censorship or Content Restrictions: Members of the press reported receiving pressure, threats, and retribution from public officials regarding the content of their reporting. Some owners and members of media accused the government of following a discriminatory advertising policy that penalized or rewarded print and broadcast media based on whether the government perceived the news or commentary as supportive or critical. Significant self-censorship occurred as a result.

Nongovernmental Impact: Organized crime exerted influence over media outlets and reporters, frequently threatening individuals for reporting on criminal activities.

INTERNET FREEDOM

The daily newspaper elPeriodico experienced a two-day denial of service attack and another three-day attack starting on September 1. The source of the attacks remained unknown.

A local newspaper reported former president Otto Perez Molina’s administration created a surveillance network in 2012 to access social media accounts of diplomats, government officials, politicians, journalists, students, and academics.

According to the International Telecommunication Union, 41 percent of the population used the internet in 2017.

ACADEMIC FREEDOM AND CULTURAL EVENTS

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

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

FREEDOM OF PEACEFUL ASSEMBLY

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

On September 12, the congressional spokesperson reported that more than 2,100 police were present at Congress during a commemoration of the country’s independence, led by President Morales. A protest scheduled to converge at Congress on the same day was not able to approach the perimeters of Congress. The heavy police presence ostensibly serving as presidential security and crowd control received widespread criticism and media as a form of intimidation against the protesters. Civil society groups expressed concern over the presence of Kaibiles, military special forces who were implicated in war crimes during the country’s internal armed conflict from 1960-96.

On September 14, when President Morales and his cabinet attended a ceremony at the cathedral on the central plaza, NGOs and journalists accused the government of using excessive security measures to intimidate citizens and restrict their right to assemble. Observers stated security measures included the deployment of antiriot military police; the registration of all pedestrians entering the plaza, including children; and excessive security checks. On September 14, a Public Ministry prosecutor stated publicly he would investigate for possible violations of freedom of movement.

FREEDOM OF ASSOCIATION

The law provides for freedom of association, and the government generally respected this right. There were reports, however, of significant barriers to organizing in the labor sector (see section 7.a.).

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

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

An immigration law in effect since 2017 overhauled the country’s migration system and defined the term “refugee” as well as listing refugees’ rights in accordance with international instruments. The preparation of regulations to implement the law, including on the refugee application process and refugee rights, was underway at year’s end. Government agencies made limited progress in implementing the Protection Council mandated by the new migration code, which would support the protection, reception, and reintegration of returned children.

The government cooperated with the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) and other humanitarian organizations in providing protection and assistance to refugees, returning refugees, asylum seekers, stateless persons, or other persons of concern, including during the mid-October surge of Central American migrants that passed through the country.

INTERNALLY DISPLACED PERSONS (IDPS)

The country does not have laws in place to protect IDPs in line with the UN Guiding Principles on Internal Displacement. UNHCR expressed concern regarding violence against IDPs and strengthened its efforts to monitor the problem and provide assistance to the displaced. The country does not officially recognize the existence of IDPs within its borders, with the exception of those displaced by climate change and natural disasters. The Inter-American Commission on Human Rights characterized as IDPs 400 farmers the government evicted from the Maya Biosphere Reserve in 2017. Media and civil society groups reported the evictees did not receive government assistance in a timely manner.

PROTECTION OF REFUGEES

Access to Asylum: The laws provide for the granting of asylum or refugee status, and the government has established a system for providing protection to refugees. UNHCR, however, reported that identification and referral mechanisms for potential asylum seekers were inadequate. Both migration and police authorities lacked adequate training concerning the rules for establishing refugee status.

Access to Basic Services: UNHCR reported access to education for refugees was challenging due to the country’s onerous requirements for access to formal education, including documentation from the country of origin.

Iraq

Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:

a. Freedom of Speech and Press

The constitution provides for the right of free expression, including for the press, that does not violate public order and morality, express support for the banned Baath Party, or advocate altering the country’s borders through violent means. The primary limitation on the exercise of this right was self-censorship due to credible fear of reprisals by the government, political parties, ethnic and sectarian forces, terrorist and extremist groups, or criminal gangs.

Freedom of Expression: Despite the constitutional protection for freedom of expression, central government and KRG oversight and censorship sometimes interfered with media operations, at times resulting in the closure of media outlets, restrictions on reporting, denying access to public information, and interference with internet service. Individuals were able to criticize the government publicly or privately but not without fear of reprisal.

Central government and KRG forces arrested and detained protesters and activists critical of the central government and of the KRG, respectively, according to statements by government officials, NGO contacts, and press reporting.

In May residents of al-Nasiriya, Dhi Qar Governorate, protested the reported May 8 disappearance of a civil society activist who had written articles highlighting alleged corruption and criticizing political parties. Protesters called on the local government and security forces to investigate and publish their findings.

In July the Iraqi Media Network (IMN) fired the editor secretary of the IMN Magazine after he criticized the government on his personal social media account and expressed support for protesters in Basrah. In September al-Hurra television station received threats of violence after broadcasting stories perceived to convey anti-Iranian perspectives. Some online critics of the government operated under aliases to avoid persecution from the government and armed groups affiliated with elected officials. For example, on March 26 and 27, KRG forces prevented news crews from several IKR TV news outlets from covering demonstrations by teachers and public employees over salary delays in various locations in Erbil and Duhok Governorates. On May 26, Duhok Governorate security forces detained freelance journalist Mustafa Salih Bamarnee for 10 days for criticizing the KRG on social media.

Press and Media Freedom: Media were active and expressed a variety of views, largely reflecting the owners’ political viewpoints. Media also self-censored to comply with government restrictions against “violating public order” and because of a fear of reprisal by political parties, militias, terrorist groups, criminal organizations, and private individuals, including political figures. Those media outlets unable to cover operating costs through advertising revenue frequently relied upon funding from political entities, leading to biased reporting. Political parties strongly influenced, or controlled outright, most of the several hundred daily and weekly print publications, as well as dozens of radio and television stations.

Local NGOs reported that independent media outlets in the IKR decreased due to their inability to compete with the large media outlets founded and funded by political parties and officials. Party-affiliated outlets recruited and attracted journalists away from independent media, further weakening them, according to local media experts. On June 5, independent Kurdish news outlet Awene ceased printing its newspaper due to financial shortfalls.

The KDP and PUK, the IKR’s main political parties, gave prioritized access to the outlets they owned. In KDP strongholds, Kurdistan Television, Rudaw, and K24 had access to all public places and information, while in PUK-dominated Sulaimaniya Governorate, Kurdsat News, and GK TV enjoyed the same privilege. Conversely, outlets belonging to opposition parties or lacking party affiliation had limited access to public information in the IKR.

On March 27, Erbil Airport security reportedly prevented Nalia Radio and Television and Payam TV crews from covering a press conference with the Erbil Airport director. On July 5, the KRG prime minister’s office reportedly prevented Kurdish News Network Television from covering the prime minister’s press conference in Erbil.

Government forces sometimes prevented journalists from reporting, citing security reasons. Some media organizations reported arrests and harassment of journalists, as well as government efforts to prevent them from covering politically sensitive topics, including security issues, corruption, and government failure to provide adequate services.

In June police arrested a reporter in Fallujah, Anbar Governorate, who was investigating the involvement of Fallujah city hall leaders in a real estate scandal. According to Reporters Without Borders (RSF), police did not inform the journalist of the reason for his arrest and released him without charge three days later.

Multiple press freedom advocacy groups reported numerous violations of press freedom by the KRG, including physically blocking journalists’ access to story locations and press conferences. In March, IKR authorities shut down news outlets and detained journalists for reporting on local demonstrations calling for basic government services. On March 26 and 27, security forces reportedly detained a Payam TV crew and Speda reporter Akar Fars for several hours, allegedly for covering demonstrations. Kurdish police shut down Khakbeer TV and seized broadcasting equipment of NRT from television crews.

Violence and Harassment: According to the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ), as of October no journalists were killed in the country.

Reporting from areas liberated from ISIS control remained dangerous and difficult. Journalists covering armed clashes involving government forces, militias, and ISIS remnants faced serious threats to their safety. Military officials, citing safety considerations, sometimes restricted journalists’ access to areas of active fighting.

Media workers often reported that politicians, government officials, security services, tribal elements, and business leaders pressured them not to publish articles critical of them. Journalists reported accounts of government or partisan violence, intimidation, death threats, and harassment.

In July police reportedly used electroshock weapons against, threatened, and detained for three hours three journalists covering protests at the airport in Najaf Governorate. According to RSF, all three were clearly identifiable as journalists when the police attacked them. The CPJ reported that between July 14 and September 6 at least seven journalists were assaulted or detained by police and PMF while covering protests over government corruption and the lack of basic services in several cities across the country, and the offices of two local media outlets were set afire by protesters.

Throughout the IKR, there were reports of beatings, detentions, and death threats against media workers. In some cases, the aggressors wore KRG military or police uniforms. Press freedom CSOs accused IKR authorities of unlawful detention of news outlet employees, intimidation by physical violence, and torture in connection with March arrests of journalists reporting on local protests. According to a local NGO, on March 27, security forces attacked and beat a Kurdsat TV crew in Akre, Duhok Governorate, injuring reporter Dilbrin Ghazi, and detaining him for two hours. On May 24, Sarkawt Kuba, a senior official in the KRG political party Gorran, and his guards reportedly beat journalist Sabah Ali Qaraman for criticizing Gorran officials.

Censorship or Content Restrictions: The law prohibits producing, importing, publishing, or possessing written material, drawings, photographs, or films that violate public integrity or decency. The penalties for conviction include fines and imprisonment. Fear of violent retaliation for publishing facts or opinions critical of political factions inhibited free expression. The Ministry of Culture must approve all books published in or imported into the country, thereby subjecting authors to censorship.

Public officials reportedly influenced content by rewarding positive reporting with bribes, providing money, land, access to venues, and other benefits to journalists, particularly to members of the progovernment Journalists’ Syndicate. These restrictions extended to privately owned television stations operating outside of the country.

During national parliamentary elections in May, the government restricted media access at polling stations and held news conferences only for state-owned media and a pan-Arab news outlet. The NGO Journalist Freedoms Observatory (JFO) criticized the Independent Higher Electoral Commission (IHEC) for its lack of transparency during the democratic process.

The KRG placed additional scrutiny on texts containing what it perceived to be religious extremism. A KRG-appointed committee that screens books for publication and printing licenses rejected several books for this reason. While in 2017 the KRG reportedly banned 200 books from around the world from sale at the Erbil International Book Fair, the KRG banned fewer than 40 books–all from the IKR–during this year’s book fair.

Libel/Slander Laws: Criminal and civil law prohibits defamation. Many in media asserted that defamation laws prevented them from freely practicing their profession by creating a strong fear of prosecution, although widespread self-censorship and financial reliance on political patronage impeded journalistic performance as well. Public officials occasionally filed libel charges that sometimes resulted in punitive fines on individual media outlets and editors, often for publishing articles containing allegations of corruption. When cases went to court, judges usually found in favor of the journalists, according to local media freedom organizations. Libel is a criminal offense under KRG law, and courts may issue arrest warrants for journalists on this basis.

Nongovernmental Impact: Nongovernmental and quasi-governmental actors, including militias outside of state control, terrorist groups, and criminal organizations reportedly threatened journalists with violence for reporting on sensitive subjects. Specifically, Iran-aligned PMF groups reportedly sent death threats and other threats of violence to journalists and civil society members covering protests in Basrah Governorate in September.

INTERNET FREEDOM

The government restricted or disrupted access to the internet and censored online content, and there were reports the government monitored private online communications without appropriate legal authority. Government restrictions on access to the internet were overt, but the government denied that it monitored private online communications without appropriate legal authority. Despite restrictions, political figures and activists used the internet to criticize politicians, mobilize protesters for demonstrations, and campaign for candidates through social media platforms.

The government acknowledged it interfered with internet access in some areas of the country, reportedly due to the security situation and ISIS’ disruptive use of social media platforms. There were reports government officials attempted unsuccessfully to have pages critical of the government removed from Facebook and Twitter as “hate speech.”

On July 16, the JFO issued a press release criticizing the government for cutting internet services and blocking social media sites throughout the country in what JFO considered an attempt to limit protests over the lack of adequate public services that erupted in southern and central Iraq. The government denied blocking internet services during the unrest and blamed the interruption on infrastructure issues, even though virtual private networks (VPNs) continued to work properly.

In a July report, Amnesty described how government forces assaulted peaceful protesters after purposefully disabling internet access in Baghdad and the southern portion of the country. Witnesses told the NGO that the government shut off internet access at strategic times to mask the government forces’ displays of excessive and unnecessary force against civilians, including the use of live ammunition, which resulted in the death of eight individuals in July (see section 2.b.).

The government sporadically instructed internet service providers to shut down the internet for two to three hours a day during school exams, reportedly to prevent cheating on standardized national exams. In September the NGO AccessNow reported that the Ministry of Communications cut online communications for 10 days for two hours per day for this reason.

According to the International Telecommunication Union, 49 percent of individuals used the internet and 59 percent of households had internet access at home in 2017.

ACADEMIC FREEDOM AND CULTURAL EVENTS

There were government restrictions on academic freedom and cultural events. Social, religious, and political pressures significantly restricted the exercise of freedom of choice in academic and cultural matters. In all regions, various groups reportedly sought to control the pursuit of formal education and the granting of academic positions.

Academic freedoms remained restricted in areas of active conflict with ISIS.

NGOs in the IKR reported that senior professorships were easier to obtain for those with links to the traditional KDP and PUK ruling parties.

The government sometimes limited freedoms of peaceful assembly and association.

FREEDOM OF PEACEFUL ASSEMBLY

The constitution provides for freedom of assembly and peaceful demonstration “regulated by law.” Regulations require protest organizers to request permission seven days in advance of a demonstration and submit detailed information regarding the applicants, the reason for the protest, and participants. The regulations prohibit all “slogans, signs, printed materials, or drawings” involving “sectarianism, racism, or segregation” of citizens. The regulations also prohibit anything that would violate the constitution or law; encourage violence, hatred, or killing; or prove insulting to Islam, “honor, morals, religion, holy groups, or Iraqi entities in general.” Provincial councils traditionally maintained authority to issue permits. Authorities generally issued permits in accordance with the regulations.

The government largely respected the right of its citizens to freedom of peaceful assembly. In July and August in Baghdad, demonstrators staged peaceful protests to demand better services, jobs, and an end to government corruption.

In some cases the government used force against protesters. During protests in Basrah Governorate and other areas of southern Iraq over corruption and poor public services related to water and electricity between July and September, at least 15 persons died in clashes with government forces, according to media reports. Local human rights organizations reported that government forces in some cases prevented the injured from receiving treatment at hospitals and detained members of civil society investigating the government’s response to the protests.

On March 28, KRG forces arrested more than 80 protesters demonstrating against poor public services and government salaries in the IKR.

FREEDOM OF ASSOCIATION

The constitution provides for the right to form and join associations and political parties, with some exceptions. The government generally respected this right, except for the legal prohibitions against groups expressing support for the Baath Party or Zionist principles. The penal code stipulates that any person convicted of promoting Zionist principles, association with Zionist organizations, assisting such organizations through material or moral support, or working in any way to realize Zionist objectives, be subject to punishment by death. There were no known cases of individuals charged with violating this law during the year.

The government reported it took approximately one month to process NGO registration applications. NGOs must register and periodically reregister in Baghdad. The NGO Directorate in the Council of Ministers Secretariat reported approximately 3,500 registered NGOs as of September. International organizations such as the ICRC and the International Commission on Missing Persons continued to operate in a legal gray area, given a gap in government registration regulations.

The IKR requires separate registration in Erbil. The first half of the year witnessed continuing fallout from the September 2017 KRG independence referendum in that the KRG and central government did not mutually recognize NGO registration. As a result, many NGOs that were registered only in Baghdad could not operate in the IKR for the first half of the year, while NGOs registered only in Erbil could not operate outside the IKR and KRG-controlled disputed territories until the issue was resolved.

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

The constitution and law provides for the freedom of internal movement, foreign travel, emigration, and repatriation, but the government did not consistently respect these rights. In some instances authorities restricted movements of displaced persons, and authorities did not allow some IDP camp residents to depart without specific permission, thereby limiting access to livelihoods, education, and services. Many parts of the country liberated from ISIS control suffered from movement restrictions due to checkpoints of PMF units and other government forces. In other instances local authorities did not always recognize security permits of returnees nor comply with the central government’s orders to facilitate, but not force, returns.

The government generally cooperated with the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), the International Organization for Migration (IOM), and other humanitarian organizations in providing protection and assistance to IDPs, refugees, returning refugees, asylum seekers, stateless persons, or other persons of concern. The government did not have effective systems to assist all of these individuals, largely due to funding shortfalls and lack of capacity. Successful efforts by the government to regain control of areas previously held by ISIS allowed many returns to take place. Returnees, however, grappled with the destruction of homes, lack of services and livelihoods, and continued concerns for security due to the prevalence of PMF groups that, in some cases, led to secondary displacement.

Security considerations, unexploded ordnance, destruction of infrastructure, and official and unofficial restrictions sometimes limited humanitarian access to IDP communities. Insecurity caused by the presence of ISIS and PMF groups hindered the movement of international staff of humanitarian organizations, restricting their ability to monitor programs for a portion of the year.

In-country Movement: The law permits security forces to restrict in-country movement pursuant to a warrant, impose curfews, cordon off and search areas, and take other necessary security and military measures in response to security threats and attacks. There were numerous reports that government forces, including the ISF, Peshmerga, and the PMF, selectively enforced regulations, including for ethnosectarian reasons, requiring residency permits to limit entry of persons into areas under their control.

During the year the ISF decreased the number of checkpoints in many parts of the country.

Humanitarian agencies frequently reported evictions of IDPs from camps and informal displacement sites due to closures and consolidations, which reportedly were often not coordinated with humanitarian actors and which caused some sudden, involuntary displacements. Some political actors promoted camp closures in advance of May parliamentary elections, and authorities reportedly used coercive measures during eviction notifications. IDP camp managers reported government officials did not always give IDPs at closed camps the choice of returning to their areas of origin or displacement to another site. Some families in camps near Baghdad expressed a desire to integrate locally, having found informal employment, but local government authorities reportedly denied requests.

There were numerous reports that IDPs, particularly those suspected of ISIS affiliation, faced hostility from local government officials and populations, as well as expulsion. In liberated areas of Anbar, Duhok, Kirkuk, Ninewa, and Salah al-Din Governorates, humanitarian agencies reported movement restrictions for families with relatives suspected of ISIS affiliation. In June, HRW reported government forces blocked the return of IDPs with suspected ISIS affiliation in Anbar, even though they had obtained permission from camp security forces and were returning to areas of origin with government transportation. Tribal leaders and humanitarian actors reported that fabricated accusations of ISIS affiliation led to stigmatization of IDPs and de facto restrictions on in-country movement. They also expressed concerns of collective punishment against certain communities for their perceived ties to ISIS. For example, according to UNHCR, 150 returnee families faced discrimination in Rutba, Anbar Governorate, based on their perceived ISIS affiliation. Tribal pacts called for punishing false accusations of ISIS affiliation, but they also prohibited legal defense for those affiliated with ISIS. IDPs were also often the targets of stigmatization or discrimination because of familial rivalries or economic reasons, rather than affiliation with ISIS. Anbar authorities reportedly made efforts to stop these practices and to work toward post-ISIS reconciliation.

Multiple international NGOs reported that PMF units and Peshmerga prevented civilians, including Sunni Arabs and ethnic and religious minorities, from returning to their homes after government forces ousted ISIS (see section 6, National/Racial/Ethnic Minorities and Other Societal Violence or Discrimination). For example, UNHCR reported that local armed groups barred returns to certain areas of Baiji, Salah al-Din Governorate. Similarly, Christian CSOs reported that certain PMF groups, including the 30th Shabak Brigade, prevented Christian IDP returns and harassed Christian returnees in several towns in the Ninewa Plain, including Bartalla and Qaraqosh.

There were reports some PMF groups harassed or threatened civilians fleeing conflict zones or returning to liberated areas and targeted civilians with threats, intimidation, physical violence, abduction, destruction or confiscation of property, and killing.

Syrian refugees continued to have restrictions on residence and movement outside the IKR.

KRG and central government forces closed roads and restricted movement in disputed territories between the central government and the IKR. For example, Peshmerga, ISF, and PMF checkpoints closed many roads from KRG-controlled territory to central government-controlled areas, including the roads from Erbil to Kirkuk, Duhok to Sinjar, Badria to Mosul, al-Qosh to Tal Kayf, Sheikhan to Mosul, and Hawler to Mosul. The closure of these roads hampered the return home of IDPs, slowed economic recovery in areas affected by ISIS, and separated populations from access to schools, medical facilities, and markets. By November all but the Duhok-Sinjar road had been opened for civilian traffic.

The KRG restricted movement across the areas it administered. Authorities required nonresidents to obtain permits that authorized limited stays in the IKR. These permits were generally renewable. Citizens who sought to obtain residency permits for KRG-controlled areas required sponsorship from a resident in the region. Humanitarian actors described the sponsorship program as effective in enabling the return of thousands of IDPs. Citizens of all ethnosectarian backgrounds, including Kurds, crossing into the IKR from central or southern regions were obligated to cross through checkpoints and undergo personal and vehicle inspection. The government imposed similar restrictions on IDPs from Ninewa Governorate and the disputed territories.

KRG authorities applied restrictions more stringently in some areas than in others. The United Nations and international humanitarian organizations stated that restrictiveness of entry for IDPs and refugees seeking to return depended upon the ethnosectarian background of the displaced individuals and the area to which they intended to return. There were also reports that authorities sometimes closed checkpoints into the region for extended periods, forcing IDPs to wait. Officials prevented individuals whom they deemed security threats from entering the region. KRG officials generally admitted minority IDPs into the IKR, although security checks reportedly were lengthy on occasion. Entry reportedly was often more difficult for men, particularly Arab men traveling without family.

Foreign Travel: The government required exit permits for citizens leaving the country, but the requirement was not routinely enforced.

INTERNALLY DISPLACED PERSONS (IDPS)

According to the IOM Displacement Tracking Matrix, fewer than 1.9 million persons remained internally displaced in the country as of October, predominantly in Erbil, Duhok, and Ninewa Governorates. Almost 4.1 million persons had returned to areas of origin across the country since those areas were liberated from ISIS. In August the IOM reported 12 percent of IDPs lived in shelter arrangements that did not meet minimal safety or security standards, 29 percent lived in IDP camps and settlements, and 48 percent resided in private accommodations, including host family residences, hotels, motels, and rental housing.

The constitution and national policy on displacement address IDP rights, but few laws specifically do so. The government and international organizations, including UN agencies and local and international NGOs, provided protection and other assistance to IDPs. Humanitarian actors provided support for formal IDP camps and implemented community-based services for IDPs residing outside of camps to limit strain on host community resources. In December 2017 the United Nations lowered the designation of the country’s humanitarian crisis from a level three to a level two emergency.

In March the government and the United Nations jointly announced the Government’s Plan for Relief, Shelter and Stabilization of Displaced People and the Humanitarian Response Plan (HRP). The government’s plan strengthened the provision of legal protection to IDPs, provided relief items and services in camps, and supported safe returns. The HRP outlined the projects and funding required to meet the needs of 3.4 million of the most vulnerable persons in Iraq and included provisions for protection. It also strengthened mechanisms with government authorities to support voluntary, safe, and sustainable returns of IDPs.

In some areas violence, insecurity, and long-standing political, tribal and ethnosectarian tensions hampered progress on national reconciliation and political reform, complicating the protection environment for IDPs. The government forced large numbers of IDPs to return to their places of origin to vote in parliamentary elections in May. Thousands of families faced secondary displacement due to economic and security concerns. Forced displacements, combined with unresolved problems caused by the uprooting of millions of Iraqis in past decades, strained the capacity of local authorities.

Some government forces, including PMF, reportedly forcibly displaced individuals due to perceived ISIS affiliation or for ethnosectarian reasons. For example, HRW reported that in January government forces, including the PMF, forcibly displaced at least 235 families of people with alleged ties to ISIS and sent them to IDP camps in Kirkuk Governorate. In a report published in February, individuals interviewed by HRW said local police working in the camp confiscated their identity papers and prevented them from leaving.

Government assistance focused on financial grants, but payments were sporadic. Faced with large movements of IDPs across the country, the government provided food, water, and financial assistance to many, but not all IDPs, including in the IKR. Many IDPs lived in informal settlements without access to adequate water, sanitation, or other essential services. The UN Education Cluster reported that out-of-camp IDP populations had the poorest school attendance and highest dropout rates amongst IDPs, refugees, and host communities. The UN Education Cluster also found displaced children in out-of-camp settings lacked civil documents at higher rates than those in camps.

All citizens were eligible to receive food under the Public Distribution System (PDS), but authorities implemented the PDS sporadically and irregularly, with limited access in recently liberated areas. Authorities did not distribute all commodities each month, and not all IDPs could access the PDS in each governorate. Low oil prices reduced government revenues and further limited funds available for the PDS. There were reports of IDPs losing access and entitlement to PDS distributions and other services due to requirements that citizens could only redeem PDS rations or other services at their registered place of residence.

Throughout the year UNICEF criticized Ministry of Education decisions in January and April to close some IDP schools in the IKR. In August the IHCHR called on the central government’s Ministry of Heath to resume deliveries of food and medicine to the IDP camps in the IKR.

Local authorities often determined whether IDPs would have access to local services. Through the provision of legal aid, the United Nations and other humanitarian organizations assisted IDPs in obtaining documentation and registering with authorities to improve access to services and entitlements. Humanitarian agencies reported some IDPs faced difficulty with registration due to lack of required civil documentation and administrative delays. Many citizens who previously lived in ISIS-controlled areas did not have civil documents, increasing the difficulty of obtaining identification and other personal documents.

Households with perceived ties to ISIS faced stigma and were at increased risk of being deprived of their basic rights, as reported by Amnesty in April. Government officials frequently denied security clearances for displaced households with a perceived ISIS affiliation to return to areas of origin. Because of this perceived affiliation, these households faced challenges in obtaining civil documentation and had limited freedom of movement, including to seek medical treatment, due to the risk of arrest or inability to reenter the camp. Humanitarian organizations reported that female heads of household in multiple IDP camps struggled to obtain permission to move and were subject to verbal and physical harassment, including rape and sexual assault and exploitation, by government forces and camp residents.

IKR-based NGOs documented numerous cases of women forced by ISIS to marry fighters who became widows with children, but lacked marriage and birth certificates required to obtain legal documentation for their children. These women and children were stigmatized because of their association with ISIS, leaving them at heightened risk of suicide, retaliation, and sexual exploitation. Honor killings remained a risk, although some communities issued edicts and took steps to absolve women of any perceived guilt associated with their sexual exploitation by ISIS fighters. Communities generally did not accept children born to ISIS fighters, however, and they were frequently abandoned or placed in orphanages, as reported by Yezidi NGOs and media.

Central government authorities and governors took steps to close or consolidate camps, sometimes in an effort to force IDPs to return to their areas of origin. In many cases forced returns from camps resulted in secondary or tertiary displacement, often to out-of-camp settings. Reuters reported that between November 2017 and January ISF forcibly returned between 2,400 and 5,000 IDPs from camps in Amriyat al-Falluja, Anbar Governorate. Aid workers told media that military trucks arrived at camps unannounced and commanders read out lists of people, who had one hour to pack their belongings and go. Reuters reported in January that five camp residents said they were forced to leave by ISF but had to turn back because checkpoints manned by Iranian-aligned PMF units demanded bribes of up to approximately 500,000 Iraqi dinars ($419) to let people through, a sum none could afford.

Humanitarian organizations regularly criticized the government for returning IDPs to unsafe areas. In January, Reuters detailed the experiences of Saleh Ahmed, whose family ISF evicted from a camp in Amriyat al-Falluja, Anbar Governorate, in November 2017 and forced to return to their home town of Betaya. Ahmed reportedly refused because contacts at home told them the area was filled with booby traps left by ISIS and that their houses had been destroyed, but a local commander assured them the area was safe. Upon return an explosive went off, killing Ahmed’s wife, burning his daughter over much of her body, and injuring Ahmed.

IDPs returning to towns and areas in the Ninewa Plain reported that ISIS had destroyed temples, houses of worship, cemeteries, and schools. Local authorities reported that, as of September 18, more than 7,400 Christian families from a pre-ISIS population of 19,000 families had returned to the Ninewa Plain, compared with only 200 as of September 2017. Christian IDPs and returnees in villages and towns in the Ninewa Plain under PMF control reported the PMF imposed arbitrary checkpoints and detained civilians without legal authority to do so. West Mosul, Ninewa Governorate, along with the historically Christian town of Batnaya north of Mosul, remained in ruins and almost completely uninhabited. Most Christian IDPs refused to return to the nearby town of Tal Kayf, citing fear of the PMF 50th Babylon Brigade that occupied it. According to a June report by the Yezidi NGO Nadia’s Initiative, more than 64,000 persons out of a precrisis population of more than 126,000 had returned to the eight collectives in north Sinjar, Ninewa Governorate. Southern Sinjar remained in ruins and almost uninhabited.

PROTECTION OF REFUGEES

Access to Asylum: The law provides for the granting of asylum or refugee status, and the government has established a system for providing protection to refugees. Syrians made up the vast majority of the refugee population, and almost all refugees resided in the IKR. The government generally cooperated with UNHCR and other humanitarian organizations to provide protection and assistance to refugees in the country.

Employment: Refugees and asylum seekers are legally entitled to work in the private sector. Palestinian refugees, however, faced job insecurity in the public sector due to their ambiguous legal status; the government did not recognize their refugee status nor allow them to obtain citizenship. Syrian refugees were able to obtain and renew residency and work permits both in refugee camps and in the IKR, although not in the rest of the country. Authorities arrested refugees with IKR residence permits who sought work outside of the region and returned them to the IKR. A UNHCR survey of Syrian refugees in the IKR between April and June showed that 83 percent of the refugee families had at least one family member regularly employed in some form of livelihood activity.

Durable Solutions: There was no large-scale resettlement or integration of refugees in central and southern Iraq. Ethnic Kurdish refugees from Syria, Turkey, and Iran generally integrated well in the IKR, although economic hardship reportedly plagued families and prevented some children, especially Syrians, from enrolling in formal school. For the 2018/19 school year, the KRG Ministry of Education began teaching all first- and second-grade classes for Syrian refugees outside refugee camps in Sorani Kurdish in Erbil and Sulaimaniya Governorates and Badini Kurdish in Duhok Governorate instead of the dialects of Kurmanji Kurdish spoken by Syrian Kurds, while offering optional instruction in Sorani and Badini to those inside refugee camps.

STATELESS PERSONS

UNHCR estimated there were more than 47,000 stateless individuals in the country as of August.

Absent a countrywide, consistent plan to document children of Iraqi mothers and ISIS fathers, some of those children are at risk of statelessness. The government enforced a law requiring any non-Muslim women who bore children of Muslim men to register children as Muslim, no matter the circumstances of the child’s conception or the mother’s religion. The Yezidi community frequently welcomed back Yezidi women but not Muslim children fathered by ISIS fighters. The Yezidi community frequently forced women to give up such babies and minor children to orphanages under threat of expulsion from the community. The ICRC provided shelter referrals to some Yezidi women and, in some cases, assisted mothers in finding forcibly abandoned children. As a result, some such children are without parents, identification, clear country of birth, or settled nationality.

As of 2006, the latest year for which data was available, an estimated 54,500 “Bidoun” (stateless) individuals, living as nomads in the desert in or near the southern governorates of Basrah, Dhi Qar, and Qadisiyah, remained undocumented and stateless descendants of individuals who never received Iraqi citizenship upon the state’s founding. Prolonged drought in the south of the country forced many individuals from these communities to migrate to city centers, where most obtained identification documents and gained access to food rations and other social benefits. Other communities similarly at risk of statelessness included the country’s Romani (Dom) population; the Ahwazi, who are Shia Arabs of Iranian descent; the Baha’i religious minority; inhabitants of the southern marshlands; members of the Goyan and Omariya Turkish Kurdish tribes near Mosul; and nationals of South Sudan.

Stateless persons faced discrimination in employment and access to education. Many stateless persons were not able to register for identity cards, which prevented them from enrolling in public school, registering marriages, and gaining access to some government services. Stateless individuals also faced difficulty obtaining public-sector employment and lacked job security.

Malaysia

Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:

a. Freedom of Speech and Press

The constitution allows restrictions on the freedom of expression “in the interest of the security of the Federation…[or] public order.” The former government regularly restricted freedom of expression for the media and civil society, citing reasons such as upholding Islam and the special status of ethnic Malays, protecting national security, maintaining public order, and preserving friendly relations with other countries.

Freedom of Expression: The law prohibits sedition and public comment on issues defined as sensitive, including racial and religious matters or criticism of the king or ruling sultans. Sedition charges often followed comments by vocal civil society or opposition leaders. Civil society groups claimed the former government generally failed to investigate and prosecute similar statements made by progovernment or pro-Malay persons.

Citing a “misdirection of law,” the court of appeals in February overturned the 2014 conviction of Adam Adli under the Sedition Act after he urged people to topple the government during a Kuala Lumpur forum in 2013. Authorities also withdrew Sedition Act charges against Members of Parliament Khalid Samad, Hassan Abdul Karim, and R. Sivarasa; former Member of Parliament Tian Chua; human rights lawyers N. Surendran and Eric Paulsen; socialist party central committee member S. Arulchevan; and political cartoonist Zulkiflee Anwar Al Haquem, popularly known as Zunar. The government initiated new charges under the Sedition Act against several persons for allegedly criticizing the country’s royal families.

In February artist Fahmi Reza was sentenced to one month in jail and fined RM30,000 ($7,500) for publishing a caricature of then prime minister Najib Razak in 2016 that was deemed “obscene, indecent, false, menacing or offensive in character with intent to annoy, abuse, threaten, or harass another person.” Amnesty International called the decision “yet another example of the continued crackdown on dissent by the Malaysian authorities.” In November the High Court upheld the conviction but reduced the fine to RM10,000 ($2,500) and revoked the jail sentence. In October prosecutors dropped similar charges against Fahmi in a separate case.

In September the Federal Court ruled that the government can sue individuals for defamation. Human rights groups, the Malaysian Bar Council, and former judges criticized the decision, describing it as “not in consonance with the citizens’ freedom of speech and the principle of good governance.”

Press and Media Freedom: Political parties and individuals linked to the former ruling coalition owned or controlled a majority of shares in almost all print and broadcast media, many of which were overtly progovernment. Online media outlets were more independent but were often the target of legal action and harassment.

Despite many restrictions and official pressure, opposition parties, social action groups, unions, internet news sites, and other private groups actively covered opposition parties and frequently printed views critical of government policies. Online media and blogs provided views and reported stories not featured in the mainstream press.

The government maintained and at times exerted control over news content, both in print and broadcast media. The former government punished publishers of “malicious news” and banned, restricted, or limited circulation of publications believed a threat to public order, morality, or national security. The government has the power to suspend publication for these reasons and retained effective control over the licensing process. In February the Malaysian Communications and Multimedia Commission (MCMC) asked two online news portals to remove articles that went “against the country’s laws.” According to media, “the articles all addressed current issues and local politics, while being openly critical of certain political parties and leaders.”

In April parliament passed the Anti-Fake News law, criminalizing the “malicious” production or dissemination of “any news, information, data or reports, which is or are wholly or partly false.” Later that same month, Salah Salem Saleh Sulaiman, a Danish national of Yemeni descent, pled guilty to maliciously creating and publishing fake news and was fined RM10,000 ($2,500) for posting a video on social media in which he alleged police did not respond promptly to emergency calls following the assassination of Palestinian lecturer Fadi Albatsh on April 21. Parliamentarians voted to repeal the law in August, but the opposition-controlled Senate overturned the decision, postponing the law’s repeal for as long as one year.

The former government sometimes barred online media from covering government press conferences.

Violence and Harassment: Journalists were subject to harassment and intimidation, especially in the run-up to the general election.

Censorship or Content Restrictions: The former government censored media, primarily print and broadcast media; the new government maintained the ability to censor media but did not use this power as frequently. In addition to controlling news content by banning or restricting publications believed to threaten public order, morality, or national security, the former government prosecuted journalists for “malicious news,” and took little or no action against persons or organizations that abused journalists. The law requires a permit to own a printing press, and printers often were reluctant to print publications critical of the government due to fear of reprisal. Such policies, together with antidefamation laws, inhibited independent or investigative journalism and resulted in extensive self-censorship in the print and broadcast media.

On election night the MCMC reportedly instructed internet service providers to block access to independent media outlets such as Malaysiakini, which were publishing unofficial election results indicating a possible win by the Pakatan Harapan opposition coalition. The new government ordered an investigation into the matter.

The government occasionally censored foreign magazines, newspapers, and news programming, most often due to sexual content.

Government restrictions on radio and television stations mirrored those on print media, and all also predominantly supported the government. News about the opposition in those media remained restricted and biased. Television stations censored programming to follow government guidelines.

The government generally restricted publications it judged might incite racial or religious disharmony. The Ministry of Home Affairs maintained a list of 1,653 banned publications as of March 2017. In April 2018 the ministry banned six books whose contents it judged could be detrimental to public order, morality, or public interest, including texts that contained “elements promoting liberalism that can cause confusion among some readers.” In January the court of appeal ruled a 2015 ban on three books by novelist Faisal Musa violated the author’s freedom of speech. The previous government appealed the decision, but in October the new government withdrew the appeal and instructed the Ministry of Home Affairs to remove the titles from its list of banned publications.

Libel/Slander Laws: The law includes sections on civil and criminal defamation. Criminal defamation is punishable by a maximum two years’ imprisonment, a fine, or both. True statements can be considered defamatory if they contravene the “public good.” The government and its supporters used these laws, along with provisions against sedition, to punish and suppress publication of material critical of government officials and policies. In August prosecutors charged a member of the opposition United Malays National Organization (UMNO) under the Communications and Multimedia Act for allegedly insulting another UMNO member on Facebook. The accused’s attorney questioned why prosecutors dropped similar charges against members of the ruling coalition.

National Security: Authorities under the former government occasionally cited national security laws to restrict media distribution of material critical of government policies and public officials.

Nongovernmental Impact: NGOs sympathetic to the former government sought to limit freedom of expression through criminal complaints of allegedly seditious speech. Such NGOs also sometimes attempted to intimidate opposition groups through demonstrations.

INTERNET FREEDOM

The government generally maintained a policy of restricted access to the internet. Authorities blocked some websites and monitored the internet for email messages and blog postings deemed a threat to public security or order. Following the May election, the new government restored access to several online media outlets that were previously blocked, including Sarawak Report and Medium.

Authorities restricted internet freedom to combat dissenting political views online. In August the minister of religious affairs stated government authorities would monitor “LGBT (lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender) issues, as well as liberal Islam” on social media.

The government warned internet users to avoid offensive or indecent content and sensitive matters such as religion and race, and aggressively pursued charges against those criticizing Islam, the country’s royalty, or its political leaders.

In July authorities opened an investigation into lawyer Fadiah Nadwa under the Sedition Act and Communications and Multimedia Act in relation to a blog post in which she criticized the royalty.

In February a man was sentenced to a RM20,000 ($5,000) fine or four months in jail for uploading content to Facebook in 2016 related to the prime minister and attorney general that authorities deemed offensive.

Sedition and criminal defamation laws led to self-censorship by local internet content sources including bloggers, news providers, and NGO activists.

The law requires internet and other network service providers to obtain a license, and permits punishment of the owner of a website or blog for allowing offensive racial, religious, or political content. By regarding users who post content as publishers, the government places the burden of proof on the user in these cases. NGOs and members of the public criticized the law, noting it could cause self-censorship due to liability concerns.

According to the International Telecommunication Union, approximately 80 percent of the population had access to the internet in 2017.

ACADEMIC FREEDOM AND CULTURAL EVENTS

The government placed some restrictions on academic freedom, particularly the expression of unapproved political views, and enforced restrictions on teachers and students who expressed dissenting views. The government requires all civil servants, university faculty, and students to sign a pledge of loyalty to the king and government. Opposition leaders and human rights activists claimed the government used the loyalty pledge to restrain political activity among these groups. Although faculty members sometimes publicly criticized the government, public university academics whose career advancement and funding depended on the government practiced self-censorship. Self-censorship took place among academics at private institutions as well, spurred by fear the government might revoke the licenses of their institutions. The law imposes limitations on student associations and on student and faculty political activity. In February a court ruled on procedural grounds that the University of Malaya should not have disciplined four students for holding political placards during a town hall meeting in 2016. The court did not, however, entertain the students’ claim that the university’s actions violated their right to freedom of expression.

The government regularly censored films, editing out profanity, kissing, sex, and nudity. The government also censored films for certain political and religious content, not allowing, for example, screening of films in Hebrew, Yiddish, or from Israel. Although the government allowed foreign films at local film festivals, it sometimes censored content by physically blocking screens until the objectionable scene was over. Media censorship rules forbid movies and songs that promote acceptance of gay persons (see section 6). The Film Censorship Board banned a controversial Hindi film that featured a relationship between a Hindu queen and a Muslim ruler in medieval India. The board also banned Those Long Haired Nights, a Philippine film about transgender prostitutes.

The constitution provides for the freedoms of peaceful assembly and association but allows restrictions deemed necessary or expedient in the interest of security, public order, or (in the case of association) morality. Abiding by the government’s restrictions did not protect some protesters from harassment or arrest.

FREEDOM OF PEACEFUL ASSEMBLY

The constitution provides all citizens “the right to assemble peaceably and without arms;” however, several laws restricted this right. Although the law does not require groups to obtain a permit for assemblies, police frequently placed time, location, and other restrictions on the right to assemble. Authorities banned street protests, and police sometimes confronted civil society and opposition demonstrations with mass arrests.

Protests deemed acceptable by the government usually proceeded without interference.

In December police approved a demonstration opposing the ratification of the International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination but rescinded a previously approved application to hold a Human Rights Day event on the same day citing security risks.

FREEDOM OF ASSOCIATION

The constitution provides for the right of association; however, the government placed significant restrictions on this right, and certain statutes limit it. By law only registered organizations of seven or more persons may legally function. The government often resisted registering organizations deemed particularly unfriendly to the government or imposed strict preconditions. The government may revoke registrations for violations of the law governing societies.

The government bans membership in unregistered political parties and organizations.

The law prohibits students who hold political positions from conducting political party activities on campus. Students are also prohibited from “expressing support or sympathy” for an unlawful society or organization. In December the lower house of parliament passed amendments to legislation on university students’ participation in political-party activities on campus. The Senate, however, did not approve the legislation during the year. Earlier in the year the government lifted the ban on opposition politicians visiting schools in their constituencies, but required them to first obtain approval from state authorities.

Many human rights and civil society organizations had difficulty obtaining government recognition as NGOs. As a result, many NGOs registered as companies, which created legal and bureaucratic obstacles to raising money to support their activities. Authorities frequently cited a lack of registration as grounds for action against organizations. Some NGOs also reported the government monitored their activities in order to intimidate them.

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

The constitution provides for freedom of internal movement, emigration, and repatriation, but these rights were often restricted by federal and state government officials, particularly in eastern Sabah and Sarawak States.

Abuse of Migrants, Refugees, and Stateless Persons: The government generally did not impede organizations providing protection and assistance to migrants, refugees, and stateless persons, most of whom lived intermingled with the general public. Access to those in detention centers, however, was often significantly limited.

Migrants, refugees, and stateless persons receive no government support. The government allows UNHCR and NGOs to work with these populations, but government cooperation with UNHCR was inconsistent. In 2017 the government launched the Tracking Refugees Information System to register refugees and collect their biometric data. The program requires refugees to pay an annual fee of RM500 ($125) for an identification card but did not provide any benefits.

As “illegal immigrants,” refugees and others are subject to deportation at any time. They also face a maximum five years’ imprisonment, a fine of RM10,000 ($2,500), or both, and mandatory caning of a maximum six strokes if convicted of immigration law violations.

In July the government used what some NGOs called inhuman and degrading methods to carry out a mass operation to arrest undocumented migrant workers.

Most migrants, refugees, and stateless persons lived in private accommodations and survived on support from UNHCR and NGOs or illegal casual labor. The government, however, held thousands in immigration detention centers and other facilities.

NGOs and international organizations involved with these populations made credible allegations of overcrowding, inadequate food and clothing, lack of regular access to clean water, poor medical care, improper sanitation, and lack of bedding. An NGO with access to the detention centers claimed these conditions and the lack of medical screening and treatment facilitated the spread of disease and contributed to deaths. NGOs provided most medical care and treatment in the detention centers.

Local and international NGOs estimated the population at most of the country’s 17 immigration detention centers was at or beyond capacity, with some detainees held for a year or longer. The number detained in these centers was not publicly available.

In-country Movement: Sabah and Sarawak States controlled immigration into their areas and required citizens from peninsular Malaysia and foreigners to present passports or national identity cards for entry. State authorities continued to deny entry to certain national opposition leaders to these states. Sarawak maintained a travel ban on a SUHAKAM commissioner for criticizing the construction of a controversial dam in the state. SUHAKAM stated the travel ban prevented it from holding its October commission meeting as planned.

Foreign Travel: Travel to Israel is subject to approval and limited to religious purposes. The government also sometimes used its powers to restrict travel by its critics. In addition to preventing overseas travel by some activists, the former government temporarily detained and in some cases denied entry to foreign human rights activists.

In May immigration authorities banned former prime minister Najib Razak, his wife, and several other former government officials from traveling overseas because they were suspected of corruption, although they had not been charged with a crime at the time they attempted to leave the country. Authorities later charged Najib with 38 counts of money laundering, bribery, and criminal breach of trust, and his wife with 19 counts of money laundering and corruption.

PROTECTION OF REFUGEES

Refoulement: The government at times did not provide legal protection against the expulsion or forcible return of refugees to countries where their lives or freedom could be threatened based on their race, religion, nationality, membership in a particular social group, or political opinion. In 2017 authorities detained three Turkish citizens, one a UNHCR-registered refugee, and deported them to Turkey, reportedly at the request of the Turkish government. According to a report released during the year by a Swedish human rights group, a Turkish national deported by Malaysian authorities in 2016 was beaten, tortured, and threatened with death upon his return to Turkey. Malaysian human rights groups said in April that the incident violated international customary law.

In October the government released 11 Uighurs from prison and dropped charges against them of illegal entry. The government also rejected China’s request to forcibly return the group to China and allowed them to relocate to Turkey.

Access to Asylum: The law does not provide for granting asylum or refugee status; government cooperation with UNHCR was inconsistent, but the government occasionally reported potential refugees to UNHCR.

Human rights organizations expressed serious concerns about conditions in immigration detention centers and the lack of access to fair legal process and adequate representation during immigration court hearings. The Malaysian Bar Council has strongly criticized the immigration courts in detention centers as facilitating a legal process where migrant workers were not provided with a clear understanding of the charges against them in their own language and were effectively denied the right to legal counsel. At court hearings 15 to 20 migrants were often tried together, grouped by the offense with which they were charged. If found guilty the cost of deportation is generally at the detainee’s expense, which led to prolonged detention for migrants who were unable to pay.

Freedom of Movement: The government generally tolerated the presence of undocumented refugees and asylum seekers, but sometimes detained them for a variety of causes in police jails or immigration detention centers until they could be deported or UNHCR established their bona fides. Some refugees holding UNHCR identification cards reported, nonetheless, limited ability to move throughout the country because authorities sometimes did not recognize the UNHCR card.

Employment: Although the government does not authorize UNHCR-registered refugees to work, it typically did not interfere if they performed informal work. UNHCR reported the government brought charges, in a few cases, against employers for hiring them. During the year the government permitted a pilot program for 30 Rohingya refugees to work in a local bakery, a program refugee advocates said was a success.

Access to Basic Services: The government provided access to health care at a discounted foreigner’s rate of 50 percent to UNHCR-registered refugees, but not to asylum seekers, who did not receive UNHCR registration cards. NGOs operated mobile clinics, but their number and access was limited. Refugees did not have access to the public education system. Access to education was limited to schools run by NGOs and ethnic communities, and UNHCR estimated no more than 40 percent of refugee children attended school. A lack of resources and qualified teachers limited opportunities for the majority of school-age refugee children. UNHCR staff members conducted numerous visits to prisons and immigration detention centers to provide counseling, support, and legal representation for refugees and asylum seekers.

Temporary Protection: The government provided temporary, renewable residence permits to a group of Syrian refugees. The permit allows for legal residency and conveys work rights, but must be renewed annually.

STATELESS PERSONS

The National Registration Department did not maintain records of stateless persons. UNHCR estimated there were 12,350 stateless persons residing in peninsular Malaysia and 450,000 in Sabah. In May the government established a minority task force to address statelessness among members of the country’s ethnic Indian community.

Citizenship law and birth registration rules and procedures created a large class of stateless children in the migrant/refugee population. When mothers did not have valid proof of citizenship, authorities entered the child’s citizenship as “unknown” on the birth certificate. UNHCR deemed this a widespread problem and reported that, in a population of approximately 80,000 Filipino Muslim refugees in Sabah State, an estimated 10,000 were children who were technically stateless.

Even if the father is a citizen, the marriage may be considered invalid and the children illegitimate if the mother lacks proof of citizenship; such children were also considered stateless.

Some observers indicated that children born to Muslim refugees and asylum seekers often had an easier time obtaining citizenship than non-Muslim refugees and asylum seekers. For refugees in Muslim marriages, the observers claimed authorities often accepted a UNHCR document or other documentation in lieu of a passport as proof of citizenship.

Persons who lacked proof of citizenship were not able to access government services, such as reduced cost health care, or own property.

In October the federal government approved the citizenship applications of two stateless children after lawyers sued the government. The cases of three other stateless children remained pending.

Saudi Arabia

Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:

a. Freedom of Speech and Press

The law does not provide for freedom of expression, including for the press. The Basic 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. The 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 which 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 legal definition of terrorism, according to the 2017 counterterrorism law, 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 counterterrorism law for its overly broad and vague definitions of terrorism and complained the government used it to prosecute peaceful expression and dissent.

Freedom of Expression: The government monitored public expressions of opinion and took advantage of legal controls to impede the free expression of opinion and restrict individuals from engaging in public criticism of the political sphere. 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.

Some human rights activists were detained and then released on the condition that they refrain from using social media for activism, communicating with foreign diplomats and international human rights organizations, and traveling outside the country, according to human rights organizations.

The government charged a number of individuals with crimes related to their exercise of free speech during the year.

From May 15 to year’s end, authorities arrested at least 30 prominent women activists and their male supporters and imposed travel bans on others, in connection with their advocacy for lifting the ban on women driving. Those arrested included some of the women who first defied the driving ban in 1990, as well as others who expressed solidarity with detained activists. At least 12 persons remained in detention “after sufficient evidence was made available and for their confessions of charges attributed to them.” In a June 2 statement, the public prosecutor stated the detainees had admitted to communicating and cooperating with individuals and organizations opposed to the kingdom, recruiting persons to get secret information to hurt the country’s interests, and offering material and emotional support to hostile elements abroad. State-linked media labelled those arrested as traitors and “agents of embassies.” The detained included Aziza al-Yousef, Eman al-Nafjan, Hatoon al-Fassi, Loujain al-Hathloul, Hatoon al-Fassi, Samar Badawi, and Nouf Abdulaziz al-Jerawi, among others.

In August authorities arrested Mecca Grand Mosque Imam Sheikh Salih al-Talib. In his last Friday sermon on July 13, Al-Talib discussed the duty in Islam to speak out against evil in public. Al-Talib was the first imam of the Two Holy Mosques in Mecca and Medina to be detained.

In September the SCC opened trials against clerics, academics, and media persons for alleged association with the Muslim Brotherhood, including prominent Muslim scholars Salman al-Odah, Awad al-Qarni, and Ali al-Omari. The three were arrested in September 2017, and the public prosecutor was reportedly seeking the death penalty against them. The public prosecutor brought 37 charges against al-Odah, the vast majority of which alleged ties with the Muslim Brotherhood and Qatari government, in addition to his public support for imprisoned dissidents. None referred to specific acts of violence or incitement to acts of violence, according to a HRW statement on September 12. The 30 charges against al-Omari included “forming a youth organization to carry out the objectives of a terrorist group inside the Kingdom.”

Press and Media Freedom: The Press and Publications 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 Information. 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.

Media policy statements urged journalists to uphold Islam, oppose atheism, promote Arab interests, and preserve cultural heritage. In 2011 a royal decree amended the press law to strengthen penalties, create a special commission to judge violations, and require all online newspapers and bloggers to obtain a license from the ministry. The decree 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 fines up to 50,000 riyals ($13,300) for each violation of the law, which doubles if the violation is repeated. Other penalties include banning individuals from writing. While the Violations Considerations Committee in the Ministry of Information has formal responsibility for implementing the law, the Ministry of Interior, the CPVPV, and sharia court judges considered these issues regularly and exercised wide discretion in interpreting the law. It was unclear which process accords with the law.

On July 12, authorities arrested influential religious scholar and Sahwa (Awakening) movement figure Safar al-Hawali, four of his sons, and his brother after al-Hawali reportedly published a book criticizing the Saudi royal family and the country’s foreign policy.

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 were subject to licensing requirements from the Ministry of Information and could not operate freely. Privately owned satellite television networks, headquartered outside the country, maintained local offices and operated under a system of self-censorship.

On February 19, the Ministry of Culture and Information banned writer Muhammad al-Suhaimi from writing and taking part in any media activity, and referred him to an investigation committee for criticizing the Muslim call to prayer (adhan) and calling for reducing the number of mosques. Speaking to the MBC TV channel, al-Suhaimi had criticized the volume of the call to prayer, calling it a nuisance.

Violence and Harassment: Authorities subjected journalists, writers, and bloggers to arrest, imprisonment, and harassment during the year.

Throughout the year NGOs, academics, and the press reported on the government’s targeting of dissidents using automated social media accounts to ensure that progovernment messages dominate social media trend lists and effectively silence dissenting voices. Automated account activity was reportedly accompanied by online harassment by progovernment accounts in some instances. Dissidents with large social media followings were targeted for offline harassment and surveillance as well.

On February 8, the SCC sentenced prominent newspaper columnist Saleh al-Shehi to five years in prison, followed by a five-year travel ban, for insulting the royal court and its employees. Al-Shehi was reportedly arrested on January 3 after a televised appearance on the privately owned Rotana Khalejia channel in which he accused the royal court of being “one of the institutions that reinforced corruption” in the country, citing examples such as granting plots of land to citizens based on personal connections.

Censorship or Content Restrictions: The government reportedly penalized those who published items counter to government guidelines and directly or indirectly censored the 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 Information 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 material it considered blasphemous, extremist, racist, or offensive, or as inciting chaos, violence, sectarianism, or harm to the public order. In June 2017 the PPO stated that producing and promoting “rumors that affect the public order” was a crime under the anti-cybercrimes law and punishable by up to five years in prison, a fine of three million riyals ($800,000), or both. On June 13, 2018, the PPO warned against sending, producing, or storing any material that stirs up tribalism and fanaticism, and harms public order, which is also punishable by the above penalties.

In some cases, however, individuals criticized specific government bodies or actions publicly without repercussions. The Consultative Council (Majlis ash-Shura), an advisory body, frequently allowed print and broadcast media to observe its proceedings and meetings, but the council closed some high-profile or controversial sessions to the media.

Libel/Slander Laws: There were numerous reports during the year of the government using libel laws to suppress publication of material that criticized policies or public officials.

The anti-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.” In 2014 the law was amended to include social media and social networks.

On May 30, the SCC in Riyadh sentenced academic and media professional Mohammed al-Hudaif to five years in prison, followed by a five-year travel and social media ban, and ordered his Twitter account shut down. Al-Hudaif was convicted of “insulting neighboring states” following a comment he wrote about the visit of the former Egyptian justice minister, Ahmed al-Zind, to the UAE. The government deemed Hudaif’s tweet insulting to both the Egyptian and Emirati authorities. He was convicted of destroying national cohesion, publishing writings hostile to state policy, and communicating with members of bodies hostile to the state (the Muslim Brotherhood), according to Al-Qst rights group.

On September 3, the public prosecutor warned that producing and distributing content that ridicules, mocks, provokes, and disrupts public order, religious values and public morals through social media would be considered a cybercrime punishable by a maximum of five years in prison and a fine of three million riyals ($800,000).

National Security: Authorities used the anti-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.

INTERNET FREEDOM

The Ministry of Information or its agencies must authorize all websites registered and hosted in the country. The General Commission for Audiovisual Media has responsibility for regulating all audio and video content in the country, including satellite channels, film, music, internet, and mobile applications, independent from the Ministry of Commerce and Industry. Internet access was widely available, and 82 percent of the population used the internet in 2017, according to International Telecommunication Union data.

The press and publications law implicitly covers electronic media, since it extends to any means of expression of a viewpoint meant for circulation, ranging from words to cartoons, photographs, and sounds. In 2011 the government issued implementing regulations for electronic publishing that set rules for internet-based and other electronic media, including chat rooms, personal blogs, and text messages. On May 27, then information minister Awwad bin Saleh al-Awwad approved the executive regulations for types and forms of electronic publishing activities. The list consists of 17 items defining the mechanisms of dealing with electronic publishing activities, classifications, and ways of obtaining the appropriate regulatory licenses to carry out the required activities. Laws, including the anti-cybercrimes law, criminalize defamation on the internet, hacking, unauthorized access to government websites, and stealing information related to national security, as well as the creation or dissemination of a website for a terrorist organization. Security authorities actively monitored internet activity, both to enforce laws, regulations, and societal norms and to monitor recruitment efforts by extremist organizations such as ISIS. Activists complained of monitoring or attempted monitoring of their communications on web-based communications applications.

Access to the internet is legally available only through government-authorized internet service providers. The government required internet service providers to monitor customers and required internet cafes to install hidden cameras and provide identity records of customers. Although authorities blocked websites offering proxies, persistent internet users accessed the unfiltered internet via other means.

On a number of occasions, government officials and senior clerics publicly warned against inaccurate reports on the internet and reminded the public that criticism of the government and its officials should be done through available private channels. The government charged those using the internet to express dissent against officials or religious authorities with terrorism, blasphemy, and apostasy.

On February 12, the SCC in the western city of Tabuk held the first hearing for student and activist Noha al-Balawi. Al-Balawi was detained on January 23 after posting a video online in which she criticized the country’s potential normalization of ties with Israel. According to the United Kingdom-based Saudi rights group Al-Qst, Balawi was charged under anti-cybercrime laws and faced up to five years in prison and a fine of up to three million riyals ($800,000). On February 22, authorities reportedly released al-Balawi, according to online activists and media sources.

On February 27, the SCC convicted computer engineer Essam Koshak of posting tweets that “infringe on public order and religious values” and sentenced him to four years in prison followed by a four-year ban on travel and social media usage. According to multiple NGOs, Koshak tweeted in support of the 2017 social media campaign #EndMaleGuardianship, organized by HRW. According to court documents and trial observations, the prosecution charged Koshak with creating the #EndMaleGuardianship social media campaign and, in so doing, undermining public order and “violating freedom of expression.”

The press and publications law criminalizes the publication or downloading of offensive sites, and authorities routinely blocked sites containing material perceived as harmful, illegal, offensive, or anti-Islamic. The governmental Communications and Information Technology Commission (CITC) filtered and blocked access to websites it deemed offensive, including adult content, as well as pages calling for domestic political, social, or economic reforms or supporting human rights, including websites of expatriate Saudi dissidents.

The CITC coordinated decisions with the Saudi Arabian Monetary Agency on blocking phishing sites seeking to obtain confidential personal or financial information. Authorities submitted all other requests to block sites to an interagency committee, chaired by the Ministry of Interior, for decision. Under the Telecommunication Act, failure by service providers to block banned sites can result in a fine of five million riyals ($1.33 million).

The CITC claimed that Facebook removed materials that the CITC deemed offensive but that Twitter ignored all CITC requests. In 2016 the CITC announced it was no longer blocking any free voice, video, or messaging services after criticisms on social media that these services had been blocked. In September 2017 the CITC announced the unblocking of calling features for private messenger apps that met regulatory requirements in the country, such as Facebook Messenger, FaceTime, Snapchat, Skype, Line, Telegram, and Tango. Other video-calling apps, including WhatsApp and Viber, however, reported services were still blocked.

The government continued blocking Qatari websites such as al-Jazeera, an action it began in May 2017, due to a dispute between Qatar and a group of countries that included Saudi Arabia.

In June 2017 Ministry of Information spokesperson Hani al-Ghofaily stated that writing for blocked websites, providing them with materials to publish, or promoting alternative addresses to access them is a crime under the anti-cybercrimes law.

The government reportedly collected information concerning the identity of persons peacefully expressing political, religious, or ideological opinions or beliefs online.

ACADEMIC FREEDOM AND CULTURAL EVENTS

The government restricted some public artistic expression but opened up cultural expression in a number of areas. Academics reportedly practiced self-censorship, and authorities prohibited professors and administrators at public universities from hosting meetings at their universities with foreign academics or diplomats without prior government permission. In 2016 King Salman issued royal decrees creating the General Authority for Entertainment (GEA) and the General Authority for Culture, with a mandate to expand the country’s entertainment and cultural offerings in line with its social and economic reform plan, known as Vision 2030. During the year the GEA sponsored events dedicated to film, comics, music, and dance. On June 2, King Salman issued a royal order creating the Ministry of Culture, separating it from the Information Ministry, and appointed Prince Badr bin Abdullah bin Mohammed bin Farhan Al Saud as its minister. On April 18, the country’s first cinema in more than 35 years opened after a ban was lifted in 2017. AMC Entertainment was granted the first license to operate cinemas in the country and was expected to open more theaters over the next five years, according to state media.

The law does not provide for freedom of assembly and association, which the government severely limited.

FREEDOM OF PEACEFUL ASSEMBLY

The law requires a government permit for an organized public assembly of any type. The government categorically forbids participation in political protests or unauthorized public assemblies, and security forces reportedly arrested demonstrators and detained them for brief periods. Security forces at times allowed a small number of unauthorized demonstrations throughout the country.

On March 27, security forces arrested 32 citizens and referred them to the public prosecutor for illegally gathering in front of Taif governorate headquarters to protest the removal of unlicensed housing structures built on government land, according to the Ministry of Interior.

CPVPV and other security officers also restricted mixed gender gatherings of unrelated men and women in public and private spaces (see section 1.f.).

FREEDOM OF ASSOCIATION

The law provided for limited freedom of association, however, the government strictly limited this right. In 2016 a law came into effect known as the Law on Associations and Foundations (Civil Society Organizations Law), which for the first time provided a comprehensive legal framework to govern the establishment, operation, and supervision of associations and foundations. The government, however, prohibited the establishment of political parties or any group it considered as opposing or challenging the regime. All associations must be licensed by the Ministry of Labor and Social Development and comply with its regulations. Some groups that advocated changing elements of the social or political order reported their licensing requests went unanswered for years, despite repeated inquiries. The ministry reportedly used arbitrary means, such as requiring unreasonable types and quantities of information, to delay and effectively deny licenses to associations.

On January 25, the SCC sentenced Mohammad al-Otaiby and Abdullah al-Attawi, founding members of the Union for Human Rights (known in Arabic as “al-Ittihad”) to 14 and seven years in prison, respectively, for “participating in setting up an organization and announcing it before getting an authorization,” “spreading chaos, inciting public opinion and publishing statements harmful to the kingdom and its institutions,” and “publishing information about their interrogations despite signing pledges to refrain from doing so,” according to media and NGO reporting.

In 2013 and 2014, the few local NGOs that had operated without a license ceased operating after authorities ordered them disbanded. While ACPRA maintained a presence on social media networks such as Twitter, the government severely curtailed its operations and closed down its website. On February 28, the SCC sentenced lawyer and ACPRA member Issa al-Nukheifi to six years in prison (three years under the anti-cybercrimes law and three years under ta’zir, or “discretionary” sentencing), followed by a six-year ban on social media and travel outside of the country, based on charges of “infringing on the public order and religious values,” “communicating with members of ACPRA,” “opposing Saudi Arabia’s intervention in Yemen,” and related charges. Al-Nukheifi was detained in 2016 and charged in August 2017 under provisions of both the 2014 Counterterrorism Law and the 2008 Anti-Cybercrimes Law.

Government-chartered associations limited membership only to citizens.

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

The law does not contain provisions for freedom of internal movement, foreign travel, emigration, and repatriation.

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

In-country Movement: The government generally did not restrict the free movement of male citizens within the country, but it severely restricted the movement of female citizens. While the guardianship system does not require a woman to have the permission of her male guardian (normally a father, husband, son, brother, grandfather, uncle, or other male relative) to move freely within the country, courts sometimes ruled that women should abide by a male guardian’s request to stay at home by “occasionally upholding a guardian’s right to obedience from his female dependents,” according to a HRW report.

In April 2017 King Salman issued a royal decree ordering all government agencies to review their guardianship laws and to provide, within three months, their understanding of the legal basis for withholding services to women. The stated goal was to avoid denying government services to women who do not present a male guardian’s consent except when law or regulations explicitly require it. At year’s end the results of the government’s review of its guardianship laws had not been announced.

Authorities respected the right of citizens to change residence or workplace, provided they held a national identification card (NIC). The law requires all male citizens who are 15 or older to possess a NIC. In 2012 the Ministry of Interior announced it would start issuing NICs to all female citizens at the age of 15, phasing in the requirement over a seven-year period. There was minimal information available regarding whether this initiative was successfully implemented.

On June 24, the country lifted its longstanding ban on women driving. The process of issuing licenses, however, was slowed by the small number of training schools available to women and the high cost of driver’s education for women, which was four to five times as expensive as men’s fees. As a result, there were waiting lists for driving classes.

Foreign Travel: There are severe restrictions on foreign travel, including for women and members of minority groups. No one may leave the country without an exit visa and a passport. Females of any age, males younger than 21, and other dependents or foreign citizen workers under sponsorship require a male guardian’s consent to travel abroad. According to Ministry of Interior regulations, a male guardian must apply for and collect a passport for women and minors. A noncitizen wife needs permission from her husband to travel, unless both partners sign a prenuptial agreement permitting the noncitizen wife to travel without the husband’s permission. If a wife’s guardian is deceased, a court may grant the permission. Government entities can ban the travel of citizens and noncitizens without trial, and male family members can “blacklist” women and minor children, prohibiting their travel. In December the General Directorate of Passports announced that divorced Saudi women older than 21 who possess a NIC with at least three months’ validity may travel to other Gulf Cooperation Council member states (Bahrain, Kuwait, Oman, Qatar, and the United Arab Emirates) without the consent of a male guardian.

Employers or sponsors controlled the departure of foreign workers and residents from the country; employers or sponsors were responsible for processing residence permits and exit visas on their behalf. Sponsors frequently held their employees’ passports against the desires of the employees, despite a law specifically prohibiting this practice. Foreign workers typically provided sponsors with their residence permit before traveling in exchange for their passport to ensure the worker’s return to their employer after their travel.

The government reportedly confiscated passports for political reasons and revoked the rights of some citizens to travel, often without providing them notification or opportunity to contest the restriction. Most travel bans reportedly involved individuals in court cases relating to corruption; state security concerns; or labor, financial, and real estate disputes. Many relatives of citizens detained in relation to the government’s anticorruption campaign, as well as relatives of detained clerics and human rights activists, were also reportedly under travel bans.

PROTECTION OF REFUGEES

The law does not contain provisions for freedom of internal movement, foreign travel, emigration, and repatriation.

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

In-country Movement: The government generally did not restrict the free movement of male citizens within the country, but it severely restricted the movement of female citizens. While the guardianship system does not require a woman to have the permission of her male guardian (normally a father, husband, son, brother, grandfather, uncle, or other male relative) to move freely within the country, courts sometimes ruled that women should abide by a male guardian’s request to stay at home by “occasionally upholding a guardian’s right to obedience from his female dependents,” according to a HRW report.

In April 2017 King Salman issued a royal decree ordering all government agencies to review their guardianship laws and to provide, within three months, their understanding of the legal basis for withholding services to women. The stated goal was to avoid denying government services to women who do not present a male guardian’s consent except when law or regulations explicitly require it. At year’s end the results of the government’s review of its guardianship laws had not been announced.

Authorities respected the right of citizens to change residence or workplace, provided they held a national identification card (NIC). The law requires all male citizens who are 15 or older to possess a NIC. In 2012 the Ministry of Interior announced it would start issuing NICs to all female citizens at the age of 15, phasing in the requirement over a seven-year period. There was minimal information available regarding whether this initiative was successfully implemented.

On June 24, the country lifted its longstanding ban on women driving. The process of issuing licenses, however, was slowed by the small number of training schools available to women and the high cost of driver’s education for women, which was four to five times as expensive as men’s fees. As a result, there were waiting lists for driving classes.

Foreign Travel: There are severe restrictions on foreign travel, including for women and members of minority groups. No one may leave the country without an exit visa and a passport. Females of any age, males younger than 21, and other dependents or foreign citizen workers under sponsorship require a male guardian’s consent to travel abroad. According to Ministry of Interior regulations, a male guardian must apply for and collect a passport for women and minors. A noncitizen wife needs permission from her husband to travel, unless both partners sign a prenuptial agreement permitting the noncitizen wife to travel without the husband’s permission. If a wife’s guardian is deceased, a court may grant the permission. Government entities can ban the travel of citizens and noncitizens without trial, and male family members can “blacklist” women and minor children, prohibiting their travel. In December the General Directorate of Passports announced that divorced Saudi women older than 21 who possess a NIC with at least three months’ validity may travel to other Gulf Cooperation Council member states (Bahrain, Kuwait, Oman, Qatar, and the United Arab Emirates) without the consent of a male guardian.

Employers or sponsors controlled the departure of foreign workers and residents from the country; employers or sponsors were responsible for processing residence permits and exit visas on their behalf. Sponsors frequently held their employees’ passports against the desires of the employees, despite a law specifically prohibiting this practice. Foreign workers typically provided sponsors with their residence permit before traveling in exchange for their passport to ensure the worker’s return to their employer after their travel.

The government reportedly confiscated passports for political reasons and revoked the rights of some citizens to travel, often without providing them notification or opportunity to contest the restriction. Most travel bans reportedly involved individuals in court cases relating to corruption; state security concerns; or labor, financial, and real estate disputes. Many relatives of citizens detained in relation to the government’s anticorruption campaign, as well as relatives of detained clerics and human rights activists, were also reportedly under travel bans.

STATELESS PERSONS

The country had a number of habitual residents who were legally stateless, but data on the stateless population were incomplete and scarce.

Citizenship is legally derived only from the father. Children born to an unmarried citizen mother who is not legally affiliated with the citizen father may be considered stateless, even if the father recognized the child as his, or if the government did not authorize the marriage of a citizen father and a noncitizen mother prior to birth of the children. The nationality laws do not allow Saudi women married to foreign nationals to pass their nationality to their children, except in certain circumstances such as fathers who are unknown, stateless, of unknown nationality, or do not establish filiation. Sons of citizen mothers and noncitizen fathers may apply for citizenship once they turn 18 (if not already granted citizenship at birth under certain circumstances); daughters in such cases can obtain citizenship only through marriage to a Saudi man. A child may lose legal identification and accompanying rights if authorities withdraw identification documents from a parent (possible when a naturalized parent denaturalizes voluntarily or loses citizenship through other acts). Since there is no codified personal status law, judges make decisions regarding family matters based on their own interpretations of Islamic law.

Foreign male spouses of female citizens are entitled to permanent residency in the country without needing a sponsor, and they receive free government education and medical benefits. These spouses are also included in the quota of Saudis employed in private companies under the nitaqaat, or labor quota system, which improves their employment prospects. Female citizens must be between the ages of 30 and 50 in order to marry a non-Saudi man. Non-Saudi wives of Saudi men receive more rights if they have children resulting from their marriage with a Saudi man. Male citizens must be between the ages of 40 and 65 in order to marry a non-Saudi woman. The extent to which those strictures were enforced was unclear; there was anecdotal evidence that they were not uniformly enforced. Children of Saudi women who are married to foreign spouses receive permanent residency, but their residency status is revocable in the event of the death of the Saudi mother.

In past years UNHCR unofficially estimated there were 70,000 stateless persons in the country, almost all of whom were native-born residents known locally as Bidoon (an Arabic word that means “without” [citizenship]). Updated information on stateless persons was not available. Bidoon are persons whose ancestors failed to obtain nationality, such as descendants of nomadic tribes not counted among the native tribes during the reign of the country’s founder, King Abdulaziz; descendants of foreign-born fathers who arrived before there were laws regulating citizenship; and rural migrants whose parents failed to register their births. As noncitizens, Bidoon are unable to obtain passports. The government sometimes denied them employment and educational opportunities, and their marginalized status made them among the poorest residents of the country. In recent years the Ministry of Education encouraged them to attend school. The government issues Bidoon five-year residency permits to facilitate their social integration in government-provided health-care and other services, putting them on similar footing with sponsored foreign workers. The General Directorate of Passports issued special identification cards to Bidoon similar to residency permits issued to foreigners in the country, but with features entitling their holders to additional government services similar to those available to citizens.

There were also some Baloch, West Africans, and Rohingya Muslims from Burma, but only a small portion of these communities was stateless. Many Rohingya had expired passports that their home government refused to renew, or had entered the country with fraudulent travel documents. UNHCR estimated there were between 250,000 and 500,000 Rohingya in the country. Some of these individuals benefited from a prior program to correct their residency status; in 2014 the government issued nearly 200,000 four-year residency permits to Rohingya who entered the country prior to 2008. Rohingya who arrived in the country after 2008 were not eligible for residency permits, although NGOs reported that Rohingya, including those without legal residency, were generally not subject to deportation prior to 2018. Upon the expiration of Rohingya residency permits in 2018, media reported more than 100 Rohingya faced deportation to Bangladesh at year’s end and hundreds more were in detention at Shumaisi Detention Center near Mecca. Only an estimated 2,000 individuals of Rohingya origin had Saudi citizenship. There also were between 300,000 and 400,000 Palestinian residents not registered as refugees.

Somalia

Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:

a. Freedom of Speech and Press

The provisional federal constitution provides for freedom of speech, including for the press, but neither federal nor regional authorities respected this right. The Somali penal code criminalizes the spreading of “false news,” which it does not define, with penalties including imprisonment of up to six months. The government, government-aligned militias, authorities in Somaliland and Puntland, South West State, Galmudug, Jubaland, ASWJ, al-Shabaab, and unknown assailants killed, abused, and harassed journalists with impunity (see sections 1.a. and 1.g.).

The Somaliland constitution prohibits publication or circulation of exaggerated or tendentious news capable of disturbing public order, and officials used the provision to charge and arrest journalists.

The Puntland constitution limits freedom of opinion and expression through broadly worded limitations–including conformity with moral dignity, national stability, and personal rights of others–and allows for exceptions from the right to freedom of expression in times of war or other public emergency.

Freedom of Expression: Individuals in government-controlled areas risked reprisal for criticizing government officials, particularly for alleged official corruption or suggestions that officials were unable to manage security matters. Such interference remained common outside the capital, particularly in Puntland and Somaliland.

Press and Media Freedom: Independent media were active and expressed a wide variety of views, although self-censorship was common due to a history of arbitrary arrest of journalists and search and closure of media outlets that criticized the government. While there were no reports of such interference in Mogadishu since President Farmaajo’s election, it remained common outside the capital, particularly in Puntland and Somaliland.

Somaliland authorities continued to fine and arbitrarily arrest journalists for defamation and other alleged crimes, including meeting with colleagues. Prison terms ranged from a few days to several months, and fines could be as high as 573,000 shillings ($1,000). Journalists were intimidated and imprisoned for conducting investigations into corruption or topics deemed sensitive, such as investment agreements regarding the Berbera Port or the conflict between Somaliland and Puntland over the disputed Sool and Sanaag regions.

Violence and Harassment: Between January and August, the United Nations documented 20 cases of arbitrary arrests and or prolonged detentions of journalists and other media workers, of which 12 occurred in Somaliland. During that same period, five media outlets were closed. On July 26, a Somali soldier in Mogadishu killed a television cameraman; the death allegedly resulted from a personal property dispute. On September 18, another journalist was stabbed to death in Galkayo. Investigations in neither case found evidence that the killings were carried out because of the journalists’ work.

In January, two journalists were sentenced to two years’ imprisonment in Somaliland on charges that included conducting propaganda against the state.

On January 13, NISA officers reportedly beat and harassed two journalists at an airport in Galkaayo during a visit by President Farmaajo. No investigation was reported despite requests by the Puntland Media Association.

On February 17, Somaliland police arrested the bureau chief of London-based Universal TV in response to a news report broadcast by the station earlier in February.

In April a journalist was arrested in Middle Shabelle after reporting on a clash between security forces. He was later released through negotiations between journalists and authorities.

In July a civil society activist was arrested in Garowe by Puntland police after making a Facebook post critical of the Puntland Government.

According to the Somaliland Journalists Association, local authorities continued to harass and arbitrarily detain journalists systematically.

Journalists based in the Lower Juba region continued to report that local security authorities harassed them.

Censorship or Content Restrictions: Journalists engaged in rigorous self-censorship to avoid reprisals.

In May Somaliland authorities banned two private television stations, accusing them of broadcasting propaganda and false news regarding the dispute between Somaliland and Puntland in Tukaraq, Sool region. Somaliland continued to punish persons who espoused national unification.

On June 13, in the midst of conflict between Somaliland and Puntland, the Puntland Ministry of Information instructed Puntland internet provider DSAT to remove the Somaliland television channel from the list of channels available in Puntland.

On June 19, the Hargeisa Regional Court ordered the suspension of Waaberi, the local newspaper, alleging the paper was not run by its registered owners.

Al-Shabaab banned journalists from reporting news that undermined Islamic law as interpreted by al-Shabaab and forbade persons in areas under its control from listening to international media outlets.

Libel/Slander Laws: Puntland and Somaliland authorities prosecuted journalists for libel.

On April 16, blogger Mohamed Kayse Mohamud was sentenced to 18 months in prison for comments he made in February calling Somaliland President Bihi a local, not national, president. Kayse’s lawyer said that police denied him access to Kayse during pretrial detention, which began February 7, and did not meet him until April 1, the first day of the trial.

National Security: Federal and regional authorities cited national security concerns to suppress criticism and prevent press coverage of opposition political figures.

INTERNET FREEDOM

Authorities restricted access to the internet, but there were no credible reports that the government monitored private online communications without appropriate legal authority.

Al-Shabaab prohibited companies from providing access to the internet and forced telecommunication companies to shut data services in al-Shabaab-controlled areas.

According to the International Telecommunication Union, less than 2 percent of the population used the internet in 2017.

ACADEMIC FREEDOM AND CULTURAL EVENTS

Academics practiced self-censorship.

Puntland required individuals to obtain government permits to conduct academic research.

Except in al-Shabaab-controlled areas, there were no official restrictions on attending cultural events, playing music, or going to the cinema. The security situation, however, effectively restricted access to and organization of cultural events in the southern and central regions.

FREEDOM OF PEACEFUL ASSEMBLY

The federal provisional constitution provides for freedom of peaceful assembly, but the government limited this right. A general lack of security effectively limited this right as well. The federal Ministry of Internal Security continued to require its approval for all public gatherings, citing security concerns, such as the risk of attack by al-Shabaab suicide bombers.

In May Somaliland authorities in the Sool region arrested 57 demonstrators for staging a protest in support of Somali unity, including some in support of Puntland. All the demonstrators were later released.

Al-Shabaab did not allow any gatherings without its prior consent.

FREEDOM OF ASSOCIATION

The provisional federal constitution provides for freedom of association, but government officials harassed NGO workers. There were also reports that regional authorities restricted freedom of association. Al-Shabaab did not allow most international NGOs to operate.

Persons in the southern and central regions outside of al-Shabaab-controlled areas could freely join civil society organizations focusing on a wide range of problems. Citizens generally respected civil society organizations for their ability to deliver social services in the absence of functioning government ministries.

Regional administrations took steps to control or gain benefit from humanitarian organizations, including by imposing duplicative registration requirements at different levels of government; attempting to control humanitarian organization contracting, procurement, and staffing; and using opaque and vague taxation.

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

The provisional federal constitution states that all persons lawfully residing in the country have the right to freedom of movement, to choose their residence, and to leave the country. Freedom of movement, however, was restricted in some areas.

Abuse of Migrants, Refugees, and Stateless Persons: The country hosts a relatively small number of refugees, primarily from Yemen, Ethiopia, and Eritrea. Economic migrants also use the country as a transit point in route to the Gulf, which exposes them to exploitation and abuse primarily by human traffickers.

The government and Somaliland authorities cooperated with UNHCR and the International Organization for Migration to assist IDPs, refugees, returning refugees, asylum seekers, stateless persons, and other persons of concern.

During the year dialogue continued between humanitarian agencies, the FGS, and regional authorities to remove checkpoints and facilitate movement of humanitarian assistance, food aid, and essential commodities.

In-country Movement: Checkpoints operated by government forces, allied groups, armed militias, clan factions, and al-Shabaab inhibited movement and exposed citizens to looting, extortion, harassment, and violence. Roadblocks manned by armed actors and attacks on humanitarian personnel severely restricted movement and the delivery of aid in southern and central sectors of the country.

Al-Shabaab and other nonstate armed actors continued to hinder commercial activities in the areas they controlled in the Bakool, Bay, Gedo, and Hiraan regions and impeded the delivery of humanitarian assistance.

Attacks against humanitarian workers and assets impeded the delivery of aid to vulnerable populations.

Somaliland prohibited federal officials, including those of Somaliland origin who purported to represent Hargeisa’s interests in Mogadishu, from entering Somaliland. It also prevented its citizens from traveling to Mogadishu to participate in FGS processes or in cultural activities.

Foreign Travel: Few citizens had the means to obtain passports. In view of widespread passport fraud, many foreign governments did not recognize Somali passports as valid travel documents. Beginning August 1, Norway began recognizing Somali passports of all types.

INTERNALLY DISPLACED PERSONS (IDPS)

Continuing conflict during the year led to an increase in internal displacement. The country was home to more than 2.6 million IDPs. The food security situation continued to improve due to a sustained humanitarian response and an above-average rainy season, but needs remained critical. As of August, 4.6 million persons were in need of assistance, more than before the onset of the 2016 drought crisis.

UNHCR advocated for the protection of IDPs and provided some financial assistance given the group is a population of concern, and Somalis who have returned often wind up in IDP camps.

While government and regional authorities were more involved in the recent famine prevention and drought response than in prior years, their capacity to respond remained extremely limited. In addition, forceful evictions of IDPs continued. Since January more than 204,000 individuals have been evicted. Private persons with claims to land and government authorities, for example, regularly pursued the forceful eviction of IDPs in Mogadishu. Increased reports of sexual and gender-based violence accompanied increased displacement, including reports of incidents committed by various armed groups and security personnel.

Women and children living in IDP settlements were particularly vulnerable to rape by armed men, including government soldiers and militia members. Gatekeepers in control of some IDP camps reportedly forced girls and women to provide sex in exchange for food and services within the settlements.

PROTECTION OF REFUGEES

Refoulement: The provisional federal constitution states that every person who seeks refuge in the country has the right not to be returned or taken to any country in which that person has a well-founded fear of persecution. There was no official system for providing such protection to refugees.

Access to Asylum: The provisional constitution recognizes the right to asylum in accordance with international treaties; however, the FGS had yet to implement a legal framework and system to provide protection to refugees on a consistent basis. Authorities, however, granted prima facie status to most refugees, most of whom were Yemeni.

Employment: Employment opportunities were limited for refugees, Somali returnees, and other vulnerable populations. Refugee returnees from Kenya reported limited employment opportunities in the southern and central sections of the country, consistent with high rates of unemployment throughout the country.

Access to Basic Services: The FGS continued to work with the international community to improve access to basic services, employment, and durable solutions for displaced populations, although this remained a challenge primarily due to security, lack of political will, and financial constraints.

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The Lessons of 1989: Freedom and Our Future